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Spirituality

The Basis of All Ignorance—and How to Fight It

David Langness | Apr 21, 2016

PART 3 IN SERIES Authenticity and Imitation

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 | Apr 21, 2016

PART 3 IN SERIES Authenticity and Imitation

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

The greatest cause of bereavement and disheartening in the world of humanity is ignorance based upon blind imitation. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 74.

Nobody knows everything—which means all of us are ignorant about something.

curveballI have no clue, for example, how to throw a curveball. In all the years I’ve played baseball, I’ve never figured it out. I can throw a fastball (not very fast); and a slider (which doesn’t slide very well), but a curveball—nope. No can do. I’ve tried. Even got some professional counseling from a real curveball pitcher once. He really endeavored to show me how, but it didn’t take. My right arm, wrist and hand just won’t do what they need to do to make that baseball curve. I’ve had to face it—I am curveball-ignorant.

Which probably explains why I usually play first base and not pitcher.

Most of us, in this highly-specialized world, tend to know a great deal about our chosen profession or our scholarly focus or our most avid avocations; but relatively little about most other things. I have a friend who can name every song and artist from the classic-rock era, even the most obscure ones; but who has no clue how to fix his car. Another guy I know has a photographic memory for statistics; but couldn’t cook a meal to save his life.

When I taught English at a university I had a sign on my door that said: “All professors parade a slim knowledge in front of a massive ignorance.” My students thought it was funny, but I was dead serious.

In my experience, people generally try to acquire knowledge and become less ignorant in the areas of life that interest them the most. We stay ignorant in the areas of life that hold little interest for us. For example: if you couldn’t care less about algebra, you probably paid little attention to it in school, and remained un-schooled in the subject.

But what about your inner beliefs? Certainly, few people could claim that their deepest convictions, their innermost spiritual principles, just don’t interest them. However—many of us, as Abdu’l-Baha suggests in the quote at the beginning of this essay, base our beliefs on blind imitation. We imitate our parents; our grandparents; our traditions, our upbringing; our culture—all without questioning or examining what we really think. We blindly imitate the past, out of respect for our heritage or willful negligence or merely going along with what’s easiest and most convenient. The Baha’i teachings say that no one should make a blindly imitative, willfully ignorant decision:

No man should follow blindly his ancestors and forefathers. Nay, each must see with his own eyes, hear with his own ears and investigate independently in order that he may find the truth. The religion of forefathers and ancestors is based upon blind imitation. Man should investigate reality. – Abdu’l-Baha, Divine Philosophy, p. 25.

…shall blind imitations of ancestral forms and theological interpretations continue to guide and control the religious life and spiritual development of humanity today? Shall man gifted with the power of reason unthinkingly follow and adhere to dogma, creeds and hereditary beliefs which will not bear the analysis of reason in this century of effulgent reality? Unquestionably this will not satisfy men of science, for when they find premise or conclusion contrary to present standards of proof and without real foundation, they reject that which has been formerly accepted as standard and correct and move forward from new foundations. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 83.

In fact, the Baha’i teachings say that blind imitation of the traditions of the past forms the root cause of all prejudice:

And the breeding-ground of all these tragedies is prejudice: prejudice of race and nation, of religion, of political opinion; and the root cause of prejudice is blind imitation of the past — imitation in religion, in racial attitudes, in national bias, in politics. So long as this aping of the past persisteth, just so long will the foundations of the social order be blown to the four winds, just so long will humanity be continually exposed to direst peril. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 247.

From a Baha’i perspective, it takes real, authentic investigation of the truth to get beyond the “aping of the past.” If you want to move forward; if you want to make progress; if you want to create a new perspective for yourself, you have to see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears.

We can all do this. Unlike my attempts to throw a curveball, everyone can learn to independently investigate the truth for themselves. Give it a try—you have nothing to lose except blind imitation.

