A hundred years ago, when India's revered Swami Vivekananda crossed the Atlantic and traveled by overland train to Chicago for the first Parliament of the World's Religions, he was the first Hindu most Midwesterners had laid eyes on. The epitome of an exotic in turban and sandals, he called his home "the Orient" and charmed the huge gathering with his story of the frog who lived in a well. It seems the frog became enraged when another frog who lived in the sea fell into the well and insisted that there was a whole sea outside, bigger than the well.
Open the Parliament's universal Bible, the dogeared catalogue listing the week's programs. Pick any 90-minute stretch - say, Wednesday from 2 to 3:30. There are 17 "major programs" and 37 "seminars and lectures," with such titles as "The Near-Death Experience as a Basis for Religious Unity," "What Do Christians and Muslims Have to Say to Each Other?" and the hopefully named "Los Angeles: Model of Interreligious Cooperation." Young Sikhs start their session with a video, narrated by an American-accented evening- news voice, explaining to the uninitiated such basics as why Sikhs wear turbans. Elsewhere, seats are filled to hear panelists discussing Rastafarianism, Zoroastrianism and how Muslims interpret the word "Jihad." Robes of saffron, pale yellow and burnt sienna and saris of pink and green swish down hallways on the way to workshops.
[Marrs] sees Satan in every Freemason, so his calls of alarm were no surprise to the Parliament's planners. But the Greek Orthodox Diocese had been a Parliament sponsor and knew that witches would hold workshops. The confusion arose when Diocesan officials realized the witches were to be represented on the 150-member assembly. Parliament Chairman David Ramage Jr. responded with a respectful statement saying, "We understand ... that each participating group must determine for itself with whom and how they wish to be in interfaith conversation and relationship."
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.