Archive for the ‘investigation’ Category

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Do Indigenous Prophets Count?

March 27, 2018

Recently in response to the article, Recognizing and Respecting the Sacred Lakota Traditions by Christopher Buck + Kevin Locke on the BahaiTeachings blog a Baha’i objected to the idea that White Buffalo Calf Woman could be a Prophet of God for the Lakota in line with the Baha’i teaching that God has sent many prophets of God throughout time and to differing peoples.

One of the objections that this Baha’i made was that he said that there were only 9 existing religions and hence only 9 messengers of God were therefore possible. This Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi supports this: “The number nine which in itself is the number of perfection is considered by the Bahá’ís as sacred because it is symbolic of the perfection of the Bahá’í Revelation which constitutes the ninth in the line of existing religions, the latest and fullest Revelation which mankind has ever known. The eighth is the religion of the Báb, and the remaining seven are: Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the religion of the Sabeans. These religions are not the only true religions that have appeared in the world, but are the only ones still existing. There have always been divine Prophets and Messengers, to many of whom the Qur’án refers. But the only ones existing are those mentioned above.”
(From letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, July 28, 1936: Bahá’í News, No. 105, February 1937, p. 2, Lights of Guidance, p. 414)

We could argue that the secretary who penned this letter in 1936 didn’t know of the existence of the Lakota people or that the secretary thought that the Lakota didn’t have an existing belief system or we could argue that this letter was intended as advice to the addressee (see: “when he gives advice” (1944)). “(S)ometimes one statement is exactly the right for one type of mind and wrong thing another.” (see the letter below) Perhaps if we saw the question that was asked, the intention might be clearer.

There is a later letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi which also states that there are only 9 religions and hence only 9 Prophets of God possible: “First, regarding the significance of the number nine; its importance as a symbol used so often in various connections by the believers lies in three facts: first, it symbolizes the nine great world religions of which we have any definite historical knowledge, including the Bábí and Bahá’í Revelations; second, it represents the number of perfection, being the highest single number; third, it is the numerical value of the word ‘Baha'”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, July 9, 1939, Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 414.)

And there is also a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi which states the number nine refers to the numerical meaning of the word Baha “…In telling people of the 9 religions of the world, that is, existing religions, we should not give this as the reason the Temple has 9 sides. This may have been an idea of the architect, and a very pleasing idea, which can be mentioned in passing, but the Temple has 9 sides because of the association of 9 with perfection, unity and ‘Baha’.

“The Guardian feels that with intellectuals and students of religion the question of exactly which are the existing religions is controversial, and it would be better to avoid it. He does not want the friends to be rigid in these matters, but use their judgement and tact, sometimes one statement is exactly the right for one type of mind and wrong thing another.

“Strictly speaking the 5-pointed star is the symbol of our Faith, as used by the Báb and explained by Him. But the Guardian does not feel it is wise or necessary to complicate our explanations of the Temple by adding this.”
(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, October 28,1949, Lights of Guidance, p. 415)

I have pasted the 1949 letter in the same formatting as can be found in the 1983 book of compilations, Lights of Guidance. This letter is also in the book, Directives from the Guardian but there the dating of letters is not clear whereas in Lights of Guidance it is clear and so I would assume that the editor made the spacing for a reason – to show that the gaps were in the original letter or that the excerpts come from parts of a longer letter.

So what do I do as a Bahai? I go to the Bahai Scripture and see what is written there. I didn’t find any number for how many prophets of God there have been. Here is Baha’u’llah: “A divine Manifestation Who hath extolled and magnified the one true God, exalted be His glory, Who hath borne witness to His knowledge and confessed that His Essence is sanctified above all things and exalted beyond every comparison — such a Manifestation hath been called at various times a worshipper of the sun or a fire-worshipper. How numerous are those sublime Manifestations and Revealers of the Divine of Whose stations the people remain wholly unaware, of Whose grace they are utterly deprived, nay, God forbid, Whom they curse and revile!”
(Baha’u’llah, Tabernacle_of_Unity)

I found not only the word “numerous” but also the idea that all these messengers have equal importance.

