The Quiet Revolution
Peter Kirkwood The Quiet Revolution (ABC Books, 2007)
Reviewed by Lachlan McInnes
(Reviewed October 2008)
This book by Peter Kirkwood partly uses interviews with a variety of religious leaders from several faith systems. It is relevant to the 2009 Parliament of Religion which will be held in Melbourne in 2009. Peter Kirkwood has augmented the interviews which he conducted in conjunction with Geraldine Doogue. In the context of the modern world, religion cannot be ignored. It is basic to the modern situation.
The thesis is plainly set out in the introduction. We are once again in an Axial Age, similar to that of the 8th to the 2nd centuries BCE when a revolution in religious thought took place giving rise to Confucianism in China, Buddhism in India, monotheism in Palestine and philosophical thought in Greece. We are experiencing, as never before, the interplay between religious systems as races and cultures intermix. Kirkwood states that the modern situation and particularly modern science has forced us out of isolation and made us rethink the old concepts. The unity behind all religious experience becomes apparent. The fact that the ‘unknown’ is unknowable further impels us to an understanding of the different faith systems. In view of the situation of world population we must learn acceptance of each other and live in peace. Otherwise there will be no future for mankind.
Quotations from the Dalai Lama: “Because we all share this small planet earth, we have to learn to live in harmony and peace with each other and with nature. This is not just a dream but a necessity.”
And from Martin Luther King: “A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together. This is the great new problem of mankind.”
Kirkwood reports on his interviews with several leaders of a variety of religions, conducted in the ABC’s Compass programme and of the pioneering interfaith communities. He then asks whether a world religion is possible and writes on the dangers of fundamentalism which claims that it alone had the whole truth and all others are wrong.
The fact that we live in an age when globalisation is becoming more and more a factor so that people of different cultures, belief systems and ethnic groups are living in close proximity, there is an increasing need for interfaith dialogue without which our whole civilisation is doomed. There is an urgency for mutual understanding and acceptance. With the rise of ‘fundamentalism’ in all religions, especially in Islam and Christianity which can, and does, lead to violence, the need is increasingly urgent.
Kirkwood states that when he first began co-authoring the book, he called it Death or Dialogue. He writes:
what we call dialogue is a recognition that we’re in this together and we have to work out our human existence together… [It is of no use just condemning] fundamentalism in its variety of forms for it is a response to the increasing globalisation and secularisation in the modern world. It is a fear response. However it must be accepted as part of our modern situation and dialogue conducted as far as possible.
Several groups of Inter-Faith communities have arisen in the U.S.A. and there are several schools for interfaith ministers. These conduct worship using several different religious texts, conduct marriages and funerals and welcome babies. Both these have attracted opposition, naturally, from the conservative Christian groups but they have an influence far beyond their own membership. There is, in Sydney, an Interfaith minister who conducts services. In the U.S.A., several Christian, Judaist and Islamic groups are taking part. It is even reported that an Islamic scholarly Imam was hosted by St.Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney.
Kirkwood’s final word:
that one faith might throw light on another and that for our global survival it will be necessary to bring these various faiths together, not in unity, but in harmony. These people are giving glimpses of what their new religiousness may look like, they are vanguards of an emerging faith consciousness, the pioneers of a spiritual revolution.
The book is essential reading for all adherents and non-adherents of the variety of faith systems who seek to be informed of the present world situation, it possibilities and dangers.