We all belong

In our wider neighbourhood area, Clarendon Park, Leicester, there is an annual festival called Artbeat. This year it will incorporate an Interfaith event, part of which is a poetry competition called ‘We all belong’. The neighbourhood is unique in that in an approximate square mile there are religious buildings for five different faiths, Jewish, Moslem, Sikh, Hindu and Christian including Chinese Christian, Anglican, two Baptists, Congregational, Methodist and Quaker.
I don’t consider myself a poet but I wanted to celebrate this unique diversity so I put pen to paper and here it is.

Basically we are all the same
We may look different, have a different name.
The real us is deep inside
Sometimes we show, sometimes we hide.

How far do our loyalties go?
We’re part of evolutions ebb and flow.
Look at where we are right now
And ask the most poignant question, how?

In days gone by with Victorian pride
Church and chapels side by side
Quaker friends in the neighbourhood
A league of those who work for good.

A century later in these same streets
A variety of places where the faithful meet
In just one road five calls to prayer
Sikh, Hindu and Chinese join the Christians there.

In another road, a miracle it’s true
Synagogue and mosque share a neighbourhood view.
Including Bahá’í, six faiths share one space
Making this spot a remarkable place.

We all belong here, of that there’s no doubt.
Whether you look in or whether you look out
A rich bouquet of difference unite in diversity.
Sharing one place, not should, could – just be.

If there is a God there can only be one
The name may be different through difference of tongue.
So many places where God’s name is raised
So many ways in which God can be praised.

It all happens here where we feel we belong
Embracing each other just cannot be wrong.
The world is now present in Clarendon Park
A vibrant, lively, lovely human Ark.

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No Island is a Man

No man is an island, I heard it said.
In fact no island is an island or ever could be.
Don’t let the lapping shore fool you or the distant horizons.
From that protecting splashing cerulean swell moist air rises
Makes clouds that rain on friend and foe alike,
Entices out the bashful reticent herb to drink in sweet daylight.
That’s not your daylight, island. We all get it, maybe not at the same time.
You may think you get more than me but seasons come and go
And fickle clouds, already lauded, enjoy too much their shadow play.
Sorry island, but you are not alone and never can be.
Your independence will teach you one thing, and one thing only,
Dependence.
How did you get here, proud islander.
Did just your island have an amoebic ancestor and you its grandchild?
If not, did those grandsires arrive in their Proterozoic canoe one sunny day?
That means you have cousins not yet met enjoying rain from your clouds.
Glad or sad, want your rain back or a heartfelt hug inserting geniality into your genealogy
An embarrassed embryonic embrace of final recognition
You are not an island any more than your island is.
If you think you are, think this.
There is just you on your tiny island, in the vast ocean on an enormous planet
In your immense solar system in its massive galaxy in an infinite universe.
Notice the dead ant next to you, see the black of its eye.
The universe can see neither of you in your solitude, unable to rate you more.
But, consensus sends out pulses of solidarity
That can be seen from space like the Great Wall of China.
Your solitude is simply a dark place in the darkness
Indistinguishable from all shadowy mist and murk, somber in your somberness.
When the breeze from every island’s air,
Caresses your trees and in the stirring of their leaves’ creates a caroling harmony
Learn the lesson of that classroom. Study the network
And know you are a strand in its woven web. Not merely, but simply, purely.
As is every other strand, your boundless kin and mutual buttress.
No man is an island but an island is no man.

Scarf Wars

There has never been a football hooligan. There is no such thing. Hooligans are usually groups of men apart from a drunken granny from Preston arrested after they played Blackburn in 1905, and they have certain facets in common. Generally they failed in the classroom, failed in the workplace and failed in the bedroom so they share, in total ignorance, a monumental self-loathing. Had they encountered psychologists, other than the ones they had head butted at case reviews, they could have been made aware of the depths their self-esteem had sunk and attended raffia weaving classes to achieve a little pride, a first building block on the road to self-love, which, if you believe George Benson, is the greatest love of all. According to George, if you do not love yourself you cannot love anyone.
Thus, in a state of unawareness they develop an urgent need to externalise their hatred. The only way to do this effectively is to find a group you can join and then, together, vent your bile on another similar group. Challenge one is to find a group to join and chapel, work and glee club prove to be barren bonding grounds. Some notice that the local football stadium on match days has a surfeit of likeminded individuals who eventually gravitate towards each other.
When they meet one of them says, ‘What does versus mean when it says Millwall versus Queens Park Rangers?’ The newly formed group’s only genius, who spent hours in the school library looking for rude words in the dictionary, spotted ‘versus’ because it was at the top of the page that had ‘virgin’, and confirms, ‘It means ‘against’.’ One of the group will concur that ‘against’ sums up their main objective perfectly and the next requirement will be to find someone to be against.
Like burglars who mainly burgle their neighbours they are generally too lethargic to go on an ‘against’ safari to find prey. Noticing that where they are currently standing most of them have the same coloured scarf, they realise that people with a different scarf colour make perfect subjects for a regular ‘against’ jamboree. It is not football’s fault that it happens to provide the only venue, personnel and appropriate level of social ‘againstness’ for these people to exercise their new, and seemingly morale building diversion.
Their forays should never have been called ‘football hooliganism’. They should have been called ‘scarf wars’ in the same way that when the British went to China it was called the ‘Opium Wars’ and the horticultural skirmish between Hebden Bridge and Bacup was called the ‘War of the Roses’. When Serbian teams play Croatian teams in South Sydney the resultant arm flailing and name calling forays are not hooliganism, they are warfare. News hasn’t yet got through to the Sydney scarf warriors that the Balkan Wars have ended, and I am not referring to the recent Balkan Wars. If croquet had reached the same level of popularity as football there would eventually have been ‘croquet hooliganism’ which, considering the proximity of mallets, would have been infinitely more dangerous.

Tempus Fugit under the Clock Tower

In the centre of Leicester there is a clock tower, a famous meeting place and venue for anyone with a message or a tune to share. For ‘Everyone’s Reading’, a Leicester annual event, I wrote a piece of prose but purposely made the structure lyrical. After reading it, two ladies asked me for a copy of my ‘poem’. Later when I heard of attempts to create an anthology of poems about Leicester I rewrote the prose as a more obvious poem and it was received well. I think at the beginning of the season I could have got odds of 5000/1 for me writing a poem of any description.
The poem is based on actual events. The original industrial heart of Leicester was in an area known as Frog Island. The company of its famous son, Thomas Cook, facilitated the first ever pilgrimage to Abdu’l-Baha from the West, organised by Phoebe Hearst and disguised by Thomas Cook as a visit to the Pyramids in Egypt.

Tempus Fugit under the Clock Tower

Standing by the clock tower, waiting, musing,
I feel ancient steps beneath my feet,
Sandled sockless feet of Celts and Romans.
Trading together in the forum, but not blows.
Baths become a ghostly stone outline in the shadow of a wall,
Still impressive after two thousand years.
Now the Bishop’s evangelical pace in a sacred procession
His church cheek by jowl with heathen detritus.
But, holy man, godless Danes will soon overthrow you.
The men of violence come and go while the craftsmen stay,
And sometimes, like me, tarry here.
Their masters now have another tongue. Gone harsh Scandinavia,
The Norman babble, a strange brew of icy Baltic and balmy Mediterranean.
I feel the panicked scurry of Hebrew feet, banished by cruel Simon,
A prelude to a nationwide exile for those who always get the blame.
Meanwhile a shepherd with crook rests, destined to offer hair, skin and meat,
A trinity of wealth bestowing sacrifice for the growing town.
The illustrious mayor is flanked by his guild
While proud Richard struts his last only to return naked and derided.
The fat friars hidden from view in their privileged abbey,
Like their Hebrew cousins, must soon flee the wrath of Henry.
The plague replaces feet with heavy wheels and heavier hearts.
And a traitor lets the royalists in and heralds a blood bath.
A brief triumph, however, as Naseby seals their fate
And Cromwell assures the castle will be no more.
Fine buildings and wide streets radiate out,
Boosted by hosiery and footwear, a smoky industry on its island of frogs
Surrounded by a sprawling warren of cramped and crowded streets,
Their descendants bustling around me now.
A city of such diligent toilers deserved a novel innovation,
Cook’s holiday, Thomas’s own hotel close by.
The rich build a delightful, tree lined promenade from town to racecourse
And the benevolent among them ensure green spaces.
Looking down now at my own imported socks and shoes,
I hear Jesus, Krishna, Muhammad loudly lauded on this tolerant spot
While a disabled Romanian serenades with his lilting accordion.
Romans and Romanians linked by two thousand years.
Tempus fugit right here beneath the clock tower
And nothing stays the same yet nothing really changes.

When Hal met Al: An R.E. Lesson for the future?

If Religious Education in schools survives into the future I have a suggestion for a unit to be studied at some point when the pupils are mature enough to understand its connotations. It could be called ‘When Hal met Al’, meaning the meeting and subsequent friendship of Muhammad Ali and Henry Cooper. ‘Why?’ I hear you gasp. Well, they could do a lot worse and probably are as I write this and still when you read it, studying, for example, ancient saints about whose real lives there is scant verified detail.
Children will and should get to an age when they ask, ‘what’s religion got to do with me?’ That is a hard question to answer and studying these two men is an excellent starting block. Life has two interwoven aspects to it, what you do and what you could have done. For a human being, not doing anything at all while still breathing is not a choice. It is, however, possible to do so little your action, or ‘inaction’ as it would mistakenly be described, is not much above just breathing.
For instance, it is possible to lie on a big, comfy settee in the afternoon eating crisps and watching day time television. Here, as actions, you can add to breathing and the occasional flatulence, eating, reclining and watching. What will not be in this list is ‘understanding’ or ‘deep thought’. Immediately it can be seen that what is done has a ‘what could be done’ parallel world. A health expert might suggest that what could have been done included walking instead of lying, maybe in the park, not eating or eating a celery stick instead and reading, not watching. Immediately an assumption grows that what could be done is always better than what is done, but the object of our debate, the couch potato, could have gone and robbed a bank or murdered someone and everyone would have ardently wished they had stayed on the sofa.
Thus, pupils in studying religion should get to a point where they study and question what people do and why they do it and what they don’t do and why not, ultimately to contemplate what choice of actions they will personally make as and when their choices increase in their impact on themselves and others. To discuss that in a vacuum would be very sterile and probably inconclusive. The answer is to study real and, preferably, recent people and their actions. In order for someone’s actions to be sufficiently recorded to lend themselves to study that person must have been famous.
My argument is that Henry and Muhammad Ali are perfect for this exercise as the implications of what they did and what they could have done are so complex and far reaching. It could easily occupy a whole term at the end of which the pupils will have an understanding of what it means to be the best that you can possibly be and to have thought deeply about it. Hopefully that will rub off on pupils without such aspirations to develop their character while encouraging pupils who already aspire, thereby vindicating them in their secret or public ambitions to maximise their talents and interests for the good of themselves and others.

Other champion boxers and sports persons attracting wealth and publicity in equal amounts often succumb to the powerful temptation to lavish money on sex, cars, possessions, gambling, faithless friends and embark on a path of self-destruction, sometimes ending, incredulously to the public without access to such wealth, in declaring bankruptcy, the bankruptcy of their soul far outstripping the emptiness of their bank account. Muhammad Ali, on the other hand, rather than pursuing fast women and fast cars became a Muslim and merely pursued a fast. When David Frost asked him how he wanted to be remembered he replied;
He took a few cups of love.
He took one tablespoon of patience,
One teaspoon of generosity,
One pint of kindness.
He took one quart of laughter,
One pinch of concern.
And then, he mixed willingness with happiness.
He added lots of faith,
And he stirred it up well.
Then he spread it over a span of a lifetime,
And he served it to each and every deserving person he met.
When teenage pupils, and anyone else for that matter, affirm the Ten Commandments and all that ‘turn the other cheek’ stuff is old fashioned and for sissies and definitely not for them they would do well to fill the void with Muhammad Ali’s ten aspirations, to love, be patient, generous, kind, happy, concerned, willing, trusting, persevering and of service to the deserving. Muhammad Ali did not just say this, he did it all his life. Only the shallow and the bigoted thought he was a big head.
Pupils in their late teens could do a lot worse than study in detail why Muhammad Ali turned to Islam, rejecting Christianity, the religion of his slave masters, and more importantly why he, at great risk to himself and his reputation turned away from the more aggressive stance of his fellow ‘Nation of Islam’ converts, despite initially shunning Malcolm X for his defection, which he regretted all his life, and turned to Sufism, a profoundly gentle, meditative and philosophical manifestation of Islam. Something pointedly ignored by the populist media as it was too far outside their realm of experience and would have needed explaining to their, readers, viewers, listeners, an explanation they would not be capable of delivering. Inwardly they would be willing Muhammad Ali to fall, to stumble to give them the scoop and banner headline craved by the voyeurs their own art created, fueled by the comfort and solace given to the incapable by the sins of others.

