Thursday, January 7, 2010

Has the Baha'i Community Changed Dramatically in the Last Few Years?

A of couple friends have reported to me that it has.  I listen to and believe them.  Different things are happening.  Yet I'm puzzled.  I read The American Baha’i and letters from the House and NSA, I look at blogs by Baha’is, I read of the actions of the House, I read or skim talks by prominent Baha’is—honestly, none of it seems particularly different.  Maybe repackaged—new terms, new activities, new ways to be busy.  But is there a qualitative change?  And what is it?  Is it good? 


One friend who is halfway out the door has wondered if she ought to give the Baha’i scene another chance.  If the community is “trying on authenticity,” as she puts it, wouldn’t that be worth sticking around for?  I hear also of a rethinking of ideas about political involvement and admission of a certain public/private schizophrenia in the community.  Those could be really good things, especially if accompanied by a fessing up to the history and the impact that they have had on people (which I do not hear about).

I know that my contact with the Baha’i world is very limited.  I’m not out there in the flesh.  So I’m seeking reports from others who are.  Has the Baha’i world changed significantly?  If yes, in what ways?  Is this change good?  Mixed?  Bad?

13 comments:

kaweah said...

Hi Priscilla.

Authenticity sounds good to me!

I can only give you what I've picked up from my family. I can't say that it's much.

Several years ago they had been abuzz with the whole cluster reorg thing. Last year around this time, they were abuzz with the worldwide financial crisis and the Baha'i worldwide conferences. Since then, all I can tell you is that my sister-in-law is big on, uh, cell-phone prayer conferences?

Priscilla said...

Cell-phone prayer conferences? Huh. I hadn't heard of that one.

Steve Marshall said...

Authenticity keeps breaking out because many Baha'is are sincere people, who work conscientiously for no tangible reward. But each time I hear about a Prague Spring of authenticity, I start to listen for the rumble of tanks.

For example, the US NSA had an outbreak of authenticity when it said in its 2007 annual report that net growth was approaching zero. Days later, it was forced to disown its report.

It seems to me that power is firmly entrenched at the top, and dissent within the organisation has been stifled. I don't expect to see real change -- other than minor variations on Ruhi -- until there's real change at the top. There's a by-election for two vacant positions on the Universal House of Justice, with the results to be announced on 21 March. If either of the two replacements comes from outside the pool of four current male members of the ITC, then I'll start to believe change from the top is possible.

But I do believe that real changes are happening from the bottom within Bahai. An informal network of affiliated Bahais has been growing over the years. It mainly exists on the Internet, in spots the tanks can't penetrate, and I see it having a big influence on ordinary Baha'is, who are getting a bit tired of the one-size-fits-all Ruhi fetish.

Anonymous said...

Last few years? They've been enlightening in ways that make me a sadder but wiser gal. I've leaned a lot about how the Baha'i administrative political machine works (lots of nepotism, lots of insider backscratching).

Below is list of my perspectives based on my Baha'i experience. List is adapted from the wiccan blog Dancing down the Moon (link to blog below).

Peace,

I don't care how well connected your family is.
I don't care what committees you serve on.
I don't care how many generations “you’ve” been a Baha’i.
I don't care how long you’ve been on an LSA.
I don't care if you’ve never served on an LSA.
I don't care if you’ve served at the World Center.
I don't care how many or how few firesides you host.
I don't care how many administrators you’re in tight with.
I don't care how many times you’ve taken Ruhi.
I don't care if you're smarter or dumber than me.
I don't care if you pray in a whispery voice.
I don't care if you’re Persian, or not.
I don't care how much you’ve ‘suffered’ serving the cause.
I don't care for you to repeat the story of your time of service in a whispery voice.
I don't care how long you’ve been a Baha’i.
I don't care if you're brand-spanking new.
I don't care how much you dis Muslims.
I don't care how many degrees you have.
I don't care if people call you "Counselor" or "Administrative Assistant."
I don't care if you've been on Pilgrimage.
I don't care if you’ve pioneered.
I don't care how the Faith owes you a living.
I don't care if you've been studying the Faith for thirty years or thirty minutes.
I don't care how you dress.
I don't care if you can trace your lineage back to the Bab.
I don't care how many books you've read.
I don't care how much or how little money you have.

What do I care about?

