Layer 7: Faith – Example 2
My parents are Baha’i, my paternal grandparents are Catholic, and my maternal grandparents are Lutheran. I grew up as a Bahai and that faith molded much of my identity and worldview.
The Bahai Faith’s core tenants revolve around oneness. It advocates for the abolishment of racism, the equality of the sexes, an end to religious fanaticism and division and a reduction in the extremes of wealth and poverty. The Baha’i writings say that religion must be the source of unity and fellowship in the world—but if it produces enmity, hatred, and bigotry, the absence of religion would be preferable. The Baha’i faith believes that all the religions in the world have come from God and believe that they are all part of an ongoing progressive revelation. Baha’is believe in the independent investigation of reality, and encourage everyone to question dogma, tradition, and superstition by embarking on a personal search to discover the truth. The Baha’i Faith has no clergy. Instead, a distinctive system of democratically-elected councils at the local, national and international levels administer and guide Baha’i communities.
I grew up living in many places – I was born in Thailand, then left to go to Vietnam, Romania, India, El Salvador, Vancouver, Washington DC and most recently Denver, Colorado. My parents continued living abroad when I moved back to North America – living in Kyrgyzstan, Laos, and North Korea after their time in India.
The Bahai faith and the Bahai community was one of the few constants in our lives as we moved. Pretty much every country we lived in had a Bahai community (with perhaps the exception of North Korea, though there were some Baha’is that were in the ex-pat community there). The Bahai communities in these places, and really most places, were small – at most gatherings, you’d see an average of 30 or so people. It became a sort of extended family for much of my family’s life.
My grandparents were not Bahai, and as such, we celebrated Christmas and other holidays with them. We would also say grace and pray together when we visited them, each praying in our own different ways. But religion, God and spirituality were much of our family’s life. My paternal grandparents and that side of the family were in fact missionaries for over 200 years – starting from Switzerland they left to India, where they were Anglican missionaries for close to three generations, my great grandparents then were medical missionaries in Iran with the church of England.
Religion and spirituality have been a big part of my life and my family’s life. I still feel like I am a Bahai, I love so much of what that spiritual belief system espouses. I love the idea of independent investigation of the truth, I love the idea that your interpretation of the writings and concepts are as valid as anyone else’s and that there is not a clergy to promote a particular dogma or perspective. The concept of equality and unity is very much core to how I view the world, especially after having lived in a variety of places and physically seen that so much of humanity is really the same. I also appreciate the emphasis that religion’s goal should be to bring unity and if it fails to do that, that not having Religion would be preferable. I have always found it bizarre that religions that are founded on love and care for one another become twisted into a fanatical view that can cause more hurt than care (see the crusades, inquisition, ISIS etc).
There are definitely things I have struggled with around the Bahai faith. However, much of it stems not from the core teachings of the religion but more from how people interpret and act out those teachings. It too can become fanatical in its own right and concepts that are intended to be positive can become negative in the extreme. I feel like much of life is an exercise in moderation and realizing that most things are never truly black and white. I think over time I have become increasingly convinced that hardline views on things serve to detract from the core message of most religions and that the true goal of these belief systems is to paint a roadmap or vision that we aspire to reach. I like to think that I am more of an “aspiring Bahai” than to say that “I am a Bahai”. I have also found a lot of value and beauty in the beliefs and perspectives of Buddhism and particularly found regular meditation extremely useful. Particularly the perspective that our concept of “self” is to be questioned and ideally shed such that we can more objectively view the world around us and not be burdened with “pain” or “suffering” which is a similar construct. Easier said than done to be sure.
In any case – I’d say that my upbringing as a Bahai and growth has shaped who I am and built a foundation of openness, questioning and a desire to eschew dogma in my spiritual practices. I am hugely appreciative of that foundation and hope to share that spirit of questioning and openness with my son.