That the Sea Cadets with its Royal Naval heritage is in some aspect military needs to be acknowledged. Chaplaincy for this reason has sometimes been accused of providing moral legitimacy to an essentially amoral domination system predicated upon war and fighting. The Royal Navy to this day continues through its submarine fleet to be the ‘guardians’ of the UK’s ICBM Trident system capable of launching Nuclear Missiles. By contrast Jesus is described as the Prince Of Peace - he regularly eschewed the Military option (John 18:11) and underwent a ‘passive’ death through the military powers of his day.
At the same time Jesus regularly met, mingled and ministered to the military. The greatest example of Faith Jesus encountered in his ministry (Matthew 8:10) was from a Soldier. Jesus clearly came to save all people, including the last, the least and the lost and including the military.
Christians have long wrestled with the challenge to be in the world but not of it and the area of engagement with the military is no exception. For this reason much ink has been spilled on the theory and topic of what constitutes a ‘just war’. If you need an introduction to ‘Just war’ Andrew Goddard’s excellent Grove Booklet (Ethics series E128) will help.
So often though the just war debate has ossified into well defended positions so here we plan to offer a slightly different take by borrowing from some writing by one of our Area Chaplains and examining two writers, CS Lewis and Walter Wink who represent two different takes on Christianity and War
220.127.116.11. Christianity and War
Christianity has had to engage with the topic of war since the time of Christ for the world has escaped neither Jesus nor war since then. Here is not the time place for a full treatment but given that Martiality is the theme of the Royal Navy we need to look in some degree at the area and I propose to do this not by a full investigation but rather by engaging with two discursive partners to help us frame the debate. The two in question are CS Lewis and Walter Wink who stand for two different approaches to Christianity and War.
18.104.22.168. CS Lewis.
Lewis’ exploration of war and Christianity is most fully covered by Michael Ward in his seminal work Planet Narnia. Ward traces Lewis’ development of Mars in his poetry, in the first book of his cosmic trilogy and particularly in the Prince Caspian book of the Narnia series. Lewis’ poetry gives us a good way in here, from The Planets :
..But other country
Dark with discord dins beyond him,
With noise of nakers, neighing of horses,
Hammering of harness. A haughty god
MARS mercenary, makes there his camp
And flies his flag; flaunts laughingly The graceless beauty, grey-eyed and keen,
Blond insolence – of his blithe visage
Which is hard and happy. He hews the act,
The indifferent deed with dint of his mallet
And his chisel of choice; achievement comes not
Unhelped by him – hired gladiator
Of evil and good. All’s one to Mars,
The wrong righted, rescued meekness,
Or trouble in trenches, with trees splintered
And birds banished, banks fill’d with gold
And the liar made lord. Like handiwork
He offers to all – earns his wages
And whistles the while. White-feathered dread
Mars has mastered. His metal’s iron
That was hammered through hands into holy cross,
Cruel carpentry. He is cold and strong,
This is a reflection in part on Lewis own personal experiences having seen service as an officer in 1918 before being wounded at the Battle of Arras. After only four weeks of instruction in the Officer Training Corps, Jack was sent to the front lines in France late in 1917.
After a few weeks there, he was hospitalised with a bout of trench fever. When he was discharged from the hospital, he immediately returned to the front lines, where three months later he was wounded in three places by an exploding shell that killed the sergeant standing next to him (Sayer 1988:72-73). Lewis was to carry these experiences with him the rest of his life, including a piece of shrapnel lodged in his chest which was not removed until the next war, in 1944, when it seemed to be working its way dangerously close to his heart. In his autobiography Lewis describes his experience as “an odious necessity.”
But this wasn't the end of his connection with war as Lewis was at his greatest height as philosopher and writer during the following world war in 1939-1945. Lewis writes to a friend in a letter at the outbreak of that war that:
“My memories of the last war haunted my dreams for years. Military service, to be plain, includes the threat of every temporal evil; pain and death, which is what we fear from sickness; isolation from those we love, which is what we fear from exile; toil under arbitrary masters, which is what we fear from slavery: hunger, thirst, and exposure which is what we fear from poverty. I'm not a pacifist. If it's got to be it's got to be. But the flesh is weak and selfish, and I think death would be much better than to live through another war” (Letters 320).
