Being unaffiliated

Response to Roy Hilbinger

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On the 2 December, Roy Hilbinger wrote a blog entry, "No going back", in which he gave his reasons for no longer believing in Baha'u'llah. Initially, I decided against responding, but one night, a response came to me and so I have decided to pursue it. I do not respond in order to convince Roy to change his beliefs. I don't blame him for getting irritated at Baha'is who hassle him to do so. I respect his decision and wish him well on his journey. Rather, I express here alternative ways of seeing the passages he quotes, which have put him off the writings, and explain the concepts that I believe underlie those passages and give them a different light. Having said that, I agree with some of the criticisms Roy makes, but do not see them as critiques of Baha'u'llah.

Roy says that he is particularly disturbed by the passages in which Baha'u'llah says there must be limits on liberty. He sees Baha'u'llah's position as "anti-democratic" and "almost cultic". (My initial reaction was to wonder if Roy had read Juan Cole's book Modernity and the Millennium, in which Juan shows how Baha'u'llah defended democracy at a time when to do so meant risking one's life. But that's not the approach I want to take here.) Roy quotes several passages; here's two, to give a flavour of what concerns him.

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Baha'i on Air: My Religion is Love Part 1

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Reading like a page-turning novel, In Search of Simplicity is the author's true, exciting and serendipitous journey through the wilds of Papua New Guinea, the Himalayas, around the planet and into the heart of life guaranteed to change the way you see the world and so-called coincidences. The timely themes woven through the fun-to-read narrative include the power of coincidence; ecological, social and economic responsibility; and personal awakening. In today's uncertain world of financial turmoil, global warming and seemingly endless war, many feel powerless in their ability to create positive change personally, nationally and globally. This inspiring travel adventure offers plate loads of food for thought, insight into the deeper meaning of the seemingly ordinary events of life and a gateway into a life of simplicity for every reader.

John Haines is interviewed about In Search of Simplicity by Steve Lockie on Baha'i On Air. Here he talks on his experiences in the Middle East and on religion, a potentially controversial subject. John and Steve discuss the elements of unity within religions, rather than the elements of apparent disparity between faiths. There is room for peace.

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If only ...

My religion of birth, the Bahá’í Faith, is often described to non-Bahá’ís with a list of a dozen principles, though there are fundamental aspects of the Bahá’í Faith that are not revealed in those principles. Here, I would like to propose a similar list of principles that, were they to fully define Bahá’í belief, I would still be a Bahá’í today.

  1. Strict Unitarianism. God is one, thus God cannot be associated with any name, attribute, or individual over any other. No man speaks for God to the exclusion of others; rather, all things speak equally for God. This principle precludes any belief in divine messengers and prohibits any covenants thereto. Any vow of allegiance to any man or institution is naught but idolatry.

  2. Independent Investigation of Truth. In accordance with the Unity of God, no one path can be exalted to the exclusion of any other. This is not an endorsement of apathy; to the contrary, it is a mandate to actively seek truth with one’s own eyes.

  3. Religion is multifarious. In accordance with the Unity of God, there can be no One True Religion. Religions should not be forcibly unified, though interfaith harmony and tolerance are worthy goals.

  4. ...

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A voice that calls out to be remembered

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The universe is rich with people who pass through it, if not in total or undeserved anonymity then with less attention than should have been theirs. Some of these people grace our lives like a spring breeze in the aftermath of a winter day and make us glad.

One of those people, a poet called Marguerite Striar, wafted into my life a long time ago and made me grateful. She, and her art, should have received far more attention than they did, for she was a fine writer and an excellent soul. This essay, which I am writing on her 92nd birthday, is in memoriam.

Marguerite died several months ago, at the age of 91, from surgical complications. Her mind was still keen, her creative powers strong. Shortly before her death she pitched an idea to Oprah Winfrey about a new style of poetry she was developing.

Not long before she died she penned an untitled poem that began, “You don’t know what it’s like to be old until you are old...At 91, there’s still a young person inside….” The poem concludes, “I can still write a scintillating line or two even if it climbs the page in a crooked line [and] low vision is better than no vision. I’m grateful for the strong dark silhouettes of trees.”

* * *

This is the Marguerite I knew when I contributed a poem to her epic collection of Holocaust poetry, Beyond Lament, published in 1998 by Northwestern University Press after many other foolish publishers had turned it down.

{josquote}Active in the World Federalist Movement and claiming Bahai, Sufi, and Jewish identities, much of her writing dealt with deeply important universal issues.{/josquote}

We were writing pals in Washington, D.C. When either of us got discouraged, we’d talk and buck each other up, a mutual admiration society of two. She was a wonderful mentor and motherly figure and even though I hadn’t seen her in many years, I will miss her. Her daughter, Valerie, who called to tell me about her mother’s death, called her “a gentle, mystical, graceful woman,” and I couldn’t agree more.

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Ask: Does it help?


Karen Bacquet

It's been a long time since I've written anything in detail about my spiritual life, because I've been going through some changes. One of the obstacles that I'm confronting in trying to hang on to what is good in the Writings of Baha'u'llah and let go of the rest is that so much in the Faith is over-laden with emotional baggage for me. With the light comes the shadow, and the shadow is a damned distraction. Right now, all my friends are in a tizzy about Peter Khan's latest pronouncement -- something that at one time would have had me blogging in outrage and disgust.

With all respect and affection to my online Baha'i friends, I've come to regard that stuff a waste of time. The administration of any religion is a worldly activity, and enmeshed in wordly considerations, and we were foolish to expect it to be any different. Either promoting or criticizing the latest plan from Haifa is irrelevant to anyone's spiritual growth -- which is the whole point of being religious in the first place.

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