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Religion and Peace

At the WAIS conference, most of July 29 will be devoted to the critical issue of religion and international affairs. The visit ot Pope John Paul II to Greece and Syria has more implications than is commonly supposed. The Economist (5/5/01) ran an important article "Have a vision. Take the road to Damascus. But does the pope come as healer or neo-crusader? Syria is indeed the Muslim country where religions have equal legal status and have lived together harmoniously. Yet non Catholics were offended by something which passed unnoticed in the West: just before the Pope's visit, the Church suspended a Jesuit who had suggested that Jesus might not be the sole path to salvation. The grand mufti, who has devoted his life to inter-religious dialog, cancelled a prayer session with the Pope in a mosque. The Orthodox Christians of Syria are pertubed byRoman Catholic building plans.

The visit was marked by speeches in which Syrian leaders sharply condemned the Jews and Israel. In the New York Times (5/13/01), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) posted an ad blaming Pope John Paul II for his "silence" in the face of these anti-Jewish remarks. After quoting the remarks, the ad says, "Pope John Paul II, we were greatly saddened by your silence." Catholic League president William Donohue rejected the charge, pointing out the many occasions when the Pope had condemned anti-Semitism. Israel's Sharon did not help with his aggressive actions which the US condemned, to no effect. If a poll were taken in the world today as to who is the most hated man, Sharon might well win. He has squandered the sympathy of the outside world for Israel.

Some Catholic WAISers have written rather smugly about "Europe's empty churches", suggesting that this decline of the mainline churches in England and the US contrasts with the worldwide support for the Catholic Church.. However, the total picture is quite different. It is true that in the US the mainline churches have lost members: the Presbyterian Church -36%, he Episcopal Church -28%, the United Methodist Church -21%. Jewish congregations have grown by 3%, and the Roman Catholic Church by 29% (largely due to the influx of Latin Americans). But the Southern Baptists (commonly viewed as anti-intellectual) have grown by 33%, and Mormons by 220%. The surprising phenomenon is the growth of the Mormon Church around the world, especially in South America, Mexico, Asia, Central America and the South Pacific (in that order).

The beliefs peculiar to Mormonism seem like fantasy to most non-Mormons, and it is partly because of this that the Church now stresses them less and emphasizes the centrality of its Christianity. How did such a faith spread? Not by its intellectual appeal. People around the world see Mormon missionaies coming in twos and making an excellent impression. The Mormons care for others in a way which appeals to the multitudes who need support. Human actions are not governed by rational beliefs.

Ronald Hilton - 5/14/01