Italians Aren't Catholic Enough

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That's the conclusion of this Weekly Standard column on the pressing topic of declining Italian birth rates. Excerpt:

That Europe is secular (and American religious, an unnerving fact in Europe) is undisputed. But the problem of a secular society, as the British historian Christopher Dawson long ago pointed out, is that it "has no end beyond its own satisfaction." Such a society may have a harder time turning from its own pleasures to take on the responsibility of raising children.

"A baby," Carl Sandburg once said, "is God's opinion that the world should go on." In secular Europe, God's opinion may not be regarded as very important. A continent whose graying populations are wealthier and healthier than ever apparently prefers to do things other than perpetuate the human future.

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  1. Who says we Italians aren’t religious enough? The Senators on my payroll are all ardent pro-family Republicans!

    Right Rick?

  2. i guess i never paid much attention to it before, but there really does seem to be this deeply-felt belief that if there’s no deity(or deities) to punish and create, save and condemn, then there’s no reason to live.

    what
    the
    fuuuuuuuuck??

  3. That’s odd, I was sure that the advent of effective birth control and social security had something to do with the developed world’s declining birth rates. But thankfully, the Weekly Standard has explained to me that it’s all because people now prefer rock music over rosaries.

    Seriously, Eastland might want to take a look into the fact that birthrates among whites and Asians in the US are only slightly above those of northern European states like Norway, Holland, Ireland, and Finland. It’s only the higher fertility rates of blacks and hispanics that keep America’s cumulative number near the replacement level. And South Korea, a country that’s arguably even more religious than the US, has also seen its birth rates plummet as the nation has joined the ranks of the developed world.

  4. You mean “and America religious”, ya right-wing moe-rons.

  5. Secular societies have no end beyond their own satisfaction. Unless, of course, they are devoted to a grand, horrible, utopian scheme to bring about a perfect world, to which they are willing to sacrifice humanitarian concerns and suppress the well being of individuals – like Jacobin France or Soviet Russia.

    For adherents of a philosophy that brags about respecting established ways of thinking, conservatives sure do like to make shit up and contradict their long-held beliefs when it’s convenient.

  6. what
    the
    fuuuuuuuuck??

    My thought exactly. What the hell does one’s lack of religion have to do with wanting to breed (and then raise the sprog ‘up right’)?

    Apparently I didn’t get the memo. Maybe I can take my week old daughter back for a refund.

    Seriously, Eastland might want to take a look into the fact that birthrates among whites and Asians in the US are only slightly above those of northern European states like Norway, Holland, Ireland, and Finland. It’s only the higher fertility rates of blacks and hispanics that keep America’s cumulative number near the replacement level.

    Is there anything wrong with that? A few generations ago is was those dirty Dagos (hi Grandpa!) who were breeding uncontrolably and would overrun the Waspy lot. Move up the economic ladder and you have fewer children (I doubt I’ll be as prodigious as my grandfather). In two or three generations the decendents of today’s blacks and hispanics will no doubt be complaining about the next wave of immigration.

  7. Dhex-
    I can’t answer that, but let me tell you a true story: in grad school, in a “creative writing” class which I took exclusively for the easy ‘A’ I knew I’d get, I knew this sadly confused little bald George Costanza-type of guy; on the one hand, he tried to be very “cool” and “macho” by bragging about his familiarity with the local S&M/B&D scene (no kidding); yet on the other hand, he was devout enough to write “G-d” rather than “God” in his execrable essays. (Which, incidentally, often contained the aforementioned sexual themes. It is very disconcerting, reading devout pornography that says “Oh, G-d, oh G-d, oh G-d, FUCK ME HARDER AND BEAT ME!!!”)

    Anyway, after the class read my short story (about a dead woman who was put on a waiting list to get into Heaven, and got stuck with a miserable busywork job spelling out messages on Ouija boards) it became obvious to all that I was an atheist, which the G-d damned S&M freak took as a personal insult. He screamed at me: “If you don’t think there’s a God, then why do you even bother staying alive at all? Why not kill yourself right now?”

    “You’ve got it backwards,” I said. “This life is all the more precious since that’s all there is. Really, you’re the one who should commit suicide, since you think the next life is going to be so much better than this one.”

    Even if this doesn’t clarify anything, I still find it amusing.

  8. To: Weekly Standard
    From: Gary Gunnels

    The only reason why America has positive population growth is due to the huge influx of immigrants, who also tend to have large families (be they Christians or not); American may be more pious, but as a rule, the richer you are, the fewer children you have in the U.S.

    Also, in Europe, you will find that that nations with the positive population growth – the UK, France, and Spain – are all doing it with immigration.

  9. Also, isn’t there an uncurrent of racism in these remarks?

  10. To make a serious comment: I read another story about this same issue, in which Italian women all agreed they aren’t having more babies because they (the women) are expected to hold full-time jobs and STILL do all the traditional Italian mama duties, since Italian men apparently refuse to help out. I’d say this is a BIG deal, yet the Weekly Standard writer simply dismisses it in a single sentence.

    But I have no wish to start a feminist flamewar, here.

  11. jennifer – a friend of a friend used to be a dom in a now very trendy part of brooklyn. one of her best tipping customers was a twice a year, 84 year old rabbi. needless to say all sorts of whacky requests involving nazis and punishment and the usual surfaced.

    i’ll come back later to disagree with joe.

  12. In the absence of other explanations, the religious conservative theory for the decline in birth rates will win the debate, even if it is utterly ridiculous.

    Birth rates are declining everywhere, and espcially where incomes have risen. There is one thing highly correlated with high birth rates, and that is poverty. So is ignorance.

    How long before conservatives argue we should be poor and ignorant in order to restore God to his? her? its? rightful place in our lives? oh…right: Augustine and the evil lust for knowledge…oh…wait, even earlier: Adam & Eve…tree of knowledge or something like that…

    The still leaves the question: why don’t Italians want to make more Italians? ditto Germans and Norwegians and Japanese etc etc etc…

    This could add fuel to the religious revival fires, just when we need our wits about us. Ah me, I’ve worried myself into another secular pleasure lover’s martini…

  13. Back in the Seventies, I used to hear my conservative elders argue that, given a free choice, most women would prefer to forego a career, stay at home and have children. Conversely, the hippie set would argue that, given a free choice, most women would forego having children altogether and pursue a career.

    Of course Shultz’s Third Law of Social Dynamics hadn’t yet been forumulated, and Shultz’s Third Law explicitly states, “When women are confronted with mutually exclusive alternatives they almost invariably choose both.” In accordance with Shultz’s Third Law, women in Italy have chose both to have a career and to have two, instead of seven, children.

    Bewailing this choice, even if contraception is a religious issue in Italy, is to question the apropriateness of womens’ rights in the most basic sense.

  14. The US fertility rate in 2003 was 2.07, which is roughly the replacement rate. At this level, population levels would remain steady. Increases in population can therefore be attributed to immigration.

    The argument that fertility rate is related to wealth is generally supported by the data. Considering the per capita GDP (based on purchasing power parity) and fertility rate comparison for some selected countries (data from CIA world factbook):

    country/fertility/GDP($USD)

    Zambia/5.25/$890
    India/2.91/$2540
    Mexico/2.53/$9000
    Malaysia/3.13/$9300
    Italy/1.26/$25000
    Canada/1.61/$29400
    Sweden/1.54/$25400
    US/2.07/$37600

    The fertility data is from 2003 while the GDP data is from 2002.

    The trend is for fertility to decrease with wealth but there are some significant exceptions. One is the former eastern bloc countries where fertility has plumetted for social reasons unrelated to wealth. The other is the US, which has by far the highest per capita GDP of industrialized countries and the highest fertility rate. The cause for this is of course up to debate but it doesn’t strike me as unreasonable to attribute it to the more religious nature of American society (relative to Europe). Of course secular people have kids too (even atheists!). However, the point is that they seem to have them a bit less frequently than religious people. It doesn’t take a big difference in fertility rates to have big demographic impacts. As long as a society has a fertility rate even slightly below replacement (and no immigration), you’ll have an inexorable, unstoppable population decline (i.e. much of Europe). And the European numbers aren’t slightly below the replacement level, they’re drastically below it with no indication that that will change.

  15. How about fertility in developed countries being a function of opportunity?

    The more mobil the social class structure the more kids.

    Personally my wife and I opted for four kids because we felt that it was impportant for well educated people to contribute more to the future.

  16. ramster,

    Well, the only way to determine if what you say is true would be to actually compare the religious with the non-religious; and then throw income into the model.

    Also, everyone takes for granted that the US is “more religious” than Europe, but is this really true? It may be that Europeans are simply differently religious. Anyway, establishing that predicate would be nice.

  17. That America is religious unnerves this American, right here in America (well, admittedly the fruits-and-nuts Babylon that is coastal Calif).

