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Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. – Martin Luther King Jr.
Consider what it is that singles man out from among created beings, and makes of him a creature apart. Is it not his reasoning power, his intelligence? Shall he not make use of these in his study of religion? I say unto you: weigh carefully in the balance of reason and science everything that is presented to you as religion. If it passes this test, then accept it, for it is truth! If, however, it does not so conform, then reject it, for it is ignorance! – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 144.
Abdu’l-Baha gave this remarkable spiritual advice—so completely new, unexpected and even downright shocking from a religious perspective—to an audience in Paris in 1912.
This primary Baha’i principle—using reason, intelligence and science to conduct our own independent investigation of the truth—has no precedent in religion. In the past, especially during the times when great Faiths like Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam were first revealed and promulgated, the overwhelming majority of humanity was illiterate. Printed books were not available to the masses, and the handful of libraries were reserved for the elite. Wisdom was passed down orally, primarily to those who held high positions in their societies. Since most people couldn’t independently investigate the truth for themselves, they had to completely rely on the clergy, who told them what to believe, how to think and who to follow.
Today, in most cultures around the world, those ancient conditions have thankfully passed into oblivion.
Instead, with the high literacy and education rates in many places, we can now investigate truth for ourselves. We no longer have to imitate our ancestors or our living relatives and accept their beliefs without question. We have access to an unprecedented amount of knowledge about religion, and we can seek it out, take it in and evaluate it ourselves, without relying on any authority figure to do it for us. We can make our own decisions about what’s true and what’s false. Using our reasoning power and our intelligence, we can decide for ourselves:
God has not intended man to blindly imitate his fathers and ancestors. He has endowed him with mind or the faculty of reasoning by the exercise of which he is to investigate and discover the truth; and that which he finds real and true, he must accept. He must not be an imitator or blind follower of any soul. He must not rely implicitly upon the opinion of any man without investigation; nay, each soul must seek intelligently and independently, arriving at a real conclusion and bound only by that reality. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, pp. 73-74.
…religion must be the source of unity and fellowship in the world. If it is productive of enmity, hatred and bigotry, the absence of religion would be preferable. This is a new principle of revelation found only in the utterances of Baha’u’llah. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 434.
This unique, self-reliant approach to religion, exemplified by the Baha’i teachings, does away with clergy, authority figures and dogma, and replaces them with a democratically-elected leadership, the independent investigation of truth and the essential harmony and agreement of spirituality and science:
Put all your beliefs into harmony with science; there can be no opposition, for truth is one. When religion, shorn of its superstitions, traditions, and unintelligent dogmas, shows its conformity with science, then will there be a great unifying, cleansing force in the world which will sweep before it all wars, disagreements, discords and struggles — and then will mankind be united in the power of the Love of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 145.
Such a radical approach to belief, which asks every human being to search for truth rather than be indoctrinated by inheriting a religious tradition, could rapidly change the world. Try to imagine it—instead of automatically acquiring your beliefs from your family or your culture, what if every person got to pick their own truth? What if we educated children in all traditions, and let them compare and then decide for themselves which path to follow?
If that happened, we could get rid of dogmatic, authoritarian and tyrannical belief systems in the space of a few generations, simply by educating everyone and giving them the tools they need to decide for themselves rather than imitate others. An objective approach to faith would give everyone the opportunity to make up their own minds, bring their beliefs into accord with science and rational thinking, and transcend the old prejudices and superstitions that afflict religion today:
…the religion which does not walk hand in hand with science is itself in the darkness of superstition and ignorance.
Much of the discord and disunion of the world is created by these man-made oppositions and contradictions. If religion were in harmony with science and they walked together, much of the hatred and bitterness now bringing misery to the human race would be at an end. – Ibid., p. 144.
If you’d like to rid the world of fanaticism and fundamentalism, and do away with extremism and religious zealotry, the Baha’i principle of the independent investigation of truth makes a marvelous place to begin:
God has given man the eye of investigation by which he may see and recognize truth. He has endowed man with ears that he may hear the message of reality and conferred upon him the gift of reason by which he may discover things for himself. This is his endowment and equipment for the investigation of reality. Man is not intended to see through the eyes of another, hear through another’s ears nor comprehend with another’s brain. Each human creature has individual endowment, power and responsibility in the creative plan of God. Therefore depend upon your own reason and judgment and adhere to the outcome of your own investigation… – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 75.
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