Our approach to conflict in the modern age, as typified by responses in Ukraine and the Middle East, shows we still have not entirely left behind our medieval proclivity to look to violence first, writes Ken Crawford.

The O'Jays song Love Train encourages "people all over the world, join hands, start a love train". The first stop the Love Train makes is England, and we are asked to "tell all the folks in Russia and China too". Love Train was released in 1972 as the O'Jays felt a spiritual calling to help unite a divided world. 50 years on, what message are we to send from the UK when Russia sends guided missiles against train stations in neighbouring Ukraine?

Our cultural heritage is Christian but the tension between faith and violence has never been fully reconciled. This tension began to be explored in the medieval period through the Grail legends as Christian knights wrestled with how to square their stock in trade of lethal force with the Christian commandment not to kill. The answer, sanctioned by the Church, was that killing is permissible in self-defence or defence of the Church. A further product of this deep introspection was the culture of Courtly Love as manners, etiquette and protection of women became part of the knightly code. The extreme violence of the western warrior was channelled along more Christian lines but not fully Christianised. Two recent world wars with a European cradle suggest limited progress. As we march into the 21st century, our cultural hero is James Bond, licensed to kill, looking very much like Gawain of the Grail legend but driving an Aston Martin instead of a horse.

A true Christian response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine could never countenance the use of weapons, nor for that matter could it countenance the armed resistance of an invasion. This was too much for the medieval knights or Church to swallow, just as it was too much for Britain to submit to the Nazis. Instead though, as Tolkien observed, we used the power of the One Ring to defeat the evil Sauron, and our reward for victory was the proliferation of weapons with the power to destroy the world in the next world war. At the same time a culture without the intelligent use of police action and probably even military force seems much too exposed to the forces of anarchy in today's world.

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The complexity of the world makes it hard for an individual to be master of events. This is true even of a collection of individuals supported by specialist advisers, a government. While one might be in possession of 'the facts', there are too many facts to be digested and decisions can have second and third order effects that mean actions cascade far beyond the original intent. War is a force that perhaps more than any other has the potential to release chaos. Once unleashed, war can proceed in extremely unpredictable ways that quickly run beyond the control of those who participate. Our recent wars in the Middle East demonstrate the difficulty of mastering complexity. As Micky Mouse learned in Fantasia, power can quickly pass beyond the control of the magician.

The Ukrainian conflict is drawing in nuclear armed nations that retain a spiritual development that has not passed beyond the medieval mindset, something we can no longer afford with the weapons at our disposal. We need to recognise the spiritual immaturity of humanity in relation to the power it wields, even if this immaturity is masked by our soaring technological achievements. The correct action in these circumstances is probably extreme circumspection and caution to buy the necessary time for humanity's spiritual evolution, which is probably the work of centuries. Perhaps in some distant future humanity will make John Lennon's dream a reality and transcend the nation state ("nothing to kill or die for") and thereby transcend conflict. But for the foreseeable future we must muddle through as we are.

The deep introspection of the medieval age on the tension between Christianity and violence unleashed incredibly powerful positive cultural forces, what C.S Lewis regarded as one of the few true changes in human sentiment. Today the stakes are far higher, the tension is between the destruction of the world and its continuation. This requires us to transcend the medieval mindset and better integrate our Christian heritage with our propensity to violence. We must go further than the legacy the Grail authors and Courtly Love left us at the cultural level. Let us not forget that both Romeo and Juliet died young in Shakespeare's tragedy because love was not integrated in the culture.

The most promising steps have been taken at the individual level. Martin Luther King Jr, also drawing on Gandhi, synthesised the brutality visited on his own person and that of his family into a Christian 'soul force', a non-violent resistance to evil, even at the peril of one's own life, that changed American culture. King focused his efforts on the individual, not the State, but if we were to speculate, what might 'soul force' look like at the level of the State? It probably focuses on economic and cultural sanctions. It looks more like the stance nations took towards apartheid South Africa and less like our recent interventions in the Middle East.

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