Why do religions differ from each other?

“…time changes conditions, and laws change to suit conditions.” ~ Abdu’l-Baha

Clearly, religions are not all the same. They have different names, cultures, and appear to have different teachings. But Baha’is see that religions actually bring two different kinds of teachings. One kind of teaching addresses the specific needs of the time in which the religion appears; the other kind of teaching is an eternal truth that never changes.  Many people who study religion recognize that there are some core fundamental teachings that seem to cross over between different religious faiths. These teachings include the idea of one God, the idea of an afterlife where justice is served, the idea that you should treat others by some form of the golden rule, and the idea that a Promised Messiah or Savior would one day come in a Day of Judgment.

But religions also obviously differ from each other. For example, Christianity is different from Judaism in that Christ changed some of the laws of the Torah, such as the law of the Sabbath and the requirement of circumcision. This was despite the fact that the Old Testament claimed the law could never be changed one iota. Other religions clearly differ from one another in their teachings on diet, prayer, and legal matters. How do Baha’is resolve these apparent contradictions? Baha’is believe that the social teachings change depending on the needs of the age. The Jewish slaves of Pharaoh at the time of Moses had very different social needs than the tribes of Arabia at the time of Muhammad. We believe that the part of the Torah that never changes are the eternal teachings that are consistent across all faiths. The laws that can change are the ones that are determined by the time and place that the Manifestation comes, as the Holy Texts state, “time changes conditions, and laws change to suit conditions.” (Abdu’l-Baha, BWF, p. 274)

Additionally, these teachings help mankind grow collectively towards higher levels of development. For example, Moses preached about law and order; Jesus preached forgiveness and mercy; and Muhammad preached submission and tolerance. Each religion brings an added benefit to humanity’s experience. They build on each other. This allows mankind to evolve collectively. But, for Baha’is, the most important teachings are the ones that endure from one religion to the next. They are the teachings that unite all people of Faith around the globe, and they are the teachings that should be emphasized. As the Baha’i Holy Texts state, “We must remember that these changing laws are not the essentials; they are the accidentals of religion. The essential ordinances established by a Manifestation of God are spiritual; they concern moralities, the ethical development of man and faith in God. They are ideal and necessarily permanent; expressions of the one foundation and not amenable to change or transformation. Therefore the fundamental basis of the revealed religion of God is immutable, unchanging throughout the centuries, not subject to the varying conditions of the human world.” (Abdu’l-Baha, BWF, p. 275).

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