The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

From: Juan Cole <>
To: <>
Subject: censorship
Date: Wednesday, May 27, 1998 10:57 AM
FG's report of censorship practices at SRB mirrors my own
experience.  The moderators at SRB report directly to a local spiritual
assembly and an Auxiliary Board Member about policy, and receive policy
directives from counselors occasionally.  They fashioned a 'charter' a year
and a half ago that Usenet accepted, which forbids posting messages that
challenge the 'covenant.'  Since most things one could reasonably say about
the Baha'i faith in the presence of conservative Baha'is would be branded
by them as challenging the covenant, this excludes quite a lot, and
accounts for the generally rather low level of discourse on SRB.  To be
fair, occasionally SRB will let some critical thinking through briefly, and
then call a halt to the discussion before it gets to the nitty gritty.  It
is not a completely censored operation.
SRB is conceived of by the moderators and by the Baha'i institutions as a
tool for teaching the faith, not for serious discussion of issues in the
community or texts.  Why they think that the often silly and illogical and
reactionary things that get said there would attract anyone is beyond me,
however.  Most of my colleagues at the university who have looked in on SRB
have recoiled from the fundamentalist and triumphalist tone.  (This
translates as, they found the Baha'is incredibly stuck up and narrow minded).
What the Baha'is involved in SRB don't realize is that in a pluralist
democracy like the U.S., the attractive message for most people is
pluralism and liberty.  That was the message `Abdul-Baha preached here,
which is obvious to anyone who bothers to read Promulgation of Universal
Peace.  The antiliberal conservatives in control of the institutions of the
faith here are peddling, instead, control, conformity, and medieval notions
of morality.  And that is why there are so few Baha'is in the U.S.  The
Baha'is are not being true to the essence of their own religion.  Instead,
they've started talking like fundamentalists.  Only a few percent of
Americans characterize themselves as fundamentalists.  That persuasion is
not a growth sector of the population, moreover, since it depends largely
on being poorly educated, whereas we are moving to a high-information
society.  Pitching the Baha'i faith as a form of fundamentalism is in the
end a rather stupid strategy.
cheers    Juan