Looking over thousands of years of the story of humanity, most people would name, as our greatest disappointment, the bloody reality of humans fighting over territory and religious belief.
If God really is the Father of all people, why do His children behave this way?
Surely the Creator gives us clues of an evolutionary pattern in the natural realm. The cycle of the seasons shows a concept of cyclical orbits. The plant kingdom reveals a progression of birth, youth, maturity, old age and death. Miraculously, the tiny seed becomes a great tree. In time it disappears back to the world of carbon, re-born again through dispersed atoms in different forms, with one constant theme of change and metamorphosis. In the natural kingdom, the serpent sheds its old skin, the glorious butterfly frees itself from the rigid cage of the chrysalis, and the delicate form of an infant child becomes an old tired bent figure looking at the threshold of death’s door–but a spiritual journey awaits the worn old man.
If you stand back and look at the broad sweep of history, this clear pattern emerges in all life, and the idea of birth, youth, maturity and decline becomes apparent in the story of religion as well. It starts when God speaks to society through a chosen person–a Messenger of God.
From the Creator comes the real source of truth, and a true line of Prophets or Manifestations speaks those words of truth to humanity. Those prophets: Abraham, Zoroaster, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, etc., are the founders of civilizations and the real source of social and spiritual change.
The Messengers of God bring indisputable authority to the human kingdom, and they ask us to carry out their grand design. This plan seems logical and progressive in its revelation, but what went wrong with the divine application? How did humanity fail to get the memo?
You can understand the process by knowing that decline is normal and rebirth is necessary. Abdu’l-Baha says atrophy and decay are a natural stage in the evolution of religion:
So it is with religions; through the passing of time they change from their original foundation, the truth of the Religion of God entirely departs, and the spirit of it does not stay; heresies appear, and it becomes a body without a soul. That is why it is renewed. – Some Answered Questions, p. 165.
Our inherent qualities as human beings make this process occur. First, we don’t always see the “big” picture or panorama of religion. We usually see only the “little” picture, taught to us by religious leaders. People contend that their religion is “true” or the “way,” while calling others “false.” Instead of questioning their own beliefs, people happily adhere to the faith of their forefathers.
The Baha’i teachings speak directly to this lack of independent investigation of the truth, and to what happens when we rely on tradition, superstition and dogma instead of thoroughly evaluating our own beliefs:
In short, by religion we mean those necessary bonds which have power to unify. This has ever been the essence of the religion of God. This is the eternal bestowal of God! This is the object of divine teachings and laws! This is the light of the everlasting life! Alas! A thousand times alas! that this solid foundation is abandoned and forgotten and the leaders of religions have fabricated a set of superstitions and rituals which are at complete variance with the underlying thought. As these man-made ideas differ from each other they cause dissension which breeds strife and ends in war and bloodshed; the blood of innocent people is spilled, their possessions are pillaged and their children become captives and orphans.
Thus religion which was destined to become the cause of friendship has become the cause of enmity. Religion, which was meant to be sweet honey, is changed into bitter poison. Religion, the function of which was to illumine humanity, has become the factor of obscuration and gloom. Religion, which was to confer the consciousness of everlasting life, has become the fiendish instrument of death. As long as these superstitions are in the hands and these nets of dissimulation and hypocrisy in the fingers, religion will be the most harmful agency on this planet. These superannuated traditions, which are inherited unto the present day, must be abandoned, and thus free from past superstitions we must investigate the original intention. The basis on which they have fabricated the superstructures will be seen to be one, and that one, absolute reality; and as reality is indivisible, complete unity and amity will be instituted and the true religion of God will become unveiled in all its beauty and sublimity in the assemblage of the world. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 161-162.
When the human race overcomes the prejudices and hypocrisy of its old beliefs, the Baha’i teachings say, we can unify humanity and end the terrible scourge of war and killing that has plagued us throughout history.