"La tero nur estas unu lando, kaj ĉiuj homoj ĝiaj civitanoj."
- Baha'u'llah

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Earth is but One Country and Mankind its Citizens (Except Gay People!)

I would like to respond to some notes I’ve read recently from a presentation given at the Vancouver conference of the Association for Baha’i Studies (ABS). The ABS invited Ms. Lynne Schreiber to present a talk on “Re-thinking Same-Sex Attraction,” and lists many Baha’i quotes on the issue of homosexuality. The list can be read here.

I’m particularly interested in #2 on the list, for a couple of reasons: first of all, I fail to understand how it supports her point; and secondly, it seems to contradict the statements made by the Universal House of Justice that are quoted so frequently on the list. Every quote given here from both Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice demonstrates the intolerance and hatred the Haifan Baha’i Faith has for their homosexual brothers and sisters, and the hypocrisy of the organization who preaches the unity of mankind and the elimination of prejudice, while perpetuating the outdated and prejudiced view that homosexuality is a disease which must be cured.

Let’s take a look at quote #2 from Abdul-Baha, and consider how it actually hinders her argument, rather than supporting it. Abdul-Baha says, “Man is not intended to see through the eyes of another, hear through another’s ears, nor comprehend with another’s brain.” This statement, with which I happen to agree whole-heartedly, speaks more to those heterosexuals who would claim that homosexuality can be cured through prayer and determined effort than it does to anyone else. How can a heterosexual, who has grown up never questioning their sexuality, never struggling with their romantic feelings in this way even begin to presume they know the first thing about it? They can’t “comprehend with another’s brain,” can they? They can’t begin to understand the struggle that rages in a gay child’s mind the first time he’s confronted with the idea that homosexuals are disgusting, perverted, or mentally ill. It may very well have never crossed his mind that the feelings he has are anything out of the ordinary – until it’s pointed out to him by people he believes “know best.”

Of course, I’m speaking here from personal experience. I had my first crush on a boy when I was in kindergarten, and it never occurred to me that there was anything wrong with that. I don’t remember the first time I realized it was unacceptable, but I do know that point was made quite clear to me throughout most of my school days. I remember clearly from 1st grade onward being called a “faggot,” “pansy,” “queer,” “gay,” etc. It wasn’t until 4th grade that I realized myself that I was in fact gay, and it was still another two years before I accepted it as a fact.

I’d grown up in a fairly conservative Protestant Christian home, and at the Church of Nazarene, homosexuality was considered a serious sin. I’d always been taught that if you ask God for help, He’ll help you – but you should always try and meet Him half way. Well, considering the fact that I couldn’t help whether or not I found another boy attractive, I fully admitted to God that I couldn’t meet him halfway, and I needed His help to take this feelings away from me. I prayed for two years that God would make me “normal,” but after seeing no improvement in my situation, I finally realized maybe God didn’t really care if I was gay – maybe that’s just the way I am! I accepted my homosexuality at the age of 12, and though that lightened the burden, it still didn’t change the way other people thought of it. So it would be another few years before I actually came out.

That’s my story, in a nutshell, and just as Abdul-Baha seems to suggest, it’s a personal experience that no one else can begin to comprehend – particularly not straight people.

Now, the other part of Abdul-Baha’s quote I find interesting is: “Depend upon your own reason and judgment, and adhere to the outcome of your own investigation; otherwise you will be utterly submerged in the sea of ignorance and deprived of all the bounties of God.” This is exactly what I’ve done!

As I suggested earlier, this quote contradicts the statements of the Universal House of Justice, and undermines Ms. Schreiber’s points. If I’m to adhere to the outcome of my own investigation and rely upon my own reason, then I have no need to for the biased statements made by the Universal House of Justice – a group of (presumably) heterosexual men who have never seen with my eyes, nor heard with my ears.

I resent their statements suggesting that I’m “afflicted” with a “great burden,” and that my “aberration” should be “subject to treatment.” And I’m offended that they would consider me to be born with “deficiencies.” To say that I am a “distortion of human nature” – a statement that is completely subjective, and not based on any sort of fact – is hurtful. Bahais are forbidden from inflicting suffering on others, yet the Universal House of Justice causes pain and suffering time and time again, based on their distorted views of scripture. I refuse to risk being “deprived of all the bounties of God” by relying on a bunch of straight men’s reason rather than my own, and I pray that God with open their hearts and minds to the wonderful diversity that exists in mankind. This is an important value in the faith, yet people’s own judgments often cloud their vision, so that they can’t see the beauty that exists before them.

