6 Azamat 167 B.E. (Baha’i calendar)
Soundtrack in my head: Dusty Trails “They May Call Me a Dreamer”
I had an interesting dream the other night that shined a light on me feelings about religion. In this dream, I belonged to a religion that was relatively new–perhaps ninety years old or so–but which was growing very fast and becoming very popular. It was attracting a lot of attention in the mainstream media and temples were quickly being established all over the country.
However, in this dream, I belonged to a sub-sect which felt that the religion had lost its way and become corrupt. Our group was led by a short, middle-aged Indian man who was almost completely bald. He said that our religion had strayed far from God’s intentions and that of our religion’s prophet, and that we needed to return to its origins.
Our group worked to create change via a series of non-violent civil disobedience actions. In one such action, we sneaked into one of the temples and gathered behind the stage as the minister was about to begin his religious service. The minister was a forty-something man with shoulder-length hair, wearing a light blue Oxford shirt with his sleeves rolled up. As the minister approached the lectern, he began raising his arms and said he was about to do a ritual prayer, the purpose of which was to bring financial prosperity to everyone in the room.
Just as the minister was about to speak to the congregation, the Indian man who was our leader interrupted the minister, began to speak, and walked out on to the stage with a bunch of people from our group. He spoke in a very calm, almost matter-of-fact manner about how our religion had lost its sense of purpose and that true change could only come about by tuning in more with God and returning to the writings of our religion’s founder. The minister of the congregation looked on, dumbfounded as our leader spoke. Security people from the temple rushed the stage. As our leader continued to speak calmly, members of our group formed a circle around him, locking arms and sitting cross-legged to keep security away from him.
The rest of us rushed back through the rear of the stage and through the hallways of the temple. We did this so as to distract the security people, and sure enough, a number of them pursued us rather than try to break up our leader’s speech. A few of us quickly eluded our pursuers and found a temporary safe haven in the temple’s kitchen. We looked out the back window of the kitchen and could see see other members of our group being carried out by police. They were passively resisting arrest by going limp, remaining cross-legged and smiling, making it necessary for two cops to carry each group member by the shoulders. Eventually, we also saw a white cargo van pull up. We knew that the cargo van was from our organization. The driver got out, opened the rear doors of the van, and waited for us.
Three of us took the lead in sneaking our group members out to the van. I was one of the last ones to leave, and did so just as temple security discovered our hiding place. I rushed outside, but was surprised to see our leader standing outside the van, smiling and casually chatting with other members of our group. I don’t know how he managed to get out of the temple without being arrested, or why the police weren’t coming after him and the van, but he always seemed to have a mysterious ability to confound the religious authorities and elude capture. Indeed, our leader seemed in many ways to be a prophet himself.
Then I woke up from my dream. As I wrote down this dream, I realized that it spoke volumes about my feelings regarding religion.
As a Baha’i, I believe that Baha’u’llah breathed new life into religion and revealed teachings from God that are most relevant to today. I also believe that Muhammad, Jesus, Buddha, Zoroaster, Moses, Abraham and others were also prophets of equal stature to Baha’u’llah–divine souls perfectly tuned in with God and sent by God to create change on earth. I also believe, though, that there comes a time when religious organizations drift from their original mission, and indeed, there are Baha’i Writings that point this out, too. My observation of things done supposedly in the name of Christ and Muhammad, as well as my realization of the corrupt nature of the Mahikari organization (whose founder I do NOT recognize as a prophet) reinforces this concern.
In my view, people cause religious organizations to drift from their mission because of misunderstandings of certain teachings and a feeling that certain things somehow MUST be true because it fits within their own view of the world, not because it’s actually true. A desire for power and other idle fancies also may corrupt religious organizations.
In my dream, my participation with the group of reformers is a reflection my feelings about the corruptibility of organized religion. I believe in being obedient to God, but obedience to God sometimes means following one’s conscience even if that conscience contradicts the dictates of an organization claiming to speak for God. In this dream, I was seeking a higher sense of spiritual purity and purpose than what the mainstream religion was offering at the time.
Yet there certainly are people who believe they are following their highest conscience but still actually corrupting the spiritual organization they belong to. Such corruption can occur among both members of a religious establishment and reformers.
For such reasons, many people choose to eschew religious organizations altogether, considering themselves “spiritual, not religious.” Where they come from is understandable, but I see problems with this approach, too.
There is little doubt in my mind that humanity has put itself on an ecological, economic, political, religious and spiritual collision course that threatens our well-being–and perhaps our very existence. It is clear to me that change is necessary, and furthermore, that each of us is responsible for bringing forth that change. The question in my mind, though, is this: who is going to be able to bring about such a change? Until 1993, I thought it might occur once the Republicans were booted out of politics at the federal level. Then I thought maybe it would be progressive and Green politics. Over time, I began to see that the change that needed to occur was more fundamental than just on the political level. It was clear to me that it also needed to occur on a spiritual level within every individual, and, as such, spiritual change needed to be promoted. Hence, my involvement with spiritual organizations.
It is clear to me that change needs to occur, and that people need to come together somehow to create this change. Spiritual organizations may be corruptible and capable of misleading people, yet without it, can change really occur? Creating change without unity would probably resemble the gathering of philosophers below:
So I continue to struggle with this question. In the meantime, I continue to absorb the Baha’i Writings. I finished the Kitab-i-Iqan, and now I’m reading Baha’u’llah’s Eplstle to the Son of the Wolf, which I also consider to be a very good book. For now, I’ve discontinued studying the Ruhi series, as it has become clear to me that the Ruhi series beyond Book 1 is as much about promoting the Faith as it is about learning about the Faith, and for me, I need greater certitude about the Baha’i Faith before I feel I can work to promote it…