Just Peacemaking and Process Philosophy
Whitehead's Philosophy of Community
As a Companion to Just Peacemaking
The Ten Principles of Just Peacemaking
Reprinted from the Just Peacemaking Initiative at Fuller Theological Seminary. We encourage readers to visit their Just Peacemaking Website and learn more.
The two standard ethical paradigms for the ethics of peace and war are pacifism and just war theory. Both intend to prevent some wars or all wars, but neither focuses our attention on how to prevent wars. They focus on debating whether war is justified or not. We believe debates between pacifism and just war theory, while needed, are insufficient. Debates need to focus not only on whether to bomb, whether to make a war, but on what initiatives should be taken to avoid war and spread peace. For that, we need a third paradigm in the debate looking to address the question: “What realistically is working to prevent real wars?” As Glen Stassen and David Gushee articulate in their textbook, Kingdom Ethics (InterVarsity Press, 2003):
A Whiteheadian Appreciation of Just Peacemaking
Just peacemakers do not need Whitehead's philosophy in order to practice their arts. Nevertheless, they can find in Whitehead an ally in their endeavor in many ways.
1. Cosmology of Peace. Whitehead's cosmology invites us to recognize that there is something deep within the universe -- a leaning toward peace -- which is cosmic in scope and inwardly felt as a call to peace in the human heart. The leaning toward Peace is God, understood as the Eros of the universe.
2. Creative Transformation. Whitehead's cosmology invites us to trust that, despite trends to the contrary and sometimes implacable powers of destruction, fresh possibilities are available for just peacemaking which are not necessarily expected, but which come as a gift from the Eros of the universe.
3. The Importance of Listening. Whitehead believes, as do just peacemakers, that peacemaking begins, not only with honesty about one's own suffering, but also with a willingness to listen to the sufferings and interests of others. Every person has dignity; every person has a point of view; every person has a story to tell. We can be creatively transformed in healthy ways, by listening to others and allowing our own points of view to include an understanding, and sometimes also an appreciation, of their points of view.
4. Transcending Ideologies. Whitehead believes, as do just peacemakers, that there is always more to a person's life than the ideology to which he or she subscribes and the convictions he or she brings to the table of dialogue. A person's experience is always more than she can say, more than he can tell. Peacemaking begins with a recognition of the more-ness. See Glen Stassen's article: Holistic Hermeneutical Method for Just Peacemaking Practices.
5. Multi-Religious Understanding: Whitehead supports just peacemaking by offering a neutral conceptual vocabulary by which people from different points of view can articulate what is most important to them and also appreciate what is most important to others. Muslims can articulate Muslim perspectives; Jews can articulate Jewish perspectives; Christians can articulate Christian perspectives; and Buddhists can articulate Buddhist perspectives. See Religions in the Making: Whitehead and the Wisdom Traditions, edited by John Cobb.
6. The Primacy of Relational Power. Whitehead supports just peacemaking with his idea that the most important form of power in the world is invitation not force, persuasion not coercion, gentleness not compulsion. Among authors in this website, the philosopher Robert Mesle has done much to show what relational power looks like at an interpersonal level, and Les Muray has done much to show was it looks like at a political level. See Mesle's Relational Power and Muray's The Political Implications of Relational Power. And John Cobb has done much to show how the idea of relational power calls for a different kind of economics: namely economics for community, not economics for ever-increasing GDP. See Cobb's Economic Justice and Process Philosophy..
