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Mar 26

Part 5 of Religion – The Most Harmful Agency on the Planet?

When Religion Requires Blind Obedience

David Langness

David Langness

Authentic religion engages the intellect as people wrestle with the mystery of existence and the challenges of living in an imperfect world.  Conversely, blind obedience is a sure sign of a corrupt religion.  Beware of any religious movement that seeks to limit the intellectual freedom and individual integrity of its adherents.  When individual believers abdicate personal responsibility and yield to the authority of a charismatic leader or become enslaved to particular ideas or teachings, religion can easily become the framework for violence and destruction. – Dr. Charles Kimball, When Religion Becomes Evil, p. 72.

Everyone has heard of religious groups that require blind obedience, shut off the intellectual freedom of their adherents or imperil their individual integrity.  All we have to do is read the headlines:

Aum Shinrikyo Cult Releases Nerve Gas in Tokyo Subway (March 20, 1995)

Burmese Buddhist Monks Goad Mobs to Kill Muslims (July 14, 2013)

Fanatical Christian Assassinates Planned Parenthood Physician in Church (May 31, 2009)

Thousands of Innocent Muslims Killed by Hindu Fanatics in Gujarat (November 2, 2002)

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin Assassinated by Fanatical Zionist (November 4. 1995)

World Trade Center Suicide Missions Kill Thousands (September 11, 2001)

Buddhist monkThese individuals and groups of people — violent, fanatical extremists who use the cover of religion to justify their hatred and killing of others — do not reflect the largely peaceful, loving and faithful religious communities they claim to represent.  Millions of Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians and Moslems live by the kind and loving principles of their Faiths, and the tiny minorities of extremists and fanatics that claim to represent them only besmirch and dishonor those Faiths and their original message.

The Baha’i teachings strongly oppose all forms of religious fanaticism and hatred:

Religious fanaticism and hatred are a world-devouring fire, whose violence none can quench. The Hand of Divine power can, alone, deliver mankind from this desolating affliction….The utterance of God is a lamp, whose light is these words: Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 288.

Generally, according to many scholars of religion, fanatical religious groups have three main identifying characteristics — they tend to be led by charismatic authority figures; they often adopt and adhere to apocalyptic doctrines that predict the end of the world; and they withdraw from human society, isolating themselves from others:

Intellectual freedom, personal integrity and common sense are indispensable in authentic religion…  Any religious group that largely withdraws from society needs to ensure that people can think and make important decisions for themselves.  A segregated group in which the thinking and critical decisions reside with one or a few people, particularly when apocalyptic teaching is involved, is a disaster waiting to happen. – Kimball, p. 95.

The Baha’i teachings represent the exact opposite of this pattern of blind obedience.

unity-diversity.jpgBaha’is have no clergy, priestly class or authority figures.  All decision-making authority in the Baha’i Faith rests with democratically-elected administrative bodies called Spiritual Assemblies — or, at the international level, the Universal House of Justice.  Individuals have no decision-making power. And the Baha’i writings protect the right of each Baha’i to self-expression:

Let us also remember that at the very root of the [Baha’i] Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views. …Let us also bear in mind that the keynote of the Cause of God is not dictatorial authority but humble fellowship, not arbitrary power, but the spirit of frank and loving consultation. – Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahai Administration, p. 43.

The Baha’i writings contain no apocalyptic teachings.  In fact, they promise the opposite — Baha’u’llah affirms the eventual rise of a golden age of human development, a time when humanity will live in peace, harmony, and unity.  This noble goal, which all Baha’is work toward, signalizes the coming of age of the entire human race and the inauguration of a world civilization.  It envisions an end to religious, racial and national hostility.  And it encourages people of all faiths to accept and work with one another in a spirit of loving fellowship.

chp_homeless_1296676324Finally, the Baha’i Faith encourages each person to engage as productively and proactively as possible with every aspect of human society.  Baha’is enthusiastically praise, promote and prioritize involvement with society’s issues, needs and requirements, by trying to follow this encouraging advice from Baha’u’llah:

Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 213.

Next: The Ideal Time for Religious Triumph


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About the author

David Langness

David Langness writes and edits for BahaiTeachings.org and is a journalist and literary critic for Paste Magazine. He and his wife Teresa live in the Sierra foothills in Northern California.

33 comments

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  1. Stephen Kent Gray

    David, I have just printed out physically the small number of good passage in the Bible, Quran, and Book of Mormon.

    http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com

    That’s 512 passages from the Bible, 78 passages from the Quran, and 48 passages from the Book of Mormon. The Quran contains a total of about 7000 passages in all. This means the good passages represent a little more than one percent. From the sits you can see the various categories of verses. The verses of the scriptures themselves contradict the alleged loving kind principles of said faiths.

    Verses of absurdity, injustice, cruelty, violence, intolerance, rejection of science, rejection of history, ironic contradiction of the alleged family values, misogyny, sex, language, politics, and homophobia are all categorized an indexed.

    http://dwindlinginunbelief.blogspot.com

    Thomas Jefferson created a Jefferson Bible by cutting out a limited number of good verses from two King James Bibles and pasting them into a scrapbook. All religious people should do the same to avoid the junk verses that aren’t the good stuff.

    The scriptures linked above in the first link show the contradictions in the above scriptures. For example Jews are allegedly supposed to love people, but the Bible records genocide of Canaanites and suppression of the Canaanite religion. Prophets not only approved of this but criticized any King who didn’t fully implement the genocide and suppression. King Saul didn’t fully implement it by leaving some alive thus leading the prophet Samuel to annoit David King. This also has implications for the current Arab Israeli conflict.

