Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

How theocracy happened

Posted by Sen on December 2, 2008

A person investigating the Bahai Faith had encountered theocratic ideas among the Bahais she met, and asked if these were correct, and where they came from. But in fact, she seemed to know already that these ideas must be wrong. She wrote:

> I have to say that the idea of a one-world government run by a
> religious institution of any sort whatsoever, is what I can only
> call a total nightmare. I cannot believe for one second that this
> is what Bahaullah envisaged,

She was quite right. This is certainly not what Baha’u’llah envisioned!

How did she ‘just know’ that Baha’u’llah could not have taught this ? – She knew because these are hair-brained delusions, and people like Baha’u’llah, and Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, people who speak good sense most of the time, do not turn around and babble nonsense at the next breath. Common sense tells us that idiotic ideas come from idiots. With a bit of research, we can trace these ideas back, stand in the shoes of the idiots, and maybe understand them even if we cannot agree with them.

What Baha’u’llah says on this is clear:

Kings are the manifestations of the power, and the daysprings of the might and riches, of God. Pray ye on their behalf. He hath invested them with the rulership of the earth and hath singled out the hearts of men as His Own domain. Conflict and contention are categorically forbidden in His Book. This is a decree of God in this Most Great Revelation. It is divinely preserved from annulment and is invested by Him with the splendour of His confirmation. (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 220)

iqanThere’s a lot more in Baha’u’llah’s writings about this. It is one of his main themes. The second part of the Kitab-i Iqan, his main theological work, is devoted to the question. He includes it among the teachings he summarises in his Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, which is a survey of his teachings that he wrote at the end of his life. Abd’ul-Baha wrote a whole book about the separation of religion and politics, and the disasters that happen when you mix them up: it is called the Risaleh-ye Siyasiyyah: my translation of it is called the Sermon on the Art of Governance [the translation has since been retitled The Art of Governance]. Abdu’l-Baha often gave talks in which he listed the central Bahai teachings, and in about half of these he includes the separation of religion and politics as one of the key principles.

Nevertheless, most of the early Bahais in the West had the opposite view. In part this was due to a simple mistake. Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha had advocated a Supreme Tribunal to be composed by the nations of the world, and a House of Justice to be elected by the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies. When the French translation of Some Answered Questions was made (by Hippolyte Dreyfus, no relation of the famous Dreyfus in the Dreyfus Affair), he added footnotes where these terms were used, explaining that the Tribunal was the UHJ, and the UHJ the Tribunal. His French translation was then translated in English and German, along with the footnotes, and the book became very influential. His footnotes were corrected in later editions, but the idea was already established by then.

eswBut in my opinion the mix-up is due mainly to ordinary people’s unthinking assumptions. From reading as much as I can of the early Bahai literature, it seems to me that various authors must have came up with the idea of the union of church and state independently, because they explain how it could work in contradictory ways. It looks to me like this idea was just “in the air” and various Bahai authors picked it up as if it was so natural it required no argument, no reference to the scriptures.

Here’s one example (there are many more, in my book Church and State). In Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, page 89, Baha’u’llah wrote:

The sovereigns of the earth have been and are the manifestations of the power, the grandeur and the majesty of God. This Wronged One hath at no time dealt deceitfully with anyone. … Regard for the rank of sovereigns is divinely ordained, as is clearly attested by the words of the Prophets of God and His chosen ones.
He Who is the Spirit (Jesus) — may peace be upon Him — was asked: “O Spirit of God! Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar or not?” And He made reply: “Yea, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” He forbade it not. These two sayings are, in the estimation of men of insight, one and the same, for if that which belonged to Caesar had not come from God, He would have forbidden it.

Julie Chanler’s translation of the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, from the French translation by Dreyfus, was published by the New York Baha’i Publishing Committee in 1928, and this section of it was cited in an article in Star of the West in 1933. So American Bahais ought to have known that Baha’u’llah explicitly endorses the principle of “Render unto Caesar.”

wobHorace Holley was one of the American Bahais: he was a member of the National Spiritual Assembly in the USA from 1923, so we can assume that he would know the Epistle, would read the Star of the West, and would also have known that Abdu’l-Baha is reported to have cited and endorsed this verse in the popular and widely used (but unreliable) Paris Talks (page 158). He could not have known that Abdu’l-Baha also explains and expands on this verse in The Art of Governance. In 1938, Horace Holley was writing the preface to a collection of Shoghi Effendi’s letters, called “The World Order of Baha’u’llah.” He wrote (page vii):

the old conception of religion, which separated spirituality from the fundamental functions of civilization, compelling men to abide by conflicting principles of faith, of politics and of economics, has been forever destroyed. The command, “Render unto God that which is of God, and unto Caesar that which is of Caesar,” has been annulled by the law of the oneness of humanity revealed by Baha’u’llah.

The background assumption is visible here: Holley thinks that an ideal society would be unified and that unity does not permit church and state to be separate.

Not only did Holley himself apparently not notice that he was contradicting Bahai scripture, generations of Bahais after him also did not notice! The book was reprinted with these words at least until 1974, but thankfully they have been removed now.

In The World Order of Baha’u’llah itself, page 66, Shoghi Effendi had said:

Theirs is not the purpose, while endeavoring to conduct and perfect the administrative affairs of their Faith, to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country’s constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries.

pdcThree years after Holley’s mistaken assertion in the Preface to World Order of Baha’u’llah, Shoghi Effendi made a lengthy compilation of texts from Baha’u’llah regarding the position of kings and rulers. It is published now in The Promised Day is Come, from page 72. One of these quotations is the passage from Epistle to the Son of the Wolf quoted above, about Caesar. Since this comes just three years after Holley’s mistake, it must surely be read as a repudiation and scriptural refutation, by Shoghi Effendi, of Holley’s theories.

Shoghi Effendi also wrote extensively about the supreme tribunal and the other organs of a world government, and none of these descriptions even mentions the Universal House of Justice. Clearly, for Shoghi Effendi, government was one thing, and the Bahai Administrative Order something else: eternally separate, but complementary in purpose.

shoghieffendiThe picture I have of the time is of Shoghi Effendi swimming valiantly against the tide, at first not realising that the mass of the believers in the US were theocratists believing in an eventual union of church and state, and then coming out roundly to refute these ideas. At the same time, he had to work with people like Holley: they had the confidence of the American Bahais, they were the backbone and model for the Bahai administrative system he was establishing around the world, and the US administration was the main pillar of his plans for spreading the Bahai Faith to every country of the world.

The incorporation of ‘old world’ ideas into the new religion is not unexpected. When people become Bahais they naturally import many of their assumptions and hopes about “religion” and stick them onto the surface of Bahai, mistaking them for Bahai teachings. At one time, the Bahais in at least one city in America had a separate Assembly for Negroes. After all, Bahais believed in equality, did they not? And before we laugh too hard at them, remember that in other cities the Afro-Americans were simply excluded, not noticed, overlooked. Look at Christian history also – it took generations before something like the real teachings of Christ was distinguished from a mass of mystery cult imports and Judaic millenialism. When Christ said “my kingdom is not of this world” most of the Christians added “yet.”
pilate
They took Jewish millennial expectations of a messiah who would rule, attached them to Christ who did not rule, and solved the difficulty by translating Christ’s rule into their own rule (the rule of the saints) and postponing it until the near future. The Bahais have done just the same for the past 100 years: we have been attaching Christian and Shiah millenarian expectations to Baha’u’llah, and then solving the contradictions by supposing that the ‘real’ Bahai Faith will emerge in the future and will fit the model we have in mind: the Houses of Justice will become governments, and the Bahais will become rulers. But just as people like Justin Martyr in the 3rd or 4th generation of Christianity began to realise that this was not Christ’s teaching, so some Bahais are now realising that Bahai teachings have to come from Bahai scriptures, and those scriptures are clear:

… this sect have no worldly object nor any concern with political matters. The fulcrum of their motion and rest and the pivot of their cast and conduct is restricted to spiritual things and confined to matters of conscience; it has nothing to do with the affairs of government nor any concern with the powers of the throne; its principles are the withdrawal of veils, the verification of signs, the education of souls, the reformation of characters, the purification of hearts, and illumination with the gleams of enlightenment.
(Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveler’s Narrative, page 86)

~~ Sen McGlinn ~~
Short link to this page: http://tinyurl.com/historyBahaiTheocracy
Shorter than that: http://wp.me/pcgF5-5A
Add to DeliciousAdd to DiggAdd to FaceBookAdd to Google BookmarkAdd to MySpaceAdd to RedditAdd to StumbleUponAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Twitter

Related content:
Church, State, experts, consensus

Advertisements

20 Responses to “How theocracy happened”

  1. Amanda said

    Hi, Senn.

    I am sure you have probably responded to these points elsewhere, so I apologize in advance if I’m asking you to repeat yourself.

    Although I, too, would much prefer a Baha’i Faith that believed entirely in a complete separation of church of state and had no theocratic vision for itself, I do not think that is an accurate portrayal of the Haifan Baha’i Faith. I understand that you do not recognize any letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as being authoritative, and I can respect that opinion, though I think it is contrary to Shoghi Effendi’s intentions. I also recognize that I do not know your view of the legitimacy of letters written by the UHJ or the Secretariat, or the Research Department. Just to be clear, I actually respect the ability of any Baha’i to question the supremacy of any Baha’i primary or secondary source material. (I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in the authority of any “Divine” source.)

    But, I am curious how you reconcile your view that the “real” Baha’i Faith believes in separation of church and state with certain writings even of the central figures which contradict this. What do you make of ‘Abdu’l-Baha having written:

    “This House of Justice enacteth the laws and the government enforceth them. The legislative body must reinforce the executive, the executive must aid and assist the legislative body so that through the close union and harmony of these two forces, the foundation of fairness and justice may become firm and strong, that all the regions of the world may become even as Paradise itself.”

    What do you make of this letter, as well:
    http://bahai-library.com/uhj/theocracy.html

    I do see and agree that there are multiple references to a separation of spheres between church and state in the writings of the central figures and Shoghi Effendi. But that doesn’t erase their writings that contradict that position.

    I think you are selectively reading the writings. Doing that intentionally, consciously and openly is praiseworthy. Making the choice to let your own sense of right and wrong direct your conscience is praiseworthy. But there is plenty of ammo in the writings that discredits your point, as well. There are Christians and Jews who openly disagree with parts of the Bible they find offensive, but I think it is misleading to simply deny the existance of those darker passages.

    Anyway, I applaud your belief in the separation of church and state. I do think Baha’is could CHOOSE to create a Baha’i Faith that adhered to that vision, and that would be praiseworthy. But it would mean separating the dross from the gold in the writings themselves, and explicitly countering the written works of the current Universal House of Justice.

    Thank you,
    Amanda Respess

  2. I do see and agree that there are multiple references to a separation of spheres between church and state in the writings of the central figures and Shoghi Effendi. But that doesn’t erase their writings that contradict that position. … there is plenty of ammo in the writings that discredits your point, as well.

    One possibility is that Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi really do contradict themselves and each other, as you suggest. The other is that you may have misunderstood some things they have said.

    I understand that you do not recognize any letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as being authoritative,

    Where did I say that?

    You should be aware that there are people who attribute the strangest ideas to me. I’ve mentioned some of them in the posting on ‘polemics revisited’ on this blog. The way to deal with such tales is simply to ask always ‘where did Sen write that?’ I’ve written quite a lot over the years, and if there is any substance to such a story, the person telling it ought to be able to find something I’ve written to back it up.

    What do you make of ‘Abdu’l-Baha having written:

    “This House of Justice enacteth the laws and the government enforceth them. The legislative body must reinforce the executive, the executive must aid and assist the legislative body so that through the close union and harmony of these two forces, the foundation of fairness and justice may become firm and strong, that all the regions of the world may become even as Paradise itself.”

    First, it shows quite clearly that Abdu’l-Baha is addressing a two-part structure, not a monist structure. Second, that these two parts are intended to be in harmony, not competing. Third, that the name of one part is ‘House of Justice’ and the name of the other is ‘Government’.

    So far, so good: the meaning is I think unambiguous and comes from the actual structure of the paragraph, without depending on the meaning I attach to a particular word. But I double-check for consistency (I assume that Abdu’l-Baha does not contradict himself: intelligent people rarely do). Is there anywhere where Abdu’l-Baha says the House of Justice is the government, or the government is the House of Justice? No. Is there anywhere where he says that government or the House of Justice should be done away with, or is temporary? No. Is there anywhere where he says there is a fundamental conflict between them? No. Could words like House of Justice and Government have different cultural meanings? Not really.

    Then I triple-check, by looking at the Will and Testament itself. It has an immediate historical context: there have been “calumnies” claiming that Abdu’l-Baha “had established a new sovereignty for himself,” “had purposed to cause the gravest breach in the mighty power of the Crown.” He has been deemed a “me a sower of sedition.” Abdu’l-Baha has answered these allegations, saying that Bahais “must obey and be the well-wishers of the governments of the land, regard disloyalty unto a just king as disloyalty to God Himself and wishing evil to the government a transgression of the Cause of God.” In this context, is it reasonable for Abdu’l-Baha to be explaining the relationship between the House of Justice and the Government as a two-part, harmonious structure ? Yes, this is consistent with that setting.

    Further, in the Will and Testament Abdu’l-Baha specifies that the House of Justice should be elected “by the believers” and its members should be “steadfast in God’s faith,” that the Universal House of Justice should be elected by the members of the secondary houses of Justice, and that the Guardian is its Head. So we have a fairly clear idea of what is meant by ‘House of Justice.’

    He does not say immediately what he means by ‘government,’ but if we look further in the W&T we find a mention of the “Supreme Tribunal, that shall include members from all the governments and peoples of the world.” We can look further, to the Tablet to the Hague, and find there the method of election and the membership of the Supreme Tribunal, and we can see these bear no resemblance to the membership and method of election for the House of Justice, specified in the Will and Testament. So the Supreme Tribunal and the UHJ are two distinct bodies, and the secondary houses of justice that elect the UHJ are distinct from the national governments which elect the members of the supreme tribunal. They are also different terms in the original: the Supreme Tribunal is the mahakame-ye umuumii, and it will “include members from all the governments and peoples” (duval wa milal, which could also be translated ‘nations and religious communities.’)

