When will humanism outperform religion?

Humanism is not dead. Not even demographically.

A clarification on Michel Houellebecq's “Spiegel” interview.
Thursday March 19, 2015

© SPIEGEL-Verlag

There were sentences like bangs in the drum mirror 10/2015. And they didn't come from anyone, but from the French bestselling author Michel Houellebecq, his novel submission predicts a peaceful Islamization of the Grande Nation. “The enlightenment is over. Humanism is dead. Laicism, invented over 100 years ago by politicians who saw the future in atheism, is dead. The republic is dead. ”According to Houellebecq, the reason for this is demography. “The patriarchal system has an advantage, not because it is better, I am not saying that, but simply because the couples who live according to this model have more children and give birth. The higher number prevails. "

According to the author, this is “the ultimately disturbing thing about my book: Submission to Biology. Ideologically, religion is the best system of submission. Because it provides the basis of patriarchy: Man is subject to God and woman to man. Period, that's it. "

What a literary swan song - from France of all places, the motherland of European criticism of religion, of rationalistic Enlightenment, of secularism! Practically immediately after the interview was published, I received inquiries, as as a religious scholar I had concentrated on research on religion and demography and published a book on the subject. Was Houellebecq right in terms of religious demographics?

The clear answer is: only partially. It is true that religiously active people have more children on average and that religious traditions with many children, such as the Old Order Amish, Jewish Haredim or Mormons, represent a family image with patriarchal connotations. And it is also true that science has still not found a single non-religious population that has managed to remain demographically stable - that is, to permanently produce more than two children per woman.

But from this point on, Houellebecq's assumptions and empiricism begin to fall apart: It is precisely not true that the birth rates could be increased again for society as a whole by reintroducing patriarchy. Surveys across Europe show again and again that men, on average, state that they want children less than women; and that many women complain about the lack of suitable partners for (further) children. To put it bluntly: across Europe there is less lack of women willing to give birth than men who are willing to give birth. And interestingly enough, in all of the above-mentioned, large religious communities, the number of men who leave the country clearly surpasses that of women - because the patriarchy, which is often erotically idealized, locks up not only women but also men in rock-hard role prisons.

Accordingly, states such as Italy, Greece or Japan, in which modernizing and feminist trends could hardly establish themselves, now have extremely low birth rates. Islamic countries such as Turkey or Iran have long since fallen into this so-called “traditionalism trap” and continue to show falling birth rates below the conservation limit.

In contrast, higher birth rates are found in those societies that have not resisted modernization in family policy - such as the USA and Great Britain, which have exposed religions and worldviews as well as education and care offers to merciless competition for centuries. But also the Scandinavian countries, in which the Protestant state and official churches allied with the modernizers in terms of education and care, family friendliness and increasingly equal rights. And finally, it was precisely the secular movement in France, despised by Houellebecq, which, after the defeat of the country by Germany in 1871, set in motion modern family support and thus also forced the Catholic Church forward accordingly.

Today in France (in contrast to almost all other European-Catholic societies, which are still characterized by family-traditionalist societies!) There is not a lack of births, but of jobs and opportunities for advancement for the younger generations. It is not “biology”, but encrusted structures in politics and economics that are driving more and more frustrated, often young French people into the arms of right-wing and left-wing extremists as well as religious fundamentalists. The Grande Nation urgently needs more freedom, not more reactionaries!

So Houellebecq is right to remind the representatives of “the Enlightenment” that culture is also passed on in families - and that every cultural tradition dies if it is not passed on to a sufficient number of offspring. The fact that schools die every week in Germany despite high levels of immigration should give food for thought to everyone who considers human rights and equality, our education, culture and science to be valuable and sustainable.

But those who want more children today should not dream of returning to an oppressive patriarchy, but of state and civil society family support that ranges from financial support to the competitive provision of high-quality care and educational offers. For thousands of years, people have practiced collective child lift - “cooperative breeding” - and if there is anything unnatural, then it is the isolation and excessive demands of small families! The idea that the woman only has to kneel down in front of the man and everything will be fine, may inspire some cinema soft porn, but it also clearly contradicts the religious demographic findings. It is no coincidence that every large religious community I have ever explored, without exception, created a broad community and support network for their families. And: Childless people also have their place in these networks as teachers, scholars or celibates.

With humanism, sacredness - inaccessible holiness, dignity - was transferred from God to man. Christian and Jewish humanists could refer to the “likeness” of man to God in the Bible, but the Islamic theologian Mouhanad Khorchide also pleads for “religious humanism”. And of course there were and are humanists who finally gave up all belief in higher beings and understood humanism as non-religious or anti-religious. The common orientation towards people and their basic rights - also across all gender and religious boundaries - is the success principle of humanism. And as such, it is not dead and must not die either - because the answers to the demographic challenges of our time do not lie in the past, but in the future. Mere "submission" certainly does not bring France, Europe and humanity to the stars.

Dr. Michael Blume is a religious scholar and blogger and teaches at the University of Cologne. 2014 was published by himReligion & Demography. Why there is a lack of children without faith in the publishing house sciebooks.