Friday, January 1, 2010

Having Faith

A few people have commented that taking things on faith is not considered reasonable, or "in fashion", these days. This mostly has to do with what people presume that means. For many, it has the connotation of "blind faith", which, as you all know, goes against what Baha'u'llah requests of us. In fact, the whole concept of independent investigation of truth pretty much precludes the concept of "blind faith". "(F)aith", we find in the statement on Baha'u'llah released by the Baha'i International Community, "is a matter not of blind belief, but of conscious knowledge."

So what does it mean to "have faith"?

As 'Abdu'l-Baha says, "By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds."

Interesting: first conscious knowledge, and then action. (Sort of reminds me of the Ruhi books. Coincidence? Hmm.)

But what does this look like?

Well, I'm not sure what it looks like for anyone else, but for me, it all begins with a question.

Once a question is asked, it then continues with purity of heart, as outlined in Baha'u'llah's description of a true seeker:

...He must, before all else, cleanse and purify his heart... from the obscuring dust of all acquired knowledge... He must purge his breast... of every defilement... He must so cleanse his heart that no remnant of either love or hate may linger therein, lest that love blindly incline him to error, or that hate repel him away from the truth.

Wait a second! "No remnant of either love or hate"?  Seems sort of contrary to popular conception, doesn't it?

Well, I think that only when we are looking at something with an unbiased mind, can we truly begin to judge it for its own worth.  If we are inclined to dislike something, we may be prejudiced to decide against it, even though it's good.  But if we are inclined to love something, then we may make the error of overlooking its faults and blindly decide it's good, even though it is the source of error.  (I have to admit that I'm often concerned about this.  My first reader for these articles is usually my wife.  This may not be good for the most unbiased opinion, but it's sure encouraging when she says she likes something.)

This sort of reminds me of the second Hidden Word, in which we read, "By (justice's) aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be."

So why am I writng about this?

Because it reminds me of how I became a Baha'i.  As I've mentioned many times, there were a lot of things I disagreed with when I was first looking at the Writings, but eventually Baha'u'llah had proved Himself right so many times that I realized He had a better vision of the world than I did.  Of course, when you are fifteen, that doesn't take much. But His vision just seemed to take in so much more than I could ever imagine.

Then I started looking at His prayers, especially the short obligatory one.

This is where blind faith took over: I tried saying it each day, just to see what would happen.

I already was convinced that He knew more than I did, but the real question was "Was He a Messenger of God?"  I just wasn't sure.

So I prayed.

I prayed as He asked me to.

And sure enough, I soon began to notice a difference in my life.  That was when it went from "blind faith" to "conscious faith".  When I realized that this prayer was having a positive effect in my life, I began to recite it every day.  Yet even then, I was still not a Baha'i.  I hadn't been entirely convinced that Baha'u'llah was Who He said He was.

But then I remember reading something one evening and thinking, "Nope, I disagree.  Ah, but Baha'u'llah said it.  He must be right."

As I've mentioned, my next reaction was to jump in astonishment as I realized that I had just become a follower.

And all this leads me back to faith.

Faith, as mentioned, is conscious knowledge.  But it doesn't end there: it requires action.

So I became a Baha'i, formally acknowledging my faith, as Baha'u'llah requested.  And then I began searching through the Writings for things I could act upon, for even at that time I realized that if my faith didn't lead me to action, it couldn't be any good to the world.

So is it fashionable to have faith these days?  No, but mostly because people are too concerned about making a commitment to something, and finding out that they may be wrong.  This is evidenced by the approach to marriage with the pre-nuptual contracts (like this engenders trust amongst a couple?), and the fear people have of committing themselves to a particular religion, to name just two examples.

And to that I say, "Who cares if you're wrong?"  Life is full of mistakes, and that is wonderful.  It is how we learn.  But to not take any action because you're too concerned about making a "wrong" move?  That is to stop living.

To me, faith is about finding out enough information to take an informed step, and then taking that step.

Or, in my case, that leap.

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