19 May 2010

Drawing Closer and Setting Apart

I was just having a conversation with a friend about the progress of the Baha'i world right now. It got us thinking that there are two dynamics of the emerging pattern of Baha'i life that can easily contradict each other. One is the desire to reach out to new contacts, share Baha'u'llah's teachings with others, and work with them to improve the life of our communities. The other is the desire to exemplify a lifestyle of devotion to God, detachment from instant gratification, and consecrated service to the plans set out by the Universal House of Justice. Baha'is are called to engage the broader society, while living lifestyles that are very different, often incomprehensible at first, to individuals unfamiliar with the Baha'i Faith.

It seems to me that this twin dynamic is set up by breaking down certain barriers with the broader society, while at the same time, throwing up others. By no means, do I think this is a self-defeating process, quite the opposite. But my friend and I certainly noticed that this change of culture is not something we can learn overnight.

What are your thoughts on this?


  1. Thanks! This touches the core of religion, I feel. It seems easier to connect to people when we are ourselves indulging (a bit) in attachment, (small) vices, (some) gratification - "Hey, I'm just as human as you are". At the same time, if we are only 'striving' and never really progressing in detachment, how will we and society ever advance? This would seem to defeat the very purpose of religion.

    I do see that the call for purity and detachment that we constantly encounter in the writings may and does in many cases cause frustration, and how can we wish this frustration for others? Thus especially when we reach out we are forced (sometimes uncomfortably) to find a balance in ourselves.

    To me it is important to realise that we are not asked (and therefore do not ask anyone else) to behave 'unnatural'. Living the pure and spiritual life is a natural state of the soul, not something that we impose upon our poor selves. Surely, living the instant gratification is also natural. That is I think why we are told to have 'lower' and 'higher' selves (both natural).

    The key, then, is to find and live from our higher self for whom the high standards asked from us in the writings are natural and comfortable. Then this will of itself mirror forth and help our friends and those we meet to also find that natural state. This seems to me to be the very purpose of religion.

    Warmest greetings, Martijn

  2. When I wrote this, I didn't like the way I formulated the tension, but since I was going to open up the post to others anyway, I wanted to see if others could do a better job. It seems that that only took a couple of hours.

    As you mention, the conduct Baha'u'llah calls us toward is natural. It isn't an artificial imposition. Thus, once it takes root, it will have a tendency to spread. The joy people gain from living according to their higher nature will then radiate to others. Such individuals would of course, appear very different. But it's more that they would be lamps placed in a darkened room, or clouds raining upon a parched land, not a treasure hidden by high walls.

    The distinction between their conduct and the standards of the world around them is a core feature of their outreach to society.