Baha’is Participate In World Religions Summit

Susanne Tamas, centre, a delegate from the Canadian Baha'i community, participates in the World Religions Summit 2010. Photograph by Louis Brunet.

This years’ G8 meeting was also the forum for the ‘The World Religions Summit’ 2010 which assembled participants from all of the world’s major faiths. I am pleased to learn that for the first time this included representatives of the Baha’i community. The 80 representatives of the various faith communities reaffirmed their commitment to

  • demonstrate solidarity with the poor and vulnerable in our society and the globe;
  • monitor the compliance of our governments in meeting the Millennium Development Goals and, whenever possible, hold them publicly accountable for such compliance;
  • confront consumerism, reduce consumption and change our lifestyle to give testimony to better stewardship and live more lightly on the Earth;
  • grow the collaboration of faith traditions to provide leadership, research and action, work to engage our own communities on the issues, and maintain continuous consultation and evaluation of these global political summits in the coming years while building political support for the changes we seek.
  • cultivate the positive peacebuilding influence of religion and invest in building the capacity of our communities to participate in peacebuilding and peacekeeping activities;
  • promote co-existence among different religious and ethnic communities while welcoming immigrants and refugees; and
  • grow the collaboration of faith traditions to provide leadership, research and action, work to engage our own communities on the issues, and maintain continuous consultation and evaluation of these global political summits in the coming years while building political support for the changes we seek.

Given the importance of acting upon this agenda I am reminded of the words of Bahá’u’lláh who said ‘let deeds not words be your adorning’. I am also concious that the global outcome is the sum total of our individual actions. (With a little help from the Almighty of course..).

‘Quantifying The Unquantifiable’

I have just read an interesting post at Christopher Schwartz’s Weblog -which if I have understood correctly-argues that a transcendent God cannot be understood by observing His creation- which limits the role of scientific method in the debate about the existence of God as well as the use of the ‘argument from design’ by theologians. Schwartz says in his post ‘Quantum Religion’ that

..One friend, call him Spinoza, says that the spiritual and material are but two sides of the same substance; another friend, call him Descartes, says that the two are cleaved apart — the everlasting alongside the contingent.  The first says to the second: you forget that the spiritual is also created, and so, however different it may be from the material, it must necessarily be just another dimension of the given cosmos.  To this the second replies: perhaps you’re correct, but then you risk rendering quantifiable the unquantifiable.

These are very important distinctions to make theologically and conceptually, especially if we are determined to avoid the heresy of Intelligent Design.  If we search too hard for fingerprints of the craftsman, we risk not only doing injustice to the activity of science, but to the activity of religion as well.  Indeed, a question the Intelligent Design movement is afraid to countenance is whether ultimately religion must speak of an impossible kingdom beyond the horizon of evidence, lest it cease being about faith and become an ideology no better than Material Dialecticism…

I would agree that God is ‘unknowable in His essence’ in the sense that a God who can be fully understood by His creation is not God in the sense of being beyond all creation. Having said this I think the evidence of order in the universe is a convincing argument for a creator or at the very least a structure to reality- which amounts in my opinion to pretty much the same thing (Even if we take the sceptics view that the structure is only imposed by human perception, that very structure in itself suggests a created order..).  Therefore I am not hostile to the ‘argument from design’ although I would agree that in its naive form it can present a rather mechanistic view of God’s role in the universe.

In the context of the relationship between science and religion I certainly agree it is a fruitless task to try and prove the existence of a transcendent God by analysing His creation, as for me God has a greater existence in the ‘world of ideas’ than the ‘material world’. (Having said this I do not believe God has a merely subjective existence in the human imagination but rather that the world of ideas is perhaps that spiritual realm distinct from the material realm in which such a divine being exists. (Though I appreciate the counter argument that says that this apparently non-material world of ‘mind’ is part of the ‘material universe’ of human brain activity and also the argument that a transcendent God is beyond even this ‘world of ideas’…). In the words of Bahá’u’lláh

To every discerning and illuminated heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the Divine Being, is immensely exalted beyond every human attribute, such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress. Far be it from His glory that human tongue should adequately recount His praise, or that human heart comprehend His fathomless mystery..

‘With Fire We Test The Gold’

I recently came across a wise quotation attributed to the author Henry Fielding (1707 – 1754) which says

Make money your god and it will plague you like the devil.

It sometimes appears that what is merely a useful fiction to facilitate the exchange of goods and services has become a false god demanding worship from us all. Despite living in a world of fiat currencies which only have value in our collective imagination we seem surprisingly ready to dismiss human virtues as abstractions. I am reminded of a section from the ‘Hidden Words’ which says

.. with fire We test the gold, and with gold We test Our servants.

(If we haven’t passed the test yet perhaps we are at least studying hard as searching on Google delivered only 837,000,000 results for ‘money’ whereas ‘love’ delivered 1,610,000,000..).

‘The Pastures Of Desire And Passion’

I have just read an interesting quotation by the Greek philosopher Epictetus who said “Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of one’s desires, but by the removal of desire.” Epictetus was born in Phrygia around 55 AD- though he spent much of his life in Greece after his banishment there by the Roman Emperor Domitian. Although born into slavery he studied philosophy and rose to prominence in the Stoic school. He taught that philosophy is not just an academic pursuit but is a spiritual path. Put another way he believed that it is not sufficient to merely understand what is good- the true philosopher must also put his ideals into practice. As a rational being the individual has a responsibility to care for all human kind. Epictetus explained human suffering as arising from a futile attempt to control external events whilst abandoning control of our personal desires and actions. Happiness is to be found in calm acceptance of what we cannot control and doing what is within our control to promote the greater good. This emphasis on detachment in the name of a greater good brings to mind a quotation from ‘The Hidden Words’

ALAS! ALAS! O LOVERS OF WORLDLY DESIRE! Even as the swiftness of lightning ye have passed by the Beloved One, and have set your hearts on satanic fancies. Ye bow the knee before your vain imagining, and call it truth. Ye turn your eyes towards the thorn, and name it a flower. Not a pure breath have ye breathed, nor hath the breeze of detachment been wafted from the meadows of your hearts. Ye have cast to the winds the loving counsels of the Beloved and have effaced them utterly from the tablet of your hearts, and even as the beasts of the field, ye move and have your being within the pastures of desire and passion.

Bahá’u’lláh