January 1, 2002
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i
Are the dubious nature of the stats ever challenged by people who write about the Baha'i faith ??
They are if the writer isn't on the rolls. :-) But I suppose you're talking about people who just take the stats at face value and put them in almanacs and encyclopedias and so on. A lot do simply take official figures without questioning them. I have heard non-Baha'i sources comment about the high rate of inactivity. In the early 90s, there was one independent poll that did a survey on the religious affiliation of 100,000 people, and they estimated that there were only 28,000 people in this country who identified themselves as Baha'is. That number quite surprised me when it showed up in my almanac one year. But the powers-that-be contacted these folks and complained about the undercount. Next year, my almanac reflected official figures.
To be fair, getting accurate statistics on any religion is tricky. The church where you were baptized as a kid probably still has you in its membership stats. The numbers are always kind of soft -- but I think the administration pushes the level of mushiness to an extreme level, especially since numbers are made so much of in the Faith.
January 2, 2002
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i
[personal stuff snipped]
Is this a sign of our economic times, or are Baha'is learning to vote with thier wallets?
I have said, until I'm going blue in the face, that this is exactly what's going on. Instead of finding out what kinds of projects the community will support, the powers-that-be simply decide what they want to do, then try to whip up enthusiasm for it. We're all just supposed to support the Fund out of a sense of responsibility, simply trusting that whatever is done with the money is right. Well, that's not the way it happens. Baha'is, for the most part, are idealistic people who really want to do some good in the world -- and I think a lot of them don't see the Fund as a way of achieving that. When you've been around for a while, a certain amount of cynicism sets in. When I was a new believer, I believed that there was a Fund crisis -- when I discovered that the crisis is more-or-less perpetual, I didn't respond with quite the same enthusiasm. For one thing, anybody who knows anything about fundraising knows that simply telling how desperately money is needed is just about the last sort of appeal people will respond to. Especially when the desperately needed money is for watering decorative plants.
January 4, 2002
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i
Dear X, I understand completely how you could feel that way. Question the administrative stranglehold on Baha'i community life, and you get Shoghi Effendi thrown in your face. I've had the paragraph from the W&T that says of the Guardian and the House of Justice that "he who opposes them opposes God" quoted at me so often that I have dubbed it "the fundy's favorite."
But there are some mitigating factors here -- first is that there is often a difference between what 'Abdu'l-Baha or Shoghi Effendi intended, and what has been made of them by conservative members of the community.
Second, from what I hear, the way the Will and Testament is translated is quite misleading. Shoghi Effendi did that translation as an inexperienced young man, and the document has some legal terminology that don't translate very precisely into English. Now, of course, I'm not the person that can examine this in detail, but I do know of one example: When 'Abdu'l-Baha says that no one has the right to put forward an opinion contrary to what the House of Justice is ruled, the word for opinion there actually means something along the lines of "legal ruling." That is, 'Abdu'l-Baha's concern there is not to shut up people like you and I, but to prevent the opinions of trained clerics from having legal force -- as they did in Islam. In the early days of the Faith, there still were Baha'is around who had been trained in Muslim seminaries and whose opinions might carry some weight. It is a basic principle of the Faith that only elected consultative bodies have authority -- not individuals, no matter how learned they might be. It also was intended to keep the Faith running in good order; I know 'Abdu'l-Baha did some heavy-duty complaining about the often contradictory rulings of Muslim jurists.
So saying "nobody has the right to put forth his own opinion" sounds real restrictive and dictatorial, but that's not at all how it was meant.
Third, the Will and Testament is, in many ways, an emergency document. It was written at a very dangerous time, both for the Faith, and for 'Abdu'l-Baha personally. He wrote it so it was clear what arrangements were to be made if he was executed. So I think that accounts for the very strong wording, the insistence that the covenant-breakers must be shunned, the warnings not to oppose the Guardian and the UHJ. He was, after all, overturning the provision in the Kitab-i-Ahd that would have given Muhammad 'Ali the leadership after him. In order to change something that was explicitly in the sacred texts, he had to demonstrate clearly that his half-brother had really put himself beyond the pale and was not entitled to that position. So that probably accounts for what sounds to you like "ranting". I don't think he could afford to be Mr. Nice Guy.
When I look at the Will and Testament, I see a very balanced and sensible system outlined there -- it's too bad the whole thing was never given a chance to work.
What I think is sad is that so much of 'Abdu'l-Baha's progressive and enlightened teachings are passed over, while the stern statements in the Will and Testament are used to shut up anybody who doesn't approve of the status quo.
January 6, 2002
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i
I suspect SE may have been gay, but then I thought it's just as possible that his wife May may have been a lesbian. Even so, they still *could've* had kids. But they didn't, so there must have been other factors involved. Maybe SE was impotent, maybe May was infertile (or, hey, coulda been the other way around!).
Dear X, I think that one's *way* off the deep end of speculation. The reasons that SE and RK were childless, and even more importantly, why no provision was made for the Guardianship have been the subject of much such conjecture online, and I've heard several theories.
The most credible, I think, is that they were still hoping against hope that RK would have a child even though she was 47 and still had not had any. It seems a bit weird, but Ruhiyyih Khanum was, herself a miracle baby, an only child born when her mother was in her forties. Never underestimate the human capacity for denial -- especially when you throw religious belief on top of it. Surely God would provide the means for the system He created to remain intact etc. All the theories that suggest that SE knew that it was impossible that he would ever have children *do* cast him in a rather irresponsible light, especially after the last of his brothers was excommunicated in, if I remember right, 1951. In a man that seemed to be rather a micro-manager by temperment, with clear and detailed vision of how he thought the Baha'i future would be -- I mean they are *still* following his plans in Haifa -- it seems incredible that he had not considered the succession. He probably took it on faith that he would not die without an heir.
Another possibility is that he was in negotiation with one or more of his brothers to reconcile them to the Faith, but since the issue that got them kicked out had to do with who they married, and association with relatives that were CB, I can't see how he could have had much hope there.
As for the personal relationship between SE and RK, I have heard three different stories, all of which purport to come from close confidents of Ruhiyyih: The first is that they had a perfectly normal relationship, with RK actually doing a little private bragging that Shoghi was "all man". The second is that he had homosexual tendencies, did some experimentation in his youth, and he could not sustain a normal relationship. The third is that Ruhiyyih had a medical problem that she kept running to doctors about. As far as I'm concerned, all three are about equally credible.
As a dutiful young Baha'i I heard some of the official explanations for why things didn't work out, and of course I swallowed them whole. Like the tale of how God has His Plan and the Manifestation has His Plan, and sometimes the twain don't meet, and sometimes they can change midstream. Or like the Plans being deliberately derailed by God or whomever as a test of the believers' "fimness in the Covenant." I listened to all that and wondered about it, but was way too timorous (and intimidated) at the time to yell out that I thought it was shot full o' rot.
