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Although I come from a Christian background and believe that Christ was divinely sent, reason, experience, and Christian prophecies drew me elsewhere — I became a Baha’i.
In earlier essays in this series, I wrote about the experiences that led me to that spiritual path. Also, in another place (“Thy Kingdom Come,” Kalimat Press) I’ve explained how Biblical prophecies helped me adopt a new Faith. Here, I’d like to share my reasoning as to why humanity now needs more than Christianity.
No fair accounting of Christianity and its impact can begin without acknowledging up-front its transformative power. The most beautiful and potent expression of this power I know comes, oddly enough, from a non-Christian source. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, proclaimed:
Know thou, that when the Son of Man [Jesus] yielded up His breath to God, the whole creation wept with a great weeping. By sacrificing Himself, however, a fresh capacity was infused into all created things. Its evidences, as witnessed in all the peoples of the earth, are now manifest before thee. The deepest wisdom which the sages have uttered, the profoundest learning which any mind hath unfolded, the arts which the ablest hands have produced, the influence exerted by the most potent of rulers, are but manifestations of the quickening power released by His transcendent, His all-pervasive and resplendent Spirit. We testify that when He came into the world, He shed the splendor of His glory upon all created things. Through Him the leper recovered from the leprosy of perversity and ignorance. Through Him the unchaste and wayward were healed. Through His power, born of Almighty God, the eyes of the blind were opened and the soul of the sinner sanctified …. He it is Who purified the world. Blessed is the man who, with a face beaming with light, hath turned towards Him.
Baha’is affirm the mission of Jesus and exalt this station. In Jesus, Christians have a perfect exemplar of passionate devotion to God, the embodiment of an incorruptible supreme moral force that never slipped or failed, a leader and teacher of the sublime, a model of compassionate service to humanity, and a God-like presence who sacrificed himself so that others may live.
Christianity successfully summarized divine teachings for its era, constructed charities and beautiful places of worship throughout the world, introduced millions to the power of the Holy Spirit, and brought the arts and civilization itself to new heights. As I’ve said, I grew up content being a Christian, happy to go to church, and very much in need of and receiving Christ’s perfect capacity to love and give.
Nevertheless, there were holes, big holes, in my Christian education, which glossed over troubling aspects of Christian history, and there are problems with believing that Christianity can address all of our modern needs — especially because it was never intended to.
Christianity is a great, majestic, illuminating, sustaining religion. When we understand the divine plan more clearly, we recognize and acknowledge the elements within Christianity as it exists today that work at cross-purposes. Full entry into the kingdom of God cannot occur until we understand why the Bible’s scriptures speak of a new heaven and a new earth for this new day.
So, in these next few essays, let’s focus on some of the things rarely taught about Christianity, things that must be more widely known if Christianity is to be presented fairly and its limits understood. The ability of Jesus to save individual souls was and is clear to me; it is the social order that Christians promote, along with the Christian use of force, that explain why certain aspects of Christian theology and its understanding of the Second Coming hinder many Christians from seeing the age they live in.
As I was growing up, you’ll recall if you’ve been following this series of essays, my mother sent me to church two or three times a week for many years. I went to church choir practice, confirmation class and church services on Sunday. I listened attentively to the sermons from the choir loft of our Episcopalian church in the solidly middle-class white suburbs of northern Atlanta, and I came to believe that Christianity was a religion of love and light, forgiveness and peace. It is, but that is not the whole story.
Historically, people have misused Christianity as a tool of coercion and intolerance. To ignore either is to distort the historic record. A clear-eyed review of history is needed, as in this passage from one of Abdu’l-Baha’s addresses in North America in 1912:
From the beginning of human history down to the present time the various religions of the world have anathematized and accused each other of falsity. Each religion has considered the others bereft of the face of God, deprived of His mercy and in the direct line of divine wrath. Therefore, they have shunned each other most rigidly, exercising mutual animosity and rancor. Consider the record of religious warfare, the battles between nations, the bloodshed and destruction in the name of religion. One of the greatest religious wars, the Crusades, extended over a period of two hundred years. In this succession of great campaigns, the western crusaders were constantly invading the Orient, bent upon recovering the Holy City from the hands of the Islamic people. Army after army raised in Europe poured its fanatical legions into the East. The kings of European nations personally led these Crusades, killing and shedding the blood of the Orientals. During this period of two hundred years the East and West were in a state of violence and commotion. Sometimes the crusaders were successful, killing, pillaging and taking captive the Muslim people; sometimes the Muslims were victorious, inflicting bloodshed, death and ruin in turn upon the invaders. So they continued for two centuries, alternately fighting with fury and relaxing from weakness, until the European religionists withdrew from the East, leaving ashes of desolation behind them and finding their own nations in a condition of turbulence and upheaval. Hundreds of thousands of human beings were killed and untold wealth wasted in this fruitless religious warfare. How many fathers mourned the loss of their sons! How many mothers and wives lamented the absence of their dear ones! Yet this was only one of the “holy” wars. Consider and reflect.
In light of these so-called “holy” wars, the next several essays in this series will focus on people and events circling around three transformative characters in Christian history: Constantine (and the early Christian Emperors), Charlemagne, and Columbus — each occurring at about 500-year intervals, and each representing what happens when religious theocracy is imposed.