    There are somewhere of around 2000 rules in the Bible in all. A good chunk are the bad stuff I referenced earlier.

    Let’s say hypothetically there was a Christian serial killer who hunted down Wiccans. The cause would be the fact that the Bible actually does tell people to kill witches actually. Moses, Joshua, David (but not Saul as noted above), Solomon, Josiah, and Jehosophat all persecuted religions other than Judaism. This is a problem for Christians due to the Old Testmanet being part of the Bible, Marcion of Sinope nonwithstanding.

    Christian theologians like Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas had legitimized religious persecution to various extents, and during the Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, Christians considered heresy and dissent to be punishable offences. However, Early modern Europe witnessed the turning point in the history of Christian thought on persecution and tolerance. Christian writers like John Milton and John Locke argued for limited religious toleration, and later secular authors like Thomas Jefferson developed the concept of religious freedom. Christians nowadays generally accept that heresy and dissent are not punishable by a civil authority. Many Christians “look back on the centuries of persecution with a mixture of revulsion and incomprehension.”

    1. Maya Bohnhoff

      “Good” passages in what sense and by what criteria?

      The Bible isn’t “a book” it’s anywhere from 66 to 81 books depending on the version you use. And the books are not all prescriptive—meaning they are not guidelines for human behavior then or in the future. They are histories, parables, essays on different subjects, philosophical treatises, prophecies. Few are purported to be the words of a divine Spokesman—by the Prophet Himself. Then, there is that issue of presentism that keeps coming up. The texts of the most ancient books of Hebrew law are hardly to be judged by a post-Christ standard.

      This is the entire point of the progressive nature of revelation—the message is suited to the time, the people and their circumstance. Bahá’u’lláh and Abdu’l-Bahá both write about this repeatedly. Nothing makes this more clear in older scripture than Jesus’ response to the Pharisees who questioned His changing of the laws pertaining to marriage and divorce. “Why,” they asked Him, “did Moses say it was all right to put a wife away for any reason?” Jesus replies: “Moses gave you this law because your hearts were hard. But from the beginning it was not so.” (Not sure of chapter and verse, I’m working from memory, but I can look it up.)

      You don’t expect a five year old to grasp higher calculus. But you do expect it of a college grad with a degree in physics. Why? Because he’s had all the years of education building on his first kindergarten equation: 1+1=2

      Here’s the salient point: You can’t get to E=mc2 without going through 1+1=2 and all the equations in between.

      The problem lies in the application or misapplication of scripture. Just this past week an Iranian Muslim Ayatollah wrote a letter to the Iranian government and to his colleagues begging them to return to what the Qur’an teaches about brotherhood and tolerance. The earliest and most general prescriptive teachings of Muhammad—like the teachings of Christ and Buddha and Krishna and Bahá’u’lláh—are about unity, love, kindness, solidarity, and the familial relationships between the Muslims and the People of the Book. The verses cited ad nauseam to paint Islam as a violent faith, were specific to situations in which the Muslims were literally embattled with groups that were trying to wipe them out.

      Context, my dear friend, is everything.

      1. Tom Martin

        The Bible might have more than 81 books or less than 66 books, depending on the church. The Ethiopian broader cannon has considerably more than 81 books, though the exact number depends on how the writings are to be divided exactly into separate books, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church does not have a doctrine on how the writings are divided into books. The Eritrean Orthodox Church, a recent offshoot of the Ethiopian church, with basically the same teachings, but administering church in a different country, Eritrea, has the same canon.
        The Church of the East, sometimes nicknamed the Nestorian church, has a somewhat smaller New Testament than other churches, missing Revelation and several other books.
        And of course the Jewish Bible, the Tanach, has no New Testament at all.
        And the Samaritan Bible has just the first five books, of Moses, no other books are considered inspired. So no Psalms, Prophets or anything. Of course they consider Moses to have been by far the greatest prophet.

      2. Tom Martin

        Also the Bible of the Community of Christ, being created by the allegedly inspired translation by the prophet Joseph Smith, the author, or as they believe, the translator of the Book of Mormon, and the author of much of their Doctrine and Covenants book, their Bible has only 65 books, since Smith said that the Song of Solomon is not inspired. So it has the other 65 books of the Protestant Bible, though with some verses changed and even some verses added, by Smith.

        1. Maya Bohnhoff

          Which sort of underscores the point of progressively revealed religion among a species that’s evolving as swiftly as we are. The earliest Gospels were penned roughly 40 years after the ascension of Christ, though the Epistles are older, and different subsets of Christians consider different sets of books “canon”.

          The Qur’an was collected and codified soon after Muhammad’s death, but Bahá’u’lláh is the first Teacher to write His words down as He revealed them or had a scribe do this. In a mere 1000 years, our ability to record things for posterity has taken a quantum leap.

          I expect the life of the next Manifestation of God may be very well chronicled … unless he or she comes from another planet. :)

      3. Stephen Kent Gray

        Wiki Islam has articles citing primary sources that contradict said narrative. Also, the earlier teachings of Muhammad are all abrogated by the later teachings. The whole concept of offensive jihad, show a double standard that Muslims can and should eradicate non Muslims. The verses aren’t situation specific, but categorical imperative to wage war against all non believers hence abrogating the prior verses of pacifism and defensive warfare with offensive warfare to convert the world to Islam.

        http://www.wikiislam.net/wiki/The_Timeline_of_Muhammad

        A timeline of the life of Muhammad is provided showing when all Arabians were forcibly converted to Islam just a little while before his death. It is consistent with the later most Medinan Suras.

