Bahai News - Baha'is issue statement on education and freedom of belief
Baha'is issue statement on education and freedom of belief
MADRID, 25 November 2001 (BWNS) -- The Baha'i International Community
presented a statement, entitled "Belief and Tolerance: Lights Amidst the
Darkness," at the International Consultative Conference on School Education
in relation with Freedom of Religion and Belief, Tolerance and
Non-discrimination, a United Nations conference held in Madrid on 23-25
November 2001. The full text of the statement follows below:
The human spirit must be free to know. Apprehending who we are, for what
purpose we exist, and how we should live our lives, is a basic impulse of
human consciousness. This quest for self-understanding and meaning is the
essence of life itself. The innate and fundamental aspiration to investigate
reality is thus a right and an obligation of every human being. It is for
this reason that the Baha'i teachings affirm that the "conscience of man is
sacred and to be respected."1
To search for truth-to see with one's "own eyes and not through the eyes of
others"-is to undertake a process of spiritual discovery with a keen sense
of justice and openness.2 It is by its very nature a process that is
creative and transformative; if pursued with sincerity and fairness, it can
bestow upon the seeker of knowledge "a new eye, a new ear, a new heart, and
a new mind."3 The rational soul is thereby awakened to the capacities of
kindness, forbearance, and compassion that lie within it. Clearly, the human
yearning for truth is a power that cannot be shackled, for without the
freedom to know, human nature remains the prisoner of instinct, ignorance
In the midst of an age convulsed by moral crisis and social disintegration,
the need for understanding about who we are as human beings is vital to the
achievement of lasting peace and well-being. Historically, such insight
about human existence and behavior has been provided by religion. Its
indispensable function in addressing the universal inclination towards
transcendence, and its essential role in civilizing human character
throughout the ages, have been central to defining human identity as well
as promoting social order. Through its cultivation of humanity's spiritual
nature, religion has ennobled the lives of peoples everywhere and has
engendered cohesion and unity of purpose within and across societies.
Religion, in a very real sense, provides the warp and woof of the social
fabric-the shared beliefs and moral vision that unite people into
communities and that give tangible direction and meaning to individual and
collective life. The right to exercise freedom of conscience in the matters
of religion and belief is therefore not only crucial to satisfying the
spiritual promptings of the aspiring soul, but to the enterprise of building
harmonious and equitable patterns of living. Coercion in matters of faith
vitiates the very principles of religion. For commitment can only be born
of belief that is freely chosen. The right to freedom of thought, conscience
and belief now codified in international human rights instruments directly
finds its roots in the scriptures of the world's religions. This fact should
assure each of us that truth need not be feared, as it has many facets and
shelters all of our diverse expressions of faith. If, after all, people of
religious faith believe that the Creator is eternal and the center of all
existence, then they must also believe that the unfettered and genuine
search for truth will lead to truth.
The elimination of all barriers to the free exploration, acceptance, and
expression of religious belief is critical to the objective of a creating
a universal culture of human rights. However, to clear the way for a
constructive dialogue about the role of religion in establishing social
justice, an historical accounting must be taken. That religion has been
responsible for immense suffering cannot be denied. Much darkness and
confusion can be attributed to those who have appropriated the symbols and
instruments of religion for their own selfish purposes. Fanaticism and
conflict poison the wells of tolerance and represent corrupt expressions
of true religious values. Consequently, vigilance is necessary in
safeguarding the transformative power of religion from the forces of extreme
orthodoxy on one hand, and irresponsible freedom on the other.
"The purpose of religion," Baha'u'llah states "...is to establish unity
and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of
dissension and strife."4 In unity-a unity that embraces and honors
the full diversity of humankind-all problems can be solved. When
applied on a universal basis, the teaching that we should treat others
as we ourselves wish to be treated, an ethic variously repeated in all
the great religions, will undoubtedly reveal the salutary power of
unity. The building of a global society based on cooperation,
reciprocity, and genuine concern for others is the ultimate expression
of unified action. In short, the core spiritual values held in common
by the world's religions contain within them the principal means for
the reconciliation and advancement of the earth's peoples. Through
these values and the commitment they inspire, "Minds, hearts and all
human forces are reformed, perfections are quickened, sciences,
discoveries and investigations are stimulated afresh, and everything
appertaining to the virtues of the human world is revitalized."5
In order to play its part in overcoming the prejudices and suspicions
now afflicting the world's faith communities, religious leadership must
devote attention to these commonly shared spiritual precepts rather
than doctrinal differences or claims of exclusivity. Let each religion
demonstrate its capacity to guide the world's inhabitants to peaceful
coexistence, moral rectitude and mutual understanding, rather than
spreading enmity, fear and intolerance. The recent trend toward
interfaith dialogue around the globe offers a positive example of how
disparate communities can work together to broaden vision and shape
public discourse in a unifying way. Religious leaders are uniquely
placed to draw attention to the potentialities and promise of the
present moment in human affairs, and challenge all key societal players
to action. Increasing interchange among spiritual leaders and their
followers, especially children, will no doubt lead to new
understandings of what is possible for human beings and how peaceful
patterns of collective life can be nurtured. "Shut your eyes to
estrangement, then fix your gaze upon unity," is Baha'u'llah's counsel.
