August 5, 2013. There are built-in religious drives, according to a growing spectrum of thinkers, scientists, theologians, and skeptics. Revealed religions – among them Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam – respond to those drives and channel in them in ways that have created or strengthened the world’s great and long-lasting societies and cultures.
We have been looking at the Baha’i Faith as a newly-revealed religion that responds in a positive way to these drives.
Consider the finding of a recent international research study – called The Cognition, Religion and Theology Project – led by two University of Oxford academics. Their conclusion?
… humans are predisposed to believe in gods and an afterlife, and that both theology and atheism are reasoned responses to what is a basic impulse of the human mind.
According to Robert Trigg, a project co-director:
We have gathered a body of evidence that suggests that religion is a common fact of human nature across different societies. This suggests that attempts to suppress religion are likely to be short-lived as human thought seems to be rooted to religious concepts, such as the existence of supernatural agents or gods, and the possibility of an afterlife or pre-life.’
In an interview with CNN, Trigg notes that their comprehensive study doesn’t prove or disprove the existence of God but that it does have profound implications for religious freedom:
[Religion] isn’t just a quirky interest of a few, it’s basic human nature. … If you’ve got something so deep-rooted in human nature, thwarting it is in some sense not enabling humans to fulfill their basic interests … You can’t just pretend it isn’t there.
The price of pretending this drive isn’t there has been high. On one hand, it has helped drive the rise of enormously destructive secular millennialist quasi-religious movements – Marxist-Leninism, National Socialism, and social Darwinism among them – eager to create utopias for this or that chosen elite regardless of the price in human lives.
On the other hand, it has led to sustained attempts under the guise of political modernization to consign religion to the sidelines (the secularization thesis), thereby helping enable destructive apocalyptic religious movements eager to create utopias for this or that chosen elite regardless of the price in human lives. And, by making a religion out of science (see scientism) and then claiming that scientism is a better belief system than religion, it has added another contentious and intolerant sectarian component to the very divisive marketplace of belief systems.
There is a better way, a new revealed religion claims. It is the renewal and reinvigorization of religious intent and spiritual power and an update of religious laws and practices to meet the requirements of a maturing world. This renewal and reinvigorization has been a major theme in all the past religions of the world.
The Renewal of Religion as One of the Basic Bahá’í Teachings
On November 17, 1912 `Abdu’l Bahá – the son of the prophet-founder of the Bahá’í Faith – spoke at the Genealogical Hall in New York City. “All created things have their degree, or stage, of maturity,” he said. “That which was applicable to human needs during the early history of the race, could neither meet nor satisfy the demands of this day and period of newness and consummation.” (The whole of his text can be found here.)
From every standpoint the world of humanity is undergoing a reformation. The laws of former governments and civilizations are in process of revision; scientific ideas and theories are developing and advancing to meet a new range of phenomena; invention and discovery are penetrating hitherto unknown fields, revealing new wonders and hidden secrets of the material universe; industries have vastly wider scope and production; everywhere the world of mankind is in the throes of evolutionary activity indicating the passing of the old conditions and advent of the new age of reformation.
We must recognize, he emphasized, that the world has changed:
Old trees yield no fruitage; old ideas and methods are obsolete and worthless now. Old standards of ethics, moral codes and methods of living in the past will not suffice for the present age of advancement and progress.
This is as true of religion as it is of society:
This is the cycle of maturity and reformation in religion as well. Dogmatic imitations of ancestral beliefs are passing. They have been the axis around which religion revolved but now are no longer fruitful; on the contrary, in this day they have become the cause of human degradation and hindrance. Bigotry and dogmatic adherence to ancient beliefs have become the central and fundamental source of animosity among men, the obstacle to human progress, the cause of warfare and strife, the destroyer of peace, composure and welfare in the world.
He urged his listeners to recognize that religion has been renewed, to recognize that once again divine revelation has taken place:
The ocean of divine mercy is surging, the vernal showers are descending, the Sun of Reality is shining gloriously. Heavenly teachings applicable to the advancement in human conditions have been revealed in this merciful age.
It is the reformation and renewal of religion that is the true spirit of the age, although only one out of every thousand people as of yet recognize it:
This reformation and renewal of the fundamental reality of religion constitute the true and outworking spirit of modernism, the unmistakable light of the world, the manifest effulgence of the Word of God, the divine remedy for all human ailment and the bounty of eternal life to all mankind.
At the heart of Baha’i belief is that religion – like all other aspects of life and society – must be renewed. That doesn’t mean that there are not eternal truths that are the same for all divinely-revealed religions, but that the social teachings and the spirit of religion must be updated and revived. Without that renewal, the spirit that animates religion and keeps it strong ebbs way. The other side of our religious nature – the belief in superstition, in magic, and intolerance towards competing points of view – rises to the fore.
We next look at some of the specific teachings of the Baha’i Faith in light of our innate religious tendencies.
This is the 10th in a series of blogs on Reason, Religion, and Divine Revelation. The author, Stephen Friberg, is a Bahá’í living in Mountain View, California. A research physicist by training, he wrote Religion and Evolution Reconciled: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on Evolution with Courosh Mehanian. He worked at NTT in Japan before joining the semiconductor industry in Silicon Valley.