For years I've pondered the area of religion. My father's family is old Pennsylvania Quaker. My mother is Episcopalian. I went to Episcopal boarding school and Episcopal church. But in college I dated many Catholics. In my thirties, it was atheists and Jews. When I married, it was to someone who rarely thinks about religion of any type whatsoever.
But it is still of interest to me - and more not less than it was say 15 years ago. Just yesterday I was at a friend's house for dinner. She is a Conservative Jew married to a non-practicing Christian. We talked about the differences between being spiritual and being religious. We talked about the differences within religions - between Catholics and Episcopalians and between Orthodox and Conservative Jews, etc. It was really interesting. She is so clear and grounded in her faith. I am so conflicted. My views and values are clear. But, I find the practice of organized religion - virtually any of them - confusing. Each of the major faiths in the world has something I value and respect and am moved by. But each also seems to have something I find disturbing or jarring with who I am and what I stand for. Perhaps that's why I have most recently gravitated more toward the Quaker faith as it feels to me to involve a basic and fundamental spiritual sense, with limited ritual and ceremony but a lot of substance.
That was until a few weeks ago when I learned about a whole new faith - one I knew virtually nothing about until then.
Having lived literally all over the world, it was pretty surprising to me to find what I think is perhaps the ultimate in global religion right here, down the street, in Wilmette Illinois. At the Baha'i Temple. I am certainly no expert - having only spent a few hours studying it thus far - but its core principles are why I say it may be the ultimate global religion. According to the brochure I picked up at the temple, the core principles of the Baha'i faith are as follows:
• Elimination of all forms of prejudice
• Equality between men and women
• Harmony of science and religion
• World peace upheld by a world government
• Spiritual solutions to economic problems
• Universal education
I know there are many in the world that would not choose to live with these principles but for me I thought, wow! This is the closest I've come to finding a group where - on the surface at least - there was nothing for me to disagree with. I'm not fully sure I understand what "spiritual solutions for economic problems" means, but I kinda like the sound of it if it means we'll have to use more than a calculator to solve the economic inequalities in the world between the "haves" and "have nots". So, I for one found this religion an intriguing discovery. (For those who've known about it forever, pardon my ignorance. I am not nor have ever been anything like a religious expert or scholar and so it's not surprising I guess that my religious education was clearly incomplete.)
Anyway, I am not trying to convert anyone here. I'm not even sure what I myself will actually do with this learning. But in times like these where religion is at the heart of so many problems in the world, I think it is worth reflecting on how and whether it is possible for us all to move to a more global approach, one based on faith and spirituality more than dogma. And whether we could, without losing our own identities, opt for a broader, more inclusive approach to the questions we face as global citizens in order to perhaps find some lasting solutions to long term disputes. Naïve perhaps but perhaps that's just what we need. To look beyond the experts and the entrenched and move toward a more pragmatic and inclusive solution. Perhaps less is more when it comes to a global approach to these types of questions and perhaps the Baha'i Faith has something to teach us all... Just a thought...from someone still searching for her own answer...
Perry Yeatman is an SVP at Kraft Foods and co-author of the award-winning book, Get Ahead by Going Abroad.