Freedom to investigate truth

Someone asked: Suppose someone investigates a matter, sincerely and honestly, to the best of her ability and with what resources are available to her. After considering things, she forms a conclusion as best she can. What happens if her honest investigation leads her to a conclusion which is not in accord with what most Bahá’ís believe, or which even seems to conflict with some statement of one of the central figures of the Bahá’í Faith? Should she investigate the truth as best she can, even if she reaches non-Bahá’í conclusions, or should she renounce her investigation of the truth and take things “on faith”?

The paradox seems to be this: If a person is granted the free right to seek, but only if that seeking leads to one place, isn’t it all a lie to make the Faith seem open, when in reality it’s the same as any other system of belief on the planet? How can one search for an assumed truth? Isn’t that like looking for something already in your hands?

Since I study and practice philosophy, this question is dear to me. I hope I can offer something to your query.

First, I wish to distinguish the common sense usages of religious truth and Bahá’í belief.

Bahá’í teachings describe many attributes of God, such as love, peace, forbearance, abstinence from contention and conflict, etc. I presume that a possession of the truth would be indicated by the presence of all these things. Therefore, “believing” in the tenets of the Faith is not “truth”, because one can hold such beliefs and still violate all of its principles.

In support of this, I find that `Abdu’l-Bahá said: “If religion becomes the cause of enmity and bloodshed, then irreligion is to be preferred, for religion is the remedy for every ailment, and if a remedy should become the cause of ailment and difficulty, it is better to abandon it.”

And Bahá’u’lláh wrote, “The purpose underlying the revelation of every heavenly Book, nay, of every divinely-revealed verse, is to endue all men with righteousness and understanding, so that peace and tranquillity may be firmly established amongst them. Whatsoever instilleth assurance into the hearts of men, whatsoever exalteth their station or promoteth their contentment, is acceptable in the sight of God.”

Again, the emphasis is on actual behavior, not profession. That is, religion relates to an essential reality, not an outward form.

I do not believe religion’s purpose is for us to have fixed ideas about things. The stated goal is union with God, and the stages of that union are described in the “Seven Valleys”. Unless I see the signs of such a transformation, either the person has gone nowhere or I was too blind to notice.

“Holding Bahá’í beliefs” can even be a stumbling block to progress in some cases, because it can lead to an arrogant assumption of superior knowledge. “We’re the most recent Faith, and you aren’t.” This is not knowledge, but a bolstering of self by illusions of righteousness. It should not be confused with the Faith, since it is distinctly abhorred by it:

Verily I say unto thee: Of all men the most negligent is he that disputeth idly and seeketh to advance himself over his brother. Say, O brethren! Let deeds, not words, be your adorning.

Second, considering the idea of an undirected, pure search, where the only goal is a deeper understanding of reality.

There is a verse in the Qur’án which says:

Whoso maketh efforts for Us, in our ways will we guide him.

Also, Bahá’u’lláh in one place quotes an Arab proverb which says, “He who seeketh out a thing with zeal shall find it.”

It seems to me from these, and other sources, that sincere effort will produce results, no matter the direction, since purity of the effort attracts God’s aid. “At every step, aid from the invisible realm will attend him, and the heat of his search for grow.” So the question here is: What is her motive, and what is she really seeking? Bahá’ís or not, people who employ religion for a sense of security are totally missing the boat. Do they really think the journey ends with acceptance? The Qur’án says: “Do men think when they say `We believe’ they shall be let alone and not be put to proof?”

Third, the Writings state that freedom of spirit is integral to understanding religious truth, and not the outward assumption of a set of beliefs – and that such a spirit, if it love God, will transform in its journey toward Him. It is the spirit of religion which is significant, not its dogma. And this is attained not through assumption, but purity, chastity, freedom and effort:

The understanding of His words and the comprehension of the utterances of the Birds of Heaven are in no wise dependent upon human learning. They depend solely upon purity of heart, chastity of soul, and freedom of spirit.

Fourth, I see the “Bahá’í Faith” not as the truth per se, but a portal leading to truth. Bahá’u’lláh even states that what has been revealed to Us is according to our capacity (i.e., related to Us), not a full expression of His reality:

By My spirit and by My favor! By My mercy and by My beauty! All that I have revealed unto thee with the tongue of power, and have written for thee with the pen of might, hath been in accordance with thy capacity and understanding, not with My state and the melody of My voice.

So the Faith may spring from the source of Truth, but ten thousand years from now, will not our forbears be amused at our ignorance? For us, the Word of God is truth unalloyed (relative to our state); but even if we repeat the words, we have done nothing but exercise our vocal chords. To experience the truth contained in those words, we must immerse ourselves in that ocean:

Immerse yourselves in the ocean of My words, that ye may unravel its secrets, and discover all the pearls of wisdom that lie hid in its depths. Take heed that ye do not vacillate in your determination to embrace the truth of this Cause – a Cause through which the potentialities of the might of God have been revealed, and His sovereignty established. With faces beaming with joy, hasten ye unto Him. This is the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future. Let him that seeketh, attain it; and as to him that hath refused to seek it – verily, God is Self-Sufficient, above any need of His creatures.

Do you see the difference? Someone can say to me, E is mc2, and I can nod back at him and say, “Yes, I heard you just fine.” But a world of difference exists between those who merely hear, and those who understand. To go into the problem, to root out its implications, to nestle it within your heart, and mix its ingredients with the essence of your own being… THAT is seeking after truth. Anything else is pale mimicry.

Lastly, if your friend seeks after truth earnestly, I believe she will find it. I do not know what it will look like, and I must say I’d be surprised if she found it without ever considering – even indirectly – the revolutionary ideas found in the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. Who before Him suggested that all Faiths had one source, that science is the supporter of religion, that the mind is the mightiest pillar supporting the Faith of God, that women and men and all the races are equal in their spiritual reality, that evil is but an illusion before the reality of good, and that all souls continue to develop eternally in their quest for God? Where else are all the Faiths described as intrinsically united in their purpose, and what else delves into the idea of unity with such depth and completeness? I wonder if what she finds will be the product of a True Mind, and not simply the elaborations of a fellow seeker.

At some point, possibly, her outward behaviors and beliefs may come to coincide with the members of our Faith. But we are not all equal in the status of our search; every human is unique in his condition. To say that seeking will result in following a mold, is like saying that God’s purpose in making people with free-will, was only to transform them into automatons.

In conclusion, I think “truth” is essentially something people do not, and will never, know, because there is infinitely much that is unknown, and truth includes all. Hence the notion of eternal progress and discovery.

It may be “true” that Bahá’u’lláh is a Messenger of God, and that His words contain the wisdom needed by humanity at this stage of its spiritual evolution. But we are not seeking after “true things”. If we were, learning that 2+2 is 4 should make us satisfied. To truly seek is to go where no one else has gone, because how can another person’s experience of life be identical to yours?

I suppose the ultimate dilemma we still come to is: Will her search necessarily lead her to the Bahá’í Faith?

I guess it will or it won’t. In fact, that would be a pretty good test of its truth, wouldn’t it?