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He cannot override …

Posted by Sen on December 30, 2008

wobIn Shoghi Effendi’s 1934 letter ‘The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah,’ there’s a well-known paragraph in which he says that “the Guardian of the Faith has been made the Interpreter of the Word and that the Universal House of Justice has been invested with the function of legislating …”. I want to look at the paragraph after that, which deals with the fact that the Guardian is a member of the House of Justice; so that while the spheres of the two institutions are distinct, their memberships overlap. How would that work, with the Guardian or his representative in the room, while the House of Justice was making its decisions?

Shoghi Effendi writes:

1. Though the Guardian of the Faith has been made the permanent head of so august a body he can never, even temporarily, assume the right of exclusive legislation.
2. He cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow-members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances.
3. He interprets what has been specifically revealed, and cannot legislate except in his capacity as member of the Universal House of Justice.
4. He is debarred from laying down independently the constitution that must govern the organized activities of his fellow-members, and from exercising his influence in a manner that would encroach upon the liberty of those whose sacred right is to elect the body of his collaborators.
(The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 150)

Sentences 1 and 3 tell us that the Guardian cannot legislate – which means for us, that we cannot take his writings (or, of course, those of his secretaries) and treat them as if they were Bahai law.

Sentence 4 tells us that nothing the Guardian says or does can limit the right of the Universal House of Justice to determine its constitution, or the liberty of the delegates to the international convention to elect whomever they choose to the UHJ.

Both of these underline the fact that the separation of the two spheres of the Guardianship and the House of Justice is no mere rhetorical gesture: it has actual effects on the practices of the two institutions and on how we act towards them. The separation of the spheres of the Guardianship and the House of Justice is like the separation of powers in a civil constitution: it is the basic framework, within which must else that is said about each institution must be understood.

uhjbuildingSentence 2 is the one I want to focus on here. It says that the Guardian “cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow-members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances.”

The Guardian knows of course that Abdu’l-Baha wrote, in his Will and Testament (p. 11), that “the Guardian of the Cause of God, as well as the Universal House of Justice … are both under the care and protection of the Abha Beauty, under the shelter and unerring guidance (`ismat) of the Exalted One…” That word `ismat is the one that is often translated as ‘infallibility’ (although it’s also ‘chastity’). Its root meaning is ‘protection,’ but in theology it is at once a protection from doing wrong, and a divine authorisation to make changes in religion which it would be blasphemous for souls without `ismat to make.

shoghieffendiSo, knowing that the Universal House of Justice has `ismat, that it is assured of the unerring guidance of the Bab, as is the Guardian, Shoghi Effendi nevertheless considers the possibility that the Universal House of Justice might pass an enactment which conflicts with the meaning and departs from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances. Which, of course, the Guardian would then be obliged to object to. Further, Shoghi Effendi says that in such a situation, the Guardian can protest, but not override the decision. The Guardian is the ultimate authority on what the meaning and spirit of the Bahai Writings is, but the Universal House of Justice is not obliged to change a decision it has made that is in conflict with those Writings.

So what does this tell us?

First, the Guardian’s concept of the scope of the infallibility of the Universal House of Justice is that it is limited. Infallibility does not prevent the UHJ making decisions contrary to the Writings, and contrary to what the Guardian says. Conversely, if we try to look at the decisions of the UHJ and deduce from them what the Bahai Writings mean, or what their spirit is, we are building a house on sand. There is no guarantee that the UHJ’s decision will correctly reflect that meaning and spirit, let alone that we will be able to correctly understand the UHJ’s intent. So if we want to understand what the Bahai Writings teach, we have to go to the Writings and to what the Guardian has said about them.

