In 2004, the World Council of Churches(WCC) established the International Day of Prayer for Peace. Each year since, on the 21st day of September, the WCC issues a call for all people of faith to lift their voices to Heaven in a tsunami of supplication for peace. This day of mass prayer coincides with the United Nation’s annual International Day of Peace established in 2002 to encourage all the world’s combatants to stand down, at least for one day.
Every year since the first Peace Bell tolled in Jisenji-no-hana, Japan in 1947 in prayerful remembrance of the horror wrought by the Atomic Bomb, Peace Bells peal and citizens pray in many countries on various days of national commemoration. The United Nations Peace Bell, gifted by Japan in 1954, rings out every year on Earth Day, its bell-cord blessed and presented to the U.N. by Shinto priests in 1990.
Today, one can find on the Internet thousands of sites offering prayers for peace from individuals, to interreligious foundations, to large religious organizations.
These are certainly heartwarming displays of compassion for all humankind by tens of thousands, perhaps millions of good people from many religions around the globe, but are they effective?
The number of conflicts in the world at any given time varies depending on the criteria used for defining the nature of a conflict. WarsInTheWorld.com calculates the number of periodic border clashes, international shooting wars, and internal struggles. By their measure, as of November 13, 2013, there were 60 countries at war, among most of which 490 militia-guerrilla, separatist, and anarchic groups were engaged in internal conflicts.
HistoryToday.com uses a different scale to determine the number of international conflicts at a given time. They do not include internal struggles, but calculate only the number of pairs of countries (conflicts between states) engaged in hostile acts. Their definition of “conflict” includes all aggressive acts such as full-scale shooting wars, gunboat diplomacy (threat by show of strength), blockades, and border closings. By this method, they calculate that the rate of growth of conflicts in the world has increased significantly since the end of World War II in 1945. During the Cold War, the rate of growth was 31%, and during the 1990s, the rate of increase reached 36% per year.
Clearly, intercessory prayer is powerless in reducing the level of hostility in the world.
Attempts at direct mediation by religious organizations have been few in number and relatively ineffective. The United States Institute of Peace cites only two conflicts where mediation by religious groups brought about a cessation of fighting; the first Sudanese civil war of 1955-1972 during which two million people died, and the Mozambique civil war of 1975-1992 which resulted in one million deaths. Both conflicts displaced millions of individuals and families.
The Sudanese civil war erupted again in 1983. Mozambique still holds on to a shaky peace after the Renamo guerrilla leader, Afonso Dhlakama, declared an end to the 1992 peace accord on October 21, 2013. As of this writing, some fighting has occurred, but it was limited in scope.
Even though economic and social conditions have improved significantly in the country during the two decades, peace appears to be breaking down. As of November 10, 2013, foreigners were leaving the country and guerrilla fighting has begun in central Mozambique.
One might rightfully ask, then, is it even possible to achieve world peace and social harmony when mass prayer, and secular and religious intervention have brought about such dismal results? Is there no path to world peace?
There is a path, but to take it, we must shift our focus. This is not to say that religious and secular mediation attempts should not continue. Indeed, these are all we have. So, where is the path?
True peace and social justice, as Socrates suggested in Plato’s Republic, begins within each individual. For there to be harmony and justice in society, there first must be harmony and justice within each citizen.
Yet, by nature, individuals are not given to harmonious relationships with everyone else. Because this fact was not lost on Socrates, he suggested that the rulers of society must propagate a religious, noble lie of such a nature that everyone would accept his god-given place in society and work in harmony with everyone else.
Socrates’ approach has never worked. Governments are not composed of benevolent philosophers, relatively few citizens would dare to change their religious beliefs for any reason, and many citizens are not religious at all.
Additionally, most conflicts today have little to do with religion. The Sudanese and Mozambique civil wars are over oil and mineral rights. The true root causes of armed conflict, then, are religious intolerance, economic disparity, greed, and insensitivity—also the driving forces of economic disparity—not necessarily mutually exclusive.
Currently, most of our efforts to bring about peace are reactive, and there seems to be no other way. I suggest that the proactive, long-term solution is to target the root causes by first concentrating on the children. Teach them, instead of exclusive, religious dogma, the greatest concept to which most people already agree but tend to ignore or forget; The Golden Rule.
A child is born neither Christian, nor Jew, nor Muslim, nor atheist, nor an adherent to any other brand of religious or philosophical order. A child is born a human being with an ability to learn, and from this raw material society builds her walls of nationalism and religious certitude.
— M. Jefferson Hale, Beyond Paine, 2025: The Empathy Imperative, p7
— Max T. Furr is author of The Empathy Imperative, a novel featuring a trial of God in an ethereal courtroom where He is charged with creating evil, willful and harmful negligence, and with terrorism. His interrogators are a professor of evolutionary biology and a professor of psychology.
Is the god of the Bible amoral? Do true-believers believe that whatever their god does, he does because it is the moral and right thing to do, or are his actions right and moral because they are his actions? –A paraphrasing of a question originally posited by Socrates