Tuesday, February 28, 2006

On Theocracy: A Misuse of the Word If Applied to the Baha'i Faith

The Baha'i Faith is quite unique as a world religion for the focus that it puts on governance. The Baha'i Adminstrative Order provides the basis for a system of global governance for Baha'is throughout the world. Some critics have tried "to draw parallels between the Baha'i Faith and the theocratic Muslim Republic of Iran," Ian Kluge notes in his masterful rebuttal to a blatant attack on the Faith in the guise of a scholarly article. "Such parallels have no substance." As the authoritative sources of the Faith indicate, theocracy as defined by present and past examples has nothing to do with Baha'i governance.

Cole errs yet again in presenting the Baha'i Faith as favoring a theocracy....There are several reasons why his presentation is in outright error. Most obviously, a theocracy requires a clergy which the Baha'i Faith lacks. Unlike any theocracy that ever existed, all authoritative and executive offices are held by election: LSA's, NSA's, delegates to the annual convention and the Universal House of Justice. Any decision made by appointees such as Auxiliary Board Members and Counselors may be appealed to the elected bodies, which, in the case of the Universal House, have the final word. This is so unlike any historical examples of theocracy that it is a gross misuse of the word to apply it to the Baha'i Faith.

Cole's claim is also in outright error because it cannot be reconciled with the fact that all Baha'is have a right to their personal understanding of the Writings regardless of what the official understandings might be. No historical theocracy has ever allowed such interpretive leeway. It is true that in the interests of presenting the Faith honestly, Baha'is must inform seekers about the official understandings and not their own, but two facts remain firm: all Baha'is have full freedom of conscience to understand the Writings as they choose and, all Baha'is have the right to express their understanding so long as they are polite and do not try to force their views on others or the organization as a whole. There are no historical examples of such freedoms in a theocracy.

Cole's claim is wrong because the Baha'i Faith is a voluntary organization. The individual's right to leave the organization is deeply entrenched in the Faith which rejects compulsion in religious matters. There is no historical example of a theocracy in which individuals may openly leave the ruling religion. Here too, it is clear that Xxxx's use of this word is factually incorrect and is simply being used as a propaganda scare tactic.

Ian Kluge, A Review of Juan Cole's "The Baha'i Faith in America as Panopticon, 1963-1997"

Monday, February 27, 2006

On Baha'i Symbols: The Nine-Pointed Star

The nine-pointed star. Here is the tatoo version as seen on Marco Oliviera's wonderful Povo de Baha. He, in turn, found it on The Blingdom of God, which has got to be one of the funniest oddball blogs out there. Turns out the Blingdom blogger, Jeff Trexler, is a professor of law at Southern Methodist University, who also publishes the blog uncivilsociety.com, and who also has an interesting Baha'i connection. He was a law clerk for the Honorable Dorothy W. Nelson of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who is also a long-time member of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States.

OK, I admit to having no tatoos, but if I did, a nine-pointed star it would be.

A simple nine-pointed star is generally used by Bahá'ís as a symbol of their Faith. The number nine has significance in the Bahá'í Revelation. Nine years after the announcement of the Báb in Shiraz, Bahá'u'lláh received the intimation of His mission in the dungeon in Teheran. Nine, as the highest single-digit number, symbolizes completeness. Since the Bahá'í Faith claims to be the fulfillment of the expectations of all prior religions, this symbol, as used for example in nine-sided Bahá'í temples, reflects that sense of fulfillment and completeness.

The Bahá'ís, a publication of the Bahá'í International Community.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

On Ayyam-i-Ha: For Baha'is, Days Outside of Time

Happy Ayyam-i-Ha, this four (or five) day time of parties and gift-giving for Baha'is from February 25 through March 1st. An album of children's songs by the same name, which featured the voice of the much-loved Hand of the Cause of God Bill Sears, I will forever associate with the period, as I played a tape of these songs for my children over and over until the tape finally broke when they were young. Here is an excerpt from an article about Ayyam-i-Ha:

Ayyám-i-Há can be thought of as days outside of time, days that symbolize eternity, infinity, and the mystery and unknowable Essence of God Himself. Contemplation during these days of the timeless mystery of the Essence of God provides us the "joy and exultation" with which to "sing His praise and magnify His Name."

Karla Jamir, "Days Outside of Time"

Encountering Baha'i: A Blogger's Story

Before Ruhi class this afternoon, before the hike in Point Defiance Park after lunch, and before the Ayyam-i-Ha party at Baha'i school this morning, I started my Sunday by checking out other blogs using a new blog search engine I'd never tried before. My discovery of the morning was a sensitive reflection on religious diversity. A word to Kelley, the blogger: it is not the Baha'i way to "pity" others for their beliefs, as Baha'is honor the idea that each person has the right to decide what is true for them.

