Our Daily Bread: Relativistic Revelation

Today’s relatively inspiring slice is from the pages of “The Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh”, by the fifth leader of the Bábahá’í revelation, Shoghi Effendi:

… the fundamental principle which constitutes the bedrock of Bahá’í belief, the principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is orderly, continuous and progressive and not spasmodic or final.

This is probably the most foundational statement on the doctrine of “progressive revelation” in the Bahá’í writings. It might be argued that Shoghi Effendi’s approach might reach a little too far by establishing relativism as the foundation of his religion. It might be a great argument, come to think of it, for no revelation at all. Why not have God come to each person on that person’s terms, so that person can best learn what he needs to learn from God? God doubtless has the time to make house calls, so why not go the distance and do the job right? Indeed, if God wishes to avoid spasmodic revelation, it seems to me that personal revelation might be the way to go.

The Bahá’í idea of relativism in revelation is depends on the premise that men only progress as a society more than they do as individuals. According to Bahá’í thinking, I have more in common with my bushman contemporaries than I do with a Roman or a Greek from two millennia back. My spiritual maturity is strictly defined by the millennium in which I reside, regardless of my education or culture.

The doctrine of progressive revelation, quite contrary to the doom-laden Islamic doctrine of a final, corrective revelation, is actually quite reminiscent of an old Iranian idea about the renewal of the world.

Be it known that, the reason for mankind becoming doers of work of a superior kind is religion; and it is owing to it only that there is a living in prosperity through the Creator. It is always necessary to send it (religion) from time to time to keep men back from being mixed up with sin and to regenerate them. … All the reformers of mankind (i.e. prophets) are considered as connected with its (religion’s) design;… —Dénkard 3.35

… or perhaps an Indo-Iranian idea, as this does resemble the Indian idea of divine guidance somewhat.

Unlike the Bahá’í vision, this ancient Iranian vision does foresee a time when revelation will cease, because it will not be needed any longer.

there will be no necessity for sending religion, through a prophet, for the (benefit of) Creatures of the world who will be in existence after him (Soshyant)…. —Dénkard 3.35

Though the vision does not involve an idea of continuing incremental progress, it does involve the ideas of periodic rejuvenation, and eventually, a complete renewal of the world.

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