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The Golden Rule in World Religions

THE GOLDEN RULE POSTER Multi-faith Sacred Writings and Symbols from 13 Traditions  

Mayor David Miller Meets With The Toronto Area Interfaith Council

TRANSFORMING DEVELOPMENT Exploring Approaches to Development from Religious Perspectives



A SALUTE TO CANADA My Adopted Land Of Unparalleled Multicultural And Religious Diversity

NAIN GATHERS IN VANCOUVER Stealing away to Paradise 

THE GOLDEN RULE: Unity in Diversity  






Toronto Participation 

in the Parliament of World Religions

By Paul McKenna, Head of Scarboro Missions Interfaith Department

The year 1893 is considered by some to mark the beginning of the interfaith movement in North America. That’s because the first significant interfaith gathering on this continent took place in that year at the Chicago World’s Fair. It was called a Parliament of World Religions.

This interreligious conference in Chicago attracted people of many faiths, many of whom were immigrants from Asia. One hundred years later, in 1993, interfaith leaders in Chicago decided to convoke an anniversary conference. To the organizers’ great surprise, the event attracted 9,000 participants.

Sensing the emergence of a global interfaith movement, the Chicago interfaith leaders created the Council for a Parliament of World Religions which sponsors an international interfaith convention every five years. In 1998, the gathering took place in Cape Town, South Africa; in 2004, it was hosted in Barcelona, Spain. These conferences attracted eight to ten thousand people of various religions from around the world.

Last year the Parliament convened in Melbourne, Australia. 6,000 participants from more than 100 countries attended. The week-long event featured 500 workshops plus numerous other programs.

About ten people from the Toronto area and numerous other Canadians made the trek to Melbourne. On November 24, Scarboro Missions sponsored an evening in which six delegates to the Australia Parliament shared their experience.

One of these presenters was Dr. Helene Ijaz, a specialist in interfaith marriage. Here is the text of her speech:

Reflections on my Attendance 

of the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions

By Helene Ijaz

People attended the Parliament for different reasons, which determined the topics they sought to explore, the speakers they listened to, and the sessions they attended over the seven days of the conference.

My interest in interfaith dialogue stems from my interfaith marriage. I am a Catholic-Christian who has been married to a Muslim for many years. I went to the Parliament because I had been invited to speak on the topic of interfaith marriage. I was also hoping to deepen my understanding of Islam and other religions, and to learn about interfaith work at the global level as a means of promoting peace. The Parliament coincided with my husband’s and my 40th wedding anniversary, and we attended the Parliament together.

The sessions I attended essentially fell into four categories:

1. Sessions dealing with the perspectives of Christianity and Islam on certain theological and other issues, such as Reverence for the Virgin Mary and Jesus in Islam, issues related to education, faith-based investing, and building peace;

2.  Sessions dealing with attempts to establish and implement a global spirituality, to achieve global transformation based on spiritual transformation, and on related social justice initiatives and movements;

3. Sessions to deepen my personal spirituality, such as early morning prayer and meditation sessions; and

4. Other sessions whose topics tweaked my interest, such as a session on The Divine Feminine with well-known spiritual writer and Benedictine nun Joan Chittester and others; a session on Creationism, Intelligent Design and Evolution, and some wonderful concerts, including an exceptional musical performance on Hildegard von Bingen.

Speakers at the Parliament again and again emphasized the need to focus on spirituality, if we want to heal the earth and achieve peace. They argued that we must transform ourselves before we can transform social structures and institutions, including religious institutions. Turning inward, meditating and praying, deep listening, and focusing on shared meanings and shared principles of morality were emphasized as paths to spiritual transformation. Some speakers called for the spiritual education of religious leaders, including education in compassion.

Tariq Ramadan, distinguished Muslim scholar and Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, emphasized that both justice and peace constitute the essence of Islam, and that the Qur’an is all about getting close to God and to enter into God’s peace. He stressed the need for a greater focus on spirituality in the practice of religion, to get away from an obsession with rules, and to focus more on the meaning behind religious laws.

Abdulaziz Sachedina, a Muslim scholar and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Viriginia, pointed out that according to the Qur’an, the heart is the mind, the way we understand ourselves. The heart is about relationship. It connects spirit with human action. It calls us to raise our level of spirituality to morality.

Well-known Catholic theologian Hans Kueng argued that to achieve peace in the world, laws are not enough. Laws without morality cannot endure. We need valid minimal ethical standards across cultures to survive as humankind, and we must actively work towards individual and corporate morality. Kueng talked about his efforts to promote a new Ethical Manifesto for the Global Economy at the highest political levels, the UN and with various national governments.

Karen Armstrong by video talked about the Charter of Compassion as a cooperative effort to restore compassionate thinking and compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life, and about the importance of the Golden Rule as a guideline in this effort.

Rabbi Michael Lerner from the U.S. distinguished between two worldviews, the worldview of fear and the worldview of love. He said that the worldview of fear sees God as a right-handed God and leads to the politics of domination. It finds security through domination of others. Its goal is to get its way through power over others, and by using fear. It leads to conflict and wars. The worldview of love, on the other hand, sees God as a left-handed God. It is a worldview defined by mothering, loving consciousness, caring for each other, generosity, and building relationships.

Lerner argued that the worldview of love is the route to peace. Our challenge is to move social energy from the worldview of fear to the worldview of love, a task that entails internal and external transformation. Before we can proceed to implement the worldview of love in society, we must embody it ourselves.

Kay Lindal, founder of the Listening Center in the U.S., talked about the importance of listening to the voice within and of listening to the other, especially to those with an opposite point of view.

Rabbi Irwin Kula, President of The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in the U.S. and chair of the Clinton Global Initiative, stated that the most important thing in life is to speak with people you disagree with. When you only speak to people who share your views, it affirms you and gives you more certainty about what you believe, which is the enemy of compassion.

I did a session on interfaith marriage, together with David Schuetz, Executive Officer of the Ecumenical Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, and Denise Lacey, a marriage educator from Melbourne who had invited some interfaith couples to talk about their experiences. I talked about the social, emotional and religious challenges that may arise in an inter-religious marriage, and about how successful interfaith marriages can become models for peaceful interreligious relations on a larger scale. I argued that for a couple to transcend their religious differences, they must change their approach to religion from a compliance-based approach to a transformation-based approach.

A compliance-based approach to religion strongly emphasizes compliance with religion-specific beliefs, prescriptions and practices. By contrast, a transformation-based approach is concerned more with the transformation of our inner self. It focuses on relationships: our relationship with God and the way our relationship with God impacts our relationship with other people and the way we live our lives. A transformation-based approach to religion emphasizes living by moral principles, such as respect for all life and for otherness, truthfulness, justice, equity for women and men, compassion, and forgiveness.

Religions share their focus on spirituality as well as many moral principles. They differ from each other in their belief systems and in religious laws, symbols, practices and traditions, all of which are external aspects of religion and major sources of religious conflict. I believe that to achieve peace among the religions, religions must shift their focus from religion-specific, external, aspects of religion to values and principles shared by all people, such as moral principles. People who over-emphasize religious beliefs and religion-specific rules, practices and traditions, often de-emphasize the importance of moral principles. They stress the differences between their own and other religions and the superiority of their own religion, and ignore the transformative power of spirituality. If interfaith work is to truly contribute to healing the earth, as the Parliament postulated, religions must rediscover their essential purpose as aids to living from Spirit, to transcending the ego, and to living by moral principles.

Editor’s note: website address for the Council for a Parliament of World Religions





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