How can we as Unitarian Universalists best work towards a world where violence is no longer a viable option for humanity, not only as Nation-states but also in our personal lives? How can we work to finally “lay down our sword and shield”?
It will not be done through internal discussions within our Association, nor will it be done through demonstrations and statements that create boundaries between ourselves and the rest of the world. This is how I perceive the original wording of the Study Action Issue on Peacemaking.
“…should the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) reject the use of any and all kinds of violence and war…and adopt a principle of seeking just peace through nonviolent means.”
Before I begin to answer the questions I began with, let me first situate myself within this discussion. I have been a soldier, and I am becoming a Chaplain. I am the child of a soldier, the grandchild of a sailor, and the great-grandchild of a Medal of Honor winner.
I believe that there is no such thing as “Just War”. The concept simplifies one of the most complex aspects of human nature, this drive to solve problems with violence, carried out among nation-state actors. It is a political sophistry that can be used to justify anything, and it is misdirection that seeks to put responsibility for war on temporary political situations. The execution of war is never for political reasons (no matter what those nation-states may say) but rather it is an extension of the need for violent conflict that rests within every human soul.
There has also never been any lasting thing that we could point to and say “See, that is what Peace is like”. Even when we humans are not actively fighting a war, we are preparing for one. Even if we were not preparing for war, many of us are fighting wars within our own hearts and lives… the wars we fight without are an expression of the wars we fight within.
War is the last form of hell I still believe in. I have walked through that hell in Latin America, and through the aftermath of that hell in Bosnia. I served as a soldier in the “War on Drugs” in the early 90′s, and as a Peacekeeper in Bosnia in 1996-1997. But that hell of war exists within families, within communities, and within each human as well as on the physical battlefields in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Columbia, Palestine, and indeed around the entire world.
To know more where I am situated in relation to war, please read my sermon entitled “Embedded War”.
The change from a culture based in war to a culture based in peace begins, not with political action, protests, or statements by religious associations… but with personal spiritual practice. If war without is an expression of war within, then the first step in changing the culture of war is to foster that inward change in a growing number of people. I believe that fostering the spread and deepening of religious spiritual practices of inward reflection and contemplation is the first step in creating a culture of peace.
With a growing movement of deeply reflective spiritual practice, the atmosphere will then be right for a cultural shift in what are the guiding principles of our society, away from principles based in conflict and advantage, and towards principles based in interdependence, compassion, and respect. By shifting the foundational principles upon which society is based, we change the dynamic that feeds a culture of war.
Third, and probably the most important step in creating a culture of peace, is the creation and expression of a coherent and detailed vision of what a culture of peace will be like. To motivate and captivate people, we must give them a message not of obligations and fear, but of hope and dreams. We must show what the world will be like when war and violent conflict is no longer the primary form of human interaction.
It is the vision of a world made whole that will inspire cultural change. The key to changing this dynamic of human nature is a change in the human heart, and that does not come from rational argument but from our deepest emotional selves. Creating that vision is a religious responsibility. There are plenty of political peace activists… we need to live our religious vision as prophets.
In essence, I believe the answer to how to create a world in which violence is not used comes not from making a statement, but from living our faith. It comes from being willing to be evangelistic about our Unitarian Universalist faith, not to create more Unitarian Universalists, but to help create better humans. It comes from creating a culture of reflective spiritual practice in our own movement, and then inspiring that practice in others. It comes from both living and promoting our principles and ideals, both as an association and as religious individuals living in society.
I became a Unitarian Universalist because I believe its principles and values, combined with the religious impulse within humanity, to be the last best hope we have to save ourselves from the many ways we are courting disaster as a species.
If we want to create a culture of peace, then let us practice peace within our own spirits first, then within our families, within our congregation, within our communities, within our religious association. Only when a growing number of us adopt peace as a way of life will we begin to change the culture of the world in which we live. Not through words or statements, but through the spiritual practices of our lives, through the living and promotion of our ideals and principles, and through an articulated and promoted vision of what the world will be like in a culture of peace.
Yours in Faith,