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Peace: a scarce, but always desired, benefit


What we hear most at the start of each New Year are wishes for peace and happiness. If we look realistically at the current world situation, including the different countries, and our own, peace is precisely what is most lacking. But peace is so precious that is always desired. We must struggle hard (I almost said, we have to fight to win peace, which would be contradictory) to attain the minimum degree of peace that makes life bearable: inner peace, peace in the family, peace in labor relations, peace in the political life and peace among the peoples. And how dearly is peace needed! Besides the terrorist attacks, there are 40 centers of war or generally devastating conflict in the world.

The causes that destroy peace and impede its construction are many, and even mysterious. I will limit myself to the first: the profound social inequality in the world. Thomas Piketty wrote an entire book about The Economy of Inequalities, (La economía de las desigualdades, Anagrama, 2015). The simple fact that about 1% of the population are multi-billionaires who control a great part of the peoples’ income, and in Brazil, according to Marcio Pochman, the expert on the matter, five thousand families control 46% of the GNP, shows the level of inequality. Piketty recognizes that «the question of inequality of income from work has become the central theme of contemporary inequality, if not of inequality of all times» — Very high income for the very few and shameful poverty for the great majority.

Let us not forget that inequality is an analytical-descriptive category. It is cold, because it does not let us hear the cries of the suffering it hides. Ethical and politically it is translated as social injustice. And theologically, it is a social and structural sin that affects the plan of the Creator who made all human beings in His image and likeness, with the same dignity and the same rights to the goods of life. This original justice (the social and creative pact) has been broken throughout history and we are left with the legacy of the atrocious injustice we now have, because it affects all those who cannot fend for themselves.

One of the most powerful parts of the encyclical letter of Pope Francis on the Caring for the Common Home is dedicated to “planetary inequality” (nn.48-52). It is worth quoting his words:

«The excluded are the majority of the planet, thousands of millions of people. They are present in international political and economic debates, but frequently it seems that their problems are dealt with as an afterthought, as an issue included as an obligation or in a peripheral manner, if they are not considered as mere collateral damage. In fact, when it comes to concrete action, they are frequently left in last place… justice should be included in the discussions about the environment, in order to hear the cries of the Earth and of the poor as well» (n.49).

In this lies the principal cause of the destruction of the conditions for peace among humans or with Mother Earth: we treat our fellow humans unjustly; we do not cultivate a sense of equity or solidarity with those who have less and who endure all types of need, condemned to premature deaths. The encyclical letter touches the central nerve when it says: «We need to strengthen awareness that we are a single human family. There are neither frontiers nor political or social boundaries that permit us to be isolated, and therefore there is also no place for the globalization of indifference» (n.52).

Indifference is the absence of love, the expression of cynicism and of the lack of cordial and sensible intelligence. I always touch this last point in my reflections, because without cordial and sensible intelligence we do not offer our hand to the other to care for the Earth, that is also a victim of grave ecological injustice: we make war on the Earth on all fronts, to the point that she has entered a process of chaos with global warming and the extreme effects it produces.

In sum, either we will be personally, socially and ecologically just, or we will never enjoy a serene peace.

In my understanding, the best definition of peace was that given by the Earth Charter, that affirmed: «peace is the plenitude that results from correct relationships with oneself, with other persons, other cultures, other forms of life, with the Earth and with the Whole of which we form a part» (n.16, f). Here it is clear that peace is not something that exists by itself. Peace is the result of proper relationships with the different realities that surround us. Without these correct relationships (this is justice) we will never enjoy peace..

To me it is obvious that there can be no peace in the present context of a society that is productive, consumerist, competitive and not at all cooperative, indifferent and egotistical, globalized worldwide. Slight pacification at best. Politically, we have to create another type of society based on just relationships among all, with nature, with Mother Earth and with the Whole (the mystery of the world) to which we belong. Then the peace that ethical tradition has defined as «the work of justice» (opus justiciae, pax), will flourish.
Leonardo Boff is theologian and member of the Initiate of the Earth Charter

Free translation from the Spanish by
Servicios Koinonia,


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