Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A bloody mess

No, British readers, I'm not cursing.

I just finished reading Rodney Stark's book on the crusades, God's Battalions, which contains graphic accounts of both battles and massacres. At the same time we are also reading the book of Revelation in the Office of Readings, which has all those angels blowing trumpets which lead to a bloodbath on earth and in the heavens. Finally, I was sent by a friend a paper he presented on the role that blood plays in our redemption, emphasizing that we tend to try to explain away all the language about being redeemed by the blood of Christ.

Our world is a bloody mess. There is so much violence, bloodshed, etc. Many of us in America have been shielded from direct contact with the blood in which we are drenched (except, of course, in the movies). I recall a friend of my telling me of the shock he experienced when he helped with the initial clean-up of the Murrah building and saw all the carnage first hand. It caused him emotional anguish for months, because he was not prepared for it. I have a feeling that most people in most ages would not have been shocked by such an experience because it would have been such a common sight. Part of this is due to the myth that we are more civilized now. Also, I think we believers are genuinely more sensitive to the dignity of the human person than we used to be. Also, we overreact to the injuries of childhood and seek to protect our children from the least injury and make such a big deal out of little scrapes and cuts.

Soldiers on the front lines in our age have seen it. Some people give the impression that things are worse now, more bloody. I don't think so. War has always been characterized by carnage, including the slaughter of the innocents. The difference is that it used to be we had to overrun a city and dispatch everyone individually. Now we can just drop a bomb. Carnage is carnage.

One of my (few) criticisms of Tolkien, Lewis and Chesterton is that they rarely show the "good" side as engaging in massacres, pillaging, etc. The problem is, the history of war is such that even on the good side the soldiers and knights often (dare I say "always") step way beyond the bounds of just war and unleash a wave of relatively indiscriminate destruction. Stark was clear about that in his book which in a sense is a defense of the crusades. When we are considering war we ought to keep that truth in mind.

These are somewhat random thoughts, which I hope to somehow organize into a coherent reflection some time soon.

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