Friday, September 05, 2008

Covenant Talk

It's been a long time since I've written anything about the Baha'i Faith on Karen's Thoughts; most of my Baha'i Writing these days is over on Unenrolled Baha'i -- and I made a promise for that blog that I wouldn't talk about the Baha'i administration. I wanted it to be a positive place, focused on "living the life". However, several days ago, my friend Baquia has posted a talk from former house member 'Ali Nakhjavani, which obliquely mentions folks like me. The first half talks about "Baha'is and non-Baha'is" advancing the idea that the Covenant is not important -- which is a distortion of what's being said out here. The second half refers to "freethinkers" who go "back to Baha'u'llah." So, I think I'm pretty safe in my assumption on who he's talking about.

*sigh* I have been hesitant to address this; I know what I'm letting myself in for. I really have no wish to go back to the old days when all these issues were constantly argued out on email lists , but they did have one advantage: liberal positions on those issues were very visable to a regular audience. These positions are now so much part of my universe that to talk about them is a bit like teaching the ABCs, but there are people who don't know them. It disturbs me to see people who give up on Baha'u'llah because they accept the conservative stance as the only possible stance. I'll never understand the fundie preference that a person renounce Baha'u'llah rather than be a liberal Baha'i.

Anyway, Mr. Nakhjavani's talk is really quite a standard spiel about the Covenant -- I doubt if anyone in his audience heard anything that they already weren't familiar with. It all sounds fine, even inspiring, except that this "domino theory" of the Covenant when it gets down to brass tacks means you must accept every single decision of the UHJ as right and good, or all the dominos fall down and you aren't a Baha'i. People can get really absurd about it -- you don't like Ruhi? What's the matter, do you have a problem with the Covenant? Worried about the environmental impact of the terrace gardens? You aren't loyal to the Covenant. In its extreme form, "the Covenant" has devolved into a form of taqlid -- the blind obedience forbidden in the Writings of Baha'u'llah.

First and foremost, my "problem with the Covenant" has always been the appalling way that a number of people have been treated -- from the editors of Dialogue magazine to the disenrollment of Sen McGlinn. I just can't get behind this unspiritual suspicion, looking for "internal enemies" in every corner, and seeing "agendas" in every email conversation. That unreasoning fear just sucks all the compassion out of the religion and leaves it an empty husk. I want no part of it. I didn't just wake up one day and decide "Hey, it would be cool to be a freethinker, because I'm just not down with those stodgy old authorities"; it was a painful ethical choice that I wish I didn't have to make.

I've kept Baha'u'llah, Mr. Nakhjavani; it's only the paranoia I've left behind. My covenant with Baha'u'llah doesn't require it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Democracy Now! Staff Arrested

This was just an astonishing story to wake up to this morning. After wading through the news reports, it appears that there was some mischief at these protests -- thrown objects, vandalism and the like. However, several reports are saying that the police were way out of line, gassing, pepper-spraying, and arresting even peaceful protesters.

According to Amy Goodman's interview, made just as she had been released from jail, she'd heard that two members of her staff had been arrested as they were filming the police as they cracked down on the protesters. She went to find out why they were arrested, and was told to back off -- and she didn't.

Generally, if you don't follow a police officer's instructions, you are at risk for arrest, even if you think those instructions are unreasonable. I'm aware of that, having a husband in law enforcement, but most law-abiding middle-class people may not be. If you refuse to listen, they'll slap the cuffs on you, and you can sort it out in court later. We drilled our kids in two rules: Do whatever a cop tells you and never piss off a judge.

But, as Amy points out, we're talking about the press here -- the freedom of which is so vital to our democracy. I'm really concerned about why reporters filming the protests would be arrested. These are professionals, and just doing their jobs. Amy's press credentials were plainly visible; the cops should have let her through.

These charges will almost certainly be dropped -- the actions of these reporters are going to look very different in court than they did to cops whose minds were on crowd control and adrenaline was pumping.

I couldn't find a way to embed the video of her post-arrest interview which tells the story, but here's the more dramatic video of her arrest, which is all over the web this morning:

Here's an update: Producers Nicole Salazar and Sharif Abdel Kouddous were arrested while trying to get out of the way. Before that, they were just doing their jobs, filming what was going on. Several other journalists were arrested as well, including one who yelled "It's a Republican paper, for Chrissakes!" Press passes were consfiscated. Amy, in her upset at what had happened to her producers, took what she should have known was a risk. But, the arrest of Nicole and Sharif is legitimate cause for some real outrage -- they were backing away, not challenging the officers at all.

I'd like to know what the cops' orders were. This thing needs to be investigated.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Digging Up Yoga History

I tell students who complain that history is boring that whatever they are into, it has a history: music, sports, fashion. The most boring way to approach history is the way we're forced to do it in school -- broad, sweeping survey courses where you have barely time to get the gist of what was happening before moving on to the next chapter. History buffs are invariably into small slices of history -- like the Civil War, or local history.

Grandma still laughs about my tendency, as a kid, to look up the history of whatever I was doing. When she taught me to crochet, I tried to find out where it came from. I haven't changed much.

