The Great and Holy War

The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious CrusadeThe Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade by Philip Jenkins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When we are studying modern history, we often find that the urgency of the cold war, the horror of the second world war, the space race, the great depression and so many factors take up much of our study energy and time. In comparison, we often forget entirely about World War I. So, why was it fought, where was it fought and what are the implications for us are things that many people are not seeking the answers to.

Because it is forgotten and overlooked, I have found myself recently interested in it. There are four years that the world discovered the horrors of war. These years have made an indelible impact on modern history because it is out of this war that we find the growth of Communism, the rise of Nazism the roots of the Cold War.

Entering enter the fray of discussions on how the war became a world changer is Philip Jenkins. However, Jenkins takes an unusual perspective as he causes us to look at the religious aspects of the war. Jenkins never shies away from discussing the horrors of war, but he also takes a look at how the war affects religious life and how religious life affects the war.

The book is roughly divided into two halves. The first half deals with the war itself. In this we see each side’s demonization of the other side. We see German pastors writing hymns to encourage national pride and the destruction of the enemy. We see the vilification of the Germans as well as their association of their leaders with the “antichrist.” We see the rise of dispensationalism, mysticism and the occult.

We also see how the liberalism of many protestant groups at this time encouraged the growth of political issues to inform and shape our spiritual lives. Because of this there is a demonization of the other side that automatically create an us/them mentality. It’s uncomfortable to read because I see so much of the us/them mentality reflected in the demonization of each side of the political sphere by the other side today.

The second half of the book deals with the aftermath of the war. We see the rejection of religion in Russia and the Russian Revolution. We see the effects of the war on Germany as Nazism begins its steady rise. We see the establishment of the Balfour Declaration, and the seeds of the eventual county of Israel. We see the affect of the war on the entire globe as many entities throughout the world saw themselves in conflict with each other because the European nation that controlled them was at war with the European nation that controlled the country next to them.

I learned a lot from this book, but I often found it unclear and hard to follow. Jenkins does not really tell a story, and although he is loosely chronological, he tends to circle back to the same events and ideas over and over again topically. I am glad for what I learned in this book, and I found the juxtaposition of existentialism and mysticism as well as the growth of apocalyptic thought to be quite interesting. However, if I were reading a book on this topic again, I would like to see a clearer sense of story and timeline throughout the book.


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