The world is currently undergoing a very quiet but revolutionary change. Nations which since their inception have been Christian nations will soon become Islamic ones, and this is not due to violence or jihad, but due to demographics and birth-rates. This is especially so in Europe, but North America is not untouched by this trend.
Social scientists report that for a nation to sustain itself economically for more than twenty-five years it needs a minimum fertility rate of 2.11 per family. That is, if Mommy and Daddy have on average a little over two children per family, the population can replace itself and society can survive long term. If the fertility rate per family drops to 1.9 there is a problem, for the population cannot replace itself, and no culture has historically ever reversed such a decline. If it drops to 1.3 the catastrophe is worsened, for this rate is impossible to reverse in the needed time.
It is just here that European fertility rates are so alarming. In 2007 France had an average fertility rate of 1.8 per family—well below the 2.11 rate needed to sustain itself. England had an average of 1.6 per family. The Orthodox nation of Greece had a fertility rate of 1.3 per family, as did Germany. The Catholic nation of Italy clocked in at a rate of 1.2. Now compare these fertility rates to the fertility rates of Muslim families within those countries. France as a national average may have had a fertility of 1.8 children per family in 2007, but France’s population is not declining. Like all the other European nations it has a high level of immigration, especially from Islamic countries. The average French Muslim has a family fertility rate of 8.1. It does not take a trained mathematician to see that within a generation or so Muslims will predominate in France. This means that countries like France could become an Islamic state within the foreseeable future simply because of these demographic realities. A report released by the German Federal Statistics Office stated that “The fall in [German] population can no longer be stopped. Its downward spiral is no longer reversible...It will be a Muslim state by the year 2050.”
North American fertility rates are also declining. Canada’s national average fertility rate is 1.6—as is the American average. In 1970 in the U.S. there were 100,000 Muslims living in the country. By 2008 there were nine million.
So, what are we Christians to make of all this? What is the authentically Orthodox response? I suggest several things.
First, we must resist the temptation to demonize our Muslim neighbours and see them as the enemy. These statistics mean that our world is undergoing a revolutionary change, and that the world our children and grandchildren will live in will be different than the one we now inhabit. But it does not mean that God is not in control, or that the gates of hell will prevail against His Church. The Church’s mandate to evangelize, and our Lord’s commandment to love our neighbours remain in full force as they did before these revolutionary changes began to occur. Fear is never fitting for the disciples of Jesus. We follow One who long ago told us, “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33).
This refusal to demonize our Muslim neighbour of course does not mean that we must accept uncritically all the voices which proclaim Islam as “a religion of peace” (usually with a withering comparison to the Crusaders, whom no one seems to mind demonizing). Opposition to Islam and recognizing its historical propensity for military conquest and suppressing the rights of minorities is still compatible with our personal love for Muslims. We can love Muslims even while we oppose Islam. And love, uncontaminated by fear, remains our eternal task.
Just as we should resist the temptation to demonize, we should also resist the tendency to generalize, for the characteristics of Muslim population vary tremendously throughout the West. In places like Canada and (I imagine) the United States, most Muslims have successfully embraced the liberal democratic values of the society in which they live. That is, they value tolerance of other faiths and lifestyles, they accept western views of how women should be treated, and they eschew violence. That is, without denying what they consider to be the basic tenets of their Islamic faith, they have become culturally assimilated within the mainstream of a liberal democracy. But this process of assimilation is not uniform throughout the West, and in some European states, the Muslim population resists such cultural assimilation. For some of these Muslims, creating an Islamic state ruled by shariah law would be a good thing and a goal they would vigorously pursue. Obviously if such a situation were to obtain and if European nations came to be ruled by shariah law, it would spell the end of them as liberal democracies. Good or bad, western liberal democracies were the creation of Christendom, and depend upon the cultural acceptance of Christian presuppositions for their continued maintenance and survival. The tolerance which characterizes a liberal democracy is incompatible with classical Islam and shariah law. Anyone contesting this needs to explain the deplorable state of minority rights within nations currently ruled by shariah law, and also why a number of its citizens have fled their countries to take refuge in the West.
The impending revolution means that we should take seriously the divine precept by which we were told to “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). This command, the first in Scripture addressed to humanity, finds echo in our Orthodox liturgy as well. At the wedding service, the Church prays for the newly-married that God would “grant to them the fruit of the womb”, and that He would “make them glad with the sight of sons and daughters”, and “the enjoyment of the blessing of children”, and one gets the impression that the liturgical tradition is envisioning something more bountiful that 1.6 children on average per family.
Our culture has in fact lost the concept that children are a blessing. Having many sons and daughters was once viewed as an obvious good, like a warrior having a quiver full of arrows (Ps. 127:3-5). It was a blessing to have one’s wife like a fruitful vine, and one’s supper table surrounded by children, like many olive shoots around a vine (the image is from Ps. 128, still sung at each Orthodox wedding). Our culture now no longer regards large families as a blessing and the sight of many sons and daughters no longer makes us glad. Our culture is more likely to preach sermons to the parents of large families about the dangers of the over-population and of bringing more children into an already-crowded world. It is nonsense, of course, especially given average rates of birth in Europe and North America. But nonsensical or not, large families are now contrary to the cultural norm, and are often secretly frowned upon—and sometimes not so secretly.
This is because we have created a culture of contraception, one in which sex has been sundered in the popular mind from birth-giving. In this mentality, lots of sex does not necessarily lead to lots of babies, given the use of birth-control and abortion (often used as a kind of retro-active birth control). Pope Paul VI, who issued his famous encyclical Humanae Vitae denouncing the use of artificial birth-control, doubtless is saying, “I told you so” from the Kingdom as he looks down upon the falling European birth-rates. But one doesn’t need to buy into the entirety of the papal encyclical (as I do not) to admit that something has gone wrong, and that contraceptives which were meant to plan the birth of children now have as their main purpose the prevention of the birth of children. We need to recover the joy our forefathers felt over the birth of children, and restore this fundamental marital reality to its proper place in marriage. We need to rejoice and be glad at the sight of sons and daughters, and not just because of Muslim birth-rates and impending revolution, but because having many sons and daughters is a blessing.
Finally we need to continue doing evangelism and sharing the Gospel with our neighbour with joy and boldness. Our task remains what it always has been: to convert our neighbour to faith in Christ, whether our neighbour was formerly Muslim, Jewish, Zoroastrian, or secular. Christ died for all, and we have an abundant water supply with which to baptize the world. In earlier days we needed to travel to lands of the Middle East to find our Muslim neighbour and convert him. Now God’s providence has brought him to our doorstep. We are even spared the difficulty of learning to speak Arabic in order to share the Gospel with him, since if he lives beside us in North America he certainly speaks English. In Islamic states this sharing may produce conversions or martyrdoms or both, but it remains our task as Christ’s Church nonetheless. We need not fear what obedience to this task may bring. The world with its changing birth-rates will pass away soon enough. All that matters is whether or not we obeyed Christ while we were in it.
A revolution taking place in the world right now. But this demographic revolution is as nothing compared to the spiritual revolution that happened two thousand years ago when God became man and died and rose again and poured out His Spirit upon the world. It is on this revolution that we focus our attention, upon this revolution that we must boldly rely.