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In 1912, when Abdu’l-Baha traveled to the West on the eve of World War I, he often spoke about the causes of war and oppression.
He specifically addressed religion.
He described how Moses, Jesus Christ and Muhammad had reconciled differences to unite their followers. With spiritual education, those messengers of God raised human capacity for great achievement by sowing the seeds of love. Abdu’l-Baha affirmed the original, unifying intent of those messengers of God:
It is evident that the divine prophets have appeared in the world to establish love and agreement among mankind. They have been the shepherds and not the wolves. The shepherd comes forth to gather and lead his flock and not to disperse them by creating strife. Every divine shepherd has assembled a flock which had formerly been scattered. – Foundations of World Unity, p. 22.
If this is true, how does the original intent of the messengers of God–that religion be a source of love and unity–devolve into an excuse for violence and strife? Abdu’l-Baha defines the role of the human ego in this process:
God is loving to all. Shall we be unjust or unkind to anyone? Is this allowable in the sight of God? God provides for all. Is it befitting for us to prevent the flow of His merciful provisions for mankind? God has created all in His image and likeness. Shall we manifest hatred for His creatures and servants? This would be contrary to the will of God and according to the will of Satan, by which we mean the natural inclinations of the lower nature. This lower nature in man is symbolized as Satan, the evil ego within us, not an evil personality outside. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 287.
Religious oppression, as Baha’is understand it, stems from our lower nature–the ego, Abdu’l-Baha calls it, “symbolized as Satan.” The demands of the ego proclaim absolute obedience to an individual human will. But today, we can no longer say that this fulfills any divine purpose, or have any illusions that an outside force drives our behavior. The devil does not make us do this. We have run out of excuses. The responsibility for these actions lies solely on the shoulders of the perpetrators.
In certain parts of the world, religious oppression can seem far removed from us. It may take place in another country, and involve those of a different religion. However, egos can inflame hatred and oppression, which cannot be turned off later like a spigot. Instead, the hatred arises and takes on a life of its own. Satanic forces—not some devil, but our own collective uncontrolled human egos—unleash that hatred on humanity. Once the original target of religious oppression has been eliminated, a new one must be identified to continually feed the fire of hate.
Recent history offers us a cautionary example. We have all learned about the holocaust during WWII, in which 6 million Jews died in the concentration camp system. However, did you know that 9 to 14 million non-Jews also died in that same system? In the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos (1933-45) of the U.S. Holocaust Museum we learn that the other victims ranged from Soviet POWs, Ethnic Poles, Roma, Serbs, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholic clergy, Social Democrats, Liberals, Communists, Spanish Republicans, Baha’is, political prisoners, homosexuals, vagrants, and people with disabilities. The Nazis swept up anyone who did not fit into their world view into the conflagration.
In truth, religious oppression has nothing to do with religion. It has nothing to do with God. It has nothing to do with the devil. It has everything to do with the human ego. There are solutions, however they are not self generated but come to us through the spirit and guidance of God:
Therefore, even as was the case in the past, the world of humanity cannot be saved from the darkness of nature, and cannot attain illumination, except through the abandonment of prejudices and the acquisition of the morals of the Kingdom…. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 29.
The foundations of all the divine religions are peace and agreement, but misunderstandings and ignorance have developed. If these are caused to disappear you will see that all the religious agencies will work for peace and promulgate the oneness of humankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 26.
That’s our task–to understand the spiritual reality of the oneness of humanity, to throw off the burden of ancient prejudices and to labor together, no matter what Faith we practice, to bring an end to religious strife, oppression and hatred. In this way the seeds of oppression will not find fertile ground, but will be replaced by the seeds of love and unity.
In any case, we will reap either the rewards or the punishments.