Although it’s been 125 years since Swami Vivekananda’s Chicago Address at the Parliament of Religion, it is easy to understand what makes the speech so significant and relevant.
A TONE AND A GOAL ARE SET
An alien listening to this speech would not realise that millennia of religious animosity pervades human history. Swami Vivekananda makes it sound like harmony and peace are the norm and that dissension is abnormal. This sets a tone of positivity and makes us wonder why the animosity exists. He shows us that hating another’s religion is frivolous.
He tells us that humanity can rise above the arbitrary lines of religion, race, caste or sect that we have imposed upon ourselves. If we do this, we can eradicate bigotry and racism.
DIVERSITY PERPETUATES LIFE
To quote the animated movie Ghost in the Shell,
If we all reacted the same way, we’d be predictable, and there’s always more than one way to view a situation. What’s true for the group is also true for the individual. It’s simple: Overspecialize, and you breed in weakness. It’s slow death.
Hence, one cannot expect one’s own point of view to be superior to another’s. Different perspectives are not just something we need to learn to tolerate; these perspectives are essential for our learning and growth as a species. Swami Vivekananda points this out in the context of religions.
ASSIMILATION OF ALL RELIGIONS
He also stresses that one shouldn’t hope for unity by the prevalence of any one religion and the destruction of other religions, but by the coexistence or sublation(combination without loss) of all religions.
The sublation or assimilation of all religions could result in a combination of all perspectives which would be superior to any one religion or point of view.
Humans, as forgetful as we are, need constant reminders; Reminders that we don’t have to separate ourselves into ‘us and them’ groups; Reminders that we need people who are different from us; Reminders that our differences are what make us formidable. And the anniversary of this speech is that yearly reminder that helps us strive to be better and to do better.