The Term Religion: A Baha'i Perspective

Discussion in 'Baha'i' started by Ahanu, Jan 16, 2017.

  1. Ahanu

    Ahanu Well-Known Member

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    My main point in this post is this: to conflate the term "religion" from different groups seriously hinders our understanding of how various groups think about religion.

    Now . . . Thomas quoted Shoghi Effendi above saying "these religions"--the nine he mentioned--"are the only ones still existing". Thomas concludes it's obviously false. When I came across Shoghi Effendi's statement saying they "are the only ones still existing", I naturally read these religions "are the only ones [founded by a Manifestation of God] still existing". This is because the concept of a Manifestation of God as the founder of a divine religion is an important concept in the Baha'i Faith. Also, in the same quote, note Shoghi Effendi referred to "divine Prophets and Messengers" (of whom there are "many") in the Qur'an and Islam, and then concluded "the only ones still existing are those mentioned above".

    For a more in-depth approach about what "religion" means in the Baha'i Faith, consider these two separate statements from Abdu'l-Baha, which are highlighted in the video below:

    "Now concerning nature, it is but the essential properties and the necessary relations inherent in the realities of things. And though these infinite realities are diverse in their character yet they are in the utmost harmony and closely connected together. "​

    "Religion, then, is the necessary connection which emanates from the reality of things; and as the supreme Manifestations of God are aware of the mysteries of beings, therefore, They understand this essential connection, and by this knowledge establish the Law of God."​

    Dr. Steven Phelps, a Baha'i with a PhD in cosmology, considers how similar the terms "nature" and "religion" are used in the Baha'i Faith, and what that possibly means for traditional definitions of religion in comparison.




    I think Thomas is thinking of religion in a different way than Shoghi Effendi. I'm unaware of what Thomas was thinking in any detail. Let's consider an example from Southern Baptist Christians, which most likely doesn't reflect his view. They think a religion is either true (inspired by God) or not true (inspired by demons). For them, "not true" means satanic or demonic. Sikhism is thus demonic. It's black and white. This doesn't mean all Southern Baptists think (or have thought) this way. After all, Martin Luther King didn't think this way.

    I do not wish to discuss Shinto at the moment because, well, I don't even know who the founder was. It's too ancient, so I'd rather discuss Guru Nanak and Sikhism or Joseph Smith and Mormonism (which are more recent). "Presumably Bahá'ís would view Sikhism as a religion based on inspiration, not revelation, and drawing off the Indian and Middle Eastern revelations for its teachings," says one Baha'i writer. Obviously, Sikhism, one of the largest religions on the planet, is a religion, but, as was just stated, Baha'is believe its not based on revelation. Another author, cautioning against labeling Guru Nanak's experience as revelation, wrote: "But using the primarily Christian language of 'revelation' may well imply a separateness from the Sants, Kabir and Ravidas, that the Gurus did not feel or intend" (see Sikhism: A Short Introduction). And also believes "Sikhism has evolved into a separate religion". One could twist Shoghi Effendi's words into saying no other religion is recognized as a religion, period. And twist his words to imply: "What's to stop the governing body of the Baha'i Faith from denying unrecognized religions their rights if they were ever in a position to do so?" However, that twists the spirit behind the words and conflates the term "religion" from different understandings, I think. We can still recognize Sikhism, for example, as a religion--just not one based on revelation, period. It has no implications for potential persecution of other religions whatsoever.

    So here's a quick review: I think Shoghi Effendi, speaking from one perspective, was talking about religions based on revelation (founded by Manifestations of God) that "are the only ones still existing". From another perspective, they can all be considered one. Catholics, as far as I know, agree Sikhism isn't based on revelation. Otherwise I suppose they would follow Guru Nanak, not a previous revelation. I'm unaware of what Catholics think about the station of Guru Nanak. As I've already stated, Baha'is consider Guru Nanak a saint. This is his recognized station in the Baha'i Faith.
     
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2017
  2. Ahanu

    Ahanu Well-Known Member

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    An example in Islam of why terms like "religion" are important

    Let's look at an ayah in the Qur'an and how it was/is sometimes read: "Whosoever seeks a religion other than submission, it shall not be accepted of him, and in the Hereafter he shall be among the losers" (3.85). Historically some Muslim commentators (such as Muḥammad ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī) have used this as a proof-text to deny the acceptability of all religions . . . except for the one Muhammad brought, of course. This group argued 3.85 abrogates 2.62, which says: "Whosoever believes in God and the Last Day and works righteousness shall have their reward with their Lord". These Muslim commentators don't consider general usages of islām (submission) in other ayat. And, if they do, they aren't convinced by alternative arguments. In this example, we see there are multiple understandings of "islām" in various passages. "Islām" (surrender) is the term also used for the "religion" Muhammad brought.
     
    Last edited: Jan 26, 2017

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