Peace and Justice in Gaza: The Ontological Debate
by Dr. Robert D. Crane
It is amazing what can result from a discussion about Gaza. Some of the victims of Israel’s sustained crime against humanity ask for peace, while others demand justice before there can be any peace.
Some observers from afar seek peace through a new Universal Peace Foundation. Others seek it through the justice of an Abraham Federation in order to sublimate the issue of two sovereignties in one land.
Advocates for peace as the highest goal object that the pursuit of a federation of two people in one state is a dream. Supporters insist that any other solution is even dreamier.
Advocates of a Gandhian Universal Peace Foundation come from the Subcontinent. They reflect a viewpoint popular among Buddhists. They object to the limited geographic nature of the Abraham Federation, as distinct from the Universal Peace Foundation, which is universal. The real issue, however, is whether peace or justice is the ultimate goal. A subsidiary issue is whether justice in the sense of right order based on transcendent values is the only real source of peace.
At bottom, this is an issue of moral theology. It raises the issue of immanence versus transcendence in religion. The term Universal Peace Foundation would be more appropriate for peoples whose spiritual awareness comes from both Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhism, which are commonly thought to reflect immanence in the sense that there is no other world than the one we live in. The former, the Hinayana, teaches that one must distance oneself from attachment to the material world, which in Catholic spirituality is the entropic via negativa or apophatic way. The latter, the Mahayana, teaches that this is merely the first step toward nirvana, which is nothingness in the sense of no-thingness, i.e. transcendence. This is the via positiva or via affirmativa, the cataphatic way, which is popularly known as the “yes” approach to life. This, in turn, leads to Tantayana or Tibetan Buddhism, which is the highest level of human life on this earth and completes the circle in the sense that then one’s highest desire and happiness will come from bringing justice to the world.
This tripartite vision of spirituality is at the heart of so-called Western thought, but politically it has always been a minority phenomenon. In the West, this is called Celtic spirituality, best typified in Christianity by Meister Eckhart, who succeeded Thomas Aquinas in the chair of philosophy at the University of Paris and taught that salvation is creativity plus justice or creativity at justice-making. For this, of course, he was excommunicated by the Avignon Pope, which indeed was a great honor. These distinctions are present in every world religion, but are perhaps best explained on pages 44-45, 182-184, and 197 of the 579-page book Breakthrough: Meister Eckhart’s Creation Spirituality in New Translation, with introduction and commentary by Matthew Fox, Doubleday, 1980.
Meister Eckhart was a Dominican and I am still a Franciscan (perhaps the only Muslim Franciscan in the world), which means that we are supposed to fight each other as our two orders (tariqat) have good-naturedly done for many centuries, but we have no real differences, nor do we differ at all from the greatest of Christian spiritual teachers, Saint John of the Cross from Andulusia, who borrowed his insights and all his terminology directly from Shaykh Abu’l Hassan al-Shadhili of North Africa. As discussed in my 212-page book, The Natural Law of Compassionate Justice: The Islamic Perspective, Shaykh al-Shadhili was a contemporary of Saint Thomas and founded the only great Islamic Sufi Order to originate outside of Central and Southwest Asia.
This universal approach to spirituality means that peace and justice are interdependent. The question then is, which is the chicken and which is the egg. Of course, my solution to this conundrum is that the driving causative force is the rooster. The rooster here is the force of energy, which materialistic quantum physicists say is the ultimate reality as distinct from matter. Others say that energy is both an attribute and a manifestation of the Will of God as a still higher reality.
This is why Muslims say that the ultimate value is our free-will submission to the Will of God, because this is our purpose. Superficially this would seem to indicate a self-centered or solypsistic Divinity, verging even on autism. Jewish mystics, however, best typified today by Rabbi Michael Lerner and his magazine Tikkun, say that we are embarked on a joint venture with God to manifest and even create ultimate reality, of which both God and every human, unlike the angels, are independent actors or causes. Some Muslim mystics understand this to explain why God revealed in the Qur’an, “I have created you to know Me.”
In the metaphysics of transcendence, to know God is to know and practice justice. In the metaphysics of immanence, to know God is to know peace. But justice is creative, and peace is not. Peace is for the afterlife. Justice is for the here and now.