Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Importance of Obedience

The other day I wrote an article that made me a bit nervous.  I'm not sure why, except that I thought I might be stepping on a few toes.

As you know, this blog is written for Baha'is (but this article and the other one seem to have a wider audience), although anyone is welcome to read and comment on it.  The views I offer are only my own, and in no way meant to be an official representation of the Faith, although I strive to be as true to the Baha'i teachings as I can.  Sometimes I am concerned that I may fail, and then I seek guidance.

That article was one in which I sought guidance.

Just to let you know, not a single word was changed from the original draft, but it's always good to check.

That gave me a bit of confidence, yet I was still nervous for some reason, even after it was posted.

Then I saw an article someone else posted about my original article, and all my concerns vanished.  To read that posting, click here.  Thank you, Catherine, for such a touching reference.  Although I have never met you, I admire the work you are doing in helping show alternatives in the world.  And you summed up my point perfectly.  ("This shuffle of paperwork": I love it)

Normally, I do not actually respond to comments (a leftover from my days writing for newspapers), but the final statement in this article got me thinking: "The rules of the Baha'i do not apply to non-Baha'i, and even if a Baha'i chooses to drink, that choice is personal."

I began to consider the concepts of  laws, obedience and punishment.

While I, as an individual, am not going to interfere with someone else's choices in their life, I do feel it is important to be obedient to what you regard as a standard.  So when someone says that they are a member of a faith path, in my case Baha'i, I will do all I can to assist and encourage them in following the laws of that Faith.

You see, I think it is very important to state that the Baha'i Faith is not a "permissive" religion, in which everything is allowed according the whim of the individual.  There are laws set forth in the Writings and institutions designed to administer those laws.  But the ways and manners in which those institutions work is quite different from anything else I have ever seen.

First and foremost, it is the job of these institutions to administer these laws, and not the role of the individual.  That is such a bounty and a safety, in my opinion.  It is also a relief for all of us: we don't need to be worried if we suspect (or know) that someone is violating a law.  We can just inform the Assembly and leave it with them.  They will act as they see fit, and we may never know what happens from there.  In truth, it is none of our business.

Story time: I am reminded of a dear friend who became a member of the Baha'i community a number of years ago.  She was, as I mentioned in a previous post, living with her boyfriend at the time.  They had just bought a house together, and were not in a position to live apart.  When the Assembly learned of this, they told her that it was quite probable that some members of the community would question (or chastise) her for this.  they said that if anyone said anything to her, she was to thank them for their concern and tell them to talk to the Assembly.  They then advised her to try and move her life into accordance with the laws of the Faith.  This meant to either move towards getting married, or eventually living seperately when it was feasible.

I just love the wisdom shown to her.

You see, the Baha'i Faith, from what I can tell, is not about "right" or "wrong"; it is about growth.  Whenever I introduce to the Ruhi curriculum to friends who are beginning Book 1, I always explain to them that there are no right or wrong answers.  There are only implications of answers.

For example, we all know the question in Book 1 about whether or not it is ok to take a piece of fruit from a neighbour's tree without their permission.  While most people answer 'no', based on the quote from Baha'u'llah in the section, I've had many people who have answered 'yes'.

I don't tell them that they are wrong, even though I happen to disagree with their answer.  I ask them why they believe it is ok.  One person said that it was alright, as long as the neighbour would not be eating the fruit.  If it was "going to go to waste", it was alright.  Again, rather than disagree, I asked if it was then ok to go into their home and take that "extra set of silverware that they are not using".

In the end, after some back and forth questioning in order to better understand their boundaries, they concluded that it was ok to take something as long it was "outside and worth less than $5".

I thanked them and went on to the next question.

"Why," you may ask?  Because they "advanced in their understanding".  They may come to a different conclusion later in their life, but for now, they had advanced, and that is enough.  I do not believe that we are about convincing people of our opinions, but rather we should assist them in coming to an understanding that is more in accord with the Writings.  Note that it is "more in accord", and not exactly in accord.  As long as they have considered the issue, thought deeply about it and advanced in their understanding, I am satisfied that I have done my job as a tutor.

But now let's go back to that Assembly who needs to "correct" the behaviour of an individual.

From what I can tell, there are two types of laws.  The first is the one that only concerns the individual, such as the laws of prayer.  These laws are self-administring, so to speak.  If you don't say your prayers, no one will chastise you (or at least they shoudn't).  Instead, you will probably find yourself short tempered, lacking inspiration in your daily life, and all sorts of other minor unpleasantries.

It is like the child who is warned not to touch the hot stove.  If they do, the loving parent does not take them aside and burn their hand as a punishment; the stove has already done that.  Instead, they treat the wound, shower them with love, and continue to educate them about cause and effect.

The second type of law is one that effects the community at large.  For example, if a Baha'i were to go into a bar and order whiskey, while telling everyone they are Baha'i, this would have a negative impact on people's perceptions of what it means to be a Baha'i.  (That's only a minor example.  I can think of many far worse cases.)

In this case, the Assembly might send someone to talk with them and let them know that drinking alcohol is not allowed for Baha'is.  If they had a drinking problem, they would probably be encouraged to seek help, either with AA or some other like-minded group.  In some cases, they might need to be reminded a number of times.  If, for some reason, things got so bad, they might have to seek permission to impose a punishment, such as not allowing them to vote in a Baha'i election, or contribute to the Baha'i funds.  This decision would rest with the National Assembly, and would be weighed in light of the integrity of the Faith.

You see, although I cannot point my finger to anything exact and specific in the Writings, there are many quotes in the Writings that speak of the Assembly as an encourager.  This Faith, in my own words, is not about "thou shalt not"; it is about growing spiritually, and helping the world grow spiritually.

What that means to me, and what I have seen amply demonstrated, is that the Assembly gently and lovingly guides the friends into obedience through informing them of the Writings, reminding them of how they apply, and, in very rare cases, explaining the implications of these Writings.

So although I completely agree that each person is fully responsible for their own actions, there are times when adminstration of the laws must be done.  And for that, I am so grateful for the wise guidance of the Assemblies.

Thank God I'm not the one who has to do it.

1 comment:

  1. I think that backbitting should have an equal approach by the assemblies as well.