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Apr 23

Part 2 of Poverty and Humanity: The Domino Effect

Previously on Grimm…

Okay, play on words time is over. Seriously, the plight of the poor in America is grim. The Great Recession we are still pulling out of cut a great many Americans off at the knees. Poverty flooded and seeped into sectors of our national community that it had not invaded before. And those who were living in poverty already—on Native Reservations, in rural areas in the midwest and deep South, in urban ghettos—found even the slender lifelines they had suddenly vanished.

Han_soloResult: The distribution of wealth in America is conspicuously lopsided.

A debate has arisen all over America online and off about who’s responsible for this situation, and for the amelioration of the increased poverty it has produced. Many people seem to opt for a response that I, as a writer of Star Wars novels, am all too familiar with: “Not My Fault!” They are not a member of the affected group, nor do they know anyone first hand who is, ergo, it is part of Douglas Adams’ SEP field (Somebody Else’s Problem). In rare cases, I have talked to individuals who said, “If I suffer setbacks and become poor or sick, I won’t accept help from anyone else. It’ll be my cross to bear.”

The ideas about who’s responsible to help the poor are many. I identified the five I meet the most often in the first post on this subject:

  1. Everyone has a support network. It’s up to the families and friends of the poor to bail them out.
  2. It’s up to charities to see to the poor. People need to contribute more as individuals.
  3. If someone is poor it’s their own fault. They should just stop being poor/lazy/undereducated.
  4. It’s everyone’s responsibility to pull themselves up by their boot straps, no matter how they came to be poor..
  5. It’s up to society as a whole to lift the poor out of poverty.

Point #1 is deserving of a game show buzzer raspberry. Everyone doesn’t have a personal support network. This is simply empirically, verifiably untrue. Those people I know who have such networks are using them. Thousands of college kids have moved back home. Extended families are living in the same house—including my own family.

homeless-feetThis begs the question: What do we do with those who literally have no friends or family in a position to help them? More to the point: what happens if we, as a society, simply decide NOT to help them? These are not rhetorical questions, boys and girls; really think this through. Is the status quo working?

I’m not going to dignify #3  by responding to it except to ask how someone making this argument would defend it. This is not a rhetorical question, either. No Devil’s Advocates, please. Only propose an answer if you really believe there is a way poor people can just stop being poor.

Position #4 is similar to #3, but the contention is that while people can’t just wiggle their noses or say “Expecto Patronum” and become unpoor, they can work their way out of poverty unaided. My observation of reality suggests that this impossible in any real world practical sense. None of us is in complete control of our environment, resources or opportunities—if we were, there would be no poverty for successive divine Revelators to generate verses of scripture about and nothing for me to blog about today.

That leaves us with points #2 and #5, which at least offer some sort of real-world foundation. There are charitable organizations set up to deal with the issues that go hand-in-hand with poverty—soup kitchens, free clinics, homeless shelters, etc. And we do have an actual society that we cohabit that makes it possible for us to refer to ourselves collectively as Americans and human beings. We have local, state and federal governmental organizations through which we can express our collective will.

First, #2: Can’t charities take care of the poor?

Perhaps there was a time when that might have been possible, if those charities might have worked together. But each set of charitable institutions (even within a single faith) has its own infrastructure, administration, and resources. This makes mounting such a cooperative response challenging at best, IF all of the parties would be willing to work together. Alas, there are extremists on both ends of the religious-secular spectrum that stolidly and dogmatically refuse to work with people who are not “them”. Moreover, if it was ever possible for religious and secular charities to care for all the poor in America, the Great Recession put paid to that idea.

How? Because everything in our society is connected to everything else. The employment numbers are connected to unemployment insurance, which is connected to food stamps and welfare, which is connected to the minimum wage which is connected to healthcare subsidies and Medicare/Medicaid eligibility. All of that is affected by the rise in poverty.

It creates a domino effect (or a cascade effect, if you prefer)Domino_Cascade .

“In the fall of 2011, with hunger rearing up across America, the large freezer bins at the Port Carbon Food Pantry (PCFP), in the small, gritty, Appalachian town of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, were empty. The shelves next to the freezers were also largely barren. A few boxes of egg noodles provided about the only sign that this was a place in the business of giving out food to those who could no longer afford to buy it. An adjacent room was doing slightly better, displaying stacks of canned fruit, canned corn, beans, and bags of pasta. But, taken as a whole, these were slim pickings. Clients who walked or drove up the hill, the remnants of an unseasonably early snow storm still on the ground, from the center of town to the two-story building were eligible for six to ten days of food, but that food was all they’d be able to get from the pantry for the next two months. 

“Three years earlier, explained PCFP’s coordinator, Ginny Wallace, the rooms were filled to bursting with food. Then the economy tanked; demand for the free food soared; and at the same time, locals’ ability to donate to the pantry crumbled.” (Sasha Abramsky. “The American Way of Poverty”, p. 36)

Did you catch that last sentence? The shelves of this charity were empty because the Recession affected, not just the already poor, or those who’d been hovering just above the poverty line, or even those who were middle class and suddenly had no income. It affected those who still had jobs and healthcare and a roof over their heads, but who found their resources suddenly uncertain and strained. The people who regularly gave to charities—who put food on those shelves—cut back their contributions of food and money, or stopped giving altogether, because that money was no longer discretionary.

But it wasn’t just the charities and the poor they serve that this cascade overwhelmed. Families like ours also cut back on spending, thereby withholding money from the businesses that were used to receiving it, and generally denying the economic substructure of our local, state and national economies the revenues they needed to progress and grow. My editing and ghostwriting clients all felt the crunch, which meant that I felt it and my family felt it, and the businesses we purchased from felt it.

But there’s a recovery going on, yes? So, the poor will recover right along with everyone else, right? Yes, there is a recovery, but counter-intuitive as it may seem, the recovery has, in some ways, made the situation worse for some of the poor.

How so?

imagesThink of it in terms of fluid dynamics. Have you ever sat at the end of a long line of cars at an intersection waiting for the light to turn green? Have you noticed how, once you’ve seen the light turn green with your own eyes, it takes many long, agonizing seconds before the forward surge reaches your car? Fluid dynamics also applies, at least metaphorically, to our economy or any other large, complex system with moving parts.

When it comes to the economy, it’s worse. Consider the housing market—it’s making a comeback. That means housing costs are going up. Rents are rising, food prices are rising, clothing prices are rising, gas prices are rising. Even those who make too little to pay income taxes have to pay sales taxes, and sales taxes are not progressive. That is, they are the same whether you are very poor or very rich.

What’s not rising is the amount people earn. This is why there’s a push to raise the minimum wage, which is one of the ways in which we, as a society, could help the working poor if we were of a mind to do so. But that’s a different slice of the pie.

The bottom line on #2 is that no, charities can’t take care of all the poor. If they could have, they would have. They’re trying—often cooperatively—to stem the tide of poverty. But you can’t get food from empty shelves. In order for those charities to give, individuals have to give, and you can’t force people to give to charity, you can only encourage them to do it.

So, what’s the solution? Is this something only the Andrew Carnegies and Warren Buffetts of the world can or should work out? Is it the sole province of religious organizations (which, according to surveys are dwindling as more and more people become unaffiliated with such institutions)?

After all, Bahá’u’lláh makes a point of saying to the wealthy among us:

O YE RICH ONES ON EARTH! The poor in your midst are My trust; guard ye My trust, and be not intent only on your own ease. (Hidden Words, Vs 54)

Or is the answer Point 5: that it’s our obligation as a society of human beings to care for the poor in our midst?

Next time: A look at interdependence.

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About the author

Maya Bohnhoff

... is a professional writer, editor, recording / performing artist, and Baha'i. She lives in San Jose, CA.

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  1. Tom Martin

    Yes, it is truly sad that some people have no more money to give to charities like they used to give, so charities are struggling.
    And it is very often not the fault of the poor that they are poor. Many grew up in poor neighborhoods with inadequate schools staffed by low quality teachers, because the better teachers did not want to teach in such schools. Many grew up with no father in the house, just a mother, who might have been working two jobs just to make enough money for food and rent, so had no time to help the kid with school work. Or she might have been so poorly educated herself that she would be unable to help the kid even if she had time. So the kid fails in school, grows to hate school, drops out in high school, then can’t find a good job, it’s not his fault but his environment.
    And now we have some state governments, mainly Republican dominated governments, who refuse to extend Medicaid under Obamacare, like it was supposed to be extended to many poor who were not eligible for original Medicaid. So now they are still without health insurance. And yet health costs are the most common reason for bankruptcy in America. I sure wish we would have a universal health insurance system, covering all, like most European countries have.
    And the Republicans also want to cut food stamps, terrible. So many people still can’t find a job. They might be considered overqualified for a minimum wage job, but can’t find a better job either, so they look for a job in vain. And Republicans insisted on cutting off unemployment insurance after only what was it, one year or half a year or what. All those cuts, so that the rich could get bigger tax cuts.

    1. Maya Bohnhoff

      All of these things are why the precepts revealed by Bahá’u’lláh are so important to Bahá’ís and to the world at large. Where we can quibble about what Christ may have meant about “rendering unto Caesar’s what is Caesar’s” or exactly how much we were supposed to love our neighbor (not enough to help him cover his healthcare according to some) Bahá’u’lláh is clear about the responsibility of both the individual and the government in caring for the people.

      We have a responsibility to each other. The rich ones among us have a greater responsibility because they have greater resources and more, frankly, to be grateful for when it comes to giving back to the society that helped make them wealthy in the first place. And Bahá’u’lláh is clear that the rulers of the earth—its governments—also bear that responsibility.

      The current state of affairs in this country is particularly sad because so many of the people who will stand up and defend the idea that the rich must be protected are themselves among the poor and vulnerable. Which leads back to the failure and danger of partisan politics. It clouds the mind and makes solving our social problems difficult if not impossible.

      1. Stephen Kent Gray

        To the world at large? You know Baha’is are only 0.1% of the world population? That only Baha’is or maybe mostly Baha’is would find his precepts meaningful enough to base public policy on regardless of all the precepts of all other philosophies and religions?

        Also, you don’t understand the difference between party and ideology. The latter would still exist even without the former. Also, one part systems don’t have the issue of political difficulties even less than non partisan ones. Eritrea as well as all Communist countries and the unrecognized SADR Western Sahara all have one party systems. (A non partisan democracy purges ballot of party affiliations.) In nonpartisan elections, each candidate for office is eligible based on her or his own merits rather than as a member of a political party. No political affiliation (if one exists) is shown on the ballot next to a candidate. Generally, the winner is chosen from a runoff election where the candidates are the top two vote-getters from a primary election.

        Back to why are Baha’u’llah precepts that important to non Baha’is? If it the same, then it’s no big deal on a topic? If it different, why adopt Baha’i precepts for everyone? Why should non Baha’is care if for example Baha’u’llah defines marriage as between a man and a woman if they and their religion support marriage equality for example (or some denominations do)?

        Also, no one is saying people don’t have a responsibility to each other but rather what type of responsibility ie legal, ethical, or moral. Also, whether or not society should be based on coercion. Also you use protection in two different sense of the word without knowing in both the positive and negative senses. Also are you talking about the responsibility to donate or the responsibility to be taxed or either or? Are you ok with so much of a person money going to the common good that charity is tax deductible?

        1. Maya Bohnhoff

          Stephen, I think you’d argue if someone said the sky was blue on a cloudless day. :) (Well, you see, it’s not really blue. It’s just that the earth’s atmosphere filters out…”)

          Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings are the same, at core, as those of every Manifestation of God that has come before. The differences are our capacity and circumstance—what Bahá’u’lláh refers to as the exigencies and requirements of a given age. If the teachings spread—organically—or if Christians the world over decided to live by the Sermon on the Mount, or Muslims to live by the Surihs in which Muhammad reminds them that God created us all that we might know and not despise each other, then what’s to argue?

          Again and again and again, several of us have tried different ways to explain to you that the Bahá’í social laws will not be forced onto people who are not Bahá’í. And that’s not even what I’m talking about. I’m talking about living by the spiritual principles not just in one’s private life, but in business, and government in such wise that most of us really did think FIRST of the law to love one another and care for each other’s welfare as much or more as we care for our own when we made decisions of business or governance.

          Let’s say that actually happened—that people started living by the principles of Faith. If that happens in an organic manner, and whether they are Bahá’í or not, people simply begin living by those teachings and molding their society to reflect that, why should it bother you? Why would you question it?

          You ask Why Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings in particular are good for society. Because His revelation is calibrated for this time in human history. This does not in any way invalidate the revelations that have come before. In fact, it brings them to fruition and spreads them, as well. You may as well ask why we can’t just ignore the scientific knowledge brought to us by Einstein, or Guth, or Hawking and simply function using Newtonian physics or the celestial mechanics of Galileo. The answer is the same—that knowledge and those principles of science were good for the time they formed the core of scientific knowledge. They were what our current science is built upon. But we can’t stand still in physics or metaphysics.

          “Religion must be living, vitalized, moving and progressive. If it be non-progressive it is dead. The divine institutes are evolutionary; therefore [their] revelation must be progressive and continuous. Sciences of former ages and philosophies of the past are useless today. Ancient laws and archaic ethical systems will not meet the requirements of modern conditions…
          In view of this, shall blind imitations of ancestral forms and theological interpretations continue to guide the spiritual development of humanity today? Shall man gifted with the power of reason unthinkingly adhere to dogma which will not bear the analysis of reason?” (Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity)

          In other words, the precepts are important because it’s logical for humanity to be progressive in spiritual realms as it is in other areas of knowledge.

          I have no opinion about tax deductions for charity, personally. I give to charity, but I don’t claim it on my taxes.

          1. Stephen Kent Gray

            “I’m talking about living by the spiritual principles not just in one’s private life, but in business, and government in such wise that most of us really did think FIRST of the law to love one another and care for each other’s welfare as much or more as we care for our own when we made decisions of business or governance.”

            The problem lies not with that but rather the practical implications of the above. Let’s say Peter and Paul are two people who wanted to do the above. This in and of itself tells us nothing of what they decide to do. If they are both progressives, each one is ok with taxing the other. If they are conservatives, they care about other people’s tax burdens. You can go on and on with other comparisons about how the various implications can lead people to contrary or even contradictory positions on any given issue. This example covers voluntary giving versus forced redistribution, but other issues can be used instead.

            The implications of love is obviously non coercion, because why would anyone consider coercion loving?

            Back to the Sermon on the Mount:
            The predominant medieval view that it applies to the clergy (specially in monastic orders) and not the laity
            Luther’s view that it represents an impossible demand like the law
            The Anabaptist literal view which directly applies the teachings
            The Social Gospel view
            The Christian existentialism view
            Schweitzer’s view of an imminent eschatology referring to an interim ethic
            Dispensational eschatology which refers to a future Kingdom of God
            Inaugurated eschatology in which the Sermon’s ethics remain a goal to be approached, yet realized later

            (Deleted wiki link)

            While I’m not Christian personally, I have read the Bible as well as books by Christian authors.
            I have several books by Andrew Napolitano, Isabel Paterson, Rand Paul, Ron Paul, and Wayne Allyn Root. The last one is Jewish. You can get to a list by clicking on the category section then click a subsection. I was very active in the Ron Paul campaigns for President in 2008 and 2012. I also active in the 2008 campaign of Wayne Allyn Root as well. I look forward to Rand Paul 2016. The Wikipedia article gives comparisons with the Christian Left and Christian Right. Adiapohra is a reference to the Greek philosophy of Stoicism.

            The categorization of up (libertarianism), down (authoritarianism), left, and right can be applied to all religions and their followers. From what I have read I assume you have views similar to the Christian Left, except being more of a Bahai Left.

            Also, there is the issue of how do you apply religion to government without theocracy?

            Also, can you even compare religion to science? Science proves new theories validity before replacing old ones. Religion tends to be just quote dropping. No one can say with certainty any religion if any is a valid theory unlike with science. Some would say Secularism is the current best religion for today.

            Religion in business and government is controversial given the recent issues about religious rights and religious issues with both. Can business enforce morality on its employees and customers and government on its citizens? Companies involved in the wedding industry want the right to discriminate against same sex couples. America is a diverse nation so how can groups embrace religion given the diversity of the people who make up said groups?