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Comments

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  • Louis Wolverine
    Apr 23, 2016
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    Alla'u'abha
  • Apr 21, 2016
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    Generally, training in logic, rationality, reason, and critical thinking are rare, unless you specifically take Philosophy classes at an university for it.
    Can and do parents teach their children all religion and their religion objectively and on an equal playing field? Maybe, but it's rare. Even if they try, parents have somewhat of a versed interest in their children adhering to the same religion as them. Presenting religious beliefs of their own religions as facts while mentioning the beliefs of other religions as just beliefs is an example common to religious parents.
    Children are by nature naive and ...trusting of anything their parents tell them. Teens, by contrast, are just the opposite. They will play radically question everything. Teens are natural contrarians. I know, I was a child and a teen once. I was even more of a radical question everything than most teens, porobalby the top 1% or even number one teen in that regards if it was a competition.
    Back in my university days, I was still questioning everything, but phased gradually to a more balanced rationalism as opposed to my teen radical skepticism. I still studied various religions as part of my rationalism. I found the Forum for Baha'i Investigations and it listed Baha'is Online under Liberal Baha'is and various Baha'i blogs, including this one, under latest blog entries. Baha'i Rants is the other Liberal Baha'i blog. There are also various other links under the Alernative Perspectives page of the FBI site (acronym defined earlier). That's enough of that tangent.
    As said earlier, I studied various religions and religious groups. I've personally been a fan of critical thinking and user of it. Examples include knowing the difference between documentation, theories, and actuality. Documentation means using documents as proof. Theories mean using theories as proof. Actuality means using facts as proof. This is especially important with regards to religion.
    How exactly do the three proofs I mentioned deal with critical thinking and religion? They each provide an angle to view each and every religious beliefs, practice, activity, paraphernalia, etc through. Documentation and theories are more commonly used, but they as limited by the different documents and theories people hold as valid or invalid proofs. Actuality is less commonly used, because it's so hard to find with the various issues, but is universal and people can't choose their facts.
    My great grand parents were Jehovah's Witnesses, my grand parents are historically black Baptists, my parents are historically black non-denomination Protestantism. I'm drastically different, as I'm Buddhist (Mahayana Buddhist, Nichiren Buddhist, Soka Gakkai, Soka Gakkai International to be very specific). Also, I would add that actuality is better than theories which are better than documentation. It's related to my indivudality with regards to religion.
    Being familiar with hundreds of religious groups as well as the various documentation and theories behind their beliefs, I know how easy it is to ignore actuality as a proof. On the big questions of various worldviews and religious groups, I always remembers to asks what each of the three proofs say on each and every of the answers offered and the positions on them. Religions have religious texts which their theories are based on to bolster and support with interpretations thereof. Actuality, being what it is, is really hard to factor into that.
    When does education/information cross into indoctrination/persuasion with regards to religion? That is a tough question to answer. It's the line between wanting someone to make an informed decision and wanting someone to make a desired decision. Those two things aren't necessarily mutually exclusive. Examples of this is that parents who think that if somehow they had better educated/informed their children about their religion, documentation, and theories, they'd still be that religion rather than converting. I read and correspond with people of all religions on the Internet. The common theme of people with children who convert to other religion keep asking why people convert to different religions pops up all the time even among Baha'i bloggers like Susan Gammage as an example. Why people resign, letter to a former correligionist, conversion due to marriage with someone of a different religion, etc are examples of such questions and questioning. The confusion between education and indoctrination is blurred to say the least as people assume information is intrinsically persuasive is based on the confusion of documentation and theories with actuality. Familiarity with documentation and theories and believing them are two separate things. People assume other people will find documentation and theories they have as persuasive speech as them and all they need to do is inform people about them to persuade them. They don't recognize that people who don't already adhere to such documentation and theories are probably goIng to view them in the light of critical thinking and see them as just documentation and just theories.
    So, basically, I always make sure to view my own beliefs as well in the light of critical thinking and the three proofs. Do all my beliefs have extensive and hard actuality and facts behind them? No, none can say that for sure, but all three proofs together combines to help each other. Theories, especially ones involving religion, have problems with varifying them and falsifying them. Documentation, due to authors and people documented in them being long dead, are subject to varying interpretations. This goes up when parents try to explain the documentation and theories of other religions, which usually comes from a biased perspective of their religion rather than an unbiased one.
    Politically, culute war issues, have been a battleground where religion and politics collide. Jews and Christians of various denominations as well as Muslims, Hindus, Buddists, Unitarian Universalists, the Unaffiliated, and others can have radically different positions on these culture wars issues despite having the same documentation among people and their fellow members of these same groups.
    Back to parents, they assume that if a child decides to convert away, that they did it because of some preceived problem they had with their previous religion, rather than actually looking at the three proofs with regards to the various religions involved.
    With regards to correligionist a without a familial relation, they think simmilar to the ways parents think of their children sometime on this issue. Speculation about why people who people know convert away from their religion is as common online as why people's children do. Speculation never admits that people may legitimately believe in whatever they decide to convert to and try to look for alternative explanations for conversion. Parental hypocrisy, community discord, lack of fully understanding the religion, dissimulation, lack of community, personal failings, gossip in the community, malfunctioning community, lack of education, lack of comradery, lack of spirituality, lack of spiritual development, tension/enmity in the community, etc are all explanations that come up. I'm not saying that those reasons aren't factors, but rather they are over-emphasized on speculation. It's more like grasping for straws to avoid saying a religion actually won a person over rather than speculating why a religion lost said people. People only speculate over it when it's their religion is on the losing end of membership as opposed to the winning end of membership. Asking how religions can keep their youth focuses only on one side of the equation, in that it focuses on how a religion retains members while ignoring how other religions gain members.
    Back to me, as I'm had the experience of being raised by devout Protestants, I know how biased parents can be in bringing their children specifically in their religion. I was a free thinking contrarian teen. My journey, over-simplified, was from Protestantism to .... .... .... Buddhism (several intervening multiple conversions in middle, but I listed the first and the last for emphasis on the start and end). Again, actuality with regards to religious beliefs as opposed to say, documentation and theories, is hardest to find. It's miraculous that I eventually decided on a religion, given my skeptical nature, and that I'm not an
    Agnostic, Atheist, Humanist, SBNR, Deist, Ethical Culturalist, Transcendentalist, or any other type of No Religion/None response. I was ultimately drawn to Buddhism and Unitarian Universalism. I also studied all other religious groups with almost having ultimately decided on Eckankar, Raëlism, Contemporary Modern Neo-Paganism, Discordianism, Universal Life Church, as my ultimate choice instead of the choice I ultimately made.
    As a Buddhist, I consider the Threefold Lotus Sutra (Innumerable Meangins Sutra, Lotus Sutra, Samantabhadra Meditation Sutra), Gosho (Writings of Nichiren Daishonin), and the writings of various Presidents of Soka Gakkai (like Daisaku Ikeda for example) as documentation and Madhyamaka (Nagarjuna), Tianti (Zhiyi), Tendai (Saicho aka Dengyo Daishi), and Nichiren Buddhism (Nichiren Daishonin) as providing the theory part. It's a long story of how supporting actuality lead me to that conclusion, but I think this is long enough for me to write.
    Read more...
  • Louis Wolverine
    Apr 21, 2016
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    I love the Bahai teachings. It teaches so much truth. I love GOD. I believe that's where the Bahai teachings come from , in this day and age.
  • Neisan
    Apr 21, 2016
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    Adult subjects, unlike baseball, are not suited for children.
    Religion has long been a source of confusion and division among adults, it's continued injections of to children is a brainwashing of innocent children, and a proven recipe for continued atrocities.
    The most effective method to prevent "blind imitation", is through prevention of childhood indoctrinatin.
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