Thursday 4 October 2012

Conversion and breeding


A religion can grow by gaining converts, and by breeding - large families and retaining the children.

All religions begin by converting, but many continue by breeding.

In a sense therefore, the natural and normal patterns is for a child to be born into and educated into a religion; and the Western Christian phenomenon of multiple individual adult (or teen) conversions is strange. 


Worldwide Christianity has become a converting but not breeding religion mostly due to voluntary reproductive suppression, but also the loss of children and young adults from the faith.

Western Christianity shows this especially sharply; and the effects of the ageing population in the West is even more marked in the aged congregations of many Christian churches.

Indeed, the situation has gone so far in some denominations and congregations that a new wave of conversions among teens and young adults seems to be the only possibility for survival, since the churchgoers are nearly all above reproductive age.


Yet to gain conversions among this teen and young adult age group - who are the most thoroughly corrupted by modernity - is an extremely difficult task, requiring organized effort as well as multiple attributes and skills.

Nonetheless, this is what needs to be done - and it is needed more urgently and comprehensively with every passing year.

My impression is that evangelicals are the only Christian group who are tackling this job with genuine purpose, and they have been succeeding for some decades. Yet the evangelical style does not suit everybody, and there is scope for much more work from other denominations.


If Christian churches were to put an end to their useless or harmful political activities (e.g. environmentalism, African aid, Leftist agitation) and redirect their effort into winning and retaining converts, this could be a tremendous gain.

Such decisions are, of course, the role of church leaders. And the fact that they do not focus their efforts on effective mission work, but instead do the opposite; and that they placidly watch the church aging and dying-off; is strong de facto evidence that significant numbers of Christian church leaders are actively hostile to their churches.

This is not merely idleness, careerism or indifference - but covert active sabotage.

And needs to be recognized as such, if it is to be stopped - before it really is too late.



Brandon said...

Apropos here is Charles Peguy's quote about Christian fathers being the true revolutionaries.

asdf said...

Do young adults know enough to think about religion (or anything) seriously? I was ignorant as hell back then.

So I think the religion decision becomes about two things for young people:

1) Do I like my parents? (unquestionly following my birth religion)

2) Do I want to have sex?

That is all faith is to most young people. They don't have enough life experience to really think about things that critically. So either they accept the tradition of thier parents religion based mostly on how they feel about their parents/society or they reject it.

Also, religion for most teenages is about people telling you not to have sex, when all you really want to do is have sex. And getting married at 18 isn't something smart people do, so basically religion is this thing telling you to be celibate till after college.

Bruce Charlton said...

@asdf - what you are describing is the mainstream culture, but there is a substantial minority who instinctively dislike this and yearn for an alternative.

One of my churches

really pulls out the stops to evangelize children and teens with all sorts of age-stratified clubs, events, teaching and employing couple of dozen young workers etc. I have just recently been at services attended by literally hundreds of serious and prayerful Christian students. It was a great feeling.

Why are they successful? (I understand they have one of the ten biggest regular congregations in the Church of England.)

In the first place because they are serious about it, and put in a tremendous organized effort. And secondly, their doctrine is tough and traditional; and focused on prayer and teaching.

They do also engage in fighting the culture wars, on the opposite side from the mainstream C of E - but this is not the focus of devotional life.

I suppose it is natural that Evangelicals are the most committed to evangelizing, but this does not excuse the failure of other denominations.

ajb said...

This video

is a fairly good primer on demographics and religion in the 21st cent.

FHL said...

post 1 of 2

I am happy to hear of Dr. Charlton's experience, and I myself have found it to be true that there is a significant group of youths who search with their whole hearts for Christ.

I just want to say, however, that the issue of sex cannot be overlooked. The sexual revolution has created such a screwed up situation, I am unsure if it can be fixed simply by doctrinal statements or youth groups (although these are probably necessary). I think only fasting and prayer can fix this. The modern situation in regards to sex is so messed up, so convoluted, and so twisted and evil- not only in ideas but in psychological and spiritual effects, that I suspect it is probably the number one issue that keeps youth from attending church.

Even for those youth who desire an escape and know that Christianity provides it.

I am not a young-adult, but at 25 I'm relatively close, at least compared to you geezers (haha, a joke...).

I do not think that many of the older generation understand just how destructive the sexual culture is. They either oppose it on the grounds that it is against some abstract divine law or they try to show gruesome physical consequences (herpes, aids, etc.). The oddest is when they try to explain how much work taking care of a baby is, because it often seems to come out as "don't have children, they're a pain in the ass."

I'm sure all of these mean well, but the havoc wrecked by the sexual revolution has created such a tear in the hearts of many young people, that it not just a question of "being decent" or "not giving in to peer pressure" or "making the smart choices." All those are clay-platitudes, and all underestimate the severity of the damage.

What has happened is that we have taken the Holy act of procreation ("pro" = forth, procreate: to bring forth; ie: literally, "to create") and turned it into (paradoxically, in the way most modern ideas are) a vain act of amusement as well as the whole the definition of who you are.

This isn't going to be simple.

FHL said...

post 2 of 2

I was going to try to explain some personal thoughts on this, but found myself too embarrassed. So I will just quote St. Augustine:

"...And here I was, still postponing the abandonment of this world's happiness to devote myself to the search. For not just the finding alone, but also the bare search for it, ought to have been preferred above the treasures and kingdoms of this world; better than all bodily pleasures, though they were to be had for the taking. But, wretched youth that I was -- supremely wretched even in the very outset of my youth -- I had entreated chastity of thee and had prayed, "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet." For I was afraid lest Thou shouldst hear me too soon, and too soon cure me of my disease of lust which I desired to have satisfied rather than extinguished...

And I had thought that I delayed from day to day in rejecting those worldly hopes and following thee alone because there did not appear anything certain by which I could direct my course. And now the day had arrived in which I was laid bare to myself and my conscience was to chide me: "Where are you, O my tongue? You said indeed that you were not willing to cast off the baggage of vanity for uncertain truth. But behold now it is certain, and still that burden oppresses you. At the same time those who have not worn themselves out with searching for it as you have, nor spent ten years and more in thinking about it, have had their shoulders unburdened and have received wings to fly away." Thus was I inwardly confused, and mightily confounded with a horrible shame...

...And then what did I not say to myself, within myself? With what scourges of rebuke did I not lash my soul to make it follow me, as I was struggling to go after thee? Yet it drew back. It refused. It would not make an effort. All its arguments were exhausted and confuted. Yet it resisted in sullen disquiet, fearing the cutting off of that habit by which it was being wasted to death, as if that were death itself."

Pre-marital sex is trying heroin. A person will continuously keep "chasing the dragon," trying to catch that first high, never satisfied...

"It was, in fact, my old mistresses, trifles of trifles and vanities of vanities, who still enthralled me. They tugged at my fleshly garments and softly whispered: 'Are you going to part with us? And from that moment will we never be with you any more? And from that moment will not this and that be forbidden you forever?' What were they suggesting to me in those words 'this or that'? What is it they suggested, O my God? Let Thy mercy guard the soul of Thy servant from the vileness and the shame they did suggest! And now I scarcely heard them, for they were not openly showing themselves and opposing me face to face; but muttering, as it were, behind my back; and furtively plucking at me as I was leaving, trying to make me look back at them. Still they delayed me, so that I hesitated to break loose and shake myself free of them and leap over to the place to which I was being called -- for unruly habit kept saying to me, 'Do you think you can live without them?'"

So is there no hope?

"But now... There were there so many young men and maidens, a multitude of youth and every age, grave widows and ancient virgins; and continence herself in their midst: not barren, but a fruitful mother of children -- her joys -- by thee, O Lord, her Husband. And she smiled on me with a challenging smile as if to say: 'Can you not do what these young men and maidens can? Or can any of them do it of themselves, and not rather in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave me to them. Why do you stand in your own strength, and so stand not? Cast yourself on Him; fear not. He will not flinch and you will not fall. Cast yourself on Him without fear, for He will receive and heal you.'"

FHL said...

That last post may have been edited poorly. Just so there are no confusions, "Pre-marital sex is trying heroin..." and "So is there no hope?" are my personal interjections and not part of St. Augustine's speech. The full story/speech can be found in The Confessions, Book VIII.

Reggie Perrin said...

Don't underrate people becoming active again in old age. There's the old story of the visitor to Russia who sees that the churches are full of old women, asks what will happen when they die, and is told that there will be another generation of babushkas to replace them.

I think it's recognised by sociologists that early adulthood and old age are the high points of religious observance. Presumably in the former case because youths are searching for a cause to believe in and in the latter case... well, it's the same reason why students suddenly panic and start swotting in mid-April.

Bruce Charlton said...

@RP - yes but what if people never have been active before old age - that is the situation we are now in, and it is unprecedented.