The Words The Kwak Family

God: The Contemporary Discussion II

Jack Kiburz and Chung Hwan Kwak
February 1983

The Defense Of God
Jack Kiburz

God: The Contemporary Discussion II presented challenges and produced unqualified successes. Because of pressure on the government of Trinidad, the conference site was changed to Florida, and all the participants had to be notified within the four short weeks prior to the opening session on December 30. Undeterred, however, 107 scholars, some with their families, gathered at the Hilton Inn and Conference Center in Fort Lauderdale to begin four days of inter-religious and intra-religious dialogue.

Dr. Frederick Sontag, the conference convenor, set the tone for the conference in his opening address, "The Defense of God." Pointing to theological differences concerning the limits of God's power and freedom to exercise it, Dr. Sontag suggested to those assembled, If there is to be a defense of God, we humans must provide it." We come "seeking God to defend us only in the end to find that, the nearer we draw to divinity or the more we explore any religion, the more we find it is we who must offer a defense of God, if He is to have one." He concluded by challenging those present to find unity in their common defense of God and thereby provide a peaceful means to resolve differences, by rising above doctrine, race, class and nature.

Participants came from 27 countries and represented various Christian traditions, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and other philosophical and religious traditions. They were organized in seven theme groups:

Section 1. Spiritual discipline and ultimate reality

Section 2. Words of/about God in sacred scriptures

Section 3. Avatar: The idea of incarnation in the world's religions

Section 4. The names and concepts of deity: Our languages about ultimate reality

Section 5. Understanding who God is: Masculinity, femininity, plurality, duality, process, emptiness, etc.

Section 6. God and social reality: Spiritual liberation and the social dimension of religion

Section 7. Religion and the numinous: Theology vs. mystery

These themes convey something of the breadth of discussion. Prior to coming to the conference, participants prepared papers, which were distributed to all who were going to participate in that section. Responses had also been prepared before the sessions began. This extensive preparation provided the stimulus for exciting and engaging dialogue.

Over the course of the four days, there was ample opportunity to make acquaintance with scholars known previously only from afar: a face and a heart gave dimension to the printed word. Virtually all those present keenly felt the preciousness of this opportunity.

As each section moved more deeply into discussion and a shared sense of "groupness" emerged, interest also increased in the work of the other sections. Mealtimes gave some opportunity for people in different sections to share what was happening, but the first substantial opportunity was provided towards the end of the conference, when all the papers from each section were displayed. With great enthusiasm, everyone crowded around the table in search of particular "treasures."

By this time, people could begin to really appreciate the uniqueness of what was happening at this conference. One person marveled, "a truly ecumenical dialogue has taken place here," while others noted that this conference was "the best conference I have ever attended."

Interest in Father and the Unification Church was building up throughout the conference. Nearly all the participants attended an evening session on the reasons behind the change in conference site and the nature of the persecution against the church. For many, this was the first tangible experience of illogical persecution against the church.

Those who voiced sympathy with Father and the church were also moved by the unusual event which attracted representatives of so many different religions in an atmosphere free of religious bigotry. They did not feel any need to criticize one another's faith. Person-to-person contact was what made the difference.

Key papers from the first conference have been published in a 4I8-page volume entitled God: The Contemporary Discussion. Edited by Frederick Sontag and M. Darrol Bryant, this book is already making an impact. According to reports, in places such as Harvard University, people are astounded that such an extremely diverse range of people would even assemble in the same place.

Twenty-two major papers discuss God from such varying religious traditions as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, African traditions, Judaism, and Islam. One writer argued for the personality of God and another against it. Some papers simply present the perspective of a given religious or philosophical tradition; others address themselves to critical issues arising within a particular tradition or between traditions; some present an analysis of an issue that cuts across different religious and philosophical perspectives; and still others seek to cross over from one tradition to another. This year's God conference will surely produce an equally stimulating book.

The section leaders chosen for the second conference had participated in last year's God Conference, but for most of the participants, this was their first such experience. This will probably be the pattern: people will participate in only one such conference; ideally that conference will stimulate them to promote healing and unification among religious people, as the first step toward healing and unification in society in general.

Closing Remarks
Rev. Chung Hwan Kwak

On behalf of Rev, and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon, I would like to thank you for contributing to the success of this second annual conference on God. You have significantly enriched not only the contemporary discussion about God, but also inter-religious dialogue in general. I think that the "defense of God," the preservation and encouragement of "divine traditions in every land" which Professor Sontag called for so eloquently in his plenary address, has been well served by your participation in this conference.

As I explained in my closing remarks last year, Rev. Moon's support for these conferences grows out of his lifelong dedication to God. In the 25 years I have known him, he has passionately and consistently worked to make God the center of his life, and to act according to God's will. He talks about God every day and feels that the contemporary discussion about God deserves much more prominence than it has been given before now; so he has been happy to support these conferences and will continue to do so in the future.

