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Selected Posts: September to December 2001

November 11, 2001
Forum: talk.religion.bahai

Dear X,

For the most part, I see the various groups of covenant-breakers as people who couldn't change with the shifts in emphasis within the Faith. In that sense, I can sort of see mitigating circumstances, even if I disapprove of their actions. Muhammad 'Ali, however, stands apart as a dyed-in-the-wool villain, and I've never seen any information to make me think otherwise. He created a very dangerous situation, both in terms of the unity of the Faith, and for 'Abdu'l-Baha' personally, and he had no excuse whatsoever. It is largely because of his rebellion that the Faith has been left with this legacy of shunning and protection-mindedness, which I detest every bit as much as you do.

It is inescapable that the damage the the original naqidin had done to the Faith, and the necessity to isolate them, is one of the major themes of the Will & Testament. Regardless of how you or I feel about it, Shoghi Effendi would have certainly felt bound by the command in that Will to shun these covenant-breakers, and would have felt obliged to enforce it. This is precisely the sensible explanation I was looking for -- without it, Shoghi Effendi did indeed look like a "control freak". As anyone who has read my posts for very long knows, I'm not content simply with an explanation from authority -- i.e. it was right for Shoghi Effendi to do just because he was the infallible Guardian. But I can't very well complain about Shoghi Effendi trying to do precisely what his grandfather directed.

I do find it disturbing, however, that the family is shunned even to this day. How many generations are going to be considered contaminated by the original violation? Surely any danger they posed is well past by now.

Love, Karen

November 13, 2001
Forum: talk.religion.bahai

Dear X,

I think "guilty of usurping" is a little strong -- they're probably doing the best they can. However, defining the spheres of the Twin Institutions is definitely an interpretive function, and it is inevitable that they stray into the Guardian's sphere without a living incumbant in the office. As far as I can tell, the only guarantee they give that this won't happen is that the UHJ is infallible and therefore will infallibly keep itself in its proper area of authority. But without another institution to balance it, realistically, there's nothing to stop it from doing whatever it wants. To me, the very fact that it calls some people's ideas "misconceptions" means it has a certain intepretation of the Teachings it regards as "correct", and it is willing to take action against people who discuss such ideas publicly. I would see that as being in the Guardian's sphere.

Love, Karen

November 13, 2001
Forum: talk.religion.bahai

Dear X,

Well, this always bothered me. I'm not adopted, but I've had enough life experience to know that not all families are perfect or reasonable. If I had not been married before finding the Faith, I probably would not have enrolled. No way could I explain to my father that I need his permission to marry because I belong to this religion. And I don't trust his judgement anyway.

However, the idea that "biology trumps love" is actually the more traditional way of looking at it. The idea that one can plan one's life according to individual emotional inclinations is a very modern, Western, thing. Shoghi Effendi clearly saw Western society as being rather chaotic, and this was back in the 40 and 50s! No way could he have imagined the kind of families kids grow up in now, with a step-parent or grandparent perhaps being more emotionally close than a biological parent. What drives me crazy is the kind of sappy official answers we get, as if the requirement to ask permission to marry is going to bring everybody together as one happy family, even though they've never been one. This particular law has caused more pain and alienation than just about any other law in the Faith. In the Middle East, parental permission makes some sense -- there have been honor killings, even quite recently, of young women in Jordan, for marrying without permission. Ironically, the Bab originally made marriage contingent on just the consent of the couple. Baha'u'llah modified it, like He modified or abolished many of the more radical laws in the Bayan -- and having no parental consent would have seemed radical in that time and place, when arranged marriages were the norm. But, as it is, the Faith is trying to impose something so completely alien to us, that it can sometimes mean inordinate pain and hardship.

Love, Karen

November 15, 2001
Forum: talisman9

Dear X and friends,

Besides a simple case of misplaced values, I think these constant appeals for support of building projects reflects how out of touch these people are. Lack of participation in the fund is not just a matter of shirking responsibility; it reveals a lack of support for what the institutions are doing. The fact that checkbooks are not being opened is a very clear message -- and one that the Institutions seem incapable of understanding.

If Baha'is really felt like the funds were achieving something, I don't think you'd have a problem getting people to contribute. But instead of finding out what the friends want to do, they just decide what they think is important, then try to whip up enthusiasm for it. Now certainly, there are some die-hards who will send a check no matter what, but there are a lot of Baha'is out there who are just sick of this kind of thing. There's always a big emergency, more sacrifice needed etc. I can't tell you with what disdain some of the locals regarded the Kingdom project, in spite of the snazzy fliers National sent out. After the umpteenth time of hearing how desperate they are for money, it rings a little hollow.

Maybe this is a radical idea, but what would happen if they actually asked "What kind of project would the community support?" instead of whining about how they can't get people to contribute?

Love, Karen

November 18, 2001
Forum: uk.religion.interfaith

Dear Z,

This "morphing" happened because of events in Baha'i history. The original "naqidin", or covenant-breakers that opposed 'Abdu'l-Baha were led by his brother Muhammad Ali, who was named in Baha'u'llah's Will as second-place successor. There was no reason whatsoever, except for his ambition, for him to create an opposing party, and in doing so, he not only threatened the unity of the Faith, but created a dangerous situation for 'Abdu'l-Baha personally. The whole reason that he wrote his Will and Testament when he did was because there was a real chance of him being executed by the government, because of things reported against him by these people. In fact, 'Abdu'l-Baha was initially very reluctant to move against this faction, and initially forbade the Baha'is to speak against them in any way.

However, this image of being perverse and "diseased" has carried over to later schismatics, who, as I've said earlier, were largely people unable to cope with shifts in leadership. However, if you examine them, they aren't very attractive. The current bunch just obsess endlessly about the ending of the Guardianship, and argue among themselves about who is the rightful leader of the Baha'i Faith. Just recently, Joel Marengella, the "Guardian" of the Orthodox Baha'is named a prominent follower of another claimant as a "covenant-breaker". The fear surrounding these groups, as insignificant as they are, still continues. Part of it is that what they say about the Guardianship being a scripturally mandated part of Baha'i governance is true -- it's just that the initial claimant after Shoghi Effendi had no leg whatsoever to stand on. But if you start openly asking questions that reflect these concerns, a Baha'i official will be on your neck in a hurry to make sure you come up with the "right" answers about it.

X wrote:The saddest thing though was to see people who purported to be Baha'is in good standing openly supporting their calumnies and trying to undermine what the rest were doing.

It could also be the most revealing thing showing that the rebels *might* have a point that needs to be addressed. Maybe the pain of seeing what you cherish 'undermined' sometimes obscures the vision of what needs to be done.

Where X has a point is that some of the critics on talk.religion.bahai are quite strident, and at times, nasty. However, the liberals *do* have a point, and as I have demonstrated in earlier posts, some of them have legitimate grievances. And there are many Baha'is in good standing who have had bad experiences with the administration and can relate to these stories. The problem is that anybody who wants to change the system in any fashion is accused of "undermining" it. Many people can relate to the liberal view of a Baha'i Faith that isn't centered on administration -- Talisman9, the oldest and most prominent liberal email list is now the second-largest Baha'i list at Yahoo! groups, and will be first if it keeps growing the way it has for the past several months. It is striking a responsive chord in many Baha'is.

One example -- just recently a unenrolled Baha'i, who is gay, told of story of trying to get back into the community. The LSA told him he must separate from his partner he has been with for ten years. The man said his partner was dying of AIDS and they were now living in a non-sexual relationship, but he couldn't abandon him because he needed to be cared for. The LSA said that was too bad, but that it would damage the Faith's reputation to have enrolled Baha'is living together in a same-sex relationship, and they would recommend to National that he not be re-admitted. On Talisman, this man was treated with compassion, and other Baha'is shared his outrage that his very sense of responsibility towards his partner kept him from being part of the Baha'i community. Is it any wonder people respond to the liberal message?

Love, Karen

Discussion of the Roles of the Twin Institutions

November 21, 2001
Forum: talk.religion.bahai

That's not necessarily so. Most Great Infallibility vs. conferred infallibility refers to the source, not the extent of infallibility. But in the case of the Guardian and the House of Justice infallibility is limited to certain spheres according to explicit statements found in authoritative texts.. We don't have any similiar statements in regards to 'Abdu'l-Baha however, and His infallibility is also conferred.

O.K., I'll put it this way -- that's the only way any distinction makes sense to me. The Manifestation has essential infallibility, i.e. infallibility is part and parcel of what a Manifestation is -- without it, He wouldn't be a Manifestation. Baha'u'llah clearly says that no one has a share in this Most Great Infallibility. If those who have had infallibility conferred upon them are regarded as infallible in everything they say and do, then, practically speaking, there really isn't any difference at all between their infallibility and that of the Manifestation -- except a sort of philosophical difference that one is essential and one is conferred. If the Manifestation is infallible in everything, *and* the authorized interpreters are infallible in everything, where's the difference? To take that position, as many Baha'is do, is to grant others a share in the Most Great Infallibility, which is something that Baha'u'llah said they didn't have.

Karen(previously): It makes absolutely no sense to say the UHJ can define its own sphere because it's infallible

They don't have to. Shoghi Effendi already did this for them.

X, I don't mean "define" as in "give a definition" -- I mean "define" as in drawing a line, or setting a boundary. All the UHJ can do is read and interpret Shoghi Effendi's writings, and decide based upon them where the limits of their sphere are. That's hardly the same as having a living interpreter of the Writings with the authority to simply tell them where they are supposed to be.

Besides, the argument I'm referring to occurs in one of the UHJ's own letters. (I'd have to dig it up for you.) Besides that one, Shoghi Effendi's statement that "neither can, or ever will" stray into the sphere of the other institution is virtually treated as a prophecy rather than an inherent feature of the Will and Testament.

Karen(previously): All it can do is read Shoghi Effendi and decide where it thinks the line is -- which is still interpretation.

That would come under the definition of elucidation since it involves a constitutional matter. Besides there is nothing that suggests they can't interpret the Guardian.

Well, there's nothing in the Will and Testament that anticipates they would have to. Semantics. Interpretation isn't really interpretation because we say it's elucidation instead. Just more word games.

Karen(previously): As a practical matter, there's nothing to prevent the UHJ from doing anything it darn well pleases in any sphere it darn well pleases.

The Guardian pretty much said the same thing about his own powers, that it was not up to the believers to decide about its limitations.

Well, we have brains in our heads, don't we? If we aren't supposed to think about the Will and Testament, then he shouldn't have translated and given it to us. At least the Guardian was authorized interpreter of the Writings, and had some kind of basis for deciding what his authority was -- the UHJ is not an authorized interpreter.

