SocioSphere Editorials

April 2002 - February 2009 Archive
Reflections on Religion, Current Events, and Other Subjects

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Wednesday,June 25,2008

I think a lot depends on the way a subject is taught, too. In elementary school through being an undergraduate student, I hated history. Actually, I hated the way it was taught. As a Ph.D. student, history was my "minor" (an unusual, but useful, requirement at that university). I picked history because it seemed practical - considering my anticipated dissertation topic. Surprisingly, I now loved history, and I did well in it. However, history on the Ph.D. level is often taught more conceptually and theoretically, which I found appealing.

I really believe that there are ways to make almost any subject interesting and approachable to virtually anyone. The problem is that educational systems, especially on the lower levels, are generally set up to process students like a factory assembly line, rather than as people who can, given the proper approach, be taught to learn and appreciate academic knowledge. As a result, some students fall through the cracks and come to believe that they are simply unable to learn.

posted at 11:06:09 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Tuesday,June 24,2008

The late Lex Hixon (1941 1995) held joint citizenship in several sacred worlds Advaita Vedanta, Islamic Sufism, Vajrayana Buddhism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, and Soto Zen. He earned a PhD in World Religions from Columbia University and wrote seven books, including Coming Home and Living Buddha Zen

Lex was truly an ambassador for the brighter possibilities of humanity s future. An accredited scholar and a contagiously passionate mystic, he left a priceless legacy for all who aspire to global community. His warm, joyful manner of teaching, celebrating, and encouraging spiritual seekers of all kinds touched thousands of lives.

Lex was originally a disciple of Swami Nikhilananda of the Ramakrishna Order. His subsequent experience of being  orthodox in five different spiritual traditions  produced a unique philosophy a  theory of relativity for religions. 

For many years, Lex hosted the WBAI radio program  In the Spirit,  on which he interviewed many religious teachers and was responsible for introducing their practices to many Americans. He was the founder of Free Spirit magazine. Shortly before his death, he was in the process of being ordained as a successor in the initiatory lineage of Dogen s Soto Zen.

He [Hixon] admitted that if holding a religious lineage is defined only by its external practices, he would be in trouble, because "there is no way to do all of those practices all the time to the greatest fullness. But if holding a lineage has to do with an inner spirit, an inner knowledge, then they are compatible. It's like saying you can speak French and Chinese and German and Hebrew, and then someone asks, 'Can you speak them all at the same time, every day?' Of course not, but you can know them simultaneously and be enriched by them without pitting them against one another. You could say that mine is. a general theory of relativity for religions."

posted at 03:26:25 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

As a Baha'i, I believe that each of the Prophets (Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad, the Bab, Baha'u'llah, and many others) progressively revealed the Word of God, according to God's Will.

However, there is not one Hindu tradition, one Buddhist tradition, one Christian tradition, or one Islamic tradition (etc.). Each of the so-called traditions of the past consists of different (often mutually hostile) branches, sects, etc.

For instance, Lex Hixon chose to become a Sufi. Why not an Ismaili? Why not a Twelver Shi'ih? Why not an Ahmadi? Hixon chose to become Greek Orthodox. Why not a Jehovah's Witness? Why not a Mormon? Why not a Lutheran? He relied upon his own personal preferences.

Hixon appeared very laid back. I shook hands with him, and he then began to run the meeting.

Yes, Hixon converted to Islam, to Greek Orthodoxy, to Buddhism, and to other religions.

There is a photograph of him as Shaykh Nur al Jerrahi (his Islamic name) on the main page of the website of the tariqat (order):

Hixon turned his Sufi order into a very ecclectic movement.

