Re: Baha'i marriage
- From: "Kent Johnson" <kent@xxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Fri, 24 Aug 2007 01:59:00 GMT
Hi Susan, good to see you again.
In Momen's terms I labeled Tom's view fundamentalist. What I was more
interested in, however, is what is the alternative? Momen had a lot to say
about how differing mind-sets (liberal vs fundamentalist) can understand
each other and co-exist as Baha'is.
But as you say, it is not very helpful.
"There are times when each Baha'i has to decide for himself how to interpret
and apply a specific Baha'i law."
Like several times a day, on a slow day.
Not sure why you specifically brought up CS Lewis and the marriage law, but
there might be further discussion in that.
"Or was he simply cognisant of how great the need was to establish families
in the West on a more firmer foundation?"
I am sure that was a part of it.
Good talking to you again.
"Susan Maneck" <smaneck@xxxxxxxxx> wrote in message
So it seems pretty much given that your view would be a fundamentalist view,
in Momen's terms. Do you agree with this assessment of your views?
I'm presuming you are labeling Tom's views as fundamentalist because
his argument echoes one C.S. Lewis made in regards to Christ. But even
C.S. Lewis, the darling of so many Christian evangelicals was not
really an inerrantist as is often presumed. There are times when each
Baha'i has to decide for himself how to interpret and apply a specific
Baha'i law. But the marriage law was made pretty hard and fast in the
West by the Guardian himself. Would we call him a fundamentalist for
doing so? Or was he simply cognisant of how great the need was to
establish families in the West on a more firmer foundation?
In any case, I don't find Moojan's Momen's dichotomy all that helpful
myself. I wrote a critique of his article here:
Moojan Momen's article "Fundamentalism and Liberalism" argues that these tw
different approaches to religious questions can be better understood as
reflective of different cognitive styles rather than sociological responses
to modernity. It describes fundamentalism as typified by dichotomist,
objective thinking versus liberalism which is more inclined to see truth as
relative and is more tolerant of changing social mores. Momen divides
fundamentalism into two separate categories, conservative which values
tradition as well as scripture, and revivalist which seeks to return to the
original religion as found in the scriptures or in other authoritative
texts. In depicting fundamentalism and liberalism as different cognitive
styles [convergent and divergent] Momen attempts to universalize them
arguing that if a religion is to maintain its essential unity it must make
ways to accommodate both mindsets. He argues that there are four elements o
the Baha'i Teachings which mitigate the tensions this sometimes creates.
First is the fact that Baha'i principles already address many of the curren
issues of our day ensuring that even the most rigid-minded fundamentalist
within the community is likely to take positions on social issues which
elsewhere might be considered 'liberal.' Second, the emphasis on
consultation in the Baha'i community ensures that liberals and
fundamentalists alike must continue to dialogue. Third the lack of any
mechanisms for establishing dogma, divisions are less likely to occur over
theological issues. Finally there is the emphasis on unity within the Baha'
Faith as focused especially in the Covenant. For Momen the most important
expression of this unity is submission to the decisions of the Universal
House of Justice which are primarily of an administrative and functional
nature, not doctrinal.
There is a certain irony in Dr. Momen's arguments. In essentializing
fundamentalism and liberalism Momen is utilizing the same dichotomist
thinking which he associates with fundamentalism. But beyond that, I'm not
persuaded it works very well in explaining the diversity of approaches to
the religious life. For instance, Momen regards traditionalism as the more
common form of fundamentalism in the Islamic world. While that appears to b
the case in Shi'ite Islam it misconstrues much of what is currently going o
among Sunni Muslims. There, revivalist movements have become increasingly
popular since the eighteenth century. While it is true that these revivalis
movements do not center solely on the scripture of the Qur'an, in focusing
on a return to the early community of Medina they essentially reject the
entire medieval tradition of Islam. It is from precisely such revival
movements that figures like Bin Laden emerge.
