Opinion: World Parliament of Religions Must Address Tension Between Commitment and Openness

June 12, 2004

Source: The Kansas City Star


On June 12, 2004 The Kansas City Star ran an opinion piece by Bill Tammeus on the upcoming Parliament of the World's Religions will open in Barcelona, Spain. Tammeus writes, "Is this just mushy, naïve, feel-good, Rodney King-like foolishness, or does it represent humanity's best instincts? Well, it's probably both, but I salute it because it's crucial for people of good will to work together in this dangerous new era of religiously motivated violence. Up to 12,000 people representing many different faiths will go to Barcelona on July 7 for several days of talk about four main topics: religious violence, refugees, clean water and the international debt of developing countries. The forum, says the Rev. William E. Lesher, chairman of the council that organizes these gatherings, 'is not about the unity of world religions but about a search for harmony among them.' Seeking common ground that will allow people of different religions to live together peacefully is a high and worthy calling. But it's easy to get discouraged, especially if you read the history not only of the world but also of these religious gatherings...Still, the dream of harmony and peace — fostered by countless religious traditions — cannot be abandoned. To do so would be to despair, to give up on the possibility that people can be both deeply committed to their own religious tradition and yet open to others who pledge allegiance to something different. [Orthodox Rabbi Brad] Hirschfield told me he worries that few people today 'combine deep passion and commitment with genuine openness. The open people find themselves incapable of committing to anything, and the committed people are so terrified of the commitments others make that they shut down almost immediately.' That's the terrible dilemma the Barcelona conference must face without flinching."