7. A God of Relational Power. Indeed Whitehead supports just peacemaking with his idea that the very heart of the universe -- the divine reality in whose heart the universe lives and moves and has its being -- is influential in the world in a relational rather than a coercive way, and that this heart is a deep feeling, a deep empathy, who shares in the sufferings of all who suffer from violence, and also in the pain of those who, out of greed and hatred and fear, inflict the violence. A pediatrician turned Christian priest, Teri Daily, puts it this way:
We often think of God as having calculated what it would take to save the world and as having followed that plan through with precision, no matter what the cost to God’s own self. And this is one image of divine love. But we lose something if this is our only image of how God’s love operates. Because in Jesus we clearly see another facet of God, another image of divine love. Alfred North Whitehead, a philosopher whose work spanned from the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century, found in the humility of Jesus an image of divine love that “dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love; and it finds purpose in the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world. Love neither rules, nor is it unmoved; also it is a little oblivious as to morals. It does not look to the future; for it finds its own reward in the immediate present.” In other words, we see in Jesus something of the divine nature that, in each moment, is moved to act freely in love, compassion, and tenderness.
8. Delight in Multiplicity. Whitehead also supports just peacemaking by offering a cosmology that appreciates diversity: cultural, ethnic, linguistic, sexual, temperamental, and religious. In Whitehead's philosophy the very One in whom we live and move and have our being is also the multiplicity of the universe itself, as gathered into complex unity. Thus he offers an antidote to those kinds of peace which would be achieved by means of sameness, and to those kinds of justice which would emphasize authoritarian conformity over glorious differences.
9. Justice and Beauty. Whitehead lends support to just peacemaking by proposing that, in the last analysis, justice is not only about protection but also about joy: that is, about beauty. Beauty is another name for richness of experience as enjoyed through creative and cooperative relations with others. Love is a form of beauty, and so is justice. Thus beauty is not primarily an aesthetic category appropriate to the arts, but a social and existential category descriptive of a certain quality of life which is enjoyed when we share in the experiences of others in compassionate and creative ways. Understood in this way, beauty can and should include the wisdom of moral obligation and ethical regard, which means that justice is a form of beauty. But beauty also includes an element of satisfaction, of joy, in being with other people in caring ways. Beauty can be enjoyed by groups of people as well as by individuals, as they participate in each other's lives in caring ways. There are many forms of beauty in human life, among which a just and peaceful community, filled with listening and storytelling, is primary.
10. Love and Community. Whitehead supports just peacemaking with his emphasis on internally felt relations with others as partly constitutive of who we are as human beings. From a Whiteheadian perspective both individualist and collectivist images of the self are misguided. We are creative, relational selves who are responsible to, and enriched by, the lives of others.
Neither the individualist ontology nor the collectivist one expresses the Biblical sense of the solidarity of individuals who participate in one another. Whitehead’s conceptuality is more helpful. For Whitehead the ultimate individual is a moment of experience. Such an individual does not first exist and then enter into relations with others. On the contrary, it is constituted by its relations and has no other existence than as a creative synthesis of these relations. The richness of its experience is the richness of its relations.
11. The Power of Forgiveness. Whitehead lends support to just peacemaking with his proposal that we can co-experience with God and feel the world as God feels it, forgivingly:
"Since God everlastingly receives the world, God's will toward the world's well-being is a love that is also an acceptance. In our finite situation, acceptance and feelings of love are not always possible relative to those who violate others or ourselves. Often we simply cannot afford the vulnerability of acceptance and love, given the power of the violator over us; what remains for us is to will well-being. But God shows no such limitation. Rather, all violators, including ourselves, are invited into the great transformation that is God. In this transformation, the co-experiencing whereby God feels the world with us can become a co-experiencing whereby we feel the world with God. God's love is an ultimate empathy, of which ours is but a dim reflection. We are invited into the divine love that is finally God's forgiveness, God's will toward our own well-being. This opens us to the greater possibility of sharing in God's love for the world, a love that extends even towards those who violate us.
12. Respect and Care for the Community of Life. Whitehead encourages just peacemaking with his idea that we humans are part of, not apart from, the larger web of life, and that we find our fulfillment, not in satisfying relations with one another alone, but also in satisfying relations with other living beings and the earth. And he fits in with the idea that all living beings have value worthy of respect, including other animals with their highly developed capacities for sentience and intelligence. There are forms of peacemaking that so emphasize peace among humans that they forget peace with other animals and peace with the earth. In an age of global climate change and a wholesale assault on so many life support systems, in an age when billions upon billions of individual animals are subjected to human abuse, the peace worth making is an inclusive peace that knows, deep within its bones, that it is the whole of life that counts. The aim of grassroots organizations and international law is to help create biocracies of compassion. On this matter, Whitehead can help.
