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COVID-19 Reflections Science & Religion World Unity

How can we prevent the next global crisis?

Today, Bahá’ís worldwide, celebrate the Declaration of the Báb. This annual event commemorates the founding of the Bábí Movement, the precursor to the Bahá’í Faith. It is one of 9 Holy Days every year during which work is suspended. Following what have been some extremely busy few weeks, I finally had some time to sit down again and reflect on the current condition of the world. Hence, I started to think about what we can do to prevent the next global crisis.

What it is that led us to an almost global lockdown? What caused this pandemic that has shaken our way of living to its very core? Countless lives have been lost, entire economies have been wrecked, and the future seems very uncertain for the vast majority of the world’s population.

Introduction:
What prompted my reflections?

Before I express my thoughts, I would like to point out that I am not seeking to make any politically biased statements on the source of this outbreak. Nor do I wish to judge the scientific merits of the theories that I mention. In fact, I am not trying to come to a conclusion as to how the virus was transmitted to the first human. On the contrary, I am just putting my thoughts on paper with regards to two common theories that I have seen circulating in the media.

While they both point to China, I believe that China is the country of the future, and while this time it seems to have been the source of the outbreak, tomorrow it could be any other country.

Rather than assigning blame to any one country or regime, I seek to explore how some of the Teachings that the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh brought to mankind could have prevented this situation. I believe that these teachings can help shift our way of thinking and acting to help reduce the impact of future catastrophies.

Reflections:
Could we have prevented this global crisis?

A scientific catastrophy

News articles have started to appear that report on efforts by UK & US intelligence bodies to try and establish how the virus was first transmitted to humans. The theory being pointed at suggests that the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which played a key role in identifying the virus which we now call COVID-19, may in fact have been responsible for releasing it in the first place.

Should this have been the case, the question has been posed as to why its spread was not curbed. Assuming that there was no malignant intentions in terms of a biological warfare, another explanation that is circulating is that the government did not want the research that was being done to be known, and thus tried to cover it up.

So here we potentially have a case of groundbreaking scientific research involving a genetically modified virus. As long as the research abides by the laws of the country, or is sanctioned in some way by the regime, it is permitted to take place. However, is this right? Most people would agree that there ought to be some ethical considerations at play for any scientific research. Bahá’u’lláh goes further than this and calls for the harmony of science and religion itself. ʻAbdu’l-Bahá, the Son and authorised Interpreter of Bahá’u’lláh, further elucidates:

“Religion and science are the two wings upon which man’s intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone! Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism.”

https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/paris-talks/5#542194845

There are some values that almost all world religions promote. These include truthfulness, trustworthiness, and justice. It is evident that adhering to these virtues would allow us to contain the spread of the virus and minimise the potential damage caused by one in the future.

A question to consider as a generic point is the possibility governments in the future deciding to invest in biological warfare research programme. The Bahá’í Faith calls for universal peace, a necessary requirement for which is justice. If we were to view all humanity as one, our worldview would shift from one of wanting to pursue the interests of our nation, to rendering service to humanity as a whole. Embracing this principle now could thus help save thousands of lives in the future.

“Justice is not limited, it is a universal quality. Its operation must be carried out in all classes, from the highest to the lowest. Justice must be sacred, and the rights of all the people must be considered. Desire for others only that which you desire for yourselves. Then shall we rejoice in the Sun of Justice, which shines from the Horizon of God.”

https://www.bahai.org/beliefs/universal-peace/quotations

A natural catastrophy

Now let us turn to another theory, which would make us look at the current pandemic as a natural catastrophy. The theory says that the virus spread to humans through the wet markets. The corona virus then jumped form a bat to an unknown species, which was consumed by humans, and that constituted the genesis of the chain reaction.

It appears that what would have allowed the pandemic to assume global proportions under this theory stems from an interplay between traditions & culture on the one hand, and a country’s laws on the other. Presumably, had wet markets been banned years ago as many activists have been calling for, the virus transmission to humans would not have occurred.

Once more, I do not wish to argue whether wet markets per se should or should not be banned. However, presuming that there are good arguments for closing them down, why was this not done until recently? Presumably individuals were too attached to their own wants and desires, so as not to be able to objectively see the effects of their actions.

What I believe is required in such cases is to transcend a narrow, self-centred view, and to strive to desire that which is conducive to the common weal of a global society.

Comparison

Perhaps in both the cases analysed above, we can see certain parallels between the interaction of science and religion on the one hand, and laws and culture on the other hand. In the former case, scientific endeavours unchecked by religious standards, seem to have been the cause for the spread of the pandemic. In the latter, cultural traditions unchecked by a government’s legal framework, provided the pathway for the virus to conquer the world.

A takeaway from both these possibilities is that we need to rethink at a very basic level the interactions and power dynamics between various factors in our society. Whether this be science and religion, laws and culture, or individual rights and the common weal, a framework is required according to which everything can be weighed up and a correct balance can be struck. But how are we to obtain such a framework?

A human catastrophy

While it is not certain which of the above theories, or perhaps some other theory, actually holds true, what I am absolutely convinced of, is that the root cause of the situation we find ourselves in today is, in fact, a human catastrophy. Whether the roots of this catastrophy were scientific or natural as described above, either would be but one of many outcomes of a single human catastrophic decision. For if this decision had been taken correctly, whichever the cause of transmission of the virus to the first human, the spread would have been controlled and the consequences would have been minimised compared to what we see today.

Almost two centuries ago, Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed the need for humanity to adopt a new set of principles to guide it on its path towards its collective maturity. The worldwide adoption of these principles would have helped us prevent many a tragedy to date. For example, the principle of the harmony of science and religion, if fully enacted, could have helped prevent the current outbreak as explained above. But why did we humans reject Bahá’u’lláh’s healing message? One of the reasons that is mentioned in the Bahá’í Writings, is the influence of leaders of religions of former times.

“All religions of the present day have fallen into superstitious practices, out of harmony alike with the true principles of the teaching they represent and with the scientific discoveries of the time. Many religious leaders have grown to think that the importance of religion lies mainly in the adherence to a collection of certain dogmas and the practice of rites and ceremonies! Those whose souls they profess to cure are taught to believe likewise, and these cling tenaciously to the outward forms, confusing them with the inward truth.”

https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/abdul-baha/paris-talks/5#542194845

However, this was not the only reason for its rejection. Each individual has been endowed with the ability to reason independently. It appears to me that there is another parallel that can be drawn that can help us prevent the next global crisis. In parts of the Western world, there seems to be an inbalance between science and religion at a societal level. This finds expression in a prejudice against religion. At an individual level, I believe we need to look objectively at the balance between faith and reason.

Are we, professing to be the masters of reason, actually succumbing to the historically founded, yet not entirely reasonable, prejudice against religion? If dispassionately weighed, we will find that it is part of the solution to the world’s problems. I invite you, dear reader, to consider the arguments brought by Bahá’u’lláh in their purest form, and decide for yourself.

“This humble servant is filled with wonder, inasmuch as all men are endowed with the capacity to see and hear, yet we find them deprived of the privilege of using these faculties. This servant hath been prompted to pen these lines by virtue of the tender love he cherisheth for thee. 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.”

https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/tablets-bahaullah/5#041830557

Alongside the above principle, Bahá’u’lláh provided an entire blueprint for the regeneration of mankind. Referring to a sublime God, He says:

“The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require.”

https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/tabernacle-unity/3#553038498

Bahá’u’lláh brought this panacea to the world. However, the majority of the people living in His lifetime, rejected His plea for justice, peace, and world unity. In doing so, and ignoring His call, we opened the way to the further degradation of an already lamentably defective world order.

When will we, a single humanity, wake up to the reality that there is no chance of survival save by overcoming our differences and uniting as one family?

