While all of the other religions under consideration are ancient, the Bahá'í Faith has emerged relatively recently (in the latter 1800s), and while it is growly rapidly, it is currently ranked #11 in world religions, with only 7 million believers. Nevertheless, its inclusion here was obligatory, as we agree with so many of its tenets that we almost would be Bahá'ís, if it were not for a few points that we cannot reconcile.
Here are the principle points of the Bahá'í Faith, with comments:
Unity of God
- Agreed, but like all of the Abrahamic religions, the Bahá'í Faith asserts that God exists in a different dimension, and communicates with this dimension via prophets. We consider God to be the totality of the Universe, which is this dimension, leaving no need for intermediaries. Furthermore, saying that God is directly accessible only to prophets promotes the prophets to angels, without explaining how angels straddle this and the other world. Personified pantheism is much cleaner metaphysically, and is much more humanistic. Most importantly, we believe that we are all witnesses to the truth. Prophets are regular people who happen to be more eloquent and/or charismatic. If they claim to have magical powers, they are frauds. So the metaphysical dualism at the core of the Bahá'í Faith is something that we cannot accept. Nevertheless, we completely agree with following statement of the Bahá'í Faith, "Although human cultures and religions differ on their conceptions of God and his nature, Bahá'ís believe they nevertheless refer to one and the same Being. The differences, instead of being regarded as irreconcilable constructs of mutually exclusive cultures, are seen as purposefully reflective of the varying needs of the societies in which the divine messages were revealed."
Unity of religion
- Agreed. This idea traces back to Siyyid `Alí Muḥammad Shírází (1818~1850, known as "the Báb", meaning "the gate"), who started the Bábi movement in Iran (1844~1852). (Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, was a disciple of the Báb.) In Islam, scriptures are sometimes called dispensations, as God sees that the people need some more guidance, and through His messengers He reveals more of Himself for the further enlightenment of the people. In this way, Muslims consider their faith to be derived from Judaism and Christianity, while Islam is the more recent and the most complete representation of God's message. The Báb extended this inclusiveness to all scriptures (even of non-Abrahamic religions). We consider this to be the most important theological idea of all time. Everybody else says that their religions preclude all other views, and even the Bábis and the early Bahá'ís believed that getting closer to God meant a new conception of Him that invalidated all previous beliefs. Yet the real value is in the realization that we can learn from all of these dispensations. Human nature doesn't change fast enough for old teachings to be wrong and only new teachings to be right. What God told Moses was not invalidated by what He told Jesus, nor Muhammad (nor Krishna, Buddha, Confucius, or anybody else for that matter). God doesn't need an eraser, as He doesn't make mistakes, and He doesn't need to correct Himself when something he said is no longer true. Eternal truths are... eternal. It's important to know the context in which something was said in order to get the full meaning, but this doesn't mean that it is no longer true. So modern Bahá'ís generally believe that there is truth in all religions, and we totally agree. But we do not agree that all existing religions need to be replaced with a "new" one. Rather, a deeper appreciation of eternal truths should validate all existing religions, and if cultural differences favor the persistence of a variety of religious practices, that's not a bad thing. We just need a handful of core concepts upon which we can all agree, to reduce the conflict and intolerance that causes so much waste in this world.
Unity of humankind
- Agreed, but the thought that political structures have to be built in order to achieve unity is the tail wagging the dog. Governments are the covenants that bind together the people within their territories, and no culture ever accepted a covenant that was fundamentally inconsistent with its beliefs. So attempting to change the government first will only result in a failed government, at great expense to the people. Rather, the first step can only be to enlighten the people. Then any politicians wishing to rule those people must understand their beliefs.
Equality between men and women
Elimination of all forms of prejudice
Harmony of religion and science
- Agreed, perhaps a good deal more emphatically than the Bahá'ís themselves. Full consistency with science requires the elimination of unknowable dimensions and divine messengers moving between this and that dimension.
- Independent investigation of truth
- Agreed, and furthermore, we consider it possible for anyone to be a prophet, as we are all witnesses of God's work, and hence we can all observe and know God directly.
- Principle of Ever-Advancing Civilization
Universal compulsory education
- Agreed. Of all of the things that have been done to improve the lot of the common people around the world, the only one that consistently works is education. If people can read and write, they can figure out for themselves how to bring new ideas into their cultures to ease the suffering of their people.
Universal auxiliary language
- Disagreed. There are two possibilities here, but both have major problems.
- Go with an existing language. The problem is that this would endorse not just the language, but also the culture of the people who speak that language, at the undue expense of other cultures, who would not fully embrace it, and rightfully so.
- Invent a new language, such as Esperanto. The problem with artificial languages is that they tend to be heavily structured, and lack the rich and colorful expressions of living languages. A structured language is only appropriate when nuances are deliberately avoided, such as in scientific or legal documents. It's possible that the benefits of using Esperanto in such disciplines would outweight the costs. For scientists and lawyers to learn another language would not be asking a lot, as these are among the best-educated people in the world. Yet outside of such disciplines, people will always speak their native languages.
- Bridging linguistic barriers in the humanities can only be solved with more capable machine translators. Developing software that can effectively translate the nuances of any living language into any other language will be difficult, but will be nothing compared to getting everybody in the world to learn a second language.
- Obedience to government unless it requires denial of faith
- Disagreed — we should obey all laws, and if we do not agree with them, we should educate our fellow citizens in how we could achieve a more just society with a change to the laws. If a law prohibits us from worshipping as we choose, and if the majority of people in our country agree with that law, we must submit to that law, or leave that country. A government is the contract that binds people together within its domain, and represents the will of the people (even if it is a dictatorship). Therefore, it is senseless and wasteful to fight governments with anything except the dissemination of knowledge.
- Elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty
- Not sure what this means, and without a realistic proposal of how it could be done, it actually doesn't mean anything at all.
All told, we agree much more than we disagree, and the agreement is far greater than it is with any other faith. Here, some people would argue that we should just go ahead and fall in with the Bahá'ís, since a caucus of like-minded people can accomplish a lot more than so many individual voices in the wilderness, and caucuses always require minor compromises. We understand the reasoning, and perhaps some of us are
members of Bahá'í congregations. But as stated elsewhere
, EBS is a pursuit of the truth, not the pursuit of a consensus, and it is not affiliated with any organized religion. This leaves it free to seek perfection in theological principles, to the limits of our ability to comprehend them, and which is the type of quest that should never be constrained by the requirements of consensus-building. After all, if we have to forsake the truth in order to come to an agreement, then we have agreed on something that is false, and we're hardly any better off. So at least in principle, there needs to be a place to contemplate improvements in our understanding, even if there are practical reasons for participating in organizations that have locked down on a set of tenets.