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Thinking out silent.

May. 27th, 2009

01:33 am - Short argument against "Religion Defined Marriage"

Some conservatives have argued that the initiative to legalize gay marriage in the U.S. is really an attempt to redefine a fundamentally religious institution — since religion invented marriage, it is the purview and privilege of religion to restrict its meaning.

Of course, I know that when I want to know more about algebra, I call up my Muslim friends to tell me about it, since algebra was defined and emerged in an Islamic context. And, when I want to know how to run the government, I call up my Greek uncle since the Greeks invented democracy. It makes perfect sense to submit to the inventors of a word for all further redefinitions to that word, but there is one problem...

No religion invented marriage. Marriage long predates any Western religion and it represents ever-abiding love, a deeply anthropological relation.

Neither Moses nor Jesus nor Muhammad invented the word. Marriage didn't arise out of any of their religions. They didn't invent the institution, they didn't invent the concept, they didn't invent its modern or ancient usage, they didn't invent its legal rights — religions didn't invent nay-thaan (i.e., nothin').

In fact, the Bible can't even keep straight what they mean by "marriage".

As for its origin, "marriage" arises in 1297 from Old French "mariage," which itself was derived from vulgar Latin "maritaticum," which was derived from the Latin "maritatus" the perfect passive participle of "maritatre", which derives from the Sanskrit "marya-" meaning "young man, suitor". So according to the logic of this argument, East Indians should be able to tell us whom we can and cannot marry (the direct descendants of Sanskrit speakers).

Makes sense to me!

Mar. 30th, 2009

01:47 pm - The Bahá'í Faith worth keeping

I have long been compiling different quotations from the Bahá'í scripture on various topics and the following quotations are my favourite. Except for the obligatory references to deity (which we may take as deus absconditus), I find these quotations largely endorse critical thinking and a rejection of deference to authority. Thus, these are the parts of the Bahá'í Faith I deem worth keeping:

If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science, they are mere superstitions and imaginations; for the antithesis of knowledge is ignorance, and the child of ignorance is superstition. Unquestionably there must be agreement between true religion and science. If a question be found contrary to reason, faith and belief in it are impossible, and there is no outcome but wavering and vacillation.

Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 181

Man is not intended to see through the eyes of another, hear through another's ears nor comprehend with another's brain.

Abdu'l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 75

The greatest cause of bereavement and disheartening in the world of humanity is ignorance based upon blind imitation.

Abdu'l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 73

"The beginnings of all great religions were pure; but priests, taking possession of the minds of the people, filled them with dogmas and superstitions, so that religion became gradually corrupt. I come to teach no new religion. My only desire is, through the blessing of God, to show the road to the Great Light." Touching the gentleman gently on his shoulder, as a loving father might touch a son, he went on to say, "I am no Prophet, only a man like yourself."

Abdu'l-Baha, Abdu'l-Baha in London, p. 125

In short, it behoves us all to be lovers of truth. Let us seek her in every season and in every country, being careful never to attach ourselves to personalities. Let us see the light wherever it shines, and may we be enabled to recognize the light of truth no matter where it may arise. Let us inhale the perfume of the rose from the midst of thorns which surround it; let us drink the running water from every pure spring.

Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 133

Shall man gifted with the power of reason unthinkingly follow and adhere to dogma, creeds and hereditary beliefs which will not bear the analysis of reason in this century of effulgent reality? Unquestionably this will not satisfy men of science.

'Abdu'l-Bahá

Our Father will not hold us responsible for the rejection of dogmas which we are unable either to believe or comprehend, for He is ever infinitely just to His children.

Paris Talks, p. 26

It is my hope that [...] those who are seeking after truth will hearken therein to reasoned arguments and conclusive proofs.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 269

In this age the peoples of the world need the arguments of reason.

'Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 7

If thou wishest the divine knowledge and recognition, purify thy heart from all beside God, be wholly attracted to the ideal, beloved One; search for and choose Him and apply thyself to rational and authoritative arguments. For arguments are a guide to the path and by this the heart will be turned unto the Sun of Truth.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, Baha'i World Faith - 'Abdu'l-Bahá Section, p. 383

Every subject presented to a thoughtful audience must be supported by rational proofs and logical arguments

'Abdu'l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 85

It must be our task to prove to the thoughtful by reasonable arguments the prophethood of Moses, of Christ and of the other Divine Manifestations. And the proofs and evidences which we give are not based on traditional but on rational arguments.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 11

First of all, let us determine whether these Prophets were valid or not by using rational proofs and shining arguments, not simply by quoting traditionary [sic] evidences, because traditions are divergent and the source of dissension.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 345

Should you acquaint yourself with the indignities heaped upon the Prophets of God, and apprehend the true causes of the objections voiced by their oppressors, you will surely appreciate the significance of their position. Moreover, the more closely you observe the denials of those who have opposed the Manifestations of the divine attributes, the firmer will be your faith in the Cause of God.

Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 6

Let Me set forth some rational arguments for thee. If someone desireth to embrace the Faith of Islam today, would the testimony of God prove conclusive for him? If thou dost contend that it would not, then how is it that God will chastise him after death, and that, while he lives, the verdict of 'non-believer' is passed upon him? If thou affirmest that the testimony is conclusive, how wouldst thou prove this?

The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 119

If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion.

Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 129

Furthermore, know ye that God has created in man the power of reason whereby man is enabled to investigate reality.

Abdu'l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 73

God has given man the eye of investigation by which he may see and recognize truth. He has endowed man with ears that he may hear the message of reality and conferred upon him the gift of reason by which he may discover things for himself. This is his endowment and equipment for the investigation of reality. Man is not intended to see through the eyes of another, hear through another's ears nor comprehend with another's brain. Each human creature has individual endowment, power and responsibility in the creative plan of God. Therefore depend upon your own reason and judgment and adhere to the outcome of your own investigation; otherwise you will be utterly submerged in the sea of ignorance and deprived of all the bounties of God.

Abdu'l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 75

Shall man gifted with the power of reason unthinkingly follow and adhere to dogma, creeds and hereditary beliefs which will not bear the analysis of reason in this century of effulgent reality? Unquestionably this will not satisfy men of science.

Abdu'l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 83

Consider what it is that singles man out from among created beings, and makes of him a creature apart. Is it not his reasoning power, his intelligence? Shall he not make use of these in his study of religion? I say unto you: weigh carefully in the balance of reason and science everything that is presented to you as religion. If it passes this test, then accept it, for it is truth! If, however, it does not so conform, then reject it, for it is ignorance!

Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 144

God made religion and science to be the measure, as it were, of our understanding. Take heed that you neglect not such a wonderful power. Weigh all things in this balance.

'Abdu'l-Bahá: Paris Talks, Pages: 145

To him who has the power of comprehension religion is like an open book, but how can it be possible for a man devoid of reason and intellectuality to understand the Divine Realities of God?

Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 145

in this age the peoples of the world need the arguments of reason.

Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 7

By intellectual processes and logical deductions of reason this superpower in man can penetrate the mysteries of the future and anticipate its happenings.

Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 49

Through the power of intelligence he becomes simple; through the great power of reason and understanding and not through the power of weakness he becomes sincere.

Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 52

Religion must stand the analysis of reason.

Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 175

All blessings are divine in origin but none can be compared with this power of intellectual investigation and research which is an eternal gift producing fruits of unending delight. Man is ever partaking of these fruits. All other blessings are temporary; this is an everlasting possession. Even sovereignty has its limitations and overthrow; this is a kingship and dominion which none may usurp or destroy. Briefly; it is an eternal blessing and divine bestowal, the supreme gift of God to man. Therefore you should put forward your most earnest efforts toward the acquisition of sciences and arts. The greater your attainment, the higher your standard in the divine purpose. The man of science is perceiving and endowed with vision whereas he who is ignorant and neglectful of this development is blind. The investigating mind is attentive, alive; the mind callous and indifferent is deaf and dead. A scientific man is a true index and representative of humanity, for through processes of inductive reasoning and research he is informed of all that appertains to humanity, its status, conditions and happenings. He studies the human body politic, understands social problems and weaves the web and texture of civilization. In fact, science may be likened to a mirror wherein the infinite forms and images of existing things are revealed and reflected. It is the very foundation of all individual and national development. Without this basis of investigation, development is impossible. Therefore seek with diligent endeavor the knowledge and attainment of all that lies within the power of this wonderful bestowal.

Abdu'l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 60

Feb. 24th, 2009

02:10 pm - Bahá'í Analogies of Authority

The Bahá'í Faith expects that people use their fallible faculties to recognize an infallible authority, thereby obviating the need for further questioning of that authority. But why rely on an authority if you already have the ability to discern the validity of what the authority is telling you? The Bahá'í responds: Once you find the master, you submit yourself to his instructions whether you understand them or not. How much more so when you've recognized the perfect master!

Along this line of reasoning, I have realized there are four analogies that Bahá'ís employ to attempt to justify their viewpoint of authority.

I'd like to add my own to the list, because I think it's a good case study:
What do people think of these? If we take our relationships to these authorities as analogies, can we justify unconditional submission to a religious authority? If so, why? If not, how do we deal with the above examples? Are we not justified in reasoning that the authority in question "knows better" and that we should therefore submit to their wisdom?

I have my own thoughts, but I'd like to get some others.

May. 29th, 2008

03:17 pm - Persian Pride

I am perplexed when I hear my fellow Persians tell me that the accomplishments of other Iranians make them feel proud to be Persian. Why should people feel proud of their race or nationality for the achievement of others who share their race or nation? On reflection, I think it's weird.

After all, my beard gives me no reason to be proud of the accomplishments of other bearded men. So why should my blood give me occasion for joy or discomfort for the accomplishments others with similar blood?

A wise man once stated,

It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world.
I agree with that sentiment. I think there is truth in it -- not because it was said by a wise man, but because it makes sense.

In fact, I am not proud to be an Iranian. Neither am I especially proud to be a man, straight, Canadian, or any other accidental quality about me. They are all merely facts to me, of no positive or negative value.

Mar. 3rd, 2008

02:30 am - The Bahá'í Faith on Homosexuality

The Bahá'í Faith is a beautiful religion in many ways. For example, it advocates the harmony of humanity irrespective of race, gender, or country. It also teaches that religions should reconcile their differences and seek agreement.

In fact, there is much to praise about the Faith. It so engenders the beautiful and open-minded philosophy of the Enlightenment that I could easily go on at length about all its good aspects... But my point here is to raise Bahá'í's awareness of their laws, and create some accountability.

In one way that demands my attention, the Bahá'í Faith is... less beautiful. For me, the Bahá'í Faith's moral assesment of homosexuality is the main reason why I came to distrust the Faith as an infallible moral authority over my life. The reason why these teachings are so ugly is that they perpetuate the marginalization and misunderstanding of gay people within the Bahá'í community and in society at large. Besides the fact that Bahá'ís (in blocking same-sex marriage legislation) are a force preventing the full equality of all people, untold numbers of Bahá'ís must also ashamedly hide their sexual orientation from their community — the people they love most — because of these laws.

In fact, Bahá'ís are not just insulating the homophobia of other people from criticism... Bahá'ís are actually perpetrating this homophobia themselves. As the Guardian reported in a story published a few months ago, a group of Bahá'í leaders in Uganda actually supported the government ministers' demand to arrest lesbian and gay human rights activists. The story was also reported independently in the Washington Post, in the Voice of America, in the BBC and in LifeSiteNews.com. No, this is not a merely theoretical debate: This is real life. And these teachings are having real effects on real people right now.

What's amazing, though, is that many people (Bahá'ís included) are not even aware of what the Bahá'í Faith says about homosexuality. It is for this reason that I thought it would be helpful to exhibit these writings all in one place and call your attention to them. I hope that sunlight truly is the best disinfectant, and that uncovering these ideas to public scrutiny will cause some people to reconsider them.

