Bahá'í Epistolary

Thursday, 12 November 2009

If religion divides - why join one? If truth is universal, why "label" oneself? Why call oneself "Baha'i", and not just believe, and remain open?

Following good feedback, this is a podcast (my second!)of another talk I gave at Cambridge University, addressing the perennial question that Baha'is encounter: "I like the Baha'i teachings very much, I even love Baha'u'llah, but I don't want to label myself, I want to be free to be myself, and not divide myself from others by joining anything." I think people who state this view, have a point. You can find it in zipped format here.


Anonymous said...

Good question, partly replied in the excellent comment on unity in diversity. We certainly need diversity, but to cope with the very high challenges of humanity, we will have to collaborate and cooperate. One-man-shows are not sufficient. We cannot cooperate without a minimum of harmony and standardisation. Computers, communications, air travel and orchestral music all need a degree of harmony and coherence.

We can count on our fingers, use smoke signals, hike and sing in our showers, but if we want to engage in collective enterprises, we need team work and coherence for which we need to belong to a specific team.

The outstanding feature of the Baha’i Faith is that religion is no longer merely concerned with our personal redemption or karma, but with collective morals. The same virtues that were required for the individual to work his own way to heaven or to nirvana, is now required for our collective enterprises without which our planet will not survive. The Baha’i Faith does not promote a consumer oriented spirituality, but a service oriented spirituality.

Anonymous said...

I've been following your blog for some time and this is the first time I've heard of your doing a podcast. I'm delighted to have a voice put to these words I cherish. Would you please post a link to your other podcast?

Unknown said...

This important point underscores a distinguishing aspect of the Baha’i dispensation: morality is no longer a personal achievement but a collective one. Our aim in following a religion is no longer the attainment of personal redemption for the next world, but one of a collective enterprise in this world. Individual efforts are essential, but insufficient if they are not articulated with that of others.

The challenges facing humanity are collective ones. If humanity is to survive, we still all need to attain outstanding personal attributes, but beyond this, we also have to articulate our talents with others. It is no longer sufficient to be a virtuoso; we also have to learn harmony and collaboration so as to participate in, a symphony. This doesn’t mean that we no longer need to practice on our piano or sing in our shower; it means that some of our time needs to be consecrated to collective enterprises. In order to harmonise our efforts, we need to identify a maestro and comply by his arbitration. This is why Baha’u’llah opens the Aqdas with the following words:

"The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws,…whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed. It behoveth every one who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration."

The most outstanding musician will disrupt the symphony is he is unable to articulate his efforts with others. This is why those why engage in a common enterprise need throw in their lot with co-workers.


Thank you all for your comments. Indeed, the podcast echoes Anonymous 1 and Concord's comments, with the added dimension that, from a Baha'i perspective, to turn away from religion when it is causing disunity, is in itself a religious act, that partly explains and validates today's reluctance to engage with any such identity. On the other hand, it also touches on the dangers of "throwing the baby with the bathwater"...

Evan, my previous podcast is the ante-penultimate one, immediately preceding the "unity in diversity" post. You can find it here:

Lukas said...

This is an interesting topic that comes up from time to time, especially with people who are just learning about the Faith or are trying to figure out what the implications of their belief in Baha'u'llah are.

For me the answer is contained in the first paragraph of the Aqdas (part of which is quoted above), that to recognize is the first duty, and that obedience is inseparable from true recognition. Once you understand that it is only possible to obey Baha'u'llah's laws as a member of His community (i.e. giving to the fund, Huquq'u'llah, pilgrimage etc), at least one of the many reasons to register as a Baha'i is rather obvious.

However, confusion between and conflation of being a Baha'i and registering as a member of the Baha'i community can be tricky for people - especially since many Baha'is themselves are struggling to understand the distinction. That's one more reason why the culture of learning is so beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Note: here is a good description of the real problems behind the crisis of global "information culture":

The culture in which we find ourselves at the end of the twentieth century demands that we be capable of dialectical, post-ideological, transpersonal, fifth order thinking.
The role of information technology is central to this. It both enables and demands the dissolution of boundaries, the development of transegoic consciousness, the transcendence of rational, linear, dualistic thinking and the constraints of quantified space and time. It both enables and demands the emergence of an holistic, eco-centric, process-oriented, constructivist curriculum. It both enables and demands a new way of thinking both from students and their teachers."


back to the topic at hand:

As an ex-bahai that has studied integral theory and the dharma traditions, I find the idea that there is something "new" about the collective orientation of spirituality in bahai, well, .... odd.

(I've seen this assertion elsewhere in bahai cyberspace recently, and it never made sense on a surface level. At the most primitive, evolutionary levels, our DNA "wires" us for collective behavior, we are multi-cellular beings, and have lived in clans and tribes for millions of years!)

In the Jungian scheme, consciousness is about three basic qualities:

(1) the Beautiful
(I: interior/individual),

(2) the Good
(We: interior/collective)

(3) the True
(It: exterior/individual)

(the 4th sphere, "systems", exterior/collective, was not specified in the scheme.)

The entire purpose of premodern religion was to bond people into tribes, and empires. What could be more collective than that? The ultimate act of a collective religion (gone bad) is Inquisition, which is not a good thing. Inquisition always goes along with Imperialism.

It was only when modernism (Weber's differentiation of life spheres) became dominant (via industrial capitalism, democracy, rational culture) that "individualism" developed as a dominant paradigm. And the paradigm was purely, and profoundly, non-spiritual. Most science, and most democracy (liberalism) is deeply anti-spiritual in the sense that it is opposed to the conformist myth structures that were used to *interpret* premodern spirituality in conformist, medieval cultures.

Note: many scholars of comparative religion and mysticism have observed that the tendency to romanticize outmoded metaphysics usually leads to "paradigm regression". (Isenburg/Thursby)

Most people that are familiar with the issue will see, quite clearly, that bahais are dangerously close to reinventing a globalized version of tribalism and imperialism. Feel good stuff will not fool people that have an instinctive aversion to mythic conformity, suppression of free expression and dissent, and so forth (the classic signifiers of modernity and the western enlightenment).

In a postmodern/holistic world, integration is a much better goal than the revival of the shadows of tribal collectivism.

Here is an example of people in the dharma traditions offering tools for spiritual transformation and healing whose object is bringing "shadow" into "light":

Anonymous said...

The big problem with collective identity, even in "rationalist" organizations such as businesses and research institutions, is GROUPTHINK.

Rationalists that behave irrationally cause major problems: incoherence of vision/mission.

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