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Religion

The Evolution of Religion: The Mystery of Divinity

Robert Atkinson | Dec 26, 2021

PART 1 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 | Dec 26, 2021

PART 1 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.

The great writer and philosopher Leo Tolstoy, reading the writings of Baha’u’llah, said “We spend our lives trying to unlock the mystery of the universe, but there was a Turkish prisoner who had the key.”

Consigned to Ottoman Turkish prisons for forty years for teaching his new Faith, Baha’u’llah brought not only a new revelation to humanity, but a completely new way to understand religion, and thereby unlock those eternal mysteries.

This series of essays about how religion evolves explores Baha’u’llah’s teachings on the sequence of divine messengers who have guided the evolution of consciousness and the growth of civilizations by expanding the circles of unity we live within, and whose progressive revelation has gradually ushered in a realization of the oneness of humanity. 

RELATED: A Baha’i Prescription for Achieving Human Unity

Understanding the Greatest Mystery

The drive to understand the greatest mystery of all – the nature of Divinity – defines the spiritual quest. Religion has always attempted to answer humanity’s biggest questions, starting with the meaning and purpose of life. Our pursuit of these questions and mysteries can lead us to a clearer sense of what matters most, what is personally and collectively sacred to us.

This search for transcendent meaning most characterizes us as the species Homo sapiens. However, this quest takes us only so far. To the first peoples of the Earth, the land was revered, life was lived in harmony with nature, and the entire creation was sacred. This interconnectedness shaped a life in which there was no separation. Divinity was honored through regular rituals that celebrated and maintained this oneness. 

Humanity’s quest has not always been in a straight line, either. As communities expanded, spread out, and global migration became the norm, societies became more complex, cultures experienced conflict with each other, and our thinking was transformed into a pervasive consciousness of duality, reflecting the introduction of greater chaos and struggle in daily life. 

This shift in consciousness led to a long and painful process over many centuries, even millennia, of diverse communities seeing differences first, which escalated into systemic practices of segregation, prejudice, oppression, racism, conquest, genocide, and war. Duality became the lens through which our species has viewed everything since mass migration began. 

Culture, like every other living organism, grows from a simple state to a complex system. As in nature, the pattern of evolution occurs in repeating cycles. Throughout this extended period of differentiation, circles of unity nevertheless continued to expand, from unity in the family to the clan, to the city, and to the nation. 

Humanity’s Biggest Challenge

Today humanity faces an unprecedented challenge – to establish unity on the global level.

We increasingly understand now that we need to reclaim our original consciousness of oneness. The transformation humanity is currently undergoing is evident in notions of global consciousness, global economy, and world citizenship. These are the natural outcomes of where our process of evolution has been leading us. Living with the realization of our interdependency as one human community with one common heritage and destiny is the only sustainable worldview left for us to embrace. 

While we have grown familiar with these natural patterns through the continuous revelations from the Creator, the one thing that remains as much a mystery as always is our ongoing and increasing fascination with the ultimate power and greatest good that we think of as Divinity, or the Creator of all things. This has led us to the realization that such an infinite, limitless Reality can in no way be fully known.

This central theme from the 19th century prophet who Tolstoy referred to as “a Turkish prisoner who had the key” – Baha’u’llah – comprehends the nature of this supreme force as beyond the scope of our finite conceptions or experiences. In these two places within his writings, Baha’u’llah explained

It is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the divine Being … hath ever been veiled in the ancient eternity of His Essence and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men. “No vision taketh in Him, but He taketh in all vision …”

Ten thousand Prophets, each a Moses, are thunderstruck upon the Sinai of their search at His forbidding voice, “Thou shalt never behold Me!” A myriad Messengers, each as great as Jesus, stand dismayed upon their heavenly thrones by the interdiction, “Mine Essence thou shalt never apprehend!” From time immemorial He hath been veiled in the ineffable sanctity of His exalted Self and will everlastingly continue to be wrapt in the impenetrable mystery of His unknowable Essence.

This mystery will always remain; the unknown will always surround us. More and more, scientists and other deep thinkers alike acknowledge that our most concerted explorations inevitably lead to yet greater mysteries.

RELATED: What Happens When Tolstoy Reviews Your Play

Despite the unsolvable mystery of the unknowable essence of the Creator, a holistic view of creation from the vantage point of the divine messengers shows there has never been a time when humanity has lacked a connection to and guidance from the Creator. A consciousness of this interconnectedness has been evident in a continuous line of spiritual teachers, shamans, visionaries, and prophets throughout our long history as a species. The release of spiritual energies, essential in our past and future alike, is always needed to transform human hearts, shape new social institutions, and expand circles of unity.

Through such means, our consciousness evolves, and our individual and collective development unfolds over time. Today, with our capacity to think globally first, before any other more limited perspective, our dawning global consciousness marks the latest and highest stage in the evolution of our collective life on this planet.  

Divine guidance, coming to humanity through the timely appearance of inspired prophets bearing a new revelation, is progressive and never-ending, the ultimate source of inspiration for both the advancement of consciousness and an ever-advancing civilization.

The mystery of oneness is at the heart of creation. Material and spiritual reality, counter-balancing parts of the same unified reality, are held together by the same force that has the same influence upon the entire universe. Opening up to this reality initiates the process of awakening to our deeper identity as a reflection of this reality. All paths that include this quality of openness lead us closer to the ultimate mystery we seek, and into a universal experience of knowing something more than what is visible. 

In the coming essays in this series, we will explore the nature of evolution itself, examine a holistic view of the Creator, consider the branches of the tree of religion, re-vision religion relative to our time, and consider why humanity’s coming of age is imminent.

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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