Saturday, 24 November 2007

Crikey! Thanks Moojan

Yesterday, to my amazement, I found out that Moojan Momen had written an article called "Marginality and apostasy in the Baha’i community" and had it published in the prestigious academic journal "Religion". The citation is Religion 37 (2007) 187—209. The astonishing thing for me is that I am one of 12 people he discusses as being 'apostates'. Moojan says that we're all full of ressentiment. He doesn't name Michael McKenny or Sen McGlinn as apostates, despite their disenrollments, because they don't have any ressentiment.

"Some confusion has arisen out of different uses being made of the word ‘apostasy’. In the 1980s the word was used to apply to those who left a religion, particularly the religion of their birth.2 By the late 1990s, however, the word ‘leavetaker’ or ‘defector’ was being applied to anyone who simply left a religion. According to the sociologist David Bromley, the word ‘apostate’ now referred ‘not to ordinary religious leavetakers ... but to that subset of leavetakers who are involved in contested exits and affiliate with an oppositional coalition’ (Bromley, 1998b, p. 5). This narrower definition is the one used here.

This article is not the place to discuss at any length why people become apostates. But the findings of this article do fit well the description of ressentiment, a term that was taken from Nietzsche and was developed by the German social philosopher Max Scheler (1874—1928). Although Scheler’s work has been criticised for elitism and excessive nationalism, his insights into human motivation and particularly into ressentiment remain penetrating and perceptive. In his introduction to Scheler’s Ressentiment, the sociologist Lewis A. Coser has summarised Scheler’s concept of ressentiment thus: ‘Ressentiment denotes an attitude which arises from a cumulative repression of feelings of hatred, revenge, envy and the like.... Ressentiment leads to a tendency to degrade, to “reduce” genuine values as well as their bearers. As distinct from rebellion, ressentiment does not lead to an affirmation of counter-values since ressentiment-imbued persons secretly crave the values they publicly denounce’ (Coser, Introduction to Scheler, 1961, pp. 23—4). Applying the phenomenon of ressentiment to the apostate, Scheler writes:

"An ‘apostate’ is not a man who once in his life radically changes his deepest religious, political, legal, or philosophical convictions—even when this change is not continuous, but involves a sudden rupture. Even after his conversion, the true ‘apostate’ is not primarily committed to the positive contents of his new belief and to the realization of its aims. He is motivated by the struggle against the old belief and lives only for its negation. The apostate does not affirm his new convictions for their own sake, he is engaged in a continuous chain of acts of revenge against his own spiritual past. In reality he remains a captive of this past, and the new faith is merely a handy frame of reference for negating and rejecting the old. As a religious type, the apostate is therefore at the opposite pole from the ‘resurrected,’ whose life is transformed by a new faith which is full of intrinsic meaning and value." (Scheler, 1961, pp. 66—7; see alternative translation in Coser, 1954, p. 250)

I just want to thank Moojan very much for featuring me in his article. This has meant that my name and websites have been featured in that prestigious journal and are now getting untold publicity. I guess real thanks go to Baha'u'llah, but Moojan has faithfully played his part.

Gee, I am overwhelmed. I never imagined I'd ever get mentioned in an academic journal. If my detractors only knew! I'm a nobody and yet the House with its disenrollment and now Moojan with this article - they keep on making me famous.

It puts real pressure on a girl to keep her websites up to standard! I've been so busy at work these past two months, I have neglected them, including this blog. But things have settled down work-wise now, and thank the Lord for that, because I've got real work to do on my sites for the readers of Religion.

Also, I'm overwhelmed by the bounty Baha'u'llah sends me. He says that when people are mean to you and say untrue things about you for his sake, then we should be grateful to him. Tribulation is a horizon unto My Revelation, he says. And believe me, it's true. I've never been so happy and known such joy since my disenrollment and since my reputation for being bad was promulgated by the House of Justice. If people really knew, they'd rush to be in my place.

So all I can say to Moojan is "Thanks!" Keep those rocks coming. I can't believe you bothered to spend all those hours writing an article about how bad I am, for my sake! It's a win-win. You get to do an act that you believe will send you to paradise and I get to be the recipient of one that already has.

"Come nearer, nearer! How much (more) of this highway robbery? Since you are me (and) I am you, how much (more of this) being you and being me?

We are the Light of God and a Lamp. How much (more of this) quarreling with ourself? Because of what (is) light such as this fleeing from light?

We are all one complete being, (so) because of what (is) double- vision such as this? Why do the rich look at poor people as contemptible?

Why does the right (hand) look at its own left (hand) as contemptible? Since both are (part of) you, what (is "fortunate" about) right, what is "contemptible" (about left)?

We are entirely one essence, one intellect and one head. Yet we have become double-seeing because of this bent sky."

Rumi: Rise Up From Me-ness and Mix With All
Translated from the Persian by Ibrahim Gamard

Friday, 2 November 2007

Was my disenrollment an injustice?

