Proceedings Of The First Annual Conference Towards A Global Congress Of World Religions - Edited by Warren Lewis - 1978
Warren Lewis (Professor of Church History, Unification Theological Seminary): Honored colleagues and specially invited guests, I begin by congratulating you and thanking you for arriving. My name is Warren Lewis. I am a professor of Church History at Unification Theological Seminary, and I also do sometimes profess various things at New York Theological Seminary. Today I am representing the faculty of Unification Theological Seminary from Barrytown, New York.
I must say why Ninian Smart is not with us, although he was promised you in advance publications. Ninian is recovering from a bout with hepatitis, and had to undergo some tests this week. He was scheduled to be with the ICUS, and then to spend this afternoon and tomorrow morning with us. We're sorry he's sick and glad to say he's getting better.
I hope that most of you have already received copies of the proposal which was prepared by the Unification Theological Seminary. We are not going to discuss it directly this afternoon. There will be a brainstorming session and a discussion of this proposal and any others tomorrow morning from nine to twelve. Let me request that if you have not yet received the proposal, pick one up from the table by the door. Many of you will not be able to be with us tomorrow morning because you have pressing responsibilities elsewhere or important preferences. If you have things that need to be said, communicate them to someone who can fairly represent you, who will be here tomorrow; in that way, you'll be with us, even though you had to leave. Please read the proposal tonight, come back tomorrow morning, prepared to roll up your sleeves, and participate in not just another conference but an actual work session as we clarify ideas and lay concrete plans which, if possible, will be expressive of some kind of consensus.
I have had rather lengthy conversations with a number of you during the week, and I already know some things to tell you that we are not proposing. We are not, for example, proposing the foundation of a new, lowest-common-denominator religion processed in a bureaucratic blender to pour forth a kind of religious split-pea soup. I choose not to make use of the old American metaphor of melting-pot. We are not interested in Kulturreligion. Maybe the metaphor of a lamb stew is better than split-pea soup. Maybe what we're talking about is a lamb stew that has the peas and potatoes of Hinduism in it, and the lamb's meat of Islam, and the saffron of Buddhism, and the carrots of Christianity, and who knows what else floating around in what we hope will be a rich sauce. But the potatoes remain potatoes, the carrots are still carrots, and sometimes the lamb's meat is a bit tough to chew. There is a common sauce and a rich gravy, where the stew's flavor is best tasted. Maybe that is what we are talking about. We are talking about an extra-religious gathering of tough-spirited and humble-minded people. We are proposing a religious gathering of intellectuals, of activists, of radicals, of people who have demonstrated through their industriousness and activity, and not simply through their symbolic function, that they are leaders into a common future of us all. The purpose of this Global Congress would be informative and educative; it would be cooperative and confederative to accomplish agreed-upon concrete projects in order to nourish a world that is hungry for hope and life and spirit. I think that I am simply offering my own version of numerous speeches that I heard this week during the ICUS. For I've heard at least a negative consensus in our deliberations: an appeal for an absolute to protect us against absolutisms -- a statement that occurred, at least as I heard it, even more frequently than the essential statements of epistemological humility which one expects from scientists of whatever stripe.
Thus it seems to me that this afternoon, above all, is no time for histrionics, for creedalisms, or the preaching of sermons. If we are talking about an ideal, the need for which has come in our time, then we want to cooperate with this universal human trend, this Tao, this providence. If that time has not yet come, then we need not meet again. But we are not here to persuade one another one way or the other. We are here simply to share our opinions and see if we agree.
Whether or not there is life after death was the issue of one conversation this morning. To me, it becomes a question of what to do till the Messiah comes. If your Messiah is heat-death or suffocation by overpopulation or your own individual death is your Messiah, as Lonnie Kliever told us it is his; or if just death itself is the Messiah, as our estimable colleague Richard Rubenstein says; or the Lord of the Second Advent, or Jesus on the clouds, or natural immortality, still it seems to me that whichever one of those denominations you belong to, the common problem of us all is what to do till the Messiah comes. And that is what we have come here to discuss today.
We are not proposing the formation of another dreary conference of bureaucracy. If that seems to be the unavoidable end of the kind of movement we are proposing, we don't want it either. And yet, every time I have heard the possibility of yet another bureaucracy criticized, I have also heard, in the same breath, the expression of hope that, nevertheless, a good organization would be extremely useful at this time. That is what we want, too: a good organization.
And finally, it has to be said that we are talking about an eschatological reality. We are not attempting to do something that has already been done, although there are movements afoot and historic precedents and people the world over who think as we do. We are, in fact, attempting something that is new, something never attempted before. Robert Bellah is going to tell us about at least one parallel movement in just a moment. But what we are dreaming of, and what we envision does not yet exist; only the raw materials for it do. As you enter into the discussion this afternoon with Robert Bellah and with us tomorrow in the brainstorming session, I ask you to ask yourself this question from the very beginning: How would I do it if it were my job? If it had been put in your lap to do something about what we have all been talking about all week -- the impasse between technology and value, and the troubled future of the human family -- what would you do about it? And how would you go about it? For, if you will, it is your job; you are the seminal people who have come here today to talk with one another; and, you will be the important people if something comes of this, because you will be the beginners.
Some people think providentially; others move with fate; but I like to say, as fate would have it, providence was with us: this is the place where, in 1945, the Charter for the United Nations was drafted. It seems altogether appropriate that we be here today (and this is just another metaphor) perhaps to deliberate upon a "U.N. of religions."
The man of the hour is Robert Bellah. Robert Bellah needs no introduction to philosophers, social scientists, and theologians. He is well-known to us. He is a sociologist, an acute observer of the patterns of human life. He is a theologian, who recently has caught our attention with a provocative discussion of civil religion. One could almost speak of the "Bellah school", not in a sense that everyone agreed with him, but in a sense that whenever anyone now speaks or writes on the subject, they at least have to make reference to his work, and they talk in his categories. Thirdly, he is a lover of the Orient. As professor at Berkeley, he does his work at the Center for Japanese and Korean Studies. He is well-known on both sides of the Pacific to be one who is sensitive to the coming together both of East and West, as well as North and South. Bob is not going to give a formal paper today. Instead, he's going to chat with us for a little while about religious pluralism, and about the viability of what we have so far called a Global Congress of World Religions. Once he has his brief say, we will have a roundtable discussion. You are free to come to the microphones, state your name, and have at it. We begin with Professor Robert Bellah.
Robert Bellah (Center for Japanese and Korean Studies): Thank you very much, Warren. It is a pleasure to be with you and to welcome those of you from other parts of the country and the world to our beautiful city and our beautiful region. When Warren came to see me some months ago, first posing this extraordinarily exciting, but almost overwhelmingly ambitious idea of somehow bringing the world's religions together to discuss the great issues before us in these closing decades of the twentieth century, I was intrigued, and also, I must admit, skeptical. I would be less than candid if I did not say that I am still intrigued and my skepticism is not wholly gone. There are, however, elements in what he proposed then, elements in the document which many of you have seen, and the rest of you can acquire, which seem to me worthy of very serious consideration, and I would hope that the conversation this afternoon can focus on the intellectual bases, the major thematic issues, and that tomorrow morning's discussion can concern itself more with the pragmatics of how such a thing could be done. In particular, on page 2 of the proposal, the two long paragraphs spell out terribly important issues. I am deeply in sympathy with what is being said here. "The world religions can provide leadership for the new age." I must say I feel that more as a hope than as a statement; the verb is "can." Whether it will "be" or not is another question.
