Thursday, 29 December 2016

We are all the flowers of one garden

Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, spoke on radio before Christmas about religious persecution. In many countries, religious minorities face multiple challenges, and the situation reminded him, he said, of the “dark days of the 1930s”. In his opinion, it is "beyond all belief" that it still continues even after the horrors of the Holocaust were exposed.

For members of the Bahá’í Faith, religious persecution has been an issue from its beginning. The Bahá’ís in a number of countries are still facing persecution, with several examples recently appearing in the news media. However, Bahá’u’lláh taught that, “It is better for you to be killed than to kill,” and Bahá’ís never resist violence with violence.

Currently, persecution of various religious minorities takes place in India, Pakistan, Burma and other countries, as well as in the Middle East. The people who kill someone of a different religion deny, by their actions, the very nature and purpose of religion. In the Bahá’í Writings it says: “The advent of the prophets and the revelation of the Holy Books is intended to create love between souls and friendship between the inhabitants of the earth.” Unfortunately, many people no longer read these books…

In this country there have recently been many individual acts of hatred or abuse, such as burning down mosques, rudeness to women wearing hijab and verbal attacks on Jews. However, this sort of behaviour is not only aimed at religious minorities, because there is now rudeness to, and even attacks on, people from other European countries. All of these examples show that the persecution actually stems from a sense of “otherness”: “You are not one of us!” It is also a manifestation of self-centredness and a lack of empathy, as is the persecution of people who have limited mental capacity, or are sleeping on the streets, or who simply look different. It is the same phenomenon as some forms of bullying: “You are inferior (or just different) to me, therefore I will trample on your rights and your feelings.”

A completely different perspective is called for, to eliminate this kind of behaviour. Bahá’u’lláh said, “O people of the world, ye are all the fruit of one tree and the leaves of one branch.” His Son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, used the analogy of the flowers of one garden: “though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet … this diversity increases their charm, and adds to their beauty.” This is a poetic way of expressing the scientific fact that, despite certain superficial differences, all human beings are inter-related – one human family. On another occasion he used a musical analogy: “The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in the making of a perfect chord.”

Prince Charles suggested that regardless of one's religion, people should seek to value and respect other people, “accepting their right to live out their peaceful response to the love of God.” This fits perfectly with Bahá’u’lláh’s call to: “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.” One of the reasons why religion is so necessary is that religion, in its pure form, gives people a positive code of behaviour – lifting people to a more ethical way of life. Far from persecuting others, we should treat them as God would wish us to treat them, and as we would wish to be treated ourselves. We should respect them, love them and help them. Bahá’u’lláh said: “O friend! In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love...”

Monday, 19 December 2016

Let’s put the veto to a vote

After four years of fighting, nearly the whole of the city of Aleppo (in Syria) is now controlled by one side in the war. The United Nations, which people expect to solve conflicts, has been unable to do anything much at all in this war. It has been kept out of the real decision-making processes. What has caused this inability to act? One answer is the veto. Any resolution brought to the Security Council has been vetoed by one of the “Great Powers”. These are the major countries which were on the winning side in World War Two: the United States of America, the U.S.S.R. (now Russia), the United Kingdom, France and China.

The United Nations was set up to “keep the peace”. This was in 1945, when peace had just been achieved at the end of the Second World War. The mindset of the winning side in that war was that peace had been achieved, and that that peace now had to be kept. They simply did not foresee that other trouble spots would endlessly break out over the succeeding years, and that there often would be no peace to keep. Therefore, the United Nations charter has no mandate to achieve or impose a peace. The United Nations has two main decision-making bodies. One is the General Assembly of all 193 member countries. Then there is the fifteen-member Security Council, which specialises in discussing particular crises as they arise. Ten of the members will have been voted onto the Council for a set period of time, but the five Great Powers have permanent seats on it. If one of these Great Powers votes against a particular resolution, it automatically fails to be adopted. This is the power of the veto. In the case of the conflict in Syria, the Great Powers have supported different sides in the war, and the veto has prevented any resolution ever being passed which might stop the war.

The Bahá’í International Community made recommendations to the United Nations for improving the system in 1955, and again in 1995. Among the many suggestions made were that the institution of the five permanent seats on the Security Council should be abolished, and that the veto, likewise, should cease to exist.

In the 1860s, Bahá’u’lláh wrote to many of the rulers of the time, and recommended that they attend in person a universal Peace Conference. The agenda would include: fixing all the disputed boundaries; agreeing the level of armaments for each country; and instituting rules on how countries should behave towards one another. The resulting Peace Treaty should be offered to the world, for the population as a whole to give its support to its provisions: “It is their duty to convene an all-inclusive assembly, which either they themselves or their ministers will attend, and to enforce whatever measures are required to establish unity and concord amongst men. They must put away the weapons of war, and turn to the instruments of universal reconstruction. Should one king rise up against another, all the other kings must arise to deter him.” If this treaty had been adopted, it would have been a much more powerful force for peace than the current United Nations Organisation is allowed to be.

Although this treaty would have prevented wars between countries, it would not prevent civil wars breaking out within countries. It is the installation of proper democratic institutions which should stop civil wars. There is then a channel, through the ballot box, both for change, and for expressing discontent. Another of the recommendations from the Bahá’í International Community in 1995 was that in the General Assembly, only governments which had been elected by a proper democratic procedure should have a vote when there are decisions to be made. This should encourage the other countries to adopt some form of democracy.

The course of the war in Syria could have been greatly altered by Security Council resolutions, several years ago, had it been possible to apply a simple majority vote. In fact, just one of the five permanent members has so far vetoed no less than six resolutions on Syria since the war began. (Other members have vetoed other resolutions in previous conflicts.) Had there been no veto, a great deal could have been achieved. For instance, the Security Council could have imposed a “no-fly” zone. It could have imposed sanctions on any country putting in troops to fight there. Instead, chances have been missed to protect the civilian population and to ban the supply of weapons.

The United Nations continues to be hampered by the veto. Does humanity as a whole think it should remain? Does it serve any useful purpose? Perhaps we should put it to a vote.


I have written about related issues before, particularly in “A long way short” (in September, 2015)

Thursday, 1 December 2016

You have to be kind to be kind

Prince William has recently been highlighting the scandal of the poaching of African elephants for ivory. Because people will be paid for any ivory they collect, some individuals are prepared to kill elephants, simply to take the tusks. Others do not even go to the trouble of killing them - they are prepared to cut the tusks off the elephant while it is still alive. To hear that elephants are being killed for this reason pains me, to hear that others are maimed pains me more.

