By Dale Husband
Bahaullah emphasizes the fundamental obligation of human beings to acquire knowledge with their own eyes and not through the eyes of others. One of the main sources of conflict in the world today is the fact that many people blindly and uncritically follow various traditions, movements, and opinions. God has given each human being a mind and the capacity to differentiate truth from falsehood. If individuals fail to use their reasoning capacities and choose instead to accept without question certain opinions and ideas, either out of admiration for or fear of those who hold them, then they are neglecting their basic moral responsibility as human beings. Moreover, when people act in this way, they often become attached to some particular opinion or tradition and thus intolerant of those who do not share it. Such attachments can lead to conflict. History has witnessed conflicts and even bloodsheds over slight alterations in religious practice, or a minor change in the interpretation of a doctrine. Personal search for truth enables the individual to know why he or she adheres to a given ideology or doctrine.
Baháís believe that, as there is only one reality, all people will gradually discover its different facets and will ultimately come to common understanding and unity, provided they sincerely seek after truth. In this connection, Abdul-Bahá said:
Being one, truth cannot be divided, and the differences that appear to exist among the many nations only result from their attachment to prejudice. If only men would search out truth, they would find themselves united. (1)
The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary, if we would reach truth, for truth is one. (2)
Principles of the Teaching of Baháulláh: The Search for Truth
If a man wants to succeed in his search for truth, he must, in the first place, shut his eyes to all the traditional superstitions of the past.
The Jews have traditional superstitions, the Buddhists and the Zoroastrians are not free from them, neither are the Christians! All religions have gradually become bound by tradition and dogma.
All consider themselves, respectively, the only guardians of the truth, and that every other religion is composed of errors. They themselves are right, all others are wrong! The Jews believe that they are the only possessors of the truth and condemn all other religions. The Christians affirm that their religion is the only true one, that all others are false. Likewise the Buddhists and others; all limit themselves. If all condemn one another, where shall we search for truth?
All contradicting one another, all cannot be true. If each believe his particular religion to be the only true one, he blinds his eyes to the truth in the others. If, for instance, a Jew is bound by the external practice of the religion of Israel, he does not permit himself to perceive that truth can exist in any other religion; it must be all contained in his own!
We should, therefore, detach ourselves from the external forms and practices of religion. We must realize that these forms and practices, are but garments clothing the warm heart and the living limbs of Divine truth. We must abandon the prejudices of tradition if we would succeed in finding the truth at the core of all religions. If a Zoroastrian believes that the Sun is God, how can he be united to other religions? While idolaters believe in their various idols, how can they understand the oneness of God?
It is, therefore, clear that in order to make any progress in the search after truth we must relinquish superstitions. If all seekers follow this principle they would obtain a clear vision of the truth.
If five people meet together to seek for truth, they must begin by cutting themselves free from all their own special conditions and renounce all preconceived ideas. In order to find truth we must give up our prejudices, our own small trivial notions; an open receptive mind is essential. If our chalice is full of self, there is no room in it for the water of life. The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth, for truth is one.
Therefore, it is imperative that we should renounce our own particular prejudices and superstitions if we earnestly desire to seek the truth. Unless we make a distinction in our minds between dogma, superstition and prejudice on the one hand, and truth on the other, we cannot succeed. When we are in earnest in our search for anything we look for it everywhere. This principle we must carry out in our search for truth.
Science must be accepted. No one truth can contradict another truth. Light is good in whatsoever lamp it is burning! A rose is beautiful in whatsoever garden it may bloom! A star has the same radiance if it shines from the East, or from the West. Be free from prejudice, so will you love the Sun of Truth from whatsoever point in the horizon it may arise! You will realize that if the Divine light of truth shone in Jesus Christ it also shone in Moses and in Buddha! The earnest seeker will arrive at this truth. This is what is meant by the Search after Truth.
It means, also, that we must be willing to clear away all that we have previously learned, all that would clog our steps on the way to truth; we must not shrink if necessary from beginning our education all over again. We must not allow our love for any religion or any personality to so blind our eyes that we become fettered by superstition! When we are freed from all these bonds, seeking with liberated minds, then shall we be able to arrive at our goal.
Seek the truth, the truth shall make you free. So shall we see the truth in all religions, for truth is in all and truth is one!(Abdul-Bahá: Paris Talks, Pages: 135-137)
You will find similar statements at other websites made to teach the Bahá’í Faith. Indeed, you may get the impression that independent investigation of truth is not only a basic Bahá’í teaching, but that Bahais are the only ones that emphasize this idea! That, to put it bluntly, is hogwash. It really isnt practiced with any consistency, its not exclusive to the Bahá’í Faith, and truly investigating truth does not necessarily lead to conversion to that Faith.Heres a more critical perspective: (3)
I believe that many Bahais dont investigate the claims of Christianity fairly because they uncritically accept what the Central Figures and Shoghi Effendi said about it. Shoghi Effendi said that Christ was born of a Virgin, so Bahá’ís believe it. If he had said he wasnt, then they wouldnt. Abdul-Baha said that Christ was speaking figuratively when he called himself the bread of heaven, so Bahá’ís believe him. And then Bahá’ís tell us Christians that we should investigate the truth for ourselves instead of blindly accepting what our religious institutions tell us. Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.
How do you know that a book of Bahá’í history is accurate? Because it was published by a Bahá’í Publishing Trust? Thats not independent investigation of truth.
How do you know that when a Bahá’í author says Bahaullah fulfilled a particular prophecy from some religion, that he is both quoting the prophecy accurately and reporting the event in Bahaullahs life accurately? Because the author is a respected Bahá’í? Thats not independent investigation of truth.
When I was a Bahá’í, one of my favorite books was Portals to Freedom. My perception of Abdul-Baha was therefore partly dependent upon Howard Colby Ives. In other words, it wasnt independent. This example can be multiplied a hundredfold for Taherzadeh, for Ruhe, for Esslemont, etc.
I once knew a Bahá’í family in which the teenage daughter raised within it never took part in any Bahá’í activities. So I was impressed that she felt free to reject her parents faith without losing her parents love. At the same time, however, I wondered why she would not want to follow a faith as wonderful as that of her parents. After I de-converted from the Faith in 2004, I finally figured out that the girl must have done that independent investigation of truth but it had led her away from that Faith, as it would me eventually. This is evidence enough that the Bahá’í teachings are flawed and contradictory. Ironically, children raised in the Bahá’í Faith who DO accept it are not necessarily doing so after investigating other options and rejecting most of them, since in all the years I was Bahá’í, I saw no example of Bahá’í children being encouraged to visit other religions houses of worship, though they certainly were not forbidden to do so either (though I found it interesting that they had services every Sunday, as if they were competing directly with Christian churches! Bahá’í teachings do NOT require any Sunday services.) But at the Unitarian Universalist church, that I attend now, the youth there ARE taken to other churches as part of their Sunday School lessons.
But it is even worse, since faithful Bahá’ís are absolutely required to shun Covenant-breakers, those who claim to be Bahá’í but reject the current Bahá’í leadership. Any Bahá’í who associates with such people, who are said to have a deadly spiritual disease, is also subject to being declared a Covenant-breaker. How can the principle of independent investigation of truth be upheld in this case?
One thing that is not widely known about the Bahá’í Faith is that most of the relatives and descendants of Bahaullah were declared Covenant-breakers simply for not blindly following the absolute authority of Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi! The family of Bahaullah was torn apart by the claims of the leadership of the Faith to be infallible. Since these must have been the people who knew those leaders best, one would have expected them to be the most loyal members of the Faith … unless they KNEW how flawed those leaders actual characters were!
For children raised in the Bahá’í Faith, the issue of independent investigation of truth does not really apply to them, since they are assumed to have the truth already. Rather, that principle is taught to seekers (non-Bahá’ís who are learning about the Faith) to entice them to read more Bahá’í propaganda and be seduced by it. Such duplicity must be exposed and debunked, hence my writing this.