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The unity provided by religion, that is.
Here is a post I just made to Talisman9, a Bahai oriented discussion group:
It was written, “I doubt that religion — the most divisive force we have ever had — will unite us.” Yes this has been written many times and recently by me. Your comment that this is like saying unity is divisive points to a paradox and sets up a question.
If religion unites groups large and small why can’t it be used to unite the world?
The answer and more questions lie within the quote from Abdul Baha that you provided — as is often the case with his writing. He often provides answers that also contain challenges.
“After the moral aspect of humanity becomes readjusted, then the greatest unity will be realized; but without this moral readjustment it is impossible to establish harmony and concord, for it is a fact that war, conflict, friction and strife are but the visible results of deterioration of morality and corruption of character. But when the morality of humanity is beautified with praiseworthy virtues there will be an end to war.”
Here AB doesn’t say that religion will change the moral aspect of humanity (not in this quote) — he says that once the readjustment has taken place — then unity will occur.
I agree with this completely.
Abdul Baha was an enthusiastic supporter of many religions. He said to Elbert Hubbard that his trip to the US would have been worthwhile if it had accomplished nothing more than introducing him to Christian Science. He told many Baha’is who where troubled by the thought of a father or daughter who held onto their birth religion that they should be left alone because their faith was serving them well. I don’t believe that he really thought that everyone would become a Baha’i or that this was necessary for the establishment of a new world order and world peace.
The readjustment that Abdul Baha wrote about will occur one person at a time. There will always be many religions in the world, some making more sense and being more useful than Baha’i. But Baha’i and many other religious movements will continue to help improve the moral aspect of humanity. This does not depend on a particular belief set or particular mythology. Many belief sets and mythologies work well to move people toward Abdul Baha’s vision of moral readjustment.
The paradox of unity is divisive will be undone when people are willing to share and work together with folks who believe differently from them. Many Baha’i’s do this today, some with no intention of converting their colleagues in other religions
What is needed is not one over arching religion designed to unite the world, what is needed is a readjustment of the moral aspect of humanity. This will be done one person at a time through education, communication, study, prayer, philosophy, poetry, religion, literature, painting, photography, altruism, good causes and all of the other positive forces in the world.
The world shrinks more everyday. We know of the suffering of people on the other side of the world in minutes. People are mobilized to help. They join forces even though they probably have differing views of the heavens and earth, of the existence or non-existence of god or gods; of life after death or oblivion. As the Buddhists believe — these things are irrelevant to the readjustment to the moral aspect of humanity. It is the readjustment that is important.
In the end it is love that will unite us, or nothing will
Religions tend to claim infallibility. Its either overt or implied — infallibility.
Perhaps this is a result of dealing with the infinite. If a being, text or object is infinite, perfect or immortal then it is infallible. But this idea raises questions: infallible when, were and to whom? Situational infallibility — is it possible?
We live a life wherein nothing is infallible. Some of us long for an absolute source of guidance.
Below is a post I wrote on Talisman9, a discussion group among Bahais, ex-Bahais and etc. Some background first. Many Bahais believe that the Bahai faith will become the state religion of one country then another and then finally at some point — of the world. They also believe that the governing body of the Bahais is in some matters infallible and will become the governing body of the world in the future. I am responding here to someone who I think believes both things.
Excellent post Alex — thank you for it.
I sincerely hope we will never have another “state religion.” How a state religion and at the same time the separation of church and state is possible eludes me. Your post implies that over time people will see the need for a state religion but I hope not.
“The Guardian’s vision of the future of the Baha’i Faith was inspired by God
(i.e. “infallible”). Accepting this we go on with our lives and try to help
the Faith as best we can, believing that eventually it will bear fruit no
matter how long that might take.”
You equate infallible with inspired by God. This is so very dangerous and extreme. Many ideas are inspired by spiritual sources, the ultimate source is of course ‘God’ the unknowable essence. Sublime poetry is inspired that way. Brilliant flashes of insight as well or at least so it seems to many. If we have tablets of stone that must be followed where is the room for further growth? Of course the Guardian’s vision included a succession of Guardians and that vision he himself rendered impossible. Why did this happen? It happened because people cannot infallibly foretell the future.
Inspired by God is a good term if its is used properly. Inspired by one’s muse perhaps an even better one (after all we can’t know God — “unknowable essence”) By used properly I mean that even ideas inspired by God must be tested and corrected if necessary. We have no choice in this matter as I think the history of Baha’i proves.
Infallibility does have its uses. It is the glue that holds many religions together. But as others have implied, it is only any good to those within the religion claiming this. It is of no use to outsiders and is in fact generally repellant to them (a paradox). And certainly any government that seeks guidance from an infallible source is a dangerous, potentially uncontrollable and monstrous thing. We humans are part of an organic, growing apparently flawed universe. Whether the universe is becoming more perfect or less is as unknowable as God herself. We do know that God makes mistakes — deformed babies born every day prove that.
I think seeking the infallible is not good for human nature — having been born into a world created by a fallible God we should use methods that allow for fallibility. Checks and balances, skepticism, rejection of “foolish consistency,” and a recognition that our progress will all ways be one of step wise refinement AKA taking two steps forward and one step back. No infallibility no matter how it is defined. Inspired by God does not mean — “oh than it must be true.” Not all inspirations are ‘true’ not all apply to this situation or that. All must be tested.
Bahia’s are taught not to judge God by human standards. Herein lies another danger. We have no standards other than those we ourselves have developed through the age-old process of formulate (through thought or inspiration), test, reformulate (seek further inspiration) — IOW step-wise refinement.
I have an old friend who was visited in a dream by Abdul Baha. He discussed an idea during that dream and than awoke to tell the world about it. It was a very good idea and my friend went on to develop it and it was a very good development. But I wish he had kept his dream a secret. It is very difficult to challenge an idea inspired by Abdul Baha. I’m pleased that the idea was developed and tested and proved to be good. But I am fearful of ideas that we can’t challenge.
Thanks again Alex for your good work.
Elbert Hubbard was a prolific writer of the early twentieth century. He was a major figure in the Arts and Crafts movement having establish a hand crafted publishing house called Roycrofters, famous for beautiful, illuminated limited edition volumes, bound in leather.
His book “Hollyhocks and Goldenglow” is a collection of essays on topics from the Titanic to Abdul Baha. (I recently made an entry on the Talisman9 discussion forum about this and what follows was drawn from that post.)He writes movingly about the Titanic recounting the bravery, loyalty and love of Mrs. Straus who refused to leave her husband for a life boat. Ironically Hubbard and his wife, Alice perished three years later aboard the Lusitania. Survivors told stories of their courage, matching the characteristics of Mrs. Straus.
There is also an essay about Abdul Baha entitled “A Modern Prophet.” The first sentence reads “A very great man has recently visited America.” It continues: “So out of Persia comes Abdul Baha, who calls himself “The Servant of God.” His followers are called Bahais. This man has diverted one-third of the population of Persia from Mohammedanism. …. This man is the modern Messiah.”
I find this essay an engrossing report by a non-Baha’i. Particularly interesting is this:
“Christian Science interests Abdul Baha greatly. It is somewhat humiliating thing for us when we think that this new American religion was never heard of by Abdul Baha until recently. Now he has practically embraced it. He says it represents one arc of the great circle of truth, and that if he had learned nothing else from his trip to America but the truths of Christian Science, he would be amply repaid.He says he comes more as a learner than a teacher. Nevertheless, he is obliged to give out the light that has been given to him. He keeps the good by giving it away.He quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson freely, delights in Walt Whitman, and loves the memory of Tolstoy, and is on terms of great tenderness toward every good and noble thing that makes for human betterment.No man of recent times has shown such a magnificent affirmative spirit as this Abdul Baha.”
Hubbard was a prolific writer who is not very well known today — not the household word one might think he would be. (The exception might be his “Message to Garcia” that I believe was read in grade or high schools years ago.)His contemporaneous account of Abdul Baha’s visit is precious I think. There may be errors in the essay but it rings true. He doesn’t say that he met Abdul Baha but I think he must have. Does anyone have knowledge of this possible meeting? I find the comments about Christian Science, Emerson and Whitman intriguing and perfectly consistent with my mental and emotional image of Abdul Baha and his approach to life.The book is available as a reprint or as an antique in its original leather bound form if you can find it.I love the idea that Abdul Baha quoted Emerson and loved Whitman but this is the only reference to that I know of. I think many Baha’is would reject the idea. If you are a Baha’i what do you think? And please let me know of other references like this that you are aware of.Many thanks,Frank