(Editor’s note: The first Parliament of the World’s Religions was held in 1893. The next one was 100 years later in Chicago. We attended to see firsthand what they were proposing. We have attended and reported on others, but as we prepare for this one thirty years later, it seemed appropriate to republish our original article that appeared in the September/October 1997 MCOI Journal)
“There is a yellow one, who won’t accept the black one, who won’t accept the red one, who won’t accept the white one … there is the long hair, who doesn’t like the short hair, for being such a rich one, that will not help the poor one; different strokes for different folks, and so on and so on …”
These words are from the song, Everyday People, by Sly and the Family Stone. I really liked that song when it was released in 1968. It puts across the message loud and clear that we should not reject other people because of their outward appearance or other differences of that nature. I agreed with the song then, and I still do now. What could be dumber than to stick to “our own kind” when there is such a big, wonderful, colorful world of differences to make life interesting and enjoyable?
The ’60s, for all that, was wrong with the era – and there was plenty wrong with it – was a time when we, as a people, examined many of our prejudices toward people of other races and ethnic backgrounds and found them undesirable. We also began examining our attitudes toward differences in outward appearances, such as hair length, clothing style, etc., and seeing these as nothing more than harmless personal preferences: “Different strokes for different folks.”
There were many positive changes in our society as a result, but, in my opinion, it didn’t take long to go way too far. We began to idolize “tolerance” as virtue #1, and we trashed our society in the process. We threw morality to the wind, and frankly, we are now reaping the whirlwind. As I contemplate the vastly negative changes that have occurred in our society during the last 25-30 years, I wonder what the next 25 years will bring. For example, our national consensus today is that sexual abuse of children, involuntary euthanasia, and infanticide are wrong. Will they still be wrong in 2021? Or will only fundamentalist “bigots” think so?
Objective truth is another casualty of the times in which we live. TRUTH is now seen as just another personal preference. You have yours, and I have mine. And so, a bigot today is not someone who prejudges another person based upon skin color or outward appearance; a bigot these days is anyone who will not validate another person’s belief system. It is one thing, in a free country; to have the right to believe anything you wish to believe. But, just because everyone has the right to believe whatever he or she chooses, it does not mean every belief is equally true and valid.
I would say the majority of people today – in our country, at least – believe that all religions are basically the same, just as good and valid as any other and that it is bigoted or intolerant to hold that there is only one religious truth. This was the theme of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which we attended here in Chicago in 1993. The Parliament likened all religions to a big wheel with many spokes, the spokes representing the differences between individual religious groups. Although the spokes are separated at the rim, they all join at the hub, meaning that, although there are outward differences between all faith systems, all are the same at their core. It’s just different spokes for different folks, and it really is not very important which spiritual path you choose (as long as I gather you are sincere) since all paths lead ultimately to the same place. Oh, how tolerant and nonjudgmental and, oh, what a big, fat fib!
The world’s religions are not at all the same at the core! Muslims are monotheists who are unipersonal. Allah is their God, and to them, it is anathema for anyone to say Allah has a Son. Christians are tripersonal monotheists; God’s name is Yahweh, and He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Pagans and Hindus are pantheists. Their God is impersonal and exists in all matter. As the great theologian Yoda taught Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies, “The force is all around you; it’s in the rocks; it’s in the trees.” The force for good and evil is the same force; what matters is that you get on its good side.
There is one sense in which the world’s religions are the same at the hub, and it is that core similarity that unites them but separates all of them from biblical Christianity. Religion is a system of good works designed to make you acceptable to God; however, these works may be defined by your particular religious spoke. Christianity teaches there is nothing a person can do to earn his or her acceptance by God; that salvation is a free gift, pure and simple. Jesus was asked by the people of His day, “What works must we do to do the works God requires?” He answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29).
The “Global Ethic” signed by most of the participants of the Parliament says:
“We are women and men who have embraced the precepts and practices of the world’s religions … Opening our hearts to one another; we must sink our narrow differences for the cause of world community…”
Christians cannot “embrace the precepts and practices of the world’s religions,” which include idolatry, Spiritism, etc., and are unwilling to sink our differences for any cause, no matter how high-minded it sounds. Our difference, salvation by faith in Christ alone, is the core of our faith. This difference not only sets us apart from the other faiths but makes real unity with them impossible. Since unity at all costs is the goal of such events as the Parliament, this difference makes us highly unpopular, to say the least.
