Saturday, 13 October 2018

We can go backwards, or we can go forwards

When we look at the things that are wrong in the world, and the many problems we have, it is easy to forget that it has taken us very many generations to make this much progress. But we now operate in national groups, rather than as families, clans or tribes; to some degree, stronger countries are supporting weaker countries, through aid, by supplying peace-keeping troops, and in providing support after disasters; we have an increasing understanding between people of different religions; we have the United Nations, which is a brave attempt at international co-operation; and we have neighbouring countries co-operating in economic groupings in various parts of the world. All of these have been moves forward.

But in the last few years, it seems as if we have started going backwards again. One country has been allowed to “annex” part of another, with no real action having been taken by the world. Trade wars are breaking out between the most powerful trading nations. There are constant tensions between the states that have nuclear weapons, and those that might be developing them. Countries are trying to undermine one another through cyber-attacks. Diplomacy has been replaced by hostile actions. In some quarters an insular patriotism is replacing world vision.

Some people do not seem to have noticed that we all live on one planet! We are just one world. For thousands of years, the history of the human race has been a history of rival camps, and there has been a theme of the few trying to control the many - those with a less well-developed conscience deciding on the lives of everybody else. But we can now see our planet, our home, in just one photograph. With modern equipment, we can communicate instantly with people anywhere on the planet. As we are one planet, and one world, we need to act as one mankind. Bahá’u’lláh said: “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.” We need to replace outworn ideas, such as unlimited national sovereignty, with a world view. As Bahá’u’lláh put it: “Let your vision be world-embracing.” From religious rivalry, we need to go forward to religious unity. In Bahá’í eyes, the different religions are all from God, and are as chapters in one book. In essence there is no difference between them: “Know thou assuredly that the essence of all the Prophets of God is one and the same. Their unity is absolute.”

From national rivalry, we need to go forward to world unity. From economic systems run on the principle of “survival of the fittest”, we need to go forward to fair treatment for all. New laws need to be enacted at a global level, ensuring a minimum income for every person, and limiting the unreasonable extremes of personal wealth. The Bahá’í Writings state that the workers should have a share in company profits, by right. Every enterprise is in reality a collective enterprise, with some people providing the financial input and ideas, and others their labour or skills. Therefore: “According to the Divine law, employees should not be paid merely by wages. Nay, rather they should be partners in every work.”

But any new world-wide economic arrangement has to follow a global change in the governmental system. Instead of world leaders denouncing one another, why are they not consciously trying to build world peace? Bahá’u’lláh, in the nineteenth century, urged the world’s most powerful rulers to bring about a universal peace conference, to reach a universal peace treaty. In 1985, the Universal House of Justice, which is the Bahá’í world body, pointed out that: “The holding of this mighty convocation is long overdue.” They nonetheless had the confidence to write in the same document that “World Peace is not only possible but inevitable.” It is the next stage in the progress of humanity. Let us drive further forwards rather than putting the world into reverse.        

Monday, 27 August 2018

The doctors are calling “Time!”

The medical profession has finally concluded what many of us have suspected for years, which is that the drawbacks associated with the consumption of alcohol outweigh the one positive effect that alcohol seems to have. It has long been known that alcohol significantly increases the risk of developing a wide number of ailments. It is also obvious that alcohol consumption leads a certain proportion of people directly into severe problems – drunkenness, addiction and mental health issues, each with further social and medical issues of their own. Some people have taken the view that for this reason alone, society should stop drinking – for the sake of the vulnerable ones.

The one advantage which has been found is that (specifically) red wine lessens the chance of heart disease. As red wine is a known trigger for migraine, we migraine sufferers have long been puzzled by that one! But now, a huge survey of individuals across 195 countries has found that even those who drink a very small amount of alcohol have a greater risk of contracting a number of diseases, including seven specific cancers. As alcohol consumption increases, so do the risks, exponentially. And crucially, the doctors who compiled this huge survey, now say that the risks from cancer and other diseases far outweigh any possible improvement in heart conditions.

Although Jesus and His disciples drank wine (this may have been less risky than the water that was available to them), a number of the World Teachers of the past have advised their followers against the consumption of alcohol. Two clear examples are the Buddha and the Prophet Muhammad. This is one of the reasons why two-thirds of the world’s population avoid it – meaning that across the world, drinking alcohol is definitely a minority habit.

Bahá’u’lláh, writing for this age, likewise advised His followers to avoid alcohol, saying: “It is inadmissible that man, who hath been endowed with reason, should consume that which stealeth it away.” He saw spirituality as far more beneficial than chemical intoxicants: “Beware lest ye exchange the Wine of God for your own wine, for it will stupefy your minds, and turn your faces away from the Countenance of God…”  

At a time when medical science was in its infancy, Bahá’u’lláh was very clear about the most direct effects of alcohol on the human brain, with its undesirable results: “Alcohol consumeth the mind and causeth man to commit acts of absurdity.” Since that time it has been discovered that alcohol does indeed destroy brain cells, and also that the human liver cannot cope with significant quantities of this particular chemical. In addition, correct chemical balances in the brain lead to more complete development of other aspects of the body. Bahá’u’lláh’s Son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, once said: “Experience has shown how greatly the renouncing of smoking, of intoxicating drink and of opium conduceth to health and vigour, to the expansion and keenness of the mind and to bodily strength.”

Although many people regard alcohol as a form of stimulant, medically it is the opposite – a depressant and an inhibitor. Perhaps meditation and prayer are two more effective ways of reaching inner happiness than alcohol seems to be. Another could be recognising our natural place in the world by re-connecting with nature, through spending time in parks, woods and the countryside generally. Bahá’u’lláh said: “Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator... Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world.”

According to another recent survey, fewer young teenagers in Britain have been turning to alcohol. Perhaps they are beginning to realise that there are better ways of finding happiness. If there is a God, it follows that there ought to be a purpose in life. For Bahá’ís, that purpose is growing in spirituality, and growing towards perfection – that is, towards God. People have no need for alcohol  if they have something better, so prayer, meditation and a connection with nature may well be the answer. Maybe it is “time” to find out.

Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

Friday, 10 August 2018

The burning issue…

This year, there has been a prolonged period of hot, dry weather in a number of parts of the world. Even south-eastern Australia currently has a severe drought, despite it being winter there. The extreme weather has led to a large number of wildfires. In north America these have ranged from Alaska to Texas, with California suffering its biggest ever wildfire. England, Greece, Portugal and Sweden are just some of the European countries affected. The other side of the coin is that when low pressure weather systems do arrive, they can deposit unusual amounts of rain in a very short period. The higher air temperatures have led to larger accumulations of moisture in the atmosphere. Japan has recently had both problems: the western half of the country had torrential rain, leading to flooding, landslides and fatalities; now the eastern half of the country has had an insufferable heatwave.

All of this can either be explained as the natural vagaries of the weather system on our planet, or as something largely caused by man’s activities – destruction of the forests, burning too much fossil fuel, production of “greenhouse” gases, and so on. As so many scientists now believe that the causes are largely man-made, and that global warming is a fact; and as most people believe that it is foolish and dangerous to do nothing in any case, the countries of the world sent representatives to a convention in Paris in 2015. Despite so many countries having particular worries about short-term damage to their industries and their economies, the countries of the world nonetheless were concerned enough about the long term effects to sign up to the “Paris Agreement”, which is designed to try and limit the types of human activity which may be causing global warming. (See my blog post, “A first for the world”, December, 2015.) One country, which happens to have one of the biggest economies in the world, has given notice that it intends to withdraw from the Agreement. However, everyone else is holding firm, hoping that this decision will be reversed.

One of the main principles of the Bahá’í Faith has, from the beginning, been the unity of all mankind. This is the springboard for social development and progress for humanity as a whole. Bahá’u’lláh Himself, writing in the 1800s, said “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.” In 1913, His  Son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, gave a talk in Edinburgh which is referred to as the “Seven Candles of Unity”. In this talk He stated: “The second candle is unity of thought in world undertakings, the consummation of which will erelong be witnessed.” Surely, the Paris Agreement is an example of unity of thought – an attempt to give mankind some peace of mind, security and well-being. Writing in the 1930s, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, saw “the inevitable curtailment of unfettered national sovereignty as an indispensable preliminary to the formation of the future Commonwealth of all the nations of the world.”

It is this idea of “national sovereignty” which may well prove to be an issue with the climate change question. The world needs to consider whether national sovereignty is so important that one government – which can effectively mean one person in some countries! – can be allowed to prevent the world taking remedial action when mankind senses danger. Climate change takes its place alongside all the other threats – including warfare, terrorism and organised crime, which are crying out for some kind of world authority with the capacity to successfully deal with them. For those who have been afflicted by these devastating fires, climate change has literally become the burning issue. We need a means of damping down all these problems, and a world authority is surely the best answer.

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)                

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Our cup runneth over

For the past few weeks, millions of people around the world have been fascinated by the event known as the football (soccer) World Cup. Thirty-two national teams qualified to play, and the only certain fact when it started was that thirty-one of these teams would go home without the winner’s cup! Unfortunately England is one of these, despite having done much better than anyone expected.

