Friday, November 13, 2009

Parliament of world religions.


Bit by slow bit, Prophecy is taking place without many people noticing. It is happening in very subtle ways. This posting is one of those many ways.
I have noticed the words lately: NEW WORLD ORDER, have made the headlines.
Religions/doctrines joining up, Laws on the books, but just not yet enacted....only waiting for a signature on a piece of paper and a few more hands to be joined then that law I speak of will be enacted. This is a law that is already on the books in America, along with around 33 others (And I would not be surprised if some of them aren't on the books here). This is a law that says you will worship in a church on a Sunday.
To control chaos you need to create chaos.
And that is exactly what has been happening. Society is going to become so intolerable that Governments will listen to the Roman Catholic Church and force businesses to close on Sunday so the family can spend time together and go to church. Then in time it will go one step further and that is that it will be illegal to worship on the true Sabbath...Saturday. I however, will go to jail before I stop worshipping on the Sabbath, and I will NOT worship on a Sunday.

So many people are under the impression that islam is the anti-christ. Well I have news for you....It is the Roman Catholic Church. Islam is not clever enough or powerful enough to control the world. No matter how much it thinks it is. Those Countries who do not conform to the new laws will have economic sanctions put against them.

Many people believe the "Mark Of The Beast" is a computer chip in the hand or on a National ID card. Nah!!! It will be like a form of a ID card, but it will be tied to you being a good little boy/girl and doing what you are told.

Yes, we have been hoodwinked for many years and it has been a long planned scheme for a New World Order. The United Nations, The Vatican, The International Monetary Fund, the Reserve bank, and a few individuals of whom I will not name at the moment. Also Government powers are all in this. The governments who are not a part of it will comply nevertheless because of the economic sanctions.

Yes, I have been away for awhile. I have been doing some heavy duty study on Prophecy, so you might think I have gone loopy, but no, I haven't. I have had a rude eyes opened, the veil lifted, call it what you will, suffice to say, I can see clearly now!!
Society has lost the plot. Doomsdayers will brainwash the masses into believing this Greenhouse effect scam....this has to be one of the biggest hoaxes of all time. Marketing companies are telling people what they can't live without and you must go and buy the biggest and best of a product or your life won't be worth living. Can't afford matter, build up the credit card. There does not seem to be a concept of MANNERS, RESPECT or COURTESY in young people these days. That can be attributed to Freud and Spock and the dogooders who told us mums in the 50's onwards that we had to treat our children with kid gloves and democratise the family...give the kids a choice in everything to do with their life. Look where we are now.... FYI....Freud's theories have all been disproved and indeed discredited today.

Anyway, back to Combined, joined Religious doctrines....
I did not however, think that the following would take place in my hometown, but yes it is.... I will be watching this closely, and I suggest you do the same. Read, watch, listen. Internet blogs are a great place to start. You will find a whole list of very informative links on the right hand side of this page. But if you want to do it the esay way...go get yourself a Bible, and read Revelations. You might need to get some help to get through it, and there are books out there to help is all happening people. Another good source is the writings of Ellen G. White. She knew all this way back in the mid-late 1800's. Her books are very easy to read, and in fact, you will think you are reading the writings of someone in the contemporary circles. I often found myself forgetting I was reading the writings of such a time.
Don't say you were not warned.

Gearing up for the Parliament of the Worlds Religions.
8 November 2009

In December the Parliament of the World's Religions is coming to Australia. It's a sort of interfaith Olympics, with thousands of people representing all the worlds myriad religious faiths expected to gather in Melbourne - under the sponsorship of the Victorian Government. In Encounter Nasya Bahfen finds out about the Parliament, and tests her prejudices about the whole interfaith project.

NASYA BAHFEN: Welcome to ABC Radio National's Encounter. In December, the Parliament of the World's Religions is coming to Australia. Thousands of people representing the world's myriad religious faiths will gather in Melbourne - under the sponsorship of the Victorian Government.
I'm Nasya Bahfen and in today's Encounter I'm finding out about the Parliament. I'm also testing my prejudices about the whole interfaith project.
NASYA BAHFEN: I check my email on my phone to make sure I'm at the right place. The instructions were a tad cryptic. I'm looking for something called the Donkey Wheel, which is apparently just up from the corner of Bourke and Spencer Streets opposite the super tram stop. The email says to come through two large wooden doors on which there are the numbers 673 in black gaffer tape. The building is five story gothic brick, beside a laneway next door to a boarded up pub.
Well there's the laneway, and the boarded up pub. Five story gothic brick building, check. Two large wooden doors with the number 6 7 3 in gaffer tape, check.
ADAM CASS: I think...I think the explosion that this speech is comes from not a place of anger not a place of cynicism but a place of despair. Just because your character's called the doubter doesn't mean that's all he is...
NASYA BAHFEN: Platform Youth Theatre writer Adam Cass is helping Neil Tifford go through a particularly dramatic set of lines. Neil is 21, and he's part of the group's main performance for this year - it's called the Faith Project.
NEIL TIFFORD: I'm playing the doubter.
NASYA BAHFEN: And why is he called the doubter?
NEIL TIFFORD: He's the doubter because he doesn't believe in anything and he finds it really difficult not believing in things and that's mainly what he has to come to grips with in the play - his complete lack of belief.
NASYA BAHFEN: The Faith Project looks at religion, spirituality, diversity and difference. Every week around twenty young people gather to rehearse and practice here at the Donkey Wheel. They represent a range of different beliefs and some - like Neil's character - have no particular set of beliefs. One of his fellow actors is 17 year old Kayla Roberts.
KAYLA ROBERTS: It's been great, 'cause I've gotten to learn sort of what people think of one thing and then there's a complete different opinion from someone else. So it's sort of great to learn of different opinions on one thing.
NASYA BAHFEN: Do you have a religion yourself?
NASYA BAHFEN: The statistics tell us young Australians like Kayla and Neil are increasingly wary of religion. Yet as Neil points out, these guys are voluntarily getting involved in a theatre performance specifically about religion, which will be showcased at the largest interfaith gathering in the world.
NEIL TIFFORD: It's just been really good to confront faith. I mean because we never talk about it really in everyday life. So it was really good to end up in a situation where you had to tackle it head on so I really enjoyed it for that.
NASYA BAHFEN: The Faith Project will be one of the cultural performances at the Parliament of World's Religions - a massive interreligious gathering taking place in Melbourne in December. Organisers are expecting thousands of people to attend the event, which takes place once every five years - a sort of interfaith Olympics if you like.
Actually, I'm tempted to call it an interfaith talkfest. I'm a practising Muslim with reservations about interfaith dialogue. Sure, it's great to get people around the table - or around a theatre or stage - and connect, by tackling issues of faith and spirituality. It's also comforting to know that there are people of other religious groups who aren't out to demonise or distance themselves from my own. That's why I felt privileged to be asked to take part in the Parliament, chairing panels on Islamic finance and Islamaphobia in the media, and also being a panellist for the Parliament's Youth Committee's session on the media and faith. But my main gripe with interfaith? It's preaching to the choir.
This is a criticism heard often by Reverend Dirk Ficca, the Executive Director of the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions. Reverend Ficca is based in the US city of Chicago, where the Parliament history began with its first meeting, 116 years ago. Every few months, for the past year, he's been heading to Melbourne to see how preparations are going. Reverend Ficca says he's often had to respond to allegations that events like the Parliament preach to the choir.
DIRK FICCA: There are people of every tradition who are inclined to work with people of other traditions and they don't know each other yet. So if the Parliament event is simply getting the choir together I think it's a plus. It gets more people across religious and cultural lines working together. You have then trusted partners that when your communities - there may be some tension or conflict; there are those within each community who know each other and trust each other. I can't see that as a bad thing.
NASYA BAHFEN: Well, to be honest, neither do I. I'm sceptical about what interfaith can achieve - sceptical, but not cynical. Sure, it preaches to the converted - but so do churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples. All the time. These religious institutions fulfil other purposes - providing comfort, guidance and community. They help people keep in touch with God or whatever happens to be their spiritual path. Maybe people like me who are critical of interfaith on the grounds that it preaches to the converted are missing the point. The goal of interfaith isn't to change minds, to proselytize or to convince the doubters. Reverend Ficca, who happens to be a Presbyterian minister, acknowledges that just as most religions have supporters of interfaith dialogue, there are also members of those religions who are firmly against it.
DIRK FICCA: There are people perhaps at the other end of the spectrum who are never going to be comfortable with religious diversity. I'm not going to demonise those people and I'm going to respect how they want to express their religious identity. And we will welcome them at the Parliament. But the group I am most interested in is the group in the middle that doesn't know what they think yet. I want to bring together those who are like minded, I want to respect those who don't want to come, but then I want to help those who don't know yet become comfortable with that.
NASYA BAHFEN: So while interfaith dialogue may have these noble aims, it can get bogged down by problems that sometimes have nothing to do with faith per se. Jewish community activist Manny Waks has come across people within his own religious group, who criticise his involvement in interfaith events like the Parliament of the World's Religions. It's a criticism he says he understands. Manny was asked to share his experience with faith, at the Parliament - and to reflect on his background as someone who came from quite a strict religious background, and only to move away from the more orthodox aspect of that faith.
MANNY WAKS: Not to follow in the strict religious tradition of my parents - that was growing up in an ultra orthodox Hasidic environment and instead shaping my religion into a form that works for me. I've gone through different stages and at one stage I was extremely anti-religious even, especially anti ultra-Orthodox. But I do feel that in the last few years I have found my comfort zone in terms of the way I practise religion as a secular Zionist Jew and of course that terminology is very complex and controversial. But plainly speaking I am a secular person but I do believe that Israel is a Jewish homeland - the homeland for the Jews. And of course that does not mean that the Palestinians don't deserve a homeland. And of course a Jew for me is being born as a Jew and recognising myself as a Jew.