Lewis was not called up for World War 2 but did engage with it in a number of ways, travelling the country and giving a series of lectures encouraging people to think about God during war time. Some of the gist of this we can find in writings of his from the time, as demonstrated by David Downing and as evidenced in the Screwtape letters. Screwtape tries to calm his younger devil colleague excited by the outbreak of war with the advice:
You say you are "delirious with joy" because the European humans have started another of their wars... For the first time in your career you have tasted that wine which is the reward of all our labours—the anguish and bewilderment of a human soul--and it has gone to your head. Did the patient respond to some of your terror-pictures of the future? Did you work in some self-pitying pictures of a happy past— some fine thrills in the pit of his stomach were there? You played your violin prettily, did you? Well, that’s all very well, Wormwood, but remember duty comes before pleasure... Let us think therefore how to use, rather than how to enjoy this European war (Screwtape 29, 31).
Screwtape also urges him toward fostering extremism:
“Consider whether we should make the patient an extreme patriot or an extreme pacifist. All extremes, are to be encouraged. Not always, of course, but at this period. Some ages are lukewarm and complacent, and then it is our business to soothe them fast asleep. Other ages such as the present one are unbalanced and prone to faction, and it is our business to inflame them (Screwtape 40). Screwtape goes on to apply this advice to Wormwood's assigned “patient": “Whichever side he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of the partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him into the stage at which religion becomes merely part of the "cause" and his [faith] is valued chiefly for the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the British war effort or of Pacifism. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades mean more to him than prayer and and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more "religious" on those terms the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here (Screwtape 42-43).
Lewis speaks further of war in his famous Lecture ‘Learning in War Time’ where he tries to make sense of what a university is for in time of war. He outlines three main dangers for the person of learning to confront: excitement and the possibility of situation from study, frustration about potentially being unable to finish work and third, the possibility of death and pain. He answers all these in turn, but what lies behind his answers is his fundamental belief that
"The war creates no absolutely new situation: it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would have never begun. We are mistaken when we compare war to "normal life." Life has never been normal. Even those periods we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They propound theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss poetry while advancing on the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature (Weight 44-45).
and more bluntly when dealing with the challenge death brings:
What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent: 100 percent of us die and the percentage cannot be increased. Yet war does do something to death. It forces us to remember it. The only reason that cancer at sixty or paralysis at 75 do not bother us is that we forget them. All schemes of happiness centred in this world were always doomed to final frustration. In ordinary times only a wise man can realise it. Now the stupidest of us knows (Weight 53). This theme is seen elsewhere in another drama set in the trenches of World War 1:
Private Baldrick: I have a plan, sir.
Captain Blackadder: Really, Baldrick? A cunning and subtle one?
Private Baldrick: Yes, sir.
Captain Blackadder: As cunning as a fox who's just been appointed Professor of Cunning at Oxford University?
Private Baldrick: Yes, sir.
Captain Blackadder: Well, I'm afraid it'll have to wait. Whatever it was, I'm sure it was better than my plan to get out of this by pretending to be mad. I mean, who would have noticed another madman round here?
Captain Blackadder: [whistle blows] Good luck, everyone.
For Lewis, and this is encouraging for us as the theme of war has been so prevalent here, War is intrinsic - it does not introduce an alien state of existence but rather focuses us on a truer state of existence. It can even make the foolish wise.
So if war is intrinsic, how is it to be lived in and through? This he examines best in Prince Caspian where he integrates Martial thinking with the elan and ‘donegality’ of Narnia. Donegality is Ward’s term for the feel one has when entering Narnia - whilst the plots and even allegories of Narnia are simple, the imagery and the feel of the land dazzles and captivates many - this ‘inscape’ he terms Donegality.
‘Martial Donegality’ is the particular expression of Donegality we meet in Prince Capsian….Prince Caspian is the most overtly fightiest of the Narnia series and sits squarely under the influence of the planet Mars.
Ward discusses Prince Caspian’s presentation of what Just war looks like in some detail, drawing on both the strengths and limitations Lewis found in ‘Knightly’ behaviour and honour. Lewis writes movingly, “One is not in the least deceived: we remember the trenches too well. We know how much of the reality the romantic view has left out. But we also know that heroism is the real thing.”
