Those terrible dark ages with their religious crusades… compared to what? The twentieth century?
The European wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were something altogether different [than anything before]. They inaugurated a new age of nationalist strife and state violence, prosecuted on a scale and with a degree of ferocity without any precedent in medieval history: wars of unification, revolutions, imperial adventures, colonialism, the rebirth of chattel slavery, endless irredentism, ideologically inspired frenzies of mass murder, nationalist cults, political terrorism, world wars – in short, the entire glorious record of European politics in the aftermath of a united Christendom.
Far from the secular nation-state rescuing Western humanity from the chaos and butchery of sectarian strife, those wars were the birth pans of the modern state and its limitless license to murder. And religious allegiances, anxieties, and hatred were used by regional princes merely as pretexts for conflicts whose causes, effects, and alliances had very little to do with faith or confessional loyalties.
-David Bently Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies, p. 89
And continuing later:
Part of the enthralling promise of an age of reason was, at least at first, the prospect of a genuinely rational ethics, not bound to the local or tribal customs of this people or that, not limited to the moral precepts of any particular creed, but available to all reasoning minds regardless of culture and – when recognized – immediately compelling to the rational will.
Was there ever a more desperate fantasy than this?
We live now in the wake of the most monstrously violent century in human history, during which the secular order (on both the political right and the political left), freed from the authority of religion, showed itself willing to kill on an unprecedented scale and with an ease of conscience worse that merely depraved. If ever an age deserved to be thought an age of darkness, it is surely ours.