FAITH column November 20 2016
In a religious perspective, whether one is a devout believer or an ardent atheist, a consensus faith prevails about peace on earth as intrinsic for most of us. At a time our world is torn asunder by too much bloodshed and warfare it is imperative to acknowledge the words of Albert Einstein who wrote in Notes on Pacifism: “Peace cannot be kept by force. It can only be achieved by understanding”. As we approach Christmas with consumerism rampant in retail therapy, understanding peace as more than a political delusion implores us to reflect on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.38-39) when he said: “You have heard that it was said,’ An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other cheek to him also”.
I am not Christian, but a Jewish agonistic who nonetheless appreciates this wisdom as I hope millions of people of diverse denominations also share. It may be naive, idealistic and even beyond humanity to ‘love’ our enemies as Jesus also proposed, but the implicit message to eschew revenge, retaliation or revolt must resonate internationally if peace is to be more than just a disingenuous sham.
Einstein’s concept of understanding implies an understanding of self as much as of others. The complex nexus of power politics playing out in our world with bullets, beheadings and ballistic missiles is but a macrocosm of other ‘wars’ going on behind closed doors in suburbia, in our schoolyards and in cyberspace, amongst others. It seems too many people are often fighting a war against others as escape from confronting their own civil war, albeit invisible, intangible and too often, unconscious.
This psychological war of self, elucidated by American philosopher, John Dewey in 1939 in his book, Freedom and Culture as a ‘battlefield within ourselves’, is often projected onto others as less challenging to comprehend. It must be understood before one can instinctively ‘turn the other cheek’.
Accepting responsibility for and reconciling personal conflicts, confusions and contradictions are quintessential to engender peace for self and in the world. Understanding this psychology as pertinent to all behaviour is to recognise the personal as political which imbues both compassionate benevolence and nefarious malevolence. A sense of power within self to exercise free will, instead of feeling powerless, negates the impetus to power it over others, accepting difference with respect so that peace on earth can be more than just a fantasy of faith.