The Common Good

Where Wars Come From

Peace is a respectful, harmonious, and cooperative relationship between groups and nations. Peace is the serenity that comes from clarity, the assurance that the truth will reveal itself, even if only in part. Biblical wisdom teaches us that "there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed nor hid that shall not be known" (Luke 12:2). Violence arises from fear born of deception. Scratch a conflict and find a lie. Love rejoices in the truth and perfect love, complete, mature love casts out fear (1 Corinthians 13:6; James 4:18). This is a Christian formulation of Satyagraha, Gandhi's concept of truth/love force. For peace theory, love and truth are powerful.

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Given these definitions, we can trace wars, systemic violence, and the verbal violence we perpetrate back to ourselves. All too often we divide the world into them and us. We call them evil; we call ourselves good. And, when the Other does evil acts, this becomes the justification for our own retaliatory evil. We tell ourselves it is only reasonable to prepare for war and to fight wars in the name of defense or of retributive justice. However, New Testament wisdom also teaches us to be self-reflective when locating the cause of war.

James 4:1 asks: "Where do wars and fights come from among you?" James answers: "Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You covet and cannot obtain." Finally, James informs us that we do not have because we do not ask; we do not receive because our motivations are wrong. We only want what we want for the sake of our own pleasure (James 4:2-3).

So where is the deception? The deception is the idea that pleasure comes from what we receive, from what we acquire. True pleasure comes from what we give because "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). When our sense of self is tied to what we own, what pleasures we acquire, when these things are absent we lose ourselves, become fearful, and fear leads to violence. This is not only true for us, but it is true for the enemy.

When violence happens, our questions ought to be: "How do my own desires figure into this conflict? What do I fear? What good can I do to overcome this evil? The objection could be made that this is a "blame the victim argument," especially if we are fighting a defensive war. Is not war justified to protect the weak? Peace theory recommends other strategies to avert such crises before they reach the point of violent conflict.

Sept. 21 is the U.N. International Day of Peace and Global Ceasefire. Let us take time that day for our own self-reflection and make peace in the wars raging inside ourselves.

Dr. Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar who publishes lectures and essays at She received her Ph.D. in Religion and Society from Temple University and taught Christian Ethics at United Theological Seminary and Andover Newton Theological School.

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