            Teachings spread organically initially, but once a tipping point is reached or an influential person adopts it, it become established in a country or countries. It then spread by territorial acquisition. Just look at the history of Christianity and Islam. If people decide to live however they want is okay, but when people decide government should be run theocratically, that becomes a problem.

            Back to spiritual, religious, and philosophical principles, I can give tons more examples of the prior Left, Right, Up, and Down spectrum. What are the implications of any enumeration of the Golden Rule? There will be four interpretation of any given quote in the context of governance given the four square in just referenced. Take for example the Wiccan Rede for example “An it harm none, do what ye will”, various interpretations have been debated. It shows the impossibility of showing how there is any one way but rather four to apply any and all spiritual principles.

            Theocracy, mostly associated with Christian Reconstructionism and Islamism, is about the government mandating that people live by the principles of the majority religion. It is a Down quadrant use of religion to combine the enforced piety of the Right and the enforced redistribution of the Left.

            Should giving be voluntary or mandated?
            Should morality be voluntary or mandated?

            If you say voluntary to both, Up.
            If you say mandated to both, Down.
            If you say voluntary and then mandated, Right.
            If you say mandated and then voluntary, Left.

          2. Maya Bohnhoff

            Stephen, I’m going to try to sort through all the input and answer the questions you asked as concisely as possible. I deleted the wiki link and I’m going to ask, again, that you refrain from using them.


            The problem lies not with that but rather the practical implications of the above. Let’s say Peter and Paul are two people who wanted to do the above.


            The problem lies, I think, in that we’re not talking about two people. We’re talking about a society that has organically evolved to a point that its collective dealings are determined within the institutional framework that exists at some future time. For example, in the US, the Constitution would form part of such a framework.

            In other words, your Peter and Paul exist outside of any framework in existence now or that may exist in the future. So speculating about them is without purpose.


            The implications of love is obviously non coercion, because why would anyone consider coercion loving?

            I can think of several instances in which love might be coercive. For example, a family with a member who has drug abuse problems or mental health issues may compel that member to go into rehab or to take their meds. You may argue that that’s not coercion, in which case, I would agree. But I suspect the person being compelled to do something might disagree. I had a dear friend who developed toxicity to the medication she was on for bipolar disorder. She decided she didn’t need any medication and refused to try new meds. She became a danger to herself, and her husband—who loved her dearly—made it clear that if she did not agree to try the new medication her doctor prescribed, he would seek to have her institutionalized because he couldn’t bear to watch her deteriorate. She agreed to counseling and eventually found a medication that worked. Once she had recovered from her “episode” she was very grateful that the people who loved her had intervened.

            Yes, “Back to the Sermon on the Mount”. I see no relevance to your list of views. Jesus was preaching to the masses—Jews and Romans—not to His followers and not to an as yet to be created clergy. Frankly, I think attempts to excuse oneself from observing Christ’s commandments by saying it’s not for this group or it’s too hard or it was only meant for a situation that lasted only three years (Dispensationalism) are for wimps. ;)

            Human beings love to find reasons not to do what they know they ought (as St. Paul notes). Hence, Christ notes that following His commandment is a narrow gate that few enter.


            Also, there is the issue of how do you apply religion to government without theocracy?

            I guess we’re going to find out.:)

            I think a number of your questions about science and business and morality arise from a misapprehension of what we mean here when we use the word “religion.” We are not talking about a current system as it now stands being engaged in the governance of a nation or a world. In other words, all bets are off and all archaic forms (whether of religion, governance, philosophy or science)—while they may provide examples of what may or may not work—must evolve or perish.


            Back to spiritual, religious, and philosophical principles, I can give tons more examples of the prior Left, Right, Up, and Down spectrum.

            Yes, but why would you? They’re off topic. Left, Right, Up and Down are invented pigeonholes and labels. They give the false impression that what we’re talking about here can be neatly labeled and categorized and dealt with by up or down vote. That has been the eternal problem of humanity as we strive toward some sort of common society—these things are not binary as your categories suggest. We pretend they are to our peril.


            What are the implications of any enumeration of the Golden Rule?

            Enumeration—an interesting choice of words. It applies to mathematics well, but not to the rather more squishy areas of human existence. I think perhaps “statements” or “wordings” might be more apropos. In any event, the implications of the Golden Rule are what we are here to discover.

          3. Stephen Kent Gray

            Why should society establish religion again after we took all this time disestablishing? (Theocracies and countries with a state religion nonwithstanding)

            A secular state is a concept of secularism, whereby a state or country purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. A secular state also claims to treat all its citizens equally regardless of religion, and claims to avoid preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion/nonreligion over other religions/nonreligion. Secular states do not have a state religion (established religion) or equivalent, although the absence of a state religion does not necessarily mean that a state is fully secular; however, a true secular state should steadfastly maintain national governance without influence from religious factions; i.e. Separation of church and state.

            French secularity (or Laicism) in French is a concept denoting the absence of religious involvement in government affairs as well as absence of government involvement in religious affairs. French secularism has a long history but the current regime is based on the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State. During the twentieth century, it evolved to mean equal treatment of all religions, although a more restrictive interpretation of the term has developed since 2004. Certain different implementations have evolved since World War II, some have seen the evolution of a “positive” laïcité which manages competing pluralities rather than serving as secular alternative to religion. Dictionaries ordinarily translate laïcité as secularity or secularism (the latter being the political system), although it is sometimes rendered in English as laicity or laicism. While the term was coined in 1871 in the dispute over the removal of religious teachers and instruction from elementary schools, the term laïcité dates to 1842.

            The separation of church and state is the distance in the relationship between organized religion and the nation state. Although the concept of separation has been adopted in a number of countries, there are varying degrees of separation depending on the applicable legal structures and prevalent views toward the proper role of religion in society. While a country’s policy may be to have a definite distinction in church and state, there may be an “arm’s length distance” relationship in which the two entities interact as independent organizations. A similar but typically stricter principle of laïcité has been applied in France and Turkey, while some socially secularized countries such as Denmark and the United Kingdom have maintained constitutional recognition of an official state religion.The concept parallels various other international social and political ideas, including secularism, disestablishment, religious liberty, and religious pluralism. Whitman (2009) observes that in many European countries, the state has, over the centuries, taken over the social roles of the church, leading to a generally secularized public sphere.

            Government and religion as separate is part of most countries (Middle East and North Africa being the most state religious and even theocratic mostly). Shouldn’t government be based on popular sovereignty ie democracy? Why should given the diversity of most countries should government be based of the principles of the worldview of a few of its members whether religious or philosophical? Religion doubly so given the amount of Agnostics, Atheists, Humanists, SBNR, Deists, Ethical Culturalists, Transcendentalists, etc. in society. Government should only be run on democratic principles period rather than subverting it in the name of establishing religion in place of the people.

          4. Maya Bohnhoff

            First of all, this is really off-topic. My post was about the moral response to poverty and not about the separation of church and state which is not viewed the same way world wide.

            Second, I think we’re all agreeing with you, Stephen. The only difference I see between your POV and the Bahá’í POV is that if more people embrace the principles of human unity that characterize the Bahá’í Faith (and indeed, the previous phases of Religion as well), it will naturally and organically change the way they govern themselves.

            Personally, I think the idea of removing all religious or spiritually based principles from the governance of society is absurd and unnatural. If we don’t govern by our best principles, what’s left?

            Again, I’m not talking about religious dogma or church doctrine. I’m talking about principles of religion, which do not contradict at all a desire for rational, democratic and humane government.

          5. Rick Schaut

            Stephen, while I appreciate the time you’ve taken to write that soliloquy, I must confess that I’m confused as to why you felt it necessary. I can’t see as how it’s related to anything any Baha’is has said in these discussions.

            Baha’is have absolutely no interest in building a society where Baha’i institutions exercise any authority outside of the Baha’i Faith itself. We do think that the Baha’i Sacred Writings articulate a number of useful principles that pertain to issues of governance, but I think it a huge stretch to say that promulgating these principles is tantamount to “subverting [democracy] in the name of established religion in the place of the people.”

            “Thou shalt not kill,” is one of the commandments of the Bible. If democratically-elected, civil legislatures decide to pass laws against murder, does that constitute a breach of the separation between church and state? Of course not.

            The separation between church and state is an institutional separation. It ensures that civil governments don’t meddle in the affairs of religious organizations and that religious organizations don’t meddle in the affairs of civil society. To say that this separation goes beyond the separation of institutions is to declare, by fiat, that certain ideas an principles ought never be incorporated into civil society even if they are , themselves, incorporated through the unfettered operation of civil, democratic institutions.

            It seems to me as though you want to build walls around ideas, and I really can’t see how that’s even possible.

          6. Stephen Kent Gray

            Maya and Rick, several things, but I will answer them one at a time.

            Maya, the fact that SBNR exists shows that religious and spritual principles aren’t one and the same. It also shows ethical, moral, philosophical, and spiritual principles can and do exist independent of religious ones. Even if religious principles hypothetically didn’t exist, we’d still have tons of other sources to make up for it like human reason, logic, ethics, morality, SBNR spirituality, philosophy, etc. To illustrate here are some quotes. I should also specify that separation of religion and state isn’t separation of spirituality and state as per the SBNR refernce earlier.

            “When we say that man chooses for himself, we do mean that every one of us must choose himself; but by that we also mean that in choosing for himself he chooses for all men. For in effect, of all the actions a man may take in order to create himself as he wills to be, there is not one which is not creative, at the same time, of an image of man such as he believes he ought to be. To choose between this or that is at the same time to affirm the value of that which is chosen; for we are unable ever to choose the worse. What we choose is always the better; and nothing can be better for us unless it is better for all.” Jean-Paul Sartre (founder of Atheist Existentialism), Existentialism is a Humanism (a quote on the Golden Rule)

            “Trying to live according to the Golden Rule means trying to empathise with other people, including those who may be very different from us. Empathy is at the root of kindness, compassion, understanding and respect – qualities that we all appreciate being shown, whoever we are, whatever we think and wherever we come from. And although it isn’t possible to know what it really feels like to be a different person or live in different circumstances and have different life experiences, it isn’t difficult for most of us to imagine what would cause us suffering and to try to avoid causing suffering to others. For this reason many people find the Golden Rule’s corollary – “do not treat people in a way you would not wish to be treated yourself” – more pragmatic.” Maria MacLachan (a Secular Humanist) (another quote on the Golden Rule)

            “Do not do to others what you would not want them to do to you. [is] (…) the single greatest, simplest, and most important moral axiom humanity has ever invented, one which reappears in the writings of almost every culture and religion throughout history, the one we know as the Golden Rule. Moral directives do not need to be complex or obscure to be worthwhile, and in fact, it is precisely this rule’s simplicity which makes it great. It is easy to come up with, easy to understand, and easy to apply, and these three things are the hallmarks of a strong and healthy moral system. The idea behind it is readily graspable: before performing an action which might harm another person, try to imagine yourself in their position, and consider whether you would want to be the recipient of that action. If you would not want to be in such a position, the other person probably would not either, and so you should not do it. It is the basic and fundamental human trait of empathy, the ability to vicariously experience how another is feeling, that makes this possible, and it is the principle of empathy by which we should live our lives.” Adam Lee (a Secular Humanist), Ebon Musings (a quote on the Golden Rule)

            “Humanists acknowledge interdependence, the need for mutual respect, and the kinship of all humanity.” Declaration of Humanist Principles (retrieved from a book quote of The Savvy Convert’s Guide To Choosing A Religion: Compare And Contrast Before You Commit by Knock Knock) Knock Knock is a pseudonym. I don’t really get why that is the name they choose, but they did.

            “Always act so as to elicit the best in others, and thereby thou wilt develop the best in thyself!” Felix Adler (founder of Ethical Culture Movement)

            Second, Rick you don’t distinguish between intirnisically religious principles versus extrinsically religious principle (ones that are also double as secular principles as well). For example, half the Ten Commandments are intrinsically religious and the other half are secular or extrinsically religious. A good litmus tests is if a principle can stand on its own, it’s secular, but if it needs to be propped up solely on its religiousity, then it’s intrinsically religious. There is a science of morality and ethics that doesn’t rely upon religion. Science of morality can refer to a number of ethically naturalistic views. In meta-ethics, ethical naturalism bases morality on rational and empirical consideration of the natural world. This position has become increasingly popular among philosophers in the last three decades.

            Third, on poverty and ethics/morality. There is no need for government-provided social services. These activities are best entrusted to private nonprofit organizations, which include churches and faith-based charities. Voluntary giving is more just and efficient than forced redistribution of wealth through taxation – as whatever is taxed, less of it will be produced. Public welfare is an ineffective means to lift the financially struggling out of poverty. This carries with it negative unintended consequences, such as people being less willing obtain higher education or employment, or having more children than they would otherwise. School choice including parochial schools for primary and secondary education is advocated over mandated government-run schools at taxpayer expense. The spontaneous order of the free marketplace is always preferable to central planning. Over-regulation of business reduces productivity and increases unemployment, while enabling new possible avenues of corruption. In addition, minimum wage laws hurt younger, less qualified workers, and cause price hikes even on the poor. Free individuals are in a much better position to rationally pursue their own interests than those who are being dictated to by a strong-armed central government. The state should not prohibit unwise financial, personal, or medical decisions, nor prosecute those who encourage them (short of fraud), as this is within the realm of the church. Likewise, the individual right to keep and bear arms for defensive purposes is also supported. With respect to environmental concerns, regulatory policies and the politicization of Creation Care as only superficially “green” and essentially corporatist. Often, the large-scale pollution and environmental degradation caused by governments is a reason to minimize the activities and role of the state in society.

            Laws of the state should be kept to the bare minimum. Acts that merely annoy others or slowly degrade their health might be dealt with at the local level, where the least amount of effort is needed to initiate or oppose change. There is great concern that even in relatively free societies, laws and regulations are becoming increasingly numerous, irrelevant, and too complex for the average person to understand. Outlawing what people see as immoral only makes the public more accustomed to having to deal with new laws. Thus, it “opens the floodgates” for people to pass their own laws when they are in control of the government, rather than having an aversion to all new laws.

            Fourth, if the whole world, each and every person down to the last one, became Bahai, then legislating Bahai principles wouldn’t be controversial, but that hypotethically world isn’t probable or even possible (or atleast possible for a long long long time). This would require non Baha’is to adopt Baha’i principles because they are convinced to do so despite being not.

            Fifth, secularism doesn’t mean the rejection of all things religions have ever taught. Good stuff is also secular principles that have been found in religion as well as outside religion. It’s straw secularists you see in religious propoganda who oppose relgious principles just for being religious. Religious principles shouldn’t be accepted or rejected off hand, but rather should be subject to reason. Humanism, Existentialism, Deism, Ethical Culture Movement, Transcendentalism, SBNR, etc can be good examples of secular principles to compare and contrast with religious ones to show the overlap as well as the seperate categories which I have don’t above.

            Sixth, if people love each other with the rule of love as the only rule, what is the specific need for specific things beyond that? What does how policies are made have to do with what policies are made?

            Seventh, why are we all assuming representative rather than dierct pure democracy is the state of the future? Also, if we may even have stateless societies? Freedom create people who are community minded to not need government interference. This leads to future stateless societies or even one big stateless society being possible, maybe even inevitable.

            Eighth, given that motive, means, and ends are three seperate things (virtuous versus vicious motives, dutiful versus un dutiful means, and utiliarian versus worthless ends), what if love was the motive behind every thought, word, and act every person ever had after the flip of a switch, does that neccesarily tell us about the means and ends rather than just motives? You gave five different means to end poverty, but it said nothing of motives or ends other than all had the goal of handling the issue of poverty.

            Ninth, forbidding murder, rape (instead of consensual adultery), theft, false witness, and harassment (instead of coveting) are all secular principles one can get from a secular summary of the good stuff in the Ten Commandments. Coveting and adultery in general are more iffy, but have been labeled good commandments by some but not all secular summarizers.

          7. Maya Bohnhoff

            I think Rick hit this right on the head when he said that you simply can’t pry our current ethical mores apart from their spiritual/religious roots and pretend that they are mutually exclusive. The fact that secular humanists quote the Golden Rule does not alter the fact that it is the product of religious revelation and dominates the teachings of individuals who explicitly claimed it to be a divine principle. Even if you take the converse view that it is a manmade ethic that have informed the teachings of religion, the two cannot simply be winnowed out from each other. Even the humanists you quote, do not claim that the Golden Rule is not a religious principle that they happen to agree with.

            Suffice it to say that I agree with Rick: you have a basic misconception about what the Bahá’í understanding of how religion and spirituality will inform governance and societal ethics in the future that nothing we say seems to affect. So, I will state it as baldly as I can: The Bahá’í Faith, even if it becomes the majority religion on the planet, will not force people to become Bahá’í or to live by Bahá’í doctrine if they do not, themselves, embrace the faith. Nor is it in conflict with a democratic system of governance. Far from it.

            It’s hard to have a theocracy in the sense you seem to understand it, when you have no clergy and no ecclesiastical hierarchy and instead have an administrative system that is itself democratically elected.

            The institutions of the Faith have no counterparts in the current world, and the institutions of governance current societies have are, themselves, in a state of evolution. This is good, because in many cases they are woefully inadequate to the needs of the people. They will continue to evolve; we will continue to evolve and we will come to new understandings of our place in the world. As our understandings change, so will the way we choose to govern ourselves. I guess I’m echoing Sartre here, and emphatically: when we choose for ourselves, we do choose for others and nothing can be better for us unless it is better for all.

            You say there is no need for government-provided social services. I respectfully disagree. Especially in a country in which the government theoretically represents the will of the people, caring for each other through agencies we hold in common and can direct through our elected representatives and direct vote is the most certain and effective way of dealing with the problems of poverty and want in our society. Older, more mature nations have already come to this conclusions. I suspect that America one day will as well.

            Currently, we have a plethora of charities, they are not at all capable of providing for all of the needs of those who have fallen through the cracks of our society. They are neither universally effective nor universally efficient. Claims that they do fly in the face of reality. Some of them spend more on overhead and salaries than they do on ameliorating whatever cause they are focused on. And therein lies part of the problem—charities are often set up to focus on certain causes—the “sexier” the cause the more support the charity gets.

            You say that: “The spontaneous order of the free marketplace is always preferable to central planning.” This is demonstrably untrue. Do you know what a food desert is? It’s an area in which the residents have no access to healthy food because the area is not attractive to the businesses that provide healthy food. Even Walmart will not put their stores where there isn’t a wealth base to support them. This is why there are food deserts in poor rural areas and in urban areas where there is high population density, high crime, and insufficient transportation. There is no “spontaneous order” in the free marketplace; there is the chaos caused when individuals and corporations “pursue their individual interests” to the detriment of people who cannot afford their services.

            All systems redistribute wealth—including free market capitalism—but the free market does not distribute it fairly enough to meet Sartre’s (or Bahá’u’lláh’s) criteria of being good for all. The very people who largely create the wealth are also largely kept from enjoying it because those who control the resources are busily and often selfishly pursuing their own interests.
            I’m sorry, but your statements about poverty—which are all talking points I see repeated ad nauseam on Facebook with no supporting facts—do not jive with the reality I see literally right outside my door.

            You write: “Fourth, if the whole world, each and every person down to the last one, became Bahai, then legislating Bahai principles wouldn’t be controversial, but that … would require non Baha’is to adopt Baha’i principles because they are convinced to do so despite being not.”

            In our country it is illegal to force someone whose skin is a different color to have to use a separate bathroom from whites. This is not generally a controversial law, though it does not represent the morality of every member of our society and violates the deeply held identity beliefs of some. Would you argue that it is harmful to “convince” someone who harbors racial prejudice to adopt that principle of equality though it is not a principle they would follow if left to their own devices?
            You wrote: “Fifth, secularism doesn’t mean the rejection of all things religions have ever taught.”

            Nor does it mean pretending that the Golden Rule is a “secular principle” that just happens to be found in religion. It is a spiritual and religious principle that secularists have adopted. I can assure you, Stephen, that the secularists I have debated about the need to reject ANY and ALL religious principles are not “straw secularists” from religious tracts. I’ve interacted with a number of secularists on atheist websites who stated very emphatically that if something comes from religion you shouldn’t even have to think about it—just reject it. I argued that that was just as restrictive as the fundamentalist religious view that any and all secular principles (or principles from “other” faiths) should be discarded. I told him that I wasn’t about to put my brain on hold for any dogma. If something is useful and true, it is useful and true regardless of where it comes from.

            There are bad actors and bad thinkers in any group. Religionists can be (and, I’d argue should be) rational, kind, and just, and secularists can be irrational, mean-spirited, and unjust. As Christ said, “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

          8. Maya Bohnhoff

            One more thing: None of us is assuming a particular form of government will exist, though it seems likely that some form of government established on democratic principles will exist in the nations that make up the global family of nations and that there will be some form of world government as well.

            And no, I have no interest in arguing about what that will look like.

            In fact, we have said repeatedly that the future of global governance is organic and evolutionary.

          9. Stephen Kent Gray

            Maya, this data say otherwise on the history of the Golden Rule.

            “Zi Gong asked, saying, “Is there one word that may serve as a rule of practice for all one’s life?” The Master said, “Is not reciprocity such a word?” – Confucius
            “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” – Confucius

            “If people regarded other people’s families in the same way that they regard their own, who then would incite their own family to attack that of another? For one would do for others as one would do for oneself.” – Mozi

            “The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful.” –Laozi
            “Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain, and your neighbor’s loss as your own loss.” –Laozi
            The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful. —Tao Teh Ching, Chapter 49

            (edited for length)

          10. Maya Bohnhoff

            Actually, Stephen, in what way does quoting Confucius, Mo-di and Lao-tze “say otherwise?” These are all religious sages.

            That modern humanists such as you quoted before believe the Golden Rule (do as you would be done by) is a solid moral idea, is laudable and proves the universality of the principle, but it doesn’t make it a secular idea simply because secularists have endorsed it (in some cases using the Gospel wording). When Bertrand Russell opined that if we all followed the teachings of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount the world would be a better place, it did not make the Sermon on the Mount magically a secular or humanist or atheist set of principles.

            This particular teachings is the lynch pin of every revealed religion since we first started recording these ideas. Krishna says it is the sum of duty, Buddha that it is an eternal law, Christ that it is the Law and the Prophets and that the commandment to love one’s neighbor (which is really just same law in a slightly different package) is the law upon which all others depend. Muhammad says no one is a true believer who does not observe this law, and Bahá’u’lláh that it is the essence of justice.

            Quoting secular sources would not negate this. And frankly, a number of the sources you quote (the first four or five) are religious sources.

            I know it’s a semantical issue, but the Golden Rule isn’t really about reciprocity. Reciprocity is giving back in kind. The Golden Rule is about treating others well regardless of how they treat you. Christ and others suggest we are to treat others with good even when they treat us vilely. Buddha goes so far as to say that if someone offers us hatred, we should respond with love. And Abdu’l-Bahá says that if someone offers us poison, we should offer the cup that is life indeed.

            Can we now cease debating the commandment, and simply strive to the best of our individual and collective ability, to live by it.

          11. Rick Schaut

            You’re right, Stephen. I don’t distinguish between ideas that are intrinsically religious and ideas that are extrinsically religious, because I don’t see any reason why ideas ought to be considered intrinsically or extrinsically anything. Ideas merely are. They are either generally accepted as true in society at large, or they’re not.

            Indeed, I think you’re misusing the word “intrinsic” in this context. An idea can be intrinsic to something else, in the same way that a spherical shape is intrinsic to basketballs. In other words, if the thing you have is not spherical, then it’s not a basketball. At the same time, a spherical shape is also intrinsic to baseballs, so it would be a mistake to say that “spherical” is an intrinsically basketball-like shape.

            In a similar vein, I think that the existence of the Spiritual but not Religious movement merely shows that some people believe that there is an important distinction to be drawn between religiosity and spirituality. It doesn’t show that the distinction itself is meaningful any more than the existence of the Flat Earth Society proves that the Earth is flat. Indeed, I think the existence of the Spiritual but not Religious movement is of little use to the taxonomy you’re trying to apply here.

            Society evolves. This is an observable phenomenon. Ideas come in and out of vogue in a variety of ways, and those ideas come from a variety of sources. To categorize some ideas as intrinsically religious is to construct a form of ad hominem argument; that some ideas should never garner wide acceptance by mere virtue of the fact that we can source them to some religious leader. If that’s not the point, then there is absolutely no reason to attach the word “intrinsic” to the idea.

            When you speak of legislating Baha’i principles, I’m tempted to say something like, “You know Baha’is are only 0.1% of the world population?” The only way this is ever going to happen is if a majority of the people seem to think that Baha’i principles represent a sound foundation for legislation. The Baha’i Writings certainly do envision a future when this will happen, but that vision of the future is, as Maya has repeatedly pointed out, grounded in an organic acceptance of Baha’i principles; that it will only happen as society evolves. One outcome of that evolution is that distantly Baha’i ideas will find greater acceptance in society at large. I suppose, if we adopted your taxonomy, we could say that these ideas will have ceased to be intrinsically religious, but I suspect that most people would wonder why anyone ever decided to categorize these ideas as being intrinsically religious in the first place.

            In all of this, I’m having a great deal of difficulty understanding exactly what point you’re trying to make. As best I can tell, you seem to find Baha’i concepts and ideas to conflict with the variant of Libertarian ideology that you’ve adopted, but, even then, I’m having difficulty understanding you. You’ve spoken of the importance of democratic principles, yet you seem to object to the notion of a society whose public and private institutions seek to embody the principle articulated in the Golden Rule.

            You say that government doesn’t need to provide social services. That’s true, but it has little to do with a government that operates according to democratic principles. If our government is to be democratic, then there isn’t any reason that we, the people, cannot decide that we want the government to provide certain social services.

            Note that I’m not trying to argue one way or another as to whether or not government ought to provide social services. That discussion would be woefully off topic to Maya’s original post, so, please, let’s not digress into that argument. I’m merely saying that your comments reflect a certain level of incoherence that makes it difficult to understand what your point is.

            Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah has revealed to us a number of important and useful ideas and principles. This shouldn’t be at all surprising. We’re Baha’is. We seek to promulgate these ideas and principles, which, again, ought not be at all surprising. We are, after all, Baha’is. We have repeatedly said, however, that we do not believe that these ideas ought to be imposed on anyone. In other words, Baha’u’llah’s ideas and principles will only become incorporated into the fabric of society to the extent that people, regardless of their religious beliefs, come to see a certain value in adopting them.

            What possible harm can come from this? Rather than spend much time discussing the overall efficacy of the Baha’i vision of the future, should we not spend time exploring the meaning of some of these ideas and principles? For example, I mentioned the Baha’i concept of “voluntary and obligatory”. What does that concept mean to you? How do you see that principle being realized in a democratic society? What implications might it have for the role of government in society? Exploring these questions would be very much on topic, and might even lead to a greater understanding of what Baha’is believe. That would be a good thing, would it not?

        2. Rick Schaut

          Stephen, you wrote:

          Also, you don’t understand the difference between party and ideology. The latter would still exist even without the former. Also, one part systems don’t have the issue of political difficulties even less than non partisan ones. Eritrea as well as all Communist countries and the unrecognized SADR Western Sahara all have one party systems. (A non partisan democracy purges ballot of party affiliations.) In nonpartisan elections, each candidate for office is eligible based on her or his own merits rather than as a member of a political party. No political affiliation (if one exists) is shown on the ballot next to a candidate. Generally, the winner is chosen from a runoff election where the candidates are the top two vote-getters from a primary election.

          I’ve often thought of partisan politics as the place where ideology meets reality and reality loses. Ideology, in and of itself, isn’t problematic. Rather, the problem is the extent to which ideology remains immune to revision in light of new facts and information, and party loyalties create the need to filter facts and information through the lens of an ideology. People who question certain Libertarian precepts about the proper role of government in society get labeled “statists,” and are ousted from the party.

          In contrast, Baha’is generally believe that attachment to any ideology is little more than an immature fetish of present-day society. Maya quotes `Abdu’l-Baha on the subject, but I think my favorite statement was made by Shoghi Effendi:

          If long-cherished ideals and time-honoured institutions, if certain social assumptions and religious formulae have ceased to promote the welfare of the generality of mankind, if they no longer minister to the needs of a continually evolving humanity, let them be swept away and relegated to the limbo of obsolescent and forgotten doctrines. Why should these, in a world subject to the immutable law of change and decay, be exempt from the deterioration that must needs overtake every human institution? For legal standards, political and economic theories are solely designed to safeguard the interests of humanity as a whole, and not humanity to be crucified for the preservation of the integrity of any particular law or doctrine.

          I’ve often said that an open-minded person is someone who searches for the truth. A close-minded person is someone who has found it. The Baha’i Writings are replete with this notion of always searching for the truth. It’s embodied in the principle of the independent investigation of truth.

          Baha’is generally regard this search for truth as a central aspect of community life. We strive to build institutions, and implement decision-making processes, that embody this principle. For example, Baha’i elections are not just nonpartisan. Baha’i elections have no electioneering whatsoever. Every ballot is really a write-in ballot, and elections are decided via plurality. Why? Because electioneering tends to shut down this open-ended search for truth. It is, in one sense, a limitation on the voter’s right to vote for whomever they think is the best person to hold a particular office. It’s a lot like a market, but without the advertising designed to get us to buy things like pills that enhance male virility.

          I’ll close with one last thought. Baha’i elected institutions are vested with a great deal of authority. They have almost no power. If, for example, my local assembly decides to provide a meal for some homeless people in the community, I cannot be compelled to cook a meal or help serve the food. Participation, while obligatory, is voluntary. This principle of obligatory, yet voluntary, even extends to contributions to the Fund.

          I remember a prominent Baha’i giving a talk where he stressed that giving to the fund is both voluntary and obligatory. After the talk, a member of the audience, who apparently heard the “voluntary” part but not the “obligatory” part, asked, “So, giving to the fund is voluntary, right?” The speaker answered, “Yes. Giving to the fund is voluntary just like breathing is voluntary.”

          Socially, we are still quite adolescent. We become preoccupied with the question of whether or not breathing is voluntary. I suspect that, as we mature, we’ll come to realize that breathing is essential to our individual well-being, and, so, we’ll simply breathe without giving much thought to whether or not we really want to breathe.

          1. Maya Bohnhoff

            Rick, you a hero of the revolution (as we say in my writers’ co-op). i love the way you put that: “I’ve often thought of partisan politics as the place where ideology meets reality and reality loses.” May I quote you on that?

            I know that the idea of authority without power and institutional authority without individual authority was, to me, one of the most revolutionary things about Bahá’u’lláh’s concept of Bahá’í governance. When I first explored the idea of the authority vested in the institutions of the Faith, I was blown away by how balanced they were and how well-guarded against personal aggrandizement. After 40 years as a Bahá’í, serving on Assemblies and in other capacities, I am ever more in awe of the administrative order that Bahá’u’lláh, Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi bequeathed to the Bahá’í world.

          2. Rick Schaut

            Come to think of it, that’s the sort of thing you might want to work into a dialog somewhere. Feel free to use it even without attribution.

          3. Stephen Kent Gray

            Rick you wrote: “What possible harm can come from this? Rather than spend much time discussing the overall efficacy of the Baha’i vision of the future, should we not spend time exploring the meaning of some of these ideas and principles? For example, I mentioned the Baha’i concept of “voluntary and obligatory”. What does that concept mean to you? How do you see that principle being realized in a democratic society? What implications might it have for the role of government in society? Exploring these questions would be very much on topic, and might even lead to a greater understanding of what Baha’is believe. That would be a good thing, would it not?”

