On religion vs politics: the Wars of Religion

Karen Armstrong complicates an oversimplified picture.



Karen Armstrong complicates an oversimplified picture.


And if you think of the Wars of Religion of the 16th and 17th century, for example, these were terrible conflicts. A third of the population of Central Europe was left dead after these wars, which lasted a century. And the horror of this experience was one of the factors that produced what has been called the myth of religious violence, that was developed during the Enlightenment. And it was – the idea was that, because Christians had been driven mad by the theological quarrels of the Protestant Reformation, they therefore slaughtered one another in these senseless wars.

Now certainly religious passions were mixed up in this. But if that was the only thing these wars were about, you would not expect to find Catholics and Protestants fighting on the same side – but in fact they often did so, and in the process killed and fought their co-religionists. And the last part of the terrible Thirty Years War was fought between Catholic France and Catholic Spain. This was also a war between two sets of state builders. One was the Holy Roman Emperor, Catholic Holy Roman Emperor, who wanted to create a European-wide empire like the Ottoman Empire, and the others were the princes, who wanted to create independent sovereign states on the model of strong states like France and England. So you’ve got two states of – types of state builders fighting one another, and this is infused with religious passion.

So you have always to take into account the absolute inextricability of religion and political violence. And the same applies very much to what we’re seeing in the Muslim world today, with such horrors as IS and Al-Qaeda.