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September 6, 2013

Question:  Should sects be treated differently from religions?

I will assume that the word “sects” is layman’s use for something that is synonymous with a cult. In the sociology of religion, a sect is simply an offshoot of the parent religion. But historically the word “sect” has become very pejorative. It is usually associated with heretical belief, fanaticism and rigid control. Regardless of definitions, whether we refer to sects or religions, let us look at behaviours. Let us assume the question is pointing to a sect or a religion that manifests extremism, hatred or violence. What is to be done?

First, what do the Bahá’í writings have to say about religious fanaticism? Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, and the latest in a long succession of Divine Messengers, wrote: “Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction....”  

Since the early beginnings of the interfaith movement, Bahá’ís have been involved in the promotion of interreligious  dialogue and mutual understanding. We are dedicated to the elimination of religious dissension and strife. According to Bahá’u’lláh, one of the several purposes of religion is the creation of love and harmony among all the inhabitants of the globe, who are to be regarded as members of one, organic human family.

All the great world faiths are divine in origin and God-ordained. Dissension, extremism, shunning, prejudice, hatred and violence are regarded by Bahá’ís as perversions of faith, whose first sign is love.

The Bahá’í Faith (1844-), although its historical origins are found in Iranian Shiism, is not a sect of Islam, nor a syncretistic or eclectic man-made movement, but the youngest of the prophetically revealed, independent world religions.  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen September 6, 2013
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