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Corrupting good thoughts
Zartosht does not claim to have any pre-conceived answers to the choices in life

October 25, 2004

The disposition towards dogma is as common of a feature of humanity today as it was 2,000 years ago. The anonymous writer Persia Lover lends strength to this statement through his misguided article "Bad thoughts, bad words, bad deeds."

Reacting towards the trend of Iranian soul-searching and glorification of Iran's pre-Islamic past, Persia Lover argues that Zoroastrianism was "another intolerant religion which the Iranians wanted to get rid of."

Persia Lover commits two-key mistakes. One the one hand, he - much like the subjects of his own criticism - misrepresents Zoroastrianism. On the other hand, he falls for the very same dogma that he implicitly tries to reject.

Regarding the "myth surrounding Zoroastrianism," Persia Lover argues that Iranians have mystified Zoroastrianism but commits the very same mistake himself. While the subjects of his criticism may have misrepresented the ancient Iranian faith by exaggerating the purity of pre-Islamic Iran, our unnamed author misrepresents Zoroastrianism by doing the opposite.

As others have pointed out, Sad Dar is in no way a scripture representation the faith of Zoroastrianism. That others - including Zoroastrian priests - may have misinterpreted and corrupted the tenets of Zoroastrianism can under no circumstances justify Persia Lover's misinformed and categorical verdict.

Indeed, if Persia Lover had at least some rudimentary knowledge about Zoroastrianism, he would know that a defining property of the fate - which starkly distinguishes it from the Semitic faiths - is its lack of social rules. While other faiths - such as Judaism and Christianity - rest on specific commandments that dictate the actions of individuals in specific social circumstances, Zoroastrianism rests on the explicit rejection of such dogma:

" Hearken with your ears to these best counsels,
Reflect upon them with illumined judgment
Let each one choose his/her creed with that freedom of choice"
(Gathas, Yasna 30-2)

No where in the scriptures authored by Zoroastrianism himself (the Gathas) are there any references to social rules. Zartosht sticks true to his principle that each individual must him or herself conclude what constitutes the "Good" in Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds (Andishe-ye Nik, Goftar-e Nik, Kerdar-e Nik). Zartosht does not claim to have any pre-conceived answers to the choices in life.

This stands in stark contrast to the very detailed rules spelled out in Sad Dar, authored by corrupt priests living several centuries after Zoroaster. Their misrepresentation and corruption of the key principles of Zoroastrianism, driven by both greed for power and by the human impulse for dogma, indicate the corruptibility of ideology and religion alike.

This brings us to the second error in Persia Lover's self-defeating argument. Seeking to prove that the practices of people 2,000 years ago are incompatible with contemporary values is as pointless as to argue that the original Iranian man of three millennia ago was the epitome of purity, and that our moral character has continuously degenerated ever since.

Indeed, to believe that certain belief systems are immune to corruption is as absurd as to believe that the opposite needs to be proven. While the subjects of Persia Lover's criticism may be guilty of the first charge, Persia Lover is guilty of the second.

Yet, I sympathize with Persia Lover's frustration. As a Zoroastrian, I find it deplorable that at a time when the devastating mix of religion and politics should be abundantly clear to all Iranians, dissatisfied elements argue - in a resounding intellectual capitulation to the Islamic regime - that the error lies in the choice of religion and not the mix of religion and politics per se.

The mistake of those seeking to use (or rather abuse) a dogmatized image of Zoroastrianism as a vehicle for political change - besides using religion as a vehicle at a time when the vast majority of Iranians want nothing but secularism - is that they once again chose dogma over rationality as a superior principle for mobilizing people. Time and again, these self-appointed leaders have underestimated the intellectual strength of the Iranian people, and overestimated their own.

Here, again, Persia Lover is guilty of the same crime that he accuses others of: In an effort to turn Iranians away from seeking dogmatic inspiration from Iran's pre-Islamic past, he dogmatically denounces a belief system, which ironically was the first human intellectual attempt to break free from one of humanity's greatest weaknesses - dogma.

Trita Parsi is a PhD candidate in International Relations at Johns Hopkins University SAIS, Washington DC, focusing on US-Iran and Iranian-Israeli relations.

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