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Entry by troops (time to be announced)

Posted by Sen on February 17, 2009

It has been my experience that Bahais often become discouraged as a result of having unrealistic expectations of what is called entry by troops (EBT) and large scale conversion. I would like to look again at what the Bahai scriptures say about this, and at how Shoghi Effendi conceived the historical process of growth. The little that the scriptures say suggests to me that its importance has been over-rated, and that the time-frame of entry by troops, its nature, and how the Bahais can bring it about have all been misunderstood. From my reading of the world and of the scriptures, I suggest that we should not now be greatly preoccupied with entry by troops or large scale conversion: a concern with the needs of the age we live in, and the needs of our Bahai communities today, will indicate healthier, locally-specific priorities which – ironically – will be more conducive to actual ‘growth’ in every sense. We will start by briefly looking back over the last two generations.

uhjbuildingHigh hopes

Almost since its inception, the Universal House of Justice has put a high priority on achieving entry by troops, and has had high hopes that it is imminent. In its Ridvan message for 1964, the Universal House of Justice says: 1964

We begin this Plan with a tremendous momentum, exemplified… by the beginning, in several countries, of that entry by troops into the Cause of God prophesied by ‘Abdu’l-Baha and so eagerly anticipated by Him.

and in the Ridvan message for 1965:ladybirdjohnson63_69

Almost universally there is a sense of an impending breakthrough in large-scale conversion. … entry into the Cause by troops has been a fact in some areas for a number of years. But greater things are ahead. … Destiny is carrying us to this climax

A decade later, in 1977, in a letter to an individual, the Universal House of Justice wrote: “As mankind passes through the darkest phase of its history, the Baha’i community will have to face not only entry by troops, which it is now experiencing, but, before too long, mass conversion.”

Skipping forward twenty-odd years, in a letter dated 27 December 1985, the Universal House of Justice wrote, “Surely the time cannot be long delayed when we must deal universally with that entry by troops foretold by the Master as a prelude to mass conversion;” and in its 1986 Ridvan message it says,

The stage is set for universal, rapid and massive growth of the Cause of God; … nearly half a million new believers have already been reported. The names of such far-flung places as India and Liberia, Bolivia and Bangladesh, Taiwan and Peru, the Philippines and Haiti leap to the fore as we contemplate the accumulating evidences of the entry by troops …

A year later, in the 1990 Ridvan message:barbarabush

Over the last two years, almost one million souls entered the Cause. The increasing instances of entry by troops in different places contributed to that growth, drawing attention to Shoghi Effendi’s vision which shapes our perception of glorious future possibilities in the teaching field. For he has asserted that the process of “entry by troops of peoples of divers nations and races into the Baha’i world…will be the prelude to that long-awaited hour when a mass conversion … will suddenly revolutionize the fortunes of the Faith, … and reinforce a thousandfold the numerical strength as well as the material power and the spiritual authority of the Faith of Baha’u’llah.” We have every encouragement to believe that large-scale enrolments will expand, involving village after village, town after town, from one country to another..

And further:

Enrolling significant numbers of … [people of capacity] is an indispensable aspect of teaching the masses, … to broaden its base and accelerate the process of entry by troops… there are indications that the Lesser Peace cannot be too far distant

In its 1992 Ridvan message, the Universal House of Justice reported that “more than one and a half million souls entered the Cause during the Six Year Plan.” In October 1993 they wrote: “that entry by troops will soon become an established pattern for the growth of the Faith in country after country.”

nonviolenceThe lesser peace

This Ridvan message for 1990, from which I’ve quoted two extracts above, mentions entry by troops, large scale enrolment and mass conversion on the one hand, and also says “the Lesser Peace cannot be too far distant.” There is a marked similarity between what the Universal House of Justice has said about entry by troops and mass conversion, and what it was saying about the Lesser Peace and unity of nations during the same period.

In the 1992 Ridvan message the Universal House of Justice referred to “the near approach of the Lesser Peace.” At Ridvan in 1995 they said that because of what they could observe:

… we can appreciate more adequately the unfolding reality of the vision projected by Shoghi Effendi when he explained the implications of the raising up of buildings that will constitute the world administrative seat of the Faith of Baha’u’llah. “This vast and irresistible process”, he said, “will synchronize with two no less significant developments .. the establishment of the Lesser Peace and the evolution of Baha’i national and local institutions.” It is a vision which, given the state of the world, compels the completion of the Mount Carmel Projects as scheduled. [i.e., in the year 2000]

In the 1998 Ridvan message they wrote: “Even a cursory survey of the global scene in recent years cannot but lead to observations fraught with special significance for a Baha’i viewer. For one thing, amid the din of a society in turmoil can be discerned an unmistakable trend towards the Lesser Peace.”

bushiraq1It didn’t happen

Eighteen years after the Lesser Peace was pronounced to be not too far distant, it is obvious that it has still not arrived, and obvious to me that it is not even close. Even after the treaties are written and signed, and the institutions of global governance are in place, many years and false starts will go by before all of the people of the world actually enjoy peace and security. I will not see it, and it’s likely that my children will also not see it.

