Memo from U.S. Christian conservatives to Europeans: Have more babies!

That is, of course, only if you're white.

Published February 19, 2008 11:25PM (EST)

AlterNet has reprinted a (long) piece from the Nation about how the American Christian right is hoping that Europeans' demographic concerns might give it a toehold in its fight against, among other things, women's rights. As the subhead puts it, "Conservatives predict disaster as birthrates in the 'West' fall. Their solution? Take away women's rights to compel reproduction."

I had to read that last line over, since on first glance it seems as if it's saying that we Western women have a right to compel reproduction (you must give birth!). But the article is actually referring to the idea that so-called liberal ideas, like women's rights, gay rights and, you know, access to any form of contraception, are contributing to the supposed population crisis faced by western Europe. (This "crisis" is summed up by the article's actual headline: "Christian Right's Demographic Nightmare: Muslims Are 'Out-breeding' Us.") The feared result would be a "demographic winter" where, to put it bluntly, Europe would run out of white people. By not having enough children, these doomsayers say, Western civilization is "laying itself down to die."

I won't try to summarize the entire article here -- it's quite long -- but the most relevant point, Broadsheet-wise, is the idea that American religious conservatives are trying to convince European secularists that to solve some of their demographic woes, they might want to rethink their position on women's rights. As author Kathryn Joyce explains, "The real root of racial tensions in the Netherlands and France, America's culture warriors tell anxious Europeans, isn't ineffective methods of assimilating new citizens but, rather, decades of 'anti-family' permissiveness -- contraception, abortion, divorce, population control, women's liberation and careers, 'selfish' secularism and gay rights -- enabling 'decadent' white couples to neglect their reproductive duties." They have, she explains, defied the biblical command to "be fruitful and multiply."

It seems to me that another plausible cause of European racial tension might actually have a lot to do with ineffective methods of assimilation. For example, when Italy offered "baby bonuses" to families who had a second child, it revealed its racial motivations when it asked for refunds from immigrant families who had been accidentally issued checks (those weren't the types of kids the government was trying to promote). If I were an immigrant in Italy, I don't think that policy would make me feel too warm toward mainstream Italian society.

Unfortunately for rationality, though, fear is a powerful motivator -- and religious conservatives can smell it. As Joyce puts it, "The American Christian right, increasingly seeking influence abroad, has recognized that this anxiety over shifting national identities creates fertile terrain for spreading its ideology of traditional sexual morality as a quick fix for the postmodern age." Forget the fact that there will always be a group that threatens "mainstream" culture, and that the only thing constant is racism itself. Forget the fact that there are too many people to begin with and that a much more reasonable response to xenophobic fears might be to encourage people of all races to have fewer children -- a cause that might be helped by reaching out to immigrant populations and expanding women's rights and access to contraception. Nope, better to play off people's fears and start an arms race with kids.

But then again, in some ways I can see where these fears are coming from. Among the many things about this movement that I find frightening is the idea that one of the most threatened species of all is the "secular humanist," a "sterile elite" that some conservatives think is "too self-absorbed to reproduce." (It's like I'm reading a description of myself and all my friends.) I doubt that the Christian right -- or religious conservatives of any faith -- would be particularly upset to see us go, but considering my own possible extinction makes me understand, for a moment, what it must be like to worry about your own "demographic winter." This leaves me with two choices: Try to support rights and contraceptive access for all women, not just my fellow secularists. Or, alternatively, I could decide to have a lot of babies.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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