The godless may well persuade themselves that their stocks are rising, and the empty pews in our Western churches do little to diminish that impression. But here is a fact beyond dispute: While believers breed, especially in the less developed world, those who scoff at the spiritual mostly do not
Back in high school biology classes, many of us learnt a little about F1 and F2 generations. As I recall, F1 and F2 were not motor races, but the next generations of specially bred mice. A key concept was that, if a new feature emerged in one generation of mice, it often remained prominent in the next (or F1) generation, but tended to be less prominent in the second (or F2) generation. Atheism has a similar “F2” problem.
Although militant atheists now take up much media time and have become secular saints, (revered for sporting or academic achievements and forceful proselytism, much as were muscular Christian athletes last century, whether future generations embrace atheism remains an open question. Will the atheists’ own children even take up the cause? Possibly not. The corollary of atheistic belief is that you should have a good time in this world, as there is no other, and no eternal penalty for mischief either. YOLO is their mantra: You Only Live Once, so do what you like. Like the soulful Edith Piaf, each of the F1 atheist generation may be comfortable avowing Je ne regrette rien.
However, the F1’s own progeny, the F2 generation, will likely be small in number. We see this already in countries that have abandoned religion over the last two generations, especially in once highly religious Europe. Birth rates among the F2 generation of atheists (whose own F1 parents were raised without any religion) are now too small to sustain their countries’ futures. They will continue to exist only if enough people immigrate (legally or illegally) from developing or war-torn countries, where — Surprise! Surprise! — religion is still highly prevalent.
A key feature of fundamental religion, whether orthodox Judaism, evangelical Christianity or Islam, is the exhortation to “go forth and multiply!” As a direct result, rather than by mere repeated accident, families of eight or more children are not uncommon in the most religious regions of our planet. Over time, even if many fall by the proverbial wayside, these highly religious families will multiply. Fundamental atheists, if they feel the urge, increasingly go forth and contraceive or “choose” to abort.
Without religion, almost everything becomes merely “recreational” — sex, drug use, learning, work, even raising the F2 generation. Look up the manifestos of dark-green groups and you will find many an exhortation not to reproduce. Humans are Gaia’s curse, they preach, so producing less of us is a boon to an over-populated planet. Atheistic greenies also claim that an ever-warming world will end in a conflagration of fire, which will be the fault of all us humans. It is a notion surprisingly similar to the apocalypse that ancient religions saw coming. We learn from the greenies that it may be too late to flip back the switch on a fiery future that, if not hotter than Hades, will shortly see bare poles replace polar bears. Hurry, there is yet time to buy the waterfront home of the future in the Blue Mountains!
So, what’s the point, atheists must ask, in having any more godless green progeny? The world they inherit will not be worth inheriting. By such a reckoning their time on Earth will be short, uncomfortable and violent. Have another beer, or chardonnay, or spliff, and try not to think about it too hard, through the fog of aromatic smoke. Precisely because F1 atheists are disinclined to breed, sustainable inter-generational atheism may be very hard to achieve. Happy-clappy Christianity, on the other hand, longs for and celebrates each child that comes along. There will be holy Baptism, flowing with water and anointing with oil. Not only the extended family but also the entire congregation will be invited to loudly applaud its newest entrants. A couple of close friends or relatives will even be nominated to take the place of the parents – should the sad need arise – as responsible godparents. (Often, they will turn out to be only semi-responsible, forgetting their godchild’s birthday or showing up in January with unsuitable Christmas presents.) Three features of a religious upbringing — meaning, work and fellowship — we know from centuries of experience bode well for most children’s futures.
By contrast, in the atheistic world, everything about the next generation is a recurring question mark. F1 atheists must ask themselves: Should we even have children? If so, should we keep it at one? Should we put off having them until our house, careers and overseas trips are safely in the bag? If we do have a child, should we farm “it” out in high-security, eight-’til-late childcare?
An odd thing is that some atheists still preferentially send their children to church-run schools. When pushed, one confided that he liked the “tradition” religious encouraged. But that’s the problem: The same one biologists are up against once their mice reach the F2 generation– “reversion to type”, as it is known. The big worry for militant atheists is that their descendants may fall back into the old ways (or “tradition”) of religion. If they do renounce the secular for the spiritual, those F2 generation will find a life which social scientists have found is often happier, slightly longer, and blessed with F3,4,5,6 … generations.