How being a Bahá’í shaped my life

Each week someone from a different religion explains what they believe in. Here Barney Leith explain

My mother was greatly concerned when I became a Bahá’í that I had been sucked into some kind of cult. She rushed over to Cambridge and I introduced her to some of my new Bahá’í friends. Greatly relieved by the ‘normality’ of the Bahá’ís, she was happy to accept my choice of religion and remained supportive of this until the end of her life.

The whole of my adult life has been shaped by my faith as a Bahá’í. What’s central, I think, is the understanding that pervades Bahá’u’lláh’s writings – which form the main part of the Bahá’í holy texts – that humankind is one family, that there is only one God, whose essence is unknowable to us but whose characteristics or attributes we know through the lives and teachings of the prophets and messengers of God. We’re thinking here of Abraham, Zarathustra, Moses, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, Muhammad, the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh, amongst others.

Bahá’u’lláh claims to be the latest in an ancient line of what he sometimes calls Divine Physicians, those whom God has empowered to diagnose and treat the world’s sickness in each age.

Notably Bahá’u’lláh explicitly disclaims finality for his own revelation.
Bahá’u’lláh asks us to focus on the needs of our time and not to look backwards. For Bahá’u’lláh, the process of divine revelation is a progressive one, impelling humankind forward from our collective ‘childhood’, through the current stage of our collective ‘adolescence’, to the time when humankind as a whole will be spiritually mature and adult.

Right now, we’re in that spotty, rambunctious, adolescent stage, full of conflict, not knowing whether we still want to be children or to be fully grown-up.

In many ways it’s a dark time in human life. Bahá’u’lláh acknowledges that darkness and shows how we can come through this time of crisis into a new global civilization, based on a much deeper understanding of the reality of human oneness.

In recent years we’ve tended to become very excited by ‘diversity’, and much law and a whole industry has grown up around ‘equality’ and ‘diversity’. This is not unimportant, but I believe we often forget the other side of the diversity coin, which is unity.

The watchword for Bahá’ís is ‘unity in diversity’. Unity without diversity is uniformity and uniformity is a kind of death. Diversity without unity, on the other hand, leads to division and conflict. Diversity and unity exist together in a complementary ‘yin-yang’ relationship.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh’s eldest son and head of the Bahá’í community from 1892 until his passing in 1921, eloquently describes the key theme of this era of human development.
O peoples of the world! The Sun of Truth hath risen to illumine the whole earth, and to spiritualize the community of man. Laudable are the results and the fruits thereof, abundant the holy evidences deriving from this grace. This is mercy unalloyed and purest bounty; it is light for the world and all its peoples; it is harmony and fellowship, and love and solidarity; indeed it is compassion and unity, and the end of foreignness; it is the being at one, in complete dignity and freedom, with all on earth.

Barney Leith has been an active Bahá’í since the mid 1960s. In 1993 he was elected to the National Spiritual Assembly of the UK Bahá’ís. Barney has been married to Erica since 1970. They have three grown-up offspring and three grandchildren.
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The most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland