By Stephanie Redfern Jones
This is part two of a essay series on Politics, Culture and Religion. Check out the first in the series here.
Considered theologically, peace is something to be fulfilled eschatologically, that is, at the end of the world as we perceive it. True peace is not something that can be seen in the duration of the existence of humanity nor can it be achieved by human hand. In theological circles, anthropology (the study of humankind) is equally as important as eschatology for it matters in which direction humanity wishes to exist and progress. Indeed, the role of humanity in theological terms should be held in a very honourable position. For theology, the benchmark for power and subsequent constraints of such power are always dictated by God. As such, in a theological framework, one always begins with God and from there outlines a position for humanity to enter into the picture.
That said, let us firstly consider the role of God in relation to human activity and the concept of peace. Within the three Abrahamic monotheistic traditions, God’s role is that of Creator, Sustainer, Life-Giver. Whatever name God is assigned, the same role applies across Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike. With regards to the concept of peace, across the traditions there is a similar strand. The Holy Books contain the central messages of shalom in Judaism, salam in Islam and eirene or pace in Christianity. Such peace not only radiates from the monotheistic God but also dictates and prescribes the parameters for human action too. For Christianity, this reconciliation between humanity and God is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. In the Jewish tradition, believers are still awaiting their Saviour, or Messiah and in the Islamic tradition the very act of submitting and binding to religion, by following the example of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) leads to relationship and dedication to God – no mediatory figure is necessary.
This eschatological peace is not distant from the here and now of human experience. Indeed, it should dictate our very dealings and encourage us to live out the best possible lives we can, using the most peaceable methods we can. Necessarily, any discussion of theology and politics will involve a clash between the idealism of theology’s peace and the realism of politics which is conflict. That said, there is no reason why a dialogue cannot come of the two. As O’Riordan has suggested “the top priority of political theology has to be the understanding of peace and the quest for it.”1
Peace is a concept closely entwined with justice, another attribute considered theologically to belong to the nature of God. As part of the divine attributes, God’s justice is immutable, that is, unchanging. Here therefore is the Golden Mean or the standard by which human justice and peace should be ruled. When one considers the nature of human justice and peace, often this seems to directly contract the perfection of peace that theological discourse attributes to God. In order to bridge the gap between God and humanity, the concept of the common good can be a theme where common ground is shared. An important aside at this juncture; the nature of peace should be a foremost concern for politicians if they are also serious about engaging with the concept of the common good of humanity – something not solely reserved for a theological arena but which transcends the limits of the scope of this essay.
The concept of the common good has been of particular focus in the Christian tradition, most notably in Catholic Social Teaching. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church contains a particular section on this subject in general, and when considering the division of goods in particular, the Church recommends “an invitation to develop an economic vision inspired by moral values that permit people not to lose sight of the origin or purpose of these goods so as to bring about a world of fairness and solidarity.”2 This invitation is a call to morally responsible political action which involves those in the political arena itself but also, crucially, the democratic process of nations too – meaning the people at grassroots level. It is an interesting aside to consider in which direction the notion of common belonging takes us politically, particularly with regards to the issue of property and ownership of goods. At first one might assume a communist agenda is in order but such literalist interpretations need not be so heavily applied. An interpretation likely to be a truer representation of Catholic Social Teaching is a communitarian spirit, applied practically through the importance of values such as sharing and proper respect for one’s neighbour. This may of course have some resonances with communist ideology – that of equal distribution of goods, but where the Catholic teaching differs from the political ideology is in its foundation. Theological underpinnings always declare themselves to be above political ideologies, for according to the Abrahamic traditions, God is the central and integral reason for anything existing, therefore political discourse is subservient to the divine reality.
In this short essay I have postulated that it is necessary to conduct one’s political engagement in a moral framework which should be theologically minded. This does not require one’s engagement to be absolutely subservient to religion, but rather open to the idea that human existence has as its underlying reason, an omnipotent being who desires not only union and relationship with humanity but a peaceful existence; one which cannot be achieved solely through human endeavour, but in an eschatological dimension which has not yet been revealed to human intelligibility.
1 Seán O’Riordan, ‘Towards a Theology of Peace’, The Furrow 30:3 (March 1979), 144-154, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27660707, 145. Accessed 06/08/2017.
2 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. Part I, Chapter IV, section IIIa, 174, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/justpeace/documents/rc_pc_justpeace_doc_20060526_compendio-dott-soc_en.html#The right to conscientious objection, accessed 06/08/2017.