Reflecting on Baha'i Moral Ideals
By John Taylor; 2008 June 07, 03 Nur, 165 BE
It has been said that the Baha'i faith is liberal in principle and orthodox in morality. Our position in this respect is unique among religions. Compared to other religious groups, we get used to pulling in the direction of liberalism. We are for oneness of humanity, elimination of prejudice, equality of the sexes, and so forth. However when it comes to sexual ethics, we have to reverse direction and pull the other way. Suddenly we go against the current of liberal creeds and remain wholly aligned with orthodox faiths that cling to the notion that chastity and fidelity are foundational virtues. Worse, our understanding of homosexuality as immoral is suddenly seen by those who normally stand on our side as hopelessly reactionary.
I myself have tried my best to be chaste outside marriage and to be faithful within in relations with the opposite sex, and I can say with confidence that, imperfect as my attainment is, it is highly unlikely that this family would have stuck together as long as it has if I had rejected it completely. Last night Silvie and I went to see a Norm Foster play at our little theater, The Long Weekend, which drove home how divisive the free expression of sex, both heterosexual and homosexual, is to the stability of marriage.
It is clear from my own personal experience that the Baha'i position is the only possible one if we are ever to have stable, permanent families. To hold that people have a right to express their lovey-dovey whims, to say that our sex drive defines who we are, is to set up family as one of those little metal ducks in a shooting gallery. Anybody can take potshots at it without fear of consequences.
I cannot emphasize this enough: for society to support homosexual and promiscuous expression of sex is not a value-neutral decision. It is far from the positive, open-minded thing that non-believers in God imagine. All the resources of time and money that go into supporting free love come out of what once upheld families and marriages. Some kinds of freedom have to be kept at a safe distance, lest we nurture a viper in our bosom.
Of late I gained an insight into the wisdom of Baha'i sexual morality from an unexpected source. Feeling a sense of urgency about the environment, I have been absorbing every ounce of information on whatever might save our skins. Any progress in what is being called sustainability technology gets my immediate attention. It is clear from what I have learned that we are entering one of the most thorough-going industrial transitions in history.
Factories, for instance, are learning to purify and recycle their waste water and to detoxify every step of their operations. I saw a fascinating documentary on a pioneering garment manufacturing facility in Switzerland that went from a major polluter to a zero consumer of water, from a maker of clothing seeped in toxic chemicals to totally organic materials colored by environmentally friendly dies. And they did this while increasing profitability and lowering costs by several orders of magnitude.
Clearly, there is no real need to pollute, ever. Anybody who pollutes is either lazy or incompetent. The existence of pollution and greenhouse gases are signs of corruption and ignorance on the part of all concerned, the public, industry and regulators.
Anyway, listening to these clever managers and workers describe how they changed their philosophy around completely I was impressed with how often they used the word "sustainability." It was sustainable this, sustainable that. The only way they were going to make their production permanent was to make it environmentally friendly. It suddenly struck me that this is what Baha'i sexual morality is all about too, sustainability. The aim of a moral sex life is to turn a rape into a marriage, to make love sustainable over a lifetime and over many generations, past and present.
Homosexuality is inherently unsustainable. It does not recycle our emotional lives where they are most productive, into children and the family; it bleeds it all away into temporary relationships. Desires and emotions dissipate like a tire with a leak, and never become sustainable love. Promiscuity disallows a sentimental education that can be passed on indefinitely from old to young. And the fact that all this is ignored by liberal thinkers is a sign of the same unsustainable mind-set that tolerates polluters and greenhouse gas producers. As soon as we start thinking about living on this planet permanently, that is just when Baha'i sexual morality will come back into favor.
In the meantime, Baha'is have to hold to an unpopular, illiberal position on morality. We can take comfort in what George Orwell wrote when his Animal Farm was rejected by a London publisher,
"If liberty means anything at all it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. The common people still vaguely subscribe to that doctrine and act on it. In our country ... it is the liberals who fear liberty and the intellectuals who want to do dirt on the intellect." (George Orwell's Preface to Animal Farm, http://home.iprimus.com.au/korob/orwell.html)