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In one of the oddest, most puzzling of modern trends, research has shown that American gun ownership is concentrated among people who also consider themselves most religious. How can this be?
Experts say that approximately 40 percent of Americans own guns, so it’s certainly not true of all people of faith if 60 percent don’t own weapons. The global community of the Baha’is offers an example of a religion that actively discourages a fixation on firearms. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, described Baha’is this way:
This people need no weapons of destruction, inasmuch as they have girded themselves to reconstruct the world. Their hosts are the hosts of goodly deeds, and their arms the arms of upright conduct …
Baha’is required to enter the military services of their countries serve as conscientious objectors, usually training as medics who do not carry weapons, even in combat. Civilian Baha’is do not arm themselves, either, unless absolutely necessary for providing their families with food, or for self-defense in lawless areas. This excerpt from the explanatory section of Baha’u’llah’s Most Holy Book describes this uniquely Baha’i approach to owning and carrying firearms:
Baha’u’llah confirms an injunction which makes it unlawful to carry arms, unless it is necessary to do so. With regard to circumstances under which the bearing of arms might be “essential” for an individual, Abdu’l-Baha gives permission to a believer for self-protection in a dangerous environment. There are a number of other situations in which weapons are needed and can be legitimately used; for instance, in countries where people hunt for their food and clothing, and in such sports as archery, marksmanship, and fencing.
Even in 1969, when many American cities experienced violent civil disorder, the Universal House of Justice – the democratically-elected administrative leadership body of the world’s Baha’is – advised the American Baha’is not to own weapons, although they characterized that choice as a matter of individual judgment and conscience:
… it is clear that Baha’u’llah has stated that it is preferable to be killed in the path of God’s good-pleasure than to kill, and that organized religious attack against Baha’is should never turn into any kind of warfare, as this is strictly prohibited in our Writings.
The House of Justice does not wish at the present time to go beyond the guidelines given in the above-mentioned statements. The question is basically a matter of conscience, and in each case the Baha’i involved must use his judgment in determining when to stop in self-defense lest his action deteriorate into retaliation.
Of course the above principles apply also in cases when a Baha’i finds himself involved in situations of civil disorder. We have, however, advised the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States that under the present circumstances in that country it is preferable that Baha’is do not buy nor own arms for their protection or the protection of their families.
This guidance still holds true today, especially now that military-style assault weapons are publicly available and easy to obtain in many places. Throughout the Baha’i writings and teachings, weapons of war are characterized as “the malignant fruits of material civilization.” Abdu’l-Baha wrote this description in the early 20th century:
… among the teachings of Baha’u’llah is that although material civilization is one of the means for the progress of the world of mankind, yet until it becomes combined with Divine civilization, the desired result, which is the felicity of mankind, will not be attained. Consider! These battleships that reduce a city to ruins within the space of an hour are the result of material civilization; likewise the Krupp guns, the Mauser rifles, dynamite, submarines, torpedo boats, armed aircraft and bombers – all these weapons of war are the malignant fruits of material civilization. Had material civilization been combined with Divine civilization, these fiery weapons would never have been invented. Nay, rather, human energy would have been wholly devoted to useful inventions and would have been concentrated on praiseworthy discoveries.
Just for comparison’s sake, a Mauser M71 – developed in Germany in the late 1800s – was a single-shot, bolt-action rifle that became the basic infantry weapon of many of the world’s armies at the time. Heavy, cumbersome, slow, and much less lethal than modern military weapons like the Kalashnikov AK-47 and the ArmaLite M-16 or their “civilian” variants, the Mauser soon became known as “the weapon that armed the world,” used for years by more than half of the world’s military forces.
In stark contrast, today’s military-derived semi-automatic and automatic assault weapons, the most popular ones variously known as the AR-15 and the AK-47, fire rounds at much greater and more damaging velocities, and are designed to “yaw” or tumble in living tissue – leaving larger, more lethal wounds which make them more deadly in combat.
These kinds of weapons, the Baha’i writings say, should “never have been invented.” Their primary purpose – quickly killing many human beings – violates the original spiritual principles and laws of every great religion, including the Baha’i Faith. The deadly designs of these modern weapons of war – not only their rapid rates of fire but their basic purpose as devices that inflict grievous and life-threatening wounds – have now inflicted thousands of civilian massacres in the United States, producing previously unheard-of death tolls, even among groups of small children in schools. This must stop – but how?
Baha’u’llah declared the Most Great Peace and international arbitration. He voiced these principles in numerous Epistles which were circulated broadcast throughout the East. He wrote to all the kings and rulers, encouraging, advising and admonishing them in regard to the establishment of peace, making it evident by conclusive proofs that the happiness and glory of humanity can only be assured through disarmament and arbitration.
This Baha’i principle of universal disarmament among the nations of the world also applies to gun-owning individuals, who can conscientiously decide to rid themselves of these deadly weapons and replace their deadly temporal power with the spiritual power of acceptance, compassion, and love.
Disarmament has happened in many nations around the world, whether voluntarily or by law. It tends to occur when societies realize that human life has more importance than the liberty to own or do whatever the individual desires.
True disarmament, though, begins at home, when people decide that they want to rid themselves of the means to harm others.