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Religion in a new light
November 2, 2008

We’ve all heard endless versions of the joke about how many people of this or that profession it takes to change a light bulb. The purpose of these jokes is to show how some of us can make such a meal of doing something so simple as changing a light bulb.

Imagine how much more embarrassing it would be if the light bulb didn’t need changing in the first place! Say, if the light switch was off, or if there was so much dust on the bulb, that it hid the light completely.

This idea of light being hidden by dust is a powerful metaphor in the Bahá’í Writings. Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, compared religion to a radiant light that is all too often obscured by the dust of prejudice, dogma and fanaticism.

The consequences, in terms of human well-being, have been ruinous. It’s surely unnecessary to give examples of some of the terrible deeds that have been carried out, that bring shame on the name of religion. So it’s not surprising then, that people are turning away from religion altogether, and blaming it for many of the problems in the world today.

But if the dust of prejudice were somehow removed from the light of religion, then maybe we could see all the world’s faiths in a new light – not as separate and unrelated to each other, but all united, all part of one eternal Truth, coming from the same Divine source.

Bahá’u’lláh said that unity is the only power that can bring light to the world. He said: “The well being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.”

Since Bahá’u’lláh wrote these words in the middle of the 19th century, we’ve taken significant steps towards unity among nations, but not among the world’s religions. All around the world, we still seem to be caught up in old ways of religious conflict.

And if we really can’t remove the dust of prejudice that’s obscuring the light of any religion, then we have two options. Either we stay in the dark – or we search for a new light bulb.

Mind travel
October 28, 2008

Recently, as I watched some amazing images coming from Mars, one of the scientists was asked if he had discovered any little green men. No, he said, looking a bit annoyed, they’d found big red women! Everybody laughed.

The reason the scientist was annoyed, was because people always ask about little green men on Mars. But we can’t help being curious about faraway places.

Fortunately, we don’t have to go to Mars to discover far away and alien things. There are plenty of remote and strange places right here:  – in our minds, in fact. So I’d like to take you on a budget tour, somewhere far away, in our minds.

Let’s start this journey somewhere near, say at home with our family. It feels great to be in comfortable and familiar surroundings.

Now, to the far away place, somewhere not so comforting or familiar, say a village in Africa.  Physically, it’s just a plane ride away.

But how far is Africa in our hearts and minds? I mean, could we stretch our minds to viewing people living in Africa as members of our own wider family? I’m not so sure. Perhaps in our minds the poor people of Africa live in a world very different to ours.

After all, we do actually call it the Third World; a world perhaps even further away in our minds than Mars.

It sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Here we are, living in one world, with scientific proof that we’re all members of just one race. And yet in our hearts and minds, we’re still worlds apart.

It’s 150 years since Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, addressed kings and rulers of the earth, raising the call of unity. Bahá’u’lláh said peace and justice are impossible without unity. After all, a strong, united family won’t tolerate half of its members dying from war and hunger.

Perhaps this far away and alien place that we need to visit in our minds is Unity. Imagine what it would be like live in unity.

It would be life  – but not as we know it! So, to boldly go where no man has gone before. One thing’s for sure. We have a better chance of finding unity on earth, than finding little green men on Mars.

God’s mysterious ways
October 22, 2008

A church in Singapore recently started an advertising campaign to make God more appealing. And it’s working miracles in attracting people back to religion! Of course, people who don’t believe in God could say, “If God is so powerful, why would he need an advertising campaign?” And if He really exists couldn’t He communicate with us in a more obvious way?

The believers often respond, with: “Well, God works in mysterious ways,” which may look like we’re ducking the issue.

I’d like to look at the problem from a different angle. Could it be that God communicates with us in a more direct way, but that we’re missing it? In other words, we’re missing the obvious, and maybe God’s way of working isn’t that mysterious at all. 

For example, when I was at school, one mystery was why there are so many different religions in the world. Millions of people belonging to this faith – and millions more belonging to another, one opposing the other. “Is God playing games with humanity,” I wondered? It just didn’t make sense and I nearly stopped believing altogether. 

But the mystery began to unravel when I read the explanation of Bahá’u’lláh, Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. He explained that it’s no accident that there are different religions, as these are all necessary stages of one Divine Faith. As humanity has developed over the centuries, this Faith has been revealed in progressive stages by different Divine Teachers to meet the needs of the people at different times.

So, Moses, Buddha, Krishna Christ, Muhammad and more recently Bahá’u’lláh, all came to guide humanity and help us advance both materially and spiritually. 

According to Bahá’u’lláh, we shouldn’t differentiate between these Divine Figures, because they are all from one source, like rays of one sun. The fact that we do differentiate between them is down to human interpretation and traditions. Over the centuries these interpretations have made nonsense of God’s straightforward and progressively unfolding plan  – and turned millions against religion.

Mystery solved. Perhaps God works in obvious ways after all – but it’s us, the followers of religion, who interpret God in mysterious ways.