What did Henry Cooper do with the adulation and heady notoriety being possibly U.K’s best ever boxer afforded him? I like to imagine he made a list that said, ‘What is important to me; honour family, friends, neighbours, the community I live in, be modest and humble, serve others, defend the vulnerable, be scrupulously honest, make my country proud of me for all the right reasons. He pointedly aligned himself with ‘anti-fascism’ to illustrate his belief that people of any background had the right to peaceful coexistence.
If you are a lovely bloke you want everyone to enjoy the loveliness that unasked for comes your way. When I hear all the hoo-ha that accompanies beatifying a saint I think I can offer you two with no need for devil’s advocate or three miracles but you will have to stomach one of them being a black Sufi and, worse than that, one of them being a cockney. The ultimate religious lesson in this vital module is that if you want to be loved you have to be loveable. It has been said that the most important things in life are not things. If you find that hard to believe study Muhammad Ali and Henry Cooper and that will be a sound platform on which to realign yourself along the road to detachment, contentment and generosity of spirit.

The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything – And it’s not 42

In Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ the travellers encounter ‘Deep Thought’, the greatest and most powerful computer in all time. The computer, however, considers itself to be the second most powerful after the one that succeeds it. Nevertheless, encountering it is seen as an opportunity to answer the ultimate question, ‘Life, the Universe and Everything!’ The philosophers, fearing redundancy, are outraged and threaten a strike but Deep Thought reassures them it will take seven and half million years to come up with the answer so they have many years to enjoy their lifestyle and privileges.

Due to time travel Deep Thought is encountered seven and a half million years later and is excitedly asked for the answer, which turned out to be forty two – devastating news for the travellers. The computer explained that it is only possible to know what the answer is when we know what the question is. The original question was too vague. However, in compensation Deep Thought assures them that the next computer, to be created by Deep Thought itself, will have an answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’. It will be of such infinite and subtle complexity that organic life itself shall form part of its operational matrix. That computer will be called ‘Earth’.

Deep Thought was correct that the Earth, after many millions of years, would come up with the answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’ and the answer is ‘Radiant Acquiescence’.

Radiance

When my Sunday school teacher reassured me that Jesus wanted me for a sunbeam I had not realised at the time the profundity of what she was saying. A sunbeam is the most significant phenomenon there is. Pure energy without which I would not exist to be able to write this. There would be no earth and people on it. Therefore, what she was saying was that Jesus wanted me to be an energetic source of enlightenment, to give metaphorical warmth, to bestow life through encouragement of others and be of service to them. Sunbeams are brilliant in every sense of the word and if nothing else, Jesus wanted me to be brilliant, in fact – to radiate.

There is a Baha’i prayer that has the line, ‘make this youth radiant’. Radiance is not always associated with the period of youth. When Adrian Mole reached thirteen and three quarters he determined to paint his bedroom walls black in keeping with his pending teenage sombreness and cynical gloom. A time when the inadequacies of adults, particularly in failing to make the planet a happy paradise, are the focus of disgust and despair. Unfortunately for Adrian his current wallpaper was festooned with Noddy and his cohorts and no matter how many coats of black were applied, Noddy was still visible.

The reality is that most youth across the world do radiate and their radiance, because of the vibrancy of this energetic period of life, is infectious, especially among peers and the following generation of youth. The trick is not to just radiate when young, that’s easy. Success is to continue throughout life with all its ups and downs. When Baha’u’llah briefly summarised all religion in the Hidden Words His ‘first’ council was to have a ‘pure, kindly and radiant heart’.

There is a very mistaken but popular philosophy abounding concerning the importance of ‘taking in’, the opposite of ‘giving out’. For this reason, currently, one percent of the world’s population own fifty percent of its wealth and when that’s stretched to ten percent they own around eighty eight per cent. Ironically the fastest growing group in this category is in China. Thus, if communism, as in sharing wealth, is considered a philosophy then by the same token greed and unbridled acquisition must also be a philosophical decision. Similarly, such countries have established a lead in the world for teaching by rote learning and head international league tables for educational mechanical tasks such as computing numbers, punctuating grammar and remembering facts. Some politicians in countries low in such league tables are panicking and legislating rote learning for their own charges. However, several countries at the bottom of ‘rote’ learning league tables are much higher on international problem solving tests. The U.K., for example, is eighth in the world. Pupils regurgitating the facts are repeating what they have taken in. Pupils solving problems are giving out from their personal learning and insights and most probably working cooperatively in teams.

If Deep Thought struggled for an answer it might have said – I know what is absolutely not the answer – ‘take in’. Baha’u’llah has said that each person is a mine rich in gems of inestimable value and only education can cause it to reveal its treasures. Thus, the teacher radiates knowledge, skills, enthusiasm and attitudes to the children not for the children just to ‘take in’ but for them to be enabled to radiate themselves for the good of the world and themselves. Deep Thought might then interject that while not knowing the answer, ‘giving’ seems to be key.

Acquiescence

To explain the meaning of acquiescence it is possibly easier to start with what it is not. It is clearly not agreement or submission despite what dictionaries might say. Dictionaries sometimes focus on it being ‘tacit’ agreement meaning unexpressed. Acquiescence has a term and condition. It can only take place in full knowledge. Thus, before acquiescence can even be considered, knowledge must be pursued and, possibly more importantly, available. Acquiescence is not a state, it is an understanding. Agreement is a state and may subsume unhappiness and disquiet. Submission could now be a synonym for unhappiness and thus a state of accepting unhappily an imposed position. Submission may have had a part to play in the past as a glue for feudalistic societies, but it has no place in either democratic politics or an understanding of democratic religion. Baha’u’llah refers to submission in the Hidden Words when He says; ‘Wert thou to speed through the immensity of space and traverse the expanse of heaven, yet thou wouldst find no rest save in submission to Our command and humbleness before Our Face‘. This submission refers to man’s relationship to God and not man’s relationship to each other in the fabric of society. Now the call is not to believe and obey, it is to know and observe. Acquiescence, therefore, being based on knowledge and understanding, is a declaration, albeit sometimes silent, that an action or state is accepted as the most appropriate and beneficial to all in the current circumstance.

Acquiescence can only manifest itself as a result of knowledge, consultation and equality. To be acquiescent it is necessary to have a voice, to listen and to feel completely at one with everyone involved in the process and feel a place in the decision making process. I believe Deep Thought did not give much of the seven and half million years to the ultimate question. Quite soon after it was asked it realised that the question was too vague and asked itself another question – what is seven times six? Had it persevered it might have begun to consider notions of ‘giving’, ‘consulting’ and ‘equality’ as essential building blocks of the answer to life, the universe and everything.

It is not for me to judge whether I successfully achieved anything in my life. However, I am conscious of fulfilling two actions endorsed in Baha’u’llah’s Writings. I earned a livelihood by my calling and I spent on myself and my kindred. The most effective way for me to spend on my wider kindred, the family of man, was through taxation. Thus, I can put my hand on my heart and say I was happy to pay tax. I am aware that the governments I paid tax to were not perfect and some money went on arms and other expenditure not winning my approval but on a worldwide scale and through history they were generally acceptable and there was nothing else available to me. Thus, I acquiesced to paying tax and felt buoyed by the hospitals, schools, smooth roads and news of foreign aid donations I had contributed to. Most importantly, subsumed in my acquiescence, was that if the government began to squander much of my wealth on, in my mind, unworthy causes I could express my concern at the ballot box. If at the next election my choice did not prevail I would be acquiescent as long as the policies had been discussed freely and fairly and as a consequence the people had made their choice. The peace that abounds in truly democratic societies is a result of the acquiescence of the population, secure in the accessibility of fairness and justice.

Radiant Acquiescence

When acquiescence is radiant it takes on a new dimension. For the reasons cited above acquiescence is good for the world. In the same way that submission was glue for feudalistic societies and religious institutions acquiescence is glue for democratic societies and religious institutions. The alternative to submission is rebellion and ultimately violence. Acquiescence doesn’t have an alternative because it doesn’t need one as it is not absolute. Submission is absolute in that once established by force or surrender there is no room for manoeuvre. Acquiescence, on the other hand, due to being based on knowledge is fluid because knowledge is constantly changing and expanding. Thus, those experiencing acquiescence are always reviewing their situation in the light of new understanding. If everyone is doing this there cannot be opponents, just fellow travellers comparing notes and learning from each other.

I first came across the idea of radiant acquiescence in reading about and discussing the Baha’i ‘tithe’ known as the ‘Right of God’, an idea in religion that the faithful make a donation in thanks to God for all the bounties and blessings of life, that money being for the benefit of others. When Baha’u’llah established this His explanation of it in various ‘tablets’ is very revealing and exceedingly uplifting. In one message He makes the point that it should be observed with, ‘the utmost radiance, gladness and willing acquiescence.’

In a small collection of quotes about ‘Huquq’ullah – The Right of God – Baha’u’llah mentions joy and radiance eleven times. As well as acquiescence, Baha’u’llah also mentions gladness, good-pleasure and contentment, surely vital ingredients of acquiescence. Reference to humility and lowliness might be expected but Baha’u’llah’s forbidding of solicitation for payment rests on upholding the dignity of His cause. In one statement He says, ‘Ye may relinquish the whole world, but must not forgo even one jot of the dignity of the Cause of God.’ Dignity is emphasised five times in these short passages. He recommends that a reminder is only given once which will suffice. Basically Baha’u’llah is saying say something clearly once and if the listener chooses not to heed what you are saying, that is their problem, not yours. Interestingly, three times Baha’u’llah mentions acting spontaneously, but the spontaneity He encourages is anchored in assuredness, steadfastness and insight. It is made clear the donation is not acceptable unless it is given with joy, radiance and acquiescence. In essence God does not want it unless you fully understand why, and giving it brings you joy. Giving reluctantly would evidence that the ‘sweetness of the commandments enjoined by God’ had not been appreciated or felt and the ‘benefits’ arising from joy and eagerness not discovered.

Every adult has an acquired default mode. On waking each morning your general character, kind, vindictive, generous, selfish, energetic, apathetic is core to your day and any spontaneous act will radiate out from that. People cannot decide to pretend to be like someone else and be spontaneous in that mode. The very act of reflecting means an action might be quick but could not be considered spontaneous. A Hungarian journalist caused outrage by purposely tripping up a fleeing migrant child and an adult in a distressing panic. It appeared spontaneous. Maybe spontaneity is more a window on the soul than the eyes? Baha’u’llah lauds spontaneity in giving, which, although unplanned, can only stem from a giving person. Giving comes in a sandwich. On one side wanting to give, the middle the act of giving and on the other side feeling joy in giving. To be able to radiate that acquiescence, especially spontaneously, both by your social setting encouraging it and your persona desiring it – could that be the answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’?

The Reason for Science and the Science of Reason

At the heart of science is questioning and at the heart of any religion once it has lost sight of its roots and original purpose is not questioning. If religion and science had never opposed each other would they be known today by different names? Perhaps a word, currently above ‘syllables and sounds’ would be the description of our being, subsuming our essential reliance on both religion and science for successful survival and progress.

