The Words of the Smalls Family

God: The Contemporary Discussion

Yolanda Smalls
January 4, 1984

From December 30, 1983 until January 4, 1984, one hundred and forty-five participants from thirty different countries gathered for the third conference on "God: The Contemporary Discussion" under the chairmanship of Dr. Huston Smith, Professor Emeritus of Religion from Syracuse University.

The first "God Conference" was held in Maui in December 1981 and the second in Ft. Lauderdale in 1982. The fourth is scheduled for August 1984 in Seoul, South Korea.

Philosophers, theologians and religionists came together from the Far East, the Pacific, South East Asia, the Indian Sub-continent, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North and South America. Each one had written a paper on one of the seven themes for this year's conference, and for four days the seven groups met and discussed each of the papers in depth.

The conference was opened by Dr. R.J. Zwi Werblowsky, Martin Buber Professor of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who began his plenary address with praise of the Unification Church's openness to criticism. "1 cannot resist the temptation of opening my keynote address with a challenge to those churches, organizations, lobbies and vigilante pressure groups who try to terrorize us into boycotting conferences like the present one, and who in fact succeeded in bulldozing even third parties (like the Government of Trinidad) into refusing admission to New ERA and forcing us, at the last minute, to change the venue of the 1982 conference." He quoted critics as saying, "... These crafty Moonies are doing this in order to gain status by projecting an image of themselves as open minded and as encouraging critical thinking. Well, if that is the Moonie way of seeking status, we all can only say: 'more power to them."'

The most popular theme and hence the largest group, with twenty-five participants, was "Experiences of God and/or the Ultimate." A Catholic monk wrote, quoting Thomas Merton, "Thus the man with the 'sacred' view is one who does not need to hate himself, and is never afraid or ashamed to remain with his own loneliness, for in it he is at peace, and through it he comes to the presence of God... he can see others as they truly are... to see below the surface and to guess at the presence of the inner and innocent self that is also the image of God." In the same session an African spiritualist shared how in the Aladura worship service "... a sense of God pervades the place of worship and a worshipper is immediately transported into this intrusion into worship, the whole scenario is changed and transformed, heaven is brought down to earth and the worshippers become spiritually saturated."

In the same group a European scholar reflected on the impact a person with a profound experience of God has on society: "... a new or unusual experience of God often comes into conflict with the traditional representation of the socio-religious milieu in which it has taken birth. On account of the new contents which their experience brought them, some of the greatest mystics, among them the founders of religions, were considered as destroyers of religion."

Similarly diverse and rich presentations took place in sessions on "God and Social Reality: The Role of Religion in the Relationship between Rich and Poor Nations," "In Defense of God," "The Person and the Divine in the World's Scriptures," "Religious Ethics in the Great Traditions," "Traditions and Modernity in Conflict over Divine Reality" and "Women in World Religions Past and Present."

Section three, "The Defense of God," was a response to Dr. Sontag's plenary address at the second conference on "God: The Contemporary Discussion" in which he issued a challenge: "All over the world religious life exists under the threat of destruction. God has taken a vow of silence. He has no voice or arms to defend himself but ours. Religious worker of the world, cease your age-old rivalries and internal strife, unite, arise. Defend the divine traditions in every land." As one North American theologian wrote, "Frederick Sontag is issuing a challenge which stretches beyond the limits of traditional religious ways of life to acknowledge their share of the responsibility for failing to achieve a social solidarity which goes beyond the limits of race, creed and nationality."

To one theologian from South Africa the defense of God would entail an absolute dedication to the task of healing the wound in creation, to promoting life, liberty, fulfillment and well-being for all and opposing all harm- doing, exploitation, violence and the conditions which encourage them." An Unificationist wrote: "In my view, in order to defend God against his numerous critics and accusers, we need to show that those critics and accusers are incorrect in their basic attitude, which I> the feeling or conviction that God is not good."

Apart from the stimulating interactions within the seminars, each meal was for many people an opportunity to exchange ideas and establish personal relationships with other participants at the conference. Two Buddhist monks in their saffron-colored robes could be seen having lunch with two African scholars in their traditional African robes, a Chinese psychologist with a Jesuit priest, a Muslim scholar with an American art critic -- a beautiful panorama of the diversity of our human family exploring each other's world. As one participant wrote: "Apart from an exchange of knowledge and the clarification of problems and misunderstandings, the approach to God in other religions may enrich each participant's insight into his own religion."

Many of those who attended this conference expressed interest in becoming involved in other projects inspired by Reverend Moon: to become leaders in the Youth Seminar of World Religions, the annual pilgrimage which takes students to visit the historical sites of the world religions around the globe; to further the publication and dissemination of literature produced by the ecumenical conferences of New ERA; or to advise and plan toward an International Conference on World Religions which will be held in 1985.

One of the spiritual highlights of the conference was a meeting after the Farewell Banquet when about twenty-five participants and fifteen members of the Unification Church gathered together to pray for peace in our world. Together they sang Holy Songs, shared in a representative prayer from an Unificationist and prayed in unison, each expressing their hearts to God in their own way, and closing with the singing of "Tongil." As the last notes of "Tongil" ended and everyone held hands, there was a beautiful moment of oneness, which no one there wanted to end.

At the close of the conference Reverend Kwak addressed the participants and explained Father's motivation for sponsoring the God Conference and his hope for future meetings, in the name of world peace, among leaders of the world's religions. 

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