Prince Caspian treads this fine line between martial engagement and critique and it does this by celebrating chivalry and at once undermining it. The famous encounter between the most martial of characters in the book, the mouse Reepicheep, and Aslan towards the end of the book sums this up beautifully:
"Hail, Aslan!" came his shrill voice. "I have the honour -"
But then he suddenly stopped.
The fact was that he still had no tail - whether that Lucy had forgotten it or that her cordial, though it could heal wounds, could not make things grow again.
Reepicheep became aware of his loss as he made his bow; perhaps it altered something in his balance.
He looked over his right shoulder. Failing to see his tail, he strained his neck further till he had to turn his shoulders and his whole body followed.
But by that time his hind-quarters had turned too and were out of sight. Then he strained his neck looking over his shoulder again, with the same result.
Only after he had turned completely round three times did he realise the dreadful truth.
"I am confounded," said Reepicheep to Aslan. "I am completely out of countenance.
I must crave your indulgence for appearing in this unseemly fashion."
"It becomes you very well, Small One," said Aslan.
"All the same," replied Reepicheep, "if anything could be done... Perhaps her Majesty?" and here he bowed to Lucy.
"But what do you want with a tail?" asked Aslan.
"Sir," said the Mouse, "I can eat and sleep and die for my King without one. But a tail is the honour and glory of a Mouse."
"I have sometimes wondered, friend," said Aslan, "whether you do not think too much about your honour." ￼
"Highest of all High Kings," said Reepicheep, "permit me to remind you that a very small size has been bestowed on us Mice, and if we did not guard our dignity, some (who weigh worth by inches) would allow themselves very unsuitable pleasantries at our expense. That is why I have been at some pains to make it known that no one who does not wish to feel this sword as near his heart as I can reach shall talk in my presence about Traps or Toasted Cheese or Candles: no, Sir - not the tallest fool in Narnia!"
Here he glared very fiercely up at Wimbleweather, but the Giant, who was always a stage behind everyone else, had not yet discovered what was being talked about down at his feet, and so missed the point.
"Why have your followers all drawn their swords, may I ask?" said Aslan.
"May it please your High Majesty," said the second Mouse, whose name was Peepiceek, "we are all waiting to cut off our own tails if our Chief must go without his.
We will not bear the shame of wearing an honour which is denied to the High Mouse."
"Ah!" roared Aslan. "You have conquered me. You have great hearts. Not for the sake of your dignity, Reepicheep, but for the love that is between you and your people, and still more for the kindness your people showed me long ago when you ate away the cords that bound me on the Stone Table (and it was then, though you have long forgotten it, that you began to be Talking Mice), you shall have your tail again."
Before Aslan had finished speaking the new tail was in its place.
The high concept of knightliness in Prince Caspian is not the summit of Christian behaviour as Ward develops- this comes to an even more elevated concentration in the notion of Martyrhood and we find three Martyrs in the story; Caspian’s Nurse, Dr Corenelius and Lucy. Lucy’s struggle with witnessing to the truth brings out her Martial character (ironically most profound in the one of the four children who are not given a weapon in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by Father Christmas). Lucy’s key moment comes in an encounter with Aslan where she receives his martial Spirit “‘Lucy buried her face in his mane…she could feel lion-strength going into her…’Now you are a lioness said Aslan.”
The notion of donegality is one that sits alongside more knightly/matyrhood themes. Aslan himself does no fighting indeed during the numerous battles going on is usually found making his way round Narnia and encouraging and witnessing to a seemingly bizarre collection of bacchanalian and pastoral celebrations and festivities. Here is Lewis’ most dramatic departure from traditional ‘Just War’ theology which rarely if ever deals with party, play and festivity. Traditional just war theology is a serious subject for serious thinkers. Lewis gently chides such a view by weaving his donegality into all of Prince Caspian. This is a challenge for some ‘branches’ of theological Christianity, especially as Lewis is so often treated as one of ‘our own’ whoever we are. Not only does Lewis connect Mars with the sensuality and sexuality of Venus … (and as evidenced in the brutal connection of war and rape through the ages) but he introduces playfulness and frivolity to the notion of war. What does the introduction of such donegality achieve? Firstly it allows discussion of just war theology to escape from its narrow confines, something we shall return to later as we look further at Walter Wink, Secondly and most powerfully it introduces a radical and realising eschatological perspective to the horrors of war. This may seem far fetched to some but is it really so different from the pattern we find throughout scripture and certainly in Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
22.214.171.124. Walter Wink
The second discursive partner here is Walter Wink who in his celebrated ‘Powers’ trilogy ‘Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers and Engaging the Powers’, develops perhaps the most systematic and comprehensive treatment of evil and our response to it.
