Sunday, March 28, 2010

Forbidden Fruit

A friend of mine, back in his university days, had a roommate who was not a Baha'i. Every evening this friend would read from the Writings, as we all do, and then head off to sleep. One night, his roomie asked him what it was that he was reading.

"Oh," he said, evasively, "it's a Baha'i book. You're not allowed to read it unless you're a Baha'i." And then, when he finished his reading for the night, he placed it back on the bookshelf.

Later, around 3 a.m., he woke up to the sound of his roommate turning off a flashlight as he put "The Hidden Words" back on the shelf.

He didn't say a word, either then or later, but every night his roomie would sneak a quick read in this "forbidden" book. It was a short time later that this roommate became a Baha'i, too.

This story has always had a place in my heart, for it relates to an emotion I can easily identify with: wanting to attain the forbidden. I mean, isn't this just one aspect of the "human condition" with which we all must struggle? OK, maybe not, but I sure do.

In fact, I think it is also one of the stories in the Bible that I was first able to relate to: the forbidden fruit.

Now I could go into all sorts of analyses of the story of Adam and Eve, and the serpent and the apple, but I've done that in other places. You could also read the section in Some Answered Questions, which says so much more than I possibly could, so why go on?

The reason for writing about this is quite simple: I've always loved that story about The Hidden Words and I just had to find some way to put it down.

But it also seemed to go well with something else I've noticed. You see, I write this blog for Baha'is. It uses some Baha'i vernacular (although I try to keep it to a minimum), bluntly talks about those things that Baha'is take for granted (like Baha'u'llah being a Messenger of God), asks the questions that many Baha'is seem uneasy to address (that's the rebel in me), and makes no apologies about it just being my perspective (and not authoritative, although I sincerely hope my perspective is at least in the ballpark). I don't explain the things we take for granted, nor do I expect the reader to question those assumptions, after all, we are all members of the Baha'i community.

At least that was what I thought when I began this, lo those many months ago.

Now I know better.

A friend of mine said that he figures 70% of you who are reading this are not declared members of the Baha'i Faith. (Where he got that number, I have no idea, but it sounded good to him, so I'll go with it. Besides, I think he is of the school that says 84% of all statistics are made up on the spot.)

Naturally, this made me ask, "So why are they reading it?"

His response? "Because you are writing it for Baha'is. They want to know what we really think."


Forbidden fruit? I don't know.

Given the number of e-mails I have received about this blog, and the questions about the Faith in those letters, I have to agree with him on some level. But is it going to change what I write? Of course not.

Well, that's not quite true. It does change what I write about, as I am prone to try and answer questions that are asked.

But that's not what I want to talk about here. Instead, I want to look a bit more at this concept of "forbidden" and "temptation".

You see, I often think about my own childhood and the way that I raise my son. In particular, I think about how to encourage him to do good things and avoid harm. When it comes to avoiding harm, those actions that are harmful are generally forbidden. So, how do I forbid something without making it exciting?

The easiest way is fear. I mean, look, when he was a bit younger I really told him firmly, and in no uncertain terms, "Don't touch the hot stove." But let's face it, a hot stove is not really all that tempting.

But with something like teenagers and drugs, there's temptation there, ad fear doesn't seem to work all that well.

In that case, and in most other cases, the best way to avoid temptation is through education. When you understand the dangers involved in touching the stove, or doing drugs, then you really are not tempted at all.

Yet, how often do we really understand the dangers involved in most of our actions? I would venture to say, not really all that much.

Let's take sex as an example. Based on the media, and the various scandals out there, it is probably the most tempting thing for most people. Do we really understand the spiritual implications of sexual union, though? I doubt it. Too many people treat it as a merely physical act, but if that were the case, then a person who is beaten would suffer the same emotional consequences as a rape victim, which they clearly don't. This suggests to me that there is far more going on than meets the eye. It is also probably a major reason that we are not to engage in pre-marital sex, for that kind of intimacy, without the long-term commitment, can be very dangerous, as we often see when two people break up.

That's all a topic for another article, though.

For now, let me just finish this by pointing out that the temptations we face in our life are quite real, whether physical, emotional or spiritual.

'Abdu'l-Baha, Himself, says, "O believers! The tests of God are very severe; you should beseech and cry unto Him that you may be firm and steadfast during all temptations."

And this, coupled with Baha'u'llah's statement that "the gift of understanding" is "First and foremost among (the) favors, which the Almighty hath conferred upon man", seems to imply that it is also the greatest tool we have in avoiding temptation.

Or at least, avoiding temptation that is bad, because not all things that are tempting are bad. For example, I gave in to the temptation to become Baha'i.

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