The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience

From: Juan R. I. Cole <>
To: Mark A. Foster <>; Talisman <>
Cc: <>
Subject: Re: Shunning and religious tolerance
Date: Sunday, February 08, 1998 7:10 PM
The problem with Mark's statement of the situation is that Baha'is do not
only shun "insiders."  In New Zealand late in 1996, the universal house of
justice declared a woman a non-Baha'i even though she had already resigned
from the Baha'i faith, because she was in contact with a woman who had never
been a registered Baha'i but was descended from Shoghi Effendi.
In the instance of the descendent of Shoghi Effendi, covenant-breaking
appears now to be considered to run in blood lines and to be hereditary!
So in New Zealand, at the order of the Baha'i authorities (and I read the
letter truly to relish all this in a way that struck me as sadistic), *two*
non-Baha'is are being shunned by the Baha'i community.  Actually, I believe
this shunning may be in contravention of Anglo-Saxon libel law, and that the
Baha'i authorities might well be open to a lawsuit from the non-Baha'is they
have declared shunned.
But, as Milissa says, even if only "insiders" were shunned, there is no
obvious difference between that and Sunnis shunning Shi`ite Muslims or
Catholics shunning Protestants.  This shunning business is in fact a major
contradiction within the Baha'i faith, which has such high and
universalistic ideals on the outside but such weird practices on the inside.
And I believe it is contrary to everything Baha'u'llah himself stood for.
The Aqdas incidentally says that *all* human beings are ritually pure.  The
language of disease, used in referring to covenant breakers, suggests the
opposite, that they are ritually impure.
I think we may conclude that the Baha'i faith as a movement is multi-faceted
and self-contradictory.  It proclaims universalism but in some respects acts
very narrowly; it proclaims universal love but in fact instills hatred
toward some human beings; it proclaims the unity of science and religion but
in fact insists on scriptural fundamentalism; it proclaims the value of
political liberty and the advent of Reason among the people, but in fact is
run like a one-party state.
The trick is to keep in view both sides of the story simultaneously.  It
wouldn't be fair to say that Baha'is "don't really" believe in human unity.
Plenty do.  It wouldn't be fair to say all Baha'is are narrow-minded, though
some key leaders are.  It is a complex movement with many sides to it.
And what else should we expect from the offshoot of Twelver Shi`ism via
esoteric Shaykhism and messianic Babism, a religion born at the interstices
of Shi`ite gnosticism and 19th century modernity?  Of a religion that for
most adherents in Iran became a sort of closed ethnic group?  Of a religion
that was for most of the 20th century practiced by only a few thousand
Americans, many of them a little wacky, who established traditions of
cult-like authoritarianism? The real question is whether the contradictions
will strangle the religion in its cradle, or whether it can outgrow them and
achieve its potential as a world religion.  As long as its leaders ride
roughshod over human rights, I see little chance of the latter.
cheers   Juan