Good people of the world, unite!
Although little is known about it in Europe, the parliament can demonstrate a 125-year history: it first took place in 1893 on the side-lines of the World Expo in Chicago. For the first time in modern history, representatives of all the world’s major religions gathered to debate questions concerning faith.
The meeting marked the beginning of the rising popularity of Asian religions in the West. In particular Hindu and Zen-Buddhist representatives made their presence felt. Only Islam missed out, as the Sultan in Istanbul held a sceptical view of the project and prohibited official Muslim scholars from taking part. He suspected that the project was a concealed attempt at Christian missionary work.
Missionising off the agenda
But those times are past. Since it was revived in 1993 – by among others the German theologian Hans Kueng – Islam is not the only religion to boast a healthy contingent of representatives in the parliament, which meets every three to four years in changing locations. Also, missionary work is no longer on anyone’s agenda. Instead, the parliament is absolutely resolute in its focus on contemporary political issues, leaving no doubt as to its progressive approach.
Miguel de la Torre, former Director of the American Academy of Religion and Professor of Social Ethics in Denver, was not afraid to describe any religion that justifies oppression and violence as "satanic". He spoke of how as a young man, he excused the police officers who stopped him because he was a Latino to search his car for cocaine. Wasn’t it a good thing that they were taking steps to combat the drugs trade? This is what he told himself, in any case.
If self-colonisation results in you perceiving yourself through the eyes of the oppressor, it is better to seek an alternative worldview, regardless of the opinions of others, he said. Only through resistance can you protect your dignity, your humanity and discover your faith.
If he hadn’t added the word "faith", we might have imagined ourselves to be at a conference for the global environmentalist movement, rather than a meeting of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. When it came to criticising backward-looking patriarchal tendencies within religions there was no holding back.