Responding to the Great War


My recent book Through Mud and Barbed Wire explores the way in which two religious thinkers – Paul Tillich, a German Lutheran, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit – responded to their experience of the Western Front.  It looks at their experience of battle, the emotional impact it had on them, and the ideas that took shape as a result of witnessing death and destruction on such an unprecedented scale. It asks whether any religious beliefs can withstand such experiences and what belief in God can and should mean in such a situation.  What did they do? How did they cope? How did they end up offering a positive view of humanity and its future?  Is religious belief simply delusion, or a form of therapy?

Here’s how the Personal Introduction ends…

‘It was, for both men, an experience like no other. For Tillich, it was the one and only significant turning point in his life, while Teilhard, looking back, considered the mud of Douaumont – the largest of the forts around Verdun, lost and won back by the French at terrible cost – to be of greater importance for him than all the intellectual possibilities of Paris or the enticements of the orient, which were to influence his later life. Both men went to war full of conventional optimism and, although shaken by their experience, they re-built – each in his own idiosyncratic way – an optimistic philosophy. How was that possible?

Of course, Tillich and Teilhard were not the only ones to ponder matters philosophical under fire. The French philosopher Emile Chartier was working on the first draft of his book Mars, or the Truth about War, during the battles of 1916 and, on the Eastern front, Ludwig Wittgenstein, having opted for the most lonely and potentially suicidal of posts, guiding artillery from a dugout in no-man’s-land, started noting down ‘The world is all that is the case’ for his seminal work Tractatus. While back on the Western front, a frustrated young artist by the name of Adolf Hitler was reading Schopenhauer, brooding on the perceived injustices wrought upon his fatherland, and hoping one day to become a philosopher and a great leader. They too will have a part to play in this story.

Individually, Tillich and Teilhard fascinated me; together they beguiled me. This book attempts to pay them critical homage. So let us try to enter imaginatively into their thinking as they joined the millions of others who marched into the madness and horror of The Great War.

To see more about the book click here.


Through Mud and Barbed Wire

What does the experience of war do to belief in God?  Can faith survive the trenches of Verdun? Should religion be regarded as a form of therapy for those traumatised when their world falls apart?  What can ‘God’ mean in the 21st century?

The sub-title of my new book is ‘Paul Tillich, Teilhard de Chardin and God after the First World War’ – and it’s exactly that.  It moves from the battlefields of the Great War to New York in the 1950s.


This is my first self-published book, after 37 conventionally published titles. I’ve done this in order to produce it quickly and cheaply.  The e-book is only 99p /$0.99 and the paperback £7.99 / $11.50.  No excuse for anyone not to risk buying a copy!

It’s historically based, but also seriously theological, challenging what ‘God’ has come to mean over the last hundred

Here’s how it starts…

‘After they died, I discovered a strange coincidence. Among those who survived the carnage of the Great War, two of the 20th century’s greatest religious thinkers had faced one another across exactly the same stretch of the Front on the devastated hillsides to the west of Verdun in June 1916. Both went on to describe their war service as the most formative experience of their lives and, out of that hell of exploding mud and body-parts, they were to forge radical new ideas about the role of religion and the future of humanity.

They could not have been more different: one was a Lutheran pastor and philosopher, proud to be Prussian and brought up to be politically and religiously conservative; the other a French Jesuit, fascinated by science and evolution and soaked in traditional Catholicism. Separated by no more than a few hundred yards of mud and barbed wire, they struggled, each in his own way, to make sense of their faith in the face of the horrors they witnessed on the battlefield. Paul Tillich served as a Lutheran chaplain, often also as a gravedigger, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin as a stretcher-bearer. Their subsequent writings do not simply illustrate their own personal struggles with faith and their courage in the face of opposition, but shed light on some of the ways in which our thinking has changed over the last hundred years.’

For more information about this book, visit its website page here