Archive for peace
Today, Christmas Eve 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of the Christmas during World War 1. On that remarkable day, soilders from all sides of the war – French, British, Scottish, and German soldiers – crossed no-man’s land and in the spirit of the Prince of Peace celebrated Christmas together. Yesterday I posted a brief review of the event and a book by Stanley Wintraub about the truce called Silent Night. Today I want to say a few additional words about the truce and what it should mean to all of us.
In the days leading up to Christmas in 1914, British General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien issued a firm instruction to the officers of all British army: “It is during this period that the greatest danger to the morale of troops exists. Experience of this and of every other war proves undoubtedly that troops in trenches in close proximity to the enemy slide very easily, if permitted to do so, into a “live and let live” theory of life… officers and men sink into a military lethargy from which it is difficult to arouse them when the moment for great sacrifices again arises…the attitude of our troops can be readily understood and to a certain extent commands sympathy… such an attitude is however most dangerous for it discourages initiative in commanders and destroys the offensive spirit in all ranks…the Corps Commander therefore directs Divisional Commanders to impress on subordinate commanders the absolute necessity of encouraging offensive spirit… friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistices, however tempting and amusing they may be, are absolutely prohibited.”
The General reveals something in his orders that is rather shocking: soldiers of one side do not tend to have any real grievance with the soldiers of the other side. Then why must they fight each other? Because the states they work for said so. They are ultimately used as pawns for power grabs rather than protectors of peace. As the saying goes, “War is just politics continued by other means.”
In August 1914, Europe entered World War 1 in a strange fervor. It was not initially considered a life-or-death struggle but almost like a big parade. Most of the soldiers thought of it as a game or contest, and that it would all be over quickly and they would even be home for Christmas. And to get them into the war spirit, every side launched huge propaganda campaigns to demonize the other side. No accusation was too low to be used.
Just a few months into the war, the protracted destiny of the war became clear to everyone on the front lines, and morale was desperate. They were ready to grasp at anything that could help them to feel human again.
Thus, when the spirit of Christmas suddenly rolled through the camps and prompted everyone to lay down their arms and remember that Jesus Christ was born to save, the soldiers began to reevaluate their priorities. What were they fighting for, really? Was the glory of their state really worth it? Many realized that it couldn’t be so. Although we know the ultimate result – the war resumed just as one might expect – the Christmas truce was a spark of humanity in a sea of unconscionable violence.
The incident truly reveals the deceitful nature of the state and the violence it perpetuates. In general, we have no need to start a quarrel with other nations. Wars occur not because every citizen of one nation has been wronged by every citizen of another nation, but because the state apparatus of one nation has decided it needs to wield its will against the state apparatus of the other nation. It takes the state propagandizing citizens to have them believe the enemy is actually every German, or Italian, or Mexican, or Iraqi, rather than the citizen’s own government that daily tyrannizes them.
I highly encourage you to read Silent Night, or to watch the great movie Joyeux Noel which dramatizes the Christmas truce, this Christmas season. You won’t regret it. And finally, remember that Jesus is truly our Prince of Peace, no matter what storm you encounter whether personal struggle or worldwide war.
This Christmas Eve marks the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce, when French, British, Scottish, and German soldiers unexpectedly laid down their arms and celebrated Christmas together. It was a remarkable event unmatched in its touching display of humanity despite the horrors surrounding them. A few years ago, I wrote about Silent Night, a book by Stanley Weintraub that chronicled the events of this truce. I want to highlight this article again here and encourage you to soak in some of these remarkable details of this incredible event. Tomorrow I will write a little more about the truce and what it should mean to all of us.
Stanley Weintraub’s Silent Night isn’t a book that warrants a long review because the point is so clear. The book is about the World War I Christmas Truce. All over the front lines in Europe in 1914, men laid down their arms and remembered the Prince of Peace. During and afterwards, many wondered why they were fighting in the first place. Weintraub’s book retells the events of “horror taking a holiday” over Christmas on the front lines through soldiers’ personal recollections and other reports.
On June 28, 1914, Bosnian-Serb student Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. The murder triggered a fast-paced series of events that ultimately led to what we now call World War I. On one side were the Entente Powers: France, the United Kingdom, and Russia; on the other side were the Central Powers: Germany and Austria-Hungary. By August 1914, the countries were engaged in total war the likes of which had never been seen on earth – trench warfare. On the front lines, opposing men were separated at times by less than 100 feet, living in filthy trenches dug into the ground. Both sides believed that the war would be over quickly, but as December 1914 approached such a resolution seemed much less likely. Soldiers excited of the prospects of war glory quickly lost their initial enthusiasm in favor of sheer survival. But as Christmas eve approached, an unlikely truce was forged by troops all across the front lines. Much was learned when those who only knew their enemies through propaganda and caricatures actually conversed with their foes. Read More→
DS: Most libertarian Christians are highly suspicious of centralized power. We contend that when power becomes increasingly concentrated, it becomes increasingly corrupt and more harmful to society. You strongly oppose the idea of empire in your book, especially when the empire claims to have God on its side. Few Christians (even Christian anarchists) would deny that governance is needed, but at what point does government become empire? Are local governments less likely to become satanic than federal governments?
