Naw-ruz potluck ideas

Happy new year! My congratulations to all my Baha’i readers for surviving another Fast.

Naw-ruz was probably my favorite Baha’i holiday. I was always relieved the fasting was over. It wasn’t just the going hungry and thirsty. It was the waking up before sunrise, and the having to give up snacking (something I’m very fond of).

One thing about Naw-ruz though… It seems like non-Baha’is who celebrate it have a lot more going on than the Baha’is do. It’s not just the “Seven S’s” table, which I never saw in my 9 Naw-ruzes as a Baha’i, even at Persian homes. Apparently Iranians also have this jolly fellow to spread Naw-ruz cheer. Not quite an Ayyam-i-Ha Camel, but hey. And the best part about non-Baha’i Naw-ruz is, you jump over fire.

Imagine how lively Baha’i potlucks would be with all that stuff going on at the Center. LSA Social Committees, are you taking notes?

Why Catholics don’t divorce

A while back I had a post on the Baha’i concept of social laws vs. spiritual laws, and how that doesn’t translate well – or at least it translates differently – to the Catholic worldview.

I used the example of divorce, which generated a lot of comments. I did my best to explain how Catholics conceptualize marriage and divorce, but I’m not sure if I was clear. Here is an old clip from South Park from 1998 that says what I was trying to say.

Quality time

Why I like confession

Baha’u’llah condemned the Catholic practice of confessing one’s sins to a priest:

When the sinner findeth himself wholly detached and freed from all save God, he should beg forgiveness and pardon from Him. Confession of sins and transgressions before human beings is not permissible, as it hath never been nor will ever be conducive to divine forgiveness. Moreover such confession before people results in one’s humiliation and abasement, and God—exalted be His glory—wisheth not the humiliation of His servants. Verily He is the Compassionate, the Merciful. (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, page 24)

Of course, when I was a Baha’i I believed this. You shouldn’t confess your sins to a priest. That’s unnecessary and embarrassing.

When I made the decision to join the Catholic Church, I had to go to confession for the first time and say every wrong thing I had ever done up to that point. And you know what? I didn’t feel embarrassed or humiliated. On the contrary, it felt good to get it off my chest, and know that the slate was wiped clean. I didn’t feel like I was getting away with it anymore.

When I was Baha’i, I did feel like I was getting away with it. Whenever I did something wrong, I said “sorry” to God alone. I said it silently, under my breath, when no one could hear me. And it was so easy to do that I never really improved my behaviour. It was easy for me to do that same thing over again, because all I had to do was tell God “sorry”.

Knowing that I would have to bring it up at confession made it far more real to me, and spurred me to change my bad habits. If I had had this during the years I was a Baha’i, my character would have improved earlier. I regret not having had that opportunity.

So my experience has been the opposite of Baha’u’llah’s claim. What I find humiliating is the memory of my youth when I acted like a cad, and kept doing so even when I knew it was wrong and even though I kept telling God I was sorry. I feel humiliated before God that I took his mercy for granted. Baha’u’llah’s teachings made it easy for me to do that. Far from finding confession humiliating, I am grateful for it because it helps me feel accountable for my actions.

There’s no reason to be embarrassed about confession. There’s nothing someone can tell a priest that he hasn’t already heard.

Besides, if Baha’u’llah is right and confession is humiliating, then how does he explain the fact that it is taught in the New Testament?

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16)

Christ himself directly taught it:

[Jesus] said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” (John 20:21-23)

This quote from Christ directly contradicts Baha’u’llah’s claim above, “…as it hath never been nor will ever be conducive to divine forgiveness”. Obviously there was a time when it was conducive, or else Christ wouldn’t have said so.

God gave us confession as a gift, so that we can have assurance that he forgives us. When you go to confession, after you have stated your sins the priest says, “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It is comforting to hear that with your own ears. When we pray directly to God, though we can still ask for forgiveness, we can’t hear God’s reply.

Red-letter Christians

Some editions of the Bible print the words of Christ in red so that they stand out from the rest of the text. This has lent a nickname to Christians who make a common doctrinal mistake. A red-letter Christian is someone who believes that the only parts of the Bible that really matter are the direct quotations of Christ. There are a couple reasons I think this is a mistake.

First, it’s naive. The authors of the Gospels made decisions about what quotes to include and what to exclude. So if you base your faith on the red letters, you aren’t reading Christ’s words straight. You’re reading the Gospel writers’ versions of what Christ said.

