Religion, Conflict and Military Intervention (Religion and International Security)

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As early as , French King Francis I made a close alliance with Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, so they might coordinate their attacks on the Habsburgs. Likewise, the French Wars of Religion—another thirty years conflict that ended in —were civil conflicts over the throne and the ultimate victor, the Protestant Henri de Bourbon, happily converted back to Catholicism to placate the majority of his subjects!

He then issued the Edict of Nantes tolerating the Protestant Huguenots. Likewise, the Dutch rebellion against Spain was waged as much for political and economic freedom as religious freedom and numerous Dutch Catholics joined the patriotic Protestant side. The English Civil War from to might have been a Presbyterian crusade under Oliver Cromwell, but it began and ended as a political quarrel between Parliament and a would-be absolute monarch. All sides in those conflicts stoked religious fervor, often with savage results.

Identity Crisis in the Muslim World

But none was a crusade in the Medieval sense. As for the myth that Westphalia ended the power of the church, the fact that Innocent X cursed the treaties was as laughable then as it is now. By the midth century, papal power had been in eclipse for some two hundred years. During the late Middle Ages, it fell under the thumb of secular rulers, suffering first the so-called Babylonian Captivity when the French kings removed the Holy See to Avignon.

Then, a schism between rival popes backed respectively by France and the Empire made a mockery of their spiritual authority. Then, the church reached its nadir with the notorious worldly corruption of the 15 th century Renaissance popes. The Spanish Inquisition, for instance, was just that — Spanish, not papal — and was created by Ferdinand and Isabella to root out Muslims and Jews because the monarchs assumed that religious dissidents were likely to become political dissidents.

Certainly, the great founders of international law such as Hugo Grotius, Samuel Pufendorf, and Immanuel Kant hoped it would. But the reality was often otherwise. But Louis believed, like the Spaniards of the pre-Westphalian era, that religious affiliation was a powerful indicator of political loyalty.

MA Concentration in Religion, Politics, and Conflict | Department of Religious Studies

That was certainly the belief of the English Whig conspirators who exiled James II in the Glorious Revolution in in large part because he had reverted to Catholicism! So just as religion did not dominate European politics before , neither did it disappear after It is fair to say religious sectarianism did retreat during the High Enlightenment of the 18 th century. But the hyperbolic French Revolution carried the tyranny of reason to such extremes that Europeans elsewhere rallied behind their traditional thrones and altars which zealously revived the rhetoric of holy war.

Austrian, Prussian, Russian, and British propaganda routinely depicted the radical French Republic as godless and Napoleon as the Antichrist. Over that quarter-century of revolution and war, a new movement arose called Romanticism and a Christian romantic spirit permeated the diplomacy of the so-called Restoration Era. Nicholas II proclaimed Orthodoxy the bedrock of his regime and later blundered into the Crimean War mistakenly thinking the other European powers would take up the Christian cause against the Muslim Turks.

During those decades, the United States was emerging as a world power, and, in , the Cuban revolt against Spain tempted Americans to intervene. President William McKinley resisted the clamor for war until the Congress, the Navy, and public opinion forced his hand. So did myriad Protestant clergy who longed for a crusade to slay the Catholic dragon and save the Cuban damsel in distress. That brings us chronologically to perhaps the most counterintuitive example of the mix between religion and statecraft: the catastrophe nearly all historians and political scientists have traced to nationalism, imperialism, militarism, and economics, and hubris.

For it turns out, even the Great War of was a clash of the religions, if now mostly civil religions, of the belligerent powers. Most people think that war did not become a religious crusade—a war to end war—until President Wilson led the United States into battle in Go into your churches, kneel before God, and implore his help for our brave army. God has great things in store for such a nation that could defy a world of enemies and still prevail.

Tsar Nicholas II famously rallied his soldiers with reverent displays of holy icons. Religion is essential to understanding the war, to understanding why people went to war, what they hoped to achieve through war, and why they stayed at war. How was it that years after the Peace of Westphalia Europeans and their descendants around the world went to war in the service of their God as well as their country? Why did they remain in the trenches long after it became obvious that this war was a bloody, muddy war of attrition whose cost far exceeded any conceivable fruits of victory?

The second question answers itself. The sacrifices proved so great that only victory could redeem them; the enemy was so evil that no truce or compromise was conceivable; and the cause for which they were fighting was so sacred it could not be abandoned.


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But as to the first question—why the various clergies urged their flocks to enlist or otherwise do their patriotic duty—the answer can only be that they had long since made their peace with the modern secular state. During the long 19 th century, nationalist ideologies had gradually spread across the whole continent, while the established state churches in England, Germany, and Russia obediently perceived no difference between rendering unto God and rendering unto Caesar. To be sure, the popes had repeatedly denounced nationalism along with capitalism and socialism, for instance in the famous encyclicals Syllabus of Errors , Rerum Novarum , and Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae But the Vatican also compromised by making concordats with the Austrian and German governments, while, in , Leo XIII even instructed French Catholics in the anti-clerical Third Republic to obey their secular authorities.