Second, if an enactment made by the Universal House of Justice is valid, even if the Guardian has objected to it, then there are no grounds for saying that the decisions of the Universal House of Justice are not valid if the Guardian or his representative is not present, as is the case today. This paragraph is therefore a strong argument against those Remeyite remnants who have claimed that the Guardian has to be present to make the UHJ’s decisions valid.

scalesThirdly, it again highlights the importance of the separation of the spheres of the Guardianship and House of Justice, the first concerned with doctrine and the interpretation of scripture, the second with administering the complex affairs of the Bahai Commonwealth and legislating on matters not revealed in the Writings. The House of Justice is not a department or subordinate of the Guardian: it has its own responsibilities and may quite properly find itself obliged to do something which, according to the Guardian, departs from the spirit of the Writings.

I think I can give an example of that: the policy of pre-publication ‘review,’ of which Shoghi Effendi writes:

“Let us also remember that at the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views. If certain instructions of the Master are today particularly emphasized and scrupulously adhered to, let us be sure that they are but provisional measures designed to guard and protect the Cause in its present state of infancy …” (Baha’i Administration, p. 63)

and

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

ocean and riverIn the presence of the UHJ, the Guardian’s role would be to say what the meaning and spirit of the teachings is. The House of Justice has other tasks: it has to protect the community, to administer its funds and affairs, to conduct its external relationships with governments and other bodies, and so on. Something like the “right of the individual to self-expression” may be a clear Bahai teaching, but at a given time impractical or unwise to implement. A ruling of the House of Justice is not any less binding if it is contrary to a Bahai teaching, but neither is the Bahai teaching annulled because the House of Justice has, at a particular time, made an enactment that is against it. The doctrinal and the practical must simply remain in tension, until such time as it is possible to bring the rulings of the Universal House of Justice more in line with the meaning and spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances. Bahai teachings and doctrines exist in the scriptures, and cannot be changed. Bahai practice is a pragmatic practice, in the contingent world, where many factors must be balanced. The Universal House of Justice may make decisions contrary to the spirit or letter of the Bahai Writings, but still be making the right decision for that time and in that case.

Jesus said: “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark: 2:27) Yet the sabbath was not abolished by his saying it.

~~ Sen McGlinn ~~
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19 Responses to “He cannot override …”

  1. Andrew said

    Samuel Tobias Lachs writes (in his book “A Rabbinic Commentary on the New Testament”) that the complete rabbinic statement is, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath, so that man is the lord over the Sabbath.” Happy Sharaf.

  2. Sen said

    In an email discussion, this response from the Universal House of Justice was noted:

    Although the Guardian, in relation to his fellow members within the
    Universal House of Justice, cannot override the decision of the majority,
    it is inconceivable that the other members would ignore any objection he
    raised in the course of consultation or pass legislation contrary to what
    he expressed as being in harmony with the spirit of the Cause. It is,
    after all, the final act of judgement delivered by the Universal House of
    Justice that is vouchsafed infallibility, not any views expressed in the
    course of the process of enactment.”
    (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 157)

    The problems with this are:

    (a) it still means that if the Guardian is not actually there, the
    House can make decisions not in harmony with the spirit of the Cause.

    and

    (b) the Guardian specifically says that it is an enactment, not a view expressed in the course of consultation, which the Guardian can ask to be reconsidered but cannot override.

    Not only does the UHJ’s argument not take us forward, it does not really address the Guardian’s actual words.

    Implicit in the UHJ’s argument is the supposition that, if the House was to pass legislation contrary to what the Guardian regarded as the spirit of the Cause, that would be a “failing” and against “infallibility.” But the Guardian’s own words show us this is not how *he* regarded the question. He seems quite confortable, even firm, in stating the UHJ can make an enactment (not entertain a proposal) that conflicts with the meaning and departs from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s writings.

