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Religion

The Evolution of Religion: Humanity’s Coming of Age

Robert Atkinson | Jan 29, 2022

PART 6 IN SERIES Religion Evolves Toward Unity

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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Robert Atkinson | Jan 29, 2022

PART 6 IN SERIES Religion Evolves Toward Unity

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

In a few millennia, with periodic divine revelations guiding the way, the evolution of religion has led us to the culmination of a long process of creating ever-expanding circles of human unity.

Collectively, humanity is now birthing an emerging global consciousness that signals our emerging maturity, our coming of age, in a time when our most challenging issues have risen to the level where concern for one region is concern for the entire planet. 

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Our common understanding now is of wider responsibilities, wider collaborations, wider identities, and wider loyalties, all underscoring a collective purpose and direction. Our common need is a global morality that will guide unified efforts toward global harmony. 

This need has led to the identification of the Baha’i principle of “the consciousness of the oneness of mankind” as the “distinguishing feature” and “central theme” of the revelation of Baha’u’llah, a principle which can not only be envisioned but also achieved, as the seven continents of the Earth have become a global village. 

Every spiritual cycle has its own Ten Commandments, or Beatitudes, that characterize the spirit of the age, or the essence of spiritual truth for that time. In an increasingly interdependent world, for this primary guiding principle of our time to be achieved, also needed is a set of supporting principles that will enable a consciousness of oneness to emerge. Those principles, the Baha’i teachings point out, must build upon a foundation of social justice in all realms, and also upon a framework supporting world unity. Here are some of these unifying supporting principles from the Baha’i teachings: 

  1. The independent investigation of reality is a fundamental human right and obligation. Following another’s ideas blindly and uncritically is a main source of conflict in the world today. Everyone has the responsibility to distinguish truth from falsehood; an unfettered search for truth will reveal that truth is one. 
  1. Science and religion are two harmonious knowledge systems exploring one reality. One should not have to choose between a life of faith or a life of reason. Scientific truths are discovered, and religious truths are revealed; both are facets of one and the same truth, and both advance civilization when applied altruistically.  
  1. Women and men are equal in the sight of their Creator. The full equality in all fields of endeavor between genders is a prerequisite for peace in the world. Feminine values and qualities — such as compassion, nurturance, cooperation, and empathy — have to be brought to the forefront.
  1. The spiritual solution to the world’s economic problems is balancing the extremes of wealth and poverty. Achieving balanced global prosperity requires using human and material resources for the long-term good of all, rather than for the short-term advantage of a few. 
  1. All forms of prejudice – religious, ethnic, national, or class – must be replaced with the recognition of the oneness of the human family. Discrimination, oppression, or racism toward any group causes all of society to suffer. A deeper respect for the intrinsic value of each culture and individual is an expression of our wholeness.
  1. All religious expressions originate from one source and share a unity of purpose. Religious truth is not absolute, but relative. The spiritual and social teachings of each age are facets of one truth illuminating one reality. 
  1. The purpose of justice is to establish unity. As the embodiment of order on Earth, justice is a supreme force for moral rightness, social equality, and maintaining the inherent balance of life. Unitive justice is a reflection of the absolute unity of the entire creation. 
  1. Nature is the embodiment of the Divine. The whole earth is sacred; its vast resources are a common heritage to be protected as a divine trust for all humanity. An intricate web of interdependent relationships sustains our planet. Our collective survival depends upon the mutual care of the natural environment. Ecological health is inextricably tied to spiritual health.  

These interconnected principles, along with universal education (especially for girls), work performed in the spirit of service, and a global commonwealth built upon principles of collective security – represent the essence of spiritual truth for our time. They all come directly from the revelation of Baha’u’llah, first revealed in the second half of the 19th century. They signal an all-embracing vision of humanity’s future that will lead us from a consciousness of duality to a consciousness of oneness, ushering in humanity’s coming of age. 

RELATED: How Does the Baha’i Faith Propose to Unify the World?

So interdependently tied together are these principles that the realization of one depends upon the realization of all the others. They each manifest aspects of the over-arching principle of the oneness of humanity, whose fate will be determined by the collective depth of conviction given to these supporting spiritual principles of our time. As these are put into practice, as were earlier scriptural injunctions against idolatry, theft, and false witness in their time, they will be increasingly recognized as catalysts to an ever-advancing civilization. 

These unifying principles are all necessary stepping-stones – and the prerequisites – for building a culture of unity and peace. The Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected global leadership body of the Baha’i Faith, has written

World order can be founded only on an unshakable consciousness of the oneness of mankind … all the human sciences recognize only one human species, albeit infinitely varied in the secondary aspects of life. Recognition of this truth requires abandonment of prejudice of every kind – race, class, colour, creed, nation, sex, degree of material civilization, everything which enables people to consider themselves superior to others.

Moving beyond the divisions that separate us and toward the oneness that embraces all is the plot of the story of our time. Wholeness is the promise carried across the great chain of being and renewed in the now, leading us toward inclusiveness, altruism, equality, unity, and peace.   

A global ethic is emerging that has as its source a set of universal values and principles which, as the Parliament of the World’s Religions 1993 Declaration states, “already exists within the religious teachings of the world,” “despite all their differences.” 

This global ethic, first represented in the mid-19th century pronouncement of Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i Faith, pivots around these themes from Baha’u’llah’s writings: “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens,” and “Ye dwell in one world, and have been created through the operation of one Will.” 

The transformation of consciousness we have now entered requires that we transform not only how we view religion, but also how we view humanity itself. A global ethic cannot be fully realized until we adopt and live by a consciousness of oneness based on the truth that humanity is one.  

The Baha’i teachings declare that a new chapter in the evolution of religion has emerged. The springtime of the inner world is infusing a new spirit into the outer world. Unseen but ever-present spiritual forces, revealed progressively and cyclically, are being released in our time, pushing evolution to higher levels of convergence, ensuring humanity’s coming of age. We live at the conjunction of transformation and integration, where peace and world unity become truly achievable goals as we build a culture of wholeness, the foundation of a new civilization.

Adapted from Robert Atkinson’s The Story of Our Time: From Duality to Interconnectedness to Oneness, Sacred Stories Publishing: https://amzn.to/3jK8lHJ

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