One Common Faith is a document commissioned in 2005 by the governing body of the Baha’i community, the Universal House of Justice. It follows an open letter sent three years earlier by the same institution to all the world’s religious leaders which called on them to reflect on the meaning and implications of the truth that the religion of God is one and reminded them of the danger of sectarian hatred.
By reviewing passages from both the Writings of Baha’u’llah and the scriptures of other faiths regarding the role of religion in relation to the conditions of contemporary society, One Common Faith provides profound insights about how religion affects the advancement of society.
In its foreword we read that the process of the
breakdown in social order calls out desperately for the religious spirit to be freed from the shackles that have so far prevented it from bringing to bear the healing influence of which it is capable.
The Universal House of Justice explains that if Baha’is are to contribute to the advancement of society we need to comprehend the “process by which humanity’s spiritual life evolves”. I understand this to be, in part, a reference to the process of progressive revelation.
When I dove into this document, I found a description of some of the characteristics of the 20th century. These characteristics are explained through a spiritual lens as it investigates the establishment of materialism as the “dominant world faith” which spread through the world and penetrated “all significant centres of power and information at the global level”. It then covers the progressive loss of certainty by the people of the world in this materialistic framework due to disillusionment with materialism’s promises and because of the development of information technologies, mass travelling and migration.
A major theme explored in One Common Faith is the contributions that the world’s major religions have made as the “primary driving forces of the civilizing process”, and it invites reflection on how these major belief systems are able to respond to humanity’s search for meaning. To complete this exploration, it lists different contemporary conceptions of religion, among which are, for example, the notion of “sects”, “independent belief systems”, religion as an “attribute of an individual person” or a “lifestyle”, clarifying,
What all such differing conceptions have in common is the extent to which a phenomenon that is acknowledged to completely transcend human reach has nevertheless gradually been imprisoned within conceptual limits.
It contrasts these conceptions with the view of religion which Baha’u’llah offers:
that all the Prophets are the Temples of the Cause of God … If thou wilt observe with discriminating eyes, thou wilt behold Them all abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the same Faith.
One Common Faith helps us appreciate religion’s ability to awaken “the soul to potentialities that are otherwise unimaginable”, and gives us the opportunity to ponder on passages from past religions on the oneness of God, the succession of Divine revelations, humanity’s response to the gift of Revelation and how souls grow closer to God.
It is in this context that one of my favourite passages of the whole document emerges:
At the deepest level, as Baha’u’llah emphasizes, there is but one religion. Religion is religion, as science is science. The one discerns and articulates the values unfolding progressively through Divine revelation; the other is the instrumentality through which the human mind explores and is able to exert its influence ever more precisely over the phenomenal world.
One of the sections of One Common Faith is dedicated to understanding why there are differences between religious social teachings – which can be briefly summarised by the idea that each religion prescribes social teachings that are suitable for the circumstances and problems that afflict humanity at the particular time in history they are addressing:
the issue is not the past, but the implications for the present. Problems arise where followers of one of the world’s faiths prove unable to distinguish between its eternal and transitory features, and attempt to impose on society rules of behaviour that have long since accomplished their purpose.
In the context of understanding the “process by which humanity’s spiritual life evolves”, mentioned before, the document explores the current state of the Baha’i community comprised of
several million people representative of virtually every ethnic, cultural, social and religious background on earth, administering their collective affairs without the intervention of a clergy, through democratically elected institutions.
For any attentive onlooker concerned with the crisis civilization is facing, the Baha’i community is “evidence that the world’s peoples, in all their diversity, can learn to live and work and find fulfilment as a single race, in a single global homeland”. The understanding of the truth and implications of the oneness of humanity stand as the foundation to seriously addressing the issues of humanity since “few will disagree that the universal disease sapping the health of body of humankind is that of disunity”.
According to One Common Faith, the rest of the world has the right to expect that our genuine commitment to the vision of unity will find expression in a vigorous contribution to programmes of social betterment. This contribution will be inspired by an urgent response on part of the Baha’is to the successive Plans devised by the Universal House of Justice.
Towards the end, I found an elucidation that religion “operates not through the arbitrary dictates of magic but as a process of fulfilment unfolding in a physical world created by God for that purpose”, and that all the religious texts speak on this issue as one voice. The revelation of Baha’u’llah has set in motion an enterprise to erect a “universal civilization shaped by principles of social justice and enriched by achievements of the human mind and spirit beyond anything the present age can conceive”.
The document ends with a profoundly significant paragraph, that I think is worthy of serious personal reflection:
Baha’u’llah is now summoning humanity to enter on its inheritance: ‘That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith.’
You can read and study One Common Faith in full on the Baha’i Reference Library.