Archive for the ‘human nature’ Category

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Reparative therapy and the things Bahais say

November 30, 2012

A friend posted the following on facebook recently:

Peter Drake, sent me the following email to let me know that he will be appearing on the Dr. Oz show to discuss the harm caused by “reparative therapy” for gay people.

I hope you will be able to watch the program, as it is important for Baha’is to be clear about the dangers of something that is suggested in our literature.

I appeared on the Dr. Oz show, about reparative therapy, which will air nationally on Wednesday, November 28th in the afternoon. Clay Aiken and a host of others were also on the show. This has become an international topic of great importance. California’s recent ban on this form of therapy is being challenged in court very soon, so the debate still rages. It is professional malpractice, and highly dangerous — particularly for youth.

Here is what a British publication has to say this week:
“this September, California became the first state in the nation to outlaw “conversion therapy” – basically, trying to make gay people straight – for children and teenagers. Jerry Brown, the governor, calls ex-gay therapy “quackery”, but it’s actually worse than that. The American Psychological Association, in a 2009 report, found that not only does conversion therapy have no effect on a patient’s sexual orientation, but it can also lead to depression, if not suicide. And while it’s harmful enough for adults, for more vulnerable teenagers the inculcation of inferiority and sinfulness that conversion therapy relies on can have lifelong effects.“
The Guardian, 23 Nov 2012

I hope you find a moment to watch or record this show. You’ll see quite a vehement exchange of opinions, well beyond the usual realm of Dr. Oz’s topics. I applaud him for taking this on, and it was quite an experience to be a part of the show!

 
So how did a few Bahais respond to this?

Well, prejudice against gays by Bahais seems to be alive and well with responses such as:

What is in the Baha’i Writings is the general principle to pray and to consult physicians in matters of health. In this particular instance, “through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer.” It would be wise for us as Baha’is to also reflect on the danger to us of continuing conduct that is in violation of the laws of God.

So this Bahai (lets call him X) thinks being gay is in violation of the laws of God, and so forgive me while I roll around on the floor in a fit of laughter. Ok I’m back now. Yes, that’s right reader, such an idea contradicts the Bahai teaching that we are all born beautiful (“I knew My love for thee: therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image” Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, Arabic nr. 3), born without sin (“Know thou that every soul is fashioned after the nature of God, each being pure and holy at his birth”. Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 189.), and, in fact, born in the image of God (“chosen Thee to be the manifestation of Mine Own Self”, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 38. See my blog for more examples of this holistic perspective of the human condition.).

But this Bahai was not finished. He continued with paragraph, after paragraph, after paragraph, about how Bahais must obey Baha’u’llah’s laws. Reading it sent shudders down my spine because the approach was just like an old-fashioned fire and brimstone Bible-basher. Baha’u’llah’s words were being used like hammers and not like the “choice wine” (Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraph 5) Baha’u’llah wrote was the intent for his laws. Wine is a metaphor, of course, because Bahai’s do not drink alcohol, but the metaphor was used because one sips wine and consumes it selectively and chooses to enjoy it.

A law is not very meaningful to anyone if removed from its context, and so the paragraphs, all taken out of context, told me as a reader, this person hates gays so much he uses Baha’u’llah’s text like ammunition and throws it out insinuating that anyone who doesn’t think ‘gays should be cured’ is unwilling to obey Baha’u’llah and therefore is a bad Bahai. All good and fine: Bahais are free to express themselves, prejudices and all, and this was just one person’s response. But I continue with this train of thought because I ran against this idea of ‘obedience’ in relation to a blog by another Bahai who, while he wrote that there is nothing wrong with being gay, added: it is a difficult line to walk as an individual believer to profess equality while also adhering to an infallible faith that prohibits it.

I asked him if this meant that he thought there’s nothing to be done in making the Bahai community more welcoming of gays.

His response (you can read it here) would require another blog, but briefly his argument was that we must obey the Bahai administration even if we disagree with it and that individuals such as himself should make their views public so gay Bahais know who they are and that they have their support.

What he stated is a Bahai Teaching, that for the sake of unity it is best to work together even if the decision is wrong.

Here’s the text from Abdu’l-Baha: “It is my hope that the friends and the maid-servants of America become united on all subjects and not disagree at all. If they agree upon a subject, even though it be wrong, it is better than to disagree and be in the right, for this difference will produce the demolition of the divine foundation. Though one of the parties may be in the right and they disagree that will be the cause of a thousand wrongs, but if they agree and both parties are in the wrong, as it is in unity the truth will be revealed and the wrong made right.” Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 411

and another,
“The honoured members must with all freedom express their own thoughts, and it is in no wise permissible for one to belittle the thought of another, nay, he must with moderation set forth the truth, and should differences of opinion arise a majority of voices must prevail, and all must obey and submit to the majority. It is again not permitted that any one of the honoured members object to or censure, whether in or out of the meeting, any decision arrived at previously, though that decision be not right, for such criticism would prevent any decision from being enforced. In short, whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and purity of motive, its result is light, and should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness…” Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 88

So Bahais obey a decision made by an L.S.A. (a Bahai local administrative body) or a Bahai institution acting within its authority, but Abdu’l-Bahá also outlines that policies made by such bodies may, and are meant to, change (“The House of Justice is both the initiator and the abrogator of its own laws.” See more on my blog). So clearly this teaching doesn’t mean that Bahais cannot disagree or cannot present argumentation or have a discussion about a topic that has been ruled on.

 
So what has been ruled upon and how does this work?

When writing on the topic of homosexuality the Universal House of Justice has tended to refer to letters written by secretaries on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. These letters are not part of Bahai scripture, however the U.H.J.’s role, as head of the Bahai community, is to make policy on areas not covered by Bahai Scripture. This means they are free to refer to what they wish. While their policies which are part of a machinery “to keep it in the forefront of all progressive movements” shouldn’t contradict any of the Bahai Teachings, both Shoghi Effendi and Abdu’i-Baha wrote that “another House of Justice will then have power, according to the exigencies of the time, to alter that law. This it can do because that law formeth no part of the divine explicit text.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah by Shoghi Effendi, p. 22-23)

So clearly any reference to do with infallibility of the Universal of Justice is in relation to their role as head of the Bahai Faith and not to do with interpretation or particular policies. That makes sense because otherwise we would have policy after policy building up on top of earlier ones and we would end up with a bureaucratic nightmare as the decades moved on. But we are spared this problem because of this separation between policy and scripture. Only what Shoghi Effendi penned in his own hand is considered interpretation and interwoven with the scripture penned by The Bab, Baha’u’llah, and Abdu’l-Baha.

 
So what is the latest policy on the topic
of homosexuality and is it different to earlier policies?

To my knowledge the Oct 2010 letter from the Universal House of Justice is the most current policy statement on homosexuality, and the first time that there is policy encouraging the Bahai community to take a neutral position in regards to same-sex partnerships and they compare this policy to the current Bahai policy on party politics. That as individuals, Bahais are free to vote and are encouraged to be involved in political systems but not to join or be active members of any political party.

Their letter stresses that as a community Bahais must remain neutral on whether they support or do not support same-sex marriage but they must work at removing all forms of prejudice against gays (“regarding homosexuality and civil rights, … Baha’is are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith.” The whole letter is here).

Now an L.S.A. in an area where same-sex marriage is legal can accept a homosexual marriage as equal to a heterosexual marriage. However the same letter also states that a marriage is between “a man and a
woman”
. So what can an L.S.A. do? I’d say look at the writings and look at the context of the situation. Would it be discrimination to treat a same-sex couple differently? If the answer is yes, then I would say the answer should be clear.

However whenever I bring this up, I’m told this idea is a challenge or that it is not possible. A lesser reason is that this is a new policy that has yet to filter into the Bahai community.

A bigger reason is that Bahais still promote the idea that gays need to be fixed. One example is the existence of the BNASAA program (Bahá’í Network on AIDS, Sexuality, Addictions, and Abuse) whose pages advocate that gays can ‘pray’ their gayness’ away (“Any individual so afflicted must, through prayer, and any other means, seek to overcome this handicap.” is just one of the Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi which are quoted as if this is a Bahai Teaching, Accessed 30 November 2012). The fact that this committee is also a committee for AIDS, drug abuse and addiction speaks volumes about how homosexuality is associated with illness.

And if anyone ventures to wikipedia for a Bahai view on homosexuality, the current state of play there is the statement that “homosexuality is not a condition to which a person should be reconciled, but is a distortion of his or her nature which should be controlled or overcome.” (Letter of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 12 January 1973; Lights of Guidance, p. 366, #1222) and gays are to be “advised and sympathized with.” (Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual, 21 May 1954; Lights of Guidance, p. 365, #1221)

So what we have at the moment in the Bahai community and in its public face on this issue is the general attitude that there is something wrong with being gay.

This is in direct conflict with the most recent statement from the Universal House of Justice in its 2010 letter urging Baha’is to work at removing all forms of discrimination. This conflict signals a need for something to change.

Often Bahais have brought up arguments related to morality or the role of sex. Who one loves is not the same thing as celibacy or sexual behaviour. This four minute video summarizes the distinctions between gender, orientation (what reparative therapy attempts to ‘cure’), sex, and behaviour.


Watch this in a separate window if your connection is slow.

There’s no need to confuse morality or behaviour with orientation.

And back to the discussion on facebook, another Bahai wrote: there is an assumption that there is something to fix in the first place.
and another:
In the Baha’i Writings, there is such an assumption. However, I feel it is most respectful to view people as spiritual beings who have the dignity of choosing what they will take in and what they won’t; of defining who they really are; and even if such therapy existed which assisted people to change their sexual orientation, which was not proven harmful, of having the dignity to choose for themselves whether or not to participate.

So most Bahais in that discussion didn’t share the view that gays need to be fixed, but the initial poster (Mr. X) continued with more quotations on law and obedience and asserted the following personal views:

People have to decide whether they’re going to listen to the worldly-wise, and to the gay magazines, and to public opinion — or whether they are going to listen to the Word of God, in their lives. We all make that choice, all day
It is not for us to modify the Cause of God. It is for us to defer to the Will of God, not foolishly strive to change what is written in our texts.

So, forget all those teachings about the independent investigation of truth, Bahais are not to question anything!

Forget about religion needing to be reconciled with science!

Forget about the notion that change is the immutable law of nature – everything changes, and there are mechanisms built into the Bahai Faith to enable it to adapt to changing times!

No, Mr. X believes that everything we understand now is as it will be for the next thousand years. We will just have to ignore any evolutions in human knowledge relating to physical and spiritual reality.

