Once upon a time, in a beautiful, peaceful land far, far away, I experienced the bewildering processes called gestation and delivery.
I arrived on this Earth to find, thanks to a mere accident of birth, that I now had a body, a gender and a nationality. In my case I would be called a “New Zealander.” I would be white, female, blonde, and the latest in my two thousand year-old line to be a Christian.
That meant, without the least effort on my part, that I was, by the current social values where I lived, on the right team!
Then, from the age of 5, I was required to attend school. Frankly, it was scary and I only went because I had no choice. Like most children in my country, I also had to go to Sunday School. My biggest motivation to attend both, apart from fear of parental displeasure, was that just occasionally this proved a pleasant way to socialize.
Like most kids, I did want to be good. However, I soon found that efforts to model my life along the virtuous lines that our church minister extolled each Sunday often proved disappointing. It was one thing to feel inspired during a passionately-preached sermon, but these good intentions would quickly be tested when I returned to the real world of quarrelsome brothers and school playground disagreements.
Occasionally my shortcomings laid heavy on my heart; at those times I would vow to summon up greater levels of perfection to match the minister’s inspiring stories of the obedience of Abraham, the patience of Job, the loyalty of Esther, or the humility of Martha. But the sermons were so long, the pews were so hard, and so the doubts set in …
After being delighted by the heroic exploits of Robin Hood who won the heart of the beautiful Maid Marian, I was later horrified to learn that he was little more than a thief—if, in fact, he had really existed at all. The worst was yet to come, as I learned about the role played by my previous hero King Richard, The Lion Heart, in the blood, guts and horror of the Crusades. Further adding to my disillusionment, I progressively learned about all the other wars on our planet, all carried out by opposing forces—yet with a shared Creator, members of one human family, all justifying slaughter in the name of religion, king or country.
My years of Bible studies, followed by a growing recognition of the other world religions that shared my planet, left me with the impression that Christianity and its denominations were like “brands,” each in competition with other brands; each maintaining that, despite significant commonalities, theirs was the only real one, the only product truly capable of cleansing the human soul and meeting the expectations of the consumer. All other religions were regarded as the enemy.
At least, that was the perspective that came with the imagined wisdom and zealotry of my idealistic teen-aged years. Eventually, after investigating a range of religions and philosophers, I cast aside two thousand years of heritage and became a committed atheist. It really wasn’t until another decade of passionate atheism that I would begin to reconsider the whole murky subject of religion.
That’s when my new friends Barry and Suzi arrived in my life with a whole new take on religion that I’d never come across before. Called the Baha’i Faith, it combined the best of everything I’d been looking for, without all the dross I’d so firmly rejected:
… the foundation of the divine religions is one foundation. This is the oneness of revelation or teaching. But, alas, we have turned away from that foundation, holding tenaciously to various dogmatic forms and blind imitation of ancestral beliefs. This is the real cause of enmity, hatred and bloodshed in the world—the reason of alienation and estrangement among mankind. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 407.
It showed me how spiritual teachings had, over time, become so fused with aspects of culture and weighted down with man-made dogma, that much of the original value had been obscured. Now, for the first time I could see how real religion, freed of all the acquired trappings and accumulations of ages, was truly capable of revolutionizing thought, of unlocking stores of knowledge, and inspiring the rise of civilizations.
The pages of history proved the capacity of revitalized and purified religion to revolutionize formerly dead civilizations. I began to recognize how such a pure, powerful new Faith could actually answer the urgent needs of my own age, as it had formerly proven to hold the answer to past ages.
I began to see how those figures who I had previously rejected—the founders and prophets of the world’s great religions—were, upon deeper investigation, perfect educators for the unique needs of their time, bringing new laws and moral imperatives capable of liberating the human spirit from the tyranny of worldly instincts. Their teachings laid the foundations of the new civilizations and cultures that followed. They served as templates by which parents could raise children with more exalted aspirations.
I learned that the most recent of these figures, these divine teachers, is Baha’u’llah.
I learned that throughout recorded history the hand of God had been at work in our world, as past stages of tribe and nation led humanity towards ever higher forms of unity. I could see that past religions were in reality the expressions of a single underlying truth, related to one another by a common origin and by a common purpose; the oneness of the human family.
From the outset, what especially attracted my interest in the Baha’i teachings was the belief that at the core of collective life lay the equality of men and women. I began to understand, for the first time, how a spiritual framework could reconcile the seemingly counteracting forces of our age; of science and religion, unity in diversity, freedom and order, individual rights and social responsibilities.
With the benefit of Baha’u’llah’s teachings, it now became clear to me that these new spiritual principles, together with the true unadulterated teachings of every former religion, had collectively formed a new source of universal values through which the peoples of the Earth were finally capable of molding humanity’s moral consciousness into one common cause.
After my previous years of investigation I came to the recognition that ultimately, the true nature of religion can only be known by its fruits—by deeds, not words. Faith is as faith does, in its capacity to inform, inspire, transform, unite, and foster peace and prosperity.
Forty years have passed since my search for a truer path led me away from atheism to find in the teachings of Baha’u’llah a new ethical framework in harmony with rational thought, a framework essential to the ongoing social progress so desperately needed in our world.
I found all this in the restorative sanity and wisdom of the Baha’i teachings, but my search for knowledge never ends, as I continue to study, grow and develop. In collaboration with others, I endeavor to extend my knowledge and apply this to my present and my future. After 40 years I still feel the same excitement and passion about playing my own small role in this process of collectively working to construct a world civilization founded on the new divine teachings for our time.
I am not alone. Millions of us believe that every race, religion and nationality will gradually unite around a vision of humanity as one people and the Earth as one country. On the two hundredth anniversary of Baha’u’llah’s birth, the Universal House of Justice challenged us all to find out more about Baha’u’llah, the author and divine source of the Baha’i teachings:
… the many who are part of this enterprise are reaching out to those around them with a simple invitation: seize this opportunity to find out who [Baha’u’llah] was and what He represents. Put to the test the remedy He has prescribed. His coming offers sure proof that the human race, threatened by numerous perils, has not been forgotten. When so many people of goodwill throughout the world have for so long beseeched God for an answer to the problems that beset them in their common homeland, is it so surprising that He should have answered their prayer? – “To All Who Celebrate the Glory of God,” The Universal House of Justice, October 2017.