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Can Western civilisation survive without religion?

When the churches were the primary disseminators of anti-Jewish sentiment, Jews presumably would have felt that the disappearance of the Christian religion would be a good thing. It is therefore a remarkable irony that today, many religiously observant Jews are viewing the disintegration of traditional Christian society with something approaching dismay. There are no absolute standards anymore — everything is relative. One sees how badly more conservative writers fail when they try to condemn the degeneracy they see around them without having recourse to the absolute moral guidelines that traditional Bible-based Christianity provided. Their efforts at the end of the day are entirely subjective, easy targets for those who have other opinions and whose same opinions, in the relativistic universe we occupy, are adjudged to just as much validity.

I recently learned of an extraordinary diatribe launched against me by Alamein Templeton, a presenter on Channel Islam International. The following comes from a transcript of his show of 21 March, which reads:

“So David Saks of the Jewish Voice [sic], if you are thinking about this and you are listening to the show, just remember this wilful infertility, as you call it, is your main problem. When you have got genocide in the back of your head, these are the ways you start looking at the world. You start measuring the way the Semites, the Muslim Semites in Palestine, as you think that are breeding like rats while there in your safe comfortable homesteads in Tel Aviv the people who’re comfortably off, who see children as a cost factor, are refusing to have children.”

It’s hard to know quite what to make of Mr Templeton. Frankly, on the evidence of this bizarre taunt, he seems to be completely out of his gourd. Nevertheless, he is on to something with his reference to “wilful infertility”. Not Israel (where there is a large religiously observant Jewish community with high birth rates) but virtually all countries in nominally Christian Europe today are failing to reproduce themselves. The same is true of a number of other major Anglo-Saxon Christian majority countries.

It is particularly in Europe that birth rates have plummeted. The total fertility rate is now less than two children per woman in every member nation in the European Union. The former East Germany’s figures are officially the world’s lowest, and countries like Spain, Italy, Lithuania, Russia and Hungary are not far behind. France is just able to maintain numerical stability, but without the 10% of its population that is Muslim, it too would have negative population growth.

The institution of marriage is in crisis, with high divorce rates and escalating numbers of people who do not choose to marry at all. A growing proportion of married couples, moreover, are choosing not to have children. Those that do, have them late and as often as not are content with just one. All in all, it is assuming a form of mass cultural suicide. Native Europeans are focused on getting whatever they can out of the present while giving up on the future.

What helps a bit is immigration from non-Western societies, including, of course, many Muslim ones. This last phenomenon is eliciting increasingly panic-stricken, and occasionally xenophobic commentary in many quarters. A peaceful counter-Crusade seems to be well underway, with burgeoning Muslim numbers suggesting that the Islamisation of Europe over the next half-century has become a real possibility.

The phenomenon of voluntary childlessness has taken place simultaneously with the decline of religious belief. Nor is it at all far-fetched to see the connection between the two. For the non-believers, life is temporary and ultimately pointless. Why make so many sacrifices in raising children when they, too, are part of the same futile cosmic accident, destined to struggle, suffer and die like everyone else to no lasting purpose?

Speaking personally, I am a strictly Orthodox Jew, but without these strong religious convictions, I doubt that I would bother to raise a family.

For those adhering to any of the three Abrahamitic faiths — Judaism, Christianity, Islam — the attitude towards procreation is radically different. To bring a new soul into existence is to become a partner with the Almighty in furthering His Creation. It is an opportunity not just to populate the physical world, but far more importantly, to enable one’s children to enter the eternal World to Come through their own efforts. Can there be a greater demonstration of loving kindness than this? And it is being a giver, not a taker that is the key to true happiness.

A symptom, and simultaneously a cause, of the malaise is surely the pervasive scourge of pornography, whose dissemination has been so dramatically facilitated by the Internet revolution. Pornography is the ultimate debasement of the act of procreation. Indeed, the creation of life is the last thing it encourages, rather using that impulse to foster a culture of voyeurism and brutish gratification. Without going into the loathsome details, the defining feature of the kind of degraded acts most commonly depicted nowadays is that they preclude even the possibility of creating life.

The manner in which women are brutally abused, albeit with an appearance of willingness on their part, further underlines either the staggering failure of the feminist revolution or even the poisoned fruits of its unintended consequences. Was it not feminism, after all, that discredited the traditional notion of women as mothers and nurturers, the gentler sex that needed special consideration and protection?

Today, a newer and even more hateful form of voyeurism is becoming prevalent. Dubbed “torture porn”, it generates its thrills by showing helpless people — invariably young, attractive women — being systematically mutilated. There is evidently a market for those who get their thrills in seeing women slowly hacked to pieces or having acid poured on their faces. The main guilt might lie with those who create and disseminate such wickedness, but those who patronise it are also shamefully culpable. Western culture would seem to be having a love affair with death.

True, pornography has always existed. The difference today is that it is part of mainstream culture, thanks in no small part to the efforts of civil libertarians who have elevated freedom of expression to the status of a fundamental right, no matter what harm accrues to the greater society.

Human beings are so much higher than the animal world, but no species falls lower when it chooses to debase itself. Religiously observant Jews, Muslims and Christians, are often scorned for ghettoising themselves, yet given the culture of defilement that exists outside their closed communities, can they really be blamed?

The official acceptance of homosexuality, to a degree not seen since the Roman era, is another sign of the times. Whatever one’s convictions on “gay rights” questions, it does not take a Mensa IQ to realise that procreation is not going to result from such liaisons.

Underlying all this is a curious paradox. Those who criticise the anything-goes culture that is producing such all-pervasive ugliness and so disastrously undermining the foundations of our civilisation also tend to be amongst the most outspoken critics of the perceived Islamisation of that civilisation. In reality, traditional Islam comprises a value system that fiercely and uncompromisingly upholds the kind of ethics and standards that Christian societies once took for granted.

Personally, I believe that Muslim communities within Western, post-Christian societies are more threatened than threatening. There is a stronger possibility that far from taking over those societies through demographic growth, they will instead see future generations progressively co-opted by them. The Internet and all the other spectacular advances in information and communications technology can now bring the festering sewers of a degenerating civilisation into the heart of every home at the touch of a button.

Should it in fact withstand these pressures, Islam ironically may even have the potential to rescue the decaying Western post-Christian civilisation. Those radical imams who rail against the rottenness of their host societies do have a point. The problem is, trying to convince laissez-faire Westerners that they are wrong by blowing them to fragments is hardly likely to endear them to their worldview. Similarly, I suppose, the old National Party’s strict censorship policy when it came to anything remotely pornographic would have enjoyed more credibility if the ruling party hadn’t simultaneously been promulgating racial laws that were palpably immoral.


  • David Saks has worked for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) since April 1997, and is currently its associate director. Over the years, he has written extensively on aspects of South African history, Judaism and the Middle East for local and international newspapers and journals. David has an MA in history from Rhodes University. Prior to joining the SAJBD, he was curator -- history at MuseumAfrica in Johannesburg. He is editor of the journal Jewish Affairs, appears regularly on local radio discussing Jewish and Middle East subjects and is a contributor to various Jewish publications.