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Ask a Bahá’í: How Can Bahá’í’s Believe There Is Only One Religion?

Ask a Bahá’í: How Can Bahá’í’s Believe There Is Only One Religion?

Commentary by Daniel Pschaida

My friend told me that Baha’i is absurd to claim that there is only one religion because some religions say diametrically opposing things. Is this true? How would a Baha’i respond to this criticism?

Yes, the Bahá’í teaching that “all the religions are one” is a challenging claim. Religions say different things, contradictory things, often in opposition to each other. In fact, in a single religious tradition — such as Christianity — various denominations often say diametrically opposing things on certain issues, such as who was Jesus, how do we attain salvation and should Christians be drinking alcohol.

In my understanding, the Bahá’í teaching that “all the religions are one” is not a call to ignore or diminish the real differences that exist both between and within religious traditions. Rather, it is an invitation for human beings — in this age of collective maturity that human society is slowly entering — to no longer make religion a cause of fighting, persecution or wars. Instead, we are to draw on those aspects of our religion that weave hearts together in our common bonds of humanity. The Bahá’í writings say:

The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. Suffer it not to become a source of dissension and discord, of hate and enmity.

Bahá’u’lláh, The Tabernacle of Unity

The Bahá’í teaching that “all the religions are one,” thus, is part of an overall recognition that the most fundamental problem, which manifests in various diseases — such as poverty, racism, and war — is the tribalism and factionalism that exists among our global, national and local societies. Instead, we need to develop habits of thought and practice patterns of behavior that cultivate unity in diversity. If we come together on a human level to support each other in cultivating collective human flourishing, each of these other social diseases can and will be expeditiously cured.

Assisting this call to unity is a bird’s-eye view of religious history, which encompasses these four kindred teachings in the Bahá’í Faith about unity between the religions:

  1. God’s love for all of us: God has always loved all human beings and all parts of the planet. God has sent various inspired messengers to all peoples through history to summon us to a relationship with His holy Being and to live with each other with love, compassion and integrity.
  2. Progressive Revelation: Human beings grow in social and spiritual capacity through the teachings of each Messenger. As our capacity grows, we can receive more of God’s Revelation/teachings, which in turn raises our collective capacity again. This is similar to elementary school, where our teachers have all received the same teacher training, but, due to the different capacity of a class of first graders versus fifth graders, what is taught can appear different. However, thanks to the work of the first through fourth grade teachers, the fifth grade teacher can now teach a more complex and profound curriculum.
  3. Human beings need reminders: An Arabic-Islamic word for human beings insān that also etymologically refers to the fact human beings are forgetful. We humans have a tendency to obsess over extraneous things and forget the core teachings and spirit of God’s teachings. When a new Messenger comes, that One reminds us of the heart of God’s message to love God and each other, even while providing richer details each time of how that is done.
  4. Each Messenger or “Manifestation” of God is a Divine Physician: A well-trained medical doctor discerns that the remedy that one patient needs and another one needs is often not the same. Different ailments at different times and places of a people call for distinct remedies. Each Messenger/Manifestation of God frames the teachings in a way that will assist the people of that time and place to grow spiritually and socially, according to their specific spiritual and social ailments.
    • In this light, the Bahá’í Faith also distinguishes between eternal spiritual teachings and temporal social laws that the Manifestation of God brings. Examples of eternal spiritual teachings are to worship God and develop virtues, such as lovingkindness, honesty, justice and joy. Temporal social laws may change between Manifestations, depending on what the people need at that time and place; hence rules about diet, marriage, divorce or money and commerce transactions may differ between Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism and Hinduism. The Bahá’í Faith, in turn, has updated the social laws conducive to this new day and age for humanity to live as a global community.

Thus, this Bahá’í teaching is not that all the religions teach and practice exactly the same things but that they were inspired by the same loving God. Confidence that the same supremely benevolent Being has loved all of us and our ancestors at each time and place assists us to have high, positive regard for each other, and to pursue the summons of Bahá’u’lláh — the Divine Physician of this day — who calls us to develop global, national and local communities characterized by love, compassion and integrity. A famous Bahá’í quote says, “Ye are all the fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch.” The Bahá’í writings explain this quote, saying that Bahá’u’lláh …

… likened this world of being to a single tree, and all its peoples to the leaves thereof, and the blossoms and fruits. It is needful for the bough to blossom, and leaf and fruit to flourish, and upon the interconnection of all parts of the world-tree, dependeth the flourishing of leaf and blossom, and the sweetness of the fruit.

For this reason must all human beings powerfully sustain one another and seek for everlasting life; and for this reason must the lovers of God in this contingent world become the mercies and the blessings sent forth by that clement King of the seen and unseen realms. Let them purify their sight and behold all humankind as leaves and blossoms and fruits of the tree of being. Let them at all times concern themselves with doing a kindly thing for one of their fellows, offering to someone love, consideration, thoughtful help. Let them see no one as their enemy, or as wishing them ill, but think of all humankind as their friends; regarding the alien as an intimate, the stranger as a companion, staying free of prejudice, drawing no lines.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Thank you for your question, and I hope these thoughts on my own understanding of this Bahá’í teaching of the oneness of religion provides some help and clarity for you.

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