For at least a century, observers of European culture have been noting the decline, or even the death, of organized religion; today, one constantly hears references to a "post-Christian" Europe. Perhaps so, but as Burleigh makes clear in this engrossing and rather disturbing work, the religious impulse remains strong, although it has often reasserted itself under the guise of secular political movements. Through an examination of that meeting ground between religion and politics, Burleigh has attempted to explain European history over the past 90 years.The is my second Burleigh book, following Small Wars, Far Away Places which I greatly enjoyed for his erudition and insights. Twenty pages in to Sacred Causes and the same attributes of insight and erudition are on display.
He mentions Henri Barbusse who fought in World War I and came to fame with the publication of Le Feu (Under Fire) in 1916. There is a passage in which Barbusse's characters challenge the glorification of war by describing trench warfare as they experienced it:
that is about appalling, superhuman exhaustion, about water up to your belly and about mud, dung and repulsive filth. It is about moulding faces and shredded flesh and corpses that do not even look like corpses anymore, floating on the greedy earth. It is this infinite monotony of miseries, interrupted by sharp, sudden dramas. That is what it is - not the bayonet glittering, like silver or the bugle's call in the sunlight!A reminder of the still relatively recent past which we ought to use as a counterweight to the hysteria so much in the news.