Please click on audio of post. NOTE: only main text read; no links, text markings, images, videos, footnotes, etc. read aloud.
“A FIRE STRONG ENOUGH TO CONSUME THE HOUSE”: THE WARS OF RELIGION AND THE RISE OF THE STATE
first published in: Modem Theology 11:4 October 1995
WN: Dr. Cavanaugh has been producing an impressive list of scholarly works challenging certain Enlightenment narratives about Christianity in the West. I previously reviewed two of his books together: The Myth of Religious Violence and Migrations of the Holy.
I can think of two professionals I know well, senior in their respective fields, flawed though in their lack of critical thinking about post-Enlightenment bias against Christianity. (They were once fundamentalist Christians,) As Cavanaugh succinctly argues in the article highlighted below, claims that the secular state of necessity stepped in to end the bloody religious wars in the West, get the matter ass-backwards. I confess to being one of those who as well once imbibed/expressed unthinkingly such prejudice . . .
Charles Tilly’s article, “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime,” highlighted below, has a compelling echo in this story by Saint Augustine:
The king asked the fellow, “What is your idea, in infesting the sea?” And the pirate answered, with uninhibited insolence, ”the same as yours, in infesting the earth! But because I do it with a tiny craft, I’m called a pirate: because you have a mighty navy, you’re called an emperor.” (Saint Augustine, Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans, trans. Henry Bettenson, New York: Penguin Books, 1984, IV, 4, p. 139).”
One takeaway from that article is: any adherence to a doctrine of “Just War” was rendered utterly beside the point against the events of European history throughout this era of state-making. It no more pertained then than in any other kind of “gang” warfare. There has in this respect never been honour among thieves–never will be. It is even less apt in developing nations worldwide. In short: it is, pace Saint Augustine (and a long line of ethicists in intellectually casuistic lockstep), for all intents a kind of ethical hoax.
Noam Chomsky also devoted a book to this: Pirates and Emperors, Old and New: International Terrorism in the Real World, South End Press. ISBN978-0896086852 (2003). See also Wikipedia: “Pirates and Emperors”.
For wider reflection on rethinking Christianity, please see my “Easter Song, Keith Green, and Reflections on the Resurrection“.
Only killing in the name of religion is damned [by 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions’ declaration called “Towards a Global Ethic”]; bloodshed on behalf of the State is subject to no such scorn.
What is wrong, then, with killing in the name of religion? The answer can be derived from the definition of “religion” implicit in the declaration. Religion is assumed to be a matter pertinent to the private sphere of values. The individual’s public and lethal loyalty belongs to the State.
My purpose in this essay will be to focus on the way revulsion to killing in the name of religion is used to legitimize the transfer of ultimate loyalty to the modern State. Specifically I will examine how the so-called “Wars of Religion” of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe are evoked as the founding moment of modern liberalism by theorists such as John Rawls, Judith Shklar, and Jeffrey Stout.
In other words, the modern, secularized State arose to keep peace among the warring religious factions.
I will argue that this story puts the matter backwards. The “Wars of Religion” were not the events which necessitated the birth of the modern State; they were in fact themselves the birthpangs of the State.
These wars were not simply a matter of conflict between “Protestantism” and “Catholicism,” but were fought largely for the aggrandizement of the emerging State over the decaying remnants of the medieval ecclesial order. I do not wish merely to contend that political and economic factors played a central role in these wars, nor to make a facile reduction of religion to more mundane concerns. I will rather argue that to call these conflicts “Wars of Religion” is an anachronism, for what was at issue in these wars was the very creation of religion as a set of privately held beliefs without direct political relevance. The creation of religion was necessitated by the new State’s need to secure absolute sovereignty over its subjects. I hope to challenge the soteriology of the modern State as peacemaker, and show that Christian resistance to State violence depends on a recovery of the Church’s disciplinary resources.
The Lutheran doctrine of the two kingdoms signifies, therefore, the defeat of the medieval metaphor of the two swords. The entire edifice of ecclesiastical courts and canon law is eliminated. As Quentin Skinner puts it, “The idea of the Pope and Emperor as parallel and universal powers disappears, and the independent jurisdictions of the sacerdotiumare handed over to the secular authorities” . . . What is left to the Church is increasingly the purely interior government of the souls of its members; their bodies are handed over to the secular authorities.
The eventual elimination of the Church from the public sphere was prepared by the dominance of the princes over the Church in the sixteenth century.
The policy of cuius regio, eius religio [whose territory, their religion] was more than just a sensible compromise to prevent bloodshed among the people, now divided by commitment to different faiths. It was in fact a recognition of the dominance of secular rulers over the Church, to the extent that the faith of a people was controlled by and large by the desires of the prince. G.R. Elton puts it bluntly: “The Reformation maintained itself wherever the lay power (prince or magistrates) favoured it; it could not survive where the authorities decided to suppress it.”
The concept of religion being born here [16th century] is one of domesticated belief systems which are, insofar as it is possible, to be manipulated by the sovereign for the benefit of the State. Religion is no longer a matter of certain bodily practices within the Body of Christ, but is limited to the realm of the “soul,” and the body is handed over to the State.
…[Thomas] Hobbes’ aim in uniting Church and State is peace… The war of all against all is the natural condition of humankind. It is cold fear and need for security, the foundation of both religion and the social contract, that drives humans from their nasty and brutish circumstances and into the arms of Leviathan. This soteriology of the State as peacemaker demands that its sovereign authority be absolutely alone and without rival.
What I hope to have shown, however, is how the dominance of the State over the Church in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries allowed temporal rulers to direct doctrinal conflicts to secular ends. The new State required unchallenged authority within its borders, and so the domestication of the Church. Church leaders became acolytes of the State as the religion of the State replaced that of the Church, or more accurately, the very concept of religion as separable from the Church was invented.
A pluralism of conceptions of the good is protected by the liberal State, but in fact this pluralism exists only at the private level. In the public sphere, the State itself is the ultimate good whose prerogatives must be defended coercively. As Ronald Beiner has shown, the liberal State is by no means neutral. It defends and imposes a particular set of goods—e.g., the value of the market, scientific progress, the importance of choice itself—which excludes its rivals. Wars are now fought on behalf of this particular way of life by the State, for the defense or expansion of its borders, its economic or political interests.
I will argue, however, that the Church needs to reclaim the political nature of its faith if it is to resist the violence of the State. What this may mean, however, must go beyond mere strategies to insinuate the Church into the making of public policy. If this essay is a plea for the social and political nature of the Christian faith, it is also a plea for a Christian practice which escapes the thrall of the State.
In an article entitled “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime,” sociologist Charles Tilly explores the analogy of the State’s monopoly on legitimate violence with the protection rackets run by the friendly neighborhood mobster. According to Tilly “a portrait of war makers and state makers as coercive and self-seeking entrepeneurs bears a far greater resemblance to the facts than do its chief alternatives: the idea of a social contract, the idea of an open market in which operators of armies and states offer services to willing customers, the idea of a society whose shared norms and expectations call forth a certain kind of government.” States extort large sums of money and the right to send their citizens out to kill and die in exchange for protection from violence both internal and external to the State’s borders. What converts war making from “protection” to “protection racket” is the fact that often States offer defense from threats which they themselves create, threats which can be imaginary or the real results of the State’s own activities. Furthermore, the internal repression and the extraction of money and bodies for “defense” that the State carries out are frequently among the most substantial impediments to the ordinary citizens’ livelihood. The “offer you can’t refuse” is usually the most costly. The main difference between Uncle Sam and the Godfather is that the latter did not enjoy the peace of mind afforded by official government sanction.
Building on Arthur Stinchcombe’s work on legitimacy, Tilly shows that historically what distinguished “legitimate” violence had little to do with the assent of the governed or the religious sentiments which bind us. The distinction was secured by States’ effective monopolization of the means of violence within a defined territory, a gradual process only completed in Europe with the birth of the modern State in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The line between State violence and banditry was a fluid one early in the State-making process. [Hence Augustine’s story above about Alexander the Great and the pirate.] Eventually the personnel of States were able to purvey violence more efficiently and on a wider scale than the personnel of other organizations.
The process of making States was inseparable from the pursuit of war by the power elites of emergent States. As Tilly tells it, “the people who controlled European states and states in the making warred in order to check or overcome their competitors and thus to enjoy the advantages of power within a secure or expanding territory. To make more effective war, they attempted to secure regularized access to the money and the bodies of their subjects. Building up their war-making capacity, and the birth of standing armies, increased in turn their power to eliminate rivals and monopolize the extraction of these resources from subject populations.
The State is unlimited in another sense as well, for it demands access to our bodies and our money to fuel its war making apparatus. The State is implicated in much more than the maintenance of public order. The State is involved in the production, not merely the restraint, of violence. Indeed the modern State depends on violence, war and preparations for war, to maintain the illusion of social integration and the overcoming of contradictions in civil society.
The virtues are acquired by disciplined following of virtuous exemplars. Discipline is therefore perhaps best understood as discipleship-, whereas the discipline of the State seeks to create disciples of Leviathan, the discipline of the Church seeks to form disciples of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. For this reason our discipline will more often resemble martyrdom than military victory. Oscar Romero, the day before he was martyred, used his authority to order Salvadoran troops to disobey orders to kill. Romero understood that the discipline of Christian discipleship was in fundamental tension with that of the army. He put it this way: “Let it be quite clear that if we are being asked to collaborate with a pseudo peace, a false order, based on repression and fear, we must recall that the only order and the only peace that God wants is one based on truth and justice. Before these alternatives, our choice is clear: We will follow God’s order, not men’s.”
To recognize Christ in our sisters and brothers in other lands, the El Salvadors, Panamas and Iraqs of the contemporary scene, is to begin to break the idolatry of the State, and to make visible the Body of Christ in the world. We must cease to think that the only choices open to the Church are either to withdraw into some private or “sectarian” confinement, or to embrace the public debate policed by the State. The Church as Body of Christ transgresses both the lines which separate public from private and the borders of nation-states, thus creating spaces for a different kind of political practice, one which is incapable of being pressed into the service of wars or rumors of wars.
Please click on: Wars of “Religion” and Enlightenment Bias
- Opening statement: If protection rackets represent organised crime at its smoothest, then war risking and state making – quintessential protection rackets with the advantage of legitimacy – qualify as our largest examples of organised crime.
Please look at several articles as well on American/Western will to world domination by clicking on "Selected Articles: Western Aggression Backed by Western Media”. The series of articles is introduced thus:
The Western allies never run dry of resources to support their global war of terror and aggression, ostensibly an integral part of their foreign policy. They dynamically legislate laws lest the people awaken. They have the unbending support of the corporate media, which skilfully distorts reality. When will they ever back down from their destructive quest for colonies? Read our selection below. Opening statement: If protection rackets represent organised crime at its smoothest, then war risking and state making – quintessential protection rackets with the advantage of legitimacy – qualify as our largest examples of organised crime.↩
-  Nonviolence is put against the backdrop of what is possible For example, the declaration states "Persons who hold political power must work within the framework of a just order and commit themselves to the most non-violent, peaceful solutions possible And they should work for this within an international order of peace which itself has need of protection and defense against perpetrators of violence" "Towards a Global Ethnic," ρ 6. Did the Parliament of World's Religions have in mind here an endorsement of the U S 's prosecution of the Gulf War?
‘For seven months, Tiger Force soldiers moved across the Central Highlands, killing scores of unarmed civilians – in some cases torturing and mutilating them - in a spate of violence never revealed to the American public,’ the newspaper said, at other points describing the killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians. ‘Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers,’ The Blade said. ‘Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.” The New York Times confirmed the claimed accuracy of the stories by contacting several of those interviewed. It reported: “But they wanted to make another point: that Tiger Force had not been a ‘rogue’ unit. Its members had done only what they were told, and their superiors knew what they were doing. “Burning huts and villages, shooting civilians and throwing grenades into protective shelters were common tactics for American ground forces throughout Vietnam, they said. That contention is backed up by accounts of journalists, historians and disillusioned troops… ‘Vietnam was an atrocity from the get-go,’ [one veteran] said in a recent telephone interview. ‘It was that kind of war, a frontless war of great frustration. There were hundreds of My Lais. You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.’ Current likely Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry was also quoted giving evidence before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. He reported that American soldiers in Vietnam had “raped, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks and generally ravaged the countryside of South Vietnam in addition to the normal ravage of war, and the normal and very particular ravaging which is done by the applied bombing power of this country. Nicholas Turse [later author of: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam], a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, has been studying government archives and said they were filled with accounts of similar atrocities. ''I stumbled across the incidents The Blade reported,'' Mr. Turse said by telephone. ''I read through that case a year, year and a half ago, and it really didn't stand out. There was nothing that made it stand out from anything else. That's the scary thing. It was just one of hundreds.'' Yet there were few prosecutions. Nonviolence is put against the backdrop of what is possible For example, the declaration states “Persons who hold political power must work within the framework of a just order and commit themselves to the most non-violent, peaceful solutions possible And they should work for this within an international order of peace which itself has need of protection and defense against perpetrators of violence” “Towards a Global Ethnic,” ρ 6. Did the Parliament of World’s Religions have in mind here an endorsement of the U S ‘s prosecution of the Gulf War?↩
- See, for example, John Rawls, "Justice as Fairness Political not Metaphysical," Philosophy & Public Affairs (Summer 1985), ρ 225, Judith Shklar, Ordinary Vices (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1984), ρ 5, Jeffrey Stout, The Flight from Authority Religion, Morality, and the Quest for Autonomy (Notre Dame, In University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), ρ 13, pp 235-42.