"But in view of international influences now being exercised by the political and industrial segments of our global society," the paragraph goes on to say, "perhaps it is time for international religion to play its role. Religions are uniquely qualified to give ideological direction necessary to bring the human family into healthy wholeness." That is balanced with the next paragraph, which says "if the world religions do not offer this leadership, others will; and the others who will may be motivated by ideological and philosophical commitments which are not only distasteful to religious people but also have within them the seeds of global disaster." I feel that is very much the case. The problem to me is whether the resources of the religions can be brought to bear on the great issues we face in this world in time to prevent the drift towards the brink of the precipice. We are not standing still. We are moving; and, I think we are moving in essentially the direction of disaster. An enterprise which attempts to bring the resources of the great religious traditions of the world together to think about our situation now is certainly one that any sensitive person would want to consider very carefully.
I share with you now a few paragraphs from a paper which I presented at a meeting earlier this month of a group called "The Inter-religious Peace Colloquium," in Lisbon, Portugal. That group, though it consisted of only about thirty people, was in a certain sense, a mini-version of what Warren and his group are proposing on a much more ambitious scale. There were Christians, both Protestant and Catholic; Jews, including Israeli Jews; Muslims, including Arab Muslims; and Buddhists from Ceylon and from Japan. There would have been Hindus, if there had not been some last-minute health problems. This group is concerned with bringing the resources of religion to bear on the imminent problems of the new international economic order, with which I think your meetings here this week have been partly concerned. Curiously enough, I performed my task in a room full of not only bishops but actually even one cardinal, and other religious dignitaries. As a mere sociologist, I was the one who was asked to give the theological paper. Whether that says something about the bankruptcy of other forms of theology, I don't know; but I felt quite comfortable.
The real crises of the late-twentieth century seem so overwhelming when we enumerate them, the only response possible seems to be some sort of urgent action. There is the food crisis brought on in part by the rapid expansion of the world's population. There is the energy crisis brought on by the growing recognition of the finite supply of fossil fuels, but more immediately by the rapid increase in the cost of fuel. There are the explosive consequences of the widening gap between the rich and the poor all over the world. There are the political and ultimately military crises that can be seen looming not far off, when the tensions created by food and energy shortages, high prices and high inflation, and the consequent unbearable poverty in large parts of the world result in desperate acts of nations and groups within nations. The contours of these dark possibilities have been sketched by many, and I'm sure no one in this room is unfamiliar with them. During my few minutes here, I can only refer to them. It is natural in the face of such terrifying realities and even more terrifying possibilities for many to say that we cannot afford to spend our time on theological issues. Theology seems awfully remote when people are starving and nuclear war seems ever more likely. "What we need," such voices say, "is action; if we are religious people, our concern ought to be how can we galvanize our faith communities into appropriate action as quickly and effectively as possible!"
I have rather serious doubts, however, as to whether religious communities can be mobilized, as the political scientists use that word, for direct action. As my teacher, and also Warren's teacher, Wilfred Smith, suggested in a recent paper, there are very deep difficulties with the idea of "using" religion to solve problems. Faith, said Wilfred Smith, is man's relation to ultimates, to absolutes; to subordinate faith, or to try to subordinate it to any practical purpose, however worthy, is explosively distorting. He suggested that the use of religion not only undermines faith but also may well distort and even destroy the purpose for which religion is being used. What Smith is telling us is that people of faith must not assume that they know what the "real problems" are, or attempt to use their faith in the solution of them. Faith is radical and ultimate; it speaks to what the real problems are, but only when our action comes from the heart of our faith will it avoid distortion and destruction. We cannot assume that technicians, the experts, have figured out what the problem is, so that all we need to do is harness the energy of religion to solve it. Smith hinted at another aspect of our late twentieth century crisis, to which I would now like to turn.
Overwhelmed by the reality of the crises of food, energy, and poverty, we are tempted to forget that the late twentieth century is also a time of crisis in the minds and souls of men. Even when the problems are clear, it is not the case that we know what to do to solve them. Indeed, many of our assumptions about how to solve our problems have led to actions which have only created new and worse problems. Modernization and development once seemed the panaceas which would quickly bring peace and plenty. Over the last 25 years, massive disillusion has set in with respect to that way of seeking the answer.
But genuine alternatives are, as yet, far from clear. To rush into action without knowing what we are doing, or with ideas that produce just the opposite of what is intended, is not, after all, very panacean. It may be that a pause for reflection, for asking deep, theoretical questions, for assessing the insights which the great theological traditions of the world might have for us would be far more realistic than any precipitate action we can presently think of. Perhaps we are shaken enough in our confidence as modern, technological men and women that a time of listening to traditional religious wisdom would be welcome. But it may be that the overwhelming dominance of modern technical culture, even in the minds of those who are critical of it, makes it very difficult for us to hear what traditional religious wisdom might have to say about our present condition.
Perhaps the only way to understand traditional cultures is to understand modern Western culture, the monoculture that invades all our consciousnesses and that threatens to remake everything in its own image. Or perhaps the two endeavors, to understand traditional culture and the modern West, are really only one after all. Only by seeing modern Western culture in comparative perspective can we understand it or the traditions it everywhere seeks to replace. It is certainly modern culture -- which began, of course, with modern Western culture, but is now spilled all over the world -- that has unleashed the explosive powers that are changing the world and challenging all traditional religious communities, including Western religious communities.
All individuals with a modern education, which certainly includes everyone in this room, are, in a sense, natives of this modern culture, wherever they may have been born and whatever their religious affiliation. But it is an aspect of the arrogance of modern Western culture that it does not see itself as one culture with its natives alongside other cultures with their natives. Rather, modern Western culture assumes itself to be neutral, objective, scientific. Its highly educated intellectuals are, it is claimed, the first persons in history to have freed themselves from the distortions of myth, superstition, religion, and ideology. All of us here, though we have learned deeply about cultural relativity, have tended to exempt ourselves and our colleagues from that relativity when we are operating within the framework of serious intellectual reflection. It is for reasons like this, I think, it is so hard for us, even with the best will in the world, to hear what religion might have to say to us in these days in which we live.
Some of the chief components of this ideology of the modern West make it difficult for religion to be heard. To define the ideology of the modern West, or more specifically, modern Western intellectuals, is a daunting undertaking; but, with the help of E. F. Schumacher and Louis Dumont, I will make the attempt. Schumacher neatly sums up modern ideology with the following terms: positivism, the belief that valid knowledge can be attained only through methods of the natural sciences; relativism, the belief that there can be no valid objective knowledge about ends or norms or values; reductionism, the belief that all the higher manifestations of human life such as religion, philosophy, art, and so forth, are nothing but disguised expressions of class interests, libidinal energies, or other so-called "real determinants;" and evolutionism, as based on competition, natural selection, and the survival of the fittest.
Louis Dumont, with other problems in mind, emphasizes different, but related, points. For modern ideology, the individual human being, rather than society, bears the basic and ultimate value, and the relation of man to objects, to things, is more valued than the relations between men. Because, as Dumont recognizes, for modern man, everything is knowable by natural science's methods, which is the same thing as what Schumacher calls positivism. The individual, considered even as a moral individual, is basically the biological individual, with his needs, desires, and fears; and nature is basically the disenchanted nature of modern physics. Man may have a psychological self, but he cannot have a soul; for that would imply that he stands in correlation with an ultimate reality of which modern ideology knows nothing. Nature, similarly, is mere matter and cannot be a cosmos, which would again imply a context of ultimate meaning, of which positivist modern ideology has no knowledge. Dumont is also helpful in spelling out for us the implication of Schumacher's term "relativism," when he says that modern man knows what he is doing, but not what it is really about
In the modern world, says Dumont, each of our particular viewpoints does not know very well what it is about or the reasons for its existence. Just as our rationality is mostly a matter of relation between means and ends, while the hierarchy of ends is left out, so also our rationality manifests itself in each of our neatly distinct compartments, but not in their distribution, definition, and arrangement. I'm sure that any group that has been concerned with the unity of science knows how far that unity is from an experienced reality.
Here Dumont is close to Wilfred Smith, when he complained of modern man's tendency to separate all the various parts of life and deal with them piecemeal, as merely presenting technical problems. This standard way of dealing with issues has the result, according to Smith, of leaving out the fundamental questions and ignoring religion. Again, to quote Wilfred Smith, "these objectificationist trends also mean that the fundamentally human questions as to what sort of person one is or shall become or what overall vision deserves one's loyalty, were hardly incorporated into the model. In this scheme, the religion tended to be seen as just one more factor in the social complex, although it was tacitly recognized as being different from the others, at least by the consensus that it was to be left alone, whether because it did not really matter or because it was too unmanageable." In general, as Smith implies, when the modern intellectual has to deal with religion, there is embarrassment; there is really no place for religion in the structure of modern ideology, yet religion remains a social force, even in the West. There are also moments when one does have to say something about ends, and one turns to religion, embarrassment and all, for there is nowhere else to turn.
But for many reasons, which should be obvious to people in this room, doubts have arisen in the very heartland of modern ideology. As Louis Dumont puts it, we are witnessing a crisis of the modern ideological paradigm. It is true that the tendency to see crises everywhere is strong in modern ideology, and that if crisis there be, it was not born yesterday, but has been there for quite some time. Yet, the twentieth-century crisis of the paradigm of modernity has recently gone through an intensification, a deepening and a generalization. Modern ideology and its social and scientific correlates, far from solving all the age-old problems of humankind, seem to have created a whole series of difficulties wholly unforeseen by the traditional cultures.
This being the case, it is well to remember that modern ideology did not spring chastely into the world from the head of Zeus, but was born at a particular time and place, with tremendous polemic intent, with powerful political, economic, and religious (though masquerading as anti-religious) ends in view. And it has never succeeded, even in its heartland, in replacing the older traditions that it opposed. If it dominates all of us modern, educated individuals beyond our imagining, it is also true that for none of us does it supply our total and true picture of the world, for it cannot. All of us, consciously or not, must live, in part, by ends, symbols, myths, plucked from the great storehouse of traditional religions. Otherwise, we could not live at all.
But if we are to turn to the religions of mankind for some instruction, in this paradigm of modernity, we are immediately faced with a grave difficulty -- there is no such thing as traditional religion or traditional culture as such. The great traditional religions are as different from one another, from many points of view, as they are from the modern West. We would be foolish to overlook or deny the diversity and even conflict between the religions. At a high enough level of generality, the great religious traditions all do contrast with some of the most fundamental assumptions of modern Western ideology. None of them could adequately be characterized by the terms: positivism, relativism, reductionism and competitive evolutionism. None of them is radically individualistic in the modern sense and none of them believes the relation of man to material things is more important than the relation of man to man. But diversity is of the nature of the case in the religious tradition and we must face that issue head on before we can see how the traditional religions can instruct us in our modern plight. I am delighted that in Warren's introductory remarks, however extreme that culinary metaphor was, he is concerned to keep the carrots as carrots, and not blend everything into a homogenized mush, because that runs absolutely against the whole experience of the human race with religion.
There is another thing we have to remember if we turn to religion, speaking in answer to the lapse of the self-confidence of the modern paradigm: religion operates not through the direct manipulation of political power, but through the interpretation and application of symbols. We cannot view religious communities as political bodies, so that we simply need to find the bureaucrat in charge to bring them all together. Here, again, I applaud Warren's caution in that regard. It is the nature of the symbolic process so crucial to the way religion operates that helps us to understand why religion remains so close to the very texture of social life. Political power can affect millions of people externally through force, intimidation, or simply the rule of law. But there are limits to the externality of political power. That is one of the reasons political power always turns to religion for some kind of legitimation.
Politics can often operate externally, whereas religion cannot. The reason is that religious symbols must be internalized in the faithful, if they are to be operative; and when they are internalized, they are interpreted with all the particularities of time and space that exist in the lives of the faithful. It cannot be otherwise. If religious symbols are to be effective, they must touch people close to their deepest feelings. But their deepest feelings are inevitably bound up with feelings of family, locality, language, ethnic group, and race. So, again, there is the indelible plurality that we can never overlook when we are thinking about religion in relation to our problem. But it is also important to remember that religion is not static, that religion changes, that new religious movements occur, that new figures embody religious truth, and become paradigms for others, that new groups in their collective life give an example which might possibly be followed by larger social entities. By offering new symbols, or reinterpreting old ones, religious movements change the symbolic climate of whole cultures. We are used to thinking of change in economic and political terms, but it is symbolic change that goes the deepest and lasts the longest.
If we are to surmount the great crises of the late-twentieth century, symbolic transformation must be part of the process. It is possible that traditional religion freshly embodied in individuals and groups may provide much of that symbolic transformation which may deflect us from the fatal course upon which modern ideology has embarked us. But, again, I think those reflections give us pause in imagining how much can be achieved by bringing together groups of religious intellectuals, even including religious activists who are themselves involved in making their religious life come true. Religion is not something legislated from above. It is something that lives and pulses in the hearts and minds of religious individuals and religious groups, sometimes very small groups.
How, then, to relate, how even to discern and discover where real religious vitality is in a world which is often so much more interested in other things would be one of the tasks of any coming together of religious persons concerned with the problem of how religion can speak to our needs in this period of great turmoil, great danger, and also great possibilities in the world. The religious communities of the world are divided and most of them are not very well organized. If one were looking to them with an eye to political mobilization, one would certainly be discouraged. In many parts of the world, the religious communities are still reeling from the intellectual and ethical critique of modern ideology, which is as much to be found in the liberal philosophies of the West (I'm using that term in its philosophical, and not its contemporary, political meaning) as in the Marxist philosophies of another segment of the world. Many of the ablest intellectuals and young leaders have abandoned religion and espouse secular causes that derive from the basic premises of modern Western ideology. Yet the religious traditions remain the guardians of the deepest truths men have discovered and the still small voices are to be heard everywhere by those who would listen.
Perhaps the most important task for a Congress of the World Religions would be to listen and to discern, as far as possible, what the world is saying to us, and what the religiously-inspired are saying in return.
