Faith Stories: Where Reason And Religion Can Coexist
* This is another in a series of first-person accounts of readers' religious or spiritual journeys. Stories have been edited for space and clarity.
Changing one's faith is not easy. It involves a profound rupture with the beliefs one grew up with and trusted to answer those anguishing questions about the origins of oneself, the universe and the creator.
My own confrontation with the beliefs of my parents, and their parents, began around age 28. I had become deeply conscious over the previous 20 years that Christianity, despite its basis in 2,000 years of "religious truth," was not answering my questions satisfactorily, and I no longer felt secure and committed to its defense.
I started my inquiry like many other believers. I asked those impertinent questions about those dogmas in the Roman Catholic Church, in which I was raised, that systematically seemed to contradict reasonable analysis. Rather than being the essence of what Christ said, these teachings are elaborate interpretations of theologians who find answers that are "correct" because they agree with the traditional say-so of other theologians.
The most single aberration of the historical development of Christian dogma is its fight with scientific reason. How many times has the church had to rectify its myopia concerning scientific findings that were viewed through dogmatic lenses? One of the most famous: Galileo and his obligation to renounce publicly his scientific affirmation that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and not vice versa.
In the Baha'i faith, which I joined 10 months ago, I have found a belief system that affirms there should be no conflict between science and religion. One supports the other; the other gives the one its full meaning.
Man's reasoning is God's gift. Finding the scientific truths about the universe, the origin of the cosmos, the inner depth of the atoms or a cell's DNA structure attests to the grandeur of this gift. It is not cause for an inner conflict between man's religious beliefs and his capacity to find the essence of the reality he is always questioning.
I also had to struggle with Christianity's teaching that its Revealed Truth is the only one possible.
The Baha'i faith affirms that all divine revelations from God, coming to us through its recognized prophets -- Krishna, Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Muhammad and Baha'u'llah -- are not only true but historical. That is, the Revealed Truth is progressive and adapted to each stage of humanity's evolution. Each new prophet adds a new aspect to the previous body of beliefs, and these become the new guiding truths of humanity's next phase of evolution.
Baha'u'llah, the prophet of the Baha'i faith, a century ago openly affirmed this process was the essence of being a manifestation of God: the initiation of a new cycle. No religion, however inspired, can exhaust all revelations of God's innermost reality. Nor can it say it has received the revelation which will be good for all of mankind for all ages to come.
The present cycle started with Baha'u'llah's Revelation: the oneness of the human race.
As a Christian, I could not accept that there has to be a "cadre of specialists" (theologians and priests) to interpret for me that which God has revealed, as if I were incapable of making a sound rational statement. As a Baha'i, I am taught that I can understand the revelation of Baha'u'llah by just reading and meditating on the prophet's sacred books.
In the Baha'i faith, a new cycle has been born with "new tidings" for this age, and I want to be part of it. It has given me the chance to find the answers to my deepest questions without having to renounce the best that Christ taught.
Reynaldo Pareja, 54, is a health communications specialist with the Academy for Educational Development. He and his wife, Patricia, both natives of Colombia, live in Vienna with their two teenage boys.