In fact, the only religion not tolerated at the conference, and the only one openly vilified there, was biblical Christianity, whose adherents cannot and will not agree that Jesus is just one of those spokes on that great wheel and that all paths are valid ways of getting to God. Why are we the bad guys? Why is it wrong for us to say Jesus is the only way and the only truth, as He claimed to be (John 14:6)? I’ll tell you. You see, if Jesus is the only true path to the Father, that has to mean the other religions are false paths and false “truths.” We are labeled wrong for saying others are wrong, but they do not consider themselves wrong for saving we’re wrong when we claim others are wrong. They feel right in judging us as judgmental because our view that we are right is (in their eyes) wrong. Confused yet? There’s more. We believe other paths are false, which, of course, makes our path false in their eyes since they believe all paths are true. We think our beliefs are ultimately and absolutely true, which makes our view false, according to the Parliament, since they proposed there is no true truth and, in fact, really no false! Except ours, of course, since we believe ours is true. Get it? We’re considered basically intolerant, and that cannot be tolerated!!!
Let me say that real religious tolerance (freedom of religion and conscience) is a very good thing. There are more Christians being killed and fiercely persecuted for their faith today than ever before in history. Other faiths are being cruelly persecuted, as well, in various locations around the globe. Genuine religious tolerance and any resultant peace would be wonderful.
But with all the talk of peace that was bandied about the conference, was the conference itself a peaceful one? In a word, no. At one of the plenary sessions, Chicago police had to be called in to restore order after a shouting match broke out between the Hindus and the Muslims of India. The Greek Orthodox Church pulled out of the conference when it became apparent to them the conference was not merely non-Christian but anti-Christian, and they would be expected to share the dais (stage) with Wiccans and goddess worshipers and pretend they were all praying to the same God. The Jewish delegation pulled out because Louis Farrakhan, anti-Semitic (anti-Christian also, I might add) leader of the Nation of Islam, had been invited to address one of the plenary sessions.
Since the Parliament was so openly anti-Christian, why were we there? We were not there to participate but to dialog with the participants and to interview some of them for a radio program. We found many sincere, nice, lovely people there. We wanted to find out if they fully understood the implications of unity at any cost that was being pushed by the leadership of the Parliament. Some understood and embraced it fully; some did not.
Don and I conducted an interview with the executive coordinator for one of the Muslim delegations. I’ll call her the “spokesperson” for the Muslim spoke, I guess. We asked her what was her motivation for attending the conference. Her motivation was an honorable one, and I was touched by her answer. She said she hoped the conference would turn out to be “a unifying force to bring together all the religions so we could overcome our differences and make this world a better place to live.” Her heartfelt desire was for peace and an end to religious warfare. Who would not wish for such a thing? But, agreeing to disagree peacefully is a far cry from saying all religions teach basically the same thing, and we must, therefore, accept that all religions are essentially right.
As we talked with her further, we could see she had not given any thought to this difference. We asked her if she really embraced the concept of the oneness and the basic rightness of all religions that were attending the Parliament. “Yes, I do,” she said. “Down through the ages, all the prophets have brought the same message at different times to different people in their own languages so they could understand better… as far as Islam is concerned, our faith is not complete until we believe in all the prophets that came down to this earth.”
We then pointed out to her that Mormons (who were also participants in the Parliament) believe in the prophet Joseph Smith, who taught them in their own language that there is not one God, but many Gods and that men can become gods if they follow the path handed down by the prophet Joseph Smith and the other Mormon prophets, “Is Joseph Smith a true prophet from God?” Don asked her. She answered that God sent 144,000 prophets to the world, and since we do not know all of their names, we cannot deny others’ beliefs or their prophets. I pressed the issue (you knew I would!) by asking her how Mohammed, who taught belief in one God, and Joseph Smith, who taught belief in many gods, could both be true prophets from God. She was very uncomfortable with the question. Her voice began to rise as she replied, “All the prophets of God said there was only one God; none of the prophets ever said there were more gods or goddesses or deities.” Her position was, of course, illogical:
-All religions are true and valid.
-Mormonism is, therefore, true and valid.
-We cannot deny Mormon prophets or Mormon beliefs.
