Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

UHJ elucidations

Posted by Sen on March 7, 2011

In a discussion on Talisman9, one friend said that he felt obliged to incorporate any statement made by the Universal House of Justice under the infallible protection of God into his corpus of beliefs, and another said that if the Universal House of Justice makes a certain understanding of doctrine an inherent part of its legislation, he felt obligated to understand and believe that. Does the *UHJ’s power of elucidation imply this? (*Considering how often ‘Universal House of Justice’ is going to appear on this page, I think it’s best that I abbreviate it to UHJ. No disrespect is intended.)

Scriptural basis

The UHJ’s functions of legislating and elucidating are derived from Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament:

It is incumbent upon these members (of the Universal House of Justice) to gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book.

This doesn’t specify what the outcomes will be, but it is implied: if something causes difference the outcome will be a ruling leading to unity, if it is obscure the outcome will be non-obscurity (elucidation), if it is something not expressly recorded, the outcome will be a specification of what was not explicit. The word ‘elucidation’ is implied, as it is the opposite of obscure.

Shoghi Effendi used the word elucidation with reference to the UHJ in just one place I know of:

Touching the point raised in the Secretary’s letter regarding the nature and scope of the Universal Court of Arbitration, this and other similar matters will have to be explained and elucidated by the Universal House of Justice, to which, according to the Master’s explicit instructions, all important and fundamental questions must be referred. (Baha’i Administration, 47)

Shoghi Effendi wrote this in April 1923, before the English translation of the Will and Testament was generally available, which may explain why it refers to the general purport of the Will and Testament, in words that do not correspond exactly to the text. I am not aware of anywhere, whether in the Will or elsewhere, where the Master literally says “all important and fundamental questions must be referred to the Universal House of Justice” (although he does discuss the wisdom of “referring some important laws to the House of Justice,” in one tablet). But that is a fair summary of the purport of the Will and Testament, and other letters and statements of Abdu’l-Baha.

There seems to be no case where Shoghi Effendi has taken a Persian or Arabic scriptural text and translated a word as “elucidate” or “elucidation.” So we cannot get a binocular view of the word’s meaning for Shoghi Effendi, by drawing on his translation work.
 
 

The scope of the UHJ’s infallibility

Neither of my friends was saying anything so simple as ‘everything from the UHJ is Bahai doctrine.’ Rather they were deducing the obligation to adjust their beliefs in the light of the UHJ’s elucidations from their understanding of the UHJ’s infallibility. Both agree that infallibility does not apply to everything the UHJ decides: not for example to its lunch menu.

My second friend thinks that the infallibility of the UHJ applies only to its formal legislation, in much the same way as “the infallibility of the Guardian is confined to matters which are related strictly to the Cause and interpretations of the Teachings ….” (Letter on behalf of the Guardian to an individual, October 17 1944). My first friend, and I, think it applies more broadly to the UHJ’s activities in accordance with its scriptural mandates. In my case this is because I observe that Abdu’l-Baha in some places uses the word legislation (tashri`) to refer to the whole function of the religious order in society, as the social organ that follows, propagates, systematises, implements and where necessary further specifies religious teachings as they apply to society. (See ‘Executive and Legislative‘ on this blog). In other places he uses a more specific term for the legislative work of the House of Justice, istinbaat, which in his Tablet on religious law and the House of Justice, I have translated as ‘deductions,’ that is, educing (drawing out) the legal implications of the religious texts. If we allow our understanding of the term ‘legislation’ to include Abdu’l-Baha’s broad application of legislation/tashri’ to all the proper activities of the religious institutions in society, we can bridge the gap between those who agree with Schaefer’s minimalist thesis, and those who think the scope of the UHJ’s infallibility is wider than legislation alone.

When is the UHJ elucidating?

Some have supposed that the UHJ is only elucidating when it is legislating, because the UHJ itself has spoken in this way:

The elucidations of the Universal House of Justice stem from its legislative function, while the interpretations of the Guardian represent the true intent inherent in the Sacred Texts. The major distinction between the two functions is that legislation with its resultant outcome of elucidation is susceptible of amendment by the House of Justice itself, whereas the Guardian’s interpretation is a statement of truth which cannot be varied. (Messages 1963 to 1986, 646)

and again:

“…the House of Justice asks us [the Bahai World Centre Secretariat] to state that, while it would be possible to codify and cross-reference the Baha’i teachings, it would also be important to take into account such functions assigned to the Universal House of Justice in the Baha’i Writings as its role in elucidating all matters “which have not outwardly been revealed in the Book” and in ensuring the essential flexibility of the Cause. (Dec 15, 1994)

However we have seen above that the Guardian’s one mention of the UHJ’s power of elucidation is a paraphrase of a section in Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament, which says that the members of the UHJ should “deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book.” Both Shoghi Effendi’s translation and the Persian behind it indicate that these are three parallel functions. The text does not say that the UHJ should only deal with questions that are obscure so far as these are not expressly recorded in the Book. Matters that are expressly recorded can also cause difference or be obscure! This makes me more Roman than the Pope, as the Dutch say. I think the UHJ’s own formulation of the scope of its elucidation, quoted above, is unnecessarily narrow. Elucidation may be the resultant outcome of legislation, but it may also be given in the form of general letters to the community, letters to individuals, the guidance it gives to the Continental Counsellors, decisions on “problems which have caused difference” and so on. By my definition, whatever sheds light where there was obscurity, is elucidation.

The UHJ’s own practice makes me think that elucidation — by reference to specific scripture and facts — is the UHJ’s method of first choice. If there is sufficient specific and clear scripture to draw on, the required degree of uniformity in practice can be achieved by pointing to it, and its relevance, providing for translations where necessary, and adding relevant facts, while leaving it to the consultations of assemblies and the reason of individuals to apply the information. Legislation in the narrow sense, of making a new religious ruling for the Bahai community, is necessary only where sufficient uniformity of practice cannot be achieved by elucidation alone.

I am supported in my understanding that elucidation and legislation are two separate tasks facing the House of Justice by another letter from them which says:

The Universal House of Justice, beyond its function as the enactor of legislation, has been invested with the more general functions of protecting and administering the Cause, solving obscure questions and deciding upon matters that have caused difference. (Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 157, paragraph 75.6)

The implications of the UHJ’s elucidations

However my friends and I were not discussing the scope of the UHJ’s infallibility, or of its elucidations, but rather the implications of the UHJ’s elucidations for our own beliefs. The question in essence is how we can have a separation of powers within the Bahai Administrative Order, between the sphere of the interpretation of scripture and doctrine centering on the Guardian, and the sphere of legislation centering on the House of Justice, if both are defined by Bahai doctrine as infallible? If we believe the UHJ has been guided to write a letter or make a ruling that embodies a particular understanding of Bahai teachings or a reading of a scriptural verse, doesn’t consistency require us to adopt that understanding or reading ourselves, just as our belief in the legitimate appointment of Shoghi Effendi as “the Interpreter of the Word of God” obliges us to adjust our understandings of Bahai teachings in the light of his interpretations? Both my friends answer ‘yes’ to this.

But this gives two paradoxes. The first is that the House of the Justice and the Guardian have indicated that the understanding of Bahai teachings inherent in the UHJ’s legislation may change, or be incorrect, yet my friends propose to correct their own beliefs today, to conform to an elucidation that in the nature of things is past. As for changing elucidations, the UHJ has written,

The major distinction between the two functions [of elucidation and authoritative interpretation] is that legislation with its resultant outcome of elucidation is susceptible of amendment by the House of Justice itself, whereas the Guardian’s interpretation is a statement of truth which cannot be varied. (Letter of Oct 25, 1984, Power of Elucidation)

In addition, an enactment of the UHJ may be contrary to the spirit of the Bahai Teachings, as Shoghi Effendi writes:

He [the Guardian] cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow-members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances. (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah 150)

An example of this is the Bahai ‘literature review process,’ which is contrary to the Bahai principle of free expression, but was necessary at a certain stage of development. Shoghi Effendi writes:

Let us also remember that at the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views. If certain instructions of the Master are today particularly emphasized and scrupulously adhered to, let us be sure that they are but provisional measures designed to guard and protect the Cause in its present state of infancy and growth until the day when this tender and precious plant shall have sufficiently grown to be able to withstand the unwisdom of its friends and the attacks of its enemies. (Bahai Administration, 63)

and

… the present restrictions imposed on the publication of Baha’i literature will be definitely abolished;…
(The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 9)

Shoghi Effendi’s contrast between the Baha’i principle of freedom of conscience and speech, and the provisional measures necessary at a certain time, implies an awareness that the decisions and acts of the Head of the Faith cannot always fully comply with all Bahai teachings. The Bahai teachings are a constant ideal, their embodiment in the Bahai community, including the UHJ’s work, is contingent. The contingent expression of the ideal teachings never reaches the ideal, but may grow towards perfection endlessly, providing we remain aware of the gap, and do not simply reinterpret the teachings to match current policies. The UHJ has also acknowledged the possibility of differences, writing:

in the realm of interpretation the Guardian’s pronouncements are always binding, in the area of the Guardian’s participation in legislation it is always the decision of the House itself which must prevail. (Letter of May 27 1966, in Wellspring of Guidance, 82)

The inevitability of there being some gap between the contingent and ideal throws some light on Shoghi Effendi’s statement that an enactment of the House of Justice could “conflict with the meaning and .. depart from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances,” but it is not the only possibility to consider. It could also be that the House of Justice and its members make a decision without being aware of something in the Bahai Writings and teachings which is relevant. The UHJ itself has written that it..

… is not omniscient, … . Like the Guardian, the House of Justice wants to be provided with facts when called upon to render a decision, and like him it may well change its decision when new facts emerge… .
(Letter of June 14, 1996: Infallibility, Women on House of Justice)


An example: the 20th century
On 29 July 1974 the Universal House of Justice wrote a letter about the preoccupation of some American Baha’is with the date of the Lesser Peace, and said:

“It is true that ‘Abdu’l-Baha made statements linking the establishment of the unity of nations to the twentieth century. For example: “The fifth candle is the unity of nations — a unity which, in this century, will be securely established, … (Messages 1963-68, 281)

In a similar letter to an individual believer dated April 15, 1976, the Universal House of Justice writes:

Abdu’l-Baha anticipated that the Lesser Peace could be established before the end of the twentieth century.” (cited here)

The UHJ thought Abdu’l-Baha anticipated that the unity of nations, in the first quote, or the Lesser Peace, in the second quote, was linked to, or could be, established before the end of the twentieth century. But they were wrong: the text does not say “twentieth century,” it says “this century.” If one took either letter as an interpretation of the text, it would lead one astray. However, those Bahais of the 1970s and later who took the UHJ’s message as a statement of what is to be done, and not an interpretation of scripture, would be on the right track. The letter of 29 July 1974 goes on to say, “It is apparent that the disintegration of the old order is accelerating, but the friends should not permit this inevitable process to deter them from giving their undivided attention to the tasks lying immediately before them.” Although the UHJ’s understanding of what the scripture said was incorrect, its guidance on what needed to be done can be seen in retrospect to have been correct, for the end of the 20th century was not accompanied by any great change in the world. (On the meaning of ‘century’ in this context, see ‘Century’s end’ and its sequel, ‘Century of Light’ on this blog.)

"Apparently we're early: the re-enactment starts in 50 years."

An un-enacted enactment?

In the quote we are discussing (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 150), the Guardian entertains the possibility that an enactment of the UHJ might conflict with the meaning of Bahai scripture. Some have suggested that “enactment” here really means a proposal being discussed among the UHJ members. There are two objections to this: first, that Shoghi Effendi was capable of saying that, if he meant it, and had plenty of opportunity later to explain what he really meant, if it was not as it appears, and second that the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha did not require a Guardian to be present in the UHJ’s meetings. It allowed a Guardian to send a representative to the UHJ’s meetings. So it was quite realistic for Shoghi Effendi to allow for the possibility that a Guardian might hear about an enactment made by the UHJ after the event, and at that stage point out that it was not in line with the letter or spirit of Baha’u’llah’s writings, and quite natural for Shoghi Effendi to provide for this actual possibility by stating that the Guardian could not overrule the UHJ’s enactment but could ask them to reconsider the decision.

A straightforward reading of the Guardian’s words is that the enactments of the UHJ may — in view of contingencies, or lack of information about the Baha’i writings — conflict with the meaning and depart from the spirit of those teachings, but that the UHJ’s enactments and any elucidations they embody are quite distinct from the Bahai teachings, which do not change and are not affected by the UHJ’s decisions.

The second paradox in my friends’ position is that the UHJ itself has denied the authority of any beliefs and interpretations of scripture that may be implicit or explicit in its statements (see below). The UHJ writes :

The elucidations of the Universal House of Justice stem from its legislative function, and as such differ from interpretation. The divinely inspired legislation of the House of Justice does not attempt to say what the revealed Word means — it states what must be done. (Letter of Dec 15, 1994, Elucidations of the House of Justice)

and

The major distinction between the two functions is that legislation with its resultant outcome of elucidation is susceptible of amendment by the House of Justice itself, whereas the Guardian’s interpretation is a statement of truth which cannot be varied. (Letter of Oct 25, 1984, The Power of Elucidation)

Doesn’t this imply that, in the opinion of the UHJ, an elucidation by the House is NOT a statement of truth? Further, the UHJ writes:

Upon the Universal House of Justice… “has been conferred the exclusive right of legislating on matters not expressly revealed in the Baha’i writings.” Its pronouncements, which are susceptible of amendment or abrogation by the House of Justice itself, serve to supplement and apply the Law of God. Although not invested with the function of interpretation, the House of Justice is in a position to do everything necessary to establish the World Order of Baha’u’llah on this earth. Unity of doctrine is maintained by the existence of the authentic texts of Scripture and the voluminous interpretations of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi together with the absolute prohibition against anyone propounding “authoritative” or “inspired” interpretations or usurping the function of Guardian. Unity of administration is assured by the authority of the Universal House of Justice. (In, Messages 1963 to 1986, 56)

That absolute prohibition does not make an exception for the UHJ: they too are not allowed to give authoritative interpretations, and to say an interpretation is non-authoritative automatically means that one is not obliged to incorporate it into one’s own beliefs. The UHJ itself says that its elucidations have a status analogous to the inferences we all draw when we are reading texts:

Authoritative interpretation of the Writings was the exclusive domain of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. When the House of Justice stated that the “father can be regarded as the ‘head’ of the family,” it was giving expression to its own inference as you indicate. This inference, … is based on the clear and primary responsibility of the husband to provide for the financial support of the wife and family, and on the provisions of the law of intestacy, which assigns special functions and rights to the eldest son.
(The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 633)


How is elucidation meant to work?

Another critique of the position my friends expressed relates to the meaning of elucidation. The UHJ uses the word elucidation — whether in regard to its own work, or the Guardian’s letters, or Baha’u’llah himself — to refer to a statement that leads to a higher level of understanding:

Some sayings of the Manifestation are clear and obvious. Among these are laws of behaviour. Others are elucidations which lead men from their present level of understanding to a new one. (Letter of 3 June 1982)

That is, an elucidation is an argument addressed to one’s reason. Therefore when the UHJ gives an elucidation, it does not breach the absolute prohibition against anyone propounding “authoritative” … interpretations because it is not intended to be authoritative: it is not to be accepted simply because it is stated, rather, it is to be considered, understood, weighed. If it persuades, it persuades by its cogency, not because of the authority of its author. To short-circuit this process of understanding, by treating such statements as necessarily true, vitiates the purpose they could serve for an individual’s own development. He or she would be left saying, I believe it, but I don’t understand it. For such a person, there has been no light shed, no elucidation has happened.

Elucidation can include non-authoritative explanations, either because the person or body does not have the authority of interpretation, or does not wish to assert it, or because the thing explained is, for example, the World Order rather than the text of scripture. For example, Shoghi Effendi writes to the North American NSA of the time:

The Guardian is confident that you will elucidate and give the widest publicity to these already established principles, …[of the sovereignty of the NSA and the freedom of the convention delegates] (through the Guardian’s secretary. August 12, 1933, published in USBN).

Shoghi Effendi also lists the elucidation of his own plans as one of the functions of the Hands of the Cause, who “…in addition to their individual participation in the deliberations at the forthcoming Conferences, as my special representatives, entrusted with a four-fold mission: to … elucidate the character and purposes of the impending decade-long spiritual World Crusade and rally the participants.” But (in contrast to what I have written elsewhere), elucidation is not necessarily non-authoritative. Shoghi Effendi uses the word elucidate in relation to the Bab’s answers to questions concerning the Iranian philosopher Mulla Sadra, Baha’u’llah’s elucidations of the Bab’s teachings, and his own efforts, in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, to elucidate the distinguishing features of that world order. So it appears that for Shoghi Effendi, as in the quote from the UHJ given above, an elucidation is not a lesser species of interpretation, but rather an explanation of religious truth that persuades by its cogency and the strength of its facts, not because of the authority of its author.

Conclusion

It’s because the houses of justice make decisions in the realm of “what must be done” not “what the revealed Word means,” that one is never required to adjust one’s own understanding of Bahai beliefs to align with ideas or beliefs embodied in the UHJ’s decisions. Equally, “what is to be done” for Bahais is what the UHJ says: if the UHJ (or the local or national assembly) says something not in line with the Bahai scriptures, it must be put into effect. Any other position would lead to scriptural literalism, rigidity, and sect formation, as individuals decide they know what is or is not in line with scripture. Equally bad would be a religion whose leadership decides what Bahai teachings are from time to time, so that there is no conceptual distinction between principle and practice. Abdu’l-Baha’s separation of these two spheres of the Guardianship and the House of Justice, of doctrine and legislation, was an innovation in religion as dramatic as the move from the unrestrained and undifferentiated sovereignty of the monarch to the separation of powers in the political sphere. It promises a continuing stable tension between what ought to be, and what has to be done, without diluting the principles or imposing an impractical literalism on the Bahais and their institutions.

That puts the burden on us, to read the UHJ’s words as statements of “what must be done,” and to do it, and not as statements about what we should believe. Yet our understanding should be influenced by what we ourselves learn in doing “what must be done.” Moreover the UHJ is not barred from using both reason and scripture to explain itself, and we may well find its reasoning and the scripture it quotes persuasive, and adjust our understanding accordingly. What we may not do is treat it as authoritative for Bahai beliefs simply because it comes from the UHJ: that would be to turn the UHJ into a substitute Guardian. If we are to be faithful to the Covenant in our own thoughts, we keep a mental reservation that the UHJ’s elucidation might be wrong in logic or interpretation, or be based on incorrect or incomplete information. And if we are writing or speaking in any systematic and self-critical way about the Bahai teachings — if we are doing Baha’i theology — we may not include the UHJ’s words among the formal sources of our theology, but must refer always to the scriptural sources.

~~Sen

Updated: 12 Jan. 2014. Added quote relating to the inferences of the UHJ.

