A Question I Was Asked:

"Was the 'Thirty Years War' a Religious War?"

The Actual Question:

Your article on Secularism is very interesting. You make a very strong case for the argument that religion, especially Christianity, has been erroneously blamed as a cause of conflict in Europe and elsewhere and that it is Secularism, or the forces of atheism, which have caused the most human suffering. But should you not also include a reference to the Thirty Years War of the 17th century? Surely that was all about Catholic and Protestant armies killing each other?

UK Apologetics Reply:

The short answer is, no, that war was not "all about Catholic and Protestant armies killing each other," at all, although that concept persists in certain quarters.

To go a little deeper, the answer to your question is that while the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) started out in the way that you suggest, that is, as a religious conflict between Protestants and Roman Catholics in the Holy Roman Empire, it did not continue that way. Gradually the war developed into a more general political conflict involving several of the European powers. Eventually the war became all about the Bourbon-Habsburg rivalry for European political pre-eminence, and religion was hardly involved. Moreover the armies were not 'Protestant' or 'Catholic' armies, as you suggest, but were mostly (although not entirely) made up of marauding and ill-controlled mercenaries drawn from several countries. Without doubt, some terrible destruction was caused and, as a result, famine and disease significantly decreased the population of the German states and of the Low Countries, while eventually bankrupting most of the combatant powers. Estimates put the reduction of population in the German states at something like 20% to 30% - but few now consider the conflict purely as a Catholic-Protestant war, although such sensibilities were an occasional part of the mix, especially at the beginning.

The Swede Gustavus Adolphus, sometimes called "The Lion of the North," was one of the most successful army commanders during that war, and his Swedish armies the most deadly, and Adolphus certainly set out to protect northern Europe from Roman Catholicism. He is reputed to have stated, "As one wave follows another in the sea, so the Papal deluge is approaching our shores." However, it remains the case that - overall - Protestant-Catholic rivalries were soon only 'bit part players.' Most historical accounts of the war (which one may look up) do not even mention religion.

Even Diarmid McCullough, a generally reliable writer and broadcaster on the history of the church, has recently painted the conflict in purely religious terms, but, in my opinion, a close consideration of the evidence suggests that the religious element has been greatly overplayed, and this is now the more general opinion. The conflict was primarily about inter-European rivalries and jostlings for power, although - necessarily - because of where they lived, both Protestants and Catholics did die in large numbers.
Robin A. Brace, December, 3rd., 2009.

Secularism; The Most Evil Philosophy Known to Human Government