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Have you noticed how political campaigns play on our deepest emotions—especially our fears?
When I was a child, I remember being conscious of a politics for the very first time during the American presidential campaign of 1964, which pitted Barry Goldwater against Lyndon Johnson. My father and mother had moved our family to Arizona a few years before, an
d my father had briefly introduced me to Senator Goldwater, a customer at the car dealership where he worked. He shook my hand and said “Call me Barry!” Barry drove a cool Corvette, smiled a lot, and my dad seemed to like him—so I felt pretty excited about knowing someone who could become president.
Then, on television one night, I saw a political ad. A little girl stood in a grassy meadow, picking the petals of a daisy and counting them. She didn’t really know how to count, but once she got to the number nine a man’s voice said “Ten,” starting the countdown to a missile launch. Then the scene froze, and a nuclear explosion filled the screen. President Johnson’s Texas-accented voice said:
These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other, or we must die.
Disturbed and fearful, I asked my parents about the ad: “Would Barry do that?” My dad just shrugged, but my mom said “Well, he did threaten to use nuclear weapons.”
That ad, only shown once, never even mentioned Senator Goldwater’s name. But it naturally instilled a great deal of fear in me, and in millions of others. In November, Johnson beat Goldwater in a landslide.
That’s what partisan politics does—create fear. It instills foreboding, anxiety and agitation in our hearts, all to win power. Nobody wants to die in a nuclear blast, to be vaporized by such a terrible weapon, so the creators of political campaigns exploit those fears and use them against their opponents.
The only two ways to fight that kind of fear and anxiety, Baha’is believe, involves refusing to buy into partisan politics and its fear tactics; and turning to the spiritual world to invoke the protection of the Creator:
Rest assured in the protection of God. He will preserve his own children under all circumstances. Be ye not afraid nor be ye agitated. He holds the sceptre of power in his hand, and like unto a hen he gathereth his chickens under his wings. “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the sun. A time to be born, and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to keep silent and a time to speak.” Now, friends, this is the time of assurance and faith and not fear and dread. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 241.
Of course, it’s completely normal to fear annihilation. From infancy, we all have a sense of self-preservation, a strong survival instinct. But the Baha’i teachings say that the idea itself—when our bodies no longer exist, we will be annihilated—degrades and debases us:
The conception of annihilation is a factor in human degradation, a cause of human debasement and lowliness, a source of human fear and abjection. It has been conducive to the dispersion and weakening of human thought whereas the realization of existence and continuity has upraised man to sublimity of ideals, established the foundations of human progress and stimulated the development of heavenly virtues; therefore it behooves man to abandon thoughts of non-existence and death which are absolutely imaginary and see himself ever living, everlasting in the divine purpose of his creation. He must turn away from ideas which degrade the human soul, so that day by day and hour by hour he may advance upward and higher to spiritual perception of the continuity of the human reality. If he dwells upon the thought of non-existence he will become utterly incompetent; with weakened will-power his ambition for progress will be lessened and the acquisition of human virtues will cease. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, pp. 265-266.
If you don’t fear death, you elevate your soul’s purpose. If you don’t fear death, you understand immortality, and know that your inner essence will always exist. If you don’t fear death, you have realized your soul’s true destiny, and you no longer have any cause for fear at all:
Be ye valiant and fearless! Day by day add to your spiritual victories. Be ye not disturbed by the constant assaults of the enemies. Attack ye like unto the roaring lions. Have no thought of yourselves, for the invisible armies of the Kingdom are fighting on your side. Enter ye the battlefield with the Confirmations of the Holy Spirit. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 13, p. 113.
To consider that after the death of the body the spirit perishes, is like imagining that a bird in a cage will be destroyed if the cage is broken — though the bird has nothing to fear from the destruction of the cage. Our body is like the cage, and the spirit is like the bird. We see that without the cage this bird flies in the world of sleep: therefore, if the cage becomes broken, the bird will continue to exist: its feelings will be even more powerful, its perceptions greater and its happiness increased. In truth, from hell it reaches a paradise of delights, because for the thankful bird there is no paradise greater than freedom from the cage. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 326.
Next: How to Acquire the Power of Courage