Does the Valley of Unity negate the distinction between 'Bahá'í' and 'non-Bahá'í'?
Especially from pondering the 'Valley of Unity' in The Seven Valleys, I remain convinced that spiritually there is no distinction between the 'name or title' Bahá'í and that of 'non-Bahá'ís.' The only distinction has to do with the fact that Bahá'ís are 'chosen' by God to carry the torch of His eternal Covenant in this day and age.
I was particularly impressed by the above referred to Valley of Unity. When I take my 'non-Bahá'í' wife to Bahá'í functions, she is at times asked if she is a "seeker." The implication is that we Bahá'ís have arrived and "seekers" (i.e. all non-Bahá'ís) are still searching. (PS - My wife smiles and laughs silently at such queries.)
In The Valley of Unity, Bahá'u'lláh reveals that the wayfarer "pierceth the veils of plurality." Further, He states that the wayfarer, "seeth in himself neither name nor fame nor rank." Wouldn't this include the name "Bahá'í?" Could this be yet another test for us Bahá'ís?
And could not we think of other 'religions' when we continue reading of this Valley, " 'all songs are from the King,' and every melody from Him." And further, "He looketh on all things with the eye of oneness, and seeth the brilliant rays of the divine sun shining from the dawning-point of Essence alike on all created things, and the lights of singleness reflected over all creation."
Surely, arrival at this Valley of Unity is not the sole result of our search, but by the will of God. Bahá'u'lláh goes on to quote Muhammad, "The Friend hath said, 'But for Thee, we had not known Thee...'"
Saint Paul in Christian Scripture revealed a similar thought:
"Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden." (Romans 9:18 NIV)
And 'Abdu'l-Bahá apparently concurred:
"...the differences which exist between men in regard to spiritual progress and heavenly perfections are also due to the choice of the Compassionate One. For faith, which is life eternal, is the sign of bounty, and not the result of justice." (`Abdu'l-Bahá: Some Answered Questions, page 130)
I believe that if 'we' have arrived to the exclusion of 'non-Bahá'ís' - the God who we worship as Bahá'ís is a failure. Couldn't He have done better than this?
However, if it was a 'Universal Spirit' that was referred to in this Valley, debarred not by names (eg. "Bahá'í"), then God is successful as always. In the Christian Bible, Saint Paul wrote of the gospel "... which was preached to every creature which is under heaven ..." (Colossians 1:23) Since obviously not every creature under heaven had heard the gospel that Paul was referring to, literally that is, doesn't it make more sense that by 'gospel' was meant the 'spiritual' message of Christ? Doesn't the spiritual message of Bahá'u'lláh as well - go beyond the confines of the flesh and blood of the individual Bahá'í - likewise piercing the "veils of plurality"?
When we are chosen 'by God' to become Bahá'í, I believe we are chosen to carry the torch of God's covenant. The covenant is now in the reigns of the Bahá'í Dispensation. The Universal House of Justice that sits atop Mount Carmel attests to God's Covenant, as does the Will & Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá' and the life and work of Shoghi Effendi. But to elaborate on them here is not the intent of this writing.
In short, we all have a duty and responsibility to advance the process of entry by troops to help further the Cause of God's Covenant as found exclusively today in the Bahá'í Faith. But spiritually, we are all one. I don't believe that we have arrived while 'non-Bahá'ís' have 'not' arrived. 'Abdu'l-Bahá explained the distinction between the many that are 'called' and the few who are 'chosen' as well as the distinction between 'objective' and 'subjective' faith:
"Know that faith is of two kinds. The first is objective faith that is expressed by the outer man, obedience of the limbs and senses. The other faith is subjective, and unconscious obedience to the will of God.... This condition of unconscious obedience constitutes subjective faith. But the discerning faith that consists of true knowledge of God and the comprehension of divine words, of such faith there is very little in any age. That is why His Holiness Christ said to His followers, 'Many are called but few are chosen.' " (`Abdu'l-Bahá: Bahá'í World Faith, page 364)
I believe we as Bahá'ís are the 'few' who are chosen. But we are not closer to 'God' merely because we are privileged to be chosen for a task (i.e. promote the Covenant of God). The distinction of 'closeness to God' goes beyond title, rank, and ... 'religious conviction':
"The tie of servitude established between the worshiper and the adored One, between the creature and the Creator, should in itself be regarded as a token of His gracious favor unto men, and not as an indication of any merit they may possess. To this testifieth every true and discerning believer." (Bahá'u'lláh: Gleanings, pages 193-194)
In summary, I believe Bahá'ís are spiritually graced by Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation just as the person who has never heard of Bahá'u'lláh. The distinction is up to God's Will and not any title we possess as Bahá'ís. The Divine Sun shines on all of God's creation equally.
But we 'are' chosen with a task to promote God's eternal Covenant that is now in the 'sole possession' of the Bahá'í Faith. The 'Spirit' is universal - the 'Covenant' is eternal but it has a home - an 'arc' if you will. Today, that arc sits atop Mount Carmel - the "Arc of the Covenant."
And to 'find' at least one of the many destinations of our search, we best gaze East toward Mount Carmel!