(Com)passion for Peace

Johan Galtung's notion of "religions hard and soft" presents a complex challenge. Although he would be the first to admit that a volume would be needed to tease out all its implications, his essay will serve its purpose if it reminds us of the frightening ways in which "hard" religious convictions can sometimes encourage greedy colonialism and murderous exclusion.

Galtung is hardly arguing that the cause of peace requires softheadedness or an absence of conviction. He knows that those who "identify themselves with the nondividing aspects of religion" can be found in all traditions. Fortunately, we have on hand distinguished examples of such a stance in Leo Lefebure's comparative analysis of Masao Abe, a Zen Buddhist philosopher, and Karl Rahner, a Roman Catholic theologian. His article shows these men expressing their differences in a constructive way, emphasizing what they hold in common. Note, however, that Lefebure does not claim that "Buddhist and Christian experiences are the same, for the expression of the ultimate always comes through a particular tradition." Jacob Meskin's insights on "LÚvinas and Philosophy after the Holocaust" also help dissolve the "hardness" of religion Galtung warns against. Resistance to violence and imperialism can only be strengthened by Meskin's reminder of the "irrecuperable priority of ethics, placing the person whose face confronts me before and outside of the comprehensive categories which seek to reduce him or her to nothing more than an appropriate aspect of a system."

These are not mere matters of theoretical speculation, as Mercy Oduyoye's article on African religion attests. The struggle for liberation from apartheid in South Africa has produced a deeper awareness of God's affirmation of human possibility. More and more African women, she reminds us, are experiencing God "as empowering them with a spirituality of resistance to dehumanization." This inevitably produces a demand to end long-standing patterns in church and society which have substituted the will of the male of the human species for the will of God.

Maria Mies extends this awareness in "Women and Work in a Sustainable Society," a full-scale critique of our global economic system. "Violence," she insists, "is still necessary to uphold a system of dominance oriented toward capital accumulation," and such violence is directed especially against women. Mies's argument reinforces Oduyoye's struggle against patriarchy and makes clear that there are economic implications to Galtung's emphasis on the softer aspects of religion.

Finally, Daniel J. Adams explicates four leading characteristics of post-modernity, helping us to live "between the times." His concern is not to keep up with the fashions; indeed, he warns against any theology that becomes totally wedded to specific socio-political interests. Critical of "hard" religions that resist dialogue and peace, and agreeing that theology must be enculturated, he still insists that "theology must stand in judgment over culture."

Perhaps if we look again at the design on the cover of this issue, we can resolve what may seem like contradictory claims. "This midrash," the artist explains, "reminds us of our responsibility to emulate God's compassion and to help bring about a world of justice and peace."


The design on the cover, by Gila Gevirtz, was created on a computer. A trained graphic artist, Ms. Gevirtz electronically weaves a sacred text together with her own writing and images to create a contemporary form of midrash, in this case on Isaiah 2:4.

She writes: "Recalling God's redemption of the ancient Israelites from oppression, this midrash reminds us of our responsibility to emulate God's compassion and to help bring about a world of justice and peace. (Note regarding use of womb imagery: Ha-Rachaman is a name of God meaning "the Merciful One." Traditionally, it is said that the word rachaman comes from the same root as the word rechem, meaning "womb.")

The artwork is in the shape of a vessel to reflect the biblical metaphor of God as potter (see Isaiah 64:7), 'We are the clay and You are the potter.' "

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