Thursday, May 05, 2005

One Common Faith, paragraph 3

Some folks have been asking where they can find a complete copy of *One Common Faith* -- it is now available at
http://bahaistudies.net/bwc/onecommonfaith.html.


I'll give the entire paragraph first, so folks can read it more easily, then give my commentary:

3
This posture was reinforced by the assumption that the values, ideals and disciplines cultivated over the centuries were now reliably fixed and enduring features of human nature. They needed merely to be refined by education and reinforced by legislative action. The moral legacy of the past was just that: humanity's indefeasible inheritance, requiring no further religious interventions. Admittedly, undisciplined individuals, groups or even nations would continue to threaten the stability of the social order and call for correction. The universal civilization towards the realization of which all the forces of history had been bearing the human race, however, was irresistibly emerging, inspired by secular conceptions of reality. People's happiness would be the natural result of better health, better food, better education, better living conditions-and the attainment of these unquestionably desirable goals now seemed to be within the reach of a society single-mindedly focused on their pursuit.



This posture

Just to clarify: The "posture" they mean here, from the previous paragraph, humanity could take charge of its own destiny without the need for Divine authority.

was reinforced by the assumption that the values, ideals and disciplines cultivated over the centuries were now reliably fixed and enduring features of human nature. They needed merely to be refined by education and reinforced by legislative action.

There is some merit to this point. People who aren't particularly religious are often unaware of just how much our conceptions of what is "moral" are influenced by our religious heritage -- they just think of it as "natural". However, if you compare the values of societies that have not been influenced by Christianity, you will find an entirely different conception of what "natural morality" is. Of course, religious values aren't the only influence at work, in any society. Some of the practices that horrify us so much about the Islamic world (veiling, female genital mutilation, honor killings) are holdovers from pre-Islamic culture. Americans, no matter how religious, are strongly influenced by the Enlightenment ideas on which our country was founded, and even pre-Enlightenment practices in our Anglo heritage, such as the right of trial by jury.

However, I don't think anyone was arguing that the values learned through Christianity were so fixed that we could now dispense with the religion itself. Thomas Jefferson, for example, wanted to keep what is good about Christianity, while getting rid of "superstition".

The moral legacy of the past was just that: humanity's indefeasible inheritance, requiring no further religious interventions.

I'm not sure what they are talking about here. If they by "divine interventions" they mean the Baha'i concept of progressive revelation, even religious Westerners never expected another prophetic dispensation. If, as the context suggests, they are talking about the influence of religion on government, the American Founding Fathers were as concerned about state interference in religion as they were religious interference with the state. The aim was not to eliminate religion from people's lives; on the contrary, they thought it was morally beneficial. But there is no way for "religious interventions" to occur in governmental affairs without favoring one religious group over another; we still battle with these issues to this day.

Besides, 'Abdu'l-Baha' clearly forbade the interference of religious leaders in governmental affairs, so if this is what the UHJ is referring to in this rather vaguely-worded paragraph, then this isn't something Baha'is should be promoting anyway.

Admittedly, undisciplined individuals, groups or even nations would continue to threaten the stability of the social order and call for correction. The universal civilization towards the realization of which all the forces of history had been bearing the human race, however, was irresistibly emerging, inspired by secular conceptions of reality. People's happiness would be the natural result of better health, better food, better education, better living conditions-and the attainment of these unquestionably desirable goals now seemed to be within the reach of a society single-mindedly focused on their pursuit.

The betterment of material circumstances is not only a secular issue; many of those who fought for reforms, such as compulsory education and governmental care of the poor had religious motivations. A Protestant society where each person had the right to read scripture for himself requires literacy (remember the Old Deluder Law of the Puritans?), and giving food, shelter, and medicine to the poor has been a Christian practice since the very beginning. The biggest change in conception was in seeing these things as a function of government, rather than private charity.

2 comments:

Paul said...

Hi Karen.

My main impression on seeing the start of your analysis of this document is that it is woolly, long-winded and incoherent. I find it very difficult to work out what they are saying - everything seems to get lost in those run-on clauses. I think we're looking at our old friend again - the attempt to ape Shoghi's English prose style without the ability to achieve it...

Paul

Karen said...

Hi Paul,

Actually, that's one reason I'm going through it like this; to figure out what the heck they mean -- not because I think all my readers are going to be fascinated. Besides, the UHJ wants Baha'is to study it; can't be accused of being disobedient, you know. :-)

I'm going to try to keep it balanced with other stories, so it doesn't take over the blog. It's such a long document that it's going to take a while to get through it, if I actually do.