    The reason why the Guardian is comfortable with this, in my view, is that the Guardian’s work as interpreter is in the sphere of the ideal, while the UHJ’s works is contingent and applied. Conditions may require, and the guidance of Baha’u’llah and the Bab to the UHJ may tell them, that something not in accordance with the spirit or letter of the teachings is nevertheless required. An example of an enactment contrary to a root principle of the Cause, from an earlier era, is the policy of pre-publication review, of which the Guardian writes:

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

    Does this mean there was a “conflict” between Abdu’l-Baha (who introduced the policy) and Baha’u’llah? Not at all, but it still remains true that freedom of expression is a basic Bahai principle, even if it is not one we fully practice today. The contingent realm is always on the path towards the ideal: it may never be possible for the Bahai community to fully embody all of Baha’u’llah’s teachings, but we keep the ideal before us even as we live in the contingent.

    In such cases, if the Guardian was present, he would be in a position to
    continually urge the desirability of closer adherence to principle. In his
    absence, the consciences of the members will have to do this, so far as
    they may be aware of the principle concerned

  3. Sen said

    Another comment to be noted is from Paul Lample, in Revelation and Social Reality, page 254, note 119

    A separate but related issue is whether the Universal House of Justice is infallible without having a living Guardian as member: This matter was clarified many years ago by the Universal House of Justice. (See Messages: 1963-1986, pp. 50-58, 83-90 and 156-61). Nevertheless, the erroneous perspective that the House of Justice requires the presence of the Guardian continues to resurface, especially in arguments initiated by Covenant-breakers.

    This error is fueled by a misreading of the statement of Shoghi Effendi that the Guardian “cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow-members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances? (The World Order Baha’u’llah, p. 150.) It is argued that this clause means that without the Guardian, the House of Justice might make a decision that conflicts with the meaning or departs from the spirit of the Text. Yet, a careful reading of the entire passage makes it obvious that far from implying that the Universal House of Justice may make an error without the Guardian present to direct its deliberations, in fact, the opposite is true. The passage explains that even if the Guardian were to raise a point for reconsideration, nevertheless, the final word is left to the body of the Universal House of Justice. “He [the Guardian] cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow-members’ “He can never, even temporarily, assume the right of exclusive legislation.” As ‘Abdu’l-Baha explains: “That which this body, whether unanimously or by a majority doth carry, that is verily the Truth and the Purpose of God Himself’ (Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 19, emphasis added.)

    The passage from Shoghi Effendi, embedded in the wider context of a description of the nature of the Guardianship, is presented as a limitation on the powers of the Guardian, not as a check on the powers of the Universal House of Justice, whose authority and infallibility are strongly affirmed. It suggests that even if the Guardian as a member were to raise certain concerns, it is the decision of the majority that is the final and infallible conclusion of that Body. Of course, it is impossible to imagine that the members of the House of Justice would fail to take into account the Guardians views. Furthermore, the situation envisioned did not arise nor will it ever arise in practice. Nevertheless. the statement is an indication by Shoghi Effendi that the authority and infallibility of the Universal House of Justice in its sphere of action is incontestable even by the Guardian. How then can any believer, no matter how knowledgeable or insightful, raise any challenge?

  4. Hasan said

    Hi Sen, another example could be the use of unauthenticated quotes in Ruhi books? I am sure the Guardian would be more meticulous about the sources. What do you think of this example?

  5. Sen said

    [expanded and edited]
    Not at all Hasan. Yes, the Guardian was more meticulous about his sources than has been the practice of the UHJ. See https://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/email-archive/three-citations/ on this blog for a 2009 query about the UHJ’s earlier (pre-1999) use of sources. Another example is their 1983 citation of the pilgrim’s note “prayer is conversation with God.” Going further back, if you have Messages 1963-1968, look on page xxv: among the sources used are Abdu’l-Baha in London, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, Paris Talks and Promulgation of Universal Peace, which are not authentic, as they themselves later stated:

    The original of “Some Answered Questions” in Persian is preserved in the Holy Land; its text was read in full and corrected by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá Himself. Unfortunately, ‘Abdu’l-Baha did not read and authenticate all transcripts of His other talks, some of which have been translated into various languages and published. For many of His addresses included in “The Promulgation of Universal Peace” and “Paris Talks”, for example, no original authenticated text has yet been found. However, the Guardian allowed such compilations to continue to be used by the friends. In the future each talk will have to be identified and those which are unauthenticated will have to be clearly distinguished from those which form a part of Baha’i Scripture. This does not mean that the unauthenticated talks will have to cease to be used — merely that the degree of authenticity of every document will have to be known and understood. (23 March 1987) (The Universal House of Justice, 1996 Oct 22, Authentication and Authority)

    From this it is clear that the fact that the Universal House of Justice explicitly uses a text does not mean that the text is authentic. But these are old examples, I would like to think that standards have been raised since then.

    However a quote in a Ruhi book that is not written by the House is not an “enactment” of the House, so not relevant to this paragraph from Shoghi Effendi. A better case for argument (not least because it can be argued both ways), is the endorsement of the Ruhi method for world-wide use, involving as it does the creation of quasi-ecclesiastical class of tutors who are authorized transmitters of the material, a hierarchy coordinating the tutors and producing and selling the books, and a hierarchy of qualifications among the believers. It would be hard to argue that this method is in accordance with the spirit and letter of the teachings, but it could be plausibly argued that, in a contingent world, with the community as it was, with the various resources available, this was the right choice to make at the time. I don’t think so, but I understand the arguments of those who say it was the best that could be done, and that the problems it has caused are due to unintended consequences.

    The idea of training institutes itself goes back to the time of Abdu’l-Baha and was endorsed by him, but without a standard curriculum and with no hierarchy of teachers and supervisors (it was supervised by the LSA where there was one), and no distinction as to who had taken how many courses. That was a system that meshed very well with the practice of individual investigation and the authority of the Assemblies.

  6. James said

    There is nothing in the link you provided to suggest that the UHJ has not been meticulous in its use of sources as you claim. You asked questions and they were adequately answered : “With respect to your questions, you may be assured that the House of Justice does not attribute to the Guardian anything that is not authentic.”

  7. Sen said

    The proper use of sources requires naming them, as a first step.

  8. James said

    Neither the Central Figures, Shoghi Efendi or the UHJ were/are writing academic papers. The Blessed Beauty did not name several of the sources for his quotations. The UHJ is under no obligation to conform to an arbitrary scholarly criteria you or anyone else wishes to impose .

  9. Roland said

    This is the kind of comment one gets from an academic who is not a Bahaí yet insists the UHJ must conform to standards he is accustomed to!

  10. Sen said

    Your window into my soul is interesting: where are the hinges?

  11. Roland said

    If you are replying to me I am not sure what you mean by “window into your soul”. Perhaps you are referring to my statement that you are not a Bahaí? By this I only meant that the UHJ removed you from the membership rolls of the Bahai Community in 2005 so, ipso facto, you are not a member of the Bahi Faith. I apologize fo rnot being more precise as I certainly do not claim to have a window into anyone’s soul. I do agree with James that the UHJ is not answerable to anyone re whether or not it chooses to name a source. The Bahai Faith is a religious organization and its Head is not writing school, university or other essays requiring it to conform to norms common in academic circles.

  12. Sen said

    Thanks for the correction Roland. Yes, I was responding to your claim that I am not a Bahai.

    Being a Bahai is a matter of belief and putting it into practice in one’s life. A ‘believer’ who is not also a disciple — in whatever way they express that — would be a contradiction in terms. I am a believer and a disciple of the Bahai teachings, a follower of Baha’u’llah’s path.

    This is quite different to being on the voting lists of the community, which is an administrative matter. Chinese Bahais for example are not on any voting list, the Bahais of the heroic age didn’t even have voting lists, and some Bahais for personal or family reasons may choose not to enroll, or later ask for their names to be removed from the list.

