Finn dAbuzz wrote:
My "general thesis" was that religion has been and continues to be used as a means to disguise base desires and/or as a vehicle for achieving them. It is only one such disguise/vehicle that has been employed for this purpose and, by no means the most common. It is also my contention that, with rare exception, the majority of those who use religion in this way are not actual adherents of the faiths they purport to represent. Likewise, their followers, who participate in so-called religious wars, in the main, have not and do not actually believe they are following the command of their god or gods.
Those followers who do kill, and plunder because they truly believe it is what their god or gods want of them, rather than a means to enrich themselves, are either incredibly stupid or insane, and most likely the latter.
First, i offer the caveat that i am not a believer in great underlying or overarching historical principles--i don't believe that it is plausible to offer broad generalizations about history.
It is useful, however, to use history to examine human nature. Although i would not want speculate on what any "holy warriors" did or did not believe, looking at the history of western civilization tends to confirm the general thesis that wars about religion usually aren't about religion at all--it is just being used as a casus belli
. Christianity's earliest days were of a generally powerless cult which threatened no one except the neighbors of adherents. In general, putative persecutions of Christians came from their neighbors who did not want to suffer for the refusal of those Christians to pay lip service to the Roman civic religion. Cf. The letters between Pliny and Trajan--essentially, Trajan authorizes his execution of Christians, but on the basis that they subvert public order--he tells Pliny that any member of the sect who recants and who observes the form of the civic religion should be let go. Christians use the letters in two ways. One is to assert that they constitution an historical basis for Jesus, which they assuredly do not. The second is to allege an official policy of persecution by the Emperor. That is also patently false, as Trajan tells Pliny not
to hunt them down, but only to deal with them as accusations are brought against them. Despite that clear statement by the Emperor, even respected historians continue to claim that this authorized institutional persecution. The Roman policy was far more complex, and far more tolerant. So long as one paid lip service to the civic religion, one could practice any religion one wished--basically, take a chicken over to the Imperial temple about once a year--you'll be left alone and the priest, having read the entrails, will have chicken for dinner. The only historical significance of the Pliny-Trajan letters is that it marks the first time that the Romans distinguished Christians from Jews.
The historical persecution of Christians began at the end of the second century and continued into the third. In most cases, the Christians backed the wrong player in the almost constant civil strife within the Empire. For example, Septimius Severus had quite a few Christians put to death--not for being Christians, but for backing his opponents, who had lost the war. Christianity was a very weak and un-influential sect for centuries. It cannot reasonably be compared to the early days os Islam, which did indeed conquer for Allah using the sword--in the beginning.
Even that, however, is not a simple and straightforward claim. The Companions (i.e., of Mohammed) and Mohammed's cousin and son-in-law, Ali, almost immediately fell out over the treatment of infidels. The Companions, in establishing the Caliphate, adopted the policy of sunna
(a concept older than Islam, by the way), meaning roughly modus vivendi
, toward Christians and Jews, and demanded conversion at the point of a sword only from pagans. Ali, the founder of Shi'ism, thought that all infidels should be given the choice of conversion or death.
But from the beginning, politics and power dominated the ongoing wave of Islamic conquest. North Africa had been conquered by Visigoths and Vandals, and the so-called Berber population welcomed the invaders who were overthrowing the hated rulers. But the conquest of North Africa and then of the southern portion of what we call Spain was a project of the Emirate of Antioch, a city in Syria. Having rid themselves of one set of foreigners, the locals were not charmed by the idea of having exchanged them for a different set of foreign masters. Throughout the period, there were uprisings by the Berbers against their new Arab masters. The religion they accepted, rule by some joker in Syria they didn't know or care about they didn't accept. Even as the "Moors" (i.e., Muslims) were beginning their invasion of what we call France, there were Berber uprisings behind them. The Moors called their Iberian "nation" al Andalus
, a corruption of Vandal. When Andalusia was finally stabilized, Christians (including the phony folk here El Cid) fought for Moors if the price was right, and Moors fought for Christians on the same terms.
The crusades were ostensibly about defending the Roman Empire (such as it then was) against the Seljuk Turks--who were Muslims in the same sense that the successful
crusaders were Christians. It was a description. not a motive. Certainly many poor deluded fools joined up--serfs and peasants largely--who bought the religious motive. They tended not to last very long. The military core of the crusades, the minor nobility and their men at arms, were there only for personal gain. In the first crusade, they plundered Hungary and then plundered Belgrade, then a part of the Empire. They attempted to plunder Nis, now a part of Serbia and then a part of the Empire, but were fought off by imperial troops. They went on the plunder the outskirts of Constantinople and the towns of the empire on either side of the Bosporus. The Emperor hurriedly arranged transport to land them in Anatolia. The organized military forces ignored the Turks in Anatolia--after all, they could fight, they were dangerous. The peasants were either killed off in vain attempts to attack the Turks, or died of thirst or hunger along the way. When the Frankish nobility and their men at arms reached Syria and Palestine, they carried out the plan that had brought them along. They carved out counties in that disordered and disunified region, and the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Stories about a holy war against the threat is Islam are self-serving polemical fairy tales put out by contemporary propagandists.
When the popes of the 12th century became alarmed by the spread of the Cathars in northern Italy and southern France, they enjoyed no more than a marginal and momentary success, whether by pacific or by military means. When Innocent III became pope at the end of the 12th century, he enjoyed no more success than his predecessors, until he got together with the King of France, and worked out a deal to declare the Cathar lords heretics, and their lands forfeit. The Frankish nobility and their men at arms only became interested when there was the prospect of profit--they were not going to fight and die for pie in the sky by and by when you die.
During the so-called Thirty Years War (there was more than one war, and many, many motives), Cardinal Richelieu of France, then effectively the ruler of France, became alarmed at the growing power of the Holy Roman Empire, that is to say, of the Austrians. Therefore, Catholic France paid huge sums to Protestant Sweden to stay in the war against Catholic Austria. Power and money trump religion every time in all but the very shortest wars. Wars are expensive--if you can't see the prospect of return on your investment, you're not likely to play.
I don't know about "base desires." I'm not willing to make value judgments. But as i've said for years here, in a war of any length, power and money trump religion every time.