For many the world over, December 25, 2016 was a violent Christmas.
If you’re at all familiar with my music, you know that many of my songs (The New World, Enola’s Wake, The Dark Side, Brothers) deal with violence as it’s manifested in our modern world. As we move into the 17th year of the 21st century since the first Christmas, now seems as good a moment as any to reflect on the problem of violence.
To start, it’s nothing new. Men have been committing acts of violence for as long as men have existed. Even in the Bible — a collection of 73 books broken down into roughly 1,200 chapters — the first homicide occurs in the 4th chapter of the very first book (Genesis). As a chronology, as the story of a people, the Bible is an incredibly, intensely violent library.
But despite all of the genocides throughout history, the deadly wars waged, the various and grotesque forms of torture, abortion, and capital punishment that man’s creative capacities conceived, something changed, legitimately and significantly, in the 20th century. Violence and war became mechanized. The ability to kill in greater quantities and from longer distances slowly but surely made the concept of killing easier to swallow, perhaps, easier to rationalize and justify. The statistic below may well illuminate this point.
This statistic appears on the back cover of a book by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman entitled On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. The back cover of the book goes on to state:
“The good news is that most soldiers are loath to kill. But armies have developed sophisticated ways of overcoming that instinctive aversion. The psychological cost for soldiers, as evidenced by the increase in post-traumatic stress, is devastating. The psychological cost for the rest of us is even greater: contemporary civilian society, particularly the media, replicates the army’s conditioning techniques and directly contributes to our rising rate of violent crime, especially among the young.”
That last sentence brings to mind the city of Chicago, where more than 40 people were shot over Christmas weekend alone and where well over 700 homicides occurred in 2016. On the international scene, Grossman’s quote brings to my mind recent images of the harrowing events in Aleppo, events that have been ongoing and worsening for the last several years:
What does all this have to do with Christmas? Everything.
The message of Christmas is peace: “and on earth peace, good will toward men,” as Linus the Evangelist relayed it.
The prophet Isaiah foretold: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.” (Is. 11:6) The metaphor speaks of peace — peace between adversaries, fear of death and the desire to take life relinquished. Isaiah was referring to the long-expected Messiah named “Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:5) and whose “dominion is vast and forever peaceful” (Is. 9:6). You don’t have to be religious to see the appeal, to see the beauty and the poetry in the story and the message of Christmas.
As we continue on in this new year, my hope is that all who celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace every December will make a conscious effort to remember the peace of Christmas on a daily basis and reflect — sincerely and intensely — on the problem of violence in our world, on the evolution of man’s willingness to mechanize himself as an instrument of death, and on the recurring failure of human ingenuity to find non-violent solutions to problems.
For far too many the world over, December 25, 2016 was a violent Christmas. Was “Peace on earth!” only ever meant to be sung by angels? Or is man able to have a voice in the great song, if only he’d choose to sing?
From the Vietnam War Memorial in downtown Indianapolis. A photo posted by Kevin Heider (@kevinheidermusic) on