Updated: Jul 4, 2022
Woo-hoo! I am writing this at the outset of the great New Zealand holiday season! Six whole weeks of school holidays, prelude to a long hot summer at a favourite beach.
In pursuit of this dream, we queue up for hours of irritable perspiration in overpacked cars on melting-hot highways, while our kids argue restlessly in the back seat. No reindeer and snowmen here.
For some lucky few it will be Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all Men. But what does peace on earth look like today?
It seems we may never have had Christmas at all, were it not for a certain Three Wise Men, the Magi of St. Matthew’s gospel.
If they had never decided to leave Persia in the first place to follow that star shining brightly in the heavens, they would never have discovered the infant Christ. Failing that, His story of peace and goodwill might never have been told.
It appears that the Magi were Zoroastrian, one of the oldest major religions in the world.
There are few people on earth currently more in need of peace and goodwill than present time Zoroastrians. U.N. reports inform that the Azidis, a branch of this ancient religion, are enduring genocide in their ancestral land of Iraq at the hands of ISIL (Islamic State).
One of my regular correspondents, himself an Azidi, has shared with me his personal accounts of abductions and massacres that turn my stomach, making my mind struggle to expunge the sheer horror of knowing that human beings are treating others in hideous ways that not even the fiercest animal would devise.
His community is now desperately trying to raise awareness about their beliefs and the unthinkable persecution that they face. How tragic that these first discoverers of the Prince of Peace should be amongst the last to enjoy that peace.
Two thousand years have passed since Christ’s birth, since He called the little children to Him and addressed His followers from the Mount of Karn Hattin saying "blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God".
After the passage of all those years, the Holy Land should be the most perfect place on earth. It should be a place of peace and prosperity, one that all the children of the world can consider as our collective 'home', the birthplace of our common spiritual ancestor Abraham. However, any realist would have to admit that in many ways we don’t seem to have come a long way since.
It is some 25 years since I first went to Israel, since I sat on that same hillside where Christ spoke those words and gazed out across the troubled waters of Galilee lying greyly below, with the same hard metallic grey as the skies above. The wind was blowing coldly down from the hills of the Golan Heights. Up there somewhere, concealed in those black hills, were the cruel metallic weapons of war, poised to guard and repel. On the journey to that sacred spot we had passed many tanks, silent lumbering beasts of death. Yet for me it was the peaceful words of Christ that resonated most powerfully.
For the truth is that, despite all the bloodshed over those many ages, one of the words you hear most often in this land is ‘peace’. If you’re amongst the Jewish community below the base of the Golan Heights, the greeting is Shalom, a Hebrew word meaning peace. Or if you’re on the top of that mountain, you’ll hear the greeting of salaam; "Peace be upon you". In a land so dense with weapons of war, that constant reference to peace seems ironic in the extreme.
So what is this elusive term that is ‘peace’? Is it the case that, if a land is not presently engaged in active conflict, it can be considered to be at peace? If that’s true, then for the present point at least, Israel is at peace. But that’s not how all her citizens experience it.
Peace is so much more than just an end to war. It is both a noun – a naming word – and a verb – a doing word.
The ‘noun’ of peace is closer to the condition Christians and greeting cards imagine when they speak of Peace on Earth. It suggests ‘names’ like harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquillity. Wikipedia describes it somewhat cynically as ‘a certain quality of existence which has been sought after, yet seldom found in a long enduring form, since time immemorial’. As a ‘doing’ word, peace seems more about ‘un’doing: freedom from conflict, prejudice, violence etc.
It can be argued that you don’t need religion to have morals: if you can’t determine right from wrong then you lack empathy, not religion. For many in the West, the positive educative function of religious authority has been challenged.
Shocking personal disclosures by clergy have contributed to a current situation where true religion seems to have dissolved and vanished; considered at best a fiction and at worst an opiate, in either case, a factor inhibiting progress.
Individuals are now left free to maintain whatever relationship they believe connects their lives to anything other than their own material existence. Abandoning any moral or spiritual authority, humanity has taken its destiny into its own hands.
Peace doesn’t come naturally. We share, after all, many of the qualities that are essentially animal; the survival of the fittest. But unlike animals, we are also extremely responsive to change, education and civilising. While animals retain pretty much the same patterns as they have over the ages, mankind has experienced a continuing process of civilisation.
Animals are not moral creatures; morality and civilisation are the functions of true religion.
The current turmoil in global society doesn’t negate the purpose of religion; rather, it expresses the lack of true religion, and demonstrates the failure of religious institutions to assist humanity in dealing with challenges that are essentially spiritual and moral.
The time has come when religious leadership must face honestly the implications of the truth that God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion is likewise one. A sea change in human consciousness is under way. As our world grows to maturity we are being called – often painfully and reluctantly - to recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and to put in place the principles and factors that can best apply this fundamental principle in our lives. Humanity is being compelled to recognise that its well-being, peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.
A wishful grafitti tag reads "Teach Peace!”. Now is the time to make peace a doing word.
Peace: some have called it dream. Baha’i’s call it a plan. It goes like this:
• everyone should be free to investigate truth for themselves.
• God is one, known by different names.
• humanity is genetically and spiritually one family.
• education should be universal and compulsory.
• men and women are equal.
• teaching a universal language will increase mutual understanding.
• universal peace will be established and upheld as a consequence of just world government.
• religious fanaticism must be overcome.
• true science and religion possess an essential unity.
• racial and religious prejudice must end.
• differences should be resolved through consultation.
Good plan, huh? Why don’t you work with us in achieving it?