When inclusiveness is exclusive

In response to the post Religious prejudice in the Letter to the World’s Religious Leaders, Bill made the following comment. I hope he doesn’t mind my addressing it here.

When a person asserts that there should be moderation in all things, that statement cannot logically be termed immoderate. Likewise, an assertion that the religions are one and that God progressively revealed them cannot logically be considered an exclusivity.

I can see why this would appear to be true. At one time I would have agreed with Bill, but I no longer do. Yet I’m not sure how to explain why. I’m still struggling with how to articulate this. So will try to in this post, but please bear with me because this may not appear quite clear.

I agree that there should be moderation in all things, but moderation only makes sense when it is measured against an objective standard. For example, it is proper that we eat moderately, which means eating enough to sustain health but not more than necessary to sustain health. The objective standard is the constraints of human physiology. This is also what we mean when we speak of moderate sleep and moderate exercise.

When we consider the beliefs of others we should also be moderate. Let’s use my car as an example. I just had the radiator fluid changed. Let’s suppose that two people disagree as to what kind of fluid to put in my radiator. One of them wants to put antifreeze (properly diluted) because it is what the car requires to run well, and the other wants to put 100% tap water because it’s cheaper. What is the moderate course of action? Depends on my standard. If my standard is to optimize the performance of the car, then I have to say that the moderate choice is to do what the first guy says and not what the second one says.

When we evaluate other religions, we are also necessarily applying a standard of some sort. So while I agree that Baha’is are moderate (in their way) in their approach to other religions, I disagree with the standard they use by which they judge themselves moderate. Which brings me to the second part of Bill’s quote:

Likewise, an assertion that the religions are one and that God progressively revealed them cannot logically be considered an exclusivity.

At first glance, there are several exclusive statements here. (a) There is a God, (b) God reveals himself, (c) God reveals himself through religions, (d) God reveals himself progressively. These assumptions (or perhaps we should call them axioms) exclude all beliefs that contradict them. These constitute a standard by which Baha’is judge other religious beliefs and decide whether they are right or wrong.

So from a Baha’i standpoint, if an animist or Buddhist does not believe in God, he is wrong. His belief is excluded. Likewise a Deist or pantheist who doesn’t believe in a personal God, or anyone who rejects organized religion as a way to relate to God. All these perspectives are wrong.

There’s another point that might be a little more subtle. It is that although Baha’is believe their faith encompasses all other faiths, this is not quite the case. Consider Christianity. Baha’is believe (in all sincerity – i.e. this is not intended maliciously) that almost all Christians are wrong in how they understand the Gospel. The Gospel is actually what the Baha’is say it is.

From a Baha’i perspective, Baha’is are inclusive and Christians are exclusive. But again, like I said above about moderation, that depends on one’s standard. The Baha’i standard is the Baha’i Faith and the Baha’i concept of progressive revelation. So naturally if you go by that standard, the Baha’is can’t help but be inclusive. On the other hand, if you use Christianity as a standard, then Christians appear inclusive while Baha’is appear exclusive.

According to the Catholic Church, for example, God can work in the lives of non-Christians, and non-Christians can be saved. How is this any less inclusive than what Baha’is say? We both believe that God loves all people and desires that all should be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). We both believe that our belief system is true and all others less than true to the extent they differ from ours. So why do Baha’is believe that their religion is more inclusive?


2 Responses

  1. Peace be unto you.

    Merry Christmas. I just got home from watching my brother sing beautifully at his church, and then followed by watching “A Christmas Story” at his place with him and his wife afterwards. I love that movie. “Randy, show mommy how the piggies eat!” :)

    I have to say that I agree with your article. It was articulated just fine. I could understand it. What usually happens in a religious community, any religious community–is that some personality says something and people like it; thus they repeat it. Then it catches on to more believers, and they start repeating it as well. Then, when enough people believe it to be true–many people follow along EVEN if they themselves don’t necessarily agree with it, because they fear being a minority in the group.

    This is where beliefs that are in drastic contradiction to what the scriptures actually say, come from. Because so many people say it, “it must be true.” For no other reason did the majority of the Jewish people reject Christ, than this. Likewise for the rejection of Muhammad, Moses, Baha’u’llah. If enough people say it, “it must be true.”

    What I just said is deliberate, because I am sure you have heard some Baha’i say that–in other words. Do I even believe what I just said? Yes, I do actually, but that is not the point. That kind of doctrinal statement is so ingrained in me from hearing it come from other people; that it is the first thing that I think of to say.

    This is where I agree with you, precisely. Many Baha’is are comfortable in saying that Christians, Muslims, and Jews have misunderstood THEIR scriptures because they followed what their clergy have said….But to get a majority of Baha’is to say that we have misunderstood OUR scriptures because WE followed what OUR personalites have said; is a lost cause I am afraid.

    This is a human condition, that is why. It is not a Baha’i condition. We all play this game, to an extent, I am convinced.

    Our Faith teaches us that Religious Truth is not Absolute, but Relative. And I think that is very important. Because how I view inclusive may be exclusive to you, and how you view exclusive may be inclusive to me. I think that many of us try to impose an Absolute Doctrine onto Inclusiveness and Relativity itself; which makes us contradict ourselves as humans on a daily basis.

    Anyway, this was a good article. Merry Christmas.

    ~ Matthew Muhammad

  2. Thank you for your comments and your kind words. And have a happy new year!

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