I've found myself curious about the history of yoga in America. As far as I know, nobody has written a book about that, and I've only been able to get bits and pieces. I know that it was brought here by Swami Vivekenanda after the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893, and that it was enthusiastically promoted by Sara Bull, Sarah Farmer's friend at Green Acre. Yoga was one of the many new religious ideas floating around at the time, and arguably the most influential in the long run -- although it has achieved that status partly by being separated from its religious roots.

Anyway, my husband and I happened to be cruising a used bookstore with a large metaphysical section. I found some old Baha'i books there, too, like Horace Holley's *Religion for Mankind*. (Baha'i books always end up in the metaphysical section of used bookstores, although they really don't belong there.) I found a couple of old yoga books. One was from the 1960s, rather quaintly old-fashioned, like Richard Hittleman's books seem now. (Hittleman dominated the yoga bookshelves when I was young.) Iyengar's *Light on Yoga*, written around the same time, holds up better.

A more interesting find was *Hatha Yoga* by Yogi Ramacharaka, which was copyrighted 1930, although I found mention of an earlier edition in 1906. I went digging through Project Gutenberg, and found a few more very early yoga books, ranging from 1906 to 1922 -- and it's clear that yoga was taught very differently back in the early days. Annie Besant's book on yoga is entirely metaphysitcal and focused on meditation. She mentions Hatha Yoga, but doesn't give any clues on how to practice it. These early yoga books, when they do mention the physical practices, spent many chapters on diet and healthy living. Pranayama, or breathing exercises, are emphasized a whole lot more than asanas, or the actual yoga poses. Ramacharaka's book has one small chapter of thirteen exercises, only four or five of which were familiar to me. Another startling omission is the static hold -- one of the things that differentiates yoga from other forms of exercise is that you stretch into a position and hold it for a period of time, sometimes several minutes. There is not a hint of that in these books. In fact, a couple of the exercises reminded me of warm-ups I've learned in tai chi class.

So, when Sara Bull was practicing yoga at Green Acre, she was certainly doing something that looked very different from my morning practice. I find myself wondering when the more familiar yoga poses began to be practiced. What's curious is that these early teachers were from India, and one would think that an older, more authentic yoga would have been taught in those early days, with Western adaptations gradually creeping in as it became popular. Of course, another thing we don't know is how much reliance there was on oral instruction -- it could be that some things were considered too esoteric to be published for a general audience.

Anyway, I'm just collecting information as I come across it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

These Boots Are Made for Walkin', but Everything's Too Far Away

I found this website, kind of fun -- put in your address, and it will rate your neighborhood's "walkability" i.e. how many places you need to go that are within walking distance.

My own address is, of course, dismally car-dependent. That's life in the country: you go back to nature, but the whole project is completely dependent upon fossil fuels. Even the places that the map rated as being within walking distance require a trip along rather pedestrian-unfriendly roads. And, of course, there's the time it takes -- for me to walk would expand a short errand into a morning-long project.

Now, the writers of this site claim that there are many small towns that are walker-friendly. I'm sure that's true -- in fact, the address where we lived when first married was rated "very walkable", and I did walk a whole lot more back then. But there's some realities of small town life that are missing, the biggest one being the fact that some goods and services are either limited or nonexistent in a small town and require a trip to a bigger one. The most outstanding one is medical specialists. A person could manage to get to a dentist or a doctor through public transportation, but if they need an endodontist then it means a trip to Chico or Redding.

And if one wants to reach another small town for some reason, then you have to have a car. If you wanted to visit me, you could manage it by public transportation, but it would be very inconvenient. You can take Amtrack from San Francisco to Sacramento, then you'd have to take an Amtrack connecting bus, to a town 10 miles from here. Then, if it's between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. you could catch a local bus that will take you to a connecting point to another local route that will take you within walking distance to my house. Believe me, you're really going to want to come by car, no matter how high the gas prices get. If your starting point is another small northern California town it gets even more complicated.

There are towns you can't even get to at all, without a car, inconveniently or not.

Part of it is that my husband always wanted to live out of town; he'd be even happier if we were surrounded by enough acreage that the neighbors weren't visible. (The other part is that buying a house was more affordable here.) But I'll confess that I find it irritating that nearly everything I want to do requires a trip. If the gas prices get much higher, I'm going to do more shopping by mail order.

Anyway, the walkability maps are fun -- and I can daydream about living in San Francisco, where everything you'd ever want in the world is within a seven square mile area.

Friday, July 04, 2008

How I'm Spending My Summer Vacation

I've often said that there's nothing more boring than someone else's diet and exercise program. On the interest scale, it's like listening to Aunt Martha go on about her aches and pain and doctor visits -- one may resign oneself to being sweetly patient, but there are a whole lot of other things you'd rather be listening to.

However, the same project can be quite absorbing when we ourselves are the subject. It actually requires a certain amount of attention, whether there are calories to be counted, or blood sugar numbers or monitoring one's resting heart rate. Lately, I've had that little warning voice in my mind not to become over-enthusiastic, which leads to burn out and abandonment of what is, at this stage of my life, a necessity.

