The WW1 Christmas Truce: Rebutting the Notion That “The Power of God is So Great It Can Stop Wars” November 25, 2014

The WW1 Christmas Truce: Rebutting the Notion That “The Power of God is So Great It Can Stop Wars”

Via the Facebook page of the Freedom From Atheism Foundation comes this British Sainsbury’s commercial. The FFAF’s comment:

The power of God is so great it can stop wars. Can’t say that about atheism.

All kinds of things are wrong with that statement, both factually and philosophically. I’ll point out just the most obvious flaws:

1. God didn’t lift one celestial finger to prevent the Great War — and if you believe in his omnipotence, he planned the whole thing. Sixteen million people died violently. Twenty million more were maimed and wounded, many by mustard gas — the devastating, uniquely excruciating effects of which are described here.

2. We should remember that most participants fought the war in the Almighty’s name. That wasn’t just some quaint notion on their part. The German government had great quantities of Bibles printed and distributed among the soldiers. Ditto for the British high command; a Bible was even a part of the soldiers’ standard kit. Facts to the contrary, the warring parties

“…spoke freely of God and Gott as opposing tribal deities,”

recalled the poet Robert Graves.

3. Asserting that God “stopped” the war is a semantic trick. Thanks to the Christmas Truce, hostilities lessened for about 24 hours (in many locations they didn’t actually cease). Note:

It was not ubiquitous; in some regions of the front, fighting continued throughout the day, while in others, little more than an arrangement to recover bodies was made.

After the truce ended, the mutual slaughter started anew. God had evidently ceased caring. Mysterious ways!

4. The Great War lasted four years. Only during the first year was there a Christmas Truce worthy of that name. Subsequent efforts fizzled.

The following year, a few units again arranged ceasefires with their opponents over Christmas, but the truces were not nearly as widespread as in 1914; this was, in part, due to strongly worded orders from the high commands of both sides prohibiting such fraternization. In 1916, after the unprecedentedly bloody battles of the Somme and Verdun, and the beginning of widespread poison gas use, soldiers on both sides increasingly viewed the other side as less than human, and no more Christmas truces were sought.

Again we see that the Almighty’s willingness to create even a brief and fleeting peace had diminished considerably by 1915.

5. World War 1, and the despair and revulsion it sowed, helped make atheism and agnosticism take great flight in Europe; after all, tens of millions had faced up close “the reality of God’s nonexistence in the trenches.” (It now occurs to me that this would be a useful counter-argument to the hoary observation that “there are no atheists in foxholes”; because while there certainly were plenty of Christians in foxholes, their numbers dropped as World War 1 played itself out, and not just through combat attrition.)

If the war, including the so-called miracle of the Christmas Truce, was part of a divine master plan, that master drove vast masses of people to question and reject him. Not so masterful after all, then!

The Christmas Truce was, for sure, a moving event. I’m happy that thousands lived an extra day, and even got to spend it in a spirit of temporary peace and fraternity. Unlike the soldiers who lost life or limb, however, God was conspicuously missing in action.

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