what in the World?
War and peace, human agency, and other matters
by Jane Greer
CONVERSION CHART. Daniel Ó Connell defines conversion as a “turning towards,” a way of living your life based on your beliefs. He describes four steps involved in conversion to “a depth-oriented Unitarian Universalism.” These include identifying your spiritual history, articulating your theology, taking some spiritual risks, and becoming an elder (“How to Convert”).
Question: Where on the conversion continuum would you place yourself?
JUST WAR THEORY. One of the most powerful factors in shaping public opinion about war has been whether the conflict is perceived as “just.” For religious ethicists, a just war must meet a number of moral criteria. World War II, for example, was generally considered to be a just war (“Embattled Faith” by Neil Shister).
Question: What criteria did you use in assessing the legitimacy of the U.S.-led war with Iraq? Using the same criteria, how might you have assessed earlier wars? What distinguishes a just war from an unjust war? What are the moral or religious reasons that some choose unconditional pacifism?
THE BATTLE AND ITS WARRIORS. In “Embattled Faith”, Neil Shister identifies a disconnect among many Unitarian Universalists who opposed war with Iraq but said they supported the people employed to fight it. Among the questions he asked himself are these: “Can a war be unjustified but its actors blameless? How bad does a war have to be before the soldiers themselves are wrong to fight it?”
Question: Have there been wars in which soldiers were wrong to fight? Who makes that judgment? What about patriotic duty or an obligation to follow military orders? Is there an issue with competing or conflicting values here?
REPORTERS AT WAR. David Zucchino describes the thin line between being an observer and being a participant during his time as an embedded journalist with U.S. troops in Iraq. “Peering through one of the Bradley’s three-inch-slits of bulletproof glass, I wasn’t just viewing the battlefield for a news story,” he writes. “I was searching for Iraqi fighters for the gunner to kill” (“Battlefield Journal”).
Question: What are the advantages and disadvantages of allowing journalists to travel with the troops? Should a journalist join in the fighting or does this compromise their journalistic integrity?
HOME RITUALS. Meg Cox writes about creating family rituals: “Family traditions are wonderful, and it is a special joy to celebrate a holiday or carry on a bedtime ritual just as our parents and grandparents did. But the fact is, our lives are very different, and we need to invent new traditions for today’s families” (“New Family Traditions”).
Question: Does your family have any rituals? Can you remember any rituals from your own childhood? Do you share rituals with other groups of people—at work, at church, or at play? Are there rituals you would like to create? What is the difference between ritual and custom?
FREEDOM OF CHOICE. Gary Kowalski writes about the importance of free choice in process theology: “In process thought, we do have alternatives. Our options are very real. There is no finished blueprint that determines the historical process or guarantees its outcome” ("The Ultimate Canvas").
Question: Religious people sometimes say that something was “meant to be” or interpret events as a divine plan in operation. Secular people sometimes say that genetics, neurochemistry, or even economic laws determine events. Can you reconcile these ideas with process theology, which emphasizes freedom of choice? What role does God (or other forces) play in shaping events, and how much does human choice impact the flow of events?
A GOD FOR OUR TIMES? Gary Kowalski writes that much of the biblical tradition likened God to a Middle Eastern potentate: “King of kings, Lord of lords. God’s word is law; he speaks, and his will is done.” This image of God, he notes, reflects the rigidly controlled patriarchal culture in which it developed (“The Ultimate Canvas”).
Question: If there is a relationship between culture and concepts of God, as Kowalski suggests, what does process theology say about our culture? What can be said about the process theology concept of God, as “that Living Whole of which you and I and others in the ‘cosmic conversation’ are active parts and partners”? How might the concept of God evolve in the future along with our society?
TO FORGIVE—OR NOT. Rosemary Bray McNatt explores the concept of forgiveness in her review of a book based on interviews with the convicted head of the South African death squads. “Are there times when forgiveness is impossible,” she asks, “and if so, what happens to the hearts of the wounded and the unforgiven?” (See “Bookshelf”.)
Question: Are there things in your life you find impossible to forgive? Can you forgive someone emotionally but not show it through actions, or vice versa? Is it easier to forgive if the offender shows remorse?