Recently a discussion came up at the Kairos Center about the way theologians, writers, and public intellectuals brand movements or schools of thought. I raised the example of conservative pundit Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option — the idea that, as conservative Christians have essentially lost the culture war in American life, they should follow the example of St. Benedict of Nursia and withdraw into small, countercultural communities of work, prayer, and contemplation. There, as in the monasteries of the early medieval period, they can weather the storm of the “barbarian takeover” of what remains of Western Christendom, and preserve what is valuable for future (and perhaps more amenable) generations.
In 1893, the first Parliament of the World’s Religions was convened at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This historic event brought together representatives from a number of world religions, including one of the first introductions for Americans and Western Europeans to the religions of Asia on Asian terms. Swami Vivekananda gave a famous speech at the Parliament and received a standing ovation from over 7,000 listeners. Soyen Shaku, the first Zen Buddhist master to teach in the United States, made his American debut at the Parliament, and his speech was translated into English by his young student, D.T. Suzuki. The Parliament is considered to be the birth of the modern interfaith movement, and the first formal interfaith gathering to be held in world history. Since the first Parliament, the event has coalesced into an organized movement with regular occurrences, with other historic Parliaments held throughout the world over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries.
The first time I left my Golden Dawn temple to take the train back to New York City, I had just been initiated into the Neophyte Grade of the Order. It was a powerful spiritual experience. Though the details of the ceremony are easily available in this day and age, only a few Google searches away, the thought of writing openly about what happened still fills me with trepidation. I think this speaks highly of the physical effect of the ceremony – not to mention what occurred on planes much more subtle than the physical.
Originally posted as a part of my column, The Blooming Staff, on the Agora, the group blog of the Patheos Pagan Channel.
In 1947, Protestant theologian Karl Barth introduced the phrase Ecclesia semper reformanda est — “the church is always to be reformed.” Barth used the phrase to express the Reformed conviction that the Christian Church must constantly examine itself and continue to evolve and reform; a teaching that thinks of the Reformation as a permanent state rather than an historic event. Since the Second Vatican Council, certain radical Catholic theologians like Hans Küng have also used the saying to express their desire for a Church that remains open to the world and to the spirit of the times. Pope Francis has in many ways resumed this spirit of dialogue and openness within the Church, especially when it comes to issues like poverty and climate change.