Bringing About Peace in an Ambivalent Society

A book published in 2000 jam packed with detailed information about various recent violent conflicts  that have tragically affected dozens of ethno-religous communities and challenged those seeking to bring about reconciliation and peace.  The ambivalence is about how often those with religious conviction use their religion and influence to either bring about the violence in the first place (e.g. jihad) or seek to mitigate it (e.g. the Catholic Community of Saint Egidio.  Religious extremists can be on both sides of a conflict and fully justify it’s propagation in the name of God e.g., the current deadly Sunni-Shite conflict in Syria, the Catholic-Protestant “Troubles” in Northern Ireland.

Suffice it to say that the author goes into excrutiating detail about the factions involved in a large number of late 20th century world conflicts like the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, Guatemala, Mozambique, Ireland, the Philippines, East Timor.  I could not get through it all.

I loved his analysis of militants and religious tolerance based on Diana Eck’s writings:

” Eclusivists” are enclave builders – there is only one way of understanding reality and interpreting the sacred.

“Inclusivists” hold that while there are many religious traditions, communities and truths, one particular tradition is the culmination of the others and is superior and comprehensive enough to include the others in a subordinate position.

“Pluralists” say that truth is not the exclusive possession of any one tradition or community. Rather, this diversity is not an obstacle to overcome but an opportunity for engagement and dalogue with others.

Religious communities such as the Mennonites have a strong call to peace and have been instrumental in teaching people how to bring about peace using their own local cultural tools and traditions. Powerful example. By contrast, Buddhists seeking inner peace are less likely to get involved collectively in conflict resolution work. And of course the extremist Muslim groups such as Hezbolah and Al-Queda are painted as the most intolerant and dangerous. The story of Islam reformer Abu Nasr Zayd is particularly disheartening:

Catholics have been world stage in bringing about peace e.g, Pope John Paul II in Poland and bringing down repressive communist regimes. However Appleby reminds us that in 1968 the RC Bishops in South America affirmed that Christians must pursue political justice, a statement that many took in support of liberation theology protests in Argentina, Brazil and elswhere. So called “Bible and Bazooka” groups.

I recommend this book for those interested in the interaction of religion, conflict and reconciliation as well as recent world history. An exhaustive read but formidable in its scope and insight.

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