Question of Ethics

Jun 2014
I understand that point. You have also well described what the original discussion was about the revelations of Christianity and Baha'i. I would like to discuss your system for clarification:

For a Christian, the revelation of Jesus Christ represents this original First Principle. Because Jesus Christ is this unchangeable First Principle, from which all concrete moral and ethical decisions and adaptations are derived, and in this sense it is the "highest revelation", it remains for the Christian reference to all other norms:

Therefore, in the first letter to the Thessalonians it says, "Do not quench the Spirit! Do not despise prophetic speeches! Test all things and keep the good!

Not the law, but Christ is the yardstick for the believer. Christians adhere to the first principle, from which the further derivations and concrete norms are derived. Therefore it is not plausible for Christians to abandon this First Principle.

For Christians, Christ is precisely this first principle, not the bearer of concrete, temporal norms. On the contrary, the Epistle to the Romans says that the knowledge of sin came through the law. Man realizes that he always lags behind his possibilities, but is accepted by God precisely in this weakness.
I do not think the whole of Jesus' Revelation makes up the first principles of Christianity. Take, for example, the verses in which he deconstructs the laws to explain the principles behind them: "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?" or "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[c] will be subject to judgment."

In other words abstaining from work on the Sabbath is not the first principle behind Jewish sabbatical laws according to Jesus. Likewise a prohibition on murder isn't even a first principle to Jesus, rather, the hatred behind that murder is the first principle that informs the law against murder.

Because of verses like these, Christians typically realize that there are first principles behind what Jesus is saying, his teachings are not necessarily first principles in and of themselves. IE: Jesus' teachings about charity informs that the first principle behind charity is not for the sake of charity itself, nor even the help to others the charity can bring, but is about self-sacrifice as a principle. This is not available from the direct text of Jesus' law, but is obvious through the subtext and parallel of what he said.

Next, a person is not really a first principle. A person can be an example of first principles, but the principles exist independently and outside of the person, since a principle is a PURELY conceptual entity, and exists only as a concept. Thus, we can't say that Jesus himself is the first principle of Christianity, though we can say his recorded actions, words, and laws are representative of those first principles (we could also say his actions and words, if we had personal knowledge of such, though no one still living does).

Now to address some of your further posts:

Why should God, who knows about the imperfection of his creation, about the imperfection of his children, about the imperfection of his children in the question of cognitive ability, about the imperfection of his children regarding his own actions, guilt and insight,
I cannot address this point without delving into a rather controversial statement, even controversial to some Baha'is, though there is scriptural basis in MANY religions to support it.

This statement being "Creation and mankind are perfect."

This being the logical consequence of the idea of a perfect creator. There cannot be a flaw in the creation of something deemed perfect, and therefore, to accept belief in a perfect creator one must also accept that all of that perfect beings creations are also perfect.

The only way around accepting the world as imperfect would be to assert the creator is imperfect (which I have counterarguments to as well, but I don't think they'll be necessary here) or to assert that the creator was imperfect at the time of creation, but is perfect now (a belief that is exceedingly rare, I've only seen a handful of people ever suggest it).

want the introduction of the death penalty or the branding of criminals ? It completely contradicts the idea that people can turn back.
Of note, it ONLY completely contradicts the idea that people can repent IF you believe there is no postmortem spiritual advancement. If we cannot possibly advance past the state we are in when we die, there is a problem. But for belief systems, such as the Baha'i Faith, where spiritual progress continues after death, there is no inherent contradiction.

Why would God want "Thou shalt not kill" to be relativized by wanting the death penalty for people himself?
I touched on it earlier, but Jesus makes it clear that the first principle behind the prohibition of murder is not the act itself, but in the emotional state of the murderer. So there is no first principle contradiction in a Christian or Baha'i execution of a murderer, unless the executioner harbors hatred towards the executed.

As for the greater question of "why allow the death penalty at all?" let's delve into the first principles of religion.

At an admittedly incredibly simplistic level, since I don't really have the time to go really deep into the concept, most religions have two basic first principles.

1) Preserving and ensuring the survival of humanity.
2) Facilitating the spiritual development of the individual.

Though, of note, not all religions and sects have the first principle, notably the Manichean religion and the Quakers.

