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"We believe that there is only one religion. All other paths that people take are legitimate paths, which represent only one of God's manifestations," said Susan Collins, about Muslims, Jews, Christians, and other world religions. For 18 years, Collins has served on a spiritual assembly that leads the San Diego Bahai community. "While we encourage people to be close to their holy books and continually investigate the truth, our writings tell us it is a responsibility of ours to help [other faiths] recognize the new writings for this age." Bahai teaches that God sends a prophet for a specific time period to teach people. The prophet's teachings change as humanity is ready to understand more of God's instruction. "Abraham came while people were hunter-gatherers and unified them into a family. Jacob unified families into tribes, Moses took tribes into a nation, Jesus unified city-states, and Muhammad unified city-states into a nation. Abraham, Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed were a few of the prophets God spoke through. They preached the same spiritual message, even if they taught a different social teaching," said Cameron Banyan. Banyan volunteers to host introductory gatherings to teach visitors the ways of Bahai. Each Monday night, people are invited to his parents' home in the hills of La Jolla to ask questions and learn about Bahai. Last Monday, I was the only person to attend Banyan's introductory session.

"As a species, humanity has progressed to a place where we are now capable of certain truths. We are in a place where we can unite the world. [This unification] will occur within 1000 years," said Collins. Banyan and Collins both believe that one day, because of the prophet Bahaullah, all of earth will be united under the faith of Bahai. "Upon unification, earth will be governed by nine Bahai leaders who run the affairs of earth," said Collins. Susan Collins said this rule will not be enforced against the will of the people. "Humanity will want this."

"The prophet Bahaullah came in 1844 to unify the nations. Bahaullah was the Jewish messiah, the second coming of Jesus Christ, the fifth Buddha and the twelfth Imam the Shiites sought," said Banyan. "Bahaullah came to fulfill the promises made by the prophets Jesus and Mohammed. Bahaullah began a great transformation of humanity. Through his coming, our society is changing from childhood into an adult. When this happens, human nature will be different."

As part of the unification of earth, Bahai works with the United Nations (UN). "The concept of the UN is aligned with the goals of the Bahai faith, to unite the planet. The UN loves the Bahais. They like the guidance of Bahai's teachings. Our faith shows humanity that even with diversity it is possible to come together in the spirit of fellowship, harmony, and love. Bahai is the second most widespread religion in the world geographically," said Banyan. "There are 2000 different backgrounds in the Bahai faith, whether they are ethnic, religious, or societal. The Jews and Muslims who weren't able to get along now live in peace. White and African-Americans through Bahai love and respect each other." Collins agrees, "We're everywhere, and we're on the same page."

"Today, from the Christians or Muslims we see, many have a religion of hate. This doesn't line up with the original teachings. Christianity has 20,000 denominations that hate each other. In Ireland, Catholics and Protestants are killing each other. They both believe in Christ, yet they kill each other," said Banyan. "All of these written teachings have been corrupted. Mohammed was illiterate; someone else wrote his teachings down. We know that Jesus' teachings were written up to 60 years after he died. Only Bahaullah has written thousands of writings down with his own hands. That is why we can trust his writings."

Collins said that she does not know what will happen to other religions when the unification occurs. "As part of the unification, there will no longer be any clergy. Humankind has evolved spiritually to a place where they can read these things on their own. We don't need to have someone tell us what the books say."

After the unification of earth, Banyan said he and other Bahai followers believe the next step is unification with aliens from another planet. "Bahaullah taught over 100 years ago, 'Know most assuredly there are an infinite number of infinite planets.'" Banyan said in the distant future, prophets will unite numerous solar systems together.

I asked Collins what happened to a person after he died. "We believe there is an afterlife, we just don't know much about it. It is like the world of the womb for a baby before they are born," replied Collins. "Our virtue in this life will affect our afterlife. Just like there are levels in our society of wealth or something else, there are levels in the afterlife. We don't believe in heaven or hell, though. Our soul will continue to progress toward God. Yet we don't know what God is. God isn't a person, but attributes, such as goodness, peace, love, mercy, forgiveness."

San Diego Bahá’í Center

6545 Alcala Knolls Drive, Linda Vista

Denomination: nondenominational

Founded locally: 1950s

Senior pastor: no

Congregation size: 800

Staff size: 9

Sunday school enrollment: 40

Annual budget: would not disclose

Weekly giving: would not disclose

Singles program: no

Dress: casual

Diversity: Persian, white

Sunday worship: 10:30 a.m.

Length of reviewed service: 2 hours

Website: sandiegobahai.org

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