Some people seem to think that animals do not feel pain. It is either that or a feeling that it does not matter if someone inflicts injury on them. I find this rather disturbing.

Kindness to animals is in itself an important Bahá’í principle. Bahá’u’lláh listed kindness to animals as one of the qualities which must be acquired by anyone searching for God. In other words, spiritual development requires that we love and respect all of our fellow-creatures, human or otherwise. The necessity of our treating all creatures with respect was highlighted by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who quoted the poet Rumi:
“Unless ye must,
Bruise not the serpent in the dust,
How much less wound a man.
And if ye can,
No ant should ye alarm,
Much less a brother harm.”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá also said: “To the blessed animals… the utmost kindness must be shown, the more the better. Tenderness and loving-kindness are basic principles of the divine kingdom. Ye should most carefully bear this matter in mind.”

In the animal world we find emotions, we find intelligence, and highly developed powers. A dog’s hearing is more powerful than that of a human. A bird of prey has much more powerful sight than does a person. Elephants, as we know, have a very well-developed memory. The powers and senses which help migrating birds navigate their journeys are still not fully understood. The abilities and capacities displayed in the animal world should be a cause for wonder, leading naturally to respect and compassion. It should also be considered that animals are themselves an essential part of the world’s eco-system, and should be respected and nurtured as such.

At the present time, meat is still widely used as food for humans. The principle of kindness to animals therefore requires that care is taken over the treatment of animals which are to be eaten. Kindness to animals demands not just an end to inhumane behaviour by poachers, but demands great care in the treatment of farm animals. We sometimes hear of animals transported without food and water; we are made aware of hens kept in battery cages, with no real freedom of movement. We need to ask ourselves if these kinds of practices are acceptable.

Although Bahá’ís are allowed to eat meat, it is a Bahá’í belief that mankind will gradually change to a vegetarian diet. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said: “The food of the future will be fruit and grains. The time will come when meat will no longer be eaten… our natural food is that which grows out of the ground. The people will gradually develop up to the condition of this natural food.”

In the meantime we need to improve the treatment of all animals. Any person indulging in animal cruelty can arguably be described as thoughtless, in one sense or another. It is necessary, therefore, to ensure that children are brought up with the idea of kindness to animals. To produce kind people, we need to develop kind behaviour. In ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s words: “Train your children from their earliest days to be infinitely tender and loving to animals. If an animal be sick, let the children try to heal it, if it be hungry, let them feed it, if thirsty, let them quench its thirst, if weary, let them see that it rests.” If our children are brought up this way, there will be an end to cruelty to animals.                      

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Is globalisation a good thing?

Recent political events in two of the world’s most industrialised nations have called into question the current trend towards “globalisation”. Whether you think that globalisation is a good thing largely depends on which aspects you are taking into account. If you look at our increasing ability to buy foods and products from other parts of the world, the increasing ease of visiting other countries and learning about their cultures, you would probably think that globalisation is a good thing. But if you look at the jobs being lost in your country because production is cheaper elsewhere, goods being “dumped” and that a single culture seems to be taking over, you would probably think it is a bad thing.

Globalisation, meaning the increasing inter-dependence of different parts of the world, has been happening for many centuries, but has speeded up in recent times. It could be argued, now that we have better transport links, that globalisation should help the poorer countries. Factories can now be opened up there, and because their workforces will accept lower wages, they can make things more cheaply. This is surely better than the chronic under-employment in these countries – a low-paid job is better than no job at all. However, for the present, it does not actually seem to be balancing out the relative wealth of the poorer and the richer nations. This may partly be because the factories opening up in the poorer countries could well belong to multi-national companies, whose base is elsewhere, and the profit therefore often gets siphoned back to the rich countries. The arrival of the factories and shops of these experienced and well-financed companies may also force local businesses to close, thus proving a real double-edged sword. Further, the poorer countries may not be in a position to force the multi-national companies to act in an environmentally sound way. Workers may be very poorly treated, health and safety may be low priorities, and rapid, uncontrolled, industrialisation may lead to rampant pollution, as it has in China since it became the workshop of the world.

Businessmen and politicians devoted to the ideas of “competition” and “market forces” may be oblivious to the instant mass redundancy caused by closing factories in the home country, in favour of factories which are cheaper to run in another country. They may not feel that they owe anything to the people who have lost their jobs. Meanwhile, people from the poorer countries know that wages are much higher in the richer ones, and go to great lengths to try and reach the more well-off countries, sometimes dying in the process. Clearly, everything is out of balance.

Globalisation, viewed in a positive light, is helping us to understand other countries and, for example, to respond more quickly to natural disasters. Bahá’u’lláh, writing in the nineteenth century, proclaimed, “This earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens”. But to create this better world, we need a world government, with world-wide laws to prevent the multi-national corporations treating people and countries badly. Likewise, there needs to be a universal tax system so that taxes can be paid by everyone at a fair rate. Businesses and their employees need to operate with honesty and trustworthiness, understanding that their own interests are best served by operating for the good of the whole world.

Bahá’ís would wish for many other changes in the economic system. There should be more place for co-operative enterprises; there should be genuine profit-sharing arrangements. The elimination of poverty and of extreme individual wealth should be universal goals. Power should be devolved to the local authorities, which should be allowed to guide the local economics of the area, and to ensure that people are given proper opportunities and incentives. Agriculture should be seen as the most important industry.

If we concentrate on all the bad things happening in the economic sphere at present, of course we will conclude that globalisation is a bad thing. If we concentrate on building up some form of world government, on bringing about world unity and economic justice on a global scale, we will conclude that globalisation is not just a good thing, it is the next stage for mankind.


In my April 2016 blog, “There is a better way”, I explained briefly the support system (known as the “storehouse”) which should operate in each town and village.

In February, 2016, I wrote about trustworthiness in the blog post “You might cheat people, but you cannot cheat nature”. 

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

And then there were eight

Last weekend, the first Bahá’í House of Worship in South America was dedicated, in a ceremony in Santiago, Chile. Friends of mine sent me these photos. Somehow, the building suggests something organic rather than man-made. The outside of the building consists of nine “sails” or “wings”, which are made of thousands of glass pieces mounted on aluminium frames, with panels of translucent stone on the inside. (The second picture shows the inside of the dome.) The different parts of the building have been subjected to seismological tests, as earthquakes are relatively frequent in the Andes, and indeed the foundations have already been tested by the real thing, in 2015!

As part of the dedication event, a large concert hall was hired, in which South Americans of many different cultures and traditions performed. The prayers and singing were in many different languages, and people attended from 110 different countries.

