Trends to reverse

The XXth century has been rough on the Christian religion, not only in the “far west” of Europe and the Americas. We occupy only one-third of the Christendom that once had an east, and a south, as well. The Arab/Islamic invasions of the VIIth century caused our geographical retreat, from an immense area; not only from Byzantium. From what is now Morocco and Spain to Ethiopia, Arabia, and the frontiers of old Persia and Hindustan, Christians remained in the majority. There was also a sprinkling of Jews throughout, and Zoroastrians were at our “bloody borders.” All of this was changed, superficially; almost entirely by brute force and savagery, but sometimes by diplomatic foreplay.

Yet it was not changed demographically by the conquest, nor would it be, for centuries to come. At the beginning of the last century, for instance, Christians still found themselves, if politically without power, still in the majority in many parts of this world; and there was still a visible sprinkling of Jews. The Parsis had been mostly wiped out, yet they retained a sprinkle, too. There were several interesting religious minorities, and such as Buddhism had left extensive archaeological remains.

We often hear about the fine multicultural tolerance of various historical Islamic regimes, which was true in brief moments under their most impressive rulers. And it is true that, with time, the aggression of the tribal dynasties diminished. But more fundamentally, they did not have a choice, for Islamic rulers were outnumbered by their subjects, and didn’t collect taxes except from “infidels” (the notorious jizyah). ┬áMoreover, European imperialists eventually arrived to confirm the infidel’s safety.

Unfortunately, this imperialism, founded in the competition between European states, begat nationalisms of revolutionary kinds. In this we find the historical origin of the Islamism that metastasized over the last century, as a violent political force, trying again for an Islamic caliphate. While painful for a time, this is likely to pass, for they excite their enemies more than their friends; and not all of their opponents are morons.

However, Islamism is one of several political developments that led, in one case, indirectly to the foundation of Israel, and in another and grander to the “religious cleansing” (resembling ethnic cleansing) of the Muslim world. Muslims now make an overwhelming majority in each country over which they once gained merely political control, except perhaps India.

The “invasion” by immigration of Europe and the Americas can, I think, create a problem but not a change. It is unlikely to succeed as the birth rates among Muslims have declined to the birth rates among Christians and others. Moreover, the deliquescence that has been dissolving Christianity has had a worse effect on other religions, and is excavating Islam. (Only 40 percent of Iranians present themselves as Muslim to pollsters, compared to more than 50 percent in the United States who still present as Christians).

Demography is not destiny, though neither is it without omen. The loss of religious faith, and worldly confidence has, for our time, reduced Christianity to an insignificance not experienced since it arrived, unwelcomely, in the ancient world. Only in sub-Saharan Africa does it grow; and it has been flourishing only where it is persecuted, elsewhere.

It persists, reliably, whenever Christ is sought, and in this sense it remains “dangerously well,” awaiting revival, now that it is modernity’s turn to downwardly trend.