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The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errand meet. – JRR Tolkien, “Roads Go Ever On.”
By mid-way through my sophomore year at Vanderbilt, I had pretty much finished testing alternative theories of religion, and of reality as a whole. The more I applied the Baha’i theories of creation, of physical reality, and of the divine plan by which God gradually educates humankind on planet Earth—even as He had covenanted to do with Abraham—the more I began to appreciate the logical progression, relationships, and coherence of all my studies.
Everything I studied became related and relevant to everything else, even as Baha’u’llah wrote:
…within every blade of grass are enshrined the mysteries of an inscrutable Wisdom, and upon every rose-bush a myriad nightingales pour out, in blissful rapture, their melody. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 269.
Suddenly Emerson’s poem “Each and All,” and the tumult of the Industrial Revolution, the onset of New Physics, and the lasting importance of Plato’s Republic all took on a new and coordinated meaning for me. Things began to cohere and fit together. The Baha’i teachings illuminated the connections I longed to find.
But was I now truly ready to make the Baha’i Faith my own permanent path, a path that I had freely chosen? Certainly, I didn’t want to jump off one train merely to get onboard another, especially another train where all my choices and milestones would be dictated by forces or voices impervious to my personal choices and free will.
For one thing, I had by this time firmly established in my own mind that I was not a joiner, not really a group person. I loved my solitude. I cherished my own contemplative inner dialogues. I did not do well with figures of authority or with the idea of authority itself, at least no authority I had thus far in my life encountered. It had all been too arbitrary and baseless. Even my own father’s advice, admonitions, and restrictions had often seemed to me derived more from his fear of something “going wrong” than from his concern that my course of action would do me harm. He was best off when the Oldsmobile was running well, the house was clean and orderly, and everyone was doing the proper things.
And yet I think it providential that it was at my parent’s house over that Christmas break in 1959 that I chose as the setting for my final examination of the Baha’i teachings before accepting them as my own path. For while I had by this time employed those teachings to assay other theories of everything, now it was time to use my last resort, my last Ace-in-the-hole, to appraise the Baha’i Faith as a path I personally would follow, as a name I would acquire, as a new label for Johnny Bump.
I remember so well in the early 1950’s watching Gillette Friday Night Fights on TV with Dad. We loved it because we really cared about these guys—Jake LaMotta, Kid Gavilan, Rocky Graziano, Carmen Basilio, Archie Moore, Rocky Marciano, and the best, the very best, Sugar Ray Robinson. So it was my intention on a winter’s eve at the end of 1959 to set up a match equal to the best I had seen on any of the Friday Night Fights.
My brother, like me, was home from school. He knew about my increasing interest in the Baha’i Faith because any question I could not answer, I would ask him for a source in the Baha’i writings. Likewise, my former high school teacher Mr. Randolph, who had now become a respected personality on educational television, in addition to being a lawyer with a master’s degree in history, was more than happy to oblige my request.
So I invited Mr. Randolph to come to our house for dinner, after which there would ensue what I hoped would be a battle of wits between these two intellectual icons of mine. It must be understood that Mr. Randolph was not conceited or bombastic. He was restrained, a true gentleman and a scholar. More than anything else, he respected logical discourse as the best method for getting at the truth, whether examining a solution to what was then global polarization stemming from the Cold War, or some more esoteric matter of physics or philosophy.
I knew that if there were some flaw in Baha’i theology that I had overlooked, he, more than anyone else I could think of, would discover it, and would do so unflinchingly. I also knew that above all else my brother likewise cherished logic, that without the rational basis for his belief in God or in the Baha’i theory of reality or in the logical proofs of the station of Baha’u’llah, he would have in no wise considered becoming a Baha’i. Where logic led, Bill’s mind would follow, and where his mind went, his faith would soon follow, and not merely with a mild affection, but with his whole heart.
I had also established in my mind that should the Baha’i teachings survive this final test (“final” in my mind at the time), I would have no alternative but to become a Baha’i. For I, no less than they, cherished logic. I could no longer pretend that I would allow my future choices to be dictated by any other sort of guidance. Most important, I no longer wished to continue living a fragmented life, pursuing milestones established and dictated by some nameless authority I had not willfully chosen.
But most important to me by far was a simple by inescapable syllogism in all this. If there is a God, and if God has send a sequence of messengers, each with specific guidance for a particular period of time, and if Baha’u’llah is the messenger for this age, then I would be a total idiot not to follow him. Logically, to do otherwise would be to act against my own best interest and felicity.
Next: Four Logical Steps toward a Spiritual Education