Proceedings Of The First Annual Conference Towards A Global Congress Of World Religions - Edited by Warren Lewis - 1978

Sunday Evening Session September 3, 1978

Irving Hexham, of Regent College, Vancouver, B.C., convened the conference with a number of informal, personal remarks. This was followed with a brief, roundtable self-introduction by each of the participants. Then, Irving asked Warren Lewis to comment on the purpose of the conference.

Warren Lewis (Professor of Church History, Unification Theological Seminary): I'll continue in this autobiographical vein for a while. When I crawled in off the dry, dusty plains of West Texas as a fundamentalist Christian, I was convinced that all but my own kind were unquestionably on the road to an uncomfortable hell because they hadn't been baptized as a believing adult in a lot of water by one of our preachers. Then, I reached the oasis of Harvard Divinity School, turned left, and struggled on from there back into the Middle Ages at the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto. Finally, I swam upstream, to the source of all European religious truth, both Catholic and Protestant, the University of Tubingen. Gradually, a piece at a time, I have been sensitized to the pluralistic reality of religion in our world.

I suppose I have become a multi-dimensional polytheist. The essential question for me was truth or not truth. Like most everyone else, I occupied my intellectual position because I thought it was right. Had I thought it was wrong, I would have abandoned it. But then I came to see that either my position was the correct one, which then excluded all but about three million people from God's ultimate care, or everybody's point of view is right somehow, someway. So, I decided to become a radical pluralist, and thanks to Lonnie Kliever at SMU, a polytheist. I agree with Tolkien and believe in dragons and hobbits. I say "Hare Krishna" whenever I am asked to make a contribution. I work loyally for the Rev. Moon and am an Evangelical Christian who names Jesus "Lord."

In addition to all that warm piety, I also learned something about the world from an academic point of view. Most of the people I have met in my religious, academic pilgrimage, whose perceptions I most deeply appreciate, are, in their own perspective, pluralists too. From whichever island they started their pilgrimage, and to the many islands they have hopped along the way, they, too, see it as a pluralistic world. That's the common wisdom now, isn't it? "Pluralism" is a word on every academic tongue and on an increasing number of religious tongues. When it shall come to a time of making a statement of faith about the global future, just a lot of us have to believe it's going to be an international, trans-cultural statement.

I am not one of those people who thinks you can sit down and plot out the religion of the future. Religion is determined by a complex of psycho-sociological factors. We can no more plan it here, in Bristol, than we can in the future Global Congress of all the world's religions which we are proposing. It will be whatever it will be. Whether you talk about the unavoidable destiny of the human race running its bumpy road through history, or God's providence and the eschatological timetable, or if you believe in the hominization of the noosphere as we strive towards the Omega point, or if you are just dazzled by the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and the imminence of the Year 2000 and what that has to mean, then we are all in a common wash together, aren't we? That is what this meeting is about.

This same reality brought together last Thanksgiving in San Francisco a room full of Nobel laureates, theologians, philosophers, and natural scientists of distinction to discuss a topic similar to the one we are discussing here this weekend. In San Francisco, we asked the question: How can we plan and bring to pass a Global Congress of the World Religions? Is it a good idea? Would it serve the needs of humanity? Is it in the will of God (the Gods)? Who is willing to help? Where do we go from here? The response was overwhelmingly positive. I continue to get mail, weekly, as a result of that conference -- people making suggestions; offering their services; raising dire warnings, but then going on to affirm the plan, if only their comments are observed. I am now absolutely committed to the idea of a Global Congress of World Religions. As a result of the input from this world-wide communication in which I find myself involved, I am convinced that it is an idea whose time is just about to come.

But someone said, "The Unificationists are the 'johnnies-come-lately' in a field already very full of folk. Why do they think we need another new religion to unify the religions or another institution to bring about what numerous institutions have already attempted and failed?" I think that is a fair question. My Unification colleagues and I have deliberated upon it. We are content to describe ourselves as midwives -- an institutional midwife present at the birth, facilitating and helping in whatever way we can, but under no delusion that we, ourselves, are creating what we are attending or that we can do it alone, without the help of other midwives. We are therefore presently planning a "conference of groups," to bring together many of these different interest groups involved in inter-religious, global ecumenics. The Conference of the Groups will enable them to hear from one another what the particulars of their several kinds of work are. I took high tea at the Upper Swainswick Rectory this afternoon with Marcus Braybrooke, the general director of the World Congress of Faiths. As has been the case in similar situations with groups in America, India, and elsewhere, we found considerable common ground with one another. I can prophesy already that we will be making plans together.

One line of development thus leads through a Conference of the Groups towards a Global Congress of the world's religions. As a historian of the Christian church, I would rather like to describe this congress, as I envision it, as the first truly ecumenical council of the whole church -- one at which the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Rome, and his holiness, the Dalai Lama, and whoever is the head of the village from which friend Kwame came in Ghana, could sit down in full collegiality to deliberate as equals on the future of our global tribe. In full fellowship, they would interpret for us all that the Gods are saying about reality and life and our common futures.

But it shouldn't be just another religious get-together of the bishops and the preachers! As an academic, I have realized that the heart without the head misfires, just as surely as I know, as a religionist, that the head without the heart shrivels. Our ideal includes the perhaps impossible notion that we will have the academics and the gurus sit down together. The Rev. Moon insists that the academics be there. I can see why he could say that, as a guru. Gurus are often not interested in the competition of other gurus, but presumably might get along better with the academics. He is insistent that the academics be there -- even the freelance, relativist, reductionist ones without particular religious affiliation -- because he has a very deep appreciation for the academic study of religion. This of course parallels his interests as expressed in the International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences, another of his gifts to the world. We are insisting that head and heart be held together. We do foresee that those religious hearts will communicate with those intellectual heads and that the result will be whole, saner and more healthy for it.

The other line of development, which has grown out of our deliberations and conferences, came by way of the Barrytown Conference on Contemporary African Religion. There, we made a discovery that has brought us to you seeking wisdom and advice. And, once again in my midwife capacity, I am happy to facilitate on this occasion a similar discussion. We are here to ask you if you think Africa, and a congress of the religions in Africa, is not the proper major stepping stone towards a Global Congress? We think Africa is the right place at the right time to crystalize this world-wide interest.

Why Africa? From our perspective, Africa seems to be the place where it is happening, religiously speaking: where the religions are unifying and where something good, not only for Africa but for the rest of us as well, might come to pass. The autochthonous religions of Africa, present from time out of mind, now face indigenized Christianity, Islam, and other important religions. But the impact of Western technological culture is such that the fragile ecosystems of the traditional religions of Africa are being destroyed. If our generation does not preserve at least a literary memory of African religions, they, in their pure form, will shortly become a chapter in the histories of religion, like other autochthonous, ancient religions which are no longer extant. We thus have a double purpose with, as it seems, mutually exclusive ends: at once to facilitate the good health of African religion and, at the same time, to participate in the unification process going on there among the religions.

Another reason for Africa, in terms of what James Dickie generously said a moment ago, is that we don't know anything about Africa. That's not true of James, of course, nor of yourselves. You are the people who do know. But except for yourselves and a few others like you, Africa has been theologically avoided for a number of reasons. Thanks, however, to new directions in American Black Studies -- the Africans of the Diaspora -- we are beginning to pay closer cultural and theological attention to the religious riches of Africa.

Yet another reason for our concern, whether or not you happen to agree that a Communist takeover in Pan-Africa is a threat, is admittedly political: we see a common cause of the world's religions, including Africa's, as strategic ground upon which to take a unified stand against all forms of totalitarianism, whether political or religious, communist or fascist.

Finally, a theological reason why the Unification Church is interested in Africa relates to the particular religious perspectives of Mr. Moon himself. As you can read in a chapter I contributed to the recently-published book, A Time for Consideration, the first academic appraisal of the Unification movement (which you may take free of charge from the literature table at the back of the room), Mr. Moon, among other things, is something of a Korean shaman; if you want to understand him and his movement, you have to know something about Korean primal religion. But because he brings that religious experience with him, he has an innate capacity to understand the autochthonous religions of Africa. When he arrived in the United States, sensitive to the depth of connection between the Orient and native Americans, he addressed himself to the American Indians as "cousins." At a pre-verbal level a number of the Korean leaders of the Unification Church seem to understand African primal religion in a way I simply do not. You will be interested to know that the Kimbanguists have sent a delegation to the Unificationists to initiate exploratory talks. I have no idea what will come of that, but fascinates me. At any rate, it seems altogether appropriate that Mr. Moon be your host, as it were, on this African occasion.

