Reading Uncle Grumpy’s post on “Belonging” (July 24) reminded me of a trip I once took to Israel, where, while visiting Haifa, I ventured to this magnificent Baha’i temple, which turns out not to have been a temple, or at least not primarily a temple, but a shrine honoring a Baha’i important person called “The Bab.”
I knew a little about the Baha’i faith, because a man named Alec, whom I’d worked with on Canadian radio, was Baha’i. Alec was the executive producer of a national morning radio show on which I occasionally appeared, doing everything from television criticism to growing something called cress in a cake pan and reporting on its progress. (It died during the second week of “the experiment.”)
(Alec once asked me if I’d be interested in hitchhiking across Canada during the winter and making daily phone calls to his radio show along the way. I told him that was the last thing I was interested in. I didn’t even like coming to the studio in the winter.)
What Alec told me about the Baha’i religion sounded very intriguing. I was impressed by its commitment to world peace, its respect for other faiths, and, especially, its fundamental belief in the equality of all people.
It was refreshing to find a religion that wouldn’t kill you if you didn’t join them. It quickly became my favorite belief system, except for Jewish.
I liked the Baha’i outlook and I liked Alec (notwithstanding his “Would you mind perishing in the snow so my radio show could have better ratings” idea). So when I traveled to Israel (I’ll tell you about it sometime, if I remember), I made sure to include a visit to the Baha’is’ special pilgrimage place.
The place was beautiful, and I immediately stole something – one of the smooth, white pebbles that blanketed the walking paths. It wasn’t stealing it for me. Alec and his wife were about to have a baby, and I wanted to present them with a stone from a special Baha’i pilgrimage place as a baby present. (It’s more original than baby clothes, don’t you think?”)
Baha’i was such a nice religion, I’m sure they’d have said it was okay. I figured I wouldn’t bother them about it, and slipped it into my pocket.
A man, knowledgeable in matters Baha’I, sat at the entranceway to the shrine, talking about the faith and answering questions. He highlighted many of the religion’s attributes I was already aware of and admired. I was really becoming a fan.
Baha’i says stuff I’d never heard any other religion say before. Baha’is not only respected other religions, they venerated their leaders, viewing them as an ongoing series of holy messengers. Baha’is didn’t say, “We’re the best, and you guys are doomed for eternity.” They simply viewed their religion as a next step in a collective, spiritual evolution.
The basic Baha’i message was inspiringly clear. The world was just people. All equal. All the same.
The knowledgeable man went on to tell us that the remains of “The Bab”, who’s like the Baha’i equivalent of John the Baptist, could be found in a room inside this shrine, which had been constructed in his honor. I immediately expressed an interest in visiting that room.
“Baha’is only,” the man explained.
“Only the Baha’i faithful are permitted in that room.”
“Wait. I thought we were all equal.”
“We are all equal.”
“Nobody’s better. Nobody’s worse.”
“That is correct.”
“Everybody’s treated the same.”
“Then I’d like to go in the room.”
SFX: A SILENT SCREAM
I continued around this loop for about ten minutes, and then I went home (feeling considerably less guilty for having stolen a pebble).
Equal? Not quite. Members continue to have privileges, though Baha’is comes closer to equality than any religion I know. And they didn’t try and kill me, which is always a plus.
Still, I’d sure like to have visited that room.