    I’d venture that Europe is more *nominally* religious. It’s been joked that Church of England vicars aren’t necessarily required to believe in God. (Though most of the British, or at least the English, would resent being lumped in with “Europe”, which to them is the Continent.) The continued existence of the C of E seems these days to be less about piety and orthodoxy, and more about aesthetics and traditional liturgy (e.g. BCP and lovely old hymns) and preserving “important” buildings — the whole Pevsnerist, English Heritage thing. Church-spotting, if you like.

  18. That Europe is secular (and American religious, an unnerving fact in Europe) is undisputed.

    Uh, I’ll dispute that. The people of Europe are not uniformly secular, and the fact that people are dropping out of various churchs necessarily an example of Europeans becoming more irreligious.

    For example, in Germany in 2002 Catholic and Protestant churches recieved 3.35 billion Euro in Church Tax revenue. That’s right — Church Tax. You see, in Germany if you are officially a member of a church, you pay the state a tax which is then passed on to the Church. This is above and beyond any tithe you might throw into the collection plate. Little wonder that lots of people are opting out.

    True, Europe is more secular than America (even given our supposed reverence of seperation of church and state), but it is not quite as absolutist as the Weekly Standard wants to make it sound.

    And as far as American religosity being “an unnerving fact in Europe,” well, I’m not even going to go there.

  19. I remember hearing Burlesconi quoted as saying that it’s easier to get a divorce in Italy than it is to fire an employee. But he wasn’t suggesting that getting a divorce is easy; because of the religious zealotry of everyday Italians, getting a divorce in Italy is extremely difficult. In America, however, even among Evangelicals, outlawing divorce wouldn’t fly for a minuite.

    It is interesting, though, that we’re perceived that way by the Europeans. I suspect our image as religious fanatics may have something to do with President Bush. People tend to judge each other by their leaders, and Bush is so public with his religious convictions. But, then again, we should probably give equal time to the Muslim world, and from their perspective, we’re seen as incredibly decadent.

    I guess we’d all be better off if both the Muslim World and the Europeans wouldn’t watch so much television.

  20. if you look at in terms of attendance, us is much more religious…

    sure we don’t have church taxes or an established church (due to the constitution) but people actually show up (at least to evangelical churches)

    europe has pretty much only the establishment churches that people pay taxes to, and no one shows up

    its pretty basic sociology that europeans are less religious… though the state is much more so

  21. ramster, why would we assume away immigration?

  22. It is interesting, though, that we’re perceived that way by the Europeans. I suspect our image as religious fanatics may have something to do with President Bush.

    That theory would make sense if our image as religious fanatics was new. It isn’t; we’ve pretty much always had a rep for being more religious than Europe.

  23. hey,

    Well, if church attendance is some measure of religiosity, then yes maybe Americans are more religious; but you have to demonstrate that this is an adequate proxy for measuring religiosity.

  24. Religious people have more children than non-religious people. I think that’s the point of the article. This is true in the United States.

    Most of the non-religious people I know don’t want to breed. Their opinion seems to be: if there is no god then this is all pointless. It doesn’t matter. Why should I bother? It’s nihilism.

  25. “True, Europe is more secular than America (even given our supposed reverence of seperation of church and state), …”

    I suspect that our reverence for the separation of church & state is a big reason for religions continued success in America. I’m not sure I’d have much use for religion if the state started deciding what’s the proper interpretations, sacraments, and practices are. Some people fight like hell to keep church and state separate as a means of keeping God out of government. There are some others who prefer to fight to preserve separation in order to keep government interfering with God.

    Doesn’t Europes view of the US as populated by a bunch of religious lunatics have some historical presedence based upon these shores being a haven for religious lunatics?

  26. Always had a rep, Dan?

    By “always” do you mean during the Reagan, Bush and Bush administrations but somehow not during the Clinton administration?

    Was there a time before the Reagan administration when Europeans thought of us as religious fanatics?

  27. Most of the non-religious people I know don’t want to breed. Their opinion seems to be: if there is no god then this is all pointless. It doesn’t matter. Why should I bother? It’s nihilism.

    Pardon my snarkiness, but your friends are idiots. I am the big ‘A’ and I have kids (well, kid right now, but more will come). What does or doesn’t come after death didn’t factor into it one bit.

    Frankly, the whole “you must be religious if you want to have kids” is a little condescending since it assumes that we humans have to be scared/cajoled/will into having kids by a higher power.

  28. Eric,

    Your second argument has no basis in fact; in other words, it is merely a lot of hot air musing. Indeed, you will find that immigration has a great deal more to do with economic factors and the connections between people on both sides of the Atlantic (people tended to go where those who before them went – there is a great deal of data on this demonstrate this point). For example, Argentina aren’t especially pious people and they received a few million immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries. In fact, your argument doesn’t explain migration in any other context I can think of either; and there have been a lot of historical migrations of people.