[Robert Bellah then proposed a round of discussion]
Ben-Ami Sharfstein (Professor of Philosophy, Tel-Aviv University): My name is Sharfstein. I hope this enterprise that's being suggested will not be quixotic, but I think that the task of being cautious, judicious, and slow which you've outlined is extraordinarily difficult, and that the demands on generosity that we're making and on mutual self-esteem, are in fact, unexampled in the history of any large group of the world. I want to illustrate what difficulties arise for pluralism out of our own text and out of the text that was given to us to pursue. There is a tendency for us to personify and discover devils who don't deserve to be devils. One of them might be, for example, your choice or Dumont's of relativism. I think we should remember that our whole enterprise here depends on the relativism certainly of some sociologists and anthropologists that make it possible for us to have this mutual self-esteem. If our example, let's say, of a materialist is a man such as Santayana, we are reading out of our enterprise a man who is intensely sensitive to human values of all sorts; and if our examples of the reductionist is a man such as Freud, we read out of our company a man with the deepest and most intense kind of desire to help us realistically. To be cautious and slow and generally pluralistic, we have to admit anyone who is humane enough into our company.
Mary Carmen Rose (Chairman, Department of Philosophy, Goucher College, Towson, Maryland): I'm going to talk about relativism first. Our friends who are the relativists and the positivists would eschew classical views, and yet positivism and relativism come right out of Western classical thought. As Charles Malik said, there really isn't anything new about positivism and relativism. And, as a matter of fact, some decades ago, when language analysis moved into this country, they claimed to have roots in Greek skepticism. C. S. Lewis said it very well when he said that the devil gave us the Sophists, but it was God who gave us Socrates. Now, I think that's very true and that it's true is my life's commitment. There is something interesting about the Socratic position, and whenever it returns, it always saves the goal. I think Mr. Sharfstein was saving some goal of relativism. But relativism has to reject people, like the rest of us, and I think we've seen this in this ICUS conference. Even when those of us who do speak up for absolute values are not heard, I hope that we, who believe in them, can be very eager to save the goal of relativism and positivism. There seems to be an overview here -- the relativists and positivists since the days of Socrates have attacked those of us who believe in absolute values, as Socrates did. It's always the people whom I call the ontological realists, like Socrates, who point out the goal and lead on to a new position. And I think we stand on such a threshold today. It is going to take extraordinary creativity, but we must have faith that we will do it.
Robert Bellah: I just simply have to say something after that, because I so strongly agree with your example of Socrates, who was instructed really in both directions. Socrates is never so sharp or so amusing as when faced with a dogmatist who thinks not only that he has absolute values, but knows exactly what they are and what they mean. Such people are reduced to shreds and tatters by Socrates. On the other hand, you're absolutely right that he was locked in a bitter combat with positivists and relativists of his day who were, indeed, the Sophists. My own sense is that the greatest modern social scientists, certainly including Freud, are not ultimately relativists at all, but are those spending an enormous amount of energy and profound concern finding out what is the objective basis for human meaning and human value. But I would certainly agree with Mr. Sharfstein, that we want many ways of posing the issue, and we don't want to have a little man at the gate who says: "Oh, you are a positivist and they won't let you in." Openness to anybody who is concerned with the issues that are being posed seems essential to me in preference to any kind of dogmatic, exclusive policy. I'm sure Warren Lewis and his group would share that view.
Lonnie Kliever (Professor of Religion, Southern Methodist University): My name is Lonnie Kliever, and I'd like you to talk a bit more and comment on how the envisioned conference might have a bearing on the symbolic change that you call for. Would the symbolic change become influential and operative through the delegates, or in what other ways?
Robert Bellah: I was really suggesting that symbolic change doesn't happen in formal meetings. If we sat down even with the brightest intellectuals of all the traditions and said, "Now what do we really need to have a symbolic transformation in the world?" and continued the Congress all summer, I dread to think what the consequences would be. Living symbols come out of lived experience, not out of the kinds of deliberations that congresses foster. What they can do is to discern and share collectively their discernments as to what is significant in the worlds which they know best, and what may be the sources of new life that are emerging. As I suggested, those still small voices have it so hard to make themselves heard. Not in any sense would such a group itself effect symbolic change.
Emmanuel G. Mesthene (Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University): As I was listening to your opening remarks, I thought I was hearing the script of a Western, in which religion is the hero and modernity is the villain. If the villain would only repent and follow the example of the hero, then he might be saved. I sense a hypostatization of religion in the way you formulate it. Specifically you talk about traditional religion, and I certainly would like to get a sense of what, in your view, that is.
At the same time as you talk about an appeal to traditional religion, you also talk about symbolic change to go along with economic change or social change. Is the problem really to put traditional religion in a modern situation in an adversary relationship, or is not the problem to find new religious formulations which are perhaps more appropriate to our time than are some of the older formulations that somehow no longer seem appropriate to our time?
Robert Moon (Professor of Nuclear Physics, University of Chicago): I appreciate very much your remark that faith is man's relation to the absolute. In the sciences, we are busy trying to describe the measure of the world the good Lord has given us; and in so doing, we are not really trying to aim at any goal other than to have an accurate description and, from this, arrive at many other things, like technology. But it's real joy doing it, and there's a joy of experiencing this creation of our Maker. There is, further, a need for absolute standards in physics, and we have them; we can only reach them in a certain amount. Absolute standards of honesty are very important in physics, in any science; absolute purity, that we do a thing because it is right; and being unselfish, trying to do God's will, trying to find out His guidance. Many of my friends do this in the sciences. Then there's the idea of absolute love; for those who are Christians, who seek God, Christ really is an absolute standard, a beatific vision for those who are pure, and for the holy, and for those who serve. Based on this, I think, a great deal of science is going ahead today. It doesn't claim to have answers nor, as you indicated, does it want to put faith as a need. Faith works through us to reach this description of the great world and universe that God has given us.
Archie Bahm (Professor of Philosophy, University of New Mexico): I have spent a considerable amount of my life studying and teaching comparative religions. I too, like the speaker before the last one, wanted to raise questions about the continuing reference to traditional religions; we seem almost to have the impression that all religions are traditional religions. But let us recall that all of the world's major religions originated in particular times from particular needs. Now we are in another time and with another set of needs. Now, instead of recalling solutions to previous needs and previous times, do we not now need a new religion, one that grows out of our own needs, and is responsive to our own needs? This is not a repudiation of religion; it's a recognition that the religions have become obsolete, that we have too much obsolescence in our so-called traditional religions. The time has come to remove that obsolescence as much as we can. There are those who identify religion with their traditional forms, such that anyone who goes against those traditional forms or doctrines is thought to be somehow anti-religious. In my view, this is a mistake. We have our own religious needs, and we can get clues to our needs from megalopolitan and global needs instead of going back to the nomads, the city-state and medieval times. We need a new religion! A further suggestion is, not that we call a Congress of the traditional religions, but rather set about using, what shall we say, scientific methods to try to understand what our contemporary needs are, and what kind of religion we need, and then proceed to develop it insofar as we can. Thank you.
Robert Bellah: I'm glad to see there's a great deal of diversity here, because that view could not be further from my own. It also would certainly eliminate the purpose of this discussion, because the last thing that a group of representatives of the existing religions would want to do is to start a new one. (Laughter) But the issues as posed by the last speaker are certainly serious ones that we would have to think about.
James Deotis Roberts (Professor of Religion, Howard University): If we have this Congress of religions, it should become a dialogue in which a recognition of the riches of cultures in the East and South should become a real part. I can conceive of a serious problem for some Christian theologians who enter into the dialogue on the basis of a limited understanding of revelation because they have a very evangelical and missionary thrust to want to convert everybody else. Now we all want to be able to maintain our missionary zeal, but certainly we also want to be open enough to do some creative listening towards all quarters. I think if we go into this seriously, we will find that there are other ways of thinking than Western ways of thinking. For example, Dr. Nakamura's book on ways of thinking of Eastern people -- the way Indians, Japanese, Tibetans and others think -- has something to say to us. Other ways of thinking mean other ways of believing. Moreover, if we look into the African religions, we will overcome much of the dichotomy, that comes out in professors like Smith, between faith and practice; in Africa, there is a holistic understanding of religion as embracing all of life. So I think we could learn a great deal if we were to open up in this way and create a climate in which we could really enjoy truly creative dialogue from all segments of humanity, and not just between those in the Northern-land community. Those in Asia, and certainly including the Africans, as well as Latin-Americans, and also those in the islands of the sea -- the whole human family -- have so much to teach us. I've taught in the field of comparative religions, and I know in all textbooks that are the main textbooks, when we begin to talk about the "major religions," we leave out the African religions and other significant belief systems in the human family. I hope that we can correct this, whatever we do in this conversation.
Richard Rubenstein (Professor of Religion, Florida State University): My name is Richard Rubenstein and I am going to suggest that, as much as we might want to reaffirm the traditional religions, our very presence with each other indicates that, in a. Hegelian term, the situation of the traditional religions is "aufgehoben". That is, they have become part of our situation and are sublated into some new reality. Let me give you two examples of what I mean. As some of you know, I am very interested in the Unification Church, without agreeing with its theology. But look what happened. American Presbyterian missionaries went to Korea, and they founded a very strong Presbyterian Church. Out of that experience, the Reverend Moon had the experience of the direct contact, direct revelation from Jesus. This has impelled him both, not only in Asia and Korea and in Japan but also in the United States, to take what he was given and to transform it into something which is related to what he was given, but is something which represents dialectically a growth beyond what he was given. That's one example that I can give. Another example is when I think of the horizon of my grandfather; the horizon of my grandfather was a very simple one. There were Jews, and they studied the truth in the Bible; not just the Bible, but the Bible as it was interpreted in rabbinical commentaries. And then there was the rest of the world, all of whom were lumped into one category, and that category, politely, was "the Gentiles," the nations. Now, it's impossible for any of us to have that kind of horizon. I'm aware of the fact that my grandfather's division, dichotomization of the world, was not just true of him; it was true of people in other traditions as well. The fact that we can gather here and the fact that in my own community I'm always aware not of "Gentiles" on the horizons, but of religious options and religious affirmations which are constantly transforming me, as I am transforming them, indicate that if there is to be a World Congress of Religions, we have to allow for more than the simple possibility that each will be heard. It will be part of a continuing transformative process. Technology isn't just a creation of instruments to do what had been done. The tool transforms the tool user. And by our coming together, we will be transformed; let us make no mistake about it.
Robert Bellah: Just to clarify my use of the word "tradition," I think any living tradition is in a continuous process of self-transformation. If it ceases to transform itself, it ceases to be a living tradition, and becomes a mere relic of some sort. So I did not mean to pose an artificial opposition between new developments in religion and some static notion of traditional religion. But I used the word "traditional" only to point out that most religions, including most new religions, are rooted in a sense of continuity. They have a sense of human historical experience that goes well back before the experience of modernity; and they value that earlier experience as having provided some very important reference points for continuing human life. I must say that I'm speaking of my own life as a member of the sociology department at Berkeley, in the midst of what I'm calling "modern ideology." If you think I'm making up bugaboos, you should come and spend a few days with me at my school. Basically, many of my students feel that there's nothing of value there at all. Perhaps an extreme example of that was something I heard at a neighboring institution, near Berkeley, where some undergraduates went to the dean to complain about a sociology course in which the teacher was assigning readings written earlier than 1970. (Laughter) Obviously, anything written earlier than 1970 is out of date. God forbid if that sociology professor had assigned Plato's Republic, (laughter) which, in my view, is one of the greatest pieces of sociology ever written. The attitude that the totality of human experience, including the experience of Africa, Native America, as well as the great literary traditions, has nothing to say to us is more widespread, perhaps, than people in this room realize. To me, the value of an enterprise such as the one being proposed here is that it does not argue that there's some prefabricated past, some perfect moment, some 13th-century ideal, which needs simply to be put into practice. Some who participate in this proposed event might, however, argue for a golden age or a blue print Utopia. But that, it seems to me, is hopelessly retrograde, and the entire modern critique of religion can be rapidly brought to bear upon it. But that traditions, with their multiple self-transformations, can speak to us seems to me a reality and a potential which such an enterprise might begin to show. And with respect to Rubenstein's point, the enterprise itself, if it succeeded even a little, would itself be transforming. The people who came to it would not be the same when they left it. And the repercussions and the ripples from such a meeting would affect all the communities to which they return. So the dialectic between our present condition, which demands things of a tradition which that tradition has never faced before, and what that tradition might have to say to us is the kind of dialectic which hopefully would be inspired by such an enterprise. This kind of dialectic cannot be produced through a fundamentalists picking up of a text as though "it speaks for itself," but rather requires interpretation from the midst of the struggles and realities of "now." But if the enterprise were to turn into a collective admiration society of how beautiful our antique traditions are, then I think we might as well forget it right now.
Ali A. Mazrui (Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan):I don't know whether it's correct to say that there hasn't been the birth of a major world religion in a thousand years, but there's been an interval of more than a thousand years since Islam, the youngest religion that has spread across many societies, came into existence. The question arises, why there hasn't been the birth of any major, new, world religion in such a relatively long time. Before that, the variety was impressive; and given variety, three forms of response presumably are relevant: first, the response of attempted grand synthesis; second, the response of the grand negation of all religions; and third, -- and this may be what we are talking about -- the response of a grand compromise among the religions. I was brought up in a tradition which was based originally in attempted grand synthesis. My name is Ali Mazrui. I come from Kenya, and I'm a social theorist and political scientist, and I'm currently at the University of Michigan. As my first name would imply, the attempted grand synthesis I'm referring to is that of Islam, which, in its birth in the Middle East, attempted to be a merger, a melting pot, if you like, of Judaism, Christianity and the message of Muhammad. It definitely was one effort in the direction of grand synthesis, but it couldn't be global, as we know it today.
Secondly, the most impressive case of grand negation is precisely the Marxist tradition, which we have sometime referred to here, and it is a brilliant critique of the abuses of religion as well as the abuses of capitalism. The poetic phrase, that religion is the "sigh of the oppressed creature, the soul of soulless conditions, and the opium of the people," that phrase from Marxism is a brilliant critique of the abuses to which religion has, at times, been subjected.
