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August 1, 2011

Question: Does religion divide or unite people?

During his talks in Paris (1911-1912), following his liberation from 40 years of exile, persecution and house-arrest, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son and successor of Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, spoke these words which are a direct and succinct answer to today’s question: “Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth, give birth to spirituality, and bring life and light to each heart. If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion. All the holy prophets were as doctors to the soul; they gave prescriptions for the healing of mankind; thus any remedy that causes disease does not come from the great and supreme Physician” (Paris Talks, p. 130).

In ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s prescription, the Prophets are considered to be divine physicians who prescribe various remedies to humanity, through their divine teachings, as contained in the world’s holy books. If the remedy is refused or abused, that is, if the so-called religious use religion as a pretext for coercion, discord, killing and war, then clearly they have put themselves at odds with the purpose of their own scriptures. Religion then becomes a perversion of the purpose for which it was originally intended.

For a Bahá’í, the phrase “holy war” is an oxymoron. The first scripture revealed by Bahá’u’lláh after the declaration of his mission to his closest followers in a garden outside Baghdad (1863) was the categorical annulment of any “rule of the sword”. Bahá’u’lláh exhorts his followers to abandon religious fanaticism and prejudice and “to consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship” (Tablets, p. 35).

In the past, religion has both divided and united humanity. In this day, it should serve the cause of unity for the followers of all faiths. - Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen August 1, 2011
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