I live in Arizona, and I recently read a news article that said “More than a quarter of Arizonans are leaving religion behind.” It saddened but didn’t surprise me.
Just as many people have left political party membership behind and registered as non-partisan, a growing number of people have also given up on what they term “organized religion.” The news article referred to a study from the Pew Research Center that found the number of people nationwide who ceased to be affiliated with a particular religion grew from 16 percent in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014, a 7 percent increase. In the same time period, the numbers grew only 5 percent in Arizona, but that still puts the state 27 percent above the national average.
I’ve listened to many friends and acquaintances state that their dissatisfaction with religion stems from the concept of exclusivity. In high school one of my girlfriends gave up on going to church because she refused to believe, after being told by her priest in no uncertain terms, that her friends were doomed to be consigned to hell because they didn’t belong to the right denomination. So she didn’t give up on God, just on church. At that time we decided she believed in Christianity but not, as we dubbed it, “Churchianity.”
I found the essence of what she and I thought religion was all about in these teachings dubbed The Native American Ten Commandments:
- Treat the Earth and all that dwell therein with respect
- Remain close to the Great Spirit
- Show great respect for your fellow beings
- Work together for the benefit of all Mankind
- Give assistance and kindness wherever needed
- Do what you know to be right
- Look after the well-being of Mind and Body
- Dedicate a share of your efforts to the greater Good
- Be truthful and honest at all times
- Take full responsibility for your actions
During his college years my husband, Don, came to the conclusion, as many young people are doing today, that God was a myth created by man. He and I never discussed religion because, he said, it was too personal a subject and was best kept private.
What he probably really felt was fear that I might harangue him with my own, strong faith. I’d become a member of the Baha’i Faith as a teenager and was quite passionate about my beliefs.
However, Don is an avid reader and his curiosity led him to pick up my Baha’i books. He finished all the volumes in my library. One day, with no warning, as we’d had no discussions about it, he startled me with the remark, “It’s hard to imagine there was a time when I didn’t believe there was a God.” That is the power of the Word, which he read in the Baha’i writings. Its penetrating influence reaches deep into the heart and soul.
He read numerous passages in the Baha’i Writings which speak to the importance of religion in our personal lives, and in the life of society as a whole. They urge us to look beyond sectarian differences and find the threads of unity that tie us all to the same God. They explain how religion must work in order to dissolve differences and work toward peace. One example from the writings of Abdu’l-Baha tells us that:
We are all his servants. He is kind and just to all. Why should we be unkind and unjust to each other? He provides for all. Why should we deprive one another? He protects and preserves all. Why should we kill our fellow creatures? If this warfare and strife be for the sake of religion, it is evident that it violates the spirit and basis of all religion. All the divine manifestations have proclaimed the oneness of God and the unity of mankind. They have taught that men should love and mutually help each other in order that they might progress. Now if this conception of religion be true, its essential principle is the oneness of humanity. The fundamental truth of the manifestations is peace. This underlies all religion, all justice. The divine purpose is that men should live in unity, concord and agreement and should love one another. Consider the virtues of the human world and realize that the oneness of humanity is the primary foundation of them all. Read the gospel and the other holy books. You will find their fundamentals are one and the same. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 32.
The Baha’i teachings also explain that:
…religion is a mighty bulwark. If the edifice of religion shakes and totters, commotion and chaos will ensue and the order of things will be utterly upset, for in the world of mankind there are two safeguards that protect man from wrongdoing. One is the law which punishes the criminal; but the law prevents only the manifest crime and not the concealed sin; whereas the ideal safeguard, namely, the religion of God, prevents both the manifest and the concealed crime, trains man, educates morals, compels the adoption of virtues and is the all-inclusive power which guarantees the felicity of the world of mankind. But by religion is meant that which is ascertained by investigation and not that which is based on mere imitation, the foundation of divine religions and not human imitations. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 302-303.
May our love for the Creator, and our understanding that He loves all creation, help us to see each other as members of the same family and break down the barriers we’ve created in order to allow God’s love to bring us together in unity.