Karen

November 22, 2001
Forum: talk.religion.bahai

Karen(previously): X, I don't mean "define" as in "give a definition" -- I mean "define" as in drawing a line, or setting a boundary.

But Karen, that is exactly what Shoghi Effendi's writings do. They set the boundary. Yes, the House has to read those writings to determine what to do. But it is nonsense to say they can't do this because then they would have to interpret the Guardian's writings. There is nothing that says they can't do this. Only that they can't interpret Baha'u'llah's writings.

I didn't say that "can't" do that; I said that their doing so is not equivalent to having a Guardianship. They are basically forced into the sphere of interpretation in order to function, I understand that. But I don't see such interpretations as infallible, or that the fact that they scrutinize Shoghi Effendi's writings before making a decision means that the Guardianship still exists. Instead of a flexible, living Institution, they've made the Guardianship something that is unalterably fixed in the 1950s. I don't think everything that Shoghi Effendi ever wrote was intended to be regarded as an infallible "interpretation", or that even those things that were, were intended to stand for time and eternity. I don't blame them, necessarily, for doing that under the circumstances, but I think this has caused some harm -- and I don't think it will stand in the long run. I can't imagine the House, 200 years from now, still rigidly adhering to every word the Guardian ever said. Eventually, they'll be forced to interpret their way around him, or their interpretations of him will change.

Karen(previously): Besides, the argument I'm referring to occurs in one of the UHJ's own letters.

I'm confused. What argument do you mean here?

The argument that because the House is infallible, it will infallibly keep itself in its own proper sphere without staying into the interpretive realm of the Guardianship.

Karen(previously): Besides that one, Shoghi Effendi's statement that "neither can, or ever will" stray into the sphere of the other institution is virtually treated as a prophecy rather than an inherent feature of the Will and Testament.

Can't it be both things?

No. The Guardian was neither a prophet, nor omniscient. I see nowhere in the Writings, or in his own interpretation of his role where he is given the ability to infallibly see into the future.

Karen(previously): Semantics. Interpretation isn't really interpretation because we say it's elucidation instead.

I'm not saying it is an elucidation because it interprets the Guardian rather than Baha'u''llah. It's an elucidation because it involves the administration and protection of the Cause, not matters of doctrine. Elucidation is an extension of the House's legislative power. And there were matters the Guardian explicitly refused to interpret saying it was up to the House of Justice to elucidate on those. They usually involved how the House was to operate.

Well, the way I see it, "interpretation" is gaining meaning out of a text that is already there; "legislation" is making laws or policies that are not explicitly in the text. Since the details of how the House is to operate are not in the text, then I'm sure that's why Shoghi Effendi refused to comment. There were areas, however, where some of his statements are virtually legislation. I think that's why, in Dispensation, he was at pains to emphasize that the Guardian could not "even temporarily" assume the role of sole legislator.

But that's my own, unauthorized interpretation. It takes interpretation to distinguish between these two spheres. You can call it "elucidation" if you like, but basically when it comes to the "administration and protection" of the Cause, they are interpreting Shoghi Effendi. Indeed, with the lack of a living Guardian, they are virtually forced to do so.

And they don't only do this in defining the role of the UHJ. When they speak of certain people's "misconceptions" of the Teachings, which is an issue that concerns me more than policies, and punish people based upon such "misconceptions", then they are interpreting. The statements that regard such "misconceptions" as a "spiritual problem" are likewise an interpretation. When, for example, they condemn the notion that Baha'u'llah taught the separation of church and state, this is clearly a matter of interpretation. You can't very well go about claiming that someone's view of the Teachings is wrong unless you yourself are interpreting, and assuming your own interpretation is the only right way to see things.

Karen

November 22, 2001
Forum: talk.religion.bahai

Karen(previously): Instead of a flexible, living Institution, they've made the Guardianship something that is unalterably fixed in the 1950s.

I would agree that this largely the case. But the Institution none the less still exists, and the alternative to doing this is to mutiliate the Cause by ignoring Shoghi Effendi's authoritative interpretations.

X,

*sigh* There is no Guardian; there is no Guardianship. There is no Institution other than the UHJ. To say that a body of writings is the same as a hereditary office is just, plain dumb. It makes no sense whatsoever. Following Shoghi Effendi's interpretations does not make it complete, and ignoring them will not mutiliate it. It is already incomplete -- an accident of history, past remedy.

Karen(previously): I don't blame them, necessarily, for doing that under the circumstances, but I think this has caused some harm -- and I don't think it will stand in the long run.

Can you think of an alternative that would not divorce the House from the Guardianship by clearly having them act outside of their proper sphere?

I think what will happen is that over the long term the House's interpretation of the Guardian's writings will eventually change. I don't expect they will ever announce that they are chucking them, but viewpoints change over time. I just don't see how things written between the 20s and the 50s can be clung to forever. That's just not the way of things. However, I expect they will try.

Karen(previously): No. The Guardian was neither a prophet, nor omniscient.

He wasn't omniscient, it is true. But he did understand the nature of divine guidance and God's promises. And that is what he is affirming in the passage you mention.

He also saw a House with a Guardian on it, that would by his interpretive power keep the House within its sphere. He said that without the Guardianship the ability to define the sphere of legislation would be lacking. That's why, I suppose, this creative interpretation about an incumbantless Guardianship came about.

Karen(previously): Well, the way I see it, "interpretation" is gaining meaning out of a text that is already there;

And what is the elucidation power which is clearly given to the House of Justice?

I don't know. I did a search on "elucidate" and "elucidation" and it is used in the Writings as a virtual synonym for interpretation. I couldn't find the verse that gives the House the power of elucidation -- although I know it exists.

Love, Karen

November 22, 2001
Forum: talk.religion.bahai

The essential point to keep in mind here is that a literal interpretation or elucidation, if you prefer, is also an interpretation. To insist that one cannot have any other option except a literal one, is to insist on an interpretation. When the Universal House of Justice excuses itself from acting, on the grounds that Shoghi Effendi has provided an interpretation, the Universal House of Justice is interpreting the words of Shoghi Effendi.

This is an excellent observation, Y. I recently was reading Marcus Borg's latest book, and he points out that scriptural literalism actually requires a good deal of creative effort to maintain. If the idea that the Guardianship, as in Institution, is still in existence is not a very creative interpretation, I don't know what is. It is a "literal" approach inasmuch as it seems to be based upon nothing more than the Will and Testament's appointment of Shoghi Effendi, and his interpretations concerning the necessary role of the Guardianship, but it sort of boils down to "There's a Guardianship, because the Writings say there must be one". A corallary is "The UHJ doesn't intepret because the Writings say it can't". So anything that looks like an interpretation just is called an elucidation instead. That, in itself, is an interpretation.

As the archives of this site should indicate, the point has already been made here, that this generation can consider the context and the result of Shoghi Effendi's words, as well as the literal understanding of those words. Actually, a great many perceptions are possible. However, it must not be thought that to demand a literal understanding is to avoid an interpretation. A literal interpretation is an interpretation.

Yes. Many times I wonder about the context of Shoghi Effendi's letters -- who was he talking to, and what was the situation that cause him to respond the way he did? Was it advice bounded by certain conditions, or was he expounding on a general principle? I do know that his insistence on the importance of the Guardianship was, at least partially, due to challenges to his own position. Those that had the Guardian thought they should have the UHJ; now those that have the UHJ think they should have a Guardian. The grass is always greener, I guess. But when I look at the W&T, I see an entire, coherent system that was cut down before it ever had the chance to fully develop and work properly.

In the context and according to the result of Shoghi Effendi's use of a personal letter by Abdu'l Baha (By the way, X, your statement seems to imply that the House is not bound by what Abdu'l Baha said, only by what Baha'u'llah said), the principle of the equality of women within Baha'i was upheld and in practise Baha'i women could serve on any consultative body, including the forerunner of the Universal House of Justice, where religious fundamentalism did not imperil their safety. It is a very valid understanding that this alone, not even considering the linguistic details of the Service of Women Paper, authorizes the UHJ at any time, to conclude that women are intended to serve on the UHJ and to call for them to be understood by all Baha'is as indeed quite eligible for election.

Yes. I think that the issue of women's service on the UHJ is an "unclear matter", and as such falls within the purview of the legislative power of that body. However, as I've said before, the fact that enrolled Baha'is cannot advocate this publicly without reprisals is something that concerns me far more. There's no future for any sort of change or reform if Baha'is do not have the freedom to promote their views.

The position that the literal meaning of Shoghi Effendi's words prevents the UHJ from acting, is also an interpretation. This literal interpretation is one that violates essential Baha'i principle and perpetuates male dominance, relegating the Baha'i Faith behind the modern world, with regard to living the life of this Baha'i principle. If the UHJ is free to make literalist interpretations, it is also empowered, at any time, to follow Baha'i principle, to live the life and to live the example of Abdu'l Baha and Baha'u'llah, of Shoghi Effendi and of all the great Holy Ones of Human History, who very often elevated this species above the dust and bones of mere syllables and sounds,words and letters, of literalist interpretations.

Yes. They're the ones with the power -- it is inevitable that they interpret, and it is their choice how they do so. Literalism, as you point out, is just one of those choices.

Love, Karen

November 22, 2001
Forum: talk.religion.bahai

Well, Karen, it makes sense when you have no other explanation to give,doesn't it? If you repeat it enough times people will eventually accept it and quit asking the hard questions.

Dear Z,

Except that people don't stop asking the hard questions. When I first came to the conclusion that the system had to be mutiliated, that no other explanation made sense, I thought I was the only one in the whole world who saw this. But the truth is that it is so obvious that it stares you in the face. I've run into many people, not necessarily the old-time liberal/dissidents, that have come to the same conclusion, all on their own, just like I did. It's the proposition that the Guardianship still exists that requires the proof and explanation and logical stretches, not mutilation theory.

Love, Karen

November 23, 2001
Forum: talk.religion.bahai

I offered a very specific definition of what elucidation involved which was really quite limiting. You, on the other hand offered none at all.

O.K. so where does the definition of elucidation as applying strictly to administrative affairs come from? That's not exactly the dictionary definition. And, as I said, I didn't find it in the Writings -- I ran across a passage where 'Abdu'l-Baha speaks of the Bab "elucidating" the Qur'an. As we know, what He did was write commentaries, tafsir -- in other words, He interpreted it. To me it sounds like the difference between prosyletizing and teaching -- there's only a difference if we have a specific "Baha'i" definition of the word that the rest of the English-speaking world wouldn't recognize.

However, as I've said before, the fact that enrolled Baha'is cannot advocate this publicly without reprisals is something that concerns me far more. There's no future for any sort of change or reform if Baha'is do not have the freedom to promote their views.

