Events have moved swiftly in the week before Christmas. After the shock of the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, and the murders in the Berlin Christmas market in Germany, it might seem that this violence before Christmas is especially poignant.
Many people will have the phrase “peace and good will on earth” in their heads from half remembered carols. Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace and good will.
Interestingly, the text in the Gospels tells us that the angels sang of “peace to men of good will”, which I think means, that good hearted people will find peace from the Christmas story, but bad hearted people won’t.
The idea that there are good hearted and bad hearted people will upset some. After all, we keep on being told that we can make our world work if we keep up our efforts to push for tolerance and inclusion.
But both tolerance and inclusion only work if everyone is full of good will. The events of this week remind us that that isn’t true. Some people prefer violence and revenge to good will. Violence and revenge, are ‘bad-will’.
There are three books which offer to help us understand the world this Christmas; the Bible, the Koran and Stephen Pinker’s ‘The better angels of our nature-a history of violence and humanity.’
You may not have heard of Stephen Pinker. He’s an American philosopher. But you will know about his ideas, because they sum up the secular story about human progress that runs the narrative behind our secularism. Pinker thinks the world is getting to be a better place and human beings are slowly getting nicer. In which case, all we need to learn to do is tolerate each other and keep on working for equality and inclusion.
The Koran doesn’t agree, and nor does the Bible.
My problem with the Koran is that it teaches people to take revenge. It’s message is that force and violence are sanctioned as a way of making people it doesn’t approve of, behave.
The wild cries that the assassin yelled over the dead body of the Russian ambassador whom he had shot in the back, were cries of revenge.
I don’t think that Stephen Pinker is right when he claims that fewer people are dying in wars of late, which proves the enlightenment myth that humanity is growing up and getting better. John Gay offers an excoriating critique of the new orthodoxy (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/mar/13/john-gray-steven-pinker-wrong-violence-war-declining_)
reminding us that the massaging of statistics and the increased reluctance of the State in the shadow of nuclear arms to wage all out war, is no predictor of the capacity for violence in the disordered human psyche.
Nor do I think the Koran has the right answer when it validates revenge and sanctions murder. The progressive liberalism of our culture is conditioned to forgive Islam almost anything ,in its hatred of white, heteronormative, Christian history, pitching Muslims in victim status, along with women and ‘people of colour’. The appetite for revenge against those who held positions of power in cultural Marxism synchronises with the sanctioning of revenge is Islamic power play, exculpates Islamic terrorism from moral accountability.
I am, and always have been in awe of the story told in the Bible of a God who having made us and given us free will, comes to find us.
And this God doesn’t believe in tolerance, and he doesn’t believe in revenge. He believes, he stands for, he is, love.
One of the reasons that made me pay attention to Christmas long before I signed up to the faith, was because I wanted to complain to whatever god had unleashed all this violence and suffering in the world. I wanted to ask him what on earth he thought he was doing if he was all powerful, and why couldn’t he stop it?
Christmas offered me another angle. This ‘all-powerful stuff’ was a nonsense; a ,misleading chimera, a sleight of philosophical hand.
If I had free will, then it was me that was all-powerful. I was the one who made choice between good and bad, forgiveness or revenge. God had delegated his power to me, by giving me freedom of choice.
So what God’s response to the mess that the gift of delegated autonomy, or freedom of will unleashed in human history?
Instead of tolerating my bad choices, -stepping out of human history like the disinterested cosmic clock maker of 18th century deism; or taking revenge on my failures and immorality, by holding me to account for all I had knowingly and just as destructively unknowingly tarnished, – instead God came looking for me, to make the journey with me.
The story of Christmas is God standing alongside us in our broken, chaotic self-indulgence, and entering into the experience of vulnerability and degradation by our sides. None of us can look into the eyes of Christ and say “you do not know my pain.”
Faced with tolerance, our soul becomes calloused by its exposure to sin and self harm. Faced by moral judgement our soul becomes furious in its self justification. Faced by the companionship of Christ entering the human condition, the grip of pride on our soul is loosed by love, cleansed by compassion and soothed by his solace.
My will is subverted by his love.
I feel very sorry for Donald Trump who responded to the assassination in Turkey by saying “These terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the earth, a mission we will carry out with all freedom-loving partners.”
Because it shows he too doesn’t yet understand the power of Christmas. Eradication is the meeting of power with power. It has only ever acted as fuel to a fire. For as long as one heart remains cultivating revenge, the hatred and the violence lie as seeds under the soil
The way to peace is not found by force, or revenge, but by subversion by love. If the world is to be changed, it can never be changed by political leverage. Only by the breaking, cleansing and remaking of the human heart.
There will be more violence, and more calls for revenge from one group of people or another. But in the churches, throughout the world, there will be love songs and carols sung by people of good will, celebrating the melting of the human heart by a God who came to share the journey with us, suffer for us, and walk us home.
The gift of freedom allows us to choose which story to listen to, and which book or narrative to believe in. Before in the darkness of the shadow of the winter solstice we choose between the impotence of tolerance, the rage of revenge, or the mercy and the merriment of the Christ child.