Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 31, 2002
'And God saw that it was good'
". . . God saw that it was bad." Such a pessimistic view of creation and humanity lies at the heart of war. When men and women are seen as bad, they must be controlled through deceit and force. If they deviate far enough from the powerful ruler's vision of what is good, war must be declared to bring them in line. The resulting devastation in terms of the loss of life and obliteration of human community can be tolerated because life and community are themselves untrustworthy.
April 11 marks the 40th anniversary of Blessed Pope John XXIII's landmark encyclical Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). Pope John called for a reduction in weapons, an easing of international tensions and strong international authorities to adjudicate disputes.
But at the heart of those practical recommendations lies a profound trust in human nature. The person in authority has that authority based on an adherence to natural law. What will bring peace is not the use of force against evildoers but the establishment of an international community based on new relationships growing out of morality and mutual trust.
Many would write off Pope John's optimism as hopelessly načve and cite the history of the last 40 years as proving the law of the jungle is the only real law. But the last 40 years prove only that the rule of conscience and community have been rarely tried, not that they are never successful.
When they are tried, quite incredible things can happen. We must not forget the fall of Soviet bloc communism, a transformation brought about not by the Reagan arms build-up, as some would argue, but by the awakened consciences of millions of people who realized that they, not the Communists, held the real authority in society and that they would no longer put up with the Communists' web of lies and oppression.
We should also remember the fall of the brutal Marcos regime in the Philippines, also brought on by peaceful resistance of the masses.
When there is major positive social change in the world, it is invariably brought on by the peaceful resistance of the masses of the people. When there is negative social change, it is change caused by violent minorities grasping for power or making morality take second place to greed.
"Unfortunately, the law of fear still reigns among peoples," Pope John wrote. "There is reason to hope, however, that by meeting and negotiating, men may come to discover one of the most profound requirements of their nature is this: between them and their respective peoples it is not fear that should reign, but love - a love that tends to express itself in collaboration."
Here, we are reminded of Pope John Paul's refrain when he first became pope: "Be not afraid." It is fear that gives rise to lies and violence. If love is to be overcome, there must be a transformation of hearts, not brutal attempts to force compliance. There must be listening and communication, with no attempts to predetermine the results of such communication.
It was St. Francis of Assisi who launched a great movement for peace by recognizing that the way to achieve peace is to remind people of the goodness of life and of the natural universe. It was the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky who wrote that the world will be saved by beauty.
Maybe somewhere there is some limited value for tanks and guns. But they will achieve nothing of lasting good and, in most cases, they will be the source of misery, destruction and lasting hatred. As for weapons of mass destruction or random death - and those categories are broader than usually thought - there is no redeeming value whatsoever.
Most people want peace - and then there is the military-industrial complex that profits from war. Pope John showed us peace is a real possibility, not a pipedream. We can have peace if we believe in the goodness of creation and priority of morality, not power and greed. It is not for nothing that the Bible says of creation, including humanity, "and God saw that it was good."
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