Interfaith tolerance worth reaching for
Author(s): David Crenshaw
Is salvation limited to people of one particular religion? Many devout people would answer, "Yes, only the members of my religion." They may quote scripture in support of their view.
Yet, did you know that Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Christians and Bahais have the promise of salvation in their scripture?
"I was born into the world as the king of truth for the salvation of the world." (Buddhist scripture) "Leave all things behind, and come to Me for thy salvation. I will make thee free from the bondage of sin. Fear no more." (Hindu) "To those who believe and seek righteousness ... for them will be gardens of eternity." (Muslim) "The Lord has made known His salvation ... all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our Lord." (Jewish) "The long-suffering of our Lord is salvation ... for the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." (Christian) "We, verily, have come for your sakes, and have born the misfortunes of the world for your salvation." (Bahai)
Could it be that the only way to salvation referred to in all the world religions is the same highway - just different on-ramps?
Students of comparative religion are often amazed at the similarities between the scripture of the world faiths. These faiths have similar teachings concerning salvation, forgiveness of sins, the golden rule, the importance of virtues and the existence of the Creator. What accounts for the similarities?
According to Bahaullah, "All the Prophets of God proclaim the same faith." He taught that guidance from God has been received from many prophets or messengers throughout history according to what people were ready to learn and needed at that time and place.
Hence, scripture from world religions is similar because it came from the same source: revelations from God. Bahai scripture states, "The word of God is one word, though the speakers were many."
The differences between the scripture of the world religions should be attributed to the "varying requirements of the age in which they were revealed."
Teachings related to ceremonies, diet, dress and the like are quite different depending on the religion. Differing cultures, languages, traditions and man-made additions to religion account for many differences. Bahais believevthese differences should not be allowed to distort the fact that they were all inspired by one heavenly Source.
Understanding the oneness of religion, according to Bahai scripture, is a "gift of God to this enlightened age." It encourages peace and goodwill between all people.
However, people around the world have been taught to believe differently - that their religion is the only one acceptable to God. This belief leads to feelings of spiritual superiority. It fans the flames of fanaticism and arrogance. It motivates people to behave in non-religious ways.
Bad mouthing other peoples' religion, for example, leads to hatred and hostility and away from the chief commandment to love.
Clergy have a role of paramount importance. Those who encourage interfaith understanding and respect become a powerful force for peace in the world. A cleric who teaches respect for all religions can help prevent religious prejudice and fanaticism from festering in the hearts of believers.
What an important leap toward peace it would be if the religious leaders of the world would all promote interfaith respect and understanding.
In a widely distributed letter dated April 2002, the leadership of the Bahai Faith asked all religious leaders of the world to promote interfaith peace. The message warns that the "rising fires of religious prejudice" threaten to "ignite a worldwide conflagration" of "unthinkable" consequences. It urges the leaders of all religions to condemn fanaticism, to renounce claims to exclusivity or finality, and to undertake a wider interfaith dialogue. (The letter can be read in its entirety on the Web at www.bahai.org/article-1-1-0-1.html).
In an ever-shrinking world, our response to other peoples' beliefs matters. Let's not assume that religions other than our own lead people away from God. Let's read at least some scripture of other faiths and focus on the many points of agreement.
What we have to lose is religious prejudice and fanaticism. What we have to gain is hearts freed to love the entire human race.
Crenshaw is a member of the Bahai Faith. He lives in Eureka.
©Copyright 2002, Pantagraph (USA)