“…all the Prophets and Messengers of God as one soul and one body, as one light and one spirit, in such wise that the first among them would be last and the last would be first. For they have all arisen to proclaim His Cause and have established the laws of divine wisdom. They are, one and all, the Manifestations of His Self, the Repositories of His might, the Treasuries of His Revelation, the Dawning-Places of His splendour and the Daysprings of His light. Through them are manifested the signs of sanctity in the realities of all things and the tokens of oneness in the essences of all beings. Through them are revealed the elements of glorification in the heavenly realities and the exponents of praise in the eternal essences. From them hath all creation proceeded and unto them shall return all that hath been mentioned. And since in their inmost Beings they are the same Luminaries and the self-same Mysteries, thou shouldst view their outward conditions in the same light, that thou mayest recognize them all as one Being, nay, find them united in their words, speech, and utterance.”
(Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 34-35)

So we have one letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi which states “the question of exactly which are the existing religions is controversial, and it would be better to avoid it. … sometimes one statement is exactly the right for one type of mind and wrong thing another.” (October 28, 1949) and we have two other letters which state that there are only 9 existing religions.

Because these letters have a lesser authority, I am not thrown into confusion about which letter is correct. If the idea that there are only 9 religions is only expressed in a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and nowhere else in Bahai Scripture, then that is not enough of an argument as far as I am concerned to make this a Bahai Teaching. A letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi cannot create a Bahai Teaching because Shoghi Effendi assigned a lesser authority to these letters than his own authority as official interpreter (See my blog Does a letter from a secretary create a Bahai Teaching?). Bahais can and do interpret Baha’u’llah’s words more or less inclusively. Personally I think interpreting what Baha’u’llah writes more inclusively makes more sense because this approach is endorsed by other Bahai Writings that stress unity in diversity as a teaching for the world and not just parts of the world.

If the Universal House of Justice were to state that Bahai communities were only allowed to accept 9 religions, then this would be policy they have the authority to make, and Bahai communities would have to obey this but the Universal House of Justice cannot tell us, individually, how to interpret the word “numerous” Baha’u’llah uses. The Universal House of Justice has the authority to make policy based on their own understanding of Baha’u’llah’s Texts as well as any other texts that are relevant to the policy they are making. If it were to be found, for example that there was no finite number stated by Baha’u’llah, then a later Universal House of Justice is free to make differing policy based on differing understanding or because this new policy is the best policy of the conditions of the times. This is all hypothetical because as far as I know there is no policy from the Universal House of Justice making any sort of statement on the number of world religions. There is a 1996 letter from the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice responding to a request to make a statement that Prophets of God appeared in the Americas: “The Bahá’í Teachings do not explicitly confirm, nor do they rule out, the possibility that Messengers of God have appeared in the Americas.”
(Excerpt from a Memorandum from the Research Department addressed to the Universal House of Justice dated 16 May 1996)

So if there is nothing in Bahai Scripture to state that there are a finite number of religions then the next thing would be to look and see how the Manifestations of God are spoken of, to see whether White Buffalo Calf Woman could possibly be counted as one of these “numerous … Revealers of the Divine”

“… consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship, to proclaim that which the Speaker on Sinai hath set forth and to observe fairness in all matters. They that are endued with sincerity and faithfulness should associate with all the peoples and kindreds of the earth with joy and radiance, inasmuch as consorting with people hath promoted and will continue to promote unity and concord, which in turn are conducive to the maintenance of order in the world and to the regeneration of nations. Blessed are such as hold fast to the cord of kindliness and tender mercy and are free from animosity and hatred.” (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 35-36)

I found a number of texts that express “all religions” or all beliefs but none that limit where these prophets come from. However this Bahai made the argument that all prophets of God could only originate in countries “from the Orient,” which is based on unauthentic text attributed to Abdul-Baha and I will look at that in my next blog.