That assumes that change should come about as a result of public pressure rather than responsiveness to God. Then why have a religion? Politics by itself will do.

Then why have a religion where the bodies are elected? I've got some nincompoop telling me I'm "anti-democratic" to disagree with the UHJ because the system is freely elected. In any case, both Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha were responsive to pleas from the friends. I don't know why the House thinks it needs to hold itself aloof. Besides, in the cases where people got into trouble, they weren't putting pressure on the House, they were discussing ideas. In fact, I don't much see how "pressure" can be put on the House -- the ordinary believer can't even vote anybody off there, even if we knew the specific views of individual members.

And don't you dare talk to me about channels. The field of ex-Baha'is is littered with the bones of those who tried to go through channels. In fact, you're so big on responsiveness -- the institutions seem bound and determined not to be responsive to the voices of believers. I really don't think they give a damn about us.

Karen

November 23, 2001
Forum: talk.religion.bahai

You are quite right that the suppression of freedom of thought and expression is a quite telling and alarming aspect of current Baha'i life. What most upset me on first reading the Service of Women Paper was that it had been censored. What most upset me when I first entered Baha'i cyberspace was that there were Baha'i fundamentalists there seeking to suppress the expression of any opinion, but their own.

Dear Y,

Yes, my own reaction to the censorship of "A Modest Proposal" was similar. I had naively believed that freedom of expression was encouraged in the Faith, and was shocked at the sort of fundamentalism I found in cyberspace. And there's no doubt some of the fundamentalists were shocked by me. These differences can't be swept under the rug any more, which I think is far more healthy in the long run, even though it has been painful in the short run.

One point I stressed from early on was that the Baha'i Covenant was a two way street; it guaranteed the freedom of thought and expression for Baha'is, who, whatever their personal opinions, would accept the legitimacy of the authorized institutions. What is very remarkable about those who had the understanding that Baha'i women should be on the UHJ was that they only sought their legitimate right to express this opinion, and all stated it would come about when the UHJ called for it. No one staged a coup, or even passed around a special ballot.

Yes, that's another thing that amazed me. All the accusation against the prominent liberals -- they were politicking, they were claiming the right to authoritative interpretation, etc. -- completely fall apart upon examination. Paul Hammond recently said of the Dialogue crowd that it's rare to find such a meek set of dissidents. That's the sad thing -- all these guys really believed in the system and tried their best to work within it until they were left, at long last, with no option but to leave.

It may interest you to know that I discovered that the Mormon church, which is also experiencing tension between liberals and conservatives had a "Dialogue" of their own. The editor has been recently forced to resign under pressure from conservative, but the liberal magazine itself, Sandstone, has been in existence for 12 years. And it doesn't even have to submit its articles for review! And nobody has suffered sanctions. It saddens me greatly that the Baha'i Faith would show so much less tolerance. I've been trying to find out whether any other religious group has punished people for its email, and so far I've come up with zip -- not even the most controlling totalitarian cult punishes people for free expression in cyberspace. I've found plenty of conflict between current and ex members, though.

The validity of propositions is independent of the personality of individuals; all the contemporary members of the UHJ demonstrate by moving against personalities, by pressuring or even legislating the non-Baha'i status of people believing that spiritual principles trump particular literal interpretations appearing to exempt leaders from living according to spiritual principles is testify to their powerlessness to stand in the light of what they oppose and the extent they are willing to go to insist on their own understanding.

Yes -- if you have to stifle ideas, that demonstrates a fear of the strength of those ideas. If they had no merit, the sensible thing to do is let them be examined in the light of day. But they have no power against the hearts and minds of the sincere, and only show themselves to be petty and narrow when they do these things.

Thanks again for your comments and for the opportunity this allows for me to restate these points. The time I took to do this may have set > back a little the completion of that . . . project I'm working on, but it was worth it. Please feel free to repost any of my posts that in the ever flowing nature of cyberspace may seem called for yet again. The same points seem to flow as waves to the shore and it is only seldom now I look in here. Much I'm missing, but the archives have likely already received responses by me and others so irrefutable that exceptional ad hominems were all those sitting in UHJ seats had to answer with.

Dear X, I know the time you have to spend in Baha'i cyberspace is limited. However, I'm always glad to see you here when you have the moment to spare. Until next time.

Love, Karen

November 24, 2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

Dear X and Y, The rationale for not allowing non-Baha'is at Feast is because of the administrative/business portion -- non-Baha'is are not supposed to be a part of community discussions. I see a couple of problems with this: First of all, it's one reason that people generally have no clue as to the dynamic of Baha'i community life until they actually sign a card. They are excluded from our main worship service. I can go into almost any church and get a fair idea of how they worship, and what the faith community is like, but Baha'is keep the administrative side, so central to our activities, a mystery to people. Secondly, it is exclusive, and possibly hurtful to others. Thirdly, it means that those who lose administrative rights can be virtually exiled from the community, perhaps at the very moment when they need spiritual support the most.

To me, it's all part of administration being the center instead of worship and service. The mashriq is supposed to be the center of Baha'i life. A mashriq service is open to all -- it doesn't matter if you are a Baha'i in good standing; it doesn't even matter if you are a Baha'i at all. If the community was centered on a worship service instead of a mixed devotional/administrative meeting you wouldn't have all this exclusion and hurt feelings.

[Snipped for confidentiality]

December 12, 2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

Thank you, X. That's what I was actually hoping for. I pretty much agree with you. Predicting the future is a risky venture -- a million things can happen to alter it. But just based on my rational side, I would predict stagnation as the likeliest of the options. To believe in expansion is to speak as a believer, not as a rational observer. The Baha'i Faith has tremendous potential and appeal, but it has wasted the moment, I think.

The appeal of the Baha'i Faith ever since it came to the West has been inclusiveness, tolerance, and the ideal of service to humanity. That is still what most non-Baha'is think of it; that's what most new converts expect, and a major cause of the disillusionment so many of us experience. We have a religion here with liberal ideals, and a conservative governing structure and loyalty to that governing structure is considered an essential ingredient of adherence. Half of all those on the rolls in this country are unreachable by mail; half of those with good addresses are inactive. This is not a healthy picture.

However, I think I should mention that I'm not entirely sure what the situation is in developing countries, where there is the most growth. But what I don't know is how dependent that growth is on Western missionaries, and how deep the understanding and commitment of people who aren't literate enough to deepen themselves. If there is hope for the Baha'i Faith, I think it lies in these cultures, but I honestly have no idea just how healthy those communities actually are. Those folks aren't out here on the Internet talking about their experiences.

As for the other options: Reform has been tried, and has been stymied at every turn. In some ways, our pattern of creating weak and geographically scattered communities works agains this. Until the rise of the Internet, Baha'is were isolated from each other. It remains to be seen whether the rise of cyberspace will have any impact. Baha'is do have a vote -- but if people with a more liberal orientation are suspect, or are even pushed out, then the odds are against any change from that direction. And people have tended to simply walk away, rather than engage in the struggle for change. Even positive changes that the UHJ has asked for, such as a more spiritual orientation in our community life, have been slow to take hold.

Schism has also been tried and has failed. Besides the fact that Baha'is have strong inhibition against this, and the penalty of shunning looms over anybody who creates an alternative, the scattered Baha'i communities have a hard time supporting a schism as well. Schismatic groups have tended to be small and localized, or dependent on the charisma of a particular leader. Sometimes, non-Baha'is will say "Well, if you're so unhappy, why don't you just form your own group?" Baha'is just can't, that's all. It's the short route to nowhere; it doesn't work, and even the most unhappy Baha'is generally are repelled by the very idea.

But no one knows the future -- it is possible that the declining numbers will cause enough concern that changes will happen. I've run into individual Baha'is who give me tremendous hope, and the Writings themselves give me even more. But only time will tell.

Love, Karen

December 13, 2001
Forum: Zuhur19

Dear X,

Later in that due process thread a similar case is described, where a disgruntled ex turned a man in for being homosexual, so he was dragged in and had to answer questions. I guess the assembly decided it was probably true, but didn't pursue it based just on one person's word. It did, in fact, turn out to be true. But, that's the whole nasty thing with allowing Baha'is to turn each other in for that sort of thing. What's the motive for turning someone in? Either revenge, hatred, or a "holier-than-thou" attitude -- none of which I would describe as very moral motivations. As I've said before; I've done lots of bitching about my local community, but this is one thing they didn't do. In fact, I know several people here who could have lost administrative rights over one thing or another, if anyone had wanted to pursue it.

I would suspect that, even now, most Assemblies don't have a clue about what it takes to take over the functions of courts. They usually don't bother if we don't let them. But many Baha'is can't function on their own and Assemblies help to keep their dysfunction levels high.

X, some of our assemblies have trouble even organizing basic community life, much less trying to make important decisions that affect people's lives. And around here, if you can't function without an assembly's help, then you've got big problems, because the assemblies themselves sometimes don't function.

Love, Karen

December 14, 2001
Forum: Zuhur19

I think that it is the mixture of personal and impersonal that becomes the issue Karen. I really have no moral problem with a hurricane that kills thousands of people because nature is just like that - impersonal. But when the personal element is thrown in, and one posits that god could have prevented it or *willed* it then I do experience a moral dilemma (wouldn't any sensitive person?)

Well, yeah, o.k. I will agree that there are some real problems with the idea of a personal God -- especially a personal God that is seen to be on one's own side. Not only is such a God not very moral, I don't think that people who hold such an idea end up being very moral either. You end up with a Falwellesque picture where God will conjure up disasters just to get rid of people you don't like, and will grant you all kinds of little favors if you get on his good side. Just lately someone on my list says they've learned to take all their problems to God, "just like a kid sitting on Santa Claus' knee". That just doesn't work for me. I wouldn't dream of asking God to get my car fixed faster, or to get me a permanent teaching job, or anything else that's on my wish list.

But there are problems with an impersonal God as well. For one thing, I'm a person. If I'm going to relate to God in any meaningful way, I have to do so as a person. This is precisely the situation I found myself in during the years before I became a Baha'i. I had outgrown the more childish conceptions of Christianity given me as a kid, dabbled in Eastern thought, and believed in an impersonal God. So I had figured out this dandy way I thought the cosmos worked, but it didn't really mean anything to me, other than I was a whole lot smarter than all those fundamentalist Christians out there.

I find it almost impossible to relate to God in any other way than through an intermediary, i.e. the Manifestation. God is impersonal, but the Manifestation is definitely a person.

As an historian I certainly understand and accept the idea of contextualization although I find it somewhat difficult to combine cultural relativity with an omnipotent god as this seems to make omnipotence answerable to cultural norms.

