Blog: 'The hope of a world of hospitality'

1 July 2024

If something has struck me these past few days, it is the hospitality and friendliness of the people we meet here in Yogyakarta. It makes me think about the hospitality we ourselves show to to others in the Netherlands. 

Blog by Sico de Jong


Walking down the street, you are sometimes approached spontaneously and asked if you want to take a picture with someone. Taking the picture leads to a lot of fun. And you can see the joy and excitement on their faces. And if you speak to a person on the street with a few words of Indonesian, you immediately see their face open up and a big smile appear. It feels like a warm bath. Although Indonesia is a country with a very different culture than the Netherlands, the hospitality makes me feel completely at ease and at home. How nice it would be if everyone felt this way when crossing the border into another country and culture.

In that case "Peace among the Nations" might be within reach. Surely that should not be impossible. It is the hope of a world of hospitality that makes the Christian faith attractive to me. Hospitality of which there are many examples in the Bible and which we are encouraged to show. The Greek word for hospitality is philoxenia: love for the stranger. It is the opposite of xenophobia: fear of the stranger. Demonstrating hospitality requires faith and trust to overcome that fear. It is therefore not surprising that during one of the parallel sessions on Friday, attention was paid to the theological concept of hospitality in relation to sheltering refugees. An issue that exists in Indonesia, just as it does in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, hospitality to a tourist does not automatically mean hospitality to a refugee.

Conflict handling: controlled force or pacifism?

A quote attributed to Jimi Hendrix – an American guitarist and singer-songwriter of the 60's – says: 'When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.' When it comes to geopolitical conflicts, you could say that the love of power is the dominant kind of love. During these four days of the conference, much thought has been given to conflicts between countries, how to prevent them and how to deal with them. Day 3 of the conference was particularly interesting, because it focussed on two different visions of dealing with conflict. The central question is how peace can be achieved and how injustice can be fought when there is conflict.

The two visions are discussed by Dr. Eric Patterson (USA) and Dr. Paulus Widjaja (Indonesia). Patterson believes in the controlled use of force to achieve peace. Widjaja advocates a peaceful approach without violence. Both speakers ultimately want the same thing: a world without war, where justice and peace are celebrated. 

Dr Eric Patterson and Dr Paulus Widjaja

Patterson: the theory of a just war

An important theory that answers the above questions is the just war theory. This theory has a long history and goes back to Church Father Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Dr Eric Patterson (USA) gives a clear explanation of this theory. This theory describes the criteria that must be used to start a just war. In addition, there are also criteria that apply during a war in order to ensure a just use of force.

The theory says that violence should only be used if there is no other option left than using violence. Violence should also only be used for a justified reason. An example of this is protecting the citizens of a country against an unjustified attack. Furthermore, war should only be declared and engaged by a legal government. And there must be proportionality and a reasonable chance of success. This means that war should not be started if the expected suffering is greater than the damage to be prevented. Finally, there must be a right intention: the goal of the war must be a better and more just peace than before the war.

Just grounds

In Patterson's view, these criteria make sure that the decision to use force against another country is taken on just grounds. When it comes to the situation during the war, the use of force must be limited to what is strictly necessary so that force causes as little damage as possible to a country (= the principle of proportionality). Last but not least, there should be no civilian casualties.

Finally, Patterson discusses the criteria for the period after the war ends. When a conflict has ended, it is important to think about how peace can be consolidated. This means that attention must be paid to order, justice and reconciliation.

  • Order: he emphasizes that the basis for peace after a conflict is the establishment of order. This involves, for example, installing a stable government in the country. Order can also be achieved through an agreement that the fighting parties are separated from each other, as in the case of North and South Korea.
  • Justice: justice should be done by holding accountable those who are responsible for the conflict and for war crimes. This was the case, for example, in the Neurenberg trial after WWII.
  • Reconciliation: an example of reconciliation is the EU. After WWII, the European countries started cooperating with Germany in the EU. As another example of reconciliation, I immediately thought of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the abolition of Apartheid. Following a question about this by one of the participants, Patterson said that, strictly speaking, this was not a war. However, that does not change the fact that this is a good example of how reconciliation after a long period of injustice can be used to create a new starting point.

What is attractive to me in this model of thinking is the fact that it abandons the idea of holy war and martyrdom. And that there need to be rational and just reasons to apply physical force. It's a model that provides checks and balances to prevent starting a war based on unjustified reasons.

Widjaja: Pacifism

Dr. Paulus Widjaja (Indonesia) chooses a different point of view: pacifism. Widjaja highlights the weaknesses of just war theory. As a thinking model it sounds very rational, sensible and ethical. But in practice, Widjaja notices that the correct application of this model is a big problem. He explains that the idea of a just war is often abused by those in power to achieve economic and political goals (a critique on the just cause criterion). For example, there have been interventions in Iraq, an important oil-producing country on which the West is dependent. And Ukraine is actively supported in the war against Russia, for political reasons. But there is no attention for the many failed States in Africa and elsewhere. In other words, the just war theory is applied selectively and to the benefit of the agendas of those in power.

Another complicating factor is the fact that in many cases there is no legitimate authority that decides to engage in war. Examples of this kind are wars that are fought by militant groups in Somalia and Lybia where there is no longer a stable and legal government in place. In Just War Theory there also needs to be a reasonable chance for success. However, there is no clear definition of “success” and there is no referee to decide in this matter. Examples of this critique are the war of Russia against Ukraine and Israel's war in Gaza.

That is why Widjaja chooses a different path, the path of peace. His vision is based on two elements: pacifism (being an ethical choice) and nonviolence (being a political choice). He emphasises that killing other people and using violence is a wrong choice in all circumstances. The underlying idea is that the Biblical concepts of peace and justice are the result of entering into and maintaining right and just relationships between people.

Hospitality and vulnerability

Widjaja says that hospitality and vulnerability are the two most important elements that characterise right and just relationships. In a hospitable society, people treat each other as good neighbours and help each other when necessary. For Widjaja, the concept of vulnerability means that we should look at the way we give meaning to suffering and injustice. According to him, we must develop the virtue of embracing adversity. This is not passively enduring injustice, but living in the hope that God does not leave man alone in his suffering. Widjaja concludes with the words of Pope Francis: 'Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war.'

Hard to choose between two visions

The vision of Widjaja also makes sense to me and is very attractive. Hospitality  - as one of the ways to express love for our neighbors - can contribute to dealing with the problem of societies where groups of people oppose each other and of countries opposing each other. As expected the presentation of these two different visions was followed by a lively discussion between Patterson and Widjaja and led to many questions from the participants of the conference. For me it is hard to choose between the two visions. To me it seems that it is not a matter of choosing between one of them as being the only right way to pursue peace. My feeling is that it depends on the specific situation which model can best be used. I hope you enjoyed reading this blog and I wish you a world of hospitality and peace.