Monday, December 13, 2010

One Common Faith

I don't know how many times I have referred to this book in the past few months, but it must be a few dozen: One Common Faith. If you haven't read it yet, or haven't looked at it for a while, I would strongly encourage you to do so.

There was a recent article about the secularization of Canada over at The Globe and Mail, and it raised a number of questions. To make matters worse, I wrote a response to it at the Times-Colonist web-site on their blog, Spiritually Speaking.

All of this got me thinking, once again, about One Common Faith.

As you know, back around Ridvan 2002, the Universal House of Justice wrote a letter to the religious leaders of the world. In that document, they spoke of many things, but the one that stood out the most to me was the need for allowing people to choose their own path. They spoke of how there is only one Creator, what we generally call "the oneness of God", and that there are many paths leading towards Him. One of the implications of the interfaith movement, they said, and the spirit that has given rise to it, is this understanding of the freedom of faith. They especially asked these leaders to train their followers in this path of acceptance, and not to be concerned about people moving from one path to another.

Well, that all sounded good, but it was shortly after that time that some people noticed a growing trend within the Baha'i community towards intolerance of people of other faiths. This was minor, small, and short lived. You see, just as this began to occur, the Universal House of Justice commissioned the document One Common Faith.

Now please don't think that what I say here is authoritative. I don't know why the Universal House of Justice distributed these two letters, nor what salient points they wanted us to carry away with us. I am only going by my own perspective of it.

When reading these two pieces, they seem to have the same message: allow people the choice of their faith path.

In One Common Faith, however, they go into some detail about various arguments against religion, arguments that we may face in our daily work. Not only is there guidance for us to overcome the trend of intolerance that we may have been carrying into the Faith with us from our varied backgrounds, but they also look at many of the questions that we may face when people ask us why we have a faith to begin with. Their answers to these arguments are ones that we can use in our conversations with others.

This is what I tried to do in relation to that article mentioned above.

In Canada, you see, in the past 40 years, we have moved from having 1% of our population declaring themselves as having no religion to over 23%. This is quite the leap in such a short time.

I didn't question the statistic, nor did I think it appropriate to criticize those who would not declare themselves as the follower of a faith. The former seems pretty solid, and the latter is just rude. I mean, come on, how can I criticize someone for where they are on their spiritual path? I'm not much better, to be sure.

I am far more interested in why this number is growing so quickly.

And this, to my eye, is where One Common Faith comes in. While there are a few marvelous study guides on this document, I happen to like Robert Stockman's outline. It is simple and concise.

Whether the argument offered against faith is based on materialism or scientific dogmatism, the concern about globalization or the ineffectiveness of many religious institutions to address modern concerns, some great responses are found within this text.

The inability to respond coherently to any of these concerns has, for sure, lent a greater impetus to people giving up their own faith roots. This is what I feel we need to address.

I am not concerned about whether or not we agree that people are migrating from one faith to none. I am concerned about why people are doing it.

For right now, I will not offer a summary of this text. No. Instead, I'd like you to look like at it on your own and come to your own thoughts about it. Suffice to say, I'm going to look at it a bit more over the next few weeks, and wanted to give you a fair warning.

So, what do you think about this book?

Oh, and if you would like to read the full text, you can just click here (for an on-line flash version), or here (for an on-line text version), or here (for a pdf version).


  1. Shocking that you fail to recognize Canada's rich liberal culture and how they don't seem to like rigid dogmatic institutions that tell them how to live their lives.

    No one likes oppression of thoughts -- especially the Canadians.

    Let people develop their own path and their own concept of morality.

  2. Actually, what is shocking is that people think that religion has to be "rigid" and "dogmatic". This is why most people are dropping away from traditional religions. And yes, nobody likes oppression of thoughts, not just Canadians.

    But as for developing our own path, there is an inherent problem with that. I remember speaking with one minister who said that we should live according to the cultural morals of our society, as opposed to the moral guidance given in a book we regards as sacred.

    "So, if I was living in Germany around the 1930s, it would be ok to persecute the Jews? Or if I was living in Canada or the US around 50 to 100 years ago, it would be ok to persecute and oppress the Natives or the Negroes?"

    Obviously not. But that is the problem with allowing people to develop their own path without any guidance.

    Instead, I think we need to learn to look at the religions and allow people the freedom to choose their own faith path, instead of imposing our particular path upon others.

    Oh, and please don't forget that atheism, for example, is a faith, too. It is the faith that there is no higher power. And every atheist that I know looks at the religions and appreciates the moral guidance within them, as long as the dogmatism isn't imposed.