The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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The Wars of Religion

The basic intolerance of the Christian religion is revealed not only in persecutions of heretics, dissenters and witches. Religious wars was another popular outlet for this intolerance. Following the Reformation in the sixteenth century, Europe was the stage for many religious wars, most of them between Catholics and Protestants. [1]

  • In Belgium and Holland the fighting was between Catholic troops loyal to Phillip II (1527-1598) of Spain and the Protestants.
  • In France it was between the Catholic and the Calvanist (Huguenots).
  • In central Europe, there erupted the Thirty Years War between the Catholic League and the Protestant Union. This war was paritularly bloody, with death toll estimates reaching as high as fourteen million.
  • While all the other religious wars had ended, one still lingers; in Northern Ireland. The historic massacres of the Catholics by Protestant England, the most famous one being the one led by Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), still influences the situation in Ireland today.

Belgium and Holland

In Belgium and Holland the war was between the Catholic troops, loyal to the Spanish King, Philip II (1527-1598) and the Protestants. Obsessed with the idea of eliminating Protestantism in his two northern possessions, Philip, imposed the inquisition on Belgium and Holland. The Protestants rebelled. In Phillip’s attempts to crush this rebellion two incidents stand out. [2]

The first incident was the battle at Antwerp in 1576. The Protestant army was constructing a ditch an rampart-in anticipation of the Spanish onslaught-when they were attacked. The well armed Spanish troops easily overran the Protestant garrison within a single day. But that was not enough. Phillip’s men went on a ten day rampage of murder, rape, torture and pillage. At the end of this period, about eight thousand innocent civilians were murdered. [3]

Three years later, another atrocity by the Catholic Spanish on the Dutch Protestants were committed; this time in the town of Maastricht. The Spaniards, led by Prince Alexander Farnese overran Maastricht on June 29th, 1576. Immediately, they set about butchering the population. On the first day alone, four thousand people were murdered. By the third day, only a fragment of the population remains, the rest had either been murdered, committed suicide or fled for their lives. Amidst all these carnage, the Christian Prince, Farnese, went into the local Church and gave thanks to God for the achievement of his troops. [4]

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The French wars of religion broke out in 1562 between the Catholics and the Calvinists, called the Huguenots. The two adversaries fought a total of eight wars which finally ended in 1593 when the Huguenot leader, Henry of Navarre (d.1610) publicly proclaimed his conversion to Roman Catholicism and ascended to the French throne.

The wars showed how meaningless all talk of "Christian love" is. All that can be seen was Christian vengeance and Christian atrocity. An eyewitness report revealed the atrocities committed by both sides:

It would be impossible to tell you what barbarous cruelties were committed by both sides. When the Huguenot is master, he ruins the images and demolishes the sepulchres and tombs. On the other hand, the Catholic kills, murders, and drowns all those whom he knows to be of that sect, until the river overflows with them. [5]

It should not be taken that the Huguenots did not kill or maim any Catholics and only concerned themselves with destroying idols and Catholic ornaments. They hunted priests like animals, one Huguenot captain was even reputed to have worn a necklace made out of priests' ears! [6]

It was during the course of these wars that there occurred an event that has gone down in history as a testament of Christian intolerance; it was called St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. It was 1572, ten years on and after three wars, there was still no clear winner emerging from them. The French Queen, Catherine de Medici (1519-1589), was worried that Paris was infested with Huguenots. She masterminded a plan with her son, Charles. A marriage was arranged between Margaret of Valois, the queen's daughter and the Huguenot, Henry of Navarre. The idea was to use the occasion to lure the military leader of the Huguenot, Gaspard Coligny (1519-1572) to Paris where he can be assassinated.

Many Huguenots were invited to Paris in for the wedding. The wedding ceremony took place on the 18th of August 1572. At the dawn of the 24th, St. Bartholomew's Day, the bell of the Palace of Justice rang, signaling to the conspirators to begin the slaughter. The Parisians surprised the Huguenots in their sleep and a wholesale slaughter of the Protestants ensued. [7]

Huguenots on Paris were shot, drowned, hanged and butchered by fanatical Catholics. Nowhere were they safe. They were killed in their beds, shot on the rooftops, and hunted down wherever they sought safety...Women and children were stripped, dragged through the streets and thrown into the Seine. A basketful of babies was also thrown into the river, and pregnant women had their throats cut. [8]

In Paris alone about 4,000 Huguenots were slain. The Franciscan monks in Paris, who had been preaching to Catholics to kill heretics in order to attain salvation, must have been pleased. The massacre was not just confined to the city of Paris but was initiated throughout the provinces. In fact, the slaughter continued in the provinces until October. Estimates of the total Protestant dead had been placed at around seventy- to a hundred thousand.

