A peculiar feature of the West over the last half century or so is the sudden decline in church attendance among Christians. In some parts of Europe, church attendance has declined into the single digits. France and Belgium have church attendance rates of around ten percent and it is mostly among the old. Estonia is at two percent, which makes it the least religious country in Europe, at least until they invite in enough Muslims. Even in the United States, religiosity is in steep decline, especially outside the South.
These declines have not been uniform. Quebec, for example, had high church attendance rates until fairly recent. They also had a relatively high fertility rate. Then all of a sudden, both went into steep decline. Similarly, Poland had very high church attendance rates, even under the yoke of communism, but then it started to fall. As in Quebec, this recent drop in church attendance is with the young and corresponds to a drop in fertility. As David Goldman observed, all over the world, religiosity and fertility follow the same path.
One assumed cause is social cycle theory, where a society goes through a process of birth, life and death, with falling fertility and religiosity in the late phases. Another explanation is that one causes the other. That is, when women get jobs instead of getting pregnant, church attendance falls. Alternatively, the drop in church attendance causes a drop in fertility, as other traditional modes of life also decline. Still others argue that multiculturalism crowds out both religion and normal family life, causing the decline of both.
A better, less popular explanation for both the decline of religion and the drop in fertility is the spread of what we call capitalism. In the two examples of Quebec and Poland, the drop in fertility and religiosity both coincided with their inclusion into the global economy starting in the 1990’s. Quebec was not communist, but somewhat disconnected from the emerging global economy, until the independence movement was defeated. One result of that process was the greater integration of Quebec into the global economy.
Poland, of course, was in the Soviet Bloc until the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was then quickly and suddenly integrated into the emerging global economy. Poland joined the West and then stopped going to church and stopped making babies. Polish church attendance dropped from 80% to 40% in a generation. The fertility rate in 1980 was 3.0 and by 2000 it had dropped to 1.37. The opening of Poland to capitalism and the global economy corresponded with the closing of Polish churches and the Polish womb.
If you think about the nature of capitalism, in theory at least, and the nature of religion, it is not hard to see the conflict. Capitalism not only assumes certain things about people, it imposes them. The marketplace is a competition to attain informational asymmetry between the buyer and seller. The seller wants the buyer to over value the good or service, while the buyer wants the seller to undervalue his product or service. It is only in this way that either can expect to make a profit from the transaction.
In a system where the highest good is a profit, then all other considerations must be secondary. Lying, for example, is no longer strictly prohibited. The seller will no longer feel obligated to disclose everything to the buyer. The seller will exaggerate his claims about his product or service. Buyers, of course, will seek to lock in sellers into one way contracts based on information unknown the other seller. The marketplace, at its most basic level, is a game of liar’s poker, where all sides hope to fool the other.
Religion, in contrast, also assumes certain things about people, but seeks to mitigate and ameliorate them. Generally speaking, religion assumes the imperfection of man and sees that imperfection as the root cause of human suffering. While those imperfections cannot be eliminated, the negative effects can be reduced through moral codes, contemplation and the full understanding of one’s nature. Religions, outside of some extreme cults, are not about altering the nature of man, but rather the acceptance of it.
Further, religion is a closed system, while the marketplace must be open. In order to be in the sect, one has to adopt a certain lifestyle and a certain set of beliefs. Most of all, the person has to be accepted by the other members. The marketplace, in theory, is open to everyone and the participants cannot exclude new entries. An ethos based on extreme openness cannot peacefully coexist with a system based on exclusivity. Not only has religion died in the West, but so have social organizations like fraternal orders.
Now, to be precise, what we call capitalism is closer to what prior age would have called corporatism or even fascism. The West is not living in an age of free markets and open competition. Instead, it is in a period of tightly controlled markets that are ruled by state protected oligopolists. Finance is controlled by a relatively small number of major banks and technology is run by a handful of global giants. Healthcare is a government controlled monopoly. The neo-liberal order is a global public-private partnership.
Since this arrangement lacks natural legitimacy, libertarians have been brought in to create a civic religion based around worship of the marketplace. It is why otherwise sensible people can support internet censorship by “private” entities. People have been condition to accept whatever private business does as morally legitimate. This new religion in support of the neo-liberal order, like all secular religions, is covetous and intolerant. It has to anathematize and marginalize any alternative religion.
The rise of this new fusion of capital and state authority, centered in Washington, does track with the decline of religion, fertility and local institutions. Whether you call it globalism, neo-liberalism or neo-conservatism, all of these terms describe the same system of rule by a corporate-government partnership. It is hostile to religion, both explicitly and implicitly, particularity Christianity. Faith in the marketplace is inimical to faith in God. When man loses that, he loses the will to go on and fertility rates plummet.