Madonna del Prato, Givanni Bellini, 1505

Today is Christmas, the annual celebration of a Jewish man who literally turned history inside out and gave his name, knowingly or not, to what is the world’s largest religion, Christianity. Within Judaism he is one of many messiah hopefuls; among Muslims he is a major prophet whose followers did not tell the real story that was later revealed to Muhammad, the last of the biblical-line prophets. Regardless of who Jesus really was, one of his titles sounded at this time of year is the “Prince of Peace.” The Gospels quite clearly indicate that Jesus was not a warmonger. Anyone who would say “Blessed are the peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9) or “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) would hardly charge into any battle with intent to kill. The irony is that the Gospel prophet promoting peace has been turned into the cause for doing exactly the opposite, whether slaughtering fellow Christians, launching pogroms against the Jews or crusading against Muslims. As Mark Twain so eloquently put it:

“Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion–several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven…”

So if the Jesus of the Gospels, even of the Epistles, was so peace-loving, even to the extent of not fighting to save his own life on earth, why are there so many princes of war that think they are being loyal to his memory? I suppose Machiavelli’s The Prince offers as good an explanation as any; this is a book that advocates war to maintain peace rather than peace to eliminate the need for war. Here is his five-century-old advice:

“A prince must not have any other object nor any other thought… but war, its institutions, and its discipline; because that is the only art befitting one who commands.”

Princes had been using this principle since the beginning of recorded history and have certainly not stopped in the so-called modern world. The idea of politicians promoting peace is so rare that there has to be Nobel Peace Prize to recognize the few who do (or seem to). Imagine if we also had a Nobel War Prize. There would be so many possible candidates that it would be impossible to choose one in particular, even if it was limited just to the “Christian” warlords.

So let me just pick one at random, or what passes for random on the Internet. This was a no-brainer since the name of the prince in question is Erik Prince, “a young millionaire US patriot with a Navy SEAL background, [who[ invests in a badass private army start-up to literally become the “Prince of War.” Colonel (I use the term neither literally nor out of endearment) Prince was the founder of Blackwater, the mercenary force that did the dirty work in Iraq and seemingly loved doing it for the United States. The colonel published a book a month ago with the title: Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror. Here is a book which sings praise of warfare and zings all notion of peace. Perhaps all you really need to know about the book is what the publisher says about it: “His book reads like a thriller but is too improbable to be fiction.”

I find nothing at all improbable in either the book or what it justifies. It would only be improbable if the colonel admitted that the whole idea was a tragic mistake, one that brought in a couple billion dollars in profits, but still the account of a chilling killing machine. And a machine that is touted as for God and country, but apparently not in that order, or shall I say “ordure.” So I wonder what Jesus would say to the colonel. Start with the babe in a manger that shepherds heralded and three Magi sought. Now would Blackwater have been protecting the baby Jesus, like the angelic hosts over Bethlehem, or hired out to Herod to slaughter without mercy every child younger than two years in that small town? Or Jesus on the cross, being taunted by the guards. Were they really Roman soldiers or perhaps mercenary Blackwater hires sharpening the spear to pierce the son of man’s side?

No matter what your faith, or lack thereof, this is a day to think about two kinds of princes and their opposing principles. It is right to celebrate the principle of peace and to reflect on the principle of war. Blessed are those who think such thoughts, especially those who do so more than one day a year.