Wink posits that ‘violence is the ethos of our times’ and that we live in a culture totally dominated by the ‘Myth of Redemptive Violence’. This myth suggests violence as the answer to violence. This a myth he suggests has very deep socio-spiritual roots in our culture and leaves us with a number of problems. For example, in his extensive analysis of redemptive violence he suggests that comic strips like Superman… “have been enormously successful in resolving the guilt feelings of the reader..by providing totally evil, often deformed and inhuman scapegoats on whom one can externalise the evil side of one’s own personality and disown it without coming to any insight or awareness of its presence within oneself.”
To this ‘scapegoat’ problem we can add the problem of ‘Mimesis’ which suggests that we invariably ‘become what we oppose’ - by engaging with evil on its own terms the suggestion is that evil has already won. This theme of Mimesis is perhaps most popularised in the writings of JRR Tolkien where in the Lord of the Rings the good characters face a constant temptation to ‘put the ring of the enemy on’ which at the same time would both defeat the enemy but eternally damn the world and wearer.
Drawing on Christ’s teaching Wink suggests a ‘Third Way’ is possible, that of active non-violence. In a quite brilliant exegesis of Matthew 5:38-42 Wink suggests the hidden ‘steel’ behind Jesus words:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.
And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.
If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
Wink argues that in all three examples Jesus suggests a form of non-violent resistance to the evil of the domination system (in his case the Roman occupiers) that seeks to take the oppressors further than their own laws and customs permitted them to do. This he relates to possible non-violent methods and possibilities today from local scale to international foreign policy. He is simplistic in advocating non-violence as a totalising response but not naive in recognising its dangers or limits… “no violence may be a good deal more aggressive than certain idealists might like.”
For Wink it is the central event of the Cross of Christ that ultimately breaks the ‘spiral of violence’ inherent in all mimetic conflict.
Sin for Wink , developing ideas from Girard and Schwager, is mimetic rivalry with God, the desire to be God and ultimately to usurp his place… “God reveals the divine weakness on the cross, leaving the soul no omnipotent rival to envy, and thus cutting the nerve of mimetic desire.”
Wink does ask a number of relevant questions about Girard’s hypothesis that are relevant here: But why must there be crosses? Why is the human race so violent? It is clear that the domination system is founded on Violence, but not why. The cross displays violence directed at the very heart of God, but it does not explain its source.’ Girard’s scapegoat thesis does much to address how things have functioned in human society, the scapegoat, from its ancient origins to its modern existence in law, providing a useful mechanism for society to put a ‘break’ on redemptive violence, but there is little more on the key Why question. At the heart of the Christian faith there is a paradox of a violent and evil act that undermines and conquers all violent and evil acts. The challenge for us and Wink is that , whatever your theology of the atonement, the cross is an act of ‘redemptive violence’. In Narnian terms the ‘deep magic’ that demands a payment, contains within it ‘deeper magic’ that overturns and conquers.
So is it possible to reconcile Wink and Lewis? Possibly not, but we do find both reaching towards one another. There may be ways forward in a creative theology of subversion which is at once active and passive, linked no doubt to developing theologies of the atonement. Wink’s discussion of warriorhood closely mirrors Lewis’ chivalric observations seen earlier and is probably a good place to close this discussion:
‘It may be that the ancient archetype of the warrior can be sublimated or transformed into the image of the spiritual warrior. There is a profound longing and need for the courage, camaraderie, selflessness, heroism, service, and transcendence that many men have known only through warfare. War may be for some men the closest thing to what childbirth is for women: an initiation into the powers of life and death. In war, one enters the mythical realm and encounters the gods; such an experience can be exalting as well as terrible. The challenge before us today is not to obliterate the warrior mentality (which would only drive it deeper into the unconscious, where it would work to produce more wars), but to own, celebrate, and honor it, and channel its expressions into nonviolent struggles against the real threats to human society today: starvation, pollution, despotism, racism, economic greed.”
