It was not so surprising that the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, at the beginning of August, was commemorated in the way that it was, with so many people, both here in the UK and in Western Europe, choosing to take part in organised events. It’s important, here, that we make the distinction between a celebration and a commemoration, for in no way was this a celebration of what became known as the Great War, rather than a commemoration of what was to be an epoch-changing event. As so many have already commented about the First World War, this was the event that brought the world into the modern era.
At St. David’s, at 10.30am on Sunday, 21st September 2014, we will be holding a commemorative service marking the beginning of that war and I hope that it will be a reflective service, during which we hold before God the millions who died in that conflict, while at the same time remembering that many in our world, today, still die in conflicts that are raging around the world.
We talk endlessly about the futility of war, yet we – or I should say our political leaders – seem to be unable to avert conflict, as national and international disputes spiral out of control. We can’t place all of the blame on the politicians: the attitudes of ordinary men and women also play a part in fomenting conflict.
As a minister of the Christian faith I wish that I was able to say in all certainty that religion helps to avert such conflicts, but unfortunately religion, in its different manifestations, seems at times to escalate the problem of war rather than the reverse.
At the time of writing this piece people are still stranded on the top of Mount Sinjar in Northern Iraq, driven out of their villages and homes by religious fanatics, as part of their attempt to introduce an Islamic Caliphate in that part of the world. The brutality and savagery with which these people have treated their victims takes us back to a medieval mind-set and It’s little wonder when watching all this that some might be led to say, ‘Well if that’s religion, you can keep it.’
Such acts of insane violence that have been reported from Iraq question not so much religious belief, but our humanity. We are also led to ask what are the very foundations of civilised behaviour which have guided and informed the human race and brought us thus far in our development and evolution and which appear to have been forgotten by extremists. Among these must be scientific knowledge, medical research, philosophical thought and debate, the arts and not the least, simple compassion and human kindness.
I would also add to this list religious insight and the search for and knowledge of God, which in its finest forms have led us to a deeper understanding of our human nature and environment.
In the gospels, I think, we can see Jesus wrestling with the question of what it truly is to be human. Jesus didn’t offer quick-fire solutions to this question, because there weren’t any then and there aren’t any now. When people asked him questions about complex matters he often turned the question back on them, inviting them to think the problem over, to weigh up the options and to reach mature and logical solutions to the complexity of life’s problems. This is the only way to avoid the mistakes that have already been made.
Adherence to a religious code is not an excuse to stop thinking. This is effectively what fundamentalist believers of any faith do. That type of attitude is a denial of the Creator God, the creation and our place in it.
(This article by Rev Robert Williams was originally published as part of St David’s Messenger in September 2014)