What do Baha’is do?

So you’re dying to know what it is that Baha’is actually do?

Well, this website wants to answer you with several video interviews.

They are about the Ruhi sequence of courses and the different activities attached to them such as Junior Youth Groups (Book 5) and devotionals, etc.

There are more than a dozen videos, and they are in both English and French. Here is one of them:

You Can’t Pick & Choose… or Can You?

pick-and-choose-bahai-faithIn the comment discussion that took place for the previous post: Pre-Approved Individual Investigation of Truth an interesting concept was touched on.

Because it is worthy of further discussion, I wanted to spend some more time on it. Since I read a very good treatment of it by another Baha’i, I’d thought I’d simply share their thoughts with you, rather than try to rehash it myself.

Here’s a morsel to whet your appetite (the link at the bottom takes you to the complete post):

I was facilitating the class, and I pointed out that the last part of discussion question #12 was added in by the editors. The original text says nothing about “accepting the Truth of His Cause in its entirety.” Also, if you read the whole tablet, it’s kept ambiguous whether this is “Baha’u’llah’s Cause” or “God’s Cause” or whether we mortals can even make a distinction between those two, since God is unknowable to us. This use (by the Ruhi editors) of “His Cause” instead of “God’s Cause” or “This Cause” puts the focus on Baha’u’llah. This may be where the focus should be, or it may not. The point is, the discussion question has changed the ambiguity and higher-level abstractions in the original text and asked participants to react to a statement more clearly centered on Baha’u’llah and the Baha’i Faith, rather than God and the “changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.”

When I pointed out the problems with inserting the phrase “in its entirety” I met with some of the typical remarks I often hear from my co-religionists. A favorite one is “you can’t pick and choose. You must accept everything.” Bad logic, of course, but it’s a popular notion. I responded as I often do, with the idea that if you accept everything in its entirety, then you accept the Kitab-i-Iqan, our “Book of Certitude,” in which Baha’u’llah reveals to us that much scripture is in the language of metaphor, and not to be taken literally. You must also accept the idea that we should use science and our rational thinking to enhance our understanding of our religion. You can’t reject that, because if you take the Baha’i Faith in its entirety, you can’t get away from such fundamental teachings. And, with that said, we do in fact pick and choose. The Baha’i book of laws (the “Most Great Book”) suggests that we be buried in caskets of crystal, but few Baha’is do this. Arsonists are to be burned, but no Baha’i seriously advocates for us to use branding or burning-at-the-stake as a punishment for arson. A law that men should not grow their hair beyond their ears is probably a polite way of forbidding men from engaging in sex work, if you understand the 19th century Persian context into which that Book was revealed. Clearly one can see in photographs that ‘Abdu’l-Baha, our perfect example, didn’t follow that law literally. So, we Baha’is do pick and choose which rules or teachings we accept literally and which we take metaphorically, and without any authorized interpreter left on this mortal plane, we really don’t have any persons with authority to tell us when we are correct or incorrect in our interpretations and understandings of the many metaphorical teachings. So often the scriptures are abstract, and rarely are they concrete or specific. So, we’re left to be mature and thoughtful and rational, and take things as best we may. So, this is a religion where we do some picking and choosing.

Embrace the Truth – Eric Hadley-Ives Blog

Finding Hidden Purposes in Obedience

Here is an interesting post made by fellow Baha’i blogger, Neghan. For some reason he decided to erase his writing after publishing it on the web.

Similar to the previous occasion where a fellow blogger decided to self-censor themselves, I’ve plucked the content from Google Cache and present it here for your reading pleasure. I’m not sure why Neghan decided to remove this because to me it doesn’t cross any lines, nor does it reveal anything which others have not already expressed.

Of particular interest is this excerpt:

Until we realize that what worked in 1950’s and 1960’s Latin American countries, in homogeneous and often poorly educated communities with a completely different concept of time and with very different learning styles is not the best solution for bringing in the masses everywhere (especially in the West). Mix in the overzealous (bordering on fundamentalist) zeal encouraged in the training programs that appears to clash with much of Baha’i culture and alienates many of the existing Baha’is and you’ve got a real mess. I’m not sure how long it may take for the issues here to be realized, but we as Baha’is should be supportive and let things play out as they will. Perhaps one day we will be open to ideas about adapting content and delivery to different audiences, having a more customer-centered approach in our community relations, and more effectively and strategically using technology, messaging, and marketing tools to communicate, train, and empower believers to change the world.

You need not look far for my own take on Ruhi.

So it is published again in the interest of sharing and encouraging dialogue (with minimal changes to correct spelling & grammar). I hope that Neghan does not take offense since none is intended.

Enjoy

[START DOCUMENT]

Finding Hidden Purpose in Obedience
November 5, 2007 on 12:56 pm | In Community Life | No Comments

Finding Hidden Purposes in Obedience

It has been a while since I posted anything so here is something extra spicy for you all to chew on.

I read an article in the latest issue of the American Baha’i newspaper and it got me to thinking. In the article, written by the eminent John Hatcher, we are reminded that receiving mandates from the Universal House of Justice is essentially as if we are receiving mandates from God. Therefore, the article tells us essentially to do our Ruhi study classes, and whatever else the House asks of us, in a spirit of loving obedience. I really liked the article; I just have a bit of a twisted spin on it. Let me explain.

God works in mysterious ways — we mortals have a bad track record in figuring out His methods

If we look at religious history, and we look at those who were divinely guided and the choices they had to make, we see that infallibility is often not understood by the people of the time. Think about Abraham who was told to sacrifice His son. Abraham did not understand why He was being asked to do this. Clearly, infanticide was not going to be good for growth in the community. But this was a task that God asked Him to do, so He was willing to do it, and this taught us all a lesson about true obedience. Think about Noah who was told to sacrifice everything and get branded a fool by his people to build an ark. Think about how then he was promised by God when the Flood would arrive. The day came and the flood didn’t happen. Did Noah freak out and abandon God? No, he kept his faith and admitted that He did not understand. Sometimes the reasons for certain decisions won’t become clear until 5, 10, 50, or 100 years from now. Sometimes certain infallible decisions of divinely guided people (and today Institutions) may not lead to the results we expect in the way we want. In fact, sometimes those results may even be the opposite of what we expect, but they may have some bigger lesson to teach us in the process that turns out to be critical to achieving the ultimate ends we desire.

Example from the Old World

Let me give you an example. Beware, I’m now going to go into some politics here on the DailyBaha’i blog. This is just my individual interpretation of events going on in the world around us and it is no reflection on any kind of official Baha’i interpretation of events. These are just my musings. Here goes: I understand that the Lesser Peace (the political peace of the world where nations essentially band together to outlaw war) is prophesied to happen in the ?near’ future. I also understand that America is prophesied to lead the world to this new reality. For that to happen, America needs to realize that it is incapable of running the world with bullying tactics and of always getting its way with brute force. For this realization to happen, certain groups in America who have visions of American Global Dominance (or Pax Americana) which is a vision of our country being ordained (by God or something) to rule over the world as a benevolent master, need to be discredited. These ultra nationalists have at last had their chance to run the affairs of this country the way they have always wanted. They have had their cowboy president who uses force first and asks questions later. These America-First folks may not ever change their views themselves, but their views have been largely discredited in this country. Now that they have been discredited, they will have less influence and be less of a hindrance in the path to the Lesser Peace. Had they not been discredited, they may have used their powerful lobbying organizations, thinktanks, and media outlets to block any attempts to create a Peaceful New World Order. And yes, I know how it makes them go into a wild frenzy when I use that last term…New World Order.

Ruhi as a Cleansing Force

This brings us back to the Baha’i Faith. Perhaps the current initiatives will play out as we hope, and study circles will lead to ?A’ clusters which will lead to intensive programs of growth which will lead to entry by troops and on and on. Or, perhaps the current initiatives will not work out the way we believe they will? Perhaps we have some key lessons to learn yet as a community? Perhaps the current process will, as some suspect, lead to great tests for believers who have any kind of relevant experience and who may see this massive endeavor as flawed if it expects to immediately increase the ranks of the believers. In fact, some even think it might lead to less active and less enthusiastic Baha’is, in the West in particular. But perhaps this needs to happen? Perhaps Ruhi is a cleansing of the ranks of the Baha’is of those who are not willing to suck up their ego and do things their experience and intellect tells them will not work? What greater test than this could a professional with years of experience and insight have?

Perhaps building the Ark is more about clearing the forest then building a ship

Perhaps Ruhi is a cleansing force sent to clear out our communities and institutions of past initiatives and efforts? If this is true, then I see three possible effects of this process.

(1.) A certain well-meaning ?school of thought’ about how to bring in the masses that is the driving force behind the Ruhi training program will need to be exhausted. Unfortunately, I fear that until these ideas have been tried and tried again, without achieving the desired results, we won’t be able to change the way we do things. I’m not trying to sound cynical here, but I feel that we are putting too much emphasis on past experiences that occurred in very different circumstances and not learning from what is available in today’s world. Therefore we need to support these efforts so that we can learn to break from the past and get to the next level. Until we realize that what worked in 1950’s and 1960’s Latin American countries, in homogeneous and often poorly educated communities with a completely different concept of time and with very different learning styles is not the best solution for bringing in the masses everywhere (especially in the West). Mix in the overzealous (bordering on fundamentalist) zeal encouraged in the training programs that appears to clash with much of Baha’i culture and alienates many of the existing Baha’is and you’ve got a real mess. I’m not sure how long it may take for the issues here to be realized, but we as Baha’is should be supportive and let things play out as they will. Perhaps one day we will be open to ideas about adapting content and delivery to different audiences, having a more customer-centered approach in our community relations, and more effectively and strategically using technology, messaging, and marketing tools to communicate, train, and empower believers to change the world.

(2.) The second effect may be that our communities are being cleansed of all the old institutions (such as National Teaching Committee in the United States which was recently disbanded), so that we can focus more on Ruhi classes and the Institute Process. This cleansing is wiping away all the old ways of doing things and opening the way for new solutions in the future. We may continue to gut programs and offices that do not appear to help ?the focus’ until all that is left is a bare bones operation. At that point we may be ready for creative, dramatic, and critical changes to the way we do things that can then get this show on the road and start effective and sustainable growth.

(3.) Finally, those of us with logic- and evidence-based educational backgrounds, real-world organization building experience, open-minded and creative approaches to spiritual development, and individualistic thinking tendencies will continue to be severely tested by the current Plans of our communities. Those of us who cannot learn to be obedient when every fiber of our experience tells us that this won’t work and may actually be accomplishing the opposite effects in the community (in the near term), will likely flush ourselves into inactivity, or even out of the community. But those of us who can see the bigger picture and humble ourselves and admit that there may be things going on that we just don’t understand at this time may find that our obedience muscles stronger than ever and ready for any new tests that life will throw at us. This may in turn create a smaller but more effective core of believers ready to implement the dramatic and powerful campaigns that may be introduced in the future.

The Whirlwind Doesn’t Have to Explain Itself to Little Old Me

This is just one scenario. I don’t know what will happen. Perhaps I am wrong and things will not play out like this? I hope I am wrong, because the scenario painted above is rather grim. I have no crystal ball. All I know is that I love the Baha’i Faith and that I don’t understand God’s methods. There are many times that I, perhaps a little bit like Job, look into the Whirlwind and have to admit that I just don’t understand what is going on. I know that I love the Universal House of Justice, and that I cherish Their every word, and that I pray for the strength to manifest the loving obedience required in our times.

[END DOCUMENT]

Ruhi: Mistaking Correlation for Causation

I’ve been catching up on the Baha’i blogosphere this weekend and I just read Alison’s thought provoking observations on Ruhi.

The thinking behind this all-encompassing Ruhi project appears to me like a cargo-cult mentality. Boiled down, it says: “If we build it, they will come”. In the late 19th century, peoples in the Pacific Islands believed that if they built structures associated with cargo, this would lead to cargo magically turning up. Wiki says: “The most famous examples of Cargo Cult behavior have been the airstrips, airports, and radios made out of coconuts and straw. The cult members built them in the belief that the structures would attract transport aircraft full of cargo. Believers stage ‘drills’ and ‘marches’ with twigs for rifles and military-style insignia and ‘USA’ painted on their bodies to make them look like soldiers.” You see, the cult members had no idea how cargo was actually made and transported to their islands. Instead, they associated its appearance with the appearance of spiritual beings with magical equipment.

I chuckled a bit reading that because Alison is an excellent writer and it made me see in my mind’s eye little jungle men marching in faux-uniforms pretending to be air traffic controllers or soldiers and what-not.

The fallacy that induced the cargo-cults is mistaking correlation for causation. That is, because A happened and then B happened… A must have caused B. So if we repeat A, we should get result B.

Or in simpler terms, because ice cream sales go up when it is hot and sunny, lets sell more ice cream, because then we should have a warm, sunny day.

When you stop to think about it, that is pretty much what happened. Ruhi was a small tiny project being developed and run in a few small villages in Columbia. The target audience was mostly illiterate to moderately literate rural folk. The results were good (I still haven’t seen any proof of this but let’s let it slide for now). So the creators of Ruhi thought they’d hit the secret method to win over the world to the Baha’i Faith.
cargo-cult-ruhi-march.png
Yet after giving Ruhi the benefit of the doubt for more than 10 years, it can not withstand even the most superficial scientific inquiry. Was Ruhi really successful in Columbia? How do we know it and only it was the reason that (allegedly) rural Columbians became Baha’i? How do we know there wasn’t another factor(s)? Has it been successful since? Has it been successful as an export? how and why?

The data offered from the Baha’i World Center is nil. Sure, there are anecdotal evidence: gloriously moving stories of 2 yak herders in downtown Gypjak taking Ruhi classes. But no hard data.

In fact, the only data we have comes from the national level. Like the recent one from the United States. And not only does it not provide any evidence of Ruhi’s efficacy… it in fact suggests that since Ruhi was introduced about 10 years ago, the Baha’i community has seen an accelerated rate of decline in enrollments and an acceleration in the rise of people leaving the Faith. Furthermore, according to the NSA, the “A” clusters, those cities and areas which are the apogee of the Ruhi system are showing no difference in growth or enrollments than other clusters.

Think I’m making all this stuff up?

Read the annual report from the National Spritual Assembly of the United States for yourself! Investigate the truth independently my good wo/man.

So all the hard data we do have is showing that a cargo cult mentality is an apt analogy for Ruhi. Why not? They are both unscientific and about as effective at bringing about the desired result.

But while cargo-cults in Oceana are a sociological oddity we can giggle at, Ruhi is really damaging the Baha’i Faith. It will take us years to realize just how much damage was inflicted. But by that time it will be too late.

This is why I asked previously:

“How will we know, specifically, if this whole Ruhi/core curriculum/institutes process is succeeding? what metrics will we have to watch? what time frame will have to elapse? is there any point or event or situation in which we may potentially acknowledge that it didn’t work? what would that be?”

But why waste time asking such silly questions? There’s a march at 1500 hours and I still haven’t finished polishing my bamboo rifle. So if you’ll excuse me… hep-two, hep-two, hep-two….