April 27, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, April 27, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The prophets of secularization miscalculated: Religious people have more children than secular people
The Journal of Evolutionary Psychological Science might seem to be a strange place for us to begin, but in terms of worldview analysis it is exactly the right place. The article recently published in the academic journal had the headline,
“The Future of Secularism: a Biologically Informed Theory Supplemented with Cross-Cultural Evidence.”Show Full Transcript
If that title sounds like something remote and abstract and merely academic, well, look a little more closely, because what we see here is the intersection of worldview and fertility—in particular, the very stunning insight that secularists are beginning to understand that of all the religious groups in the world, rather than increasing in number and percentage in the 21st century, they are likely to decline for the very simple reason that would’ve been understood by Adam and Eve. If you don’t have babies, you don’t have a future. The study was written by scholars from both Asia and Europe, and they write first to explain secularism and secularity. They say,
“Secularism refers to the idea that as mankind’s scientific knowledge continues to grow, thereby explaining more and more of the natural universe and the evolution of life, supernatural (religious) explanations will gradually fade into history.”
Now that is actually more accurately described as secularization. But nonetheless, the two are very closely tied together. Secularism is generally understood to be the ideology that encourages the process of secularization. The scholars went on to say,
“Over the years, various specific theories have been offered to help explain nuances in the secularization process.”
But all of them basically come together to affirm that,
“As humans become more rational and scientifically enlightened, religiosity will fade. In other words,” they say, “as scientific knowledge accumulates and is disseminated to the masses, the tendencies for humans to adopt secularist (i.e., non-supernatural) belief systems will gradually supplant religious belief systems.”
But all of that is background to the fact that that process is not happening on schedule with how the prophets of secularization had predicted, and this kind of article is reflective of the fact that many people who not only are proponents of secularization but of secularism are becoming somewhat concerned about the future pattern. That concern is rooted in the fact that they were certain that they would own the 21st century and the future. They saw this as the inevitable outcome of the secularization of the society and, of course, a largely total secular takeover of higher education. As some of the prophets of secularization made very clear, it really doesn’t matter if children are raised by religious parents for the first 18 years of their lives, not if those parents then have to turn those teenagers over to those who are in control of higher education in America.
In terms of much of what had been predicted, it has taken place. Europe becomes a classical example as a laboratory for secularization, North America more slowly, although Canada has been very closely tracking the European pattern. But in the United States and furthermore even more so around the world, very high rates of religiosity have continued. Now it’s interesting to note that these scholars make a distinction between deeply held theological beliefs and what might be called just a generalized religiosity, and more than anything else it’s that religiosity that hasn’t faded away. And as the authors of the article make clear,
“Failures to find much if any diminution in religious beliefs, especially worldwide, has prompted some social scientists to propose modified versions of secularization theory.”
In a very interesting essay, the scientists tried to explain why the proponents of secularization have had to revise their theory and revise it again and go at it a third and a fourth time. There is at least one interesting new argument in this article. They argue that a slowdown in secularization might be due to a falloff in intelligence measured by IQ. The authors write,
“Trends in intelligence also have implications for the secularization hypothesis. There is new evidence that mean IQ is beginning to decline.”
At this point, it should simply tell us something that when evolutionary scientists try to explain why religion will not pass away, they have to come up with some explanation, and it’s interesting that it comes to them that it just might be that people are less intelligent than they were and thus are becoming less secular.
But that’s really a very side argument to their main thesis. Their main thesis is what’s most revealing. It turns out that the biggest reason why they believe there has been a slowdown in secularism is that secularists aren’t having babies. Now one of the things we have to observe within this article is what we have seen elsewhere. And that is that if you buy into the naturalistic and evolutionary view of life, of the entire cosmos, then everything has to be explained in purely evolutionary terms. That’s one of the reasons why they’re looking for heritability in terms of driving issues in the slowdown of secularization and the persistence of religious belief.
But you also note that when they talk about fertility, they have to come up with an evolutionary explanation for why it’s not happening, and one of the reasons they argue is that agreeableness, that is relatableness, is actually also an inheritable trait. And it turns out that people who tend to be more agreeable tend to marry people who are also more agreeable, and they agree to have babies. The flipside of that becomes this: people who are not agreeable tend not to get married and thus also not tend to have children, and it turns out that embedded in this assumption is that more religious people are, well, you guessed it, more agreeable, and more secular people are less agreeable—thus the babies.
This is a pretty massive scientific article and embedded in it is all kinds of research, but also some really powerful paragraphs, such as this once, which I think is my favorite:
“Overall, for members of most established religions, the extent to which they were religious was positively correlated with the fertility of their parents. If one combines this finding with the extensive evidence reviewed in the introduction that both religiosity and fertility are substantially influenced by genes, one can deduce that over the long term, secularization is not likely to replace the popularity of religion. Instead, over the long term, we predict that the most religious ‘shall inherit the earth,’ so to speak. This is especially so for the most fertile religious groups—Islam.”
Now I’ll be honest if that was my favorite paragraph, I have to go back to my favorite sentence. It was this, you’ll recall,
“Overall, for members of most established religions, the extent to which they were religious was positively correlated with the fertility of their parents.”
Let me just state the obvious, which isn’t stated in this article. Their very existence is correlated with the fertility of their parents. Toward the end of their analysis, the scientists write,
“For over a century, social scientists have predicted that secularist/scientific thinking will eventually replace religious/supernatural thinking as humans become better educated and thereby more rational and scientifically astute. Most of the empirical support for this prediction has come from Europe, where declines in religious involvement and at least modest declines in conventional religious beliefs have been documented throughout much of the twentieth century. In the USA, after decades of relative stability there appears to have also been a modest decline in religiosity since the mid-1990s. Elsewhere in the world, most of the trends in religiosity have either been upward, such as in the former Soviet Union and its satellites or more or less stable, such as in Asia and the Middle East. Even in European countries, the trends in religiosity seem to have been mixed since the 1990s with modest increases so far in the twenty-first century. Overall, it is difficult to cite survey data that makes a clear case for any long-term trends toward secularism. Moreover, in analyses that go back to medieval Europe, social historians claim that contemporary religious involvement in Western countries is not lower than in prior centuries.”
Well there’s a great deal there to unpack. But as we try to do so, let’s just consider the fact that we are not arguing here as to whether or not America’s larger civic life, its cultural life, is becoming more secular. Clearly, it is. But as we’ve noted in the past, it’s not becoming secular primarily by people acknowledging themselves to be secularists. It is far more becoming the case that people who think themselves religious and continue in some level of religious involvement, or at least religious identification, actually are having their thought processes, their worldview, more secularized as the entertainment and intellectual culture around them becomes pervasively so. But what is clear is that the prophets of secularization who had prophesied that religion would pass away are finding themselves perplexed by the 21st century.
And also as you see in this article, they feel the need to try to explain this, and this is where from a Christian worldview perspective we find the biggest issue here. There is the acknowledgment in this article documented and with an attempt to explain all of this in merely evolutionary terms the fact that religious people tend to have children and those children tend to be religious. That doesn’t take a whole lot of scientific explanation, but here you have it nonetheless. Documented across several cultures, you have these scientists making the point that worldview matters, and that the worldview of secularism does not lead to attitudinal nor relational patterns that end up in either marriage or in fertility, that is, having children.
About 20 years ago, James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal made a similar point on the issue of abortion, pointing out that one of the reasons why over the last generation the ranks of pro-life forces have increased is because pro-life people tend also to be pro-baby and tend to have them. Childbearing rates amongst women identified with the feminist movement over against those who are identified in the pro-life movement are about as starkly different as one might imagine. Taranto argued, now again, a generation ago, that the pro-abortion movement would have to exist off of recruits because they were not having babies. He predicted that was going to be quite a challenge. And as we’ve seen, he was quite prophetic in getting to the reality of the fact that as you look at the pro-life movement, one of the most amazing things about it is that as one goes younger in the generations one actually finds even more fervent pro-life commitment.