That one never bothered me; mankind grows and changes. Who knows? Maybe in the future people will look back on our time and see certain features of our civilization that we take for granted and be appalled, and wonder how we thought God could ever approve of our actions. If we are given a Message that is so far above our heads we can't reach it, there wouldn't be much point. I don't think that reflects on God's omnipotence; I think it has to do with human perceptions.

Love, Karen

December 14, 2001
Forum: Zuhur19

I notice on SRB that it is a Baha'i teaching that god allows us to suffer in order to test us and make us better. What if we fail? Would not an implication of this line of thinking be that the more we do in our own lives to make people suffer the better we are making them?

I don't think one progresses while one is actually in the midst of suffering -- it's only when the pain abates and we reflect on and grapple with it, that we make progress. What I don't like, however, is the way this idea is used by Baha'is. What it ends up doing is turning one's experience in the Baha'i community into some kind of endurance test, with the people who can't take it being spiritual washouts. It also provides an excuse for nothing to change. "People are leaving, but there's nothing wrong with the Baha'i community -- they just aren't spiritual enough." is what Peter Khan basically said, and one sees this attitude all the time. So, if you don't find a way to conform yourself or tolerate the situation, you have "failed" the test. It ends up being a power trip. It also works directly against any notion of the Baha'is having a message for all humanity.

Rather than simply saying "suffering makes us better", I think that reflecting on our experiences, cultivating an awareness of the lessons contained in life, ruthlessly looking into our own selves to discover how we contribute to our own suffering and the suffering of others is closer to the mark. Just enduring pain doesn't mean anything by itself; in fact, one could say that's the human lot. I've known people that have suffered greatly and don't seem very much improved by it, and who, in fact, unthinkingly go on repeating behavior that causes suffering. For others, suffering just causes them to rage at the universe unable to move forward. It's the reflection and awareness that is important, not the amount of pain experienced.

Love, Karen

December 15, 2001
Forum: Zuhur19

Now, there I agree with you. We keep these little problematic things under wraps, and people feel betrayed when they find out about them. I remember how I felt when I found out that women weren't allowed on the House of Justice; one of the Baha'is with me laughed at the look on my face, and said "That's how I felt when I found out that Baha'u'llah had three wives!" Now, the wife thing never bothered me at all, and the women on the UHJ thing didn't bother me enough to make me leave the Faith, but how many people do leave because they find out about these things after they've signed a card? After all, I left because I found out that people can be denounced and disgraced for writing reform proposals and publishing an independent magazine -- something that in my wildest dreams never imagined could happen. It's strange how we all have a different sort of limit of what is just too unacceptable to tolerate.

Baha'is hide things, then they talk all round in circles trying to make it right when people find out. Maybe being honest in the first place might be worth a shot -- at least if people reject the Faith because of it, they won't have such a terrible feeling of betrayal, like they do when they find out after they've committed themselves.

Love, Karen

December 16, 2001
Forum: talk.religion.bahai

Dear Y, Z, and friends,

I've been talking a lot lately about this whole "democratically-elected" business; both because of my talks with Paul on uk.r.i. and because there's a relatively new Baha'i on my list who is *really* bugged by the way that Baha'i elections are conducted. He is also bugged by how Baha'is go around bragging about how superior their system is to American democracy, and says he doesn't want his children brought up to disdain American freedoms.

I don't think my vote had any impact on anything whatsoever other than locally, where my choices were pretty darn limited. The Chairman of the convention almost invariably was elected -- the two times this one guy from my community was elected were exactly the two times when convention was held here. He was up there running the show when people walked in, looked like he knew what he was doing, and lo! he was elected. The last time I went to Convention the man was an elderly Knight of Baha'u'llah who also happened to live in our community. I was a teller that year, and saw the votes -- a great many of the votes cast for this person were simply written as "Kathy X's father". That is, they didn't even know his name -- all they knew was that he was a "big-deal" Baha'i. I didn't vote for him, since I knew him rather better. But he was elected. Then, I once saw a report on the National Convention, and four of the nine didn't even get a majority of the delegates' votes -- since we put in the nine top vote-getters whether they get a majority or not. The votes are spread so thin that just being a little bit better known than someone else tips the scale. Voting for a delegate entirely by reputation, who in turn will vote largely on impressions that he gets at Wilmette when he's there isn't democracy at all. Democracy runs on free expression and discussion of issues. In the Baha'i system, you might as well put names on a corkboard and throw a dart, for all the difference it makes.

Love, Karen

December 15, 2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

Dear X,

Nobody's picked up on your question, so I thought I would -- even though we discussed this some when you first came on the list last summer. And I think you're right; the system is constructed to resist change. Of course, so is the American system, just not quite to the same extent. But think about it; it's not that easy to get a particular law passed, although it is probably easier to vote a person out. (Not very, sometimes, though; I'd sure like to get rid of some people on our local school board, but they seem pretty entrenched.)

I've been wondering about the real feasibility of running a religion through elected bodies. In a country, you can't get rid of the opposition. No matter how "un-American" liberals and conservatives may think the other side to be, they are basically stuck with them. They spread their ideas freely, garner support, and sometimes win elections. The pendulum of public opinion sways one way, then the other, with things overall tending towards the middle.

But in a religion, it's a whole different kettle of fish. Those in power can just name alternative ideas and views of the Faith illegitimate. They control what ideas are circulated and who becomes visible. Name recognition and reputation are important in any election, but they are *everything* in a Baha'i election. Worst of all, elected officials don't consider themselves to be answerable to the voters: Even if a Baha'i goes through channels, they can just be ignored. Even if a thousand Baha'is go through channels, they can be ignored. And, of course, if they think anybody has the eloquence and credibility to successfully promote a view they don't like, they can just kick them out. Baha'i culture disparages criticism, whereas real democracy thrives on it. It's tough, and takes a lot of work to effect change in any democracy; it's downright impossible in the Baha'i Faith. The only way to do it is to be part of the system yourself, and that won't happen unless higher-ups approve of you, except, of course, on the local level.

Then, there is the factor that people have a different attitude towards their religion than they do their country. If a particular policy is affecting someone, they will fight, vote, lobby, get publicity, petition -- do anything they can to try to get it changed. Most people don't want to work that hard at changing the governing structure of their religion. In fact, a whole lot of people get fed up with the administrative stuff they have to participate in as it is. People expect support and inspiration from a religious community; if life is made too difficult, they'll just walk. And thousands of Baha'is have done exactly that and voted with their feet.

Love, Karen

December 16, 2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

Dear X,

You are absolutely right here, and the thing is, there is nothing in Baha'i teaching the countenances this kind of behavior. I know my husband would complain that every time he went to a Baha'i event (which was pretty rare), somebody was putting down Christians. I always would tell him that this isn't really how Baha'is are supposed to behave. Actually, I think it has to do with the insecurity of being a small religion. The Baha'i Faith is very tiny; it is an insignificant minority in every country, except Iran, where it is persecuted. There are a few island nations that nobody's heard of where the Faith makes up more than 1% of the population, but that's as good as we've done. I think we're more than 1% in Guyana and Belize, at least if you believe official figures.

At the same time, it makes very big claims for itself and its role in the future of mankind. I think this put-down of the American system, and of Christianity is a way of saying "Well, those guys have the followers and the power, but we have the real answers!" I know one guy who goes on and on about how Christians are divided into different sects -- and the Christians basically say "So what?" Some Baha'is were falling all over themselves to put down democracy when the problems with the last Presidential election were going on -- to me, the strength of the American system is that those kinds of things can happen and it doesn't degenerate into civil war or social chaos. And it sure beats an elective system where you basically have to vote blind, and don't have specific civil rights, like freedom of expression. There's no way you could run a secular government the way the Baha'i institutions work; you'd have chaos in no time because people wouldn't tolerate being restricted to certain stifling channels to express their point of view, and having elected bodies that aren't answerable to the voters. That's a step back; not a step forward.

Love, Karen

December 16, 2001
Forum: Zuhur19

I am not sure how much sense the "proving God" question holds in a very strict Baha'i theology, since God is regarded as absolutely unknown and unknowable. So, there is obviously nothing to prove. How do you prove the unknown?

Dear X and guys,

On occasion, a person has tried to convince me that Baha'i liberals are bad guys because they are "practically athiest" and "don't believe in revelation in any meaningful way." To which my response was "big whoop!" If God is unknowable, and all our conceptions about Him are wrong, then it seems to me that there is room for a variety of personal viewpoints -- including some that would raise some eyebrows in the Baha'i community, like an agnostic stance or feminine conceptions of the deity. Now, I'm not much of a theologian, but my understanding of what the Writings say about God is: There is one, and only one God, He is unknowable, but has certain attributes and little glimmers about those attributes can be picked up from "the Book of Creation", and "the Book of Revelation", which He gives us from time to time through a human agent. I think that leaves a whole lot of room for individual interpretation. So I don't get too upset over other people's views about God, except, I guess, I revealed a bit of annoyance at the "Santa Claus" view of God in an earlier post.

As for Y's question, I don't know quite what to do with it -- to me, progress towards God *is* eternal life, whether now or in the afterlife. And I don't do a whole lot of speculating about the latter.

Love, Karen December 16, 2001
Forum: talk.religion.bahai

Dear X, Y, and friends,

I've been talking a lot lately about this whole "democratically-elected" business; both because of my talks with Paul on uk.r.i. and because there's a relatively new Baha'i on my list who is *really* bugged by the way that Baha'i elections are conducted. He is also bugged by how Baha'is go around bragging about how superior their system is to American democracy, and says he doesn't want his children brought up to disdain American freedoms.

I don't think my vote had any impact on anything whatsoever other than locally, where my choices were pretty darn limited. The Chairman of the convention almost invariably was elected -- the two times this one guy from my community was elected were exactly the two times when convention was held here. He was up there running the show when people walked in, looked like he knew what he was doing, and lo! he was elected. The last time I went to Convention the man was an elderly Knight of Baha'u'llah who also happened to live in our community. I was a teller that year, and saw the votes -- a great many of the votes cast for this person were simply written as "Kathy X's father". That is, they didn't even know his name -- all they knew was that he was a "big-deal" Baha'i. I didn't vote for him, since I knew him rather better. But he was elected. Then, I once saw a report on the National Convention, and four of the nine didn't even get a majority of the delegates' votes -- since we put in the nine top vote-getters whether they get a majority or not. The votes are spread so thin that just being a little bit better known than someone else tips the scale. Voting for a delegate entirely by reputation, who in turn will vote largely on impressions that he gets at Wilmette when he's there isn't democracy at all. Democracy runs on free expression and discussion of issues. In the Baha'i system, you might as well put names on a corkboard and throw a dart, for all the difference it makes.

Love, Karen

December 16, 2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

Well, they're going to be subject to more scrutiny. The Internet has changed things. Those sheltered Baha'is under the impression that they belong to a tolerant religion are real upset to find out that they don't. (Just lately, some poor lady was absolutely shocked to find anti-gay attitudes among Baha'is; I guess her local community is pretty tolerant.) Non-Baha'is passing by on more public forums are horrified by the fundamentalists -- who consistently blame the liberals for distributing "misinformation", but the seekers clearly point to the what the fundies are saying as being what disturbs them. The great appeal of the Baha'i Faith has always been its tolerant and progressive teachings. If you hold out to the world the prospect of unswerving obedience to an administrative system as the cure to all the problems of mankind, you just aren't going to get many takers. The long-used Baha'i tactic of putting the good stuff out there for people to see, only letting them see problematic elements when they're "hooked", just isn't going to work anymore. Too much information is going to be out there.

As for the money, have you heard that they are closing the House for the Aged in Wilmette? People are voting with their pocketbooks as well as their feet, so they're closing the only social service dependency the House of Worship has got. From what I hear there were only about eight residents, but I feel bad that even this symbolic effort at caring for human beings is going by the wayside.

Love, Karen

December 16,2001
Forum: Zuhur19

You mentioned the various times and cultures of which we are all products. Presently we are moving into 'a world culture' where some previous human rights are being forfeited in lieu of 'protection from terrorists and crime'.

Well, call me old-fashioned, but I'm rather fond of those individual rights. But then, I come from a part of the world where bumper stickers supporting the second amendment are real common. One of these days, I'm going to get me one of those joke bumper stickers that say "I support the right to keep and arm bears", with a cute picture of a mean-looking bear holding a rifle.

But you're right; it is a trade-off. The biggest threat to freedom is fear -- people will chuck all of their freedoms in a second if they feel to be under personal threat. I refuse to give into the fear. But then, it might be easier for me, because I live in a small town. There's lots of crime, but most of it is drug-related. Anyway, I don't make my kids play in the back yard because I'm afraid someone will kidnap them.(In fact, I was real unhappy about a preschool "stranger-danger" program that completely frightened and confused my then four-year-old son.)

[personal info snipped] I just don't spend a lot of time worrying about it. I'm not going to give whatever evil bastards are out there power over me, even when they aren't directly threatening me, by allowing them to force me to live in fear. I sure don't want the rights of the accused taken away, just so they can be put away faster. Don't think it can't be you. What's the old saying? "A liberal is a conservative who's been arrested." Believe me, I could tell you stories about the drug war locally that would curl your hair. (Husband's in the court system, remember?) Rights are a precarious thing; there's always pressure to give them away for what is supposedly the greater good -- and it's great until it's you or someone you care about is in trouble. That's not a future I'd like to see.

Love, Karen

December 20, 2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

Dear X,

Thank you. I just had kind of a thought, then I'll try to get back in more detail later. If you take a theocratic position and argue that the Baha'i system is superior to democracy and is the wave of the future, it falls flat, But lets look at the system simply as a way of running a faith community: Just how workable is using democratic processes to run a religion? Baha'u'llah took a very radical step in taking the decisions about religious law out of the hands of trained clerics, and running His religion through a system of elected bodies. However, you would also expect a religion to have certain safeguards -- so basic tenets are not simply voted out as times change. Baha'u'llah declared that administrative matters are in the hands of the House of Justice, but all matters of worship were untouchable by them. How is that safeguarded? Exactly how flexible did Baha'u'llah intend His system to be? How, in a system where trained religious scholars do not have authority, do you prevent things from just settling into the "lowest common denominator" with people in charge who perhaps don't understand the Writings very well making rulings? How do you manage to make sure the most thorough kind of consultation takes place, with a variety of views put forward, when it is possible to label certain views impermissible and people who hold them can be booted out? How do you prevent a "tyranny of the majority"? There are some real pros and cons both in running a religion through elections and democratic processes. Mostly, among Baha'is what I see is simply faith in the UHJ's ability to infallibly guide the community -- but, as a practical matter, how can these problems be prevented?

I'll leave you with that, and be back soon.

Love, Karen

December 20,2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

Dear friends,

I'm still getting caught up, having had some distractions elsewhere. However, it looks like you guys are doing just fine without me.

As far as elections go, I think Shoghi Effendi's intent was to exclude from the Baha'i system aspects of democracy that he viewed as harmful: partisanship, contention, special interest influence etc. That is certainly understandable; Lord knows Americans themselves do enough griping about their politicians and their political system. But the flip side of this is that information and the exchange of ideas is stifled.

In American elections, issues are openly spoken of, and a candidate's stand on those issues is the basis for casting one's vote. Certainly, personalities and reputation are involved as well -- but even if all you know about a person in what party he comes from, you at least have some general notion of his approach and what policies he is likely to support. A free press supports the system by circulating both information about candidates and the pros and cons of various laws and policies. If you disagree with the status quo, you are free to do so openly and lobby for change. The most difficult, and sometimes impossible, policy to change is something that has been supported by a Supreme Court decision, but even then, one's disagreement is not stifled -- as the strength of the Pro-life movement will attest, for example. American politics is messy and contentious, but it does work. In spite of the often radical differences you see, it works. I sometimes would hear Baha'is point to the down-to-the-wire vote count in the last Presidential election as evidence for how flawed the American system is. However, there are plenty of countries where such a disputed election would have been the occasion for real instability, perhaps civil war. It works, is time-tested, and Americans, outside of the most radical fringes of right and left, trust it.

Baha'i elections probably work best on the local level, in communities that are large enough to offer a choice, but still small enough that one is likely to know the members of the community individually and quite well, at least if one is an active BIGS for any length of time In such a situation, the Baha'i system probably works as well, or even better than the American political system. However, such ideal-sized communities are the minority.

It's on the level of delegate that the democratic element really breaks down. The delegate's primary job is to elect NSA members, yet voters elect this delegate having no idea about the criteria he will use to decide -- except the ideals set out by Shoghi Effendi. The delegate will probably be less known to the voters, especially if he comes from another community. The delegates, once back at Wilmette will know each other even less well, and maybe not at all. Most likely the deciding factor for the casting of the delegate's vote will be visibility at convention, perhaps passing impressions made by a single speech.

In fact, the issue of that system's resistence to change was brought up at the National Convention the year I was there, and was dealt with so deftly that I don't doubt that it comes up quite commonly.

Lacking personal knowledge, a person could be expected to turn to the press -- but within the Baha'i Faith there is no free press. It is controlled by the people already in office. In addition, Baha'is have a culture where criticism is frowned upon, so it is extremely difficult to express dissent -- especially on issues concerning National or International policy. Certain aspects are seen as so unchallengeable that a complaint is seen as a person's lack of either understanding or loyalty to the system. In fact there are some reforms so "off-limits" that the open and prolonged support for them is seen as a criteria that one should not be part of the system at all -- allowing women to serve on the UHJ, for example. You can't throw someone out of the country for lobbying against a Supreme Court decision, but you can throw someone out of the Baha'i Faith for lobbying against a UHJ decision. This effectively means that no grassoots reform effort can possibly succeed. If you don't know how people stand on the issue that concerns you, you can't affect things through the vote. The consultation channels of Feast and Unit Convention are largely focused on local affairs, most especially teaching, and it would take a very brave person indeed to raise a controversial issue there. Any Baha'i can write to the Institutions, but will usually get back a letter explaining why things must remain as they are. A thousand, or ten thousand, Baha'is can write in objecting to a policy and they can be effectively ignored, and a strong and credible opposition voice can be thrown out and deprived of any influence.

A situation like that, applied to a national government, would be potentially explosive. The stifled voices would find alternative, and perhaps violent means of making themselves heard. The system would be unstable. In the Baha'i system, what happens is that people just give up in despair -- with that despair perhaps leading to inactivity, or withdrawal. Now one could say that the system works towards the preservation of policies that were intended to be inherent in it by Baha'u'llah and the authorized interpreters. I think that's a matter of debate. One thing is for certain: it works against the growth of the Baha'i Faith as a world religion. There's only so hard people will fight to change a voluntary organization. If it were one's country, one would fight to the dying breath, if the issue were important enough. It is a rare Baha'i who would not either give up or move on, or both.

Love, Karen

December 21, 2001
Forum: talisman9

Dear X,

Hello! My name is Karen Bacquet, and I'm a Baha'i liberal, a very vocal one. And I'm about to shatter your stereotypes. I live in rural America, in a town that has all of 400 people. I'm just launching a career as an elementary schoolteacher; three years ago I was a stay-at-home mom. My academic background is very modest: I have a B.A. in Economics and a Multiple Subject teaching credential, from a state university of no particular distinction. If I ever get a Master's I can guarantee that it won't be in Middle Eastern Studies or any field related to the Baha'i Faith, because no college within driving distance has such a program. I've never been abroad, speak only English, and the very idea of driving a car in a big city terrifies me. In short, I'm very far from the ivory tower and the centers of intellectual discourse.

To be honest, I cannot name any liberal who hounded someone out the Baha'i faith. But what I can say is that Baha'i liberals want their religion to be more of a secular humanist movement as opposed to a religious movement.[This] is the main struggle I see between both secular and religious fundamentalists in the Baha'i faith. One side wants the Baha'i faith to retain its religious appearance while the other wants to make it more of a humanist movement with God being merely relegated to a symbolic role.

This reflects common conservative assumptions about liberals, no matter what religion you're talking about. If a person wanted to be part of a secular humanist movement then they would join one. The religious commitment and spiritual sensibilities of Baha'i liberals is every bit as deep and important to them as their more conservative counter-parts. They do, however, have a different perspective on the teachings. What is misunderstood as "secular" or "watering down" is simply a more tolerant and flexible outlook, and a willingness to adapt to scientific and historical knowledge when it is presented to them, instead of viewing it as a threat to religious faith. (Which is what 'Abdu'l-Baha told us to do, by the way)

It's tough for religious liberals and conservatives to live together; what is important to one side is not important to the other, and vice versa. The "heart" of what it means to be a believer is in a different place. Other religions solve this problem by separating up into separate congregations and going their own way. This, however, is not what the Baha'i Faith is supposed to do -- both sides are quite agreed that separating into sects is not a desirable, or even possible, to any solution that arises in the Baha'i Faith. The whole point is that diverse human beings are supposed to be able to live together. So, what's the solution? Liberals see the answer in the "big tent", tolerance, allowing that diversity to flourish withing the Faith. Conservatives, think the maintenance of unity is to refuse to allow liberals to have any significant voice; their ideas are censored or, if that isn't possible, denounced. Articulate and credible liberals are forced out of the Faith, so their influence is neutralized. Liberals will acknowlege that, whatever the differences, conservatives are sincere Baha'is; conservative refuse liberals that consideration.

But the vast majority of the liberals who are trying to reform the Baha'i faith and make it into a more secular, humanist movement are academics.

How do you know? Did you take a poll or something? From what I can see those who wanted reforms in the system have either been forced out, or have given up in despair. You know, there really aren't that many Baha'i academics -- Juan posted a list once. I don't think it adds up to even two dozen. This picture of college professors conspiring in their ivory towers to "make" the Baha'i Faith into something it's not is just plain silly. What Baha'i liberals want, all they've ever really wanted is room to exist in the Faith. That's all. Just to be who they are.

I wonder when Baha'i liberals will be open enough to admit that they want to make human beings the one that determines what is right or wrong and not God.

No, what it is, is that conservatives are very sure they know what God wants. They've boiled religious faith down to something very simple, black-and-white, and easy to read on the surface. Liberals tend to see shades of grey, and that spiritual understanding is something that grows and develops and is never finished.

Because from what I see here is that there is a clash of not civiliations but agendas; the religionists within the Baha'i faith want to see the moral teachings and values retained while the liberals insist that human beings, under the banner of liberalism, have the right to "correct" God's own teachings, as if human beings are at a higher authority than God.

Once we've got a revelation, it is in human hands -- human beings that will see things in a variety of ways.

What does the Baha'i faith say about homosexual relationships? Of course it doesn't allow it, but do Baha'i liberals want to overhaul that belief because it is incompatible with the *current* trend in secular humanism? So what is the criteria used by Baha'i liberals: the teachings of what they assert is God's or that of fellow secular liberals?

O.K. let's take that example. As it happens, I'm not quite as liberal on that issue as some are. My understanding is that Baha'i teaching is that homosexual activity is forbidden. I do, however, allow others to come up with another understanding, informed by their own investigation and individual conscience. I don't have the right to impose my understanding on anyone, especially concerning a law which does not affect me at all. What right have I to insist that someone else must live a life either of celibacy and frustration, or denial and inner conflict? I will leave it to their own conscientious understanding -- which, to me, is the heart of what it is to be a Baha'i liberal. I'm also frequently appalled at the heartless way gays are often treated in our communities, and that, to me, seems a rather greater sin than any homosexual act could be.

So, for a lesson in liberal thinking, let's look at that statement: Homosexual activity is forbidden by Baha'i law. It looks pretty black-and-white, right? Well, there isn't a great deal in the Writings about it. Baha'u'llah said in the Aqdas that the "matter of boys", i.e. keeping a boy for sexual purposes is too shameful to mention. However, He doesn't shy away from speaking very explicitly about other sorts of behavior He forbids. He didn't even bother to fix a penalty to homosexual acts, so just how important did he consider this? Elsewhere he forbids "livat", a term which appears to be as vague as "sodomy" in English, although I've seen some people say that it means specifically anal intercourse -- an act which does not necessarily have to be performed on another man. That's all Baha'u'llah says on the subject. To understand it better, I'd want to know more about the practice of keeping boys that Baha'u'llah refers to, what "livat" really means, and what kinds of homosexual practices were current in his society that He was talking about. What was Baha'u'llah concerned about? Maybe it was the exploitation of children in this way, or maybe, since this was something done by married men, the lack of fidelity to the marital bond was the issue. He didn't live in a society where gay men lived together as couples, or where there was a "gay" identity at all. Homosexuality was a bit of extramarital fun. All these things shed light on the teaching about homosexuality.

The only other mention of homosexuality comes from Shoghi Effendi, and if I'm not mistaken, from letters written on his behalf. These letters reflect the current knowledge of the day where homosexuality was considered an illness. Are we supposed to take Shoghi Effendi's medical knowledge as infallible? Are we required to echo, parrot-like, the medical position of fifty years ago, because that's what Shoghi Effendi said? How does the teaching on the harmony of science and religion fit in there? In any case, do letters written on the Guardian's behalf constitute infallible interpretation to which all must assent? Then there are questions regarding practice -- to what extent should Baha'i assemblies interfere with an individual's private life? Do we ignore the faithful and committed couple, and intervene in the case of a gay who cruises the bars? Do we tolerate the person in the closet, but pounce if he shows up in a Gay Pride parade? Or do we mind our business altogether?

You see, it just isn't that simple. No matter what issue you decide to look at, there are different ways of seeing it. There are questions to be considered and angles to be examined. This is not "changing" the teaching; this is engaging it in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

There seems to be a rush to judgment on your part. I believe that the Baha'i faith is a neo-secular humanist movement that uses religious overtones as a guise.

Say what??

But the purpose of God and why He sent messengers and prophets was not to make God a symbolic figure but an actual figure who told us humans what is right and wrong and what must be do in this life.

Umm, my understanding of Baha'i teaching is that God is unknowable. In fact, I think that's clear in the Writings. That makes "symbolic" vs. "actual" pretty irrelevant.

In other words, God gives us guidance because we humans need to be guided by God's teachings. If we make the blind man (humans) the guide and make the All-Wise (God) someone whom we do not seek guidance from, then we defeated the very purpose as to why God would send us people to teach us the teachings of God.

Again and again, Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha tell us to "ponder" and "meditate" upon the teachings. We're supposed to think about them, engage them, grapple with their meaning. It's not "O.K. we've got it now." and that's all there is to it. "It's meaning can never be exhausted" is what Baha'u'llah said.

And finally, a question that I have yet to see answered by liberal Baha'is is what is the exact role of God in their understanding? Is God merely symbolic while man is the ultimate reference and source for the creed of the Baha'i faith?"

I believe in God; I also believe that He has, through some process that I can't pretend to understand, revealed Himself to man through Baha'u'llah.

Dr. Cole, human beings without guidance will zigzag and be inconsistent. Human beings who are receiving the guidance from God (who is someone that does not zigzag and have a habit of being confused and prone to opinions of others) tend not to zigzag and be inconsistent.

Oh, I think humans who think they have "guidance from God" do plenty of zigzagging. Fundamentalists "pick and choose" every bit as much as they think the liberals do.

The question remains for Baha'i liberals to answer: Did God send us guidance or did He tell man to guide themselves with their own values determined by themselves to be right or wrong? Also, what is the purpose of having God in the picture when Baha'i liberals want to put God out as an actual legislator and replace God with man who will legislate and determin what is right or wrong?

Baha'u'llah put man in the position of legislator -- He believed in consultation, and in fact, left many areas open precisely because He believed in that flexible process.

Love, Karen

December 22, 2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

The UHJ and NSA's assume that respect, obedience, fealty, and so on accrue to them automatically, just by virtue of their "being." 'Taint so. Respect and obedience have to be EARNED.

Dear X,

I've brought this up on several occasions on various forums, and the answer basically is that such obedience, respect, loyalty, etc. is part and parcel of Baha'i belief -- the *quality* of what we're giving all that to seems to be almost irrelevant. We are expected to be patient and forbearing with any faults the institutions have (and, of course, the UHJ is presumed not to have any), to remember that they're embryonic, that people make mistakes and all the rest of it. No matter how terrible the injustice, no matter how badly someone has been hurt, we are supposed to just forget it and come back for more. One of the most difficult problems I have with the system as it now stands, or even Baha'i culture as a whole, is that *people* don't matter -- It's like they govern by that old saying "I love mankind; it's people I can't stand." Maybe it's just part of my emotional make-up. I never could love the institutions with the kind of fervor I've seen people out on the Internet express, although once upon a time I respected and trusted them, but people, individuals, matter to me. I guess that kind of puts me out of step.

Love, Karen

December 22, 2001
Forum: talisman9

Perhaps we can start with Baha'i scholars who want to keep God and God's role in history out of their scholarship as an example of relegating "God to a symbolic role". A whole trainload of Baha'i academics have that problem.

Dear X,

I'm not an academic or scholar of any kind, so I might be talking beyond what I know here, but I see a couple of big problems with keeping God "in history". For one thing, different religions have different conceptions of precisely what God's actions in history are. Is the field of religious history to be balkanized to where we have a "Baha'i history", a "Mormon history", a "Catholic history" etc? Looking at history in an objective fashion provides a common framework -- one would use the same standards of evidence to examine the history of any religion, no matter what particular religion the historian might belong to.

Secondly, since realistically Baha'is are not going to re-vamp the entire way that academics examine religious history, to insist that Baha'i historians use some kind of other standard means they can't write history that would be credible in the world at large. Don't you want Baha'u'llah to be known and appreciated for the great historical figure he was, even among those who don't believe in his manifestation? Don't you want the historical context for the Writings to be examined, so we can understand them better? Do you really want Baha'i history to be reduced to a subset of apologetics, where our historians are writing only for believers, or those we might hope to convert?

God is not a historical figure; the Manifestations are, and they can and should be examined for their role in history. This doesn't mean that God is not important, or that He has been relegated to something "symbolic". It just means that discussing God is beyond the purview of the historian.

To demonstrate that one sees God as real as opposed to a merely symbolic entity is to obey God's injunctions in word and deed - rather than trying ignore or explain them away in light of currently popular ideas and ideologies.

As I tried to demonstrate in my last post, "obeying God's injunctions" is not always a simple matter. There are a myriad of ways of looking at religious texts, and of applying religious law. And both of those will inevitably change over time. None of us has the right to point the finger at another and say that they are either not obeying God's laws or advocating that people should not. We've each got our own row to hoe.

Love, Karen

December 23, 2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

Dear X,

The fear of informants stems from the fact that a few people have been either thrown, or pushed out of the Faith, based upon emails that have been turned in about them -- that's what happened to the Talisman six in 1996, and to Michael McKenny and Alison Marshall. I also know of somebody else who resigned because they discovered they were being investigated for online activities. Now, this has only happened to people who are pretty vocal, long-time posters -- so this fear can be exagerated. For the most part, probably all that would happen to anybody here is that their email would be in somebody's file somewhere.

So the answer is, Sean, to the question "What can they do?" is that, at rock-bottom worst, they can take your membership in the Baha'i Faith away. Or you might have to endure the rather emotionally trying experience of being investigated by an ABM or Counsellor. But, odds are, that won't happen.

Of course, some people just feel protective of their privacy, and feel pretty uncomfortable with the notion of having their emails read by Baha'i officials, whether or not it ever leads to them getting into trouble. What kind of risk you want to take about that is a choice that only the individual can make.

Love, Karen

December 24,2001
Forum: talisman9

IMO, the *real* problem with keeping God in the study of history - or anything else where it might be relevant - is that it is a bad career move for historians who are working on their careers in the academy. They are afarid of challenging the prevailing methodologies because their careers depend on supporting the very methodologies that deny the divine out of hand, i.e. are embedded in a non-theistic metaphysic and ontology.

Dear X,

I'm not convinced at all that's the *real* problem. For one thing, nobody's got a gun to anybody's history to write specifically about religious history. Juan, for example, can, and indeed has, written about aspects of Middle Eastern history that doesn't have anything to do with the Baha'i Faith. In fact, I suspect that if one was simply writing with an eye to advancing one's career, I'm not so sure that writing about Baha'i stuff would be all that advantageous. Certainly, if he'd opted not to write about the Faith he could have avoided some major hassles in other respects. I don't know anything about the ins and outs of climbing the academic career ladder, but it seems to me that people that go into fields related to religious studies or religious history do so out of interest, and probably do not feel a substantial conflict between their own religious faith and looking at religion from an academic perspective. What evidence do you have that academics don't include God in history because they are "afraid" of looking religious?

To me, it would just be part and parcel of the job to be as religiously objective as is humanly possible. I do that as an elementary schoolteacher. I'm not allowed to put God into history when I teach it, either. I don't refrain because I'm afraid, but because it is part of my job -- to be objective and not let my own biases intrude, to make adjustments in the classroom routine when a child's religious background requires it, even though some things strike me as ridiculous. (Like not participating in Halloween because it's satanic, or forbidding Harry Potter.) I have had children ask me questions about my Baha'i ring, and I generally just tell them that's it's an Arabic symbol for God, and that's it, because it is inappropriate for me to in any way "teach the Faith" in the classroom. (When I was more inexperienced, I would say it was a Baha'i symbol, but that usually leads only to more questions.) I don't think this is contradictory with my religious faith at all. And while I can't speak for Baha'i academics, I would imagine that their attitude is somewhat similar.

Just as a fun digression: I did get away with reciting a prayer in class once. I was substituting long-term at the end of the year in the same sixth-grade classroom where I had done my student teaching. I can't remember how the discussion veered this way, but a young girl named Fateema said that her name was the name of an Arabian princess. So I told her that Fatimih was Muhammad's daughter, etc. and so we began talking about Islam. Well, I ended up reciting the Fatiha for the kids, in Arabic that I've learned by heart, then saying it again in translation so they'd know what it meant. The kids thought it was really cool, and asked me to say it again. I was surprised they were so interested. Teaching sixth grade history is a such a kick.:-)

There is nothing wrong with scholars using this secular methodology - they have an unfettered right to choose any method they wish - but what they must not be allowed to do is to turn a specifically Baha'i scholarship into a clone of non-theistic humanist scholarship.

I'm not quite sure I understand what you mean by this. Do we have a "specifically Baha'i scholarship"? Aren't most of our scholars trained in prevailing academic methods that they apply to the study of the Faith? Or are you saying we have to invent a specifically Baha'i methodology that would conform the study of Baha'i history to approved religious doctrine?

IMO, Baha'i scholarship - as ditinct from scholarship done by Baha'is - will not be developed in the academies. Like the Catholics (Georgetown, for example) we must eventually set up our own universities and colleges.

Well, I think both 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi envisioned that, but that day is a long way off. In the meantime, the only people we have doing the important work of examining Baha'i history are trained in the methods prevelant in universities, and I don't feel that they are somehow required to sacrifice part of their religious faith in order to do so. That they are suspected of sacrificing their religious faith to do so is, I think, very sad.

Love, Karen

December 25, 2001
Forum: talisman9

'Baha'i scholarship' - as distinct from scholarship done by Baha'is -logically needs only one premise: The Manifestation of God, Baha'u'llah is never wrong. O.K., so you're defining "Baha'i scholarship" as basically a kind of seminary scholarship, where the texts one is looking at are assumed to be revelation from God, with the scholar's job being to extract their meaning. I think there is a place for this kind of study, and there's a long and rich tradition of it in other Western religions. It's a perfectly valid, indeed valuable, approach within its own context. But I don't believe it is history, in any way, shape or form. You aren't a historian if you proceed from the premise that the historical narratives in the Bible are accurate; you're something else entirely. The same applies to Baha'i scripture, which doesn't have so much historical narrative, and so it shouldn't conflict so much with what the historian is trying to do.

In case of conflict with other views, there are always 6 possibilities: (a) Baha'u'llah is wrong; (b) Baha'u'llah is misunderstood; (c) the opposing view is wrong; (d) the opposing view is misunderstood; (e) both Baha'u'llah and the opposing view are wrong; (f) both Baha'u'llah and the opposing views are misunderstood. 'Baha'i scholarship' - categorically rejects (a) and half of (e). It can accept any of the others, and it can accept a wide variety of ways of understanding Baha'u'llah's statements but (a) and 1/2 (e) are never on the menu. IOW, Baha'i scholarship is free to find any number of ways, current or yet to be invented, in which we may understand Baha'u'llah to be right, but not any way in which He is supposedly wrong. If this is a restriction it is no worse than the current restriction that God or divine action may not be invoked under any circumstances. The current acceptable scholarly method would put (a) and (e) fully on the menu of possibilities

I would agree that those possibilities would be "on the table" so to speak, although I can't remember any statement from any Baha'i scholar that "Baha'u'llah was wrong". His being right or wrong would not be a historical question, anyway. More interesting, I would think, would be "Why did he say what he said, when he said it?" However, from what I've seen, Baha'u'llah himself holds up very well under the light of history. In fact, I am confident that He will continue to do so, and don't fear objective analysis. If Baha'u'llah cannot stand up under this kind of scrutiny, then we're all just following a shadow anyway.

which, in effect, reduces Baha'u'llah's statements to one set of statements among many others, and is a de facto denial of His status as a Manifestation insofar as a Manifestation is infallible in whatever statements S/he chooses to make. Thus, scholars who accede to the current methodology have - willy-nilly, whether they mean to or not - sacrificed their religious principles to the contemporary expectations in scholarship. There is no suspicion about this: it's a logicaly deducible fact. *If* there is sadness here, it is in their willingness to do so.

I completely disagree. Baha'u'llah said the Manifestation can be viewed in a variety of ways, including that of "Servant of God." i.e. a human being. Baha'u'llah, like all the Manifestations, was a man who walked the earth at a certain time and place, speaking a certain language, living within a certain cultural context, responding to certain events. The discovery of these things enriches our understanding of the Manifestation and His revelation, IMV. What you are saying is that Baha'i scholarship must be subject to one certain view of the Manifestation, or otherwise it is a kind of betrayal. To me, this attitude is, in itself a betrayal of the fundamental principle of the harmony of reason and religion. Baha'u'llah Himself allows for differing views of the Manifestation, and in fact, forbade the friends from arguing about it. 'Abdu'l-Baha says again and again that religion should be subject to reason. Never, ever, does he say that the search for truth through reason must be subject to religious doctrine -- and I don't believe he meant to give Baha'i doctrine an exemption here. However, in the meantime, I see no hope whatever of making room for Baha'i scholarship in the established schools - even those which have specifically religious colleges attached to them. We are faced with a clash of logically incommensurate world-views and therefore, each of us must choose. "Once to every man and nation / Comes a moment to decide" as Luther wrote in his poem.

If there is no room for differing world-views within the Faith, then its claim to be a world-uniting force is simply false, and the both of us, X, are on a fool's errand. There are other views out there besides the Western secular tradition -- the religious viewpoint of the Far East comes readily to mind, a perspective that has no room at all for prophets and a personal God who intervenes in history. Are they to be excluded, too? How many of the world's people's are going to be seen as too much in conflict with the Baha'i Faith as it is commonly understood to be a part of it?

[personal stuff snipped] What you do as an elementary teacher (my wife is one too) is perfectly common-sensical: your charges are small children whose first job is to learn the basics and who are incapable of appreciating the deeper and wider significance of the issues involved. But what is appropriate at the elementary level is wholly inappropriate at a university. There they should be debating the great issues - including theistic vs a-theistic world-views and methodologies - - but that is precisely what they and their minions refuse to do Well, certainly I would agree that a university is a place for a great variety of ideas and perspectives to be debated -- preferably the widest possible variety. And I don't doubt that the "theistic world view" is probably one that isn't real popular there. It's just that I think that looking at religious history from a perspective that doesn't include the assumption that God intervenes in history is valid, and doesn't necessarily mean a betrayal of belief -- in whatever religion studied. I would not term this a-thiestic; agnostic, maybe -- it's left to the unknown. Maybe God intervenes in history; maybe He doesn't -- it's not the historian's job to say. For me, in spite of my own belief, I like that "objective" academic voice; I like for things to hang together and make sense. That was true even when I was a much more traditional Baha'i than I am now.

The open-minded attitude of your grade 6's puts them to shame. Well, they have the curiosity of children, which is one of the things that makes teaching the most fun you can have with your clothes on, IMO. :-)

There is only one reason Baha'i academics refuse to challenge the methodologies where warranted: careerism. Now don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with careerism, it's a perfectly legitimate personal choice, but let's not dress it up as anything else. They want publications, tenure and some, chairmanships. It is their choice whether or not to reduce Baha'u'llah' to just another opinion. Good and fine, and I'll defend it one way or another down to the wire - but let's call a spade a spade ...

If careerism is the whole point, why deal with Baha'u'llah at all? What advantage would there be? From what I've heard, one reason that non-Baha'i scholars haven't delved much into Baha'i history is precisely because it has some major *disadvantages*. It's a taboo topic over there in Iran and the Middle East, and it's you risk alienating people who you might otherwise need for access to information on other aspects of the history there. I've heard stories of scholars who have had career setbacks precisely because they are known as scholars of Babi and Baha'i Studies. Looks to me like Baha'i academics are actually taking something of a risk by doing work on the Faith. The only advantage I can see is, because so little work has been done in this area, almost any person doing research in that field would be a ground-breaker of sorts. Of course, I have no idea whether that would outweigh the disadvantages. Certainly, the mistrust and hassles our scholars have endured have exacted a personal price, even for those who have remained enrolled members. I just don't believe that career is the main motivation here. These guys went into these fields as idealistic Baha'i youth in the '70s; that is, they were Baha'is before they were academics, and they chose their academic path as a means of serving the Faith. Small thanks we gave them, IMV.

My own experience in academia is not happy. From a 'golden boy' with a Governor General's Gold Medal (the highest undergraduate academic award in Canada) to Canada Council Research Grants and straight 9's (stanine system) in all Ph.d. work and doctoral exams - - to a bum - because I refused to play the careerist games and do the right methodological dances ... I know how it works there ...and they can't fool me one bit.

