sharing a common faith

world religion day in vietnam, January 21, 2013

One of the fundamental principles revealed by Bahá’u’lláh is that of the oneness of religion: The idea that all the world’s great religions are, in fact, one religion that has been revealed progressively over time by different Manifestations of one and the same God. The fact that the messages they taught seem to differ is not because they came from different Gods, but because they were revealed at different times to peoples with different experiences and capacities.

That said, other differences have appeared between the great religions we see today: Differences that arise from the additions—and even alterations—that human beings have made to the essential spiritual messages they were given. Re-interpretations of Scripture made by religious scholars and clergy, blind imitation of the past, superstitions arising from ignorance and misunderstanding… all of these have compounded the differences that now exist between the world’s religions.

For the nation of Vietnam, the differences between Buddhists and Catholics deepened a chasm that the Cold War had opened. And who ended up being there to try and bridge the divide? The Bahá’ís. From its earliest days, the Vietnamese Bahá’í community championed the cause of inter-religious harmony. World Religion Day, spearheaded by the Bahá’ís and observed in Vietnam every year between 1962 and 1975, gathered representatives of many different religions to deliberate on weighty themes: “Mankind must, and are able to achieve religious unity”; “Religion must be the cause for unity of mankind”; “The purpose of religion is to establish unity and harmony”; and so on.

In 1963, the Buddhist Crisis broke out, the result of the prejudicial policies of the South Vietnamese President Ngô Đình Diệm, a Catholic, against the country’s Buddhist majority. The crisis ended six months later in a military coup and Diệm’s assassination. At no time in the country’s history was inter-religious cooperation more needed. Only months following the climax of the Buddhist Crisis, the Bahá’ís called for the creation of a “Permanent Council of Inter-Religious Harmony” to be comprised of two representatives from each religion, “to signify a sincere and genuine effort on the part of the two major Religions of their often proclaimed belief that they desire only equality and harmony among the faiths.” This sentiment was echoed by major interfaith groups, as well; a prominent interfaith youth group in Saigon urged the formation of a council to bring together Buddhists and Roman Catholics, and asked that “a leader of the Bahai World Faith be invited” as well, “since even in the past the Baha’is have been urging the establishment of such a Council for Inter-Religious harmony and have also by their efforts demonstrated their belief in both the Buddha and Christ and shown their essential Divine Unity.”

In September 1964, the newly elected Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Vietnam formally issued a bold, yet practical four-point appeal for national religious unity which developed the ideas advanced during the previous year:

  1. Religious leaders should establish “a Permanent Council of Inter-Religious Harmony consisting of two representatives from each Faith dedicated towards establishing complete unification between the religions and which should be delegated with the power to be the final arbitrator of any misunderstanding or strife that may arise between the various religions”;
  2. Government should officially recognize this Council as “the supreme body for arbitrating on problems concerning religious persecution and religious strifes”;
  3. Leaders and followers of every religion, “without the slightest discrimination and with complete respect and love”, should “visit the holy places of worship of every religion and publicly proclaim their acceptance of the various Divine Teachers as absolutely equal in every way”;
  4. Government should “foster Religious Harmony by encouraging the peoples and religious leaders and proclaim one day of the year World Religion Day and declare it a public holiday dedicated to the goal of Religious Unity on which day the followers of every faith may visit each others pagodas, churches, temples to pray to the Divinity of all the Prophets”.

This audacious appeal, which struck at the core of religious prejudice, must have been dismissed by many as being too fanciful or unrealistic—after all, it called on “the Venerable leaders of Buddhism in Viet Nam” to “publicly proclaim that they Believe that Lord Christ is endowed with the same Divinity and Spirituality as Lord Buddha and identical with Him”, and on Christian leaders to “proclaim likewise that the Lord Buddha is in every way equal and identical to the Lord Christ in His Spiritual and Divine Glory”. What kind of self-respecting clergyman would agree to eat humble pie in such a dramatic fashion?

But to the Bahá’ís, these acts were necessary to achieve true unity and prevent nationwide calamity: “Only then can we make the Buddhists and Christians of our sad nation rush into each others’ arms and eliminate any maneuvers to direct them instead at each others’ throats.” Moreover, the Bahá’í appeal was consistent with the belief that all religions are, in fact, reflections of the same message from one and the same God, revealed progressively throughout the evolution of mankind—that all human beings, whether or not they realize it, are in fact following many different representations of one common faith, which is “the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future“.

History repeats itself, and mankind rejects and ridicules God’s Messengers as They reveal themselves, denying the life-giving messages They bear. As a result of their rejection and ridicule, civilizations are reduced to rubble, destroyed by their own corruption, their blind imitation of the past, their clinging to ways of thinking, acting and governing that no longer meet the requirements of an ever-evolving humanity. “Unfortunately,” as a Vietnamese Bahá’í representative wrote of the difficulties inherent in their interfaith work, “it seems that human beings act only in response to terrible crisis… and hence have to endure great suffering.”

The original post, world religion day in vietnam, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. With files from Mr. Jamshed Fozdar and Wikipedia. Photos courtesy of Mr. Le Loc.

a light to the world

Talking to the four-year-old about blogging.

Papa: I’m going to be doing some writing soon.
Dude: Writing?
Papa: Yeah, writing. What do you think I should write about?
Dude: Write about Bahá’u’lláh’s birthday.
Papa: That’s a good idea. What should I write about Bahá’u’lláh’s birthday?
Dude: Write about how Bahá’u’lláh was always worried about the poor, and how He took care of them.
Papa: OK.
Dude: And how He loved roses.
Papa: That’s good too. Any other special things I should write about?
Dude: Write how He wrote a lot of things, all of His teachings.
Papa: That’s a great idea. What kinds of teachings?
Dude: He taught us that we have to be kind and love each other.

On the weekend of October 21st–22nd, Bahá’ís around the world celebrated the Festival of the Twin Holy Birthdays, which commemorate the “twin birthdays” of the Twin Manifestations of the Bahá’í Faith: The Báb and Bahá’u’lláh. That would be awesome on its own, but this year also happens to be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Bahá’u’lláh. During this bicentenary year, officials and public figures around the world have paid tribute to Bahá’u’lláh and to His teachings, which have inspired a growing worldwide community, characterized by its unity and inclusivity, to arise and dedicate themselves to lives of service to their fellow human beings, becoming like a light to the world.

Bahá’u’lláh was born to a noble Persian family. His father was a minister in the court of the Sháh, and it was expected that He would follow in His father’s footsteps. Instead, however, He dedicated himself to caring for those who were less fortunate than He was, becoming known as the “Father of the Poor” for His great generosity. Even while very young, He showed signs of greatness that led others to believe that He was destined for something much greater than a life of ease in the court of the Sháh.

In time, Bahá’u’lláh became a follower of the Báb, who had proclaimed that the time had come for a renewal of religion, and that a great figure would soon be made manifest to bring humanity into a new era of justice and peace. Bahá’u’lláh quickly became a respected and influential member of the Báb’s religion. But because many of the clergy of Persia felt threatened by the Báb’s message, Bahá’u’lláh also became a target for those who wished ill will to the new religion. In 1853, Bahá’u’lláh and many others were imprisoned in a notorious, stench-filled dungeon in Tehran known as the “Black Pit”, or Siyáh-Chál. Although this was one of the darkest moments of Bahá’u’lláh’s life, it was also the moment at which a new light dawned upon Him; it was in this dungeon that He received a Divine revelation that He was that great figure whose advent was foretold by the Báb.

Released from the dungeon after four months, Bahá’u’lláh was banished from Persia to Baghdád, in the Ottoman Empire. He spent many years in the area, including two years living in solitude in the mountains of Kurdistan. With every year, His fame continued to grow. Fearing His growing influence, the Persian authorities petitioned the Ottoman authorities to remove Bahá’u’lláh to a place farther from Persian borders. The people of Baghdád wept when they learned He was to leave the city, but their sorrow would turn into joy when, in a rose-filled garden known as the Garden of Ridván (Paradise), Bahá’u’lláh declared Himself to be the One whom the Báb had foretold. During the twelve days He spent in that garden—days which are now celebrated as the Festival of Ridván—He welcomed countless citizens: rich and poor, men and women, Jews, Christians and Muslims, beggars and dignitaries, offering them each a rose picked from the garden as a token of His loving-kindness.

Throughout His life, Bahá’u’lláh revealed many teachings and laws meant to help His followers work together to carry forward an ever-advancing, global civilization: “It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.” “Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship.” “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” With these words, and many more, He laid the foundation for a world that will eventually rise above petty differences and firmly establish a great peace based on principles of justice, equality, unity, and love.

let’s be heroes

overcoming lethargy and apathy, May 8, 2013

Inspire. Dream.A hero is someone who shows a virtue that we admire. Superman, Spider-Man and their ilk aren’t heroes because they leap tall buildings, sling webs, or wear cool costumes, it’s because they stop people from committing injustice. They show courage, compassion, determination, faith, sacrifice, and a sense of service and purpose. They are us as we wish we could be or would be; they are guiding lights that illuminate the path of righteousness. If our heroes fail along the path, they must rise up and continue, or they are no longer heroes.

References to heroes and heroism are scattered like precious jewels throughout the writings of Shoghi Effendi; in naming the earliest era of the Bahá’í Faith the Heroic Age, he called on us to reflect on the heroic sacrifices of the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, and their early followers who blazed trails through the wilderness of error, trails that we now tread as we follow their lead towards the light of Divine guidance. But Shoghi Effendi warned us—especially the Western believers—of the severe trials that would await along this path. Established as it was upon centuries-old traditions of materialism, exploitation and injustice, Western society would continue to fall deeper and deeper into a well of corruption and decay that would sap the moral strength of so many of its citizens, and plunge them into a state of lethargy and apathy.

“We, today, face that test,” said Dr. Peter Khan in a 1995 address on the subject of tests, “the test of overcoming apathy and lethargy. The test that those around us increasingly lack zeal and idealism and a passion for changing the world.” As society around us falters under the crushing weight of materialism and the frenetic struggle for existence that it engenders, he argues, we must commit ourselves to work for a different life, a different existence, based on principles that uplift the human spirit. We must take on the qualities of the empowered, distinguishing ourselves as being willing to work for this new way of living.

“We are people committed to the creation of a new society. We are summoned to heroism. We are summoned to sacrifice. We are summoned to idealism and to altruism. We are people creating a new society, a new civilization. We are people who love and are concerned about generations yet unborn and we are prepared to dedicate our lives that those generations to come, in decades and centuries into the future, may have a better life; may have a life of peace and unity and harmony and the possibility for the full development of their potential.”

It’s become something of a cliché that “not all heroes wear capes”. But, indeed, few heroes do. You don’t need a cape to care about the world and to strive to make it a better place for people to live. You just need to try and to persevere, and before you know it, you’ll have insured ultimate and complete victory.

The original post, overcoming lethargy and apathy, is one of the most popular posts on doberman pizza. Photo: Inspire. Dream. by Justin W. Moore (www.outdoorphoto.com)

it’s a doberman pizza life

Hey everyone. It’s been a little while since I actually used this blog as a blog. Thanks to some encouragement from friends, a little planning and a lot of creative ideas, I’ve joined up with the Baha’i Blogging Challenge to breathe a little life into this quiet little website. So for the next thirty days you’ll have something new to read on doberman pizza, as well as on many more Baha’i blogs.

Life has been nice and busy, as you can imagine. Quỳnh and I welcomed our second child into the world very recently, and we’ve been running around changing diapers and cleaning up after both of our little ones. Work and service are going quite well; even though I’ve been too busy with kids to be serving in quite the same way as I used to, I’ve been getting lots of good work done and finding new ways to serve.

I’ve been blessed to receive a lot of great feedback about doberman pizza in the past little while. I’ve never really been very conscious of being “known” as a Baha’i blogger, but several people have mentioned to me lately how they’ve appreciated reading what I write here. Besides what that might bring me in terms of “fame”—which I figure I’ll always be more comfortable forgetting—it’s really nice to know that what I’ve written here and there might actually have helped someone, somewhere, to progress a little farther in their great journey of understanding. If you’re one of those people, then God bless you and thanks for being here. And if you’re not, well, read on and hopefully you’ll find something that’ll be uplifting, or at least funny.

So, what I’m planning on doing this month is part journalling (i.e. “normal” blogging) and part reviewing what I’ve written in the past. Depending on who you ask, some of the posts on this blog are more or less popular. I’m going to select some of them that have been particularly popular over the years over the years, and have a look back at them. Perhaps I’ll have a few words to add to each of them, or perhaps they’ll hit a nerve and I’ll have a lot more to say. Either way, we’ll take a trip back through the past fifteen years to see some of the most engaging posts doberman pizza has had to offer. If any of them have been favourites of yours, feel free to say so in the comments. And if you don’t see one of your favourites show up, then tell me which one, and perhaps we can find the time to take a look back together.

the baha’i stance on homosexuality

One of the hot-button topics that tends to pop up a lot on Reddit’s Baha’i group is that of homosexuality, and Baha’i reactions and beliefs about it. That makes sense, because Baha’i beliefs about homosexuality are nuanced, rather than being black-and-white like much of the discourse that goes on in society today. So when a user asked recently about the Baha’i stance on homosexuality, I went ahead and offered the following reply.

First of all, another user posted a link to the most recent guidance from the Universal House of Justice on homosexuality; you can take it as the official Bahá’í perspective.

In general, you’ll find that Bahá’í belief is based on its written texts, in which the Writings of the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh have been authoritatively interpreted by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and by the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi. The Universal House of Justice has the power to legislate on things that aren’t covered by these Writings, but not to change the Writings themselves.

The important thing to remember is that we can say whatever we want on /r/bahai, but belief isn’t based on the judgements of individual Bahá’ís. When in doubt, we turn towards the Writings, and towards guidance of the Universal House of Justice, and we use that guidance to help us advance our understanding of the issue in question.

I would say that the Bahá’í view of homosexuality is nuanced and doesn’t lend itself well to being condensed into the short, pithy, categorical statements that we often expect to hear in public discourse these days. It doesn’t make the Bahá’í view any less valid, of course; it just means that it bears reflection.

For me, the principal takeaways from the May 2014 letter include: 1) certain facts, including the prohibition of homosexual acts and the definition of marriage as occurring between a man and a woman, are authoritative and are not subject to change, not even by the Universal House of Justice; 2) that Bahá’í laws apply to Bahá’ís, and that we cannot, and do not, seek to force others to conform to those laws; 3) that Bahá’ís must strive to show love, kindness and fellowship to every human being, no matter their beliefs or their physical, emotional, or mental particularities, and that shunning someone simply based on sexual orientation is unjust.

One more thing is that I wouldn’t say that the West should be “ignored”, as you put it. One of the great advances that the West has helped to bring to light in the world is the formal, secular definition of human rights, and the concept that you can’t just squash someone just because they’re different from you. My understanding is that this is a concept that’s reflected in Divine teachings, as well: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I also believe that there are no contradictions in Divine teachings; contradictions only arise when we fail to comprehend the purport of the Divine teachings, or how they relate to one another. As we strive to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization, we’re going to need to rise above all of our differences and explore reality together in the light of these Divine teachings, to see what they mean for us—what a Divine civilization will look like in real, concrete terms.