Something has been bothering me lately about theology. I've been reading blogs and reading books, and reading the Bible. The nagging thing about most Christian theology is that most everyone seems to believe that their brand of theology is the only truly correct one, and everyone else who doesn't experience God in exactly the same manner is judged accordingly - either with disdain or pity. While it may be all right to debate our doctrinal differences amongst ourselves, it becomes a problem when the heat of the debate (or even our strong agreement with one another on theological/doctrinal issues) overshadows our testimony of Christ, individually or collectively.

For example, I went to playgroup in my new neighborhood a couple weeks ago, and one of the moms mentioned in passing that she "used to be Catholic." When I asked her what she meant by "used to be," she said that she was raised Catholic in Chile, but she wasn't a Catholic anymore. So, she proceeded to explain her journey to her newfound faith. Apparently, she's very open-minded and she researched everything that was available -- Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, etc. Her husband is agnostic, but it seems that she is certain there IS a God and that she should find some way to follow Him. Her problem with all of the world religions was that they were so exclusive. Attitudes that screamed, "We're right, you're wrong, this is the only way to God," and clergy who expect you to give money and change your life to fit a certain demographic were not appealing to her. So, she found a religion (Baha'i faith) with no clergy and a theology that incorporates ALL religions as "chapters of the same book." The way I see it, she just wanted a religion based on love and acceptance. And, Christianity didn't pass the test (ouch!). As I get to know her better, I hope to show her Christ's love and acceptance. Maybe someday I'll earn the right to tell her what Christ has done in my life, and what He's done for her too. But for now, she probably pities me, because she thinks I only have part of God's revelation to mankind (Jesus), and not the latest information (Baha'u'llah). It's the same way I look at people with dial-up internet connections.

Kelley, "Theological Encounters"

Saturday, February 25, 2006

On Home Visiting: An Element of Baha'i Community Life

On a recent post I described the signficance of study circles for Baha'is. Study circles constitute one of the core activities of Baha'i community life, the others being devotional meetings and children's classes. A focus of one of the books of the study circle series is on the practice of homevisiting. In the evolving culture of the Baha'i Faith, visiting people in their homes to discuss signficant spiritual issues is fast becoming common-place. One can gain a sense of the outward-looking nature of the Baha'i community that home-visiting exemplifies by scrolling through the postings of an absolutely delightful new blog from Vancouver, Canada, that describes a home-visiting experience as part of Baha'i community life. Here is an excerpt from a recent entry:

Our Book 1 study circle had the joy of visiting, this last Saturday, the home of one of the friends who joined the community of Bahá less than a year ago. Although the concept of home visits had been briefly explained to the participants, most of whom are not Bahá’ís yet, we took a few minutes before our departure to review some of the Writings we had been exploring in our study circle and to come up with a few questions we wished to delve into during our visit.

Once we arrived at their home, we were warmly welcomed and served tea and goodies. After the initial pleasantries, Tao gently encouraged us to share what we had come to do. Before long we were exploring, among others, such things as the difference between spirit, soul and mind and the purpose of tests and difficulties. All had an opportunity to share their insights and, if you could have been a fly on the wall, you would not have been able to tell who was a Bahá’í and who was not, who was teaching and who was being taught. This perhaps becomes more significant if you take into consideration that some of the participants have only known of the Faith for less than a month!

Well we were not finished yet! We rounded out our visit by having dinner at a nice Persian Restaurant and then headed off to our regular devotional gathering where we spent more time exploring the spiritual reality of man. By the end we were all tired but extremely happy!

Vancouver-UBC IPG, "Home Visit to a New Believer"

Thursday, February 23, 2006

On Baha'i Identity: A Sense of Purpose

Photo: The early years, Dr Farzam Arbab with students

On a day like today with the news of sectarian violence gripping the very land where Baha'u'llah lived for 10 years and made his public announcement, a Baha'i's thoughts turn to teaching. There is no other system with an ounce of promise save the Faith to provide the inspiration for what humanity must do to extricate itself from the current morass. For Baha'is, teaching the Faith of Baha'u'llah begins with striving to refine their inner lives.

[An]...aspect of our identity emerges from our roots in Bahá'í history. An intimate connection with an eventful past, with the heroes through whose sacrifice the Cause has advanced, and an acute awareness of the workings of the cycles of crisis and victory — these help shape your true identity. Unlike so many souls whose connection with history is severed and who seek heroes and role models in figures who are themselves victims of a disintegrating society, you have no doubt that you are participating in the greatest drama in the history of humankind: the creation of a new race of men.

A strong sense of Bahá'í identity in turn leads to a strong sense of purpose. It gives rise to a feeling of urgency with which we all need to attend to our own spiritual growth. We cannot be passive observers of our own lives, hapless victims of society, shaped by political and commercial propaganda. Our lives on this earthly plane are too short, and the bounties of a pure heart capable of reflecting divine attributes too many, for us to become distracted by the passing attractions of a world lost in idle fancies. Thus you bend your energies purposefully towards acquiring perfections and refining your inner life.

Notes for a talk given by Dr. Farzam Arbab as part of a two-day seminar on the Five Year Plan sponsored by the Youth Activities Committee at the Bahá'í World Centre 28 April 2001

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

On Shi'a Islam: The Roots of the Baha'i Faith

Conficts of all kinds rage both on our TV screens and on our computer screens. Reading blogs on Iran is positively scary, whether they are written by Iranians or Westerners. Baha'is shun political machinations, and there sure is plenty of that on these Iranian-subject blogs. Here is an excerpt from one blog entry that attempts to provide an historical perspective on the Islam of Iran:

Most all Iranians, as you have heard, are "Shias." Shias form one of the two main branches of Islam (Sunnis form the other - most Arabs are Sunnis), originating as "Shiat Ali" or followers of Mohammed's son-in-law Ali, married to Mohammed's daughter, Fatima (Mohammed had no sons).

Shias believed the Caliph, or Islamic Pope, should be a descendant of Mohammed, i.e., of Ali and Fatima. But the Caliphate was seized when the army of Ali's son, Hussein, was slaughtered at the Battle of Karbala (now a sacred city in Iraq) in 680 AD by rival Sunnis.

The line of Imams, or Shia Calpihs, continued until the mysterious disappearance of Al-Askari, the 12th Imam, at age four in 873. Shias refused to believe he died, and he became revered as the Hidden Imam who would some day return to save the world as an Islamic Messiah.This is why most Shias are "Twelvers" waiting for the return of the 12th Imam, for they deeply believe only he can establish true Islamic law on earth. Like apocalyptic Christians, they believe that disastrous "signs" - chaos, death, and destruction on a horrifically massive scale - will portend the coming of their messiah.

All Shias believe this, that there will be a Second Coming of their Savior.

And so Westerners reading this may be learning for the first time of the messianic traditions of Shi'ah Islam, a fascinating subject. Here is an excerpt from a Baha'i author that summarizes the Baha'i view:

Although Bahá'ís recognize the legitimacy of the 12 Imams of Shi'ah Islam, that recognition does not in any way constitute an acceptance or validation of some of the fantastic theories, traditions, superstitions, and downright inventions of the various sects and leaders of Shi'ah Islam. Shi'ah Islam, and in particular the Ithna-'Ashariyyih sect of Shi'ah Islam, was the historical setting out of which sprang -- first the Bábí -- and eventually the Bahá'í Faith; in the same way that Christianity sprang from Judaism. Both Christianity and the Bahá'í Faith have gone on to become independent world religions.

Duane Troxel, ISLAM AND THE BAHÁ'Í FAITH: A Brief Guide

On Being Spiritual: A Blogger's Story

Image: a Ghanaian Adinkra symbol

My wife was in the habit of exploring other people's blogs long before she started her own blog. I was a daily commenter on her blog for seven months before I couldn't stand it anymore--I had to start a blog of my own. Only then did I really begin to check out other blogs.

Google's Blog Search and Technorati provide great vehicles for tuning in to see who else in the blog world has an interest in "Baha'i." Sometimes you are reading of a blogger's first discovery of the Baha'i Faith. For a Baha'i that can be something of a thrill. Sometimes the reference is only in passing. In any case, it feels good to be able to drop onto someone's site and say, "Hey, I'm glad you mentioned Baha'i."

There will be occasions when you find your comment is the first one posted on a new blog, which can also give you a good feeling. The blogging experience depends upon the idea that there is an audience out there somewhere. And, I believe, there always is.

Here is an excerpt from a great new blog with an unusual title: Funtunfunefu-Denkyemfunefu. The blogger, Chris Richards of Saskatoon, Canada, explains in his first entry: "Funtunfunefu-Denkyemfunefu [means] Siamese Crocodiles, [a reference to the] Ghanaian Adinkra Symbol of Democracy and Unity. The Siamese crocodiles share one stomach, yet they fight over food. This popular symbol is a remind that infighting and tribalism is harmful to all who engage in it." Chris is apparently not a Baha'i. Here is an excerpt from his post about attending a Baha'i marriage workshop.

The day went on with talks from the speakers and group discussions of Baha’i scripture. We would go through paragraphs from their writings and try to interpret what was being said. I really enjoyed this because the groups had a great diversity in age and background and each person contributed unique perspectives and stories from their lives. At one point an old woman was reading through the scripture and paused on the word 'spiritual.' She looked up, directly at me, and said with a puzzled tone, "Hmmm. You know, I’m really not sure what is meant by this sentence. What do you think it means here when it says 'to be spiritual'"?

Tough question to answer. What does it mean to be spiritual? The Dalai Lama says that “When I say spiritual I do not necessarily mean any kind of religious faith. When I use the word spiritual I mean basic human good qualities. These are human affection, a sense of involvement, discipline and human intelligence properly guided by good motivation."

I however am not the Dalai Lama and thus leaned back in my chair with a long deep exhale of breath and tried to come up with an answer. But before I could the middle-aged woman beside me jumped in and began, somehow very slowly yet at the same time excitedly, to try to explain to the old woman what it meant to be spiritual. The old woman just smiled, looked at her, and calmly said “I’m 85 years old. I know what being spiritual means to me. I asked because I wanted this young man to explain to me what he thought it meant. But now you’ve interrupted his thoughts.” With which she followed with a long cackling high pitched laugh and a deep long sigh. I really liked that old lady.

Chris Richards, "The Baha'i Marriage Worshop"

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

On Children: Bring Forth One Who Will Make Mention of God

Photo: An Azerbaijani Baha'i Community in 1927

Recently a provocative op-ed piece appeared in our local newspaper authored by a local university professor entitled "Religion plays very different roles in America, Europe." The entire article is definately worth reading, but one section in particular caught my attention. Upon reading it I thought of the above photo of Azerbaijani Baha'is with row upon row of children. Now I don't know how difficult life was for these Baha'is back in 1927--the active persecution of Baha'is in Azerbaijan by the Soviets did not begin until 1937--but if this lovely photo is any indication, they were not afraid of bringing children in the world. My wife and I were not afraid either, as our four adult children would indicate. Here are the two paragraphs from the article.

[T]he U.S. and Europe have not converged toward a single set of values but rather have temporarily crossed paths and are once again growing apart.

[A] lack of faith appears to correlate with demographics; people who don’t believe don’t believe in having children. Across Europe, declining birth rates mean an aging population and a shrinking work force. In contrast, in the U.S. birth rates remain high, even among non-immigrant populations.

And then I thought of this quote from Baha'u'llah on marriage and children:

In this Day, however, let them give up the life of seclusion and direct their steps towards the open world and busy themselves with that which will profit themselves and others. We have granted them leave to enter into wedlock that they may bring forth one who will make mention of God, the Lord of the seen and the unseen, the Lord of the Exalted Throne.

Baha'u'llah, Bisharat (Glad-tidings)

Monday, February 20, 2006

On Buddhist Prophecy: Baha'u'llah as the Fifth Buddha

My friend Polin is from Cambodia originally but came to our community here in the United States about three years ago. His devotion to the Faith is enormous. He is not a new Baha'i, having embraced the Faith while still a teenager back in 1993, but he was born a Buddhist. He taught the Baha'i Faith vigorously in Cambodia and later in the Phillipines. His home town, Batambang, is today a center of growth for the Faith in Cambodia, extolled for its efforts as one of the "A Clusters" in the Baha'i world presently. This photo was taken by my wife Bonita during a visit with Polin to a local Buddhist temple on a holiday celebrated by Cambodian Buddhists and was featured on Bonita's blog previously.

[Baha'is recognize Baha'u'llah as] the Judge, the Lawgiver and Redeemer of all mankind, as the Organizer of the entire planet, as the Unifier of the children of men, as the Inaugurator of the long-awaited millennium, as the Originator of a new 'Universal Cycle,' as the Establisher of the Most Great Peace, as the Fountain of the Most Great Justice, as the Proclaimer of the coming of age of the entire human race, as the Creator of a new World Order, and as the Inspirer and Founder of a world civilization.

To Israel He was neither more nor less than the incarnation of the 'Everlasting Father,' the 'Lord of Hosts' come down 'with ten thousands of saints'; to Christendom Christ returned 'in the glory of the Father,' to Shi'ah Islam the return of the Imam Husayn; to Sunni Islam the descent of the 'Spirit of God' (Jesus Christ); to the Zoroastrians the promised Shah-Bahram; to the Hindus the reincarnation of Krishna; to the Buddhists the fifth Buddha....

He alone is meant by the prophecy attributed to Gautama Buddha Himself, that 'a Buddha named Maitreye, the Buddha of universal fellowship' should, in the fullness of time, arise and reveal 'His boundless glory'....

Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, in "Buddhist Prophecies Fulfilled."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

On Holy War: Beware Lest Ye Shed the Blood of Anyone

The roots of the Baha'i Faith are in Islam. The Baha'i Faith had its beginnings in what is present-day Iran. It grew out of Islam just as Christianity grew out of Judaism. The Founder of the Baha'i Faith, Baha'u'llah, was born a Muslim just as Christ was born a Jew. The following teaching of Baha'u'llah has relevance to all of humanity and not just Muslims:

Beware lest ye shed the blood of anyone. Unsheathe the sword of your tongue from the scabbard of utterance, for therewith ye can conquer the citadels of men’s hearts. We have abolished the law to wage holy war against each other. God’s mercy, hath, verily, encompassed all created things, if ye do but understand. Aid ye your Lord, the God of Mercy, with the sword of understanding. Keener indeed is it, and more finely tempered, than the sword of utterance, were ye but to reflect upon the words of your Lord.

Baha'u'llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 23.

Friday, February 17, 2006

On Religious Persecution: The Baha'is in Iran

The blog that inspires me the most is Povo de Baha, "People of Baha," the effort of Marco Oliviera of Lisbon. If you search "Baha'i" much on the Internet you will find Marco's comments on numerous sites, an inspiration in itself, but it is his own blog's content that is the most inspiring. (Yes, Povo de Baha is in Portuguese, but even that is not a barrier with the help of Google's Language Tools.) I have Marco to thank for bringing the following website comments on the persecution of Baha's in Iran to my attention. The excerpt below is not written by a Baha'i. Photo: Baha'i father and son in chains in 19th Century Persia and the Shrine of the Bab in Haifa, Israel

Concerning the treatment of Bahai’s you go on a tirade a) denying them as a religion or faith, and b) justifying their treatment. I’m not going to engage in a discussion concerning the validity of the Bahai faith. Its enough for me to state that no one has the right to tell any group of people that they cannot embrace a faith or deny self-assertion of faith. No one. And any government, person, or even religion which demands active suppression of a group of people for what they peacefully believe in, is a false government, person, or religion. Second, even assuming that the Bahai faith is a political movement, nothing justifies their massacre and treatment. The argument you level, that their religion has its headquarters in Haifa, thus they are a group of traitors, makes no sense. It was the very same argument utilized by the government to massacre thousands of Bahais. How can you categorize an entire peoples as being traitors simply because their place of worship is in another country? There’s no logic in that now, nor was there any then, which is precisely what the massacre of Bahai’s will forever go down as one of the tragedies in Iranian history.

Nima Milaninia, "Iranian Truth"

Thursday, February 16, 2006

On Persia: Map from Nabil's The Dawnbreakers

The most downloaded document from Baha'i Library Online: 38682 views since 2003-09-06, the Map of Persia, in Nabil's The Dawnbreakers.

On Study Circles: Spiritual Education at the Grassroots Level

Our weekly Ruhi class, a Baha'i study circle, has been a part of the rhythm of our home for several years now. Participation in Ruhi classes have had a transformative effect on my wife and me, our children, our local Baha'i community, as well as our national and international Baha'i community. Ruhi has been a subject of my wife's blog on numerous occasions. At times I have thought of Ruhi classes as the Baha'is' little secret. Then I came across the entry on Wikipedia for Baha'i study circles and realized that Ruhi has arrived.

The term study circle has become common terminology in the Bahá'í Faith to describe a specific type of gathering for the study of the Bahá'í teachings.

Study circles are a form of distance learning designed to systematically bring education about spiritual concepts to the grassroots level. Because they are intended to be sustainable and reproducible on a large scale, study circles shy away from formally taught classes, opting instead for participatory methods. They are usually led by a tutor whose role is not to act as an expert but rather to facilitate the rhythm and pace of the study circle. In this way, attendees of study circles are expected to become active participants in their own learning process.

Another foundational principle of study circles is a heavy emphasis on the Bahá'í Writings as a means of finding unity of vision and action by focusing on the essentials of Bahá'í belief.

The most common curriculum used in study circles was originally developed at the
Ruhi Institute in Colombia but is now used in Bahá'í communities all over the world.

Wikipedia entry for "Baha'i Study Circles"

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

On Existentialism: The Entire Universe Is Called Into Being

Today in a blog comment on another site I quoted the following from a paper on existentialism by Ian Kluge, a prolific Canadian writer whose various papers I find quite exhilerating. The conclusion to this work is extraordinary and has been excerpted previously. In this excerpt Kluge contrasts the views of atheist existentialist philosophers Sartre and Camus, whose pictures are below, with a perspective that can be obtained from a study of the writings of Baha'u'llah, the Lord of the Crimson Ark. The latter phrase which can be applied to Baha'u'llah served as the title for a book of poetry by Kluge.

Rather than seeing humankind as 'thrown' into existence, a view that in the case of Sartre and Camus, leads to the judgment that existence is somehow absurd and inherently meaningless, the Bahá'í Writings view man and indeed, the entire universe as called into being. The view that we are 'thrown' into existence is a consequence of failing to take into account the fact that the universe and all its inhabitants are the creations of a supreme Being who called everything into being for a particular purpose in the evolutionary world process. We only feel 'thrown' when [we] foreshorten our vision and ignore the existence of God. Whereas 'thrown' connotes a disorderly, haphazard, undignified and even violent arrival which might easily lead to sense of worthlessness, carelessness and despair, being called suggests that each thing is wanted, has a place and a task, is invested with the natural dignity and possesses inherent value.

Ian Kluge, "The Call into Being: Introduction to a Bahá'í Existentialism"

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

On Islam: What It Took to Unify the Tribes of the Arabian Peninsula

For some people it is hard to appreciate Islam because of its apparent promotion of the "use of the sword." As the following passage out of the remarkable text One Common Faith indicates, we can only come to understand the great religions by looking at their historical context. What was necessary for nascent religion to prevail in the face of the opposition of the day? We can better understand Islamic history by looking at the example of the Hebrew people of an earlier time chronicled in the Old Testament.

"The long and arduous preparation of the Hebrew people for the mission required of them is an illustration of the complexity and stubborn character of the moral challenges involved. In order that the spiritual capacities appealed to by the prophets might awaken and flourish, the inducements offered by neighbouring idolatrous cultures had, at all costs, to be resisted. Scriptural accounts of the condign punishments that befell both rulers and subjects who violated the principle illustrated the importance attached to it by the Divine purpose. A somewhat comparable issue arose in the struggle of the newborn community founded by Muhammad to survive attempts by pagan Arab tribes to extinguish it—and in the barbaric cruelty and relentless spirit of vendetta animating the attackers. No one familiar with the historical details will have difficulty in understanding the severity of the Qur’án’s injunctions on the subject. While the monotheistic beliefs of Jews and Christians were to be accorded respect, no compromise with idolatry was permitted. In a relatively brief space of time, this draconian rule had succeeded in unifying the tribes of the Arabian Peninsula and launching the newly forged community on well over five centuries of moral, intellectual, cultural and economic achievement, unmatched before or since in the speed and scope of its expansion. History tends to be a stern judge. Ultimately, in its uncompromising perspective, the consequences to those who would have blindly strangled such enterprises in the cradle will always be set off against the benefits accruing to the world as a whole from the triumph of the Bible’s vision of human possibilities and the advances made possible by the genius of Islamic civilization."

The Universal House of Justice, "One Common Faith," pp. 35-36.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

On Agnostics, Atheists, Secular Influences in the Society and Proofs of the Existence of God: Syllabus Notes

There is something wonderful in reading someone else's notes. There can be recognition. We can fill in the blanks. Or we can contemplate subjects that go beyond what we are familiar with. Exploring the net I came across syllabus notes for a course that was offered in 2000 in South Africa on "Relating the Baha'i Faith to Some Contemporary Issues." The compiler and teacher was Farzin Aghdasi. He is a current Baha'i Continental Board of Counselors member, I believe. Below are the notes, sketchy as they are, for Week 8 of the course. They read like poetry. But first, a picture to offer in juxtaposition, gleaned from a 2001 issue of Europhysics News, available on line. I was looking for a picture of Stonehenge. I came across the following instead, a grouping of telescopes on a ridgetop in Chile that have a slightly Stonehenge look about them, especially with the sun peeping up from the horizon. On another ridgetop in Chile the Baha'i House of Worship for the South American continent is being built.

Early man’s awareness of spiritual forces

Evidence of the ancient link between societies and the Divine

The role of religion in birth and growth of civilizations: Arnold Toyenbee’s “A Study of Civilization”

Religion and fear: has fear been the origin of religion?

Worship of natural forces, multiple gods, idolatry and the dawn of monotheism

Influence of Jewish prophets on Greek thought

Reasoning on knowledge and ethics in Hellenic civilization

Testimony of Baha’u’llah in favour of early philosophers

Early Christian thinkers, and reasonable grounds for theology

Classical proofs of the existence of God: a priori and a posteriori arguments

Two kinds of a posteriori arguments: demonstrative and persuasive

Teleological (design) arguments by Stoics

The cosmological arguments by Plato: the first Cause, the contingency argument,

Moral argument by Kant

The Ontological argument by Anselm

Meaning of proof as a valid formal argument proceeding from an acknowledged and true premise

Rational theistic belief without proofs

Early attacks of science on religious beliefs and dogmas

Social impacts of scientific theories

God of science as the absentee landlord vs. the Baha’i conception of an ever-present and personal God

Meaning and purpose can be read in the actions of a human body only if the mind is presumed to be present. How can we then accept the presence of meaning and purpose in nature if we deny the existence of the Universal Mind?

Impacts of Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Freud and Marx

Atheism in the 20th century

The problem of evil: If God exists why does he permit so much wickedness, and so much sufering by the innocent?

Abdu’l-Baha on proofs of the existence of God

Baha’i epistemology: Abdu’l-Baha in Some Answered Questions describes the four methods of acquiring knowledge as the senses, reasoning, traditions and inspiration.

Should God fit within the confines of our “logical reasoning”?

God of the gaps in knowledge: appeals to the Divine intervention whenever our knowledge of natural world fails to explain a certain phenomenon

The perception of the indwelling spirit.

Baha’i Teachings on God, its similarities and differences with other religions

Rejecting certain perceptions of God is not the same as rejecting God

Why God is unknowable: man’s limitations and differences in station

On Islam: All Faiths from God

Islam cannot be understood by looking only through the lens of 20th Century Christianity.

"Islam attained a very high spiritual state, but Western scholars are prone to judging it by Christian standards. One cannot call one World Faith superior to another, as they all come from God; they are progressive, each suited to certain needs of the time."

Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian

Friday, February 10, 2006

On Electoral Process: Baha'i Elections

The negative campaigning so typical of the adversarial nature of elections in this country brings on feelings of repugnance for me each electoral season. I perform the duty of a good citizen by voting when the time comes, but I am always acutely aware of the profound difference in tone between national elections and Baha'i elections. What a joy it must have been for these tellers to have had the privilege of performing the service of vote-counting at the most recent election for the Universal House of Justice.

Nineteen tellers assembled at the Baha'i World Centre on Mount Carmel on 29 April 2003 to tally the votes in the election for the Universal House of Justice. The ballots were posted by members of the world's 178 National Spiritual Assemblies. The tellers came from Africa(Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa), the Americas (Bahamas, Canada, Colombia, UnitedStates), Europe (Austria, Greece, Hungary, Turkey, United Kingdom), Asia (two from India,Japan); Australia and Oceania (Australia, Papua New Guinea, Marshall Islands).

Baha'i World News Service, "Baha'i Community Elects International Governing Council"

Elections to the Bahá'í administrative institutions take place by a free and secret ballot. They are however radically different from most other elections that take place in the world today. They are not the arena for a struggle for power between opposing individuals, policies, ideologies or parties. A prohibition on nominations, electioneering, and the formation of parties helps to ensure this.

The process of election is considered to be a vehicle for choosing individuals who have the necessary moral, spiritual and administrative capabilities to consult together and cooperate to promote the common good. Those elected do not represent any particular interest or faction. They must see themselves as chosen for a service to the whole community, a service which they must perform prayerfully and conscientiously.

"The Baha'i Community, Baha'i Elections," extracted and condensed from A Short Introduction to the Bahá'í Faith

On Baha'i Governance: Bridging Historical Conflict

Protestant-Catholic, Arab-Jew, Hutu-Tutsi: Just the mention of these pairs evokes a sense of conflict. There is great symbolism in a meeting of elected representatives from Northern Ireland and Ireland meeting together in unity.
Photo: A historic meeting took place on Sunday 8th December 2002 between the National Spiritual Assembly of the Republic of Ireland and the Bahá'í Council for Northern Ireland in Dublin.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

On Disintegration and Integration: A Channel for the Masses

"In analyzing the rapid changes occurring in the world today, Bahá'ís identify two parallel processes operating at all levels- village, town, nation, and global society. On the one hand, it is clear that human society is suffering from a process of disintegration that manifests itself in wars, terrorism, chaos, physical and psychological insecurity, and a widespread condition of material poverty. On the other hand, forces of integration are moving individuals and groups toward the adoption of new values, new forms of organization, and appropriate structures that can lay the foundation for the establishment of a new social order. The Ruhi Institute defines its basic aim as that of becoming a channel for the spiritual forces of our time to be applied to the lives of the masses of humanity, empowering them to contribute to the establishment of a new world civilization."

"The Ruhi Institute: Statement of Purpose and Methods"

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

On Separation of Church and State: Beyond Theocratism and Secularism

The Ten Commandments have been around for a long time and are hardly a source of dispute, unless they are a part of statuary associated with an institution of government in the United States. The issue of the separation of church and state has been relevant throughout the history of this country. The Baha'i view offers an alternative way of looking at the subject.

"...[I]n His approach to authority, freedom, and the relation of religion to the state, Baha'u'llah advocates neither the modern Western conception of a complete separation of church and state -- especially its American form -- nor the premodern idea of their absoute identity....Baha'u'llah's teachings on this question...are irreducible to the binary discourse of secularism versus theocratism in either the traditional Muslim or the modern Western contexts. But what is most illogical is the idea that a system of belief that proposes to spiritualize order and governance should totally separate the realm that is the source of spirit from any relation to the order that institutionalizes it."

Nader Saiedi, Logos and Civilization

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

On Film: The Role of Baha'i Artists

"In this mosaic of love and hope, filmed on location in South Africa, the human stories replace the intense political focus that is the norm for films set in Africa .

"'There were lots of films about Africa and with epic political messages,' Mr. Bamford said, 'but we felt they were missing the trees for the forest. You actually feel more from a story which is about the reality of people's lives.'

"The film highlights themes of love, interracial relations, xenophobia, justice, and — in an unusual twist for a commercial movie — kindness to animals.

"Cape of Good Hope is Mr. Bamford's debut as a director of a feature movie. His previous work includes “Hero,” a widely screened short film, featured on PBS.

"The positive themes of the movie reflect the couple's philosophy on filmmaking.

"'I think the purpose of art is to uplift the human spirit,' Mr. Bamford said.

"'In film, entertainment is fine, but a lot of what passes for entertainment is destructive — it degrades women and glorifies drugs and violence.'

"The role for Baha'i artists, he said, is not to avoid crucial issues or to be 'nicey-nicey,' but rather to be optimistic.

"Ms. Kay added: 'Because we say "uplifting," we don't mean "naive" — we just want to give [audiences] energy to contribute something for the betterment of society.'"

One Country, "In South Africa, filmmakers draw on social action for their on-screen vision "

On Religion: Drawing Diverse Faiths Closer Together

"...[T]he Bahá’í community has been a vigorous promoter of interfaith activities from the time of their inception. Apart from cherished associations that these activities create, Bahá’ís see in the struggle of diverse religions to draw closer together a response to the Divine Will for a human race that is entering on its collective maturity. The members of our community will continue to assist in every way we can. We owe it to our partners in this common effort, however, to state clearly our conviction that interfaith discourse, if it is to contribute meaningfully to healing the ills that afflict a desperate humanity, must now address honestly and without further evasion the implications of the over-arching truth that called the movement into being: that God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion is likewise one."

The Universal House of Justice, Message to the World's Religious Leaders

Monday, February 06, 2006

On Christ: Now It Is Easy

"Afterward Christ came, saying, 'I am born of the Holy Spirit.' Though it is now easy for the Christians to believe this assertion, at that time it was very difficult. According to the text of the Gospel the Pharisees said, 'Is not this the son of Joseph of Nazareth Whom we know? How can He say, therefore, I came down from heaven?'"

Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions

And on the Third Day (of February) I added pictures to Baha'i Views. Boy, what a difference! Google Images -- "What hath God wrought."

And on the Sixth Day (of February) I redid my blog name descriptor and redid post titles. Am I ready now? What happens on the Seventh Day?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

On Religious Prejudice: There Is Always Hope

Photo by Marco Abrar -- Baha'iPictures.com
"Yesterday, I was standing at one of the public gates with a local guard who is a Christian and a elderly man approached the gate and kneeled down and read a few lines from a book he was holding open in his hand. He wore raged clothes and had a long unkept beard.The man then got up and addressed the local guard in English he rebuked him for working for Baha'is and he preached about Jesus being the only truth and that Baha'is were bad people. The guard calmly told the man that he respected the Baha'is because they respected him to witch the man got mad and told him that he was an idol worshiper and so on...

"The guard then told the man he was a Palestinian Christian and not a Baha'i this only angered the man more and he started talking about Israel and politics and saying that Muslims and Palestinians are all bad and that Muhammad was a liar and a killer...

"He argued with the local guard for sometime and the guard was getting also angry.He then addressed me and when he found out I was a Baha'i told me that I should change my ways before it's to late. I told him: 'may God place the right path before both of us and my he give us the wisdom to see it and the strength to walk it...'

"I told him that he was doing the right thing in trying to bring people to God I asked him to pray for me and I would pray for him and perhaps God will deal with both of us with mercy. He looked at me for a while seemingly at a loss for words he then asked me not to pray for him to which I agreed he then asked my name which I gave and he walked away.Later after the gates were closed my team leader came to meet me and told me that an old man had given him a message for me he had told him to tell me that he was sorry for his behavior that he was wrong to confront us like he did...

"Fear drives some people to blindly hate without taking the time to listen, but maybe through agreeing with him rather than arguing I touch this scared old man who probably has lived through more sadness than I will ever know... "

Payou, "There Is Hope, There Is Always Hope"

On Group Process: Openness, Objectivity, and Humility

Photo: Members of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Mongolia elected in 2005

"Bahai consultation is based on the following principles:

"Information should be gathered from the widest possible range of sources, seeking a diversity of points of view. This may involve seeking the views of technical specialists or making a special effort to consider the views of community members from disparate backgrounds.

"During discussions, participants must make every effort to be as frank and candid as possible, while maintaining a courteous interest in the views of others. Confrontation, blanket ultimatums and prejudicial statements are to be avoided. Indeed, an atmosphere that cultivates openness, objectivity, and humility is viewed as a prerequisite for successful consultation."

Peter Adriance, Barbara Talley, and Shawn Talley, "The Spark of Truth from Differing Opinions: The Baha'i Process"

On Religious Exclusivity: Dangerous Claims

"Despite the fundamental oneness of the messages of all religions, misinterpretations of the complex language of Scriptures, in particular of the implicit concept of progressive revelation, and an undue importance given by organized religion to tradition have contributed to distract the attention of religionists from the essential teachings of religion and to focus it towards its formal and secondary aspects. Dangerous claims to exclusivity or finality have been thus developed. The present conditions of the world are such as to encourage and assist all religions to correct these dangerous attitudes in the name of a peaceful coexistence of all the peoples of the world."

Julio Savi, abstract for "Religion and Exclusivism: A Baha'i Perspective"

On "Us" Against "Them": An Alternative

"'Cultural common sense leads many to believe that the best way to organize every social institution is in the form of a contest,' notes Michael Karlberg of Western Washington University . 'Paradoxically, it also leads many to believe that the best way to reform those institutions is through protest — and other adversarial strategies of social change. Protests, demonstrations, partisan organizing, litigation, strikes, and other oppositional strategies are standard methods for pursuing social change. In more extreme cases, violence and terrorism are also employed.'

"...A basic tenet of Bahá'í belief is that humanity, standing on the threshold of its collective maturity, must develop appropriate new qualities, attitudes, and skills that can carry humanity beyond the simplistic and limited conviction that human beings are aggressive and quarrelsome by nature and can only progress through the adversarial pitting of 'us' against 'them.'"

One Country, "Perspective: TheIndividual and Social Action"

On Child Development: The Example of the Sapling

"'Abdu'l-Bahá likens the growth of a child to that of a sapling. If it becomes crooked, it will be affected the rest of its life. The training received in the early years greatly influences development; therefore, the education of mothers and their first teachers is of utmost importance."

Rod Clarken, "Education for a New World"