Saturday, December 31, 2011

Internet Postings

I just got back in town, and am sitting in a pizzeria (that just makes it sound like a dump. This place is awesome. Prima Strada is a beautiful place in an old garage, with awesome food and incredible service) waiting for my car to be repaired (got a flat driving a friend to the ferry the other day) (no good deed goes unpunished). So far this place exemplifies excellence and service. (Just had a bite of the food: wow. If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend it.)

So, where was I?

Oh yes. I just got back in town and saw a FaceBook message waiting for me from a dear friend in Winnipeg. This is a woman I met when I used to sell my jewelry in a bar. It was a goth bar, and they asked me to set up a table, which I did. It was kind of fun (especially when I took another Baha'i, and as we walked into the dark foggy place with people dressed in rubber and leather he looked at me and quietly said "Help"). So I met this woman who had just turned 18, the legal drinking age, and she liked to hang around my table and talk with me. She noticed that I never touched alcohol, and that whenever anyone offered to buy me a drink, I graciously accepted, and asked for either an orange juice or a V-8. Years later she said that this was an example to her that she could go out to the bars with her friends and not have to get drunk, so you never know. This is the friend who sent me the following:
I've noticed a recent trend amongst my Athiest friends and acquaintances lately. They've been openly posting insults and ridicule other peoples faiths and religions in the name of "freedom of expression". Although I don't consider myself a religious person, I still find their comments hurtful. I feel this type of activity would fall under the category of Bigotry, according to this definition below: 
 "A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs. The predominant usage in modern English refers to persons hostile to those of differing sex, race, ethnicity, religious beliefs or spirituality, nationality, language, inter-regional prejudice, gender and/or sexual orientation, age, homelessness, various medical disorders particularly behavioral disorders and addictive disorders."
In the past, I've simply blocked or un-friended these individuals, but lately I've been wondering if I should stand up to them and point out their activity instead of hiding how I feel about it. 
What do you do when confronted by people like this?
I was going to reply in FB, but then I realized that I, too, have noticed this trend. In fact, I've sometimes been responsible for it, by posting forward articles that could be seen in this light (namely articles about "religious" people who make bozoid statements that only make you shake your head in disbelief, and could be seen as amusing except for the fact that they further undermine the influence of religion in today's society).

But let's go back to my friend's concern. I've had a bit of a chance to think about this, as I received it nearly two hours ago, and this is how I want to approach it. First, I want to remove any specifics, by looking at the first paragraph like "I've noticed a recent trend. People are openly posting insults..." By removing the specific "atheists", I find that it is still true and more generally applicable. Whether it is about atheists posting against theists (I can't say "people of faith" for atheists have faith in there being no God), Christians against Muslims, Jews against gentiles, vegetarians against meat-eaters, or whatever other group against whichever other group: it doesn't matter. The intention is the same. It is to show that "we" are better than "them".

Second, I think I would avoid the label "bigot". To me, this becomes judgmental. They may be acting in a bigoted manner, but they are still a noble being. Instead of condemning the person, I would condemn the action. They are engaging in behaviour that is unseemly, unworthy. This is an old technique that works really well in helping modify behaviour: look at the behaviour, not the person. "You are a bigot" is far more insulting than "That is a bigoted action".

Now that I've got all that out of the way, let's look at what is happening. In general, from what I've seen, there are a number of posts on the net lately about silly individuals, who happen to be priests, mullahs, atheists, plumbers, vegans or whatever. These stories are reporting the truth, but they are also deriding, or even demeaning the people involved. They are using the truth to make people look bad, or make fun of them. They are speaking unfavourably about the people involved, belittling them, disparaging or deprecating them. In short, these comments are nothing less than backbiting.

And there we have it: the spiritual principle.

Now that this has been identified, the overriding question is what to do about it. This is what my friend asked.

As you may know, this is one of the questions that is asked in Ruhi Book 1. What do we do when we encounter backbiting? We know from the Writings of Baha'u'llah that "backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul", so this really quite important.

So here goes: What do you, dear Reader, do when you are faced with backbiting? What do you do?


  1. 'Abdu'l-Baha gives us some guidance, when he suggests:

    "If any individual should speak ill of one who is absent, it is incumbent on his hearers, in a spiritual and friendly manner, to stop him, and say in effect: would this detraction serve any useful purpose? Would it please the Blessed Beauty, contribute to the lasting honour of the friends, promote the holy Faith, support the covenant, or be of any possible benefit to any soul? No, never! On the contrary, it would make the dust to settle so thickly on the heart that the ears would hear no more, and the eyes would not longer behold the light of truth." ('Abdu'l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)

    I haven't found the courage to be so direct yet! I do know that it hurts my heart (I can feel it physically) when I hear backbiting, so I've said to people "please stop . . . that hurts my heart".

    'Abdul-Baha also suggests:

    "One must expose the praiseworthy qualities of the souls and not their evil attributes. The friends must overlook their shortcomings and faults and speak only of their virtues and not their defects." ('Abdu'l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)

    I find this one easier! Changing the conversation to focus on the virtues, changes the tone.

    Shoghi Effendi tells us:

    "Unfortunately, not only average people, but average Bahá'ís, are very immature; gossip, trouble-making, criticism, seem easier than the putting into practice of love, constructive words and cooperation. It is one of the functions of the older and the more mature Bahá'ís, to help the weaker ones to iron out their difficulties and learn to really function and live like true believers!" (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)

    So thank you to your friend and to you, Mead, for "helping the weaker ones iron out their difficulties" in this area!

  2. Two other quotes I like on this topic, include:

    "It is obvious that if we listen to those who complain to us about the faults of others we are guilty of complicity in their backbiting. We should therefore, as tactfully as possible, but yet firmly, do our utmost to prevent others from making accusations or complaints against others in our presence." (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 93)

    "You are quite correct in your understanding of the importance of avoiding backbiting; such conduct strikes at the very unity of the Bahá'í community. In a letter written to an individual believer on behalf of the Guardian it is stated: "If we are better, if we show love, patience, and understanding of the weakness of others, if we seek to never criticize but rather encourage, others will do likewise, and we can really help the Cause through our example and spiritual strength." (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)