Give love a chance in Ulster
A4UCH has been written about Northern Ireland. Well-meaning and sincere Ipeople from all over the world have been analysing the situation and offering solutions. Mr. Whitelaw asked people to write to him giving their Ideas on Northern Ireland's political future, and he was inundated with a tremendous variety of suggestions and views. Parties from all sides are preparing papers for the round table conference on government in Northern Ireland, which should take place this month. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there are as many solutions to the Northern Irish problem being suggested, as there are Northern Irish people to suggest them.
If the correct solution is hard to find, the reality of the situation is not hard to see. Many families in the area I work in are still nursing the grief of the tragic death of one of their members. Ali around is destruction, despair, and depression that is almost impossible to exaggerate. Civil War is becoming such a topic of conversation that people speak of it the way they talk about the weather. And moving house. or moving out of Ulster altogether, is now as common as going on holiday. Everywhere there is fear, suspicion, and hatred. To all intents purposes purpos the situation seems to be at most extremely complex, and at beat practically hopeless.
I say that it "seems to be" hopeless, because there is one solution that has not really been tried, or given a chance, and it has been altogether eclipsed by suggestions of military and political solutions. The solution I offer is that of aotive Christian love, and fraternal charity in practice. This is something not very apparent in Northern Ireland at the moment. It would be difficult, slow, and painstaking certainly, but in the long run more likely to be sure and effective. It is only in contemplating this that I can see hope for the province, and it is only with this ideal that I can offer comfort to all those who have suffered, and an alternative to those who inflict the suffering.The terrible paradox is that ninety-nine per cent of the people in Northern Ireland claim to hold the Chris
tian belief but almost no one puts it into practice.
The essential problem facing Ulster at the moment — and I am not just referring to the behaviour of the Army, or any Republican or Loyalist faction — has been caused by a failure on the part of the people to "love one another," failure to "Do unto others what you would have them do to you." The advice that St. Paul offers, "Overcome evil with good" is sound, because the rut we are in, in Ulster. we are in because we tried to overcome evil with evil. That method has failed and is failing, for the simple reason that it is not Christ's way.
There is no doubt that an evil state of affairs existed in Northern Ireland four years
ago, and a different type of evil exists at the present time. Discrimination was certainly (though not as much as those who wish to make political capital would maintain) directed against the Catholic minority. But the Protestant people have suffered in common with their Catholic fellow countrymen, the brunt of the evil of bad housing. bad education, and poverty.
Terror has not helped. Neither the evil of a discriminating government, nor the terror of the I.R.A., nor the repression of those who try to Oppose them. Violence, and the threat of violence from Republican, Loyalist and Security Forces may have achieved certain short-term objectives, but the demoralizing effect this has had on the people, the polarization it has caused, and, above all, the lack of Christianity it has demonstrated, has suggested to me, that all kinds of violence, of whatever kind, from whatever source, must be rejected as unsatisfactory.
Soldiers searching houses or on patrol draw I.R.A. gunfire, and this leads to military gunfire, which in turn leads to I.R.A., military and civilian casualties. Members of one faction shooting members of another faction leads to retaliation and more death. A pub., factory, or shop which belongs to the "enemy" is bombed and this leads to more death and more retaliation. The Northern Ireland situation is a series of vicious circles which are growing and will continue to grow unless there is an injection of the Christian ethic. Pape John Wrote, "Lt is becoming impossible to propose war . . . as a suitable means of reestablishing justice where some right has been violated." The Northern Ireland case proves his point.
What has already been said shows that a negatively unChristian standpoint cannot succeed. What is more important is to consider the positively Christian approach to the question. The teaching of Jesus Christ as outlined in the New Testament is open to interpretation, and it is very easy to offer as an excuse for not following the instructions of Christ, the fact that Jesus lived two thousand years ago, in a very different country to ours, and that His divinity made things easy for Him.
But man has not changed all that much in two thousand years, and Jesus' country is not altogether different to the Northern Ireland of 1972. Besides this, his instructions that we were to follow Him, that He is "the Way, the Truth, and the Light" are clear and uncompromising. His commandment to "Love your enemies" can only mean what it says, and He put this into practice Himself, as St. Peter says, "He was insulted, toad did not retaliate with insult, and when He was tortured He did not threaten." His passion and death are clear guidelines about how we should react to violence and evil. The three commandments of the Old Law not to kill, not to commit adultery, and not to steal, are a defence of property, life and human rights, and the instruction not to kill applies just as much to the sniper who shoots a soldier in the back, as to the assassin in the passing car, or to the policeman who shoots an I.R.A. volunteer found planting a bomb. The reason is that all violence is unChristian. Nietzsche said that Christ was an impractical idealist, and people are very quick to say that anything other than unChristian behaviour is impossible. because the other side will not behave like Christians, or because the standards Jesus sets are too high. The standards are high, but this is what Jesus meant when He said that the road to His kingdom was straight and narrow. It is only by Christian love that we can establish in Northern Ireland the kingdom that Jesus wanted to establish, namely, a kingdom, "not of this world" but a kingdom of truth and justice, of love and peace. Leadership must be given. and organization is needed, and here the Church leaders have failed. But if the ordinary man in the street accepts that he must be absolutely Christlike when faced with violence of any kind, and does what he as an individual can in his own area, then here is where the hope lies.