Throughout human history—when periods of disbelief, estrangement and religious degeneration have reached their lowest point—a new Faith has always appeared.
Like trees in a healthy forest, when the old ones fall and die, new ones take their place.
This eternal cycle of decline and renewal has played its part in the birth of every major Faith.
For example: new messengers appeared and created Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity, always when the fortunes of the wider society had reached their lowest ebb, and when the previous religious dispensation had lost its initial spiritual power. In each period the previous religions had each devolved into sectarianism, conflict and open hostility. The progress of civilization had waned. The collective spirituality of the entire culture had deteriorated. The light of the lamp of God was almost quenched.
Then, metaphorically, a new day dawned:
… the Sun of Reality, when it illumines the horizon of the inner world, animates, vivifies and quickens with a divine and wonderful power. The trees of human minds clothe themselves in new and verdant robes, putting on leaves and blossoms and bearing spiritual fruits of the heavenly glad tidings. Then fragrant flowers of inner significances appear from the soil of human souls, and the whole being of man awakens to a new and divine activity. This is the growth and development of the inner world through the effulgent light of divine guidance and the heat of the fire of the love of God.
The physical sun has its rising and its setting. The earthly world has its day and its night. After each sunset there is a sunrise and the coming of a new dawn. The Sun of Reality, likewise, has its rising and setting. There is a day and a night in the world of spirituality. After each departure there is a return and the dawning light of a new day. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 271.
Today, we see the dynamics of this cyclical process playing out all across the world, as people become disenchanted with their parents’ religions, begin to question them and increasingly leave those antiquated traditions behind. After all, if those traditions have lost their inner significance, their meaning, their vitality, then why would people continue to follow them?
This restless, questing energy motivates people to embark on a spiritual search, to look for something that gives life meaning and purpose and enlightenment. That energy has flooded our contemporary world. Seekers from every previous tradition and Faith have embarked on their own individual paths, trying to find a new way to understand reality and feed their own spiritual hunger.
The Baha’i teachings encourage that search:
Know thou of a truth that the seeker must, at the beginning of his quest for God, enter the Garden of Search. In this journey it behoveth the wayfarer to detach himself from all save God and to close his eyes to all that is in the heavens and on the earth. There must not linger in his heart either the hate or the love of any soul, to the extent that they would hinder him from attaining the habitation of the celestial Beauty. He must sanctify his soul from the veils of glory and refrain from boasting of such worldly vanities, outward knowledge, or other gifts as God may have bestowed upon him. He must search after the truth to the utmost of his ability and exertion, that God may guide him in the paths of His favour and the ways of His mercy. – Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 18.
But why have we entered such a questing, questioning age? Why do more people than ever before describe themselves as seekers with no particular religious affiliation or formal belief system?
From a Baha’i perspective, that searching spirit is a healthy development, an understandable and appropriate response to the need for a renewal of religion and a new sense of spiritual possibility.
The Baha’i teachings say religion is a single organic system that requires periodic renewal—which actually offers an enormous amount of hope to those who independently search for their own truth:
Thus it is that through the rise of these Luminaries of God the world is made new, the waters of everlasting life stream forth, the billows of loving-kindness surge, the clouds of grace are gathered, and the breeze of bounty bloweth upon all created things. – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, p. 33.
The progressive Baha’i teachings ask us to understand all religion and its cycle of renewal as one evolving process, rather than as a fixed and dogmatic event that happened once in the distant past. They gently awaken us and ask us to look out at a new dawn.