The Baha'i law proscribing either death or imprisonment to a murderer is an extension of #1. For the sake of humanity's continued survival, those who would kill other humans need to be either removed or contained, I think we can agree.

I think the ideal is imprisonment rather than death, especially given that sometimes the wrong person can be blamed or framed for a crime. However, we must acknowledge that not all cultures on this world have the luxury of avoiding the death penalty.

Imprisoning someone for life is very, very expensive. Killing them is not (court cases and legal bureaucracy AROUND killing them may be greater in developed countries, of course). If a serial murderer is found in a pre-industrial, famine-stricken village, would you insist that the villagers imprison, feed, clothe, and guard the murderer to life, regardless of the strain on a starving community?

I would argue that, for times or places where technology has not lead to the immense wealth and prosperity enjoyed in developed and even some developing nations in the current era, the death penalty is a necessity for the good of society, and the ability to imprison, rather than kill, murderers is a luxury that the wealth of the modern era has given to us. Certainly, it is a great thing when we don't have to kill someone convicted of murder, but it's not a thing every society can afford quite yet.

And, of course, it is always a possibility that the wrong person is convicted for a crime. But would you rather a pre-industrial community be forced to shoulder the burden of feeding, clothing, and guarding every convicted murderer for the rest of that person's life on the mere possibility that they may be innocent?

If a community can afford such a thing, clearly they should imprison for this reason alone. But if they can't afford it, the best option still seems like allowing the death penalty, rather than taking food and resources from an impoverished community to ensure the life of a convicted man.

Many Christian countries support the Baha'i because they reject the death penalty.
If this is true, that is a terrible reason to not support the oppression of a group. It seems to imply that the unjust oppression would be JUST FINE with the "many Christians" you describe, as long as the oppression didn't lead to death. :p This is almost certainly not your intent, but I'd at least hope any solidarity with the Baha'i community is founded on an ethical position that extends further than simple distaste for killing.
Oct 2019
Good evening,

first of all I'm sorry for the late answer, I was very busy professionally. I wanted to thank you for the different perspectives, views and explanations that helped me to shed some light on the subject.

Many thanks, Siddhanta
Jul 2018
Tarshish, bound for Nineveh
I don't find a dilemma, unless one of the propositions is that revelations, ethics, and laws come from the intellect and fancy of messengers rather than from God. But the Bahais do not hold the latter proposition to be true, so there is no contradiction.

Let me ask you a question: What is to be to definition of absolute good, or pure ethic, in absence of a divine assayer with the authority to make such value judgments?
Dec 2012
Greetings Siddhanta,

This is a very interesting question. Before beginning do appreciate that all Bahá'ís have the right to come to their own understanding in matters. So therefore responses to you might differ. There is no real right or wrong here, just people seeking to explain matters as they see them.

While there are some different outlooks within the religions we know about today, these are very minor compared to the ancient religions that have now become lost. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has claimed that mankind goes back a very long way. So when we look at the notion of Progressive Revelation, we need to view it within a very different time scale.

In the Bahá'í Writings, it has been claimed that the records of Manifestations of God before Adam were completely obliterated. A few scholars have written on this matter, but it is not common knowledge within the Bahá'í Community. So to help understand this process we tend to use the term cycles. One of the largest cycles mentioned within the Bahá'í Faith is known as a Universal Cycle. In human terms this spans for around 100,000 years. The next is the Adamic Cycle (which originates from Adam), this spans for around 10,000 years. Finally there are the individual Religious Cycles, these span for a 1,000 years. So in simple terms we could say that 1 Universal Cycle consists of 10 Adamic Cycles, each of which consists of 10 Religious Cycles. This process is not a mathematical science, rather it is a spiritual metaphor and numbers are therefore only expressed in decimals because it helps us to visualise the process more easily. The point to understand here is this. It is the material from the former Universal Cycles that is obliterated. In this contest all of the religions we know of today are under the same Universal Cycle.

One issue that tended to confuse Christians about the notion of Progressive Revelation, certainly in the 19th century, was the simple fact that there was also a Christian belief that God created the world no earlier than 4,000 years before Christ. This was actually a very coherent theology at that time and it made perfect sense. However, as the role of modern science grew, there have been more and more concessions made about this view within Christianity. Namely Christians are having to learn how to adapt their theology in order to comply with science. Indeed some Christian denominations now fully accept the notion of evolution, even if some still rejects or struggle with the idea. So it is important to appreciate just how far Christians have travelled in their religious outlook since the 19th century too.

