Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Today is Remembrance Day. But what is ‘remembering’ in human and Christian terms? How can we probe beneath the emotion and ceremony associated with this poignant public occasion in order to discover (and practice) something life-affirming as we recall the tragedy of war? This article has been excerpted and adapted from a considerably longer chapter ('Remembrance as radical anticipation') in my forthcoming book, Threatened With Resurrection: The difficult peace of Christ, which will be published in December 2008. A day seminar on its themes is due to be held on 26 November 2008 at the London Mennonite Centre. Meanwhile, my colleague Jonathan is taking some stick after the BBC reported his own article as an "attack" on the churches. Rather than as a suggestion that they might expand, revise and develop their practice in terms of a fuller memory and a more concertedly Christian practice. Some of the emails we are getting are not pretty, but they kind of illustrate the point we are trying to make. (Actually, Ekklesia hadn't done anything to publicise this, other than some very low-key blogging, but since the 2006 furore it seems we are now on the 'events' calendar as the source of a nice media bust up. [image courtesy and (c) of Taringa]


Anonymous said...

I don't think you should make too much of the fact that the dead to be remembered died for 'freedom' and therefore we are free to remember them in any way we like. This is a liberal left fiction (albeit often expressed by the righ also) and of course only really applies to certain wars namely WWII which is why it's emphasised so much. I suspect most of those who fought and died did so not for abstract notions of freedom but for reasons of love; love of home, love of family, love of country. That is why a specific 'we' (specific inheritors of that legacy) remember a specific 'them' (who showed love for others through their willingness to risk their lives). That is why we're not at liberty in that sense to choose how we remember them nor to change what rememberance means. Not if we want to consider ourselves part of the 'we' anyway. Redefinition works both ways.
But then you believe that our local attachments are conditioned by our global attachments. So then why pretend to remember when in fact what you and others are doing is condemning?

Simon Barrow said...

I also believe that global attachments are conditioned by local ones, too, Chris. There are senses in which we do and don't choose to remember, as any psychologist will tell you. To point this out when remembrance has been so politicized in the public realm is certainly not to condemn, but to hold out possibilities of redemption rather than simply repetitio. In this way it is to challenge the hegemony of one kind of remembering, which of course is what the Gospel is all about. http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/7942

Anonymous said...

The claim that rememberance is now 'politicised' is also slightly sneaky. A pejorative pharse, for sure, in most people's minds and indicates some kind of enforced divisiveness. But war is always a political act and in that sense, of course rememberance is always politicised.
I think your real argument is that the Church should not be politicised, an argument you make ad infinitum whatever the subject at hand, or at least only politicsed in sofar as it accords with a certain view of the 'right' (actually left!) kind of politics. So really, once again we're discussing politics and not rememberance or faith.

Simon Barrow said...

Insinuations and assertions don't make an argument, I'm afraid Chris. I'm not at all negative towards politics, just its misuse. Same goes for the relation of the church to temporal power. See: http://tinyurl.com/5gyqle

I agree that war is always political, of course. As for your other points, I think they are shown to be wide of the mark by what I wrote in my latest column, which is grounded in theology not ideology. Viz:

"There need be no contradiction between honouring those who have died in war and seeking alternatives to war as a way of addressing human conflict. The red poppy symbolises the former and the white poppy the latter, which is why many of us choose to wear them together. *

"Yet even this can cause offence. It is as if peace-building outside the framework provided by military endeavour can have no place in official Remembrance. Meanwhile, those who defend the current pattern, as if it was sacred, then go on to claim, somewhat contradictorily, that the dominant symbolism is “purely neutral”. Likewise, it is seen as ‘political’ to talk about non-violent conflict transformation in situations like Iraq, while it is not regarded as similarly political to “salute the courage of our boys” (note the possessive) in a war which is still widely regarded as illegal under international law, and which, while it has thankfully displaced a tyrant, has produced endless bloodshed and suffering in its wake.

"The issue is not, in the first instance, whether you are an advocate of pacifism or ‘just war’ ideology, it is about remembering death in the context of the search for life and the gift of life. This is what Christians are called upon to do, not by “politically correct think-tanks”, but by the central facts of their faith in Christ crucified and risen.

"Not to make space for the agonistic and the conflictual in our public, as well as private, remembrance is bad for our health. It also falls dangerously short of what is involved in Eucharistic memory."