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Nonviolence News



These are regular editorials produced alongside the corresponding issues on Nonviolent News.

Issue 128: April 2005

Also in this editorial

The church and John Paul II

The death of John Paul II after almost 27 years as Pope has removed an enormous figure from the world stage, as reactions to his death have indicated. It is difficult at this point to give a balanced measure and assessment of the man without either seeming on the one hand eulogistic or disappointed on the other, and so we will not be trying to make that overall assessment. But some comments are due. He certainly did not believe that the medium was the message but, a former amateur actor, he used all his charm and skill in the emerging global, public arena where he spoke forcefully against war, for economic justice, and against tyranny. As such, he raised the profile of those who suffered from war, economic injustice and tyranny, and put down some forceful markers. At times those markers assisted a process of transformation (as with his native Poland) and at others were ignored by the rich, the powerful, and even those relatively powerless (the IRA ignored his call during his visit to Ireland in 1979 to stop violence). On the continuity and change scale John Paul was seen as conservative on many matters but he was a consummate communicator who spoke forcefully for a world that would respect human dignity.

Stalin is meant to have asked "How many battalions has the Pope?" as a way of pointing to the powerlessness in certain situations of an institution like the Catholic Church. But in fact the battalions of ideas, concepts and beliefs are, over time, more powerful than armaments. The pen, or the word, is more powerful than the sword, again over time.

Some Christian churches, and some parts of many, have got themselves into a muddle of a holy huddle. Looking inwards, and to their own salvation, they have denied the needs of their neighbours and the world. John Paul II, as leader of by far the largest Christian church for a full generation has challenged some of the rich and powerful while others have found a way to live with unpalatable teachings. John Paul himself had many contradictions - welcoming political action by the church in Poland under the transformation from communism but opposing liberation theology and theologians in Latin America, to name but one.

Jesus was not a political radical but he was a radical in what he asked of his followers. Loving your neighbour as yourself is difficult even in western suburbia - how can it be done when your neighbour is a Latin American or African peasant or an Asian factory worker? And the 'historic peace church' understanding of Jesus' teaching and the necessity of nonviolence for Christians asks for a very different way of relating to the world than that usually exercised by governments and rulers, but, arguably, something which fits with the mould of the early Christian church.

As the Catholic Church moves on to the election of a new Pope, and as Christians as a whole move well into their third millennium, the challenge is to see the difference their faith makes. Christians, in their search for their own heaven before or after death, can make it hell on earth for others. We look forward to the positive contribution which the Christian churches can make for all on this globe. And we look forward to the positive contribution which the Pope's battalions of believers can make to human dignity. That indeed would be a fitting epitaph to the life of John Paul II.

The IRA at the fork in the road
As Gerry Adams calls on the IRA to commit itself solely to political and democratic means (in a carefully worded and cleverly nuanced statement), there are many questions in the air. Eleven years after the ceasefires of 1994, and seven after the Good Friday Agreement, most people expected such issues to be dealt with long ago. Except that they haven't been dealt with, for a variety of reasons not least being the reluctance of some within the IRA to finally and decisively abandon armed struggle for the political process. Those within the 'republican movement' who have tried to move the political process along have also tried to keep everyone in the IRA on board. But, subsequent to the Robert McCartney killing and the Northern Bank raid, the IRA is increasingly a liability to Sinn Féin, a millstone around its neck in developing its vote and influence further.

Gerry Adams would probably not have made the call he did - in the context of the start of an electoral campaign for both seats at Westminster and for local elections - unless he felt sure of a reasonably successful outcome. But that does not mean there cannot be defections to the smaller republican groupings who wish to continue armed struggle. How that scenario will work out we will just have to hold our breath for a long time to wait and see.

But if the IRA should disband then so should the UDA, the UVF, the LVF, and a few others beside. The issue of criminality - money - from paramilitarism is a very real one but it usually cloaked by fear and political considerations which mean that even the worst of the paramilitaries are fairly immune from repercussions. And loyalist paramilitaries have been relatively free from political pressure to disband because, unlike Sinn Féin, they have not been knocking on the door of government.

However, a word of perspective is necessary here. For politics to move forward in Northern Ireland we do need to get paramilitarism 'out of the way' to a considerable extent. But when it comes to killing, Northern Ireland's paramilitaries are only amateurs. When it comes to killing lots of people from the West, the governments and state armies are the professionals; pre-war sanctions on Iraq killed hundreds of thousands, and US and British forces in the illegal war on Iraq killed tens of thousands more, and set up conflicts for decades to come. Militarism has more blood on its hands than paramilitarism here can even dream of.

Eco-Awareness Eco-Awareness
with Larry Speight

Two faced sacredness
A guidebook describes the ancient graveyard of Caldragh on Boa Island (Co Fermanagh), where the Janus figure stands, as a sacred site. This is the feeling I had when I visited it. The place, with its weathered gravestones, rich wildlife and quietness has the aura of not being part of the modern world. Its serenity invites one to linger and contemplate the meaning of the figure, and its smaller companion The Lusty Man which originally hails from Lusty Beg Island. With its dual watchfulness the figure could be considered as a guardian of the natural world, a mentor asking us to look at the bio-richness that once was and the desolation that almost certainly lies ahead. Its message might well be that if we are to make any real headway in protecting and rejuvenating our damaged Earth we need to extend the idea of the sacred to include the whole of creation. The practice of this can be as simple as following the Country Code and not leaving our litter behind when we visit a wood, lake or beach, thus conserving what we like to enjoy.

In this regard it is helpful to keep in mind the purported words of the North American Indian, Chief Seattle (1854):
"Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself."

This understanding of the wholeness and interconnectedness of all things provides a guide as to how we should interact with nature. Perhaps a few moments contemplating the bio-richness of the past and our likely eco-future will inspire us to adapt a more inclusive sense of the sacred.

Copyright INNATE 2021