Related discussions: in the comments to ‘Too tender for the House’
Church, state, experts, consensus on this blog

Short link: http://wp.me/pcgF5-1Jx

103 Responses to “UHJ elucidations”

  1. xyz said

    Abdul-Baha and the Guardian elucidate matters too:

    “Through His (Abdul-Baha) unremitting labors, as reflected in the treatises He composed, the thousands of Tablets He revealed, the discourses He delivered, the prayers, poems and commentaries He left to posterity, mostly in Persian, some in Arabic and a few in Turkish, the laws and principles, constituting the warp and woof of His Father’s Revelation, had been elucidated, its fundamentals restated and interpreted, its tenets given detailed application and the validity and indispensability of its verities fully and publicly demonstrated.” (God Passes By)

    “He (Abdul-Baha) had, in His works, Tablets and addresses, elucidated its principles, interpreted its laws, amplified its doctrine, and erected the rudimentary institutions of its future Administrative Order.” (God Passes By)

    “With what precision and emphasis He (Abdul-Baha) unfolded the system of the Faith He was expounding, elucidated its fundamental verities, stressed its distinguishing features, and proclaimed the redemptive character of its principles?” (Promised Day is Come)

    “In making such a statement,” He (Abdul Baha) explains, “I had in mind no one else except the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, the character of whose Revelations it had been my purpose to elucidate…” (Dispensation of Baha’u’llah)

    “That the Báb, notwithstanding the duration of His Dispensation, should be regarded primarily, not as the chosen Precursor of the Bahá’í Faith, but as One invested with the undivided authority assumed by each of the independent Prophets of the past, seemed to me yet another basic principle the elucidation of which would be extremely desirable at the present stage of the evolution of our Cause.” (Dispensation of Baha’u’llah)

  2. Sen said

    Yes, and so do the Bab and Baha’u’llah, as I’ve pointed out in the blog entry:

    Shoghi Effendi uses the word elucidate in relation to the Bab’s answers to questions concerning the Iranian philosopher Mulla Sadra, Baha’u’llah’s elucidations of the Bab’s teachings, and his own efforts, in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, to elucidate the distinguishing features of that world order.

  3. xyz said

    continuation of post 1:

    “My chief concern at this challenging period of Bahá’í history is rather to call the attention of those who are destined to be the champion-builders of the Administrative Order of Bahá’u’lláh to certain fundamental verities the elucidation of which must tremendously assist them in the effective prosecution of their mighty enterprise.” (Dispensation of Baha’u’llah)

  4. CoL said

    This is my second try at posting my comment.

    The fact that the basic function and prerogatives of the UHJ are unclear and cause for contention is the fault of Baha’u’llah, Abdul Baha and Shoghi Effendi. By failing to clearly and unequivocally describe the mandate of this central institution, which in their view is the linchpin of the entire Baha’i system, they’ve undermined the credibility of their religion.

    For a religion that purports to have transcended many of the obstacles of past religions,its theological fault-lines and disagreements about the basic rules of its institutions mirror the cleavages of religions that it’s supposedly superseded.

  5. Sen said

    What precisely do you think is unclear? You gesture vaguely at a problem, and then say it proves there’s a problem. If you want there to be a problem, that’s a great strategy

  6. xyz said

    The Universal House of Justice cannot elucidate the laws and principles of the Baha’i Faith or the fundamental verities of the Baha’i Faith or the character of the Revelations of Baha’u’llah and the Bab as that is the function of an Interpreter of the Word of God as the quotes in posts 1 and 3 shows. These elucidations of Abdul-Baha and the Guardian are authoritative interpretations of the Holy Writ.

  7. Sen said

    The Will and Testament states that the members of the Universal House of Justice are to consult on “questions that are obscure.” Presumably they are to make them less obscure, otherwise it would be words that end in words. “Making less obscure” (dark) = elucidating (making light). Shoghi Effendi himself (not a secretary) wrote:

    Touching the point raised in the Secretary’s letter regarding the nature and scope of the Universal Court of Arbitration, this and other similar matters will have to be explained and elucidated by the Universal House of Justice, to which, according to the Master’s explicit instructions, all important and fundamental questions must be referred. (Baha’i Administration, 47)

    Therefore it quite clear that the Universal House of Justice can and should elucidate matters that are obscure. So for that matter should the National Spiritual Assemblies, as Shoghi Effendi writes, to the North American NSA:

    The Guardian is confident that you will elucidate and give the widest publicity to these already established principles, …[of the sovereignty of the NSA and the freedom of the convention delegates] (through the Guardian’s secretary. August 12, 1933, published in USBN).

    There can be many reasons why something is obscure and requires elucidation. First of all, one must realise that something is obscure for a person or persons, but it may not be intrinsically obscure. It may be obscure simply because the person or persons does not have the necessary pieces of the puzzle to fit them together. Anyone who has the necessary bit of information can provide elucidation for someone else in such a case. The great majority of the UHJ’s letters and the memos from the Research Department that come in response to questions are of this type. They elucidate by informing. Most of the posts on my blog also elucidate by informing. Second, something may remain obscure to a person or persons because, although they have the information, they do not have the capacity to join the dots and get a picture. That could be due to immaturity or lack of intelligence, but much more commonly it is because of intellectual baggage that prevents the mind analyzing rationally. An example is the ending of the Guardianship: the Bahais knew that the Will and Testament specified that the Guardian must appoint a successor in his lifetime, and have that choice approved or declined by majority vote of a body of 9 Hands of the Cause elected by the Hands of the Cause worldwide. And they knew that that had not happened. Yet it took some years for it to sink in, and many did not accept the logic of the facts before them until the newly elected House of Justice confirmed it. Here again, anyone can elucidate a matter for someone else, if that person is willing to think things through in a new way. Another kind of intellectual baggage consists of things people think are true, especially things that “everybody knows.” The idea that Abdu’l-Baha predicted the Lesser Peace or the Unity of Nations by the end of the 20th century is an example. The texts that show that was not so, were available to the Bahais, but were generally not examined with that question in mind, because it was not a question: “everybody knows.” Not asking the right question is a great cause for obscurity, and questioning what everybody knows is a cause of elucidation. Reliance on texts that are not authentic is another cause of confusion, and much light can be let in just by clearing these clouds away. The memos of the Research Department sometimes do this, by saying that a text is not authentic, and a few articles on my blog are of the same nature.

    In such cases, the thing that was obscure and becomes elucidated, may be a fundamental verity of the Bahai Faith.

    I know of nothing to indicate that the UHJ’s elucidations can relate to minor matters but not essential principles! However, an enactment of the House of Justice, according to Shoghi Effendi, may be contrary to the spirit of the Bahai Teachings or conflict with the meaning of the Bahai Scriptures. As I’ve pointed out, that may be because circumstances require such an enactment temporarily, or because the members of the UHJ do not themselves understand the spirit and meaning of the Teachings. That means one cannot deduce anything reliably, about the Bahai teachings, simply from the fact that it is, or appears to be, implied in words written with their authority. What one can do is look at the scriptural sources and especially the new information they provide, and look to see if they have provided a reasoning that had not occurred to you, and see if the result is light. If it’s light-giving, it’s elucidation. The process is never-ending, for every advance in understanding reveals something new that is obscure.

    This is quite distinct from the authoritative interpretations provided by Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi. If they say that verse X means Y, then for the purposes of understanding the Bahai teachings, Y is one of the meanings of X, now and for all time. The Iqan for example interprets the symbols of the little Apocalypse of Matthew 24. Religious language is a symbol system, and like other languages it has a grammar. To understand the language, you need to use the grammar. In the Bahai religious language, for example, the terms “sun,” “moon,” and “stars” primarily signify the Prophets of God, the saints, and their companions, [and]… in another sense, … the divines of the former Dispensation.” Y (divines) has been declared to be one of the meanings of X (stars). You can take this deep grammar rule, and apply it to other scriptures. “Interpretation” therefore is legislating the grammar of the religious language that will be used by the Bahai community.

  8. xyz said

    I find The Hidden Words and The Seven Valleys and Four Valleys obscure. Should I ask the Universal House of Justice to elucidate these writings of Baha’u’llah? They cannot elucidate the Revelation of Baha’u’llah. I have to ask an Interpreter of the Word of God to elucidate these writings and not the Universal House of Justice.

  9. Sen said

    If you have a specific question, they may have information that helps. Or you could ask other Bahais if they can elucidate. For an interpretation, go to an interpreter. For an elucidation, seek light wherever you find it.
    For example, Persian Hidden Word 72 on this blog throws light on “Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer’s knowledge,” based on Shoghi Effendi’s 1923 translation of that text, and a study of the Persian. Does that help you? Then you got elucidation, but not from an Interpreter. As for the Seven Valleys, Mr Taherzadeh says, “Baha’u’llah mentions in a Tablet that The Seven Valleys was written before His Declaration in the idiom of the people concerned.” That elucidates something for me, because I did not know about that tablet, and he footnotes it so I can follow up and get even more elucidation, from the Author himself.

    I don’t see any reason for thinking that the Universal House of Justice, and its research department, are not allowed to elucidate scriptures, when Mr. Taherzadeh and I do it perfectly happily. The important thing is that no elucidation becomes an interpretation of scripture: it makes some matter clear, but it does not become a rule of meaning that must be applied in understanding the Bahai scripture.

  10. Concourse on Low said

    You’re a coward and hypocrite for not publishing my comments.

  11. Sen said

    What comments? I don’t remember any, and I’ve checked the trash and don’t find any from you. But if you wrote in that tone, I probably wouldn’t give it a second thought. I’m not going to let just anyone walk in and mess my place up

  12. xyz said

    “O people of the world! When the Mystic Dove will have winged its flight from its Sanctuary of Praise and sought its far-off goal, its hidden habitation, refer ye whatsoever ye understand not in the Book to Him Who hath branched from this mighty Stock.”
    (Kitab-i-Aqdas)

    Baha’u’llah does not say “…refer ye whatsoever ye understand not in the Book to the Universal House of Justice”.

    Again I donot understand the Hidden Words and the Seven Valleys and Four Valleys. Who should I refer to?

    Concerning elucidations by Adib Taherzadeh and yourself, they are just personal interpretations of the Holy Writ which lacks authority. Elucidations by an Interpreter of the Word of God are authoritative interpretations of the Holy Writ.

  13. xyz said

    You have said that the elucidations of the Universal House of Justice makes the scriptures clear but are not interpretations.

    The question is how can we be sure those elucidations are not erroneous? If they can be erroneous then it is not elucidation because the purpose of elucidation is to make clear. A wrong explanation does not make scriptures clear. If they cannot be erroneous then they are authoritative interpretations of the Holy Writ which would make the Universal House of Justice an Interpreter of the Word of God.

    So I disagree with your premise that the Universal House of Justice can elucidate the scriptures.

  14. Sen said

    If there’s something you do not understand, you can seek illumination (elucidation) wherever you please. The House of Justice or its research department may have the information you need, or they may not. You should of course also look for an authoritative interpretation, from Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha or Shoghi Effendi. However it could be that they have not answered your question, or they answered it but the letter is in the archives in Haifa, or in a language you cannot read. So if you don’t find what you want, seek answers. Ultimately, it’s up to you.

    There is no way of being sure that an elucidation stated, or implied, in the writings of the House of justice is not erroneous. The Guardian, not the House of Justice, was given the guidance to understand and explain scripture, and the Guardian has stated that the enactments of the House of Justice (which are assured of divine guidance) may be contrary to the spirit of the Bahai Teachings or conflict with the meaning of the Bahai Scriptures. There is no guarantee they understand the Bahai teachings, and in a contingent world it will not always be possible for them to apply what they do understand, fully. That uncertainty takes us back to what an elucidation is, an argument addressed to one’s reason. An elucidation is not to be accepted simply because it is stated, rather, it is to be considered, understood, weighed. If it persuades, it persuades by its cogency, not because of the authority of its author.

    It seems to me you looking for someone to do your thinking for you, while proclaiming no-one can do your thinking for you. If you sort out the difference between interpretation and elucidation, I think it will be clear why the UHJ can “deliberate on … questions that are obscure” without straying into the area of authoritative interpretation.

  15. xyz said

    Not just “someone” but “an Interpreter of the Word of God” and not “no-one” but “no-one but an Interpreter of the Word of God”, referring to the last paragraph of your post. This is in accordance with the explicit Text of the Aqdas that I have quoted before. What is the value of an explanation that is erroneous? What is the value of an explanation that misleads? What is the value of an explanation that does not take a believer out of darkness and into light? The explanations of individual Baha’is falls in this category. To me such explanations have no value.

  16. xyz said

    Abdul-Baha says “It is incumbent upon these members (of the Universal House of Justice) to gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book.” (Will of Abdul-Baha)

    Abdul-Baha does not say “It is incumbent upon these members (of the Universal House of Justice) to gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems in the Book which have caused difference, questions in the Book that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book.”

    Baha’u’llah explicitly says if one does not understand something in the Book one must refer to an Interpreter. So the elucidations of the Universal House of Justice does not include the Book.

  17. Sen said

    I have shown that elucidation of the writings and authorised interpretation of the writings are two different things. You argument is:
    – an elucidation of the writings is an authorised interpretation of the writings
    – the Universal House of Justice cannot give an authorised interpretation of the Writings
    – therefore the UHJ can also not give an elucidation of the Writings.

    What I have written here will only make sense if you are willing to entertain the idea that elucidation and interpretation are two different things, and that an elucidator does not necessarily have to an authorised Interpreter. The UHJ at least understands and preaches the distinction:

    The elucidations of the Universal House of Justice stem from its legislative function, and as such differ from interpretation. The divinely inspired legislation of the House of Justice does not attempt to say what the revealed Word means — it states what must be done in cases where the revealed Text or its authoritative interpretation is not explicit.
    (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 Dec 15, Elucidations of the House of Justice)

    That itself is an elucidation, of the verse in the Will that refers to the UHJ members consulting on obscure matters, and of Shoghi Effendi’s statements that all important matters (among them the scope of the Court of Arbitration), are to be referred to the Universal House of Justice. This elucidation did not require pulling out a scriptural quote, since it can be solved simply by reason. The puzzlement of the friends comes from supposing that elucidation is like interpretation, so the UHJ elucidates that elucidation is something different to interpretation, and then the matter is clear – for he who has ears to hear.

    It is true that Abdu’l-Baha does not explicitly include questions in the Book that are obscure; it is also true he does not exclude them. Shoghi Effendi’s summary of this passage is:

    …regarding the nature and scope of the Universal Court of Arbitration, this and other similar matters will have to be explained and elucidated by the Universal House of Justice, to which, according to the Master’s explicit instructions, all important and fundamental questions must be referred.
    (Baha’i Administration, p. 47)

    There is no scriptural warrant for saying that “all important and fundamental questions” does not include the Bahai Writings! Are the unimportant? Are they not fundamental to us? And is the Universal Court of Arbitration – and its nature and scope – not given in the Bahai Writings?

    a Supreme Tribunal must be established, representative of all governments and peoples; questions both national and international must be referred thereto, and all must carry out the decrees of this Tribunal.
    (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 249)

    Bahá’u’lláh says that the Supreme Tribunal must be established: although the League of Nations has been brought into existence, yet it is incapable of establishing universal peace. But the Supreme Tribunal which Bahá’u’lláh has described will fulfil this sacred task with the utmost might and power. And His plan is this: that the national assemblies of each country and nation — that is to say parliaments — should elect two or three persons … (etc, in some detail)
    (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 305)

    that all the dwellers on earth may become one people and one race, that the world may become even as one home. Should differences arise, they shall be amicably and conclusively settled by the Supreme Tribunal, that shall include members from all the governments and peoples of the world.
    (Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 13)

    And there is quite a bit more on this. Evidently, the question that was asked (broadly speaking, it was about the topic of Church and State) was not something that the Guardian felt required an authoritative interpretation. It is already covered exhaustively and explicitly in the scriptures. Nor apparently does it require the UHJ’s legislative intervention: he does not refer to that (but still, there could be matters in the future that do require legislation). Rather, he says the UHJ will elucidate it. It can do this, precisely because the topic is so thoroughly covered in the Writings, that all that is required is to pull out the texts, arrange them in order, and present them to the believers – voila, elucidation!

    The elucidations of the House of Justice draw on its knowledge of the Bahai Faith and its scriptures.
    Your argument is that it cannot provide elucidations on things that are in the scriptures!
    So it is to elucidate what it does not know with scriptural certainty, and may not elucidate what it can know with scriptural certainty?

    The value of an elucidation is that it presents you with information and reasoning that expand your knowledge. It does not remove from you the need to use your own reasoning and study to see if it makes sense and what its implications are. You say such fallible elucidations have no value to you – but I have no doubt that you have drawn on them time and again, and benefited. Knowledge is a collective endeavour, and you will have to admit the possibility that sometimes the knowledge you want, may be available from the UHJ or the research department. Can there be any good reason for refusing such knowledge, or reasoning, simply because it comes from the UHJ ?

  18. namayn said

    After 10 years as a Haifan Bahai and after that of 26 years never having accepted another religion or been a member of any other Bahai group, I have always believed that Bahaullah is the Manifestation of God for this time. Over the years I have come to believe:

    all who accept Bahaullah as the Manifestation of God for this time whatever the Bahai group they belong to are Bahais without qualification or rank and none subject to shunning or excommunication

    Bahaullah as demonstrated in some of his actions and in his writings is fallible and that all Manifestations of God have been fallible human beings

    the Bahai Revelation consists only of the complete writings of Bahaullah and their various translations supplemented by the independent study of all histories of Bahaullah. AbdulBaha’s writings and his life accomplishments are to be respected and studied but not to be regarded in any way as Bahai Revelation or infallible

    only in the Covenant Bahaullah wrote and that after the passing of his two sons mentioned in his Covenant that the foundation of any Bahai organization must be built upon the institutions of the Houses of Justice expressly called for by Bahaullah

    that individual conscience and independent investigation of the truth must be the final arbiter for any Bahai in whether to accept or not any of the writings of Bahaullah

    all the writings of Bahaullah and his Kitab I Aqdas are a living, fallible non-theocratic spiritual Constitution that the community of Bahais must build upon and amend. Acceptance of any spiritual laws that a particular group of Bahais may wish to follow are voluntary based upon individual conscience

    that all Bahais in a particular local community are members of that local House of Justice

    that Bahai leadership is the individual Bahai’s conscience above all followed by the development of the institutions of the Houses of Justice

  19. xyz said

    Not my argument but Shoghi Effendi’s argument. Refer to the first two quotes from God Passes By that I have given in post 1. In the first quote Shoghi Effendi says Abdul-Baha elucidated the laws and principles revealed by Baha’u’llah and in the second quote he says Abdul-Baha elucidated its principles and interpreted its laws. Since both these quotations refer to the works of Abdul-Baha and since both are valid it logically follows Shoghi Effendi considered elucidation and interpretation as synonymous and thus interchangeable. Therefore the Universal House of Justice cannot elucidate the principles and laws revealed by Baha’u’llah. Since the principles and laws are part of the Book it logically follows that the Universal House of Justice cannot elucidate the Book.

    Concerning Shoghi Effendi’s letter from p. 47 of Baha’i Administration, one needs to read the original question to which the Guardian replied. It is very easy to get misled by not knowing the context of the answer.

    Also Shoghi Effendi does not say “…regarding the nature and scope of the Universal Court of Arbitration, this and other similar matters in the Book will have to be explained and elucidated by the Universal House of Justice, to which, according to the Master’s explicit instructions, all important and fundamental questions in the Book must be referred.”

    The point I am trying to make is there is nothing explicit in either the Will of Abdul-Baha or Shoghi Effendi’s writings that says the Universal House of Justice can elucidate the Book. It is your personal interpretation of the Will of Abdul-Baha that the Universal House of Justice can elucidate the Book which in my humble opinion is erroneous.

