Friday, March 14, 2008

Religious training & Bahá’í

Religions can be the solution to societal ills but also their cause. Their cause when superficial thinking replaces depth. When imbalance topples balance. When human emotions get the better of us.

In my last presentation I posed the question, How does Catholicism—how does any religion—get a strong hold on people? The group and I came up with these answers:

Magical thinking. I didn’t probe for explanation of this phrase so I’ll give my own and invite readers to add their ideas. I see magical thinking in myself when I expect/demand easy solutions to life’s mysteries and problems. We want it all to be rational and better—at least someday, if not right now.

Repetition. How many times does a Christian hear and say, “the ONLY Son of God,” “seated at the right hand of the Father,” “one, true Church,” and so on? How many times do Christians sleepily say "Amen" to "through Jesus Christ"?

Fear of authority. Fear of crossing the "Truth" handed to us as a given and not to be questioned.

Ritual. We sit, we stand, we kneel, we bow, we genuflect, we sing, we recite, we smell incense, we hear sermons. Our bodies are trained, well trained.

I’ll add two more elements to the group’s insights:
Us versus them thinking. Our race, our sex, our religion, our language, our customs are right. Theirs are strange, abnormal, and wrong.
Authentic spirituality. Religions really do link people with the inner Holy we call God, and so we think everyone should believe as we do.

For these reasons, religions can be dangerously divisive. But at their mystical core—at the deep center beyond all the repetitious phrases and ritual and teaching—all religions agree.

Arab customs that appall us do not derive from their religion but from tribal customs. We should be aware of this so that we don't harbor suspicion of all Muslims, which promotes war-mongering. Muslim educators, like Christian educators, like those of Buddhism, Hinduism, Baha'i, etc., struggle to lead people past superficial acceptance of their religious tenets. It’s not easy.

I love public television and depend on it for dependable information on a variety of topics. Its series "Beyond Theology" was superb. But last evening I watched "Jerusalem: Center of the World" and was disappointed because it failed to distinguish between history and myth, between fact and legend. It left the impression, for instance, that we know the spot where the man Jesus was born. No one knows that.

Pandering to piety, the program reinforced naive, literal belief, thus missing an opportunity to advance spiritual understanding and religious harmony. Several times I turned off the TV in disgust and turned it on again, waiting for the segment shown on the Newshour about Saladin. I wish the rest of the program had been as informative and uplifting.

Muslim chivalry—Saladin
Saladin was a Muslim military and political leader who roundly defeated Christian crusaders but treated them with respect and offered extremely generous terms of surrender. He refused to destroy Christian churches in Jerusalem or supplant them with Muslim mosques, and he invited Jews to resettle in Jerusalem. Admirable.

See the comments on Bahá’í faith.

4 comments:

SMK said...

A slightly deeper level of understanding of my religion is to note it's spelling is "Baha'i" (or even better "Bahá'í" if the internet would accept accents among all OSes and fonts.)

But I agree totally with your broad theme. Some people of every faith take a certain pride of not understanding something in the books - as if it were a kind of anti-intellectualism.

Jeanette said...

Thank you.
Serves me right. Every time I looked at the word, I resolved to check on the spelling, then in the end let it go.
But maybe it's good I didn't. Now we have a more extended explanation. I want more, however. Please tell us what you know about Baha'i. Use this opportunity to inform us.
Thanks,
Jeanette

SMK said...

Glad I stopped back by - a very kind invitation - thanks. Just looking at your post I can see four avenues to sketch out information about the Bahá'í Faith (adding accents is a lot of work on the internet and too often doesn't show right so I'll drop them from now on.) You talk about the need to get past surface religion, yet also about ways religions can get to being dangerously divisive. And then you also speak of external influences on religion and the universal core of all religions. All these things are true of or resonate with the Bahá'í Faith too with particular aspects. It would be hard to cover all the issues in one post but I'll try. I'll skip the introductory info as there are umteen thousands of pages about the Baha'i Faith on the internet and a great many of them cover introductions (bahai.org, and search around in wikipedia by all means.)

