FaithWorld

from The Great Debate:

Demography as destiny: The vital American family

Recent reports of America’s sagging birthrate ‑ the lowest since the 1920s, by some measures ‑ have sparked a much-needed debate about the future of the American family. Unfortunately, this discussion, like so much else in our society, is devolving into yet another political squabble between conservatives and progressives.

Conservatives, including the Weekly Standard’s Jonathan Last, regularly cite declining birth and marriage rates as one result of expanding government ‑ and a threat to the right’s political survival. Progressives, meanwhile, have labeled attempts to commend a committed couple with children as inherently prejudicial and needlessly judgmental.

Yet family size is far more than just another political wedge issue. It is an existential one – essentially determining whether a society wants to replace itself or fall into oblivion, as my colleagues and I recently demonstrated in a report done in conjunction with Singapore’s Civil Service College. No nation has thrived when its birthrate falls below replacement level and stays there – the very level the United States are at now. Examples from history extend from the late Roman Empire to Venice and the Netherlands in the last millennium.

Falling birthrates and declining family formation clearly effect national economies. One major United States’  advantage has long been high birthrates, akin to a developing nation’s, as well as a vibrant family-oriented culture. This was largely because of immigrants and their children, striving first- and second-generation Americans. The United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is expected to have a roughly 40 percent growth in its workforce in the first half of this century, largely thanks to immigration.

In contrast, the Census Bureau predicts that leading U.S. competitors, notably Japan, Europe and South Korea, will likely suffer a decline of 25 percent or more over that time. Even China, whose birthrate has dropped precipitously under its one-child policy and rapid urbanization, is expected to see a sharp drop in its labor force over the next decade.

God’s gender divides German government in pre-Christmas row

(God creates the Sun and Moon, Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo)

A minister in Angela Merkel’s government has sparked a pre-Christmas row among Germany’s ruling parties by suggesting God be referred to with the neutral article “das” instead of the masculine “der”.

Family Minister Kristina Schroeder made the comments when asked in an interview with German weekly Die Zeit how she explained to her young daughter the use of the masculine form for God.

“The article is not important,” she responded, adding that it was fine to use “das” instead of the traditional “der” when referring to God.

from Photographers' Blog:

Christmas in Afghanistan

Baghlan, Afghanistan

By Fabrizio Bensch

There are thousands of miles that separate the German soldiers in Afghanistan from home.  For up to one year, they may be stationed in Afghanistan, but for most of them no more than four to five months.

The lead up to Christmas in Germany has a very long tradition and the arriving season is dominated by beautifully decorated shop windows in department stores and the smell of gingerbread and cinnamon. Christmas trees are festively illuminated in the streets with Christmas decoration and Christmas markets and Santa Claus are in every city.

But for the German armed forces Bundeswehr soldiers far away, each of them tries to maintain a little bit of these traditions and so everywhere in the camps are signs of Christmas.

Guestview: America – a nation in spiritual crisis

(A hearse carrying the casket of of six-year-old Jack Pinto passes a makeshift memorial on its way to Newtown Village Cemetery in Newtown, Connecticut December 17, 2012. REUTERS/Eric Thayer)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Elizabeth E. Evans is a freelance writer and columnist in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania

By Elizabeth E. Evans

It seems that times of spiritual agony are not pretty – and sometimes they don’t even seem particularly holy.  But sacred moments they are, nonetheless.

from Edward Hadas:

A tale of two half-centuries

The future rarely turns out as expected. Imagine, for example, two sets of economic predictions for the half-century that began in 1962. The first, the Blind Guide, is written with only the knowledge available then. The second, the Retrospective Guide, is based on what actually happened.

The biggest economic issue a half-century ago was the battle of economic systems: communism versus capitalism. The Blind Guide would have predicted a lively rivalry in 2012. True, communist countries were already falling behind economically in Europe, but political oppression would keep the system well entrenched. Besides, 50 years ago many Western experts still believed that communism’s social levelling and central planning offered poor countries the best hope of rapid economic growth.

In the retrospective volume, the future abject failure of communism has a prominent place. The decline would be slow, but the people would inevitably become increasingly disenchanted with the system’s incompetence, hypocrisy and cruelty. The will of the people ultimately prevailed.

German Catholic Church says most sex abuser priests psychologically normal

(Munich’s Catholic cathedral Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), 30 September 2012/Dguendel)

A German Catholic Church study showed most priests found guilty of sexually abusing minors were psychologically normal, according to survey results.

Only 12 percent of those surveyed were diagnosed as paedophiles, said the report released by Trier Bishop Stephan Ackermann, the church’s spokesman on abuse cases.

from Photographers' Blog:

Any color, as long as it’s blue

Wiesbaden, Germany

By Ralph Orlowski

It was a cold and blustery winter morning when I arrived at the warm and cozy gallery rooms of the Hesse Nassau Art Club in Wiesbaden to take pictures of the exhibition "Bourquoi". This was to be my third attempt to take photographs of viewers at the show. So far I had not been successful at finding any willing visitors. I wondered whether this could be because of the compulsory dress code. The title of the exhibition "Bourquoi" by Turkish-German artist Naneci Yurdaguel is a play on the two words ‘pourqui' -- the French word for 'why' – and “Burka”.

I took off my big awkward padded winter coat only to be handed an equally, if not more, awkward “Burka” by the gallery assistant. I was told the only way to photograph or view the exhibition was while wearing it. No exceptions – not for male visitors or even for journalists.

Finally two visitors arrived – a man and a woman who were also willing to pull over an original Kabul burka. The organizers of the exhibition had flown in about a dozen original blue Burkas from the Afghan capital. I expected the visitors to be giggling and laughing when they changed to fulfill the dress code. But everyone was surprisingly extremely quiet and respectful.

German churches and trade union both claim victory in strike case

(A sign reading ‘Arbeitsgerichte’ (Labour courts) is pictured in the late evening in Hamburg September 1, 2012. REUTERS/Morris Mac Matzen)

Germany’s main churches and a union that represents their employees have both claimed victory after the Federal Labour Court issued a Solomonic decision on whether church employees are allowed to strike.

The Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches greeted the ruling as an endorsement of their system of resolving wage disputes through mediation, while the union said it confirmed church workers had the right to industrial action.

New Anglican head Welby mixes conflict resolution role with business skills

The Bishop of Durham, and the newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, smiles during a news conference at Lambeth Palace in London November 9, 2012.  REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

Rowan Williams once said the next Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the fractious Anglican wing of world Christianity, needs “the constitution of an ox and the skin of a rhinoceros”.

He overlooked the calm and patient negotiating skills that probably helped his successor Justin Welby clinch the job.

Chancellor Merkel urges German churches to agree on Luther anniversary

(Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at a news conference at European Union (EU) leaders summit in Brussels October 19, 2012.  REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germany’s Protestant and Roman Catholic churches on Monday to stress their common beliefs at ceremonies marking the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation.

Although still five years away, the date has already prompted debate between Protestants preparing major celebrations and Catholics who rue the rebellion of the German monk Martin Luther in 1517 as the start of a painful split in western Christianity.