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Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

Declining birth rates make the Islamic world more dangerous

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 27, 2012

David Goldman, who writes online under the pseudonym Spengler, has a new book out: How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too). While I haven’t yet read the book, I recently happened across Goldman’s preface, and it’s brilliant. It’s a longish piece, and not always easy going, but his insights are more than enough to reward the patient reader.

Goldman’s fundamental argument is a familiar one: that demography is destiny, and the societies that do not reproduce themselves are doomed. He makes some unusually powerful arguments in support of that thesis, however. Here’s one that commanded my attention:

In the absence of religious faith, if our culture dies, our hope of transcending mere physical existence dies with it. Individuals trapped in a dying culture live in a twilight world. They embrace death through infertility, concupiscence, and war.

Pay special attention to that last word: war. We have seen, time and again, the evidence that a “culture of death” embraces infertility and inflames concupiscence. The Catholic Church has been preaching that much-needed message to the post-modern world for decades. But war? How does infertility—spiritual as well as biological infertility—lead to war?

Goldman/Spengler makes a convincing argument. Those who do not believe in an afterlife have shortened horizons. Especially if they don’t have children, they aren’t worried about how their actions will affect their grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They aren’t concerned about a Final Judgment. They are concerned only about their own lives, their own needs and wants. They are, in a word, irresponsible.

Recently in this space I offered my own meditations on how Christian faith is bound inextricably with family life, and how large families are a sign of hope for the future. Spengler turns that argument in the opposite direction, showing that a decline in birth rates is a bad omen for the future—and one that tends to confirm itself.

If you see nothing to live for, beyond your own desires, you may become aggressive, irrational, dangerous. If you are desperate, and have no hope in the future, you may take drastic measures. Family men might be willing to die for their children, but they would much prefer to live with their children, to ensure that their children will live, to see their own grandchildren. A society that stops thinking about the families and looking toward the future has reached the end of its rope, almost literally. Spengler sees the ultimate realization of this nightmare in the suicide bomber, who sees nothing to live for and no reason to trouble himself about the death of his innocent victims.

But wait, you might say. Suicide bombers are drawn from the ranks of militant Islam, not from the secular world. This is where Spengler adds a chilling observation: Birth rates are falling rapidly across the Islamic world. Politicized Islam is a phenomenon quite different from ordinary religious faith, and the falling birth rates underline that reality, he argues.

We Catholics have worried for years about the demographic decline of post-Christian societies in Europe and North America. We haven’t noticed—at least I confess that I hadn’t noticed—the declining fertility rates in the Middle East. If Islamic societies are traveling down the same road, that is cause for enormous concern.

If you find yourself unconvinced by Spengler’s theoretical arguments, consider this fact: One of the countries which has seen the steepest drop in birth rates is Iran. (Sad to say, the US is partially responsible for this trend; our foreign policy strongly encouraged the Shah to embark on a massive family-planning campaign.) It may be no coincidence that Iran today is the most aggressive nation in the world’s most volatile region.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Feb. 01, 2012 7:15 PM ET USA

    I have read How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too). His point on Islam is that it is inevitable that their birth rate has been and will decline to approximate the West's. The advantage they have in numbers of jihad-agitated military-aged males has a shelf life of only a generation. There won't be the numbers for jihad after 2030.

  • Posted by: EiLL - Jan. 28, 2012 7:18 AM ET USA

    I read the book - it is excellent! You're summary is spot on. Here's a perspective on the book - Rich L