How Jesus’ Message of Peace & Non-Violence Got Lost

By Mairead Maguire | (Nobel Peace Laureate)

BELFAST (IPS) – I recently visited Assisi, the home of St. Francis and St. Clare, two great spirits whose lives have inspired us and millions of people around the world.

St. Francis, a man of peace, and St. Clare, a woman of prayer, whose message of love, compassion, care for humans, animals and the environment comes down through history to speak to us in a very relevant and inspirational way.

Today, in the 2lst century, as we the human family face increasing violence, we are challenged to admit that we are on the wrong path, and that we need to find new ways of thinking and doing things from a global perspective.

Peace is a beautiful gift to have in life, and it is particularly treasured by those who have known violent conflict, war, famine, disease and poverty. I believe that Peace is a basic human right for every individual and all people.

Love for others and respect for their rights and their human dignity, irrespective of who or what they are, no matter what religion – or none – that they choose to follow, will bring about real change and set in motion proper relationships. With such relationships built on equality and trust, we can work together on so many of the threats to our common humanity.

Poverty is one such threat and Pope Francis challenges us to take care of the poor, and has declared his desire that the Catholic Church be a church of the poor and for the poor. To meet this challenge, we can each ask ourselves ‘how will what I do today help the poor’?.

Pope Francis also has spoken about the need to build fraternity amongst the nations. This is important because building trust amongst people and countries will help bring peace to our interdependent, inter-connected world.

Violence begets violence as we witness every day on our television screens, so the choice between violence and non-violence, is up to each one of us. However, if we do not teach non-violence in our education systems and in our religious institutions, how can we make that choice?

I believe that all faith traditions and secular societies need to work together and teach the way of non-violence as a way of living, also as a political science and means for bringing about social and political change wherever we live.

A grave responsibility lies with the different religious traditions to give spiritual guidance and a clear message, particularly on the questions of economic injustice, ‘armed resistance‘, arms, militarism and war.

As a Christian living in a violent ethnic political conflict in Northern Ireland, and caught between the violence of the British army and the Irish Republican Army, I was forced to confront myself with the questions, ‘do you ever kill?’ and ‘is there such a thing as a just war?’.

During my spiritual journey I reached the absolute conviction that killing is wrong and that the just war theory is, in the words of the late Fr. John L. McKenzie, “a phony piece of morality”.

I became a pacifist because I believe every human life is sacred and we have no right to kill each other. When we deepen our love and compassion for all our brothers and sisters, it is not possible to torture or kill anyone, no matter who they are or what they do.

I also believe that Jesus was a pacifist and I agree with McKenzie when he writes: “if we cannot know from the New Testament that Jesus rejected violence absolutely, then we can know nothing of Jesus’ person or message. It is the clearest of themes.”

For the first three hundred years after Christ, the early Christian communities lived in total commitment to Jesus’s non-violence. Sadly, for the next 1700 years, Christian mainline churches have not believed, taught or lived Jesus’s simple message: love your enemies, do not kill.
For the first three hundred years after Christ, the early Christian communities lived in total commitment to Jesus’s non-violence. Sadly, for the next 1700 years, Christian mainline churches have not believed, taught or lived Jesus’s simple message: love your enemies, do not kill.

During the last 1700 years, Christians have moved so far away from the Christic life of non-violence that we find ourselves in the terrible dilemma of condemning one kind of homicide and violence while paying for, actively participating in or supporting homicidal violence and war on a magnitude far greater than that which we condemn in others.

There is indeed a longstanding defeat in our theology. To help us out of this dilemma, we need to hear the full gospel message from our Christian leaders.

We need to reject the ‘just war’ theology and develop a theology in keeping with Jesus’ non-violence.

Some Christians believe that the ‘just war’ theory can be applied and that they can use violence – that is, ‘armed struggle/armed resistance’ – or can be adopted by governments to justify ongoing war.

It is precisely because of this ‘bad’ theology that we need, from our spiritual or religious leaders, a clear message and an unambiguous proclamation that violence is not the way of Jesus, violence is not the way of Christianity, and that armaments, nuclear weapons, militarism and war must be abolished and replaced with a more human and moral way of solving our problems without killing each other.

