Tag Archives: violence

Were Disagreements Over Christian Doctrine the Main Cause for European “Religious Wars” of the 16th and 17th Centuries?

Many people assume the separation of church and state established in the US Constitution resulted from 16th- and 17th-century “religious violence” and “religious wars” in Europe. The wars of this period included the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) and the English Civil War (1642–1651).

These wars were foundational to the development of the political institutions of the West. They were part of a vast social/cultural/political process that ultimately replaced feudalism and the “divine right of kings” with the centralized, capital-based governments that dominate the world today.

The ferocious wars of these centuries made a deep impression on the collective memory of European people. Estimates of Central European deaths in the Thirty Years’ War run from 3 to 7 million (many of these resulting from starvation and disease among the civilian population). Deaths from war, disease, and starvation during the English Civil War have been estimated at around 800,000, or 4 percent, 6 percent, and 40 percent of England, Scotland, and Ireland’s populations respectively. Because nearly all of the participants in these wars had religious loyalties and convictions, religious feelings were often exploited by rulers. But religion was not the underlying motivation.

Two well-known examples involved the establishment of Lutheranism and Anglicanism. In the 16th century, Martin Luther’s reasons for breaking with the Catholic Church were theological, but the Reformation would have been quickly crushed if it hadn’t been supported by powerful European rulers whose motivations were primarily political and economic. King Henry VIII of England separated from Rome and formed the Anglican Church for pragmatic, nonreligious reasons—largely due to the refusal of the pope to grant an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He believed the Catholic Church was interfering with the internal affairs of his kingdom. He also wanted to nationalize the vast holdings of the Catholic Church in England to consolidate his power.

In The Myth of Religious Violence (Oxford Press), William Cavanaugh refers to recent scholarship to show that the underlying causes of the “religious wars” of the 16th and 17th centuries weren’t religious. Cavanaugh includes eight pages of examples, of which the following quotation is only the first:

If there truly were a war of all sects against all, one would expect that war would have broken out soon after Europe split into Catholic and Protestant factions. However, between the time that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the church door at Wittenberg in 1517 and the outbreak of the first commonly cited religious war—the Schmalkaldic War of 1546–1547—almost thirty years would pass. The Catholic prosecutor of the Schmalkaldic War, Holy Roman emperor Charles V, spent much of the decade following Luther’s excommunication in 1520 at war not against Lutherans, but against the pope. As Richard Dunn points out, “Charles V’s soldiers sacked Rome, not Wittenberg, in 1527, and when the papacy belatedly sponsored a reform program, both the Habsburgs and the Valois refused to endorse much of it, rejecting especially those Trentine decrees which encroached on their sovereign authority.” The wars of the 1540s were part of the ongoing struggle between the pope and the emperor for control over Italy and over the church in German territories (The Myth of Religious Violence, 143-44).

Cavanaugh provides massive documentation showing that rather than the state being the peace-making force that eventually solved the problem of religiously motivated violence, the process of centralizing public authority in a secular state was itself the most significant cause of violence. “There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the transfer of power to the emergent state was a cause, not the solution, to the wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries” (ibid., p. 162).

These wars replaced the religion of the church with the religion of the state.

The historical evidence renders . . . the idea that the modern state saved Europe from religious violence . . . unbelievable. State building . . . was a significant cause of the violence. An important aspect of state building was the absorption of the church by the state, which exacerbated and enforced ecclesial differences and therefore contributed to warfare between Catholics and Protestants. In the process, the state did not rein in and tame religion but became itself sacralized. The transfer of power from the church to the state was accompanied by a migration of the holy from church to state (ibid., p. 176).

(The reason many still consider religion the primary cause of war and violence is discussed in (Is Religion Evil?)



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Should Children Be Taught to Fight Back or Be Told to “Turn the Other Cheek”?

By word and example, parents should teach kids from an early age to treat others with respect, to be kind and fair, to exercise self-control, and to suppress the impulse to seek revenge.

1 Further, children should be taught how to cooperate with authority whenever possible to defuse situations. But it would be dangerous to teach a child that it is always wrong to protect himself and defend his interests.

Jesus understood children. We can be sure that when He took them in His arms and said that we all need to become like them to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:13-16), He wasn’t naive about how cruel they can be. The playground, in its own way, is a jungle as ruthless as most spheres of adult life.

It’s likely that a child trained to unconditionally defer to others will develop a crippling pattern of avoidance and an unhealthy fear of conflict. An immature mind can easily be shaped to think that it is “loving” to back away from confrontation—to be a coward when courage is called for. If we follow the “golden rule”—”So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12)—we won’t always allow aggressors to carry out their aggression successfully. If we do, we encourage behavior that brings harm.

Kids should be taught restraint—the ability to discern just how much force is needed, and to apply no more force than necessary. This may involve “turning the other cheek.” 2 But children are sometimes confronted with bullies who leave them no choice but to resist or be abused. Sometimes a bully will leave without a blow being thrown, merely at the recognition of a child’s unwillingness to be dominated. On other occasions, a fight may ensue that ends with little real damage to either child, but which will result in a major boost of status and self-esteem for the child who refused to be dominated.

Children aren’t miniature adults. Adults may have the maturity to understand the deep sayings of Jesus, though they struggle to live in accordance with them. We shouldn’t expect children to understand things beyond their spiritual and emotional development. To do so would likely provoke them to wrath (Ephesians 6:4), or to cause them to stumble (Luke 17:1-2). We need to protect them when it’s possible, but we also need to allow them to develop the tools they will need to understand and effectively respond to the challenges of adult life.

  1. Sometimes adults can successfully intervene and guide children through difficult situations, teaching valuable spiritual lessons in the process. Back To Article
  2. See the ATQ article, What Did Jesus Mean When He Said to Turn the Other Cheek (Matthew 5:39)? Back To Article
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Is Richard Dawkins’ Claim That Religious Faith Is the Main Cause of Violence Correct?

One of Richard Dawkins’ recurring themes is that religious faith is the primary cause of violence around the world. Mr. Dawkins is right when he says that religious faith is often manipulated for terribly evil ends. Jesus said that too, and on that point Christians should be in agreement with Mr. Dawkins. Further, I’m sure that a case can be made that the greater the claims for truth and righteousness a group or person makes, the more revolting is their hypocrisy. Perhaps this is what makes religious hypocrisy especially repugnant. But religious hypocrisy isn’t the only kind of hypocrisy, and religious faith isn’t the only kind of faith implicated in violence.

Richard Dawkins points to violence around the world that is justified with religious rationalizations, and says that it is wrong for children to be given identities such as Catholic, Muslim, and Hindu at a young age that result in their distrust and hatred of others with different religious/faith identities.

His implication seems to be that someone (presumably people who agree with him, assisted by governmental power) should stop religious indoctrination of children. This raises the question: What will replace religious training of the young? Children are inevitably going to develop identities and will have to have some kind of faith, even if it isn’t “religious.”

Would it be better if faith in a particular form of religion and the people who represent it (Catholicism, Protestantism, Hinduism, etc.) were replaced with faith in a “universal” ideology such as Communism, or faith in one’s people or nation (Judaism, nationalism, etc.)? Probably not. The ideologies of Communism and Fascist/nationalist movements were major contributors to the two World Wars and other major and minor wars of the past century.

What about faith in something that transcends religion, ideology, ethnicity, and nationalism? Can we trust the corporate/economic system (let’s call it “mammon”—the worship of material wealth) that is currently invading and reshaping the world, obliterating cultures, peoples, and traditions, and making the poor spiritually and materially poorer while granting a small elite hitherto unimaginable riches and power?1 Degraded “mammonite” culture is proliferating like a bacterial infection by means of the Internet, mass media, and actual military and political aggression. In fact, it seems apparent to many that one of the greatest forces for destruction and evil in the world today is misguided faith in the corporate/economic beast that is reshaping the world to suit its needs.

Faith in mammon doesn’t seem to be a good idea either. How about faith in science and reason?

Unfortunately, as the political and social leaders of the past 300 years have discovered, science and reason are tools that can be used for good or evil, but they aren’t adequate objects of faith.

What’s left as a basis for faith?

  • Religion (faith in God) is out.
  • Nationalism is out.
  • Ideology is out.
  • The corporate/capitalist system is out.

It looks like Mr. Dawkins would have to say that we need to have faith that atheists like him would indoctrinate children wisely if government gave them the power to do so.

If Mr. Dawkins had this kind of power, we would discover sooner rather than later that he and others sharing his perspective are really no more trustworthy than the religionists, ideologues, and nationalists who have caused humanity so much suffering and heartache.

The ultimate cause of violence in the world is not religion, nationalism, ideology (including atheism), or even mammon. The primary cause of violence is evil that is deeply embedded in human nature, an evil deadliest when undetected or ignored. Hearts unaware of their own wickedness corrupt faith of any kind into evil and violence.

  1. In Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:9, Jesus personifies the Aramaic word for riches, making it the name for an idol/false god that people worship rather than the true God. Back To Article
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What Is the Underlying Cause of Violence?

The human race didn’t create itself, nor can it find fulfillment in itself. Human life is meaningful only in relationship to God (Deuteronomy 8:3; John 4:13-14; 6:32-35, 49-50). Originally, Adam and Eve enjoyed a relationship with God in the Garden of Eden. When they chose the path of distrust and disobedience, they fell headlong into fear, loneliness, meaninglessness, and despair. They were exiled into a dangerous world where living became a struggle (Genesis 3:16-19, 22-24). Cain took his parents’ distrust and disobedience a step further by hating and killing the brother who sought to restore something of his parents’ lost relationship with God.