I think there have been three kinds of reasons for this miscalculation of the time scale involved. The first is religious and scriptural. At the most specific level, I have shown in ‘Century’s end‘ and ‘Century of light‘ that the meaning of ‘century’ has been misunderstood, and misapplied to the 20th century of the Gregorian calendar, leading to expectations for the year 2000 that had no basis in the Bahai Writings.

lastjudgementMore generally, the Bahais have been thinking within an eschatological framework derived from Christian and Jewish and Islamic frameworks. In Christian eschatology, we have “every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” (Revelation 1:7) In this picture, there are no ‘other religions’ or even irreligion remaining; God intervenes, zap, every eye sees it, and the righteous are raised – not from the dead, but to positions of authority – while those that opposed them repent and wail.

Islamic eschatology is not so different; the Day of Judgement is a cosmic historic event that everyone participates in, and all humanity is divided into two groups.

Baha’u’llah’s take on this is quite different: the Day of Judgment is whenever the Manifestation of God comes – his being puts a question before us, an issue, and we judge ourselves by the choices we make. Such days of judgment recur in history, and each time they recur, the old religions continue to live alongside the new one, and life goes on. The heavens have been split asunder, the stars have fallen, but not in a literal sense.

This reinterpretation by Baha’u’llah, and his disciples’ difficulty in grasping it, is not new. Jesus said, ‘the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17:21), but the early Christians still wanted to see the Messiah reigning on a throne. Instead of seeing that Christ had reinterpreted the concept of the coming Messiah and the Kingdom, they supposed that the fulfillment was merely delayed. The episodes of prediction and disappointment in the Bahai community, whether it is 1917, 1957, the year 2000 or the imminent but undated Lesser Peace and entry by troops represent the same kind of preference for a satisfyingly worldly sign of being right.jonah42

O hypocrites, you can discern the face of the sky; can you not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; but no sign will be given it, except the sign of the prophet Jonas.
(Matthew 16:3, and 12:39)

A second reason for expectations of the Lesser Peace coming soon has been undue optimism in assessing the state of the world and the readiness of governments to make the treaties and empower the institutions on which the Lesser Peace must be based. The difficulties and the time required have been underestimated, reflecting the Bahai community’s lack of experience with government and world affairs.

Third, it has not been understood that while governments must create the Lesser Peace, they in turn are dependent on the mood and understanding of the masses in their respective countries. There must be widespread propaganda for world peace through world governance, sustained over several generations, expressed in terms that are relevant and understandable to local populations. euborderEducation must be reformed, to remove the stereotypes of the feared or hated “other,” and the historic lies that have been inserted to sustain national sensibilities. Moreover, the masses must see some of the tangible benefits they can expect from further global integration, benefits in terms of peace, prosperity, and wider opportunity and horizons. Barriers to the free movement of people and of ideas must be removed. Even with all of this – which has been largely implemented in the European Union – experience here shows that the popular support for further integration remains tenuous and allows for only incremental steps. This is discouraging, for it means a long long process before humanity can even approach its potential, but it is also an agenda for action. There is a task laid out for us, to suffuse the awareness of human unity and its societal implications throughout the globe.

addingmachineIn practice

If reports of the imminent arrival of the Lesser Peace were premature, the miscalculation in relation to entry by troops has been greater. Forty five years have passed since entry by troops was announced, and large-scale conversion was said to be imminent. Great victories have been reported. What has been the actual numerical outcome?

In a message dated 17 October 1967, the Universal House of Justice announced that the “Baha’i International Community, …now includes at least five million believers.” That is now some 41 years ago. With the high levels of enrollments mentioned above, with the world being so ripe, for so long, for “universal, rapid and massive growth,” the Bahai community today must be gigantic. Yet there do not seem to have been any announcements recently of the numbers of new enrollments world-wide: we have to put together local pictures.

There are some national Baha’i communities that are steady-to-growing: mine in the Netherlands is one. There are some, in New Zealand and Scandanavia for example, that have been shrinking over quite a number of years. There are some for which no reliable data is available: Wikipedia for example says (on 9 February 2009), that there are 2.2 million Bahais in India, and 350,000 in Iran. I bump into Iranian Bahais quite often, but I cannot remember when I last met a Bahai from India. When did you?

