Monday, 12 May 2014

Focus on War

It is war that is the focus of this year’s Christian Aid week, that most preventable of disasters. Or rather it is its aftermath. The human misery that follows behind it. The misery that follows, not sometimes but always.

I am in a minority among Christians in being a pacifist. The Hebrew Scriptures have only small inklings that war is not going to solve anything. I think of the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, and of Esau’s generosity to the brother who wronged him, and Jacob’s remarkable declaration that seeing his brother’s face is like seeing the face of his God. How hard it is to forgive those whom we have wronged. I think, too, of the remarkable little story of Elisha telling the King of Israel not to kill the Syrians who he has delivered into his hands.

It is only when we get to the New Testament that we find a radical demand that we suffer ourselves, rather than attack others, or even defend ourselves. Yet, as with so much that Jesus says, it is ambiguous enough that most Christians in most places have felt justified in ignoring it and making wars.

Embracing peace is a hard thing. I realised fairly young that it was bound to mean suffering in the short term. It was only as I grew older, learned more, thought more, prayed more, that I came think that however dear the short-term cost, the long term benefits were greater. As a girl I chose peace as a blind act of faith. Now I think that violence so inevitably leads to more violence and to greater wrongs, that it is almost never justified. Only in the most exceptional of circumstances is war the lesser evil, and I cannot think of an instance during my life time when it has led to anything but more misery and greater wrong.

Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo are the focus of this year’s Christian Aid appeal. It is tempting to think the disasters are so huge than it is pointless taking action. Action, help, is never pointless. It is not however enough. We have a duty to the world to live peace and to speak peace. Love and forgiveness, however sorely we are tried, have to become our watch words. War is not the solution, whatever the problem. We have to absorb that fact so thoroughly that it becomes part of our immediate reaction.

This must be our reaction not just to international conflicts, but to personal loss and personal challenge. This of course is where it is hardest. We live in a society where a desire for revenge is still seen as right and proper, and it takes a lot of courage and often a lot of presence of mind not to get sucked into that way of thinking and acting. Yet if we are ever to change the world, if we are ever to see the Kingdom, we need to work at it, so that peace always becomes the right and the natural response, despite its high cost.

Posted by Rosemary Hannah on Monday, 12 May 2014 at 7:00am BST
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Comments

Thank you Rosemary. I find this such a difficult subject. I am completely opposed to nuclear weapons because of the barbarism of killing so many innocent non-combatants and children, and yet war is barbaric anyway and the history of warfare is littered with what is now called (with clinical nicety) 'collateral damage'.

And yet...

To look at your chosen words:

"when we get to the New Testament that we find a radical demand that we suffer ourselves, rather than attack others, or even defend ourselves..."

Yes, there is a call for sacrifice in our faith... that we be prepared to 'suffer ourselves'.

So yes, we should not always demand the right to "defend ourselves"...

But what about defending others?

The classic analogies, to test one's readiness to protect others, would probably include -

1. Would it have been protective and right to have just surrendered to Hitler?

2. The burglar analogy - an intruder comes into your house and attacks your children... would it be protective to defend your moral scruples and let the children be attacked?

I find these dilemmas challenging.

On the other hand, I detest our species tendency for warfare. I marched in the big anti-war protest in London (which Tony Blair ignored) and ran our local Stop the War group.

But I still don't feel I could rule out taking clinical and commensurate action to protect, even if it compromised my own moral position.

The problem beyond that, is that war, to be executed successfully tends to need to be fought with total ruthlessness, and it leaves a trail of widows, orphans, and devastated communities.

As Shakespeare writes in Coriolanus:

"These are the ushers of Martius: before him he carries noise, and behind him he leaves tears."

Posted by: Susannah Clark on Monday, 12 May 2014 at 6:35pm BST

At an anti-war rally (Iraq in 2003 or 04), I met a woman who was so committed to pacifism that she opposed the American Civil War. I asked her "what about the slaves?" and she responded that that would have come to a natural end without the racism and bitterness that remains in our society to this day.

I wish I believed that, but I don't. They say that "evil wins when good people do nothing." And that seems to be the case with slavery, Hitler, apartheid, Civil Rights in the US, etc.

It has been found that nonviolent resistance is one of the most effective tools for achieving justice. But I think there are limits, like Hitler and slavery.

Posted by: Cynthia on Monday, 12 May 2014 at 9:17pm BST

I don't think one can can be asked to do things one considers immoral, or fatally stupid, to defend others. I also think one has to be realistic about the cost of peace. It is high. I just think the cost of war is even higher, and more disastrous.

I think the defeat of Hitler was as close as one can imagine to a really just war. While I lament the fact that avoiding the Civil War in America would have led to slavery continuing longer, it would have, I think, avoided other ills.

But I am quite clear that there is always a cost to peace, and it is often a terrible cost.

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Wednesday, 14 May 2014 at 8:25pm BST
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