Friday, October 24, 2014

Untied Nations

      Those readers who also "follow" me on Facebook or Twitter will know that I regularly post the various holidays of the world's religious traditions (along with a link to a website that describes the holiday).  Those same readers also know that, in addition to religious observances, I also will add in some national holidays as well as days that the United Nations have set aside for special observance.  Today (October 24) is no different!  Today, according to the United Nations is "World Development Information Day" as well as the beginning of "Disarmament Week".  The links will explain those days, of course.  But today is an even more significant day for the UN.  It was sixty-nine years ago today that the United Nations officially came into being.  (While the Charter was signed in June of 1945, it wasn't ratified by a majority of the signatories until that October).
      The United Nations has four main purposes (according to its 
  • To keep peace throughout the world;
  • To develop friendly relations among nations;
  • To help nations work together to improve the lives of poor people, to conquer hunger, disease and illiteracy, and to encourage respect for each other’s rights and freedoms;
  • To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations to achieve these goals.
I believe that the UN has tried to live up to those ideals.  We can certainly see some evidence of those efforts in their published statements, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the more recent Millennium Development Goals.  That said, it is clear that it hasn't always been as successful in some arenas as in others.  And there are (at least in America) some folks who think that the UN is some kind of satanic cabal that will chain us all up and force us to eat cockroaches.  
       I believe that the UN was created with the best of intentions, emerging from the ashes of the failure of the League of Nations and the horrors of World War II.  And I am sure that its structure was developed as well as it could be given the competing agendae of the major powers at that time.   But, as time has gone on, it seems that the structure has required change -- and that has been realized, and acted upon (in some ways), by the UN itself.  Changes in the composition of the Security Council is one example.  But, when "permanent" members of the Security Council want to exercise their veto, things stall.  And/or, when the UN-as-a-whole leans in one direction, initial signatories can chose to withhold funding, the overall effectiveness is compromised.

       Let me be clear, I am NOT a International Studies student/major/expert; my knowledge of the UN is what any attentive person might have gained over the last decades.  And so I am NOT making sweeping policy critiques or suggestions!  I would like, however, to return to something I suggested above, i.e., that the structure of the UN was a compromise because of the competing agendae of the earliest designers.  Where the UN has succeeded, it is because the "competition" of the majority has taken a back seat to a compelling need.  Where it has often failed, it is often partly due to one country's self-interest running rough-shod over the good of the whole.  In different language, children don't always play with other children.
       Earlier this year, 
it was reported that former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres met with Pope Francis, and suggested that the UN had out-lived its usefulness; an alternative might be a similar organization with religions coming together rather than nation states.  A good, but somewhat naive, idea, Minister Peres; it has been suggested before, by the former Episcopal Bishop of California, William Swing.*  He worked tirelessly to form a "United Religions" and learned a lot.  What developed out of his efforts was the United Religions Initiative, a wonderful organization that recognizes that acting from top down has major draw-backs -- self-interest of the "leaders" (assuming they can be identified) being primary.  Working from the grassroots, dealing with real problems on the ground, with people of good faith, is the way to go.  It may not be "flashy", but it has not run afoul of as much as has self-interest.
      "Self-interest".  I know the concept.  It is part of who we are, as individuals and nations.  We want to survive; we even want our children to survive.  But how far out do the ripples go?  Are "nations" the best way to define self-interest?  Are "religions"?
      What does tie us together?  In what are we "united"?  Over what are we "untied"?  I do believe that our religious traditions--at their best, or at their core--provide the best answers to those questions.

Chaplain Gary
* Full disclosure:  I have known Bp. Swing for over thirty years.  He confirmed me as an Episcopalian, and baptized my daughter.

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