Task 5 – Religion and Peace
a) Describe the teachings and beliefs of Christianity and Islam about peace for individuals and society b) Explain the ways in which organisations and individuals within Christianity and Islam make important contributions to peace
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The notion of peace is complex and multi-faceted. Peace is not merely the absence of hostility, violence or war but encompasses a larger concept wherein there are various contributing factors such as healthy interpersonal or international relationships, security in matters of social or economic welfare and equality and fairness in political relationships. The nature of peace is also tied to concerns of the causes for its absence or loss of which may be social injustice, economic inequality, political and religious radicalism. With so many existing issues, peace is, in reality, more a perpetual goal rather than a prevailing truth. In this sense, religion and peace are fundamentally united.
The role of religious expressions is largely guiding the individual adherent and community to a state of peace. In more ways than one, religion is simply a discipline, an ideology, of peace. Christianity and Islam, two Abrahamic religions, actively promote peace supported by sacred texts.
Peace is central to the Christian message; it was at the heart of the life and ministry of Jesus and henceforth translated into the lives of his followers. On this basis, teachings are drawn primarily from the New Testament in the Christian bible - the foundational source of teaching for all Christians. The subject of peace in the New Testament is an all pervasive theme conveyed as a primary message of God. The term ‘peace’ alone is mentioned over ninety times in the Gospels.
One of the most common Christian teachings about peace for individuals is that of unilateral accommodation centred on Jesus’ words: “I tell you not to resist an evil person. Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:39). This means that the individuals themselves must adjust in the face of any controversy; to respond to an aggressor or issue without violence. This concept of unilateral accommodation is a matter of profound practical wisdom and perhaps one of the only possible formulas for peace. Although, when applied to larger groups or societies, it does not come without dilemmas as is evident in Christianity’s history of pacifism during the Emperor Constantine’s reign in the 4th century, where such docility welcomed maltreatment and threats to freedom (both religious and otherwise), material assets and personal security. The challenges over time led to the development of a Just War Theory. The Just War Theory aimed to establish guidelines under which it was morally acceptable to engage in warfare for the maintenance of peace for larger society with consideration of religious beliefs. The theory is a doctrine; a codification of beliefs or “instructions”, principles or positions of the Christian faith on military ethics. In order to be a morally justified war seven principles must be met; at the most basic tenets include distinctions between combatants and non-combatants, limited war objectives [no unconditional surrender or victory], proportional means, along with several other criteria. Understandably, The Just War Theory is problematic in theory as well as in practice; it and war itself is inherently contradictory – no war has ever met all seven requirements. Another teaching and belief of Christianity regarding peace is forgiveness and forbearance. Christians are encouraged to forgive, to be tolerant, to act with love and to avoid selfish motives in order to establish and maintain peace with others and with themselves by preventing rather than treating conflict. The New Testament states: “You shall be the children of the Highest. Be therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be...
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