"Cleave tenaciously unto that which will lead to the well-being and
tranquillity of all mankind. This span of earth is but one homeland and
For the global Baha'i community, the protection of human freedoms is
part of a larger spiritual undertaking of fostering a set of attitudes
and practices that truly release human potential. Genuine social
progress, it believes, can only flow from spiritual awareness and the
inculcation of virtue. From this perspective, the task of creating a
universal ethos of tolerance is intimately bound up with a process of
moral and spiritual development.
Education, then, emerges as an indispensable tool--a tool of active
moral learning. To accomplish the broad objectives of ensuring the
"full development of the human personality and the sense of its
dignity" and promoting "understanding, tolerance and friendship among
all nations, racial, ethnic or religious groups," education must strive
to develop an integrated set of human capabilities-intellectual,
artistic, social, moral and spiritual.7 There is no other way to raise
up positive social actors who are builders of amity and agents of
service and probity. "Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable
value," Baha'u'llah urges, "Education can, alone, cause it to reveal
its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom."8 These
"treasures" must be consciously developed because even though nobility,
goodness and beauty are innate aspects of our nature, human beings can
fall prey to inclinations that corrupt the inner self and quench the
light of love.
Educational curricula cannot therefore be solely concerned with the knowledge
of physical and social phenomena, but must also be directed toward the goal
of moral and spiritual empowerment. As a consequence of the deep connection
between individual and social well-being, programs of education need to
instill in every child a two-fold moral purpose. The first relates to the
process of personal transformation-of intellectual, material and spiritual
growth. The second concerns the complex challenge of transforming the
structures and processes of society itself. To pursue this dual purpose of
individual and collective transformation, specific moral capabilities must
be developed. The capabilities of a moral person encompass the concepts,
values, attitudes, and skills that enable the person to make appropriate
moral choices and to promote creative and cooperative patterns of human
interaction.9 Underpinning all such capabilities is a commitment to discover
and apply truth in every domain of human endeavor. Since moral behavior is
a concrete expression of humanity's spiritual nature, moral education
efforts should draw in a systematic way on both the methods of science and
the insights of religion.
An integral feature of any educational initiative having a moral and
spiritual focus must be the notion of the oneness and interdependence of
the human race. Oneness and diversity are complementary and inseparable.
That human consciousness necessarily operates through an infinite diversity
of individual minds and motivations detracts in no way from its essential
unity. Indeed, it is precisely an inhering diversity that distinguishes
unity from homogeneity or uniformity. Hence, acceptance of the concept of
unity in diversity implies the development of a global consciousness, a
sense of world citizenship, and a love for all of humanity. It induces every
individual to realize that, since the body of humankind is one and
indivisible, each member of the human race is born into the world as a
trust of the whole and has a responsibility to the whole. It further
suggests that if a peaceful international community is to emerge, then the
complex and varied cultural expressions of humanity must be allowed to
develop and flourish, as well as to interact with one another in
ever-changing patterns of civilization. "The diversity in the human
family," the Baha'i writings emphasize, "should be the cause of love and
harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the
making of a perfect chord."10
The rich religious heritage of humankind can also be viewed through the
lens of unity. Baha'u'llah states: "There can be no doubt whatever
that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive
their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one
God."11 The world's religions can thus be seen to be one in their
nature and purpose with each being a wellspring of knowledge, energy
and inspiration. They each have served to unlock a wider range of
capacities within human consciousness and society-a process that has
impelled the human race toward moral and spiritual maturity.
Accordingly, curricula exploring the history and teachings of religion
may wish to highlight the complementary aims and functions of the
world's faith systems as well as the theological and moral threads that
link them. In this regard, the right to investigate religion and the
spiritual roots of human motivation can be understood to be a vital element
of an integrating framework of collaboration and conciliation.
The promotion of tolerance and mutual understanding among the diverse
segments of the human family cannot be a passive or rhetorical exercise.
All forms of provincialism, all insularities and prejudices must be directly
confronted. It is unfortunately the case that religious prejudice is a
particularly virulent influence that continues to block human progress.
Overcoming its corrosive effects will require deliberate and sustained
effort. Toward this end, innovative and substantive programs of education
are essential. But so too is an attitude of true humility among all those
who believe in a loving and almighty Creator.
Let us be assured, and let it be communicated to the world's children,
that it is possible to both tread the path of religious faith and to be
tolerant. Civilization's future course depends on it. In the words of
Baha'u'llah, "observe tolerance and righteousness, which are two lights
amidst the darkness of the world and two educators for the edification
1 'Abdu'l-Baha, A Traveller's Narrative (Wilmette: Baha'i Publishing Trust,
1980), p. 91.
2 Baha'u'llah, The Hidden Words (Wilmette: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1985), p. 4.
3 Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan (Wilmette: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1983), p. 196.
4 Tablets of Baha'u'llah revealed after the Kitab-i-Aqdas (Wilmette: Baha'i
Publishing Trust, 1988), p. 129.
5 'Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace (Wilmette: Baha'i
Publishing Trust, 1995), p. 278.
6 Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 67.
7 Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural
Rights; article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
8 Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah (Wilmette: Baha'i Publishing
Trust, 1983), p. 260.
9 The educational philosophy of Núr University, the second largest
private institution of higher learning in Bolivia and Baha'i-inspired, is
largely based on this idea of moral capabilities.
10 'Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, (London: Baha'i Publishing Trust, 1972), p. 53.
11 Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p 217.
12 Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 36.
©Copyright 2001, Baha'i World News Service
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