Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Nov/11

19

A Cleric, Jealous

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Britain’s chief Rabbi seems upset that people are finding that spiritual pap, “transcendence”, call it what you will, is not the only way to some sort of contentment. The Daily Mail reports:

Speaking at an interfaith reception [Itself a ghastly concept, but I interrupt] attended by the Queen this week, he said: ‘People are looking for values other than the values of a consumer society. The values of a consumer society really aren’t ones you can live by for terribly long.

Lord Sacks said iPad tablets were like the tablets of stone bearing the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses
‘The consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad one and iPad two, and the result is that we now have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTune, i, i, i.

‘When you’re an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about ‘i’, you don’t do terribly well.’

Jobs died aged 56 in October, prompting an outpouring of grief from across the world.

Sacks added: ‘What does a consumer ethic do? It makes you aware all the time of the things you don’t have instead of thanking God for all the things you do have. If in a consumer society, through all the advertising and subtly seductive approaches to it, you’ve got an iPhone but you haven’t got a fourth generation one, the consumer society is in fact the most efficient mechanism ever devised for the creation and distribution of unhappiness.’

Absurd, but Sacks has form when it comes to this sort of thing. Here he was a year or so back:

The leader of Britain’s Jewish community claimed the continent’s population is in decline because people care more about shopping than the sacrifice involved in parenthood.He blamed atheist “neo-Darwinians” for Europe’s low birth rate and said religious people of all denominations are more likely to have large families. The Chief Rabbi, who entered the House of Lords last week, made his comments in a lecture on religion in the 21st century hosted by Theos, the public theology think-tank, on Wednesday night.

Lord Sacks said that faith had survived so far because it could provide answers to mankind’s eternal search for meaning in life – unlike the market, the state, science or philosophy, which underpin modern liberal democracies. He claimed religion could continue to play an important role worldwide in the future, by engaging in debate with scientists, by campaigning on issues such as global poverty or the environment, and by discussing the nature of the common good with humanists.

The Chief Rabbi warned that secular Europe is at risk, however, because its moral relativism can easily be defeated by fundamentalists.And he claimed that its population is also in decline, compared with every other part of the world, because non-believers lack shared values of family and community that religions have.

I’d agree that he’s right that religion will endure. It’s baked into our genes for any number of reasons, including, I suspect, the need that many have for some sort of organizing principle (me, I’m happy with chaos and an indifferent universe, and then making the best of it), but, on the population question, he is, like George Weigel, the author of that rather curious book, The Cube and the Cathedral, being distinctly disingenuous.

Here’s what I wrote on the Corner back then:

Mark, the fact that I think that gently declining populations are (at least in principle) a thoroughly welcome phenomenon may make me biased, but it’s a shame to see Lord Sacks seemingly falling for the myth peddled by some clerical folk (and those in their camp) that Europe’s declining population is something, he appears to imply, unique to that continent. Here’s this week’s Economist with a timely reminder of the facts:

In the 1970s only 24 countries had fertility rates of 2.1 or less, all of them rich. Now there are over 70 such countries, and in every continent, including Africa. Between 1950 and 2000 the average fertility rate in developing countries fell by half from six to three—three fewer children in each family in just 50 years. Over the same period, Europe went from the peak of the baby boom to the depth of the baby bust and its fertility also fell by almost half, from 2.65 to 1.42—but that was a decline of only 1.23 children. The fall in developing countries now is closer to what happened in Europe during 19th- and early 20th-century industrialisation. But what took place in Britain over 130 years (1800-1930) took place in South Korea over just 20 (1965-85).
Things are moving even faster today. Fertility has dropped further in every South-East Asian country (except the Philippines) than it did in Japan. The rate in Bangladesh fell by half from six to three in only 20 years (1980 to 2000). The same decline took place in Mauritius in just ten (1963-73). Most sensational of all is the story from Iran.

When the clerical regime took over in 1979, the mullahs, apparently believing their flock should go forth and multiply, abolished the country’s family-planning system. Fertility rose, reaching seven in 1984. Yet by the 2006 census the average fertility rate had fallen to a mere 1.9, and just 1.5 in Tehran. From fertility that is almost as high as one can get to below replacement level in 22 years: social change can hardly happen faster.

Fewer people, more stuff: Sounds good to me.

"You'd rather have an ipad?"

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3 comments

  • John · November 20, 2011 at 3:44 am

    Fewer people for now, but that’s because our species has not yet adapted to voluntary birth control. Until the recent past, almost anyone who wanted to have sex had to deal with the fact that they were going to have a kid. Now it turns out that there are a lot of people who like sex, but don’t want kids. Now that Darwinian selection is asserting itself, the people left in the population will gradually be the descendants of people who want lots of kids. We can see it happening even now. For instance, religious people have significantly higher birthrates than the nonreligious. However, there will always be some room for atheist “neo-Darwinians” like me who like to spread our genes.

  • jb · November 20, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Here is my prediction: Fertility rates will drop everywhere except sub-Saharan Africa, where they stubbornly and inexplicably (!) remain high. Hilarity ensues.

  • CONSVLTVS · November 20, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    Can’t say I disagree with Sacks on the narrow point about the consumerist culture. Measuring your life by the stuff you have is a dead end. You can never get enough. The Joneses will always have more. This is not a religious point.

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