|THE UNITED RELIGIONS INITIATIVE|
|Foundations for a World Religion, part 1 of 3|
|by Lee Penn|
|SCP Journal, volume 22:04-23:01, Spring/Summer 1999|
(Note: excerpt of article only. Full article available in the Journal)
The United Religions Initiative--foundations for a world religion
By Lee Penn
Bishop William Swing, of the Episcopal Church's Diocese of California,
is building a religious bridge to the new millennium, and he wants everybody
on Earth to cross it with him. His United Religions Initiative (URI) is
trying to create a United Religions, a world parliament of religions,
"a permanent assembly, with the stature and visibility of the United Nations,
where the world's religions and spiritual communities will gather on a
daily basis, in prayerful dialogue and cooperative action, to make peace
among religions and to be a force for peace among nations, to address
urgent human need and to heal the earth."1 As Bishop Swing
has said, "the religions of the world should aspire to be as moral as
the nations of the world and meet regularly to strive for global good."2
The Rev. Charles Gibbs, Executive Director of the URI, describes the proposed
United Religions (UR) as "an inclusive, decentralized organization, a
spiritual partner of the United Nations."3 Its planners intend
for the UR to be everywhere; it "will have global visibility and stature,
and will be a vital presence in local communities all over the world."4
On September 11, 1996, Bishop Swing extolled the URI
to a meeting of 200 San Francisco Episcopal lay leaders, and said: "We're
talking about salvation history here. If I'm wrong, I'm dead wrong."
The URI invites everybody to join: believers in the traditional religions, adherents of "modern spiritual movements," and those whom Bishop Swing describes as "earnest agnostics."5 URI staff member Paul Andrews urges fundamentalists of all faiths to enter the dialogue within a United Religions: "We need the power of what the fundamentalists bring as part of the religious conversation. It is my hope that our organization will not just be a network of religious liberals, but will include people who have real differences."6 URI Executive Director Charles Gibbs said that "indigenous religions" will be included in the URI "the same way everyone else would be involved. ... I was just in Oxford and we were talking about indigenous religions. Well, the indigenous religion there is the Druid faith."7
When Bishop Swing and other URI proponents speak to the public about the URI, their most common theme is one that has almost universal appeal: the desire for peace and the fear of war and terrorism. Bishop Swing says, "What is a bigger terrorist threat than religion in the world today? There is none."8 On another occasion, he wrote, "Religions need a United Religions. Bombs are exploding in the name of God in cities throughout the world, religious persecution is more prevalent now than ever before, religious extremists are demanding and obtaining nuclear weapons, and still there is no neutral arena where all of the religions can engage each other."9 Thus, Bishop Swing offers us a way out of fear into peace, a lure that many find hard to resist. To call forth our courage and imagination on behalf of the URI, Bishop Swing quotes from the prologue of Goethe's Faust: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it."10
Since the 1893 Parliament of the World's Religions, there has been a legion of interfaith groups attempting to unite the world's religions. However, the Rev. James Davis, an interfaith minister from New York, said of the URI conference he attended in 1997: "We've never seen any organization build coalitions as quickly or as successfully as the United Religions Initiative." 11 Commenting on the 1998 URI summit conference, Huston Smith, a scholar of comparative religions and author of The World's Religions, a standard reference in the field, deems the URI the "most significant" interfaith effort.12
The agenda of the URI and its allies is far broader--and far stranger--than ending violence in the name of religion. In 1996, Bishop Swing explained that "The nature of the United Religions would be to focus on: 1) the whole human family; 2) the whole health of our planet; and 3) the whole realm of living species, and to offer the unique gifts of religions."13 In 1995, Bishop Swing had said that the world is moving toward "unity in terms of global economy, global media, global ecological system. What is missing is a global soul."14
How will this global soul be found or created? At first, by means of conferences, networking, fundraising, declarations, and press releases. Bishop Swing's new book (The Coming United Religions), the draft URI Charter, and the writings of other URI proponents make the long-term goal clear: the "global soul" will be a New Religion for the "new civilization" of the new millennium. Its code will be Hans Küng's "Global Ethic" and the Earth Charter (the new Ten Commandments according to Gorbachev); its creed will be "unity in diversity"; its cult will be the "sacred Earth." The new sins will be pollution, overpopulation, and "fundamentalism," daring to evangelize for Christ. The only heresy will be religious orthodoxy.
The URI and its New Age, globalist allies have the desire to do this;
the main unanswered question is whether they can obtain the means to achieve
their goals. Other arrogant mass movements with self-serving and blasphemous
goals have done much harm in recent centuries; the URI and its allies
may be the next to attain infamy.
The Bishop's VisionBishop Swing conceived the idea of the URI in 1993, after the United Nations (UN) invited him to sponsor an interfaith service at Grace Cathedral to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter. He wondered why the nations of the world could meet for peace on an ongoing basis, while the religions could not. Bishop Swing took his vision of United Religions to interfaith leaders in 1994, and received support from them. He then unveiled the plan to the public during the UN anniversary interfaith service, held at Grace Cathedral in June of 1995. In 1995 and 1996, Bishop Swing traveled to China, Korea, Japan, India, Jordan, Israel, Rome, England, Turkey, Germany, and Switzerland to seek support for the URI. He received expressions of interest from some Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and from many representatives of Asian religions and interfaith organizations. (The most prominent people to endorse the URI in 1995 and 1996 were the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, and Shenouda III, Pope of the Coptic Church. 15 Almost certainly, they did not know that the URI has a broader agenda than non-violence and peace among religions.)
Bishop Swing returned to the United States determined to dedicate the rest of his life to building the United Religions. This dream was so compelling that Bishop Swing turned down nomination to run in the 1997 election for Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.16 Now, as Bishop Swing told the 1997 diocesan convention, his diocese is the world. "I intend to keep thinking globally and acting locally. Now my diocese is Pinole and Padua. Kyoto and Concord. Oxford and Ohloff House."17 Bishop Swing continues to have the highest hopes for the URI; he told an interviewer at the July 1998 Lambeth Conference (a worldwide meeting of Anglican bishops), "We are embarked on a mission to do something unprecedented in human history." 18
Since 1996, the URI has held annual summit conferences each June, each
time with more attendees. The first of these conferences, with 55 people
attending19--whom Bishop Swing described as "religious leaders,
international interfaith leaders, CEOs, leaders of institutions and interested
individuals"20--occurred at the Fairmont Hotel
The 1997 conference, at Stanford University, included 200 people selected by URI organizers from among 1,200 candidates.21 The "vast majority" of the delegates were from the United States.22 Those present included Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Shintoists, Bahá'ís, Sikhs, Hindus, Zoroastrians, New Age followers, Wiccans, and representatives of aboriginal religions.23 In addition, there were "spiritually minded business consultants, philanthropists and directors of international environmental groups."24 Neither the Vatican nor the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest Protestant church in the US) sent representatives.25
At the 1997 conference, participants issued a call for a 24-hour worldwide "religious cease-fire" starting on December 31, 1999.26 Also, representatives of several interfaith groups (including the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions, the World Congress of Faiths, Global Education Associates, the Temple of Understanding, and the Center for World Thanksgiving) signed a memorandum of understanding to support closer cooperation among those groups.27 Thus, the 1997 URI summit conference was the occasion for greater unity among several other interfaith organizations.
