Creating a Better World


As a veteran of World War II who has celebrated his 90th birthday, I’m not often moved reading current events and commentary.  But the consistent  and hopeful writings by Tikkun and Rabbi Michael Lerner are a refreshing contrast to news that ignores contexts and heartfelt analysis.
The first act of the American Revolution began in 1776. I think it remains for us to write the second act and perform it. This second act would truly bring liberty and justice for our world, for each human person, created in the image and likeness of God. This second act would be non-violent, courageous, imaginative, and comprehensive.
Tikkun advocates that the U.S. implement a form of the Marshall Plan that would bring security to Palestinians, the Jewish people, and others in our uneven world.
Instead of joining our allies in an effort to control our enemies, wouldn’t it be better to work together with all nations to promote human rights, an inclusive world economy, common security for all? Now we tend to exaggerate the faults of our enemies and minimize our own faults and the faults of our allies.
My amateur analysis concludes that we are not living in a workable, rational world.  We can’t be a human family at war with one another  and a sharing, cooperative people living in peace on the same planet. We need designs for a workable, moral world.  The present structures outside us and attitudes within us need to change.  I’m glad Rabbi Michael Lerner and many others are leading us in the right direction, cooperation over domination,  love over fear.
Another hopeful development is the report of the International Commission on Global Security, Justice & Governance. Madeleine Albright is a co-chair with Ibrahim Gambari the former Foreign Minister of Nigeria and UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.  The Commission recognizes that our human family has threats which are global and cannot be confronted adequately by one nation or group of nations, but by all of us together.  Pope John XIII said this many years ago and Pope Francis repeats this Catholic social teaching in Laudato Si (No. 175) “It is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions.”
In 2000 I journeyed to Jerusalem for an international Jesuit seminar on peace in the Holy Land led by Fr. Raymond Helmick, S.J.  Ray Helmick uses as a peace principle the presupposition of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola which has found its way into the Catechism of the Catholic Church under the 8th Commandment (No. 2478)  “To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way.”
I don’t find it easy to have a listening heart to individuals, groups, religions, nations, who are different from me or disagree with me.  I don’t look on violence or domination as gods and find it hard to accept those who seem to.  But compassionate humble listening is a way to a peace with justice, and I applaud groups who have perfected such an art.
I agree with Rabbi Michael Lerner that most people are decent even though we all have a violent streak in us springing from excessive fear.  A young Indian girl had a dream of a violent wolf and a friendly one.  She asked her grandfather the meaning of the dream.  He said both wolves are within us.  She asked which one would prevail.  He answered, “The one you favor and foster.”
I suggest we look at individuals, groups, religions, nations not as enemies but as potential partners.  We are all in this world together and we can either learn to live together, or we will die together.  Didn’t we work together with Russia and Iran to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria?  Our common enemy is neglect of international law and order.  Our response to terrorism cannot be limited to military action.
When we think of security, we think of security from external threats to our nation.  But there are more kinds of security than freedom from violence as important as the latter is.  If we lack economic security, for example, we really are not free.
Although its intellectual roots can be found in the 1940s, the concept of human security first called attention when it was widely used in the UN Development Program’s 1994 Human Development Report.  Highlighting seven components of human security (economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security and political security), this report aimed to broaden the concept of security beyond narrow conceptions of state defense against external military threats.
The traditional security concept argues that security is provided by state institutions such as police and military.  However, in the post-cold war period when new threats (such as cyber security, disease security, terrorism.) appear out of state control, old institutions of security have turned out to be not enough. In an increasingly complex world, national borders are no longer dividing lines between security and insecurity.
Structures are the way we organize our world and our lives externally and internally. Government, corporations, schools, are external structures.
Our Faith, our values, attitudes, philosophy of life are internal structures.
An external structure is the way things are, the way we do things. Although society once had barter, now we use currency. Since there were not many horseless carriages in the beginning, automobiles managed on their own. Now we have stop signs and traffic laws.
The purpose of ordering our structures and relationships is to bring us into closer and more intimate relationships with God, our neighbor, our planet, and all living creatures.  To St. Ignatius Loyola, this is the purpose of the Spiritual Exercises, to put more order into our own lives and into the world around us.  A more orderly world gives us greater security and spiritual freedom.
Visioning new structures gets us out of the present and gives us hope. Visioning helps us to set priorities. After we vision together, we can divide responsibilities on our way toward the vision. No one can do everything. All of us can do something.  Refining our vision of a better world, perfecting structures and sub-structures is the work of groups, universities, groups of universities, the Network of Spiritual Progressives, Christian Life Community, Pax Christi, etc.  The internet, web-sites like  can help to bring us together.
To envision: the act or power of imagination; unusual discernment or foresight; an imaginative conception of the future.  The ability to generate a vision more in accord with God’s Word is a beautiful and energizing grace.
A vision is more than temporary goals.  A vision is something enduring, a big truth, a higher purpose that draws us toward the future.  It’s an image of what should be.  A vision inspires groups to join in promoting the common good.  The Declaration of Independence led the British colonies to give birth to a nation grounded in “certain unalienable rights. . .among these…life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
So many of our dreams at first seem impossible.  As we proceed together our dreams become more probable.  With God’s help they eventually become inevitable.  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of a nation “where my children will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.”
Envisioning better structures is worth millions, billions, trillions of dollars. Indeed it’s priceless!  If that seems like an exaggeration, visualize for a moment a world in which there is no war system.  Nations resolve disputes by negotiation, mediation, arbitration, and if all else fails, by law.  Think of the lives that would save.  Imagine the financial and human resources that would be available for health care, education, employment, the arts, the environment!  If we could establish a structure that would enable us to end the war system and bring about fair and inclusive world trade, wouldn’t it be worth the time, energy, money and imagination such an enormous challenge would call for?
Much of my own efforts over the years has been with Citizens for Global Solutions.  One of their themes has been the assimilation by local chapters of Transforming the United Nations System, Designs for a Workable World by Dr. Joseph E. Schwartzberg.
I have an article with Tikkun which is still relevant.  War can become obsolete.
For the first time the Vatican is organizing a conference to decide whether the just war theory is the best way to confront violence or whether an alternate structure would be better.
If “enemies” are ready to shoot me or otherwise injure me or my loved ones, evasive or defensive action may be required. But we don’t have to call them enemies. Considering individuals, groups, nations as enemies instead of potential partners is a way of thinking that we can change. Avoiding enemy-driven thinking  can eliminate a preventable disease.  No More Enemies has worked for Deb Reich, a Jewish woman in Israel. It can work for all of us.  Deb Reich’s redesign approach is taken partly from William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things. Instead of manufacturing products that shortly go into a landfill somewhere, we need to redesign products in ways that they can be recycled and used again. Like cradle to cradle in manufacturing, no more enemies is an imaginative, creative way of approaching our relationships.
Is our war system a pre-historic disease for which there is an effective antidote, changing our attitude toward other groups and nations? We are one human family. We can choose to flourish and prosper, all together, or not. Trees can inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen to give us life. We can breathe in negative experiences like Paris and Brussels and breathe out love and respect which unites all of us, locally and globally.
Besides internal structures we can pursue better external structures like nations that can absorb diversity. And I would add research, education, and action toward an inclusive global economy, a democratic world federation, basic human rights, a global ethic, the various forms of non-violence.
Groups like Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives are the real world. Our present world in great part is the world of shadows, murky, cloudy, and dark.  I think God invites us to build a bright world of beauty, peace, and shared abundance.
Envisioning better internal and external structures will give us greater security.  Compassionate listening will bring us closer together.  Let’s go not toward a perfect world, but a better one.”

Father Benjamin J. Urmston, S.J., PhD  Director Emeritus of Peace and Justice Programs at Xavier University, Cincinnati, Ohio.

2 thoughts on “Creating a Better World

  1. Thank you for your service to our nation and our world, yesterday, today and tomorrow. Long may you live!

  2. thank you for this brilliant and deep article on how to imagine a communal
    life lived in love. I am reminded of the prayer of Sr. Helen Prejean, tireless advocate to end the death penalty:
    Is God vengeful, demanding a death for a death?
    Or is God compassionate?
    Luring souls into love so great that
    NO ONE
    can be considered “enemy.”
    Models of mutual love and empathy as put forth by Rabbi Lerner, Sister Helen and Fr. Urmston suggest that not only is living this way possible, it is essential for personal,global and planetary survival.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *