Archive for the ‘individuality’ Category

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Is it better to walk away?

August 17, 2014

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caption: Spirituality is less about ‘doing’ & more about ‘being’ our truest most authentic self everywhere we go.- Emmanuel Dagher.


When a gay friend wrote:
My energy could be better served not fighting for inclusion but by focusing on doing good works. I’m starting to see why many people just give up on God completely and decide that, dogma, worship and religious labels get in the way of working towards creating a better world. A world that doesn’t exclude or hurt people.

I was reminded of ‘Abdul-Baha who said that if religion is not a cause of love and unity then it better not to have a religion. [footnote 1] Some have suggested to me that it is always better to walk away, that unity is most important. I don’t think Baha’u’llah nor ‘Abdul-Baha intended their teachings to be a mouthpiece for the majority. I think Baha’u’llah was serious when he said that ” [t]he best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice” [Hidden Words] but more importantly I think any community, religious or not, needs to value diversity because of the fresh inputs diverse people bring. If those from minority backgrounds are to have a voice, those from a majority perspective need to make it clear that there is ‘space’ for them in their community. In my view, it isn’t about tolerance or sympathy or looking good, but about developing a community where diversity is valued. Diversity doesn’t just happen, it needs to be worked at just as many Baha’i communities have and do work at racial diversity.

I think most Baha’is care very deeply about the importance of diversity, except, it seems, when it comes to our gay and lesbian brothers. I am often told that there is no such thing as a “LGBTQ” voice because we are all one. We are all equal. I agree with the sentiment but by ‘voice’ I mean a particular perspective on the world and society that is different to a majority voice.

I am a human being first and this means acknowledging others as equals, acknowledging that their differing perspectives are of value, however odd or ‘wrong’ they might seem to me personally.

So the next time there’s a gay or lesbian at a Baha’i event, do your best to treat that individual not as an ‘other’ – because they might not be there next time – threat them as an equal and a welcome element of diversity. And if there are no gays or lesbians in your community, then ask yourself why? What is it about your community that does not show to a 10% minority or so of humanity, that they are welcome?

A Baha’i recently told me that she felt embarrassed to say she was a Baha’i because she didn’t have the words to counter statements such as Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, is spiritually condemned [footnote 2]. Then a work colleague, an out of the closet lesbian, said she had heard that she was a Baha’i and that it sounded like a nice religion and asked her about it. My Baha’i friend kept the conversation brief because she didn’t want her to find out that lesbians and gays are treated differently. For my friend, this is a huge crisis of faith. Personally she sees nothing wrong with homosexuality, but she knows that the public image of the Baha’i community conflates homosexuality with immorality or disease, and she can’t see how she can do anything to change this. I suggested that she could speak about her discomfort in her own Baha’i community. If others in the community share her views, suggest that they state in their publicity something like: “a Bahai teaching is equality for all regardless of their cultural background, race or orientation.” If these Bahais find such a public statement problematic, then host a study class on the topic to find out why and use the opportunity to find ways to present the Baha’i community that work best while still showing the world that this particular Baha’i community is working at reducing discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Like any form of discrimination, the issue affects everyone, not just those who are being oppressed. Looking the other way means doing nothing to address the public perception that the Baha’i community is not coming “to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated” [Universal House of Justice, 27 October, 2010] of those who identify as GLBTQ.

Back to my question: is it better to walk away?

My gay friend continued: I ask myself “why do I have pain and suffering?” Is it because I want there to be a true Faith that makes existence make sense? I desire God and want a religion. In a way, it is selfish. And the result is pain, because the only Faith that makes sense to me, is just like all the other religions: it divides the world into “us” and “them,” even though it claims it doesn’t.
 
Like a child having a tantrum, I am angry and mad and fighting for this not to be so. But the fact of the matter is … it *is* this way. So, I feel the right way is to stop desiring there to be a God or an afterlife or even a religion or Faith that tries to make sense of existence.
 
I want those things because I’m selfish and want inclusion and want some sense of order. If I abandon my desires for these things and accept what is, then I no longer suffer with the pain that comes with the rejection from the Bahai Faith that is caused by being a gay man. And if I stop worrying about an afterlife and the “why” of existence, I can finally live free and at peace.

Is the anger because of attachment? Or injustice? What is more important – passion, involvement or detachment?

As for myself, if I thought the Baha’i Teachings (Link to a blog outlining ‘Abdul-Baha’s eleven principles) endorsed treating gay and lesbian Baha’is differently, I would have leave the Baha’i Faith and in turn, I would be less sure about the existence of God more than ever, as I am one of those Baha’is whose idea of God borders on the agnostic. I am not sure about the existence of God but the Baha’i Writings ring true as does my belief in spirituality.

I would have to leave the Baha’i Faith because if gays and lesbians are treated differently because of their orientation, then it means that the Baha’i principle of equality is meaningless. It is not possible to preach equality and then add, “except for those people”. Baha’is might say things such as “homosexuality is spiritually condemned” but if it is not in Baha’i Scripture, then as far as I am concerned it is not part of the Baha’i Teachings. I realise it is easier for me. I have the confidence to say this.