The Haifan Baha’i Faith is trapped in its 19th century view of the world, and while its ideas may have been quite progressive 100 years ago, the Haifan organization has failed to show any true progress when it comes to eliminating all forms of prejudice. Consider that in the 19th century, it was considered inappropriate for a woman to be unmarried and live alone, hold property, or keep her own income. Women were, for the most part, not allowed to become doctors, lawyers, or hold any other job traditionally attributed to men – not because they were incapable, but because that was simply “the way things were.” To rely on an argument based upon societal practices and traditions, rather than Truth is not what the faith is about. Why call yourself a Bahai if you’re going to exclude one portion of society from the equality and unity you preach?


Just for the sake of interest, I’m attaching an article I read some time ago that was presented at a Bahai meeting of scholars in 1996, which really shed some light on the issue of sexuality in the Kitab-i-Aqdas. I think it’s particularly important when studying scripture to consider the original language, rather than relying on translations, and Mr. Armstrong-Ingram does an excellent job of that here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

God Speaks Again, by Kenneth Bowers

So I've been reading God Speaks Again, by Kenneth E. Bowers. It's a pretty nice modern summary of the history and beliefs of the Bahai faith -- lots of quotes from scripture, historical firsthand accounts, and is (almost) thoroughly referenced -- and I actually learned more about the Bab than I ever knew before. While reading, I've made notes in the margins about things the author sort of ignored or got wrong, but all in all, it's a good book. The thing I found most interesting about it though, is that every single chapter has a bunch of endnotes, except the one chapter that talks about all the horrible things Ghusn-i-Akbar (Mirza Muhammed Ali) did to Abdul-Baha. It makes me think that either it's all just considered "common knowledge," with no need to use references; or they outright have something to hide! (Maybe a little bit of both!)

While the book is a good reference for Bahais, it's clearly more of an introduction.. And I think it's awfully unfair to the newcomers to the religion to give them such biased information. If I knew nothing about Bahaism, I'd be pretty suspicious that the chapter containing all these allegations contains no references, when every other chapter does. Part of me wants to write to the author about my concerns, although I'm sure it would do no good.

I, personally, could write literature demonstrating that Muhammad Ali was a good and faithful Bahai, using historical documentation to back it up -- And I know Unitarian Bahais who have! There are first-hand accounts written by both brothers available for free all over the internet, if you take the time to look. I know neither one of them were perfect... But at least by hearing from both sides, you can get a clearer picture of what really happened. No one likes to think that they're in the wrong, but usually when you hear both sides of an argument, you can begin to piece together the facts. I, for one, believe that Ghusn-i-Akbar gave an honest attempt at reconciling with his brother.. and unfortunately Abdul-Baha was not willing to do that, even to his dying day. I've seen firsthand, in my own family, how disagreements amongst individuals can rip a family apart for decades, and I think it's so sad that Baha'u'llah's sons allowed this to happen -- rather than following their father's teaching to resolve by sundown any differences that may arise. And not only did it affect them, but it's affected their descendants down to the present day. Abdul-Baha was a great man, but I think his unwillingness to reconcile with his brother really shows how human he was... he was just as fallible as the rest of us!

For your reference, this is the book I'm talking about:

God Speaks Again, by Kenneth Bowers

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Had to share another long-haired Bahai! Mishkin-Qalam, one of the Bahai apostles. He did some beautiful calligraphy and artwork too!

His hair had it goin' on! ;)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

God Within

Okay, onto something a bit more serious than hair...

I was reading over Eric Stetson's website again today, and he touched on something very important, which made me realise I'd left it out of my previous statement of beliefs. He said, "All human beings are manifestations of divinity..." Every paragraph I read on his website, I find myself saying, "Exactly!" But this particular topic really jumped out at me tonight.

