published in Lights of Irfan, Volume 7, pages 221-238 Wilmette, IL: Irfan Colloquia, 2006
The author presents a survey of the Bahá'í teachings on exclusivism on the ground of his understanding of the open letter addressed by the Universal House of Justice to the world's religious leaders in 2002 and the recent commentary prepared under its supervision. After a brief survey of the concept of exlusivism and its dangers, a possible definition of religion in the light of the Bahá'í teachings is suggested. Nine essential features of the Bahá'í concept of the oneness of religion expounded by Shoghi Effendi are then analyzed:
Religious truth is not absolute but relative;
Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process;
All the great religions of the world are divine in origin;
Their basic principles are in complete harmony;
Their aims and purposes are one and the same;
Their teachings are but facets of one truth;
Their functions are complementary;
They differ only in the non-essential aspects of their doctrines;
Their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society.
Two corollaries of these concepts are also examined:
The God-given authority and correlative character of Scriptures;
All the great religions are continuous in their purpose and indispensable in their value to mankind.
Despite the fundamental oneness of the messages of all religions, misinterpretations of the complex language of Scriptures, in particular of the implicit concept of progressive revelation, and an undue importance given by organized religion to tradition have contributed to distract the attention of religionists from the essential teachings of religion and to focus it towards its formal and secondary aspects. Dangerous claims to exclusivity or finality have been thus developed. The present conditions of the world are such as to encourage and assist all religions to correct these dangerous attitudes in the name of a peaceful coexistence of all the peoples of the world.