Peace In Perspective Chapter 5

Peace in Perspective

Chapter Five

Secular Vision Reconsidered

Recent trends

To the world, progress is the fruit of modernisation, scientific discovery, technological innovation and rational economic management. However, more and more people of learning and sensitivity realise that in the interest of being more fully human and for the sake of planetary preservation, a less materialistic and a more qualitative and humane way of defining progress is essential. They realise that it is necessary to go beyond the narrow confines of specialised fields of study in the search for answers and meaning, and to advocate fuller approaches to learning and knowing. Many now hold that everything interacts with everything else. However, the breadth of vision that is commonly sought is through enlarging the canvas; essentially through extending the search along the same plane.

Approaches to Holistic Understanding

Holism 1. Increase the number of variables, and/or increase the size of the canvas

Holism 2. Both these, but include the spiritual and the transcendent as well

In the west, the 1950s, 1960s and the 1970s witnessed the search for ‘small’ peace. For some, this was through individuals and small groups distancing themselves from conventional society with its aggressive, individualistic, competitive, commercial and materialistic ways (as during the Vietnam War). ‘Hippies’ and ‘flower-people’, tried to set up societies and communes with alternative life-styles and sets of values to match. Such moves were born of disillusionment with what western society had on offer, and particularly in the context of the deepening Cold War with its attendant threats of global nuclear catastrophe. This led also to interest in alternative spiritualities, borrowed largely from the east and adapted for western consumption.

At the same time, there emerged the notion that peace and tranquillity could be appropriated through using the correct techniques, such as transcendental meditation: essentially a ‘do it yourself’ approach to peace. Through these one could keep oneself interiorly intact, or even get in touch with ultimate reality. Some of the ‘new’ spiritualities attempted to connect the human with invisible forces. Rituals of paganism, animism or satanic worship resurfaced among many of these. Witches and wizards reappeared. So did the use of crystals, pyramids, tarot cards, ouija boards, music and incense. Some enthusiastically divinised nature, revelling in the substitution of the created for the Creator. Others emphasised goodness and beauty and God immanent, God within. Some even succeeded in persuading themselves that they were God.

The majority abandoned allegiance to formal religion (the established forms of Christianity in particular), because of gross misconceptions of God and of religion, eg.as commented on by Henri Boulad in 1991 (pp. 36-39), and because of what they regarded as the shortcomings of religions, or of their representatives. Simultaneously, they side-stepped the demands and the constraints which might be imposed upon them and on their own preferences and wishes. In so doing, they rejected the wealth of their religious traditions. Emphasis was on now on individual ‘rights’, rather than on what was right. Liberation was interpreted as the removal of restraint. Right and good became matters of personal choice, as the level of enlightenment or the circumstances or the mood dictated.

For those who believed that this life is all that there is, ‘spirituality’ helped to adjust to this. For those who believed in an after-life, some accepted karmic notions of a carry-over of the consequences of one’s performance in this life into a reincarnated state. Others held that regardless of behaviour and belief in this life happiness and peace in the next were assured. Although New Age beliefs spread widely, others adopted instead, either a hedonistic way of life with its emphasis on pleasure; or a humanistic, idealistic way of life, untrammelled by doctrine, commandments and obligations, and expressed outwardly in care and concern for people, for creatures and for the environment, but going one’s own way. In the west and in societies which take their cue from the west, an individualistic rather than a collective approach to life and to peace was the most common path chosen: private peace, and ‘Let the rest of the world go by!’ For the majority, there was little or no sense of accountability beyond this life, especially where the sense of sin had been suppressed or banished. The last was easier where one could make believe that there was none to sin against; where the divinity had been successfully dismissed from one’s consciousness. But to refuse to accept that God exists does not eliminate God: a flaw in such thinking, which fewrecognise.

Insight

That one thing, breathless,

Breathed by its own nature.

Without it was nothing whatsoever.

(Song of Creation:The Rig-veda, c.1500-800 B.C.)

Blessed be you, harsh matter, barren soil, stubborn rock:

You, who yield only to violence;

You, who force us to work if we would eat.

Blessed be you perilous matter, violent sea, untamable passion:

You, who unless we fetter you will devour us.

Blessed be you, mighty matter, irresistible march of evolution,

Reality, ever new-born:

You, who by constantly shattering the cages of our minds

Force us to go ever further and further

In our pursuit of truth.