When I was a brand-new Baha'i, I heard someone wax sympathetic about the great sacrifice that Ruhiyyih made in not being allowed to have children because that was God's Plan. But as I did my own examination, I did come to the quiet conclusion that the official explanations were, as you put it, "full 'o rot."
The original point I think I was trying to get to is that a system of power inheritance may be a valid body politic, but then some aspects of the personal lives of those charged with carrying it on are not really private at all.
Well, yes, you are right, of course. But think of the sort of sacred aura that surrounds Shoghi Effendi --nobody was going to say "Hey, get real, we need a secure succession." Certainly, if there was a definite problem, nobody was going public with it. I have heard that there was a rumor among Baha'is at the time that there actually *was* an heir, being brought up in secret for his own protection. The continuation of the Guardianship was scriptural; people believed that it would somehow be fulfilled.
Imagine a woman guardian of the Baha'i Faith!
Yes, I wonder what would have been done if they had a daughter or daughters, but no son. Probably some temporary provision until a grandson appeared -- after all, 'Abdu'l-Baha had no sons that lived to grow up and appointed his oldest grandson.
I also find the proscription against women on the UHJ objectionable, but I object even more to what is set forth as the "reason"....basically there is none, except the foolish crap about it becoming "as clear as the midday sun." This is not a reason. It is a flimsy excuse for pure pigheadedness, making a mockery of the whole notion of "independent investigation of truth."
Well, the problem is that it was Shoghi Effendi doing the interpretation, and so questioning it brings up all sorts of anxieties about opposing the covenant. I have even heard the argument used, sort of a rejoinder to those who believe the system is mutilated without a Guardian, that to set aside SE's interpretation would itself "mutilate' the Cause. I think that the UHJ will change this eventually, but the Guardian's era will have to be far in the past for that to happen. In the minds of conservative Baha'is, Shoghi Effendi is still the Guardian. This religion is being run by a ghost.
January 6, 2002
Dear X, Thanks for the laugh and for bringing up an important issue. "We don't proselytize" says the Baha'i teacher, while he enthusiastically expounds the teachings for a person who is looking around wondering how the hell is he going to get away from there politely. "We don't proselytize" the new convert is told, until she finds that teaching is the primary topic of conversation at every Baha'i meeting and the main focus of community life. "We don't proselytize", we are told, until somebody decides that the lack of growth is the fault of lazy and weak Baha'is who won't get off their butts and teach, and who need a good scolding to get them motivated. Even better are those that redefine the word entirely: "We don't proselytize", they say ,"we *never* convert anybody by force", as if not having a gun to somebody's head somehow earns us heavenly brownie points.
I finally figured out what it is, though. Shoghi Effendi said that Baha'is do not proselytize, therefore any Baha'i teaching, however pushy or obnoxious, is automatically exempt from that category.
January 6, 2002
Forum: talk.religion.bahai Cynicism can be a lonely craft.
Thank you, X, but I'm far from alone, nor am I really all that cynical. While I was being flippant, the lack of protection for Baha'is accused of wrongdoing is a real and serious problem within the community. Again and again, I hear from people who try to appeal unjust decisions, only to have the NSA take virtually forever to deal with it, or to rely on the reports of the very local officials being complained about as a basis for the decision. I know of cases where appeal letters themselves were held against those complaining of injustice, because of their negative tone. How the hell do you make a complaint without sounding negative? All the protections are for institutions; there are none for individuals. It is always assumed that if an individual has trouble with the system, it is *his* fault. The Administrative Faith claims to love mankind, but they don't give a damn about people.
January 7, 2002
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i
The process you describe - consoling and then attending to the wound - is one aspect of what therapists call "validating" what is felt by the client. In other words, it is healthy to do just what you suggest - to console the hurting person and then to attend to what makes the person hurt.
Yes, this is exactly it. Quite a while back, before you signed on we talked about why people who have left the Faith still have all this pain and anger -- what W called "residual toxic rage", even years afterwards. One reason is that people don't have the opportunity to vent their feelings -- Baha'is don't listen and non-Baha'is don't understand.
In my various forays around cyberspace, I sometimes bring up an example of someone's experience -- either my own or someone else's that I know about, to demonstrate a point about what's wrong with the system. And so many times, it falls on deaf ears. The responses are very predictable:
1. The person complaining about the administration is wrong, did something wrong, and deserved how they were treated. 2. The person complaining should realize that the institutions are still "embryonic" and be more forgiving. 3. The person complaining should have taken it through consultative channels to work it out. If they stopped short of the UHJ, then they shouldn't have given up. If the UHJ is the one that mistreated them, then they should go back and try to consult again, or just accept that they were wrong.
A Baha'i can be in the Faith for thirty years, love it, serve it, play by the rules, put up with all the b.s., and if they are pushed beyond the level of human endurance, they will still be blamed for it. I can only shake my head in wonder at such heartlessness.
That's part of what I'm doing here -- the validation you're talking about. To say to people "No, you aren't crazy; no, you aren't spiritually inadequate. Yes, you got a really raw deal and have a right to be angry." What the Faith does to people by blaming the victim is just so damaging, cruel, manipulative and cultlike that I feel like I just have to fight it somehow here in my little corner of cyberspace.
January 8, 2002
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i
The truth is that the AO is really quaking in its boots, deathly afraid that you will see something good in that CB's line of thought.
Dear X and Y,
Yes -- not so much "good", but it raises anxieties about the system not being as intact as it pretends to be. I think they realize just how weak the official arguments are. As a lot of you know, we went through a big cb panic in my community when I was still a relatively new Baha'i, and the thing that was so awful about it, after it was all past, was the realization that the whole cause was exactly this kind of sweeping the issues of the events after Shoghi Effendi's death under the carpet. I was just told that Shoghi Effendi never had children, so the UHJ was elected and that was it. And I was having trouble coping with the administrative side of things anyhow, and so while I dutifully read both the Will and Testament and Dispensation of Baha'u'llah, it never really stuck with me.
So one of the locals gets a cb booklet bringing up all these Guardianship questions, and it was like a big revelation that we were supposed to have a Guardian after all, and that Shoghi Effendi said the system would be mutilated and all the rest of it. And the whole thing just put as all through hell, with half of the community struggling with this stuff, and the other half in a CB-shunning hysteria. Then, while I'm going through this big spiritual struggle, I've got an ABM breathing down my neck on top of it. And it was all so *unnecessary*, because once I got more literature from the BUPC, it took me all of about 30 seconds to realize that this was not a direction I wanted to go! I didn't need threats, or hysteria about spiritual contamination, or any of the rest of it to convince me of that. I was treated like I was a child or an idiot or something -- like I had no capacity to make judgements.