NASYA BAHFEN: Wow, lots of complex meanings there. Manny says he's come across people who he doesn't believe are inherently anti-Semitic, but they use anti-Semitic phrases as part of the discourse on interfaith dialogue. He says that inevitably his conversations with Muslims end up on the issue of the Middle East. He told me he thinks it's possible to be engaged in interfaith dialogue, while supporting both Israelis and Palestinians.
MANNY WAKS: We must define what does it mean to be pro Palestinian and what does it mean to be pro Israeli? Are we talking about simply pro Palestinian in that the Palestinians deserve a land of their own, the right to self determination and believing in the two state solution? I think most Israelis and many Jews that I know would agree with that concept. Am I pro Palestinian? It just depends on where exactly you draw the line.
NASYA BAHFEN: For Manny, a Jewish Australian who is a fervent supporter of Israel, that line is crossed when Israel's actions are compared to the Holocaust - a time when Jews faced extreme suffering. For me, a Muslim Australian who grew up in solidarity with Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation, it was unusual to hear how hurtful it was from a Jewish perspective, to describe Israel's actions in the same language used for the Nazis. Manny's views, I suspect, on the Middle East conflict are in complete contrast to my own. But my conversation with him did teach me one thing: for some Jewish Australians as much as for some Muslim Australians, the Middle East conflict is so ingrained in our consciousness that it has a determinant quality - where we stand on it, and how we view it, defines our limits and our boundaries when it comes to talking to and about the Other. This made me wonder if interreligious dialogue, particularly between Muslims and Jews, could ever move beyond the politics in Ramallah and Gaza, or Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, even if that dialogue was taking place in Melbourne. Manny doesn't see this as a bad thing. He believes there is room for interfaith dialogue to expand beyond the religious aspects of discussion, to address the tensions that exist between faith groups.
MANNY WAKS: Interfaith dialogue morphs into more intercultural dialogue. For me personally I do step outside the strictly religious issues and focus much more, especially with my Islamic colleagues, on the issue of culture, politics...There is no point sitting and talking about the fact that we're all from the same Abrahamic faiths and we should all get along. I'm not interested in going down that path. Let's deal with the current issues.
NASYA BAHFEN: Well, those issues are certainly topical for a lot of people. I'm on the set of an ABC TV comedy show in which Nazeem Hussain has a starring role. Nazeem is a law graduate and comedian, and he'll be speaking at one of the Youth sessions of the Parliament. In between takes, we talk about how the Middle East dominates dialogue between Muslims and Jews.
NAZEEM HUSSAIN: Israel, Palestine - that region is very significant and sacred to both Muslims and Jews. And I guess it is a difference, you know, that we probably do need to focus on to a degree but I think at times can really detract from the beauty and the benefit that interfaith dialogue can bring. In fact someone once said to me, "I don't really believe in interfaith dialogue, I believe in dialogue between the faithful" - and I can see where he's coming from. I think often it's more a case of seeing two groups of people sit together and talk and discuss issues - broader issues - who would probably not come together and talk about anything, you know, normally. Learning about how to approach difference - that's important and that's certainly the case with Israel Palestine.
NASYA BAHFEN: Nazeem has been heavily involved with interfaith dialogue as a member of the Islamic Council of Victoria. Thinking ahead to the Parliament, I wonder if any of the interfaith experiences he's had have been negative, instead of positive. I ask him if he's ever felt constrained by participating in such dialogue.
NAZEEM HUSSAIN: Yeah I feel sometimes that with interfaith dialogue we're often striving to find commonalities even where they sometimes don't exist and we're not so happy to embrace and discuss the differences. And I think that's where tensions and conflicts arise where we're actually scared of discussing differences and confronting them and really being comfortable with difference. I actually think that communities that are united in a way are communities that actually appreciate and understand difference in all its complexities.
NASYA BAHFEN: The intermingling of faith, culture and politics is something that resonates with 24 year old Michael Korman. He's one of the Jewish members of the Parliament's Youth Committee.
MICHAEL KORMAN: The thing that I find happens most when it comes to interreligious dialogue, being Jewish, is Israel. There's often a linkage in people's minds that being Jewish I completely support all the policies of Israel...and I feel it's important for people to distinguish between the Jewish religion and the state of Israel because otherwise it often leads to people implanting Israel's political policies onto you and that can lead to some interesting conversations.
NASYA BAHFEN: That's Michael Korman from the Parliament's Youth Committee and he'll be facilitating one of the Parliament's key youth events - a session on the Australian Football League's 2009 Peace Team, involving thirty young Israeli and Palestinian men. Tonight, he's joining twelve other youth committee members for a meeting I'm sitting in on. One of the Muslim youth committee members is journalism student Hella Ibrahim, who warns against having too many role plays.
HELLA IBRAHIM: Maybe for a younger age bracket - yeah, role plays. But there's only so many of them you can do before people just go...