  20. Sen said

    Namayn wrote:

    > that all Bahais in a particular local community are members of that local House of Justice…

    But Abdu’l-Baha writes:

    … A blessed letter hath been received from you, telling of the election of a Spiritual Assembly. It hath rejoiced my heart to know that, God be praised, the friends in that area, with absolute unity, fellowship and love, have held this new election and were successful in voting for souls who are sanctified, are favoured at the Holy Threshold and are well known amongst the friends to be staunch and firm in the Covenant. Now must those elected representatives arise to serve … Truly, blessed souls have been elected.
    (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 77)

    Shoghi Effendi specifies:

    The matter of Teaching, … constitute by no means the only issue which should receive the full attention of these Assemblies. A careful study of Bahá’u’lláh’s and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Tablets will reveal that other duties, no less vital to the interests of the Cause, devolve upon the elected representatives of the friends in every locality. ….. They must undertake the arrangement of the regular meetings of the friends, the feasts and the anniversaries, … They must supervise in these days when the Cause is still in its infancy all Bahá’í publications and translations, … These local Spiritual Assemblies will have to be elected directly by the friends, and every declared believer of 21 years and above, … should regard it his sacred duty to take part conscientiously and diligently, in the election, the consolidation and the efficient working of his own local Assembly. (Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 37)

    and so on: the Writings are full of the principle that the Houses of Justice should be elected bodies, whose members are called by Baha’u’llah “the Ministers of the House of Justice.”
    All Bahais in a locality are subject to the House of Justice, but not all members of it.
    ========

    > Bahaullah as demonstrated in some of his actions and in his writings is fallible and that all Manifestations of God have been fallible human beings…

    Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men.
    (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 128)

    The problem here, and in discussions of the infallibility of the Guardian, House of Justice etc., is that people assume they know what “unerring” or “infallible” means, and when it doesn’t fit the assumption, throw out the whole idea instead of going back to the Writings to see what they say about it. Infallibility is a Bahai scriptural doctrine, but hardly resembles what most people understand by the word. Baha’u’llah has been wrong on historical matters, perhaps on scientific matters, but as Mirza Abu’l-Fadl says, the Manifestations are not sent to teach history or science.

    ====

    > the Bahai Revelation consists only of the complete writings of Bahaullah … AbdulBaha’s writings and his life accomplishments are to be respected and studied but not to be regarded in any way as Bahai Revelation or infallible

    Abdu’l-Baha would agree that his writings are not Revelation, not the creative Word. But his personal role cannot be dismissed. In the Suriy-i-Ghusn (Tablet of the Branch), Baha’u’llah even calls him a Word:

    “There hath branched from the Sadratu’l-Muntaha this sacred and glorious Being, this Branch of Holiness; well is it with him that hath sought His shelter and abideth beneath His shadow. Verily the Limb of the Law of God hath sprung forth from this Root which God hath firmly implanted in the Ground of His Will, and Whose Branch hath been so uplifted as to encompass the whole of creation. Magnified be He, therefore, for this sublime, this blessed, this mighty, this exalted Handiwork!… A Word hath, as a token of Our grace, gone forth from the Most Great Tablet — a Word which God hath adorned with the ornament of His own Self, and made it sovereign over the earth and all that is therein, and a sign of His greatness and power among its people …Render thanks unto God, O people, for His appearance; for verily He is the most great Favor unto you, the most perfect bounty upon you; and through Him every mouldering bone is quickened. Whoso turneth towards Him hath turned towards God, and whoso turneth away from Him hath turned away from My beauty, hath repudiated My Proof, and transgressed against Me. He is the Trust of God amongst you, His charge within you, His manifestation unto you and His appearance among His favored servants… We have sent Him down in the form of a human temple. Blest and sanctified be God Who createth whatsoever He willeth through His inviolable, His infallible decree. They who deprive themselves of the shadow of the Branch, are lost in the wilderness of error, are consumed by the heat of worldly desires, and are of those who will assuredly perish.” (translated by Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 134)

  21. Sen said

    I have seen nothing so far that limits the scope of the UHJ’s elucidating and unifying functions to things not expressly stated in the scripture, and plenty of examples where it has elucidated things revealed in the scripture – not always correctly in my opinion but that’s another issue (the year 2000 issue is one I’ve touched on in the post above). One example of its elucidations of things in the scripture is its explanations of its own legislative function, in a number of letters.

    In the passage on which this all hinges, Shoghi Effendi writes:

    Touching the point raised in the Secretary’s letter regarding the nature and scope of the Universal Court of Arbitration, this and other similar matters will have to be explained and elucidated by the Universal House of Justice, to which, according to the Master’s explicit instructions, all important and fundamental questions must be referred. (Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 47)

    Note that “explained and elucidated” as a parallel pair. If you think that the UHJ cannot elucidate anything that is expressly revealed, can you avoid the conclusion that they cannot explain anything that is expressly revealed? That would mean the UHJ cannot explain things like world unity, universal peace, the equality of men and women, race unity, the international tribunal, progressive revelation, monotheism, that Baha’u’llah is the Manifestation of God ….

    In short, it would leave the UHJ with less powers and scope than any ordinary believer. From looking at the way Shoghi Effendi uses the term elucidation, it appears to me to be the equivalent of teaching the cause, except that we talk of teaching primarily when the audience is mainly non-Bahais, and of elucidating and explaining when the audience is more deepened, and has come to more complex questions that need careful reference to the scriptures and careful reasoning to answer

    > the first quote Shoghi Effendi says Abdul-Baha elucidated the laws and principles revealed by Baha’u’llah and in the second quote he says Abdul-Baha elucidated its principles and interpreted its laws. Since both these quotations refer to the works of Abdul-Baha and since both are valid it logically follows Shoghi Effendi considered elucidation and interpretation as synonymous

    LOL. Does it occur to you that Abdu’l-Baha could be BOTH the authorised interpreter and give explanations and elucidations? As does Shoghi Effendi, incidentally.

  22. xyz said

    It is a strange mentality to believe an erroneous explanation makes a matter clear or is an elucidation. My intelligence cannot digest that.

    How is Abdul-Baha’s elucidation of laws different from interpretation of laws? I see no difference. To elucidate a law Abdul-Baha has to make the meaning of that law clear. Otherwise what is Abdul-Baha making clear if not the meaning?

  23. Concourse on Low said

    Let me guess, you’ve “lost” my comment again.

    Here it is again, returned from the ether.

    The central figures failed to provide clear, comprehensive, detailed and unequivocal instructions on the functions and prerogatives of the UHJ. They’ve completely discredited themselves by failing to do so. And now Sen has to cobble together overly complex arguments that verge on casuistry to…elucidate…matters that should not need elucidation if the central figures had done their jobs.

  24. xyz said

    You wrote: “LOL. Does it occur to you that Abdu’l-Baha could be BOTH the authorised interpreter and give explanations and elucidations? As does Shoghi Effendi, incidentally.”

    Does it occur to you that “elucidate” and “interpret” are synonyms according to dictionary? It is therefore illogical to say that the Universal House of Justice cannot interpret the Holy Writ but it can elucidate the Holy Writ. That is pure nonsense.

  25. Sen said

    Perhaps if you could say what it is you think is not clear and unequivocal, I or someone else could help.

  26. Sen said

    Obviously they are not the same in Bahai theology: elucidation is used by Shoghi Effendi as a synonym with explain, and is a function performed by everyone from the Manifestation to the National Assembly and the Hands, and by the Universal House of Justice, whereas authoritative interpretation is not in the sphere of the Universal House of Justice, the Hands or the NSA’s. It is therefore quite certain that they are two different things.

    In general, one must derive the meanings of terms used in Bahai theology from the Bahai Writings, not from a dictionary. English dictionaries are compiled by searching the actual uses of a word in English writers, and Shoghi Effendi’s writings are hardly likely to have been among those searched by the dictionary compilers. He’s not a native speaker, or a widely read writer. So search Shoghi Effendi’s writings, not a dictionary, to see how he uses terms and how he thinks

  27. Sen said

    I’ve explained my thinking on this previously. Interpretation provides something like a new “grammar rule” that must be applied, an explanation or elucidation provides the text or reasoning which leads you to the right answer, the answer you would have got to yourself if you had had the text or had thought of the logical connection. Interpretation leads to a result that differs qualitatively from what you could produce yourself. For example, you might think yourself that the stars of the little apocalypse represent religious leaders: that is your speculation, your creative interpretation. But when Baha’u’llah says the same thing, in the Iqan, he makes a new “grammar rule” for the language of Bahai theology.

    An explanation or elucidation that is erroneous does not normally make the matter clear, it is then a misleading explanation, a confusing attempt at elucidation. Only ocassionally will that prove helpful to you. But so far as I know, there is nothing that would guarantee that the explanations and elucdiations of the UHJ, or of other Bahai institutions or individuals, will be free of error. Sorry, if that’s what you really want, I think you’re going to be frustrated.

  28. Concourse on Low said

    Baha’is claim that what distinguishes them from other religions is the fact that their founder, and subsequently their religion’s purportedly infallible expounders, have provided clear and explicit terms and conditions for the succession of authoritative leadership of the religion AND the design, function and prerogatives of the religion’s institutions and administration.

    Consequently, because of the supposedly clear and explicit provisions, the Baha’i Faith will not fall into the trap of schism and disagreement over successorship and administrative function.

    1. It HAS fallen prey to schism several times over the course of its history.(Don’t give me the typical response that those groups are insignificant because their numbers are relatively marginal; by that logic mainstream Baha’is are insignificant since their numbers are marginal relative to the world’s population.)

    2. There IS a great deal of controversy over the exact nature of the role and function of the UHJ, as attested by Sen’s blog.

    Why is this? It’s obvious. The supposedly CLEAR and EXPLICIT documentation doesn’t exist. The central figures left scattered, incomplete, vague and equivocal provisions for the functioning of the UHJ. And so the problem that the Baha’i Faith supposedly avoided….well, it hasn’t.

    And as a result, you have someone like Sen who, with great sincerity, needs to cobble together elaborate arguments to explain/justify things about the basic activities of the UHJ. If the central figures had done their jobs, he wouldn’t have to. But then Sen would be bored. So it all sorta works out in the end.

  29. Sen said

    Free will, and religious freedom, mean that anyone can start their own sect of Bahai whenever they want. The clear appointment of Abdu’l-Baha as the head of the community after Baha’u’llah, and his appointment of Shoghi Effendi as Guardian, and the three key figures’ explanations of the role of Universal House of Justice mean that one and only Bahai community can claim legitimacy. This doesn’t stop any individual starting their own sect, it just stops it succeeding, because textual legitimacy is crucial in a religion of scripture.

    There is nothing on my blog that I know of that indicates something is unclear or inexplicit about the provisions for the functioning of the UHJ, and you have again not indicated what you are talking about. I guess it’s important to you THAT something is unclear, but not important to identify it and clear it up.

    However clear and explicit the Bahai writings may be, free will and freedom of religion mean that nobody is forced to study and understand. So there will be people who find something unclear, and there will be people who prefer to think something is unclear. That doesn’t mean that there actually is something unclear.

    Clear?

  30. xyz said

    I don’t think Shoghi Effendi had any intention or authority to redefine English words in the dictionary. If I am correct he referred to dictionary for his works.

  31. Sen said

    I am sure he used dictionaries – maybe not the same ones you use. But dictionaries give a general picture of how words are being used in the sources that the dictionary compilers have consulted. If you want to know how one particular author uses words, you must study his own writings, not the dictionaries. That’s true of Dickens or GB Shaw, and its true of Shoghi Effendi as well.

  32. Concourse on Low said

    “There is nothing on my blog that I know of that indicates something is unclear or inexplicit about the provisions for the functioning of the UHJ…”

    ummm…so your whole post about the nature and scope of the UHJ’s elucidation (is it interpretive authority or not, etc.) doesn’t qualify?

    “The clear appointment of Abdu’l-Baha as the head of the community after Baha’u’llah, and his appointment of Shoghi Effendi as Guardian, and the three key figures’ explanations of the role of Universal House of Justice mean that one and only Bahai community can claim legitimacy.”

    1. Yes, Abdul Baha’s appointment of Shoghi Effendi is clear.
    2. Baha’u’llah’s appointment of Abdul Bahai is not as clear you and other Baha’is make it out to be. Baha’u’llah uses monikers instead of given names (all I see is the name Abdul Baha in parenstheses in the English translations…why the hell wouldn’t Baha’u’llah just USE his son’s ACTUAL name?) and the nature and scope of Abdul Baha’s authority is not as explicit as it’s made out to be. Baha’u’llah seemed to intend his other son to play some sort of leadership role as well, albeit a subordinate one.
    3. The central figures remarks about the UHJ are not clear. If they were, you wouldn’t need to debate endlessly about the meaning of elucidation.

    “So there will be people who find something unclear, and there will be people who prefer to think something is unclear. That doesn’t mean that there actually is something unclear.”

    That’s a fine piece of sophistry. “People who PREFER to think something is unclear.” Nice. Bustin’ out the ad hominems already, eh?

    Come on, Sen, you should be above that brand of puerility.

  33. xyz said

    It is impossible to know the definition of words by reading the writings of an author. For example Shoghi Effendi uses the words “elucidate” and “explain” in page 47 of Baha’i Administration that you have quoted several times. It is impossible to know their definitions by simply reading that statement of the Guardian. One has to consult a dictionary to know their definitions. I have consulted several dictionaries and in all I find “elucidate”, “explain” and “interpret” as synonyms.

  34. Sen said

    The dictionary makers form their conclusions about the meanings of words, from the ways they are used. There is no legislator that determines what meanings should be. The use of words by speakers and authors is the territory, for which the dictionary is only a map. You can and should deduce the meaning of a word from its context, and from the author’s other uses of that word, just as a dictionary-maker does. If you do not, you must give up the idea of exact reading and literary analysis. Shoghi Effendi clearly uses “interpretations” (implying, authoritative interpretations) for one thing, and “elucidate and explain” for something different. If you want to understand what he says, you will have to go with his usage, and never mind what the dictionary may say.

    Here’s an example of Shoghi Effendi’s usage we haven’t already worked over:

    In connection with the fundamental questions of general policy referred to in your letter, I feel that the basic principles, laid down but briefly stated in my past letters, which must guide the administration of the affairs of the Bahá’í Movement, pending the definite formation of the first authoritative Universal House of Justice, must be further affirmed, elucidated, and explained in greater detail, for the complete knowledge of all the individual members of the vast and growing community of the believers in America. (Bahai Administration 47

    He is saying that he is going to elucidate and explain these things, until the UHJ can be formed. That implies that when it is formed, it will also elucidate and explain these principles, and that the UHJ’s elucidations and explanations may alter what Shoghi Effendi is saying. His elucidations have a temporary validity. But we know that the Guardian, not the UHJ, is the authorised interpreter of the Writings, and as the UHJ says:

    The Guardian reveals what the Scripture means; his interpretation is a statement of truth which cannot be varied.
    (The Universal House of Justice, 1965 Mar 09, Appointment of Guardian)

    again, in a letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of the USA, June 17, 1933…..

    “Regarding association with the World Fellowship of Faiths and kindred Societies, Shoghi Effendi wishes to reaffirm and elucidate the general principle that Bahá’í elected representatives as well as individuals should refrain from any act or word that would imply a departure from the principles, whether spiritual, social or administrative, established by Bahá’u’lláh.

    Note that no scriptural text is cited here – so it is not an interpretation of scripture. It’s an elucidation and affirmation of a principle which is assumed to be clear in itself, without requiring a new interpretation. This is the sort of thing the UHJ does too: it draws our attention to scriptural passages and principles which it can assume we will understand, once we are aware or reminded of them.

    You can do more of this yourself, with the aid of Ocean or a similar programme, and using discussions with others to get more perspectives on the meanings of words in particular sentences. That will give you a much greater understanding then relying on a dictionary made by somebody who may never have read Shoghi Effendi. (There are, in Persian, Bahai dictionaries that are compiled from the uses of terms in the Bahai writings, but no such thing in English I think.)

    (Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 78)

  35. Sen said

    The debate about the meaning of elucidation does not mean it is not clear. The law of gravity is perfectly clear, but it must be re-understood in each generation, and some people will never get that the 2 kilo stone doesn’t fall faster than the 1 kg stone, yet gravity does pull the 2kg stone twice as hard. Things may not be clear, to some people, because of their limited capacity and education, or because they already have fixed ideas that colour their thinking. This is true of the Bahai teaching or of engineering or logic.

    What you call Abdu’l-Baha’s actual name, is not his actual name – it’s the one you are familiar with. The name familiar to the Persian-speaking Bahais of the time of Baha’u’llah, was ‘the Greatest Branch,’ which Baha’u’llah used. Only after Baha’u’llah’s death did Abdu’l-Baha emphasize the name Abdu’l-Baha, partly in response to the western Bahais who wanted to make him the return of Christ:

    Regarding the station of this servant: My station is Abdul-Baha, my name is Abdul-Baha, my qualification is Abdul-Baha, my praise is Abdul-Baha, my title is Abdul-Baha. All the friends of God must declare this word, in order that all of them become united and harmonized upon it. No difference must arise. Collect, translate, print and spread all the Tablets written by me regarding this question
    (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v2, p. 466)

    As for his actual name – it was Abbas, and the combination Abdu’l-Baha Abbas was used well into his ministry, gradually being replaced by the shorter form we are familiar with today.

  36. Concourse on Low said

    Well, seems that in lieu of responding to my points you’ve decided to haughtily insult my intelligence and then demonstrate your vast scholarly intellect by snidely pointing out that Abdul Baha’s given name was Abbas. Thanks. I knew that. Common knowledge among many believers. Completely irrelevant to my points, however. You’re still welcome to address them.

    A quick pointer: when intending to insult someone, don’t start your comment with a laughably incoherent sentence like “The debate about the meaning of elucidation does not mean it is not clear.” Just to be clear.

  37. xyz said

    I am not saying that the Universal House of Justice does not explain or elucidate matters. All I am saying it cannot elucidate or explain the Book or Holy Writ or the utterances of Baha’u’llah, the Bab or Abdul-Baha. It elucidates or explains matters not expressly revealed in the Book and an Interpreter of the Word of God elucidates or explains matters expressly revealed in the Book. So whenever Shoghi Effendi says the Universal House of Justice will explain or elucidate he is referring to matters not expressly revealed in the Book.

    You wrote: “Note that no scriptural text is cited here – so it is not an interpretation of scripture. It’s an elucidation and affirmation of a principle…”

    It is not necessary that only when a scripture is cited it is interpretation otherwise it is elucidation. Elucidations can apply to scriptures as well as principles, teachings, laws and fundamental verities of the Baha’i Faith. Here is an example of Baha’u’llah elucidating a verse of the Aqdas (i.e. scripture):

    On Him (Abdul-Baha), at a later period, the Author of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, in a celebrated passage, subsequently elucidated in the “Book of My Covenant,” had bestowed the function of interpreting His Holy Writ, proclaiming Him, at the same time, to be the One “Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.” (God Passes By)

  38. xyz said

    continuation of post # 36:

    Can you say Baha’u’llah did not interpret the verse of the Aqdas in the Book of My Covenant but elucidated it? Was Baha’u’llah not interpreting the verse of the Aqdas in the Book of My Covenant?

  39. xyz said

    “Consider that which We have revealed in Our Most Holy Book: ‘When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.’ The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch [‘Abdu’l-Bahá]” (Book of My Covenant)

    Is stating the object of the verse not interpreting the verse?