        1. Maya Bohnhoff

          Stephen, the Marmaduke Pickthall translation of the Qur’an contains copious historical notes on not just battles, but the situation at the time each of the Surihs was revealed. Many of the verses ARE indeed situation specific, whether wikiIslam notes that they are or not. I regret that you continue to use wikipedia as an exclusive resource, and mores that you don’t seem to recognize the partisan nature of some of the commentary.

          Regardless, of this, I’m unclear on what point you are making. I will state my point again—you are judging a seventh century people using twenty-first century standards and treating even the most specific of exhortations as if they were broadly specific prescriptive commandments. The mere application of logic to the text of the Quran would lead to the conclusion that either 1) some of the verses are written within a specific time and situationally bound context or 2) Muhammad was schizophrenic and spouted beautiful rhetoric about unity and peace in one breath then told his people to go out and kill everyone who wasn’t THEM.

          A careful reading of the Qur’an (especially the Pickthall which gives an historical context) should disabuse a neutral reader (or even a hostile one, if they’re willing to be fair-minded) should disabuse one of the second position. I experienced this first hand. No one was more skeptical of the claim of Muhammad to be a Prophet of God than I was. I lived in Morocco for several years as a child and to me, Islam was the faith that made women chattel and caused Muslims to switch the side of the street they were walking on when they saw us white Christians coming.

          The primary source for a study of Islam is the Qur’an, not wikiIslam. I beg you, please get a copy of the Pickthall Qur’an and read it carefully with the cultural situation that existed at the time in mind.

          Thank you.

          1. Stephen Kent Gray

            People don’t need to impose the present values on the past to show that the past was seen as wrong even in its own time. There were critics even back during antiquity.

            The Haran Gawaitha is a Mandaean text written during the 7th to 9th century and contains some of the earliest non-Muslim references to Muhammad.

            I will tell you, (O ye) priests who live in the Arab age, (of that which occurred) before the Son-of-Slaughter, the Arab, went out and prophesied as a prophet in the world so that they performed circumcision like Jews and changed sayings – for he is the most degraded of false prophets. Mars accompanieth him because he is the Seal of prophets of the Lie, (although) the Messiah will appear after him at the end of the age! I will inform you, Nasoraeans, that before the Son-of-Slaughter, the Arab, emerged and was called prophet in the world and Mars descended with him, he drew the sword and converted people to himself by the sword
            . . .

            edited for length by Moderator

            It’s genetic fallacy to say that just because the verses was caused by a situation, that the meaning of the verse is situational. Also, what sources did Marmaduke Pickthall use?

            Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way. 9:5

            Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day, and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden – such men as practice not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book – until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled. 9:29

            These two verses abrogate all the unity and peace verses of the Quran.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historiography_of_early_Islam#Famous_Muslim_historians

            I have already given the link about the list of expeditions of Muhammad. The sources are listed in the above link of where all our info on Muhammad and his life come from the various Sirat texts especially the one by Ibn Ishaq and Ibn Hisham. Ibn Ishaq, Imam Malik ibn Abas, Al-Waqidi, Ibn Hisham, Muhammad al-Bukhari, Muslim ibn al-Hallaj, Abu Dawood, and Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tarabi are the ones cited on the page with all the expeditions info.

          2. Maya Bohnhoff

            Stephen, there’s a difference between a person or movement having contemporary detractors and presentism—which is judging the past by selective sensibilities of the present.

            Every major faith or movement that affected large groups of people (presented a threat, perhaps) has attracted detractors. Back in the first centuries of Christianity, the Romans had it that the Christians were atheists who passed their children through fire in secret ceremonies, and had wild orgies in the catacombs. Some modern Iranians believe that Bahá’ís do similar things, plus, we have tails. The Mullahs told people not to listen to the words of Bahá’u’lláh because when their mouths fell open in wonder at His utterance, the Bahá’ís would toss drugged dates into their mouths to convert them by magic.

            Every Prophet of God has had detractors and enemies who attacked out of misguided zeal or venomous hatred. Christ was, after all crucified, Zoroaster was slain while praying, the Báb was executed by firing squad, and Bahá’u’lláh spent 40 years of His life in prison and exile and endured torture to deliver a message that His enemies did not want to hear.

            This isn’t limited to religion, of course. There are a distressing number of people who believe that the moon walk was a fake and Barack Obama is not an American citizen, ineligible to be our President, and is lying about being a Christian.

            Muhammad speaks in the Qur’an against converting by force. Yes, the Muslims fought battles to protect their community from destruction—and to dissuade inveterate enemies from counting to attack them. There were wars of conquest, as well, but the conquered cities were not forced to convert to Islam until sometime after the death of the Prophet. Some Muslim scholars attribute that departure from the Prophet’s directives to the influx of tribes who became Muslim, but adapted the faith to suit their tribal ways, rather than adapting their cultural mores to the faith of Muhammad. This does not, to me, invalidate the prescriptive teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

            I suppose, like many other subjects about which we have fragmentary, or conflicting information, it depends upon which accounts you choose to believe and why you choose to believe them.

            In any event, the two verses you cite—randomly—do no abrogate all of the unity and peace verses in Qur’an and more than the Bab’s version of the Golden Rule (“Neither defraud your neighbor, nor allow him to defraud you.”) or Bahá’u’lláh’s words about justice abrogate Their words about charity or mercy. Reality is more nuanced than that.

      4. Stephen Kent Gray

        Islamic primary sources say all along Muhammad wanted to eradicate pagans and paganism.

        (Edited to remove substantial copied material. – Moderator)

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_expeditions_of_Muhammad

        Wikipedia has a list of the dozens of military expeditions, a good chunk of which are offensive and not defensive.