History decreed that priests and scientists at different times would find each other challenging and, thus, a popular dichotomy emerged, an antagonism and mutual mistrust still not resolved today. Nevill Mott, a Nobel Prize winning physicist talked of a ‘pre-scientific’ age but was there one? Archaeologists are constantly discovering more and more ancient signs of intelligent behaviour and if man has always been a distinct species with intelligence and free will then the application of those two must go right back to the earliest of times. Recorded scripture is only known to have existed for around five thousand years and man coped admirably without it for hundreds of thousands of years – learned about flora and fauna and survival in their environment, how to make tools and cook food and how to organise themselves. If most of that behaviour resulted from the accumulation of observations, comparing ideas and experiences and experimentation then perhaps science came before religion and not the other way round.

Carl Sagan has noted that ‘science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality’. That brings us full circle to the idea that religion and science might not have had different labels if disagreement had not accrued. For pre-scriptural man religion and science were, indeed, united in purpose. Thus, it might be said mankind could not have experienced a ‘pre-scientific’ age or a ‘pre-spiritual’ age. Thus, comparisons were and are based, not on our understanding of religion, but on our understanding of scriptural religion as explained by its priests, which may only be a small part of the whole picture.

The problem with comparing religion and science is the fundamental different evolution each experiences. Religions, like so much in life, are subject to birth growth, maturity and disintegration, to be replaced by new birth. Thus, in simplistic terms, when Islam was reaching its maturity with libraries and universities, its scholars went in search of science, exploring the legacy of Greece. When their baton was taken up in Europe, its major church, now declining and entrenched, had become opposed to learning and saw scientific discoveries as a form of blasphemy. The overarching notion was that if God had not revealed it in the scriptures we did not need to know. Scientists became those who dared claim ‘Ignoramus’, meaning ‘we do not know’, and sought, by observation and experimentation, to find out. From the point of declaring ‘ignoramus’ science evolves not in a cyclical fashion, peaking and then declining, but in a linear fashion, each piece of science built on previous science. This diverse development model of each is a major cause of friction between them.

Science generally comes from several motivations including intelligent musing, insatiable
curiosity and urgent necessity. The resultant new knowledge from musing and curiosity may stay in a vacuum or may later serve a practical purpose or be a building block leading to a practical outcome. Scientific knowledge resulting from necessity is, on the other hand originated in its practical application.

The mind is generally focussed most easily on any science that changes the lives of those contemplating it and the greater the number of lives effected by scientific progress the more the focus is on the source of that science. The one event that fundamentally changed more people’s lives across all classes than any other was the industrial revolution which could be considered technical rather than scientific. However, technology is science and the only possible reason it is separated in our minds is snobbery. Universities and their scientists, like the church, distanced themselves from any activity seen as profit motivated. Prior to the industrial revolution all scientist were drawn from the wealthy elite who had access to education. Science, then, did not have a profit motive subsumed within it. It was, in the main, the result of musings and curiosity and very risky in the light of church opposition. Ironically, both Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin had their sights set on a career in the church.

Labels have limited value as evidenced by separately labelling science and religion, which at the outset were integral to life. Technology was then labelled as if it was something separate from science and then it was at first propounded that technology’s development had no spiritual connotations. I am not mindful that any of the ‘manifestations’ of God in their pronouncements ever made a distinction between science and religion. Baha’u’llah has said; ‘Tear ye asunder the veils of names and cleave ye their kingdom.’ (Gleanings CXXI) Yuval Noah Harari in his book ‘Sapiens’ talks of ‘modern science’ stemming from ‘ignoramus’ meaning ‘we don’t know’ but also included ‘what we know could be wrong’ and ‘no knowledge is sacred’.

According to Abdul’-Baha, no religion is ‘sacred’ either. It, too, has responsibilities and as he pointed out, ‘Divine religion is not a cause for discord and disagreement. If religion becomes the source of antagonism and strife, the absence of religion is to be preferred. Religion is meant to be the quickening life of the body politic; if it be the cause of death to humanity, its non-existence would be a blessing and benefit to man’. (‘Foundations for World Unity’). In Paris in 1911 he had stressed, ‘There is no contradiction between true religion and science. When a religion is opposed to science it becomes mere superstition: that which is contrary to knowledge is ignorance.’(Paris Talks)

The Baha’i religion focuses on unity in all realms, religious, political, intellectual and social. The reality of these cannot have lines between them other than imaginary ones drawn up by people with the power and authority to invent such boundaries for self-seeking purposes. Equally a person cannot have lines created between their spiritual, physical and intellectual life. Every aspect of a person’s existence is a united whole. Any label cannot have firm edges in the same way that the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean are one body of water and the border between them only exists in the mind. It is possible to devote much time arguing about where the boundary lies exactly but it is pointless because there is no boundary. Science and religion are one and the same thing unless they are badly executed. Thus, science can say on occasion to religion, ‘you are getting it wrong’ and religion can sometimes say the same to science. Abdu’l-Baha has assured us that, ‘from the clash of opinion comes the spark of truth’.(Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha 44)

Abdu’l-Baha used two words, true and divine, to distinguish sensible religion from dysfunctional religion. The current disagreements between established religions’elaborate priesthood and scientists derives from Yuval Noah Harari’s implication that religions claimed we know all we need to know and we get our knowledge from God while scientist objected to this closed mind – leading to the likes of Richard Dawkins going to great lengths to prove all religion is myth.

The type of ‘religious’ dogma that disturbs scientists includes banning teaching evolution across much of the United States, Jehovah Witnesses refusing blood transfusions and birth control issues and its relationship to over-population in poor areas and the spread of HIV/Aids. (It may also include a Saudi Arabian priest justifying women not driving cars because it would damage their ovaries – which is only true if they insist on driving Hillman Imps)

When a serious ethical issue arises from scientific work it is not just the religious world that calls for debate. Atheists, humanists and agnostics of all persuasion also enter the consultation due to a shared sense of what is right and acceptable in our current society. Some of those consulting from an established and traditional religious position can be hamstrung by cherished and ancient dogmas.

In explaining ‘divine’ Abdu’l-Baha has said, ‘the divine teachings are intended to create a bond of unity in the human world and establish the foundations of love and fellowship among mankind.’ Many see the dichotomy between science and religion pivoting on scientific empiricism. In other words, proving what it propounds. Religious teachings, on the other hand, can be seen by scientists as advice in an unproven vacuum. The call now is to ‘know’ rather than ‘believe’. Imagine a room full of representatives of different religions. In their minds there are barriers between them. If suddenly, as one, they decided to just focus on their religion’s Golden Rule they would discover it’s the same – do unto others as you would have them do unto you – the imagined barriers would melt away. A scientist in their midst contemplating that science’s golden rule is discover and invent for others what you would want to have discovered and invented for you would realise, too, they are all now bound together and united by one motive, to serve others. Everything else in life is interesting but, ultimately, does not matter.

Two recent events brought home the ‘empiricism’ of religious ideas. If an event changes a person’s life that experience can now be labelled ‘knowledge’. Volkswagen Car Company, one of the world’s largest, discovered that honesty is, indeed, the best policy. Commentators are running out of noughts to estimate the financial loss the company will eventually face through dishonesty but the loss of trust and goodwill can never be calculated. A wake up call to everyone pushing the boundaries of honesty. A second event hitting the news concerned a hedge fund manager acquiring a pharmaceutical company and raising the price of Daraprim, a drug used for the last sixty two years against parasitic infections, from $13.50 to $750. He obviously had his own justification but, by and large, the rest of the world disagreed with that.

Unless people are professionally involved in science or religion, it is likely that knowledge of its differences will come through the media, originally newspapers and then radio and television. If the media is predominantly commercial, as is increasingly the case around the world, this news will be filtered to us through the media’s bias stance and so we may not have an accurate understanding of what is important. An example is ‘climate change’. However, media commentators point out that the audience for any ‘news’ media is now dwarfed by participants in social media and people gaining information from the internet. Thus, while only a few people could have had their letters printed in newspapers or got through to the switchboard at radio stations to rail against Martin Shkreli’s transparent greed, millions took to social media to condemn this action.

Social Media has enabled billions to participate in opinion giving and, ultimately, shape it. Those billions, in one way or another have had their lives shaped by the principles of religion but are free to voice their personal ‘sensible’ morality without the shackles of ancient religious affiliation. For this reason increasing numbers of people describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’. Is this development and the importance of empiricism in morality leading to a science of reason?