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An ethical foundation and imperative for peace: Creation of a “Spiritual Continuum”

The word “Peace” is mentioned 429 times in the bible; more than any other substantive word.  On an intuitive level the state of peace and good will is more desirable than its alternative of either war or ongoing conflict and hostility and should be a goal of enlightened societies. More specifically the state of peace, at any level, is a precondition for growth and development.  Fear, danger and conflict channel the use of energy into the process of protection, guarding, and the stress response.  While this is necessary for survival, when it is ongoing it becomes destructive.

Almost by definition, the state of peace for a society will generate more constructive energy and result in the greatest good for the largest number of people. We can refer to what happens with an individual organism of any species – including human – when there is ongoing danger or conflict.  The more a person activates in a defensive manner, and the more “on guard”, the more energy is wasted through constriction, anger, and reactivity.  It’s a process whereby energy is mobilized and used up. This throws a person out of balance, resulting in all systems of the body being stressed – speeding up the aging process, and breakdown.   Peace and safety are the necessary ingredients for recuperation, generation, maintenance and growth.

In addition, with fear and danger, there is a reflexive shift to lower centers of the brain; the brain centers that we have in common with mammals and even reptiles.  When these lower centers are dominant, as they are during conflict and danger, there is more likelihood of stereotypic and regressive behavior.  Thus there is less creativity and less productivity.  A visual representation of this is the concept of circling the wagons when under attack.  During the pioneering days, when there was danger, forward progress would halt, as the wagons formed a circle for protection.  The statement, “as below so above, and as above, so below” is fitting here: what is true for each of us is also true for society.  

Individuals or societies that spend a disproportionate amount of their resources on war and defense draw off valuable energy for endeavors that do not foster the healthy development of a society and ultimately create more suffering.  Furthermore, conflict – and a society that fosters conflict - promotes a survival mentality that limits creativity, and problem solving ability while hardening positions.  In this state, one is less tolerant, less flexible and societies are more constrictive.   

Is war good for the economy?
At election time we commonly hear the phrase: “It’s the economy, stupid”.  This refers to the fact that how the economy is faring is more important than any other single issue.  Some would say that war and conflict are good engines for our economy.  After all, defense funding creates jobs, manufacturing and new technology.  However, numerous studies have demonstrated that money going to health, education, transportation or infrastructure creates more jobs than the same amount of dollars going into defense.

Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier, in their review article, “The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities” show how dollars spent in war or defense yield fewer jobs than when they are used in other areas.  For example, in 1987 Medoff found that defense spending came in next to last in an index that combined job quality with job quantity.  He found that spending for education, health care, transportation infrastructure and construction all performed substantially better than military spending.  

Similarly, in a study presented by Marion Anderson, Greg Bischak and Michael Oden entitled “Converting the American Economy” they found that the impact of a gradual reduction in military spending, starting with $35 billion in 1990 and reaching $105 billion in 1994, would produce a net gain of 477,000 jobs within the U.S. economy.  During the Bush years alone, the military budget increased 66%.  Of course when one item in the budget rises so steeply, these funds must come from other sectors of society, such as health, welfare and education.

The human cost
Recent wars have demonstrated the huge toll taken in terms of human life, suffering and destruction.  Furthermore, the more recent wars have taken a greater toll on civilian populations.  It has been shown that during WWI, 10% of the casualties were civilian, in WWII that jumped to 50%, in the Viet Nam war civilian casualties were 70% of the total and during the recent Iraq war, fully 90% of the casualties were civilian.
We know that in addition to these numbers, there is the cost of ongoing and in many cases lifelong physical and emotional disability resulting from the war, lost production of these casualties and the emotional impact – pain and suffering - on family, friends and the community.   Emotional trauma produces brain and behavior effects that last a life time.  We can say that war and its consequences create trauma and a societal wound that take generations to heal.  