All of this of course for Christians points to the biblical worldview and our understanding that we shouldn’t be shocked by either this scientific report or even something like the Taranto thesis. Instead, we should understand this to be affirmation from the society around us of the fact that worldviews always have consequences, and one of those consequences actually comes down to whether or not human beings have children or, to put it more specifically, which human beings do have children. I can only imagine what was going through the minds of the scientists who in this study had to write that line you’ve already heard,
“Instead, over the long term, we predict that the most religious ‘shall inherit the earth’ so to speak.”
And thus it will be, and we could have known that in advance, so to speak. Now that actually makes perfect sense but now you have it documented in the Evolutionary Psychological Journal. So now you’ve heard it on the authority of science, so to speak.
ISIS, Cubs of the Caliphate, and the importance of capturing the hearts of our children with the truth
Next, a rather troubling, indeed horrifying, article about the correlation between children and the future. This one appears in a major London newspaper, The Telegraph, with the haunting headline,
“Inside the underground ‘Cubs of the Caliphate’ training camp where brainwashed Iraqi children are taught to fight and die for Isil.”
Now we’re not just talking about children, we’re actually talking here about boys. Josie Ensor writing from Mosul in Iraq tells us,
“A pair of boy’s white gym shorts and a lone plimsoll lie muddied and abandoned on the ground. A broken skipping rope hangs on the wall next to a painted black flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The underground Isil training camp for children is every bit as macabre you would expect. The Telegraph was given a tour of a “Cubs of the Caliphate” camp recaptured earlier this month by the Iraqi army, who say it was used to teach young recruits to become fighters for the jihadist group.”
Ensor tells us that the camp was “built in a disused railway tunnel, part of a line which in more peaceful days connected Berlin to Baghdad, it is thought to have been the largest Isil training facility in Iraq.”
After offering considerable detail, we are told that the militants had laid out an assault course for the boys to complete. At the start were duffel bags filled with sand and rocks which trainees would wear to weigh them down as they scaled the first obstacle, the climbing rope. Red arrows pointed to the direction which they were then supposed to scramble over a wall still covered in scruff marks made by their boots. Next, we are told they were made to crawl under a net of barbed wire before tackling the monkey bars and finally the zip line. One Sergeant of the Iraqi Army said,
“The exercises were similar to those given to Iraqi special forces, but an easier version as it was for kids.”
The Telegraph tells us,
“At one end of the tunnel were portacabin toilets and a kitchen, at the other were classrooms. Textbooks entitled ‘Learn your religion’ suggested the physical drills were complemented with an ideological training designed to brainwash the boys. On the walls the fighters had painted Isil flags and murals that read ‘we will conquer Rome with the will of Allah’ and ‘we will prevail despite the global Crusader alliance.’”
What was found in terms of this abandoned tunnels in the aftermath of the ISIS retreat from the region was a massive training camps, but the most troubling part of the training camp was not for men, but for boys, and the boys were as young as 10 and 11 up to about the age 16. The purpose was unmistakable. It was to make these “Cubs of the Caliphate” fighters for the Islamic State and, even more troubling than that, suicide bombers. By the time you get to the end of the article, Iraqi security forces have estimated that one third of all the suicide bombings in the region were undertaken by children, particularly boys under the age of 17.
The tour included evidence that the children slept in small, windowless chambers off the side of the tunnels. It was believed that the facility could house 50 boys at a time. It is also estimated that 2000 boys passed through the two years the camp was open. It looks like that in this camp they kept records much as in the local middle school concerning the children and their attendance and their progress in terms of learning. All the children, said The Telegraph, were Iraqis from this one area near Palmyra, but we are also told that the trainers were from throughout the area of the world under the control of the Islamic State.
This Cubs of the Caliphate training camp was not alone. We are told that there were others within the network of the Islamic State. The Telegraph says that,
“Thousands of children have been forced to undergo training at the so-called cubs of the caliphate camps.”
It is believed that there were many of them, and there have been multiple thousands of children who’ve undergone the training. And then comes the line,
“Isil targets children specifically, with the aim of creating a generation of loyal followers who are indoctrinated from an early age. The terror group is increasingly having to rely on young recruits as they face mounting losses in the battle for Mosul. More than a third of suicide attacks on Iraqi forces in the past month are believed to have been carried out by fighters under the age of 17.”