I care that your religion has made you a kinder, more compassionate person.
I care that you can hold down a job.
I care that you can respect differences of opinion.
I care that your faith helps you become stronger without coddling you.
I care that you are willing and able to adapt and change as your life does.
I care that you care about the Earth.
I care that you care about someone and something outside yourself.
I care that you practice your religion with devotion and reverence.
I care that you respect others' paths.
I care that you never stop learning.
I care that you can conduct adult relationships with respect and understanding.
I care that you get how hilarious life is.
I care that you know when to ask for help, and when to offer it.
I care that you realize that someone will always be smarter, better and more together than you.
I care that you realize it doesn't matter, because tomorrow you'll be smarter, better and more together than you were yesterday.
I care that you think about how you treat others.
I care that you can admit when you're wrong.
I care that you know you're both a tiny speck in a vast universe and a rare, precious jewel in the darkened sky.
I care that you're making a difference.
I care that you know when to speak and when to shut the hell up.
I care that you are seeking a relationship with Deity and with Nature.
I care that you are healthy.
I care that you're contributing to your family and community.
I care that your capacity for love and joy increase with every passing year.
I care that you believe in yourself.
I care that you're doing the best you can.

http://diannesylvan.typepad.com/dancing_down_the_moon/2008/01/witch-please.html

helenkosings said...

Hi! I am a Baha'i and I find yer blog interesting.

Yes, I would say that the Baha'i community and its community life is changing -I guess I should say "North American Baha'i community" as that is the Baha'i community I am familiar with. But I would say that the change is fairly slow in many of its aspects and also continually changing more like a single individual's maturation over a lifetime than a major sea-change that may take place in some communities (Baha'i or otherwise)over a short period of time.

As I'm reading back what I've just written, it's very stiff and wordy, so let me try to loosen up a bit.

Over my lifetime as a Baha'i, I've seen a number of changes in the way the community acts. I'm a musician and I travel a good bit which has allowed me to see how other Baha'i communities interact through large parts of the U.S. and much smaller parts of Canada. Sometimes to me it seems change is glacially slow, but it *is* taking place and the changes are positive, such as greater emphasis on children as full-fledged members of the community, the idea that we are learning how to do things as a community and much more collective worship of God through devotions, as different from other meetings where prayers are said as part of the meeting and not the whole purpose.

I mention that I've been a Baha'i my whole life (I am 41 years old) not to mean that I am better than anybody else, or even good at being a Baha'i, but to show that I have seen changes over decades of my own observation and participation. My experience leads me to believe that Baha'i community life will continue to evolve slowly as it has until such time that there are many more new believers whose own ideas/practices/cultures/youth will quickly change the tenor and feel of community life, much like as what happened in the period of 1968 - 1971 in the U.S. The current estimated number of Baha'is active in community life in the U.S. is approximately 45,000; in 1970 alone 30,000 people became Baha'is and the community life was completely inadequate to retain but a small fraction of that number.

The emphasis in the last 10 years on the establishment of "Ruhi Institute" courses as a "core activity" of Baha'i communities has been put in place so that as large numbers again join the Baha'i Faith, the community life will change rapidly but basic understanding of Baha'i laws and history will be sufficient among all believers to help us through all the changes.

I could go on.... :o)

Priscilla said...

Helen,

Thank you very much for your testimony. I think the changes you mention are happening and are good:

"greater emphasis on children as full-fledged members of the community, the idea that we are learning how to do things as a community and much more collective worship of God through devotions, as different from other meetings where prayers are said as part of the meeting and not the whole purpose"

Is there anything you see happening that you don't think is good or that worries you?

best,
Priscilla

Anonymous said...

Hello, Priscilla.

I think that there are people who are energized by their faith, and others who engage in religion for something other than spiritual purposes.
I am happy to say that I've met more of the first type among the Baha'is.

There are a few things that I have issues dealing with because I feel they are offensive to reason; mainly the "infallibility" of the UHJ (authoritative, yes; infallible, no), and a few of the conduct or etiquette rules.
So what. I'm just one fellow, and I do what I want anyway.
Although the Baha'is in my community are very dear to me, and I am energized by interaction with them, nevertheless I hold them at arms length, to some extent.
I just feel that I need to be whole as a person to participate fully, rather than drift in total abandonment to the group. That's just the way I approach things, and I'm open to allowing others to approach things in whatever way they might need to in order for it to be beneficial to them. I don't need to know about such things, and it's better for me to reserve judgment.

Pioneering Over Four Epochs said...

I posted an introduction to the paradigmatic shift in the Baha’i community, the new culture of learning and growth that is at the heart of this paradigm, nearly three years ago. I did this posting at several internet sites and have revised that post in these last three years as developments in the paradigm have come about, as new messages from Bahá'í institutions have been published and as many individuals have commented verbally and in print on this new culture. It seemed like a good idea to give readers some specific steps on how to access this now revised article, what is now a book of more than 160,000 words and more than 350 pages and is found at Baha’i Library Online(BLO).

