by William Lesher
The hearts and prayers of people of goodwill everywhere go out to the people of Norway and to the families of those killed and wounded in the recent bombing and senseless slaying of young people. It is especially painful when such tragic acts are in any way associated with misguided religious overtones.
The poignant words of Swami Vivekananda in his opening speech at the first Parliament in 1893 come readily to mind:
“Sectarian bigotry and its horrible descendent fanaticism have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair.”
How relevant this 118 year old statement is to this current situation. Vivekananda ends by declaring, “ But their time has come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolls this morning may be the death knell of all fanaticism…”
Given the aura of contentiousness, conflict and confusion that hangs over the global social order today, it is doubtful that violent acts against people and property can be prevented. It is, nevertheless, Vivekananda’s fervent hope that still motivates the Parliament of the World’s Religions and all expressions of the interreligious movement.
At the Barcelona Parliament in 2004, hundreds of participants attended workshops on “Religiously Motivated Violence” and made commitments to stand with people of other faiths whenever lives are threatened or property is defaced or destroyed. Currently the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions encourages religious and spiritual communities everywhere to adopt a “Solidarity Pledge” as a minimal expression of their harmony, support and respect for people of other faiths. In the greater Los Angeles area where I live, a group has recently formed called “Interfaith Witnesses for Peace,” pledged to gather on short notice, as a silent testimony to peace, wherever a religious community is threatened.
The tragedy in Norway is another occasion for us all to reassess our personal commitment and that of our religious communities, to active expressions of peace-building. Are we building bridges to other faith communities? Are we teaching and preaching respect for other religions, providing opportunities to learn what others believe and how to best share our beliefs with them? Are we exploring ways to work together for the common good? Are we mobilized to act, as a powerful presence of solidarity and love when tragedy strikes.
It is our engagement in interreligious actions like these that keep Vivekananda’s fervent hope alive.