The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
A whole host of atheist philosophers, thinkers and commentators have written influential books and essays during the past few decades, each one saying that religion has become a force for hatred, violence and evil in the world. Writers like Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have all published popular atheist manifestoes. Most of their books, as in this quote from Harris’ The End of Faith, contain some variation on the idea of religion as “merely an accident of history,” where “it is considered normal in our society to believe that the Creator of the universe can hear your prayers, while it is demonstrative of mental illness to believe that he is communicating with you by having the rain tap in Morse code on your bedroom window.” In fact, Harris and others consistently equate religion with madness, and call for a rational, God-less view of reality based only on the higher aspects of human nature. Harris claims that:
The only angels we need invoke are those of our better nature: reason, honesty, and love. The only demons we must fear are those that lurk inside every human mind: ignorance, hatred, greed, and faith, which is surely the devil’s masterpiece.
It might surprise you to know that in many ways – but not all – the Baha’i teachings actually agree with significant parts of this analysis. Of course, unlike the atheist philosophers, Baha’is do believe in God. However, Abdu’l-Baha urged us to completely do away with any religion that leads humanity to disunity, hatred and warfare:
…the divine teachings are intended to create a bond of unity in the human world and establish the foundations of love and fellowship among mankind. Divine religion is not a cause for discord and disagreement. If religion becomes the source of antagonism and strife, the absence of religion is to be preferred. Religion is meant to be the quickening life of the body politic; if it be the cause of death to humanity, its nonexistence would be a blessing and benefit to man. – Foundations of World Unity, p. 22.
Baha’u’llah actually proclaimed the Baha’i teachings because of the deep, disastrous decline of religion; because the teachings of the former Faiths had become corrupted; because ignorance, hatred and greed flourished in the name of religion around the world. The Baha’i teachings call for a new, revitalized faith in God; for a realization of the mystical reality underlying all things; for a re-dedication to the eternal spiritual virtues of reason, honesty and love. The Baha’i vision of humanity’s future enshrines the concept of human illumination through a positive, beneficial belief that God has not left us without guidance:
After every night there is a morn. In the supreme wisdom of God it is decreed that when the gross darkness of religious hatred and hostility, the obscurity of religious ignorance, superstition and blind imitations cover the world, the Sun of Truth shall arise and the spirit of reality become manifest and reflected in human hearts…. Erelong the darkness will pass away entirely, and the regions of the East will become completely illumined; enmity, hatred, ignorance and bigotry will no longer remain; the satanic powers which destroy human equality and religious unity will be dethroned, and the nations will dwell in peace and harmony under the overspreading banner of the oneness of humanity. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 440-441.
In many ways the new atheists make the same point Baha’u’llah made in the 19th Century, and Abdu’l-Baha made a century ago – that the outworn dogmas and antiquated rituals of old, divisive, sectarian belief systems have all become a collective affliction for humanity rather than a remedy:
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. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 82.
Without a doubt, the new atheist writers and philosophers have discovered this self-evident truth of the modern age, by realizing that humanity needs to discard its outmoded beliefs and find a new way toward its destiny. But that partial truth focuses only on the darkness of winter, and misses the light of the coming springtime. That partial truth fails to see the big picture, to apprehend the entire scope of the cycle of human history we now live in and grapple with. Most importantly, that partial truth leaves out the advent of Baha’u’llah, the bringer of a new Faith for humanity. Read the previous article in the series: Religion – The Most Harmful Agency on the Planet?