Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Why Abstain from Politics?

I'm thinking about the partisan, ideologically driven struggles over the nomination of a new Chief Justice to the Supreme Court. Observing the anguished struggle among competing, angry and mutually fearful interests over an issue that has such far reaching implications for Americans is at once painful and a confirmation of why I'm a Baha'i and the significance of the Baha'i practice of abstaining from politics. In our society, politics, the struggle among people for power over other people is simply taken for granted as a way of life and even a virtue of our democratic system. As such to chose to not participate in this struggle is to stand outside of the norm, it is perhaps even "un-American". One's willingness to "take a stand" to fight against other human beings for the sake one's cause is viewed as a reflection of one's moral character. In such a culture, Baha'is are sometimes viewed as being aloof from the challenging issues facing humanity and even irrelevant. Baha'is are sometimes viewed as a form of pacifist as opposed to the more "activist" religious types who are always on a soapbox about every social contraversy of the day. Taking a stand makes for great press, but does it actually make a difference? In my view the Baha'i practice of non-participation in politics is simply taking the dynamic principle of non-violence to another level. The principle aim of the Baha'i Revelation is the establishment of the oneness of humankind, a spiritual truth which has been proven by science, but is not yet reflected adequately in the social order. It is the lack of will to put this truth into action at virtually every level of human life (in otherwords, disunity)that in the Baha'i view is the real source of all the problems we see at present in the world. "The well-being of humankind, its peace and security are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established." Politics, as I define it which is essentially the struggle among people for power over people, accepts disunity as the norm and in fact relies on disunity in order to function at all. A Baha'i recognizes that to participate in politics is to simply perpetuate the problem and just as a practioner of non-violence refuses to use violence as a way to change the social order, a Baha'i refuses to use politics as a way to change the social order. When a Baha'i practices this principle faithfully, he/she is chosing the power of unity over the struggle for power which is what politics is all about. As such it is a religious and moral act of conscience which in a culture which seems to have made disunity into a national passtime, is revolutionary in is own way. Of course this is not to suggest that the many well-meaning people who put their faith in politics and spend their lives fighting for various causes are wrong to do so. The question is whether or not politics as it is currently practiced in our society is the best way to make our society better. What if there was an approach to social change that brought people together around those elements that are most noble in human nature, rather than appealing to our fears, angers, passions and prejudices? That's for a future post.