As a result, the war was catastrophic for churches because millions of Europeans emerged from it deeply disillusioned by clergy who had turned the cross into a bayonet and baptized its bloody work. But the war did not turn Europeans into atheists. However we label them — esoteric, occult, mystical or merely superstitious — supernatural themes not only survived the war but flourished.

Left in a state of anomie, or emptiness after an apocalyptic war that had raised such millennial expectations, many Europeans fled to political religions, such as fascism, communism, and national socialism, all of which exploited twisted versions of Christian iconography, doctrine, and liturgy. By the s, the Catholic church was on the defensive, the Protestant churches were hollowed out, and the Orthodox church had been crucified by the Bolsheviks.

Less well known, but just as tectonic, were the earthquakes triggered by the war in the Middle East. For there, the mosque was recruited in the service of the Ottoman war effort even though the Turkish government was now led by secular modernizers called the Young Turks.

By , however, British forces in Egypt were stirring up Arab revolts against Turkish rule and General Edmund Allenby was preparing to invade the sanjak , or province, of Jerusalem. A mystic of sorts himself, Allenby imagined his campaign to liberate the Holy Land was the culmination of the Medieval crusades. The concatenation of all those events presaged both the exodus of European Jews to the Holy Land and the resistance they would face from Arabs and periodically from the British themselves.

Zionism predated the Great War, as did modern anti-Semitism. Already between and , some , Jews moved to the British mandate and became one-sixth of its whole population. Arab resistance movements, including the suicidal fedayeen, sprang up as early as During the interwar decades, a modicum of order was imposed on the Middle East because the British and French patronized Arab chiefs and policed their mandates. But leaders like Ibn Saud—who captured Mecca in , declared himself king of Saudi Arabia in , and became a principal promoter of the Muslim Wahhabi sect—had their own agendas apart from the colonial powers.

Due to the First World War, therefore, the modern Middle East was already in gestation well before the Nazi holocaust to come.

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Constantinople itself was 50 percent Christian and 5 percent Jewish in Over a six-month period in , an estimated 1. According to a U. They hoped to exploit the collapse of the Ottomans to forge a Greater Greece, a sort of neo-Byzantine empire, in western Anatolia. So the real watershed in the relation between religion and international politics would appear to be World War I, not the Peace of Westphalia. For that was the moment when Christian churches, compromised by their national civil religions, heartily endorsed total war.

But, of course, that could not happen twice because Europeans emerged from the trenches utterly disillusioned. Hence, when the Second World War erupted in Europe, it took the form of a profane, not sacred, slugfest among secular ideologies. For the only nations that emerged from the war with their civil religions intact were those that had suffered least and gained the most from the war: Imperial Japan and the United States.

Hence, when the Second World War erupted in the Pacifi,c it did take the form of another holy war between civil religions. The presidents even made explicit prophecies that so long as Americans gritted their teeth and stayed the course in the Cold War, Communism would someday collapse and all the nations would embrace peace, democracy, and free markets: in effect, the American Dream.

What have we witnessed over the thirty years since? Backlashes against American-led globalization on the part of Muslim terrorists, Communist holdouts, and revisionist powers such as Russia, China, and Iran. Kurth described how Americans had invented the concept of Western Civilization during the World War I era and identified it with the values expressed by the Reformation, Enlightenment, Scientific and Industrial Revolutions, and liberal government—all most perfectly realized in the United States.

But by the end of the Cold War, society had passed through a wrenching transition. The national industrial economy had surrendered the commanding heights to a global financial economy, which devalued masculinity and empowered women.

The nuclear families that had characterized the industrial age split like atoms, releasing explosive energy, just as the split-up of extended families had done at the end of the agricultural age. Kurth explained that successive generations beginning with baby boomers in the s and culminating in the millennials had ceased to think of the United States as the core or even as a member of a civilization in which they had ceased to believe. Kurth imagined the younger generations, having redefied Euro-American history in terms of imperialism, militarism, racism, and sexism, no longer promoted assimilation for legal immigrants and instead promoted multiculturalism for illegal ones.

He anticipated the coming tyranny of expressive individualism, political correctness, deconstruction of gender, and intersectionality in American politics. If that was a chilling observation 25 years ago, then what is the prognosis today? In , a political scientist provided a breakdown of the basic relationships, or dynamics, between religions and regimes. The first is the dynamic of collision in which the state permits religion, but only of an approved sort that is subordinate to the state.

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That is the norm which today functions most blatantly in authoritarian China or Russia. The second is the dynamic of collusion in which church and state join forces, promote civic values, and serve jointly as a source of social capital. That is the norm in nations with robust civil religions. The third is the dynamic of coercion in which the state purges the public square of religious believers and institutions, if necessary by force. The fourth is the dynamic of co-option , in which the political culture itself is derived from the theology, institutions, and laws of a single religion.

Note that the author has no category for regimes that permit genuine free exercise of religion. Does he mean to suggest that the relationship between God and Caesar can never be benign except insofar as religion has been sufficiently tamed as to become civil?

Nor is there a category for ecumenism, whose time has surely passed. For if all those 20 th century ecumenical palavers taught anything, it is that people has no incentive at all to obey some humanist ethical code cooked up by a committee and stripped of its divinity.