There is now a House of Worship (“Temple”) in each continent. The proper name of the House of Worship is the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár, which means “Dawning place of the praise of God”. Each one has nine sides and nine gardens, with nine paths leading to the nine doors. This symbolically represents the idea that all paths ultimately lead to the same one, multi-faceted, truth.

Every Bahá’í House of Worship is open to people of all backgrounds, all castes, races and creeds for private prayer, and there are also “services” which include readings from the Scriptures of all the world religions. No sermons are preached, and there are no musical instruments other than human voices. Although every House of Worship is open to everybody, each one was built only with money from the Bahá’ís.

Among the Houses of Worship already built, I am particularly intrigued by the one for Central America, which is in Panama. There are Native American designs on the walls, and as Panama is a tropical country, there are no windows. It has been built in such a way that the air can move through, but the rain does not get in. It also means that birds can fly through!

This is the Bahá’í House of Worship in New Delhi, India, which is based on the design of the lotus flower. The lotus is a form of water lily, and is regarded as a symbol of purity. However polluted the mud may be at the bottom of the lake, and however filthy the water, the lotus blossom on the surface opens out pure and untainted by its surroundings. The House of Worship has been nicknamed the Lotus Temple (“Lotus Mandir”). An Indian gentleman was questioning recently why we had a picture of the Lotus Temple in our Bahá’í exhibition (here in England). When told that it was a Bahá’í building, he refused to believe that. “It is not a Bahá’í temple. It is for everybody. It is for people of all religions.” “Yes”, I replied, “the Bahá’ís built it so that…” “No, no. It is not a Bahá’í temple! It belongs to everybody!” He had definitely understood the spirit which underlay the building of this temple!

Technically, none of these Houses of Worship (there are now eight) is actually finished, because there should be ancillary buildings as part of the institution of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained, “The temple, wherein each may worship God in his own way, is to be surrounded by such accessories as a hospital, pilgrim-house, school for orphans and university for the study of higher sciences.” As there are still only a few million Bahá’ís in the world, the majority of them in developing countries, finance for these is still some way off.

The next stage is the beginning of construction of national and local Houses of Worship, in countries where there are a large number of Bahá’ís. The first two national ones will be in Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are also five smaller local ones to be built in different countries: in Cambodia (this is an impression of the building in Cambodia), Colombia, India (in Bihar, over 500 miles from Delhi), Kenya and Vanuatu. In each case, the area has a significant and active Bahá’í population, who will make good use the building. Perhaps my friends will be able to attend more dedication ceremonies in the future!


For anyone interested in the construction of the temple in Chile visit:

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Work in the spirit of service

Another chapter opened recently in the ongoing saga of multi-national corporations and the payment of tax. The European Commission demanded that Apple (the technology developer) pay €12 billion to the government of Ireland in back taxes. Apple seemed unhappy with this request, and the Irish government was initially uncertain how to react, as it felt it had gained advantage from the arrangement with Apple.

The problem is that large companies, who provide goods and services in a number of countries, find ways of avoiding the payment of tax at a reasonable level, comparable to what is paid by other companies or by private citizens. They amass huge resources, and have more money than do some small countries. In a sense, they operate “above the law”, because they choose which laws to subject themselves to, by choosing which country they claim to be based in. The situation is such that poor countries and small island nations are tempted to offer lower tax rates, just so as to attract some economic activity into their territories.

What is the purpose of taxation? The tax that is collected from people and companies pays for hospitals, roads, schools, police and so on. The multi-national companies receive the benefit from these. Their employees are educated in schools paid for by taxes. The companies use the roads to transport materials and goods. The employees may well benefit from public health systems, and so on. It therefore seems fair that, as they benefit from public services, the companies should contribute to the taxation system which pays for them.

The governments of the world are struggling to find ways of coping with the activities of these multinational companies. Fundamentally, each of the companies has an executive who can take clear decisions. The world, however, still does not. Part of the solution, therefore, must be some form of world government or world authority which can ensure that there are no tax havens, and that tax will be paid by “multi-national” corporations into a “multi-national” system.

But this is not the only change that has to be made. A change in the spirit of commercial enterprise is also necessary. Honesty and trustworthiness need to be regarded as essential qualities which should shine out from every individual and from every business. These qualities will themselves benefit everyone involved. Bahá’u’lláh wrote: “The eyes of this Wronged One are turned towards naught save trustworthiness, truthfulness, purity, and all that profiteth men." It should no longer be necessary for businesses to employ lawyers and accountants to try to find ways of hiding wealth, nor for the authorities to employ yet more lawyers and accountants to try to discover where it is hidden.

If the Bahá’í principle of seeing mankind as one family were accepted, this also would greatly reduce tax avoidance. People would not wish to cheat their own relatives, their fellow human beings!

Another fundamental principle of Bahá’u’lláh is that work should be performed in a spirit of service to others. He said further that when it is performed in this spirit it is a form of worship. The reason why any employment exists is simply that other humans need this work to be done, so the very performance of work is, logically, a service to others. A realisation of this truth should be coupled with a change of heart, and “work in a spirit of service” should become the measure of all human activity. Many multi-national companies would do well to realise this. Producing or providing more useful telephones, computers or browsers can be seen as service to others. So can providing tasty coffee. However, paying people to try to find tax loopholes can not.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

We are not alone

Within each constellation, the brightest-looking star is called Alpha, the second brightest is referred to as Beta, and so on. When it came to measuring how far away from us each star might be, the brightest star in the constellation of Centaur (“Alpha Centauri”) seemed to be the nearest to our Sun, at “only” 4.2 light years in distance.

When astronomers tried to learn more about Alpha Centauri, it was discovered that there are actually two stars operating together as a binary system, and these are known as Alpha Centauri A and (you guessed it) Alpha Centauri B. But books usually still refer to Alpha Centauri as if it were one star.

In 1915, the Scottish astronomer Robert Innes discovered another star nearby, too dim to be seen with the naked eye. When the distance was calculated, it was found to be nearer to our Sun than the Alpha Centauri stars are! So, although we can see several thousand stars with the naked eye, the nearest one is simply invisible to us. I find this quite exciting, a red dwarf star (yes, really) that is our nearest, but secret, neighbour! Its name, “Proxima” Centauri, actually means “nearest”. And yet, although this star has been known for over a hundred years, many sources still state that “Alpha Centauri is our nearest star”.

