Sunday, November 29, 2009

British Chief Rabbi Warns of Fall of Europe

For years, Europe's birth rate has been sinking below replacement level. This has put stress on the retirement pension system and on health care. A large influx of immigrants has staved off economic crisis, but not without attendant social problems.

The Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, Lord Jonathan Sacks has weighed in on this problem. The Guardian reported on his remarks, as did Life News, which reported as follows on Rabbi Sacks' speech at the Annual Theos Lecture in London on November 4.

"Parenthood involves massive sacrifice: of money, attention, time and emotional energy," he said. "Where today, in European culture with its consumerism and its instant gratification 'because you're worth it,' in that culture, where will you find space for the concept of sacrifice for the sake of generations not yet born?"

He observed that sincere religious belief is able to overcome the cultural impediments to having children. "Wherever you turn today anywhere in the world, and whether you look at the Jewish or Christian or Muslim communities, you will find the more religious the community, the larger, on average, are its families," he said.

Rabbi Sacks cited the alarming demographics in Europe, stating: "Europe today is the only region in the world which is experiencing population decline. As you know, zero population growth - a stable population - requires an average of 2.1 children for every woman of child-bearing age in the population. Not one European country has anything like that rate today. Here are the 2004 figures: In the United Kingdom: 1.74, in the Netherlands: 1.73, Germany: 1.37, Italy: 1.33, Spain: 1.32 and Greece: 1.29."

He added: "Europe, at least the indigenous population of Europe, is dying, exactly as Polybius said about ancient Greece in the third pre-Christian century. The century that is intellectually the closest to our own - the century of the sceptics and the epicureans and the cynics."

Quoting Polybius he stated: "The fact is, that the people of Hellas had entered upon the false path of ostentation, avarice and laziness, and were therefore becoming unwilling to marry, or if they did marry, to bring up the children born to them; the majority were only willing to bring up at most one or two."

Rabbi Sacks does a great service in lending his voice to this pressing problem. The cumulative effect of millions of people limiting the size of their families has social ramifications that he spelled out. He is not the first person to make this point, but as Chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, he can hardly be dismissed as an extremist voice.

Frequently, people with larger families are seen as imposing upon the earth and upon society. In reality, when they do the job of parenting properly, they are performing a public service. Statisticians and social planners are starting to grapple with the realities of this.

It is indeed telling that there is a correlation between religious faith and average family size. Substituting modern wisdom with that of the social planners has had other unforseen consequences. China and India, countries that both have aggressive family planning programs have reported a skewing of sex ratios in which there are millions more men than women. Under normal circumstances, the ratio stays fairly close to 50:50. MSNBC reported as follows on this subject.

From a relatively normal ratio of 108.5 boys to 100 girls in the early 80s, the male surplus progressively rose to 111 in 1990, 116 in 2000, and is now is close to 120 boys for each 100 girls at the present time, according to a Chinese think-tank report.

The shortage of women is creating a "huge societal issue,” warned U.N. resident coordinator Khalid Malik earlier this year.

Along with HIV/AIDS and environmental degradation, he said it was one of the three biggest challenges facing China.

"In eight to 10 years, we will have something like 40 to 60 million missing women," he said, adding that it will have "enormous implications" for China's prostitution industry and human trafficking."

The article further notes that this problem was forseen back in 1993, noting as follows.

"The loss of female births due to illegal prenatal sex determination and sex-selective abortions and female infanticide will affect the true sex ratio at birth and at young ages, creating an unbalanced population sex structure in the future and resulting in potentially serious social problems," argued Peking University's chief demographer back in 1993.

I read the Rabbi Sacks lecture in its entirety. The section on population control was only a small part of it. He also spoke about a partnership between religion and science. He spoke of the separation between church and state and how each operated within its own domain, influencing the other. He struck me as the sort of individual who maintains cordial relationships with those of different opinions than his own. In this sense he is a role model for millions. Examples of such friendly intellectual debate recurred throughout the lecture. One such example is as follows.

" I have to say that I didn’t begin wanting to be a Rabbi, I
began wanting to be a philosopher. I got to know the late Isaiah Berlin quite well
towards the end of his life, and I always remember the first conversation we had
in our home, he said “Chief Rabbi, whatever you do, don’t talk to me about
religion. When it comes to God I am tone deaf!” He said, “What I can’t
understand about you is you studied philosophy at Cambridge and Oxford, how
is it you believe?” and I said, “Sir Isaiah, if it helps, think of me as a lapsed
heretic”. “Quite understand, dear boy,” he said. And that actually is the truth. I
gave up philosophy because at that particular time when I was studying it,
Philosophy had declared as a matter of principle that the search for meaning is in
itself meaningless. And because we cannot, to remain human, give up that
search for meaning, I gave up philosophy instead.."

Rabbi Sacks made a very meaningful contribution in his Annual Theos Lecture. He has a lot of insight on a respectful partnership between people of disparate beliefs and on the function of faith within a secular democracy.I intend to reread the lecture. It is a piece that yields new insights upon being revisited. He has a lot of insights for people of faith in a secular democracy. I feel fortunate that his writing and thoughts have come to my attention.


Here is the link to the pdf file of the Rabbi Sacks speech.

Here is the link to the Rabbi Sacks web site.

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