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On The Beach

Religions tend to claim infallibility. Its either overt or implied — infallibility.

Perhaps this is a result of dealing with the infinite. If a being, text or object is infinite, perfect or immortal then it is infallible. But this idea raises questions: infallible when, were and to whom? Situational infallibility — is it possible?

We live a life wherein nothing is infallible. Some of us long for an absolute source of guidance.

Below is a post I wrote on Talisman9, a discussion group among Bahais, ex-Bahais and etc. Some background first. Many Bahais believe that the Bahai faith will become the state religion of one country then another and then finally at some point — of the world. They also believe that the governing body of the Bahais is in some matters infallible and will become the governing body of the world in the future. I am responding here to someone who I think believes both things.

Excellent post Alex — thank you for it.

Some thoughts:

I sincerely hope we will never have another “state religion.” How a state religion and at the same time the separation of church and state is possible eludes me. Your post implies that over time people will see the need for a state religion but I hope not.

“The Guardian’s vision of the future of the Baha’i Faith was inspired by God
(i.e. “infallible”). Accepting this we go on with our lives and try to help
the Faith as best we can, believing that eventually it will bear fruit no
matter how long that might take.”

You equate infallible with inspired by God. This is so very dangerous and extreme. Many ideas are inspired by spiritual sources, the ultimate source is of course ‘God’ the unknowable essence. Sublime poetry is inspired that way. Brilliant flashes of insight as well or at least so it seems to many. If we have tablets of stone that must be followed where is the room for further growth? Of course the Guardian’s vision included a succession of Guardians and that vision he himself rendered impossible. Why did this happen? It happened because people cannot infallibly foretell the future.

Inspired by God is a good term if its is used properly. Inspired by one’s muse perhaps an even better one (after all we can’t know God — “unknowable essence”) By used properly I mean that even ideas inspired by God must be tested and corrected if necessary. We have no choice in this matter as I think the history of Baha’i proves.

Infallibility does have its uses. It is the glue that holds many religions together. But as others have implied, it is only any good to those within the religion claiming this. It is of no use to outsiders and is in fact generally repellant to them (a paradox). And certainly any government that seeks guidance from an infallible source is a dangerous, potentially uncontrollable and monstrous thing. We humans are part of an organic, growing apparently flawed universe. Whether the universe is becoming more perfect or less is as unknowable as God herself. We do know that God makes mistakes — deformed babies born every day prove that.

I think seeking the infallible is not good for human nature — having been born into a world created by a fallible God we should use methods that allow for fallibility. Checks and balances, skepticism, rejection of “foolish consistency,” and a recognition that our progress will all ways be one of step wise refinement AKA taking two steps forward and one step back. No infallibility no matter how it is defined. Inspired by God does not mean — “oh than it must be true.” Not all inspirations are ‘true’ not all apply to this situation or that. All must be tested.

Bahia’s are taught not to judge God by human standards. Herein lies another danger. We have no standards other than those we ourselves have developed through the age-old process of formulate (through thought or inspiration), test, reformulate (seek further inspiration) — IOW step-wise refinement.

I have an old friend who was visited in a dream by Abdul Baha. He discussed an idea during that dream and than awoke to tell the world about it. It was a very good idea and my friend went on to develop it and it was a very good development. But I wish he had kept his dream a secret. It is very difficult to challenge an idea inspired by Abdul Baha. I’m pleased that the idea was developed and tested and proved to be good. But I am fearful of ideas that we can’t challenge.

Thanks again Alex for your good work.


Time and Space

I have often come across references to Immanuel Kant’s most famous work — “The Critique of Pure Reason.” So I finally decided to read it. One of the causes of this impulse is that I have a Kindle reader now and I felt that it might help me with this formidable task. So far I’ve read 10% of the book (according to my Kindle) and it turns out that the Kindle is an enormous aid to reading difficult material.

First of all when using a Kindle a reader has immediate access to a dictionary. Place the cursor next to a word and — bingo — there is the definition. And — as you read you will come across passages that have been highlighted by others. Pay attention to these — sometimes the highlighted passages are keys to understanding. And of course the reader can easily highlight passages for herself and read them later in summary together or singly.

What I’ve found really helpful is to be able to reference other texts along the way. I came across a book by Bertrand Russell entitled “The Problems of Philosophy.” This is a much lighter, shorter book that has a chapter called — “How A Priori Knowledge is Possible.” This book and especially the chapter on a priori knowledge, is very helpful in decoding what Kant was writing about and the points he was making. Russell disagrees with Kant’s conclusions but it is useful to note that Russell writes that there are many differing views among philosophers regarding what Kant’s point actually are. So Russell could be disagreeing with something that Kant did not mean to be saying!

So far I understand the purpose of “The Critique of Pure Reason” to be at least two fold: firstly to “… Make the experiment whether we may not be more successful in metaphysics, if we assume that the objects must conform to our cognition.” Kant writes that there is no good science of metaphysics. He wants to see if it is possible to change that. He wants to address the “… unavoidable problems of mere pure reason … God, freedom (of will), and immortality.” He writes that metaphysics has made miserable progress such that it does not exist as a science.

Secondly, knowledge of God and related concepts can’t be determined empirically, hence this knowledge might be determined via “synthetic a priori knowledge” — intuition, so to speak. But how does this work and can there be a science of it? In Kant’s attempt to define a science of intuition he writes “Time is the formal condition a priori of all phenomena whatsoever. Space, as the pure form of external intuition, is limited as a condition a priori to external phenomena along.”

BTW — a priori simply means preceding — a priori knowledge is that which is obtained prior to any experience in the world of evidence of that knowledge. Or so I understand thus far.

I was able to reference the Russell work and my notes on the Kant text via my Kindle — with great ease. Its simply an excellent aid to reading difficult material.

More to come in my blog about Kant, Russell and the Kindle.

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