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When Baha’is look at the history of religions, they see “progressive revelation” at work. Simply put, each new religion not only renews old teachings, but brings new teachings as well. The Baha’i Faith is no exception.
So what Baha’i teachings are new? Abdu’l-Baha was asked that very question in New York on December 2, 1912, the very same day this well-known photograph was taken:
“You have asked me what new principles have been revealed by Him,” said Abdu’l-Baha, acknowledging the question he was asked. “I will speak to you concerning the special teachings of Baha’u’llah,” he continued. “He has revealed certain new teachings which are not found in any of the sacred Books of former times.” Abdu’l-Baha then set forth a dozen new principles.
1. A fundamental teaching of Baha’u’llah is the oneness of the world of humanity.
2. Another new principle revealed by Baha’u’llah is the injunction to investigate truth.
3. Baha’u’llah has announced that the foundation of all the religions of God is one … This teaching is new and specialized to this Manifestation.
4. He sets forth a new principle for this day in the announcement that religion must be the cause of unity, harmony and agreement among mankind.
5. Furthermore, He proclaims that religion must be in harmony with science and reason … The harmony of religious belief with reason is a new vista which Baha’u’llah has opened for the soul of man.
6. He establishes the equality of man and woman. This is peculiar to the teachings of Baha’u’llah, for all other religions have placed man above woman.
7. A new religious principle is that prejudice and fanaticism—whether sectarian, denominational, patriotic or political—are destructive to the foundation of human solidarity.
8. Universal peace is assured by Baha’u’llah as a fundamental accomplishment of the religion of God — that peace shall prevail among nations, governments and peoples, among religions, races and all conditions of mankind. This is one of the special characteristics of the Word of God revealed in this Manifestation.
9. Baha’u’llah declares that all mankind should attain knowledge and acquire an education. This is a necessary principle of religious belief and observance, characteristically new in this dispensation.
10. He has set forth the solution and provided the remedy for the economic question. No religious Books of the past Prophets speak of this important human problem.
11. He has ordained and established the … international House of Justice shall be appointed and organized from the Houses of Justice of the whole world, and all the world shall come under its administration.
12. As to the most great characteristic of the revelation of Baha’u’llah, a specific teaching not given by any of the Prophets of the past: It is the ordination and appointment of the Center of the Covenant.
“Center of the Covenant” means that Baha’u’llah had designated Abdu’l-Baha as successor, interpreter and exemplar, a role that Abdu’l-Baha assumed immediately after Baha’u’llah passed away on May 29, 1892.
Earlier, on November 15, 1912, Abdu’l-Baha gave a talk at the home of Baha’i artist Juliet Thompson, who lived on 48 West Tenth Street, New York. Abdu’l-Baha was asked: “What has Baha’u’llah brought that we have not heard before?” In addition to enunciating several of the same principles as above, Abdu’l-Baha mentioned two more:
13. Baha’u’llah has announced the necessity for a universal language which shall serve as a means of international communication and thus remove misunderstandings and difficulties.
14. He teaches that it is incumbent upon all mankind to become fitted for some useful trade, craft or profession by which subsistence may be assured, and this efficiency is to be considered as an act of worship.
These new principles exemplify the wide array of Baha’i teachings, from family relations to international relations.
That the newest of the independent world religions, the Baha’i Faith, should present new teachings makes perfect sense. These new teachings, both sensible and spiritual, characterize a progressive religion with an enlightened, unified approach to the world’s issues, problems and challenges.
©2014 by Christopher Buck.