A participant from the United Communities of Spirit, a New Age network, said of the 1997 conference:
"The net result was a complex and quite vital creative process, that sustained a constant creative excitement, and a sense that this grand vision is unfolding as a natural part of social evolution, and simply reflects an avant garde attunement with the 'zeit geist' [sic]--the 'spirit of the times'."28
Attunement with the spirit of the times, indeed--a choice which the Apostle Paul warned against when he said, "Do not be conformed to this world." (Rom. 12:2)
Since the spring of 1997, interfaith meetings to build support for the URI have occurred in Great Britain, New York City, Washington DC, Argentina, South Africa, Venezuela, the Netherlands, Los Angeles, Germany, India, Kenya, Japan, Brazil, New Zealand, and Belgium. The URI boasts of "an active presence on every continent." 29 It also claims exponential growth in support. In May of 1998, Bishop Swing said that the URI had grown from 56 people in the summer of 1996 to a movement of "500,000 today";30 by the fall of 1998, the URI stated that "word of the URI has reached more than a million people throughout the world."31 Bishop Swing states that the URI strategy is to build support among the "grassroots faithful," building a movement with enough momentum to convince religious leaders to join in.32 By 2000, once a charter draft has been written and is ready for circulation and signature, the URI will begin to seek organization-level endorsements.33
The worldwide body of Anglican bishops, meeting at Lambeth, England in July and August 1998, has endorsed this URI call for a global cease-fire.38 The Lambeth resolution followed the text that the URI had adopted at its 1998 global conference, stating that the 72-hour cease-fire "will allow the world to end the old age in peace, and to begin the new millennium in the spirit of reconciliation, healing and peacemaking."39 The URI now uses this endorsement as evidence of its own global influence.40
A report associated with the Lambeth resolution named the URI as the coordinator of the cease-fire project.41 Bishop Swing introduced the resolution, and the North American and Caribbean bishops unanimously placed the cease-fire call in a package of supposedly non-controversial "agreed resolutions." The entire Conference then adopted all the "agreed resolutions" unanimously and without debate on the last day of the meeting.42 In other respects--such as sexual morality and interpretation of Scripture--the Lambeth Conference upheld traditional Christian teaching. How many of the Lambeth bishops know that they have voted for a millennial call to "end the old age in peace"?
Reacting to the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan, the 1998 URI conference delegates called for "a forum of Indo-Pakistan dialogue among religious and cultural leaders established under the auspices of the United Religions Initiative, with the support of religious and cultural organizations in both countries;"43 in response, during July the URI Board created a steering committee to plan this forum.44 (Two delegates to the June conference dissented from the Indo-Pakistan resolution. Dr. Javid Iqbal of Lahore, Pakistan, who has been actively involved with the URI since its inception, told India West that "the resolution seemed more political than religious.")45
As has been the case with other URI events since 1996, the 1998 summit
was run using the principles of "Appreciative Inquiry," the management
technique developed by Dr. David Cooperrider, co-chair of the Center for
Social Innovation in Global Management (SIGMA), and Associate Professor
of Organizational Behavior at the Case Western Reserve University School
of Management. Here's how Dr. Cooperrider himself describes "Appreciative
"We have reached 'the end of problem solving' as a mode of inquiry capable of inspiring, mobilizing and sustaining human system change ... The future (of organizational development) belongs to methods that affirm, compel, and accelerate anticipatory learning involving larger and larger levels of collectivity. These new methods 'are distinguished by the art and science of asking powerful, positive questions ... view realities as socially constructed, and ... become more radically relational, widening the circles of dialogue to groups of 100s, 1000s, and perhaps more ( with cyberspace relationships into the millions. AI seeks out the best of 'what is' to ignite the collective imagination of 'what might be.' The aim is to generate new knowledge which expands 'the realm of the possible' and helps members of an organization to envision a collectively desired future; then to carry that vision in ways that successfully translate images into realities."46 (All ellipses are as given in the original article.)
The URI is being run with a process that views "realities as socially
constructed" and seeks to "compel, and accelerate anticipatory learning"
with the objective of "mobilizing and sustaining human system change"
among "larger and larger levels of collectivity." The agenda--post-modernist
relativism and collectivism--could hardly be clearer.
Creating the CharterURI delegates also prepared a draft "United Religions Charter." The full text has been on the Internet at the URI web site 47 since September of 1998; an abridged form of the draft Charter--without the controversial-sounding "projects"--is distributed as a URI pamphlet,48 and is included in Bishop Swing's book. URI activists are circulating the charter worldwide, seeking support and suggestions for revisions. Delegates plan to write a second draft of the Charter at the June, 1999 URI conference.
The draft URI Charter includes almost 20 pages of politically-correct rhetoric about diversity, tolerance, peace, and justice. Nevertheless, the draft charter contains real substance that shows the direction in which the URI wishes to take the world. URI delegate Deepak Naik said that the charter's "words are carefully selected," with attention to "how we include people,"49--so let's see what words they selected.
The Charter Preamble begins with a declaration of goodwill that encompasses all religions--and all living things on the Earth:
"We, people of many faiths, called by our traditions to compassion in response to the suffering of humanity and the crises which endanger our Earth community, wish to create a permanent forum where we gather in mutual respect, dialogue, and cooperative action to foster peace and the flourishing of all life."50
"Cooperative action" to foster "the flourishing of all life"--could that
imply the eventual prohibition of hunting, fishing, private gun ownership,
fly swatters, leather shoes, and eating meat? Of course, the "flourishing
of all life" excludes unborn children and the terminally ill; URI supporters
such as George Soros favor legal abortion and assisted suicide.
"We believe that the wisdom of our religious and spiritual traditions should be shared for the health and well being of all. Therefore, as communities of faith and interdependent people rooted in our faith, we now unite for the sake of peace and healing among religions, peoples and nations, and for the benefit of the earth and all living beings."51
The Preamble commits the URI to freedom of religion and human rights (as defined by UN treaties), to "diversity," and to non-violence:
"We unite to support freedom of religion and belief and the rights of all individuals, as set forth in international law, and to witness together to the wondrous spirit of life which embraces all our diversity. ... All members of the United Religions do solemnly vow to use our combined resources only for nonviolent, compassionate action."52
Then, the URI promises to make public policy recommendations based on "shared values," and will "unite in responsible cooperative action" to bring about social change:
"We unite in responsible cooperative action to bring the wisdom and values of our religious traditions to bear on the economic, environmental and social crises that confront us at the dawn of the new millennium. We unite to be a voice of shared values in the international arenas of politics, economics and the media, and to serve as a forum for research and excellence on values in action."53
The proposed organization of the URI envisions cooperation with other
interfaith organizations, open deliberations and decision-making, "the
highest standards of integrity and ethical conduct, prudent use of resources,
and fair and accurate disclosure of information," and "organizational
learning and adaptation." 54 The UR would have multiple sites
around the world, with "electronic satellite possibility of collecting
people on an instantaneous
"The UR is decentralized. All local organizations have the right to organize in any manner, at any scale, in any area, and around any issue or activity which is relevant to and consistent with the purpose and principles. ... Authority is vested in and decisions are made at the most local level that includes all the relevant and affected parties. ... Each part of the UR has primary responsibility to develop financial and other resources to meet its needs, and secondary responsibility to share financial and other resources to help meet the needs of other parts. ... Every local UR organization shall surrender only such autonomy and resources as are essential to the regional and global pursuit of the purpose and principles."56
Thus, the URI has chosen a decentralized, network-based management structure.
Unity will be maintained through consensus rather than through centralized
management control. The appearance and style of this structure is likely
to increase the appeal of the URI in the US and other countries with similar
liberal traditions. The draft Charter confirms a shift away from the centralized
UN-style structure that Bishop Swing and other URI supporters had envisioned
in 1995 and 1996. This new organizational design for the URI reduces the
likelihood that others will perceive the URI as a centralized religious
"The United Religions seeks to uphold and support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities. The United Religions stands for the end of violence committed in the name of religion:
1. Violence against children.
2. Violence against women.
3. Violence against persons from a different religion."57
(See the side bar for a description of the "Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities.")
