The search for meaning is not new. What is new is that almost nothing in modern European culture applies itself to offering an answer. Nothing says, “Here is an inheritance of thought and culture and philosophy and religions which has nurtured people for thousands of years and may well fulfill you too.” Instead, a voice at best says, “Find your meaning where you will.” At worst the nihilist’s creed can be heard: “Yours is a meaningless existence in a meaningless universe.” While nihilism may be understandable in some individuals, as a societal creed it is fatal.
By ROD DREHER for AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE
Over the weekend, I finished reading the British journalist Douglas Murray’s book The Strange Death Of Europe. I cannot recommend it strongly enough. It’s a book about mass immigration, but more than that, it’s about the suicide of European civilization.
I’ll write more about it below, but first, let me share some fresh news about this terrible subject. It comes from the blog of the Italian Vatican journalist Sandro Magister. The article has not yet been translated into English, so I’ve run it through Google Translate to give the gist. Excerpts (in machine-translated English):
The fall in the Italian birth rate has reached its lowest level ever in 2017. In a country of 60.5 million inhabitants, just 458,151 children were born last year, and even less, about 440 thousand, are the new births predicted for 2018 — just over 7 per 1,000 inhabitants, 30 per cent under the median of the European Union, which is already the region of the world with the lowest birth rate.
If you consider the fertility rate – or “total fertility rate” – which ensures zero growth, that is, the equal exchange of the population, is 2.1 children per woman, then observe that the Italian figure has been dramatically under that for decades. In 2017 it sank to 1.32, with several regions even more prone to births, and with Sardinia even settled at 1.06.
These are already numbers that attest an inexorable march towards the extinction of a people.
Magister said the news about marriage is even more concerning. The number of first marriages and “religious marriages” (marriages conducted under the auspices of the Church) is in freefall. First marriages declined 7.3 percent in a single year (from 2016 to 2017), and the number of church marriages plunged by 10.5 percent in that same time period.
This matters because of the fertility rate. Magister quotes the (secularist) demographer Roberto Volpi explaining the significance of these facts:
“The reason why this retreat of religious marriage is even more worrying than all the rest, is easy to see. Even today, 70 percent of births take place in Italy within marriage, but it is marriage with a religious rite that ensures much more births than marriage with a civil ceremony. The latter is in fact above all the marriage to which divorcees, widowers and mixed couples of Italians and foreigners resort, unlike the religious marriage which remains by far the favorite of single and unmarried, of a younger age and with a higher inclination towards children.“
To make it crystal clear: religious people have more babies. Foreigners and Italians seeking second marriages usually only marry in a civil ceremony. Those Italians who are in their fertile years, and who want to have children, usually marry in the Church. The fact that Church weddings are dropping off so precipitously signals an intensification of the demographic nightmare for Italy.
Volpi goes on to say: “Weddings tell us how healthy of sick we are. Currently we are at a nearly terminal stage. It would not be bad if the Church understood this and made a move.”
Magister says that the recent Synod On The Family busied itself by arguing over communion for the divorced and remarried, and the definition of marriage. Comments Magister:
This dispute has left the field wide open for an attack by the adversaries of true marriage. As in the famous saying of Livy: “Dum Romae consulitur, Saguntum expugnatur”. While they busy themselves talking in Rome, the enemy takes the city.
Another sign of civilizational suicide, this one from the UK: a government-funded LGBT charity called MORF is sending out breast binders to teenage girls in unmarked packages, so their parents won’t know. More:
But when our reporter told a helpline adviser she was just 13 he had no qualms about discussing her chest size and even suggested that while wearing the binder she should avoid too much exertion during PE lessons.
MORF is based at the Manchester headquarters of the LGBT Foundation which has received close to £1.2 million from the Department of Health and a £500,000 grant from The Big Lottery Fund.
The mother whose 14-year-old daughter received the chest binder from MORF, told The Mail on Sunday: ‘I only found out they had sent her the binder because I opened a package that was addressed to her.
‘I hid it so she wouldn’t find it. But she had previously been sent one without me knowing and had already started wearing it. Then I realised that it was because of the binder that she had stopped exercising and was having trouble breathing.’
Campaigners concerned about the increase in girls claiming they are transgender say an alarming number are wearing chest binders.
Vulnerable youngsters can get instructions on how to use binders from transgender YouTube stars who make demonstration videos, which are often accompanied by adverts for breast-flattening devices costing as little as £4.
