Friday, 14 May 2010

Are all adjectives simplistic and outdated?

This is a response to a blog post entitled “the naked sting of exegesis”.

I never enjoy conflict. That is one thing that I can truly say. Conflict disturbs me. But what disturbs me even more are attacks on beliefs that I hold sacred. As a Bahá’í, I accept the authority of the Bahá’í scriptures. The writings of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi are authoritative for believers in the Faith and explain many of the most difficult questions: good and evil, the nature of prophets and manifestations, predestination, life after death. Of course there are no complete explanations, because humanity is not perfect. We can only absorb so much at a time and comprehend the teachings to a certain level. Nevertheless, the existence of the voluminous writings aforementioned really removes a lot of the causes of conflict that exist in other religions. Is the Prophet God or man? A simple investigation of the Scriptures reveals the answer. Why do bad things happen to good people? The Scriptures again provide the answer. Bahá’í laws are also quite clear. If there is any reason for doubt, one can turn to institutions, such as the Universal House of Justice, which is infallible. So there really isn’t much room for conflict in the Faith. Conflicts do exist, however, quite often where a scholar or intellectual has a problem with one of the Bahá’í teachings. The issue of women on the House of Justice, for instance, is only a problem if one doesn’t accept the authority of Bahá’u’lláh who created the teaching in the first place. Most people in the world are not looking for doubt, but certainty, and any conflicts of this kind are very unhelpful. The Bahá’í teachings provide certainty and clear moral and spiritual guidance. I’m referring to this because of forums such as ----- and Planet Bahá’í where conflicts do often arise because people are unwilling to submit to the divine teachings.

Now, that is just a bit of an introduction. I am writing this post because of a recent blog post attacking me personally and attacking my beliefs. I am only writing this to defend myself and uphold my principles. Let me start with a point that troubles me in particular. On my Facebook profile, I have listed myself as a World Federalist, a monarchist and morally conservative. Anyone who has investigated the Bahá’í teachings will observe that the Bahá’í Faith cannot be classified as liberal or conservative, left-wing or right-wing. Shoghi Effendi writes: “There can and should be not liberal or conservatives, no moderates or extremes in the Cause. For they are all subject to the one and the same law which is the Law of God. This law transcends all differences, all personal or local tendencies, moods and aspirations.” (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 79) There are many teachings which are socially progressive, BUT the Bahá’í teachings are very morally conservative. Prohibitions on sex before marriage, homosexual activities, abortion (except in life-threatening situations), etc. are very clearly laid down in Bahá’u’lláh’s writings. That the Faith is morally conservative has never been in doubt. In fact, Bahá’ís believe that the moral and spiritual element of religion never changes, and we can see in the Bahá’í moral teachings a clear connection to Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

Secondly—monarchism. According to Bahá’u’lláh, the best form of government is a constitutional monarchy. Bahá’u’lláh goes so far as to say that no country should be deprived of kingship. In the fifteenth Glad-Tidings, He says: “Although a republican form of government profiteth all the peoples of the world, yet the majesty of kingship is one of the signs of God. We do not wish that the countries of the world should remain deprived thereof. If the sagacious combine the two forms into one, great will be their reward in the presence of God.” (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 27)  Shoghi Effendi, likewise, notes that the decline in monarchy worldwide is temporary. As more and more people embrace the Bahá’í teachings, people will realise the spiritual value of monarchy, which will increase. In one pilgrim’s note (not authoritative), but most likely an accurate record of what Shoghi Effendi said, he indicates that America itself will one day have a king:

“* Bahá'u'lláh does not wish the countries to be deprived of kingship, so when there are enough Baha'i states, they will follow the injunction of Baha'u'llah. Then he made the surprising statement that America will one day have a king.*” (*VISITING THE BAHA'I WORLD* *By Ruhaniyyih Ruth Moffet* * * *Notes of table conversation given by the beloved Guardian in the presence of Ruhiyyih Khanum and the members of the International Council who heard them all.*)

Here is an authoritative quote from the Guardian about the importance of the Bahá’í principle of monarchism:

“Let none, however, mistake or unwittingly misrepresent the purpose of Bahá'u'lláh. Severe as has been His condemnation pronounced against those sovereigns who persecuted Him, and however strict the censure expressed collectively against those who failed signally in their clear duty to investigate the truth of His Faith and to restrain the hand of the wrongdoer, His teachings embody no principle that can, in any way, be construed as a repudiation, or even a disparagement, however veiled, of the institution of kingship. The catastrophic fall, and the extinction of the dynasties and empires of those monarchs whose disastrous end He particularly prophesied, and the declining fortunes of the sovereigns of His Own generation, whom He generally reproved -- both constituting a passing phase of the evolution of the Faith -- should, in no wise, be confounded with the future position of that institution. Indeed if we delve into the writings of the Author of the Bahá'í Faith, we cannot fail to discover unnumbered passages in which, in terms that none can misrepresent, the principle of kingship is eulogized, the rank and conduct of just and fair-minded kings is extolled, the rise of monarchs, ruling with justice and even professing His Faith, is envisaged, and the solemn duty to arise and ensure the triumph of Bahá'í sovereigns is inculcated. To conclude from the above quoted words, addressed by Bahá'u'lláh to the monarchs of the earth, to infer from the recital of the woeful disasters that have overtaken so many of them, that His followers  either advocate or anticipate the definite extinction of the institution of kingship, would indeed be tantamount to a distortion of His teaching.

“I can do no better than quote some of Bahá'u'lláh's Own testimonies, leaving the reader to shape his own judgment as to the falsity of such a deduction. In His "Epistle to the Son of the Wolf" He indicates the true source of kingship: "Regard for the rank of sovereigns is divinely ordained, as is clearly attested by the words of the Prophets of God and His chosen ones. He Who is the Spirit [Jesus] -- may peace be upon Him -- was asked: 'O Spirit of God! Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?' And He made reply: 'Yea, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.' He forbade it not. These two sayings are, in the estimation of men of insight, one and the same, for if that which belonged to Caesar had not come from God He would have forbidden it. And likewise in the sacred verse: 'Obey God and obey the Apostle, and those among you invested with authority.' By 'those invested with authority' is meant primarily and more specially the Imams -- the blessings of God rest upon them. They verily are the manifestations of the power of God and the sources of His authority, and the repositories of His knowledge, and the daysprings of His commandments. Secondarily these words refer unto the kings and rulers -- those through the brightness of whose justice the horizons of the world are resplendent and luminous."

“And again: "In the Epistle to the Romans Saint Paul hath written: 'Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God.' And further: 'For he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.' He saith that the appearance of the kings, and their majesty and power, are of God."

“And again: "A just king enjoyeth nearer access unto God than anyone. Unto this testifieth He Who speaketh in His Most Great Prison."
 (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, pp. 71-72)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, furthermore, upholds the principle of primogeniture, the succession of the eldest son, which is a clear and established Bahá’í principle: “In all the Divine Dispensations the eldest son hath been given extraordinary distinctions. Even the station of prophethood hath been his birthright.” (Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 186)  Bahá’ís are, according to their very belief system, monarchists. The hereditary nature of the Guardianship, which is confined to males, is an essential part of our Faith, even though the Guardian himself had no son and successor. The hereditary principle is established, and the idea of primogeniture incontestable. That I should have to defend myself on this point is mind-boggling. The solution to this conflict is, as always, to deepen in the Writings. Shoghi Effendi says clearly that to advocate or anticipate “the definite extinction of the institution of kingship… would indeed be tantamount to a distortion of His teaching”. There is no doubt whatsoever, that kingship will definitely be an important part of the future World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, the Bahá’í World Commonwealth.

So far, have I been unjustified in calling myself morally conservative and a monarchist? Now, to address the issue of world federalism: I can’t even begin to think why I need to address this. The Bahá’í teachings hold that a world government will be established, and that this will be a federal government. In other words, nations will still exist and have their own powers and responsibilities, but there will also be a world parliament, executive and judiciary who have federal powers. The definition of this Bahá’í principle is “world federalism”. ALL Bahá’ís, and I repeat, ALL Bahá’ís are World Federalists. This is not the ultimate goal of the Faith, of course. The world federal government is part of the Lesser Peace, which will be replaced by the Bahá’í World Commonwealth with the commencement of the Greater Peace. Nevertheless, there is nothing archaic or antiquated about this. We are World Federalists. I am a World Federalist. Anyone who denies that the Bahá’í Faith upholds this principle is in denial of this basic principle.

Other Points of Clarification:

I have never accused the person in question of using the pronoun She for God because of political correctness or trinitarianism (a strange claim indeed). What does Trinitarianism have to do with pronouns referring to God? I simply mentioned that the Bahá’í Faith does not follow political correctness or feminism. The Bahá’í Writings use the pronoun He for God simply because the Arabic original also uses Huwa (He). One of the names of God in the Bahá’í Faith is Al-Huwa (The HE) (see Tablet of the Bell) and Huwa is probably one of the most common names of God in the Faith.

I have never argued that men are superior to women. I believe in the EQUALITY of men and women. At the same time, I don’t believe men and women are the same. It is Bahá’u’lláh, not I, who gives women and men a different amount of inheritance in cases of intestacy, it is Bahá’u’lláh who confined the membership of the Universal House of Justice to men, it is Bahá’u’lláh that stipulated that men are the default breadwinners of the family (the House of Justice accepts the designation of men as “head of the family” in this relation only), it is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá who confined the Guardianship to men. Men and women are different, and yes, it is probably this difference that gives women a different role. Men give dowry, women receive it. Men are fathers, women are mothers. Men are responsible for teaching their children the law of God. Girls have priority in education. I would never argue that men are superior to women. I am a Bahá’í, so why would I ever deny Bahá’í teachings??? I shape my beliefs based on the Bahá’í writings, not otherwise. I didn’t decide one day that I’d like to be a moral conservative or I happen to like monarchies so I will somehow fit that into the Teachings. No! I believe in those things BECAUSE I have read and studied the Bahá’í Writings. I believe men and women are equal, because I believe in the Writings. I believe men and women have different roles, because I have studied Bahá’í law. Are women incapable of being infallible (within the context of Prophethood, Guardianship or House membership)? Perhaps. Should we argue about? No. Because ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explained that the reason is now hidden and will be made evident in the future. Women and men are different physically and emotionally, and there may be something about our genders that we do not yet understand, that could (I say could) make women incapable of being any of the above. For some reason, it is acceptable to acknowledge that women can’t be Guardians or House members, but if, based on this, one argues that perhaps prophethood itself is confined to men, one is a fundamentalist? I do not have superior knowledge, but I have a right to my opinions, which are perfectly probable and in conformity with the Teachings.

I have been accused of being a fundamentalist, a literalist, with dangerous ideas, when I simply express beliefs that most Bahá’ís would recognise as being normal and quite acceptable. We cannot impose outside values on the Bahá’í teachings. We must base our ideas on the teachings themselves. Feminism, for instance, while in principle advocating the equality of men and women, is actually a misguided ideology that, in many cases, manufactures rights that women shouldn’t have. Abortion is not a right. Life is sacred. According the Bahá’í teachings, abortion is only justified when the mother herself is in danger. Feminism holds abortion to be justified as part of a woman’s reproductive rights. Somone might accuse me of being a fundamentalist for saying this, but this simply reflects the morally conservative nature of the Bahá’í Faith. My ideas on men and women are based solidly on the Bahá’í Writings and guidance from the Universal House of Justice. In many ways, one could say the Bahá’í Faith gives a real Middle Path for the world to follow. We recognise men and women as equal, but do acknowledge differences in role. We don’t support any belief that holds men superior to women but we don’t support the excesses of feminism and other man-made ideologies.

The individual in question has written: “At least I certainly wouldn’t want to participate in his version of a Baha’i community or live in his version of the future, nor would I want other people to believe his views are what Baha’is stand for.” I think the majority of Bahá’ís would certainly not agree with this conclusion. I want to live in a Bahá’í community that follows Bahá’í principles. I accept the authority of the Universal House of Justice. Any guidance they have regarding monarchy, men and women, etc. even if it contradicts my own ideas, I will accept it. That is what Bahá’ís do. We accept the authority of the Bahá’í Scriptures and the infallible guidance of the Universal House of Justice.

I have no interest in engaging in conversation with anyone who would resort to labelling me as a fundamentalist. This is something Shoghi Effendi condemns. What am I to do? Label another as a liberal? We are not supposed to be liberal or conservative, left-wing or right-wing. We are just Bahá’ís. We aren’t neo-Islamic, we aren’t fundamentalists, we aren’t wishy-washy either. We’re not chauvinists, we’re not feminists, we are not extreme capitalists, and we are not Marxists. We uphold monarchy, but accept the value of elected government. I have no “neo-Islamic ideological bent”. I am not spreading “manifest errors”. I am simply upholding the Bahá’í Teachings. My whole lifetime I have been a Bahá’í, my parents are Bahá’ís, I have met countless Bahá’ís. Those who would label me a fundamentalist are few and far between, and are clearly unjustified in doing so. I know what the Bahá’í Faith teaches and what ordinary Bahá’ís believe. There are a minority of Bahá’í scholars who attack these ordinary beliefs as “fundamentalist”. For some, anyone who upholds the absolute infallibility of the Universal House of Justice is a fundamentalist. I’m not accusing the individual of this, or anything at all actually. I’m simply pointing to an example. This false dichotomy of liberal and fundamentalist must be erased from the Bahá’í community as it has no justification and is condemned by Shoghi Effendi himself. All Bahá’ís have a common ground and common spiritual and moral principles, a common community and accept a common authority—the Writings and the Universal House of Justice. There is no reason why any differences of liberalism or conservativism should exist between us.

In conclusion, I urge all Bahá’ís—we should not be fighting each other. We should stick together and recognise our common values and the common authority which we rely on. Our main strength is unity, not fighting. The peoples of the world are yearning for sincerity and certainty, not confusion and mish-mashed ideas. The people of the world don’t want to embrace a religion where adherents argue over basic teachings. They want to see a religion where people stand up for what they believe in. We have Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings and this must be the basis in any disagreement. Our energies should be focused on those who attack the Faith. We cannot fight amongst ourselves and outside. We should stick together as Bahá’ís and defend the Faith from outside forces who are opposed to our beliefs and seek to misrepresent their character. As Bahá’ís, we must join together and turn our energies towards defending the Faith from external forces, as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said:

“The beloved of the Lord must stand fixed as the mountains, firm as impregnable walls. Unmoved must they remain by even the direst adversities, ungrieved by the worst of disasters. Let them cling to the hem of Almighty God, and put their faith in the Beauty of the Most High; let them lean on the unfailing help that cometh from the Ancient Kingdom, and depend on the care and protection of the generous Lord. Let them at all times refresh and restore themselves with the dews of heavenly grace, and with the breaths of the Holy Spirit revive and renew themselves from moment to moment. Let them rise up to serve their Lord, and do all in their power to scatter His breathings of holiness far and wide. Let them be a mighty fortress to defend His Faith, an impregnable citadel for the hosts of the Ancient Beauty. Let them faithfully guard the edifice of the Cause of God from every side; let them become the bright stars of His luminous skies. For the hordes of darkness are assailing this Cause from every direction, and the peoples of the earth are intent on extinguishing this evident Light. And since all the kindreds of the world are mounting their attack, how can our attention be diverted, even for a moment? Assuredly be cognizant of these things, be watchful, and guard the Cause of God.” (‘Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu'l-Bahá, pp. 9-10)

I will end with this lovely quote from ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

“As to you: your efforts must be lofty. Exert yourselves with heart and soul so that through your efforts the light of universal peace may shine; that all men may become as one family; that the East may assist the West and the West give help to the East. Consider how the Prophets who have been sent, the great souls who have appeared and the sages who have arisen among men, have exhorted mankind to unity and love. This has been the goal of their guidance and message.” (Portals to Freedom, pp. 214-215)