Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Socially progressive?

This was part of a discussion, on Bahai-studies, of the proposition that the Bahai Faith is morally conservative but socially progressive. It was said:

> The crime of adultery/fornication being liable to be fined is one of the
> examples of social conservatism.

This is not a court penalty for a criminal act, it has more in common with
confession for a Catholic, and it is connected to repentance and
forgiveness. It is paid to the House of Justice, which has no power to
force anyone to pay them anything. The text (K49) says

God hath imposed a fine (diyata = blood money) on every adulterer and
adulteress, to be paid (musallamatan = to be surrendered) to the House of Justice: nine mithqals of gold, to be doubled if they should repeat the offence. Such is the penalty which He Who is the Lord of Names hath assigned them in this world; and in the world to come He hath ordained for them a humiliating torment. Should anyone be afflicted by a sin, it behoveth him to repent thereof and return unto his Lord. He, verily, granteth forgiveness unto whomsoever He willeth, and none may question that which it pleaseth Him to ordain.

The word for adultery here includes rape, which is a criminal
offence. Obviously a small fine is not adequate, either as a criminal
penalty or as a protection of society, for offences such as rape, or for
the sexual abuse of children. Such crimes affect security, and the
punishments and preventatives for them are therefore in the hands of the
state authorities:

The instruments which are essential to the immediate protection, the
security and assurance of the human race have been entrusted to the hands,
and lie in the grasp, of the governors of human society. This is the wish
of God and His decree.”
(Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 206)

> Prohibtion is not socially liberal. All prohibitionists I know from the
> Internet are far right ultra conservatives.

If you mean, the prohibition on drinking alcohol, this is a voluntary
discipline undertaken by Bahais, as part of their identity and life as
Bahais. Personally, I support state licencing and control for both alcohol
and marijuana. I don’t use either myself, but controlled availability of
these substances seems to be the best solution for society in its present

> Some liberals even consider the death penalty itself to be illiberal.

Abdu’l-Baha leaned that way too. In an authenticated talk to Temple
Emmanual (Star of the West, Vol. 3, No. 13, p. 3) on October 12,
1912, he is reported to have said:

In the Taurat there are ten commandments concerning the murderer. Is it
possible to carry these out? Can these ten ordinances, concerning the
treatment of murderers, be enforced?

Modern times are such that even the question of capital punishment – –
the one form which some nations have decided to enforce in relation to a
murderer – – is a mooted question. Wise men are consulting as to its
feasibility or otherwise.

So everything that is valid is only valid for the time being. The
exigency of that time demanded that if a man committed theft to the
extent of a dollar they would chop off his hand, but now you cannot
cut off a man’s hand for a thousand dollars. You cannot do it; it is
impossible. This is true, for it was useful for that time, but things are
useful in accordance with the exigencies of the time. Time changes, and
when time changes the laws have to change. But remember, these are not of
importance; they are the accidentals of religion. The essentials which are
spiritual in character, which have to do with morality, which have to do
with the ethical development of man, which have to do with the faith of
man – – they are ideal; they are necessary and permanent; they are one
foundation, and they are not subject to change or transformation.

and in a tablet that is authentic, he writes:

In brief, the foundation of this most great dispensation has been
designed in such a way that its laws can remain appropriate to and
consonant with all ages and eras, unlike the bygone religious laws,
whose implementation is unattainable and impossible today. For
example, consider the laws of the Torah. Today, they definitely
cannot be implemented, for they include ten capital offenses.
Likewise, Islamic religious requires the amputation of a hand for the
theft of ten dirhams. Is it possible to enforce such a law today? No, by
God! But this [Bahai] holy, divine, law of God is appropriate to all
hours, times and ages. (My translation, see )

What makes it appropriate, is that the part that relates to social
life is treated as non-essential, and can be changed

27 November 2010
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