The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


Terry Culhane's attempt at defense of the tyrannical and oppressive system of interrogation discloses the appalling lack of liberty and freedom of conscience within the baha'i faith and its betrayal of Abdul-Baha's Teachings:

Subject: My case - a letter to my friends
Date: Wednesday, July 28, 1999 2:12 PM

Dear Friends,

    I had hoped my case would not be a topic of public conversation and
especially an uninformed topic of conversation. One of the dangers of lack of
knowledge is sheer speculation that allows for the assertion of preformed
ideological templates to dominate discourse.

   Please consider this an open letter to my friends. It will be the only
public response I will make. If anyone wishes to continue to speak with me
about it I will do that in a private conversation as among friends.

    In February I had a meeting with two ABm's. The original purpose of the
meeting was to gather information about a workshop I had presented at Bosch
Bahai school. Two people (out of 62 attendees) had written to the House of
Justice protesting what they understood about my comments.

  The House of Justice passed the 'protest message' to the NSA and the
Continental Counselors for follow up. The Counselors in turn authorized two
ABm's to meet with me to gather information about what had taken place at
Bosch. So far so good.

    One of the ABm's concluded that this was an opportunity to do more than
inquire after information. This person effectively conducted the meeting as
though it was an interrogation of my theological views among them my views of
the station of Baha u llah, my interest in the Maiden writings of Baha u llah
and ,of course, my discussion of the Mashriqu l Adhkar . That was the problem
as well as how the meeting was arranged and conducted by the ABm.

  I was not informed two ABm's would be present, nor who authorized the meeting
or to whom the ABm's would be reporting.

   Friends I am quite human and cycled through a series of emotions from anger
to betrayal,to disgust, to bewilderment and frustration and relief. I went
thorugh this twice, once in February and again in May after the April 7 letter
became public.

  How did I handle this 'test' of my faith and why have I *chosen* to remain a
Bahai? The simple explanation is I love Baha u llah. As many of you know I am a
mystic by temperament which explains my attraction to the spiritual and social
reality of the Mashriqu l Adhkar and the "Maiden " writings of Baha u llah.
Both times during my "emotional cycle" S/He came to me and I was draped in that
"silken Robe of Light." As best I can describe in words we "talked" about my
pain and anguish and " My distress and banishment in this remote prison." This
is the personal God who reached in and touched my soul and said I understand
and shared with me that "perfume of a grace which to tongue can describe." I
was reminded that "this not a field for the foolish and faint of heart." If I
thought the vision of Baha u llah was easily realized, that all the hope and
redemption that His message represents was attainable without effort or without
transformation I learned better. The course of human history in general and
religious history in particular will change but it will be through
multigenerational blood sweat and spirtual tears.

  In the midst of this struggle I wrote to the Counselors and the House of
Justice , the latter on March 30. I have met with Counselor Birkland twice and
we have spoken fro several hours about my case and what I called in my letter
to the House the "far too widespread culture of fear and suspicion in the

  The Counselor extened me an apology for what happened and he assumed
responsibility for it. There was no passing the buck or kicking the proverbial
dog in his response to me. Our conversations were honest ,open and reflective
on both our parts. He was gracious and loving in his conversations with me. he
also clearly said to me that as Counselor he has no problem with my theological
views and they were not at issue.  This saga has also affected my community and
he has been most supportive of the LSA and its goals and has publically
expressed that support. I have greast respect for anyone who is capable of
admitting mistakes,assuming responsibility for them and looking for ways to
move forward and heal divisions and misunderstandings. This is exactly how
Counselor Birkland responded to me and therfore it can be stated I have great
respect for his character as a man.
  In the course of my conversations with the Counselor and my observation of
his interaction with the LSA and the community I have been able to observe in
action what I write about as the *ethic* of consultation and its requirements
of mutual recognition and reciprocity. I understand consultation to be a *non
adversarial* form of communicative action and the recognition and reciprocity
involved is fundamentally about the recognition (the irfan) tha we are all made
in the image and likeness of God. That is the starting point of Bahai discourse
in my view. I have observed the Counselor engage what I write about.  I had
similar conversations with Counselor Ghadirian, and Paul Dodenhoff will
understand my reference here, whom I found to be an example of Abraham Heschels
"analysis of piety."

