Do you have a Faith? Of course, most of us believe in something, whether we consider ourselves part of a religion or not. So what defines faith?
“When social scientists talk about religion,” the New York Times columnist Jessica Grose recently reported, “they do it in terms of ‘the three Bs: belief, behavior and belonging.’”
I’d like to suggest we add one additional “B” to the list – more on that in a minute – but first, let me ask: do any of these three terms apply to you?
When it comes to your instincts, thoughts, and feelings about a Creator, what do you believe? How does that belief affect your behavior? If you have a belief that you share with others, does it help you feel a sense of belonging? Let’s look at these three elements one-by-one, and see what we discover.
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Do You Believe in a Creator?
Polls across cultures consistently show that most people have some kind of inner belief in a Supreme Being. Whatever name you might call that Being – God, Jehovah, Allah, the Great Mystery, or hundreds of other titles – we can probably agree that most view the Creator as essentially beyond the limits of our human comprehension. The Baha’i teachings confirm that view. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, wrote “God in His Essence and in His own Self hath ever been unseen, inaccessible, and unknowable.”
So believing that a Creator exists does not mean we can ever understand that Supreme Being. This paradox, one of the central dilemmas of every religion, can only be solved by the existence of intermediaries – those divinely-inspired universal educators like Christ, Buddha, Moses, Krishna, Muhammad, and Baha’u’llah who bring spiritual power and enlightenment to humankind.
How Do Your Beliefs Affect Your Behavior?
While many of us might have some vague sense that a Supreme Being exists, only a small minority of humanity seem to take that sense deeply to heart in ways that impact how they actually behave. It’s easy to give lip service to believing in God, but much harder to live up to a spiritual standard in our day-to-day lives.
Of course, living a spiritual life – truly loving others, upholding justice, actually applying the Golden Rule in all our interactions – is no simple feat. It takes dedication, consistent reflection and prayer, and a willingness to avoid hypocrisy in favor of humility and hard inner work. Perhaps that explains why truly spiritual people seem like rare gems – because they are.
O people of God! Do not busy yourselves in your own concerns; let your thoughts be fixed upon that which will rehabilitate the fortunes of mankind and sanctify the hearts and souls of men. This can best be achieved through pure and holy deeds, through a virtuous life and a goodly behavior.
This spiritual standard – that actions, not thoughts or words, define our spirituality – leads us to the third “B:” belonging.
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How Belonging Brings Us Closer to the Creator
We human beings are social creatures, made to function best in group settings – families, groups, and gatherings of like-minded souls. We never thrive alone.
Consequently, we cluster together, not only to operate as a unit and give one another the shelter and sustenance we all jointly need, but to seek relationships that make us happy. This inborn instinct creates tribes, villages, cities, and ultimately civilizations.
Every person desires and needs connection to others. Developing a sense of belonging, whether to a family group, to a place or a nation, or to a system of shared beliefs, is one of our deepest human drives. We belong when we adhere to common values – but unfortunately, the racial, political, ethnic, national, and even tribal loyalties that define our belonging often conflict with one another.
What if we could all belong, the Baha’i teachings ask, to a universal value system? What if we already do, but we just don’t see it yet? Abdu’l-Baha, the son and successor of Baha’u’llah, addressed those issues in his book Some Answered Questions, saying that all beings:
… are mutually connected in accordance with God’s consummate wisdom and mutually influence one another. Were it not so, the all-embracing organization and universal arrangement of existence would become disordered and disrupted. And as all created things are most soundly connected one with another, they are well ordered, arranged, and perfected.
Since all of the world’s diverse religions come from the same Supreme Being, and all beings “are mutually connected,” the Baha’i teachings conclude, we each truly belong to one family – the human family. In this way, the Creator makes no distinction between us. Regardless of our gender, our racial or ethnic group, our class, our position, or our poverty or wealth, we are all members of one human family. In a speech he gave in Paris in 1911, Abdu’l-Baha said:
All men are of one family; the crown of humanity rests on the head of every human being.
In the eyes of the Creator all His children are equal; His goodness is poured forth on all. He does not favour this nation nor that nation, all alike are His creatures. This being so, why should we make divisions, separating one race from another? Why should we create barriers of superstition and tradition bringing discord and hatred among the people?
This realization leads to a clear conclusion – that we need a universal Faith, a single religion that recognizes and emphasizes the truth in all religions. We need one unified system of belief where everyone is equally valued. We need a true garden of humanity where every flower can bloom and every variety can thrive.
The Fourth “B” of Faith: Beauty
The Baha’i writings refer to Baha’u’llah, the messenger who established that unified system of belief, as “the Blessed Beauty” and “the Ancient Beauty.” Those references to beauty – not just a physical beauty, but a much more profound spiritual one – reveal an aspect of faith equally as important as the three “B’s” of belief, behavior, and belonging.
Faith must compel us. It must live in our hearts, move our souls, excite our intellects, and thrill our inner beings. To accomplish those things, it must be beautiful.
Without beauty, the garden lies fallow. Without beauty, the world dims and fades. Without beauty, the inspiration we derive from faith falls flat.
In springtime, when the coldness of winter withdraws and the flora and fauna of the Earth are reborn, we revel in the beauty of renewal. In the same way, when religion is renewed it appears in the utmost beauty, perfectly suited for the age, designed by the Creator to move humanity out of its spiritual winter and into its life-giving spring.
Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah has brought this spiritual springtime to humanity once more.