This past month’s events in Iraq and Syria led many observers and expert commentators to say that religion has no good solutions for sectarian divides. One atheist columnist said “Religion doesn’t have the intellectual resources to deal with religiously inspired violence. To address religious violence, one must embrace secularism. One needs to think outside The Book.”
Although it’s a good line—“think outside The Book”—Baha’is respectfully disagree with the overall point. Secularism, with its rejection of traditional religion, its relatively narrow appeal to those in the global west and north, and its lack of any connection to traditional cultures, has certainly made more material progress possible in many societies–but it has little appeal to those who believe in a Supreme Being and seek guidance from Faith.
So what possibly can “deal with religiously-inspired violence?” The Baha’i teachings say only one force, the complete renewal of religion, has the power to end such strife:
…haply the tumult of religious dissension and strife that agitateth the peoples of the earth may be stilled, that every trace of it may be completely obliterated. For the love of God, and them that serve Him, arise to aid this sublime and momentous Revelation. Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 13.
None can quench the violence of religious fanaticism and hatred, Baha’u’llah wrote. Only a new revelation, a completely revitalized message from a Divine Messenger, can move us from the contemporary sectarian divides we all witness and suffer from today.
In the past, only a new Faith has had the power to unify warring sects, tribes and ethnicities. Only a fresh outpouring of religious truth and inspiration has generated sufficient mass support to bring divided peoples together:
Consider the time of Christ. Peoples, races and governments were many; religions, sects and denominations were various; but when Christ appeared, the Messianic reality proved to be the collective center which unified them beneath the same tabernacle of agreement. Reflect upon this. Could Jesus Christ have united these divergent factors or brought about such results through political power? Was this unity and agreement possible through material forces? It is evident that it was not; nay, rather, these various peoples were brought together through a divine power, through the breaths of the Holy Spirit. They were blended and quickened by the infusion of a new life. The spirituality of Christ overcame their difficulties so that their disagreements passed away completely. In this way these divergent peoples were unified and became welded in a bond of love which alone can unite hearts. Therefore, it is shown that the divine Manifestations, the holy Mouthpieces of God, are the Collective Centers of God. These heavenly Messengers are the real Shepherds of humanity, for whenever They appear in the world They unite the scattered sheep… Today Baha’u’llah is the Collective Center of unity for all mankind, and the splendor of His light has likewise dawned from the East… He established harmony and agreement among the various peoples of religious beliefs, denominations, sects and cults by freeing them from the fetters of past imitations and superstitions, leading them to the very foundation of the divine religions. From this foundation shines forth the radiance of spirituality, which is unity, the love of God, the knowledge of God, praiseworthy morals and the virtues of the human world. Baha’u’llah renewed these principles, just as the coming of spring refreshes the earth and confers new life upon all phenomenal beings. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 164-165.
That new revelation, embodied in the Baha’i teachings, offers a universe of spiritual advice and counsel to humanity. On just about every conceivable subject, from the purely mystical to the daily and the practical, Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha wrote and advised and spoke to the world for a total of 58 years, from the advent of the Baha’i Faith in 1863 until Abdu’l-Baha’s passing in 1921.
Baha’u’llah wrote more than a hundred volumes of deep, illuminating and world-embracing spiritual counsel to humanity. His writings have inspired millions to follow the Baha’i teachings, and to leave behind the conflicts of the past. His son Abdu’l-Baha, who Baha’is revere as a truly spiritual exemplar, left three powerful books and thousands of letters, tablets, addresses and public talks filled with sage wisdom and loving guidance.
The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, Shoghi Effendi, summarized the Baha’i approach to healing sectarian divides this way:
…this Faith is now increasingly demonstrating its right to be recognized, not as one more religious system superimposed on the conflicting creeds which for so many generations have divided mankind and darkened its fortunes, but rather as a restatement of the eternal verities underlying all the religions of the past, as a unifying force instilling into the adherents of these religions a new spiritual vigor, infusing them with a new hope and love for mankind, firing them with a new vision of fundamental unity of their religious doctrines, and unfolding to their eyes the glorious destiny that awaits the human race. – Summary Statement – 1947, Special UN Committee on Palestine.
This remarkable new Faith offers humanity its best hope for the healing of sectarian divides throughout the world.