Saturday, 12 June 2021

We can make it go away

 


In the United Kingdom, a number of major sporting bodies, such as the Premier league, the English Football League and others, recently organised a boycott of the leading “social” media, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. This is because they feel that these social media organisations are not putting enough effort into preventing racist attacks on sports personalities from random members of the public. At the same time, footballers themselves have been “taking the knee” to show their rejection of racism. The start of the Euro competition is only likely to highlight these issues.

Why is overt racist antagonism so manifest in football (soccer) in particular? Racist thinking – “we” are different from “them”; “they” do not belong “here” – is found in many places in the general population anyway. Perhaps the very fact of supporting one team against all other teams makes this “us” and “them” more apparent. Also, football, being a popular sport producing many celebrities, provides the trolls with names – instantly available famous names. It is also an arena which many people care about. Trolls on social media target all kinds of people – ruining other people’s lives in doing so. But only when they target, and name, a well-known person do others know who they mean, and it achieves notoriety. Do they think that this is not the real world, so it doesn’t matter – that they are not really hurting anyone?

Who are these individuals who post obnoxious opinions about people they have never met? They are probably people who are ignorant in the sense of lacking social graces or empathy. Maybe they lack self-esteem, feel under-valued, and feel that they have little to give. Perhaps people in this state of mind, themselves suffering in some way, hit out at others, to make them suffer, and hope to get some kind of emotional gratification from it. Maybe they are jealous of those who are popular and are looked up to. Whatever the motive, this sort of unkind behaviour is completely wrong, and also counter-productive. Happiness comes not from making others feel miserable or vulnerable, but quite the opposite. Making someone else happy is the most cheering and confirming thing we can do.

It is crucial that self-worth and positive relationships with others should become part of the education of every child. Everybody should be valued, and this is vital if we wish to create a world in which everybody is able to make a worthwhile contribution to society. Bahá’u’lláh tells us to: “Be worthy of the trust of thy neighbour, and look upon him with a bright and friendly face… Be fair in thy judgment, and guarded in thy speech. Be unjust to no man, and show all meekness to all men.” If people followed any part of this teaching it would prevent them from making hostile tweets.

In 1985, the Universal House of Justice (the Bahá’í world body) announced to the world in its message about peace: “Racism, one of the most baneful and persistent evils, is a major barrier to peace. Its practice perpetrates too outrageous a violation of the dignity of human beings to be countenanced under any pretext. Racism retards the unfoldment of the boundless potentialities of its victims, corrupts its perpetrators, and blights human progress. Recognition of the oneness of mankind, implemented by appropriate legal measures, must be universally upheld if this problem is to be overcome.”

Around the world, there are now several million Bahá’ís, taking Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings as a guide for both their social goals and their personal behaviour. In the Bahá’í writings it says: “In the sight of God colour makes no difference at all, He looks at the hearts of men.” Bahá’u’lláh also specifically spoke of the special role that black people will play in the spiritualisation of the world. Speaking in London, His son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said that Bahá’u’lláh once compared black people to the pupil of the eye and said that through this black pupil the light of the Spirit shines forth.

All the while, the Bahá’ís world-wide are working to build up communities free from prejudice. These  communities include people from many different racial, social and cultural backgrounds. The elected Bahá’í bodies are often composed of people from several different national and racial backgrounds, and include many people from minority groups. Bahá’ís see this as a pattern for the future.

Part of this community-building effort is the development of classes for children, and of socially active groups for youth, both of which are dedicated to instilling self-worth and fostering spiritual and social development in every child, regardless of background. In the Bahá’í view, mankind has a glorious future ahead of it, in which all these divisions between different groups of human beings will simply be left behind. Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed that we are all one human family. His son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, gave lectures on this teaching when He toured the West: “All humanity are the children of God; they belong to the same family, to the same original race.” One of the most popular Bahá’í prayers begins: “O Thou kind Lord! Thou hast created all humanity from the same stock. Thou hast decreed that all shall belong to the same household.”

We need to see past differences of colour. We need to look to the wider picture of one humanity, and consider the feelings of every human being. As Bahá’u’lláh expressed it: “…strifes and discord must cease, and all men be as one kindred and one family… Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind…” Prejudice of all forms can breed in a divided world, but in a united world where people are brought up to respect everybody, and to reject prejudice, we can make it go away.

(picture courtesy of Getty Images)


Saturday, 10 April 2021

He lived a life of service

 


The death has been announced of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the consort of Queen Elizabeth II, the Head of the Commonwealth. Although he was born a prince in Greece, he spent most of his life in the United Kingdom, became an officer in the Royal Navy, and went on to marry Princess Elizabeth, the heir to the throne. When his father-in-law died, Philip became the consort to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. So many tributes have called to mind his more than 70 years of service to the Queen, to the country and to the world. The Bahá’í view is that: “work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship” and he exemplified that.

One particular type of service for which Prince Philip will be remembered is his “Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme”. In the Bahá’í writings it states that, “Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children.” More than sixty years ago, the prince saw that children were being educated, but were not universally being trained in useful skills and self-reliance. His scheme sought to offer self-improvement exercises, including an element of volunteering, some physical training, development of personal skills and participation in an expedition. This scheme, to add a wide range of training to the academic learning usually offered by schools, has spread to 144 different countries, and has had about seven million participants to date.

Prince Philip was a servant of humanity. His family background included relatives from both Eastern and Western Europe. With his broad vision, he served the Commonwealth for many years. The Commonwealth is a family of very diverse nations, and through his involvement with it, he routinely mixed with people of all colours and religions. He was well aware of the Bahá’í Faith, as the Malietoa Tanumafili II, the Head of State of Samoa, was known to him personally. The Malietoa was universally known as a Bahá’í.

He also routinely met Bahá’ís through their involvement with the World Wildlife Fund, now known as the World Wide Fund for Nature.  Prince Philip was one of the founders of this movement, and his own views on the interdependence of all life mirrored what has been clearly set out in the Bahá’í writings:  “Reflect upon the inner realities of the universe, the secret wisdoms involved, the enigmas, the inter-relationships, the rules that govern all. For every part of the universe is connected with every other part by ties that are very powerful and admit of no imbalance…”  Prince Philip’s efforts to get society to recognise this principle gradually met with some success.

Bahá’u’lláh, Who lived in the nineteenth century, was a great lover of nature, and the Bahá’í writings frequently refer to our need to properly understand the place of humanity within nature as a whole: “… even as the human body in this world, which is outwardly composed of different limbs and organs, is in reality a closely integrated, coherent entity, similarly the structure of the physical world is like unto a single being whose limbs and members are inseparably linked together.” Issues espoused in the twentieth century by the prince were often not taken up by society at large until many years later. For example, he was keenly aware of the pollution of the world’s rivers, and argued that something should actually be done about it!

Bahá’u’lláh’s son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, lived an exemplary life of service which Bahá’ís try to follow. It is for service of all kinds that Prince Philip will be remembered. As Bahá’u’lláh put it: “Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches.” Although Prince Philip lived a life surrounded by possessions and privilege, he did not connect the pomp and pageantry with his own self. That all came with the role into which his wife happened to have been born. His was a life of service, and surely exemplified this from the Bahá’í Writings: “That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race.”


Saturday, 20 February 2021

“The meek shall inherit the earth”


 Recently, a recording of an online Parish Council meeting in Cheshire (England) went viral. At least five million people have watched it, as this unfortunate example of local government in action has become a source of amusement. There must have already been some disunity on the council, as some councillors had called in a representative of the Local Association of Cheshire Councils to provide support for the meeting. The meeting became infamous because of the apparently disorderly way in which it was conducted, and with the authority of several members openly disputed during the session.

This is a sad state of affairs and not conducive to making good decisions. It has to be said, of course, that consultation is more difficult online than in person, but it seems that there must have been a history of serious disunity to bring the meeting to such a pass. The subsequent meeting (attended this time by many spectators) was not much of an improvement.

Bahá’ís see unity as the necessary basis for any kind of consultation. Bahá’ís use a special method of consultation for their deliberations, with principles and procedures set out in writing as goals and ideals, rather than as clauses and sub-paragraphs. I have described before the method by which Bahá’ís elect their representatives at various levels, which means that the community should end up with relatively selfless individuals on their decision-making bodies (see below for a link to a previous blog explaining this). The main principles of Bahá’í consultation are described below. A chairperson will have been elected, by secret ballot, to ensure the smooth running of the meetings.

