Pope Francis said something so important last week that it will either be widely ignored or widely disparaged.
The pope criticized “these marriages, in which the spouses do not want children, in which the spouses want to remain without fertility. This culture of well-being … convinced us: It’s better not to have children! It’s better! You can go explore the world, go on holiday, you can have a villa in the countryside; you can be carefree. It might be better — more comfortable — to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog.”
He is right. More than ever before, young men and women in most affluent Western countries (and Russia) have decided not to have children. Instead, many shower love and attention on dogs and cats. Ask many young women — married or single — if they have any children, and if they do not, you are likely to be told, “I have two cats” or “I have two dogs.” There are authors whose book jacket photo shows them with their dog or cat.
In much of the West, animals are the new children.
The pope made this declaration for two reasons: one demographic and one religious and moral.
The demographic reason is that the populations of European countries such as the one in which he lives — Italy — are gradually disappearing.
—Italy’s birth rate is approximately 1.41 children per woman, making Italy 203 out of 224 countries in terms of its fertility rate.
—LifeSiteNews, a religious-oriented news website, reported that Italian demographer Giancarlo Baliga said last year that by 2041, “The age group most represented in the structure of the Italians will become the 70s.”
—According to Fred Pearce in the Guardian, “Italy has the world’s second oldest population.”
—According to population statistics website GeoHive, Italy will have two and a half million fewer people at the end of this century than it had in the beginning. And the only reason it will not far fewer is that so many Italian citizens will be foreign-born immigrants.
—According to Professor Peter McDonald, president of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (2010-2013) and a fellow of the Australian Academy of Social Sciences, if Italy remains at its current fertility levels and does not compensate with foreign immigrants, it will lose 86 percent of its population by the end of the century, falling to 8 million compared with today’s 56 million.
The pope knows that Italians and other nations are slowly disappearing.
The question is: Why? Why do so many people prefer to parent pets than children?
Throughout history, there were three primary reasons people had many children: Lack of contraception, economic necessity and religion.
All three reasons are gone.
Thanks to modern contraception, couples can have all the sex they want without conceiving.
Regarding economic need, most people in welfare states no longer need children to care for them in old age because the state will do that.
And with the demise of religion in the developed world, there are no values-based reasons to have children.
What this means is that because of contraception and the welfare state, the one compelling reason to have children is that one’s values demand it.
Those values overwhelmingly come from religion. The dominant religions of the Western world, Judaism and Christianity, demand marriage and children. Consequently, the people in affluent Western countries most likely to have more than two, and certainly more than three, children are Orthodox Jews, Evangelical Protestants, religious Catholics and active Mormons.
But secularism is now dominant in the West, which ends the values-based reason to have children.
One might argue that there is a fourth reason to have children — a desire to raise and love children and have a family. But one shouldn’t put too much stock in that argument. Without religion, even those who want children almost never have more than two. And more and more secular individuals find that their desire to nurture is fulfilled by loving cats and dogs.
That was the pope’s point.
Dennis Prager’s latest book, “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph,” was published April 24, 2013 by HarperCollins. He is a nationally syndicated radio show host and creator of PragerUniversity.com.
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