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We live in an age in which God is openly denied and religion is ignored and discredited as archaic and even harmful. – Ali Yazdi
Religion is the strongest fort, but it must be the cause of harmony not the cause of hatred and animosity, and if it causes hate and hostility, it is useless. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a letter to Martha Root.
Religion has had a really rough time of it lately.
Fanatics and fundamentalists have hijacked the names of several different Faiths and twisted their teachings to justify hatred, violence and warfare. This fanatical misappropriation has given religion in general a bad reputation.
Traditional religious beliefs have become the target of a large group of public intellectuals, atheist writers and anti-religious philosophers determined to destroy them.
For the past two centuries, science has largely prevailed over religion in many parts of the world, ironically becoming the belief system of the masses through its rational, reason-based approach.
Ancient and venerated religious institutions have come under fire for corruption, fraud and their attempts to cover up various scandals. To protect themselves from discovery and prosecution, some clergy and institutions have hidden long-term patterns of child molestation and other serious crimes.
Worse, some so-called religious groups and sects have even participated in crimes against humanity, including war, forced famine and genocide.
Understandably, these have each contributed to declining levels of social approval and trust for religion as a whole. All of these factors, taken together, have had an enormous impact. Churches, mosques and temples have emptied out. Polls show that much of the Earth’s younger generations no longer consider themselves religious. People have fled organized religion in general, and now get their spirituality from other sources. In some cultures, even mentioning God or religion can brand people as misinformed, uneducated, unintelligent or seriously deluded.
Many people now believe that religion, no matter what kind or denomination, has had a net negative effect on the world. If it causes hatred and hostility, many now reason, religion becomes useless.
It may surprise you to learn that the world’s newest global religion—the Baha’i Faith—has the same belief:
Baha’u’llah taught, that Religion is the chief foundation of Love and Unity and the cause of Oneness. If a religion become the cause of hatred and disharmony, it would be better that it should not exist. To be without such a religion is better than to be with it. – Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 28.
…the foundation of the divine religions is one foundation. This is the oneness of revelation or teaching; but alas! we have turned away from that foundation, holding tenaciously to various dogmatic forms and blind imitation of ancestral beliefs. This is the real cause of enmity, hatred and bloodshed in the world; the reason of alienation and estrangement among mankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 96.
If religion proves to be the source of hatred, enmity and contention, if it becomes the cause of warfare and strife and influences men to kill each other, its absence is preferable. For that which is productive of hatred amongst the people is rejected by God, and that which establishes fellowship is beloved and sanctioned by Him. Religion and divine teachings are like unto a remedy. A remedy must produce the condition of health. If it occasions sickness, it is wiser and better to have no remedy whatever. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 298.
So, given these strikingly unusual teachings about religion from a new religion, what does the Baha’i Faith have to say about the current decline in belief around the world? What actual remedies do the Baha’i teachings offer humanity? How do Baha’is respond to the diminution of the role of religion in modern life?
In this series of essays, we’ll look at the current global situation of religion; discuss the declining reputation of religious belief; and try to answer these very difficult questions.
Next: Are People Becoming Less Religious? Actually, No.