13. The Primacy of Practice. Whitehead supports just peacemaking with his idea that our bodies are not simply vessels for carrying our minds to meetings, but places where ideas come down to Earth. He helps us understand that any peace worth the name comes, not through talking about peace in abstract terms, but by practicing peace in concrete terms, seeking to be the peace we commend to others. The tagline for the website Process Philosophy and the Culture of Possibility is Thinking an Alternative, Practicing an Alternative, Being an Alternative. The thinking and the practicing and the being shape one another. Peacemaking is an act of the whole person, who seeks to shape governments while at the same time being a witness to peace in daily life.
14. Post-Mechanistic Thinking. Whitehead encourages just peacemaking with his idea that the universe itself is not a collection of objects but rather, in the words of Thomas Berry, a communion of subjects.
"We are in the midst of seismic cultural change. In the old paradigm, priorities are shaped by a mechanistic worldview that privileges whatever can be numbered, measured, and weighed; human beings are pressured to adapt to the terms set by their own creations. Macroeconomics, geopolitics, and capital are glorified. . . . In the new paradigm, culture is given its true value. The movements of money and armies may receive close attention from politicians and media voices, but at ground-level, we care most about human stories, one life at a time.”
If the universe is indeed a communion of subjects or, as Arlene Goldbard puts it, a republic of stories, then we are invited to hear the stories, from their own inside, and to feel the feelings of others, sharing in their destinies. Our peacemaking is not an unnatural act but rather a deeply natural act, consonant with the subjective aliveness of things. In violence we objectify the other as a mechanical other whose story is never heard, save through the lens of our own parochialism. But in peacemaking we reach out to others, and allow them to reach into us, offering us the grace of their own independence. They are not demeaned by this grace, they become more fully themselves by our reception. And we become more fully ourselves, too. In the mutuality and reciprocity of peacemaking, the many become one and are increased by one. There is a luminous quality to the activity. Not exactly a prairie fire, but certainly a burning bush.
The Impulse to Make Peace
What, then, is this impulse toward peacemaking? For my part, I think of an article in JJB written by Christine Zalocusky, called Prayer for a Daffodil. It is almost childlike in its simplicity and for that reason very deep. Here is an excerpt:
A few weeks ago, a good friend invited us to observe the annual prairie burn in which he assists his neighbor. My friend owns acreage in Shiloh, IL; and part of it is a designated prairie conservation area. In order to maintain the prairie and prevent tree seedlings and other invasive plants from turning it into forest land, an annual burn must be done. The fire burns out the new invasive growth, but the prairie grasses have roots 10-15 feet deep, so they survive and actually grow stronger.
Just peacemakers are people who want to save the daffodil. No, they are not necessarily in the business of burning prairies, although they do hope that the impulses toward violence within the human heart can be burned away. But their intuitions are attuned to the vulnerable in our world: to those who suffer the consequences of violence and who are carriers of God's image.
Two Aims of Just Peacemaking: Safety and Joy
Such peacemakers have two aims. They want to protect people from violence both inner and outer. They are interested in safety. But they also want to help them find ways of living joyfully and justly in local communities that are creative, compassionate, equitable, participatory, ecologically healthy, respectful of diversity, and spiritually satisfying, with no one left behind. They speak of these communities as just communities. Justice is a combination of compassion, equitability, participation, mutuality, and respect -- with no one left behind.
The just peacemakers at Fuller Seminary in California are Christian, but they well know that people of other faiths and no faith can be just peacemakers, too. They also know that communities of just peace will be multi-religious and that inter-religious cooperation in pursuit of just peace is itself an act of just peacemaking. We might call it interfaith just peacemaking.