He was well known in NYC. He used to have a radio show, where he interviewed spiritual leaders, and he also started one of NYC's new agey newspapers (still in publication):

Hixon's universalism was inspired by Ramakrishna, and, in many ways, Hixon lived a modern version of the life lived by Ramakrishna. Perhaps that was his objective.

posted at 01:35:40 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Saturday,June 21,2008

God is the Exnihilator, the one who creates something out of nothing (exnihilation, the opposite of annihilation).

posted at 02:03:37 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Thursday,June 19,2008

"Perused ye not the Qur'an? Read it, that haply ye may find the Truth, for this Book is verily the Straight Path. This is the Way of God unto all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth." (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, Page: 44)

"First is the importance of the study of Islam -- which subject is still new to the majority of the believers, but whose importance for a proper and sound understanding of the Cause is absolutely indispensable . . make every effort to provide. . . facilities required, such as textbooks, competent lecturers and writers, who though not necessarily Baha'is, should have a correct knowledge and sound appreciation of Islam, so as to be able to impress its true significance and mission  " (Shoghi Effendi -- "Lights of Guidance", #1903, p. 562)

"Guardian would. . . urge the friends to make a thorough study of the Qur'án, as the knowledge of this sacred Scripture is absolutely indispensable for every believer who wishes to adequately understand and intelligently read, the writings of Baha'u'llah. . . " ("Directives from the Guardian," page 63 -- "Lights of Guidance", p. 562)

"Guardian agrees, that it would be easier and more helpful to study the Book according to subjects " ("Directives from the Guardian," page 63 --"Lights of Guidance", p. 497)

"They must strive to obtain, from sources that are authoritative and unbiased, a sound knowledge of the history and tenets of Islam -- the source and background of their Faith -- and approach reverently and with a mind purged from preconceived ideas the study of the Qur'án . . . ("The Advent of Divine Justice," p. 49)

"Ponder a while and observe that everything in Islam hath its ultimate and eventual beginning in the Book of God. Consider likewise the Day of the Revelation of Him Whom God shall make manifest, He in Whose grasp lieth the source of proofs, and let not erroneous considerations shut thee out from Him, for He is immeasurably exalted above them, inasmuch as every proof proceedeth from the Book of God which is itself the supreme testimony, as all men are powerless to produce its like. Should myriads of men of learning, versed in logic, in the science of grammar, in law, in jurisprudence and the like, turn away from the Book of God, they would still be pronounced unbelievers. Thus the fruit is within the supreme testimony itself, not in the things derived therefrom." (Selections from the Bab, page: 104)

"A careful and thorough investigation of the historical record [for brief account see FILE here titled "Islamic Civilization " ] will establish the fact that the major part of the civilization of Europe is derived from Islam; for all the writings of Muslim scholars and divines and philosophers were gradually collected in Europe and were with the most painstaking care weighed and debated at academic gatherings and in the centers of learning, after which their valued contents would be put to use. Today, numerous copies of the works of Muslim scholars, which are not to be found in Islamic countries, are available in the libraries of Europe. Furthermore, the laws and principles current in all European countries are derived to a considerable degree and indeed virtually in their entirety from the works on jurisprudence and the legal decision of Muslim theologians. Were it not for the fear of unduly lengthening the present text, We would cite these borrowings one by one. . . . The beginnings of European civilization date from the seventh century of the Muslim era." (`Abdu'l-Baha: Secret of Divine Civilization, pages: 89-90)

"The friends should uphold Islam as a revealed Religion in teaching the Cause but need not make, at present, any particular attempt to teach it solely and directly to non-Baha'is at this time... The mission of the American Bahá'ís is, no doubt to eventually establish the truth of Islam in the West." (Shoghi Effendi in a letter to an individual believer, July 30, 1941 --  Lights of Guidance, #1665, p. 496.  There are a number of other references listed in LG on this page, but not cited here.)

"As to Muhammad, the Apostle of God, let none among His followers who read these pages, think for a moment that either Islam, or its Prophet, or His Book, or His appointed Successors, or any of His authentic teachings, have been, or are to be in any way, or to however slight a degree, disparaged. The lineage of the Báb, the descendant of the Imam Husayn; the divers and striking evidences, in Nabil's Narrative, of the attitude of the Herald of our Faith towards the Founder, the Imams, and the Book of Islam; the glowing tributes paid by Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Íqán to Muhammad and His lawful Successors, and particularly to the "peerless and incomparable" Imam Husayn; the arguments adduced, forcibly, fearlessly, and publicly by 'Abdu'l-Bahá, in churches and synagogues, to demonstrate the validity of the Message of the Arabian Prophet; and last but not least the written testimonial of the Queen of Rumania, who, born in the Anglican faith and notwithstanding the close alliance of her government with the Greek Orthodox Church, the state religion of her adopted country, has, largely as a result of the perusal of these public discourses of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, been prompted to proclaim her recognition of the prophetic function of Muhammad -- all proclaim, in no uncertain terms, the true attitude of the Bahá'í Faith towards its parent religion."
(Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 108)

posted at 09:03:12 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Tuesday,June 17,2008

