Wars of religion. Wars against religion

Most Rev. Giampaolo Crepaldi

President of the Observatory


This year, 2015, was marked in Europe by two atrocious terrorist attacks of Islamic matrix. On 7 January 2015 there was the attack against Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine. On 13 November 2015 separate assaults were perpetrated at the Bataclan theater, outside the Stade de France and in three Parisian restaurants. In the course of the same year Boko Haram committed a huge number of acts of violence and persecution in Nigeria. Christian churches were blown up and a large number of faithful killed, adolescent Christian girls were kidnapped, and many were the other Christian faithful murdered in random attacks.

This is evidently a return to wars of religion. It is a well know fact that behind or underpinning them are other causes as well, but there is no doubt that in acute cases like these, the religious factor is a synthesis of all the others. In fact, when people speak about wars of religion they don’t’ argue that the religious factor is the solitary motive, but rather the one recapping all the others, coordinating them in light of its supremacy regarding the ability to mobilize persons around a cause. The wars of religion during the XVI and XVII centuries had to do with more than religion alone. The religious factor, however, bound together all the other elements and factors at stake. This is what is happening today in these dramatic outbursts of wars of religion.

When taking a close look at what transpired during 2015, however, we also realize that it is not just a matter of wars of religion, but likewise war against religion, and in particular against Catholicism.  This is not a war declared in conventional terms with the fielding of weaponry and the application of military strategies. It is possible to call it warfare only in a figurative sense. It is a conflict, a battle waged through laws, policies, action on the part of international organizations, mass dismissals, forms of intimidation, the use of the mass media, the allocation of substantial resources for propaganda against the Catholic religion and its assumptions. While the wars of religion are underway in the areas of the Caliphates, this war against religion is being waged above all in the western world, particularly in Europe. Within its own borders, however, the old continent is also affected by the repercussions of the wars of religion due to the phenomenon of terrorism and the recruitment of Islamic fighters in the suburbs of major European cities (especially Brussels, but not alone) among second or third generation immigrants. Europe is at the very epicenter of both the trends we are discussing: wars of religion and war against religion.

There are very close links between these two aspects. The western world is all too absorbed in its war against religion to be able to deal with the wars of religion underway in Syria or Nigeria. The western world is all too concerned about severing its own bonds with religion through proclaiming indifference towards religions, thereby weakening itself and becoming no longer able to defend, throughout the world, the very right to freedom of religion, which in a certain sense is its own invention.  The western world says nothing at all about the persecutions of Christians, whose numbers by now assume the dimension of genocide, and has yet to find the moral thrust to intervene in order to protect the populations that are the victims of the Caliphates or confession-based despotic regimes. The western world, and Europe in particular, is tiring out, with nary a drop of blood left in its morale due to its obstinate war against religion.

Evident in the eastern European countries is a certain inversion in this trend. After the long freeze imposed by communism, these countries are returning not only to ethics, but also to religion, albeit in what is still an uncertain and confused manner. This phenomenon augurs well for the future if it is suitably channeled. Coming to the surface in these countries, in fact, are pro-active attitudes in the vast international arena outside the rigid formats of international political convenience, with a revived ability to look upon religion and religions with eyes wide open and not situate them all on the same level, which would be tantamount to depriving them of their diverse public relevance.

The western world is still all too bound to its reductive and individualistic concept of freedom of religion, which acknowledges in religions only the sentiment of individual belonging, and not the objective significance of their beliefs. This is a relativistic concept, which impedes the possibility of singling out aspects to be circumscribed or countered in religions, and in any case aspects to be rejected in the name of reason and the true religion. Therefore, it makes it impossible to find the force necessary to intervene when, in the name of religion, acts of inhuman violence are committed and denied are the selfsame fundamental human rights that constitute the basis for the very right to freedom of religion born in the western world. Western countries import religions and export relativism, which non westerners perceive as an ambit into which they may enter, but from which they learn nothing. If a country like Great Britain, with such a lengthy and lofty western legal tradition, now admits legal institutions proper to the Islamic sharia, including Islamic courts, it means that the west has forgotten the use of reason to which Christianity had educated it.   

These same considerations must also apply to the management of recent flows of immigrants. The wars of religion that spread with forays into the very streets of western cities, as the recent terrorist attacks illustrate, find propitious grounds insofar as that is where a war against religion has been waged.

As things stand today, it is not possible to foresee whether the religions present in the west will form an alliance in opposition to the war against religion, or take what is happening in stride while seeking to pursue their own stakes of religious corporativism.  This could be the design of Islam in western countries. Much will depend on yet another feature of these new wars and that is the demographic factor. Among immigrants into the west and still bound to their religion, the birth rate is much higher than the rate in western countries, and in a few decades will overtake the birth rate among natives in some European countries. It is also true that once in direct contact with western life, the birth rate of Islamic families – just to offer the most interesting example – tends to decline, and it may well be that certain estimates of a massive and precocious overtaking will have to be revisited, but the gap nonetheless remains quite significant. Life cannot be a form of warfare. And yet since the despicable phenomenon of mass rape is common in wars of high religious profile, procreation may also pursue a competitive aim. Many European Muslims do not ignore this: the conflict taking place assumes this form as well.

In the face of these complex problems, the Social Doctrine of the Church must give not a generic, moralistic or simplistic contribution, but a realistic one. Terms such as peace, receptivity, and solidarity can be overplayed with ideological distortions if they do not take into consideration the truth and the reality of things. The Social Doctrine of the Church is not abstract knowledge. It is concrete not only because it also offers pathways to solutions, but above all because it is realistic, sees man in the light of Christ, sees concrete man in all his true needs, while ideologies, including pacifism, deform man according to moulds imposed from on high and subservient to the pursuits of one vested interest or another.

Once the connection between wars of religion and war against religion has been grasped, the way out of them is to work for a substantial revision of the way the west wishes to look upon religion, and, as Benedict XVI taught at length, in particular the Christian religion, because dependent thereupon is also the way the west will look upon other religions, and how the latter, in the west, will look upon Christianity.