We’re prisoners of our culture. As infants, our thoughts and behavior are shaped by our environment before we’re even aware of thinking. We’re attracted to loving surroundings, repelled by strife and chaos. As our thought patterns mature, early experiences shape those patterns profoundly.
If our parents pray, prayer becomes integral to our lives; if they swear, we swear. As we encounter influences outside our family, our behavior and beliefs are challenged. We choose how we respond to those challenges. Those choices are rooted in our earliest experiences. We assimilate beliefs and behaviors from society at large, some of which may be at variance from what we learned as children. As we mature and gain confidence, it becomes harder to accept new ideas that challenge the basic beliefs we’ve amassed.
Thus we find varying opinions about God and religion in these pages. We see poignant pleas for forbearance and goodness, some of religion’s highest ideals. We also find animosity, baser zero-sum instincts that separate “them” from “us.” Why?
Anyone who believes in that unknowable essence called, in English, “God,” in Arabic, “Allah,” and other names in other languages, would agree there’s only one of him. Why then so many different religions and religious subdivisions?
One reason is that most religions are based in oral tradition, written down, after the fact, from selective memories. That almost changed with Muhammad, whose followers transcribed, as the prophet spoke, what became the Quran. But Islam still has its “hadith,” record of traditions or sayings of Muhammad, similar to stories about Christ and earlier prophets. Translations of these into multiple languages have compounded errors and misunderstandings. Lastly, generations of nonauthoritative clergy have imposed their own competing interpretations on the meanings of scripture. No wonder they disagree!
As a Christian in my earlier years, I became disenchanted by these hostilities, so I dove into agnosticism: I didn’t know and, I told myself, I didn’t care. A decade later I discovered I did care. I began exploring Baha’i teachings. They were so logical!
There is only one God, but the teachings he shared with the Israelites (and others in different regions) were insufficient for people many generations into the future. The Old Testament records a sequence of prophets before and after Moses. These were to reestablish Hebraic law and bring people back to its truth.
By the time of Jesus, circumstances had changed. Civilization was more settled, with great empires. Christ’s teachings reinforced the Ten Commandments, but added nuances that emphasized loving one’s neighbor, turning one’s cheek, and taking stock before casting the first stone.
In the Quran, Mohammad validated and reinforced the Abrahamic traditions, raising a mighty civilization in doing so. While Christian Europe declined into the Dark Ages, arts and sciences flourished throughout Islamic civilization. These gradually entered Europe as midwife to the Renaissance.
In 1844, it was time for yet another renewal. A young Persian merchant took the title “Bab,” meaning “gate,” and announced he was the fulfillment of Islamic expectation. He had come to proclaim the imminent arrival of one greater than he, one promised in religious traditions throughout the world. That man was Baha’u’llah, founder of the Baha’i Faith. His life story, from being a Persian nobleman to living as prisoner and exile for four decades, is in itself remarkable. More extraordinary are teachings he left for the millennium we now live in.
Baha’u’llah’s overarching message is the unity of humankind under a loving Creator. The disparate religions humankind practices are a result of bygone times and necessities. “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens,” is one of Baha’u’llah’s statements. Humankind must learn to understand, accept, and support this idea. We’re getting some assistance by way of pandemic and climate change.
Other relevant teachings include acknowledging the essential oneness of all religions and that humankind is one family. He taught the equality of women and men, the elimination of all forms of prejudice, the need for universal education and independent investigation of truth, the essential harmony of science and religion, and the need for a world commonwealth to allow all nations to collaborate on creating a harmonious, ever-advancing civilization.
So let’s quit arguing and get on with it.