 

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Time changes… an interview with a young American Baha’i

April 25, 2013

He spent 4 years hanging out with Baha’is and then signed his declaration card 2 months before this interview took place.

What was your first exposure to the Baha’is? Were you openly gay then?

I first met a Baha’i via my boyfriend in college. His best friend is married to a Baha’i and we would go over their house for couples game night. So yes, I was openly gay from my very first contact with the Baha’i community. At some point we got into a conversation about religion, and they were really good conversations!

For about 6 months it was just good conversation. Then I learned about progressive revelation and asked how Buddhism fits when there is no direct concept of God.
What that conversation revealed to me about the nature of God and the importance of context over absolute truth really made an impression on me. So now this was more than just good conversation. It was something worth serious investigation.

Tell me more about your religious background and your experience growing up and coming out.

Long story short: My family are Jehovah’s Witnesses. I was one of those kids you could point to and say he’ll probably be gay.
I wasn’t effeminate, but I didn’t like rough play as a child and loved dolls and horses. I first realized it at age 11. Started actively fighting it at age 13 with the help of my parents. Stopped fighting and came out at 19 and I was celibate for two more years.

Coming out was no fun. When I officially came out at 19, my parents were disappointed but couldn’t do much since I was celibate. When I was excommunicated from the Jehovah’s Witnesses community at 20, however, it was a different story. I didn’t talk to my family for 6 months to avoid bringing shame on them. When I finally did tell them they moved from the next state over and blackmailed me into moving in with them, threatening to stop paying for school if I didn’t, and they tried taking me back to church. They imposed a curfew on me. They outed me to my extended family, half of whom now pretend I’m a ghost when we’re in the same room together. No talking, No eye contact. I couldn’t have a civil conversation with my mother for 8 months when she found out. Five years on, and I now have a fairly productive relationship with my parents where we talk about our work and so on, and avoid mentioning my sexuality except that every 6 months or so, there’s an argument about why I’m still gay.

Luckily I had supportive friends and a supportive university psychiatrist when I came out.

Participating in a LGBT bible study at the Methodist ministry on campus did a lot to help me resolve my spiritual issues, as my life was falling apart with the battles I was having at home.

So what happened next in your journey?
I spent the next two years learning all I could about the Faith. At first it was mostly focused on theology and there were several other obstacles I had to overcome such as women on the U.H.J., the nature of ‘infallibility’, and the marriage laws, along with reconciling Baha’i beliefs with my fundamentalist Christian background. I used the book “Responding: 101 questions often asked of Baha’is” as the basis for many long conversations. Even though I was asking difficult questions and was confrontational at times, I never felt my questions were unwelcome or out of bounds. Each Baha’i I spoke with saw my sincerity and was eager to engage and to share their experiences and opinions along with explaining the official Baha’i position. Even when the answers were unsatisfactory to me and we continued to disagree, they did not dismiss me but respected my conscience and continued inviting me to participate in their community. As a scientist from a fundamentalist background this made a big impression on me.

Of course the Faith’s stance on homosexuality was probably my biggest obstacle. If it weren’t for that issue I probably would’ve declared 6 months after learning about the Baha’i Faith. But my biggest fear was of getting involved in another religious community and then having to endure the excommunication and shunning I had experienced as a Witness. This fear kept my investigation, earnest though it was, somewhat academic for a long time. Some of the texts on the subject are quite harsh in their wording, especially letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. But there was so much that was good about this Faith and the Baha’is I knew.

Eventually two things helped me to allay my concerns. First, exposing myself to different Baha’i perspectives online helped me to understand the Baha’i definition of infallibility and how it applies to the Baha’i writings. Combined with the Baha’i principle that science and faith should be complimentary, and understanding the different roles of the Guardianship and the U.H.J., most of my concerns about homosexuality were allayed. Second was the quality of the Baha’is I met in the community. Over time I came to realize that even if I was not able to have a Baha’i marriage, I would still be welcome in the community and it would be a place where I could feel safe raising my kids. Not all Baha’is would agree with me but that’s OK. The quickest path to truth is unity in diversity. And the Baha’is showed me that I was more than welcome to be a part of that.

Some other things happened along the way including 2 trips to the Wilmette temple and several frank conversations with LGBT Baha’is of various stripes. I decided to publicly declare my faith in Baha’u’llah in February of 2013.

You said that roughly a third of the population in your city area are openly gay individuals. Why do you think this is so high?
This is a metropolis in a culturally conservative part of the county, so gay people move here because it’s easier to live openly.

What sort of impact do you think this has on your Baha’i community and in your view how has this affected how you are accepted as an openly gay man and a Baha’i?
I think it means that the Baha’i community is familiar with the LGBT community and there’s less prejudice and ignorance than there probably is in other places. Also they see multiple definitions of what it means to be gay. It’s not just parties and bathhouses, we come in as many varieties and lifestyles as straight people. So there is less suspicion among the straight Baha’is and less doubt about my intentions and morality. It means Baha’is in my community can see the possibility of me leading a Baha’i lifestyle as a gay man.

They may not agree, but they see the possibility and respect my conscience. And, frankly, many of them show that they are happy to see me actively participating in the community. They realize this is a contentious issue that leaves people feeling as if the GLBT community is outside the scope of the Baha’i community. And that doesn’t sit well with them. They recognize the need to have more GLBT people involved in the community. Also the fact that I’m active in the community helps others to see aspects to my personality outside of my sexuality and this lightens any discord that might be caused by my sexuality.


I was blessed in that all three Baha’is I initially had contact with identified as GLBT, even though I didn’t know it at the time. So my initial exposure to the community was sensitive to my concerns as an openly gay seeker. One of the things I did before enrolling was to make an effort to get to know as many GLBT Baha’is as possible. Within my own local Baha’i community there’s a wide spectrum: one gay man is married to a woman; one bisexual woman is married to a man; there’s a single gay who keeps his gay and Baha’i identities separate, while being out to the important people in his life; another Baha’i is a closeted gay; and now there’s me. I also came across a Baha’i from another community who is in a same-sex marriage who is active in his community and served on his LSA for a time. I also familiarized myself with the stories of gay Baha’is who did not have positive experiences with the Faith. Having all these perspectives helped me to have a representative view of what the gay Baha’i experience could be like and whether I could see a place for not only myself but also my future family in this community.


I had one of these friends raise my concerns with the local LSA, since she was secretary at the time, and I got a very nice response from them as a seeker. The gist of the response from the LSA was this: “Baha’i law is Baha’i law, and it is our job to enforce it. However, we are not in the business of prying if you’re not flagrantly making us look bad. And even if you choose not to enrol there is still much you can benefit from and we would love to have your contributions to our community.” This made me feel very welcome and helped alleviate some of the pressure I felt to resolve all my conflicts before getting involved with the community. The Baha’is didn’t seem to be nearly as concerned as I was whether I had the “right” beliefs. They were most concerned that I was actively involved in my journey and that the community would benefit from what I had to offer for however long I chose to associate with the Baha’is. After this I started becoming more actively involved in the Baha’i community. Before I declared I had attended talks, devotionals, deepenings, and even a Baha’i feast.

So given what you have said about the diversity of those in your community, I guess you knew that identifying openly as being gay wasn’t seen as a bad thing and wouldn’t be considered being flagrant.
Nope. I knew same-sex marriage was a controversial topic. But homosexuality in itself was not something rejected by the community. It might cause some temporary discomfort as people reminded themselves about Baha’u’llah’s teachings on prejudice, equality and inclusion, especially since many come from an evangelical or Baptist background. The general mood seems to be that being openly gay may be awkward but most Baha’is in my community show that they are actively working to overcome this. There’s a bit of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude with the LGBT Baha’is who were raised in the community, which is understandable given where we are on this issue in the wider culture.
But it’s something that many in the community both straight and gay are working to improve. The important thing is that the community is not looking for black and white reasons to include or exclude, but rather they are looking at how you apply the Baha’i principles in your life. They look for the fruits and judge that rather than with whom or how you express yourself.

