Religion and the first world war: From godlessness to ruthlessness?

AS the anniversary of the first world war draws closer, we will be hearing more and more arguments about the causes, both long- and short-term, of the global bloodbath. Was it just a battle between rival powers over markets and resources? Did class conflict play a role? Was it a clash between different ideologies? Or was some spiritual malaise at work? A conservative public intellectual, George Weigel, is advancing the latter theory. He thinks the collapse in the restraining power of religion helped to push the world into the era of total war.Given that we are all products of the more secular age which “the war to end all wars” ushered in, many people will find his theory pretty far-fetched. But as one of America’s leading “theocon” thinkers, Mr Weigel has the gifts of erudition and persuasion to make a respectable case. And as he points out, in an article (pay-wall) in the journal First Things, he is in distinguished, if rarefied, company. Alexander Solzhenitsyn had once asked why, in 1914, a Europe “bursting with health and abundance” had “fallen into a rage of self-mutilation”; and the Russian writer offered the same explanation as he did for all the disasters of the early 20th century: man had “forgotten God”.Anyone will agree that there was a decline in the importance of religion during and after the first world war. Theocratically-based regimes, …

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