When Abdu’l-Baha spoke in Paris in 1913, many of the world’s religions were at odds with each other. The Ottoman Empire had just fallen five years before; some Protestant-leagued forces in Europe had begun to embrace fascism and oppose Jewish and Romany populations; several of the religious leaders of various sects and denominations were openly advocating for war, which would break out in the following year and plunge the world into its worst conflagration in history.
This ugly corruption of religion’s original message of love and harmony prompted Abdu’l-Baha, one of the world’s leading religious figures of the time, to call for the banishment of such hate-filled and warlike religion:
Religion must be the cause of affection. It must be a joy-bringer. If it become the cause of difference, it were better to banish it. Should it become the source of hatred, or warfare, it were better that it should not exist. If a remedy produce added illness, it were far better to discard the remedy. A religion which does not conform with the postulates of science is merely superstition. In which sacred book do you find this thought? Tell me! – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 82.
This call, radical for its time and still radical today, resounds throughout the entire body of the Baha’i teachings:
Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth, give birth to spirituality, and bring life and light to each heart. If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion. All the holy prophets were as doctors to the soul; they gave prescriptions for the healing of mankind; thus any remedy that causes disease does not come from the great and supreme Physician. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 130.
In the short passage from his speech in Paris, however, Abdu’l-Baha goes beyond his theme of religion as joy-bringer and unifier. He also devotes a sentence to another one of the major principles of the Baha’i Faith: the essential agreement of science and religion. “A religion which does not conform with the postulates of science,” he says, “is merely superstition.” That remarkable concept, never before expressed by any Faith, placed the Baha’i teachings squarely in the forefront of the rational and scientific movement of the time:
Religion must agree with science, so that science shall sustain religion and religion explain science. The two must be brought together, indissolubly, in reality. Down to the present day it has been customary for man to accept blindly what was called religion, even though it were not in accord with human reason. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 25.
This unusual, unique and unprecedented stand marked a dramatic departure from past religions and traditions. It challenged the dogma of the time, exalted the human intellectual faculty, and for the first time in all of religious history, put religion and science on an equal footing.