  40. Sen said

    I would call “The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch [‘Abdu’l-Bahá]” (Book of My Covenant)” an explanation or elucidation. It’s the sort of thing translators have to do all the time, because the audience they are working for, does not have the information that the original audience had. If you look at Sohrab’s translations, for example, they are peppered with explanations in ( ).

    This explanation, incidentally, comes from the translator, not from the Universal House of Justice. It is correct: Most Mighty Branch was one of the names that Abdu’l-Baha was known by in the time of Baha’u’llah (another being simply Aqa). Since we know him as Abdu’l-Baha, it would be a valid translator’s choice to translate “The object of this sacred verse is none other except Abdu’l-Baha”, but this would make the following sentences obscure, so the translator has chosen this. I would do the same.

  41. Sen said

    Yes, I would say that Baha’u’llah elucidated or explained the Aqdas verse in his Book of the Covenant. I’m on the road at the moment and don’t have access to the texts to check, but as I recall the Aqdas verse was already clear, as a reference to Abdu’l-Baha, for those with the background knowledge he could expect his readers to have – but in the Book of the Covenant he provided that information explicitly. In other words, this was a puzzle that could be solved by normal knowledge and intelligence. Simply pointing to that knowledge or reasoning is not an interpretation, it elucidates/explains what is already there.

  42. Sen said

    I know of nothing in the Bahai writings that says the UHJ cannot elucidate or explain the Book or Holy Writ or the utterances of Baha’u’llah, the Bab or Abdul-Baha. It may not legislate on matters already covered in the book, but if a question arises that is covered in the Book (for instance, the shares of inheritance), and it says, “this is covered in such and such a verse of the Aqdas”, then it has provided an elucidation. So it precisely when matters are covered in the book, that the UHJ is most likely to respond with an elucidation rather than with legislation. It does this all the time, by using its access to untranslated writings and its indexing system to locate the information that will make the matter clear (elucidate it), but which was not known or available to the person asking the question.

    Not every elucidation will be via a reference to the writings (some may be by pointing to a logical point, or a point of historical fact or of language), but in practice the elucidations of the UHJ almost all work in this way – by reference to the Writings.

    When it finds it cannot elucidate a matter by reference to the Writings, the UHJ has to consider whether it should legislate on the matter. It seldom does.

  43. xyz said

    “When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.” (Aqdas)

    How is this verse clearly referring to Abdul-Baha as you say? I fail to understand how can anyone be clear about the meaning of “Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.” It may be some Baha’is interpreted this to mean Abdul-Baha but the verse itself does not clearly point to Abdul-Baha.

  44. xyz said

    “It is incumbent upon the Trustees of the House of Justice to take counsel together regarding those things which have not outwardly been revealed in the Book, and to enforce that which is agreeable to them. God will verily inspire them with whatsoever He willeth, and He, verily, is the Provider, the Omniscient.” Not only has the House of Justice been invested by Bahá’u’lláh with the authority to legislate whatsoever has not been explicitly and outwardly recorded in His holy Writ, upon it has also been conferred by the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the right and power to abrogate, according to the changes and requirements of the time, whatever has been already enacted and enforced by a preceding House of Justice. (from a letter written by Shoghi Effendi)

    So the elucidations and explanations of the Universal House of Justice applies to its legislations on “whatsoever has not been explicitly and outwardly recorded in His holy Writ”. In other words the Universal House of Justice enacts laws and elucidates and explains those laws it enacts.

  45. Sen said

    It was clear to the people at the time, that “Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root” referred only to Abdu’l-Baha. Even the followers of Muhammad `Ali, who tried to supplant Abdu’l-Baha, never claimed to my knowledge that this verse might refer to anyone but Abdu’l-Baha. This is because (unlike the appointment of Shoghi Effendi), the appointment of Abdu’l-Baha was not something newly disclosed in the Will of Baha’u’llah: it was known to all the Bahais and to Abdu’l-Baha’s brothers during the lifetime of Baha’u’llah. It is stated not just in the Aqdas, but also in the tablet of the Branch and several other tablets, some of which also say that if any of the other Aghsan should rebel, they will be cut off.

    One of the tablets of Abdu’l-Baha cites some of the references to his appointment in the writings of Baha’u’llah:

    186. O thou who art firm in the Covenant! Three consecutive letters have been received from thee. From their contents it became known that in Cleveland the hearts are afflicted by the murky breaths of the Covenant-breakers …

    The point at issue is clear, direct and of utmost brevity. Either Bahá’u’lláh was wise, omniscient and aware of what would ensue, or was ignorant and in error. He entered, by His supreme pen, into such a firm Covenant and Testament with all the Bahá’ís, first with the Aghsan, the Afnan and His kindred, and commanded them to obey and turn toward Him. By His supreme pen He hath explicitly declared that the object of the following verse of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is the Most Great Branch:

    ‘When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.’ Its meaning briefly is this: that after My ascension it is incumbent upon the Aghsan, the Afnan and the kindred, and all the friends of God, to turn their faces to Him Who hath branched from the Ancient Root.

    He also plainly saith in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas: ‘O ye people of the world! When the Mystic Dove will have winged its flight from its Sanctuary of Praise and sought its far-off goal, its hidden habitation, refer ye whatsoever ye understand not in the Book to Him Who hath branched from this mighty Stock.’ Addressing all the people of the world He saith: When the Mystic Dove flieth away from the orchard of praise to the Most Supreme and Invisible Station — that is, when the Blessed Beauty turneth away from the contingent world towards the invisible realm — refer whatever ye do not understand in the Book to Him Who hath branched from the Ancient Root. That is, whatever He saith is the very truth.

    And in the Book of the Covenant He explicitly saith that the object of this verse ‘Who hath branched from this Ancient Root’ is the Most Mighty Branch. And He commandeth all the Aghsan, the Afnan, the kindred and the Bahá’ís to turn toward Him. Now, either one must say that the Blessed Beauty hath made a mistake, or He must be obeyed. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá hath no command for the people to obey save the diffusion of the fragrances of God, the exaltation of His Word, the promulgation of the oneness of the world of humanity, the establishment of universal peace, and other of the commands of God. These are divine commands and have nothing to do with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Whoever wisheth may accept them, and anyone who rejecteth them may do as he pleaseth.

    Now some of the mischief-makers, with many stratagems, are seeking leadership, and in order to reach this position they instil doubts among the friends that they may cause differences, and that these differences may result in their drawing a party to themselves. But the friends of God must be awake and must know that the scattering of these doubts hath as its motive personal desires and the achievement of leadership.
    (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 213)

    There are also tablets that are not about the succession, but confirm that “the might branch” is the name of Abdu’l-Baha:

    PRAISE be to Him Who hath honoured the Land of Ba [Beirut, where Abdu'l-Baha was] through the presence of Him round Whom all names revolve. All the atoms of the earth have announced unto all created things that from behind the gate of the Prison-city there hath appeared and above its horizon there hath shone forth the Orb of the beauty of the great, the Most Mighty Branch of God — His ancient and immutable Mystery — proceeding on its way to another land. Sorrow, thereby, hath enveloped this Prison-city, whilst another land rejoiceth.
    (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 225)

    Among the tablets that emphasize the importance of obedience to the designated branch is Baha’u’llah’s Tablet of the Branch:

    … Say: Verily a word hath gone forth in favor from the most great Tablet and God has adorned It with the mantle of Himself, and made it sovereign over all in the earth and a sign of His grandeur and omnipotence among the creatures; …
    Say: O people, praise ye God, for its Manifestation, for verily it is the most great favor upon you and the most perfect blessing upon you; and through Him every moldering bone is quickened. Whosoever turns to Him hath surely turned unto God, and whosoever turneth away from Him hath turned away from My beauty, denied My proof and is of those who transgress. Verily, He is the remembrance of God amongst you and His trust within you, and His manifestation unto you and His appearance among the servants who are nigh. … Inhale the fragrances of the Ridvan from His roses and be not of those who are deprived. Appreciate the bounty of God upon you and be not veiled therefrom – and, verily, We have sent Him forth in the temple of man. … Verily, those who withhold themselves from the shelter of the Branch are indeed lost in the wilderness of perplexity; and are consumed by the heat of self-desire, and are of those who perish.

    Hasten, O people, unto the shelter of God, in order that He may protect you from the heat of the Day whereon none shall find for himself any refuge or shelter except beneath the shelter of His Name, the clement, the forgiving! Clothe yourselves, O people, with the garment of assurance, in order that He may protect you from the dart of doubts and superstitions… (from Bahai World Faith p 206)

    There are also many pilgrim’s notes, from those who heard Baha’u’llah speak of Abdu’l-Baha: Adib Taherzadeh translates some of them in The Covenant of Baha’u’llah around page 140.

    In short, there were numerous reasons why, in the last 20 years of Baha’u’llah’s life, those around him had no doubt that (1) he intended that after his death the Bahais and the people of the world should turn to one designated person, (2) that that person was Abdu’l-Baha, and (3) that Baha’u’llah regarded this as a matter of utmost importance, and the station of Abdu’l-Baha as quite unique and exalted. Finally, in his Will, he wrote explicitly:

    The Will of the divine Testator is this: It is incumbent upon the Aghsan, the Afnan and My Kindred to turn, one and all, their faces towards the Most Mighty Branch. Consider that which We have revealed in Our Most Holy Book: ‘When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.’ The object of this sacred verse is none other except the Most Mighty Branch …. (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 221)

  46. Sen said

    > So the elucidations and explanations of the Universal House of Justice applies to its legislations on “whatsoever has not been explicitly and outwardly recorded in His holy Writ”.

    How do you reach that conclusion? The text does not mention elucidation or explanation, it is about the authority of the UHJ to legislate and change its own legislation. Which is also important, but a different topic.

  47. xyz said

    I think we can discuss these issues forever without reaching any agreement. So I shall write my last post and let you have the final word.

    You still have not convinced me how the verse of the Aqdas clearly points to Abdul-Baha. It does not. The verse does not say Most Mighty Branch.

    The best place to read about the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice is Shoghi Effendi’s Dispensation of Baha’u’llah. It that letter Shoghi Effendi elucidates the spheres of jurisdiction of these two institutions. In that letter Shoghi Effendi only mentions legislation as the exclusive right of the Universal House of Justice. He does not mention elucidation or explanation of the Book or Holy Writ or the utterances of Baha’u’llah, the Bab or Abdul-Baha as the exclusive right of the Universal House of Justice.

  48. Sen said

    Naturally Shoghi Effendi does not mention elucidation as an exclusive right of the Universal House of Justice. As we have already seen, Shoghi Effendi asks the NSA to elucidate an issue for the believers, and refers to the Hands of the Cause elucidating another issue. He refers to Baha’u’llah elucidating a philosophical point, and he and Abdu’l-Baha also elucidate matter. So elucidation could not possibly be exclusive to the Universal House of Justice.

    The Aqdas does not refer to the Most Great Branch, but says “When the ocean of My presence hath ebbed and
    the Book of My Revelation is ended, turn your faces toward Him Whom God hath purposed, Who hath branched from this Ancient Root.” and “to Him Who hath branched from this mighty Stock” (The Kitab-i-Aqdas, paragraphs 121 and 174).

    That told the believers that Baha’u’llah intended them to turn to one individual after his death, not for example to a collective or an institution, and that that one individual was a descendant of Baha’u’llah, who is, poetically, said to branch from the ancient root. At the time that was written, Abdu’l-Baha would have been no more than 29 years old, perhaps only 25 (depending on the history of composition of the Aqdas). At that young age, he might not have been known even as Aqa, let alone any more lofty names. So far as I know, the sons of Baha’u’llah were not called ‘branches’ or given any authority until after the Aqdas was written. So it is not that Abdu’l-Baha was the Greatest Branch, and this was somehow omitted in the Aqdas, but rather that the Aqdas designated one source of authority after the passing of Baha’u’llah, and in the light of the other writings I’ve mentioned, this was soon understood to be referring to Abbas, whom we know as Abdu’l-Baha. Because he is poetically called the one who branched from the root, in the Aqdas, he came to be called the Most Great Branch.

    It was quite normal in Persian culture of the time for a man or woman to be called by different names as they matured and as various event occured. There’s a brief discussion of this, and plenty of examples to prove it, in the translator’s introduction to Kasravi’s History of the Iranian Constitutional Revolution, translated by Evan Siegel.

  49. xyz said

    “Naturally Shoghi Effendi does not mention elucidation as an exclusive right of the Universal House of Justice. As we have already seen, Shoghi Effendi asks the NSA to elucidate an issue for the believers, and refers to the Hands of the Cause elucidating another issue. He refers to Baha’u’llah elucidating a philosophical point, and he and Abdu’l-Baha also elucidate matter. So elucidation could not possibly be exclusive to the Universal House of Justice.”

    Where does Shoghi Effendi say that the NSA or Hands can elucidate or explain the Book or the Holy Writ or the utterances of Baha’u’llah, the Bab or Abdul-Baha? I am specifically talking about elucidating the Book and not just some issue.

  50. Sen said

    Where do any of the writings say that the process of elucidation makes any distinction between “the Book” and other matters? You have started with the assumption that elucidation is another word for interpretation, and all your difficulties flow from that assumption, not from any obscurity in the texts themselves.

    What you must do is question your first assumption. The distinction between what is in the book, and what is not in the book, is relevant to the scope of the UHJ’s legislation, and the scope of the Guardian’s interpretations. Before applying that distinction to the separate matter of elucidation, you have to ask whether there is anything in the writings to indicate that elucidation, as Shoghi Effendi uses the term, is like interpretation, or like legislation as he uses the terms? That’s a pretty obvious “no.” Is there anything to indicate that for him, these are things that are quite different? I’ve presented the evidence in my post, from the writings and from the practice of the UHJ itself, which seems to use elucidation for preference – by pointing to the relevant sections of the writings or to facts or logic – and therefore seldom needs to legislate.

    Once it’s clear that elucidation is a third thing, not a synonym of either elucidation or legislation, then there is no reason to suppose that the Book/not-Book distinction, which marks the boundary between the spheres of interpretation and legislation, has any relevance to elucidation. The House of Justice is mandated to “deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book.” (Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 20) That implies – and the implication is even stronger in the Persian text – that “matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book” is a separate category to the “questions that are obscure”, which may or may not be things recorded in the Book. Therefore it’s not surprising that Shoghi Effendi does not say that the Hands can, or cannot, elucidate matters in the Book. It’s an irrelevant question. Naturally it is mainly matters in the Book that they do elucidate, because that’s what the Bahais want to hear, and what they know something about, and one of their functions is to “declare His Proofs” and “teach his Cause,” which they must do through reference to the Writings and by clearing up misunderstandings about them. And naturally administrative matters and principles are more likely to be elucidated by the National Spiritual Assemblies. But there’s nothing to stop an NSA or the UHJ clearing up an obscurity relating to the Writings, and they do so.

    Here’s an example, from the UHJ on 26 May 1969 to The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada”

    We have reviewed your letter of 11 April, asking about the teachings of the Faith on self-defence … From the texts you already have available it is clear that Baha’u’llah has stated that it is preferable to be killed in the path of God’s good pleasure than to kill, … A hitherto untranslated Tablet from ‘Abdu’l-Baha, however, points out that in the case of attack by robbers and highwaymen, a Baha’i should not surrender himself, but should try, as far as circumstances permit, to defend himself, and later on lodge a complaint with the government authorities.

    The question is about something in the Book (quotes the NSA had found), and the answer is also from the Book. The principle involved becomes quite obvious to our own reason, once we have this elucidation: “it is preferable to be killed in the path of God’s good pleasure than to kill” refers to religious persecution, and the absolute ban on the use of violence in the cause of religion. It does not mean passive acceptance of civil disorder and tyranny, for the civil and religious spheres are different, governed by different principles. The UHJ does not explicitly draw that conclusion, it provides us with the information we need to draw it for ourselves. That illustrates one of the differences between elucidation or explanation, and authoritative interpretation. The former speaks to our reason, the latter addresses us with authority that must be accepted, on matters that may be beyond our reason.

    .

  51. The guidance to the House is not limited to matters that are not in the Book. A person might take one passage in isolation such as “laws that are not expressly recorded in the Book and bear upon daily transactions” (The Will and Testament of `Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 20) without taking into account all of the other passages in the Writings about the broad scope of authority of the House, and conclude that (1) the House is only guided when dealing with matters that are not in the Text, and (2) are of little consequence. However, Shoghi Effendi states (WOB 145) that the Universal House of Justice was designed to “supplement and apply” Baha’u’llah’s laws. That is, it enacts new legislation where the Text is silent; and it “applies” the revealed laws. This latter point is crucial.

    Just as most of what Shoghi Effendi’s life work was not limited to interpretation; most of what the House of Justice does is not supplementary legislation where the Text is silent: It is application of what has been revealed by Baha’u’llah. And beyond legislative matters, Shoghi Effendi writes: “…the Universal House of Justice, to which, according to the Master’s explicit instructions, all important and fundamental questions must be referred…” (Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 47) Far from only being authorized to deal with secondary matters of little consequence, the Guardian, based on Abdu’l-Baha’s “explicit instructions” states that the House addresses “all important and fundamental questions.” Perhaps Shoghi Effendi is referring to such broad passages from the Will as:

    “Unto this body all things must be referred.”
    (The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 14)

    “By this body all the difficult problems are to be resolved…” (The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 14)

    “That which this body, whether unanimously or by a majority doth carry, that is verily the Truth and the Purpose of God Himself” (Will and Testament, p. 19)

    Shoghi Effendi says that the House will elucidate the Will itself:

    “We are called upon by our beloved Master in His Will and Testament not only to adopt it unreservedly, but to unveil its merit to all the world. To attempt to estimate its full value, and grasp its exact significance after so short a time since its inception would be premature and presumptuous on our part. We must trust to time, and the guidance of God’s Universal House of Justice, to obtain a clearer and fuller understanding of its provisions and implications.”
    (Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 62)

    The House guides us to obtain a clearer and fuller understanding of the provisions and implications of the Will, not by interpretation–a function that both Shoghi Effendi and the House itself have expressly disavowed–but by summoning quotations from the authorized interpreters. This is demonstrated in three great letters of the House which address the subject of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice, found on this website http://covenantstudy.org/ in the right-hand column, near the top. These letters clarify the provisions of the Will, and apply them to the circumstances.

