Are Fundamentalists Outbreeding Us?
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Sat Aug 19, 2006 at 01:12:29 PM EST
Deacon Tim's excellent piece on Anglican orthodoxy ("Babies, Anglicans, and the End of the Reformation") alludes briefly to a meme that seems to be gaining currency in progressive religious circles -- and probably shouldn't be.

The notion that fundamentalists have more babies, and will thus win in the end by sheer force of numbers, is one that they've been gleefully promulgating among their own faithful for the past couple years. We, however, should not be helping that idea take legs and spread into the mainstream, because it's probably only "truthy" at best.

It is true that the retention rate (the rate at which children raised in the faith stick with it as adults) is somewhat higher among fundamentalist Christians than it is among mainstream Protestant groups. However, it's still not good: the odds are probably better than even that kids raised in either group will not be practicing in those same groups by midlife.

In particular, over 50% of all fundamentalist kids who attend secular college have left the fold entirely after four years. (The bulk of that group leaves in the first two.) This is, in fact, why fundamentalist parents hate sending their kids to secular schools -- how are you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen State U?

But college isn't the only place attrition is high. A lot of people who leave deeply conservative religions make the break at other life transition points. Leaving home (even if not for college), marriage, widowhood or divorce, the death of a parent, and retirement all seem to be major turning points where our religious beliefs either sustain us, or prove to be disappointingly inadequate to the job.

The midlife crisis of the late 30s may be the biggest one of all. At this point in life, we have the confidence to question authority, and the seriousness of mind to demand good answers. It's a time of earnest seeking and self-creation. While some people are drawn to authoritarian religion as part of this phase, it's often a temporary experiment that's over in a few years (the long-term retention rate for these folks isn't great) and their families seldom join them. At the same time, those who've grown up in these churches can be drawn away from them during this period of seeking. They're likely to be gone for good -- and they usually take their spouses and half-grown children with them when they go.

Taken altogether, I'd be surprised if one in three kids born into fundamentalist homes are still practicing the same faith at 45. If that guess is anywhere near accurate, these families would have to raise six babies to ensure that there were still two adults in the pews half a century hence. While they may have one or two more kids on average, that's still nowhere near the rate needed to achieve this.

The current best research (I think it's Pew's stuff) reveals the real trend we need to discuss: The number of Americans who consider themselves secular, and have no church affiliation, has been steadily rising for the past couple generations and shows no signs of slowing. While the mainstream churches have taken the bulk of that hit, this fact still puts the lie to fundamentalist crowing that they're going to somehow outbreed us.

Let's not help them validate this idea. There's plenty of reason to doubt its essential truth.

a great point. It's not all about birth. It is mostly about the journey after birth.

by Carlos on Sat Aug 19, 2006 at 01:49:56 PM EST

The religious self-identification studies that are the largest and most reliable are the CUNY ARIS studies. I wrote about them (among other times and places), inferences to draw, and their impact on the future HERE

by sdanielmorgan on Mon Aug 21, 2006 at 12:00:11 PM EST

..........that so many Fundamentalists think that the "only" way to have large families is by becoming prolific "breeders."

I can think of two "justifications" at work here, both of which are far from healthy.

First, keeping women pregnant and/or nursing, both of which are tremendous drains on a woman's physical and emotional energy (as I know from personal experience), is a time-honored way of controlling them. The old "barefoot and pregnant" garbage just refuses to go away.

Second--and this is truly sickening--far too often there's an underlying racist agenda. The aim isn't just to outpopulate the unbelievers, it's to outpopulate the nonwhites. That attitude isn't the exclusive property of extremists like Christian Identity who state it outright; it influences many others as well, including some who would be horrified to admit it even to themselves, much less openly.

Otherwise, it seems to me that if they wanted to put their professed love of children (not to mention Christ's teaching and example of love for all "the least of these" and downplaying blood ties) into action, or if they simply wanted to bring up a whole tribe of little Fundamentalists to outpopulate the rest of us (whether or not that actually works), after having a couple of their own biological children they'd look around and see how many children all over the world are in need of good homes and loving families, and adopt as many more as they wanted.

I myself gave birth to one child and realized I don't have the "gift for parenthood" (although I wish to God I did; early on in our marriage, my ex and I talked seriously about adopting a child or two eventually). I wouldn't take a billion dollars for my son, but I knew better than to go through it again. To those who love children and do have the "gift for parenthood," biology shouldn't matter. To keep on squeezing out babies while so many children beg in the streets, starve, and die of preventable or curable diseases isn't love; it's sentimentality mixed with selfishness.

by anomalous4 on Sun Aug 27, 2006 at 12:31:58 PM EST

I have four children, three of them triplets!  While we never set out to have a big family, we have one, thanks be to God.  All the churches we visit love to see us coming- the pastor knows there will be a full chancel when Children's Time comes!

Just to let you know one mainline Christian is doing his share of keeping the Church full!

by Steven D. Martin on Tue Aug 29, 2006 at 06:58:56 AM EST

My parents only planned to have two, but I suppose God had other ideas.

While I thought when I was a kid that three younger (unplanned) siblings equalled one zoo, now that we're all adults I'm glad I've got 'em.

My mom always said she wouldn't take a million dollars for any of us, but you couldn't pay her a million bucks to have another one--and that she hoped she'd only end up with 8 grandchildren. We got that part right, at least! ---grin---

I still think cranking out 8, or 9, or 17 (like a family that's been featured several times on Discovery Health) when so many other kids need homes and families is ridiculous--but that's only one woman's opinion.............

by anomalous4 on Sat Sep 09, 2006 at 12:30:08 PM EST

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