The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience



Department of the Secretariat
                                              7 April 1999
To all National Spiritual Assemblies

Dear Baha'i Friends,

Issues Related to the Study of the Baha'i Faith

In May of 1998, Baha'i Canada reproduced a collection of letters which the
Universal House of Justice had written to various individuals on the
subject of the academic study of the Baha'i Faith. Copies of this
compilation were subsequently mailed by the Canadian National Spiritual
Assembly to its sister Assemblies. The reprint has now been made generally
available in booklet form by the United States Baha'i Publishing Trust. The
House of Justice has asked us to forward you a copy of the latter
publication with the following comments.

As a number of the friends are aware, a campaign of internal opposition to
the Teachings is currently being carried on through the use of the
Internet, a communications system that now reaches virtually every part of
the world. Differing from attacks familiar in the past, it seeks to recast
the entire Faith into a socio-political ideology alien to Baha'u'llah's
intent. In the place of the institutional authority established by His
Covenant, it promotes a kind of interpretive authority which those behind
it attribute to the views of persons technically trained in Middle East

Early in 1996, the deliberate nature of the plan was revealed in an
accidental posting to an Internet list which Baha'i subscribers had
believed was dedicated to scholarly exploration of the Cause. Some of the
people responsible resigned from the Faith when Counsellors pointed out to
them the direction their activities were taking. A small number of others
continue to promote the campaign within the Baha'i community.

In the past, in situations of a somewhat similar nature, the patience and
compassion shown by 'Abdul-Baha and the Guardian helped various believers
who had been misled by ill-intentioned persons to eventually free
themselves from such entanglements. In this same spirit of forbearance the
Universal House of Justice has intervened in the current situation only to
the extent that has been unavoidable, trusting to the good sense and the
goodwill of the believers involved to awaken to the spiritual dangers to
which they are exposing themselves. Nevertheless, certain Counsellors and
National Spiritual Assemblies are monitoring the problem closely, and the
friends can be confident that whatever further steps are needed to protect
the integrity of the Cause will be taken.

As passages in the enclosed reprint make clear, this campaign of internal
opposition -- while purporting to accept the legitimacy of the Guardianship
and the Universal House of Justice as twin successors of Baha'u'llah and
the Centre of His Covenant -- attempts to cast doubt on the nature and
scope of the authority conferred on them in the Writings. When other
Baha'is have pointed out that such arguments contradict explicit statements
of the Master, persons

To all National Spiritual Assemblies                  7 April 1999
          Page 2

behind the scheme have responded by calling into question the soundness of
'Abdul-Baha's own judgement and perspective. Gradually, these arguments
have exposed the view of those involved that Baha'u'llah Himself was not
the voice of God to our age but merely a particularly enlightened moral
philosopher, one whose primary concern was to reform existing society.

By itself, such opposition would likely stand little chance of influencing
reasonably informed Baha'is. As one of the letters in the enclosed reprint
(20 July 1997) points out, the scheme relies for effect, therefore, on
exploiting the confusion created in modern thought by the reigning
doctrines of materialism. Although the reality of God's continuous
relationship with His creation and His intervention in human life and
history are the very essence of the teachings of the Founders of the
revealed religions, dogmatic materialism today insists that even the nature
of religion itself can be adequately understood only through the use of an
academic methodology designed to ignore the truths that make religion what
it is.

In general, the strategy being pursued has been to avoid direct attacks on
the Faith's Central Figures. The effort, rather, has been to sow the seeds
of doubt among believers about the Faith's teachings and institutions by
appealing to unexamined prejudices that Baha'is may have unconsciously
absorbed from non-Baha'i society. In defiance of the clear interpretation
of 'Abdul-Baha and the Guardian, for example, Baha'u'llah's limiting of
membership on the Universal House of Justice to men is misrepresented as
merely a "temporary measure" subject to eventual revision if sufficient
pressure is brought to bear. Similarly, Shoghi Effendi's explanation of
Baha'u'llah's vision of the future Baha'i World Commonwealth that will
unite spiritual and civil authority is dismissed in favour of the assertion
that the modern political concept of "separation of church and state" is
somehow one that Baha'u'llah intended as a basic principle of the World
Order He has founded. Particularly subtle is an attempt to suggest that the
Mashriqu'l-Adhkar should evolve into a seat of quasi-doctrinal authority,
parallel to and essentially independent of the Local House of Justice,
which would permit various interests to insinuate themselves into the
direction of the life processes of the Cause.

Typically, when misrepresentations of the kind described are challenged,
the reaction of those behind the campaign has been to claim that their
civil rights are being threatened, an assertion that is of course
meaningless in the light of the purely voluntary nature of Baha'i
membership. Much emphasis is placed by them also on academic freedom, their
view of which proves, on examination, to be merely freedom on their part to
pervert scholarly discourse to the promotion of their own ideological
agenda, while seeking to exclude from discussion features of the Baha'i
Faith that are central to the Writings of its Founders.

The effect of continued exposure to such insincerity about matters vital to
humanity's well-being is spiritually corrosive. When we encounter minds
that are closed and hearts that are darkened by evident malice, Baha'u'llah
urges that we leave such persons to God and turn our attention to the
opportunities which multiply daily for the promotion of the truths which He
teaches. In words written at the direction of the Guardian, regarding a
situation similar to, though much less serious than, the present one, " ...
the friends should be advised to just leave these people alone, for their
influence can be nothing but negative and destructive...."

To all National Spiritual Assemblies                    7 April 1999
          Page 3

The enclosed material is being sent to your Assembly less out of concern
over the immediate situation, which is being systematically addressed, than
because of longer-term considerations to which it lends perspective. What
we are currently seeing, in a relatively primitive form, is the emergence
of a new kind of internal opposition to Baha'u'llah's Mission. While it
will no doubt assume other features as time passes, it is a kind of
opposition that takes aim directly at Baha'u'llah's assertion of the
spiritual nature of reality and of humanity's dependence on the
interventions of Divine Revelation.

Developments of the kind described will come as no surprise to friends who
are familiar with the Guardian's description of the successive waves of
"crisis" and "victory" that have marked the history of the Faith ever since
its inception. It is precisely this cyclical process, Shoghi Effendi says,
that has propelled the steady unfoldment of Baha'u'llah's intent, testing
our commitment to His Teachings, purifying His community, and releasing a
greater measure of the capacities latent in His Revelation. That resistance
to Baha'u'llah should now be emerging in yet a new guise is itself a
tribute to the gathering strength of the Cause, offering the friends
everywhere new opportunities for the deepening of their faith and the
energizing of their work.

                        With loving Baha'i greetings,
                         For Department of the Secretariat
cc: International Teaching Centre


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