Monday, April 13, 2009

The Theological Tide is Turning

A recent survey of the Barna Research Group suggests that many American Christian's beliefs mirror those long held by Baha'is. Below are three examples:

Four out of ten Christians (40%) strongly agreed that Satan “is not a living being but is a symbol of evil.” An additional two out of ten Christians (19%) said they “agree somewhat” with that perspective. A minority of Christians indicated that they believe Satan is real by disagreeing with the statement: one-quarter (26%) disagreed strongly and about one-tenth (9%) disagreed somewhat. The remaining 8% were not sure what they believe about the existence of Satan. Much like their perceptions of Satan, most Christians do not believe that the Holy Spirit is a living force, either. Overall, 38% strongly agreed and 20% agreed somewhat that the Holy Spirit is “a symbol of God’s power or presence but is not a living entity.” Just one-third of Christians disagreed that the Holy Spirit is not a living force (9% disagreed somewhat, 25% disagreed strongly) while 9% were not sure. When asked whether it was important to them to have “active, healthy relationships with people who belong to religious faiths that do not accept the central beliefs of your faith,” about two-thirds of the self-professed Christians claimed it was important. Thirty-six percent agreed strongly with the notion, and 29% agreed somewhat, while 11% disagreed strongly and 16% disagreed somewhat. The other 8% did not have an opinion. (Read the whole report here)

Such trends in American Christian belief bode well for dialogue and fellowship between Christians and Baha'is around issues that may have divided us in the past. It also suggests that for at least some Christians the grip of biblical literalism is slipping. This is a positive development from a Baha'i perspective:

"As they have literally interpreted the Word of God, and the sayings and traditions of the Letters of Unity, ...they have therefore deprived themselves and all their people of the bountiful showers of the grace and mercies of God." (Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 81)


  1. Thanks for the post.
    I would not describe this as a change of theological tide; I would say there is an effort to conciliate faith with reason and another effort to live in peace in a multi-religious society.
    I’ll post about this.

  2. Chris Kavelin2:03 AM

    Dear Pauline (from last post) and Phillippe,

    Thankyou for your sharing. You have offered a gift in remembering a valuable lesson of late. I grew up as many Baha'i's with a focus on teaching the Faith through elaborating on the principles of Baha'u'llah's Revelation, rather than on Baha'u'llah as The Revelation. This is in spite of the fact that I feel a very strong love for Baha'u' was as if I felt apologetic about that and had to find a different level of sharing to engage. That experience continued, even when I went to Theology school. I suppose being an academic and lecturer in University now only reinforces that kind of approach, perhaps justified ratitonally to myself that I am being tactful, considerate, prudent, wise or humble to not 'impose'that truth on others. (and while I do try to practice courage in being explict about how my Faith impacts my research and thinking in various disciplines I don't tend to mention Baha'u'llah very much). But was this rather than wisdom, perhaps more reflective of worry for what others will think of me or a lack of appreciating the true value of the depth of that love? In the past few weeks several enounters with a similar theme have lifted me out of that. Just to describe one briefly: I have been having regular (every few weeks) conversations with an Anglican chaplain of a local High School where he would often ask me questions about the Baha'i Faith. Two weeks ago he asked me for a few pages of text to expand on the idea of 'springtime' which I alluded to in a conversation about progressive revelation. I chose some texts from Baha'u'llah, Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, but found myself pausing at sharing the one from Baha'u'llah, wondering if it was 'too much'. It was the passage where Baha'u'llah uses the first person speaking as each Manifestation from Abraham onwards. The Chaplain ended up looking very happy and sincerely thanked me, in short saying that this was very important to know because when he represents the Faith to others he does not want it to sound like a syncretistic man-made faith if that is not what we believe. I felt very humbled. Now if someone like me, with all that theological education is still timid, how representational of other Baha'is might this be? So I thought it worth sharing my own learning in this and encourage courage. The statistics as you have shown illuminate that there is no need for being as 'careful' as we probably worry in not wanting to offend others with our most precious belief, our love for the Beloved.

  3. Anonymous5:40 PM

    If I remember this right , the first proof of a new revelation from God is the Manisfestation of God (The Person of the Prophet)Himself. Second is the Revelation