So you mean some Baha’is did say to you that being gay wasn’t OK or said that Baha’u’llah forbade it?
No one said anything as direct as this, but the feeling is there. I still live in a conservative part of the country and many Baha’is come from conservative religious and cultural traditions. That’s why being active in the community is so important for me. It gives others a chance to see evidence of my commitment to Baha’u’llah and that the majority of my life – any gay person’s life – is spent outside the bedroom. Some Baha’is in my community believe that Baha’is can’t have a same sex marriage and some are uncomfortable with this, while others feel it’s perfectly justified.

However, nobody is pressuring me to date women or play more football or anything.
At least here in the States, most people who live in bigger cities are comfortable enough around gay people and have enough exposure to be able to see us and not automatically think of sex, regardless of whether they support or oppose civil or religious gay marriage.

To give you an impression of the wider Baha’i community in my area here’s a story I submitted to the “gaybahai.net” forum:

Recently I told a Persian Baha’i colleague that I was gay. He’s an older gentleman, and during the Fast we’d been going on walks during our lunch hour once or twice a week. I’d found our walks very encouraging and uplifting so then I decided to open up to him.

I started by telling him about a sermon I had listened to by the founder of the Gay Christian Network, Justin Lee, on how God is an artist and why I thought that illustration fits well with Baha’i ideas. We all have different potentialities to develop the assortment of virtues/colors. And while there are rules to painting, sometimes they have to be broken to create a masterpiece. And God’s primary concern isn’t maintaining the letter of the law, but in creating masterpieces. I would definitely recommend checking it out here.

I then asked him for his thoughts on marriage and whether we focus too much on romance here in the West. After talking about that for about 10 minutes he asked me if I had a girlfriend, like I figured he would. I told him I had a boyfriend and that things are going well. He was surprised by the revelation but he took it in stride. No theological debates, no prejudiced comments or looks, no insistence that I’m sick or in need of therapy or that I should try dating women.
He reiterated that science and religion must agree so he expects the UHJ to rule on this eventually and that until then we must strive to adhere to the laws we do have and that, at the end of the day, whatever we do, we must be able to answer to our God with our heads held high. To which I agreed and added that I do expect to be able to have a Baha’i marriage someday based on what I know of the Writings and science and my own personal experience. And that even if I can’t have a Baha’i wedding I do intend to apply Baha’i principles to my union, whatever it is called. Even if I cannot adhere to the letter of the law, keeping with the spirit of it will only help me and those in the community who see.

We then continued our walk and our conversation about marriage and the purpose of laws. It was a great conversation. While I’m working on a need-to-know basis with my sexuality I have never been closeted in my interactions with the Baha’i community. And, in general, people have either been openly supportive or politely neutral. I’ve never felt judged or treated differently after people found out.


Now would this Baha’i support gay marriage on a ballot? I don’t know. But what I do know is that he is committed to his faith, while at the same time being open to learning from the experiences of others and adjusting his perspectives as new information comes along. He is why I have faith that the Baha’i community will eventually find its way through this issue.


Unlike a lot of religious communities, Baha’is are very much engaged in the non-Baha’i world around them. And that constant interaction with different ideas and perspectives and worldviews helps us to refine our own, to know the limits of what we know for sure. Often this ends up forcing us to narrow the scope of what we know for sure and embrace the constantly shifting shades of gray built into human experience. Admittedly I live in a very gay city, it is number 1 by percentage of the population, last time I checked. So my experience is by no means universal or even typical among Baha’i communities. It probably won’t be for a while yet. But it shows things are getting better. Being exposed to happy, healthy, religious, productive members of society who happen to also be GLBT helps. It doesn’t eliminate the controversy or even change minds necessarily. But by keeping the issue in front of people our presence in the community keeps the conversation open. And that’s the most important thing. People can only endure cognitive dissonance for so long when they are constantly reminded of it.

