Improbable events have transformed the course of civilization. Despite unlikely beginnings, major religions have influenced spiritual development and social progress of humankind worldwide, giving the world teachings that contain unifying threads. What’s the likelihood?
Moses, born a slave in Egypt, survived Pharaoh’s edict sentencing male Israelite children to death. Instead, Moses was taken by Pharaoh’s daughter to raise as her own in the royal household. Later he fled to the desert for 40 years after killing an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite. The miracle of Moses is not parting the Red Sea, nor receiving the Ten Commandments, nor hearing the voice from the burning bush. The miracle is that, millennia later, the faith arising from Moses’s improbable leadership is alive and well.
Tradition agrees that Jesus, born of a virgin, performed miracles, was crucified and rose from the dead, but his legacy is the enduring miracle of his love. In the Sermon on the Mount and in his parables, Jesus taught love for fellow humans. Two thousand years later, billions struggle to follow what are believed to be his words and teachings.
Muhammad, a camel driver and merchant, began having visions around age 40. The Angel Gabriel dictated to him what became the Quran. That book, found throughout the world, is sacred to Muslims. The unlikelihood of these events fades against the fact of Muhammad’s worldwide influence today.
The teachings of Moses, Christ and Muhammad all relate back to Abraham, founder of Judaism, in a series of religious renewals. Each prophet validates earlier prophets and expands on guidance given by them. Many scholars associate a fourth religion with the birth of Christ, suggesting that three men from “the East” who visited Jesus were priests following prophecies of Zoroaster.
A pattern emerges. Might all religions be from a single source that humans consider to be God? Could it be that religions differ because times and cultures differ? That would explain both the unifying spiritual threads that run throughout religions as well as the disparate dietary and theological mandates separating them.
The Golden Rule is common to virtually every religion. Other guidance differs, depending on conditions. Dietary restrictions in many religions are examples of how religions don’t agree.
During the 19th century, messianic sects based in prophetic expectation arose in both East and West. Seekers in Iran (then Persia) awaited the appearance of the “Lord of the Age.” On May 23, 1844, a young merchant in Shiraz revealed to a seeker that he was the one promised. He adopted the title Bab, meaning gate, explaining that his role was to usher in a universal prophet greater than himself, one who would unite humankind. That prophet’s name was Baha’u’llah, and His followers are known as Baha’is. (Disclosure: I’ve been a Baha’i since 1965.)
On Monday, Baha’is around the world will observe the 200th anniversary of the Bab’s birth, just as they celebrated the bicentenary of Baha’u’llah’s birth in 2017. On the Palouse, the observance, open to all, will begin at 7 p.m. in the 1912 Center in Moscow.
What’s the probability of such an event arising from a simple declaration in Persia long ago? What future possibilities are emerging from that declaration?
Consider the teachings of Baha’u’llah: One God is the sole source of all religious revelation. Humankind is one people. Women and men are equal. Prejudices of race, religion, and social and economic classes must be abolished. Education must be universal so everyone may investigate truth independently. Science and religion must be in harmony because both seek truth.
Social implications of these fundamentals move us toward a unified, peaceful, global civilization. If we try it and don’t like it, we can always go back to fighting.
Pete Haug’s eclectic interests and several careers drew him across the U.S. and into China with his wife, and sometimes draconian editor, Jolie. They retired south of Colfax. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.