Now, I have an inkling that he meant something slightly different than I do when I say the same thing myself, but still, our ideas are close. As a Gnostic, I believe know that within each and every one of us there is a spark of Divine Light, just waiting to "wake up," as Gnostics like to put it. In fact, that Light underlies every bit of creation, both seen and unseen. I'm not saying that we're all gods, individually... rather, we are all part of God, the Unknown Father. In the Gospel of Thomas, for example, Jesus (Glory be to Him) constantly emphasizes that the "Kingdom of Heaven is spread out upon the earth, but men don't see it." He also says, "Split a piece of wood, and I am there; lift up a stone, and you will find me there." Most people, however, are perfectly happy being "asleep," and as my friend Susan often says, "Who am I to awaken a sleeping child before it's finished its nap?" It's no one's job to try and wake them up, they'll wake up when they're good and ready!

Eric mentions this very idea on his website, saying that "everyone will ultimately reach the level of great spiritual masters such as Jesus, Buddha, etc.," and he refers to a verse from the canonical scriptures: "A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40)."

This quote from Luke made me think of another passage from the Gospel of Thomas, logion 13, where Jesus asks His apostles to compare Him to something and tell Him what He is like. This conversation is also recounted in the canonical gospels, only there it's Peter who gets the right answer, and Jesus then tells him he's the rock on which He'll build His church. But the Gospel of Thomas, it's Thomas himself who gets the "right" answer. (In fact, the Gnostic scriptures in general usually tend to portray Peter as kind of an idiot!)

Peter says, in Thomas, that Jesus is "like a righteous angel;" and Matthew says, "You are like a wise philosopher." But Thomas outright admits, "Master, my mouth is wholly incapable of saying what you are like." To which Jesus responds, "I am not your master. Because you have drunk from my mouth, you have become intoxicated from the bubbling spring which I have measured out."

And there's an even more radical statement in the the Gospel of Philip, along these same lines, which I absolutely love, that says: "But one receives [Truth] in the chrism of the fullness of the power of the Cross . . . This one is no longer a Christian but a Christ."

I do hope I'm actually making sense here, and not just babbling (it's past my bedtime, and I'm starting to feel it!). I get so excited when I see Bahais having such Gnostic views! I'm fully convinced of the similarities between Bahaism and Gnosticism -- Baha'u'llah, Glory be to Him, emphasized repeatedly the need for the Knowledge of God; the Wisdom which comes from God. And he condemned those who would try to hinder that Knowledge... which, unfortunately, is exactly what I see the Haifan Administration doing to its followers. Rather than turning to Baha'u'llah's writings in matters of faith, as He said to do, Baha'is are expected to turn to the administrative order -- a collection of imperfect human beings, who, despite the religion's opposition to clergy, sure acts like clergy!

In a future post, while I'm thinking about it now, I'd like to write more about some specific issues I have with the administration's power, and why I could never bring myself to sign a declaration card... In particular, the fact that they do exactly what is condemned in the Book of Certitude: altering the word of God. But that's completely unrelated to this post, and I really should be getting to bed now, so I'll save it for later! :)

Long Hair and the Kitab-i-Aqdas

I read an interesting interpretation today of the statement in the Kitab-i-Aqdas about how "it is not seemly to let the hair pass beyond the limit of the ears," which actually makes a lot of sense when you look at pictures of Baha'u'llah and some of his sons. The interpretation was that it doesn't necessarily imply you shouldn't let it grow past your ears, rather it should just be pulled back behind, so as not to cover them.

Considering that Abdul-Baha seems to have had long hair all his life; Ghusn-i-Akbar certainly had hair past his ears; and from the picture I've seen of Baha'u'llah himself, he appeared to have quite long hair -- this all makes sense. When you look at their pictures, what do they all have in common? Their ears are still showing!

Of course, as a guy who has long hair myself, this is a very important issue! ;)

La Mallonga Deviga Preĝo

Mi atestas, ho mia Dio, ke Vi kreis min, por ke mi konu Vin kaj adoru Vin. Mi atestas ĉi-momente mian senfortecon kaj Vian potencon, mian povrecon kaj Vian riĉecon. Ne estas alia Dio krom Vi, la Helpo en Danĝero, la Mem-Ekzistanta.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Statement of my beliefs

For nearly 11 years, I believed that the only way I could possibly be a Bahai was to join the Haifan denomination. I, like so many others, believed what the administration proclaimed -- that it was the only valid form of the faith. I never felt comfortable with the "official" organization, and so I never joined... Which left me feeling extremely frustrated because I still felt so drawn to the faith.

