The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

From: K. Paul Johnson <>
Subject: Re: House warns of opposition "campaign"
Date: Wednesday, June 02, 1999 10:42 AM
My own comments on the letter follow.
: As a number of the friends are aware,, a campaign of internal
: opposition to the Teachings is currently being carried on through
: the use of the Internet, a communications system that now reaches
: virtually every part of the world.
This is not true, and reflects the biased understanding of a
single partisan faction.  A faction that regards itself as
capable of *defining* "the Teachings" and rejecting the
understanding that others bring to the subject.  "Campaign of
internal opposition" implies that 
1) There is organized cooperation among enrolled Baha'is
2) Who seek to oppose Baha'u'llah's teachings
which is preposterous on the face of it.  Promoting one's own
understanding of the Teachings, to be considered along with
everyone else's, is not waging any campaign against them.
  Differing from attacks
: familiar in the past, it seeks to recast the entire Faith into a
: socio-poliotical ideology alien to Baha'u'llah's intent.
This of course begs the question.  I would urge anyone interested
in weighing the issue of Baha'u'llah's intent to read Modernity
and the Millennium, by Juan Cole.  *This book is the first on
Baha'u'llah by a university press* and should be looked at with
respect by Baha'is even if they disagree with it.  It should have
been received as the signal work on its subject that it is, not
turned into the occasion of a partisan witchhunt.
  In the
: place of the institutional authority established by His Covenant,
: it promotes a kind of interpretive authority which those behind
: it attribute to the views of persons technically trained in
: Middle East studies.  
This is a total nonsequitur.  The authority of technically
trained scholars to explicate texts is what it is.  It does not
and never has threatened Baha'i institutional authority
established by the Covenant.  By seeing a threat to the Covenant
in what would in any other religion be considered normal
scholarly endeavors, those institutions are undermining their own
: Early in 1996, the deliberate nature of the plan was revealed in
: an accidental posting to an Internet list which Baha'i
: subscribers had believed was dedicated to scholarly exploration
: of the Cause.
Whose plan?  What plan?  No such plan was revealed and in fact
the post in question showed *opposition* to any 
"campaign."  Showed it explicitly and emphatically in fact.
  Some of the people responsible resigned from the
: Faith when the Counsellors pointed out to them the direction
: their activitities were taking.
In plain English, threatened them with sanctions.
  A small number of others
: continue to promote the campaign within the Baha'i community.
Meaning, did not allow themselves to be intimidated into
withdrawing, were not sanctioned, but now find themselves unnamed
yet the target of a campaign of intimidation and exclusion nonetheless.
: In this same spirit of forbearance the Universal House of Justice
: has intervened in the current situation only to the extent that
: it has been unavoidable,
Rather, has been judged to be unavoidable, mistakenly IMO.
: of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice as twin
: succesors of Baha'u'llah and the Centre of His Covenant--
: attempts to cast doubt on the nature and the scope of the
: authority conferred on them in the Writings.
Only a dogmatist authoritarian would translate the reality of
"attempts to understand on the basis of the original texts the
nature and the scope..." into the thought crime of 
"attempts to cast doubt."  The presumption all along is that the
normal scholarly activities of 1) trying to understand and 2)
communicating with other students of the subject are not normal
or innocuous but rather a fundamental threat to the legitimacy of
the institutions, and an attempt to take over the Faith. 
  When other Baha'is
: have pointed out that such arguments contradict explicit
: statements of the Master, persons behind the scheme have
: responded by calling into question the soundness of `Abdu'l
: Baha'is own judgment and perspective. 
Since there is no scheme, who is meant by "persons behind the
scheme?"  I recall no such calling into question by any Baha'i on
any list or newsgroup.
 Gradually, these arguments
: have exposed the view of those involved that Baha'u'llah Himself
: was not the voice of God to our age but merely a particularly
: enlightened moral philosopher, one whose primary concern was to
: reform existing society.
That's a very telling either/or.  What if there's no opposition
there?  What if the voice of God to our age *was* that of a
particularly enlightened moral philosopher whose primary concern
was to reform existing society?
: influencing reasonably informed Baha'is.  As one of the letters
: in the enclosed reprint (20 July 1997) points out, the scheme
This "scheme" accusation being repeated often enough, people will
forget to ask for evidence as to whether there is or ever has been
such a scheme.
: relies for effect, therefore, on exploiting the confusion created
: in modern thought by the reigning doctrines of materialism.
So, there is a cabal of unnamed persons who have consciously set
out to undermine the authority of Baha'i institutions and beliefs
by deliberately choosing to exploit the confusion caused by
materialism?  That seems awfully far fetched.
: religions, dogmatic materialism today insists that even the
: nature of religion itself can be adequately understood only
: through the use of an academic methodology deigned to ignore the
: truths that make religion what it is.
There is no such thing as dogmatic materialism in the social
sciences and history any more.  Academically methodology in
religious studies is hardly "designed to ignore the truths" but
rather to focus on the observable realities of how those truths
manifest in history, psychology, sociology etc.
: In general, the strategy being pursued has been to avoid direct
: attacks on the Faith's Central Figures. 
Assuming there is a strategy or scheme.  But what if these
unnamed malefactors actually avoid direct attacks on the Central
Figures, not out of some strategic considerations, but because
*they believe in them*?
 The effort, rather, has
: been to sow the seeds of doubt among believers about the Faith's
: teachings and institutions by appealing to unexamined prejudices
: that Baha'is may have unconciously absorbed from non-Baha'i
: society.
More presumption that the motives of those trying to explore
independent investigation of truth are actually those of
traitors out to harm the Baha'is.
  In defiance of the clear interpretations of `Abdu'l
: Baha and the Guardian, for example, Baha'u'llah's limiting of
: membership on the Universal House of Justice to men is
: misrepresented as merely a "temporary measure" subject to eventual
: revision if sufficient pressure is brought to bear.
That is a matter for discussion, not backchannel denunciation.
Let all the evidence be brought forth and discussed in broad
daylight among collegial scholars and experts.  On what basis is
the alleged position a misrepresentation?
: Shoghi Effendi's explanation of Baha'u'llah's vision of the
: future Baha'i World Commonwealth that will unite spiritual and
: civil authority is dismissed in favour of the assertion that the
: modern political concept of "separation of church and state" is
: someone one that Baha'u'llah intended as a basic principle of the
: World Order he has founded.
It is totally obvious that for a scholar constructing an
understanding of what Baha'u'llah meant cannot rely on a fourth
generation explanation of same, but must go to the original sources.
*Any* scholar would do the same.  Cole should be read, discussed,
argued with perhaps, critiqued.  But to treat the fundamental
responsibility of a historian as a deliberate threat to the
legitimacy of Baha'i institutions implies that the evidence
presented by Cole *cannot be discussed*.
  Particularly subtle is an attempt to
: suggest that the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar should evolve into a seat of
: quasi-doctrinal authority, parallel to and essentially
: independent of the Local House of Justice, which would permit
: various interests to insinuate themselves into the direction of
: the life processes of the Cause.
That is *so* subtle as to show in sharp detail the defensive and
highly imaginative mindset of anyone who would perceive the
discussion in question as treasonous.
More later...