Before getting to the scripture, however, I'd like to make two points. The first is that none of these quotations are 'taken out of context' or twisted in any way. I have cited the references of all these quotations so that people can look them up for themselves to verify whether the context indeed adds anything. If anyone objects that I have taken any quotation out of context, I will gladly clarify any such quotation if only I am provided with the supposed context that is missing. My goal is not to misrepresent the Bahá'í Faith in any way, but simply to expose its teachings as they really are for everyone to see.

The second point is to notice that these are claims about objective moral truths by the Bahá'í Faith. In that sense then, they apply to everyone, not just Bahá'ís. This is confirmed by Bahá'u'lláh when he writes, for example:

Whenever My laws appear like the sun in the heaven of Mine utterance, they must be faithfully obeyed by all, though My decree be such as to cause the heaven of every religion to be cleft asunder. He doth what He pleaseth. He chooseth; and none may question His choice.
So let us bear this in mind when presented with contrary claims by the Universal House of Justice that try to justify the Bahá'í Faith's condemnation of homosexuality:
This law is no reason for Bahá'ís to consider homosexuals as outcasts. If they are not Bahá'ís there is also no reason to expect them to obey the Bahá'í law in this respect any more than we would expect a non-Bahá'í to abstain from drinking alcohol.

The Universal House of Justice, 16 March 1992

In light of the above quotation from Bahá'u'lláh (and many others like it), we can see that the Universal House of Justice has written nonsense. These are not subjective principles that only apply to Bahá'ís. They are supposed to be the very "ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world," and obedience to these laws is said by the Universal House of Justice to be "of vital importance if each human being, and mankind in general, is to develop properly and harmoniously." That is the very definition of an objective moral claim.

So with those two points made, let's see what the Bahá'í Faith actually says about homosexuality.
Bahá'u'lláh has spoken very strongly against this shameful sexual aberration, as He has against adultery and immoral conduct in general. We must try and help the soul to overcome them.

Shoghi Effendi, 25 October 1949

No matter how devoted and fine the love may be between people of the same sex, to let it find expression in sexual acts is wrong. To say that it is ideal is no excuse. Immorality of every sort is really forbidden by Bahá’u’lláh, and homosexual relationships He looks upon as such, besides being against nature. To be afflicted this way is a great burden to a conscientious soul. But through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap.

Shoghi Effendi, 26 March 1950

There is a wide range of sexual abnormalities. Some people nowadays maintain that homosexuality is not an abnormality and that homosexuals should be encouraged to establish sexual relations with one or more partners of the same sex [sic]. The Faith, on the contrary, makes it abundantly clear that homosexuality is an abnormality, is a great problem for the individual so afflicted, and that he or she should strive to overcome it. The social implications of such an attitude are very important. The primary purpose of sexual relations is, clearly, to perpetuate the species...

The Universal House of Justice, 16 March 1992

Compare the above statement, in which the Universal House of Justice says that homosexual relations are immoral because they violate the purpose of sex, with the following, in which they condone sex between heterosexual couples who cannot have children:
A couple who are physically incapable of having children may, of course, marry, since the procreation of children is not the only purpose of marriage. However, it would be contrary to the spirit of the Teachings for a couple to decide voluntarily never to have any children.

Universal House of Justice, 3 November 1982

So the issue is clearly one of unfair bias against homosexual relationships, since heterosexual sex that has no chance of reproducing life is not condemned by the Bahá'í writings.

Let's continue...
Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, is spiritually condemned. This does not mean that people so afflicted must not be helped and advised and sympathized with. It does mean that we do not believe that it is a permissible way of life; which, also, is all too often the accepted attitude nowadays.

Shoghi Effendi, 21 May 1954

Homosexuality is highly condemned and often a great trial and cause of suffering to a person, as a Bahá’í. Any individual so afflicted must, through prayer, and any other means, seek to overcome this handicap.

Shoghi Effendi, 6 October 1956

...the Faith does not recognize homosexuality as a “natural” or permanent phenomenon. Rather, it sees this as an aberration subject to treatment, however intractable exclusive homosexuality may now seem to be. To the question of alteration of homosexual bents, much study must be given, and doubtless in the future clear principles of prevention and treatment will emerge. As for those now afflicted, a homosexual does not decide to be a problem human, but he does, as you rightly state, have decision in choosing his way of life, i.e. abstaining from homosexual acts.

The Universal House of Justice, 22 March 1987

The condition of being sexually attracted to some object other than a mature member of the opposite sex, a condition of which homosexuality is but one manifestation, is regarded by the Faith as a distortion of true human nature, as a problem to be overcome, no matter what specific physical or psychological condition may be the immediate cause. Any Bahá’í who suffers from such a disability [as homosexuality] should be treated with understanding, and should be helped to control and overcome it. (Emphasis mine.)

The Universal House of Justice, 11 Sept 1995

Regarding the question ...about one of the believers who seems to be flagrantly homosexual — although to an extent we must be forbearing ...of people’s moral conduct ...this does not mean that we can put up indefinitely with conduct which is disgracing the Cause. ...such acts are condemned by Bahá’u’lláh, ...he must mend his ways... If after a period of probation you do not see an improvement, he should have his voting rights taken away.

Shoghi Effendi, 20 June 1953

A brief interjection here. In the Bahá'í Faith, to have one's "voting rights" taken away is a humiliating and shameful punishment that alienates the one so-prosecuted from the rest of the Bahá'í community. It is, in a word, the Bahá'í equivalent of excommunication. The Universal House of Justice has even equated it with being expelled from the community:
A Bahá’í who has lost his administrative rights is administratively expelled from the community and therefore is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Spiritual Assembly...

The Universal House of Justice, 6 April 1982

This is merely an aside for those who don't understand what the removal of voting rights entails within the Bahá'í community.

And lastly, for those Bahá'ís who think that the best approach is simply to hold one's tongue and pray for change, the Universal House of Justice writes:
Regarding the question of whether or not same-sex marriages would ever be permitted by the Universal House of Justice, the enclosed extracts indicate clearly that it would not. In addition, it is interesting to note that 'Abdu'l-Bahá says in a Tablet:
Know thou that the command of marriage is eternal. It will never be changed nor altered. This is divine creation and there is not the slightest possibility that change or alteration affect this divine creation (marriage).

The Universal House of Justice, 05 Jun 1993

So the question becomes, if you don't like these teachings, what are you going to do about it? Are you going to be silent and hope that no one takes them seriously? Are you going to try to reinterpret them to fit your own moral perspective? Or are you going to take a firm stance against the unfair discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation? You are foremost accountable to your own conscience...

Feb. 26th, 2008

03:28 am - Philoving Sophia

So sayeth Bacon:
A little philosophy inclineth man's mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men's minds about to religion.

And verily, though the man was profound, history proved profounder. For philosophy demands of us justification, but our fathers did unjustly build God on fear. Fear of moral chaos in this world and "what dreams may come" hereafter.

Ah, but the philosopher knows better. No need to fear the dark; but go bravely therein! Thy neighbour's love endures not for God, but always has been.

Feb. 20th, 2008

09:15 pm - Freethinking in the Bahá'í Faith

Regarding the topic of picking and choosing, from last entry I had a couple more thoughts.

On his blog, Eric also mentions a fourth reason why picking-and-choosing is (supposedly) justified:

Shoghi Effendi emphasized, in his published work (The Promised Day is Come) that the Baha’i Faith accepts, at least to some degree, the idea of relative truth. So, part of not picking and choosing is accepting the official Baha’i statements that compel us to do some picking and choosing. The Baha’i religion assumes a well-educated body of believers who prize critical thinking (rational faculties), and who accept as a core belief the idea that some aspects of religious teachings are appropriate according to contextual considerations (culture, time in history, readiness of people to listen or understand, etc.) That’s my answer for my co-religionists who tell me “we can’t pick and choose.”

It would seem that the implicit argument that Eric is making is that since truth is relative, and Bahá’ís are expected to be intelligent people; therefore, individual Bahá’ís are responsible for deciding what scriptures are relevant for the age in which they live.Read more...Collapse )It is not meant for man to question his lord, and to that extent, it does seem that investigation of truth within the Bahá’í Faith is (at best) limited. (I actually think the situation is more sinister than that, but that analysis will have to wait.)


In sum, we see the relativity of truth in the Bahá’í Faith does not allow room for free thinking about what laws are imperative and what descriptions about humanity and the world are truths. If you want to be a free thinker, be a freethinker. But don’t call yourself a Bahá’í if you expect people to understand that you are a freethinker. The two are mutually exclusive, as testified by the scriptures themselves.

Feb. 18th, 2008

10:32 pm - Vanquishing Dissonance and Bahá'í Cherry Pickers

Do you ever wonder why some people call themselves adherents to a particular religion, but pick-and-choose what laws they follow? Do you ever think, Why don't they just make up and follow their own religion instead of giving lip service to the religion they selectively follow? Well, there might just be good reasons. But not if I have something to say about it...Collapse )

For these reasons, I think that a Bahá’í who wants to pick-and-choose should instead consider surrendering his membership and severing his affiliation with the religion. He will not only free himself of a lingering cognitive dissonance, but he will be happier for freeing his mind to think for himself and taking responsibility for his own imperatives. In this state, he can adopt for himself what he finds worthy of assent from the blissful writings of Bahá’u'lláh (or anyone else who he finds inspirational) while refraining from committing himself to doctrines of whose truth he cannot convince himself. And finally, he will be able to be true to the words of 'Abdu'l-Bahá:

In short, it behoves us all to be lovers of truth. Let us seek her in every season and in every country, being careful never to attach ourselves to personalities. Let us see the light wherever it shines, and may we be enabled to recognize the light of truth no matter where it may arise. Let us inhale the perfume of the rose from the midst of thorns which surround it; let us drink the running water from every pure spring.

Dec. 3rd, 2007

02:40 am - Why I Was A Bahá'í

The year was 2001 and being recently out of high school, I had decided two routes of adventure for myself: I could go on a year of service abroad and do volunteer work for the Bahá'í Faith (the religion of my parents and family), or... I could join the Marines. (Talk about dodging a bullet...) I had decided I wanted a challenge, and my physical training from years of wrestling in high school and college made me feel that I could easily handle the rigors of Marine training. And I was probably right... but my life felt empty. I had few ambitions and little excited me. (In retrospect, I realize that joining the Marines in 2001 would have meant I would have almost definitely been shipped to Iraq or Afghanistan, or both.) The lack of dimension in the military option, however, compelled me to chose instead to challenge my mind... and soul. By going to India, I could at once rediscover the religion of my family, truly study it in depth and decide whether it was something I wanted in my life; and I could simultaneously experience another part of the world that I imagined would present me with psychological challenges of its own. Not to mention that I always loved the apparent mystery and dynamic colours of Indian culture!

So it was in the straits of India, my time of service following a cool apathy, that I found the courage to fall in love with Bahá’u’lláh, my prophet. During this time of service, I witnessed firsthand the cruelty heaped on the poor among the Indian people by their fellow citizens. My indifference to the world literally melted away. By contrast, the humanism of the Bahá’í Faith enchanted me and its divine origin appeared to me evident as the sun: resplendent and glorious, emerging slowly as from behind dark clouds that now dissipated . To my mind, the Bahá’í Faith was forward thinking and modern. Through its principles of unity and love, I felt I had the answer to the world's woes. I was only nineteen with little real understanding of the conditions of the world, but I was convinced that people across the globe could only benefit from this faith -- a religion at once rational and poetical. A profound paradox that could only be true!

I felt the spark of certitude in my heart, and I dedicated the next four years of my life to intensively studying the Bahá’í Faith and serving its goals. When in China under the pretense of teaching English, my convictions seemed to be attracting others into the fold. Even back home, I was finding people receptive to my message -- God's message. No joy was greater to me than helping my peers see the Divine light. But to be honest, the inklings of my own faith would not have been so magnified if it were not for the friendships that I had with my Bahá'í friends. I felt that, together, we were striving to achieve spiritual fulfilment by the clear instructions of Bahá'u'lláh.

