Monday, May 28, 2012

The "R" Word

"Look at librarians", I said. "They're all stuffy, old ladies, with pinched noses, dark-rimmed glasses, no fashion sense, and they glare at anyone who dares to make a sound in the library." I said it with a smile, but I think they understood the problem with stereotypes: they are just not true.

This was in conversation with someone, a librarian, who was saying that religion is a bad thing, and that what we really need is spirituality.

My response? Well, you can see above.

Religion is one of those words that has been co-opted by some people, both religious fanatics and fanatical atheists, and made into one of those words that we only refer to by a single letter. Kind of like "The F-bomb", or "the S-word". It has become a word that is not generally used in polite company and is, therefore, frowned upon when actually used correctly.

Although religion has come to mean "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs", this is not its actual definition. It is merely its current definition. Oh, and if you note the first part of this definition, that set of beliefs regarding the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, then atheism is also a religion, especially as the second part does not say that it is "only" when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency.

But getting back to my point, the word religion comes from the root word religare, meaning to bind together. It is the same root as the word ligament. Religion, in the strict sense, is a power that binds things together, not a force that divides.

Religion, as it has come to be used, is, I agree, not a good thing, for it is often devoid of the spirit that prompted the religion in the first place.

Story - In the early days of the Faith in the West, there was a man named Rev. Peter Z. Easton, who published an article slamming the Faith. In particular, he was chastising Archdeacon Wilberforce for welcoming 'Abdu'l-Baha into his church and offering Him to sit in the Bishop's chair, a high honour, indeed. In this article, Mr. Easton refers to "the much vaunted unity, from which God preserve us", and says that "there is no need of wasting any sympathy on the sufferings of the Babis". This is a fine example of religion devoid of spirituality. In his book, The Brilliant Proof, that eminent Baha'i scholar, Mirza Abu'l-Fadl, points out to us, "His Holiness 'Abdu'l-Baha summons the dwellers in the world to unity and harmony, but Peter Z. Easton invites men to division and disharmony!" Mirza Abu'l-Fadl asks the simple question which should be asked of all such religionists, "Should one accounting himself a teacher of good morals and a spreader of superior virtues... characterize himself with a quality which is the most specific sign and attribute of Anti-Christ? No! by the life of God!"

This argument, valid then, is still valid today.

If people claiming to be religious should attire themselves with the vestment of hatred and anger, slander and abuse, vilification and condemnation,then they are not, by definition, religious. "An ugly man may call himself handsome," says 'Abdu'l-Baha, "but he deceives no one... not even himself!"

So does this mean that we should get rid of religion and only have spirituality? Not at all. I think it is time that we take the word back and re-infuse it with its proper meaning, spirituality and all.

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