            Obligatory means legally, morally, or religiously required: required by law or by a moral or religious rule; : binding in law or conscience; relating to or enforcing an obligation ; mandatory, required ; also : so commonplace as to be a convention, fashion, or cliché

            Voluntary means freely chosen as in not that people have free will but rather coercion wasn’t used in decision process. If you say people having free will is the definition of voluntary, all actions are voluntary no matter how much coercion is used. Even if someone robs someone at gun point, under said free will definition, they gave their money voluntarily given that they chose to do so. How does all the fines, imprisionment, and death penalty talk in the Aqdas square will administration being powerless?

            Or will people in the future have a Neutral Good or Chaotic Good character alignment where they do whatever they think is good or beneficial regardless of what is voluntary, obligatory, or not?

            Good characters and creatures protect innocent life. Evil characters and creatures debase or destroy innocent life, whether for fun or profit. “Good” implies altruism, respect for life, and a concern for the dignity of sentient beings. Good characters make personal sacrifices to help others. “Evil” implies hurting, oppressing, and killing others. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms if doing so is convenient. Others actively pursue evil, killing for sport or out of duty to some evil deity or master. People who are neutral with respect to good and evil have compunctions against killing the innocent but lack the commitment to make sacrifices to protect or help others. Neutral people are committed to others by personal relationships. Being good or evil can be a conscious choice. For most people, though, being good or evil is an attitude that one recognizes but does not choose. Being neutral on the good-evil axis usually represents a lack of commitment one way or the other, but for some it represents a positive commitment to a balanced view. While acknowledging that good and evil are objective states, not just opinions, these folk maintain that a balance between the two is the proper place for people, or at least for them. Animals and other creatures incapable of moral action are neutral rather than good or evil. Even deadly vipers and tigers that eat people are neutral because they lack the capacity for morally right or wrong behavior.

            Lawful characters tell the truth, keep their word, respect authority, honor tradition, and judge those who fall short of their duties. Chaotic characters follow their consciences, resent being told what to do, favor new ideas over tradition, and do what they promise if they feel like it. “Law” implies honor, trustworthiness, obedience to authority, and reliability. On the downside, lawfulness can include close-mindedness, reactionary adherence to tradition, judgmentalness, and a lack of adaptability. Those who consciously promote lawfulness say that only lawful behavior creates a society in which people can depend on each other and make the right decisions in full confidence that others will act as they should. “Chaos” implies freedom, adaptability, and flexibility. On the downside, chaos can include recklessness, resentment toward legitimate authority, arbitrary actions, and irresponsibility. Those who promote chaotic behavior say that only unfettered personal freedom allows people to express themselves fully and lets society benefit from the potential that its individuals have within them. Someone who is neutral with respect to law and chaos has a normal respect for authority and feels neither a compulsion to obey nor a compulsion to rebel. She is honest but can be tempted into lying or deceiving others. Devotion to law or chaos may be a conscious choice, but more often it is a personality trait that is recognized rather than being chosen. Neutrality on the lawful-chaotic axis is usually simply a middle state, a state of not feeling compelled toward one side or the other. Some few such neutrals, however, espouse neutrality as superior to law or chaos, regarding each as an extreme with its own blind spots and drawbacks. Animals and other creatures incapable of moral action are neutral. Dogs may be obedient and cats free-spirited, but they do not have the moral capacity to be truly lawful or chaotic.

            Even if people thought in terms of well being for every thought, word, and action, there’s still the lack of consensus among everyone on what does or doesn’t contribute to well being. It’s like saying to everyone to contribute to by religious fund because it contributes to well being.

            Breathing/charity example challenge: What if I obligated you to give to charity right now? Charity does contribute to well being. You can voluntarily choose to do so or not. If you choose to do so, you will have fulfilled an obligation and have choose to have breathed. If you don’t, I prove the absurdity of your argument, given that you symbolically choose to suffocate by not contributing to well being. I like Global Giving, Alzheimer’s Association, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, USO, Operation Homefront, Wounded Warrior Project, Doctors Without Borders, International Red Cross, Meals on Wheels, etc. Remember to top up 25% in addition to your donation with Global Giving. I could also mention Universal Life Church and Unitarian Universalist Association. I could even mention Responsible Charity and Humanist Charities and even Atheists for Humanity.

            The point being if you take the challenge, you are breathing and being mature by your argument. If you don’t, you are being immature and suffocating.

          4. Maya Bohnhoff

            As we keep saying, the Bahá’í concept of “obligatory and voluntary” is a bit apparently a bit different than what you’re accustomed to. Something—such as daily prayer—can be spiritually obligatory (as eating healthy food is physically obligatory), but no external power or authority enforces it. No Mommy tells you to eat your spiritual broccoli. Any “coercion” comes from within. In other words, self-discipline as opposed to discipline from an authority.

            As you note. this is part of growing to maturity. A child needs prompting to fulfill obligations to himself and to others. An adult, ideally, is able to impose self-discipline so that these obligations are met—whether to himself or to others.

            Your example of charitable giving is somewhat apt. When we fail to be “generous in prosperity” as Bahá’u’lláh writes, we not only deprive others of our generosity but we suffocate ourselves. We can choose to violate the law to love our neighbors, just as we can choose to violate the law of gravity. We are responsible for the repercussions in both cases though. And while the result of breaking the law of gravity is swift and apparent, the results of breaking the Golden Rule are not always so apparent.

            The law to love (for example) is voluntary—we choose to follow it or not. It is also obligatory—if we wish to progress as individuals or a species. So, the obedience to the law must come from within in the form of self-discipline, and there is a price to pay for disobedience, though no external force enforces it.

            What sort of price? Well, you might destroy a relationship if you fail to be just, kind, or loving. You may destroy someone’s life by backbiting or refusing to help them when they need help. Or the price may be purely personal. Take daily prayer for example. There are several Bahá’í prayers in which Bahá’u’lláh wrote the phrase “remoteness from Thee has well-nigh consumed me”. When a soul feels that remoteness from God because they have not taken the time to connect through prayer, then the pain of separation may be the thing that drives them to follow that obligatory (yet voluntary) spiritual law.

            Giving to the Bahá’í fund is likewise obligatory and voluntary. Like daily prayer, It is also a gauge of maturation.

          5. Maya Bohnhoff

            Also, I have to join Rick in noting that it is difficult to identify your personal point of view on any of the subjects we’ve been discussing. It seems as if you enjoy tossing out arguments just for the sake of argument.

            Is that, indeed, the case?

          6. Stephen Kent Gray

            Maya, for example there is a Hadith where Muhammad orders beating who ever misses even one prayer time. There are five daily. There are dozens of laws in the Aqdas. Do all of these laws all have such consequences given there are laws on hair length and such?

            Laws
            Prayer
            Fasting
            Marriage and family life
            Inheritance
            Backbiting and gossip
            Alcohol, drugs, and tobacco
            Fund
            Other

            (edited for length and relevance)

            Can you say that if anyone ever broke any of the above regulations, it all caries dire prices? What the dire price for shaving your hair or having it long on men? What the dire price of confession? (I’m not Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Mormon, Orthodox, or Lutheran, myself, but since confession is for everyone I did it because I was curious. No dire results experienced.) What about the specific of burial ritual? What about hunting, treasure, and lost property?

            Also, it’s been hard to keep to any one point because these discussion has been creeping with each response gradually. I have to respond to the point given rather than the original points earlier I gave.

          7. Maya Bohnhoff

            You said: “Maya, for example there is a Hadith where Muhammad orders beating who ever misses even one prayer time.”

            The important word here is Hadith. Someone said that Muhammad said that. It is not in the Qur’an. If it were a punishable law, then wouldn’t it be logical for the punishment to be stipulated in Muhammad’s actual revelation?

            Yo ask: “There are dozens of laws in the Aqdas. Do all of these laws all have such consequences given there are laws on hair length and such?”

            Answer: If there are no consequences given in the Aqdas, then the answer is “no”. At least not unless or until the House of Justice determines that such consequences are beneficial.

            As I made absolutely clear several comments ago—if I neglect to pray, I bear the spiritual consequences of my neglect. No one takes me to task, or punishes me. No one—not even Bahá’í institutions—are given that prerogative or duty by Bahá’u’lláh. Fasting, likewise, is between me and God. My contributions to the Fund are also not anyone else’s duty to moderate or comment upon.

            Now, where it comes to other laws, such as the drinking of alcohol or other public behaviors that are proscribed in the Aqdas, an Assembly may act to intervene before the individual and community are damaged. The Assemblies are to be as loving parents to the Bahá’ís. That’s in the writings of the Faith as well. It is a different relationship than you seem to imagine.

            You ask: “Can you say that if anyone ever broke any of the above regulations, it all caries dire prices?”

            No. At least not dire prices that are meted out by an institution. As I said, some of the “wages of sin” aren’t always apparent—think of the sort of cumulative damage a person can do to their bodies if they drink or smoke, for example. One cigarette will not kill you, but a habit of smoking cigarettes could. The price of developing that habit is quite high, but not immediately apparent.

            You commented: “Also, it’s been hard to keep to any one point because these discussion has been creeping with each response gradually.”

            Yes, you do tend to drift. I’d love to get back on topic, actually.

          8. Rick Schaut

            Stephen, several thoughts. First, the communication issues we’re having generally involve the basic elements of essay writing. College English 101: state your thesis, support that thesis with a few paragraphs of reasoning, then restate your thesis as a conclusion. I’ve read nearly all of your comments on this blog, and, in nearly all of them, I have no idea what your thesis is.

            Second, you have a tendency to filter Baha’i concepts and ideas through the lens of the Libertarian ideology to which you seem to find a great deal of affinity. Not that there is anything horribly wrong with doing so, it’s just that you’re not going to understand Baha’i concepts from a Baha’i point of view so long as you keep applying that filter.

            A good example of this is they way you defined “voluntary” in terms of the absence of coercion. From a libertarian point of view, that definition is a rhetorical necessity. Without it, we cannot objectively say that any given, individual decision was “voluntary.” The problem with that definition is its esoteric nature. At it’s core, the generally accepted notion of “voluntary” is entirely about a person’s state of mind. You cannot know whether any choice that I’ve made was a “voluntary” choice, but I can.

            Now, to the questions you asked in response to my previous comment. You asked, “How does all the fines, imprisionment, and death penalty talk in the Aqdas square [with] administration being powerless?”

            First, I never said that Baha’i institutions are entirely powerless. I’ve said that they have almost no power. In particular, I said that Baha’i institutions cannot compel individuals to participate in activities that the institutions believe that the community ought to undertake. By deciding that the community ought to engage in a particular activity, say providing a meal to some homeless members of society, the institutions create the obligation.

            Second, the context of that remark is Maya’s original post to which this comment thread pertains, and was intended to provide some insights into how the notions of caring for the poor might be actualized in a Baha’i society. One of the points Maya made in her original post had to do with the efficacy of private charity, where she quoted Sasha Abramsky’s, “The American Way of Poverty”. Private charity tends to be pro cyclical. Charities are flush when there isn’t a great need, and run short in times when the need is greatest.

            I have no idea why you would want to talk about the laws of the Kitab-i-Aqdas in this context. What, exactly, do the punishments associated with rape and arson have to do with poverty? This brings me back the English 101 point above. State your thesis. Explain why you think these laws are relevant to the problem of poverty, support that thesis with a few paragraphs, and then state your conclusion. What is your point, and how does that point relate the problem of poverty?

            The middle paragraphs of your comment strike me as a bit of rambling on this issue of the laws of the Aqdas, but I don’t see how they’re relevant here. So, I’ll leave them where they lie.

            You closed with the paragraph that began with, “Breathing/charity example challenge: What if I obligated you to give to charity right now?”

            Wherever did you get the idea that, within the Baha’i system, individuals can unilaterally create such an obligation? I am, quite honestly, befuddled. It’s certainly not inherent in anything I’ve said, and there’s no generally accepted secular precedent for such an idea. Maya has already pointed out that the Baha’i Faith has no clergy, so even that avenue of individual authority doesn’t exist. You seem more interested in creating points of contention than you are interested in understanding Baha’i principles and ideas, or how they might be applied to the issues of society. Is my perception correct, or am I misreading you?

          9. Stephen Kent Gray

            Rick, she doesn’t talk about a hypothetical Bahai society so much as current society and says that the world at large should follow Baha’i teachings. She doesn’t say it in the context of people becoming Baha’i or with any qualification. She said various things Baha’u’llah viewed about government. Should government care about what a religious text says about what government does regardless of what the people want? This differentiates theocracy from democracy.

            The conversation got off the track. If the people decide they want a law or not, why should religious law deal into the process? Cycles can be managed through various means according to means schools of economics. This will help with the charity situation.

          10. Maya Bohnhoff

            Stephen, I call BS on this: That I said “that the world at large should follow Baha’i teachings. She doesn’t say it in the context of people becoming Baha’i or with any qualification.”

            I made my context very clear. And also that by Bahá’í Teachings I mean those spiritual imperatives that have been at the heart of religion since we crawled out of the primordial stew. I am no more guilty of saying this than atheist philosopher (and personal hero of mine) Bertrand Russell who said that if we all followed the principles Christ revealed in His sermon on the mount, the world would be transformed.

            Yes, the world would be a better place if everyone—Bahá’í or not—lived by those essential spiritual teachings about how we view and deal with each other. I stand by that. But the laws of the Aqdas—which pertain only in part and only to Bahá’ís—are not at all what I’m talking about. I have made that repeatedly clear.

            Here’s the Bahá’í POV: religious law applies to those who have voluntarily agreed to be subject to religious law. Full stop.

            Schools of economics are bankrupt when it comes to dealing with poverty. Why? Because ultimately the way in which we choose to model and act upon the wisdom from those schools of economics are driven by our personal and collective ethics. And that is the province of spirituality, faith, and religion (by which I mean both the body of revealed teachings and the community that grows up out of those teachings).

            There is a connection between one’s sense of empathy for and/or duty to other humans and one’s spiritual/religious perceptions. No school of economics can create this sense of duty or compassion and empathy. This is why people who self-identify as religious are significantly more involved with both religious and secular charities, volunteerism and civic involvement than their non-religious peers (see American Grace and Faith Matters surveys). It is not because of a school of economics that they espouse, but the belief–instilled by their faith—that the Golden Rule is more than just a nice idea. It is an article of faith—a commandment from a Being the religious person believes has the authority to command.

            There is a vast difference between believing that loving one’s neighbor is a nice sentiment and believing it is what the God I love wishes me to do. Which, perhaps, speaks to your earlier question of motive.

          11. Rick Schaut

            Gosh. Maya’s a Baha’i. Of course she thinks that the world should follow the precepts and principles of the Baha’i Faith. Imagine a libertarian who would say, “I’m a libertarian, but I don’t think the world should follow the precepts and principles of libterianism.” And, no, I don’t put much stock in the distinction that one is a religious “ism” and the other is a secular “ism”. They’re both ‘ism’s, which means general acceptance of either would require general acceptance of the axioms and assumptions that underlie them.

            Neither seeks to impose acceptance of those axioms and assumptions on other people, which means the only process we have to generate any acceptance of those ideas is by exploring what those ideas and principles mean if we should put into practice. That would, inevitably, involve both a discussion of how those ideas and principles would work if we implemented them now and how those principles and ideas would work in a future society that is, itself, organized along the broader set of principles and ideas embodied in each school of thought.

            We’re exploring ideas, here. Indeed, that’s the ostensible purpose of this entire web site.

            Imagine a discussion of certain libertarian approaches to the problem of poverty. Such a discussion might start with the notion of an Unconditional Basic Income. Someone might point out that, in operation, the UBI still involves a transfer of income through the coercive power of the state, at which point the discussion would inevitably turn to how this might work in a future, hypothetical society that is broadly organized along libertarian principles. Or, consider the question of business cycles. A discussion of the libertarian approach would, inevitably, turn to a discussion of a future, hypothetical libertarian society with a very different monetary regime (with or without the existence of a central bank, depending on which thread of libertarian thought we were exploring) than the one that prevails on our present society.

            If any reasonable discussion of libertarian ideas would, inevitably, involve some discussion of a future, hypothetical libertarian society, then why would anyone expect that a discussion of Baha’i ides would not, inevitably, involve some discussion of a future, hypothetical Baha’i society?

            No. The discussion didn’t get off track when it incorporated some consideration of a future Baha’i society. The discussion got off track when talk about separation between church and state and questions about punishments in the Kitab-i-Aqdas were added to it. They struck me as contentious distractions when I first read them, and they still seem like contentious distractions when I go back and read them now.

            It leads me to ask, why do you spend your time here, Stephen? Are you here so that you might learn about the Baha’i Faith, and how Baha’is view society–how Baha’is would approach the problems that we see in present-day society?

            If your purpose is to promote libertarianism, then I would respectfully suggest that this is the wrong place. This might be a place to explore a comparison between libertarian ideas and Baha’i ideas, but that would have to come from someone who is well-versed in both subjects and willing to give equal treatment to both. In many of your comments, you seem to take libertarian assumptions for granted, as if we all implicitly consent to them without any discussion of them.

          12. Stephen Kent Gray

            Rick, she was talking about how poverty is a problem in the world today. So, basically Bahaization is the answer to poverty? She was talking about current American problems, not the fact of whether a future society would have poverty and how to handle it.

            She also included quotes from various other scriptures in the other post in this series. She quotes the Bible and the Quran on issues related to poverty and charity, but doesn’t really go into said implication of Jewish, Christian, or Muslims teachings on the issue. She also only quotes scripture of Western religions. She quote scripture when in her articles, but doesn’t go deeply into the implications they have on society and their followers as a percentage of society.

            The world has a diversity of societies whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian/East Asian, Shinto, Secular, etc. The world has about 200 societies or so. I’m not sure what the exact number is. It’s not like societies collectively or a society individually will become any less diverse than they are today. To say one future society will be Bahai, ignores the 200 plus other diverse societies who can be a whole plethora of things. People will just be able to migrate between societies for a variety of migratory reasons.

          13. Rick Schaut

            Stephen, you’ve completely ignored the central thesis of my previous comment: this is a place for exploring the meaning and implications of Baha’i ideas. Why do you expect us to explore the meaning and implications of other ideologies? Why would you presume that our exploration of the meaning and implications of Baha’i ideas would imply that we are claiming that these ideas are so exclusive as to believe that “Bahaization is the answer to poverty”?

            I offered up what I thought to be a reasonable explanation for why the discussion would transition from present-day social circumstances to how Baha’i ideas and principles would operate in a society that’s organized along broader Baha’i principles, and you’ve completely ignored those points as well. Ignored them. Not discussed them at all. I have no idea whether you agree or disagree. You’ve just left them on the table. It’s as if I hadn’t written a single word.

            To ignore the points raised by others, to essentially repeat what you’ve already said, is just flat out contentiousness. It belies a complete lack of interest in understanding a point of view that differs from yours.

            You’re being contentious, but for reasons I simply cannot fathom. Your comments indicate that you think we Baha’is are little more than a bunch of deluded lunatics, and, while you’re completely entitled to hold that opinion, it leads me to wonder why you even spend any time commenting here. Clearly, if we are little more than a bunch of deluded lunatics, and since we constitute no more than 0.1 percent of the world’s population, our deluded lunacy presents no threat to anyone.

            So, why do you even bother to post comments here? Seems to me that this would be a complete waste of your time. Please, explain.

          14. Stephen Kent Gray

            Rick, you obviously forgot that the name of the blog is “Common” Ground and not “Baha’i Ground” and is about Faith, Reason, Science, and Religion, and not just the Baha’i Faith. Besides, Maya was the one who quoted from other scriptures in the first post. If she only wanted to discuss poverty and the Baha’i Faith she only should have quoted Baha’i scripture. For example, to quote the Bible on poverty is the same as discussing and exploring Jewish and Chrsitian ideas on poverty for example or any other topic. Same goes for the Quran and Islamic ideas on poverty. It’s like quoting Hindu scripture on marriage on any other topic without discussing Hindu ideas on marriage.

          15. Maya Bohnhoff

            Stephen, you wrote: “Maya was the one who quoted from other scriptures in the first post. If she only wanted to discuss poverty and the Baha’i Faith she only should have quoted Baha’i scripture.”

            Reminder: Bahá’ís view the earlier revelations as being part of God’s overall plan for mankind, so earlier scriptures are not “other” to us. Krishna is as much a Manifestation of God as Bahá’u’lláh or Christ and His words about the central principles of faith are also valid. We do not view the prior revelations as separate “other” religions, merely older ones whose social teachings are calibrated for a younger humanity.

          16. Rick Schaut

            I don’t think I’ve forgotten anything, Stephen. My point is that it’s not possible to find common ground through contentious discourse. There’s no way to find any common ground if you’re going to ignore the majority of the points that people have raised. There’s no way to find any common ground if you are going to filter Baha’i ideas and principles through your own, ideological lens.

            Perhaps this will illustrate the point. You wrote:

            Besides, Maya was the one who quoted from other scriptures in the first post. If she only wanted to discuss poverty and the Baha’i Faith she only should have quoted Baha’i scripture.

            Your first sentence is a simple observation. Your second sentence is not. Your second sentence imposes a significant restriction on how Maya is allowed to conduct her exploration of the subject. Is that restriction consistent with Baha’i ideas and precepts, or does it run contrary to Baha’i ideas and precepts? Do you know what Baha’is consider to be “scripture” and not “scripture”, and why Baha’is might consider, say, quotes from the Bible to be relevant to a discussion of Baha’i ideas?

            We cannot find common ground, Stephen, if you have no interest in understanding what Baha’is believe. And, so far, you’ve shown no such interest. It’s as if you think you know us, yet seem exceedingly unwilling to listen when we point out that you don’t.

            And, this is how a dialogue devolves into a Stephen Kent Gray monologue.

      2. Tom Martin

        Maya, dangers of partisan politics? That is where I have to disagree. If we want to achieve something for this country, we have to participate in partisan politics, to try to defend the party that better represents our ideology. Sure sometimes it fails, our side can’t win each time, but that is no reason to abandon partisan politics. So during the Cold War I defended the Republican party because of the foreign policy. Sure, sometimes my side lost, the Democrats forced us to betray and abandon the people of South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, the horrible Communists were victorious. But then Reagan was elected, liberated Grenada, increased military spending, contributing a lot to the collapse of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe and in the formerly Communist African countries like Mozambique etc. So we were victorious, the Cold War was ended, and I could turn my attention to domestic priorities, like universal medical insurance.
        So now I back Democrats. And we have made some progress, like Obamacare, which while it is not universal insurance, it does enable people who could not get insurance due to preexisting conditions, to get insurance. That would not have been possible without partisan politics. Sure we can’t win them all, like we can’t get an increase of the very low minimum wage, but without fighting we would never be successful. It is true that I can’t consider myself a Democrat, I still feel the pain of that betrayal of Indochina. But still, I need to back Obama and other Democrats, the Cold War is over.
        If good people withdraw from partisan politics, they leave the field to the rascals. We need more good people in partisan politics. That is an important part of why I continue to have objections to the Baha’i Faith, just as much as to churches that forbid voting, like Jehovah’s Witnesses etc.

        1. Maya Bohnhoff

          Why would we have to be engaged in partisan politics to achieve something for our country? I’ve voted in every election but one. I am earnestly engaged in social issues and defend, in writing, policies and social movements that are aligned with my principles as a Bahá’í. I do not need to be registered with a political party in order to do those things. Indeed, it makes me a more effective social activist because the people I correspond with in that arena know that I am not a partisan ideologue.

          Bahá’u’lláh has said that if He were to sum up His Faith in one word, that word would be unity. Can you even imagine how that unity would be compromised if Bahá’ís became members of political parties and engaged in the sort of dogmatic wrangling that characterizes modern partisan groups in this country? Partisan dogmatism causes our elected leaders and their followers to say and do things that may promote party goals (such as staying in power or serving outside interests), but are detrimental to the nation and its people. Look at the battle over Obamacare, the falsehoods that partisan actors have told (it’s socialism, there are death panels, it’s giving undeserving people a free ride, etc.) in order to destroy it. At this point, we have one party that will even reject legislation or undermine laws it once supported because a President of the other party is for them. The resulting distrust, rancor, even hatred is a cancer that is eating into the heart of our country. States threaten to secede from the union or overturn Federal laws. Partisan legislators line up to promote individuals literally fighting the government with weapons.

          “The Bahá’ís must not engage in political movements which lead to sedition. They must interest themselves in movements which conduce to law and order. In Persia at the present time the Bahá’ís have no part in the revolutionary upheavals which have terminated in lawlessness and rebellion. Nevertheless, a Bahá’í may hold a political office and be interested in politics of the right type. Ministers, state officials and governor-generals in Persia are Bahá’ís, and there are many other Bahá’ís holding governmental positions; but nowhere throughout the world should the followers of Bahá’u’lláh be engaged in seditious movements. For example, if there should be an uprising here in America having for its purpose the establishment of a despotic government, the Bahá’ís should not be connected with it. The Bahá’í Cause covers all economic and social questions under the heading and ruling of its laws. The essence of the Bahá’í spirit is that, in order to establish a better social order and economic condition, there must be allegiance to the laws and principles of government.” – Abdu’l-Bahá

          Bahá’ís are earnestly engaged in bettering the world we live in at the local,national and international levels. This blog is part of that effort to be engaged in social discourse and to shape thought and dialogue. We not only are encouraged to participate in the life of our wider communities as individuals, but we also have national and international offices of external affairs that are engaged with legislators and the UN on a wide variety of subjects including literacy, education of women and girls, environmental concerns, human trafficking and other issues. There are Bahá’ís working all over the world on these areas of need and working to bring down barriers between people. We are doing it all without being registered in political parties.

          “Our belief in Christ, as Bahá’ís, is so firm, so unshakable and so exalted in nature that very few Christians are to be found nowadays who love Him and reverence Him and have the faith in Him that we have. It is only from the dogmas and creeds of the churches that we dissociate ourselves; not from the spirit of Christianity. Very much the same reasons motivate us in withdrawing from all political movements, however close some of their ideals may be to ours. We Bahá’ís are one the world-over, we are seeking to build up a New World Order, Divine in origin. How can we do this if every Bahá’í is a member of a different political party—some of them diametrically opposed to each other? Where is our unity then? We would be divided because of politics, against ourselves, and this is the opposite of our purpose. ” – Shoghi Effendi

          We don’t need more good people in partisan politics, we need more good people to step outside the narrow confines of party affiliation to reforge the political landscape so that it is focused on issues, not on divisive ideologies.

          1. Rick Schaut

            Maya, were I truly cynical, I’d point out that, in today’s political climate, the only government agency that really listens to us is the NSA. But, I’m not that cynical.

          2. Rick Schaut

            And, by “NSA”, I don’t mean the National Spiritual Assembly…

          3. Tom Martin

            OK, Maya, at least the Baha’i Faith allows you to vote, not like churches like Jehovah’s Witnesses or Christadelphians which consider even voting a sin, and even more having a governing job like a judge or sheriff, for them it is all participation in the world dominated by Satan, whom the New Testament calls the ruler of this world. But since you live in California, where to vote in a primary, you have to be registered with a party, as I found out when I moved to California temporarily. At least here in South Carolina, we don’t have to be registered with any party to vote in primaries, so I can choose whatever party I want to choose to vote in primaries. So now I intend to vote for Senator Graham in the Republican primary, to try to prevent any radical Tea Party Republican to be elected in his place, who would be much worse even than Graham. Of course in November I plan to vote for the Democrat, but he has really no chance to be elected in this very conservative state. So that will be more like a symbolic vote, and only my primary vote will be really important.
            I have a doctrinal question for you. Does the Baha’i faith allow you to vote in primaries in states where people don’t register with a party, like here in South Carolina?

          4. Maya Bohnhoff

            I’m very familiar with what groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses say about voting, etc. I’ve discussed the subject with a number of Witnesses over the years. A key point upon which we disagree is the importance of action in this world … and the existence of Satan as popularly conceived.

            Your voting strategy is something a number of my friends have said they do—or at least intend to do. Actually, California does have an open primary now and we also use the method where the top candidates, regardless of party affiliation advance to the final ballot.

            You asked: “I have a doctrinal question for you. Does the Baha’i faith allow you to vote in primaries in states where people don’t register with a party, like here in South Carolina?”

            That’s less a doctrinal question than a practical one, but as I said, we are encouraged to participate in civic activities as long as we do not have to register with a political party to do so, and those activities are not seditious. And we are also supposed to refrain from partisan discussion as well, but that one’s on each individual to deal with.

            I haven’t yet voted in a primary in California because I haven’t felt the need to do so for reasons that are unique to each election. But except for one election back in the 80s I’ve voted in every presidential and gubernatorial election and also vote on issues.

            This raises a point about the Bahá’í attitude toward the world we live in. There’s a difference between our understanding of the world and the way some other religious groups view it. The difference, to frame it in the vernacular is that some religious folks think of this world as a waiting room, while Bahá’ís view it as a school room. That’s utterly simplistic, of course, but Bahá’u’lláh teaches that we aren’t here to wait for the great beyond. We’re here to learn, to participate in being human, to develop spiritual qualities that are necessary here AND in the next phase of our existence. Those qualities will be like our eyes, ears, arms and legs in the next life—without them we will be spiritually handicapped.

            Certainly, what we do here has consequences in the next life, but it has important consequences here for us and our fellow humans. We progress only when we realize our essential unity and act on that realization that mankind is one family and that the best way to serve God is to serve mankind. That means being fully engaged in the life of the world and caring about what happens to it and the people in it.

          5. Tom Martin

            That is nice that you have an open primary system in California now. Still, it is so restrictive not to be able to vote in primaries in states where one has to register in a party to vote in primaries. I used to live in New York and there I was registered as a Democrat, so I could vote at least in the Democratic primary, but I did not consider myself a Democrat, but an independent. Similarly when I moved temporarily to California, I registered as a Republican, but I certainly did not consider myself a Republican. But that was a long time ago, when Republicans were still strong in California, so a Republican primary was important. Unfortunately California did not work out for me, so I moved back to New York, before I even got a chance to vote in California.
            But anyway, my point is that registering with a party just so you can vote in a primary, that does not yet mean you will consider yourself a member of the party. So I think it is unreasonable for Baha’i Faith to forbid Baha’is to register with a party for even that reason.

          6. Maya Bohnhoff

            Yes, it is restrictive, but that’s the way the party system works, I think to protect the parties from having “outsiders” come in and do exactly what you and others do—vote for someone extreme in order to help the other party. I imagine that given how many people are refusing to register with political parties, the whole system will have to open up more in the future. So, I feel the unreasonableness isn’t with the Bahá’í Faith for asking us not to get involved in partisan politics; the unreasonableness is with the political system for insisting that we register with a party.

            I’ve been “accidentally” registered with a party briefly. Once, when I was serving at the Bahá’í booth at our county fair, the booth happened to be next door to the Democratic booth and across the aisle from the Republicans. We joked that we were the bridge between the two and kept fights from breaking out. I headed over to the Democratic book to register because we had moved and it was an opportune moment, but the place was too busy. As I walked back to the Bahá’í booth one of the ladies at the Republican booth called out, “Hey, honey, you can register here.”

            I said, “I’m not a Republican.”

            She assured me they were non-partisan in their registrations and I filled out the paper work. When I went to fill in the Party section, I saw Democrat, Republican, Independent, and Other. I asked, “I’m unaffiliated. Do I use Independent or just write “non-partisan” in this blank?” She said, “Oh, just leave it blank. We’ll take care of it.”

            They did. They registered me as a Republican and I had to go down to the registrar’s office and fix it. Now, I make sure I fill out all the boxes and blanks myself. :)

          7. Maya Bohnhoff

            I think maybe I need to address this more fully. The Bahá’í Faith calls for the unity of the entire human race. For the love of God and all mankind, we are asked to not barricade ourselves within the walls of smaller, divisive groups that, as we’ve all seen, lead to wrangling, hostility, even hatred. How can we hope to unify the world or demonstrate our solidarity with all humanity if we align ourselves with groups whose ends are divisive? Party politics are a source of great disunity in our culture. Why should Bahá’ís be forced to place themselves in conflict with other people simply to vote in a party primary?

            To put it another way, I would I want to give up this great unity for something so inferior? Something that causes the exact opposite of what I have dedicated my life and my writing to doing? That undermines everything I believe in.

            And whether I consider myself truly a Democrat or a Republican is irrelevant if the people to whom my party affiliation is known believe I am one or the other, because that party affiliation will cause them to view me through a false lens. I am not a Democrat or a Republican, Tom. I am a Bahá’í. And I refuse to accept the restrictions that party membership would impose upon me because my larger loyalty is to something much higher than a political party.

            Does that make sense?

          8. Tom Martin

            Well, if you want to avoid all disunity, then you might as well never vote. When we vote for a candidate, even if he or she is independent rather than member of a party, then we create disunity, by preferring our candidate over somebody else. Even if we vote on some proposition, then likewise we are on one side and not united with both sides, so even propositions create disunity. You just cannot avoid disunity.
            Our goal should be that even in the midst of disunity, we should be nice to those on the other side.

          9. Maya Bohnhoff

            There is no inherent disunity in me voting for someone that other people may not vote for. Disunity only occurs if I fall into wrangling with someone over my vote. That is completely unnecessary. I don’t have to reveal how I vote on any issue or candidate.

            I think perhaps the problem is that you and I are not using the same definition of the word “disunity.” Disunity, to me, is the negative fallout of differing viewpoints. It is not the necessary consequence of differing viewpoints, though. When I say people are disunified, I mean, by definition that they are NOT being nice to each other. Does that help clear things up?

            What Bahá’ís are to avoid is that negativity, hostility, antipathy that many people today seem to assume is a necessary aspect of people having different views. I have two dear friends who are NRA members. They are two of my best friends in the entire world, yet politically, they are in a number of ways, polar opposites from myself and my husband. It does not keep us from being close. Nor does it keep us from discussing our differences. We understand that our views could lead to disunity and become polarizing. So we avoid that disunity.

            So, yes, you can disagree without causing disunity.

          10. Tom Martin

            Sure, it is good that we can disagree and still be nice. But that can be done even when we are registered in a political party. When I happened to be registered as a Democrat, I was not mean or hostile to any Republican I met. Likewise when I was temporarily registered as a Republican, I was not mean or hostile to any Democrat I knew. I just practice the basic rule of not being mean or hostile to anyone I meet. And if I get to know someone, I try to be nice to him or her. That is just basic decency. People should not be enemies just because they have different opinions or are registered in different parties. We should not treat people with different opinions from ours as if they have some evil motives for their opinions, or are idiots, like some divisive radio talk shows try to tell us, like Rush Limbaugh or some others who try to imitate him, they have so much scorn or hatred for liberals. And of course there are some liberals who are similarly poisonous, divisive. It is people like them who are the problem, not people like us who just happened to be registered in a party so we could vote in primaries. I do not believe I sinned by doing that.

          11. Maya Bohnhoff

            Yes, Tom, we can be civil if in a political party, but the nature of partisan politics is to create conflict, opposing views, binary thinking. It’s either conservative or liberal, this or that. Partisan politics encourages and thrives on an unrealistically combative view of issues that should never be politicized—healthcare, immigration, gun violence, poverty and social programs, etc. When we embed ourselves into dogmatic political world views, we just put more obstacles in the path of human unity. Bahá’ís are exhorted not to do this, so we do not register with political parties that may, in fact, hold dogmatic views that are opposed to our beliefs.

            This applies to Bahá’ís, first of all. You are not a Bahá’í, so you may register with any party you please. We believe that such an affiliation is in conflict with our Bahá’í ideals because Bahá’u’lláh has explained that it is and why it is.

            I think also the Bahá’í concept of sin is a bit different from the concept you may have encountered in some Christian doctrine. I look at it as less committing a crime against God as ignoring a prescription from your doctor. You may ignore that prescription, but you do so at your peril and the peril of the people whose lives you touch. As long as people feed energy into the divisive attitudes and practices of political parties, we will have political strife that hampers the best efforts of any responsible government to make progress on the problems that affect our society. The parties spend too much time fighting each other, and too little time dealing with the real world problems we elect them to deal with.

          12. Maya Bohnhoff

            After a bit more thought, something jumped out at me—the idea that the goal is to disagree and still be “nice.” That isn’t really the goal of the Bahá’í Faith or my goal as a Bahá’í. My goal is not to just be nice, but to so transform my character that I reflexively think in terms of what is best for the other person, or for the relationship, or for the group I’m dealing with at any given moment.

            The scriptures speak of this as having the law of God written on the heart so that obedience to it becomes the default and so that it transforms one’s life. There’s a wonderful passage in the Bahá’í Writings that we sometimes refer to as the Tablet of the True Seeker. In it, Bahá’u’lláh says that the goal is for the knowledge of God to

            “…awaken the heart, the soul, and the spirit from the slumber of heedlessness. Then will the manifold favors and outpouring grace of the holy and everlasting Spirit confer such new life upon the seeker that he will find himself endowed with a new eye, a new ear, a new heart, and a new mind.”

            This is what the Gospels refer to as “rebirth”. That transformation is crucial to the progress of humanity, for we cannot have a society that is just and compassionate and trustworthy if individuals within the society are encouraged to be selfish, apathetic and dishonest. Even today, though the teachings of Christ are inclusive and compassionate, people professing to believe in Him are some of the foremost promoters of intolerance and discord. The political ideology has become more powerful than faith.

            Also, a person may be kind, compassionate, and inclusive, but if they support a group or system that actively promotes and benefits from divisiveness, doesn’t that undermine their own ideals?

            In any event, it comes down to deciding what is more important to you: voting in a political primary, or building something that transcends partisan politics. To me, working toward a unified global society is more critical to the progress of mankind than casting a ballot in a partisan primary.

          13. Tom Martin

            Of course I don’t just try to be nice without thinking what is best for the other person. That is part of being nice.
            And when I was registered in a party, that did not mean I had my eyes closed to their prevailing dogmas even when I disagreed with some dogmas. One point of being registered in a party so I can vote in primaries, is so I can influence the dogmas more in the direction of my beliefs, based on what I think is the best for our society and the world. After all, political dogmas are not written in stone, they can change. And often they have changed.
            In any case, the Baha’i opinions on political parties are similar to what George Washington used to say, he too was against political parties, as being divisive etc. But what he did not understand, is that when politicians have different views on issues, then naturally they are closer to other politicians who have similar views to theirs, and so naturally political parties are born. I have not seen any country where democracy was able to thrive without political parties. And for one thing, not everyone has the leisure time to study in detail the political views of every Senate or House candidate, so seeing what party he or she belongs to is a useful shorthand of finding out what views he or she is likely to hold, how he or she is likely to vote in Congress. So for the US to just ban parties as sinful would just create too many difficulties.

        2. Anonymous

          Tom, I have come to view partisan politics as a group of people “fighting over the steering wheel”. We are currently in the midst of an election race where I live, and quite frankly, I’m disgusted with what we are witnessing, e.g. opposition for the sake of opposition, personal attacks, not really working for the common good. You are sceptical of the Baha’i approach and favour the partisan system, but there are working alternatives to the party system. For example, the northern territory of Nunavut, in Canada, is governed by a consensus form of government. Here is a link to a description of it, http://www.assembly.nu.ca/sites/default/files/Consensus%20Government%20in%20Nunavut%20-%20English.pdf
          Interestingly, it resembles the Baha’i model of governance in many ways.

          1. John McLaughlin

            I didn’t mean for the above post to appear as being from “Anonymous”. I think I hit the “Submit” button too early. I think people should identify themselves when commenting.

          2. Tom Martin

            Thanks, John, for the link about Nunavut. But of course Nunavut has only a small population, so non-partisan elections can make some sense. Some towns here in the US also have only non-partisan elections. I used to live in North Charleston, close to here in Charleston, and there they also have only non-partisan elections. But for that to work, it takes very well informed voters. On Charleston radio, I have heard almost nothing about issues in North Charleston. And I don’t have time to read the daily newspaper here. So as a result, the whole time I lived in North Charleston, about 20 years, I did not vote for anybody in North Charleston, mayor, council members, anybody. I am really informed OK only about Congressional candidates, and of course President, and it helps to know what party they belong to. So the non-partisan nature of the North Charleston elections was totally worthless for me, I could not know who to vote for.
            Though it is true that nowadays, extremes dominate primaries, so as a result, there are almost no moderates left in Congress any more. So I am glad to read about the new California primary system, where the two top vote getters, regardless of party, get to face each other in the general election. This should motivate candidates in California to avoid extreme positions and appeal to moderates, so they can get through the primary. That is what I think we need also here in South Carolina and in all 50 states.

          3. Maya Bohnhoff

            The Nunavut may have a small population, but the 7 million or so Bahá’ís have been electing Spiritual Assemblies at the local and national level, as well as the Universal House of Justice without parties, electioneering, nominations, campaigning, or any of the trappings of modern politics. It works beautifully and results in a diverse “leadership”. The US National Spiritual Assembly is composed of men and women from a variety of racial backgrounds, including a Lakota woman who is serving as Vice Chair.

          4. John McLaughlin

            The deficiencies of the partisan political model are becoming increasingly apparent, with dirty tricks (e.g. “robo-calls” misdirecting voters to the wrong voting location; attack ads) becoming the norm. In jurisdictions where there are just two parties, the result can be dictatorship of the majority. Where there are more than two parties the government may be elected by a minority of the voting population. In any case, the name of the game is imposition of a particular ideological position which is presented as being superior to the others. It’s time for a new system, and the one prescribed by Baha’u’llah, Baha’is believe, is more conducive to creating and maintaining unity while preserving and encouraging diversity (BTW, in Baha’i elections, in cases of tie votes, if one of the persons tied is from a minority they are automatically given the position. The wisdom of this is not difficult to see.) All this being said, it is also true, in my opinion, that the Baha’i system demands a greater level of understanding on the part of the voter than the party system in order for it to realize its full potential. This will take time, but it is one of the necessary stages of social evolution demanded by the needs of our age.

          5. Tom Martin

            I guess it is easy to have no parties in Baha’i spiritual assemblies, after all, you all have the same religious beliefs, the same Baha’i laws on conduct, so you might have disagreements only on minor administrative matters, like who to hire to mow the lawn or fix the roof. But in Congress, people come from all kinds of backgrounds, so they have sharply diverse views on what the laws of the land should be, on many matters, like abortion, same sex marriage, legalizing marijuana, prayer in public schools, teaching creationism in public schools, universal health insurance or at least Obamacare, invading Iraq, withdrawing from Afghanistan, balancing the budget by cutting spending on food stamps etc., or else raising taxes on the rich, etc. So with such different views, no wonder that politicians with similar views are in the same party, opposing those with different views, in another party. And here in America, where we have the system that whoever wins the majority or plurality in a district is elected, this favors a mainly two-party system. While in many European countries, where they have a system of proportional representation, where parties are allocated seats based on the percentage of vote that any party receives, that favors a multi-party system, where usually no party wins a majority, so then a coalition of parties has to be formed to create a government. Both systems have advantages and disadvantages. The American system worked well for example in the fifties, sixties and seventies, when each party had a big diversity of views, so there were a lot of moderates in Congress. But it has evolved into a quite dysfunctional system nowadays, discouraging moderation, electing mainly radicals on both sides, who have a hard time working with each other.

          6. Maya Bohnhoff

            LOL. Bahá’ís disagree about far more than minor administrative matters, I assure you. The difference in a community in which Bahá’ís are striving to BE Bahá’ís is that we agree that it is important for us to put aside our personal differences and work within the framework that Bahá’u’lláh has established.

            Bahá’ís have diverse views on many things and they can make thing difficult. Some Bahá’ís get to a pass where they hold their personal opinions of more value than the tenets of the Faith or the unity that we are trying to establish. It’s hard. You can’t just go off and start a new sect of the Faith as has been done in other phases of religion. And it is a challenge to most of us.

            But in the times that a group of Bahá’ís is working together in love and harmony, putting personal opinions aside in favor of unity, it’s amazing what can be accomplished. The challenge is to be able to have unity in diversity and operate within Bahá’í groups with the understanding that those differences of viewpoint can be a great strength, not a force for division. The difference is, in large part, how we express differences of opinion. When Bahá’ís consult according to guidelines established by Bahá’u’lláh, Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, everyone is allowed to express their opinion, but they may not belittle another person or that person’s opinion while doing so. Bahá’í consultation is to be frank yet loving and always compassionate.

            Our elected political bodies COULD conduct themselves this way, but they do not because, among some groups, the goal is not to solve a problem, or make progress for the community, it is to score political points AGAINST the other party’s members. If American deliberative bodies—legislative, and judicial—were to put Bahá’u’lláh’s principles of consultation into practice today, the problems we are mired in now would be worked out with what would seem to be lightning speed. It would completely change the way the government works … or fails to work.

          7. Rick Schaut

            Tom,

            I guess it is easy to have no parties in Baha’i spiritual assemblies, after all, you all have the same religious beliefs, the same Baha’i laws on conduct, so you might have disagreements only on minor administrative matters, like who to hire to mow the lawn or fix the roof.

            I have to say, that’s one of the more impressive hand-waves I’ve seen in a long time. Do you really believe that the most important issues that come before the Universal House of Justice involve cutting the lawn and repairing the roof? For that matter, is the human predilection for disagreement in any way proportional to the importance of the issues at hand? And, of course, those of us who do have first-hand experience with how the Baha’i system works in practice can’t really have any idea of what we’re talking about, can we?

            Obamacare. Oy. By any objective measure, that piece of legislation is a monstrosity. Single payer would cost less, be easier to implement, and wouldn’t force anyone to have to buy insurance from a private insurance company. Curiously enough, the most controversial feature of the law, the individual mandate, was an idea originally cooked up by the Heritage Foundation. Indeed, most of Obamacare is derived from the Republican response to HillaryCare. And, yet, Republicans have vilified the law. How many times have Republicans in the House of Representatives voted to repeal it? Has the Republican party really changed so much that they now vehemently oppose the very policy ideas they proposed a couple of decades ago?

            Obamacare is what it is because of partisan politics. The controversy that surrounds it exists because of partisan politics. Our inability to implement a far more simpler solution to the problems of health care stems from partisan politics. And, yet, you insist that we cannot solve significant problems without political parties. From where I sit, you’ve just cited one of the most compelling pieces of evidence in support of the idea that we won’t find reasonable solutions to our problems so long as political parties exist!

          8. Maya Bohnhoff

            The ACA (which, for all its faults, is still an improvement over having no system in place for so many Americans), is only one policy that illustrates the impact of partisan politics on governance. The list of things that the conservative wing of US government favored until a President they have portrayed as too liberal/fascist, too weak/dictatorial, too cerebral/too stupid favors the same policies or positions. Then, suddenly, there’s a complete sea change. This is the partisan effect. It’s been with us since the beginning of the union, but it has been radicalized since Mr. Obama came into office.

            Personally, I think there’s only one credible reason why this is so and that is Mr. Obama’s ethnicity. While President Kennedy broke a religious barrier, Mr. Obama has broken a racial barrier. And though most legislators are probably not racially prejudiced, many of their constituents are and it precisely because partisan politics makes them beholden to their constituency that they must reflect that deeply held distrust of the “Other”—the president who is not one of them.

            That’s another difference between current secular politics and the Bahá’í administrative order—Bahá’í institutions are not accountable to a constituency. They are accountable to the principles of the Faith and charged with their application to the welfare of the Bahá’í community and beyond it, the planetary population. Part of the problem with politics today, in my opinion, is that concerns have become so regional and sub-cultural that the good of the nation takes a backseat (way back) to the momentary, immediate concerns of a splinter group.

