Andii Bowsher is the co-convenor of the Newcastle’s joint universities Martin Luther King Peace Committee and Anglican chaplain to Northumbria University. He explains why peace is more inherent to life than violence, particularly for Christians.
We interrupt this war …
Christmas Eve 2014 sees the centenary of the unofficial Christmas truces. They commonly began with German soldiers and officers putting up Christmas trees, shouting Christmas greetings, and singing songs recognisable to ‘Tommy’ such as Stille Nacht.
I’m involved in some local projects to make something of remembering the Christmas Truces because they represent a moment of sanity and tell us something important about war and peace.
WWI was a war arising from Imperial ambitions clashing. At the heart of it were supposedly Christian nations mirroring each other’s official ‘theologies’ of war and nationhood and painting their opponents demonically. But how did supposedly Christian countries with good civilisational credentials end up demonising each other and slaughtering one another and claiming it was God’s will?
Let’s start with the creation stories of the Ancient Near East. Though these varied in detail of character and plot, the stories portray order created out of chaos by violence. Human beings are not shown to be high in the value and dignity stakes -we’re almost afterthoughts made from disrespected defeated enemies in order to slave for the gods and their representatives on earth (royal elites). In this scheme the created order is violently produced and maintained: ultimate reality is violent, ‘agonistic’.
So it’s interesting to read how Genesis 1 looks against this background. We see a counter-story: emphasising that creation is founded in original peace rather than original violence, and that we humans have a dignity since we all image God -a view which automatically flattens hierarchy and delegitimises kingly and priestly claims of privilege. We are also created for rest as well as to participate in the work of God.
The Ancient Near East stories are essentially myths of redemptive violence: a way of proposing that violence is what effects important change and brings about good; the goodies must employ violence to make sure that their ‘good’ values prosper and prevail. It is a myth that is propagated in many -most- Hollywood films. It encourages us to think that means are not necessarily or inherently related to ends; that we can create good by doing harm.
Our societies are held captive by the Myth of Redemptive Violence. The Judeo-Christian traditions question that. Jesus’ teaching strongly undermines it. Our faiths have been co-opted by the Myth and our imaginations colonised by it. The Christmas Truce reminds us that our imaginations can be challenged and awakened to more peaceful and just dreams and our faith can fund another way of relating beyond the reinforced enmities we’re socialised into. It allows us to glimpse a truth: that peace is more fundamental to the order of the universe than violence.
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