The message of every religion is that peace in man or in society is disrupted when man forgets that he is a being-in relation, over-emphasizes or exaggerates his personal autonomy; when he forgets that he was made to live selflessly and in conformity to the basic norm which established, maintains, and promotes shalon Peace in religion is not an abstract concept; not a mere sentiment. It is an urgent matter of life or death. It is to he sought, pursued, achieved, attained, and maintained … Each religion violates peace by internal divisions ova non-essentials; religion quarrels with religion in consequence of perverted particularity – often dictated by non-religious motives.
Prof F. Bolaji ldowu.’
Peace is a function and consequence p1 cordial relationships. By examining the possibilities of such relationships among the world’s religions, and between those religions and “secular” institutions (e.g. governments and agencies) this paper concentrates on the positive contributions which religions could make toward the achievement of world peace. More specifically, the paper suggests practical ways and means through which such cordial relationships could be established and maintained among world religions and between them and other sectors of the human community. The paper stresses areas of co-operation between governments and religions and among religions themselves. It recommends, among other things, that religions place more emphasis on the issue of social justice in their ethical teachings and social programs, that they dialogue among themselves, especially on the issue of world peace, and that the comparative study of religions be introduce in schools and in religious institutions as a way of “educating for peace.”
Although the world has known about wars and ideological conflicts caused by religions and religious motives, yet religions can contribute to the peace of the world. It would appear, therefore, that the religions of the world have within themselves the potential for both war and peace. For instance, the “tribal” religions of Rome and Greece had both chief gods of war and gods of peace. In the religion of ancient Rome, Mars was the god of war, while that of the Greeks was known as Ares. In the religious systems of both Rome and Greece, sacrifices, rituals, and omens were regular religious preludes to war. But Rome at the same time personified peace, Paz, and the Greeks on their part had their Athena Promachos and Apollo as goddesses of peace, although even these goddesses of peace could also he invoked to give strength and victory to Greek soldiers at war. The notable Greek goddess of peace was Demeter, the goddess of harmony and peaceful co-existence who are also the goddess of agriculture — giver of grains and preventer of famine (although she was also believed to he able to bring about famine). The Greeks also had Eirene as another goddess of peace.
Among European primal religions, too, there were gods and goddesses of war or even warring gods. For example, there were the legendary warring gods Aesir and Vanir in Scandinavian primal religion. In Norway, there was Thor, the red-bearded god who was at once a god of thunderstorm, of war, and of fertility. Then there was another Norwegian god of battle, l’yr (or 7}w) from whose name our Tuesday is derived.
Also, in spite of their teaching of ahirnsa (non-violence or peaceful settlement of disputes), Oriental religions, especially Hinduism and Sikhism, have the potential for war. And those familiar with Judaism, Islam and Christianity know that, despite their preaching of peace, much of their history has often been marred by periods of war.
In African traditional religions, too, gods of war are galore. For instance, the Yoruba of Nigeria have Ogun as their god of war who possesses all iron and steel from which materials instruments of war and destruction may be made. Other African ethnic localities also have their own gods and goddesses of war and peace.
I see the possibilities for peace in our multi-faith world in the following six areas.
1. change of attitude of particularist claims on the part of the world’s religions:
2. governments/religions co-operations;
3. comparative study of religion
4. inter-religious dialogue
5. stress on the ethical content of religion
6. bridging the gap between the sacred and profane.
Before I proceed to examine briefly the above six areas, I must state from the onset that I do not see peace merely as an abstract theoretical sociological or theological concept. Rather, I see it as a practical concern which needs practical actions towards its achievement. Such practical actions include the practical steps suggested in this paper. I believe that when peace is understood in that way, it can he pursued intelligently and purposefull with good results. Moreover, because the steps suggested herein are intended to be practically didactic (that is, “educating for peace”), the style of the present paper is deliberately mainly prescriptive instead of being completely theoretically analytic.
