The Baha'i Question

Today’s essay is a collaborative piece I’ve written partially based on the spiritual beliefs of our little crew here at “The Thoughts, Musings, and Artwork of Some Total Losers”. I had a lot of input from the friends of mine who were brave enough to share their spiritual beliefs with a group that, from their perspective, is made up of total strangers. Yes, they all know me in some way, but only two of the people who publicly gave input know each other outside of the FB group.Then there’s the extra intimidation that came from knowing I’d be taking what they shared and using it for an essay I intended to publish for the entire internet to see. I just wanted to make their contribution known to the readers, and thank them for their input.

Before I start, there’s a little background about the page I’ve been wanting to share with you guys, and since what I’m publishing this morning ties in to what I wanna say, I’d like to give an introduction. 

When I decided to pursue writing as a passion and started this page, my mission was to share an alternative perspective with the world and introduce people to a new way of thinking that I feel isn’t represented often in mainstream culture but is shared by enough people that it needed to be voiced. I wanted to to bring open-mindedness to the forefront and hopefully get people to break away from the outdated worldviews, rigid belief systems, and misinformed ideas that hold our society back from the progress we’re capable of.

With that goal in mind, I decided to write the non-fiction essays and memoirs you’ve come to expect from me. Once I settled on that format, I narrowed my pool of topics to “Politics, Mental Health and Addiction Awareness, Spirituality and… like… Life and stuff… man.” I figured those are the only topics I’m qualified to write on while also offering the alternate perspective I’m aiming for.

For the most part, I’ve hit all the bases I had in mind when I made the page. When I break it down by subject, “Politics” is definitely well represented in almost everything I write because the subject matter of the other topics I’m discussing almost always ties back to that in some way. “Like… Life and stuff… man” is also covered pretty well by my memoirs. I Iove writing those stories because I get to share my wild adventures while also working through difficult parts of my past. “Mental Health and Addiction Awareness” has gotten a lot of love as well, and my thoughts on the matter tend to be well received. So far, so good. If I were to stop looking right here, I’d be able to pat myself on the back and say “Mission Accomplished.”

Then I look through my archive for essays I can slap the “Spirituality” tag onto, and there’s only two. Even claiming that I’ve written two is a stretch, because one of them is the thing I wrote about Extremism where I put a lot of effort into distancing the essay from spiritual connotations. When I go back and look at all the work I’ve put in over the last couple months to make sure I’ve said all the things I set out wanting to say, there’s a giant black hole screaming at me that I just plain haven’t.

Every person alive eventually wrestles with with some major existential questions and dilemmas. Everybody asks themselves things like, “How did all this get here?”, “Why am I in this place and what should I be doing now that I’m here?”, or “What’s the meaning of all this?”. We all wrestle with the harsh reality that we’re mortal. How we handle these issues is a huge contributor to who we become, how we live our lives, and most importantly how happy we are with life. 

I’ve definitely spent a lot of time telling myself “Just don’t think about it man. One foot in front of the other. Keep it movin’” and what I’ve learned from doing that is everybody eventually needs to find answers that work for them if they want to have any sort of peace in their lives. We can only ignore the problems for so long before it starts to take a toll on us.

When I talk about spirituality, how we handle these existential mysteries we’re all left to solve is what I’m talking about.

Of all of the topics that I set out wanting to talk about, spirituality is the only one that’s relevant to every man, woman, and child on Earth, so it has the most impact on our world. I’ve almost completely ignored the subject that I think is most important. I feel like I’ve let myself down because every time I’ve started writing something on the subject I’ve gotten a few sentences in then got squeamish and scrapped the idea. 

The main reason I’ve avoided the subject is that I hate being told what to think, so I feel like a hypocrite when I start telling other people what to think. The other reason I’ve avoided talking about it is that people usually just don’t wanna hear it. Conversations on the topic have a way of turning really ugly, really quick. The matter is intensely personal and talking about it rarely produces anything other than judgemental criticisms. The constant proselytizing that generally comes attached to things concerning spirituality makes people stop listening and shut down the moment it gets brought up. I definitely understand that because I do the exact same thing for the exact same reason. 

