Saturday, 4 October 2008

A culture of learning and intellectual pride

Hushmand Fatheazam, former member of the Universal House of Justice, presents the 26th Hasan M. Balyuzi Memorial Lecture at the conference of the North American Association for Baha’i Studies.

This morning I read the blurb from the Baha'i World News Service about the recent North American Baha'i Studies conference held in San Diego, which finished on 1 September. Hushmand Fatheazam, former member of the Universal House of Justice, gave the Hasan M. Balyuzi Memorial Lecture on the subject "Some Observations on the Scope and Value of Baha'i Scholarship." The news release tells us that Mr. Fatheazam gave the following advice to Baha'i scholars:

"While underlining the vital contributions of Baha'i scholarship to the development of the Baha'i Faith and the progress of society, he cautioned against the temptations of intellectual pride that scholars from all traditions have historically been susceptible to, and urged Baha'is to pursue paths of scholarship with the utmost humility."

This is a favourite theme of those high up in the Baha'i administration: the curse of intellectual pride on the part of Baha'i scholars. Not long before my expulsion, I was invited along to a meeting at my local centre, which was dedicated to this theme and was based on a compilation on Baha'i scholarship and its pitfalls by the House of Justice.

But as I read the above advice, reported as given from one of impeccable community credentials and assured salvation, new thoughts come to me. Why is it that he and his colleagues never apply this theme of intellectual pride to leaders of religion? The scholars are invariably singled out and cautioned, as if they're poised to run amok like Baha'i youth at a summer school. But never a word about leaders of religion. It strikes me as a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

The theme of pride and, indeed, "veils of glory" as it relates to leaders of religion, far from being an obscure idea, is one Baha'u'llah emphasised, and gets a lot of airing in the writings. For example:

"Leaders of religion, in every age, have hindered their people from attaining the shores of eternal salvation, inasmuch as they held the reins of authority in their mighty grasp. Some for the lust of leadership, others through want of knowledge and understanding, have been the cause of the deprivation of the people." (Kitab-i-Iqan, p 15, emphasis mine)

And again:

"But as they [the Christians] failed to recognize the accents of God and the divine mysteries and holy allusions enshrined in that which flowed from the tongue of Muhammad, and as they neglected to examine the matter in their own hearts, and followed instead those priests of error who have hindered the progress of the people in past dispensations and who will continue to do so in future cycles, they were thus veiled from the divine purpose, failed to quaff from the celestial streams, and deprived themselves of the presence of God, the Manifestation of His Essence, and the Dayspring of His eternity." (Gems of Divine Mysteries, paragraph 54, emphasis mine)

The theme in the writings that leaders of religion fall prey to intellectual pride, and lead people away from recognising the manifestation, is not discussed at Baha'i conferences. Instead, the evidence is that Baha'i leaders of religion persist in reminding scholars about their uncontrollable egos, sending scholars scuttling into dark corners lest they inadvertently catch their leaders' unwelcome attention. Given this climate of 'learning', I shouldn't think there was any danger a scholar worthy of the name would raise the subject of leaders of religion going bad - unless, of course, it was to argue that the House of Justice isn't a leader of religion, or is infallible and therefore not subject to the failings of those Baha'u'llah identified. Or perhaps the matter has been put to rest by the Department of the Secretariat in a letter to an individual: "There is nothing in the Writings to support the view that the opposition or persecution [of the next manifestation] will be instigated or inflicted by the Universal House of Justice." Letter from the Department of the Secretariat, 1997


Pioneering Over Four Epochs said...

It has been some time since I last wrote to you, Alison. I think the last time was when I sent items for that magazine you and Steven published back in the early 1990s. Alot of water under the proverbial bridge since then--to put it mildly. My guess is that it has been 15 years since I last wrote. I wish you well. You are what is called in Australia "a little Aussie battler;" only in this case it is a little NZ battler. I can't keep up with all your writing; you are, indeed, prolific and the world of print both inside and outside the Cause seems to be burgeoning more than ever before. Indeed, it is an avalanche.

Since this post of yours here at this blog is about "a culture of learning," let me simply tell you about my 70 page, 80,000 word book/paper on the same topic.

I posted an introduction to the paradigmatic shift in the Baha'i community, the new culture of learning and growth that is at the heart of this paradigm, some 24 months ago. I did this posting at several internet sites and have updated/revised that post in these last two years. I gave readers some specific steps on how to access this now revised article/essay/book at Baha’i Library Online(BLO).

In that two year period there have been many thousand views of my article at the few sites where it has been posted. In addition to googling "Baha'i Culture of Learning and Growth" and accessing my article in the process at several sites, readers can take the following steps to access the latest edition of my article at BLO: (i) type Baha’i Library Online or Baha’i Academics Resource Library into your search engine; (ii) click on the small box “By author” at the top of the access page at BLO; (iii) type “Price” into the small box that then appears and click on the word “Go;” and then (iv) scroll down to article/document item #46 and (v) click on that item and read to your heart’s content. I advise readers that, when their eyes and their mind start to glaze over to stop reading. The article can be downloaded free and you will then have access to that revised article, that 170 page, 80,000 word context for all this new paradigmatic terminology that has come into the Baha’i community in the last 13 years.

The statement is a personal one, does not assume an adversarial attitude, attempts to give birth of as fine an etiquette of expression as I can muster and, I like to think, possesses both candour and critical thought on the one hand and praise and delight at the process on the other. I invite readers to what I also like to think is “a context on which relevant fundamental questions” regarding this new paradigm may be discussed within the Baha’i community. It is also my intention to update this article in the months and years ahead. One of the advantages of the BLO site is the freedom it gives to a writer to update the article right on the site in an ongoing process as new insights from major thinkers in the Baha'i community and information from the elected and appointed institutions of the Cause comes to hand.

If time and the inclination permit, check it out. No worries, no obligation, just if it interests you. You may find the piece of writing too long as I'm sure many readers do. You may also find it too personal due to the fact that I attempt to answer the question: “where do I fit into this new paradigm?” After a few paragraphs of reading, you will get the flavour of the exercise. Just keep reading if your mind and spirit are enjoying the process.

I also write as someone who has burnt-out more times than he cares to admit. You might prefer to google "RonPrice bipolar disorder" to read something of my own burn- outs. From one heart ruby-burnt to one-heart also burnt perhaps to a diamond. Who knows, eh? Take care Alison in all your battles as I will try to do with mine.-Ron Price, George Town, Tasmania

Pioneering Over Four Epochs said...

Readers can find a 6000 word commentary and context for the 2011 Ridvan message which was published just two days ago---at the following sites or hyperlinks: