The Common Good

Goodbye to the U.N.?

Sojomail - August 27, 2003

Quote of the Week Tolkien: Planting the right seeds
Batteries Not Included David Batstone: Say goodbye to the U.N.?
By the Numbers Nation by nation view of the United Nations
Funny Business Fix it yourself
Soul Works Power Refined
Culture Watch British worship bands' unlikely mainstream audience
Boomerang SojoMail readers hit reply
Web Scene Make me a sunbeam for AIDS kids | "Cliff notes" overview of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict | Independent news from the ground in Iraq

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Excerpt from a letter by J.R.R. Tolkien to his son Christopher, 10 April 1944:

I sometimes feel appalled at the thought of the sum total of human misery all over the world at the present moment: The millions parted, fretting, wasting in unprofitable days - quite apart from torture, pain, death, bereavement, injustice. If anguish were visible, almost the whole of this benighted planet would be enveloped in a dense dark vapour, shrouded from the amazed vision of the heavens! And the products of it all will be mainly evil - historically considered. But the historic version is, of course, not the only one. All things and all deeds have a value in themselves, apart from their 'causes' and 'effects'. No man can estimate what is really happening sub specie aeternitatis. All we do know, and that to a large extent by direct experience, is that evil labors with vast power and perpetual success - in vain: preparing always the soil for unexpected good to sprout in.

- from "The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien," edited by Humphrey Carpenter (Houghton Mifflin Co.)

Say goodbye to the U.N.?
by David Batstone

David Batstone

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[The essay below appears in the Sept./Oct. issue of Sojourners magazine. Over the past two weeks, the U.N. delegation in Iraq was the target of a bomb attack and the Bush administration made a plea to the U.N. for help in establishing order in Iraq. The request - and the heated international debate that followed - make the discussion all the more pertinent - DB]

Is the United Nations dead in the water?

That's a common opinion in global leadership circles. In late June I took part in a workshop in Sweden that brought together highly influential leaders - executive officers of major corporations, government ministers, and members of parliaments - to discuss trends in economic development and international governance. Participants hailed from around the globe - China, India, Africa, the United States, and Europe.

Though I had a very positive experience at the workshop, I left with the alarming realization that many leaders consider the United Nations a lost cause. Representatives of the developing nations railed against the double standards of U.N. declarations and the structural inequity posed by the Security Council. Europeans despaired at the U.N.'s impotence, pointing to its inability to establish effective mediation in a high-stakes game of power politics over Iraq.

These premature post-mortems will sound like music to the ears of the neo-conservatives who set a very different agenda at the White House. Nelson Warfield, a former press secretary for Senator Robert Dole and key Republican strategist, said it well in the International Herald Tribune: "Just about every conservative is thrilled with a president who tells the U.N. to take a hike." I wonder if more progressive political operatives consider the alternatives when they so cynically undermine the U.N.?

Over the next decade we will be subject to the exercise of three dominant streams of geopolitical power on the global stage. First, it is clear that the Bush administration aims to lay the foundation for an "American century," and will act pre-emptively when necessary to accomplish its objectives. Second, organized networks operating under no state flag will seek global disorder as a channel for political or economic gain - mafia groups that thrive in the Balkans and the Sunni militia that wield terror in Pakistan are prime examples. Third, a coalition of political forces - non-governmental organizations, civic groups, and nation-states - will seek to support multilateral institutions and nurture the rule of law in an effort to resolve global conflicts. The member states of the European Union will play a key role in this third stream, even though some influential leaders have given up on the path of global governance and see the European Union as a credible geopolitical power to balance U.S. interests. Regardless, all three of these geopolitical streams will run in parallel to shape global order (or the lack thereof), competing for dominance, yet no one stream will completely overcome the others.

Anyone who wants to promote the third stream and strengthen global governance cannot give up on the U.N. Despite its inadequacies, it is practically the only body to which the U.S. government feels even a modicum of accountability in international affairs. Isn't it rife with bureaucrats who inefficiently run programs into the ground? No argument there, but that should lead us to put forward proposals for serious reform and revitalization, not a call for its elimination. The U.N. has the potential - only on rare occasions yet realized - of providing a moral vision to resolve global conflicts in a way that transcends the interests of any one nation-state.

