sharing a common faith

world religion day in vietnam, January 21, 2013

One of the fundamental principles revealed by Bahá’u’lláh is that of the oneness of religion: The idea that all the world’s great religions are, in fact, one religion that has been revealed progressively over time by different Manifestations of one and the same God. The fact that the messages they taught seem to differ is not because they came from different Gods, but because they were revealed at different times to peoples with different experiences and capacities.

That said, other differences have appeared between the great religions we see today: Differences that arise from the additions—and even alterations—that human beings have made to the essential spiritual messages they were given. Re-interpretations of Scripture made by religious scholars and clergy, blind imitation of the past, superstitions arising from ignorance and misunderstanding… all of these have compounded the differences that now exist between the world’s religions.

For the nation of Vietnam, the differences between Buddhists and Catholics deepened a chasm that the Cold War had opened. And who ended up being there to try and bridge the divide? The Bahá’ís. From its earliest days, the Vietnamese Bahá’í community championed the cause of inter-religious harmony. World Religion Day, spearheaded by the Bahá’ís and observed in Vietnam every year between 1962 and 1975, gathered representatives of many different religions to deliberate on weighty themes: “Mankind must, and are able to achieve religious unity”; “Religion must be the cause for unity of mankind”; “The purpose of religion is to establish unity and harmony”; and so on.

In 1963, the Buddhist Crisis broke out, the result of the prejudicial policies of the South Vietnamese President Ngô Đình Diệm, a Catholic, against the country’s Buddhist majority. The crisis ended six months later in a military coup and Diệm’s assassination. At no time in the country’s history was inter-religious cooperation more needed. Only months following the climax of the Buddhist Crisis, the Bahá’ís called for the creation of a “Permanent Council of Inter-Religious Harmony” to be comprised of two representatives from each religion, “to signify a sincere and genuine effort on the part of the two major Religions of their often proclaimed belief that they desire only equality and harmony among the faiths.” This sentiment was echoed by major interfaith groups, as well; a prominent interfaith youth group in Saigon urged the formation of a council to bring together Buddhists and Roman Catholics, and asked that “a leader of the Bahai World Faith be invited” as well, “since even in the past the Baha’is have been urging the establishment of such a Council for Inter-Religious harmony and have also by their efforts demonstrated their belief in both the Buddha and Christ and shown their essential Divine Unity.”

In September 1964, the newly elected Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Vietnam formally issued a bold, yet practical four-point appeal for national religious unity which developed the ideas advanced during the previous year:

  1. Religious leaders should establish “a Permanent Council of Inter-Religious Harmony consisting of two representatives from each Faith dedicated towards establishing complete unification between the religions and which should be delegated with the power to be the final arbitrator of any misunderstanding or strife that may arise between the various religions”;
  2. Government should officially recognize this Council as “the supreme body for arbitrating on problems concerning religious persecution and religious strifes”;
  3. Leaders and followers of every religion, “without the slightest discrimination and with complete respect and love”, should “visit the holy places of worship of every religion and publicly proclaim their acceptance of the various Divine Teachers as absolutely equal in every way”;
  4. Government should “foster Religious Harmony by encouraging the peoples and religious leaders and proclaim one day of the year World Religion Day and declare it a public holiday dedicated to the goal of Religious Unity on which day the followers of every faith may visit each others pagodas, churches, temples to pray to the Divinity of all the Prophets”.

This audacious appeal, which struck at the core of religious prejudice, must have been dismissed by many as being too fanciful or unrealistic—after all, it called on “the Venerable leaders of Buddhism in Viet Nam” to “publicly proclaim that they Believe that Lord Christ is endowed with the same Divinity and Spirituality as Lord Buddha and identical with Him”, and on Christian leaders to “proclaim likewise that the Lord Buddha is in every way equal and identical to the Lord Christ in His Spiritual and Divine Glory”. What kind of self-respecting clergyman would agree to eat humble pie in such a dramatic fashion?

But to the Bahá’ís, these acts were necessary to achieve true unity and prevent nationwide calamity: “Only then can we make the Buddhists and Christians of our sad nation rush into each others’ arms and eliminate any maneuvers to direct them instead at each others’ throats.” Moreover, the Bahá’í appeal was consistent with the belief that all religions are, in fact, reflections of the same message from one and the same God, revealed progressively throughout the evolution of mankind—that all human beings, whether or not they realize it, are in fact following many different representations of one common faith, which is “the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future“.

