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The counterfeit or imitation of true religion has adulterated human belief, and the foundations have been lost sight of. The variance of these imitations has produced enmity and strife, war and bloodshed. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 152.
More and more, a large percentage of the modern world seems to reject religion.
Fewer and fewer people, especially the young, say they have a religion. Churches, mosques and synagogues are emptying out. Surveys show that a growing percentage, as much as a third to a half of the populations of most developed nations, say they have no religious preference, or are “spiritual but not religious.”
In some ways, organized religion itself must shoulder much of the blame for that massive departure of believers from the ranks. Divergent dogmas and contending creeds; arguments over the efficacy of science; an emphasis on money and materialism; conflict and even actual combat amongst various sects and involvement in partisan politics has led many religious belief systems to depart from their original spiritual message. Far removed from those spiritual roots, religion becomes ossified and dead. As Abdu’l-Baha said, counterfeit religion has produced “enmity and strife, war and bloodshed.”
The Baha’i teachings offer a remedy:
If a man would succeed in his search after truth, he must, in the first place, shut his eyes to all the traditional superstitions of the past… All religions have gradually become bound by tradition and dogma.
All consider themselves, respectively, the only guardians of the truth, and that every other religion is composed of errors. They themselves are right, all others are wrong! … If all condemn one another, where shall we search for truth? All contradicting one another, all cannot be true. If each believe his particular religion to be the only true one, he blinds his eyes to the truth in the others…
We should, therefore, detach ourselves from the external forms and practices of religion. We must realize that these forms and practices, however beautiful, are but garments clothing the warm heart and the living limbs of Divine truth. We must abandon the prejudices of tradition if we would succeed in finding the truth at the core of all religions. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 135.
“Abandon the prejudices of tradition,” “detach ourselves from the external forms and practices of religion,” and shut our eyes “to all the traditional superstitions of the past,” the Baha’i teachings counsel us. How can we do that? How can we find our own true religion rather than an imitation?
First, we can look inward, and understand our own truth by examining what we each believe. One Baha’i I dearly love, my wife, did that long before she ever encountered the Baha’i Faith, simply by writing down a list of her own deepest inner spiritual beliefs. Those beliefs, and her written expression of them, actually guided her to explore many faiths, and then become a Baha’i as a result of that search. If you make a list of what you truly believe, the outcome might surprise you.
Second, we can look carefully at the inner principles of the religions we most respect, and see if they match our own.
Third, we can compare those two things and decide whether the religion we’re investigating actually attempts to live up to its founder’s original message and principles. All great Faiths began with teachings of love and harmony—but do they try to practice those principles today? Have those belief systems retained their integrity? And don’t all religions, in essence, teach the same basic principles? What if, instead of picking and choosing among religions, we decided that all religions are one?
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. Therefore unity is the essential truth of religion and when so understood embraces all the virtues of the human world. Praise be to God! this knowledge has been spread, eyes have been opened and ears have become attentive. Therefore we must endeavor to promulgate and practice the religion of God which has been founded by all the prophets. And the religion of God is absolute love and unity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 50.
The ocean of divine mercy is surging, the vernal showers are descending, the Sun of Reality is shining gloriously. Heavenly teachings applicable to the advancement in human conditions have been revealed in this merciful age. This re-formation and renewal of the fundamental reality of religion constitute the true and outworking spirit of modernism, the unmistakable light of the world, the manifest effulgence of the Word of God, the divine remedy for all human ailment and the bounty of eternal life to all mankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 10.