The goal of Bahá’í consultation at every level is to discover the best course of action to take for the well-being of all. This means everyone, not just those immediately affected or within the particular area. Those who are consulting together need to be open-minded in order to be able to assess the facts properly and make the right decision. If they have any private goals of their own these will only get in the way and the consultation will not be successful in achieving its objective. Above all, those who consult must be united in their desire to make the best decision for all concerned.

Before starting the consultation the group members will begin with prayers. This helps to promote a spiritual and positive frame of mind, for “True consultation is spiritual conference in the attitude and atmosphere of love.” The first step of Bahá’í consultation is then to establish the facts, and the second step is to decide on the principles to be applied to the situation. This will include deciding on the goal of the consultation and the considerations which need to be taken into account.

Bahá’í consultation calls for unity of purpose, rather than unity of opinion, and it states in the Bahá’í writings that, “The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions.” It is important to note that it is the opinions which clash and not the people! Everyone should express his or her opinion with the conviction that it will contribute in some way to the discussion. No-one should be too shy to offer an idea. Even if it is not adopted, it may inspire a better idea in someone else.

Each person should speak frankly, but with courtesy and moderation. After a point of view has been stated, it should not need to be repeated: “They must in every matter search out the truth and not insist upon their own opinion, for stubbornness and persistence in one’s views will lead ultimately to discord and wrangling and the truth will remain hidden.” All opinions must be listened to with respect and judged fairly. Any kind of conflict will only obscure the truth and make proper consultation impossible. The chairperson has the responsibility to ensure that everyone participates, that each opinion is listened to carefully and courteously and considered on its merits and that no-one is allowed to dominate or divert the discussion.

Each idea should be offered to the group as a gift: it should not be identified in anyone’s mind with the person who first suggested it. This means that the idea can be changed and developed, or even rejected, without anyone feeling hurt. If the participants are adopting the right approach, they will be able to see the best course of action to be taken, whatever their own original opinions might have been. It sometimes happens in Bahá’í consultation that a person will change his or her mind completely during the course of the consultation and even argue against an idea which he or she originally suggested!

If the consultation has gone successfully through these steps, making a decision will probably prove to be the easiest part. It is likely also that it will be a unanimous decision. But if efforts to reach unanimity are not successful, a majority decision will have to be adopted. Most importantly, each member should respect the consulting body enough to carry out its decision confidently - even if he or she did not vote in favour of it. This unity brings immense benefits, because with everybody actively supporting the decision, it will be much more likely to achieve a positive result. On the other hand, if it turns out to have been a mistake, that will more rapidly become obvious!

Most people feel instinctively that we should, as human beings, discuss things and come to a collective decision, but personality often gets in the way. Jesus said: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” This has been a cherished quotation ever since – during centuries of rule by people intent on wielding power - but it has never been made clear how, or when, the meek would inherit the earth. The Bahá’í method of elections and of consultation seem to offer some suggestions which may allow the meek to take their rightful place in the governance of society.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This is a link to one of the blog posts (July, 2016) which explains how Bahá’í Assemblies are elected. It is called “For many are called, but few are chosen”:

https://paddyvickers.blogspot.com/2016/07/for-many-are-called-but-few-are-chosen.html

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Recently, this item turned up on YouTube, in which a writer and journalist explained some of what she had researched about Bahá'í consultation:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bkhXxd2yI8


Saturday, 23 January 2021

It has deep roots


Recently, my brother Steve told me that he had become Chair of the Trustees of the International Tree Foundation. This was a complete surprise to me, as I know some of the things to which my brother gives his time, but I was unaware of this one! The origins of the International Tree Foundation are interesting, but more of that later.

People love trees. They provide us with so much – such as fruit, shade and timber -  and they are fascinating to watch through the changing seasons. There are tens of thousands of species of tree, and the exact number of species has still not been established! Trees, the largest plants above ground, form a crucial part of many different ecosystems. We often read, for example, that the “English” oak tree supports around 800 different species of living creature, many of which are insects. These insects, in turn, are part of the food chain for many species of bird. Another important function of trees is that they take in carbon dioxide, and give out oxygen. This makes it essential that we ensure that there are always a large number of trees on the planet, because animals and people have the opposite effect: we breathe in oxygen, but breathe out carbon dioxide. So trees provide us with what we need to breathe and at the same time they reduce the amounts of one of the most important greenhouse gases, thereby helping to reduce the threat of climate change!

Trees are also a factor in the natural water cycle. When clouds pass over the forests, the trees below cause a drop in the air temperature, reducing the temperature in the clouds, and thereby encouraging the clouds to drop rain. Take away those forests, as in coastal California, and you get drier conditions and the likelihood of wildfires. Furthermore, a tree root system is huge, so during periods of rainfall, it helps to hold the soil together. These underground systems therefore take a good proportion of the rain which falls, and help to hold the water in the ground. Removing the trees from upland areas can create the conditions for flooding downstream. This happens in many parts of the world, and a particularly striking example is Bangladesh. Most of the country is a floodplain, and deforestation of the lower slopes of the Himalayas means that during the monsoon, vast quantities of water run straight off the mountains and onto the plains of Bangladesh, causing flooding and immense suffering.

Our souls – or something basic inside us – respond with pleasure to the colour green, which means we have a positive emotional response to woodland. This is presumably because during our development as a species, wandering across the land and sailing across the sea, the sight of an expanse of green meant the possibility of food to us. An expanse of sand, rock or ice does not provoke the same kind of feeling. People can settle, finding or growing food, where the soil is fertile. So we depend on the plant world – the world of nature. According to Bahá’u’lláh: “Nature is God’s Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world.” Man, who consumes plants and animals, cannot destroy nature completely, as he would die in the process: “All praise be to God Who hath adorned the world with an ornament, and arrayed it with a vesture, of which it can be despoiled by no earthly power, however mighty its battalions, however vast its wealth, however profound its influence.” Nature will always grow back eventually.

As previously mentioned, the origins of the International Tree Foundation are interesting. An Englishman called Richard St Barbe Baker worked as a logger in Canada just before the First World War. He became convinced that European settlers were causing soil loss through the way that they stripped the countryside of the diverse vegetation to create farms, by cutting down the forest trees without planting replacements. He came back to England to study biology and botany, and then went to Kenya, where he worked with the Kikuyu people to begin reforestation in that country. Together with Chief Njonjo, he founded an organisation called “Watu wa Miti”, meaning “People of the Trees”.


Whilst back in England, where he gave a talk at a “Congress of Living Religions” in 1924, he was told about the Bahá’í Faith, and became a Bahá’í. The Bahá’í ideals of uniting the planet and seeing all human beings as one family chimed in completely with what he was trying to do for the world. Later, while working on reforestation in Palestine, with the help of people from all the main religions there, he met Shoghi Effendi, who was the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith. Shoghi Effendi became one of the first life members of the “Men of the Trees”.  “Men of the Trees” was international in its scope, and eventually became known as the “International Tree Foundation”. Chapters (they could hardly call them branches!) were established in over a hundred countries, and it has been estimated that this organisation and others assisted by Richard St Barbe Baker have been responsible for planting around 26 billion trees! Richard St Barbe Baker himself died in Saskatoon, Canada, in 1982.

The International Tree Foundation (I.T.F.) is now based in Oxford (England), and promotes forestry initiatives worldwide. This involves not just re-planting forests, but ensuring that these forests meet the needs of the communities which live in and near them. Forests, if properly managed, can provide sustainable levels of fuel, food and medicine. A great part of the I.T.F.’s work is assisting local organisations which promote forestry, in whichever country they may be. There are over a hundred of these organisations which are helped by I.T.F.

Richard St Barbe Baker’s vision lives on, and the organisation he founded back in 1922 is actively promoting forests which help the planet, the soil, the human communities and the wildlife. One of the most heart-warming parts of this story is that one of Richard St Barbe Baker’s ideas – the planting of a wall of trees across the southern end of the Sahara Desert – is now being put into practice. Under the auspices of the African Union, eleven African countries have begun planting “The Great Green Wall”. Other countries are assisting, and perhaps thirty million trees may have been planted so far. Although a number of problems remain – getting water to the young trees is a big challenge – Richard St Barbe Baker’s vision is alive and guiding us today! Mankind’s love of trees has deep roots.

(If you are interested in, or would like to support, the International Tree Foundation, the website is:
http://www.internationaltreefoundation.org )

[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]


Friday, 8 January 2021

So, what exactly is the Bahá’í Faith?

 


Finding the Bahá’í Faith was the most important thing that ever happened to me. I was 20 years old when I became a Bahá’í – I have now been retired for some years. It has guided my life, given my life a purpose, and given me hope for the future. For the last 5 years I have been writing a blog about current affairs, giving a Bahá’í viewpoint. I have covered dozens of different subjects. However, I have now realised that I have never even attempted to explain to the readers what the Bahá’í Faith actually is, and to give an overview of its teachings. I thought it was time to remedy this!
 