To further these goals, the URI will do research, education, and social action. It is noteworthy that the URI emphasizes violence against women--a phrase that some feminists and UN bureaucrats interpret to include laws against abortion. (Indeed, a UN commission which monitors compliance with the "Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women" recently told Colombia to "end its legal ban on abortion to bring the country into compliance with international conventions".)58
The URI's next cause is "Sustainable, Just Economics." In their terms, this means that Malthus was right--the world is running out of resources; the rich capitalist countries of the West are to blame (no hint that the USSR, mainland China, and the other communist countries have created large-scale environmental disasters); redistribution of wealth is key to solving the world's problems; and UN efforts at economic change are frustrated by sovereign nations and that ever-ready villain, "the corporate sector":
" 'Sustainable economics' means an economic system that utilizes the world's finite resources prudently and sparingly. 'Just economics' is a system in which created wealth is distributed in a fair and equitable manner. ... There is a dire need to revisit the global economic system from a religious/spiritual perspective in order to make some fundamental changes. Efforts by the UN in this direction are often frustrated by the domination of national interests in that body. In addition, the corporate sector's dominance of world economic practice lacks a moral, socially responsible foundation. The United Religions can bring the moral voice of our sacred traditions to bear on the following issues, among others: 1) The present rate of using the world's resources is alarmingly fast. The planet Earth is under strain, and there is a need to slow down. Otherwise, the coming generations might find themselves living on a barren planet. 2) Currently, a tremendous gap exists between the rich and the poor. The twenty OECD59 countries contain 17% of the world's population, yet own 75% of the world's wealth. 3) Major world trade exists in arenas that are morally reprehensible and exploitative: the sex trade, the arms trade, and the drug trade."60
To further these goals, the URI would create task forces and forums for the elite, who would presume to create an economic plan for us all:
1. Develop an action plan to work toward a more sustainable, equitable world for all.
2. Create a forum to discuss and understand the global financial system.
3. Sponsor a conference where CEO's [sic] and billionaires will be invited to attend and give talks on the global economy.
4. Create a forum for addressing justice issues arising from the world trade in sex, arms, and drugs."61
The State of the World Forum--which is friendly to the URI--is an example of the forums and conferences that the URI suggests.
The URI moves on to address "Ecological Imperatives." They decry the current ecological crisis--including human "overpopulation."62 The URI's solution involves teaching us all "respect for the sacredness of the whole of Planet Earth":
"The root of this ecological crisis is a spiritual crisis. Just as the religions and spiritual traditions of the world teach respectful interaction with a sacred whole, so must spiritual values and moral imperatives help humanity to rediscover a reverence for all life and respect for the sacredness of the whole of Planet Earth. Therefore, we call for interfaith cooperation in furthering this vision for love and protection of the Earth, reverence for life, and harmony with all living beings."63
The draft Charter offers a long list of project ideas to implement this vision; most of these involve re-directing education, environmental action, and religious training to foster a new, green religion. The first project listed is "Develop an 'eco-literacy' project for young people"64--get them while they're young! The second project involves a strategy that would be familiar to any Communist: a plan to "consciously infiltrate" existing environmental groups to "inspire a more holistic world view":
"Find out what ecology groups are active and see what spiritual values might be brought to bear in those. (This might be a way in which the 'Supporting the Agenda' group and this group might collaborate--the 'Supporting' group might provide a list of local organizations, and UR reps might begin to consciously 'infiltrate' those organizations in ways that might inspire a more holistic world view.)"65
The URI would create "solstice and equinox festivals, the natural earth holidays, which celebrate the changes on the planet."66 Who would be induced--and by what means--to observe these neo-pagan festivals? They would also have "the religions of the world ... lead the way in addressing the issue of global climate changes" by modeling the use of renewable energy sources and "creating pressure for lower-cost sources of renewable energy."67 Thus, the URI would encourage the religions to act as a political lobby, "creating pressure"
on behalf of the theories--as yet unproven--that the Earth is warming, and that this change is due to human activity. The URI would also exploit millennial fear, using "the 'clout' of the Year 2000 Problem as a foot in the door for developing local sustainable and caring community."68 There would be a "URI course to 'retool' both clergy and lay religious leaders in the philosophy of spiritual ecology"; currently-available examples of these courses include "Whole Earth and Whole Person Ministry" and "Integration of Native American and Christian Traditions."69 In addition, "Local or regional UR groups should sponsor ecumenical and interfaith celebrations on the Environmental Sabbath, which has already been established by the UN."70
The study resources recommended in the URI charter include the "Earth Charter," as proposed by Maurice Strong's Earth Charter Commission, several works (such as The Voice of the Earth) by Theodore Roszak, a book by Howard Clinebell titled Ecotherapy: Healing Ourselves and Healing the Earth, and Threshold 2000, written by Gerald Barney, of the Millennium Institute.71
The fourth--and least controversial--section of the URI "Draft Agenda for Action" involves "Building Cultures of Nonviolence and Respect." The UR "will become part of an international movement that fosters authentic personal and corporate good will and reconciliation and that actively promotes peace. In particular, it will work to heal religious wounds by seeking tools from every faith for respecting the stranger, empowering nonviolence, and nurturing reconciliation."72 Peace would be fostered when members of different religions listen to each other, since listening "is the cornerstone of building peace"; "communities of all sizes" could "declare themselves Peace Zones." 73 To ensure that all this happens, "hire a media person at the URI," since "creating a culture of peace requires education, media attention, and a coordination of resources."74
The fifth section of the URI "Agenda for Action" calls for "Sharing the Wisdom and Cultures of Faith Traditions." Here is where the URI belief in the common origin and common goal of all religions becomes explicit. A new "theology of acceptance," a common collection of "sacred writings and oral wisdom," and shared "spiritual practices" are planned: the triad of creed, code, and cult that, in human terms, defines a religion.
"Religion is concerned with the relationship of human beings with their spiritual Origin. We believe in the universality and eternity of the Spirit. We believe that all religions derive their wisdom from that ultimate Source. Therefore, the world's faith traditions share in common wisdom, which can be obscured by differences in religious concepts and practices. ... The United Religions promotes dialogue. A theology of acceptance will help the world's people explore common ground. Our awareness of unity within religious diversity promotes ever-increasing kinship."75
Proposed projects include:
"Interfaith Dialogue on Sacred Scriptures: we propose a compilation of information from sacred writings and oral wisdom. Similar expressions of faith exist all over the world. We intend to collect and edit this material as an important dialogue resource.
Interfaith Sharing of Spiritual Practices"76
"Unity within religious diversity" and "ever-increasing kinship" appear to describe the gradual introduction of a New Religion; they just want to phase it in slowly, so as not to scare people off in the early stages.
The URI plans to hold its summer conferences at Stanford at least through 2003.77 URI organizers are promoting the global cease fire and circulating the Charter in Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Great Britain, Brazil, Los Angeles, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, India, Washington DC,78 and Sudan.79 Speaking in London to the World Congress of Faiths, Bishop Swing said that "the Dalai Lama would bring ten religious leaders together in November to examine the proposed UR's purpose and principles."80
In June of 2000, the URI plans to have global ceremonies marking the
signing of the Charter of the United Religions. The charter will be signed
on June 26, 2000--the anniversary of the signing of the United Nations
Charter--in the same room of the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco where
the U.N. Charter was signed.81 Bishop Swing hopes to "gather
60 million signatures (one percent of mankind) on the Initiative in the
year 2000."82 The result would be to create what the URI describes
as a "a Worldwide Movement to create the United Religions as a lived reality
locally and regionally, all over the world."83 Presumably,
the next step is to get the other 99% of us to go along with the New Religious
Bringing the Vision to LifeThis may all sound like just a fond liberal dream, but the URI is gaining prominent staff, significant funding, and worldwide support.
URI headquarters are in the Presidio, a former military base in San Francisco; there are branch offices in Washington, DC and in Belgium. The URI now lists eighteen people as "staff and leadership,"84--a marked increase from the five staff members acknowledged by the URI in late 1997. The Rev. William Rankin, formerly the President and Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, joined the URI staff in 1998. (Regarding the ecclesiastical trial of Episcopal Bishop Walter Righter for ordaining an openly homosexual deacon, Rankin had said, "Heresy implies orthodoxy, and we have no such thing in the Episcopal Church." 85 The presence of Rankin on the URI staff is significant; it seems that he considers the URI to have enough promise of success that it is reasonable for him to leave a position at the helm of a major Episcopalian seminary.