    At this point, I feel quite confident about the basic message of the paragraph: Abdu’l-Baha wants to see a two-part structure, consisting of the ‘House of Justice’ and the ‘Government,’ that work in harmony, and it appears that this two-part structure functions both at the national level, with secondary houses of justice and governments, and at the international level, where there is a Guardian and the Universal House of Justice on the one hand and, on the other hand, the Supreme Tribunal (and other international institutions not mentioned in this passage). And we can also see that this is completely opposed to the picture that is presented in some Bahai secondary literature and pilgrim’s notes, which say things like ‘the national spiritual assemblies [will be] the national government’ (John Robarts, in The Vision of Shoghi Effendi, p. 174). To understand what the Will and Testament is saying, we will have to disregard the things that ‘every Bahai knows.’

    Now I go back to the text and see what more meaning I can squeeze from it. It refers to the House of Justice as the legislative, the tashrii` (from the word shariah), and to the government as the executive power, the tanfiidh, and to the pair of them as do qovveh, two forces.

    There’s something odd going on here, because the House of Justice, in the Will and Testament, does seem to have executive and judicial power: “Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God…” And what about the parliaments, which are to approve the election of the members of the Supreme Tribunal: if a parliament is not to legislate, what exactly is it for? Could there be two legislatures in a country, one making shariah (religious law) and the other the civil legislature? Could there be two ‘executives,’ one governing the religious community, the other the executive that is one of the three arms of civil government?

    Fortunately there are at least two other places where Abdu’l-Baha writes about the legislature/tashrii` and the executive/tanfiidh, and calls them two forces/do qovveh, and says they must act together.

    The first is in Abdu’l-Baha’s Secret of Divine Civilization. In Marzieh Gail’s translation (p. 37), Abdu’l-Baha says,

    The state is, moreover, based upon two potent forces, the legislative and the executive. The focal center of the executive power is the government, while that of the legislative is the learned – and if this latter great support and pillar should prove defective, how is it conceivable that the state should stand?

    This is misleading, without some clarifications. What Abdu’l-Baha says is that “the sphere of training (siyaasii) requires two supreme righteous forces (do qoveh), the tashrii` and the tanfiidh. The center of the tanfiidh is government, while the centre of the tashrii` is the ulama, the doctors of religion. He’s talking about church and state, but then in a Muslim context, where the ulama, the religious leaders, are the ones who interpret the details of the shariah, the religious law. Governments, in Islamic countries, also make laws of course, but they never call them the shariah – that word is reserved for religious law. It is also the word that is used in the Bahai writings for our own religious law.

    The second text is in Abdu’l-Baha’s Sermon on the Art of Governance (there’s a link to it on my blog, at the bottom of the right-hand column). This fairly short book is entirely devoted to describing the ‘two forces.’ It says that humanity requires guidance and training (siyaasii) to develop, and God provides this through ‘two forces,’ one of which acts through kings and the apparatus of government, the other through prophets, scriptures and the religious order. Abdu’l-Baha then names the two forces: tashrii`iyyah and tanfiidhiyyah. The first is the explanation and specification of the shari`ah, the religious path. The second is the executive or implementing power, and refers to the whole apparatus of government. In the Sermon on the Art of Governance Abdu’l-Baha writes:

    If you refer to history, you would find countless examples of this [negative] sort, all based on the involvement of religious leaders in political matters. These souls are the fountainhead of the interpretation of God’s commandments (tashrī c), not of implementation (tanfīdh). That is, when the government requests an explanation concerning the requirements of the Law of God and the realities of the divine ordinances … they must explain what has been deduced of the commands of God, and what is in accordance with the law of God. Apart from this, what awareness do they have of questions of leadership and social development, the administration and control of weighty matters, the welfare and prosperity of the kingdom, the improvement of procedures and codes of law, or foreign affairs and domestic policy?

    So now we know what a tashrii`-type legislature does: it explains “what has been deduced of the commands of God, and what is in accordance with the law of God” and it does not deal with “the improvement of procedures and codes of law, or foreign affairs and domestic policy”, which is precisely what a national parliament does deal with.

    So now we have three texts, which consistently talk about the two forces that guide society, embodied in the religious order and the political order, using the terms tashrii` and tanfiidh for them, and saying that these two must support one another. In the Secret of Divine Civilization this is said in reference to Iran in particular; in the Sermon on the Art of Governance it is said in general terms, using proof texts from the Quran, the New Testament and Baha’u’llah’s Epistle to the Son of the Wolf; in the Will and Testament it is applied specifically to the relationship between the Universal House of Justice and the Government. What could be clearer?

    No doubt there is more meaning to be extracted from that one paragraph (I’ve discussed this further in my book Church and State, from page 205), but the method of reading should be clear by now.

    Note that the whole method rests on the assumption that Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha do not contradict themselves or each other, and that we can therefore use one part of the Bahai scriptures to illuminate another part. I’ve done this within one work (the Will and Testament) and between three works of Abdu’l-Baha, but I could also go wider, and show that what Abdu’l-Baha says about the two forces is consistent with what Baha’u’llah says about the worldly and spiritual sovereignties in his Kitab-e Iqan, and what he says about ‘Render unto Caesar’ in his Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, and what Shoghi Effendi says about the machinery of Bahai administrative never being allowed to replace the national governments, and with Shoghi Effendi’s descriptions of the institutions of the world commonwealth of nations, in which a world executive and a world judiciary and world legislature feature, but a ‘House of Justice’ does not.

  3. muslimsperspective said

    “Not only did Holley himself apparently not notice that he was contradicting Bahai scripture, generations of Bahais after him also did not notice! The book was reprinted with these words at least until 1974, but thankfully they have been removed now.”

    I just wanted to mention that I bought this book two years ago, brand new, and those words were definitely still in there.

  4. William Staton said

    The coming of a world government based on Federalism and Baha’i’ ideals will happen,in my opinion, before we see all the peoples in a land becoming Baha’i’. We are the examples of Gods Attributes on this earth. With us fullfilling the “Covenant”, this unstoppable “force” will help transform this planet into one country, one people, one world community advancing toward God in an ever advanding civilization.

  5. Sen said

    I agree, and I think that’s how Shoghi Effendi thought. In the blog entry for ‘Entry by Troops‘, scroll halfway down to the quote from The Promised Day is Come.

  6. Frank Talley said

    Some of the above appear to me to be ex-post facto rationalizations, attempting to find justifications for a long-standing Baha’i teaching that is not popular or politically correct nowadays. Tell me what you think of of the following? Shoghi Effendi said, “The Baha’i theocracy . . . is both divinely ordained as a system and, of course, based on the teachings of the Prophet Himself. (Baha’i News, December 1949, p. 2) Now Socrates would no dobut have us at this point define the word “theocracy.” But nevertheless, there it is: The “T” word.

  7. Sen said

    Theocratic rule has never been a Bahai teaching (see the compilation on Church and State under the ‘compilations’ tag), but there have always been some Bahais, at least the American community, who have believed in it, so, in every generation, Bahais have argued about the issue and sought justifications for their views in the Bahai writings. We know that Shoghi Effendi did not believe in a theocratic form of government himself, because in letters that he wrote himself he says that the Bahais should not allow their Bahai administration to supersede national governments. (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 66) and refers to a future “that is sure to witness the formal and complete separation of Church and State.” (as published in The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, 76. An earlier publication of this letter, in Bahai World vol. 3 1928-1930, page 119, refers to “the formal and complete separation of Church from State.”) This continued to be his position throughout his life. A letter written on his behalf in October 1951 states that “The Administrative Order is not a governmental or civic body, it is to regulate and guide the internal affairs of the Baha’i community… (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to Canada, 23). Moreover he chose some of Baha’u’llah’s clearest anti-theocratic passages for inclusion in Gleanings, for example, “The instruments which are essential to the immediate protection, the security and assurance of the human race have been entrusted to the hands, and lie in the grasp, of the governors of human society. This is the wish of God and His decree…. .” Gleanings, CII 206-7, see also pages 247 279 303; and in The Promised Day is Come from page 70 onwards he prepared his own compilation to refute the idea that Bahais “advocate or anticipate the definite extinction of the institution of kingship.” He is not talking about monarchy in particular, but about ‘kingship’ as a symbol for civil government in any form, because he begins his compilation with the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf in which Baha’u’llah says: ” Regard for the rank of sovereigns is divinely ordained, as is clearly attested by the words of the Prophets of God and His chosen ones. He Who is the Spirit [Jesus] — may peace be upon Him — was asked: ‘O Spirit of God! Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?’ And He made reply: ‘Yea, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ So the idea that Shoghi Effendi changed the Bahai teachings to incorporate a theocratic rule by the Houses of Justice, or even harboured loosely theocratic notions in private, is one that I hfind frankly ridiculous. If he refers to these matters so often in his English writings, it is because he was fighting theocratic beliefs that were widespread among the Bahais, not because he had any ambivalence on the issue himself. The letter you cite is an example – he had referred to the Administrative Order as theocratic in a couple of places, and a Bahai had written to him about that term, and the term theophany. So the answer refers to the nature not of a Bahai civil government but to the Bahai Administrative Order, which governs the internal affairs of the Bahai community. Shoghi Effendi says that this system of government of the religious community is unlike other “recognized types of theocracy, whether it be the Hebrew Commonwealth, or the various Christian ecclesiastical organizations, or the Imamate or the Caliphate in Islam.” (World Order of Baha’u’llah 152, see also God Passes By 326-7). He is comparing the institutions that govern religious communities in various religions.

  8. Frank Talley said

    Sen, I fear I may be in over my head. Not only was this my first post on your blog, but the first on any Baha’i blog. You certainly have a marvellous command of the Baha’i references and/or one heck of a concordance, for you came back quickly with a meaningful rebuttal. However, I remain unconvinced that Shoghi Effendi did not anticipate a time in the future when there would indeed be a Baha’i theocracy. I probably should read your book, Church and State referenced above. However, when I click on the link I get: “page cannot be found.” I too, have written in this important area, and would love to read your book.

    But first a quick aside: There was a comment from Amanda above about letters written by Shoghi Effendi’s secretaries. The relevant directive is, “I wish to add and say that whatever letters are sent in my behalf from Haifa are all read and approved by me before mailing. There is no exception to this rule. Baha’i News, May 1931, p. 5

    Now back to the issue of theocracy. You wrote, “We know that Shoghi Effendi did not believe in a theocratic form of government himself, because in letters that he wrote himself he says that Bahais should not allow their Bahai administration to supersede national governments.” I respectfully suggest that your conclusion – stated in the beginning before the word “because” – does not necessarily, and does not logically follow from what you wrote subsequent to that. Throughout his ministry, Shoghi Effendi called upon the Baha’is to avoid politics. And why did he do that? Well, in Muslim countries, such a directive needs no explanation; and in Nazi Germany as well. But in other western countries, similar reasons applied, even though in the United States and in European countries it was also necessary to counter the impression (proclaimed by many non-Baha’i observers, such as William McElwee Miller, Samuel Graham Wilson, and others) that the Baha’i Faith was merely a reformist Muslim sect. For a Baha’i to talk of his own faith’s desire for a day when a Baha’i theocracy would reign would invite all manner of trouble in countries which already had state churches, and as well in a country such as the United States, whose Constitution (in theory) prohibits such a notion.

    We cannot necessarily know what Shoghi Effendi believed about such matters by reading what he wrote. And this for two reasons: as stated above, it would have been unwise for him (if indeed he did believe in a Baha’i theocracy) to have dwelt on the issue. Is it not the case that he witheld certain provisions of the Kitab-i-Aqdas from the western Baha’is, anticipating a future time when the implememtation of certain provisions would be propitious? Second, is there anything to prohibit Shoghi Effendi from having changed his mind about something? He was the world leader of the Baha’i Faith for 36 years. Must we assume that the ideas he had when he assumed the Guardianship never changed over this time? One can deduce from reading the Baha’i News that he did change his mind on some things, ordering the Baha’is to do one thing, and later rescinding that order in favor of another. These are not the actions of someone who is infallible – if by that word one means, “omniscient.” It is just the actions of an individual (or an institution, e.g. the U.S. Supreme Court) that reverses himself when such a change seems best (or politically expedient.)

    For the reasons stated above, I give precedence to the quotation I tendered from Shoghi Effendi as reported in the December 1949 Baha’i News. Contrary to your opening sentence to my post, I continue to believe that theocratic rule has been a Baha’i teaching, but that its advent was seen by Shoghi Effendi and some (I would say nearly all) of the American community as being implemented in the distant future. Surely what Shoghi Effendi wrote on any subject in 1949, a mere eight years before his death, is more relevant that what he wrote in the 1920s.

    In any case it would be preposterous, given the numerical insignificance of the Baha’i community in any given country, for the Baha’is to attempt to allow their “…administration to supersede national governments.” But in the distant future, should the majority of a country’s residents be Baha’is – then what?

    For the record, I should make the confessional statement that I find the notion of a state church to be repugnant and odious. Perhaps you do too, Sen. So I respectfully ask, if you do find the notion of a Baha’i theocracy to be repugnant (as I do), and if you feel that Baha’is who have thought such a notion to be the correct one, are you not also seeking “justifications for (your) views in the Baha’i writings.”? Well of course you are. That is what theologians do. That is what I have just attempted to do.

    Thank you for your thoughtful response.

  9. Sen said

    I’ve fixed the link to Church and State. It looks as if Kalimat has sold out, and Amazon is down to their last few copies. Second-hand copies cost more than the new price.

    There is no doubt that letters written on Shoghi Effendi’s behalf were read and approved by him. One might wonder whether the system was 100% waterproof, and whether (since he did not always add a signature or post-script) a personal letter sent by someone serving as his secretary might sometimes be mistaken for a letter written on behalf of the Guardian. For example, if Joe in Washington writes to his sister Mary in Haifa, about the indirect teaching activities in Washington, and Mary writes back that the Guardian feels indirect teaching has great potential, this would be just Mary’s observations of what Shoghi Effendi has said in similar cases, or has talked about at dinner, but the letter would be indistinguishable from a letter written on the Guardians’ behalf. Having said that, I’ve looked for instances of letters attributed “on behalf of the Guardian” but written on a day he was not in Haifa, or on a Holy Day, and I have found just one:

    > “The words Israel, used throughout the Bible, simply refers to the
    > Jewish people, and not to the Chosen ones of this day.” (From a letter
    > written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, April 21,
    > 1939) (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 498)

    What are the chances that Shoghi Effendi had his secretaries at work on April 21, versus the chances that they had a day off and were catching up with their personal correspondence? I did once ask the research department for an estimate of what portion of the letters written on behalf of the Guardian were problematic, but they didn’t give a straight answer. From my research, I would say a very very small portion, in other words, authenticity is hardly an issue.

