Friday, December 30, 2005

Breaking News - NSA Orders Boycott of Kalimat Press

Just today, the US NSA released a letter announcing that all LSAs should stop distributing books from Kalimat Press.

Kalimat Press has played a pivotal role in developing a Baha'i intellectual life and Baha'i scholarship -- particularly through its *Studies in the Babi and Baha'i Religions* series. And it has had to tolerate the interference of the Baha'i administration on many occasions. Even as early as 1982, the UHJ demanded that passages from Salmani's memoires be censored -- as I understand it, Kalimat was required to literally "stop the presses" because of this demand, as the book was just being printed.

However, there are many occasions that have been connected to events in recent years. Kalimat co-owner Tony Lee received a threatening letter in 1999 because of his distribution and advertisement of Juan Cole's groundbreaking *Modernity and the Millenium* -- a letter which warned him of penalties in the afterlife if he continued to do this. Just this last summer he was warned about carrying Abbas Amanat's *Resurrection and Renewal* -- the best book out there about the Babi era. Amanat, like a lot of other Baha'i scholars who experience the administration's wrath, had some pointed criticisms about it in the new introduction to this book -- and the administration cannot abide any criticism.

Kalimat also carries Sen McGlinn's *Church and State*, which has been condemned by the administration and its author disenrolled.

Well, it is no longer news that the Baha'i administration is unalterably opposed to new ideas, creative thinking, or solid academic scholarship. The talk is that, along with the LSAs, most ordinary Baha'is will avoid even the non-controversial publications of Kalimat Press. I hope this isn't true. Kalimat's customers, overall, probably represent the most intellectually curious segment of the Baha'i community. Baha'is who don't like history written in an academic style probably aren't buying from them anyway.

Besides the *Studies* series, Kalimat offers devotional materials, children's books, books on Christian issues and spirituality, and introductory materials. Next on my list to get is the book of translations of Tahirih's poetry -- which is a groundbreaking effort in itself.

So, I would ask my readers not to allow this effort to drive Kalimat into the ground to succeed. The Baha'i community needs this publisher -- buy a book or two from them, as soon as you can, to show your support and put this blatant effort at censorship in the toilet where it belongs.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Creating Communities in Exile

As many of you know, I have come to a place where I've been seeking ways to create real-life community among liberal and alienated Baha'is, without falling into the schismatic trap of creating an alternative "Baha'i Faith" -- which I pretty much view as an unworkable dead-end. But what I'm seeing out there, as a product of natural evolution, are groups that are both strongly oriented towards the spiritual and mystical teachings of the Faith, that are inclusive in their approach, and local in their reach. All it really takes is for someone who wants such a group is to contact like-minded people, whatever their "official" Baha'i status, within driving distance and set up meetings.

And there are all kinds of people who would be interested in such an approach: Unenrolled Baha'is, inactive Baha'is, ex-Baha'is who are still inspired by the Writings of Baha'u'llah, non-Baha'is who investigated the Faith, but were dissuaded from signing a card by some of the more authoritarian aspects of the Faith. The fundamentalist strain in the community has left a lot of disappointed people in its wake -- it really is just a matter of finding them, which can be a daunting task, I'll admit, but it can be done.

In some ways, conditions within the Faith has made such a development inevitable. I cannot be expected to forever hang around the edges of a religious community that has made it abundantly clear that it doesn't want me, or people like me, within its ranks. It kicks people out that think like I do, declaring us unqualified to be on the rolls of the Baha'i Faith. So, what's a lover of Baha'u'llah to do? One thing that fundamentalists always do is underestimate the commitment and depth of feeling on the part of religious liberals -- that's true no matter what religion you're talking about. We are expected to just drift away, since after all, we are assumed not to really take religion seriously anyway.

And, you know, I don't think that the Baha'i administration will be all that much bothered by this development -- assuming that such groups do not recruit aggressively and don't have an excessive focus on the flaws of the mainstream. At least, such groups have gone pretty much unnoticed or have been ignored, so far. The fears that were around in the late 90s, that Baha'i liberals would be named as covenant-breakers and shunned by their fellows, has not materialized. It seems to regard the problem as solved by liberals either leaving voluntarily, or being deprived of membership. The administration appears to be virtually asking us to create our own kind of community, since it sees us as being unqualified to be among "real" Baha'is.

It just took a while, I think, for that message to really sink into our heads. We are Baha'is, after all, and we really do believe in unity. It has been hard for us to accept that what the administration means by that word, and what we always thought it meant, are as different as night and day.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Adventures in Audio

I've been messing around with audio a bit, hoping that it will add to "quality of life" out here in Baha'i cyberspace. This clip *is* Baha'i oriented, so any other folks who stop by my blog are likely to find some things I say a bit mysterious -- although, of course, if anybody's just curious about what I sound like, they can check it out.

I've been doing a lot of Baha'i stuff lately. I sort of do whatever I feel on this blog, and I realize that this lack of consistency probably hurts my chances for building up an audience here -- but I do like the freedom of just writing what I feel like writing, which was one of the reasons I started a blog in the first place.

Anyway, my first blogcast.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Sen McGlinn's Disenrollment

Again, I'm running late with the big story, having been busy with work all last week, then sick all weekend. But Sen McGlinn has been disenrolled for "statements" he has "published", as well as the usual "behavior and attitude" charge that regularly reappears in UHJ disenrollment letters. Sen has responded by submitting another declaration card and attempting to re-enroll.

Baha'i fundamentalists are responding by either saying that it's none of our business, that Sen must have done something more wrong that what's apparent, or to actually enumerate his supposed sins. The letter from the Secretariat about his book, that I posted previously only, as Sen reminds folks, mentions the introduction of his book, where he calls himself a "Baha'i theologian" implying that this is the key issue. However, I find it hard to believe that the actual content of his book isn't at issue as well.

While you're sifting through these events, it might be a good idea to actually read
*Chuch and State: A Postmodern Political Theology*. My own copy's on order. There have been fears expressed that Kalimat Press will be next on the hit list, or that some action has already been taken against them, but I have not yet heard anything solid.

Juan Cole has made a rare venture into his old stomping-ground, Baha'i cyberspace, in order to comment. Alison, besides putting up Juan's post has also commented in her weblog. Baquia at Baha'i Rants has also commented.

The key issue, the one which ties all the disenrollments together, is lack of belief in UHJ infallibility where doctrine is concerned. Sen's book flies in the face of the interpretation of a body that openly says it has no scriptural authority to interpret, yet it insists on things that it calls "fundamentals" -- which now appears to include a belief that separation of church and state are depicted in a negative light in the Baha'i teachings. Juan's analysis, especially, pointed up this shift from a rather freewheeling enthusiastic religious group, as many experienced it in the early 70s, to one concerned with proper doctrine. Of course, the Baha'i Faith has experienced such shifts before, as in the late teens in the American Baha'i community. And, as in the earlier shift, it is accompanied by stagnant growth, disillusionment, and a shake-out of those who joined the Baha'i Faith believing it was an escape from the rigidity of older traditions.