I'm disinclined to discuss my disenrollment these days. There are many reasons for this. It's counter productive to go on about something - especially something that happened over seven years ago. I am not comfortable about defending myself; I am conscious about making myself the centre of attention. I don't want to become associated with bitterness and anger or with being a perpetual critic of the Baha'i administration. Although insightful criticism is important, it isn't as important as positive expressions of study, teaching and worship.

But I'm going to break with tradition and talk now about my disenrollment. This is because someone was asking me recently for my views on it. I said I didn't want to get drawn into a discussion on it but that I'd put some thoughts up on my blog. In particular, I realised that there was one argument that my detractors like to put about that I've never responded to. It goes like this: when Alison was disenrolled, she said that she was happy and that she didn't mind. Therefore, Alison was not treated unjustly. She didn't lose anything, for she is happy to have lost her community membership. A variation on this is that because I wasn't an active member of my local community when I was disenrolled, no injustice was done to me when my membership was taken away.

First up, I'll deal with that last one. If being an inactive Baha'i alone justifies your disenrollment, then there's plenty of Baha'is out there who ought to be deeply concerned. But, for some reason, they aren't being disenrolled in any systematic fashion. So, there must be more to it than that.

It's true, though, I do have two seemingly contradictory responses to my disenrollment. I am both content about it and not content about it. In a nutshell, this is because the two responses come from different perspectives. If I see my disenrollment from the point of view of detachment from the world and contentment with the will of God, then I am content. If I look at it in terms of the standard one would expect of the governing bodies of the Baha'i world and the New Zealand Baha'i community, and their duty to act in accordance with equity and justice, then I am not content.

My position about being detached from, and content with, my disenrollment is based on passages from Baha'u'llah such as this one, which has been very influential on me:

"Adorn yourself with My character, in such wise that should anyone treat you unjustly you would take no heed of him, nor oppose him. Leave him to the judgment of your Lord, the Powerful, Omnipotent and Self-Subsisting. Be at all times a wronged one, for this is one of My attributes, though none but the sincere are aware of it. Verily, the sighs of patience uttered by one wronged are more precious to God than any other deed, did you but know. Therefore, be patient in the face of whatever befalls you, and set your trust in your Lord God in all your affairs." Surah of Blood, paragraph 5

Another influential passage is this Arabic Hidden Word, and the ones immediately before it about the way we should respond to adversity:

"O son of man! My calamity is My providence, outwardly it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly it is light and mercy. Hasten thereunto that thou mayest become an eternal light and an immortal spirit. This is My command unto thee, do thou observe it." AHW 51

Also extremely influential on me is the example Baha'u'llah gives us through his own response to injustice. He met with injustice all his life; so, how did he respond? Again, you get the two perspectives: one, contentment with the will of God; and the other, where he tells the Shah and the Sultan in no uncertain terms that they have treated him unjustly. I won't go into how they did that; we all know about how they imprisoned him and exiled him from place to place without bothering to talk to him or dispassionately weigh the evidence against him. Here's a passage that illustrates both perspectives:

"I have seen, O Shah, in the path of God what eye hath not seen nor ear heard... How numerous the tribulations which have rained, and will soon rain, upon Me! I advance with My face set towards Him Who is the Almighty, the All-Bounteous, whilst behind Me glideth the serpent. Mine eyes have rained down tears until My bed is drenched. I sorrow not for Myself, however. By God! Mine head yearneth for the spear out of love for its Lord. I never passed a tree, but Mine heart addressed it saying: `O would that thou wert cut down in My name, and My body crucified upon thee, in the path of My Lord!'... By God! Though weariness lay Me low, and hunger consume Me, and the bare rock be My bed, and My fellows the beasts of the field, I will not complain, but will endure patiently as those endued with constancy and firmness have endured patiently, through the power of God, the Eternal King and Creator of the nations, and will render thanks unto God under all conditions." Tablet to Násiri’d-Dín Sháh in Summons of the Lord of Hosts, paragraph 268

And so, this is my position too. On the one hand, I am detached from what's happened to me. I know that, in reality, it is an honour to suffer in the path of God. On the other hand, however, it is also true that I have been wronged. Just like Baha'u'llah, I was exiled (only for me, it was from the Baha'i community) without first being spoken to, and I was the victim of people scheming against me behind closed doors.

What my detrators like to do is mix the two perspectives up. The mixture turns out compelling for those who don't understand the spiritual perspective of detachment. The result isn't bothered with the subtleties and leaves a potion easy for the simple-minded to swallow: Alison is content over the decision to disenrol her, therefore no injustice was done to her. But would those detractors use the same logic in the case of Baha'u'llah? Baha'u'llah was thankful to God for the imprisonment and exiles that were ordained for him, therefore he wasn't treated unjustly? Or perhaps it could be applied to the martyrs in Iran: they used to kiss the hands of their executioners and couldn't wait to die, therefore the Iranian government did not wrong them when it had them killed? In fact, now that the idea is out there, I'm just waiting for the day the Iranian government starts using it to justify its actions. It can thank the Baha'is for thinking the argument up.