In the time this book has been on the internet there have been many thousand views of this analysis, this statement on the new paradigm at the few sites where it has been posted. In addition to googling “Baha’i Culture of Learning and Growth” and accessing this article in the process at several internet sites, readers can find this piece of writing at BLO by clicking on the following:

bahai-library.org/file.php?file=price_culture_learning_paradigm

Readers can also access the latest edition of this article at BLO by taking the following steps: (i) type Baha’i Library Online or Baha’i Academics Resource Library into your search engine; (ii) click on the small box “By author” at the top of the access page at BLO; (iii) type “Price” into the small box that then appears and click on the word “Go;” and then (iv) scroll down to article/document item #47 and (v) click on that item and read to your heart’s content. When your eyes and your mind start to glaze over, stop reading. The article can be downloaded free and you will then have access to this book, this context for all this new paradigmatic terminology that has come into the Baha’i community in the last 15 years.

The statement is a personal one, does not assume an adversarial attitude, attempts to give birth of as fine an etiquette of expression as I can muster and, I like to think, possesses both candour and critical thought on the one hand and praise and delight at the many interrelated processes involved in the execution of this paradigm on the other. I invite readers to what I also like to think is “a context on which relevant fundamental questions” regarding this new paradigm may be discussed within the Baha’i community.

This book also contains an update, an inclusion of commentary on the most recent messages from the institutions of the Cause—including the Ridvan message of 2010. One of the advantages of the BLO site is the freedom it gives to a writer to update the article right on the site in an ongoing process as new insights from major thinkers in the Baha’i community and information from the elected and appointed institutions of the Cause comes to hand.

If time and the inclination permit, check it out. No worries, no obligation, just if it interests you. You may find the piece of writing too long as I’m sure many readers do. It is certainly a view from the inside, but it is just one person’s view building as it does on the ideas and writings of others: Bahá'í institutions and individuals. We each have a different experience on the inside of this paradigm, on the inside of this Faith or, indeed, living on the inside of our global society. You may find this book too personal due to the fact that I attempt to answer the question: “where do I fit into this new paradigm?” After a few paragraphs of reading, you will get the flavour of the exercise. Just keep reading if your mind and spirit are enjoying the process.

Nikki said...

Hi Pricilla, happy to have found your blog. :)

Stefan Santerre said...

Yes it has changed the past years, but it's difficult to give a good description...

More and more I hear that bahá'ís saying that we really need other religions and organizations to cooperate with, to fulfill the s.k. Cause of God, the lesser peace, even the greater peace.

-----------

By the way, why can't someone start a net-based Bahá'í dating service? Other religions have this. Some woman must be out there for me, a never marry an atheist again. Are you free, Pricilla? No? Nikki? No? I am joking, but to find someone is a problem I've heard so many bahá'ís express...

Stefan Santerre said...

Yes it has changed the past years, but it's difficult to give a good description...

More and more I hear that the bahá'ís really need other religions and organizations to cooperate with, to fulfill the s.k. Cause of God, the lesser peace, even the greater peace.

-----------

By the way, why can't someone start a net-based Bahá'í dating service? Other religions have this. Some woman must be out there for me, a never marry an atheist again. Are you free, Pricilla? No? Nikki? No? I am joking, but to find someone is a problem I've heard so many bahá'ís express...

Ignas said...

Stefan, I know some Bahai's who have met through a dating service. If you are still interested, I can try finding out where to do that :) Although you can simply search that on the net, and there are quite a few websites available. Best of luck to you!

Meanwhile, thanks Priscilla for this blog. It is always interesting to hear alternative perspectives. From the posts here it appears to me that most of the complaints about the faith is not the faith itself, but human nature. Especially "from the wiccan blog Dancing down the Moon" I can see all kinds of people among Bahai's as well as anywhere I go in life.

My little bit of input is that the positive side of any faith is the ability for a person to experience love and belonging. Today we seldom have a chance to escape from the stresses of material side of life, and I truly appreciate all the opportunities that are available to do that through the Baha'i community. Each person can choose their own way of life, but I do believe that having sense of connection and a perspective about something greater is a positive. Also, the children's classes and junior youth groups seem to be of a great importance as well. Although it is true that each family should emphasize on virtues and values themselves; not every family can do that, and not every child wants to hear that from their parents. Since our education system does not necessarily focus on teaching children virtues and values that are needed to benefit the human kind, I can only applaud the cause that Bahai's as well as other faiths are working toward.

Anonymous said...

Stephan, just go to Haifa. that's where all the cool baha'is meet their future persians. otherwise... ugh. why would you want to marry another baha'i? i married a catholic and couldn't be happier to be completely out of the zone.

Priscilla: so happy to have found your blog! i am struggling with a crisis of faith that i just could never share with the 'friends' irl. it's somewhat of a comfort (succour?) to read your struggles and thoughts.