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World Parliament of Religions--Again, Again

Aug 17, 1996 04:21 PM
by Drpsionic

Okay, let's see if it works now.
Now remember, this was just something I threw together three years ago for
the fun of it so don't expect great writing.

Chuck the Heretic
Charles W. Cosimano

It could have been a nightmare.
It certainly began that way with the opening plenary transmogrified into a human cattle drive.  Who knew what incompetent son of a bitch came up with idea of jamming 6,500 people into a hall and then trying to let them into the ballrooms five at a time.  Some imbecile, no doubt.  But the Parliament paid a high price for it, for one of the many who did not get into the main ballroom was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and the result was that the coverage of the World Parliament of Religions in that paper was, shall we say, underdone.
And it did not get better once we were inside, with the unfortunate bleatings of the Mayor of Chicago, a man so utterly inarticulate that it is amazing that he can sign his own name, blighting the room with his political presence.
It could have been a nightmare.
But in spite of the horror of the opening plenary, something unusual was happening at the Palmer House.  In the overflow room, a woman from the Archdiocese of Chicago and a man from one of the Pagan groups went together to find out why the sound was so bad. during the Native American ritual. (It later turned out that no one on the platform could hear them either.)
People who were total strangers had supper together.  Something different, something not a part of our normal experience was happening.
Another indication of nightmare, the evening plenary, featuring a pitiful lunatic who talks to his dead wife and a bunch of the most self-righteous, religious, pseudo-leaders on Mother Earth attempting to bore everyone to death, and damn near succeeding.  Imagine, if you will, thousands of people in an airless ballroom, being suffocated by pious hot air.  The evening was a disaster which made those of us who actually were foolish enough to sit all the way through consider ourselves lucky to be alive.
And then came Sunday.  What a potential day for unmitigated alarmism as the keynote moron, Gerald Barney, escaped from the dinosaur suit and promoted his peculiarly fascistic vision of the future.  Clearly not only had the man had seen The Road Warrior one too many times, but no one had bothered to tell him that it was only a movie.  By Sunday supper, it was clear that our worst nightmares may have been all too mild by comparison.
Yet it was that Sunday evening that the first miracle occurred.  I found myself sitting behind a Buddhist nun from Arkansas, of all the godforsaken places, and it turned out, to both of our amazement, that she was the sister of my senior high school English teacher!  Such events do not occur in everyday life.
And thus it began.  A week that promised to be nothing more than a glorious waste of time turned into a fascinating exercise in the potential of people from different beliefs to find a common ground, even if that ground was disgust with the organizers of the extravaganza and a realization of the utter uselessness of leaders in a world where people can communicate among themselves without pompous intermediaries.
As the week went on it was clear that this was to be the great coming out party for the  Pagans of the world, to the unmitigated horror of the Greek Orthodox.  In spite of the vegetarian predilections of many of the participants, roast Christian seemed to be a very popular dish and was served all over the Palmer House.  
And so it continued.  The participants, in their own way, took over the events in a way totally unforeseen by the organizing group.  The official Parliament, with its plenaries and leaders and dictated ethics statement was pushed farther and farther aside and even the speech by the Dalai Lama seemed to be a mere afterthought.  The real work of the Parliament was done by those whom had only been supposed to be spectators and by the time the week was over, the so-called critical issues, of which so much had been made in the pre-Parliament literature, did not seem so critical after all.  There was, in fact, a sneaking hope by many that Robert Muller and Gerald Barney would be consigned to the same padded cell, such little value was placed upon their words.
Thus in the end there were two World Parliaments of Religion taking place in the same place at the same time.  One, a gathering of different people from all over the world who left feeling that something great, albeit largely undefinable, had occurred.  The other the official Parliament of the organizers, a gathering that ended rather like Shakespeare's definition of life, "A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

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