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.