Proxima Centauri is a less massive star than our Sun, slightly older and with a lower surface temperature. And yet, this month, a new discovery has been announced. Our nearest star has a planet circling it, now named “Proxima b” (artist's impression above). This planet is at the right distance from the star to enable it to have liquid water, which is important because many scientists believe that water is essential for life to exist. The zone in which this sort of planet should exist has been nicknamed “the Goldilocks Zone” – not too hot, not too cold, but just right!

Writing before Proxima Centauri itself had even been discovered, Bahá’u’lláh said, “Every… star hath its own planets, and every planet its own creatures…” The life of a planet, and indeed of a star, stretches over billions of years, and it is perfectly possible that different planets go through different stages in the evolution of life at vastly different times. So even if “Proxima b” has had/will have life, it may not necessarily exist there now. What the discovery of “Proxima b” does do is show that the presence of planets around stars is even more of a feature than previously realised, and that theoretically inhabitable planets are also more common than was realised. Crucially, to have habitable planets, the star does not have to resemble our Sun. This hugely increases the number of stars which may support habitable planets, and therefore the chances that we are not alone.

Certain scientists are already considering new theoretical ways of speedier space travel, essential if we are to travel to the nearest star systems. While that research is under way, it would be wise to sort out conditions on our own planet, ensuring that we are in a fit state to set off to visit the neighbours! Firstly, we need to establish some sort of genuine co-ordination at the planetary level. That would be greatly assisted by the choice of a world shared language. We need to abandon the practices of various kinds of warfare, including terrorism – no other planet will want us exporting violence to their worlds. If we want to have anything positive to offer our planetary neighbours, then we need to improve our economic systems, and ensure that everyone has an acceptable standard of living, before we start trying to visit other planets! Bahá’u’lláh wrote that “All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilisation”. Let us work on overcoming the world’s immediate problems so that we can present a positive and friendly face to the neighbours.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

We come together as one

Thousands of athletes and sports fans have arrived in Rio de Janeiro for the 31st Olympic Games. A rainbow of peoples from 206 countries and territories will be participating in a rainbow of different sports. In some ways, it is a glimpse of the future, the endlessly diverse family of man united in a common enterprise.

The lead-up to the Games has also been a mirror to the challenges and trials of our age. Rio has shown us the need for planning and for concerted action, but it has also shown the need for just and considerate treatment of the poor. It has shown the need for better disease control, and has highlighted the disastrous consequences of crime. In some sports we have also been shown the fundamental need for trustworthiness to underlie everyone’s actions, and we have also been shown that an excessive nationalism plays a part in undermining trustworthiness itself.

Alongside the deliberate portrayal of human diversity, and the need to cherish and nurture our minorities, Brazil’s opening ceremony chose to highlight the environment, and the need to protect it. The ideal expressed was that we should be at peace with the planet. The Olympic rings, made from trees, were seen to grow from seeds, and each athlete was given a seed from one of Brazil’s tree species, communicating the idea of replanting some of what has been lost.

Although the Bahá’í community is better known for its efforts to unite the religions and to unite mankind, the need to preserve the world’s ecology is also part of the Bahá’í vision. The Bahá’í writings say: “We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself also deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other…”

In 1992, Rio de Janeiro was the venue for a huge Summit and Global Forum on preserving the Earth’s resources, and the Bahá’ís had a very visible presence there. The Bahá’í community supplied a large number of the volunteers and contributed to the debates within the Summit. The Bahá’ís designed and created a Peace Monument, as a contribution to the Earth Summit. This is in the shape of an hour-glass, into which representatives from each of the countries placed a small quantity of their soil. Engraved upon the monument are the words of Bahá’u’lláh: “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.”

The Olympics represent something special in human life. Every few years we remind ourselves, through the holding of the Games, that we are all endowed with different talents and capabilities. We can, and should, come together as one human family – not just to show the great diversity in the human race, but to celebrate our oneness.


In a previous blog, I have touched upon the related subject of climate change – (see “A climate of change” [August 2015]); and on the subject of trustworthiness – (see “You can cheat people, but you cannot cheat nature” [February 2016]).

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A question of balance

The number of women in leading roles in the political world again seems to be on the rise. In the United Kingdom, recent political events have paved the way for Theresa May to become the second female Prime Minister (from a final choice of two women), while Angela Eagle made a bid for the leadership of the official Opposition. Meanwhile, in the United States of America, there is a real possibility, for the first time, of a woman becoming president.

The equality of men and women has been a major principle of the Bahá’í Faith since its inception. In the early history of the birth of this new religion, the poetess Tahirih allowed herself to become the first martyr for women’s rights. Her final words, before her cruel death, were said to be: “You may kill me as soon as you like, but you will not stop the emancipation of women.”

When Bahá’u’lláh‘s son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, visited London in 1912, a number of well-known suffragettes came to meet Him. They were well aware of the Bahá’í belief that women would obtain parity with men in all fields of endeavour and accomplishment. The famous Emmaline Pankhurst visited ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and referred to Him as a “prophet”. He replied, with a broad smile, “Oh no! I am a man, like you.”

 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, 100 years ago: “If women were given the same advantages as men, their capacity being the same, the result would be the same. In fact, women have a superior disposition to men; they are more receptive, more sensitive, and their intuition is more intense. The only reason of their present backwardness in some directions is because they have not had the same educational advantages as men.” The Bahá’í Writings also stress that the education of girls is even more important than that of boys. This is because most girls will become mothers, and the mother is the first teacher of the child.

Bahá’ís see men and women as like the two wings of a bird – both must be equally strong in order for the bird to fly successfully. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said that, “The happiness of mankind will be realised when women and men co-ordinate and advance equally, for each is the complement and helpmeet of the other.”

 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave us a very clear vision of the future: “The world in the past has been ruled by force, and man has dominated over woman by reason of his more forceful and aggressive qualities both of body and mind. But the scales are already shifting - force is losing its weight; and mental alertness, intuition, and the spiritual qualities of love and service, in which woman is strong, are gaining ascendancy. Hence the new age will be an age less masculine, and more permeated with the feminine ideals - or, to speak more exactly, will be an age in which the masculine and feminine elements of civilisation will be more properly balanced.”


In order to achieve the necessary balance between masculine and feminine elements in the writing, Ann (my wife) and I worked together on this blog post.


Sunday, 10 July 2016

We are all one

Trish Adudu is a presenter and producer on British television screens. She also works on local radio, based in Coventry, where she lives. Last week she was racially abused by a person on a bicycle, who turned his unwanted attention from a young Asian man to her. The cyclist used upsetting and insulting language, and told her to, “Go home!”, although I doubt that he knew where her house is. (Perhaps he actually meant that she should go back to Bristol, where she was born.) As she is a local personality, the story of her experience was soon aired on both radio and television, but apparently it is reflecting a sudden rise in such abuse in many parts of Britain.

