Jack Waterford has a piece in the Canberra Times today highlighting the demographic suicide problem facing Europe (and in the longer term Australia), and drawing attention to some research I pointed to in a previous post, on the correlation between the number of nuns and family size: the more nuns there are, the larger family sizes are.
Waterford links the original studies finding of the importance of low cost of social support services - traditionally mostly provided by nuns in catholic countries - to the Government's proposals for maternity leave.
And I agree - up to a point.
But I think the economic argument he makes needs some qualification. And his throwaway lines to the effect that we shouldn't be too concerned about Muslim immigration because they will assimilate I think need some hard scrutiny.
Making social services cheaper encourages larger families
The nun study makes the point that church attendance, the number of priests and a number of other factors seemed to have no impact on family size: but the number of nuns did. It found a strong correlation between the drastic decline in the number of nuns over the last forty years and average family size. The reason? The study argues it was the availability of cheap social support services provided by nuns.
Financial factors clearly are important - a number of studies have found that the previous Governments' baby bonus, for example, did seem to have a net positive effect on fertility rates at least in the short run (whether it would cause a lifetime boost in fertility rates of individual women remains unknown).
But while economists tend to think that everything is all just about cost (just hike up the tobacco tax rate, for example, and everyone will stop smoking) most policy analysts take the view that for most people, more is needed. In the case of tobacco control, for example, first you need to persuade people of the dangers of smoking, make the case for giving it up. Only then is it useful to provide the tools (taxes, nicotine patches, counselling, etc) that can help the individual make the necessary changes in their lives, rather than just seek ways to get around the problem (such as using roll your owns rather than filtered cigarettes).
Recovering the culture of life
In the case of the decision not to use contraception, or not to abort, you have to actually persuade people why these are inherently evil things, and why having a large family is a good thing. You have to persuade people that there are long term consequences - in terms of the loss of heaven - to rejecting the Church's teachings.
Above all, you have to persuade people, for example, that their own culture is valuable something worth passing on, something worth sacrificing personal pleasures for.
The collapse of the religious life, just as much as the demise of large families, owes as much to the loss of faith in Western culture as to economics and the pill which merely provided the tools with which to effect the decision that our culture is not worth preserving.
Towards a real catholic culture
Waterford argues, correctly I think, that simply labelling something - whether a school, a hospital, or whatever - doesn't actually make it so.
If you actually want a catholic hospital, you probably need to have actual nuns recognisable as such, formed and intent on handing on a genuinely catholic institutional culture, working out on the floor as nurses, not just as administrators. Otherwise the 'catholic' element will be drowned out by the professionalized essentially secularized culture that pervades most hospitals - and schools for that matter.
So in my view, if we want to restore a culture of life, we don't just need maternity leave - we do actually need nuns.
Waterford argues that we shouldn't panic over the failure of catholics (or indeed anyone who isn't a muslim immigrant) to have children :
"...the population of Europe is starting to fall dramatically. In some countries the decline is somewhat disguised by a major influx of immigrants, particularly Muslim refugees. It is by no means inconceivable that the average signorina, mademoiselle and fraulein will be Muslim 100 years from now. There are people (not me, I am afraid), who shiver when they image Italy as a primarily Muslim state sheltering, as no doubt it will, the Vatican and St Peters.
France, Spain, Italy, Germany and even Britain have suffered repeated invasions from alien cultures over the past 2000 years, and, by and large, they seem to have absorbed new folk such as Goths, Slavs, Huns, and Turkmen without massive impacts upon their cultures or their religions..."
Well actually no. Some groups have historically assimilated well. Others - Jews being the classic example - have noticeably not.
In general though, assimilation has not been the rule. The fall of the Roman Empire, and subsequent struggle between the Lombards and Romans in Italy for example, reflected the inability of the Empire to assimilate adequately those barbarian invaders. And the subsequent waves - including Islamic (the real first model of forced conversions to hit Europe) and latter Nordic invasions were the reason for the so-called 'dark ages', causing a destruction that took centuries to recover from.
What determines whether or not a race, culture or religion will assimilate? Undoubtedly there are several factors. When it comes to religion though, the American sociologist Lawrence Iannaccone has found that religions that demand too little of their adherents - as the catholic faith has done in recent decades - tend to assimilate reasonably quickly to mainstream culture and effectively disappear. Catholicism has been effectively wiped out of countries in the past, and we are well on the way to seeing it happen again in Europe and much of the West, even as it grows in Africa and Asia.
What is necessary for survival is a certain degree of 'strictness', symbolic demands that involve some personal sacrifice to demonstrate one's commitment - something Islam is particularly strong on. And that Catholicism used to have.
I'm talking here about things like use of a sacred language (Latin vs Arabic), fasting (fish on fridays and Lent vs Ramadan), habited nuns and cassocked priests (vs Imams in flowing beards and robes), requirements to actually attend mass and pray, and more....
Unless we can recover some of that 'strictness' and re-evangelise the West, it is we who will be assimilated, not the reverse. And you only have to go to some European cities such as Rotterdam to see it already happening.
Oh and by the way Mr Waterford, the crusades were not anti-Muslim attempts at forced conversion. The first crusade was actually a response to a rise in fundamentalist, expansionist Islam that had the Turks threatening the Christian Byzantine Empire, and had led to the traditional access of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Lands to be killed and churches (most notably that of the Holy Sepulcre) to be burnt down. And though restricted economically and socially, Muslims were allowed to continue to practice their faith in the crusader kingdoms that were established.