I have recently been meeting numerous seriously dysfunctional people who attempt to project their issues on others. My conclusion is that whatever we do communicates to others something about our characters. Again, whatever we say or do communicates to others, not about others, but about our own characters.

That is what I look for, not what people say about others, but about that person's character, virtues (or lack thereof), etc.

posted at 09:10:23 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

About 20 years ago, I came up with a list of eight forms of the eternal Covenant. I don't have the sources readily available, so I will post the list without substantiation. It reads pretty straightforward to me.

1. The Greater Covenant between God and His Prophets
2. The Specific Greater Covenant regarding the Bab
3. The Specific Greater Covenant regarding Baha'u'llah
4. The Greater Covenant regarding Obedience to the Prophet
5. The Greater Covenant regarding the Succession of Prophets
6. The Lesser Covenant establishing Successorship
7. The Specific Lesser Covenant regarding `Abdu'l-Baha
8. The Specific Lesser Covenant regarding the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice

posted at 05:06:36 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Personally speaking, I would like to see a primary-source-based ("scriptural") study circle - a bit like the "radical traditions" approach of postcritical theologies. Simply, postcritical theologies turn to a particular set of religious scriptures (a "canon" perhaps) and ask about its relevancies to the issues and problems faced by contemporary religious communities.

Postcritical theologies are also postliberal. Instead of looking for answers only in an Enlightenment ideal of reason (liberalism), almost in spite of the texts, these theologies advocate returning to the texts, not individually, but communally. Academic textual criticism is embraced, but it is a criticism which does not discount the commonsense "theologizings" by average believers.

Briefly, I think that an ideal study circle methodology, perhaps a modified Ruhi, would be one which would allow the participants to enter into a dialogue with each other, with Baha'i primary sources, and with academic Baha'i scholars. The focus would be on discovering narratives (stories) which could be applied to accomplishing the Plans published by the Universal House of Justice.

In the Baha'i Faith, to my understanding, we utilize a "prima scriptura" (the written text first), more than a "sola scriptura" (only the written text), approach to scripture. Martin Luther's view of sola scriptura would establish the sovereignty of individual exegesis over the authority of Rome. Luther's objection was, not to tradition per se or to using interpretive tools external to the Bible, but to the "sola ecclesia" (only the church) approach to texts in the Roman Catholic Church.

In my view, Baha'is are not sola scriptura, in the Lutheran sense, in that we accept the authority of the Guardian to interpret and the authority of the Universal House of Justice to legislatively elucidate. We have a living canon. On the other hand, given the right to personal interpretations or understanding of Sacred Texts in the Baha'i community, we have nothing quite like the traditional sola ecclesia approach of Roman Catholicism either.

Instead, I think, Baha'is utilize a prima scriptura approach, one which affirms the preeminent place of the Baha'i scriptures (including the writings of the Bab, Baha'u'llah, and `Abdu'l-Baha) but which also accepts the authority, under the Baha'i Covenant, of the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice and which allows for individual interpretation, whether the views of academics or others.

Personally, I would like to see a study circle approach, either a modified Ruhi or something else, which would incorporate these principles.

posted at 05:03:42 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Friday,June 13,2008

The Anglican Communion, called the Episcopal Church in the U.S., is a hybrid of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Some Anglicans or Episcopalians call themselves "Anglo Catholics."

Like Protestantism, the Anglican Communion rejected the Pope.

Unlike Protestantism (and more like Roman Catholicism), the Anglican Communion elevates tradition to an equal rank to scripture. Anglicans reject the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura.

Like neither Protestantism nor Roman Catholicism, the Anglican Communion elevates reason to an equal position with scripture and tradition.

posted at 12:44:28 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Copyright © 2002- Mark A. Foster, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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