THE BAHA’I FAITH IN PNG
Office of External Affairs | Edited extracts
Edited extracts from a submission to the Constitutional Law Reform Commission in response to the public inquiry into declaring Papua New Guinea a Christian country. Link here to read the full submission
PORT MORESBY - From the outset, the Baha’i Faith upholds and affirms our oneness as a people and we acknowledge that a vital component of our collective identity is our diversity.
Indeed, our country is a paradigm of diverse peoples, myriads of cultures and languages accompanied by respective beliefs, intricately woven together to form a complete whole.
We are intimately interconnected; we are one people.
To appreciate our oneness, our unity in diversity, requires us to also understand the vision of the framework with which our nation was formally established: a framework that has elevated us above dichotomies of ethnicity, beliefs and cultures.
A framework based on respect, equality and tolerance has allowed us, as a collective people, to come together and coexist peacefully. This framework is reflected in the conviction held by our founding fathers about the importance of our diversity:
Foreigners often say, ‘but there are so many differences. What are the Papua New Guinean ways?’
We recognise the legitimacy of this question. However, it betrays a lack of appreciation of what a Papua New Guinean person is. Our ways emphasise egalitarianism and commitment to the community.
Papua New Guineans recognise the individual as a member of the community. We place great stress on our obligations to our extended families. We share our wealth. We view life in an undivided total picture.
These ways of thinking and acting should be encouraged even in the face of the great emphasis of Western thinking on artificial differentiation between things spiritual or sacred and things physical or profane.
It is important to recall that the framework of our Constitution is inextricably woven with a high sense of inclusivity, not exclusivity, in order that it may safeguard our unity in diversity.
For our incredibly diverse peoples, there is no doubt that for a large majority, faith is indeed an integral part of life.
The Bahá’í Teachings assert:
“Religion is the greatest of all means for the establishment of order in the world and for the peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein.”
Further, the Bahá’í Writings also set an uncompromising standard:
“Religion must be conducive to love and unity. If it proves to be the source of hatred and enmity, its absence is preferable; for the will and law of God is love, and love is the bond between human hearts.
“Religion is the light of the world. If it is made the cause of darkness through human misunderstanding and ignorance, it would be better to do without it.”
Indeed, the test of religion is its fruits. In its truest form, religion provides the moral foundations to harmonise relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions across diverse and complex social settings.
Those universal spiritual principles which lie at the heart of religion – tolerance, compassion, love, justice, humility, sacrifice, trustworthiness, dedication to the well-being of others, and unity – are the foundations of progressive civilisation.
At this juncture we must acknowledge that the perversion of religion has also been a primary cause of social disintegration, intolerance, hatred, sexism, poverty, oppression and warfare down through the ages.
Indeed, many seemingly intractable problems today can be traced to the corruption and misuse of religious authority.
It is obvious, that if religion is to help meet the challenges confronting our country, and the diverse communities that weave together to form the greater whole, it must be free of ignorance, prejudice and animosity.
Foregoing any tendency to promote a purely personal or limited-group salvation, religion must emphasise that the individual’s spiritual fulfillment and well-being are interconnected with the collective progress of our country and the global community.
Through service and an active commitment to justice and unity, the role of religion in nation building can bring an enormous, positive force to bear on the issues of social development.
So, how may we reconcile and safeguard this profound role that religion has and will continue to play in our constantly-evolving society with contradicting maladies that are rendered unscrupulously under the banner of religion?
Our community members are sincerely concerned about the disposition and ramifications of the Constitutional directive reference based on the NEC decision No 234 of 2020:
‘The preamble of the constitution must make God become prominent to reflect the thinking of the people as to the kind of country that we want to have and to also ensure that those who want to be part of our society must acknowledge God and adopt our Christian values.’
As a religious community that fundamentally believes in God, we recognise the intention to acknowledge God as the divine source of all creation.
Indeed, our community believes in the Oneness of God and therefore it is our perspective that we believe in the same God and values as our brothers and sisters in the Christian community.
However we also highlight the inherent exclusivity of the above extract and the kind of interpretations it, and other public communications, can and have engendered at the grassroots level.
Furthermore, we are cognisant of members of our collective society who may not even subscribe to any particular faith or beliefs that are explicitly Christian.
As such we believe that the public communication ostracises those members of our society who do not subscribe to any particular faith or belief; and those who subscribe to other religious faith or beliefs.
Consequently, these sorts of statements contradict the National Goals & Directive Principle on Equality and Participation, which states that we declare our second goal to be for all citizens to have an equal opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, the development of our country.
The right to freedom of conscience, belief and religion is a fundamental universal human right and should at all times be honoured, to uphold the dignity of all human beings.
This was a reality seemingly understood by our founding forefathers and as such, critical to how our Constitution was constructed.
Consequently, our collective social prosperity, whether we realise this consciously or not, is underpinned by the blanket of human rights and minority protections afforded to each of us as enshrined in our Constitution.
In our short history so far as an independent nation, we can observe how our modern communities are advancing in complexity as evidenced by the organic broadening of our own definitions of individual and collective identity.
The increasing sophistication of our modern PNG culture is propelled by such forces as the integration of tribal heritage via inter-clan unions and marriages, the steadily increasing accessibility to travel and cross-cultural exposure, the advancement and influence of technology and communications, as well as the evolving quality of education and training.
In our view, it is these immutable contemporary forces that will kindle the widespread realisation that we must consider our well-known diversity with more than mere tokenism and tolerance of its vast implications.
Instead, we must actively endeavour to deliberately harness our diversity as an essential feature of a united collective identity worthy of protection and celebration.
Indeed the Bahá’í Community believes that this learning process will be integral to reaching the long-desired vision of a prosperous, peaceful society exemplifying Unity in Diversity.