Joining Rankin as a key URI adviser is Dee Hock, founder and CEO Emeritus of VISA U.S.A. and Visa International."86 (Barbara Marx Hubbard, a New Age futurist, introduced Hock to the URI and to Bishop Swing).87 Hock will work with Bishop Swing on such issues as organizational design88 and accurate translation of URI documents (and the underlying concepts) into the languages of the world.89 The URI also includes Dr. David Cooperrider and three other members of the SIGMA project on its list of staff and leaders. 90
Bishop Swing claims that the URI "now has strong backing from the religious, philanthropic, cultural, and private sectors of the San Francisco Bay Area."91 There are 23 URI board members and officers, a majority of whom are from the San Francisco Bay area. They include Board Chair Rita Semel (vice-president of Jewish Family and Children's Services, and a member of Temple Emmanuel), Secretary Paul Chafee (a minister in the United Church of Christ, and executive director of the Interfaith Center in the Presidio), Vice-Chair Jack Lundin (a Lutheran minister), Treasurer Rick Murray (a Catholic layman), Dr. Glenn Bucher (a Protestant and the president of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley), Fr. John LoSchiavo, S. J. (former president of the Jesuit-run University of San Francisco), Fr. Gerard O'Rourke (in charge of ecumenical affairs for the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco), and Catholic deacon William Mitchell. Regarding local Catholic participation in URI leadership, Fr. O'Rourke said, "None of us and especially myself are representing the Archdiocese or the Church in any liable sense to the institution."92
Other Board members include Iftekhar Hai (director of the United Muslims
of America, a San Jose-based organization), Sri Ravi Peruman (a Hindu),
Rabbi Doug Kahn (executive director of the San Francisco-based Jewish
Community Relations Council), Heng Sure (Director of the Berkeley Buddhist
Monastery), and Sister Chandru Desai (a member of the Brahma Kumaris order
of Hindu nuns).93
Global Power brokers for the United Religions
The quest for a global soul and a world religon is also attracting some global power brokers.
Billionaire currency speculator George Soros has contributed money to the URI Youth Network. 94 He personally favors legalization of physician-assisted suicide,95 and has funded Choice in Dying96 (the latest incarnation of a group founded in 1938 under the name of the Euthanasia Society of America, and which supports legalizing assisted suicide). 97 He also has funded needle exchange programs for drug addicts, 98 campaigns for legalization of marijuana for medical purposes,99 and groups that his foundation believes will "protect women's access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion." 100 Soros's ambitions, like Bishop Swing's, are large, but the financier is not daunted. "It is a sort of disease when you consider yourself some kind of god, the creator of everything, but I feel comfortable about it now since I began to live it out," Soros has said.101
The Gorbachev Foundation's "State of the World Forum" is another ally of the URI. There is no formal link between the Gorbachev Foundation and the URI, but URI staff member Paul Andrews has said, "We are friendly colleagues. Some people go to both meetings." 102 One of these people is Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral (Bishop Swing's own parish). Jones was a member of the Forum's San Francisco Coordinating Council,103 spoke at Forum events in 1998,104 and attended the Forum each year that it occurred, 1995 through 1997. 105 URI supporter Robert Muller, former Assistant Secretary-General of the UN and Chancellor of the University for Peace in Costa Rica, is on the Forum's International Coordinating Council,106 and spoke at the 1996 Forum.107 The State of the World Forum was a co-sponsor of the 1996 URI summit conference, along with the World Conference on Religion and Peace and the Foundation for Religious Understanding.108 Barbara Marx Hubbard, a member of the URI Organizational Design Research and Development Team, met Dee Hock at the 1997 State of the World Forum, and later introduced him to the URI and to Bishop Swing.109 Archbishop Tutu, a URI supporter, is one of the 20 co-chairs of the Forum, along with Gorbachev himself.110 James Parks Morton, of the Temple of Understanding and the Interfaith Center of New York, attended the 1998 Forum. 111
The Forum's own glittery annual meetings in San Francisco (intended by Gorbachev to establish "a kind of global brain trust to focus on the present and future of our civilization")112 attract the usual assortment of rich people, celebrities, former heads of state, social reformers with a pet cause, and New Age gurus. About 750 people attended the 1998 Forum.113 In the year 2000, the Forum plans to hold its annual meeting in New York, to "coincide with the Millennium General Assembly of the United Nations" and to "present the findings of the Common Enterprise to the political leaders of the world as they assemble for deliberation." 114
On the spiritual side, Forum speakers and attendees have included Nick Bunick115 (author of The Messengers and In God's Truth, in which he claims to be the re-incarnation of St. Paul the Apostle), Riane Eisler (author of The Chalice And The Blade),116 Michael Lerner, 117 Stanislav Grof (a "transpersonal psychologist"),118 Hal Puthoff (an ESP researcher),119 Barbara Marx Hubbard,120 Michael Murphy and Steven Donovan (veterans of the Esalen Institute),121 leaders of the Institute of Noetic Sciences,122 Charlene Spretnak (of the Green Party),123 Fritjof Capra,124 Duane Elgin,125 Jean Houston (Hillary Clinton's guru),126 Sam Keen,127 Ram Dass,128 Matthew Fox, Deepak Chopra, and Tony Robbins.129 The "virtual library" of books on "World Forum Themes" are almost entirely New Age and feminist in orientation; titles include works such as Passionate Politics: Feminist Theory in Action, by Charlotte Bunch, The Chalice and the Blade and Sacred Pleasures, by Riane Eisler, Asking for the Earth: Waking Up to the Spiritual/Ecological Crisis, by James George, Anatomy of the Spirit, by Caroline Myss, Awakening Earth, by Duane Elgin, Love is Letting Go of Fear, by Gerald Jampolsky, and The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos, by Brian Swimme.130 Forum President James Garrison worked for ten years at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, including service from 1986 to 1989 as executive director of the Esalen Institute's Soviet-American exchange program.131
The only leaders from Christian denominations who attended the 1997 Forum were Dean Alan Jones and Canon Lauren Artress, of Grace Cathedral,132 Margaret Bührig, former president of the World Council of Churches,133 and Eileen Lindner, of the National Council of Churches.134 No evangelical Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, or mainstream Catholic leaders have participated in any of the annual Forums since 1995.135 The most prominent self-identified Catholic attending the Forum in 1997 was Frances Kissling, executive director of Catholics for a Free Choice, a group that supports legal abortion.136
Unfortunately, Gorbachev's venture has attracted support from many powerful executives, foundations, and corporations. Each year, the list gets longer. Forum co-chairs include Federico Mayor (Director General of UNESCO), and Ted Turner.137 Members of the San Francisco Host Committee for the 1997 Forum included Willie Brown, Mayor of San Francisco, Joseph Fink, President of the Dominican College, Robert Corrigan, President of San Francisco State University, and John Schlegel, S.J., President of the University of San Francisco.138 (San Francisco Host Committee membership is not listed in current State of the World Forum documents; it is not clear whether this committee is still in existence.)
Participants in the 1998 Forum included Georges Berthoin, President of the Trilateral Commission,139 and James Michel, the Chair of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.140 The Forum acknowledges "generous contributions" from 72 corporations and foundations, including Archer Daniels Midland, Booz-Allen & Hamilton, British Airways, the Carnegie Corporation, Chevron, CNN, Hewlett-Packard, the Heinz Foundation, the Industrial Development Board, Johnson & Johnson, Kaiser Permanente, the Kellogg Foundation, Louisiana Pacific, the MacArthur Foundation, Montgomery Securities, Macy's West, the Mott Foundation, NASDAQ, Occidental Petroleum, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Men's Wearhouse.141 The Forum states that the British Broadcasting Company and The Economist were "significant partners in the development of the 1998 State of the World Forum.142 Other sponsors include Charles Schwab, Forbes, Genentech, the New Yorker, Oracle, Wells Fargo Bank, Intel, AOL, and Amazon.143
Forum participants are enthusiastic about the Forum's activities. Fritjof
Capra, a New Age physicist, says, "The Forum's collective intellectual
power and moral authority are awe-inspiring."144 Marianne Williamson,
New Age leader and feminist author of A Woman's Worth, says, "The
Forum is, for me, a very energizing experience--a kind of Central Headquarters
for the Consciousness Revolution." 145 Marc Luyckx, member
of the European Commission's "Forward Studies Initiative," says, "When
I fly back to Europe, I feel enriched by the intellectual and spiritual
energy of so many women and men who are silently creating a new culture
and a new world." 146 (In a May, 1998 paper titled "Religion
and Governance," Luyckx and co-author Harlan Cleveland quoted approvingly
from Bishop Swing's book, The Coming United Religions.147
Evidently, they see the URI as part of "a new culture and a new world.")
