Saturday, May 21, 2005

One Common Faith, paragraphs 28-35

In short, through the ongoing process of revelation, the One Who is the Source of the system of knowledge we call religion demonstrates that system's integrity and its freedom from the contradictions imposed by sectarian ambitions.. . .

This is something of a Baha'i myth i.e. that schism and creation of sects is inevitably the result of "ambition". That just doesn't hold up in the light of history. There is such a thing as sincere disagreement over what a religion means. Since the next few paragraphs largely concern the idea of progressive revelation -- a belief common to all Baha'is -- I really have little to say about them.

The objection most commonly raised against the foregoing conception of religion is the assertion that the differences among the revealed faiths are so fundamental that to present them as stages or aspects of one unified system of truth does violence to the facts. Given the confusion surrounding the nature of religion, the reaction is understandable.. . .

I have certainly seen Christian objections to the Baha'i Faith of exactly this type. What it comes down to is what one thinks is important about religion. Christianity, historically, has made theology a major issue, so naturally the idea of the unity of religion looks like utter nonsense to them. If you don't equate conceptions of God with God Himself, then theology ceases to matter so much. For Baha'is, God is unknowable, therefore arguments concerning what we think we know are rather pointless. However, the Baha'i community is not, unfortunately, completely free of rigidity concerning the nature of God -- more than one liberal intellectual got into trouble, at least partly, because he held a "low theology" of Baha'u'llah.

The next few paragraphs focus on the difference is religious practices, giving the basic Baha'i view that the former religious laws were revealed as appropriate to past ages.

The concept of progressive revelation places the ultimate emphasis on recognition of the revelation of God at its appearance. The failure of the generality of humankind in this respect has, time and again, condemned entire populations to a ritualistic repetition of ordinances and practices long after these latter have fulfilled their purpose and now merely stultify moral advance. Sadly, in the present day, a related consequence of such failure has been to trivialize religion. At precisely the point in its collective development where humanity began to struggle with the challenges of modernity, the spiritual resource on which it had principally depended for moral courage and enlightenment was fast becoming a subject of mockery, first at those levels where decisions were being made about the direction society should take, and eventually in ever-widening circles of the general population. There is little cause for surprise, then, that this most devastating of the many betrayals of trust from which human confidence has suffered should, in the course of time, undermine the foundations of belief itself.

Again, it remains to be seen how the Baha'i Faith will do better on this score. Already there are issues, some of which were mentioned in this paper, where the prevailing interpretations of Baha'i teaching seem to be pushing mankind backwards towards a more authoritarian era. There is no point whatsoever, for example, to excluding women from the UHJ -- even that body itself admits that it doesn't know the reason for it. When I was researching this issue, I found the arguments made in support of this exclusion to be virtually identical to those made by the Catholic Church for its exclusion of women from the priesthood. Very well, religious communities decide to hold on to their traditions and the authority they deem so essential for the preservation of the Founder's teachings. However, they then give up any viable claim to be compatible with modernity, or to be on the cutting edge of human progress.

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