Blessed be you, universal matter,

Immeasurable time, boundless ether….

You, who by overflowing and dissolving

Our narrow standards of measurement

Reveal to us the dimensions of God.

(Teilhard de Chardin, 1919, Hymn to Matter)

Towards the post-secular?

Secular science now acknowledges that there are realities that neither reason nor science can explain. As science goes deeper into the study of existence it is obliged to recognise the limits of its own capability, its inability to discover anything more than physical reality in its many guises, or to explain the purpose of existence.

Of interest is the attempt through quantum theory to regard physical reality as a single field. All phenomena are thought to be excitations within it, and the field boundless, without detectable qualities, and yet this single field is the source of allphenomena which come from its interaction with itself. Most working physicists,realising how little they really know about particles and sub-particles and their divisions, are only concerned with theory as a device for getting from one observable situation to another. Other physicists and philosophers of science ask the deeper questions. Richard Franklin sees a marked similarity between the characteristics (or the non-characteristics) of the quantum field and the state of pure consciousness that could be attained through stilling of the mind in deepest meditation. Paul Davies, the physicist, points out that ‘Physics can perhaps explain the content, origin andorganisation of the physical universe, but not the laws (or superlaw) of physics itself’, and that ‘The existence of mind… as an abstract, holistic organisational pattern, capable even of disembodiment, refutes the reductionist philosophy that we are all nothing but moving mounds of atoms.’ He recognises that behind the logic and the mathematical perfection of the universe there is a law and a genius that are not self-explanatory.

Impulses of Science

Science (as fact, as probability, as theory) leads to practical application

Science (transcending fact and explanation) leads to wonder and awe, philosophy, vision, direction and to God

There is a blind spot in contemporary learning and enquiry. Phenomena and other evidence that cannot be replicated or analysed and tested by science and reason tend to be rejected or overlooked. This is not because these are false or spurious as such, but rather because neither the scientific method nor reason are capable of dealing with them. Even where observation demonstrates the fact of the inexplicable, or of the miraculous, many who regard themselves as scientist or realist either pretend not to notice, or put such evidence into the too-hard-to-prove basket, clinging to a narrow ‘scientific’ vision of reality. Curiously, they fail to recognise or admit that toside-step such evidence is to reject fact and to ignore an aspect of reality, which is to frustrate both science itself and the holistic ideal of trying to see things in all fullness. However, even such attitudes are beginning to change as growing numbers of scientists see religion and science converge.

The truth of religion does not depend on or require an imprimatur from mathematics or physical science. Nonetheless, to accept the existence of a unified quantum field and pure consciousness, which seem similar in most respects, is to lead towards what Hinduism regards as the ‘ground of all being’, the pure attributeless Brahman, impersonal and utterly remote, which does nothing and creates nothing. To the Hindu, belief in Brahman points to Isvara, the personal aspect of Brahman, who is Creator and Lord, through whom all creation received its being. Panikkar, writing in 1968, explains, at length, this Hindu insight into the deity which foreshadows the Christian proclamation: ‘No one… knows the Father except the Son…’ (Matthew 11:27), and ‘Before the world was created, the Word already existed; he was with God, and he was the same as God…Through him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without him’ (John 1: 1 – 3).

Beyond Science & Reason

When science and reason

Can proceed no further

In the search for meaning,

They encounter

The mystery of Someone,

And the wise among them

Bow in humble adoration.

(B.S.)

The secular sciences assume that knowing is an enterprise in which the human is the sole active, intelligent and rational agent, and that knowledge is the product of human observation, calculation and reason. There is also the tendency to regard truth as relative and time-dependent; as a ‘commodity’ which wastes and diminishes with the passage of time. These are very limiting and constricted notions. They leave no room for time-independent truth, mystery beyond reason, and for the transcendent knowledge which people who believe in a Supreme Being are confident is given to them as revelation.

The latter recognise that while human reason and knowledge are themselves God-given aids to revelation, the revelation that comes from God is a superior, more profound way of knowing the all-encompassing reality. This is because of Where it comes from. It is also because it is a knowing about that Which and that Who matters most. It is about the One in Whom all else subsists and to Whom all else owe their being.

There is acute and humble awareness of the inability of the finite to grasp the infinite. Conscious of the limitations and limits of science and reason in this realm of human incapability they recognise the reasonableness of faith. They find it wholly consistent with reason to accept that the only way by which the human may arrive at some understanding of the mystery of God is through the revelation that comes from God, in whatever way God chooses. With Hindu, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Baha’i, they acknowledge that such faith complements and at the same time transcends reason. (See figure)

While secular scientific enquiry is valuable because it can instruct on much of creation, on what the Creator does and has done, it can say little about the Creator per se. Hindus say that to know Brahman is to reduce Brahman to the level of the creature, and that that is a contradiction. However, while the Self-revelation that comes from the Creator does not lead to full knowledge of the Creator, it affords more than a veiled glimpse of Who the Creator is, and calls to a close and loving relationship with the Creator, Who invites all to such a relationship: one in which the creature is able to cry out “Abba!” (Father) in response, in complete trust and without fear of rejection.

Names of God

Allah,

Most Gracious,

Most Merciful,

The One,

The Living,

The Self-Subsisting,

The Supporter of all,

The Creator,

The Originator,

The Fashioner,

The Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds,

Master of the Day of Judgment,

The Most High,

The Supreme in Glory,

The Protector,

Exalted in Power,

All-Knowing,

All- Wise,

Free of all wants,

Most Forbearing,

Oft-Forgiving,

Worthy of All Praise.

(The Qur-an)

Those who argue that through the power of reason alone one could discover the existence of the Supreme Principle need to face the proposition which says, as we read in Panikkar (1968, p.98), ‘either God exists, and then there is no reason alone, or God does not exist, and then certainly there is reason alone, but this solitary reason cannot prove what, by hypothesis, does not exist. ‘

Although much remains to be discovered, discussed and clarified before science and faith come closer together, there seems to be good reason for expecting future convergence on a wider scale than today, as physicist, philosopher, metaphysicist and theologian discover common ground. In such a process, each person who takes thought seriously is inexorably drawn closer to deciding in an act of mistrust or trust, whether not to or to accept an ultimate groundlessness and meaninglessness, or a prior ground and prior meaning of everything, God who is Creator and Finisher of the cosmic process.

A new seeing

While the importance of reconciliation with nature gains ground, there is another conversion, another awareness, another awakening that has yet to take place. Through the problems posed by the lack of peace on earth, humankind is being challenged to grow, to put aside the things of immaturity wherever these may lodge. This is not only to recognise the crucial importance of the spiritual dimension in men and women, but even more to accept that the human, and indeed all creation, is dependent upon the Creator. Delighting in the gifts of God, we duly realise that the human calling is to give thanks to the God of gifts, to seek the face of God, to listen to his voice, and to bow in humble adoration. Sixteen centuries ago, St. Augustine discovered the same truth, lamenting his tardiness in doing so.

Awakening

Late have I loved you, O Beauty,

So old and yet so new;

Late have I loved you!

For behold, you were within me, and I outside;

And I sought you outside;

And in my ugliness,

Fell upon those lovely things that you had made.

You were with me, and I was not with you.

I was kept from you by those things.

Yet, had they not been in you,

They would not have been at all.

You called and cried to me and shattered my deafness:

And you sent forth your light, and shone forth upon me,

And drove away my blindness:

You breathed fragrance upon me, and I drew in my breath,

And do now pant for you:

I tasted you, and now hunger and thirst for you:

You touched me and I burn for your peace.

(Confessions of St.Augustine of Hippo)

Moral judgment

Peace is not to be measured solely in quantitative, material terms. These may afford rough indicators of social, economic and political conditions, but not of peace itself. Peace is a state of being and a way of life, a relationship, a condition that is not merely, political, sociological and economic, but also profoundly ethical, moral, spiritual and religious. Peace researchers and educators are continually required to undertake a moral evaluation of situations, actions and options for the sake of peace, for the sake of tomorrow. This obliges them to ask how authentic their judgment really is, a question often left unanswered.

Such a question leads to another. Is morality relative and grounded in expediency and appropriateness to situations, or does it call for consistency? This begets a further question which asks whether an exclusively secular view of the world can accommodate or generate a moral sense that is anything other than relative, and reflecting little else than the mores and cultures of the times.

For example, among those who educate for peace are persons who hold life sacred and would not belittle or destroy it. There are others who say ‘Peace!’, but who would limit their commitment to the sanctity of life to the middle of the spectrum of human life, insisting at the same time on the right to take away life at one or both ends of that spectrum, in killing (yes, that is the word once the euphemisms are put aside) the unwanted: the unborn or the ill or the elderly. Conversely, yet others, who speak in the name of morality and decry abortion and euthanasia, countenance killing in the face of possible threats to national or group security and well-being.

False Prophets

Prophets who see delusive visions and

Who give lying divinations,

Mislead my people,

Saying ‘Peace’, when there is no peace.

(Ezekiel 13:9-10)

This raises the question as to whether there could be any morality, other than that which is relative and socially engineered, if the human were no more than a chance phenomenon destined for oblivion, and whose material substance would be duly recycled through the ecosystem. Were that the case, the honestly secular rational view should be that human morals are illusory, though perhaps useful social constructs, and that there should be no call for moral indignation in the event of the recycling process being expedited through acts of volition, violence or neglect. These may be uncomfortable for the recipients, but would be neither right nor wrong ofthemselves. Moral sense could only have validity if there is a spiritual principle in the human, a principle that transcends the limitations of recyclable matter, one which is immaterial and therefore not subject to the consequences of bodily death and breakdown. Moreover, morality implies not an inanimate something or a value which is impugned and insulted through non-moral behaviour, but Some One, exterior to and beyond the human and to whom the human is accountable.

Religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism believe in an exact balancing and carry-over from this life into a next. The good and the wrong-doing an individual commits in one existence determines his/her state when next reborn. Yet, accountability cannot be to an inexorable law, an automaton, a force or an abstraction, but only to Who Is. Without such an entity all moral concepts are merely ones of convenience. Nothing is morally right, nothing is morally wrong. Everything is maya, illusion. Likewise, peace-values become ones of convenience. The theory that holds peace to be the opposite of violence runs into such difficulties, if morality is relative to human, ecological or planetary needs. But to admit to the existence of Some One Who Is is to find oneself at the very heart of religious belief.

The concept of violence expanded: moral violence

In the context of our discussion, violence and non-violence acquire new meaning. Firstly, the notion of violence has to be expanded. In addition to direct violence whichis there for all to see, and indirect violence which is woven into the socioeconomic and political system and the cultural practices and values of people, there is another category of violence. This other violence is foreign to peace researchers and to the public at large. It is moral violence, which lodges in what often is considered correct insocieties which privatise morality. It is the violence that originates in the assumption that the human is its own point of reference, its own light, and the sole arbiter and judge of what is right and wrong, thus reducing morality to personal, social or even ecological preference and need. Metaphorically, moral violence is a game played without referee or umpire, where there is no consensus on the rules, which each player makes up as the event proceeds, and with the spectators jeering through it all and fighting among themselves.

Moral violence is also the ethic of ethical inconsistency. It manipulates and neutralisesnotions of right and wrong, or changes their moral colour. It becomes the subterfuge which substitutes, often in the name of expediency and even of good, the spurious for the genuine, the inferior for the superior, the shadow for the substance, the creature for the Creator. Moral violence confuses and culminates in societies where the blind lead the blind. By so doing, it militates against peace at all levels, for it may infect and indeed poison nations, societies, organisations, groups and individuals, whether secular or religious, and even those who would speak for peace.

Fruit of Evil

Woe to those who call evil good,

And good evil,

Who change darkness into light,

And light into darkness,

And sweet into bitter!

(Isaiah 5 : 20)

To the evil-doer

Wrong appears sweet as honey;

He looks upon it as pleasant

As long as it bears no fruit;

But when its fruit ripens,

He looks upon it as wrong.

(The Dhammapada: 24)

If there are moral and spiritual dimensions to the human and also to peace, ignoring or glossing over these in the study of or quest for peace would be irresponsible. To admit of these is to recognise that the study of and search for peace necessarily require entry into the realm of religion, belief and action.

Meta-Human Values

Some things are true

Whether we think so or not.

Some things are good

Whether they suit our interests or not.

Some things are just

Whether or not they go counter

To what we immediately want.

Some things are beautiful

Whether we happen to like them or not.

Some things are sacred

Whether we are willing to recognise them or not.

(Professor Max Charlesworth, “Liberal education and religious values”, an address given at the University of Western Australia, April 24, 1988)