    In a letter to Mirza Abu’l Fadl, Abdu’l-Baha writes :
    “O ye beloved of the Lord! The Cause of God hath never had
    any place for denouncing others as infidel or profligate, nor
    hath it allowed anyone to humiliate or belittle another. Contend
    and wrangle not with any man, and seek ye not the abasement of
    any soul. Disparage not anyone’s name, and wish no harm upon
    anyone. Defile not your tongues with calumny, and engage ye not
    in backbiting. Lift not the veil from the doings of others, and
    so long as a person professeth to be steadfast, remonstrate not
    with him, nor expose him.

    Let not these very words be a pretext for dispute and
    contention. Through your constancy and steadfastness destroy the
    edifice of vacillation, and by your faithful adherence and
    scrupulous observance, strengthen the foundations of the Cause of
    God. Leave the people of negligence unto themselves and refer
    them for judgement to the Lord of the Covenant and Testament.”
    (as quoted in a letter from the World Centre secretariat, 18 April 2001, transmitted by email to Mr. Ron House. Australia).

    Since I’ve quoted my source, you can check it, and thus gain objective knowledge. “By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor.” (Baha’u’llah, Arabic Hidden Words, in Shoghi Effendi’s 1954 revised translation.)

  13. Roland said

    Sen, I would never claim to be able to determine an individual’s relationship with Baha’ú’llah: only He can do that. However we should not conflate removal from the voting lists with disenrolment from membership as a Bahai by the UHJ. Any NSA can revoke voting rights for a variety of reasons including flagrant acts of immorality. I don’t know of more than a half dozen or so cases (perhaps you can enlighten me) since 1963 in which the UHJ has removed someone from membership in the Faith it has done with you (https://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/about/about-dissenrolment/) . There have been people who believed in Baha’u’llah but could not accept Abdu’l Baha as Head of the Faith. Others could accept him but not Shoghi Effendi as Guardian. Others all except the UHJ. So your disenrolment cannot in any way be comparable to the voting lists as with Chinese Bahaís ( there is a completely different reason for that).

    It is interesting that you mention quoting your own source so I can check it almost as if you cannot resists taking a jab at the UHJ re your criticism in this thread: ” The proper use of sources requires naming them, as a first step”. It is this consistent pattern of challenging Shoghi Effendi and the UHJ which seems to be a major issue for you. However, as I said, I merely point out these objective facts and leave each soul’s relationship with the Blessed Beauty as a matter between Him and them. But simply declaring belief in Him and Abdu’l Baha is not enough. One must also unreservedly accept the authority of the Guardian and UHJ.

    “The sacred and youthful branch, the Guardian of the Cause of God, as well as the Universal House of Justice, to be universally elected and established, are both under the care and protection of the Abhá Beauty, under the shelter and unerring guidance of the Exalted One (may my life be offered up for them both). Whatsoever they decide is of God.” https://www.bahai.org/beliefs/essential-relationships/administrative-order/articles-resources/from-will-testament-abdul-baha

  14. Sen said

    Agreed Roland: I conflated recognized membership of the community with voting lists. These are two different things, since one can be a member but have voting rights removed. For ‘voting list’ in my previous comment, please read “enrollment in the community.” And yes, those who cannot enroll because there is no organised community, or who chose not to enroll because of family or other reasons, are different at an existential level to those who are disenrolled or whose initial enrollment is refused. However the effect is the same: there are Bahais, who are not enrolled.

    I do indeed unreservedly accept the authority of the Guardian and UHJ, each in its own sphere: “The interpretation of the Guardian, functioning within his own sphere, is as authoritative and binding as the enactments of the International House of Justice, whose exclusive right and prerogative is to pronounce upon and deliver the final judgment on such laws and ordinances as Bahá’u’lláh has not expressly revealed.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 149). Which takes us back to “He cannot override” and the post above.

    I also think it’s important that we as Bahais should distinguish between authentic and inauthentic quotes, and between good translations and bad translations. If you look around this blog, you will see that a good portion of the content is about tracking down sources, only to find, quite frequently, that a saying attributed to one of the central figures or to Shoghi Effendi is actually from somebody else, or has been changed in transmission, or is from an oral account, i.e., a pilgrim’s note. What can I say, this is what I do. My badge says “to serve and correct,” and I genuinely believe these are not two different things: correcting misattributions is a form of service to the community. Some examples are here : https://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/tag/bahai-lore/

    With respect to your last quote, from the Will and Testament, I think it’s risky to read the Will and Testament without Shoghi Effendi’s interpretation of it, in ‘The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah,’ published in the World Order letters. The section around page 150 of WOB, part of which is discussed in the posting above, turns the simple and absolute “Whatsoever they decide is of God” into a constitutional system of distinct and delimited authorities, each needing the other to be itself. I am not saying that there has to be a living Guardian for the system to be valid, nor I am saying that consulting the Guardian’s writings is a good enough substitute. What I’m saying is that the very fact that the Will & Testament gives us two institutions means that each must have its sphere, which gives each a delimited authority and — paradoxically — allows each to be free to do its job. If the Guardian could legislate, his interpretations would automatically have legal effect and he would be constrained in explaining matters by the fact that their legal effect might not be timely. Vice versa, if the decisions of the House of Justice had doctrinal authority, every enactment they made would bind the successors — since the Bahai teachings should not change — and they would be unable to make necessary decisions that do not fully comply with the Bahai teachings.

  15. hasanelias said

    Almost all differences with Sen are ad hominem attacks, and very few come from argumentation. However, even if you consider him a Bahá’í or not, the best way to learn and dialogue is to analyse the arguments, not the person.
    It is impossible to know the hearts of people, and every time we attack someone we are hurting that person, and hurting someone’s heart is totally forbidden in the Bahá’í faith.
    Sen, Bahá’í or non-Bahá’í (I consider him a Bahá’í from the heart) has done and continues to do incalculable services to the faith and to the area of Bahá’í studies. From his meticulous analysis of Bahá’í writings, history and apologetics, many other Bahá’ís and Bahá’í scholars have learned and continuous learning.
    As with any other Bahá’í or non-Bahá’í, scholar or non-scholar, one always has to take his words with precaution and corroborate with the source of the writings themselves. Nobody is perfect, so do not be fanatic and remember what the Íqán says about the words of people: “until he ceases to regard the words and deeds of mortal men as a standard for the true understanding and recognition of God and His Prophets.”

  16. Sen said

    Thank you Hasan. Readers may not be aware of your contributions to Bahai Studies in Spanish, so I will mention them here. ~ Sen

  17. Roland said

    An attack is defined as “an instance of fierce public criticism or opposition.” It is very different from disagreeing with someone. Could you kindly point out which of my comments have been “ad hominem attacks? You also say almost all differences with Sen are ad hominem attacks. I don’t know how you quantify that as I have written many comments disagreeing with Sen based not on attacks on him but on logical arguments based on texts. I have also read numerous comments from others which are also in this category. Sen himself welcomes these discussions as he has commented on his blog that they provide quick feedback unlike academic journals. In this thread, you will note that as soon as Sen queried whether I could “read his soul” I immediately clarified my statement that what I meant was merely his disenrollment by the UHJ and nothing more. My purpose in doing so was not to cause him any hurt which I sensed in his query so quickly and categorically disavowed. Most of the comments I have read here consist of polite disagreements which are backed by references to facts and the use of logical arguments. I think you have to be very careful not to hurt others hearts by accusing them of making only ad hominem attacks on Sen as it seems that you might have not read what they have written carefully enough before rushing to judgement. I do agree with you that we should try our best not to hurt another person’s feelings. It is possible that you are not accustomed to the thrust and parry of the clash of differing opinions and therefore assume that anyone who disagrees is attacking. I suggest you carefully read what is written before making sweeping accusations about ad hominem attacks which can hurt the feelings of others. I was not aware of your contributions to BahaiStudies in Spanish. I just found some references in Google. Although I have not read your work I would like to express my great appreciation for your efforts and to wish you great success!

