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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

In Praise of Religious War

War, as has often been noted, is hell. But what if you got to take weekends off?

The Catholic Church long insisted on the necessity of exactly this kind of holiday. Between 989 AD and roughly the mid 1200’s, war could only be waged between sunrise Monday and sunset Wednesday. Likewise, no one could do violence nor confiscate anyone’s goods during the four weeks of Advent and the octave of the Epiphany, or during Lent and the octave of Easter, or during the two weeks prior to or the week following upon Pentecost. Anyone who violated these days of peace was exiled for thirty years and excommunicate.

Such were the rules imposed by the Peace of God and its close relative, the Truce of God. Now, keep in mind that peasants could not be expected to take to the field of armed service when they were needed in the field to sow and reap the harvest. In a subsistence level economy, part of the spring and fall were already off-limits to warfare if only because lack of attention to the fields would mean starvation for the whole land within a year.

So, when the Truce of God and the Peace of God are taken together with the natural disinclination to wage war during the sowing and harvest seasons, we see a most remarkable result: only 80 days of each year were left for fighting. Can anyone imagine Alexandar the Great succeeding under such terms? Even the famous Jewish reverence for the Sabbath did not restrict warfare to this degree.

Contrast this distaste for war and carnage with Martin Luther’s opinions about the usefulness of war, especially war against the peasant: “whosoever can, should smite, strangle, and stab, secretly or publicly, and should remember that there is nothing more poisonous, pernicious, and devilish than a rebellious man. Just as one must slay a mad dog, so, if you do not fight the rebels, they will fight you, and the whole country with you… For we are come upon such strange times that a prince may more easily win heaven by the shedding of blood than others by prayers.”

Muslims, of course, have never had any holy day prohibitions on warfare. Nor, for that matter have the leaders of our own lovely and civilized scientific culture.

Just for comparison’s sake, here are some numbers to compare:

Wars of science (begun or waged to support specific biological, political, economic, etc., principles)

World War II – 72 million, including 25 million military deaths.
World War I – 40 million total, including 9.7 million military deaths.
Franco-Prussian war – 750,000, including 250,000 military deaths.
Napoleanic wars – Estimated 6 million dead.
French Revolution – 40,000 in the Revolution; probably 500,000 killed in the Vendee.
American Revolution – estimated between 50,000 and 100,000 dead total.
Seven years’ war – estimated 1.3 million dead, including 700,000 military deaths

Religious Wars

Crusades – Total deaths from 1096 to 1270 are estimated at about 1.5 million.
Germany’s Peasants’ War – 100,000 dead.
Hungary’s Peasants’ War – 70,000 dead.
Thirty Years’ War – 7.5 million
War on Terror – about 70,000 military deaths to date.

Religious wars tend to be low-violence affairs. Our current War on Terror, for instance, sees a handful of people killed every few weeks – not even comparable to traffic deaths, in most cases. Even the deaths resulting from the destruction of the World Trade Center barely matched the number of abortions committed on September 11.

If we are going to have a war, let it be a religious war.

It tends to be a lot less nasty.


Anonymous said...

And what holidays have our troops enjoyed in this religious War on Terror? Do you really think this war is less violent because it is religious? What about the amount of suffering caused by the major upheaval of Iraq's social and political life, the destruction of their cities and religious centers?
I am appalled that a Catholic would be so flippant and shallow to assume that one type of war is better than another. Wars are horrible, especially religious wars because they are made in the name of God. God is love, remember?

Steve Kellmeyer said...

Yes, God is love.

And God chastises every son whom he loves. That's Old Testament (Proverbs 3:12) and New Testament (Hebrews 12:6). Remember Jesus in the Temple with the whip? That was Jesus expressing His love.

Just as sin has gradients (both in mortal versus venial sin, and various degrees within mortal and venial sin), so war has gradients. Some war is indeed worse than others.

Wars should only be fought over something very important - eternal salvation is about the only thing definitely worth fighting a war over.

maureen said...

I think that you should be including non-military deaths in the War on Terror

And I'm not sure that you can declare it a religious war. As far as I can tell it's more of a cultural war since the war is between Islamicists and everybody else.

I'm Catholic and the Pope opposes this war.

If you are saying that it is an Islamic religious war then you would have to include deaths in the Sudan, India, Malaysia, Phillipines, Somalia, Thailand, Nigeria, the Balkans etc.

I imagine that the numbers end up being fairly impressive