Opinion

Entries arguing a particular point of view

A Dirty Word

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“Religion” as a concept and term has become so loaded and negative in connotation that a lot of people revert to saying “I’m spiritual”. Really it’s a way of saying ‘I love the essence of the message but not all the baggage attached to it nor the work associated with it’. Even for people like myself, whose life is driven by religion, it’s hard to admit it. I almost feel like I must apologize for being crazy enough to be religious in times like these, when it seems apparent that religion is nothing short of madness. And yet most people in the world believe in a Creator who in some way or another has manifested himself to us.

The other day I was watching the Hollywood movie “There Will Be Blood”. Now it’s pretty clear what the writer felt about religion. It was a sad, ugly and empty depiction of faith. And religious people all over the world are not innocent of contributing to this perversion of the image of religion. He was painfully accurate in his depiction of many who claim to be religious. But what about the oil? Is oil evil because of all the ugliness it created in Daniel Plainview? Is oil evil because it causes wars and greed and exploitation? Does it cause those things or do we? Why do we blame religion for what goes on but not oil, when how we handle each of those is really what matters?

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Correcting "Baha'i Views"

Here's something that I wrote some time ago, but was holding on to until after the Fast -- I generally make an effort to stay out of controversy during that period:

{josquote}We're all believers in Baha'u'llah, after all. But not everyone's a joiner—as the growing number of unaffiliated religionists in this country indicates. {/josquote}

Ever since Moojan Momen's paper "Marginality and Apostasy" came out, George Wesley Dannells of Baha'i Views has become inordinately fond of the term "apostate", and has posted several times about how terrible we all are. But you know who else is fond of that term? The Iranian government, who applies it to all Baha'is. Google "Baha'i apostates" sometime and see what comes up. Yes, the term can be used in a social science context; it is also a vicious epithet on the lips of the orthodox. Baha'i Views is not a social science journal and George is not studying us. He is using "apostate" in the exact same sense that an Iranian mulla would -- as a way to condemn and to warn others about the people in question.

In any case, some of the things he says seem to indicate a profound ignorance of who we are, and what we're saying. So, at the risk of putting myself in the middle of the maelstrom, I think some corrections are in order:

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The Baha'i Way, Truth and Light


John Taylor

Purity and Toxic Waste

The Prophet Muhammad had personal tastes, which included a preference for cats over dogs, and a dislike for garlic. This is reflected throughout the Middle East; dogs are unpopular and tend to run wild on the streets rather than on the laps of fine ladies; garlic is completely excluded from the national cuisine of Islamic nations. I was interested, therefore, to read lately that Baha'u'llah shared this aversion, at least to some extent.

"One day, while travelling from Kazimayn to Baghdad, the Blessed Beauty observed, `How removed from good manners are the Shi'ihs! In spite of their acknowledgment of the Hadith, "The believers are alive in both worlds"; they enter into the holy places with stained clothing and mouths reeking of onions and garlic. The repugnancy of unpleasant odors in these places is such as We are disinclined to describe.' Shuja'u'd-Dawlih (a prince and high-ranking Persian official) used to remark, `The reverence which You feel for the Imams defies description.'"
(Ali-Akbar Furutan, Stories of Baha'u'llah, p. 24)

{josquote}But as the Hadith says, we live in both worlds at once, and there are spiritual costs, spiritual toxicity, for trampling the wills of others by intimidation.{/josquote}

This saying, that a believer lives in this world and the next at the same time, it is wise always to bear in mind. That is why Baha'u'llah asked that we attend the feast in our best clothes, which should be spotlessly clean. This helps both worlds, it reduces the chances of spreading communicable diseases, and conduces to joy and spirituality.

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Dealing with Opposition: Don't Apologize

It is impossible to take any stand, especially a religious stand, in public without provoking negative comment. Become known in cyberspace, and you're a mini-celebrity -- sometimes loved and sometimes hated. It took me a long time to figure out how to deal with this position wisely; I'm still not sure I always do. One of the temptations I struggle to resist is that of falling back into a defensive mode, arguing with the vicious and sometimes completely untrue things that are said.

{josquote}But today I was trying to turn my thoughts towards the people I am really talking to out here...{/josquote}

When you're an unenrolled Baha'i, and you say so publicly, you make a whole lot of people unhappy. There are the fundamentalist Baha'is, of course, who flit between seeing you as a dark-souled enemy and looking down their noses in feigned pity. There are the anti-Baha'is, who seem to pretty much agree with the fundies in their rigid, acontextual view of Baha'i scripture, but view it all as bad and don't want anybody to be any kind of Baha'i, unenrolled or not. Then, there are the anti-religious, who think the whole bunch of us are completely ridiculous. When you get down to it, some people are going to keep pounding on you unless and until you see things their way.

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On the Use of "Liberal" or "Conservative" to Describe Baha'is: A Test for Marginality

One indication that a blog is either a marginal or apostate site is use of political terms such as "liberal" or "conservative" by the blogger when referring to Baha'is. To attach such a label to an individual believer is to violate a core value of the Baha'i religion. As partisan politics is divisive and Baha'is are about uniting the world, Baha'is are forbidden to join political parties. Use of political terminology to describe Baha'is represents either a failure to understand or a conscious attempt to impose external standards on the Faith which Baha'u'llah has said we must not do.

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