At the end of the day though, spirituality is a huge part of my life, and if I really want my body of work to say everything I intended it to say when I first started out I need to eventually talk about the elephant in the room.  Since I was young, I’ve always been intrigued by spiritual principles and wanted to know as much as I could about a many religions as possible. I’d talk to members of different faiths and read books about different spiritual beliefs then incorporate the things I liked into my personal spirituality. I’m certainly not able to say anything original or unique. I’ve learned every good Idea I have worth sharing is an idea I’ve stolen from someone else. Even the rare cases where I had a worthwhile idea on my own, the ideas had already been thought up by someone else long before I was born. I can say things I don’t hear said as often or as loudly though, and that’s what I feel makes it them worth saying.

I definitely don’t think my beliefs are superior to anybody else’s, but I figure since I’ve worked hard making a platform to share ideas that are important to me, that’s what I need to use my platform to do. Even though I’m afraid I’ll turn off otherwise enthusiastic readers, alienate people, and get the whole world pissed off at me, sometimes in life you just gotta shout “YOLO” and let the chips fall where they may. 

I’m gonna do my best to talk about all this without preaching or offending people while still presenting new ideas people can use as food for thought. That means at the very least you’re about to get a good laugh out of me falling flat on my face while I attempt the impossible. 

Enjoy the show!

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                                           === The Baha’i Question === 
                                         ==========================


To start out, I wanna talk about a religion called “Baha'i”. I’ll be honest, I don’t know very much about this particular faith beyond the fundamental beliefs. I first heard about it very recently from my counselor in a session back in December ‘17 and I haven’t met an actual follower to hear what they had to say yet.  My counselor had just been assigned to my case by the organization I go through for mental health treatment, and this was the first time we’d met where we weren’t doing mandatory assessments and establishing my treatment plan. In an effort to get to know me he brought up spirituality and asked me what I believe, so I told him I think every religion has some truth to it and that I try to keep an open mind in order to learn everything I can from anyone willing to share with me. That led to him telling me about Baha’i. Apparently, the core belief of Baha’i is that all religions contain pieces of the truth and I’d unknowingly been sharing their main tenet for years. 

I did what I’ve always done when I find out about a religion that had teachings that overlapped with my beliefs, and began scouring the internet for more information. From that research, I discovered another important belief at the foundation of Baha’i is that the current major religions were intended for people living in a past age and they’ve been corrupted by mankind’s influence over time. They believe that humanity stands at the dawn of a new era, so a new religion has to be made to guide us in this new world. You’ve probably figured out that they believe they’re the new religion we’re waiting for, and right there is where they lose me.

I wanna assure you I’ve got no intention of founding a church any time soon unless I need a tax dodge and I definitely didn’t write this essay to convert anybody to Baha’i. I’ve got nothing against the religion, and anyone who joins the church is safe from any criticisms about it from me. I’m just saying it doesn’t sound like my cup of tea is all. I’ll get to the reasons why I don’t believe in Baha’i or think founding a religion will answer anything in a minute, but for now I just wanted to introduce the concept to anyone unfamiliar with it because that’s what inspired this essay.

Even if you shy of away from the more mystical interpretations of spirituality, there’s absolutely no denying that humanity has entered into an entirely new chapter in history and the world we live in today is nothing like the world that existed 50 years ago. The idea of a new religion designed for our age intrigues me even if I don’t wanna start that religion. I started wondering what this new religion might look like and how it needed to be different from the ones we’ve got already. I looked for common threads I could see running through every religion I’ve researched and tried to consider how they connected to mankind’s collective spiritual needs. I wanted to figure out what a new religion could bring to the table that wasn’t already being taken care of by the current major religions. That question was what got the wheels that led to me writing this turning.

Originally, I wanted to try and visualize how a new major religion could spring up and grow into a worldwide powerhouse like the Abrahamic religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, and all the other giants I don’t have time to include. I was hoping to write a play-by-play prediction of how the whole thing would go down similar to what I did with alternative American political parties. I wanted to see if I could pinpoint a current spiritual movement that appeared to be following that playbook and figure out if it met that unmet need I was searching for, then try to predict where the movement would go next.

When I went to do that, I hit a bit of a snag. The only person who’s spirituality I really understood at all was my own. I couldn’t figure out a requirement that wasn’t being met by current religions, because I had no fucking clue what other people were looking to religion hoping to find. I knew why I turned to religion, but that was about the only thing I knew. I did the only logical thing I could do in this sort of situation: 

I badgered everyone I knew and guilt tripped the people I’d  tricked into joining the Facebook group that helps with this page and got them to tell me the three beliefs most important to them and why those beliefs mattered so much. I figured if I were more direct and asked people what their spiritual needs were, they most likely wouldn’t be able to answer. I personally don’t consciously turn to spirituality thinking I need something I don’t have. “Spiritual needs” aren’t something I’m aware of, and if asked directly about them my answer would be incomplete at best.  Instead I asked what I asked hoping I’d be able to extrapolate a need that was being filled if I thought about their responses and read between the lines.

I was hoping to include the groups answers in this essay along with some commentary on what their beliefs told me about a universally human spirituality along with some words on how their beliefs meshed with mine, but I had to cut that from the essay for a two reasons.

1) It doubled the length of paper

2) I felt publicly criticizing my friends beliefs was unfair to them, even if I wasn’t passing judgement and was just making observations in an attempt to incorporate their beliefs into mine.

Instead, I’m just gonna talk about the “spiritual needs” I think I’ve discovered by contemplating peoples answers to my question, looking at my reasons for believing what I believe, and then attempting to guess at the underlying needs that we all hold in common. 

The thing that every single person who responded touched on in some way or another was the importance of not harming other people or the world around us. Sometimes it was by stressing the importance of not judging other people, sometimes it was by saying to treat others how you want to be treated, a couple people just straight up came out and said “Don’t hurt people,” as one of their three beliefs. No matter what though, everyone who responded to my question had a belief that centered around not causing harm somewhere in their top three most important beliefs. I can see this same sentiment reflected in every major religion I’ve ever looked at as well, so I definitely found a major requirement a religion’s teachings had to meet, it just wasn’t something that was going unfulfilled by the current major religions.

The next thing pretty much everybody had in common was a belief that we should do everything we can to help other people and make each other’s lives easier. This one wasn’t expressly stated in everybody’s “top three” list the way not causing harm was, but it was pretty damn close. I’m sure if I hadn’t limited people’s responses to three beliefs, helping others would also have been represented by 100% of the people who gave me their input. A couple people had beliefs that sorta fell into both categories at the same time, and the two ideas are super similar so I can see how someone could argue against making the distinction I’m making. I personally feel like “don’t take actions that hurt people” and “do take actions that help people” are different statements though, so I’m including them separately in this essay. This is still a thing that’s expressed in some way by all religions I know of similar to the last “spiritual need” I discovered, so again I haven’t found the unmet spiritual need for my Baha’i question.

From here, people’s answers got slightly less uniform. The last collective need I could see being implied by people’s responses was a motivation for their spirituality, but to find this need I had to look beyond the top three lists I was given. In their top three lists, some people said they believed God loves everyone and that meant they needed to show everybody the same love, for others it was fear of punishment in the afterlife that seemed to imply this need to me, a couple people said they wouldn’t have survived as long as they have if other people hadn’t treated them well so they had a desire to give back what had given to them. Those sorts of things only made it into about half of the lists though. Once I stepped back a second and coupled those beliefs with the comments people were making alongside their lists, I saw a lot of people said their beliefs led to them feeling more fulfilled by life and things of that nature. Once I noticed that, I got confident in saying motivation was a third basic need we all had. Unfortunately, it was also already a part of every major religion I know of just like the other needs I was able to identify. Even if I knew a little more about what drives people, I still hadn’t found what I was looking for so I could write the essay I wanted to write.

One thing I didn’t see very much of were beliefs included in people’s “top three” directly related to God at all, and most people’s beliefs revolved around the three things I just mentioned. This completely surprised me. 

Including one of the beliefs I shared, there was a total of five beliefs that mentioned God directly. I’ll help you crunch the numbers on that real quick. Six people answered my question by commenting on a post I made in the Facebook group, 5 others answered through FB messenger or by texting my phone. That’s eleven people who shared three beliefs with me, including two people that shared  four because they’re overachievers. That means I got thirty-five different beliefs from my informal survey for a grand total of thirty-eight when you throw my contribution into the pile. 

Five beliefs out of thirty-eight that related to God, which works out to 13%. When I asked the question, I honestly expected the exact opposite. 

