Known Unto God
by Rev. Raymond Petrucci
A few weeks ago our nation celebrated Memorial Day. In doing so, we remembered and prayed for those who have died in our country's wars. This Memorial Day reigns over a century that witnessed the greatest human carnage in history. At the end of each conflict there is always the question: Why? What is it about human nature that urges us to seek God on the one hand and to act with such ferocity on the other? This query reminds me of an incident from the early centuries of the Church. There is a story told about the conversion of the Franks to Catholicism. They were a tribe occupying much of what is now the country of France (named after them). It seems that when they entered the river to be baptized, their men would keep their right arm out of the water. This was the arm that wielded the battle ax and they did not want it to be baptized. Apparently, the human capacity for spiritual awakening and for brutality must be served.
As a society we have been filled with shock and dismay over the rash of incidents of violent and fatal acts being perpetrated by our young people. The shootings, killings and bomb threats in a number of our schools has occasioned a national soul searching. The media is currently being taken to task over the propensity to offer products to the public that seem to glorify and, as many believe, to encourage violence. While the emphasis on vivid gore and wholesale slaughter abhorrent, I am of the opinion that it is not the cause of our current concern. Recent generations grew up exposed to countless westerns, war and horror movies and television shows. While flawed certainly, these generations did not produce the proliferation of occurrences of children killing children. I submit that the values that a society promotes and its overall spiritual character has the ascendancy in persuading its children. Former generations have been exposed to a great deal of violence in the media, but they also understood it in the context of good versus evil or of issues of conscience and morality. These dramatic struggles were emphasized over the violence per se. Even children watching "violent" cartoons and shows such as Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, and the Three Stooges recognized that it was not real and people would be seriously injured if they performed the actions being depicted on the screen.
As a speculation, is it possible or even probable that the very values that are part of our present culture carry the seed of the evils evident today? Our society extols the principles of self-determination, self-expression, self-importance and all of the other convictions directed toward self. This emphasis unrestrained, unwary and unimpeachable tends to become unscrupulous. Without the spiritual safeguards of a clear sense of grace and sin, an accountability before God and the desire to wholeheartedly love God, neighbor and self, do we not risk the creation of individuals who are taught not to care about anyone else, not to accept any criticism, not to judge their actions, not to feel shame or guilt, not to see the dignity of each individual life, and therefore, not to do what is right but to do what they want.
It is difficult to find a solution or even a palliative when the madness of war, murder and violence have been a part of the human experience throughout the ages. In the past 3,500 years of human history, only 268 of them have been free of war. As the bloodiest of centuries ends, an image from its early decades emerges in my mind: The Great War (World War I) ended on November 11, 1918. Statistics show that the bodies of nearly half of those killed on the Western Front were either totally annihilated or unidentifiable. In order to mark their memories, the British used the epitaph - "Known unto God". I wonder if the way to imbue humankind with the persistent faith and moral courage required to make violence unthinkable is known only to God. Let's pray and strive for peace.
copyright © 1999-2005, Spirituality for Today