Modernity and the Millennium : The Genesis of the Baha’i Faith in the Nineteenth-Century Middle East. Columbia University Press, 1998.
Respecting the Conscience of Man…. June 27, 2000
In his conclusion, which would never have passed the system of censorship, “Bahai review,” that the Haifan Baha’i governing body imposes on all publications brought out under its tight control, Professor Cole, of the Department of History at the University of Michigan, quite accurately identifies the distortions that have been wreaked upon Baha’u’llah’s Teachings:
“Some contemporary leaders of the Baha’i Faith have given answers increasingly similar to those of fundamentalists, stressing scriptural literalism, patriarchy, theocracy, censorship, intellectual intolerance, and denying key democratic values. While the values of the nineteenth-century Baha’i movement, which was far more tolerant, continue to exist as a minority view, by the late 1990s a different set of emphases prevailed” (196).
Cole himself and many others have suffered at the hands of the fundamentalists who have taken control of the religion:
“The rise of academic Baha’i scholarship has caused tension in the community, whose present-day leadership tends to be fundamentalist and antiliberal in orientation, and this has led to pressure on a number of prominent academics to resign or dissociate themselves from the movement” (201).
These same forces of fundamentalist orthodoxy are evident on talk.religion.bahai and alt.religion.bahai on Usenet for impartial viewers to witness. They will be evident to all perceptive observers of whatever forum Bahais may be trying to control and influence. Both my and Cole’s websites provide essential documentation along these lines. It should be noted that the Universal House of Justice has actively worked through the BCCA (Bahai Computer and Communications Association) to suppress all links to websites with other than its own “comprehensive” point of view on such major portals as Yahoo.com, Excite.com, and other search engines. The UHJ has reportedly gone even further by advising Bahais to remove any link whatsoever to Professor Cole’s website.
As a Bahai since 1976, I myself have always found especially repulsive the manner in which Bahai fundamentalists attempt to manipulate the institutions and leaders of government, the United Nations, and public opinion, while pretending to values they deride in private or at Bahai-only meetings.
Ultimately, it is the Bahai Universal House of Justice that is responsible for the perversion and corruption of such clear and elevating teachings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha as the following:
“These are effectual and sufficient proofs that the conscience of man is sacred and to be respected; and that liberty thereof produces widening of ideas, amendment of morals, improvement of conduct, disclosure of the secrets of the contingent world” (Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveler’s Narrative, 91).
The Universal House of Justice, in Haifa, Israel, is also in the end responsible for inciting Baha’i fanatics and fundamentalists to attack other Bahais and non-Bahais merely for their views expressed on and off line in free forums of public discussion.
Professor Cole’s Modernity and the Millennium will remain, for many years to come, the most important book available on the Baha’i Faith. His discussion of its historical development within the intellectual milieu of progressive 19th Century thought is particularly brilliant and insightful.
For further documentation of Bahai censorship, see
The Baha’i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience