The religion of God

Academic and human rights campaigner Nazila Ghanea explains the basic tenets of Bahá’í belief

Despite its relatively brief history of some 165 years, the Bahá’í faith is the second most geographically widespread religion in the world after Christianity. The Bahá'í community numbers some six million followers living in more than 100,000 localities around the world.

As a Bahá’í, I believe that there is but one God, a Supreme Being that has continually sent divinely-inspired ‘Messengers’ – or 'Manifestations of God' - to impart to humanity the knowledge and spiritual impetus for its social evolution.

Therefore, Bahá'ís believe that there is only one religion – the religion of God – and the various Manifestations who have appeared throughout history are equally valid, but different.

They are teachers in the same school, providing the world with the lessons it needs to learn to move to the next stage of its development. The Bahá’í faith sees itself as the latest in this ongoing unfolding of knowledge, known as 'progressive revelation'.

In Persia, in 1844 and then 19 years later, two such Manifestations, known to history as the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, claimed to be the recipients of revelations from God and founded the Babí and Bahá’í faiths, respectively. As Bahá’ís we consider both as twin revelations bearing the same essential message for this age.

What this understanding of progressive revelation means for me is that I see no conflict in the essential purpose of any of the religions. They are fundamentally one and the same. It is not some kind of gimmick - it is part and parcel of our very religious belief: that God is one, and as such the religious messages he has conveyed to humanity are also one.

This does not mean that any claim to ‘religious truth' is necessarily authentic, however. Nor does it mean that Bahá'ís have somehow taken the 'best bits' of the other faiths and syncretised a new one. There are two essential aspects to religious truth: one, spiritual truths - which the great religious traditions have in common and are unchanging over the centuries and two, social teachings - which change according to the needs of the age.

My religion has a clear response to the challenges of our times. Bahá'u'lláh's writings – and those of his authorised successors - provide the principles by which pressing problems such as civil war, famine, nuclear power, religious extremism, birth control, penal reform, environmental degradation, racism, adoption and surrogacy can be addressed.

The Bahá'í faith has no clergy and very few formal rituals. Bahá’í communities worship, socialize and hold activities either in purposely-acquired buildings, or in believers' homes or in hired facilities.

There are currently Bahá’í Houses of Worship in Sydney-Australia, New Delhi-India, Apia-Samoa, Kampala-Uganda, Frankfurt-Germany, Panama City-Panama, Chicago-USA and one currently under construction in Santiago-Chile. These Houses of Worship are open to all people.

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How “cli-fi” novels humanise the science of climate change

The paradox is that the harder climate-fiction novels try, the less effective they are.

When the Paris UN Climate Change Conference begins at the end of November, the world’s leaders will review the climate framework agreed in Rio in 1992. For well over 20 years, the world has not just been thinking and talking about climate change, it has also been writing and reading about it, in blogs, newspapers, magazines – and in novels.

Climate change fiction is now a recognisable literary phenomenon replete with its own nickname: “cli-fi”. The term was coined in 2007 by Taiwan-based blogger Dan Bloom. Since then, its use has spread: it was even tweeted by Margaret Atwood in 2013:

It is not a genre in the accepted scholarly sense, since it lacks the plot formulas or stylistic conventions that tend to define genres (such as science fiction or the western). However, it does name a remarkable recent literary and publishing trend.

A 21st-century phenomenon?

Putting a number to this phenomenon depends, partly, on how one defines cli-fi. How much of a novel has to be devoted to climate change before it is considered cli-fi? Should we restrict the term to novels about man-made global warming? (If we don’t, we should remember that narratives about global climatic change are as old as The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Biblical story of the flood.) If we define cli-fi as fictional treatments of climate change caused by human activity in terms of setting, theme or plot – and accept there will be grey areas in the extent of this treatment – a conservative estimate would put the all-time number of cli-fi novels at 150 and growing. This is the figure put forward by Adam Trexler, who has worked with me to survey the development of cli-fi.

This definition also gives us a start date for cli-fi’s history. While planetary climatic change occurs in much 20th-century science fiction, it is only after growing scientific awareness of specifically man-made, carbon-induced climate change in the 1960s and 1970s that novels on this subject emerged. The first is Arthur Herzog’s Heat in 1976, followed by George Turner’s The Sun and the Summer (published in the US as Drowning Towers) in 1987.

At the turn of this century, Maggie Gee and TC Boyle were among the first mainstream authors to publish climate change novels. In this century, we can count Atwood, Michael Crichton, Barbara Kingsolver, Ian McEwan, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ilija Trojanow and Jeanette Winterson as major authors who have written about climate change. The past five years have given us notable examples of cli-fi by emerging authors, such as Steven Amsterdam, Edan Lepucki, Jane Rawson, Nathaniel Rich and Antti Tuomainen.

Creative challenges

Cli-fi is all the more noteworthy considering the creative challenge posed by climate change. First, there is the problem of scale – spatial and temporal. Climate change affects the entire planet and all its species – and concerns the end of this planet as we know it. Novels, by contrast, conventionally concern the actions of individual protagonists and/or, sometimes, small communities.

Added to this is the networked nature of climate change: in physical terms, the climate is a large, complex system whose effects are difficult to model. In socio-cultural terms, solutions require intergovernmental agreement – just what COP21 intends – and various top-down and bottom-up transformations. Finally, there exists the difficulty of translating scientific information, with all its predictive uncertainty, into something both accurate and interesting to the average reader.

Still, cli-fi writers have adopted a range of strategies to engage their readers. Many cli-fi novels could be classified as dystopian, post-apocalyptic or, indeed, both – depicting nightmarish societies triggered by sometimes catastrophic climate events. A future world is one effective way of narrating the planetary condition of climate change.

Some novelists are also careful to underpin their scenarios with rigorous climatic predictions and, in this way, translate science fact into a fictional setting. Kingsolver, who trained as an ecologist, is the best example of this – and Atwood and Robinson are also known for their attempts at making their speculations scientifically plausible. Also, cli-fi novels, particularly those set in the present day or very near future rather than in a dystopian future, tend to show the political or psychological dimensions of living with climate change. Readers can identify with protagonists. To some extent, the global community is represented in fictional everymen or everywomen. Or, often, it is through such characters that science is humanised and its role in combating climate change better understood.

Can cli-fi lead to change?

Could cli-fi affect how we think and act on climate change? The paradox is that the harder cli-fi tries, the less effective it is. Many writers want to inspire change, not insist on it: the line between literature and propaganda is one that most novelists respect. Literature invites us to inhabit other worlds and live other lives. Cli-fi at its best lets us travel to climate-changed worlds, to strive there alongside others and then to return armed with that experience.

In Paris, the UN will seek a global agreement on climate action for the first time in more than 20 years. There is plenty of climate change fiction out there to help provide the mental and psychological space to consider that action.

The Conversation

Adeline Johns-Putra, Reader in English Literature, University of Surrey

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.