A friend nailed it by saying: I’ve had to recently acknowledge the fact that deep inside me I feel like I don’t have the right to be happy because I’m gay. God hates us, unless we’re celibate. And it affects my relationships, my self-esteem, and it certainly has played a huge part in my history of enjoying various substances.

“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)

If you are not treated with equality, of course it affects your self-esteem. If you are expected to hide your orientation, of course that creates an imbalance. I think that is why the Baha’i Teachings place such importance on equality, justice, independent investigation, and science and religion being in harmony and why ‘Adbul-Baha wrote: “The divine religions must be the cause of oneness… and the means of unity and love; they must promulgate universal peace, free man from every prejudice, bestow joy and gladness, exercise kindness to all men and do away with every difference and distinction. Just as Bahá’u’lláh addressing the world of humanity saith: ‘O people! Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch.'” [Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 28]

We can use reason to overcome prejudice and hopefully make a conscious effort to improve the state of humanity”. [Bahaiteachings.org]

I do not want my religion to be used to hurt another gay or lesbian and I hope for the day when Baha’i communities demonstrate publicly by action that in their community they treat their gay and lesbian members as equals.

‘Abdul-Baha spoke of the diversity of the flowers in the garden of humanity being diverse as a good thing and as a metaphor for the diversity of humanity (being a good thing). I hate it that public statements present as homosexuality being: an aberration subject to treatment or abnormality, handicap, affliction, problem or an abnormality … a great problem for the individual so afflicted … that he or she should strive to overcome it“. (all these quotations are from the Wikipedia “Homosexuality and the Baha’i Faith” page. See footnote two). Where are the examples of Baha’is showing that within the Baha’i community there are those who value the diversity of those who identify as LGBT?

Although the Universal House of Justice’s current 2010 policy states that a “marriage is a union between a man and a woman” I wish that marriage was the only issue here, but it isn’t. Not only are gays and lesbians expected to live solitary lives while others may raise families and enjoy the support and companionship of a life-partner, this distinction is then enlarged by Baha’is to say things such as homosexuality is a transgression or a disease.

Don’t get me started on gender and how many a Baha’i has tried to justify the absence of female Universal House of Justice members as being based on supposed differences in capacity between women and men. I think it is human nature to look for reasons and the tendency to create them when there doesn’t appear to be a reason. But then the danger is, just as in discussions on gender equality, difference is then used as a means to enlarge on the inequality.

The Universal House of Justice letter states that “The Bahá’í Writings state that marriage is a union between a man and a woman” but it doesn’t state the situation of already married gays or lesbians becoming Baha’is or that unmarried gays and lesbians should be treated differently to unmarried straights. The Universal House of Justice does not give a source in Baha’i Scripture (See my blog on this topic), and if there is nothing in Bahai Scripture that restricts marriage to a man and a woman, a later Universal House of Justice is free to take a different approach. It is not clear to me here whether The Universal House of Justice is making a policy on what is a Bahai marriage or telling us what they think is in Baha’i Scripture.

Of course I do see the catch 22 here for those in countries where it would break the law of the land to discriminate against legally married same sex couples. What can Baha’is do? I guess one day the Universal House of Justice is likely to make a policy on same sex marriage, but until they do, I would suggest that any N.S.A. or L.S.A. to view this as a new phenomenon and deal with this in the way that seems closest to the teachings of Baha’u’llah and the latest policy of the Universal House of Justice, while respecting the right of government to define civil marriage.

But I find it horrific that a Baha’i could say that treating a gay or lesbian differently is based on Baha’i Scripture, because it is not true.

In light of such attitudes, I don’t blame this gay friend for writing: it is religion and my desire to be a part of it and my desire to be loved by the Creator. If the Creator doesn’t love me, what is the point of trying to love the Creator? These are thoughts I usually hold down but I don’t see the usefulness (anymore) in pretending these feelings aren’t there. I’m sure I’m not alone. And I’m sharing with you to process and discuss”.

The very idea that some people are less worthy because of their nature, their race, or orientation is repulsive to me. I can’t match this idea with anything in the Bahai Writings, however another of my gay friends wrote: Lately I have been heavy on fighting for inclusion, perhaps to the exclusion of good works. But it may be time for a recalibration…. As regards your comments about desire producing pain, I have found that detachment from religion and people (even the most well intentioned) helps me maintain my sanity and my faith.
 
My view of humanity is much more melancholic than it used to be as a result. But I find that this detachment combined with a regular prayer/meditation practice works for me. When I get particularly depressed by people I turn to the prayers and writings of ‘Abdul-Baha for comfort.

So why should gays and lesbians have to suffer? What justification is there for prejudice against gays and lesbians to continue in the Baha’i community?

My friend Daniel who runs the blog “Revolked”: wrote in response to having his voting rights removed in 2009 by the American Baha’i community for being legally married in California: The Buddhist sangha really helped me… there was something about total inclusion mixed with a semi-Baha’i administration (all volunteer committee of 12 who coordinate the whole shabang), and 40 minutes of silence… with a short (very firesideesque) talk after… that helped me heal.
 
I felt listened to, and I am talking about listened to by Baha’u’llah/Buddha for the first time…
 
I needed (still do) help with dealing about my anger related to organized religion, how the Baha’is treated me, and my overall distaste for any organized spiritual anything…
 
It really helped … sitting every Sunday with really nice, good, smart people who don’t push, nor judge … other folks will find other ways to heal.
 
But I have come to realize that at least for me, Baha’i doesn’t work. It’s a nice idea, and I desperately love and accept Baha’u’llah… but the community … they reject people like me

This is the first case I know of in which a legal same-sex marriage was the reason for applying a Baha’i administrative sanction. I hope it is the only case and that one day that Daniel receives a letter of apology, because it is a Baha’i principle to follow the laws of one’s country. Shoghi Effendi was very firm about this when he wrote “they will, unhesitatingly, subordinate the operation of [Baha’i] laws and the application of [Baha’i] principles to the requirements and legal enactments of their respective governments.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah) To me, this principle implies that the assemblies – local as much as national – must do their best to avoid any actions or statements that might be misconstrued as a rejection of the rights of government and the legitimacy of civil laws.

As far as I know this applies as long as a Baha’i law or teaching is not transgressed and even then, such as in the case of apartheid in South Africa, Baha’is were encouraged not to confront the law of the land. As far as I know the Universal House of Justice has not made a ruling on same sex marriage, only statements concerning homosexuality outside of marriage and the statement that a Baha’i marriage “is a union between a man and a woman”. So I assume that until the Universal House of Justice makes a ruling on same-sex marriage it is up to local or national Bahai communities to decide what is best in light of the Baha’i principles for those who are already Baha’is as much as for married couples who choose to join the community.

Some days I think the fight is worth it because I hope my actions help Baha’is to be more tolerant and for Baha’i from diverse perspectives to feel equally welcome. I am selfish about this. I want the Baha’i community to be more inclusive. Other days, I think it is better to be more involved in the art world (I am an artist) because it is so diverse and energizing. Perhaps in the end I can do more as an artist to help my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters than trying to work for tolerance and openness within the Bahai community. Who knows? It’s odd though, each time when I think this might be my last blog on the topic of gay rights, it feels as if Baha’u’llah is pushing me – as if this can’t be the last word.

I dedicate this blog to all my gay and lesbian friends who given me the honour of sharing their voices with me for three decades.

Footnote 1: The passage “If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion.” is often quoted by Baha’is but the source here, Paris Talks, consists of notes made by an interpreter of the talk given in French by a translator, which in turn were translated into English.

An authentic source in Abdul-Baha‘s own wording is: “Third: religion is the foundation of harmony and love, of solidarity and unity. If religion is made the cause of enmity it yields not solidarity but rather troubles, and the absence of religion is better than its existence. The abandonment of religion is preferable to this.” [A provisional translation by Sen McGlinn from notes in Persian that had been checked by Adbul-Baha

Footnote 2: In footnote 8 on the “Bahai Faith and Homosexuality” Wikipedia page (Last accessed 17 August 2014) is the statement Homosexuality, according to the Writings of Baha’u’llah, is spiritually condemned. Admittedly this page is currently dominated by the opinions of two Baha’is (Back in May 2014 I failed to get them to modify their opinions because they were not backed up by the sources they referred to). And so like any Wikipedia page that deals with a sensitive topic, those with the most friends with the skills and time, win. It is a weakness of the Wikipedia system that, like the worst aspects of party politics, majority voices are able to drown out other voices. But just because a system can be misused doesn’t mean it is bad system. I love Wikipedia!

Anyway if most Baha’is believe that somewhere in Baha’i Scripture same-sex marriage is excluded then that is an accurate picture of the state of play in the Baha’i community, regardless of whether it is true or not. Wikipedia is a fabulous resource which is flexible, and one day when the current views are minority views, this page will be changed.
So I hope this explains why quite a few of the statements [as accessed on August 17th, 2014] on this Wikipedia page are inaccurate. I hope the day is sooner rather than later when these inaccuracies are removed. However it is a fight, that for now at least, I have chosen to walk away from. Here is what I am referring to as being inaccurate:
The Bahá’í Faith teaches that the only acceptable form of sexual expression is within marriage, and Baha’i marriage is defined in the religion’s texts as exclusively between one man and one woman (Wikipedia, accessed 17 August 2014)
I had replaced the text: “in the religion’s texts as exclusively” with “in Bahai law as being” because the UHJ creates Bahai law or policy. If there is a religious text stating this, then it needs to be found or shown. All Wikipedia references used by these two Baha’is either led to statements made by the Universal House of Justice or references to marriage as a monogamous relationship between a man and woman [click on p. 147 + ”In the Glory of the Father: The Baha’i Faith and Christianity, p. 100”]. Bahai’s would not call policy made the Universal House of Justice ‘religious texts’ because that would confuse the Universal House of Justice’s authority with that of Baha’i Scripture. Saying that a marriage is between a man and woman is not the same as saying this is exclusive.

