Please read important notes first

Before you read or comment on any articles on this blog, please take the time to read these important notes.

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Tolstoy’s Views on the Bahá’í and Mormon Faiths

Many Bahá’ís are aware of a special connection between their Faith and the famous Russian author and philosopher, Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy. Tolstoy, especially later in life, had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge about religion in all of its diverse expressions. It was due to this curiosity that he had become aware of the Faith, and eventually corresponded and met with Bahá’ís. Among his writings we find several interesting (though brief) commentaries on the Bábí and Bahá’í religions. What some Bahá’ís may not realize is that Tolstoy was also aware of, and commented on, the Mormon faith.
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A Reflection on “The Fruit of the Spirit”

The beauty of the Bahá’í-inspired Ruhi study circles is that, while there is a “tutor” who facilitates the study and keeps the group on track, there is no teacher/student dynamic. All participants equally share their insights and learn from each other. As someone currently serving as tutor in two study circles – both Book 1, Reflections on the Life of the Spirit – I take this shared learning concept seriously. So when a participant from a Christian background mentioned the biblical “fruit of the spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23) in answer to a question about what spiritual qualities we can ask for in our prayers, I decided to study that verse, reflect on it, and find connections to it in the Bahá’í Writings. In particular, I wondered about the significance of the word “fruit”.

The 5th chapter of Galatians draws a sharp contrast between the “acts of the flesh” and the “fruit of the spirit” (which Paul defines as love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). I discovered among ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s 1911 Paris Talks a discussion on this subject that provides a beautiful reflection:

Like the animal, man possesses the faculties of the senses, is subject to heat, cold, hunger, thirst, etc.; unlike the animal, man has a rational soul, the human intelligence. This intelligence of man is the intermediary between his body and his spirit.

When man allows the spirit, through his soul, to enlighten his understanding, then does he contain all Creation; because man, being the culmination of all that went before and thus superior to all previous evolutions, contains all the lower world within himself. Illumined by the spirit through the instrumentality of the soul, man’s radiant intelligence makes him the crowning-point of Creation.

But on the other hand, when man does not open his mind and heart to the blessing of the spirit, but turns his soul towards the material side, towards the bodily part of his nature, then is he fallen from his high place and he becomes inferior to the inhabitants of the lower animal kingdom. In this case the man is in a sorry plight! For if the spiritual qualities of the soul, open to the breath of the Divine Spirit, are never used, they become atrophied, enfeebled, and at last incapable; whilst the soul’s material qualities alone being exercised, they become terribly powerful – and the unhappy, misguided man, becomes more savage, more unjust, more vile, more cruel, more malevolent than the lower animals themselves. …

You perceive how the soul is the intermediary between the body and the spirit. In like manner is this tree [points to a small orange tree] the intermediary between the seed and the fruit. When the fruit of the tree appears and becomes ripe, then we know that the tree is perfect; if the tree bore no fruit it would be merely a useless growth, serving no purpose! When a soul has in it the life of the spirit, then does it bring forth good fruit and become a Divine tree.

The virtues mentioned by Paul as the “fruit of the spirit” are of course universal, and are taught by all the world’s sacred traditions. To list all the verses in the Bahá’í Scriptures that mention these virtues would be impossible; however, one passage from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh stands out in my mind as a great example of these virtues presented in the same context as Paul’s letter to the Galatians, with a few extra ones thrown in to boot:

O peoples of the world! Forsake all evil, hold fast that which is good. Strive to be shining examples unto all mankind, and true reminders of the virtues of God amidst men. He that riseth to serve My Cause should manifest My wisdom, and bend every effort to banish ignorance from the earth. Be united in counsel, be one in thought. Let each morn be better than its eve and each morrow richer than its yesterday. Man’s merit lieth in service and virtue and not in the pageantry of wealth and riches. Take heed that your words be purged from idle fancies and worldly desires and your deeds be cleansed from craftiness and suspicion. Dissipate not the wealth of your precious lives in the pursuit of evil and corrupt affection, nor let your endeavours be spent in promoting your personal interest. Be generous in your days of plenty, and be patient in the hour of loss. Adversity is followed by success and rejoicings follow woe. Guard against idleness and sloth, and cling unto that which profiteth mankind, whether young or old, whether high or low. Beware lest ye sow tares of dissension among men or plant thorns of doubt in pure and radiant hearts.

O ye beloved of the Lord! Commit not that which defileth the limpid stream of love or destroyeth the sweet fragrance of friendship. By the righteousness of the Lord! Ye were created to show love one to another and not perversity and rancour. Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind. Let your eye be chaste, your hand faithful, your tongue truthful and your heart enlightened. Abase not the station of the learned in Bahá and belittle not the rank of such rulers as administer justice amidst you. Set your reliance on the army of justice, put on the armour of wisdom, let your adorning be forgiveness and mercy and that which cheereth the hearts of the well-favoured of God.

Reflecting on the above excerpts from the Bahá’í Writings provides additional insight into the significance of the “fruit of the spirit” mentioned by Paul.

Posted in Interfaith, Teachings and Doctrine

Please Don’t Confuse RLDS with FLDS

Today I had to explain to a Mormon friend the difference between FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and Community of Christ (formerly RLDS, or Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). I can see how, between the alphabet soup and the name change, this could be confusing, but since this person was mentioning to someone else that the Kirtland temple is owned by the FLDS church, I felt that a quick correction and explanation were in order. I do not mention this to embarrass the person in question, but rather in response to a realization that if this is confusing to a dyed-in-the-wool Mormon, then surely it is even more so to non-Mormons. A brief clarification follows.

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Posted in History

A Morning Reflection During the Fast

This being the fasting period for Bahá’ís, the nineteen days from March 2 through March 20 during which we are to abstain from food or drink between sunrise and sunset, I find myself up early in the morning to receive first spiritual, and then material, sustenance. Although I am a night owl and generally do not get up any earlier than I have to, spending the pre-dawn hours in prayer, meditation and reflection is one of the great bounties of the fasting month. Continue reading

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The Justice and Mercy of God

Today I had an in-depth conversation with a Mormon friend about a number of matters spiritual. At one point our discussion touched upon the relationship between obedience and salvation: If we obey God’s laws, is God bound to recompense us? And if we do not, is God able to bridge our shortcomings through His mercy, or is He prevented from making any exceptions? In other words, is God a bureaucratic God?

For example, a husband and wife, one Mormon and the other not, have a spiritual marriage, where their love for each other is as strong as the love they each have for God. They are each faithful and obedient to their respective faiths. Would justice require that they be separated in the next life because they were not sealed in the temple, or would that separation in fact be an injustice? If we assume that the Mormon faith is true, can God make an exception and accept both spouses into the celestial kingdom without the sealing ordinance having been completed?

To express the Bahá’í view that God is able to do as He wishes and is not bound to either accept our pious deeds or reject us because of our lack thereof, I quoted part of the Naw Rúz prayer, which is read at the close of the Nineteen Day Fast:

For the doings of men are all dependent upon Thy good pleasure, and are conditioned by Thy behest. Shouldst Thou regard him who hath broken the fast as one who hath observed it, such a man would be reckoned among them who from eternity had been keeping the fast. And shouldst Thou decree that he who hath observed the fast hath broken it, that person would be numbered with such as have caused the Robe of Thy Revelation to be stained with dust, and been far removed from the crystal waters of this living Fountain.

My friend, not necessarily disagreeing with me on this point, referred to a statement in the Book of Mormon to the effect that if God could make exceptions to His own laws at will, God would cease to be God. I later looked this up and found the following:

And if there was no law given, if men sinned what could justice do, or mercy either, for they would have no claim upon the creature? But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God. But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice. For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved. What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God. (Alma 42:21-25)

He proposed the following hypothetical situation by way of illustration: Two people die at the same time and are judged before God. One had lived a life of piety and the other a life of sin. How would the first feel if God accepted the other as though he had never sinned?

I suggested that it is not for us to judge whether God deals with souls justly; He is the Creator, and He has defined the concept of justice; whatever God does, that is by definition justice. Also, we should obey God’s laws out of love, not for fear of punishment or hope of reward. If we expect God to keep his end of the bargain by rewarding us for our sacrifices, we do not have the right motive. And if we only obey the law out of fear of punishment, how can we possibly expect our deeds to be accepted?