GEMMA MCDONALD: I'll put "no role plays".
HELLA IBRAHIM: That's not what I'm saying - I'm saying have a role play, just not...
MICHAEL KORMAN: Just not fifteen.
NASYA BAHFEN: Although it doesn't seem like much is getting done - apart from discussing the relative merits of role plays - the youth committee members are brought back on track by Gemma McDonald, the Parliament's Youth Community Organiser. By the end of the night they've managed to knock down the format of the media session - coincidentally that's the one I'm speaking at, in my role as journalism lecturer at RMIT, and an ABC radio journalist. This is a little weird because right now I'm wearing my reporter hat, and observing the meeting, which is discussing a session at which I'll be speaking while wearing my academic hat. It gets weirder when I inadvertently get caught up in the planning process and am asked for suggestions. I tactfully avoid the issue of role plays and stumble my way through suggesting a scenario I've often used with my own students.
NASYA BAHFEN: I know some people are not too keen on role plays, I've got a suggestion for a quick sort of role play. Think of an issue covered by the media which has religious connotations for example you might pretend to have the head of a sporting association a netball association for example deciding that uhm girls with headscarves are not allowed to play in the league. I'm thinking of a specifically Muslim example but you can have different ones. You can have one related that might conjure up maybe anti-Semitic coverage, that kind of thing. And then if you could hold within each group maybe a mock press conference and then ask somebody to be the spokesperson and the others to pretend to be journalists. What questions would you in your role as fake journalists - what would you ask the person? How would you cover that story?
NASYA BAHFEN: After the meeting is over I catch up with Azmeena Hussain, a Muslim member of the Youth Committee and one of the Parliament's youth patrons. If you hop onto Youtube there's a video invitation to the event for Melbourne 2009.
PARLIAMENT VIDEO INVITATION: We can all work together for peace and justice, we can end poverty, we can bring peace to the world, the indigenous people of the world deserve respect, make a world of difference, hearing each other, healing the earth, Parliament of World's Religions 2009 - be there.
NASYA BAHFEN: Azmeena is the voice at the end of that video. She's an active member of the Muslim community in Melbourne, which is pretty small, so I've already known her prior to the Parliament. And she's a little less sceptical than I am about what might come out of an event like this. But then again, she's ten years younger than I am. At twenty two, Azmeena can take that optimism and run with it.
AZMEENA HUSSAIN: Initially I think there were a lot of different faiths even in the youth committee and I was even thinking how will we all get along? I found that through understanding and even through humour, of sharing our experiences we've all realised how similar we all are. And, um, initially there might have been those differences but through communication and through humour and working together we've already even just in the youth committee itself we've achieved a lot. So, really looking forward to what the Parliament can achieve.
NASYA BAHFEN: She isn't the only one. Every member of the Parliament's youth committee is excited about the event - perhaps they haven't critically thought about the chances of the Parliament producing a concrete legacy. Again, I could attribute this excitement to their youth and idealism. Or perhaps they have thought about it, and still see value in participating -value that's abstract. For example, a running theme expressed by the youth committee members was realising how much they shared. Twenty five year old Jewish Australian Alanna Bruce says she's found some common ground with non-Jews.
ALANNA BRUCE: Being a religious person and dealing with a secular identity, living in a secular world. I think there are similar issues as young people. Gender and sexuality is an issue that I'm very interested in and I think you know that's similar. I know I've spoken about that to some of my Muslim female friends in the Parliament.
NASYA BAHFEN: Twenty six year old Sharon Cluster is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormons. I ask her if she's come across any prejudices about Mormons.
SHARON CLUSTER: We've been able to break down some of those barriers through the discussions that we've had in our youth committee groups which have been the same for all of us really - we've all had misunderstandings and stereotypes that we've been associated with.
NASYA BAHFEN: Remember Michael Korman? He's the 24 year old Jewish member of the Youth Committee I spoke to earlier, who's facilitating the session on how the AFL brought a team of Palestinian and Israeli young men together. He added his own experience - an experience which I know would resonate with many people.
MICHAEL KORMAN: In terms of the religion itself most people think that Jewish people particularly Jewish men will wear a kippah, which is you know the black cloth on the head, and will have beards and wear black clothing. And they find I look like what you call an everyday person of Australia they ask "are you sure you're Jewish" and I'm like I'm pretty sure about that.
NASYA BAHFEN: For Lina Magh, the misconceptions aren't about the stereotypes people have of her religion. The twenty year old is from the Baha'i community, and she says it gets a lot of interest because not many people know about it.
LINA MAGH: The Baha'i faith is a very young faith and about 166 years old. People tend to be more interested because they've never heard of it before more than anything. We're quite lucky in that aspect. We have - we are persecuted in our homeland in Iran but this persecution hasn't spread anywhere else.
NASYA BAHFEN: And then there are those who don't actually practise a faith. Laura John is 19 and was raised Catholic, but she describes herself as a spiritual person. Despite not belonging to one of the major established religions, she says she still gets a lot out of her involvement with the Parliament of the World's Religions youth committee.