That whole episode left scars on my community that are still evident to this day -- and it has nothing to do with the baleful influence of covenant-breakers. It has to do with the avoidance, denial, and fear that surrounds this issue. Holding back information is a crummy thing to do to people, because when they find out they have to go through all this shock and sense of betrayal. And it *is* a betrayal of trust. It's exactly that kind of thing that led to me being off the rolls instead of on.
January 11, 2002
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i
Sometimes it isn't even announced to the CBs -- I've just recently heard that CBs only get a letter announcing their status if they are enrolled in the Faith at the time. Those that leave the Faith before getting excommunicated don't get a letter; people are warned about them and they get to find out their status when people start screaming and running in the opposite direction.
and the "friends" (boy, that term annoys me - no way can the UHJ claim to be the true friend of every Baha'i in the social sense)
Oh, don't get annoyed. It's just a term that defines a religious community, like "brother" and "sister" do in some religions. Actually, my understanding is that the Arabic word actually has the connotation of "saints" as well as "friends", so it need not be a claim that everybody's buddy-buddy. Why would calling everybody "friends" be more pretentious than calling them "brethren"? Quakers call each other "friends" too, which I think was origninally supposed to mean everybody was equal instead of using titles, as was customary back in the 17th century. In the early Christian church, all believers were called "saints", and I'm sure that not every single Christian in those days was necessarily saintly.
are instructed to shun that person. The believer in the pew is not allowed,
That strikes me as a very incongruous image when applied to Baha'is. :-)
on a practical level, to examine the CB's writings to determine if there is any merit to their claims. (Official declarations aside, there is a distinct pressure in the rank-and-file AO to get the ordinary believer to avoid the writings of the CBer.) The believer in the pew is also not allowed to take the examination of CB material one step further - he or she is not allowed to make a judgment about the content of what he or she has read, but simply to accept the judgment of the AO about the veracity of the CB's claims blindly.
Yes, you are correct. But it's tough to get rid of. The directive to shun covenant-breakers is scriptural, for one thing. Then the superstitious attitude is there, and tough to get rid of -- and it is not just something that higher-ups have invented to control us, they believe it, too. Our ABM made the comment about our community "They're only a little sick." Besides sternly warning me about the possible consequences, she also told me to go say a prayer for protection. I think Paul somewhere mentioned here the irony: these groups are dismissed as small and insignificant on the one hand, yet on the other they are given this almost supernatural power. Everything fundamentalist Christians feel about the devil and hell are wrapped up the word "covenant-breaker." When I was a new believer, one woman told me how CB literature melted her plastic garbage can!
And it's very deep in the Baha'i psyche. I consider myself a pretty rational person, yet I got caught up in all that hysteria. Just recently, I ran into a letter online that was written to me from Leland Jensen back in 1987, when all that stuff was hitting the fan. I wrote back then for information, and this must have been in with the stuff that was sent to me. A bunch of incomprehensible nonsense. But on an involuntary emotional level, looking at that letter brought back just a little taste of the craziness and the sick feeling I had back then. And I thought I was pretty much past all that, especially since coming online and finding that people like Juan Cole, and Steve Scholl and the Walbridges could be threatened with being CBs -- something that pretty much deprives the term of all meaning. But the fear of CBs is not a rational thing and it just can't be reasoned out of just because it would be a good thing for the Faith. Maybe it's just a human thing, to project this kind of fear on the Other -- all religions have their taboos of one kind or another. Baha'u'llah meant to get rid of that, but his Faith ended up with it anyway.
January 11, 2002
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i
First of all, I mentioned being bothered by the use of the word "friends" in relation to believers in Baha'u'llah as the Manifestation for this Age. That's because I'm a Westerner, to whom the word "friend" connotes solely being close to someone emotionally without necessarily being a blood relative of that person.
Well, X, I'm a Westerner, too, after all. I think such designations for members of a religious community just reflect an ideal -- ideally all Baha'is should be "friends", just as all Christians should be "brethren". And, because we are human, there is often a gap between that ideal and reality -- for Baha'is and Christians alike. Go back a few centuries and the word "friend" even in English did not necessarily imply emotional closeness, but someone who was on your side and would help you if you needed it.
However, I also recognize that there are different meanings to the word in different cultures - I suppose one could call my reaction a classic case of culture clash. (The reference to the average believer in the pew is also culturally determined;
I know; it just struck me funny. Usually Baha'is are sitting on ordinary living room furniture in somebody's house.
I am fully aware that there is no such thing as a pew in the average Baha'i Mashriq, and may even be an aspect of church architechture which is banned for Baha'i Mashriqs as is the Christian understanding of an altar.)
I'm not sure there is such a thing as an "average Baha'i mashriq"; we don't have that many. Actually, it is pulpits that are banned from the mashriq, not pews. The Christian altar reflects the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist -- an altar is where you do a sacrifice -- so while not explicitly banned, I can't think of a reason for there to be one in a mashriq.
With regard to the shunning of CBers, I am aware that it is scriptural, in the sense that we are banned by the Central Figures (if we are Baha'i) from associating with them. However, I remember that the writings make it pretty clear that a thorough investigation must occur before this declaration that someone is a CBer is made (and the person is therefore excommunicated). There must also be a mechanism in place to accept someone back into the good graces of the AO in the event that a CBer repents of his or her sin or whatever it is that made him or her a CBer in the first place. It's a serious sin, and the current AO, in many cases, just doesn't treat Covenant-breaking the way it ought to.
Well, yes, there is a procedure, I guess, if you want to get back into Haifa's good graces, and probably an ABM works with you to make sure you're properly clear of covenant-breaking. I don't know about the procedure for kicking people out -- the official claim is that declaring somebody CB is a last resort, only after extensive counselling etc. But I haven't seen that in some cases. If CBs that have resigned from the Faith in order to join one of the alternative groups aren't even notified of their excommunication, I can't see how a lot of counselling took place. I know somebody who actually called a person who had been named CB in the American Baha'i, just to find out what had happened. (We've had two separate Remeyite panics here; nothing scares us anymore.) Her story was that she was just asking questions about the Guardianship and investigating the Remeyite stuff, and two men in suits show up on her doorstep, ask her a bunch of questions, and the next thing she knew she was excommunicated. Now, this lady may have been downplaying what she was doing -- she claimed she was just asking questions and boom!, she got the axe. Having been through that, I have trouble believing it. On the other hand, ABMs handle things very differently, and hers might have been a real gung-ho protection-minded type, who turned in a very dire-sounding report.
The first indication I got that this was so was when I picked up a bibliography of writings referring to the Baha'i Faith in one way or another. This reference work contained a chapter's worth of references to CB material, mostly the Remeyite variety (because most CB groups are Remeyite). In this chapter, I was surprised to learn that Haifan-tradition Baha'is are merely advised to take the writings of the CB groups with a grain of salt, and not actively prohibited from reading these materials. (By "a grain of salt," I mean that one must know the Writings well enough to be able to discern what's good and what's bad about CB writings without panicking and feeling as if one will be infected with the CB virus.)
