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September 18, 2011

Question: Can one be a realist and religious?

 There are several parameters to today’s question , but let’s start here: the life of faith, or the practice of religion, is all about making the ideal one with the real. To strive for this oneness is a life-long quest. To be religious/spiritual, we must be an idealist, otherwise we would never be motivated to transform the human condition, either in ourselves or in the wider society. The so-called “realism,” touted by those who claim that we can never change ourselves, or the world around us, because of our animalistic, biological inheritance, is actually a form of pessimism, if not cynicism. It gives in to the status quo, shrugs its shoulders and walks away. By contrast, spiritual life means active engagement with and service to the world of humanity.

The reality of religious life requires that we strive to make the reality of our life conform to the ideals we espouse. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son of the Prophet-Founder Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), and the authorized interpreter of his father’s teachings, said in Paris in 1911: “What profit is there in agreeing that universal friendship is good, and talking of the solidarity of the human race as a grand ideal? Unless these thoughts are translated into the world of action, they are useless. The wrong in the world continues to exist just because people talk only of their ideals, and do not strive to put them into practice” (Paris Talks, p. 16).

But we can point to the lives of the Prophets as those for whom the ideal was one with the real. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained the key difference between the philosopher and the Prophet: “This is the difference between philosophers who are Spiritual Teachers, and those who are mere philosophers: the Spiritual Teacher is the first to follow His own teaching; He brings down into the world of action His spiritual conceptions and ideals. His Divine thoughts are made manifest to the world. His thought is Himself, from which He is inseparable” (Paris Talks, p. 18). Based on this assertion, we may say that the Prophets were ideal realists. They practiced their teachings in the face of imprisonment, exile, persecution and death. They were living embodiments of their own words.
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen September 18, 2011
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