Part 6 of Religion – The Most Harmful Agency on the Planet?

Part 6 of Religion – The Most Harmful Agency on the Planet?

David Langness
David Langness

The Ideal Time for Religious Triumph

The idea of triumphalism – that any particular religion will one day prevail, dispatch the “heretics” and conquer the world – has plagued humanity for centuries.  In his book When Religion Becomes Evil, Dr. Charles Kimball explores the concept of triumphalism, in which some faith groups see the ideal time for their certain triumph as inevitable and desirable:

Some religious communities place a great deal of emphasis on a this-worldly hope…. When the hoped-for ideal is tied to a particular religious worldview and those who wish to implement their vision become convinced that they know what God wants for them and everyone else, you have a prescription for disaster. — p. 105.

Wikipedia defines it this way:  Triumphalism is the attitude or belief that a particular doctrine, religion, culture, or social system is superior to and should triumph over all others.

This concept of inherent superiority has several negative consequences, especially when religious belief becomes triumphalist.  It creates an in-group and an out-group, often judging those in the out-group as “evil”.  It makes it very difficult for people who belong to the in-group to objectively view the overall morality or value of the group’s actions.  It stifles innovation and change within the in-group.  It produces a sense of isolation and distance from others.  And it generates a will to conquer and dominate others by imposing the in-group’s ideology and belief systems on them.

Triumphalism, then, is nothing more than a severe prejudice — the mistaken notion that my belief is somehow more substantial, correct and Godly than your belief.

In human history, we have lots of examples of the extreme prejudice that leads to triumphalism.  The two hundred years of the Crusades, meant to impose the will of the ruling Catholic Church on Muslim populations; the Islamic conquests that preceded the Crusades; the centuries-long, church-supported and church-backed campaign of European colonialism into Africa, Asia and the Americas; and the ugly westward march of American manifest destiny that expanded the United States at the expense of native peoples and slaves.  In today’s world, triumphalist groups and sects exist under the name of many major Faiths.

For example — the great, overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world today reject the triumphalist claims of the Taliban – but the power of that group still determines the boundaries of life for girls like Malala Yousafzai in rural Afghanistan.

In When Religion Becomes Evil, Dr. Kimball warns us about this kind of religious triumphalism:

Those who narrowly define ideal temporal structures of the state and determine that they are God’s agents to establish a theocracy are dangerous.  Religion is easily corrupted in this context.  Beware of people and groups whose political blueprint is based on a mandate from heaven that depends on human beings to implement. — p. 125.

We will only eradicate the extreme prejudice of religious triumphalism, according to the Baha’i teachings, when human society begins to look objectively and openly into the reality of faith:

I ask you, is not fellowship and brotherhood preferable to enmity and hatred in society and community? The answer is self-evident. Love and fellowship are absolutely needful to win the good-pleasure of God which is the goal of all human attainment. We must be united. We must love each other. We must ever praise each other. We must bestow commendation upon all people, thus removing the discord and hatred which have caused alienation amongst men. Otherwise the conditions of the past will continue, praising ourselves and condemning others; religious wars will have no end and religious prejudice, the prime cause of this havoc and tribulation, will increase. This must be abandoned, and the way to do it is to investigate the reality which underlies all the religions. This underlying reality is the love of humanity. For God is one and humanity is one, and the only creed of the prophets is love and unity. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 99.

The Baha’i writings call for a clear and explicit differentiation of the spheres of politics and religion, so that no sense of religious triumphalism can insert itself into the Baha’i Faith.  Baha’is do not involve themselves in partisan politics, and they do not interfere with the actions of just governments.  In fact, Baha’is believe strongly that religion and politics have entirely different goals:

Religion concerns matters of the heart, of the spirit, and of morals. Politics are occupied with the material things of life. Religious teachers should not invade the realm of politics; they should concern themselves with the spiritual education of the people; they should ever give good counsel to men, trying to serve God and humankind; they should endeavor to awaken spiritual aspiration, and strive to enlarge the understanding and knowledge of humanity, to improve morals, and to increase the love for justice. — Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 158.


Next:  Bad Religion: When The End Justifies Any Means

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54 thoughts on “Part 6 of Religion – The Most Harmful Agency on the Planet?

    1. Hi, Stephen,

      Thanks for your question. I would have to answer no — the idea of “entry by troops” does not constitute “Baha’i triumphalism.”

      The phrase “entry by troops” has been used in a Baha’i context to describe mass conversion to the Baha’i Faith. Mass conversion — which simply means large numbers of people entering a Faith — has happened in every religious dispensation and cycle. My Norwegian ancestors converted en masse to Christianity in the years between 800-1100 AD, for example; just as large numbers of Hindus converted to Islam in Southeast Asia during the same period.

      The Baha’i Faith has already seen several periods and places where entry by troops happened — among the African-American population in the American south in the 1970’s; in Albania after communism fell in the late 1980’s, in India during the 1960’s and ’70’s, just to name a few.

      Historically, every new worldwide religion goes through a period of rapid and even exponential growth, and the Baha’i Faith has not been and most likely will not be an exception to that pattern.

      There is one very important difference between entry by troops into the Baha’i Faith and previous mass conversions — the Baha’is do not accept forced conversions or any kind of conversion by involuntary means. All Baha’is enter the Baha’i Faith entirely voluntarily.



      1. David, your examples were too small number wise compared to what people think of when they think of mass conversion. Some small chunk of Indians, Americans, or Albanians doesn’t count as mass conversions among them. It may be subjective in what constitutes large or small, but

        Excluding tiny nations with less than 200,000 people, the highest percentage is 0.6-2.5% for the top 20.

        If people were converting to the Bahai Faith in mass like you say, people would notice.

        1. Hi, Stephen,

          I’m confused by your response — I thought your original question had to do with the Baha’i Faith and its growth patterns; so I noted a few examples of large-scale Baha’i growth. But your second response says these don’t “count as mass conversions.”

          Are you worried about too many people becoming Baha’is, or not enough?

          In India in the 1960’s and 1970’s, approximately two million people became Baha’is — if you’re interested, you can find several academic papers online about the mass conversions that occurred during that period.(so apparently many people, in fact, did notice) But all in all, the facts show that the Baha’i Faith remains a relatively small worldwide religion, with a total (depending on what reference book you consult) of somewhere between 5-8 million Baha’is globally. The Baha’i Faith is often cited by third-party experts as the “fastest-growing global Faith,” but in relative numbers the Baha’is have considerable growth to undergo before any concerned atheists have to get too worried about the mass conversion of entire nations…:-)



  1. Don’t Baha’i scriptures, like Kitab al Aqdas, promise some future worldwide society, where the Baha’i laws and punishments, like death penalty for arson, will be imposed, maybe by worldwide elections, on all inhabitants? Wouldn’t that mean that the spheres of politics and religion will be no longer separate?

    1. Hi, Tom,

      Thanks for your question, and it’s a good one. I’m actually writing a series of essays for on that exact issue now — they should start appearing in a week or two. But to answer briefly, the future worldwide society the Baha’i teachings envision, as I understand it, will only apply Baha’i law to those who voluntarily and freely become Baha’is. The Baha’i Faith is inherently pluralistic, not triumphalistic — Baha’is have absolutely no desire to apply the Baha’i teachings, laws and ordinances to those who aren’t Baha’is.


      1. Hi David,
        I see Maya’s answer is different from yours, she writes that whether Baha’u’llah’s laws will be imposed will depend on the will of the federated units. Maybe Baha’i scriptures are not very clear about the answer, since you two Baha’is disagree on this? But anyway, let’s suppose for the sake of argument that you are right, that the laws will apply only to Baha’is. Does that mean that a Baha’i can then avoid the sentence of death penalty or prison or a fine or whatever, simply by converting to a different religion or no religion? At least in case the secular law penalty is more lenient than that imposed by Baha’i law, or in case of some transgression against Baha’i law the secular law does not make it illegal?

