Apr 26th, 2009
At that hour . . . your religion shall remain an empty word on your tongues. And when these signs appear amongst you, anticipate the day when the red-hot wind will have swept over you . . . or when stones will have rained upon you. Islamic tradition, quoted in the Bahai writings
A fascinating piece of research came my way today, a document based on a survey of over four thousand Iranians both in and out of Iran. Over half the respondents were 20 to 29 years old, demographically the largest age group in the country. While 62 per cent of the men and 77 per cent of the women said their religion was Islam, only 15.6 per cent of men and 22.5 of women said they practised their religion, while overall 38 per cent of all respondents identified themselves as secular.
It was interesting, therefore, to read in our parish magazine today the response of our local vicar to the news that two eminent Christian clerics have suggested there be a general boycott of television because there has not been enough religious broadcasting during the Easter season. The vicar said he was amazed that there was any religious broadcasting at all, given the degree of secularisation that has taken place in the UK. He doubted the ability of religious programmes on TV to turn this around. Getting people to come to church, he said, is not so difficult – it is teaching Christianity in such a way that it transforms the lives of those who hear it.
It is exactly at the point when the world is spiritually running on empty that God provides a top-up of information and education. The universal, eternal principles by which all people are to live are reiterated and refreshed, and the application of those principles made appropriate for that epoch. He does this by providing a great teacher, a Manifestation, who brings God;s current plan for humanity.
That God has, over the whole history of humanity, gradually provided guidance that is fine-tuned to the increasing and nuanced needs of His people seems to have eluded most of us. But it should not be so strange. All education is provided progressively, with more sophisticated concepts being introduced after less complicated ones are learned. Schools are based on this very principle. Yet some people still seem to think the world can run effectively on information that has not been updated in millennia.
Baha’is are currently celebrating the twelve-day festival of Ridvan, the period when Bahá’u’lláh, the begetter of the Baha’i Faith, made public in 1863 something He had known for a decade – that God had chosen Him to be the vehicle for God’s Word for this age, a Manifestation of God. Not perhaps so surprising. given this is an age of secularisation and cynicism and scepticism. Bahá’u’lláh Himself wrote of this very phenomenon:
The vitality of men’s belief in God is dying out in every land; nothing short of His wholesome medicine can ever restore it. The corrosion of ungodliness is eating into the vitals of human society; what else but the Elixir of His potent Revelation can cleanse and revive it? Is it within human power . . . to effect in the constituent elements of any of the minute and indivisible particles of matter so complete a transformation as to transmute it into purest gold? Perplexing and difficult as this may appear, the still greater task of converting satanic strength into heavenly power is one that We have been empowered to accomplish. The Force capable of such a transformation transcendeth the potency of the Elixir itself. The Word of God, alone, can claim the distinction of being endowed with the capacity required for so great and far-reaching a change.
To commemorate Ridvan, on Wednesday evening Moojan and I attended the celebration at the Houses of Parliament – you can read the details of this annual event here. A happy occasion, though overshadowed by the ongoing persecution of the Baha’is in Iran and the imprisonment of the seven Baha’is leaders there. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in a letter addressed to the reception hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Friends of the Baha’is, expressed his `respect and admiration’ for the British Baha’i community which, he said, `makes a contribution to British life out of all proportion to its size’. Too sad, then, that the Baha’is in Iran are unable to contribute to their own country’s progress. But this is what happens when a whole world is running on empty.
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