Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bahá'í Faith

Part 1

What is the human condition?
Bahá’ís believe that all humans are born good because everything created by God is good in nature. Humans have free will and therefore stray from their inherent good nature, which is the cause of evil in the world. Bahá’ís believe that each human is part of a unified human race and it is the responsibility of each person to recognize this truth and work towards manifesting it. Bahá’ís also believe that humans exist in a physical form on earth in order to use the opportunities of the physical world to understand and know God better and to grow spiritually.

Where are we going/what is the goal?

Bahá’ís believe that after death one’s soul can either go to paradise, which is a state of perfection and unity with God. Bahá’ís do not believe in a physical location of hell, but if one’s soul does not obtain the spiritual growth required to become unified with God one’s soul will remain in a state of imperfection and disunity from God. Humans should also work toward the goal of creating a unified human race as the maturity of humanity progresses over time.

How do we get there?

Humans can reach paradise by praying and communing with God daily in order to achieve spiritual growth and development. Humans should also follow the religious laws set forth by Bahá’u’lláh and some of the other prophets, and should try to avoid making evil decisions due to free will that could distance them from God. Humans can also achieve paradise by working towards the unification of humanity specifically through performing service and recognizing the unity of all religions and practicing religious tolerance.

Part 2- In Depth Research

1. Key Concepts:

1. The Unity of Humanity: Bahá’ís believe that the human race is one unified group and therefore there is no justification for any type of prejudice. This is the main tenant of the Bahá’í Faith and therefore influences all other Bahá’í principles and doctrines. Bahá’ís believe that humanity is going through a gradual maturation process, and we are at the point in which we need to begin working towards eliminating prejudice and injustice from the world in order to unify the human race.

2. The Unity of God: Bahá’ís believe that there is only one God, and they believe that there is only one God throughout all religions and that God has been responsible for the creation of all major religions in the world. Bahá’ís also believe that part of our purpose in life is to better understand and know God through spiritual development in order to unite with God after death.

3. The Unity of Religion: Bahá’ís also believe in the unity of all of the major religions in the world and believe they’re beliefs are valid because they all came from the same God. Bahá’ís stress accepting all religions and religious traditions while they also stress focusing on what Bahá'u’lláh taught in order to bring humanity into a new era and a new step in the progression of its maturation process.

4. Bahá’u’lláh: Bahá’u’lláh is the messenger of God who founded the religion. It was announced by the Báb that there would be a new religious prophet coming and in the late 1800’s, Bahá’u’lláh began working towards founding the Bahá’í Faith. He and his followers were imprisoned and tortured for many years, which resulted in multiple exiles from Baghdad during his lifetime.

5. Messengers of God: Bahá’u’lláh is seen as one of the many messengers of God that have been sent to earth throughout history. This is the main reason for why Bahá’ís believe in the unity of all religions. They believe that each messenger of God has been sent to earth at different stages in humanity’s maturation process and to different cultures. These messengers of God communicated God’s wishes to that specific culture during that specific time so that humanity could progress more and more over time with the guidance of God.

6. Independent Search For Truth: The Bahá’í concept of the independent search for truth means that every person has the responsibility to investigate their religious beliefs and seek the truth about life’s questions for themselves. One is not supposed to simply follow a religion just because his or her parents did, or because he or she has been told to. Bahá’ís believe in studying all kinds of religious texts and each person is responsible for finding their own personal truth.

7. Service: Service plays a large role in worship in the Bahá’í Faith. Service is considered worship whenever one does anything that is done with the interest of serving others. For this reason, many Bahá’ís hold service-oriented professions like teachers, doctors, or work with local non-profit organizations. Service can also be in the form of community service projects on an individual and community wide level, but it can also just mean providing for one’s family and taking care of one’s children.

8. Good and Evil: Bahá’ís do not believe that our desires for materialistic things are evil because everything created by God is viewed as good. Bahá’ís believe the physical form of the human body and the physical world are supposed to be used as a way to develop spiritually. Bahá’ís believe that if these physical desires are unlimited, they could cause harm to the soul or the spiritual progress a person has made. Bahá’ís also believe that humans are inherently good and that evil is simply the absence of good in the world due to our decisions caused by free will.

9. The Universal House of Justice: The Universal House of Justice is a legislative community of the Bahá’í Faith that began in 1963. It is a group of nine members who are elected every five years. They determine the progress and development of the Bahá’í Faith. They also control holy sites and artifacts of the faith. It is very similar to the Vatican in its purpose and function within the faith, except it has multiple leaders who do not play as large of a role in the religious experience of members.

10. Universal Education: The goal of having universal education is a very important concept within the Bahá’í Faith. Bahá’u’lláh valued education a lot because he believed that it is a main part in the development of society and humanity. Bahá’ís believe that all humans should receive an education in terms of subject matter and also believe that everyone should be educated on what it means to be a global citizen of the world.

2. Rituals:

a) Houses of Worship: Bahá’ís congregate in Houses of Worship, which are community centers that are common to churches or mosques and are open to members of all religions. Houses of Worship do not only act as places for worship, but also as the main center for the community. Bahá’í gatherings do not involve worship in the way that other religions do because they do not include rituals, clergy, or sermons. Instead, Bahá’ís read religious texts from all religions, pray, or play music. During worship, Bahá’ís read texts from varying religions while focusing on the texts of Bahá’u’lláh, the Bahá’í Prophet or messenger of God. There are major houses of worship around the world with at least one on each continent and community centers for smaller Bahá’í communities. Houses of Worship are important because community life is central to the Faith, as Bahá’ís believe that each community acts as an example of a unified human race and are places where service projects can be organized which is another important part of the faith.

b) The Nineteen-Day Feast: An important festival or religious holiday within the Bahá’í Faith is the Nineteen Day Feast. The Bahá’í calendar consists of 19, nineteen-day months, so once every nineteen days, Bahá’ís within a community gather to interact socially, make announcements that pertain to the whole community or administration of the community, and keep the community unified. Bahá’ís do not have clergy, but each community does have a group of nine elected leaders who organize community events and work with the national or international elected leaders. At each nineteen day feast, the community leaders can inform the members of the community about events and news on a community, national, and international level within the faith.

3. Sacred Texts:

The Bahá’í prophet, Bahá’u’lláh wrote around 40,000 pages of Bahá’í sacred texts within his life time that have all been preserved. Aside from studying the writings of Bahá’u’lláh Bahá’ís study the religious texts of all other religions as part of community meetings in Houses of Worship. They study other religious texts because of their beliefs on the unity of all religions and the validity of all messengers of God. Bahá’ís believe that the qualities of God can be seen through each of his messengers, but since one messenger only appears about once every thousand years, these messengers have written down God’s word in order for it to be preserved. Studying all religious text is really important to Bahá’ís because being able to understand all of the different messengers of God contributes to the Bahá’í principle of religious unity. Bahá’ís do not place a higher emphasis on one specific religious text because they view all religions as being equal. The most holy text written by Bahá’u’lláh is the Kitab-i-Aqbas, which consists of all of the moral laws and obligations of the faith.

1st excerpt:

“I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting.”

This prayer is from the Kitab-i-Aqbas. It is the shortest obligatory prayer that was written by Bahá’u’lláh and it encompasses the main beliefs of the Bahá’í Faith because it states the Bahá’í belief of the human condition and the nature of God.

2nd Excerpt:

“And now, concerning thy question regarding the creation of man. Know thou that all men have been created in the nature made by God, the Guardian, the Self-Subsisting. Unto each one hath been prescribed a pre-ordained measure, as decreed in God’s mighty and guarded Tablets. All that which ye potentially possess can, however, be manifested only as a result of your own volition. Your own acts testify to this truth. Consider, for instance, that which hath been forbidden, in the Bayán, unto men. God hath in that Book, and by His behest, decreed as lawful whatsoever He hath pleased to decree, and hath, through the power of His sovereign might, forbidden whatsoever He elected to forbid. To this testifieth the text of that Book. Will ye not bear witness? Men, however, have wittingly broken His law. Is such a behavior to be attributed to God, or to their proper selves? Be fair in your judgment. Every good thing is of God, and every evil thing is from yourselves. Will ye not comprehend? This same truth hath been revealed in all the Scriptures, if ye be of them that understand. Every act ye meditate is as clear to Him as is that act when already accomplished. There is none other God besides Him. His is all creation and its empire. All stands revealed before Him; all is recorded in His holy and hidden Tablets. This fore-knowledge of God, however, should not be regarded as having caused the actions of men, just as your own previous knowledge that a certain event is to occur, or your desire that it should happen, is not and can never be the reason for its occurrence.” –Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh.

This excerpt is important because it describes the Bahá’í belief of the human condition and the nature of God more in depth. It basically says that human are made by God and are therefore good by nature, but our capabilities to make independent decisions cause us to disobey God’s laws. This means that any evil thing humans do is a result of their decisions while all good things that humans do come from the divine nature of humans that comes from God. Also, this excerpt illustrates the Bahá’í belief in a unified God by discussing the idea that there is only one all-knowing God, but emphasizes that God is not the reason for men’s evil actions.

3rd Excerpt: “O YE children of men! The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. Suffer it not to become a source of dissension and discord, of hate and enmity. This is the straight Path, the fixed and immovable foundation. Whatsoever is raised on this foundation, the changes and chances of the world can never impair its strength, nor will the revolution of countless centuries undermine its structure. Our hope is that the world’s religious leaders and the rulers thereof will unitedly arise for the reformation of this age and the rehabilitation of its fortunes. Let them, after meditating on its needs, take counsel together and, through anxious and full deliberation, administer to a diseased and sorely-afflicted world the remedy it requires…. It is incumbent upon them who are in authority to exercise moderation in all things. Whatsoever passeth beyond the limits of moderation will cease to exert a beneficial influence. Consider for instance such things as liberty, civilization and the like. However much men of understanding may favourably regard them, they will, if carried to excess, exercise a pernicious influence upon men…. Please God, the peoples of the world may be led, as the result of the high endeavours exerted by their rulers and the wise and learned amongst men, to recognize their best interests. How long will humanity persist in its waywardness? How long will injustice continue? How long is chaos and confusion to reign amongst men? How long will discord agitate the face of society? The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divideth and afflicteth the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective. I beseech God, exalted be His glory, that He may graciously awaken the peoples of the earth, may grant that the end of their conduct may be profitable unto them, and aid them to accomplish that which beseemeth their station.” –Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh.

This passage is part of a series of proclamations made by Bahá’u’lláh that is directed toward the people of the world. It outlines the Bahá’í belief of the unity of humanity and calls on the global population to realize the unity of humanity and work towards achieving it. He specifically calls on the leaders of the other major religions and world leaders to begin this transformation and to understand that there could be serious consequences for humanity if we do not begin to work towards developing a unified human race.

4. Doctrines and Beliefs

1. Essential Statement of Belief: the essential belief of the Bahá’í Faith is that humanity is one unified element and Bahá’u’lláh said that God sent him to signal the oncoming unification of the human race. All other Bahá’í principles, doctrines and rituals center on this concept. The ethical and social concepts such as destroying all forms of prejudice, promoting equality, and accepting members of all religions are important ethical laws that support the unification of the human race. The idea that service towards others as a form of worship and the principles of the unity of God and other religions also center on this concept. Bahá’u’lláh said that he had been sent to signal this coming era, and people’s responsibility is to accept it and being working towards that goal.

2. The two other key doctrines are the unity of God and the unity of all major religions, which stem from and support the main concept of the unity of humanity. The Bahá’í Faith is a monotheistic religion because they believe that there is only one all-knowing God. They also believe that God is unified throughout all religions because every major religion stemmed from the same God. Bahá’ís believe that God has sent different messengers or prophets to earth throughout history in order to bring his message to humanity at that specific time period.

3. Eschatology: Bahá’ís believe that every person has a permanent soul and that the body is just a physical being, not part of the soul. Bahá’ís believe that after the physical death of the body, the soul continues through multiple “worlds” on a journey towards uniting with God. Bahá’ís do not believe in literal locations of heaven and hell, but that if one’s soul does not make progress towards becoming closer with God after death, they will remain in a state of being distant from God, which is considered to be hell. Progressing towards and finally uniting with God is considered to be heaven. During one’s lifetime, Bahá’ís work on communing with God every day and studying religious text in order to begin getting closer to God.

5. Religious Experience

1. Role of worship and prayer: Prayer is very important within the Bahá’í Faith because it plays a key role in understanding and becoming closer to God, which is an essential part of the faith. Bahá’u’lláh wrote thousands of prayers during his lifetime, and prescribed a few obligatory prayers that Bahá’ís must recite every day, which is part of the obligation to pray and commune with God daily. Worship also plays a very large role in the Faith, because it plays a large role in the development of the Bahá’í community through the houses of worship. Music also plays a large role in worship, especially in social rituals like the Nineteen Day Feast.

2. The group experience in the Bahá’í Faith: The community of Bahá’ís can be seen as a model for a unified human race and therefore, the community plays a large role in the religious experience of the individual. The main center for community life is in the Houses of Worship and through community meetings and service as a form of worship. Each individual performs service-oriented tasks in their own life such as through their professions, and sometimes the community organizes larger projects that involve more members of the faith. Bahá’ís are also encouraged to connect with members of other faiths as a part of the principles of acceptance of other faiths and the unity of humanity. Throughout most aspects of the Bahá’í Faith, elements of the personal religious experience can are also part of the experience of the community as a whole such as the examples of service and worship.

6. Ethics and Moral Conduct

The main ethical beliefs of the Bahá’í Faith include:

-Praying daily and/or communing with God.

-Trustworthiness, chastity and honesty are some of the emphasized virtues, but being a generally moral person is very important.

-Being dedicated to service toward others

-Accepting members of all religions

-Avoiding being materialistic, using drugs and alcohol, or gambling.

The main social principles are also interconnected with the ethical beliefs of the faith, they include:

-Removing all forms of prejudice from society.

-Equality of women

-Recognizing the unity of religions

-Eliminating poverty and wealth.

-Universal Education

-Each person has a responsibility to independently search for truth.

-Establishing a global organization of nations

-Recognizing that religion coexists with science.

There are not many different interpretations of these ethical beliefs within the faith because it is such a young religion. These are the ethical beliefs of the faith but Bahá’ís also follow most of the other ethical beliefs of other religions like the Ten Commandments, and other beliefs from different religions. There are different interpretations that come with the tenants of other religions that Bahá’ís study, but they mainly rely on the texts for information on those religions.

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