Archive for January, 2006

On Baha’i Scholarship: Greater Expectations

“Baha’i Scholarship is something unique carrying with it certain characteristics and requirements, making it somewhat of a hybrid, and different than scholarship as it may be identified in the non-Baha’i world. It is not something reserved for a selected few in the Faith, nor is it the exclusive domain of the educated, or the recognized, or self-appointed scholars. In general, pursuit of Baha’i Scholarship is open to everyone….

“…Baha’u'llah has expectations greater than education, logic, and argumentation alone, for those who would be scholars in His fold.

“This theme is further explained and expanded by the Universal House of Justice: ‘…scholarly endeavour should be characterized by the welcome it offers to all who wish to be involved in it, each in his or her own way, by mutual encouragement and cooperation among its participants, and by the respect accorded to distinguished accomplishment and outstanding achievement. The spirit and approach should be far removed from the arrogance, contention, and exclusiveness which have too often sullied the name of scholarship in the wider society, and which have created barriers to the sound development of this worthy pursuit.’ (Letter from The Universal House of Justice To selected National Spiritual Assemblies 10 February 1995)”

Loren, “Scholarship in the Baha’i Faith”

On Dogma: Just Vision

“…[T]he Bahá’í Faith has no real dogma. There are a number of statements regarding Bahá’u'lláh, His station and relation to previous prophets as well as the concept of the Covenant which may be regarded as being dogmatic positions but these are in fact matters of establishing authority rather than establishing theological dogma. And whatever dogma one may consider that exists today in the Bahá’í Faith, it is unlikely to increase as there are no mechanisms for establishing any new dogma. Bahá’ís are and remain Bahá’ís not so much because they share the theological position of other Bahá’ís but because of their common vision of the direction which humanity is taking as well as their obedience to a central framework of authority.”

Moojan Momen, “Fundamentalism and Liberalism: Towards an Understanding of the Dichotomy”

On Revelation: I Beheld a Maiden

“While engulfed in tribulations I heard a most wondrous, a most sweet voice, calling above My head. Turning My face, I beheld a Maiden – the embodiment of the remembrance of the name of My Lord – suspended in the air before Me. So rejoiced was she in her very soul that her countenance shone with the ornament of the good-pleasure of God, and her cheeks glowed with the brightness of the All-Merciful. Betwixt Earth and Heaven she was raising a call which captivated the hearts and minds of men. She was imparting to both My inward and outer being tidings which rejoiced My soul, and the souls of God’s honoured servants. Pointing with her finger unto My head, she addressed all who are in Heaven and all who are on Earth saying: ‘By God! This is the best beloved of the worlds, and yet ye comprehend not. This is the Beauty of God amongst you, and the power of His sovereignty within you, could ye but understand.‘”

Baha’u'llah, in Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By

On Human Nature: Reflecting the Divine

“Human nature is also a reflection of the Divine nature. Just as the essence of God is unknowable, there are deep and mysterious aspects in our nature, which in some ways make our own nature ‘unknowable’ to us. Each of us reflects something of the Divine, and yet we all have our lower, more selfish and egotistical qualities. When these lower qualities are bad enough we call them ‘evil.’ Our challenge in life is to struggle against our lower nature as we reach for the higher. The Divine teachings help us approach God, as we ‘overcome’ ourselves. Every human being has the potential to overcome himself, and thus transcend the material world. Ultimately human nature is ‘spiritual,’ but the degree to which we can perfect ourselves, or improve ourselves in many ways depends on the extent to which we have access or exposure to the teachings of the Prophets, the Founders of the world’s major religions. These teachings have provided the ennobling and civilizing influences in our world, down through history, despite the terrible things humans have done in the name of religion. The influence of the Prophets is direct if you study their teachings, and the concepts of virtue and nobility in every society can be traced back to some Divine Teacher or Educator. The latter is an indirect influence, but it has enabled civilizations to distinguish between right and wrong, establish laws and human rights, etc. Without these divine Eduacators, the human conscience alone cannot make these distinctions. Every society has had these divine Teachers sent to them. God has never left humanity– His creation– alone, without guidance.”

Gregory Watson, “My Answer to GeoCities Survey ‘What is the Baha’i Faith?’”

On Systems Thinking: The Parts and the Whole

Photo: Capra’s The Turning Point in the hands of dear friend Patabi Raman

“Bahá’í teachings are essentially systemic in nature. The view of humanity as an indivisible whole is paramount in Bahá’í teachings. Yet individual parts are not subdued for the primacy of the whole. On the contrary, the whole and its constituent parts interact harmoniously in…a ‘social system.’ A social system not only has a purpose of its own, each part of the system has its own purpose (e.g. spiritual growth) which cannot be achieved independent of the purpose of the whole (i.e. transformation of human society, ever advancing civilisation). This is in contrast to a mechanistic (Newtonian) system or an organic system, in which parts of the system while having individual functions do not have independent purposes (e.g. while the human body has a purpose, the heart or the lungs do not have a purpose of their own). At the societal level too, Bahá’í teachings are the embodiment of systemic view as they operate in interaction with each other. Stated differently, none of the social teachings of the Faith can singly, and in isolation from other teachings, provide a complete solution on its own. For example, without ‘independent investigation of truth’ and ‘elimination of prejudices,’ the goal of ‘equality of men and women’ is unachievable.”

Kambiz Maani, “Commentary on Roy Steiner’s ‘The Bahá’í community as a learning organisation’”

On Humankind: Neither Corrupt Nor Good

“Bahá’u'lláh’s image of man is a clear verdict on the pessimistic image associated with Christianity (especially with Protestant theology), as well as on the simplistic message of the Enlightenment that man is good. In contrast to Church dogma man is not born with a corrupt nature, in a state of sin. He is not a fallen being who lost his freedom in ‘Adam’s Fall’ and has lived thereafter in corruption, his nature perverted and his reason completely clouded. On the other hand, man is not programmed for good either so that under the right social conditions happiness and peace follow inevitably. Even in ‘the best of all possible worlds,’ happiness and peace are not available if man fails to develop– through his own efforts and through the grace of God–into that for which he was created.”

Udo Schaefer, “The New Morality: An Outline”

On Art: An Act of Worship

Photo: Marion Jack, Baha’i and lanscape painter

On Ego: We Can Never Afford to Rest on Our Oars

“Life is a constant struggle, not only against forces around us, but above all against our own ego. We can never afford to rest on our oars, for if we do, we soon see ourselves carried down stream again.”

A letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny

On Ideals: A Unique Delivery System

Photo: Brisbane Austrailia
“Bahá’ís can very easily be labelled as utopian idealists, new age people, simply dreaming of a wonderful world, anticipating that if you dream hard enough it will come true. We can defend ourselves against those accusations because not only do we have the shining ideal set out in our Writings but much more than that we have the mechanism to bring it about, the vehicle for its accomplishment through the Administrative Order. So when people say to us “Your ideals are wonderful” and pat us on the head, at least metaphorically, occasionally physically, and say, “You are such a wonderful person. You have wonderful ideals” the subtext being, “It’ll never happen. Go away. It won’t ever come true”. We can respond to them by drawing their attention to the fact that we have a unique delivery system, designed to provide the means to bring these high ideals into practice. It’s a realistic mechanism which takes account of the deficiencies of human nature, the capacity of individuals to be destructive and malicious and divisive – which accommodates those negative elements of human nature as well as the positive ones.”

Peter Khan, talk given in Brisbane, Austrailia, 14 August 2005

On Holy Spirit: Rational and Supra-rational Knowledge

Ian Kluge, “Reason and the Baha’i Writings: The Use and Misuse of Logic and Persuasion”