Football is only one of many team sports which hold similar events to the FIFA World Cup. Team sport distils many of the different aspects of human life: comradeship, competition, identity, bravery, exertion, and self-sacrifice, as well as displaying individual skill and athleticism. In many ways, participation in sport can be very beneficial. Despite the England team being very inexperienced, it is generally accepted that it was their close comradeship and their team spirit which got them as far as they did.

Participation as a spectator in a football match shows certain parallels to participation in collective religious practices. The game sets out rules of behaviour, as does a religion. The spectators are often in serried rows, as in many religious services. Everyone comes together at set times, and in both sport and religion there may be symbolism in the clothing worn, there is often singing, and even a lot of praying (though this is mostly heart-felt, personal prayer at a football match!). Sport certainly provokes the same sort of fervour which attachment to a religion does, and in most cases gives people a positive sense of identity and belonging.

The FIFA World Cup may at first sight seem to be exalting the nation, whereas Bahá’u’lláh proclaimed that “The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” However, the world is subtly changing. This World Cup treats every nation as theoretically important. So Senegal, Costa Rica, Colombia and Tunisia (nations less economically favoured) are treated as notional equals by Russia, Germany, France and Saudi Arabia (nations more politically or economically powerful). This is all part of the current process of humanity coming together. It is part of the road to true unity, in which all mankind will come together without needing the competitive element. It is national identity which is being celebrated here, rather than the outmoded concept of nationalism.

Another aspect of this changing world is also paraded for all to see – the increasing acceptance of obviously mixed populations. Many of the countries have teams made up of players of a variety of skin colours, and skill and effort are celebrated on merit, rather than because of someone’s ethnic background. Racism can still be found among some spectators, mostly from countries which are less varied in their own racial mix, but it has not been a major feature of this World Cup.

Bahá’u’lláh urged: “This handful of dust, the world, is one home: let it be in unity.” Every major sporting event, such as this exciting and unpredictable World Cup, helps this process on its way.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Why wait for the future?

Drastic measures have been applied in various countries, to try and control the flow of unofficial (“illegal”) migration from the poorer countries into the richer ones. In one country, children have even been taken from their parents as families were caught entering without permits. In another country, rescue boats have been refused permission to dock with the migrants they carry. But there seems to be no real attempt at solving the causes of this problem. In some countries, it is wars, that the rest of us allow to continue. However, in many cases, it is that people live in countries where living standards are so much lower than others. Why are not we, humanity, working for the development of all countries of the world? If the standard of living was being raised, and the morale in the poorer countries raised with it, the flow of desperate and hopeful people would cease.

In July, 2017, I ran a guest posting by my daughter, Helena, which was entitled “Helping those who want to help themselves”. It explained how BASED-UK – (the Bahá’í Agency for Social and Economic Development) – raises funds to help projects run by local people in poorer countries, but where extra financing is required. It states in the Bahá’í Writings that: “The good pleasure of God consists in the welfare of all the individual members of mankind.” All of the efforts made by Bahá’ís are for the entire community, and not just to benefit Bahá’ís.

Just waiting for the world to change is not enough. We need to initiate and shape that change. And the Bahá’ís, as part of the world community, need to play their part in actively promoting sustainable “Social and Economic Development”. Throughout the world, in thousands of different communities – and including, of course the United Kingdom - the Bahá’ís have been setting up children’s classes based on moral education, and Junior Youth Empowerment Programmes. In these, junior youth from eleven to fifteen years of age work on a programme which aims to empower them to take their lives under their own control, even in challenging circumstances. Self-worth and consideration for others are developed, along with a realisation that even at their age they can begin to take part in positive service projects. In the United Kingdom, these may be cleaning up a park or a beach, providing food for the needy, organising social events for a neighbourhood and so on. In other countries, it could involve tree-planting, starting up a rudimentary waste collection service, or similar enterprises.

A startling proof of the efficacy of this programme showed up on the island of Tanna, in Vanuatu. This part of the South Pacific occasionally suffers from cyclones, and that of 2015 devastated the island, destroying nearly every building. As is normal in these circumstances, the people felt initially unable to do anything to improve their lot, but the young people who had been through the Junior Youth Empowerment Programme rapidly organised themselves and began to take decisions as to what actions to take, and in what order. Their experience of working on previous projects had shown to them that you need to have a vision that you can achieve something, and then arise to take the first step, the second step, the third… Gradually, the rest of the population began to follow the lead of these young people, who were by themselves clearing debris from the roads, starting to rebuild the houses of the most vulnerable, and so on.

In another example, this time in Tajikistan, a Bahá’í girl organised a group of Romany (Gypsy) teenage girls, and took them through the Junior Youth programme. Well before the end of it, the girls were saying how their horizons had been raised. Rather than remaining perpetually marginalised, they were resolving to go on to further education, raise their own status and make a contribution to the world!

Over and above the programmes for children and youth, some of the most common threads that run through Bahá’í Social and Economic Development (S.E.D.) programmes are: empowering women and promoting gender equality; mobile health clinics; education (at all levels); and encouraging low-tech enterprises.

Around the world, there are over 600 ongoing Bahá’í S.E.D. projects, and several thousand projects of shorter duration. These include tutorial schools in villages which previously had no schooling; Bahá’í radio stations which disseminate social and spiritual programmes alongside agricultural advice; and FUNDAEC, which is a distance learning programme run from Colombia. A spokesman for one of the Bahá’í-inspired organisations which helps with the setting up of rural schools in Africa explained that they do not see their efforts as the solution for all the educational needs, but that it enables people to be raised up from within the community who can lead development processes in their own community.

In India, the Barli Development Institute for Rural Women trains women from marginalised tribes and less developed villages in literacy, more effective agricultural practices and in crafts which they can then use to generate income for their villages. The same institute has also developed solar-powered cookers, which can be constructed from old oil drums, and which take away the constant search for fuel. This endless search for firewood is, in many countries, a major cause of the perpetual degradation of the environment. In the Bahá’í view, all of these challenges have to be taken together: “We need a change of heart, a reframing of all our conceptions and a new orientation of our activities. The inward life of man as well as his outward environment have to be reshaped.” As a small example, around the new Bahá’í Houses of Worship in both Chile and Colombia there are now plantings of native vegetation, to encourage the regeneration of the local wildlife.

Helena’s blog highlighted the Setsembiso Sebunye Foundation in Swaziland, which helps local communities to found rural pre-schools. Another project supported by BASED-UK is the Bayan Association in Honduras. The Association has set up a Community Banking Scheme, which enables the community to offer small loans to individuals, so that they can start small businesses or enterprises. The money raised by BASED-UK pays for the training of the organisers, and thereafter the bank is self-supporting. As Abdu’l-Bahá put it: “The Lord of all mankind hath fashioned this human realm to be a Garden of Eden, an earthly paradise. If, as it must, it findeth the way to harmony and peace, to love and mutual trust, it will become a true abode of bliss, a place of manifold blessings and unending delights. Therein shall be revealed the excellence of humankind.”

Why wait for the future, when we can help it come?


If you would like to help with children’s classes or the junior youth programme, please get in touch with your local Bahá’ís if you know how. Otherwise, visit . Likewise, anyone can contribute to BASED-UK’s projects, by visiting 

Friday, 8 June 2018

Respect for life

The cities of Britain are currently suffering an alarming number of seemingly senseless murders of young people. Since the start of 2018, over sixty have been killed in London alone. Most often the weapon is a knife, in other cases it is a gun.

There is no one definite cause we can point to, but those who perpetrate these killings often seem to have loyalty to one tiny group of people: their own group or “gang”. They do not subscribe to any wider sense of right or wrong. The most important thing seems to be what is now called “respect” – that others recognise the claimed importance of their group. The killings may sometimes be committed under the influence of alcohol or some mind-altering drug. They may even be committed because of some quarrel over drug supply. In some cases it seems more likely that it was simply an argument which got out of hand.

Almost invariably, the family and friends of both the deceased and of the killer tell us what a lovely person he or she was, and how popular they were with their friends. These people were not “loners”, unable to function in society, but they were victims of a lack of community cohesion, and a general lack of spiritual awareness. In most cases, the killers have no loyalty to the wider community. Bahá’ís all over the world are working to re-establish that sense of community, where often it has been lost. Bahá’u’lláh declared that all mankind is one family: “These strifes and this bloodshed and discord must cease, and all men be as one kindred and one family.” He also asserted the complete equality of all races, nationalities and religions: “Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other.”

Somehow, the teaching that you should not kill, and the teaching that you should love and forgive other people, have both been lost. These teachings seem to have no place in the minds of the killers. Presumably, not enough emphasis has been placed in their lives on these teachings to successfully steer them away from confrontational situations, and from carrying weapons. The result is that many people carry a knife “for self-protection”, and end up using it when they lose self-control on the street. Bahá’u’lláh specifically said that: “It is better to be killed than to kill.”