    Concourse on Low wrote: “Baha’is claim that what distinguishes them from other religions is the fact that their founder, and subsequently their religion’s purportedly infallible expounders, have provided clear and explicit terms and conditions for the succession of authoritative leadership of the religion…Consequently, because of the supposedly clear and explicit provisions, the Baha’i Faith will not fall into the trap of schism and disagreement over successorship… [but] it HAS fallen prey to schism several times over the course of its history…”

    Look again at that list of “schisms” — Mirza Muhammad-Ali’s “Unitarians”; Khayrullah’s group; Sohrab’s “New History Society”. These were real groups, they actually existed, at times they had significant numbers. And they all have one thing in common: They don’t exist any more. Shoghi Effendi never promised that such groups would not arise. In fact, he said they *would* arise, but they would never create a permanent breach in the community. In time they evaporate. I have addressed this at length here: http://bahai-covenant.blogspot.com/2010/12/covenant-protects-from-schism.html

    Concourse on Low also states that Baha’u’llah did not clearly identify Abdu’l-Baha in the Kitab-i-Ahd, as shown by the fact that “Abdu’l-Baha” is only indicated in brackets. As already stated, “Abbas” was Abdu’l-Baha’s given name, and the public continued to refer to Him by this name, “Abbas Effendi,” until the end of His life. During Baha’u’llah’s lifetime, the most common way the believers referred to Abdu’l-Baha was “Ghusn-i-Azam”, translated both as “Most Great Branch” and “Most Mighty Branch.” The title “Abdu’l-Baha” did not exist during Baha’u’llah’s lifetime. Almost universally, the Baha’is referred to Abdu’l-Baha as “Ghusn-i-Azam” (e.g. Dawn-Breakers, pp. 100, 159, 209, 440, 441, etc.) After the passing of Baha’u’llah, Mirza Muhammad-Ali, unable to find any legitimate basis for criticizing Abdu’l-Baha, created imaginary ones. He claimed that The Most Mighty Branch was claiming to be a Manifestation of God equal to Baha’u’llah. In response, the Most Mighty Branch –this was some years after the Ascension of Baha’u’llah– assumed the title “Servant of Baha’u’llah” to make His subordinate station clear. He directed the Baha’is to call Him by this new title, “Servant of Baha’u’llah,” “Abdu’l-Baha,” and to cease using “Ghusn-i-Azam,” Most Mighty Branch. This was around the same time as the earliest pilgrimages of Western believers. We in the West have only known Him as “Abdu’l-Baha.” The Persians first knew him by the other title. This is why Shoghi Effendi had to add “Abdu’l-Baha” in brackets in Baha’u’llah’s Will. During Baha’u’llah’s lifetime, “Most Mighty Branch,” “Ghusn-i-Azam” in Arabic, was crystal clear. It only referred to one person.

    Brent

    Brent

  52. xyz said

    Applying the laws revealed by Baha’u’llah is not the same as interpreting/elucidating/explaining the laws revealed by Baha’u’llah. Only an Interpreter of the Word of God can interpret/elucidate/explain the laws revealed by Baha’u’llah. For example Abdul-Baha interpreted/elucidated/explained the bigamy law in the Aqdas as implying monogamy.

    The “all important and fundamental questions” that Shoghi Effendi mentions in the Baha’i Administration refers to matters not expressly revealed in the Aqdas. One must refer all important and fundamental questions on matters expressly revealed in the Aqdas to an Interpreter of the Word of God. In the Will of Abdul-Baha where it says the House will deliberate on problems that have caused differences and questions that are obscure, Abdul-Baha follows it up by saying it refers to laws not expressly revealed in the Book. Here is the complete paragraph:

    “It is incumbent upon these members (of the Universal House of Justice) to gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book. Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself. Inasmuch as the House of Justice hath power to enact laws that are not expressly recorded in the Book and bear upon daily transactions, so also it hath power to repeal the same.”

    Shoghi Effendi does not say the House will elucidate the Will of Abdul-Baha. Read that letter carefully. Only the Guardian can elucidate/interpret/explain the Will of Abdul-Baha.

  53. Sen said

    Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament says that the members of the UHJ should “deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book.” You have arbitrarily decided that addressing “questions that are obscure” (elucidating them) is a synonym for interpretation of the texts, which creates a conflict – because only the Guardian and Abdu’l-Baha had the power of interpretation. Then you’ve solved the problem created by your arbitrary interpretation, by saying that the interpreting/elucidating of the House of Justice applies only to “matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book” — but anyone who reads the Will can see that it really says that the members of the UHJ should “deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book.” If you read it in the Persian, it’s even stronger, because Abdu’l-Baha uses wa ya, which I would translate “and also.” That is, one of its functions is to deal with problems that have caused differences or questions that are obscure (whether in the Book or not), another of its functions is to fill in matters not expressly recorded in the Book (whether or not they have caused differences).

    Until you are able to get over the assumption that elucidating is another word for interpreting, you won’t be able to make much sense of a conversation that hinges precisely on the difference between them. The fact that the UHJ is empowered to elucidate, but not to interpret (which obviously requires the words to mean two different things!), will present you with a quandry – and we’ve seen how difficult it is to come up with a rationally defensible solution to that, which fits the Bahai scriptures.

    The solution is to go back and check your premise. Just imagine, suppose, maybe, elucidating and interpreting in the context of Bahai theology are two different things. Then read the texts for yourself – they will be perfectly clear and consistent.

  54. xyz said

    I have not said that deliberating on questions that are obscure is synonym of interpreting the text. I have said that deliberating on questions that are obscure and problems that have caused differences applies to matters not expressly revealed in the Aqdas. These deliberations result in laws. This is clear when one reads the entire paragraph of the Will and not just one sentence of the paragraph. I have given the entire paragraph above. Therefore the House elucidates/explains matters by enacting laws on those matters. The problem with you is that you still don’t understand that “elucidate”, “interpret” and “explain” are synonyms. You refuse to follow definitions in dictionaries. I don’t understand how can you know the meaning of these words by simply reading the writings of Shoghi Effendi. It most surely beats my intelligence.

  55. First, the House has repeatedly written that it cannot interpret; and in actual practice it has not interpreted. Shoghi Effendi states “We must trust to time, and the guidance of God’s Universal House of Justice, to obtain a clearer and fuller understanding of its provisions and implications.” (Baha’i Administration, p. 62) He does not say that the House will interpret the Will, or elucidate it; but that must trust to its guidance to obtain a clearer understanding of the provisions of the Will. When I think of this, I think of the three great letters of the House concerning the House of Justice and the Guardianship, found on the right side of this website http://www.covenantstudy.org

    These are not interpretations by the House; they are compilations of Tablets and of letters by the Interpreters, presented in a way that clarifies the matter of Succession — the authority of the Head of the Faith.

    Elsewhere Shoghi Effendi writes of the “law of Succession” — the Covenant (WOB 21). This is a “law” and while it is a greater law and a different law from the kind of laws the believers practice such as obligatory prayers, this may be another reason the House has determined that it is empowered to write about the Covenant. Of course it can write about the Covenant, of course it can clarify its own authority to function without the presence of a Guardian — a theme that runs throughout these three letters.

    The House has also stated that if it does not go into detail about certain matters, it is because it is refraining from interpreting. Often it simply quotes from one of the Interpreters, to point the way as to which passage from their writings points the way, is the correct and appropriate passage from their writings to govern the situation.

    Brent

  56. Sen said

    But xyz, you do speak of “interpreting/elucidating/explaining the laws revealed by Baha’u’llah.” It is because you treat these three as the same thing, as synonyms, that you can’t understand the difference! It’s not that the matter is complicated, it’s just your prior assumption that gets in the way of understanding. Once you let go, the question will be elucidated for you.

    I am aware that you say that “deliberating on questions that are obscure and problems that have caused differences applies [only] to matters not expressly revealed in the Aqdas.” I am also aware that the Will and Testament says they should “deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure.” You want to limit “all” to something of your own devising, and there’s no scripture to support your opinion.

    The writings of Shoghi Effendi are not very difficult, and in any case it is the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha that we are discussing. The language of the Will is not complicated, anyone of moderate intelligence will find it transparent. What makes the Bahai teachings difficult is the mental luggage we bring with us. Because English dictionary-makers have not included the Bahai writings among their sources, their dictionaries do not necessarily give the correct meanings. If you cling to your dictionary, you’ll be led astray by it, like the Grammarian in the Four Valleys. However the same principle applies in reading almost any work by any author. What “treasure” means in Janet Frame’s Owls do Cry bears little resemblance to a dictionary definition: its meaning there can only be read out of the work itself. We find it is the synonym of value, and the antithesis of wealth. Which is not what “treasure” means in Stevenson’s Treasure Island, although both books are written in — apparently — the same language.

    I was once asked at a French Bahai Studies event what language is the most important to learn, for Bahai Studies, Arabic of Persian? I answered, French. Learning to read is the most important skill for Bahai studies, and the most important part of close reading is to leave your assumptions, presumptions and prejudices at the door and read what is actually there. So a study of literature, rather than Persian or Arabic, is the place to start. Religious literatures are a branch of literature, and the skills used in reading and appreciating literature, and the same as those need to read and understand scriptures.

  57. Sen said

    Brent, you said “the House has also stated that if it does not go into detail about certain matters, it is because it is refraining from interpreting.” Do you have a source for that?

    Shoghi Effendi writes, “… as we make an effort to demonstrate that love to the world may we also clear our minds of any lingering trace of unhappy misunderstandings that might obscure our clear conception of the exact purpose and methods of this new world order, … We are called upon by our beloved Master in His Will and Testament not only to adopt it unreservedly, but to unveil its merit to all the world. …. We must trust to time, and the guidance of God’s Universal House of Justice, to obtain a clearer and fuller understanding of its provisions and implications.” (Baha’i Administration, p. 62)

    It is the new world order that we are called on to adopt, in the Will and Testament, and which time and the guidance of the Universal House of Justice will clarify for us. So your quote isn’t directly relevant to xyz’s theory — only relevant in the more general sense that the new world order is abundantly discussed in the Bahai scriptures, including the text of the Aqdas, and we see here that it is one more thing that the UHJ can clarify. So it’s another example showing that the UHJ’s elucidations are not limited, as xyz supposes, to things not mentioned in the Bahai scriptures.

  58. xyz said

    Brent: the quotation from page 62 of Baha’i Administration applies to the new world order and not to the Will of Abdul-Baha. That is why I told you to read that letter carefully. Read it again, CAREFULLY this time. Only the Guardian can interpret/elucidate/explain the Will of Abdul-Baha because only the Guardain can reveal the purport and disclose the implications of the utterances of Abdul-Baha as clearly stated in the Dispensation of Baha’u’llah.

    Sen: the three phrases (problems that have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters not expressly revealed in the Book) are three different ways of saying the same thing. These three phrases refer to the same matters. Let us assume they refer to different matters for the sake of argument. Then problems that have caused difference and questions that are obscure should refer to matters expressly revealed in the Book because logically speaking a matter is either expressly revealed in the Book or not expressly revealed in the Book. That would mean the questions that are obscure and problems that have caused differences would refer to the same matters which violates the orignal premise that these three phrases refer to three different matters. You are taking the word “all” too literally. Lets say you and I differ on the interpretation of a Hidden Word. Can the House decide which one of us is correct or both are wrong beacause it has the power to solve all problems that have caused difference? People can differ on interpreting the Holy Writ but that surely does not mean the House can solve this difference.

  59. Sen said

    xyz: you say, “problems that have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters not expressly revealed in the Book are three different ways of saying the same thing.”

    But they are not – they say three different things! This is perfectly obvious in both the English and the Persian. Are you perhaps thinking that “difference” is another word for “obscure” ?

    It is true that any matter is logically either revealed in the book, or is not. However there’s nothing in the text or in logic to say that the “problems that have caused difference and questions that are obscure should refer to matters expressly revealed in the Book.” The text just says “all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure..”

    All just means “all” here. There’s nothing to support your limitation of its meaning. All, includes matters in the Book, and matters not in the Book. There is no limitation on “matters” with respect to the first two functions, the only restriction specified is that they be either matters causing difference, or matters that are obscure. The House can intervene on these matters, producing unity in the first case, elucidation in the second.

    Vice versa, the UHJ can deal with all matters not revealed in the Book, even if they are not obscure or are not causing any difference. Because in this case there is a gap in the teachings, the way it deals with the gap is by legislating, or more frequently, by saying “this is not in the Writings, it’s up to the conscience of the individual.”

    No, the UHJ cannot rule on who is right about an interpretation of a Hidden Word – that is scriptural interpretation, which is the role of the Guardian and Abdu’l-Baha. Interpretation (of the meaning of scripture) is not the same thing as elucidation! Elucidation does not say what the scripture means, quite often it simply points to what the scripture says (where the questioner did not know), or does not say (where the questioner has read an assumption into a text, or is using an unauthentic text). Or it may be an argument that persuades us through its cogency – that is, it makes us aware of chain of reasoning which we were not previously aware of. Or it supplies us with a fact we did not know, and this makes the obscure matter clear for us. In none of these cases is a meaning imposed on the text – rather it is an inadequacy on our part that is remedied. Once it is remedied, the conclusion we reach is still our own. Such an elucidation may come from any source, not only from the Universal House of Justice.

    Authoritative interpretations of the scriptures and teachings, in contrast, come only from Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, and interpretation in this sense does imprint a meaning on the text – whether or not I have the knowledge or reasoning power to work it through myself and make it “my” reading, it’s still a mandated interpretation of that text.

  60. xyz said

    “Are you perhaps thinking that “difference” is another word for “obscure””

    Why can’t the three phrases refer to the same matter? Why can’t the three phrases be three different ways of describing the same matter? When I read the entire paragraph of the Will it is clear to me this is the case. The deliberations on the problems that have caused differences, questions that are obscure and matters not expressly revealed in the Book results in laws on matters not expressly revealed in the Book. Read the full paragraph for correct understanding and not just one sentence from it. We are arguing on the correct interpretation of one sentence from the Will. I am not sure if Shoghi Effendi has interpreted that sentence. Only the Guardian can interpret the utterances of Abdul-Baha. If he has then please let me know.

    “No, the UHJ cannot rule on who is right about an interpretation of a Hidden Word – that is scriptural interpretation, which is the role of the Guardian and Abdu’l-Baha”

    Then you are not being true to the meaning of the word “all”. If “all” excludes certain matters, such as interpretation, then it is clear the meaning of the word “all” is not to be taken literally. You first say “all” has no limitations and then you put limitations on it by excluding certain matters. If “all” has no limitations then it should also include interpretation of matters that has caused difference. Afterall interpretations can cause difference as is clear by the fact of you and me differing on the correct interpretation of one sentence from the Will of Abdul-Baha.

    “Elucidation does not say what the scripture means, quite often it simply points to what the scripture says”

    The scripture says what it means. It is illogical to say the scripture says something different from its meaning. Therefore I see a conflict in this statement. Again you need to understand that “elucidate” makes the meaning of a matter clear. In other words “elucidate” and “interpret” are synonyms. That is the root cause of your confusion. What you have given is your personal understanding of “elucidations” which is not supported by Baha’i writings. Atleast I have not come across any Baha’i writings that describes “elucidation” in the way you have given.

  61. Sen said

    xyz: I think it’s blindingly obvious that these are three different things, and you seem unable to explain how you come to think they are the same.

    1) “problems that have caused difference” – these might or might not be obscure, might or might not be in the book.
    2) questions that are obscure – not every obscure thing causes differences, and some obscure things are in the book
    3) matters not expressly revealed in the Book – the gaps that have been left to fill in. Not every gap causes differences, the question of whether there is a gap to fill may be obscure, or may not.

    The text says “the members of the UHJ should “deliberate upon all … matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book.” And that is exactly how I read it – no ifs or buts or maybes. All means all. What the text does not say (and cannot), is that they should solve any of these problems by giving an authoritative interpretation of the the scripture, or by killing people, or overthrowing a government, etc… The limitations on the UHJ are on the kind of actions it can take. It is not limited to addressing only problems that are not mentioned in the Book. That would limit it to trivialities, and there’s no basis for this idea – it’s just an idee fixee in your own head.

    In one case I know of, where an interpretation of scripture caused difference in a community, the UHJ’s method was to ask certain people to move to another community, and to reprimand those involved. That’s just one example; the UHJ has a wide range of actions available to it. Interpreting scripture is not one, elucidating questions that are obscure is one. You have a problem there, because you think the words are synonyms. That’s your problem. Question your own assumptions.

  62. I wish I had time to jump into this more; maybe later.

    Sen you asked for a reference:

    If some of the statements of the Universal House of Justice are not detailed the friends should realize that the cause of this is not secretiveness, but rather the determination of this body to refrain from interpreting the teachings and to preserve the truth of the Guardian’s statement that “Leaders of religion, exponents of political theories, governors of human institutions … need have no doubt or anxiety regarding the nature, the origin, or validity of the institutions which the adherents of the Faith are building up throughout the world. For these lie embedded in the teachings themselves, unadulterated and unobscured by unwarrantable inferences, or unauthorized interpretations of His Word.”
    (Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, p. 87, paragraph 35.12)

    Shoghi Effendi is referred to in the Will as the Expounder of the Word of God. He is also referred to as the one to whom all must turn. One of these is a broad grant of authority, another refers to a specific power. When looking at the Guardian’s life work, only a very small fraction of what he did was interpretation. Attempting to view his authority as limited to interpretation is to miss the broad grant of authority encompassed in the term “turn.”

    The House is the highest legislative body in the Faith, and in the Will is granted the authority to make laws where the Text is silent. In the last paragraph of the Will, all are directed to “turn” to it; this is the same broad directive as to turn to the Guardian. This is a subject I develop a little more fully here: http://bahai-covenant.blogspot.com/2009/03/what-is-unique-about-covenant-of.html

    The authority of the House is not limited to enacting legislation where the Text is silent; this is attempting to squeeze very broad powers into a very small bottle. In addition to the already-quoted passages showing the breadth of its authority, Shoghi Effendi describes the House of Justice as the body designed to “supplement and apply” Baha’u’llah’s laws (WOB 145). It “supplements” where the Text is silent; it “applies” the revealed laws. The mandate of the House is far broader than enacting new legislation where the Text is silent, just as the mandate of Shoghi Effendi was far broader than interpreting the Text.

    The broad scope of the authority granted to the House of Justice is seen in these five paragraphs from its Constitution, which represent a distillation from the Writings of Baha’u’llah as well as from interpretations by Abdu’l-Baha and the Guardian. Every word is drawn from those texts:

    “Among the powers and duties with which the Universal House of Justice has been invested are:

    “To ensure the preservation of the Sacred Texts and to safeguard their inviolability; to analyse, classify, and coordinate the Writings; and to defend and protect the Cause of God and emancipate it from the fetters of repression and persecution;

    “To advance the interests of the Faith of God; to proclaim, propagate and teach its Message; to expand and consolidate the institutions of its Administrative Order; to usher in the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh; to promote the attainment of those spiritual qualities which should characterize Bahá’í life individually and collectively; to do its utmost for the realization of greater cordiality and comity amongst the nations and for the attainment of universal peace; and to foster that which is conducive to the enlightenment and illumination of the souls of men and the advancement and betterment of the world;

    “To enact laws and ordinances not expressly recorded in the Sacred Texts; to abrogate, according to the changes and requirements of the time, its own enactments; to deliberate and decide upon all problems which have caused difference; to elucidate questions that are obscure; to safeguard the personal rights, freedom and initiative of individuals; and to give attention to the preservation of human honour, to the development of countries and the stability of states;

    “To promulgate and apply the laws and principles of the Faith; to safeguard and enforce that rectitude of conduct which the Law of God enjoins; to preserve and develop the Spiritual and Administrative Centre of the Bahá’í Faith, permanently fixed in the twin cities of ‘Akká and Haifa; to administer the affairs of the Bahá’í community throughout the world; to guide, organize, coordinate and unify its activities; to found institutions; to be responsible for ensuring that no body or institution within the Cause abuse its privileges or decline in the exercise of its rights and prerogatives; and to provide for the receipt, disposition, administration and safeguarding of the funds, endowments and other properties that are entrusted to its care;

    “To adjudicate disputes falling within its purview; to give judgement in cases of violation of the laws of the Faith and to pronounce sanctions for such violations; to provide for the enforcement of its decisions; to provide for the arbitration and settlement of disputes arising between peoples; and to be the exponent and guardian of that Divine Justice which can alone ensure the security of, and establish the reign of law and order in, the world.”
    (The Constitution of The Universal House of Justice, pp. 4-6)

    The Universal House of Justice is a divine reality in this world. One of its functions is to enact new legislation.

