Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor on relativism

The following is from an address by Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the archbishop of Westminster, 9 March 2006:

Cardinal Murphy-O’ConnorMany Europeans have convinced themselves that to be modern and free, they must be radically secular, autonomous, self-sufficient. The individual is happiest when most free – when he or she is unshackled by constraints of tradition and institutions. This idea has been taken up the state, and by the intellectual and cultural elite, so that a contrary view is often subject to ridicule or hostility. This is what Pope Benedict meant when he spoke, just before his election, of “the dictatorship of relativism” in Europe. It’s not that the Pope does not realise that there are many different religious and cultural and intellectual traditions co-existing in Europe. The Pope believes in tolerance and dialogue. But he is not a relativist. He fiercely opposes the idea that because there are different versions of truth that therefore there is no truth or worse, that the truth has to be whatever each person declares it to be. The dictatorship of relativism is the imposition of this idea that there is no such thing as common or shared values; that human beings cannot seek the truth together. The dictatorship of relativism undermines not just religion. It undermines the idea of culture and family and association.

Pope Benedict is alarmed by this, because he knows that the deepest currents of history are not fundamentally political or economic but spiritual and cultural. He knows this from the history of Europe and, in particular, the history of his own Germany and from his association with Pope John Paul. Poland survived as a nation, not because of economics or politics – it was written out of the map of Europe for one hundred and fifty years – but by its culture; by its faith; by its dogged clinging to an interior reality, beyond the reach of the state, which was what really made Poland. The history of Ireland has much that demonstrates this too. A nation is ultimately shaped not by ideology, and not by the free market –ideologies come and go; economies rise and fall – but by what people honour and cherish and worship; by what society deems to be true and good. That is its rock; everything else is like the shifting sands on a beach.


“Ultimately, it is only the truth that can bring unity”

From an address by Pope Benedict XVI to the bishops of Latin America, in Aparecida, Brazil, 13 May 2007:

Ultimately, it is only the truth that can bring unity, and the proof of this is love. That is why Christ, being in truth the incarnate Logos, “love to the end”, is not alien to any culture, nor to any person; on the contrary, the response that he seeks in the heart of cultures is what gives them their ultimate identity, uniting humanity and at the same time respecting the wealth of diversity, opening people everywhere to growth in genuine humanity, in authentic progress. The Word of God, in becoming flesh in Jesus Christ, also became history and culture.

My own private Malietoa

Yesterday was the funeral for Malietoa Tanumafili II. When I was a Baha’i, I felt very proud of him. He was the only living monarch in the world who recognized Baha’u’llah. There are several passages where Baha’u’llah extols those monarchs who embrace his cause. Here is one:

How great is the blessedness that awaiteth the king who will arise to aid My Cause in My Kingdom, who will detach himself from all else but Me! Such a king is numbered with the companions of the Crimson Ark, the Ark which God hath prepared for the people of Bahá. All must glorify his name, must reverence his station, and aid him to unlock the cities with the keys of My Name, the omnipotent Protector of all that inhabit the visible and invisible kingdoms. Such a king is the very eye of mankind, the luminous ornament on the brow of creation, the fountainhead of blessings unto the whole world. Offer up, O people of Bahá, your substance, nay your very lives, for his assistance.

Every time I read that, I thought of Malietoa Tanumafili.

So it’s a little weird to hear that he’s died. Not that it’s tragic. He has lived a full life and is in a better place now. But it’s weird because even after I left the Faith, in the back of my mind I was still aware of him. It was almost like he was a little piece of my old Baha’i life floating around out there. But not anymore.

It’s like that for all the little bits and pieces of the Baha’i world I inhabited. The Baha’i world I knew, and will always know, was pretty much the Baha’i world of the late 1990s and early 2000s. It’s been almost four years since I went inactive and left the community. In those four years I’ve changed, and the Baha’i community has changed too. They’ve added new administrative stuff (clusters). The emphasis on Ruhi seems to have increased. The personnel in the various institutions has changed a bit. In future decades even the Baha’i culture will evolve as the demographics shift and as my cohort grows older. With each passing year the Baha’i world that I knew fades slowly away.

“Samoa e fa’amalo le fa’aaloalo.”

The following is an address from Pope Paul VI to his highness Malietoa Tanumafili II on the occasion of the pope’s visit to Samoa on 30 November 1970:

Your Highness,

We are delighted to reply to your so gracious greeting, and to express our fervent best wishes to Your Highness and to all the authorities of the island.

We are truly happy to have been able to have this meeting with you and we thank God for it! Our wish in undertaking this long journey is to bring you the witness of our fatherly affection and to express our desire for your peace and well-being. We greet all who have come here: men and women, the young and the old.

We greet especially our brothers in the faith, the sons and daughters of the Catholic Church. If you are so pleased to see the Pope, rest assured that we too are very happy. The Lord permits us to become for a few hours a true missionary – as was Saint Peter whose lowly successor we are; our office as father of all the faithful demands this of us. May this meeting strengthen your faith and increase your love, the sign by which the true disciples of Jesus Christ are recognized.

May God bless you all. Samoa e fa’amalo le fa’aaloalo.

Blogging about football shows limits to inter-faith understanding

A recent post on Barney Leith’s blog Barnabas quotidianus exemplifies what I think is the great Baha’i double standard. Baha’is talk about the need for understanding other religions, but in practice they fail dismally to do so.

In his post, Mr. Leith describes an inter-faith conference between Christian clergy and Muslim imams in Norway. There was supposed to be a football (i.e. soccer) match at the end, but the Muslims objected to the presence of women on the Christian team. The Christians obligingly planned to have only men on the team, but the women clergy were angry at being left out. So they called off the match. The Muslims objected for a pretty straightforward reason. They regard co-ed athletics to be immodest.

Barney quotes some stuff from Baha’u’llah and concludes

So, the purpose of religion is not to defend outmoded traditions. As we go further into the 21st century, we can no longer say, “If it was good enough for your father, it’s good enough for you”

That’s a very patronizing statement. No attempt to explain where the Muslims were coming from. Just a dismissive conclusion: the Muslims objected to the co-ed match because they blindly follow tradition.

Mr. Leith evidently thinks that Muslim imams can’t think for themselves. He doesn’t consider the possibility that they gave this a lot of thought and decided for themselves that mixing the genders in this way in inappropriate.

Both Muslims and Baha’is place a high priority on modesty and the propriety of behavior between men and women. There are certain activities that are just not appropriate in mixed company. Muslims and Baha’is will agree on this in principle. In how this principle is applied, however, there will be some differences.

Now, how do we decide how to apply this principle? Muslims and Baha’is have the same answer to this: defer to an authority who lived in the past. Muslims defer to the Qur’an, to the collections of reliable hadiths and to the decisions of jurisprudents. Baha’is defer to the writings of Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi.

Do you see the difference? I don’t. So it strikes me as rather hypocritical of Mr. Leith to criticize the Muslims for their decision on what they regard as a moral issue. Baha’is wouldn’t make the same decision, but they would arrive at a decision in the same way.

Crusade myths

Here is a good, short webpage debunking some widely-held myths about the Crusades. The author is Thomas F. Madden, a professional historian.

Some of the myths he debunks:

Myth 1: The Crusades were wars of unprovoked aggression against a peaceful Muslim world.

Myth 3: When the Crusaders captured Jerusalem in 1099 they massacred every man, woman, and child in the city until the streets ran ankle deep with the blood.

Myth 5: The Crusades were also waged against the Jews.

And while we’re at it, take a gander at Professor Madden’s review of the recent film “Kingdom of Heaven.”