Peace with God

“Humanity resorts to sensible solutions when all other means are exhausted.”

Abba Eban, once Israel’s foreign minister, uttered this resigned statement, accompanied by a sigh. We all want to make sensible choices after the genocides and death manifestations of the last decades: the Balkans, Rwanda-Burundi, the Middle East, and the terrorist attacks.

Unixplorians strongly believe in consensus, that with goodwill, you can achieve sensible solutions to end conflicts. It is a sympathetic attitude and is facilitated by the fact that war has not ravaged our neighboring macronation since the days of Napoleon. However, it was close to the dissolution of the union in 1905. Our eastern neighbor, Finland, has a more realistic view. If you want Peace, prepare for war. Peace does not arise by itself. It requires the utmost vigilance and realism. Sometimes it even requires armed intervention, as seen from the African examples, where resolute UN intervention at an early stage would have saved thousands of lives and prevented man-made hells.

Peace is a utopia that is constantly eluding but a necessary utopia, requiring as much imagination, foresight, and planning as any military campaign. The idea of Peace is also the most critical force behind the European Union, a motive that most people never think about.

Is world peace somewhat unrealistic? Like the ancient peoples, should one regard Peace as a temporary interruption of the normal state? After all, as Homer seems to think, war is the faith the gods give mortals. The vernal equinox is when kings enter the field, states the second book of Samuel. First, the Romans elevated Peace to an object of cult, which even got its altar, the Ara Pacis. But it was Peace on Rome’s terms, enforced with blood and iron.

The biblical concept of shalóm denotes both Peace and Peacefulness, initially two variants of the same word. Shalóm stands for a state of order and harmony, happiness and prosperity. Shalóm is the opposite of war, struggle, inner turmoil, terror, and sin. It comes close to the concepts of righteousness and right; righteousness is a prerequisite for Peace. The Christian message was, from the beginning, a message of Peace (Eph 6:15). Peace could even become a synonym for Christ (Col 1:19 f., Eph 2:11-18). Peace was the first word the disciples would utter in a strange house (Luke 10:5). Belonging to the church is, according to Augustine, participation in her Peace and unity – just as the sacrament of reconciliation is said to bring Peace with God, with the church, and with neighbors. But the Christian idea of Peace has always had difficulty asserting itself against political realities. When the Middle Ages passed into the modern era, Nikolaus of Cues succeeded as little as Erasmus of Rotterdam in speaking for a religiously or humanistically motivated idea of Peace.

With secularization, the idea of Peace became politicized, while tolerance and humanity became words of honor. It was the Enlightenment that began to doubt the inevitability of war and sought a reason-based idea of Peace. Under the Treaty of Perpetual Peace, in 1713, the same year as the Peace of Utrecht following the War of the Spanish Succession, the Abbé Castel de Saint-Pierre published a plan for world peace based on a European federation of states. The author, secretary of the French delegation in Utrecht, thought that balancing the great powers, disarmament, and economic integration would bring Peace. Rousseau agreed with the basic ideas but doubted the possibilities. In his Social Treaty, he believed that war is necessary as long as sovereign states exist.

The philosopher Kant was the first thinker to investigate the general conditions for Peace. In his treatise Perpetual Peace (1795), he called for a republican constitution in all states, a common law resting on a confederation of states and universal civil rights for all men everywhere, the abolition of standing armies, and a series of guarantees of Peace.

Hegel distanced himself from Kant. Romanticism glorified war (a side effect of the many battles of liberation), further highlighted when the growing nationalism and national romanticism among the peoples of Europe rose to hubris. The rising faith in progress assumed that Peace would be an automatic consequence of technology, science, and commerce, a naivety with dire consequences. The pacifist currents of the 19th century were connected to such thoughts.

All faith in progress was shaken to its foundations by World War I, the triumph of insanity, the Pandora’s box that unleashed unprecedented horrors for the rest of the 20th century. This war was the beginning of the end of classical international law. The prohibition against war and violence in general, which is normative in current international law (Article 2 of the UN Charter), makes the maintenance of Peace the first obligation of states.

Hardly anyone speaks of eternal Peace anymore. Yet all wise men mean that Peace is possible and that every effort must be made to maintain Peace. Pius XII said the only sensible thing just before World War II: all is lost by war. Peace loses nothing.

Peace is not just the absence of war or a mutual balance of terror. The Peace that exists between two poisonous spiders in a glass jar. Peace is never won without securing the rights of the individual, accessible communication, and respect for the dignity of every person and every nation. In Augustine’s words, Peace is tranquillitas ordinis, the tranquility that prevails when everyone’s rightful place and living space is respected.

It is the injustice, the inequality, the collective envy, the contempt, the misinformation, and the demagoguery that can play on the ignorance of the foreign, which are the constant threats to Peace.

The fifth commandment reads: you shall not kill. The rule prohibits the voluntary destruction of human life. Unfortunately, the Judeo-Christian dream of shalóm has not guaranteed Peace. But it was a big step forward in human history, and if you stopped dreaming about it, the world immediately became more inhumane.

The most vital safeguard for Peace is a religiously founded respect for human life, from beginning to end, because man is made in God’s image.

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