    Brent

  63. Sen said

    Tthanks for the reference Brent. I agree with your points entirely.

  64. Another passage in the Writings of Baha’u’llah, which has been (dare I say) elucidated by Shoghi Effendi, squarely states that the elected membership of the House of Justice is infallibly guided in more than legislative matters — in administrative and judicial matters as well. Please excuse my parenthetical intrusions:

    “In the conduct of the administrative affairs of the Faith [administration], in the enactment of the legislation necessary to supplement the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas [legislation], the members of the Universal House of Justice, it should be borne in mind, are not, as Bahá’u’lláh’s utterances clearly imply, responsible to those whom they represent, nor are they allowed to be governed by the feelings, the general opinion, and even the convictions of the mass of the faithful, or of those who directly elect them. They are to follow, in a prayerful attitude, the dictates and promptings of their conscience. They may, indeed they must, acquaint themselves with the conditions prevailing among the community, must weigh dispassionately in their minds the merits of any case presented for their consideration [judicial], but must reserve for themselves the right of an unfettered decision. “God will verily inspire them with whatsoever He willeth,” is Bahá’u’lláh’s incontrovertible assurance. They, and not the body of those who either directly or indirectly elect them, have thus been made the recipients of the divine guidance which is at once the life-blood and ultimate safeguard of this Revelation.”
    (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 153)

    I have elaborated a bit more here http://bahai-covenant.blogspot.com/2010/11/house-justice-legislation-infallibility.html .

    Brent

  65. xyz said

    “xyz: I think it’s blindingly obvious that these are three different things, and you seem unable to explain how you come to think they are the same.”

    …and you seem unable to explain how these three phrases cannot refer to the same matter. Is there a rule in Persian grammar that three phrases in one sentence cannot describe the same matter?

    Again if “all” means “all” then why exclude interpretation of Holy Writ that has caused difference? Most certainly “all” does not mean “all” as it excludes interpretation of the Holy Writ that has caused difference.

    Brent: you are right that the House has other powers besides legislation on matters not revealed in the Book but we are discussing only the exclusive power of the House. The exclusive power of the House is to legislate on matters not expressly revealed in the Aqdas. These legislations of the House are its way of elucidating or explaining those matters.

  66. xyz said

    “The limitations on the UHJ are on the kind of actions it can take.”

    Sen: why do you place limitations on the kind of actions the House takes? Afterall Abdul-Baha says “It is incumbent upon these members (of the Universal House of Justice) to gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book. Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself.”

    The word “whatsoever” has no limitations. “Whatsoever” means “whatsoever” and therefore should include interpretation of the Holy Writ, killing of people and overthrow of governments etc. I am playing the devil’s advocate here and surely the word “whatsoever” has limitations. Just as the word “whatsoever” has limitations so does the word “all”. Just as “whatsoever” does not mean “whatsoever” so does the word “all” does not mean “all”.

  67. Sen said

    There are rules of both Persian and the logic common to all languages that tell us that these are three different things.

    When we say “ruin and destruction,” using two synonyms as parallelism, the two things are actually synonyms. Here Abdu’l-Baha speaks rather of three different things, with three different terms, which are not synonyms.

    If I say, “I am studying Greek and Latin,” you know I am doing two different things, because it is possible to study Greek without Latin, or Latin without Greek. Abdu’l-Baha says that the members of the House of Justice are to address:
    1) “problems that have caused difference” – these might or might not be obscure, might or might not be in the book.
    2) questions that are obscure – not every obscure thing causes differences, and some obscure things are in the book
    3) matters not expressly revealed in the Book – the gaps that have been left to fill in. Not every gap causes differences, and the question of whether there actually is a gap to fill may be obscure, or may not be obscure.

    In addition, the Persian uses not just wa (and) but ya (or) and then wa ya (and also, and in addition) to join the phrases.
    و در آنچه اختلاف واقع يا مسائل مبهمه و يا مسائل غير منصوصه مذاكره نمايند.
    So no – there’s no possibility that he really meant they should only deal with matters that are both causing differences and not in the book. Rather he says the members of the House of Justice must consult on matters either causing differences, or questions that are obscure, and moreover, on those not in the book.

    I have no reason to think that the House is in some way excluded from dealing with differences arising from interpretation of the Book. That’s your idea isn’t it? It certainly is not mine. They are asked to deal with all matters causing differences [in the Guardian's translation, more literally, with whatever causes differences]. Who am I to try to limit the scope of the UHJ? God forbid. The means available to the UHJ to respond to differences are however limited, since they are not themselves allowed to provide authoritative interpretation of scripture, just as the Guardian was not empowered to make supplementary laws.

    You say that we are discussing only the exclusive power of the House. It’s news to me. I was discussing “UHJ elucidations and our beliefs.” The power of elucidation is not exclusive to the UHJ: it is shared with the Manifestations, with Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, and with the Hands, the believers, and wikipedia (the Most Extensive Elucidator). The Guardian’s secretary writes to the North American NSA, “The Guardian is confident that you will elucidate and give the widest publicity to these already established principles, …” and Shoghi Effendi also lists the elucidation of his own plans as one of the functions of the Hands of the Cause, who have “…a four-fold mission: to … elucidate the character and purposes of the impending decade-long spiritual World Crusade and rally the participants.”

    Further you say that the UHJ’s legislation are its way of elucidating. That may be true in some cases, but it does not mean that the UHJ’s power of elucidation is exercised only through legislation, in the narrow sense of making laws. One way it has of dealing with matters that are obscure or are causing differences it to make a compilation of Bahai scripture, perhaps ordering the translation of a scriptural text not previously available, and then spreading this through the community, or sending to the the Counselors with instructions to use it where that difference or obscure matter is a problem.

    This leads to another issue, because religious “legislating” in the Bahai scriptures has a broader meaning than simply passing formal laws. A tashrii`-type legislature is the religious organ in society: it promulgates the religious law (shariah), and explains “what has been deduced of the commands of God, and what is in accordance with the law of God”See ‘Executive and Legislative‘ on this blog. It includes acting as a religious judiciary (removing and restoring Bahai administrative rights for example), and education on what the Bahai teachings are, and the executive use of the Bahai machinery (for example, using the NSAs or Counsellors to spread a compilation of scripture on a topic). This broad sense of ‘legislation’ is possible because the Bahai Commonwealth does not separate legislative, executive and judiciary, rather it has three core institutions, the Guardianship, the House of Justice and the House of Worship, dealing respectively with doctrine and interpretation of scripture; legislation in this broad sense of promulgating the law of God; and public worship and liturgy. (See “Defending Shoghi Effendi‘ on this blog: search down to find “two-part architecture.”)

    It’s in this broad sense of ‘legislative’ that the UHJ can write, “The elucidations of the Universal House of Justice stem from its legislative function…” The term that Shoghi Effendi uses for a particular law issued by the House of Justice is an “enactment.” (WOB 149-153).

  68. Sen said

    The limitations on the kinds of actions the UHJ can take are stipulated in other parts of the Bahai scriptures and the Guardian’s interpretations. For example,

    “The interpretation of the Guardian, functioning within his own sphere, is as authoritative and binding as the enactments of the International House of Justice, whose exclusive right and prerogative is to pronounce upon and deliver the final judgment on such laws and ordinances as Bahá’u’llah has not expressly revealed. Neither can, nor will ever, infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain of the other. (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 149)

    and

    What! Would ye kill him whom God hath quickened, whom He hath endowed with spirit through a breath from Him? Grievous then would be your trespass before His throne! (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 46)

    and

    In every country where any of this people reside, they must behave towards the government of that country with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness.
    (Baha’u’llah, 5th Glad-Tidings, in Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 22)

    These are scriptural limits on the actions available to the UHJ in dealing with problems causing differences (etc..).

  69. xyz said

    “The limitations on the kinds of actions the UHJ can take are stipulated in other parts of the Bahai scriptures and the Guardian’s interpretations. For example”

    No, the limitation on the kind of action the House takes after deliberations on the three phrases is given in the next sentence of the paragraph in the Will of Abdul-Baha:

    “Inasmuch as the House of Justice hath power to enact laws that are not expressly recorded in the Book and bear upon daily transactions, so also it hath power to repeal the same.””

    So the word “whatsoever” is limited to enactment of laws that are not expressly recorded in the Book and changes to those laws with time.

    For you to understand the limitations of the word “all” you first need to understand that the three words (elucidate, explain, interpret) are synonyms. They are synonyms not because I say so but because of their definitions in dictionaries.

    “The power of elucidation is not exclusive to the UHJ”

    The power to elucidate/explain matters described in those three phrases is exclusive to the House. The Guardian, Hands, NSA cannot elucidate/explain matters meant for the House to elucidate/explain.

  70. Sen said

    One institution can have multiple powers, and each of these powers may have different conditions and limitations attached. The House of Justice has many powers. On one of these powers, “the authority to legislate” there are at least two limitations: it applies only to “whatsoever has not been explicitly and outwardly recorded in His holy Writ” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 23) “and bear upon daily transactions” (Will and Testament). There is no scriptural basis, or logical reason, for supposing that this means the UHJ cannot deal with problems or elucidate matters that are obscure if they are in the Scripture, or if they bear on worship rather than transactions. Quite the opposite – if a matter is really not dealt with in the scriptures, then it is a gap that may be filled by legislating. But if it is in the scriptures, there is no need to legislate, the UHJ can simply elucidate the issue by pointing to what is already in scripture.

    I have presented instances in the writings of Shoghi Effendi showing that he did not use the word ‘elucidation’ exclusively for the work of the UHJ: it is a task also for the NSAs and the Hands, at least. You on the other hand have presented nothing to support your assertion that elucidation is a power exclusive to the House, let alone to explain where Shoghi Effendi misspoke when he said otherwise.

    Elucidate and interpret are obviously not synonyms in Bahai terminology, for the UHJ can elucidate but may not interpret, since that is the sphere of the Guardian, and “Neither can, nor will ever, infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain of the other.” If you insist on following a dictionary, the conversation ends, because this blog is about Bahai teachings. A dictionary definition of Manifestation, or Guardian will not get you far – it will lead you astray. If you take external sources as authoritative, you are no longer discussing the Bahai Faith but something else. Baha’u’llah writes “Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men.” (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 128)

  71. xyz said

    “I have presented instances in the writings of Shoghi Effendi showing that he did not use the word ‘elucidation’ exclusively for the work of the UHJ: it is a task also for the NSAs and the Hands, at least. You on the other hand have presented nothing to support your assertion that elucidation is a power exclusive to the House, let alone to explain where Shoghi Effendi misspoke when he said otherwise”

    I never said Shoghi Effendi uses the word “elucidate” exclusively with the functions of the House. You need to read my posts carefully. I have presented quotes from Shoghi Effendi’s writings wherein he says Abdul-Baha elucidated and the Guardian elucidated. So please read my posts carefully. The writing that you give about the NSA elucidating is not the writing of Shoghi Effendi but one written on his behalf. You cannot equate Shoghi Effendi’s usage of the word “elucidate” with that of his secretary’s usage of the word “elucidate”. The secretary of the Guardian conveys the thoughts of the Guardian but he/she uses his/her own words and not the exact words of the Guardian. Concerning elucidation by the Hands, the Guardian empowers them to elucidate the Ten year crusade and not matters not expressly revealed in the Book or matters expressly revealed in the Book.

    Atleast my definitions of words are based on dictionaries. You make up your own definition of the word “elucidate” that is neither supported in the Baha’i writings nor in any dictionary. I am refering to your elaborate description of the word “elucidate” in post 59. Can you quote any Baha’i writing that supports this definition of the word “elucidate” that you have given?

    You cannot compare dictionary definition of words and definition of specialized words in the Baha’i scriptures. “Intepret” and “elucidate” are not used in Baha’i scriptures in any specialized manner whereas “Manifestation” and “Guardian” are used in specialized mannner. Again if the Baha’i writings defines “interpret” and “elucidate” in specialized manner then please present the quotations from the scripture to prove it.

  72. “The Guardian, Hands, NSA cannot elucidate/explain matters meant for the House to elucidate/explain.”

    This presumes that all powers of the House are restricted to what is not in the Text. Imagine the Head of a Faith whose hands would be so tightly tied. “Sorry, we can’t administer our Faith. We can’t clarify matters for you. Anything that’s in our Scriptures is hands off for us.” This was never Baha’u’llah’s intentions. He did not provide for the House to legislate in areas where He intentionally left gaps, to make the Cause rigid, but to make it flexible.

    Good Lord, there are lots of things in the Text to guide the House. Even in the area of gap-filling legislation the House is not without guidance in the Writings:

    “Say: The beginning of Wisdom and the origin thereof is to acknowledge whatsoever God hath clearly set forth, for through its potency the foundation of statesmanship, which is a shield for the preservation of the body of mankind, hath been firmly established. Ponder a while that ye may perceive what My most exalted Pen hath proclaimed in this wondrous Tablet. Say, every matter related to state affairs which ye raise for discussion falls under the shadow of one of the words sent down from the heaven of His glorious and exalted utterance. Thus have We recounted unto thee that which will exhilarate thy heart, will bring solace to thine eyes and will enable thee to arise for the promotion of His Cause amidst all peoples.”
    (Lawh-i-Hikmat, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 151)

    I think of the sphere of action of the House of Justice, and that of the Guardian, as two overlapping rings, something like this: http://t1.ftcdn.net/jpg/00/08/48/96/400_F_8489663_G2ZULzAUYk2DQHNcBvFxSvNdlALRlFRs.jpg
    There is an area of overlap. I happen to think that the overlapping area–the area of divinely-guided action that is common to both — is very large. Shoghi Effendi addresses this area here:

    “It should be stated, at the very outset, in clear and unambiguous language, that these twin institutions of the Administrative Order of Bahá’u’lláh should be regarded as divine in origin, essential in their functions and complementary in their aim and purpose. Their common, their fundamental object is to insure the continuity of that divinely-appointed authority which flows from the Source of our Faith, to safeguard the unity of its followers and to maintain the integrity and flexibility of its teachings. Acting in conjunction with each other these two inseparable institutions administer its affairs, coordinate its activities, promote its interests, execute its laws and defend its subsidiary institutions. Severally, each operates within a clearly defined sphere of jurisdiction; each is equipped with its own attendant institutions — instruments designed for the effective discharge of its particular responsibilities and duties. Each exercises, within the limitations imposed upon it, its powers, its authority, its rights and prerogatives. These are neither contradictory, nor detract in the slightest degree from the position which each of these institutions occupies. Far from being incompatible or mutually destructive, they supplement each other’s authority and functions, and are permanently and fundamentally united in their aims.”
    (Shoghi Effendi, The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 147)

    The Covenant is flexible. If the House and the Guardian had been able to function together, it’s my understanding that the House would have supervised the National and Local Assemblies, and the Guardian would have supervised the Hands and their Auxiliaries. But the Guardian had to function alone, and he supervised the local and national assemblies. And he wasn’t bashful about it:

    “He is the Guardian of the Cause in the very fullness of that term, and the appointed interpreter of its teachings, and is guided in his decisions to do that which protects it and fosters its growth and highest interests. He always has the right to step in and countermand the decisions of a national assembly; if he did not possess this right he would be absolutely impotent to protect the Faith, just as the N.S.A., if it were divested of the right to countermand the decisions of a local assembly, would be incapable of watching over and guiding the national welfare of the Bahá’í Community.
    “It very seldom happens — but it nevertheless does happen — that he feels impelled to change a major (as you put it) decision of an N.S.A.; but he always unhesitatingly does so when necessary, and the N.S.A. in question should gladly and unhesitatingly accept this as a measure designed for the good of the Faith which its elected representatives are so devotedly seeking to serve.”
    (Letters from the Guardian to Australia and New Zealand, p. 55)

    The Guardian is not here referring to his authority as interpreter, but acting in his capacity as Head of the Faith — the one to whom all must turn. The House of Justice also possesses this power to protect the Faith. This is one of the shared responsibilities of the Guardian and the House of Justice, and there are others. Clarification is one of them, though it goes by different names and has different features, depending on whether the Interpreter or the Legislator is doing the clarification. Choosing which passage in the Text is the correct one to guide the affairs of the Faith at a given time is another shared responsibility; I understand this to be application of the Teachings — not the new teachings enacted by the House, the revealed teachings. Separating the House from the Revelation is, I feel, at wide variance with the spirit of the Teachings.

    Brent

  73. Sen said

    Thanks Brent,

    I think it’s easier to visualise three circles: the Guardianship, the House of Justice, and Head of the Faith. The common functions once performed by the Guardian, and now by the UHJ, are those of Head of the Faith. That way, the periods when Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha were Head of the Faith are included, for they too performed many of the functions that the UHJ and the Guardian both performed. Some of these functions also continued when Bahiyyah Khanum and the Custodians were acting Head of the Faith. Conceptualising it as three circles with no overlap also seems to me to fit better with the Guardian’s words, “each [Guardian and UHJ] operates within a clearly defined sphere of jurisdiction.”

    You say, “Separating the House from the Revelation is, I feel, at wide variance with the spirit of the Teachings.” In fairness I must point out that xyz has not said that the House can be separated from the Revelation: rather he wants to limit the scope of all its actions to only things not in the Revelation. Since the revelation of Baha’u’llah is very comprehensive, the UHJ and the local and national Houses of Justice would then be pretty much useless, but not entirely abolished.

  74. xyz said

    Brent: The Universal House of Justice says the following about its elucidations of the three phrases from the Will of Abdul-Baha:

    “There is a profound difference between the interpretations of the Guardian and the elucidations of the House of Justice in exercise of its function to “deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book.” The Guardian reveals what the Scripture means; his interpretation is a statement of truth which cannot be varied. Upon the Universal House of Justice, in the words of the Guardian, “has been conferred the exclusive right of legislating on matters not expressly revealed in the Bahá’í writings.” Its pronouncements, which are susceptible of amendment or abrogation by the House of Justice itself, serve to supplement and apply the Law of God.”

    The House here relates its elucidations to its legislative function. This is in accordance with the paragraph of the Will that talks of elucidations of the House that I have given before. If you read the full paragraph you will see the connection between elucidations and legislations. The House reaffirms this connection in this letter.

  75. Sen said

    XYZ, you said, “The power to elucidate/explain matters described in those three phrases is exclusive to the House.” Now you say “I never said Shoghi Effendi uses the word “elucidate” exclusively with the functions of the House.”

    But I never said that you attribute this idea to Shoghi Effendi. You presented it as your own idea, without any quotes or attribution. Where it came from, I don’t know. In fact, I’m not at all clear what you mean.

    In the Bahai Faith, the meanings of scripture are read from the scriptures themselves, not from external authorities such as dictionaries and grammars. The paradigmatic instance of this is the first trial of the Bab, in Tabriz, where the questions put to him related to his grammar — silly irrelevant questions, in short. Baha’u’llah gives another example in the Iqan: “… the commentators of the Qur’an and they that follow the letter … sought to demonstrate that, according to the rules of grammar, whenever the term “idha” (meaning “if” or “when”) precedeth the past tense, it invariably hath reference to the future. Later, they were sore perplexed in attempting to explain those verses of the Book wherein that term did not actually occur.” Baha’u’llah is saying that the meaning of the words of scripture must be derived from, and consistent with, the scripture itself, not any external source, not the standards and sciences (grammar and lexicography) that are current.

