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Religion

Religion – The Most Harmful Agency on the Planet?

David Langness | Feb 4, 2014

PART 1 IN SERIES If Religion Is Harmful

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Feb 4, 2014

PART 1 IN SERIES If Religion Is Harmful

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

My friend the historian and I had a long discussion about religion the other day. When he learned about my belief in the Baha’i Faith, he challenged me by saying “I think religion has been responsible for most of the problems of humanity throughout history.”

It shocked him when I agreed.

I told him that Baha’u’llah, the Prophet and Founder of the Baha’i Faith, spoke out strongly against all outmoded, dogmatic and debased forms of religion. In fact, Baha’u’llah blamed the corrupt leaders of religion for the chaos and confusion in the world, and for the suffering of the Prophets of God:

Leaders of religion, in every age, have hindered their people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people. By their sanction and authority, every Prophet of God hath drunk from the chalice of sacrifice, and winged His flight unto the heights of glory. What unspeakable cruelties they that have occupied the seats of authority and learning have inflicted upon the true Monarchs of the world, those Gems of divine virtue! Content with a transitory dominion, they have deprived themselves of an everlasting sovereignty. – The Book of Certitude, p. 14.

After our discussion, I think my friend understood that Baha’is have a nuanced, scientific and factual view of the history of religion. We believe, I explained to him, in the pure, altruistic beginnings of all the great religions. We believe that the original teachings of the Prophets and Founders of the world’s great Faiths have formed the chief instrument for the establishment of moral character, order and harmony in the world. But Baha’is also understand that the clergy, who took power and possession of the minds of the people, slowly altered and adulterated the purity of those original teachings, replacing them with dogmas and superstitions and using their positions to advance their own interests. Religion gradually declined and became corrupt, warlike and dead, devoid of its original ideals, inspiration and intent.

In every cycle of religious revelation this pattern of gradual decline and revelatory renewal has taken place. As in all things, the new replaces the old. True religion, when it appears in the world, brings love and unity to humanity. But as the Baha’i writings clearly say, when that original intent is corrupted by religious “leaders,” religion can become “the most harmful agency on this planet”:

True religion is the basis of divine civilization. Material civilization is like unto the body; divine civilization is like unto the spirit. A body without the spirit is dead, although it may be clothed in the utmost beauty and comeliness.

Religious scripture for the Military

In short, by religion we mean those necessary bonds which have power to unify. This has ever been the essence of the religion of God. This is the eternal bestowal of God! This is the object of divine teachings and laws! This is the light of the everlasting life! Alas! A thousand times alas! that this solid foundation is abandoned and forgotten and the leaders of religions have fabricated a set of superstitions and rituals which are at complete variance with the underlying thought. As these man-made ideas differ from each other they cause dissension which breeds strife and ends in war and bloodshed; the blood of innocent people is spilled, their possessions are pillaged and their children become captives and orphans.

Thus religion which was destined to become the cause of friendship has become the cause of enmity. Religion, which was meant to be sweet honey, is changed into bitter poison. Religion, the function of which was to illumine humanity, has become the factor of obscuration and gloom. Religion, which was to confer the consciousness of everlasting life, has become the fiendish instrument of death. As long as these superstitions are in the hands and these nets of dissimulation and hypocrisy in the fingers, religion will be the most harmful agency on this planet. These superannuated traditions, which are inherited unto the present day, must be abandoned, and thus free from past superstitions we must investigate the original intention. The basis on which they have fabricated the superstructures will be seen to be one, and that one, absolute reality; and as reality is indivisible, complete unity and amity will be instituted and the true religion of God will become unveiled in all its beauty and sublimity in the assemblage of the world. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, pp. 161-162.

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Comments

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  • Sep 23, 2015
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    Religion is the reason for most of the strife and destruction on this planet.
    Consider the recent 'Blood Moon' popehcies.
    What many of the religious wallahs on Earth are trying to do - is BLAME all the destruction and demise of the planet (which has indeed reached a climax - blood moon or not) on the movements of the solar system - they are trying to link Earth's demise on the scriptures instead of owning up to the fact that it is they/us alone that have brought us to this make or break time in the history of our planet. ...Most of the world's tragedies and undesirable occurrences are solely down to the human race – the rape and pillage of nature, wildlife and its ecosystems. More importantly - over population and the numerous illogical belief in religious crap have brought us to our knees. You get what you deserve!
    Read more...
  • Kris Spinden
    Feb 5, 2014
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    Thank you for your thoughts on this subject. I do not dispute that religion has been the root of many terrible things that have happened in the world. Although I do think it has used as a tool to persuade the masses with the root of the evil act originating from other sources. I think the real question would then be has religion then been a net cause of good or bad in the world. If it is the cause of greater good in the world what is the evidence to support this? If it is a net bad thing ...for the world, it then, of course, should have never been instituted in the first place. Perhaps, the institution of religion should have never been instituted in the first place if good is just a little more then the bad. It should really be in the end a tremendous and incalculable good if it is truly emanating from God.
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  • Larry Rowe
    Feb 5, 2014
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    And who is the arbiter of what constitutes the "true religion" David, who gets to decide who is shunned, who is othered? And this is where Baha'u'llah failed just as all have failed before him. Baha'u'llah gave voice to worthy concepts but failed to actualize them in his own life. He stated that the practice of shunning had been: "nullified and abolished" *, yet he, Abdu'l-Baha', Shoghi Effendi, and to this day The Universal House of Justice, all shun, all other. So to with Baha'u'llah's supposed removal of the past religious practice of dividing humanity: "the pure tree", from: "the ...evil tree" **, a practice continued by Baha'u'llah, Abdu'l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and all Baha'is to this day. Why does religion continue to be: "The most harmful agency on this planet."? Because religionists, Baha'is included, still find excuses to shun, to other, to label people as enemies, infidels, heretics, dissidents, apostates, simply because their religious interpretations differ.
    * (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 87)
    ** (Abdu'l-Baha, Baha'i World Faith - Abdu'l-Baha Section, p. 246)
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    • Maya Bohnhoff
      Feb 18, 2014
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      Larry, consider the secular world circumstances that lead to certain individuals being separated from the general population. Would you propose that someone who has committed a crime not be separated from the population against whom the crime was committed? The Catholic church did that with priests accused of molesting children. If you take the position that no one ever be separated from the community at large for any reason, then I can see that the way Bahá'ís have been instructed to stay clear of Covenant Breakers would bother you. But do you not think it's reasonable to protect a community ...from people who have made a free will choice to damage it?
      Covenant Breakers are not people who simply believe or behave differently. Bahá'ís come in so many diverse shades of thought and experience that to try to create a lock step community would fail utterly. And that is not what the Faith is about. Covenant Breakers have made a choice, one stemming from their own sense of entitlement or uniqueness or greatness. Beginning with Mirza Yahya, they have striven to do harm to the Bahá'í community. Our attitude toward them is not one of disdain or hatred, but sorrow and loss.
      We are to take our cue from the forgiving words and actions of Bahá'u'lláh who wrote to Mirza Yahya in the most loving terms that all would be forgiven if he would only stop trying to do harm to the Báb'í/Baha'i community. That same door is always open to those who sincerely wish to return to the Bahá'í community. The term "evil tree" isn't some arbitrary appellation that gets bandied about and applied to people who simply interpret this or that writing differently. It refers, instead to the spirit of malice with which some, for whatever reason, have determined to attack the covenant that is central to the unity of the Faith.
      Read more...
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