Foreword to ‘Church and State’
This book presents my own understanding of the Bahai teachings on some issues that are now critically important to the Bahai community and its relations with the world. My approach has been enriched by my Christian background and education, my studies of theology and church history at Knox Theological Hall and Holy Cross Seminary in Dunedin, New Zealand, and studies of Persian and Islamic Studies at Leiden University, in the Netherlands.
I should declare at the outset that my stance is not that of a historian or academic scholar of the science of religion, but of a Bahai theologian, writing from and for a religious community, and I speak as if the reader shares the concerns of that community. As a Bahai theologian, I seek to criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the Bahai community, to enable Bahais to understand their relatively new faith and to see what it can offer the world. The approach is not value-free. I would be delighted if the Bahai Faith proved to have a synergy with post-modernity, if it prospered in the coming decades and had an influence on the world. The reader who is used to academic studies of religion that avoid such value judgements will have to make the necessary adjustments here and there. I do not however write as an apologist: the goal is a serious study that can aid the Bahai community and others to discover the potential for contemporary religious life which lies within the Bahai scriptures, rather than simply to repackage the Bahai Faith in a palatable form for present needs.
I should also say that I place myself somewhere towards the progressive end of the contemporary Bahai spectrum, in other words, that I feel quite at home in a differentiated, pluralistic, individualistic and globally integrating world, and I hope and expect to see post-modern society prosper. At the other end of the spectrum, there is a very different Bahai discourse which regards a postmodern society as a non-viable option since – according to traditionalist ideas of a ‘what society is’ – differentiation and individualism are symptoms of the disintegration of society. Rather than looking forward to an unpredictable synergy with postmodernism, a really new world order, the conservative Bahai discourse hopes to re-establish a society in the traditional sense, once the progressive disintegration of society, as they perceive it, has run its course. The reader should be aware, then, that this is only one among the competing discourses within the contemporary western Bahai community.
Since this book is a reexamination of the Bahai teachings that are relevant to the art of politics in its broadest sense, I presume some knowledge of previous interpretations of the Bahai writings, of the central figures of the Bahai Faith, and the institutions of the Bahai community. A list of introductory and reference works on the Bahai Faith is provided at the end of the book.
As a theologian rather than a political scientist I am interested in principles rather than political mechanisms or history, and particularly in how those principles relate to the nature of the Kingdom and ultimately to the nature of God. Topical applications of these principles are a separate question. The theological principles will undoubtedly need to be supplemented from both practical experience and detailed historical research. It is to be hoped that my intellectual and spiritual debts, and my leaning towards theological rather than historical analysis, have been the source of selective enrichment, rather than bias. The reader is, at any rate, forewarned.
The views offered here are not an authoritative view of the Bahai teachings, nor a definitive statement of my own views on these topics. These are samples from a work in progress, born out of an ongoing argument with myself. It is published now rather than at some other time partly because I have achieved a degree of certainty that at least the broad lines of these ideas do accurately represent the Bahai teachings, but chiefly because the issues dealt with here have become so pressing for the well-being of the Bahai communities in the west, and offer such potential for fruitful dialogue with the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions, that a start must be made.
… (the complete Contents page, Foreword and Introduction are on this blog, in PDF format.
Short link: http://wp.me/PcgF5-11q