Sunday, March 30, 2008

On One Universal Cause and One Common Faith: Required to unify the world

Reading Steve Marshall's "No Assembly Required" on his blog Cormorant Baker this evening after having participated in our Intensive Program of Growth here in Tacoma for the past nine days, constitutes a rather odd juxtaposition of experiences for me. I have viewed Steve Marshall as a long-time nay-sayer, whose intent has been to denigrate what the International Baha'i Community has been endeavoring to do. Here I am, reading Steve Marshall, having just had this really great Baha'i experience to promote the growth of the very same International Baha'i Community that he opposes.

Steve is best known for his primary website, Baha'is Online, which re-posts material that deals with Baha'i subjects from other sites, as does Baha'i Views. There are some big differences between my site and his, however. His mix includes marginal and apostate material which I don't include. His sidebar claims almost a million and a third visitors, whereas my blog has drawn only about 54,000 in the year since I've had a visit counter, so big difference there.

David and Goliath come to mind, but this David is feeling sorry for the giant. Reading "No Assembly Required" I am struck by the fact that Steve is regularly posting about the Baha'i community, but, if I read him right, he has no opportunities to actually experience Baha'i community life.

This is the man who has come to my site on several occasions to say, "I am a Baha'i in good standing," yet who, despite this "good" standing, has cut himself off from contact with a physical Baha'i community. According to his post, he stopped going to feasts, and has avoided social and devotional activities. How long has he been cut off? Eight years, he says.

No wonder his observations sound odd and outdated, in this post especially. Steve writes, "Arguably, mainstream Baha'is are becoming less adminocentric," using a word apparently in use only among his circle of online friends. From my lived experience Baha'i administrative bodies perform at a higher level now than ever before, and Baha'is are more focused on their decisions. The Baha'i community is certainly more organized. There is no question that the collaboration between the institutions of the Rulers and the Learned has never been more successful. The degree of organization evident in the teaching campaign just completed today was extraordinary and clearly reflected that close collaboration.

Baha'is speak lovingly about the Baha'i administration brought into being by Shoghi Effendi. It is a topic we cover as part of Anna's presentation, along with such basic subjects as the Covenant. For Steve and the others who together form an online oppositional coalition, Baha'i institutions and administration are bad, yet Baha'is love their institutions and administration and know that they are in place to facilitate the unification of the world.

"The Baha'i Faith is a world religion whose purpose is to unite all the races and people in one universal Cause and one common Faith." That is how Anna's presentation begins. Steve extols the virtues of so-called "unaffiliated Baha'is on the Internet" who "may pray, fast, carry on a trade or profession, do charitable work, look after their family, consort with the followers of all religions, and so on." An Internet community is no substitute for a physical community, and the fact that "unaffiliated Baha'is on the Internet" do the things he lists outside of the very community that represents "one universal Cause and one common Faith" means they are ... missing out. To unify the world, the Baha'i community itself must be united. There is no plausible Baha'i identity outside of membership in the Baha'i community and participation in Baha'i community life.

Steve writes accurately, "I'm guessing" and "I wouldn't really know." He comes to conclusions about so-called "mainstream" Baha'is and the communities they live in, yet he hasn't had the experience of Baha'i community life in eight years to reflect upon, so all he knows is what he reads and what he imagines.

Over the past eight years Steve has nurtured an expectation that the International Baha'i Community would sputter and splinter, or come apart at the seams. That hasn't happened. As Baha'i sister Bon used to say, "We're here, we're dear. Get used to it."


Barney said...

George, thanks for this post. I had the rather disjunctive experience of reading Steve Marshall's post before being involved in a great Baha'i experience, in my case attending the meeting of our National Spiritual Assembly all weekend.

I hope to write a post on my own blog about the experience of serving on a National Assembly, but suffice it to say here that my experience in no way accords with what I have read on various "unenrolled Baha'i" sites about the administrative order. What I experience is an extraordinary upwelling of love, a strong expression of the reality of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings and of the Covenant.

Baha'i community life is certainly not perfect, but engagement in the community and its institutions is a vital arena for learning how to apply Bahá'u'lláh's teachings in our daily lives.

Bonita said...

Sounds like Mr Marshall is doing battle with the past, with phantoms. It would make for an interesting study to see why someone would want to stay entrenched in old stories which have no relevance to the present.

Frankly, I have no interest or time to puruse the disenchantment of these individuals. I'll stick with the positive, thank you.

Marco said...

I have difficulty to understand someone who feels the need to state several times: "I am a Baha'i in good standing". It seems such a person is not at ease with his/her self.

George Wesley Dannells said...

Paul Hammond came to pose a civil question. My answer is, I don't know.

Umm Yasmin offered an civil and cogent observation about Baha'is who are inactive in their community. I would like to respond to her points in a separate post on the subject.

I have deleted both comments, although I appreciate their moderate tone, because it has been my policy here to delete the comments of individuals with a history of organized opposition to what Baha'is are trying to do.