Bearing a mark ensuring that anyone who killed him would suffer vengeance seven times over, Cain founded the first city (Genesis 4:17) along with a social order that could be preserved only through fear of vengeance and retribution. It wasn’t long before Cain’s great-great-great grandson Lamech defiantly boasted that while God might avenge Cain’s murder seven times, he could personally avenge himself seventy-seven times (Genesis 4:23-24).1 Soon civilization was so corrupt and violent that God destroyed it in a flood, sparing only one just man and his family (Genesis 6:9-13)

But human violence didn’t end with the flood. The offspring of the patriarchs through whom God intended to establish His kingdom (Genesis 12:1-3) took possession of the Promised Land and established a city at Mount Zion. Although the bearers of the promise, they soon filled their own city with such violence that God brought judgment against them by means of even more violent nations (Ezekiel 7:23-27; Matthew 23:34-24:2).

Like Cain, the people of Noah’s day, and the Israelites, people of every generation are alienated from God. Without a connection of love and trust with the Creator, they are also alienated from each other and themselves. Yet rather than turning to God for affirmation and meaning, they seek it in social convention. Further, just as Cain hated Abel, people hate genuine prophets and honest men and choose leaders willing to nurture their illusions. The more their leaders flatter and mislead them, the more the people admire and honor them (1 Samuel 8:6-9).

Founded on falsehood, culture is deeply flawed, doomed to fail (Lamentations 2:14; Micah 3:11; Luke 6:39; Isaiah 30:10; Isaiah 56:10; Jeremiah 5:31), and satanic at its core (Ephesians 6:12). When consensus crumbles, disillusionment brings fear, isolation, suspicion, and rage. Just like Adam and Eve, we dread exposure of our “nakedness”—our pretense to purpose when we have no purpose, our pretense to strength when we have no strength, our pretense to peace when we have no peace, our pretense to love when we have no love. When the social contract fails, the violence of our hearts is unleashed in a desperate search for a scapegoat to blame.

Perhaps the scapegoat will be a politician or political party that was once viewed with adulation. Perhaps it will be an ethnic or religious minority. Perhaps it will be an “enemy” nation or alliance of nations.

Unwilling to accept responsibility and unwilling to turn to God, we unleash chaos. At this point, the dehumanizing, demoniacal madness of Saul (1 Samuel 18:10-11; 19:9-10; 20:33) and the dweller of the Gadarene tombs (Mark 5:1-5) becomes manifest. We objectify and kill fellow human beings like insects and vermin. Our “enemies” respond in kind.

Yet our greatest rage, like the rage of Cain, is roused when someone like Abel exposes our need for redemption.

  1. In Matthew 18:21-22, Jesus apparently has Lamech’s boast in mind. In sharp contrast with a social order founded on vengeance and hatred, Jesus said that his disciples should forgive those who sin against them “seventy times seven.” Back To Article
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Why Is New Testament Christianity Opposed to War?

Although most Christians agree that war is sometimes necessary in self defense (See the ATQ article When Is a War Just?), and nominal “Christians” have often wrongfully launched or participated in wars of aggression, genuine, New Testament Christianity would never be the cause of war.

The New Testament is neither hostile towards non-Christians, nor does it rationalize aggression against them.

Christianity’s core beliefs are clearly defined by the New Testament:

1. Humanity is sinful and needs redemption.

2. God loves the entire human race, regardless of race, gender, or cultural background.

3. The perfect life and atoning death of Jesus Christ provided our redemption.

4. Jesus is the “firstborn of many brethren” (Romans 8:29), the model for Christian living (John 17:16-26).

The New Testament views all people—including Christians—as sinners in need of forgiveness and calls on them to repent their sins, accept God’s free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, and live gratefully, lovingly, and obediently with Jesus as their model. It portrays all people as equal in spiritual worth, whether rich, poor, male, female, slave, or free (Acts 17:26; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:9-11; 1 Peter 2:9). It also separates spiritual authority from governmental authority (Mark 12:16-17, John 19:11, John 18:36-37).

The New Testament requires Christians to be concerned for their enemies (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:20-34; Acts 7:60; 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 13; Ephesians 5:1-2); to shun self-righteousness (Matthew 7:3-5; John 8:3-11; Romans 5:8-11; Galatians 6:1); to repudiate the idols of ethnic pride and privilege (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 10:30-37; Luke 17:11-19; John 4:9); to refrain from judging other people’s hearts (Matthew 13:24-30); to realize that one’s responsibility to God is of a higher order than one’s responsibility to the state (Mark 12:13-17); and to forgive repentant sinners and forswear revenge against them (Luke 23:34; Romans 12:14-21; Ephesians 4:31).

Only when flagrantly distorted and misapplied can the words of the New Testament be taken to imply that Christians should forcefully impose their faith on others. The gospel of Jesus Christ commands Christians to overcome evil with good; realize that love and forgiveness are essential to the establishment of God’s kingdom; be conscious of the distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world; and be humble as sinners who have not only been forgiven but graciously given the power to live an obedient life.

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