Another response to Mr X’s torrent of quotations was:
And I feel that it would indeed be necessary to destroy such a God, a god who rules by Law alone and not through the whisperings of the Spirit, not through the brightness of the Inner Light. Such a God is, I feel, profoundly wrong and awfully harmful in the real world and ought to be rooted out of our spiritual culture. If I met the Buddha on the road I might not kill him, but if I met God up on the ridge as the last light fell, I would wrestle with him until dawn, just like Jacob did (Genesis 32:24-32), crying ‘Let my people go! Take your wretched book of dumb laws away from us, and leave us be!’

Here is where I stand on this subject: While some Bahais might think being a Bahai is about following rules or laws, I and a number of others see the rules or laws made by Baha’u’llah as ‘choice wine’ – to be tasted, to be applied in tune with the Bahai Teachings and in harmony with ever-evolving scientific knowledge. This is not an excuse or cop out, after all isn’t that the point of Baha’u’llah’s own laws – that religious laws are not static but contextual.

The most important teaching is unity. You can’t have unity when some people are treated differently than others.

However well meant, even feeling sorry for another person because of their difference, is prejudice. Sometimes feeling pity is worse than outright expressions of prejudice because then, at least, the words are expressed, as in the postings by Mr. X above. And then someone like me can make a blog about this.

Science has weighed in on the subject of reparative therapy (see my blog: On the psychopathology of homosexuality) and has judged it to be not only ineffective, but harmful. Bahais are required to uphold the principle of the essential unity of science and religion. It follows, therefore, that Bahai Institutions’ must modify the current public position that homosexuality is an illness which can be cured or is a handicap of some form.

A future installment will be about “what is suggested in Bahai literature about curing gays” but if you can’t wait here are a few links on my blog about a presentation at a Bahai studies conference in 2010, or about Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi.

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On the psychopathology of homosexuality

April 30, 2012
Does it matter if Baha’is think reparative therapy works? Here is Spitzer’s retraction and why it matters.

I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some ‘highly motivated’ individuals.

Robert Spitzer. M.D.

Prejudice makes me sick, illustration by www.sonjavank.com/design. Free to use.


“Prejudice against homosexuals is a part of any system that labels it an illness”

D.W.

Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry, Columbia University, U.S.A.
25 April 2012, cited: http://www.truthwinsout.org/news

On April 11th the Huffington Post ran this headline: “Psychiatrist Behind Controversial ‘Ex-Gay’ Study, Retracts Original Claims”

Then a few days later this headline: “Dr. Robert Spitzer Apologizes to Gay Community for Infamous ‘Ex-Gay’ Study” was followed by a letter of apology by Robert Spitzer for his 2001 study which while it did not make any claims about the success rate of ex-gay therapy, concluded that “highly motivated” individuals could “successfully” change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

The news of his retraction has gone around the world because although his study was discredited by the scientific community it continues to be used as an argument for curing homosexuality. The “Rachel Maddow talkback show” (Her show begins with mention of the overturning of a death penalty for two consenting adults who were charged with sexual relations in the privacy of their home in Texas in 1998. The segment I am referring to starts at 2:08 minutes) demonstrates that his study was used in court by “Proposition 8” advocates (to remove existing marriage rights for homosexuals) in California, arguing that gays are not discriminated against if it is proven that gays can change. The argument being that to be treated equally all a homosexual needs to do is to change to being heterosexual!
The second part of this show has an interview with a lawyer to discuss the implications of gay rights in the context of civil rights. An interesting correlation for Baha’is is that the October 2010 letter from the U.H.J. instructs the Baha’i community to treat the same-sex-marriage akin to the Baha’i policy on party politics. That is, Baha’is are encouraged to vote, to be involved in secular electoral systems as individuals and individual voters, but as a community or as representatives, Baha’is are not to take a position.

I assume that this would mean that once same-sex marriage is legal then this would mean that in order not to practice discrimination, a Baha’i community would have no reason not to welcome legally married same-sex couples just as they would treat any other married couple who wish to join. However, even last week at a Baha’i event here in the Netherlands I was told by a Baha’i that a same-sex- married Baha’i couple was not possible. He was clear to state that gays are treated with equality but then compared homosexuality to alcoholism. I pointed out that one was an illness and the other was not. What was most surprising for me was that he just couldn’t conceive that such a thing would be possible. Here in the Netherlands same-sex-marriage has been legal for the past decade.

Needless to say there are no gay Baha’is in my local community. And this makes sense: in the Netherlands society welcomes gay couples and families as equals so the views of most Dutch Baha’is sound like prejudice. In a society where gays are not treated equally, the view that homosexuality is an illness wouldn’t stand out as prejudice. Alcohol is bad for your health, but it is prejudice that causes suffering for homosexuals. If gays are treated equally being gay is not bad for your health.

Unfortunately many Baha’is associate homosexual orientation with illness and from this deduce that because it is an illness it can be cured, and that’s the danger. It is one thing to decide someone else is diseased, but deciding that the other person, different to yourself, can be fixed (into your likeness) and if they aren’t fixed then it is their fault, removes the empathy which you might feel for them.

Teenagers subjected to such attitudes will hate themselves even more: they are not only being told they are diseased, they are too weak to be cured. No wonder there is a strong correlation between suicide and gay teenagers in communities where homosexuality is seen as an illness. Something just broke in me. I was trying to destroy myself because I had internalized all the homophobia from therapy.”
prospect.org/article/my-so-called-ex-gay-life

So now perhaps you see the implications of Spitzer’s study and why it is such a big deal that he has retracted his ‘gays can be cured’ claim. Spitzer’s study was particularly controversial because in 1973 he “spearheaded the removal of homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder in and of itself” from the American Psychological Association list of mental disorders.

