What a surprise. It turns out that demographics do matter. What a surprise: It seems that there is a link between traditional forms of religion, or at least some of them, and survival and survival-plus birthrates.
If you do the math, it does appear that religious groups that have babies, retain the faithful and attract converts have a better chance of surviving than those that do not. Of course, their tough doctrinal standards may also mean that a smaller percentage of the larger culture chooses to be part of the flock. The flock may be small, yet growing and vital. The issue is not how this flock fares in relationship to the whole culture, but in relationship to other segments of its larger faith flock.
These basic realities are embedded into an interesting New York Times story that pivots on one of the strongest stereotypes in America religion -- the size and influence of the Jewish community in New York City. This is also a story with a rather large, logical hole in it.
Back to New York City. There have been some interesting changes. Here's the top of the story:
After decades of decline, the Jewish population of New York City is growing again, increasing to nearly 1.1 million, fueled by the “explosive” growth of the Hasidic and other Orthodox communities, a new study has found. It is a trend that is challenging long-held notions about the group’s cultural identity and revealing widening gaps on politics, education, wealth and religious observance.
Those findings, contained in the first authoritative study of the city’s Jewish population in nearly a decade, challenges the entrenched image of Jews as liberal, affluent and well educated. Over the last decade wealthy, Ivy League graduates like those on the Upper West Side have increasingly lost population share relative to Orthodox groups, like the Hasidic population in Brooklyn, where college degrees are rare and poverty rates have reached 43 percent.
Wait, you just know that all of this has to influence political realities and that this fact must be reported high up. Keep reading:
Members of these Orthodox groups also have been known to be far more likely to adopt more conservative positions on matters like abortion, same-sex marriage and the Israeli approach to the Palestinians.
At the same time, among non-Orthodox Jews, there has been a weakening in observance of quintessential Jewish practices. Participation in Passover Seders has declined: 14 percent of households never attend one, almost twice as many as a decade ago. Reform and Conservative movements each lost about 40,000 members between 2002 and 2011; nearly a third of the respondents who identified themselves as Jews said they did not ally themselves with a denomination or claimed no religion.
So traditional religious believers are more into traditional religious practices and are more likely to support traditional stances on issues of doctrine and practice. Who would have thunk it?
Now, why is this happening? If demographics are destiny, what is the killer statistic (perhaps the statistic that should have been in the lede or given more prominence than the political comments)? The Jewish, largely secular left remains large and the Orthodox wing is large, and growing. The middle is fading.
So what's up?
That shift appears quite likely to grow even more pronounced. Now, 40 percent of Jews in the city identify themselves as Orthodox, an increase from 33 percent in 2002; 74 percent of all Jewish children in the city are Orthodox.
So, GetReligion readers, what are the perfectly obvious questions that could be asked in this story, other than how these trends are linked to intermarriage and the creation of interfaith families?
How would you word these questions, in a public news source?
In particular, how would you word the flip side of the most obvious question (about Orthodox birthrates) , the one that would -- asked bluntly -- sound something like this: Why do liberal Jews have so few children?
Be constructive, yet go ahead and take a shot at a solid, journalistic approach to that question.
The Times article, of course, does not address these questions linking doctrine and demography. I am sure that many readers will be shocked to hear that.