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I’m going to attempt to summarize the newest, the second-most widespread, and one of the fastest growing of the world religions, the Baha’i Faith. It’s a bit tricky to try to capsulize in a few short pages a global faith that has six million adherents, hundreds of prayers, thousands of pages of holy writings, and a rich, complex, dramatic history. A faith that is filled with numerous mystical teachings, practical guidelines for the betterment of both oneself and the world, and simple, profound truths to help the human heart find peace and meaning. But if I HAD to sum it up—like, say, into the length of a tweet—I would say, “Awesome religion that acknowledges the awesomeness of all the other religions too.” However, that would be an extremely limited definition. (Which is why Twitter may not actually be the ideal vehicle for complex philosophical and geopolitical discussions.)
So, to paint a fuller picture of what it is to be a Baha’i, let’s start at the very beginning. With God. Always a good starting point.
To every discerning and illuminated heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the Divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 46.
In the Baha’i cosmology, there is one God. This might not be a God like you’ve ever conceived of before. This God is an all-knowing, all-loving, creative force whose presence is felt everywhere and yet whose essence is unknowable. This is not some anthropomorphic deity—a judgmental old man with a beard in a cloud-studded landscape, scowling down on us, keeping tabs, and deciding who is naughty and nice. That would be Santa. (If you worship Santa, no offense; that’s actually pretty cool and I’d love to hear about it!)
This is the omniscient, eternal, infinite Creator of light, nature, science, and love. This God knows our hearts better than we do and is a better friend to us than we are to ourselves. This is the God who ignited the big bang and fills our world with beauty, mystery, and science. The Lord of not just this physical universe, but of myriad other universes and planes of existence as well. The Great Mystery.
What’s great about what Baha’is believe is that there are not lots of different gods in the world. There is only one. Allah, Jehovah, Ra, Brahman, Wakan Tanka, Elohim, Ahura Mazda, the Great Spirit, the Prime Mover, the Big Guy Upstairs. Call Him/It/She what you like, there is only one all-seeing Creator.
GOD ’S manifestations
This Divine Mystery wants what is best for us all, both individually and collectively. So what does He do? He sends us great spiritual teachers every five hundred or thousand years or so to help our species move forward. I’m sure you’ve heard of most of these prophets (in no particular order): Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha, Abraham, Zoroaster, Krishna, Adam, Moses, and now, most recently, the divine messenger and central figure of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’u’llah, a man who lived in nineteenth-century Persia.
These “divine physicians” diagnose what humanity most needs and bring a remedy, focusing their spiritual cure on the specific time, place, and culture where they appear. Just as humanity needs to progress materially and scientifically, we need to progress spiritually as well. It is these special “messengers” of God who bring the revelation and teachings from our Creator that aid us in progressing morally, emotionally, and ethically, and give our warlike, selfish, animalistic species wisdom and peace. These prophets of God (or, as Baha’is refer to them, “Manifestations of God”) rekindle the flame of the eternal faith of God in the land in which they appear. This concept is called “progressive revelation.”
You see, according to the Baha’i Faith, there is really only one religion. One God. One Faith. Baha’u’llah calls it “the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.”
Every religion is eventually corrupted by its fallible clergy and the slow, inevitable drift toward hollow ritual and empty ceremony. Every faith gradually moves away from the spark of sacred divine light that was at the center of its creation toward hollow superstition. The differences in the world’s religions aren’t to be found in the essential teachings of these divine manifestations but in the dogmas and creeds that were developed over long periods of time by their followers, administrators, and clergy.
That’s why religion needs refreshing every millennium or so. (Like Spider-Man, Congress, or The View. Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Next: What Baha’u’llah Taught, and Why I’ve Got Some Work to Do
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.