According to Eric Kaufmann, reader in politics at Birkbeck College, London, and author of Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth? Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century, the change in the world demographics in which secularist population is decreasing and fundamantalist religious population is increasing (and perhaps somewhere in the middle we are holding our own) doesn’t just indicate rational adjustment to economic opportunity per the invisible hand of capitalism. They presage a deep cultural shift: a coming eclipse of the secular, the scientific and the religiously moderate by the militantly devout. Secular populations will fall to 10% of the global population by 2050.
Muslim populations in particular are becoming more numerous and more religious, and, while the migration to the West is filling demographic needs, it also brings a new (or, rather, ancient) set of morals and mores. Trends do suggest, though, that fertility rates among Muslims eventually drop to those of the host country, and there are high levels of secular assimilation, however, many western parliaments will host representative who are muslim as well as christian and aetheists. Signally, the growth of small political parties and independents will realise an increase in representation by a variety of broader and narrower world-views. In short politics will become more vigorous, even more volatile, in the west, than in the past century.
The effect on liberal capitalism is yet to be seen. Generally muslim societies have been and still are, based more on the individualistic/family pursuit of occupation and trade, than on a concept of national standards and welfare. Muslim societies are largely small ‘c’ capitalists with big ‘c’ capitalism associated with the ruling class. In Islamic societies, the failure to thrive culturally in the 20th century has been due to a failure to raise a well-educated artisan and moderately well educated labour and agricultural class. Muslims who move to the west, therefore find themselves at home in the capitalist trading tradition while excited by the prospects of fulfiling aspirations of education and status growth. It is unlikely that Muslims will allow the progressive dimensions of liberal capitalism to be undermined. In the western society, the social welfare net has become such an accepted and successful feature of society, that, just as it has moved welfare from the churches to the state, it will be difficult for mosques to foster a bond of welfare and political opinion with its supporters. Nonetheless at the national and international stage, unfettered capitalism has shown a destructive capacity that resonates with all the religious scriptures of the world. In particular, the laws against usury. Baha’u’llah, in His ‘Tablet of Splendours’, in a commentary on unity, described the necessity of treating loans of money as a business transaction, “Because if there were no prospect for gaining interest, the affairs of men would suffer collapse or dislocation. One can seldom find a person who would manifest such consideration towards his fellow-man, his countryman or towards his own brother and would show such tender solicitude for him as to be well-disposed to grant him a loan on benevolent terms. Therefore as a token of favour towards men We have prescribed that interest on money should be treated like other business transactions that are current amongst men.” Indeed, Baha’u’llah connects the appropriate trade of capital with the ability of people to “devotedly engage themselves in magnifying the Name of Him Who is the Well-Beloved of all mankind” in “a spirit of amity and fellowship and with joy and gladness”. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 132) At the same time Baha’u’llah deplored the manipulation of the trade of capital that was occurring under the umbrella of Islamic Law in Persia in the 19th century. “Many ecclesiastics in Persia”, says Baha’u’llah, “have, through innumerable designs and devices, been feeding on illicit gains obtained by usury. They have contrived ways to give its outward form a fair semblance of lawfulness. They make a plaything of the laws and ordinances of God, but they understand not.” (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 133) This suggests that the fundamental islamic social organisation around mosques trends to corruption. The expectations for transparency and accountability of the modern liberal capital society will tend to criminalise such corrupt practices and it might be expected that such criminalisation will be supported by people of all faiths who truly support the humanitarian nature of their religion. This, and the State welfare net, will further the trend for mosques, churches, and synagogues to be primarily houses of worship, devoted to the inspirational elevated mind. At the heart of necessary change in the capitalist process is, as Baha’u’llah indicates, a need for people who are involved in the movement of capital to, themselves, treat the capitalist process as a means to foster amity and fellowship and a prayful life, within society. One cannot do that while manipulating markets to the end that families are without a home.
Religious movements in the 21st Century and beyond will have to contend with the fundamentalist desire to hold up progress. However, religious movement will be at the heart of change in the trade of capital towards an aspirational society engaged in the raising of sciences, technologies, and arts to every inspiring levels, in every community of the world.
While Kaufmann expects there to be “a temptation to accommodate in order to preserve social peace”, he does not reckon with progressive religious aspirations such as the Baha’i Faith that will be increasingly at the forefront of the development of technological, artistic, and spiritual forms, throughout the planet.
While Kaufmann takes the utilitarian view that if religion maximises happiness for a majority of people, then it is a good thing, he also quotes Richard Dawkins’s quip that religion’s contribution to wellbeing doesn’t make its tenets correct, nor its neighbours or apostates happier. However, this attitude by people like Dawkins, can only be given a big, “So what?!” No secular voice has the authority or the right to dictate to a population whether they should be religious or not. At the time that secularists, once again, rise up to eliminate religion from society, which can only happen as an act of violence against the population, is the day that religious fundamentalism also gets stronger and more violent. And people of spiritual notion can have correct tenets, can serve progressive values in society and will not agree that secularism means aetheism.
Kaufman may find that: the treatment of the elderly, the endeavour to make community work in amity (rather than a dog-eat-dog capitalism), will rise from the increase in religious populations. Such populations will be much easier to motivate from an argument of self sacrifice, than a secular population in which people only want as much as they can get for themselves (and to hell with the more vulnerable). And such a population will be happy to do so, without moaning at length with their psychologist about their failure to speak kindly with their siblings, co-workers, and clients.The religious community throughout the world are the meek. They may not yet run the show, but they will solve the problem of the demographic changes throughout the globe and, eventually, they will by force of their educated expectations, inherit the Earth.