Critics point to the fact that the very existence of the Security Council ensures a double standard of justice; therefore, the argument follows, the U.N. should be jettisoned in favor of the creation of a new international body. That's simply a dead end. Can you imagine the United States, let alone China or France, joining a new governing body - to which they will make themselves accountable - where parity and symmetry rule the order of affairs? In a perfect world, yes, but that will not happen realistically.

The intensive focus on the U.N. after Iraq offers us the opportunity to create a more just system of governance with appropriate checks and balances within its present structures. We should not squander that chance because we despair over its vulnerability.

To read more perspective from David Batstone, go to:

SurveyLAST CHANCE: Make your voice heard!
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Nation by nation view of the United Nations

Peace BondsPercentage of the civilian population who believe "the United Nations is less important now":

Israel: 72%
South Korea: 71%
Jordan: 65%
Palestine: 65%
Brazil: 61%
France: 61%
Pakistan: 60%
United States: 60%
Russia: 58%
United Kingdom: 57%
Morocco: 56%
Germany: 53%
Indonesia: 52%
Canada: 50%
Nigeria: 42%

*Source: The Pew Research Center interview of 16,000 people in 20 countries in May, 2003.

Fix it yourself

Click HERE for Abundant Earth!
The printer attached to a small firm's computer was starting to produce a faint image. The fellow tasked with such cosmic problems accordingly called a local repair shop. There, a friendly man informed him that the printer probably needed only to be cleaned. Because the store charged $50 for such cleanings, he indicated the fellow might be better off reading the printer's manual and trying the job himself.

Pleasantly surprised by his candor, the potential customer asked,

"Does your boss know that you discourage business?"

"Actually, it's my boss's idea," the employee replied. "We usually make more money on repairs if we let people try to fix things themselves first...."

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Power Refined
by Paul Boyd-Batstone

Saving the Corporate SoulPower,
defined by blunt command and control, disables.
to the pulse of goodness, the beat of ecstacy, the throb of pain.
to the mundane, unable to listen for whispers of the grass growing in foundational cracks.
To seeing roots under the slab, to perceiving ruptures in the wall.
To heed the call, "Step down. Keep an ear to the ground. Comprehend silence still and small.
Yet power refined
by cohesion, not coercion,
a delicate blend of ability and care,
Is the will to hear, the skill to heal, not to harm at all.

*Original submission to SojoMail by Paul Boyd-Batstone, Long Beach, California

British worship bands' unlikely mainstream audience
by Eric Tiansay

British worship bands are reaching unlikely mainstream crowds. A new breed of worship leaders, singers, and musicians are taking their praise music beyond church - and into film scores, TV shows, London theaters, and student bars. Groups such as four-piece band One Hundred Hours lead worship among non-Christians in bars across the U.K., as their bookings haven't been confined to Christian venues. They've played amid the drink and smoke of college bars, where unsuspecting students have sung along to praise songs.

To read more, go to:


C. Reed from Los Angeles, California, writes :

"Dangerous Religion: George W. Bush's Theology of Empire" is such an outstanding piece! This view of Bush's psyche is essential to understanding every single action he takes and then how to counteract it and, hopefully, remove him from office. It should be required reading of every single American.


[Ex]SojoMail reader Rev. Carol Wiseman writes:

Enough! I enjoyed some of the articles in Sojourners when first signing up. However, your politics and your use of the magazine to communicate them are repulsive to me. I am unsubscribing to your magazine based on your radical views and deliberate attacks on President Bush, whom I support completely.


Joe Allen Doty writes from Tulsa, Oklahoma:

I am an independent Pentecostal evangelist who has been called a prophet and a healer by members of the gay and Christian community. I am glad that Jim Wallis wrote the article "Dangerous Religion." If I did not know better, I would assume that Brother Jim was a classical Pentecostal prophet. He certainly has the gift of discernment of spirits. He is right on the nose when it comes to telling the truth about Mr. Bush and those who work with him. I do know about presidents having evangelicals, even Pentecostals, on their speech-writing staffs to make them sound more Christian. I met one of those people, Doug Wead, before he was on staff with a former Republican president. Wead was an Assemblies of God ordained minister and missionary, too.