“Were man to appreciate the greatness of his station and the loftiness of his destiny he would manifest naught save goodly character, pure deeds, and a seemly and praiseworthy conduct. If the learned and wise men of goodwill were to impart guidance unto the people, the whole earth would be regarded as one country. Verily this is the undoubted truth. This servant appealeth to every diligent and enterprising soul to exert his utmost endeavor and arise to rehabilitate the conditions in all regions and to quicken the dead with the living waters of wisdom and utterance, by virtue of the love he cherisheth for God, the One, the Peerless, the Almighty, the Beneficent.”

https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/tablets-bahaullah/5#041830557

Conclusion:
How can we prevent future global crises?

Clearly, the effects of the lack of a global response to this pandemic in exasperating the suffering worldwide has become obvious. Unless we are able to provide a global, unified response to delicate situations now and in the future, this surely will not be the last catastrophy in our lifetime.

“The world is in travail, and its agitation waxeth day by day. Its face is turned towards waywardness and unbelief. Such shall be its plight, that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly. Its perversity will long continue. And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake. Then, and only then, will the Divine Standard be unfurled, and the Nightingale of Paradise warble its melody.”

https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/gleanings-writings-bahaullah/4#907560389

Whether we be worried about climate change, a nuclear war, or indeed, biological warfare, each one of us better get up now and do something. While the bright end is unquestionable, the amount of suffering that mankind will need to endure in the process of getting there, now depends solely on each one of us.

“World peace is not only possible but inevitable. It is the next stage in the evolution of this planet—in the words of one great thinker, “the planetization of mankind”.”

https://www.bahai.org/documents/the-universal-house-of-justice/promise-world-peace

So how can we, as individuals, contribute to processes that could help us prevent the next global crisis?

“Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and centre your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”

https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/tabernacle-unity/3#553038498

Worldwide, Bahá’ís and likeminded souls, are striving to bring about a process of transformation at the grassroots of every neighbourhood and village. This movement of global proportions seeks to ensure that the material and spiritual progress of every people and nation on this planet is enabled and supported as part of one human family.

“Is not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself, both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions? For if the character of mankind be not changed, the futility of God’s universal Manifestations would be apparent.”

https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/bahaullah/kitab-i-iqan/9#501261243

To find out more about how you can play your part in averting the next global crisis and in offering a lasting contribution to the fortunes of mankind, click here.

Should you be interested in exploring my thoughts on the oneness of mankind and some other lessons that we can take from this pandemic, you may wish to take a look at my previous blog post.

Categories
COVID-19 Reflections Transformation World Unity

Lessons from the COVID-19 Crisis

Mounting ventilator shortages, ubiquitous masks and protective gear, armies calling a cease fire to set up makeshift hospitals… Our news is flooded with reports of the stark suffering that is being endured all over the world, as we unite to fight a common enemy. No country or nation seems to have been spared. Though one region of the world or another may currently appear to be less affected by the disease itself, its ramifications on the economy are being felt in every corner of the world.

At the same time, praiseworthy initiatives by those wishing to instil a sense of hope are appearing in abundance, albeit they do not receive adequate coverage from the mass media. From communities pulling together to support the most vulnerable and those working on the front line, to groups of friends uniting through conference calls to contribute to the development of the moral and spiritual aspects of their lives by way of prayer gatherings and online educational classes, one can see glimmerings of hope starting to appear amidst the gloom of despair like evening stars.

Beyond these projects that are being set up to assist in the short-term, what are we to take away from this crisis? Encouraging accounts are starting to emerge of the beneficial effect that the standstill is having on our long-neglected mother nature. The ozone layer is starting to heal. Air pollution has cleared up as roads are deserted and factories shut down. A heightened appreciation of nature’s beauty is gaining strength in the minds and hearts of those who have been constrained to their homes. It seems opportune to pause at this time, and reflect, on our relationship with the environment and its resources, and the future that awaits us if we don’t break the cycle of cancerous materialism that we have increasingly engaged with since the Industrial Revolution. Surely, we cannot continue in this way for much longer.

But a deeper question prompted me to set down these few thoughts. I wondered what lessons we might learn from this crisis, and how we might change our behaviours once life returns to something like normal, even if it is a far cry from the world we were living in just a few months ago.