The recent referendum in the United Kingdom, in which slightly more than half of the voters opted to leave the European Union, highlighted during the campaign the significant numbers of eastern Europeans who have recently migrated to Britain. This was all to do with managing migration and it certainly had nothing to do with the colour of people’s skin. However, the “Leave” victory seems to have emboldened those who have a racist view of the world to openly express their opinions.

Meanwhile in the United States of America, there have been a rising number of incidents in which people from racial minorities have lost their lives at the hands of police officers, and just recently a sad retaliation. The immediate causes of the trouble may be different, but in perceiving us all as so different from one another, the underlying problem is actually the same.

In the Bahá’í view, these occurrences demonstrate a fundamental lack of understanding of the biology of the human race. Bahá’u’lláh stated, and science seems to agree, that all human beings are descended from the same original stock. Bahá’u’lláh saw mankind as inter-related, and as one people: “O people of the world, ye are all the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.” In effect, human beings are one extended family. (It has been calculated that the most distant relationship we can have with another human being is fiftieth cousin, without any exception whatsoever!) The Bahá’í community itself exists in virtually every territory in the world, and includes members of most minority groups. There are also special safeguards for minorities within the community. For example, if there is a tie in a Bahá’í election, and if one of the people is from a minority background, they will be the one elected.

Elsewhere in the Bahá’í Writings, humanity is likened to the different-coloured flowers of one garden. In a garden, the beauty is caused by the juxtaposition of flowers of various shapes, sizes and colours. A garden in which every flower is identical is simply not pleasing to the eye. In the same way, human beings are of different sizes, different colours and differing appearance. The Bahá’í watchword is “unity in diversity”, and this is one of the reasons why inter-racial marriage has always been encouraged within the Bahá’í community. In the USA, Bahá’ís have always been at the forefront of promoting racial unity.

This understanding of the varied but united nature of the human race renders all nationalism and racism rather meaningless. Bahá’u’lláh said that, “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” We should be loving one another, and supporting one another. Within a family, it is understood that richer members can spare some time and money to help those who have less, and help them through difficulties. This is what should be happening on a global scale, with richer neighbourhoods and territories helping to build up the poorer ones. A greater sense of economic justice and co-operation would greatly decrease the hatred and suspicion in the world.

Love for all humanity has to be the answer: “If you desire with all your heart, friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive, will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger and stronger, until it reaches the minds of all men.”    


In January, 2016, after I had a vivid dream, I wrote another blog post on racism. It is called “I have a dream”.

Friday, 1 July 2016

For many are called, but few are chosen

For many months now, people in the United States of America have been involved in a tortuous process which will (eventually) culminate in the election of one individual as President of the entire country. Two rival parties vie for public support, although each one in reality contains a wide range of opinions and viewpoints. Within each party, a ruthless process of elimination takes place, as candidates realise, one by one, that there is no realistic chance of them securing their party’s nomination. There are few rules as to what constitutes acceptable behaviour, and a huge amount of money has to be spent on advertising, television slots, literature and the like. It is therefore clearly an advantage to be wealthy at the start of the process.

In the United Kingdom, the vote to leave the European Union, against the advice of almost every political leader, has brought about a severe storm within each of the two foremost parties. Within the party in government, there is to be a long drawn-out contest for a new leader, not as bruising as the American one, but with some similarities. Within Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, no vacancy for leader officially exists, but there is a huge rebellion within the Parliamentary Party, which may also lead to a similar drawn-out internal process.

Elections within the Bahá’í community are organised on a quite different basis. For a start, there are no candidates. No-one puts themselves forward. Within each town or village, the Bahá’ís come together once a year for a meeting organised on spiritual lines. After prayer, and some short readings encouraging the election of people with the best combination of “recognised ability” and of “selfless devotion”, each person simply writes down the names of nine Bahá’ís within that town/village on their ballot paper. The nine people who receive the most votes are automatically considered to have been elected as the Local Spiritual Assembly. Of course, there are further details, but in essence that is how it is done. The Bahá’ís do not even discuss between themselves the qualities of other individuals. The election is considered as between the voter, his or her conscience, and God!

The result, hopefully, is a harmonious process in which no-one knows who has voted for whom, and in which no cliques can form. Hopefully, the nine people elected will include reasonable and moderate people, whereas an adversarial system can sometimes favour more stubborn people, with strong opinions.

“Well, yes,” you may say. “It is easy for a small group of people who know each other. It wouldn’t work for the whole country.” Fair point. What happens, in the election of the National Spiritual Assembly, is that the Bahá’ís in each area vote for one person, who becomes their delegate and goes to a national convention. The delegate, once at the convention, will again be able to vote for nine people, again without any hindrance from the procedures of nominations, canvassing, etc. And the odd thing is – it works! Every vote is cast for someone, because of their positive qualities, rather than, as sometimes happens elsewhere, against someone, because of their less attractive qualities or their predetermined ideas.

Democracy means “government by the people”, but the actual system for achieving that varies widely from country to country. In the United States, the President is elected separately from the Congress. The result is that he (or she?) is charged with running the country, but does not necessarily have the legislature behind him (or her). In the United Kingdom, this never happens, because the person charged with organising the day-to-day running of the country, the Prime Minister, sits in parliament and needs to have the support of that Parliament (well, a majority of it), otherwise he/she falls out of power. This last situation is effectively what has just happened.

In the Bahá’í system, both the Local Spiritual Assembly and the National Spiritual Assembly are automatically elected afresh every year, so there should always be some renewal alongside a certain continuity, so confrontation and opposition are simply not required as part of the system at all. There are no competing groups or parties, so everyone naturally pulls together.

Abdu’l-Bahá, who visited the U.S.A. in 1912, hoped that the American democracy would become glorious in spiritual matters, even as it was aspiring to develop in material ways. He predicted that it would eventually be America which would start the process of instituting a world-wide and permanent peace. It is my personal hope that the people of the United States of America will one day have a government which will be able to further the causes of peace, understanding and justice in the world. And in Britain, which has now stepped back from membership of an ever-closer union of nations, the election of tolerant and far-sighted leaders is every bit as important…

Thursday, 12 May 2016

God looks at the heart

Last Thursday, the people of London elected a Muslim man as their Mayor. Sadiq Khan, son of immigrants from Pakistan, became the leader of this city of eight million people. This is not a figurehead role - the Mayor has real power. In electing someone from a minority group, Londoners have voted in the true spirit of the age.

