Please identify which of the following themes you find religiously compelling and/or generally good practice:
1. The abandonment of all forms of prejudice
2. Assurance to women of full equality of opportunity with men
3. Recognition of the unity and relativity of religious truth
4. The elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth
5. The realization of universal education
6. The responsibility of each person to independently search for truth
7. The establishment of a global commonwealth of nations
8. Recognition that true religion is in harmony with reason and the pursuit of scientific knowledge.
Those are the fundamental tenets of the Baha’i faith. Surprised how many you’re in accord with? So was I.
Walking around the Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, Israel — Bahaism’s second holiest shrine — I was amazed at the broad reach of the religion. Where else on Earth could you find a family from the Bible Belt, a pair of South Africans currently working in Japan, and a crew of Peruvians all heading to say their prayers at the same spot?
Further still, how many churches/mosques/synagogues have you been to where you keep hearing some version of this refrain: Why aren’t more people Baha’i?
To my mind, a very good question. It’s a religion that stands for lots of things that atheists have issues with about God – issues like fairness, the problem of evil, exclusivity, all have responses from Bahaism that range from the average (the problem of evil) to the great (pluralism). Whereas with most religions one could tease out these conclusions from their religious texts, the followers of Baha’ullah have them explicitly stated as their mission. Directness has to count for something, right?
I wouldn’t say that I seriously considered the idea of seeking further guidance in becoming a Baha’i, but the entire experience of seeing a good deal of your moral philosophy explicitly writ large in another religious setting is enough, I think, to set anyone’s brain in motion.
After a few days of cogitating, I think this is what I think: What matters for “joining the fold,” so to speak, of a religious tradition is the question of origin.
Where the teaching comes from is entirely more important than what the teaching actually says in terms of being able to associate yourself with a religious community. The origin need not be the initial impetus for the entire faith – one’s parents, for example, could be an excellent origin.
Unless you’re willing to say religious divinity is only holy in as much as it correlates with your own creed, I think this holds true. Even after you agree with all the principles, to seal the deal you have to make the promise: Buddha/Muhammad/Baha’ullah were who the tradition says they are.
Perhaps it is moving beyond a fundamental attachment to origins that signifies religious pluralism and tolerance. A recent Pew survey says that 70 percent of religious Americans say that other faiths than their own can lead to salvation.
This could mean at least two things. The first, that Americans are turning to a more Baha’i-esque worldview of widespread divine presence (I doubt it). The second, that perhaps when we come into greater contact with the actual content (the “what”) of the world’s religions we realize that we see something good, some divine spark, in each.