I long to live, but I will die. I know that something will live on, but it also shall die. The very process of change will carry on, but it is impossible to examine in its mutability.

May all my grievous errors be blamed solely on myself. The Baha'i Faith is not responsible for any of them.

And now that Nightingale sings on forevermore...

My Dear Readers,

Despite knowing full well the many dangers in doing so, I am moved to make a prediction about the future. I predict that many of you who are reading this little account, will someday join the Baha'i Faith. .

Please give me the opportunity to explain my reasoning in these matters, which I hope I can do without giving offense. It is, as I see it, really a question of commitment.

It seems to me that our efforts to find the *perfect* faith or religion, is doomed to failure. Religions are, at least partly, the product of collective human actions, and so are incapable of absolute perfection. It sort of reminds me of the man who seeks the perfect wife. The search is doomed, for even the search of a lifetime will yield only relative beauty, personality, companionship, and fit. Better to commit to the joys of a wonderful but imperfect wife, rather than take none at all in search of Helen of Troy, the Queen of Sheba, and Joan of Arc combined.

More likely, we will wind up rejecting all actual, living and breathing religions as inadequate, and sally forth on a quest to create the *perfect* religion, on our own and in collaboration with other high-minded and noble people. But just as, even with unimaginable future technological breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and robotics, folks will still prefer an imperfect but lovable human spouse, I suspect that no artificially created religion, no matter how able the organizing committee, will ever meet our needs.

In like manner, no syncretic, logically created religious faith can ever satisfy the need which people feel for real, live, flesh and blood religious faith, born in the caldron of mankind's tempestuous historical journey through time, with all its inherent contradictions, imperfections, inconsistencies and mind shearing quirks of irrationality.

For mankind lives in a temporal, contingent world, and it is an eternal function of religion to help people make sense of the historical oddities and quirks of fate which bedevil us, for to some extent it is only these very random and maddening quirks of fate that can give meaning to human existence. It has historically been the Abrahamic religions in particular which have been forced to deal with the madness of finding meaning in our collective histories; and this Abrahamic religious tradition is something which I do not believe we can ignore, even though we might wish to.

For how else do we give meaning to the existence of Jesus Christ, who after all was a product of His Jewish heritage, although He transcended it and molded it into something which could reach around the world, rather than just around Palestine? Was the "Jewish" religion described in the Bible perfect, or entirely logical? Or was it even, by our standards today at least, sometimes even unethical in the extreme, as when the old testament God demanded the equivalent of genocide? Yet on such a base Christ built His church.
Similar points could be made about Mohammed, the Bab, Baha'u'llah, and for that matter for Moses and Abraham before them.

I suppose it would have been more rational, and a lot easier to comprehend, if the beautiful streams of religious faith from all around the world had been recognized and united into one great stream by Someone who had somehow come from *outside* of any particular religious stream or heritage. But such was not to be the case.

It appears that God wills that all of our earth shattering Prophets, those who lay the foundation for a new synthesis for a new age, be fully human and have a human history. In fact, no human being can ever claim to start with a clean slate, and then address the questions of ultimate importance to us. We all have histories. There is always a Context to any Religion, and to any Revelator.

Certainly people of good will could get together and create a system of ethics from first principles, as it were. But they could never attain the *meaning* that only comes as the output of a world history which includes the strivings of all flesh and blood people who have ever lived.

The Baha'i Faith is that outcome of the whole world's history. Whatever else you may think about it, who can assail the motivations of its Central Figures? Could any woman, man, or group of people of good will assembled together, ever hope to acquit themselves for *entire lifetimes* dedicated to the cause of renewing humanities spiritual heritage, without having even one blemish on the lifetime records of the "founders" , in the form of monetary or other selfish acts committed "on the side" ? Did not the Bab, Baha'u'llah, Abdul Baha, and Shoghi Effendi dedicate their entire lives to the Cause with not one blemish, not one exception, not one side discursion to make a few bucks, or further their own personal ends in any way? The record, when reviewed and compared, speaks for itself.

Yes, the Baha'i Faith, its institutions, and its community, would have the potential to unwittingly create some very big problems, injustices, and even horrors, if it were to fall under the sway of the human passions, power urges, and intolerances which unfortunately became common in many other historical religious communities. But there are safeguards in the Writings of Baha'u'llah, in the words of Abdul Baha, and most of all, in the very system headed by the Universal House of Justice which Shoghi Effendi ultimately created in fulfillment of Baha'u'llah's administrative vision.
Do not underestimate the power of a universally elected, omnipotent Universal House of Justice, committed to the words and vision of Baha'u'llah, and eternally renewed in a never ending electoral evolution. The ultimate implementation of all civil laws and ordinances, are entirely at the discretion and judgment of this august body. They must take into account *all* of the revelation, all of Baha'u'llah's tablets, principles, and admonitions. Read Baha'u'llah's words, in context, and see if you believe that such a body as the Universal House of Justice could ever commit injustice.

Yes, it takes a commitment of faith; faith in the people who will be inspired by Baha'u'llah, faith in the system He inaugurated; faith in humanity itself. After all, even a good wife may go astray; you can never guarantee the good behavior of anyone forever; but that does not stop a wise man from taking a wife (although he certainly should do so with prudence and forethought). In the end, all good things require a commitment.

For the first time in history, circumstances are right for us to take the leap of faith and commit to a religion to unite the whole world.

So, like the man who must ultimately commit to marrying a wife, who, though imperfect, is his only hope for domestic happiness; one must ultimately commit to a religious home or else spend a lifetime wondering in the spiritual wilderness.

I am not immune to the siren call of mankind's best efforts to construct its own salvation. While some of these attempts may seem, in retrospect, like foolish Towers of Babel constructed by pagan idolaters, we should not forget that even the Tower of Babel was the outcome of a historical religious stream whose source was also a Prophetic religion. Nonetheless, these man made edifices, although they may shore up the dying cultures from which they spring, and though they may fan the flickering embers of spiritual zeal in many a right minded soul, are all ultimately unable to produce a truly new and transformative religious and cultural breakthrough.

I want to take the liberty of quoting briefly the words of one of perhaps the two greatest twentieth century poets in the English language. Every time I hear the sounds of John Lennon's song "Imagine" pouring over the loudspeakers, whether I am sitting in a street-side cafe with friends, or all alone in my car or elsewhere, I can never contain the shock of excitement, nor fail to feel a chill go up and down my spine as I am uplifted by his beautiful words and music. There is something irresistible in the spirit he conjures up as he sings such words as

Imagine there's no heaven, it's easy of you try.
No hell below us, above us only sky
Imagine all the people, living all the way.

It is easy to relate to the need to move beyond the negative connotations of heaven and hell, and to long for the world of no countries, no possessions, no jealousies, with nothing to kill or die for.

But notice that Lennon appeals to a positively religious sensibility within us, in order to attract us to his vision, precisely because it is *only* the religious impulse which can unite people and motivate them to pull together in the creation of something transcendent. So Lennon ends each stanza with the refrain

You may say I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one.
I hope some day you will join us
And the world will live as one.

If you think about it, everything Lennon calls for in this song is addressed by the Baha'i revelation, but of course in less simplistic tones and with historical realities and forces soberly in mind.

Lennon dreams of a world with no countries in which all people can live as one; the Baha'i Faith envisages a united One World which includes all countries. Lennon imagines a world with no possessions where all the people share all the wealth; the Baha'i Faith proposes a world in which the extremes of wealth and poverty are eliminated, but private property rights continue to exist. Lennon wants to see a world in which the nightmares of heaven and hell are banished, along with the wars, hatreds, and inhumanities which their dogmatic pursuit has occasioned; the Baha'i Faith shows us how to get there without losing our humanity and our soul.

So, although the song, "Imagine", stirs my innermost feelings; in the last analysis I must come down in favor of that other poet, whose words for forty years now have called us back to our spiritual roots, our oldest principles, and our most cherished, dearly won faith in an unknowable essence we call, for lack of a better word, "God".

As Dylan says in his song "God Knows" and in so many other places

God knows there's a heaven
God knows its out of sight
God knows we can get all the way from here to there even if we have to walk a million miles by candlelight.

I hope the readers will forgive me for the length of my rantings, but I promise to resume silence now for a lengthy period. However, for the reasons I state above, I believe that many, many people will come to find a spiritual home in the Baha'i Faith, for, as Tim Hardin said in his nice song many years before Rod Stewart butchered it into a pop anthem, it's all about finding a "Reason to Believe".

So be it, Amen.

Ron Stephens
February 18, 2000

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