The question which we are perhaps raising today is whether we are moving towards exploring not a grand synthesis of the kind that Marxism has bequeathed to intellectual thought, but a grand compromise, which permits carrots to be carrots, and potatoes to be potatoes. Gandhi used to say this repeatedly, that all the great world religions came from outside the West, from outside Europe and North America, that in religious matters the West has always followed the East. But in technology and what has been referred to as modern ideology, the East is now following the West. We have imitated your technology, and even when we are in rebellion against your intellectual traditions, we often opt for a mode of rebellion that is itself bequeathed by the West, the most preeminent one being the Marxist tradition, itself a child and heresy of Western civilization. So when we are looking for the grand compromise, would it make sense to have a grand compromise only among the great religious traditions bequeathed by the East? Or should we at the same time remember that the only major thing in human history in which the Western world has led is precisely in modernity, technology, and the very things we seem to be anxious about. Should not the grand compromise also include a coming to terms with that area of intellectual leadership in which the West itself has been pre-eminent? With regard to ideologies, there is certainly a groping for ideological ecumenicism, or at least an ideological detente. In the case of religion, there is a groping for religious ecumenicism. Should it also be a kind of religious detente; and if it is a religious detente, whatever congress we may organize in the future should include in its agenda not only the grand compromise among people of faith and belief in the ultimate, but also a grand compromise between that set of religious people on one side and precisely the people who lead in areas of the secular exploration of violence which religious beliefs are sometimes frightened of, but about which we have to come to terms.
Even in the case of Marxism, as you know, a situation is rapidly approaching in which one-half of the human population of the world, in one way or another, is governed according to values derived at least partially from the Marxist tradition. If tomorrow, India became a Marxist society, under Communist rule, the great majority of humankind would be ruled and guided by a set of values at least partly derived from that tradition. So we have had a grand intellectual tradition that has captured the hearts of so many people. And although I don't myself belong to that new tradition, it is of vital importance that any congress emerging out of these deliberations should take that tradition into account.
One final point, Mr. Chairman. This is the Sixth Conference of the Unity of Science. Am I to say that there is a logical continuity to the idea of the unity of religion? Is this a kind of exploration, so that the seventh of the major experiments at some stage should be tied into those other areas, beliefs and values that have sometimes influenced our discussions here, but where the terminology has emphasized science. If that is the case, there is a logic, an understandable logic why we should move from issues of the unity of science to issues of compromise among religions and among belief systems. I won't be here tomorrow to pursue the issues further, but I think there is a case for that compromise. Thank you.
Robert Bellah: Thank you. An admirable disquisition on precisely the problems I think we should be thinking about this afternoon.
Joseph W. Meeker (Interdisciplinary Professor, Athabasca University; Edmonton, Alberta, Canada): My name is Joe Meeker, and I just have a small footnote to add that ought to, perhaps, be put on an agenda for any kind of a world conference, or world congress, of religions. It was brought to mind by your comments about the state of the sociology department at Berkeley, which I think reminds us of the disastrous effect that institutions have on good ideas. If there is to be such a congress, I think one of the major problems and one of the major challenges will be to make sure that it will be a congress of the world religions without becoming a congress of the churches of the world.
Lawrence Parsegian (Professor of Nuclear Engineering Emeritus, Troy, New York): I would like simply to emphasize the importance of what's been said. The chances of getting our religious groups to agree to reduce their importance, it seems to me, is a hopeless task. Our interest being the problem that we face, perhaps there is where the emphasis can go, as we suggested, and I think the values that are pointed out are going to have to be values that are clarified by groups other than the fundamental and traditional churches, but which would eventually influence the churches. Now I see the problem is great, as we have said in various papers on the world problems. I see a major role for the religious institutions. In fact, I see them as being the only factors that can really make a difference in resolving some of these world issues. The chances for getting those religious organizations to move directly toward solving the problems, however, are quite close to zero. There are organizations like the World Council of Churches, that are constantly struggling with this thing, and the non-governmental organizations connected with the United Nations represent groups that could hopefully make contributions toward that; but I suspect, as was suggested, groups that are not committed to specific religious views, groups such as have met here at this Sixth Conference that are prepared to open the mind toward something different, could wield the influence that ultimately could make a difference in the traditional religions. If only we could get away from our theological terminology and if we could get the theologians to cut down the number of words and reduce their saying to the essence and make it understandable to the world, I think we would have hope.
H. D. Lewis (Professor of History and Philosophy of Religion, King's College, London): There is one problem very much in my mind: I am very concerned, like other people, about getting a rapprochement of the different religions and understanding and cooperation of these common problems. About a year and a half ago, I spent three months in Japan, mainly engaged in a seminar primarily with Buddhist scholars. This I found to be one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. They knew what I believed and where I stood, and I knew roughly what their commitments were. We weren't there to convert one another, but we were there to understand more deeply what our attitudes involved were; we made what I thought to be considerable progress. It wasn't a devotional meeting, but it had a great deal of the characteristics of that, though unintentionally. I thought it a tremendous movement forward and I think the future of religion is going to call for a good deal of these effects, something deeper than dialogue, though dialogue is probably the best word at the moment. On the other hand, does this new movement imply that adherents to particular faiths will be asked to surrender or to "compromise," as was said, the basic things? There is a great deal that is common in religions and they can center on many things that are in common. I've written a lot myself on this particular theme. As Professor Parsegian stressed, there are differences, and people remain strongly committed to points that are at odds with members of other faiths. But this does not preclude that deepening of one another's faith through contact. I met a Catholic priest who had been practicing meditation for many years in a more or less Buddhist context and I asked him, "What does this do to your Catholicism?" He said, "I see more clearly on account of this." He was a better Catholic because of this. Is that the way you're thinking on this, or is it the way of syncretism or of ironing out the differences to a lowest common denominator?
There can be cooperation, there can be empathy, and there can be deepening of understanding without necessarily giving up things which are distinctive within the various faiths. But I'm bound not to surrender what I claim as central in the Christian faith. I've already surrendered a great many things which I consider peripheral. This issue is going to be quite crucial to whether this congress goes on, how it is going on, and what sort of people are going to be drawn to it. Are you going to say to Christians: "The distinctive things you claim about Jesus may be wrong, and you've got to give these up anyway." Or are you going to say to the Muslims, "You must give up your objections to the incarnation ideas as they are understood in the West." Is that what it involves? I think that we ought to be clear about this. I don't say we can have absolute clarity at the beginning, but there ought to be some understanding which would help people like myself to know whether I would be involved in this kind of thing or not. I think we ought to think about that.
Robert Bellah: I regret that you missed the opening comments, because they are aimed very much at that issue to make it absolutely clear from the beginning that we are not interested in having people give up their particularities from their own traditions. That is the last enterprise that this thing would have in mind. As you suggest, we do not want people, almost before they come to such a meeting, to have to agree to homogenize their views with everyone else's and give up anything that remains particular; but neither could it be fruitful to have a meeting of symbolic figureheads of centralized organizations who would be there essentially to state what the "X" religionists believe and leave it at that.
Here I think that Warren's notion is useful: the membership of this congress should be drawn from religious intellectuals and religious activists representing particular groups, theological seminaries, or other equivalent organized groups of study, and voluntary organizations involved in ethical action in the world. These groups are clearly associated with religious traditions, but do not speak as "authorities" and therefore do not have to bear the weight of representative status, such that the slightest deviation from inherited orthodoxy in one tradition or another would be viewed as something of a betrayal. It seems to me there is a middle ground that would be the direction of such a congress. It would have to aim toward people involved at the growing edge of their own religious traditions who are interpretive, re-interpretive, and applying their tradition to the reality of the world. These are the people who are open enough to have come to realize in the first place that other people may have something to teach them; but they are prepared neither to give up their own traditions nor simply to restate their own traditions as though it could not be informed by another experience and receive new life.
