Freedom from sectarian hatreds and other shackles
In the foreword to "One Common Faith," the Universal House of Justice wrote:
. . . the disease of sectarian hatreds, if not decisively checked, threatens harrowing consequences that will leave few areas of the world unaffected.
. . . the concern of Baha'is must be with their own responsibility in the matter.
. . . the accelerating breakdown in social order calls out desperately for the religious spirit to be freed from the shackles that have so far prevented it from bringing to bear the healing influence of which it is capable.
The best response I see for Baha'i is, as the document states "the culture of systematic growth taking root in the Bahá'í community."
In my understanding, in addition to that, the responses will also include a variety of individual initiatives, including initiatives that directly address sectarian hatreds, and other shackles on the religious spirit, among Baha'is.
One example I see of sectarian hatreds among Baha'is, which I've tried to address, is a kind of Hatfield-McCoy feud on the Internet that has stifled and defamed a liberal movement in the Baha'i community. The feud is most visible in the talk.religion.bahai Usenet newsgroup, but it lurks in every Baha'i forum on the Internet, and stifles discussion of vital social issues, including issues raised in "One Common Faith" and in The Advent of Divine Justice. It can also be seen in a few books, magazine articles and academic papers, and in numerous Web pages and blogs. I've also seen it off line in the efforts of a few Baha'i celebrities and members of institutions to stigmatize some people associated with the movement.
Since I learned about the feud in 2001, I've responded to defamation campaigns from both sides in a variety of ways. One way I've responded to campaigns from the liberal side has been by providing a counter-example to their caricatures of followers of the House of Justice. Another way has been by inviting people to read what the House of Justice itself says about the reasons for its actions.
One way I've responded to campaigns from the defense side has been by writing "Glimpses of the dialogue/Talisman chronicles," a story about my personal experiences with some people associated with the liberal movement: Wahid Azal (formerly Nima Hazini), Karen Bacquet, Juan Cole, Fred Glaysher, Susan Maneck, Alison Marshall, Steve Marshall, Michael McKenny and Dermod Ryder. I wrote the story to help people relate to them personally, but as I was writing it, it evolved into a prelude to some wonderful possibilities I see in the liberal movement, to help free the religious spirit from its shackles.
In an article about the Talisman discussion list, Karen Bacquet wrote:
Old-time members of Talisman describe those early days as a time of excitement and wonder . . . Outspoken feminists found themselves corresponding with old-fashioned Middle Eastern men; legalistic administrators talked to mystics; scriptural literalists went head-to-head with scholars using academic methods.
Jonah Winters wrote:
I personally found it a most liberating experience. Like a large room full of multiple conversations, some corners of the room had conversations which I found distasteful and sometimes bitter, but most conversations I found engaging, enlightening, exhilarating, enthusiastic, and even the occasional epiphany.
http://bahai-library.com/forum/viewtopi ... =9010#9010
That summarizes what I think of as the spirit of the movement at its best. I see the same spirit in a mysticism conference which took place at Bosch Baha'i School in 1996.
"From February 23 through 24th, a remarkable conference took place at Bosch Baha'i School, Santa Cruz, California. Envisioned as the first in an annual series of conferences focusing on the mystical teachings of the Bab, Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l Baha, the Baha'i Mysticism Conference enabled the 97 participants to develop a greater sense of devotion and mysticism in their personal lives, and to explore ways to enrich the devotional aspects of Baha'i community life in general. Although mysticism has always been part of the religious experience, until Islam it existed at only the individual level. With the rise of the Sufis (Islamic mystics) mysticism became a major flow of thought pursuing the knowledge of transcendent truth through meditation and prayer. By chanting verses from the Writings, the presence of God is invoked. Musical repetition of sacred verses sets up a rhythm which naturally unites people, uplifting them so that they are more receptive. Borrowing from this Sufi tradition, one of the highlights of the Mysticism Conference was its use of zikr (chanting sacred verses) in the devotional portions of the program. The program itself was an eclectic combination of scholarly presentations and uplifting experiential activities such as group zikr, song, art, nature walks and meditation."
- from the Talisman archives
( http://www-personal.umich.edu/~jrcole/t96mar10.htm )
An appendix to my story discusses that spirit, and the possibilities I see in the movement. Another appendix links to some Web pages of people in my story, other people involved in the feud, and other people involved in the liberal movement. Another appendix links to some documents related to the feud and to the movement.
I see the spirit of the liberal movement at its best living on in some of the initiatives of people who were involved in it. I see some of the networking possibilities being carried on in the Baha'i Library Online, the Baha'i Association for the Arts, and Educators for Social and Economic Development.
I'm hoping that Moojan Momen's article, Marginality and Apostasy in the Baha'i Community, will help popularize the liberal movement as a topic for study, and that my story with its appendixes will help inspire research that highlights the best possibilities it represents.
Glimpses of the dialogue/Talisman chronicles
(edited to change "liberation movement" to "liberal movement")