“Buy Local”

I have seen posts on social media from friends in various countries, encouraging their contacts to remember to ‘buy local’ after the crisis is over. While I am by no means in favour of supporting multi-national organisations whenever there are local alternatives, I feel uncomfortable with the argument behind these requests – namely, that my region’s or my country’s economies have been affected by the lockdowns, and therefore it is everyone’s duty to keep as much money circulating in the local economy to assist in its recovery.

If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has served to show, more so than ever, that the words uttered by Bahá’u’lláh well over a century ago speak nothing but the truth, namely that:

“The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.”

Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Lawh-i-Maqsúd

We are witnessing on a daily basis that the interconnectedness of the world on so many levels – from international transport almost grinding to a complete halt, to stock market crashes affecting investors regardless of provenience, to breakages in supply chains sending related business hundreds of miles apart down the same path of economic destruction – points to the undeniable truth that we, as humanity, are one. How then, can we imagine, that limiting our world-view to a localised outlook of post-crisis recovery will lend the greatest contribution to the world’s commonweal? The fallacy of such an argument is self-evident by reflection on the very cause of what has made the current crisis a concern of global magnitude.

“It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world.”

Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Lawh-i-Maqsúd

Victimisation & blame

A few hours ago, while scrolling through my Facebook feed, I came across a post which really shook me to the core. An individual in Italy (one of the countries affected the most by the coronavirus) posted the following:

I don’t know when and how tourism will recommence in Italy. But once it does, I will try to avoid German tourists. Given the consideration that they have shown to us in terms of economic support during this pandemic, as far as I am concerned, they can holiday elsewhere.

Facebook Post, 29th March 2020

While I fully empathise with the extremely difficult situation that Italy and many other hard-hit countries are facing, and even assuming that Germany as a country has acted inconsiderately in not supporting Italy throughout this crisis (which I am not seeking to judge either way), I feel it is just plain wrong to victimise and seek to shift blame on other individuals. Should the government of another country be to blame for not offering sufficient assistance to another, perhaps we, as mankind, need to reflect about why we have not heeded Bahá’u’lláh’s call to establish a world commonwealth. Surely, a situation such as this, would be merely one manifestation of the myriad injustices perpetrated as a result of our stubbornness in seeking to put our national interests above those of others.

However, what we can and should control as individuals is our attitude towards our sisters and brothers residing beyond man-made borders that delineate an atlas like the cracks of a shattering sphere of china. Surely, no one individual is to blame for humanity’s shortcomings as a whole, nor for any decisions taken by their respective governments. Neither can anyone claim that the sick state of the world cannot be changed through our own individual contributions. Hence, seeking to adopt the shoes of a victim and blaming other individuals for lack of support on behalf of their elected representatives, cannot be right.

So, what is the solution?

What is needed is a conscious commitment from each one of us to participate in a process of personal and societal transformation. Shoghi Effendi, in a letter written on his behalf, states:

“We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.”

Shoghi Effendi

What instrument is there, potent enough to heal the ills in the world and achieve the long-awaited era of peace and world unity each of us longs for in our hearts?

Religion, writes Bahá’u’lláh, is “the chief instrument for the establishment of order in the world, and of tranquillity amongst its peoples.

Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf 

So how come the world finds itself in such a lamentable state? The problem is that people have twisted divine truth in the past and sought to use it for their own ends, thereby corrupting the true essence of religion. Bahá’u’lláh warns us of the consequences of seeking to promote our selfish interests in the name of religion:

In truth, religion is a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold for the protection and welfare of the peoples of the world, for the fear of God impelleth man to hold fast to that which is good, and shun all evil. Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness and justice, of tranquility and peace cease to shine.

Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, Ishráqát

Please, don’t be shocked. Hit the reset button. Forget every connotation of the word ‘religion’ that you have heard used to date, and consider the following as the aim of true religion:

[I]s not the object of every Revelation,” He asks, “to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself, both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions?

Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Íqán

So how can we, as individuals, contribute most effectively to the wellbeing of the world? How can we develop ourselves spiritually and transcend the language of hate and the adversarial attitude instilled in us by a sense of blind nationalism? How can we assist our society in progressing towards an ever-advancing civilisation, where material and spiritual progress go hand-in-hand? How can we translate our volition to do good into action as part of a revitalising global force?

I encourage you to consider joining the Bahá’í Movement, in whatever capacity you prefer, and help us build a better world. To read more, visit https://www.bahai.org/action/.

Categories
Reflections

An Underlying Cause – Reflections on the Killings of November 13th 2015

Prologue

In a world that pushes for short statements on complex matters, it is very easy to get carried away and give in to the pressure. Thus, my post earlier today may have hurt some people’s feelings whose interpretation of what the point I was trying to make may have been different from what I intended to say. On the other hand, the feelings underlying the post seemed to resonate with many, so I have taken some time to write my thoughts out in greater detail, in the hope that it will convey the point that I was trying to make without upsetting anyone.

An Underlying Cause – Reflections on the Killings of November 13th 2015

With the setting of the sun on November 13th 2015, Bahá’ís around the world celebrated, for the first time in synchrony on a global scale, the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith. Since the spreading of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh to the West, Bahá’ís have been celebrating their Holy Days according to differing calendars in the East and the West, however, this year for the first time in history, they were united in a “common implementation of the Badí calendar”.

Bahá’ís are united in pursuing a far greater number of goals than merely celebrating Holy Days on the same day worldwide. After all, the main purpose of the Bahá’í Faith is “to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization”. In a Tablet to Queen Victoria, Bahá’u’lláh wrote:

“That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith.”

Bahá’ís, the followers of Bahá’u’lláh worldwide, have been trying for close to two centuries to translate His Teachings into actions in their daily lives.

The Universal House of Justice, the Supreme Body of Bahá’ís worldwide, has stated that “World peace is not only possible but inevitable.” A perfect example of this is provided by Bahá’ís from around the world gathering to elect this Supreme Governing Body, at the International Bahá’í Conventions, every five years, in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship:

 

International Convention

If these Bahá’ís are able to do it – why can’t we all? Why can’t we all set aside our ignorance-based prejudices, and embrace each other with love and tolerance? Because surely, we will not be able to achieve peace unless we do so.

“The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.”

Many of us in the Western world will have shared our feelings of solidarity with those who were affected by the shootings in Paris. My heartfelt condolences go out to those affected by the shootings in Paris, either directly or indirectly. I also feel that is important on such occasions to remind ourselves that this was not an isolated incident, but rather a symptom of an underlying cause affecting the entire world, namely the widespread nature of disunity and injustice in many aspects of our lives. Indeed, on the same evening suicide bombings were carried out in Iraq and in Lebanon the night before. We are also well aware of the many mass shootings or single gun incidents that take place in the United States of America and elsewhere so frequently; the abuse that many suffer in their own homes from family members; the countless incidents of rape that plague the world (be these carried out by strangers or close friends); the ongoing reports of expressions of racial prejudice in some of the so-called global ‘centres of excellence’; and many other cases of a similar nature. All of the above beg the questions:

“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 divides and afflicts the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appears to be lamentably defective.”

The shootings in Paris, suicide bombings in Beirut and Baghdad, and many more negative incidents that occurred worldwide yesterday (and many more that occur on a daily basis), can thus all be seen as signs of a lamentably defective world. It is evident that the vast majority of the world’s population would like to bring an end to human-induced suffering. For many, the truth stated by Bahá’u’lláh a century and a half ago is starting to resonate:

“Regard the world as the human body…”

If we take a moment to reflect on this statement, we can start to see parallels between the interactions of the different parts of the body and the various peoples of the world. A disease affecting one part of the body, will necessarily have its impact on the well-being of the body as a whole and, whether directly or indirectly, all the other organs of the body will suffer as a consequence.

A good physician will always do their best to diagnose the correct disease, i.e. the underlying cause to the symptoms that their patient is experiencing. Similarly, if we want to bring an end to the injustices across the world, we need to dig deeper than the feelings stirred by some atrocity or other that we encounter. Realizing and accepting the fact that there is one underlying cause to the world’s symptoms, will enable us to walk on the right path leading to a solution.

The essential equality of all human beings has as a corollary the fact that all life is equally precious. I thus invite you to take a few moments to reflect on the contribution that each one of us makes on such occasions to the discussion of such topics – be it on social media, or in our discussions with friends. Should we not be equally upset by reports of attacks, shootings, bombings, and abductions regardless of the latitude and longitude at which they take place? How do we ensure that we express this fairness in such conversations? Is clicking that “Change your profile picture” button really the best expression of solidarity for the multitude of atrocities carried out worldwide on a daily basis? Or are we, by singling out that one country that is closer to home, forgetting about the countless masses of people elsewhere in the planet who have suffered just the same, if not a more degrading fate? Should we tolerate the selective and biased reporting by the media, and, more importantly, should we enhance this effect through what we post on social media?

On this note, the following words of Bahá’u’lláh seem to strike the right chords:

“Let your vision be world embracing, rather than confined to your own self.”

“Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind…”

To build this vision we must start at the grassroots, and ensure that the education that we impart to the next generation is not merely material, but also human and spiritual. This theme is one that is common to the thoughts expressed by many of the world’s great thinkers. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stated:

“Every child is potentially the light of the world—and at the same time its darkness; wherefore must the question of education be accounted as of primary importance.”

Similarly, Nelson Mandela pointed out that:

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

And it is inevitable that negative thoughts will reach our minds, whether born of prejudice or of retaliatory feelings. What is important is how we deal with these thoughts and feelings.

“When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love.”

And to finish on a more positive note, let’s call to mind the following words:

“Make haste to love! Make haste to trust! Make haste to give! To guidance come!

Come ye for harmony! To behold the Star of Day! Come here for kindliness, for ease! Come here for amity and peace!

Come and cast down your weapons of wrath, till unity is won! Come and in the Lord’s true path each one help each one.” – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

NB: If you are interested in contributing actively towards an educational system at the heart of which lies the recognition of the spiritual nature of mankind and whose methodology centres around nurturing the positive in every one of us and helps us fulfill our capacities in service to our fellow human beings, you may wish to take a look at the Ruhi Institute’s work.

 

Categories
Essays Science & Religion

Paths to knowledge – Religion & Science

What, if anything, makes science a privileged path to knowledge?

There are two sources of knowledge – science and religion. While it is often thought of them as two entirely separate ones, I would like to draw from my personal religious beliefs and my understanding of scientific theory and practice to date, to construe a model of harmony and collaboration between the two. I will therefore not be arguing over the privilege of science over any other field of human endeavour, but rather the elements that make both science and religion a privileged intertwined path to knowledge.

To start off with, I would like to clarify my understanding of what knowledge is and what our purpose in acquiring it is, as this is the basis on which I will be constructing the following essay. For me, the ultimate purpose in life is the recognition of God, through his Manifestations or Divine Messengers. This recognition, I classify as true knowledge.

It is in human nature to be attracted to beauty – whether this be physical beauty, beauty seen in nature, the harmonious blending of musical notes or the systematic and clear pattern described by a mathematical formula. We are inherently attracted to things beautiful, and seek to spend our time in the acquisition of beauties, or perfections, the ultimate source of which is God. Thus, the beauty that we see in the world around us, can be considered as rays emanating from the Divine Sun, expressions of the source of true beauty.

This beauty, and therefore the knowledge that lies hidden in it, can be accessed through two channels. Think of the world as consisting of two vast systems of knowledge, each of which is served by a particular Book – the Book of Creation and the Book of Revelation. The first of these consists of all the material substance that surrounds us, together with the laws to which all created things are subjected. Some would refer to this as nature. The second of these, the Book of Revelation, consists of the Teachings that the founders of the world’s great religions have brought, and are another way of trying to catch a glimpse of God’s unknowable essence.

