The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


FG comments on the uhj message to Maneck regarding conscience.

----- Original Message -----From: "Karen Bacquet" <>
Newsgroups: alt.religion.bahai,talk.religion.bahai
Sent: Monday, May 06, 2002 10:02 AM
Subject: Re: Individual conscience...

Randy Burns <> wrote in message
> Do you have a statement from Martin that disavows this quote?  If not then
> tough luck, he is pretty much stuck with this quote on his back.  Maybe he
> would like to take it back now?  Feel free to directly quote him on this
> subject.

Dear Randy,

This isn't an idea that Martin just recently came up with; he's been saying
it for years.

I found this in that little series called "The Power of the Covenant" published by the NSA of Canada in 1977.  The authors were Douglas Martin, Peter Khan, and Jane Faily. This idea connecting Christianity with the belief in individual conscience is repeated in Part 3: The Face of Opposition, on page 28. It says that the Christian idea of the Holy Spirit allows every individual to claim inspiration and therefore, opens the door to sectarianism. The passage continues:

"The result was to create in the minds of most Christians a vague
assumption that, when the individual prays directly to God, he receives
guidance through his private conscience. Many times, the promptings of
conscience contradict the apparent meaning of Christian scriptures (as in
the case of St. Paul's statements on celibacy) or the explicit teachings of
a particular church (as with race relationships). Increasingly, however,
it is conscience which is regarded as the reliable guide, a guide which has
no objective check on it."

Even more striking on p. 30:

"This system of belief has had many admirable results in the individual
spiritual life. Its unrestrained influence on social history, however,
reveals many limitations. It permitted the growth of the conviction not
only that personal conscience is the ultimate authority in life, but also
that personal freedom is the highest good. The rise of a democratic
political philosophy and democratic processes in the West gave the final
blessing to this doctrine of individualism. "Christianity" and "Democracy"
in time blended in the public mind as one vaguely defined, but immensely
influential popular cult of individualism, embracing people of all
religious denominations. Such a cult differs in several important ways
from the Teachings of Baha'u'llah".

While, of course, this is not a direct quote from Martin himself, and he was
not the only author here, the similarity to the notes taken from his talk
pretty strongly suggests that this is, indeed, his attitude about
Christianity, Democracy, and the conscience of the individual. And the fact
that this came out in an official publication of the NSA carries some
weight -- this was part of an effort to deepen people on the Covenant, so
presumably it reflects what they think is "correct" Baha'i teaching.  There
have also been remarks in more recent UHJ letters disparaging the role of
individual conscience.

Love, Karen

> Cheers, Randy
> --
> Jordan Rager <> wrote in message
> news:ab40bs$e0n$
>  Look: Mr. Martin did not say those words, so why quote him as doing such?
>  Find out what exactly he has said and then argue with that. No one is
> trying > to dodge a bullet here. I just think it is silly to hold a man to words
> that do not belong to him. Moreover, I think it is wrong to slander an
> individual or a body. Why do you consistently try to defame and malign the
Universal House of Justice? What part of the covenant did you opt out of when you
> > professed your belief in it initially?
> >
> > >
> > > Member of the uhj:
> "We have inherited a dangerous delusion from Christianity that our
> individual conscience is supreme. This is not a Baha'i belief. In the
> end, in the context of both our role in the community and our role in the
> greater world, we must be prepared to sacrifice our personal
convictions or opinions. The belief that individual conscience is supreme is
equivalent to "taking partners with God" which is abhorrent to the Teachings of the
Faith." -Doug Martin
> > > (Find >
> > "conscience")
> > >
> > >
> > > --
> > > FG
> > > The Bahai Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > > "Jordan Rager" <> wrote in message
> > > news:ab03cc$a1u$
> > > > I think the key to Mr. Sylvester's  point is that he is paraphrasing
> > > > sections of Mr. Martin's talk and that nothing has been transcribed
> > > > verbatim.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Karen Bacquet" <>
Newsgroups: alt.religion.bahai,talk.religion.bahai
Sent: Wednesday, May 08, 2002 2:02 AM
Subject: Re: Individual conscience...
"The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice . . ." --
Bahai Faith <BI*P*> wrote in message
> "Karen Bacquet" <> wrote in message
> >
> > There have also been remarks in more recent UHJ letters disparaging
> >the role of individual conscience.
> Karen,
> When you have a chance, could you quote those disparaging uhj letters?
> I'm sure I would not be alone in finding them interesting.

Dear Fred,

I was thinking of the following passage from the Feb. 8, 1998 letter to
Susan Maneck, which I'm sure she has quoted here before.  I'm including the
whole context -- one the on hand they uphold freedom of conscience, then on
the other speak about how limited it is.  There is again, in this passage
the disparagement of Christianity that we saw in the other quotes mentioned
here. Basically, the only real "freedom" that Baha'is have is the freedom to
leave the Faith.

Love, Karen

This brings us to the specific points raised in your email of 17 November
1997. As you well understand, not only the right but also the responsibility

Dr. Susan Stiles Maneck
U.S.A.  8 February 1998
Page 3

 ". . . of each believer to explore truth for himself or herself are
fundamental to the Baha'i teachings. This principle is an integral feature
of the coming of age of humankind, inseparable from the social
transformation to which Baha'u'llah is calling the peoples of the world. It
is as relevant to specifically scholarly activity as it is to the rest of
spiritual and intellectual life. Every human being is ultimately responsible
to God for the use which he or she makes of these possibilities; conscience
is never to be coerced, whether by other individuals or institutions.

    Conscience, however, is not an unchangeable absolute. One dictionary
definition, although not covering all the usages of the term, presents the
common understanding of the word "conscience" as "the sense of right and
wrong as regards things for which one is responsible; the faculty or
principle which pronounces upon the moral quality of one's actions or
motives, approving the right and condemning the wrong".

    The functioning of one's conscience, then, depends upon one's
understanding of right and wrong; the conscience of one person may be
established upon a disinterested striving after truth and justice, while
that of another may rest on an unthinking predisposition to act in
accordance with that pattern of standards, principles and prohibitions which
is a product of his social environment. Conscience, therefore, can serve
either as a bulwark of an upright character or can represent an accumulation
of prejudices learned from one's forebears or absorbed from a limited social

    A Baha'i recognizes that one aspect of his spiritual and intellectual
growth is to foster the development of his conscience in the light of divine
Revelation -- a Revelation which, in addition to providing a wealth of
spiritual and ethical principles, exhorts man "to free himself from idle
fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork,
and look into all things with a searching eye". This process of development,
therefore, involves a clear-sighted examination of the conditions of the
world with both heart and mind. A Baha'i will understand that an upright
life is based upon observance of certain principles which stem from Divine
Revelation and which he recognizes as essential for the well-being of both
the individual and society. In order to uphold such principles, he knows
that, in certain cases, the voluntary submission of the promptings of his
own personal conscience to the decision of the majority is a conscientious
requirement, as in wholeheartedly accepting the majority decision of an
Assembly at the outcome of consultation.

    In the discussion of wisdom in your email of 21 September 1997, you
observe that maybe "Baha'i academics all too often have not recognized that
to a great extent failure to exercise wisdom represents a failure of love."
The House of Justice agrees that the exercise of wisdom calls for a measure
of love and the development of a sensitive conscience. These, in turn,
involve not only devotion to a high standard of uprightness, but also
consideration of the effects of one's words and actions.

    A Baha'i's duty to pursue an unfettered search after truth should lead
him to understand the Teachings as an organic, logically coherent whole,
should cause him to examine his own ideas and motives, and should enable him
to see

Dr. Susan Stiles Maneck
U.S.A.  8 February 1998
Page 4

that adherence to the Covenant, to which he is a party, is not blind
imitation but conscious choice, freely made and freely followed.

