Final notes on the Comenian Cure to Fundamentalism
By John Taylor; 2009 Nov 08, Qudrat 05, 166 BE
The threat of imminent climate dislocation demands a quick response from us all. Scientists are beginning to worry that their training is too specialized and theoretical to address the challenge of the present hour. Some suggest that there be "clinical economists" and "climate engineers," and that all disciplines put students through a final phase of practical or clinical training, especially in the social sciences. Just as medical schools go beyond physiology and anatomy and insist that young doctors undergo years of practice as interns, so every discipline should concentrate on practice and responsible application of knowledge.
John Amos Comenius centuries ago made the same point about religion. Religion is not a mere set of beliefs, it is an entire lifestyle. Life, he said, should be reformed before doctrine, basing his authority on John 7:17, "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine," and, "If ye were blind, ye should have no sin, but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth." (John 9:41) We should work on our lives before our beliefs not only because it is easier and simpler, but also because it has a better chance of reconciling us to God, whose ways are not our ways. This, he held, is the meaning of the myth of Adam and Eve in Eden,
"We must return from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to the tree of life. In his judgment Christ inquires not so much into our doctrine as into our deeds..." (Psalm 50, Matthew 25, Romans 2:16; Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 23, para 9, pp. 62-64)
By emphasizing what we do rather than what we believe, by valuing mercy and compassion before being right, we take the first step to extirpating nitpicking and fanaticism from spiritual life. We can do this with a simple lifestyle that encourages all to put first what Comenius calls the "cardinal points of wisdom and salvation,"
"Simplicity will reconcile us if we turn away from the rigmarole of disputations (whose trivialities are a never-ending cause of schism and disunity) and confine ourselves to more substantial considerations containing the cardinal points of wisdom and salvation." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 43, pp. 127-128)
Since the word "cardinal" comes from the Latin word for "heart," Baha'is will recognize "Fu'ad," or heart, a major theme in the Writings of Baha'u'llah. As long as we bear in mind that one of the most important "cardinal points" is simplicity, of mind as well as dress, clear essentials can stand as the basis of agreement. This makes it difficult for false power-mongers to turn faith into its opposite, to substitute hatred for love. Comenius continues,
"Since these [cardinal points] are few in number and consist of clear and substantial truth (for God poses no subtle questions when he invites us into Heaven, as Saint Hilary warns us) they will serve not to separate but rather to unite us. Then indeed if in seeking answers to our questions, we do not launch into a flood of subtlety but attend to the rule laid down by Christ, 'From the beginning it was not so' (Matt 24:8) and then follow his examples and practice, countless problems will suddenly be solved." (Ib.)
As long as simplicity is held up first, experts cannot obfuscate their way to power. Another stumbling-block is pride and vainglory. The cure to that is the injunction, "He who would live, let him give up his life..."
"For example, since he bids those who have fallen into the sin of pride to be converted and become as little children, (Matthew 18:3) that they may begin to hold themselves in better esteem, which means no esteem, why should this not apply likewise so that those who have fallen into false knowledge are converted to no knowledge, or those who have come into false power (tyranny) are converted to no power? What I mean to say is that the man of false knowledge should begin to learn better, and he who has not the power to rule himself should hand over the reins of power to others, as suggested by Christ in John 9:39,41." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 43, p. 128)
By applying the most important lessons of faith, including renunciation of corrupt power, we will cure the arrogance and parochialism at the heart of fundamentalism. As soon as religion is subjected by firm public opinion to the reasonable demand that it be kept simple, active and humble, democracy will take its rightful place in matters of faith. This will allow the new philosophy, theology and politics of Comenian governance to filter out opinions that are violent, complex or biased before they can do harm. Then science and religion will stand together with political policy in facing climate change, ethnic reconciliation, and the many other challenges of the present hour.