By now you might be wondering why I am putting all of this into a footnote here. Well, should a Baha’i feel uncomfortable about the phrase defined in the religion’s texts or anything else in that Wikipedia article, this might help. Opinions expressed as if they are supported by secondary literature when in fact they are not [my major argument with these two] is one thing, but these opinions create the impression that Baha’i Scripture is prejudiced against gays and lesbians, when it is not. It might seem petty, but for me it is an important distinction because Baha’i Scripture cannot be changed while statements by the Universal House of Justice can be changed by a later policy of the Universal House of Justice.
You might say, but, there is much more on that page, such as the assumption that homosexuality is a transgression [accessed 17 August homosexuality over other transgressions in the second paragraph] when in fact current Universal House of Justice policy since 2010 is that “to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith.” Well, I thought I’d just start with the first sentence on the Wikipedia page and see how that went before going any further. Perhaps I should write a blog about the exchanges I had on the ‘talk’ behind the scenes page, because until then I had not realised how easy it was for the views of just two individuals with the skills, to dominate a Wikipedia page. I was used to an academic environment where if a reference is made, then it relates to the statement. These two repeatedly added material where in some cases marriage wasn’t mentioned at all. Admittedly they removed most of these when I pointed this out, but it took a lot of time to look up the books. In the end they won because they just kept deleting my edits. It was not pleasant so I understand perfectly why Baha’is might walk away from that fight as I have.

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Is homosexuality spiritually condemned?

May 9, 2014

Claiming that someone else's marriage is against your religion is like being angry at someone for eating a doughnut because you're on a diet

“Claiming that someone else’s marriage
is against your religion
is like being angry
at someone for eating
a doughnut because you’re
on a diet”


Recently I was sent a link to a document written in 2007 entitled “Position Paper on Homosexuality for the NSA of the Bahá’ís of the UK.”

My impression of this sermon of certainty was, well, if this author’s biased and
unsubstantiated views were representative of the teachings of the Bahai Faith on this subject, few people (myself included) would be interested in joining such a religion.

The first four sentences say it all: “Between obliviousness and puritanism stand Bahá’ís, who say that homosexuality is wrong, but homosexuals are kindred souls. The Bahá’í Faith is a religion of unity, revealed by Bahá’u’lláh. Remembering this context is essential when saying that the Bahá’í position on homosexuality is spiritual condemnation. As a Bahá’í, I believe that morality is foundational to spiritually healthy individuals and, therefore, to a united society; and this applies to a sexual morality that excludes homosexuality.”

This statement just doesn’t hold water for a Bahai such as myself, because I know that all of the above is based on the author’s own prejudice. What he is saying is that a united society is not possible unless its sexual morality excludes homosexuality. The author claims all sorts of ridiculous notions as if these are based on Bahai teachings.
Admittedly his text is noted as ‘draft 2,’ but the author, Saleem Vaillancourt, clearly thought it important enough to put his essay entitled “Position Paper on Homosexuality for the NSA of the Bahá’ís of the UK” online, and in 2011 there is an interview with him in his capacity at the UK Bahá’í Community’s Office of Public Affairs, so some readers might give his views some weight.
Below is a table with the author’s claims (in green) adjacent to my responses. Decide for yourself if it is a Bahai teaching that homosexuality is spiritually condemned.

…this applies to a sexual morality that excludes homosexuality. ‘Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery.’
Page 1.
    1. Sodomy is not homosexuality.
2. Bahaú’llah is condemning three forms of illicit sex-related activities, not homosexuality. (See the context here)
The author assumes that homosexuality is illicit, but the question is, is homosexuality illicit within a marriage?
Bahá’ís consider the condition of homosexuality to be spiritually condemned and reject the act, they would never reject homosexual people.
Page 1.
    “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

There is nothing in Bahai Scripture that even hints that justice and equality are conditional on being a heterosexual.

We believe that the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh are the ‘breath of life unto all created things’, that the exhortations and prohibitions of a Bahá’í life comprise the great education and the great enablement, not the great lockdown.

Through obedience to the laws, Bahá’ís work to discipline themselves according to spiritual standards that outstrip average notions of appropriate living, and this discipline allows the individual to respond to grander impulses than physical desires or psychological complexes.

Furthermore, spiritual discipline frees us from our own selves and offers a life fulfilled through clarity of purpose and devoted service to our fellow humans.
Page 1.

    Many of Bahaú’llah’s “Hidden Words” speak of the nature of humanity as being in God’s image.
“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 wrote many mystical, metaphysical and philosophical texts and one book of laws. This book was in part a response to questions put to him of how to deal with existing Islamic laws. Significantly Baha’u’llah wrote: “Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power. To this beareth witness that which the Pen of Revelation hath revealed. Meditate upon this, O men of insight!” (Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 121)

So rather than the Bahai Faith being a religion focussed on a list of laws, it is a religion based on principles, where we are asked to use our insights to understand the laws. Baha’u’llah created the institution of the Universal House of Justice so that the rule-making part (and authority) of the Bahai community, because its rulings are distinct from Bahai Scripture, is able to change what is considered Bahai law (See Abdul-Baha’s Will and Testament).

The authors’ comment ”being freed from our own selves” implies that Bahais are expected to obey rules and not to use their own insights. The House of Justice has not laid down rules on subjects such as homosexuality, instead leaving many matters to individual conscience and the Bahai communities that exist in diverse social settings.
“The Universal House of Justice does not feel that the time has come for it to provide detailed legislation on subjects such as abortion, homosexuality and other moral issues. …

It has been a human tendency to wish to eliminate these grey areas so that every aspect of life is clearly prescribed. A result of this tendency has been the tremendous accretion of interpretation and subsidiary legislation which has smothered the spirit of certain of the older religions. Universal House of Justice to an individual, 5 June 1988.

Marriage itself is considered a divine institution and a ‘fortress of well-being and salvation’ that can shelter a man and woman from loneliness and drift, which can save them from the emotional pains of physical satisfaction in unhealthily transient relationships.

The reality for homosexuals in the Bahá’í Faith, therefore, is the same as unmarried heterosexuals: a spiritual obligation to be chaste. On this most important moral consideration, the Bahá’í Faith effectively does not distinguish between heterosexuality and homosexuality.

We are not our desires or our inclinations; we are more. Human sexuality is celebrated though not indulged:
Saleem Vaillancourt, Pages 1-2.

    “God hath prescribed matrimony unto you.” Baha’u’llah

There is nothing in Baha’u’llah’s writings to suggest that matrimony is not possible for same sex couples.

The author glides from everyone being expected to practise chastity before marriage, to his expecting gays and lesbians never to have the chance of a committed life partnership. These are not the ‘same realities’: the latter is discrimination and oppression.

Bahai Scripture stresses the importance of the spiritual as part of a holistic worldview which, of course, includes our ‘inclinations’ and ‘desires’: “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.”

Bahá’u’lláh recommends marriage at a young age.
Page 2.
    Baha’u’llah did not recommend marriage at a young age. He changed an Islamic law where girls could be married off as children, to a law where for the male or female the minimum age for marriage was their 15th birthday. Another Bahai law is to follow the law of one’s country so if the minimum age for marriage is higher, this sets the limit.

But sex must be within marriage because it guarantees that intimate relationships are buttressed against the uncertainties of life, with each married couple and family a solid piece of a slowly unifying humanity.

Such is the core and utterly rational reason that the Bahá’í Faith cannot allow homosexuality within this balance of physical love, emotional health, social responsibility, and spiritual growth.

Our desires are innate but our inclinations are another matter.

And so very firmly, the Bahá’í Faith rejects the possibility that sexual relations between homosexuals are a natural or positive influence on either the individuals themselves or their wider society.
Saleem Vaillancourt, Page 2.

    There is nothing in Bahai Scripture stating that marriage is only for heterosexuals. When ‘Abdul-Baha wrote about the rules for marriage as an aspect of the social teachings of the Bahai Faith he refers to a man and woman but he doesn’t state that marriage can only be between a man and a woman. And Baha’u’llah wrote:“Whoso contenteth himself with a single partner from among the maidservants of God, both he and she shall live in tranquillity.”

And the introduction the Universal House of Justice explains:
where Bahá’u’lláh has given a law as between a man and a woman, it applies mutatis mutandis between a woman and a man unless the context makes this impossible.

Note that the author has effectively said that married homosexuals could not have a positive influence on others, and on society. How then can he regard them as ‘kindred souls,’ if they are so innately flawed that they can contribute no good?

Bahá’í do not accept the materialist notion that nature is perfect, but rather, the nature of humans must be improved through spiritual education.
Page 2.
    “Man is the supreme Talisman” (Bahá’u’lláh); children are born with lots of potential and no bad bits, so it is not that human beings must be improved, but that through education and experience we can develop and “(t)he purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, hath been to bring forth the Mystic Gems out of the mine of man”. – Baha’u’llah (See my blog on human nature)

The propagation of the species is the obvious purpose of the sex impulse; a sexuality that obviates procreation defies the social role of sex.

The condition of homosexuality is regarded by Bahá’u’lláh as an ‘affliction’ and an ‘aberration’ which is ‘against nature’. The starkness of this language makes it transparently clear that not only is the condition wrong but same-sex relationships do not ring true. The language is also difficult to bear for non-Bahá’ís and some Bahá’ís alike; the proper consolation is that this condemnation comes from He whom Bahá’ís believe to be the Manifestation of God, and thus speaks with a voice unparalleled and inimitable. His starkness is not available for our own use. Bahá’ís of whichever sexual orientation are taught acceptance and love by their Faith and its teachings; spiritual condemnation cannot be translated into tangible or emotional condemnation. This very firm rejection is made with the utmost love for homosexuals. For proofs of this utmost love, again the fundamental principles provide guidance: people of all kinds deserve only praise and encouragement from other individuals within the Bahá’í community. (Only the institutions have the right to concern themselves with the private affairs of Bahá’ís, a right exercised only when that behaviour manifests itself in a way publicly damaging to the community.)