Worldwide, the Bahá’ís are engaged in a process of community-building. They are organising neighbourhood classes for children of all backgrounds, focussing on self-respect, on respect for others, and on moral behaviour. Similarly, there is the Junior Youth Empowerment Programme, which is for youth between the ages of eleven and fifteen. Where possible, these are run by older teenagers, to whom the “junior youth” can look up as role models. The Junior Youth have a set of workbooks, along with social activities, which aim at positive character formation and at empowering the young people to take control of their own lives and their own job prospects, as well as to make a positive contribution to the life of the neighbourhood. An essential part of this programme is the adoption of local projects – helping old people, cleaning up the environment, collecting for the food bank, whatever the Junior Youth themselves suggest or the local area needs. They often also take part in junior youth camps, alongside members of similar groups, to broaden their horizons. From the age of fifteen, the option is there to channel the energy of the youth into helping those younger than themselves, by training to run children’s classes and junior youth groups themselves.

But society as a whole also needs to adopt a wider vision and a supportive philosophy. For most people in the past, religion gave a moral framework and an outward-looking belief system. Those who believe in God see their behaviour as answerable to the Life Force behind creation, to the Creator Itself, not as answerable to a tiny group of friends. The teenage killers reflect an aspect of a society that needs to adopt this wider vision, and have a loyalty to the world, to mankind as a whole. In the words of Bahá’u’lláh, "That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race." 

Friday, 18 May 2018

When Harry met Meghan

Queen Elizabeth 2nd is monarch of around forty countries. Her grandson Harry is unlikely to become king, but is nonetheless a prominent (and popular) member of the Royal Family. He has chosen to marry Meghan Markle, an American woman of black heritage.

To me, their union augurs well for the future. One of the most basic Bahá’í principles is that of the oneness of all mankind. The Bahá’í Writings state that all humanity was created from the same original stock. The general public acceptance of Meghan as a member of the Royal Family is hugely significant. Over a hundred years ago, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Son of Bahá’u’lláh, urged the early American Bahá’ís to promote inter-racial marriage. He Himself suggested to Louis Gregory, a prominent black American Bahá’í whose parents were born slaves, and to Louisa Matthews, a socially well-connected white English woman, that they marry. Their marriage was a happy and successful one. To establish new Bahá’í communities, they frequently moved to new cities in America. Sometimes they were living in states whose marriage laws prevented inter-racial marriage!

As far back as the 1860s, Bahá’u’lláh wrote weighty letters to many of the world’s rulers, advising them to make radical changes to the way their territories were run. Only one of these monarchs – Queen Victoria – sent a response, and hers is the only monarchy which survives, out of all those which Bahá’u’lláh addressed.

On the supposedly rival systems of monarchy and republicanism, Bahá’u’lláh wrote: “Although a republican form of government profiteth all the peoples of the world, yet the majesty of kingship is one of the signs of God. We do not wish that the countries of the world should remain deprived thereof. If the sagacious combine the two forms into one, great will be their reward in the presence of God.” On another occasion He wrote: “The system of government which the British people have adopted in London appeareth to be good, for it is adorned with the light of both kingship and of the consultation of the people.” Due to this moderate approach to government, the peoples of Britain seem to be largely happy with their monarchy.

But what of the marriage itself? Bahá’ís see marriage as a “fortress for well-being”. The right of the couple to choose one another is sacrosanct – arranged marriage is not permitted – and only then is the approval of the family sought. Ideally, both families should be in complete support of the marriage, which will help it be successful. In the case of Harry and Meghan, they would appear to have very similar interests. Both are heavily involved in charity work, and both devote themselves to the service of others. Common interests and purposes – common enthusiasms even – give a marriage a real chance to blossom. (I can vouch for that J!) I wish them every success in their life together.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

In need of plastic surgery

Public attention has finally been drawn to the vast amounts of plastic waste which are finding their way into the world’s seas, ruining the natural environment and harming the wildlife. The natural environment is the world God created for us, and it is our duty, and in our own interest, to look after it. Following the success of charging for plastic bags, the UK government is now planning action on plastic drinks bottles as the next step in reducing the amount of plastic used.

Where does the plastic in the seas come from? We are now learning that most of it is waste which has been thrown (or been washed) into rivers, in countries which have no proper control over their pollution or general rubbish. It has been estimated that ninety per cent of all the plastic going into the sea comes from just ten major rivers in Africa, Asia and South America. And apart from looking a mess, it is a problem because it does not break down – it does not decompose. Plastic not being part of the natural system, nature does not have microbes, bacteria or tubeworms which have evolved to eat plastic. Even the types of plastic which do end up in tiny pieces persist as “micro-plastics”. So the rubbish in the sea is there to stay.

According to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (the son of Bahá’u’lláh): “all created things are closely related together and each is influenced by the other…” Human thinking often does not have this viewpoint, tending to categorise each issue separately, and believing that anything can be undertaken, with no consequences. However, Bahá’u’lláh specifically warned that “the civilisation, so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences, will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men.” Even leaving aside the general detrimental effect on wildlife, it is not possible to laden the waters with continuously increasing amounts of artificial substances, without affecting the food chain on which so much of the world’s population depends.

It is humanity, collectively, which has created this situation, so it needs to be humanity, collectively, which solves it. The Universal House of Justice, the Bahá’í world body, has called for “global cooperation of the family of nations in devising and adopting measures designed to preserve the ecological balance this earth was given by its Creator.” If the “family of nations” fails in this duty, the world will need to evolve a form of world administration, which can take a more global view of problems. The possible solutions to the plastic problem definitely need tackling at a global level.

There are a variety of practical solutions – re-use, less use, recycling, etc - but the first part of the solution has to be the realisation of our own responsibility. This includes empathy for our fellow-creatures: human beings must “show forth the utmost loving-kindness to every living creature…” We have recently seen on television programmes birds mistakenly feeding items of plastic which they have “caught” at sea to their chicks. It has long been known that turtles starve to death after mistaking plastic bags for their natural food, which is jellyfish. The bags then prevent real food entering the turtles’ stomachs. As individuals we need to drastically reduce our use of plastics, particularly single-use plastics, and we can start by using wrappings, containers, and bags made from natural materials.

As most of the plastic waste in the sea comes from countries with no proper waste collection, this is clearly where much effort needs to be targeted. Waste collection provides jobs for local people, and the organisation of it helps to build up local governmental infrastructure. Having collected the waste, proper waste disposal is also essential, for materials which cannot be reused or recycled. The waste collected can (if carefully undertaken) be used as fuel for power stations, can be treated chemically, or in some places can be used as landfill for old mines and quarries. Ideally, of course, all the plastics should be recycled. But it takes time to develop the recycling facilities, and also to develop uses for the end result of the process. However, there is plenty of scope here for mankind to work on making use of what has so far been seen as useless. What is needed is the will to do it.

Another part of the solution might seem to be the increased use of plastics which have been developed so that they can decompose, because there are organisms which can tackle them. These exist already, and can be used for some purposes, but they are not really the answer to the problem in the seas. These biodegradable plastics sink rather than float, and are therefore not exposed to either the ultra-violet light or the warm temperatures which provoke their decomposition.

Finally, there needs to be some sort of marine collection process, to collect the plastic already in the water. As with all the other solutions, international or supra-national effort is clearly necessary, because so much of the sea is outside territorial waters, and therefore seen as no-one’s responsibility in particular. Some sort of vessel needs to be developed which will take the rubbish from the water, so that it can be treated and either properly disposed of, or, again, recycled.

Underlying this whole problem is a spiritual imbalance in human life. Instead of realising that we are spiritual beings, which should have a respect for other forms of life and for one another, we feel that we can treat the earth and its natural materials as expendable. In essence, we were bequeathed a world of forests, deserts, plains, mountains, water and ice. Each is home to different types of animal and plant. If mankind destroys its natural inheritance, then humanity is in trouble. Man-made plastics may have their uses, but polluting the natural world is not one of them. Bahá’u’lláh stated that, “Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world.” At present, that world is in need of some careful surgery.


Just before publishing this blog, my attention was drawn to a machine designed to clear up rubbish from water. This is a link to it:

Monday, 2 April 2018

It’s not cricket

The world of cricket has recently been thrown into turmoil by deliberate pre-planned cheating in a match, and the individuals concerned have also had their lives turned upside down. This seems to be the end result of a culture of ad-hoc cheating on the part of a number of teams, plus a lack of respect for the players in the opposing team, to such an extent that a lot of name-calling and intimidation has been going on. This is not only by the cricketers, the spectators have been encouraged to join in too. To non-cricketing folk like me, this behaviour seems appalling! Cricket has a reputation as a “gentleman’s game”. If anyone, in any walk of life, behaves in a way which is not upright, honest and scrupulously fair, English people – and probably others - are inclined to say of their action, “It’s just not cricket!”

However, deliberate flouting of both the rules and the spirit of the game by supposed sportsmen is at one level symptomatic of people not having clear moral guidance in their lives. Religion, which usually laid down such guidelines, no longer has such a prominent place in most people’s lives. Bahá’u’lláh stated that “Religion is a radiant light”, and observed that, “Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness and justice… cease to shine.”

Every religion brings guidance on personal behaviour, reminding us all how we should treat others. One of the aspects of life which Bahá’u’lláh emphasises is the need for human beings to be polite and considerate one to another: “O people of God! I exhort you to courtesy... Blessed is he who is illumined with the light of courtesy, and is adorned with the mantle of uprightness!” He also exalted the principle of honesty: “This Wronged One enjoineth on you honesty and piety... Through them man is exalted, and the door of security is unlocked…”

Inseparable from honesty is the virtue of trustworthiness, which “is the greatest portal leading unto the tranquillity and security of the people.” Those who follow all sports regard the trustworthiness of the participants as crucial. It is the absolute fairness of the competition which is an essential part of its enjoyment. If you cannot trust that what is happening is fair, then what is the value of it?

Team sports are a type of social activity, and require people to be co-operative, and therefore kind to one another. Bahá’u’lláh says on this subject, “A kindly tongue is the lodestone of the hearts of men… it is the fountain of the light of wisdom and understanding.” The Bahá’í community therefore sees the establishment of a kindly and upright character as crucially important, and to this end it organises neighbourhood children’s classes based on morality and virtues.

Sport is a microcosm of society. It involves skill, competition, comradeship, diversity, identity, bravery, exertion, heroism, self-sacrifice and so many other aspects of human life. Let cricket rescue itself from this present stage, and retake its place as a noble sport. Positive, kindly and upright behaviour is required to rescue cricket’s reputation from the ashes.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

If trade isn’t free, it costs money

After a period of time in which countries have worked hard at setting up free trade areas, such as the North America Free Trade Agreement, the ASEAN Free Trade Area, the European Common Market and so on, we are now hearing that the USA has begun to put tariffs onto items such as washing machines, solar panels, steel and aluminium, because of what they see as unfair competition from other countries via government subsidies. Other countries are now talking about retaliatory tariffs. There are widespread fears that this could lead to a new trade war, instead of more trade deals with other countries. Trade wars destroy any existing trade deals, and often lead to a down-turn in the economy in each country involved. If an item suddenly has an extra tariff put onto it, it automatically goes up in price. That almost certainly leads to fewer sales, which can eventually lead to some companies folding and/or people losing their jobs.

Essentially, Bahá’ís believe that the world should be working towards a global Free Trade Area. Bahá’u’lláh stated that, “The earth is but one country.” This has economic implications, as well as implications for transcending racism and prejudice. Tariffs are not applied within a country. The United States of America is (are?) a good example. If something is made in Pennsylvania, they do not slap a tariff on it, in order to deliberately make it more expensive in Ohio! Everybody sees the U.S.A. as one entity, even though the Rockies are completely different from the Plains, and New York is quite unlike Los Angeles. The same applies within any country, and if the world is in principle only one country, as Bahá’u’lláh states, the same concept should apply world-wide. We do not really need armies of professional trade negotiators making – or breaking – “deals”. This is just one planet!

We need to establish some form of world administration, free from national or political bias. From then on, no country can upset the applecart, and single-handedly prevent progress, either by imposing tariffs, or by trading unfairly. In the Bahá’í writings it talks about “a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life, its political machinery, its spiritual aspiration, its trade and finance… and yet infinite in the diversity of the national characteristics of its federated units.”

In the meantime, large parts of the world are still relatively untouched by the global prosperity that others enjoy. The introduction of a world currency would prove a real boost to territories whose currencies are considered near-worthless. Even those in the richer countries can suffer from currency fluctuation. For example, the pound sterling has lost some of its value in recent times due to concerns over the effect on trade of the UK leaving the European Union. This change may be good for British companies who export things, but it has been bad for the countries who export to Britain, because every time the price rises, the number of British customers who can afford the new price shrinks. And that is with a currency respected in the currency markets. Poorer countries suffer currency problems on a daily basis.

Furthermore, although the good of the part is best found in the good of the whole, in the short-term things can go wrong for one particular area or another, and everyone is aware of that. An advance in technology in one factory may lead to competitors doing less well, and possibly to factory closures elsewhere. The Bahá’í system recognises that all is not necessarily well everywhere. In the Bahá’í view, the local elected bodies should be working in the interests of the local people.  Through genuine consultation with the local population, they should be considering what social and economic improvements can be made, or what new initiatives can be started up. However, this should never be at the expense of the wider interests of humanity. “Let your vision be world-embracing,” is Bahá’u’lláh’s advice. Elected representatives should regard themselves as “the representatives of all that dwell on earth.” If that happened, then worldwide free and fair trade would be seen as the obvious choice for a better world.

Photo by Danny Cornelissen (

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

A death sentence – for loving humanity

Hamed bin Haydara, a Yemeni citizen aged 53 (pictured here in happier times), has recently been sentenced to death, for belonging to the wrong religion. He was arrested at work in 2013 and has since been tortured, with no medical attention allowed for his wounds. His family have not been allowed to visit him. While he has been in prison, a different faction has taken power in the capital, but the only difference it has made to his imprisonment has been the pronouncement of the death sentence, which is to be carried out in public. He was not allowed to be present at the trial, and no evidence supporting any of the charges – e.g. “insulting Islam” – was presented. The judge even complained to the prosecution about the lack of evidence, but that did not prevent him from declaring a death sentence.

Hamed Haydara is a Bahá’í, one of about two thousand Bahá’ís in the country. His belief? That there is one God, that all the world religions were divinely-inspired, and that all mankind should become one family. As Bahá’u’lláh expressed it: “The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men.”

Mr Haydara lives in a part of the world which desperately needs unity. Yemen is fractured by tribal divisions, by sectarian rivalry and by loyalties to different political leaders. Some areas of the country are even controlled by international extremist groups who seem to be at war with the rest of humanity. And, of course, there is currently a civil war raging, caused initially by the major religious divide between the far north of the country and the rest. This is the third civil war which I remember hearing about in Yemen, and, as in the 1960s, outside powers are greatly adding to the misery for the people of the country.

And what was Mr. Haydara working quietly for? For the unity of mankind, for justice, for peace. For the recognition of the truth of all religions and for a united and thriving community. Bahá’u’lláh emphatically declared that “The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.” Surely, the people of Yemen would benefit from adopting these goals.

When the ordinary people of Yemen are already suffering so badly, what good is there in killing a man who is not part of the conflict and is only concerned with bringing people together?
Mr Haydara’s case has been taken up by Amnesty International. But for most of us, the only thing we can do is to pray for his release, and for the people of Yemen to overcome their differences and work together for a happier future.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Tweet others as you would wish to be tweeted

There have been a number of cases highlighted recently in which careless talk on Twitter has caused upset to others. Ill-considered and unconsidered tweets about other individuals, and even about other countries, other races and religions, often do not seem to have any basis in fact. They seem to come out of someone’s fingers without first going through their brain! This extends from those in positions of power or influence, to young children at school. It seems that people are not taught to be kind to others, and people are not even expected to be nice!

In schools now, they are increasingly trying to teach the pupils how to cope with “online bullying”. Why is this happening? Why aren’t we teaching all the pupils that they have a duty to be kind and considerate to others? Why aren’t we teaching them that it is wrong to spread false or misleading information about others? In essence, libel is often going unchallenged. In an increasingly inter-dependent society, there does not seem to be a generally-agreed moral code laid down – or even offered – stressing the need for us to be forgiving, charitable, pleasant, welcoming and constructive. Because these positive qualities are among the ones usually promoted by religions, the politicians and educationalists seem to have generally left them within the realm of religion, and they have not been given their due attention within society.

The Bahá’ís have been urging for some years that “World Citizenship” should be included on the school curriculum. This would directly include how citizens should behave towards one another. At the present, the Bahá’ís world-wide are building up community children’s classes, focussing on things such as self-respect, kindness, honesty and generosity. Speaking to adults, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (the Son of Bahá’u’lláh) said: “Do not be satisfied until each one with whom you are concerned is to you as a member of your family. Regard each one either as a father, or as a brother, or as a sister, or as a mother, or as a child. If you can attain to this, your difficulties will vanish, you will know what to do.”

Tweeting, texting and messages on other social media are an extension of speech. Bahá’u’lláh said on this subject: “The tongue is for mentioning that which is good. Pollute it not with evil speech.” He also speaks out against unseemly language: “Defile not the tongue with cursing or execration of anyone.” Many people have been caught out recently by things they wrote in the past, unfortunately proving the truth of Bahá’u’lláh’s words when he said: “For the tongue is a smouldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endure a century.”

One of the main goals of the Bahá’í Faith is the unity of the entire human race. Having individuals sniping at others is detrimental to the process of building up this unity. Yes, we definitely need unity at a world level – unity between states. But unity as a principle also applies at the local level: unity within a country; unity within the town; neighbourliness among the people living on the same street; unity in the classroom. Unity within any group is important, as it cements a building block together. As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá put it: “Peace must first be established among individuals, until it leadeth in the end to peace among nations.”

In the headlong rush towards free expression, society has forgotten the need to educate people on how to live in harmony. Every culture in the world has to have structures which hold it together, to make it viable and enable it to advance into the future. In the past, every religion has taught that we should treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated. In the Hindu Scriptures it states: “This is the sum of righteousness – treat others as thou wouldst thyself be treated.” Jesus advised: “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also unto them.” Muslims were instructed:  “None of you is a believer until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself.” In Judaism, it appears as: “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” This teaching, found in every one of the world religions, is often known as The Golden Rule. In the Bahá’í Writings, Bahá’u’lláh encourages us to take the Golden Rule even further, when He states: “Blessed is he who preferreth his neighbour to himself.” Maybe, if we all tried to follow this teaching, people would begin to tweet about others as they would wish to be tweeted about themselves.