BZ: I loosely define empires as rich, powerful nations who seek to rule other nations and claim a manifest destiny to direct history. As a Christian I am opposed to empire for the simple reason that what empires claim for themselves, God has given to Christ. God loves nations, but is opposed to empire. So, yes, smaller is better. This is where I think we should all listen to Wendell Berry. If there is a prophet in America today it’s Wendell Berry. Read More→
Brian Zahnd is the founder and lead pastor at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is the author of several books, most recently A Farewell to Mars (review here), where he recounts his journey to the gospel of peace after many years of marching to the drumbeats of war. His journey will resonate with libertarians who are disenchanted with the state of political affairs in the United States, as well as with many Christians who hunger for a gospel that speaks to human social needs.
Zahnd agreed to discuss the themes of his new book with somebody who has a libertarian Christian audience in mind. My questions were shaped in part by my desire to connect the core issues that matter to me as a libertarian – primarily violence and peace – with my belief that the gospel of Jesus will change human society. I do not assume or expect Zahnd to agree with libertarians on politics, but I do believe our views overlap enough to have a unique conversation. I have also tried to avoid questions he has already answered in the book.
Thank you for being willing to discuss with me the themes in your new book. As I was reading it, I knew it would resonate with my fellow libertarians. We have a reputation of being contrarians, especially in politics! Many of us are strongly anti-war. The non-aggression principle is foundational to our political beliefs. We strongly affirm Lord Acton’s famous quote on the corruption of absolute power. It is no surprise that anyone who teaches that Jesus spoke against empire ends up on our radar!
DS: On this issue of peace and violence, what criticisms have you experienced? What do you believe your critics are missing most about the message of Jesus? How has their critique affected the way you understand and communicate this message?
BZ: First of all, Doug, thank you for the opportunity to engage with your audience.
We tend to divide the subject of violence into two categories: individual/criminal violence and corporate/civil violence. If I speak of the problem of violence on the level of the individual — street violence, domestic violence, criminal violence — I receive no criticism at all. But if I call into question the organized mass violence of war, I have to brace myself for withering criticism. The violence of war is sacred violence. It’s hallowed in anthem, memorial, monument, and myth. The massive violence of war is sacred because it has been the organizing principle of civilization. This is the story that history (and the Bible) tells us. This is the foundational story of Cain and Abel. Cain re-imagined his brother as a rival and enemy. So Cain killed Abel. Then Cain lied to God and himself about what he had done, moved east of Eden, and founded the first city. This is how the Bible tells the story of the rise of human civilization as we build upon a foundation of collective murder. Over the course of six millennia human civilization has clung to power enforced by violence as our organizing principle, and most people find it nearly impossible to imagine the world any other way. Read More→
I cannot overstate my excitement to promote Brian Zahnd’s latest book, A Farewell to Mars. I am passionate about the message of Jesus as it addresses all of life, including politics. I believe the message of Jesus was intensely political. The puzzle for us today is how to work it out in our unique socio-historical context. This is where Zahnd’s book is relevant to a part of the church that is blinded to its addiction to and endorsement of violence. Many others have made the case for peace, and many have done so by appealing to Jesus. Zahnd shares his journey, and in so doing, he subtly exposes the church’s infatuation with a power that is truly impotent to save the world.
As libertarians we embrace a politics of peace. Non-aggression is our one non-negotiable. We believe that free trade creates mutually beneficial transactions that promote prosperity for all parties involved. As Christians we believe that true individual freedom comes from faith in Jesus. Our commitment to peace is highly personal for us. A Farewell to Mars is about how the message of Jesus applies to human society. Jesus’ world was radically different from ours. He did not address the specific issues that preoccupy us today. Yet everyone who heard the claim “Jesus is Lord” understood that it meant emphatically that Caesar is not! As the saying goes, “Them’s fightin’ words!”
Zahnd expected to write this book when he was 70 years old. It arrived 15 years early when he had three grandchildren (to whom the book is dedicated). His reluctance to write it is evident on its first pages, where in a brief letter to the book itself, he writes, “I had to write you. You wouldn’t let me sleep until you were written.” Every page thereafter is simply thick with passion for the world-changing message of Jesus. Read More→