Bahai News - The Renewal of Religion

Faith in the Future 4 - The Renewal of Religion

By John Deverell
November 18, 2000

This is the fourth of a series of articles on "Faith in the Future". The first in the series is "The Need for Faith"

This article continues the discussion in my article entitled "The Power of Faith"

A few who met Jesus found the power of his presence and voice so wonderfully attractive that they fell under its spell immediately and gave the rest of their lives for Him. Has this voice, once so fresh and powerful, lost its influence? Shall we say that it was alright for Peter, Andrew, James and John two thousand years ago to respond to a religious teacher with so much excitement, but today we are too sophisticated? Some would say so. For example, a New York Times article by George Johnson reported a conversation he had with Oxford University biologist Richard Dawkins. Johnson said that Dawkins was perplexed by scientists who hold religious views and "found it baffling that some of his colleagues struggle to keep God in the picture." Dawkins told Johnson: "I don't understand why they waste their time going into this other stuff, which never has added anything to the storehouse of human wisdom, and I don't see that it ever will." (Johnson, Richard, "Science and Religion: Bridging the Great Divide", in The New York Times, 30 June 1998)

This is an example of a common line of thinking which excludes religion as a source of knowledge and wisdom. However to shut out from consideration such a vast and all-encompassing realm of human experience seems a little foolish. Religion has played major role in history. It is also an integral part of the daily life of the vast majority of the billions of people who live on this planet. Most importantly, religion at its best has an unsurpassed power to illumine the truth of our situation. Up to now (in this series of articles), I have given examples mostly from the Christian religion, but please allow me to cast the net wider.

Compelling demonstrations of a superlative power of truth were manifested in the lives of the Founders of all the great religions. Take the message of the Buddha. Essentially he saw through the hollowness of the lives and aspirations of the people of his time. He told them they were not going to find any real peace or satisfaction in practising elaborate rituals in honour of countless gods, nor in luxurious living, nor in the opposite extreme of asceticism, but rather in the noble path of right mindfulness and right conduct. The simple message of Buddhism was so striking to its hearers that it became a dominant way of life throughout South East Asia, China and Japan, generating wonderful civilisations in such countries as Burma, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Another founder of a religion, Moses, called on His people to give up their life of slavery to the Pharaohs of Egypt, a life which He told them is not becoming of a child of God. He prescribed a path of rehabilitation for them, the main points of which are known as the Ten Commandments. His message created a people so cohesive that they have kept their unique identity through thick and thin for three or four thousand years.

At a later time, Muhammad raised his voice among the desert tribespeople of Arabia, announced that they should forsake their gods of stone, and worship the One True God; abandon their brutal customs and build a society of justice and peace. Beginning in His lifetime and with increasing momentum after His death, Muhammad's message swept through the middle east and even as far as Spain in the west and Indonesia in the east, creating a far-reaching civilisation which surpassed all previous ones in its civic organisation, its brilliant accomplishments in scholarship and the arts, its exceptional toleration of minorities, and many other achievements which are still under-appreciated in the West.

The voice which spoke through Buddha, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad-that elemental, eternal voice of truth—what do we hear from it today?

A major clue appears when we appreciate the stupendous fact that, as part of the process of globalisation, we have begun to discuss things in terms of the wellbeing of the entire world—regarding our family, tribe, city or nation as components of a planetary family. Nearly everyone, in every country, with access to a television set, is to some extent aware that we live in a global village. People increasingly seem to feel a strong chord of agreement with Baha'u'llah's statement that, "The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens." My daughter, Coralie Deverell, was inspired by these words to write the following song:

I have a hope the world will be one country
Someday, somehow
That the world will unite with love, as one country
The earth will spin while mankind works
For this dream and hope
For the peace of the world
For one country
I have a hope guns will be gone and bombs banished
All the hunger, disease and pain will be forgotten forever
And the earth will spin while mankind works
For this dream and hope
For the peace of the world
For one country

We find it meaningful to discuss solutions to world problems. We are interested in what the World Bank is doing to fix up damaged economies in Asia. We are anxiously concerned about efforts by the United Nations and other international organisations to restore peace in regions where violence has broken out. We give to the Red Cross and World Vision to help the victims of famine and conflict in faraway places. Perhaps our awareness of being part of the wide world, brought upon us by the globalised economy, the BBC and CNN, is bringing us closer to the mind-expanding concept of the author of The Book of Revelation, quoted in my article "The Need for Faith", who envisioned "a new heaven and a new earth" with such startling emotional force—when probably most of his contemporaries felt that the world ended at the borders of their village.

The current awareness among leaders of thought like Professor Giddens, of an inexorable trend towards planetary integration, was foreshadowed by Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha'i Faith, in these words written in 1936:

Unification of the whole of mankind is the hall-mark of the stage which human society is now approaching. Unity of family, of tribe, of city-state, and nation have been successively attempted and fully established. World unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving. Nation-building has come to an end. The anarchy inherent in state sovereignty is moving towards a climax. A world, growing to maturity, must abandon this fetish, recognize the oneness and wholeness of human relationships, and establish once for all the machinery that can best incarnate this fundamental principle of its life. (Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 202)

In this series of articles I have mentioned a number of greater and lesser historical figures who renewed the message of religion for their times. Here, then, is another example. Shoghi Effendi's perspective that "world unity is the goal towards which a harassed humanity is striving," gives meaning to the dazing, dazzling experience of roller-coaster change that globalisation is bringing upon us. He restates the ancient vision of the prophets in modern language, and applies it to what we are going through now.

We can interpret the wisdom received from our parents and grandparents in new ways that apply to our present situation, suggests my next article, "Open to Reality"

The author is a follower of the Baha'i Faith. For further information about the Baha'i Faith, please visit the Baha'i World site at www,

©Copyright 2000, John Deverell

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