I was recently elected to the Board of Trustees of the Council for a Parliament of the World Religions, so as I began to gather some words of support and urgency for this new appointment and the work of the Council, I was informed of the passing of ‘Madiba,’ South Africa’s great humanitarian leader. Hopefully I can coherently combine my diverse thoughts at this auspicious time.
We exist today in a world of difference. Yet, we are more interdependent than at any previous time in history. Nowhere is striving to live peacefully with our differences more critical than religion. My grandfather once famously commented to the effect: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
Quite often, religion is misused as an agency for strive and injustice, nullifying the very foundations that rest at the core of each of the world’s great spiritual traditions. At the same time, spiritual and religious traditions affect the lives of much if not most of the planet’s population in deep and profound ways. When the diverse religious paths work together for the common welfare, hope springs eternal that our world can be ultimately transformed. This is the goal of a ‘Parliament of World Religions.’
First Meeting of a Parliament of World Religions
There have been several meetings referred to as a Parliament of World Religions, the first being the World’s Parliament of Religions of 1893, which was an attempt to create a global dialogue of faiths. The event was celebrated by another conference on its centenary in 1993. This led to a new series of conferences under the official title “Parliament of the World’s Religions“
The 1893 Chicago Parliament of World Religions opened the door for the first inter-religious reconciliation movement and that event brought together thousands of people from all over the world. It marked a pivotal moment for many different religions and spiritual communities from the east and west coming together around a common commitment to justice and peace.
The legacy of that 1893 Parliament of Religions failed, however, to live up to the highest ideals of its planners. The lofty goal of a new era of universal spiritual brotherhood shortly yielded to a hellish reality of 20th century wars and outright genocide.
Over the years, the Council has sparked renewed communication and relationship among the religious and spiritually diversified. And in so doing the Council has maintained a model for reconciling diverse visions of a fair, tranquil and imperishable future. In that course, religious and spiritual communities have re-discovered their commonality to right and golden rule precepts.
“The Parliament of World Religions is in essence a big conversation,” says our current Council Chair, Imam Dr. Abdul Malik Mujahid:
“Climate change, hunger, and peace are issues which concern all of humanity. These challenges are also large enough and require focused attention from all religions and spiritual traditions. Dialogue is crucial for the tremendous changes needed for humanity to move forward, especially today, where conflict and war have become a lifestyle for millions around the world. We cannot promise that we will resolve all of the conflicts. But we do believe that dialogue will reduce the chance of warfare and increase the possibility of reconciliation.
“ It was a series of dialogues which Nelson Mandela started with his captors at Robben Island that convinced them of a brighter, apartheid‐free future for both whites and blacks in South Africa.”
One of the more celebrated delegates of that first 1893 Parliament of World Religions gathering in Chicago, representing both India and Hinduism, was the great sage Vedantist, Swami Vivekananda, who closed his opening address to the historic group with words as timely today as when he first uttered them over a century ago:
“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”
Again Dr. Malik Mujahid, in his tribute last week to Madiba Mandela’s passing:
In today’s world, where hate is rising, the people of love and humanity, those of faith and the “nones”, need to rise as a force for positive human relationships. In a world where one-third of humanity is obese while another third sleeps hungry, let’s share more and consume less.
Let us remember together as we mourn together, that “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbor what you love for yourself.” Long Live Madiba!