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The Death of Secular Humanism

Secular humanism is dying in the West. It’s about time. It’s hard to believe this today, but it’s true. Pat Buchanan’s book, The Death of the West, shows why: a loss of Christian faith, with falling birthrates to match.

  • Gary North,
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Secular humanism is dying in the West. It’s about time. It’s hard to believe this today, but it’s true. Pat Buchanan’s book, The Death of the West, shows why: a loss of Christian faith, with falling birthrates to match. I think his book is as close to irrefutable as any book on Western culture that I have read. This is why the secular Left has not replied to it. But neither has the secular Right. The problem of falling birthrates cannot be solved by larger military budgets at home and an interventionist foreign policy abroad.

That was equally true in the late 1930s. Hitler’s expansionist foreign policy, launched in the name of “lebensraum” — living space — was accompanied by falling birthrates. This is why there were government subsidies for large families. Calvin College has posted translations of Nazi-era documents relating to falling birthrates.1

Within months of Hitler’s accession to power, the government passed the “Law for the Encouragement of Marriage,” which provided loans to newlyweds. The more children they had, the less they had to repay. Four children earned a family debt freedom. The program failed to increase the number of births.

The Federal Republic of Germany is again offering state-funded subsidies to families.2

This has been going on for years. The strategy has been a complete failure, which of course has persuaded the politicians to escalate the subsidies.

The welfare state is not part of the solution. The welfare state is part of the problem.


Islam is expanding. In the Middle East, the Wahhabi sect — militant — has the financial backing of Saudi Arabia and is the fastest-growing Islamic group in the Middle East. Shi’ites in Iraq are coming into power, replacing the secular Ba’athists, thanks to American blood and money. Iran is Shi’ite. The Shi’ites are hard-core Islamic theocrats.

Islam is growing all over the world, not by conversions but by high birthrates and falling death rates.

Islam must soon come to grips with capitalism’s fast rate of economic growth, which brings home the bacon. Iran’s urban youth, according to Western media accounts, is increasingly consumerist and therefore not committed to the mullahs’ version of the good life. But a particular cartoon, shown in Iranian TV, is indicative of what is coming: greater militancy and more terrorism. This is a recruiting tool for teenage suicide bombers.3

The competition that poses a threat to the West today is not economic competition. Economic competition is peaceful. The expansion of the division of labor increases everyone’s wealth. What poses the main threat is demographic competition between Islamic immigrants and Europe’s secularism. This creates competition for control over the legal order, which inevitably has to do with legalized coercion: civil sanctions.

As R.J. Rushdoony asked in 1959: By what standard?

What is going to happen in Europe over the next half century is happening today in the State of Israel. The Jewish birthrate is above the replacement level of 2.1 children per family: 2.7 children. This is mainly the result of the no-contraception policy of Orthodox Jews. Yet this high birthrate — the highest of any industrial nation — is still below the birthrate of Israeli Arabs: three children per family.

Then there is Gaza, where Arab women bear on average seven children. This according to a paper presented at a 2005 conference on population held by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. (The papers include data on Islamic, Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu growth rates.)4

Islamic birthrates are falling, but not to the extent that European birthrates are.

Unless Europe experiences a Christian revival, its culture will not exist in 2100. Islam will have achieved in the bedroom what the Ottomans did not achieve on horseback, 1500–1700: victory.

Mark Steyn’s Hand Grenade

In a long and brilliant article by neo-conservative columnist Mark Steyn, we get a vision of things to come. Steyn is by far the most rhetorically gifted of the neo-cons. His supreme ability is to come up with a humorous turn of phrase. No neo-con matches him; indeed, I can think of no columnist who matches him in this regard.

He offers no religious solution to Europe’s demographic decline, which is another way of saying that he offers no solution. The demographic issue is deeply religious. It has to do with one’s faith in the future. It also has to do with dominion: seeing “your” group come into authority because your group is larger. In democracies, numbers count.

Steyn, like Buchanan, sees what this war — and it is a war — is all about: faith in the future.

That’s what the war’s about: our lack of civilizational confidence. As a famous Arnold Toynbee quote puts it: “Civilizations die from suicide, not murder” — as can be seen throughout much of “the Western world” right now.

He then skewers the humanists with characteristic glee:

The progressive agenda — lavish social welfare, abortion, secularism, multiculturalism — is collectively the real suicide bomb. Take multiculturalism. The great thing about multiculturalism is that it doesn’t involve knowing anything about other cultures — the capital of Bhutan, the principal exports of Malawi, who cares? All it requires is feeling good about other cultures. It’s fundamentally a fraud, and I would argue was subliminally accepted on that basis. Most adherents to the idea that all cultures are equal don’t want to live in anything but an advanced Western society. Multiculturalism means your kid has to learn some wretched native dirge for the school holiday concert instead of getting to sing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or that your holistic masseuse uses techniques developed from Native American spirituality, but not that you or anyone you care about should have to live in an African or Native American society. It’s a quintessential piece of progressive humbug.

The problem is, this humbug controls the media, the universities, and the supposed trendsetters of the West, who are in fact trend-losers.

He then lays it on the line. I have seen no one who gets to the heart of the matter with more insight or with more wit. This, sad to say, is on target:

Then September 11 happened. And bizarrely the reaction of just about every prominent Western leader was to visit a mosque: President Bush did, the prince of Wales did, the prime minister of the United Kingdom did, the prime minister of Canada did ... The premier of Ontario didn’t, and so 20 Muslim community leaders had a big summit to denounce him for failing to visit a mosque. I don’t know why he didn’t. Maybe there was a big backlog, it was mosque drive time, prime ministers in gridlock up and down the freeway trying to get to the Sword of the Infidel-Slayer Mosque on Elm Street. But for whatever reason he couldn’t fit it into his hectic schedule. Ontario’s citizenship minister did show up at a mosque, but the imams took that as a great insult, like the Queen sending WP to open the Commonwealth Games. So the premier of Ontario had to hold a big meeting with the aggrieved imams to apologize for not going to a mosque and, as the Toronto Star reported it, “to provide them with reassurance that the provincial government does not see them as the enemy.”
Anyway, the get-me-to-the-mosque-on-time fever died down, but it set the tone for our general approach to these atrocities. The old definition of a nanosecond was the gap between the traffic light changing in New York and the first honk from a car behind. The new definition is the gap between a terrorist bombing and the press release from an Islamic lobby group warning of a backlash against Muslims. In most circumstances, it would be considered appallingly bad taste to deflect attention from an actual “hate crime” by scaremongering about a purely hypothetical one. Needless to say, there is no campaign of Islamophobic hate crimes. If anything, the West is awash in an epidemic of self-hate crimes. A commentator on Tim Blair’s Web site in Australia summed it up in a note-perfect parody of a Guardian headline: “Muslim Community Leaders Warn of Backlash from Tomorrow Morning’s Terrorist Attack.” Those community leaders have the measure of us.

Yes, the ruling elites are ninnies. Yes, they specialize in playing lapdogs to certain cultural minorities that succeed in securing for themselves a “rights” label. But this is not the main problem we face. The main problem is a culture-wide loss of faith: in the future, in personal responsibility, in the family.

We are dealing with a substitute faith — faith in the welfare state’s replacement of the family.

But the problem now goes way beyond the ruling establishment. The annexation by government of most of the key responsibilities of life — child-raising, taking care of your elderly parents — has profoundly changed the relationship between the citizen and the state. At some point — I would say socialized health care is a good marker — you cross a line, and it’s very hard then to persuade a citizenry enjoying that much government largesse to cross back.

The masses of voters in the West are on the take. Politics today is about divvying up the loot stolen from the taxpayers. It is the politics of plunder. It has addicted the masses, but Europe is further into the addiction.

We are viewing the suicide of the West. Steyn does not cite Buchanan’s book. He is a neo-con; Buchanan is a traditional conservative who is anti-neo-con, anti-Empire, and anti-foreign aid to the State of Israel. But Steyn accepts Buchanan’s thesis. He adds this: you can identify the resilience of a society by examining what worries its elite members:

One way “societies choose to fail or succeed” is by choosing what to worry about. The Western world has delivered more wealth and more comfort to more of its citizens than any other civilization in history, and in return we’ve developed a great cult of worrying. You know the classics of the genre: In 1968, in his bestselling book “The Population Bomb,” the eminent scientist Paul Ehrlich declared: “In the 1970s the world will undergo famines — hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” In 1972, in their landmark study “The Limits to Growth,” the Club of Rome announced that the world would run out of gold by 1981, of mercury by 1985, tin by 1987, zinc by 1990, petroleum by 1992, and copper, lead and gas by 1993.
None of these things happened. In fact, quite the opposite is happening. We’re pretty much awash in resources, but we’re running out of people — the one truly indispensable resource, without which none of the others matter. Russia’s the most obvious example: it’s the largest country on earth, it’s full of natural resources, and yet it’s dying — its population is falling calamitously.
The default mode of our elites is that anything that happens — from terrorism to tsunamis — can be understood only as deriving from the perniciousness of Western civilization. As Jean-Francois Revel wrote, “Clearly, a civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”

Forget about the supposed rape of the ecological system. Don’t worry about the trees:

Well, here’s my prediction for 2032: unless we change our ways the world faces a future ... where the environment will look pretty darn good. If you’re a tree or a rock, you’ll be living in clover. It’s the Italians and the Swedes who’ll be facing extinction and the loss of their natural habitat.
There will be no environmental doomsday. Oil, carbon dioxide emissions, deforestation: none of these things is worth worrying about. What’s worrying is that we spend so much time worrying about things that aren’t worth worrying about that we don’t worry about the things we should be worrying about. For 30 years, we’ve had endless wake-up calls for things that aren’t worth waking up for. But for the very real, remorseless shifts in our society — the ones truly jeopardizing our future — we’re sound asleep. The world is changing dramatically right now, and hysterical experts twitter about a hypothetical decrease in the Antarctic krill that might conceivably possibly happen so far down the road there are unlikely to be any Italian or Japanese enviro-worriers left alive to be devastated by it.5

Steyn has no answers, but he understands the questions.

A Religious Battlefield

It is time to stop worrying about secular humanism, which is losing its cultural grip as the various media decentralize. Its institutional monopoly is breaking apart. It is time to start worrying about Islam and the civilization it brings.

Most Christians think that democratic pluralism is an acceptable substitute for Biblical law. This option is being removed in Europe. If European Christians persist in this myth, and if they do not increase their birthrates to exceed Islamic birthrates, country-by-country, then they are going to wind up living under Sharia law.

There is a new Islamic-Christian confrontation going on. It will escalate. Add to this conflict both Hinduism and Buddhism. Today’s confrontations are religious. But they always are, aren’t they? Only the deeply religious secular humanists have failed to understand this fact.

American pietists are today only barely aware of the threat of secular humanism. When Rushdoony wrote By What Standard? (1959), things were much worse. A generation ago, there was almost no awareness of humanism’s real threat. Fundamentalists worried about movies, dancing, tobacco, and liquor. So, to insulate themselves from the bad parts of modern culture, they turned on their televisions and sent their children to the local public school. Most of them today would regard a return to the culture of 1952 as a religious revival — the most that a premillennialist or an amillennialist can legitimately hope for.

Christian Reconstructionists must now prepare battle plans for the next war, not the last one. A handful of us created the battle plans for the old war: Christian education, theonomy, and an extension of Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics to culture. These plans have yet to be widely implemented, but it is nevertheless time for us to move on. Another war is in progress.

This war will be even more serious because the stakes are visibly higher. This was true in 650. It will be true in 2050.


We can’t beat something with nothing. Christian pietism may be suitable if you’re willing to have your son kidnapped by the sultan to be made into a Janissary warrior, as took place under the Ottoman Turks.6

For those Christians who want to avoid conscription by the state, pietism is inappropriate.

Christian pietism is still with us, which is why most Christians still vote for bond issues to keep the doors open at the local tax-funded, legally compulsory school. The “my child a Janissary” mentality is alive and well inside the Christian Right. The main difference today is this: they willingly surrender their daughters.

When it is at long last (once again) visibly Islam vs. Christianity, there will be a defection from this surrender mentality. This defection is in progress. The homeschool movement is evidence of this defection. So is the day school movement.

What the church needs now is a self-funded educational program, K–Ph.D., that is self-consciously Trinitarian and theonomic. We do not have this today, but someday we will.

For those who do not share Christian Reconstruction’s postmillennial optimism, it is time to start reading the Koran.

  • Gary North

Dr. Gary North (1942-2022), served as the editor of the Journal of Christian Reconstruction from 1974-81. He is the noted author of scores of articles and over thirty books on economics and history. He served as editor for and The Tea Party Economist and was the Director of Curriculum Development for the Ron Paul Curriculum.

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