Is religion an obstacle to unity?

Posted: Friday, June 28, 2002

When organized religions subscribe to doctrines of "privileged access to truth," disastrous eruptions of fanaticism result, paid for with the loss of a leadership role in world affairs. As a result, these religions stand paralyzed on the threshold of the future, barring, rather than opening, the door to peace and harmony.

The Baha'i international governing council recently raised this issue before the world's religious leaders. But an objective discussion of this predicament is difficult because of traditional loyalties and followers who claim superiority for the founders of their faith.

Many Christians view Jesus Christ as God incarnate, consider Moses inferior in some way and regard Muhammad an impostor. A majority of orthodox Jews see Moses as the human vehicle through which the law of God was transmitted to humanity and consider Jesus Christ to be a false prophet.

Muslims consider both Moses and Jesus Christ to be valid prophets, but the majority rejects the Buddha and the founders of other major faiths. For them, Muhammad was the last prophet whom God will send, and revelation of the divine will have ended with the Qur'an.

Discussions are further hindered by the view that various religious systems result from human striving after truth. In this conception, the founders of the great religions do not reveal God to us, but are rather philosophers or thinkers, human beings who may have progressed farther than others in the discovery of truth.

This notion excludes the basic unity of religion, since the various religious systems are seen as representing the opinions and beliefs of fallible human beings rather than infallible revelations of truth from a single source.

In spite of these roadblocks, the world's population continues to seek religious guidance.

Religion remains an essential and imperishable element of human consciousness, a power that reaches to humanity's very core. It is a historically civilizing force, and, as such, the oneness of humankind cannot be effectively advanced without an infusion of spirituality.

For religions to avert a calamitous worldwide confrontation, the risks of which grow daily, their leadership must renounce assertions of exclusive access to truth and wholeheartedly accept the validity of all principal religions. The understanding must be embraced that truth and spirituality are equally accessible to all of mankind, that God is one and that, beyond all cultural diversity of human interpretation, religion is likewise one.

The Baha'i faith supports "revealed religion." God, the creator, has and will continue to intervene in human history by means of chosen messengers. These messengers, or manifestations of God, are the founders of the major religions, such as Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus and Muhammad. The spirit released by their coming, their teachings and the social systems established by their laws and precepts have enabled humankind to progress in its collective evolution.

These mighty systems have proceeded from one source and are the rays of one light. That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated. There is only the continually evolving religion of God, with each individual religious system representing a stage in the evolution of the whole.

Baha'u'llah attributed the differences in some teachings of the great religions not to any human fallibility, but to the different requirements of the ages in which the revelations occurred.

He maintained that a great deal of human error was introduced into religion through the corruption of texts and the addition of extraneous ideas. Baha'is consider none of the founders superior to another.

Religious truth is relative, not absolute. Divine revelation is a continuous and progressive process, with all the great religions of the world divine in origin. Their basic principles are in complete harmony, their aims and purposes one and the same. Their teachings are facets of one truth, their functions complementary and their differences only in the nonessential aspects of their doctrines. Their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society.

Paul Gray is the public information officer for the Baha'is of Alaska. There is a Baha'i center in Ridgeway on Knight Drive.

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