Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Defining Religious Language: War and Peace

War simply is. It is not a choice, it is not a spectrum between pacifism and Just War theory. It is a basic fact of human existence, and will be so until human nature evolves.

War is the result of a need for conflict that lies deep within human nature. War is the result of the human need to create otherness in the process of differentiation. War is a form of hell that exists not just on the battlefield, but is carried with someone who has experienced it for the rest of their days.

War is not a political phenomenon. The decision of a nation, society, or culture to go to war is not a political decision. Which war to fight is sometimes political, but not whether or not to fight wars. That comes from deep within human nature.

War exists in many places other than the battlefield, from the football field to the courtroom to the boardroom, we manifest the human need for conflict through physical, emotional, and spiritual violence in many different ways.

The critics of pacifism are correct when they say there has probably never been a time in human history when war was not being fought. The old adage that “peace is something we deduce exists only because there have been interludes between war” is inaccurate, because there have never been such interludes. Even when war is not actively being fought, it is being prepared for. War is with us always; Peace has had no solid existence in all of human history.

Neither War nor Peace find their beginnings anywhere but in the single human heart. Is it a wonder that we find war and conflict throughout our world, throughout all of our society, considering how most of humanity is deeply conflicted within ourselves? The outer wars we fight are merely a symptom of the inner wars we fight.

True peace-activism must address both the outer and the inner conflicts at the root of war. Addressing the outer conflicts of war are efforts to moderate and compensate for this aspect of human nature… they are not truly “anti-war”. When we participate in an anti-war protest, we are not helping to end war, but rather to end a particular war. When we listen to veterans, or serve as a military chaplain, we are helping people recover from the outer experience of war. When we send relief supplies to war-torn regions of our world, we are addressing the outer conflict of war by aiding in recovery from it.

All methods of addressing the outer phenomenon of war are merely efforts to moderate it, not to end it… therefore they are not truly “anti-war”. Indeed, this is the easier work, and it is not surprising that we do this kind of work thinking we have done it all, and wonder why we rarely see any results.

True “anti-war” work must be internal, or be inspiring others to do internal work. It is the continual process of spiritual deepening, of understanding the oneness of all things, of finding interconnection between yourself and others. True “anti-war” work is to look deeply at your own need for “otherness”, at the ways you divide yourself from other people, and to deepen your understanding of yourself.

This is a process that you never complete. This kind of anti-war work requires a life-long commitment to spiritual practices such as meditation, internal exploration, faithful living, devotions, etc. There are many different spiritual practices that can lead one to the kind of deepening that are the true core of being a pacifist… of being anti-war.

Attempting to do one of these without the other, attempting to address war only as an external or an internal phenomenon will lead to frustration. Addressing only the external aspects of war is only treating the symptoms. Addressing only the internal aspects of war is to be irrelevant to the world. Only by addressing both, by doing your own internal work and inspiring others to do theirs, while at the same time finding ways to alleviate the symptoms of the human need for war… only by both can we ever truly hope to end war forever.

 Click here to see all the essays in the “Defining Religious Language” series

Yours in Faith,


Leave a Reply

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: