The Baha’i teachings highlight ethical pathways that connect idealized archetypes positioned in a matrix of gender and generation.
In human society, the fabric woven of gender and generation creates a social system of rights, responsibilities and relationships. Like all of the social patterns described in this series of articles, that fabric of gender and generation has a spiritual purpose: to provide us with a distinctive setting where we can practice becoming united with those around us:
Baha’u’llah came to bring unity to the world, and a fundamental unity is that of the family. Therefore, we must believe that the [Baha’i] Faith is intended to strengthen the family, not weaken it. – The Universal House of Justice, 1 August 1978.
Prerequisites for an Ideal Fabric of Gender and Generation
The Baha’i teachings on family unity foresee a dramatic change in our global culture, and set forth new principles to attain that unity. Three cultural conditions, called for by Baha’u’llah and critical to achieving ideal relations, do not yet exist worldwide:
- Realization of the equality of women and men, whose complementary perceptions are equally vital to navigating this world successfully,
- Universal education for children and adults alike, and
- Establishment of local elected councils to serve as local Houses of Justice—a forum within which to examine spiritual laws when we struggle to resolve complex issues.
While we live today without those essential cultural prerequisites, we can nevertheless study an ideal fabric of relations as described in Baha’i teachings with regard to marrying, fathering, mothering, being a son or daughter, having aging parents and even grand-parenting.
The interlacing of these roles with each other is described with clarity in the Baha’i writings, but we are not born to this knowledge. Abdu’l-Baha was well aware that we must acquire such wisdom with considerable conscious effort:
… the family, being a human unit, must be educated according to the rules of sanctity. All the virtues must be taught the family. The integrity of the family bond must be constantly considered, and the rights of the individual members must not be transgressed. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 168.
Let’s start with marriage and the middle generation, because it has such a complex connectedness to the others.
The Baha’i teachings liken the bond between husband and wife to that of intimate friends, extolling this noble relationship as expressing an affinity, a natural gravitation, an attraction, deference, courtesy, and preference given by each to the other. At the same time, these teachings warn of what is at stake:
The Lord, peerless is He, hath made woman and man to abide with each other in the closest companionship … two intimate friends, who should be concerned about the welfare of each other.
If they live thus, they will pass through this world with perfect contentment, bliss, and peace of heart, and become the object of divine grace and favor in the Kingdom of heaven. But if they do other than this, they will live out their lives in great bitterness, longing at every moment for death, and will be shamefaced in the heavenly realm. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 122.
Clearly, the marital stakes are very high. Fortunately, the weaving of this physical and spiritual bond is not a one-question or one-day event—it is a lifetime process of reciprocal care, gradually strengthening over time the fibers of trust and confidence between these two people:
… marriage must be a union of the body and of the spirit as well, for here both husband and wife are aglow with the same wine, both are enamoured of the same matchless Face, both live and move through the same spirit, both are illumined by the same glory. This connection between them is a spiritual one, hence it is a bond that will abide forever. Likewise do they enjoy strong and lasting ties in the physical world as well, for if the marriage is based both on the spirit and the body, that union is a true one, hence it will endure. If, however, the bond is physical and nothing more, it is sure to be only temporary, and must inexorably end in separation. – Ibid., p. 117.
The Support of Parents-in-Law
Far in advance of worldly cultural trends, Baha’is began to undertake loving marriages between people of differing racial, religious and cultural identifications:
… both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha never disapproved of the idea of inter-racial marriage, nor discouraged it. The Baha’i Teachings, indeed, by their very nature transcend all limitations imposed by race. – The Universal House of Justice, letter dated 28 December 1980.
To ensure that a loving marriage would not be undermined by parents on either side, Baha’u’llah made it incumbent on the parents to attest to their support of the marriage, in writing, before the marriage would take place. If there were doubts on either side, a process of consultation and reassurance would begin to ensure that any fears due to prejudice were resolved prior to the marriage, with the corollary implication of strengthening support to any grandchildren ensuing from a marriage endorsed by both sets of parents:
This great law [Baha’u’llah] laid down to strengthen the social fabric, to knit closer the ties of home…