So while it's true that I "officially" enrolled in the Bahá'í community at the age of fifteen, the real choice to be a Bahá'í was something I made many years after. In light of this journey, my choice to leave the religion has been a very difficult one for me to make -- I have lost friends, some by estrangement and others by arguments; my family addresses me with suspicion; and one person even admitted they wanted to kill me when they learned I was no longer a Bahá'í. (Yes, really.) But no matter what, I always felt it most important to be honest with myself and the conclusions of my thoughts. Upholding the Socratic maxim to "know thyself" was always my most paramount aim. I never sought to insulate myself from a critical examination of my faith. And for that, I have been rewarded with incredible new friendships with incredible people, and I even found love where I would not have had I remained a (sincere) Bahá'í. I have also enjoyed wonderful new experiences that I was previously made to fear and despise when I was a Bahá'í. So I am overall very happy despite all the hardship my choice has brought me. By understanding what it meant to be a Bahá'í, I realized that I could not be one. It appeared to me that being a Bahá'í was actually preventing me from helping the world in the way that I had wanted to while in India. And that was a thought more difficult to bear than the pain I knew it would cause for me to leave the religion.

(To be continued...)

Oct. 29th, 2007

09:01 pm - UHJ to Bahá'ís: Respond to Attacks!

I recently found this interesting commentary by the Universal House of Justice which I thought was relevant to my last discussion about offended Bahá'ís.

Although Bahá'ís will often raise a clamour about their faith being "attacked," the point of this accusation is most often to dismiss and evade criticism against their religion on the grounds that the criticism is offensive. Few Bahá'ís ever respond to those "attacks" or seek to familiarize themselves with the arguments at hand.

That is why I found this commentary so interesting. In it, the Universal House of Justice notes that although friendly criticism is to be well-regarded by Bahá'ís, an "attack" on the religion (whatever that means) should always be responded to. In fact, they say that Bahá'u'lláh commands that Bahá'ís be equipped to respond to those who "attack" the faith. Check it (notice especially the italicized parts):

In searching for understanding, Bahá’ís naturally acquaint themselves with published materials from a variety of sources. A book written by a disinterested non-Bahá’í scholar about the Faith, even if it reflects certain assumptions and puts forward conclusions acceptable within a given discipline but which are at variance with Bahá’í belief, poses no particular problem for Bahá’ís, who would regard these perceptions as an honest attempt to explore a religious phenomenon as yet little understood generally. Any non-biased effort to make the Faith comprehensible to a thoughtful readership, however inadequate it might appear, would evoke genuine Bahá’í appreciation for the perspective offered and research skill invested in the project. The matter is wholly different, however, when someone intentionally attacks the Faith. An inescapable duty devolves upon the friends so to situate themselves in the knowledge of the Teachings as to be able to respond appropriately to such a challenge as it arises and thus uphold the integrity of the Faith.

The words of Bahá’u’lláh Himself shed light on the proper attitude to adopt. He warns the believers “not to view with too critical an eye the sayings and writings of men”. “Let them”, He instructs, “rather approach such sayings and writings in a spirit of open-mindedness and loving sympathy. Those men, however, who, in this Day, have been led to assail, in their inflammatory writings, the tenets of the Cause of God, are to be treated differently. It is incumbent upon all men, each according to his ability, to refute the arguments of those that have attacked the Faith of God.

(Emphasis added.)

So my question is, If they have an inescapable duty given by Bahá'u'lláh to do so, why don't more Bahá'ís feel obligated to respond to criticism of their religion?

Also, is the point of these responses nothing more than public-relations damage control? After all, if "truth seeking" is what's at stake, then why doesn't the Universal House of Justice advocate responding to the so-called "disinterested scholars" of the Bahá'í Faith when they contradict the Bahá'í Writings? Why only respond to "attacks" against the Faith?

And lastly, who gets to say what the intentions and motives of scholars are in criticizing the Faith? If Bahá'ís are supposed to be non-judgemental, then how is it that they can and should judge the intentions of people who criticize their religion? And why do the intentions behind the criticism matter? Isn't the important question whether the criticism is true and advocating the good that makes it worthy of consideration?

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