Part II: The Antichristian Agenda of the United Religions
In one word: No. The URI is gravely flawed, from its foundation up. Christians ought to monitor the activities of this movement, but should not offer it any support. Apart from countless areas of doctrine and belief, there are many major flaws in the URI. Perhaps its most dangerous agenda is to end all Christian evangelism and orthodox belief, perhaps some day banning it from the earth. The URI is antichristian to the core. It is an intoxicating deception that floats on high sounding rhetoric.
Ending Christian Evangelism and Exclusive BeliefLeaders of the URI, including Bishop Swing himself, habitually equate evangelism--preaching the Gospel--with conquest and manipulative proselytism. They see orthodox Christians as "fundamentalists" who put "peace" at risk.
In his opening speech to the 1996 URI summit conference, Bishop Swing said, "There is not going to be a time in the near future when one religion converts, conquers, subjugates all of the other religions to itself."148 Bishop Swing continues to equate conversion with conquest and subjugation. In his 1998 book, Bishop Swing identifies Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the religions which include the Ten Commandments in their tradition, as "exclusive religions." 149 These are the religions that bid their followers:
" 'Thou shalt have no other gods but me.' Is any dimension of religion
deeper than that? This is the first commandment according to Jews and
Christians. It is not foreign to Muslims, or, in fact, to more than half
the people on earth. Yet if billions of people from exclusive religions
are commanded to oppose the godly claims of other exclusive religions,
what hope is there for peace among religions? In order for a United Religions
to come about and for religions to pursue peace among each other, there
will have to be a godly cease-fire, a temporary truce where the absolute
exclusive claims of each will be honored but an agreed upon neutrality
will be exercised in terms of proselytizing, condemning, murdering, or
dominating. These will not be tolerated in the United Religions zone."150
Here's Bishop Swing's logic: link "proselytizing" to "condemning, murdering, or dominating"--and then say that none of these will be tolerated in "the United Religions zone"--the whole world.
Bishop Swing repeatedly equates Christian evangelization to "proselytizing." When he preached the United Religions message to a Bible study class at the Maramon, a week-long revival meeting of the Mar Toma Church in Southern India:
"In an instant, the little Bible study turned into a wild scene of interrogative and declarative assertions. Hundreds of energized people with Bibles in their hands came hurrying out of the jungle. They had come together at the Maramon in order to excite a passion to go out and convert every Hindu and Moslem possible. And here I was stating that the religions, themselves, need to come together and discover a new level of interacting. This, clearly, was perceived to be a threat to proselytizing."151
There's no indication that the revival participants planned to use deceit or violence to win converts. In 1998, Bishop Swing gave an interview to a conservative Christian magazine, and when the interviewer asked about converting members of other faiths, Swing again criticized "proselytizing":
Swing: "I can respect a Hindu as a Hindu worships, but I don't worship what the Hindu worships."
Baxter: "So then do you attempt to convert the Hindu?"
Swing: "I think we have got to take a look at proselytizing. Is God best served by proselytizing the way we do it now through all kinds of questionable means, as well as good means, or whether there are other ways of proselytizing."152
What Bishop Swing excoriates as "proselytizing" is evangelism, the God-given duty of faithful Christians and the Church: in the words of Jesus, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." (Mt. 28:19-20) In scorning Christian evangelism, Bishop Swing belies his statement that the URI "seeks to honor the ancient and recent wisdom and good works of each"153 of the world's religions.
Later in the same interview with the same magazine, Bishop Swing proposed a "new understanding" of the First Commandment in the light of the requirements of a "new day":
"When He [God] gets to the whole business of thou shall have no other gods but me, what do we do with that? I think there is a truth about that which has to be lived at a new level. ... And the issues around exclusivity are some of the issues that we are going to have to come to a new understanding about in a new day."154
As recent history shows, Episcopalian bishops have much experience in creating a "new understanding" of the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Scriptures.
Three current URI board members have also made it clear that they have no sympathy for what they label "fundamentalism." At a February 1997 URI forum at Grace Cathedral, Paul Chafee (now URI Board Secretary) said, "We can't afford fundamentalists in a world this small."155 At the same forum, Rita Semel (now URI Board Chair) said that fundamentalism "comes out of fear and ignorance. So many things are out of our control now that were much simpler when I was growing up."156 At an April 1997 URI forum at Grace Cathedral, URI Board member Sri Ravi Peruman said that religions have "invaded and crusaded," "subverted and converted." Pacific Church News reported: "Calling statements about 'authentic religious freedom' for everyone, 'the freedom to proselytize,' Peruman said that there should be a universal Declaration of Rights not to be converted to another religion." 157 (Some of Peruman's co-religionists in India agree; leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parashad (VHP)--the World Hindu Council--have asked Indian President Narayanan for a "complete ban on religious conversions.")158
Paul Chaffee's report on the 1997 URI summit conference shows how URI leaders view Christian fundamentalists. Chafee first wrote in glowing terms about tolerance:
"The goodness, beauty, and truth in each of the world's religions was the essential gift to United Religions when it began to breathe with life last week. United Religions' gift back to the religions of the world is not only a better world, but one where all of us can benefit from appreciative inquiry, the art of discovering and magnifying all that is good in our lives."159
However, in next paragraph of the report, this pretended tolerance was gone as he described an encounter with some "fundamentalist" protesters outside the summit meeting:
"Dr. Carl McIntire, one of this nation's most judgmental Christians, came in a wheelchair to protest our work the day we began. His leonine presence has shrunken, his eyes are bloodshot with illness, and his friends standing nearby carried colorless 'Salvation only from Jesus' signs. I remembered being a child in the fifties in Bangkok where McIntire founded a congregation there. It gained notoriety in the city by proclaiming that not only would Buddhists all go to hell, but Christians as well if they were not part of McIntire's one true congregation. Last week I walked by McIntire on the way to lunch and stopped, shook his hand, and said, 'Hello, Dr. McIntire.' He pulled his hand back in a weak gesture, saying, 'Jesus is the only way.' Walking away, I had a hunch that Jesus has been in front of this man ten thousand times and mostly gone unrecognized. Part of the task ahead is to find ways to give sight to spiritual blindness, including our own."160
Other prominent URI supporters express the same disdain for "fundamentalism." The San Jose Mercury News reported that at the 1996 URI summit conference, Robert Muller "said that fundamentalism, resting on inflexible belief systems, tends to play an incendiary role in global conflicts. Peace will be impossible, Muller said, without the taming of fundamentalism through a United Religions that professes faithfulness 'only to the global spirituality and to the health of this planet.'."161 (At that time, Bishop Swing disagreed with Muller, saying, "When the fundamentalists join the family of the world, they will bring great gifts ... They are not the enemy.") 162
In 1991, Hans Küng--a URI supporter--apparently wants to make inroads into Catholicism. He denounced the Pope's call for the re-evangelization of Europe, scorned Papal denunciations of Western hedonism, and stood for "the modern values of freedom, pluralism, and tolerance"--including revision of Church teachings about sex:
"And much as a spiritual renewal of Europe is necessary, one form of it may be doomed to failure from the start. That is the backward-looking utopia of a 'spiritual unity of Europe' in which the confessional walls between Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox are retained, leading to the restoration programme of a 're-evangelization of Europe' in a Roman Catholic direction which John Paul II proclaimed in 1982 in the mediaeval pilgrimage centre of Santiago di Compostela and again in 1990 in Prague (at the same time insisting on the need for obedience to the church.) For such a programme is accompanied by a constant denunciation of Western democracy as consumerism, hedonism, and materialism, not by an unambiguous affirmation of the modern values of freedom, pluralism, and tolerance--right into the sphere of the Pope's own church (questions of birth control and sexual morality.)163
The only things denounced are Christian orthodoxy, evangelism, and traditional morality. Küng makes a threat, as well:
"To put it bluntly: no regressive or repressive religion--whether Christian, Islamic, Jewish or of whatever provenance--has a long-term future."164
When Küng denounced "regressive or repressive religion," it was the monotheistic religions that he named specifically as not having "a long-term future." These are the same religions which Bishop Swing describes as "exclusive religions." 165
Bishop K.H. Ting supports the URI; 166 he is also President of the China Christian Council (CCC), a government-controlled church organization in the People's Republic of China. The Pacific Church News reported that Bishop Ting gave a slap to "fundamentalists":
"Although there were no denominational differences, there are disagreements among the Christians in China. Those who show the tendency of being fundamentalists often question the faith of others who do not agree with them, On the development of the ethical content of Christianity, Bishop Ting said that many Christians felt that their priority was to go to heaven and paid little attention to giving witness in society. He hoped that his successors will work hard to solve these problems."167
The Communist regime is trying to "solve these problems" by persecuting unregistered Protestant house churches and Catholics who remain in communion with Rome (rather than worshiping at the state-approved "Patriotic Catholic Church"). Bishop Ting can live with that, but publicly criticizes "fundamentalism." Is it any surprise, then, that the CCC is friendly to the URI? It appears that the URI definition of "fundamentalism" is inclusive enough to cover all orthodox Christians.
