Is universal brotherhood a pipe dream?

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

Brotherhood is humanity's natural state. Many anthropologists and historians might disagree and point out that history is measured by dramatic events, principally wars.

I'm not denying that wars have been all too frequent in humanity's last 10,000 or so years, but when we get down to the level of the common man and woman, the prevailing desire is for peace and for the opportunities to forge stronger bonds of friendship (and trade) with neighbors, whether across the fence or across the ocean.

I began to realize this some years ago when visiting the ruins of Jenne-Jeno in the West African country of Mali, where I learned of a city that was approaching 100,000 in population about 1,000 years ago - a world-class metropolis, far surpassing London in size and importance.

It was the center of a vibrant civilization, at the center of complex trade routes from the African coasts in the south (now Ghana) to the Mediterranean. Its art was stunning; its architecture reflected a complex society.

What struck me most, however, was that it had been ignored by Western archaeologists for decades because they found no evidences of military construction. The Jenne-Jeno civilization evidently didn't find its strength through military conquest or intimidation of its people, but through cooperation. Here was a great society built not on fear, but on friendship.

This same state is possible today, signaled by the extraordinary international cooperation in the recent rescue of the Russian minisub off Kamchatka Peninsula in the North Pacific. This newspaper reported Russia's Defense Minister, Sergei Ivanov, as saying, "We have seen in deeds, not in words, what the brotherhood of the sea means" (Aug. 8). This breakthrough can help heal the long-standing suspicion between Russia and the West.

Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of this newspaper, wrote of her vision of the brotherhood of humanity in 1908: "For many years I have prayed daily that there be no more war, no more barbarous slaughtering of our fellow-beings; prayed that all the peoples on earth and the islands of the sea have one God, one Mind; love God supremely, and love their neighbor as themselves.

"National disagreements can be, and should be, arbitrated wisely, fairly; and fully settled" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," page 286).

This brotherhood is not a pipe dream when it is based on the allness of the one God. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all share this understanding of monotheism, as do some other religious traditions. If we all are truly created by one God, then our brotherhood is a fact, and a cooperative endeavor should be our basis of operations. This commonality is enough to begin building bridges in our families and communities. It can help us achieve win-win solutions in conflict resolution, and these solutions can build to be applied to larger issues.

At one time, I was involved in negotiating a bilateral agreement between the United States and the Republic of Mali to control the illicit trade in cultural property - chief among which were artifacts from Jenne-Jeno, which were bringing huge prices on the international black market. A third nation, a number of whose citizens were allegedly involved in this traffic, had not signed the 1970 UNESCO Convention on Cultural Properties, and this loophole allowed priceless cultural objects to pass through freely.

I was praying to understand better that God, divine Mind, was governing all. Under God's government, there could not be exploitation or victimization, I reasoned, simply because divine Love wouldn't allow it. Brotherhood and cooperation, not national pride and stubbornness, were evidences of God's government, and I began to see that cooperation was possible.

One morning after such prayer, I was walking in Mali's capital city when I encountered an individual from the third country who was placed highly enough to influence his government. We spoke briefly of the rightness of protecting a nation's cultural property. In about a week, I learned that, very quietly and without fanfare, the UNESCO Convention was signed, and thus the conduit for illicit properties was made much more difficult.

Whether it's at the level of a small-town school board or on the floor of the North Pacific, all humanity, I believe, yearns for this solid brotherhood of action. And the prayers of one individual can make a difference.

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