My Friend, the Zoroastrian

This post is a part of the Humanist Community at Harvard’s 2012 Blogathon, a 12 hour blogging marathon by Chris Stedman and Chelsea Link to support HCH’s end-of-the-year fundraiser. Chelsea and Chris are both publishing one new post per hour, for twelve hours straight, and none of the posts have been written or drafted in advance. For more blogathon posts, click here. If you enjoyed this post or any of the others, please consider consider chipping in to support our work.

As I mentioned in a post earlier today, one of the wonderful things about being a Humanist Chaplain at Harvard is that I have the great pleasure of working alongside the nearly 40 other Chaplains at Harvard. We meet as a group at least once a month (and in smaller subcommittees more regularly) to plan joint programs and discuss interfaith topics, and I’ve already learned a lot through our work and our conversations.

One of the Chaplains I work with most frequently is a man by the name of Daryush Mehta. He and I serve on the interfaith programs committee together, and we have planned many interfaith community service projects together. He’s always on board to help out with any program I’m working on, such as HCH’s recent interfaith meal-packing event to package 40,000 meals for food insecure children in Massachusetts. (Though he had to be out of town on the day of the event, he worked on planning and promoting it, and he mobilized an amazing multigenerational delegation from the Massachusetts Zoroastrian community.) Whenever I’m tempted to think myself too busy, I just consider the many things Daryush does. Not only is he a Chaplain at Harvard, but he also works with students at MIT — oh, and he is a full-time student and researcher, an Assistant Biomedical Engineer, an Instructor in Surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and he also happens to have one of the most impressive CVs I’ve ever seen.

But you wouldn’t necessarily know about his many accomplishments upon first meeting Daryush, because he is also one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. When I ask how and why he does so much to help others, he often cites his Zoroastrian faith.

Zoroastrianism isn’t a religion you hear about that often — in fact, some people I know actually thought it was a religion that is no longer practiced. It is one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions, and for a time it was one of the most practiced religions in the world. Today it is one of the smallest religions, with the number of adherents estimated to be less than 200,000 people. But, as I mentioned in another post earlier today, religious literacy is very important — we can learn a lot about our world by learning about the various ways people have tried to make sense of it.

Want to learn more about Zoroastrianism? The BBC’s site on Zoroastrianism is a good place to begin. As they say, a concise way to sum up the belief system is as follows: “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.” But if you really want to learn about Zoroastrianism, I’d actually recommend you sit down and talk with my friend Daryush — as busy as he is, he’s always willing to make time for others. As much as you can learn by reading about the religion, I’ve learned a great deal by watching my friend embody its highest principles.

Oh, and as Chelsea pointed out in a beautiful piece she just wrote and posted: talking with people who hold different beliefs can help you reflect more on your own. Perhaps the greatest gift Daryush has given me is that he inspires me to consider my own Humanist principles more often, and motivates me to aspire to live more ethically. The way he speaks about his Zoroastrian beliefs — and acts on them every day — has made me a better Humanist.

Chris Stedman is the Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and the Values in Action Coordinator for the Humanist Community at Harvard. He is the author of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious, and the founder of the blog NonProphet Status.

4 comments on “My Friend, the Zoroastrian

  1. Pingback: My Friend, the Zoroastrian | NonProphet Status

  2. Thank you for acknowledging a co-religionist, Daryush Mehta for his good work in interfaith activities. I too believe in interfaith work and have been active with the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council of which I am the current president.

    As you said, we are indeed officially one of the smallest communities in the world today representing one of the oldest monotheistic faiths which was the majority religion of the people and rulers of three great Persian empires – Achaemenian, Parthian, and Sassanian, before the Arab, Turk, and Mongol invaders forcibly converted the people to Islam. Today, however, many educated Iranians migrating to western countries are learning about their Iranian faith and going back to it. Even in Iran, there is significant number who practice the old faith in secret in order to avoid discrimination. Many more Iranians would choose to convert back, were it not for the death penalty on Muslims who convert to other faiths.

    His Holiness Prophet Zarathushtra (known as Zoroaster by Greek philosophers like Plato who studied his teachings) lived over 4,500 years ago according to some scholars, and even as early as 6000 B.C. according to Roman and Greek historians (and confirmed by archaeologist and Berkeley and Columbia university graduate scholar Mary Settegast in her research published in her book “When Zarathushtra Spoke”).

    The late American philosopher and religious scholar, Joseph Campbell, who menitoned in one of his public TV series on Eastern Religions, that it was Prophet Zarathushtra who originated the concept of rational thinking and not the Greeks as is generally assumed. Zarathushtra taught his followers to seek the Truth and live a righteous life, protecting and respecting all of God, Ahuramazda’s creations. He told them that happiness in this world and hereafter would be the consequence of a good life and the opposite for an evil life. He also foretold the resurrection of the world in a perfect state at the end of time, and mankind’s duty to work as a partner of God in bringing about perfection.

  3. We are indeed very fortunate to have Daryush and many others, Maneck Bhujwala as one more example, who hold the Zoroastrian faith to their hearts and endeavour to be better human beings, for Zoroastrianism is a religion of action.
    Best summed up is what Zarathustra reveals in the Ashem Vohu prayer:

    Righteousness (is) good
    Best it is
    Illumination it is,
    Illumination to him
    who is righteous for the sake of best righteousness.
    (and not for any reward)

  4. May I humbly ask the BBC to check out such a statement as “He is known as Zarathusti in Persian and Zaratosht in Gujarati.” and the caption under a photograph stating it is in Persepolis, when in fact it may still be seen at Kermanshah?

    As an introduction to Zoroastrianism, this attempt suffices very well indeed.

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