Saturday, June 07, 2008

Moral Sustainability

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,


Unknown said...

Badi, it seems to me that your whole argument hinges on the presumption that homosexuality must imply promiscuity. Otherwise, not a single thing you wrote has any hope of validity.

So for the sake of defending the Bahá'í Faith's condemnation of homosexuality, could you justify this assumption for us? That is, why do you assume that homosexuality necessarily means promiscuity? Why is it not conceivable to you that the sexual expression in homosexual relationships could be restricted to after marriage as it is in heterosexual marriages? After all, the more homosexual people are allowed to marry, the less they have sex outside of marriage. So it seems like if you are for stable marriages and less promiscuity, then you should be in support of gay marriage, not against it. Your position seems rather self-defeating seen in that light, wouldn't you say?

Alexander M Zoltai said...

You've again set my mind to rumination.


mavaddat's comment reminded me that there was an "unsupported" assumption in the essay.

I was able to fill in the blanks--"most" homosexuals, what about God's desire for sex to lead to family?, etc.

Looking forward to your response to mavaddat...

~ Alex

Unknown said...

Hi Alex, thanks for your thoughts.

Regarding God's concern for sex leading to family, homosexual sex can fulfil that role in many ways. For example, sex as a means of expressing intimacy strengthens the bonds between two people, which can allow them to better raise their children. Gay people can have children through surrogates or by adopting. So encouraging homosexual people to marry can actually provide children who would otherwise be unadopted with a home and a healthy family to raise them. Also, stem cell research has created a means for lesbians to have each other's biological children.

However, the truth is that there is no reason to think that God has such a desire (for sex to be exclusively the cause of procreation). For example, in the Bahá'í Faith, two people of the opposite sex are allowed to marry and have sex even if it is known with certainty that they cannot have children. As the Universal House of Justice has stated, "A couple who are physically incapable of having children may, of course, marry, since the procreation of children is not the only purpose of marriage." Unless you expect married people who cannot have children to abstain from sex, then it is reasonable to assume that God has no problem with sex between people who are married that doesn't procreate.

So in summary, if God wants healthy families, then homosexuality is no barrier to that. In fact, encouraging gay marriage is the best way to support the family.

Alexander M Zoltai said...

With all due respect for your feelings, you leave one factor out of your equation; but, then, it may not be something you can believe.

If you believe Baha'u'llah is the mouthpiece of God for our age, He clearly prohibits physical homosexual relations.

~ Alex

Unknown said...

Alex, if you can see that physical homosexual relationships are not immoral, then any condemnation of them would be immoral, since it is wrong to condemn people for doing something that is not immoral. For example, if I said you were a bad person for tying your shoe laces, then that would be immoral of me!

Now, if God the almighty, the beneficent, sent a messenger or manifestation to Earth, then surely, surely that messenger would speak justly (as well as true). Wouldn't you agree?

After all, it does seem that amongst the principles proclaimed by those who claim to speak on God's behalf, justice would be at least necessary to confirm or verify their divinity. I think that is reasonable, don't you?

If so, then it does seem that a man who claimed to speak on behalf of God, but proclaimed unjust principles could not be speaking on behalf of God, for God is necessarily just. Thus, such a man must necessarily be rejected as one who speaks on God's behalf. Do you not concede this point too?

Think carefully: If speaking for God implies speaking justly, then it follows that speaking unjustly necessarily means not speaking for God.

But now suppose all those who had ever claimed to be God's prophets forbade sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex, then it appears from the reasoning we have followed that they could not have been speaking on behalf of God.

For as we said before, the prohibition of an act of innocence is surely unjust and immoral, isn't it? For example, imagine if we condemned kissing between all married people. Would this not be an immoral condemnation? But reflect a moment: Isn't the intimacy between two people mutually attracted to one another among the most beautiful and sacred acts imaginable?

Now you may think that not all homosexual intimacy is an act of love, and you would be right! But nevertheless, there is no subtlety or discernment in the laws of Bahá'u'lláh; they are brutish and general: all people of the same sex are not allowed to express any physical intimacy for one another, no matter what. It doesn't matter if they are in love, it doesn't matter if they do want to get married... in the Bahá'í Faith, when it comes to homosexuals, none of the things that should matter do actually matter in deciding whether a sexual act is immoral or not. The rules, in other words, are unfair. Not equal. In a word, unjust.

Therefore, it seems we must conclude that either Bahá'u'lláh did not speak on God's behalf, or else that at least sometimes he did not speak on God's behalf. Either way, the way is barred for us to argue that God could condemn homosexuality, since such a condemnation would be immoral in the extreme.

Alexander M Zoltai said...

Sorry, mavaddat.

I have strong reason to believe (not to mention the faith and assurance) that Baha'u'llah is the Messenger from God for this Age.

I reason from what He says to the details of life.

You seem to be starting with a human assumption and using it to judge Baha'u'llah...

~ Alex