If you follow the Twitter account of 4thWaveNow — and you should — you will be kept up with the horrifying march of transgender ideology through the UK. British elites — government, academia, BBC, et al. — are bound and determined to destroy the possibility of a future, any way they can. Even by exterminating fertility and demolishing the social environment within which the next generations can be formed.
Back to Douglas Murray’s book. As an American, I have generally followed the immigration debate in Europe, so much of what Murray reports is not news to me. But to see it all brought together in one place has the effect of a hard slap across the face. What was news to me was learning how long European elites of both left and right have been lying to their peoples about immigration, often pretending that they were about to get serious about stopping it. They never have. The only thing that has brought the truth out has been the Internet, which undermines the power of the traditional media gatekeepers.
In his book, Murray — an openly gay atheist who describes himself as a “cultural Christian” — puzzles at length over why Europe has a suicide wish. Why do European peoples — especially the elites — hate themselves so much? Murray writes: “We look like a people who have lost the desire to inspire because we have nothing to inspire anyone with.”
For some years now I have been especially struck by numerous accounts I have heard first hand and also read from people who have chosen to convert to Islam. Partly these stories are striking because they are so similar. They are almost always some variant of a story nearly any young person could tell. They generally go something like this: “I had reached a certain age [usually their twenties or early thirties] and I was in a nightclub and I was drunk and I just thought, ‘Life must be about more than this.’” Almost nothing else in our culture says, “But of course there is.” In the absence of such a voice young people search, and they discover Islam.
The fact that they choose Islam is a story in itself. Why do these young men and women (very often women) not reach out and find Christianity? Partly it is because most branches of European Christianity have lost the confidence to proselytise or even believe in their own message. For the Church of Sweden, the Church of England the German Lutheran Church and many other branches of European Christianity, the message of the religion has become a form of left-wing politics, diversity action and social welfare projects.
Pope Francis last week told a Vatican conference called to decide how to handle churches and religious buildings abandoned because of Europe’s collapse of faith, “Don’t worry, be happy.”
The search for meaning is not new. What is new is that almost nothing in modern European culture applies itself to offering an answer. Nothing says, “Here is an inheritance of thought and culture and philosophy and religions which has nurtured people for thousands of years and may well fulfill you too.” Instead, a voice at best says, “Find your meaning where you will.” At worst the nihilist’s creed can be heard: “Yours is a meaningless existence in a meaningless universe.” Any person who believes such a creed is liable to achieve literally nothing. Societies in which that is the case are likewise liable to achieve nothing. While nihilism may be understandable in some individuals, as a societal creed it is fatal.
It is fatal in part because there is no reason to bring children into a meaningless world. It is true that fertility rates are declining worldwide, even in countries that are more religious. But Europe got there first, and has cast off the possibility of recovery. I love Europe desperately, and grieve to see this happening.
If you think America is immune to this sickness unto death, you’re fooling yourself. Ben Shapiro writes:
America is experiencing a crisis of meaning. And we are filling our need for meaning with whatever we have at our disposal: drugs, ethnic solidarity, political mobbing. The problem here isn’t capitalism and its supposed excesses, or classical liberalism and its atomization of individuals. The problem here is that while we have a bevy of centrifugal forces operating on us, we have very few centripetal forces bringing us together.
Those forces used to be obvious: church, family, local community. We shared certain basic Judeo-Christian values: a belief in responsible individual decision-making, caring for our neighbor on a social level, cherishing our heritage of individual rights while also performing individual duties in the name of virtue.
All of this gave us meaning and purpose. But now those values have been torn asunder. For decades, those on the political Left have critiqued the social structures that used to bind us. Church, rather than acting as a unifying force, was portrayed as a theocratic oppressor; family, rather than acting as a protector of children and a bulwark for women, was treated as a patriarchally tyrannical institution; local communities, rather than being seen as a source of innovation and social support, were seen as torture chambers of parochialism. The institutions were razed; we were freed of them by proclaiming our victimhood at their hands.
All that was left was rubble.
He’s correct about that, but why is it that so much of supposedly conservative Red America — even more than parts of godless Blue America — is caught up in the spiral of self-destruction? Where is Shapiro’s critique of globalized capitalism, which has been championed for decades by the political Right as a savior? Where is Shapiro’s judgment on religious institutions of the Right and the Left who have preached a sham gospel of middle-class success and sanctified social work? Yes, the Left is greatly at fault here, but the Right’s hands are far from clean.
The Left and the Right will fight over who’s to blame for the calamity that is overtaking us. Dum Romae consulitur, Saguntum expugnatur.
Sooner or later, faithful Christians will find their way to some form of the Benedict Option, or they will go down with the ship. Very hard times are coming, and coming fast.