In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, argues that in a world that has moved far from the Christic life of non-violence, a clear message and unambiguous proclamation is needed from spiritual or religious leaders that armaments, nuclear weapons, militarism and war must be abolished.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

Licensed from Inter Press Service


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Pressenza Italia: “Mairead Maguire – World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates 2014”

7 Responses

  1. The pacifist philosophy proceeds from noble impulses, but reacts to the insanity of war with the mere wish that no circumstance justifies it. It can be viable for members of a minority religion, when they can live fairly normal lives under repression. The rationales for selfish war of aggression are certainly unsupportable. But not many would discourage defensive war against a terrible aggressor. Foreign “defensive” wars have usually been sold by fearmongering tyrants of the right wing to gain domestic power as described by Aristotle, and the rationales for “humanitarian” wars of liberation have often been trumped up by special interests or economic concentrations rather than resulting from any coherent global analysis of humanitarian needs and means, unless decided by international authority. But more complex issues are involved in war against tyranny, whether foreign or domestic.

    So part of the the problem is transferring war powers to international police authority under a global government. This cannot be done for the same reason that mindless wars are fought: control of democracies by economic concentrations owning their mass media and election process. Pacifism will not solve that problem, if as Jefferson noted “The Tree of Liberty must be watered by the blood of tyrants.” And that raises the question of whether that same drift to oligarchy would soon control a global government, without hope of restoration of democracy.

    Sadly, the wish for peace does not get us there. Education of human rights and sympathy (religious or otherwise) is necessary, but has not been able to hold the line as respect for human rights declined under the onslaught of oligarchy propaganda. It may be that peace and justice under democracy can be restored only after the Tree of Liberty has been watered, probably after a future cataclysm that might easily be avoided, if only everyone truly respected human rights and dignity. They don’t. The struggle for justice is systematically and effectively opposed by the selfish and hypocritical, as well as the merely ignorant and malicious. So we must ask whether the resignation of Christianity serves as defeatist propaganda, now as in many past centuries.

    • I wish there were more voices like yours at this site. In the long run, violence begets revenge, but as Keynes said about the apostasy of having governments interfere with markets in the short run in order to stave off deflationary collapse, “In the long run we are all dead.” We will keep doing bad things to each other to gain temporary advantages that we deem necessary to our current survival or dignity and dump the consequences on our children. We’ve always done that.

  2. The words of Christ was forgotten within 100 yrs…mankind has a cruel and selfish streak a mile wide…there never was peace and never will be…history shows that if a tribe can’t find a war with others ,they will fight which each other….that’s just the way we are…only against a strike by Mother Nature will mankind rise and work together..when that’s over…back to the ramparts

  3. “Pacifism will not solve that problem……”

    In the end, the “Time of Troubles” in Northern Ireland terminated with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

    It has not been perfect, but the mass amnesty of imprisoned convicts on both sides and the pledge of militants to divest themselves of weaponry has largely worked. Both sides made sacrifices and internal stability began to take root.

    Northern Ireland can be used as a model for the rest of the world.

    • Sure, but that’s not based on pacifism. Plenty of sovereign peoples have grown tired of a war and settled it without renouncing their right to wage war. Northern Ireland will either stay part of the UK and thus NATO, or join the
      Republic and have a small military that hides the reality that it lives under the hegemonic shield of NATO/US, like all the neutral states of Europe. Civil wars are different than wars between sovereign states.

  4. Top 4 reasons for loving your enemy (from sermon by MLK Jr.) :
    1. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violene, toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.
    2. Hate sears the soul and distorts the personality of the hater.
    3. Love is the only way to change an enemy into a friend.
    4. The ultimate reason is the one given by Jesus : ” love your enemies… so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
    Only by loving our enemies can we know God and experience the beauty of holiness.
    An atheist Buddhist might say that by expanding the circle of people we have compassion for to include everyone, we become liberated.
    Maybe the methods of Martin Luther King Jr and Gandhi don’t always work. But our actions will surely be more effective if try to follow Jesus’s instructions to not be angry or hateful.

    • America was built on slavery. The fortunes it made were invested all over the expanding republic. The Civil War did not undo that, and the plantation owners still ruled the South after the war. The poor whites who knew they were losers simply plotted vengeance across the generations, even switching political parties to “take back our country”. Now they talk secession, stockpile arms, but back any cop who murders a black man and blindly vote for the right of the rich to pollute and corrupt. The rich have got this country and its tradition of violence completely working in their favor.

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