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by Catherine Frakas 15 Feb 2002

REASON FOR WORLD WAR ONE QUESTION from Carol Delger September 14, 2000 Cardinal Mercier, in 1918,stated that World War One was actually a punishment for the crime of men placing the one true religion on the same level as false creeds. Is this true, and why don't we ever hear that little tid bit? Is it because we should never Judge, now?
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on September 17, 2000 Dear Carol, As I am not familiar with the sayings of Cardinal Mercier, you will have to provide a source for this quote, as you seem to be implying that it is true.
For those who are not aware of who this great man was, he was an archbishop of Malines, Belgium, during World War I. Belgium was the country that suffered the most during the war, as Germany crossed Belgium in order to invade France, and the Allied forces attempted to push them back. Anyone who does not know about the horrors that occurred on the battlefield during this war is at least as ignorant as someone who knows nothing about the Holocaust, in my opinion. It is difficult to exaggerate the destruction and the inhumanity that the average soldier witnessed.
Cardinal Mercier (1851-1926) was Belgium’s voice of moral authority. He consoled his compatriots and urged them to remain loyal to their own country. He exasperated the German governors-general who ruled over occupied Belgium because he protested their injustices. For example, he protested the deportation of Belgian workers and priests to German ammunition factories. When one governor-general thought he was doing the Cardinal a favour by returning only the priests, the Cardinal insisted that the lay people be brought back as well—and not just the Catholics. That took a lot of nerve. In his time, the cardinal was internationally recognized as a beacon of hope and courage. The Cardinal was also famous for having found a school of philosophy, L’Institut Superieur de philosophie, and was responsible for popularizing neo-Thomistic thought in the early twentieth century. He also held a series of informal ecumenical discussions with the Anglican clergy hosted by Lord Halifax in 1926.
Although I can’t confirm whether or not the cardinal blamed religious indifference on the war, I do know that this was a common opinion in the Catholic press in the United States at the time. The rampant nationalism of the time—an outgrowth of modernist thought, made possible this bloody conflict. Nationalism grew out of an exaggerated confidence in the abilities of men and their collective genius, and it gradually replaced religion as the guiding principle of their lives. People were no longer Catholic or Protestant or Orthodox, but rather, British, French, or American, and they clung to their nationality and its stereotypes, including the religious stereotypes (British were Anglican, French, Catholic, Americans Protestant, etc). Religion was no longer something lived, but a badge of national identity that you wore, and there was a lot of lip service paid to it. If each nationality had taken their own religion seriously, that is, had they followed the tenets, they could have easily avoided the war, or at least, it would at least not have escalated to such a degree. World War I originally started out as a campaign by Austria-Hungary to punish an assassination attempt by a Bosnian gunman, which can possibly be justified by the Catholic doctrine of a Just War. However, an intricate series of alliances and the sense that each country’s honour was at stake compelled the great European powers to join. The United States also had reason to fight Germany, as it had plotted an alliance with Mexico, which posed a serious threat. For the average person in Europe, it symbolized a fight for the honour of one’s country, and this excessive patriotism became an idol. It justified the bloodshed and was seen as a means to exalt one’s country through acts of heroism.
Whether this explanation of events is what the Cardinal meant, I don’t know. But the secularist mindset of the age certainly laid the groundwork for the war. An authentically Christian perspective on the relations between men and nations would have surely made Europeans stop and think twice about the morality of what they were doing.
If we never hear of such opinions, it is precisely because most people today reject the notion that there is right and wrong, and that modernist ideas have no negative bearing on circumstances. This is why they have to defend ideas like the quality, or lack, of religious upbringing has nothing to do with personal morals or the social fabric. Even though it’s obvious to anyone who examines the facts, that modernism has produced a weakened church, and orthodox dioceses have strong churches, they maintain, against all the evidence, that modernism is still good, even if it has produced no good fruit.
Modernists cannot claim that their ideas lead to negative situations because modernism is a heresy that refuses to be identified. If there is no right and wrong, there’s no heresy, no coherent system of thinking. There’s just a set of disparate ideas to be applied whenever it is convenient. You can only identify modernism if the supernatural and moral absolutes are meaningful to you. If they’re not meaningful, or if you do not take these concepts to their logical conclusion, then modernist ideas are “obviousâ€. Judgments that take into consideration the supernatural or moral absolutes are considered passe© and irrelevant. For a modernist, if a war or other catastrophe occurs, it can never be attributed to modernist thought, because there’s simply no other way of seeing the world. That’s just the way the world is to them. When you do away with the notion that the supernatural matters, or that there are truths and falsehoods, ironically, that does not leave you with many other ways of seeing the world. If the only truths you know are modernist, then you can’t gauge your judgments by any other standard. You can know the political causes of World War I, but you can’t firmly conclude what the immaterial causes were, that is, the spiritual causes, because it’s so subjective. There are very few historians today who will venture to make moral or spiritual judgments on historical situations. And when they do, it’s often the usual band of suspects Nazis, the Catholic Church and white male Anglo-Saxons. Part of it is due to the fact that they have to reach a wide audience, and such judgments will alienate their academic colleagues. Part of it is that they simply have no firm judgment. They don’t have enough firm ideas about the world to draw a conclusion.
If they do have a judgment, it will almost certainly be phrased in modernist terminology that almost everyone who is not religious accepts. This has become the “lingua franca†of values. You can’t write or discuss in a values vacuum. If a historian wants to communicate meaningful ideas about human behaviour to a large number of people, such as the reading public or academic colleagues, he must aim for the lowest common denominator with respect to values. Otherwise, his ideas won’t mean anything to people. Potential readers will be either hostile to them, or will simply ignore them.
So in short, this partly explains why we never hear such opinions. They are not remembered and repeated because they don’t mean anything to most people.
Thank you for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
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