A New “Credo” for Humankind

How can we better approach the problem of world peace?

January 22, 2004

How can we better approach the problem of world peace?

From a civil rights "Freedom Rider" to long-time chaplain at Yale University, Reverend William Sloane Coffin has dedicated his life to social change. His latest book, "Credo," incorporates this commitment into a set of insightful criticisms and suggestions for a more just world system. In this Globalist Interview, Mr. Coffin shares his vision for a peaceful future.

What do you believe is the greatest obstacle to international peace and justice?

"The primary problems of the planet arise not from the poor, for whom education is the answer. They arise from the well-educated — for whom self-interest is the problem."

What do you think are the most serious threats to global security today?

"President Bush rightly spoke of an 'axis of evil,' but it is not Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Here is a more likely trio calling for Herculean efforts to defeat: environmental degradation, pandemic poverty and a world awash with weapons."

How should the United States combat these evils?

"The United States doesn't have to lead the world — it has first to join it. Then, with greater humility, it can play a wiser leadership role."

What divisive factors undermine countries' efforts to work together?

"Hardly anyone in the world believes territorial discrimination to be as evil as racial or religious discrimination. But it is. Nationalism — at the expense of another nation — is just as wicked as racism at the expense of another race. In other words, good patriots are not nationalists. A nationalist is a bad patriot."

Is the United States too strong for its own good?

"It is gratifying for Americans to recall that ours is the longest-lived revolution in the world, maybe even the most successful. But it would be a mistake to forget that our influence as a people was greatest when — as a nation — we were weakest. We rallied far more hopes and energies when we had no rockets and no muscle."

Without this muscle, how else can the war against terrorism be won?

"Whereas economic power helped eventually to win World War II, the war against terrorism will finally only be won by economic justice. There is nothing metaphysical about terrorism. It springs from specific historical causes — political oppression and economic deprivation.

“Until these injustices — and our complicity in their furtherance — are faced, our escalating counter-violence will predictably result in more and more terrorists attacking more and more American institutions at home and abroad."

How can this cycle of violence and counter-violence be dismantled?

"Just as the first step toward the abolition of slavery was the abolition of the slave trade, so now the first step toward the eventual abolition of national arsenals should be the abolition of the arms trade. Sellers must be held as culpable as buyers."

How effective is the United Nations' framework for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament?

"Just as a fat person cannot talk persuasively to a skinny one about the virtues of not overeating, so nuclear powers cannot convince non-nuclear ones to renounce access to nuclear weapons — not until nuclear powers themselves start seriously to disarm."

Is there any chance that we'll ever completely rid the world of weapons of mass destruction?

"Even if, by the grace of God, we succeed in ridding the earth of weapons of mass destruction, the ability to make them will forever and ever be part of the storehouse of human knowledge.

“Of all thoughts about the world's future, few are more sobering, for it would be utterly naïve to believe that a nation at war would gracefully choose to go down to defeat rather than reconstruct nuclear weapons had it the ability to do so.

“In other words, having bitten the nuclear apple there is no returning to innocence. It's hard not to conclude that humanity has outlived war — but doesn't know it."

Interview adapted from “Credo” by Reverend William Sloane Coffin. Copyright © 2003. Used by permission of Westminster John Knox Press.

“Credo” can be purchased online at Westminster John Knox Press, Barnes and Noble and at Amazon.com.

Takeaways

The primary problems of the planet arise from the well-educated for whom self-interest is the problem.

The US doesn't have to lead the world. It has first to join it. Then, play a leadership role with greater humility.

It is hard not to conclude that humanity has outlived war but doesn't know it.