I was a voracious reader as a young boy and I remember going through a phase of devouring books of Greek and Roman myths and legends. I had the complete collection of books by Roger Lancelyn Green a British biographer, children’s writer and an Oxford academic who formed part of the Inklings literary discussion group along with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. I didn’t know any of that though, all I knew was that he told good and exciting stories of heroes and gods and villains. This interest in those old myths, which included the sagas from the Norsemen, was added to because on TV you could often watch the Ray Harryhausen movies.
Those of my age will remember the rather clunky (they seem clunky then) special effects of dragons and monsters fighting the likes of Jason and Argonauts and Perseus and his horse Pegasus which Harryhausen produced.
I remember when we were on a pilgrimage to Greece a few years ago, following in the footsteps of St Paul, the Guide, on rather a long coach journey left the New Testament and told us instead about the myths and legends of Ancient Greece so that we could put the temples that we were seeing into a narrative context.
Those of you who were brought up on this kind of stuff will no doubt remember the Hydra. The Lernaean Hydra was a serpent headed monster which Hercules fought with. It was a venomous, dangerous creature and if you cut off one of its many heads then two grew in its place. Until Hercules arrived it was indomitable and feared.
Classical mythology is just that of course, mythology, but as with all myths they describe ideas, concepts, that have truth deep within them. So many of the issues faced in the Greek and Roman myths are of course the stuff of our nightmares and the root of so many psychological issues that continue to confront us.
On Friday of last week my prayers were focused on Parliament, recalled to debate our role as part of the coalition of nations drawn together to suppress the atrocities and the advance of the so called Islamic State, or Isis. After the level of opposition to the first two Iraqi wars and the resistance to embarking on the bombing of Syria last year, no wonder that our leaders approached this debate with what must have been trepidation.
We all face dilemmas about response and action, if I do this this will happen, if I don’t do anything this will happen, and both consequences being less than desirable. We end up on the horns of a dilemma.
The famous words of Edmund Burke come to mind and challenge us
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Given what has been happening in Iraq – and Syria, though we are not participating in any challenge to Isis there, yet – I’m not sure that there was any other decision that could have been made but the one that has been made. But I cannot say that I am happy.
The story of the Hydra comes back to mind. Cut off a head and two more grow and the monster becomes even more evil and dangerous. It took Hercules to deliver the final, fatal blow but even then the Hydra’s blood remained for ever venoumous.
I am reassured that the coalition is made up of nations beyond the west but whenever we resort to bombs and fighting and war we have to admit failure. It can never be right to reach for the sword, for as Jesus says to his disciples – to us –
‘Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’ (Matthew 26.52)
And for those who tell us that this is a religious war, it is not. Isis no more represents true Islam than Waco represented true Christianity. Religion can be easily distorted by evil just as political philosophies can be. What we need to promote is religion and politics that build and not destroy, speak of life and not of death. And I won’t stop praying for peace.
God, our refuge and strength,
bring near the day when wars shall cease
and poverty and pain shall end,
that earth may know the peace of heaven
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.