Rally to the cause

At particular points in history, it appears self-evident that certain causes should be supported.

Last Sunday was Remembrance Sunday, marking the end of WW1. At the beginning of WW1, it was clear to many in Australia that the nation should be involved in Britain’s fight with Germany.

Australians greeted the outbreak of war with considerable enthusiasm.

Today that seems quaint and naïve, not least because rallying to the Mother Country’s cause is a sentiment from a world long gone.

The reasons for rallying to causes change over time, but the instinct to do so remains.

During WW1, the initial enthusiasm diminished as casualty lists were published in the newspapers. Enlistments peaked after the Gallipoli landings then promptly fell away.

White feathers were sent to so-called ‘cowards, ’ those who had not enlisted, and in 1916 the government sought to introduce conscription.

When self-evident causes don’t maintain the required enthusiasm, coercion comes into play.

Well-supported causes are powerful, and often dangerous.

Participation in them often bypasses thoughtful consideration, or, of more concern, contradicts principles and values that people once held dear.

What is it that stirs people, communities, and even nations to enlist (literally and metaphorically) in causes that seem immediate and pressing, at least at the time?

At the outbreak of WW1, contemporary conceptions of masculinity played a significant role, as did Australia’s immature sense of identity as a child of the Empire.

Such potent factors are difficult to discuss and assess because, at the time, they appear foundational, part of the bedrock of culture.

It is a brave person who calls them into question.

Reading Mark 13:1-8, the gospel set for this week, has reminded me that Christian faith may be better exemplified by those who stand against strongly supported causes than those who join them.

Jesus critiqued those who would rally to the cause of defending the Temple in Jerusalem in AD 66-70 when the Jewish nation rose up against Rome.

Jesus was adopting a risky stance because the cause he held up for question was undeniable; Jews were not rallying to fight an oppressor faraway, but one whose occupation had palpably diminished their lives.

The fervent believed this war was God’s initiative.

Nonetheless, Jesus challenged it, ‘Beware that none leads you astray.’ (Mk 13:5). Later in the same chapter, he counselled his followers to flee the war against Rome (Mk 13:14).

Today, Jesus might be labelled unpatriotic, disgraceful, etc

However, we do well to consider voices that query popular causes, especially when flags are being waved.

Faith is an incentive to take such questions seriously.