          9. Tom Martin

            OK, Maya, so sometimes you have Baha’is going to one of your meetings who disagree with some doctrine of the Baha’i Faith. So then they would be in a minority, I assume. Let’s suppose several Bahai’s come to your meeting who advocate that Baha’is should be allowed to drink alcohol. Now you say they can’t form a party, like a Pro-alcohol Baha’i Party within the Baha’i Faith. So I guess they can’t unite and vote for a candidate to the House of Justice who will win, and advocate within the House of Justice that alcohol drinking should no longer be viewed as wrong for Baha’is. So is there any hope of changing any Baha’i doctrine by democratic process?
            On the other hand, here in the US, people got together, and persuaded Congress to pass an amendment to ban alcohol, at least for beverage purposes, as the amendment stated, so as I read elsewhere, alcohol was still legal for a religious purpose, after all, some churches, like Catholic etc., mandate wine in Lord’s Supper. To them, non-alcoholic grape juice is not a valid substitute for wine, that would make it an invalid Lord’s Supper (or Eucharist or Communion, whatever name a church prefers).
            Then a few years later, seeing the disastrous results, people got together, and persuaded Congress to pass an amendment repealing that previous amendment. It is true that both amendments passed with bipartisan support, but still, people were grouped together into factions, some supporting the amendment, some opposing it, so the factions were like parties. Could that be allowed in Baha’i voting, or as I figure, that too would be prohibited?

          10. Maya Bohnhoff

            Okay, I can see you still don’t quite understand how the Bahá’í system works. Let me see if I can help.

            First, I can’t even imagine a group of Bahá’ís advocating that Bahá’u’lláh’s law be overturned. First, because when one enrolls in the Faith in this country, there are a basic set of tenets that you have to understand well enough to accept freely. One of them is that Bahá’u’lláh is the Manifestation of God for this age, not just some cool wise man. Second, I can’t imagine this happening because the House of Justice can’t overturn laws that Bahá’u’lláh set down in writing. It is not empowered to do that anymore than it can tell individual Bahá’ís how they should interpret Bahá’u’lláh’s spiritual writings. It has the authority to decide when a law is to go into effect and what specifics may apply, but it can’t just decide this week that Bahá’ís can drink. In fact, early on before that law was translated, Bahá’ís did drink.

            I drank before I became a Bahá’í. I stopped before I became a Bahá’í, but after I’d heard that drinking was proscribed for Bahá’ís and why that was so. I had a glass of wine in my hand when my Bahá’í friend told me this. I set it down and haven’t touched a drop since. BUT, if my doctor prescribed a glass of wine a couple of times a week for hypertension, say, I could drink that glass of wine without guilt because Bahá’u’lláh made a provision for that—as with other laws.

            There are no “candidates” for the House of Justice. The House is elected every five years by delegates from every National Spiritual Assembly on the planet and any adult Bahá’í on the planet could be elected. And, as I’ve noted before no individual members or groups within the House of Justice have any personal power or authority. The House has authority only when it has met and made decisions following the guidelines laid down by Bahá’u’lláh. To this day, it’s decisions have been unanimous.

            Now, if the House of Justice makes a decision that results in restrictions of some sort on the Bahá’ís (for example, when it told the Bahá’ís of Iran to disband its National and Local Assemblies in obedience to the Iranian government), it can change those as necessary.

            In a local community, locally created guidelines, processes and mandates can be affected by a democratic process of consultation. The community can consult and make recommendations to their Local and National Assemblies. The Assemblies may or may not act on those recommendations. A properly functioning Assembly will respond to every recommendation even if they elect not to act on it at that time.

            But as I’ve noted before, the Assembly is not answerable to the community members as individuals. It’s accountable to God to care for and nurture the community and safeguard the health of the Faith and its relationships with the wider community, which is a great deal different.

          11. Tom Martin

            Rick, I have heard some bad things about single payer systems, like they have in Canada and Great Britain, the waiting times to get care tend to be often too long. But that does not seem to be a problem with multiple payer universal systems, like they have in Germany, France or Japan, with various non-profit insurance companies, but still, every citizen is insured. So that is the system I would prefer. But still, as Maya says, Obamacare is still better than what we had before. This country is so conservative, that I don’t think an universal system could get passed by Congress. That is not the problem of partisanship, but of the prevailing opinions of American people, who tend to think that even a multiple payer universal system is too socialist. Even though in reality it is not very socialist, the Veterans Administration is far more socialist, and we see the disaster it is, with such long waiting times for many veterans for medical care. That is a real single payer system, the VA pays for everything, even salaries of VA doctors. How that passed Congress, I don’t know, maybe somebody figured the veterans need special benefits, so they voted for it, even though it is socialist. Like anything for veterans. But then they did not fund it enough, so we now have the current scandal.

          12. Maya Bohnhoff

            Tom, the waiting times for elective care in some single payer systems are sometimes tediously long, but for urgent care, there is no waiting. I have friends all over Canada, the UK and Europe. None of them would give up what they’ve got for what we’ve got. Most of the Euro-Zone and Canadians I’ve heard hold forth on this issue are appalled at how we handle health care in this country. Specifically that it is a for-profit concern rather than a social service. Obamacare is better than what we had before, but as the recent supreme court decision shows, it’s a safety net that is easily holed.

            It’s really a very complex issue, but at heart, we have the problems we do because it is a commercial service, not a social service. Germany’s Bismarck system may be a good compromise between capitalist and socialist ideals.

          13. Tom Martin

            Maya, you told me in an earlier post that some Baha’is get to a pass where they hold their personal opinions of more value than the tenets of the Faith or the unity that you are trying to establish. And so because of that you can have disagreements at your meetings. So that would indicate that those Baha’is would want to change some doctrine, on which they have a different personal opinion than the tenets of the Baha’i Faith. But you now say that is impossible to accomplish. They can’t form groups like parties, to try to change any doctrine. So any disagreement in your meetings is no use, all the Baha’i nonpartisan democracy accomplishes is continued unanimity on all doctrines at the higher levels. No laws you consider permanent can ever be changed (at least until a new Manifestation of God comes, but not before 1000 years), you can change only some temporary administrative provisions, like you mentioned the current disbanding of Assemblies in Iran in obedience to Iranian government.

          14. Rick Schaut

            Tom,

            Two points. First, you seem to be conflating the difference between doctrine and policy. I have no idea why one might be inclined to conflate these, but I do know that the categories of things that we, the people, might want to change are not limited to matters of doctrine. I asked earlier, and you rather side-stepped the question, but do you honestly believe that the most important questions that come before the Universal House of Justice involve cutting he lawn and repairing the roof?

            Second, this is the second time you’ve hinted that, in the absence of any political parties and/or some form of partisan-like group behavior, that it’s impossible to effect any change. For example,

            They can’t form groups like parties, to try to change any doctrine. So any disagreement in your meetings is no use…

            Even in the context of US politics, your second sentence doesn’t follow from your first sentence. Have you never sat down and, as an individual, written a letter to any of your representatives in Congress? In what way do the merits of a policy idea depend on the backing of some kind of partisan group? City Councils across America hold open meetings where citizens can speak their minds. Are these meetings nothing but a waste of air?

            In a similar vein, do you imagine that Baha’is never get together, either formally or informally, to discuss the policies of our communities? Do imagine that these discussions never bear any fruit?

            I’m baffled. I’m baffled, because you seem intent on telling me that something can’t happen, when I have, in fact, seen it happen. I have seen local and national policies change, because one individual stood up at a meeting and put forth an idea.

            I find that to be an extremely liberating prospect. I can bring about change solely on the strength of the ideas I propose. I don’t need the backing of anyone. I don’t need back room politics. All I need is a good idea and the humility to accept that I might actually be wrong about something.

          15. Tom Martin

            Rick, OK, you differentiate between policy and doctrine. Sure states are not religions, so in states we discuss government policies, when we write to a congress person, or when we speak up at a council meeting, etc. That is certainly true, even when some of us are motivated to support or oppose some policy based on our religious doctrinal beliefs. And that is also why some people got together to create political parties, to get together to try to get some policy or policies changed. For example the Republican party was organized at first to oppose slavery, especially to oppose the spread of slavery.
            Now concerning the Baha’i Faith, I guess you want me to differentiate between policy and doctrine, because like Maya wrote to me, Baha’i doctrine cannot be changed. And I agree that mowing the lawns or repairing roofs might not be the main policy decisions of the Baha’i Assemblies or the Universal House of Justice. Like Maya wrote to me above, recently the House of Justice made a decision to dissolve the national and the local Assemblies in Iran, according to what the Iranian government wanted. That was of course a much bigger decision than who should move the lawn. So maybe the Iranian Baha’is were appealing to the House that the existence of the Assemblies was exposing them to greater risk of imprisonment. And I guess your implication is that the Iranian Baha’is did not need to form a Baha’i political party to achieve the result, parties are banned, and they could just appeal to the House without a party. Though I would not be surprised if they joined in their actions anyway, maybe a whole group of them signed a petition appealing to the House of Justice to dissolve the Assemblies. So a group is still more effective than an individual.
            And anyway, while policy decisions can be important, you still cannot change doctrines in Baha’i Faith, at least until a new Manifestation of God reveals himself (or herself) which is not supposed to happen until a thousand years from Baha’u’llah’s revelation, so not any time soon. While in government, anything can be changed. We could even call a new constitutional convention and they can write a new constitution. They could even give us absolute monarchy, if that is what they would want. And an absolute monarch can decide what he wants, he could even abolish all religions except his own, and he could change the doctrines of his religion as he wants. Of course that is not what I would like, but it could happen.

          16. Maya Bohnhoff

            I think something that’s also important to relate is that the National Spiritual Assembly of Iran did not petition the House of Justice to abolish it. They asked the House what they should do when faced with this situation.

            Now, having said that, the House of Justice more and more in some areas has been pushing some decisions back down to the national and even local levels. By way of example, local Bahá’í communities are usually formed along the county and municipal borders that the secular government creates. The community whose assembly I served on was at various times one large community defined by a county, and two smaller communities defined by secularly defined judicial districts. Early in the life of the assembly, we asked our National Assembly what we should do when the county government changed the borders. The last time we asked, they said, “This time, you decide based on what you think is best for the community.” This sort of locally based decision making has been occurring more and more because that’s the ideal—communities making local decisions in local context, but with global goals.

            Also, I think it’s important to point out that not all areas of Bahá’í “doctrine” are unchanging. The spiritual principles are unchanging. Things Bahá’u’lláh Himself clearly laid out are unchanging until the next Manifestation appears. But measures put in place by the House of Justice can be changed by the House of Justice. There are also areas of Bahá’í administration or practice that may be decided at the local level. Not all National Bahá’í communities have the same process of enrolling new believers, for example, because of the unique nature of each culture and national unit.

            I’ve read several criticisms of the Faith from Christian apologists that it has been “westernized”. As I’ve noted elsewhere, the Faith does not seek to impress uniformity of ritual or dress or celebration or worship or really anything on any group of believers. It has not become “westernized”, in areas of worship and observance and character of community, it takes on the character of the individual believers. So, for example, if you go to a Bahá’í Feast (devotional meeting) in Pocatello, Idaho you may hear Native American chanting or drumming. If you go to the Feast the same month in Marietta, Georgia, you may hear gospel singing. If you go to a Feast in Kyoto, Japan, you may take part in a tea ceremony. It’s really up to the individual hosting the Feast how the devotions are observed. Diversity is not just appreciated, it’s encouraged.

            What I’m trying to convey is that while the roots of the Bahá’í tree are securely implanted in the ground of spiritual principles that do not change, and the trunk is growing and strengthening, the branches grown and change in an organic fashion. The Faith is an organic entity the physical form of which evolves as we evolve.

          17. Tom Martin

            Oops, sorry, Rick, I misspelled the word mow in one sentence, I wrote move by mistake. I meant to write ‘than who should mow the lawn’.

          18. Rick Schaut

            Tom,

            And I guess your implication is that the Iranian Baha’is did not need to form a Baha’i political party to achieve the result, parties are banned, and they could just appeal to the House without a party.

            That’s not an implication. I’m stating it outright. You don’t need to form a political party in order to bring about change.

            Though I would not be surprised if they joined in their actions anyway, maybe a whole group of them signed a petition appealing to the House of Justice to dissolve the Assemblies. So a group is still more effective than an individual.

            First, that’s a lot of supposition that you’re bringing to bear, without any evidence, in order to reach your conclusion that, “a group is still more effective than an individual.” That’s not exactly begging the question, but it’s so close… Remember, it’s your contention that we need political parties in order to bring abut change. I don’t think you’ve made that case. Not by a long shot.

            Second, a group of people who get together in support of a particular policy change isn’t a political party. While political parties do seek to bring about policy changes, they do so by trying to acquire and exercise political power.

            That part is crucial to this discussion. When a group of people get together seeking to bring about a policy change through the acquisition and exercise of political power, the only countervailing force is that of another political party that’s also seeking to acquire and exercise political power. At that point, partisan politics ceases to be a struggle to implement the policies that benefit the most number of people. It becomes a struggle over who gets political power.

            Eliminate political parties, and you eliminate the struggle for power. Without the struggle for power, what’s left is a simple, straight up policy debate. Change occurs not because some group manages to acquire more power than some other group. Change occurs when a sufficient number of people come to believe that a particular policy change is a good idea.

            Without political parties, we can actually have an honest and open policy debate. With political parties, all we really get are political debates, the primary purpose of which seems to be to ensure that no real policy debate ever actually happens.

            No, Tom. We don’t need political parties. And the sooner we’re done with them, the better it will be for all of humanity.

          19. Tom Martin

            Rick, you say if we eliminate political parties we eliminate the struggle for power. I don’t see how that is possible. I used to live in North Charleston, where the elections are non-partisan. But do you think the candidates did not want power? Of course they wanted power. Do you think candidates in Nunavut do not want power? Why run if you don’t want power, so you can change policies, or just be powerful? Of course they want power. Do you really think that if we abolish parties in the US, then candidates for President, Governor etc. will not want power? That they will not use misleading ads etc.?

          20. Rick Schaut

            Tom,

            Rick, you say if we eliminate political parties we eliminate the struggle for power.

            Sorry. I was speaking in the context of the previous paragraph, where policy-making involves a struggle for power, and not a consideration of the relative merits of various ideas. Had I said, “Eliminate political parties, and you eliminate that struggle for power,” it would have been closer to my intent.

            Clearly, as long as electioneering is permissible, the mere act of running for office reflects a desire to acquire and exercise power. But, if every candidate is an independent candidate, exactly how much power does each individual candidate exercise? A candidate cannot rely on the support of a voting block of party members to support her ideas, so how can she credibly promise to bring about any specific change?

            If candidates can’t make credible promises regarding a policy agenda, then what will they stress in their campaigns? Experience? Perhaps a record of public service? Are you saying that this would be a bad change?

            One thing is fairly certain: candidates will no longer be able to garner a certain percentage of the votes merely because they have a “D” or an “R” next to their name on the ballot. I think that’s a good thing.

          21. Tom Martin

            Rick, if candidates were unable to make promises regarding a policy agenda, this would imply they would be powerless to change things. Then what use would be their experience, a record of public service? We vote for candidates because we want to change things, or for other things we don’t want change. So even in a non-partisan election, we would like candidates who agree with us on the issues, and who can be persuasive, so they can persuade others. If somebody has experience, a record of public service, but during that public service was unable to change anything, or persuade others to change anything, then what use would be voting for such a candidate?
            I want candidates for Congress or state legislature who will promise to vote right, and to be able to persuade other members of Congress, or state legislature, whatever the case might be. And candidates for President or Governor, who will promise to veto bad laws we don’t want, and execute policies like we want. So an agenda would be important even in a non-partisan election.
            But the problem with non-partisan elections is the voters have to get well informed about each candidate. But people are busy, even in free time they have other interests, so few voters will take the time to be well informed about each candidate. So for most busy voters, looking at the party the candidate runs with, is a useful shorthand to estimate what policies the candidate might be likely to prefer. Many people get well informed only about the candidates for President, but for candidates for other offices, they usually don’t know much about them. I don’t even know the names of my state senator or my state house member. At least I know the names of my two federal senators and my congressman, but many voters don’t even know that.

          22. Maya Bohnhoff

            “if candidates were unable to make promises regarding a policy agenda, this would imply they would be powerless to change things.if candidates were unable to make promises regarding a policy agenda, this would imply they would be powerless to change things.”

            How so? I’d have far more respect for someone who said, “If elected, I will work on this issue” or “I will try my best to accomplish this.” I frankly don’t want promises. I just want good work done with good will.

