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[This excerpt from Rainn Wilson’s new book The Bassoon King begins when Rainn, after a long, drug- and alcohol-fueled hiatus from his Faith and God, decides to re-consider.]
I then dipped back into the faith of my childhood. I read most of the Baha’i books that I had skipped or neglected as a young’n.
I started with The Dawn- Breakers, the history of the earliest Baha’is (called Babis at the time), who had been slaughtered by the thousands in countless grotesque ways by the Persian government and the Muslim authorities in mid-nineteenth-century Iran. My heart was drawn in by the tales of the heroic sacrifices of those early believers. It gave me a context for the historic rise of the young religion. I read the principal works of Baha’u’llah, the prophet founder of the Faith: The Book of Certitude, the Gleanings, the Hidden Words, the Seven Valleys, The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf. I read his son Abdu’l-Baha’s writings and talks contained in Some Answered Questions and Paris Talks… The list goes on.
Suffice it to say I eventually quit the booze and came to RE-believe in the faith of my family and my childhood. It made the most sense to me. It seemed like the most advanced, evolved, and applicable of the world religions. Baha’u’llah’s plan, both mystical and practical, for the spiritual healing of humanity, for increasing the bonds of love and unity on our planet, resonated deeply within me and I felt newly inspired. I was finally ready. As Kahlil Gibran famously wrote, “Faith is a knowledge within the heart, beyond the reach of proof.” My heart had the knowledge it needed to make the leap into the mysterious ocean of faith.
In re-exploring the beliefs of my childhood I came upon a central tenet that I had not explored before. One of the principal teachings of the Baha’i Faith is THE INDIVIDUAL INVESTIGATION OF TRUTH. That is to say, it is the OBLIGATION of every human being to find the truth for themselves. This is not a suggestion; it’s mandatory on our life’s journey. But so liberating! We not only should not simply take on the truth from our parents or our families, but we should also not inherit the truth from our surrounding culture and media.
We get inundated with so many messages about belief, about what is true and what is not, from both our families and our culture, and it’s crucial that every single one of us come to our own well-excavated understanding. That’s not to say we might not eventually share the same beliefs as our parents or the prevailing culture, but as Thoreau and Socrates (and all the great spiritual teachers) implore: “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Looking back on those years I realized that the individual investigation of truth is exactly what I had undertaken in my own way. By discarding the faith of my parents and diving into the religion of art and the theater, I was finding my own peculiar path. By getting lost in “self” and unhappiness and then going on a spiritual search, I had been fulfilling my personal obligation to find the truth for myself.
(Fortunately for me, I came out of my misadventures with drugs and alcohol with my life, health, and soul pretty much intact. I know many who didn’t. It’s not harmless. I’ve lost many friends to that way of life. Some have died. Some have simply fried their hard drives for the rest of time or live in a perpetual chemical fog. I’m betting not one of them would say, “It was worth it.”)
The other thing about my faith that I discovered is that the dichotomy I was experiencing around art and faith wasn’t a dichotomy at all. In the Baha’i Faith there were many writings I uncovered that connected the arts with the divine or spiritual. As I explored, I unearthed a quote that blew my mind:
I rejoice to hear that thou takest pains with thine art, for in this wonderful new age, art is worship. The more thou strivest to perfect it, the closer wilt thou come to God. What bestowal could be greater than this, that one’s art should be even as the act of worshipping the Lord? That is to say, when thy fingers grasp the paint brush, it is as if thou wert at prayer in the Temple. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a tablet to an individual Baha’i.
Remarkable. For the head of a religion with tens or hundreds of thousands of adherents at the turn of the century to say, in essence, that art is the same as worship was, again, truly revolutionary. And to me, in my search, the most inspiring thing I could hear.
The way I see it, when you create something you are emulating THE CREATOR. God has many titles in the many faith traditions, and one of them is “the Fashioner.” There used to be nothing and then there was the universe. God made it in his spare time, I suppose. Like Minecraft.
Next: Religion, Like Spider-Man, Needs Refreshing
(This excerpt comes from The Bassoon King, the new memoir by Rainn Wilson, published this week by Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2015. Reprinted by permission.)