In case "fundamentalism" outlives its usefulness as an epithet for the orthodox, Swing has invented a new one, "religionism:"
"What the world fails to deal with is the unmitigated prejudice against people of religions. There is no such word as religionism, yet the reality is overwhelming beyond all measure. The existence of a United Religions will be a symbol that stands in direct opposition to the ancient, corrosive, and widespread hatred against religions that thrives, unchecked by religions. This global denial will end when the United Religions begins. Not only will the United Religions be a symbol of hope, it will also be a symbol that religionism exists and will be countered."168
Expect this new epithet to appear soon on a network news broadcast or in a "diversity training" class near you. Of course, the term religionism will not be used to condemn the militant atheism of current or former Marxist regimes.
An Anglican bishop from Canada, Michael Ingham, rejects the view that
salvation comes only through Jesus. He has said that "Traditionalists
who defend 'Christian exclusivism' and other judgmental ancient dogmas
may, in fact, worship a different god than the interfaith deity who inspires
modern pluralists. ... The exclusivist god is narrow, rigid, and blind.
Such a god is not worthy of honor, glory, worship or praise."169
According to this analysis from a liberal Anglican prelate, Bishops Ingham
and Swing hold a different faith than the "faith once delivered to the
saints." Having rejected their old faith, such bishops are then free to
define a New Religion. Bishop Swing and the URI have begun to do this.
Preparing a New Religion of the "sacred Earth"Official URI documents insistently and repeatedly deny any intent of establishing a new religion. Bishop Swing says, "In the same way that the United Nations is not a nation, the United Religions would not be a religion."170 Nevertheless, there is much evidence--from new URI documents and from statements over the years by individual URI leaders--that the URI will promote religious syncretism and a novel, Earth-centered spirituality.
In mid-1996, Bishop Swing predicted religious syncretism as the wave
of the future. He said that the world's youth "walk around trying to piece
enough religion together to make decisions about the future. They add
a little yoga to the words of The Prophet. A little Catechism to a little
Dharma. They will find their way eventually because humanity has always
stretched to find its soul in new and foreign settings. One way or another,
in Bangalore or in your grandchild, a United Religions will happen." 171
In June of 1997, Bishop Swing gave an interview in which he called for a revision of the scriptures and theology of all the world's religions:
Swing: "Maybe we have to take a deeper look at theology. I think that religions are based on assumptions of truth being mediated from the creator to the created. These truths are divinely inspired and sacred for the people who hold them. I think all the religions of the world have a blind spot. If there's a United Religions pursuing a dialogue in depth, it begins to ask larger questions and force religions to make larger statements."
Interviewer: "Isn't a lot of the problem that many sacred scriptures are full of violent, exclusionary rhetoric?"
Swing: "That's right. And it's taught all week long, every place we go. The religions have to go back and read that one more time and ask if that is really what they believe. If you're sitting there with people from other religions at the table, you might come up with other conclusions."172
"Force religions to make larger statements" ... Bishop Swing's own words.
By 1998, Bishop Swing moved from predicting syncretism to advocating it. In The Coming United Religions, Bishop Swing illustrates the nature of religion as he sees it. Six lines represent the major faiths--Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and the indigenous religions; like multiple paths up a mountain, these lines converge from below on a single point, a divine "unity which transcends the world."173 At the top of the mountain are the esoteric believers from each faith; they:
"intuit that they were ultimately in unity with people of other religions because all come together at the apex, in the Divine. Everyone below the line would be identified as exoteric. These people in all religions would wed the form of faith to the content or final truth of their own faith. Thus, the forms of one's faith become absolutized because these forms, alone, are held to carry the truth."174
Pity, then, the simple-minded, exoteric followers of Jesus, who take Him at His exoteric word when He says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." (Jn. 14:6) The Bishop of California has demoted the Incarnate Word to one of the many "forms of one's faith."
Bishop Swing goes one to describe Alan Jones, Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, as one of the many "spiritual astronauts" of our time who are "pushing outward and upward following the embrace of the sacred."175 Here's what Dean Jones says about "the Absolute":
"There are absolutes that cannot be fully grasped or put into words ... our struggle with language will never end. We are pilgrims of the Absolute. Some people are protectors of the Absolute rather than pilgrims of it. God doesn't need looking after ... the Absolute exists not as turf to be defended or as proof of one's own superiority, but as the horizon toward which one is forever on pilgrimage."176
Jones forgot to mention that "the Absolute" has a name and is incarnate in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Christ is not "the horizon toward which one is forever on pilgrimage," but our Shepherd, Savior, and Lord; He calls us to love Him and obey Him. Dean Jones' words mirror those of the apostate bishop described in C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce:
"For me there is no such thing as a final answer. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind, must it not? 'Prove all things' ... to travel hopefully is better than to arrive."177
Having quoted his spiritual astronauts, Bishop Swing goes on to describe
a new spiritual unity that will arise via the United Religions:
"In the United Religions:
a Silent respect would be rendered to every religion as each pursues its sacred path.
b That Which Binds Us Is Beyond Us. As each religion renders silent respect to other religions, the rising mutual sympathy will lead to the discovery of a unifying mystery.
c That Which Is Beyond Us Will Bind Us. The unifying mystery that will be discovered will persuade religions of an ever-increasing kinship with each other and with all life."178
Bishop Swing does not name the "unifying mystery" "beyond us" that "will bind us." Instead, he calls for ultimate religious unity--a "common language and a common purpose for all religions and spiritual movements:"
"The time comes, though, when common language and a common purpose for all religions and spiritual movements must be discerned and agreed upon. Merely respecting and understanding other religions is not enough."179
If all religions are to have "a common purpose," and the purpose of religion is to worship a god, then Bishop Swing is calling "all religions and spiritual movements" to worship a shared god.
Another indicator of things to come is the draft URI Charter. This Charter is far more explicit about URI support for a New Religion than earlier URI documents had been. The solution to the ecological crisis is to "have respect for the sacredness of the whole of Planet Earth."180 The Charter suggests a "URI course to 'retool' both clergy and lay religious leaders in the philosophy of spiritual ecology,"181 and proposes "solstice and equinox festivals, the natural earth holidays."182 The charter says that all religions "derive their wisdom" from a single "ultimate Source;" this "common wisdom" "can be obscured by differences in religious concepts and practices."183 To make the unity of religions evident to all, the URI will devise a new "theology of acceptance" to "help the world's people explore common ground," 184 promote "awareness of unity within religious diversity,"185 create "a compilation of information from sacred writings and oral wisdom," 186 and begin common prayer, "interfaith sharing of spiritual practices"187 A new object of devotion, a new philosophy of "spiritual ecology," new Earth-centered holidays, a new theology to promote "unity within diversity," a new collection of sacred writings and traditions, and shared prayer ... all of this adds up to a new creed, a new code, and a new cult--a New Religion of the Earth.
