A Bahá’í Perspective
Religion, writes Bahá’u’lláh, is “the chief instrument for the establishment of order in the world, and of tranquillity amongst its peoples… Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness and justice, of tranquillity and peace cease to shine”.
Religion is the fruit of the creative Word of God, which has the power to transform human thought and action. Throughout history, the main agents of moral and spiritual development have been the world’s great religions.
In an age afflicted by moral crisis and social fragmentation, the need for deeper insight about human nature and behaviour is vital for the achievement of well-being and lasting peace. Historically, such insight has been provided by religion.
If religion is to create order and help in meeting the diverse challenges confronting the world community today, it must be free from fanaticism, prejudice and animosity. The Bahá’í Writings emphasize that “religion must be the source of fellowship, the cause of unity and the nearness of God to man. If it rouses hatred and strife, it is evident that absence of religion is preferable and an irreligious man is better than one who professes it”.
Religion must be as source of fellowship and unity
Moral and spiritual values commonly held by all of the major world religions are the principal means for tolerance, reconciliation and advancement. Through such values and the commitment that they inspire humanity can be reformed; it can be transformed.
It is the Bahá’í view that “there is no credible replacement for religious belief as a force capable of generating self-discipline and restoring commitment to moral behaviour”. Religion plays an essential role in civilizing human character, defining human identity as well as promoting social order. Religion has exalted the lives of peoples everywhere and has brought cohesion and unity of purpose within and across societies.
Religion provides the teachings and unifying power by which entire societies can achieve order and stability. The universal spiritual principles which lie at the heart of religion – tolerance, compassion, love, justice, humility, sacrifice, trustworthiness, dedication to the well-being of others, and unity – are the foundations of progressive civilization.
However, it is important that religion becomes a source of fellowship and illumination and not wars and division. The world’s great religions should become the cause of unity and peace. They should emphasize that the individual’s spiritual fulfilment and well-being are tied up with the collective progress of the entire world community.
The teaching that ‘we should treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated’ is an ethic repeated in all the great religions and it sums up the moral attitude we should cleave to, as well as the peace-inducing aspect of religion. By following this golden rule and promoting the teaching of oneness of humanity, religion can become a mighty force towards establishing peace on earth.
The world’s great religions are equally valid in nature and origin, and spiritual life is equally accessible to everyone. The Baha’i Writings state: “… that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary …”.
It is also stated further in the Bahá’í Writings that “the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed”.
There are differences among world’s great religions with respect to their social ordinances and forms of worship. These exist because various religions have appeared at different times in history and among different peoples. Given the thousands of years during which different religions have addressed the changing needs of a constantly evolving civilization, it could hardly be otherwise. Indeed, an inherent feature of the scriptures of most of the major faiths would appear to be the expression, in some form or other, of the principle of religion’s evolutionary nature.
Religions of the world must promote peace and unity. They should emphasize that the individual’s spiritual fulfilment and well-being are tied up with the collective progress of the entire world community.
The Universal House of Justice (the governing council of the Bahá’í international community), in its message of April 2002 to the world’s religious leaders, appeals to the honourable leaders of religions to consider promoting the principle that God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion is likewise one. By doing so, the process of harmonizing the world’s great religions will receive a considerable boost, and will make religion a more effective instrument for progress and peace.
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OPINION: Flora Teckie