Of course, in many ways it should not really matter which religion he follows – but in practice it does matter to a lot of people. However, Britain is not the only country where people from religious minorities can become mayors. In largely Muslim Turkey, for example, the city of Mardin has a Christian mayor. So does Djakarta, a city of over nine million people, in largely Muslim Indonesia.

In the Bahá’í view anyway, all the world’s major religions are part of God’s plan. Bahá’ís believe in the principle of “Progressive Revelation”, in which the Founder of each religion builds on what has gone before, and advances the spiritual and social teachings to a new level. So any differences between the original teachings of one religion and those of another are because these religions were given at different times and revealed to societies which were therefore at different stages. Each religion has spiritual teachings, such as honesty, trustworthiness and love of one’s fellow humans. These teachings are common to all the religions and remain relevant in every age. But there are also social teachings, which fix the laws of marriage, divorce, inheritance and so on, according to the requirements of the time. It is these social teachings which differ between the religions.

Particularly in the early stages of each religion, when it is new and fresh, the religion is a real force for progress and an undoubted force for good. Bahá’u’lláh says: “All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilisation”, and explains that “the fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race.”  Unfortunately, over time man interferes with or “interprets” the teachings of a religion. An assumption develops within each religion that it is the only correct path, and this has sometimes developed into violent treatment of minorities. In parts of India, there is persecution of Christians and Buddhists by Hindus. Buddhists persecute Muslims in Burma. Christians “ethnically cleansed” the Muslims in Bosnia, and there is persecution of everybody else by the “Muslims” of ISIS/Daesh. In not one of these cases do the Scriptures of the religion say that religious minorities should be persecuted or killed.

We need to take the world past this current period in which people are using religion as an excuse to carry out barbaric atrocities against other ethnic groups. Instead, we need to consciously move towards a stage of recognising all the religions as essentially one religion. Indeed, oneness of religion should be the glue which unites the hearts of mankind. God does not favour people who were raised in any particular religion, or come from any particular ethnic group. Why should He? In the Bahá’í view, religious background, a person’s colour or gender makes no difference at all in the sight of God, Who only looks at the hearts.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

There *is* a better way

Someone recently unleashed more than eleven million documents on the world. These came from the Panamanian legal firm Mossack Fonseca. Many of these documents give insights into how people with a lot of money and power hide it away from the taxman and the lawman. Over the last few years, there have been many moves to try to remove banking secrecy and “offshore” tax havens, and this new leak of information from Panama will help reduce both unfairness and dishonest practice. And yet the bulk of mankind do not have spare money to hide away. Indeed many people simply do not have enough money for their basic needs. How can the huge differences in wealth be fair? How do we move away from the situation where some people are so rich, while others seemed destined to stay so poor?

Part of the underlying response must be in the way that we see other human beings. If we thought of mankind as one family, and every person needing help as one of our relations, we might behave differently. Elimination of the extremes of poverty and of wealth is one of the underlying Bahá’í principles. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “The Law of God requires that there should be neither excessive wealth nor excessive poverty.”

Another part of the solution is to devolve more initiative to the local level. Justice for the disadvantaged is impossible if we rely on formulae – sorry, formulas – cooked up centrally. Every individual’s circumstances are unique, with a myriad factors coming into play. The government comes up with ever more complicated attempts to help people from a distance, when what they actually need is help to be close at hand. Bahá’ís envisage the introduction of a new system referred to as the local “storehouse”. Starting at the village level, a proportion of the income generated locally is set aside each year. From this storehouse, farmers and others would have their incomes topped up during bad years, and families whose income falls short of their necessary expenditure would have their money made up from the storehouse. Crucially, the trustees of the storehouse would be local people, and would be in a position to understand the situation each family finds itself in, and would be able to direct all kinds of help.

A similar system would be operated in each town, possibly with trustees at a more local level, rather than centrally for the whole town. In this way, the entire community is involved in the same one exercise of balancing individual incomes: those paying money in, those taking money out and those overseeing the process. There would also, of course, have to be storehouses at regional or national level, which would receive money from areas in surplus and help out areas in real need. And clearly, although the initiative to act would be at the local level, there would be a place for some co-ordination at the global level.

In the Bahá’í view, every adult should be involved in an occupation of some sort – spending one’s life in idleness does not encourage personal growth. There is therefore the responsibility on every individual to look for some sort of honest employment. Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, said, “It is enjoined upon every one of you to engage in some form of occupation, such as crafts, trades and the like… Waste not your time in idleness and sloth…” At the same time, it is the responsibility of the local authorities to ensure that there is some sort of work for every individual: “It is the duty of those who are in charge of the organisation of society to give every individual the opportunity of acquiring the necessary talent … and also the means of utilising such a talent…”

But the wages of every person employed by others should also be fair. Justice therefore needs to be one of the watchwords of society, and the principle of the oneness of mankind should allow no room for the exploitation of others. All of the above principles need to be established worldwide, because while some parts of the world have such an advantage over others, large numbers of people will continue to see the need to migrate elsewhere, in the hope of a better life. One of the methods that Bahá’ís believe should be used to produce a better balance in personal incomes is that of profit-sharing. Employees in any company should be entitled to a share in the profits as a right, which should be established by law: “reasonable rights of both … parties will be legally fixed … by just and impartial laws.”

No one single measure introduced by itself will produce a total reshaping of the world’s economy, but adopting the goal of mankind becoming one family; adopting the elimination of poverty as a goal; the increase in local responsibility; profit-sharing and a consciousness of justice will together point to a better way.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

True religion brings out the best in people

Once again, a large-scale terrorist atrocity has been perpetrated in western Europe. Not content with killing so many people in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, the terrorist fanatics have turned their attention back to Europe, this time to Belgium, to randomly kill as many people as they can in an airport and on a train.

Once again, talking of the bombers who have been identified, we hear phrases like “known to the police” or “known to have a criminal record”. So many of the terrorist fighters and suicide bombers seem to have a history of petty crime. For some time, the “Islamist” support groups in Britain actually used to deliberately recruit people in prisons. The implication is that the people they want are those who have difficulty with the concepts of “right” and “wrong” in the first place. Perhaps they are people who have grown up with no conscience concerning their actions. Perhaps they are people that we would describe as “easily led”. But whatever the reason, they are people who would seem to have no moral compass. They do not seem to have studied and practised their religion from a young age, rather, they have belatedly sought a role and an identity in their late teens or early twenties. Instead of transforming themselves into model citizens, which each religion requires, they have been fed on a diet of hate.

