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"Not peace, but a sword"

2014.08.31
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Aghios Konstantinos, November 2007
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I've just posted on the forum something that I'm pretty sure will be shot down in flames. In the meantime, I went looking for two things: a picture with a lot of blue (such as peaceful colour - which is why it is used in the UN flag) and one of the "talking papers" I used to write for the philosophy café I ran in Athens.

The text is below. You might find it interesting, but it *is* a thousand words long.

You'll find more orthodox examples of Marie's peace chain here.

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“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword” – King James Bible, Mathew 10:34 (*)

I usually include in these notes some disparaging remarks about the author. Twelve years spent in Catholic and Protestant schools make me a little cautious this time. And while I’m hedging my bets, allow me to follow convention and refer to God in the capitalised male third person: He. It is purely convention, nothing else.

“Not peace, but a sword”, so Jesus is quoted as saying. Wars have been fought about this one. I think most people would consider the religious figure as someone in favour of peace. There are a few more doubts about the historical Jesus, but when you talk history, you imply analysis and analysis just doesn’t work on faith. So I’ll chicken out some more and say I would like to believe that Jesus wanted peace.

I searched an on-line bible to find the quote. I entered the word “sword” thinking I would find what I was looking for fairly quickly. I was staggered to discover that there were nearly half a thousand entries in the Bible containing the word “sword”. (It is admittedly a very big book.) This got me thinking: the sword was the weapon understood and prized in the biblical world until the 14th century. If the Bible had been written in the 20th century, wouldn’t we be repelled to find the “word of God” peppered with references to M16s, anti-personnel mines and smart bombs …?

I accept that peace does not mean the absence of weapons. (If anyone tries the old NRA argument that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people”, try the following experiment: go up to somebody; point your finger at them and shout “bang!”. If you manage to kill someone, I’ll visit you in gaol.)

It has also been argued, convincingly or no, that weapons are needed to preserve peace. I may not find the “deterrent” argument convincing, but I must accept that the longest period of peace (overall) in the 20th century has been when the threat of nuclear obliteration has been dangling over our heads like a Damocles… sword.

Incidentally, the bible is the most published book in history. The second most published book in history is Euclid’s Elements, the “bible” of geometry and mathematics. I did another on-line search in Euclid for “sword”. There are no instances.

The Koran has one instance of the word “sword” (**).

Hmmm.

A simple man-is-just-an-intelligent-animal, anthropological explanation is that the human species has an amazing talent for killing its members but otherwise is just like other warm and cold-blooded creatures. Lucy, the 3.5 million year-old hominid, almost certainly had males fighting for her attentions. Male peacocks have those beautiful fantails but they also have killing spurs designed to blind and maim.

But can we, advanced humans who like opera, live without war? Laboratory experiments have been conducted in which aggression was eliminated from rodents by eliminating other things they possessed.

Aside from the obvious reproductive issue, animals had shorter life spans. Call me a dirty rat, but I might add that two of the greatest generals in history, a Byzantine functionary and a Chinese admiral, were both eunuchs.

War must still be a male thing, right? Wrong. Amazons may not have existed, but the crack troops of the most powerful African empire in the Middle Ages were women. Israeli women have been conscripted and the US armed forces today take pride in the number of women serving in front-line situations. One serving female was recently court-martialled for brutality against Iraqi POWs (admittedly along with a lot of men). Oh, and Bouboulina? La Passionara?

On a historical note, the idea that war is wrong, or at least should be avoided, is quite recent. Some of the oldest writings in the world praise war and what the Pentagon has coyly baptised “collateral damage”. Unfortunately, we all understand what that means but we still cling, despite superior knowledge, to the idea that war is a thing fought by soldiers, not civilians. Washingtonian socialites would spend pleasant afternoons riding out to view battles in the American civil war and the smart bombs of the 1991 Gulf war still make people think war can be limited and clean – or in the parlance, “surgical”. The 30,000 year-old cave paintings in Lascaux depict people fighting with spears. It was only after the American civil war that people began to realise that mass production made killing enormously destructive (war of attrition, anyone?) and that alternatives should be sought. After more than 30,000 years of recorded conflict the Russians were the first to organise an international peace conference – 98 years ago, just before the First World War.

War is often claimed to be an innate human function that gets rid of surplus individuals. Most of us are revolted by the idea. We should be: we have the resources to feed and nurture many times the total human population. The total education budget for the entire planet is less than 1% of what is spent on arms. Perhaps Jesus was just a realist. Maybe he had a sense of foreboding of all the bloodshed that would be spilt in his name. If only he had come to send a blanket.

Athens, April 2006


(*) It is very dangerous to quote the bible out of context. I refer you to the entire chapter, one of the most curious – and hotly disputed – things Jesus is quoted as saying. I also strongly recommend using the King James Version, the closest (and in my opinion, most beautiful) English translation of the “original”.

(**) Sura: 54.29 – it’s not actually written but inferred by context.
6 Comments
angil Thanks for some dispassionate thoughts about war.
angil · 2014-08-31: 12:47
marilynx A beautiful image ...
I do agree with you Stéfan - and have supported you.
marilynx · 2014-08-31: 14:47
MoMac Food for thought , made me go and check what my bibles were .
I'm not too keen when PB goes toward political and religious issues either but marie seems very concerned so couldn't ignore to give her some positive thoughts .
Lovely capture.
MoMac · 2014-08-31: 17:53
pdsdville One of the popular acronyms a few years ago was WWJD, what would Jesus do. Jesus would dump the tables of the money changers, tear down the booths in the temple, pick up a whip to drive the disrespectful out of the temple. No one likes war but there seems to always be a faction wanting it. That, then leads to someone else defending both themselves and their way of life. Yes there are those who would not raise the sword. They are called, dead or enslaved. I really prefer that my family and I remain alive and free. I feel no need to apologize to anyone for my feelings, besides I want to be free to photograph what I want, when I want. Thanks revenant, no roasting for you in my book.
pdsdville · 2014-08-31: 18:47
kccheyne Nice shot. If only peace were easy to achieve.
kccheyne · 2014-08-31: 20:39
Lsample Jesus? How could he possibly look at all of the amputees, brain injuries, PTSD, and see anything but a tragedy? How could anyone?
Lsample · 2014-08-31: 21:41
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