Tuesday 13 November 2012

War and the devil


Last Sunday was the English Remembrance Day, dating from the 1914-18 Great War.

As we reached the end of a sermon on war, and the fact that God was present always despite the horror of war, I was aware that while everything which had been said was true, it felt incomplete.

What was missing was the devil.


I don't really see how a Christian can properly address the topic of war without reference to Satan.

Without that reference we have - on the one hand, the sinfulness of men and on the other the Goodness of God - but what when the sinfulness of men becomes organized, purposive, when torments are not 'merely' a by product of military necessity but are planned and delighted in, relished?

A particular horror of war is the excuse and opportunity it gives for this kind of strategic sin that delights in inflicting atrocity.

This is, of course, the hallmark of the demonic in its extreme form - and ought to be labelled as such.


One reason why Christians should strive not to be worldly, is that in this world Satan is greatly powerful. The same delight in torture, the delight in the act of torture, is evident in at an everyday level in malicious gossip (i.e. 99 percent of discourse in the public arena), and in Schadenfreude - pleasure in the misfortune of others: a species of that most odious vice envy; and an almost ubiquitous and indeed socially-sanctioned sin from which few are immune and of which many openly boast.


Not the least evil of Leftism is that it puts envy at the core of politics; celebrates and institutionalizes envy, spite, delight in the misfortune of enemies; builds a vast edifice of policy and sanctions on envy.

The Left just is a coalition of envy.


When when it comes to war, Christians need to be aware that leaving-out the devil makes them sound unreal.

Ultimate eternal victory of God is assured; but meanwhile we are here on earth under the dominion of darkness; and we would not be thinking about war if that fact did not affect us.

The world, the flesh and the devil.



FHL said...

I'm sorry about the last comments I sent you and I realize now why you didn't post them. I forgot that you shy away from movies that contain violence (which is a very good thing, in my opinion; I should do the same).

But there's something I want to mention but you don't even have to read it past this next sentence if you don't want. But I want to talk about how war has been portrayed in movies, the difference between the infancy of Hollywood and the modern cinema. Specifically the significant increase of graphic violence.

I have never witnessed actual violence in my life; anything I know about war is from books and film. But there was a shift in how war violence was portrayed in film, and it is a very clear shift: the line the sand was the film “Saving Private Ryan.” I once read an interview with a contemporary director, Quentin Tarintino, that stated my exact thoughts: “Spielberg is doing something unheard of with the opening of this movie. When you watch the sequence of the landing, it’s no longer possible to look the same way at The Longest Day, or even Samuel Fuller's The Big Red One... Saving Private Ryan made me aware of some issues raised by the cinema of war that I was unable to ask on my own. The idea that forty men on a boat are exterminated in seconds by a volley of machine gun is terrifying. ”

I saw the movie as a child, and quite honestly, I was not at all prepared for that movie.

Until I saw that movie, I was under the naive impression that war violence was like in all the previous movies I had seen: you get shot, a burst of red blood poofs out, and you gasp your last breath. But that movie was something else; I never imagined that people could actually be torn into unrecognizable bits or that you might not even get to have your last gasp of breath, that you would just stop right then and there.

But then I noticed a change; every movie that featured any sort of violence from then on was the same way: hyper-realistic. Back in the old days, a character who got a shotgun blast to the head would go down holding his head while ketchup-looking blood streamed down. Nowadays, the character wouldn't even have a head to hold on to.

And not just movies, but nonfiction books, fictional novels, and even news reports became much more graphic in their depictions and expositions of violent events.

I can't count the times I've read of an accident recently and heard "He/she was torn in half." I'd never have read that several years ago, when I was a child. They'd never have printed that. I didn't even know people could be torn in half when I was a child!

And so I wonder what the shift was for. Surely, we all know that there have been guns and violence long before film, but yet my generation is probably the most secluded from witnessing actual physical violence so why now do they all of a sudden decide to portray it in such a disturbingly realistic fashion? What's the purpose?

And then I start to think that the reason, the real reason, is to take the spiritual element out of the picture. Back in the old days, when a character died, he would be considered as someone who has departed to the afterlife. You would see his body as if he was asleep, and maybe there would be a scene later where the spirit or ghost of the departed character would return for awhile, to give some important message or hope for the protagonist or something like that. But nowadays, in modern cinema, the last image you get to see of a deceased character is the physical remains of a wrecked body; there is no one there, he has gone anywhere, he is destroyed- can't you see how disfigured his wounds have rendered him? How's he supposed to come back with half his head missing? He's not coming back, that's it, the end. Welcome to the modern “enlightened humanistic reality," all grown-up from those embarrassing your-spirit-lives-on fairy-tales.

I don't know, maybe it's just me, sorry if this troubled or disturbed you, just something I think about sometimes...

Bruce Charlton said...

@FHL - Actually I didn't publish your previous set of comments because by the time I read the later ones you were telling me to disregard the earlier ones. So they cancelled each other out!

JP said...

Apparently, American four star generals are unable to resist the temptations that the Devil sets in their path...

Samson J. said...


Seems like a worthwhile comment to me! :)

dearieme said...

"I never imagined that people could actually be torn into unrecognizable bits": to what do you attribute this extraordinary lack of imagination?

Dave said...

Luther's hymn is apropos:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Note the 'his' on the last line refers to Satan!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Dave - I hadn't noticed that. But many of the greatest Christians - from St Peter onwards - say the same, so I don't see how the devil can realistically be left-out of explanations as a matter of routine.

Of course, talking about the devil sounds silly in many circles: we need practice.

But (like everyday miracles) it is not so much a matter of persuading others as getting this clear for ourselves.

Toddy cat said...

Of course, part of the purpose of all of this graphic violence on the part of Evil is to simultaneously make legitimate violence, such as Just War or self-defense, repugnant to decent men, and to make illicit violence more attractive to those more depraved. In this, it is suceeding admirably, as the growth of agressive war, crime, and pacifism at the same time attest. And no, Petreus is not immune to temptation. Are any of us?