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Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Thu Feb 05, 2009 5:28 pm
by Ian Mayes
Hey all,

I am writing this to this forum here, because I do not know of any other online Baha'i Faith related discussion forums out there. So if this place is an inappropriate place for this discussion, please inform me and I will go elsewhere.

My name is Ian Mayes and I am interested in exploring a possible closer relationship with the Baha'i Faith. I was born and raised in a Baha'i family, I went to the 1992 Baha'i World Congress in New York City, I regularly attended youth summer camps at the Louis Gregory Baha'i Institute in South Carolina and Baha'i Sunday school in in the area that I lived, as well as attended a variety of other Baha'i gatherings and events throughout my childhood and early adulthood. I officially left the Baha'i Faith in 1998, during which time I wrote a rather long letter detailing why I did so, which I would be happy to send on to you all if you are interested.

Now, about eleven years later, and after much more life experiences and readings, the Baha'i Faith and a religious life in general seems more appealing to me. However, I do still have some continuing questions, concerns, and things that I would like to be heard about before I would feel comfortable and confident in officially re-joining the Faith. I have recently been actively looking for Baha'is that are knowledgeable and grounded in the Faith to connect and discuss this further with, which is why I am writing to you all here.

I have some very particular things which I have concerns about which I will go into now. A good reference for this can be found on this section of the Wikipedia page about "Baha'i Laws": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baha%27i_laws#Other_prohibitions

I am pretty much cool with everything listed there until it gets to the "Shaving of one's head" part, and all of the entries after that. In particular, my issues are with:

1) What does it matter if one shaves one's head, or if men grow hair below the lobe of the ear? I fail to see the significance in that.

2) In the "adultry and sexual intercourse between unmarried couples" section it says "Sexual intercourse between unmarried couples is punishable by a fine paid to the Local Spiritual Assembly". Why is this exactly? What business is this of the Local Spiritual Assembly? And why should they profit off it? If they get money from it, wouldn't that be a form of prostitution?

3) From the "adultry" section on to the "theft" section there is a lot of talk about punishment. Both the death penalty and imprisonment are talked about as being OK things. This notion of justice I simply flat-out disagree with, and here's why: other methods of justice and dealing with crime have been found and implemented that are based on restoring trust, mutual support and mending relationships in the community, and healing & educating the individuals who are in need of help. This approach to justice is called "Restorative Justice" and more information on it can be found online here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restorative_justice

I wonder then, is the Baha'i community aware of Restorative Justice? If so, why is the Baha'i community not in favor of it? To me, the ideas of punishment, retribution and stigmatizing people just makes things worse and does not improve things. Restorative Justice seems very much in alignment with the Baha'i beliefs in unity, harmony and the benefits of spiritual growth.

And my last question is:

4) Assuming that I am in agreement with all of the Baha'i beliefs, except for these three areas, would it be right for me to join the Baha'i Faith? Is it alright for Baha'is to outright disagree with Baha'u'llah, etc. in some of the laws outlined in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas? Or are Baha'is not supposed to have such a pick-and-choose kind of attitude?

That's all for now, thanks for reading this, and I look forward to reading your responses. Feel free also to write to me personally at parenthesiseye@gmail.com or to forward this message on to other Baha'is who would be interested in considering these questions posed here.

Thanks, and I am wishing you all the best!

- Ian

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Thu Feb 05, 2009 7:02 pm
by BritishBahai
Heres a short answer since im rushed for time right now
(and welcome to the forums;))
Ian Mayes wrote:1) What does it matter if one shaves one's head, or if men grow hair below the lobe of the ear? I fail to see the significance in that.
Because hair on your head serves for one purpose - to keep your head warm.

Shaving all your hair off or letting it grow extremely long, in my opinion, makes the person come across as being vain.
I cant give many quotes right now, but this paragraph is relevant and puts things into context and im sure youve come across it before since you said youve read the Kitab Aqdas -
It hath been forbidden you to carry arms unless essential, and permitted you to attire yourselves in silk. The Lord hath relieved you, as a bounty on His part, of the restrictions that formerly applied to clothing and to the trim of the beard. He, verily, is the Ordainer, the Omniscient. Let there be naught in your demeanour of which sound and upright minds would disapprove, and make not yourselves the playthings of the ignorant. Well is it with him who hath adorned himself with the vesture of seemly conduct and a praiseworthy character. He is assuredly reckoned with those who aid their Lord through distinctive and outstanding deeds.

Parag 159, Kitab Aqdas
http://www.bahai-library.com/writings/b ... .html#K159

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Thu Feb 05, 2009 10:01 pm
by coatofmanycolours
"...are Baha'is not supposed to have such a pick-and-choose kind of attitude?"

hi Ian; The way that I understand all of the Faiths from God is that the Manifestation of God
is given all the knowledge He needs to help mankind. He is like a skilled physician whose ability
is infinitely greater than that of anyone else. A committee of knowledgeable doctors can not
achieve what the Manifestation alone can do, which is to carry out the will of God exactly
as instructed. I think it is better, even for the most knowledgeable person, to trust this perfect
physician from God.

That being said, I am perfectly comfortable to say that I do not understand everything that
Baha'u'llah has commanded, nor can I understand the central teachings except to a limited extent.
For example, what does the oneness of mankind really mean? My understanding of this principle
is finite. I believe that Baha'u'llah understands this principle perfectly, and how to bring it to the
surface of human consciousness, step-by-step.

I ask myself a different set of questions from the ones you posted. I ask myself, "How will I
approach the verses which I do not understand? What will I do with the principles that I am
beginning to understand? Can I make changes to my way of life as an expression of my
confidence in Baha'u'llah? and How will I relate to my adopted community of people, like
myself, who are striving to understand and practice this way of life?"

I think your questions, and mine, are a part of the spirit of this era of transition. I think the
civilization which will gradually emerge in the future will be both scientific and religious. Faith
in God and asking difficult questions will be its warp and its woof. I am sure that it is now
too early to guess what that civilization will be like, but I am glad to be an early Baha'i at this
particular stage in a very dynamic process.

-Peter

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Thu Feb 05, 2009 10:47 pm
by AdibM
Hello Ian, and welcome to the Baha'i Library Forum! :) I will give you my perspectives on the points you've raised; I hope they're sufficient.

Ian Mayes wrote:1) What does it matter if one shaves one's head, or if men grow hair below the lobe of the ear? I fail to see the significance in that.


While I believe you're addressing the principle of these laws and not their implementation or lack thereof, I would like to point out that neither of these laws are currently binding on the Western Baha'is according to the Universal House of Justice.

But with regard to your inquiry as to why the subject was even mentioned in the Aqdas - the practice of shaving one's head in Iran was not uncommon during Baha'u'llah's time. I am unaware as to why exactly they did this; perhaps there was an urban myth about the hair growing faster if one shaved it. But regardless, it was evidently not as trivial to Shi'ahs during Baha'u'llah's time as it is to us now, and he wanted to put an end to this practice because he felt that we have hair for a reason, as BritishBahai pointed out: to adorn our heads and keep them warm.

The question of male pattern baldness has also been raised, and I would personally think that it shouldn't matter if those people shaved their heads. But I haven't seen anything authoritative regarding that particular circumstance. Whatever the case, it is indeed very minor compared to many of the other laws and abrogations which Baha'u'llah brought to the world and not even something which we need to worry about right now. :)

Ian Mayes wrote:2) In the "adultry and sexual intercourse between unmarried couples" section it says "Sexual intercourse between unmarried couples is punishable by a fine paid to the Local Spiritual Assembly". Why is this exactly? What business is this of the Local Spiritual Assembly? And why should they profit off it? If they get money from it, wouldn't that be a form of prostitution?


It isn't that they're "profiting" off of it - they don't take their (converted) mithqals and go out to eat or add them to an "Adultery fund"! :lol: Any money that the LSA receives goes back to the community in some way, be it for the upkeep of a center, saving up to build a center if there isn't one nearby, helping community members who are in dire need of aid, etc. Or perhaps it could get sent to the the NSA or even the House for larger-scale projects, such as the maintenance of important American Baha'i sites and the World Center buildings (respectively) or for assisting impoverished Baha'i communities worldwide with meager resources.

If a Baha'i breaks this law, then they lose some of their money and it goes back to the community. There shouldn't be any licentious or wanton connotation attached with anything monetary that goes to any institution; it's used for good. But if the Baha'i in question observed the law to begin with, he would get to keep his money.

Ian Mayes wrote:3) From the "adultry" section on to the "theft" section there is a lot of talk about punishment. Both the death penalty and imprisonment are talked about as being OK things. This notion of justice I simply flat-out disagree with, and here's why: other methods of justice and dealing with crime have been found and implemented that are based on restoring trust, mutual support and mending relationships in the community, and healing & educating the individuals who are in need of help. This approach to justice is called "Restorative Justice" and more information on it can be found online here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restorative_justice

I wonder then, is the Baha'i community aware of Restorative Justice? If so, why is the Baha'i community not in favor of it? To me, the ideas of punishment, retribution and stigmatizing people just makes things worse and does not improve things. Restorative Justice seems very much in alignment with the Baha'i beliefs in unity, harmony and the benefits of spiritual growth.


I would assume that the House is cognizant of such measures. Have you considered sending a pertinent inquiry to them?

But back to your point. I try and apply the same rationale to this scenario as I do to people who think they can sit down with the ruling regime of Iran and "reform" them (I don't mean to be off-topic). What those individuals are apparently incapable of grasping even after 30 years is that one cannot reform something that is incorrigible.

I think it's a safe bet to state that the majority of killers fall under the same category as the Islamic Republic. These are people who take another person's life in spite of their own awareness of the ramifications of such an act, and that, in my opinion, can not go without punitive action. Those individuals are not only taking another's life, but they are potentially devastating the lives and conditions of those close to this hypothetically killed person. Now if the person were mentally imbalanced or something of that nature, then I would opt for different treatment. But not for those who knew what they were doing and did it anyway.

However, some people are biologically predisposed to this sort of thing, as you may know - I've seen case studies where a young man was a murderer, and his father was a murderer, and his father was also a murderer. Genetics can indeed play a role in determining impulsive behavior. Perhaps teaching them the Faith early on can preclude the development of abhorrent behavior, but unfortunately our Faith isn't quite so prevalent as of yet. ;)

In that same vein, `Abdu'l-Baha strongly advises us to focus on the teaching of moral values so as to prevent people from becoming criminals to begin with:

...The most essential thing is that the people must be educated in such a way that no crimes will be committed; for it is possible to educate the masses so effectively that they will avoid and shrink from perpetrating crimes, so that the crime itself will appear to them as the greatest chastisement, the utmost condemnation and torment.

Some Answered Questions, p. 268


The full chapter of the subject noted above may be of interest to you:

http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/SAQ/saq-78.html

And this document by the House might also help:

http://bahai-library.com/published.uhj/ ... hment.html

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Fri Feb 06, 2009 7:26 am
by dragonaxe
Hi Ian, and a warm welcome to the forum. If you're looking to ask those deep (or small) questions, you've come to the right place. I too am a new member, and find the people on here extremely friendly and a great deal more knowledgeable than I.

Like you I've been going through a period of asking questions and more often than not, spending too much time being frustrated about things I didn't understand. Recently though, I've realised that the questions I've been fixated on are not actually that important. And (I hope you don't mind me saying so) I feel that the shaving head type of subject is one of those. There are many more important issues at hand. So please don't think I'm belittling you in anyway!

Your question about restorative justice is one worthy of spending time to form a true opinion upon. As has been mentioned previously, there are many laws which have not been "activated" at this time, and I'm sure that at some point in the future their pertinence will become more easily understood.

On your question about adultery...in order for the LSA to be performing prostitution, the members would need to be performing the act itself...as the definition is "the act or practice of engaging in sexual intercourse for money". Maybe pimping would be a better term ;-)
Seriously though. These laws are not intended to be enacted in todays legal framework. When the world is in the right state, then they become relevant and necessary. But not until then.

Don't let questions like this stop you from engaging in the Faith. We all have questions, or queries about bits and pieces in the writings we don't understand. The issue is how much weight do you place on each of those questions. Are they really more important than all the things you already accept? You alone can make the decision whether or not to rejoin. Look into your heart, and I'm sure you will find the answer in there. But never stop asking questions! Just accepting everything you're told without without thinking about it is much worse.

warmest wishes
Gareth

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Fri Feb 06, 2009 4:48 pm
by BruceDLimber
Hi, Ian; it's great to have you here! :-)

Since most of your questions have already been addressed here, I'll offer you one other excellent site for asking questions about the Faith and general discussions, and then add one important fact to one of your questions.

The best Q & A site I've found for the Faith is Planet Baha'i, at www.planetbahai.org (look for the "Forums" or "Discussion" area). Hope to see you there!

As to the death penalty, it's important to take note of a statement 'Abdu'l-Baha made in the Baha'i scriptures, specifically in Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Baha. (Sorry, but I don't have my references handy at the moment and so can't provide you a direct quote, but I hope you can find this by searching the index.)

First off, it should be noted that lengthy imprisonment is always an acceptable alternative to the death penalty!

And he says in the book I mentioned that if a prisoner is indeed executed,
God then considers him to have paid fully for his crime and will impose no further punishment after death. So viewed in this light, it might actually be to the criminal's advantage to seek this in order to give himself a "clean slate" in the Next Life.

(Not for me to judge, though. Just pointing out the fact.)

Regards, :-)

Bruce

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Fri Feb 06, 2009 6:38 pm
by Truth
Thanks for raising the question on baldness. I started balding at around 18 and as a result started shaving my head, not with a blade, but with a trimmer. I don't know whether what i'm doing is right or not, but I'm now 25 and don't want to walk around looking like Mr burns.

I don't think shaving your head (or growing your hair) makes you any more vain than someone who uses hair gel/spray or gets a haircut. It's just a matter of personal preference. Also, trust me when i say this, the remaining hair on your head when you're balding does NOT provide warmth! I would know, lol. Plus, in certain countries, i think the last thing you need is warmth.

If anyone else could shed some light on the shaving head thing, that'd be great.

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Fri Feb 06, 2009 10:35 pm
by AdibM
BruceDLimber wrote:As to the death penalty, it's important to take note of a statement 'Abdu'l-Baha made in the Baha'i scriptures, specifically in Tablets of 'Abdu'l-Baha. (Sorry, but I don't have my references handy at the moment and so can't provide you a direct quote, but I hope you can find this by searching the index.)


Here it is:

As to the question regarding the soul of a murderer, and what his punishment would be, the answer given was that the murderer must expiate his crime: that is, if they put the murderer to death, his death is his atonement for his crime, and following the death, God in His justice will impose no second penalty upon him, for divine justice would not allow this.

'Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 17


Found it here.

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Sat Feb 07, 2009 12:51 am
by Sean H.
Poppa-Stylez wrote:Thanks for raising the question on baldness. I started balding at around 18 and as a result started shaving my head, not with a blade, but with a trimmer. I don't know whether what i'm doing is right or not, but I'm now 25 and don't want to walk around looking like Mr burns.

I don't think shaving your head (or growing your hair) makes you any more vain than someone who uses hair gel/spray or gets a haircut. It's just a matter of personal preference. Also, trust me when i say this, the remaining hair on your head when you're balding does NOT provide warmth! I would know, lol. Plus, in certain countries, i think the last thing you need is warmth.

If anyone else could shed some light on the shaving head thing, that'd be great.


I think it had something to do with there being a religious order which considered shaving your head to make you more spiritual or religious due to shaving your head.

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Sat Feb 07, 2009 6:52 pm
by TheCatLady
Though I am not officially a Baha'i yet, I do also wonder about the shaved head bit. From what I know of Buddhist monks in Tibet shave their heads, and so that made me thing maybe it had something to do with worship.

I got this from Wikipedia: "Tonsure is the practice of some Christian churches, and some Hindu and Buddhist (only monks or nuns) temples of shaving the hair from the scalp of priests as a symbol of their renunciation of worldly fashion and esteem." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaving#Ch ... d_Buddhism

Then there is this: "Buddhism
There is a head shaving ritual for boys in Burma, somewhat like the Hindu version.

Thai Buddhists have a head shaving ritual for purification of the newborn.

Head shaving is part of the process of becoming a Buddhist monk. The Head Shaving Ceremony is about renunciation from common mundane life and all its illusory pleasures. By renouncing not only one's old sense-desire based lifestyle but also all attachments, one enters into a monastic lifestyle aimed at the attainment of Buddhahood. The Buddha also renounced his home-life at a young age by leaving his palace and cutting off his long hair."

And this: "The Hanafi branch of Islam, which includes the Sunni Turks, demands
that every part of the body - every part! - be free from hair.
Therefore, at each hamam visit, women waxed their body with waxes made
of sugar and various herbs"

From this site http://www.executive-shaving.co.uk/shav ... nd_Shaving

So, it appears that shaving the head, in other religons, have some significance. So, the only reason I can see why Baha'u'llah would forbid shaving the head is to prevent practices like this from happening, perhaps because they were outdated, or they were man-made rituals and not actually revealed by any of the Manisfestations of God. But, that's just my take on it, and I figured I'd put forth any information for better understanding, but we may never truely understand everything.

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Sat Feb 07, 2009 7:14 pm
by BritishBahai
^ What you said made perfect sense

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Sat Feb 07, 2009 8:10 pm
by brettz9
Shaving the head was earlier even specified by Baha'u'llah as a rite of pilgrimage:

10. QUESTION: Shaving the head hath been forbidden in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas but enjoined in the Suriy-i-Hájj.

ANSWER: All are charged with obedience to the Kitáb-i-Aqdas; whatsoever is revealed therein is the Law of God amid His servants. The injunction on pilgrims to the sacred House to shave the head hath been lifted.

(Baha'u'llah, Kitab-i-Aqdas, Questions and Answers, no. 10)


The notes to the Aqdas also state:

In some religious traditions it is considered desirable to shave one's head. The shaving of the head is forbidden by Bahá'u'lláh...

(Kitab-i-Aqdas, note 68)


While it may well have a connection to severing associations associated with clergy (as with the forbidding of kissing of hands, etc.), note that Baha'u'llah refers to "the requirements of nature".

From an evolutionary standpoint, there are likely reasons why we have not lost all of our hair. Wikipedia refers to protection from UV light as one original reason for hair (the "Afro"/tightly coiled kind). And for what its worth, I am extremely sensitive to the cold. When I get my hair trimmed short (what little I have), I am much, much more likely to get a cold.

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Mon Feb 09, 2009 5:01 am
by Fadl
Hi Ian,

Welcome to the forum!

Although it would be wonderful to have you in the Faith, based purely on the nature of your questions, I humbly suggest that you first consider an entirely different approach before making your decision.

Rather than basing your decision on whether or not you like or agree with certain specific Baha’i laws such as those concerning the length of hair, paring of the nails, etc., It would be better to grapple with the bigger questions, such as “Who is Baha’u’llah?” and “Is he really who He claimed he is?” because the central reason for becoming a Baha’i should be the belief that Baha’u’llah is a Manifestation of God.

When an individual believes in Baha’u’llah, trying to follow in His laws becomes an outward expression of trusting that God has revealed what He has willed, and that God wills that which is good for us. Once you believe in Baha’u’llah, you will not shave the head, not because it has some apparent utility that you accept and agree with, but because you love Baha’u’llah, and want to do whatever He has revealed. Of course, we all have our failings and shortcomings, and I don’t mean to suggest that someone who has forgotten or disobeyed some teaching doesn’t love Baha’u’llah, but that the impulse to obey comes from the heart and due to love, not from the mind and out of reason. As Baha’u’llah himself has said in the Aqdas: “Observe My commandments for the love of My beauty.”

Consider if your loved one, whom you love sincerely, and wanted to please, wanted you to wear a red neck tie every anniversary: would you meditate on the significance of the color red, and the necessity (or lack thereof) in wearing neck ties? True, there is significance in the color red, and some cultures may feel it symbolizes love, and others war. Some clinical psychologist may have evidence that red is aggressive or heightens tension, and pragmatists may consider the neck tie itself and outmoded relic of no practical value, not to mention an uncomfortable burden on the wearer. However, would a single one of these thoughts enter your mind for even one moment, if your love asked you to wear a red tie, or would you think only of the beautiful smile, and sparkle in that will appear in her eyes when she sees that you have worn it, to please her? No, of course none of these thoughts would enter your mind, because with love, reason always takes back seat to the heart.

“The leviathan of love swalloweth the master of reason and destroyeth the lord of knowledge” (Baha'u'llah, The Seven Valleys, 10).

Regarding the prohibition of shaving of the head, it is likely that this is Baha’u’llah’s response to head shaving as seen in rituals such as that at Hajj, etc, that He wished to curtail. Indeed, as Brett has mentioned, it is possible to look at the hair and ponder over its biological purpose. Perhaps it foreshadows His knowledge of the hole in the ozone, and global warming…who knows? However, is there harm in abstaining from shaving the head? Probably not. Is there spiritual benefit in obeying God’s Manifestation? Yes, if you love Him. But if you don’t love him, it probably makes no difference whatsoever, if you shave your head or not.

The last point I would ask you to consider, is the relationship between man and the Manifestation. Is it that we should pick and choose a la carte the laws of God which suit us, and in this way establish what is true or false in religion, that which is divine or what is not? Is it we, the servants, who judge the Lord, or He who judges us? Baha’u’llah has said:

“Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men. In this most perfect Balance whatsoever the peoples and kindreds of the earth possess must be weighed, while the measure of its weight should be tested according to its own standard, did ye but know it” (Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 56, v 99).

I think once you establish in your heart and mind who Baha’u’llah is, and that you love Him, the laws that are troubling you will cease being of any importance, and you will want to do things Baha’u’llah has asked, not for their wisdom, not for fear of punishment, but out of love.

I sincerely hope you find what you are seeking, and God confirms you in His faith.

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Fri Feb 13, 2009 11:39 pm
by Ian Mayes
Hey all,

First off, I wanted to give you all a sincere "thank you" for all of your responses and replies to me here. I really appreciate all of the time, care and attention put into this by you.

I also apologize if my previous message to you all here came across as being insulting in different spots.

Regarding my questions asked here, I do feel a deeper sense of understanding and completeness around my first, second, and fourth questions. My third question, regarding justice and punishment, I do not at all feel resolved about.

I think that this feeling comes from my own experience and knowledge of other forms of justice that exist out there that to my eyes are quite in alignment with Baha'i principles.

Let me give you some examples here...

There is a kind of meditation practice out there called "Vipassana Meditation" which is based on the practices of the tradition of Theravada Buddhism. In both India and in the United States some Vipassana Mediitation courses were carried out inside prisons among prisoners. I saw a video about one such project that took place in Alabama, in the U.S. This project seemed to have deep transformative and healing affects on the prisoners. You can find out more information about this video here: http://www.dhammabrothers.com/

Secondly, like I mentioned before, there is Restorative Justice. I know one facilitator of Restorative Justice who works directly with the federal government of Brazil about this. Here is a Youtube video of him discussing his work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B16vheQPh_A

So, knowing that this kind of thing exists and is possible in the world that we live in, I wonder why this is not held to be the standard in the Baha'i Faith? And, to be honest, my faith in Baha'u'llah being who he says he is is in jeopardy around this very issue. I can not believe that a manifestation of God would not see the potential contained within these kinds of practices to work with pain, aggression and grievances within communities.

I don't say this out of any kind of disrespect, so please I hope that my desire to express my gratitude and desire to honor your beliefs is seen here.

I can see myself being an active and devoted Baha'i who promotes Restorative Justice along with other social and personal healing practices. But if punitive justice is the only lens available for Baha'is to look at these things, with no space left for the possibility of people being able to truly understand each other & themselves, mend wounds, and repair damage done, then I don't know if I could become a Baha'i.

I wish you all the best.

- Ian

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2009 9:36 pm
by brettz9
Hello Ian,

Don't worry about such things...We are happy you are here...Feel free to ask away!

You might enjoy seeing this quotation:

Convey on behalf of `Abdu'l-Bahá to thy respected wife my Abhá greetings, and say: `Kindness, training and education extended to prisoners is exceedingly important. Therefore as thou hast exerted an effort in this, hast awakened some of them, and hast been the cause of the turning of their faces to the divine Kingdom, this praiseworthy deed is highly acceptable. Assuredly persevere. Convey on my behalf to the two prisoners in San Quentin the utmost kindness, and tell them: `That prison in the sight of wise souls is a school of training and development. Ye must strive with heart and soul that ye may become renowned in character and knowledge.'

('Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha, at http://bahai-library.com/writings/abdul ... b/083.html )


and this one:

"...Bahá'u'lláh has given us the general moral and social principles to guide our lives, but their application to the rehabilitation of criminals is left to the experts in that field to develop in the same way that economics is left to economists."

(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, September 3, 1974: Ibid.)


and perhaps this:

Deceptively simple in popular discourse, the concept that humanity constitutes a single people presents fundamental challenges to the way that most of the institutions of contemporary society carry out their functions. Whether in the form of the adversarial structure of civil government, the advocacy principle informing most of civil law, a glorification of the struggle between classes and other social groups, or the competitive spirit dominating so much of modern life, conflict is accepted as the mainspring of human interaction. It represents yet another expression in social organization of the materialistic interpretation of life that has progressively consolidated itself over the past two centuries.

(at http://bahai-library.com/published.uhj/ ... nd.html#13 )


However, if one takes an extreme view of Restorative Justice, taking it to mean that all situations can be solved without recourse to state intervention or punishment, then this is clearly not in conformity with the teachings of the Faith. Chapter 77 of Some Answered Questions by 'Abdu'l-Baha was already cited in part, but I think you may find the whole chapter interesting as it confirms both retributive (for the sake of deterrence, not vengeance) and restorative means of justice. There is also a relevant letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a prisoner: http://www.bahai-library.com/writings/s ... x.html#450 and a quotation on Baha'is in prison teaching fellow prisoners: http://bahai-library.com/?file=hornby_l ... pter=1#n25

best wishes,
Brett

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2009 9:53 pm
by brettz9
Oh, and while Baha'u'llah clearly leaves it up to governments to decide on whether to apply capital punishment, there is this purported statement from 'Abdu'l-Baha, His appointed Interpeter, in the context of laws being changeable:

Human conditions and exigencies are such that even the question of capital punishment--the one penalty which most nations have continued to enforce for murder--is now under discussion by wise men who are debating its advisability. In fact, laws for the ordinary conditions of life are only valid temporarily.

(at http://bahai-library.com/writings/abdul ... p.html#365 (no original Persian transcript is available for this talk, however, per http://bahai-library.com/file.php?file= ... f_guardian )

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Tue Feb 17, 2009 12:23 pm
by pilgrimbrent
Ian Mayes wrote:However, I do still have some continuing questions, concerns, and things that I would like to be heard about before I would feel comfortable and confident in officially re-joining the Faith.... Assuming that I am in agreement with all of the Baha'i beliefs, except for these three areas, would it be right for me to join the Baha'i Faith? Is it alright for Baha'is to outright disagree with Baha'u'llah, etc. in some of the laws outlined in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas? Or are Baha'is not supposed to have such a pick-and-choose kind of attitude?


Dear Ian: It's wonderful that you have found your way back to the Threshold of Baha'u'llah's door. Thank you for your candor and openness.

My suggestion is that you say some of Baha'u'llah's prayers and read some of His Writings, and then take a step back and look at the big picture. In your heart, what do you feel that you have found in the Baha'i Faith and in the Person of Baha'u'llah? Do you feel that you have found Someone from God? Do you believe that this is a Revelation direct from God, promised in all the Holy Books? And then, please re-read the concerns you have written about. Place these in both sides of your inner balance, and ask yourself, do I wish to close myself off from this Cause for even one day -- one moment-- more, based on these concerns? Ask yourself what you are bartering away sweetness from Baha'u'llah for.

Today your concerns are about the theory of punishment, and about the shaving of the head, and about the fines that will be paid in the future to the Local House of Justice. Undoubtedly as time goes on other issues will arise. This is typical, probably universal. But you have come far, in recognizing that Baha'u'llah's ideas are not the concepts of a mere mortal, but the product of Universal Mind, the emanations of the Creator of human beings.

It is not that a person is not allowed to enter the Baha'i Faith with reservations. When you enter the Faith is your choice. The question is, I suggest, what do you want to get out of this Faith? And what do you want to give in service to God and humanity, through this Faith? And my personal view is that the attitude Baha'u'llah urges in this following passage, is key to those questions:

"This is the Day when the loved ones of God should keep their eyes directed towards His Manifestation, and fasten them upon whatsoever that Manifestation may be pleased to reveal." (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 171)

If you are convinced that Baha'u'llah is the Divine Physician, then take His medicine and see what it does for you and for your life's aspirations. The best way to determine if this is the Truth, is to apply it in your own life. I suggest that you recite The Long Obligatory Prayer, with all of the postures, fervently; it is a divine gift and a healing remedy. You may instead feel directed to other prayers. The medicine of Baha'u'llah cannot be studied intellectually. It requires applying it. The changes in one's own life become the proof of the truth of the remedy and its Author. Shoghi Effendi's secretary wrote on his behalf, "These daily prayers have been endowed with a special potency which only those who regularly recite them can adequately appreciate." (Compilation on the Baha'i Life)

My own experience with reconciling my mind and my faith is that I recognize the limitations of my own mind. I submit to the greater wisdom of the Manifestation, and this sometimes means that for a time, I defy my mind. Through submission, I challenge my own concepts and convictions. Later, I come to see the wisdom of the Manifestation, and this dissolves the conflict. My mind is intact, my logical processes are intact, my integrity is unimpaired, and it has become consistent with my faith. I learn by doing, by trusting. In my own spiritual experience, this is how I arise above what Baha'u'llah calls "the baser stages of doubt."

This Faith is the divine remedy for poverty, for injustice and war; it is the remedy for much that is today viewed as poor mental health and inner suffering. It is the answer for every heart that longs for God. It is not only for one's personal salvation - it is the answer for every person whose heart longs to serve and improve the state of humanity. If you believe that -- then jump in, and never look back. You have found the greatest Truth that has ever been on this planet in its recorded history. Devote the full energies of your life to this divinely-revealed Message.

As Baha'u'llah reveals in paragraphs 178 and 132 of the Most Holy Book:

"This is not a Cause which may be made a plaything for your idle fancies, nor is it a field for the foolish and faint of heart. By God, this is the arena of insight and detachment, of vision and upliftment, where none may spur on their chargers save the valiant horsemen of the Merciful, who have severed all attachment to the world of being. These, truly, are they that render God victorious on earth, and are the dawning-places of His sovereign might amidst mankind."

"Beware lest ye hesitate in your acceptance of this Cause -- a Cause before which the Concourse on high and the dwellers of the Cities of Names have bowed down."

"O My loved ones! ye are the world's spiritual physicians. It is incumbent upon you, through the power and might of God, to heal by the sovereign remedy of the Most Great Name the soul-sickness of the kindreds of the earth and clarify the vision of all mankind." (Baha'u'llah, The Baha'i World, Volume II, translated by Shoghi Effendi)

Brent Poirier

Re: Some questions & concerns regarding the Baha'i Faith

Posted: Wed Feb 18, 2009 9:35 am
by pilgrimbrent
Ian Mayes wrote:1) What does it matter if one shaves one's head, or if men grow hair below the lobe of the ear?

2) In the "adultry and sexual intercourse between unmarried couples" section it says "Sexual intercourse between unmarried couples is punishable by a fine paid to the Local Spiritual Assembly". Why is this exactly? What business is this of the Local Spiritual Assembly?

3) I wonder then, is the Baha'i community aware of Restorative Justice? If so, why is the Baha'i community not in favor of it?


Dear Ian: To briefly comment directly on your questions:

The matter of justice is a complex one. There is a lot written on justice in the Baha'i Writings. Here are a few others you may be interested in.

"Day and night this Wronged One yieldeth thanks and praise unto the Lord of men, for it is witnessed that the words of counsel and exhortation We uttered have proved effective and that this people hath evinced such character and conduct as are acceptable in Our sight. This is affirmed by virtue of the event which hath truly cheered the eye of the world, and is none other than the intercession of the friends with the high authorities in favour of their enemies. Indeed one's righteous deeds testify to the truth of one's words. We cherish the hope that men of piety may illumine the world through the radiant light of their conduct, and We entreat the Almighty -- glorified and exalted is He -- to grant that everyone may in this Day remain steadfast in His love and stand firm in His Cause."
(Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 90)

[The Persian Muslims had with impunity murdered Baha'is and sacked their goods for decades. For the first time, in Russian Ishqabad, they were punished for doing so. The Baha'i victims pleaded with the government for reduction of the sentences, and this was accomplished.]

Abdu'l-Baha has written:

"As to the difference between that material civilization now prevailing, and the divine civilization which will be one of the benefits to derive from the House of Justice, it is this: material civilization, through the power of punitive and retaliatory laws, restraineth the people from criminal acts; and notwithstanding this, while laws to retaliate against and punish a man are continually proliferating, as ye can see, no laws exist to reward him. In all the cities of Europe and America, vast buildings have been erected to serve as jails for the criminals.

"Divine civilization, however, so traineth every member of society that no one, with the exception of a negligible few, will undertake to commit a crime. There is thus a great difference between the prevention of crime through measures that are violent and retaliatory, and so training the people, and enlightening them, and spiritualizing them, that without any fear of punishment or vengeance to come, they will shun all criminal acts. They will, indeed, look upon the very commission of a crime as a great disgrace and in itself the harshest of punishments. They will become enamoured of human perfections, and will consecrate their lives to whatever will bring light to the world and will further those qualities which are acceptable at the Holy Threshold of God.

"See then how wide is the difference between material civilization and divine. With force and punishments, material civilization seeketh to restrain the people from mischief, from inflicting harm on society and committing crimes. But in a divine civilization, the individual is so conditioned that with no fear of punishment, he shunneth the perpetration of crimes, seeth the crime itself as the severest of torments, and with alacrity and joy, setteth himself to acquiring the virtues of humankind, to furthering human progress, and to spreading light across the world."
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 133)

"And among the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is that religion is a mighty bulwark. If the edifice of religion shakes and totters, commotion and chaos will ensue and the order of things will be utterly upset, for in the world of mankind there are two safeguards that protect man from wrongdoing. One is the law which punishes the criminal; but the law prevents only the manifest crime and not the concealed sin; whereas the ideal safeguard, namely, the religion of God, prevents both the manifest and the concealed crime, trains man, educates morals, compels the adoption of virtues and is the all-inclusive power which guarantees the felicity of the world of mankind."
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 302)

"With reference to the question you have asked concerning the Bahá'í attitude towards the problem of sex and its relation to marriage: The Bahá'í Teachings on this matter, which is of such vital concern and about which there is such a wide divergency of views, are very clear and emphatic. Briefly stated the Bahá'í conception of sex is based on the belief that chastity should be strictly practised by both sexes, not only because it is in itself highly commendable ethically, but also due to its being the only way to a happy and successful marital life. Sex relationships of any form, outside marriage, are not permissible therefore, and whoso violates this rule will not only be responsible to God, but will incur the necessary punishment from society. The Bahá'í Faith recognizes the value of the sex impulse, but condemns its illegitimate and improper expression such as free love, companionate marriage and others, all of which it considers positively harmful to man and to the society in which he lives. The proper use of the sex instinct is the natural right of every individual, and it is precisely for this very purpose that the institution of marriage has been established. The Bahá'ís do not believe in the suppression of the sex impulse but in its regulation and control."
(From a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi quoted in Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963 to 1986, p. 233, paragraph 126.7a)

"You express surprise at the Guardian's reference to "the necessary punishment from society." In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas Bahá'u'lláh prohibits sexual immorality and in the Annex to that Book states that the various degrees of sexual offences and the punishments for them are to be decided by the Universal House of Justice. In this connection it should be realized that there is a distinction drawn in the Faith between the attitudes which should characterize individuals in their relationship to other people, namely, loving forgiveness, forbearance, and concern with one's own sins, not the sins of others, and those attitudes which should be shown by the Spiritual Assemblies, whose duty is to administer the law of God with justice."
(From a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi quoted in Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963 to 1986, p. 234, paragraph 126.8)

This latter point, that the principles governing the role of the individual and the principles governing the proper conduct of society are different -- is very clear and helpful in understanding the Baha'i teachings.

SHAVING THE HEAD
As to the matter of why shaving the head is forbidden, and the growth of hair is not to go below the lobe of the ear, and why the Most Holy Book requires paring one's nails - I do not think the reasons for these laws is given. But please see my posting in this forum on the Purposes of the Laws of God.

THE ROLE OF THE HOUSE OF JUSTICE
As to the institution of the House of Justice, it is an important element in what Baha'u'llah has come to bring -- "The Most Great Justice." For the first time in religious history, not only is humanity given spiritual guidance on how to live; but in addition is given a divine form through which to express that spirit. This divinely guided institution also reflects on humanity's spiritual growth, and is a foundation element in the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Brent