New Atheists comfort themselves with the idea that religious people will continue to drift their way, like rustics to the city, but the figures do not bear this out. It is true that liberal religious people continue to embrace atheism at a rate that alarms the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Methodist Churches, and Reform synagogues. Once religions start to accept secularism and rationality, their young people usually reach the logical conclusion of doubt – unbelief.Share
More conservative religions do not have that problem. Only 5 per cent of the more traditional Amish leave the faith, and when a community’s birth rate outstrips the national average by 200 or 300 per cent they can easily afford to lose one in 20 of the flock.
While the likes of Richard Dawkins aim their bile at traditional Christianity, fundamentalists are largely immune to their attacks, and become only stronger as the more committed members of the established churches head their way. Those religions that survive will become more conservative.
God alone knows what will happen to the Church of England this century, but we can safely say that the Catholic Church will become smaller but more committed. It will continue to exist at the margins of an atheist-dominated Europe ruled by an increasingly intolerant secular Left.
Widespread anti-religious feeling will only get more intense as the coming demographic changes outlined by Kaufmann appear to ring true, and as Evangelical Christians start to become more significant in, for example, the British Conservative Party.
But that smaller, more orthodox Catholic Church will have a huge inbuilt advantage – what French Canadian Catholics used to call “revenge of the cradle”. Many orthodox Catholics I know have 3 or 4 children – that’s not a recklessly high number, but in a society where the atheist fertility rate is around 1 child per woman, that advantage will show over a few decades, especially since orthodox Catholics have a far smaller drop-off rate than their liberal brethren.
Much as this will anger the New Atheists, which is a plus, Kaufmann’s thesis is disturbing. Personally I prefer Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Anglican civilisation to some of the wackier strains of Evangelical Christianity. As for fundamentalist Islam…
It’s happened before: Kaufmann believes that Christianity’s rise from 40 followers to 6 million within three centuries had less to do with conversions that with higher birth rates, since the Christians rejected such pagan practises as polygamy and infanticide.
Today we view the ancient world’s attitude to infanticide as barbaric and incomprehensible, but perhaps future generations will look at our attitudes to abortion in the same way – that's not because pro-lifers would have won the argument, simply that (in addition to the effect of the Pill) abortion is killing the atheists of tomorrow. (Read more.)