A couple of weeks ago, I went surfing on the web for local yoga classes. I've gotten to the point where I feel like I can benefit from having a teacher, to make sure I'm doing the poses correctly, etc. I found some at the local fitness center, and Jim says "Why don't you check out the family rates for joining the gym?". As it turns out, we get a deep discount because of his job with the county -- Blue Cross figures they come out ahead financially if they encourage their clients to exercise. I'm especially pleased that Jim is getting involved in this, because his health is a cause for worry.

Anyway, now I'm doing cardio, and weight training, and taking not only yoga classes, but tai chi as well. The classes will necessarily become quite hit-and-miss once school starts, but they're set up so you can just drop in any time. I'm learning a lot, the most important lesson being that exercise drops my blood sugar like a rock. I ate a chili dog last night, just as a rare indulgence, and my blood sugar stayed at such an incredibly low level I thought something was wrong with the tester.

Most days I manage a healthy, pescetarian diet -- sometimes leaning to the super-good and being vegetarian, other times being a bit bad and having a little meat and white flour (as in the aforementioned chili dog). I've discovered that, for me, there are three main diet killers: convenience, boredom, and the "God ,I miss that" moment -- as in "God, I haven't had a chili dog in ages!" The convenience part comes about because my beloved husband thinks the whole notion of vegetarianism is silly, and so he keeps sandwhich meat around, tempting me during hurried lunches, or worse, he decides to make or bring home dinner. And, I give in because it's just easier. The boredom, I suppose, is self-explanatory -- there are times when I just can't look one more veggie stir-fry in the face.

I've actually gained back a little bit of weight, and since my diet has been good, I suspect that I'm putting on muscle because of all this activity. One more reason to stay away from the scale.

I've also been trying to get a handle on my TMJ, which is the painful aftermath of grinding your teeth in your sleep. The mouth guard I paid 400 bucks for is virtually worthless. At best, it keeps me from breaking my teeth, but I'm still enduring a very sore jaw muscle. So, I went to a massage therapist and had a long consultation with one of the yoga teachers. What mostly came out of that is that I am not physically over the car accident I had in January. So, I've been focusing my home yoga practice towards the therapeutic, since I figure I'm getting exercise elsewhere, working on the traumatized and knotted muscles in my jaw, shoulder, neck, and hips. And just trying to relax which, as it turns out, actually requires a good deal of effort.

I was going to put this piece on my private blog, but there are so many folks out there who are looking up exercise and diet stuff on the web, that I figured I'd have my 2 cents out there for the search engines.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

No Surprises

International Teaching Center members Gustavo Correa and Shariar Razavi have been elected to the Universal House of Justice in their recent election -- something that was not only predicted by Baquia, but some quite conservative Baha'is were joking about the fact that it was patently obvious who would be elected. The problem is that there are probably few other Baha'i officials that would be known to all of the members of the world's National Spiritual Assemblies. In a Baha'i election, where any sort of campaigning is forbidden, and you can win by plurality, name recognition is everything. And the ITC deals directly and frequently with the NSAs -- in fact, I've been told that it never corresponds with ordinary individuals, only institutions and appointed officials. NSA members may not know much about NSA members in other countries, but they all know the Counsellors in Haifa.

As Baquia notes, this is the first year where all members of the UHJ are former ITC members -- the House, in essence, appoints its own future members. It's a closed system. Now, I've heard some hardliners venture the opinion that the composition of the House doesn't matter -- but this is utterly foolish. You have nine men consulting on the direction of the Baha'i world and making decisions about it -- of course the attitudes of the individuals matter, their experience and background. They aren't sitting around a table in Haifa taking dictation from God; they talk about things, and express their own opinions in those discussions and through a vote. And now, all of them come from a background where they engage in "protection" i.e. heresy-hunting, and are appointed to their positions instead of being elected .

I've heard it, only half-jokingly, suggested that the only way out of the dilemma of the international Counsellors being the only ones well-enough known to be elected is to make the ITC all-female, so that the members of that body would be ineligible to be elected. But I wouldn't hold my breath. . . .

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Breaking Baha'i News Stories

Besides the one on Iran below, there are two other news stories making the rounds of Baha'i cyberspace:

The Baha'i News Service has just announced the retirement of Harmut Grossman and Glenford Mitchell from the Universal House of Justice. Mitchell, of course, has been on the UHJ for many years and is due for retirement, but Grossman was elected just a few years ago -- although, at age 74 it seems reasonable for him to retire as well, even if he's served only a single term. It seems to me that there has been more turnover on the House than there once was, which is a good thing. What's not so good, and has been much discussed on various forums, is that all the new House members have come from the ITC, making appointment to that body a virtual nomination to the House. Here's to hoping that the next election is a deviation from that trend. In the only case where I was given the opportunity to observe the upper institutions closely, it seemed to me that the appointed ITC -- which has "protection" as part of its explicit job -- was far more harsh and condemning than the House itself, which was trying to stay more neutral, even distant, and in the end it did the right thing for the particular person involved. The appointed wing is scary: Although technically without power, it wields a tremendous influence that has had a negative impact on some people's lives -- the ramifications of which are still being felt. Anyway, I hope the NSAs elect someone from their ranks this time.