  18. Sen said

    Roland, you wrote : “This is the kind of comment one gets from an academic who is not a Bahaí yet insists the UHJ must conform to standards he is accustomed to!”
    ( https://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/2008/12/30/cannot-overide/#comment-134365 )

    That is ad hominem argument: whether it is an “attack” is beside the point. It is a logically invalid argument, since a good argument or a substantiated fact is good or factual regardless of who transmits it. Ad hominem’s are not just invalid in formal logic, in a discussion they invalidate the voice of the person who uses them, because while ostensibly being a comment about the target, they actually tell the listeners what kind of person the speaker is. In this case, someone who thinks that “academic” is a pejorative term and the opinions of non-Bahais have less weight than those of Bahais. A prejudiced person, lacking in fair-mindedness.

    I do not hold any academic position, have never had one and don’t seek one. But that’s beside the point : if someone says “that’s the kind of comment you’d expect from a Muslim” you don’t start by explaining that you’re actually a Sikh. That’s pandering to the prejudice, which should be addressed first and foremost.

    In a talk by Peter Khan at the Bahai Studies conference in San Francisco, 13 August 2006, he says :
    “You find in the two compilations to which I have referred, that the Guardian has described in some of his writings to the reciprocal, mutually reinforcing relationship between secular knowledge and insight into the Bahá’í teachings. There are instances where he refers to the fact that study of subjects such as sociology, history, economics and the like – and I think they’re no more than examples – provides insight into the Bahá’í teachings. And then there are other passages where he describes the exact reciprocal relationship: he says that study of the Bahá’í teachings provides insight into the secular disciplines of history, economics, sociology, and the like. Far beyond the concern about education weakening one’s faith is the fact that if it is pursued in an appropriate manner by believers who are strongly rooted in their religion, far from weakening their faith it reinforces it.” ( https://bahai-library.com/khan_education_scholarship_civilization )
    That’s been my experience too: academic study deepens understanding and — as a result — strengthens faith. Not least by pointing out the weak planks!

    The standards for authenticity used in academia and in the Bahai teachings are closely aligned: they are objective criteria that enable every reader to check for authenticity. Abdu’l-Baha writes,

    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)

    And Shoghi Effendi remarks:

    I have insistently urged the believers of the West to regard such statements as merely personal impressions of the sayings of their Master, and 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, 5)

    I don’t see any difference between these, and the standards my PhD supervisor sets: find the source in the original language, then check its chain of transmission.

  19. Roland said

    Sen, Thanks for pointing out that I made an ad hominem argument. I readily concede it. Interestingly enough I was thinking recently that I really need to learn more about fallacious arguments and how to avoid and/or minimize them. This is because I began reading Ian Kluge’s Logical Errors in Four Atheist Authors: Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Dennett and realized that I had never heard of those fallacies. I Googled ad hominem and fallacies and found that there are more than 220. So it is time I began learning more. If scholars of the stature of the four authors Kluge critiques can make so man fallacious arguments then it is something we all need to learn to avoid to improve our reasoning skills and therefore engage in more positive and constructive dialogue. You also made a very good point by citing the quotation from Peter Khan. I wholeheartedly agree. I think what bothered me about Hasan’s comment was the “almost all” differences with you being based on ad hominem “attacks”. I still maintain that this is far two sweeping a generalization which is as faulty in its own way as ad hominem arguments. I have read many comments here and in my view they are exchanges of ideas and facts in which the differences with your views are not, ipso facto, ad hominem and/or ad hominem “attacks”. Of course, some are ad hominem and in those cases they are totally unjustified.

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