That's one of the most persistent myths, that reading CB material is against Baha'i law, and you hear it repeated by people who ought to know better. It *is* strongly discouraged as something that can potentially undermine your faith. But on a popular level that ol' superstitious impulse kicks in. I've heard of Baha'is destroying CB material they find in libraries. That isn't officially countenanced, either, but it happens.
CB material melting someone's garbage can? That itself sounds ludicrous, but I bet this lady who said that believed it (although I think she left the can on some hot asphalt or something).
Oh, I'm pretty sure there was a natural explanation. :-)
But seriously, I would have to agree that some of the treatment of CBers is determined by the need to demonize an enemy and not by anything realistic. I myself have noticed the dichotomy between proclaiming the CB groups (especially the more-numerous Remeyite ones) small and insignificant and pitying them for hemorrhaging members on the one hand, and being superstitiously fearful of them on the other (rather than sorrowful at a genuine breach between two groups).
I don't see where they get much pity for being insignificant. The attitude I've seen seems to me to be much more gloating -- these foolish people who thought they could undermine the Cause of God, now brought low in well-deserved obscurity etc. Heck, I've had people say the exact same thing to me, basically -- telling me that my machinations won't work and I won't harm the Cause of God. To which I say, "Great! That isn't what I'm trying to do."
To summarize, the feeling I get is that CBers are indeed to be shunned if they continue in their ways, but that the ways which lead to Covenant-breaking in the first place are often either missed entirely or totally exaggerated by the AO. I agree - some of the people who got out before they were declared CBs should never have been scared out of the Faith.
Well, part of the covenant-breaker myth is that the only reason to oppose the House of Justice is because one's own ego drives one to it. The archetypal CB knows what he is doing is in error, yet persists in a perverse quest for power and hatred for what is good and right. I suspect that there are people who join Remeyite groups without fitting this profile. But the myth goes back further than the Remeyites, clear back to the original split in the family of Baha'u'llah. Some of this aura rubs off on people who are just critics of the administration. For example, one lady who read my Themestream articles, emailed me saying "God help the children in your class!". That is, because I have criticisms of some actions of the House, I must be altogether evil and a danger to the children I teach. The charge of ego is continually thrown at Baha'i liberals, especially of the intellectual variety, and some fundamentalists clearly regard them as being very little short of CBs. Again, that ignores the official stance that only someone named as breaking the covenant by the House is supposed to be regarded as a CB.
As for "the ways that lead to covenant-breaking" I can only talk about what we experienced here. It was like all the dissatisfactions we felt about what was going on in the Faith kind of coalesced and were hung on the single peg of a lacking Guardian. Ironically, it was the one who was most into the whole administration, teaching, future theocracy thing that found the Remeyites most appealing.
January 11, 2002
I don't think anyone is saying that one should not put up with minor annoyances. Sure, anyone who has been in the Baha'i community for very long faces some frustrations and disappointments, but when people are pushed past the threshold of endurance, they are still blamed. You can be in the Faith a lifetime, serve it well, and put up with the injustices just like you said, but when the day comes when that proverbial straw breaks your back, you will still be blamed by your fellow believers for not being patient, for not being forgiving, for not being able to take even more. Is this a faith for all humanity, or is it a spiritual elite for a chosen few? Because if Baha'u'llah's message is for all mankind, then the Baha'i community needs to adapt and make allowances for human weaknesses.
If you consider people like Y "defenders of the administration" you have then mentally separated in your mind what Baha'u'llah said must not be divided. By definition, Baha'is are followers of Baha'u'llah, and that means adherents to all He has revealed. To love Baha'u'llah is to love His Faith. They must not be separated, He says.
Baha'u'llah didn't say that; Shoghi Effendi did. And when given a choice between the principles that Baha'u'llah taught, and what the administration says is right, I will choose Baha'u'llah every time. But you know this, Robert. I have made no secret of saying that I am an unenrolled Baha'i -- a believer in Baha'u'llah who is not a member of the administration as a matter of conscience. Where else can a believer go, if the administration gives them no option? Alison is a devoted lover of Baha'u'llah, an unenrolled Baha'i made so because the UHJ disenrolled her. *They* are the ones who did the separating in that case.
January 12, 2002
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i
Dear X, Just as Baha'u'llah said "You are the wellsprings of my own discourse."
We could go around and around forever (and on the Internet it feels like we do just that.) talking and speculating about the events from 1957 to 1963, but the bottom line is this: for the vast majority of Baha'is there is no authorized interpreter nor can there ever be. To stubbornly adhere to an authorized interpreter of the past simply deprives the administration of the flexibility that Baha'u'llah meant it to have. As 1957 recedes into further into the distance it is going to remain impractical and impossible to simply follow everything Shoghi Effendi said -- he's going to become outdated, in other words, and failure to recognize that is already doing harm. Things will change eventually, anyway; they can't not change. The choice is either going with the flow, or putting the brakes on your own progress.
Anyway, so all we really have left is individual interpretation. So let individuals interpret already! Don't suppress these views, allow them to circulate and be discussed, debated, criticized and defended as the case may be. Let that dialogue flow and don't try to stop it. That's the healthy thing, and will contribute far more to the Faith's well-being than anxiously running around "protecting" the Faith from its own members. We all have the right to see out truth in our own way -- and 'Abdu'l-Baha said *that's* the way to unity; not the imposition of "truth" under threat of punishment. We can only hope and pray that the gentlemen in Haifa will see that -- and soon.
January 13, 2002
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i
Unfortunately, I think the choice has been made to act as if we have a living Guardian in Shoghi Effendi.
This choice was made very early on -- the idea that the Guardianship still exists even without an actual living person occupying the office shows up in one of the first letters the UHJ ever wrote. But I don't think it's sustainable over the long term. I sort of see it as a way of dealing with the shock of Shoghi Effendi's death, and the aftermath, and from that perspective it's understandable. But, first of all, it's an interpretation -- something the UHJ is not scripturally given the right to do authoritatively. Secondly, it's a really *bad* interpretation. I was given that line from our ABM during our CB scare, and had to restrain the impulse to ask exactly what sort of idiot she thought she was talking to that she expected me to buy that. I remember how emphatic she was that the administration had *never* been "divorced from the Guardianship".
Peter Khan's silly comments downplaying Baha'u'llah's writings and lecturing on how the Guardian's books written in the 30's and 40's hold the key to understanding the 21st century are one good example. I think Glennford Mitchell made a similar allusion during his "vacation" in the US. The Baha'i Faith lives in the past.