        1. Tom, you misunderstand my answer. It isn’t different than David’s, it simply deals with different facets of very complex subject.

          I said, repeatedly, that Bahá’í cannot impose their beliefs on those who are not Bahá’í. The laws of any society will be made collectively by the members of that society, regardless of their religious beliefs. That is what a democracy—whether republic or parliamentary and whether headed by a monarch or a prime minister or president—is about.

          I also said this was an organic process—an evolutionary process. We will have the society we are ready to have and we will get there by consensus. It will not happen by force or by magic.

          No one knows exactly what the future landscape of such a society looks like or what the interim stages will be, but since I’m a science fiction writer by trade, I’m willing to speculate. Let’s take the Bahá’í law about alcohol. Let’s next assume that there is a community in which 80% of the people are Bahá’í. What do you think will be the fate of taverns and liquor stores in a community in which such a small percentage of its people drink? It is likely that those stores would fail to turn a profit and either diversify or close down or move. All without a single law being made by a government authority. There would simply not be the demand for the product.

          This sort of thing happens now all the time and raises not a single eyebrow. In sports stores in or near retirement communities, it is unlikely you will find much Xtreme sports equipment.

          Make sense?

          1. The drinking 20% would either have to buy from another community, online, or make their own. People don’t need a physical store to buy stuff given the rise of online shopping. Also, some countries have state owned liquor stores which are taxpayer funded and keep running despite the fluctuations in demand for alcohol.

          2. Maya, sorry for having misunderstood you. So then I ask you, since you then also say Baha’i laws can’t be imposed on non-Baha’is, suppose a future predominantly Baha’i country goes further than make alcohol just unpopular, but bans it, as was done here in America a few decades ago. Now suppose a Baha’i is caught drinking alcohol, and then tries to escape punishment by converting to another religion. Would this future predominantly Baha’i country allow him alcohol? Ban it only for those who remain Baha’i?

          3. In your hypothetical future, alcohol may be forbidden to Bahá’ís, but allowable to non-Bahá’ís. That means alcohol would not be banned. It would still exist. For one thing, Bahá’u’lláh says it may be prescribed by a physician as a medication.

            If a Bahá’í was caught flagrantly and repeatedly drinking in public and refused to change his behavior, his Assembly would probably eventually remove his voting rights. His converting to another faith would be a far more extreme self-punishment. But the answer is that if he petitioned the National Assembly to remove himself from the Faith, then he would no longer be bound by Bahá’í law and could drink all he wanted.

          4. Tom, I’m replying to Maya’s comment, because I can’t reply directly to yours. And I have to say, wow. Do you have any idea as to the depth of the rat hole you’re leading into?

            Laws, of all kinds, generally have two parts. They state the behavior that’s being proscribed and the sanctions that would be applied to individuals who engage in the proscribed behavior. To “impose” a law on people would require not simply proscribing the behavior. It would require applying comparable sanctions to those who engage in the behavior. If the sanctions differ in significant ways, then it’s not the same law.

            And, at this point, your hypothetical starts running into some intractable problems. The sanctions under Baha’i law involve the loss of administrative privileges. I don’t even know what that would mean in the context of civil society. Would people be exempt from paying taxes?

            There are, in common parlance, two meanings for the acronym “SWAG”. One is “stuff we all get.” In the other, the “G” stands for “guess,” and the “S” stands for “stupid.” Any attempt we, given our present state of knowledge, might make to figure out the necessary details of this hypothetical future ban would constitute a SWAG of the second variety. With particular emphasis on the “S”.

          5. Rick, of course not all Baha’i sanctions involve just the loss of administrative privileges. If you read words like Kitab al-Aqdas, you can see that for crimes like murder or arson, Baha’u’llah recommended punishments like death penalty or imprisonment. Of course the Baha’is can’t apply the punishments now, being in a minority in every country. But they do hope in becoming a majority.
            And calling me stupid using your acronym SWAG, hardly advances your argument. I would not call anyone stupid here, I assume everybody here is smart, stupid people are not likely to be even literate enough to participate in this forum.

          6. Tom, you misunderstood Rick. He wasn’t calling you stupid. He was saying that for any of us to try to guess what a future society would be like (given all the things that will change, including how individuals feel about things) would be stupid. We don’t call people names here. Full stop.

          7. Hm… Somehow, I missed Tom’s reply. Sorry.

            Maya’s correct. I said that speculating on this question about some hypothetical future ban would be a stupid thing to do. Sometimes, smart people, even very smart people, do stupid things. It wasn’t meant as an insult.

            And, yes, I’m well aware that the Kitab-i-Aqdas specifies punishments in certain cases. I’m not aware of any place in the Baha’i Writings that envisions applying the laws of the Kitab-i-Aqdas to non-Baha’is, even in a future society where most of the people are Baha’is. I see no reason why secular laws cannot stand side-by-side with Baha’i law, with the detailed provisions of the latter applying only to Baha’is.

            It might provide a bit of perspective to note that the Kitab-i-Aqdas was only translated into English a few decades ago. Shoghi Effendi translated a number of Baha’u’llah’s books and tablets into English, but the Kitab-i-Aqdas wasn’t one of them. I think that means that Shoghi Effendi didn’t place a great deal of emphasis on the details of the law. As a consequence, Baha’is don’t have any agenda that would include imposing these laws on non-Baha’is.

            Rather, Baha’is believe that the patterns of governance in the Baha’i Faith, what Baha’is refer to as the Administrative Order, offer a blue print for future society. These patterns of governance, how elections are conducted, the manner in which institutions exercise authority, the ways that individuals interact with elected institutions and the process by which decisions are made collectively, are significantly different from any form of government we’ve had throughout history. The emphasis isn’t on what the laws are, because laws need to change with time. Rather, the emphasis is on how laws are made.

            I cannot adequately stress this point. Process is of utmost importance. Outcomes are secondary. The most important thing that humanity needs to learn is how to make collective decisions, in a world populated by people with widely divergent views and interests, while still upholding the central theme of Baha’u’llah’s Message, namely, the oneness of humanity. That’s not an easy thing to do. We have learned behaviors and received wisdom that impede our progress, with a great deal of human suffering as a result.

            Baha’is do not operate from a basic assumption that God punishes entire nations for disobeying God’s law. That concept is entirely foreign to a Baha’i understanding of the relationship between God and humanity. As such, we have no agenda regarding Baha’i law, and why we tend to look askance at hypothetical questions about some vague future ban on the use of alcohol. It has very little to do with what Baha’is believe to be the most important needs of society today.

          8. OK, Rick, I see you were not calling me stupid, only an idea of mine. So we are OK now, no more problem between us.
            Now you say the patterns of governance in the Baha’i Faith offer a blue print for a future society. But still I figure that in a future society if it were dominated by a Baha’i majority, this majority would still have a Baha’i moral code, about what actions are considered immoral and reprehensible, so if the Baha’i Faith were then to still consider drinking alcohol to be immoral, it could affect the laws of the society at large, just like here when most Christians still consider using marijuana to be immoral, it affects the continuing ban on marijuana, except in rare cases like Colorado, and nowadays for medical use in a state like California it has been legalized, though not in a conservative state like I live in, South Carolina. So if I ever needed marijuana for some medical problem, I would have to move to someplace like California.
            A doctor recommended marijuana to my mother, because she was vomiting so much due to chemotherapy, and anti-vomiting drugs did not help much. But she was afraid because it was illegal, so she kept vomiting, and finally she died of the cancer anyway. So the drug war caused her a lot of suffering, vomiting. So sad. All because so many Christians thought it would be a terrible sin for her to smoke the weed.

          9. The Bahá’í law forbidding the use of alcohol and opiates doesn’t really take into account their legality, though certainly since Bahá’ís are to respect the law of the country in which we live that is an additional factor. However, Bahá’u’lláh clearly says that if a physician prescribes alcohol or any other drug for medical purposes, the Bahá’í using the drug prescriptively is not breaking Bahá’í law because the substance is medically necessary.

          10. Tom,

            First, let me say that, personally, I find America’s war on drugs to be reprehensible. The entire affair is racist to its core. I’d suggest reading Michelle Alexander’s, The New Jim Crow for a detailed discussion of all of the issues involved.

            Second, I understand your concerns, but you’re expecting Baha’is to behave in the same way that some Christians do–and I think it very important to say that we’re talking about someChristians, not all. It’s worth asking, why do certain Christians think it import that Christian concepts of morality be imposed on society as a whole? Might there be a reason to believe that Baha’is would behave differently?

            I can’t speak on behalf of these Christians, but I can point to what guidance from Baha’i institutions has to say on the subject.

            The Universal House of Justice, in a letter addressed to the US National Spiritual Assembly, wrote:

            It is not our purpose to impose Bahá’í teachings upon others by persuading the powers that be to enact laws enforcing Bahá’í principles, nor to join movements which have such legislation as their aim. The guidance that Bahá’í institutions offer to mankind does not comprise a series of specific answers to current problems, but rather the illumination of an entirely new way of life.

            Shoghi Effendi, in a letter published in a book entitled The Advent of Divine Justice, wrote:

            Unlike the nations and peoples of the earth, be they of the East or of the West, democratic or authoritarian, communist or capitalist, whether belonging to the Old World or the New, who either ignore, trample upon, or extirpate, the racial, religious, or political minorities within the sphere of their jurisdiction, every organized community enlisted under the banner of Bahá’u’lláh should feel it to be its first and inescapable obligation to nurture, encourage, and safeguard every minority belonging to any faith, race, class, or nation within it.

            Baha’is are bound by these, and other statements in the Writings that generally make it clear that we are not at all interested in imposing our concepts on people who are not Baha’is, even should Baha’is find themselves in the majority. Indeed, such an imposition would violate core principles.

            The operative word for Baha’is is “unity,” not “uniformity.” Wouldn’t any attempt to create uniformity by imposition destroy very unity we seek to achieve?

          11. Maya, that is nice, that at least you don’t forbid those drugs if they are prescribed by a doctor. I have no interest in taking marijuana or whatever for recreational purposes. I don’t even drink alcohol at home, only if I visit somebody and he insists that I take a drink, then I will politely drink a glass, but no more than one glass, I definitely don’t want to get drunk. I guess if I were to join the Baha’i faith or some other religion that forbids alcohol, I would have an excuse for rejecting even one drink, but now I don’t have such an excuse. These drugs can be dangerous, but banning them just hurts society a lot.

          12. It’s not so much “nice” as it is reasonable. If most substances on the planet have beneficial uses, we just don’t always realize what they are. I have several bottles of hydrocone that were prescribed for pain after surgery. I’ve never taken any of them, though it’s perfectly legal for me to do so. Hydrocodone, though, is highly addictive and is one of the over-prescribed medications that is causing great grief when it’s used to produce a high (or head mush, which I guess some people like).

            Even the willow bark derivative, salicylic acid (aspirin) can be tremendously harmful if taken in large doses and it can kill children outright who have what’s called Reyes Syndrome. Some of our Bahá’í friends lost a child to Reyes they didn’t even know he had until his poor mom gave him children’s aspirin for a fever.

          13. Rick, I do agree with you that the war of drugs does have racist consequences, blacks and Hispanics are not likely to use drugs more than whites, but with cops all over their neighborhoods, blacks and Hispanics are far more likely to get arrested for using drugs, and then they are less likely to afford a good lawyer to get them off the charge.
            Now concerning the issue of imposing values on non-Bahai’s, I would guess that even though you do have instructions from the leadership not to impose values on others, still, you do vote, and to vote, you need to consider which candidate is closer to your views, and your views are likely to be affected by what you consider to be moral or immoral, and those views are inevitably influenced by Baha’i doctrines of what is moral or immoral. So even thought then the drug war is not a good example, since you do recognize that the drug war is harmful to our society, your views on what is moral or immoral can influence your voting choices on some other issues.
            Like for example the issue of public government prayer, like the Supreme Court has decided that a sectarian prayer praising Jesus at council meetings in towns like Greece, NY, is legal. To you such prayer can seem perfectly OK, since you consider Jesus an important Manifestation of God. But somebody like a Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic or atheist can feel inferior in such a council meeting.

          14. Yes, Maya, it is certainly so sad that the drugs that are now considered the most effective pain killers known, are also so addictive. I sure hope scientists will find some very effective pain killer that is not addictive.
            Aspirin is a pain killer of course too, though not so effective on big pain, but at least not addictive. Though once I did have some uncomfortable side effect to it, so now if I ever have a headache, I take Tylenol instead.

    2. The global society framed by Bahá’u’lláh has a different blending of the religious and secular than the United States currently does, certainly and posits completely non-partisan forms of government—which indeed, if any significant portion of the world population were Bahá’í, they would have to be because Bahá’ís don’t engage in partisan politics. Bahá’u’lláh says that there will someday be a world Tribunal and a world Parliament that all nations will participate in. That Bahá’ís will bring spiritual principles to this global government is a given. Whether Bahá’u’lláh’s laws regarding arson will be imposed will depend upon the will of the federated units. He also says that life in prison is an acceptable punishment, by the way—so clearly there is choice. I assume you understand why arson is an especially heinous crime.

      So, yes, the spheres of politics (in the sense of governance( and religion (in the sense of spiritual principle and guidance) would overlap. The reason I felt it necessary to define both of these terms is that in a world that Bahá’u’lláh envisions, they would be different than what we currently think of when we say “politics” and “religion”. Specifically, both would be shorn of the sectarian dogmatism that marks them so strongly, especially in America.

      In this context, I should note that the US is the only nation that has the sort of “separation of church and state” that it does. I should also note that the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution, nor is that what is promised. What is promised is the freedom of religious worship and—the imposition of a state religion. The State is neither to establish such a state religion, or to interfere with the religious practices of its citizens (obviously there are limitations to this last bit—a religion that called for human sacrifice would obviously have to be interfered with).

      Something else to bear in mind about this future global society is that any significant Bahá’í influence would be founded on the unshakable principle that the rights and welfare of ALL members of the society, Bahá’í or any other, would be guarded. This is what Christ was trying to convey when He said that all the Law and Prophets depended upon the law to love one’s neighbor as oneself and to treat all others as you would be treated. If you start from there, and hold that foundational principle, trampling on the rights of minority communities becomes a no-op.

      1. Maya, so do you think David above is mistaken when he wrote to me that in such a future society Baha’i law would be applied only to Baha’is? Or are the Baha’i scriptures not very clear on this, when you two Baha’is disagree on this?
        Concerning on whether arson is an especially heinous crime, I would say it would depend on what is burned up. Of course if a person perishes due to the arson, then the penalty for murder should apply. If an animal perishes due to arson, then here in the US we have laws on cruel behavior toward animals, which I have read somewhere apply only to vertebrates. So such cruel practices as boiling a lobster or crab alive, for food, continues to be perfectly legal. Though for me it is a good reason to never eat lobsters or crabs, I hate to see them suffer so much by such torture death.
        Otherwise I guess it would depend on what property is burned up. If an arsonist burns up my books, I would be much more devastated than if he burns up just my kitchen. Some of my books are irreplaceable, they might be out of print, or I might not remember the name of the author or the title. Some have a few notes in margins I wrote for myself, I would lose the notes. But on the other hand, kitchen stuff or my bed, that is all easily replaceable. Still, if he burns up my books, that would still be less heinous, than if he rapes me or tortures me, especially if I end up injured, or if he infects me with AIDS or some other serious and difficult to treat disease. Though at least he can’t make me pregnant, so I would say that raping a fertile woman is even more heinous. Suppose she becomes pregnant and does not believe in abortion, like for example you Baha’is are opposed to abortion. So then she gives birth to a child who inherited a lot from the rapist, including quite likely his horrible criminal tendencies. Surely if she could choose, she would choose rather her books be burned up rather than be raped by this monster and even becoming pregnant by him. So she would surely prefer that life imprisonment be applied to the rapist than the arsonist. Since you are a woman, what would you prefer, which criminal should get the harsher punishment?

