Sunday, September 25, 2011

Birthpangs of the modern state

I've been reading a fascinating little book by William Cavanaugh titled Theopolitical Imagination: Discovering the Liturgy as a Political Act in an Age of Global Consumerism. One of the intriguing things about the book is the way he debunks some of the popular myths about the, so called, 'Wars of Religion':
The 'Wars of Religion', were not the events that necessitated te birth of the modern state; they were in fact themselves the birthpangs of the state. These wars were not simply a matter of conflict between 'Protestantism' and 'Catholicism,' but were fought largely for the aggrandizement of the emerging state over the decaying remnants of the medieval ecclesial order. It is not merely that political and economic factors played a central role in these wards, nor are we justified in making a facile reduction of religion to more mundane concerns. Rather, to call these conflicts 'Wars of Religion' is an anachronosim, for what was at issue in these wars was the very creation of religion as a set of privately held beliefs without direct political relevance. The creation of religion was necessitated by the new state's need to secure absolute sovereignty over its subjects.... What is at issue behind these wars is the creation of 'religion' as a set of beliefs which is defined as personal conviction and which can exist separately from one's public loyalty to the state. The creation of religion, and thus the privitization of the Church, is correlative to the rise of the state. It is important therefore to see that the principal promoters of the wars in France and Germany were in fact not pastors and peasants, but kings and nobles with a stake in the outcome of the movement towards the centralized hegemonic state."

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