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The Council of the Holy Ones



Psalm 89:5-14
Job 1: 6-12
1 Kings 22:19-23
Mark 4:30-32

Ancient Israelite religion appears to have evolved from robust polytheism to a tentative and skin-deep monolatry to divine monarchianism, to monotheism. In the Kabbalah it has gotten to the point of panentheism, while Spinoza tried to carry it all the way to pantheism. In each stage the new advance had to make its way up-hill, against the stubborn allegiance of the mass of people to each previous stage, the "old time religion" of the day.

Several Psalms stem from the period of divine monarchism, where Yahweh is far from the only deity. Like Zeus, he is the mightiest of a whole group. He rules the roost. He meets in council with the subordinate gods, his sons and brothers, and seeks their advice. This fascinating image gets lost in the sketches of Israelite history, as if it were only a quaint museum relic. And in a sense it is. But I find it thought-provoking, a kind of symbol for an idea that is far from a relic, in fact an idea whose time has come and indeed is long overdue, but which lingers, like the light from a distant star in Nietzsche's parable of the mad man.

It is the idea of a World Parliament of Religions.


Not a program of unification or merger: a bad idea, as Tillich said.


Rather a forum for resolving conflicts that spill over into bloodshed.


A place for ongoing theological dialogue.


A device for common humanitarian action by the religions working together (which itself will promote ecumenical understanding like nothing else will!).


A spear-head for the inclusion of descriptive education in world religions in secular schools as the missing dimension of multiculturalism.


Does the idea imply that each religion recognizes the theological validity of all the others? Not at all. It presupposes only that each religion is at least an expression of a culture and that as such it deserves respect. The goal is just greater mutual understanding between cultural groups of human beings.


It would be no panacea, any more than its secular counterpart, the United Nations, is. But it would make dialogue and diplomacy between religions easier. It's lots better than nothing.


Voting would probably be irrelevant. Funds would be made available by various religious bodies, perhaps, and used for humanitarian missions from which individual groups might abstain.


We would have a real-world equivalent of the heavenly council of the gods. It would, however, not be a monarchy. There would be no imperialism, no leader.


How to start it? We need a benefactor, like Constantine, King Asoka, Prince Vistashpa. Is there anyone? Possibly. It would be a mustard seed, something that admittedly looks like a daydream this morning, but which, if it blossomed, would indeed provide rest and shelter for all the nations. The mustard seed is hope. faith in the concept that it will commend itself to those who hear it, to such an extent that it will, almost of its own inherent momentum, bring itself into reality.

August 30, 1998




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