Monday, September 10, 2007

On Religious Curiosity and Questioning: Is it a Baha'i with No Doubt or No Doubt a Baha'i?

In a recent comment on this blog Anonymous observed the following. -gw
From what I've read (on this blog and elsewhere), Baha'is seem to take a whole heck of a lot on faith. Is there no room for curiosity, questioning, doubt in your religion?

One of my favorite things to note about the Baha'i Calendar is that there is a month of "Questions," but no month of "Answers." -gw

The 15th month of the Baha’i Calendar called Masa’il (Questions) starts December 11th at sundown. The Baha’i (Badi) Calendar months are named after attributes or qualities of God.

Having a questioning mind is extoled in the Baha'i Writings. Doubt and uncertainty, however, characterize our age. It strikes a chord in us that even a Mother Theresa doubted. Doubt is a part of the human condition and affects Baha'is as well, of course. After all, are we not all finite beings? Becoming a believer involves a leap of Faith. God gives us much reassurance. We say our prayers. Steadfastness in the face of doubt is admirable.
I remember one of my Baha'i teachers telling me many years ago, "The Baha'i Faith is the best thing I've come across so far." I have been saying that myself ever since then. Here are a few excerpts to mark the beginning of a discussion. -gw

It is always through questioning and mature thought that we can arrive at the root of everything .
The Light of Divine Guidance (Volume 2)
Author: Shoghi Effendi
Source: Bahá’í Publishing Trust of Germany (Bahá’í-Verlag), 1985 edition

Abrogation of specific laws and ordinances of previous Dispensations, which prescribed:
... f. Prohibition on questioning the Founder of the Faith

The Kitáb-i-Aqdas
Author: Bahá’u’lláh
Source: Bahá’í World Centre, 1992 edition

Whenever thou art desiring to talk and answer questions, turn thy face toward the Kingdom of Abha and beseech for assistance; then loosen thy tongue. Thou wilt behold at that time how thou art able to answer all the questions!
Tablets of Abdul-Baha Abbas
Author: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
Source: Bahá’í Publishing Committee, 1909 edition

The Independent Investigation of Truth: Baha'u'llah emphasizes the fundamental obligation of human beings to acquire knowledge with their "own eyes and not through the eyes of others." One of the main sources of conflict in the world today is the fact that many people blindly and uncritically follow various traditions, movements, and opinions. God has given each human being a mind and the capacity to differentiate truth from falsehood. If individuals fail to use their reasoning capacities and choose instead to accept without question certain opinions and ideas, either out of admiration for or fear of those who hold them, then they are neglecting their basic moral responsibility as human beings.

Eventually, as an ever-evolving civilization exhausts its spiritual sources, a process of disintegration sets in, as it does throughout the phenomenal world. Turning again to analogies offered by nature, Bahá’u’lláh compares this hiatus in the development of civilization to the onset of winter. Moral vitality diminishes, as does social cohesion. Challenges which would have been overcome at an earlier age, or been turned into opportunities for exploration and achievement, become insuperable barriers. Religion loses its relevance, and experimentation becomes increasingly fragmented, further deepening social divisions. Increasingly, uncertainty about the meaning and value of life generates anxiety and confusion. Speaking about this condition in our own age Bahá’u’lláh says:

We can well perceive how the whole human race is encompassed with great, with incalculable afflictions. We see it languishing on its bed of sickness, sore-tried and disillusioned. They that are intoxicated by self-conceit have interposed themselves between it and the Divine and infallible Physician. Witness how they have entangled all men, themselves included, in the mesh of their devices. They can neither discover the cause of the disease, nor have they any knowledge of the remedy. They have conceived the straight to be crooked, and have imagined their friend an enemy.
Author: Bahá’í International Community


child_of_africa said...

I think this poem by Ruhiyyih Khanum goes nicely with this post.

To Walk where there is no path
To breath where there is no air
To see where there is no light
This is Faith.

To cry out in the silence
The silence of the night,
And hearing no echo, believe
And believe again and again
This is Faith.

To hold pebbles and see jewels
To raise sticks and see forests
To smile with weeping eyes
This is Faith

To say :'God, I believe' when others deny,
'I hear' where there is no answer
'I see' though naught is seen
This is Faith.

And the fierce love in the heart,
The savage love that cries
Hidden Thou art, yet there!
Veil thy face and mute thy tongue
Yet I see and hear Thee, Love,
Beat me down to the bare earth,
Yet I rise and love Thee, Love!
This is Faith.

-Ruhiyyih Khanum

child_of_africa said...

I should mention that I read this on the blog "mystic logic"

Anne said...

Thanks George for pulling together quotes on questions. This brings together several thoughts of mine. On a recent post, you mentioned a discussion of "The God Delusion" by Dawkins. I commented that I think it's a positive sign that people are questioning and re-examining assumptions and what has been passed down through generations. Sometimes the "established order" finds questions threatening, but I think they are refreshing and a sign of growth. I also recently watched a play "Foreigner" by Anisa George which deals with a lot of questions that a young woman had as she entered academic studies and began to examine her own Baha'i religion. Questioning is sometimes painful and difficult, but I believe it is necessary before we can truly accept a "belief" as our very own. I believe having questions, and, yes, even doubts at times, is a universal experience, Baha'i or otherwise. I think it's wonderful to be open about these experiences.
( for my other thoughts on her play)

Also, it's interesting to ponder that "Questions" is one of the Attributes of God....

I want to add just one more quote to your list:
"Should any one among you be incapable of grasping a certain truth, or be striving to comprehend it, show forth, when conversing with him, a spirit of extreme kindliness and good will. Help him to see and recognize the truth, without esteeming yourself to be, in the least, superior to him, or to be possessed of greater endowments. (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh: V)"

George Wesley said...

Thank you, Child of Africa, for mention of the poem It is put to music and sung on a lovely track on the "Louhelen Baha'i School, Fruits of the Spirit" CD, by the way.

The Gleanings quote is essential reading for any Baha'i attempting to teach the Faith, Anne. It is a great addition to any compilation of excerpts from the Writings on this subject.