OK, here is a kind of think-about-it post that has been rumbling around in my mind for quite some time.
More and more, I am seeing stories about American religion that are linked to a very basic set of facts: Religious movements that (a) make converts, (b) have higher birthrates and (c) retain a high percentage of their young people have a better chance of thriving or surviving than those that do not.
All together now: #DUH. That's so obvious.
Well, if that is so obvious, why aren't more journalists asking questions about these trends when reporting some of the most important stories in American life and around the world?
Like what, you say? As noted many times here at GetReligion, this is clearly a factor in the declining number of Roman Catholic priests in America, as well as the painful closing of many religious schools. Note all the coverage of aging flocks in old-line Protestant denominations, the so-called "Seven Sisters." Are these factors relevant in the battles inside the United Methodist Church?
I've given this a name, as a twist on the old "demographics is destiny" slogan. That would be "doctrine is destiny." And, as I said, it's not just America. Look at the way birthrates are reshaping Italy. See this post: "Doctrine is destiny reference, concerning Italy's many churches and crashing birthrate." And that stunning new Benedict XVI Centre study on young people in Europe?
Now, it would be important to show that this affects many areas of life in America and elsewhere -- not just religion. Thus, I noticed this recent Washington Post "Wonkblog" piece about the decline and fall of a beloved chain in American commerce: "Toys R Us’s baby problem is everybody’s baby problem."
Here is the overture, leading to a blunt thesis:
There are endless reasons a big-box toy store would collapse during a retail apocalypse -- and Toys R Us acknowledged a number of them in its most recent annual filing: the teetering tower of debt incurred by its private-equity owners, competition from Amazon, Walmart and Target.
They even wrung their hands about app stores, labor costs and potential tariffs raising the costs of the imported goods they sell.
But one risk stood out. Toys R Us said there just weren’t enough babies (emphasis ours):
"The decrease of birthrates in countries where we operate could negatively affect our business. Most of our end-customers are newborns and children and, as a result, our revenue are dependent on the birthrates in countries where we operate. In recent years, many countries’ birthrates have dropped or stagnated as their population ages, and education and income levels increase. A continued and significant decline in the number of newborns and children in these countries could have a material adverse effect on our operating results."
So religion-beat pros, as well as scholars, clergy and other religious leaders, need to read this story and think: What the local angle in this? What's the larger story?
Maybe there is even a good sermon, or bishops' conference discussion, in this business-trend story about the fall of this shopping empire. Maybe there is a religion ghost lurking here?
Could someone -- say a Catholic bishop or even cardinal -- dare read the following and connect some dots? Here's more from the Post:
... The company’s demise should worry the rest of us. Toys R Us focuses on kids, so it’s feeling the crunch from declining birthrates long before the rest of the economy. But it’s just a matter of time before the trends that toppled the troubled toy maker put the squeeze on businesses that cater to consumers of all ages.
The smaller generation of children whose lackluster toy consumption brought down Geoffrey the Giraffe will be adults soon. They’ll become the prime-age consumer spenders that drive U.S. economic growth. And the generation after them will be smaller still, after accounting for a slight bump from the generational fallout of the baby boom.
Eventually, unless the country does something significant to encourage larger families or immigration, that narrowing base of the population pyramid will crawl upward.