Story last updated at 1:49 p.m. Thursday, August 22, 2002

Religious diversity enriching
Our family recently returned from a 10-day pilgrimage to Haifa, Israel, the most holy land for the Baha'i world. Although Israel is continually in religious turmoil, we were in a rarefied atmosphere of architectural splendor and spiritual delight.

This voyage for us highlighted a shift in action by the Baha'i World Community, which focuses on the issue of religious intolerance, an issue that is beginning to reverberate with global repercussions in India, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan and America.

This past March, the International Baha'i Community wrote a statement to religious leaders throughout the world. Tens of thousands of letters were delivered, more than 1,000 in Alaska and nearly 30 here in Homer.

This letter asked each leader to consider if there exists a similarity of purpose across the major religions. All religion has encouraged virtue, created order in civil affairs, fostered service to others and disciplined the human condition.

The beliefs that cause conflict and vision are, in fact, the antithesis of these core, life-affirming values. The most insidious of all these beliefs is that spiritual truth has expressed its finality in a singular and specific teacher.

All knowledge has evolved over the centuries, whether scientific or religious. Our understanding of the Golden Rule (a teaching expressed in every major religion) has expanded from loving our brother, to tribe, to region, to nation and now must include all humanity.

To those who may doubt that this shift in consciousness is possible, reflect back to more than a century ago, when racial equality and women's rights were but ideas held by few. These issues moved from the fringes of society to mainstream acceptance throughout the educated work in a historical blink of an eye.

Civil chaos spawned from religious prejudice can no longer be contained by borders or put down by weapons. We must start an unfettered dialogue across these divergent religious systems, for failure to do so may have dire consequences. Please consider the idea that God created religious diversity to enrich the process of an evolving global civilization.

Paul Rourke