Every religion, when you study its scriptures, teaches people how to behave properly. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said, “The purpose of the religion of God is the education of humanity and the unity and fellowship of mankind.” Islam is, of course, no exception. Chapter 7, verse 56 of the Qur’an says, “Do no mischief on the earth, after it hath been set in order.” Chapter 6, verse 151, instructs the believing Muslim: “Take not life, which God hath made sacred, except by way of justice and law.” Random killing and maiming of people by hidden bombs must surely be ruled out by verses like this. In Chapter 16, the Qur’an says: “God commands justice, the doing of good, and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion.” But I don’t suppose that verses like this are on the required reading list for the terrorist training camps. The terrorist organisations need those with a limited understanding of their religion, those who cannot distinguish right from wrong, and those with such low self-esteem that they think they are accomplishing something by blowing themselves and others to pieces.

Bahá’u’lláh, by contrast, says, that "It is better for you to be killed than to kill." He forbids fanaticism, and encourages people of all religions to mix together as one: "Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.” To Bahá’ís, it is of supreme importance to ensure that all children get clear guidance in morals. Bahá’í children’s classes focus largely on virtues – positive qualities which are useful to the child and useful to others. These classes are open to children of all backgrounds, and lead on to groups for the 11-15 age group (Junior Youth), which emphasise self-esteem and service to the community. Building a sense of community is a fundamental Bahá’í goal.

The religions of the world should join together to ensure that the rising generation is nurtured in positive and beneficial qualities, because true religion brings out the best in people, and so often today we are hearing about the worst. 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

But we want so much more …

Those of us who live in democratic countries are called on, from time to time, to vote for Parliamentary representatives, for Presidents, or sometimes to vote in referenda – sorry, referendums. In the United Kingdom, we will soon be called upon to vote whether we, the people of Britain, wish to remain as part of the European Union.

But how should a Bahá’í vote, in a referendum like this? The Bahá’í vision for the world is much wider and much deeper than the question of membership of an economic – or even political? – club.

The Bahá’í vision is of a union of all of the world’s peoples, rather than simply those of one continent. The Bahá’ís are looking towards the unity of all the world’s religions, which is a much more profound goal than just assembling a coalition of peoples from one culture. They are working towards some form of world federation, in which every nation lives in freedom from domination by its neighbours. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá put it, “This small planet is not worthy of division. Is it not one home, one native land?”

If we regard the whole earth as one country, there is no need to be endlessly negotiating trade deals with this country or that. The world should be a free trade area, rather than have different parts of the world negotiating with (or against) one another from behind trade barriers. Even more importantly, there should be a much fairer distribution of wealth. There should be a limit on personal fortunes, and mechanisms to raise people out of poverty. Only when all countries have a similar standard of living will the constant movement of economic migrants cease. One big help in this will be the Bahá’í ideal of one common currency, which will remove the damaging currency speculators and many of the dishonest traders at a stroke. It will also remove the multi-currency system which daily works against the poorest countries, whose currencies are viewed as worthless. We have learned a lot from the implementation of a common currency in a large part of Europe. It has become clear that it cannot work properly while different countries have different financial policies – there also needs to be a common financial system. The world should also have a universal bill of human rights; and the choice of a world language to operate alongside our national and regional languages should help us to know and understand one another better, and therefore trust one another more. And clearly, only when we have peace will there be an end to refugees fleeing war.

One major change in human thinking which is necessary for the creation of such an ideal world is that we should not think in terms of dividing ourselves off from others. In other words, people will be thinking of “us” (that is, humanity), instead of “them and us”, which is at the heart of so many problems. So, what I am arguing for is the creation of a spiritual base for a world civilisation, rather than placing too much stress on the question of membership of an economic club of nation states. In whichever way the majority decides to vote, the result will only stand for a certain length of time, because mankind’s institutions will naturally continue to evolve towards the inevitable world civilisation.

Monday, 22 February 2016

All religions are one

Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, recently met Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church. In a number of ways, this was a highly significant meeting: firstly because there has never been a meeting between the heads of these two churches before; secondly, because these two churches are openly in “schism” (having disagreed with one another centuries ago); and thirdly because the Patriarch of Moscow is arguably the pre-eminent leader of Orthodox Christianity. It was a meeting between the Catholic church, which is the biggest Christian body in Western Europe (and indeed the world), and the Russian Orthodox church, which is the biggest in Eastern Europe.

The present pope has, however, previously met leaders from various other Christian churches, as well as meeting Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu and Jain leaders. Clearly, he sees a need for ties and bonds to be established across these religious divides.

The Bahá’í Faith (to which I belong) is based on the fundamental idea that all religions are one. The major world religions were all founded by Messengers of God, although the message has later sometimes become distorted or lost along the way. Each religion was intended for a particular part of the world, and for a particular time. Every religion flourished when it was young and it furnished the society of the time with new ideas and a new spirit. But like everything else in this world, religions are subject to change and decay. After many centuries, therefore, a new religion must arise, to take humanity forward again. This idea is called “progressive revelation”. What is unique about the present time is that world travel and instant communication make this time potentially an age of unity, which would require a religion for the whole world.

Oneness of religion is one of the three fundamental “onenesses” of the Bahá’í Faith. The other two are: the oneness of God (that all religions are actually worshipping the same Supreme Being, whatever name their followers give to It) and the oneness of mankind. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stated that “The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion.”

At a time when fanatical elements claiming to represent their religions are causing grief and harm to others, it is crucially important that the genuine leaders of the different religions are seen to be coming together and embracing one another as brothers, as Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill just did. The world needs a huge catalogue of reforms and changes: for example, it needs to reform the economic system currently in place, and put an end to poverty. It needs to bring about a universal peace treaty leading to the abolition of war. It must seize the environmental challenges at a global level. As part of this move towards the future, religious rivalry and hatred can and must give way to the recognition of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

You might cheat people, but you cannot cheat nature

On Saturday, an earthquake shook the south-western part of Taiwan, including the city of Tainan. A number of buildings collapsed, but most noticeably a 17-storey apartment block, the Weikuan Kinlung (“Golden Dragon”) building, where 35 people are so far known to have died and more than 100 people are still missing. Rather oddly, the building seems to have fallen over, rather than simply collapsing downwards, which is what usually happens in such disasters. Television footage shows the metal rods in the vertical towers to have bent and snapped. But an even more disturbing thing has now been shown on television: large tin cans can be seen to have been used in the construction of the building, where there should have been solid concrete.

