It has been my experience as a rabbi, who for over fifty years has been involved in interfaith activities, that all the spiritual leaders of the various religions espouse the principle of the oneness of God and the commonality of the human race.
All of our scriptures basically teach this belief. And yet, there seems to be a wide gap between this article of faith and our personal and communal conduct. In other words, our self-interest and our organizational interests take precedence over our care and concern for those outside our own fold, while this noble principle remains for the most part merely a fond wish.
Why is it so hard for us to be more inclusive and more accepting of others?
To answer a question of this magnitude we need to look back at the history of cultures and religions. It has been invariably a history of conflicts, many of them deadly. God in many cultures since the beginning of time has been portrayed as a warrior. People turned to their God or gods for protection from their enemies, and for victory on the battlefield. When a tribe or a nation was defeated and lost its sovereignty, its deity was no longer credible, and ceased to be worshiped.
The gods of ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece and Rome only survive in the mythologies of those cultures. It was not until the advent of monotheism that idea of the one eternal God of the Universe emerged. But even then, mainly with the spread of Christianity and Islam in all their varieties, the belief in one God did not bring about a peaceful world, as local, regional, and even world conflicts have continued to this day.
Many people today no longer believe that the human race is capable of bringing about a world of peace and harmony. While all the major religions express this wish in their liturgies, it remains just that—a wish. Perhaps someday it will happen, but that day seems far off.
Which brings me to the Baha’i Faith.
For the past several months I have been involved with Baha’i study and prayer groups, and other Baha’i activities. What I found out is that this Abrahamic faith, which is not nearly as well-known to the world as its Jewish, Christian, and Muslim predecessors, actually brings together people of all creeds and cultures, who socialize, study, and pray as though the world has finally come together in peace and harmony, a living proof that such a world is possible under the universal principles of the Baha’i Faith, which are:
- The oneness of humanity.
- Universal peace upheld by a world government.
- Independent investigation of truth.
- The common foundation of all religions.
- The essential harmony of science and religion.
- Equality of men and women.
- Elimination of prejudice of all kinds.
- Universal compulsory education.
- A spiritual solution to the economic problem.
- A universal auxiliary language.
Isn’t this what the world needs today more than ever before? Shouldn’t all religions come together and adopt these principles as a universal expression of the oneness of God and the oneness of humanity?
As a progressive Jew, I espouse these principles whole-heartedly, and I am sure all enlightened spiritual leaders of all faith systems do as well. None of us has to give up our own beliefs and traditions. We all have a rich heritage which continues to inspire and inform us, and which links us to our ancestors. We each have our own way of connecting with our personal and communal source of faith.
What the Baha’i Faith offers us, as I have found out, is not to give up who we are or who we have been, but rather a path that brings all of us together in pursuit of our common humanity and our common destiny as fellow-travelers on a small planet in a vast universe whose only hope for the future is working together as custodians of our Earth and of our common spiritual heritage:
O contending peoples and kindreds of the earth! Set your faces towards unity, and let the radiance of its light shine upon you. Gather ye together, and for the sake of God resolve to root out whatever is the source of contention amongst you. Then will the effulgence of the world’s great Luminary envelop the whole earth, and its inhabitants become the citizens of one city, and the occupants of one and the same throne… There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God… Cleave unto that which draweth you together and uniteth you. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 216.