            The Bahá’í elections require us to know the people we’re electing. And what we are looking for are qualities of devotion, justice, compassion, intelligence, empathy, a deepened mind, honesty, trustworthiness, etc. In other words, we are looking for people who epitomize the qualities of God. We have a human model for this, too: Abdu’l-Bahá, the eldest son of Bahá’u’lláh was the living embodiment of what it means to be a Bahá’í. This is a harder task in some ways that getting to know candidates who are in the limelight, but it is significant that our nation’s founding fathers believed that a democracy was only successful if it had a well-informed electorate. It is a feature of our current partisan system, that some partisan operatives work against this concept, depending instead upon misleading an electorate that doesn’t seem to know how to inform itself.

          23. Rick Schaut

            Tom,

            I don’t think there’s much difference between us as to how non-partisan elections might work. I am, however, completely flabbergasted by this:

            But the problem with non-partisan elections is the voters have to get well informed about each candidate.

            That’s a problem?! That voters should actually have to become well informed about the people for whom they vote is a problem?!

            I’m not at all persuaded by arguments that becoming well-acquainted with a candidate is just too difficult. It’s neither hard nor particularly time-consuming. In today’s world, with incredibly easy access to information, having to rely on party affiliations has become an anachronism. We can easily become informed, and we should. There’s simply no excuse.

          24. Tom Martin

            Rick, I suppose if you are retired, you have plenty of free time, to research the policies of all candidates. But people who are working, don’t have much time. They have also tasks to do at home, and so when they get some free time, they want to relax, maybe some hobby, or watch TV or something. Very few want to spend most of their free time to research the agendas of all candidates for the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, for the state legislature, for the state Attorney General etc. Sure there are a few Americans who are that much conscientious, but very few. We have to look at how life is, not how it should be. And the reality is very few Americans get so well informed about these candidates. Mainly some Americans whose main interest is politics. And for many Americans, their main interests are things like sports and movies, for some their main interest is religion, but there are very few whose main interest is politics.

          25. Rick Schaut

            Tom,

            I work at Microsoft, where the running joke is, I work flex time. Microsoft doesn’t care which 12 hours of the day I work. Yet, somehow, I mange to find the time to research the candidates running for office. Indeed, there’s a fascinating race going on in my LD (for state senator) between Republican incumbent Andy Hill and Democratic challenger Matt Isenhower, which features fliers mailed out by the Republicans claiming that Matt Isenhower is really a Republican trojan horse. It’s both funny and tragic at the same time.

            I’m not buying the argument that people don’t have time. People might not care. They might not wish to take the time required to do some basic research into the candidates for whom they vote, but I regard that as a defect of a system that relies on political parties, not a feature.

            You said, “We have to look at how life is, not how it should be.”

            I categorically reject that idea, and, in fact, you do too. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be spending any time talking about the best way to bring about change in policy. If we can’t look at how life should be, then there’s no motivation to come up with policy changes in the first place.

            I agree, there are a lot of people who aren’t interested in politics. Given the way partisan politics currently works, can you really blame them? That’s not a justification for political parties. Rather, that’s a symptom.

            Partisan politics is destructive in a variety of ways, not the least of which is the disunity and factionalism that it fosters. Do you really wan’t me to believe that the costs of partisan politics are justified by the extent to which it allows people to vote for candidates about whom they know nothing but their party affiliation?

            I can only shake my head in wonder.

          26. Tom Martin

            Rick, I sure have never read that people in the US were much more interested in politics in the initial years of the George Washington presidency, when there were still no political parties, in part because Washington was so much against them, than in the last years of his presidency, when two big parties developed, the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party (which was some years later renamed as the Democratic Party). Plenty of people just did not have a lot of interest in politics, even under Washington. And the 2 parties developed naturally, out of two different philosophies about how the federal government should work.
            If you live like other Baha’is here, in California, then at least there you have very large state senate districts, so there can be some coverage of state senate races in the media. But California is unusual in that. Other states have much smaller state senate districts, so here in Charleston the radio stations here are heard in maybe 15 different state senate districts, so I have not really heard of any state senate races on the radio. There are just too many to cover. So one would have to do very good research. And before the internet, it could be hard to find out who the local candidates were, maybe one would have to phone party headquarters, unless one found out by receiving some mailing from each candidate. And even when rarely I get some mailing from a candidate, it is just his propaganda, and it is hard to find some more impartial assessment of the 2 candidates.

          27. Rick Schaut

            Tom,

            Your statement, “And the 2 parties developed naturally, out of two different philosophies about how the federal government should work,” begs the question. It also sweeps quite a few key details under the rug. The Federalist Party was formed by Alexander Hamilton, and he used it to, effectively, consolidate political power in support of the Federal government. Jefferson and Madison formed the Democratic-Republican Party in opposition to Hamilton’s policies. The two parties came to represent two different factions of American society: business interests by the Federalist Party and agrarian interests by the Democratic-Republican Party.

            There’s nothing “natural” about this, unless, of course, you want to say that consolidating political power is a “natural” phenomenon. Is it “natural” for these two interests to have fought tooth and nail against each other ultimately culminating in the US Civil War? If that’s “natural,” then I’d have to conclude that there is absolutely no virtue to be found in something that’s “natural.”

            Lincoln’s Gettysburg address articulates the most succinct statement of the American political ideal anyone has ever uttered; that it is “government of the people, by the people for the people.” Political parties involve government of the people by some of the people for some of the people. The very existence of political parties is antithetical to a holistic notion of representation. Political parties are factional, sectional. They cannot, by their very existence, represent all of the people. It is no accident that Lincoln’s Gettysburg address would be delivered following the most bloody battle of the most bloody war ever to be fought on American soil.

            And, yet, you continue to argue that this bloodshed, this war and this destruction, all of which is a direct outcome of the factionalism of the political parties formed by Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison, is to be justified, because people simply aren’t interested enough in politics to become informed?! Are you seriously going to tell me that the deprivations that my great great grandfather endured as a prisoner at Andersonville were justified by the lethargy of people who think that becoming informed about the candidates for whom they vote is just too dang hard?! Have you any idea how deeply insulting and offensive your argument is?

          28. Tom Martin

            Rick,
            I am not familiar with the prison at Andersonville, I supposed since you mentioned it after talking about the civil war, that your ancestor was a prisoner of war in that prison. Of course that civil war was very sad, it killed a lot of people. I do wish the South had not seceded, so the war would have been avoided. Of course at that time the main issue dividing Lincoln’s Republicans from Democrats was slavery. So of course the Republicans did not represent all Americans, they did not represent the slave owners, nor the others who thought slavery to be OK. And the Democrats of that time did not represent the anti-slavery people. That’s how it is naturally, some people have strong feelings on one side, so they support the party that agrees with them, and others have strong feelings on the other side, so they support the party that agrees with them. Many people were very busy, it was hard for them to get well informed about many issues that each candidate for Congress or state legislature supports, and besides, the main issue back then was slavery, so then many people just looked to see which candidate was Republican and which one was Democrat, and voted accordingly.
            I am not trying to be insulting or offensive by saying this, I am just going by what is so common among people. Good for you that you get so well informed about your local candidates, but most people are not like you. You just can’t force people to get well informed about all the candidates. Some don’t even get informed much about presidential candidates, so they don’t even bother to vote. It is sad, but it is a fact.

  2. Stephen Kent Gray

    Actually I’d think direct democracy would be an improvement over an system where you elect people.

    Direct democracy (also known as pure democracy) is a form of democracy in which people decide (e.g. vote on, form consensus on) policy initiatives directly, as opposed to a representative democracy in which people vote for representatives who then decide policy initiatives. Depending on the particular system in use, it might entail passing executive decisions, the use of sortition, making laws, directly electing or dismissing officials and conducting trials. Two leading forms of direct democracy are participatory democracy and deliberative democracy.

    I would also support absolute monarchy if I were the monarch! LOL!

    This does assume govt exists indefinitely for the future.

    Anarchism is a political philosophy that advocates stateless societies often defined as self-governed voluntary institutions, but that several authors have defined as more specific institutions based on non-hierarchical free associations. Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary, or harmful. While anti-statism is central, some argue that anarchism entails opposing authority or hierarchical organisation in the conduct of human relations, including, but not limited to, the state system.

    As a subtle and anti-dogmatic philosophy, anarchism draws on many currents of thought and strategy. Anarchism does not offer a fixed body of doctrine from a single particular world view, instead fluxing and flowing as a philosophy. There are many types and traditions of anarchism, not all of which are mutually exclusive. Anarchist schools of thought can differ fundamentally, supporting anything from extreme individualism to complete collectivism. Strains of anarchism have often been divided into the categories of social and individualist anarchism or similar dual classifications. Anarchism is usually considered a radical left-wing ideology, and much of anarchist economics and anarchist legal philosophy reflect anti-authoritarian interpretations of communism, collectivism, syndicalism, mutualism, or participatory economics.

    The central tendency of anarchism as a social movement has been represented by anarcho-communism and anarcho-syndicalism, with individualist anarchism being primarily a literary phenomenon which nevertheless did have an impact on the bigger currents and individualists have also participated in large anarchist organisations. Many anarchists oppose all forms of aggression, supporting self-defense or non-violence (anarcho-pacifism), while others have supported the use of some coercive measures, including violent revolution and propaganda of the deed, on the path to an anarchist society.

    A stateless society is a society that is not governed by a state. In stateless societies, there is little concentration of authority; most positions of authority that do exist are very limited in power and are generally not permanently held positions; and social bodies that resolve disputes through predefined rules tend to be small. Stateless societies are highly variable in economic organization, and cultural practices.

    While stateless societies were the norm in human prehistory, few stateless societies exist today; almost the entire global population resides within the jurisdiction of sovereign states. In some regions nominal state authorities may be very weak and wield little or no actual power. Over history most stateless peoples have been integrated with the state-based societies around them.

    Some political philosophies, particularly anarchism, regard the state as an unwelcome institution and consider stateless societies as an ideal.

    1. Tom Martin

      Stateless societies were far more violent than centrally organized states tend to be today. There was no police, no central authority designed to have order, to punish people who murdered, raped or injured others. So very many people died of murder. We still see that in some tribal societies, where state police, courts etc. are absent, the government lets the tribe run its own affairs, the rate of murder is very high in such societies, also they tend to have high rates of death due to warfare with other tribes.
      Even in Europe, until about a century ago, or in America, the government did not have very strong control over the population, so the rates of murder used to be much higher than now. But gradually, over the centuries, as governments became stronger, rates of murder have declined. Steven Pinker has written an interesting book about it, called The Better Angels of Our Nature, Why Violence Has Declined.

      1. Stephen Kent Gray

        Tom, I was just using anarchism as an example of why we shouldn’t just assume representative democracy with emphasis on representative is here to stay in perpetuity.

        In his book Political Parties, written in 1911, Robert Michels argues that most representative systems deteriorate towards an oligarchy or particracy. This is known as the “Iron Law of Oligarchy”. Representative democracies which are stable have been analysed by Adolf Gasser and compared to the unstable representative democracies in his book “Gemeindefreiheit als Rettung Europas” which was published in 1943 (first edition in German) and a second edition in 1947 (in German). Adolf Gasser stated the following requirements for a representative democracy in order to remain stable, unaffected by the “Iron Law of Oligarchy”:

        Society has to be built up from bottom to top. As a consequence, society is built up by people, who are free and have the power to defend themselves with weapons.
        These free people join or form local communities. These local communities are independent, which includes financial independence, and they are free to determine their own rules.
        Local communities join together into a higher unit e.g. a canton.
        There is no hierarchical bureaucracy.
        There is competition between these local communities e.g. on services delivered or on taxes.
        A drawback to this type of government is that elected officials are not required to fulfill promises made before their election.

        [Edited for length and inclusion of a body of copied/pasted material. Anyone wishing to do further research in this area can read the book referred to above.]

        1. Tom Martin

          Stephen, I wonder, how can there be no hierarchical bureaucracy when communities join together into a higher unit, e.g. a canton? If there is a higher unit, then there is hierarchical government. Like here in the US we have local courts, and courts above them, up to the federal Supreme Court. Or would Adolf Gasser suggest having only local courts? No appeals possible to a higher court? And the canton government having no say on what local governments decide? Then why have a canton government?
          I hope you can give me a short answer here, after all, I don’t speak German well, so I don’t intend to borrow or buy the book. And even if there were an English version, I don’t want to spend the time to go through the whole book, since politics is not my biggest interest. My biggest interests are linguistics and religion. I was interested in the book by Pinker I mentioned, because of the ramifications for religion, many Christians claim that crime is increasing tremendously, so the coming of Christ is near. But Pinker proves crime has decreased tremendously over the centuries, mainly because of more effective government. And I don’t think if the main government were town government, that it would be as effective as a more centralized country government. In medieval Europe, the town government was basically the most important government, since news traveled slow from the town to the country capital. And the murder rate was very high in any town or village. Even though justice was often very quick, the town court sentenced the suspect to death, there was no appeal to a higher court, the death sentence was often executed the same day. There was usually no higher court in any medieval country. But if you were well connected, you could usually get away with murder, not get arrested.

      2. Stephen Kent Gray

        I would also add how theocracy and democracy as well as human rights are incompatible.

        Sharia law involves elements of a democratic system, namely electoral procedure, though dispute as to what a “democracy” constitutes leaves this in question. Legal scholar L. Ali Khan argues that “constitutional orders founded on the principles of sharia are fully compatible with democracy, provided that religious minorities are protected and the incumbent Islamic leadership remains committed to the right to recall”.

        However, many courts have generally ruled against the implementation of Sharia law, both in jurisprudence and within a community context, based on Sharia’s religious background. Whereas groups within a number of nations are actively seeking to implement Sharia law, in 1998 the Constitutional Court of Turkey banned and dissolved Turkey’s Refah Party on the grounds that “Democracy is the antithesis of Sharia”, the latter of which Refah sought to introduce.

        On appeal by Refah the European Court of Human Rights determined that “sharia is incompatible with the fundamental principles of democracy”. Refah’s sharia-based notion of a “plurality of legal systems, grounded on religion” was ruled to contravene the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. It was determined that it would “do away with the State’s role as the guarantor of individual rights and freedoms” and “infringe the principle of non-discrimination between individuals as regards their enjoyment of public freedoms, which is one of the fundamental principles of democracy”.

        Several major, predominantly Muslim countries criticized the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) for its perceived failure to take into account the cultural and religious context of non-Western countries. Iran claimed that the UDHR was “a secular understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition”, which could not be implemented by Muslims without trespassing the Islamic law. Therefore in 1990 the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, a group representing all Muslim majority nations, adopted the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam.

        Ann Elizabeth Mayer points to notable absences from the Cairo Declaration: provisions for democratic principles, protection for religious freedom, freedom of association and freedom of the press, as well as equality in rights and equal protection under the law. Article 24 of the Cairo declaration states that “all the rights and freedoms stipulated in this Declaration are subject to the Islamic shari’a”.

        Professor H. Patrick Glenn notes that the European concept of human rights developed in reaction to an entrenched hierarchy of class and privilege contrary to, and rejected by, Islam. As implemented in sharia law, protection for the individual is defined in terms of mutual obligation rather than human rights. The concept of human rights, as applied in the European framework, is therefore unnecessary and potentially destructive to these mutual obligations. By “giving priority to human welfare over human liberty,” Islamic law justifies the formal inequality of individuals by collective goals.

        Many secularist, human rights, and leading organisations have criticized Saudi Arabia’s stance on human rights. In 2009, the journal Free Inquiry summarized this criticism in an editorial: “We are deeply concerned with the changes to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by a coalition of Islamic states within the United Nations that wishes to prohibit any criticism of religion and would thus protect Islam’s limited view of human rights. In view of the conditions inside the Islamic Republic of Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the Sudan, Syria, Bangdalesh, Iraq, and Afghanistan, we should expect that at the top of their human rights agenda would be to rectify the legal inequality of women, the suppression of political dissent, the curtailment of free expression, the persecution of ethnic minorities and religious dissenters — in short, protecting their citizens from egregious human rights violations. Instead, they are worrying about protecting Islam.”

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