Death cult: a point that irritates me about Christians online is that I often see them, especially “official Christians”, make the argument, “The 20th century shows that to live without Christ will lead to totalitarian monstrosities—to Hitler and Stalin. If only people returned to Christ, the slaughter would end.” This is always said in a very smug way, perhaps with a GK Chesterton or CS Lewis quote thrown in for good measure. Well, have you heard of a little thing called…The Thirty Years’ War?
While it would be reductionist to say that this war was caused by Christianity, it certainly isn’t imaginable in the form it took without Christianity. In this conflict, considered the most brutal in Europe until…until, well, until the Second World War, about 1/3 of the German population died—the war was characterised by starvation, by men living off the land (i.e. stealing all your food), and by a callous disregard for human life (torture, rape—people impaled on the branches of trees and all that). The savagery was aided and encouraged by the fact it was a religious war—the “Proddies” and the “Papists” hated each other, and it was this absolute hatred that inspired the war’s savagery.
Now, as I say, it can’t all be blamed on Christianity—after all, Caesar rolled into Gaul and killed perhaps as many as 3M natives (and he was pagan). So, in a sense, war is war—war is always this way. Yet the Roman suppression of the Celts was in some ways exceptional—for example, the Romans suppressed the Druids in Britain but that was an exception, the Romans almost always didn’t suppress local cults (it was just the Druids, with all their human sacrifice, really pushed them too far—actually managed to offend them, you might say). However, in general, it is true that in the ancient world a “war of religion” was unknown—you might be disgusted by Druidism when you encountered it but you didn’t “conquer Britain for Christ”, as the Conquistadors conquered South America for Christ.
That does change the dynamic—the Romans didn’t have the hysterical fanaticism that constitutes Abrahamic religions (a Christian would suppress any cult they came across in a territory as standard policy—even if it was anodyne; and that policy is bound to lead to more conflict and bloodshed than is necessary). So The Thirty Years’ War took on the character it did, in part, because it took place in a country that took Christianity seriously—and that meant total religious war against a rival sect, against the Protestants or the Catholics (for Christianity is the one singular truth—and the sects within the religion each believe themselves to hold that one singular truth). That position does lead to a unique fanaticism and hatred—and it contributed to the violence that killed off about 1/3 of Germany.
Indeed, The Thirty Years’ War is taken to be equivalent to the First World War and the Second World War in the 20th century—since these events span a similar time period and have equivalent ferocity (the Second European Civil War, as some people put it). So, really, Christians don’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to “totalitarian violence”—the first “totalitarian violence” was Christian-inspired, and Christians today can only get away with their soapiness because nobody remembers much beyond WWII; so if you tell them “everything was okay when everyone believed in Christianity and the Church was powerful, before we had these nasty totalitarian atheists” then some people will buy it—in a milky, soppy way everything will be better when “everyone comes to Christ—woe that we have forgotten the true path”.
Further, this viewpoint also misses the fact the WWI was violent and cruel and was fought by powers that professed Christianity—the Church of England preached for the war, as did the Tsarist Orthodox Church. Was this slaughter somehow “okay” because it was not “totalitarian”? Did it happen because people had forgotten God?
The thesis breaks down…and, indeed, the very thing protested, “totalitarianism”, is related back to Abhramic fanaticism, with Communism and even the more pagan-inclined Fascist and National Socialist regimes driven by fanatical beliefs calculated to whip up the mob into crazed enthusiasm (WWII continues to fascinate, whereas WWI doesn’t, because it involved beliefs—WWI was fought by aristocratic or quasi-aristocratic systems motivated by realpolitik, not belief; so it’s hard for the masses to go “football fan crazy” for).
The whole stance is just a sentimental illusion (“return to Christ, return to the peace of the lamb”) and either straight-out ignorance as regards history or, worse, an actual lie—but Christians don’t think it’s wrong to lie, so what can you do? I get the impression that these “anti-totalitarian” rants are more directed against Hitlerism than Communism—and I think that’s because, as a Catholic once said to me years and years ago, “Well, at least you’re a Communist and not…a Nazi.” This shows where the ultimate sympathy of Christians lies—because Christianity is metaphysical Communism, whereas Communism was v 2.0 for more materialist times.
So when you hear this pious speech about “totalitarian violence unleashed in the atheistic 20th century, we must return to Christ” just remember that it’s an argument built on historical illiteracy or straight-out dishonesty—and probably conceals a desire to protect the current regime, especially from what it really fears (which is a racially-based recrudescence of Western man).
Even the mention of “totalitarianism” is a red-herring, because the WWI regimes were not “totalitarian”—if, indeed, that category really means anything and is not more or less a word like “racist” deployed to demonise certain perspectives. Solzhenitsyn may well have been right that, ultimately, the Russian Revolution happened because “men had forgotten God”—but I’d take that as a general decline in a spiritual position over thousands of years, not as a reference to a particular religion (that developed its particular brand of bloody murder over the centuries).