1. CHANGE OF ATTITUDE OF PARTICULARIST CLAIMS ON THE PART OF THE WORLD’S RELIGIONS. 3
To begin with, the religions of the world must be willing both at the formal, official level and at the personal, individual adherent’s level, to change their attitude of particplarist claims, such as the claim to be the only path to humankind’s spiritual and socio-cultural salvation. They should he willing to concede that each of them has a role to play in the processes aimed at eventual human emancipation. Such a change of attitude, if achieved, will aid not only the process of dialogue and a cordial working relationship among them, but will also reduce c if not eliminate completely, the rivalry and hostility that now characterize their attitudes toward each other as they effortfully struggle to win converts to whom they can then sell their ideologies.
Here is precisely where African traditional religions can contribute immensely toward ensuring peaceful co- existence in our religiously and ideologically plural world. For since these religions are not deliberately engaged in the mission of conversion and of selling their ideologies to prospective converts, rivalry, conflict and competition are not part and parcel of their programs as it is often the case in Islam and Christianity, for instance. Indeed, the absence of sects, schisms and splinter groups among African ethnic religions is good news for the prospects Of peace and harmony in the contemporary world. African indigenous religions are rather characterized by an ethic of “live-and- let live”, which is more likely to create an atmosphere of co-operation and peaceful co-existence in a religiously pluralistic world.
True African traditional religionists may now be advocating a kind of cultural revival. But that is something quite different from calling for new conversions into the traditional religious systems. A call for cultural revival is not likely to bring about as much religious antagonism and fanaticism and their negative social consequences as would the call for new conversions which, by their very nature, rock the cultural and spiritual boat of a people. The point that is being made here is that if the religions of the world would emulate this “live-and-let-live” tolerant and accommodating spirit of African indigenous religions, the days of religious intolerance and concomitant costly social upheavals would soon be over in many countries of the world.
2. GOVERNMENTS/RELIGION CO-OPERATION
It is suggested here that for a cordial government/relationship and concomitant societal peace, there must exist in the countries of the world mutual recognition and respect between governments and religions. This means, in effect, that religious communities must recognize, respect, and co-operate with all efforts of government aimed at societal unity and stability.
Governments should reciprocate to religious communities recognition, respect, and co-operation. Furthermore, governments should encourage religious groups in the latter’s efforts to perform their social and religious functions ultimately aimed at societal harmony. As much as possible, governments should respect their constitutional provisions of freedom of religious expression and practice for their citizenry (where such constitutional provisions are applicable, of course), and refrain from unnecessary control of, and intervention in, religious activities, except, of course, where such activities threaten the peace and stability of the society. A situation in which a government is known or suspected to enthrone or even support, directly or indirectly, secularist ideologies, cannot be conducive to the existence of peace in any society, especially since every society in the world has living in it inhabitants with religious sensitivities. Therefore, any action, conscious or unconscious, on the part of a government that appears to enthrone or support secularist ideologies can only create an atmosphere of suspicion or even of tension and direct confrontation and antagonism against the government on the part of its religious inhabitants. In such a situation, both the government and the secularist ideologies it supports or appears to support or sponsors become the common enemy of the religious inhabitants. Such an atmosphere cannot he conducive for the peace of any society.
Neither should the governments of the world allow themselves to become victims of the consequences of what Professor Ogbu Kalu has quite appropriately tagged “the dangerous neglect.” by which is meant government neglect of the revolutionary power of religion in human affairs (including political affairs), and the concomitant government neglect of studying ways and means of maintaining the correct relationship between the religious and political spheres of life. The situation of conflict and unrest between governments and religious groups in Latin America and South Africa is a good example of what can happen in any society where there is no co-operation and proper communication and understanding between governments and religions.
Moreover, no government should he seen to be using anyone religion in a religiously pluralistic society to its own socio-political advantage or to the advantage of that particular religion. If any government tried to do that, it would be indirectly sowing the tares of discord among the adherents of the other religions in that society against the favored religion. That state of affairs would certainly be inimical to the existence of peace and inter-religious harmony and co-operation. That, in fact, is the kind of situation which can easily start off the fire of religious intolerance and fanaticism in a country. For example, much of the religious riots and disturbances in contemporary Nigeria may be traced to what many Christians in and outside that country have feared to have been deliberate government policies and programs that have always tended to favor only Nigerian Muslims.
Religious groups, on their own part must refrain from doing those things that might undermine or foil government efforts, especially efforts aimed at government economic policies and programs. They must not, for instance, he seen to he using the occasions of their pilgrimages to the holy lands of their religious traditions as opportunities for smuggling or for other forms and guises of economic sabotage. For if they were found to be doing that, any government would, quite justifiably, let the big stick fall on them again a situation which would lead the citizens of any country to cry out if erroneously, that there can he no successful marriage between religion and politics.
Of course, we know that there can be, and historically has been such a marriage between religion and politics (the historic Constantine-Roman Catholicism alignment comes to mind here), even though there may be occasional discord in such a marriage, as indeed in every marriage relationship. As far as the relationship between religion and politics is concerned, I am inclined to agree generally with Stephen
Tonsor who has said:
There can he no politics without religion, for the basic paradigms of order in human societies are religious. The historic past has known no completely religious or secular societies. It is interesting to observe that those political orders which today pride themselves on their secularity on examination turn out to he disguised religions..
Thus, one way in which the world’s religions can contribute to the survival of human societies is to promote a form of civil religiosity by working hand-in-hand with governments in their (governments’) efforts to build and maintain a peaceful world community
3. COMPARATIVE STUDY OF RELIGIONS
One of the major causes of hatred, rivalry, suspicion and, consequently, conflict, among the world’s religions has been, to a large extent, ignorance or each other’s beliefs and practices and of the philosophies and world views which give rise to those beliefs and practices on the one hand, and the philosophies and world views which are derived from the beliefs, and practices on the other hand. Adherents of the world’s religions could overcome much of their hatred, rivalry and suspicion among themselves if they would take the time and the trouble to study objectively and appreciate what (and perhaps why) each other’s religion teaches and practices. Such objective study of each other’s beliefs and practices would bring about fl and appreciation of those beliefs and practices which understanding and appreciation could (would) ‘in turn enhance religious tolerance and harmony in our multi-faith world.
To achieve that objective, governmental educational policies in the various counties of the world should n the teaching of the major religious traditions of the world at all levels of the educational system. At the elementary school level, pupils should be introduced to basic elements of the beliefs and practices of those religions. At the secondary school and university levels, they should be exposed to the comparative on study of the religions with a view to helping them to appreciate the common elements as well as the differences among the religions. Such education in comparative religious studies will prepare the youths of the world, tomorrow’s leaders, quite early in their lives to grow up to appreciate and tolerate religious views, values and ideologies different from their own, even those with which they may disagree vigorously. It will also prepare them to live peacefully in a religiously plural world in which it has become inevitable for people of different religious persuasions and values
to live together as neighbors.
Furthermore, a close comparative study of the world’s religions can contribute immensely to people’s understanding of the political concepts and philosophies being used in the different countries of the world. This is possible because there is a relationship (unfortunately not often seriously explored) between the study of religions and political education. For instance, since religious ideas and values often color political decisions and ideologies (especially in Islam), a study of the religions of a given society can aid the people of that society to understand (and perhaps appreciate and tolerate) the religious foundation of certain political views being held within that society. We must always remember that belief – religious or other – can have political consequences. An example which Professor Ninian Smart gives of the relationship between religious belief and political ideology is perhaps pertinent here: “It does not make sense to discuss modem religion in Poland, Israel, or Iran without seeing how various blends and tensions have developed between religions and political ideologies.” In Nigeria, for another example, the relationship between Nigerian political and Nigerian religions (especially between Islam and Christianity) can only be ignored or toyed with at a great risk. For in Nigeria that is much religion in politics and much politics in religion. Unless the relationship between the two realms of affairs is handled cautiously in that country, a dangerous explosion could occur.
The issue at stake here may be articulated thus: How is it possible for any country in the world to achieve a viable, peaceful political order within a religiously (and therefore ideologically) plural territory? Su an achievement, I contend, is only possible in a religiously stable and co- operative society. That kind of society is a definite prerequisite for a meaningful political order anywhere in the world. In that connection, it is possible for adherents of the different religions in a religiously plural society/country to examine the prescriptions, practices, institutions, and attitudes of each other’s religions from their (the examiners’) particular religious tradition’s point of view. Such cross-religious and inter-religious examination can result in an increased political and religious understanding which is essential for peaceful co- existence and co-operation in a multi-faith situation. In the global context, responsible statesmen and stateswomen around the world must take these matters into serious consideration in their international relations policies, for the sake of world peace.
