Lawrence P. Grayson
Lent has begun and the raucous Mardi Gras carnivals for 2015 are over. These annual rites are celebrated in many countries and in dozens of cities across America. The New Orleans bacchanal, which is this nation’s largest and oldest, has been described on one website aimed at the college crowd as “the annual festival of drunken debauchery and excessively good times.”
This festivity epitomizes the hedonistic self-centeredness that permeates much of Western society. The focus is totally on me – my pleasure, my career, my advancement, my future. The attitude is carried into organizations, as major companies have begun paying valued female employees to delay childbearing in order to concentrate on their careers. Children are an impediment to corporate success.
The results – a dearth of children and demographic decline – are being experienced widely among economically-advanced.
The fertility rate in Japan, for example, is 1.4 children per couple, well below the 2.1 needed to keep the population from shrinking. By 2060, that nation’s population is projected to fall by 30 percent; for every 10 people 4 will be 65 or older while less than 1will be 14 or under.
What is happening in Japan is occurring in many other countries that are struggling with belowreplacement fertility rates. Italy’s health minister recently said her nation is dying because its people do not want children. With a fertility rate of 1.4 and 40 percent of Italian couples choosing not to have children, the country as it presently exists is doomed.
Taiwan's president recently warned that his country's lack of children is a serious national security threat. In 1951, the average Taiwanese woman had seven children; today, the fertility rate is 1.1. In Britain, the fertility rate is 1.9; in Russia 1.6; in Spain 1.5; and in Germany1.4.
America is on a similar track. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in December 2014, reported that the number of births in the United States in 2013 declined 9 percent from 2007 – the last time it was at the replacement level – depressing the fertility rate to 1.86. This is lower than during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the lowest it has been since the late 1970s when there was high unemployment, inflation, long-lines at the gas-pump and, as President Carter described it, a national loss of “confidence in the future” characterized by “paralysis and stagnation and drift.”
The low fertility rates have enormous implications for every sector of a nation’s society – the economy, social stability, health care, pensions, defense, and foreign relations, among others – regardless of the country’s political system or views. Big government, social security, national health care and other entitlement programs are not sustainable if there are not enough future taxpayers being born to fund them. The free market and the creation of new companies and industries cannot continue if labor shortages are due to a population profile that is radically skewed toward the aged. Abortion, contraception, delayed child bearing, high rates of divorce and a laxity towards marriage are depriving many nations of their next generations. How and in what form will these countries survive?
Giving birth implies an optimistic view of the future. In his general audience on February 11, Pope Francis stated that “Children are a gift.” He asked people to “think of the many societies we know here in Europe. They are depressed societies because they don’t want children, they don’t have children.” He further said, "A society that is not surrounded by children because it considers them a problem has no future.”
The Pope blamed a "culture of well-being" for convincing married couples that a life of prosperity and indulgence, marked by travel, vacations and summer homes, is better than having children. But the lives of these couples “will end in old age in solitude, with the bitterness of bad solitude." An increasingly infertile present can quickly become a barren future. A nation without children will eventually lead to the decline of the nation.
Catholic women in America have typically borne more children than the general population. This has been attributed to Church doctrine prohibiting birth control, the family culture of immigrant populations, a strong sense of religious identity and solidarity, and the prominent place of churches and Catholic schools in Catholic communities. Starting in the late1960s, with dissent over Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae and confusion over the teachings of Vatican II, there has been a lessening of adherence to Catholic doctrine, an increase in people leaving the faith, and for many who remain less faithfulness in its practice. Today, Catholics are barely distinguishable from other religious groups in their attitudes toward contraception, abortion, marriage, religious attendance, and other moral-social indicators.
Since 1970, in spite of a 50 percent increase in the number of people who identify themselves as Catholics, there have been huge decreases in the number of children attending Catholic elementary and secondary schools, in enrollments in parish religious education programs, in Baptisms, First Communions and Catholic marriages. Further, less than half of the alleged Catholics presently attend Mass even once a month.
While secularism and individualism are fueling demographic decline, a reinvigorated faith in God is the antidote. Faith helps us realize that our lives have a purpose greater than the materialism of this temporary world, and that there is a loving, merciful but just God who will judge our actions here on earth. This prompts us to be more faithful to our religion, to our responsibilities, to our families and neighbors, and more open to life.
Let us use this Lenten period to dwell on the sacrifices Our Lord made for us, rejoice in His Easter Resurrection, and begin the rejuvenation of our Faith.
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Published March 2015