Can the religions of the world work together for the good of all people, or do they often fight, sometimes even violently, against each other. The answer is Yes.
Throughout the history of the world, including very recent times, there have been clashes between people of different religions. (When analyzed carefully, though, most of those conflicts have been more political and ethnic battles than religious clashes as such.)
But for a long time now, some leaders of the world religions have worked together for better understanding and the good of society as a whole. One of the first international meetings for interreligious discussion was the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893. That meeting was held in Chicago as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition, a World’s Fair to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World in 1492.
Leaders from the ten great religions of that time spoke. Their addresses and many other talks were published in The Dawn of Religions Pluralism: Voices from the World's Parliament of Religions, 1893 (1993). Much of that lengthy book is available at this link.
The Parliament of the World’s Religions, a centennial commemorative meeting, was held in 1993 and it was also in Chicago. Over 8,000 people from all over the world and from many diverse religions gathered to celebrate, discuss and explore how religious traditions can work together on the critical issues which confront the world.
The idea of a global ethic was the main theme of the 1993 gathering, and at the close of that meeting, on September 4, the “Declaration Toward a Global Ethic” was signed by many of the religious and spiritual leaders present. (The complete 15-page text of the Declaration can be found here.)
Mainly drafted by Hans Küng, the German theologian, the Declaration identifies four essential affirmations as shared principles essential to a global ethic.
- Commitment to a culture of non-violence and respect for life
- Commitment to a culture of solidarity and a just economic order
- Commitment to a culture of tolerance and a life of truthfulness
- Commitment to a culture of equal rights and partnership between men and women
Those are four highly desirable commitments.
But how has the world done in living by the global ethic since 1993? Not very well, I’m afraid. Just eight years later, led largely by militant Muslims, terrorists tragically attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And the U.S. retaliated by the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, which continues to this day.
In March 2003, less than ten years later, the U.S., supported in part by (can we say) militant Christians, began the preemptive war on Iraq. In contrast to the 3,000 killed by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there have been over 100,000 civilian deaths in Iraq since 2003!
Still, the Declaration Toward a Global Ethic points to worthy goals, which should be warmly embraced, widely advocated, and implemented as fully as possible. And there are signs of hope, such as in the numerous, mostly non-violent (from the side of the protesters) Arab Spring activities, for example.
But progress is slow. How much closer, one wonders, will the world be toward living by a global ethic even in 2093?