I write on diverse religious issues, often analysing perspectives from the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Bahá’í).
The question of conversions from one religion to the other has come up a number of times in my interfaith circle. For instance, a participant (a Hindu, it appears) lamented the other day:
“Till now I could not understand why Christians and Muslims are interested to convert the whole world to their religion. Can anybody please throw some light on this? We all agree that the whole cosmos was created by one superpower therefore we are all children of the same God.”
So, let’s look for plausible answers as to why some worshippers—most notably Christians (and, to a lesser extent, Muslims)—actively engage in conversions.
Independent Search for Truth
This writer is not an apologist for Christians or Muslims—they are capable of speaking for themselves—nor does he subscribe to the type of conversions that often takes place around religion. The explanations in this narrative are merely from his perspective as a Bahá’í.
Bahá’ís believe in the principle of independent search for the truth. They also believe that once a mature person has concluded his investigation of the truth, it is his God-given right to follow the religion that conforms to his conclusions and aspirations. No one has a right to stand in his way, and there certainly should not be any issues around that.
Religion Is One
Bahá’ís don’t see religion as something that one must necessarily inherit from one’s parents, nor should anyone be expected to blindly follow the religious crowd or the traditions of the past.
They do believe that religion is indeed one, but that must be understood within its proper context. The Bahá’í view that religion is one is based on a concept known as “progressive revelation.”
What Is Progressive Revelation?
Progressive revelation is the concept that the religious teachings are given in each Day and Age—by a Messenger or Manifestation of God (Founder of a religion)—to reflect the social condition of the people being addressed, their level of maturity, and the needs of the times. The teachings are then updated by a subsequent Manifestation of God when the conditions of society evolve substantially, requiring new laws and new teachings for a new social order. And that is why God even brings new religions into being from time to time.
The Decline of Religions
The other point to be noted is that while each of the religions come from God, they do not remain true and pure forever. After a long period of time, perhaps lasting centuries or millennia, the pure teachings become adulterated with misconceptions, superstitions, and myths and saturated with an array of man-made beliefs, erroneous doctrines, and outmoded dogmas. Then the time is ripe for the birth of a new religious system on the back of a fresh revelation from God.
Just to give a very practical example: We can see all around us today how religion has become an instrument for human rights abuses, political control, sexual exploitation, the marginalisation of women, as well as a source of division, prejudice, discrimination, hatred, even of death and destruction. The reason for this is that the true teachings of the religions have largely been lost to the masses who live by these debased traditions and abominable practices.
It is undeniable that such entrenched behaviours can only be eradicated with the infusion of new spiritual teachings from on high.
Characteristics of True Religion
The Bahá’í Writings say:
“…religion must be conducive to love and unity. If it proves to be the source of hatred and enmity, its absence is preferable; for the will and law of God is love, and love is the bond between human hearts. Religion is the light of the world. If it is made the cause of darkness through human misunderstanding and ignorance, it would be better to do without it.” (The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 287).
So, true religion must always be conducive to love and unity. If that is absent in a religion, what then is its value to humankind?
Two Types of Religious Teachings
Each of the religions comes with two types of teachings:
1. Social Teachings
One type is social and relates to the needs and requirements of society. However, these social teachings—involving such things as dress, diet, marriage, divorce, burial, forms of worship, punishments for crimes, ceremonies, festivals, and sundry observances and traditions—can differ substantially from one religion to the next and, in any case, never remain the same from religion to religion.
We see differences in the religions when we focus our attention on their social teachings and practices.
2. Spiritual Teachings
The second type of teachings is spiritual, and this relates to the eternal lessons of morality and ethics that are found in all religions. The spiritual teachings it is that connect all the religions as one. The Golden Rule, for instance, can be found in all faiths, although not necessarily expressed in the same words.
The Common Mission of All Religions
All the God-sent religions have one overriding mission: to spiritually prepare the world for the full establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. This mission is also the essence of the Gospel message. The nature of this Kingdom is succinctly expressed in the Lord’s Prayer, the only prayer of Jesus recorded in the Bible. The prayer says:
“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
So, essentially, the Kingdom of God is an advanced state, the final stage, in human evolution—when man is finally able to wholeheartedly surrender himself to God and do His will on this earthly plane as the holy souls do in the heavenly realm.
