Historic Meeting Shows Religions at Their Best and Worst
The U.N. Millennium World Peace Summit had more breadth than depth
BY: Chris Herlinger
Others, however, said the summit was weighted too heavily in favor of Hindus and those of other Eastern faiths, whose flowing robes became a common sight in the halls of the hotel and the United Nations.
The summit's organizers seemed to steel themselves for the expected criticisms. At a Wednesday press briefing, Bawa Jain, the summit's general secretary, and Dena Merriam, the summit's vice chairman, responded to some of the criticisms: Yes, women were a minority at the summit, but their voices were being heard; the conference was not expressly political, but the fact that Tibetan Buddhists were able to read a statement from the Dalai Lama in the hall of the General Assembly was itself a sign of progress.
"I have to commend the Chinese," said Jain. "We've come a long way with them [on this issue]."
As he would so often during the summit, Jain said that, however imperfect, the summit had important symbolic value and would lend greater spiritual wisdom to the U.N. at a time when its role was being expanded internationally. "The U.N. has never seen a sight like this," he said.
Beyond the symbolism, however, was something of lasting value and importance, said David Little, director of the Center for the Study of Values in Public Life at Harvard University and a member of the Scholars' Group at Harvard Divinity School, one of the summit's partners.
"Yes, it's a slow, glacial process, but it's worth trying because it gets dialogue going," Little said of the summit and its attempt to get religious leaders to think more concretely about issues of poverty, conflict resolution and environmental damage.
Calling himself an adherent of the political realism espoused by the late American Christian ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr, Little said it was important "to sound a new note" and begin a process by which religious leaders can more clearly engage ``the political and legal world and force them to face up to political realities."
"However awkward," he said, "it is a start in the right direction."