Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Most Appropriate Response

There are so many questions that come in that I really feel I cannot answer. Oh, it's not that I don't have a response, or that I can't find something about it in the Writings, it is more that I choose not to answer. Quite often they are questions like, "Do you believe in the Virgin Birth?" or ""Do you believe in Creationism or the Theory of Evolution?"

Many of these questions address issues that I do not even discuss with my wife, so why would I put them out there for anyone else to see? It's not that I have anything against anyone knowing my opinions, mind you, but there are some issues that are truly personal and have no bearing on anyone else. My personal belief in these areas has no effect on how I live my life, nor does it effect anyone else, whereas if I state a personal opinion, I may begin to cause contention.

Just the other day, in conversation with a friend (ok, it was my brother, now that I think about it, but he's a friend, too), he mentioned that he understood that the Baha'i Faith is not there to cause contention, but instead is there to shed light upon issues.

My favorite quote about this, one that repeatedly comes up over and over again, is found in The Tabernacle of Unity.
Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.
I think this answers almost every question that comes in. I mean, really, what difference does it make if I believe in evolution or not? It doesn't effect my life today, does it?

But let's look at the original quote in context. Here we have Manikchi Sahib who, from all accounts I have read, was a fairly intelligent guy. I mean, come on, Mirza Abu'l-Fadl was his personal secretary. How much more of a recommendation do you want? I would have given my right hand to be Mirza Abu'l-Fadl's personal secretary (but then I wouldn't have been able to write all that legibly, not that I can anyways).

So here we have this fairly smart guy who has met Baha'u'llah and is impressed with both Him and the Baha'is. Naturally he has a few questions, so he writes them down and sends them off to Him for a response. These questions, by the way, are a bit abstruse and fairly erudite in nature.

What does he get in response? A Tablet that is home to some of the most famous and widely known quotes that Baha'u'llah writes in His lifetime. I mean, really, when I first read that Tablet in its entirety my jaw hit the floor over and over. "That quote is from here, too?" I swear, I had already read about 75% of this Tablet before I even read it, if you know what I mean.

Or as it says in the introduction to Tabernacle of Unity, it "is celebrated for its striking and well-known passages epitomizing the universality of Baha'u'llah's prophetic claim." A few too many syllables for me, but you get the point.
It is only when I read the second Tablet that I really appreciated Baha'u'llah's sense of humour. I mean, I had read some of His replies to people before that, and saw some humour in them, but here it really stood out, along with the profundity of His response. Not only is it humourous, in a sense, but brilliant, too, in its explanations, both of the realities of the world and the nature of His earlier response.

In case you are wondering what I mean, let me explain. This guy writes the Blessed Beauty and gets an incredible reply, one that stands out for its eloquence even amongst His own Writings. But then this guy is not "entirely satisfied" and seems to have written back saying, "You didn't answer my questions." To which Baha'u'llah replies, in a sense, "Oh, but I did. Here, let me show you."

And thus we have the second Tablet, explaining the first. In it, He says that Mankchi Sahib "hath failed to consider the matter closely" and that "the answer to all that the distinguished Sahib hath asked is clear and evident". Isn't that a merciful way of calling him a "bozo"? But then again, I read a statement like "Consider how clearly the answer hath been revealed", and I say, "You're kdding, right?" I mean, sure it's clear and evident when you're the Messenger of God, so I don't think I could've done any better that old Manikchi. Personally, I'm very glad that he wrote back and said, "I don't get it." It gave people like me an opoprtunity to figure out what He was saying.

In this second Tablet, He points out that "it was not deemed advisable to refer and reply to each (question) individually" and, instead, responded "in a language of marvellous concision and clarity". This time around, He refers to each question and shows how a single statement in the first one answered the question.

For example, Mr Sahib asks about "four schools of thought in the world" and their views of creation, wanting to know "Which of these four schools is approved in the sight of God?" The short and sweet answer could have been "None. They're all wrong." But that would not have been all that sweet, really. Instead He replies in a manner that is similar to that used later by 'Abdu'l-Baha in Some Answered Questions, when asked about reincarnation. 'Abdu'l-Baha, rather than giving a simple yes or no answer, begins His marvellous response with, "The object of what we are about to say is to explain the reality -- not to deride the beliefs of other people; it is only to explain the facts; that is all. We do not oppose anyone's ideas, nor do we approve of criticism."

Oh, that more of us would learn to reply with such tact and wisdom.

I think too often we are ready to share answers that really have no relevence and, in the end, do nothing but divide people. This is quite often in regard to subjects that are irrelevant to making the world a better place.

Here are a few of the questions that have come in, to which the above quote is the most appropriate response:

  • When performing a baptism, do you immerse or sprinkle?  Or, as I would say, dunk or splash?
  • Do you believe in the Virgin Birth?
  • Do you believe in reincarnation?
  • What type of wine was served at the Last Supper? Red or white?
  • Is the earth flat or round? (edit: All right. this one does impact our daily life, especially when traveling. It's round. -Ish. Well, sort of pear shaped. With bumps all over the place. And a few divots. And gashes. All right. I don't know what shape it is, but you can walk all the way around the planet and get back where you started. If you don't drown first. Oh, never mind.)
  • Do you believe in evolution or creation?
  • Do you believe in the trinity?
  • What side do you butter your toast, top or bottom?
OK, that last is an homage to Dr Seuss, but it is about as relevant as the others. And still, there are many more that I have not included.

In the end, I think we should "Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age (we) live in, and centre (our) deliberations on its exigencies and requirements".

1 comment:

  1. Cool Man! Right ON!!!

    Why is there SO MUCH curiosity about other people's lives? What a waste!!! "I'm not going to work on developing any virtues, I'm going to titillate myself with your life!!!"

    What a waste!

    Thanks man.