The Bahá’í Faith is a new world religion, although it builds on all its sister religions that have come before it. Like all religions, there is a belief that there is a spiritual purpose to life, and that for our souls to progress in the next world, we need to develop spiritual qualities in this life. The Bahá’í Faith is all about transformation – of one’s self and of society as a whole. Since I became a Bahá’í, the Bahá’í community has grown in so many ways. It now has a more obvious positive impact on the world, especially in countries where numbers are growing more quickly.
 
Bahá’ís believe that there is a purpose to Creation – that there is a First Cause, a creative force, a God. Because it created us, the essence of this First Cause is unknowable to mankind. It cannot be seen, or even understood. However, this doesn’t stop us trying! It is in the nature of humanity to strive. Through this same act of striving, human beings can develop positive attributes, or virtues, which bring us nearer to, and more like, God. The overall development of human beings towards perfection, and at the same time towards building a developing civilisation, is driven by a series of Messengers of God, such as Moses, Krishna, Jesus, the Buddha and Muhammad. Bahá’ís call them “Manifestations of God” because they manifest – or show – the attributes of God. Each One brings a religion suited for a particular time, building on the work of the previous religions, but taking human understanding and development a little further. After some time, however, the purity of the religion gradually becomes obscured by man-made ideas which often cause division. Eventually the time is right for another Messenger to move mankind forward again. This is a process without end.
 
The Bahá’í story actually begins with a young Messenger Who called Himself “The Báb”, meaning the “Door” or “Gate”. He claimed, in 1844, that He was the Gateway to a new age, and to a new Messenger Whom God would send. There is such a World Teacher promised in various ways in all the previous religions. After He had attracted tens of thousands of people to His new teaching, mostly in His native Persia (now Iran), He was executed by firing squad in 1850, for daring to announce a new religion. In 1853, in a dungeon in Tehran, one of the Báb’s followers known as Bahá’u’lláh (“The Glory of God”), had a vision, which revealed to Him that He was the One promised by the Báb. The authorities in Persia did not dare to kill Bahá’u’lláh, who was well-liked by the poor people of Tehran, and also well-respected by the various foreign ambassadors in the city. Therefore, He was exiled rather than killed, and spent the rest of His life in other countries – first in Iraq, then Turkey and finally Palestine. At the point of His departure from Iraq to Turkey, He announced what many people had already realised: that He was the Promised One of all religions.
 
Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed that all the major world religions were divine in origin. He declared that all human beings are one people, and should be in complete unity. He declared that men and women should have equal opportunities; that we should abandon all forms of prejudice; and that fairness and justice should be the guiding principles of human society. He called for a conference of the world’s rulers, in order to create a permanent peace treaty, and to prepare for the creation of a united world. He said that one language and one alphabet should be chosen, and then taught in all the schools of the world, so that everyone would be able to keep their own language but also have a common means of world communication. Bahá’u’lláh urged us to develop a form of world government, and laid down guidance for the formation of a body called the Universal House of Justice. Importantly, Bahá’u’lláh’s call for unity does not mean uniformity. In other words, oneness does not mean sameness. For example, encouraging the local indigenous culture is an important part of Bahá’í activity in many parts of the world.
 
Bahá’u’lláh passed to the next world in 1892, whilst in exile in Palestine. In His will, He asked all His followers to turn to His eldest son as a point of unity. This son, known as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (“Servant of the Glory”), was an example of how a Bahá’í should live, and was the sole interpreter of His Father’s writings. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá was eventually released by the authorities in 1908, and, although now elderly, was then able to travel to Egypt, Europe and North America, announcing His Father’s Message. His two major tours were widely covered in newspapers at the time, and attracted a lot of attention from intellectuals, from other people of prominence, and from the ordinary people, who flocked to hear Him speak. However, because of the First World War He was unable to travel overseas again, and was actually under threat of crucifixion from the Turkish general based in Haifa. He was rescued by the British army, which sent a force of Indian cavalry on ahead to ensure His safety. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá received a knighthood from the British crown for His wartime work in providing food for the poor people of the area. 
Photo of Abdu'l-Bahá:
 

