Celebrating which Spirit?

Commemorating United Nations' 50th anniversary - June 19-21, 1995

by Berit Kjos

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In 1995, a series of events were held in the San Francisco Bay Area to celebrate the 1945 birth of the United Nation - first chaired by Communist leader Alger Hiss. Facing plenty of options, I chose to attend a three day conference at the University of California at Berkeley as a reporter. Several sessions were grouped under the title, "Celebrating the Spirit." It was supposed to bring members of different religions together to dialogue in a common quest for spiritual solidarity. Here's what happened:

Given a choice of eight workshops, I chose to rejoin the Universal Declaration of a Global Ethic and found an empty chair next to the Reverend Deborah Light, a Wiccan representative to the 1993 Parliament of the World's Religions. She wore the symbol of her faith on her necklace: a large pentagram within a sacred circle. In the center of the pentagram was a small quartered circle -- a medicine wheel or circle of life to American Indians.

Like the rest, I had to introduce myself. Feeling a bit uncomfortable, I acknowledged that I was one of those fundamental Christians referred to only in depreciating tones at the conference. Praying that my words would express God's love, I shared two of my concerns: (1) The lack of biblical Christian representation and (2) the anti-Christian attitudes expressed everywhere.

"You talk a lot about dialogue and consensus as the path to global unity and decision-making," I started, " but who shares in your dialogues? Only those who are committed to transforming the world and establishing your new global beliefs and values? Where are the traditional Christians? Am I the only one? If so, what kind of consensus will you have?"

Well, with that non-conforming statement, the dialectic unity was totally shattered. I had to smile as I watched the reactions.

Professor Swidler, a keynote speaker and friend of Hans Kung, was quick to respond. "But you're not the kind of fundamentalist we're talking about," he said. "If you were, you wouldn't be here."

"Now you're re-defining the word fundamentalist," argued a Wiccan leader sitting next to him. "That raises the hairs on my neck."

"We need to define all our terms," said a Sikh.

"Yes, who is God? Is it the God who spoke to Mohammed or the God who spoke to Abraham?"

"or is it the goddess...."

"Some of us don't agree with either...."

"You all assume that we come from a platform where there is a definition...."

"It doesn't have to be so complicated," said the Reverend Light, complicating the debate further with her subjective absolutism. "It just takes mature adults."

Swindler looked frustrated. "What have we all agreed to so far?" he asked.

No one answered.

Read more on this topic at Heresy in High Places: A United Religions Interfaith Worship Service

See also How mysticism & the occult are changing the Church

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