Monday, 22 February 2016

All religions are one

Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, recently met Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. In a number of ways, this was a highly significant meeting: firstly because there has never been a meeting between the heads of these two churches before; secondly, because these two churches are openly in “schism” (having disagreed with one another centuries ago); and thirdly because the Patriarch of Moscow is arguably the pre-eminent leader of Orthodox Christianity. It was a meeting between the Catholic church, which is the biggest Christian body in Western Europe (and indeed the world), and the Russian Orthodox church, which is the biggest in Eastern Europe.

The present pope has, however, previously met leaders from various other Christian churches, as well as meeting Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and Jain leaders. Clearly, he sees a need for ties and bonds to be established across these religious divides.

The Bahá’í Faith (to which I belong) is based on the fundamental idea that all religions are one. The major world religions were all founded by Messengers of God, although the message has later sometimes become distorted or lost along the way. Each religion was intended for a particular part of the world, and for a particular time. Every religion flourished when it was young and it furnished the society of the time with new ideas and a new spirit. But like everything else in this world, religions are subject to change and decay. After many centuries, therefore, a new religion must arise, to take humanity forward again. This idea is called “progressive revelation”. What is unique about the present time is that world travel and instant communication make this time potentially an age of unity, which would require a religion for the whole world.

Oneness of religion is one of the three fundamental “onenesses” of the Bahá’í Faith. The other two are: the oneness of God (that all religions are actually worshipping the same Supreme Being, whatever name their followers give to It) and the oneness of mankind. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stated that “The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion.”

At a time when fanatical elements claiming to represent their religions are causing grief and harm to others, it is crucially important that the genuine leaders of the different religions are seen to be coming together and embracing one another as brothers, as Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill just did. The world needs a huge catalogue of reforms and changes: for example, it needs to reform the economic system currently in place, and put an end to poverty. It needs to bring about a universal peace treaty leading to the abolition of war. It must seize the environmental challenges at a global level. As part of this move towards the future, religious rivalry and hatred can and must give way to the recognition of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

You might cheat people, but you cannot cheat nature

On Saturday, an earthquake shook the south-western part of Taiwan, including the city of Tainan. A number of buildings collapsed, but most noticeably a 17-storey apartment block, the Weikuan Kinlung (“Golden Dragon”) building, where 35 people are so far known to have died and more than 100 people are still missing. Rather oddly, the building seems to have fallen over, rather than simply collapsing downwards, which is what usually happens in such disasters. Television footage shows the metal rods in the vertical towers to have bent and snapped. But an even more disturbing thing has now been shown on television: large tin cans can be seen to have been used in the construction of the building, where there should have been solid concrete.

The construction of a tower block involves collaboration between the developers, the architects, the engineers, the construction company, sub-contractors
and the city authorities. It requires straightforward and honest dealings between all of these parties. If any one of them is involved in bribery or dishonest practices, people’s lives are being put in danger for somebody’s short-term gain. Somebody knows why those cans were used. Nobody “blew the whistle” on whoever decided that this should happen, and likewise no-one reported that the building was being constructed in this way.

Taiwan, like many other countries in major earthquake zones, has laws regulating new buildings, which should be constructed in such a way that they can withstand the ‘quakes. Clearly, one or more parties involved were cheating the system. As mankind moves forward, and learns to cope with, or even to tame, the forces of nature, a universal code of honesty is required. Abdu’l-Bahá said:  “Communication between the races of men is rapidly being established. Now is the time that all of us may… treat each other with honesty and straightforwardness.” His Father, Bahá’u’lláh, said: “Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading to the tranquillity and security of the people. In truth, the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it.” When a family moves into an apartment block, they need to be able to trust that the architects obeyed the law, that the builders put up a building which will not fall over, that the inspectors actually saw that the work was done, and that the lifts, the water supply and electricity all work properly.

However, at this point in human development, trustworthiness seems to be in very short supply: there are bankers who manipulate the lending rates; people who make dishonest telephone calls trying to obtain people’s bank details; sales callers who pretend they are ringing on behalf of government agencies; banks that endlessly alter the terms of the savings schemes, so that they can pay out less to the elderly and unwary; people who forge tickets to sports matches and concerts – the list is endless. Bahá’u’lláh, in the book Hidden Words, wrote: “With fire We test the gold, and with gold We test Our servants.” How people react when money becomes a temptation reveals their inner, spiritual condition, just as it took the force of nature to reveal the inner physical condition of the Golden Dragon building in Taiwan.


Note: in
July, 2015, the blog post "Out of Africa" discussed certain points related to corruption, and the September 2015 post, "It's Time We Got Our Act Together" deals with natural disasters such as earthquakes.