        1. Tom, I did not say Bahá’í laws would necessarily apply to non-Bahá’ís in a future society. I said that the members of the society would decide what laws they felt were appropriate. And I asked: “If the Bahá’í Faith becomes the majority religion in the world, because the majority of people find the teachings valid, beneficial, useful, reasonable and spiritually satisfying, is that a problem?”

          I’m going to skip the hypotheticals, because I don’t see that it really speaks to the issue. We are not deciding the fate of arsonists in a future society. That society will do so. But think, for a moment, about the crime of arson: a person willfully unleashes a virtually uncontrollable force unmindful of the damage it could do. More than simply targeting one or more people for death, he has made death a gamble. He doesn’t know or care how many houses are destroyed, how many lives are snuffed out. Think about recent cases where a willful act of arson has lead to the destruction of entire neighborhoods. It is playing Russian Roulette with unknown consequences and with malice and aforethought.

          I suspect that eventually the death penalty will be eliminated or at least it will be applied only in cases where there really is no shred of doubt about the commission of the crime—that is, cases in which the perpetrator is caught red-handed.

          I don’t know. No one does. And what I would prefer at this moment in time is irrelevant. We’re not there yet.

          My task, as a Bahá’í, is to bring my own thoughts, words, and deeds into alignment with the teachings of God and to encourage others to do the same so that we can forge a society in which every member is valued, knows they are valued, and is able to live with others in interdependent, mutually supportive ways.

        2. Hello Tom,
          I think you were right on when you wrote “Concerning on whether arson is an especially heinous crime, I would say it would depend on what is burned up.” As you know, the punishment for arson was stated in the Kitab-i-Aqdas. When one looks at the commentary notes that accompany this book, it is clear that these laws stated by Baha’u’llah will require much consideration in their implementation. As was pointed out by Maya elsewhere, everything must be seen in context. For example, the note regarding the punishment of arsonists reads, “In relation to arson, this depends on what ‘house’ is burned. There is obviously a tremendous difference in the degree of offence between the person who burns down an empty warehouse and one who sets fire to a school full of children.”

      2. Maya, actually some societies have Laïcité which is even stronger than separation of church and state. Belgium, France, Mexico, and Turkey are good examples of this.ïcité

        I should study more on the laws and constitutions of the above countries more though.

        Loving one’s neighbor didn’t prevent theocracy in either Biblical Israel (actually a Leviticus quote by Jesus, but he popularized it… The point is Moses said it first) or Medieval Europe. All pagan practices were banned under penalty of death in both societies. All worshipers of Baal were put to death according to Mosaic law despite it also containing the commandment to love ones neighbor. Leviticus 19:18 is the love they neighbor verses once I looked it up.

        There has always been this zero tolerance attitude towards sin. Alcohol prohibition and sodomy laws are good examples of this. America was much more anti Catholic and anti Semitic back then. A religious majority deem x to be a sin and therefore prohibit it despite religious minorities believing otherwise is the topic summarized.

        1. Jesus said that you can judge of something by its fruits. If someone is not living by the teachings of Christ, are they really Christian? While the answer to that, ultimately, is between them and God, Jesus makes it clear that everyone who calls Him “Lord” is not a follower. He says, in fact, that He will reject them, saying, “I never knew you.” Read the 15th Chapter of John. Christ is unequivocal about what a person must do to stay connected to Him and what happens to them (spiritually speaking) if they should not follow the one commandment He gives: Love one another.

          “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. … This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15: 5—14)

          Given what Christ says in this context, what do you think Christ would say of institutions or individuals that called Him “Lord” while supporting doctrines of exclusion, hatred and violence?

          This is the litmus test that Christ is proposing, isn’t it? Simply saying, “I’m Christian” (or Buddhist or Muslim or Bahá’í or whatever) is not the same as actually being those things. Jesus makes this abundantly clear when He says: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

          Ah, but lest we think He means we should only love other Christians, He also tells us we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves (repeating what Moses taught), and makes it clear our neighbor doesn’t just mean folks like us. And lest we think there’s any wiggle too at all, He says we must even love our enemies.

          Have we done this? Nope. So what conclusion can we draw—that Christianity and the teachings of Christ are bad, or that we have rarely, if ever, lived up to them.

        2. Jesus said that you can judge of something by its fruits. If someone is not living by the teachings of Christ, are they really Christian? While the answer to that, ultimately, is between them and God, Jesus makes it clear that everyone who calls Him “Lord” is not a follower. He says, in fact, that He will reject them, saying, “I never knew you.” Read the 15th Chapter of John. Christ is unequivocal about what a person must do to stay connected to Him and what happens to them (spiritually speaking) if they should not follow the one commandment He gives: Love one another.

          “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. … This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15: 5—14)

          Given what Christ says in this context, what do you think Christ would say of institutions or individuals that called Him “Lord” while supporting doctrines of exclusion, hatred and violence?

          This is the litmus test that Christ is proposing, isn’t it? Simply saying, “I’m Christian” (or Buddhist or Muslim or Bahá’í or whatever) is not the same as actually being those things. Jesus makes this abundantly clear when He says: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

          Ah, but lest we think He means we should only love other Christians, He also tells us we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves (repeating what Moses taught), and makes it clear our neighbor doesn’t just mean folks like us. And lest we think there’s any wiggle too at all, He says we must even love our enemies.

          Have we done this? Nope. So what conclusion can we draw—that Christianity and the teachings of Christ are bad, or that we have rarely, if ever, lived up to them?

        3. Jesus said that you can judge of something by its fruits. If someone is not living by the teachings of Christ, are they really Christian? While the answer to that, ultimately, is between them and God, Jesus makes it clear that everyone who calls Him “Lord” is not a follower. He says, in fact, that He will reject them, saying, “I never knew you.” Read the 15th Chapter of John. Christ is unequivocal about what a person must do to stay connected to Him and what happens to them (spiritually speaking) if they should not follow the one commandment He gives: Love one another.

          “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. … This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.” (John 15: 5—14)

          Given what Christ says in this context, what do you think Christ would say of institutions or individuals that called Him “Lord” while supporting doctrines of exclusion, hatred and violence?

          This is the litmus test that Christ is proposing, isn’t it? Simply saying, “I’m Christian” (or Buddhist or Muslim or Bahá’í or whatever) is not the same as actually being those things. Jesus makes this abundantly clear when He says: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

          Ah, but lest we think He means we should only love other Christians, He also tells us we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves (repeating what Moses taught), and makes it clear our neighbor doesn’t just mean folks like us. And lest we think there’s any wiggle room at all, He says we must even love our enemies.

          Have we done this? Nope. So what conclusion can we draw—that Christianity and the teachings of Christ are bad, or that we have rarely, if ever, lived up to them?

          1. Maya, there are tons of commandments in the Bible that are such. Just look up any random chapters of the Bible with their Skeptics. Annotated notes. Just taking one good quote as if it were the whole of the Bible, Quran, or Book of Mormon as if there were no contradicting quotes don’t show a complete picture of the whole of the texts.

            Also, one another means other like minded Christians as is referenced on the notes on the page.

            Any reading of Leviticus or Deuteronomy in particular will show some contradicting commandments. Deuteronomy 7 is one such chapter I read recently as a verse (the fifth) was the topic of a segment of H2’s most recent episode of Bible rules.


