Inspired
by the
Baha’i Faith
The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith. The official website of the Baha'i Faith is: Bahai.org. The official website of the Baha'is of the United States can be found here: Bahai.us.
GOT IT
The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
How do I become Baha’i?
Religion

Screaming from the Pulpit

Maya Bohnhoff | Jun 21, 2016

PART 3 IN SERIES Terms of Faith

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

Interested in Other Topics?

We’ve got something for everyone.
Maya Bohnhoff | Jun 21, 2016

PART 3 IN SERIES Terms of Faith

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

In accordance with the divine teachings in this glorious dispensation we should not belittle anyone and call him ignorant, saying: “You know not, but I know.” Rather, we should look upon others with respect, and when attempting to explain and demonstrate, we should speak as if we are investigating the truth, saying: “Here these things are before us. Let us investigate to determine where and in what form the truth can be found.” – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 30.

Baha’is believe that respect for the ideas and beliefs of others stands at the heart of good human relationships. When you read a novel or see a movie, look for that kind of respect—you might find that it determines the ultimate effectiveness of the work.

When writers have an agenda, a particular belief system to promote, an axe to grind, or a point to make, their use of religion can easily become heavy-handed. The literary term for this is didactics—meaning the prose has the ulterior motive of instructing the reader.

Having decided that she wishes to prove a particular point to be correct, the writer may just lay it out—straight up. In non-fiction, this can result in the writer sounding as if she is preaching. She might resort to sarcasm or mockery rather than dealing with the ideas directly. This has the effect of engaging emotions, but seldom results in reasoned dialogue. It can also result in the writer making unsupported dogmatic statements, and almost always discourages real dialogue.

In fiction, didactics often ends in some type of verbal warfare; the characters don’t have dialogues so much as they trade sermons or dissertations… and the “good guy” usually wins.

The biggest drawback to sermonizing in fiction is that, while it may sound good to the choir, lay readers are very likely going to put the book down once they realize they’re being preached at. This is not good. The point of language is to communicate. Alienating the person you’re trying to reach is counterproductive. Simply put, if you scream your message, the listener will only cover her ears. When it comes to driving a point home, less is more.

One manuscript I critiqued in a workshop had, built into its synopsis, a section on what the writer was hoping to prove by writing the book. The story itself fell prey to a number of the problems that arise when a writer has an inflexible agenda, but the worst was the manipulation of the characters. A female character was described as being completely naked, though she was in a busy spaceport terminal awaiting a flight.

woman-reading

“Why is she naked?” I asked the writer. ”It would be dangerous, unsanitary, and uncomfortable, among other things.”

“Well,” he said, “I wanted to show how hung-up this other character was on sexuality and his prejudice against the people of this ‘cult’ that run around naked.” The dialogue between the naked lady and the protagonist was a dissertation duel about his hang-ups—not very believable.

I proposed the idea that the writer have his female character travel clothed so she’d blend in with everyone else. Then, when the protagonist later discovers she’s a member of this “cult,” he’ll have his prejudices shattered because she has already challenged his beliefs about what “folks like that” are like. I don’t know if he took my advice.

In my novels, when I pit opposing points-of-view against each other in a religious or philosophical setting, I try to write honestly from each point-of-view. I try to imagine what a person who holds a particular viewpoint would say or do under the circumstances. If I can’t imagine what a character with that mindset might advance as an argument, I can’t write it. That means I have to research that point-of-view and try to understand it.

A lot of writers of religious works, whether fiction or non-fiction, don’t do this.

Why not? Because it’s easier to knock over a straw man than a real one.

In the same way, any real, effective conversation about beliefs has to open up and go beyond facile, two-dimensional, straw-man arguments. In order to truly understand what you believe, I have to put aside my own opinions and prejudices and listen carefully. You have to do the same. In our culture, we tend to talk past each other when we talk about religion.

So in the next essay in this series, we’ll discuss why straw men should avoid people with matches.

You May Also Like

Religion

Prophecy: Far More Predicative than Predictive

Religion

What Does It Mean to Be “Trans-religious?”

