The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

From: <>
Subject: Re: Resignation
Date: Saturday, May 08, 1999 3:06 AM

Dear Brian:
You wrote:
In article <>,
  "Brian F. Walker" <> wrote:
> You have problems
> with a closed media within the Baha'i faith, and press the need for
> openness in research and publication.
This is true.  I believe that the Baha'i faith has been woefully stunted by
the repressive policies of Baha'i administrators, and believe that if this
repression could be lifted, the faith would have the opportunity *genuinely*
to grow and become more influential.  (Rather than our simply publishing
ever-growing and completely phoney membership statistics that are obviously
>I accept this need absolutely in
> the case of a secular government (Oliver North, Watergate etc) as I
> absolutely mistrust any politician.
I am afraid that my observation of the Baha'i power elite during the past 25
years has convinced me that most of them are "politicians" in precisely the
sense that you use the term.  They subtley "run" for office.  They seek to
rise in the organization.  They repress for the purpose of keeping their
jobs. And they at least sometimes appropriate the organization's resources
for their personal use.  Therefore, you need a free press to keep your eye on
them in precisely the same way you do with regard to secular politicians.  A
long-serving LSA member in Phoenix recently stole $70,000 from the fund, and
this was only discovered when another LSA member finally reported on her.
Wouldn't it have been better to have more vigilance earlier from the whole
>My concern is that we deal then with
> the Baha'i institutions in exactly the same manner as with a western
> government.
Assuming that every Baha'i administrator is an angel would be a tragic
miscalculation.  The Baha'i faith is a small and little-known movement, and
is not closely watched by the rest of society.	Its administration vaunts
itself as divinely guided and above all criticism.  Its administration is
therefore the perfect place for persons of a cult-like turn of mind to hide
out, and from which to abuse believers either psychologically or materially. 
Many Baha'i administrators, of course, are honest, nurturing, upright
persons.  But they need not fear, then, a free Baha'i press.
> I mean, let us assume that Baha'u'llah is from God, and that what He has
> created is created by God. If that is so, then the UHJ that Baha'u'llah
> created is what we see today, because it was the Will of God.
These propositions are full of logical fallacies.  Baha'u'llah was from God,
but he did not create Douglas Martin or Robert C. Henderson.  They claim to
be his followers.  They may or may not really be his followers.  I'm not
ready to blame Baha'u'llah for any mistakes they may make.  Are you? 
Baha'u'llah did create the institution of the Universal House of Justice. 
But he never said it was infallible.  Moreover, he strictly forbade it from
interfering matters like individuals' personal theology, which would fall
under `ibadat in Ishraq 8. Shoghi Effendi also points out that the UHJ is not
to attempt to interpret scripture authoritatively.
So, let us look at this logically.  There is no Guardian.  The guardianship
was the sole institution authorized to interpret scripture.  So, when a
national spiritual assembly demands the right to vet what you want to publish
about the Baha'i faith, on what basis is it doing so?  If it says your
interpretation is incorrect, is it not illegitimately claiming the right to
interpret scripture authoritatively?  And to whom could you appeal, since
*no* body has that right at present?  You can't blame 'literature review' on
Baha'u'llah.  He did not create it and never mentioned it.  And while
`Abdul-Baha or Shoghi Effendi, as authorized Interpreters, were within their
rights to devolve some of that interpretive authority onto NSAs in their
lifetimes, they were secure in the knowledge that an appeal would come to
them, i.e., to a person with standing.
> we must say that the Baha'i faith, which Baha'u'llah promised us, has
> failed, and therefore God has failed.) Let us assume this anyway.
All or nothing arguments are always a form of logical fallacy.  It may be that
the Baha'i faith has failed to mature as quickly as Baha'u'llah would have
liked.  That wouldn't be his fault, would it?  It would be ours.  Nor is an
overly slow pace of development a complete failure.  It is an indication that
the pace should pick up.
> Now look at the fate of previous religions, which were torn apart not by
> the teachings of the Messengers of God, but by the blindness of mortals
> who thought they knew better what was intended by the Messenger.
In other words, by priests and popes and ayatollahs--the officials of the
religion.  And, of course, the equivalent in the Baha'i faith are counselors
and the Universal House of Justice.  Catholics believe that the popes are
infallible, even though many of them committed great crimes.  Baha'is believe
that the UHJ is infallible, even though it has demonstrably acted at times in
ways that contravene Baha'u'llah's basic principles.  This doesn't mean we
should abandon all hope in it.	It does mean we should work for ever greater
implementation of Baha'u'llah's principles of tolerance and justice.
> Proposition:
> Is it not therefore conceivable that the UHJ is in fact protecting the
> faith from the fate of all past Dispensations,  and that efforts to
> undermine the UHJ in this respect are in fact working against God?
The UHJ has managed to bring in 2,000 Frenchmen into the Baha'i faith, a
similar number of Germans, a few hundred Spaniards and Portuguese and Dutch. 
Partially because of its policies the real number of Western Baha'is in the
US has been stagnant for 20 years.  If it were having a really great success
in developed countries, you could say that one shouldn't tinker with a
winning formula.  But with this kind of record, it seems to me it is time for
*someone* to point out what isn't working.
> I do not say that this is so, I simply ask whether the proposition is
> possible. If so, then then it bears close examination. If not, then it
> brings into doubt the validity of Baha'u'llahs Dispensation.
I think a concern with schism is a non-trivial issue.  But when it gets to
the point where people are looking for covenant breakers under the bed or
when major academics like anthropologist Linda Walbridge are being called up
late at night by counselors at the behest of the UHJ and threatened with
being shunned for their email messages, then you've taken this concern too
far.  In fact, the best hope for unity is a big tent.  If you make room for
Baha'i liberals and for freedom of expression, you can hope to keep the
movement united in its diversity.  If you go about alienating Baha'is of a
particular stripe, you in fact lose their respect and loyalty.	Because all
of us liberals are loyal to the principle of unity and abhor schism, nothing
bad has happened.  But it could is only because Baha'i liberals are sincere
and are bewildered at being persecuted by their own institutions.
cheers  Juan
Juan Cole, History, U of Michigan,
Buy *Modernity and the Millennium: The Genesis of the Baha'i Faith* at:
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