Second, it takes Christ’s words out of context. Christ wasn’t speaking into a vacuum. He was forming a community (the Church) and speaking to it. The community heard what he said and created the New Testament based on it.

Some Christians think you can get rid of the Church and just read the Bible, and that makes for a simpler, purer Christianity. But that’s backwards. Jesus didn’t write the New Testament, upon which the Church was later based. Jesus created the Church, which then wrote the New Testament.

If you are interested in learning more about what Catholics believe about the Bible, a good place to start is this section from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The Catholic view on alcohol and drugs

An anonymous visitor asked this in the Q&A section of this blog:

Hi, I am a Baha’i who would like to know some more about Catholicism. The Baha’i Faith has clear, strongly worded teachings against alcohol, psychoactive drugs and tobacco. I’m not aware of Catholics having any code of conduct in these areas. If I’m wrong about that, can you please quote Bible and Catholic teachings on these subjects, so that I can quote those teachings to my Catholic friends to help them to improve themselves.

Unfortunately most members of the Catholic Church neither know nor care what the Church teaches. The Church is a “big tent” that includes many people whose Catholic identity is no more than an extension of their family or ethnic identity. So what the Church says may or may not matter to your friends.

There are many references to alcohol in the Bible, mostly wine. The upshot of it all is that wine is okay to consume in moderation, but one must never become drunk.

I’m not aware of the Bible saying anything about psychoactive drugs, and tobacco was not yet in use when the Bible was written.

As you probably know, the Catholic Church does not base its teachings solely on what is written in the Bible. We believe that God entrusted the Church to the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit, which protects it from teaching error and allows it to apply the principles of truth to new circumstances as societies change.

We understand there to be seven fundamental virtues, upon which all virtues are based. Three have to do with God and our relationship with him (faith, hope and love), which we know about only through revelation. The other four (prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance) are earthly virtues accessible to all mankind through reason.

We believe that to indulge in alcohol, tobacco or drugs in a way that causes harm to one’s body transgresses the virtue of temperance. (Temperance is the virtue of moderation in all things.)

We also believe that the Ten Commandments are actually categories of sins, and every possible sin falls into one of these ten categories. Harming one’s health is a violation of the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”.

If you need a reference, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2288–2291. (The Catechism’s section on the Fifth Commandment may be found online on the U.S. bishops’ website and on the Vatican website.)

Abortion and the Faith

The Baha’i Writings say that human life begins at conception. During my eight years as a Baha’i, though, I never heard anyone express concern over the practice of abortion.

In retrospect, that seems strange. Baha’is make a big deal about some aspects of human rights, like racism and sexism. But if a person begins life at conception, then isn’t abortion a human rights issue too? Why doesn’t it get the same attention that race unity does?

I’d like to hear what Baha’is have to say about this. What has been your experience in the Faith with regard to abortion? How do the members of your local community feel about it? Do they ever discuss it? Has abortion come up in firesides or in institute? How was it handled?

Angels and demons

(This post is about actual angels and demons, not about the recent film.)

I just found an old comment from five months ago that I hadn’t responded to. My apologies to Martijn Rep for missing his comment. Mr. Rep asked a question in the thread under From Hindu to Baha’i to Christian:

I learned that at least for some Christians the devil, or various demons, play an important role in this world as real creatures, not just as the individual ego or insistent self. …

This is in fact a doctrine held by most Christians. We believe that there are two types of rational creature: angels and humans. Both have free will and face the choice of turning either toward God or away. The demons are those angels who turned away. Just as angels are real persons, so are demons.

Some Christians make a mistake, though, in the degree to which demons (and angels) play a role in their daily lives. For them, every good thing that happens is due to an angel’s or saint’s influence, and every bad thing is evidence of demonic attack. The Church discourages this superstitious mindset.

Most of the time, when a person thinks a bad thought or does a bad thing, they are acting on their own initiative. We already have an inclination to sin, after all. It can happen, though, that a demon will put an idea into someone’s head. But that’s all a demon can do. He can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do. When you get right down to it, it’s your own self that makes you sin.

(Incidentally, the Christian view of angels and demons is different from the Muslim view. In Islam, there are three types of rational creature: angels, humans and jinn. Angels have no free will so they can’t turn away from God. Demons are evil jinn rather than fallen angels.)