Religion and War in Recent Times
RELIGIOUS wars unfortunately are not limited to the distant past. They have occurred in modern times. One may, for example, read news reports about “battles between Catholics and Protestants” in Ireland.50
Since August 1969 over 200 have died in the fighting there, and many hundreds more have been hurt. A recent report says: “Gutted shops, shattered windows, bomb-damage sales, broken wooden mannequins at locked store entrances—all are sad, grotesque reminders of the worsening urban war between Protestants and Roman Catholics.”51
But what about crusades or “holy wars”? Surely religion has not backed wars today as it did the Crusades, you may think. But it has. Church leaders themselves admit this.
For example, in July 1969 a terrible war broke out between El Salvador and Honduras. According to one encyclopedia’s yearbook: “The conflict quickly brought death and human tragedy on a scale rarely known in Salvadoran history.”52 Who was responsible for this war?
Honduras’ bishop Jose Carranza accused the Catholic clergy of El Salvador of fomenting it by their writings, speeches and attitude. He said that they called it a “holy war,” and urged Catholics to fight.53
It is a fact, religion in recent times has differed little from the Middle Ages when clergymen urged their congregations ‘to go forth and kill the infidels.’ The respected church historian Roland H. Bainton, for example, observed: “The churches in the United States particularly took a crusading attitude toward the First World War.”54
World War I—A “Holy War”?
Obviously the first world war had causes quite different from those of the “holy wars” of centuries ago. The church directly sponsored the crusades to recover the “holy land.” On the other hand, World War I had primarily political causes. Yet the role of religion in this modern war was remarkably similar to that played by religion in the earlier “holy wars.”
Commenting on this, the Chairman of the Faculty of Religion at Claremont Graduate School, Joseph C. Hough, pointed to the example of the bishop of London, A. F. Winnington-Ingram. This bishop urged the English people:
“Kill Germans—do kill them; not for the sake of killing, but to save the world, to kill the good as well as the bad, to kill the young as well as the old, to kill those who have shown kindness to our wounded as well as those fiends . . . As I have said a thousand times, I look upon it as a war for purity, I look upon everyone who died in it as a martyr.”55
And what were they doing on the other side? The archbishop of Cologne, Germany, said the following to German soldiers:
“Beloved people of our Fatherland, God is with us in this fight for righteousness where we have been drawn in against our wish. We command you in the name of God, to fight to the last drop of your blood for the honor and glory of the country. In his wisdom and justice, God knows that we are on the side of righteousness and he will give us the victory.”56
Such words are reminiscent of Pope Urban’s appeal, “Go and fight against the barbarians,” which launched the Crusades. Yet the words of the bishop of London and the archbishop of Cologne are not unusual. Rather, they are typical of the spirit that prevailed in the churches on both sides during World War I.
Professor Bainton said of the churches in America:
“American churchmen of all faiths were never so united with each other and with the mind of the country. This was a holy war. Jesus was dressed in khaki and portrayed sighting down a gun barrel. The Germans were Huns. To kill them was to purge the earth of monsters.”57
This is not an exaggerated description of the attitude of the clergy. An editorial in Fortune magazine observed: “Such hatred for the enemy as there was in the front lines produced no oratory to compare with the invectives hurled against Germany by the men of Christ.”58 Ray H. Abrams wrote a book, Preachers Present Arms, in which an entire chapter entitled “The Holy War” is devoted to the clergy’s whole-souled endorsement of the war. For example, Randolph H. McKim exclaimed from his pulpit in Washington:
“It is God who has summoned us to this war. It is his war we are fighting. . . . This conflict is indeed a crusade. The greatest in history—the holiest. It is in the profoundest and truest sense a Holy War. . . . Yes, it is Christ, the King of Righteousness, who calls us to grapple in deadly strife with this unholy and blasphemous power [Germany].”59
Also, Albert C. Dieffenbach, editor of The Christian Register, wrote in an editorial:
“As Christians, of course, we say Christ approves [of the war]. But would he fight and kill? . . . There is not an opportunity to deal death to the enemy that he would shirk from or delay in seizing! He would take bayonet and grenade and bomb and rifle and do the work of deadliness against that which is the most deadly enemy of his Father’s kingdom in a thousand years.”60
Do those expressions sound shocking to you? Yet, this is what many clergymen and religious publications were saying during World War I. Few religious leaders on either side were opposed to the fighting and killing. R. H. Abrams said he was unable to locate a single priest who was against the war.
You can understand, therefore, why British Brigadier General Frank P. Crozier said: “The Christian Churches are the finest blood-lust creators which we have, and of them we made free use.”61
What Would Have Happened?
However, what would have happened if the churches in the warring nations had successfully taught their members that it was wrong to kill their fellowman, especially fellow Christians? Since the peoples in those nations were practically all professing Christians, the war would have been impossible to carry on!
Commenting on this matter, a prominent rabbi at the time, Stephen S. Wise, said: “Failure of the churches and synagogues to maintain leadership over the people was the cause of the present war.”62 The churches, as is typical of them, failed to give the people guidance that would lead them from participation in the war.
Churches and World War II
Was it any different during World War II? It is said of the eminent Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “He led many American Christians from pacifism to an acceptance of the moral necessity of fighting Hitler in the Second World War.”63
The modern historian A. P. Stokes said: “The Churches as a whole threw themselves heartily not only into matters of war relief . . . but into the more vigorous support of the War. Some went so far as to call it a religious war.”64
In France and England, too, churches rallied to the support of the national cause. For example, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cambrai called France’s fight a “war in defense of civilization, of the law of nations, human morality, liberty, in short, of humanity.”65 Clearly the churches were leading their peoples to the battlefield against Germany.
But what about the churches in Germany? Did they support Adolf Hitler? Did they back his war aims?
In 1933 a concordat between Germany and the Vatican was signed. Article 16 of the concordat stipulated that each bishop of the Catholic Church, before taking office, must take an “oath of loyalty” to the Nazi regime. And Article 30 required that a prayer be said “for the welfare of the German Reich and its people” after every High Mass.66
In 1936, when reports were circulated that Catholics were opposed to Hitler’s regime, Cardinal Faulhaber said in a sermon on June 7: “You all are witnesses for the fact that on all Sundays and holidays at the main service we pray in all churches for the Führer as we have promised in the Concordat. . . . We feel offended on account of this questioning of our loyalty to the state.”67
So where were the churches leading the German people? The Roman Catholic Professor of History at Vienna University, Friedrich Heer, explains: “In the cold facts of German history, the Cross and the swastika came ever closer together, until the swastika proclaimed the message of victory from the towers of German cathedrals, swastika flags appeared round altars and Catholic and Protestant theologians, pastors, churchmen and statesmen welcomed the alliance with Hitler.”68
On September 17, 1939, over two weeks after Germany invaded Poland, the German bishops issued a joint pastoral letter in which they said: “In this decisive hour we admonish our Catholic soldiers to do their duty in obedience to the Führer and be ready to sacrifice their whole individuality. We appeal to the faithful to join in ardent prayers that the Divine Providence of God Almighty may lead this war to blessed success and peace for our fatherland and nation.”69
In the summer of 1940 Catholic bishop Franz Josef Rarkowski said: “The German Volk [People] . . . has an untroubled conscience . . . It knows that it is fighting a just war, one born of the necessity of a people’s self-preservation.”70
The New York Times in 1939 noted: “Periodicals of the German Protestant and Catholic Churches are now publishing many exhort[at]ive articles explaining the duties of soldiers fighting in the defense of their country and admonishing the German soldiers to fight in the spirit of Saint Michael for a German victory and a just peace.”71
Is it not apparent where the churches were leading the German people? Professor Gordon Zahn wrote: “The German Catholic who looked to his religious superiors for spiritual guidance and direction regarding service in Hitler’s wars received virtually the same answers he would have received from the Nazi ruler himself.”72
The religious guidance given is evidenced by the total support of the war by church members. Professor Heer explained: “Of about thirty-two million German Catholics—fifteen and a half million of whom were men—only seven openly refused military service. Six of these were Austrians.”73 The situation was the same with German Protestants.
So in each country the churches led their members into the war. Catholics slaughtered Catholics on the battlefields. Protestants killed Protestants. And church leaders on both sides prayed to God for victory!
How dishonoring to God it was to link his name with such horrible deeds! Certainly the Bible words are well applied to the churches: “They publicly declare they know God, but they disown him by their works, because they are detestable and disobedient and not approved for good work of any sort.”—Titus 1:16.
Religion and Revolution
Church leaders back not only wars between nations, but revolutions within nations as well. In 1937 Spanish Catholics were urged by many of their clergy to support the movimiento of General Franco against the Second Spanish Republic. Now, however, bishops and priests, displeased with the Franco regime, recently asked “pardon” for the Church’s backing of his movimiento.74
Regarding present views, Lutheran theologian Karoly Pröhle summarized: “We thus find a notable consensus among theologians concerning the fact that it is possible for Christians to participate in a revolution.”75 Roman Catholic bishops in Britain recently said: “It will not do merely to condemn the use of violence against authority since evidently those in authority may be guilty of worse violence.”76
Is it surprising, then, that church members today take part in political revolutions? Observed George Celestin, instructor in theology at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas: “Christians are becoming determined to change unjust structures as quickly as possible. This will mean in some cases that the churches may have to preach violence.”77
Thus, the record of world religion in regard to war and violence is clear, and it is ghastly. World religion stands condemned as bearing the main guilt, as Revelation 18:24 says, for “the blood of . . . all those who have been slaughtered on the earth.”
Then, too, what of her guilt for the immorality sweeping the world? How does she figure in this?