One community for which we do have reliable recent figures is the United States. In its Ridvan 2007 Annual Message the National Spiritual Assembly of the USA observes and compares:wilmette

These encouraging indices of spiritual vitality stand in sharp contrast to the persistently low rate of growth of our community. At the present rate, our net growth will approach zero. From 1980 to 1997, the Baha’i community nearly doubled in size (77,000 to 137,000, excluding Iranian immigrants), with significant increases in the rate of retention. The 50 percent drop in enrollments since 1997 means that enrollments are now at the same level they were in the 1960s, when the Baha’i community was a small fraction of its current size. The number of enrollments to date for this year is 872.

This year, withdrawals (369) from Baha’i membership have risen 30 percent”

If we remember that many people do not explicitly leave the community but simply fade away, and that deaths are presumably not counted as withdrawals, this does not look good for the Bahai community there. In fact if one takes into account 369 withdrawals, and the normal mortality in a community of even 100,000, I cannot see how with 872 enrollments the community is even approaching zero net growth. It must be falling quite a bit short of that. emptyloom

In the story of the Emperor’s new clothes, it is the boy who holds no position who dares say that the emperor has no clothes on. With no position, and no desire to have one, let me be the one to say, that the emperor’s magnificent regalia is invisible to my unworthy eyes. I’ve looked, but I cannot see the entry by troops, let alone large-scale conversion. From the scattered information available, it appears to be all sizzle and no steak.

What the Bahai Writings say

shoghi-effendi-sittingThe compilation ‘promoting entry by troops‘ prepared by the Research Department at the Bahai World Centre in 1993, contains little from Shoghi Effendi. This is significant in itself, for we can suppose their search was reasonably exhaustive (although they did miss at least one quote). Evidently what has become a great preoccupation since Shoghi Effendi’s passing, was not such a prominent issue during his life.

What Shoghi Effendi does say is also surprisingly different to what the Universal House of Justice has been saying.

In 1932, in a letter written on Shoghi Effendi’s behalf, we find:

… it is only when the spirit has thoroughly permeated the world that the people will begin to enter the Faith in large numbers. … We are still in the state when only isolated souls are awakened, but soon we shall have the full swing of the seasonnarcissus and the quickening of whole groups and nations into the spiritual life breathed by Baha’u’llah.

In 1936 Shoghi Effendi asks himself:

Must a series of profound convulsions stir and rock the human race ere Baha’u’llah can be enthroned in the hearts and consciences of the masses, ere His undisputed ascendancy is universally recognized, and the noble edifice of His World Order is reared and established?
(The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 201-2)

Two letters written on his behalf in 1944, and one each in 1945 and 1949, warn that people will not respond in large numbers until they see the Bahai teachings in action in the Bahai community. I will quote a fifth such letter on his behalf, from 1951, which is typical of these:

Although tremendous progress has been made in the United States during the last quarter of a century, he [the Guardian] feels that the believers must ever-increasingly become aware of the fact that only to the degree that they mirror forth in their joint lives the exalted standards of the Faith will they attract the masses to the Cause of God.

Far from encouraging a belief in the imminence of entry by troops, these letters seem to be written to people who already believed that entry by troops was imminent, to warn them that it is not going to happen until they have first built communities that embody the Bahai virtues and teachings. There is one other letter, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in October 1953, which seems to be written to somebody who is discouraged at slow growth, and which does hold out a promise of entry by troops, without indicating a time for it:

lowtideThis is the ebb of the tide. The Baha’is know that the tide will turn and come in, after mankind has suffered, with mighty waves of faith and devotion. Then people will enter the Cause of God in troops, and the whole condition will change.

citadel_of_faithIn Citadel of Faith, written in the same year, Shoghi Effendi again holds out the prospect of entry by troops and mass conversion, but in a distant future which cannot yet be even dimly visualised:

This flow [of new believers], moreover, will presage and hasten the advent of the day which, as prophesied by ‘Abdu’l-Baha, will witness the entry by troops of peoples of divers nations and races into the Baha’i world — a day which, viewed in its proper perspective, will be the prelude to that long-awaited hour when a mass conversion on the part of these same nations and races, and as a direct result of a chain of events, momentous and possibly catastrophic in nature and which cannot as yet be even dimly visualized, will suddenly revolutionize the fortunes of the Faith, derange the equilibrium of the world, and reinforce a thousandfold the numerical strength as well as the material power and the spiritual authority of the Faith of Baha’u’llah.

