"So, are all the religions going to merge?" This was the gist of a couple of questions I have received concerning the Parliament of the World's Religions, held last month in Salt Lake City.
I imagine that such unrealistic expectations are spurred by that word, "parliament," which was first used in 1893. We tend to think of a parliament as a legislative body; therefore, we might imagine delegates of various religions deliberating resolutions which might be adopted by all religions.
In fact, the Parliament conforms to its description in the sense of its French root, parler, to speak. The Parliament is, above all, an occasion for various religions to tell their story.
And the stories were, seemingly, unending. Approximately 10,000 people took part in the Parliament, and about one eighth of them were presenters. At any given hour, as I wandered through the massive Salt Palace Convention Center, quite close to Temple Square and the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there were perhaps 40 different sessions on offer, not to mention hundreds of exhibitors.
I attended a Quaker meeting (the silence, which predominates in such meetings, was beautiful), and I heard six Mormon scholars share some of the history of the religion and the attempts of various theologians to classify the faith in the midst of Christianity and world religions in general.
I listened to a lecture on Jainism, an ancient religion of India — although the number of adherents is far outnumbered by those of Hinduism — and I was introduced to a fascinating cosmology and theory of the purpose of human life. In the midst of a universe without beginning or end, Jains believe, human beings are called to limit violence as much as possible, and this limitation includes our choices of food. To eat animals, for instance, is a greater "violence" than eating plants.
After attending sessions on Buddhism and on an "Abrahamic Reunion," in which Jews, Christians, Muslims and Druze work together for peace in the Holy Land, I concluded my Parliament activity with a concert held at the Salt Lake Tabernacle. A Salt Lake City Catholic parish choir performed an original song based on a prayer of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.
Since the revival of the Parliament in 1993, Parliaments have been held in Chicago, Cape Town, Melbourne, and Barcelona, before returning this year to the United States. The Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions is headquartered in Chicago and is working on determining the location of the next Parliament. The Parliament as a worldwide phenomenon seems to have gained momentum. Instead of waiting four or five years for the next such event, we learned, it is anticipated that it will be possible to schedule a Parliament every two years. The Parliament has yet to be held in Asia or South America; I think it's a good bet that a 2017 Parliament will be on one of these continents.
If there is something upon which various religions are developing a consensus, it's this: in accord with the encyclical letter Laudato Si' of Pope Francis, care for our "common home," the earth, is the goal of many religious adherents. Many world religions, such as the Jains whom I've already mentioned, incorporate vegetarianism into their religious practice. Such simplification of the human diet is looked upon as a means of aiding the "sustainability" of the human family on this planet. I don't find this dietary prospect immediately appealing; but our Christianity is all about "conversion," and we must obviously be open to creative change.