Page 5, 10th November 1978

10th November 1978
Page 5
Page 5, 10th November 1978 — Is Remembrance Day Christian? avi

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Is Remembrance Day Christian? avi

IS THE Remembrance Day Service at the Cenotaph Christian or tribal? Is it a memorial to the Allies' dead with an undertone of a victory parade, or is it a service of Christian reconciliation which recalls all those who died?

The test is whether or not we pray for our enemies past or present, and the answer is "No". It is therefore a tribal service and the Anglican Communion, being part of the State, blesses it.

Anyone who passes through Northern France and travels down the Somme and the Marne cannot hut be shocked by the monuments to those who died in war. Every village has its own war memorial to those Mort pour Paine, and the list of names frequently seems larger than the apparent village population.

Many villages have their Cimitiere Mil/Mire too — British, Canadian, Australian and sometimes German. They contain the named dead. rows of grey headstones in beautifully kept low-walled graveyards.

Finally there are the fields of little crosses — white for the Allies, black for the Germans, the nameless crowds who died like cattle. Often their anonymous sacrifice is recalled by a massive funeral monument.

These memories are not isolated battlefields of a forgotten war; they are an area of several hundred square miles in which millions of men died in a four-year manmade plague.

They speak to me not of "a corner of some foreign field that is forever English" but of the lie Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

"It is sweating and fitting to die for your country".

They vindicate the terrified

plea of Wilfrid Owen, not the trite romanticism of Rupert Brooke.

They call for a ceremony of universal reconciliation which ends in a sworn statement of "never again", not a memorial service for the dead of the tribe.

If the State and the Armed Services choose to commemorate their dead and their exploits to encourage the present forces, as a school celebrates Founder's Day, should the Christian Churches be there?

Shouldn't they be on their knees in that large church at the other end of Whitehall, with proper representation from France, Germany. Russia and Austria, holding their own service of reconciliation and commitment to future peace?

The reason why they aren't is that European Christians have been totally compromised by the national wars and politics. Indeed, one could argue that the Reformation itself was more a political division than a doctrinal one and Christians allowed

politics to exploit the doctinal differences.

Ever since then the larger Protestant Churches have been formally or informally aligned to various national interests and the papacy has been compromised because it has been concerned simply with protecting its own in terests.

For centuries we have had the scandal of Christians sometimes Catholics, fighting each other chaplained by priests supplied by the Church to both sides, and bishops lending at least their tacit support to the war effort by their silence. Sometimes they even blessed the weapons.

In recent years, however, things have begun to change. In the encyclical Pacem in Terris, Pope John said: -War is no longer an appropriate means of vindicating violated rights." He called for the recognition of conscientious objection and condemned nuclear warfare outright.

Pope Paul, throughout his reign, never failed to attack the arms race and the selling of arms, and the Catholic Church began to build up the credibility to act once again as arbitrator between warring nations. At a more local level, more and more Christians are thinking seriously about peace, war and violence, and there is a growing commitment to pacifism. But there are two strands to this movement. One grows out of a reaction to a world which spends 25 times more money on arms than on aid to poor countries and is appalled by the selling of weapons to unspeakable regimes in order to be able to pay for them for our own Army. The nature of modern weapons makes the violent alternative a less and less human one.

The other strand comes from Christians who have happily sailed through two World Wars without a qualm of conscience and now come over all pacifist at the thought of the coming civil war in Southern Africa. They sound like the man who says he will go on eating meat as long as someone else does the killing.

Now I am not suggesting that the war against Hitler was not a just one. On the contrary, it was so just that it is still the strongest argument there is against pacifism and current defence policy.

It is still questionable whether it could have been avoided by a more just treatment of Germany after the 1914-18 War, based on reconciliation, not revenge, and also whether the Second World War had to be pursued to the bitter end using Hitler's own "total war" methods.

What I am suggesting is that Christians in Europe today, with their lamentable record of violence and war, cannot now condemn violence in Southern Africa and refuse to give money to liberation movements on the grounds that they are violent.

If Christians truly believe that pacifism is the only Christian response to violence then they must dig deeper and investigate what violence they are already

• The Remembrance Day service at the Cenotaph in London, attended by the Queen and political, military and religious representatives.

part of.

It is not a simple refusal to fight but, as the Roman Empire discovered, Christian pacifism is a danger to society, today it could result in a refusal to pay taxes.

Even if Christians are not totally committed to pacifism but are against violence, how do their Churches have to change? First of all the Remembrance Day Service will have to be left to the State unless it becomes a service of peace and reconciliation.

Secondly, all those regimental colours which adorn our Anglican cathedrals will have to be packed off to the military museums. and the RAF window removed. (In Ireland, where the Church is frequently accused of complicity with the violent nationalist movement, I have never seen a military flag in a church.) Thirdly, schools run by Christians would have to keep out the Army recruiting officers as though they were from the National Abortion Campaign.

The present ethos, at least in English Catholic public schools, is that a boy who wins a scholarship to Sandhurst is given as much credit as a boy who becomes a priest.

The East German bishops have recently attacked their government for trying to push all children into military service. but we have yet to see such a suggestion from any Christian leader in this country.

Fourthly, were the chaplains to the Forces anything but totally at one with army thought and action in Northern Ireland, surely we would have heard something from them in the past 10 years about the torture that has been perpetrated there.

These are four minor but practical suggestions which would have to take place if Christians are to be believed when they bemoan violence.

But the most difficult change to bring about will be to get Church leaders to go against the tide of political reasoning on disarmament.

At present the reasoning is that while we would like to spend less on arms and not have to sell them everywhere, we have to try to maintain parity with our potential enemies, the Russians and Warsaw Pact countries. This is not the usual vague political promise; it is number one commitment in the Queen's Speech.

Christian leaders always echo the first part of this logic by bleating for peace and complaining about the amount spent on arms. What they are never prepared to do and the Catholic bishops of England and Wales struck it out of the first draft of their last statement on disarmament — is to call for unilateral disarmament.

I totally agree with the arguments against the politicisation of religion. The Kingdom of Heaven is not of this world, and that is why we must not use the logic of this world on moral subjects such as peace and disarmament.

It is time for Christians to move one step further from what Pope John said. Conscientious objection should become the rule, not the exception, and Church leaders should be prepared to offer a radically different logic to politicians on the question of arms.

Unless Christians are prepared to fight against war in peacetime they will be in no position to build peace in wartime.

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