Only a single passage from Shoghi Effendi in the compilation on promoting entry by troops gives a sense of imminent fulfillment. It is from his own hand, one of the messages to America, written in April 1956:

Premonitory signs can already be discerned in far-off regions heralding the approach of the day when troops will flock to its standard, shoghi-effendi-sig1fulfilling the predictions uttered long ago by the Supreme Captain of its forces.

With this one exception, the tone of Shoghi Effendi’s writings is one of the assurance of ultimate, not imminent, triumph, and a sober awareness of the long difficult path ahead as the community develops.

There is one very relevant passage from Shoghi Effendi’s own hand which has been omitted from that compilation on promoting entry by troops, yet it seems to me that it gives us the key to his thinking. It’s in The Promised Day is Come:pdc

Suffice it to say that this consummation will, by its very nature, be a gradual process, and must, as Baha’u’llah has Himself anticipated, lead at first to the establishment of that Lesser Peace … involving the reconstruction of mankind, as the result of the universal recognition of its oneness and wholeness, [This]…will bring in its wake the spiritualization of the masses, consequent to the recognition of the character, and the acknowledgment of the claims, of the Faith of Baha’u’llah — the essential condition to that ultimate fusion of all races, creeds, classes, and nations which must signalize the emergence of His New World Order.

I quoted above a letter from the Guardian’s secretary that said that “only when the spirit has thoroughly permeated the world” will people “begin to enter the Faith in large numbers.” Here the Guardian says that that spiritualization of the masses has two pre-requisites: the universal recognition of the oneness of humanity, and the subsequent establishment of the Lesser Peace. From this it seems clear to me that he envisioned the fruitful time for the spiritualisation of the masses, and then for preparing for the process of entry by troops, will be when the flames of war and antagonism have been stilled, when “the fury of a capricious and militant nationalism will have been transmuted into an abiding consciousness of world citizenship.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 41). In Shoghi Effendi’s vision, entry by troops, and mass conversion, comes at the end of this two-fold process leading to “the unification and spiritualization of the entire human race.” (Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p. 149)

If the Lesser Peace and entry by troops, and mass conversion, are not imminent prospects, this has implications for the orientation of our individual lives as Bahais and for our communities.

In the first place, that our activities and choices must have intrinsic meaning now: they must be good and productive in themselves. We cannot waste our swiftly passing days on matters that will be meaningful if some momentous chain of events should happen. Nor can we live for generation after generation in the expectation that the great reversal is just about to happen.

uganda-mashriqSecond, that our individual and community activities have to be shaped to meet the widely varying needs of the many countries we live in, and their readiness to engage in the reformation of the world and of religion. Growth will come from answering needs and demonstrating the viability of those answers, not from having a large pool of human resources ready to incorporate the masses when they convert.

It is true that a mass dynamic, where it happens, may have more striking effects than the steady growth produced by personal contacts through individual social networks; but it is also true that where ‘entry by troops’ or something like it has happened in Bahai communities in the past, we do not today see large and active Bahai communities as a result; striking as the phenomenon is where it happens, it is not very meaningful. It is also true that since it happens rarely, and in some areas of the world not at all, the global focus on preparation for the process of entry by troops means that much Bahai activity, in most of the world, is misdirected.

shrine-bahaullah1Third, we can reconstruct our personal lives in the light of Shoghi Effendi’s responses to those who looked for mass conversions soon, being “aware of the fact that only to the degree that they mirror forth in their joint lives the exalted standards of the Faith will they attract the masses to the Cause of God.” Not only is there no quick fix coming soon: there is no fix at all unless it begins with our personal lives and character:

Not by the force of numbers, not by the mere exposition of a set of new and noble principles, not by an organized campaign of teaching — no matter how worldwide and elaborate in its character — not even by the staunchness of our faith or the exaltation of our enthusiasm, can we ultimately hope to vindicate in the eyes of a critical and sceptical age the supreme claim of the Abha Revelation. One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendor of those eternal principles proclaimed by Baha’u’llah.
(Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 66)

wilmette1Fourth: the immediate future will be one in which the Bahai community is one small minority among many other religions. We can see in history that the way of God has been to renew religion through a new religion, not to suddenly pull the plug on old religions:

Such hath been the way of God … and no change canst thou find in the way of God.” (Quran 33:62; 48:23)

I’ve written more on this in ‘the future of religions.’

These multiple religious communities will have to work together to achieve the spiritualisation of the masses, and will have to work in support of governments, whose responsibility it is to establish the treaties and institutions of the Lesser Peace. Becoming a trusted partner with other communities will be an important priority for the Bahai community, and running intensive programmes to convert their flocks is probably not the most helpful way to start.
One implication of a pluralist future is that the Bahais’ task of understanding Islam, and presenting Islam in an unbiased way in the West so as to counter anti-islamic prejudice, will continue for long into the future. More generally, it implies the need for scholars and thinkers who can thoughtfully relate to the issues of society and the way they are expressed in society, which in turn means a need for more bottom-up substantial deepening along the lines of that offered by the Wilmette Institute, rather than a need for a machinery to cope with elementary-level familiarisation for large numbers of new members.

frankfurt-mashriqFifth: that the most important things need not change, outwardly. In a recent message the Universal House of Justice referred to a community centering on the creative Word [which is, in the first place, the Manifestations, and then their scriptures] and engaging in the activities of worship, the study of scriptures and service to society. Such a community does not require the promise of imminent entry by troops to be meaningful: it is meaningful and a goal in itself. The difference is simply between presenting this community as a well-honed instrument designed to act on an object (the prospective converts), and presenting it as our home and a good in itself (which we are of course willing to share). Needless to say, the first of these presentations may be a source of pride for participants, but it is hardly attractive for the potential converts: it is self-defeating.

The idea that communities are built for their intrinsic value and not as instruments is simply the application at the collective level of a principle we are already familiar with in our individual lives: if it is to be acceptable, our service must be purely for God’s sake, not in the expectation of some reward.

We nourish your souls for the sake of God; We seek from you neither recompense nor thanks.” (Quran 76:9)

~~ Sen McGlinn ~~
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7 Responses to “Entry by troops (time to be announced)”

  1. Jay Tyson said

    Just a few quick comments, as I don’t have time to go into detail:
    1) Regarding the growth of the Faith: If you measure growth in terms of the number of time the Faith needs to double in size before it reaches the size of the world’s population, we would need to double 32 to 33 times (2 to the 32nd power is about 4.3 billion; the next doubling would take you to 8.6 billion, i.e. more than the total world’s population at present). If, at present, the Baha’is are 5 million worldwide, that means we have doubled between 22 and 23 times from that original doubling (when Mulla Husayn met the Bab) By that measure, we are about 22/33’rds of the way (or 2/3rds of the way) toward reaching our goal. Of course, later doublings are likely to take more effort than the early ones, but also there comes a point when it is easier for people to accept the Faith once it is no longer seen as being an obscure religion, sect or cult.

    2) As to entry by troops: We had entry by troops in the USA, in the South (especially South Carolina) in the early 1970’s. Unfortunately, we were not prepared to handle it, and many, many people who declared were not re-visited or deepened. We’ve also had entry in large concentrations elsewhere in the world. But are we ready to handle it? That is what the Ruhi system is for–so that we will be ready to handle it, if it should happen in our area.

    3) As to the Lesser Peace, I think a case could be made that this is a gradual process that began as far back as the League of Nations, and was significantly advanced with both the development of the United Nations and the development of nuclear weapons. Since 1945, none of the major powers has fought a traditional, fight-for-your-very survival war. (If they had, you can be sure that they would have used their nuclear weapons.) Also, since the establishment of the UN, wars of aggression have been illegal (US in Iraq not withstanding). The next very significant corner we turned was in 1998 to 2002 with the signing and ratification of the Rome Statute by the required number of nations, to bring into being the International Criminal Court. Although this action has not received huge amounts of coverage (at least in the US), its potential on a historic time scale is enormous. Future historians may well look back on this act as the central turning point in mankind’s efforts to end war between nations–efforts that may span two centuries or more. At the UN now, there are ongoing discussions of the “Responsiblity to Protect” or “R2P”–laying the legal foundation for multinational organizations to intervene in the “internal affairs” of another country when gross violations of human rights are occurring. This represents a major curtailment of the concept of “national sovereignty”.

    Yes, wars continue, but the scale seems to be diminishing, while the scale of the protest against them is increasing. In my father’s generation, hundreds of thousands of Americans died in World War II. In my generation, it was tens of thousands that died in Vietnam. In my children’s generation, thousands have died in Iraq. Perhaps in my grandchildren’s generation it will “only” be hundreds. Yes, we’d all like to see the Lesser Peace appear instantly and effortlessly. Alas, progress is seldom that easy.

  2. On 18 Feb 2009 at 23:11, Jay Tyson wrote:

    > 1) … we have doubled between 22 and 23 times from that original
    > doubling (when Mulla Husayn met the Bab) By that measure, we are about
    > 22/33’rds of the way (or 2/3rds of the way) toward reaching our goal.

    But almost all of that growth was up to about 1970: there have been about 5 million Bahais since then. (The 6 or 7 million reported today includes 2 million Indian Bahais, whereas the real number is probably about 1% of that). The slowdown in growth coincides with a switch from each-one-teach-one, growth through personal contact, to campaigns aiming at mass conversion, door-to-door and street teaching, and the corresponding switch from deepening to training to use the new sales methods, from believers to human resources. Not only did the method change, from what Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi showed us, to what marketing said would work, the kind of growth sought also changed. Our efforts were more and more focussed on achieving the wrong kind of growth, so naturally the growth actually achieved slowed down.

    There are two models of growth in religious communities: the one is through personal networks and proceeds at a maximum of 4% per year. This network growth is the normal pattern, in all religions that seek converts. In retrospect, religious communities write their histories in terms of waves of conversion, but the historical evidence is that this is not how it happens. The theorist on this is Rodney Stark. His wikipedia article says:

    …Christianity grew through gradual individual conversions via social networks of family, friends and colleagues. His main contribution, by comparing documented evidence of Christianity’s spread in the Roman Empire with the LDS church in the 19th and 20th centuries, was to illustrate that a sustained and continuous growth could lead to huge growth within 200 years. This use of ‘ exponential growth’ as a driver to explain the growth of the church without the need for mass conversions (deemed necessary by historians until then) is now widely accepted.

    The 4% is not arbitrary, it is backed by observation and by a modelling of how many people each person has in their network, how many new people per year enter the network, and so on. Stark’s work also holds for the spread of Islam after Muhammad — it was centuries before the conquered populations were even 90% Muslim in most cases — and it holds for movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood: no mass enrollment, just steady growth through social networks.

    This is how the Bahai community too grew for decades – and how it still is growing in some places, such as the Netherlands, where we have a regular 1 – 2 % growth, year in year out, regardless of what the plans and campaigns may be. The exception here was in the 60’s where there was a brief peak of enrollments, which when the rolls were checked a few years later all evaporated: the graph line picked up just where it would have if the long term trend had continued without this peak event. One reason for this I think is that until recently the Dutch Bahais here have pretty much ignored the ‘plans’ and periodic hype: for years there simply was no Teaching Committee, just coordination for travel teachers and support for overseas pioneers. This doesn’t mean that teaching was a low priority here. In an established community, teaching of the sort that Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi showed us doesn’t need a lot of administration or particular expertise.

    The experience of “small troop” enrollements here in the 60’s showed that such events are froth on the top – not meaningful, not something to be sought, and that it is not realistic to expect to retain these people en masse — the best that can be done is to have the right expectations of the enrollees, and of the outcome of such events, so that when they leave, as most will, the Bahais are not too downhearted and (most important) the enrollees leave without any bad feelings, guilt trips, or stories of the weirdness of the Bahai community. Ideally they should remain good ambassadors for the community. Mass enrollments when they happen are a problem to be managed. The good news is that underneath the froth, the normal growth is continuing – at least it was in the Dutch case.

    I said there was another model of growth – not one that Rodney Stark puts a lot of weight on. It does happen that there are mass conversion events, locally, around a charismatic leader with the right message for the time. The early growth of Islam and Christianity, during the lifetime of their founders, is an example. We should not try to emulate that today for obvious reasons. We would have to start with one or a few leaders and endow them with charisma and a cult of personality; it would probably not work and it certainly would not be desirable.

    To some extent a community has to chose between these models of growth, because the insistent seeking for converts actually repels people within the personal network, face-to-face context, and because believers who are expecting conversions to happen as part of a grand historical dynamic are not so busy refining their character and building a community for its own sake. Those that are busy expanding the World Centre to meet the expected flood of world leaders were not busy building local Bahai centres that would give the Bahais a visible local presence.

    > That is what the Ruhi system is for–so that we will be ready to
    > handle it, if it should happen in our area.

    I think it is a waste of one’s life, to do things that might become meaningful, if some event happens. What we do each day should be meaningful for its own sake, in the doing of it.

    There are large parts of the world that are not experiencing EBT and have no prospect of it. To orientate community life throughout the world around the possibility that it might happen, to train people for it in anticipation, is a waste.

    > 3) As to the Lesser Peace, I think a case could be made that this is a
    > gradual process

    Yes, that’s what Shoghi Effendi says. A lot of progress has been made. The idea that it was imminent was fed by optimism and misreading what Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi say about ‘this century’ (see my posting on ‘Century of Light’ ). That has distorted the immediate agenda. Nevertheless world peace is inevitable, although not imminent. A time will come when the nations finally form the machinery for international peace and its enforcement, and that will be the day when the Lesser Peace is established. Unity of Nations, when “all the peoples of the world to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland” will not follow for some time after that. A European consciousness is only now emerging, after 50 years of the European Community and European Union. Gradually the barriers are removed, and gradually people remove their own inner barriers and start to include all of Europe in their horizon of possibilities, and accept that people of other countries can come to their birthplaces to live and work (but not in Britain, this past week!).

    > At the UN now, there are ongoing
    > discussions of the “Responsiblity to Protect” or “R2P”–laying the
    > legal foundation for multinational organizations to intervene in the
    > “internal affairs” of another country when gross violations of human
    > rights are occurring. This represents a major curtailment of the
    > concept of “national sovereignty”.

    Yes, and a very important one. But the national sovereignty principle has still not been abandoned, so there is an internal contradiction. I think that national sovereignty can be replaced by a human rights equivalent: participation in social life including politics is a need of human nature and fosters human dignity, so it is a universal human right. One requirement of meaningful political participation is that one lives in a community (nation) which is in fact able to determine much of its destiny, therefore freedom from external interference is a requirement of human rights. As such it can be directly weighed against other human rights arguments.

    For example, in country X there are human rights violations, not massively fatal, and there are possible conditions for the people to remedy it within the foreseeable future. In that case, the human rights value and collective dignity they gain from solving their problem themselves may outweigh the fact that the violations will continue until the people do sort it out. But in country Y the dictator is young, or has his children / successors lined up and they promise to be as bad or worse; the people have tried once or twice to revolt or overthrow him and have been massively repressed, so that there is no organisation and energy left and no immediate hope that they will find a remedy for themselves. In that case, the human rights value of their potential self-determination may be outweighed by the human rights violations that will continue for a long time, so external intervention can be justified. X might be Zimbabwe, and Y might be Burma, or Iraq under Saddam, but your mileage may differ.

    By swapping the “national sovereignty” principle for national autonomy as a human rights requirement, we can turn a contradiction into a trade-off, where the goal is to maximise the enjoyment of human rights

    ~~ Sen

  3. Jay Tyson said

    Again, I only have a brief time, so will only comment on a couple of points:
    Although the Ruhi program may (or may not) facilitate the rapid growth of the Faith, I see it as having a much broader significance: We are attempting for the first time in human history to build a world religion without clergy. Although clergy have been a source of great problems in religion, they have, undeniably, also be a source of great help to the development of religions. So certain functions need to be continued, only without full time paid people to do them.
    These include: Organizing events for reading of the scriptures, visiting the members of the community to help them in their spiritual development (or to help them in general), organizing ways to facilitate spiritual growth in the children and the youth, and helping people to share the teachings with non-members. These are precisely the functions of the first 6 Ruhi books. So, regardless of whether there is rapid growth or not, these tasks must be carried out routinely. Since we have no clergy to serve as the focal point of doing these tasks, they must be split up among many non-clergy, who will do them in their spare time. This way, we can dispense with the clergy, whose tendency to insist on a particular viewpoint too often led to disunity, factionalism and schism, but still carry on with their essential functions.

    Regarding your comment “But the national sovereignty principle has still not been abandoned, so there is an internal contradiction”: I don’t think the Writing suggest that national sovereignty will ever be abandoned. In World Order of Baha’u’llah, the Guardian only called for the “curtailment of unfettered national sovereignty”. Here in the USA, each state is still considered a “sovereign” state, because it still controls its own internal affairs. The concept of federation implies this–the federal government regulates only the relations between the states (and relations with external states, which, of course will not be needed on a global level, at least not until the Martians arrive!) But before the people in the 13 former colonies agreed to accept this new level of government, they insisted that the federal government must also be given the duty of ensuring basic human rights–even though the violation of those rights might have been an “internal affair” within a state.

    The future world state will no doubt still respect the national sovereignty of each country, in the sense that each country will still control its own internal affairs. But the old concept of sovereignty as “I do whatever I want–I don’t care what you think” or “might makes right” surely must be, and even now is being, curtailed.

    Finally, as to the growth of the Faith, you make some useful points. I have often wondered if, in the long run, one of the most significant factors in the growth of the Faith is that, in a very large percentage of marriages between Baha’is and non-Baha’is, either the couples decide to bring their children up in the more inclusionary religion, which is the Faith, or the children themselves find that the best way to reconcile the differences in the religious backgrounds of their parents is to accept the more inclusionary Faith. Obviously, this is a slow process, but if it continues over many generations, the effect is significant (as long as a significant number of marriages occur between Baha’is and non-Baha’is.)

