The Founding Father of the World Parliament of Religions
By John Taylor
In early December of 2009 the seventh major session of the World Parliament of Religions (parliamentofreligions.org) took place in Melbourne, Australia. It is not well known that its founding father was the 17th Century Czech educational reformer John Amos Comenius. In his 1671 work "Panorthosia, or Universal Reform," he proposed a world parliament with three chambers, one each for politics, education and religion. In other words, he proposed not an interfaith parliament in name but a real legislative body elected by secret ballot by all people, fully capable of writing binding resolutions in its sphere of influence. The rules it devises would apply not only to all religious groups but also to every individual on earth, no matter what their beliefs, affiliation or religious background may be. It would be responsible not only for interfaith worship but also for artistic and moral expression on the world level. As such, it would embody the faith, hope and spiritual aspirations of all humans.
In this series of essays, I have been attempting to demonstrate that Comenius's proposal for a three-pronged world government is of far more than historical interest. Comenius insisted that bringing religion on board is the only way to involve the entire human race fully in the reform process. This consideration is as pertinent today as it was when he wrote Panorthosia 338 years ago.
Comenius held that without clear and distinct roles for each of these three bodies, scientific, political and religious, they could never work together without interference and conflict. However, at the same time he did not interpret separation of church and state to mean that they should have nothing to do with one another. In fact, like a three legged stool, each is needed to uphold the entire structure. Indeed one of the greatest advantages of religion from the point of view of all kinds of leaders is its ability to instil the virtues of respect and obedience among the populace. Religion will,
"offer their services to the other two orders in the cause of our Lord, by granting them the authority of God's Word which they hold in trust, and constantly sustaining them in it, and praying for them in the presence of all the people, for example, that all men should appreciate teachers and schools as leaders and factories of light, and duly respect magistrates and courts or tribunals as the visible presence and power of God Himself. It will help them to obtain this effect from others if they themselves conscientiously submit to the political authorities and respect the servants of light who are in charge of school education as their colleagues. (Panorthosia, Ch. 18, para 15, p. 243)
Clearly, under a Comenian world government the climate summit taking place in Copenhagen this week would have been very different. As it is, scientists met with government leaders, not only national leaders but mayors of cities too, to forge action plans to halt rising global temperatures. Religious groups sat in, but were relegated to the periphery. Rather than restricting it to politicians and climate experts, the Comenian parliament of religions would also participate at all levels, including organizing the conference.
With this third element, deliberations would surely have been more open, comprehensive and free ranging. The interfaith body would also enlist the prayers, hopes and aspirations of humanity to legitimize and support the resolutions at Copenhagen, and perhaps offer spiritual counselling when sacrifices are called for. The religious parliament might at sponsor and coordinate artistic expressions concurrent with all sessions, allowing for a fuller cross-section of humanity to participate, if only by listening to the music and viewing the works of art. They might bring in an ethical element as well. For example, the religious parliament might sponsor a simultaneous gathering discussing the moral dimensions of climate change.
As I mentioned yesterday, the greatest need shown up by Copenhagen is for reform of democracy. Its entire agenda was made up by and for wealthy elements who have corrupted the democratic process. The opinions of the peoples of the world get short shrift. This happened in large part because religion itself is weak and corrupt.
One of Comenius's most important suggestions for changing this is that we are incapable or unwilling to use God as common ground among us all. Setting all factionalism aside, religion, or to speak more exactly, God, has the potential of becoming the populist spirit behind world democracy. In the consultations of a democratic world government,
"There is no need to appoint a special judge to settle disputes. The people themselves, being the whole of God's church, will act as judge, provided that everything is resolved to bear witness to the truth (of God) itself, avenging itself upon the power of darkness by its clear light, since the main premise will then consist of the threefold law of God, i.e., the natural world, the world of God's creatures, and holy scripture, the minor premise will be the conscience of all mankind, and the conclusion will be the applause of all the people." (Panorthosia, Ch. 25, para 10, p. 137)