Wars of religion. Wars against religion. Introductory Abstract.

VII Report on the Social Doctrine of the Church in the World

of the Observatory Cardinal Van Thuân

Introductory Abstract


Stefano Fontana[1]


The readers who take a close look at all the factual news in appendix to this Report will be awestruck by the immense number of acts of violence and persecution perpetrated by BokoHaram in Nigeria throughout 2014. Christian churches were blown up and many were the casualties among the faithful, Christian girls were kidnapped, and many indeed were the faithful slaughtered. All this marks an evident return to wars of religion. We know there are also other causes behind or underlying things like this, but it is nevertheless true that in such acute cases, what helps blend all the other causes is the religious factor. When people talk about wars of religion, no one wants to argue that the religious factor is the only one at play, but it is the factor that summarizes all the others, while at the same time coordinating them in light of its supremacy in mobilizing persons. Wars of religion were also waged in the 17th and 18th centuries, even though they weren’t just wars of religion. Nonetheless, the religious factor proved to be the binding element that brought all the other motives together. This is what is happening today in these dramatic eruptions of wars of religion.

If readers then focus on news from Latin America, particularly Argentina, or France or Poland, or read through the chapter on the main bio-political events in 2014, they will realize that also very much present is a war against religion, and against Catholicism in particular. It is not a question of a declared war, a conventional war with the use of weapons and military strategies. It can only be called war or warfare in a figurative sense. It is a conflict, a battle underway through the use of laws, the sacking of people from their jobs, forms of intimidation, the use of the mass media, and the allocation of immense resources to propaganda against the Catholic Church and its presuppositions. While the wars of religion are taking place in areas where caliphates have taken over, this war against religion is being waged above all in the western world, and Europe in particular. Nonetheless, the old continent is also affected by the repercussions of the wars of religion within its own borders due to the phenomena of terrorism and the recruitment of Islamic militants among second and third generation immigrants living in the suburbs of big European cities. We are talking about two evident tendencies, and Europe is at the very epicenter.

We are convinced that strong and profound indeed is the connection between the two faces of Janus, and that something very deep and subtle links the wars of religion and the war against religion. Moreover, we think this linkage, more so than ever before in the past, is now very strong indeed and projects an unmistakable sign of our times. The west is all to absorbed in its internal war against religion to be able to deal with the wars of religion underway in Syria or Nigeria. It is all too worried about severing its own bonds with religion by proclaiming indifference to religions, weakening itself and making itself no longer able to defend even the right to freedom of religion in the world, a right which in a certain sense is a creation of its own. The west says nary a word about the persecutions of Christians, which have reached the magnitude of genocide, and has yet to find the moral thrust to step in and protect the populations that are the victims of caliphates or religious grounded despotic regimes. The west is increasingly exhausted, and Europe so in particular, bled dry in morale by its obstinate war against religion. This state of exhaustion is rapidly spreading to Latin American countries which  in Cairo (1994) and Beijing (1995) had still defended – albeit not in a resolute way even at that time – authentic human rights based on natural moral law, whose guarantor is the Creator. At the same time, our Report flags a certain positive inversion of this trend in eastern European countries.  After the long freeze of Communism, these countries are returning not only to ethics but also to religion, even though in what is still an uncertain and confused way.  This is a phenomenon which harbors hope for the future if it is suitably channeled. In fact, emerging in these countries are pro-active attitudes on the vast international stage which are outside the rigid pattern of the expediencies of international politics, with a renewed ability to address religion and religions in a direct manner and not place them all on the same level, which would be tantamount to depriving them of their diverse public importance.

The west is all too tied down to its own concept of religious freedom, a reductive and individualist concept that values only the feeling of individual belonging in religions, and not the objective significance of their beliefs. A relativistic concept which precludes the possibility of singling out aspects to be refused and contrasted, or at least curbed in the name of reason and the true religion. Therefore, it is a concept that stands in the way of finding the force to step in when acts of inhuman violence take place in the name of religion, and denied are the selfsame fundamental human rights that are the basis for the right to freedom of religion born in the west itself. Western countries import religions and export relativism.  Other countries perceive the west as somewhere they can enter, but from which they learn nothing. If a country like England, with its centuries old and lofty western juridical tradition, now admits the application of legal measures and practices stemming from the Islamic sharia, including the presence of Islamic courts, it means that the west has forgotten the use of reason to which it had been educated by Christianity.

These considerations also apply to the management of immigration phenomena. The wars of religion now taking place even in the streets of western cities, as illustrated by the terrorists attacks that public opinion unfortunately forgets all too hastily, find favorable ground insofar as that is where a war against religion has been waged.

At present there is no way of foreseeing whether the religions in the west will become allies in contrasting the war against religion, or if they will just flow with the tide, striving to garner gains to their own advantage of religious corporativism. This could also be the plan of Islam in the western world. Equally unforeseeable is whether prevailing on religions will be the secularism of the war against religion or just the contrary. Very much will depend on yet another feature of these new wars, and that is the demographic feature. The birth rate of immigrants living in the west and continuing to abide by the precepts of their religion is much higher than that of the native population. In some European countries the former will overtake the later in a few decades. In is also true that in contact with life in the west, the birth rate of Islamic families – just to consider the most interesting example – tends to decline, and perhaps certain forecasts of a massive and precocious overtaking will have to be corrected. Nonetheless, the gap remains significant indeed. Life cannot be a form of warfare. And yet since mass rape is one of the phenomena in wars with a high religious profile, procreation as well may pursue a competitive end. Many European Muslims do not turn a blind eye to this: it is a matter of a conflict carried out in this form as well.

In the face of these complex problems the Social Doctrine of the Church must give a realistic contribution, not a generic, moralistic or simplistic one. The words ‘peace’, ‘receptivity’ and ‘solidarity’ can be overloaded with ideological distortions if they do not take the truth and the reality of things into account. Integration policy cannot pretend not to see that many communities hosted in the west do not want to become integrated, constitute a parallel society, and are systematically at odds with native communities, seeking to domineer over them. The duty to protect has to be rediscovered, also vis-à-vis one’s own native citizens, since incumbent upon the state towards them is a primary duty to attend to the common good. This likewise applies in those situations in the world where violent confessional regimes perpetrate indiscriminate massacres and force the local people to take flight in the search for refuge and peace. Unfortunately, there has been nothing in the way of an international endeavor against BokoHaram in Nigeria.

The Social Doctrine of the Church is not abstract knowledge. It is concrete not only because it also offers indications for solutions, but first and foremost because it is realistic, sees man in the light of Christ, sees concrete man in all his true needs, while ideologies, including pacifism, distort man according to biased designs coming down from above.

The way out of the wars of religion and the war against religion is to grasp the connection between these two dimensions and then undertake a substantial revision of how the western world wants to consider and look upon religion, and in particular the Christian religion, because dependent thereupon is also the way the west will consider and look upon the other religions, and how they will look upon and consider the west. 



[1] Director of the Observatory Cardinal van Thuân on the Social Doctrine of the Church. Underwriters of the introductory abstract: Fernando Fuentes Alcantara, Director of the Fundación Pablo VI, Madrid; Daniel Passaniti, Exeutive Director of  CIES-FundaciónAletheia, Buenos Aires; Manuel UgarteCornejo, Director of the Centro de Pensamiento Social Católico della Universidad San Pablo di Arequipa, Peru.