Meaning, Purpose and Truth

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Exploring some of the ultimate questions that confront humanity, and responding imaginatively to them;

 

The ups, downs and meaning(s) of life’s journey.

 

Religious Experience

Feelings such as awe, praise and thanks are valid emotional and spiritual responses, and are reflected in many of the prayers revealed by the Central Figures of the Faith. That there is an interplay between the experience received from communal belonging and that derived from personal worship and meditation is obvious. What is worth noting is that any personal spiritual experiences, visions, epiphanies, etc. are simply that, and should be treated as personal by the rest of the community. Religious belief should not really rest on apparently miraculous events. Bahá’ís are discouraged from recounting “miracles” (which, after all, are merely events which at first sight seem to run contrary to the known physical laws), and miracles are not in themselves a sufficient basis for a belief system.

Worship is seen as benefiting the individual, and not as benefiting God. But worshipping together with other people helps to unify those people – they have had a shared spiritual experience. The most basic meeting of the Bahá’í community, the “Nineteen Day Feast”, builds on this fact. The first part consists of prayers and readings. The readings may well include sections which relate to personal morals and behaviour, as without the transformation of human behaviour, religion achieves very little. The second part is the administrative part, where community matters are discussed. In the third part, social bonds are strengthened through refreshments, conversation and entertainment.

The Soul & the Next World

According to Bahá’í belief, the soul becomes associated with the body at the point of conception. While in this life, it acquires virtues, such as honesty, love, truthfulness, kindness, etc. These qualities are needed in the next world, which is “as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother”. At the point of death, the soul separates from the body. Souls continue to progress “throughout the worlds of God”.

The Bahá’í Faith has few rituals. Parents may choose to have a naming ceremony, but this is not a religious requirement. Bahá’u’lláh fixed 15 years as the age of spiritual maturity, and therefore “obligatory prayer” and fasting commence from that age. No pressure can be put upon the young person to become a Bahá’í if they choose not to.

A Bahá’í has complete freedom of choice when looking for a husband or wife. But when a couple wish to marry, both sets of (natural) parents must then agree to the wedding. Bahá’ís believe that the main purpose of marriage is to rear children in a happy, secure environment, and the active support of both families makes this more likely. If a couple are spiritually united, they will progress together in the next world. During the marriage ceremony, the bride and groom each repeat the sentence, “We will all, verily, abide by the will of God”. This has to take place in front of two reliable witnesses. In addition, the bride and groom will add prayers, readings and music of their choice.

When a person dies, the body must be treated with respect and there is a special prayer which is said when a Bahá’í is buried. We should be happy for the soul who is progressing to the next world. Bahá’u’lláh says: “I have made death a messenger of joy unto thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve?” In addition to the “obligatory” Prayer for the Dead there are a number of others which can be used at will. The body should be wrapped in cloth and placed in a coffin made from a substantial material, and a ring, engraved with a specific sentence, placed on one of the fingers. In Bahá’í understanding, life after death is neither cyclical (as in reincarnation theories) nor static, as progress is without end.

Religion & Science

It is one of the basic principles of the Bahá’í Faith that religion and science should work together for the improvement of the world. Bahá’ís believe that truth is relative rather than absolute. If science is discovered truth, then religion is revealed truth, and they are two sides of one coin. Each Founder of religion is the vehicle for bringing to humanity that which is needed to advance society at that particular time. The underlying theme is that “All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilisation”.

Bahá’ís believe that the universe has always existed in some form, but that it evolves from one state to another. Any reference to “creation” in the Bahá’í Writings does not imply an instant appearance in a static form. The Bahá’í Writings also affirm the existence of creatures on other planets: “Know thou that every fixed star has its own planets, and every planet its own creatures, whose number no man can compute.”

The Bahá’í Writings use the development of the human embryo as proof of the development of man as a species. From a tiny cell, it passes through various stages, in some of which it really does not resemble a human being at all. At one stage the embryo even has a tail. However, at every stage it is destined to reach human form, which fact could be used as a metaphor for the development of the human species being predestined rather than being a historical accident.

As humanity moves into a new era, the advantages bestowed by both religion and science need to be woven together in order for civilisation to progress. There are a number of implications in this principle. Religion should be able to give moral and ethical guidance in areas where scientific advance could lead to new areas of uncertainty. Religion should guide science ethically, and ensure that science is put to good uses rather than bad. At the same time, religion which does not take account of science may degenerate into superstition. Bahá’ís look to the creation, in the near future, of a world peace treaty. The excesses of unbridled military invention will be curbed, and technological advance be encouraged as the servant of world peace.

Science should be able to provide more answers to those global problems which as yet have not been seriously addressed, such as initiating a genuine worldwide administrative communications system, solving world food production and distribution problems, and meaningfully tackling worldwide pollution.

Websites

Bibliography

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, 1972. Paris Talks: Addresses given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Paris, 1911-1912. London: UK Bahá’í Publishing Trust.

Esslemont, J.E., 2006. Baha’u’llah and the New Era. Wilmette, Illinois: Bahá’í Publishing.

Garst, H., 1996. From Mountain to Mountain: Stories about Bahá’u’lláh. Oxford: George Ronald.

Hatcher, W.S. & Douglas Martin, J., 1990. Bahá’í Faith: the Emerging Global Religion. s.l.: Bahá’í Publishing.

Matthews, G.L., 1999. The Challenge of Bahá’u’lláh.Oxford:George Ronald.

Momen, M., 2007. Bahá’u’lláh: a short biography. s.l.: Bookwise International.

Momen, M., 2008. The Bahá’í Faith: A Beginner’s Guide. Oxford: Oneworld.

Randall, C., (ill.), 2008. The Hidden Words of Bahá’u’lláh. Bristol: Intellect Books.

Vickers, P., 1992. The Bahá’í Faith. Oxford: Oneworld.

A set of photocopiable R.E. worksheets on the “The Bahá’í Faith”, and priced £5 per set, plus 66p postage available from www.warwickbahaibookshop.co.uk

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