Preface: This post contains what are commonly referred to as "opinions." No offense is intended.
For religious service number eight out of ten (challenge no. 29), I attended the 11:00 service at the Baha'i ("bah-high") center near Union Square in Manhattan.
I never thought that common sense and religion could or should belong in the same sentence, but Baha'i got the closest to accomplishing that connection for me. The Baha'i faith revolves around the principle of unity and that God has sent nine messengers throughout history, including Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus Christ and Mohammed. While the rest of the world separates these prophets into different religions, Baha'is believe that they were each sent by the same God to reach different peoples of the earth. I have always wondered...would I be Muslim if I happened to be born in Iraq? A diehard Catholic if I were from Italy? Why does the location of your birth so often dictate what God you believe in? If I was born in a place where Christianity did not exist and I was never exposed to it, does that mean I am damned to hell in the eyes of Christians?
The space at the Baha'i Center of NYC was a small-ish room with a circle of chairs around a table of prayer books in every language you could imagine. We began with introductions. The people in attendance were from China, Russia, Bolivia, Bulgaria, England, Jamaica, Ethiopia, and the United States. The atmosphere was completely relaxed. There was about a half hour of prayer, at which time any member could recite something from a book or from memory or sing, if they felt so inclined. Then we launched into an hour-long discussion of the day's topic: The importance of religion. It was a classroom-esque forum where one person called on others to speak.
Within minutes, my mind was racing with these things
called "thoughts." I have them from time to time, but hardly ever does a religious service bring so many to the surface.
One such thought was that so often religious peoples act out of fear. They fear going to hell, so they try to live what they consider to be "good." They fear what others in their community will think of them, so they show up to church every Sunday. They fear other religions, so they close their eyes and their ears to what others have to say.
From what I could gather in my short experience on 11th Street, Baha'is don't act out of fear. They act out of the desire to better humanity and to spread peace and understand throughout the world. They believe the purpose of religion is to establish order in the world and the peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein. Baha'u'llah (the founder of the Baha'i faith) wrote, "Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion with ensue, and the lights of fairness, of justice, of tranquility and peace cease to shine."
To learn more about the Baha'i faith, visit www.bahai.org.