Christianity - Views on a Troubled World

This GCSE RE Christianity quiz should be considered in conjunction with our parallel ones on Suffering and Social Justice. Our world is not only ‘troubled’ by the consequences of individual sin ~ be this single or multiple murder, or national or corporate (multinational?) malfeasance that oppresses, uproots or otherwise disempowers countless ‘little people’ and their often fragile finances or environments ~ but by the shameful scourges of ongoing wars in the name of territory, resources and even religion, where any eventual ‘victory’ can only bring with it regrettably disproportionate amounts of suffering and destruction.

This quiz considers how such states of affairs come about, and what a Christian response and viewpoint might be.

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Sometimes, and not without regrets and reservations, Christians have been involved in wars (including civil wars) as combatants ~ either for their country, as professional militia defending their national interests against (for instance) an atheist / communist enemy, else even engaged in battles against representatives of other faiths. In such a case the question immediately arises as to God hardly being able to endorse both sides at once. It certainly remains sadly true that nominal forces of Christianity have been guilty of various bloodshed down the ages, notably perhaps during the Crusades ~ well-intentioned, by the standards of their time, though these doubtless were.

After any war there may, and should, be peace ~ at least of a sort. The matter of genuinely fair justice for the ‘losers’ then arises, insofar as anyone on earth can fairly determine it, while the victors may themselves be bloodied and have skewed agendas of their own (as was the case with the Versailles Treaty at the end of World War 1, more or less a century ago).

Then again, not entirely dissimilar issues arise over transition from inequitable regimes where there has not technically been a war as such (e.g. Eastern Europe after the collapse of the international communist experiment, the dismantling of apartheid, or the aftermaths of outbreaks of ‘ethnic cleansing’ … the only kind of cleansing, one might wryly observe, that seems to require a bloodbath).

Let us venture into these deep dark waters …

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  1. The 13th-century theologian and thinker, Thomas Aquinas, put forward a scheme of three standards by which the waging of war could still be justified as a 'just war'. As is our custom, we have smuggled in one false definition: which of the following wasn't Aquinas'?
    Later thinkers added this 'rider'. As with many other questionable and essentially destructive human behaviours ~ such as, on a hopefully smaller and more individual scale (if at all), abortion ~ there may be extenuating circumstances in which a carefully limited course of action might be the lesser of two ultimate evils.
  2. As recently as 1992 the Catholic Church has formulated a powerful four-pronged definition of Just War, which has clearly moved on far from Aquinas' day in the light of developments in weapons and technology ~ not least in the 20th century, with the mechanisation of gunfire and the rapid development of '3-dimensional warfare' (land, sea [inc. submarines] and sky; or indeed the use of physical, biochemical and nuclear weapons).

    Again, ONE of the stipulations below has been falsified: which one?
    Answer 3 is wrong here again too, perhaps surprisingly. The correct third criterion should be that 'there must be serious prospects of success' ~ in other words, there would be no point throwing military resources into a conflict that was palpably futile, however right the cause.
  3. With the dubious benefit of 2,000-odd years of history, political and technical progress, Christians ~ as followers of the Prince of Peace ~ may well look, collectively, askance back over their shoulders at wars (and similar) waged in the name of their faith over that period. As recently as Victorian times (the later 19th century), the British 'establishment' in particular assumed a virtually divine right to colonise wherever they pleased, subduing 'natives', helping themselves to natural resources (minerals, rubber, tea / cocoa / coffee etc.) and obliging, rather than persuading, local populations to adopt Christianity.

    All but ONE of these are genuine quotations representative of the mindset of such days; which ONE is NOT genuine?
    Answer 2 was (so far as we know) concocted out of thin ~ or maybe hot ~ air. The hymns (answers 1 & 3) are beloved of many (including your author, from his formative years; perhaps not so much answer 1, though its marching rhythm to a tune by Sir Arthur Sullivan [of Gilbert and Sullivan fame] makes it a successfully persistent 'earworm' as intended! The quoted phrases in answer 4 can be widely found, as a rather cynical shorthand for the processes of colonialism, in various history books and websites.

    Actually the hymn in answer 3 is not so ear-gratingly dreadful these days as the one in answer 1. Its tune (also probably with input from Sullivan) and sentiment may seem syrupy, and redolent of the days of the 'Empire upon which the sun never sets' ~ as witnessed by many proudly-published colour maps of those years, but although it virtually assumes there are active Christians on every land-mass of the planet (and why shouldn't there be?), there isn't the swaggering aggression of 'Onward, Christian Soldiers'. Fashions in theology and worship certainly change, like many others ... probably for the better!
  4. What is a Christian to do when their country is at war ~ possibly, though not necessarily, against an enemy who (if victorious) would also try to crush Christian observance, such as happened under Communist Russia and in her satellite states? If there is conscription and the individual is otherwise eligible, he or she would face religious qualms (as well as natural apprehension and distaste) if commanded to shoot or bomb an 'enemy' human being in contravention of the Ten Commandments.

    Which of the following would NOT have been an option for a British Christian during either or both World Wars of the earlier 20th century?
    Certainly in the First World War there was a lot of misunderstanding of 'conchies' (answer 3) who in those days ~ while thousands were being slaughtered almost unquestioningly in the trenches ~ were regarded as cowards. At that same time many volunteered (as in answer 2) for non-combatant support roles, among them your two of author's then-student-aged great-aunts-to-be from lowland Scotland, who went out to drive some of the first motorised ambulances amid the mud and carnage of Flanders.

    There are ways to support one's national cause in wartime, and to help alleviate suffering, without having to drop bombs or fire guns.
  5. After a war &/or 'regime change' (a somewhat ghastly, but handy label for when a previous ruler is toppled from charge of a country), there are often simmering scores to be settled between various interest-groups. The following are mostly examples of Christian leader figures who urged for peaceful change, and tried their best to be ~ and encourage other key players to be ~ civil and forgiving of their erstwhile enemies once the power base had changed.

    Which is the 'odd man out'?
    These were each undoubtedly remarkable men, but the odd one out in this particular line-up is Gandhi who was not a Christian ~ though as an active Hindu, it was his principle to respect all other faiths and seek as much positive common ground as possible. The other three, in varying but noble degrees, did what they could to prioritise forgiveness and reconciliation. Further study of any or all of these figures would be strongly recommended.
  6. While your author was studying for his Teaching Certificate at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge (1982, also the time of the Falklands War), he signed an international petition urging the US Navy to change its decision on naming a new nuclear submarine 'Corpus Christi' ~ after the city on the Texas coast. On what particular grounds was this petition raised?
    Internet research reveals (or at least suggests) that the USS City of Corpus Christi ~ note the compromise, expanded form of the name ~ is currently in service at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (also a potent name of course, as of that 'infamous' day in December 1941). It is one of a fleet of 'Los Angeles-class' submarines ... the city names with their religious origins seem almost perversely hard to avoid in this context.
    As a practising Christian and the son of a WW2 RN submariner, your author is bemused that the US Navy should have wriggled round this point; though in the earliest days of submarine warfare (WW1), the 'silent service' was itself regarded in some influential circles almost as a form of 'cheating' ...
  7. During World War 2, besides extensive combatant deaths, unprecedented numbers of civilians were killed, in many cases in air-raids (including by carpet-bombing on both 'sides' and from the German V1 and V2 flying-bombs); the Nazis also obliterated over 10 million Jews and others whom they regarded as subhuman (gay and disabled people, travellers/'gypsies' and various other now largely better-protected minority groups). After the War, those chiefly responsible were tried and executed despite their pleas that they had 'only been obeying orders'.

    Wernher von Braun, meanwhile, the ballistics mastermind behind the rocket programmes, contrived to be captured by the Americans (near Oberammergau, as happens) and went on not only to be the guiding force behind the NASA space program, but to become a professing personal Christian who had discussions with the likes ~ if any! ~ of Billy Graham and Revd Dr Martin Luther King.

    What might be a best Christian response to his particular 'trajectory'?
    Von Braun may seem an implausible example of 'forgiveness and reconciliation', but who are we to query God's seeming purpose here?

