In humanity’s collective progress towards social maturity, blind and fearful obedience have given way to perceptive faith and loving compliance, which springs from intelligence, insight and understanding.
Baha’is believe that developing a higher understanding of faith includes the independent investigation of the truth, which ultimately develops into conscious knowledge:
God has not intended man to imitate blindly his fathers and ancestors. He has endowed him with mind, or the faculty of reasoning, by the exercise of which he is to investigate and discover the truth, and that which he finds real and true he must accept. He must not be an imitator or blind follower of any soul. He must not rely implicitly upon the opinion of any man without investigation; nay, each soul must seek intelligently and independently, arriving at a real conclusion and bound only by that reality. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace
… a soul of excellent deeds and good manners will undoubtedly advance from whatever horizon he beholdeth the lights radiating. Herein lies the difference: By faith is meant, first, conscious knowledge, and second, the practice of good deeds. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith
Many people think of religion as a series of restrictive laws prohibiting various kinds of behavior, but humankind has collectively matured from a time in which we were instructed primarily with prohibitions.
As a result, the Baha’i Faith has very few “thou shalt not’s” – in fact, far more affirmative exhortations exist in the Baha’i writings. For example, Baha’u’llah exhorted the Baha’is to associate with the followers of all religions with fellowship; to honor their parents; to study such arts and sciences as will benefit humanity; to distinguish themselves through good deeds; to be truthful, trustworthy and faithful; to be just and fair; to be tactful and wise; to be courteous, hospitable, persevering, detached, and closely united.
However, Baha’u’llah’s teachings do prohibit his followers from some harmful things which can cause personal and social destruction. Baha’is are admonished to abstain from alcohol and drugs, aside from their prescriptive use as remedies by a physician. These substances impede the process of clear thinking and, what is more, their abuse lies at the root of many diseases of the body and mind, to say nothing of the social harm they create. Gambling is also forbidden, for it ignites an obsessive addiction to materialism within the heart of the temporary winner and ultimately brings ruin to the eventual loser.
However, it might surprise you to learn that one of the strongest prohibitions Baha’u’llah delivers in his writings comes in the form of the Baha’i law against backbiting and calumny:
O Son of Being! How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words
O Son of Man! Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness. – Ibid
He must never seek to exalt himself above any one, must wash away from the tablet of his heart every trace of pride and vain-glory, must cling unto patience and resignation, observe silence and refrain from idle talk. For the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endureth a century.
That seeker should, also, regard backbiting as grievous error, and keep himself aloof from its dominion, inasmuch as backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah
Baha’is recognize these kinds of verbal attacks on other people as among the major social ailments of our times.
Contemporary society has somehow legitimized the practice of insults, slander, calumny, subtle misrepresentation, derision and fault-finding behind someone’s back in both the spoken and written word. It has become such an insidious social habit that it pervades our conversations, the pages of our newspapers and magazines, and the various forms of social media.
Baha’u’llah admonished all Baha’is to avoid backbiting and slander, and to strive to attain a mentality which promotes unity and which genuinely seeks to find the good qualities in others:
We exhort you, O peoples of the world, to observe that which will elevate your station. Hold fast to the fear of God and firmly adhere to what is right. Verily I say, the tongue is for mentioning what is good, defile it not with unseemly talk. God hath forgiven what is past. Henceforward everyone should utter that which is meet and seemly, and should refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causeth sadness in men. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah