So, what’s all this about peace then?
Sometimes, i’m led to think that some people might actually ask such a question. In reading our own history, it’s easy to imagine that a concept - or even a dream - like peace for all humanity has never even featured. In amongst the more pertinent issues, peace has rarely made ripples in the murky pool of power politics (despite the deceiptful rhetoric). It’d be easy to ascribe this to known and often manifest ideas of the corrupting influence of power; to the inherent greed of man when made aware of things within his grasp; or we just just ignore it, ‘cos hey, God loves America. There are a thousand reasons why the world has never seen peace, but in each and every one of them, i’m sure, we can reduce an element of it to the fact that men and women are greedy, selfish beings. One. We fight wars over territorial disputes. Yeah, basically, I want what he’s got. Oil, for example, or the holy land even. Two. We fight other simply because they’re different. No. We use that as an excuse because they’ve got something we want, or we fear them, and don’t want them to take what we’ve got. Three. Power is used to oppress others and suppress opposition to one’s control of power. ‘Cos you’re greedy and don’t want to give up the benefits of power.
Etc. You get the point. But that’s only half of it. It doesn’t explain why powerless individuals actively cause suffering to others with no obvious net gain. Ok, individuals can be greedy - I know I often am - and can negate peace in pursuit of their own desires (in fact, inflate this to a macro level, and it parallels exactly what’s just been said), but there’s more to societal disharmony than mere greed.
Julius Nyerere, a man I greatly admire, said that the fundamental problem with mankind, the thing which causes misery, is the division of man into rich and poor. And he’s onto something. As soon as we know we can possess something we desire, we’ll often go a long way to get it. And we’ll often do this at the expense of others. His solution was to eliminate equality between men, and this was a very worthy cause. However, it missed something. As much as you try, you can’t engineer a sense of selflessness. Nyerere did realise this; he knew that people would stand in the way of his vision, in fact, he warned people to root out corruption and greed at every level. I can’t think of a better example of a people trying to forge a peaceful nation, and it raises the question, from where exactly does peace arise?
Personally, I believe there to be only one answer: from within. A great Buddhist teacher said that without inner peace, outer peace is impossible. And I doubt that I have to highlight any of Jesus’s teachings on the subject. The evidence is there. Why would someone want something that belonged to someone else? Because they’re not content with what they have; they’re not at peace. Why do people get angry? Because they, and others around them, aren’t at peace. Why do people turn to drugs, alcohol and violence? Because they’re not at peace. Why, ultimately, do people suffer, and as an extension of this, inflict pain upon others? I don’t know about you, but I draw most of it back to inner peace.
I may sound like i’m building up to the preaching a functionalist utopia, but I genuinely think that if this world’s gonna sort itself out, we all need to find some inner peace; particularly those who lead others. Here’s a scary thought. Some may criticise my fantastical, fairy-land, multi-coloured, sweet-smelling utopian ideology (it’s not actually mine, however…), saying that we’ve managed to build a few stable societies where people can live in relative peace. But I wonder, if, in our safe societies, we experience a disaster of some kind, that leaves us wanting, do we really think that we’ll all work together to restore peace and harmony, and equality? It’s not a vision of the future that I look forward to…
My point is - as i’m dragging on here - that as a race we need to learn to find peace within ourselves before we engineer it at a larger level. After all, what use is a peaceful society to the person being abused by their partner; the child being beaten by their drunken father? As Christians, we have a good starting point. Not only do we have the teachings and the recieved wisdom on which to build peace, we have the greatest thing possible - we have peace with God. Surely, with this, we can find peace both within ourselves and, ultimately, with others.