We’ve run bunches and bunches of stories about the slowly creeping demographics crisis in America’s blue states, where the aging population is not replacing itself fast enough. Not long ago, tmatt linked high fertility rates to religious belief and low rates to lack of belief.
Where in the world, then, is the opposite happening? Where civic leaders seem to be aware that this is happening?
Lebanon, it turns out, which is where people can’t get married fast enough so they can procreate more. Children are considered an asset, not a liability. For one thing, this complex land’s many religious groups know that they need children to retain their clout — and their military options — in the future.
But there’s a problem. The expense of weddings keeps many people from marrying.
The New York Times’ recent story on this phenomenon told how several religious communities have come up with an answer: Mass weddings.
BKERKE, Lebanon — Classical music swelled as the bride stepped from a white sedan onto a red carpet, took the arm of her tuxedoed groom and walked down the aisle, both grinning as their relatives cheered nearby.
The next bride did the same. And the next. And the next. And the next.
Once the couples — 34 that day — reached their seats, the patriarch of the Maronite Church, dressed in crimson robes and gripping a scepter topped with a golden cross, led Mass and declared the whole lot husbands and wives.
No, this was not the Unification Church, which pioneered mass weddings. This is now the new normal for the Middle East. Maronites, by the way, are eastern Syriac Catholics.
It was Lebanon’s fourth mass wedding in three weeks, representing a social phenomenon that has been growing here and across the Middle East.
In a region where marriage remains highly valued but economic pressures and costly celebrations have priced many couples out, powerful benefactors have stepped in, sponsoring large-scale ceremonies to make sure that young people get hitched.
Remember, this is a society where living together is not an option.
Politics, faith and Lebanon’s complicated demographics play a role too, in this country with 18 officially recognized sects.
Political parties sponsor weddings for young members to reinforce their loyalty, and gratitude. Religious and ethnic minorities — which means everyone in splintered Lebanon — consider marriage and procreation essential to their long-term survival. And armed groups encourage their fighters to marry so that their children can become the fighters of the future.
It’s not just the Maronites and the Shi’ites who are doing this, but whole countries like Turkey, which had a wedding for 2,000 couples and the United Arab Emirates, which had a wedding for 200.
“They take care of everything, God bless them,” said Roni Abu Zeid, 35, who got married in the Maronite mass wedding, which was held in Bkerke, a town near the Mediterranean coast, north of Beirut. It is the headquarters of the Maronite Church.
Mr. Zeid is a soldier, and with his salary it was difficult to save the $20,000 he needed to outfit a home and host his own wedding party. So he gladly joined the mass wedding…
His wedding was sponsored by the Maronite League, a nonprofit group associated with the church. Maronites are the largest of the Christian groups that make up about 36 percent of Lebanon’s population.
Fadi Gerges, an official with the league, said it was natural for minorities to encourage their youths to procreate in a country where demographics affect power.
So these folks have gotten the message about demographics being destiny as well. The Maronites understand something that we in the West do not. These weddings may be part of the reason why the country’s population has risen by a stunning 2 million since 2013.
Most of the new arrivals are refugees from Syria, no doubt, but still, birth rates are up. if your Arabic is any good, watch this video about Maronite weddings, too. The local patriarch shows up at these ceremonies, giving them added prestige and weight.
This year’s mass wedding was the group’s 10th in 11 years, bringing the number of couples it has married to 274. So far, those unions have resulted in only three divorces and more than 100 children.
Accepted couples get a free suit for the groom, a dress for the bride, invitations, flowers, photos, $2,000 in cash and a blessing from the patriarch — a big bonus for the devout…
The league gives couples marital support as needed while encouraging procreation. This year, it will outfit a nursery for the first 10 couples to give birth. Other religious and political groups provide different perks.
The one thing missing from this very informative piece is what the overall strategy is among the Maronite leaders. Are they hoping that, within 100 years, the number of Lebanese Christians will overtake the Muslims? Oh, and what are the religious and moral issues linked to the concerns of religious leaders?
One thing people in the West don’t understand is how the lack of money seriously impairs peoples’ ability to marry overseas. I used to sponsor a young Filipino for college and back in 2006, he remarked there was a young woman he wished to marry. But he couldn’t, he said, because in the Philippines, the groom’s family pays for everything. His father, a pastor, didn’t have the funds for a banquet complete with a roasted pig for the wedding.
I asked my friend how much he needed. He told me $600. That may not sound like much here, but it’s an impossible sum over there. So I sent him the money, he proposed within the week and that September, they got married. So far, they’ve had one son.
In India, weddings are so expensive there (and in the diaspora), that some people would rather abort a daughter than pay for her wedding 20 years later. There’s a saying in India: “Better 500 rupees now than 50,000 rupees later,” referring to the cost of an abortion vs the cost of a wedding. The idea of mass weddings – at least for the poor — could work in that society. I’m looking for a religious tradition in India to lead the way with mass weddings and no crippling dowries for the bride’s family.
In a world where the religious folks have more babies, it follows that the world will eventually be more religious.
As for media covering the rise of the “nones” in the United States, you might want to ask the non-affiliated folks how many kids they’re having. If the answer is one or none, maybe this whole phenomenon will only last a generation or two. Because outside of North America and western Europe, the world is holding fast to the faith (or faiths) and the population growth is on their side, not ours.
What will the coming world look like with a more devout population? If reporters haven’t already asked that question, it’s about time they did.
FIRST IMAGE: From the Arabia Weddings homepage.