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Sermon: University of Surrey Remembrance

Tuesday 11th November 2014
Act of Remembrance

At the bottom of the stairs in Wates House is a war memorial. It is dedicated to those who fell in war from our forerunners the Battersea Polytechnic Institute and College of Technology, 79 in WWI and 9 in WWI. Today, on this Armistice Day, we honour their memory.

We also honour the memory of the men, women and children who died in the conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries and do so today.

We remember not to glorify but to say that by remembering we recommit ourselves to another vision of the world: a vision of peace, reconciliation and healing; the vision of a world where difference can be delighted in and not erased.

War is always a defeat for humanity. It reflects the contradictions of being human. In it we see our most creative and destructive traits: our capacity to anger and to love; our capacity for division and for healing. War brings out the worst in people; and bizarrely it can bring out the best in people too, most radically in acts of heroism for the benefit of others.

We should never desire war, but we can also acknowledge that it has brought innovation. There have been great and beneficial technological advances that have been generated by war. As the press puts it ‘boffins’, and therefore Universities, have contributed to, and benefited from, the work of, for example, Alan Turing and the Enigma wartime code breakers who brought the war to a swifter conclusion but also contributed to modern computing, or Sir Frank Whittle and engineers developing the jet engine for warplanes who have led to modern air travel, or, more controversially, J Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project developing the atom bomb leading to modern nuclear energy, the list goes on.

Religion is often blamed for causing wars, and science for refining killing technology. As we remember today, perhaps we can recommit ourselves to the common vision of humanity that is surely shared by people of faith and no faith, scientists or non-scientists, a vision of religion and technology directed towards peace and which is articulated in the wisdom of the Hebrew Bible, through the prophet Micah,

‘they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war anymore;

but they shall sit under their own vines and

under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid;

for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken’ (Micah 4.3b-4)