  2. Tom Martin

    I have read in the book The Baha’i Faith, by Moojan Momen, that it is considered totally wrong to dissent from decisions of the Universal House of Justice. So Baha’i Faith does demand obedience.

    1. David Langness

      Hello again, Tom,

      Thanks for your post. Let me see if I can briefly clarify: The Universal House of Justice, the democratically-elected worldwide administrative body of the Baha’i Faith, has the authority to legislate only on matters not already covered in the writings and teachings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha. In the course of their 51-year history, they have done that very few times. Baha’is follow the directives of the Universal House of Justice, because doing so builds unity and protects the Baha’i Faith from disunifying sectarianism. But can Baha’is dissent? Of course they can, and they do. You only need to do a web search to find a wide spectrum of Baha’i opinion on a whole range of matters.

      One of the most attractive parts of the Baha’i Faith for me (after a Lutheran childhood and an agnostic early adulthood) is the lack of a clergy. No one in the Baha’i community, therefore, has the individual authority to tell me what to do or how to live my life. No one checks up on my behavior or monitors my choices. It’s my responsibility to live up to the Baha’i teachings, which I strive to do — but if I don’t, it’s also my responsibility, not someone else’s. The Baha’i Faith does not “demand obedience,” to use your phrase — instead, it exhorts everyone who has accepted Baha’u’llah’s message to follow the spiritual laws of the Faith, and stresses individual responsibility for that choice.

      And by the way, I should mention one more thing — Baha’is never expect anyone but Baha’is to abide by Baha’i laws. You can only become a Baha’i by choice; and anyone who wants can decide not to be a Baha’i whenever they so choose. In other words, the Baha’i Faith is entirely and completely voluntary, which makes any person’s acceptance of the Baha’i laws their own individual decision.

      I hope this is helpful.

      David

      1. Stephen Kent Gray

        What about majority Bahai provinces, countries, cities, etc? Shoghi Effendi states that the criminal laws would be enforced in a Bahai society.

        I should note it is extremely rare for a country to be made up 100% of followers of one religion. If Bahai law was the law of the land, it would be enforced on non Baha’is as well given the rarity of 100% same religion societies.

        The only laws specifically said not to apply to non Baha’is are prayer, fasting, burial, and maybe a few others I’m missing, but most of the listed prohibitions will be banned by said Baha’i society for everyone.

        1. David Langness

          This is an excellent and important question, Stephen. In the next few weeks, the nine-part series I’ve written on this question will be appearing at bahaiteachings.org — so I hope you’ll take a look there for a much fuller explication of the Baha’i view on this subject. But for now, here are three pivotal quotes from the Baha’i writings that bear directly on your question; and form the nexus of Baha’i law on the issue:

          It is not our purpose to impose Baha’i teachings upon others by persuading the powers that be to enact laws enforcing Baha’i principles, nor to join movements which have such legislation as their aim. – The Universal House of Justice, 21 June 1968.

          Though loyal to their respective governments, though profoundly interested in anything that affects their security and welfare, though anxious to share in whatever promotes their best interests, the Faith with which the followers of Baha’u’llah stand identified is one which they firmly believe God has raised high above the storms, the divisions, and controversies of the political arena. Their Faith they conceive to be essentially non-political, supra-national in character, rigidly non-partisan, and entirely dissociated from nationalistic ambitions, pursuits, and purposes. Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 198.

          Let them proclaim that in whatever country they reside, and however advanced their institutions, or profound their desire to enforce the laws, and apply the principles enunciated by Baha’u’llah, they will, unhesitatingly subordinate the operation of such laws and the application of such principles to the requirement and legal enactments of their respective governments. Theirs is not the purpose, while endeavoring to conduct and perfect the administrative affairs of their Faith to violate, under any circumstances the provisions of their country’s constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries. – Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Baha’u’llah pp. 65-66.

          1. Stephen Kent Gray

            David, I saw other quotes.

            http://bahai-library.com/uhj_theocracy

            He thinks your question is well put: what the Guardian was referring to was the theocratic systems, such as the Catholic Church and the Caliphate, which are not divinely given as systems, but man-made, and yet, being partly derived from the teachings of Christ and Muhammad are in a sense theocracies. The Bahá’í theocracy, on the contrary, is both divinely ordained as a system and, of course, based on the teachings of the Prophet Himself.

            In the light of these words, it seems fully evident that the way to approach this instruction is in realizing the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh as an every-growing organism destined to become something new and greater than any of the revealed religions of the past. Whereas former Faiths inspired hearts and illumined souls, they eventuated in formal religions with an ecclesiastical organization, creeds, rituals and churches, while the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, likewise renewing man’s spiritual life, will gradually produce the institutions of an ordered society, fulfilling not merely the function of the churches of the past but also the function of the civil state. By this manifestation of the Divine Will in a higher degree than in former ages, humanity will emerge from that immature civilization in which church and state are separate and competitive institutions, and partake of a true civilization in which spiritual and social principles are at last reconciled as two aspects of one and the same Truth.

            The Bahá’ís will be called upon to assume the reins of government when they will come to constitute the majority of the population in a given country, and even then their participation in political affairs is bound to be limited in scope unless they obtain a similar majority in some other countries as well. (19 November 1939)

            The Bahá’ís must remain non-partisan in all political affairs. In the distant future, however, when the majority of a country have become Bahá’ís then it will lead to the establishment of a Bahá’í State. (19 April 1941)

            These quotes and others from the page qualify the quotes you posted.

          2. Maya Bohnhoff

            Stephen, if I may be so bold: I think what you’re missing here is that the change in society that leads to a Bahá’í State (a local, provincial or national organizational unit in which most or all people are Bahá’ís) will be organic. It will come from inside the individuals. If “Bahá’ís are called upon to assume the reins of government”, as the House says in the quoted material, then it will be because they are popularly elected to do so by the majority of people in the area.