    In many of His utterances, `Abdul-Baha extols governments which uphold
freedom of conscience for their citizens. As can be seen from the context,
these statements refer to the freedom to follow the religion of one's
choice. In the original of a passage to which you refer in your email of 17
November 1997, He gives the following analysis of freedom.

    There are three types of freedom. The first is divine freedom, which is
one of the inherent attributes of the Creator for He is unconstrained in His
will, and no one can force Him to change His decree in any matter
    The second is the political freedom of Europeans, which leaves the
individual free to do whatsoever he desires as long as his action does not
harm his neighbour. This is natural freedom, and its greatest expression is
seen in the animal world. Observe these birds and notice with what freedom
they live. However much man may try, he can never be as free as an animal,
because the existence of order acts as an impediment to freedom.

    The third freedom is that which is born of obedience to the laws and
ordinances of the Almighty. This is the freedom of the human world, where
man severs his affections from all things. When he does so, he becomes
immune to all hardship and sorrow. Wealth or material power will not deflect
him from moderation and fairness, neither will poverty or need inhibit him
from showing forth happiness and tranquillity. The more the conscience of
man develops, the more will his heart be free and his soul attain unto
happiness. In the religion of God, there is freedom of thought because God,
alone, controls the human conscience, but this freedom should not go beyond
courtesy. In the religion of God, there is no freedom of action outside the
law of God. Man may not transgress this law, even though no harm is
inflicted on one's neighbour. This is because the purpose of Divine law is
the education of all -- others as well as oneself -- and, in the sight of
God, the harm done to one individual or to his neighbour is the same and is
reprehensible in both cases. Hearts must possess the fear of God. Man should
endeavour to avoid that which is abhorrent unto God. Therefore, the freedom
that the laws of Europe offer to the individual does not exist in the law of
God. Freedom of thought should not transgress the bounds of courtesy, and
actions, likewise, should be governed by the fear of God and the desire to
seek His good pleasure.

    Education of the individual Baha'i in the Divine law is one of the
duties of Spiritual Assemblies. In a letter to a National Assembly on 1
March 1951, Shoghi Effendi wrote:

    The deepening and enrichment of the spiritual life of the individual
believer, his increasing comprehension of the essential verities

Dr. Susan Stiles Maneck
U.S.A.  8 February 1998
Page 5

    underlying this Faith, his training in its administrative processes, his
understanding of the fundamentals of the Covenants established by its Author
and the authorized Interpreter of its teachings, should be made the supreme
objectives of the national representatives responsible for the edification,
the progress and consolidation of these communities.

    Such is the duty resting on the elected institutions of the Faith for
the promotion of the spiritual, moral and ethical lives of the individual
believers. Parallel with this, the Baha'i Faith upholds the freedom of
conscience which permits a person to follow his chosen religion: no one may
be compelled to become a Baha'i, or to remain a Baha'i if he conscientiously
wishes to leave the Faith. As to the thoughts of the Baha'is themselves --
that is those who have chosen to follow the religion of Baha'u'llah -- the
institutions do not busy themselves with what individual believers think
unless those thoughts become expressed in actions which are inimical to the
basic principles and vital interests of the Faith.
    With regard to the accusation that to make such distinctions borders on
restriction of the freedom of speech, one should accept that civil society
has long recognized that utterance can metamorphose into behaviour, and has
taken steps to protect itself and its citizens against such behaviour when
it becomes socially destructive. Laws against sedition and hate-mongering
are examples that come readily to mind.

    It will surely be clear to you from the above comments that the
categories of "issues of doctrinal heresy which must therefore be
suppressed" and "the imposition of orthodoxy on the Baha'i community", to
which you refer, are concepts essentially drawn from the study of
Christianity and are inapplicable to the far more complex interrelationships
and principles established by the Baha'i Faith."