LAURA JOHN: Personal networking, meeting a lot of people from different faith traditions that I wouldn't normally interact with just on a day to day basis, but more than that. Also, facilitating networking and discussion amongst young people so it'll be really great to see all the people coming from overseas as well as the people within Australia and just getting them together and really facilitating a great discussion. I think the hardest thing is just explaining it to people because I wouldn't call myself atheist or agnostic but I don't identify with a particular faith. I think I'm sort of going with more I'm a spiritual person I take a lot from a variety of religions so I think at the core I'm very similar to a lot of people on the youth committee. It's just the label that's different.
NASYA BAHFEN: I'm Nasya Bahfen and you're with Encounter on Radio National We're finding out about the Parliament of the World's Religions coming to Melbourne this December.
I'm curious about the involvement of people with no faith - in what is, essentially, a religious event. The interfaith movement in Australia - on the surface, anyway - appears to have been dominated by established or widely practiced religions -the Abrahamic faiths, or the Sikh and Hindu religions, as well as the Baha'is, whose faith is relatively new, but who are extremely active in interfaith. When you think of interfaith you tend to think major religions - Muslims, Christians and Jews, for example, so back at the Donkey Wheel, I sit down for a chat to Lewis Allen, a 25 year old member of the Platform Youth Theatre. He gives me an insight into his faith community which is certainly not one that I as a Muslim Australian have ever had much to do with or think about.
LEWIS ALLEN: My parents aren't particularly religious people but I went to a Catholic school simply because I was being bullied at the one I went to previously. I sort of left that faith behind when I left the school behind and travelled on for some time without much connection to anything of the sort. But when my best friend started getting into the occult I thought oh yeah. So I've maintained a bit of interest in it but never really practiced it until I read a particular book by a man named Alistair Crowley and suddenly it all made sense and that's what really started me down my path and got me interested in the esoteric.
NASYA BAHFEN: Lewis and I are talking in the building where the theatre group meets. It's the one that was a little difficult to find - near the corner of Bourke and Spencer streets, gaffer tape on the door - and inside it's like an unfinished warehouse. Our conversation wakes up a young man sleeping on a couch nearby. His name is Ezra Cohen, he's 24, and this is the first time he's ever done any theatre. I ask him how he's finding the experience.
EZRA COHEN: Very fun.
NASYA BAHFEN: Sounds like you expected it to be serious.
EZRA COHEN: Yeah, yeah. No, I enjoy talking to people about religion and faith and things but yeah I really enjoy the theatre. I play the liar, my character always lies. He's the narrator together with the Truth teller, who always tells the truth, and he's basically trying to get a kick out of the audience.
NASYA BAHFEN: Ezra is, for want of a better description, the most secular Jew I spoke to while putting together this episode of Encounter. Like a couple of the other young actors exploring religion and diversity through the Platform Youth Theatre, and like the young people with no specific faith but who are involved in the Parliament of the World's Religions, Ezra is a little bit blasé about organised religion.
EZRA COHEN: It's not in the play anymore but in one of the earlier scripts there was a line - what is - what is delicious for some is poison for others. And that describes my view of religion in general and I think a lot of Jewish people feel that same way because Judaism isn't a universal religion like Christianity or Islam. And I felt I wanted to say that and also my character the Liar he also goes on about this hostility a lot of people have towards religion. They feel like religion is the source of all the world's ills and I feel that's also my feeling too.
NASYA BAHFEN: Despite being somewhat sceptical about religion, Ezra chose not to perform on Friday and Saturday night for the purposes of observing the Jewish Sabbath. He says the organisers were very accepting of this choice. Lewis, the young Occultist, has also found in the theatre group a welcoming environment.
LEWIS ALLEN: We have people from many different faith traditions involved in this show. We have people who are Christian, we have Jews, and we have Occultists, people from the Muslim faith. So we've got a lot of people coming together and just working in that spirit of human love to create something that's grander than us. So I think it says a lot about what we can do together and the fact that it doesn't matter that we may perceive things differently in some ways. More broadly we have a united understanding of our humanity and what we can do for each other rather than against each other.
NASYA BAHFEN: That was Lewis Allen from the Platform Youth Theatre in Melbourne. And in a way Lewis reminds me of Laura, the Parliament youth committee member who described herself as a spiritual person. Both saw Catholicism play a part in their lives at one stage, for different reasons, and had moved away from it. Now I've travelled across town to Richmond, to find Madeleine Marson, a young woman for whom Catholicism is still very much a part of her life. She's one of the Catholic delegates at the Parliament.