    The best published work to date on the problems in using letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi is Gerald Keil, Textzusammenhang und Kritik: ein Fallbeispiel anhand eines Briefes von Shoghi Effendi, in Beitrage des Irfan-Kolloquiums 2007/8. Gerald concentrates mainly on the issue of contextuality: a letter may be clear and say the right thing, to the person who asked a particular question, but appear to us to say something different or to be unclear. He demonstrates this very well, using a letter for which he has been able to get partial information about the questions put to the Guardian and what was going on in the American Bahai community at the time.

    In addition to contextuality, there is the fact that Shoghi Effendi regarded these letters as being of lesser authority, wished to have them differentiated from his own words, and even discouraged the publication of some of them. When he chose to have a question answered “on behalf” he was also intending his readers to read it in this way, and not to differentiate it from his own words, or give it equal authority with his own words, is disloyal to him.

    After authenticity, contextualisation, and authority there’s another point that is more important in practice – we can almost always use the letters written on behalf to direct us back to a text with more authority, less contextual uncertainty, and a published original. So in practice, we will rarely have to cite a letter written on behalf as evidence; when we do, we have to imagine the widest range of possible questions it could be seeking to answer, and allow a corresponding range of meanings.

    Re theocracy, you say:

    For a Baha’i to talk of his own faith’s desire for a day when a Baha’i theocracy would reign would invite all manner of trouble in countries which already had state churches, and as well in a country such as the United States, whose Constitution (in theory) prohibits such a notion.

    Bahais in America did in fact write about their theocratic ambitions, in books and articles, which I have surveyed in the literature-review section of _Church and State_. What you mean, I think, is “For Shoghi Effendi to talk of his deire for a day when a Baha’i theocracy would reign…” You propose that Shoghi Effendi had private theocratic leanings but did not express them because it would be imprudent. This is irrefutable: no evidence could possibly refute it, because the theory contains within itself a reason why there is no evidence to support it. It fails Popper’s refutability test.

    What we can say however is that if it is true, the man was double-faced, because he didn’t just stay silent on the issue, he worked long and hard at presenting an anti-theocratic image. He included translations of some of Baha’u’llah’s clearest endorsements of the legitimacy of temporal government, and his own disinterest in it, in Gleanings, and in The Promised Day is Come from page 70 onwards Shoghi Effendi made his own compilation to refute the idea that Bahais “advocate or anticipate the definite extinction of the institution of kingship.” He also translated and published the Iqan and Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, the second half of the Iqan being devoted to the two sovereignties, worldly and spiritual, while ESW includes Baha’u’llah’s citation and endorsement of ‘Render unto Caesar.” Shoghi Effendi also wrote that the Bahais must never “allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries.” You could argue that this sustained anti-theocratic effort by Shoghi Effendi was a smoke-screen, to avoid trouble with governments, but that is not consistent with what we know of the man’s character. For example, he had the Bahai schools in Iran shut down, rather than compromise with the government on what he regarded as a point of principle, the observation of Bahai Holy Days.

    Nor can we suppose that Shoghi Effendi changed his mind during his lifetime, since his faithful translation of the Iqan was in 1931; Gleanings in 1935 (see especially CXV, CXXVIII and CXXXIX; Epistle to the Son of the Wolf in 1941, and a letter written on his behalf on 30 October 1951 states that “The Administrative Order is not a governmental or civic body, it is to regulate and guide the internal affairs of the Baha’i community…” (Messages to Canada 23 (page 145 in the 1998 edition).

    Further, if we thought that Shoghi Effendi either concealed and obfuscated his real beliefs about the Bahai teachings, or if he changed his mind about the Bahai teachings during his lifetime, we would place no reliance on his interpretations. That part of the Guardian’s function would become a dead letter. This is an argument from consequences (argumentum ad consequentiam), which is not logically valid, but these consequences do follow from your argument, and you should appreciate the enormity of what you are suggesting. An argument with such consequences should be well-based and soundly constructed.

    You write:

    One can deduce from reading the Baha’i News that he did change his mind on some things, ordering the Baha’is to do one thing, and later rescinding that order in favor of another. These are not the actions of someone who is infallible – if by that word one means, “omniscient.” It is just the actions of an individual (or an institution, e.g. the U.S. Supreme Court) that reverses himself when such a change seems best (or politically expedient.)

    Certainly he did, and so did Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha, but as head of the Faith, not as doctrinal authorities. The Head of the Faith directs the affairs of the community in contingent situations. At one time it was advisable for Bahais to grow their hair and appear to be a dervish order, later that became unnecessary. At one time women were not allowed to be elected to local spiritual assemblies, later Abdu’l-Baha changed that. In such cases, no points of doctrine are being laid down, or changed. But the ‘two sovereignties’ doctrine is one that Baha’u’llah taught explicitly from the Iqan to Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, that Abdu’l-Baha wrote a book about (the Sermon on the Art of Governance) and spoke about so often that Ishraq Khavari, in his compilation in Amr wa Khalq, adds ‘the separation of religion and politics’ at the end of his list of the 12 Bahai Principles as if it were a possible 13th principle. Up until the time of Shoghi Effendi this principle was not concealed at all, it was publicised.

    As for the far future, I do not think the future is predetermined. It’s dynamic. If a state did come with the temptation of worldly power, asking ever so nicely, I would hope that the Bahais would say “Get thee behind me Satan” or “Should they place in the arena the crown of the government of the whole world, and invite each one of us to accept it, undoubtedly we shall not condescend, and shall refuse to accept it.” If they were to compromise, the results would be just what Abdu’l-Baha says, in the Sermon:

    Whenever the leaders of the manifest religion, the pillars of religious law, have sought a role in the political sphere, have issued opinions and taken control, the unity of the believers in the one true God has been dissolved, and schisms have encompassed the community of the faithful.
    The flames of sedition flare up,
    the fires of revolt burn the world.
    The kingdom is plundered and pillaged,
    the people are as vassals, in bondage to the oppressors.

    Both the Bahai community and the country concerned would go into decline until, whether by repentence or by force majeur, the mistake was corrected – which might require the Bahai community to rebuild from a low base. I don’t see much chance of this happening: the scriptures are too clear on this for any Bahai community to succumb to the temptation.

    ~~ Sen

  10. Frank Talley said

    Sen,

    Your responses have been so quick and so scholarly that I figured I’d better do a little research before commenting again; hence my delay. Indeed, I see that you have written on the subject of theocracy before. And, as you know, your article received at least one review – from the Baha’i apologist, Susan Stiles Maneck, whose name was unfamiliar to me. I not only found her arguments to be convincing, but confirmatory of what I had believed the Baha’i teachings on this issue to be.

    In your most recent comment to me, you called my attention to the philosopher, Karl Popper. Thank you for that. It has been a long time since I have read him. From his book, Conjectures and Refutations, I note the following: “It is easy to obtain confirmations, or verifications, for nearly every theory – if we look for confirmations.” I therefore ask, before formulating your theory on – what shall I call it – the non-existence in principle of a Baha’i theocracy – had you considered the quotations Dr. Maneck cited: (letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi?) Or have you dismissed what the letters say on the theory that the Guardian’s secretaries may have erred, even though he claimed to have read all their correspondence undertaken on his behalf?

    I also investigated your homepage quite thoroughly, and saw that a few years ago you were “disenrolled” -if that is the correct term. It must be a recently-coined category, perhaps less severe than “expelled” or “excommunicated” – terms heretofore perhaps used only for “Covenant-breakers.” In any case, in your biography section you said, “As for myself, the reasons for the decision (to remove you from Baha’i membership) and the purpose it intends are not clear to me and I would prefer to not say anything I am not sure about.”

    So I deduce therefore, that you must be “sure about” your position on the non-existence of authoritative Baha’i teachings regarding a future Baha’i theocracy, for you have had plenty to say about that. Personally, I have no great urge to convince you that your impression is mistaken. Nonetheless, I will present below a way of viewing the matter that you may not have considered. And I will conclude with my opinion on why you were disenrolled.

    There are many Baha’is who feel that Shoghi Effendi was infallible, incapable of making an error – because they think (or thought) that he was omniscient. The concept of infallibility is not necessarily all that profound; as long as one does not make it synonymous with all-knowingness. When the task of a supposed manifestation of God, or his appointed interpreter, or his “divinely” appointed institution is to interpret the meaning of scripture and/or to legislate on that which has not previously been decided – of course they cannot err. How can they be wrong? Since they claim to represent the highest knowledge or law, there is no standard by which they can be judged right or wrong. When they (Guardian, Universal House of Justice, Pope, U.S. Supreme Court) decide an issue, they have at that instant created the standard by which any future discussion of the issue must be judged. This view was articulated many years ago by U. S. Supreme Court Justice, Robert Jackson: “We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.”
    Even Baha’u’llah may be viewed as not having been omniscient. For on p. 227 of “Gleanings,” we find: “I know not the path ye have chosen and which ye tread, O congregation of My ill-wishers.” But in believing that Baha’u’llah was not all-knowing, one is not questioning his divine station, or his claim to a Baha’i’s obedience.
    The November 1945 issue of Baha’i News attempted to clarify the station of Shoghi Effendi. Once again, I believe the reference is a letter written on his behalf: “The infallibility of the Guardian is confined to matters which are related strictly to the Cause and interpretation of the teachings; he is not an infallible authority on other subjects, such as economics, science, etc. When he feels that a certain thing is essential for the protection of the Cause . . . he must be obeyed . . .” Similarly, in a special insert to the June 1949 issue of Baha’i News, entitled “Teaching Problems,” Ruhiyyih Khanum devoted several paragraphs to this notion of “infallibility,” stating, among other things, that it is a mistake to attribute to Shoghi Effendi the ability of having “omnipresent knowledge” or of being “all-knowing.” She then goes on to discuss the other extreme of Baha’is who cannot reconcile themselves to the power he has as Guardian in the sense of requiring obedience. The same issue of obedience would today, relate to the Universal House of Justice, would it not?

    It is interesting to note in passing, that “Teaching Problems,” was reprinted at least 3 times with the new title: “Success in Teaching” (e.g., 1965). However, in the 1970 edition, the section “Understanding the Guardian” was removed. Does anyone care to hazard a guess as to why?

    In Dr. Manecks review of your article on theocracy, she mentioned that the view that she holds is largely consistent with that which is recorded in the notes of those who listened to Shoghi Effendi at the evening pilgrims’ table. Many of those notes (e.g. the large 2 volume collection by May Maxwell) as you no doubt know, are available on line. Now at this point you might (somewhat) rightly object that such “pilgrim’s notes are “inexact renderings of partially understood truths.” But then by the same logic, so are your and my understanding of what Baha’u’llah had to say about this issue of “theocracy.” And herein lies the problem, and the possible answer as to why you were shown the door.

    It appears that during the late 1990s a great many intellectuals and scholars were either disenrolled or voluntarily left the Baha’i Faith. Such events apparently still continue; 2005 in your case. I read somewhere that you referred to yourself as being a “Baha’i theologian.” One of the major tasks of Jewish and Christian theologians is to make their respective faiths relevant to the present day. However, it is highly likely that the Baha’i administrative order at the national and international level views with great skepticism the need for or the legitimacy of such “scholarship.” As I understand it, to no individual Baha’i is given the right to interpret the Baha’i teachings for others. It is as Dr. Arthur Christiansen, Prof. Of Iranian Philology at the University of Copenhagen observed about the Baha’i Faith, “Here is a religion which does not need theology because its principles, that is to say, its background of civilization and individual and social psychology, are those of our times.” The Baha’i World, Vol. 13, page 228. Religion, at its heart, is about belief and feeling, and often “submission” or obedience, not the use and expression of unbiased academic scholarship. The often-stated Baha’i principle of “the independent investigation of the truth” was not stated correctly. It should have read: “the independent investigation FOR the truth.” As I understand the principle (in practice) – when one is investigating the Baha’i claims, he is supposed to use his own reason, and not be swayed by others, be it family or clergy, etc. But once you are in the faith – it is then another matter. There is no more independent investigation of the truth, no use of logic, or reason, or critical analysis, in short – the scientific method. The Universal House of Justice in Haifa does not submit its opinions or directives for peer review. It has no peers. A Baha’i is safe in using the academic tools just mentioned in most areas of human endeavor, basically in all academic disciplines in which he may work. Indeed, he might even apply such critical tools to an examination of religion in general, or to Christianity, or Islam in particular – but not to the Baha’i religion.

    A “seeker” at a fireside might be able to get away with asking why the book Baha’u’llah and the New Era has gone through so many revisions – so much so that Esslemont might not even recognize it. But don’t raise such issues once you have made your declaration. If it is the accepted teaching that there will some day be a Baha’i theocracy, and the individuals serving on the institutions in power accept that view, expect trouble if you challenge it. If it is the “accepted” view that there can be no women on the Universal House of Justice, expect trouble if you even claim to have found “a hitherto untranslated tablet,” or some overlooked letters from ‘Abdu’l-Baha that would suggest that women can serve.

    One can easily state that the Universal House of Justice in Haifa made a big mistake in not accepting the argument of the small cadre of individuals who thought they had discovered a way for women to serve at the highest level. But apparently the members serving on that body regarded “infallibility” as meaning incapable of error; and since they had previously upheld the tradition of “no women” – then the “Haifan” Baha’is (as I see they are called by some) are now stuck with that ruling. Of course one or more of the smaller Baha’i sects apparently allow women to serve on their Universal Houses of Justice.

    A similar logic applied to the Guardianship itself. Does anyone seriously argue that the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi are ambiguous regarding the issue of future Guardians after Shoghi Effendi? Of course not. One must have some compassion for Mason Remey when he tried to find some way of having everything that the Baha’is had been taught and had read to come to pass.

    Many examples could be given to show that no human being, including the central figures of the Baha’i Faith as well as Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice are really “free from all error” – if by that one means they are omniscient. But they must be obeyed in any case. Obviously, the higher Baha’i institutions are not interested in the kind of unbiased academic scholarship that took place in Dialogue Magazine, where all manner of Baha’i teachings could be scrutinized and debated in a scholarly fashion. Such activity does not cause a religion to grow. Theologians of a certain kind, Martin Buber, Paul Tillich, Hans Kung, etc., were always on the fringe. Kung, as you know, was basically summoned before the Inquisition. When Juan Cole’s article stating that Baha’u’llah had made an historical error somehow got into World Order Magazine, do you think a “red alert” klaxon sounded in Haifa?

