A Book Review



A review of Bishop William E. Swing’s The Coming United Religions (CoNexus Press, 1998), as posted by Lee Penn at Amazon.com in April 2000:



In this book, Bishop Swing makes his best case for the United Religions Initiative (URI), a spiritual equivalent of the United Nations that would encompass all religions and spiritual movements. Nevertheless, The Coming United Religions illustrates the fundamental flaws of the URI.


Religious Unity – Or Syncretism?


The Bishop argues that "at the heart of religions there is unity which transcends the world" (p.. 58). On p. 59, Swing illustrates religious unity as he sees it. Six lines represent the major faiths - Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and the indigenous religions. These lines converge from below to meet at a single peak, divine unity. At the top of this mountain are the esoteric believers in all faiths. They "intuit that they were ultimately in unity with people of other religions because all come together at the apex, in the Divine. Everyone below the line would be identified as exoteric. These people in all religions would wed the form of faith to the content or final truth of their own faith. Thus the forms of one's faith become absolutized because these forms, alone, are held to carry the truth." (p. 59) Swing thus demotes Jesus, whom Christians worship as the only Lord and Savior, to a "form of faith." He assumes away the contradictory beliefs and world views of the world's religions, and advocates a form of syncretism that could hardly appeal to a dedicated believer in any of the faiths.


Bishop Swing says that "In the same way that the United Nations is not a nation, the United Religions would not be a religion." (p. 62) However, he also says that the URI will require a "spiritual momentum" that will carry it - and us - to a new spiritual unity. Swing says, "Originally I thought that the impetus for the coming together of religions would be finding a common moral voice and taking mutual action - without getting into the areas associated with spirituality ... But I no longer think that. If there is ever going to be a United Religions it will only happen because the Ultimate Ground of Being wills it. ... A United Religions will either have a distinct spiritual momentum far beyond its own cleverness or it simply will not be." (p. 22)


Bishop Swing goes on to describe the unity that will arise via the URI:


"In the United Religions: a) Silent respect would be rendered to every religion as each pursues its sacred path. b) That Which Binds Us Is Beyond Us. As each religion renders silent respect to other religions, the rising mutual sympathy will lead to the discovery of a unifying mystery. c) That Which Is Beyond Us Will Bind Us. The unifying mystery that will be discovered will persuade religions of an ever-increasing kinship with each other and with all life." (p. 63)


Swing Seeks “A Common Purpose For All Religions”


Bishop Swing does not name the "unifying mystery" that "will bind us." Instead, he says, "The time comes, though, when common language and a common purpose for all religions and spiritual movements must be discerned and agreed upon. Merely respecting and understanding other religions is not enough." (p. 63) If the purpose of religion is to worship God, then Bishop Swing is calling all to worship a common god.


Bishop Swing cites the Vatican II document Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) to support the URI: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions, (and) has high regard for their conduct and way of life for those precepts and doctrines which, although differing on many points from that (which) the Church believes and propounds, often reflect a ray of that truth that enlightens all men." (p. 17) His quotation is disingenuous. Swing did not cite the very next sentences from Nostra Aetate: "Yet she [the Church] proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail, Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn. 1:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19), men find the fullness of their religious life."


Confusing Religious Evangelization With Religious Violence


In The Coming United Religions, Bishop Swing equates Christian evangelism and conversion to "proselytizing." When Swing preached the URI message to a Bible study class at the Maramon, a week-long revival meeting of the Mar Toma Church in Southern India, "In an instant, the little Bible study turned into a wild scene of interrogative and declarative assertions. Hundreds of energized people with Bibles in their hands came hurrying out of the jungle. They had come together at the Maramon in order to excite a passion to go out and convert every Hindu and Moslem possible. And here I was stating that the religions, themselves, need to come together and discover a new level of interacting. This, clearly, was perceived to be a threat to proselytizing." (p. 33)


Swing equates "proselytizing" to religious violence. He identifies Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as "exclusive religions" (p. 31) and says, "if billions of people from exclusive religions are commanded to oppose the godly claims of other exclusive religions, what hope is there for peace among religions? In order for a United Religions to come about and for religions to pursue peace among each other, there will have to be a godly cease-fire, a temporary truce where the absolute exclusive claims of each will be honored but an agreed upon neutrality will be exercised in terms of proselytizing, condemning, murdering, or dominating. These will not be tolerated in the United Religions zone" (p. 31).


If You Dislike This Review, You Will Enjoy Swing’s Book


If you find this review to be mean-spirited, intolerant, and "fundamentalist," then you will enjoy reading The Coming United Religions and should buy it now. It will supply your minimum daily requirement for Anglican theological treacle. The Coming United Religions is a fast read - a thin book with text in large type and plenty of white space on the pages. You will be able to finish the book and still have plenty of time for high tea and sherry. Tallyho!


Lee Penn



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Document Published on leepenn.org on October 22, 2007

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