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Sunday, December 25, 2016

Peace Rules

December 24, 1914. Nightfall.

British, French and German troops are hunkered down at Flanders, fighting the latest “War To End All Wars”. Barbed wire. Bayonets. Machine guns. Gas. Trenches half full of fetid water, with walls composed of human bodies. Dysentery, decay, despair and death. Miserable troops on both sides of a sixty-yard space of devastated earth shiver in the clammy cold of winter, waiting for the order to scrabble over the top.

Merry Christmas.

A Voice in the Night

Suddenly, through the cold night air comes the muted strains of singing: “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” — Silent night. Holy night.

As it continues, a few of the British troops begin to sing quietly along with it. Then more. Some begin to weep.

Finally, a few begin to shout messages across no-man’s land. A white flag goes up.

Tentatively, a German head pokes up above the ground. Nobody shoots.

A British head pokes up. “Hey …”

Cautiously, troops of both sides rise out of the trenches and walk slowly across the pummeled earth to meet in the middle.

They talk. They agree on the need for a time to bury the dead. They swap broken German and bad English. Jokes are cracked. Rations are traded. Then amazingly, they all sit down to eat together. Afterward, they set up impromptu games of soccer.

Then, as December 25th fades, they say goodbye, and each side returns to the trenches. Hostilities resume.

Missing the Point

The story is well-known now. It’s been documented, retold and even made into a movie or two. And it really happened. And not just once. We should actually speak of “The Christmas Truces”: because it happened all along the front, in both 1914 and 1915. And in 1916, there was an Easter truce as well.

None were officially arranged. They just sort of “broke out” spontaneously.

Amazing.

One person it amazes is Jeremy Rifkin. In his book The Empathic Civilization he uses the Christmas truce of 1914 as an illustration. Here’s what he thinks it means: It’s a compelling demonstration that human beings are deeply empathetic creatures; and by coming to realize this and respond to it more often, we can save ourselves.

The soldiers, he says, were driven by “common humanity”, and “a deep unspoken sense of their individual vulnerability”, and so they spontaneously “reached out to each other’s very private suffering” and “sought solace in each other’s plight”. That was what ultimately provoked them to disregard the desires of their distant superiors and pulled them out of their trenches, despite the risks — a profound human longing to “commiserate with one another, and to celebrate each other’s lives”. In short, “The central human quality they expressed was empathy for one another”. He continues:
“For nearly seventeen hundred years in the West, we were led to believe that human beings are sinners in a fallen world. If we were to hope for a respite, we would have to settle for salvation in the next world.”
But:
“[W]hat transpired on the battlefields of Flanders on Christmas Eve 1914 between tens of thousands of young men had nothing to do with original sin.”
Rather, it came from:
“... a far deeper human sensibility — one that emanates from the very marrow of human existence and that transcends the portals of time and the exigencies of whatever contemporary orthodoxy happens to rule.”
Um … Jeremy, you’re an idiot.

Willful Stupidity?

Has it not occurred to you that there was some special significance to when this happened? How could you possibly miss that?

It was Christmas, doofus.

Do you really imagine the same would have happened had it been Valentine’s, Halloween, or Groundhog Day? (Never mind Kwanzaa or Ramadan.) And do you think the truce would have happened if the Brits had heard the German troops singing “Ein Prosit” or “The Hokey Pokey”?

Honestly, sometimes I’m just stunned by the mendacity of an atheist with an agenda. I’m quite at a loss as to how a man as intelligent as Rifkin could possibly miss the obvious otherwise. It was Christmas. Troops on both sides were raised in a Christian culture, and though they were mortal enemies, there was something about their beliefs what was strong enough to suspend even the barbarities of WWI.

The remembrance of the birth of the Prince of Peace.

I’ll grant him this point, though: the empathy and goodness of mankind did indeed make a signal contribution to the Christmas truce.

It contributed the war.

Never Again?

I suppose Rifkin thinks that were a similar opportunity to develop in one of our modern wars, the same thing would be more likely to happen today. After all, wasn’t it their instinctive empathy and goodness that drove the soldiers to leave their trenches and — however briefly — remember their common bond? And aren’t human beings continually morally evolving? If so, they should be even more empathetic today than they ever were …

But I think you and I both know the chances of that one.

As we pass through this Christmas season, the stock of goodwill, fellow-feeling and mercy is not exactly high in our world. Wars and rumours of wars abound. Poverty and oppression are as great as they ever were. Alienation, anger and outrage are everywhere, with no evidence of any cessation of hostilities.

And in our modern, Western culture, where Christmas is still in some manner celebrated, then when it’s celebrated it’s celebrated very secularly — it’s about toys and games, food and family, lights and light-headedness, travel, tinsel and trees. The Prince of Peace is kept well out of the public eye.

Happy holiday, everyone: enjoy your non-sectarian snow-worshiping festival!

Well, I’ve got news for you: the Prince of Peace still reigns.

Men may not know it. They may not want to acknowledge it. They may want to keep on believing in the intrinsic goodness of mankind, and put their trust in evolution to preserve us all from global destruction. They may look ahead to their new politicians, to their ideological programs, to their ever-receding secular utopian dreams. They may trust in their science to save us all, the same science that gave us the bombs in the first place.

Good luck to them: they’re going to need it.

The Great Truce

But the Prince of Peace is coming. And when he does, then here’s what’s going to happen. All the warring factions of our world are going to “throw their mistempered weapons to the ground.” Neither shall they make war against each other anymore.

That’s not just a truce, folks. That’s the end of all wars.

I know there’s not much evidence that’s going to happen now. You can thank the goodness of man for that. But it will happen anyway. It’s more certain than yesterday’s news, because God the Father has sworn it, and the Prince is even now ready to reign.

Forever.

Hallelujah.

Amen.

Merry Christmas.

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