The promise of God is that in and through the violence, he is still sovereign. Violence is not only to be expected but the very place the gospel comes to life. Eugene Peterson (1997) writing on David’s experience of living in exile in Ziklag in 1 Sam 27, comments:
“Ziklag is the premier location for realising that when we get serious about the Christian life we eventually end up in a place and among a people decidedly uncongenial to what we had expected. The place and people so often called a church. It’s hard to get over the disappointment that God, having made an exception in my case, doesn't call nice people to repentance. .. Every time I move to a new community, I find a church close by and join it - committing myself to worship and work with that company of God’s people. I’ve never been anything other than disappointed: every one turns out to be biblical, through and through: murmurers, complainers, the faithless, the inconsistent, those plagued with doubt and riddled with sin, boring moralisers, glamorous secularisers. Every once in a while a shaft of blazing beauty seems to break out of nowhere and illuminate these companies, and then I see what my sin-dulled eyes had missed: word of God-shaped, Holy Spirit-created lives of sacrificial humility, incredible courage, heroic virtue, holy praise, joyful suffering, constant prayer. persevering obedience. I see “Christ - for Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limb, and lovely in eyes not his, to the Father through the features of men’s faces.” And in Ziklag of all places.”
And we might add in and through and among the very darkest of conflict.
126.96.36.199. Aftershock - the avoidance of war
There is another option we need to outline here namely the avoidance of war. This is, if you like, acedia applied to the problem of war. Neither Lewis nor Wink suggest this approach, but both outline its possibility. Since the time of their writing, the possibilities for this approach have multiplied given the hyperreality and detachment of the modern technological paradigm. Technology it seems accords us both ‘detachment’ and ‘distraction within engagement’, even in war. The first writer to codify such a possibility was the cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard who wrote a famous essay on the 1st Gulf War entitled ‘The Gulf War did not take place.’ Baudrillard is is not a gulf war denier in the style of a holocaust denier, but rather a commentator on the increasing ability to conduct war remotely (with ‘smart bombs’ and in more modern times ‘drones’), and to engage with and ‘enjoy’ war remotely and virtually (studio experts pondering over war zone simulacra). This is a detachment from the reality of war. From time to time a therapeutic antidote to such avoidance comes along (the opening section of Saving Private Ryan being an obvious example) but the general trend is towards avoidance.
This ‘forgetfulness’ means that the real cost of war is often avoided until an event like the treatment of Prisoners at Abu-Gharib reminds everyone of the potential dehumanising impacts of war on all participants. This forgetfulness also underlies the culture shock of many military personnel on their return to civilian culture and civilian life. I recall the story of a friend speaking of the culture shock of being in Sainsbury’s after a tour of Bosnia. …
Modern culture is highly aware of its own captivity here - the profusion of Zombies in current culture is immense. Key Zombie works like World War Z hold great lights up to the modern world. Of course we are at the same time the Zombies and those seeking to escape from the zombies. Easily distracted, easily infected and occasionally aware….
Prayer is the other facet of Christian avoidance. Prayer again can be both good and bad here. True prayer is anything but avoidance - the great solitary hermits have often been brought very deep into the compassionate and breaking heart of God for his world. Prayer (and there is of course a spectrum here) can also be bad - a remedial cop-out that seeks to escape rather than engage. I do not see the prayer offered as part of …conflict.. at either end of the spectrum. …The patterns inherent in classical chaos theory and modern emergence theory also suggest no false dichotomy between order and freedom. The modern military tactician sees no dichotomy either. Perhaps the problems of war (which has been dealing with this issue a lot longer than emergence theory) can be a help. War involves both planning and chaos - the famous General Von Moltke observed that ‘No plan survives contact with the enemy’, summarising what we might call the ‘Fog of War’ Modern military strategists deal with this in 2 ways by 1) Having an orders process and 2) allowing freedom within that process. This freedom comes in 2 parts - firstly by anticipatory planning that tries to anticipate most scenarios, and second, by having a ‘Main Effort’ or equivalent that can focus the creativity and chaos when the bullets start to fly and the enemy does something terrifically underhand, like move locations. One of the particular strengths of the British Military is in the way that it devolves the ability to initiate and respond to things to as small and local a scale as possible. The success of small scale and localised IRA or Al-Qaeda cells is another example. All good orders processes need the right combination of structure and flexibility. …
Ultimately though it is not possible to avoid war. It is as inevitable as death.