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To make the leap from religious pluralism to oneness, each of the world’s great Faiths must renounce their claims to exclusivity and finality.
Those absolutist claims of privileged access to the truth—either “we’re the only way to God” or “we’re God’s absolute, final last word”—have created some of the most bitter conflicts that have ever divided the Earth’s people. Religions that insist on finality or exclusivity have caused innumerable deaths and disasters as a result of those divisive claims, pitting themselves against other religions, governments or peoples and bringing about hatred rather than harmony:
We have seen that whatever brings division into the world of existence causes death. Likewise in the world of the spirit does the same law operate. Therefore should every servant of the One God be obedient to the law of love, avoiding all hatred, discord, and strife. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 139-140.
The Baha’i teachings, which have always renounced the destructive nature of such claims, say that they originally came, not from the prophets and messengers who founded each Faith, but from later interpretations influenced by the power of each tradition’s clergy. Also, the faithful followers of religions have often allowed over-zealous devotion to their founders to cause them to perceive their particular Faith as the final or exclusive word of God, and then to deny the possibility of the appearance of any subsequent religion.
Ironically, the founders of the world’s great Faiths themselves did not claim exclusivity or finality for their teachings—instead, they all recognized the Faiths that had come before, and foretold future Faiths to come. Every religion has prophecies that promise new prophets, and every religion builds upon its predecessors, as well. All religions await the reappearance of their messengers, because every messenger has promised to return.
There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed. All of them, except a few which are the outcome of human perversity, were ordained of God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose. Arise and, armed with the power of faith, shatter to pieces the gods of your vain imaginings, the sowers of dissension amongst you. Cleave unto that which draweth you together and uniteth you. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 217-218.
In 2002 the Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected global body that administers the Baha’i Faith, sent a statement on this important subject to the world’s religious leaders of every Faith. The statement reflected on Baha’u’llah’s injunction, above, and concluded that it asks every religion to renounce its claims of exclusivity or finality:
Such an appeal does not call for abandonment of faith in the fundamental verities of any of the world’s great belief systems. Far otherwise. Faith has its own imperative and is its own justification. What others believe—or do not believe—cannot be the authority in any individual conscience worthy of the name. What the above words do unequivocally urge is renunciation of all those claims to exclusivity or finality that, in winding their roots around the life of the spirit, have been the greatest single factor in suffocating impulses to unity and in promoting hatred and violence. – The Universal House of Justice, April 2002, To the World’s Religious Leaders, p. 4.
This urgent Baha’i call to the leaders of the world’s Faiths goes far beyond mere religious tolerance, diversity or pluralism. It goes to the heart of our understanding of God. It challenges all religious leaders to understand the truth of their own Faiths more deeply, to consider the future of the world in that context, and ultimately to recognize and act on the basic promise of all religion—God’s promise to bring about the peace and unity of humanity:
May fanaticism and religious bigotry be unknown, all humanity enter the bond of brotherhood, souls consort in perfect agreement, the nations of earth at last hoist the banner of truth, and the religions of the world enter the divine temple of oneness, for the foundations of the heavenly religions are one reality. Reality is not divisible; it does not admit multiplicity. All the holy Manifestations of God have proclaimed and promulgated the same reality. They have summoned mankind to reality itself, and reality is one. The clouds and mists of imitations have obscured the Sun of Truth. We must forsake these imitations, dispel these clouds and mists and free the Sun from the darkness of superstition. Then will the Sun of Truth shine most gloriously; then all the inhabitants of the world will be united, the religions will be one, sects and denominations will reconcile, all nationalities will flow together in the recognition of one Fatherhood, and all degrees of humankind will gather in the shelter of the same tabernacle, under the same banner. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 95-96.