Monday 3 December 2012

Flags Are Dangerous

"Abner shouted to Joab, "Must the sword kill forever? Surely you must know this will only end in sadness!" " 2 Samuel 2:26

Don't worry. This isn't going to be a health and safety post about hazardous flag-carrying techniques. 

I'm interested in exploring how Christianity interacts with war. What was the last war film you saw (or the last fantasy/historical film with scenes of combat)? Think about the way in which these movies give you central characters that you relate to and empathise with. These characters then go and fight against figures who you, in the majority of cases, know nothing about. They're strangers, maybe shown as a silhouette or a mass group of targets. Have you noticed how we tend to root for the characters we've come to know? We want them to survive at any cost. And we feel good when they kill their opposition because it means that their side is winning.

Where does this notion of sides come from? Often war gets covered in the idealism of nationhood. Being a soldier isn't just about fighting and dying - it's about fighting and dying for your country. How good a Brit, German, Russian (or elf!) you are is determined by your willingness to fight for the national cause. Objecting to a war makes you a damp squib who's lacking in patriotic zeal. Add another layer of 'fighting and dying for friends and loved ones back home' to this mindset and you have a reason to kill someone. Is it justified?

For instance, in the rush of the war scene, do we ever stop to think that the gunned-down enemy soldier must have a mother that's desperate for him to come back safely? That he's got friends of his own? That he might have his own nation-driven agenda? I think that we 'other-ise' the enemy and make into 'the Other', someone who's so alien that the violence committed against him is deemed acceptable. Do we ever consider that he might be doing the same thing?

Flags are dangerous because they can cause (or at least sustain) wars on the basis that 'the Other' has a different flag to you. A different nation. Or just plain different. There's an irrational hatred here that maybe doesn't have any obvious source. Perhaps it's more present in some wars than others. But we feel it, even in part, in something as innocuous as watching a film. It can't be good or healthy. I'm not na├»ve enough to think that there aren't situations where armed conflict is sadly necessary. But the endemic and seemingly endless extent of war across the world should surely make any sensible person question how much of it is really necessary. We need to be reconciled to our enemies and appreciate that they are fellow-humans. In the wisdom of Mother Teresa, "If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another."

Where does the Christian fit into all this? I'm not going to pass judgement on the rights and wrongs of those who are involved in the military in different capacities. That's their call. But it's not enough to say that 'spiritual stuff' has no right to interfere with the political and the military. At the start of advent maybe it's appropriate to recall one of  Jesus' titles -  Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). The least that you could say, in my opinion, is that no Christian should ever want war. One thing's for sure. There'll be no war in heaven. When Peace-King rules in fullness there'll be a wonderful melting pot containing "every nation, tribe, people and language of the earth" (Revelation 7:9). As God's ambassadors it's up to us to bring that reality about, starting now.

Your kingdom come? Absolutely.

1 comment:

  1. Well done Matt. You have developed the argument well. I am sure you could write more on this subject. Patriotism is not the virtue it is made out to be. Biblical references to war are complicated by nationalism in the Old Testament. It could be argued that God's "nationalist" covenant with Israelites in the Old Testament is superseded by the coming of Christ who made membership of the kingdom of Heaven equally accessible for all people regardless of nationality.


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