Friday, November 23, 2007

Heretic, Not Apostate

Baha'i cyberspace is abuzz with the latest article to come out in *Religion*, writen by Moojan Momen, called "Marginality and Apostasy in the Baha'i Community". It is, apparently, the long-awaited rebuttal to the many academic articles and books published by ex and unenrolled Baha'is. Since I'm one of the "apostates" named, it's probably appropriate that I respond. (Alison Marshall and Umm Yasmin have already commented on Baha'is Online.

The centerpiece of Momen's argument is that the all the ex-Baha'is, and unenrolled Baha'is, who have been active on the Internet, and have succeeded in publishing in academic journals are "apostates" i.e. former members of a religion that have formed an oppositional coalition. That we all, without exception, are motivated by "ressentiment", a driving hatred and need for revenge against our "spiritual past". Well, I'm not an apostate; I still believe in Baha'u'llah. If one wishes to apply a negative term about who I am and what I've done, probably "heretic" would be more accurate. Baha'u'llah is not my "spiritual past"; He is my spiritual present. But my beliefs differ in some respects from the orthodoxy established by the Baha'i administration.

The notion that our only motivation is hatred is just ridiculous. For one thing, some of the books Momen cites are not "attacks" at all, even though they do present a viewpoint of the Baha'i Faith that diverges from orthodoxy. Juan Cole's *Modernity and the Millenium* is not an attack. Bill Garlington's *Baha'i Faith in America* is not an attack. These are books who tell Baha'i history in a fashion displeasing to conservative Baha'is; that's all. To claim that they are attacks verges on the paranoid. And, I note, that there is no attempt at all to actually refute these academic works in any substantial way.

The thesis makes no sense; it verges on simple name-calling. For example, Momen says that Garlington, the gentlest of souls, only "recently" became an apostate. Let's see, Bill sat around quietly for nearly twenty years after his resignation, then suddenly felt a surge of "ressentiment" and was thus motivated to write his book? This is ludicrous. Juan Cole has scarcely said "Boo!" about the Baha'i Faith during the last four years. So, where's his "hatred"? Denis MacEoin spent most of his time as a pseudonymous novelist, and he was conspicuously absent during the Internet Wars. (He wrote one barbed review of an apolegetic book, is all I remember.) Where's his "need for revenge"? I myself have written very little during the past few years; I pretty much talked myself out. (My article came out last year, but it was actually written a few years ago. It just took a while to get published.)Readers of this blog will note that I haven't said anything here about the Baha'i Faith in over a year.

What Momen has done is interpret the events of the last twenty-five years strictly in terms of the old "covenant-breaker" paradigm. Basically, today's "apostates" are just CBs without the formal excommunication: haters of the light, no spiritual sustenance except for attacking the truth, spiritually poisonous, etc. I'll quote him:

"Although these apostate groups and the very similar 'covenant-breaker' groups, as they are known by core Baha'is, are often referred to as sects or splinter groups of the Baha'i Faith, this characterisation is in a sense incorrect. These groups are not developing their own distinctive beliefs and practices. They exist only to attack the main Baha'i community. In Scheler's terms, they are not living in their new faith community, but are engaged only in a series of acts against their former community. Their new community exists only as a 'point of reference' from which to attack the former community."

Well, one reason I haven't developed my own "distinctive beliefs and practices" is that I consider myself a Baha'i. When I get up to say my prayers in the morning, when I recite the Writings, when I meditate on the Most Great Name, I'm not doing it to spite the administration. But then, one's spiritual life is not what's at issue here. No doubt the good doctor would treat my spiritual practices as irrelevant, especially as I haven't invented any new ones to distinguish myself from other Baha'is.

Momen's wrong about the splinter groups anyway -- some of them, the BUPC for one, have evolved some very distinct, one might even say downright weird, beliefs. But he's just bringing out the old canards about covenant-breakers that Baha'is have been repeating for the last hundred years.

I would suggest a different paradigm, one which I refer to often on Unenrolled Baha'i: That disillusionment with one's religious community causes a grief that is similar to any other loss that human beings experience, such as divorce or death of a loved one. One goes through various stages to cope with it. I was initially frightened, then I felt a sense of disorganization, sadness and despair. Then, for a long time, I was angry -- which is where a lot of my writing on the Internet came from; the writing helped me make sense of what had happened. A lot of the anger got redirected from the Baha'i administration to the more vicious fundies active on the 'Net. But gradually, I put myself together again.

Momen treats this admittedly articulate "angry phase" as if it is endless and incurable. Now granted, there are a few people he points to where this seems to be the case, but these folks aren't playing with a full deck and can't even manage to get along with their fellow dissidents -- or much of anyone else, for that matter. But most of us are past it -- Juan is, Denis is, Alison is. I don't think Bill Garlington was ever that angry, or if he was, he got over it long ago. Paul Johnson is another one named that you just don't see around any more. To claim that he harbors an "obsessive hatred" towards the Baha'i Faith is just not credible. But to Momen we all fit in the same bag as the looneys on talk.religion.bahai. A covenant-breaker is a covenant-breaker is a covenant-breaker.

