The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

From: <>
Subject: Re: What is a Cult?
Date: Thursday, January 28, 1999 7:00 PM

Dear Brian:
You wrote:
> I have yet to hear any Assistant or ABM suggest I or anyone else be silent
> any issue. I do hear that I should avoid reading CB material, or entering
> discussion with CB, but that is another matter.
You no doubt are not aware that it is fairly common for auxiliary board
members and counselors to take Baha'is aside and warn them to be silent on
certain issues.  Of course, you don't hear about these events, because most
Baha'is who are browbeaten in this way do fall silent, or else withdraw from
the faith. Frequently a dire overtone is adopted by the auxiliary board
members and counselors indicating that the person being counselled is in
contravention of the covenant and may end up being shunned if he or she
continues to speak publicly on these issues.  However, the issues concerned
do not usually concern what most rational observers would consider
'covenantal'--i.e. they have nothing to do with 17th Guardians & etc.  Lots
of Baha'is have contacted me privately with their stories of such repression,
and I have been carefully archiving these cases.
Among the hot button questions that seem to elicit this response are the
question of women's service on the Universal House of Justice, the scope of
the latter body's infallibility, the ability of Baha'is to dissent publicly
from official policy,  and even occasionally theological issues such as
whether God is a person or an impersonal essence.  One Baha'i professor was
upbraided by a counselor for simply saying on the internet that Baha'i
metaphysics has a background in Neoplatonism.  Another man I know was
investigated for renting a room to an unrelated woman.	In another instance
an NSA member threatened an LSA secretary for writing too many letters to
National that did not display the proper tone. I have been informed of
literally dozens of such incidents over the past three years.
It is true that usually such demands for silence are directed at persons int
eh community who are felt by the counselors and ABMs to be particularly
eloquent exponents of views the latter dislike, who are 'prominent,' or who
are felt to be provoking too much discussion by the expression of their
views.	Lots of ordinary Baha'is are never bothered in this way no matter
what they say, and so they take away the impression that no one is ever
bothered or silenced, which simply is not true.
> > 2)  If a Baha'i body seems to you to be wasting the money you give it or is
> > not being fully accountable for how it spends your money, don't give it any
> > more. Restrict your donation to your local assembly if you think it is doing
> > a good job, or restrict the donation to "charitable purposes" (Baha'i
> > institutions are supposed to be doing *way* more charity work than they do).
> Juan - really - this is just what Baha'is have always done, at least in my
> experience in 3 continents and a lot more communities.
I think it is scandalous that no full budget is published annually by the
National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, which is thereby in
contravention of the expection of the Illinois law on incorporated nonprofit
organizations that members of the organization will be apprised if they so
desire of how their money is being spent.  The salaries of the five NSA
members who are paid for their services are also not released, nor the value
of the perquisites they receive.  Don't you think this lack of candor on
budgetary issues is suspicious?
The unwillingness of some Baha'i institutions to be candid about budgets
allows peculation to occur more easily, as when a member of the Phoenix LSA
embezzled some $70,000 in the 1990s before finally being reported by a fellow
member of the LSA (the community would never have known about it!  And what
if the other LSA member had been less upright?).
> > 4)  If someone suggests to you that you cannot disagree with some policy you
> > think is wrong because the author of the policy is infallible, tell that
> > person that only God is infallible and all human beings make mistakes,
> > including the Baha'i institutions.
> The only infallible one in this dispensation is Baha'u'llah. Has anyone
> otherwise?
Rightwing Baha'is would like to spread the aura of infallibility over pretty
much all the Baha'i institutions, but especially the house of justice.
> So you compare the Baha'i administration with Jones and Deaths Gate?? I have
> to see anything unethical recommended by any Baha'i body on which I have
> or with which I have worked.
I didn't compare anything with anything.  I simply said that a wise person
does not surrender his or her individual conscience and autonomy to
supposedly 'infallible' leaders and then do unquestioningly whatever they
command.  That way lies Jonestown, however noble the initial pious impulses.
I do know Iranian Baha'is who feel that the Universal House of Justice's
policy of ordering the Iranian Baha'is to stay in Iran after 1983 was
tantamount to commanding them to commit suicide.  Certainly, it is shameful
that Iranian Baha'is who did manage to escape were often punished
administratively for having put 'Muslim' on their application for an exit
visa.  But if a Jew had managed to escape Hitler by pretending to be a
Catholic (isn't this sort of thing implied in the film "The Sound of Music"?)
should that Jew have been *punished*?  Isn't this pretty monstrous?
> Would you perhaps explain to me what scams you have experienced? I do respect
> your views and your learnedness, but I wonder at your objectivity. Then again,
>I do not know you, and need to hear more about your stance.
Perhaps my answer to your previous questions has given you some idea of the
sort of thing I mean.
cheers   Juan
Juan Cole
History, U of Michigan
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