Bahai News -- Thoughts on America's birthday Article Published: Saturday, July 05, 2003 - 2:28:45 AM EST

Speaking of Religion

Thoughts on America's birthday

By BETSEY BELVIN
Special to the Banner

This past spring our daughter, preparing a paper for one of her college courses, read several of "The Federalist Papers." Not having read them since I was in college, I revisited some essays Madison, Hamilton, and John Jay wrote over a six-month period 1787-1788 to persuade the populace to accept and ratify the new Constitution in place of the Articles of Confederation that had revealed its flaws after serving 10 years as the governmental structure of this fledgling nation.

That vision was one of a high-minded, rightly acting government, elected from an educated, high-minded, and rightly acting society. This picture corresponds to the vision Baha'u'llah, prophet-founder of the Baha'i Faith, had of this nation 60 years later in Persia. The American nation, Baha'is believe, will evolve, through a series of tests and trials to become a land of spiritual distinction and leadership, a champion of justice and unity among all peoples and nations, and a powerful servant of the cause of everlasting peace. This is the peace promised by God in the sacred texts of the world's religions.

Our American society, as many of you will agree, however, is beset by the ills of an excessive and binding sea of materialism which manifests itself not just in conspicuous consumption, but in our laxity of moral standards, political corruption on all levels of government, as well as racism that infects the fiber of our society and its institutions. Baha'is see materialism as the source of these and other problems of our society.

Perhaps a definition of materialism is in order at this point. Baha'u'llah, speaks of the dual nature of humans. We are spiritual beings encased in bodies that are, essentially, animal. We are souls that have bodies, not the other way around. When the body dies, the soul lives eternally, taking with it the qualities and attributes it has acquired in its brief mortal life. The soul is spiritual and who we really are, while the body is material, merely a vehicle for the soul for a few decades of this existence.

Clearly, the body needs nurturing and good care, but answering the needs of the self, the body, beyond moderation, beyond what it truly needs to function effectively and well, gets us in trouble. The mind, connected to the body, has higher thoughts and baser thoughts.

Those that contribute to the well-being of mankind are higher thoughts, while those that are for the well-being of the individual alone are baser, material, and serve only the animal nature of the individual. Material excessiveness is materialism. Clearly, this is a subject that goes far beyond the limitations of column inches, but it's easy to see the connections between materialism, individualism and the problems that beset our country today.

Now, let us return to that vision of an educated, high-minded and rightly acting people electing their representatives from among themselves. The Baha'i writings tell us that this American society has virtues and qualities of high intelligence, youthfulness, unbounded initiative and enterprise. These qualities, however, must be tempered with attention to moderation in all things, while weeding out, by every means in our power, the faults, habits and tendencies - the ills of materialism - we have inherited from our own nation. It is critical, in this stage of human development, for each of us to examine how we fit into the whole picture of humanity and how our management of our self contributes to the development and evolution of our true self, our soul. It is only when our attention is focused on our spiritual purpose that we will be able to combat the material excesses that plague our nation and world.

Baha'is affirm our abiding faith in the destiny of both America and humanity. We know that the road is long, thorny and tortuous, but we are confident that America will emerge from her trials undivided and undefeatable, and humanity will find that peace promised in all the world's religions.

Baha'is pray, "May this American democracy be the first nation to establish the foundation for international agreement. May it be the first nation to proclaim the unity of mankind. May it be the first to unfurl the standard of The Most Great Peace."

The Baha'i Faith offers a new model, a new way of seeing who we humans are, where we are now and where we are going as individuals, as a nation, and as an entire human race. You are invited to call 1-800-22-UNITE or 447-3866 for further information on the Baha'i Faith and The Most Great Peace.