We all have different central beliefs, core values about ourselves and the world. What are yours?
For some, this center might be a conception of God as a deity that consciously rewards and punishes people. For others, it might be the values of universal brotherhood and world peace. Yet for others their own self might be at the center, expressed by accumulation of money, hedonistic goals or personal legacy. Other examples of those core values could include family, nationalism or nature.
The Baha’i teachings offer a view of the Creator as an Unknowable Essence, which reveals Itself through prophets or messengers—Christ, Muhammad, Buddha and Baha’u’llah among others. This conception forms the central belief for Baha’is.
That Baha’i perspective then results in a view of the world that includes the oneness of religion, that all religions are divine in origin and are revealed progressively as part of God’s revelation to humanity. It includes the oneness of humanity, which ultimately functions like a single body where the good of one represents the good of all. From this derives a notion of interdependency, guarded by a moral imperative to “prefer your brother over yourself,” which Baha’is endeavor to then express in action through service to others and towards the common good.
But for someone whose life gravitates around a materialistic central belief, they might perceive money as the key driver of self-worth and personal fulfilment. The resulting values and morals could be such that, as long as one is making money, it supports a rationalization of greed, and manipulation and selfish behaviour.
So, our central belief systems can influence our lives the same way the sun influences the functioning of the solar system, by shaping our observations of the world, setting our values and morals, and at the end defining our actions.
Baha’is believe that actions are the defining elements of someone’s worth—not solely their beliefs or visions:
Love manifests its reality in deeds, not only in words—these alone are without effect. In order that love may manifest its power there must be an object, an instrument, a motive. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 35.
People have vastly different conceptions of what the word “God” means as a central belief, which means that consequently, there are widely different implications. An extreme example: religious fundamentalists who claim to fulfill God’s will on the planet by creating chaos and death. On the other side, so-called “ordinary” religious people say that God is love, and that the fundamentalists’ actions are diametrically opposed to the meaning of the religious scriptures. The same word, but a very different conception, a different central belief, different implications, and different actions.
The opposite is also true. Consistent belief systems can originate from different words to describe a central belief. In the Baha’i teachings we can find a conception of human nature related directly to God:
In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature. In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone. Signs of both these natures are to be found in men. In his material aspect he expresses untruth, cruelty and injustice; all these are the outcome of his lower nature. The attributes of his Divine nature are shown forth in love, mercy, kindness, truth and justice, one and all being expressions of his higher nature. Every good habit, every noble quality belongs to man’s spiritual nature, whereas all his imperfections and sinful actions are born of his material nature. If a man’s Divine nature dominates his human nature, we have a saint. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 60.
We can see here that although we may use different words to describe our central belief, this does not mean there is actually a difference between the two. Both fulfil their role in the same way and give rise to the same type of Level 2 implications. In fact, in their scriptures, all the world religions defend the same essential level 2 statements:
It has been renewed in each prophetic dispensation or cycle; and, in short, can be summed up by the “golden rule” which Christ gave (Matt. 7:12): “All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye unto them, for this is the law and the prophets”—which Muhammad proclaimed: “Let none of you treat his brother in a way he himself would dislike to be treated.”—and which again appears in the teachings of Baha’u’llah: “O son of man! Wert thou to observe mercy, thou wouldst not regard thine own interest but the interest of mankind. Wert thou to observe justice, choose thou for others what thou choosest for thyself.” This is the spiritual, the essential, the eternal side of religion. – George Latimer, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 122.
Give it some consideration today, and ask yourself: what forms my central belief?