The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.
-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
Everywhere we look today, the champions of secular liberalism are celebrating another victory. Whether it’s so-called same-sex marriage, or the 50 different gender options on Facebook, or lawsuits against Christian business owners, every day we are reminded that our world is changing in ways hitherto unimaginable.
And yet, behind all the indignant insults and blustering banter, make no mistake, secular liberals are panicked. Over the last decade we’ve seen winds of change that are politically and culturally transforming the world, especially here in Europe, in ways secular liberals never imagined in their worst nightmares. What I want to do for you this morning is introduce you to a field of scholarship that actually predicted these changing winds long before they occurred, which will in turn give us a window into what to expect for the future.
Several years ago, I was doing research for my doctoral studies, and I came across a field of scholarship called “post-secular studies.” That term shocked me. Post-secular? How can that be when it appears that everywhere we look, the world is becoming more secular, not post-secular? But there they were, scholar after scholar arguing that we are, in fact, entering a post-secular age.
By post-secular, these scholars mean very simply that our world is currently going through a massive religious renewal. Today, according to the World Values Survey, four out of five people in the world—that’s 80 percent of the world’s population—ascribe allegiance to one of the major historic world religions. In sub-Saharan Africa, Christianity is actually growing faster than the continent’s population growth, suggesting massive conversion rates. In the Middle East, more Muslims are attending mosque than ever before in the history of Islam. China is currently experiencing what may be the single greatest Christian revival ever recorded in the history of the church. Hungary’s government has declared its commitment to the revitalization of Christian civilization, while Poland has formally declared Jesus Christ as Lord and King over the nation. India is experiencing a massive Hindu nationalist revival led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is the single largest democratic party on the planet. In the Russian Federation, the Orthodox Church has risen to a prominence not seen since the days of the Tsars. And in Latin America, Pentecostalism is sweeping throughout the region, while more Catholics are attending Mass than ever before. It’s no wonder that a number of scholars believe that we are currently experiencing the single greatest religious surge the world has ever seen.
And yet, I couldn’t help but think, something’s not right! How could religion be surging while it appeared that the world was becoming more secular? How do we put these two competing dynamics together?
In a word, these two dynamics come together in something that we now commonly refer to as globalization. We all know basically what globalization is, at least intuitively: Coca-cola, McDonald’s, Amazon, the International Monetary Fund. We’re all living today with the same fast-food chains, the same Internet search engines, the same computer processors. This is globalization: a one-size-fits-all political and economic system that seeks to turn the entire world into a giant version of Orlando, Florida.
But these post-secular scholars have long recognized an inherent futility in globalization. You see, globalization is rooted in a philosophical commitment known as modernity, and modernity, simply put, is the enthronement of scientific rationalism as the one true way of knowing the world, a one-size-fits-all form of knowledge for all peoples, times, and places. What post-secular scholars have noticed is that global populations simply don’t believe this anymore. Indeed, Western cultures in particular have become what we call postmodern, in that they’ve increasingly rejected modernity in favor of a plurality of cultural ways of knowing and being in the world.
However, even though people have rejected modernity, that hasn’t stopped Western elites—our political, corporate, and media elites—from continuing to export modernity in the form of globalization. In other words, our elites are trying to export the fruit of modernity even though its roots have rotted out. But if populations have rejected a one-size-fits-all philosophical system, then inevitably they’re going to reject a one-size-fits-all political and economic system. What we’re seeing today is a massive backlash going on all over the world against globalization, where populations are once again reasserting their nation’s cultures, customs, and traditions, particularly their religious traditions, as mechanisms of resistance against the anti-cultural processes of globalization and its secular aristocracy. And this resurgence of religion is as global as globalization itself.
So there are our two competing dynamics. But this of course raises the question: Is this it? Are we just going to see a perpetual clash between secular globalism and traditionalist nationalism for the indefinite future?
The answer to that question is a resounding: “No!” And that’s because at the heart of this post-secular religious resurgence is nothing less than the revitalization of the natural family. Scholars such as Eric Kaufmann of the University of London are recognizing that we are in fact in the early stages of a demographic revolution, a revolution where conservative religionists are on course “to take over the world.” What scholars are noticing is that there is a dramatic demographic difference between secularists and conservative religionists. For example, in the U.S., conservative evangelical women have a 30 percent fertility advantage over their secular counterparts, and this demographic deficit has dramatic effects over time. In a population evenly divided between conservatives and secularists, a 30 percent fertility differential means that in one generation, that 50/50 split will turn into a 60/40 split; in two generations, that would widen into a 75/25 split; and in the course of 200 years, it would be a 99 to 1 split.
Already, demographers are estimating that there will be over 300 million Mormons in the United States by the end of the century, and by the end of the next century there will be over 300 million Amish. America at that point will consist essentially of evangelicals, Mormons, and Amish. (I know there’s a joke in there somewhere, but I haven’t figured it out.) But it’s not just the United States; conservative religionists are flourishing everywhere. In France, 30 percent of women are having over 50 percent of all births. Hungary, Poland, and Russia have implemented pro-family policies that are effectively reversing their respective fertility declines. And the Orthodox Church in Georgia has helped that nation rise from one of the lowest fertility rates in Eastern Europe to one of the highest.
By contrast, secularists consistently exemplify a low fertility rate of around 1.5 children per couple, which is significantly below the replacement level of 2.1. Kaufmann and others estimate that, beginning around the year 2030, the secular population will begin a steady decline to little more than about 10 to 15 percent of national populations. This is what’s being called secularism’s “demographic contradiction”; their own devotion to radical individualism has become the agent by which their entire ideology implodes.
But more than that: If the renewal of the family is at the heart of this religious resurgence, then that means that this Congress, this World Congress of Families, stands at the very epicenter of that renewal. We are not a conference of right-wing losers; we are not a bunch of medieval hangovers. We are the future—a pro-life, pro-child, pro-family future— and there’s nothing they can do to stop us.
Welcome to our new post-secular age.
Dr. Steve Turley is the author and host of Turley Talks.