Believing there is a better way

Published February 1, 2004

The Human Right to Peace
by Douglas Roche
271 pages, $24.95

At the end of this month it will be Lent again and, as always, I am haunted by that question in the Book of Prophet Micah (6:8b) “and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” As we recall Jesus’ sojourn of 40 days in the wilderness, with its temptations and contemplate the wilderness of the modern world with its multiple temptations and endless wars, the question demands a response. Our traditional Lenten programs highlight the need for growth in loving kindness and provide opportunities for both learning and action. Similar opportunities are provided for pursuing personal holiness. But what about justice? Where does it figure in our collective Christian conscience? And where does peace fit in the Lenten menu? Can there be any peace without justice?

Justice is a touchy topic because it begins with identifying and exposing injustice. It may mean confronting spiritual and earthly wickedness in high places. In other words it can lead to upsetting the status quo apple cart. An excellent book for Lenten study groups concerned about peace and justice is Douglas Roche’s The Human Right to Peace. His credentials include being elected to the Canadian House of Commons four times, being Canada ‘s ambassador for disarmament and elected chairman of the United Nations Disarmament Committee, and appointment to the Canadian Senate in 1998. In recognition of his work he has been awarded the United Nations Association’s medal of honour, the Pomerance Award for work at the United Nations on nuclear disarmament, and the Papal Medal for his service as special adviser on disarmament and security matters.

It is his thesis that we need to move from a “culture of war” to “a culture of peace.” He begins by cataloguing what a culture of war has meant through the 20th century. The millions of people who died in war after war, combatants and civilians, was catastrophic and instead of bringing peace, each war has led to further conflicts. There are those who profit from warfare and he recalls the warning of U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower in 1961 about the development of the “military-industrial complex” which has now become a powerful political force world-wide. He believes that in this context “just war” theories are outmoded and, “(have) been superseded by the scientific, cultural, and legal developments of the modern world,” and that, “politically, society lags behind, burdened by the trappings of the culture of war.” He believes there has to be a better way.

He then recalls the work and lasting significance of those who have followed a different path and shown the world that other options are available. He evaluates the work of Mohandas Gandhi in India, Martin Luther King in the United States, Nelson Mandela in South Africa and quotes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If the only thing we ever did was to say strongly to people, please stop the violence, we will have advanced the kingdom of God in an incredible way.” He goes on to mark the contributions to the cause of justice and peace of the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Archbishop Oscar Romero, and comments, “A culture of peace may still be a goal rather than the dominant reality (but) the programs for a culture of peace are slowly taking shape.”

He faces head-on the question, “Can religions resolve conflict or do religions cause conflict?” He acknowledges that “religious wars” of the past have “filled many people with horror and distrust of religion.” He then examines the nature of the world’s great religions and the centrality of compassion, love and peace that all share. It is fundamentalism in all religions that distorts this central message and foments ideologies of fear that lead to violence. We live in an age when “the crisis of our time requires religions to speak to the consciences of humanity with a message of unity. We have one destiny. We live or die together in the struggle for peace.”

This book is about daring in faith and practical action. It is a message of hope for a growing recognition of peace as a sacred human right, and for the development of a culture of peace to replace the culture of war. It is a Lenten pilgrimage seeking a path through our contemporary war-torn wilderness. Douglas Roche believes that we may never see a full blossoming in our wilderness, but, “Our role, as the 21st century begins, is to nourish the seeds of peace so that the blossom appears.” And what is that “but to do justice?”


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