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We live in a remarkable age. The photograph taken from space of our beautiful bright blue planet as it makes its silent course through the unfathomable deeps proves what a remarkable age we inhabit. When we look at this amazing photograph, we celebrate all the inventions that made it possible: the camera, the film, the rocket, and the management systems that dared to put human beings in space. We celebrate too the progressive nature of our technology and its incredibly rapid pace.
Paradoxically, we may have arrived in space with our cameras just in time to watch us all self-destruct. Our world, despite its apparent physical unity, is deeply divided socially. We are a world of people desperately clinging to our identities as members of separate races, nations, classes, economic systems, and religions and bringing to our continual conflict new weapons of ever-greater infernal dimensions. The progress of science has kept up with our desire for weaponry – but we have not kept up our progress as people. We remain trapped in categories that subvert our greater human aspirations. While almost all people will maintain that fundamentally humanity must be viewed as people of soul, people of God, this claim is largely unsupported in our manifest actions. In the end, we must confess that we have been unable to translate our discoveries of the Transcendent into any social order capable of embracing us all. The conflicts thus continue and deepen.
In light of the dangerousness of our times, clinging to the vision that all people must be fundamentally the same is a religious act. To Baha’is, this act of consciousness forms the foundation of the faith of God for our time and may be summarized in this well-known quote from Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith:
The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens…Regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 163.
The Baha’i Faith’s beliefs pivot around the principles of one God, one humanity, and one faith. If there is only one God, and if humanity is in essence one, then it follows that there must only be one divine reality that connects the two: man and God. That one thing must be the true or essential form of religion.
The Baha’i teachings say, “religion is the outer expression of the divine reality” and as the divine reality is one, Baha’is believe there must be only one essential religion – that the religious differences in the world must be reconciled.
Baha’is accept that differences in religion exist. Baha’u’llah writes of the “diverse communions of the earth and the manifold systems of religious belief.” It is the inspiration of all religions that Baha’is claim is one. Baha’u’llah writes:
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. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 217.
Without a doubt religion is the source of the deepest conflict between people — and this for no other reason than that many religious people on both sides of a conflict feel passionately that they possess the only truth, that abandoning their hold on truth would lead to a personal and collective descent into hell, and that God would insist that they maintain their view.
Curiously however, if we look at any “religious conflict” closely enough, we usually find that there is very little actual religion involved in the conflict. Instead, personal, social, or cultural battles include religion in an attempt to justify the dispute. Conflicts most often represent a failure of religion — a failure of people to investigate together the one reality of truth. Conflicts arise when we abandon faith and retreat into the den of our old traditions and dogmas to find weapons.
In this series, we’ll look into how that trend came about, what we can each do about it, and how the Baha’i teachings promise to address the problem with a global remedy, reconciling the religions into one unified Faith.