DILETTANTE – I use this word because I see myself as a dabbler in Bahá’í scholarship who is pretty sure he doesn’t need to be taken too seriously.
The opinions expressed here are mine alone. They are not an official expression of the Baha’i Faith in any way. The views explicated below were formed over years of study of the Writings of the Baha’i Faith combined with extensive pondering on how to apply the principles expressed therein to my daily life, how I hope they will continue to shape the Baha’i community, and how they have guided my perceptions of where we currently are as a sentient species. The reader is advised to keep in mind that these views are influenced by all of my personal biases and assumptions about how the world should be. Any resemblance to the actual truth is probably coincidental.
SEEING THE BAHA’I FAITH THROUGH HISTORICAL EYES
As I think back to my 35 plus years as a Baha’i, I have seen my position on many issues slowly change over time. As a new Baha’i, I was uncomfortable with the station of the Guardian (Shoghi Effendi, great-grandson of Bahá’u’lláh and leader of the Baha’is from 1921-1957) and believed the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh to be a mere utopian dream. Now I see how crucial it was for the Faith to have the Guardian to keep it from scattering into a number of smaller groups and that the World Order is attainable, albeit only after much suffering as humanity slowly traverses through its spiritual adolescence. If my mind can change so much on these issues, I am sure that any positions I currently hold can go through similar transmutation in the future.
My adherence to the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh (Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith 1817-1892) is centered on its vision of the future. I am enthralled by the vision of future communities infused with Baha’i values, a vision which the Guardian encouraged the Baha’is to keep in mind when they found their local communities lacking in some way. I think that the Baha’is would be well served to study their own history and see how far the idea of a world-encompassing community has come in the short time the Faith has been in existence. Many Baha’is have forgotten that when the Guardian began his period of service, the Baha’i community consisted primarily of local Persian communities and a mere handful of scattered Western communities. Most of the believers of that time remembered the charismatic leadership of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (son of Bahá’u’lláh and leader of the Baha’is from 1892-1921) and must have been shocked at first by the Guardian’s focus on creating the administrative order alluded to by Bahá’u’lláh in His writings. The result of that focus is that now we have a worldwide network of Baha’i communities, the majority of which are not in Persia nor the West. This network is now established in the heart of where the masses of humanity live, the so-called Third World.
At present we find ourselves at the stage where the quality of life in the communities we have struggled so hard to create must be advanced significantly. We must do this not only to keep the Faith growing, the focus of which the majority of Baha’is seem to be concentrating on, but also to release the tremendous spiritual potentialities latent in all of us. It is my firm conviction that when the Baha’i communities learn to balance the goals of growth and quality of community life, they will influence all human communities in the world and be one of the beacons of hope to humanity as it struggles to overcome its collective obsession with nationalistic, religious, and ethnic differences.
It is also my firm belief that the Baha’is have much to learn from other communities, both secular and religious, and that the spiritual value of humility is one of the powerful keys which we Baha’is have yet to learn to wield in our ardent desire to influence the spiritual advancement of humankind. As the Baha’i Faith is only a century and a half old, it cannot possibly be further along in community development than early childhood. When I was on Pilgrimage, one of the Baha’is suggested I see the local community as a toddler who often makes unrealistic demands and can’t see how myopic its viewpoint sometimes is. It is a great test for the Baha’is living today to understand the evolutionary nature of the Baha’i community and accept that in these days, the believers as individuals will often be more mature than the communities they collectively create. What a hard truth that is for us today! How heavy the burden we must accept knowing that we Baha’is alive today will not live to see the fruits of our toil and patience. Future Baha’i communities will be so infused with love and acceptance of the believers, no matter what their individual levels of spiritual maturity, that many will join the Faith for this reason alone regardless of whatever progressive doctrines it has to share with a sorely distressed humanity.
Perhaps the modern era’s worldview of human interaction, as primarily the arena of power politics and economic transactions, has so inundated the human psyche that few of us can fully extricate ourselves from its adamantine grip. I know that one of my hardest struggles is to see through this veil of modernity to the fundamentally spiritual character of people, and try to believe with my heart as well as my mind that we can create communities where spiritual values really do come first.
DEALING WITH DIVERISTY
Being truly open to alternate views on reality is indeed a difficult attribute to acquire for many of us, and I hope the Baha’is increasingly exhibit this one. It can open the hearts and minds of those who otherwise might be too afraid to speak because they feel that what they have to say doesn’t really matter.
I feel sad for those who feel so discouraged by the tremendous demands of being really open to diversity that they shrivel back and declare that such diversity implies that we cannot really be in touch with the “other.” Of course, substantial courage is needed to succeed in unraveling the marvelous mystery of the God-given diversity of the human race. Alas, I must remind myself that this type of courage to embrace diversity assumes that the individual is already herself or himself well grounded and secure in her or his identity. So few of us seem to have this grace.
Perhaps some of us are afraid that to develop and express such a strong sense of self would imply to others that we see our particular response to reality as superior to that of others who don’t seem so sure of themselves. After all, isn’t this what repels many of us from fanatics of all types? Isn’t such apparent belief system arrogance merely a cloak hiding the believer’s own insecurities about the chaotic world we all inhabit and are desperately trying to understand? Still, I believe that we as Baha’is must have a sense of security in who we are; one full of confidence in which we can face whatever the world throws our way. Our freedom from arrogance and pride, combined with an acceptance that there really is more than one way to make sense of the world, would make us noticeably different from those who cling to their beliefs in a fanatic way.
I think that one of the problems facing us is that we fail to fully accept that there is only one reality and instead persist in our mistaken notion that people from different cultures exist in largely separate mental worlds. This fallacy is related to the comment expressed above, that some think they really can’t authentically communicate with or truly understand those different from themselves. We Baha’is should be leading the perceptual shift from such confining and patently false assumptions, to the realization that we are one Human species with intellectual and emotional reactions to the stimuli of the world which transcend particular cultures and belief systems.
Of course, we Baha’is at times are also mired in the perception that different belief systems represent different spiritual worlds which can at best mildly tolerate each other’s varying understandings of reality. We have far to go before we truly understand what is meant by the unity of religions. I strongly suspect it involves a lot more than just seeing them as historically linked in a chain of divine influence upon humankind. Such an acknowledgment, while tremendously useful as a first step, does not keep us Baha’is from seeing our religion as separate and better than others, at least in our subconscious minds and in the depths of our weary hearts.
While I certainly think such thoughts at times myself, especially in light of the man-made failings older religions currently display, I try to remind myself that the Baha’i teaching of the unity of religions implies much more. I wonder if what God is gently trying to lead us to is the recognition that there is and has been only one religion throughout history, and that accepting the latest “upgrade” in the form of the Baha’i Faith does not detract in the slightest from the spiritual beauty and even continued efficacy of the teachings of previous stages in its development. This line of thinking seems to suggest that Baha’is should cultivate a tremendous respect for the previous religious dispensations and their God-sent Founders. Acquiring such a loving attitude could go far to inoculate our beloved Baha’i communities from the arrogance that seems to plague many others, whether religious or secular.
1. In spite of the occasional disappointments and more frequent personal challenges I have faced as a Baha’i, I can’t imagine any other organization where I could fit in as well and be at least partially validated in my God-given uniqueness. I feel fortunate that in spite of the difficulties I have had with the Baha’is, there have been those, in each community I had been a part of over the years, who were glorious gems of spirituality. These wonderful souls accepted me as I was and helped balm my spiritual wounds. These wonderful friendships, combined with my own maintaining of the disciplines of prayer, meditation, and constant deepening, have gone far to ground my sense of Baha’i identity. I earnestly wish more of my fellow Baha’i would receive the same blessings that have been showered upon me.
2. I believe that one way to gauge our commitment to Bahá’u’lláh is to look into ourselves and see how much we are willing to challenge our own beliefs and pre-conceived notions when they don’t match the high precepts Bahá’u’lláh is calling on us to acknowledge. I am willing to bet that most Baha’is have an issue or two with which they have difficulty accepting Bahá’u’lláh’s position on.
3. Sensitive souls, in part because of the criticism they have received and in part because of the seemingly non-sensical world around them, are particularly vulnerable not only to self-criticism but excessive criticism of others as well. I have at times definitely been in this category and have had to make strong efforts to rise out of the mire of world-weariness that it can produce.
4. A thought that occurs to me is that some of our motivations for attempting to share the message of Bahá’u’lláh with others are not always in our best interests. As a brand new Baha’i many years ago, I had a fellow Baha’i tell me that I had to be aware of why I wanted others to become Baha’is. He suggested I keep the question in my mind: Do I want others to be Baha’i because it will make me feel better / more secure in my own choice of the Faith as my belief system? Our personal struggles with self-esteem affect how we frame the choice of a religion in own minds. Is there one “right” religion for everybody or does the diversity of belief systems serve a divine purpose we mortals have yet to understand? I have struggled with this issue ever since declaring my belief in Bahá’u’lláh and still believe the Baha’is need to develop a deeper understanding of the principle of the unity of religions. How we approach people from other belief systems and how accepting we are of their current religious or non-religious affiliations affect how open they will be to our special message.
5. I don’t think we Baha’is ponder enough on how threatening the Baha’i teachings can be to the identities people have constructed for themselves in order to deal with an insensitive and immoral world, or have had imposed on them by others trying to exert control over them. This is a very delicate task: helping people see their true identity as human souls that transcends their respective gender, race, class, religion, political viewpoint, sexual orientation, nationality, etc.
6. We all possess gems, often hidden in the dust of self, that God has encouraged us to make manifest before humanity. I sometimes wonder what gems Bahá’u’lláh has entrusted my soul with. I usually assume that one of them may be my ability to be an example to other white males in that we can be recreated to co-exist as spiritual equals with those who we have repressed for so long. Being an example of such a recreation of our often hard (and wounded) hearts and confined minds can start by our allowing Divinity in. Letting It lead us via quiet inspiration and deeply personal communication with our spirits; accepting that we can become capable of seeing those different from ourselves as equals if we just let go of our unnecessary attempts to maintain total control; that being courageously open to the “other” and the lessons of the world, will in truth set us free. Whether I really offer such a gem, or merely wish I could, I cannot say.
ONE OF MY FAVORITE BAHA’I PRAYERS
Create in me a pure heart, O my God, and renew a tranquil conscience within me, O my Hope! Through the spirit of power confirm Thou me in Thy Cause, O my Best-Beloved, and by the light of Thy glory reveal unto me Thy path, O Thou the Goal of my desire! Through the power of Thy transcendent might lift me up unto the heaven of Thy holiness, O Source of my being, and by the breezes of Thine eternity gladden me, O Thou Who art my God! Let Thine everlasting melodies breathe tranquillity on me, O my Companion, and let the riches of Thine ancient countenance deliver me from all except Thee, O my Master, and let the tidings of the revelation of Thine incorruptible Essence bring me joy, O Thou Who art the most manifest of the manifest and the most hidden of the hidden!
Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 248