How do Baha'is struggle to get past surface religion? Things that come to mind are study of the Creative Word, as we call it - the Writings of the Manifestations (again, our term.) Of course we have "our own" in Baha'u'llah and The Bab but we hold the Bible, Qur'an, and various sacred texts of Hinduism, Buddhism and Zoroastrianism as sacred texts too. If you hunt down the Baha'i search engines or downloadable software you will always find they include such materials.

Leaping to the last point above I would say that the idea of the universal core of all religions is an actual article of faith in the Baha'i Faith - it's not just a good idea or a dismissive we-accept-you-but-be-like-us kind of thing. To us they are all of "The same eternal truth...", "the changeless Faith of God...." What we don't arbitrarily accept is what happened in the name of the Founder of a religion even if it comes from the mouth of the authorities of those religions in successive centuries and millennia (doesn't mean we automatically reject it either.) The great majority of the differences among the religions we attribute to the Divine response to where a people were "at" at a time and place, or to those centuries of human minds trying to be faithful but really failing to do so. For example Hinduism had developed a perspective of having hundreds of thousands, even millions, of gods though you can also interpret them all as qualities or attributes or actions of the singular God. So Buddhism comes along in a kind of reaction so that it doesn't much get into any reference to gods - to even engage in the terminology is to open the door to all the confusion of which god is what. But over the centuries divisions of Buddhism have arisen that are for all intents and purposes atheistic while others have all the personal-savior theistic sensibilities of a born-again Christian. Christianity kind of reacts to how Judaism evolved. Islam kind of reacts to how Christianity evolved and so on. Most followers of each religion are fairly blind to this aspect of the religions or only use it backwards - they were wrong about such and so and we're right. A certain lack of humility comes in. We've never gotten it right. We have to keep being reminded.

Going to your second point - ways in which religions can get to being dangerously divisive. Well it's a particular struggle in the Baha'i Faith. Having this upfront respect for the Founders of the world religions and the good faith efforts of their followers - well sometimes people have some personal history to get over. Most of the Baha'is are converts or their parents were. There can be some baggage about facing those of the religion one left though often there is a fresh appreciation of that same religion. There can also be a struggle to deal with the idea that though we have the utmost regard - and I mean on par with our own religious Founder - and yet emphasize the present situation of our most recent presence as a new Revelation from God. As such we have a lot of work ahead of us. If you look back at the religions in their beginning centuries each had a kind of honeymoon period a few hundred years after their founding - situations where some people or nation or empire took the spirituality and guidance seriously and developed some serious contributions to the ever-advancement of civilization which sooner or later also goes through a period of stagnation or winter of discontent. For us, in terms of the seasons of humanity, it's very early spring and the first flowers have just budded. If we learn our skills well enough when winter comes in distant centuries, we will be able to admit it and learn how to use cold frames to keep people and institutions warmed and warming and perhaps have some clue when the next Manifestation comes and be alittle more hospitable - just alittle.

As for dealing with the external influences we bring into the religion - since we are a small minority in almost all lands, we are relatively thick with each peoples cultural affectations in each of those countries. We don't have much of a "Baha'i" culture though we do have some songs and such. We have institutions defined and rules to run them by but it's up to us to bring forward the best of each people's cultures and weed out the worst. It is manifestly not a west telling the east what's right or wrong culturally. We are not about exporting Americana to the rest of the world. But it's difficult when an oppressed people want to hold onto their culture when they should also be considering what needs to be forgotten. I'd commend the work of Phil Lucas for example. Check his wikipedia page.

Now let's see if this post is too long....

Anonymous said...

At their mystical core all religions agree? So I am actually in agreement with feminist witches, new agers, devil worshipers, and marxists and didn't even know it?