Remembrance of things past
Despite (or maybe because of) my agnosticism, I’m only semi-detached from religion, and strangely, I sometimes seem to have a much clearer opinion on how the church should do things than whether it should do them at all, or whether it should even exist. Maybe this can be put down to different levels of evidence, or the fact that when discussing how to do church, the church’s beliefs can be taken as axiomatic. I realise it probably sounds odd, I could be accused of having my cake and eating it, and I may end up revising my thoughts, but for now, as an “associate member” of the church, I feel entitled to say my piece.
What prompted me to post this today is, of course, Remembrance Sunday. This can be a very fraught and emotionally-laden subject, so before we go any further, I should clarify a few things about my views. I want to commemorate the dead, but I feel uncomfortable about remembrance these days, partly because an open display seems to be treated as a virtual obligation, but mainly because of an increasing conflation of remembrance with support for our armed forces and specifically any current military operations. That’s not my understanding of what remembrance should be about, and even if I supported those causes, I’d be unimpressed by this sort of hijacking of the occasion.
So much for my general gripes about remembrance, but it seems much worse when that sort of bait-and-switch is perpetrated by the church. I’d expect the church to be concerned with the wellbeing of mankind in general and broadly pacifist, or at least generally cautious about war. So it surprises me that some of the most jingoistic and insular services of remembrance I’ve seen have been in church. I’ve seen all these in church services on Remembrance Sunday:
- Parading of the Union Flag
- Singing of the national anthem
- Singing of a hymn specifically set to the Dambusters March
- Giving thanks for “our” past victories
- Prayers for “our boys” to succeed “out there” in defeating “them”
I find the last most disturbing, but none sits well with me. I can fully understand that there will often be service families present, and that we will mostly identify with those on our side, but I find this approach hard to reconcile with (for example) Colossians 3:11:
Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
It’s surely appropriate for the church to remember all victims of war on all sides, combatant or non-combatant, and pray not for victory, but for a day when there is no more war, no more suffering. To focus on one particular country – worse, to celebrate victory for that country and pray for more – seems very inappropriate in the context, even if you could be sure that no one present is (say) of German extraction. A moment of thought would surely indicate that a careful, broad approach which acknowledges personal loss and fears without resorting to glorification of war or “us” and “them” language would be more in tune with the teachings of the church’s founder.
I’m possibly being quite harsh here – I appreciate that church services allow various opportunities for occasional careless slips, and some of my complaints could be criticised for being on the picky side. It just surprises and frustrates me that an institution which ought to be firmly in favour of peace, and routinely prays for peace throughout the year, can so easily slip into cheerleading for war for one week each year.
I suppose the trouble, as ever, is that the church is run by people.