History repeats itself, and mankind rejects and ridicules God’s Messengers as They reveal themselves, denying the life-giving messages They bear. As a result of their rejection and ridicule, civilizations are reduced to rubble, destroyed by their own corruption, their blind imitation of the past, their clinging to ways of thinking, acting and governing that no longer meet the requirements of an ever-evolving humanity. “Unfortunately,” as a Vietnamese Bahá’í representative wrote of the difficulties inherent in their interfaith work, “it seems that human beings act only in response to terrible crisis… and hence have to endure great suffering.”

The original post, world religion day in vietnam, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. With files from Mr. Jamshed Fozdar and Wikipedia. Photos courtesy of Mr. Le Loc.

are all religions equal?

Another question coming from Reddit here, this time from the /r/AskReligion subreddit: “Why do some people believe all religions are equal?” And this one has a pretty simple answer, at least, from a Bahá’í perspective.

Bahá’ís believe that all the world’s great religions are, in fact, one religion that has been revealed progressively over time by different Manifestations of one and the same God—Abraham, Krishna, Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh.

The fact that these Manifestations have differed from each other doesn’t mean that God changed; instead, it means that they each revealed God’s word in a way that was suited to the capacity and to the reality of the people to whom they appeared. The fact that the great religions differ from one another, then, is due to them being revealed at different times to different peoples, as well as to the rituals that human beings have built up around the essential spiritual message they were given.

This is why you’ll often hear Bahá’ís talk about all the great religions being paths to God: They’ve all been part of a long process of education that has spanned all of human history, and that will continue into the future.

If you’re interested, there’s a lot to read about this process of progressive revelation on the official website of the Bahá’í Faith.

world interfaith harmony week in cornwall

World Religion Day isn’t the only holiday that promotes interreligious harmony: since 2010, the world has also celebrated World Interfaith Harmony Week, an event whose purpose is “to enhance mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people” of all faiths. It falls on the first week of February, shortly after World Religion Day. The Canadian Bahá’í News Service just posted nationwide highlights of Bahá’í participation in World Interfaith Harmony Week, and I thought I’d highlight this interesting tidbit from Cornwall, a town not too far from Ottawa:

In Cornwall on the St. Lawrence River in Ontario, the event took place in Knox–St. Paul’s United Church, organized by the Cornwall Interfaith Partnership, and was attended by approximately 90 people from many different backgrounds.

The event began with socializing over a meal prepared and donated by a Partnership member and his family, and was followed by the screening of a video about a “Charter for Compassion” project that aims “to advance the spirit and practice of the Golden Rule.” A workshop then explored three questions to help participants examine and eliminate the roots of inter-religious conflict: 1) Did you learn something in the film that surprised you?; 2) Are there beliefs or practices about other groups that make you feel uncomfortable?; and 3) Do you have any idea where these feelings come from – that is, where do you get information or how are your assumptions formed?

The 10 core members of the Cornwall Interfaith Partnership come from Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Bahá’í and unaffiliated backgrounds, and almost all have considerable experience in small-group facilitation; other associated members belong to the Hindu and Sikh communities. In its functioning, the Partnership tries to model the values of unity, respect and community action that it seeks to promote in the wider community.

Reverend Donald Wachenschwanz, the minister of the church hosting the event, said that the gathering was “awesome,” with many participants insisting that such events should be held in Cornwall every three months out of a deep yearning to see the various seemingly antagonistic religious communities come together in harmony and friendship.

I love that last part especially, about insisting that these events should be held every three months, out of a yearning to see different religious communities come together. Sounds like a step in the right direction—in fact, gatherings to promote harmony between people of different religions and nations should be happening every month, even every week. There are so many opportunities for antagonism and hatred in the world. It just makes sense to take every chance we can to create opportunities for fellowship and love.

world religion day in vietnam

In reading through the storied past of the Vietnamese Bahá’í community, I’ve been particularly impressed by its interfaith work. It seems evident that no other community worked more tirelessly for interreligious understanding during the war years than did the Bahá’ís. One of the early contributions to this work was the organization of national and local commemorations of World Religion Day, an interfaith observance, initiated in America in 1950 and thereafter celebrated worldwide, on the third Sunday in January each year. Its purpose is now as it was then: to call attention to the essential harmony of the spiritual principles underlying the world’s religions, and to emphasize the role of religion as a unifying force for humanity. Observed for over a decade prior to the end of the Vietnam War, it became, according to observers, “by far the most important inter-faith event in Vietnam”.