            The highlights real show all the problems with saying that the good stuff is all the Bible, Quran, or Book of Mormon says (Just all the stuff their respective followers like to quote).

            [ edited for length my moderator]

            Shun them.
            Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? … Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord. — 2 Corinthians 6:14-17

          2. Stephen, look at your second sentence: “Just look up any random chapters of the Bible with their Skeptics.”

            I see one big red flag word there: random.

            Approaching the study of any subject randomly is not going to result in understanding it. Anyone can pull random statements from any scripture, or textbook, or work of fiction or non-fiction and interpret it just as randomly. You will not, I think, end up with a body of knowledge about that subject, for one simple reason: the scriptures aren’t random. There’s a pattern to them and a context that is supplied by the Prophet Himself.

            Here is the context for understanding Christ’s teachings: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:12

            Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these. — Mark 12:28-30

            This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:38-40

            This calls us, not to random or even cherry-picked study of the scripture, but one by which our understanding of scripture pivots on the commandment to love. It is in that context and given the pattern of Christ’s teachings that it’s clear when He told His disciples to love each other, He didn’t mean “like-minded” Christians. Of course Christians were to love each other, and their alien neighbors, and their enemies, even those who persecute them.

            Bahá’ís likewise are told to offer honey in exchange for poison, kind words in exchange for verbal abuse. We are to prefer our neighbor’s welfare to our own. The bar has been raised. So, when you look at scripture, or consider what a future Bahá’í society might be like, it needs to be done, not randomly, but in context with the great Laws (love of God and our fellow humans) upon which all the other teachings depend and rest.

            Throughout my life I’ve taught a variety of subjects to adults and kids: computer skills, quality and risk management, the craft of writing, the Bahá’í teachings. There is an epistemological truism in communication and education that I can vouch for: Context is everything.

            I got a LOL moment from one that I stumbled across while reading the news online: Islander Taken by Sharks. What do you make of that headline?

          3. Maya, actually I said random to show how much problems there are in the Bible, Quran, and Book of Mormon. T

            The Bible contains tons of cruelty and violence in the names of God.

            Leviticus 20:10 execute adulterers
            Leviticus 20:13 execute homosexuals
            Exodus 35:2 execute people who work on the Sabbath
            Leviticus 7:27 exile people who eat blood
            Leviticus 13:46 exile people with skin diseases
            Leviticus 20:18 exile those who have sex during menstruation
            Leviticus 24:16 execute blasphemers
            Leviticus 21:9 execute prostitute who are the daughters of priests
            Exodus 34:11-14 and Leviticus 26:7-9 commit ethnic cleansing
            Numbers 21:2-35 and Deutronomy 2:26-35 commit genocied against various cities
            Joshua 1-12 said genocide in action
            Deuteronomy 7:2 be mericless
            Dueteronomy 20:16 leave nothing that breathes alive
            Joshua 1:1-6 steal land from people
            Deutronomy 20:14 and Joshua 11:14 steal their property as well

            The good things for balance
            Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27, and James 2:8 Love your neighbor

            So the Bible contains good and evil teachings. The Bible is obviously morally inconsistent. The cognitive dissonance it creates in the minds of believe borders on absurd levels. Fundamentalist have to make them believe that unloving acts are actually loving given the dual mandate to love people and to do various unloving behaviors demanded by scripture. Unlike an actual moral guide, the Bible tends to be more of a Rorsharch test that tells people more about the person who reads the Bible and their proclivites rather than that of God. The Bible in the end is neither a moral guide no evidence for holding onto a theist worldview. Thomas Jefferson created a Jefferson Bible by cutting out all unloving verses from his Bible. Deists and Naturalists have been doing likewise given that reason is the judge of fiath, religion, and revelation. It is obvious that hard core fundamentalists try to hold to contradictory beliefs without asking how since the theist worldview is all about without asking how. They say they can support hatred of gay people, subordination of women, slavery, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, and various other things commanded by scripture and love at the same time without asking how.

            Immanuel Kant said that even if God did commad someone to do evil, then people should ignore said command. The Inquisition is an example of parts of the Bible to ignore (Exodus 22:20, 2 Chronicles 15:13, Luke 19:27, and Acts 3:23). So, if you God tells you to do something you know is wrong, don’t do it.

            On the other hand Leo Tolstoy tried to bring love to its logical conclusions with his brand of Tolsoyanism which combines vegetarianism, pacifism, anarchism, and various other things into all being implications of the teachings of Jesus. The supreme law is love, therefore evil shouldn’t be revisited by force. In fact, force should not be used ever. For love’s sake, law must be rejected, especially since love knows no force. The legal institution of the State must be rejected as well as love.

          4. Stephen, the Biblical books were written by a wide variety of authors from different points of view for different purposes over a tremendously long period of time. They are certainly an indicator of the cultural mores of the times they were written in. But here, you’re preaching to the choir, so I must ask—what’s your point?

            The fact that the philosophical maundering of various ecclesiastics and philosophers is included with historical chronicles and prophetic warnings is enough to confuse people about how to take the Bible. I was raised to believe it was both infallible and inerrant and it wasn’t until I undertook to study it in depth and with purpose when I was about 18 or 19 that I realized that it was neither of those things. The most profound discovery was that it does not even advance that claim.

            However pure the original message, or how suited to the time and the people to whom it was revealed, if human beings begin to engage in interpreting the teachings according to their cultural or individual norms are going to mess it up. Just look at a single line of text in the book of Matthew that made it into the King James Bible as “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” The Greek phrase is “I am with you all the days, even unto the conclusion of the age (eon).” I’m sure you can see how very different expectations would evolve from those different wordings and how much friction and dogmatism they are responsible for.

            This is why God continues to send messengers and will continue to do so as long as we need them.

            Re: Tolstoy—were you aware that he was a great admirer of Bahá’u’lláh? He is quoted as having said: “We spend our lives trying to unlock the mystery of the universe, but there was a Turkish prisoner, Bahá’u’lláh, in Akka, Palestine who had the Key.”

          5. Maya, I guess it is not surprising that Tolstoy admired Baha’u’llah. After all, Tolstoy was a pacifist. He admired the Dukhobors too.

  2. For an example of triumphalist thinking, Hizbut Tahrir has a pamphlet on the Inevitability of Clash. It recognizes people as only converting to Islam by choice, but affirms the superiority of Islam over all others and will triumph over all others.

    There is one thing to say religions will grow statistically and another to say that it will become the majority in every nation.

    1. If the Bahá’í Faith becomes the majority religion in the world, because the majority of people find the teachings valid, beneficial, useful, reasonable and spiritually satisfying, is that a problem?

      If a high percentage of the world’s population eventually becomes Bahá’í, they will certainly not have done so because they were forced to. Forcing Bahá’í beliefs onto other people is anathema. Bahá’u’lláh has forbidden fanaticism in the strongest terms. Individual Bahá’ís are not to push their interpretations of the writings on other Bahá’ís, much less people who have not embraced the Faith.

      Re Tahrir’s pamphlet: Since all the religions are one, in one sense Tahrir is right—Islam will “triumph” whatever that means, because all religions are Islam. But I believe he’s also wrong for the same reason. Islam can’t triumph over all others because it is all others.

      Yeah, I know, I’m being all Zen, but I believe the religion of God will become the belief system of a unified (but not uniform) world.

      1. No Muslims will say Islam is all other religions because Islam is extremely monotheistic and condemns idolatry, polytheism, animism, shamanism, etc. While Islam tolerates other monotheistic religions like Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, etc, it’s a historical fact that Manichess as well as the various variety of Pagans and Animists of Africa and the Middle East were either converted by source or killed. For example, the Sassanids has within in its borders various religion ie Zoroastrianism,
        (also Babylonian, Manichaeism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Mandaeism, Judaism). Surahs 5 and 9 are used as justification for the Islamic conquests specifically in the letters to the Emperor of Persia in the letters explaining why they were invading. While the monotheists were made dhimmi, followers of the ancient Babylonian religion weren’t. I gave Persian conquest as the example, but North Africa and India could be used as examples later too.

