Thursday, 3 December 2009

World Parliament of Religions Opens In Melbourne

From 3-9 December at over 200 pleniary sessions over 8,000 representatives from more than 200 of the world's religions and major faith groups (including atheists and humanists) are meeting to discuss issues of importance in Melbourne, Australia at the World Parliament of Religions.

Aside from weather determining the time of year and location of the gathering, it is a prescient moment in history as new troops are committed to the conflict in Afghanistan in what could be a defining moment of a generation and the UN Conference On Climate Change opens in Copenhagen.

The topics under discussion will include all the major issues facing humanity.

Of particular focus will be climate change and environmental sustainability, indiginous rights and the eradication of poverty, as well as the burgeoning international diplomatic issue of the interrelationships of the Islamic community on a global scale [1].

For more stories see here.

Standard opinion understand parliaments to be standing institutions which take place almost every day of the working week, almost every week of the year, but this event is compared to the Olympics - indeed, on terms of scale and frequency that is the only adequate comparison.

But parliaments weren't always seen in such a way.

In medeival times parliaments began to be called on the behest of monarchs as they sought to levy new taxes, primarily in order to raise armies for security purposes (and vendettas). Over generations of continuiing strife the restless public grew tired of being run roughshod over and demanded prior approval.

However these parliaments often began to discuss tangential issues relating to the means and manner in which the decisions reached could be found to be politically acceptable - they set the precedents by which the principles of good government were established. These included legitimacy, accountability, transparency and representativeness. As such 'prior approval' gradually lead to 'advise and consent'.

I discussed this in a bit more length here and here.

It's of particular interest to me because Reading Abbey was a major location for the first English parliaments.

One of the massive frustrations I find I get myself into with people who have preconcieved ideas about the way the world works is that they have a very narrow view of what actually happens out there. Admittedly the limitated preoccupations of our media must take it's share of responsibility for not providing adequate or sufficiently balanced information, but our interests reflect on our own political mindset too.

I mean, it is easy to say that someone else says such-and-such, or to categorise the general thoughts of groups of people, but that always falls into the trap of inaccurate extrapolations.

So it's kind of a shame that the big issues considered by the WPoR will not be given similar media coverage as other areas of democratic debate, but that's only to be expected when our media is organised on a national basis.

Now I could stray into arguing about which belief system is right and which is wrong, but such axiomatic debate do more to conceal than reveal. The fact is that different belief systems exist and we must deal with them. We must allow people to represent themselves in order to create dialogue by which agreed positions can be reached - we need a functioning political process.

In contrast to the 'Intelligence Squared' debate held at Wellington College locally (of whose style, tone and format I couldn't be more scathing, whatever anyone may think of the outcome) I am vastly encouraged by the mere existence of the event in Melbourne in that it demonstrates people are capable of coming together in a civilised way to reach agreements concerning the direction of civilisation.

I am quite confident in predicting a future where a series of representative 'world parliaments' takes on a more formalised framework in our consciousness - all that is needed is a more explicit articulation of the way it is already becoming reality.


Integrate Or Die!


Tim Trent said...

Do you know if they will be discussing the Ugandan bill to kill homosexuals, and have their friends and neighbours inform against them in order to round them up and slaughter them as judicial murder? Will it discuss the Ugandan church's support for this bill, together with the head of the Anglican church's careful silence on the matter?

We have a new holocaust and the established church is wondrously silent. Where are the leaders of substance?

Or is this just a godly jolly?

Oranjepan said...

Having a look at the programme it could be covered in any number of sessions on Peace and Justice.

Have a look at this (the relevant bit are on p78-80 I think.

The problem is that it is similar to the UN in that it has no directly enforcable powers to back up its resolutions, so it has to been seen in different light as part of a process which build political consensus by which influence can be exerted.

IE force of argument over force of arms.

I think your sense of outrage will be disappointed at the lack of concreteness in what it represents, but at the same time unsupportive language probably isn't helpful in making it a more effective forum over the longer term.

Look beyond the specific and I think you have to understand it is part of a massive shift in global attitudes against authoritarian doctrine. As an entity therefore is is part of the global political architecture which will help prevent the adoption of atrocitious policies by future governments.

Tim Trent said...

A complex agenda. A lot can hide in its pages or appear to be in there that is really absent.

I hold out little hope for it to be included.

Oranjepan said...

Well, I can't say for certain, but some of the reports do indicate that plenty of gay people, as well as many Africans, will be represented. So I strongly doubt what is going on in Uganda will be completely ignored.

However the security aspect is more of a directly political issue, so I promise I will focus on the emergence of regionally federated political blocs later in the series to do this side of things justice.

I also think it is unfair to describe it as a 'godly jolly' when the organisers have gone out of their way to ensure the godless are involved in fair numbers too.

Sometimes I really could throw my hands up in frustration - are you sure you're not really just being sniffy?

Of course it won't be perfect, but serious effort does go into making the 4-yearly event worthwhile and the coincidence of Melbourne with Copenhagen is not by accident - they are talking about many similar issues and by the names of attendees I would fully expect many of them to be in regular contact with each other during the course of proceedings.

There is a place to be confrontational, but I really don't think this blog is it. I'm actually more interested in how the 'parliament' is part of the growing integration of the world as an event which enables more people to communicate with each other across borders than the specific issues (of which there are far too many worthy ones to mention).

So I challenge you that anyone is being silent on those issues which you care about, rather that there are so many voices and they are so underreported that it is difficult to pick them out amidst the din.

Instead of asking where are the leaders, I prefer to answer that we each are capable of leading - so we should look to ourselves.

Tim Trent said...

Sniffy? No. Cynical, yes.

I find religion a peculiar thing. I've also been in the conference organising business and made a decent profit out of each one I've organised.

So my jury is out on this event.

Yes our job is to lead. Leading from the back is always harder, unless one was a Great War staff officer, than leading from the front.

I hope, simply, that this event, timed as it is to coincide with the interest in climate change and lowering pollution (topics which may or may not be linked), does not skim over other issues.