Science Fiction Art by David C. Mueller / dcmstarships

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How Science Fiction Led Me to the Baha’i Faith

Note: This article has been approved for publication by the National Review Office of the United States Bahá’í administration.

I have been interested in the future ever since I was a child. I grew up watching space missions on TV; both the real ones performed by NASA and the fictional ones presented by a variety of science fiction programs. I responded to the stimulus of space exploration coverage by drawing my own spaceships and wondering what kind of future they would exist in. As a junior high school student, I began reading science fiction to feed my hunger for visions of the future. The works of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Robert Heinlein were early favorites. These three authors depicted futuristic settings for humanity that caught my imagination and helped focus my thoughts and desires on futures worth looking forward to.

During my high school years, my science fiction reading ventured more broadly and I discovered the works of Olaf Stapledon. Unlike the primarily agnostic works of Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein, Stapledon’s fiction was infused with a combination of the scientific and the spiritual into a cohesive whole that I found very appealing. His far future histories with visions of a variety of sentient races building progressive and cooperative societies became the standard by which I judged the works of every subsequent science fiction author I read.

The type of science fiction I was most attracted to was that which elicited a sense of wonder. The futures presented in this brand of the genre were generally liberal in outlook with humanity having expanded opportunities not only for increased scientific understanding and technological prowess, but progressive social structures as well. These futures almost always saw humanity as overcoming the difficulties caused by differences in ethnicity and economic systems. The primary message I imbibed from these positive minded works was that the human adventure has just started, that we would continue on for ages to come and that we also might range far into interstellar space as well.

While I was enjoying these highly imaginative and usually optimistic fictional jaunts into humanity’s future as a teenager, my mother and two sisters had discovered and embraced the Bahá’í Faith. Sometimes, I was taken by them to various Bahá’í events. I appreciated the support I received from the Bahá’ís for the speculative spaceship designs I created to express my own hopes for a positive future for humanity. However, during this period of my life I was not interested in a religion that claimed to have the answers to the problems facing modern society. Rather, I believed that advances in science and technology would be sufficient to bring about a better future for us all.

When I started college, I decided to investigate the Bahá’í Faith more seriously. It had dawned upon me that no matter how advanced technology became, it would not truly serve humanity unless used in a wise and loving manner for the good of all rather than the enrichment of and domination by a few. In my first encounter with the Bahá’ís on campus, they gave me a pamphlet explaining the Bahá’í concept of the unity between science and religion. As I read the pamphlet, I was strongly attracted by the idea that the scientific and the spiritual could come together in a reconciling way.

As I got to know the Bahá’ís, I appreciated their openness to all my questions, no matter how brusquely stated. Instead of just offering me pat answers to my inquiries, they encouraged me to study the Bahá’í writings for myself. I liked the way they did not laugh at my love for drawing spaceships nor scoff at my deep interest in science fiction. They shared with me the Bahá’í principle of independent investigation of truth that meant that they could not tell me whether or not this Faith was right for me, I would have to decide that on my own.

When looking into the writings of the Bahá’í Faith to see how it saw our future, I was presented with a vision surpassing even those of some of my favorite science fiction authors. From the Bahá’í perspective, while a religious sensibility was seen as critical to humanity’s long-term progress, it had to be combined with a respect of and appreciation for the role of science in helping to bring that progress about. Unlike some other religious and secular views of the future in which only a certain portion of humanity fully benefited from advances in science and technology, the Bahá’ís believed that people from all varieties of belief should partake equally of any social and technological advances made. Furthermore, the Bahá’í Faith mirrored the findings of modern science in that it stated the age of the human race to be much older than that proclaimed by traditional religious accounts. Human history was portrayed by the Bahá’í writings as a progression of cycles of spiritual as well as material advancement. The Bahá’í Faith had such faith in the future that it stated unequivocally that humanity would not perish in some soon to come Armageddon, but rather continue to exist for uncountable millennia no matter what challenges it faced.

I was struck by the similarities between the Bahá’í vision of an united humanity building an ever-advancing civilization and those of the progressive science fiction authors whose work I so admired. This likeness in viewpoints intrigued me intensely and led to a deepening study of the Bahá’í Faith. It took but a few months of such study before I realized that I was already a Bahá’í in my essential outlook on the world and where I thought humanity should be headed. It was obvious to me that my next step would be to officially join this world embracing religion and do my part to help spread its message. Thus, I see my attraction to and eventual allegiance with the Bahá’í Faith as a process of personal spiritual evolution rather than an emotional conversion experience.

In the years since formally declaring my belief in the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith, I have continued to find passages in the Bahá’í writings that echoed the upbeat sentiments of the science fiction authors whose work I enjoyed the most. Happily, I also have continued to find other authors as David Brin, Alan Dean Foster, Ursula K. LeGuin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Clifford Simak, and James White whose science fiction combines an appreciation for the true diversity of the human race with positive future fictional settings that thrill me as much as the Baha’i vision of our glorious future does.

If your interest in science fiction as a beacon of hope to a sorely tried humanity struggling to mature out of the chaos of the present resembles mine, I urge you to investigate the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith. You will find in the Bahá’í Faith a vision of humanity’s collective future worth believing in. You will also discover in the Bahá’ís people who share your hopes and are determined to do whatever they can to bring these hopes into eventual reality.

We Bahá’ís know that while we have many answers to the problems facing the modern world, we need the help of everybody in putting these solutions into practice. We cherish the diversity of humanity and recognize the necessity of maintaining its tremendous variety of cultures in order to enhance its long-term survival. I encourage you to interact with the Bahá’ís and see for yourself what we are offering to humanity as we all struggle to reach our collective coming of age.

© 1999 David C. Mueller

Below are some quotations from the writings of the Bahá’í Faith that speak to my hopes for a positive future for humanity. That you may experience while reading them the touch of a compassionate God beckoning all of us to our glorious future is my earnest desire.

As to thy question concerning the worlds of God. Know thou of a truth that the worlds of God are countless in their number, and infinite in their range. None can reckon or comprehend them except God, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.
Baha’u’llah: Gleanings, pp. 151-2

Verily I say, the creation of God embraceth worlds besides this world, and creatures apart from these creatures.
Baha’u’llah: Gleanings, p. 152

Know thou that every fixed star hath its own planets, and every planet its own creatures, whose number no man can compute.
Baha’u’llah: Gleanings, p. 163

Put all your beliefs into harmony with science; there can be no opposition, for truth is one. When religion, shorn of its superstitions, traditions, and unintelligent dogmas, shows its conformity with science, then will there be a great unifying, cleansing force in the world which will sweep before it all wars, disagreements, discords and struggles – and then will mankind be united in the power of the Love of God.
`Abdu’l-Baha: Paris Talks, p. 146

The Faith of Baha’u’llah has assimilated, by virtue of its creative, its regulative and ennobling energies, the varied races, nationalities, creeds and classes that have sought its shadow, and have pledged unswerving fealty to its cause. It has changed the hearts of its adherents, burned away their prejudices, stilled their passions, exalted their conceptions, ennobled their motives, coordinated their efforts, and transformed their outlook. While preserving their patriotism and safeguarding their lesser loyalties, it has made them lovers of mankind, and the determined upholders of its best and truest interests. While maintaining intact their belief in the Divine origin of their respective religions, it has enabled them to visualize the underlying purpose of these religions, to discover their merits, to recognize their sequence, their interdependence, their wholeness and unity, and to acknowledge the bond that vitally links them to itself. This universal, this transcending love which the followers of the Baha’i Faith feel for their fellow-men, of whatever race, creed, class or nation, is neither mysterious nor can it be said to have been artificially stimulated. It is both spontaneous and genuine. They whose hearts are warmed by the energizing influence of God’s creative love cherish His creatures for His sake, and recognize in every human face a sign of His reflected glory.
Shoghi Effendi: World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 197-8

God’s purpose is none other than to usher in, in ways He alone can bring about, and the full significance of which He alone can fathom, the Great, the Golden Age of a long-divided, a long-afflicted humanity. Its present state, indeed even its immediate future, is dark, distressingly dark. Its distant future, however, is radiant, gloriously radiant – so radiant that no eye can visualize it.
Shoghi Effendi: The Promised Day is Come, p. 116

National rivalries, hatreds, and intrigues will cease, and racial animosity and prejudice will be replaced by racial amity, understanding and cooperation. The causes of religious strife will be permanently removed, economic barriers and restrictions will be completely abolished, and the inordinate distinction between classes will be obliterated. Destitution on the one hand, and gross accumulation of ownership on the other, will disappear. The enormous energy dissipated and wasted on war, whether economic or political, will be consecrated to such ends as will extend the range of human inventions and technical development, to the increase of the productivity of mankind, to the extermination of disease, to the extension of scientific research, to the raising of the standard of physical health, to the sharpening and refinement of the human brain, to the exploitation of the unused and unsuspected resources of the planet, to the prolongation of human life, and to the furtherance of any other agency that can stimulate the intellectual, the moral, and spiritual life of the entire human race.
Shoghi Effendi: World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 204

Let there be no misgivings as to the animating purpose of the world-wide Law of Baha’u’llah. Far from aiming at the subversion of the existing foundations of society, it seeks to broaden its basis, to remold its institutions in a manner consonant with the needs of an ever-changing world. It can conflict with no legitimate allegiances, nor can it undermine essential loyalties. Its purpose is neither to stifle the flame of a sane and intelligent patriotism in men’s hearts, nor to abolish the system of national autonomy so essential if the evils of excessive centralization are to be avoided. It does not ignore, nor does it attempt to suppress, the diversity of ethnical origins, of climate, of history, of language and tradition, of thought and habit, that differentiate the peoples and nations of the world. It calls for a wider loyalty, for a larger aspiration than any that has animated the human race. It insists upon the subordination of national impulses and interests to the imperative claims of a unified world. It repudiates excessive centralization on one hand, and disclaims all attempts at uniformity on the other. Its watchword is unity in diversity . . .
Shoghi Effendi: World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 41-42

Who can doubt that such a consummation – the coming of age of the human race – must signalize, in its turn, the inauguration of a world civilization such as no mortal eye hath ever beheld or human mind conceived? Who is it that can imagine the lofty standard which such a civilization, as it unfolds itself, is destined to attain? Who can measure the heights to which human intelligence, liberated from its shackles, will soar? Who can visualize the realms which the human spirit, vitalized by the outpouring light of Baha’u’llah, shining in the plenitude of its glory, will discover?
Shoghi Effendi: World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 206
 

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