"We live in a violent world, and to live comfortably in it we too must become violent". That is reality, we're told. There's a "common sense" assumption that ours are intensely dangerous times and so the only sane thinking response is to increase our levels of threatening, and when threatening fails, of violence itself. The wildest expression of this at present may be seen across the Atlantic in the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. But Trump is simply turning up the volume - to distorting levels - of an agreed consensus. All this is called realism, and anyone doubting it is therefore seen as unrealistic, maybe through naiveté, or simple-mindedness, or for darker motives of fear or even duplicity.
But at the very least, this consensus needs to be examined. And if there's ever a good time to look hard at our assumptions it is now, at Christmas, as we celebrate the birth of the one that Christian people (and many others too) call the Prince of Peace; the One who brought peace from the Middle East.
Let's indeed be real: we face some dangerous threats, and yes, we face violence from the Middle East. Witnessing the acts of terror we have seen this year show the appalling levels of misery that humanity can inflict on itself. They create fear, and fear calls forth anger, and impatience, and a drive to act. And of course that is part of the problem, and part of the motive of the terrorists. If they provoke us in our fear to act foolishly, they will gain more recruits and strengthen their grip. So being goaded by horror to inflict horror of our own - this will not serve our interests well. ISIL/Daesh and others want to provoke a military response to inflict terror on places like Syria/Iraq, this creating the instability they need to further their agenda.
That's why, had I been a Member of Parliament, I would not have voted in favour of bombing Syria. ISIL/Daesh is a source of evil, of this I have no doubt. But for me the case for bombing is not proven. Some, including some I greatly respect, say that the traditional Christian criteria for a Just War have been fulfilled. But I cannot agree. I do not believe that an air war will create the conditions for change and for peace. I pray for the men and women of our Air Force and their allies but I do not believe that the things they have been ordered to do will achieve anything, other than creating more problems for the world to solve. More refugees, more potential terrorists, more misery, more intransigence. Round we go again, on the violent and hateful carousel.
But the Christmas story reminds us that none of this is new. Jesus was born into a violent world, into a nation ruled over by a puppet dictator who had no qualms about massacring his own citizens. A country where a hurt people was waiting for war leader. Someone to take up arms and free them from their oppressors. And, seeking that, instead they got Jesus.
Born into poverty. Fleeing for his life. Growing up in humble surroundings. Speaking always of peace, and of the love that casts our fear. Welcoming, and laughing, and healing. Jesus was the very opposite of a warmongering leader. Above all he lived and demonstrated the power of non-violence, of non-retaliation. When he was falsely accused and subject to a sham trial he met hate with love and reason. It led him to death - but death for him was not the end. The way he showed us is a way of life beyond death, and of life unending. Peace, and life, and love from the Middle East.
So the vote has been taken, and our nation is committed; but for those who long for a better way it is not too late. We can still work to improve people's lives in the Middle East, not destroy their homes. We can still work to create constructive dialogue between the old world superpowers that breaks down mutual suspicion and builds a climate of trust. Here at home we must examine and confront the arms trade which leads us to collude with other violent regimes who have the money - hush money? - to pay us for our guns. And so as not to ignore those who work in the weapons industry, we must actively seek better economic models. All this will take time, and it will take trust; but we have to try. Because surely one thing is clear after Iraq and Afghanistan - our current pattern of retaliation has not achieved, is not achieving, any lasting peace.
I believe in peace from the Middle East - the peace of Jesus Christ. This is why I am opposed to the violent forms of retribution we have in our society. This is why I oppose the renewal of Trident - though that's for another article. Across the world I see the the political reflex to seek quick popularity through warmongering talk, and I abhor it. I believe there is a better way. In the season of the coming of the Prince of Peace let's try and find it together.Suggest a correction