    As to de Tocqueville, well you can find anything you want in that work; which is why so many varying American ideological strains have used him over time (conservatives are just part of a long line who cherry picked his work).

  29. I read an excellent article in the Economist a while back saying that one reason for religion’s success in America is that we have a tradition of keeping religion and state separate, and so religion has, well, adapted to the free market. We have boring old main-line Protestant churches for those who like the tried and true, we have charismatic fundamentalist churches for those who like that sort of approach, we have traditionalist Catholic churches for conservative Catholics, we have hip and modern Catholic churches for more liberal Catholics, we have New Age religions of every sort for those who prefer that, we have several different flavors of Judaism, etc. etc.

    Incidentally, as a Catholic my greatest fear from school vouchers and funding of faith-based charities is NOT that the bishops will control the Congress or something. My greatest fear is that the Congress will control the bishops. (Figuratively speaking.)

  30. heh.

    that’s total crap, but still funny. 🙂

  31. I will never post from my phone again…

  32. “Your second argument has no basis in fact; in other words, it is merely a lot of hot air musing.”

    Perhaps, but even if that’s the case, I’d still consider such a form of discussion to be more preferable than one in which I pompously dismiss another poster’s arguments before making any arguments of my own regarding the issue at hand. Talk about hot air.

    “Indeed, you will find that immigration has a great deal more to do with economic factors and the connections between people on both sides of the Atlantic (people tended to go where those who before them went – there is a great deal of data on this demonstrate this point).”

    No kidding. And exactly where did I say that economic or family factors didn’t play a role? My comment was centered on religion, not immigration. Did you consider the possibility that among those in dire economic straits, those who were more fatalistic, ambitious, or, yes, religious were likely to set sail for America? And obviously, if everyone who had relatives leave for America decided to come over, it wouldn’t be long before entire countries, or large portions of them, emptied out. That they didn’t suggests that other factors, like personality traits, were also involved.

    Your comment regarding Tocqueville really isn’t worth bothering with, but I think it’s pretty funny that you somehow inferred that I was making a conservative political argument based on the hypothesis that I put up. I made no reference as to whether the religious fervor of the average immigrant wound up being a good thing for America culturally, I was merely making a conjecture on a statistical issue. That you’d make such a large assumption on such narrow grounds says more about your own biases than anything else.

  33. Eric,

    “Perhaps, but even if that’s the case, I’d still consider such a form of discussion to be more preferable than one in which I pompously dismiss another poster’s arguments before making any arguments of my own regarding the issue at hand. Talk about hot air.”

    Oh you poor baby.

    “No kidding. And exactly where did I say that economic or family factors didn’t play a role?”

    You were fairly exclusivist in your factors. If you want to play the liar so be it.

    “My comment was centered on religion, not immigration.”

    It was centered on religion as an explanation for immigration patterns.

    “And obviously, if everyone who had relatives leave for America decided to come over, it wouldn’t be long before entire countries, or large portions of them, emptied out.”

    Actually, many regions of Europe did empty out; particularly those who suffered the worst levels of economic distress. Which of course explains why the poorest regions of Ireland, Italy, Eastern Europe were also those with the the most dense population departures.

    “Your comment regarding Tocqueville really isn’t worth bothering with, but I think it’s pretty funny that you somehow inferred that I was making a conservative political argument based on the hypothesis that I put up.”

    Of course you miss my entire point; which is this – you can find anything you want in de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.”

    Please re-read my original comment, it implies nothing about you individually; conservatives refers to the current strain of American ideologues who happen to fancy de Tocqueville, not to you individually:

    As to de Tocqueville, well you can find anything you want in that work; which is why so many varying American ideological strains have used him over time (conservatives are just part of a long line who cherry picked his work).

  34. All I really get from this thread is that I’d like to read Jennifer’s story about the lady getting the Ouija board job. It sounds very Terry Pratchett-y.

  35. joe, I assumed no immigration because it makes the comparison between fertility rates between the US and Europe easier. In reality, the US has higher immigration levels and therefore the population spread between the US and Europe will likely widen significantly in the future.

    I think there’s a general concensus that the US is more religious than Europe, in terms of how people actually live (as opposed to institutional structures like taxation). I’ve seen polls showing that far more Americans go to church regularly than Europeans or Canadians.