The first observance of World Religion Day, or Ngày tôn giáo Hoàn cầu, in Vietnam took place on January 21st, 1962, at the Bahá’í Centre at 193/1C Cong Ly Street, Saigon. “For the first time in Viet Nam,” the papers announced, “representatives of seven of the world’s religions will meet to discuss ‘the fundamental oneness of religion’ on the 13th annual World Religion Day…” Representatives of Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity (Baptist), Islam, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, and the Bahá’í Faith were in attendance, and addressed the crowd regarding the fundamental tenets and principles of each of their religions. “We are for a world where every one will see his neighbour as his own brother, and we are working toward the day when affection will make the boundaries between states useless,” the Bahá’í representative, Nguyen Ke Tong, declared. His words must have struck a chord with the listeners, as Vietnam itself was at the time bisected by one of these boundaries, one that had torn families apart and turned brothers, cousins and friends against each other, as they separated into North and South.

The observance of World Religion Day provided a much-needed forum for interreligious dialogue to address the enmity that had developed between the country’s Buddhist and Catholic communities as a result of the prejudicial policies of South Vietnamese President Ngô Đình Diệm. Hoping to address this growing conflict, the Bahá’í speaker at World Religion Day in January 1963 publically appealed to the leaders of Vietnam’s faith communities to establish an Interfaith Council that would work towards unity, reconciliation, and the protection of the rights of all religious communities in Vietnam. The need for such an institution was undeniable, but the injustices perpetrated by Diệm’s government against the Buddhist community—forced conversions, looting, shelling and demolition of pagodas—had become too great to bear. When a rarely enforced law was invoked to prohibit Buddhists in the city of Huế from flying flags on Buddha’s birthday in May 1963, protests broke out, which were met with live fire from the police and army. The Buddhist Crisis broke out, which would end six months later in a military coup and Diệm’s assassination.

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aaaaaaaaaauuugh my feet!!!

’nuff said 😉

so things have been going well at work so far. I’ve been averaging around two to three errors a day. not bad for someone with absolutely no experience! it certainly is challenging. I’m practically learning from the ground up. on Tuesday I learned how to face. that means “arrange items nicely on the shelf”, and how to operate the cardboard press, and how to use those little movable stairs. on Wednesday I learned how to use the service elevators and the garbage compactor, and the importance of hair nets. Today I learned how to face again (apparently I hadn’t gotten it quite right the first time), and how to restock the shelves. I’m feeling more and more like a stockboy! woohoo stockboys! oh yeah and my feet are killing me. At least I can guarantee that I’ll be getting some exercise. Now I need to make sure I keep doing those curl-ups and push-ups in the morning to get me going.

In other news… wait, there is no other news. I’ve been cooped up inside a Loblaws all week. what the hell.

We had a conversation about religion in the lunch room (which scared away several people) wherein two people were batting each other about over concepts of religion, particularly the Catholic faith. I can see why some people don’t like to talk about religion. It’s kind of like bashing two bricks together. Religion is treated like any other commodity — just pick a brand name. And if you don’t like any brand in particular, mix and match them to get something you like. I’m always pretty saddened when I see that. I believe that religion is the greatest constructive force in the world, and has always been. What’s that you say? It can also be the greatest destructive force? Yes indeed. I won’t get into the whole logical argument, since it’s getting close to dinner time, but the fact is that religion has simply done a lot of good. There are a lot of good religious people who live pure, happy lives, and do great, amazing things for the betterment of the world. There are also people who miss the point entirely and use religious ideology to gain power, money, prestige, and so forth. Worse even, there are people who corrupt religion by putting forth their own biased views of religion as the gospel, inalienable truth. What’s the difference between the good and the bad? Here’s a simple answer, take it with as many grains of salt as you wish: The good people are inspired by God and seek to follow His will. The bad people ignore God and go by their own opinions as to what’s important. Make sense? This presupposes that God is the source of all good. Can we accept that? I can. But let’s talk about it.

If only I could do this well in French, though 😉