On the 27th of November 1895, industrialist Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament, giving the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes, the Nobel prizes. As described in Nobel’s will, one share was dedicated to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
Peace comes through justice, which is the right ordering of things. If you seek peace, as we all do, then seek justice; otherwise, you will not find it. An unjust peace will not remain peaceful for long, but will lead to conflict. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, made this beautifully clear in a homily on Cain and Abel during his day of fasting for peace last year. He chose the reading about Cain and Abel to show that violence and conflict result from evil and selfishness: Where there is violence, there is selfishness.
In any given conflict, at least one person is behaving wrongly. How else could it come to be that we, who are all brothers, squabble, fight and even kill? We need to examine whether there is a conflict or grudge in our lives right now: Am I the one being selfish? Am I the one causing this?
Just as society is made up of individuals, so, too, does societal peace break down when individuals do not have peace in their lives. Societal injustices lead to conflict, and injustices or disordered activities in our lives lead to inner conflict. We can make a more peaceful world simply by trying to be just in our own lives, no matter how small the step we take. If we neglect our family, if we neglect our work, if we neglect our rest, then we will pay a price.
Justice is giving people what they deserve. As Dr. Thomas Sowell so perfectly observed, “I have never understood why it is ‘greed’ to want to keep the money you have earned, but not greed to want to take somebody else’s money.” A similar thought was expressed by St. Paul, asking the Thessalonians not to feed those who are unwilling to work.
How quickly does envy enter where people get what they do not deserve and others do not get what they deserve? Envy leads to hatred. As St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori pointed out, Cain’s first sin was not murder; his first sin was envy, then hate, then murder. Envy is a step on the way to murder. Why are we horrified of murder and not of envy? Why should you not abhor the envy that leads to hatred and abhor the hatred? Why should our politicians exploit envy to keep themselves in office? In what kind of society would appeals to envy be popular? Would that be a just society? Would that be a peaceful society? I’ll let you answer.
The violation or disrespect of people’s rights is the prime example of grave injustice, and therefore the prime instigator of violence and conflict. No matter who they are, people deserve to have their rights respected. Theft, excessive taxation, excessive debt — these things all disrespect our property and our labor, and keep us from a peaceful, ordered society.
Sad to say, most of us are looking in the wrong places to restore personal, social, political and economic growth and development. For evidence, look no further than the deepening levels of poverty, crime, anger, envy, bitterness and hatred in society Obedience to law sustains and cultivates success.
The consequences of our wrong decisions are not limited to our personal lives, and we at least owe it to one another to live well, to live as we ought to. Our decisions, even small ones, affect our family, community and nation. There are basic laws of iniquities that we routinely break. Slander, fornication, adultery, hate, callousness cannot be changed to right; they never will be just. We must rid our personal lives of these things, for the sake of one another.
The Bible says, “Great peace have they who love your law; nothing shall offend them or make them stumble.” Faith is the law of peace that will conquer every financial, social and economic challenge. Peace begins with self-government, ownership of all of our responsibilities. Peace is the fruit of obedience to the laws of God, because they are just and true. His laws order our days, our resources, our talents, like a doctor setting a dislocated shoulder. His law commands us to love our neighbor the way we love ourselves. That is the kind of justice that will bring peace.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful aspects of the hyperanalyzed concepts of love and pacifism is that an individual does not need money, power or status, or any material possessions, in order to exude an aura of peace.
• Armstrong Williams, author of the new book “Reawakening Virtues,” contributes to RightSideWire.com. Join the discussion live from 4-5 p.m. EST at livestream.com/armstrongwilliams or tune in from 4-5 p.m. EST on S.C. WGCV, Sirius/XM Power 110, 6-7 p.m. and 5-6 a.m. EST. Become a fan on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.