Other Discussions on Religion

"Religions of the World, Unite!"???



WAIS is a free community of specialists in international affairs, and we discuss religion freely; lack of candor weakens our grasp of this crucial subject. I shall express myself freely, and other members should too. Today, Sunday, July 29, is St. Paul's day, and I have a special cult of him for reasons I will summarize here. In 1932 I stayed with a German-speaking family in Metz, Lorraine. They were one of the most hospitable I have ever met. We never spoke about religion, and it never occurred to me that they were Jewish. Then I came across a paper the son had written denouncing St. Paul in harsh terms as a traitor to the Jews. Poor old St. Paul! At my school, the day began with a non-denominational service, and I especially appreciated a hymn by a New England Transcendentalist which ended


"They are slaves who would not be
In the right with two or three!"


So St. Paul proved he was intellectually a free man. He saw the light. He wanted to make his tribal religion universal and to add the key element of charity to its vengeful god. The Jews and the world should be grateful to him. Think of the religious reformers who suffered in a similar way; to mention only three: Luther, Kant, and Auguste Comte. With Goethe, the Enlightenment called for "light, more light!" St. Paul was the father of the ecumenical movement, a united Europe, the United Nations, and our cult of charity. Don't blame St. Paul for what Greek theologians and their heirs did.

And this brings us to Stanford in the last week. Stanford is typical of American private universities which are trying to live down their sectarian origin, except that Mrs. Stanford was an anti-sectarian Protestant. The Dean of the Chapel is now Dean of Religious Life. The Stanford Associated Ministries represents 27 groups. The list ends with Zoroastrianism (add Zoroaster to the sources of enlightenment.)

This makes Stanford a natural ally of the Epsicopalian Bishop of San Francisco, William Swing, who in 1993 launched United Religions. In San Francisco, Christianity meets the religions of the Orient, so it could, he thinks, be the center for an inter-faith ecumenical movement. He has his eye on the San Francisco Presidio, recently vacated by the Armed Forces, as a splendid site for its headquarters.

Last week, Stanford Memorial Church was the focal point of a meeting of United Religions, which was attended by people of many faiths and from many countries. On the previous Sunday, the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, not noted for its piety, devoted a whole page to the upcoming meeting. We cannot here discuss the debates, which, however, merit close study.

The general reaction was mixed. The sociologically-oriented Religious Studies Department, which keeps its distance from the Church, was not involved. The Catholic Church merely observed. Pope John-Paul II, has made friendly gestures toward the Protestants, but, as a Pole, he is concerned primarily with the Orthodox Church. Rome's worldwide propaganda network stresses his affirmation that Christianity has two lungs, the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox, and that the two lungs should breathe in unison. This conciliatory attitude has not moved the Russian Orthodox Church. An article in THE ECONOMIST (June 21-17) entitled "Don't bless my souls", carries a picture of a scowling Patriarch Alexy II, with the caption "Alexy smells a papal plot."

WAIS Fellow Sam Huntington is right to stress the potentially dangerous role of religions in world affairs. The U.S. government is now speaking with more candor on the issue of religious freedom. This gives special importance to the work of organizations like the Reston Association in England which follow world religious developments and to journals like CHURCH AND STATE. Please pay more attention to them.


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