Survival of the Fittest versus The Golden Rule

We can distill all human behavior down to two basic philosophies: “Survival of the fittest” and living by the “Golden rule”.  Survival of the fittest is an evolutionary term that describes the process whereby individuals of a species are in competition for valuable resources and the ability to survive to reproductive age.  Through this process the genetic make-up of these “most fit” supply the genetic material for the next generation.  The framework for this concept is a competitive struggle, me against you.  
Living by the Golden Rule which is at the heart of all spiritual approaches says that you treat the “other” the way you want the other to treat you.  If we think in spiritual terms of “God is One”, of a universal energy, or the belief that God is in all of us, then this end of the continuum could be defined as the interconnection of all things.  If everything is connected to everything else, then it makes sense to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  If everything that is experienced as outside of you is actually connected to you in some way, then it is an obvious result to treat other parts of you as well as you treat yourself.

We might say that these two life approaches represent the two parts of ourselves: our animal nature and our spiritual or “God-like” nature or aspiration.  We can consider a person who feels like he or she needs to be in survival mode; always feeling in danger and on the verge of some crisis.  This person will behave in a way that promotes his/her security, while giving no attention to the needs of others.  This is more closely aligned with our animal nature.

We seem to embrace the religious and secular concepts of Brotherhood of man, and treating the “other” with respect while in our Houses of Worship, but behave as if we are in a competition of survival when we walk out the door.  So perhaps this is our greatest challenge as a society: shifting from our animal – survival of the fittest – self, to our spiritual – Golden Rule – self.  In fact, this might be the determining factor in the progression of an evolutionary process – now, the human evolutionary process - that seems, for millennia, to have been stalled. 

The Golden Rule and a Spiritual Continuum
If we consider that these two philosophies are at the opposite ends of a continuum, we might then be able to measure where a person, a group or a society stand along this continuum.  We might then compare this measurement with other appraisals of ethical behavior and even the tendency for conflict. If we can agree that a bias toward the Golden Rule end of the continuum is advantageous to society and its development, we might then test out various interventions and compare Spiritual Continuum scores before and after the intervention to determine its impact.
Certainly where you stand along this continuum will be a factor in determining your behavior.  If your foundation is based on personal survival, then whatever facilitates this will be considered okay.  There will be less concern for the other person or other group.  If that foundation is the Golden Rule and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you, then right or good behavior will incorporate compassion, altruism, and a sensitivity toward the other person or other peoples.
The degree to which a person subscribes to the Golden rule however, can be titrated.  For example, a person might feel connected to his wife, treating her as he would treat himself, but not necessarily treat someone else in the community with that level of sensitivity.  We can then think of concentric circles of care and concern; beginning with oneself and moving outward to incorporate family, friends, community, nation and the world.

There is the extent of one's incorporation of the “other”, and then there is the extent that one will go out of their way to help the other. “I’ll help you, as long as it doesn't cause me any loss or discomfort.” You might hold a spouse within your inner most of circles; although some people are even guarded within this relationship.  Some might include close friends or relatives.  Next might be the familial  or fraternal organization, or a religious or cultural group, next would be local community, followed by region and then country.

Where do you stand on a continuum of spirituality?  Here are a few dichotomies that need to be considered within this continuum.


Everything connected


Golden Rule

Sensitive to others

Upset when seeing harm to others


Wanting to help others

Focused more on cooperation

We are individuals, separate, isolated


Survival of the Fittest

Insensitive to others

Uncaring about harm to others


Won’t go out of way for others

Win at expense of others



And where does one stand who says they care, but won’t go out of their way to help another?  It’s clear where Raoul Wallenberg stood!

Where do you stand and can the Spiritual Continuum be used to facilitate an evolutionary shift?

The goal of this essay is to engage you, the reader; to generate interest and thinking about where you stand.  It is designed to generate ideas as to items that can be placed on the ends of this continuum as well as items that might be situated somewhere along the continuum.  It is designed to be a tool for research.  I welcome all suggestions as to items to be included in a Spiritual Continuum Questionnaire, and interventions and ways of facilitating the movement from Survival of the Fittest to the Golden Rule.  This is the next step in our human evolutionary process. 



Topics: Interfaith Dialog, Peace

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