Sturm und Mom

The Storm & Stress (& Joy) of Motherhood

A Very Empty Future for My Past?

It was with a sad heart that I read the following in Der Spiegel‘s online magazine (h/t ProWomanProLife) detailing the coming demographic phases and trends in our future.  In particular, the description of the emptying of rural Europe as demonstrated in the village of Hemeln:

“At the moment, (Hemeln is) fighting to keep our elementary school from being closed,” (Henckel) says. The school board in the nearby town of Hannoversch Münden announced that the current student body of 35 children was not enough to warrant keeping the school open. This year, there were only nine first-graders.

When Henckel arrived in Hemeln as a newly married young man, there were lots of children playing in the streets. Today, many of its 966 residents have gray hair, and almost a third of them are older than 60.

The article continues to state that Germany will require 24 million new immigrants between now and 2051, just to keep it’s working population at the same level.  (Germany’s total population in 2010 was 81 million people.)

My family immigrated to Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from small rural German villages throughout central Europe.  Some of our family’s most treasured artifacts are aged pictures of the timber framed house of our ancestors.  It seems shocking to me that an entire culture is disappearing, and no one seems to notice.  If anything, the majority of media attention would lead you think the exact opposite — that Europeans are reproducing at alarming rate.  But a common thread of my, and most, family histories, is the schism of part of the family that leaves, and one that stays.  In our New World minds, we always thought that somewhere “back there”, there were distant relatives carrying on the “old ways,” the ones we deserted.  It was a shock to my worldview to think that these folks had just given-up on their own civilization.  What war and strife and famine couldn’t accomplish, prosperity did in two or three generations.  My cultural and ethnic roots have ceased to be — completely of their own volition.

It also causes one to stop and reflect on what a lonely life these small, future generations will have.  A Grade 1 Class of 9 kids?!  That’s one more than the number of people in my household.  All the while the economy and culture continues to contract as it’s vitality is sucked out.  The chorus from the Goo Goo Dolls’ song “Broadway” comes to mind:

See the young man sittin’/ in the old man’s bar/waitin’ for his turn to die

The situation parallels to the ancient world described in Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity:  How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries.

By the start of the Christian era, Greco-Roman fertility had fallen below replacement levels, leading to centuries of natural decrease …By the third century, there is solid evidence of a decline in both the number and the size of Roman towns in the West, even in the Britain.

That the empire could continue as long as it did depended on a constant influx of “barbarian” settlers.  As early as the second century, Marcus Aurelius had to draft slaves and gladiators and hire German and Scythians in order to fill the ranks of the army.   After defeating the Marcomanni, Aurelius settled large numbers of them within the empire in return for their accepting obligations to supply soldiers.  (He) “had no trouble finding vacant land on which to place them. ” (p. 116, italics in the original)

He goes on to describe how the Christian rate of natural increase, due to higher marriage rates, and the early Church’s rejection of contraception, infanticide and abortion, led to a larger increase in their community within the pagan world.  But there must be more to this than just Church prohibitions:  it takes hope to have and raise children, especially when all those around you have decided on sterility, have in effect decided that the world should not go on.

But what has caused this lack of hope in formerly Christian Europe?  Why have they decided that their civilization should not be passed to the next generation? Is it cultural fatigue, years of Western academic guilt, the welfare state, surplus income?  Or is it their loss of faith?

We can only wonder at the reasons.  And pray that Europe finds its’ soul again before it is too late.

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