Over the next two days we will have three conversations going at once. Tomorrow's academic discussion, as outlined in your program, will allow us to hear from Fred Welbourn and Myrtle Langley, as well as Kwame Gyekye, on African religion. Tomorrow afternoon, Irving, standing in for Terence Ranger, is to lead us in a structured discussion on methodology in the study of African religion. Our academic program for this conference should prove enjoyable in and of itself. Our second conversation, running coterminous with the first, revolves around the question, "Shall we hold a congress of African religions in Africa?" If we do, how shall we go about doing it? How can we focus the attention of the scholarly and religious community upon Africa and African religions in a way that will be beneficial for Africa and for the rest of the world? Our third conversation, of course is the one about the Global Congress. Do you think it a good idea? How do we get there from here? What benefits might accrue from it? And the pressing question for us of the Unification Seminary: how do we attain the collegiality of cosponsorship necessary for an event of this scope?

There is precedent for what we aim to do. In 1893, the Victorians gathered optimistically in Chicago at the glorious Columbian exposition taking place there. In retrospect, some people say it was another attempted coup for the "hidden Christian missionary agenda." On the other hand, others say it was the first time the Christian West clearly heard the voice of the Orient when the Hindu Vivekenanda stood up and told us to stop yammering about sin so much. Again in 1936, another great movement was precipitated by Francis Younghusband in the World Congress of the Faiths, which will have its annual meeting in York next weekend. This body of people is interested not so much in flashy conferences one attends once and then forgets, but, in a longer-term, educational involvement, wherein one feels a personal responsibility for inventive, inter-religious dialogue. We now, therefore, propose an event for 1981 which will build on what has gone before. Hopefully, the efforts of all those groups who are interested and willing can combine to convoke a congress that will attain a new level, and a new religious statement of the reality of the emerging global culture. That global reality is on its way, and we'd best take hold of it, it seems to me, in full responsibility and full of humility, to bring it about in a way that is humane, lest it come about in some way that is not.

Irving Hexham (Professor of Religious Studies, Regent College, Vancouver B.C.): I'm intrigued by this because as you probably all realize, this meeting has been organized by an independent church. If it were Kimbanguists, we might feel differently; but it's a Korean, independent church, with a conference on Africa, bringing together European, American, Canadian and African academics. I find all that a very strange thing in itself, and very interesting. Another intriguing thing is the possibility not only for dialogue but for real disagreements. When I said that people came because of friendships, I should also say that some people have not arrived who would have liked to have come, and this wouldn't always have been for friendship. In particular, I invited Jan Knappert who would disagree very strongly indeed with James, here, on Islam. And Terry Ranger, if he had not been booked with his family for Iona this week, would have very provocative things to say, as usual, on methodology. There is the possibility here, I think, of disagreement as well as agreement; and this is something very important in the study and discussion of religion. Now, over to the floor, I think, at this point.

Eileen Barker (Sociologist at London School of Economics): Can you just briefly give me an idea what you mean by the unification of world religions?

Warren Lewis: What I mean, or what Mr. Moon means, or what this global congress might put forward?

Eileen Barker: What you mean.

Warren Lewis: I have decided, at least in terms of how they are perceived, that the Gods are there. Pondering the question with a Biblical orientation, from a Christian background, I have to accommodate my neo-polytheism with our traditional philosophical monotheism. I'm able to do this on the basis of the protognosticizing epistles of pseudonymous Paul, Ephesians and Colossians, where we are told that our Lord's resurrected body comprises the aeons, the thrones and dominations, and the principalities and powers. St. Paul was talking about the heavenly "hosts," or in the language of Greece and India, he was talking about the other Gods. It's the same worldview you have in Deuteronomy, where it says the Lord God has appointed over each area of the earth an angelic watcher. And you have it again in Daniel, where each nation is said to have its divine guardian. Michael cares for Israel; Persia has its lord among the Elohim; and, I presume, so do India, Greece, Africa and Asia.

