Edgar Rice Burroughs is remembered best for his Tarzan novels, but of all his books the one I found most intriguing as a youth was Beyond Thirty. It envisioned a Europe that, at the end of the twentieth century, entered into a protracted war that dragged the continent into barbarism. As the war heated up, the Americas isolated themselves from Europe and lost all contact with it for a century and a half, until a "Pan American" vessel inadvertently crossed the thirtieth meridian and landed in what had been England.
Beyond Thirty was written in 1915, as Burroughs watched the unfolding of a Great War that would become the prelude to a still greater war. He was not the only writer who feared the Old World might war itself to death. Others wrote similar stories. I used to wonder whether those speculations would turn out to be eerily close to what our grandchildren’s grandchildren might find, but nowadays I fear a different, though no less bleak, denouement for Europe.
When Benedict XVI visited Turkey, his main purpose was to meet with Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople and the spiritual leader of 300 million Eastern Orthodox. For a millennium Constantinople was the seat of a thriving empire. It was conquered by Muslims in 1453 and renamed Istanbul. Today Bartholomew reigns over a few buildings and fewer than 3,000 Turkish Christians. The patriarchate exists at the sufferance of the Turkish government and with the reluctant acquiescence of the imams.
Imagine a similar future for the Church of Rome. Imagine, a few generations from now, that Europeans have failed to reproduce themselves and have failed to resuscitate their faith. If present trends continue, in some European countries fully half of the population will be Muslim not long after mid-century. At some point sharia will be introduced. Historical legal structures, such as British common law and the Code Napoleon, will give way to the law of the Qu’ran. Year by year the Christian minority will become ever more isolated.
There need not be much overt persecution. An effete population will be disinclined to resist the changes. There will be many opportunistic conversions to Islam. High Muslim birth rates and much-increased Muslim immigration will see to it that Christians become numerically inconsequential. They will be permitted to practice their faith, so long as they do so quietly.
Vatican City will remain as it is now, 109 acres of Catholicism, but the pope once again will be, to use Pius IX’s phrase, the "prisoner of the Vatican." Outlying churches in Rome will be appropriated by the Muslim state, with the more important ones, such as St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major, becoming adorned with minarets. The remaining churches will be reduced to museums or reduced to rubble. While Europe undergoes this change the Americas will isolate themselves, much as they did in the Burroughs novel.
Can’t happen, you say? Just keep in mind that, 1,500 years ago, there were several hundred Catholic bishops in northern Africa. Today there are only three dozen.