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3 Problems with Religion… and Solutions!

Photo: Amanda Conrad (Flickr)

A few nights ago, I invited three of my friends over for dinner. At some point, the topic of religion came up and the conversation that ensued was very interesting, given the diversity of religious backgrounds represented in the room, but also incredibly challenging. Firstly, there was me, a Baha’i who had been brought up as a Christian in an Eastern Orthodox church with a strong – and very, very old – religious tradition of its own. And then there were my three friends – one of Druze heritage, another with a somewhat secular Anglican upbringing, and the last of Jewish descent. All three of them, however, are self-professed “militant atheists” with a profound disdain for religion that was only kept in check that night by their long friendship with me and their unwillingness to offend me (too much).

For the first ten minutes of the conversation, I found myself feeling incredibly relieved that my role as dinner hostess was keeping me occupied in the kitchen, where I could hear the conversation but be spared the unpleasant task of having to be the sole defender of religion! For the next ten minutes (after I ran out of dinnerware to fiddle around with), I sat with them, feeling a mixture of amusement, discomfort, defensiveness, guilt and indecision as to what the prudent thing to say was. However, as I kept listening, I felt more at ease, realising one very important thing: for the most part, I agreed with them!

It became quickly apparent, as the conversation unfolded, that my friends and I had many values in common and that much of their discomfort with religion came from a strong commitment to the very principles that I cherish as a Baha’i: justice, compassion, honesty and integrity – just to name a few. The only point of difference between us, however, was that while they felt dismayed and despondent about the problems that religion has caused in the history of humanity, I remained optimistic about the transformative power of religion. Continue reading

White Picket Fences

Image by theogeo (Flickr)

My friends laugh at me when I admit to this but there was once a time when I maintained an uncompromising policy which governed my social interactions: Do Not Become Friends With Neighbours. Looking back now, it seems crazy – even to me – but if I rack my brain hard enough I can begin to imagine why I once felt this way.

Perhaps it had something to with being raised in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Perhaps it had to do with a strong tendency towards intraversion and guardedness that I had as a teenager. Or perhaps, it stemmed from living in the dorms during my first year of university, where it was virtually impossible to enjoy a quiet night in without my friendly (and often inebriated) neighbour pounding at my door at 11 pm, with a loud “Preethi, I know you’re in there. COME TO THE PARTY!” – who knows, really.

But whatever it was, when I first moved out of the dorms to live by myself, I found myself living by the wisdom of the old adage: Good fences makes good neighbours. Years later, however, when I became Baha’i, my partiality for the good old picket fence was challenged by the Baha’i approach to social transformation – one based on community building and the empowerment of closely-knit neighbourhoods.

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Famine: A Spiritual Problem

Image by UNICEF Australia

Following severe drought in the East Africa, the United Nations has declared a famine in the region for the first time since the 1980s. The images and stories are both tragic and devastating – babies struggling to live, malnourished children with bloated stomachs and mothers having to make decisions in providing for their children that no parent should ever have to make.

In an article titled East Africa famine: Our values are on trial, Andrew O’Hagan describes some of the horrors of the poverty and starvation.

This is the children’s famine. Running from conflict, and sick with hunger and thirst, people are fleeing to the borders or the aid camps, many children dying on the way or too weak to survive once they get there. In some areas one in three children is seriously malnourished and at severe risk of death. In October the rains will come, most likely bringing epidemics of malaria and measles. Some of the children just lie down and wait for death, which is likely; or mercy, which is elsewhere.  Andrew O’Hagan

Aid agencies and international organisations are scrambling to get emergency aid delivered where it needs to be, taking out full page advertisements in newspapers and making urgent appeals to governments and the public for donations.

People have begun to ask the important question: what is to be said of a world in which so many people are dying from lack of something as basic as food when, as an international community, we are far more prosperous than we have ever been before?  Continue reading

How to Build a Fast, Free Website For Your Baha’i Group, Community or Event

Maybe it’s because I’m a web designer, but people often ask me how they can get a website up. It used to be that to do this you needed to either really enjoy tinkering with things like HTML and domain names, or you’d have to go and hire a web designer. But it’s 2011 and now there are plenty of really easy to use services that will get you up and running in no time.

Of course if you have a very specific or complex specification of how you want your site to work or look then you are probably going to end up needing a professional still. But if you just need a website to provide information or a blog then that’s a piece of cake! Continue reading

Common Questions: What Proof Is There That God Exists?

Image be floridapfe (Flickr)

Ever so often, we’ll be putting up posts for our ‘Common Questions Series’. As the name suggests, these are questions about the Faith that we often get. You know those ones – where you kinda, sorta, maybe know the answer but aren’t sure if you know enough to give the asker a full response? Yeah, those ones. Baha’i Blog has decided to make a collection of those questions, which will hopefully be as helpful to you, our readers, as it is to us!

The question of God’s existence is fundamental to a number of life’s bigger questions. Where do we come from? What is the purpose of life? What happens when we die? Belief in some sort of spiritual realm has been present in human societies from about 130,000 years ago and has persisted through the ages in all human cultures.

Different religious teachings have presented us with different understandings of God. In Christianity, God is understood as the ‘Heavenly Father’. In Judaism, God’s attributes as a life-giver, authority figure and protector are emphasised. In Zoroastrianism, God is understood as the omniscient creator of truth and guardian of justice. In some understandings of Hinduism, there are many different personal gods, all representing a different attribute of one supreme, universal Spirit.

In modern times, however, growing scientific knowledge about our universe and its origins, along with the clash of religious beliefs and growing religious fanaticism, have seen a renewed questioning of the existence of God. Traditional religious explanations of the origin of our life and the purpose of our existence no longer satisfy people as these ideas are increasingly scrutinised in the context of our modern societies. Where we formerly lacked scientific knowledge and used God to “fill the gaps”, science is now beginning to replace religion as a source of answers. Many people are now turning wholly to science, and not religion, to understand the nature of our reality.
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Writing a Baha’i Will

Photo by Sean M Scully

It might feel a little morbid thinking about your will but it turns out that writing one is something every Baha’i must do in their lifetime. I discovered this recently when the birth of my first son inspired me to think about the future a little more than I normally do. I discovered that writing a will is in fact a law from the Kitab-i-Aqdas.

It’s a good thing too, because apparently here in Australia if you have no will in certain circumstances everything you own will go back to the state! Yikes!

Because a will is a legal document, it’s important to remember to seek some proper legal advice before drawing one up. You can buy templated will kits, but for me it was nice to have someone qualified doing the work rather than bungling it up myself accidentally – not that I’d ever know!

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The Martyrdom of the Bab and Jesus Christ

Photo: Courtesy of the Baha'i International Community

As Baha’is, we believe that the foundation of all the divine religions is one. Ever so often, we’ll be putting up posts for our ‘Changeless Faith Series’, in which we look closer at some of the similarities between the divine religions, in an attempt to more fully understand what Baha’u’llah meant when he said “This is the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future”.

Why do the Prophets of God go through hardships and, in some cases, even martyrdom? Perhaps the real question is: why has humanity persecuted every single Manifestation or Prophet of God throughout history? As a history major with a keen interest in both religion and history, these are two questions that have always fascinated me to the point of utter wonderment.

There are only two Manifestations that we know of in recorded history who have suffered martyrdom: Jesus Christ and the Bab. Apart from this one very important similarity between Jesus Christ and the Bab, there are numerous other similarities between them, with regards to their lives, their ministries and the events surrounding their Martyrdom.

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Designing the Faith: Architecture

Creative design has an important part to play in the Faith. There’s a small army of creative Baha’is who labour hard to communicate the message of the Faith on screen and paper. The Designing the Faith series showcases some of their ingenious work in film, fashion, the internet, architecture and more.

In the second part of the series, we look at architecture.

Armed with pencils, paper and AutoCAD, Baha’i architects set out to design buildings that are not merely spaces for interaction with friends, institutions and God, but also seek to embody spiritual principles.

The designs of the Baha’i Houses of Worship reflect local cultural influences. The House of Worship in Germany blends the Bauhaus and European post-war styles. The Samoan House of Worship captures the simplicity of life in the tropics. The Wilmette Temple displays symbols of Native American traditions alongside the star of David and the cross.

Beyond the Houses of Worship, however, are numerous lesser-known gems of Baha’i architecture.

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Baha’i Blog Quiz: The Bab

Hey, hey, hey Baha’i Blog readers! Here at Baha’i Blog, we love quizzes, so we’ve decided to start having a regular quiz post to help you all gauge just how much you may know about certain topics relating to the Faith.

In our very first Baha’i Blog quiz, we dedicate it to the life of the Bab.

Go ahead – take the quiz and let us know if you enjoyed it in the ‘comments’ section below. Good luck!

Blogging about Children’s Classes: An Interview with Leyla Neilsen

Image from bahaichildrensclass.wordpress.com

At Baha’i Blog, we like our blogs. You’ve heard us wax lyrical about the importance of encouraging Baha’i blogging. A few months ago, we featured Blog The Faith, a fantastic resource for Baha’is who want to use blogs as a form of social discourse. In addition to its very helpful Baha’i Blogging 101, with tips for those new to blogging, the website also features examples of 8 great Baha’i Blogs to inspire you and get you started on your own.

Recently, I came across a fantastic blog by Leyla Neilsen from New Zealand devoted entirely to one of the core activities: children’s classes! It’s a fantastic resource – not just for lots of creative ideas for really great children’s classes, but also as a source of inspiration and motivation for everyone out there who currently runs, or is looking to start, their very own children’s class!

I think Leyla’s blog is a fantastic example of how blogging can support and enhance the service that people are doing all over the world. And so, I caught up with her to have a quick chat about her blog, her children’s classes and her thoughts on blogging the Faith!

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