Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Truthfulness and Honesty

"I can answer any question you ask me," I told the youth, "truthfully and honestly."

This was the first youth conference I had ever been asked to speak at, and I knew only a few of the youth there.  Upon hearing that bold statement, many of them looked at me like, "Who is this guy?"  I was standing in front of the group, looking around, haughty and cocky.

"Go on," I challenged, "ask me any question you want."

After checking with each other, seeing if I was for real, one of them asked, "All right, when did Baha'u'llah first go to Haifa?"

I actually knew that one, so I said, "August 31, 1868.  Any other questions?  Go on.  You can ask me anything."

"Who did Baha'u'llah say that, if it wasn't for him, God would not have revealed his religion?"

"Mulla Husayn, the first Letter of the Living.  He said it in the Kitab-i-Iqan.  Next?"

Well, they asked me a few other questions, which I knew, but now they were beginning to get anoyed.  Who was I, thinking that I knew so much?  Finally, they asked a difficult question.

"Why are there no women on the Universal House of Justice?"

"I don't know."  And there, they all jumped.

"Hah!  See you don't know everything."

"But I never said I did."  And at that, I stopped my strutting and began to actually talk with them.  "I said that I could answer any question you asked, both truthfully and honestly.  The truth is that I don't know, and I'm honest enough to admit it."

Now they realized that I had just been playing with them.

You see, I'd noticed a trend amongst many of us, myself included, to try and answer any question we are asked, whether or not we know the answer.  The truth is, sometimes we just don't know.  And why would we be afraid to admit that?

When I was first investigating the Faith, the woman who was teaching me often didn't answer my questions, except to say that she didn't know.  Oh, and she would often add that she thought the answer might be in some book which she would proceed to hand me.

I'll never forget the time that I asked a question at a fireside and she said she didn't know.  She then proceeded to say that it was a wonderful question and she thought I might find the answer in Gleanings.  "Would you be willing to share the answer with the rest of us next week?"

Well, that put me on the spot.

So I did my research and spoke for a few minutes the following week.

But getting back to those youth (I don't like to keep them waiting), they asked a wonderful question.  And this is a question that gets asked so often when people are investigating the Faith, so let's look at it again.

"Why are there no women on the Universal House of Justice?"

In the past, there have been many theories, ranging from the considered to the absurd, about how women may, at some indefinable time in the future, be allowed to serve in that capacity, but really, it just ain't gonna happen.  Baha'u'llah, Himself, expressly stated that service on Universal House of Justice is "confined to men".  So, regardless of what we all feel about it, the Law is the Law and we are not in a position to try and change it, just better understand it.

Of course, it raises many other questions, like "How does this uphold the equality of women and men?"  There are, of course, many variations on this question, but most of them boil down to that.

And the answer is, "I don't know."

So why am I a Baha'i, with such an important question unanswered?

'Abdu'l-Baha, when asked about this issue, replied, "The House of Justice, however, according to the explicit text of the Law of God, is confined to men; this for a wisdom of the Lord God's which will ere long be made manifest as clearly as the sun at high noon."

In essence, He has said that the answer will be obvious at some point, but that point is not now.

So am I concerned about that?  No.  Perhaps if I believed that I needed to know absolutely everything, and have it all justified, then I might be.  But I don't and I'm not.

Instead, I look at the rest of the Faith and see what it has to offer.

When I look at all the teachings, the Writings, the examples, the history and the totality of the Faith, I am convinced that it is good.  And I am convinced that it is from God.  There are many things I don't understand, and that is one of them, but I am convinced.  That is all that matters to me.

I won't try to convince anyone else, but I will share what I have discovered.  After all, isn't that the essence of teaching?  I've noticed that when you try to convince someone of something they don't believe, or disagree with, they usually take a defensive stance and dig in their heels, so to speak.  They act defensively because they feel attacked.  So why would you do that?  Instead, I look at the Master, and see how He liked to just share information, or another perspective.

"What you say is well thought out, and makes sense, but let's see if it can be seen in another way.  Perhaps this other view may make sense, too."

In my humble opinion, for what it's worth, I think we too often try to break down people's walls if we believe something different than they do.  Of course, as anyone who has ever had a discussion with me knows, I am all too guilty of this and need to learn to practice better what I am writing.  What I would prefer to do is learn how to help them build a gate in their wall through which we can enter into fruitful discussion.

But here, when asked a question like the one about women on the Universal House of Justice, I think the appropriate approach may just be, "I don't know."  Of course, when we give that answer, it should always be followed with, "Let's look in the Writings and see what we find."

So let's see what we find in the Writings.  There is ample guidance, but my favorite comes from the Universal House of Justice itself: "Though at the present time, it may be difficult for the believers to appreciate the reason for the circumscription of membership on the Universal House of Justice to men, we call upon the friends to remain assured by the Master's promise that clarity of understanding will be achieved in due course. The friends, both women and men, must accept this with faith that the Covenant of Baha'u'llah will aid them and the institutions of His World Order to see the realization of every principle ordained by His unerring Pen, including the equality of men and women, as expounded in the Writings of the Cause."

You see, it seems like many of us try and apologize for what the Faith teaches, in some of the more difficult areas, but I'm not sure that's a healthy stance.  The facts are the facts, and we should accept them.  We should try to understand the reasoning for them, but even if we can't, as members of the Baha'i community, we should still be faithful to Faith.

No, women cannot serve on the Universal House of Justice, and we do not have gay marriages within the Baha'i community, to point out only two major issues that seem to regularly come up.

I've read many articles, and heard many talks, that try and explain these issues, or talk about how something may change in the distant future.  I've seen people try and bend over backwards to justify the laws of the Faith and its position on various topics.  We may theorize all we want, but that is all it is: conjecture.  Does it help anyone else move closer to their Creator?  Does it give us a greater firmness in the Covenant?  Does it, in the end, help establish a new divine civilization that will help bring about the promised "Kingdom of God" on earth?

I think, in the end, the best thing that we can do is be honest and open about the Faith and turn people towards the Writings.   If they ask difficult questions, let them go through Baha'u'llah's Words themselves and find what gems they can.  They will, undoubtedly, discover many things that you and I have missed, and we, in turn, will learn more about the Faith from them.

Saying "I don't know" does not have to close a door on a conversation.  It can lead to many new understandings.

And that, I believe, is how we all learn to grow.

1 comment:

  1. Glad to see you have written on touchy and often taboo subjects. Addressing this point with verification from the writings and stating that 'I don't know' is certainly a virtue of humility on your part.

    I would recommend talking a little more on honesty and truthfulness again. I don't feel like I had a clear understanding of both these virtues their difference and how to use them and how they express themselves in the Writings.

    I do like your endings though, and they're uplifting and humorous too.