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Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews and "Other" are one for this seeker

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Harold Rosen speaking in San Diego in 2008. Source: The Association for Bahá’í Studies

Harold Rosen has written an extraordinary book that seeks to restore the narrative thread that runs through the world’s major religions. He does this by closely examining the life of each of their founders: Moses, Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad, and Bahá'u'lláh.

No small task, he admits at the launch for Founders of Faith: The Parallel Lives of God’s Messengers on December 2 at the Vancouver Bahá'í Centre.

“This book,” says Rosen in the first chapter, “is for students of religion and history seeking a more integrative or unified perspective; … and those who suspect that all the great Prophets were like teachers in a vast school—educators of humanity.”

Indeed, the book came out of interfaith courses he has taught over the past ten years.

Rosen’s origins are interfaith. His father was Jewish; his mother was a Catholic. He spent the summer of 1974 on a kibbutz with Christians, Muslims, and Jews. For 25 years, he served as a Unitarian minister.

“The Unitarians,” he says, “trained me as a truth-seeker.”

Rosen thinks of himself as a teacher who got sidetracked into the ministry. He designed courses that explored what figures had the greatest influence throughout history. And he kept coming up with the founders of the world’s religions.

“I tried to be a cultural anthropologist,” he says, “but then I started to let prayers and scriptures sink in.” He allowed himself to be shaped by them, and eventually transitioned from a Unitarian minister to a Bahá'í interfaith educator.

The title of his talk this evening is: “If there is only one God, then why are there so many different religions?”

Rosen’s answer: “because we can’t hold all truth at once; we are evolving, developing our capacities to encounter the Divine; we are renewed after inevitable decline” which is evidence of “God’s compassion for humankind’s developmental nature.”

Rosen originally intended a five book series. Then his publisher suggested he write one book, but it was too long—over 700 pages. So the publisher suggested perhaps three books, and then they were back to one book.

“Great, I thought, now which of the digits of my right hand shall I cut off first?”

He began shortening sentences. “I was learning journalism,” he says. And he got it down to under 400 pages.

Central to the book’s argument is the idea of progressive revelation, which, says Rosen, is more than a Bahá'í teaching; it points to a new theological paradigm.

“The hypothesis of progressive revelation,” he writes, “suggests that when a major portion of humanity needs a new religion, … God sends a new Messenger. …. Progressive revelation is the claim that all religions are essentially one, and differences among them are attributable to varying requirements of the cultural and historical contexts in which they were born.”

A woman in the audience asks about Christians and Muslims who might take exception to seeing themselves as part of an evolutionary process and not the end of the line.

After what he admits is an awkward attempt to answer the question, Rosen laughs at himself.

“I’m wearing the hat of interfaith diplomat,” he says. “I’m aware of the rules for dealing with tough questions nicely.

“Many people will not like this book because of the idea of progressive revelation. And yet each faith has its own concept of progressive revelation. And once we understand that, we can begin to look at progressive revelation between faiths.”

For more information about Harold Rosen and his work as an interfaith educator.  

And to order a copy of Founders of Faith: The Parallel Lives of God’s Messengers, visit Bahá'í Bookstore or Amazon.

(1) Comments

Paul Hebert December 14th 2010 | 3:15 PM

It may be that the overlap among the teachings shows they belong to a single picture, and that dissonance at some of the boundaries shows there is some missing material in between, and the experience of progression is simply because more pieces are on the table.  Nothing undermines rank issues quite like love.

It may also be there are more peices to be revealed than there are yet on the table.  Enjoy the pieces we have and the pieces we are in this season of light.