Saleem Vaillancourt, Pages 2-3.

    Marriage is praised by Baha’u’llah as opposed to a life as an ascetic. “Enter into wedlock, O people, that ye may bring forth one who will make mention of Me amid My servants. This is My bidding unto you; hold fast to it as an assistance to yourselves.”

There is nothing in the text to suggest that the purpose of marriage is procreate – only that it is a good thing, which is why elderly or infertile individuals are free to marry.

“When, therefore, the people of Baha undertake to marry, the union must be a true relationship, a spiritual coming together as well as a physical one, so that throughout every phase of life, and in all the worlds of God, their union will endure; for this real oneness is a gleaming out of the love of God.” – ‘Abdu’l-Baha

The words ‘afflication,’ ‘aberration’ and ‘against nature’ used by the author originate in four letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. It’s an insult to attribute the same views to Baha’u’llah. These words are not Bahai Scripture.

The author – who has said that homosexuals are socially useless – apparently does not see this as a ‘tangible or emotional’ condemnation, and speaks of the praise and encouragement homosexuals will receive in the Bahai community. Providing they do not encounter our author, presumably.

Bahais may lose their voting rights for breaking Bahai laws, and some assemblies have interpreted getting married, to a partner of the same sex, as breaking Bahai law. They have wide discretion: ” … Every case is different, and there is more than one variable consideration to take into account, for example, the circumstances of the individual, the degree to which the good name of the Faith is involved, whether the offence is blatant and flagrant. Over and over again the beloved Guardian urged Assemblies to be extremely patient and forbearing in dealing with the friends. He pointed out on many occasions that removal of administrative rights is the heaviest sanction which Assemblies may impose at the present time. These considerations apply to the types of problems you mention in your letter. In all such cases it is for the Assembly to determine at what point the conduct is blatant and flagrant or is harmful to the name of the Faith. They must determine whether the believer has been given sufficient warning before the imposition of sanctions. …”
Universal House of Justice, 1977

Tolerance and plurality are the professed values of a liberal society, and because of the pacific nature of the Bahá’í Faith, often we are perceived to be liberal intellectuals who also believe in God. Not so. The Faith was not revealed so that it might conform to any contemporary thinking or mask itself behind common notions, it was revealed to rewrite human spirituality, morality and society, so we cannot obfuscate the teachings elemental to these goals.
Page 3.
    The author wrote “The Faith was not revealed so that it might conform to any contemporary thinking or mask itself behind common notions” while
‘Abdu’l-Baha praises “intellect and wisdom” as “two most luminous lights in either world”

I quote the context below.

“Praise and thanksgiving be unto Providence that out of all the realities in existence He has chosen the reality of man and has honored it with intellect and wisdom, the two most luminous lights in either world. Through the agency of this great endowment, He has in every epoch cast on the mirror of creation new and wonderful configurations.

If we look objectively upon the world of being, it will become apparent that from age to age, the temple of existence has continually been embellished with a fresh grace, and distinguished with an ever-varying splendor, deriving from wisdom and the power of thought.” ‘Abdu’l-Baha

Inside the Bahá’í Faith, the covenantal duty and expectation is obedience to the laws and the institutions. Bahá’ís are expected to strive for understanding of those laws beyond their grasp; a selective adherence to these laws is unacceptable because it undermines the unity of the entire community.

But these are standards for Bahá’ís only, and because the Faith finds itself in a context of many different beliefs, it holds that concord and plurality are more important than contention and division. These principles are reflected in the values of any progressive society.

And yet because this current liberal society has convinced itself of the rightness of Enlightenment thinking, which includes a permissive attitude to sex and allows for an individualistic definition of sexuality, dissension therefrom brings denouncement.

My confusion at being called a bigot stemmed from this double standard: that western society was liberal and open-minded, so long as certain issues were agreed upon beforehand.

There was a hypocritical element which Bahá’ís must reject when explaining their position on homosexuality: pluralism and the liberally spread charge of bigotry are incompatible.
Saleem Vaillancourt, Pages 3-4.

    “It should also be borne in mind that the machinery of the Cause has been so fashioned, that whatever is deemed necessary to incorporate into it in order to keep it in the forefront of all progressive movements, can, according to the provisions made by Bahá’u’lláh, be safely embodied therein. To this testify the words of Bahá’u’lláh, as recorded in the Eighth Leaf of the exalted Paradise:

“It is incumbent upon the Trustees of the House of Justice to take counsel together regarding those things which have not outwardly been revealed in the Book, and to enforce that which is agreeable to them. God will verily inspire them with whatsoever He willeth, and He, verily, is the Provider, the Omniscient.”

Not only has the House of Justice been invested by Bahá’u’lláh with the authority to legislate whatsoever has not been explicitly and outwardly recorded in His holy Writ, upon it has also been conferred by the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the right and power to abrogate, according to the changes and requirements of the time, whatever has been already enacted and enforced by a preceding House of Justice. In this connection, He revealed the following in His Will:

“And inasmuch as the House of Justice hath power to enact laws that are not expressly recorded in the Book and bear upon daily transactions, so also it hath power to repeal the same. Thus for example, the House of Justice enacteth today a certain law and enforceth it, and a hundred years hence, circumstances having profoundly changed and the conditions having altered, 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 House of Justice is both the initiator and the abrogator of its own laws.”

Such is the immutability of His revealed Word. Such is the elasticity which characterizes the functions of His appointed ministers. The first preserves the identity of His Faith, and guards the integrity of His law. The second enables it, even as a living organism, to expand and adapt itself to the needs and requirements of an ever-changing society.” – Shoghi Effendi

The first emanation from God is the bounty of the Kingdom, which emanates and is reflected in the reality of the creatures, like the light which emanates from the sun and is resplendent in creatures; and this bounty, which is the light, is reflected in infinite forms in the reality of all things, and specifies and individualizes itself according to the capacity, the worthiness and the intrinsic value of things.”‘Abdu’l-Baha

Clearly from the quotations above, the author’s ideas (that being liberal or open minded are bad things) run counter to the Bahai Teachings. ‘Abdul-Baha’s two quotations above show that Bahai Scripture does not share the anti-intellectual views of the author. In fact all the above quotations illustrate that the Bahai Teachings value independent thought and insight as well as logic, and celebrate diversity.

I will not even try and guess what the author means by ‘an individualistic definition of sexuality’ but would suggest the Bahai principle of religion being in harmony with science as a useful guide. Any definition of sexuality needs to be scientifically sound. I am not sure that a religious definition of sexuality is even useful. After all we don’t have a religious definition for digestion. Sexual orientation is not an ethical issue.

There is a curious paradox here which hinges on the identity aspect of this discussion. If liberal society accepted so sincerely the homosexuality of homosexuals, why then have many homosexuals felt the need to persist in their segregated and specialised gay identity long after their supposed entry into the mainstream? I postulate two answers. Firstly, their sexuality has been dramatically overemphasised in the creation of their self-image, self-worth and social identity – just as is the case with many heterosexuals who see sex as soul. The Bahá’í teachings, meanwhile, state that ‘in the estimation of God there is no distinction of sex.’
Saleem Vaillancourt, Page 4.
    This tactic avoids engaging the critique by projecting onto the opponent. No Bahai is expected to sacrifice aspects of their identity; in fact Shoghi Effendi argues for positive discrimination because diversity is so important.

“To discriminate against any race, on the ground of its being socially backward, politically immature, and numerically in a minority, is a flagrant violation of the spirit that animates the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh.

If any discrimination is at all to be tolerated, it should be a discrimination not against, but rather in favor of the minority, be it racial or otherwise.” – Shoghi Effendi

“The sixth principle or teaching of Bahá’u’lláh concerns the equality of man and woman. He has declared that in the estimation of God there is no distinction of sex.” -‘Abdu’l-Baha

The author doesn’t realise that “no distinction of sex” means that men and women are equal; it is not saying that it is irrelevant to your identity whether you are a man, a woman, a homosexual, a heterosexual, or (more simply) your own unique self.

The introduction of the Bahá’í understanding of homosexuality – that the condition is aberrant and the act wrong, but censure of homosexuals even worse – resolves this dichotomous identity problem because it drains the bile from public discussion and sentiment about homosexuality. A homosexual person secure in his or her acceptance by society would not feel the need to adopt a segregated identity. This would succeed is more than the avoidance of false dichotomies, it would foster genuine unity, the very purpose of the Bahá’í Faith.
Saleem Vaillancourt, Page 4.
    “Consider the flowers of a garden: though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty. Thus when that unifying force, the penetrating influence of the Word of God, taketh effect, the difference of customs, manners, habits, ideas, opinions and dispositions embellisheth the world of humanity. This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man’s sovereign soul, and the soul’s power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, then difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love, and multiplicity is the greatest factor for co-ordination.
How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruits, the branches and the trees of that garden were all of the same shape and colour! Diversity of hues, form and shape, enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof.” -‘Abdu’l-Baha

The author has claimed that both social unity, and the unity of the Bahai community, are threatened by a morality, or a “selective adherence to [Bahai] laws,” which would accept homosexual relationships and homosexual people on an equal footing. Is it any wonder then, if he also encounters homosexuals who “feel the need to adopt a segregated identity.” He and others like him generate this response through their prejudice, and their vision of a future “genuine unity” that requires the extinction of what they consider immorality. This is not the kind of unity that Baha’u’llah envisioned:
“The religion of God is for love and unity; make it not the cause of enmity or dissension.”Baha’u’llah

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Society and the individual – a Bahai view

March 24, 2014

Recently I came across this Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi:
“The Bahá’í conception of social life is essentially based on the subordination of the individual will to that of society. It neither suppresses the individual nor does it exalt him to the point of making him an anti-social creature, a menace to society. As in everything, it follows the ‘golden mean’. The only way that society can function is for the minority to follow the will of the majority.”
Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 21 November, 1935. Printed in 1973 in Directives from the Guardian.

This made me sit up because it is the individual, not the collective, that is “created in the image of God,” (See Genesis 1:27 or Some Answered Questions, pp. 195-197) and because the protection and priority given to minorities is characteristic of the form of democracy intended for a Bahai society. And that the spiritual priority of the individual, over all the structures that are created by and consist of various individuals, underlies many other Bahai teachings. For example:

Independent search after truth: “the faith of no man can be conditioned by any one except himself.”Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 143 (click to view the source online)

No “original sin”: “Know thou that every soul is fashioned after the nature of God, each being pure and holy at his birth.”Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 189 (click to view the source online)

The law is a means to an end, not an end in itself: “The primary purpose, the basic objective, in laying down powerful laws and setting up great principles and institutions dealing with every aspect of civilization, is human happiness; and human happiness consists only in drawing closer to the Threshold of Almighty God, and in securing the peace and well-being of every individual” – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 60 (click to view the source online)

While the priority of the individual is a strong principle, we also have the principle of majority rule in decision-making, when consultation has failed to form a consensus and the group needs to make a decision:
“unquestionably accepted by the entire body of the believers, not necessarily because they represent the voice of truth or the will of Bahá’u’lláh, but for the supreme purpose of maintaining unity and harmony in the Community. Besides, the acceptance of majority vote is the only effective and practical way of settling deadlocks in elections. No other solution is indeed possible.” From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, July 10, 1939 (Published in Lights of Guidance in 1983)

“There is only one principle on which to conduct the work of an Assembly, and that is the supremacy of the will of the majority. The majority decisions must be courageously adopted and carried out by the Assembly, quite regardless of the opinionated adherence to their own views which any minority may cling to.” From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, November 20, 1941 (Published in Lights of Guidance, 1983)

But against this, there is the Bahai principle of positive discrimination:
“Since the Guardian’s instruction on this point is unequivocal where it is obvious that one of the persons involved represents a minority, that person should be accorded the priority without question. Where there is doubt further balloting will allow every voter present to participate.

“With reference to the provision in Article V of the National By-laws governing the situation where two or more members have received the same highest number of votes, if one of those members represents a minority that individual should be given priority as if selected by lot.” Universal House of Justice addressed to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, January 25, 1967. (Published in Lights of Guidance, 1983)

You might notice that all the quotations concerning majority rule are from letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, which the Universal House of Justice may take into consideration when it makes its own rulings, in line with Bahai Scripture, concerning Bahai policy. The role of the Bahai administration is to rule on new situations as much as to give structure to the worldwide Bahai community. So it could be that in some situations an LSA decides it is best to listen to the views from a minority in their midst, or to minority views and then to act accordingly, and this would not contradict Bahai teachings because Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi do not form part of unchangeable Bahai Scripture.

Back to the initial phrase on this blog “to follow the will of the majority.” This implies that we cannot have a huge diversity of lifestyles or ways of perceiving the world. As Bahais we obey the authority of the institutions but that doesn’t mean we are not free to think or to take action. However this directive “to follow the will of the majority” refers to society in general and not the Bahai administration, and so implies that a ‘majority rules’ attitude is how Baha’is are expected to behave. The subordination of the individual will to that of society is akin to how communism evolved. Individuals were subordinate to the state and so the importance of individual conscience, responsibility and action was forgotten or suppressed. Baha’u’llah in contrast wrote: “Man is the supreme Talisman” (Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 346 (click to view the source)) – It is not the society or any group that is the supreme talisman.

Rather than treating the individual as subordinate to larger social groups, the Bahai teachings, as I see them, regard the individual as the root, and larger groups, from the family upwards, as the branches and fruit. 
The Persian notes of a talk given by Abdu’l-Baha say “a family is composed of individuals, and a nation likewise is formed of individual persons.” (Khitabát-i-`Abdu´l-Bahá, Reprint Hofheim; Bahá´í-Verlag [1984] p. 402. This translation here is by Sen McGlinn). So the freedom and development of the individual is the condition for the progress of the family, the nation and the world, and their first duty is to foster the freedom and development of the individual. Shoghi Effendi wrote:
“The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded.”
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 203)
It is the individual, not the collective, that is “created in the image of God.” The spiritual priority of the individual over all the structures that are created by and consist of various individuals is illustrated in many places in the Bahai writings. Some of these have been quoted above. I will close with two more:

The third candle is unity in freedom which will surely come to pass.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 32)

So the unity that Abdul’-Baha refers to above implies that each of us exercises individual spiritual responsibility.

“Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration.”
Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 213

 
Further reading: Sen McGlinn’s 2010 blog, Evolving to individualism which explains two different ways in which the Enlightenment and its fruits in Western societies can be viewed, in relation to the goal of building a Bahai society.