These two bodies of knowledge are often presented as being conflicting one with the other, of being alternative methods of describing the world, and supporters of either claiming that their body of knowledge is more sound and that the other one should be discarded of. This can be clearly seen in the attacks of certain atheists on religious belief, and the insistence of religious fundamentalists on the importance of the Holy Writing and its literal interpretation even when in stark disagreement with scientific evidence. Another viewpoint, that of the non-overlapping magisterial, advocates that science and religion are both valid, and that there are certain fields that each of them can and must address. Clearly, the first viewpoint has resulted in no more than a great deal of conflict amongst the two groups worldwide, and the second of these is analysed in quite some detail by Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion”. I will therefore not dwell on rejecting either of these, but suggest an alternative “unified” view.

As a Bahá’í, I believe that nature is an expression of God’s will, and that in its varied phenomena are hidden signs of God, his attributes or qualities. Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, encourages the independent investigation of truth, and promotes the harmony between science and religion. He says that in every atom there are signs of God, and urges men to engage in science. The Bahá’í Writings extol science as the highest form of human endeavour, and encourage the acquisition of excellence in scientific fields. The Bahá’í Faith also teaches that if science and religion are found to disagree on a subject, then one should follow the scientific explanation, lest dogmatic explanations become the norm.

On the other hand, Bahá’ís believe that Bahá’u’lláh has revealed the Words of God and His Will for today. While there is not much in terms of scientific claims as to how the world works in the Writings of the Bahá’í Faith, it is said that through meditation, prayer, and service to one’s fellow men, one can grow spiritually and thus grow closer to God. By doing so, one acquires true knowledge, and without making it sound overly mystical, one might come to understandings of natural phenomena that otherwise would not have occurred. Scientific studies have also shown that meditation increases concentration and aids in intellectual reasoning.
Both science and religion have the potential to achieve great good or cause a lot of harm – in both cases it’s a question of use or abuse. It is therefore of paramount importance that one recognise the paths that one’s decisions lead to, and act conscientiously. When analysing science and some of its praiseworthy characteristics, one is drawn to the principles it promotes of a systematic, just and true approach. Even if such a concept as “the scientific method” cannot be clearly defined, nor its elements enumerated, it is the mindset that science tries to nurture that has helped such marvellous advances in scientific and technological achievements to occur. In the Bahá’í Writings, one is called to adopt a scientific approach in all one’s endeavours, and to investigate everything with an open mind or heart. According to Bahá’u’lláh, anyone who considers himself/herself as a true seeker of knowledge, must first of all rid himself of all attachments and cleanse his heart of every trace of love and hate – lest the love lead him to error or the hate repel him from truth.

Another commonality that I see between science and religion, is the importance given to education. A lot of scientific knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation. A systematization of this process and its accessibility were vastly improved with the advent of the printing press in the Middle Ages, and the popularization of the internet in the late 20th century. A lot of effort has also gone, and still goes, into the education of children and youth in scientific fields, which lays importance not only on the acquisition of knowledge, but also on the advancement of one’s understanding. This continuity in the transfer of scientific knowledge has been the key in expanding the pool of understanding held by the scientific community as a whole, as it allows for what has taken centuries to be discovered to be taught in a much shorter span of time. Furthermore, the specialization of individuals in specific fields of scientific endeavour, has allowed for the expansion in scope of the natural phenomena that science as a whole has analysed and can now explain. However, there is still a general apprehension of religion by the majority of scientists, and a denial of the existence of God by many. This has prevented science reaching its full potential in the amount of knowledge it has been able to generate thus far.

Similarly, the Bahá’í Faith also lays great emphasis on the importance of education – both intellectual, and spiritual. It preaches a close link between the two, which although not outwardly visible, can produce great results. Education of a child’s character is given great importance to, as “every child is potentially the light of the world, and at the same time its darkness.” And it is through a well-trained character that a person can excel in the sciences, by showing good reasoning abilities, determination to complete tasks to the best of their ability, and a willingness to collaborate with others in their quest of truth.

Thus, as science and religion provide access to true knowledge, the knowledge of our Creator, they are privileged. However, this privilege can only be maintained if they work hand in hand, and aid each other in the process. In the words of Albert Einstein, “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”