One of the major responsibilities of the religions of the world is to promote peace and justice. Most religions have emphasized three meanings or levels of peace.
Some religions emphasize inner peace. Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism teach about the importance of finding peace or achieving nirvana through union with the divine or the universe. These religions teach that this union can be realized through meditation, practicing the various forms of yoga, and by living a life of ahimsa or non-injury in thought, word, and deed toward all creatures. Religions that emphasize inner peace as the basis for other levels of peace teach that humans need to fight against our inner enemies such as greed, selfishness, anger, and lust. The main teaching of Buddhism is to shatter the ego because it is our ego that can lead to violence and prevent us from attaining inner peace. Taoism teaches that inner peace comes from living in harmony with the Tao, the Chinese word for “the Way” of cosmic energy that flows within us.
Peace Between People
Harmony between people is another meaning or level of peace that is taught by different religions. Confucianism emphasizes how peace can be achieved by living in right relationships within one’s family, one’s society, and the rest of the world. This involves a life based on honesty, courtesy, and justice. Judaism emphasizes the commandment “You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Leviticus 19: 18) The Jewish prophets Isaiah and Micah said that the time of peace and the messianic age will come when people “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and not train for war again.” Jesus of Nazareth began a time of peace, love, and justice for all which he called “the reign of God on Earth as it is in Heaven.” A hadith/saying of Muhammad asks “What is better than prayers, charity, and fasting?” His answer: “It is making peace between one another.”
Law and Order
A third meaning or level of peace is public order and security. People seek to live in peaceful neighborhoods, cities, states, and countries through systems of just laws. Some religious groups teach that peace between countries could also be achieved through world law and order. Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i Faith have taught a peace plan which includes the unity and cooperation of the world’s religions, a world currency and other methods to unify the global economy, a universal auxiliary language which everyone could use in addition to their native language, and a democratic world federation of nations that would create and enforce world laws against individuals. Leaders of the modern Roman Catholic Church have also promoted the need for a world public authority in addition to local, state, and national governments. Pope John XXIII wrote his encyclical “Peace on Earth” in response to the Cuban missile crisis. He taught that the world needs a global public authority in order to eliminate nuclear weapons and solve global problems (#137). Catholic leaders have taught that such a global authority should be based on the principles of solidarity (the common good of humanity and our planet) and subsidiarity (problems should be solved at the proper level of government, which allows both diversity and unity).
In light of these various meanings of peace, many religions have taught different responses to violence and war (large-scale violent conflict between groups that are governments or seek to become governments over some territory).
Non-violent Pacifism and Resistance
Some religions have taught non-violent pacifism and resistance. This is the approach of Jainism; most Hindus, Buddhists, and Taoists; Christian groups such as the Quakers, Brethren, Mennonites, Amish, and Jehovah’s Witnesses; and some Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians. This has been the non-violent approach of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Dalai Lama in their fights against oppression and injustice. Pacifists believe that violence is always immoral and that violence only breeds more violence. They maintain that peace is a precondition for justice.
Some religions teach that justice is a precondition for peace. They hold that if violence or war is absolutely necessary to protect innocent people and the only way to protect people’s lives and rights, then violence or war can be a moral response to aggression and injustice if it is a last resort and if it follows the principles of noncombatant immunity (civilians may never be directly targeted) and proportionality (a greater amount of good over evil concerning weapons and tactics). This is the approach of many Christian groups since St. Augustine began the development of the Christian just war teaching as well as the teaching of many Jews, Sikhs, and Muslims (military jihad fought according to the same basic limitations as the Christian just war teaching).
Outlaw War and Weapons of War
A third approach to war is to outlaw war and the weapons of war. This is the teaching of the Baha’i Faith, the Catholic Church, and many individuals in other religions. War can be outlawed through a democratic world federation of national governments. The current United Nations Organization could be transformed from a confederation of nations into a federation of nations. Instead of non-binding resolutions in the U.N. General Assembly where each nation has one vote regardless of the size of its population and other factors, a democratic World Parliament could be composed of elected representatives from each country that would create world laws for the peaceful resolution of conflicts between nations, for solving global problems, and for protecting our planet. Unlike the U.N. Security Council in which any one of the five permanent members has a veto over resolutions about sanctions and invading countries, under a democratic world federation world police and world courts would be necessary in order to arrest and prosecute individuals who violate world laws. Such a peace system would require a World Constitution that would explicitly state checks and balances between the world federation and national governments as well as rights and responsibilities of world citizens.
In order for such a global peace system to be created and its operation be just and effective, the world’s religions need to build the necessary foundation for it through teachings about world community, world citizenship, and universal brother/sisterhood. They need to emphasize their ancient versions of the Golden Rule and the modern teachings of the Declaration of a Global Ethic and the Charter of Compassion that have been part of the Parliaments of the World’s Religions.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.