Religion

Baha’i Social Principles First Proclaimed by the Bab


Comments

characters remaining
  • Jul 1, 2016
    -
    That is such an important point, Darryl!
    I think we first need to learn the universal language of love and the rest will fall into place. I was on a travel teaching trip in Cyprus a few years back, and living in a village where no one spoke English and I didn't speak Greek. The neighbours were really friendly and were often bringing me gifts. I got to know my next-door neighbour quite well, through the help of a translator and learned that she was terrified of snakes. I went onto the internet and found ...an article with pictures on what she could do to make sure they didn't creep into her home. I was so excited, I dragged her over to have a look, and we had a wonderful conversation in which she let me know she was distressed that she was in her house dress and hadn't changed into something better to come over; and it was fun to watch the light bulbs go off in her head as she realized what steps she could take to keep herself safe. It was only after she'd left that I realized we'd had a lengthy visit, both going away feeling rejoiced, and yet neither of us could understand a word the other had to say. Another visit I had with a neighbour, I brought a photo album showing my family and my home and the area in which I lived; and again, had a wonderful conversation through pictures; where my neighbour showed me her home, and her family. It was such a wonderful lesson on the importance of love and how it can transcend language barriers!
    Read more...
  • Jun 24, 2016
    -
    Actually, I realized I understated the case for English being the auxiliary language. I said it was taught in schools all over Europe. I should have said it is taught in schools all over the world. In Japan and African nations as well as European ones.
  • Jun 24, 2016
    -
    While my articles are really not on the subject of choosing an auxiliary language, the fact that we need one is something that is on the minds of Bahá'ís and non-Bahá'ís alike who are engaged in activities that involve working across language barriers.
    Bahá'u'lláh, of course, has says that the universal language can either be selected from existing languages, or created. An attempt was made to create such a language decades ago with the promotion of Esperanto. And at various times in history, it seemed that a particular existing language became the "lingua franca"—that is, the language of trade ...for a wider group of people.
    In the US before it was conquered by Europeans, native alliances had trade jargon that facilitated communication between tribes. There was, for example, a trade jargon used by the member tribes of the Longhouse Federation led by the Iroquois, an organization that provided some of the ideas on which the US constitution is built.
    In the Roman Empire, Latin was the language that bound the diverse parts of the empire together. In the 18th and 19th centuries, French became the language of diplomacy.
    At this point in history, Euro-English has emerged as the language of diplomacy, business, and programming. It's taught from the elementary level in schools all over Europe and is one of three official languages in countries such as Belgium. When I was working as a manager of a software training team, we provided training for businesses in Belgium. Though Flemish, French and English were the official languages, we were asked to provide the training in English only because it had become the de facto auxiliary language for the country. It's entirely possible that Euro-English (which slightly differs from the English we speak and write here in the US in some particulars) will emerge naturally as the auxiliary language.
    It is not an easy language to learn for some people (for example, Chinese, Iranian and Russian speakers of English are often confused by parts of speech that English has that their native languages do not) but it is a flexible language that easily adapts to new technologies, terminologies and ideologies.
    The point I'd like to stress, though, is that whatever language two people speak, if they do not agree on what the words mean, they will still be hampered in their efforts to understand each other.
    Read more...
  • Darryl Braund
    Jun 23, 2016
    -
    Yes Maya, and Jes Paul, the challenges of true consultation are many. Even just understanding what it is. The crippling difficulty of hearing others while someone is “screaming from the pulpit” is obvious to most. IE Are we writing to inform others of an important truth we have, (didactics) or are we seeking to learn more about it, welcoming other perspectives (consultation) ? Are we offering a polished jewel, or asking for help in faceting a potentially precious stone ? Even if we are cross-dressing these two in our confusion, Baha'u'llah instructs us : “If ye be ...aware of a certain truth, if ye possess a jewel, of which others are deprived, share it with them in a language of utmost kindliness and goodwill.” And so while there will be occasions that “This matter should be forcibly stressed by thee so that consultation may be observed by all” - it seems to me that before we “forcibly stress” whether our ‘disobedient hypocrisy’ or our attachments to Farsi or English, (or Esperanto), are actually causing a global ‘propagation-deceleration’ or not, we need to first learn the more spiritual and universal “language of utmost kindliness and goodwill”. (me too !) EG What would be the advantage if we all learnt Esperanto, but failed to learn the language of ‘utmost kindliness and goodwill’ ? It would just be a continuation of our Old World Order ‘bun fight’ in a different language. Perhaps even with more ‘buns’ than ever before ????…….
    Hmmmm…….(?)…..even writing that could easily be the ‘unkindly’ provocation of a ‘straw man’ (hiding behind his writing and personal delusion of ‘goodwill’) who is trying to expose a possible ‘man with matches’ as the bad guy ; rather than avoiding throwing even more ‘buns’ from the pulpit, and congratulating you both on your faithful courage and vulnerable audacity to stimulate meaningful conversation on a blog (could we really have true consultation via writing ?) Anyhow, Thanks, and Good on ya’ both, you certainly got me thinking and sharing ! Cheers
    Read more...
x
x
Connect with Baha’is in your area
Welcome!
What's your name?
Thanks my friend ! We want to connect you with a Baha’i in your area, where would that be?
Thank you so much! How can they best reach you?
To put you in touch with a Baha’i in your area who can answer your questions, we would like to kindly ask for a few details about yourself.
Connect with Baha’is in your area
Connect with Baha’is in your area
Get in touch with the Baha’is in your community.