Baha'i Apologetics Anyone?
Since there are so many questions raised and issues discussed concerning people’s basic assumptions about life, about their philosophy, about their religious beliefs, indeed, about people’s very approach to reality and the way their society goes about organizing things, I seemed like a useful exercise, useful at least to me and hopefully to some others, to say a few things about: "My Position and Beliefs: My Religion." Religion, in the sense I am using it here, is the set of values, beliefs and attitudes each of us has as we go about our daily life at a particular moment in time—at the time of this writing in my case and at the time of the response of a reader in your case. I hope this opening note of some 1300 words provides a general, a useful, a helpful context for any continuing discussion we may have. If the note I strike is too long, I advise readers to just click me off, a simple enough exercise of the hand and the mind.-Ron Price in Australia.
Apologetics is a branch of systematic theology, although some experience it’s thrust in religious studies or philosophy of religion courses. Some encounter it on the internet for the first time in a more populist and usually much less academic form. As I see it, apologetics is primarily concerned with the protection of a position, the refutation of the issues raised by that position's assailants and, in the larger sense, the exploration of that position in the context of prevailing philosophies and standards in a secular society, a religious society, indeed, any society past or present.
Apologetics, to put it slightly differently, is concerned with answering critical inquiries and with criticism of a position and dealing with the process, the exercise, in a rational manner. Apologetics is not possible, it seems to me anyway, without a commitment to and a desire to defend a position. Naturally in life, one takes a position on all sorts of topics, subjects, religions and philosophies. Often that position is inarticulate and poorly thought out if given any thought at all.
With that said, though, the activity I engage in, namely, apologetics, is a never ending exercise with time out for the necessary and inevitable quotidian tasks of life: eating, sleeping, drinking and a wide range of leisure activities. The apologetics that concerns me is not so much Christian or Islamic apologetics or one of a variety of what might be called secular apologetics, but Baha'i apologetics. There are many points of comparison and contrast, though, between any form of apologetics which I won't go into here. Christians and Muslims will have the opportunity to defend their respective religions by the use of apologetics; secular humanists can also argue their cases if they so desire here. I in turn will defend the Baha'i Faith by the use of apologetics. In the process we will all, hopefully, learn something about our respective Faiths, our religions, our various and our multitudinous positions, some of which we hold to our hearts dearly and some of which are of little interest.
At the outset, then, in this my first posting, my intention is simply to make this start, to state what you might call "my apologetics position." This brief statement indicates, in broad outline, where I am coming from in the weeks and months ahead. -Ron Price with thanks to Udo Schaefer, "Baha'i Apologetics?" Baha'i Studies Review, Vol. 10, 2001/02.
I want in this second part of my first posting to finish outlining, as best I can, my basic orientation to Baha’i apologetics. Critical scholarly contributions or criticism raised in public or private discussions, an obvious part of apologetics, should not necessarily be equated with hostility. Questions are perfectly legitimate, indeed, necessary aspects of a person's search for an answer to an intellectual conundrum. Paul Tillich, that great Protestant theologian of the 20th century, once expressed the view that apologetics was an "answering theology."-Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, U. of Chicago, 1967, Vol.1, p6.
I have always been attracted to the founder of the Baha'i Faith's exhortations in discussion to "speak with words as mild as milk," with "the utmost lenience and forbearance." This form of dialogue, its obvious etiquette of expression and the acute exercise of judgement involved, is difficult for most people when their position is under attack from people who are more articulate, better read and better at arguing both their own position and the position of those engaged in the written attack than they are. I am also aware that, in cases of rude or hostile attack, rebuttal with a harsher tone may well be justified, although I prefer humour, irony and even a gentle sarcasm to hostile written attack in any form. Still, it does not help an apologist to belong to those "watchmen" the prophet Isaiah calls "dumb dogs that cannot bark."(Isaiah, 56:10)
In its essence apologetics is a kind of confrontation, an act of revealing one's true colours, of hoisting the flag, of demonstrating the essential characteristics of one's faith, of one's thought, of one's emotional and intellectual stance in life. Dialogue, arguably the greatest of Catholic apologists Hans Kung once puts it, "does not mean self-denial." The standard of public discussion of controversial topics should be sensitive to what is said and how. Not everything that we know should always be disclosed; to put this another way, we don't want all our dirty laundry out on our front lawn for all to see or our secrets blasted over the radio and TV. Perhaps a moderate confessionalism is best here, if confession is required at all—and in today’s print and electronic media it seems unavoidable.
I want to thank Udo Schaefer, "Baha'i Apologetics," Baha'i Studies Review, Vol.10, 2001/2) for some of what I write here. Schaefer, a prominent Baha’i writer, scholar, lawyer and man of many intellectual seasons, emphasizes that one's views, one's faith, "should not be opportunistically streamlined, adapting to current trends, thus concealing their real features, features that could provoke rejection in order to be acceptable for dialogue." To do this puts one in the danger of losing one's identity, if not one’s honesty and integrity.
It is almost impossible, though, to carry the torch of truth, of light, of any set of words in any colour, through a crowd without getting someone's beard singed. if one has no beard one’s emotions can be equally fried and hung out to dry. In the weeks and months that follow, my postings will probably wind up singing the beards of some readers and, perhaps, my own in the process. Emotions, if not fried, are often behind barricades of self-defence and that is natural because what is being considered is at the centre of a person’s life. Such are the perils of dialogue, of apologetics.
Much of Baha'i apologetics derives from the experience Baha'is have of a fundamental discrepancy between secular thought and the Baha'i teachings on the other. In some ways, the gulf is unbridgeable but, so too, is this the case between the secular and much thought in the Christian or Islamic religion or, for that matter, between variants of Christianity or within what are often the muddy and pluralistic waters of secular thought itself.
Anyway, that's all for now. It's back to the winter winds of Tasmania, about 3 kms from the Bass Straight on the Tamar River. The geography of place is so much simpler than that of the spiritual geography readers at this site are concerned with, although even physical geography has its complexities as those who take a serious interest in the topic of climate change are fast finding out. Whom the gods would destroy they first make simple and simpler and simpler. I look forward to a dialogue with someone. Here in far-off Tasmania--the last stop before Antarctica, if one wants to get there by some other route than off the end of South America--your response will be gratefully received.-Ron Price, Tasmania, Australia
married for 41 years, a teacher for 35 and a Baha'i for 49. I have three books on the internet all available free.