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Before I met a Jewish person, my conservative Christian upbringing had culturally conditioned me to view Jewish people as morally tainted. The Baha’i Faith helped me overcome that baseless prejudice.
In a talk he gave in Paris in 1911, Abdu’l-Baha, the son and successor of the founder of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, explained why religious prejudices like the ones I absorbed in childhood not only harm individuals but underpin “the principle reason of the unrest between nations.”
The basis of the teaching of Baha’u’llah is the Unity of Mankind, and his greatest desire was that love and goodwill should live in the heart of men.
As He exhorted the people to do away with strife and discord, so I wish to explain to you the principal reason of the unrest among nations. The chief cause is the misrepresentation of religion by the religious leaders and teachers. They teach their followers to believe that their own form of religion is the only one pleasing to God, and that followers of any other persuasion are condemned by the All-Loving Father and deprived of His Mercy and Grace. Hence arise among the peoples, disapproval, contempt, disputes and hatred. If these religious prejudices could be swept away, the nations would soon enjoy peace and concord.
Christ was the Prophet of the Christians, Moses of the Jews – why should not the followers of each prophet recognize and honour the other prophets also? If men could only learn the lesson of mutual tolerance, understanding, and brotherly love, the unity of the world would soon be an established fact.
In the exact same way Abdu’l-Baha explained here, Christian clergymen told me when I went to church as a child that God had abandoned the Jewish people because they had abandoned God – the standard, and absolutely incorrect, line often repeated by and among some Christians.
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Further, as I read the Old Testament, I had trouble seeing a lot of it as either morally or socially relevant to me or to the modern era. The extended family of Abraham, with its many wives and slaves, jealousies and betrayals, seemed imperfect role models. The bloodshed among both disobedient Hebrews and their enemies disturbed me, too. Nor could I fathom the possibility or wisdom of following many of the 612 laws in the Hebrew Bible.
At first glance, then, Judaism seemed hopelessly anachronistic to me, and an unlikely vehicle to convey great spiritual truths and the hope for modern times – and yet it has and it does.
Indeed, to state that Jews are part of the ongoing divine plan is, at least from the Western perspective, obvious and undeniable. Large parts of Western culture as well as our understanding of the future have been built upon Jewish foundations. Judaism brought the West the awareness that God desires to be known and loved, that He communicates with us through His chosen prophets and messengers, that He inspires souls to moral greatness, that He wants to protect and nurture us, and that He has a plan that not only embraces all but will bring us all together.
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In fact, the descendants of Abraham have given us four of the world’s great religions – Christianity, Islam, the Babi religion, and the Baha’i Faith. More remarkable still, the future influence of these children of Abraham was specifically foretold in the Bible thousands of years ago and then acted out in history. Consider this: In Genesis in the Hebrew Bible, God told Abram:
Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
So here we are, almost four thousand years later, and the children of Abram (later called Abraham) and the followers of religions that built upon them have, indeed, blessed all the people on Earth. This, then, is realized eschatology, not vain and empty promises. The promises continue a few verses later in Genesis when, at God’s command, Abram obediently drew his sword to sacrifice his son Isaac:
I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.
So it happened that the children of Abraham took possession of Canaan, now more or less Israel. Most significantly, however, through the religions coming from Abraham’s lineal descendants Christ, Muhammad, and Baha’u’llah, all the nations on Earth have been blessed, and the blessings are not over. For that reason alone, we need to pay attention to Hebrew prophecies.
One Hebrew prophecy at the very end of the book of Daniel, which we examined earlier in this series of essays, tells about how at the “end times” people would run to and fro and that knowledge would be increased. This prophecy has come true in our age. Of course, at every point when times get rough, religious people often assert that the end times are near.
But our times are changing like none before in human history. A little over a hundred years ago, life would have been easy for the average Greek or Roman of classical times to understand. People got around in horse-drawn wagons and read (if they could read) by candlelight and oil lamps. Introduced into our modern era, however, a Greek or Roman from classical times would be dumbfounded by the jet planes overhead carrying people, as Daniel foretold, to and fro, and would be completely bewildered by the knowledge we can access by the mere movements of our fingers upon keyboards and lighted pads.
These are end times, sure enough. The end of a long, ancient age has passed, and we have progressed well into the new one.