            So, please let go of the idea that there’s a hidden agenda by which the House of Justice reveals itself to be the Spanish Inquisition, puts on black envirosuits and forces everyone to heel. The Faith will spread because its teachings work. People will elect to live by them, just the way they do now. Those who do not elect to live by them do not have to become Bahá’ís. Clear?

          3. Stephen Kent Gray

            Will Bahaiization lead to various things that are currently legal or may become legal in the West becoming illegal? This is the basic question, not the structure of the government, but the policy deicisions. The quotes I gave earlier referenced a Bahai state, which sounds like a theocracy. There are currently several Islamic states in the world.

            Will abortion, homosexuality, same sex marriage, alcohol, drugs, and various other social issues be legal or not?

            Soul Pancake has topics on the legalization of the above sometimes. A Bahai (Bruce D Limber) always chimes in and says that they are sins in the Bahai Faith and will be illegal under a Bahai States. Soul Pancake is a social media site, while not Bahai only or predominantly Bahai, has a lot of Bahai visitors.

          4. Maya Bohnhoff

            Any policy decisions will be made by the people and governments of that future time, so no one can really answer that question. In fact, the answer would also depend on what you meant by “Bahaiization”. I can tell you that Bahá’ís are forbidden to force our belief system onto people who are not Bahá’ís. This has been made clear repeatedly by the House of Justice.

            Again, I come back to the bed rock teaching about belief in and worship of God and obedience to His commandments—it is to be done from love, not fear or hope of reward. A child may behave well because they fear the disapproval of or even punishment by a parent. An adult may behave well because they understand the way the world works and that their attitudes and actions have effects on others that they legitimately care about.

            In short, I can’t answer your question about what will be legal or not because I don’t know what the future looks like at the legislative level. The world will be different than it is now. Might there be areas where everyone is Bahá’í and agree to follow Bahá’í law? Sure. I suppose that could happen, but they should not expect people of other beliefs to abide by those laws. Are there individual Bahá’ís who think maybe the Faith will be forced on other people? There may be. But I’d caution them to read what the Writings and the House of Justice have to say on the matter.

            I understand that you want to believe the Bahá’í Faith would become some dictatorial super-state, but the Bahá’í administration just isn’t set up that way and at the core of the belief system is the imperative that each soul come to belief on its own through independent investigation of the truth. In short, though you keep using the words “Bahá’í State” I don’t think it means what you think it means.

          5. Stephen Kent Gray

            Maya, Bahaiization is the process by which individuals, groups, or even nations acquire Bahai religious views and values. It is the conversion of people to the Bahai Faith. Judaization, Christianization, and Islamization are other Abrahamic equivalents.

            The whole concept of law is based on punishments. Laws without punishments are just precepts. To break a law is to be fined, imprisoned, or even executed.

          6. Maya Bohnhoff

            Interesting. I’ve been a Bahá’í for 40 years and I’ve never heard of Bahaiization. Did you just make it up? :)

            My intent in asking the question is to get at what you expect happens to those who are Bahá’í-zed. But really, it might be less awkward if you just said, “what happens when a culture adapts Bahá’í principles” instead of asking what happens if they undergo “Bahaiization.”

            Talking about my Faith as if it were a political movement or an academic oddity is a bit unappetizing.

            Stephen, honey, perhaps the whole concept of law as you understand it may be about punishment, but Bahá’u’lláh’s concept is a bit different. His concept of law has elements of love, obedience, justice, and compassion. He says that the pillars of justice in the world at large are reward and punishment, but also that we obey because we love the Lawgiver and understand that the laws aren’t there just ‘cos. They’re their to protect us as individuals and as a collective from each other and ourselves.

            “Think not that We have revealed to you a mere code of Laws,” He says, then goes on to compare the Law to choice wine. To you perhaps breakages of law amount to crimes that require dire punishments, but breaking some of the most important laws we have may mean we are ashamed, that we have isolated ourselves, alienated others, suffered a loss of trust. Honestly, those are more dire results of breaking law than a fine.

            Do some breakages of civil law require imprisonment? Obviously. But equating that level of criminality with, say, a breakage of the Bahá’í law against drinking, is a bit extreme and seems like idle speculation to me. I think that folks here have tried kindly and patiently to explain how we view Bahá’í Law and Bahá’í society. I doubt there’s much more we could say that would deter you from spinning your own scenarios about a future Bahá’í society.

          7. Stephen Kent Gray

            Maya, I assumed a fiction writer would be familiar with the concept of character alignment. There are two axes on the chart. One is order versus chaos and another is good versus evil. A person can be characterized as one, the other, or neutral on either axis. Lawful Good, Neutral Good, Chaotic Good, Lawful Neutral, True Neutral, Chaotic Neutral, Lawful Evil, Neutral Evil, and Chaotic Evil are the terms you use. The most recent edition of Dungeons and Dragons did simplify it, but all the other people and other works still use the original model rather than Lawful Good, Good, Unaligned, Evil, and Chaotic Evil.

            Yes, I made up the word Bahaization from the above Christianization and Islamization references.

            Back to laws… The Latinas terms mala in se (evil intrinsically) and mala prohibita (prohibited ie victimless crimes). To compare views of law you can summarize some of the character alignments.

            Lawful Good: Law is good and you do good by following laws. Truth, Justice, et cetera are the virtues of this alignment. Mostly cast as altruists who believe in order.

            Neutral Good: Doing good is more important than following rules. Rules are neither good or bad intrinsically, but are such insofar as they contribute to moral goodness or not. Mostly cast as just basically nice people.

            Chaotic Good: Oppression and tyranny must be opposed in all forms. Doing good is seen as way more important to order, discipline, honor, et cetera which even contradict doing good or even oppose doing good. Too much order is bad for everyone. Mostly cast as idealists and free spirits.

            I only felt like including the first three alignments. Okay for contrast, I will summarize more.

            Lawful Evil: Order above everything and order at all costs is this basically. Also, a strong belief that everyone should follow laws strictly with strict punishments for not. Mostly casts as Big Brother or other dystopian leader types.

            Neutral Evil: All that matters is being in for yourself. Mostly cast as selfish, sociopathic, mean people.

            Chaotic Evil: Narcissism, egotism, and insanity go here. Mostly cast as psychopaths.

            Opps I skipped the Neutrals. Sorry!

            Lawful Neutral: Rule abiding and laws are important. It’s like a via media between Lawful Good and Lawful Evil. Belief in keeping order is a universal constant and Justice is defined as such.

            Chaotic Neutral: Freedom is the most important thing, but with more of a wild streak than Chaotic Good. Mostly cast as the ultimate free spirits.

            True Neutral: Unaligned, a none of the above option. This can be not caring about it or believing in a balanced approach to everything.

            This is all illustrations of how concepts of order versus chaos and good versus evil, no matter how culturally conflated the concepts may be in various places and times, are separate. Laws in general and laws in specific are two separate things, but overall the analysis fits. Any look at any list of laws, no matter how many evil things are prohibited in it, will show laws are about obedience only. The theory is that evil things are prohibited, but it’s inverted in practice to prohibited things are evil by virtue of being prohibited alone. Debates over what should and should not be prohibited have lead to culture wars in the last few decades. Laws can be just, compassionate, and loving just as much as they can be unjust, cruel, and unloving.

            {link removed – off topic)

            What law a person break in particular deals with the issue as well as opposed to breaking laws in general. You also don’t specify which Bahai laws are most important and which aren’t. If someone forgets to get a hair cut and their hair is too long, if they shave their hair, kisses someone’s hands, asks people for money, or breaking any other random law means that a person is cruel, unjust, unloving, ashamed, isolated, alienated, and lost all trust just because they broke a law? Drinking alcohol versus prohibition and owning guns versus gun control are two of the most common mala prohibita examples I can think of.

          8. Maya Bohnhoff

            Stephen, you wrote (somehow in answer to Rick?) “Maya, I assumed a fiction writer would be familiar with the concept of character alignment. There are two axes on the chart. One is order versus chaos and another is good versus evil. A person can be characterized as one, the other, or neutral on either axis…. The most recent edition of Dungeons and Dragons did simplify it, but all the other people and other works still use the original model…”

            I’m familiar with character development, but I’ve never used a character alignment chart—didn’t even know they existed. But then, I don’t write D&D scenarios, I write novels and short fiction. To be honest I don’t know any professional writers who use anything like your character alignment chart. Writers have a variety of ways of arriving at their cast of characters and while I may come to the conclusion that I need a character to fulfill a particular role in a story, but I do it based on plot and what I need to balance other characters in the story. Largely, the protagonists and antagonists in our work just naturally evolve as we write.

            You wrote: “Any look at any list of laws … show laws are about obedience only. The theory is that evil things are prohibited, but it’s inverted in practice to prohibited things are evil by virtue of being prohibited alone. Debates over what should and should not be prohibited have lead to culture wars in the last few decades. Laws can be just, compassionate, and loving just as much as they can be unjust, cruel, and unloving.”

            Well, yes, the point of a law is that people obey it. I think that what often happens is that we lose our sense of why the law was made a law in the first place (if we ever knew) and question whether it really applies. The book of Genesis actually offers a peek at this idea. The Serpent coaxes Eve to take a fruit from the proscribed Tree and she tells him that God has said that in the day they eat of that tree they will die. The Serpent says, “You will not surely die.” By the end of the conversation, Eve has forgotten why she wasn’t supposed to eat that fruit to begin with. I think that happens with our children when we have to put rules in place that they are not capable of understanding the need for. Which is why as they grow older—if we’re wise parents—we modify the law to fit their evolving state or we restate it along with reasons they can understand. They may not be all the reasons, or the only reasons, or even the most accurate statement of the reasons, but they are more than just “Because I’m your mother.”

            I agree, of course, that laws can be just, compassionate, loving. And they can be far more than just restrictions on behavior. They may be things we need in order to continue to evolve and learn and thrive.

            You wrote: “What law a person break in particular deals with the issue as well as opposed to breaking laws in general. You also don’t specify which Bahai laws are most important and which aren’t. If someone forgets to get a hair cut and their hair is too long, if they shave their hair, kisses someone’s hands, asks people for money, or breaking any other random law means that a person is cruel, unjust, unloving, ashamed, isolated, alienated, and lost all trust just because they broke a law?”

            No, I don’t specify what laws are most important because I don’t have that authority. All the Manifestations say the most important law is to love—love one’s fellow believers, one’s neighbor, all creation and one’s enemy. But that’s one of those obligatory/voluntary laws. No one enforces it and it is the real consequences of breaking it that we are ultimately responsible for. Bahá’u’lláh does say that the most grievous sin is backbiting and I think because it has dire spiritual as well as temporal consequences. That’s another aspect of this, too. Some laws are about material purity, some are about spiritual purity and some are about both. Ultimately, only God knows which sins are the most grievous.