Yes, that's true. But I don't think it will last forever. The more time goes by, the less pull Shoghi Effendi is going to have on the Faith.
[personal stuff snipped]
January 13, 2002
Exactly, Randy, thank you. That's the problem with conspiracies -- there's absolutely no way to prove you *aren't* part of one. I was not there when all this happened; all I have to go on is the documented evidence that is available to me. Now, granted, this is not complete in every detail. But when I look at the facts of what happened, and what is actually contained in the LA study class notes, Dialogue, and Talisman-1, I do not see conspiracy, or even hostility towards the Institutions. I see frustration and the painful scars of earlier crack-downs on Talisman-1 -- that's about it. When the UHJ complains of the "intemperate criticism" of the Dialogue group, I find myself completely mystified -- at the very least, they must be talking about private comments and correspondence, not the pages of the magazine itself. "A Modest Proposal" is a very model of restrained criticism, and the attempt to positively address the problem of slowing growth in the community.
The only thing that I can figure is that such an exaggerated kind of deference is expected in one's attitude towards the institutions that the vigorous discussion of ideas -- or even a strong self-defense, is considered evidence of guilt. In such an environment, no one with an independent thought in their heads need apply.
January 13, 2002
Could it be that the seeds of such behaviour were manifest earlier, just veiled to our eyes? It is easy enough to pull the wool over anybody's eyes with some cunning and forethought.
That is always a possibility; there is no way to know with absolute certainty what is going on in someone's head and heart. But, why should I be assuming that somebody who seemed to be a sincere Baha'i was simply faking it all along? What I'm seeing here is an escalating cycle -- liberals create a forum for their ideas, the Institutions react, which creates even more ill-feeling on the part of the liberals who express themselves even more stridently on the next forum they create, planting the seeds for yet another crackdown. In a nutshell, that's the history of the LA study group, Dialogue, Talisman, clear up to present-day Baha'i cyberspace. As for Juan himself, he was far from being among the most radical of the old LA group. It was being on the receiving end of the Talisman investigation that made him the very vocal critic he is today. I'm convinced that it is the Institution's actions that have created the kind of poisoned atmosphere that exists here.
I've also done some poking around in other religion's forums -- I' m still looking for another religion that has punished people for their emails. I keep being assured that this exists, but have yet to find an example or specific case. But what I *have* found is that the only religions whose cyberspace dialogue has the same sort of dynamic that happens among Baha'is -- i.e. vocal and critical former members complaining about conditions within the religion vs. loyalists attempting to defend the status quo and personally discredit the critics -- exists only in marginal sects/borderline cults, like the Jehovah's Witnesses, Eckankar, and Scientology. Even the Mormons don't act like we do! Believe me, I get no pleasure out of thinking of the Baha'i Faith as being on the lunatic fringe, but that's what I'm seeing out there.
that, and you stop polarization immediately. Unity cannot thrive if you fail in this area.
O.K., I get this complaint all the time. In fact, the terms for those associated with the LA group/Dialogue/Talisman crowd are always shifting.(Liberals, libertarians, exiles, dissidents, independents, "Back to Baha'u'llah" movement, etc.etc.) There is a difference in perspective here. If you can't name those perspectives, how can they be discussed? Also, when you insist that there is no differing perspectives within the Faith, you invite description of this division as simply "Baha'i" ideas, and "not Baha'i" ideas -- labelling devoted believers in Baha'u'llah as somehow being beyond the pale. Also, in religious studies, such labels are commonly used to describe differing perspectives in the same religion -- nearly all religions have liberals and conservatives in them. Some Christians openly and proudly assert that they are fundamentalist. However, Baha'is, even those who ought to know better, tend to be in denial about this.
... which you follow by saying they wanted to serve the Faith through their own vision.
I'm not entirely sure what you mean here. What I'm saying is that I do not see some kind of long-term underhanded scheme going on that justified institutional action against Baha'i liberals. If you know of evidence that prove that such was going on, then please present it.
personal understanding is somehow more correct than someone elses, and drive that home in fairly strong terms. Is that a fair comment?
No, I don't see that. I see the expression of their perspective; I do not see any attempt to force it on anyone. On the contrary, I see the imposition of a particular viewpoint on Baha'i Teaching coming from the conservative direction, backed up by threats and sanctions from the Institutions.
If so, then the real issue is not one of the independence of thought and hopes of a personal vision, but one of the greater understanding of community, obedience to the commands of Bahá'u'lláh (Gleanings II) and striving for true unity in true diversity. The main failing AISI of the so-called liberals is the insistence they have that their POV is somehow inherently better, purer than the POV of others.
They are always accused of that, but I don't see that in what they are saying. In fact, I think it is precisely because the liberal perspective has been espoused by educated and articulate people that there is the fear that these views will be given creedence. That is, because Juan is a Professor, and an expert on Middle Eastern History, his views carry a sort of credibility that neither you or I will have. But, to me, that does not translate into his "insistence" that he is right -- any more than you or I might be attached to a particular opinion. Is he supposed to, then, refrain from expressing his point of view lest they be taken seriously, or because they might influence someone by virtue of his position? That isn't fair, and amounts to an attempt to silence and/or discredit some of our best and brightest people. He himself just recently said that what the "campaign" that liberals are so often accused of really translates to is the holding of a consistent opinion and expressing it publicly.
The views that you espouse so well could well be my own. But I may be wrong in my POV, so share and enjoy the difference.
Now, *there's* an idea I can get behind! :-)
January 14, 2002
I don't think the Institutions have any obligation to maintain our reputation as 'liberal' religion.
I didn't say they had an *obligation* to do that -- but I think that's what they want. After all, tell people that the Baha'i Faith is all about obedience to central authority, and that you have to sell your right to free expression down the river, you aren't going to have too many takers. In fact, I talk to people all the time who are still full of rage about the way they've been ripped off -- they come into the Faith full of idealism about the oneness of mankind, and in love with the beauty of the Writings, only to find that being a Baha'i means slavish loyalty to a stutifying bureaucracy. By all means, let them be honest about not being a tolerant, open, and progressive religion. They won't have many takers that way, but at least they won't be breaking so many hearts, like they do by presenting the Faith as liberal. In fact, if they want to chase even more people away, people who are already within the Faith, they can respond to recent controversies by endless harping on the Covenant. I hear that something of the kind is happening in New Zealand. Then, after you weed out all the freethinking and spiritual people, you guys can be completely happy, just a tiny righteous remnant, pure and loyal. It would be making a mockery of everything Baha'u'llah, taught, but hey, you can't have everything.
Their obligation is to uphold the Teachings, whether they are conceived of as liberal or conservative.
Uh-huh. And they're doing it so well, too.
Karen(previously): Two people investigated in the Talisman crackdown insisted that any meeting be tape-recorded -- interestingly enough, both people had been through the Dialogue episode and knew what they were in for if they were interrogated.
