Monday, October 27, 2008

Politics: The Acceptable Prejudice?


    1. An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.
    2. A preconceived preference or idea.
  1. The act or state of holding unreasonable preconceived judgments or convictions.
  2. Irrational suspicion or hatred of a particular group, race, or religion.
  3. Detriment or injury caused to a person by the preconceived, unfavorable conviction of another or others.
Dan over at Doberman Pizza has a nice post regarding the Baha'i teachings on involvement in politics. This is often a challenging topic among Baha'is and between Baha'is and other folks, especially during election seasons like the one currently happening in the U.S. What I don't hear much about is the problem of political prejudice and how Baha'is should approach it. One of the things that I've noticed among people in general is that there is an idea that political prejudice is somehow less problematic than say racial or religious prejudice. For example, I often hear people who would never make offensive remarks about others based on race or gender say terrible things about their fellow Americans because they disagree over politics or belong to the "wrong" party. I hear some Baha'is make these same kinds of comments (sad to say). An important question to ponder is whether or not God's expectations of us are different when we're talking about Democrats and Republicans rather than blacks and whites, or men and women or Christians and Jews, etc. Here are a few quotes from the Baha'i Writings that may illuminate this question:

"And the breeding-ground of all these tragedies is prejudice: prejudice of race and nation, of religion, of political opinion..."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 246)

"And among the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is that religious, racial, political, economic and patriotic prejudices destroy the edifice of humanity. As long as these prejudices prevail, the world of humanity will not have rest."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 299)

"Again, as to religious, racial, national and political bias: all these prejudices strike at the very root of human life; one and all they beget bloodshed, and the ruination of the world."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 248)

These are only a few examples, but what I see in these quotes is that there is a moral equivalency being drawn between political prejudice (or bias) and other forms of prejudice. Thus there is no difference, from a Baha'i perspective between someone who is prejudiced against blacks for example and someone who is prejudiced against people because of their political party or whether they are "liberal" or "conservative". It seems to me that Baha'is are expected to take political prejudice as seriously as any other kind of prejudice and that we must strive to free ourselves from this toxic attitude and work toward its elimination in the wider society. I imagine that some will read this and say "I'm not prejudiced, I'm just expressing my opinions." Fair enough. You should express your opinions. Just consider that there is a fine line between being "opinionated" and being "prejudiced" and struggle with the implications of that. Put the same thought into what you say about others regarding their political views as you would about their race, or gender or religion. Search your heart diligently for any form of political prejudice just as you would any other kind of prejudice. Look at your life and ask yourself whether you make choices about who you associate with based on their political beliefs. For some this will not be easy, but the result will be a better world, a world where people can disagree without compromising the unity that is required for human well-being regardless of party or ideology.

"The Blessed Beauty saith: 'Ye are all the fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch.' Thus hath He likened this world of being to a single tree, and all its peoples to the leaves thereof, and the blossoms and fruits. It is needful for the bough to blossom, and leaf and fruit to flourish, and upon the interconnection of all parts of the world-tree, dependeth the flourishing of leaf and blossom, and the sweetness of the fruit.

For this reason must all human beings powerfully sustain one another and seek for everlasting life; and for this reason must the lovers of God in this contingent world become the mercies and the blessings sent forth by that clement King of the seen and unseen realms. Let them purify their sight and behold all humankind as leaves and blossoms and fruits of the tree of being. Let them at all times concern themselves with doing a kindly thing for one of their fellows, offering to someone love, consideration, thoughtful help. Let them see no one as their enemy, or as wishing them ill, but think of all humankind as their friends; regarding the alien as an intimate, the stranger as a companion, staying free of prejudice, drawing no lines. In this day, the one favoured at the Threshold of the Lord is he who handeth round the cup of faithfulness; who bestoweth, even upon his enemies, the jewel of bounty, and lendeth, even to his fallen oppressor, a helping hand; it is he who will, even to the fiercest of his foes, be a loving friend. These are the Teachings of the Blessed Beauty, these the counsels of the Most Great Name."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 1)

What are your thoughts reader?