The 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions (Part one)

Article ID: DW200 | By: Elliot Miller

Saturday morning, August 28: I have just picked up my press pass and information packet and am trying to exit the fourth floor of Chicago’s magnificent Palmer House Hilton Hotel. The lobby is so packed with bodies it takes me 15 minutes to move 100 feet, and 15 more min­utes to find an opening on an elevator. And what a spectacle this throng is: from saffron robes and shaven heads to tightly wrapped turbans and flowing beards, this is the1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions, and it seems no religion lacks a delegate here.

There are representatives from seem­ingly every school of Hinduism and Buddhism; Jains, Sikhs, Confucianists, and Taoists; Zoroastrians, Jews, Mus­lims, and Baha’is; representatives of numerous indigenous religions, espe­cially native American traditions; Mor­mons; Rastafarians, witches and other neopagans; Theosophists and numerous other New Agers; Catholic clergy and laity and liberal Protestants; even a few evangelicals (although most of them, like me, are here to observe and report, not to join in the spirit of the event). The delegates are generally courteous and friendly. The halls of the hotel are charged with excitement and anticipa­tion — we all expect to see history in the making.

THE FIRST PARLIAMENT (1893): EAST MEETS WEST

Such expectation can be attributed in part to the knowledge that 100 years ago the original World’s Par­liament of Religions — held in conjunc­tion with the Columbian Exposition of the Chicago World’s Fair — did indeed have a profound affect on 20th century religion. Although the gathering was predominantly Christian, both in dele­gates and themes — and was not truly global (since the majority of the world’s religions were not represented), it pro­vided the occasion for a very favorable introduction of certain Eastern and Near-Eastern religions to the West (e.g., Hinduism, Buddhism, the Baha’i Faith).

It was at the first Parliament that Swami Vivekananda won over his audi­ence — many of whom had low expec­tations of an “uncivilized heathen” — with his genteel manner and erudite pre­sentation. Vivekananda was a 30-year-old Indian disciple of Sri Ramakrishna (1836-86), a revered “avatar” (god-man) who claimed he had followed the devo­tional teachings of several religions (including Christianity) and found them to be essentially the same as those of his own Hindu faith. Vivekananda devel­oped this theme with great success at the Parliament, speaking reverently of Christ and affirming that the God wor­shiped by many names in the world’s religions is one and the same. Capitaliz­ing on his popularity, after the Parlia­ment Vivekananda established “Vedan­ta Societies” (affiliated with the Rama­krishna Order in India) in several Amer­ican cities. These were the first mission­ary outposts for an Eastern religion in the U.S., to be followed by Swami Yogananda’s Self Realization Fellow­ship in the 1920s and literally hundreds more, especially after immigration restrictions were lifted in 1965.

The first Parliament is also marked as the beginning of the interfaith move­ment, with its formal pursuit of dialogue and cooperation among the world’s reli­gions. Today the interfaith movement is robust (as evidenced by the massive turnout for this year’s Parliament), with several organizations carrying on its work, including the London-based World Congress of Faiths; the World Conference on Religion and Peace, in New York; and the Temple of Under­standing, out of New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

The religious landscape in the West has changed dramatically over the past 100 years, and the 1893 Parliament con­tributed significantly to that change. As the centennial of that celebrated gather­ing approached, it seemed to many observers (including myself) that — as a result of all that change — the world was now extremely ripe for another such parliament.

THE PRESENT PARLIAMENT: PEOPLE AND PROGRAMMING

Interfaith workers in Chicago recog­nized this golden opportunity to pro­mote their cause. “It began five years ago as the brainstorm of a dozen Chica­go Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus and Zornastrians. They enlisted a few Chris­tians in their effort to reprise the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions….”1

Organizers told the press that the pur­pose of the eight-day convocation was to promote understanding and collabo­ration among the world’s religions. According to The San Diego Union Tri­bune, parliament leaders hoped to “reach agreement on a universal decla­ration of human values, and perhaps even lay the groundwork for a future organization akin to a United Nations of Religions.”2 “‘I’m very much in favor of a United Nations of Religions,’ says Asad Hussain, president of the Ameri­can Islamic College in Chicago and a trustee of the parliament. ‘We are going….for a religious renaissance that will give real hope and happiness to the people of the world.’”3

According to David Ramage, chair­man of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, “Never has there been so large a meeting of representa­tives from every faith in the world.”4 There were 6,500 in attendance from about 250 religious traditions.

The diversity of faiths represented reflected the changing face of American religion. In Chicago alone there are roughly 100,000 Hindus, 155,000 Bud­dhists, 2,500 Jains, 500 Zoroastrians, 2,000 Baha’is, 15,000 Native Ameri­cans (not all of whom practice their tra­ditional religions, of course), and 250,000 Muslims.5 As the Christian Century observed: “A century ago Jews and Catholics looked to the Parliament to find greater recognition and accep­tance in American life; at this year’s event religious movements such as the Fellowship of Isis, the Covenant of the Goddess, and the Lyceum of Venus of Healing sought attention and respectability alongside older, more established traditions.”6

Not all religious traditions were well represented. Along with evangelical Protestants, orthodox Jews and funda­mentalist Muslims were conspicuously absent. Mainline Protestants7 and fol­lowers of Japanese religions were also low in number.

Roman Catholicism, however, had a strong presence. Archbishop of Chicago Joseph Cardinal Bernardin participated in the opening and closing ceremonies. In a major presentation, Archbishop Francesco Gioia, a Vatican official, pre­sented the official position of Rome on religious dialogue. And there were numerous religious and lay Catholics making presentations and participating in dialogue.

Mother Teresa was to have been a featured speaker, but she was unable to attend due to health problems. “You are doing God’s work,” she told the Coun­cil’s executive director, Daniel Gomez-Ibanez, in a phone conversation. “I wanted to come very much. I know that your work is very important because you are working for the glory of God and the good of the whole world.”8

The Parliament’s planners also scheduled another celebrated religious figure: the Dalai Lama, spiritual and temporal head of six million Tibetans. In this case they were not disappointed. He charmed the press on Thursday, and — during the closing festivities at Grant Park on the night of Saturday, Septem­ber 4 — he drew a spirited response from the estimated 20,000 in atten­dance. The scent of marijuana wafted through the air as the Dalai Lama, Car­dinal Bernardin, and others spoke that evening of the sobering challenges fac­ing humanity in the 21st century.

Included among dozens of notable speakers during the week of the Parlia­ment were former United Nations assistant secretary-general Robert Müller, noted and controversial Roman Catholic theologian Hans Küng, and Gerald O. Barney, a “global modeler” who directed the U.S. government’s Global 2000 Report to the President (1980). Barney’s most recent project is the Millennium Institute, a nonprofit organization which over the past decade has “helped research teams in a fifth of the countries of the world as they prepared a long-term outlook for their country.”9


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(It should be noted that, contrary to what has been rumored in some evan­gelical circles, Charles Colson was not a participant in the Parliament. Rather, he was granted the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, an award that has been bestowed annually for the past 20 years. Because Sir John Templeton was also a trustee for the Parliament, the two events were scheduled to occur in the same city during the same week — but not at the same location. Nonetheless, perhaps because Colson is an evangeli­cal, the award ceremony was barely noted at the Parliament. In his accep­tance speech before an interfaith audi­ence of thousands, Colson delivered a powerful prophetic warning concerning the social dangers of cultural relativism, utopianism, and other beliefs that were being heavily promoted all week at the Parliament.)

As conferences go, the Parliament was extraordinarily packed with pro­gramming and grueling in its schedule. There were a total of 12 plenary ses­sions (often over three hours long) and almost 800 symposiums, lectures, work­shops, exhibits, off-site cultural events, films, and live performances.

Having attended several New Age conferences and expositions, the Parlia­ment had a familiar feel to me. The structure of the programming, the mood of the event, the topics discussed, and the kinds of people in attendance were often reminiscent of those kinds of affairs. However, this convention was also different in that it was truly a gath­ering of representatives from all the world’s religions, and many of those faithful do not possess a New Age mindset. But in the spiritually charged atmosphere that pervaded the Parlia­ment such religious adherents could be especially vulnerable to the ideology of the New Age.10 In effect, the event had the potential to move the vision of a world politically and spiritually united around New Age values and mysticism from the Western middle class to the world’s religions at large.

WAS THERE A HIDDEN AGENDA?

Did such a promotion of the New Age agenda underlie the Parlia­ment’s ostensible purpose of furthering interreligious dialogue? I sus­pected beforehand that this was the case, after noting that many prominent New Agers were involved at different levels with the organization of the event. As the week unfolded I became increasing­ly convinced: the occasion of the first Parliament’s centennial was being exploited by the present Parliament’s organizers, who wished to gather the world’s religious leaders and then win them over to their own cause.

Robert Müller: “Interfaith Understanding”

It seemed no accident that the first plenary address, “Interfaith Understand­ing,” was delivered by Robert Müller, a leading New Age political figure. His message was classic New Age: “There is one sign after the other, wherever you look, that we are on the eve of a New Age which will be a spiritual age. There is no doubt about it. There is now a con­vergence of religion and science,” he affirmed, pointing to the fact that scien­tists are now studying consciousness, meditation, prayer, and religious faith; and that the World Health Organization now recommends spiritual healing and spiritual practices.

Müller cited a report by the Carnegie Foundation which concludes that the absence of spirituality is the cause of the breakdown of Western civ­ilization. At the heart of our present cri­sis is a spiritual anarchy and impotence. There are no compelling convictions to unite us. Since none of the ideologies presently controlling our societies can bring about an integration of the various spiritual traditions, “men everywhere are searching for a new universalism” (i.e., an approach to spirituality that can integrate existing approaches and thus bring the various religions together — which is what the New Age movement claims to do).

Müller affirmed that this search for a new universalism coincides with the fact that

….we are entering an age of universalism. Wherever you turn, one speaks about global education, global information, global communications — every profes­sion on Earth now is acquiring a global dimension. The whole humanity is becoming interdependent, is becoming one.

The philosopher Leibniz said, when the age of reason and analysis came, humans will be so busy analyzing and dissecting everything they are going to make great discoveries, but at one point they will have cut up reality to such an extent that they would be lost in their complexity. And at that moment there will be an age of universal thinking where we have to put everything together and to understand our universal march in the evolution on this little planet. So we are on the eve of a new spiritual renais­sance.

As a matter of fact, I even read in the Dalai Lama bulletin in the plane coming here that the astrologers are predicting that 1993 will be a turning point in human history. Apparently, every 171 years you have a conjunction of Uranus and Neptune in the sign of the Capricorn. And as a result of this in 1497 it was the Renaissance; in 1650 it was the Age of Reason; in 1821 it was the Industrial Revolution; and it is very likely that this Parliament and what is happening now in the world…is a renaissance, a turning point in human history. So even the astrologers begin to tell us that there will be a fundamental change.

Even the astrologers? In fact, it was astrological myth that provided the ini­tial basis for New Age optimism (“This is the dawning of the Age of Aquar­ius”). And so, of course, Müller could not resist citing astrological support for believing the Parliament would help usher us into the New Age.

Müller observed that the United Nations has gone from providing mater­ial aid to the nations to providing an eth­ical framework for international prob­lems (e.g., human rights). “But the last stage has not yet been arrived at in [the] United Nations, and it is the stage which Sri Chinmoy [the Hindu “guru of the United Nations”] and so many of us in [the] United Nations have heralded; namely, we must add a last dimension to this, which is the highest, which is the greatest, which is the one which would put everything into place; namely, the spiritual dimension….This is why this Parliament is so vitally important. It comes at the right moment.”

Müller explained that in this post-Cold War era, as we prepare to enter the 21st century, the heads of state are wrestling with the question: “How are we going to govern this planet?” As they work on formulating the new polit­ical world order, it is being brought to their attention that we need a new spiri­tual world order as well. He advised that the conclusions and recommendations of the Parliament be submitted to the UN as a contribution to the thinking being done on the new world order. He proposed that another Parliament of the World’s Religions be held in the year 2000 to see where we stand, and — making his most important observation as a former UN official — he urged that a permanent institution be created:

What is needed is a place where you have a good number of people…work together on a daily basis. This is the mir­acle I have seen in [the] United Nations….And when you do this in the religions — if you create an international secretariat, or a permanent parliament, or a world spiritual agency — if you do this, everything will change….This is, in my opinion, the most important single result that could come out of this parliament — at least to have a recommendation that a preparatory committee should be estab­lished to come up with a proposal of a world spiritual institution which could then be approved by another parliament in a few years from now. And I would very much like to have this done by 1995 — the 50th anniversary of the UN — so that this would be the great spiritual con­tribution as we go towards the year 2000.

And so, Müller would like to see a world spiritual agency which has politi­cal clout — but one which is wedded to the “new universalism” of the New Age.

Gerald Barney: “What Shall We Do?”

With the tone set by Müller on open­ing night, the assemblage was prepared for the Parliament’s “major address” the following afternoon: Gerald Bar­ney’s “What Shall We Do?” Barney’s was the most important address of the week because it provided the world’s religions with a compelling reason to put aside their differences and lead the way in a planetwide revisioning of society. Again, it seemed no coinci­dence that this is the same justification New Age thinkers have long used in calling for a planetary transformation: the global “megacrisis.”

At the request of the Parliament’s Council, Barney prepared Global 2000 Revisited: What Shall We Do? a partial update of his 1980 report. His address was a summary of this report (a printed summary — from which I quote below — was also distributed to Parliament delegates).

Barney is clearly a man with a mis­sion, and by his own standards he may have the most important mission of all time. He is trying to communicate a message to the entire planet: the Earth is in serious trouble, comparable to the threat of a nuclear war. There is still time (maybe five to ten years) to do something about it, but many trends are moving us in the wrong direction. This complex crisis can be called the Global Problematique.

Using charts and graphs, Barney informed us that our children could live to see the Earth’s population grow from six to 24 billion. Such “rapid growth….cannot continue through the 21st century and will come to an end either by human decision and action or by an uncontrollable increase in deaths.”11

Barney explained that even with the help of yield-increasing technologies the world’s food supply will not be able to keep up with the current rate of population growth, and any effort to make it do so could have devastating environmental consequences. If we wish to avoid seeing first the poorer southern nations and then also the industrialized northern nations “spiral downward into increasingly desperate poverty exacerbated by global environ­mental deterioration,” we must change our thinking and ways. All people must work together to (a) create the religious, social, and economic conditions neces­sary to stop the growth of human popu­lation [at 12 billion over the next centu­ry], (b) reduce the use of resources (sources) and disposal capacity (sinks) by the wealthiest, (c) assure civil order, education, and health services for peo­ple everywhere, (d) preserve soils and species everywhere, (e) double agricul­tural yields while reducing both agricul­tural dependence on energy and agricul­tural damage to the environment, (f) convert from carbon dioxide-emitting energy sources to renewable, non-pol­luting energy sources that are affordable even to the poor, (g) cut sharply the emissions of other greenhouse gases, (h) stop immediately the emissions of the chemicals destroying the ozone layer, and (i) bring equity between nations and peoples of the North and South.12

Barney acknowledges that the choice for a sustainable future will be difficult. Perhaps the chief among sev­eral reasons for the difficulty is that we will have to accept that our concept of progress — the American Dream — has failed: all nations and individuals cannot one day live as the wealthiest nations and individuals do now. We thought the Earth’s resources could be exploited by as many humans as we could conceive, but the Earth rejects that notion. Therefore, “if we people of Earth are to avoid a massive disaster within the lifetime of our children, our most critical and urgent task is to bring forth a transformed vision of progress, one of sustainable and replicable devel­opment.”13 This new vision of progress must be holistic, seeing the relationship between the welfare of our economy and the welfare of the Earth and all its inhabitants, both human and nonhu­man. It must be spiritual in nature, and so it must emerge from the world’s religions. Thus he made his appeal to the delegates at the Parliament.

Barney also understands that only if the world’s religious leaders promote such a major shift in values and vision will the people of the Earth accept it. But currently the world’s religions are doing much to exacerbate the problem rather than to solve it. Their approach to the Earth is often anthropocentric (human-centered). He specifically stat­ed that his own faith, Christianity, is not a sustainable faith as practiced now (e.g., the Catholic church’s opposition to birth control and the biblical teach­ing that man is to take dominion over the Earth). Thus he asked the spiritual leaders, “What are the traditional teachings — and the range of other opinions — within your faith on the possibility of criticism, correction, reinterpretation, and even rejection of ancient traditional assumptions and ‘truth’ in light of new [scientific] understandings or revelations?”14

Since changing course will require an immense amount of spiritual and emotional energy — “enough to change the thinking and lives of five billion people,”15 Barney’s strategy is to “make the most of the opportunity” afforded by the coming of a new millennium. The Millennium Institute is attempting to organize a planetwide celebration that will help create the psychological atmosphere for “dying” to our old 20th century ways of think­ing and being and coming alive as citi­zens of the Earth: “Every person must learn to think like Earth, to act like Earth, to be Earth. As a part of this learning process we must all think through how our part of Earth can con­tribute to the new….What laws must be changed, what traditions, what beliefs, what institutions?”16

Citing a recent papal message addressing the relationship between religion and science, Barney applied what the pope wrote to the relation­ships between religions: “This lesson of Pope John Paul II might point the way for a new approach to the distrust, hatred, and violence that currently plagues interreligious relations. Might there be beyond the ‘partial and con­trasting perceptions’ of the many faith traditions ‘a wider perception that includes them and goes beyond….them?’”17

Leo D. Lefebure, writing for the liberal Christian Century, comment­ed: “For me and many other partici­pants, Barney’s address was the most powerful presentation of the entire Parliament. The speech crystallized the aim of the event and set forth a clear and compelling agenda for inter-religious cooperation for the sake of all life on the planet. The tensions that surfaced later in the week could not diminish the cogency of Barney’s plea for leadership.”18

The respondents to both Barney and Müller’s addresses rarely differed and never presented a strong countering view.19 This made the Parliament more a rally for the New Age agenda than a legitimate forum for the exchange of ideas among religious people.

In the closing plenary address the Dalai Lama restated many of Barney’s concerns. But his speech was more important to the Parliament because of who he is than for any original contri­butions in what he said.

“From Vision to Action”

During Monday evening’s plenary session, “From Vision to Action: Cele­brating Dialogue,” CRI president Hank Hanegraaff and I watched in amaze­ment as the New Age hand guiding the event became unmistakable. Each new presentation that evening was calculat­ed to effect a conversion to New Age thinking. The Parliament’s program catalogue called it “a process of orien­tation for thought and action.”20 No avenue of persuasion was ignored — from the logical, emotional, experien­tial, and psychic to the use of peer pres­sure, humor, imagination, and the manipulation of the subconscious. It began with an “interactive musi­cal performance” called the “Truth Spin Dance.” The dancers in the per­formance would periodically engage in verbal duels over their perceptions of truth. This had the affect of mocking the very notion that there could be only one ultimate Truth. (In this regard, a reference to “the Gospel Truth” drew the loudest laughter from the crowd.) After this session an impressionable spectator might well have concluded that it is very inappro­priate and politically incorrect to believe in the existence of objective, knowable religious truth.

Out of the dark during that perfor­mance a voice revealed the true goal of the Parliament: “We are building a sacred place that will hold all our polarities and our paradoxes.” In other words, the Parliament’s goal was to construct a religious edifice flexible enough to house all the world’s faiths under one spiritual roof.

Next the “Dialogue Project” from the Massachusetts Institute of Tech­nology (MIT) took the stage. (The Dialogue Project is a team that facili­tates dialogue between all types of groups experiencing differences.) In an effort to help participants see the earth-shaking potential of the Parlia­ment they began with “What If…?” — a performance piece which asked questions like:

What if our sensing a new story….actual­ly shifted the whole world?

What if there were a river that ran through here this week? And what if we undammed it?

The New Age tone of the evening began to heighten as a woman from the Dialogue Project discussed the impor­tance of cultivating a vision of humani­ty achieving its collective potential.21 We were told that dialogue equals deeply hearing another in a new way. Rather than relying on our minds in the dialogue process, we need to receive our answers from “Spirit” (the pianist demonstrated the difference between playing learned music from the mind and improvising from Spirit).

Various methods employed in humanistic psychology were then used to teach us how to really dialogue with one another. First the audience was led through an exercise of humming vari­ous tones. Then they were instructed to get together with people they didn’t know and “build thoughts together” by taking turns spontaneously (i.e., “from spirit”) adding words to sentences. Finally the delegates were led through an imaginative experience of temporar­ily letting go of their beliefs and “noble assumptions.” Dialogue often requires suspension of one’s own beliefs, they informed us. “Take one side of an issue and clench your left fist, feeling the intensity of that energy. Do the same with your right hand. Now let all your fingers go — imagine you are holding the space for differences to coexist.”

Next came an effort to get the par­ticipants involved in the New Age net­working process.22 Ella Cisneros, founder of Togethernet, explained how to get on her global computer network “to bring us all closer.” Then members of the Parliament’s program commit­tee explained that over the following four days there would be a “Parliament of the People,” the goal of which was to prepare and deputize Parliament participants to carry on its work when they returned to their homes. Tues­day’s session would be devoted to “visioning”; Wednesday’s to identify­ing challenges to that vision; Thurs­day’s to putting together a strategy; Friday’s to making individual commit­ments to make a difference. These kinds of approaches to initiating grass­roots action for the cause of global unity have been employed by many New Age activist groups, such as Plan­etary Citizens.23

To inject a sense of cosmic urgency into becoming involved with this Par­liament of the People, New Age vision­ary and activist Barbara Marx Hubbard shared her concept of “conscious evo­lution.”24 According to this classically New Age scenario, the current world megacrisis (Barney’s Global Problema­tique) is of an evolutionary order — the crisis is actually the birth of a new, living planetary system (i.e., a Global Being, or “Gaia”). In each of the world’s religions there exists a seed, pattern, or blueprint of what is coming next in evolution. Our purpose is to speed up this process.

Now, because of the population cri­sis women can no longer reproduce to the maximum. But, Hubbard explained, there is a positive side to this: the ener­gy that used to go into procreation is now being channeled into co-creation. Women are now emerging as a creative force. Just as they once created chil­dren through the joining of their genes they now are creating the next stage in evolution through the joining of their genius. (At this point I wondered what those delegates who were conservative adherents to their own faiths and not a part of the New Age network were thinking about the evening’s heavy doses of indoctrination.)

Hubbard concluded by proposing a parliament of the peoples of the Earth, connected up as a spiritual democracy. She explained that the vision of the Parliament’s organizers is to see the event generate a whole series of ongo­ing parliaments, globally and locally. If inspired amateurs like the Parlia­ment’s staff could put this event together, she pointed out, inspired amateurs like those in the audience could go out and replicate the same event many times over.

The Paradigm Shift

Apart from the plenary sessions, the New Age perspective of the Parlia­ment’ s organizers came across on sev­eral occasions. For example, program chair Jim Kenney stated during a Fri­day afternoon presentation that he is deeply convinced we are going through a paradigm shift. The sense that a profound transformation is going on is dawning and growing and spreading worldwide. “The conversa­tion in the corridors [of the Palmer House] bespeaks this.” This paradigm shift is all about interdependence: every thing and event in the world is intimately related, which leads to the even more radical conclusion that there is only one Grand Event unfold­ing (i.e., the New Age process philoso­phy view of God/the Universe as more fundamentally Event than Being25). When a paradigm shift takes place, Kenney assured us, “it changes absolutely everything.”

As will be demonstrated in the sec­ond and final installment of this report on the Parliament, the implication of this paradigm shift for the world’s reli­gions is that all religions are interrelat­ed. In the New Age, it will not be con­sidered acceptable for any religion to make an exclusive claim to the truth.

NOTES

1 Michael Hirsley, Chicago Tribune, “Centennial Con­ference to Unite World’s Religions Starts Today,” The Salt Lake Tribune, 28 August 1993, D1.

2 “Interfaith Gathering Begins,’ The San Diego Union-Tribune, 28 August 1993, B-9.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 David S. Toolan, “Chicago’s Parliament of the World’s Religions,” America, 25 September 1993, 3.

6 Leo D. Lefebure, “Global Encounter,” Christian Century, September 22-29, 1993, 887.

7 At least on stage. I personally met quite a few liberal Protestants in the audience.

8 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions Catalogue, 8.

9 Gerald O. Barney with Jane Blewett and Kristen R. Barney, Global 2000 Revisited: What Shall We Do? (summary) (Arlington, VA: Millennium Institute, 1993), 1.

10 For a detailed description of the New Age agenda see Elliot Miller, A Crash Course on the New Age Movement (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989).

11 Barney,etal., 5.

12 Ibid., 8.

13 Ibid., 9.

14 Ibid., 10.

15 Ibid., 11.

16 Ibid., 13.

17 Ibid., 14.

18 Lefebure, 887.

19 An example of the few countering views that were expressed: Samuel Ruiz-Garcia, the Roman Catholic bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, maintained that it’s not the size of the family that is creating our food crisis but who is controlling the food.

20 Catalogue, 23.

21 See Miller, chapter 1, for background on this empha­sis in New Age thinking.

22 Networking (sharing information and cooperating toward various ends) is a defining feature of the New Age movement. See Miller, chapters 1, 5, and 6.

23 See Miller, chapter 6.

24 See Miller, chapters 3 and 4, for a description and critique of this theory/myth.

25 For background on this concept, as well as the relat­ed concept of the paradigm shift, see Miller, chapters 3-4.

(Part Two: The Fundamentalism of Tolerance)

At times it was hard to take the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions seriously. On several occasions during the eight-day convocation (August 28-September 4), the wacky New Age undercurrent that moved through the event became evident. For example, in a plenary session entitled “Voices of Spirit and Tradition,” it was laughable to find — alongside representatives of Native American, Chinese, and Indian traditions — an American woman from a pantheistic neopagan cult representing “the tradition of Egypt.” Invok­ing not only the Egyptian goddess Isis but also the Greek goddess Diana, she (mis)informed us that in Egyptian tradition, everything is One and all is divine.

It would be a mistake, however, to write off the Parliament as just one more far-out New Age extravaganza. As we saw in Part One and will see below, this historic gathering of the world’s spiritual leaders may well have far-reaching con­sequences for religion on the planet. And, considering the dominant themes that ran through the mega-event, any such consequences could have ominous implications for religious conservatives from many traditions, including evangel­ical Christians.

THE THEMES OF THE PARLIAMENT

It is impossible to give here a detailed account of each plenary session, let alone the numerous significant lec­tures, panels, and so forth. But it is possi­ble to report on some of the dominant themes that surfaced in various presenta­tions throughout the week.

One concern that weighed heavily on many a speaker’s heart was religiously incited violence: it was often repeated that roughly two-thirds of the world’s armed conflicts are fueled by religion (e.g., Muslim vs. Jew; Catholic vs. Protestant; Hindu vs. Sikh). The Parlia­ment took as its mission the lofty task of bringing peace among the world’s religions.

This theme of peace is a cause Chris­tians should be able to support, at least in principle. There is nothing within their faith that calls them to hostility or war­fare, but rather to make peace (Matt. 5:9). However, their ability to jump on the bandwagon of peace that was launched at the Parliament is greatly hin­dered by the way this cause was exploit­ed for the New Age agenda. In other words, the cause of religious warfare was frequently identified with fundamentalism — vaguely defined as the dogmatic belief that only one’s own reli­gion is true (thus associating all adher­ents of exclusivistic faiths with such mil­itant fundamentalists as the Muslim Hezbollah). And the solution to religious conflict was often identified with unity among religions — vaguely defined as each religion accepting that, in some underlying sense, all religions are true.

Unity

In responding to Robert Müller’s ple­nary address on “Interfaith Harmony and Understanding,” Swami Ghahanananda, Vice President of the Ramakrishna Order, proclaimed:

We are obviously at the dawn of a New Age….Religions of the world are called upon to fulfill the needs and aspirations of the people of the New Age. Religions have to provide a vision of the unity of life and reality that reconciles the intellectual insights of science with the spiritual intu­ition of religion. In spite of parliaments and dialogues and talks about harmony, religion continues to be a major source of conflict in many countries which have pluralistic soci­eties. This is because of a lack of a true vision of universality. In this context, I would like to place before you two models of universal religion developed by Swami Vivekananda: one model views universal religion as the sum total of all existing reli­gions, each religion complimenting the others. The other model regards all the reli­gions as manifestations of one eternal, uni­versal religion which consists of the universal truths and laws of spiritual law. Whether or not we accept either of these models, we need a holistic vision of the religions of the world….This Parliament may not enact laws, but it can create a vision of unity. If the motto of the first Parliament was, “From dissension to harmony,” then let the motto of the present Parliament be, “From harmony to unity” [applause]. Let the holis­tic vision of religion emerge from our dis­cussion. Let the 21st century see a religion where there will be no narrowness, bigotry, superstition, intolerance, violence, and disharmony. Harmony between religions, nations, and cultures can be promoted by emphasizing, not the differences that exist between them, but the essential oneness underlying them.

Another respondent to Müller, Dr. L. M. Singhvi, Jain scholar and Indian diplomat and parliamentarian, added these thoughts: “The success of this cen­tennial succession lies in the ability of humankind everywhere to mobilize the moral will of mankind to give a new sense of direction and purpose, a new momentum to the concept of the inher­ent unity and togetherness of all religions and spiritual traditions in the common cause of building in the third millennium of the Gregorian calendar an enduring, eternal temple of the true togetherness of humankind.”

Swami Chidananda Saraswati, “one of Hinduism’s most senior and most respected monks,”1 affirmed on Tuesday night (August 31) that “there are not many religions, only one.”

The Rastafarians, in a musical perfor­mance, prayed: “Whatever we call your name….you answer to all of them.”

Hindu S. N. Subba Rao, head of the Gandhi Peace Foundation, proclaimed that if all religions are one, the next step is for us to say, “All religions are mine.” We should pray one another’s prayers, he added.

During the Parliament’s youth night, “The Next Generation,” the young pre­senters stated that they accept what Vivekananda said: “We believe not only in religious tolerance, but that all reli­gions are true.”

One might have supposed that this belief in the fundamental unity of all reli­gions was only the view of certain pre­senters and not the official position of the Parliament itself. However, this notion was dispelled on several occa­sions. For example, during Tuesday night’s plenary session on the “Inner Life,” the Parliament’s vice-chair and program chair, Jim Kenney, gave a brief exposition of the concept of the “Sacred Wheel” (he expounded on this more fully during a major presentation).

According to this metaphor, religion can be likened to a wheel, “the spokes representing the varieties of religious expression, the rim representing the level of most superficial involvement in one’s own tradition, the hub representing the shared heart of all religious wisdom.”2 At the spiritually immature level of the rim, Kenney explained, the differing concepts of God separating the world’s religions seem insurmountable. One sees one’s own religion as having an exclu­sive handle on truth. As one progresses down the “spoke” of his or her tradition toward the hub, however, one realizes that the language of all religion — including language about God — is symbolic. The more one moves down his or her spoke, the closer one draws to the other spokes (i.e., religions), until they all converge at the hub. What is at the hub? Kenney’s Zen master called it “the brilliant blue of empty sky.” It is “nothing but everything,” the common experience at the core of all religions.

Kenney observed that 100 years ago attendance at the first Parliament was a risky venture, because the “rim view” dominated the world. Over the past 100 years we’ve made the “dangerous and daunting journey down the spokes.” This does not mean that in the New Age we will get rid of the rim and have only one world religion, but rather we will recog­nize our unity in the midst of our diversi­ty. Although this analogy is fundamen­tally flawed (as demonstrated below), the audience embraced it with joy.

Antifundamentalism

Such stress on the fundamental unity of all religions naturally leads to antago­nism toward any exclusivist view of truth. “If the goal of religious unity is to be reached,” one speaker told the session on “Voices of Spirit and Tradition,” “people must be weaned of dogmatism.” For how can a pluralistic culture experi­ence union in the divine, he asked us, unless we are weaned from the divisive doctrines of the divine?

Ananda W. P. Guruge, Buddhist respondent to Müller, expressed the sen­timents of many at the Parliament when he affirmed:

We believe that religion has a contribution to make to the dignity and the decency of humankind. And there are two scourges that we have to be mindful of: there’s one category which could be called irreligion, nonreligion, or antireligion…we cannot allow religion to be debased by those who think that religion — which can make a wonderful contribution to the spiritual development of all of us — should be given a back seat in the society of humankind. The second, even worse, is the intolerance that would be marked by, whether you call it fanaticism, whether you call it extremism, or whether you call it fundamentalism, it has the same effect. These two, they may look different, but they have the same outcome. They make a mockery of religion, they make religion

something that we cannot utilize….We have to start a struggle, and I can say this, that we Buddhists, with our traditions, working through….a vast number of nation­al, international, and regional Buddhist organizations, we are ready to contribute our might, our share to this struggle, so that we all work together to establish the one­ness of all religions — the ethical and the spiritual oneness of all religions — so that through religion, through our efforts, we ensure peace and tranquility, well-being and happiness for every man and child, in the world today and tomorrow.

A similar vein was struck in Rabbi A. James Rudin’s response to Gerald Bar­ney’s keynote address. He observed that there are “two pincer movements” to Dr. Barney’s dream: antireligious people and religious extremists. Regarding the latter he commented that they are too concerned about preserving pure doc­trine (“only my holy book is true”) and not concerned enough about solving the earth’s problems. Thus they are fearful of the 21st century. He concluded that in the 21st century, religious groups will have to join together to oppose both of these pincer movements “before they destroy us.”

L. M. Singhvi spoke of the desire for humankind to fulfill its positive civiliza­tional destiny….

….without the trivializing and narrow-minded impediments which have often eclipsed and hamstrung the age-old vision of the world as one family….Let us not forget that our dream of togetherness and collaboration cannot be translated into living substance and reality unless we succeed in exorcising the malevolent ghosts of politics from the sacred precincts of religion and the haunt­ing specter of religious fanaticism from the workaday arena of politics….It is crystal clear that the manifesto of this Parliament is to work for a rainbow unity of all the reli­gions and traditions of the world and not to mandate any kind of monolithic uniformity. That is what the Indian ideal has always been and will always be. That accommoda­tion of diversities has been, I believe, uniquely the genius of India….Perhaps India has something to offer in terms of its long and rich experience of cultural pluralism, interreligious understanding, and coopera­tion, irrespective of many difficult and trau­matic circumstances that we have unfortunately faced. Perhaps we can still offer the fundamentalism of tolerance — the only fundamentalism today which humanity can countenance [applause]. (second emphasis added)

THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF THE PARLIAMENT

The plethora of lectures and activi­ties on stage represented only one aspect of the Parliament. In formal closed-door meetings and in informal encounters and discussions, the vision of dialogue and cooperation among religious leaders was being advanced.

Informally, the long-range affects of the networking resulting from this con­vocation are difficult to calculate, but no doubt they will be more than we can imagine. Time and again throughout the hotel I overheard representatives from this publishing house establishing con­tact with that spiritual teacher, this New Age environmentalist enlisting the coop­eration of that Catholic nun, and so forth.

The Assembly of Religious and Spiri­tual Leaders met for three days in closed sessions at the Art Institute of Chicago. The trustees of the Parliament convened the Assembly “to foster future collabora­tion, to endorse a ‘Global Ethic’ state­ment, and to advise the trustees on com­mon values and future projects. This body consisted of the 150 members cho­sen by the Council, the local host com­mittees of the different traditions, and the cosponsors.”3

Due to protests from some members of the Assembly (see below), the Decla­ration of a Global Ethic — which was intended to be the crowning accomplish­ment of the Parliament — could only be heralded as “an initial declaration toward a global ethic.” All the same, it marked the first time in history that lead­ers of all the world’s major religions endorsed a common statement of ethics. Among the hundreds who signed the document were the Dalai Lama, Cardi­nal Joseph Bernardin, and the Rev. Wes­ley Ariarajah, deputy general secretary of the World Council of Churches, rep­resenting most Protestant denomina­tions. “In signing the declaration dele­gates were personally endorsing the doc­ument; their actions were not binding on their religious bodies. Nonetheless, par­ticipants hoped that the number, reli­gious diversity and ‘moral credibility’ of those signing would lead to formal insti­tutional recognition.”4

The Global Ethic was primarily draft­ed by the renowned Swiss Catholic the­ologian Hans Küng, who spent more than a year crafting the 5,000-word doc­ument. In what was likely the best-attended nonplenary address during the entire week, Küng stated that there can be no new global order without a new global ethic. Nonetheless, the basis for this global ethic can already be found in the world’s religions. It is easier to agree on ethics than on doctrines, he stated. Unlike many speakers at the Parliament, Küng refused to call for a unity of reli­gions, but only for peace, understanding, and a certain degree of cooperation.

According to the New York Times:

Much of the declaration restates the com­mandments not to kill, steal, lie or commit adultery, but does so in general terms of nonviolence; economic justice and respect for the environment; truthfulness in politics, culture and the media, and an end to sexual discrimination.

The declaration condemns genocide, tor­ture, “ethnic cleansing” and the use of reli­gion to stir haired, but it avoids specific examples. It also avoids issues like euthana­sia, abortion, and birth control.

It does not use the word “God,” coming closest in one reference to “Ultimate Reali­ty,” a step necessitated, Father Küng said, to respect Buddhism and other faiths that recognize a spiritual dimension but not a personal divine creator.

Asked whether the demands of reaching consensus made the document too general to be meaningful, Father Küng replied, “We have here a minimum ethic,” a base­line to which all religions could hold them­selves accountable.5

As we saw in Part One, Robert Müller called for the establishment of a perma­nent Parliament of Religions as “the most important single result that could come out of this parliament.” Other lead­ing participants echoed the same appeal, including the Dalai Lama.

Will this vision be realized? Time will tell. According to the Christian Century, “The council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions will continue to work under the guidance of a newly elected board of trustees….Efforts are being made to establish an international orga­nization, though some forces in existing international interreligious bodies are reluctant to see a new structure emerge.”6

THE FAILURE OF THE PARLIAMENT

The Parliament may ultimately succeed in its goal of catalyzing a world spiritual institution similar to the United Nations. But at the gather­ing in Chicago there was much to sug­gest failure.

As I sat alone at dinner after the open­ing session, the enthusiastic conversation on both sides of me centered on what was most striking about the event: all the speakers were saying the same thing. Whether Catholic, Buddhist, Native American, or Baha’i, all upheld such themes as the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. All speakers seemed to be reaching out in affirmation to the members of other faiths. Love and tolerance were triumphing over distrust and conflict. But on further observation this celebrated unity often proved to be chimerical.

Part of the illusion could be attributed to a general ignorance of what the vari­ous religions really believe. Many of the speakers sounded as though they accept­ed the religions of everyone else while in fact they were preaching their own dis­tinctive doctrines and making the most of an evangelistic opportunity.

At several points the Parliament turned into a commercial for the Baha’is. For example, in a plenary session titled “Voices of Spirit and Tradition,” a Baha’i read from The Song of the Prophet, written by Baha’i founder Baha’u’llah. To most of the audience the reading sounded like an affirmation by God of His presence in all religions. But it was actually Baha’u’llah speaking, preaching classic Baha’i doctrine: just as God had been manifest to previous ages in Abraham, Jesus, and other founders of world religions, so he was manifest to this age in Baha’u’llah: “This is the mes­sage for a new dawning.…when my teachings shall unite the world.”

Given their commission to unite the world through Baha’u’llah’s teachings, the Parliament provided a missionary bonanza for Baha’is. They could sound ecumenical in ascribing value to all the world’s religions. In actuality they were only affirming those religions’ past value, while pointing to their own faith as the present fulfillment and replace­ment of all previous religions.

Another example: in one of the opening invocations Dr. Irfan Khan of the American Islamic College cried out to God in prayer that He would make all people servants of the one God in one united family. Though the prayer sounded great to the ecumeni­cal mind of the Parliament, it could easily have been declaring nothing more than the ultimate Muslim goal of uniting all humanity under the banner of Islam.

Now, it could have been that Dr. Khan’s intentions were broader than this. But even if they were, does this really signal a breakthrough in interre­ligious relations? Islamicist Seyyed Hossein Nasr, in a symposium on “Religion and Violence,” “made the dismaying point that very little of the irenic things said by the genial Mus­lim presenters in the conference would be recognized in the countries of their origin.”7

It was generally assumed at the Par­liament that great breakthroughs in dialogue between religions were tak­ing place all around us. And yet, as Buddhist interfaith worker Suwanda Suganasiri told The Toronto Star, except for the Christian delegates the theme often seemed to rather be monologue than dialogue.8 Religious groups boldly used the lecture oppor­tunities to advertise the value of their own traditions. A small sampling: “Zoroastrianism: An Ancient Religion for Modern Man”; “Taoism: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern World”; “Bhakti Yoga — The Origin and Essence of All Religions”; “Ask — By All Means — What Jainism Can Do for You”; “How Hindu Thought Can Unite the Divided World”; “Unity [School of Christianity] Leaves No One Out.”

Dialogue was not the only ecumeni­cal quality in short supply at the Parlia­ment: even tolerance among the varied faithful was often noticeably absent. At times the intolerance was subtle and even humorous, such as when an Indi­an woman — unaware that she was being viewed on screen by thousands of participants in the spillover ball­rooms — rolled her eyes at the sound of horns included in the Roman Catholic “Music of the Baroque.” At other times, such as during a presenta­tion on the “Voices of the Dispos­sessed,” the animosity was frightening. Twice Hindus attempted to shout down Indian speakers — the first a Kashmiri and the second a Sikh from the Punjab — recounting atrocities suffered by their people at the hands of Hindus. Some of the Hindus even rushed toward the stage, where they were escorted out of the ballroom by police. In the second incident the entire meet­ing was brought to a stop, and the speaker was not allowed to continue, which provoked a fresh outbreak of protests from Sikhs in the audience. The shaken assemblage — some weep­ing over the apparent inability of reli­gious people to get along with each other, even at a gathering such as this — linked arms and joined in a chorus of “We Shall Overcome.”

Rifts in the ecumenical spirit multi­plied as the week progressed. The Orthodox Christian Host Committee dropped out of the Parliament because of the participation of “certain quasi-religious groups” — apparently neo­pagans — “with which Orthodox Christians share no common ground.”9 Buddhists expressed their dismay at being included in “one reli­gion under God,” since they do not believe in God.10 Four Jewish organi­zations withdrew their cosponsorship of the Parliament because Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam was allowed to speak at the invitation of the African-American Host Committee.

The division among the Assembly of Religious and Spiritual Leaders over the Global Ethic document arose because some representatives felt it was too Christian and Western in ori­entation (e.g., using biblical language in forbidding murder and stating the Golden Rule). Though the Assembly had no authority to pass resolutions, they did so anyway. One resolution condemned a 1493 decision by the papacy to divide territories in the Americas among European Catholic monarchs, asserting — over the protests of Catholics and others pre­sent — that this resulted in the geno­cide of 145 million indigenous people.

All of this discord only demonstrat­ed the implausibility of the goal: how could the world’s religions ever come together on their own? Wouldn’t such a linkage only be possible if dissidents were somehow forcibly removed from the equation?

A “FUNDAMENTALIST” RESPONSE

Although I would normally identi­fy myself as an evangelical Christian rather than a funda­mentalist, it seemed clear that evangelical Christians were included in many of the derisive references to fundamentalists made during the Parliament. Therefore, in the interest of not only evangelical Christians but all religious people who Parliamentarians would label fundamentalists, I present the following response.

What Was Good about the Parliament

As A. James Rudin observed, we all live in an increasingly multireligious and multiethnic society — we can never go back. As members of various faiths live and work side by side, the value of tolerance — respecting the other’s right to worship according to the dictates of his or her own con­science — should be self-evident.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions upheld several principles that should be valued by all religious people. One example, noted above, was its resounding call for an end to religiously fomented war.

There are common ethical teach­ings (e.g., the Golden Rule) in the world’s religions that can serve as a framework for interreligious relations. They can also provide a base for a united response to many of the crises of our time. Thus, the Declaration of a Global Ethic is a praiseworthy product of the Parliament.

The Parliament is also to be com­mended for bringing the people of the world together to tell their stories, share their cultures, and seek under­standing of one another. The plenary session on the “Voices of the Dispos­sessed” — which related the plights of displaced peoples on every continent — appealed to moral sensibilities deeply imbedded in the Judeo-Christ­ian Scriptures.

Unfortunately, whatever was good about the Parliament was overshad­owed by its dominant emphasis on unity and communion among the world’s religions. The assertion that all faiths worship the same God is fac­tually indefensible, and the unity advocated at the Parliament would violate the integrity of many of the religions represented there.

The Ultimate Irony: Putting God Aside for the Sake of Religious Unity

“We are all one under our God,” said Dr. Leon Finney of the Apostolic Faith Church. But many at the Parlia­ment did not believe in only one god; others did not believe in any god at all. And those who do agree that there is one God cannot agree on whether God is a He or a She or an It, on what this God is like, or on what He/She/It has done in history for humanity’s sal­vation — if anything.

Faced with this Babel of religious beliefs, Robert Müller offered the fol­lowing advice: “Let all the religions work on what they have in common. And what divides them, put aside for the very end. If you want to have an agreement whether to believe in God, in several gods, or in no god you will never get an agreement because there’s no commonality. So leave these aside, and take the subjects which we have in common,” which he proceeded to describe as ethical concerns.

