Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Conversion and Independent Investigation

A friend of mine recently talked about joining a new faith. I won't mention which one because, really, it's irrelevant. I mean, I won't mention which friend. Come to think of it, I won't mention which faith either. Neither are relevant.

What I did, after he said this, though, was ask him why.

Now this question was not in the form of "Why on earth would you join that one", nor "Why would you even think of changing your faith", but rather "Why that particular one? What is it about this faith path you are choosing that makes you feel it is right for you?" (The emphases are added to really convey where the stress of the question lay.) As I knew, he understood it that way and we had a wonderful conversation about faith, paths, and independent investigation of the truth.

This is actually one of my favorite questions. "Why did you choose the path you are on?"

In fact, just the other day another friend and I were talking and in the course of our conversation they said that they had become a Baha'i about 5 years ago. I asked the same question of them: Why?

And again they understood that it was not a question of why they would possibly become a Baha'i, but why did they choose to be Baha'i over every other path out there.

Now, the logic tree of all this is fairly straightforward: They either have a faith path or they do not. If they don't, they either haven't chosen, or are atheist. If they haven't chosen, why not? What is stopping them from choosing? If they're atheist, why? If they do have a faith path, they either inherited it or chose it. If they inherited it, they either questioned it at some point or they didn't. If they did, why did they remain? If they didn't, why not? If they changed their path, why?

You see, it all comes down to why someone is on the path they are. And if they haven't given it much thought, well, I'm curious why someone wouldn't.

But really, the most interesting one of them all to me is the person who has actively and consciously changed their path. That implies a degree of effort, an overcoming of inertia, a massive change of trajectory. And that interests me. (Wow. I really had trouble typing that line. I must have screwed up "that" about 6 times, spelling that simple word every wrong way possible.)

In most cases, their story begins with dissatisfaction. There is something that they felt they were missing, and they went searching for it. This is a story we hear over and over again. Other times they see something better in the path they have chosen over the path they had followed, even if they weren't actively looking for a new one. Either way, their story is fascinating, and I often learn something new about my own faith, too. Many times they have questioned something that I have always taken for granted, and I appreciate the question being brought to my attention. Sometimes they have come to answer that I never would have considered, and that is always interesting to me.

Asking this simple question, "Why", has often proven to be both interesting and educational.

But what about the importance of the independent investigation of truth? (You may have thought I forgot about that aspect of this article, but don't worry, dear Reader, I didn't.)

There are a number of quotes that tell us of the importance of this basic and fundamental principle of the Faith. This is only a few of them.

“The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right", says 'Abdu`l-Baha, and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth, for truth is one.”

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

In the Hidden Words, Baha'u'llah says, "The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its 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. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes."

You see, first we can't presume that we know it all and have some sort of responsibility to impart this knowledge upon others. We all have stuff to learn. Perhaps more than most, in my case, but still, we all need to learn more.

Second, faith is not something that is blind. Bind faith, maybe, but not faith. It is conscious and applied.

So, we need to learn, know that we are learning, and then apply it.

Third, but not final, we need to see the world through our own eyes. While it is perfectly acceptable to turn to others for guidance or inspiration, we have to make the knowledge our own in the end.

But going back for a moment to the concept of blind faith, following merely because it is traditional. Baha'u'llah strongly criticizes this in the Kitab-i-Iqan. "Consider", He says, "how men for generations have been blindly imitating their fathers, and have been trained according to such ways and manners as have been laid down by the dictates of their Faith...Such men... become so veiled that without the least question, they pronounce the Manifestation of God an infidel, and sentence Him to death." Later in that book, He writes of these same people, "The more they are told that this wondrous Cause of God, this Revelation from the Most High, hath been made manifest to all mankind, and is waxing greater and stronger every day, the fiercer groweth the blaze of the fire in their hearts. The more they observe the indomitable strength, the sublime renunciation, the unwavering constancy of God's holy companions, who, by the aid of God, are growing nobler and more glorious every day, the deeper the dismay which ravageth their souls." This blindly following something just because it is traditional tends to lead us very easily into fanaticism, and that is never a good thing.

And so, with these, and other, quotes in mind, I feel that we cannot lay too much emphasis on the principle of searching out truth for oneself, as opposed to following merely because others have believed the same.

Of course, as we search, we will recognize those that we consider authorities and will have to, at times, take their word for granted. But this is not to be done blindly. It is much like deciding which university to attend. We begin by deciding upon the criteria for the university, such as accreditation, or recognizing certain professors as worthy based upon their research or their writings. Once we decide where to go, then we begin to take courses. During our studies there are often things that we take for granted until later in the course, when we actually have the wider base of knowledge for understanding.

That is how I have always seen my own personal faith. I studied the teachings of Baha'u'llah, never quite calling myself a follower until He had proven to my satisfaction that His perspective of the world was better than my own. That was when I took those things on faith that I really didn't understand. Like prayer. I still can't explain why it works. I just know that it does.

So anyways, that's the other reason that I'm always so interested in why people have chosen their particular faith path. They have moved past this and are acting on what they have learned in their lives.

And that's cool.


  1. this friend of yours who changed their path, not asking who he or she is or what path they chose, but can you tell us what religious background they had, if any? did they have immediate family in that faith also? was there any ostracism experienced as a result of the faith switch? these are the things your article got me curious about.

  2. Those are great questions. I think they're worth answering in another article.

  3. This may be somewhat missing the point but, in response to the questions posed by Anonymous, I might just mention that when I chose, for a number of reasons, to accept the Faith of Baha'u'llah, I went to my rabbi and asked him "Do you want me to find and be close to God" ? As was to be expected, he said "Of course" !
    I responded by telling him that I had done so and that, if anything, he should be happy for me rather than upset.
    What could he possibly say ?
    We parted without further discussion of that issue and without feelings of animosity.
    My family - likewise.
    What people might have said behind my back was their business and problem - not mine !