The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

From: <>
Subject: Re: ra'y as idiosyncratic legal opinion
Date: Saturday, January 30, 1999 5:54 PM

Dear Daniel:

In article <>,
  Daniel Grolin <> wrote:
> <Moreover all of its rulings are open to being repealed by later house of
> justice so it makes no sense to insist that these rulings are
> incontrovertible.>
> Quite true. If one perceives that there is something that the House has
> not been aware of one should certainly make such concerns known to them.
I don't believe we would consider a society free in which the only recourse
someone had, who disagreed with the decision of a body in authority, was to
secretly write a private letter to that body discussing the pros and cons of
the decision.  Let us imagine a non-religious society with that rule, say a
post-coup United States.  Let us imagine that direct elections were abolished
by the putschists, and let us imagine that political parties were also
outlawed. Let us imagine that the Electoral College still functioned, but
without parties or nominations or campaigning, so that it could elect
whomever it pleased president.	And let us imagine that the President elected
by that Electoral College now forms a Cabinet.	And let us imagine that this
Cabinet decrees that although there is nothing in U.S. law to support the
proposition, henceforward men will be considered the head of the household
throughout the United States.
And let us imagine that Gloria Steinem took exception to this decree of the
indirectly 'elected' President and his Cabinet.  And let us imagine that the
Cabinet had passed a law that no newspaper could print any criticism of or
dissent from a decree of the Supreme Cabinet.  So that the *only* option open
to Gloria was to write a private letter to the President, suggesting that
perhaps despite his divine wisdom it was unfair and sexist to make men the
head of the household by fiat.	Gloria couldn't give public speeches to this
effect.  She couldn't come on the internet and express this view in her email
messages.  All she could do was write that letter.  And when a perfunctory
reply arrived from the Cabinet, she would just have to put her head down and
accept it.
I have been criticized for using the word 'totalitarian,' and it is probably
a bit strong, but the sort of society I have just described at least has
those tendencies.  And it is precisely the sort of society the Baha'i Right
wishes to erect.
If you want intellectual consistency, explain to me how such a society is in
any way consonant with `Abdul-Baha's praise of political and religious
> <My emphasis.  Notice here that `Abdul-Baha is explicitly talking about
> two things:  the difference between the Baha'i faith and past religions,
> and the role of the Baha'i institutions.  And what he says is that the
> difference between early Christianity and the Baha'i faith is that Baha'i
> institutions are not to interfere in the individual expression of
> conscience with regard to religious beliefs.  In early Christianity you
> were persecuted for believing that Jesus was man, not God,>
> No this is not what read him as saying. He says there are two things which
> this Faith has that ensure, that the disunity that occurred in past
> religions will not occur in it. One is the Universal House of Justice
> (which ensure that unity under legal litigation) and the other is the
> principle that none may interfere in beliefs and conscience (which ensures
> unity in dispute over differences in belief).
But then by your own admission `Abdul-Baha is prohibiting the Universal
House of Justice form interfering in the expressed beliefs and conscience of
ordinary Baha'is.  Any other conclusion would contradict the clear text and
your own conclusion.
> Splits in Christianity were often due to political agendas. The expulsion
> of Nestorius, for example, were undoubtedly due to the power of his
> position, which Cyril of Alexandria coveted. The division, is, in other
> words, the emergence of two opposing authorities. Regardless of the
> reasons put forth, this is in its very essence the nature of religious
> division.
> The two safe-guards mentioned by 'Abdul-Baha are there to ensure that
> this does not happen in the Baha'i Faith.
Daniel, can't you see how self-contradictory you are being?  It was precisely
the view of the early Christian Councils that Nestorianism and Arianism
introduced disunity into the body of Christ and therefore they had to be
persecuted and suppressed.  Had they not been persecuted they wouldn't have
become separate sects, but would have remained tendencies inside early
Christianity.  It was the persecution and insistence on uniformity of belief
and expression that sectarianized them in the first place.
I don't see how your point of view is any different whatsoever from that of
early Christian theologians like Augustine of Hippo, who had his theological
opponents burned at the stake.	You are saying that any view that strikes you
as out of the Baha'i mainstream is a "cause of disunity" and its expression
is therefore illegitimate.  Of *course* novel ideas cause discussion.  Your
basic logical error is confusing that healthy discussion with a threat of
sectarianism.  And I am afraid that most people who take this stance are
using the fear of disunity as a cover for a vigorous desire to suppress the
novel thinking.
> <Your attempt to constitute some expressions of conscience as
> 'speach-acts,' making them into deeds and subject to punishment,  does
> enormous violence to `Abdul-Baha's way of thinking and departs entirely
> from his vision of Baha'i society as one in which individuals are free to
> express their views in a way he likened to the freedom of political speech
> in the United States.>
> The "expressions of conscience" do not constitute what I have termed a
> "speech-act". Speech-acts are speech that have the effect of making others
> act differently.
One person can't, by merely speaking, *make* someone else do something.  You
are blurring very key legal distinctions between speech and behavior that
would have the effect of completely undermining the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights and the U.S. First Amendment.
While the medium is speech the practical effect is
> "deeds". The particular speech-acts that I am interested in are those that
> 1) claim authority and 2) are opposed to the one existing authority.
The problem is that you equate the statement of a person's conscientious
views with a claim to authority.  Simply speaking publicly is seen to be a
bid for leadership.  So, if a Baha'i came on this forum and said, "I believe
Baha'is should be permitted to belong to Amnesty International," you would
accuse this individual of claiming authority and of contradicting the "one
authority."  You would see it as an act of sedition for a Baha'i to simply
state publicly that he or she thinks it is desirable that Baha'is join an
organization that has done so much to save the Iranian Baha'is.
> No matter at what level the case is
> such that each member by themselves have no authority. That is to say no
> one, no individual, may issue ra'y.
You are misusing the technical term, which means *ruling*.  Obviously,
someone with no juridical office cannot issue a *ruling.*  Or if they did,
they'd be laughed at.  I can't stand in the square and rule that a Baha'i gay
marriage is legitimate in Baha'i law, such that my ruling has legal effect. 
That is the sort of thing that `Abdul-Baha was talking about with regard to
the then Baha'i ulama or muballighin.  Simply stating a casual opinion is
*not* what `Abdul-Baha was talking about.
> These are the issues and the reasons. No one, no individual, is allowed to
> create disunity in the Baha'i Faith, by 1) allocating to one self illicit
> authority
In other words, individual Baha'is may not state opinions at variance with
yours and your leaders.  You want to suppress those opinions or persecute
those individuals and make them leave the faith.  So isn't it you who are
claiming authority, to silence people or chase them out?  The individual who
expressed his or her opinion is not thereby claiming authority, but you can
always configure it as so.
>and 2) opposing the established authority, namely the Universal
> House of Justice, and its decisions.
> Regards,
> Daniel
"Opposing" the universal house of justice is an ambiguous term.  `Abdul-Baha
wanted to try to avoid a situation where the legitimacy of the house of
justice was challenged, its right to determine Baha'i positive (i.e.
implemented) law. Merely to say publicly that a ruling of the house of
justice (e.g. forbidding Baha'is to join Amnesty International) needs further
discussion is not opposing the house of justice.
However, if the house of justice itself and the rightwing Baha'is interpret
such a statement as opposition, and threaten to shun the speaker, all they
can succeed in doing is in fact *weakening* the legitimacy of the house of
justice.  An institution that over-reaches its authority undermines its
authority.  And so in the end by attempting to squelch free Baha'i speech, it
is the right wing Baha'is who have thwarted `Abdul-Baha's intent.  In the
process, they have so profoundly perverted his vision of a religious society
that nevertheless guarantees liberty of thought and speech as to threaten to
discredit the vision altogether, making all `Abdul-Baha's sufferings and
work for the faith for naught.
Juan Cole
History, U of Michigan
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