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The Gods Of War: Is Religion the Primary Cause of Violent Conflict?

Author: Meic Pearse
Published By: Inter-Varsity Press (Nottingham)
Pages: 231
Price: £9.99
ISBN: 978 1 84474 226

Reviewed by Dave Faulkner.

Here is the one-sentence summary: this is a brilliant and timely book.

Meic Pearse is a Professor of History with particular knowledge of the Balkans. He tackles head-on the familiar allegation from secularists, atheists and post-moderns that religions (including Christianity) are responsible for most of the wars on our planet. He does not deny the culpability of Christianity at certain times, and especially links it to post-Constantinian support for the state, through the vehicles of established churches and the like. A church linked to the state will generally support that state’s aims, he argues. Likewise, he does not let Islam off the hook, contending that, whatever moderate Muslims say, jihad is a fundamentally military idea, and that it is central to Islam that the faith may spread by force and violence.

That said, he argues that the true primary causes for war are more normally cultural imperialism and greed. Religion plays at most a subservient or ambivalent r?le in such wars. It is not properly noticed how often faith is a restraining force against war. Furthermore, he claims that the violence between the West and traditional, more religious cultures is caused by the cultural imperialism of Western secular postmodern consumerism. The West imposes itself on others through globalisation, the media, and treaties and aid agreements that prescribe the acceptance of ethical policies closely linked to secularism, particularly in the area of sexuality.

With particular regard to Christianity, he believes it is never possible fully to meet the standards of Augustine’s just war theory (which, he says, was not original, but borrowed from Roman thinkers). Nor does he believe pacifism is an option. He regards it as a failure to protect the poor and weak. He believes that it is morally acceptable for Christians to fight on behalf of such people, but never to defend the faith. We may only die for our faith, not kill for it. Whether this is not really a modified version of the just war doctrine he rejects, readers will have to judge for themselves.

Similarly, in claiming that state churches are tied to the approval of state violence, I would have liked to see him note the uneasy relationship between the Church of England and Margaret Thatcher’s government over the Falklands War, and with the Blair administration over Iraq. That notwithstanding, his argument is impressive.

Christians need to read this book for its apologetic importance. Similarly, it needs to be in Waterstone’s, not just Christian bookshops (although I note with pleasure that Amazon is stocking it). I strongly recommend people buy it, read it and disseminate its message. It is a vital one for a generation too easily impressed by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris.

Dave Faulkner

Methodist Minister and Board member of Ministry Today

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You are reading Issue 42 of Ministry Today, published in March 2008.

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