The head of the slain Coligny was sent to Pope Gregory XIII (1502-1585). The Roman bishop was overjoyed by such a complete victory of Catholicism. He and the college of cardinals had a special thanksgiving mass said. For the more earthly celebrations, he ordered salvos to be fired from the Castel St. Angelo and a medal struck to commemorate the occasion. The design of the medal consist of the profile of Gregory XIII on one side and a representation of an angel of God slaughtering the protestants on the other. Wanting to preserve the joy of the moment for posterity, he commissioned the painter Giorgio Vasari to paint scenes of the slaughter on the walls of Sala Regia in the Vatican. [9]

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The Thirty Years War

One of the most bloody religious wars was without doubt the Thirty Years War. It was called such because it lasted thirty years, from 1618 to 1648. It all started when the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand II (1578-1648), tried to suppress Protestantism in his empire. The Protestants resisted and formed the Protestant Union. The Catholics in their turn, formed the Catholic League.

At first, the Protestant army was no match for the Catholics. A large scale slaughter of the Protestants ensued. Things would have ended there had Ferdinand been satisfied with what he had accomplished. But this victory in battle was not enough, he wanted to eradicate Protestantism completely from his land. He outlawed the religion and initiated cruel and systematic persecutions of Protestants. The Protestants appealed for foreign help. Eventually Denmark, Sweden and France joined the war. With this the war entered a phase where the more or less evenly match forces could not achieve much except slaughter one another. [10]

An example of the cruelty which was characteristics of the German religious wars, can be seen in the massacres of the Protestants of Magdeburg. The city who had a population of thirty thousand, was almost completely Protestant. After the a six month siege the Catholic forces managed, on May 20th 1631, to over-run the city. [11] The description of the carnage by Brain Bailey, from his excellent book Massacres, is given below:

The enraged Catholic League troops then set about annihilating Magdeburg...Children were thrown into flames and women were raped before being butchered. Fifty-three women were beheaded in a church. No one was spared, regardless of age or sex, and twenty-five thousand of the city’s population were either massacred or burnt to death...[Count von] Tilly [1559-1632; commander of the Catholic forces] held a solemn mass in the cathedral [of Magdeburg] and boasted that no such great victory had occurred since the destruction of Jerusalem. [12]

The loss of life in this war was tremendous. It reduced the population of Germany, according to conservative estimates by at least a third; this put the death toll at six million. Some estimates put the number as high as fourteen million. Peace was finally negotiated in Westphalia in 1648. The positive contribution of this peace was that it finally secularized the western politicians. After this, the pope no longer wielded the secular power that his predecessors had enjoyed. The power of the religion to do harm was reduced tremendously. [13]

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France and Germany were not the only two countries in Europe that experience religious civil wars. The British Isles saw numerous battles between the Anglican monarch of England, Elizabeth I (1533-1603) and the Catholic rulers of Scotland, Mary of Lorraine and Mary Stuart (1542-1587), during the sixteenth century. [14]

Perhaps the most famous religious war that Protestant England took part in was the “war”-it was more of a massacre-with Catholic Ireland. It all began when Henry VIII (1491-1547), upon severing his ties with the papacy, closed down more than six hundred monasteries and convents in Catholic Ireland in an effort to “anglicanize” the Irish. He also proclaimed himself, in 1541, King of Ireland. This was followed by Elizabeth I’s (1533-1603), unsuccessful attempts to unify all of Ireland under Protestantism. Although all of Ireland was conquered by the time Elizabeth died, the Irish remain hostile to English rule and stayed fiercely Catholic. During the reign of James I (1566-1625), Presbyterian Scots were “planted” into the northern part of Ireland called Ulster. The idea was to create a stable class of Protestant land owners that would keep the Catholics in check. [15]

Deprived of their land, the Irish Catholics of Ulster became even more resentful of Protestant rule. Finally in 1641, they rebelled and a few thousand Protestants, many of them Scottish settlers, were murdered. The numbers murdered during the rebellion was purposely and greatly exaggerated back in England, in order to justify the ferocity of any future retribution. Figures of up to two hundred thousand were mentioned. [16]

Retribution to this rebellion could not be immediate as England was undergoing a civil war between the royalist on one side and the parliamentarians on the other. In the end the parliamentarians won and finally in 1649 King Charles I (1600-1649) was executed. This left the country free to avenge the Irish and the task of quelling the rebellion was taken up by Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), a devout Puritan. His army, called “Ironsides” were known for their religious zeal; and often carried Bibles and sang hymns. Cromwell would normally delay any planned attack until after he has lead his troops in prayer. [17]

In August of 1649, he set sail for Dublin. Upon arrival he marched his 12,000 strong troops to Drogheda, a town north of Dublin situated at the mouth of the River Boyne. The Irish garrison at Drogedah was only two to three thousand. When the Irish troops refused to surrender, Cromwell had the army’s guns bombard the walls of the town and when the walls came down his troops charged in. Refusing to take any prisoners, Cromwell’s men murdered the whole garrison. About one thousand unarmed civilians of Drogedah were also indiscriminately slaughtered by his men. Cromwell specifically ordered that all Catholic priests in the town were to be executed. A task his men joyfully carried out. In total, about four thousand people died at Drogedah that day: 11th September 1649. Cromwell himself assessed the massacre as “ a righteous judgement of God upon these barbarous wretches.” [18]

Even worse than the massacre of Drogedah was the one inflicted by Cromwell’s troops in Wexford a month later. Unlike the former, the leader of the Irish garrison had already surrendered and negotiations were under way when what Cromwell described as “an unexpected providence” took place. Somehow his troops managed to gain access to the town and began their indiscriminate slaughter. Once again, civilians were not spared. Women were put to the sword. Priests and monks were murdered. All in all, a total of two thousand Irish soldiers and 1,500 civilians were murdered in Wexford by Cromwell’s men. Throughout the whole incident Cromwell never made any attempt to stop the slaughter. [19]

Back in England there was general rejoicing and 30th October 1649 was proclaimed as a day of thanksgiving. The Protestant ministers there gave thanks to God. Cromwell returned home to England as a hero. [20] The modern problem of Northern Ireland is rooted in these events in the seventeenth century. Another gift to the modern world from the Christian religion.

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1.Knight, Honest to Man: p88-89
2.Bailey, Massacres: p33
Haught, Holy Horrors: p98
3.Bailey, Massacres: p33-34
4.ibid: p34-35
5.Haught, Holy Horrors: p94
6.Ibid: p92
7.Fisher, History of Europe: p580-581
Haught, Holy Horrors: p94-96
Knight, Honest to Man: p88-89
Rosenbaum, Desk Concord Encyclopedia: p1065
Summerscale, Penguin Encyclopedia: p193,293,1572
8.Bailey, Massacres: p30
9.ibid: p31
Fisher, History of Europe: p580-581
Haught, Holy Horrors: p94-96
Knight, Honest to Man: p88-89
Rosenbaum, Desk Concord Encyclopedia: p1065
Summerscale, Penguin Encyclopedia: p193,293,1572
10.Haught, Holy Horrors: p106-107
Knight, Honest to Man: p89
Livingstone, Dictionary of the Church: p41,138,191,511
11.Bailey, Massacres: p36-37
12.ibid: p37-38
13.Haught, Holy Horrors: p106-107
Knight, Honest to Man: p89
Livingstone, Dictionary of the Church: p41,138,191,511
14.Haught, Holy Horrors: p104-105
15.Bailey, Massacres: p46-47
Magnusson, Landlord or Tenant?: p27
16.Bailey, Massacres: p46-47
Magnusson, Landlord or Tenant?: p33
17.Haught, Holy Horrors: p118-120
18.Bailey, Massacres: p48-49
Haught, Holy Horrors: p121
Magnusson, Landlord or Tenant?: p35-36
19.Bailey, Massacres: p49
Magnusson, Landlord or Tenant?: p36-37
20.Bailey, Massacres: p49-50

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