The second story is that the
US NSA court case against two Remeyite groups has failed.. Apparently, the NSA was arguing that these groups were in contempt of a 1966 court decision against Remey's original group disallowing them from using Baha'i copyrighted symbols. The court found that these successor groups are materially different from the original one set up by Mason Remey. Of course, there's nothing stopping the NSA from suing each of these groups individually, as far as I can tell -- and I suspect that's what will happen. But if their complaint is based upon web pages, they're going to have to not only sue the leadership of these groups, but every individual member who is using these symbols. This all could be in court a long time.

I have very little sympathy with these splinter groups -- one is fundamentalist and the other just plain nuts. Nevertheless, I'm uncomfortable with the notion that religous symbols are copyrighted; it seems very sectarian. Nobody owns the cross or the crescent, after all. And I don't think there is a significant danger that anyone who is halfway paying attention is going to confuse these groups with the mainstream Baha'i Faith, so all this litigation seems like a lot of time and effort for very little gain.

The Rising Generation in Iran

I seldom say much about the persecution of Baha'is in Iran -- besides the fact that I'm certainly no expert on Iranian affairs, there's very little to say, except what a horrible violation of human rights it is. And, I've been hearing predictions of the Islamic Republic's fall my whole adult life, so I'm a bit skeptical about yet another one. However, no regime, however totalitarian, is immune from the change of the generations -- even if there isn't a counter-revolution, there is bound to be counter-evolution.

From the article The Mullah's Achilles' Heel: Iran's Youth:

Notwithstanding the Mullahs' pretensions, the Islamic Republic is built less on the sublime spirituality of religion and more on the profane temptations of power. In placing so much focus on demonizing the peaceful Baha'i minority and threatening human rights champions, such as Dr. Ebadi, the hardliners betray the emptiness of their beliefs and ideals, which must be imposed through violence and intimidation.

Instead of celebrating the transcendent values of compassion and justice, which inspired a glorious and pluralistic Islamic civilization for centuries, Iran's self-appointed clerical rulers promote a hateful and ignorant totalitarian ideology. Some of the most vigorous dissent against clerical rule is by clerics themselves, both orthodox and reformist, calling for separation of religion and state, consistent with 500 years of Shia tradition. Many Islamic clerics are persecuted and there is even a special court for the prosecution of dissident clergy.

A regime that does not enjoy a democratic mandate, and which is unresponsive to popular demands for a prosperous and open society, desperately needs foreign conspiracies, heresies and other enemies within to legitimize its rule. But time is not on the hardliners' side. The reality is that 70% of Iranians are less than 30 years of age, many are Internet-savvy, glued to satellite television and have very little toleration for the Islamic utopia promised by their leaders when the evidence of national decline is apparent everywhere.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Karen's Now on Facebook

Just thought I'd give folks a head's up, in case any of my online friends are into the whole social networking site thing. It took me a while to get around to it -- my main exposure to the phenomenon was scolding my teenage daughter for the kinds of things she puts on hers, and occasionally insisting on deletions.

Right now, I'm mostly having fun messing around with the applications, putting books and music on the site. I don't have many "friends", i.e. folks who are allowed to see the site, but then, neither do most of my friends. I admit some shyness about requesting "friends" on there, even though people do it all the time. I don't have a picture up yet, either.

So, it's not profound -- even kind of silly, but that's what I've been up to lately.

Click on the title of this blog entry for the page -- but I think you have to join Facebook yourself in order to see it.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Refusing to Take Men for an Answer

Yeah, I know I said yesterday that folks don't seem to come here to read news stories, but I couldn't resist this one:

Many years ago, when she was still a tiny girl in braids, and not the professional she is today, Eufrosina Cruz heard the story of how her father married off her sister to a stranger at age 12: She wondered if a man might come to claim her too.

Being a girl isn't easy in Santa Maria Quiegolani, a poor rural village where Zapotec is the native language and most girls are lucky to complete grade school.

Cruz left to eventually become a college-educated accountant. But now, at age 27, she has returned to her old village in the mountains of Oaxaca, and stirred up a gender war.

This is a woman with a heck of a lot of guts. Click on the title to read more.

Friday, April 04, 2008

How Privileged Are You?

I was thinking about posting a news story today, but I'm finding that folks aren't visiting the blog for news stories -- the Baha'i posts get far and away more visits. The only non-Baha'i subjects that get any significant traffic are those on education and Maggie Ross. So, there's no sense in me posting news stories just to keep the blog updated.

This has been doing the rounds of the blogosphere, though, and I thought I'd chime in. It was based on an exercise about class and privilege developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you participate in this blog game, they ask that you PLEASE acknowledge their copyright.

Some of these were difficult to answer because I had four different "childhood homes" before I was 18 -- and they were quite different from each other: 1. My brother and I lived with Mom and Dad (birth to age 9); 2. My mother and us kids lived with my maternal grandparents during my parents' divorce and ensuing custody battle(age 9 to 11); 3. My brother and I lived with my dad and stepmother, and her two kids(age 11 to 14); 4. I left my dad's house to live with Grandma and Grandpa again. (age 14 to age 20).