    One day there may be English dictionaries based on the Guardian’s writings, but those we have now were compiled without reference to the Guardian’s writings, so they are useless for Bahai purposes. If you feel the dictionary must rule, you are not discussing Bahai teachings, but a new religion, which we will call ABC-ism in your honour.

    Yes, I can support what I said about “elucidation” in comment 59, and in my blog posting:

    Elucidation does not say what the scripture means,

    There is a profound difference between the interpretations of the Guardian and the elucidations of the House of Justice in exercise of its function to “deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure, and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book.” The Guardian reveals what the Scripture means; his interpretation is a statement of truth which cannot be varied.
    (The Universal House of Justice, Wellspring of Guidance, Messages 1963-1968, p. 52)

    quite often it simply points to what the scripture says (where the questioner did not know),
    The UHJ has produced dozens of compilations and thousands of letters that do just this, an example is redundant. A historical example is Quddus, in his commentary on the Sad of Samad. The Guardian describes him “further elucidating [the commentary] by adding to that interpretation as many verses as he had previously written.” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 40)

    or does not say (where the questioner has read an assumption into a text, or is using an unauthentic text).
    Again, there are a huge number of instances, but one that comes to mind is the ITC’s letter about the retributive calamity, 1 July 1984. It comes to mind because it begins precisely by showing that the concerns of some of the Bahais arose from relying on unauthentic texts.

    Or it may be an argument that persuades us through its cogency – that is, it makes us aware of chain of reasoning which we were not previously aware of.
    An example is Abdu’l-Baha’s rational proof of the need for progressive revelation: “All created things,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, elucidating this truth, has affirmed, “have their degree or stage of maturity. The period of maturity in the life of a tree is the time of its fruit-bearing…. (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 118). Or again:

    “In one of His Tablets ‘Abdu’l-Baha, elucidating further His noble theme, reveals the following:
    “In cycles gone by, though harmony was established, yet, owing to the absence of means, the unity of all mankind could not have been achieved. Continents remained widely divided, …” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 38)

    Or it supplies us with a fact we did not know, and this makes the obscure matter clear for us.
    ” I strongly feel the urge to elucidate certain facts, which would at once reveal to every fair-minded observer the unique character of that Divine Civilization the foundations of which the unerring hand of Baha’u’llah has laid,.. (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 16)

    On my blog posting I said,

    Elucidation may be the resultant outcome of legislation, but it may also be given in the form of general letters to the community, letters to individuals, the guidance it gives to the Continental Counsellors, decisions on “problems which have caused difference” and so on. By my definition, whatever sheds light where there was obscurity, is elucidation.

    This is all based on observing the UHJ’s methods. As the House of Justice writes:

    In its letter of 9 March 1965, the House of Justice has stated: “There is a profound difference between the interpretations of the Guardian and the elucidations of the House of Justice in exercise of its function to deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure, and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book.'” The friends will come to understand what this difference is by observing how the House of Justice functions and by turning to it for explanations when necessary. (The Universal House of Justice, 1997 June 3)

  76. xyz said

    “But I never said that you attribute this idea to Shoghi Effendi. You presented it as your own idea, without any quotes or attribution. Where it came from, I don’t know. In fact, I’m not at all clear what you mean.”

    I never said that elucidation is the exclusive right of the House. I have said that elucidation of the three phrases in the Will of Abdul-Baha is the exclusive right of the House. Elucidation of the Holy Writ is the exclusive right of an Interpreter of the Word of God.

    You still have not given any Baha’i writing that supports your definition of the word “elucidate”. All you have given is your analysis of statements by Shoghi Effendi and the House. Analysis is not definition. It is the product of your imagination and it is erroneous. You cannot give any Baha’i writing that supports your definition because there is no such definition of the word “elucidate” in the Baha’i writings. Infact “elucidation” makes the meaning of a matter clear. That is precisely the reason the House cannot elucidate the scriptures. It elucidates matters not given in the scriptures. In other words the House makes the meaning of matters not given in the scriptures clear.

    The elucidations of the House are its legislations on matters not expressly revealed in the Baha’i writings and changes to those legislations with time. This is clear from the Will of Abdul-Baha and the letter by the House that I have given in post 74.

    I disagree with your view that we should ignore the definitions in dictionaries. Otherwise how do you know the meaning of all the English words that you read? Do you make your own definitions through analysis like you did for the word “elucidate”? I can safely assume that Shoghi Effendi used English, Arabic, Persian dictionaries as the Guardian for his writings. I will be surprised if this assumption is wrong.

  77. XYZ wrote:

    “The House here relates its elucidations to its legislative function. This is in accordance with the paragraph of the Will that talks of elucidations of the House that I have given before. If you read the full paragraph you will see the connection between elucidations and legislations.”

    First of all, due to the press of various demands on my time, I don’t even have time to re-read what I write, so I apologize in advance for any confusing or half-expressed ideas.

    Yes, the House relates its elucidations to its legislative function. I do not personally think that necessarily means that its elucidations always result in legislative enactments, or are themselves legislation as we generally think of that term. A lot depends on how one understands the term “legislation”. We think we know what these words mean, based on our past experience with the term, either in ordinary parlance such as civil government legislation, or a comparison to religious legislation in past dispensations. But I hold that door open, so I don’t try to measure the distance to the sun with a yardstick.

    We come to this revelation with some sense of western jurisprudence, and some sense of Islamic jurisprudence. I personally view Baha’i jurisprudence as a completely new reality. I think that attempting to view it through the lens of either of these other approaches can very easily have a limiting and distorting effect. Since the House of Justice has the power of making deductions and conclusions from the revealed laws, a function carried out by the ‘ulama’ in Islam, as explained by the Master in a Tablet quoted in this letter http://covenantstudy.org/core-documents/guardianship-and-uhj/27-may-1966/ I personally watch with interest, as the House of Justice develops Baha’i jurisprudence. I try to see it through its own concepts, and it is challenging, as this Revelation, as Baha’u’llah often reminds us, is entirely new.

    The House addresses this subject, for instance, in this message:

    “The House of Justice hopes that these explanations will help you to understand some of the aspects of the Faith that have been troubling you. The crux of the matter, as you realize, is the acceptance of spiritual authority and what this implies. You express the fear that the authority conferred upon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice could lead to a progressive reduction in the “available scope for personal interpretation,” and that “the actual writings of the Manifestation will have less and less import,” and you instance what has happened in previous Dispensations. The House of Justice suggests that, in thinking about this, you contemplate the way the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh has actually worked, and you will be able to see how very different its processes are from those of, say, the development of the law in Rabbinical Judaism or the functioning of the Papacy in Christianity. The practice in the past in these two religions, and also to a great extent in Islam, has been to assume that the Revelation given by the Founder was the final, perfect revelation of God’s Will to mankind, and all subsequent elucidation and legislation has been interpretative in the sense that it aimed at applying this basic Revelation to the new problems and situations that have arisen. The Bahá’í premises are quite different. Although the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh is accepted as the Word of God and His Law as the Law of God, it is understood from the outset that Revelation is progressive, and that the Law, although the Will of God for this Age, will undoubtedly be changed by the next Manifestation of God. Secondly, only the written text of the Revelation is regarded as authoritative. There is no Oral Law as in Judaism, no Tradition of the Church as in Christianity, no Hadith as in Islam. Thirdly, a clear distinction is drawn between interpretation and legislation. Authoritative interpretation is the exclusive prerogative of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Guardian, while infallible legislation is the function of the Universal House of Justice.
    “If you study the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and of the Guardian, you will see how tremendously they differ from the interpretations of the Rabbis and the Church. They are not a progressive fossilization of the Revelation, they are for the most part expositions which throw a clear light upon passages which may have been considered obscure, they point up the intimate interrelationship between various teachings, they expound the implications of scriptural allusions, and they educate the Bahá’ís in the tremendous significances of the Words of Bahá’u’lláh. Rather than in any way supplanting the Words of the Manifestation, they lead us back to them time and again.”
    (Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, pp. 517-518, paragraphs 308.14-15)

    Obviously we should study the laws and jurisprudence of earlier dispensations — we are urged to do so in our Writings:

    “The first attribute of perfection is learning and the cultural attainments of the mind, and this eminent station is achieved when the individual combines in himself a thorough knowledge of those complex and transcendental realities pertaining to God, of the fundamental truths of Qur’ánic political and religious law, of the contents of the sacred Scriptures of other faiths, and of those regulations and procedures which would contribute to the progress and civilization of this distinguished country. He should in addition be informed as to the laws and principles, the customs, conditions and manners, and the material and moral virtues characterizing the statecraft of other nations, and should be well versed in all the useful branches of learning of the day, and study the historical records of bygone governments and peoples. For if a learned individual has no knowledge of the sacred Scriptures and the entire field of divine and natural science, of religious jurisprudence and the arts of government and the varied learning of the time and the great events of history, he might prove unequal to an emergency, and this is inconsistent with the necessary qualification of comprehensive knowledge.”
    (Abdu’l-Baha, the Secret of Divine Civilization, pp. 35-36; quoted by the Universal House of Justice in the Compilation on Scholarship)

    Although outwardly this was addressed to Muslims, I will take it at face value.

    Shoghi Effendi repeatedly urged the study of Islam. I’m just saying that in doing so, I try to not see the Baha’i Revelation through the limitations of the Islamic dispensation. I try to make my observations very tentative and malleable, and resist the temptation to encompass this universal revelation into my limited mind.

    “…universality is of God and all limitations earthly.”
    (Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 13)

    “A Revelation, of which the Prophets of God, His saints and chosen ones, have either not been informed, or which, in pursuance of God’s inscrutable Decree, they have not disclosed, — such a Revelation these mean and depraved people have sought to measure with their own deficient minds, their own deficient learning and understanding.”
    (Baha’u’llah, the Book of Certitude)

    It is challenging to use the best of the ideas from before, without being trapped by them.

    “It is precisely in this connection that the believers must recognize the importance of intellectual honesty and humility. In past dispensations many errors arose because the believers in God’s Revelation were overanxious to encompass the Divine Message within the framework of their limited understanding, to define doctrines where definition was beyond their power, to explain mysteries which only the wisdom and experience of a later age would make comprehensible…”
    (Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, p. 87, paragraph 35.11)

    “In studying such statements, however, we must have the humility to appreciate the limitations of our own knowledge and outlook, and strive always to understand the purpose of Bahá’u’lláh in making them, trying to look upon Him with His own eyes, as it were.”
    (Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, p. 547, paragraph 330.7b)

    Brent

  78. Sen said

    XYZ, you say “elucidation of the three phrases in the Will of Abdul-Baha is the exclusive right of the House.” and also “the House cannot elucidate the scriptures.”

    Are you one of those who think the Will and Testament was not written by Abdu’l-Baha, and therefore is not Bahai scripture? If so, see “Mitchell’s Mistake” on this blog. I have no doubt at all that the Will and Testament is from the hand of Abdu’l-Baha.

    We draw the meaning from the scriptures, by studying the scriptures – not from dictionaries and the like. Yes, this is analysis. Every Bahai is called on to study the scriptures for him or her self, and to use reason in doing so. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

    He has given us ears, that we may hear and profit by the wisdom of scholars and philosophers and arise to promote and practice it. Senses and faculties have been bestowed upon us, to be devoted to the service of the general good; so that we, distinguished above all other forms of life for perceptiveness and reason, should labor at all times … until all mankind are safely gathered into the impregnable stronghold of knowledge. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 3)

    Naturally balance is required. Rationality alone will not discover all the secrets. Abdu’l-Baha says,

    The human spirit which distinguishes man from the animal is the rational soul, and these two names — the human spirit and the rational soul — designate one thing. This spirit, which in the terminology of the philosophers is the rational soul, embraces all beings, and as far as human ability permits discovers the realities of things and becomes cognizant of their peculiarities and effects, and of the qualities and properties of beings. But the human spirit, unless assisted by the spirit of faith, does not become acquainted with the divine secrets and the heavenly realities. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 208)

    For your information, there are numerous Persian and Arabic terms whose meanings in the Bahai writings differ from those in Persian and Arabic dictionaries. This is why Bahai translators use the CTA (Computer translation aid) and the specialised Bahai Persian-Arabic dictionaries it contains, to look up Shoghi Effendi’s translations of a given word, and of other words derived from the same root.

    Similarly in the translations and writings of the Guardian in English, he uses words in ways that do not correspond to English dictionaries. One example shown on this blog is the word “century,” discussed in “Century of Light.”

  79. xyz said

    “Are you one of those who think the Will and Testament was not written by Abdu’l-Baha, and therefore is not Bahai scripture?”

    That is ridiculous. If this was true I would not have quoted the Will of Abdul-Baha to prove my point.

    You include the scriptures in the phrases “all problems which have caused difference and questions that are obscure”. I don’t. I interpret these two phrases as two different ways of describing matters not expressly recorded in the Book.

    Therefore my two statements, “elucidation of the three phrases in the Will of Abdul-Baha is the exclusive right of the House” and “the House cannot elucidate the scriptures”, are not conflicting with each other. The first statement can be rewritten as “elucidation of matters not expressly recorded in the Book is the exclusive right of the House”. My second statement can be rewritten as “the House cannot elucidate matters expressly recorded in the Book”.

  80. Sen said

    I thought it was rather ridiculous myself.

    But if you do accept that the Will and Testament is Bahai scripture, then your statement: “elucidation of the three phrases in the Will of Abdul-Baha is the exclusive right of the House” contradicts your other statement “the House cannot elucidate the scriptures.”

    You say they do not contradict. In that case, I can no longer follow what you are saying, and I don’t suppose anyone else can either. I think I have to stop your further posting, because the thread is getting cluttered with things that have no apparent meaning, or possible basis in Bahai teachings. Sorry about that: you are free to start your own blog and have your say there.

  81. xyz said

    I see the mistake in my sentence “elucidation of the three phrases in the Will of Abdul-Baha is the exclusive right of the House”. I should have said “elucidation of matters described in the three phrases in the Will of Abdul-Baha is the exclusive right of the House”. I did not intend to say the House elucidates any writings of Abdul-Baha, including the three phrases in the Will. Thanks for pointing out my mistake.

  82. Sen said

    But this doesn’t get us anywhere. You simply assert things, either what the UHJ cannot do, or what only the UHJ can do, and so forth – as if you are making up rules arbitrarily as the occasion requires. Why should elucidation on anything be the exclusive prerogative of the UHJ; why should elucidation of these three particular things be exclusive to the UHJ? Why should an elucidation of the UHJ be the last word anyway, given that, as we have seen, they can change their decisions and their enactments (then surely other things as well), may “conflict with the meaning and … depart from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances”
    (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 150)

  83. xyz said

    “Why should elucidation on anything be the exclusive prerogative of the UHJ; why should elucidation of these three particular things be exclusive to the UHJ?”

    I am not making up rules. These rules are given in the Baha’i writings. I don’t consider myself an authority to decide the exclusive powers of the House. Abdul-Baha has explained the reason behind this exclusive power of the House in His Tablet on the process of deduction. In that Tablet He says that conclusions of individuals would lead to differences and result in schism. Therefore the elucidation of the House protects the unity of the Faith. This is the wisdom behind the exclusive power of the House to elucidate matters not expressly recorded in the Book.

    “Why should an elucidation of the UHJ be the last word anyway, given that, as we have seen, they can change their decisions and their enactments (then surely other things as well), may “conflict with the meaning and … depart from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances””

    Elucidations of the House are the last word for the same reason that they are necessary as given before viz. to protect the unity of the Faith. Of course the House can change its elucidations because time never remains the same and the House needs to take action according to the needs of the time. These elucidations can conflict with the meaning and spirit of Baha’u’llah’s utterances, but they are still infallible and binding. My personal opinion is that it is a trade-off between having some degree of democracy in the Administrative Order and being true to the meaning and spirit of the utterances of Baha’u’llah.

  84. 1. It does not seem to me essential to view all actions of the House through the lens of legislation. The sphere of infalliblity of the House is not limited to legislation, just as the sphere of infallibility of the Guardian was not limited to interpretation. The House itself does not view all of its endowed powers as rooted in legislation:

    “The Universal House of Justice, beyond its function as the enactor of legislation, has been invested with the more general functions of protecting and administering the Cause, solving obscure questions and deciding upon matters that have caused difference.”
    (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 157, paragraph 75.6; and also, paragraph 8 here http://covenantstudy.org/core-documents/guardianship-and-uhj/7-december-1969/)

    2. I disagree with your belief, Sen, that Shoghi Effendi has implied that the House might pass legislation today that would “conflict with the meaning and … depart from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances”. Such an understanding would conflict with all of his other statements about the infallibility of the House. I offer an analysis of this statement by Shoghi Effendi here:
    http://bahai-covenant.blogspot.com/2010/11/house-justice-legislation-infallibility.html
    and you may wish to import portions of it here.

    Brent

    [The paragraph on Brent's blog says:

    If in the phrase "he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Bahá'u'lláh's revealed utterances" the Guardian were describing an act of authoritative interpretation, a power unique to the Guardian of the Faith, the Universal House of Justice would not be legislating on the matter. The House of Justice can only legislate when the Text is silent--where there is no "revealed utterance" to interpret. (TB 68) Therefore, there can be no Text to interpret here.
    - Sen]

  85. Sen said

    The work you refer to as the Tablet on the process of deduction is translated on this blog as the Tablet of Religious Law and the House of Justice. The relevant paragraph is here. However it does not refer to elucidation. “process of deduction” translates istanbaaT ( استنباط http://reference.bahai.org/fa/t/c/AK4/ak4-304.html, line 9). That tablet says that the House of Justice (not specifically the Universal House of Justice) will give a ruling on matters not covered in the text, through a process of deduction, “based on the culture, medical requirements, wisdom, and the capacity of human nature.” You want to use it as evidence that the UHJ has an exclusive right to elucidate a specific verse in the Will and Testament, and since you’ve already said that you think interpretation and elucidation are different words for the same thing, that means the House of Justice interpreting scripture – in your eyes.

    I see it differently. istanbaaT or deduction is a process of legal derivation leading to a religious ruling (see paragraph 5 of this tablet) that is in accordance with religious principles and scripture (paragraph 9), and the needs of society, and which can be changed as social needs change. Elucidation on the other hand leads to light, to understanding. It works in the individual hearer, and so far as it works, it makes a ruling redundant. For example, if a point of law or teachings is obscure, and the House of Justice finds another relevant tablet and has it translated and published, it can avoid making a ruling on that point. It has elucidated it, by reference to the Writings, instead of legislating. Once the deficiency in our knowledge and understanding is corrected, the scripture speaks for itself and there is no ‘gap’ to fill, and individuals and assemblies can act on what is scriptural. IstanbaaT on the other hand comes into play where a gap has been deliberately left, so that the Bahai law can be adjusted to cultural needs. That’s the message of the Tablet on Religious Law and the House of Justice.

    Once again we see that this is incompatible with your idea that the UHJ can only elucidate matters not expressly recorded in the Book. If something was not in the book, it would require a new ruling, which the House of Justice makes through deduction / istanbaaT.

    There’s nothing in what the tablet says about istanbaaT to suggest that it is the same function as elucidating matters that are obscure, or to justify applying it to the Will and Testament. There is on the other hand a reason not to apply it to that particular passage in the Will and Testament, which defines the scope of matters the House of Justice should deal with:
    all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book. (The Will and Testament, p. 19).

