Interfaith matters but realizing Oneness matters most

1893 parliament of religionsParliament of the World’s Religions – Chicago Meeting, 1893


The One Garden: interfaith as interspiritual living project is a personal service project.  It is an attempt to work with the truths and people of other faiths in a spirit of respect, and without proselytizing.  Hundreds have been in contact mainly via the 200+ half-day seminars that have been run over the last 4 years and via online activity.

The project seeks to address a range of issues, including issues the House of Justice raises in its 2002 message to the World’s Religious Leaders – primarily the failure to come to realize the Oneness behind the world’s Great Traditions.

Before the extracts from the House’s message I want to draw attention to two other contributions to the small amount of dialogue about interfaith matters.  Firstly there is Jack Mclean’s article – HERE

Secondly there is the article Interreligious Dialogue and the Bahá’í Faith: Some Preliminary Observations by Seena Fazel – HERE

The general search re interfaith in the Baha’i Library Online produces this list – HERE

The Universal House of Justice writes about interfaith in several messages – e.g.  HERE  but we are concerned with the 2002 letter.  If you scroll down you will find below, in bold and underlined, what is probably the key section – and key sentence;

As the twentieth century opened, the prejudice that seemed more likely than any other to succumb to the forces of change was that of religion. In the West, scientific advances had already dealt rudely with some of the central pillars of sectarian exclusivity. In the context of the transformation taking place in the human race’s conception of itself, the most promising new religious development seemed to be the interfaith movement. In 1893, the World’s Columbian Exposition surprised even its ambitious organizers by giving birth to the famed “Parliament of Religions”, a vision of spiritual and moral consensus that captured the popular imagination on all continents and managed to eclipse even the scientific, technological and commercial wonders that the Exposition celebrated.

Briefly, it appeared that ancient walls had fallen. For influential thinkers in the field of religion, the gathering stood unique, “unprecedented in the history of the world”. The Parliament had, its distinguished principal organizer said, “emancipated the world from bigotry”. An imaginative leadership, it was confidently predicted, would seize the opportunity and awaken in the earth’s long-divided religious communities a spirit of brotherhood that could provide the needed moral underpinnings for the new world of prosperity and progress. Thus encouraged, interfaith movements of every kind took root and flourished. A vast literature, available in many languages, introduced an ever wider public, believers and non-believers alike, to the teachings of all the major faiths, an interest picked up in due course by radio, television, film and eventually the Internet. Institutions of higher learning launched degree programmes in the study of comparative religion. By the time the century ended, interfaith worship services, unthinkable only a few decades earlier, were becoming commonplace.

Alas, it is clear that these initiatives lack both intellectual coherence and spiritual commitment. In contrast to the processes of unification that are transforming the rest of humanity’s social relationships, the suggestion that all of the world’s great religions are equally valid in nature and origin is stubbornly resisted by entrenched patterns of sectarian thought.

The Universal House of Justice ends its letter with these words;  Because it is concerned with the ennobling of character and the harmonizing of relationships, religion has served throughout history as the ultimate authority in giving meaning to life. In every age, it has cultivated the good, reproved the wrong and held up, to the gaze of all those willing to see, a vision of potentialities as yet unrealized. From its counsels the rational soul has derived encouragement in overcoming limits imposed by the world and in fulfilling itself. As the name implies, religion has simultaneously been the chief force binding diverse peoples together in ever larger and more complex societies through which the individual capacities thus released can find expression. The great advantage of the present age is the perspective that makes it possible for the entire human race to see this civilizing process as a single phenomenon, the ever-recurring encounters of our world with the world of God.

Inspired by this perspective, the Bahá’í community has been a vigorous promoter of interfaith activities from the time of their inception. Apart from cherished associations that these activities create, Bahá’ís see in the struggle of diverse religions to draw closer together a response to the Divine Will for a human race that is entering on its collective maturity. The members of our community will continue to assist in every way we can. We owe it to our partners in this common effort, however, to state clearly our conviction that interfaith discourse, if it is to contribute meaningfully to healing the ills that afflict a desperate humanity, must now address honestly and without further evasion the implications of the over-arching truth that called the movement into being: that God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion is likewise one.

With every day that passes, danger grows that the rising fires of religious prejudice will ignite a worldwide conflagration the consequences of which are unthinkable. Such a danger civil government, unaided, cannot overcome. Nor should we delude ourselves that appeals for mutual tolerance can alone hope to extinguish animosities that claim to possess Divine sanction. The crisis calls on religious leadership for a break with the past as decisive as those that opened the way for society to address equally corrosive prejudices of race, gender and nation. Whatever justification exists for exercising influence in matters of conscience lies in serving the well-being of humankind. At this greatest turning point in the history of civilization, the demands of such service could not be more clear. “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable”, Bahá’u’lláh urges, “unless and until its unity is firmly established.”


Information about the One Garden: interfaith as interspiritual living project is HERE

Group photo One GardenA One Garden: interfaith as interspiritual living group Brighton 2015