The problem with Müller’s sugges­tion is that a religion’s belief about God or Ultimate Reality is its very heart and soul. It is the goal of its dis­cipline and the focus of its devotion, determining everything else about its faith and practice. If religions differ as to the nature of Ultimate Reality, any commonalities they may have in ethi­cal teachings are merely incidental. As was acknowledged above, such com­monalities can serve as a basis for cooperation on certain pragmatic issues, but they cannot provide a suffi­cient foundation for erecting “the enduring eternal temple of the true togetherness of humankind” spoken of by L. M. Singhvi. They do not provide justification for praying each other’s prayers or for affirming that all reli­gions are true.

The Sacred Wheel: All Religions Are True, but Some Are More True than Others

To overcome the obstacle to religious unity posed by conflicting conceptions of God, Jim Kenney presented his analo­gy of the Sacred Wheel. This analogy, however, is an insult to any religious person who does not hold to a pantheis­tic (“God is everything”) world view. In a pantheistic scheme, God is formless and thus can only be experienced; He cannot be conceptualized. Thus, in this view, all religious language is symbolic of the ineffable mystical experience that lies at the heart of all religion. On the other hand, in a theistic world view God has definite attributes that can be known. Thus — though symbolism does play a role in religious language — the differ­ing conceptions of God that separate the world’s religions are very real.

By stating that as people progress down the “spokes” of their religions they will realize those differences seen at the “rm” are not insurmountable after all, pantheists like Kenney are in effect telling theists that they know what actu­ally constitutes maturity on the theists’ own spiritual path. This position arro­gantly dismisses the testimony of such theists as evangelical Christians, who affirm that as they grow in Christian experience the distinctive doctrines of their faith become more profound and literal to them, not less so.11

Kenney’s analogy is flawed because, while theists are supposed to progress from the rim where they view God dif­ferently from other religions down to the hub where they reach the common reli­gious experience of “empty blue sky,” pantheists, such as his Zen Master, are already speaking of God as “empty blue sky” from the level of the rim. In other words, the alleged experience of the hub matches the pantheistic “rim” concep­tion of God. Since the pantheists’ reli­gious language does not suffer from the same problem that the theists’ allegedly does, it becomes clear that the analogy is actually a pantheistic model that attempts to subsume theism into itself.

I pointed this out to Kenney in a dis­cussion after the Tuesday evening ses­sion, and he commented that it was an interesting critique that he’d never heard before. Nonetheless, he presented the analogy again, unchanged, in a major presentation three days later.

When the “Tolerant” Are Less Tolerant than the “Intolerant”

When spokespersons for the Parliament ask us to accept that all religions are true, they go beyond asking us to show tolerance, compassion, under­standing, and respect to the followers of other religions (things which most evangelical Christians are motivated to do). Rather, they are asking us to com­mit to a particular metaphysical view on no other grounds than that it has become the politically correct view.

This metaphysical view is a reli­gious relativism which states that truth is partially grasped by all religions but cannot be fully (exclusively) possessed by any. Such a view of truth presup­poses that a special, uniquely authori­tative revelation by God cannot or has not been given. Thus, it excludes at the outset the claims that provide the his­toric foundation for theistic religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. On the other hand, it fits in quite well with pantheism or even panentheism (God is in everything), since the underlying oneness of all reality in pantheistic/panentheistic sys­tems allows for all religions to have a partial but incomplete grasp on truth. The outcome of all this is that if a doc­trinally orthodox Jew, Christian, or Muslim buys into the form of rela­tivism advocated at the Parliament, he or she will be switching — at least implicitly — from a theistic to a pantheistic or panentheistic world view; which is to say, switching religions. This can be done while still professing to represent one’s native faith.12

Relativism is only one of many possible ways of viewing reality, and it is by no means a proven view; in fact, it has been shown to have serious flaws.13 Were tolerance and coopera­tion toward productive ends the true objectives of the Parliament? Or was its actual agenda, as I submitted in Part One of this article, a binding together of the world’s religions through the glue of New Age panthe­ism (the “new universalism” spoken of by Robert Müller)? If the Parlia­ment’s interfaith leaders want us to believe the former was/is their goal, they should respect the fact that any given way of viewing reality, includ­ing their own world view, excludes other ways of viewing reality. They should appeal for tolerance of differ­ences without demanding acceptance of differing views as legitimate.

As it stands, much of the rhetoric heard at the Parliament can only be interpreted as threatening to funda­mentalists. L. M. Singhvi’s assertion that the “fundamentalism of tolerance” is “the only fundamentalism today which humanity can countenance” graphically illustrates that a “funda­mentalism” (i.e., a belief system which condemns other belief systems as false) of some sort is unavoidable. It is clear from the overall content of his speech that Singhvi equates tolerance with accepting “the inherent unity and togetherness of all religions.”

The fundamentalism of tolerance is just as dogmatic as any other funda­mentalism, only it is deceptive in its profession of tolerance. Actually, it is only tolerant of other expressions of the same world view (a Jain relativist being tolerant of a Jewish relativist is not much different than a Presbyterian being tolerant of a Methodist — they may differ as to certain details of reli­gion but they agree as to the larger pic­ture). It may actually prove to be less tolerant, since it does not seem to rec­ognize the right of others to reject its relativistic view.

To tie the attainment of world peace to a universal acceptance of the funda­mentalism of tolerance is to foist yet another destructive division upon humankind. Those who are peddling this “new umversalism” are ready to sacrifice any serious concern for truth on the altar of an expedient but artificial religious unity. If the antifunda­mentalist sentiment so powerfully evi­dent at the Parliament continues to spread throughout society, those who the “politically correct” label “funda­mentalists” can expect increasing opposition and even persecution, per­haps one day from the government itself.

NOTES

1 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions Cata­logue, 24.

2 Ibid., 60.

3 Leo D. Lefebure, “Global Encounter,” Christian Century, September 22-29, 1993, 888.

4 Larry B. Stammer, “Meeting of world Religions Leads to Ethics Document,” Los Angeles Times, 5 September 1993, A16.

5 Peter Steinfels, “More Diversity than Harmony,” The New York Times (national edition), 7 September 1993, A13.

6 Lefebure, 889.

7 David S. Toolan, “Chicago’s Parliament of the World’s Religions,” America, 25 September 1993, 4.

8 Michael McAteer, “Religious Parliament a Noisy Step Toward Interfaith Tolerance,” The Toronto Star, 25 September 1993, K14.

9 Lefebure, 889.

10 Ibid., 887.

11 See, e.g., A. w. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1961).

12 It is clear that many of the professing Christians at the Parliament had indeed made the switch. I will provide examples and commentary in the JOUR­NAL’s Spring 1994 Viewpoint column.

13 See, e.g., Francis J. Beckwith, “Philosophical Prob­lems with Moral Relativism,” Christian Research Journal, Fall 1993, 20-23, 39.