By Curtis Shelburne: Religion columnist
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.”
History abundantly reinforces the truth of Blaise Pascal’s words. Pick any date in the long history of the human race, and on that date can easily be found any number of squabbles, large and small, being fought in the name of religion by folks completely convinced that God is on their side.
What makes such fights even more poignant is how often they divide the very people who should love each other most. Of all wars, civil wars are the ugliest. In our own nation the bloodiest war we’ve ever fought was the one against ourselves, brother against brother. And, unless we’re gullible enough or historically illiterate enough to believe that slavery was the only issue, it’s clear that both sides made some very defensible arguments for many of their positions. Two of the greatest men this nation has ever produced, Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, took opposite sides. Obviously, it was not difficult to find fine men of faith pitted mortally against each other, each praying to God in all sincerity for sustenance and vindication.
I’ve been reading a historical novel one of my sons loaned me (Sarum: The Novel of England), and it’s led me back into Winston Churchill’s History of the English-speaking Peoples and a look at England’s own uncivil Civil War (1642-1649) between the Royalists and “Roundheads.”
Again we see families, villages, and the whole kingdom divided. Look for arguments for the King’s and Parliament’s opposing positions, and you’ll find excellent reasons for both views. Look for examples of honor and valor, and you’ll readily find them on both sides. Look for instances of dishonor and treachery, and they’re easy to find. On both sides.
Religion was very much a part of the conflict, and no one was more religious than the “victor,” Oliver Cromwell, who with the utmost piety and quoting Scripture all along the way condemned thousands to death. The excesses and misgovernment of his opponents made the times ripe for his victory, though I can’t help wondering which were truly darker for England—the years when the country was ravaged by the Black Death (the plague) or the years when Cromwell and the Puritans held sway. Very religiously.
Want a truly religious king? Well, check out the fellow who in many ways set England up for its Civil War. Highly religious, King Henry VIII of wife-dispatching fame was, according to Churchill, “rigidly orthodox except where his lusts or interests were stirred.”
Faith not centered on genuine relationship with God can say all the right words, follow all the right ritual, and still be demonic. And genuine faith? If the Lord is our King, faith should lead us to pray that God will help us to humbly see what is good and best even in those with whom we seriously differ.