But promoting scholarly discussion about God is only part of Rev. Moon's motivation. Actually, he has a much larger vision and much greater hope; and in order that you might better understand his motivation, I would like to take this opportunity to share with you something of that vision and hope.

Our generation is facing the most serious crisis in human history. Weapons of mass destruction threaten the very survival of our human family. The problem is not technological, since technology can just as easily benefit humanity as destroy it. The problem is that the human family is deeply divided against itself. We find tragic divisions everywhere in the world and in every period of history -- between and within nations, between and within families, and between and within individuals. Healing these divisions is now more urgent than ever before, but the magnitude of the task seems overwhelming. Where can we start?

Rev. Moon is convinced that we must start with God. The entire human family has its foundation in God, who is absolute and infinite. God relates to people through all of the world's religions, but transcends every sectarian viewpoint. Since no single group of people can know or manifest God' completely, diversity and differences of opinion are inevitable and wholesome. But as children of the same heavenly Parent, we are all brothers and sisters; so conflict and divisive hatred are unnecessary and destructive. By grounding our unity in God and recognizing that all of our human viewpoints are limited, we can heal our divisions through love and mutual respect, without having to insist on a monolithic uniformity.

If God is the key to healing our divisions, then the healing process must begin with religion. Since the highest ideals and deepest commitments of each culture are to be found in its religions, a reconciliation of the divisions within and between the world's religions would pave the way for reconciliation at every other level of human existence. But practically speaking, how can religious reconciliation be achieved?

In Rev. Moon's thinking, conferences such as this are an important preliminary step. As scholars, you share values which transcend your differences of opinion. Your commitment to the search for truth enables you to achieve a unity based on mutual respect rather than uniformity of belief, and your dedication to free and open dialogue enables you to overcome the ignorance and misunderstanding which contribute to division and conflict. But your efforts need not end here at this conference. If you carry this global vision, this spirit of mutual respect and ecumenical dialogue, back to colleagues in your respective religious communities, you can pave the way for meetings of prominent leaders within your religious traditions, and thus facilitate the process of healing and unification there.

Furthermore, by fostering mutual respect and understanding, your efforts could lay a foundation for future "summit meetings" between leaders of the world's major religions. At such meetings, religious leaders could resolve the conflicts which divide them, and could discuss common approaches to world peace. Their unity would inspire conscientious people in every nation and culture to work together more harmoniously for the solution of pressing political and economic problems. In this way, your efforts could make a lasting contribution not only to excellence in religious scholarship, but also to world peace and prosperity.

Perhaps this strikes you as overly optimistic. But Rev. Moon has tremendous faith in God's determination to save the human family from misery and destruction. Furthermore, he is convinced that if major religious leaders take responsibility for healing the divisions that afflict us and unite together based on their shared devotion to God and humanity, then God will accomplish through them what no single religion can accomplish alone. The day of the "global village" is rapidly and inevitably approaching, even though many people are still unaware of its imminence. What a tragedy it would be if, when that day arrives and we find ourselves living in such a small world, our hearts are not big enough to embrace each other.

I encourage those of you who value what is being initiated at these conferences to see yourselves in the role of pioneers. By communicating to others the mutual respect and understanding which you have experienced here, and the vision of religious reconciliation which we share, you can help to pioneer the way for a global village in which our human family can live harmoniously and prosperously. On behalf of Rev. Moon, I urge you to assist in the fulfillment of this great hope.

Rev. Moon, for his part, will continue to support conferences such as this. In addition, he is willing to help finance other efforts by you to heal the divisions within your own religious communities, as well as to prepare the way for future summit meetings between major leaders of the world's religions. He welcomes your suggestions, not only on how to improve future conferences, but also on how to accomplish the larger goal of religious reconciliation.

After the conference, Rev. Kwak added the following comments:

Religions have a vital role to play in realizing God's goal. But if they just focus on their traditional beliefs and principles, they don't allow enough space for harmonizing with Heavenly Father's goal. No one religion could sponsor a conference of such breadth. Only our True Father could make this happen.

Religious scholars who study their religious tradition thoroughly and reach the peak of their religion then realize that their religion alone is not complete; they have to reach out and explore other religions.

Our Father has planned and supported the God's Conferences, along with the Youth Seminar on World Religions, New ERA, etc., to create a historic revolution and make a new beginning. He longs to stir up new hope in mankind through such inter-religious activities.

This year an international religious foundation will be launched. Just as the International Cultural Foundation is sponsoring a broad scope of activities in the scientific and intellectual field, the international religious foundation will reach out and embrace the religious world, through such activities as the World Youth for God, New ERA, Youth Seminars on World Religions, God Conferences, and other activities now being envisioned, such as religious Olympic games. 

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