People need only two things to realize their perfection as human beings: education and effort. Both of these take numerous forms, so I don’t mean conventional education and effort when I say that. Love can viewed as effort, for example, when you look at it as a (freely given) expense of energy.
If people were educated, they would become pure reflections of the attributes of God: loving, kind, happy, content, eager, etc. Basically, what we would all love to be.
If people were like this, they would not war with each other, be greedy, hate others, etc. They would learn to see reality as it is, and not how they imagine it to be.
But there is only one proper form of education, and that is the one given by God. Whatever humans make up for themselves is fraught with the very things such an education tries to remove: egotism, greed, prejudice, etc.
But God can’t just deliver the answer directly to a person’s doorstep. Some knowledge is too powerful for us to handle. Instead of teaching us peace, it might bring about even more war and hatred.
For example, some people have such a perverted view of strength, that by not fighting back, they see you as weak. Showing them compassion only inflames their hatred. With such people, a stronger approach is necessary, because that’s the language they understand.
Likewise, humanity at various times has very different perceptions of the world. There were different “languages of the spirit” that man was able to comprehend. If true strength looks too much like weakness, how will the person ever learn what strength is? So something sterner is needed, to clear away their preconceptions, and prepare them to learn more.
As time marches on, we absorb more of these lessons. Culture advances – more or less – until the law of the jungle is no longer the universal reality of life.
At such a point, mankind is ready for more subtlety. We can appreciate more. What seemed like weakness and useless knowledge before, can now be seen as strength, and learned as such.
One thing that mankind is now ready for now is the elimination of everything that separates people. With the exception of covenant breaking in the Faith, Bahá’ís are free to read any literature, consort with any people, think any thoughts, and ask any questions. Any social program which does not violate the laws of the Faith is allowed, as well as any system of education. And those laws are not numerous, compared to Islam and Judaism, for example.
In the past, there were laws against inter-faith relationships. You could not marry a woman who had been divorced. You could not peruse forbidden texts, listen to music, etc. You even had to fight holy wars if the church called for it.
Basically, all of the institutionalized forms of separation have been removed, because God believes that humanity is now able to learn how to get together – without such knowledge resulting in our immediate destruction. It means we’ve grown up enough to learn how to play together as adults. No more supervision is necessary, in the form of priests, and no artificial barriers are necessary, such as those between race, gender or caste.
Thus, the Bahá’í Faith represents the next stage in the progress of humankind’s spiritual education. Yet we are far from the end of it. Many tablets revealed to Bahá’u’lláh He decided to cast into the river because we were “not ready yet”. Even some of the tablets He did write – such as those proclaiming the equality of the genders - caused some people at the time to slit their throats with their own hands.
Since we were ready, the violence did not go much further than that. However, had God revealed such knowledge a millennia ago, it might have resulted in a blood bath, or crippled society. I don’t know this, but there are reasons why men have only learned about this now. I think we might have been far too threatened by such a weakening of our power, and who knows what that might have caused. This is only my own speculation, however.
Anyway, the ground that was broken by earlier Faiths was not entirely clear. Take for example: gender equality, racial equality, and evil. Islam thought once that women did not have souls; Jesus specifically excluded the Gentiles from receiving His miracles; and almost all religions focused very much on the reality of an “Evil One”, or at least viewed evil as an active, subverting force. Buddhism is the only Faith that comes to my mind which does not focus on this.
The Bahá’í Faith claims a unique position in religious history, in that the foundation of its teaching will not be revoked by future Messengers from God. What we have may be limited in scope, owing to our current capacity, but it is very explicit in its accuracy. This is not to say that other religions were deceptive. Jesus did not make a big deal about Satan (He mostly spoke of the “fire” of unbelief); Muhammad did not condemn the station of women (He merely indicated they should be more subservient); and nowhere did Jesus explicit say the gentiles were “bad”. However, enough ambiguity existed that the believers made up their own stories afterward, in order to fit the religion with their own sense of what was right.
In our Faith, however, the laws and teachings are not given in parables, or subject to interpretation by priests, or fellow believers.
Yet clear or not clear, the message underneath is identical throughout them all: Man is a spiritual being who must learn to transcend his earthly nature, if he is to discover the mysteries of reality. As this state of being becomes more profound and universal, the fabric of society is enriched and reinforced, and will continue to progress until a state of cooperation and happiness such as we’ve only dreamed of before.