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July 4, 2013

Question:  Why should we take the advice of so-called ‘religious experts’?

The answer is subtle and multi-dimensional. This question raises another: why should we take the advice of any “expert” on any matter at all? Nothing obliges us, especially in spiritual or religious matters. Ultimately, the only arbitrator of advice in religion is one’s own conscience.

But if we happen to be seriously investigating spiritual truth, then we should seek the advice of all those whom we deem able to enlighten any answer, or to offer practical spiritual guidance, whether they be called experts, gurus, spiritual masters, scholars, professors, saints or what-not.

This statement must include those who are not schooled in religious academies. The greatest insights have often come from those with little or no formal education.  When we consult only experts, we are missing out on other important sources of knowledge. We have been recently witnessing the rise of the “crowd-sourcing” phenomenon: consulting the wisdom latent in larger numbers of people.  

I am somewhat sceptical myself about the label “religious expert.”  An expert is only as good as her advice.  Experts have often been proven wrong. They have never been promised infallibility. I am personally uncomfortable with being called a religious  “expert.” I have shared my reluctance to use this label with the other respondents of the Faith and Ethics page.

The reason is simple but sound. An expert is someone who has special knowledge in a particular area. The word “expert” tends to privilege the intellectual function of the human mind. But religious knowledge is only one aspect of the religious phenomenon—arguably, not the most important. The heart of religion lies with its moral or ethical core, or “living the life.’ Who can claim to be an expert in living the life of one’s chosen faith?

The Bahá’í Faith, although it does have its own administrative structure, is the only world religion that functions without a clerical caste. In an age that has witnessed the explosion of knowledge, and virtually instant mass communication, the search for truth is the prerogative and responsibility of every earnest spiritual seeker. The search for truth can no longer be confined to experts.  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen July 4, 2013
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