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This is the cycle of maturity and re-formation in religion… Dogmatic imitations of ancestral beliefs are passing. They have been the axis around which religion revolved but now are no longer fruitful; on the contrary, in this day they have become the cause of human degradation and hindrance. Bigotry and dogmatic adherence to ancient beliefs have become the central and fundamental source of animosity among men, the obstacle to human progress, the cause of warfare and strife, the destroyer of peace, composure and welfare in the world. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 10.
The other day, a friend of mine said to me “I’ve decided not to go to church anymore.” He surprised me—I had always known and respected him as a devout member of his church, a man who believed in God and tried hard to actually live his faith.
“Why?” I asked him.
“It’s hard to explain,” he said slowly. “I’ve started to think that traditional religion is good for children, but maybe not as useful for adults. Mine wasn’t helping me much with my adult life, anyway.”
We had a much longer conversation about his decision, and he wound up deciding to investigate the Baha’i principles. Without dogma, ritual or bigotry, I told him, the Baha’i Faith offers adults a sophisticated, intelligent and rational way to believe, rather than adhering to the old hidebound traditions of their ancestors.
Many, many people have come to the same conclusion my friend reached. Traditional churches, temples and mosques have witnessed an exodus, with more and more adults leaving their old inherited belief systems behind, after evaluating their effects and finding them wanting. Some people who come to that point try to find a new direction and a new Faith; some look inside to try and discover a sense of interior spirituality they feel they’ve lost; others decide to become non-affiliated or even non-believers.
My friend, though, still believes in God, and wants a belief system that answers the needs, the questions and the inner yearnings of maturity. I showed him this passage from the Baha’i teachings:
Praise be to God, that the dark ages have passed away and the century of light has come. Praise be to God, that the traces of prejudices and superstitions are effaced, and the horizon of the minds and the hearts of humanity are broadened. Praise be to God, that the seas of the idle fancies of the religionists are calmed down and the oceans of the realities and significances of the Blessed Perfection are set in motion. Praise be to God, that the gloomy nights of ignorance have flitted away across the receding ages, and the bright dawn of intelligence and wisdom is becoming visible. Praise be to God, that the cold winter of fanaticism and bigotry, with its chilling hand and irrational heterodoxy has come to an end, and the soul-refreshing springtime of the imperishable flowers and hyacinths of universal love and toleration, has dawned, perfuming all the nostrils with the sweet odours of trust and confidence. Praise be to God, that the black clouds of human limitations and man-made restrictions are dispelled, and the world-enlightening Sun of the Kingdom hath dawned from the horizon of the hearts! Praise be to God that the chains of injustice and the fetters of the oppression of the Pharaohs of the earth and the despotic rulers of men have crumbled to dust, and the age of justice, equity, brotherhood and real democracy is inaugurated. Praise be to God that the crowns of the despots have fallen to the earth, and the thrones of the absolutists are shaken to the foundation. But the real diadems of glory and power and the royal seats of just governments and democratic institutions were raised high. Praise be to God, that the period of satanic suggestions hath come to a close, and the cycle of angelic ideals and seraphic thoughts hath opened before the eyes of men. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 6, p. 112.
He wanted to know more. “How can a religion,” he asked me, “possibly do all this?”
Religion always has, I said to him. The initial cycles and stages of religion and its spring-like renewal have always reformed the life of humanity in powerful, positive ways. We’re used to seeing religion in its “cold winter of fanaticism and bigotry” when we look at and experience the “irrational heterodoxy” of many old, calcified belief systems. Instead, a new religion, full of promise and creative growth and spiritual freshness, has appeared. So now, in this day and age, we’re seeing the process of maturation and renewal occur once again:
The Revelation of Baha’u’llah, whose supreme mission is none other but the achievement of this organic and spiritual unity of the whole body of nations, should, if we be faithful to its implications, be regarded as signalizing through its advent the coming of age of the entire human race. It should be viewed not merely as yet another spiritual revival in the ever-changing fortunes of mankind, not only as a further stage in a chain of progressive Revelations, nor even as the culmination of one of a series of recurrent prophetic cycles, but rather as marking the last and highest stage in the stupendous evolution of man’s collective life on this planet…
That mystic, all-pervasive, yet indefinable change, which we associate with the stage of maturity inevitable in the life of the individual and the development of the fruit must, if we would correctly apprehend the utterances of Baha’u’llah, have its counterpart in the evolution of the organization of human society. A similar stage must sooner or later be attained in the collective life of mankind, producing an even more striking phenomenon in world relations, and endowing the whole human race with such potentialities of well-being as shall provide, throughout the succeeding ages, the chief incentive required for the eventual fulfillment of its high destiny. – Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 163-164.