MADELEINE MARSON: I'm a theology undergraduate student. I'm at the Melbourne College of Divinity. I'd been studying a lot about my Christian faith and I thought well where can I get more experience - more life experience and kind of more experience of the world, and the place of Catholicism in it? So I was invited to participate in a fellowship for young Catholic women run by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and the Office for the Participation of Women in the Catholic Church. And to me, that's a really wonderful way to engage young women in the life of the Church through what I feel is a really important mission of the Church in interfaith dialogue. So for me that experience over five months in Canberra was really about where interreligious dialogue fits for the Catholic mission in the Church - it's not something that's superfluous or on the edges, it's something that's real and very tangible and important for Catholics. So that's really where my inspiration to attend the Parliament comes from.
NASYA BAHFEN: I know that the Quran teaches me that it's actually part of Islam to reach out and speak to people of different - I think the phrase is "nations and tribes so that you may know one another". Can you tell us a little bit about what you know of the theological perspective on interfaith?
MADELEINE MARSON: The theological perspective on interfaith for Catholic Christians really stems from the Second Vatican Council and one particular document called Nostra Aetate, which began to deal with the question of Christianity's relationship with Judaism but then broadened out to really encompass the mainstream religions and some Eastern religions as well. And that foundation in 1965 acknowledged that there was a ray of truth in each of those religions with a particular focus on Judaism and Islam, so since then the Church particularly through the great work of John Paul the Second has really moved forward in its understanding of interfaith dialogue with many different documents over the years and many I suppose milestones in John Paul visiting a synagogue, acknowledging indigenous peoples throughout the world and many milestones such as that.
DIRK FICCA: Yeah, we're on the second floor of the hub and we're looking at - what, 15 to 20 workstations here. Increasingly there have been more and more people as the weeks go by. When I arrived from Chicago a couple of days ago on a Monday every seat in here was taken up.
NASYA BAHFEN: Reverend Dirk Ficca, the head of the Council of a Parliament of the World's Religions, is showing me the hub - a strange little office building in Melbourne's Docklands. It's on a road called Waterview Walk, and along one side of the road is a series of office buildings and cafes. But the hub is on the other side of the road, on its own, in the middle of a large nature strip. It's meant I suppose to introduce some notion of community into this brand new section of Melbourne which is filled with offices, apartments and retail complexes - and which hasn't grown up with synagogues and churches and mosques and temples. The Hub was donated by the City of Melbourne, as part of their support for the Parliament of the World's Religions. It's the event's central command if you like - the place where all the youth committee members gathered for their meeting the other night, and where the Parliament staff and volunteers work. Right now, in the early morning, the hub is filled with young and middle aged men and women, talking, tapping at keyboards and speaking into telephones. Reverend Ficca tells me about the history of the Parliament.
DIRK FICCA: In 1893 in Chicago there was a World's Fair - the World Columbian Exposition. Twenty million people came to Chicago that year for this world's fair and as a part of that there was a first ever world's parliament of religions. It was organised by local Catholic Protestant and Jewish leaders in Chicago and they sent 4 thousand letters around the world inviting religious leaders, scholars, activists to come to Chicago. The event began on September 11th of 1893, it lasted 17 days and about 400 religious leaders came to present either about their religion or about the role of religion in the world.
NASYA BAHFEN: There's that day that's become so significant for religion. Reverend Ficca tells me that first Parliament of the World's Religions was significant in a number of ways. It was possibly the first time that people in the United States had come across representatives of Eastern spiritual traditions such as Hinduism. It also represented a couple of other milestones.
DIRK FICCA: This was the first time in history that there was this kind of formal inter religious dialogue. Many people trace the study of comparative religion to this event. It marked a number of firsts in American religious life - the inclusion of African Americans in an event like this was quite progressive at that time. Ten per cent of the presenters were women. Most people look back to this event as the beginning of the modern inter religious movement.
NASYA BAHFEN: I wonder if the name of the event is linked to the whole issue of what interfaith dialogue can achieve. Certainly, it's one of the things listed on the FAQs or frequently asked questions section, of the parliament's website. The word Parliament conjures images of a British chamber, elected members, and lawmaking. But the Parliament is more like a gathering, instead of a body that passes bills or resolutions. Reverend Ficca explains the historical context of the name.
DIRK FICCA: Now the word Parliament - we've kind of been stuck with that word because of our historical tie to this event. For many people it has a political and legislative meaning and every month or so we think about changing it but there's some history there. We hearken back to the more ancient meaning of the word which is a safe place for civil discourse, not a legislative body. So the Parliament of the World's Religions is not a membership organisation, it's not a legislative body, but we hope it's a safe place for civil discourse.
NASYA BAHFEN: Another criticism that is often levelled at interfaith or interreligious dialogue is that such dialogue doesn't achieve anything concrete, and Reverend Ficca is realistic about what an event like this can achieve.
DIRK FICCA: People have asked me what can the interreligious movement do about terrorism for instance. And in terms of the next terrorist attack somewhere in the world probably not much. In that terrorism is born of deep seated misunderstanding and often harsh conditions that people are living under, maybe the interreligious movement can seek to overcome that or make a contribution to the articulation of that over the long haul, so that's a long term project.
NASYA BAHFEN: Manny Waks is the Jewish community activist I spoke to earlier. He'll be one of the speakers for the Parliament's youth program, and hopes the experience encourages young people to get a deeper sense of their religious identity.
MANNY WAKS: I really hope the event empowers the youth to retain and cherish their religious identity. From the way I see it it's a major component of who we are. And in my opinion it does not necessarily mean that one has to practice their religion in one way or another because that is subjective as we've seen. It's more about being conscious of it, of your religion, and making it a part of your identity.
NASYA BAHFEN: What the Parliament might mean for young people is also on the mind of Catholic delegate Madeleine Marson.
MADELEINE MARSON: I'm attending the Parliament as a delegate from a Catholic religious women's community, the Faithful Companions of Jesus, and they ran the school that I went to and I was invited to participate for them and help their school students to understand what the Parliament is, and why it is important, and encourage their involvement in the Parliament. So on that level I am very interested in engaging young people. I think it's a wonderful opportunity for young people to become involved in the cultural and religious life of Melbourne and to experience the rich diversity but I think personally I'm very interested to experience ideas and approaches to prayer, reflection, theology and how different religions live their religions. So it's a bit of a personal quest for me which I hope will be definitely spirit filled, as we often say, and also one that I'll get to encounter a lot of the theological arguments and discussions. So I'm very excited.
MUSIC: Trailer from New Muslim Cool
NASYA BAHFEN: New Muslim Cool - a film about a Puerto Rican rapper and drug dealer who left gangster life and found solace in Islam. It's one of the movies that'll be screened as part of the Parliament, where Islam is a major focus of the program. The Parliament program has an entire section devoted to Islam. I shouldn't be surprised at this, because it reflects the geopolitical reality of a post-September 11 world - a reality that's paradigm-shifting, which sounds like such a cliché, but a very real one. I was in my early twenties when September 11 took place - the same age that people like Ezra, Lewis, and Azmeena are now. But the way September 11 was covered and reported - and I'm wearing my journalism lecturer hat again now - I feel that mediation or coverage was so pervasive that it's incredibly difficult to remember what the pre-September 11 world was like - to remember how conversations went, about interfaith dialogue and where Islam fit into the world. The program for the Parliament says that "At the heart of Islam's social conscience is a shared concern for a just, peaceful and sustainable world. The Holy Qur'an repeatedly calls on Muslims to provide for the poor; to respect nature's relationship to humanity; and to come together with diverse peoples to learn from one another."
As a practising Muslim, I know all of that. But does anyone else outside of my religion? Do rightwing crazies who set up rabid ignorant anti-Islamic websites know, or care about those teachings? And while I've got my journalism academic hat on - I accept that the media is a source of information for the majority of people. For that reason, I tend to agree that most non-Muslims are ignorant about Islam because of the absolutist way the religion and its followers are portrayed (and of course, sometimes because of the absolutist way it's practiced). But when talking to people about my religion - which is something you can't escape when you wear a headscarf and you're living in Australia in the 21st century - I've often been surprised by how much some non-Muslims really do know about Islam. The Parliament's executive director, Reverend Dirk Ficca, gives me one of those, "hey" moments.
DIRK FICCA: If I were to turn over the managing of world stability and peace to one faith group, as a Christian I'd turn it over to the Muslims. I believe first of all as a tradition Islam has wrestled with the shadow side of human nature and of religion. However people feel it incorporates the just war ideas, it's done it in an intentional way. But I have found 99.9 per cent of Muslims are the most morally disciplined peace loving people I've ever met. And it's a shame that the acts of a few colour the beauty and the spiritual depth of this growing community around the world.
NASYA BAHFEN: Reverend Ficca is fully aware of the dangers of evaluating Islam not through its values but through the lens of a violent minority. He cites a very recent example.
DIRK FICCA: Other forces in the world use that stereotype of Islam to justify their own acts. So this is not only a concern for the Islamic community but the way this plays into the dynamic of the whole world is quite terrifying. A former president in my country in the few days after Sep 11 used the word Crusades. He backed off of it but the damage was done. And the ways in which after the Cold War people have now pushed Islam into that enemy category I think is devastating. And I'm terrified really that if we don't change the balance here that this could lead to catastrophe for the whole world.
NASYA BAHFEN: As a member of the Islamic Council of Victoria and a young Australian Muslim, Nazeem Hussain has experienced how his religion is under the spotlight.
NAZEEM HUSSEIN: I think Islam and Muslims in Australia are much more under the spotlight and every Muslim is seen as some sort of ambassador for their faith.
NASYA BAHFEN: In a way, Nazeem's account of how he practises his faith reminds me of the other stories I've heard. Parliament Youth Committee member Laura John, moved away from the Catholicism she was raised with. Jewish Australian Manny Waks sees himself as more secular than his Orthodox parents. I ask Nazeem to contrast his practice of Islam, here in Australia, with previous generations.
NAZEEM HUSSEIN: I guess my parents in Sri Lanka their faith was never really questioned, the way Islam has been questioned with me. So I think growing up as a Muslim in Australia you're sort of in a way forced to confront real issues facing Islam or real issues that Islam proposes to Australian life and culture. So you've really had to question your identity and really form a very kind of principled understanding of who you are. And so I guess being a Muslim in Australia is a very different experience to being say a Christian or a Jewish person or a Buddhist in Australia, because in my opinion those faiths just aren't scrutinised and, you know, they're not at the centre of public conversation.
NASYA BAHFEN: Even the Parliament puts a lot of emphasis on Islam, with large sections of its programming devoted to the Muslim faith.
MANGALAM VASAN: Everybody kept talking about how Islam has got a very prominent role in the Parliament and it's even got an extra session put to it. Something like Islam at the Parliament, something like that.
NASYA BAHFEN: But that's not something that worries Mangalam Vasan.
MANGALAM VASAN: As long as all the religions are represented and they can say whatever they want to say, I think that's OK. I'm a volunteer at the Parliament. At the moment they call me a micro media assistant which means that I publicise the parliament in my local community, so that's like the Tamil Hindu community. So I go around writing in the temple newsletters all those sort of things. We went for volunteer training as well so at the time of the Parliament, from the third to the ninth we are supposed to be fully charged waiting to serve and do whatever they ask of us. So that's one role. And the other role is I submitted a program proposal for a paper and the paper has been accepted. So I'm a presenter as well as a volunteer.
NASYA BAHFEN: There are at least nine faith traditions involved in the Parliament - I haven't even scratched the surface in terms of the many voices involved. So I spoke to Mangalam to get her perspective on the role of interfaith dialogue according to the Hindu tradition.
MANGALAM VASAN: As long as all the religions are represented and they have - they can say whatever they want to say I think that's okay. I recently had a bit of an argument - whether Bollywood represented Hinduism. So I said I strongly protested against you know underclad women dancing, and saying that it's Hinduism, so that's one of the things.
NASYA BAHFEN: I'm not too familiar with Hindu teachings on interfaith dialogue.
MANGALAM VASAN: I think Hinduism is like very much...we don't have any sort of bias against other religions or anything like that because most of our teachings say all religions are acceptable. And I mean our Gods are supposed to have said there are many paths to the God or Gods or whatever you can say, or the Supreme Reality - whatever you would like to call it. So we are not very rigid as to the path. I think it's a flexible religion which accepts all other religions. I think interfaith would go very well with Hinduism because we don't have any problem accepting other religions.
NASYA BAHFEN: Through my preparations for this program, I've come across different views about the value of interfaith dialogue. Some of the phrases used in my conversations with people involved with the event come up again and again - preaching to the choir, better to engage than not, and finding common ground.
19 year old Eleanor is one of the members of the Platform Youth Theatre. She was the most reluctant to talk. But when she did, she said something that blew me away with its simplicity.
ELEANOR: My character mostly feels good about herself through helping other people. It's almost like an addiction she has to help people in order to feel better about herself. Yeah it's been a very different experience to work with people from all different backgrounds and stuff, and you just learn more about yourself and other people.
NASYA BAHFEN: I still think that there are dangers with interfaith dialogue - the pressure to conform or bend your beliefs to accommodate other faiths, for example - but my two main areas of distrust with interfaith in general, and with this particular event in particular, have gone some way to being addressed. Yes, interfaith dialogue preaches to the converted, and no, it doesn't achieve quick concrete aims. But it's more about the long term goals, and learning about yourself and other people - something that, in the post September 11 world, isn't that easy to dismiss.
NASYA BAHFEN: This has been Encounter. Thanks to all the participants for their contributions and best of luck for the event. You can find out more about the forthcoming Parliament of the World's Religions by checking out the Encounter webpage: go to and click on Encounter. You'll find a transcript of this program and links to information about the Parliament. It's still possible to register - and Radio National will be there and blogging live from the Parliament! Technical production was by Carey Dell and the program was written and produced by me, Nasya Bahfen.
Reverend Dirk Ficca, Director, Council for the Parliament of the World's Religions
Platform Youth Theatre:Writer: Adam CassActors: Neil Tifford, Kayla Roberts, Lewis Allen, Ezra Cohen
Speakers/delegates at the Parliament:Manny Waks, founder, Capital Jewish ForumNazeem Hussain, director, Islamic Council of VictoriaMadeleine Marson, Catholic delegate, Archdiocese of MelbourneMangalam Vasan, Tamil Hindu community presenter
Parliament of the World's Religions Youth CommitteeYouth Community Organiser: Gemma McDonaldMembers: Michael Korman, Hella Ibrahim, Azmeena Hussain, Alanna Bruce, Sharon Cluster, Lina Magh, Laura John
Further Information
Parliament of the World's Religions
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CD title: ReligionTrack title: Didn't It RainComposer: V. Reed/C. Roberts after trad.CD details: KOK2132Publishing/Copyright: Koka Media
Nasya Bahfen
Sound Engineer
Carey Dell
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