While I did agree with Brent on a number of his general points, I'd really like to suggest, particularly with his/your mention of Adam Carolla, I do not think that celebrity status means that we as Baha'is should put down other people, even if we strongly disagree with their views or actions. Even among enemies who are opposed to us, we are to recognize "any merits that enemy may possess" (Advent of Divine Justice, p. 27
One must see in every human being only that which is worthy of praise. When this is done, one can be a friend to the whole human race. If, however, we look at people from the standpoint of their faults, then being a friend to them is a formidable task.
('Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha, section 144
Critique of entertainment and media--which indeed is sorely
lacking in certain areas and explicitly called out in our writings, even while they still are admirably capable of bringing out truth in many cases, I think may be similar to how we are to criticize political defects--only in general systemic terms, and not critical of any specific personalities or institutions.
As far as using the criterion of "doubt", I'd be hesitant to accept that as a criterion--otherwise, how could any of us become Baha'is in the first place? That doesn't mean that we should expose ourselves perpetually to all kinds of polemics, especially the polemics of Covenant-breakers (where doubt may indeed be a valid criterion here) as it is their purpose to instill such doubt with false statements, insinuations, etc. And others even those not deliberately distorting truth, like some public entertainment can indeed drain us spiritually, but I don't think the problem is doubt, as that is something that can lead one to a higher degree of truth--including for Baha'is who have mistaken conceptions of certain topics and are not familiar with how our Writings may actually agree more
with these comedians on certain points than is the present understanding in our community.
While I disagree with Bill Maher about certain issues including the lifestyle ones--mostly due I think to having an opportunity to appreciate the Baha'i teachings, I actually find him to be quite sincere in seeking out the truth. While he, as with other entertainers, may use the medium to make some quips which, while humorous, may sometimes over-simplify an issue or gloss over things a bit unfairly, I find him often to be a refreshing and highly intelligent truth seeker, both in the sense of not being exceedingly attached to many of his opinions, often conceding points or even changing his mind in the course of a show, as well as in offering very incisive insights into many inconsistencies and hypocrisies in society.
I find other entertainers stand in contrast to this, being hard to endure as they descend into a kind of draining frivolity (see http://bahai9.com/wiki/Holiness
), graphic and inane in their materialism, and assert their views as though they are a given, with unquestioning confident smugness, not to mention those who descend into mean-spirited, albeit outwardly smiling, jabs at innocent people. Yet even among those that do, they have their own strong points, personal qualities, and insights.
While I am not deeply familiar with Christopher Hitchens, mostly just knowing him from some television appearances, while he might be (from what I have seen) a bit dogmatic in lumping religions together and failing to acknowledge their benefits, he also appears to me to be someone who is not arguing merely for the sake of self-importance, but is genuinely sincere in setting forth his opinions and looking at facts to come to a conclusion, even if it is not always a conclusion we would come to.
Related to perhaps a similar work, even the Baha'i International Community put out a review of "The God Delusion": http://www.onecountry.org/e184/e14816as ... Review.htm
pointing out its legitimate complaints about religion as practiced by some. Our Writings also admit it is easy to understand how religion has fallen into disrepute due to the failings of its adherents, their disastrous involvement in politics, and so on, even while asserting it is not a fair conclusion to make.
In the education of children, given that "independent investigation" doesn't mean exposure to every idea, and it does not at all contradict giving children an explicit Baha'i education, there are statements like this on what their curriculum should include:
"...the avoidance of materialistic works that are current among those who see only natural causation"
(Abdu'l-Bahá: from a Tablet published in The Bahá'í World, Vol. XVI, p. 37, in Lights of Guidance, no. 494)
But this by no means implies the same is true for adults, except perhaps to the degree that perpetually dwelling on certain views can be wearying:
The conception of annihilation is a factor in human degradation, a cause of human debasement and lowliness, a source of human fear and abjection. It has been conducive to the dispersion and weakening of human thought, whereas the realization of existence and continuity has upraised man to sublimity of ideals, established the foundations of human progress and stimulated the development of heavenly virtues; therefore, it behooves man to abandon thoughts of nonexistence and death, which are absolutely imaginary, and see himself ever-living, everlasting in the divine purpose of his creation. He must turn away from ideas which degrade the human soul so that day by day and hour by hour he may advance upward and higher to spiritual perception of the continuity of the human reality. If he dwells upon the thought of nonexistence, he will become utterly incompetent; with weakened willpower his ambition for progress will be lessened and the acquisition of human virtues will cease.
(Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 89 at http://bahai-library.com/writings/abdul ... up.html#89
I'd personally really only read such works which come to fairly one-sided conclusions in order to learn from its facts, and possibly respond in some manner to its points. I think we can learn a lot from our Scriptures, and need to delve more deeply into them, so we have a suitable framework for addressing these concerns in wider society. But I don't think there is any harm in studying them, and on the contrary, I think some study of them may enhance our understanding of the subject, and also better appreciate what questions or reservations are burning in the minds of intellectuals. Baha'is are advised to study history, economics, and sociology for these reasons:
“Shoghi Effendi has for years urged the Bahá’ís (who asked his advice, and in general also), to study history, economics, sociology, etc., in order to be au courant with all the progressive movements and thoughts being put forth today, and so that they could correlate these to the Bahá’í teachings. What he wants the Bahá’ís to do is to study more, not to study less. The more general knowledge they possess, the better. Likewise he is constantly urging them to really study the Bahá’í teachings more deeply. One might liken Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings to a sphere; there are points poles apart, and in between the thoughts and doctrines that unite them.” (On behalf of Shoghi Effendi, Pearls of Wisdom, p. 108)
See also http://www.bahai-library.com/zamir/sm/?31
for more on this topic if anyone is interested.
But honestly, with the very challenging claim Baha'u'llah has made, and His proofs to back it up, I find it much more interesting to focus foremost on a more thorough study the teachings of the Faith in order to first, investigate their challenging claims, and if, after coming to believe in them, more deeply study their applicability to the complex issues of our day. My hope is to see http://bahai9.com
in particular dig out and highlight many of these interesting teachings on a variety of concepts so that Baha'is are more adequately prepared to present the actual Baha'i position on a topic and agree with these incisive thinkers where they can, rather than make trite statements not based on what our Faith actually teaches or mix in limited philosophies and political movements.