A conceit widely published and held among members of a certain generation (mine) is that peace and justice are more prevalent today than they were one hundred, two hundred, five hundred years ago. One of my favorite websites for testing this popular hypothesis is Matthew White’s Historical Atlas of the Twentieth Century, whose value comes not only for its documentation of wars and atrocities in the 20th century, but, in a section gruesomely titled “Necrometrics,” covering centuries back to Ancient times.
Not, of course, that Peace on Earth is impossible. It does not take too much imagination to imagine a world where communities share their efficiencies with one another, allowing more of the world to live without want and without fear than is possible today. In a world where efficiencies are hoarded by the top centile and where competitors are more than ready to make war over a drop of oil and ounce of diamonds, peace is not likely to break out in the near future.
For those not into wading through Matthew White’s pages upon pages of morbid facts and figures, however, The Independent has recently published a piece identifying the eleven (11) countries in the world that are not at conflict (“World peace? These are the only 11 countries in the world that are actually free from conflict”).
The jejune conceit of ever-emerging peace and justice is reminiscent of those in the first century CE who mistook Rome’s imperial power and military might — not to mention their own personal peace and affluence — for evidence that the world was at peace.
As he makes his way to Good Friday, Jesus is not making plans to attend any New Age retreat centers. He is instead making the rounds of the many war-torn regions around the globe. And he is not simply offering comfort to American GIs. As the global system shows ever more signs of general systemic chaos, Jesus is visiting all of those who sorrow, are in fear, are injured, dying, are mourning, and who are praying and working for peace.
Praying and working on behalf of peace in these war-torn regions does not detract from, but supplements the view that real, lasting, and sustainable peace can only arise when communities recognize their dependence on and their obligation to serve one another. It is another Lenten practice.