Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

God – an almighty best-seller
November 6, 2008

Reading today that Harry Potter author J.K.Rowling made a mere $300 million last year, I’ve been wondering what makes a book a bestseller? Is it the plot, the characters or just brilliant writing? The unfortunate thing for those of us who wouldn’t mind being a J.K. Rowling is that there just doesn’t seem to be any formula. The only way of knowing if my book will be a success is to write it and see what happens.

Some books have been best-sellers for ages! The Bible’s had fans for thousands of years, while the Qurán has inspired its readers for 15 centuries. Millions of copies have been sold, and then there’s the Holy Books of Krishna and Buddha. It seems that when it comes to bestsellers, religion has a remarkable ability to turn out one hit after another.

But the awkward question is: who are the authors of these books? Could they all be from the same hit factory? Are they all saying the same thing and talking about the same God – or talking about a different God?

Somehow, the idea that there are many Gods, all competing for a market share of the believers isn’t very appealing. If JK Rowling can write several enormous books, can’t the Almighty do the same, and be the author of all the Holy Books, skilfully changing His style and story, to appeal to the audience he’s addressing at any given time?

According to the Bahá’í Faith, all the religions of the world come from the same source, but they come at different periods through history to help humanity advance. Their teachings are just like the different chapters of the same book.

This way of understanding why there are so many religions makes sense to me. So, if you’re a fan of the Almighty, then you’d probably find something to admire in all of his Best Sellers. And what’s more, you’d be impatiently looking forward to His next Big Book!

To think that God will not write another best seller would be to underestimate the talents of the most popular and influential writer of all time.

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Physical and spiritual power
November 3, 2008

Have you ever forgotten something really important in your life? We may forget birthdays or anniversaries, but would anyone forget how much they have in the bank?

Our life is totally dependent on money, but only up to a point, because, as the saying goes, you can’t take it with you.

The Egyptian Pharaohs certainly didn’t take anything with them. They spent their lives accumulating gold and building magnificent pyramids, planning for an eternity of luxury. Imagine their disappointment when 3,000 years on, their gold, far from being of any use to them, is on display in museums all around the world. It wasn’t quite how they planned it.

Their staggering belief in the immortality of material things made them think they were building an eternal existence.  But in reality they were creating a material civilisation that soon perished.

Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, suggests building a more balanced civilisation – a Divine Civilisation, which is made up using both material and spiritual means.

In the Bahá’í Writings we read: “For man two wings are necessary. One wing is physical power and material civilisation; the other is spiritual power and divine civilisation. With one wing only, flight is impossible.”

Imagine a bird forgetting to use one of its wings, flapping about on the ground using only one wing! Yet many of us live our lives using only the wing of materialism. No wonder we sometimes feel grounded!

For me, this is where religion comes in. Not the rituals and traditions that are passed down and blindly followed through generations, but a sense of the sacred and divine that lifts us when we’re feeling like a bird with a broken wing.

Bahá’u’lláh writes: “I am the Sun of Wisdom and the Ocean of knowledge. I cheer the faint and revive the dead. I am the Royal Falcon on the arm of the Almighty. I unfold the drooping wings of every broken bird and start it on its flight.”

I like the idea of a religion that instead of clipping your wings, inspires you to spread your wings and soar heavenward.

Heavenly teachers
October 29, 2008

My little niece Rhiannon started school recently, and she loves it. What a contrast it was to my first days at school, when I was so terrified I wouldn’t let go of my mother. But thanks to a great teacher who I adored, I finally settled in – until it was time to move up a class. No amount of encouraging words about the new teacher could convince me to change class. I wanted to stay with my first teacher, – and that was that!

During my early schooldays I went through many traumas of changing teachers, until I realised that it was a necessary part of growing up. 

The metaphor of school is often used by Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, to describe the spiritual progress of humanity throughout history.

He compares humanity’s progress to that of children growing up, who need different teachers for their education. In the same way, humanity needs different divine teachers for its spiritual education over the centuries – and these teachers are the Founders of the world’s religions. But unlike teachers at a school these divine teachers didn’t all appear together.

For example, Moses, Christ and Muhammed all appeared at different times with divine guidance to meet the requirements of their time.

According to Bahá’u’lláh, this ongoing process of Divine Teachers appearing through the ages to educate people is called progressive revelation.

When I first came across this idea of progressive revelation, it explained a question I’d had for years – why there are so many different religions in the world. In the Bahá’í view, all the different religions are progressive stages in just one Faith, like chapters in a book, written by the same author.

Any differences between them are to do with their social teachings, but the spiritual teachings remain the same. The world’s religions, Bahá’u’lláh said, have “proceeded from the same one Source and are the rays of one Light.”

But what about us, the followers of these religions? For me as a Bahá’í, I feel like a student in the school of spirituality – and I love all of our Divine Teachers.

Investigation and immersion
October 27, 2008

I am often asked how an Irish Catholic girl ended up a Bahá’í. Well, I was always a questioning type, even to the point of being called a doubting Thomas. But that’s no surprise, since asking questions about your religion in Ulster can be seen as a lack of faith.

It’s sometimes assumed that religion is what you’re born into, where thinking and questioning don’t come into it at all. But this way of life wasn’t for me. I found blind following of anything, including religion, meaningless. It was much more interesting to ask questions than to sit passively and accept everything you heard in school or church.

In fact, years later I found that asking all those questions instead of weakening my faith had helped me develop faith, to a point that I could no longer view people of different religions as enemies, but as members of the same one Faith of God.

This simple idea that religions are all from the same source was enough attraction for me to the Bahá’í Faith.

But, being the questioning type, I couldn’t just accept the unity of religions as a fact. It was a claim that had to be fully investigated. And given the amount of wars that are blamed on religion, investigated urgently. The need to urgently seek answers reminds me of a story about a student who asked his teacher how should he look for truth.

Without answering, the teacher took the pupil to the water’s edge and thrust the student’s head under the water until he was struggling for breath.

Eventually the poor student was pulled out of the water and regained his breath.

The teacher then said: “That’s how we must seek the truth. With the urgency of a drowning man who seeks the life-giving air.”

But what kept my head above water was what Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Faith calls “independent investigation of the truth.”

Having lived in Ulster where communities are divided by old traditions, investigation of truth sounded like a breath of fresh air to me. And unlike that student’s experience it didn’t hurt me at all! 

Stumbling from disaster to disaster
October 26, 2008

Frank Spencer is never far from our television sets and the show, Some Mothers do ‘ave em, was always a favourite of ours when I was growing up. 

The programme had a reliable formula – Frank would weave himself into a ridiculous situation  and then try to get himself out of it. He stumbled into everything without thinking, with no idea of the disastrous consequences of his actions. This formula worked well for Frank Spencer, and 30 years on, the repeats are as popular as ever.

But the formula of stumbling across disasters without knowing where they came from is repeated somewhere else on TV – on the News, in fact. As the world stumbles from one disaster to another, it seems there’s a bit of Frank Spencer in all of us – but nobody’s laughing.

For example, think about the disaster scene of a billion children living in poverty around the world. It seems that most of us are shocked and surprised to find the world in such a mess. But world poverty isn’t an accident created by someone else that we can ignore  – it’s a consequence of what we the people of world have done, or have failed to do. So what have we been doing that has caused such terrible consequences?

Perhaps we feel we haven’t sent enough money to the poor countries of the world.

But according to Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, the problem isn’t lack of money, but lack of unity. The fact that we don’t see the earth as one country, Bahá’u’lláh said, has made us tolerate the extremes of wealth in one corner of the world, and extremes of poverty in the other.

In the middle of the 19th century, Bahá’u’lláh wrote: “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.” Unfortunately, 100 years on, the idea of world unity is still not very popular. Certainly there aren’t any TV programmes about it, whether drama or comedy.

One thing is for sure, unity mightn’t make for very exciting comedy, but it would take some of the tragedy out of our news programmes.

All the right moves
October 25, 2008

A few years back I had to move house three times in one year. During that summer we rented out our home in the Midlands and moved to another town for work. Five months later we were on the move again and then when we finally decided to buy a house we were on the move yet again.

All this struck me as being in sharp contrast to a lady who lives near my parents in Northern Ireland.

She’s in her 60s and has been living in the same house since the day she was born. Not only that, but it’s the house where her parents and grandparents lived before that. And what’s even more surprising is that it hasn’t changed since the day it was built. There’s no electricity, no running water, no gas, no phone, no central heating – no modern luxuries whatsoever.

The lady is a keen local historian and has a passion for preserving the past. Her home has captured the attention of  television and radio producers and she has become a home-grown celebrity.

It’s amazing to think that the house is exactly the same as it was 200 years ago.

While it’s fascinating to preserve things of the past, the same may not be true in every case. Take for example, the major part tradition plays in our lives – and the pressure we’re often under to conform.

In some countries, a blind attachment to tradition and the stubborn refusal to try new things has caused much suffering. In Northern Ireland too we saw how clinging to some religious and cultural traditions have hampered progress in our search for peace.

Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, taught that fears and suspicions we have of our fellow human beings is “blind imitation” of the past. He proclaimed that in this present day we should see all the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, as members of one human family, and “the subjects of one God.”

Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings on this subject are in sharp contrast with some age-old beliefs about people of other races and religions. When it comes to century-old traditions that give way to conflict and prejudice, it’s a case of which traditions we keep, which ones we leave behind and which new ideas we buy into.

It’s like that 200-year-old house. It may be fascinating to visit it, but I’m not sure how many of would like to live there.

Discoveries and inventions
October 20, 2008