-Mormon prophets teach that there are many gods.
-All true prophets teach that there is only one God.
-No prophet ever said that there were more gods or goddesses.
Huh??? You really have to be able to follow the pea in these discussions, folks, or you’re going to pick the wrong shell every time!
We then interviewed a “spokesperson” for a pagan who spoke of the great wheel. We had an extremely interesting and enlightening discussion with the founder of the Fellowship of Isis, the Rev. Honorable Lady Olivia Robertson. Does Lady Olivia truly believe that her view of the gods and goddesses is no more true than, say, the Christian view of God? The very first thing she confided to us was that she and her brother (an Episcopalian minister) founded the Fellowship in 1976. This was because, in her own words:
“[We] felt that half the human race was disenfranchised spiritually [since] God is always called ‘He’; there are no ‘she’ gods. My brother and I decided to redress this matter.”
Redress means to “set right” or to “correct.” It is decidedly not a term expressing acceptance; rather, it is an expression of judgment. You must pass judgment upon something as incorrect before you can determine to correct it. Something must be wrong in order to set it right. You see, then, that Lady O. rejects the Christian view of God as inferior and in need of correction. Yet, we would find ourselves accused of intolerance and judgmentalism in a heartbeat if we were openly critical of the pagan concept of a mother/father god.
Nevertheless, Lady Olivia considers herself to be the epitome of open-minded tolerance. She assured us:
“…every single member has total freedom to believe what he or she wants … All you do when you join is to read our manifesto, which says the goddess manifests love, beauty, and truth. You can be a Catholic, a Protestant, a Buddhist…”
Sure, you can be a Catholic or a Protestant as long as you leave your sexist, politically-incorrect, bigoted, jealous old God behind and embrace the goddess. The pretended tolerance touted by the Fellowship of Isis, and other pagan groups, is nothing but a smokescreen. A “Christian” will be tolerated by Lady O. and her ilk (kind) as long as he or she does not hold to Christian views or respect the Christian God, who has told us we must never involve ourselves in pagan or goddess worship.
Deuteronomy 13:6 states:
If your own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods’ (gods that neither you nor your father have known, gods of the peoples around you…) do not yield to him or listen to him.
The claim that paganism is compatible with Christianity is completely untrue and merely an attempt, often successful, to disengage your alarm system until your house is burned down. It was an ugly house, anyway – they might console you -built on patriarchy, walled off with prejudice, with skeletons in the closet… Come on over to our house… We’re tolerant and nonjudgmental.
We asked another pagan spokesperson from the Fellowship of Isis how the group views sexuality. She said, “Sex is a very wonderful thing when it’s done in ‘sacred space,'” whatever that means. (Here’s a “Joyism” for you: Humbug is malarkey expressed vaguely.) She said she viewed sex as sacred and spiritual, and she only engaged in it within the context of a “meaningful” relationship. But, she was quick to add, “There are some who are loose,” which she accepts, she said, since “it’s an individual preference,” and “everyone has their own way of thinking,” and “everyone is at a different level of being.” I guess sacred space can be either a meaningful relationship or anything goes. You know, different spokes for different folks.
She then said a very interesting thing. She said,” Sexual immorality is sexual abuse.” So there is a moral judgment regarding sex. Sex should not involve abuse. But why shouldn’t it? Who drew that line? For that matter, who decides what abuse is and what it is not? After all, there are no absolutes. She told us she had been sexually abused as a child, which is why this cause is very dear to her. She obviously thinks that sexual abuse is wrong. She feels very strongly about it, in fact.
Yet, as a pagan, it is inconsistent to label anything as wrong since there really is no absolute standard by which to judge beliefs or actions. Something can be terribly wrong for one person and just fine and dandy for another. In other words, the most she could say is that abusing children sexually would be wrong for her. It may be perfectly right for a pedophile. No one can deny it is his personal preference. One person’s perversion or violation is merely another person’s sacred space. We all have our own way of thinking and our own level of being. The pedophile is simply on a different spoke. Without a standard for right and wrong, there is no honest basis for refuting his claim or denying the validity of his view.
