Friday, January 10, 2014

The Troubles with Conversion

Yesterday's article prompted a reply from a reader: "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?"

What great questions. And while I won't answer them specifically to my friend in yesterday's article (can I claim ignorance here?) , I will respond to them in a way that I feel is more useful.

You see, when someone converts from one faith to another, it can have one of a few effects on those from the faith they are leaving. They either are glad that the person found a faith they want to follow, they don't care one way or the other, or they are upset.

If they are happy, all is well.

If they don't care, well, that says a lot about them, their own personal sense of faith, or their relationship with the person in question.

However, if they are upset, then the real question is "Why are they upset?"

To start, we should remember that one's faith path is one's own. While we may be guided by our parents, and parents should never underestimate their influence, the ultimate choice for anyone regarding faith is their own. But the parents still have a weighty responsibility to guide their children to be moral and upright people. As the Universal House of Justice wrote in the 2000 Ridvan message, "The beloved Master has said that 'it is enjoined upon the father and mother, as a duty, to strive with all effort to train the daughter and the son,' adding that, 'should they neglect this matter, they shall be held responsible and worthy of reproach in the presence of the stern Lord.' Independent of the level of their education, parents are in a critical position to shape the spiritual development of their children. They should not ever underestimate their capacity to mold their children's moral character. For they exercise indispensable influence through the home environment they consciously create by their love of God, their striving to adhere to His laws, their spirit of service to His Cause, their lack of fanaticism, and their freedom from the corrosive effects of backbiting. Every parent who is a believer in the Blessed Beauty has the responsibility to conduct herself or himself in such a way as to elicit the spontaneous obedience to parents to which the Teachings attach so high a value." And yet, in all of this, you will note that they talk about the moral character, not the path.

Now, after all this education and guidance, if the parents deny the child the right to make their own choice regarding which religion they wish to follow, if any, they are actually telling this person that they do not respect their decisions. And isn't that insulting?

So why would they do this? Why would anybody do this? Why would a friend be insulted, hurt or resentful if their buddy chooses a different path than they do?

Well, I'm sure I'm over-simplifying the case, but it seems to me that it all comes down to fear and ego. It seems like they are afraid that they themselves are wrong in their own choice, no matter how convinced of that choice they may be.

Many people seem to feel stronger in their own faith if there are a lot of other people around them who believe the same. And the only reason for this that I can think of is that they don't quite trust themselves, or trust their own vision of the world. So, when someone else changes their faith, they take it as a personal attack.

So, what can we do about it? Well, on the one hand, not much. We can continue to show them love and respect, answer their questions, live a moral life, and pray.

On the other hand, we can take the brilliant approach that the other commentator on that same article took. They said, "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."

If any backbiting occurs after that, it is truly on their head, and has nothing to do with you.

1 comment:

  1. i guess you can choose to claim ignorance, though i make the safe assumption your friend was a baha'i. i know, i know, i ought not to make the assumption for it doesn't really change anything, one person chose to be something other than what they were or used to be, etc. a great response though, i was a bit shocked to see no comment reply only to scroll up and that's when the hat dropped. cheers man, you write some great entries. i've met baha'is in my life, and i've met good people also, and i'm glad to see you are both a baha'i and a good person. another wild assumption, i know, but i make safe assumptions.