Archie Bahm: I assume, but I would like to be informed, as to whether or not Professor Lewis and associates may have thought about other groups that have sponsored world congresses in religion on especially the level of the best scholarship that was attainable from the various nations of the world. You may remember, and some have probably attended, the world congress on religion that was held down in Los Angeles a few years ago. You may be preparing to participate in the American Academy of Religion and its seven or eight outstanding associated groups of scholars, which will meet here in San Francisco at the S.F. Hilton immediately after Christmas. I assume then that such a group as this, that has its World congress as well as its divisional meetings, must be distinctly different in some sense from what you are thinking about in this conference. I'm raising the question as to what the particular distinctions are between the two. Would you think it advisable to contact these groups that study religion, to see what relationship might be worked out?
Robert Bellah: It seems to me the difference you ask about is overwhelming. The groups that you are talking about would never dream of producing a document of the sort that is being discussed here. The dedication to so-called "objective scholarship" is certainly one of my fundamental commitments and is itself, as was suggested by one of the natural scientists, a moral commitment of an absolute nature; it is the underlying value basic for gatherings of scholars on religion. But that is quite different from the concerns that are proposed here. I think if you read carefully this document you'll see what the difference is. I will be at the A. A. R. meetings at the end of December on two separate panels. As far as I can see, that's a very different kind of enterprise. But I can certainly imagine Schubert Ogden taking part in this too. He would be an admirable person to have in this meeting, but he would be behaving in a very different context than as chairman of the A. A. R.
Bill Johnson (Florida State University): I would like to make one brief comment that bears upon the vantage point from which the proposed congress would approach its task. Though we can share the conclusion that modernity is one of the culprits producing the problem, it does strike me as odd not to include religions as also part of that problem-producing element. I'm trying to suggest that we will defeat that proposed purpose of the congress if we set up rather air-tight compartments such that we classify as the problem those things other than traditional religions but include traditional religions as a class of one and only one member for the solution to the problem. I think we have to start out making sure that we investigate traditional religions, namely ourselves, to see if we are not ourselves also part of the problem in order to set the proper stage to be part of the solution.
John Hamaker (Research Specialist, Agricultural Products Department, Dow Chemical Co.): I am not a religionist. I'm a scientist, and I should not be speaking. But I do feel compelled to say that I get the sense that we are looking for religious leadership rather than representatives. We want leadership in the religions so that some direction can be found out of the morass in which we find ourselves religiously and otherwise. Certainly, I don't see where you could possibly find any one organization to represent a religion; they're so fragmented. You're not going to find a Christian representative. Beyond that, you have to remember that you need to dilute your theologians with lay people. I don't have any contact with theologians normally, but I must say my contact at this place makes me feel that the theologians have to be in contact with people who don't understand those big words if they are going to say anything that makes sense. It is part of our problem, having to do with the unity of science in a broader sense of the word, that none of us understands each other very well when we're talking in our special languages.
Gabriel Vahanian (Professor of Religion, Syracuse University): I have heard us stress the diversity of the different religious traditions. I think this is true if we take account of the traditions and what they have bequeathed us. We overlook, perhaps, the fact that these traditions have some things in common; for example, at least the framework, which is a mythologic framework or a supernaturalistic framework. In contradistinction to that, I think we do have one thing in common and that is technological civilization. We don't understand one another and pass by one another when we don't address that issue. If we would address the issue of technological civilization, regardless of where we come from, I think we could speak slightly different languages and still understand one another. Thank you.
Warren Lewis: I'm not going to make a summarizing speech since tomorrow just continues what we've begun. I will repeat myself on one or two points. If you are interested in the proceedings of today and tomorrow, please leave us your name and address so that we can mail them to you and you can receive further communications from us. In a properly responsive way, let me say on behalf of our faculty at Barrytown that I feel very much at home in your midst in this discussion. We struggled through many of the issues you have raised today; it already seems clear to me that the dialogue can continue between you and us.
Now I want to assign your task for tonight. Perhaps it will be in terms of the "still small voices" of which Bob spoke; perhaps for you it comes through thinking hard; or perhaps for you, as for me, it comes under a hot shower; or as my Buddhist friend, David Kalupahana, said when he arrived in San Francisco after traveling all night from Hawaii and was completely tired and wasn't at all ready to go into one of those conferences, he said, "I think I'll go cross my eyes for 15 minutes and then I'll be ready for this." I hope David crosses his eyes fifteen minutes again tonight; tomorrow, when we get together again, after each of you has inquired of the Lord in his own way, bring your inspiration with you and we'll roll up our sleeves and go to work.
Permit me just a couple of impressionist responses to one or two extremely important issues. We're not about to ask any religious person to give up the absolutes of his or her faith. There's something very absolute about an undercooked carrot and there's something altogether absolute about a piece of stringy lamb; the longer you chew it, the bigger it gets. I take myself as an example. I started out a fire-breathing fundamentalist in the desert of West Texas, from there I went to Harvard Divinity School, from there to the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies at the University of St. Michaels College in Toronto, and from there I went to the University of Tubingen in West Germany. I have passed through stages, just as you have. (I forgot to mention my Buddhist days in college.) Now, I suppose, I'm in my Unificationist phase; but somewhere deep in my soul, I'm still a fundamentalist Christian from the West Texas plains. As I pass through this life, pilgrim that I am, and attempt to become what my mentor, Herb Richardson, once told me to call "polyconscious," I take it all with me as I go. I'll shuck some of that periphery my kinsman, Prof. Lewis, mentioned; but I'm going to hang on to a certain concentricity, am I not? We're talking about that. Keep your absolutes, and admire, celebrate and enjoy the absolutes of the other people. What that can also mean for me, Prof. Sharfstein, is the unlikely prayer, "Sancte Sigismunde, or a pro nobis". I certainly intend to invite brother Freud, should I draw up the guest list, or anybody else who shares this deep, pervasive, painful concern, and struggles with it professionally, as we have been struggling with it this week and this afternoon. If a person wants to come to my congress, then that person can come, whether he's a "fundamentalist" from Peking or Berkeley or Abilene, Texas. Even if he's a "fundamentalist" of the technological, Western, liberal university and arrogant enough to think he has all the answers! Humble people may come too, even if they don't believe, but still want to work on the problems. All who want to come will be there. We'll invite not the religions, certainly not the churches, but religious persons -- "religious" according to their terms, not ours -- who share our concern.
I think we have already seen this afternoon a solution to the false dichotomy between the traditional religions and the emergence of the new. I observe that in these days of cross-fertilization of the religions, that when I, a living person, synthesizing his own worldview, take a visit half-way around the world to visit my guru or when one of them comes over here and receives the Holy Spirit and starts blessing Jesus, what is it that I or they find? We find something that's valuable to us as a contemporary, modern individual but which is traditional in somebody else's antique religion. It's new to us, but it may be old-hat to somebody else, who's been chewing on it already long enough to get all the sweet juice out of it. Yet, those very old things can become new; all things can be made new. It's this process of making everything new again we're engaged in. Dear friends, have a pleasant evening. See you, I hope, many of you, tomorrow morning. (Applause)
The world family has entered an international era. We see ourselves as "riders on the earth together." In this age, the future of the religious faiths is necessarily an interdependent one. The universal tendency of human consciousness is a coming together, and this includes human religions. More than co-existence, we are moving towards active participation in one another's lives and faiths. Towards this inevitable goal, we propose the formation of a Global Congress of World Religions.
