A Baha’i friend of mine used to say, when he heard an opinion he didn’t necessarily agree with at a Baha’i meeting, “Hey, it takes all kinds to make a world religion.”
I always laughed when he said it, and it helped me recognize a salient fact: most things that seem funny at first have a grain of pure truth in them. Maybe that’s why we laugh—because the best humor is so true.
My friend’s quip reminded me that the Baha’i Faith has a profound and daunting mission—uniting the world. If you’ve ever tried to unite a small group of people, you already know about the hard work unity requires. Unity asks everyone to focus on the good of all, rather than the good of the individual or of any one specific group. That’s difficult in every setting—a classroom, a company, a country. It’s even more difficult on a global scale.
Fostering unity—something that every true leader attempts to do—requires inspiration, patience, wisdom, maturity and greatness of vision. Fostering unity takes disparate individuals and groups and forges them into a unit with a singular purpose. It allows for a divergence of thoughts and ideas, since only despotic leaders require everyone to think alike, while it rises above personal opinion with higher and more illuminating goals. It melds different lifestyles, perspectives and opinions into oneness by encouraging everyone to reach for something beyond themselves and seek the peace and contentment unity can bring.
That’s the core teaching and the ultimate spiritual mission of the Baha’i Faith—to unify the world:
He Who is the Unconditioned is come, in the clouds of light, that He may quicken all created things with the breeze of His Name, the Most Merciful, and unify the world, and gather all men around this Table which hath been sent down from heaven. – Baha’u’llah, The Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, p. 17.
Baha’is believe that the truly transcendent voice of an entirely new religion will help humanity accomplish that mission:
Consider history. What has brought unity to nations, morality to peoples and benefits to mankind? If we reflect upon it, we will find that establishing the divine religions has been the greatest means toward accomplishing the oneness of humanity. The foundation of divine reality in religion has done this, not imitations of ancestral religious forms. Imitations are opposed to each other and have ever been the cause of strife, enmity, jealousy and war. The divine religions are collective centers in which diverse standpoints may meet, agree and unify. They accomplish oneness of native lands, races and policies. For instance, Christ united various nations, brought peace to warring peoples and established the oneness of humankind. The conquering Greeks and Romans, the prejudiced Egyptians and Assyrians were all in a condition of strife, enmity and war, but Christ gathered these varied peoples together and removed the foundations of discord—not through racial, patriotic or political power, but through divine power, the power of the Holy Spirit. This was not otherwise possible. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 158.
That’s probably why my friend said it takes all kinds to make a world religion—because, by definition, anything truly global in nature will encompass just about every kind of person, every kind of opinion and every kind of background. In order to accommodate all of those divergent people, the unity that holds them together has to be stronger than what separates them.
So what can we do as individuals to bring about unity? Here’s the advice to each and every person from the Baha’i writings, which counsel us to “affiliate with all, love all humanity and seek to ever better its condition:”
Certain religious teachers, however, think only of their creeds. They believe a holy war can conquer the world. They reason thus: “All the other religious teachers are in error and I am obliged to chastise them and show them their mistakes for their own salvation.”
The belief of the friends of God is quite different. They believe that one must affiliate with all, love all humanity and seek ever to better its condition. God is one, the true shepherd of all creation. Let us be kind to every one in order to unify the world and spread affection abroad.
Let us be ready to give our lives, our fortunes, positions, achievements, in order that a new state of existence may be diffused throughout the earth. There are fellow-beings who are weaker than we are, let us strengthen them; there are those who are more ignorant, we must teach them; some are as children, help them to develop; many are asleep, awaken them; others are ill, heal them; never despise them. Be kinder to them than to the stronger ones. One must always be kinder to the weak and ill and to the children. Never seek to humiliate your brother. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 97.
If you’re interested in building unity among people with different opinions, cultures, racial and ethnic backgrounds and religions, then this deep spiritual advice—“let us be kind to everyone in order to unify the world …” and “never seek to humiliate your brother”—will take you a long way toward the goal of oneness:
… since the Prophets themselves, the Founders, have loved, praised and testified of each other, why should we disagree and be alienated? God is one. He is the Shepherd of all. We are His sheep and, therefore, should live together in love and unity. We should manifest the spirit of justness and goodwill toward each other. Shall we do this, or shall we censure and pronounce anathema, praising ourselves and condemning all others? What possible good can come from such attitude and action? On the contrary, nothing but enmity and hatred, injustice and inhumanity can possibly result. Has not this been the greatest cause of bloodshed, woe and tribulation in the past? – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 410.