Universal belief in a Supreme Being is still as persistent as ever. A worldwide poll taken in 1991 has the global figure for atheists at just 4.4 percent. Another category titled "other non-religious" added a further 16.4 percent (agnostics in the "don't know" camp probably account for most of these). This leaves nearly 80 percent of the world's population professing belief in some sort of God.
According to a recent Los Angeles Times article, Russia "has lost the equivalent of a city of 700,000 people every year since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991." We're talking about the population of San Francisco or Baltimore—a grim reminder of how fruitless some worldviews can be.
If demographic trends hold steady, Russia's population, which stands at 142 million today, will drop to 52 million by 2080. At that point, according to Sergei Mironov, the chairman of the upper house of the Dumas, the Russian parliament, "there will no longer be a great Russia . . . it will be torn apart piece by piece, and finally cease to exist."
Mironov isn't alone in his fears. Russia's demographic crisis raises "serious questions about whether Russia will be able to hold on to its lands along the border with China or field an army, let alone a workforce to support the ill and the elderly."
Even more disturbing than the numbers are the reasons behind them: that is, "one of the world's fastest-growing AIDS epidemics . . . alcohol and drug abuse . . . [and] suicide" are among the leading causes of Russia's shrinking population.
What's more, last year there were 100,000 more abortions than births in Russia. And many women who want children can't have them: "[A]n estimated 10 million Russians of reproductive age are sterile because of botched abortions or poor health."
As Scripps-Howard columnist Terry Mattingly puts it, "we have suicide, AIDS, substance abuse, rampant abortion, and a loss of hope in the future . . . in a nation that, in the past century, saw the rise of an atheistic regime that tried to stamp out the practice of faith . . . Do you think there might be a religion element in here somewhere?"
Well, not according to the Los Angeles Times or the Russian government. The Times's story did not mention the role of religion—or, in this case, its absence—in its analysis of Russia's plight. And the Russian government is trying to avert catastrophe by using the same techniques that have failed in the rest of the world: that is, bribing people to have children.
They will fail in Russia, as well, because they don't address the real problem: The real problem is a loss of faith. Life has always been tough in Russia, and Russians are famously fatalistic. But, as writers such as Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn told us, Christianity helped Russians to see their suffering as redemptive and not to lose hope.
Seventy-four years of official atheism robbed the Russian people of this source of hope. This, more than a ruined economy and environmental degradation, is what has put Russia on the road to extinction. It's a tragic reminder that ideas, and the worldviews and attitudes they engender, have very real consequences.
It's also a cautionary tale, for what happened to Russia is, in many ways, just an exaggerated and accelerated version of the secularism and materialism overtaking much of Europe. There, as in Russia, secularism is proving to be literally sterile. And maybe it is a lesson we had better learn here as courts and cultural elite continue to marginalize the Christian faith in America.
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