Robert Muller made it clear at the 1996 URI summit conference that the United Religions must tame "fundamentalism" and profess faithfulness "only to the global spirituality and to the health of this planet." 188 In her newest book, Conscious Evolution, Barbara Marx Hubbard said, "Conscious evolution is the context for a 'meta-religio,' [sic] a new ground of the whole, calling upon spiritual leaders and practitioners of all faiths to create what Bishop William Swing, Episcopal bishop of California, calls a 'United Religions'." 189
The United Communities of Spirit (UCS), an on-line interfaith network which actively supports the URI and includes "members from every mainstream religion, an array of eclectic 'new agers' of all types--and pagans, and Wiccans, and humanists, and even atheists,"190 also favors a New Religion. A UCS document, "A Philosophy of Interfaith Harmony and Unity," states:
"We see no need to develop one universal common religion for all of humanity--yet it seems clear to us that the global confluence of religions is, indeed, tending to create a new universal spirituality, that incorporates perspectives and insights from all traditions. ... We are creating a forum for 'unity in diversity' that celebrates the unique merits of each particular approach to the divine energy, yet also provides a way that each of these approaches can be welded into a cohesive common framework."191
Regarding the UCS project, "World Scripture: A comparative anthology of sacred texts," URI activist, Bruce Schuman says, "I tend to feel that World Scripture is the beginning of a global database of fundamental spiritual principles that will eventually serve as the foundation for an emerging new global spirituality."192 Schuman also envisions new prophets, new theology, and a new revival:
"It's my feeling that today, the globalization of culture is leading to the transformation of religion, and I do believe that prophets of this new dispensation should and will arise, and will play a role in guiding the world community into a new era of globally enlightened spirituality. ... I anticipate the emergence of a new form of global theology, that is grounded in the classical doctrines of the religions, but which reinterprets them through a common set of principles. ... I am also an advocate of grass-roots spiritual revival, the direct white-lightning mystical connectivity and personal energy-flow that can inspire and heal individuals and entire cultures."193
Associated with all this is a new millennial hope, which Schuman appears to share with Teilhard de Chardin:
"We are all linked together in one loose association of evolutionary forces, apparently converging towards a universal light, and gathering together a tremendous diversity of powerful forces that can accelerate our spirits into a new millennium."194
"Emerging new global spirituality," "universal spirituality" and a "large boat religion that we must devise;" new scriptures, new prophets, new theology, a new vision of mankind's destiny--if it walks like a New Religion and talks like a New Religion, it is a New Religion.
At the 1997 URI summit conference, Schuman discerned the spirit of the coming World Religion, "the vision of a Common Flame":
"I am persuaded that this 'confluence' of cultural and ideational forces can lead to a profoundly illuminating general understanding of spiritual and religious truth--and that, indeed, something exactly like this is what is occurring in cultures today, in a vast creatively bubbling conversational process in which all participants are being illuminated and educated by all others. This kind of 'mutual edification was an inherent part of the Stanford URI conference. Out of myriad conversations, there seemed to emerge something of a common vision, expressed from the podium by different voices at different times, but somehow conveying a common sense of destiny. Out of the center, there seemed to emerge the vision of a Common Flame, a white heat of the spirit into which all believers are being drawn, each from their own tradition and perspective."195
Writers in the Journal of the United Religions also propose a New Religion. Br. Wayne Teasdale wrote in favor of a new, "universal consciousness" that "acts with the totality in mind":
"The Community of Religions, a term that expresses the living reality of the interfaith phenomenon, and which includes all of the religions taken together in their new and powerful identity, has to establish itself on the historic precedent of the prophetic function as we move towards the third millennium, and hopefully, a new, universal consciousness. ... A new, universal awareness will dawn on the earth, and [sic] enlarged consciousness that acts with the totality in mind, and not merely vested interests as in the past."196
A non-transcendent "new revelation" "from the ground," the earth and humanity, moving "with the Spirit in our time"--such would be the basis for the New Religion. At the January, 1997 URI forum, URI proponent Bettina Gray denounced adherence to religious "history and dogma" and invoked the "creative oversoul of the universe:"
"It is really a question of spiritual sovereignty. If you feel that the power and authority of your tradition rests in the social arena, in the leadership--that it is a question of history and dogma--then it is a struggle over whose world view [prevails], mine over yours. If you feel that spiritual sovereignty rests in that divine spark, that creative oversoul of the universe, God as I would call it, and your loyalty rests there, then it is not a struggle of sovereignties ... it is a struggle for truth."197
Richard Kirby and Earl Brewer forecast the coming of a United Religions in their 1994 article, "Temples of Tomorrow," a portion of which was reprinted in the Journal of the United Religions.198 They liken the task of a "United Religions Organization" (URO) to creation of a "new covenant between God and humankind":
"These suggestions and programs amount to a kind of theological revolution that recalls the prophets of Israel. These prophets engendered new relationships with God, and in the fullness of time a new covenant. Now, in planetary crisis, that new covenant between God and humankind needs urgently to be extended to science, politics, government, and technology. The URO, perhaps over decades of research and discussion, will discern the nature of that covenant, and with it the responsibilities, rather than the rights, of planetary citizenship. The case for a United Religions Organization, in summary, is that it provides a conduit for divine power to bring healing and inspiration to Earth. The URO should enlarge the religious vision of the human race as a whole, and, hence, human decency."199
A "United Religions Organization" would "enlarge the vision of the human race." It would also discern "the responsibilities, rather than the rights, of planetary citizenship." What a strange thing to hope for, at the close of a century in which tyrants have violated the rights of their subjects, recognizing no limits from God, law, or tradition on their ability to impose "responsibilities" on their citizens! "Temples of Tomorrow" also lists some of the characteristics that the authors expect religion to have in the future:
"The world religions are increasingly working out the theoretical basis of a world theology, such as a global philosophy of knowledge (epistemology). A mature, whole-earth theology will likely develop. Some groups are preparing to send their religions into outer space, and so to enter the space age. Churches are becoming like malls, serving as economic centers as well as religious ones. ... The merging of two or more religious impulses, such as Hinduism and Christianity, is increasingly producing such hybrids as Christian Yoga. Faith and finance are increasingly converging as religions enter the world of money with serious intent to reform it. ... The East is rediscovering a theistic orientation in several contexts. For example, the Japanese have reclaimed the doctrine of the divinity of the Emperor. We will likely see a major Eastern contribution to the global doctrine of God, or the whole-earth concept of theism, in the twenty-first century. The religions are rethinking their role as peacemakers, and a world theology of peacemaking is emerging. The Green Movement and the world religions are converging. ... The feminine is increasingly partnering with the masculine in religious thinking, leading to a fully integrated male/female world theology."200
Some of this stuff is predictable: "the whole-earth concept of theism," a "fully-integrated male/female world theology," and the convergence of "the Green Movement and the world religions." Is this the New Religion of the year 2100, or the Canaanite fertility cult of 2100 BC? The strangest part of this forecast is the notion that "the Japanese have reclaimed the doctrine of the divinity of the Emperor." This is an advance? Back to the future, AD 60 under Emperor Nero, divus!
Words have definite and commonly-understood meanings. If there were no intent on the part of the URI (or of a faction within it) to give birth to a new world religion, why not call the organization "Religious Coalition for Peace," "Religions United Against Violence," or a similar phrase that connotes peacemaking without implying a union of the religions? In response to a question asked from the floor at the January 26, 1997 URI forum--about the name of the URI and the similarity of this name with the UN's name--Executive Director Gibbs said that the name of the Initiative was discussed extensively at the June 1996 summit meeting, and "at this point in time, United Religions was still the best way of capturing in a couple of words what this was about.".201 The choice of the name--United Religions--is a deliberate and considered choice, affirmed by URI leaders and participants.