Now those who know history immediately see a pattern here. That pattern takes us back for example to the camps of the Soviet Union for children and in particular for boys getting them ready to serve in the Red Army. It takes us back perhaps most infamously in the 20th century to the Hitler Youth, the summer camps that were built for the recreation of children, again most particularly the training of boys, and camaraderie and also in paramilitary skills to get them ready to serve in Hitler’s army, the Wehrmacht. And even as we are told that at this stage the Islamic State is running out of adult soldiers and having to turn to children, the same thing was true of the German Army in the last year of its existence. By the time Russians came from the East and the Allies came from the West in terms of capturing Berlin, many of the defenders of Berlin were either very elderly men or very young boys as young as 13 and 14 years old. They were manning the antiaircraft guns.
But history, of course, points us even further back. We would have to back in history to ancient Sparta where boys were separated from their parents at a very early age and trained in explicitly military settings in order to create an entire class of warriors. This approach was also taken up by various religious groups, most famously in church history, the Jesuit Order of the Roman Catholics who operated by the motto,
“Give me the child for his first seven years, and I’ll give you the man.”
You put all this together, this really horrifying picture from Iraq concerning the Cubs of the Caliphate, and it reminds us of the stewardship of our own children and of the fact that there is a logic behind all of this, a murderous logic to be sure, but the logic comes down to this: how we raise our children is how we bend the future. It is how we understand how we are going to hand down the faith once for all delivered to the saints to successive generations of children who will then become the parents of successive generations of children. If we do not reach our own children, we can’t possibly reach the world.
One of the most interesting facts that has remained constant throughout Christian history is that the vast majority of those who have ever been baptized in the church—and take that in the most generous definition possible—have been the children of parents. And especially as evangelicals look to the equation, it has remained constant—not uniform, but constant—that the vast majority of those who have come to a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ have had Christian parents or have heard the Gospel at a very early age. This is one of the reasons why we understand that not only is children’s ministry and youth ministry so strategic, and not only is parenting so vitally and ultimately important during those times, but we also come to understand the unique responsibility and power of campus ministry reaching young people between the ages of 18 and 22 and those who are continuing for graduate study, understanding that that period of life may be one of the very last where there is the opportunity to reach a hearts that might be open for the Gospel. The reality is we share the gospel to people of all ages, and there are glorious conversions as people at any age of life hear the Gospel, and hearing it believe, and believing are saved. But it is still a statistical norm that the vast majority of those who do come to profess faith in the Lord Jesus Christ do so at very young ages.
The Cubs of the Caliphate camp is intended to turn boys into killers for the Islamic state, and they understand that if they can get these kids into camps like these they have a pretty good chance of capturing their hearts and minds as well. Let that be a haunting backdrop as a reminder of our responsibility as Christian parents and as Christian churches, raising our children not to be Cubs of the caliphate, but rather followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and ultimately, we pray, deploying them, not for mayhem, but rather for missions.
But finally this article also helps us to understand why we should look at the world with broken hearts, understanding the experiences that even now are the lives of so many children and young people around the world. What was happening in that tunnel in the Cubs of the Caliphate is just one indication of the brutal, horrifying lives of deprivation and suffering undertaken by many children who find themselves in the grip of so many evils, including in this case the evil of radical Islam. Surely this article on the camp that was to produce the Cubs of the Caliphate should remind all of us that our children are going be cubs of someone and something. They’re going to grow up to serve someone. They are going to grow up to serve some cause. They’re going to serve some worldview. The question is, who will they serve and what worldview will they hold?
On the one hand, it might seem to be a big jump to go from the Cubs of the Caliphate camp there in Iraq to your local Christian youth and vacation Bible school, but here’s where we understand that though theologically and morally there is a vast difference, in terms of ambition, there is a monumental gulf, but in terms of understanding the vital importance of reaching children and young people, well, there we have the affirmation of the very same truth. Let that truth inform your prayers as you tuck your own children into their beds and pray at their bedsides tonight.