SocioSphere Editorials

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

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Tuesday,January 06,2009

Israel is in a similar place to the United States before that country allowed the unrestricted movement of its own indigenous population.

Ostensibly, governments act in what they believe to be their own best interests. U.S. leaders tolerated the descendants of its slave population to live according a separate (but never quite equal) existence until those leaders saw that the profitability of such an arrangement (including the threat of a race war) had made changes desirable.

For the time being, Israel holds most of the cards. Not only does that nation enjoy the almost unconditional political and economic support of the world's "superpower." It has effectively found a means (border fences, check points, and the current restrictions on journalistic activity in Gaza) to make challenges to its authority almost impossible.

posted at 12:30:40 AM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Sunday,January 04,2009

IMO, interfaith and ecumenical discussions need to take into account that

religion is merely a category or, as Locke termed it, a nominal essence. What is and is not a religion will vary according to our definition of the term.

For instance, using Durkheim's functional definition - a system of beliefs and practices, focused on the sacred, which unites people into a moral community - various religious communities, including Reconstructionist Judaism (originally started as an atheistic movement) and the Buddhisms and Taoisms (some of which are atheistic), could be included.

On the other hand, using a more substantive definition of religion - for instance, one which requires a belief in the supernatural or in one or more gods or goddesses - neither Reconstructionist Judaism (classically), some of the Buddhisms and Taoisms, nor the Ethical Culture Movement of Felix Adler could be included.

My point is that, in talking about interfaith issues, to avoid the common fallacy of reification. Religion is, again turning to Locke, a nominal essence, not a real essence.

posted at 07:46:53 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

Saturday,January 03,2009

Bahá í World Centre . P.O. Box 155 . 31 001 Haifa, Israel
Tel: 972 (4) 835 8358 . Fax: 972 (4) 835 8280 . Email:

14 November 2005

Transmitted by email

To all National Spiritual Assemblies

Dear Bahá í Friends,

Recently, questions have arisen which have prompted the Universal House of Justice to comment further on matters treated in the compilation  Issues Related to the Study of the Bahá í Faith .

The Bahá í principle calling for investigation of reality encourages an unfettered search for knowledge and truth by whoever wishes to engage in it. When applied to the Revelation of Bahá u'lláh, it inevitably gives rise to a wide range of responses. Some, attracted to the Message, embrace the Cause as their own. Some may respond positively to certain precepts or principles and willingly collaborate toward shared aims. Some may find it to be an interesting social phenomenon worthy of study. Still others, content with their own beliefs, may reject its claims. Bahá ís are taught to be respectful of the views of others, believing that conscience should not be coerced.

Upon becoming a Bahá í, one accepts certain fundamental beliefs; but invariably one s knowledge of the Teachings is limited and often mixed with personal ideas. Shoghi Effendi explains that  an exact and thorough comprehension of so vast a system, so sublime a revelation, so sacred a trust, is for obvious reasons beyond the reach and ken of our finite minds.  Over time, through study, prayerful reflection, and an effort to live a Bahá í life, immature ideas yield to a more profound understanding of Bahá u'lláh s Revelation. Service to the Cause plays a particular role in the process, for the meaning of the Text is clarified as one translates insights into effective action. As a matter of principle, individual understanding or interpretation should not be suppressed, but valued for whatever contribution it can make to the discourse of the Bahá í community. Nor should it, through dogmatic insistence of the individual, be allowed to bring about disputes and arguments among the friends; personal opinion must always be distinguished from the explicit Text and its authoritative interpretation by  Abdu l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi and from the elucidations of the Universal House of Justice on  problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not
expressly recorded in the Book .

In searching for understanding, Bahá ís naturally acquaint themselves with published materials from a variety of sources. A book written by a disinterested non-Bahá í scholar about the Faith, even if it reflects certain assumptions and puts forward conclusions acceptable within a given discipline but which are at variance with Bahá í belief, poses no particular problem for Bahá ís, who would regard these perceptions as an honest attempt to explore a religious phenomenon as yet little understood generally. Any non-biased effort to make the Faith comprehensible to a thoughtful readership, however inadequate it might appear, would evoke genuine Bahá í appreciation for the perspective offered and research skill invested in the project. The matter is wholly different, however, when someone intentionally attacks the Faith.

An inescapable duty devolves upon the friends so to situate themselves in the knowledge of the Teachings as to be able to respond appropriately to such a challenge as it arises and thus uphold the integrity of the Faith. The words of Bahá u'lláh Himself shed light on the proper attitude to adopt. He warns the believers  not to view with too critical an eye the sayings and writings of men .  Let them , He instructs,  rather approach such sayings and writings in a spirit of open-mindedness and loving sympathy. Those men, however, who, in this may, have been led to assail, in their inflammatory writings, the tenets of the Cause of God, are to be treated differently. It is incumbent upon all men, each according to his ability, to refute the arguments of those that have attacked the Faith of God. 

A different type of challenge arises when an individual or group, using the privilege of Bahá í membership, adopts various means to impose personal views or an ideological agenda on the Bahá í community. In one recent instance, for example, an individual has declared himself a  Bahá í theologian, writing from and for a religious community,  whose aim is  to criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the Bahá í community, to enable Bahá ís to understand their relatively new Faith and to see what it can offer the world . Assertions of this kind go far beyond expressions of personal opinion, which any Bahá í is free to voice. As illustrated, here is a claim that lies well outside the framework of Bahá í belief and practice. Bahá u'lláh has liberated human minds by prohibiting within His Faith any caste with ecclesiastical prerogatives that seeks to foist a self-assumed authority upon the thought and behavior of the mass of believers. Indeed, He has prescribed a system that combines democratic practices with the application of knowledge through consultative processes.

The House of Justice is confident that the principles herein presented will enable the friends to benefit from diverse contributions resulting from exploration of the manifold implications of Bahá u'lláh s vast Revelation, while remaining impervious to the efforts of those few who, whether in an explicit or veiled manner, attempt to divert the Bahá í community from essential understandings of the Faith.

With loving Bahá í greetings,

Department of the Secretariat

posted at 04:05:38 PM by Dr. Mark A. Foster

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

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