Welcome to The Military History of Religion.
Or Milrel for short.
This project has been on my mind for over a year now. I’ve procrastinated. Started d20writer. And did dozens of other things to put off the inevitable.
Last night, New Years Eve, I made the plunge–Bought the domain name, and started working on what I really want to talk about: religious violence, particularly the point when the violence goes above the military horizon (a term put forth by John Keegan in The Face of Battle).
You’ll still see content about RPGs, wargaming, and the like. In my mind its all wrapped up into one tangled up ball.
In fact, tabletop games might be great place to begin the discussion of the military of history religion, given the simplistic models of good versus evil, or law versus chaos. In Warhammer 40,000 the Imperium of Man wages an unceasing crusade against the enemies of man. In Dungeons & Dragons, it can be hard not to envision a paladin as a soldier fighting the forces of darkness. The same goes with the cleric.
Or tabletop games might be a terrible place to start. I’m not sure. Yet if roleplaying games have taught anything is they can help influence real-life behavior. Of course, opponents to RPGs warn us that you can get too involved with your character. You see this in Jack Chick’s infamous Dark Dungeons where Marcie kills herself over the death of her character, Blackleaf. And these same opponents envision and prophesize the final battle between Good and Evil. They believe they have a role to play as Christian soldiers preparing for, and at times fighting, the spiritual warfare leading up to the Apocalypse.
The artwork above comes from Thomas Cole’s Course of Empire series, painted during the time of Jacksonian Democracy, The Trail of Tears, and the origins of American Manifest Destiny. Western Expansion was a military operation–just look at the forts on the map in the game Oregon Trail–driven, at times, by divine right. Or as John O’Sullivan put it:
The expansive future is our arena, and for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God in our minds, beneficient objects in our hearts and with a clear conscience unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and no earthly power can.John O’Sullivan, “The Great Nation of Futurity” The United States Democratic Review, Vol. 6, 1839, page 427.
This message isn’t that far off from the knights who proclaimed Deus Vult at the Council of Claremont right before the First Crusade. Or the proclamations of fascists in modern-day America.
At this point, I’m tossing out ideas and see where they lead.
The Red Thread (or Rote Faden, as the Germans say) runs through this tangled mess. It’s a matter of finding it, following it, untangling it, defining it.
And that’s what I intend to do.