Now that we’ve determined that we can’t sit around and wait for politicians to find the path to peace, who are we going to entrust this important job to? I’ll be examining this question in the next few posts, and today I’d like to introduce another candidate: religious leaders from the major faiths of the world.
It’s truly sad how badly the current leaders of the world’s religions are faring as peacemakers. Their legacy is great. We don’t need to go as far back as Jesus of Nazareth, whose sharp words should be endlessly inspiring to people of any religion. Many great peacemakers of our recent past were religious figures: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mother Teresa. The first two of these names are notable for their strict adherence to the doctrine of non-violence, and if anybody doubts the effectiveness of non-violence, they need only look at the success of the democratic, free, multi-cultural nation of India (which has weathered many crises but remains the brave nation Gandhi and his partners imagined into being) or the great progress made towards racial equality in America during the period when the innovative Martin Luther King was on television news every night. Here’s the surprising truth: non-violent protest works.
Unfortunately, no well-known religious leader of today compares to Mohatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King in either character or talent. I think I’ll refrain from naming names at this point (I’d rather buttress up my research before I start slinging any actual mud on this site, so please be patient and return soon). Today I’m just going to speak collectively about the whole set of Western religious leaders who are vocal about political issues today, including well-known representatives of various sects of Protestant Christianity, Catholicism, Sunni Islam, Shiite Islam, Orthodox Judaism, Hasidic Judaism, Reform Judaism. Yesterday I gave the politicans of the world a D+ for positive action towards peace. The religious leaders of the world, hmmm, well … is there an F-?
They are a disappointing lot. The Dalai Lama of Tibet is one exception — he’s a wonderful speaker and a humble Buddhist — but as wars rage and rockets fly and bombs fall I sometimes wish the Dalai Lama would meditate less and talk more.
Some mention Pope John Paul II as a peacemaker, and he was certainly inspiring in many ways. But in 1994 the Catholic nation of Rwanda burst into a orchestrated and politically motivated genocide, and the Vatican failed to find any way to influence events in this churchgoing nation. A million Catholics were killed by their fellow Catholics over the course of one scary month, often with the complicity of priests who allowed church grounds to be turned into slaughterhouses. (When I discussed this with a Catholic friend, he angrily asked what I expected the Pope to do: “Did you expect him to deploy the Vatican army to Rwanda?” Funny line, but what I expected the Pope to do was exercise his leadership to improve the situation. There is a direct line of communication and accountability from the Vatican to the parish priests, and I would have expected a remarkable effort to influence events, using the powerful weapons known as words.)
Other than the Dalai Lama, the field of religious leaders who work for peace is pretty empty. If I’m forgetting somebody, please do post a comment and let me know.
I plan to be observing the words of some of the world’s well-known religious figures more closely on this site in the future. Tomorrow I’ll continue this series with another party that might be considered a productive contributor towards the cause of world peace: the United Nations. (Now stop laughing. Yes, I’m going to talk about the United Nations as a positive force for peace.)