        1. Interesting that Islam has been historically much more tolerant of Hinduism than of other forms of paganism. Of course Muslims found it hard to try to convert or exterminate all Hindus whom they ruled, and Hindus sometimes claimed they are one of the People of the Book that the Qur’an refers to. And meanwhile many Hindus were becoming more monotheistic anyway, claiming that the many gods are just different aspects or manifestations of the one God, similar to the Modalism of Modalistic Christians, like Swedenborgians or Oneness Pentecostals, who claim that the Father, the Christ and the Holy Spirit are just different modes or manifestations of the one person who is God, so they differ from Trinitarian Christians, who claim instead that God is 3 persons. The Catholic Church declared in 4th century that Modalistic Christianity is a terrible heresy. And of course later Muhammad condemned Trinitarianism fiercely in his Qur’an, and even quoted Jesus as allegedly saying he never claimed to be the Son of God. Though many Oneness Pentecostals claim that the Son of God is simply the human nature of Jesus, into which God became incarnated. So they say the Son of God is not God, but the man in whom God is incarnated. So God is not 3 persons but one, who is incarnated in Jesus and took the name of Jesus. So God’s name now is Jesus. While for Trinitarians, of course Jesus is the name of one of the 3 persons of God. And for Binitarian Christians, Jesus is the name of one of the 2 persons of God, they believe the Holy Spirit is not a person, but the power of God, his Spirit.

          1. Hinduism isn’t a form of paganism. It’s a revealed religion. Bahá’ís, in fact, revere Krishna (and other revelators of that tradition) as a Divine Teacher. Krishna taught that there was One Supreme Spirit—one God, not many. He indicated that the worship of “other” gods was like taking a circuitous route up a mountain. Eventually the devotion got to the same place—Krishna said that all worship ultimately came to Him—but that the most direct route to God was through His Avatar.

            I went to a variety of churches when I was a child that held quite different beliefs about the Trinity and the divinity and humanity of Christ Jesus. The Trinitarian doctrine was one of the most divisive dogmas in history, alas. And I see it as one of those things Jesus was referring to when He warned that many would come in His Name teaching for doctrine the commandments of men.

            Taking a relationship between God and His Messenger that we were not really able to comprehend and insisting that people all understand it in the same materialistic way was devastating to the unity of Christianity that Christ died to preserve. Bahá’u’lláh describes that relationship using the metaphor of the Sun shining in a perfect Mirror. In the Christian Trinity, God is the Sun, Jesus is the physical Mirror, and the Holy Spirit is that emanation from the Sun that connects them. So we see the Light of God reflected in Jesus of Nazareth. It’s that Light—the Holy Spirit—that makes Jesus of Nazareth the Christ.

            To me, that made sense of the way Jesus describes His relationship to God and the references that Krishna made to being the Abode of Brahman and Buddha’s teaching that He was born in the realm of Brahman and thus knew the path to that realm and Bahá’u’lláh referring to Himself as the Temple of God and stating that every one of the Manifestations was the Way of God that connected the world of God with our world.

          2. Of course any form of paganism considers itself to be a revealed religion. Their priests or shamans can claim to have communication with some god or spirit, among many other gods or spirits. And that is basically how Hinduism started, as polytheistic paganism. The Vedas are in general very polytheistic. Only later the idea came that all the gods are really just different aspects or appearances of one God. So that is what we find in Bhagavad Gita, for example. Whether Krishna really existed, I am not sure, but judging from books like Bhagavad Gita, if he did exist, he sure preached quite a different form of Hinduism than that described much earlier in the Vedas.

          3. Actually, Tom, pagans don’t tend to think of their faiths as revealed. Paganism is, by design, eclectic and syncretistic and don’t claim descent from an allegedly divine revelator. Referring to Radha-Krishnan Hinduism as “pagan” ignores Krishna’s very clear claim in the Bhagavad Gita that He is, as He puts it, “the Abode of Brahman.”

            Before Krishna, there were other revelators such as Rama and Manu (the father of mankind, according to the Vedas). And Krishna deals with the polytheistic nature of the elder religious tradition very directly in the Bhagavad Gita. Human beings will invent religion in the absence of a clear revelation. We also repeatedly take a revelation and edit it to favor our ethnic group, our gender, our world view, our previously held gods and goddesses. If you look at the history of Christianity as it worked its way into Europe you can see this in the record as pagan gods and goddesses were taken in to the Church pantheon of saints and given legitimacy in the Church to facilitate the conversion of non-Christian peoples.

            Krishna’s commentary on the idea of multiple gods was that, in the end, all worship came back to the One God and that though there were many paths to the top of the mountain, the most direct was through the Avatar. He says, ““For if a man desires with faith to adore this or that god, I give faith unto that man, a faith that is firm and moves not. And when this man, full of faith, goes and adores that god, from him he attains his desires; but whatever is good comes from me. But these are men of little wisdom, and the good they want has an end. Those who love the gods go to the gods; but those who love me come unto me. The unwise think that I am that form of my lower nature which is seen by mortal eyes: they know not my higher nature, imperishable and supreme. For my glory is not seen by all: I am hidden by my veil of mystery; and in its delusion the world knows me not, who was never born and for ever I am.” – Gita 7:21-25

            That’s sort of the way of things, according to Bahá’u’lláh. God sends a revelation, a culture blossoms, arts, sciences and human society flourish and then we begin to edit and toy with the ideas and we use them to promote this or that group or idea and the religion and the society falls into decay and gets polluted with manmade dogma. Then, after a while, God issues a course correction in the form of another Prophet. It’s not in the manmade forms that religion is one, but in those course corrections and the form they take.

            As Krishna said: “When righteousness is weak and faints and unrighteousness exults in pride, then my Spirit arises on earth. For the salvation of those who are good, for the destruction of evil in men, for the fulfilment of the kingdom of righteousness, I come to this world in the ages that pass. He who knows my birth as God and who knows my sacrifice, when he leaves his mortal body, goes no more from death to death, for he in truth comes to me.” —Gita 4:7-9

          4. Pagans generally do believe in revelations, even though generally they don’t believe in one revelator. They usually believe their gods can speak and sometimes do speak to their priests, shamans, oracles or whoever. They might get into a trance, some might use a hallucinogenic drug, or they might get into a trance by chanting or something, and then they believe they get revelations. You might say their revelations are false, but they do believe in their revelations. They might also believe in getting answers from gods by casting lots, looking at entrails of animals etc. That too would be a revelation.
            And paganism is basically defined as polytheism, and that is what Hinduism was, when the Vedas were composed. And to some Hindus, Hinduism is still polytheistic.
            Buddhism has been sometimes described as atheistic, but they do believe in gods. They believe that when some people die, they are reborn as gods. Mortal gods, to be sure, but still gods. So Buddhism too could be described as paganism.

          5. If we want to split some hairs, we might say that some believers take a pagan attitude toward religion, however, there is a marked difference that you note, in part. Pagans don’t generally believe in revelations. Specifically, revelations given to an individual for a community of people. That puts much of Hinduism and Buddhism outside of pagan context. Buddha, after all, said, “I was born into the world as the King of Truth for the salvation of the world. The subject upon which I meditate is Truth.” – Digha-nikaya 1:46

            I’m actually working on a novel that deals with this very contrast. In this case, Roman paganism and what put it into conflict with Christianity. That there was a single revelation from a single source for an entire community of believers was one of the things that made Christianity incomprehensible to the Romans. Another that bears on our discussion is that Christianity was a text-basee religion—something that the Romans with their myriad gods, sibyls and oracles didn’t understand at all. Roman judges frequently pleaded with Christians to simply offer a bit of veneration to the Emperor or to some regional deity just to abide by custom and keep the river from flooding (or whatever disaster might accompany laxity in offering duty to the god in question.) The Christians refused because their scripture did not allow such compromise.

            If Buddhism can be described as paganism, then so, too, can Judaism and Christianity. But I’d argue that in all of these cases, they are distinctly not pagan for the two reasons above (among others): the faith is based on an over-arching revelation from a single God for all believers and the faith is text-based (despite the incredible amount of human “editing” that’s been done).

            Re: Buddhism—there are a variety of sects and “flavors” of Buddhism. They are not all the same. Some deny the existence of a Creator God, others venerate a host of ancient deities, others believe that there is one God—the same one worshipped as Brahman by Hindus.

            The teaching of Bahá’u’lláh about this is that the confusion surrounding the nature of these faith is OUR fault. We have tweaked and edited and interpreted with such abandon, that the core teachings have become “nice to haves” while doctrines that have to be squeezed out of the text with a wine-press and implements of torture are considered articles of faith. One of the things that drove me to leave sectarian Christianity was the realization that what the churches I attended considered core teachings (The Trinity, Christ’s complete exclusivity, the blood atonement, salvation through grace alone, etc) were never revealed in Christ’s explicit extant teachings. Rather, His core teaching was at once more simple and harder to follow.

          6. Maya, you are redefining paganism your way. I did not see your definition in any dictionary. For example the Random House College Dictionary defines pagan this way: “1. One of a people or community professing a polytheistic religion. 2. a person who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim. 3. an irreligious or hedonistic person”. And I would say the first definition is the usual one. So nothing there about having an overarching revelation from a single God or about being text-based.
            And Buddha, though he claimed infallibility, he did not claim revelation from a single God. I have not heard of any Buddhist sect that believes in a creator God. I have heard of Buddhists believing in one supreme God, but believing the supreme God is not a creator. Buddhism normally teaches creation is cyclical and happens automatically, without any input from any god. And even Buddhists who believe in a supreme God, also believe in mortal gods, who some people can become by rebirth after death. I have read the Dhammapada, and it mentions several gods, namely Indra (Maghavan), Brahman, Yama, and it also mentions gods in general, but never even hinting the gods might be one God.

          7. No, I’m not defining it “my way”. I’m focusing on the elements that the dictionary definitions cover in very broad strokes. Dictionary definitions do not give anywhere near the whole picture of anything.

            Polytheism is an element of some paganism—I commented on that. But I have pagan friends who are monotheistic and/or who worship a God who is perceived as God and Goddess. The second definition is rather a western-centric one and seeks to define paganism broadly by what it is not. Specifically it is not one of those three faiths, but more broadly, it is not a religious system based on the revelation from a specific Prophet or series of Prophets—something that Judaism, Christianity and Islam (and, indeed, Zoroastrianism and the Bahá’í Faith have in common). The third definition is the broadest and has really little to do with religion.

            I know Buddhists who believe in a Creator God specifically because Buddha claimed a revelation from Brahman. Here is Buddha’s confrontation with Hindu Brahmins as recorded in the Digha-nikaya (9:35): “We are told, Gautama, that the Sakyamuni (The Buddha) knows the path to a union with Brahman (God).” And the Blessed One said: “What do you think, O Brahmins, of a man born in and brought up in Manasakata? Would he be in doubt about the most direct way from this spot to Manasakata?” “Certainly not, Gautama,” replied the Brahmins. “Thus,” stated the Buddha, “the Tathagata knows the straight path that leads to a union with Brahman. He knows it as one who has entered the world of Brahman and been born in it. There can be no doubt in the Tathagata.”

            Here, for comparison, is Christ’s confrontation with the Jews as recorded in the book of John (6:45-52): “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me. No one has seen the Father except the One who is from God; only He has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I give for the life of the world.” The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

            I know Buddhists who do not believe in any gods. And Buddhists who believe in a pantheon of gods and spirits. I know Christians, in fact, who believe that there are other gods, but that as Christians, they are to ignore those gods. None of the older faiths have clear cut simplistic definitions. Again, this is why Bahá’u’lláh says that we will not see the unity of religion if we look at the plethora of different dogmas and beliefs held to be true by believers, but rather try to discover where the teachings of these Prophets are recorded and to not be distracted by differences in social dogma from the essential unity of the spiritual teachings.

            If you wish to use the definition of paganism that is simply “not Judaism, Christianity, or Islam”, you may do so. I do not use that definition because it’s arbitrary and doesn’t address WHY those three faiths in particular are not “pagan”. It offers a definition of paganism that is not only impossibly broad, but in conflict with the first definition. All other monotheistic faiths are pagan by the second definition, but only polytheistic ones are, by the first. Which begs the question—what about Hindus or Buddhists who are monotheists and Christians who are not?

          8. Tom, there are tons of definitions of Paganism.

            There is general agreement that the word “Pagan” comes from the Latin word “pagans.” Unfortunately, there is no consensus on the precise meaning of the word in the fifth century CE and earlier. There are three main interpretations. None has won general acceptance:

            Most modern sources by persons who consider themselves Neopagans or Pagans interpret the word to have meant “rustic,” “hick,” or “country bumpkin” — a pejorative term. The implication was that Christians used the term to ridicule country folk who tenaciously held on to what the Christians considered old-fashioned, outmoded Pagan beliefs. Those in the country were much slower in adopting the new religion of Christianity than were the urban dwellers. Many rural dwellers still followed the Greek state religion, Roman state religion, Mithraism, various mystery religions, etc., long after those in urban areas had converted.

            … edited for length and pasted content

            There is no generally accepted, single, current definition for the word “Pagan.” The word is among the terms that the newsgroup alt.usage.english, calls “skunk words.” They have varied meanings to different people. The field of religion is rife with such words. consider: Christian, cult, hell, heaven, occult, Paganism, pluralism, salvation, Witch, Witchcraft, Unitarian Universalist, Voodoo, etc. Each has at least two meanings. They often cause misunderstandings wherever they are used. Unfortunately, most people do not know this, and naturally assume that the meaning that they have been taught is universally accepted. A reader must often look at the context in which the word is used in order to guess at the intent of the writer.

            Many Wiccans, Neopagans, and others regularly use the terms “Pagan” and “Paganism” to describe themselves. Everyone should be free to continue whatever definitions that they wish. However, the possibility of major confusion exists — particularly if one is talking to a general audience. When addressing non-Wiccans or non-Neopagans, it is important that the term:

            Be carefully defined in advance, or that
            Its meaning is clearly understandable from the content of the text.

            Otherwise, the speaker or writer will be discussing one group of people, while the listeners or readers will assume that other groups are being referred to.

            … Edited for pasted content and length

            Maya, I can find absolutely no definitions of Paganism that involve what you are talking about. An example of a revealed pagan religion for example is Thelema. Aleister Crowley stated that The Book of the Law had been revealed to him by three Egyptian deities. Druidism, Hermeticism, Adonism, Church of Aphrodites, etc are revealed pagan religions I can think of off the top of my head.

            Also, all Hindus are defined by Vedism rather than Krishnaism. Vedas and later Brahmanas, Aranyakas, and Upanishads are the universal shruti texts of Hinduism. Smriti texts like the Itihasa (Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Gita) and Puranas are secondary to them if used at all in the varying schools of Hinduism.

            On Buddhism, texts vary according to Yana. Hinayana uses Tripitaka texts like the Dharmapada/Dhammapada for example. Mahayana uses Mahayana sutras instead kind of like Gnosticism to Christianity for a comparison. Vajrayana use Vajrayana Tantras in addition to Mahayana sutras. Unlike Western religions, Buddhism isn’t united behind a common text.

          9. Stephen, you wrote: “Maya, I can find absolutely no definitions of Paganism that involve what you are talking about. An example of a revealed pagan religion for example is Thelema. Aleister Crowley stated that The Book of the Law had been revealed to him by three Egyptian deities. Druidism, Hermeticism, Adonism, Church of Aphrodites, etc are revealed pagan religions I can think of off the top of my head.”

            That’s interesting because the material you cut and pasted into your response contained some of my definitions. I have upwards of a dozen friends who are Wiccan or who consider themselves pagan. They would not define Hindus or Buddhists as pagan because of the revelatory nature of at least some (in the case of Hinduism) of the scripture. I also personally know Hindus who do not define themselves by the Vedas alone, but who consider themselves followers of Krishna because they deem Him to be the most recent manifestation of God. Others also believe Jesus to be an Avatar and others include Buddha or others in that thread of divine revelation. Hinduism has been around long enough to have developed so many permutations that it’s said if you have three Hindus in a room, you will get 60 different opinions about doctrine.

            What is a “Western” religion? Christianity is not a Western religion. It’s every bit as Eastern as Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism or Islam. Nor is Christianity united behind a common text. The Bible comes in versions that have anywhere from 66 to 81 books depending upon which sect of the faith you’re talking about.

            What all of these faiths are united behind is the idea that God speaks to mankind through Teachers who manifest His attributes (“names”) and convey His will to mankind.

          10. Maya, eastern means basically China, Taiwan, Japan, India, Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, as well as the rest of the Chinese and Indiana cultural spheres. The Eastern world is defined As three overlapping cultural blocks: East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Note: The continent of Australia and nearby islands are Western as well due to colonization.

            Like earlier in another post, I said Greece was the very definition of Western Philosophy given the fact that Western Philosophy is just footnotes on Plato. You decided to defend the notion that Greece is actually Eastern, despite Greece being ground zero for the West basically with Athens being the de facto capital of the West philosophically. West basically means anything west of the Indus River in Pakistan. The West encompasses the Western half of the Old World as well as the New World. The New World was colonized by the Western half of the Old World, but the terms had already been fixed before Christopher Columbus set sail or was even born.

            Also, Israel during the time of Jesus was under Roman rule at the time, so basically people count it as if Israel were part of Italy. Ever since 1947 and returns of Jews to Israel, people also see Israel as Western again today via being part of the British Mandate before then as well as the vast majority of Israelis being some shade of white.

            A good example would be the role playing game Kindred of the East which takes place in the East unlike Vampire the Masquerade or Vampire the Requiem (the former is Classic or Old World of Darkness and the latter is New World of Darkness). The term Middle Kingdom is used in universe (which in real life refers to only China, but apparently all of East and Southeast Asia are part of one state in this series as well as South Asia being a vassal state under its sphere of influence). China (which includes Taiwan), Japan, India, Vietnam, Korean, Philippines, etc are all part of the East defining the Kindred of the game. The point being that Mongolia, Pakistan, Japan, and Indonesia being the borders of the East basically is universal common knowledge. The Latin based terms Orient and Oriental (no matter how politically incorrect and racist they are seen as now) are only ever used or have ever been used to described that region or people from there.

            Also, here is a map from 117 CE of the Roman Empire.

            Christianity, Islam, and Zoroastrianism are Western despite what you said to the contrary earlier.

          11. Hi Stephen:

            Remember the quote “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.” Its Kipling, and its not true.

            So, when you say the east means Japan, China, India, you are talking about a stereotype of, say, of the mid 20th century. Now we call it east Asia (or south Asia for India).

            Wikipedia says, “The Orient means the East. It is a traditional designation for anything that belongs to the Eastern world or the Middle East (aka Near East) or the Far East, in relation to Europe. In English, it is largely a metonym for, and coterminous with, the Continent of Asia.” So, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jerusalem, according to this widely used terminology, are in the east, or the near east. Blame it on the English.

            You don’t like Maya noting that Greece is culturally very middle eastern. But of course it is, and has been for some 1500 years. The idea of it being Western is a recent one that held sway in the minds of people in western Europe – say, of the last 500 years, and closely associated with the rise of “Western” Christianity and the “Western World”, meaning Western Europe, as an equal and then as a superior to the Islamic world and to Eastern Christianity (meaning the Orthodox Christianity of Greece, Turkey, Russia, many Slavic Countries, and the Egyptian and Syriac churches). It is also closely associated with the rise of renaissance humanism and 18th century “enlightened” thought and its admiration of Roman models and by extension, Greek philosophy. Basically, it was a created past for western Europeans, much like the story of King Arthur was created as a kind of mythical heritage for the English.

            Historically, of course, with the advent of Christianity as its religion, Rome moved east, choosing Constantinople as its headquarters and abandoning western Latin for “eastern” Greek as its language. The West collapsed under the onslaught of your barbarians, who sacked Rome. Greece didn’t actually move east – it stayed put geographically – but its center of gravity historically was eastern Mediterranean and Asian. Early Greece culturally and geographically was both European (Greek Mainland) and Asian (the colonies on the coast of modern Turkey where Greek philosophy started). Later, with Alexander the Great, Greek sway extended all the way to India and Afghanistan – note that Cleopatra was the Greek Queen of Egypt. Under Eastern Roman and Ottoman Turkish sway, the Greek mainlands became backwaters that were a parts of powerful empires with substantial portions of Europe and Asia under their sway. Greeks lived throughout those empires, meaning that Greek cuisine is closely the same as Turkish, Lebanese, Palestinian, and even Egyptian cuisine and Greek Orthodox Christianity is very similar to all of the other Eastern Orthodox Christianities and to the ancient Syriac Christianities. Greece as culturally eastern started to end with the decay of the Ottoman empire at the hands of the Westerners and then at the end of World War when the Greeks foolishly invaded Turkey, leading to all the Greeks in Anatolia leaving and going to Greece proper and the Turkish residents of Greece going the other way.

            This is a very long way of saying that the story is quite a bit different than the one you are telling. For one thing, it is much richer.

            The word “pagan” is similarly rich, and has been traditionally been widely used to describe non-monotheistic religions. Or more properly, it is a modern word with the same connotations that many Christians, Jews, and Muslims used with respect to people who weren’t “of the book.”


          12. Maya, your quote from Digha-nikaya did not say anything about Buddha believing that Brahman is a creator God.
            Anyway, I use the first definition of pagan, a polytheist. I certainly do not like the second definition, as it would include among pagans most monotheistic religions, like Sikhism, Seicho no Ie, Tenrikyo, Cao Dai, Mandaean faith, etc., and even Abrahamic faiths like the Baha’i faith, the Azeli faith, Samaritanism, the Sacred Name groups, the Druze faith etc. That is clearly unacceptable to me.
            And I would say that when a Hindu considers him/herself monotheistic, then by the first definition he is no longer pagan. And likewise if some Buddhist considers him/herself monotheistic or atheistic. Though I was debating with a Buddhist, who told me that Buddhists do not believe in any gods, but I pointed out to him, that the Sanskrit word devah, and consequently also the Pali word deva, means god, it is the same word that is used in Hindu scriptures to refer to any god, so likewise in Buddhist scriptures, the devi, like those mortal devi into which some people are reborn after death, are gods. So his argument that those are not really gods, was just a strange translation, resisting the fact that devah means god, so according to Buddhist scriptures there are many gods. So I guess such Buddhists have some strange definition of the word god, if they would exclude the Buddhist devi from being gods. So to me, Buddhists are polytheists, even if they deny it.

          13. One more thing, I would say that if a Christian believes in many gods, like for example various Mormon churches believe (they say the Father is one God, the Son is another God, the Holy Spirit is another God, and that there are many other Gods, and that some people will become Gods after they die), then they are really pagan Christians, because they are polytheists.

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