And what would they be in for? They may not have liked the way the earlier interrogation was handled but to my knowledge there is nothing that came from that interrogation that was twisted or misused. That's not what Steve Scholl says. In Crisis of Faith he specifically says that their words were twisted and misused.
Nothing that they would have required a record for in order to defend themselves from false charges. That would be the only legitimate reason to ask for such a meeting to be taped.
Oh, yeah. God forbid they have the means to defend themselves from false charges.
Sounds like what you are really saying is that they wanted to use such a recording as possible ammunition against the Institutions, much as Juan attempted to use the tape of the travel agent phone conversation with the NSA.
As far as I know, Birkland investigated six Talisman posters in the spring of 1996. Of those six, four of them have publicly stated that they were threatened with being named covenant-breakers, the worst possible sanction that could befall a Baha'i, which is supposed to carry a heavy spiritual penalty. A fifth posted a letter to the web that contained the warning that his course of actions would bring him "into direct conflict with the Covenant." and if that *doesn't* mean that he would be declared a covenant-breaker, I'd sure like to know what it *does* mean. That these people were threatened with excommunication and shunning has been denied by almost every defender of the administration I've run across. *That's* why you need a tape recorder.
Karen(previously): Birkland, of course, refused. He wrote letters to two Talisman posters that ended up on the web. Looks very bad, doesn't it?
And that's what would have been done with the tapes, right?
They would have proven precisely what was said in those interviews. Yes, they would have been used publicly -- they deserve to be embarrassed for doing what they did. Of course, Birkland probably never would have threatened them had a tape recorder been running, so the whole thing's a non-starter. You don't get to threaten people if you know there will be proof that you did so.
In the case of Birkland's letter Juan originally tampered with the text he posted, taking out a key passage which without which the intent of that letter could be completely distorted.
He protected the identity of the recipient. Including the fact that the recipient of that letter was also the author of the Majnun post effectively identifies him to anyone who is even halfway awake in Baha'i cyberspace, whether they were ever on Talisman-1 or not.
It is not an issue of keeping it secret. It is an issue of not letting such materials be manipulated in this way.
On the contrary, I think they want plausible deniability. "Oh, no, no one was ever threatened. They all left of their own free will and are lying about being threatened. There's no proof at all to back up what they're saying." As I said, no one *would* have been threatened if the Counsellor knew the conversation was going to be tape-recorded. And it was his mission to threaten them, so he couldn't accept that as a condition.
January 15, 2002
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i
Dear X and Y, I think X is correct in that what contributes so much to disillusionment is this notion that Baha'is are different from other religions. Most other religions don't have their faith so tied up in a specific system, so running into bad leadership does not necessarily cast doubt on the religion as a whole. But we believe in ours -- our religion is set up the way the Founder wanted it; we have a covenant; it will never become corrupted like all those earlier religions have. Sure, Baha'u'llah had some bad things to say about the religious leaders of earlier dispensations, but those things would never apply to *our* leaders -- Baha'is were supposed to be exempt; our Dispensation is the "day not followed by night". *sigh* It's hard to believe now that I ever could have been so naive and so arrogant.
I already had lots of ideas of my own about how to serve Baha'u'llah's purposes according to His prescriptions, that don't depend on what anyone else does or doesn't do, including the institutions. In fact, it's always taken a lot of effort for me to combine my ideas with the community goals. Also, I always interpret the community goals in terms of writings of Baha'u'llah. I have never worshiped the House of Justice, so not being able to rely on the unfailing wisdom of its decisions wouldn't really disorient me that much. Working with Baha'is who do worship the House of Justice is not that hard for me either. I've learned to work with people the way they are.
Yes, I think the only reason I could come through all this was that having faith in the House of Justice, or the administration as a whole was never all that central for me. I mean, I was pretty shaken up when I discovered some of the things that it had done, but I could recover my faith precisely because I could conceive of Baha'u'llah and the institutions as separable. Sort of along the lines of because I could bend, I didn't break. As for UHJ worshippers -- I found them really quite shocking when I came out into cyberspace. Rather blasphemous, in fact. I'd never heard anyone talk like that, like the UHJ is the voice of God, practically. Of course, most Baha'is out in real life have never heard the system challenged, either -- it's hard to say how they'd react if they did. Actually, out in real life, I could probably get along with them, as you do, Jim, as long as I didn't challenge their thinking in any way and stayed nice and cautious and conventional -- which is something I'm more inclined to do in real life than I am out here.
2. Although the development of the institutions prescribed by Baha'u'llah is indispensable for achieving all of Baha'u'llah's purposes, mismanagement of the institutions could never prevent the Divine Plan from progressing. If the progress of the administration were blocked, the Faith would simply progress more on other fronts.
Well, I sort of figure the Divine Plan is God's problem. :-) My job is to incorporate Baha'i principles and virtues into my life as much as I can, and to keep working on that. I don't really have any power to influence the larger things.
If the administration of the Faith didn't turn out the way Baha'u'llah foresaw it, the same thing would apply. It wouldn't mean that God's plan has been thwarted, not at all. It would mean that the believers are being tested, to distinguish the true believers from the imitators.
Well, one can view it that way, I suppose, as long as one doesn't make any assumptions about who is "passing the test" and who is not. I guess I've been getting kind of leery of this whole "testing" business -- not that I don't believe we don't have tests in our lives for our spiritual development. But so often I see the attitude that those who become disillusioned with the Faith have just been tested and found wanting, that they are some sort of spiritual wash-outs. From what I'm seeing, it is very often those who are most spiritually sensitive that find the conditions inside the Faith intolerable.
Perhaps being able to see that the Faith is in human hands, I might someday manage to forgive them for being human. Isn't part of the rage that "This wasn't supposed to happen"? You feel ripped-off, like a promise has been broken. So, the UHJ turned out to be human, and not infallible. I found, through listening to the stories of other Baha'is, that I could forgive the local people here, who turned out to be not so bad by comparison. Maybe someday, I can manage that for the House as well.
January 15, 2002
I think one has to make a distinction between moral injunctions that tell us how we ought to behave, and laws that can be enforced by punishment. For example, the Bab prohibit both causing hurt to anyone (or you'd have to pay a fine), and questioning "He Whom God Shall Make Manifest". Baha'u'llah abrogated both of these laws, leaving the former as a moral injunction binding on a person's conscience, and simply admonishing that a person should "ask what they need to ask", but not to get ridiculous about it. (Can't remember the exact quote.) It is noteworthy that both of these laws have to do with individual expression. Yes, obedience to the institutions is enjoined, and so also is individual free expression. How does one reconcile the two when the Institutions seems bent on violating that latter principle? I see "obedience" to the House of Justice as primarily one of law -- i.e. it is supposed to legislate, if it actually passed a law concerning some matter, then Baha'is are obligated to obey it. The actions of the House interfering with free expression are reactive, and not law-based at all. The people at Dialogue magazine never published an article that didn't go through the review system. They were punished simply for writing, and submitting to review an article concerning reform. This is not an act against Baha'i law. The actions of the NSA and UHJ in this seem quite arbitrary and capricious. They didn't like the magazine so they squashed it. Are believers just supposed to guess ahead of time what they won't like? Were the participants on Talisman supposed to just guess that writing posts that they don't like is punishable? That isn't against Baha'i law, either. Where is the line between honest discussion of community issues and punishable "backbiting" and "criticism"? Are we just supposed to paste a smile on our faces pretend in public that all is well in the Baha'i community?
I find Baha'u'llah's Writings to be highly individualistic in nature, especially where truth-seeking and conscience are concerned. I'll get you quotes later if I have time.
January 15, 2002
Dear X, This is very well said, and points up what is perhaps the primary difference between Baha'i liberals and conservatives. For the Baha'i liberal, the basic principles of the revelation are of supreme importance and outweigh any particular interpretation of any specific verse. For the Baha'i conservative it is the adherence to the outward sense of the verses that are supremely important -- a ready example is Rick saying that if the UHJ required him to commit a heinous act, he would be forced to renounce not only loyalty to that body, but to Baha'u'llah Himself. Why? Because Baha'u'llah said the House of Justice would have divine guidance, and if it does something that is clearly wrong, then that promise is false, and ultimately, so is Baha'u'llah. But for me, and I think most liberals, for the House of Justice to violate the broad principles of the revelation does not negate the truth of those principles, or of that revelation. It simply means that things have gone wrong, as they often do in this human world. I don't see my faith as dependent upon human actions, but upon the eternal truths that Baha'u'llah proclaimed.
January 15, 2002
If it is in human hands and not under the protection of the Bab and Baha'u'llah as 'Abdu'l-Baha promised, how can it be revelation to begin with?
Baha'u'llah, in the Iqan, tells us the story of Noah, and how a promised prophecy didn't occur. Who was right -- those who walked away, saying he couldn't be a real prophet if it didn't happen, or those who stayed with him and believed in his truth in spite of that? Whose faith is on firmer ground -- the one who must see signs in this world for it to be real, or the one to whom those signs make no difference? What did Baha'u'llah say this world was worth, Susan, in the eyes of God and His chosen ones?
Karen(previously): Prophecies and promises for the future that occur in a religion are not as important as spiritual truth and guidance.
But Karen, what you are basically saying is that we are no longer guided.
The Revelation is the guidance; it always has been. "This is the changeless faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future." I'm supposed to throw that away because the gentlemen in Haifa have made some bad decisions?
January 24, 2002
Yes, X, you are quite correct -- there really are two issues here. First is that it is quite improper to name the expression of personal beliefs as some kind of wrongdoing. Secondly, however, is that if such expression is going to be deemed worthy of punishment, then clear laws should be passed concerning exactly what opinions are considered off-limits, and what penalty Baha'is espousing them can expect, and there should be a fair due process whereby the accused has the opportunity to defend himself. The lack of clarity, and the arbitrary and personal way that people have been punished is completely unjust. It basically comes down to "We don't like what you say, and if you were *really* a Baha'i, you wouldn't have said such things. And we'll do anything that we damn well please to you in retaliation."
It's actually quite creepy, though, thinking of a trial over one's opinions. Somebody being charged with being an anti-theocrat, or believing that women should serve on the UHJ. Instead of hunting for witches, they could go hunting for mutilation theorists. The problem is that they do it anyway, and the first people to get into trouble over it didn't even realize that their opinions were punishable offenses. If they are going punish heresy, they at least ought to be clear on which ideas are heresies. The April 7 letter, and the Birkland letter to Steve Scholl names some. I honestly don't know if there are other opinions which could get people into trouble. And we won't find out, either, until the next person gets nailed, assuming they aren't just disenrolled for having a bad "attitude". That's what so unjust, people just find out after the fact that their opinions are "against the Covenant", or "inconsistent with Baha'i membership". Nobody ever knows until the Inquisition comes knocking. Of course, ideally, there shouldn't even *be* an Inquisition at all.
February 24, 2002
Just generalizing, of course, but I think ex-Baha'is fare best emotionally when they find another spiritual home. Then their Baha'i experience gets put into perspective as a kind of way station on their spiritual path. It's much harder for someone when the Baha'i Faith is *it*, the big spiritual experience of their lives. Worst off, I think, are people who are just left not believing in anything. It could just be my own bias talking, but I think they are the angriest, the ones who feel the most "ripped off" by the hopes raised and dashed by the Baha'i Faith.
Am I less happy? No, not really. My years as an enrolled Baha'i were full of frustration and inner conflict. But there's a loss -- I can't see myself ever believing in anything so intensely again, or having another conversion experience, or committing myself to another religious community. I flung my big fling with an organized religion when I became a Baha'i, and I can't see that ever happening again. There is something to that sense of belonging, though, and I don't think I'll ever recover that, either within the Faith, or elsewhere. So, I've lost something, certainly, but I'm also free of a lot of the headaches and nonsense that go along with being in the Baha'i community.
March 6, 2002
Geez, Paul, I've never been able to win this one, and I run into it constantly -- both the claim that *I* am trying to "cause" a division within the Faith because I use the terms "liberal" and "conservative" to describe differing perspectives withint the Faith, and the claim that I'm not really a Baha'i, in spite of my belief in Baha'u'llah.
The logic runs like this: There is no division within the Faith, because the liberals aren't really Baha'is. They are proven to not really be Baha'is because they openly voice criticisms of the administration, whereas a real Baha'i, defined by loyalty to the "Covenant" would take their "concerns" privately through administrative channels and not to a newsgroup. Liberals are seen to be the aggressors because the criticisms of the administration are taken very personally by the fundamentalists; I think it touches a chord of anxiety in them -- if the Baha'i Faith is not really united then the covenantal promise that it would always remain so is false and their whole belief system is threatened. It's akin to the reasons Christians get so hyped up about evolution -- if the story of the creation and fall of man is not literally true, then the need for Christ's sacrifice, and therefore the whole foundation of their belief is threatened. To fundamentalists, belief that the Baha'i Faith is, and always will be, united is very core to them. So, they can't name the phenomenon as anything other than a tiny minority of aggressively vocal malcontents vs. the vast majority of happy, loyal, and united Baha'is. To name it as anything else "proves" you don't understand what the Baha'i Faith is all about.