He ruled that homosexuality would be deleted from the list of mental disorders and that a listing of “ego-dystonic homosexuality” be included; that is, homosexuality that causes distress to the individual…. He stated that the revision in the manual could provide the possibility of finding a homosexual to be free of psychiatric disorder.” 

respond.org.uk/support/resources/talks/homosexuality_psychoanalysis.html

However his 2001 study put it back into the category of psychopathology – if it could be cured, then it was an illness.

When Spitzer’s study came out (published in 2003) there was a lot of criticism of the generality of his conclusions (for all homosexuals) based on a methodology in which there was no follow-up of individual cases, and the context of the individual cases was not considered.
Moreover the sample was pre-selected, for the cases were supplied to Dr. Spitzer by NARTH (National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality – an organization that views homosexuality as a disorder) and by Exodus International (which has the slogan: freedom from homosexuality). There was no control group, and no check that these individuals were not under pressure.

In the scientific world his study was discredited on scientific grounds.
(This page lists a brief history leading up to a 2009 American Psychological Association Taskforce which concluded that there were no grounds to support a cure for gays.
This page lists the flaws in the study.
Another study (Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroeder, “Changing Sexual Orientation: A Consumer’s Report,” 2002) found that out of a sample of 202, eight stated that their sexual orientation had changed, and seven of these individuals for the ex-gay movement as counsellors or group leaders (2002, pp. 249–259). More references to reparative studies can be found here.)

I told Spitzer that Nicolosi had asked me to participate in the 2001 study and recount my success in therapy, but that I never called him.

“I actually had great difficulty finding participants,” Spitzer said. “In all the years of doing ex-gay therapy, you’d think Nicolosi would have been able to provide more success stories. He only sent me nine patients.”
“How’d it turn out for you?”
he asked.
I said that while I stayed in the closet for a few years more than I might have, I ended up accepting my sexuality. … —ten years after my last session with Dr. Nicolosi—I married my partner.
Gabriel Arana, 11 April 2012,
http://prospect.org/article/my-so-called-ex-gay-life

Spitzer’s research involved a single 45 minute phone interview with 200 individuals supplied to Spitzer by those who developed and promoted reparative therapy. Of these, 93% identified as being religious. He judged the basis of his findings on their own views and made no attempt to contact any of the clients for whom the reparative therapy had failed. Spitzer also made no distinction between bisexuals and gays. His conclusion that gays could be cured was based on finding that 66% of the males and 44% of the females were able to give him a believable testimony that they were now heterosexual most of the time.

Although Spitzer has made a public apology, if he is serious, he needs to be scientific about this. As the medical academic Alice Dreger noted, Spitzer claimed to want to retract his research, but in itself there is nothing wrong with the data only with Spitzer’s conclusions. Reading the available data myself, it seems likely that those whom Spitzer saw as functioning heterosexuals had actually become bisexuals, or were bisexuals to start with.

Dreger wrote: “All Spitzer has to do is put in writing that he no longer believes what he said about the interpretation of his data, and Zucker will publish his revision.” Spitzer will need to frame this in the manner according to scientific standards, as a revision of his views and conclusions.

It shouldn’t be hard for Spitzer to do this since, in a letter to Kenneth J Zucker, editor of Journal of Sexual Behavior, Spitzer wrote:

“Several months ago I told you that because of my revised view of my 2001 study of reparative therapy changing sexual orientation, I was considering writing something that would acknowledge that I now judged the major critiques of the study as largely correct. After discussing my revised view of the study with Gabriel Arana, a reporter for American Prospect’, and with Malcolm Ritter, an Associated Press science writer, I decided that I had to make public my current thinking about the study. Here it is.

Basic Research Question. From the beginning it was: “can some version of reparative therapy enable individuals to change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual?” Realizing that the study design made it impossible to answer this question, I suggested that the study could be viewed as answering the question, “how do individuals undergoing reparative therapy describe changes in sexual orientation?” – a not very interesting question.

The Fatal Flaw in the Study – There was no way to judge the credibility of subject reports of change in sexual orientation. I offered several (unconvincing) reasons why it was reasonable to assume that the subject’s reports of change were credible and not self-deception or outright lying. But the simple fact is that there was no way to determine if the subject’s accounts of change were valid.

I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some “highly motivated” individuals.

http://www.exgaywatch.com/wp/2012/04/spitzer-i-owe-the-gay-community-an-apology

It could be argued that Spitzer was tricked by NARTH or Exodus International when he was supplied the list of 200 ‘cured’ gays. However it as a scientist it was his job to be thorough and the problem was his conclusion. It is a pity that 11 years have passed – 11 years where hundreds of teenagers have been pressured to be ‘cured’ and considered failures for not being cured.

A Baha’i commenter on this blog wrote: “See the NARTH website for current research which dispels the “born that way” theory argument, shows pro-heterosexual and etiology of gay lifestyle choice studies, lists inpatient treatment centres for gays who want to change and who move out of their living situations, and offers support for them every step of the way through recovery.

… Recovery from any addiction–especially sex addiction is difficult at best but it is achievable.

… Yes, many overcome the craving for the same sex as well, especially after intensive inpatient treatment which we have at hospital and mental health facilities in the U.S.” (I asked the commenter for actual numbers of ‘cured’ gays and you can read his response here.

So let’s see what NARTH has to say about Spitzer?