    As to the statistics of growth, the world is such a large place that it is hard to make any generalizations, particularly since the statistics from National offices have often been out of date and inaccurate. However, as a “Cluster Statistics Officer” for my cluster, I can see that we are now producing much more accurate information in this area. For instance, if we are not sure if there is still a Baha’i at a given address in my cluster, I just hop into my car and drive there to find out–I can get the “facts on the ground”. In some cases, this results in the paring down of the lists (when people have moved, died or withdrawn). If the number of new Baha’is is the same as the paring down, it may look like no growth, when actually there has been growth. Once the transition to locally generated statistics is completed, the paring down will diminish considerably, since the transition from less accurate national data to more accurate local data only occurs once.
    It is my understanding that this cluster-based process of reporting statistics is being implemented worldwide. It is updated at least quarterly.

  4. I agree entirely about the distribution of (some of) the functions of clergy among many people, and among multiple institutions. This is one of Baha’u’llah’s master-strokes, a Very Good Thing in itself, which does not need to be justified by preparing for the process of EBT. I’ve discussed it in House of Justice, House of Worship:

    The move from the undifferentiated church structure to the Bahai model of differentiated organs is analogous to the separation of the legislative, executive and judiciary in civil government, or to the evolution from the medieval village to the differentiated post-modern society, consisting of ‘life-worlds’ such as religion, politics, law, science and commerce. In the village model, individuals have one social status which carries across all spheres of activity, and is derived partly from family status, whereas individuals in a modern society have different statuses and levels of involvement in different spheres. This has had a profound effect on the individualisation of society. The fact that the Bahai religious community (the Bahai Commonwealth) has distinct institutional organs likewise means that the Bahai Faith is a more individualistic religion than Christianity. If we think about Bahai community structures using background assumptions taken from Christian models of what a religious community is, they will lead us profoundly astray.

    Statistics in the Dutch Bahai community were always fairly reliable, because the National Assembly prompted communities to check them out periodically. Local numbers are a key to the allocation of delegates at National convention, so they should be quite realistic. It will be interesting to see what happens if the process you describe is carried out in India. If my guess is right, the answer will be to the order of 20,000 believers (more than 2,000, less than 200,000). If there really are 2 million, they would need 20,000 cluster statistics officers to count them.

    What you say about the direction of inter-religious marriages will be true or more true, where the children’s classes and youth activities in Bahai communities are as good as the alternative. If the Bahai spouse sees that the children’s needs are better served by integrating in the other religious community, the inclusive attitude you mention will work against the Bahai (numerical) growth.

  5. SteveS said

    This is a fascinating website and I am glad that I ran across it.

    As one who was called upon by my District Teaching Committee to consolidate two towns in south Georgia that had been the scenes of mass teaching ‘successes’, I can tell you that there was nothing there but long lists of names and no knowledge of Baha’u’llah, so I am very skeptical of those claims of ‘entry by troops.’

    It is interesting to hear the Ruhi proponents, but my current view of what Bahaism is in America, after being a Baha’i for 38 years, is that Bahai’s in general are not working on mirroring forth much that Baha’u’llah extolls in their own inner lives, that most Baha’is are grossly ignorant of what is in their sacred texts (but they do know of ‘the principles’), and that the Bahai religious experience itself has not grown, developed or matured in the entire time of my Baha’i membership.

    Possibly some Baha’i reading this lives in a community where a worship service is joyously a world away from a mumbled or garbled reading of the texts. If so, please post where this is in the U.S. should I get a chance to visit such.

    Otherwise, keep the discussion going, this makes for great and insightful reading.

  6. Matt said

    Steve, I think this is just the product of our western upbringing. Our religious traditions revolved around the primacy of texts, the importance of words being said in a correct order, etc, expecting that the words themselves would bring down magical powers from heaven. Texts are important, but if we are not feeling any emotions while reading prayers, we can read them all day, 500 times in a row and won’t receive any confirmation whatsoever.

  7. Sarmad said

    To SteveS,

    I’m shocked! For personal reasons I couldn’t attend Feasts and events for some time. My first Feast after that included a selection of badly read-aloud portions of the Texts. I was completely entranced. Here were a diverse group of people, not all of whom were gifted with higher intelligence and verbal skill, gathering together because they had discovered their belief in the new Manifestation of God! Amazing! A miracle! I truly understood that He has been manifested, the trumpet has blown. Surely the rather cynical response you hint at here is purely a matter of personal response. If a person can discover joy in a prison cell – for instance an imprisoned young woman in Iran called Raha wrote a letter from the prison in which she describes just this – then I think we must try harder to discover the joy in our own, not-so-imprisoned, lives. Yes, I frequently have listened to a dull recitation and not ‘felt’ anything, but that’s my problem primarily. We are in this for the long haul, and it will be different in the future.

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