Sunday, March 2, 2008

Where I'm Going with This

A friend of mine yesterday, when he discovered that I plan a blog on non-administrative aspects of being a Baha'i, thought that I was creating a devotional blog. And, I thought about that. Certainly, the devotional life is a big part of Baha'i life outside the administration, and I do plan on doing some writing along those lines -- although I already do a good deal of talking about the devotional life on Karen's Path, albeit strictly from the perspective of my own personal experiences.

I think I'd like to go a little broader than that. What I have in mind is connecting with Baha'i thought that isn't dominated by administrative matters and the limitations of official discourse. For example, I happened to run into a blog called The Baha'i Liberty Blog, which is written by a young man who is engaged in reconciling libertarian political thought with Baha'i teaching. Now, I don't necessarily agree with that, although I was very close to being a libertarian myself when I was young, and there are several of his points I could argue with. (In fact, I can just picture my liberal friends thinking I'm nuts for linking to this guy.) But I was struck by how radical this approach is, for a Baha'i to so brazenly identify himself with a political philosophy. Agree or not, it definitely represents an attempt at some original thinking.

This, to me, represents a huge change in Baha'i culture -- a change which is directly linked to the freedom allowed by the Internet. I've seen other young Baha'is make brief mention of political candidates, too. Now, when I was enrolled, this was strictly verboten -- more, I think, by peer pressure than anything the administration ever did. Once in a while somebody would make a comment about the current President and it was slightly embarrassing, a faux pas. Baha'is weren't supposed to talk politics, period.

In actual fact, Baha'is, throughout their history have gone through both engaged and distant periods where politics is concerned. Baha'u'llah did not forbid politics per se, but did not want Baha'is involved with subversive movements. "Abdu'l-Baha' and Shoghi Effendi sometimes forbade and sometimes approved engagement with poltical matters. For example, Baha'is were involved in the Civil Rights movement, with Shoghi Effendi's approval, because of the Faith's clear teachings on racial equality, even though he made some very strong statements about Baha'is avoiding identification with the Republican or Democratic parties.

Baha'is, for the most part, are intelligent people who are genuinely concerned about the world around them -- and engagement with that world can't help but be political from time to time, whether you're concerned about poverty, education, the environment, women's issues or world peace The alternative is taking an above-the-fray attitude, which renders all those great Baha'i social teachings rather meaningless, except as applied internally.

But I'm optimistic about the potential of the Internet to bring out a variety of ideas and approaches. It's easier to break out of the mold when you're writing at a computer than over tea and cookies, face to face.


Alison Marshall said...

Hi Karen,

I think this is a very exciting initiative. I've often thought of setting up a discussion list along the lines of this new blog, but (as you suggest on Karen's Thoughts) discussion lists have had their day, for now anyway.

I have added a link on my blog to this one. I look forward to seeing creative energy emerging from this. I think a perpetual focus on the administration gets in the way of new expressions of Baha'i life.


Karen said...

Hi Alison,

I thought about a discussion list, too, a few years ago. But the problem there is that if you ban discussion of the administration, you're left in the unpleasant position of having to enforce that rule -- along with all the fallout of people calling you a censor and all that. Also, I was afraid that such a strict policy would just leave me with a dead list on my hands.

It is an irony even those of us that leave formal membership behind, however much we decry "adminocentrism" end up focusing on the AO almost as much as those who practice it. I've been looking for ways out of that trap for the last several years. It's not easy, but it's absolutely essential if we are to move forward.

And, if anything comes up, as it will eventually, I always have Karen's Thoughts for that, as well as for any non-Baha'i news stories I want to comment on.

Thanks for your support!

Love, Karen