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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Progressive Revelation

This is from Religious Forums, 1 April 2010

The question asked was:

I wanted to learn more about the Baha’i religion. How can Bahais claim that every world religion was part of a chain of sucession of God’s religion, when those religions all teach very different things? Yes there are some similar ideas, but there are different beliefs and ideas involved.

At least three other thoughts have to be put together with “progressive revelation.” One is that all religious language is metaphorical, it is using words designed for worldly things, to refer to spiritual things. “God is King,” for example – only makes sense if you know about and respect monarchy. “Whited sepulchres” is a metaphor drawn from a particular religious custom: it probably doesn’t say much in societies where cremation is the norm. “God” is another of those words: in a society where there are godlets in every corner, to speak of the meaning of life the universe and everything as ‘god’ would just make people think ‘another one of those? light another candle.’ So the language religions use has to change according to the society and religious language already being used in that society. This explains a lot of the differences.

Second, what religion is seeking to say changes, to some extent. Abdu’l-Baha says:

“These foundations of the Religion of God, which are spiritual and which are the virtues of humanity, cannot be abrogated; they are irremovable and eternal, and are renewed in the cycle of every Prophet.

The second part of the Religion of God, which refers to the material world, and which comprises fasting, prayer, forms of worship, marriage and divorce, the abolition of slavery, … is modified and altered in each prophetic cycle in accordance with the necessities of the times.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 47)

(use the link and browse the Bahai Reference Library; maybe serendipity will help you along )

The third is perhaps implied in the first two: religious truths are relative, not absolute. First, because we are relative; we never have the Truth we have our understanding of the truth. Second, because religious truths are conveyed in metaphorical language which is ‘read’ in relation to an existing language and society. Third, because applied truths change: polygamy was permissible for Abraham and King David, divorce was allowed in the Old Testament, etc.. The ethical duty to combat global warning for the sake of the planet and our descendents is a truth of our time. Fourth, because truths are true within a particular system or life-world, and relate to (are relative to) other truths in that system: evolutionary speciation is a truth in the scientific system, ‘God is the creator’ is a truth in the religious system. One statement relates to a thought-world where one asks what is cause, what is the effect, how does this work; the other relates to a thought (and feeling) world in which one asks how can I become a better person? What is ‘wrong’? What’s the point?

No doubt much more could be said. It’s a big ocean, and I’m a little fish

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