One of the advantages of the comparative study of religions is the discovery in the process of both the common elements and the differences among religious traditions. Both the similarities and the difference thus discovered can be very educative. But in the context of inter-religious dialogue (see the next section), religious traditions naturally find it a lot easier to deal with the similarities than with the differences. Yet the differences should not be ignored. Neither should the student of religions nor the religious person pretend that differences do not exit among religions. Rather, the differences should be closely and objectively studied in order for the student or the believer to appreciate and benefit from the richness and diversity of human religiosity. One of such benefits, for our purposes, is religious tolerance and understanding. This benefit is possible when the common elements in religions are allowed to unify the diversity in them. Another benefit of the comparative and objective study of religions is that it makes the student to be more prepared for inter-religious dialogue than if he or she knew only his own religious tradition. We cannot dialogue meaningfully and fruitfully with persons whose beliefs and religious views we do not know, let alone understand. Here again I cannot but agree perfectly with Smart when he says: “It is … necessary to have dialogue with persons of a tradition in order to understand it and get its feel — and such dialogue is part of the methodology of doing the history of religion …
4. INTER-RELIGIOUS DIALOGUE
Closely related to the important issue of the comparative study of world religions Is the need for dialogue among these religions. The concept of dialogue which I have in mind here has nothing to do, however, with the ulterior motive of the dialogue partners who try to “win over” or convert the other partners into their own religious camps. In any inter-religious conversation in which such a motive is paramount, the result is usually disastrous, defeating the very objectives of the conversation. In such situations, the different religious camps involved In the dialogue (if, indeed, one can call such a venture a dialogue), become suspicious of each other and the result is a wider gulf between them.
But I believe that if the religions of the world are going to contribute their quota towards the achievement of world peace, there must be constant genuine communication among them, especially communication touching the issue of finding ways and means of achieving world peace and, of course, also matters that concern their differences and common grounds. Such dialogue will certainly increase their self-understanding and other-understanding, which understandings will promote cordiality and harmony in a world that has seen so much strife, including religious strife. Furthermore, inter-religious communication will help to eliminate considerably from among religions at least several of the elements of possible conflict. Moreover, it will be conducive to inter-religious harmony, for religions that dialogue together are more likely to live together harmoniously. I believe that when the religions of the world enjoy a peaceful co-existence, one possible area of social and religious conflict will have been prevented from developing in national and international relationships. For as John Macquarrie has correctly pointed out, “ When people can talk together even about their differences, there is often remarkable progress towards a fair resolution of the conflict. “‘° Lack of communication among religions, on the other hand, breeds lack of understanding and suspicion which in turn breed conflict in the societies in which the religions exist.
In concluding this section of our discussion, it is pertinent, perhaps, to recall here a rather relevant statement from the 3rd century BC Buddhist Emperor Ashoka of India:
Whoever, honors his own sect and disparages another’s, whether from blind loyalty or with the intention of showing one’s own sect in favorable light, does one’s own sect the greatest possible harm. Concord is best with each hearing and respecting the other’s teachings.
This statement (when one changes the word “sect” to “religion”) is both inspiring and instructive, coming as it does from a religion-cultural heritage which has for centuries demonstrated the possibility of peaceful religious co-existence and, generally, religious tolerance and understanding. The statement is also a big challenge to the religions of our contemporary world.
5, STRESSES ON THE EFI CONTENT OF RELIGION
An area of possibility for peace in a multi-faith world often neglected by students of religion and society lies in the opportunity which Concord is best with respecting the other’s religions have in stressing the moral or ethical content of their teachings; that is, those aspects of their teachings that deal with good conduct toward fellow human beings. As we know, every religion teaches its adherents to be loving, kind, truthful, just, honest, humble, disciplined, tolerant, harmless, hardworking, altruistic, and selfless toward their neighbors, who do not share their religious convictions. Such teaching is usually predicated on the fact of our common humanity and brotherhood and, in the theistic traditions, on our common ancestry in the fatherhood of God, the Supreme Creator or, in non-theistic traditions, on the recognition of the supreme power of some Ultimate Reality.