            And of course if someone shaves their head it doesn’t mean they’re cruel or unjust, etc. Why would you imagine that it does? A person is cruel if they’re cruel. In the context in which Bahá’u’lláh gave the shaving law, it might mean they merely had a bit of an ego and wanted their friends and neighbors to know they considered themselves a holy man. (Or it might mean they had a scalp condition that required them to shave their heads. In that case, no harm no foul.)

    2. Maya Bohnhoff

      I know this may be hard to grasp, but what Bahá’u’lláh asks of us is that we obey not out of fear but out of love for God and each other.

      In the Kitab-i-Aqdas, He writes: “Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power.”

      This, I think, is what the Biblical texts mean when they speak of writing the law of God upon our hearts. We obey out of love for His beauty and for the unity of mankind, not because we fear the divine wrath. We have entered into this covenant willingly and knowingly and with the understanding that the laws of God are not for His benefit, but for ours. None are arbitrary.

      This idea of obedience through love is rooted in the idea that our faith is born of love as well. As the Báb said: “Worship thou God in such wise that if thy worship lead thee to the fire, no alteration in thine adoration would be produced, and so likewise if thy recompense should be paradise. Thus and thus alone should be the worship which befitteth the one True God. Shouldst thou worship Him because of fear, this would be unseemly in the sanctified Court of His presence, and could not be regarded as an act by thee dedicated to the Oneness of His Being. Or if thy gaze should be on paradise, and thou shouldst worship Him while cherishing such a hope, thou wouldst make God’s creation a partner with Him, notwithstanding the fact that paradise is desired by men. Fire and paradise both bow down and prostrate themselves before God. That which is worthy of His Essence is to worship Him for His sake, without fear of fire, or hope of paradise.” — Selections from the Writings of the Báb, pp 77-78

      1. Tom Martin

        So, unlike the Bible, the Baha’i scriptures never command people to fear God? That would be a big change in religious belief, for sure.

        1. Maya Bohnhoff

          The Bahá’í writings redefine what it means to fear God—at least when compared to some church doctrine. Christ didn’t command us to fear God, but to love Him and to love each other.

          When I was a child, I feared my mother. Not because she might beat me, or that she might yell at me, or that she might verbally abuse me. She never did any of those things. I feared disappointing her. I feared losing my connection with her. Why? Because I loved her so much. That is how I understand the concept of the fear of God as it occurs in the context of Bahá’í teachings. And everything a Manifestation of God says must be taken in context.

          There’s a passage in the writings in which Bahá’u’lláh says, “And be ye not like those who forget God, and whom He hath therefore caused to forget their own selves.” I don’t mean to go off into the metaphysical weeds, but I take this to mean that there are those of us who have forgotten or ceased to believe in God and that, as a result, we forget that we are human—that we have the spark of divine light within us—and we behave “like the beasts of the field” as Bahá’u’lláh might say.

          I’d fear that.

          1. Tom Martin

            Sounds like you have a wonderful mother, where the only fear was of disappointing her. Not like the biblical God, who inspired fear by allegedly killing almost all by the flood of Noah, then later destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, then sending plagues against Egypt (with the final plague being killing all first-born, even babies), then killing men who rebelled against Moses, then causing the walls of Jericho to fall so the inhabitants of Jericho could all be slaughtered (genocide) by Israelites as God commanded them to do, then killing a man who steadied the ark of covenant to prevent it from falling, etc.

          2. Maya Bohnhoff

            I missed a few of your comments, Tom. I have periods of time where I don’t have time to monitor the site as I’d like.

            On this one, I just have to say this: right now we have members of one of our political parties imagining—in writing—that we’d be better off with a leader who rode horses bare-chested, wrestled tigers and invaded neighboring countries just ‘cos. Why because that’s what a real leader does in their estimation. As one pundit put it, a real leader acts and his legislature reacts.

            I think you would agree that those are not the qualities of a good leader. But these political dogmatists are convinced (for the moment) that this is true (let’s leave aside for the moment how they react when the leader of their country just acts.) The ancient gentlemen who wrote many parts of the Torah would agree with them, “This,” they would say, “is how our God behaves. He protects us. He causes us to win big battles. He upholds us over other peoples, because WE are THE People.”

            This is the way that a primitive people understand the world they inhabit. If you want to understand the Torah, read the prophets such as Isaiah and Ezekiel and pay attention to why they say God is angry at the Hebrews. Some of the reasons: offering sacrifices He doesn’t want, failure to obey His laws to love their neighbors and care for the poor and the needy, being cruel to the alien among them, waging unjust wars, taking what doesn’t belong to them.

            Again, this is why God continues to send His messengers as we grow and develop and evolve out of our animal nature toward something truly human. As our capacity grows, God expands and changes what He teaches us and that, in turn, causes us to change and to grow our capacity for understanding who and what we are. It does us little good to look continually back. What the world needed then and what humans were capable of comprehending then were different than what it needs now and what we are capable of understanding now.

            I know when you look around at the world, it doesn’t seem as if we’ve all gotten the memo, and we haven’t. Progress is less like a creamy pudding and more like a lumpy oatmeal. But we are evolving—we are growing up. And one day we will be fully grown and fully human.

      2. Stephen Kent Gray

        Covenants are actually entered into by birth or by choice if my past studies of Abrahamic religions are correct from memory and the related Semitic languages. Every time someone made a covenant whether Noah or Abraham or Moses or whomever else it entailed them and all their descendants automatically regardless of their future choices. Also, one someone entered a covenant there was no out of it. For examples, all Jews are counted as being party to the covenant of Moses and all Gentiles are counted as party to the covenant of Noah. It’s ambiguous on whether or not non Jewish religions follow or break the covenant of Noah for Gentiles.

