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Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era

  • Author:
  • J. E. Esslemont

  • Source:
  • US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1980 edition
  • Pages:
  • 286
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Pages 116-117

Chapter 8: Religious Unity

O ye that dwell on earth! The distinguishing feature that marketh the preeminent character of this Supreme Revelation consisteth in that We have, on the one hand, blotted out from the pages of God’s book whatsoever hath been the cause of strife, of malice and mischief amongst the children of men, and have, on the other, laid down the essential prerequisites of concord, of understanding, of complete and enduring unity. Well is it with them that keep My statutes.—BAHÁ’U’LLÁH, Tablet of the World.

Sectarianism in the Nineteenth Century

Never, perhaps, did the world seem farther away from religious unity than in the nineteenth century. For many centuries had the great religious communities—the Zoroastrian, Mosaic, Buddhist, Christian, Muḥammadan and others—been existing side by side, but instead of blending together into a harmonious whole they had been at constant enmity and strife, each against the others. Not only so, but each had become split up, by division after division, into an increasing number of sects which were often bitterly opposed to each other. Yet Christ had said: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another, “ and Muḥammad had said: “This your religion is the one religion. … To you hath God prescribed the faith which He commanded unto Noah, and which We have revealed unto thee, and which We commanded unto Abraham and Moses and Jesus saying: ‘Observe this faith, and be not divided into sects therein!’” The Founder of every one of the great religions had called His followers to love and unity, but in every case the aim of the Founder was to a large extent lost sight of in a welter of intolerance and bigotry, formalism and hypocrisy, corruption and misrepresentation, schism and contention. The aggregate number of more or less hostile sects in the world was probably greater at 117 the commencement of the Bahá’í era than at any previous period in human history. It seemed as if humanity at that time were experimenting with every possible kind of religious belief, with every possible sort of ritual and ceremonial observance, with every possible variety of moral code.
At the same time an increasing number of men were devoting their energies to fearless investigation and critical examination of the laws of nature and the foundations of belief. New scientific knowledge was being rapidly acquired and new solutions were being found for many of the problems of life. The development of inventions such as steamship and railway, postal system and press, greatly aided the diffusion of ideas and the fertilizing contact of widely different types of thought and life.
The so-called “conflict between religion and science” became a fierce battle. In the Christian world Biblical criticism combined with physical science to dispute, and to some extent to refute, the authority of the Bible, an authority that for centuries had been the generally accepted basis of belief. A rapidly increasing proportion of the population became skeptical about the teachings of the churches. A large number even of religious priests secretly or openly entertained doubts or reservations regarding the creeds adhered to by their respective denominations.
This ferment and flux of opinion, with increasing recognition of the inadequacy of the old orthodoxies and dogmas, and groping and striving after fuller knowledge and understanding, were not confined to Christian countries, but were manifest, more or less, and in different forms, among the people of all countries and religions.