There were a few factual errors: Momen says my "Unenrolled Baha'i" group is on Beliefnet. The UB board there has been dead for ages. My list on Yahoo! predated it, has 230 subscribers, and continues to attract new ones, and buzzes along very nicely, often with scant attention from me. Some of those who were around at the time are disputing his account of the Talisman crackdown and the Majnun post. He also is very misleading when he mentions the *Dialogue* incident -- the administration did a whole lot more than refuse to allow an article to be published. The editors were denounced at Convention, and were grilled by NSA members, and one was sanctioned. The hostility shown on the part of the Baha'i administration, and which did so much to push these people into "marginality and apostasy" is severely downplayed. Baha'i liberals are "marginal" because they are deliberately "marginalized" -- that's an important aspect of this whole story. Baha'i liberals aren't so rare as is implied; they are still showing up on the Internet on a regular basis. I even know some in real life, locally. As one poster mentioned, if there are so many, in what sense are they marginal? We become inactive more often; we leave more often, because we are made so obviously unwelcome.

As for me, I virtually had to resurrect my blog from the dead in order to comment on this. So much for "obsessive hatred". The Internet gives the illusion of continuous commentary, because whatever you say, stays here. My words are still here, but I'm long past having any need to debate or wrangle with these people any more. I don't need to do it; I don't want to do it. When I do show up online, it's mostly to function as support-giver and moderator on Unenrolled Baha'i, or sometimes I'll muse a little on Karen's Path, but that's it. Anyway, I'm a heretic, not an apostate. If you've gotta insult me, at least do it accurately. :-)

[Postscript 11/24: I just had the thought this morning, as I re-read this article, that what Moojan has done is not so different from what we did. That is, he is trying to make sense of events which caused him distress. I disagree with his formulation, of course, but I think I understand the need to write what he has written. All the Baha'is who were aware of, or part of, the events on the Internet had to try to make sense of the post-Talisman environment. So, maybe I shouldn't think too hardly of him for it. But I'm not an apostate!! kb]


Anonymous said...

Dear Karen. Thank you so much and keep up the good work. I'm still a card-carrying Bahai, but I'm sure if Momen had read some of my comments on Beliefnet, he would have added me to his list. I guess I don't have a blog that's why I didn't get the honor. But I know what you mean about being unwelcome. I felt that from the Bahai forum moderator on Beliefnet who chastised me for incorrectly spelling the names of the Founders fo the Faith (she didn't like that I "lazily" left out all the apostrophes, etc.). Here was my response to her:
Well the moderator should inform wikipedia:
as they state "Because of typographic limitations, the forms "Bahai," "Bahais," "Bab," and "Bahaullah" are often used as a common spelling and are satisfactory for certain electronic uses."

But this REALLY has nothing to do with respect or disrespect towards the Holy figures, now does it? It has everything to do with putting a negative light on those in the Faith who offer a different understanding from the moderator. Obvioiusly if you don't spell like I do, then you must not be a "true" Bahai. And obviously if you don't hold the same rigid, understanding of the laws in the Faith, and bow down the same way I do it's the adminstrative order, then you can not be a "true" Bahai. And the list, I'm sure, goes on. To me, this pervasive attitude among Bahais which the moderator portrays is the greatest insult, far worse than any curse word that one could read online. Why? Because it tries to alienate a certain group of people and put them on the outside- as not being "true" Bahais. A far more sinister act than any possible curse word.

kaweah said...

Hi Karen,
It must be a bit frustrating to believe in Baha'u'llah and be labeled an apostate, but I'm sure that you understand what Momen means: he considers you an "apostate" because your heresy puts you at odds with what he regards as "the Covenant", and thereby you are implicitly a "Covenant Breaker". You are no longer deemed a "true Baha'i" by the administrative order or their minions, and you only alienate yourself further by continuing to claim to be a Baha'i.

kpauljohnson said...

Hi Karen,

It's downright amazing that I'd be identified as a Baha'i apostate, something I just learned thanks to you. Won't pay $30+ to see myself libeled but I'd appreciate any further details.

To substantiate your point about how foolish this libel is, I withdrew from Baha'i in 1974, remained friends with Baha'is for several years, hired one in 1981, sold a house to one in 1982, and had no further dealings with Baha'is until working on a book in 1995. That brought me into contact with Baha'is but I sure as hell was not harboring any ressentiment those 21years! And since 1995 if I'm an apostate it's to Theosophy, not Baha'i. Sheesh, what a maroon!


Karen said...

Hi Paul,

Moojan's reference to you is short. He identifies both you and Bill Garlington as apostates who left the Faith before 1996, but became active and after the Talisman episode. Then he says "Johnson, a librarian, had been a Baha'i for five years (1969-1974) and could be called a serial apostate since he then became a theosophist and subsequently wrote a book 'debunking' Blavatsky. He has now moved on the Edgar Cayce's Association for Research and Enlightenment. He was active on the Talisman list as an ex-Baha'i, attacking core Baha'i beliefs and publishing an article about the Talisman episode in Gnosis magazine."