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in turn, also left a clear Will and Testament, and asked the Bahá’ís to support His grandson, Shoghi Effendi, as Guardian of the Faith. Shoghi Effendi oversaw a huge expansion of the Bahá’í Faith, translated many of Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings into English, and generally guided the new religious community, until he died during a visit to London in 1957. Following the detailed guidance left in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Will, the Bahá’ís elected the Universal House of Justice which Bahá’u’lláh had ordained, and it is this body which is now leading the Bahá’í community into the future. There are no priests in the Bahá’í Faith, so local and national bodies are all elected without any nominations or canvassing, as is also the case with the Universal House of Justice. It is this clear transfer of responsibility which has kept the Faith united and will continue to do so in the future.
 
The Bahá’í community consists of several million people, found in virtually every single country and island group in the world. This community works to overcome prejudice, to promote the equality of the sexes, for the unity of all mankind, for the betterment of the world, and to spread the Bahá’í message amongst mankind. As a major thrust towards the rebuilding of a community spirit, the Universal House of Justice has encouraged the Bahá’ís in each area around the world to undertake a number of locally-based initiatives. These include classes promoting moral behaviour in children, junior youth groups where younger teenagers can find their place in life, and activities designed to bring spiritual enrichment for older youth and adults.
 
Obviously, I have missed out a huge amount of detail, and cannot even attempt to convey any sense of the spirit which animates Bahá’í meetings throughout the world, but perhaps the purpose of the Bahá’í Faith can best be summed up in Bahá’u’lláh’s own statement that, “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”
 
Bahá’ís have a positive outlook for the future. It may well be that on the way, mankind will have to go through severe trials, but in the end we will survive to build a civilisation where everyone will be treated justly and with respect, and will be able to reach their full potential. As Bahá’u’lláh said: “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illumine the whole world.”
 
[][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][][]
For further information, see www.bahai.org
 


Friday, 6 November 2020

“So powerful is the light of unity…”

 


The 2020 election for the new President of the United States has led to a situation in which America seems to be divided by precisely what should unite it – its freedoms, its democracy, its tolerance and its distaste for the arbitrary use of power. The consequences of this include the extensive boarding-up of the central districts of Washington, New York and other cities, due to worries about possible rioting. They include wrangling, contentious claims, and law suits being prepared even while the votes are still being counted. There is general anxiety about the way forward from the current divided situation.

 

Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, declared in the nineteenth century: “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.” He exhorted us to consciously recognise the need for this powerful force of oneness: “This handful of dust, the world, is one home: let it be in unity.” In both of these quotations, Bahá’u’lláh makes it clear that this unity will extend across the whole planet. Unity does not stop wherever there happens to be a line on a map. Unity is oneness, and oneness is essentially a universal concept. Unity implies everybody participating without discord, without conflict, and without division. Unity is the pivotal teaching of the Bahá’í Faith, which believes that it is necessary to establish this unity in order to allow us to move forward as a civilisation: “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.”

 

At present neither the world, nor even the United States of America, has “peace and security”, and according to Bahá’u’lláh the unity of mankind must be established first in order to achieve these. Unity has several basic requirements. It states in the Bahá’í writings that “Equality and brotherhood must be established among all members of mankind. This is according to justice. The general rights of mankind must be guarded and preserved. All men must be treated equally. This is inherent in the very nature of humanity.” While anybody still feels themselves to be excluded from equality, or from the general brotherhood of their fellow human beings, unity cannot exist. In the world, no one people is in the majority. In the U.S.A., this is also true, although it is not always recognised. More than half of the population is termed “white”, but this is not a single group. Although most now use English at home, in reality they are a complex mix of people from many different ethnic backgrounds. The American nation is often termed a “melting pot”, but a number of groups do not feel themselves to be treated as having an equal status within this pot, nor to participate in a genuine brotherhood.

 

Unity requires equality, brotherhood and love between all the races of mankind. It requires equality between the genders. It requires unity of religion, in which the followers of every religion regard the other religions as being of equal worth and equal validity. It requires an end to any distinctions based on social level or educational level. It requires a love for all mankind, respect for our fellow-creatures and caring for the whole earth.

 

The people of the United States need unity, between all the different parts of the country, all the different races and backgrounds in the country, all the cultures of the country, and of course with the rest of humanity. But whatever happens over the next few months, humanity has a glorious future, for we have Bahá’u’lláh’s promise that “So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth.”      

