Baha’is are taught that part of their religion is to teach the Faith. We should seek opportunities to teach and, if there is an interest, then we explain about the Baha’i Faith. I never taught the Faith to my extended family. In the case of my extended family, I tried to educate them, to offer a gift— the greatest gift that I could offer. I never demanded acceptance of the gift. That would mean it wasn’t a gift anymore. Nor did I ever say what should be done with the gift. But, in my heart of hearts, I hoped they would use the gift and feel blessed as I do, to be among the first to receive a profound knowledge about modern life from Baha’u’llah.
I testify by my life that I believe wholeheartedly the words of Baha’u’llah, where he wrote: “I am the Sun of Wisdom and the Ocean of Knowledge. I cheer the faint and revive the dead. I am the guiding Light that illumineth the way. I am the royal Falcon on the arm of the Almighty. I unfold the drooping wings of every broken bird and start it on its flight.” The knowledge conferred by the Faith re-created me, motivated me, enlightened me, and bestowed a conscious faith (a Faith from knowing, not blind) about God. An understanding that I confirmed over nearly 50 years of world-wide travel and service. This knowledge is an annecdote to a world that increasingly turns away from the ultimate metaphysical reality, and instead holds to the illusion that the physical life is all there is, while igoring its inevitable end by death.
Guy Debord writes in “The Society of the Spectacle”: “In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles.” I like the way Debord describes modern life. An accumlation of spectacles. And how sad if a person passes through this life with only an accumulation of spectacles to show for it. From a spiritual point of view, a life where illusion becomes reality. A spectacle is closely related to consumerism. A spectacle is a visual reflection of the consumer society. In other words, everything once lived directly now recedes into representation, an illusion. For example, consumer goods come to define us and symbolise who we are, both to ourselves and to the world. Is this not an illusion? Will white teeth find me love like the commercials promise? Somebody must believe this, otherwise they wouldn’t be paying money for the advertisement!
The world we live in is set up primarily to facilitate the consumer experience. In this pseudo-world, where representative reality occupies the main part of nonworking time, we are all passive spectators unless we are lucky enough to encounter the Teachings of Baha’u’llah. The commercials on television are the perfect way to create the illusion so it has grown worse with each passing year of my life, and the specticles more sophisticated. In the 60s, Mick Jagger sang: “When I’m watchin’ my TV, And that man comes on to tell me, How white my shirts can be (I can’t get no satisfaction)…..or……But he can’t be a man ’cause he doesn’t smoke, The same cigarrettes as me.” The spectacle of the modern world leads us to devote much of our time to things essentially frivolous and meaningless, thereby distracting us from life’s purpose. I have never understood why people focus on these things and ignore the great issues of our time, the great opportunities of education and profound culture, and the intellectual, physical, and community activities that help us deepen our understanding of reality and elevate our perceptions and vision of what it means to be human? Out of love, I want my family to be actualized, aware, enlightened, reborn, or whatever word describes the phenomenon of seeing reality clearly, without representation, without falling under the hypnotic spell of spectacles. So I don’t call that teaching them the Baha’i Faith, I call it trying to educate them to truths that I not only hold true, but have become central to my life and my most proud possession.
With the rise and apparent success of materialism, the notion that there is a spiritual aspect to reality fades into anachronism. The focus placed on addictive activities related to diversions and activities that are defined as “the good life” in the spectacle, diverts attention from the purpose of life. Somehow in my life, I was never attracted to the spectacles. I used to sit in Arnhem in the Netherlands, with Dutch friends, who spent the evening sipping beer and talking about nothing interesting. I couldn’t get away from this fast enough, but I tried to put on a pleasant face to show solidarity with these good people. The spectacles never held an interest for me. At a realatively young age, I did not see the specticle as reality. I saw Christmas as a spectacle, nothing to do with the reality of Christianity. And, by some miracle, I came to recognize that the fundamental purpose of reality is to develop human potential, and to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization. One of my favorite books is “The Purpose of the Physical World.” I made an extensive multimedia presentation about this book (in Russian).
I want my famly to be aware. First, I want them to see the world as it is, and not as a illusion. I want to give them the benefit of what I have seen and learned around the world. Second, because we all die— and we need to be ready for death. We can all agree that death is inevitable, even though most people don’t really face this fact until it happens. I don’t agree that this is the best way to face death, denying it, and perhaps even denying that there is an existence after our body dies. We will transition from this world to the next, and when the realization of the new existence after death is no longer a remote possibility, but a fact, we need to be ready. At the very minimum, to be happy that every effort was expended to understand this life and to realize its purpose before we die. The purpose of this life can be missed, and that would be an unhappy realization on the other side of the grave. As Peter, Paul and Mary said: “I can swear there ain’t no heaven, but I pray there ain’t no hell.” Baha’is believe that at death, the accomplishments or lack of them in the physical life will either gladden us, or cause us to regret the lost opportunity. I don’t want anyone in my family to feel regret.
Concerning my friends, I am always ready to teach. But I don’t tell anybody about the Baha’i Faith if they are not interested. I do not proselytize. I feel it is wrong to try to convince someone of the existence of God, or to push someone to acknowledge that Baha’u’llah is an intermediary between God and man. I’m not responsible for anyone but myself, don’t want to be, and have no right to be. And this includes my children, my wife, and my extended family. On the other hand, I’m ready in an instant to put forth proofs and facts to outline for the listener my accumlated experience and study and then it is up to the listener to react, or not. My responsiblity stops at the volitional choice of the listener.
But I do enjoy a sincere conversation. In my family, certainly with Carolyn these conversations took place, but mostly in the presence of others, like Rouhi and John Huddleston or at Baha’i conferences or at our firesides. However, none of my children with Carolyn are interested to have even a conversation, and they don’t raise their children in the Baha’i way. This means that Carolyn and I failed at our most important responsibility as parents, or at least so far we failed. Let me be clear. Our children all have wonderful characters, and we love them dearly. But if they live their life without being connected to its ultimate purpose, and they transition to the next world without the necessary spiritual development, then we failed as parents.
Olya V became interested in the Faith, and her approach was typically Russian. She decided to methodologically study the Baha’i Writings about Christianity, and then to compare them to the Bible and other sources, and only after she verified their accuracy, she was ready to have a conversation. In the case of Svitlana, she was attracted to the life style taught by the Faith, and only when it was confirmed in day-to-day living did she begin to study the teachings and have conversations with me (initially due to the emphasis in the Faith on the Ruhi courses). Marta still has time and I can’t yet predict which direction she will take. Marta lives in two worlds, her mother’s and mine, and she will find it difficult to choose one or the other.
When I say just conversations, nothing more, I really mean nothing more. An open and frank change of opinions. Listening to the personal reflections of others who have a similar passion. Such conversations are interesting, sometimes inspiring. For example, Beverly Sher and the Vedas. It is her life, her love, her passion, even her sex (she vowed brahmacharya together with her husband). I listen and learn from her. I love her for her decision and committment to finding truth, to believing in englightment, and seeking it with all her heart. In my life I have similar examples from sincere believers in all the religions. In college, I was attracted to Buddhism and mystycism, yoga and meditation. Up to the present I have always sought out and made friends with those from that community. Without even realizing it, I was attracted to Jewish friends and their families during childhood and youth (Sandra Segal, Beverly), and I seem to gravitate towards Israelis (Marta is the result of a discussion with an Israeli family living in the Phillipines) . I am very uncomfortable with Christians and Muslims that literally interpret their Holy books and seek to show how their religion is better than the others. On the other hand, my sincere wish for my Christian and Muslim friends is that they become the best possible Christians and Muslims, and reflect the attributes of God in their lives. Because, in fact, all of the religions seek to reflect the same list of divine attributes, or spiritual qualities, or the same image of God. We are all united in seeking to develop these identical attributes.
Outside of the Baha’i community, I rarely meet anyone who has put as much time and effort into the comparative study of all religions, and the study of the spiritual basis of life and its meaning. I have known many that have never been curious about any religion, and in fact dislike “organized relgion” of any sort. And I have known many that espouse the religion of their national culture or family of origin without question. Many in this category often know very little about their own Faith. It always surprises me, when I meet someone who doesn’t seek answers to the questions of “What is the purpose of life?” and “Do I live beyond the grave?” and “Why are there bad things in the world?” Many religious and non-religious people have difficulty in finding answers to these questions, or their answers show that they have never given them serious attention. These questions have always been part of my life, and they have followed me around the world, from country to country, culture to culture. I ask: “Is there anything more important? Is there anything more interesting?”
It is really important to understand, when I talk about the Baha’i Faith, that I consider myself a believer in the Hindu Vedas, the Buddhist Tripitaka, the Jewish Old Testment, the Christian Bible, and the Koran of Islam. I have both studied each of these religions, and I have been close to, and loved, many people from each of these religions. And, as a Baha’i, my understanding that they are all part of the same religion has grown year by year.
In the case of my children, it was my role to teach them all the things I felt they should know and understand. As children, they attended Baha’i classes and we prayed together as a family. After the divorce I have never seen any interest from any of them. Still I wanted to give them an advantage, an insight, and better opportunities than I had. But not better material advantages, but a better understanding of the foundations of life, and the amazing metaphysics that exists between the spiritual and physical realities, and the bridge that exists between them. The more I wanted to share with them, the less their interest. I am a first generation Baha’i. I don’t know if any of my children consider themselves 2nd generation Baha’is, and I see no signs that any of my grandchildren will be 3rd generation. Does this matter? Time, and death, will provide the answer. According to my understanding, it matters.But I think the first question about teaching the Faith concerns becoming “part of the solution” and not being “part of the problem.” I have watched the gradual destruction of the American dream. I grew up in the 60s and 70s when people worked for values that I believe in, like the elmination of racial prejudice, women’s rights, not engaging in aggression, questionable wars, etc. I defer to Noam Chomsky to make authoritative statements about what I believe to be true about that period: “The events of the 60s “are all civilizing effects, and that caused great fear. I didn’t anticipate the the power of the reaction to the civilizing effects of the 60s. The backlash. There has been an enormous, concentrated, coordinated business offensive beginning in the ’70s to try to beat back the egalitarian efforts, that went right through the Nixon years.”
Teaching the Baha’i Faith is working for the collective future of societies. As a Baha’i youth, I learned a different interpretation of history which, during the course of my life, has proven to be true. The totality of issues faced by the world in 2017 are, in various ways, foreshadowed in the teachings of Baha’u’llah, along with remedies for their solution. Each of us has a choice to make about the issues. We can pretend they don’t exist, sink into the morass of consumerism, and live life in the pursuit of a kind of happiness that always seems to be a bit out of reach. Or, we can choose to work for the future. It sounds a bit melodramatic, I understand. But let’s look at history:
….we “face the fact that the Movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. There are forty million poor people here. And one day we must ask the question, “Why are there forty million poor people in America?” And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy. And I’m simply saying that more and more, we’ve got to begin to ask questions about the whole society.” Martin Luther King 16 August 1967
The words of Martin Luther King are strikingly true 50 years later. Every day since 1967 the truth of his vision has deepened, and there is every indication that it will continue with greater speed. For more about the US Economy and the economic system, just watch the documentary film “REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM” with Noam Chomsky. It’s all there, easily and clearly described, and essentially unchallenged by anyone.
So, why teach? It is not enough for me to live my life and not care about others. It seems practically evil to me. I cannot be “good” if I sense sadness or hopelessness or mindlessness in the surrounding space.
Let me back up about 100 years and hear the words of Baha’u’llah and then apply them to the contemporary world.
Thus, Baha’i believe that “…..economic problems can be solved only through the application of spiritual principles. This approach suggests that to adjust the economic relationships of society, man’s character must first be transformed. Until the actions of humankind promote justice above the satisfaction of greed and readjust the world’s economies accordingly, the gap between the rich and the poor will continue to widen, and the dream of sustainable economic growth, peace, and prosperity must remain elusive. Sensitizing mankind to the vital role of spirituality in solving economic problems including the realization of universal equitable access to wealth and opportunity, will … create a new impetus for change (Bahá’í International Community, Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, para. 3).
Perhaps include my chapter from “The Spirit of Agriculture” (George Ronald Baha’i Studies Series Book 4) (Kindle Locations 4784-4786). George Ronald Publisher Ltd. Kindle Edition.