Mark Steyn has a wonderful column in the National Review today. Here is how it begins:
"Our lesson today comes from the Gospel according to Luke. No, no, not the manger, the shepherds, the wise men, any of that stuff, but the other birth: “But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.”Steyn goes on to talk about how contemporary Western culture is old, barren and increasingly concerned with managing its own decline rather than building culture. It is striking how derivative and decadent so much of our own culture is today. The best music, architecture, theology and poetry are centuries old. And economic decline is our current lived reality. Steyn writes:
That bit of the Christmas story doesn’t get a lot of attention, but it’s in there — Luke 1:13, part of what he’d have called the backstory, if he’d been a Hollywood screenwriter rather than a physician. Of the four gospels, only two bother with the tale of Christ’s birth, and only Luke begins with the tale of two pregnancies. Zacharias is surprised by his impending paternity — “for I am an old man and my wife well stricken in years.” Nonetheless, an aged, barren woman conceives and, in the sixth month of Elisabeth’s pregnancy, the angel visits her cousin Mary and tells her that she, too, will conceive. If you read Luke, the virgin birth seems a logical extension of the earlier miracle — the pregnancy of an elderly lady. The physician-author had no difficulty accepting both. For Matthew, Jesus’s birth is the miracle; Luke leaves you with the impression that all birth — all — is to a degree miraculous and God-given."
"The problem with the advanced West is not that it’s broke but that it’s old and barren. Which explains why it’s broke. Take Greece, which has now become the most convenient shorthand for sovereign insolvency — “America’s heading for the same fate as Greece if we don’t change ,” etc. So Greece has a spending problem, a revenue problem, something along those lines, right? At a superficial level, yes. But the underlying issue is more primal: It has one of the lowest fertility rates on the planet. In Greece, 100 grandparents have 42 grandchildren — i.e., the family tree is upside down. In a social-democratic state where workers in “hazardous” professions (such as, er, hairdressing) retire at 50, there aren’t enough young people around to pay for your three-decade retirement. And there are unlikely ever to be again."During the centuries of European colonial expansion the main export of Europe to the rest of the world was people; the excess population of Europe spread across the globe. But now:
As Angela Merkel pointed out in 2009, for Germany an Obama-sized stimulus was out of the question simply because its foreign creditors know there are not enough young Germans around ever to repay it. The Continent’s economic “powerhouse” has the highest proportion of childless women in Europe: One in three fräulein have checked out of the motherhood business entirely. “Germany’s working-age population is likely to decrease 30 percent over the next few decades,” says Steffen Kröhnert of the Berlin Institute for Population Development. “Rural areas will see a massive population decline and some villages will simply disappear.”
If the problem with socialism is, as Mrs. Thatcher says, that eventually you run out of other people’s money, much of the West has advanced to the next stage: It’s run out of other people, period.
In the Bible, children are a precious gift from God. The human race is commanded to be fruitful and multiply in Gen. 1 and Israel joyfully obeyed this command. But now, selfishness gets in the way of the most obedience to God of all: reproduction.
In Italy, the home of the Church, the birthrate’s somewhere around 1.2, 1.3 children per couple — or about half “replacement rate.” Japan, Germany, and Russia are already in net population decline. Fifty percent of Japanese women born in the Seventies are childless. Between 1990 and 2000, the percentage of Spanish women childless at the age of 30 almost doubled, from just over 30 percent to just shy of 60 percent. In Sweden, Finland, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, 20 percent of 40-year-old women are childless. In a recent poll, invited to state the “ideal” number of children, 16.6 percent of Germans answered “None.” We are living in Zacharias and Elisabeth’s world — by choice.
What was for Elizabeth and Zacharias a tragedy and sorrow is for us a lifestyle choice made by so many people today that the very existence of our people is threatened.
The fact is that as societies cast off the Christian beliefs of their ancestors and embrace selfish hedonism as the meaning of life, those societies die. This is not an argument for the "usefulness" of Christianity, however. One thing is clear: people cannot believe in Christianity just because it is useful. You either believe it or you don't.
But it is also clear that when a culture or a country or a nation decides to reject Christianity, the only alternative is the culture of death. The truth of Christianity can be seen in the fact that those who reject it do not find life, vigor and joy, but long, slow, economic and demographic decline into extinction.
There is a way that seems right to a man; but the end thereof is the way of death.
Christmas is the festival of those who have chosen life. Merry Christmas!