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Why Baha’is Don’t Participate in Politics

David Langness | Aug 15, 2016

PART 4 IN SERIES Partisan Politics and the Divine Polity

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Aug 15, 2016

PART 4 IN SERIES Partisan Politics and the Divine Polity

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

Dispute not with any one concerning the things of this world and its affairs, for God hath abandoned them to such as have set their affection upon them. Out of the whole world He hath chosen for Himself the hearts of men—hearts which the hosts of revelation and of utterance can subdue. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 279.

…religious interests should not be brought into politics. Religions should treat of morals; politics of material circumstances. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 2, p. 7.

The ultimate goals of the Baha’i Faith—to reconcile, to unify, to heal divisions and to bring about love and mutual respect among all human hearts—simply can’t be accomplished through politics.

Politics, inherently divisive by nature, works by pitting one group of people against another. Partisan politics separates, divides and sequesters. Rather than bringing people together, it forces them apart, creating opposing sides and then asking them to despise and devalue the other side and do battle with each other. Politics creates and sustains an “us versus them” mentality, encouraging us to despise them. In one sense, contemporary partisan politics resembles nothing so much as it resembles war, minus the overt violence. Famously, Von Clausewitz said “War is merely the continuation of politics by other means.”

The Baha’i teachings agree, saying that war forms the ancient foundation of our partisan political systems; and that we must replace them by developing a modern polity based on peace:

I wish this blessing to appear and become manifest in the faces and characteristics of the believers, so that they, too, may become a new people, and having found new life and been baptized with fire and spirit, may make the world a new world, to the end that the old earth may disappear and the new earth appear; old ideas depart and new thoughts come; old garments be cast aside and new garments put on; ancient politics whose foundation is war be discarded and modern politics founded on peace raise the standard of victory; the new star shine and gleam and the new sun illumine and radiate; new flowers bloom; the new spring become known; the new breeze blow; the new bounty descend; the new tree give forth new fruit; the new voice become raised and this new sound reach the ears, that the new will follow the new, and all the old furnishings and adornments be cast aside and new decorations put in their places.

I desire for you all that you will have this great assistance and partake of this great bounty, and that in spirit and heart you will strive and endeavor until the world of war become the world of peace; the world of darkness the world of light; satanic conduct be turned into heavenly behavior; the ruined places become built up; the sword be turned into the olive branch; the flash of hatred become the flame of the Love of God and the noise of the gun the voice of the Kingdom; the soldiers of death the soldiers of life; all the nations of the world one nation; all races as one race; and all national anthems harmonized into one melody. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 2, p. 1.

So how do we get there, to that beautiful vision of unity and peace the Baha’i teachings envision? Can we get there with the old systems of party politics—or do we need a new, more evolved global polity, one that unifies rather than divides?

The Baha’i teachings forge a new path toward those lofty goals. Baha’is try to work at a much deeper and more permanent level than politics ever can. The Baha’i teachings ask us to avoid partisan politics in order to heal the rifts between people and parties, not to widen them. To unify humanity, we have to move beyond the warlike politics in our current not-so-civil life, and find ways to heal the real disease rather than simply putting temporary bandages on the symptoms:

The disease which afflicts the body politic is lack of love and absence of altruism. In the hearts of men no real love is found, and the condition is such that, unless their susceptibilities are quickened by some power so that unity, love and accord may develop within them, there can be no healing, no agreement among mankind. Love and unity are the needs of the body politic today. Without these there can be no progress or prosperity attained. Therefore, the friends of God must adhere to the power which will create this love and unity in the hearts of the sons of men. … This is an exigency of the times, and the divine remedy has been provided. The spiritual teachings of the religion of God can alone create this love, unity and accord in human hearts. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 10, pp. 115-116.

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Comments

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  • Lawrence M. Miller
    Aug 12, 2017
    -
    I believe the title is mistaken. Baha'is do, and are encouraged to participate in "politics." We are not permitted to engage in partisan politics. The distinction is not unimportant. Every time our Institutions encourage us to contact our representatives regarding the treatment of Baha'is in Iran, we are engaging in politics. We are not to associate ourselves with one political party, but we can certainly demand that our representatives, at every level and of every party, represent our interests in the environment, in good education, etc.
  • Ruth R. Davidson
    Aug 18, 2016
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    But sometimes you have to work within the faulty system that currently exists in order to manifest the vision into reality. Also, partisan politics didn't use to be so polarized and even if there is no partisan politics, but just politics you're still gonna have people with differences of opinion trying to convince other people.
    • hailey fudu
      Nov 12, 2016
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      we do have to work within it if you mean vote and be "well-wishers of government " ; )
  • Aug 18, 2016
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    Yeah, politics we must be concerned with. We must "rescue the oppressed", etc, and participate in government through voting, petitioning the government to, say, protest the treatment of the Baha'is in Iran or some other oppressed group in need of redress. We do not engage in the partisan political debate of taking sides or subscribing to a particular political ideology. We call ourselves by no political label. We operate as one even if the prevailing order does not.
  • Jay C. O'Brien
    Aug 15, 2016
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    I am Confused. Isn't the International House of Justice inherently political? Isn't diplomacy political? Should we vote? Disputes are solved by legal means, but politics frames the law. It takes a large group or party to accomplish policies on a national or international stage. There is nothing inherently wrong with the political mechanism, the problem is within ourselves. Mental illness is widespread and megalomaniacs seem drawn to politics. Perhaps what we need is scrutiny of politicians by the mental health community.
    • Walter Delahunt
      Feb 3, 2017
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      The article is clear....partisan politics have their basis in war. Power struggles form an inherent part of partisan politics as does dogmatism. The goal is not unity. The Baha'i Order is a "Divine Polity", a call to service and not to power, the only authority in the Baha'i Religion being its Writings. This is a far cry from any man-made system.
    • Jay C. O'Brien
      Aug 20, 2016
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      Dispute not with any one concerning the things of this world and its affairs, for God hath abandoned them to such as have set their affection upon them. Out of the whole world He hath chosen for Himself the hearts of men—hearts which the hosts of revelation and of utterance can subdue. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 279.
      …religious interests should not be brought into politics. Religions should treat of morals; politics of material circumstances. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 2, p. 7.
      I do not see the word, "Partisan" in the above quotes. ... The statements seem to apply broadly. As such I am confused. I believe we should still vote and participate. Of course we should listen and compromise, but that is not what the quotes state. In the hearts of men there is much mental illness.
      Read more...
    • Robert Moldenhauer
      Aug 16, 2016
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      The key word here is partisan politics, people confuse politics - "the process of making decisions applying to all members of a group" and partisan politics - "In multi-party systems, the term is used for politicians who strongly support their party's policies and are reluctant to compromise with their political opponents."
      The political system Baha'is envisage is one of cooperation and compromise, the exact opposite of partisan politics.
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