The ancient Jews were not philosophical monotheists, the way we Aristotelian Christians have thought; they were "henotheists" -- believers that, among the many Gods, there was One who is the High God -- "but the Lord God is Lord of lords, and God of the gods." Having resurrected these concepts out of my Grandpa's Texas Bible, I've decided to be a polytheist, and believe that the angels or the Olympians or that wonderful host of heavenly entities the Hindus worship, they're all really there. As one of your own poets has said:

We were talking of dragons, Tolkien and I,
in a Berkshire bar. The big workman
who had sat silent and sucked his pipe
all the evening, from his empty mug
with gleaming eye glanced towards us;
"I seen 'em myself," he said fiercely.

I believe in dragons and hobbits, Krishna and Moon, and Jesus Christ our Lord who was raised from the dead on the third day, though, unlike the big Berkshire workman and his dragons, I ain't seen 'em all myself. When one begins from that radically pluralistic, polytheistic point of view, one does not foresee a time when one religion will dominate over the others. Unless the angels which inspire the other religions cease to exist, their religions will not cease to exist. Nor do I foresee that the Creator, who rejoiced in their beginning, will plot their ending and is going to abolish the heavenly hosts.

This curious variegation of religion, which we sociologists observe around us on earth, I as a theologian see reflected in the heavenly spheres as separate entities. For me then, unification of world religions is the simple recognition, celebration, and enjoyment of the proper functional part which each of the religions plays in the cosmic corporateness of the body of Christ, our resurrected Lord. Moses gave us the law, and the Buddha taught us enlightenment, but Jesus offers us neither the law nor enlightenment. But if I'm to have enlightenment and law, then I need Moses and Buddha. Jesus is the Savior of my soul, Muhammad is my Prophet of transcendence, and Confucius is our wise man on the subject of propriety in social relationships. Neither Confucius nor Muhammad offers me what my Lord Jesus Christ offers me through his blood, his cross, and his glorious resurrection. But, neither does he offer me what Confucius teaches us, nor what Allah told Muhammad to remind us of.

These organs, members, and parts of the cosmic body of God, when they properly function together, secure for us enlightenment from one direction, soul-salvation from another, a basis for society from a third, a permanent iconoclasm from yet another when our idols weigh us down; and -- I hold -- it's all the graciousness of the Lord Krishna.

Now I'll just pass this stinger on the end, the main thing I've learned from the Reverend Moon on this subject: In his function as the head shaman for the Unification Church, he tells the story of his clairvoyant travels in the spirit world. Once he hosted all the heads of the world's religions to a messianic banquet. There, as his guests, they sat down -- with him engineering the conversation -- and agreed, it's time their followers on earth established peace amongst themselves. Then, Mr. Moon tells us, there, in the spirit world, Jesus and Confucius and Buddha and Muhammad and the other high ones agreed that the time of the wars of religion is over, and that we earthlings ought to get busy, following their lead, with our side of it.

Irving Hexham: Well, Warren took half an hour to tell you what it's all about, and a quarter of an hour to answer one question.

Warren Lewis: I'll not do that again! But she did ask me the one question that could've gotten a sermon.

Irving Hexham: It was a fairly good sermon. I'm sure there must be other questions.

Fred Welbourn (Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies at the University of Bristol): Yes, my problem with this, theologically, is that you've said an awful lot about the hosts of heaven; but you can have the hosts of heaven without God. It doesn't seem to me that you've said much about Yahweh. Is He so great, so mysterious, and so dangerous that you dare not name His name? Like "Modeemo" of Stanley Mogoba's people, who, exactly the same, had a religion of the heavens, in which you daren't even point a finger at the heavens. This unique thing, which isn't part of the hosts of heaven...well, I can't talk about it! It is just quite awful. And it doesn't seem to me you've said a word about this. Not that you shouldn't like to talk about religion, but, if you're talking about religion, then I'm not interested in religion.

Warren Lewis: You're interested in God.

Fred Welbourn: I'm interested in God, yes.

Warren Lewis: Somewhere along the line I hope I did say God created them all, and set them, each one, over their proper place. I worship him as the Creator of it all; but, as you say, it's too terrible to talk about. So that's why we talk about religion.

Fred Welbourn: Well, why bother about religions, you see?

