The Notion of 'Peace' : Holidays Earned or Not?

The Question of Peace

Easter is for me, aside from being the most important point in the Christian calendar, a time of quiet reflection. A subject cogitated upon one evening at Mass was the question of ‘Peace’.

Peace is a word long-wedded in Christian doctrine, liturgy and rhetoric. It is also part and parcel of the lexicon of politics and social policy and, sadly, in international relations a word more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

In my musings I came to fully appreciate what a facile word it really is. It means what? Everyone wants Peace. Peace Now! Peace in our time! Peace with honour. The Peace of the Lord … and so forth and so on.

Peace has that mercurial and soporific quality that implies humanity, decency, quietness and love. Who wouldn’t want peace? It’s one of those ‘ideals’ we should strive for. Indeed its existence is one of the preconditions of civil society. But is has also become one of those throw away words more aspirational than real.

Of course the term peace is definable, at its most basic:- Peace n. 1. freedom from war, strife, hostilities or dissention. 2. a state of being tranquil or serene.[1]

These definitions are augmented by further theological and abstruse philosophical interpretations of the term – which are of little help in shaping the practical reality of a meaningful peace – whatever that may be.   

Setting aside its abstract and spiritual meanings pertaining to peace within oneself, I am concerned with the practical application of peace in its social setting. I am reminded of the question: ‘Peace on whose terms?’ Pax Romana; Pax Brittanica; Pax Sinica; Pax Domini – and so forth?  Who defines what? Peace can be arbitrary in its expression and can mean very much what we want it to mean.

So, rather than wandering aimlessly in empty rhetoric and in order to give the word some substance, I suggest that we need to define some necessary elements or attributes of peace. To this end, I further suggest that a good starting point would be with the formula:

Responsibility + Strength + Compassion = Peace.

Let us consider the notion of ‘Responsibility’ in the context of the primary unit of society, the individual citizen. Without embarking on a discourse on Civics 101, we can summarise that the individual’s role in society is to understand and accept his limits and expectations as well as his rights and his obligations to his fellows. Rather than being a passive observer or a self-perceived victim of the societal dynamic, the citizen is expected to engage with and become an actor in the affairs of his society.

On a broader national and international levels the notion of responsibility is likewise applicable. Society has its responsibilities to its citizens for its international civic conduct. It too has to understand and accept its limits, expectations, rights and obligations to both its citizens and to its fellow nations. To give effect to this it should be willing to abide by a broad charter of laws and conduct.

My next attribute, Strength, could be a subject of much misinterpretation. By Strength I certainly do not mean that: Si vis pacem, para bellum [If you want peace, prepare for war].  Although the resolve and capability of a society to defend its people and its values is undeniably a significant aspect to be considered, it by no means the sole integer of strength.  

To better illustrate my meaning let us return again to the individual: here I refer to a sense of spiritual and moral characteristics; that strength of being, purpose and strength of conviction that enables one to say: “These are my moral parameters, this my notion of what is right and what is wrong – these constitute my ethical guidelines of conduct and in this do I believe”.  

It is axiomatic therefore that, on the broader level a peaceful society needs the strength of moral compass and appropriate institutions to exercise with equity the accepted law upon its citizens. Moreover, it needs the will and a strong deterrent capacity to defend itself.

Finally, emanating from a self-confident individual or society, acting responsibly from a position of strength and conviction of its spiritual direction is the greatest attribute of all, compassion. Any such individual or society that is spiritually and materially strong must, by consequence, be able to exercise compassion in assisting those less fortunate. Furthermore, it is my view crucially important that we have the courage and capacity to look within ourselves, recognise imperfections and be willing to alleviate disadvantage, gross inequity – and iniquity – and to exercise our strength and rectitude in addressing crookedness and corruption. Then and only then, are we truly able to look outside ourselves and add our weight and compassion towards the broader world.

Thus, in the spirit of a revered text: Responsibility, Strength and Compassion, these three; but the greatest of these is their sum total – Peace.[2] 

 

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[1]The Macquarie Dictionary and Thesaurus. 1993

[2] See. The Bible. KJV. Corinthians 1:13:13.

 

 

Easter Holidays

 Bank and public holidays are enshrined in our way of life. Everyone looks forward to the long Easter weekend – it’s time for a well-deserved break after Christmas – Right?

Wrong.

Increasingly we overlook the meaning of Easter as being the subject of the holiday. Without belabouring the point suffice it to say that, given that Easter is the fundament of our Western culture, our contemporary disregard is lamentable.   

Easter is the time when Christianity defined itself. It is the moment that provides Christianity with its distinctive identity – the idea of a loving God; the idea of self-sacrifice for our sins and, ultimately: This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.[1]

This, together with the Moral Law [Ten Commandments] and our Judaic heritage are the basis of our Western Judaic-Christian culture.

With the exception of a diminishing few churchgoers and the obligatory if brief television coverage of senior churchmen delivering their Easter messages, Easter observations are overlooked in our contemporary society. The decreasing church congregations indicate a declining faith and a declining appreciation of what Easter is really about.

In reality Easter has morphed from a religious to a secular holiday. To this end, it has long been my view that Easter should cease to be a public holiday. As a secular holiday it has no meaning. So if it has no meaning it is five days taken out of a perfectly good working year paid for by employers with no tangible result. This holiday doesn’t make us a better society; people don’t go to church for moral direction or to contemplate on the spiritual nature of their existence and it would be overstretching credulity to imagine holiday makers spending their time in private religious observance, so what is the value of it?

My view is that Easter should be abolished as a public holiday and those Christians that wish to take Easter off should be allowed to do so as part of their annual leave. This would soon define the fish from the chips. Sadly, it would probably result in the churches being emptier than they already are!

I consider this measure would serve as a wake-up call to those that simply assume our cultural identity without any foundation.

I am sadly reminded of a story last Christmas emanating from the Australian state of Vitoria wherein the ultra-secular, progressive and specifically anti-Christian government prohibited the singing of Christmas carols in schools. One outraged critic argued that we should be allowed to sing Christmas carols in schools inasmuch ‘it was part of our culture’ – the fool continued by arguing that most children wouldn’t know the meaning of the words anyway!!

Really! Point.

It is indeed part of our ‘Christian’ culture - but singing carols without any appreciation of their words is akin to treating communion as a wine tasting. The fact that most kids don’t know the meaning of the words stands as testament to just how secular we have become. Moreover, the fact that carols are relegated to being just ‘part’ of our culture is an acknowledgement of our cultural poverty.

But, to return to Easter. Setting aside the complexities of the mystery of faith – surely our annual consideration of the great sacrifice made by Christ for our salvation and the betterment of mankind should be a cultural imperative for our society. If we cease to believe in that can we in all conscience claim it as a holiday?

I think not.    

[Note: Holiday. Old English hãligdaeg. Holy Day.]

 

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[1]The Bible. KJV. John 15:12.