I was struck by a section from Paul Lample’s “Revelation and Social Reality,” and thought I should share it on the blogosphere. Some of the difficulties being faced by individuals in my own Baha’i community seem to relate to what Mr. Lample is discussing below. I’d love to know what you think about these ideas and how they relate to your understanding of the term “Learned Baha’i.”
A variety of metaphors help clarify the role of a learned Bahá’í in contributing to the progress of the Bahá’í community.
The learned Bahá’í is not a “gatekeeper” or “priest.”
While the effective work of trained, knowledgeable, and insightful individuals shed light on the context and meaning of the Writings in many ways, the community of believers is not dependent upon a body of specialists in order to understand the meaning of the Text. The Word of God is accessible to all believers, according to their capacity. The experience of the community derived from practice, the growing understanding of the implications and meaning of the Text over time, and above all, the guidance of the Universal House of Justice contribute to shaping both the believers’ understanding as well as the perspective and direction of scholarly activity.
The learned Bahá’í is not an “anthropologist” of the Bahá’í community.
The purpose of Bahá’í scholarship is not merely to explain the community at a moment in history and present the resulting picture as its reality. Bahá’ís recognize that, at any point, the community is far from that which Bahá’u’lláh has envisioned. It is “less Bahá’í” now than what it will become in future.
The learned Bahá’í is not an “archeologist.”
The “true” meaning of the Faith is not lost somewhere in the past, to be recaptured by excavating layers of erroneous interpretation and practice. Such an approach is especially problematic if it is used to justify a search for the meaning of the Faith in Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings alone, while ignoring the role of the authoritative institutions He established to guide His Faith.
The learned Bahá’í is not an “artist” who is free to shape the teachings according to some criteria of personal choice or creativity.
The teachings of Bahá’u’lláh have an intended meaning and an intended aim. Unity—even unity in diversity—emerges by seeking out and conforming to this meaning. One cannot select, rearrange or craft from the teachings, according to subjective standards, a particular narrative or design. If such an approach were pursued, the Faith would become nothing more than an individual or cultural adornment.
The learned Bahá’í is not an “impartial observer.”
The resolution of important questions requires more than the application of methods of the natural sciences. It is not possible to stand apart from the community to study it without influencing it or being influenced by it.
Perhaps the learned Bahá’í is more like the “scout” who helps to guide an expedition on a journey into unexplored territory.
This role involves investigating the unknown and generating and applying knowledge to contribute to the success of the mission at hand. It is someone who participates actively in the journey, but whose specialized knowledge, skills, and experience informs various aspects of the struggle to make progress: constructive perspectives into the past, present, and future; insight and technical capacity for ongoing study of the Text; problem posing and problem solving; the defining of culture and intercultural relations. On this journey, the learned individual/scout does not have authority, and, while making a vital contribution, like any other participant is fallible and learns over time.
Paul Lample, from Revelation and Social Reality (p 151 – 152).