Spirituality and Conflict Work

EDITORIAL, 14 Sep 2009

#79 | Johan Galtung

There is an important connection: with some spirituality conflict work is much easier, whether directed toward the past as conciliation after violence–and after a solution has been found–toward the present as mediation, or the future as peace-building, weaving webs of positive peace as a protection against conflicts turning violent.  An example: the ubuntu ‘I am in you and you in me’ makes conciliation easier.  But what is spirituality?

The West has rejected religion under enlightenment-modernity-secularism, and is now experiencing some rebirth of religion.  Spirituality then enters as an over-arching concept, building on elements in most religions and on secular values.  Spirituality is a non-dogmatic answer to the religious search connecting that in here, inside ourselves, with that out there, the tat tvam asi.  But how, what are its epistemology, ontology, and ethic? How do we think about existence from a spiritual angle, how does it emerge and grow, and what rules of behavior does spirituality inspire?

The first, epistemological, component of spirituality is the axiom that there is something beyond individuals. Humanity is more than a set of humans.  But what?  Here are two obvious answers:

– yes, there is structure, the sum total of human relations, past, present and future created by humans, surviving individuals;

– yes, there is culture, the sum total of individual, collective cognitions and emotions, lived by humans, surviving individuals.

Structure is the famous Indian-Catalan Raimundo Panikkar’s nets (relations) rather than knots (individuals), infused with cultural content.  Reality is both, but spirituality underlines the net beyond individuals, calling attention to whatever makes for unity of humans, even of life, rejecting the view of humans as mutually isolated monads. We are in ourselves and in our relations to others.  No relations at all is tantamount to social death.

We then conceive of humanity holistically, as a holon, cut through by contradictions, in other words dialectically.  Never mind that “holistic” is also a New Age word, and “dialectic” a marxist term: they may be on to something.  They combine in the deep realism of daoism; a philosophy of life, and an epistemology.

The second, ontological, component of spirituality is the capacity of the human spirit to transcend the immediacy of sense impressions.  We can relate events into regularities, “laws”, but also transcend, go beyond, creating new realities.  Mathematicians can create new mathematical realities that can solve unsolvable problems; a scientist, an engineer, an architect can create new realities accommodating new modes of living; a Picasso can create new visions on the canvas; humans in love can experience a union of bodies, minds and spirits, let alone the union of those unions, much beyond any party alone.

And conflict work can build on that: go beyond, transcend, create new reality accommodating legitimate goals held by the parties, like caring women have done for ages in their families; men less so.  Not strange that mathematicians and scientists, engineers, architects, artists, caring women, people in love, joined by gifted politicians and business and religious people, are particularly good at conflict work; human minds destroyed by the non-transcending dogma of positivism less so.

The third, ethical, component of spirituality follows from this.  If we are parts of each other by being parts of something beyond us, then we are destined to conviviality, the Japanese kyosei.  At a lower level we can be guided by the I-culture of the Golden Rule, (not) doing to others what we would (not) like them to do to us.  At a higher level we would add the we-culture of the daoist suffering the suffering of others and enjoying their joys. Equity follows: flagrant inequity is incompatible with both.

In the hard readings of the abrahamic religions That Out There is Yahweh-God-Alla’h, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient.  The transcendence is in transcendental salvation through faith and-or deeds (in Judaism by realizing Zion-Israel, here on earth). And the ethics is like the Ten Commandments for Christianity, of which 8 are negative, ruling out acts of commission, not omissions.

A meager spiritual diet, relating humans indirectly through their relations to the Father up there, with no transcendence on earth guided by essentially negative approaches to conviviality.

Liberal secularism does not do better. God is dead, Nietzsche said (Nietzsche is dead, God retorted); but omnipotence survived in the State, omnipresence in Capital-Market, and omniscience in Science: the three pillars of modernity.  The Father became l’état gendarme-provident, also as region, Empire; the Holy Spirit became Human Rights and Democracy, and the Son the offspring of all that. Again a meager diet.  State-capital-science transcend individuals, but can grow into fascism, blind capitalism and blind rationality. Human rights relate individuals to the state, not to each other.

Marxist secularism did not do better.  Enters History (with capital H) where God used to reside, enters Revolution of infra-structure as transcendence, and a new, but unknown, super-structure with a compelling ethic for the New Human Being.

Buddhism fares better as a spiritual basis than hard Christianity and its secular successors.  There is no God, no Paradise, no Hell, no individual everlasting soul.  But there is that net, and rebirth through the sparks on inspiration given onto others for them to enrich and pass on.  And the ethic of reducing suffering, dukkha, and increasing fulfillment, sukha.

World power now moves from a spiritually poor Occident to a richer Orient.  That gives hope, for conflict work. And for peace.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 Sep 2009.

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