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Peace Symposium – Biblical view

55The Review of Religions – September 2004 Some thoughts by the Venerable Dennis Ede, formerly the Archdeacon of Stoke on Trent 1989-1997. Honorary priest in charge at Tilford Parish in the diocese of Guildford (Church of England / Anglican) 1997-2002. I am writing from a Judaeo-Christian position, since Jews and Christians share the custody of the scriptures enshrined in what is called the Holy Bible. The Jewish Bible comprises the 39 books of the pre-Christian era from approximately 2000 BC, starting with the book of Genesis and finishing with the prophecy of Malachi, (these books are referred to by Christians as the Old Testament); there are several other writings including the I5 sacred writings which are peculiar to Jews and Christians in what is called the Apocrypha. There are also sacred writings for the Jews only, such as the Mishna and Talmud which are not given the same priority as for example the others. Christians have a collection of 28 sacred writings, not received nor recognised by Jews, including the four gospel records of the ministry of Jesus the Christ, plus a history of the time immediately after Jesus’ ascension, then letters and other scriptures finishing with a poetic vision of ‘beginnings and Religion is Peace Symposium On April 25th the Ahmadiyya community hosted a Peace Symposium at Baitul Futuh Mosque in London, where speakers from a number of different faiths spoke to a large audience about the subject of peace within their own religion. We produce below, two speeches from religious representatives from the Christian and Hindu faiths with the kind permission of the two speakers. The Christian Perspective Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 55 56 The Review of Religions – September 2004 Religion is Peace Symposium endings’ in a book called ‘Revelation’. These forrn the core of evidence for the Christian faith known as the New Testament. What I now have to say is an attempt at a distillation of Judaeo-Christian evidence about peace. Peace is ironic, in that it does denote an absence of war, yet it also means much more than that. Much of the story line of the Old Testament is set in a permanent state of war. For example Moses in Egypt I350 BC is chosen by God to lead the Hebrews across the Sea of Reeds through the Sinai Desert eventually settling in ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’, but not before they have fought it out with the tribes in possession of these territories. There is always a pining for PEACE, but nobody is sure what peace means. Clearly God is at times displeased with those chosen to bring about his purposes, to wit, the Children of Israel or the Jews, but God is equally if not more displeased with Israel’s opponents, for example, the Philistines the Hivites, the Perizites and the rest. On whose side is God? It is not always clear. Certainly when the Hebrews were in disfavour in about 600BC, a tyrant king Nebuchadnezzar from Babylon (modem day Iraq!) advances to take most of them into captivity in Babylon; however after 60 years God chooses a dis- believing monarch, Cyrus King of Persia to emanicipate these PEACE IS IRONIC, IN THAT IT DOES DENOTE AN ABSENCE OF WAR, YET IT ALSO MEANS MUCH MORE THAN THAT. MUCH OF THE STORY LINE OF THE OLD TESTAMENT IS SET IN A PERMANENT STATE OF WAR. … THERE IS ALWAYS A PINING FOR PEACE, BUT NOBODY IS SURE WHAT PEACE MEANS. Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 56 57The Review of Religions – September 2004 Religion is Peace Symposium Hebrews from slavery allowing them to return to their homeland in Jerusalem. What amazes me in all this is how religion, peace and war are all inter-twined. The religion cannot be told without the politics, nor politics without the religion. For me one of the great stories in the book of Judges centres on a man called Samson, a crude brute of a man, whose strength is in letting his hair grow; his wife betrays him to his enemies and they cut his hair, he becomes limp, they then capture him, but he has the last laugh. His hair re-grows, his strength returns and though his eyes have been disgorged, he manages to destroy more than 3000 in the temple of Dagon by collapsing the pillars of the temple by his great strength. How, you will ask, was God achieving peace in that situation? The story line of the New Testament is equally strange. It is about a man sent by God to sort out mankind once and for all. This man speaks wisely, he behaves compassionately, he seeks justice for the weakest, he challenges those in authority their bogus religiosity and their power politics. He becomes popular among the people without aiming to be, but in the end they all turn against him, he faces a false trial, is humiliated, abandoned by his closest friends, is murdered by crucifixion, then after three days reappears and says to them: ‘PEACE be with you’. What a strange story. In 2000 years, humankind has been educated, has discovered science, technology, art, litera- ture, music, poetry plus so much else, but we are still a threat to one another. We ask why is this our story line? We have a thousand answers, but still we do not know why. Peace is not simply the absence of war, it is much more positive. It is when we say to our enemy: Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 57 58 The Review of Religions – September 2004 Religion is Peace Symposium ‘I want you to prosper, be safe, have good health, have a family, even become rich, I want for you all that is good!’. Jesus in his sayings told his hearers: ‘you must love your enemies; it’s too easy just to love their friends!’ Jesus also said that we need to be self-critical if we want peace: ‘why’ he asked ‘do you see the spec in you neighbour’s eye and see not the plank in your own?’ Peace is about living in community and not behind gated executive estates. We cannot have peace on our own; but in our individualised society when we do not even know the folks next door, our concept of peace is about self-preservation. We can only have peace if we desire peace for our neighbour, and if we seek that inner peace which only our Divine Maker can bestow on us. Peace is thus triangular. Today religion is much discredited. How many folks would agree with the title of this symposium: Religion is Peace? Very few I fear. This religious rejection is partly caused by intellectual arrogance since the HOW MANY FOLKS WOULD AGREE WITH THE TITLE OF THIS SYMPOSIUM: RELIGION IS PEACE? VERY FEW I FEAR. THIS RELIGIOUS REJECTION IS PARTLY CAUSED BY INTELLECTUAL ARROGANCE SINCE THE I8TH CENTURY, PARTLY TO DO WITH SPIRITUAL LAZINESS YET SELF- SUFFICIENCY, BUT ALSO BECAUSE OUR CULTURE TELLS US WE DO NOT WANT TO BE OBLIGATED TO GOD OR ANYONE ELSE. Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 58 59The Review of Religions – September 2004 Religion is Peace Symposium I8th century, partly to do with spiritual laziness yet self- sufficiency, but also because our culture tells us we do not want to be obligated to God or anyone else. Religion is also discredited because of what we have done to it! Speaking for Christians, at times I feel that we have been sucked into contemporary consumerism and a lust for money as a solution to all problems. If you were an agnostic, would you today be attracted to religion? We do not have a good track record of inter-faith relation- ships, we even bicker within our own faith! Is our today’s enterprise in harmony precipitated by the contemporary warlike scene? But fear not! God, Allah, Yahweh, the Unseen One, the Creator, the Communion of Divine Beings, call it what we will, in the end his humour, his compassion, his hidden purpose will see us through; and what of ourselves, perhaps we are just half awake, half seeing, half hearing, perhaps to quote an scene in the Christian Gospels, ‘we now just see people as if they are trees’, well, that is a start at least. I congratulate our hosts the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association UK for this initiative so that we can confront these issues and be honest and not a little self-critical in the process. Sept 04.qxd 04-09-04 21:02 Page 59