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18 July 2013

Who is my neighbour?

Who is my neighbour?

Scotland has been in the news a lot of late. We've had the main story in two of London's most recognisable venues, with the Falkirk selection debacle that has dominated Westminster for the last fortnight, and some guy from Dunblane winning a tennis tournament. The Open Golf tournament also rolls into town at Muirfield this weekend bringing with it 170,000 spectators, a global audience of 600 million and a certain Tiger.

There have also been other developments, perhaps under the radar, but arguably even more significant, that have surfaced this week. Firstly, just a few miles upriver from the world's finest golfers the first pictures have emerged of the newest four acres of transportable 'British sovereign territory'. For the uninitiated this refers not to some incredible feat of portable land reclamation but rather the incredible feat of engineering that is the HMS Queen Elizabeth currently under construction at Rosyth.

To their supporters the new aircraft carriers are symbols of ruling the waves, Britain's place in the world and provide the opportunity of retaking the Falklands. To their detractors they are symbols of…well…ruling the waves, Britain's place in the world and providing the opportunity of retaking the Falklands.

Equally if not more important are developments 50 miles west of Rosyth. Here on the banks of the Clyde lies the rather creatively named HMNB Clyde, commonly known as Faslane. This site is the largest single site employer in Scotland and of course home to the UK's independent continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrent. The replacement of Trident has this week exposed deep divisions between the coalition partners. That however is nothing as compared to the rift between a Scottish Government implacably opposed to nuclear weapons (and promising to get rid of them following a Yes vote in next year's referendum) and a UK Government with nowhere else to put them in the event of Scottish independence.

Estimates vary as to the cost and timescales of such a move. Costs are estimated at between £150 million and tens of billions (the complex has a hollowed out mountain complete with trains of which James Bond would be proud) and timescales anything from up to 10 years to never if you believe last week's Guardian report (incidentally I had heard something similar from a source at the base a few months previously). Whatever estimate is true this would most likely be the biggest practical headache for the rest of the UK if Scotland gained independence – a continuous deterrent doesn't work so well if your enemies know it's out of action for a few years while you build a base.

However aside from the politics of these debates they do indeed raise profound questions that as Christians we must consider as we engage with these very topical issues. At heart, especially on the issue of Trident, these are not questions of politics but rather ethics and morality. The arguments are well rehearsed but nevertheless important to consider.

The tradition of Christian pacifism has a long history with a number of church fathers and more recent figures such as Leo Tolstoy, Martin Luther King, and John Howard Yoder subscribing to some form of pacifist view. For those who take this approach any form of military violence runs directly against Jesus' example and command to love our neighbour and cannot be justified. On the other hand is the equally serious doctrine of 'Just War' tracing its roots back to Augustine and Aquinas. This doctrine, states that whilst war may in some cases be permissible (for humanitarian reasons or to defend 'justice') the bar for any intervention must be set high and consequences must be weighed against moral criteria in advance of any action. Advocates of this view would point to scripture such as Romans 13 and role of the government in wielding the sword and punishing wrongdoers.In addition there are clearly Old Testament passages that would point to justice being enacted on a nation by the process of war.

As Christians there are passionate disagreements about this issue as with many others. What is clear is that we must be informed and equipped to think this through from a Christian perspective, rather than simply use the same tired arguments as the politicians or media, which we are often prone to do when we don't want to make the effort of thinking for ourselves. These issues are fundamental and topical political issues for Scotland, for the UK and for the world. To ignore them is to do a disservice to who we are called to be…