    In the course of preparing some GCSE Modern History powerpoints some years back, your author assembled (from online) a 'von Braun snapshot album page' of the great man posing with Nazi bigwigs at the Peenemuende research base on the North Coast; squinting, broken-armed (from a car accident) into the camera on the occasion of his capture by the US Army; shaking hands with Walt Disney on some sci-fi film project; and sitting tanned at his NASA desk with a row of scale model moon-rockets behind him.

    My mother-to-be, meanwhile, had had the experience of sitting what would now be German GCSE in a grammar-school in Kent in the (1944) 'summer of the doodlebug', during which paper they had to stop the clocks no fewer than six times to cower under the desks from London-targeted flying-bombs ~ launched minutes before in German-occupied Europe, and which by the sound of them could have been near-misses over the school chimney-stacks. Imagine that! (She later met her future husband when they were each working on a British Army camp in Germany, about a decade after the War ended.)
  8. Particularly during the aerial bombing campaigns of WW2 ~ though, sadly, also more recently with ISIS destroying 'pagan' artefacts in the Fertile Crescent ~ much wonderful heritage was destroyed alongside the annihilation of enemy industry and civilians. Shortly after WW2 the citizens of two European cities came together to bemoan the loss of their cathedrals and other mediaeval features, and to enter into partnership, not only to help restore one another's damage, but to put youth work and exchanges in place ~ so that never again could there be such catastrophic and wanton misunderstanding between peoples. Which were the two cities?
    There has been a long and rewarding programme of reconciliation activities and education, which you may like to research further.
  9. Here is a passage from the Old Testament, in which one of the Prophets describes a vision of eternal peace under God, to which surely many people could broadly wish humanity might aspire:

    'Strong nations ... will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war any more ... Every man will sit under his own ... tree and no-one will make them afraid; All the nations may walk in the name of their gods; we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.' (NIV translation, abridged)

    Which prophet wrote these words?
    Micah was writing around 800 years before the coming of the 'Prince of Peace'. His image of people (of those days) remodelling weapons for peaceable agricultural use, in a time of prosperity yet to come, remains perennially evocative. To a reader such as your author, growing up half a generation after World War 2 and under the potential shadow of the Cold War atomic 'mushroom cloud', such a passage was and is particularly appealing, and the scourge of war is still very much with us ...
  10. This quiz has been drafted ~ suitably to its baleful topic, perhaps ~ during the liturgically soul-searching season of Lent 2016, which has also encompassed the centenary of the Easter Uprising in Dublin that effectively kick-started the process of independence for the southern majority of the island of Ireland. The northern six counties have remained part of the (otherwise!) United Kingdom since shortly after the First World War.

    Political arguments then raged as to whether those six counties should unite with Eire (the south) or remain linked with mainland Britain. In the 1970s and 80s 'the Troubles' ~ mainly fomented by the IRA (Irish Republican Army) with bombings and other attacks, including pub-bombings on the mainland, political assassinations, and the Grand Hotel timebomb at Brighton (during the mid-1980s annual conference of the then-governing Conservatives) ~ seemed both permanent and futile. Routine reports of atrocities tended to refer to the IRA and its sympathisers as 'Catholics' and loyalists as 'Protestants' which were, at best, clumsily simplistic sectarian labels.

    British premier Tony Blair eventually convened talks in the spring of 1998 which established effective peace and ushered in power-sharing in Northern Ireland. To those of us who had long seen these people as sworn enemies, it was indeed remarkable to watch Martin McGuiness (of Sinn Fein, the political party associated with the IRA) and Dr Ian Paisley (of the Ulster Unionists) shaking hands and working together, even becoming known as the latter-day 'Chuckle Brothers'.

    The political accord which brought about this remarkable change is usually known by the date on which its nub was agreed: which day was this?
    A wonderfully-crafted and seasonally poignant poem about this, 'A Difficult Birth' by Gillian Clarke, was recently in one of the major GCSE English anthologies and can be appreciated with the help of commentary at A Difficult Birth

    As another poet once observed, faith and 'hope spring[s] eternal in the human breast' ~ and even through the darkest days, there can be the possibility of reconciliation.

Author: Ian Miles

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