Then after identifying all of us bad guys, he says "The apostates described here, whatever their differences, share an obsessive hatred of their former religious community." (This includes you, bud.) And he goes on to compare us to the "very similar 'covenant-breaking' groups.

masood said...

A true Bahai does not resort to name calling, or make reference to someone else's thoughts. Keep your hearts pure and follow the principles you desire. No one, No one has the right to question your beliefs.
"breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner, shouldst thou transgress this command
accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness." Bahaullah

Frito said...

Yeah - you are a Baha'i. The thing I learned from the internet wars is that anger is overrated. You and I said stuff pro and con that we would not say today. The trouble is that those words are now etched in the Net equivalent of stone. Yeah - we had a red vs blue fight on our hands fed by our desire to be understood. That fight took on a life of its own and there were casualties on all sides. Our differences, though deep and fairly fundamental, are in the end very very small. Our similarities are actually truly deep and truly fundamental.

Regardless of your relationship to the formal Baha'i community I for one will simply count you as a believer in Baha'u'llah and a sister in Faith if not in communal practice.

Karen said...

Masood: Thank you for your kind thoughts.

Dave: It's nice to see you again -- I guess neither one of us do much posting these days.

Don't feel bad about those debates; I needed to do that -- kind of get it out of my system. And you definitely aren't as fierce as some I've encountered.

But, anger wears out eventually; I got to the point where I felt like I said everything I wanted to say, and I was only just repeating myself. And I think that's true of a lot of the people on Moojan's apostate list, which is the ironic part of it.

Keep well, Dave. Allah'u'abha!

Love, Karen

Jim Habegger said...

You wrote:

"It is, apparently, the long-awaited rebuttal to the many academic articles and books published by ex and unenrolled Baha'is."

Do you mean rebuttal in the sense of trying "to drive or beat back"? If so, I can see what you mean.

I haven't seen the book, but from reading the abstract it doesn't look to me like it's intended to be a rebuttal in the sense of trying to refute something. I don't see Momen trying to refute anyone's ideas. He seems to be saying that his purpose is to help religious communities avoid facing attacks by apostates. He might also be trying to defame and discredit the people he's writing about. Refuting their ideas doesn't seem to be part of his purpose at all.

I was pleased to see that all four of the scorned lovers I befriended (the Gang of Four) are on his list.

"former members of a religion that have formed an oppositional coalition"

Is that Momen's definition of apostates? According to the Webster online dictionary, apostasy is renunciation of a religious faith, or abandonment of a previous loyalty. Would you disagree that all of the people on his list have abandoned a previous allegiance to the House of Justice on Mount Carmel?

"The notion that our only motivation is hatred is just ridiculous."

Are you referring to the part about "a continuous chain of acts of revenge against his own spiritual past"? Did he really say "all, without exception"? In the abstract it only says the group's campaign brings that to mind.

What it brings to my mind is a scorned lover. You all were scorned by the community that you thought was the community of your dreams, and some of you have reacted in ways scorned lovers sometimes do.

"Basically, today's 'apostates' are just CBs without the formal excommunication"

I imagine you know how it grieves and infuriates me to see people equating you with Covenant breakers, and how it grieves and infuriates me to see people using the "Covenant breaker" label as an excuse for abuse.

Again, judging from the abstract, Momen's portrayal of the people he's writing about looks distorted and uninformed to me, and designed only to defame and discredit them.

"he is trying to make sense of events which caused him distress."

Sometimes when we feel hurt or threatened by some people's ideas we react by trying to defame and discredit those people. That's what Momen's book looks like to me, judging from the abstract.

Anonymous said...

you are really funny
you believe in bahaullah (allah the rock god of quraish) and engage in this kind of argumentation

bahai bab bahaullah are based on a person named muhammad rasoul allah

read Ibn Ishaq to discover who he was too long ?? yes you are right just read your newspaper tomorrow to realize what is islam

if you read Quran carefully and stitch it to ahadith you will discover that it was written by muhammad to justify his satanic behaviour

muhammadan islam is not a religion 8even pagan) it is a cult muhammad was a mass murderer assassin pedophile ... not a holy person

have you seen a line just a line of critisism about muhammad in babi bahai writings?? never you can find it all praising this sun of truth the star of prophethood


just for me is funny to believe in bahaullah as the prophet that confirms Muhammd's deeds and misdeeds

use your energy for something else

moogan momen has torepeat the words of Abdulbaha and bahaullah that muhammad was a good guy

where is the search for the truth

if you read the books of Abdulbaha it is only his opinion and the repetition of the muslim scolars of all ages not the facts

all bahais are antisemites read abdulbaha

we do not have islam in Europe because of christian priests and jew khakhams it is a shame

all bahais has to confirm it because this is the words of abdulbaha

but go read the history

have a nice time dear

after leavin the bahai faith (cult) I am in peace and no longer I think that 99,99 of the earth population is gone astray

BAHAI1844 said...

Ya Bada badoo - oh wait - that's Fred Flintstone!! :) May God be with you!!