The construction of a tower block involves collaboration between the developers, the architects, the engineers, the construction company, sub-contractors
and the city authorities. It requires straightforward and honest dealings between all of these parties. If any one of them is involved in bribery or dishonest practices, people’s lives are being put in danger for somebody’s short-term gain. Somebody knows why those cans were used. Nobody “blew the whistle” on whoever decided that this should happen, and likewise no-one reported that the building was being constructed in this way.

Taiwan, like many other countries in major earthquake zones, has laws regulating new buildings, which should be constructed in such a way that they can withstand the ‘quakes. Clearly, one or more parties involved were cheating the system. As mankind moves forward, and learns to cope with, or even to tame, the forces of nature, a universal code of honesty is required. Abdu’l-Bahá said:  “Communication between the races of men is rapidly being established. Now is the time that all of us may… treat each other with honesty and straightforwardness.” His Father, Bahá’u’lláh, said: “Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading to the tranquillity and security of the people. In truth, the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it.” When a family moves into an apartment block, they need to be able to trust that the architects obeyed the law, that the builders put up a building which will not fall over, that the inspectors actually saw that the work was done, and that the lifts, the water supply and electricity all work properly.

However, at this point in human development, trustworthiness seems to be in very short supply: there are bankers who manipulate the lending rates; people who make dishonest telephone calls trying to obtain people’s bank details; sales callers who pretend they are ringing on behalf of government agencies; banks that endlessly alter the terms of the savings schemes, so that they can pay out less to the elderly and unwary; people who forge tickets to sports matches and concerts – the list is endless. Bahá’u’lláh, in the book Hidden Words, wrote: “With fire We test the gold, and with gold We test Our servants.” How people react when money becomes a temptation reveals their inner, spiritual condition, just as it took the force of nature to reveal the inner physical condition of the Golden Dragon building in Taiwan.


Note: in
July, 2015, the blog post "Out of Africa" discussed certain points related to corruption, and the September 2015 post, "It's Time We Got Our Act Together" deals with natural disasters such as earthquakes.               


Sunday, 24 January 2016

I have a dream

I woke in the night on Friday from quite a vivid dream. I was helping to make a “rap” record, and I was the only “white” person in the studio. (I am not really white – my face and chest are pink, my arms are brown, especially in summer, but I do have white legs.) Everyone in the studio who knew how the equipment worked was “black”, and they were very friendly and helpful, amused by my ignorance of the technology, but not condescending. Suddenly, back to real life – and there in the dark, only partly awake, I knew I had to write a blog post about racism.

Martin Luther King made a very famous speech, in which he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.” And what is the news from America? While the country has definitely moved on, it happens that all twenty actors nominated for the top “Oscars” this year are white. The Master of Ceremonies at the Award Ceremony will be a black man, Chris Rock; and the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a black woman, Cheryl Boone Isaacs (pictured above). But not one black actor has been nominated for any of the top twenty awards. If it had just happened once it would have looked like just chance, but when it happens two years running, it starts to look more like cultural bias.

In the United States of America, approximately 13% of the population is from African-American stock, descended from Africans taken there against their will. One of my Bahá’í friends, the actor Earl Cameron (now 98 years old), told me that his grandfather was seized from his fishing boat by a passing ship, after the British Parliament had outlawed slavery, and was sold as a slave in the Americas, ending up in Bermuda. Given that the black population of the Americas is there because of direct acts of force and violence, there is great sensitivity about the need now to ensure that everyone is being treated as being of equal value. The Bahá’í religion was founded on the principle of the oneness of mankind. Bahá’u’lláh said: “O people of the world, ye are all the fruit of one tree and the leaves of one branch,” and His son ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said (about a hundred years ago): “Let them look not upon a man's colour but upon his heart. If the heart be filled with light, that man is nigh unto the threshold of his Lord, … be he white or be he black.”

One of the early Bahá’ís in the United States was Louis Gregory, whose parents had been born into slavery, and who became very active with the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá encouraged Louis Gregory to marry a white English lady called Louisa Mathew. They married in 1912. He saw inter-racial marriage amongst the Bahá’ís as an example to the rest of the population, even though such a marriage was actually illegal in some of the States and caused them many problems. Many years later, Martin Luther King counted several Bahá’ís among his friends.

So what of the Oscar nominations? Already this year’s events have jolted the process somewhat, and the membership of the Academy in future will be deliberately steered into a different, and more diverse, direction. History is shaping us, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá knew it would, in the direction of Martin Luther King’s prophetic dream.

Monday, 11 January 2016

A Messenger of Joy

I heard on the radio this morning that the singer and musician, David Bowie, had died. This is not a person who was a great influence on my life, although I do own two of his records. However, music has a way of playing on the emotions, and is capable of taking the soul to higher states. “Singing and music are the spiritual food of the hearts and souls…” (although admittedly a different kind of music is also capable of arousing aggressive emotions). It is clear that a lot of people regarded David Bowie as a highly talented and original musician, and that he will be greatly missed. However, his music manifestly lives on, for people to select the pieces which mean most to them. Bahá’u’lláh said: “We have made music a ladder by which souls may ascend to the realm on high.” Mr Bowie’s music will live on, as a ladder for others, for many years to come.

But surely we would also wish for the person himself to continue. Bahá’ís believe that the human consciousness does survive after death – that we have some sort of “spirit” or “soul”, which returns to the spiritual realm. In the case of David Bowie, millions of people would rather that there was no sense that his passing was final. Rather, that his life on earth had achieved extraordinary results, and that now he himself is moving on.

Bahá’ís believe that this life is a sort of matrix – a learning environment to prepare our souls for the next life. However, trying to imagine what the next life is like is as difficult for us as it is for the child in the womb to imagine this life. The baby is unaware of the life that awaits it here, even though that life actually surrounds it! The same is probably true of the next life – it is connected with this life in a way which we cannot even imagine. In the Bahá’í understanding, the next world is a different plane of existence entirely: “The Kingdom of God is sanctified (or free) from time and place; it is another world and another universe.” However, it is a plane which allows for progression. The old ideas of a static heaven or of rebirth into this world are replaced by a new understanding more in keeping with our modern concepts of infinity and of parallel universes. Death, then, becomes an open door to another existence, one in which the soul can flourish. Our happiness in the next world is largely dependent on the qualities which were acquired in this life. Trustworthiness, honesty, kindness, love, tolerance, patience and love of God are all spiritual qualities which we can work hard to develop, or which we can choose to ignore. These very qualities or attributes are those which are necessary in the spiritual life to come. Musicians who have opened the channel to spiritual sensibilities should be able to flourish in the next world.

So physical death is also the door to a new, spiritual, life. This is why Bahá’u’lláh said, with reference to every person who moves on: “I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve?”