Whether or not God existed wasn’t as important to people’s spirituality as treating each other well was, and I think that’s a really important thing to remember.

As far as spiritual needs I could tell were held in common by everybody who answered, including myself, those three things were all I had found. Guidance on how to avoid hurting other people and help other people as much as you can, and then reasons to do those two things seemed to be the main things driving people spiritually. Those are all great things, but they’re great things offered by every major religion in some way or another. I still felt like something had to be missing from major religions, because people are turning their backs on the idea more and more every day.

At first, I felt like I’d wasted my time and didn’t get the answer I was looking for. I’d learned a little bit about my friends and people in general, but I didn’t learn the thing I was hoping I would. Then I looked at the other things people were saying in their replies, and I started noticing a pattern: Our culture’s tendency to pass judgement on each other was influencing people’s responses in a big way, whether they directly stated it or not. 

People were saying things to defend their beliefs without anyone criticizing them, which implied they expected judgements to come and wanted to shut them down preemptively. Some people said they were terrified by the prospect of sharing their beliefs publicly the way I was asking. A few people approached me privately to tell me that the question I was asking wasn’t something people like answering generally speaking and pretty much gave me a scolding along with their answers. A few people, including myself, included not passing judgement in their “top three” but up until now I’ve been putting them into the “don’t hurt people” category. 

It turned out I knew the answer to my question about what was missing from the current major religions before I thought to ask anyone about it at all:

The unmet spiritual need shared by all major religions is freedom for people to live life how they choose and believe whatever makes the most sense to them without fear of judgement. 

Everything that makes talking about spirituality so taboo in our culture and all the reasons I gave for not writing about the subject all come from something that’s inherently a part of the concept of religion.

Before I go any further, I wanna make it clear that I’m not opposed to religion. Religion can be beautiful, and people drawing strength from their faith is an inspiring thing to see. I find guidance in all religions and do my best to learn everything I can from every religion I come in contact with. The point I’m trying to get at it is that no religion is the ultimate truth. All religions have pieces of the puzzle, but no religion contains every piece of the puzzle. Religion is a tool to help guide us down a spiritual path, not the spiritual path itself.

Even if religion can lead to people doing immense good for the world, there’s downsides that come with religion. The things that end up turning faith toxic tend to involve people taking the teachings too literally or believing that their religion is the absolute truth that must be obeyed by everyone. Religions need to put rules on people by nature, which leads to them either making some people feel guilty about themselves if they can't obey, or making followers judge others who choose to believe differently. The problem of trapping people in a box is the first major issue with religion.

Then there’s the problem of charlatans that comes tied to religion no matter what. In many cases, people don’t use religion for the intended purpose and instead use it as a tool for power and profit. The people seen most loudly professing religion are the ones who follow their religion the least in some cases. A great example of this are the grifter televangelists who have millions in their bank account and spend their time conning poor people for “seed money”. They’re going on TV preaching a religion that’s very clear about rejecting monetary gain and material possessions while helping the poor, but they’re preaching that religion in order to extract money from the poor for monetary gain and material possessions.

I’m not saying all people who claim a religion fit that bill. The majority of people of faith that I’ve encountered are genuine, humble people who care very much for the world around them. I’m just pointing out that wolves in sheep’s clothing are as old as time, and they’re always going to come packaged together with religion.

I’m not saying all religions are wrong and people need to turn and abandon their beliefs either. Christianity works great for a lot of Christians, Islam is the only acceptable option for a lot of Muslims, Buddhism is the only thing that does the trick  for a lot of Buddhists, and a lot of Pastafarians are never gonna find something as perfect as The Flying Spaghetti Monster for them to put their faith in. I fully support everybody keeping their faith, and there’s a million great reasons for them to do exactly that. If what you believe is working for you, I wholeheartedly encourage you to keep believing it.

What I’m saying is that no matter what a person’s faith is, and no matter how much good their faith does in their life, tolerance and compassion for people who choose to see things differently is something that needs to become way more common in our culture. Atheists mock people of faith, believers of one religion bash the believers of another for being heathens, there’s elements of every camp that think it’s acceptable to mock and dehumanize anyone who holds different beliefs than they do, certain religions think they should have a right to codify following their religion into law, and it feels like mutual respect, tolerance, and understanding just aren’t represented in the public dialogue.