The affirmations which follow are bred of conviction, though the plan is tentative and intended as seminal and suggestive. We, the faculty of the Unification Theological Seminary, have invited you to talk this matter over with us and with one another, to raise questions, explore ideas, and make suggestions for concerted effort. There are, as yet, no finalized proposals and no concrete programs. We stand at the beginning of what we hope will be a long, happy journey in the company of many friends towards a destination we are all eager to reach -- the blending of human hearts in a song of home on a fully human earth.
-- Each religion has its own profound truths and has produced universally great persons; each has its own absolute value, both historically and in terms of the contribution it makes to the totality of human spirituality; each has an indispensable share in fashioning the future of humanity.
-- One purpose of religion is to make a better world. No one religion by itself, however, is capable of providing the leadership required to hold the human community together, fractured as we are by racial tensions and violent warfare, decimated by poverty and hunger, and diseased by want of education. Practical cooperation of the world's faiths in solving specific human problems is required as a means both of releasing new energies against these problems and of acting out spiritual values common to the religions themselves.
-- The world religions can provide leadership for the new age. International influence is now being exercised by the political and industrial segments of our global society. As it is the business of multinational corporations to organize worldwide financial transactions and it is the purpose of the United Nations to provide a public arena for international political debate, in a similar way, international religion has its particular role to play. The religions, as world-builders, are uniquely qualified to give the ideological direction necessary to bring the human family into healthy wholeness. We are the teachers to all mankind of the spiritual truths which can make our globe a happier place to live.
-- If the world's religions do not offer the required leadership, the inevitably resulting void is liable to be filled by militarists or reductionists or materialists. We feel this threat on the left particularly in terms of totalitarian communisms; and on the right we fear, as well, other equal and opposite reactionary fascisms, with their tools of militarism, political repression, torture, and racism. The responsibility of the religionists becomes thereby that much the greater. Ours is the task to provide an alternative: each of us relying on the transcendent perspective of our spiritual verities, banded together in a ring of fellowship, addressing ourselves with heartfelt compassion to the human problem.
In the past, valuable efforts have inlaid on a small scale a foundational mosaic of the diverse religions. Among the historical precedents, for example, are the religion of Baha'i, the 1893 World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago, contemporary ecumenical movements within and between numerous religious groups, and advances in the study of comparative and world religions at centers of learning around the world. We need now to establish a global forum in which the religions can take the public initiative which humanity may rightfully expect of them.
With Joseph Campbell, we affirm the "not-quite-desperate cause of those forces that are working in the present world for unification, not in the name of some ecclesiastical or political empire, but in the sense of human mutual understanding." We support the work of unification of the world's religions. "Unification" is a non-sectarian word which means for us neither union nor uniformity, neither creedal alignment nor imposed or implicit agreement on theological issues. We hold, rather, that there is already a sufficient basis in common, human, spiritual insights which would allow for a problem-solving orientation according to which we could work together even though we disagree doctrinally. We acknowledge that the religious situation is and shall continue to be a pluralistic one; we, too, are comfortable with the mutual tolerance and independence which pluralism implies. At the same time, we are convinced that communication, cooperation, and confederation of the world's religions is desirable as an expression of the essential unity of human hearts and necessary as a means of solving basic problems. Despite our differences, we affirm our ability to exchange wisdom and work together to fulfill commonly held religious ideals for our mutual benefit and the healing of the nations.
We propose that a Global Congress of World Religions be convened, perhaps as early as 1981, to meet thereafter possibly every three years. Steps leading towards the first Congress might well be regional conferences held wherever interest is strongest. These gatherings, intermediate between nations and religions on the one hand and the Global Congress on the other, would clarify issues and lay the spiritual, informational, and organizational foundations for the initial Congress.
We suggest that a relatively small number (four or five) of cosponsoring groups assume in full collegiality the administrative and financial responsibilities for the Global Congresses. We are pleased to offer our Seminary as one of the co-sponsors. We seek additional co-sponsors among cultural religious bodies, academic institutions, and special interest groups, with the ideal in mind of balanced religious representation. Because the Global Congress would not be understood as an inter-religious ecumenical council with juridical and legislative powers over the cooperating bodies, we suggest that emphasis should not be placed on the exclusive participation of official clergy or symbolic functionaries, gurus or spiritual leaders. The Global Congress would be attended by delegates from all the world's religions, and the delegates would be selected by their parent organizations; but the Congress would request the religions, centers of learning, and other participating groups to choose their delegates on the basis of intellectual attainment, creative leadership, and demonstrated active participation in concrete problem-solving. We design the Congress as a place of appreciation for work accomplished and of making plans for future work to be accomplished.
Our initial purpose is meeting, greeting, and becoming more aware of one another. Special attention would be paid to individuals and groups whose outstanding activities within their religion particularly distinguish them. Emphasis would fall on projecting cooperative research, institutes dedicated to the solution of particular problems, and the development of useful technologies and funding resources. Academic papers, symposia, and open discussion would explore areas of agreement and disagreement on a variety of topics.
The Congress could be organized in a number of different ways. It might be sectioned according to specific interests of the participants; among these, social concerns; education; history; sociology and psychology of religions; philosophy; sacred books; rituals and worship; the comparison of religious teachings. Typical activities might be scheduled, as follows: discussion of the validity of the sacred books as perceived by each of the respective religions; sharing of information on work in progress to edit and make available the world's scriptures; discussion of "God" among the religions; opportunities for experience and observation of liturgical and aesthetic activities of the religions; comparison of methods and results in the several quests of the historical founder of the religion; sharing of information on the techniques of propaganda against the common ideological enemies; education of children and illiterates; preparation of a unified plan of action to alleviate world hunger.
As a means to organize and bring to pass the initial Congress, we suggest that something like the following four groups be formed:
1) Advisory Committee -- a committee of honor and control, composed of ranking members of the four or five co-sponsoring bodies, who will work closely with and through their representative member on the steering committee.
2) Steering Committee -- the central organizational committee, composed of four or five persons representative of the co-sponsors, who are responsible for the structuring and direction of the Congress.
3) Representative Committee -- the broad-base support group and informational network, composed of heads of religions or their delegates, notable scholars, and other leaders in the field of cultural-religious unification. This group will function as a source of input for the steering committee and interpret the decisions of the steering committee to their parent organizations.
4) An international society of scholars -- who meet at the invitation of the steering committee to discuss issues related to the concerns of the Global Congress, and who publish a journal of religious scholarship and opinion on these topics, as well as the proceedings of the Congresses and other occasional documents.
Honored guests and colleagues, we have a total of five hours on Sunday, November 27, and Monday, November 28, to attempt to answer the multitude of questions we are raising with you. Let us engage in a full and free discussion of these issues and, if possible, move towards a plan of action for the next step.
Do we agree that pluralism is the permanent religious situation?
Do we think that something like a Global Congress could be effective?
How might a Global Congress best be organized?
How could it be co-sponsored, and who ought the co-sponsors be?
How do we enlist the support and cooperation of the religious and academic institutions, and other bodies of cultural and religious interest around the world?
How do we structure such an encounter to minimalize unproductive friction and maximalize creative give and take, to provide an atmosphere in which we may disagree with integrity and cooperate with practicality?
Whom do we ask next to do what?
Are you willing to work with us?
Unification Theological Seminary
Barrytown, New York
1 November 1977