So, answering something like this gets a little complicated for me. (Probably that in itself makes me less "privileged". ) Dad had more money than my grandparents, but they were more likely to have an interest in things this test marks as high status, like books, art, and music -- in spite of not having finished high school. My paternal grandmother had some college education, as well as musical training, but I didn't live with her -- and Dad had a different attitude.

Everybody else who has this on their blog bolds the ones that apply, so I'll do the same.

1. Father went to college
2. Father finished college
3. Mother went to college
4. Mother finished college
5. Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home. (Probably my grandparents had this many.)
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.
9. Were read children's books by a parent. (This one's really a "maybe". I have memories of reading to my mother, but not vice versa.)
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18 (Swimming lessons)
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18.
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively.
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs.
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
16. Went to a private high school
17. Went to summer camp
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18.
19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels. (Dad liked to travel, but he always pulled a trailer.)
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18. ( I had hand-me-downs when I was living with Dad and stepmom -- where there were four kids to take care of, but not in the other homes I lived in.)
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them. (I bought a hand-me-down car -- Grandma's Mustang.)
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child.(I had a great-grandmother, my maternal grandmother's mother, who loved to paint. The smell of oil paint always reminds me of her, and one of her paintings adorns my wall to this day. But she wasn't a professional artist or anything.)
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house.
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home.
25. You had your own room as a child.(from age 10, although for a brief period when I was 12 I didn't have a room and slept on the couch.)
26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18.
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course.
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.(not in high school -- my brother and I had a little black-and-white tv when we were little kids, but I never had one after that.)
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college.
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16. (Once, I think. Actually my flying experience was mostly on my paternal grandfather's Cessna.)
31. Went on a cruise with your family.
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family.
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.(I went with people other than my parents.)
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.( I find this one kind of weird -- how many parents tell their kids how much their bills are?)

So, I only have nine of the 34, so that makes me approximately 26% privileged? I'm actually uncertain as to how this is supposed to be scored -- I wonder what the original authors actually did with this exercise. Just count up how many kids in the class had their own rooms growing up or had parents who bought them cars?

This appears to exclude anything that would be considered a necessity -- like food, shelter, or medical care. Compared to much of the world, just the fact that we have those means we're in the upper tier. Also, there would be a significant difference between generations here -- my grandparents wouldn't have been able to answer "yes" to any of these, and my parents to very few, and my children to several more.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The World's Fastest Growing Religions

My friend Baquia, has mentioned on Baha'i Rants that
Foreign Policy has named the Baha'i Faith as the second-fastest growing religion. What I found interesting was *why* it was so listed -- that is, because about a quarter of Baha'is live in India, and there are high birthrates there. In fact, four of the religions on the list -- the Baha'i Faith, Sikhism, Jainism and Hindusim -- have high growth rates attributable to the fact that a large percentage are in India.

A few years back, there was a lot of discussion about how solid the numbers of Baha'is in India actually are. There's over a million on the rolls, but in India there tends to be a more inclusive Baha'i identity, so that many Baha'is still bring Hindu practices and identity with them. My guess would be that you have a range of commitment, just like you do in the U.S. No doubt there are some on the rolls that have reverted to Hinduism, some who are wholly Baha'i, and a portion in the middle with a mixture. I've heard reports of Indian Baha'is having pictures of 'Abdu'l-Baha' right next to Hindu gods on the family altar, or of them performing puja, which is Hindu worship. I recall one book speaking of "distinctive Hindu-Baha'i forms of worship". In such a case, a person looking in from the outside might have a hard time figuring out what religion these folks belong to.

As Baquia mentioned, the Indian census put the Baha'i numbers very low, but I think it likely that some were missed -- it depends on how the census was done. If assumptions were made about certain areas being Hindu, so that the whole population was attributed to that religion, rather than census workers going door-to-door, then certainly a lot of Baha'is were missed. If every household was carefully accounted for, like they do in the U.S.(although, of course, our census forms don't ask about religion), then that low number would have to be accurate and the Baha'i rolls are way off base. But I think the former case more likely.

Another thing that struck me about this article is the key factor of population growth. I always think of "growth" in a religion as being conversion -- people decide to join. But that comes from my experience, I guess. The only religion named on FP's list where conversion was a major factor was Christianity.

The notion of growing up in a religion is foreign to me. It's not that I didn't have some religious training -- I was sent to church at various times during my childhood, although it was not a regular thing. My interest in religion was very personal, even as a child. And, as time went on, the Protestant Christianity I grew up with became less dominant within the family. I used to joke with friends that I'm a heretic in my family, not because I'm a Baha'i, but because I don't believe in reincarnation! Actually, the notion that family pressure could influence my spiritual decisions makes me very uncomfortable; I've always charted my own path. I can't imagine just parroting my family's ideas about anything -- religion, politics, the role of women, child-rearing, or whatever. In fact, I was raised to be independent and wary of authority.

But I guess my experience -- and my family -- is unusual. According to the stats, most people do identify with the religion of their parents, even if they don't stay active practitioners. I expect the rates would be even higher in traditional societies in the global South.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Growing Up Online

Last week, we watched a Frontline special on the Iraq War, and I got the notion to go looking through Frontline's many fine episodes, and found one on kids and the Internet -- not just the dire warnings, but talking to kids about what it means to them and so on.

I have a very sociable teenage daughter, and technology has definitely made things different from when I was young. Not only does the phone ring all afternoon, beginning from when school lets out, kids will also call at ungodly hours of the night. The reason for that is that they are on cellphones, parents are asleep, and they don't stop to think that the number that they are calling is not a cellphone kept on vibrate, but the main phone in the kitchen that will disturb the whole family. I've seen Tory talk with the house phone on one ear, and her dad's cell (which she shares) on the other.

And all of this isn't enough; Tory's also got MySpace -- the 21st century teenage hangout. Now, she's never done anything as extreme as the kids described on the program. For that matter, neither have the vast majority of kids online. And, I'm probably a bit more web-savvy than most parents -- that, and my daughter doesn't have her own computer, and tends to be rather careless about signing out. I usually am unhappy at what I find when I do have the opportunity to peek. (She objects strenuously to this parental intrusion, of course.) The way kids talk to each other is *disgusting*, at least to my middle-aged eyes. It's not the lurking pedophile, either -- it's just local kids, who she also knows in real life. As for control, she got herself banned from my computer, but still has access to her brother's laptop -- a tool he needs for college.

But the Frontline program made some good points:

*The Internet has brought about the biggest generation gap since the invention of rock-and-roll. I personally think it's technology, in general, and includes things like cell phones, texting, IMs, etc. Kids that age always have wanted to create an identity seperate from that of their parents -- but technology makes it so much easier now. They not only create their own identity, but their own world. There's some truth to this, but it's possible to make too much of it. Changing times always create kind of a gap. I grew up with television; my parents didn't. I had the opportunity to go to college; my parents didn't. My generation of young women grew up with the Pill and legal abortion; my parents didn't. I don't know if the Internet represents a more startling change than those things.

*The only major study done on the subject indicates that most kids know to just delete any sexual solicitation, so the fear about predetors may be overblown. The only time a guy suggested Tory meet him in real life got put down quick. Tory called him a pedophile and told him to get lost. In reality, he sounded more like some young guy trying to pick up on a girl he thought was closer to his own age -- but her reaction was reassuring. The many known-in-real-life guys who talk to her on MySpace, I'm less reassured about. I consider them much more worrisome than the dirty old man trolling for kids.

*Kids make plans to party and do other things they aren't supposed to online. Duh! Teenage cyberspace is teenagers without adult supervision, which spells teenage stupidity every time. Not to be unfair, but even good kids are dumb -- young necessarily means lacking in experience and wisdom. If we're honest about our own youth, we can certainly see some stupidity there, particularly when we figured our parents weren't looking.

*The Frontline special talked about cyber-bullying, which has, in some well-publicized cases, led to teenage suicide. From what I can tell, that hasn't been a problem with my daughter's friends. There doesn't even appear to be much in the way of the catty squabbling that I remember from my high school days. I see an awful lot of vulgarity, but I don't see meanness. Maybe that's just the crowd my kid hangs with. My experience with online meanness is with adults. I can see how an emotionally vulnerable teenager could get into trouble out here, though.

Anyway, it was an interesting look at the teenage cyberworld. Click on the title of this blog entry; you can watch the entire thing on the web.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Humor Break

I wasn't always a Baha'i, you know. When I was a kid, I went to church -- and around the year 1972 the movie "Thief in the Night" was all the rage. I was twelve, not eight as the song says -- but I always remembered the lyric:

Two men walking up a hill
One disappears, and one's left standing still
I wish we'd all been ready
There's no time to change your mind
The Son has come
And you've been left behind

Randy Bonifield remembers it, too, and pokes gentle fun in this song:

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Correcting "Baha'i Views"

Here's something that I wrote some time ago, but was holding on to until after the Fast -- I generally make an effort to stay out of controversy during that period:

Ever since Moojan Momen's paper "Marginality and Apostasy" came out, George Wesley Dannells of Baha'i Views has become inordinately fond of the term "apostate", and has posted several times about how terrible we all are. But you know who else is fond of that term? The Iranian government, who applies it to all Baha'is. Google "Baha'i apostates" sometime and see what comes up. Yes, the term can be used in a social science context; it is also a vicious epithet on the lips of the orthodox. Baha'i Views is not a social science journal and George is not studying us. He is using "apostate" in the exact same sense that an Iranian mulla would -- as a way to condemn and to warn others about the people in question.

In any case, some of the things he says seem to indicate a profound ignorance of who we are, and what we're saying. So, at the risk of putting myself in the middle of the maelstrom, I think some corrections are in order:

Claim: The "apostates" don't teach the Faith.

False. Alison Marshall has a teaching website. Baha'is Online and Baha'i Rants have a variety of positive stories about the Baha'i community, as well as critical ones.

Claim: "Have you noticed they never post about children?"

False. I have a lot of posts here about education -- I am. after all, a teacher. This critique seems particularly bizarre to me, because the lack of resources for my kids is one issue that greatly frustrated me when I was enrolled. No use talking about "core activities" now -- childhood passes swiftly; they can't wait years for the local community to get its act together. Our children's classes here were active when my kids were infants, then largely dropped out of sight. It's true my kids aren't Baha'is, but most of the kids that attended those long-ago classes are estranged from the community now. So, it's not like the Baha'i community has done such a stellar job at retaining these children after they grow up. The old saying about people who live in glass houses not throwing stones come to mind.

Claim:"Death to Baha'is" is being scratched on doorways even today in Iran. And yet the Internet Anti-Baha'i Society is not moved, and is focused instead on its own apostate narratives and mythology."

False. Both Baha'i Rants and Baha'is Online, the two main websites that George complains about, are replete with stories about what the Iranian Baha'is are suffering -- almost every news story that comes out finds its way to one or the other. Several on the list of Moojan's "apostates" have made public statements about the Iranian government's shameful violation of human rights and religious freedom that Baha'is must endure in that country.

There is also another jab, that while not exactly false is exceedingly silly: George put both "Baha'i" and "unenrolled Baha'i" into a search, and found that the latter had an infinitesmal percentage of the "Baha'i" total. I'm not sure what this is supposed to prove, but search engines look for words, and even on unenrolled sites, the word "Baha'i" is likely to be used far more often than the specific term "unenrolled Baha'i" -- so a comparison like that tells you nothing. Not only do I use the word "Baha'i" much more often, I also use the abbreviation "UB" which wouldn't be picked up on a search. In any case, not all religionists are as obsessed with numbers as the administrative Faith is. For example, nobody knows how many Sufis there are in the U.S., because they simply don't keep those kinds of statistics; trotting out numbers to prove their progress just isn't important to them. I don't see why it ought to be important to unenrolled Baha'is, either -- I wouldn't even try to hazard a guess at the numbers.

Besides, the whole premise of this kind of numbers game is wrong: I don't view unenrolled Baha'is as being in competition with the Baha'i Faith organization. Why should we be? We're all believers in Baha'u'llah, after all. But not everyone's a joiner -- as the growing number of unaffiliated religionists in this country indicates. It would be nice if Baha'is took the approach that Christian churches do towards unchurched Christians -- they ask themselves how they can attract such people into community activity, instead of sneering about how "insignificant" they are.

There are other things I could get into -- it seems that George feels the need to mention the apostates/marginals/opposition about twice a week. But one thing I will agree with him on: The Internet is changing; people have backed away from the turmoil of debate that seems almost inevitable on forums. It's one reason I started blogging, and I'm sure that's true for others as well. I'm sure that's all to the good -- may we all generate more light than heat!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Common Tables: Breaking Bread and Boundaries

Here's a project that I think would warm the cockles of any Baha'i heart:

CASTLE ROCK, COLO. -- The four couples were just settling into small talk over appetizers when Kenneth Holloman cleared his throat.

"Would the group permit me to ask an impertinent question?" he said. "How many here believe there's a hell?"

It was not your typical icebreaker.

But then, this was not your typical dinner party.

The couples, strangers to one another, had been brought together by Common Tables, a nonprofit that aims to nurture interfaith friendships. Holloman is an atheist; his wife, a Methodist. Their group included a Jewish couple; a Baptist minister and his wife; and a couple who left the Mormon Church and now belong to a New Age movement called Religious Science.

Common Tables puts together group rosters and asks members to meet for dinner at least four times. Participants can talk about theology or the weather. They can share prayers or photos of their children. Nothing's required. And nothing is off-limits, except proselytizing. The point is simply to reach out, to shake hands with a Buddhist, enjoy a glass of wine with a Wiccan, share laughs with a Sikh or an agnostic or a Jain.

"We're not trying to solve academic or theological problems," said Randy Harris, who co-founded Common Tables last spring in Denver's suburbs.

"We just want to help people realize they can honor and respect each other. They can get along."

Traditionally, interfaith work has been left mostly to religious leaders, who gathered a few times a year for a unity breakfast or panel discussion. Where grass-roots groups existed, they often focused on drawing together diverse congregations for service projects, such as cleaning up a neighborhood park.

Since Sept. 11, however, veteran interfaith activists have noticed a hunger among Americans for more personal, one-on-one connections across religious lines. For many, it began with a desire to meet Muslims, to work past the fear and anger raised by the terrorist attacks. Since then, the movement has broadened. In some cities, parents are even organizing interfaith Sunday schools to teach their children Bahai, Zoroastrian or Greek Orthodox values.

"People know they have to develop the capacity to get out of their comfort zone," said Jill Carroll, executive director of Rice University's Boniuk Center for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance.

Harris and his co-founders believe in the concept so passionately, they all quit their jobs to devote themselves to Common Tables. They hope to build a national movement; for now, they're working on calling every house of worship in the greater Denver phone book. So far, they've signed up more than 300 participants and set 20 groups in motion.

