The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

-----Original Message-----
From: K. Paul Johnson <>
To: <>
Date: Wednesday, May 20, 1998 5:11 PM
Subject: Re: [bahai-faith] Fw: Internet - norms and values (normen en waarden)
>As a witness to the rise and fall of Talisman I, may I offer some
>comments on passages from the letters of the House:
>> ------------------------------------------
>> >From a letter of 20 July 1997:
>> Not surprisingly, the abuse of Internet discussions on the Faith and
>> its Teachings has had the effect of greatly distressing friends who
>> became aware of it.
>"Perceived" abuse would be more accurate, as the way this is
>stated implies that the original "wrong" was the way more liberal
>or critical Baha'is discussed certain issues.  My recollection is
>rather that all went smoothly until more
>conservative/fundamentalist Baha'is came on board, were outraged,
>and started an atmosphere of contention.
>  That the response has included, as your letter
>> suggests, a degree of intemperate criticism, inappropriate comment and
>> unjust accusation is lamentable, but also not surprising, for
>> contentiousness begets contention.
>This has the ring of blaming the victim, since the vast majority
>of personal attacks were made against the people who are
>implicitly accused of "starting the trouble" and they rarely
>responded with comparable ferocity.  When they did, it was after
>continued personally hostile treatment from their fellow
>believers.  Thus I would say that the contentiousness of the
>conservative/fundamentalists was what led to the contention by
>the scholars.  Going back over the files of Talisman, one would
>find that Scholl, Cole, Linda Walbridge, Hazini, and other
>supposed "contentious" people were actually getting along just
>fine until attacks from the right wing started.  And even when
>under attack they never matched their antagonists' level of
>hostility as I recall.
> You should be confident that the
>> House of Justice will not permit a climate of intolerance to prosper
>> in the Baha'i community, no matter from what cause it arises.
>I'd love to believe that but cannot in light of the evidence.
>> >From a letter dated 8 Feb 1998
>>      Some of the protagonists in the discussions on the Internet have
>> implied that the only way to attain a true understanding of historical
>> events
>> and of the purport of the sacred and historical records of the Cause
>> of God is through the rigid application of methods narrowly defined in
>> a materialistic framework. They have even gone so far as to stigmatize
>> whoever proposes a variation of these methods as wishing to obscure
>> the truth rather than unveil it.
>This is quite a misrepresentation of the discourse I remember
>from Talisman.  I do remember when Mark Foster told me that he
>had been writing to the House accusations of this nature about
>Cole et al.  I was horrified at this turn of events, which ended a
>year or two of friendly relations between us.  Juan, John and
>others never said "the only way to attain a true understanding"
>was through either rigidity or materialism.  They said rather
>that the only way to write about history, *if one is a historian
>responsible to the professional standards of the field*, is by
>adhering to those standards.  And the attacks they got from
>fellow Baha'is who were not historians stigmatized them as "weak
>in the Covenant" etc.  No one was stigmatized for "proposing a
>variation on those methods."  All published Baha'i histories have
>varied from those methods more or less, and they were not
>attacked.  It was rather those who consistently attacked the use
>of scholarly standards in approaching Baha'i history who were
>(rightly, IMO) accused of wanting to stifle the search for truth.
>Lots of reasonable comments here, but--
>> unscholarly attacks and calumnies which may periodically be injected
>> into their discussions by the ill-intentioned.  Discussion with those
>> who sincerely raise problematic issues, whether they be Baha'is or
>> not, and whether -- if the latter -- they disagree with Baha'i
>> teachings, can be beneficial and enlightening.  However, to continue
>> dialogue with those who have shown a fixed antagonism to the Faith,
>> and have demonstrated their imperviousness to any ideas other than
>> their own, is usually fruitless and, for the Baha'is who take part,
>> can be burdensome and even spiritually corrosive.
>It's so easy to see "fixed antagonism to the Faith" and easy
>to be blind to one's own fixed antagonism to anyone who questions
>certain elements of the Faith.  Easy to accuse others of
>imperviousness to alternate ideas, easy to be blind to one's own
>rigidity.  I am sorry for the breakdown in communication that has
>occurred, but can see here a consistent note of placing most of the
>burden of blame on the wrong shoulders.  Fortunately there are
>thousands of pages of documents from Talisman I which will allow
>future historians to disentangle the facts of the matter from the
>interpretation they have received.