Over on Strange Notions, the “Digital Areopagus”, Dr Benjamin Wiker (author of Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our State Religion) has taken up some of the ideas of Dr William Cavanaugh, that were presented here on CP&S in a YouTube on 9 November last year and in Dr Cavanaugh’s books over the years. Dr Cavanaugh is senior research professor at the Center for World Catholicism and Intercultural Theology and professor of Catholic studies at DePaul University in Chicago.
These ideas boil down to the judgment that the main cause of the great historical “religious wars” was political, not religious and that our secularist friends may well have some explaining to do.
One of the enduring myths of the secular state is that religion is so dangerous, so volatile, so likely to burst into conflagrations of violence, that the only protection we have from societal destruction is the erection of a wall that separates religion from the state.
We’ve all heard the story, and in fact, having also heard endless tales of horror about the great religious wars—especially the French Wars of Religion and the Thirty Years War—we might be strongly inclined to believe the myth.
Even my calling it a myth seems out of place. Isn’t it true—in fact, a truism—that wherever religion and politics mix, it is like gasoline and a match? Isn’t that what history teaches us?
No. History actually teaches us two things.
First, as William Cavanaugh so powerfully argues in his Myth of Religious Violence, when we take a closer look at the 16th and 17th century wars of religion we find that differences between Catholics and Protestants, and Protestants and other Protestants, were secondary to the aims of the emerging nation-states and various political and dynastic intrigues. Simply put, the main cause of these wars was political, not religious.
How can that be? If religious differences were the main cause of these bloody conflicts, Cavanaugh maintains, then we would expect to find that they were invariably fought along neat denominational lines. What we actually find is Catholic emperors attacking popes, Catholic French kings attacking Catholic emperors, Protestant kings and princes siding with Catholic kings against other Protestants, Lutheran and Catholic kings uniting against Catholic emperors, Protestant Huguenot nobles and Catholic nobles in France uniting against both Catholic and Protestant Huguenot commoners who likewise united against the nobles, Protestant and Catholic nobles in France uniting against their Catholic king . . .
Read more and see some interesting comments at The Myth of Religious Violence | Strange Notions website.