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Through our ignorance and lack of viewpoint we divide this common home, we divide the members of this family into various races, we divide religion into different sects and then with those suppositional divisions we wage war against one another; we shed one another’s blood and we pillage one another’s possessions. Is not this unpardonable ignorance? Is this not the height of injustice? – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 178.
“My religion is true, and yours is false.” Probably no single statement has ever caused as much pain, tragedy, bloodshed, death and disaster.
Who has the “true” religion? Baha’is believe we all do—that all religion comes from the same Source:
The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. Suffer it not to become a source of dissension and discord, of hate and enmity. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 215.
When religion does create hatred and violence, the Baha’i teachings say, it ceases to be religion:
The foundations of the divine religions are one. If we investigate these foundations, we discover much ground for agreement, but if we consider the imitations of forms and ancestral beliefs, we find points of disagreement and division; for these imitations differ, while the sources and foundations are one and the same. That is to say, the fundamentals are conducive to unity, but imitations are the cause of disunion and dismemberment. Whosoever is lacking in love for humanity or manifests hatred and bigotry toward any part of it violates the foundation and source of his own belief and is holding to forms and imitations. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 41.
In the modern world, many individuals, groups and nations use religion as an excuse for their fanatical campaigns of hate, enmity and violent conflict. As a result, some people have come to view religion as a harmful force in society, one that actually causes wars, oppression and terrorism. Despite the original messages of every great global Faith—teachings of peace, love, unity, understanding and concord—it seems that long-established religions have an all-too-human tendency to become corrupt over time, often hypocritically contradicting and contravening their original principles.
The Baha’i teachings explain how that process works:
…when we speak of religion, we mean the essential foundation or reality of religion, not the dogmas and blind imitations which have gradually encrusted it and which are the cause of the decline and effacement of a nation. These are inevitably destructive and a menace and hindrance to a nation’s life — even as it is recorded in the Torah and confirmed in history that when the Jews became fettered by empty forms and imitations, the wrath of God became manifest. When they forsook the foundations of the law of God, Nebuchadnezzar came and conquered the Holy Land. He killed and made captive the people of Israel, laid waste the country and populous cities and burned the villages. Seventy thousand Jews were carried away captive to Babylon. He destroyed Jerusalem, despoiled the great Temple, desecrated the Holy of Holies and burned the Torah, the heavenly book of Scriptures. Therefore, we learn that allegiance to the essential foundation of the divine religions is ever the cause of development and progress, whereas the abandonment and beclouding of that essential reality through blind imitations and adherence to dogmatic beliefs are the causes of a nation’s debasement and degradation. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 363.
Those “dogmas and blind imitations” that Abdu’l-Baha refers to corrode the spiritual framework of our venerable world religions. Once that encrusted corrosion sets in, the Baha’i teachings say, conflict and contention invariably begin:
Inasmuch as human interpretations and blind imitations differ widely, religious strife and disagreement have arisen among mankind, the light of true religion has been extinguished and the unity of the world of humanity destroyed. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 225.
…the establishing of the divine religions is for peace, not for war and the shedding of blood. Inasmuch as all are founded upon one reality which is love and unity, the wars and dissensions which have characterized the history of religion have been due to imitations and superstitions which arise afterward. Religion is reality and reality is one. The fundamentals of the religion of God are therefore one in reality. There is neither difference nor change in the fundamentals. Variance is caused by blind imitations, prejudices and adherence to forms which appear later, and inasmuch as these differ, discord and strife result. If the religions of the world would forsake these causes of difficulty and seek the fundamentals, all would agree, and strife and dissension would pass away; for religion and reality are one and not multiple. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 23.
Do you think of your religion as true? Do you think of it as the only true religion? If so, what makes you feel that way? What does “true religion” actually mean? Let’s take a look at this fascinating, powerful and potentially deadly concept in this short series of essays, and consider some of the answers to those important questions. We’ll briefly examine the history of religions, try to determine if and how they lost their original spirit and jettisoned their own founding principles, and attempt to understand the process of their eventual corruption and corrosion. We’ll explore the idea of truth as it relates to belief, and dig into the dogma and superstition that seems to plague every religion over time.
Please follow along as we discover whether the term “true religion” is always a contradiction in terms.