    Eric, I also question your immigration means greater religiosity argument. A good counter-example is Canada, which has seen immigration levels comparable to the US (significantly higher on a per-capita basis). The US admits about 800000 legal immigrants per year vs about 250000 for Canada (which has a tenth the population). Canada is considerably less religious than the US (based on various surveys about things like church attendance). Given the general degree of social similarity between Canada and the US, your immigration=religiousity theory seems implausible.

    In the above posts, people keep debating the “atheists are childless nihilists” vs “fuck you, I’m an atheist and I have kids!” divide. Only a slight difference in fertility rates is needed to make big long term demographic differences. So the fact that religious people have more children can account for the observed trends, while still acknowledging that many secular-ish people (and even atheists) will still have children.

  36. Where’s the problem with falling birth rates if you don’t have a ponzi scheme pension system?

    The problem is that government’s run Enronomics saving schemes and THEY are the problem.

    A falling popilation means that relative land price deflation can occur, and that means higher standards of living. Should the problem not be why are Americans having too many children?

  37. Thoreau:
    You have a good point. I think Americans are more religious because, unlike Europe, this country started off as secular. Americans were never oppressed by their church and so used that freedom to become more religious and start all sorts of sects and cults. A case in point, A British tourist told me last month that he was amazed by all the different churches he saw in this country (as we drove past a Church of White Witches or something like that).

    As far as the Euros having less children, a lot of it may be cultural. My European mother, when she first came to this country, was amazed by how much Americans liked children.

  38. i do think there’s an undercurrent of subtle racism in some of these arguments, especially in regards to the u.s.

    sort of reminds me of stories about the irish in america back in the day.

    i see it in my catholic inlaws, who roundaboutly talk about how the church is “changing” – i.e. getting browner, as it were – and how their local parish now has two african priests, etc. of course, my inlaws are also fuckwits, which may explain some things, but i don’t think people like change as much as they should. or are going to have to, cause shit’s just gonna get more hairy.

    of course, according to lonewhacko this is part of the Tortillaluminati’s master plan, but that shit don’t really fly in new york. maybe they’re more conspiratorial out there in CA. 🙂

    and you have to be a fucking moron to think that a lack of religiosity translates into a lack of appeal for life and all it has to offer. or that this somehow equates to nihilism. stop talking to the “i am guided by science and reason” internet atheist brigade and get outside ASAP.

  39. “Where’s the problem with falling birth rates if you don’t have a ponzi scheme pension system?”

    I keep hearing about how conservatives aren’t opposed to supporting the elderly, just against a government system to do so. So how does a private system provide the funding without enough workers any more than a public system?

  40. Joe,
    Maybe this is the problem. Retirement benefits in Europe are so lavish, why go through the effort of raising children to support you in your old age?

  41. Always had a rep, Dan?

    By “always” do you mean during the Reagan, Bush and Bush administrations but somehow not during the Clinton administration?

    Was there a time before the Reagan administration when Europeans thought of us as religious fanatics?

  42. Always had a rep, Dan?

    By “always” do you mean during the Reagan, Bush and Bush administrations but somehow not during the Clinton administration?

    Was there a time before the Reagan administration when Europeans thought of us as religious fanatics?

  43. Always had a rep, Dan?

    By “always” do you mean during the Reagan, Bush and Bush administrations but somehow not during the Clinton administration?

    Was there a time before the Reagan administration when Europeans thought of us as religious fanatics?

  44. I will never post from my phone again…

  45. that sort of assumes that everyone plans on having kids when they have kids.

  46. Ken,
    I dunno. Maybe we got that rep because we were founded with a mix of merchants and religious fanatics. Not that that’s a bad thing. 🙂

  47. Smart folks do, dhex.

    That’s why my DNA is as good as any and better than most!

  48. Though the chasm was probably never as wide as it is now, there is a long history of some Europeans seeing Americans as more fervently religous than themselves. Tocqueville’s writings are a good reference point here.

    My guess is that America’s relative piety owes itself to two factors. One is that, for obvious reasons, the World Wars were far more traumatizing events for Europe than they were for us, and didn’t do much to shake the nationalist and religious sentiments of the average American.

    The second factor is a sort of natural selection; for about 300 years, emigrating to America generally meant hopping onto a boat to set off for a land that’s several thousand miles away, knowing there’s a good chance that you’ll never see your homeland again, to a culture that was quite often quite alien to the one that you’re leaving behind. Even now, emigration still tends to require major sacrifices of those taking part in it. It’s not a stretch to assume that, on average, these people have been more religious than those in their homelands who stayed behind.

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