Historian John Coatsworth in The Cambridge History of the Cold War noted:
Between 1960, by which time the Soviets had dismantled Stalin's gulags, and the Soviet collapse in 1990, the numbers of political prisoners, torture victims, and executions of nonviolent political dissenters in Latin America vastly exceeded those of the Soviet Union and its East European satellites. In other words, from 1960 to 1990, the Soviet bloc as a whole was less repressive, measured in terms of human victims, than many individual Latin American countries [under direct sway of US Empire] ("The Cold War in Central America", pp. 216 - 221).What was true for Latin America was true for around the world: massive human rights abuses, assassinations, regime changes of democratically elected governments, etc., etc., etc. orchestrated by US Empire. Yet Americans invariably have wanted it both ways: to be seen as the exemplary "City on A Hill" that upholds universal human rights and democracy, while operating a brutal Empire directly contrary to all such elevated values, and a concomitant rapacious Empire market economy that takes no prisoners. This began of course even before the founding of the United States of America and continued apace, in its mass slaughter and dispossession of indigenous peoples, in its brutal system of slavery on which its obscene wealth in the textile industry in the first place was built. "The Land of the Free" conceit was a sustained con job on the part of America's leaders. It was also apotheosis of hypocrisy. American exceptionalism was/is true in one respect only: it was brutal like no other Empire in its eventual global reach. See, for example, John Rawls, “Justice as Fairness Political not Metaphysical,” Philosophy & Public Affairs (Summer 1985), ρ 225, Judith Shklar, Ordinary Vices (Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 1984), ρ 5, Jeffrey Stout, The Flight from Authority Religion, Morality, and the Quest for Autonomy (Notre Dame, In University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), ρ 13, pp 235-42.↩
-  Ronald Beiner, What's the Matter with Liberalism? (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), pp. 20-28. Beiner also describes how the rhetoric of pluralism masks a numbing uniformity in American life. We eat the same things, wear the same clothes, talk the same, worship the same, coast to coast. Toqueville made similar observations 150 years ago. In private life people tried to assert their independence through "numerous artificial and arbitrary distinctions"; Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Mentor Books, 1956), p. 248. In public, however, uniformity reigned and the opinions of the majority were a "species of religion" (pp. 148-49). The medieval consensus on the good did not simply fragment into a pluralism of different conceptions. Pluralism exists on the private level. The medieval consensus was replaced by a new consensus, that of liberal society. Charles Tilly, "War Making and State Making as Organized Crime," in Bringing the State Back In, Peter Β Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, Theda Skocpol, eds (Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1985), ρ 169. Ronald Beiner, What’s the Matter with Liberalism? (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), pp. 20-28. Beiner also describes how the rhetoric of pluralism masks a numbing uniformity in American life. We eat the same things, wear the same clothes, talk the same, worship the same, coast to coast. Toqueville made similar observations 150 years ago. In private life people tried to assert their independence through “numerous artificial and arbitrary distinctions”; Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America (New York: Mentor Books, 1956), p. 248. In public, however, uniformity reigned and the opinions of the majority were a “species of religion” (pp. 148-49). The medieval consensus on the good did not simply fragment into a pluralism of different conceptions. Pluralism exists on the private level. The medieval consensus was replaced by a new consensus, that of liberal society. Charles Tilly, “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime,” in Bringing the State Back In, Peter Β Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, Theda Skocpol, eds (Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1985), ρ 169. ↩
-  Archbishop Oscar Romero, "The Church Defender of Human Dignity" in A Martyr's Message of Hope (Kansas City Celebration Books, 1981), ρ 161. The relevant part of his sermon on March 23, 1980 reads as follows: "I would like to issue a special entreaty to the members of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers and sisters, you are our own people, you kill your own fellow peasants. Someone's order to kill should not prevail, rather, what ought to prevail is the law of God that says, 'Do not kill.' No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God, no one has to fulfill an immoral law. Why, in the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise up to the heavens every day in greater tumult, I implore them, I beg them, I order them, in the name of God: Cease the repression.'" Archbishop Oscar Romero, “The Church Defender of Human Dignity” in A Martyr’s Message of Hope (Kansas City Celebration Books, 1981), ρ 161. The relevant part of his sermon on March 23, 1980 reads as follows: “I would like to issue a special entreaty to the members of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers and sisters, you are our own people, you kill your own fellow peasants. Someone’s order to kill should not prevail, rather, what ought to prevail is the law of God that says, ‘Do not kill.’ No soldier is obliged to obey an order against the law of God, no one has to fulfill an immoral law. Why, in the name of God, and in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise up to the heavens every day in greater tumult, I implore them, I beg them, I order them, in the name of God: Cease the repression.'”↩
