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The Power of a Unifying Global Faith

April 12, 2010

By Bobak Tavangar

“O CONTENDING peoples and kindreds of the earth! Set your faces towards unity, and let the radiance of its light shine upon you. Gather ye together, and for the sake of God resolve to root out whatever is the source of contention amongst you. Then will the effulgence of the world’s great Luminary envelop the whole earth, and its inhabitants become the citizens of one city, and the occupants of one and the same throne…There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed. All of them, except a few which are the outcome of human perversity, were ordained of God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose. Arise and, armed with the power of faith, shatter to pieces the gods of your vain imaginings, the sowers of dissension amongst you. Cleave unto that which draweth you together and uniteth you. This, verily, is the most exalted Word which the Mother Book hath sent down and revealed unto you. To this beareth witness the Tongue of Grandeur from His habitation of glory.”

~Baha’u’llah, Proclamation of Baha’u’llah

Hello from Shanghai!

I haven’t submitted a post for The E Street Beat in some time so I’d like this one to open with a bang. The subject matter should be groundbreaking. It should dive into something we’re not truly willing to discuss as a global community but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. It’s taboo. It’s universally misunderstood.

It is: faith as the purest, most sustainable, most effective solution—directly or indirectly—to all of the world’s problems. I’ll tell you why.

What are some of the recurring causes that we see underlying even the most basic conflicts between individuals, tribes, provinces, and nations? I propose it’s human ego, decaying practices and ideologies, and the lack of a divinely inspired standard of ethics to bind, animate, govern, and inspire us past mediocrity and petty bickering. Sound a bit corny? Perhaps, but at this point, when global conditions have deteriorated this much, when problems of the past have become crises of the present and concerns of the future are quickly becoming ultimatums for human survival I’m willing to lend thought to “corny” alternatives.

The point I’m trying to hit at is this: we (the world/those who inhabit it) come from hundreds if not thousands of different cultural and religious backgrounds—each one as varied and rich as the next—but we have entered a truly globalized age whose habit is to blur lines of thought and custom. We have emerged from a past of differences to face global problems that reach far and spare no one. This can be said of every single person, every single country the world over. It seems like nothing less than the organic unity of these myriad identities (personal/tribal/national/religious) is essential if our now global civilization is to continue its march toward progress and prosperity. Insular, narrow concepts like Nationalism and exclusion just aren’t enough anymore. Globalization is cool like that.

Knowing this, how can we bind our world together in a way that is lasting, just, and emphasizes the beauty of each of its component parts so as not to squelch individuality and creativity?

One common faith.

The only pure source capable of uniting and galvanizing the will of an interconnected world, I would venture, is a global faith. Specifically, one that is broad in scope, purely Divine in origin, has strong democratically elected institutions that draw their legitimacy from all of its adherents, and built to guide and nurture mankind to a new age of prosperity. One that advocates for the equality of women and men, the essential unity and cooperation of science and religion, and provides a framework for the peace and economic prosperity of the nations. A faith that transcends past ecclesiastical squabbles and inconsistencies by eliminating the institution of the clergy and putting spiritual power in the hands of the people, king and villager alike.

For the sake of full disclosure, I see all of these things (and SO much more) in the Baha’i Faith and it’s why at the age of fifteen, after a period of personal reflection and investigation, I consciously decided that I wanted to actively work toward the promise of world unity as a Baha’i—but this is for another post.

Let’s take a step back for a moment and consider exactly what we face. The most obvious example of a global problem that demands a global solution is climate change. This is too easy and has been paid much lip service already—albeit for good reason. Let’s instead look at something hard, like US and NATO involvement in Afghanistan.

I am by no means an expert on either this issue or international security policy in general but some of the relevant facets of engagement that I see are: security, intelligence, economic development, cultural preservation and understanding, access to basic services, construction of working financial institutions, networks of information and material transportation to connect Afghanistan internally and with the rest of the world, widespread access to quality education for both girls and boys, organic democratic thinking among Afghans to serve as the underpinnings of an open, sustainable, and effective elected government. The list goes on but let’s work with these few for now.

I often read the news and subsequent analysis of the situation in Afghanistan from within the US and without, from the left and the right and I don’t see anyone taking human reality into consideration. It’s like people are content with reporting and predicting but never with investigating a “how” that transcends band-aid solutions that are fundamentally inhuman in nature. And no, this is not a shot at US policy in that country but applies more broadly to policy making the world over. It seems to me that this kind of analysis forfeits the penetrating humanity behind the above-mentioned set of issues and instead seeks to treat political/economic/cultural constructs—all facets that are essentially human in nature—with very inhuman solutions. If you’re anemic (iron deficiency) will you start chomping on chunks of iron to solve the problem? No, you’d seek a practically human solution like consulting a physician and with his/her guidance in mind, proceed to a solution, like taking a multivitamin supplement. Unfortunately governments have become obsessed with feeding themselves and others iron to chomp on while ignoring the increasing pain and sickness that accompany it.

Our world, it seems, has not yet learned how to become more than a spectator of its own affairs. Everything is merely a response to crises at both the macro and micro level. I again venture that what we are in sore need of is a Divine Physician with a faith to guide us toward a place where we are self-aware enough to actively participate in our future as one world.

I’ll finish with Afghanistan. I pose the question: how could any coalition of nations/militaries/aid agencies etc. expect to create lasting transformation that serves the people of Afghanistan if the basic customs, approach, and thinking of Afghans are not the chief issues being addressed? Complaints are heard all the time about the “backward” practices of the people and seemingly unstoppable cancer that is extreme Islam but sound answers are never heard in response. That’s because there are none besides the obvious: a reinvention not only of the political and economic systems of a people, but also their thinking and system of ethics. It takes a transformation of the heart before anything else can follow. In Afghanistan’s case, this must happen on both sides.

How will Afghans accept the concept of democracy enthusiastically if it’s imposed top-down without any sign of practical application to their lives? How are we to root out corruption within the Karzai government if there is no change of heart on the part of the individual to precede the implementation of incentives and penalties? Why should Afghans suddenly choose to open their lives and country to the global economy when a consciousness of global interconnectivity and prosperity is not already in place? How is a soldier in the US army supposed to love the Afghans of the town he has been sent to protect when he struggles to see the “earth as one country and mankind its citizens” (Baha’u’llah)? Conversely, how should the imperative for national and global unity be instilled in a fifteen year-old Afghan boy when he is approached by Al-Qaeda to be trained in Pakistan?

These require unity of purpose worldwide. We’d be kidding ourselves if we advocated for anything less.

Bobak is a junior in the Elliott School of International Affairs, majoring in International Affairs with concentrations in International Economics and East Asia. In addition to being passionate about world unity and the Baha’i Faith, Bobak’s Persian heritage, American upbringing, and obsession with the People’s Republic of China lend him a unique perspective on what is unfolding around us. Duck and dumplings are currently on the menu as Bobak is in the midst of spending a full year in Beijing, China studying Mandarin and working for a Chinese environmental NGO.

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