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Christian Militarism & Sacred Violence


Christianity is frequently portrayed as a religion of peace, especially by Christians, and there is no question that there are many exhortations to peace and love to be found in Christian scripture. At the same time, though, there have been constant wars waged by Christians and so often it has been done with ideological support coming from Christianity itself.

How are the two reconciled? How can the two coexist? Throughout the history of Christianity we can find efforts by Christians to integrate violence with Christianity, usually by depicting violence as a sacred duty.


Christian Militarism & Germany

The Autumn 2005 issue of the Wilson Quarterly discusses "The Rise and Decline of Christian Militarism in Prussia-Germany from Hegel to Bonhoeffer: The End Effect of the Fallacy of Sacred Violence" by John A. Moses, in War and Society (May 2005):

G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831) formulated what became virtually Prussia's official philosophy. Systematizing Luther's theology of state power, he portrayed the state as the instrument of God's will on earth. And in the Hegelian view, observes Moses, a state had to be able "not only to defend itself but to expand at the expense of less powerful neighbors. By the very fact of being weaker, they had no justification to continue to exist and therefore, rightly, ought to be absorbed into the greater power."

Beginning with Otto von Bismarck's chancellorship of the Reich he founded under Prussian leadership in 1871, many Germans "came to believe that Germany was the 'World Historical Nation,' chosen by Almighty God to exert preeminence in the world." Not even defeat in World War I disabused them of this notion.

Hegel's philosophy, giving divine sanction to the state's power politics and warfare, "underlay not only the discipline of history but also Protestant theology in German universities," writes Moses. German Protestant theology "endorsed emphatically the notion of a warrior God."

Curiously, the basis for the development of ideologies of sacred violence in Christianity in Germany can be traced back to the efforts by early Christian leaders to Christianize the Germanic tribes. No longer able to rely on traditional Roman power for support and protection, Christian leaders hoped to incorporate the Germans into their religious sphere of influence; unfortunately for them, Germanic culture at the time relied heavily on warrior virtues which were incompatible Christian doctrines.

To achieve their religious goals, the Christians compromised: they allowed Germans to portray Jesus, God, and the disciples as warriors in the Germanic tradition. As a consequence, Christians missionaries gained influence over the German warriors. The Germans were Christianized, but at the cost of Christianity being militarized in the process.

This ultimately changed Christianity forever and the consequences are still being felt down through today.


Christian Militarism & Nazi Germany

The efforts to transform Christianity from something soft or feminine into something manly for the Germanic tribes was not the the last time something like that occurred. One of the reasons why the Nazis under Adolf Hitler were able to attract so much Christian support was the fact that Christians in Germany believed that their nation had been chosen by God to fulfill an important historic mission. Hitler and the Nazis promoted this ideology and promised to return Germany to its position of international prominence.

Traditional masculine qualities, which occupied an important place in Nazi ideology, were integrated into Christianity as well. True Christianity, which they labeled Positive Christianity, was manly and hard, not feminine and weak. According to Hitler, Jesus was "my Lord and Savior" and was of course "a fighter." This Jesus, and the Jesus of German Christians generally, was consistently depicted a militant warrior fighting for God rather than a suffering servant accepting punishment for the sins of the world.

None of this was limited to Germany or the Nazis. In fact, simliar efforts can be found in the writing and ideologies of American fundamentalists, many of whom have, over the years, attempted to "reclaim" the Christian church for men. This has included reducing women's power in churches by questioning the legitimacy of their authority and injecting the language of virility, heroism, and militarism into Christian doctrine.

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