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The Anything They Believe In
So goes Europe . . .


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Mark Steyn

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the April 24, 2006, issue of National Review.

Two days before Christmas, I was in a store in Vermont buying a last-minute gift when the owner’s twentysomething daughter walked in. “Thanks for the sweater, mom,” she said. “Kevin really liked his present, too.”

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”But it’s only the 23rd,” said the bewildered lady.

“Mom,” sighed the kid, wearily. “How many times do I have to tell you? We always open our presents on the solstice.”

A couple of weeks later, a neighbor of mine in New Hampshire got married. He’s a biker and a tattooist, and he’s deeply spiritual. So he and his bride were married in the middle of a field in a service filled with imprecations to Odin, Thor, and sundry other Norse gods. The congregation of bikers rolled their eyes, which may or may not be a traditional Norse mark of respect.

G. K. Chesterton made a famous observation that when men cease to believe in God they’ll believe in anything. But the anything they’ll believe in is at least in part environmentally determined. Alice Thomson of the Daily Telegraph in London was recently granted an interview with the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala, the old British hill station in northern India where he lives in exile. En route to his pad, she encountered both a native Tibetan bearing the brutal marks of Chinese torture and, at one of the luxury hotels that have sprung up for moneyed pilgrims, a “rotund Austrian biscuit heiress” who turned to Buddhism after her stomach staple failed to take.

My North Country neighbors can’t afford air tickets and a suite in Dharamsala. So, given those constraints, solstice worship and Norse deities seem a reasonable fit with the landscape of northern New England. But they’d be a tougher sell in, say, Glasgow or Rotterdam. So what would work in the densely populated parts of western Europe? I’ve been a demography bore for years now–pointing out how aging childless French, Belgian, and Dutch populations are surrendering their turf to young fecund Muslims–but, at the risk of piling too many doomsday scenarios atop one another, it’s worth noting that Islam is advancing not just by outbreeding but also by conversion. . . .

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