Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Morally conservative?

This originated in an inter-blog debate between two Bahais: Christopher Schwartz and Nicholas James. Nicholas had described himself as a Bahai and “moral conservative”, “world federalist”, and “monarchist.” Christopher saw red. And he later apologised on his blog for his “loss of composure and … politicization or radicalization of a human encounter.” Nicholas put an article on his own blog, explaining why he thinks the Bahai teachings are morally conservative, favour constitutional monarchy, and world federalism.

My two cents:

As regards monarchy, I agree. I posted something similar to what [Nicholas] say here, as a comment on The naked sting of exegesis: Christopher Schwartz’s blog.

There’s a posting on my blog about the “practicalities of monarchy” that argues that constitutional monarchy is the “best practice” technique of democracy, for perfectly pragmatic reasons (not that I think Baha’u’llah’s teachings are unimportant).

As regards moral conservatism, it depends where you come from. The Bahai Faith was born in the Victorian era, and not in merry old England either. It allows women to go unveiled, to be educated, to initiate a divorce, to participate in all branches of public life, at the highest level. It bars parents from arranging marriages, it doesn’t advocate stoning people to death for adultery. To turn away from the Middle East, the Bahai Faith encourages interracial marriages, which were seen as immoral in the US of A into the 50’s. Seen in the historical context, the Bahai Faith is way way out on the moral liberal end of the spectrum. You might say that veiling, for example, is not a moral issue. But that’s just what moral liberalism does: it defines things as not moral issues: they become health issues, or lifestyle choices, or self-expression.

There are other liberal Bahai teachings which have moral aspects: democracy for example. It’s not just a political system, it rests on the dignity and value of the individual. The individual search after truth, ditto.

Because I’m looking at a wider scene, I’m quite confident in calling the Bahai teachings morally liberal. I would also say that, as regards some contemporary moral issues especially in the West, the Bahai teachings are not as liberal as some advocated positions.

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2 Responses to “Morally conservative?”

  1. enna said

    i came across this and find some questions i apoplogize as i am not involved in the Bahai faith i am wondering as i grew up with a father who is Muslim how a culture excisting for thousands of years can be summed up with a few words involving the covering of a woman as well as stoning havee you studied Islam as a whole so you read Arabic writings? I in no way want to come across as anyone who is a scholar however my brother Ari Nakissa is a harvard educated lawyer as well as highly respected professer and Muslim, to say your religion is “To turn away from the Middle East, the Bahai Faith encourages interracial marriages, which were seen as immoral in the US of A into the 50′s. Seen in the historical context, the Bahai Faith is way way out on the moral liberal end of the spectrum. You might say that veiling, for example, is not a moral issue. But that’s just what moral liberalism does: it defines things as not moral issues: they become health issues, or lifestyle choices, or self-expression.”
    is really personally offensive to me as i am an Iranian citizen as well as someone who values others opinions “Liberal” does not come off that statement you are slandering the middle east may i ask have you ever been?

  2. Sen said

    I think you have misunderstood; “to turn away” here means only that I have been comparing the Bahai Faith to Middle-Eastern cultures, and now I am going to compare it to America of the 1950s. Compared to both of them, the Bahai Faith is morally liberal.
    Yes, I have been to Iran, Turkey and Israel, I have a masters degree in Islamic studies, and read Persian and Arabic. But I’m not sure if any of that is relevant, since it’s not clear what it is you find offensive.

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