That’s why it’s so important for us to not only be out, but to stay engaged with our spiritual communities if at all possible. Yes, it means enduring injustice. I’m not saying we should keep allowing people to hurt us. Lord knows how many of us have been scarred on our souls by the “good intentions” of religious people, even Baha’is. I still have family that won’t talk to me since I was excommunicated from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. But we can’t let that poison us, poison our relationship with God, poison our relationship with our communities. Ultimately that just hurts us and allows ignorance and injustice to persist that much longer.

Know your limits. But do what you can. Don’t give up. There’s hope.

I share this Baha’is hope that the Bahai community will eventually find a way through. I think there is nothing in Baha’i Scripture to inhibit the possibility of same sex marriage, but for those Bahais who think that there is something in Baha’i Scripture which implies that marriage is restricted to marriage between one man and one woman: here’s a quotation from a talk given by ‘Abdul-Baha:
“Time changes, and when time changes the laws have to change.”

What ‘Abdul-Baha means here is not to change the law, but not to enforce a religious law that is no longer relevant. Religious laws are “the accidentals of religion” and “useful in accordance with the exigencies of the time.” These fall under what Baha’u’llah refers to as social teachings. So if a social teaching or religious law is in conflict with the principle of equality or justice, if we follow ‘Abdul-Baha’s example, we do not enforce it.

The context for this quotation is below:
“In the Taurat there are ten commandments concerning the murderer. Is it possible to carry these out? Can these ten ordinances, concerning the treatment of murderers, be enforced?
Modern times are such that even the question of capital punishment – the one form which some nations have decided to enforce in relation to a murderer – is a mooted question. Wise men are consulting as to its feasibility or otherwise. So everything that is valid is only valid for the time being. The exigency of that time demanded that if a man committed theft to the extent of a dollar they would chop off his hand, but now you cannot cut off a man’s hand for a thousand dollars. You cannot do it; it is impossible. This is true, for it was useful for that time, but things are useful in accordance with the exigencies of the time. Time changes, and when time changes the laws have to change. But remember, these are not of importance; they are the accidentals of religion.”

From the middle of a talk given at to congregation in the synagogue, the Temple Emanuel, (Emmanu-El) in San Francisco on Saturday, October 12, 1912, in Star of the West Vol. 3, No. 13, p. 3, which corresponds to The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 365.
Talks in “Star of the West” are more reliable as a source than Promulgation of Universal Peace because the editor of Promulgation of Universal Peace was sometimes very free in what he added to the text.
Talks in the volumes of “Star of the West” are not authentic scripture unless they can be verified by a Persian version.
There are notes in Mahmud’s diary from p. 299 of Vol 1, which closely reflect the Star of the West version above. Mahmud’s dairy is a personal recollection by Mahmud Zarqani which ‘Abdul-Baha encouraged him to write. It was written during ‘Abdul’-Baha’s lifetime and so it is very likely that Abdul-Baha read this.
One day if Persian notes for the above can be found, then this could be treated as authentically by ‘Abdul-Baha.

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Authentically ‘Abdul-Baha?

February 7, 2013

Recently I came across a poster on facebook bearing the text:

The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth,
for truth is one. – ‘Abdul-Baha

I loved the design: a hazy globe surrounded by an electric green mist, and the plain bold capital letter font, but then I doubted that colliqual phrases such as “the fact that” and “the path towards unity” would be part of ‘Abdul-Baha’s vocabulary. So I asked Sen (who can read Persian) to look for me.

You see most of what is in the book “Paris Talks” cannot be considered authentic Bahai Scripture because this text originates from a French interpretion of what ‘Abdul-Baha said, which in turn was written by another person in French and then from that text, an English translation/interpretation was made. So any text in “Paris Talks” is 3 steps from the original Persian spoken by ‘Abdul-Baha. However, for some of the talks, Persian notes were also made and it was ‘Abdul-Baha’s practise to check any notes in Persian for accuracy. So, if there are Persian notes of the same talk, then we can compare the English to the Persian. What do we do when the English and the Persian texts do not match? Well, trust the Persian of course. So below is the English from a 1969 publication, and the Persian of the same part of the talk as translated by Sen McGlinn.