Harold Turner (Director, Project for the Study of New Religious Movements in Primal Societies, Aberdeen University): An awful lot of people seem to bother about religions.

James Dickie (Instructor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Lancaster): Religion is the only way you can know the unknowable.

Irving Hexham: Would you say that all religions lead to the unknowable?

James Dickie: In their several ways, yes. But the reason we talk about religions is because it's the only way of knowing the unknowable. It's as simple as that. At least in Islamic theology, God cannot be known in Himself. He is the inexpressible mystery. He can only be known through His names, His attributes -- the attributes which He ascribes to Himself, and which we recognize through their presence in the phenomenal world. If it were not for these attributes, what you would have is an agnostic God. But the essence, the quiddity, of God is totally unknowable to a being such as man, whom He so totally transcends. You're going to find a great deal of difficulty involving the Muslims in this project, I feel; so I'm glad you've invited one like myself with no official status, and that you've therefore nothing to lose.

Kurt Johnson (Biologist, City University of New York; Committee member 'Church and Social Action'): A week ago I was at a conference on emergent minority direction in the United States.

All the people in attendance were social leaders, many high in government positions; they were also all ministers, mostly all Black people or Mexican-Americans. They brought up the fundamental point worth making here: Black people, or anyone who's suffered, knows, better than anyone else, that Mr. Say is nobody, but Mr. Do is the man.

Whatever comes of the Congress of World Religions must meet the challenge of what, to me, is the meaning of the Incarnation: How do we get from our nice ideas of God to a world of which we and God can be proud? We find it impossible even to deal with the bloc in Harlem, and we're young and we're the only ones working there because everyone else has given up.

These problems not only exist and have to be dealt with by religious responsibility, but they're the very problems that can explode the world. Because so many think that religion is irrelevant to any solution, we go to politics, anarchism, and in any other direction for answers. If a global congress of world religions were to become a political lobbying body, a conscience that shouts loudly through the media when there is a need, that would be something; but much more substantial things need to be accomplished, also, which are complicated and vast.

Eileen Barker: From what you're saying, Warren, you seem to be positing some ontological reality which comprises many parts of that which cannot be named -- God. But with you Unificationists, how do you balance, join, get together, know how all these different aspects of reality fit, so that they function for the different people? You keep saying sociological things: I must presume you understand that each aspect functions and dysfunctions for each particular group. How do you practically go about bringing in what is missing for One lot, allowing people to have their own language, their own myths, allowing them to see beyond, to transcend themselves.

Warren Lewis: That's the question, isn't it? But the "how" question is one for which I have no answer, yet. For one example, the World Congress of Faiths is hosting a trip to India. But as I contemplate something similar we might do in Africa, I shudder to think what our Africa congress might look like were it to turn out to be only fancy tourism. But how do we get beyond that to something more substantial?

Eileen Barker: Are you going to discuss that in detail tomorrow? The Barrytown conference seemed to me to be very, very naive and superficial on the idea of how one would act if we went to Africa.

Warren Lewis: That's one of the main things I hope we will talk about tomorrow.

Eileen Barker: If the methodological "how" is missing, tell me about a theological "how." It is a question that is implicitly posited as soon as you make an ontological affirmation.

Warren Lewis: I can tell you how Reverend Moon has done it, and this is why he fascinates a church historian such as myself. Here, for the first time, as far as I can tell, in the history of Christian thought, an Oriental mind and heart has comprehended the Christian Gospel and reissued it in Oriental thought-forms and categories. St. Thomas did it with Aristotelianism, Augustine did it with Neo-Platonism, the Greek fathers did it with Greek philosophy, St. Paul did it with Pharisaic rabbinics. And now, Sun Myung Moon has done it with Oriental thought, and very successfully, I think, in terms of a system of theology. So that's one model. Then, there's the model we have nowadays of the New Age, New Consciousness -- the "Berkeley crowd."

Eileen Barker: But if you're going to unify the unifiers, it does not follow that the "Age of Aquarius" is equivalent to the "noo sphere," which is not equivalent to the "Divine Principle." There are very important differences in theosophies, eschatologies and so forth. And again, once you start looking for unification, there is almost immediately the danger of exclusiveness through your pluralism, which is self-defeating. Yet you must face the initial necessity to exclude the excluder, which is an obvious philosophical problem.