Tonight as I was reciting the Bahá’í Writings I came upon this text by the Báb that further clarifies this last point:

WORSHIP thou God in such wise that if thy worship lead thee to the fire, no alteration in thine adoration would be produced, and so likewise if thy recompense should be paradise. Thus and thus alone should be the worship which befitteth the one True God. Shouldst thou worship Him because of fear, this would be unseemly in the sanctified Court of His presence, and could not be regarded as an act by thee dedicated to the Oneness of His Being. Or if thy gaze should be on paradise, and thou shouldst worship Him while cherishing such a hope, thou wouldst make God’s creation a partner with Him, notwithstanding the fact that paradise is desired by men.

Fire and paradise both bow down and prostrate themselves before God. That which is worthy of His Essence is to worship Him for His sake, without fear of fire, or hope of paradise.

Although when true worship is offered, the worshipper is delivered from the fire, and entereth the paradise of God’s good-pleasure, yet such should not be the motive of his act. However, God’s favour and grace ever flow in accordance with the exigencies of His inscrutable wisdom. (Bayán VII, 19)

I promised my friend I would reflect on the previously quoted verses from Alma. Having done so, I find much in it that agrees with the Bahá’í teachings; for example, Bahá’u’lláh states that “the structure of world stability and order hath been reared upon, and will continue to be sustained by, the twin pillars of reward and punishment” (Gleanings, CXII). However, I fail to see how it directly applies to a situation where no actual sin has been committed, but rather a particular ordinance has not been carried out.

Food for thought. I love my conversations with my Mormon friend.

Posted in Interfaith, Laws and Ordinances | 1 Comment

A Long-Awaited Disavowal

On or about December 6, 2013, a statement by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, titled Race and the Priesthood, appeared without fanfare on the website. A friend alerted me to it because there was no official declaration or press release to accompany it. To call this statement a new Church doctrine would probably be presumptuous since there is no indication of it coming directly from the First Presidency, but as it was posted on the official LDS website, it has clearly been sanctioned by Church leadership.

Official doctrine or no, I believe this announcement to be the most significant paradigm shift since the 1978 declaration that extended “to every worthy member of the Church all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords,” a declaration which at the time represented an about-face in the Church’s longstanding policy on race that at last enabled men of African descent to obtain the priesthood. After that declaration, however, there was no official Church disavowal of any of the doctrines underlying its former policy, nor did Church leaders attempt to apologize for prior discriminatory practices. With its new Statement on Race and the Priesthood, the Church appears to have made a major step toward correcting this earlier omission.

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Posted in Book, History, Race

Commentary on a Conference Talk by Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf

Every April and October, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints holds General Conference—a two-day long event, broadcast from the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, during which the faithful receive inspiration and new doctrine, with choral music and prayer interspersed.

It is during General Conference that members of the Church’s highest leadership—the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles—give talks which remind Latter-day Saints of their sacred duties under God, establish new doctrine or offer new insights on existing doctrine, and indicate a particular focus or direction for the Church.

At the October 2013 Conference recently concluded, one of these leaders, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, gave a rousing talk titled “Come, Join with Us.” Uchtdorf, the Second Counselor in the First Presidency, is one of my favorite speakers. His folksy brand of storytelling and charming German accent combine with an honesty and sincerity in tackling difficult questions that make his talks among the most captivating of the Conference.

In this particular talk, President Uchtdorf reached out to current Church members who may be entertaining doubts about the truth of the restored gospel, as well as those who may have left the church for various other reasons. Far from denouncing such questioning souls or discounting their honest grievances, he expressed respect and understanding, acknowledging that some may have left the Church for legitimate reasons. He then made a remarkable admission—remarkable, at least, for a high-ranking official of a religious organization with an authoritarian leadership that is considered to be infallible: that “there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes.”

Uchtdorf’s talk contains a number of other statements that are noteworthy from a Bahá’í perspective. I invite the reader to first watch, listen to or read his original Conference talk, and then continue reading this article during which I highlight some selected utterances.

President Uchtdorf’s October 2013 General Conference Talk: Watch | Listen | Read

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Posted in Interfaith, Teachings and Doctrine