Symbols used in URI liturgies express such views, as well. The San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News reported that during the 1995 interfaith service at which Bishop Swing announced the URI, "prayers, chants, and incantations were offered to a dozen deities."202 "Holy water from the Ganges, the Amazon, the Red Sea, the River Jordan, and other sacred streams" 203 was mixed in a single "bowl of unity" on the altar of Grace Cathedral.204 During the service, Bishop Swing made the meaning of the ritual clear. The San Francisco Chronicle reported: " 'As these sacred waters find confluence here,' said Episcopal Bishop William Swing, 'may the city that chartered the nations of the world bring together the religions of the world'."205 At this service, At the interfaith service, the "Hymn for a New Age" was sung:
"Through the long night we have come.
The sun is bright, the wars are done.
We will unite. We will be one. A new light has begun.
Smile, heaven, on our loving land,
shine blessings on our fair kingdom.
Enrich our time with growing love,
with joy abundant and long, prosperous days.
Man's brotherhood is born again."206
At the 1997 URI summit conference, a public worship service included a procession of 15 banners with symbols representing the world's religions--including a banner for the Wiccans, the neo-pagan witchcraft movement. 207 The fifteenth banner had on it an empty silver circle, representing "the religions which are to come." 208 (This circle of 15 symbols, including the Wiccan pentagram and the empty circle for the religions of the future, now appears on all URI publications.) Schuman provides his interpretation of the meaning of the fifteenth banner with its "empty center":
"And the last of these banners carried simply an empty circle, which Deborah [Moldow] described as representing 'the religions which are to come.' The next day, as we were breaking into our final groups of the conference, Deborah created a new category for discussion that invoked this spirit of emptiness--this 'empty center' that conference organizer Paul Andrews had spoken about. ... I decided to join this group, because it seemed so deeply spiritual. Our group concentrated on meditation and inner receptivity. We began with silence, attuning ourselves to our 'inner guidance.' After a few minutes, I felt prompted to speak, and I mentioned why I had joined this group--which involved not only my sense of unfolding from the 'empty center,' but also because I myself do nor really have some 'tradition' or existing organization that I represent. I feel myself to be the representative of something new, something emerging, something not yet clearly defined, yet drawing its form from many sources--in a 'syncretic' way. Out of this 'empty center' there emerges--what?" 209
Bishop Swing set a tone of messianic expectancy in his opening address to the 1997 URI summit conference: "If you have come here because a spirit of colossal energy is being born in the loins of earth, then come here and be a midwife. Assist, in awe, at the birth of new hope."210 The "new hope" will have the Earth as its mother. As Yeats asked, "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"211
In the early stages of the development of the New Religion, the emphasis will be on acceptance of "an inclusive set of global visions"--many religions and many gods--all on an equal footing. Gurudev Khalsa, a leader of the Appreciative Inquiry process for the 1997 URI conference, says of the process being used to build the UR:
"Chartering does not depend on reaching a consensus of vision as much as it aims to create an ever widening, more inclusive set of global visions and relationships that enliven local action on behalf of the emerging United Religions. As such, it responds to the challenge of creating a transboundary organization in a postmodern world where imposing a single vision can only lead to failure."212
So the first step is reducing Christ to a member of a pantheon, one of the many teachers who shows us one of the many ways to enlightenment. Only later will the "more inclusive set of global visions" evolve toward what Bishop Swing describes as a "common purpose" for "all religions and all spiritual movements." Then, we will learn the name of the entity that Bishop Swing hailed as "the spirit of colossal energy" being "born in the loins of earth."
Anglican Bishop Moses Tay, of Singapore, issued a firm rebuke to religious syncretism when he preached in the US in 1992. Nationally-syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly quotes Bishop Tay's sermon:
"The bishop took as a text Revelation 2:12-16, in which the exalted Christ says to the angel of the Church of Pergamum, 'I know where you are living, where Satan's throne is.' Is it possible, asked the bishop, that Satan had set a throne in that Church? 'Would we be shocked if that is true, that Satan has his throne in some of our churches?' The text offers two danger signs, Tay noted. The first is the presence of corrupt teachers who bring other gods and idols into church life through forms of syncretistic worship. 'I believe this is ... very prevalent within some quarters of the Anglican Communion,' he said. 'I say this with some shame and sadness, because this is the very thing that the Bible forbids' Danger sign No. 2, he added, is compromise on issues of sexual immorality."213
By his writings and actions, Bishop Swing has ignored the Biblically based warning given by his fellow Anglican bishop. Instead, Bishop Swing asked the 1997 URI summit meeting:
"What if we said 'We will investigate the foundation of the religions
and live into a growing religious dialogue We will pursue this
dialogue until we have lived into a new peace among religions. We will
so pursue peace among religions until we have discovered a new peace among
For Bishop Swing's threefold we will, there is a Biblical precedent, a fivefold I will--and a warning against such self-assertion:
"How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.' But you are brought down to Sheol, to the depths of the Pit." (Is. 14:12-15)
If questioned about support for syncretism, URI leaders and supporters are likely to say that they don't want to start a New Religion; they just want the religions to meet the current needs of humankind and the Earth. They will accuse orthodox Christians of refusing to accept a new and inclusive understanding of religion, and of repeating the error of the Pharisees.
From the perspective of an orthodox Christian--to borrow a phrase from the feminists--these folks "just don't get it" about the Faith once delivered to the saints. For orthodox Christians, Christ is the full and definitive Revelation of God to mankind; after the time of the Apostles, no new Revelation may be added to the deposit of faith. The Scriptures are not open to arbitrary revision, updating, or amendment to meet the needs of the times or to respond to the spirit of the age. A true understanding of Scripture depends on faith on the part of the hearer, and a willingness of the hearer to receive the interpretation of Scripture as it has been given by the lawful teaching authority of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church (whether this church is understood as a visible Church with a teaching Magisterium, or as the invisible fellowship of all the faithful from the time of Christ onward, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit).
Christ is "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Rev. 19:16). "All things were made through him" (Jn. 1:3), and all in heaven and on earth are "subject to Him" (1 Pt. 3:22). Christ is not a member of a pantheon of saviors. "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth" (Phil. 2:10), and "no one comes to the Father" except through Him (Jn. 14:6). Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment" (Mt. 22:37). (No, the first commandment is not "love the earth.")
Jesus' Great Commission to the faithful is "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you." (Mt. 28:19-20). The Great Commission is not "worship Ausar, Baal, Siva, Ishtar, or the Inner Light in common with thy neighbor, in order to understand his religion and make peace with him." Indeed, such common worship violates the First Commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Dt. 5:7). Thus, what URI supporters see as new revelation and accommodation to the needs of the times, orthodox Christians see as apostasy or idolatry.
There's another, ironic contrast between Christianity and the New Religion proposed by the URI. The first global URI summit conference met in 1996 at the Fairmont Hotel, located atop Nob Hill, one of the wealthiest parts of San Francisco. The United Religions Initiative had its first global meeting in an elegant hotel in the richest part of one of the wealthiest cities in the US, the world's richest country. By contrast, Christ, the Founder and Head of the Church, was born in a manger (there was no room for him at the hotel or at the inn) in a small town in an occupied province of the Roman Empire.
Those who favor development of a New Religion for the New World Order will find the URI to be a useful arena in which to seek their goal. When this arena is built, money, bureaucratic influence, and political power can sway the United Religions in a direction never intended by some of its Christian founders. It would not be the first time for a liberal movement to be hijacked by others with a clear vision of where they want the movement to go. In a world with United Religions, syncretism could win gradually, with religious orthodoxy being defined outside the bounds of polite discourse. What "political correctness" has done in the United States could be done worldwide, slowly but surely, with global money power and global media power driving a slow change in people's world view.
The Roman Empire persecuted Christians on charges of disloyalty to the Emperor, or on the more general accusation of hatred for mankind. If a new persecution comes under the aegis of the New Religion, the persecutors will be able to go the Romans one better; they can accuse the "fundamentalists" of disloyalty to the World Government and of hating the Earth.
...continued in Journal 2204 and Journal 2302
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