A defining characteristic of modern life is how much you can do without leaving the house: You can work, bank, buy groceries, and even shop for a new home without setting foot outside your present one.
And now in Japan, you can add "find a mate" to the list.
There, elderly women go door-to-door, armed with pictures of local single people, hoping to set them up with other local singles.
What makes these women different from traditional matchmakers or contemporary dating services is that the singles have not solicited their assistance. As Reuters put it, the two hundred members of an older women's group in Fukui prefecture—Japan's equivalent of a state—are "proud to be busybody matchmakers."
Make that "government-sanctioned busybody matchmakers": The group is subsidized by the prefecture's government. Last year, it helped "50 couples tie the knot" and helped make the prefecture the only one of Japan's forty-seven prefectures to see a rise in its birth rate.
Then again, rise is a relative term: Even after aggressive measures like this one, Fukui's birth rate is far below replacement level.
I have previously told "BreakPoint" listeners and readers about Japan's demographic crisis: Its extremely low birth rate, coupled with Japan's aversion to immigration, has left Japan in danger of, as one of the matchmakers of Fukui put it, "simply [dying] away."
And before Japan dies away, a birth rate that is barely half of replacement level has already created the world's oldest society with fewer and fewer young people to care for its elderly.
Given the bleak mathematics, it is no wonder that the government will try anything, even subsidized octogenarian busybodies, to raise the birth rate. But it's not enough—not even close.
That's because the issue isn't one of incentives—government and employers already provide time off, shortened work hours, day care, and even cash for people who have children. The problem is, as one university professor told Reuters, that people are not taking advantage of those incentives.
In other words, the problem is culture. As the head "busybody," Shoko Mitsunari, put it, the current resistance to marriage and childrearing was "unthinkable" when she was young.
If, like today, having children is not a priority—or, even worse, if people view children as an impediment to their vision of the "good life"—then all the subsidies, matchmaking, and day care in the world will only make a marginal difference.
As Reuters rightly noted, "the phenomenon is not unique to Japan." Every member of the European Union has a birth rate below replacement level. Like Japan, generous government benefits have not made a significant difference.
Instead, higher rates of immigration have bought those countries time before they, too, "die away." But the time comes at a cost: an unassimilated Muslim population that threatens their security.
It's hard to imagine a clearer example of the importance of culture and worldview. While government policies are important, they are no substitute for the right beliefs. Without those beliefs, the "unthinkable" becomes the norm, no matter how hard busybodies try.
From BreakPoint®, April 25, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint®" and "Prison Fellowship Ministries®" are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship Ministries