Marlene Keller writes from Mesa, Arizona:

George Bush's strange religion cannot be trusted; he speaks to gain and retain support from the churchgoing crowd. When I look at George W. Bush, and listen to his words, I see through him, and I hear deception; there is nothing of substance there to see or hear. He is using religion to further his political agenda. There is no sincerity. He does, though, seem to be succeeding because Christians do not want to believe ill of him.... It is time all Christians face the facts and discard any benefit of the doubt that they are extending to him. There are young Americans dying in Iraq every day [because] slack is still being given to George W. Bush. He should be impeached and tried for his crimes and treason to this country; and let God take care of the blasphemy.


Ronald W. Knepper writes from Andover, Massachusetts:

I disagree with Jim Wallis' article on "Dangerous Religion." He makes it sound like we (the USA) should just look the other way and allow terrorists to have their way in the world. I believe we are theologically in the right in calling them evil. They have espoused a doctrine of evil by all that I believe in. It has been made painfully clear to me within the past two years that there are a group of people in this world (I will use the word terrorists so as to be politically correct) who are determined to destroy us. Either we have to eliminate terrorists from the face of this planet, or they will eliminate us. Which would you prefer?


Linda Regensburger writes from Westminster, Colorado:

Thank you, Jim Wallis, for once again being a voice of reason and truth in a cacophony of jingoistic militarists masquerading as Christian believers. "Bush's Dangerous Religion" has to be one of the most important - and courageous - articles I have read in the past several years.


Tony Mitchell, Ph.D., writes from Beacon, New York:

There is a phrase popular among evangelists today that seems appropriate for how we should look at what is going on both in this country and in Iraq. It is used when an individual is faced with a dilemma and seeking counsel and advice as to what action to take or what path to walk. That phrase is "What would Jesus do?"

And this phrase is made more the question to ask since this administration and many of its supporters have implied that their mission and approach to solving the problem is God-inspired and God-directed. But if Jesus were to be in the United States today, he most certainly would be in hiding. After all, as a Middle Eastern male preaching a message of peace, love, nonviolence and reconciliation, he would be going against the present administration and almost certainly be labeled an enemy of the state. As such, under the Patriot Act, he would be arrested and imprisoned without bail or hope of a quick trial.


Dave Hilton, M.D., writes from Atlanta, Georgia:

Jacquie Berglund's "Beer for charity" reported in last week's SojoMail is a good example of how help is not always helpful. The Centers for Disease Control has listed alcohol as the number three cause of death in the United States. Although the National Institute of Drug Abuse lists alcohol along with cocaine and heroin as an addicting drug, Americans have a massive cultural denial. As a result 100,000 Americans die every year - more than 270 a day - and countless others endure untold suffering.

As harbingers of social justice, Sojourners and SojoMail should be leading the way to educate Americans on the inherent dangers of the use of alcohol as our primary tranquilizer. The Letter to the Ephesians suggests a better way: "Don't get drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit."


Jean Walker writes from Edinburgh, Scotland:

I sympathize with Tristin Hassell and Dominic Di Noto (last week's Boomerang) about how Christians should involve themselves in politics. If we are to follow our Master in care for the poor and disadvantaged for social justice and compassion, we cannot avoid responsibility for the society in which we live. We belong in another Kingdom and should always be obedient to our King.... [But] being a Christian in politics does not mean one should enforce obedience to moral laws that are not shared by the society; it does mean we seek a society that cares for those who are broken. I do not agree with those who have formed a Christian Democratic Party, partly because I think too much energy is taken up with getting elected or staying in power that may not bring glory to God.


Boomerang is an open forum for all kinds of views. The views expressed are not necessarily those of Sojourners. Want to make your voice heard? Send Boomerang e-mails to the editor:

*Make me a sunbeam for AIDS kids

South Africa has the highest HIV infection rate in the world, with 1800 new infections occuring every day. The number of orphans is expected to rise to 2 million by 2007. Sunbeam Kids is involved in two projects in South Africa: The Sunbeam Kids Village, and Ambulela, which is a Zulu word meaning "a gift of old clothing." It is looking for volunteers to get involved in one or both of these projects. To find out more, go to:

*"Cliff notes" overview of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

An interactive guide to the history and drama behind a tragic conflict. Link to:

*Independent news from the ground in Iraq

The Baghdad Bulletin is committed to covering the issues surrounding the redevelopment of Iraq after Saddam Hussein's rule. It is a non-partisan publication whose only tenet is that the presence of a free press offering a forum for all sides is an inalienable human right. Link to:

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