Since I've only recently realised that the Bahai faith isn't really an organization, I'm still learning and establishing my newfound understanding of Bahaism. So I thought it might be helpful for me to write out my current observations and positions on the faith, as well as my personal spiritual beliefs in general. Of course, my thoughts are always subject to change, so who knows what revisions I'll make to this in the future. But hopefully it will be a useful exercise, and be interesting food for thought when I look at this a year or two from now.

* First of all, I am a Gnostic Christian, as well as a (Unitarian) Bahai. Some might see this as a contradiction, but I've always been very interfaith in my spiritual beliefs and practices, so it works just fine for me. If, as Bahais, we acknowledge the unity of the world's religions, and the oneness of God, then it makes perfect sense that one could practice more than one religion simultaneously. I've always felt that studying the world's faiths only serves to increase my knowledge and understanding of an unknowable God, rather than diminish it.

* I believe in reincarnation, and the continued existence of the soul upon death in this world.

* I believe the world we live in, while wonderful and beautiful, is not perfect. It's an imperfect reflection of a perfect reality. As such, nothing that is part of this world can be perfect and infallible -- including religious scripture, prophets, and their successors. A prophet might be as close to perfection as it's possible to get in this world, but I can't help but think that his own personal thoughts and opinions might still creep into his teachings. I also recognize, that even if a prophet's original teachings were 100% perfect, the various translations of them that get passed down through the ages are not! And the more time that passes, the more likely the translations that are available will differ from the original -- It's just like the telephone game we all played when we were little!

* I believe that Baha'u'llah was a prophet of God; one in a long line of prophets sent throughout history, including: Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Mani, Muhammad, and Baha'u'llah.

* I believe that Baha'u'llah may have been the expected return of Christ to the earth. Something I've always found interesting was that the Adventists expected Christ to return in 1844, and when he didn't it was called the Great Disappointment. However, 1844 was the year of the declaration of the Bab, Baha'u'llah's forerunner. So, perhaps the Adventists were right after all, and just simply missed Christ because he didn't return in the way they expected. After all, Christ did say he would "come like a thief in the night!" Thieves don't make big productions out of their arrival, do they?

* I believe in the unity of mankind, the equality of the sexes, the equality and unity of the races, and the need for a universal auxiliary language. I believe that national borders are basically imaginary constructions -- I consider myself a citizen of the world, not a citizen of the United States.

* I don't believe that the administrative order of the Haifan Baha'i Faith has any valid authority. I don't believe that Shoghi Effendi's authority was valid, and he was certainly not infallible. I believe that the Universal House of Justice does not fit the description of the House of Justice that Baha'u'llah gave in the Kitab-i-Aqdas.

* I believe that Baha'u'llah gave his son, Abdul-Baha, the right to interpret scripture -- not to claim absolute authority over the faith.

* I don't believe that Abdul-Baha's brother, Ghusn-i-Akbar, was a Covenant-Breaker. Abdul-Baha and his brother had an argument because Ghusn-i-Akbar didn't believe Abdul-Baha had as much authority over the faith as he claimed. Consequently, Abdul-Baha excommunicated him, and any of his family that agreed with him. That grudge has been held against Ghusn-i-Akbar's descendents to this very day, who, despite what the administration says, still validly consider themselves Bahais, faithful to Baha'u'llah's Covenant.

* Even if Shoghi Effendi's authority were to be considered valid, it's still a fact that he died without designating a successor. There is no Guardian of the Bahai faith any longer, and the UHJ does not take its place. Being without a Guardian, Bahais are now free to interpret the scriptures according to their own conscience.

* Baha'u'llah said nothing to suggest that homosexuality is a sin, or that gay couples could not marry each other. He condemned pedophilia/pederasty, and specific sex acts. We can't presume to put words in his mouth.

* I don't think Bahais are specifically prohibited from participating in any form of politics -- Although I just simply don't have much interest. I'm a Libertarian Socialist, and don't really believe in government. I'll work in matters that concern my fellow man, justice, human rights, etc., but prefer not to get involved in politics. I don't vote for any public office, but I will write to the appropriate political leaders to voice my opinion on various acts of legislation, if necessary.

* I have no right to press my religious beliefs upon others. I love hearing about other people's beliefs, and enjoy religious discussions, but won't participate in debates. I believe all paths lead to the same God, and no single path is going to be right for everyone.

I think that about sums it up! I'm sure I'll be adding to this list though, as I think of things. ;)