Especially in today’s unjust world, the religions of the world have a divine responsibility to sensitize people everywhere to the indispensability of social justice for world peace. The religions must produce great prophets and protagonists of social justice. In this case, they must be “revolutionary” against the status quo which operates unjust and oppressive social systems. Such “revolution” may bring about conflict between religion and secular authorities or the status quo. But such is a necessary conflict — the kind of conflict that, paradoxically, results in peace. That kind of conflict may he illustrated in the saying that in order fur a people to have peace they must first of all go to war! It is further illustrated in the sayings of Jesus Christ who, in one bràath, said “…I came not to send peace, but a sword,” but in another breath he said: “Peace 1 leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” It would seem from the above sayings of Jesus that he knew that in order for the world to experience real and lasting peace, it was necessary for the status quo to be shaken with his “revolutionary” teaching and mission which have since divided the world into two opposing camps – the camp of the oppressors and that of the oppressed. It is in this connection, then, that one may speak of the necessity and value of conflict. Such may he described as creative and positive.
The Brazilian bishop Helder Camara has commented on the above apparently contradictory peace sayings of Jesus as follows:
There is no doubt that Christ came to bring peace to men. But not the peace of stagnant swamps, not peace based on injustice, not peace that is the opposite of development. In such cases Christ himself proclaimed that he had come to bring strife and a sword. 14
Macquarrie has echoed Camara’s affirmation, saying: any peace worthy of the name can never be simply the preservation of tranquility but must be a peace based on justice and offering the possibility of fulfillment to all…, no one and no group can he truly at peace until there is the general enjoyment of power and freedom…. There can be no peace in the fullest sense of a wholeness, dignity and freedom for all men unless many areas of life—political, social, racial, economic, personal and so on – are transformations all interlock with each other. ‘
The religions of the world already have the mandate and resources in their sacred scriptures which challenges them to be advocates of social justice. It remains for them to take up that challenge seriously and religiously. When they do that, humankind will begin to notice improved peaceful and cordial relationships among the religions and nations of the world. It is the responsibility of individual religious traditions to work out the specific modalities for achieving such noble objectives.
On the other hand, if religions fail in this vital mission, they fail and disappoint the world. The consequence of that failure will be continued intra-religious, inter- religious, intra-national, and inter-world in an atmosphere of social injustice and inequalities. The situation in the contemporary world is a clear testimony to this simple fact.
What all this means, as I said before, is that peace is not merely an abstract intellectual or even spiritual concept. There is a material and social dimension to it. In many respects, it is when this material and social dimension of peace is undermined or underestimated that the world begins to hear of wars and rumors of wars.
6. BRIDGING TUE GAP BETWEEN TUE SACRED AND THE PROFANE
The religions of the world should endeavor to bridge any gap that may still exist between the sacred and the profane —between the religious and the secular. Those religions with the Judaic-Christian background, for instance, should particularly heed this counsel, because unlike the African indigenous and Islamic traditions, they tend to dichotomize the world into the sacred and the profane, thereby creating a generally unhealthy relationship between the two realms of existence, a relationship that can sometimes bring about conflict (i.e. absence of peace) between the two when the things of Caesar are emphasized over and above, and even against, the things of Christ, or vice versa. That dichotomy is a serious attack on the ethics of wholism, of life as a whole. When the followers of Caesar or of Athens, for instance, are pitted against the followers of Christ or of Jerusalem, there can hardly be peace in the camp. This means that for meaningful and lasting peace to reign in our multi-faith world, its religions must somehow find ways and means of working co-operatively with its non- religious establishments and agencies. For, after all, man is made of both the religious (the spiritual) and the non- religious (the material), and must therefore, maintain a rational equilibrium between .the two in order for things work peacefully in the world. In this regard, I agree with Gregorios when he says that . . .uniting the secular and the religious together is our only option for the unity of the human race.”
It has often been said that whenever and wherever there is the will-for action, there must be the way(s) for executing that action. In this paper, I have outlined a number of ways which, if tried, will certainly yield some measure of positive results for the realization of peace in the world. Peace is possible in our multi-faith world. Religions have an immense part to play towards its achievement and maintenance.