James William Glass, "Richard, Coeur De Lion, On His Way To Jerusalem" (c. 1850)
Pope Francis has described the present turmoil across the globe as “a world war fought piecemeal.” With the current world reaction to jihadist atrocities do we see a piecemeal world war, or are we witnessing the rise of the twenty first century wars of religion?
In other words, Are we engaged on a new crusade?
Secularists rush to deny the religious aspect of the conflict with jihadists. Whenever possible they talk about “extremists” or “terrorists” and try to avoid the obvious conclusion that the Islamic terrorists are motivated by their religion. Likewise, when the victims are clearly Christian, and have been targeted for torture and death because of their faith in Christ the secular news media will spin the story and relegate the horrors to “ethnic conflict” or “tribal wars.”
The fact of the matter is that Islamic terrorists are targeting Christians in specific attacks. Furthermore, we may not regard the countries of Western Europe and North America as particularly “Christian” countries, but the Islamic terrorists of ISIS do. They speak enthusiastically about the coming war with “Rome”, which is their shorthand for what they perceive as the Christian powers of the West.
When France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States wade into battle we may imagine that we are simply defending ourselves from a terrorist threat. We may deny that we are fighting a war of religion, but I believe we are—even if we are denying it. We may not wheel out priests and pastors to bless the bombs, and the pope may not go out on the balcony and call all good Catholics to take up arms in a holy war, but when we attack terrorists who are driven by their religion, then we are also attacking their belief system. If we are not engaged in an explicit holy war, we are certainly waging a battle between our belief system and theirs—and what is that but a war of religion?
G.K. Chesterton said, “Every argument is a theological argument.” He meant that beneath and behind every human conflict is a conflict of belief. We argue and eventually go to war not only because the other side has more wealth and power and we want it. That motivates warriors up to a certain point, but what really motivates warriors on both sides is the belief that their cause is not only right and just, but it is God’s cause. When soldiers are marching out to war they do so with the most zeal when they believe themselves to be marching out with God on their side.
Whether God is anyone’s side in war can be debated, but most people would agree that the Nazi soldiers who thought God was on their side were wrong. Likewise, no matter what they think, we believe that God is not on the side of terrorists who behead children, blow up innocent bystanders, rape and enslave teenage girls and fly jets into skyscrapers. Instead we believe it might just be possible that God is on the side of warriors who avoid vengeance, use war as a last resort, fight in self defense, measure their response and execute their engagement with restraint and justice.
The war against terror is clearly necessary for the sake of self-defense and protection of peace and security. To defeat terrorists—whether they are Islamic, Marxist or Mafia gangsters—is necessary for the sake of justice. Whether it is also a war of religion, and the warriors of the West are fighting for the truth, beauty and goodness of Christ and his Church—in other words, whether we are witnessing the rise of a new crusade— is something to be debated.