The text in English as in “Paris Talks“, (first published in 1912 with another title)

Nov 10th, 1911.
4 Avenue de Camöens, Paris 


The first principle of the Teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is: 
The Search after Truth

If a man would succeed in his search after truth, he must, in the first place, shut his eyes to all the traditional superstitions of the past.
The Jews have traditional superstitions, the Buddhists and the Zoroastrians are not free from them, neither are the Christians! All religions have gradually become bound by tradition and dogma.

All consider themselves, respectively, the only guardians of the truth, and that every other religion is composed of errors. They themselves are right, all others are wrong! The Jews believe that they are the only possessors of the truth and condemn all other religions. The Christians affirm that their religion is the only true one, that all others are false. Likewise the Buddhists and Muhammadans; all limit themselves. If all condemn one another, where shall we search for truth? All contradicting one another, all cannot be true. If each believe his particular religion to be the only true one, he blinds his eyes to the truth in the others. If, for instance, a Jew is bound by the external practice of the religion of Israel, he does not permit himself to perceive that truth can exist in any other religion; it must be all contained in his own!
[end of page 136] 
We should, therefore, detach ourselves from the external forms and practices of religion. We must realize that these forms and practices, however beautiful, are but garments clothing the warm heart and the living limbs of Divine truth. We must abandon the prejudices of tradition if we would succeed in finding the truth at the core of all religions. If a Zoroastrian believes that the Sun is God, how can he be united to other religions? While idolaters believe in their various idols, how can they understand the oneness of God?
It is, therefore, clear that in order to make any progress in the search after truth we must relinquish superstition. If all seekers would follow this principle they would obtain a clear vision of the truth.

If five people meet together to seek for truth, they must begin by cutting themselves free from all their own special conditions and renouncing all preconceived ideas. In order to find truth we must give up our prejudices, our own small trivial notions; an open receptive mind is essential. If our chalice is full of self, there is no room in it for the water of life. The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth, for truth is one.
Therefore it is imperative that we should renounce our own particular prejudices and superstitions if we earnestly desire to seek the truth. Unless we make a distinction in our minds between dogma, superstition and prejudice on the one hand, and truth on the other, we cannot succeed. When we are in earnest in our [end of page 137] search for anything we look for it everywhere. This principle we must carry out in our search for truth.
Science must be accepted. No one truth can contradict another truth. Light is good in whatsoever lamp it is burning! A rose is beautiful in whatsoever garden it may bloom! A star has the same radiance if it shines from the East or from the West. Be free from prejudice, so will you love the Sun of Truth from whatsoever point in the horizon it may arise! You will realize that if the Divine light of truth shone in Jesus Christ it also shone in Moses and in Buddha. The earnest seeker will arrive at this truth. This is what is meant by the ‘Search after Truth’.

It means, also, that we must be willing to clear away all that we have previously learned, all that would clog our steps on the way to truth; we must not shrink if necessary from beginning our education all over again. We must not allow our love for any one religion or any one personality to so blind our eyes that we become fettered by superstition! When we are freed from all these bonds, seeking with liberated minds, then shall we be able to arrive at our goal.

‘Seek the truth, the truth shall make you free.’ So shall we see the truth in all religions, for truth is in all and truth is one! [end of page 138, 1972 edition

Translation from Persian by Sen McGlinn of the same talk from 

Khatabat-e Abdu’l-Baha (Talks of Abdu’l-Baha), Vol 1, pp 140-142: 
The House of ‘Abdul-Baha in Paris, Nov 10th 1911
(Just the second part of this talk is translated here and the title “The Search after Truth” is not in the Persian.) 

“For example, suppose there are five individuals, each of whom claims to be more learned than the others. They must attain to the station of earnest investigation.

Until we abandon prejudice, how can we explain reality? [If] you as a Zoroastrian say, “I am in the right”, as a Jew you say, “I am in the right”, as a Christian you say, “I am in the right”, as a Buddhist you say, “I am in the right,” how could the truth become apparent? Therefore the Jew must abandon prejudice, the Christian must abandon prejudice, the Buddhist must abandon prejudice.

Until they do so, the truth will not become apparent. To a person of sound understanding who seeks knowledge, knowledge is the object of his quest, whoever may set it forth; the light is his beloved, from whichever lamp it may shine; the rose is his beloved, in whichever soil it may grow.

The sun is the greatest of God’s bounties, it rises from every dawning-place. We should have no prejudice, we should be lovers of the sun. The sun is the sun, whether it may rise from the dawning-place of Moses, or of Muhammad, or of Jesus.

In the same way, the truth is what we all seek, whoever we may hear it from. This is the principle of the investigation of reality. The outcome of such a thorough discussion would be that all the communities of the world would let go of what they have heard, not cleaving to any community nor abhorring any community.

For it could be that the community you abhor is in the right, and that the community to which you cleave is wrong. When you stand aloof from all, not cleaving to any community nor abhorring any, and then investigate truth, it will eventually be evident that the reality of the divine religions is one. The differences lie in imitations [of the past]. The result of the investigation of truth will be that all people will agree.

This is one of the principles of Baha’u’llah. Tomorrow …

The English in Paris Talks reads like somebody’s elaboration of the message given, based on memory because of the extra material added in. The diction and examples used are familiar English ways of explaining things, such as the inclusion of a slightly modified reference from the Gospel of John: ”Seek the truth, the truth shall make you free.” Looking at the text, it seems unlikely that these extra bits come from the French version. If someone would share the French version one day with a translation, I’d be happy to add it here.

However the main message of ‘Abdul-Baha’s talk: that the investigation of truth will help people to find a common truth detached from beliefs accumulated from cultural differences is common in both translations, so you might wonder why I seem to be making such a fuss.

Well, as a designer myself, I love catchy phrases: and I liked the phrase: “The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth, for truth is one.”

But the corresponding text, based on the Persian, reads “When you stand aloof from all, not cleaving to any community nor abhorring any, and then investigate truth, it will eventually be evident that the reality of the divine religions is one. The differences lie in imitations [of the past]. The result of the investigation of truth will be that all people will agree.”

Here we can see that there is nothing in the Persian about imagining ourselves as being right and others as being wrong and in the Persian text ‘unity’ is stressed as a result of investigation (which leads to truth) and not as the cause of truth.

So anything in Paris Talks can only be authentic Bahai Scripture if a written source in Persian can be found that matches the text. Of course, I’m not suggesting that the sentiment is not along the lines of what Abdul-Baha said, but personally I prefer to attach ‘Abdul-Baha’s name only to text that I know is authentically something he said or wrote and in this case, a poster stressing unity as a cause for truth just doesn’t ring true now that I’ve thought about it, although admittedly the text in Paris Talks is “unity is necessary” not “unity causes.”

Universal House of Justice and its research department wrote: “Unfortunately, Abdu’l-Bahá did not read and authenticate all transcripts of His other talks, some of which have been translated into various languages and published. For many of His addresses included in “The Promulgation of Universal Peace” and “Paris Talks”, for example, no original authenticated text has yet been found. However, the Guardian allowed such compilations to continue to be used by the friends. In the future each talk will have to be identified and those which are unauthenticated will have to be clearly distinguished from those which form a part of Baha’i Scripture. This does not mean that the unauthenticated talks will have to cease to be used — merely that the degree of authenticity of every document will have to be known and understood”.
(23 March 1987)

For me, “standing aloof” is about being detached enough from the familiar to see another way or a truth, so it seems apt that this very text set me looking into whether ‘Abdul-Baha might have actually spoken these words.