Every person is given a piece of the truth, but we’re never gonna be able to get that truth packaged into a set of teachings and guidelines that works for everybody and excludes nobody. 

In order to make a religion, there needs to be teachings that tell people what to think instead of allowing them to decide what to believe for themselves. In order for a religion to give direction on how to achieve a fulfilling life, it needs to set guidelines that tell people what they can and can’t do, which leads to people passing judgement people who disagree with those guidelines. Baha’i is right, all religions are influenced by man in some way or another and mankind’s additions dilute the truth, but that didn’t happen over time like Baha’i claims. Religions are inherently flawed by mankind’s influence the moment they’re formed. 

There may be an ultimate universal truth, but if there is such a thing it’s way beyond our understanding so we’re never gonna come up with a religion that fully reflects it. This is the reason I don’t accept the Baha’i faith as the groundbreaking new religion made for a new era it claims to be. By setting rules on how to live and claiming they have the ultimate truth, they’ve drawn the lines that keep people out and built a box that’s too small to contain the whole truth. Whether or not that’s done intentionally doesn’t really matter all that much. There’s never going to be a religion that’s perfect and works in every single person’s life without exceptions, because all religions are made by imperfect people who can’t help passing their imperfections along to their creations. 

We’re all inherently flawed, that means any religion we come up with will be too. That’s just an unavoidable fact.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to spirituality. The only doctrine a someone can preach without falling into that trap is:

“Do what you want, as long as you’re not hurting people in the process. Believe what you want as long as you let others do the same.”

But if a religion were to do that it wouldn’t offer any guidance or motivation for spiritual living, and then it wouldn’t be providing the things people need that led to the creation of religion in the first place.

There’s something like a religion that preaches that doctrine called “Unitarian Universalism”(UU). UU tells people to find their own meaning and doesn’t have a concrete religious creed, but it’s status as a religion is a matter of debate. 

Critics say that because the group’s official stance is that people can believe whatever they want and the group doesn’t provide anything original or unique of it’s own, it doesn’t count as a religion in the traditional sense of the word. I’ll let you come to your own conclusion on that, but for the sake of this essay I’m gonna make a judgement call and agree with the critics. 

UU just doesn’t fit what I was looking for when I asked my question.They’re more like a community made of followers from different religions that comes together to share their ideas and experiences. They don’t have a unique set of beliefs, teachings, traditions, or rules that are shared by every member of the church and  intended to give guidance and motivation, so they’re not what I was looking for when I set out to write this essay because what I was looking for isn’t possible.

I agree 100% with UU’s philosophy that people need to be allowed to find their own way, and really that concept is the foundation of the patchwork spirituality I’ve custom-built for myself. Even though UU is the only church that’s built on the same belief I’ve built my spirituality on, I can understand someone not wanting to join that group for a lot of different reasons. I’ve been aware of their existence for a while now but I’ve never once stepped into one of their churches, and I don’t see myself attending any of their services anytime soon either if I’m being totally honest. I definitely support the movement, and it’s the only church I know of that’s founded on helping people build a patchwork faith like mine; I just don’t mesh well with groups or play well with others. Maybe one day I’ll overcome my rejection of social concepts and go hear what they have to say, but for now my sociopathy makes joining a congregation sound incredibly unattractive.

Religion can be great, if it's treated with humility and interpreted with the right attitude. Too often though, people are taught to not ask questions and blindly follow the leader then attack anyone who chooses to do differently, and that can turn it into a tool of oppression.

Always remember that we're all on our own unique spiritual journey, and what helps one person find their answers can be a barrier to someone else finding what they're looking for. Believe in the things that work for you, but allow others to believe differently if that's what works for them. 

We're all in this together. We're all part of one big family. We all need to learn to share this world with one another. 

Instead of using our spirituality to divide ourselves on lines drawn by our differences, we should have it to bring us together using the things that make us the same.

And there you have it... I definitely plan on writing more on spirituality in the future now that I’ve cracked the seal with this essay, but I swear religion will never become my main focus and I’ll never preach to anyone or tell anyone to do anything other than keep an open mind and avoid passing judgement. 

Thanks for reading, and I hope you stop by again sometime.

 
I’m what happens when you live by the motto ‘Live Fast, Die Young’ then you fuck up and survive
— A Questioning Universalist
Dave BarlettaComment