Well, they ignore Spitzer’s retraction, calling it “regrets he might be having about getting involved with research on unwanted homosexuality” (http://narth.com/2012/04/all-the-talk-about-the-spitzer-study
Accessed 30 April 2012. The blog was removed sometime in 2013)

I note in the rest of their blog there is no attempt to engage scientifically with the reasons for his retraction. Instead they refer to “this modern “third rail of politics” (it used to be social security and old age benefits)” (ibid) and then state this is not about politics! The link they provide does likewise, providing no evidence to show that Spitzer’s original conclusion was valid, but instead attempt to confuse the issue. And just like the commenter who wrote on my blog, while they present themselves as scientific, words that “end in words” (Baha’u’llah, LAWḤ-I-MAQṢÚD (Tablet of Maqṣúd), Tablets After the Kitab-i-Aqdas, p.169) are not science. Just saying ‘someone is not born gay’ is an opinion; it is not scientific evidence even if the person stating the opinion is a therapist.

You might ask if it matters if Baha’is support the idea that homosexuality can be changed? It matters because Baha’is state they believe in the balance of science and religion and then ignore this when it comes to homosexuality. It matters because Baha’i youth are told they are wrong if they do not change to being heterosexual. It matters because it forces gay youth to hide their sexual orientation so that they are not pressured to undergo therapy. It matters because Baha’is such as the commenter on my blog then state things such as “The other two left therapy because they did not want to go through the tough work of changing, similar to other addicts who do not want to take the “road less traveled.””

Baha’is along with other religions have been listed since 2008 as supporters in the NARTH mission statement Here’s a (screenshot of this for the day when this reference is removed from the NARTH website).
And the Baha’i community (through its BNASAA program (Bahá’í Network on Aids, Sexuality, Addictions, and Abuse) continues to refer to NARTH as a resource on its page on sexuality (accessed 28 April 2012 ). In particular Lynne Schreiber has been travelling across the U.S. with the support of the Baha’i community to give presentations on overcoming homosexuality. Her article citing NARTH and EXODUS International as resources is widely circulated by Baha’i counselors (known as ‘assistants’) While Baha’is do not have clergy, the assistants have a pastoral function. Their advice is not authoritative, but some Baha’is give it great weight.

How do I know this? My gay Baha’i friends are bombarded by these attempts to get them to change.

Don’t let another day pass in which any Baha’i or Baha’i community tells a gay Baha’i that they should be cured.

Change starts with you, and in speaking out. To quote Baha’u’llah: “Our purpose is that thou mayest lift up thy head from the couch of heedlessness, shake off the slumber of negligence, and cease to oppose unjustly the servants of God. So long as thy power and ascendancy endure, strive to alleviate the suffering of the oppressed.”
Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 168

I’ve come to know a number of Nicolosi’s former patients and others who underwent therapy with NARTH members. …

Nicolosi’s ideas did more than haunt me. The first two years of college, they were the basis for how I saw myself: a leper with no hope of a cure. I stayed in the closet but had sexual encounters with classmates nonetheless. I became increasingly depressed but didn’t go to mental-health counseling for fear that a well-meaning therapist would inform my parents that I was living the “gay lifestyle.”

I planned for what I would do if my parents decided to stop paying my tuition. I would stay in New Haven and get a job. I would apply for a scholarship from the Point Foundation, which gives financial aid to gay kids whose parents have disowned them. I would not go back to Arizona. I would not see an ex-gay therapist.

I spent hours in front of the window of my third-story room, wondering whether jumping would kill or merely paralyze me. I had a prescription for Ambien and considered taking the entire bottle and perching myself on the ledge until it kicked in—a sort of insurance. I am not sure how it all came to a head. Perhaps it was academic pressure combined with the increasing conflict between my ideals and my behavior. But in the spring of my sophomore year, the disparate parts of myself I had managed to hold together—the part of me that thought being gay was wrong, the part that slept with men anyway, the part of myself I let the world see, and the part that suffered in silence—came undone. I slept in 20-minute spurts for two nights, consumed with despair. I eyed the prescription bottles on my dresser with anxious excitement. I had reached a point at which I feared myself more than what would happen if I were gay. Realizing how close I was to impulsively deciding to kill myself, I went to the college dean’s office and said I was suicidal. He walked me over to the Department of Undergraduate Health, and I was admitted to the Yale Psychiatric Hospital. During the intake interview, I had a panic attack and handed the counselor a handwritten note that said, “Whatever happens, please don’t take me away from here.” I had signed my full name and dated it. More than anything, I feared going home. …

I indeed had to go home for a year before returning to school. By then my father, who flew to New Haven the day I committed myself, realized that therapy—and the pressure he and my mother had placed on me—was doing more harm than good. “I’d rather have a gay son than a dead son,” he said.

The ordeal was a turning point. While it took years of counseling to disabuse myself of the ideas I had learned while undergoing therapy with Nicolosi, it was the first time I encountered professionals who were affirming of my sexuality, and the first time I allowed myself to think it was all right to be gay.”

prospect.org/article/my-so-called-ex-gay-life

And to finish, a few words from ‘Abdul-Baha: “The Papal See has constantly opposed knowledge; even in Europe it is admitted that religion is the opponent of science, and that science is the destroyer of the foundations of religion. While the religion of God is the promoter of truth, the founder of science and knowledge, it is full of goodwill for learned men; it is the civilizer of mankind, the discoverer of the secrets of nature, and the enlightener of the horizons of the world. Consequently, how can it be said to oppose knowledge? God forbid! Nay, for God, knowledge is the most glorious gift of man and the most noble of human perfections. To oppose knowledge is ignorant, and he who detests knowledge and science is not a man, but rather an animal without intelligence. For knowledge is light, life, felicity, perfection, beauty and the means of approaching the Threshold of Unity. It is the honor and glory of the world of humanity, and the greatest bounty of God. Knowledge is identical with guidance, and ignorance is real error.

Happy are those who spend their days in gaining knowledge, in discovering the secrets of nature, and in penetrating the subtleties of pure truth! Woe to those who are contented with ignorance, whose hearts are gladdened by thoughtless imitation, who have fallen into the lowest depths of ignorance and foolishness, and who have wasted their lives!” (my emphasis)
‘Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 125/6, U.K.edition (noted on the Baha’i Reference library as page 137)

See this blog for another view on treating homosexuality as an illness >> http://bahairants.com/pathology-of-homosexuality-1763.html#diagnose. This is linked to the section on the situation in Turkey at the moment.

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The individual in society – Bahai perspectives

March 31, 2012

I’ve just read the article, “Human Nature and Human Society: A Baha’i Viewpoint” by William S. Hatcher (available here) where he sets out the Bahai teaching that human nature consists of both spiritual and material capacities. He stresses that in contrast to other religious traditions, Bahais do not believe in “original sin” (the Christian concept that we are born with bad parts that need to be overcome). He wrote: “Bahá’ís view all human capacities, whether physical or spiritual, as potentially helpful to the process of full, adequate, and proper development.” (page 29).

And there is solid support for this view in the Bahai Writings:

O SON OF BEING! Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee. Get thou from it thy radiance and seek none other than Me. For I have created thee rich and have bountifully shed My favor upon thee.” (Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, Persian #11)
… With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. … (Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, Persian #12)

In short: “Man is the supreme Talisman” (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, CXXII, pp. 259-260) born “in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26, English Standard Version (ESV)) with lots of potential and no bad bits. However, not all Bahais interpret the Bahai teachings in this manner, see this 1996 selection of quotations: “The Struggle Between the Material and Spiritual Natures of Man where the stress is the opposite. And the way the quotations in this selection are chosen and arranged strikes me as being influenced by conservative Christian perspectives. Just to give one example:
Then we must labor to destroy the animal condition, till the meaning of humanity shall come to light. (Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 34)

Selected in this manner is the impression that Baha’u’llah is stating that the animal (material) needs to be suppressed. Let’s look at the context for this quotation:
…At every moment he beholdeth a wondrous world, a new creation, and goeth from astonishment to astonishment, and is lost in awe at the works of the Lord of Oneness.

All these states are to be witnessed in the Valley of Wonderment, and the traveler at every moment seeketh for more, and is not wearied. Thus the Lord of the First and the Last in setting forth the grades of contemplation, and expressing wonderment hath said: “O Lord, increase my astonishment at Thee!”
Likewise, reflect upon the perfection of man’s creation, and that all these planes and states are folded up and hidden away within him.

Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form
When within thee the universe is folded?

Then we must labor to destroy the animal condition, till the meaning of humanity shall come to light.
Thus, too, Luqmán, who had drunk from…”
(Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 33-34) The text goes on to emphasise the importance of dreams.

It is difficult to work out what is specifically intended by the above text, but it certainly is not a Manichaean (material vs spiritual) perspective, given that it comes directly after a phrase in praise of human creation in holistic terms. It could mean that we must strive (use our intellect) not to act like animals or that we have to work hard to discover what being human is. To me Baha’u’llah here is most certainly presenting human creation as a good thing, not as a struggle between good and evil.

Another essay “Morality and Spiritual Growth” on Bahai.org refers to a transformation which is affected, in my view, by a holistic view of human nature: “Moral maturity thus comes from spiritual awareness. As stressed throughout the Bahá’í writings, the primary purpose of God in revealing His will through His Messengers is to effect a transformation in the moral and material conditions of human existence.”

I view “Spiritual awareness” as a holistic perspective (how one would define this is another matter, but there is no indication in the Bahai writings that ‘spiritual’ capacity competes or struggles with the material) because arguing from a differing perspective requires not only changing the context of the quotation but also going against other Bahai Teachings. Baha’u’llah wrote: “Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom of existence and the essence of all created things.” so not only have we been created, without if and but clauses, but there are no taboes. Everything in the world is an aid for greater understanding.

Hatcher’s article then moves onto how “(t)he Bahá’í concept of morality–of behavioural norms and value choices– is closely linked to the Bahá’í concept of human nature and human purpose”. And summarizes this to mean: “That which tends to favour the development of human spiritual capacity is good, and that which tends to hinder it is bad”. (page 29)

On the face of it this summary might seem to be vague and tenuous, but personally I can’t think of a better way to express this because at the end of the day each of us must be responsible for our own actions and our own conscience, however when we are discussing social actions or society, or a particular Bahai community we need something more solid.
A stating point for a Bahai would be the Bahai teachings and that any Bahai Teaching should match or make sense with other Bahai Teachings. I don’t know if this is expressed as directly as this anywhere in Bahai Scripture but the following Bahai Teachings make a collective sense to me:

Science and Religion agree “And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is, that religion must be in conformity with science and reason, so that it may influence the hearts of men.” (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 299)

Independent investigation (reading and thinking for oneself and the freedom (and importance) of self expression “The members [of a Spiritual Assembly] thereof must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should anyone oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions.”(Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 87)

Progressive revelation (that religious teachings as much as society are in a continual process of development – the general attitude that things change for the better);

Equality (of all peoples, “Justice and equity are twin Guardians that watch over men. From them are revealed such blessed and perspicuous words as are the cause of the well-being of the world and the protection of the nations.” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 13);

Unity in Diversity (to work together but not necessarily think nor act in the same ways and in fact many Bahais interpret this to mean to value diversity as a sign of a healthy society);
For another listing of Bahai Teachings see: “Eleven essentials: the Bahai principles as taught by Abdu’l-Baha in London” or scroll down for a list of Bahai Teachings written by Shoghi Effendi.

 
While the degree of in-born empathy can be disputed in the scientific world, there is no doubt that it is a trait humans are born with (for an example see the article: Tracing the Origins of Human Empathy).

Looking in history, when there have been examples of a lack of empathy, an ideology has had to be created in support of this. If empathy, an awareness of the other as equal or with equal rights was not something in-born, there would be no need to develop an ideology where some group is to be excluded: ideologies such as Nazism or in today’s world, the anti-gay (you will be respected only if you are celibate for your whole life, don’t tell anyone you are gay, or if you don’t identify yourself as gay) stance taken by some societies.

Baha’ullah’s entreaty (below) for justice and equality support the notion that empathy is so much a given human trait that you cannot have peaceful world without it. “We entreat God to deliver the light of equity and the sun of justice from the thick clouds of waywardness, and cause them to shine forth upon men. No light can compare with the light of justice. The establishment of order in the world and the tranquillity of the nations depend upon it.” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 28-29)
So Baha’u’llah argues for a society based on justice and equality. What else has Baha’u’llah written about the functioning of society? He wrote: “Our hope is that the world’s religious leaders and the rulers thereof will unitedly arise for the reformation of this age and the rehabilitation of its fortunes. …. It is incumbent upon them who are in authority to exercise moderation in all things.” (Gleanings, p. 216)

Moderation, as it is addressed to leaders here, could mean aim for a middle way or to be tolerant so that, I assume, there’s room for more diversity, but I’ve come across Bahais using this passage as an argument that individuals must conform to a majority view or middle of the road perspective. As you can read for yourselves that is clearly not the intent. After all society or any particular Bahai community could never progress, adapt or develop if new ideas from individuals were to be suppressed. “Thoughts are a boundless sea, and the effects and varying conditions of existence are as the separate forms and individual limits of the waves; not until the sea boils up will the waves rise and scatter their pearls of knowledge on the shore of life. … ” Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 109-110

Baha’u’llah’s text continues: “How long will humanity persist in its waywardness? How long will injustice continue? … (R)esolve to root out whatever is the source of contention amongst you. Then will the effulgence of the world’s great Luminary envelop the whole earth, and its inhabitants become the citizens of one city, and the occupants of one and the same throne. … There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed.”(page 216)

To summarize Baha’u’llah’s text: we come from the same source and when there is something that is unjust or that doesn’t make sense, we should resolve to get to the bottom of this and when we do, wonderful things will happen. Here is Abdul-Baha “[To ensure] freedom of conscience and tranquility of heart and soul is one of the duties and functions of government, and is in all ages the cause of progress in development and ascendency over other lands. Other civilized countries acquired not this preeminence, nor attained unto these high degrees of influence and power, till such time as they put away the strife of sects out of their midst, and dealt with all classes according to one standard. All are one people, one nation, one species, one kind. The common interest is complete equality; …” (Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 87)

Humans need society and society needs the input of all voices if it is to be a society that reflects diversity. Again Hatcher expresses this very well: “We hold that it is impossible for an individual to develop his or her spiritual capacities in abstraction from the process by which others are developing their spiritual capacities. In other words, it is through the creation of a just, unified, and progressive social order that spiritual capacities can best be developed.”
The very argument, I’d say, for doing our very best to include our gay brothers and sisters in Bahai community life. In fact, I am convinced that one reason why Bahais write awful things such as “being gay is a spiritual disease” is due to an imbalance of their own ideas about what is a healthy society (“And among the teachings of His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh is justice and right. Until these are realized on the plane of existence, all things shall be in disorder and remain imperfect” (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablet to the Hague, p. 8-9)). They have put gays into an ‘another category’ of humanity and called this diseased. Other Bahai’s tell me that they are being neutral by saying “it’s a complex issue” when in fact it is very simple. A community or society acts according to the principles of justice and equality or it doesn’t. And a community, in particular any Bahai community, should in my view, encourage and stimulate “the realm of conscience [where] naught but the ray of God’s light can command,” (Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 39) so that each individual acts as “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93). In a nutshell it is up to each individual – our conscience doesn’t work in any other way.

 

Bahai Teachings
“The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind — these stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity which He proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large in the course of these missionary journeys.”
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 281-2)”

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Choosing to be gay?

February 2, 2012

Currently in the news are statements made by American “Sex in the City” actress, Cynthia Nixon, 45.

“For 15 years, until 2003, she was in a relationship with a man. They had two children together. She then formed a new family with a woman, to whom she’s engaged. And she told The Times’s Alex Witchel that homosexuality for her “is a choice.”
“For many people it’s not,” she conceded, but added that they “don’t get to define my gayness for me.”

(Cited in the New York times, “Genetic or Not, Gay Won’t Go Away”, 28 January 2012, by Frank Bruni)

There are two questions here: did she choose to be straight to start with? Or is she bisexual and so made a choice?

In society it is tough being gay, so if you are unsure you wouldn’t choose to be gay, or the pressure is so tough is might take an individual 15 years to discover that they really are gay. As anyone who has been in love knows, once you do fall in love and make a commitment based on that love, whatever warm feelings you felt before towards another and thought might have been what could be called love, are nothing like this feeling.

But let me move onto the real issue, she states it was a choice to be gay. A bisexual has the freedom to love either sex but a gay person does not. Many gays have married the opposite sex for all sorts of reasons except for being in love, because who would willingly join one of the most ‘hated and despised minorities’ there is. And perhaps they were not sure until they tried being straight and perhaps by then there were children and they as responsible beings couldn’t just get up and leave. But I am getting side tracked.

If someone states that they are choosing to be gay, then clearly they are bisexual. For someone who is is gay there is no real choice, just as for an individual who can only fall in love with the opposite sex. Note the word ‘real’, I insert this because as I mentioned above, as social beings we do try to please others and so there will be individuals who will settle for a less fulfilling partnership, and if they are a consenting adult that is a form of choice.

So Nixon, a bisexual, it seems to me, has stated it is her right to claim “to choose to be gay” perhaps she has chosen something she was in denial of earlier or perhaps she doesn’t see the difference between being bisexual and being gay.

Why this is in the news is that it brings up the topic of whether one is born gay or whether it is culturally conditioned and if the later, we need to assume that being straight is culturally conditioned. If you belong to any minority group of any social environment, you know very well that you didn’t choose to be there.

You might be proud to be different. I am glad that I am left-handed for example and wouldn’t want to change to being right handed. But that is because I know there’s nothing wrong with being left-handed and I know that being different in this way has taught me a lot about the world. However I would never choose to be left-handed any more than a gay person would choose to be gay. Life would be much easier if I didn’t have to constantly make adjustments for the right-handed world I live in. Life is much easier if you never have to worry about someone giving you a look of disgust because you are holding your partner’s hand. Life is nicer if your Bahai friends naturally ask you how your partner is doing.

Julia Galef in her blog, “Pushing the right beliefs, for the wrong reasons” makes the argument that “…while I agree that the evidence is overwhelming that homosexuality is innate, I’m loath to make that argument, because in my opinion that’s not the real reason we shouldn’t discriminate against homosexuals. The real reason, as far as I’m concerned, is that it’s none of our business if consenting adults want to sleep with each other, as long as they’re not hurting anyone else. By making the “homosexuality is innate” argument, I’d be staking my anti-discrimination case on an empirical question which, if it unexpectedly turned out to be false, would seriously undermine what is actually a very worthwhile case.”(http://www.3quarksdaily.com)

Frank Bruni in his article, “Genetic or Not, Gay Won’t Go Away” cites evidence for ‘being born this way’:
“One landmark study looked at gay men’s brothers and found that 52 percent of identical twin brothers were also gay, in contrast with only 22 percent of nonidentical twin brothers and 11 percent of adoptive, genetically unrelated brothers. Heredity more than environment seemed to be calling the shots.”

And that other “research has posited or identified common anatomical and chromosomal traits among gay men or lesbians, and there’s discussion of a gay gene or, rather, set of genes in the mix. The push to isolate it is entwined with the belief that establishing that sexual orientation is like skin color — an immutable matter of biology — will make homophobia as inexcusable as racism and winnow the ranks of haters.”

However he, like Galef, sees the problem with arguing on the basis of scientific evidence: “…bigotry isn’t rational. Finding a determinative biological quirk, deviation or marker could prompt religious extremists who now want gays in reparative psychotherapy to focus on medical interventions instead. And a person’s absence of agency over his or her concentration of melanin has hardly ended all discrimination against blacks.”

and says that: “the born-this-way approach carries an unintended implication that the behavior of gays and lesbians needs biological grounding to evade condemnation. Why should it?

Our laws safeguard religious freedom, and that’s not because there’s a Presbyterian, Buddhist or Mormon gene. There’s only a tradition and theology that you elect or decline to follow. But this country has deemed worshiping in a way that feels consonant with who you are to be essential to a person’s humanity. So it’s protected.”

“Among adults, the right to love whom you’re moved to love — and to express it through sex and maybe, yes, marriage — is surely as vital to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as a Glock. And it’s a lot less likely to cause injury, if that’s a deciding factor: how a person’s actions affect the community around him or her.

I USE the words “moved to love” in an effort to define the significant, important territory between “born this way” and choice. That solid ground covers “built this way,” “oriented this way,” and “evolved this way”; it incorporates the possibility of a potent biological predisposition mingling with other factors beyond anyone’s ready control.”

I agree, society shouldn’t need hard scientific proof in order to grant equal rights and responsibilities. The argument can be made on principle. Principles such as justice and equality. However science is useful for when those arguments fall on deaf ears.

This blog began with a statement about choosing to be gay – choosing who you fall in love with and I can’t say it any better than how Frank Bruni writes below:
“I honestly have no idea if I was born this way. My memory doesn’t stretch to the crib.

But I know that from the moment I felt romantic stirrings, it was Timmy, not Tammy, who could have me walking on air or wallowing in torch songs and tubs of ice cream. These feelings gelled early, and my considerable fear of society’s censure was no match for them.
I know that being in a same-sex relationship feels as central and natural to me as my loyalty to my father, my pride in my siblings’ accomplishments and my protectiveness of their children — all emotions that I didn’t exit the womb with but will not soon shake.
And I know that I’m a saner, kinder person this way than trapped in a contrivance or a lie. Surely that’s not just to my advantage but to society’s, too.”