The dangerous business of remembering

By Simon Barrow
November 12, 2014

The online Jesuit journal 'Thinking Faith' has some useful and thought-provoking articles connected with Remembrance and the First World War centenary in its latest issue.

They include a piece entitled 'Dangerous Remembrance' in which Roger Dawson SJ looks to the thinking of Johann Baptist Metz, the respected European political theologian, who had his own ‘dangerous memories’ of war, to ask "how we can speak about God in a world of conflict?"

A cornerstone of the article is this statement:

On Remembrance Day we remember the war dead of two world wars and many other conflicts, including those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we are to do justice to these ‘dangerous memories’, as Christians we cannot gloss over this with tales of heroism and noble sacrifice, though there is much of that. The fact is that war and violence can never be willed by God; war has no place in the Kingdom of God and is not the way to the Kingdom of God. Even Just War theory gives the criteria to discern when war is the least bad option, rather than a good in itself.

It then goes on to identify resurrection, God's uncontrollable gift of life in the face of cultures and practices of death, as the key to a theological (re)consideration of these issues.

That is surely right. But it is all-too-easy for Christians to slip back from this. Indeed, even in the stand-first to this article, the opening sentence seems to lean in a different direction. speaking of Remembrance as "honour[ing] the members of the armed forces who have lost their lives at war."

This poses a number of questions: how do we honour the deaths of those who fought without normalising or legitimising war? When will we give equal space in our remembering to civilian non-combatants, objectors and enemies, and what will this both do the the nature of Remembrance and say about the character of those who remember?

Moreover, how do Christians who believe in a God who decisively brings life out of death (and who alone is able to do this) speak of this 'non-violent apocalypse' (as I have often described it) to a world that mostly does not believe this, and even more poignantly to churches that mouth it while putting their trust in justified war and what Walter Wink calls 'the myth of redemptive violence'? (www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/cpt/article_060823wink.shtml)

These are crucial questions about the practice, impact and credibility of radical faith in the face of routinised war, torture and death-dealing. Christians should not allow them to be cheapened, and those who are not Christian have every right to call us to account for our language of resurrection and to ask whether - in our lives as well as our world-view - it is really functioning as the game-changer it claims to be?

* The article 'Dangerous Remembrance' can be accessed here: https://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/20131111_1.htm?mc_cid=54c4f4e108&...

* More from Ekklesia on Remembrance here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/remembrance

* If you would like to support Ekklesia's work on remembrance and war, you can use the 'Donate' button at the top left hand side of this page.

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© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.