The point that Christians need to appreciate with Progressive Revelation is that it goes back a very long way; arguable to the very origins of the Universe itself. Naturally in such a time, long before the origins of first stars, life could not have existed as we know it today. Even before modern stars could be formed within the Universe, very primitive stars were needed to produce the early elements that would fuel later stars. These first stars were very fast burning, had short lives and were well beyond the scale of the largest stars we know of today. They created the primary elements needed for later stars and these in turn created many of the elements needed to construct more advanced elements. Manifestations of God will take any form necessary in order to guide the natural world to create humans. So it could perhaps be said that early Manifestations of God might even have been Stars.

We know from the Hubble telescope that a 100 billion galaxies have already been located. So humans, in terms of spiritual beings, are likely to take a number of different forms throughout the Universe. Indeed Shoghi Effendi has given some interesting talks on this matter. He has claimed that mankind will never be granted access to interstellar travel until we become profoundly united and have obtained true spiritual adulthood. This is much more than obtaining global unification. Only then will we have the opportunity to travel to the stars to meet our interstellar brother and sisters. However, as you might perceive, this will also create a challenge because we will come into contact with other living Universal Cycles too. All humans, no matter from what planet they originate, are guided by Manifestations of God. This is why astronomy features prominently within some religions. It features within Christianity because the alignment of the Stars predicted the Coming of Christ. So Progressive Revelation is so much more than what it might appear.

Let us take a short interlude before continuing

I have certainly witnessed some Bahá'ís talk about the followers of earlier religions in a negative manner. Quite often it is masked by employing a condescending tone. Those responsible usually seek to assume or project some sense of spiritual, moral or intellectual superiority. You can alway identify when such attitudes are at play because those responsibly will usually employ hyperbole and self-congratulatory behaviour.

Now you might need to think about this next paragraph. Bahá'u'lláh has claimed that Bahá'ís are going to persecute the next Manifestation of God. In reality the level of this persecution will actually depend upon the way that every Bahá'í generation acts and behaves. Look on it like adding rocks to the judgement, once a rock has been added it cannot be removed. So the weight perpetually builds up. This is why all Bahá'ís, irrespective of what time they live in, will have a direct impact on the persecution of the next Manifestation of God. If believers in earlier religions like Christianity already feel that the Bahá'ís today do not treat them or their beliefs with dignity, then you might already have some idea of what the next Manifestation of God might actually face.

The solution is actually very easy, every Bahá’í needs to learn how to follow their own heart and mind because this was gifted to them by God. Indeed, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has given some wise counsel on this. He explained that some Bahá’ís are best loved from a distance. If Bahá’ís paid much more attention to this, they would understand how and why you feel the way that you do. You are not the person that is at fault here and neither is Christianity. Progressive Revelation should never be used to infer that earlier religions or their followers are somehow redundant. Rather it should be viewed as an endorsement to their authenticity, wisdom and qualities. Just because a child might graduate to the next class, it does not mean they have learnt everything from their former class. One of the key lessons Christ brought to mankind, according to Bahá’u’lláh, was love. Love cannot be taught from a book. It is now so widespread around the world it has become a living reality within all aspects of human society. This is why we find it so hard to understand when we witness people that do not possess it as a quality. Society has adopted this spiritual quality thorough the sacrifice of Christ and His followers, even if they do not realise it. If you really want to know how humans related towards one another before this time period, then you will need to study psychopathy. Our world was literally devoid of love before Christ. Moses, Abraham, Noah and Adam focused on other matters that had to transpire before love could become such a widespread human reality.

If you wish to obtain a deeper understanding on these matters from a Bahá'í perspective, then I would encourage you to study and meditate on the Kitáb-i-Iqán (Book of Certitude). When we remove ourselves from the notion of religious ownership and begin to view all religious values as Celestial Inspiration, we actually free ourselves from religious attachment and bigotry. This is what the true religious experience is all about. Not pitting one against the other. So I will leave with a final clip to contemplate on to help you understand why your understanding and outlook is so important too.

All good things,

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