July 30, 2007


The Cross Still Stands: Sacred Causes: The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror by Michael Burleigh (H. W. Crocker III, June 2007, The American Spectator)

IF YOU WANTED TO SUMMARIZE the history of the West, you could do worse than say it's the story of the conflict between Church and State. That was true in Rome, true in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, true in the Protestant (and kingly and princely) revolt against the pope, true in the period of the French Revolution, true in the secularizing regimes of the 19th century (and in Bismarck's Kulturkampf), and certainly true in the 20th century, which is the taking off point for historian Michael Burleigh's Sacred Causes, a breathtaking examination of how the age of the dictators was an age of political religion trying to exterminate the real thing -- and how the real thing, one would almost say miraculously, not only survived but was crucial to bringing down its longest-lived oppressor, the Soviet Union.

Burleigh covered the period from the French Revolution to the Great War in his previous book, the highly acclaimed Earthly Powers. Sacred Causes is just as powerful -- written as it is by a professor spilling over with erudition, entertaining arcana, magisterial summary judgments, and sarcastic asides, in a style that is both rococo and shot full of adrenalin. It has the additional fillip of closing with the battle we're in now: the clash of militant Islam versus the West.

But first things first, and first things here are what Burleigh deems "the political manifestations of what could be called mass spiritual need in deranged times" -- those times being the years following the First World War. And the focus, in this period, is not on Britain, but on the Continent. Europe (particularly Germany and Italy) found itself awash with prophets, preaching new gospels, some truly bizarre, others that seem less so only because we know they succeeded.

A Franciscan friar writing from Germany in 1924 remarked that the "war of Christianity against Teutonic paganism" had never ended, "the battle continued as a guerrilla war in the souls and the beliefs and religious customs... and there were always men who preferred Wotan to Christ. Today it seems as though this century-old skirmish will again become an open battle."

So it did.

No ideology was ever better calculated to appeal to the pagan impulse than Darwinism, with its worship 0f Nature.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 30, 2007 8:34 AM

Perhaps only a saint in the environmental theological pantheon. Al has already been named as one of the leading prophets.

Posted by: Genecis at July 30, 2007 11:15 AM

Very good. That what Darwinism was and that's what all those neo-pagan ideologies were and are--throwback reactions to Christianity

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 31, 2007 8:46 AM