There's more to the article, but the Blogger software keeps telling me that the URL is illegal. However, it's a recent story, still being featured on the LA Times Religion page. You can find the organization at, which Blogger won't put through, either.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Kyrgyzstan's Religious Laws

The Presidential Administration has rejected for now a harsh new Decree which would have brought in sweeping controls on religious activity. But Kanat Murzakhalilov, Deputy Head of the State Agency for Religious Affairs, told Forum 18 News Service that his agency hopes to present a final draft of a controversial new Religion Law to the government by the end of March. He refused to say if the draft will require 200 adult citizen members before a community can gain legal status, a provision in the latest publicly-available draft which is opposed by the Russian Orthodox, the Catholics, many Protestant Churches, the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Baha'is. But he stated that registration will continue to be compulsory. Boris Shumkov of the Council of Churches Baptists told Forum 18 that such harsh provisions "would lead to repression and persecution of our congregations". They have named 5 March a day of prayer and fasting. "Our country has so many urgent problems – poverty, the lack of medicine, Aids, crime, corruption," one Baha'i told Forum 18. "Why don't officials work on these instead of making life harder for religious believers?"

Well, it's good that the harshest version of this law isn't going to be passed, but I have to agree with the Baha'i quoted there that this government -- any government -- would be better occupied elsewhere. And good on him/her for standing up.

Here's the defense for the law: But Fr Dronov insisted that a new Law is necessary. "The current Law is too liberal and should be amended. Registration should be better regulated. And the problem at present is that faiths new to Kyrgyzstan have the same rights as faiths that have been here for a long time. New groups should have fewer rights as they are not part of the established culture here. Some new sects are harmful and should be restricted."

Among those Fr Dronov singled out as needing tighter control were Pentecostal Christians, which he alleged "harm members' psychological health". However, he admitted that no medically-documented proof of such harm was yet available.

It makes me think that the Pentacostals have had rather more success in Kyrgyzstan than Fr Dronov is comfortable with.

Click on this blog entry's title to get the whole article -- and there are further links at the bottom of the article for anybody who wants to read up on the situation.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

And the blog goes on . . .

As most of my online friends know, I'm recovering from a car accident that happened about a month ago. I'm at a point in my recovery now where I'm well enough to mess around online, but not well enough to do much of anything else. I made a few attempts at housework today -- didn't get very far before I wore out. We still haven't replaced the car that got smashed up, so I'm pretty much stuck at home.

I added a little gadget that tracks who has been on this blog, which has been kind of fun, because I can tell where folks are coming from, and what page they've come to see. I had one where I had to check a web page, but I've forgotten my password and just haven't bothered with it for a long time. I was surprised that I'm still attracting traffic here. After all, I haven't done much to update it -- when I do feel like writing these days, it has been mostly on my private blog Karen's Path, where I just muse about my own spiritual life. "Karen's Thoughts" is my blog for broader issues, which I mostly haven't been in the mood to talk about.

Nevertheless, folks are still dropping in, mostly from search engines, or links on other pages. The biggest draw, of course, is what I've written on Baha'i issues -- but the people are not just my online friends. I'm getting visitors from places like Kiev and Hamadan, where I don't know anybody.

It seems to me that Baha'i cyberspace is making a big shift from discussion groups to blogs -- although sometimes the blog comment sections are virtually discussion groups, to the point they aren't really comments on the blog post at all.

Anyway, I'm hearing that Baha'is are being encouraged to start blogs, which is a huge turnaround from ten years ago, when ABMs where telling Baha'is to stay off the Internet in order to avoid the Remeyites and Talismanians.

Blogs carry a different dynamic than email lists and the like. For one thing, there isn't as much repetition of the same issues. A blogger has to come up with something new, even if it's just news about, or a new angle on, an old issue. Debating forums tend to get stuck -- in the worst places I've seen flame wars last for literal years, with scant content other than name-calling. Even the better forums tend to recycle things, especially as new people come on -- the old issues and questions are new to them, and that sparks the debate all over again. There's less "noise" on a blog. And I think more Baha'i bloggers is going to mean more creative thinking -- at least those that keep being updated. After all, if you have to write on a regular basis, odds are you're going to have to do some actual thinking sometime.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Quarter of Americans Change Faiths

Click on this entry's title to get the article from the New York Times. I found this interesting:

“The trend is toward more personal religion, and evangelicals offer that,” said Mr. Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University, who explained that evangelical churches tailor many of their activities for youth. “Those losing out are offering impersonal religion and those winning are offering a smaller scale: mega-churches succeed not because they are mega but because they have smaller ministries inside.”

What, I wonder, is an "impersonal religion"?

The article also notes the increasing numbers of unaffiliated, which has become our fourth-largest religious group:

The rise of the unaffiliated does not mean that Americans are becoming less religious, however. Contrary to assumptions that most of the unaffiliated are atheists or agnostics, most described their religion “as nothing in particular.” Pew researchers said that later projects would delve more deeply into the beliefs and practices of the unaffiliated and would try to determine if they remain so as they age.

[Update: This article is catching the attention of other Baha'is, too. Notably, on Correlating and on the discussion group talisman9 Knowing Steve Marshall, I expect it to be up on Baha'is Online before the evening's out.]