To me, this song by Leonard Cohen fits perfectly with the images of bombed-out Aleppo:
His song also captures everything that is so wrong about war. The song’s problematic linkage of darkness with violence menaces people of color. That issue aside, it invokes an unholy partnership between our desires and God’s wishes to justify war, and its haunting misuse of the Hebrew word “Hineni” cries “Here I am, Lord, all ready to maim and murder, just for you. Because you want it darker.”
It’s a rant with a history. From the ancient Crusades to the words of George W. Bush framing retaliation in the wake of 9/11 as a “crusade” against terrorism, something in some of us seems to love a war. But there is also a well-honed sense of self-preservation that keeps war mongers from just flat-out admitting it. “God wants this war,” is a much more acceptable excuse.
In the 7th century B.C.E., a bloodthirsty man named Joshua was deputized to lead a confederation of tribes into a land supposedly given them by God – a land with people already living there. Joshua goes about his mission to eradicate the indigenous peoples of Canaan with a ferocity that chills even now, centuries later:
“…so the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it. Then they devoted to destruction by the edge of the sword all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys …so the Lord was with Joshua; and his fame was in all the land.” -Joshua 6
Even the animals???
It’s depressing. As long as people have been making war on each other, they have been saying “God wanted this slaughter.” Too often, the words of God decrying violence in the bible have been ignored:
“When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do good; seek justice; rescue the oppressed; defend the orphan; plead for the widow.” –Isaiah 1: 15-17
The voice of God is forever calling to us to stop the madness, but the words are drowned out by the drums and the marching and the patriotic songs calling for yet another unholy war – most recently in Syria.
For me, and perhaps for Mr. Cohen as well, it’s time to sing a different song. If the bard’s threadbare, smoke-broken voice evokes the many times God’s will has been cited to justify killing fields everywhere, he also reveals the deep truth about war – how wholesale violence ensures we all end up broken, lamed and maimed as a result.
I’m with him. I want out of this game, and maybe it begins with a stark confession: if it’s not God who wants violence, then it must be some of us.
Isn’t it about time they admitted it?
Isn’t it about time the rest of us said no?