Friday, December 18, 2009

Peace on Earth

A Christmas Irony

The director’s remarks regarding the film “Joyeux Noel” (Merry Christmas) and the hymn we just sang “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” based on the Longfellow poem “Christmas Bells” illuminate the timeless irony of the mythic angels’ blessing to the shepherds keeping watch with their flock: “Peace on Earth."

Longfellow, while anxious and grief-stricken for his gravely injured son during the Civil War, clearly articulated the irony: “And in despair I hung my head, there is no peace on earth I said, for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

We are at war, once again, this Christmas Season. Since 2001 we’ve been engaged in an ambiguous world wide war against Islamic terrorism. But there’s no ambiguity regarding the two hot war we’re engaged in: a war in Afghanistan we’ve been fighting since October 2001; a war in Iraq we’ve been fighting since March 2003. The War in Afghanistan seeks to root out the terrorist organization Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda promotes a worldwide Muslim holy war and masterminded the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks. The War in Afghanistan coincidentally seeks to diminish the Taliban regime that harbored Al Qaeda. The War in Iraq was ostensibly begun because Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed considerable weapons of mass destruction that were an imminent threat to America following

Both wars seek to implant freedom. George W. Bush, President at the onset of the War in Iraq, often spoke of the mission in Iraq in terms of introducing freedom and democracy into the Mideast to bend Muslims and their nations toward these Western Ideals. The War in Afghanistan has the moniker Operation Enduring Freedom. Among the names for the War in Iraq is Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Since 2003 on Christmas Eve, I’ve included in the service a meditation I wrote regarding Peace. I call it “An Audacious Light.” I vowed to reprise it on Christmas Eve as long as we’re at war.  I'll read it again this week on Christmas Eve.

It casts only a small sphere
of light,
But beyond this little sphere
the flame reaches toward
and reflects in each our eyes.

This fragile, yes fragile flame,
is nevertheless audacious:

It is an audacious light
in its brightness,
It is an audacious light
in its piercing of the darkness,
It is an audacious light
in seeking out our eyes.

Let this flame
An Audacious Peace.

Peace may elude nations.
(Tonight our Nation
is at war and
our spirits are troubled.)
But Peace is reflected
in our eyes...

This is where Peace

This is where Peace
This is where Peace
An audacious glint,
reflecting from person to person.

Look into one another’s eyes
and see a reflection, that glint,
of Peace.
Pass the reflection on.

As Peace is in our eyes,
Then let there be Peace
in our families and among our friends.
Let our sense of who is our Family
and who are our Friends
expand across the earth.

And then there
might be
Peace on Earth
Among Persons
Of Goodwill.

Then the pride and folly
of nations
Will dissolve into our shared
humanity and our common cause.

Barack Obama and a Just War

We’ve recently experienced yet again another illustration of the irony of war and peace, one which we’re complicit as a self-proclaimed peace-seeking-nation-at-war. The occasion was the acceptance by President Barack Obama of the Nobel Prize. Mr. Obama readily and coherently in his acceptance speech that he came to Oslo “filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace and our effort to replace one with the other.”

After a brief disclaimer regarding the controversy over his selection, Mr. Obama began his speech with remarks regarding a so-called “just war.” He spoke to a proud American legacy forged from World War I through the end of the Cold War: “the ideals of liberty, self-determination, equality and the rule of law have haltingly advanced.” And without using the term he alluded to the Pax Americana (the American Peace) after World War II.

Contemporary wars are different he said. Today wars are often within nations rather than between nations and kill a disproportionate number of civilians in the process. And of course terrorism proposes a unique threat whereby a handful can wreak havoc on multitudes. War and peace must be rethought. And he declared “There will be times when nations—acting individually or in concert—will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justifiable.”

Immediately after certain wars morally justifiable, he invoked the idealism of King and Gandhi and their pronouncements of non-violence in the name of love. Mr. Obama declared that he personally is than “living testimony to the moral force of non-violence.”

Yet he is a head of state sworn to protect and defend his nation.

So he has a huge dilemma and offered his rationale/justification in solving that dilemma of ideals and vision versus responsibilities and realities.

With incredible efficiency he sketched the basis of what is called “moral realism:” evil exists and sometimes force against it is necessary given history, human imperfection and the limits of reason. Now friends, this analysis bows to a mid 20th century theology articulated by the Protestant thinker/clergy Reinhold Neihbur who was instrumental in reviving a modern notion of original sin and wrote passionately, and for some persuasively, about the immorality of nations and societies. Moral Man and Immoral Society, one of his influential books, power, not reason, reigns supreme in the affairs of nations, societies, and social classes. (Mr. Obama in a 2007 interview with David Brooks called Reinhold Neibhur one of his favorite philosophers.)

But, and the but has many components, there are ways and means of morally conducting war when war is necessary. These standards must be articulated and adhered to.

He also outlined ways and means to avoid war by building a just and lasting peace. It was in this section that Mr. Obama spoke of advocating worldwide human rights, in accord with the dignity of every individual. Here he iterated economic security and opportunity. He invoked, without saying, the name and the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt. “For true peace is not just freedom from fear but freedom from want.” So the expansion of human rights and opportunity is one of the means for finding lasting peace.

Many thoughtful commentators have already cited Mr. Obama’s Oslo Speech as his most brilliant, threaded with strands of high morality and worldly realism, hence the judgment that it reflects the stance of “moral realism.”

Hearing it as it was being delivered, my first reaction was disappointment at his “just war” proclamations that serve to promote a status quo of dubious origins and specious motives. I understand the responsibilities of his office and the politics of the moment he had to reconcile to principles. Still, I wanted more principle, yes, more of the ideals of love and non-violence he associated with King and Gandhi and less of a so-called “moral war,” because the Oslo platform was the most bully pulpit Mr. Obama will ever stand behind..

A Doctrine of Human Security

And I’ve recently become an advocate of a relatively new strategy for attaining world peace. (Power vs. power, violence, as Dr. King said “never brings peace…solves no social problem.” Interestingly, Mr. Obama referred to this new strategy I’m liking when he spoke of human rights, particularly freedom from fear and want. This emerging, new, people centered approach for meeting conflict both within and between nations, is being called the doctrine of human security. This emerging doctrine emphasizes human rights and dignity, and is associated with Franklin Roosevelt’s famous speech at the beginning of World War II known as “The Four Freedoms:” freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.”

I’ve become an advocate of human security in preference to national security, especially in regards to world peace. We should bend our considerable efforts and treasures to effecting human rights at home and in the world. I’m glad Mr. Obama spoke to human rights in his Oslo Speech; but I want human rights to have been at the center, because it is a cause that is also an effect.

I think the philosopher/psychologist William James got it right, both practically and idealistically a century ago, in a quotation I’ve used before. (Remember, Pete Seeger has it painted on the side of his barn.) ”I am against bigness and greatness in all forms, and with those invisible, molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, stealing in through the crannies of the world like so many soft rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of man’s pride, if you give them time”

In closing I ask you to remember the gist of my reflection on peace, “An Audacious Light:”

Look into one another’s eyes
and see a reflection, that glint,
of Peace.

Pass the reflection on.

And so an “invisible moral force” working from individual to individual may transform our world.  I envision no other way that doesn't sow the seeds of violence time and time again than this doctrine of human security.  Pass on human rights.


  1. Peace on Earth???

    Aren’t humans amazing Animals? They kill wildlife - birds, deer, all kinds of cats, coyotes, beavers, groundhogs, mice and foxes by the million in order to protect their domestic animals and their feed.

    Then they kill domestic animals by the billion and eat them. This in turn kills people by the million, because eating all those animals leads to degenerative - and fatal - - health conditions like heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, and cancer.

    So then humans spend billions of dollars torturing and killing millions of more animals to look for cures for these diseases.

    Elsewhere, millions of other human beings are being killed by hunger and malnutrition because food they could eat is being used to fatten domestic animals.

    Meanwhile, few people recognize the absurdity of humans, who kill so easily and violently, and once a year send out cards praying for "Peace on Earth."

    ~Revised Preface to Old MacDonald’s Factory Farm by C. David Coates~

    Check out this informative and inspiring video on why people choose vegan:

    Also see Gary Yourofsky:

  2. Vegaia,

    I'm a vegetarian, too. Are you familiar with my quote collection: In Praise of Animals?