Along with that, you have the belief that anyone opposed to their version of the covenant is somehow spiritually perverse, dangerous, and generally on the dark side. That's why *you* get to be made the issue. If the administration is divinely ordained and guided, then anyone who criticizes it is opposing God; *you're* the one with the problem, because the UHJ can't be wrong. Just a recent example: Dave went ballistic about my vehement reactions to the Aug. 3 letter. Now, I didn't say one personal word about Dave in all that, but he took it my criticisms of this letter as an indication that I'm irredeemable, and announced he would no longer attempt to "build bridges" with me any more. His reaction to the letter itself was flat denial; it wasn't bad, therefore I could only be saying it was bad out of some perverse desire to bash the AO for no reason, i.e.*I'm* the problem, not the fact that the UHJ could send a letter like this to someone. His reaction to my article has been surprisingly mild though, although he thinks I've shot my crediblity by using Panopticon as a reference. (Geez, referring to the work of a college professor who happens to be an expert in the subject -- how *could* I be so dumb? :-))
So, Paul, you really can't win. To any dispassionate observer, the liberal/conservative divide in the Faith is obvious, but there's no way to get past this "they aren't really believers so no division exists" stuff. What you do just depends on what you're trying to achieve: The only real reason to argue with a fundamentalist is to demonstrate just how hollow that perspective is and to present liberal views. In that case, the aim isn't to convince the fundamentalist; it's to reach the folks lurking on the sidelines, a good many of whom will find the liberals sympathetic. Or you can just argue because they make you mad and you feel like letting off some steam. At least, those are the reasons I argue with them. Going through the history of the conflict might not be a bad idea -- it depends on how much frustration you're willing to put up with. But that's just me -- a good deal of what I do is bring the history of all this out there, which I think is important. But if you don't want to get stuck in a long, involved argument about it, I wouldn't blame you.
March 20, 2002
Forum: Unenrolled Baha'i
Dear X, I ran into a person on Baha'i & Friends who was shocked by the anti-gay attitudes, and said she didn't know that there were Baha'is who felt that way. Outside of cyberspace, Baha'is are so isolated from each other. And, at least in my experience, we don't spend much time in our communities talking about issues like this. If someone does bring up an opinion that's at variance with the mouthy people in the community, they get shut up pretty quickly, just by the kind of negative response they get. At any rate, it's very easy to go around thinking that *all* Baha'is are just like the ones we know, except for people who've have broad experience in several communities. It's not uncommon for Baha'is who are new online, especially those who are questioning the status quo, to express a sense of wonder :"Gee, I thought I was the only one who felt the way I do."
I sure never would have dreamed in a million years that rejecting the theory of evolution would be a required element of Baha'i belief, and that someone would be advised to turn in his card based on that. If somebody had told me that a few years ago, I would have laughed at them and said it was impossible because Baha'is believe in the harmony of science and religion. What's that supposed to mean now anyway? That the stupid scientists will one day wake up and discover that 'Abdu'l-Baha was right in his scientific views? They've just totally thrown out a basic principle of the Faith as 'Abdu'l-Baha himself outlined it, and made it meaningless. Geez, X, every time I see a letter from the UHJ I get pissed off all over again.
March 23, 2002
I know the person who left in this way, and advised him that writing to the House on a doctrinal issue would be fruitless. He also knew about my alternative understanding of the meaning of 'infallibility' (nothing to do with being right all the time!), and the theories put forward by others, but he seemed unable to realise that his spiritual destiny was in his own hands, or to rethink the notions of infallibility he had learnt. Unfortunately there were other voices in the conversation saying the infallibility really does mean being right, and the human being really was a distinct species from the time of sponges and amoebas, and if we have a question ask the House.
Dear X, My first thought on this, or rather my second after my initial outrage, was that this person's big mistake was writing to the House. There are all kinds of Baha'i who believe in evolution, and they just go on being Baha'is. The problem with this kind of attitude towards the UHJ is that it makes a person's faith quite vulnerable; it is dependent upon someone else's actions. And, as Udo Schaeffer observed in his paper, a view of infallibility, that holds that no mistake can ever be made, needs only one wrong action to disprove it, and the whole thing is shattered. The whole proposition behind my own faith crisis when I resigned my membership was what I had been taught about Baha'u'llah and the administration being inseparable -- once I got through that and did separate them, I emerged with a faith that they can't touch.(I'm not claiming it's totally invulnerable, of course; I don't think anybody can ever claim that.) It's a whole lot stronger, really, than the kind of faith that conservatives seem to think I ought to have.
March 26, 2002
Karen, You are making the same subtle error that Y just made about the letter. The house does not say that he MUST believe in evolution, The House say that he must believe in the infallibility of Abdu'l- Baha. There is a difference. One can argue that Abdu'l-Baha was infallible **and** believe in evolution. They are not exclusive. I think the House implies that Abdu'-Baha _may_ be wrong in some instances, but it strictly adheres to His infallibility.
I've heard this argument several times now, and it doesn't make sense. The whole reason this person was doubting infallibility was because of 'Abdu'l-Baha's views on evolution. The House's initial response was to send him quotes from 'Abdu'l-Baha on the subject of evolution. The letter states that "the position to which your researches have led you" are incompatible with Baha'i belief -- i.e. rejection of parallel evolution. Agreed, this guy's dilemma was because he held rather rigid views concerning the meaning of infallibility, but if this was the problem, why didn't the House address that instead of showing him the door? Why not share with him quotes from 'Abdu'l-Baha about the necessity of subjecting religious doctrine to reason? No, what it looks like to me is that the House thought this person's rigid either/or stance on infallibility was just fine -- it was simply concerned that, if he wanted to remain within the Baha'i community, then he must apply it to everything, including 'Abdu'l-Baha's statements on evolution and other things in the Writings that aren't scientifically accurate.
March 23, 2002
No, it's not being raised Baha'i -- a whole lot of us are converts. Religious adherence always has an emotional element to it, something that goes beyond rationality. We made that "leap of faith" stepping away from our former religious backgrounds for belief in an obscure Iranian prophet. Why? What makes Him special? The Writings, that's all. Nothing touches that "spiritual" part of me the way they do. I have no idea why they would affect me that way, and not someone else; it's just the way it is. Something just "clicks" for me, in a way that other religions don't -- and I went through a period where I was earnestly looking for another one.
And that is true no matter what the Baha'i administration does, or doesn't do. In fact, I think the administration and the view of the Faith they're promoting is pretty well irrelevant to me, my spiritual life, and my relationship to Baha'u'llah. It's sad, though, to see the damage they're doing to the Message. With this latest letter, they've thrown out a fundamental principle of Baha'i belief that 'Abdu'l-Baha insisted on again and again -- the harmony of science and religion -- and deprived it of any meaning. And for what? For a rigid view of complete inerrancy on the part of the Central Figures. That's what they've made the cornerstone of Baha'i belief, reducing what it means to be a Baha'i to this narrow little box that no one dare think outside.
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