A Vast, All-Embracing Assembly:
The Council of Wisdom and the Vision of the Baha'i Faith
by Eric Stetson
The Baha'i Faith is a religion founded in the 1800s by an Iranian Shi'ite Muslim known as Baha'u'llah, who taught that all the religions of the world are part of God's plan and all the peoples of the world should come together in peace and reconciliation. Like other types of universalists, Baha'is emphasize the need for the whole of humanity to unite and transcend divisions of nation, race, tribe, creed, and anything else that has tended to separate people into competing groups based on personal characteristics, geography or ideology.
As a former Baha'i who still agrees with the core message of that faith -- the need for a vision of global unity respecting the great diversity of human life and belief -- I often find myself thinking that the Baha'i Faith has not lived up to its potential. I left the religion for various reasons, but in retrospect the most important reason was that I felt it had become too sectarian, too enamored of its own leadership institutions, and too focused on membership recruitment plans rather than engaging the world in dialogue and service on issues that affect everyone.
Baha'u'llah said that "The Great Being, wishing to reveal the prerequisites of the peace and tranquility of the world and the advancement of its peoples, hath written: The time must come when the imperative necessity for the holding of a vast, an all-embracing assemblage of men will be universally recognized." Perhaps the main reason the Baha'i Faith has not lived up to its potential is that, in its desire to make more Baha'is, it has neglected the bigger and broader teachings such as this -- teachings which could be spread and implemented regardless of how many people are adherents of any particular religion.
I believe if Baha'u'llah were alive today, he would encourage Baha'is to move beyond the focus on internal affairs and constant attempts to convert people, and instead devote their time, money, and energy to advancing a greater vision of a unified humanity that transcends religious labels. I have a lot of respect for Baha'is and agree with many of the principles they believe in, but I think they are squandering their true calling. To be a true Baha'i, in my opinion, is to devote oneself to serving the cause of the oneness of human spirituality and the oneness of civilization. Simply promoting the Baha'i religion is not getting the job done. For various reasons, most people are not converting to the Baha'i Faith -- and perhaps never will. That shouldn't stop Baha'is from living and sharing the deeper meaning of their faith.
Baha'is, and the ever-growing number of people who have left the Baha'i Faith (not so much because of rejecting its general principles but because of disagreements with its leadership, interpretation, or specific doctrines and practices), may be able to work together to promote common values and goals we believe in. There are many non-sectarian, non-political organizations we can support and join to promote principles that reflect the original vision of the Baha'i religion and all other universalist, progressive visions and philosophies: principles such as the elimination of extremes of poverty and wealth; universal education; peace and cooperation among nations; interfaith dialogue, fellowship, understanding and respect; the equality of women and men; elimination of prejudices and reconciliation among races and ethnic groups; and the harmony of science and spirituality.
But there is also something else we can do, something more holistic and transcendent: We can join and support The Council of Wisdom.
Founded in March 2009, the Council of Wisdom aims to become a "vast, all-embracing assemblage" such as Baha'u'llah prophesied would come into being -- an assembly of people from all nations, all races, all religions, cultures and backgrounds -- sharing their ideas, discussing and deciding upon the best ways to promote the "peace and tranquility of the world and the advancement of its peoples."
When I first got the idea to attempt to start such an institution, I immediately recognized that this concept is something that, at least in theory, would resonate with many Baha'is and former Baha'is. There are numerous people -- either members of the Baha'i Faith or ex-members -- who are disillusioned with the direction the Baha'i Faith has taken. They yearn for something more broad-minded, democratic, and service-oriented; not a sectarian religious organization with an increasingly entrenched leadership, top-down mentality, and focus on making converts. The Council of Wisdom is designed to fill a void that the Baha'i Faith organization itself is, for whatever reasons, unable or unwilling to fill.
The creation of such an institution has only become possible today with the advent of widespread internet access and sophisticated online forum and social networking software. Consider what Wikipedia has done for reference; what Google News, Digg, and YouTube have done for media; and what Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter have done for networking. These revolutionary websites break down barriers, democratize, and increase the speed, efficiency and power of information-sharing among people all over the world, as never before possible in human history. The Council of Wisdom will do similar things for spiritual and intellectual dialogue and global democratic consensus-building and decision-making.
Imagine a united nations for the non-profit sector, where anyone can join and participate if they share certain basic values and principles that are conducive toward creating a universal human civilization. That's the vision of the Council of Wisdom.
Baha'is should be highly motivated to support, join, and participate in such an institution, if they truly wish to take constructive action to help create the kind of world their faith envisions. So should anyone who has ever been attracted to the universal vision of the Baha'i Faith -- even if you were repelled by some of the specific details of how the Baha'i religion is currently understood and practiced. Friends, getting involved in the Council of Wisdom would be a natural complement to your religious commitment -- whether as a Baha'i, as an adherent of any liberal and forward-looking faith, or even as a non-religious person committed to humanitarian values. We can all work together in the Council of Wisdom to make the age-old dream of one world, one people under one Heaven a reality on earth in our time.
Please visit www.councilofwisdom.org for more information about the Council of Wisdom.
Eric Stetson is the founding Executive Director of the Council of Wisdom.
Bahai-Faith.com -- Beyond the Baha'i Faith: An Ex-Baha'i Perspective
Bahai-Faith.com founded November 2002. This page last updated March 21, 2009.