ETHICS

Of Conflict and Poverty

Could we still fight for peace if our army did not exist?

I woke with this thought today. Could we still fight for peace if our army did not exist?

It was from the dream I was having, which evaporated without a trace while the thought lingered.

Image for post
Image for post

Will we ever have peace in this lifetime? Like poverty, the underlying forces (or is it over-girding structures?) creating conflict are usually neglected.

The irony is that instead of working for peace, many just accept conflict as a given so why fight it? This is essentially a fatalistic acceptance of Necessity as a final value. That is, what is is, and we must resign ourselves to it.

But when we turn to hunger and poverty, do we just accept it as a given? Is Necessity right? Jesus said “the poor you will always have with you” so do we just let it be?

According to historian Simon Scharma, that is exactly what the British did on two significant occasions. During the Irish potato famine, there were some in the Parliament who argued that the government should not intervene, that when God had accomplished His will He would bring an end to the famine. (A million people died from starvation and famine related diseases.)

A few decades later the identical argument was used to remain at arm’s length during mass starvation in colonial India.

What madness.

One of the influential writers of the century now passed was Jacques Ellul, a French lawyer, pastor and author of more than forty books. Ellul had studied Marx before his conversion to Christianity. He had seen his father imprisoned and die at the hands of the Nazis. He experienced first hand injustice and saw much that we in America only read about in World War II France. His own strongest personal influences were Luther, Kierkegaard and Karl Barth, whose dialectical approach led him to abandon Calvinism.

Here are a pair of passages from an essay called A Synopsis and Analysis of the Thought and Writing of Jacques Ellul by James Fowler. The first paragraph is a direct quote from Ellul regarding being in the world but not of it. Ellul’s influence in my personal views has been immeasurable.

“The Bible tells us that the Christian is in the world, and that there he must remain. The Christian has not been created in order to separate himself from, or live aloof from the world. …if the Christian is necessarily in the world, he is not of it. This means that his thought, his life, and his heart are not controlled by the world, and do not depend upon the world, for they belong to another Master.

“Thus, since he belongs to another Master, the Christian has been sent into this world by this Master, and his communion with his Master remains unbroken, in spite of the ‘world’ in which he has to live.…the Christian finds that he is not confronted by the material forces of the world but by its spiritual reality. Because he is in communion with Jesus Christ he has to fight not against flesh and blood but against ‘the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness.’ At the same time this communion assures him that he does not belong to the world, that he is free from the fatality of the world which is moving towards death, and, as a result of this liberation by grace, he can fight against the spiritual realities of the world.”

A little further along Fowler writes:

Ellul’s thesis is that the natural man is incapable of seeing the spiritual reality in which he is struggling (cf. I Cor. 2;14). He only sees the surface issues of social, political and economic problems, and he attempts to work and find solutions with the methods of technique, and in accord with moral standards. The world of modern society is not capable of preserving itself or of finding remedies for its spiritual situation. The more so-called “progress” man makes, the more he is aware of the inadequacy of human solutions, which all fail, one after another, and only increase the difficulties in which he lives.

I wrote the above blog post in 2008. To be honest, I am a internally divided between optimism and pessimism about the future, between progress and apocalypse. I find evidence for both notions all around.

We each have a sphere of influence, and a responsibility to try make a difference the best way we know how.

It would be appalling to behave as the British Parliament did during the Irish potato famine. Would you agree?

Written by

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store