    It is certainly easier to keep your flock in line if it regards you as incapable of error. People of a certain mind-set want “assurance,” “certitude,” and those in charge, if for no other reason than maintaining their position of authority, or perhaps more positively put, if they believe that the whole structure might fall if people can question and doubt, they will see that order is maintained, and will show the door to those who “cast seeds of doubt.” Skepticism, the great principle of scientific and philosophical inquiry, has no place in the minds of the “faithful” – those who are full of faith, not reason. Religion is not about truth discovered by evidence, but about alleged truth held by belief. So much for the principle of the “unity of science and religion”! It may have been St. Augustine who said, “Credo ut intelligam,” “I believe in order that I may understand.” Many theologians during the Enlightenment reversed that saying. But of course they had long since rejected the notion of papal infallibility (inerrancy.) Many religions, and the Baha’i Faith is a prime example, coming as it does from an Islamic background, are not really about individuals searching for truth, they are all about belief and “submission,” obedience.

    It is lamentable that intelligent individuals such as you, Mr. Glaysher, with his small band of perhaps 200 followers, (whose resurrected argument regarding the forging of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s will you thoroughly demolished), Juan Cole, and a host of others, are not able to contribute their intellectual gifts to that which at one time they were devoted, and in which they believed. I could have predicted nearly 40 years ago what would happen to all of you if you tried to apply your scientific principles of scholarly objectivity to the Baha’i Faith. The result is the same as if the first trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra decided to take a jazz ride in the opening sixteen measures of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. That would be his last concert. For he violated the rules – the rules of classical music, that is.

    I read somewhere, I believe it was on a blog entitled Baha’i Rants, that upon receiving your notice of disenrollment, that your response was to send in a declaration card. Now I haven’t seen such a card in about forty years. At one time in the United States, and perhaps still, prospective converts, in signing his or her declaration card, said that they will give “unreserved acceptance of and complete submission to” what the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith have written. By logical extension, that applied to the Guardian, and now to the Universal House of Justice.

    The lessons learned in Jonestown in 1978, where a whole church community committed suicide out of “submission” to the dictates of the church’s leader should be a stark lesson for every rational-minded person. To give “unreserved acceptance” and “complete submission” to another human, or body of humans, who may or may not be revealing the will of an existent or non-existent deity, is nothing but mindless fanaticism; leading to such evils, for example, as the Third Reich or the suicide bombers in the Middle East today.

    It is no mystery to me why you were disenrolled. There is probably no mystery in the minds of those who voluntarily resigned their membership in the Baha’i Faith. What strikes me as odd, is that a great number of individuals who were put out of or resigned from the large, main “Haifan” sect of the Baha’i Faith nevertheless consider themselves as Baha’is, and construct extremely elaborate websites to tell the whole world about their travails; and the maintenance of these websites becomes their raison d’etre. And of course I discovered all manner of Christian and Muslim websites and bloggers who take great delight in reading of all this disunity in the “Baha’i Faith.” I am at a loss to understand why these disaffected “unenrolled Baha’is” or the members of the small Baha’i sects do not realize that if those in charge in Haifa and Wilmette, etc. and who own all the shrines and temples and so forth are not the “true” original sect, then the whole notion of the Baha’i Faith is a sham, a fairytale, make-believe. For is this the best that an omnipotent deity can do – let his Most Great Revelation fall into the hands of imposters?

    I have a certain amount of respect for Juan Cole, who apparently sensing in himself a need for a religious community, has joined the Unitarian – Universalist Fellowship, which has no dogma for him to critique.

    Whether it be the issue of theocracy, or some other, I think you must realize that your kind of rigorous intellectual scholarship, (the kind that has its place in Philosophy, history, medicine, physics, biology, etc. – and perhaps in the investigation of other people’s religions – will not be tolerated by the Baha’i institutions if you wish to shine the spotlight of scientific investigatory truth-seeking on the Baha’i religion itself. You may not be placed in the category of “Covenant-breaker” unless you get too rambunctious, of course; but you may be regarded as a “well meaning but unenlightened enemy of the Faith,” who does not accept the basic requirement of “unreserved acceptance of and complete submission to” those in charge.

    There have been and are Baha’i theologians, or at least those who do in the Baha’i religion what certain kinds of confessional moral theologians do in other religions: give inspiring talks, and the like. They were the Hands of the Cause, Counsellors, Board Members and so forth; but they all have been given the imprimatur , the “nihil obstat” – “nothing hinders” or challenges the beliefs of the faithful as dictated by those in charge.

    I don’t know that I have the written resources to comment on this issue a great deal longer than I have. But no matter. My beloved wife of 45 years has a couple of projects for me to do before our children, grandchildren and one great-grandchild arrive for Thanksgiving dinner. There is litter to be picked up along the highway. There are folks in nursing homes who could benefit from some entertainment. There are a few mountains left nearby that I would like to climb. And there are a couple of symphonies by Shostakovich and Sibelius that I have not yet heard. If I could live my life over, I might wish to have joined Nobel Laureate James Watson in discovering a cure for cancer.

    As a fan of the original Star Trek series, I remember the first time I saw in a bookstore 2 books on Star Trek. One was the blueprints for the star ship Enterprise. The other was a discussion of all the diseases existing on the various planets in the galaxy, and what Dr. McCoy would use to cure them. I can just imagine some participants at a Star Trek convention arguing from memory, over just where a certain room was on this (admittedly non-existent) space craft; or arguing over which medicine Dr. McCoy would use after taking a reading with his trichorder and getting a diagnosis of Rigelian fever – all of it pure make believe.

    Religionists in general, and in the present instance, Baha’is in particular, may well be engaged in a similar exercise of make believe. Nevertheless, they still speak of their beliefs as if they were knowledge.

    It seems to me you have a choice. Either set aside the academic tools that you have learned so well if you want to be an enrolled Baha’i believer and yet use these tools to relate to the Baha’i Faith; or remain on the outside and be a commentator on the error of certain issues relating to how the Baha’i Faith is perceived and how it conducts itself. There are, no doubt, other choices. Best wishes in your endeavors.

  11. Sen said

    Hi Frank,

    … your article received at least one review – from the Baha’i apologist, Susan Stiles Maneck,
    I remember reading it. I thought then that it was not likely to be published, and as far as I know it hasn’t been.

    had you considered the quotations Dr. Maneck cited: (letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi?)

    Not in the article in the Journal of Church and State, for space reasons, but I have in my book Church and State (for sale from Amazon). But even there, I’ve concentrated on the most authoritative texts: there are a lot of them, relevant to Church and State (see Church and State in Scripture on this blog).

    Since they claim to represent the highest knowledge or law, there is no standard by which they can be judged right or wrong. …. “We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.”

    Yes, that’s my understanding of the meaning of infallibility too. I wrote about it here
    http://www.sonjavank.com/sen/postings/in_model.htm

    [Ruhiyyah Khanum says]… it is a mistake to attribute to Shoghi Effendi the ability of having “omnipresent knowledge” or of being “all-knowing.” She then goes on to discuss the other extreme of Baha’is who cannot reconcile themselves to the power he has as Guardian in the sense of requiring obedience. The same issue of obedience would today, relate to the Universal House of Justice, would it not?

    Yes. The authority of the Universal House of Justice, within its sphere, is axiomatic.

    It is interesting to note in passing, that “Teaching Problems,” was reprinted at least 3 times with the new title: “Success in Teaching” (e.g., 1965). However, in the 1970 edition, the section “Understanding the Guardian” was removed. Does anyone care to hazard a guess as to why?

    I know that in the 80’s I got in trouble with the NSA and, when I appealed the decision, with the UHJ for a paper saying just what Ruhiyyah Khanum had said (which I was not aware of at the time) – that the Guardian did not claim to be omniscient, sinless, able to see the future and so forth. I got it from Shoghi Effendi’s own writings about the Guardianship.

    In Dr. Manecks review of your article on theocracy, she mentioned that the view that she holds is largely consistent with that which is recorded in the notes of those who listened to Shoghi Effendi at the evening pilgrims’ table. … Now at this point you might (somewhat) rightly object that such “pilgrim’s notes are “inexact renderings of partially understood truths.” But then by the same logic, so are your and my understanding of what Baha’u’llah had to say about this issue of “theocracy.” And herein lies the problem, and the possible answer as to why you were shown the door.

    I doubt that my questioning of the value of pilgrim’s notes has anything to do with it. Susan Maneck is a historian, and it is true that pilgrim’s notes may have historical value – or not. A historian has to consider each on its merits. But when we are doing theology rather than history, when we are trying as Bahais to understand what Bahai doctrine is, we cannot consider pilgrim’s notes at all, because they are ruled out in principle as sources of doctrine:

    “Thou has written concerning the pilgrims and pilgrims’ note. Any narrative that is not authenticated by a Text should not be trusted. Narratives, even if true, cause confusion. For the people of Baha, the Text, and only the Text, is authentic.”
    (‘Abdu’l-Baha: from a previously untranslated tablet, published in Lights of Guidance, p. 438)

    … Much of the confusion that has obscured the understanding of the believers should be attributed to this double error involved in the inexact rendering of an only partially understood statement. Not infrequently has the interpreter even failed to convey the exact purport of the inquirer’s specific questions, and, by his deficiency of understanding and expression in conveying the answer of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, has been responsible for reports wholly at variance with the true spirit and purpose of the Cause. … I have insistently urged the believers … to quote and consider as authentic only such translations as are based upon the authenticated text of His recorded utterances in the original tongue.
    (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 4)

    When doing history as an academic discipline, all evidence has to be considered dispassionately. A historian who is a believer has to do history as if he or she was not a believer. But when doing theology in any religion, one works within its covenant or basic framework of belief. This is not because it would be heresy to go beyond it, it’s a matter of definition. Theology is faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum). It’s what you start doing when you have faith, and ask what that faith also implies, what it means, what it means today, and check the answers systematically and critically against one another to see if they contradict. But what is it to ‘have faith’ in the first place? In the Bahai case, it is

    Full recognition of the station of the Forerunner, the Author, and the True Exemplar of the Baha’i Cause, as set forth in ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Testament; unreserved acceptance of, and submission to, whatsoever has been revealed by their Pen; loyal and steadfast adherence to every clause of our Beloved’s sacred Will; and close association with the spirit as well as the form of the present-day Baha’i administration throughout the world…

    This “faith” that seeks understanding sets its own hermeneutical terms. Because we recognise the Bab and Baha’u’llah as Manifesting God and revealing through their pens, and we are seeking to understand what that means, and what it means now, we read their words differently than the words of Ghandi or Arisototle. This is not an imposed limitation, it is in the nature of doing theology as opposed to the History of Thought. And we read Abdu’l-Baha’s life as a true example of faith in action, and his words and those of Shoghi Effendi as authoritative interpretations, not just as his opinion, and we read the words of the Baha’i Administration within the framework set by Shoghi Effendi:

    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 Baha’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, 150)

    That means that we cannot treat the words of the Guardian as Bahai law, or the words of the Universal House of Justice as authoritative interpretations – when we are doing Bahai theology. But if we were making a historical or sociological study of the Bahai community, with our lab coats on, we would be obliged to consider words of the Guardian that the Bahais we are observing treat as laws, as de facto laws, and we would have to include the words of the Universal House of Justice as important indicators of what Bahais believe. Bahai theology starts with ‘faith’ and is limited by the hermeneutical framework of the covenant, but Bahai history should be done ‘as if’ the writer is not a Bahai.

    To return to an earlier point: when we are reading the writings and studying the lives of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha, we may misunderstand, just as the authors of pilgrim’s notes have often misunderstood. Yes, that’s true, and important. We never have the revelation, we only have our own understandings of it, which are always limited and may be wrong. And we try to use the search for evidence, and then reason, to understand better (as well as understanding through praxis and community, and growing old). At best, our understanding of revelation approaches Revelation by successive approximation. Part of collecting the evidence is to evaluate the sources, discard the hearsay and weight the good sources by authority and relevance. That gives us a new understanding we use to restart the process, ad infinitum.

    It appears that during the late 1990s a great many intellectuals and scholars were either disenrolled or voluntarily left the Baha’i Faith.

    It’s a familiar story: compare it to the ‘lost generation’ of Mormon scholarship. Seeing it as a predictable historical process that a young community has to pass through as its intellectual culture develops helps me to believe ‘this too shall pass.’

    As I understand it, to no individual Baha’i is given the right to interpret the Baha’i teachings for others.

    Correct: I never claimed to do so. In Church and State I said explicitly “This book presents my own understanding of the Bahai teachings” (first line of the first page) and “The views offered here are not an authoritative view of the Bahai teachings, nor a definitive statement of my own views on these topics. These are samples from a work in progress, born out of an ongoing argument with myself” (page 2).

    as Dr. Arthur Christiansen, Prof. Of Iranian Philology at the University of Copenhagen observed about the Baha’i Faith, “Here is a religion which does not need theology because its principles, that is to say, its background of civilization and individual and social psychology, are those of our times.”

    Dr. Christiansen is remarkably ignorant about theology. Would he apply the same principle to Philology, and argue that we do not need philology of contemporary language because we speak it? I had a similar argument with one of the members of the Universal House of Justice once: he said we don’t need theology in the Bahai Faith. His views ere based simply on his misunderstanding of what theology is and what it does. Theology is ‘seeking understanding’ of one’s faith, it is part of being a believer.

    Religion, at its heart, is about belief and feeling, and often “submission” or obedience, not the use and expression of unbiased academic scholarship.

    Agreed, entirely. I am not sure if you understand who stands where on this. I am the one arguing for theology, that is, for the role of a scholarship that is conducted within the Covenant. Maneck is the one writing to the Universal House of Justice out of concern that there must also be a role for unbiased academic scholarship (I agree with her). She wants Bahai historians to be free to do Bahai history academically, and while I agree, I’m not part of that arguement. I want instead to do theology, which is the kind of Bahai scholarship the Universal House of Justice has been advocating.

    The often-stated Baha’i principle of “the independent investigation of the truth” was not stated correctly. It should have read: “the independent investigation FOR the truth.” As I understand the principle (in practice) – when one is investigating the Baha’i claims, he is supposed to use his own reason, and not be swayed by others, be it family or clergy, etc. But once you are in the faith – it is then another matter. There is no more independent investigation of the truth, no use of logic, or reason, or critical analysis,

    You could just get a lobotomy. This idea amounts to self-mutilation, in my view, not of the body but of the noblest faculty God has given us: the mind. But I understand this is parody: you are making yourself look like the most redneck of anti-intellectual Bahais, in order to critique the Bahai community. Being a parody, it is naturally exaggerated. I don’t think there actually are Bahais who say you can’t ask about the revisions of Baha’u’llah and the New Era! There may be some who think that the elected institutions can define Bahai doctrine and interpret the Writings, but that is par for the course. I was on a Catholic list yesterday, and someone (supposedly a brother of the Carmelite Order, but how knows) asserted that Catholic doctrine is that the Father and Son are one person, not two: he was confusing the trinity with the hypostatic union. It would be unreasonable to expect all Bahais to understand even the basics of the Covenant, and it is unfair to parody a community based on the ignorance of some.

    … apparently the members serving on that body regarded “infallibility” as meaning incapable of error; and since they had previously upheld the tradition of “no women” – then the “Haifan” Baha’is (as I see they are called by some) are now stuck with that ruling.

    Not at all, the Universal House of Justice is entitled to change its own rulings according to the needs of the time.

    A similar logic applied to the Guardianship itself. Does anyone seriously argue that the writings of ‘Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi are ambiguous regarding the issue of future Guardians after Shoghi Effendi? Of course not.

    I agree – Shoghi Effendi did expect a line of Guardians, and Abdu’l-Baha made it possible. However I think that both Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi would have foreseen that the line would end, eventually, because of the way Abdu’l-Baha structured it. It was not automatic succession: the Guardian had to nominate a successor and of course he would wait to do that until he was sure … and sooner or later, a Guardian was going to die before his successor was named and approved by the Hands. In twelver Shi’ism, too, succession was not automatic, and the line of Imams ended. Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi were intelligent men, and had the Shiah example in front of them – they must surely have made the same deduction.

    no human being, including the central figures of the Baha’i Faith as well as Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice are really “free from all error” – if by that one means they are omniscient. But they must be obeyed in any case.

    Agreed

    Religion is not about truth discovered by evidence, but about alleged truth held by belief. So much for the principle of the “unity of science and religion”!

    I see them rather as complementary faculties in the person and in society. Attempts to make religion look scientifically credible are, in my view, empty posturing. The truth of religion is somewhere in the same field as the ‘truth’ of great drama, or a great symphony. It speaks to you and you know it. The trick is to keep a balance in life, between that kind of knowing and truth, and the scientific way of knowing and scientific truths. The world and all in it exists because of cause and effect, yet we honour it as God’s Creation. Both true, but different kinds of truth.

    Many religions, and the Baha’i Faith is a prime example, coming as it does from an Islamic background, are not really about individuals searching for truth, they are all about belief and “submission,” obedience.

    Background is not destiny, for individuals or religious communities. Islam was once about searching for truth – or how to explain the translations of Greek texts, the voyages of discovery, the libraries and schools? And it is also an object lesson in what happens to a civilization that retreats to certainties: intellectual degeneration, followed by stagnation for the civilization. The Bahai Faith is in part a reaction against obscurantism and stagnation.

    …upon receiving your notice of disenrollment, that your response was to send in a declaration card. … prospective converts, in signing his or her declaration card, said that they will give “unreserved acceptance of and complete submission to” what the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith have written. By logical extension, that applied to the Guardian, and now to the Universal House of Justice.

    Yes: but then, obedience as they have defined it – not as someone else wants you to understand it. Shoghi Effendi took the blank cheque of Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament, and turned it into a constitutional system which says – among other things – that the Universal House of Justice is not the authoritative interpreter, that the Guardian does not make Bahai law, that “No Guardian of the Faith, …can ever claim to be the perfect exemplar of the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh or the stainless mirror that reflects His light. … he remains essentially human..” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 150) Exaggeration is a greater danger to any religious community than minimising (see http://tinyurl.com/UHJsupreme)

    The lessons learned in Jonestown in 1978, … should be a stark lesson for every rational-minded person. To give “unreserved acceptance” and “complete submission” to another human, or body of humans, who may or may not be revealing the will of an existent or non-existent deity, is nothing but mindless fanaticism; leading to such evils, for example, as the Third Reich or the suicide bombers in the Middle East today.

    Your argument in essence is that religion requires complete submission, the surrender of critical faculties, and therefore leads inevitably to evil. But this is a cardboard-cutout parody of religion. Religion has also been a patron of both arts and sciences, has fostered education and carried civilization forward. Religious communities have been forums where people discuss ethics and morality. Naturally a balance between rational knowledge and belief is required: believers of all ages have, by and large, achieved a balance, and in the Bahai case it is a teaching, in the form of the harmony of science and religion. You must have encountered at least some believers in your life who are reasonable, whose own good sense prevents them following a leader down to hell, or killing witches because the Bible says so. That in fact is one of the curiosities that drove me in writing of Church and State: people ‘just know’ that “turn the other cheek” is good in religion and family, but bad in law enforcement and international politics. How do they ‘just know’ – could it be that our ‘knowing’ is inherently divided into essential categories, so that we do not automatically transfer norms from one sphere to the other?

    You also know from the McCarthy era that religion, or even a Leader to be obeyed, are not necessary to get mob hysteria going and drive the whole flock down to hell. So why the need to give religion the blame? Not all mindless fanaticism is religious, and not all religion is mindless fanaticism. Perhaps being religious and being fanatical are both human possibilities, to be understood separately. Fanaticism is not conviction, but rather the lack of that good sense that keeps most people, most of the time, in balance.

    It seems to me you have a choice. Either set aside the academic tools that you have learned so well if you want to be an enrolled Baha’i believer

    The institutions have never asked me to stop writing, or stop writing in a particular way, and they have not said that any academic methods or tools are not to be used in Bahai scholarship. Nor have they said what I should do, or should not do, to be re-enrolled.

    ~~ Sen McGlinn

  12. Frank Talley said

    Hello again, Sen,

    This time I will not apologize for taking a fair amount of time before responding. I want whatever I communicate to have some depth of meaning, some possible value to you, perhaps even some educative worth. Therefore I spent a fair amount of time on the web familiarizing myself even more with some of these issues; not just the notion of theocracy in particular, but in general – what is involved in so-called Baha’i scholarship.

    I see you have just made a very thorough post entitled “Defending Shoghi Effendi,” the inspiration for which apparently came (at least in part) from my earlier comments. I will return to that title later in my comments below. I am unsure however, if I should put my comments under the previous post, “How Theocracy Happened,” or under the most recent one: “Defending Shoghi Effendi.” Perhaps I’ll put it both places and you can delete one if you feel that is appropriate. I am not familiar with blogging rules or etiquette, or even if there are such requirements other than what a blog owner has set down. I do not know if your motive in having your blog is for you to attempt to educate others, or merely to share with others the results of your research and your philosophizing about those results (or theologizing – as the case may be.) Nor do I know if you welcome attempts by others to educate you. That would be a formidable task. In any event – here is my attempt.

    I’ll take my clue from you as to how to proceed – by first giving some historical facts, in this case regarding “Baha’i scholarship.” The following quotation appears on p. 128 of Wellspring of Guidance:

    “What the Cause now requires is not so much a group of highly cultured and intellectual people who can adequately present its teachings, but a number of devoted, sincere, and loyal supporters who, in utter disregard of their own weaknesses and limitations, and with the love of God, forsake their all for the sake of spreading and establishing His Faith.”

    We are told that the quotation is from a letter written “on the Guardian’s behalf” to an individual believer and that it was first published in Baha’i News, August 1936. Now I know of your reservations about letters written on the Guardian’s behalf, Sen, as opposed as to those he penned himself. But let’s set that aside for the moment, as I will return to that issue later.

    Knowing exactly to whom the letter was written might enable us to learn why or for what purpose it was written; i.e. what may have been the question asked of Shoghi Effendi. We would also do well to inquire as to when it was written, so that we could better determine whether or not the statement is an “absolute” one, or something temporary – for conditions as they were at the time, but which might require changing in the future.

    As it turns out, this letter was written to Leroy Ioas, who some years prior to 1935 had declined a scholarship to Stanford University, in large part because of Baha’i responsibilities. Mr Ioas became a member of the U. S. National Spiritual Assembly in 1932, and was among the first contingent of Hands of the Cause appointed by Shoghi in December 1951. [Baha’i World, Vol. 14, p. 293.] Knowing this then, are Baha’is to assume that all Baha’is should forsake higher education in favor of Baha’i service? Should they or should they not develop their capacities as regards “. . . a group of highly cultured and intellectual people who can adequately present its teachings.”?

    In 1935 when this letter to Mr. Ioas was written, the Baha’i Faith had been established in about 40 countries; a small increase from 35 at the time of ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s passing in 1921. [Baha’i World, Vol. 6, p. 92] In 1936, in the United States there were only 2,584 Baha’is, and of that total over 98% were in urban areas. [Bulletin No. 4, Census of Religious Bodies, U. S. Dept. Of Commerce, Washington, D. C., 1939] With these kinds of facts at hand, it is not difficult to imagine why Shoghi Effendi might convey such sentiments to Mr. Ioas. If the majority of American Baha’is sequestered themselves in institutions of higher education, who would be left to pioneer? For in 1937, Shoghi Effendi implemented the requirements of the Tablets of the Divine Plan.

    What then, should be the attitude of Baha’is towards the letter received by Mr. Ioas? We know that ‘Abdu’l-Baha described the intellect as “the supreme gift of God to man.” [Foundations of World Unity, p. 60] About 1971, the U. S. National Spiritual Assembly published a booklet with that title. At about the same time, the editors of World Order Magazine received several letters critical of the high intellectual and literary style of this Baha’i publication; a sort of anti-intellectualism on the part of a few Baha’is. Clearly those who wanted to lower the literary and intellectual standards of World Order Magazine were unaware of Shoghi Effendi’s wishes in this regard:

    “The Guardian agrees with you that a higher standard would be required
    before World Order could attract people of marked intellectual capacity, but
    he feels the friends should make a greater effort ro see that it gets supplied
    with better material; they should raise the standard of the present publication.”
    [Baha’i News, August 1948, p. 3]

    He felt that, “more people are attracted through reading than by hearing lectures.” [Baha’i News, May 1932] Baha’u’llah wrote of the importance of the written word in defense of his Cause. [Gleanings, p. 330] Sometime prior to 1907, ‘Abdu’l-Baha counseled a Baha’i not to give up his scientific endeavors in favor of Baha’i responsibilities, but to do both. [Baha’i World Faith, pp. 376-7] He likewise told a Baha’i student to, “Strive always to be at the head of your classes though hard study and true merit. . .” [Star of the West, 1929, reprinted in Hawaii Baha’i News, July 1971, p. 6]

    I know that a good scholar, like you Sen, would not be content with accepting the source of the letter to Mr. Ioas just as it appeared in Wellspring of Guidance. For if it was an incomplete quotation, it might be in danger of conveying other than that for which it was intended. So I have researched that for us. The remainder of the Guardian’s letter to Mr. Ioas, not reproduced in Wellspring of Guidance, continues:
    “In other words, what is mostly needed nowadays is a Baha’i
    pioneer rather than a Baha’i philosopher or scholar . . . Baha’i
    scholars and writers will, no doubt, gradually appear, and will, as
    promised by Baha’u’llah, lend a unique support to the Faith. But
    in the meantime, we should not tarry or slacken our efforts.”
    [Baha’i News, August 1936, p. 2]

    The question then arises, have conditions so changed in the past 73 years so that Baha’i scholars should arise? As early as 1974, at a Baha’i International Youth Conference held in Hilo, Hawaii, Hand of the Cause Mr Faizi said, “It is time to train Baha’i scholars.” [Baha’i News, August 1974, p. 13.] The question then arises, and this is the big one, Sen, what is a Baha’i scholar? And further, who will define this term, the student him or herself – studying at a secular university, with the kind of rigorous, critical, unbiased tools that allow the light of criticism to fall wherever it will, no matter what flaws it uncovers, or whose faith it weakens – or those individuals who at any given time are at the top of the Baha’i administrative order?

    There are of course, many Baha’is with all kinds of academic and professional credentials. But it does not seem that a Baha’i who is a Medical Doctor, or one with a Ph. D, in Electrical Engineering or Zoology is a Baha’i scholar, but rather, for example, a Zoology scholar who happens to be a member of the Baha’i Faith. It may be that a Baha’i scholar is one who could make the study of the Baha’i Faith his or her life’s work. But how can one be trained in this regard (as Mr. Faizi suggested)? Are there any accredited, degree-granting Baha’i universities? The Baha’i Faith has no clergy, and therefore no seminaries, the starting-point for most Jewish and Christian scholars or theologians. The nascent Baha’i scholar will get his training in how to think about religion from scholars who use academic tools in current use – tools developed and/or used by Jewish and Christian theologians (in the West), whose religion the budding Baha’i scholar believes is in a moribund condition and in addition which has been superseded by his own religion.

    Let me turn now to your most recent comments to me, under the “How Theocracy Happened “ post. First, a little house cleaning. You began by stating that regarding Dr. Maneck’s review of your article, you “thought it was not likely to be published, and as far as (you) know it hasn’t been.” I found it on a website. I don’t know if you consider that as having been published. You mentioned getting “in trouble with the NSA” and that you had appealed their decision to the UHJ. Did the UHJ overturn or modify what the NSA had said? They have done that, you know, at least in the case of the U. S. NSA.

    I next wrote about Dr. Maneck’s having mentioned that her views on theocracy were largely consistent with many pilgrim’s notes. And I tried to make the comparison that such “inexact renderings of partially understood truths” (pilgrims’s notes) are like your and my everybody else’s statements about the Baha’i Faith. Unfortunately my paragraph was concluded in an ambiguous fashion, leading you to think that I had suggested that the reason you were “shown the door” was that you had questioned the value of pilgrim’s notes. What I was suggesting was that the upper echelons of the Baha’i administrative order may have little patience for self-proclaimed Baha’i scholars who put just as much faith in the results of their subjective conclusions as do many Baha’is in the subjective records of what they think they remember Shoghi Effendi said.

    You next said,
    “When doing history as an academic discipline, all evidence has to be considered dispassionately. A historian who is a believer has to do history as if he or she was not a believer. But when doing theology in any religion, one works within its covenant or basic framework of belief. This is not because it would be heresy to go beyond it, it’s a matter of definition.”

    These are good points. I learned them well as a college student when I had to read Van Harvey’s “The Historian and the Believer” (1966) – one of my favorite books. But I respectfully point out that the results of a Baha’i historian’s “academic” presentation of the “evidence” regarding Baha’i matters may not be received “dispassionately,” neither by many Baha’is, nor especially by those in charge of the Baha’i Faith: various NSAs and the UHJ.
    While poking around on the web, I came upon several articles that were quite illuminating for me. No doubt you are familiar with them, as they dealt with the issues of scholars, or at least intellectuals who ran afoul of the Baha’i administration, and now find themselves on the outside: Dr. Moojan Momen’s “Marginality and Apostasy in the Baha’i Community;” a lengthy and well-researched article entitled: “Enemies Within: Conflict and Control in the Baha’i Community” on the website: Angelfire; and a short review of the history of a now defunct Baha’i web discussion group (Talisman) written by John Walbridge – 1997. From that last article, I paste the following:
    “Perhaps the most interesting debates were about the future of Baha’i institutions, which most rank-and-file members believe are destined to take over all functions of local and national government and to create a new international government in a Baha’i-dominated world. The scholars disputed this totalitarian vision, citing evidence that Baha’u’llah envisioned no such future.”

    Now I did not see your name appear anywhere in those articles, even though your position on theocracy appears to be the same or similar to those who were also disenrolled or who resigned in disgust. There were other issues discussed on that internet forum, Talisman: infallibility, the absence of women on the UHJ, the Baha’i attitude towards homosexuality, – all issues that any well-educated, intellectual scholar would love to investigate, discuss and philosophize/theologize about. But was even their thinking about and talking about these issues in ways that appeared to the upper echelons of the Baha’i administrative order to be in conflict with what the members of these echelons considered to be orthodox Baha’i teaching tolerated? Of course not.

    The Baha’i Faith is approximately 150 years old. By comparison, what was going on in the Christian community in 150 A.D? The established Church was busy defending itself against all manner of “heresies.” These were the days of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, and many others. The UHJ in Haifa is not interested in what you or I have to say about theocracy, or whether or not the letters of Shoghi Effendi in his own handwriting are more authoritative than those written by his secretaries. For them, the issue is settled. They are interested in defending the Baha’i Faith against those small sects who also claim the name “Baha’i, in guiding the teaching work so as to gain new converts, and into constructing buildings in Mt. Carmel, etc. Even in Christianity, debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin would have to wait a thousand years for the age of scholasticism in the middle ages. You wrote that,
    “This ‘faith’ that seeks understanding sets its own hermeneutical terms”. This may be true in contemporary Christian theology. It may have been true for Augustine in 400 A. D. But I doubt that such a notion is accepted in a religion that comes out of a Persian/Islamic background. Like it or not, the Baha’i administration will define the “hermeneutical terms.” What is the evidence for that? Possibly that you and all these other bright and promising, and in some cases proven and well-respected scholars are now on the outside. I believe you may be mistaken when you say, “This is not because it would be heresy to go beyond it, it’s a matter of definition.” This may be true in the academic world generally, where contrary opinions are welcomed. But the evidence appears to be that the Baha’i administrative order is not going to fluff off the kinds of discussion that took place on Talisman, or maybe even on your blog, as being a mere “matter of definition”

    You next quote from Shoghi Effendi as follows,
    “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 Baha’u’llah has not expressly revealed. Neither can, nor will ever, infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain of the other.” WOB p. 153

    You immediately opine:
    “That means that we cannot treat the words of the Guardian as Bahai law, or the words of the Universal House of Justice as authoritative interpretations – when we are doing Bahai theology. . . . Bahai history should be done ‘as if’ the writer is not a Bahai.”

    I see two possible problems with what you have written. Despite the fact that somewhere in the Baha’i writings there is a statement to the effect that “to none is given the right to interpret for others,” immediately after quoting Shoghi Effendi, you say, “This means . . .” Do you think that the members of NSAs, and the UHJ view all that follows as an attempt by you to tread into forbidden territory? It is one thing to read Shoghi Effendi and come to a private conclusion, or to discuss your conclusions privately with a friend, or at a deepening class (not a Ruhi class, mind you, where you are more or less given what to memorize, like the Baltimore Catechism.) But what do the individuals who see themselves as Baha’i scholars do? They publish the results of their own private, subjective philosophizing (perhaps dressed in the cloak of “theology”) in magazines or on the internet for the whole world to view. And the “world” does view it. So today we have the creators of Christian, and Muslim websites, and websites hosted by some smaller “Baha’i” sects, all delighting in the efforts of these “Baha’i scholars” to reform the unreformable. And of course, they take special delight in pointing out how these scholars have been “disenrolled” (read: excommunicated.)

    The next problem, as I see it, is when you wrote, that “ . . . we cannot treat the words of the Guardian as Bahai law, or the words of the Universal House of Justice as authoritative interpretations – when we are doing Bahai theology. . . . Bahai history should be done ‘as if’ the writer is not a Bahai.” I am not sure it really can be done. Can a person really bifurcate their mind in such a fashion? Dual personality is considered a mental disorder. I have plenty of evidence that judges in the U.S., despite the constitutional requirement of separation of church and state, often let not only their religious metaphysics but their religious ethics guide their decisions (and sentencing.) But what do you think happens in the minds of the rank and file Baha’i, as well as those elected to NSAs and the UHJ in Haifa (in a system that has no living Guardian to interpret) when they read what you wrote above?

    I feel that you may have neglected some of what I felt were my most important observations in my most recent comments. So let me run one of them up the flagpole again, and see who salutes. Even if it is truly possible, in the area of religion, in particular for a believer of the Baha’i Faith, to write about the Baha’i Faith as if he were not a Baha’i, what will be the results – that of an E. G. Browne, a William McElwee Miller, or a Marcus Bach? My guess is that Marcus Bach did more to “win souls for Baha’u’llah” than have all the “Baha’i scholar/theologians combined – who are now on the outside; many of them still looking in, either with a saddened envy or with a ground axe revulsion. Bach, not a Baha’i of course, was not concerned with whether or not Shoghi Effendi’s own letters carried equal weight with those written by his secretaries, or other issues of possible tertiary importance.

    I repeat – there are musicians who can function in both the jazz and classical mediums. But if the first trumpeter of the London Symphony performs Haydn’s Concerto in Eb in the style of Dizzy Gillespie, his tenure is over. Are there any rules, either written or simply understood via tradition if not written, that the former Baha’i scholars have broken?

    Next I had mentioned Dr. Arthur Christensen, who felt that the Baha’i Faith did not need “theology.” You took high offense at his statement, claiming that he was “ignorant about theology.” While I may disagree with the reasons he gave for that opinion, I can easily understand why the members of the Universal House of Justice might agree with him. Indeed, you went on to say,

    “I had a similar argument with one of the members of the Universal House of Justice once: he said we don’t need theology in the Bahai Faith. His views are based simply on his misunderstanding of what theology is and what it does.

    There are two problems with this scenario. First: just as there are several kinds medicine, e.g., allopathic, chiropractic, naturopathic, homeopathic – each with their own theory of what is the proper way to treat disease – so their may be different “kinds” of theological practice. My guess is that the kind of theology that the Universal House of Justice in Haifa might accept or at least tolerate, is the kind that does not go out of its way to point out the alleged shortcomings of individual Baha’is, or apparent contradictions in the Baha’i writings, especially those of a primary nature, as opposed to books written by Baha’is. Discovering such contradictions and the like is the accepted way to make progress in science, but I am not sure it causes a religion to thrive.

    Second, you say you had an “argument with one of the members of the Universal House of Justice” about this notion of theocracy. Now your word “argument “ was not defined as to whether or not it was a typical rational philosophical discussion of the type that often takes place in the arbitrament of ideas, or if indeed in was a heated argument that was interpreted by the UHJ member as showing him a marked degree of disrespect. Now I know that you would say than John Doe, a UHJ member that you might happen to see at a concert in Eindhoven, is just an individual Baha’i. But do you think that most Baha’is, indeed even the member himself, sees that he somehow is entitled to a great respect, even while not meeting en camera? If you had a heated argument with him, putting forth your own notion of theocracy, which is apparently in disagreement with his, the UHJ’s as a body, and the “rank and file” Baha’i, what is likely to be his attitude if and when your name comes before the institution he serves?

    If you had done that, it will not endear you to them. Earlier in your comments you stated that you had discovered that (in your opinion) Horace Holley made a mistake in his introduction to Shoghi Effendi’s book, The World Order of Baha’u’llah. Likewise, you recounted some things about John Robarts, that casts him in not the most positive light. Assuming that you are correct, and they did have scholarly feet of clay in these instances, one cannot forget the rank/and file Baha’i holds these Hands of the Cause
    in the highest esteem, perhaps like “saints” in other religions. Self proclaimed Baha’i scholars and theologians should not be surprised when the results of this kind of “research” and the publishing of it on the internet, is seen by others as denigrating their heroes.

    By contrast, I recount the story of a Baha’i, who about 1967, discovered that Hand of the Cause William Sears had made some factual errors in his book Thief in the Night. Mr. Sears had quoted from a letter written by President Franklin Roosevelt to Pope Pius IX. The Baha’i had a photocopy of the letter which he had obtained from the Library of Congress. The quotation was not accurate. Mr. Sears had used as his source, the letter as (mis)quoted in Canadian Baha’i Emeric Sala’s book, “This Earth One Country,” in which a quotation from a book by Carl Gustav Jung was also worked over to cast religion in a more positive than Jung obviously had intended. In any case, what did this individual Baha’i do? Did he get out his Baha’i directory and write to all the chairmen and secretaries of the Local Spiritual Assemblies in the United States, proclaiming: “Look at what a great scholar (theologian) am I” Of course not. He merely photocopied the offending pages from Mr. Sears’ book, Mr. Sala’s book, and the Roosevelt letter, sent them to Salvatore Pelle, the Director of Publication Information for the Baha’i Faith in Wilmette, and when the book was reprinted, it was revised and did not contain the Roosevelt letter.

    You wrote that my, “argument in essence is that religion requires complete submission, the surrender of critical faculties . . .” This is incorrect. What I am suggesting is, that in the Baha’i Faith, a fairly new religion, ‘complete submission’ (which as we both know was Shoghi Effendi’s requirement) requires not the “surrender of critical faculties,” but their proper and restrained use. Actually I am trying to state how the Baha’i hierarchy probably view the matter.

    I feel my comments are getting rather lengthy. There is much that could be commented upon, but time does not permit. Perhaps a couple of more thoughts. From my reading articles on the internet, I gather that the Baha’i administration has assigned one or more people to monitor Baha’i blogs and websites. How do you think the UHJ would view your most recent post: “Defending Shoghi Effendi”? Have they not appointed certain individuals to do that? Do they not regard “defense” of the Faith as their job? Of course, individual Baha’is (both enrolled and unenrolled) probably have the duty to defend Shoghi Effendi against certain detractors, (“well meaning yet unenlightened enemies of the Baha’i Faith.”) But your post can be seen as defending not so much Shoghi Effendi, but your own view of him and his station, as over against the views of other Baha’is, who have a different opinion or understanding. Do you agree with me that others can see it that way?

    A case in point. You continue to argue apparently the same position as did the other scholars and intellectuals that are gone from the Baha’i rolls regarding theocracy – that Shoghi Effendi (and the Central Figures) were against the notion. The Guardian’s “letters” that appear to champion the notion of a Baha’i theocracy you seem to discount because they were only written by his secretaries, despite his own letter saying that there are no exceptions to the rule that he read and approved them all. This attitude then leads to the slippery slope of discounting any letters written on Shoghi Effendi’s behalf, especially if a particular letter contradicts what a particular Baha’i wants to believe. It also leads a scholar or a certain type of theologian to find all kinds of clever justifications for his own theory. And I can admire that. For it is just such detective work that leads to discoveries of disease and the like.

    You recounted how you had found one possible glitch with one letter, in that is was written on April 21, a Baha’i Holy Day, when Shoghi Effendi’s secretaries would not have been working. What was a Baha’i Holy Day in the “Holy” Land, in the time of Shoghi Effendi where one can pray every morning at a Shrine, where your home is the Western Pilgrim House? My guess is that many of the Baha’is in attendance at the World Congress in London in 1963, for example, wished that time could have stood still; and that if they could have had a cot, fresh clothing and food, they would never have departed from Royal Albert Hall. Shoghi Effendi’s secretaries were not Palestinian or Israeli non-Baha’i citizens putting in a 9-5 workday with holidays off. My further guess is that just as a hospital emergency room never shuts down, neither did the work of Shoghi Effendi or his secretaries. Is it not reasonable to think that they indeed would be writing letters on April 21st? Even if you are correct, that they would not be writing letters on a Baha’i Holy Day, does not the Baha’i day begin at sunset? Part of April 21st would not be on the Holy Day.

    I conclude now with some observations about your last paragraph in the “How Theocracy Happened” post. It seems to me somewhat tragic. And I feel sorry for all the Baha’‘ scholars who cannot do that for which they have been trained. You may have been born a few hundred years too early. You wrote:

    “The institutions have never asked me to stop writing, or stop writing in a particular way, and they have not said that any academic methods or tools are not to be used in Bahai scholarship. Nor have they said what I should do, or should not do, to be re-enrolled.”

    You are probably familiar with the concept of “negative theology,” perhaps first stated most clearly by the Jewish philosopher and theologian, Moses Maimonides: that we can get a better idea of what God and his attributes are, by first stating what they are not. Let’s apply a variation of this method to your concluding paragraph.

    I am of course, not privy to whatever correspondence you may have had with the Baha’i institutions. Because you were “disenrolled” in 2005, I assume they no longer have any authority to tell you what or how not to write. Had they done so prior to that time, it is not clear to me what you would have done. Would you have obeyed, or in the best tradition of an “old world order” scholar would you have tried every possible angle to get around any prohibition they would give. If they have not specified what you “should do, or should not do to be re-enrolled,” negative theology would state that it is reasonable to conclude that they are not interested in having you be a member of the Baha’i Faith.

    I recall the things that Shoghi Effendi said are necessary for membership on a Baha’i administrative body. There may be a reason why they are listed in a certain order: 1) unquestioned loyalty; 2) steadfast devotion, 3) mature experience, 4) recognized ability, 5) a well-trained mind. In a case such as yours, as with any of the other scholars who might be desirous of being on the membership rolls again, it would probably be the Universal House of Justice in Haifa that would render the decision.

    A well-trained mind? Obviously, yes. But used for what purpose? Mature experience and recognized ability? Yes, but for doing what positive things for the Baha’i Faith? Steadfast devotion? Perhaps, but to the principles of rigorous, unbiased, academic scholarship even if it harms the Baha’i Faith (such harm being defined by the institutions, and not the scholar)? Unquestioned loyalty? Again, to what? To the institutions as they have defined loyalty, or to one’s (liberal) view of what it means to be loyal – to do writing “as if one is not a Baha’i”

    Take the scholar Dr. Moojan Momen. He was written some very scholarly books on the Baha’i Faith, on Islam, and on Iran. He remains within “the fold.” What has he done that you have not done, or perhaps better stated, what has he refrained from doing that you (and some of these others scholars) did?

    You say that the Universal House of Justice has called for there to be Baha’i scholars.
    I doubt that it used the word “theologians.” In any case, I do not know exactly what it means by “Baha’i scholarship; but in my comments, and by using the principles of negative theology throughout, I see the evidence as suggesting what they do not mean by Baha’i scholarship.

    Scholarly endeavors by Baha’is, especially when paraded before the virtual world of the internet users, which cause dissension amongst the Baha’is, belittle the words or memories of certain figures in the Baha’i Faith, appear to flaunt the authority of the Baha’i institutions, and give ammunition to anyone who wishes to discredit the Baha’i Faith, will doubtless never be welcomed.

    It is regrettable that people, such as yourself, with such evident capacity and interest, cannot be appreciated by the Baha’i administation, and/or that the scholars themselves cannot hold in abeyance certain methods and attitudes that would be proper and welcomed in other places. Best wishes,

    Frank

  13. Sen said

    Hi Frank,

    You appear to be misunderstanding me. I do not do Bahai scholarship as if I was not a Bahai. That’s the approach that is appropriate in history or the sociology of religion, but that’s not the kind of scholarship I do. I do Bahai theology, which is ‘faith seeking understanding,’ and takes its hermeneutics from the Covenant, not from academic standards. In any case, I don’t think the Universal House of Justice is seeking to prescribe a particular method of scholarship or forbid particular methods. I don’t have any evidence that UHJ members expect their individual views to be treated with more respect than those of any other Bahai, that they object to critiques of the writings of Hands of the Cause, or expect scholars to abide by unwritten rules which they have no way of knowing about. You have several other speculations about what the Universal House of Justice thinks, what annoys them and so on. Everyone is free to speculate, but it’s all baseless as far as I know. You say you are “trying to state how the Baha’i hierarchy probably view the matter” but you are projecting your ideas and understanding onto them. You might have understood the Universal House of Justice perfectly, you might be wildly wrong. I would like to think they are rather more elevated in intent and emotion than you paint them.

    As for the letter to Leroy Ioas:

    “In other words, what is mostly needed nowadays is a Baha’i
    pioneer rather than a Baha’i philosopher or scholar . . . Baha’i
    scholars and writers will, no doubt, gradually appear, and will, as
    promised by Baha’u’llah, lend a unique support to the Faith. But
    in the meantime, we should not tarry or slacken our efforts.”
    [Baha’i News, August 1936, p. 2]

    At the time this was written, the Bahai community already had splendid and capable scholars, probably more than it has today, and they were very much encouraged by Shoghi Effendi. Gulpaygani, Mazandarani, Ishraq-Khavari, Balyuzi, Taherzadeh … They were trained largely in seminaries. Taherzadeh was a historian and wrote history as if he was not a Bahai, the others were theologians. The letters the Guardian or his secretary wrote to individuals are for the guidance of those individuals – they are not general rules.

    You mentioned getting “in trouble with the NSA” and that you had appealed their decision to the UHJ. Did the UHJ overturn or modify what the NSA had said?

    No, that was the odd thing. They didn’t actually answer the appeal in so many words, one way or the other. They just said they were disappointed in me, but didn’t say why. I figure, if they wanted me to understand, they would explain.

    Because you were “disenrolled” in 2005, I assume they no longer have any authority to tell you what or how not to write.

    They have the authority, in Bahai matters, if they wish to use it. The authority of the Universal House of Justice is not limited to enrolled Bahais, or it would not apply to the Bahais of Iran and China and many other countries without membership roles. When Baha’u’llah ordained the House of Justice, membership rolls had not been thought of. The rolls are an administrative measure, they do not change the spiritual realities, at best they are an approximate representation of the reality.

    If they have not specified what you “should do, or should not do to be re-enrolled,” negative theology” would state that it is reasonable to conclude that they are not interested in having you be a member of the Baha’i Faith.

    That’s my impression: the UHJ has not called disenrollment a sanction (ie punishment for something done), and when I’ve tried to re-enroll and written to the ITC to indicate that they are welcome to ask questions about anything, the replies and lack of them indicate to me that they are not interested in keeping communication, therefore, that they expect disenrollment to be for life, making communication pointless. But I could be wrong. Maybe I’m projecting my thinking onto them. I’ll keep asking to be re-enrolled every few years, and time will tell

    ~~ Sen

  14. Frank Talley said

    Sen – Here are some further reflections on “Baha’i scholarship” for your consideration.

    Regarding my most recent comments, you wrote: “You appear to be misunderstanding me.”
    That is certainly possible. However, if we are to believe the suggestions of some psychiatrists regarding the subconscious, you may be misunderstanding yourself. But what is perhaps most important, is whether or not you are being understood in a way that you approve of by those in a position to offer you some benefit, those who can grant you what you apparently would like, viz. to be a Baha’i scholar working within the Baha’i fold, so to speak; working within the Baha’i administrative order centered in Haifa. For I cannot see you buying the arguments of any of the small Baha’i sects and wanting to use your skills to promote their agendas.

    The catch in what I just wrote is: “whether or not you are being understood in a way you approve of,” as opposed to being understood by those “in charge” in a way that they approve of. If both parties’ understandings were the same, there would be no problem. What I am getting at is a variation of Robert Burns’s lament (translated loosely as) “I wish that God had given us the ability to see ourselves as others see us.”

    Next, you said, “I do not do Bahai scholarship as if I was not a Bahai. That’s the approach that is appropriate in history or the sociology of religion, but that’s not the kind of scholarship I do. I do Bahai theology, which is ‘faith seeking understanding,’ and takes its hermeneutics from the Covenant, not from academic standards.” I question whether or not what you say here is humanly possible. Assuming for the moment that there is such a thing as the discipline of “Baha’i theology,” I observe that the initial facts, or alleged facts that a Baha’i theologian theologizes about, he first learns about from his own (or others’) studies in, for example, the “history or the sociology of religion.” And if the results of these historical or sociological studies (done as if one was not a Baha’i) are accepted and then used in one’s reflective thinking and writing as a “Baha’i theologian” then one will, in some instances, be doing this theology as if he “was not a Baha’i.” Or, if one cannot “hide” his or her objectivity, (if the results are seen by those “in charge” as inimical to the best interests of the Baha’i Faith) you can expect to have your scholarship not welcomed. In other words, you may feel that you are taking your “hermeneutics from the Covenant,” but those in charge may not. Whether any of the members of the UHJ can define the term “hermeneutics” is beside the point. Whichever five members hold that a certain kind of “scholarship” is improper or whatever – that is what rues the day. And it seems to flow from that, that whatever aspiring Baha’i scholar who wishes to pursue studies in Baha’i history or in the sociology or perhaps even the psychology of religion, would do well to learn what pleases those in charge if that scholar wishes to remain in or gain readmittance to the fold.

    But of course, we are discussing this as if there is such a thing as a “Baha’i theologian.” Is there any official word from the UHJ in Haifa that that body recognizes such an endeavor; that it has bestowed on certain individuals the “right” to interpret the Baha’i writings or the letters of Shoghi Effendi, or to expound on which letters might be discounted – to tell those who tune in to certain blogs or chat rooms what certain things truly “mean?” Is there even one other person in the world who says of himself, “I do Baha’i theology . . .”? This is not a rhetorical question. But once again I am speculating that the UHJ does not welcome such attempts. And indeed, you devoted a fair amount of your opening paragraph to my “speculating.” I insert my responses in brackets and italics within your paragraph.
    “In any case, I don’t think the Universal House of Justice is seeking to prescribe a particular method of scholarship or forbid particular methods [Do you think it unreasonable to speculate that they wish to “forbid particular methods” that they see as bringing harm or discredit to the Baha’i Faith?] I don’t have any evidence that UHJ members expect their individual views to be treated with more respect than those of any other Bahai, [Is it unreasonable to speculate that because these nine males are human beings, each with an ego that they may or may not have sublimated sufficiently so that they can be as ‘Abdu’l-Baha was, that they feel that they or their individual ideas are entitled to a certain amount of respect? Besides, what you may think is an individual UHJ member’s idea may well be that of the body itself.] that they object to critiques of the writings of Hands of the Cause, [It seems to me that the only evidence needed in this instance is common sense; a quality not stressed often enough during an academic education. Do you think people like to have their “saints and heroes” cast in a bad light, even if done under the notion of unbiased academic scholarship, or worse yet – under the notion of Baha’i theology done within the Covenant? I think not.] or expect scholars to abide by unwritten rules which they have no way of knowing about. [Again, I am simply suggesting that for one who has been around the Baha’i Faith for a long time, there may well be certain rules that one just knows (or should know) in their gut. No one has to spell them out.] You have several other speculations about what the Universal House of Justice thinks, what annoys them and so on. Everyone is free to speculate, but it’s all baseless as far as I know. [Speculations are not necessarily in and of themselves baseless. It is the second step of the scientific method: 1) observe; 2) predict (speculate). The evidence will show wherein lies the truth. What is the evidence, if any, that the UHJ approves of your efforts at being a Baha’i theologian? What is the evidence, if any, that they do not so approve?] . You say you are ‘trying to state how the Baha’i hierarchy probably views the matter’ but you are projecting your ideas and understanding onto them. [This is obviously true. However, my longevity and depth of experience with the Baha’i Faith is not insignificant. It may be that my insight has value on that basis alone. And is it not also true that on your blog you are really “. . .projecting your ideas and understandings onto. . . the Baha’i writings, etc?] You might have understood the Universal House of Justice perfectly, you might be wildly wrong. I would like to think they are rather more elevated in intent and emotion than you paint them. [Lord Acton’s notion of absolute power corrupting absolutely aside, (a phrase written, by the way, in response to Pope Pius’s dogma of infallibility), I simply observe that these nine individuals are humans. I have no reason to suspect that they have anything but the well-being of the Baha’i Faith uppermost in their minds. That does not mean that their human emotions might not stand in the way of their doing the right thing. But what the heck, if the institution on which you serve is infallible . . .]

    You mention, “Gulpaygani, Mazandarani, Ishraq-Khavari, Balyuzi, Taherzadeh … They were trained largely in seminaries. Taherzadeh was a historian and wrote history as if he was not a Bahai, the others were theologians.” Your post started with the notion of “theocracy,” a term that probably is generally understood. However, it would be helpful to me to see your definition of the word: “theology.” What is a theologian – as the word has been traditionally construed in the Judaeo/Christian framework? Since you believe in the legitimacy of “Baha’i theology” – do you see the task of a Baha’i theologian to be that as practiced in those religions, or something different? Who decides if someone is a Baha’i scholar, in particular, a Baha’i theologian – the Baha’i administration or just any Baha’i with a degree or two (or no degree) who sets up a blogsite and tells others how the Baha’i teachings should be viewed and understood?

    In an earlier comment, I wrote:

    “As Dr. Arthur Christiansen, Prof. Of Iranian Philology at the University of Copenhagen observed about the Baha’i Faith, ‘Here is a religion which does not need theology because its principles, that is to say, its background of civilization and individual and social psychology, are those of our times.’”

    And you responded:

    “Dr. Christiansen is remarkably ignorant about theology. Would he apply the same principle to Philology, and argue that we do not need philology of contemporary language because we speak it? I had a similar argument with one of the members of the Universal House of Justice once: he said we don’t need theology in the Bahai Faith, but it was simply a misunderstanding of what theology is and what it does. Theology is ‘seeking understanding’ of one’s faith, it is part of being a believer.”

    Isn’t the most that you can say regarding Dr. Christiansen’s comment, not that he is “ignorant” but that he has a different understanding of the function of theology? I tried to make the point in earlier comments, that what contemporary Jewish and Christian theologians have been writing about (and sometimes falling in disfavor for) is quite different from what theologians were considering a thousand years ago. I am sincerely interested in learning of your definition of the word “theology” both generally and how you see it being a legitimate enterprise in the Baha’i Faith. For merely “seeking understanding of one’s faith” could not be all there is to it. Is posting the results to the world on a blog , or writing books about the results of one’s private “seeking” also a part of “doing” what you call Baha’i theology? Did you submit your book on church and state to a Baha’i reviewing committee? In any respect, the late Dr. Christiansen’s place as one of the top scholars in his field seems to be well-established.

    You wrote: “The authority of the Universal House of Justice is not limited to enrolled Bahais, or it would not apply to the Bahais of Iran and China and many other countries without membership rolls.” I question the logic of what you say here. These countries, such as Iran and China have citizens who the Baha’i administrative order considers to be Baha’is, (they supposedly have met the requirements for membership) even though it may be unwise, unsafe, or even illegal to keep written membership rolls. They are “enrolled” even though there may be no published membership lists. The so-called unenrolled Baha’i, not in a state of enrollment, either because they did not “sign up” in the first place, or because they were disenrolled surely would only submit to the authority of the UHJ in Haifa as a matter of choice. I mean, a Protestant Christian could submit to the authority of the Pope if he wanted to – but why?

    Imagine what it must be like. A tourist visiting the Chicago area in the United States drives past the Baha’i Temple in Wilmette and is curious about this edifice and the religion to which it is related. Later, he sits down at his computer and types the word Baha’i into a serach engine. What happens next is a crapshoot. Hundreds of websites appear, each representing one of the ten or twelve sects claiming to be the correct version of the Baha’i Faith; or a Christian or Muslim website giving its take; or a website or blog of some former Baha’i, probably disgruntled, airing whatever dirty laundry he can find.

    I know of people in the United States who call themselves Christians. They belong to neither a local church congregation nor to a denomination. They can buy a Bible in a local bookstore and practice whatever Christian virtues they understand and agree with. But of course, Christianity is over 2000 years old. Is this a legitimate method as well for someone who “accepts” the claims of Baha’u’llah? They’ll buy a few books somewhere, and practice the Baha’i virtues, but shun affiliation with the administrative order? They never “sign a declaration card” and have their names entered on a list somewhere. Such people may consider themselves to be Baha’is, but do the institutions which supposedly sprang from the writings of the Central Figures of the Baha’i Faith consider them to be Baha’is? I suppose the individual who sets up the chairs and music stands for the London Symphony Orchestra may consider himself to be a member of the group; but he sure doesn’t make any music; nor is he really a member of the orchestra.

    I next stated, “If they have not specified what you ‘should do, or should not do to be re-enrolled,’ negative theology would state that it is reasonable to conclude that they are not interested in having you be a member of the Baha’i Faith.

    And you responded, “That’s my impression: the UHJ has not called disenrollment a sanction (ie punishment for something done), and when I’ve tried to re-enroll and written to the ITC to indicate that they are welcome to ask questions about anything, the replies and lack of them indicate to me that they are not interested in keeping communication, therefore, that they expect disenrollment to be for life, making communication pointless. But I could be wrong. Maybe I’m projecting my thinking onto them. I’ll keep asking to be re-enrolled every few years, and time will tell.”

    Now I realize that a blogger, such as yourself, will undoubtedly portray himself in as positive a light as possible. Nevertheless, accepting what you have said at face value, I find it unconscionable that the UHJ in Haifa would take a Baha’i of 31 year’s standing, and give him the “bum’s rush” and then not be more forthcoming as to why such action was taken. I cannot believe that the first members of the UHJ elected in 1963 would have been so callous. Nor especially would their fellow members on the International Baha’i Council who were prevented by their gender from serving: Sylvia Ioas, Mildred Mottahedeh, Ethel Revell, and Jessie Revell. I come back to Lord Acton, and recall another sentence from the same communication known best for , “ . . . absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And that is, “There is no worse heresy than the fact that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

    So, in the best traditions of Philosophy, I continue to speculate about these matters, going up into my watchtower (in Greek: “specula”) so as to obtain as broad a vision as possible. So I now conclude with yet another speculation for your consideration. Since receiving your last comment, I have read most of your posts, and have taken particular note of the comments that people have written, irrespective of the subject matter. Hardly anyone seeks to challenge what you have written. I cannot always tell if the commenters are “enrolled” Baha’is, but they seem to be seeking “guidance” on how to view certain matters related to the Baha’i Faith – often matters quite esoteric and abstruse. And when you have dispensed your answers, the comments that come back remind me of the words that Plato often puts into the mouths of the foils that he has confront Socrates: “Oh, yes Socrates.” “That is plainly evident, Socrates,” etc. Your knowledge of the technical material, history, and the like of all things Baha’i are masterful. In addition, you are apparently able to read the scriptural material in the original languages – really a prerequisite for a religion scholar. Indeed, everything that appears on your blog is quite overwhelming. And that may be the problem.

    You may find this speculation shocking. It took me aback when I first thought of it. But you know Baha’i history well enough to realize that what I suggest is not ludicrous. If one day you were to post on your blog that the spirit of Shoghi Effendi had appeared to you and said that for certain reasons he is appointing you as the next Guardian of the Baha’i Faith centered in Haifa, and that you had accepted, there are a number of your blog readers and commenters who would follow you.

    It is not impossible that the UHJ, who as you wrote, said they “were disappointed in (you) but didn’t say why” thought your influence would be lessened if you were excommunicated, which is what call “disenrollment.” And it may be the case that more Baha’is would read your blog if you had not suffered this action. Do you think the UHJ may have put you out so as to attempt to prevent you from gaining a wider following? For indeed that is what theologians have: followers of their particular school (understanding) of a religion. People have been excommunicated from the “Haifan” Baha’i Faith for reasons other than trying to insist on their own “understanding” of things and then building a new sect on that understanding, but by and large haven’t most Covenant-breakers been declared as such for doing just that – having a following that rejects the authority of the older power structure?

    I find it grotesquely fascinating, yet quite sad, that you will “ . . . keep asking to be re-enrolled every few years, and time will tell.” In the world of today’s internet, I would have thought that the UHJ in Haifa would be bending over backwards to especially retain people of marked capacity, so as to not only use their talents, but to prevent their disaffection from being broadcast on the web, if they are put out or resign in disgust. Perhaps they did bend over backwards in your case and you can’t see it. I am well aware that academics can get big heads and grant themselves an undue amount of importance. But I sense no bitterness in what you write; and I find that amazing in and of itself, and certainly atypical of others who have suffered a similar fate. And so you persevere in what you think is legitimate and correct: doing “Baha’i theology.”

    I am willing to discuss this issue for a while longer if you wish. Kindest regards. Frank

  15. Sen said

    Hi Frank,

    there’s no reward or benefit in this world I’m seeking, so I am indifferent to whether important people see me as I am. I have something to offer: naturally some people don’t want it, and who am I to insist? There are lots of people with something to offer, and I only draw on a fraction of what I could benefit from. I also don’t need anyone’s approval to study the Bahai teachings and writings; approval-seeking is a crippling unquenchable dependence. As it happens, yesterday I was assisting a friend with the French translation of The Advent of Divine Justice, and we were discussing the citation concerning those who “with the feet of detachment, will tread under all who are in heaven and on earth.” It doesn’t mean that they will oppress others, or destroy them, but pass over them, indifferent to their good or bad opinions. That’s Baha’u’llah’s ideal Bahai.

    A theology that uses data from objective research, or the rigorous methods used in good research, does not as a result cease to be theological, because what characterises theology is not a particular method, but commitment. For example, a biologist might study species extinction mechanisms, objectively, whereas someone committed to the continuance and flourishing of a species could use that information, or use the same methods, to find ways to prevent extinction. The objective scientist is supposed not to intervene in the processes studied — that muddies the waters. But the environmental activist does intervene based on a value judgement, that species extinction is undesirable. In the same way, theology is performed based on a commitment, seeks to understand what that commitment entails, and is done in the hope that at least the theologian’s faith – and possibly that of others – will be strengthened, clarified and purified, that it will become clear what that faith has to offer the world.

    The objective data that theology deals with most often is that of history. Religions show the meaning of history and tell “history” stories of sacred moments as a narrative form of theology. And they have their own more recent histories, which mean more to them than just an account of events. So the study of history is also part of “faith seeking understanding,” but then with questions such as “What is the real nature of the community?” “Where is it going?” “What is God doing in history?” They are theological questions, but they cannot be answered with anything less than the best available facts and fearless questioning as to what has actually happened. One cannot see God’s Will in history, having first adopted an account of “what is happening” that is protected from critique or biased by a partisan agenda.

    I have no indication that my results are seen as “inimical to the best interests of the Baha’i Faith.” You are arguing in the form, “if I was a horse” or in this case, “if the House of Justice was me, it would be thinking …” Your interest is in scholarship, so you are supposing that my expulsion was something to do with the kind of scholarship I do. The UHJ has not said this. Some of the Persian friends are convinced I was expelled because of something I’m supposed to have done in Iran (they won’t say what). They are projecting their interest and their concern for their brethren onto the UHJ’s decision. Yet others are convinced I did something frightfully immoral (they don’t know what) and am being punished for it. None of this is based on what the UHJ has said, it is idle speculation.

    >But of course, we are discussing this as if there is such a thing as a “Baha’i theologian.”
    > Is there any official word from the UHJ in Haifa…

    There were one or two letters from the UHJ in the 1980’s, saying that Bahai theology was an acceptable endeavour. I guess the question arose from Udo Schaeffer’s work, because as I recall those letters were addressed to the NSA of Germany. At about the same time, I was getting letters from a member of the UHJ saying that the Bahai Faith needs no theology, and urging me to give up my studies, so I guess there were majority and minority opinions in the UHJ at that time. In 1993 the UHJ were including “theological issues” among the topics that should be accommodated in Bahai Scholarship (see the ‘complete compilation,’ in Ocean). Then in “One Common Faith” (2005) there were several instances of ‘theology’ and ‘theologian’ being used in a pejorative sense – mistakenly I think. It is not theology, but the entwinement of theology with power that has put impositions on the faithful and distorted religions. If I had noticed the change in attitude to theology, I could have chosen idfferent words – there is no point of principle involved in calling Bahai theology theology rather than, say, ‘divine science’ which means the same thing and is often used in early translations of Abdu’l-Baha’s talks and tablets. In academia, and in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, writing from a position of religious commitment is called theology, so that’s the term I adopted.

    > Is there even one other person in the world who says
    > of himself, “I do Baha’i theology . . .”?

    Yes, there are several other Bahai theologians, in the narrower sense of people writing and/or teaching Bahai theology. I’ve already mentioned Udo Schaeffer. There’s a course in Bahai theology at the Wilmette institute, and I would hope that not just the staff but also the students say “I do Bahai theology…” Julio Savi has written the first systematics (handbook of systematic theology). Jack McLean has done a prolegomena and some chapters of a systematics. … to mention only a few of those publishing in English. Some of them may have switched to using ‘divine philosophy’ since my disenrolment, but whatever it is called, the systematic and critical study of the Bahai teachings continues.

    I have mentioned my definition of theology several times: “Faith seeking understanding.” It’s a classical definition. Since it follows from then nature of faith, rather than from a particular faith, it applies to Bahais as much as anyone else. When we have faith, that has certain implications. As we begin to understand them, we are doing theology. It may not be good theology, but it is theology. It has nothing to do with university degrees or approval and authorisation. Theology is as natural to homo fidens et sapiens as religion itself. And we are all free – in fact duty-bound – to share our understandings with others in word and deed. A tree that has no fruit is fit for the fire.

    >Did you submit your book on church and state
    > to a Baha’i reviewing committee?

    I did inform the NSA here that I was writing a thesis on Church and State, but they replied that it was exempt from Bahai review. I wrote back to warn them that it would be more substantial than a typical MA thesis, and that I wanted to print 400 copies, and suggesting the names of reviewers, but they never replied to that. The UHJ has stated in response to a query on this, that the review issues were not the basis for my disenrollment, and in another letter (to Daniela Pinna), that the subject of my book was not an issue.

    With regard to the Iranian and Chinese friends, there are no local Bahai institutions to determine whose enrollment is accepted: it is not simply that enrollments are not entered in a list, there can be no Bahai enrollment in such countries. There was no such thing as enrollment in the time of Baha’u’llah and much of the time of Abdu’l-Baha. Nevertheless, Baha’u’llah tells Bahais to obey the House of Justice, which does exist today – being enrolled or not does not affect the duty to obey.

    I do not think one can be a Bahai while shunning the community or its administrative order, because Baha’u’llah clearly intended to establish a community governed by an order. However enrollment is an administrative procedure, necessary for voting and the allocation of delegates to local communities, but not an essential of faith. Those who identify with the community and support its administration, but for one reason or other are not enrolled, are still Bahais. Creating a Bahai community and administration is only one part of Baha’u’llah’s programme, and where one door is closed, another form of discipleship will be opened.

    As for your last suggestion: When I was disenrolled I did not even have the idea of a blog, so my blogging can hardly be an issue. I have not been declared a Covenant-breaker. If I spot anyone giving me undue importance I will fart in public and tell rude jokes until they go away. Perhaps the UHJ did intend to spare me from the burden of deference they saw coming to me: in that case, it has turned out rather well. I haven’t got, what I didn’t want anyway. But this too is speculation: if I was the UHJ I might think that way, but how would any of us know what the UHJ’s intention was?

    Naturally I have no interest in reviving the Guardianship: that is impossible given the conditions stipulated in the Will and Testament.

    I will be travelling for the next couple of months so don’t expect much conversation from me.

  16. Stephen Kent Gray said

    Sen, Susan Maneck has written a rebuttal to you on this topic.

    http://bahaistudies.net/susanmaneck/theocracy.html

    I thought you should know about this.

  17. Sen said

    I don’t think Maneck’s critiques of the 2002 article are valid, and some have been bypassed by the subsequent publication of my dissertation, Church and State, and other research. She cites Baha’u’llah as saying “All matters of State should be referred to the House of Justice.” But (1) none of the authors I studied in the 2002 paper cited that text, (2) it is an entirely incorrect translation (which she knew, but did not mention), and (3) Shoghi Effendi’s translation of that passage reads “They that for the sake of God arise to serve His Cause are recipients of Divine Inspiration. It is incumbent upon all to be obedient unto them. Administrative affairs should be referred to the House of Justice, but acts of worship must be observed according as they are revealed by God in His Book.” Her claim that qanun (a form of law enacted by the House of Justice) means “secular law” is ahistorical and incorrect: the word began in Turkish usage with the meaning of contractually defined law, and in the Bahai texts and other Persian texts of the time has the meaning of codified law. A qanun is a code of law written in the language of the people, arranged by topic, and published to make it accessible. A qanun, in general usage, may draw on shariah and on customary law and the precedents of the court: it is defined by its form and practicability not by the western distinction between secular and religious law. A qanun in Bahai law must be gathered from the scriptures in Persian and Arabic, other valid sources, and the policies of the Universal House of Justice, and promulgated by the Universal House of Justice. The Memorandum on Bahai Publishing is an example. She states that Ahkam-e Madaniyyeh, another form of law enacted by the House of Justice, means “civil law,” I have translated it rather as “cultural laws,” meaning laws substantially defined by cultural conditions. “Civilizational laws” or “laws of civilized life” could be used too, but I consider them ungainly. I have explained by reasoning for this translation here. You will note in that discussion that neither Ali Kuli Khan, nor Momen, nor the World Centre’s translation team, have used the translation that Maneck suggests.

  18. Stephen Kent Gray said

    http://bahai-library.com/uhj_theocracy

    If one Bing/Google bahai theocracy, you get the above.

  19. Gerald Keil said

    Dear Sen,

    In your comment of November 7, 2009 in response to Frank Talley you mention the article “Textzusammenhang und Kritik: ein Fallbeispiel anhand eines Briefes von Shoghi Effendi”. Your readers might be interested to know that an abridged English-language version appeared in /Lights of Irfan/, Band 11 (2010), http://irfancolloquia.org/77/keil_auslegung.

  20. Sen said

    Many thanks Gerald, it’s a valuable contribution.

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

 
%d bloggers like this: