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“There is one God; mankind is one; the foundations of religion are one.” – Abdu’l-Baha
Baha’is believe that God has given us one everlasting religion. Like professors at a university, this single spiritual system has many teachers, but it ultimately offers us one foundation of faith. The Baha’i teachings see each of the major world religions as a chapter in one great book, revealed progressively by God to humanity over many thousands of years.
Religion understood in this new, systematic way begins to make eminent sense, rather than appearing to be a confusing jumble of different dogmas. Designed to gradually uplift and spiritually advance the human race, the concept of religion as a single system means that God has progressively revealed teachings appropriate for the maturation level of humanity in each new revelation.
Instead of competing and conflicting beliefs at war with each other, the Baha’i view of religion presents them as an organic whole, a sequential set of Prophets, Messengers and Manifestations of God with a common mission – to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship among all people:
All these holy, divine Manifestations are one. They have served one God, promulgated the same truth, founded the same institutions and reflected the same light. Their appearances have been successive and correlated; each one has announced and extolled the one who was to follow and all laid the foundation of reality. They summoned and invited the people to love and made the human world a mirror of the Word of God. Therefore the divine religions they established have one foundation; their teachings, proofs and evidences are one; in name and form they differ but in reality they agree and are the same. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 14.
The Baha’i teachings describe this divine cycle as a natural rhythm, a spiritual seasonality, which spans centuries and civilizations. The cycle begins as each of the Founders and Prophets of the world’s great Faiths appears, like the rising of the sun, bringing the dawning of a new set of spiritual teachings to humanity. Sadly, humanity doesn’t usually receive that dawn in a welcoming way – instead, we historically reject the message and persecute the one who brings it by reviling, torturing, imprisoning and killing the Messenger. But then gradually, like the increasing warmth of the rising sun permeating the earth, the message takes root in fertile minds and souls, and people begin to awaken to its power. As the sun of truth rises to its zenith, much of humanity responds, and the beauty and wisdom of the new message grows and flourishes. Entire civilizations and societies build themselves on its truths.
Then, inevitably, the heat of the sun begins to wane. Flawed human beings, hungry for influence or power or status, insert themselves into the leadership of religious organizations and use their power for corrupt ends. Religion declines, and its positive influence over human character recedes. The institutions of Faith lose their spiritual orientation. The sun sets and night falls. The world itself, without the light that a new revelation brings, descends into a period of darkness that only a new Manifestation of God can re-illuminate.
This divine cycle, Abdu’l-Baha says, renews and refreshes everything:
When the holy, divine Manifestations or Prophets appear in the world, a cycle of radiance, an age of mercy dawns. Everything is renewed. Minds, hearts and all human forces are reformed, perfections are quickened, sciences, discoveries and investigations are stimulated afresh, and everything appertaining to the virtues of the human world is revitalized. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 278.
Now, Baha’is believe, a new divine cycle has arrived. Brought by Baha’u’llah, whose Faith has spread across the globe, this new cycle has swept away the old customs and the old sciences, crafts, laws and regulations. The old political principles have changed, and a new body politic has begun to appear – a consciousness centered around world citizenship and the essential unity and harmony of all religion: