“That their impure blood should water our fields….”

No this is not the latest initiative  from the EU Common Agricultural Policy, but rather the closing words of the French national anthem, which supporters of all nationalities are being urged to sing this evening at Wembley, where France meets England in a friendly football match. Yes, of course, I’m not daft, I know national anthems are relics from the past, and the most conservative French people sing this revolutionary song without reserve. It reflects something noble, the fight against oppression, as well as something dangerous, the demonisation of a enemy, which means their lifeblood can be used as a fertiliser.image

It’s understandable that French people should want to express their patriotism in the face of random killings, and that other democratic societies should express solidarity with them. But an uncritical wave of democratic self- righteousness may not be helpful. After all, Daesh did not invent the killing of civilians for political purposes, it has been used in tribal and national wars for thousands of years – think of God’s command in the Bible that all inhabitants of a conquered town should be killed, men, women, children and even domestic animals. And the modern use of mass killing of civilians was pioneered by Germany in the Second World War, closely followed by Britain in its raids on Dresden and the USA in its atomic bombing of Hirishima and Nagasaki.

Of course there’s a difference between our use of civilian killing and that of Daesh: ours was for righteous purposes and was far more effective than theirs. But who judges what is righteous in these matters? Doubtless Daesh members feel sincerely that opposition to what they see as Western oppression of Moslems is righteous.

Some readers will be impatient with this sort of reflection as it merely sows uncertainty at a time when our response to appalling cruelty ought to be sure and clear.

I agree. I think Christian believers should be absolutely clear what their tradition demands of them, basing their response on the teaching and example of Jesus and the early church.image

Jesus was utterly opposed to violence against the oppressive power of Rome. He lived in an occupied territory but refused to ally himself with the resistance movement which engaged in a guerrilla struggle with the occupying power. Although proud of his Jewish heritage he never said anything which identified him with the national interests of Israel. Nevertheless,  his announcement of the “rule of God” was a definite and peaceful challenge to the rule of Rome, Herod and The High Priesthood. He was killed because he made this challenge.

The first Christian communities very quickly identified themselves as multinational, but refused to give their total allegiance to the multinational Empire and its rulers, proclaiming instead their loyalty to the one God and to a new multi- ethnic community of believers. They refused to burn incense to the Emperor as a God and to serve in the armed forces of the Empire. For these reasons they were persecuted many times over a period of  almost three hundred years, but succeeded in surviving and expanding all over the known world.

The Christian tradition is clear:

  1. Believers must serve their neighbours, communities and nations but should not give their primary allegiance to any nation.
  2. Believers should give their primary allegiance to God and to God’s Justice in the world, with a special concern for their fellow believers of all nationalities.
  3. Believers should, like Jesus, fight injustice and evil, through solely peaceful means.
  4. Believers should refuse to engage in nationalistic or sectarian propaganda even in response to violent provocation, but should communicate the gospel by word and action.

So, although I love France and its civil society, and am always moved by the Marseillaise, I will not urge its citizens to water their fields with the blood of their enemies.

1 Comment

  1. I generally don’t like any national anthems. The Marseillaise has a stirring melody, and that makes it one of the more tolerable, at least musically. I agree with your summary of the Christian tradition. The wonderful achievement of biblical scholarship in the 20th century was precisely to give us the freedom to interact with the scriptures critically and to escape the blindfolds of fundamentalism. There’s lots of “mince” in our scriptures, to use the term of your Nov. 23rd commentary.

    Liked by 1 person

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