    Now Shoghi Effendi wrote that without the Guardian “the necessary guidance to define the sphere of the legislative action of [the Bahai Faith's] elected representatives would be totally withdrawn.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 148)

    Of course that doesn’t mean that the Houses of Justice today have no idea of their sphere of legislative action, because that sphere is defined in scripture and Shoghi Effendi has given guidance on it, already. But it does mean that the Houses of Justice are not empowered to further define their sphere of legislation, beyond what the Guardian has given us.

  86. Sen said

    I think there’s a hole in your logic there Brent. It is not the UHJ’s reading of a text that the Guardian may feel has “departed from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances,” but their response, their enactment. For example, there is nothing in the Writings on the issue of teleporting to Bahji to say one’s daily prayers (an issue that is bound to face us about the 26th century CE). Suppose that people are popping up in Bahji at all hours of the day and night. Should teleporting for prayers be done according to Bahji time, which would make for a big crowd between noon and sunset, or at the believer’s local time? If the latter, how are the security guards to know where the arrivals have come from? The UHJ makes an enactment to solve the problem: those arriving between sunset and sunrise are to be met with a hail of bullets (or the sci-fi ray gun of your choice). The issue might not be one that has been dealt with in the Writings, but the enactment in response to that gap can still “conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances.”

    It may appear difficult to reconcile the Guardian’s words with what he — and Abdu’l-Baha in Some Answered Questions — say about the infallibility of the Universal House of Justice. That makes these particular words a very good reference point for thinking about the meaning of infallibility, which Baha’u’llah says “is applied to every soul whom God hath guarded against sin, transgression, rebellion, impiety, disbelief and the like. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 107) If the Universal House of Justice were to make a ruling that conflicted with the meaning or spirit of the teachings, would this mean they were in rebellion, or were disbelievers? I think not: it could be either ignorance (they didn’t know the Bahai teachings), or it could be a matter of adapting the ideal teachings to the practicalities of the day, balancing various teachings that cannot all be fully implemented at once. At any rate, Shoghi Effendi believed both in the infallibility of the UHJ in legislating, and that its enactments could conflict with the meaning or spirit of the Bahai teachings. In Shoghi Effendi’s mind, these things must not have contradicted: he was far to able to let a contradiction go unnoticed. My suggestion is, that in his thinking the meaning of “Bahai infallibility” had little resemblance to the dictionary meanings of the word.

  87. xyz said

    “You want to use it as evidence that the UHJ has an exclusive right to elucidate a specific verse in the Will and Testament, and since you’ve already said that you think interpretation and elucidation are different words for the same thing, that means the House of Justice interpreting scripture – in your eyes.”

    I have acknowledged that my statement “elucidation of the three phrases in the Will of Abdul-Baha is the exclusive right of the House” was wrong in post 81. Elucidation of the writings of Abdul-Baha, including the three phrases in His Will, is the exclusive right of the Guardian. The House has no authority to elucidate any writings of Abdul-Baha, including the three phrases in His Will. I stand by my previous statement that “elucidation” and “interpretation” are different words for the same thing.

  88. Sen said

    As Abdu’l-Baha once told Howard Colby Ives: “you try your way, and I’ll try mine.”

  89. xyz said

    “If you insist on following a dictionary, the conversation ends, because this blog is about Bahai teachings. A dictionary definition of Manifestation, or Guardian will not get you far – it will lead you astray. If you take external sources as authoritative, you are no longer discussing the Bahai Faith but something else. Baha’u’llah writes “Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men.” (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 128)”

    From page 197 in The Priceless Pearl:

    “Although he had such a brilliant command of language he frequently reinforced his knowledge by certainty through looking up the word he planned to use in Webster’s big dictionary. Often one of my functions was to hand it to him and it was a weighty tome indeed!” Ruhiyyih Rabbani

    I don’t think Shoghi Effendi was weighing the Book of God with such standards and sciences as were current amongst him simply because he referred to a dictionary.

  90. Sen said

    I’m interested to see how far you will go with this. According to the same source he also used The Times (The Priceless Pearl, p. 201). , and

    He was a great reader of the King James version of the Bible, and of the historians Carlyle and Gibbon, whose styles he greatly admired, particularly that of Gibbon whose Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Shoghi Effendi was so fond of that I never remember his not having a volume of it near him in his room and usually with him when he travelled. (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, p. 12)

    I see no reason for using any non-Bahai dictionary as a standard to understand the Bahai writings, or Webster above other dictionaries, just because Shoghi Effendi used it. He did not use his dictionaries to the exclusion of reading the scriptures in the light of the scriptures (the method I am advocating), but as a spelling check and writing tool, just as he used Gibbons as a style manual. He “typed, on a very small portable machine, by the two-finger method.” (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, p. 201), but his typing method too is just a writing tool, not authoritative.

    Sooner or later, an English dictionary will be produced based on Bahai scriptures, and it will of course show the special meanings of interpretation and elucidation, deduction, infallibility, and many other terms, in the Bahai scriptures. (There already is one such a dictionary, explaining English Bahai terms with Arabic definitions). If you are still alive then, I suppose you may turn to the new dictionary and use that as your measure in understanding the scriptures. But you will still have missed the point – we are not supposed to follow what some authority says, however learned and respected, we are supposed to read the scriptures for ourselves and understand them ourselves. ABCism is just a special form of “blind imitation.”

  91. This blog posting began as a response to two statements brought here from an outside discussion, in which Baha’is stated that if the House of Justice put forth a “belief” or an “understanding of doctrine” these individuals would feel obligated to incorporate them into their own beliefs. I want to question this initial spark that triggered this entire posting, because I don’t think the House of Justice establishes the doctrines or beliefs of the Faith. When it receives questions about the beliefs of the Faith, the House extensively quotes the Baha’i Scriptures and the Guardian’s letters. So I think that a lot of this discussion, on all sides, has been conjecture — and, I feel, conjecture that is based on a premise that I am not sure even exists.
    Brent

  92. Sen said

    You’re absolutely right about the method of the UHJ Brent: it’s method of choice in dealing with “matters that are obscure” is to find the relevant writings and quote them. However the discussion has been very useful: it shows that logic compels us either to read elucidation as something quite different to interpretation of the scripture, or to conclude that the UHJ’s sphere of elucidation and resolving differences is limited to matters not covered in the scripture. The latter choice would mean it would be unable to deal with, say, the abolition of prejudice — which is often obscure and causes difference — because the abolition of prejudices is already covered in the Bahai writings. Clarity that elucidation, in Bahai parlance, is different to scriptural interpretation is therefore a defence against the charge that the UHJ has invaded the sphere of the Guardian by dealing with obscure matters already mentioned in Bahai scripture. And it leads to a good question: what is meant by “elucidation,” as Shoghi Effendi uses the term? How does it differ from authoritative interpretation? What, then, is authoritative interpretation, if it is not a synonym for elucidation?

  93. >>The latter choice would mean it would be unable to deal with, say, the abolition of prejudice — which is often obscure and causes difference — because the abolition of prejudices is already covered in the Bahai writings. Clarity that elucidation, in Bahai parlance, is different to scriptural interpretation is therefore a defence against the charge that the UHJ has invaded the sphere of the Guardian by dealing with obscure matters already mentioned in Bahai scripture.>>

    To me the matter of the abolition of prejudice is an entirely different power of the House from elucidating a matter which is obscure. This is application of the revealed Word.

    The Constitution of the House synthesizes the powers of the House as set forth in the revealed Word and authorized interpretations. Among those powers are:

    “to promote the attainment of those spiritual qualities which should characterize Bahá’í life individually and collectively; to do its utmost for the realization of greater cordiality and comity amongst the nations and for the attainment of universal peace; and to foster that which is conducive to the enlightenment and illumination of the souls of men and the advancement and betterment of the world…”
    (The Constitution of The Universal House of Justice, p. 5)

    I see application of the Word as a distinct power; as are the powers and duties in these quoted passages.

    Brent

  94. Sen said

    I picked the abolition of prejudice as a matter that is often obscure and causing difference, because it is not always clear what is a prejudice, or how societies and communities should deal with them. Gay rights is an example – some say that limiting civil rights for homosexuals is not discrimination, or an expression of prejudice, because they believe in the concept of natural law. What they see as natural law, others see as prejudice. Even assuming that attitude does not enter the picture, there are still questions that can cause difference, such as whether in striving to overcome this prejudice, it is appropriate to speak out in favour of marriage rights for gays in the same way as we would speak out for, for example, voting rights or employment rights for blacks, or latinos, etc…

    Problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure …“. There’s a lot of that.

  95. Sam said

    There is no problem with “marriage rights for gays” after you agree upon the definition of marriage. I live in a state in the U.S. that does not recognize committed homosexual cohabitation as “marriage.” Homosexual men have the same civil right to marriage in my state as I do. They may enter into marriage at any time, though most will choose not to. (Most do not want to enter into a committed relationship with a woman.) They may also enter into a more appealing (to them) arrangement that is not marriage. They may not coerce me to recognize those other arrangements as a marriage.

    The definition question precedes the discrimination question. That is why the recent letter from the House of Justice shedding light on the definition question is so helpful. Since committed homosexual cohabitation and marriage are not the same thing, the issue of discrimination and prejudice does not arise.

  96. Sen said

    In Egypt, they have freedom of religion, and define Bahai as a non-religion, so they can deprive Bahais of rights and still not discriminate. I doubt many people are fooled by such jiggery pokkery with definitions.

    The question to ask is: are gays (or Jews, or Blacks, or women, or Bahais) human? If they are, then their human rights are inalienable. Are gays (etc.) citizens? If they are, then citizen’s rights apply equally to them. A state that selectively deprives some citizens of some rights is discriminating, even if it adjusts the definitions so that, under its own law, it appears it isn’t.

    I am not aware of any letter from the UHJ saying that committed homosexual cohabitation and marriage are not the same thing, but (1) juggling definitions would not change the arguments and (2) committed heterosexual cohabitation is not the same thing as marriage either, although in many states it leads to a common law marriage. The issue facing us as Bahais is not about a committed cohabitating homosexual couple, but how to deal with a married same-sex couple entering the community, or a same-sex Bahai couple getting married. Can married gays be Bahais? I take it as self-evident that they can (likewise, that gays are citizens and humans – these are rhetorical questions!).

    Prejudice is a separate issue: prejudice is a private failing, while discrimination is an action that has detrimental effects on others. Prejudice is a private affair, and no-one is “coercing you” to abandon it. (The coercion’ argument is another bit of jiggery-pokery — the oppressor becomes the victim). If a prejudiced person is in a position (for example as a landlord, employer, LSA member, etc) to deny equal treatment to the target of their prejudice, and does so, that’s discrimination. So long as private prejudices are not acted on, they are no affair of the state. And so long as they are not openly displayed, to the extent that they would bring the Bahai community into disrepute, they are only a private spiritual battle, and nobody will coerce you about them. This condition can be very difficult to overcome, but with prayer and seeking support it is possible.

  97. Sam said

    To state the obvious: You and I do not agree upon the definition of marriage. The “definition question” is then a “problem that has caused difference” among us believers. The House of Justice has shed light upon this question through a letter, in which it is stated that “The Bahá’í Writings state that marriage is a union between a man and a woman….” Rather than debate you as to why you disagree with this definition, I simply seek to point out the implications of settling this definition among Baha’is.

    The definition question precedes the discrimination question. So neither “private prejudices” nor “discrimination” follow logically from not recognizing homosexual partnerships as equal to Baha’i marriage.

    There are many erroneous definitions that we must reject as a matter of conscious as Baha’is, even if the world around us accepts them. You have offered one good example (the false definition of religion among Egyptian Islamists) and I am offering another (the erroneous definition of marriage now taking hold in secular-left society.)
    We need not embrace these false definitions in order to go along with currents of popular thought, or out of excessive fear of “bringing the Baha’i community into disrepute.”

    As for relying upon prayer and support to overcome your prejudices: I agree wholeheartedly and would suggest a third ingredient : detachment. “Not, however, until thou consumest with the flame of utter detachment those veils of idle learning, that are current amongst men, canst thou behold the resplendent morn of true knowledge.” (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 68)

  98. Sen said

    “The Bahá’í Writings state that marriage is a union between a man and a woman….”

    But do they? Have you seen that statement in the Bahai Writings yourself? I have not.

  99. Sam said

    You ask: “Have you seen that statement…?” Are you looking for a (single) quotation in the Writings that sates verbatim that “marriage is a union between a man and a woman.”?

    But that is not what the letter from the House of Justice says.

    The letter says: “The Baha’i Writings state that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.” I take the plural “Writings” to mean several passages (collectively) which pertain to marriage, which define marriage in this way.

    Would you agree with me if I asserted that: “The Baha’i Writings state that the education of girls is valuable to society and should be an important priority.”?

    [But do they? Have you seen that statement in the Writings yourself?]

    While there is no single passage in the Writings that reads exactly : “the education of girls is valuable to society and should be an important priority.” , there are many writings (refs 1,2) that (collectively) make clear what “the Baha’i Writings state” about the education of girls.

    So it is with the Baha’i writings about marriage. There are several spread throughout the texts that, read collectively, define this aspect of marriage. The following, very limited sample of quotes (refs 3,4,5) is helpful to me to understand that marriage as defined in the Writings involves two individuals of opposite sex (bold emphasis in all quotes is mine, not from the original text.)

    For me, a reasonable, unbiased reading of these passages, along with the recent letter of elucidation, is sufficient. I don’t know if the House of Justice considered these or other writings when composing the recent letter. You may want to ask the House if you seek an authoritative answer.

  100. Sam said

    1.”The girl’s education is of more importance today than the boy’s, for she is the mother of the future race.”
    (Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 90)

    2. “If it be considered through the eye of reality, the training and culture of daughters is more necessary than that of sons, for these girls will come to the station of motherhood and will mold the lives of the children. The first trainer of the child is the mother. The babe, like unto a green and tender branch, will grow according to the way it is trained. If the training be right, it will grow right, and if crooked, the growth likewise, and unto the end of life it will conduct itself accordingly.”
    (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 398)

    3. “Whoso contenteth himself with a single partner from among the maidservants of God, both he and she shall live in tranquillity.”
    (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 41)

    4.”Glory be unto Thee, O my God! Verily, this thy servant and this Thy maidservant have gathered under the shadow of Thy mercy and they are united through Thy favor and generosity.”
    (Compilations, Baha’i Prayers, p. 104)

    5.”Marry, O people, that from you may appear he who will remember Me amongst My servants
    (Compilations, Baha’i Prayers, p. 103)

  101. Sen said

    So it’s not specifically in the Writings that a marriage can only be between a man and a woman – that’s a reading, a deduction of the implications of various texts. It’s the task of the UHJ, to make such deductions, as binding rulings for the Bahai community. And what the UHJ has deduced today, it can change tomorrow. Abdu’l-Baha writes:

    8. Today this process of deduction is entrusted to the board of the House of Justice, and the personal deductions and inferences of scholars have no authority, unless they are endorsed by the House of Justice. The difference is this, that [the deductions and endorsements of the House of Justice, whose members are chosen and accepted by the entire religious community, will not give rise to conflict, whereas] the deductions drawn by individual divines and scholars immediately led to contention, and were the cause of schism, dispersion and factions. Unity of doctrine was destroyed, the unity of the Faith of God was undone, the edifice of the Law of God was shaken.
    9. As for the matter of marriage, this falls entirely within the ‘cultural laws.’ Nevertheless, its preconditions are found in the Law of God, and its fundamentals are evident. However those unions between relatives that are not explicitly treated, are referred to the House of Justice, which will give a ruling based on the culture, medical requirements, wisdom, and the capacity of human nature. …
    …the House of Justice is entitled to abrogate what it itself has decided. ” (Full translation here)

    Although the UHJ is promised guidance in making its deductions, it can be wrong in matters of fact. It is not omniscient, and not all-knowing about the Bahai Writings. For example, in one letter the UHJ wrote: “the daily obligatory prayers are ordained to be said in the privacy of one’s chamber.” (1 September 1983 ).

    That was factually incorrect: there is no such rule in the Bahai Writings, and Abdu’l-Baha speaks of the Bahais saying their obligatory prayers in meetings and in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar. When one of the friends pointed this out to the UHJ, they at least implicitly conceded that Abdu’l-Baha’s statements must prevail: “We [the Secretariat] are asked to explain that, just as one should not deduce from Abdu’l-Bahá’s Tablet that there are only two places where one can recite the Obligatory Prayer — at home or in a place of worship — so the phrase “in the privacy of one’s chamber” should not be read literally and exclusively.” (Sept 01, 1983).

    Because the UHJ is not omniscient, it may be that in other cases too, the UHJ thinks that something is in the Writings, when it is not. There are three more examples of this in an email in my email archive, here. As I’ve explained in “UHJ elucidations,” its rulings must be followed even when they conflict with the meaning, or depart from the spirit of, Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances. So the possibility that the UHJ may think something is in the Writings, when it is not there, or may think there is nothing in the Writings on a topic when it is there, does not affect the authority of the UHJ. Unlike other religious communities, the Bahai community is not led by religious experts, and it is not supposed to be. It is led by elected lay persons with no special training, and more than that, it is led by the process of consultation. Which is what we are doing right here: presenting our views and learning together.

  102. I don’t think the House’s statement that marriage is only to be between a man and a woman, is a “deduction” in the sense the Master is using it. These “deductions” the Master writes of are supplementary legislation where the Text is silent — but the Text is not silent here. In the face of the various statements that affirm that marriage is to be between a man and a woman, that “procreation of children” is “the sacred and primary purpose of marriage” (WOB 187), that the Aqdas prohibits homosexual acts, that God created men for women and women for men — the Text is so explicit that no supplementary legislation is needed.

    O ye two believers in God! The Lord, peerless is He, hath made woman and man to abide with each other in the closest companionship, and to be even as a single soul. They are two helpmates, two intimate friends, who should be concerned about the welfare of each other
    (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 122)

    The marriage of the Bahais means that both man and woman must become spiritually and physically united, so that they may have eternal unity throughout all the divine worlds and improve the spiritual life of each other. This is Bahai matrimony.
    (Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v2, p. 325)

    Verily God created women for men, and men for women.
    (Baha’u’llah, Compilation on Women, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 379)

    The House is simply re-phrasing what the Text already says, not adding something new. The fact that the House uses different language to reach the inescapable conclusion does not make it the enactment of supplementary legislation.

  103. Sen said

    It seems to me you are reading it as a ‘deduction’ – just a very easy one. A deduction does not add something new, it is literally a “drawing out” (in both Persian and English). The UHJ has deduced a general rule, perhaps from texts such as those you mention, which they can apply to a situation that is not addressed in the Bahai writings: what to do when state and society recognise same-sex marriages.

    The deduction appears very easy, if one does not consider other Bahai teachings, for example about justice and the harmony of religion and science, and the principle of eslah or maslah ~ the selection, between possible applications of religious teachings, of the one best suited to the well-being of society. It could be that the UHJ has considered only a few texts such as those you have listed, and found the deduction self-evident. But they might have considered many other factors, and made their decision on the balance of the arguments.

    Whether this is legislation or not, is a matter definition. Based on the use of the term in Abdu’l-Baha’s writings, I think that “legislation” is a very broad term, covering virtually all of the activities of organised religion in society (see “Executive and Legislative” on this blog). Schaeffer has a much much narrower understanding, but it is not based on Abdu’l-Baha’s use of the word, but rather on western political practice. For me, both deduction and elucidation (and education and charity) are part of legislation, for they are part of tashri` — activities to propagate shar`, the Path/law of God.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 152 other followers

%d bloggers like this: