While many people may not consciously adhere to a particular belief system or Faith, the Baha’i teachings say that we all react, in some way, to the spirit of the age:
Today the call of the Kingdom is the magnetic power which draweth to itself the world of mankind, for capacity in men is great. Divine teachings constitute the spirit of this age, nay rather the sun of this age. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 309.
When the sun rises, all living things respond, whether or not they can see its light.
The Baha’i writings say, “Some know Us and bear witness, while the majority bear witness, yet know Us not.” – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 14. These words essentially constitute a principle of subjective faith, one of the many principles moving humanity along its path towards a glorious destiny of unity and peace.
What is “subjective faith?” Responding to a letter written to him, Abdu’l-Baha said:
Thou hast written of a verse in the Gospels, asking if at the time of Christ all souls did hear His call. Know that faith is of two kinds. The first is objective faith that is expressed by the outer man, obedience of the limbs and senses. The other faith is subjective, an unconscious obedience to the will of God. There is no doubt that, in the day of a Manifestation such as Christ, all contingent beings possessed subjective faith and had unconscious obedience to His Holiness Christ.
For all parts of the creational world are of one whole. Christ … reflecting the divine Sun represented the whole. All the parts are subordinate and obedient to the whole. The contingent beings are the branches of the tree of life while the Messenger of God is the root of that tree. The branches, leaves and fruit are dependent for their existence upon the root of the tree of life. This condition of unconscious obedience constitutes subjective faith. But the discerning faith that consists of true knowledge of God and the comprehension of divine words, of such faith there is very little in any age. That is why His Holiness Christ said to His followers, “Many are called but few are chosen.” – Baha’i World Faith, p. 364.
So in one way, every human soul has this kind of unconscious, subjective faith in God, and manifest obedience, at varying degrees, to the messenger of God ordained for the age. From this perspective, Baha’is see no one as faithless, and see every soul as having a relationship with the Creator. All are subjects of one God, and all—in the last analysis—are being moved by spiritual laws that facilitate humanity’s progress in the course of human evolution.
This kind of subjective faith implies that although a human being might deny the very existence of God, if we analyze thoroughly, we will find that such a person reflects—at varying degrees—an inclination to behave in spiritually harmonious ways with the spirit of the age. Just as we all live according to the physical laws of the universe, whether we know and understand them or not, we all live according to the Creator’s spiritual laws, as well.
But human beings are not meant to live merely on the basis of subjective faith. In order to grow, mature and proceed spiritually onto a more objective, knowing and fully-realized faith, each of us must consciously make choices that harmonize with God’s Will and its aspirations for the true human reality—the higher spiritual self.
My own childhood experience reflected this pattern, particularly as it related to my parents. Both my parents informed us, their children, that they were Christians doing their utmost to raise us in the best way they could. They taught us to be just, to respect and care for others, to be truthful, to assist the elderly and those in need, to speak in a decent manner, and to engage in the betterment of society wherever we were. They informed us that humanity is a family, and that we were to live with others as such. They taught us these things not only by way of words, but especially by deeds.
Because of my parents’ genuine love for others, our home functioned somewhat like a community center. Many people came and went, and now-and-again there were people who came seeming quite sad. Typically they would come to speak to my mother or father, seeking advice or some form of assistance.
I soon realized that no one left our home with a sad face. As a child I also realized that wherever we lived, my parents were much loved by the inhabitants of the city, town or village. Our home always pulsated with a spirit and atmosphere of love and acceptance that I greatly cherished. There was much expression of gratitude to God and trust in Him. That trust meant that if someone came to us in need of something, and the family had (and needed) the very last one of that particular item, our typical practice was to offer it to the individual in need.
One of my father’s expressed maxims was “God provides.” As a result of this experience—of my parents’ interaction with us, their children, with neighbors, community members, and people in need—my love for my parents steadily flourished. I grew to desire what they desired, and in my childhood I planned to live the same lifestyle they lived.
I wanted to live like my parents, but there was a catch to it all. Though they were committed Christians, they informed us children that when we came of age we would be responsible for choosing our own path and staying true to it. They clearly implied that whatever path we chose, we should strive to deeply understand it and support and propagate it as much as we could for the betterment of others.
A deep interest grew in me to better understand what truly drove my parents to be as they were. This interest particularly arose when I found out that a number of things in my family life were rather unique, such as family prayers, family consultation, and community service.
In my search, I had the opportunity to interact with various Christian denominations—we welcomed representatives of these denominations to our home to share teachings. Later I started to read the writings of Hinduism, and thereafter interacted with the Islamic community of Belize.
Then, I witnessed a breakthrough in regards to my search of better understanding of my parents’ principal motivating force on 28 October 1988, when as a result of rain I took shelter in the lobby of a hotel in Belmopan, the capital of Belize—where the Baha’i community was holding a community meeting.
For the first time on one page I saw a listing of the principles I had received at home as part of my childhood training. They were the Baha’i principles: God is one, humanity is one, the oneness of religion, independent investigation of truth, the harmony of science and religion, and freedom from color, religious, economic and other forms of prejudice. I immediately sensed the spiritual connection of my parents’ souls to these principles. It was also the first time in my home country, Belize, that I witnessed such a diverse group of people in one place, apparently truly caring about each other. I felt I had returned home; I felt that now I would have a chance to identify and deepen my understanding of what truly motivated my parents to be as they were, an understanding that would help me to live the quality of life that they lived, but this time conscious of the divine source.
At this point in my understanding of the Baha’i teachings several decades later, I can say with absolute conviction that the lifestyle my parents lived was greatly influenced by the principle of subjective faith.
Not once do I remember them ever speaking of the Baha’i Faith. However, as I reflect, I realize that what made my family life unique were those spiritually-embedded aspects of the Baha’i principles and Baha’i community life. In fact, I’ve concluded, as a divine operational law the principle of subjective faith manifests itself as a global phenomenon. For God operates through “both the mighty and lowly as pawns in His world-shaping game, for the fulfillment of His immediate purpose and the eventual establishment of His Kingdom on earth.” – Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p. 139.