Thursday, January 09, 2003

Fundamentalism is, at its heart quite legalistic; all the spiritual aspirations of mankind are reduced to very simple formulae, which, if you don’t buy into them, you are “irrational” or “illogical”, or just perversely determined to ignore the truth. I sent, via Grandma, a web page to my brother on Christian mysticism, which characterized the fundamentalist stance as “legalism” -- and he was predictably outraged. Then he turns around and sends me stuff on evolution and “proving” that the Bible is the Word of God that are just as legalistic as you can get. For one thing, they overwhelm with detail. One reason I won’t touch the evolution debate with a ten-foot pole is that I’d have to spend an enormous amount of time in an area that I’m really not that interested in, even to adequately address it. One reason that the anti-evolution arguments seem so plausible is that the people who are knowledgeable in this area don’t spend their time discussing it with fundies, and for people who aren’t knowledgeable, all that detail looks impressive. I’m more knowledgeable in the area of Biblical studies, but still -- it’s a tar baby. I could spend hours researching and discussing one little point, only to have the next one thrown at me. Besides, I don’t want to be in the position of arguing “against” the Bible; I just don’t have a need to do that. And I don’t think its truth is “proven” by pointing out accurate prophecies, and talking about how Christians believed in the physical resurrection early on.

Another thing that’s typical of the fundamentalist approach is the emphasis on being “rational” -- the website I was sent repeated emphasized that religious matters cannot be decided emotionally. Religion as a supra-rational experience is completely disparaged -- which seems odd given the emphasis on “a personal relationship with Jesus”, which is certainly emotional. This lack of understanding of the mystical element of religion is why the concept of the unity of religion just seems like self-evident nonsense. It is in the spiritual path that this unity is found, so they miss it completely. Actually, so do Baha’i fundamentalists, who tend to try to defend this teaching by saying that the real teachings of other religions were lost or corrupted and can therefore be discounted. Christians (and others) are quite right as seeing this as a convenient cop-out. I can find my spiritual life enriched by studying Christian mystics, even though I don’t share their theology -- Christian fundamentalists seem scarcely aware that Christian mystics ever existed.

Now, to me, there is a place for rationality in looking at religion. The same fundamentalists who argue that they can “rationally” prove their position will, for example, argue that the Church was infallibly guided as to the choice of canon, which is an idea that I think is pure nonsense. It is really a way of “rationally” justifying the irrational. You can’t “prove” the physical resurrection of Jesus -- an irrational a belief as you can get, and one that was not universally held by early Christians. So, I’m rational when it comes to looking at history. What is beyond rationality is the effect the Baha’i Writings have on my life -- which would be real to me, even if every single thing they seek to “prove” were really true.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

I finally got a copy of Terry Culhane’s book *I Beheld a Maiden”. I found his discussion of the Covenant rather interesting -- it’s rather like it was something I knew but could not quite articulate: the Covenant of Baha’u’llah is more than the simple, legalistic passing-down of authority from Baha’u’llah to ‘Abdu’l-Baha’ to the Guardian and the UHJ.

Some time ago I came across a tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s:

These are the teachings which are the spirit of this century and the light of this age. Whoever inhales their fragrance is drawn to them, especially as they are confirmed by the Testament and the Covenant, the Covenant which is the cause of illuminating the world, which gives the Spirit of Life, makes souls enlightened, divine and celestial, causes them to shine like a light and transforms them into scintillating stars.

O friends of Paris! Know that no soul is quickened except through the spirit of the Covenant, no eye is illumined except by the light of the Covenant, no ear is thrilled except by the melody of the Covenant, and no heart shows forth the divine sentiments except by the bounty of the Covenant. The people of Paris are full of enthusiasm and become attracted with the utmost swiftness. Therefore, the fire of the love of God will burn intensely and spread everywhere.

Some of the regions of Europe are extremely enthusiastic. Day by day more souls enter the Cause. You have heard of this certainty. Now, make an effort, and with all your might enkindle the fire of love of the Covenant, so that Paris may surpass the other regions; and if the Covenant is made to shine forth as it should, in a short time wonderful results will become apparent; for, in this day, the moving power throughout the whole world is the power of the Covenant: it is the artery pulsating in the body of the phenomenal.

And I looked at that and thought “Either ‘Abdu’l-Baha’ was some kind of megalomaniac, or the Covenant isn’t what people think it is”. I actually pasted that passage into my word processor, replacing the word “Covenant”, with “obedience to me” or “my station” depending on how the sentence was worded -- and it was clear that if that’s all ‘Abdu’l-Baha’ meant, then the covenant-breakers were right, and he was claiming the prerogatives of a Manifestation of God. Not only that, such a reading would make ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s viewpoint quite exclusivistic -- nobody could make any spiritual progress unless they were a Baha’i, and “loyal to the Covenant”. Of course, this completely flies in the face of everything else ‘Abdu’l-Baha’ ever said.

Terry looks at the entire Kitab-i-Ahd (Book of the Covenant), not just the paragraph that appoints ’Abdu’l-Baha’ as successor, and presents a very broad view of what Covenant means -- that basically all the forces in the world that move towards unity are in accord with it, and remembrance of God is at the very heart. Now, he’s a UHJ-loyal Baha’i, and I doubt he’d think much of the course I have taken -- but it’s nice to read something about “covenant” that doesn’t make me wince. (Except when he talks about the UHJ being free of moral error, ‘cause I know it’s not.)

You look at the broad and universal vision of what Baha’u’llah and ‘Abdu’l-Baha’ taught, and I have to shake my head -- our institutions are *so* immature, from top to bottom. Not only that, there are people quite determined to keep them that way. A friend of mine was told that we don’t need due process because “this world is the realm of injustice”. I ran across another jaw-dropper from a fundie when I was working on my article that said “Justice is not a right”, in arguing against having women on the UHJ. These people don’t even believe in the same Baha’u’llah I do, I don’t think. I believe in the One who said “The essence of all we have revealed for thee is justice”.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

I haven't posted anything to the blog, 'cause I haven't been thinking of much lately. Tory got into trouble with a neighbor, and I was pretty furious with her. She's a kid that doesn't respond to mild measures; you almost have to be at the point where you want to throttle her before she realizes "Oh, gee, maybe I shouldn't do that." A classic strong-willed child. So, anyhow, I stayed away from the blog while I was angry, because what I was thinking wasn't at all nice. She's an adorable, bright, charming, spunky little girl -- but if we don't win this battle of the wills now, things are going to get very bad as she gets older.

And getting angry doesn't do much for one's spiritual focus -- hard to be in a peace/tranquility/mystical sort of place when you've got a kid that's making you crazy. Makes the tears part of it easy, though! :-) I have to just ride the emotional storm, then reflect on it all when I'm calmer.

I treated myself to some gold earrings today -- probably an indulgence, but I justify it by telling myself that I need to build up a wardrobe for work. Really, I already dress up more than most teachers at most schools -- but those teachers already have jobs. Also, dressing up makes it easier to establish that instant authority you need when you're subbing. It's amazing how much of my meagre paycheck goes right back into things for work -- clothes, classes, gas etc. That's a killer, that I have to keep paying money for classes to keep a credential that isn't making me any money, and may never do so. Even a temporary or part-time job would make so much difference for us. I could have made what I'm making now without going back to school. Now I've got the debt and expenses, but none of the pay-off. The teacher training was useful, though, even for just subbing. But it's frustrating, and I'm heading into the third spring of job-hunting. I've got to where I fill out applications without any expectations now. If I can just get to that place with interviews, I'd have the emotional part of it licked, but I haven't had enough of them yet. It really is the hope that kills me. People say "Keep your chin up", but that's the worst thing of all -- the up and down roller coaster ride of thinking I really have a shot this time for one reason or another, then having those expectations dashed. I have to get to a place where I expect nothing, and don't care, and don't fall into fantasies of how great it would be to have my own classroom or a real paycheck. I have to get to a place where I don't expect anything to be different from what it is right now.