Acton Institute Powerblog

Will the Future Be More Religious and Conservative?

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Over on The American, Eric Kaufmann, a professor of politics at the University of London, argues that population change is reversing secularism and shifting the center of gravity of entire societies in a conservative religious direction:

The growing Republican fertility advantage largely derives from religion. In the past, people had children for material reasons—many kids died young, and fresh hands were needed to work the land and provide for parents in their old age. Today, we live in cities and benefit from pensions, while children are expensive. Contraception has severed the link between sex and procreation, placing fertility under our control as never before. Family size, which was once a matter of survival, is now a value choice. Seculars can delay having children and opt for fewer, while the religious—especially fundamentalists—have them earlier and more often. This is sometimes called the “second demographic transition” and is of signal importance because in the United States and elsewhere, ours is an epoch of religious polarization. The challenge of secularism, and its threat to religion in the form of modernist theology, has prompted a fundamentalist backlash across all the major world religions.

While I certainly hope that, as the title of the piece claims, “The Future Will Be More Religious and Conservative Than You Think,” I’m not entirely convinced.

Kaufmann notes correctly that “most people get their religion the old-fashioned way: through birth.” But his argument appears to depend on those same people remaining into adulthood as religious and as conservative as their parents. We should be able to test such a claim by examining whether this was true for previous generations: Were Baby Boomers as conservative as the “Greatest Generation?” Was Generation X less secular than the Boomers? Are Millennials staying as religious as their Gen-X parents?

I suspect the general trend for each generation has been to more secular and liberal. But I’m hoping the demographic data—and the future—proves me wrong.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).