The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


For Dr. Linda Walbridge, a prominent anthropologist of Islam, an authority on Shi`ite Islam, and former associate director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University, also see the following links

"Critics chafe at Baha'i conservatism" By IRA RIFKIN
February 27, 1997, Religion News Service

Juan Cole - Menu

From: Juan Cole <>
To: Richard Schaut <>
Cc: <>
Subject: [bahai-faith] Re: Checks & Balances (was fw Juan Colemutilation theology)
Date: Wednesday, September 16, 1998 2:06 PM
Dear Rick:
I wish you would spend more time getting rid of those 'fatal protection
faults' that make us Microsoft users' lives hell (which somehow don't seem
to be a problem for Apple users) and less time expounding Aristotle.  :-)
I thank you for your comments on my note, which I hope to expand as a
paper, and, of course, the process of dialogue and criticism can only make
it a better paper.
I am sorry you used the word 'absurdities,' however, since I do not believe
my perspective is absurd even if it may need refinement, and I do not
believe that my studies of Baha'i texts have ever been frivolous in such a
way as would legitimately call for such an insult.
You wrote:
>>From a political science perspective, the existence of some form of checks
>and balances requires a tension between powers and authorities granted to
>various branches of government.  Specifically, it requires two or more
>separate institutions to have authority to limit each other's functions.
But the Guardian himself said *what* prevents the various elements of the
Baha'i system (rule of the one, rule of the few, and rule of the many) from
deteriorating from their good form (monarchy, aristocracy, republicanism)
to their bad form (despotism, oligarchy, demagoguery).  That is, when he
says on WOB p. 154 that the administrative order cannot degenerate into
despotism, oligarchy or demagogy, this is coming as the *conclusion* of an
argument earlier in the paragraph:  the *reason* for which it cannot
degenerate is because the administration "embodies and blends with the
spiritual verities on which it is based the beneficent elements which are
to be found in each one of them"--that is, it embodies the beneficent
elements of monarchy, aristocracy and republicanism.   
Now, obviously, logically speaking, should the system cease to "embody" all
three of these "beneficent elements", and instead be left with only one of
them (rule of the many via their elected representatives), then we would
have a different system.  With the end of the guardianship, that is what
has happened.  (The fiction that rule of the one continues through the
Guardian's writings is just propaganda; those writings can be interpreted
in many ways, and when they are misinterpreted for narrow institutional
purposes they can't talk back the way a living Guardian would.)  The rule
of the many, as we all know, is in constant danger of becoming demagogic
and a tyranny of the majority.  And there is no 'beneficent' rule of the
on--the Guardian--to offset this tendency.
Note that in the U.S. system, the Supreme Court also could not come in and
make foreign policy, 'over-ruling' the Cabinet.  It would have to respect
the executive sphere of authority.  I doubt it could even rule a foreign
policy unconstitutional.  But in other respects the existence of an
independent judiciary that interprets the laws does limit the ability of
the executive branch to act in a despotic fashion.
It is certainly the case that a living Guardian would have been in a
position to deter the other 8 members of the universal house of justice
from acting in a dicatorial fashion.  As Interpeter of the text, he could
simply tell them that his interpretation of the scriptures ruled out
falsely accusing college professors of covenant breaking as a way of
silencing them or discrediting them in the community.  The latter sort of
action, of which the present universal house of justice has been
egregiously guilty, clearly violates not only enormous numbers of
scriptural texts guaranteeing freedom in thought, speech and intellectual
inquiry, but violates the constitution of the universal house of justice
itself, which constrains that body to protect the rights of individual
Baha'is.  (Ha!).  A living Guardian could not have over-ruled such a
malicious, mad and slightly stupid plan, but he could have weighed in,
using his charisma and interpretive authority, to prevent the Hyppolyte
Dryfuses and Auguste Forels of a later time from being railroaded by
fundamentalist electrical engineers and narrow-minded failed businessmen
and actors.  And I firmly believe he would have.  
I think Rick Schaut knows very well that there are areas of corruption and
unjustified repression in the Baha'i administration.  He has a faith that
all will be well nevertheless.  I have had that faith shattered by
witnessing my universal house of justice, in which I used to repose such
high hopes, act like a group of ayatollahs or inquisitorial cardinals,
falsely accusing decent, energetic, loving Baha'is like Linda Walbridge of
verbal covenant breaking as a way of silencing their voices.  They don't
have the right or the legitimate authority to silence individual Baha'is
from their expression of individual interpretation.  This is something
`Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi guaranteed the Baha'is.  They are acting
like despots.  And whether my explanation of how this could have come to be
is completely correct or not, some explanation of it is required.
Juan Cole
U of Michigan