Where diversity equals unity

Where diversity equals unity

The Baha'i Faith stresses acceptance and appreciation of all races.

By NANCY FORREST

 


     CAMARILLO -- One of the central tenets of the Baha'i Faith stresses of the importance of unity in diversity.
     The faith, which has its roots in Persia, or modern-day Iran, has grown in number, with its members residing in nearly every nation of the world.
     "There are 600 members of the Baha'i Faith in the Ventura County area, and each is very much an individual," said Dorothy Gibson, a Ventura County Baha'i member. "But following extensive group consultation, they have united on one single message they will deliver to the residents of our county. The message is that today is the day to begin and continue a celebration of race unity."
     Fred Littman, a Camarillo Baha'i Faith member since 1972, said appreciation of racial differences and celebration of unity in diversity are primary tenets of the faith.
     "We are not focusing on the year 2000, but we do periodically address matters such as equality of men and women and the contributions of the black community," said Littman, 82, a member of the 24-member Camarillo Baha'i Faith community. "Our goal is to unify people in order that we may reach the optimal global society at some point. The oneness and unity of humankind is a fundamental belief of the Baha'i community."
     Littman said many experts are saying that racial division is America's primary problem.
     "I believe that we can become an example and model for the world -- not materially but spiritually -- if we are able address and eliminate racial division and bring about unity," said Littman, who is of secular Jewish background. "We would have a society where war would not exist, and we would live in a state of cooperation. We could begin to think in global terms about the greatest good for the greatest number of people, which would be more in keeping with our fundamental nature."
     Littman said the Baha'i Faith, which has no clergy, says there is one God and one mankind and instruction in the fundamentals of the faith is of utmost importance in Baha'i families.
     "The instruction remains fundamentally the same but is modified as mankind progresses and moves forward," Littman said. "It's a gradual process. We believe that the prophets from all religions are divine messengers, sharing the wisdom of God. We don't see them as competing religions but, instead, embrace a microcosm of them all. This is part of the progressive development of man."
     He said literacy is required of Baha'i, so that each individual is able to do his own investigation to discern the truth of the religion of God.
     "We do not believe in the finality of revelations but that changes take place in the fundamental laws of the universe as mankind develops, and we must live appropriately to those changes," Littman said. "We believe that people are both individuals and members of society, and both must be in harmony -- not separate or diametrically opposed. We are individuals who are part of a larger body."
     He said Baha'is live in hope that the future holds the prospect of a global society where cooperation and unity in diversity lead humankind to appreciate differences rather than merely tolerate them.
     "Tolerance is almost a dirty word," Littman said. "We are seeking unity in diversity and an appreciation of differences. Unity does not require conformity. Only in death is there uniformity. Unity permits individual expression within a common framework."
     He said with more and more obvious global problems -- ranging from violence and disease to pollution and misuse of raw materials -- humankind must look at the capacity of its own ability and strive toward global unity.
     "There is only one race -- the human race," Littman said. "We must seek human cooperation in order to live with some level of dignity. We need to address the abject poverty around us and worldwide because it's not proper for man to live like that. We must elevate the standard of living of humankind and deal with the extremes of poverty and wealth."
     He said material goods are limited and possession of them deprives others of those goods. In contrast, virtues like kindness and goodness are limitless and, when practiced, multiply.
     "When our basic needs are met, we can begin to realize that we are spiritual beings -- and not just material beings -- and the things we can accomplish and achieve are limitless," Littman said.
     In July, Baha'i members sponsor a countywide racial unity celebration and afternoon concert as a demonstration of the beauty and strength of diversity. The event is held at Constitution Park in Camarillo. The annual celebration is sponsored by the Race Unity Planning Committee of the Baha'i Faith in Ventura County and West Los Angeles County.
     "We can't turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to racial divisions any longer," said Charles Howard, a Ventura County Baha'i. "We need to bring all people closer together. We need to build millions of personal bridges of friendship and understanding. To Baha'is, this is an act of worship."
     Nationwide, Baha'is coordinate events that celebrate diversity of the human race throughout the year.
     "The Baha'i Faith is new to many people," Gibson said. "The central thing to remember about the Baha'is is their belief that the oneness of humanity is a reality. Baha'is are building communities based on love for all people. And in our country, with race relations being at a crossroads, working for race unity is more important than ever before. The Baha'is do not have all the answers, but they do have decades of experience working on a grass-roots level to eliminate all forms of prejudice."
     Children in Baha'i families are raised in multiracial, multicultural communities that reflect the principle of unity in diversity, said Kristy Corwin, who was raised a Baha'i. "The cohesiveness of the Baha'i community does not come from mere tolerance for those who may be different," Corwin said. "We love everyone because we love God and God loves everyone. Extending God's love around the world is what we believe God has planned for a maturing world community."
     A 28-minute video, which is broadcast on local cable television every July. It highlights the importance of racial unity to Baha'is and the discussion sessions -- mostly held in the homes of Baha'i families.
     The video was produced as part of a national initiative by the Baha'is to encourage interracial dialogue.
     The video is about the Baha'i experience in the challenging work of establishing the unity of the races.
     "We Baha'is have prayers, holy writings and devotional meetings, but the highest form of worship to us is to be of service to the human race," said Sholeh Rouhani, a Ventura County Baha'i. "If we can contribute to bringing our human family closer together, we feel that is the form of worship that God expects of us."
     FYI
     *For more information about the Baha'i Faith, call 987-1253 in Camarillo, 524-4071 in Fillmore and 644-6809 in Ventura, or by mail to P.O. Box 125, Fillmore, or P.O. Box 3126, Ventura.
     *For a copy of the booklet, "The Vision of Race Unity," call (800) 228-6483, or visit the Web site at www.us.bahai.org .


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