How many people have done spring cleaning on their entire life? Started over with a new beginning? I did when I was seventeen. All the members of my family who were older than me, thought I was too young to make such a decision. If I had joined the military, they would not have thought I was too young; I was not too young to kill. I had been driving for several years. No one thought anything about that, yet a vehicle going down the road can also kill. My decision did not involved killing, or even the possibility of killing, yet I was too young to make it. That is very strange.
They considered my decision more dramatic and long lasting than merely killing someone. They considered that my decision had directed my soul to hell for all eternity. At least, that is what they had been taught by the church they attended. It taught that anyone who did not believe exactly what that church taught would go to hell forever.
That never made sense to me. Why would an All-Loving Creator and Sustainer of all that is, create the gazillions and gazillions of human beings for as far back as human being existed, and condemn most of them to eternal torment simply because they didn’t share the specific ideas of a small, recent group of people. Why bother with creating so many people just to torture them forever? That was not only not loving, but it wasn’t even rational. And, whatever it was that created all that is, had to be rational because the elements of creation fit together and make sense. We may not understand all of creation, but that’s because human understanding is limited. Humans are limited.
So, just days before I was eighteen, I accepted a new religion.
Part of their shock and dismay was due to the fact that the religion I joined was not at that time as well known as it is today. This was over fifty years ago, and a lot has changed in that time.
The name of this new religion was one they couldn’t even pronounce, or at least they didn’t know how to pronounce it. When I explained that it rhymed with Hawai’i, then they could see some similarity to something familiar. I don’t think it ever occurred to them that “Hawai’i” is not an English word and a century or so ago, it had also been foreign and unpronounceable. The diacriticals did not help, though they exist to aid in pronunciation. Usually the diacritical in Hawai’i is not used on the mainland, but in Hawai’i it is used. The preferred way to write the name of the religion is: Bahá’í. Ha-wai-i, Ba-ha-i. It’s really simple.
Shockingly to my family, the Bahá’í Faith does not teach the same thing about Jesus that has been standard doctrine since the Roman Catholic church suppressed all others who were considered heretics. Bahá’í scriptures teach that the Creator not only created humans as part of the universe, but is still educating us through Divine Educators. Each of these Divine Educators has their own identity, their own personality, their own message, their own distinction, their own station, yet at the same time they are united in being Divine Messengers/Saviors/Manifestations of God. They manifest the teachings and attributes of God to the human race. They have human form so we can recognize them.
Christ was one of these, the one with the distinction of “Son of God.” Moses had the distinction of being “One Who Conversed with God.” Abraham had the distinction of being the “Friend of God.” There have been countless more back to the very beginning of the human race. Gradually they have taught us to be more fully human, which is to say: spiritual beings in a material environment. We are faced with the challenge of living a balance between both those realities.
In the Bahá’í Faith there is no emphasis on sin or negativity. A “sin” is just a mistake. Making mistakes is one form of learning. Humans are created to learn and explore. Mistakes will be made. There is no eternal terror in that. Mistakes are opportunities for learning. Humans are not depraved creatures, but the highest form of creation. We are noble beings who are simply unaware of our nobility. Life gives us opportunities to learn about and exercise our nobility.
One of the distinguishing features of the Bahá’í religion is the prohibition on clergy. There are no priests or preachers to comment on scripture. In fact, preaching, or even lectures, or talks of any kind, are forbidden in a Bahá’í house of worship. Those buildings are reserved for prayer and meditation on the Word of God, not the words of another human. And, Bahá’í houses of worship are open to all people. Respect is the only requirement to enter.
With no clergy, it is imperative that each person be able to read the Word of God themselves, so education is important. In places where governments have not established schools, Bahá’ís have begun to do so. By the beginning of the 21st century, these number close to a thousand. These are not “religious” schools, but schools that teach all subjects, including science. Science is essential to the progress of society. Science is so important that if an idea cannot be supported by science, the rational examination of phenomena, that idea should be discarded. What a difference that would make in the world if practiced by everyone.
An interesting aspect of education is that, though both boys and girls need to be educated, if it is not possible to educate both, then girls are the priority. They are the first educators of the next generation. In all other areas men and women are equal, they are like the two wings of the bird of humanity. If only one wing can function, the bird can’t fly straight, if it can fly at all. Women are not to be forced into roles they do not want, nor are they to be limited in what they can do.
Holy days of the Bahá’í Faith are based on actual, documented historical events – and the actual times the events occurred. For instance, one is to be observed at noon, another at 3:00 pm, another at two hours and eleven minutes after sunset, and two others at 1:00 and 3:00 in the morning! Though some of these times many be inconvenient, you know they are authentic. That the events commemorated are not fabricated or based on supposition, is reassuring. They are real.
When Bahá’ís honor the Founder of their faith, they know they are, at the same time, also honoring the Founders of every other faith in the stream of progressive revelation from the one Divine Source. There is no need to keep separate track of dates for all of them and for many, such as His Holiness Christ, the specific dates are unknown.
My family did not know any of this when I accepted the Bahá’í Faith as my own. They only knew it was not part of their church, and it was strange – especially the name. Bahá’í means “Follower of Glory,” indicating one who tries to live up to the teachings of the Glory of God, Bahá’u’lláh. This was a title given to a Persian nobleman in the 19th century. As a consequence of His teachings, His wealth and social status were stript from Him and He, and His family, were exiled as prisoners from their native homeland forever. He gained nothing from His teachings. His family gained nothing. This is curiously contrary to many other “religious” teachers.
So, I did a Spring Cleaning on my life, re-starting it in a new tradition, and have had no regrets.