The Specific Missions of the Religions
Yet, apart from this overriding mission of the religions, each of the Messengers and Manifestations of God comes with a specific mission. We see, for example, that while the mission of Moses was more focused on developing the religious life of the children of Israel for entrance into their Promised Land (a tiny strip of land bordering the Mediterranean), that of Jesus the Christ was very different. It was global in scope and more directed at the spiritual life of humanity as a whole.
The Mission of Jesus
The mission of Jesus could be broken down into three interrelated objectives:
1. First Objective
The first objective was to introduce and advance the concept of the Kingdom of God:
“Jesus came… preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand….” (Mark 1:14-15)
2. Second Objective
The second objective was to ensure that his Gospel message was carried to every corner of the globe. Thus did he direct his followers to:
“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)
And in his final words to his Apostles, he tells them again:
“…ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
Yet earlier, he had made this bold prediction:
“And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24:14)
3. Third Objective
The coming of “the end,” as indicated above (Matthew 24:14), refers to the time of the Return, the Second Coming, and this becomes his third objective: to prepare the world in readiness for the messianic appearance of the last day.
Why Christians Preach
The above three objectives are the reason Christians preach their message wherever they go. However, in fairness to those who resent conversions, the Christians were not told to convert people necessarily. Their only duty from the above directives, and as can be gauged from other Gospel verses, was to “preach” and “be witnesses” of Jesus—which essentially means, “Tell people and let them know what has happened and what is to come in the future.”
When conversions follow freely from such conversations, there is nothing to be worried about. It is all part of God’s plan for the planet and the future of humanity. The world was never designed to remain forever unchanged, and humanity must learn to accept this fundamental reality.
Is the Christian Message for Everyone?
But while Christians were urged to disseminate the Gospel message around the world, Jesus did also indicate that his message was not for everyone. For example, it was not aimed at the so-called “righteous.” Jesus elaborates:
“They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17)
In other words, if a person sanctimoniously believed that he was fine where he was—perhaps, because of the faith he followed or the life he led—then the message of Christ was not for him, and Christians would be better off leaving him alone.
And even in respect of his own people (the Jews), Jesus did make clear that he had not come for every one of them but only to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6, 15:24). Presumably, he meant that he was there only for those Jews who were not fanatically attached to their Jewish faith, the ones who would more likely be spiritually receptive to the new religious enterprise he had set in motion.
Why Muslims Preach
Islam does not have a global mission that is as explicitly stated as in Christianity. Still, the two faiths come from God, they do influence and play a complementary role to each other, and that explains why some Muslim groups have also been busily preaching as the Christians do. Unfortunately, though, the followers of these two great religions never seem to see eye to eye and have been in competition and sometimes even conflict with each other all down the centuries.
The Messianic Advent of the Last Day
At this historical juncture, though, no one should be unduly concerned with whether or why some faith groups are busy converting people to their cause. It is generally understood that man is living in the last day; the last day is the occasion for a messianic appearance. All the world’s diverse faiths are implicated in this—meaning all devotees of today, irrespective of religious affiliation, should be watching out for this divine appearance.
Hindus, it should be noted, are on the lookout for their Kalki Avatar to come renew righteousness in the world. Jews eagerly await the advent of their Messiah to bolster their progress and exaltation in the Promised Land (Israel). Zoroastrians anticipate the appearance of Shah Bahram in the ancient land of Persia (today’s Iran). Buddhists are waiting for an encounter with their Fifth Buddha, known as Maitreya, the Buddha of universal fellowship. As is well known, Christians yearn for the Second Coming of Jesus. And Muslims look forward to the appearance, in the Middle East, of Nabi Isa (the same Jesus).
One Fold and One Shepherd
Some religious groups, including Bahá’ís, claim that the end-time messianic appearance has already occurred (as discussed in my article on five messianic claimants). But whether true or not, such a glorious appearance is expected to culminate in a new divine order embracing the whole of the planet. It is an order that can only emerge on the back of a new, all-embracing religious movement. And this religious movement cannot but exemplify the promise of “one fold, and one shepherd” enunciated by Jesus in John 10:16.
Yours the duty to ponder on all these matters and reflect on what they mean for the future of our globalised world community.
© 2021 Kobina Amissah-Fynn