        The Psalms do have passages that say God hates sinners (workers of iniquity) and God loves destroying them. It’s also has the more explicit passage of praise for basing of the brains of the children of pagans against walls. For example the law of Moses was the law of all of Israel, even the Canaanites that they failed to exterminate or exile were subject to it when under Israelite control. There were chunks of territory that Israelites claimed but didn’t have effective control over. There were also kings and queens who tolerated Canaanites despite the law of Moses.

        1. David Langness

          Not in the Baha’i Faith, Stephen — for Baha’is, entering into the Baha’i Covenant is entirely and completely voluntary, which means no forced conversion or proselytizing is permitted; that you can’t even become a Baha’i until you’re 15 years old: and that departure from the Faith is also entirely voluntary and elective on the part of the individual. And to answer another question posed here: sure, I suppose you could leave the Baha’i Faith by formally withdrawing; then break a Baha’i law, then re-join — but what would be the point? To get around a spiritual law? The Baha’i teachings are spiritual in nature, which means you accept them and try to live by them as best you can. Nobody succeeds entirely, and we all struggle with our own tests, egos and issues. But hey — that’s the point. Becoming a Baha’i doesn’t mean you’ve reached any destination, it just means you’ve decided to try your best to walk a spiritual path.

  3. Stephen Kent Gray

    This page 43 quote is contradicted by the concept of removing people’s administrative rights.

    http://en.bahaitext.org/Lights_of_Guidance/Administrative_Rights,_Sanctions,_Dissimulation

    Lots of the categories are contradictory. This is a good example of the iron law of beareaucracy and oligarchy. There are lots of issues surrounding things like marriage and divorce despite their governments regulating the marriage licences.

    1. Maya Bohnhoff

      There are an entire list of quotes on this page, SKG, and I don’t see a page 43.

      The categories are assigned by the focus of the passage being quoted. Something that ALL compilations of letters also make clear is that while some of the material may bear on a case before an Assembly, we are to always bear in mind that these were letters to individuals or individual Assemblies and they are taken out of context with the circumstances of the guidance. In some cases, because of the care for privacy, the circumstances to which the Guardian or House of Justice is responding are not specified.

      Which is why, we are cautioned about drawing iron clad conclusions from these letters. When we have questions as individuals or as a local Assembly about such, we can go to the House of Justice, itself, to get clarity.

      There is no iron clad law. And if you had any idea of how the institutions of the Faith were structured, you’d understand that. And you’d understand that their chief virtue is that they were created to be organic and evolutionary. While there are spiritual laws and principles that are constant (hunting humans for sport will never be sanctioned), the House of Justice—and indeed, national and local institutions have situational attitude. Each case is taken on its own merit and I can tell you from experience that a local assembly will bend over backward before they take the step of requesting a removal of voting rights.

      But all this, I feel, arises from a false premise which is that a faith organization, unlike secular ones, should have no means of protecting itself and its members from harm. Why should this be so?

      I think this creates not only a double-standard, but also a paradox—the Catholic Church, by this logic, should be condemned for disciplining abusive priests and lay people and equally condemned for NOT disciplining them.

      Perhaps your position is that a religious institution should only be allowed to sanction those who break criminal or civil law, and not what it holds to be spiritual laws that are central to its functioning. You may not, for example, think backbiting is a terrible offense. To Bahá’ís it is one of the worst because of its potential to destroy individual faith and the fabric of entire communities. By your logic, a community with a member who was spreading harmful and pernicious lies about others would be powerless to do anything about it.

      I’m sorry, SK, but I reject that premise. It makes no sense to me.

      1. Stephen Kent Gray

        What does following the minute details of ritualistic laws have to do with any of that?

        It’s more like if the Catholic Church excommunicated people for not getting married in the Church. Most of the categories of letters have nothing to do with protecting the organization or members from harm, but rather following laws in an authoritarian manner.

        Things like waiting a year after a divorce to marry anyone, civil marriage without a religious ceremony, and various other categories are examples. Any Bahai law being broken even minor ones could be theoretical grounds for sanctions according to the letters.

        You throw up the examples of abuse and gossip to despite neither being a categorized letter on the page. The categories are really just enforcing that laws with an iron fist approach. Anyone who doesn’t go through with all the bells and whistles of a Bahai marriage ceremony is sanctioned, anyone who isn’t a teetotaler is sanctioned, etc.

        1. David Langness

          Hi, Stephen,

          You’re crackin’ me up, here, buddy. Sorry, but I had to laugh — you’re obviously reading a few passages from Baha’i sources and then extrapolating laws to reality, all without real-world experience. Have you ever been in a Baha’i community? If you had, you’d know that nobody enforces “laws with an iron fist approach.” Like any civil legal code, the Baha’i laws contain measures that *can* be taken to enforce laws in egregious situations — but the actual practice of taking them is something completely different altogether. Many states have the death penalty on the books, too — but never actually utilize it.

          I’ve been a Baha’i for 45 years, have been a member of large and small communities and their elected institutions, and I’ve never once known a Baha’i institution to “sanction” anyone who drinks, lives together with their partner without a Baha’i marriage, or any of a huge number of other violations of Baha’i law. Those kinds of things are seen as your own private spiritual struggles in a Baha’i context — something to be dealt with on your own. At most, if someone is publicly flaunting their outrageous violation of Baha’i law, they might be called in to a very loving Local Spiritual Assembly meeting and counseled in a very kind and supportive way. Since the Baha’is have no clergy and no authoritarian “enforcers” of any of these laws; since Baha’is try not to gossip and backbite; and since forbearance, tolerance and patience are all attributes Baha’is try to practice, Baha’i community life turns out to be much less about laws than it does about love.

          Thanks,

          David

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