At Parliament, Debate Over Meaning and Definition of Religion

July 10, 2004

Source: Chicago Tribune,1,1475107.story?coll=chi-printnews-hed

On July 10, 2004 the Chicago Tribune reported, "In a quiet room, spiritual leader Hum Bui and his followers, women dressed in sky-blue tunics with cone-shaped headscarves, enlighten a mesmerized crowd about their Vietnamese faith. Their founder established the CaoDai movement in 1925 to deliver a message: 'There are many religions, but all religions are one, have one origin, one principle.' In a chaotic hall downstairs, where about 7,000 people mill about, Ayatollah Hahdi Tehrani, an Iranian cleric from the holy Shiite city of Qom, is holding his own seminar. 'There is a difference between movements and cults, and real religions such as Islam, Christianity and Judaism,' he said. 'It is up to those from bona fide faiths to guide the misguided.' Such is the debate--and paradox--here at the weeklong Parliament of the World's Religions that ends Tuesday. The assembly is attended by representatives of the major faiths and other spiritual movements, some of which have emerged only in the last 30 years. The parliament--where bearded Sikhs hand out free lunches of curried chickpeas and rice, and hand-holding is plentiful among Buddhists, Muslims and Christians--appears to be in perfect harmony. But underlying the touchy-feely atmosphere is a search to define a true faith. From sunup to sundown, mullahs, cardinals, gurus and cult followers are asking: What is religion? For the free-spirited, represented in great numbers, the answer is a matter of semantics."