Monday, July 23, 2012

Interfaith and "God Passes By"

I'm still reading God Passes By. During the summer months, when I'm selling my artwork, I don't have as much time to read as I would like. But then again, I never have as much time to read as I would like.

I got to page 100, where he is now beginning to talk about Baha'u'llah and how He received His Revelation. Before he does that, however, he writes briefly about some of the various titles and prophecies regarding Baha'u'llah from other faith traditions.

Aside: When I say "briefly", we have to remember that this is Shoghi Effendi. I absolutely love to read his writings, and especially love his use of the English language, but "brief" is truly a relative term here. I am convinced that at some point in the future people will begin using the term "Effendian" as an adjective describing the ability to go on for pages and pages to describe something with absolute precision, perfect use of the language and without being repetitive. Just the other night, as I was lying down reading this book, my wife came up to me to ask me a deep philosophical / spiritual question. I asked her if I could finish the paragraph first, before answering. But then I looked to see how much more I had to read. I was at the top left hand corner of the left hand page, and noticed that the paragraph didn't break on either of the two pages I could see. So I turned the page. And turned it again, still looking for the end of the paragraph. I decided to put the book down rather than try to finish that one "brief" paragraph. (And all of you who have read the Guardian's writings know exactly what I mean.)

Then, just after he shares a bit about the magnificence of this Revelation, as attested by all these other sacred Texts, he clarifies something, something very important. He tries to ensure that we do not become fanatical. He doesn't mince words, and points out what should be obvious in that first phrase, but goes on to remind us all of the extreme importance of honouring and respecting all other faith traditions. (At least that's how I read it, and this is, after all, only my own personal opinion.)

He says, and I put it into point format to make it more obvious at a casual read, that "the Revelation identified with Bahá'u'lláh

  • abrogates unconditionally all the Dispensations gone before it, 
  • upholds uncompromisingly the eternal verities they enshrine, 
  • recognizes firmly and absolutely the Divine origin of their Authors, 
  • preserves inviolate the sanctity of their authentic Scriptures, 
  • disclaims any intention of lowering the status of their Founders or of abating the spiritual ideals they inculcate, 
  • clarifies and correlates their functions, 
  • reaffirms their common, their unchangeable and fundamental purpose, 
  • reconciles their seemingly divergent claims and doctrines, 
  • readily and gratefully recognizes their respective contributions to the gradual unfoldment of one Divine Revelation, 
  • unhesitatingly acknowledges itself to be but one link in the chain of continually progressive Revelations, 
  • supplements their teachings with such laws and ordinances as conform to the imperative needs, and are dictated by the growing receptivity, of a fast evolving and constantly changing society, 
  • and proclaims its readiness and ability to fuse and incorporate the contending sects and factions into which they have fallen into a universal Fellowship, functioning within the framework, and in accordance with the precepts, of a divinely conceived, a world-unifying, a world-redeeming Order."
12 points, each of which is worthy of an article on its own.

It's interesting that he begins by saying that the Baha'i Faith annuls all previous faiths, not just the laws. He seems to me to really be striving to show the independent nature of the Baha'i Faith, and helping the Baha'is realize that they cannot, in all sincerity, retain membership in another church group. This was a serious concern at the time. There were many who wanted to be Baha'i, and yet still be identified as members of another religion, too, usually for social purposes. Once again he is saying that this is not possible. And while we should freely associate with all, honour and respect the various faiths, we should not consider ourselves, nor let others mistakenly consider us, as part of another faith while being Baha'i.

Then, as soon as he says that, he immediately points out that we fully agree with those eternal truths that are to be found in all religions. They are not only found in our own faith, as has been taught by some leaders of a few other religions, but are found in all of them. They all come from God, and they all contain truths by which we can grow and learn.

Once he points that out, he then goes on to say that all the Founders of the various religions come from God. We cannot deny it, nor would we want to. Instead, we are to firmly and absolutely uphold it. If a member of one religion slams the Founder of another, we are to arise to Their defense. If a Christian insults Muhammad, or a Muslim insults the Buddha, we should uphold the dignity of both of those Manifestations of God. No matter who is doing the insulting, and no matter which Messenger of God is being insulted, we recognize them all, and uphold Their station.

Beyond upholding the Station of the Manifestations, we also recognize the divine origin of each and every sacred Scripture. I will defend the Bible as the Word of God just as readily as I will defend the divine origin of the Qur'an, the Upanishads, the Bahagavad Gita, the Zenda Vesta, and so forth. They have all contributed to the betterment of the world and the growth of humankind.

He reminds us that we do not try to lower the station of any of those Messengers, but rather raise the awareness all of Them to that high station to which They belong. We do not deride any of Their messages, but recognize the spiritual ideals found in all of Their teachings.

The next five points all overlap in my own mind. By looking at all of the religions as one continual unfoldment of truth from a divine Source, many things become clearer. The history of religion suddenly makes sense, rather than looking like the confused jumble it can sometimes seem to be. The differences between the laws of the different faiths now makes sense, based on the time in history and geographic location in which they were revealed. And most importantly, it changes our perception of each of these Faiths, including the Baha'i Faith, from appearing like the final culmination of a sequence into a link of that chain of revelations that is connecting all of human history together.

But then, just in case we want to take refuge in laws that may be outdated for our needs today, claiming some sort of absolute finality for them, the Guardian gives us a point of reference. You see, as is often obvious from a study of religious history, we humans have often modified our understanding of these laws to suit our needs or desires, or perhaps even whims. We only need to look at those who try to use the Bible or the Qur'an to justify the killing of others. Here, Shoghi Effendi reminds us that Baha'u'llah, while abrogating all the laws of previous Dispensations, has also clarified their intention for us. And remember, the laws of the Baha'i Faith are only for Baha'is, those who have recognized Baha'u'llah and have agreed to partake in His Covenant. Baha'u'llah has looked at all previous laws and teachings, seen our understanding, or misunderstanding, of them, gauged our needs, and either clarified teachings for us, or given us new laws to suit the desperate needs of today.

Finally, Shoghi Effendi sets our sight towards the future. He reminds us that the teachings of Baha'u'llah can help us to clarify the teachings of other Dispensations, without ever denying their validity, and, in fact, proclaiming their truth, while still working within the framework of the World Order of Baha'u'llah. We are the peacemakers.

For those who still follow Jesus, we help shed light on those beautiful teachings that He gave the world. For those who follow Muhammad, we can help give a fresh perspective on the teachings and laws of that divine Luminary. All the great religions of the world are true and beautiful, and every one of them can come into a sharper focus when seen through the lens of Baha'u'llah's teachings.

This is some of what I get out of this particular paragraph, and why I am so grateful to be reading this incredible look at the first century of the Baha'i Era.

No comments:

Post a Comment