I had a friend like that, a guy with an I.Q. with over 200, who didn't even get so far as his bachelor's because he refused to "play the game". A very bright cousin of mine did something similar. A lot of highly intelligent people are quite independent and averse to playing by anyone else's rules. I was always more of a conformist, believe it or not. :-) Here in California, I had to jump through more hoops than a show-dog to get my credential, and a person with a perfectly valid teaching credential from another state would not be acceptable here. Yes, there are stupid rules, stupid games, and stupid people. But "you pays your money, and you takes your choice". There's a price to be paid for thinking and acting independently, as I've discovered in other areas of my life. The thing is in deciding whether or not the price is worth it.

Love, Karen

December 29, 2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

Dear X,

I wasn't thinking so much of "Who is discriminated against?" as "Who has a really rough time in the Faith and is likely to have disillusioning experiences?" Gays, certainly, have to be at the top of the list. Another vulnerable group is intellectuals -- people who deal with ideas, especially if they write and publish those ideas professionally. They, after all, are the only ones who ever run into the prepublication review process. I've run into other Baha'is who don't even *know* about it, for heaven's sake. A third group seems to be, at least in this country, are working class and poor people. That's probably a real subjective view on my part, but it seems to me I see complaints from people who find the people in charge to be "snobs", and often these are blue collar folks who feel intimidated sometimes. That's something I've seen in real life more than in cyberspace.

I find it real ironic that Baha'is will wax poetic about how "spiritual" all those Third World poor are, in contrast to we "materialistic" Americans. I've heard materialism blamed a lot for the lack of growth in the Faith. Personally, I find that attitude real patronizing. Just what is so darn spiritual about poverty and ignorance? No one is more materially oriented than a person on the bare edge of survival. It's very easy to romanticize at a distance. And when it comes to poor people who are up close, Baha'is do an absymal job of dealing with them. Let's face it, the poor are rarely attractive. They are often ignorant, don't have the manners we are accustomed to, and often have bad habits(like smoking, drinking etc.) that we want them to give up. Idealism is great, but if we don't look realistically at who we are dealing with, then it's impossible to put those ideals into practice. We don't get there by sitting around in our middle-class living rooms gushing about how spiritual and pure of heart poor people are, while want to whip those we actually meet into shape from the get-go. That's even if we dare go near them. Anyway, end of sermon -- but I think that's another vulnerable group of Baha'is, one we don't hear from so much on the Internet.

Has anybody out there noticed any other groups of people who seem particularly "put upon" by the Baha'i community?

Love, Karen

December 30, 2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

Dear X, As you can see, I'm still getting caught up here, having the distraction of the holidays and various other things.

The reform that I would like to see is perhaps to impose term limits and permit those elected to resign from an institution if they wish.

Term limits have been proposed before -- in fact this was one of the most controversial aspects of "A Modest Proposal", and very likely one reason why the NSA was so anxious about that paper. Most of the other proposals on there were fairly mild, and a few, like regional councils, have actually been implemented. The only other really controversial reform proposal was the abolition of prepublication review.

If they allowed all the people who didn't want to be serving on LSAs to resign, I think they'd have darn few LSAs left -- that's why they can't allow it. Besides, that was laid down by Shoghi Effendi, so it would probably be seen as inalterable.

When I used to meet with the kids of my village after homework our consultation as to how to proceed always went so smoothly, and somehow I can't see why it shouldn't be as easy as that in the Faith.

Well, one reason I think that consultation was always so hard was that, where the Faith was concerned, people were so impractical. There's all these enthusiastic ideas, responses to the assurances the EBT is just around the corner, but no realistic assessment about what a tiny community was capable of doing. We were always over-stretching ourselves, but it was hard to say "No, we just can't do that." Even in LSA consultation about personal matters, where we actually didn't do too badly, locally, all things considered, there were people that we so bound up in the ideal that they weren't any help at all when it came to real-life situations. Anyway, that's why I think consultation is more difficult with Baha'is than in non-Baha'i situations -- we aren't consulting in the real world, but the world of Baha'i idealism. Which actually makes it harder to get anything done.

Love, Karen

December 30, 2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

Dear X,

Oooo, I really hate this sort of thing! A friendly dinner invitation transformed into a teaching event. When I was still a fairly new Baha'i, a couple invited my husband and I over for dinner, but it soon became apparent that it was a way of trying to get my husband to convert. Geez, Louise! If he had even the vaguest curiosity about the Faith, he had tons of information right in his very own house -- even if he didn't want to talk to me about it, he could have found out just about anything he wanted to know.

As for the Christmas present -- it's just darn silly the way Christmas, either celebrating it or not celebrating it ends up being such a big deal. Especially when you consider how many of us are converts, with non-Baha'i spouses and non-Baha'i relatives. Even if I'd been married to a Baha'i, I still would have celebrated Christmas with extended family. Why offend your parents and relatives and hurt their feelings over such a minor issue? Now if you're a third-generation Baha'i, married to a Baha'i, and the closest non-Baha'i relatives you've got are second cousins that you see once every five years at family reunions, skipping Christmas makes some sense. Otherwise, go eat that nice dinner with your family, watch sports on t.v. afterwards with your Grandad, and let your kids get presents along with their cousins. The Christmas tree at home is optional. :-)

Love, Karen

December 30, 2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

I happen to have run into those who feel, almost to a person (most I have run into in my Baha'i experience were women), that the AO (administrative order for Newbies) will take over and become the secular government. The Local Spiritual Assemblies, for example, will become what we Americans might call city councils; the Nationals would become national governments, and the Universal House of Justice would serve as the secular government for the entire world.

Dear X,

That was my experience as well -- the impression I was given was that it was just part of being a Baha'i, and you start looking at Shoghi Effendi through that lens. I later found out that there are some locals who don't buy into the theocracy thing, but had never said so openly. Looking back, I can't think why I bought into it -- it always bothered me, but I was so head-over-heels with Baha'u'llah that I pulled a Scarlett O'Hara and decided to think about it "tomorrow". It's like accepting UHJ infallibility -- it's so distant, and doesn't have anything to do with one's immediate spiritual life, so I just didn't deal with it. It wasn't until I read "Modernity and the Millennium" that I ever saw the anti-theocratic position described -- and it didn't take a lot of persuasion for it to make sense to me!

Interestingly enough, I ran into a guy online that simply refused to believe that Baha'is think they are building a theocracy ruled by the Institutions -- I had to produce emails to prove that they did. He said he never knew anybody who believed that!

The only debate in my neck of the woods was on the existence of membership in other religious bodies - would Christians allowed to be Christian, Muslims Islamic, and so forth? There were people who believed in all sincerity that once the members of other religious bodies were aware of the Truth (as Baha'is taught it), they would convert automatically and, therefore, that there would be no need for membership in any other religion. Everyone would automatically become Baha'i - and enrolled at that - of their own free will.

Well, that's the thing -- exactly how is this little miracle supposed to happen? Baha'is aren't supposed to be involved in politics, so we can't create a theocracy by vote; I can't imagine Baha'is staging a coup and taking over a government. That would make other governments pretty wary of us, I should think. Even if 90% of the country were Baha'i, how are we going to dissolve the current governmental structure? Besides that, eventually the whole "ban on politics" thing is going to break down -- if nearly everyone in the country is Baha'i, who is going to serve in secular office? I would suspect there would be Baha'is somewhere who would think it worthwhile to lose voting rights, or leave the Faith, in order to enter politics. Enough to keep the old order running, at any rate.

Speaking of which, I heard in the early 90s that the President of Guyana had become a Baha'i, but couldn't announce it publicly because he was holding political office, and he was working with the AO about how to handle it. Anybody know what ever happened with that?

There were others who felt, also in all sincerity, that members of other religions would continue to be members of those religions. However, there remains some debate - primarily over the Internet - as to how they would be granted administrative rights. As we all know, only enrolled members in the Haifa tradition (in good standing) can currently vote for members of the AO, and there is some belief (from what I've seen) that this practice will continue on as the Baha'i Faith's AO becomes the secular world government.

Well, like I said, people who think this way are real vague on how this is going to happen. People in those other religions are not going to just turn over power to our institutions.

For us in America - who cherish the First Amendment and believe that the Establishment Clause prohibits the Baha'i Faith from doing this to our government (taking over and making it, in essence, a Baha'i state), this can be nothing short of horrifying.

Don't worry about it; it's just not going to happen. The Baha'i Faith has to figure out how to keep its own members from going out the back door as fast as they come in the front before we start worrying about what it will do if it gets political power.

Our ancestors (mine, from Scotland) left our homelands in northwestern Europe precisely to avoid this sort of government. To this day, most of these same European nation-states have officially-established religions to which one must pay taxes (but which one is not obligated to attend according to cultural norms). Because most of these nation-states support nominally Christian bodies, I don't know if the governments would take well to changing the status quo, either. My point in this rather long-winded email is that those who have these opinions have not thought through the ramifications of having the Baha'i AO and the secular government be precisely equivalent

You can sure say that again! It's really kind of a pie-in-the-sky thing -- you might as well be talking about the streets being paved with gold. It's just eschatological fantasy, really.

Love, Karen

December 30, 2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

Dear X,

The thing that bothers me is besides the over-emphasis on building, is their contempt for those who question it. Peter Khan addressed criticisms about the terraces and arc, and his answer was that the problem is that some Baha'is are not developing "a sense of spiritual consciousness", otherwise they would see the spiritual import of what the UHJ is doing. That is, if you think the money should be spend on something that benefits mankind, then you are unspiritual. To me this is just so warped. I'd buy into the spiritual importance of a building if people gathered there to worship -- even an elaborate, expensive building, but not terraced gardens whose only reason for being is to look really, really impressive so the Baha'i Faith looks like a major religion.

But I guess that just proves how unspiritual I am.

I might as well give Baha'u'llah's opinion on this: "Know this, O youth! His House resides in hearts and was not raised upon mere stone and clay." [from the Mathnavi-i-Mubarak]

Love, Karen

December 30, 2001
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i

Dear X,

From all the stories I hear, ABMs vary widely in their approach, and even individuals probably vary depending on how great a threat they think a person is. In some cases, Baha'is subjected to these interrogations would have been perfectly justified in calling the cops -- situations where the door was locked and they weren't allowed to leave. (Somebody ought to clue these people in that this is false imprisonment and is illegal.) In others, it was fairly friendly and loose. Most probably fall somewhere in between.

I only had one experience with an ABM investigation, during the first CB panic that our community went through. Here I was, going through this big spiritual crisis, and I really felt like she was just interfering. The answers she gave me didn't make any sense. What convinced me that I was on the road to nowhere was the material I got from this group -- it turned out to be BUPC. I resented not being credited with enough intelligence to figure things out without an official dispensing truths from on high, and holding a threat over my head. Now, objectively, she probably wasn't as harsh as a lot of ABMs, but at the time it was pretty damned uncomfortable.

Love, Karen

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