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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

All Bahai?

Subject: One world faith?
Date sent: Tue, 15 Jan 2008 14:23:23 +0100


In response to:

> … Baha’is want to unite the world through
> conversion. While some of what Baha’ullah wrote seems to support
> that ill conceived plan, I am still not convinced that he really
> believed that this is a good or possible thing. I can’t accept the
> idea that we need “one universal faith” — namely Baha’i. …
> This is at the core of my inability to accept Baha’i as my faith.
> Why must Baha’is and Baha’ullah insist on everyone embracing one
> faith? This could, should and will never happen. It has never
> happened in any way in the past … I believe it is a absurd idea.

I agree that the idea is absurd. It’s like the idea of achieving
equality in wealth: even if it could be momentarily achieved, as soon
as someone made a free choice, for good or bad, it would be disrupted.
Uniformity can only be maintained at the expense of freedom.

One way of seeing progressive revelation is what Seena Fazel calls
triumphalism: the values and truths and community structures of the
new religion formed at the transition make the others obsolete and
they must fall away. The two big problems with triumphalism are first
that it is a self-defeating prophecy, because a new religious
community that goes around telling others that their religions are
outdated and they are doomed to eventually merge into the new paradigm
naturally creates resistance, and distance between the new religious
group and the culture around it, so it ends up as a marginal cult.
Bahais have done lots of that. The second problem is that it isn’t
true. Just look at history. How many new world religions have emerged
since the time of Krishna, and how many followers of Krishna are there
today? Of ancient religions, Hinduism and Buddhism have prospered,
Zoroastrianism has almost died out, and Judaism has held its own and
kept adapting.

I do not think that Baha’u’llah ever envisioned or said anything so
simple, and absurd, as all the people in the world becoming Bahais.
His vision is of the evolution of a world religious system, as one
organ in a World Order. We can compare it to the evolution of the
world economic system, which is another organ in the World Order. At
one time, at the height of the modernist period, economies were
national, and were conceived as competing entities and managed as such
by their governments. As the fact and awareness of their
interdependence has grown, we have come to see that there is only one
“economy.” This does not mean that national economic activity has
ceased ! It does mean that tarif barriers and subsidies which formerly
characterised national economies are fading away — and are now
recognised as having been anti-economic all along, because they hinder
the distribution of goods and services. It has been realised that the
scope to “manage” a national economy is severely limited, and the
attempt is usually counterproductive. And it has been realised that
new global institutions are needed: a world commercial code (not yet
achieved), the WTO, a common currency and countless thousands of
facilitating organisations for particular industries and purposes,
regional and global.

In the same way, the evolution of a global religious system does not
in any way threaten the continuity of the constructive part of
existing religion’s activities or their institutions, whether clerical
or lay.

Shoghi Effendi writes:

Such institutions as have strayed far from the spirit and
teachings of Jesus Christ must of necessity, as the embryonic
World Order of Baha’u’llah takes shape and unfolds, recede into
the background, and make way for the progress of the
divinely-ordained institutions that stand inextricably interwoven
with His teachings. The indwelling Spirit of God which, in the
Apostolic Age of the Church, animated its members, the pristine
purity of its teachings, the primitive brilliancy of its light,
will, no doubt, be reborn and revived as the inevitable
consequences of this redefinition of its fundamental verities, and
the clarification of its original purpose. (World Order of Baha’u’llah 185)

So *some* “christian” activities will be seen to have been
unchristian in essence, but Christianity and the activities of the
churches will certainly not cease. Shoghi Effendi (citing Baha’u’llah)

Nor should it be thought for a moment that the followers of
Baha’u’llah either seek to degrade or even belittle the rank of
the world’s religious leaders, whether Christian, Muslim, or of
any other denominations, should their conduct conform to the
professions, and be worthy of the position they occupy. “Those
divines,” Baha’u’llah has affirmed, ” . . . who are truly adorned
with the ornament of knowledge and of a goodly character are,
verily, as a head to the body of the world, and as eyes to the
nations. The guidance of men hath, at all times, been and is
dependent upon these blessed souls.” And again: “The divine whose
conduct is upright, and the sage who is just, are as the spirit
unto the body of the world. Well is it with that divine whose
head is attired with the crown of justice, and whose temple is
adorned with the ornament of equity.” And yet again:
“The divine who hath seized and quaffed the most holy Wine, in
the name of the sovereign Ordainer, is as an eye unto the world. Well
is it with them who obey him, and call him to remembrance.” “Great
is the blessedness of that divine,” He, in another connection, has
written, “that hath not allowed knowledge to become a veil between
him and the One Who is the Object of all knowledge, and who, when
the Self-Subsisting appeared, hath turned with a beaming face
towards Him. He, in truth, is numbered with the learned. The
inmates of Paradise seek the blessing of his breath, and his lamp
sheddeth its radiance over all who are in heaven and on earth.
He, verily, is numbered with the inheritors of the Prophets. He
that beholdeth him hath, verily, beheld the True One, and he that
turneth towards him hath, verily, turned towards God, the
Almighty, the All-Wise.” “Respect ye the divines amongst you,” is
His exhortation, “They whose acts conform to the knowledge they
possess, who observe the statutes of God, and decree the things
God hath decreed in the Book. Know ye that they are the lamps of
guidance betwixt earth and heaven. They that have no
consideration for the position and merit of the divines amongst
them have, verily, altered the bounty of God vouchsafed unto
them.” (Promised Day is Come 109-110)

So if the Bahai writings envision the continuity of religions (not
indefinitely: but look at how long Hinduism has been active), what
does the Bahai Faith contribute? Is it just one more religion? I do
not think so, anymore than the World Bank is just one more bank. It
lends money and charges interest like the central banks of the modern
age, but its conceptualisation is that it operates in a world economy,
so it brings something new to the economic system, even if it looks in
some respects like one more bank.

I think that new religions arise where a society is passing through a
boundary between one kind of structure and world-view and a radically
new one. Sometimes that comes from the clash of cultures, for example
the cargo cults that arose from western contacts in Melanesia, and
native “churches” (really new religions, created by prophets) in
Africa and New Zealand. But the most interesting religions arise when
a whole civilization is going through a transformation, and does not
know where it is going. Into a new an unknown world, where the only
certainty is that many of the old ways won’t work.

My take on progressive revelation is that one function of the new
revelation is to help the peoples of all religions through that
boundary, to help them to find a new model of “what religion means in
society” and then to find the resources in their own revelations from
which they can make a new form for the new age. The “help” does not
have to be a well-meant friendly hand: a competitive polemic can also
help if it drives people to use their own scriptures as a resource for
the new situation. Christianity helped Pharisaic Judaism as much as
vice versa, but I don’t think the relationship was often friendly.

One key part of the evolution of a world religious system is that
places of worship should be seen as a common place, as a centre of
unity. In the Aqdas:

K115 : Blessed is he who… directeth his steps to the
Mashriqu’l-Adhkar … Say: The Mashriqu’l-Adhkar is each and
every building which hath been erected in cities and villages for
the celebration of My praise. Such is the name by which it hath
been designated before the throne of glory, were ye of those who


94. QUESTION: Concerning mosques, chapels and temples.

ANSWER: Whatever hath been constructed for the
worship of the one true God, such as mosques,
chapels and temples, must not be used for any
purpose other than the commemoration of His
Name. …

Again, this does not mean that temples and mosques should all be
converted into Bahai Houses of Worship — it means that all the
buildings erected for worship are entitled to the same respect and
protection, and are to be regarded equally as Mashriqu’l-Adhkars,
places of God’s remembrance. Some religious communities will have to
change, if the activities of their worship are to unite rather than
divide. They will have to be open to all, and cannot be used to stir
up hatred or bolster a sense of superiority: there can be no cursing
of Sunni by shiah, no semons fulminating against the Pope, for
example. For most communities, they will also have to separate the
function of worship from those of doctrine and administration. “Open
to all” means sharing worship with people of different doctrines, even
different religions, with people who are not registered members and
even with those expelled from membership of the community. The Bahai
Faith has a head start in this, because its central functions of
worship, doctrine and administration are separated in 3 institutions,
the Mashriq, the Guardianship and the House of Justice. This makes it
easy to be part of a worshipping community without doctrinal
conformity, and it makes it possible for people who do have common
doctrine to form various communities of worship, according to taste
and culture, and include others in them. Administrative status becomes
a separate issue, not affecting one’s role in the worship of one or
more places of worship. It’s the postmodernisation of the internal
structure of religion: it fosters multiple overlapping communities
through which the individual makes, rather than merely accepting, his
or her religious identity. The majority of religious communities, if
they are to thrive in the globalising world, will have to evolve some
such structure

~ Sen

Similar: the future of religions
Foundations for inter-faith sharing
One morning in Shiraz

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One Response to “All Bahai?”

  1. Zach Brown said

    Samaritanism is a 2700 year old jewish schismatic movement that currently has 750 members. In wikipedia, it is listed as an independent abrahamic faith.

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