Sunday, 4 October 2020

Better luck next time

 


Members of a group called “The Big Step” are calling for reform of the law in the United Kingdom, in order to reduce the way that the names of gambling firms are becoming ever more prominent in football grounds. As a way of drawing attention to the problem, the group has spent several days walking a route which calls at some of the grounds where the teams are sponsored by gambling companies. The group is for people trying to recover from their gambling addictions, and they are asking the Prime Minister to make a number of changes which would take the names of betting companies out of the limelight, as was done with cigarette manufacturers.

Of the twenty teams in the Premier League, ten are now sponsored by betting firms, who must surely think that linking with sport is helping them make a lot of money. Gambling enterprises also sponsor seventeen of the teams in the English Championship, allowing the names of these companies to appear on the shirts of the footballers. This encourages the practice of gambling, but these arrangements have been made between businessmen, and are not by popular request. The Football Supporters Association says that only 13% of fans surveyed are in favour of this sponsorship. Groups such as “Gambling With Lives” believe that there are around 430,000 problem gamblers in the country, with over a million others also at some risk of developing a severe problem. It is very easy for fans to engage in casual conversation as to the possible results of a match, leading to the idea of placing a bet on the result, especially now that you only have to reach for your mobile phone in order to place that bet, and your team shirts tell you precisely what to type into your phone.

Addiction to gambling is not just a problem in Britain. In the United States of America, recent research suggests that although some forms of gambling have decreased in popularity, the number of people gambling online has increased. There is also evidence that the size of the bets is increasing. The proportions of people gambling are higher among black people and Hispanics, and less among the higher socio-economic groups.

My own father never gambled his money away, but this was not based on any moral argument. He just did not like to feel that he was being taken for a ride. His view was that whichever “punters” were “lucky” or “unlucky” on a particular day, the bookmakers always won – they always make money. My father hated the idea that someone would be taking him for a mug, and laughing up their sleeves at him for being so stupid. And happily for me that idea, which I heard from my dad, has stuck with me all my life. Other people may say, “I have never won on the lottery,” but I can say to myself, “I have never lost on the lottery!”

Gambling is a form of reliance on chance. But human life cannot be left solely to chance, we need to put in some effort. It could be argued that, in terms of effort, the gambler is trying hard to get something for nothing, or for very little. I have written blog posts previously, stressing that according to the Bahá’í Writings, there are spiritual benefits coming from positive effort: “The practice of an art or trade in the true spirit of service [is] identical with the worship of God.” “All effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity.” 

“Better luck next time!” We often hear that from sympathisers who know that someone has lost money on some gambling process. “Better luck next time” - but what about the next life? We cannot just put our next life down to chance. We need to develop our spiritual qualities, such as honesty, trustworthiness, kindness to others. Bahá’u’lláh advised us that we need “justice and fair-mindedness; forbearance and compassion and generosity; consideration for others; candour, trustworthiness, and loyalty; love and loving-kindness…” If we spend our time developing these qualities, we can steer ourselves towards progress – and then we won’t need luck. For some people gambling goes on from being a pastime, and becomes an addiction. Some religions therefore proscribe it (ban it). It is very easy to go from trying to guess the outcome of a football match, to having a small bet on it, and then to get sucked in deeper and deeper. This then blocks out real life, and we forget our real purpose in life, which, as already mentioned, is to develop our spiritual qualities. If we are thinking about how much we might win if we guess the right results, is that preventing us from thinking about our next move in life? “If a man's thought is constantly aspiring towards heavenly subjects then does he become saintly; if on the other hand his thought does not soar, but is directed downwards to centre itself upon the things of this world, he grows more and more material.” It follows therefore that a gambler (like all of us) should try to focus his life on looking outwards, on helping others. This builds one’s self-esteem, and self-esteem leads to greater self-reliance, which leads to progress in our spiritual qualities.

Another source of resolve and encouragement is prayer. Asking God for help in overcoming gambling can be very powerful. In the Bahá’í Writings we find a short prayer which can be said repeatedly in times of difficulty: “Is there any Remover of difficulties save God? Say: praised be God! He is God! All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding!” Perhaps quiet repetition of this prayer would help the gambler as he passes briskly by the betting shop, or ignores the adverts at the football ground, and help him to take “The Big Step” to freedom.


(Photo courtesy Getty images.)