239 Days in America

A Social Media Documentary following 'Abdu'l-Bahá in 1912

Day
95
 | 
July 14, 1912
Brooklyn, NY
Storify Feature

Religion: The Greatest Cause of Human Alienation

“‘ABDU’L-BAHÁ WILL SPEAK upon the oneness of humanity,” Reverend Leon Harvey told to his congregation at All Souls Unitarian Church in Brooklyn. “It is a great gospel,” he said. “Many have dreamed of it, but ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has lived it.”

The congregation at All Souls was one of the largest in the city. During its hundred-year history it had counted among its members some of New York’s most prominent reformers and cultural figures, including novelist Herman Melville. It was founded in 1819 under the Congregationalist banner, but by the late 1800s had become a Universalist Unitarian church – a movement with roots in Christianity, which accepted people of every religious background, unified by a dedication to spiritual growth and a commitment to serving the local community.

Reverend Harvey was pleased that he had assembled such a large crowd on one of the hottest days in memory. He began with a prayer: “We thank Thee for him whom we shall hear this morning and pray that whatever may come to us may not fall upon barren soil.”

Then ‘Abdu’l-Bahá took the pulpit and began. “In this great century the most important accomplishment is the unity of mankind,” he announced, “it has now become the paramount issue and question in the religious and political conditions of the world.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s talk followed a similar outline as many he had given in churches over the past three months. However, on this Sunday he was particularly forthright, even blunt. “Consult history,” he said, “you will find a continuous record of war brought about by religious, sectarian, patriotic, racial and political causes.” He was particularly hard on religion, stating simply: “The greatest cause of human alienation has been religion. . .”

But ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s subject was “the oneness of humanity” and he intended to point the way forward. He invoked a metaphor from his father’s writings. “Ye are all the leaves of one tree,” Bahá’u’lláh had written. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá accepted that people were imperfect, and that there were seemingly legitimate reasons for discord. But he asked his audience to focus on humanity’s common foundation.

“Humanity shares in common the intellectual and spiritual faculties of a created endowment,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said. “This equal participation in the physical, intellectual and spiritual problems of human existence is a valid basis for the unification of mankind.”

In considering the effects of disunity, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá invoked the image of the family. “Consider the harmful effect of discord and dissension in a family; then reflect upon the favors and blessings which descend upon that family when unity exists among its various members.” He concluded: “What incalculable benefits and blessings would descend upon the great human family if unity and brotherhood were established!”

Speaking of disagreements over religion, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá again quoted from his father, who had said: “If religion and faith are the causes of enmity and sedition it is far better to be non-religious.” Then, as if to drive home the point, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá added: “When we make the remedy the cause of disease it would be better to do without the remedy.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá left his audience with a call to action. “Now in this radiant century let us try to do the will of God that we may be rescued from these things of darkness and come forth into the boundless illumination of heaven, shunning division and welcoming the divine oneness of humanity.”

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  • Educare001

    One short reading, to inspire.
    When Unity of mankind is recognized & made the foundation goal our decisions become easy even though our problems are grave. Unity does not mean doing away with individuality, rather it is a blending of Understandings; much like in a bouquet or recipe.

  • Russ

    We are told in the Writings to find common ground– to reach rapport– with someone before beginning to give new information. This is difficult at best and almost impossible when speaking to groups, and the larger the group, the more difficult it is to achieve. You know this. When I began teaching Junior High School in 1969, I had four classes in the 8th grade, 30 children in each class, to teach the same lesson according to the curriculum. It was– and still is– and always will be– impossible for each of those young souls to understand the same lesson. You know this too from your own experience. It’s extremely difficult with even one person! 

    Your personal experience should prove that to you, regardless the circumstance. When speaking to individuals the Master would most often let the other person speak first, and based on what that person said, He would know exactly what that person needed to hear, and with his infinite wisdom, He would respond with the words that person would best ‘hear’ and understand and accept most easily. No one has ever done it better. And all too often it didn’t ‘stick’. Our literature testifies to this many times. 

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    Atheists and agnostics have excellent reasons to consider themselves such. Most often it is because, as Abdu’l-Baha says above, “Consult history,” he said, “you will find a continuous record of war brought about by religious, sectarian, patriotic, racial and political causes.” He was particularly hard on religion, stating simply: “The greatest cause of human alienation has been religion. . .”

    All the atheists and agnostics I’ve spoken with – and there have been many - have given two primary reasons for their disbelief in, or doubt about a, God. One is what the Master says above. The  other is a simple question: “if  God exists, why does he allow so much suffering? Especially if He is ‘all-loving? It simply does not compute.” I believe that every person whose soul feels those pains has that same question. I did when I was an agnostic before learning about our precious Cause.  

    Speaking of disagreements over religion, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá again quoted from his father, who had said: “If religion and faith are the causes of enmity and sedition it is far better to be non-religious.” Then, as if to drive home the point, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá added: “When we make the remedy the cause of disease it would be better to do without the remedy.”

    When speaking with an atheist or agnostic, there is no better way to reach rapport than using the Master’s words as he does above. Then we need to be able to explain why those conditions have come about and what can be done about it. The answers of course are all in the Writings. This is why the beloved Guardian was adamant about the necessity for deepening in the Cause:

    It is my unalterable conviction that the first obligation and the object of the constant endeavor of every believer is to strive to obtain a clearer understanding of the significance of Baha’u’llah’s stupendous Revelation, and the truths it enshrines and the principles on which it is based. ~ Shoghi Effendi ~

  • Russ

    An addition to my last paragraph below is “Today’s Quote” from above:

    The greatest cause of human alienation has been religion because each party has considered the belief of the other as anathema and deprived of the mercy of God. – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

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