Bearskins and difficult questions


I bought yet another poppy today at Marylebone. I must buy at least 4 each November to wear as mark of respect for those who have died serving in the armed forces. There was a band from the Scots Guards with bagpipe and drums and it was a good way to remind me to get my money out early. As I was getting my poppy I heard a man stride past muttering something about finding this all offensive – moving fast enough to give his opinion without having to actually face any of the soldiers who were standing there in red coats and bearskins. It was a little surprising, but not shocking. There are plenty of people who feel the same way as him, particularly in the Church.

It set me thinking about a difficult topic – God and the soldier.

What do you do with a God who makes a whip out of rope and causes mayhem in the temple, driving people forcibly out who hadn’t done anything to him personally and then let’s himself be crucified with nary a murmur. A Christ who says turn the other cheek and forgive 70 x 7 but says of the centurion not, this man is a man of violence and must be dealt with but ““I have not found faith this great anywhere in Israel.” Where in the midst of all this do we look for God’s ideas?

The Early Christian thinkers obviously found this a tricky topic too. They certainly bothered themselves with war if not soldiers, working out doctrines of just or, more accurately, last resort war, namely:
– innocent life must be in danger and need protecting
– comparative justice – ie the war must outweigh the evil otherwise done
– competent authority – “A just war must be initiated by a political authority within a political system that allows distinctions of justice. Dictatorships (i.e. Hitler’s Regime) or a deceptive military actions (i.e. the 1968 US bombing of Cambodia) are typically considered as violations of this criterion.” (quote from Wikipedia)
– right intent – ie not for oil, territory etc
– probability of success – ie not the charge of the light brigade
– last resort and proportionality

I’m not sure that many of our wars do stand up to these criteria, which is why we are so comfortable talking about World War’s 1 and 2. Looking at the criteria above our involvement in both those wars broadly fits.

Current liberal Christian thinking, certainly in the UK, cannot bear war at all, does not countenance that it might sometimes be right and is concerned that wearing poppies is glorifying warfare. Glorifying something so destructive and horrendous is something I certainly don’t want to be involved in.

But I think there is a measure of respect due to people who have volunteered to go into an army, set up within a competent authority (see above), and who have died because of it. In addition to which, much of the activity of the services is around peace keeping missions for the UN, alongside the other less justifiable activity. It’s difficult to judge as you walk past a man in a bearskin whether he got his medals in Kosovo or Kabul.

So I will carry on wearing my poppy and giving my money for people who have taken a bold decision and for those who had no choice and were called up.

Respect and acknowledgement isn’t glorification.

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