To be a Christian means one basic thing: to believe not only in God but in his son Jesus Christ – hence the name. It is not the only religion in the world, and that means there is an element of competition that is innate in human beings: the ‘my Dad is bigger than your Dad’ attitude. But if our way is supposed to be leading by example, we have to put aside the temptation to argue our opponents into agreement.
Yes, wars have been caused by religion, and not surprisingly when you look at the Old Testament, which is full of war, skullduggery and bloodshed. It is full of people doing their best within the limitations of their knowledge and experience, and with the prevailing attitudes their time and place
History can teach us a lot in terms of what works and what doesn’t, but it has to be filtered through more recent experience. There is a fundamental difference between ‘an eye for an eye’ and ‘turn the other cheek’. The former is basic human instinct, the automatic decision to gain revenge, and it has been a key component of fiction and drama ever since our ancestors started writing stories. It is based on our need for self-respect, in which standing up for ourselves is fundamental.
It pervades politics, as the current race for the US Presidency demonstrates. Donald Trump is Old Testament.
The ‘turn the other cheek’ viewpoint is much harder, not only to sell to other people but to carry out ourselves when it involves others. If someone attacks us and we choose not to fight back, that’s our problem. But if someone attacks people we care about, people who rely on us, how can we turn the other cheek then? Jesus was an utterly peaceful man, but he threw the mney-changers out of the temple.
In the US Presidential context, while Trump falls squarely into one category, it would be completely wrong to put Hillary Clinton in the other. Whoever is running a country cannot stand by and talk in platitudes – expressing thoughts that are easy to say and have been said countless times but never had any effect – bleating that in a perfect world there shouldn’t be this problem. Ours is not a perfect world and platitudes won’t get us anywhere.
The Labour party in the UK is in danger of splitting at the moment because of a leader who has the interests of the world at heart. Jeremy Corbyn knows all the theoretical answers and is in many ways the politician that this politically correct world has been breeding. He has been standing on the sidelines for decades, deploring the actions of those in power without having to get his own hands dirty. He says the right things, just as Donald Trump has a habit of saying the wrong things.
But if one of these people is your Dad, is he going to look after you in times of trouble or is he going to stand by and say nice, conciliatory things while your little world falls apart?
The vast majority of us – religious and non-religious – want peace and harmony. But while there are forces of evil in the world, we’re not going to get it without standing up for ourselves, which sometimes involves a fight. If we go along with that, does it make us Christians bad Christians?