The Council of the Holy Ones
Job 1: 6-12
1 Kings 22:19-23
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
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
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
Copyright©2009 by Robert
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