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Seek and listen; investigate independently

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Seek and listen; investigate independently

By Pete Haug

The truth shall make you free (John 8:11)

When Christ explains to Pilate, “I came into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth,” Pilate replies, “What is truth?”

Good question. Truth has always been elusive. One wonders, if Pilate had investigated independently, would he have responded differently? Founders of world religions have always faced masses of Pilates who have punished them in unspeakably savage ways. But their teachings have survived to better the world, each throughout its own period.

Zoroaster, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Krishna, Buddha, and others, all occupying different times and places, left legacies that guided generations. Their followers advanced civilization before their sacred teachings were, over centuries, subverted to selfish, secular ends. Existing faiths, riven by shards of religiosity, war against each other and amongst themselves.

Until the Quran, sacred scripture was written down only after the fact, sometimes centuries later. Sacred teachings were transferred word-of-mouth until followers collected and transcribed them. Discrepancies in Gospel accounts of similar incidents in Christ’s life illustrate this. Muhammad dictated his revelation directly to followers, who transcribed the words as spoken. “Quran” literally means “recitation.”

To me, the miracle of these revelations is that, despite inconsistencies and after millennia, they still inspire. What is truth? At its most fundamental, might it be the power to move human hearts towards goodness?

How can we know truth?

Untold generations of clergy have interpreted and reinterpreted holy scriptures. Although the Quran was transcribed directly, Islam shares the problem with earlier religions in the hadith, the “collective body of traditions relating to Muhammad and his companions.” Hadith were not written down by Muhammad’s followers immediately after his death. They were collected, collated and compiled into a great corpus of Islamic literature only after generations. Hadith are analogues to earlier religious traditions.

In 19th-century Persia, a new religion sprang from the pen of Baha’u’llah, a Muslim from the Abrahamic tradition of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. His purpose was to unite faiths. He fulfills prophesies found in all religions, including Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and others. SpokaneFāVS has brief summaries of Baha’u’llah’s life and his teachings. Those teachings promulgate ideas that are just now being accepted in many parts of the world.

Recognizing the oneness of humanity, Baha’u’llah condemned prejudice of all kinds. Gender inequity — prejudice against women — affects half the world’s population. Prejudice results from ignorance, lack of education. One remedy Baha’u’llah prescribed for the elimination of prejudice was independent investigation, the need for each human to seek truth for herself or himself. Truth, as Christ said, has the ability to free us. Whether we believe in the truth of a religion or of a scientific fact, that belief will reduce our uncertainties and influence our thoughts and behavior.

Tablet to the Hague

During the conflagration of World War 1, many nations sent representatives to the Central Organization for Durable Peace at The Hague, forerunner of the League of Nations. In 1916, that organization published its constitution in newspapers worldwide. When Baha’u’llah’s son Abdu’l-Baha learned of it, he immediately drafted a message to them explaining Baha’u’llah’s principles for a peaceful world. These ideals are more relevant today than they were when written.

Among Baha’u’llah’s teachings, Abdul-Baha wrote, “was the independent investigation of reality so that the world of humanity might be saved from the darkness of imitation and attain to the truth.” Abdu’l-Baha emphasized limitations of tradition, which he called a “ragged and outgrown garment of a thousand years ago.”

He called on mankind to “tear off and cast [it] away…and put on the robe woven in the utmost purity and holiness in the loom of reality.” He concluded, “As reality is one and cannot admit of multiplicity, different opinions must ultimately become fused into one.”

Elsewhere he said, “God has given man the eye of investigation by which he may see and recognize truth.” He spoke of “the gift of reason by which [man] may discover things for himself. This is his endowment and equipment for the investigation of reality.” Every human “has individual endowment, power and responsibility in the creative plan of God. Therefore, depend upon your own reason and judgment and adhere to the outcome of your own investigation.”

If we don’t, if we “see through the eyes of another, hear through another’s ears” and “comprehend with another’s brain,” we’ll be “utterly submerged in the sea of ignorance.”

Today disinformation assaults us, sown by those recruiting for their own agendas. Our shield is healthy skepticism supported by independent investigation. Millennia ago, Zoroaster stated: “With an open mind, seek and listen to all the highest ideals. Consider the most enlightened thoughts. Then choose your path, person by person, each for oneself.”[5]

Good advice, then and now.

About Pete Haug

Armed with an AB in English literature, Pete Haug plunged into journalism fresh out of college. That career lasted five years while he reported for a metropolitan daily, edited a rural weekly, and worked in industrial and academic public relations. He abandoned all for graduate school, finishing with an MS in wildlife biology and a PhD in systems ecology. Pete taught college briefly, then for a couple of decades he analyzed environmental impacts for federal, state, Native American, and private agencies. His last hurrah was an 11-year gig teaching English in China. After he retired in 2007, curiosity led Pete to explore climate change and fake news and to give talks about both. About five years ago he returned to journalism to write columns under the watchful eye of his draconian live-in editor and wife Jolie. They’ve both been Baha’is since the 1960s. Pete’s columns on the Baha’i Faith represent his own understanding and not any official position.

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