There are rifts, but we have so much in common
by Ted Slavinpublished in St. Catharines Standard
St. Catharines, Ontario: 2011-01-22
There are a lot of principles and values that people wholeheartedly agree with when they ask me what Bahá'ís believe: one God, the equality of women and men, all humanity being one family, independent investigation of truth, the necessity of the elimination of prejudice, the power of prayer, and so on.
Such a conversation on the classic taboo subject of religion can actually go very smoothly for several minutes -- that is, until that "religions are one" comment flies out of my mouth.
"What do you mean religions are one? Have you read a newspaper lately? There's no 'oneness' going on between religions!"
And with that, my new acquaintance walks off in disgust.
Well, that's really never happened.
The people I've spoken to about religion have all had more tact than that, but you can understand how mystifying a statement like "religions are one" may be to people who often read and hear about followers of different religions in perpetual conflict with each another.
So, let's clear up this misunderstanding: when Bahá'ís say something to the effect of "religions are one," they're not saying that all faiths are the same. That's just silly. What we are trying to convey is that God has revealed himself through a succession of Divine Messengers tasked with guiding and educating mankind.
Still don't buy it? Have I got a book for you.
Harold Rosen of Abbotsford, B.C., has written his latest book compiling research for no less than seven distinct world faiths, identifying their similarities, history and shared purpose. Titled Founders of Faith: The Parallel Lives of God's Messengers, Rosen counters the frequent portrayal of world religions as incompatible. To do this, he explores 25 parallels consistent with the Messengers' lives and teachings, including their overcoming powerful opposition, initial rejection by the people, transformative teaching and sacrificial suffering, to name a few.
To illustrate the unity between diverse faiths, Rosen chose the religions of Moses, Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad and Bahá'u'lláh. When asked why he chose these particular seven out of the many influential leaders who have started spiritual movements, Rosen explained the reason as both a pragmatic matter of having available facts of their lives and teachings, as well as the influence they had on the societies transformed by their teachings.
"They were primary revealers offering humanity direct Divine guidance. They directly reflected Divine light and so they made much larger contributions than sages, reformers, seers, mystics and gurus," said Rosen.
Despite the 25 parallels, Rosen is realistic when acknowledging the apparent rifts between different religions' adherents. His book cites the cause of religious conflicts as not due to the Founders' teachings, but a result of a religion's natural decline and need for renewal, helped along by leaders who fear loss of influence and who struggle to keep their relevance and authority. Writing about seven world religions while affirming religion's relevance in a society that increasingly questions the value of faith is a bold step, but Rosen says that a key to understanding the nature of how society responds to religion lies in understanding two man-made barriers.
"To me it seems like there are two major obstacles to accepting religion in the West: the evil done in the name of religion, and the prevailing worldview of secular materialism. These seem to be intimately related because the decline and corruption of religions was a strong contributing factor to the growing preference for mechanistic and atheistic views in Euro-North American societies," said Rosen.
"But Bahá'ís can help explain that religion in its pure beginnings is a unifying, moralizing and civilizing force and a new revelation is now bringing light and unity into our world.... I hope to do my part in elevating the discourse on these matters."
Harold Rosen's Founders of Faith: The Parallel Lives of God's Messengers can be found at amazon.ca, Barnes & Noble, and the Canadian Bahá'í Distribution Service.