The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


For Dr. Linda Walbridge, a prominent anthropologist of Islam, an authority on Shi`ite Islam, and former associate director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, also see the following links

"Critics chafe at Baha'i conservatism" By IRA RIFKIN
February 27, 1997, Religion News Service Obituary 2002 by Juan Cole

Juan Cole - Menu

From: Juan Cole <>
To: <>
Subject: [bahai-faith] mutilation theology (further)
Date: Friday, September 04, 1998 3:06 PM

All the various quotes you assembled only show that Shoghi Effendi agreed
with Baha'u'llah that the universal house of justice is the legitimate head
of the Baha'i faith.  Even as an outsider, I am perfectly willing to
concede that.
However, Shoghi Effendi also did accept the Aristotelian principle that
good forms of government are liable to deteriorate into bad forms of
government.  And he specified the checks and balances in the system he
elaborated that would prevent the republican, elected, element from
deteriorating into demagoguery; and they consisted in the living Guardian,
the embodiment of the monarchical principle.  Without the latter, the
universal house of justice is still the legitimate head of the Baha'i
religion, but it is at risk for deteriorating into an authoritarian
populism and of acting in ways that are cult-like.
I survey the field of the religions.  I see, for instance, among the
Episcopalians, a theologian like Bishop John Spong.  He challenges many
traditional Christian doctrines.  The Episcopalians haven't ostracized him,
threatened him, or shunned him.  In fact, they appear to have made him a
The Episcopalians appear to be rather broad-minded.  I see the Unitarian
Universalists, who would never dream of kicking a Ph.D. out because of his
work on UU history.  I see Quakers, gentle and engaging in a sort of
consultation every Sunday morning.  I see Sufi groups in Islam, chanting
and laughing and loving, accepting all who wish to learn wisdom.  I see
many branches of Hinduism and Buddhism that are highly tolerant.
But then I see other sorts of religion.  I see Khamenei's Iran, where
people are jailed for their theological views and even killed.  I see Roman
Catholicism, where Matthew Fox was forced out because of his vibrant
Creation Theology, where Leonardo Boff was silenced and forced out because
of his Liberation Theology, where Hans Kung was put on trial and denied the
opportunity to teach Catholic theology for his reasoned, modernist
theology.  I see Sunni Islam, where Nasr Abu Zayd was actually forced into
exile from Egypt for his Higher Criticism of the Qur'an, and threatened
with being divorced from his spouse.  
And given what happened to Denis MacEoin, Abbas Amanat, Steven Scholl,
Linda Walbridge, Bill Garlington, Geoffrey Nash, and many, many others, I
can only conclude that the Baha'i faith is now being run like the second
group of religions.  Indeed, among those Baha'i thinkers threatened with
being shunned were persons whose shunning might well have resulted in a
forcible divorce of exactly the same sort the Egyptian mullas threatened
Abu Zayd with. The Baha'i faith is being run like that by the universal
house of justice.  This is so obviously *not* what Baha'u'llah intended,
with his calls for tolerance and universalism, that *obviously* the
religion he created has been mutilated.  Now, this wasn't supposed to
happen.  But it has happened.  And I think the lack of institutional checks
and balances in the current structure, which Shoghi Effendi thought so
essential, are an excellent explanation for why the mutilation of the
Baha'i faith has occurred.  Someone accused me of conducting a personal
vendetta.  But this is not about personalities.  The structures are the
problem; even really promising people are corrupted by absolute power,
which is what the Baha'i institutions now have within the community.
But you know what?  The Vatican has been forced to back down on a number of
issues by public outcries in recent years.  It had to apologize to Galileo
(some Jesuits still grumble that what was done to him was perfectly all
right!).  It had to reinstate a Sri Lankan priest who had dared to compare
Christianity and Buddhism (John Paul II is has a bigotted hatred of
Buddhism).  And even the Iranian Ayatollahs were forced to back off their
pogroms against the Baha'is, not completely, but in some part, by the world
outcry.  So religious authorities of the persecuting kind are not
completely autonomous in the contemporary world.  And neither is the
moth-eaten guardianless universal house of justice.  The checks and
balances that would have been supplied by the 'good king' will have to come
from public opinion, within the faith and without.  The assiduous attempts
to prevent the emergence of such a public opinion are failing.  And the
Baha'i faith will in the end be a much better and less predatory place for it.
cheers   Juan