Conversation at a prewedding dinner turned to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. How can the cycle of violence and revenge be broken? The father of the bride became suddenly serious. "It will never be broken," he said. End of conversation.
But end of hope, too?
Not at all, but the Middle East is a region inhospitable to wide-eyed optimism. And looking beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Istanbul is still reeling from a series of terrorist bombings. Casualties on all sides continue to mount in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some wonder: Are human beings programmed for war? Or are we programmed for peace?
Like "good news" stories that go underreported in the daily news cycle, the "goodness model" of existence struggles to be heard. We've only begun to discover that there are higher laws - a divine Science of being - that, understood, produce peaceful relationships.
According to science writer John Horgan: "Even if war is biologically based, we can't end it by changing our biology.... If history teaches us anything, it's that war begets more war."
Horgan doesn't believe in God's existence, so it was perhaps with a grain of salt that he concluded: "Maybe we all need to be more religious. After all, religions preach love and forgiveness, and they prohibit killing, at least in principle. But in practice, of course, religion has often inspired killing" ("Is war in our genes?" www.johnhorgan.org).
We agree that war won't end by inventing better biotechnologies or by social engineering. We'll advance toward the end of warfare only as we change how we think - about God and His creation, about ourselves, and what we cherish as Truth. And, in this, religion can be a wholly healing force.
It's true that when the Bible and the Koran are read literally, it's hard to miss the images of a warlike Deity. In the book of Deuteronomy, for example, one of Moses' poems records God as saying, "To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence" (32:35).
However, as Monitor founder, Mary Baker Eddy, emphasized in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," there are differing interpretations of the Bible: literal and spiritual, doctrinal and inspired. "The Scriptures are very sacred," she wrote. "Our aim must be to have them understood spiritually, for only by this understanding can truth be gained. The true theory of the universe, including man, is not in material history but in spiritual development" (page 547).
Perhaps the deepest human urge is for spiritual development. This yearning shines through a New Testament passage that gives new meaning to Moses' poem: "Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink.... Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:19-21).
Good necessarily overpowers evil because good is the only real power. Evil is like a shadow - ultimately, it can't resist its own elimination. In interpersonal as well as international relationships, it's the light of Christ that, welcomed into the thought of even one participant, can repair connections and restore peace.
Every impulse to respond calmly instead of with anger, to collaborate, to share resources, comes from that divine influence that is unconfined by biology or history - or by denomination. Good overcomes evil on the collective scene as individual hearts and minds are changed.
And there are signs that people are willing to work together to break cycles of revenge. These signs are most visible at the grass roots:
• The "Geneva Accord," worked out several weeks ago with the support of the Swiss government, offered one model for resolving the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.
• The four-month-old "People's Voice" campaign has gained the endorsement of over 150,000 Israelis and Palestinians through discussion group meetings and door-to-door networking.
These recent developments just hint at what can happen as human knowledge yields to the divine influence that's present in all of us. With poet James Russell Lowell, we see thought inclining "to the side of perfect justice/ And to God's supreme design."