Warren Lewis: Except he tends to exclude himself, doesn't he? I don't have to exclude him if he chooses not to come; but because I would be happy for him to be there and yell his head off... He could be a thorn in our side, if he wanted to, couldn't he? It's a highly functional role to be played.

Eileen Barker: Now you're just talking functionally, not onto-logically.

Warren Lewis: Oh, I thought you wanted a functional answer this time, rather than an ontological one.

Eileen Barker: What I'm wanting is recognition of the problem of unifying all these at the theological level. It is more than just an epistemological problem you are trying to overcome.

Warren Lewis: I think I see your question, at last. I've raised the issue with my Unificationist colleagues as to whether we want to invite the Marxists to the Global Congress. As you know, Reverend Moon is virulently anti-Communist, and if you know something about his history, you know why. (It's perfectly understandable, from a human point of view; but he's ideologically anti-Communist, too.) So the question arises, shall we have the Marxists there? I insist we must.

The issue now will be, can they come on their own terms to a gathering like this and participate freely? Theologically, I think that they can be there for the same reason I would want Moon to be there; I see them both as stimulating heretics. They represent to me a creative heresy within the Jewish-Christian tradition, similar to the Christian heresy, Islam, of the seventh century, which preserves an ancient Christology more faithful to the Gospel in some ways than certain Chalcedonian developments and upholds the Semitic sense of God's transcendence better than the neoplatonizing Greek Christians were able to do. In the gift book we have for you, I have a second chapter in which I ask the question, "Is the Reverend Sun Myung Moon a heretic?" And, of course, he is. I develop there an ontology of heresy: heresy and orthodoxy exist in yin -- yang symbiosis where, in order to have orthodoxy, you've got to have heresy, and in order to have heresy, obviously, you have to have orthodoxy. So, I want all of the oppositions there, for the sake of the whole.

That's my theological answer, Eileen, though I don't know if it's an adequate one. I come from a religiously sectarian background where we were always excluded, either by the others or because we ourselves would not come to the theological parties. I've drunk the wine of no-communion to the dregs and I know that's not the way / want to go. Because nobody would ever listen to us, your theology was not perfected in the way that it might have been, if you'd have taken us seriously; not to mention what we would have gained had we listened to you. Now, I'm in the position of writing outa guest list for a theological tea party, and I want, for the sake of wholeness, everyone to be invited.

Myrtle Langley (Lecturer at Trinity Theological College, Stoke Hill, Bristol): Do you need to define your "wholeness" then? You've got physical categories, social categories, also theological categories here, all in one, mixed together. You may have a whole there in one sense, but exclusion in another.

Warren Lewis: Let's keep talking about the Marxists, then. They're the outstanding contemporary heretics from many Christian points of view. By "Marxists" I mean the rugged ones, the really totalitarian ones, that give us bad political dreams. I'm not particularly anti-Communist, but I am anti-totalitarianism, whether it's on the right or on the left. Some of the leading Marxist communists were infinitely more blood thirsty on all counts than Hitler was -- Stalin, Mao, for two. And yet, what, minimally, are they saying? Now I quote Reverend Moon: these communists are an accusation against the Christian world of the "failure of Christianity" to establish on earth an equitable economic social order. Therefore, they need to arrive at the Global Congress to make their prophetic claims against us.

Kurt Johnson: One other aspect you might find interesting from our experience with social-action conferences in the United States is that even if you bring a group together that would seem incredibly contradictory in its pluralism, what happens then is that you tend to get a victory of what I consider the real Incarnation: the victory of "heart," where people decide that they're going to do something in spite of all the doctrinal differences. People realize they're made of heart, as well as of opinion; that they're people of direction and they want to show they can do something.

As we work along, people fall away from the group; then that group becomes a new group, which goes on to do something. I think this is why you're wise, Warren, to hold this "group of groups" conference, because, whatever you do as a conference, your connection to other organized groups becomes your feet on the ground. Something coming afterwards that is real and good for mankind depends on the organizations that are connected to your vision.

Irving Hexham: I think that might be a good note on which to adjourn. I'm not quite clear what the Unification Church really wants or what Warren wants. It does seem to provide an interesting opportunity for discussion, which I enjoy. 

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