Furthermore, an emphasis on going back to the origins of religion often
serves agendas which are far from conservative in nature. The nineteenth
century 'Search for the Historical Jesus' for instance was hardly a
fundamentalist endeavor. Ali Shariati's thought which Momen wrongly places
in the radical/revivalist mode of Islamic fundamentalism, more closely
resembled the Liberation Theology of Latin America which is usually classed
as 'liberal.' Likewise in the Zoroastrian community the slogan "back to th
Gathas" denotes a movement which seeks to bring Zoroastrianism in line with
modernity by discarding their rituals and later scriptures in favor of a se
of hymns directly associated with Zoroaster but subject to widely divergent
interpretations. Likewise the slogan 'back to Baha'u'llah' has been utilize
by some within the Baha'i community, not to further a fundamentalist agenda
but to discard authoritative interpretations.
Momen overstates the case when he asserts that the differences between
fundamentalism and liberalism cannot be accounted for by reference to
sociological factors. He rightly discards the notion sometimes argued the
fundamentalism represents a rural backlash against urban culture. In
Pakistan the urban centers tend to be largely legalistically oriented in
regards to religion and political conservative. The rural areas, on the
hand, support socialism in the political realm and are religiously dominate
by Sufi Pirs. But a sociological difference between the two groups clearly
exists and cannot be explained away by reference to different cognitive
styles. The same thing is true in the United States where the southern
states are often termed 'the Bible belt.'
This brings us to the question of whether the fundamentalist/liberal
dichotomy can be credited to two different cognitive styles associated, as
Momen suggests, with different hemispheres of brain activity. While Momen
does not spell this out directly, he seems to be referring to the differenc
between left brain and right brain cognitive functions, with the left brain
associated with convergent thought and the right one with divergent
thinking. As left-brain thinker myself, I would argue that while the lineal
thought modes of the left-brained can lead to the kind of black and white
thinking characteristic of fundamentalists, the precise analytical skills
which the left- brained tend to cultivate can just as easily be used to
demonstrate the weaknesses in fundamentalist constructions. My guess is tha
a psychological study would not substantiate Momen's thesis that there is a
correspondence between brain hemisphere dominance and people's theological
or political stances. In any case, a study would need be conducted before
such an assertion can be regarded as anything but speculative.
There is something to be said for Momen's thesis of a psychological
dimensions of the different approaches to religious questions, but I see
these differences as developmental rather than physiological in nature,
rather along the lines of James Fowler's Stages of Faith.# Viewed from thi
perspective both liberalism and fundamentalism exist on a continuum with
neither one representing the extreme. What Momen calls fundamentalism can b
associated with Fowlers 'Conventional Stage' which also corresponds with th
concrete operational thinking of a school-age child. It is no accident that
fundamentalism and mass literacy arose simultaneously. Literacy, at least a
its beginning stages, contributes to literalness, for the reader's mind is
thereby trained to see things in 'black and white' in more ways than one.
The Baha'i community must be prepared to accept the fact that as basic
literacy skills are imparted to new believers in the course of their
deepening we are likely to foster a 'fundamentalist mindset' such as that
generated by the Ruhi materials. Hopefully we will eventually move beyond
that, but we should not be alarmed if this is the immediate result. By the
same token as the educational level of certain members of the Baha'i
community rises far beyond basic literacy we must expect to witness a great
deal of skepticism exhibited during the transitional period as people move
beyond more conventional stage to a reflective one.
The problems associated with both liberalism and fundamentalism in
relationship to the Covenant were glossed over to quickly. For instance,
Momen asserts, "the concept of the Covenant means that what ties Bahá'í
together is not acceptance of a set of theological proposals which the
fundamentalists and liberals will always disagree about - but rather loyalt
and obedience to a central figure or institution - which is a matter that
will not divide fundamentalists and liberals." This ignores the most centra
element of liberalism, that of valuing freedom over authority. Furthermore
loyalty to the Covenant cannot be reduced merely to obedience to the
Universal House of Justice. It also involves the acceptance of authoritativ
interpretations, matters which are bound to involve some doctrinal matters.
If liberals seem to have more difficulties with the 'Lesser Covenant', the
more rigid mindset associated with fundamentalism makes it more difficult
for them to recognize a new Manifestation when He arises. Ultimately our
faithfulness to the Covenant rests in our steadfast commitment to be
responsive and open to God's will. Obedience to the Institutions is only on
way in which that expresses itself. A combination of openness and obedience
is required which in turns depends on the proper balancing of so-called '
liberal' and 'fundamentalist' tendencies.
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