The postmodernist ideal of relative truth championed at the Parliament seems to be widely accepted in our culture, but I doubt that most who espouse the view have really given it deep thought. It sounds so fair and so right and so open-minded to say all views are equally valid. But, when serious consideration is given to all the various views that must, therefore, be validated, it becomes much less appealing, even, I dare say, to pagans. And so, while they reject the shalts and the shalt nots of the Bible, they turn around and make up some shalts and shalt nots of their own. Thou shalt be tolerant; Thou shalt not sexually abuse children; and Thou shall not believe that anything is absolutely true; except, of course, that nothing is absolutely true – that you shalt believe.
My friendships span the religious spectrum. I have never found anyone who believes that tolerance is always a good thing; that everything should be tolerated in society or within the family structure, although there may very well be disagreement over what should be tolerated and what should not be. Should racial discrimination be tolerated? How about murder or rape? If we buy into the postmodern definition of tolerance (there is no ultimate truth), though, the rapist and the racist, the murderer, and the child molester all have their truths that must be respected and their actions permitted.
I am not against tolerance, rightly defined. True tolerance is called for in much of life; I want Portillos; you want Burger King. I’ll tolerate Burger King and go to Portillos next time. I want to see movie A. You want to see movie B. I may very well tolerate sitting through movie B for your sake, or perhaps, you’ll tolerate movie A for me. Life involves a lot of sacrifices and much forbearance of the faults and foibles of others. We also need to be tolerant of those who disagree with us spiritually. The word tolerate means to permit, put up with, and endure. It does not mean to approve of or to accept as good or right.
Christians, if we love the people around us, cannot sanguinely accept and give tacit approval to actions or beliefs that are destroying people’s lives and souls on a daily basis. If that makes us appear intolerant and judgmental, I guess that’s the price we must pay. We love the people who are looking for love in all the wrong sacred spaces– men and women, created in the image of God, who are debasing themselves and others in various forms of sexual promiscuity or perversion. We also care deeply about the people who have been deceived by false prophets, and lying spirits, or their own “inner knowledge.” Their eternal life is at stake. And we know, just like ourselves, they are sinners in need of forgiveness and reconciliation with God. But, unless they realize the helpless condition they are in and just how lost they are, they will never find the true path because they won’t be looking for it.
As you probably have gathered by now, I don’t really hold to the different spokes for different folk’s theory of religion. I think there is only one spoke that matters for this life and the life hereafter, and it is that GOD SPOKE. God spoke through the prophets of the Old Testament and told us what is right and what is wrong. He let us know that sex outside of marriage is wrong. Murder is wrong. Loving God is right. The worship of other gods is wrong. The law was given as a standard, so we would know right from wrong. But why? WHY is it of paramount importance that we recognize right from wrong? Is it so we can point self-righteous, “church lady” fingers at the sinners we see around us? God forbid.
The law, the shalts, and the shalt nots were given specifically by God to show us that we (all of us) are transgressors in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. If this were the end of the story, the outlook would, indeed, be very bleak since the penalty for sin is death. But that’s not the end of the story, because GOD SPOKE again. The Bible tells us in the first chapter of the book of Hebrews (v. 1) that while GOD SPOKE through the prophets of the Old Testament in the past, in these last days, GOD SPOKE through His Son.
Jesus said He came to seek and to save that which was lost. People are lost – people who God loves. He said He was the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Any other way – Mohammed’s way, the Dali Llama’s way, Deepak Chopra’s way, Lady Olivia’s way, Joseph Smith’s way, my way or your way – is the path to destruction, and many are choosing that route. There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end, it leads to death. (Prov¬erbs 14:12)
People of other faiths are not our enemies, regardless of how they may see us. We have no right to treat them as such. I don’t think we should badger or harangue others or tell them smugly they are headed south. 1 Peter 3:15 says we should treat others with gentleness and respect. What, Joy??? Are you telling me we should treat witches with respect? Yes, that’s exactly what I am saying – and Muslims, and liberals, and homosexuals, and Buddhists, and feminists, and Mormons, and every other person who is in opposition to the gospel. And love them. If you have no love in your heart for people on the outside who are in deep spiritual trouble, I respectfully suggest that you have a heart problem and that you need a love transfusion. We are to persuade men, not coerce them. We are not called to be God’s warriors but His ambassadors.
Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men … All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:11, 18-20).Ω
Love to all,
Joy A Veinot is the Director of Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc. and wife of MCOI President L.L, (Don) Veinot. Jr.
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