It Has Been Some Time
It's Been More Than A Year since I was at this thread---life is busy even in retirement and I had no idea there had been replies. Here is the rest of that 1700 word piece.-Ron
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 their very approach to reality and the way their society goes about organizing things, it seemed like a useful exercise, useful at least to me and hopefully to some others at this site, to say a few things about: My Position and Beliefs: My Religion. I do this at this site and dozens of other sites on the internet and I use this post as an opening note. I hope to solicit responses from others and engage in a useful dialogue. Some readers will find this post too long. For such readers I advise they simply not bother reading this post. The following paragraphs set some of the context for that dialogue which I hope follows from this opening post.
Religion, in the sense that 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, in this case, at the time of my writing of this post on the internet and in the case of the person reading this post, at the time of the response of that reader to what he has just read in my writing. Religion is also the set of assumptions one brings to their life. One of the essential features of assumptions is that they cannot be proved. They are just givens at the centre of one’s meaning system. My apologetics, then, is strengthened by the common witness and testimony of my fellow human beings about the role of values, beliefs and attitudes in our lives and in relation to the world in which we live.
The religion I belong to---the set of values, beliefs and attitudes that represent my life as a member of the Bahá'í Faith---is an outgoing and dynamic organization. It is not distracted by internal controversy as many if not most other religions are in their spiritual life. It is a Faith highly focussed on the new Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, the Bahá'í Faith’s Prophet-Founder and this Faith is responsive to the world’s need for united action. I hope this opening note of over 2500 words provides a general, a useful, a helpful context for any continuing discussion you and I may have. If the note I strike is too long, as I say, I advise readers to just click me off or stop reading when you feel your mind is glazing over. This is a simple enough exercise of the hand and the mind. I do this all the time in our print-glut world. Readers do not know much about the Baha'i Faith can google the official international Baha'i site at: bahai.org. -Ron Price in Tasmania, Australia, last updated 1 October 2010.
Apologetics is a branch of systematic theology, although some experience its 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. All of us defend our positions whatever these positions are: atheistic, theistic, agnostic, humanistic, sceptic, cynic, realist, pragmatist and any one of a multitude of religions, denominations, sects, cults, isms and wasms.
Apologetics, to put it slightly differently, is concerned with answering both general and critical inquiries from others. In the main, though, apologetics deals with criticism of a position and dealing with that criticism in as rational a manner as possible. Apologetics can help explore the teachings of a religion or of a philosophy in the context of the prevailing religions and philosophies of the day as well as in the context of the common laws and standards of a secular society. Although the capacity to engage in critical self-reflection on the fundamentals of some position is a prerequisite of the task of engaging in apologetics, apologetics derives much of its impetus from a commitment to a position.
Given the role of apologetics in religious and philosophical history and in the development of the texts and ideas that are part and parcel of that history, it is surprising that contemporary communities generally undervalue its importance and often are not even aware of the existence of this sub-discipline of philosophy. Authors, writers, editors of journals and leaders known for defending points in arguments, for engaging in conflicts or for taking up certain positions that receive great popular scrutiny and/or are minority views engage in what today are essentially forms of secular apologetics.
Anyone concerned with the history of apologetics is also involved with the history of hermeneutics and they all confront the question of interpretation. Questions of interpretation concern biblical interpreters. They concern lawyers who debate the meaning of the Constitution. They concern psychiatrists as they reflect upon their interpretation of case histories, and anthropologists and historians who ponder the data of their disciplines.
Naturally in life, we all take positions 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 apologetics I engage in here 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 those secular apologetics I referred to above, but Baha'i apologetics.
A positive and articulate apologetics keeps dialogue from becoming pallid, platitudinous, and degutted, as one writer put it.1 Further, it should be born in mind that apologetics cannot be reduced merely to justification and defence of the propositions of some position. Apologetics is implicit in all western worldviews and socio-political systems either secular or theistic. The pragmatics of theological thinking, indeed all Western thinking, remain determined by what may be called the apologetic method. But religious apologetics is also an attempt to make faith meaningful to a secular world.
Bahá'í apologetics, as I see it anyway, is a responsible apologetics. That is, it is: non-autocratic, rational, and a responsible and faithful transmission of the beliefs of the covenantal community by its scholars to succeeding generations. Bahá'í apologetics, moreover, while it may be committed apologetics, seeks to respect the spirit of the non-normative, non-confessional science of religion in the light of confessional faith.
As a Bahá'í whatever proof I offer about my beliefs as I try to help others to make sense of them, this proof I offer is relative. It depends on the total context of the statements which I make. It depends on the explicit and implicit conventions concerning their meaning as well as the experiential component of my statements and much else. My findings, rooted as they are in subjectivity, relativism and pragmatism, can be verified only by individuals capable of assuming and willing to assume my point of view. To put this another way, the verification of my ideas requires of those with whom I engage in dialogue that they know something about my position, my beliefs. This is true in all scientific endeavour: in the physical and biological sciences, in the social sciences and in the various studies in the humanities of which religion is but one of these many fields.
One can be convinced of the truth of something, have a sense of certitude and know little to nothing at all about the object. Sometimes faithful self-abandonment is more valuable than cerebral consent and sometimes it isn't. Society and the millions of individuals in it are caught in cross-fires between noncommitment, scepticism, cynicism and defensiveness on the one hand and the upholding of categorical imperatives, the justifying of arbitrary absolutes, the insistence on finality and agreement, irrational commitment and aggressiveness on the other.
This is the general climate in which apologetics takes place with an interdependence of diverse points of view, with passionate expressions and proofs all lying along linking lines and lines that cannot be linked. The world has become very complex for the votaries its multitudinous faith positions.
There are many points of comparison and contrast between any form of apologetics which I won't go into here. Readers here might like to check out Wikipedia for a birds-eye-view of the subject. 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 each of us will, 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. To save me reinventing the wheel so to speak, may I suggest--as I did earlier--that readers here google the official Bahá'í site at bahai.org so that they have some idea what the Bahá'í faith is, what are its teachings and its history. Then these same readers can post a reply to this post with specific questions and critiques. 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 criticism than they are. I am also aware that, in cases of rude or hostile attack, rebuttal with a harsher tone, the punitive rebuttal, may well be justified, although I prefer humour, irony and even gentle sarcasm rather than hostile written attack in any form. Still, it does not help an apologist to belong to those "watchmen" whom 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 does not mean self-denial,” wrote Hans Kung, arguably the greatest of Catholic apologists. The standard of public discussion of controversial topics should be sensitive to what is said and how; it should be sensitive to manner, mode, style, tone and volume. Tact is also essential. Not everything that we know should always be disclosed; not everything that can be disclosed it timely or suited to the ears of the hearer. 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 the real features of these views, features that could provoke rejection in order to be acceptable for dialogue. To do this, to be opportunistic and saying what others want to hear often 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, partial truth, of one’s convictions, indeed, 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 process of verbal or written exchange. In the weeks and months that follow, my postings quite possibly may wind up singing the beards of some readers and, perhaps, my own. Emotions, if not fried when exposed, 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 much 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 even within what are often the muddy and pluralistic waters of secular thought itself.
Anyway, that's all for now. It's back to the summer 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 philosophical and religious geography that the 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, anyone who is inclined to respond to what I’m sure for some is this overly long post. 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 45 years, a teacher for 35, a writer and editor for 13, and a Baha'i for 53(in 2012).