-  The highlighted article about renowned whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg points to again what is utterly chilling, horror-filled, exponentially beyond immoral, American (hence the world's) reality: "Daniel Ellsberg: U.S. Military Planned First Strike On Every City In Russia and China … and Gave Many Low-Level Field Commanders the Power to Push the Button". He has since written The Doomsday Machine: Confessions of a Nuclear War Planner. Of it we read:
Shortlisted for the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction Finalist for the California Book Award in Nonfiction The San Francisco Chronicle's Best of 2017 List In These Times “Best Books of 2017” Huffington Post's Ten Excellent December Books List LitHub's “Five Books Making News This Week” From the legendary whistle-blower who revealed the Pentagon Papers, an eyewitness exposé of the dangers of America's Top Secret, seventy-year-long nuclear policy that continues to this day. Here, for the first time, former high-level defense analyst Daniel Ellsberg reveals his shocking firsthand account of America's nuclear program in the 1960s. From the remotest air bases in the Pacific Command, where he discovered that the authority to initiate use of nuclear weapons was widely delegated, to the secret plans for general nuclear war under Eisenhower, which, if executed, would cause the near-extinction of humanity, Ellsberg shows that the legacy of this most dangerous arms buildup in the history of civilization--and its proposed renewal under the Trump administration--threatens our very survival. No other insider with high-level access has written so candidly of the nuclear strategy of the late Eisenhower and early Kennedy years, and nothing has fundamentally changed since that era.↩
- A classic instance of this aligning with "just war" is the United States' "war on drugs" as subset of "war on crime", while at the same time the CIA was a major worldwide drug dealer in league with other drug cartels -- all done to enhance American Empire during the Cold War -- and continues to the present. The four-part series mentioned below connects American Empire drug dealing to the current War on Terror, in particular in Afghanistan. This of course is colossal hypocrisy as well. Worse: the series posits American federal government administrations over many decades as the Ultimate Drug Cartel, with Blacks, Latinos, and generally the poor directly being knowingly poisoned en masse. Then they have been primary targets of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and thereby become victims of America's too often savage prison system that oppresses and brutalizes them all over again... See: "The War on Drugs Is a Failure, So [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions Is All for It". A citation from the article reads:
In June , the History Channel aired a four-part documentary series called America’s War on Drugs.” The series asserts that the war on drugs was actually a war of drugs—and that the CIA was essentially a partner in spreading drugs and drug use. The series follows how the U.S. intelligence agency, in an obsession with fighting communism, allied itself with U.S. organized crime and foreign drug traffickers and includes firsthand accounts from many involved. In an interview with Truthdig columnist Sonali Kolhatkar on her radio program “Rising Up With Sonali,” the series’ executive producer, Anthony Lappé, explains why the CIA got involved:
It’s actually a pretty mind-blowing story when you look at the extent to which the CIA was involved with drug traffickers and drug trafficking throughout the Cold War. … If you look at Cold War policy against the Soviet Union, we were locked in a global battle for supremacy, where we have lots of proxy wars going on. … We needed to team up with local allies, and often the local allies we were teaming up with were people who had access to guns, who had access to underground networks, to help us fight the perceived threat of communism. There are actually a lot of similarities between what drug traffickers do and what the CIA does.Lappé elaborates by saying the hypocrisy of the war on drugs has been evident from the start: Secret CIA experiments with LSD helped fuel the counterculture movement, leading to President Richard Nixon’s crackdown and declaration of the war on drugs. The series also explores the CIA’s role in the rise of crack cocaine in poor black communities and a secret island “cocaine base.” In addition the documentary makes the connection between the war on drugs, the war on terror and the transformation of Afghanistan into a narco state and contends that American intervention in Mexico helped give clout to Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the super cartels, making it easier to send drugs across American borders. Watch Kolhatkar’s full interview with Lappé by clicking here. Please also see the now classic: The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, by noted American historian Alfred McCoy. Of it we read:
The first book to prove CIA and U.S. government complicity in global drug trafficking, The Politics of Heroin includes meticulous documentation of dishonesty and dirty dealings at the highest levels from the Cold War until today. Maintaining a global perspective, this groundbreaking study details the mechanics of drug trafficking in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South and Central America. New chapters detail U.S. involvement in the narcotics trade in Afghanistan and Pakistan before and after the fall of the Taliban, and how U.S. drug policy in Central America and Colombia has increased the global supply of illicit drugs.To be noted as well is Johann Hari's Chasing The Scream, which tells the tragic tale of America's long-standing offensive against drugs, and the way to end such a war worldwide -- that several nations are successfully embracing.↩