David Quinn: It is the religious who shall inherit the earth
IT is the original man-bites-dog story; namely that since the turn of the new century the Catholic Church worldwide hasn't shrunk but has actually grown, and by a very healthy 12pc.
According to the Vatican's annual yearbook, published on Wednesday, the number of Catholics worldwide now stands at 1.16 billion people. Even in secular Europe the number of Catholics has grown, although by only 1pc.
In Asia the number of Catholics is up 16pc and in Africa it is up a whopping 33pc.
There is a partial explanation for this that should make secularists sleep a little easier in their beds at night, which is that most of the growth is accounted for by world population growth in that time rather than by conversion. Africa, and to a certain extent Asia, is the exception to that. In Africa there has been a phenomenal number of conversions.
But according to the secular script, the number of Catholics should be going down, not up, even after allowing for population growth. The scandals alone should have taken care of that.
In America, for example, public anger over the scandals peaked in 2002 and there was a temporary fall in Mass attendance, but it quickly returned to the normal level of around 40pc.
In Ireland, so far there is absolutely no evidence of a fall in Mass attendance despite the publication of the Ryan Report, the Murphy Report and almost a year's worth of extremely negative coverage of the Church.
In fact, there is anecdotal evidence that over Christmas and Easter, numbers were actually up on the year before, indicating that the casual church-goers who turn up only at those times of year weren't deterred by the scandals.
But if the scandals won't finally kill the Catholic Church -- although without question they have badly damaged it -- then surely the eventual rise of secularism in every part of the world, including Africa, will do it instead? You'd have thought so, but the answer is no, and emphatically no.
There is a new book out that should make secularists everywhere very uneasy indeed. It is called 'Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?' by Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck University in London.
In answer to his own question, Kaufmann, himself a secularist, although not an aggressive one, answers: "Yes, most probably".
The bottom line is this: religious people have more children than secularists.
The most drastic example is provided within Judaism. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have seven to eight children each, while the most secular Jews have only 1.65 each on average.
In Britain, only 17pc of Jews are Ultra-Orthodox but they account for around 70pc of all births.
Also, Ultra-Orthodox Jews are excellent at retaining their children; that is, they don't lose them to "the world".
Over time this is going to make a huge difference to world Jewry. It will go from a mainly secular population to one that is mainly, maybe overwhelmingly religious.
This is only the most dramatic example of the difference between secular and religious birth-rates.
As Kaufmann points out, even a modest difference of a half to one child per couple over time can make a big difference. In the US this relatively small difference compared with the birth rate of the general population has meant that the number of Evangelical Protestants has doubled over the last century, although the success of Evangelicals in attracting converts has also had its effect.
Kaufmann projects that the number of seculars in the US will peak at 17pc by 2050 and will decline thereafter.
But what about Europe? Surely Europe will save the day? Well, Europe will remain predominantly secular for the foreseeable future, but secularism in Europe is at its high-tide.
The tide will remain high for some time to come but the religious population is going to grow again, driven by higher birth rates and immigration, especially Muslim immigration.
This makes it redundant whether religion or secularism has the better arguments.
The bottom line is that secularists are so completely over-invested in personal freedom and self-fulfilment that they have very few children. Just as the most strongly religious have the most children, the most strongly secular -- which is to say the most militantly atheistic -- have the least.
Religious believers don't place a very high premium on self-fulfilment.
They have a stronger belief in commitment, and their commitment to marriage and children in particular leads to higher birth rates in the order of two to three children per family instead of the zero-to-two common among seculars.
Those Catholic figures released this week need to be looked at against this background. They are not a blip. They are part of a trend and the world is trending towards religion, not secularism.
This is so completely contrary to the conventional wisdom that a lot of people will reject it out of hand.
But that is the very worst kind of parochialism, born of the secularism of the present moment.
Like it or not, Catholicism, like religion itself, is here to stay. Secularism is the endangered species.