A man I knew recently passed on. I had the opportunity to speak to him at length less than 48 hours before he died, and the conversation will be etched in my mind for as long as my memory holds out. Although he was in his eighties, his mind was sharp (he died of lung cancer). Despite facing the end through slow suffocation, he showed no anxiety. He was ready to see a daughter who had died in infancy. A pious and secularly erudite man, he 'lectured' to me on multiple occasions on the Beatitudes, especially the Sermon on the Mount.
I bring this up because it illustrates a recurring theme: How beneficial or detrimental to an individual and to society is religious belief? That's a question with so many externalities and exceptions that a straightforward answer is lacking. I'm terrified of death a good sixty years out (or much longer, I hope), yet this friend was indifferent, even eager, just hours prior. I'm not religious. He was. So score one for religion? But that's hardly a trend. It just illustrates the shortcomings of one eschatological monomaniac.
On a national level, religiosity and IQ are, using data from a Pew survey, inversely correlated at .848. Domestically, religious belief and educational attainment are inversely related as well. But in the game of survival, 'fitness' doesn't necessarily entail the characteristics we conventionally deem desirable. The bald eagle is stronger, can fly higher, and has better eyesight than the red-tailed hawk. The peregrine falcon is faster and delivers a more crushing blow than the red-tail, but the red-tail thrives while the others recover from near extinction. Grizzlies are physically superior to black bears in every way, but the latter are everywhere and the former are nearly impossible to find. And the pitiable pious are reproducing, while the astute apostates are not.
The correlation between religiosity and fecundity at the national level (measured in total births per woman) is a statistically significant .714. The meek are inheriting the earth. Irreligious nations are moribund nations. Russians and Japanese are both dying faster than they're reproducing. All of the developed world, save the US (barely) and Israel, is on track not only to lose population 'market share' but to begin hemorraging population in absolute numbers as well.
It takes time for birth patterns to show up in terms of total population. This accentuates the problem, because by the time the problem becomes salient, fifty years of extra fecundity still leaves a smaller population than existed as the society first went over the precipice a half-century before. A simple hypothetical demonstrates.
Say there are 50 men and 50 women that dropped out of the sky as infants (total 100). Each live to 95 and give birth to one child (the women does) at age 30. Thus, after 30 years we have 150 people. Of those 50 newborns, 25 are men and 25 are women who will follow the same pattern. Thirty years later, we have 175 people total: 100 at age sixty, 50 at thirty, and 25 infants (population still growing).
Another 30 years, with the same birth cycles for our third generation (say 13 are women, 12 are men) and we now have 188 people total. But the age distribution is economically disastrous: 100 people are ninety, 50 are sixty, 25 are thirty, and 13 are infants. Supporting the people on top is smothering the younger generations, especially the 25 who are currnetly thirty years old.
The economic burden of supporting the senescent people makes it likely that they will have even fewer children than they did (relative to their parents). It's a vicious circle. This is where the West is today. Thirty years later the proportions are the same, but the population has finally started shrinking (because the largest first generation finally kicked the bucket): 50 people at ninety, 25 at sixty, 13 at thirty, and six infants (94 total people).
Now we are in free-fall. Thirty years later at the same births per woman, and we have only 47 people (25 at ninety, 13 at sixty, 6 at thirty, and 3 infants). If we do finally get our act (er, bodies) together, it takes generations for the momentum to actually shift. Let's say instead of plummeting, that last generation actually became thrice as fertile and had three kids per woman: 25 at ninety, 13 at sixty, 6 at thirty, and 9 infants (total 53). The next generation similarly has three children per woman: 13 at ninety, 6 at sixty, 9 at thirty, and 13 infants (total 41). Three generations into three-children women: 6 at ninety, 9 at sixty, 13 at thirty, and 20 infants (total 48). Four generations of birthing well above the replenishment rate, and we still have fewer people than we did at the height of the single-child generation.
At the height of Western dominance just before WWI, people of European ancestry comprised one-fourth of the world's population. At the dawn of the sexual revolution in the early sixties, they comprised one-sixth of it. Today, they make up one-tenth and that proportion continues to fall.
The religious also tend to be more nationalistic (anabaptists and Jehovah's Witnesses excluded), and the decline of Western religiosity has paralleled the decline in Western nationalism. A Pew survey of white evangelicals, mainstream Protestants, Catholics, and secularists found support for immigration restriction proceeded in the same order, with evangelicals least supportive of current immigration patterns and secularists the most supportive of them.
To the extent that religion has a causal effect on procreation and nationalism, it's difficult to see how to increase it without importing a low IQ third-world population. We need to find a way to glean the benefits associated with religiosity (fecundity and support for sovereignty) without assuming the baggage (lower economic productivity and lower IQs).
Could it be as simple as making the intelligent more pious? While the idea is abhorrent to the sharp, critical brains out there, I'm not aware of any evidence showing that religiosity has a detrimental effect on IQ, although that seems to be suggested when people point out strong inverse relationship between religiosity and IQ. Ownership of a seeing-eye dog is strongly related to the inability to drive a car. But obviously the dog doesn't render one unable to drive, nor does the inability of the owner to operate a vehicle say anything about the value of the dog.
I suspect religion is only a part of a larger cultural shift in which there is little pressure on people to get married and have children, and virtually no stigmatization if they refuse to. While Catholicism still condemns the pill, it's available nonetheless. An increasingly competitive globalized economy makes childrearing costly by diverting energy from business pursuits. A few places like France, Portugal and Russia have introduced economic incentives to entice their populations to have more children, but historically the results have been marginal because even with stipends to soften the blow of husbandry, children are still an economic liability. It's simply becoming less rational on the individual level to have children. But what is good for the individual can be disastrous for society (stealing/cheating, for example). The irrationality of religion probably negates the natural movement towards voluntary childlessness that seems to inevitably result from a world progressively open to 'selfish' pursuits, so many of which are more intriguing and less costly than raising kids.
Demographics become destiny. The US is staying afloat in the battle for replenishment by comprising its ethnic composition, trading skills and smarts for babies. The rest of the Occident is dying. Introducing market forces into the academic world should help. So would policies focused on making affordable family formation as conducive as possible, such as an end to wage-suppressing peasant labor and the instituting of a merit immigration system to raise the average native's standard of living.
(Politics and Religion)