The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

From: <>
Subject: Re: What is a Cult?
Date: Friday, February 12, 1999 8:40 PM

Dear Danny:
Thanks so much for your observations.  I agree that within the Baha'i faith no
individual can claim to speak with authority.  Before I was forced out of
the Baha'i faith I was *very* careful constantly to underline that my comments
were only those of one individual and wholly without any authority.
The problem is that if you speak publicly in a Baha'i context, and even if
you disclaim authority, you can still be charged with 'gaining a following.' 
I'm not sure exactly what that means, but apparently it implies that lots of
people agree on their own account with your non-authoritative individual
views.	This is such a vague charge and so self-contradictory that it is very
destructive. Why should it be a bad thing that lots of people agree with what
Danny posts?
The other problem is that there are powerful individuals in the community who
do think they have the authority to tell you what you can and cannot say, and
to forbid you from expressing views, even as a non-authoritative individual,
with which they disagree.  But I don't see how the counselor or NSA member
who does this is avoiding a claim to authoritative interpretation.  If you
can't publicly disagree with them, aren't they saying that their
interpretation is authoritative and silences you?
So, I have to confess that I (obviously) completely failed to understand the
rules of discourse that appear to prevail in the Baha'i community.
What is really funny is that I was in fact forced out, am not an enrolled
member, can't be elected to anything, and presumably am as good as a
non-person for most Baha'is, and yet I *still* get accused of trying to speak
authoritatively.  This sort of charge against an unenrolled individual just
seems to me silly.  How could I have authority in a religion to which I don't
even belong?  It is downright weird.  And if the Baha'i authorities are
*that* insecure, then their hold on authority is really, really tenuous.
Juan Cole
History, U of Michigan
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