12Nov

A war to end all wars

On Remembrance Day it is easy to romanticise war. To imagine that because many service men and women were heroic and noble that war itself is somehow noble. We can lose sight, in other words, of the sheer evil horror and devastation of war. The waste of human life. So let us briefly recall the human cost of the world wars. 

I haven’t counted myself. But a website claims that if one granule of sugar represents a human life you need 1000 bags to represent the loss of life in World War 1. WW2 with 72 million lives lost equals 4,700 bags. Each granule representing a person killed, a family broken apart. 

As we pray for the departed today let us embrace the truth that war is unspeakably evil leading, as it always does, to rape, torture, cruelty, genocide and death. Sometimes it can be a necessary evil, but it remains evil nonetheless and Christians should abhor not glorify it. We are not pacifists, because the good needs protecting, but we are ever called to pursue paths of peace not violence. Blessed are the peace makers, said Jesus.

I think what is actually needed is a war to end all wars. Not in the way the world imagined – for a physical war as a cure to end war is a ludicrous idea. How could further violence ever cure violence? An actual war would only spark more horror until both sides of any conflict have reason to hate. No the war to end all wars that I propose is fought with devotion not dynamite, and on the knees not in skirmishes on the battle front. It is the spiritual war that rages in each human soul. The personal battle of every believer to overcome vice and live by grace and virtue. 

This is the battle that needs to be conquered if war is to end. Because vice, human sin, is the root cause of every act of violence ever perpetrated. For every one of the deadly sins leads eventually to violence, self destruction and death. Let us consider how:

Ponder lust. To the world just a bit of fun. A good way to market products. Where is the harm? And yet every ‘cheap thrill’ will quickly turn to misery if lust is given in to. When love is not part of the sexual equation a descent to hell and destruction begins. Lewd acts become addictive and shaming. Infidelity discovered causes heart break and shatters lives in the process. As people get objectified they ae stripped of their dignity and a violence is unleashed on the world – what but lust fuels the scourge of modern pornography, many cases of domestic violence, the hideous trade of people trafficking and so many cases of abortion?

Or consider Pride. It too leads to violence by making us not only want to win in life but to crush our opponents into submission. Pride makes us imagine others are inferior so again we strip them of dignity, and this paves a way for tribalism, exclusion, racism and the bloodshed witnessed in any brutal regime where genocide occurs against supposedly inferior people. Pride leads to disempowerment, the putting down of little people. 

Envy leads to violence. When envious we murder reputations, we want to bring others down. It is what fuels the hand in the writing of poison letters. Once written in ink now spread across internet forums. It is the cause of many fights in the streets often over a woman.  When someone else possesses what we want things turn ugly.  

Wrath is more obvious. How many children suffer the rage of unreasonable angry parents? Are told off not because they have wronged but because they sparked their parent’s temper? How many families are damaged by a wrath barely controlled? How many marriages involve fists or harsh words or the equally destructive seething resentment that drives spouses apart?

Greed is economic violence leading, so often, to state sanctioned theft. The taking of what you did not earn. The taking from the poor and thinking nothing of it. The first thing invading troops did in Iraq was surround the oil fields. It was telling. Greed has caused many a war. People imagine wars are motivated by religion. Nonsense! People are roused to war in the name of religion but usually by elites who want plunder the spoils of conquered territories. 

Is gluttony violent? Yes. Those who misuse food or drink or drugs are violent towards the self- it is the root cause of addiction. And addicts soon turn violent in pursuit of their hit. How many spouses and children are knocked about by drunken family members? How many cases of domestic abuse centre around drugs and drink?

Even passive sloth is violence against the gift of life. The slothful kill joy, creativity, opportunity. It is sloth that stays silent in the face of evil. Wicked things happen when good people do nothing. Consider the neglected child suffering due to lazy inattentive parents. Or those scores of children failed in Rochdale, or even in the church, when authorities lazily looked the other way for political reasons or in self interest.

7 deadly sins. 7 causes of violence. 7 problems for us all to overcome if violence is ever to be defeated. Remember then that the solution to every vice is found in a corresponding virtue. To combat pride embrace humility. To combat greed embrace generosity. To overcome lust embrace chastity. To thwart wrath embrace meekness. So on and so forth. 

Only when the world joins the spiritual battle, and returns to the faith Christ taught us, will we put an end to war. To save the world don’t look for solutions out there look inside your self. The battle of life takes place in the human soul. Salvation arriving for this world one life at a time. Whenever a life is truly given to God and to goodness. Your vice conquered becomes a heroic action. The casting aside of ego in the interest of others. It is nothing less than what Christ commended as the laying down of one’s life for their friends. We must recede that he may proceed.