  In late May the famous April 7 letter became public.I was very concerned
about its reference to the Mashriqu l Adhkar as I had raised this question
directly with the House in my March 30 letter to them. This letter , which I
have said before and wil state again is one of the more poorly written letters
to come from the World Centre. Poor writing style is somethging which can be
clarified and improved upon.Iit is not *proof" of dictatorial behavior. On may
26 I wrote a summary of my views of the Mashriqul Adhkar and sent a copy of
it,with reference to my March 30 letter to the House of Justice. On May 31 I
received a letter from the House of Justice which stated:
    " The House of Justice very much appreciates the clarity and candor of your
expression in regard to the issues troubling you.  It wishes, first of all, for
you to be assured that it did not say or feel that you had violated any of its
policies or had been disobedient to it in relation to your discussions about
the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar."

 The response of the House of Justice ia hardly a case of "Plausibility
structures and denial. I am perfectly capable of discussing "plausability" as
it is used in the sociology of knowledge especially as formulated by Berger and
Luchmann.The ideological twist to it is innacurate on theoertical grounds and
inapplicable to the coments of the House of Justice. Their letter was a
response to my questions two months earlier before anything related to the
April 7 letter becamea public issue. The disingenious combination of the
sociologocal concept of plausability structuresd  with the ideological concept
of "plausible denial" is an example of a preformed template that will generate
conclusions even in the absence of substantive knowledge of a case. In this
situation the facts of my case.

   My conversations with the Counseolrs have reinforced  my convivtion that
this comm ent in the April 7 letter did not and was not intended to refer to my
actions. As early as March 20 Counselor Birklnad reiterated that point to me in
our conversation. I aslo know for a *fact* that the Counselor had been in
communication with the World Centre about my case and that the House wanted the
Counselor to meet with me and resolve this problem.
  Furthermore the House of Justice wrote:

  "That the meeting to which you were invited by the Auxiliary Board members
became a cause of distress to you is deeply regretted by the House of Justice.
But it was glad to learn from your email that Counsellor Stephen Birkland met
with you subsequently in a sympathetic attempt to remedy the difficulties of
your experience.  You should therefore feel assured that your concern has been
taken seriously and an earnest attempt made to deal with it.  The House of
Justice trusts that the burden of your heart has thus been relieved and that
you can now refocus your energies on continuing your dedicated service to the

   Friends,  dictators and totalitarians do not express  deep regret that a
soul was disressed or estranged by certian actions. They most assuredly do not
take steps or direct that steps be taken to resolve the anguish or distess of
*one human being. yet that is exactly what the House of Justice did in my case.
They intervened on my behalf because of the mistakes that were made in my case
by Institutional representatives.

  For anyone who is unable to distinguish bettwen acts of love and care and
hypocritical PR damage control I have compassion.  This kind of cynical linkage
is an example Orwellian newspeak where love becomes hate. Are we really so long
gone and so far from Baha u llah that acts of love, kindness,magnanimity cannot
be perceived  for what they are?Iis the world truly that barren ?

  I am many things but pollyanna is not one of them. I am Jamesian twice born
soul who has hope. And that hope involves believing in spite of the evidence
and watching the evidence change. It is easy to be cynical. In a world that
needs the hope and promise that life can be lived at a higher level and that
needs to know human history canchange,however slowly or haltingly cynicism and
prolonged despair is a betrayal of the centuries long aspirations of human
beings. I believe with all my heart that anyone,of whatever background or
religious tradition who indulges such despair has not simply forgotten God but
has forgotten humanity. My challenge to my friends is to forego the temptation
of cynicism and despair because the "wondrous system" of Baha u llah has not
attained perfection. Perfection and transformation do not happen in the
abstract they happen with real human beings. The "system" of Baha u llah will
only function as well as the people who comprise it. Their is much work to be
done and it is the spiritual obligation of each of us to engage the struggle of
hope and redemption in both it smeaning of overcoming 'sin' and imperfection
and as the fulfillment of a promise.

 I dont say this inognorance. I say this as one who has had his faith severely
tested in ways that are only meaningful to me. in the past year  both my
daughters bran surgery and stroke and my threological interogation have been
major spurituakl battles. They have rocked me at the core of me being. Baha u
llah uppoed the ante for terry Culhane. I want to "see": my beloeved and She
sais "howmany Husayns greater thanthee have professed their love. I hope my
willingness to engage the struggle and keep turning to Baha ullah is some
measure of my love. I often said that if ones wants Paradise, Baghdad the abode
of peace,the road to that *place* passes through Tehren and the Siyah Chal.
Each of us has our Siyah Chal our secret place of feasr and despair of dreans
lost and hopes dashed. yet I can say that  we are never alne , the odder of
that silken Robe of Light is there. Our response is a matter of "learning the
art of loves ways and the secret of heart surrender." My dear friends go head
and learn that art and surrender. Give yourself permission! I am a nobody, a
garden level mystic who Baha u llah did not abandon and who the House of
Justice did not abandon.

 The House is keenly aware of the limitations and imperfections of the
community ,including the functioning of its administrative bodies And they did
not ask me to preten all was yet paradise, there was no denial nor attempt to
stiffle me ot shut me up. They acknowledge reality but  hey refuse to sink into
a cynical despair.

  They offered me the same challenge Baha u llah has offered me to believe and
do the work in spite of any evidence and to watch and make the evidence change.

 In response to my concerns about problems "mistakes" and the culture of fear
and suspicion that I noted they wrote"

  " A perspective that may assist in your review of the experience is that
the institutions of the Faith operating throughout the world, like individual
believers, are struggling to achieve the high ideals set for them in the
Writings, and they inevitably make some mistakes even with the best of motives.
Fortunately, the consequences of such mistakes often provide them with the
empirical bases for shaping their evolution towards maturity.  To the extent
that the individuals affected are able to deal successfully, both spiritually
and practically, with the tests involved, the institutions and individuals
derive mutual benefits.  The believers and their God-given institutions are
intimately joined in a common endeavor to advance the development of a new
World Order.  A significant degree of magnanimity on the part of each is

  The House of Justice openly acknowledges mistakes were made and have been
made. Please be fair in your judgement. Do dictators openly acknowledge
mistakes on the part of governing bodies and express *hope* that both those
governing bodies and the individuals harmed will learn from them and move

     They express the recognition that mistakes are trying and can cause
"distress" to souls. They also expres the *Hope* that individuals such as
myself will 'hang in there.' And most important they recognize that ';hanging
inther ' requires 'magnanimity". Even a dictoinary can provide us with the
richness and challenge of the concept of magnanimity. Yet in the midst of all
that  and inthe recognition of mistakes they asked me to consider  the
struggles of the Institutions in our common enterprise. In other words they
asked me to consult, to put *my money where my mouth is about consultation as
mutual recognition and reciprocity. That recognition is that we are in this
together. Not withstanding that request they close that section of my letter
with the following comment.
 " This does not mean, of course, that mistakenactions on their part should be

  Again be fair in your judgement. Do those bent on dictatorial control suggest
that mistakes should not be ignored.?

   There is no monolithic system around the Bahai world bent on crushing
people. There are folks everywhere with varying perceptins of what is important
about the Faith of Baha u llah.  We all have to face the struggle to engage the
standards of Baha u llah and not succumb to cynicism and despair when the
inevitable imperfections and "mistakes" appear. That is even more true when we
encounter the bonna fide jerks within the community. Baha u llah promised many
things in His redemptive message. He did not promise that jerks would not
become Bahais.  How do we respond to mistakes -- with magnanimity and with the
expectation that consultation must and will take place to address mistakes.
That consultation is a non adversarial communicative ethic that recognizes and
reciprocates the spiritual dignity and humanity, the likeness of God present in
each participant. 

   What message do *I* see in my recent situation?  I do not see evidence o fa
monolithic power structure. I see abundant evidence of people willing to work
to overcome divisns and heal hearts and minds. I see people watching my
response without my knowing it. Far from frivinga wedge between people , betwen
beleivers and governing bodes it apears my experience and my response are doing
something else. I know of three people who have enrolled as Bahai's because of
my experience. I know of at least a dozen more, previously unknown to me who
have been uninvolved or marginally involved in the community but who have come
out of the wood work and want to engage the spiritual struggle to transform
themsleves and offer hope and redemption to the world. That is the message of
my case. If it were in my power that is the message I would offer to you my
friends in your journey to the land of the Most Holy.

   warmest regards,
      Terry Culhane