With the Christmas festivities in full swing (school is out and the kidlets are all home), my blogging time, like that of many others, will be light in the next little while. However, I was reading last night about the Thirty Years' War. This war was a series of conflicts in Europe beginning in 1648 and ending with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. This was a political battle mixed in with numerous religious forces and alliances. There were Lutheran, Catholic and Calvinist forces raging against one another as well as the Habsburgs and Spain in conflict with the Danish, Dutch, French and Swedes The German principalities took sides for or against the Habsburgs at various times during the conflict.
I remember studying this in university when I took a course called "European History in the 17th Century." The professor (a raging feminist who at one point said it is better for children to have mothers who have jobs outside the home) was quite anti-Christian, so her analysis of many of the events downplayed the religious element and focused more on the political. This was quite a few years ago now, but I can remember her harsh attitude toward Calvinists. It had popped up earlier in her analysis of John Calvin's experiences in Geneva, which were confined to a few paragraphs which made him out to be quite a monster. Anyway, she did do a fine job of relating the military wranglings at the time. This was a war where siege warfare took on great importance. Towns would secure their walls against the enemy who would wait while the people inside the town died from disease or lack of food. It was quite a terrible war. Justo Gonzalez, in The Story of Christianity considers it the worst war prior to the 20th Century.
One of the things that comes out of this war is the rise of the secular nation state. Prior to this, religious forces played a very important part of what went on in Europe. Leaders, both religious and political, were often made or broken because of religious affiliation. This was beginning to change as religious toleration was demanded. The era of the leader of the country "choosing" the religion were on the wane in Europe. However, Gonzalez points out that this willingness to grant religious toleration was not out of any deeper understanding of spiritual matters or doctrine:
The priciples of tolerance of the Peace of Westphalia were not born out of a deeper understanding of Christian love, but rather out of a growing indifference to religious matters. The war had amply shown the atrocities that resulted from attempting to settle religious matters by force of arms. In the end, nothing had been resolved. Perhaps rulers should not allow their decisions to be guided by religious or onfessional considerations, but rather by their own self-interest, or by the interest of their subjects. Thus the modern secular state began to develop. And with it there appeared an attitude of doubt regarding matters that previous generations had taken for granted. On what grounds did theologians dare to affirm that they were correct, and others were mistaken? Could any doctrine be true that produced the atrocities of the Thirty Years' War? Was there not a more tolerant, more profound, and even more Christian way to serve God, than simply following the dictates of orthodoxy, be it Catholic or Protestant? These were some of the questions posed by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, partly as a result of the Thirty Years' War.
While those questions may not have been the most profound questions, they were important, because as Europe moved into the Enlightenment years, those issues would be dealt with. The great Englightenment thinkers were still in the future following the Peace of Westphalia, but as it is with history, the effect of events can have a slow, long arm in the way they influence things.
I was thinking about this last night, about how we can look at history and realize that in the present, we don't always know what will constitute an earth-shattering even that will rock the future. We do get caught up in the events of the day, but by and large the majority of those events are blips on the screen of history. We tend to gobble up news like it is mother's milk at times, but I would hazard a guess that the majority of the news we hear isn't going to be important in the long run. Someone may spend a lot of time and research trying to understand the brouhaha about Tiger Woods, but ultimately how unique is that? He is just one of a long line of immoral, spoiled, self-important people who thinks the world revolves around him. The details of the situation aren't really important.
The internet, and being able to follow things moment by moment, has, I think eroded our ability and desire to think historically. We seem to think that every bit of news and information that floats through the airwaves is of huge, world-wide significance. We are not encouraged to think in historical terms. History is important, and for more reasons than finding lessons not to repeat. History is an account of humanity, of the humanity God created. History is the vehicle through which God works His redemptive purposes. I think the instanteous communication vehicles like blogs and Twitter often do not encourage sustained thinking about anything. It takes time to figure out all of the details of an event. I remember studying the Thirty Years War and finding all of the details, alliances, and conflicting forces quite difficult to remember. It required sitting down and thinking; and now, I have forgotten much of it. Becoming attached to the "social media" and to things like Twitter and blogs won't help me with sustained thinking, either. I am not saying not to use those things, but we humans tend to go to extremes, and it is the extremes that concern me. It takes a nanosecond to read a Tweet, and it may take you fifteen minutes to read this blog post if you read it at all. While I certainly appreciate readers, if it's a choice between this blog and a good book or the Word of God, by all means, pick up the book or the Bible.
One of the things I have been doing recently is reading in my bedroom or in a chair away from my desk. I have a big, wonderful old fashioned banker's desk with plenty of room to read and write and type. However, I did find that working at my desk made it easy to just click open a window to find something. Reading up in my room, away from the computer has helped me concentrate more. Thus, I was able to re-live studying the Thirty Years' War.