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5 thoughts on “A war to end all wars

  1. Well said, Father Ed! It is indeed all too easy in this country during the first half of November to romanticise war, all too easy to fall for what Wilfrid Owen called “The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori”. And the idea that we should pay tribute to “these who die as cattle” (to quote Owen again) by actually firing guns at the start and end of the two-minute silence is surely abhorrent. It is because I wish to distance myself from the tendency to jingoistic romanticism and rather to focus my thoughts on what you call “the sheer evil horror and devastation of war” that I choose not to wear a poppy. Instead I choose to read Owen’s poetry (e.g. https://poets.org/poem/dulce-et-decorum-est)

    But I am puzzled by the first sentence of your final paragraph: “Only when the world… returns to the faith Christ taught us, will we put an end to war.” (I will not quibble about your use of the word ‘return’, even though many, many people who have lived over the last two thousand years – probably the majority outside Europe – have never even heard of Christianity so they cannot REturn.) No, what concerns me is your suggestion that if people were to take up “the faith Christ taught us” the world would become a more peaceful place. Let me give just two examples (there are many more) to debunk this hypothesis.

    In the mid- to late 20th century 90% of the population of the Republic of Ireland was Catholic and of those 90% attended Mass regularly. In 2016, 78% of the population were Catholic and of those only 35% were regular attenders, so Mass attendance has fallen to just one third of what it used to be. This represents a huge flight in only a few decades away from “the faith Christ taught us”. Yet these same decades have seen an equally huge reduction in Ireland in what we call terrorist violence – in reality a civil war. Ireland has become unimaginably more peaceful at the same time as it has become unimaginably less religious.

    Or consider Europe more generally. In the early and mid- 20th century, the vast majority of Europeans would have called themselves Christians and many, probably a majority, would have attended church regularly. Yet we still had two of the deadliest wars in human history. The period from the end of the second world war until today has seen an enormous decline in religious allegiance and religious observance, yet we have also enjoyed the most peaceful extended period of European history.

    I have sufficient knowledge of science to appreciate that correlation does not equal causation, so I would not dream of suggesting that the decline in living by “the faith Christ taught us” has been the cause of the increase in peace in Ireland and Europe. But your hypothesis – “only when the world… returns to the faith Christ taught us, will we put an end to war” – can surely only be accepted as sensible if you can provide some evidence for this rather grand assertion.

    1. We would need a truly Christian culture, in which the people were authentically holy and truly sanctified. The numbers of church goers or affiliated people in periods you cite clearly did not live the faith they profess. This side of heaven it will almost certainly ever be thus but there are degrees depending on how many are following Gods path or not.

      1. Thank you for your response, Father Ed. I thought again about your “A war to end all wars” post earlier this week when I read an article entitled “Can War Really Be Just or Unjust?” by Allen C. Guelzo (https://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/author/allen-c-guelzo/)

        In your post you wrote “Only when the world… returns to the faith Christ taught us, will we put an end to war. To save the world don’t look for solutions out there, look inside your self.” Yet in your response to my comment you seem to have toned this down somewhat, implying (at least the way I read your words) that we will never be able to put an end to war: “This side of heaven it will almost certainly ever be thus.”

        Guelzo would not, it seems, agree with the idea that war could be avoided if only more individuals were to live in accordance with an ethical faith. He is more in tune with the idea that it will “ever be thus”. Indeed he goes somewhat further, I think, in suggesting the inevitability of wars:

        “War has the complexity of most of the human condition—so complex, indeed, that it often behaves like a force of nature, but with a human face. And that renders the question of determining the justice of a war a little like determining the justice of a tornado.”

        And interestingly he refers to Psalm 149, which seems to rather glorify the language of violence and vengeance:

        “Let the high praises of God be in their throats
        and two-edged swords in their hands,
        to wreak vengeance on the nations
        and chastisement on the peoples,
        to bind their kings with chains
        and their nobles with fetters of iron…”

  2. Grateful remembrance of our war dead is a sacred duty and does not glorify war which is an abomination. It is the dead who are glorious in their sacrifice in their little Calvary. Patriotic emotions during acts of remembrance are often evoked by words and music these feelings are not jingoism. After the great and good have left the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday, thousands of veterans march, or are pushed in wheelchairs past the Cenotaph. They do not march to glorify war but to remember with gratitude and love their fallen comrades.
    As Churchill said about those young pilots of the Battle of Britain,” Never in the field of human conflict have so many owed so much to so few”. We today are still among those many.
    We owe them and others our freedom and our way of life. Because of them our Jews were not rounded up and sent to death camps, nor were our disabled put down like animals. We did not become vassal state in a fascist empire.
    At the going down of the sun and in the morning we will remember them.

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