Defending Shoghi Effendi
Posted by Sen on November 22, 2009
This posting begins by discussing a letter written on behalf of the Guardian, which refers to “the Bahai theocracy” as a divinely ordained system, and goes on from there to address the claims that there is ‘a theocratic undercurrent’ in Shoghi Effendi’s writings, or that he contradicted himself, changed his mind or concealed his real views for reasons of prudence. In addition to the few places where Shoghi Effendi speaks directly on the topic, we can look at the Bahai writings he translated, to see what teachings he thought were central and important for the English-speaking Bahais to understand.
The posting continues by looking at the future renaming of the Assemblies as Houses of Justice, and what Shoghi Effendi says about the role of the Universal House of Justice in the Bahai Commonwealth and in a future superstate, which leads to some considerations regarding the role of an established religion, or state religion, in a society. Another section looks at a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi which says that, one day, “the Bahais will be called upon to assume the reins of government,” and at another letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi that speaks of the International Tribunal and Court of Arbitration being merged in the Universal House of Justice.
The anti-Bahai polemicist William Miller, and some pilgrims’ notes recording words that Shoghi Effendi is supposed to have spoken, are further sources of the idea that Shoghi Effendi was inconsistent or even favoured a theocratic system of government.
Finally, I have translated a section of one of Shoghi Effendi’s Persian letters, since it not only refers to “the worldly sovereignty … of the Bahai institutions” but also gives details of the stages of development that Shoghi Effendi anticipated the Bahai Faith passing through, from obscurity to the final flowering of the Bahai Commonwealth. When we’ve cleared away misunderstandings such as these, the World Order of Baha’u’llah looks quite simple, and sensible.
“the Bahai theocracy…”
A comment on this blog asked about a section from a 1949 letter written on behalf of the Guardian:
…. The Baha’i theocracy, on the contrary, is both divinely ordained as a system and, of course, based on the teachings of the Prophet Himself… (Directives from the Guardian 78-9)
Shoghi Effendi uses the word theocracy, but he does not advocate theocratic government for society. In fact, he argues for and expects to see “the formal and complete separation of Church from State.” [see Note 1] The most that can be said is that there are some sections in his writings which, taken out of context, can be used to support a theocratic reading. The letter referring to ‘the Bahai theocracy’ is an example. The Guardian’s secretary says:
What the Guardian was referring to was the Theocratic systems, such as the Catholic Church and the Caliphate, which are not divinely given as systems, but man-made and yet, having partly derived from the teachings of Christ and Muhammad are, in a sense, theocracies. The Baha’i theocracy, on the contrary, is both divinely ordained as a system and, of course, based on the teachings of the Prophet Himself… Theophany is used in the sense of Dispensation…” Directives from the Guardian 78-9, letter dated 1949
It is evident that the secretary is replying to a question, and is explaining a reference in an earlier text by Shoghi Effendi himself. To understand the answer, we need to locate the text being discussed. We can also see that the definition of ‘true theocracy’ here is ‘a system derived from the teachings of a prophet,’ while the Catholic church and the Caliphate are only ‘in a sense’ theocracies thanks to the elements of Christian and Islamic teachings they embody. It is not stated that theocracy is a system of governing a country. While both the Catholic Church and the Caliphate have at times exercised the power of civil government, this was not the case when Shoghi Effendi was writing. The last of the several caliphates that might be referred to here is the caliphate claimed in the late Ottoman empire by the Sultan, according to which he would be the spiritual leader – not ruler – of the world’s Muslims. On the several occasions when Shoghi Effendi refers to the end of the Caliphate in his writings, he is referring to this spiritual caliphate. Its abolition, two years after the abolition of the Sultanate, was a renunciation of the idea of a pan-Islamic union that the Sultans had fostered. So it is clear that the theocracies, including the Bahai theocracy, that the Guardian’s secretary is referring to here are systems of leading and guiding a religious community, they are not systems of government.
If we try to locate the earlier passage from Shoghi Effendi that the secretary is explaining, two possibilities present themselves. The earlier is in his 1934 letter, ‘The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah,’ a letter that is entirely devoted to explaining the principles underlying the Bahai Administrative Order, and in particular the relationship between the hereditary guardianship and the elected Houses of Justice. He says:
The Baha’i Commonwealth of the future, of which this vast Administrative Order is the sole framework, is… not only unique in the entire history of political institutions, but can find no parallel in the annals of any of the world’s recognized religious systems. No form of democratic government; no system of autocracy or of dictatorship, whether monarchical or republican; no intermediary scheme of a purely aristocratic order; nor even any of the recognized types of theocracy, whether it be the Hebrew Commonwealth, or the various Christian ecclesiastical organizations, or the Imamate or the Caliphate in Islam — none of these can be identified or be said to conform with the Administrative Order … (The World Order of Baha’u’llah 152)
The letter continues in this vein for some time (and is well worth reading). It compares and contrasts the Bahai Administrative Order to democracy, autocracy, ecclesiastical government (with the examples of the Papacy and the Imamate), and aristocratic and hereditary government. It is not describing a system of governing a country or a world, but the system of “the Baha’i Commonwealth,” a commonwealth in the sense Gibbon refers to the Christian commonwealth, operating and growing within the pagan Roman Empire, and having control of its own “temporal affairs,” (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chapter 15 section V. The passage refers to the Bahai Commonwealth and ‘The Administrative Order’ and cannot be made to apply to the institutions of the world political order in the commonwealth of nations envisioned by Baha’u’llah and explained by Shoghi Effendi in ‘The Unfoldment of World Civilization’:
The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Baha’u’llah, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded. This commonwealth must, as far as we can visualize it, consist of a world legislature, whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of mankind, ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations, and will enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the life, satisfy the needs and adjust the relationships of all races and peoples. A world executive, backed by an international Force, will carry out the decisions arrived at, and apply the laws enacted by, this world legislature, and will safeguard the organic unity of the whole commonwealth. A world tribunal will adjudicate and deliver its compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise … (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 203)
It’s obvious from the last two quotations that the terms in which Shoghi Effendi describes the Administrative Order (as a theocracy, among other things) are quite different to the terms and institutions he uses in describing the commonwealth of nations. (for more on this, see ‘Two Commonwealths‘ on this blog.)
The second passage that the secretary may have been asked to explain is in Shoghi Effendi’s review of the first century of the Babi and Bahai history, God Passes By (1944). This echoes his earlier statement, more briefly:
The Administrative Order … is … unique in the annals of the world’s religious systems. … Nor is the principle governing its operation similar to that which underlies any system, whether theocratic or otherwise, which the minds of men have devised for the government of human institutions. Neither in theory nor in practice can the Administrative Order of the Faith of Baha’u’llah be said to conform to any type of democratic government, to any system of autocracy, to any purely aristocratic order, or to any of the various theocracies, whether Jewish, Christian or Islamic which mankind has witnessed in the past. (God Passes By 326-327)
These are the only two instances in which Shoghi Effendi uses the word theocracy in connection with the Bahai Faith, and both refer to its internal organisation as a religious community, not to its theories about the organisation of the state. If the question was about one of these passages, the answer must be taken also to apply only to the Bahai Administrative Order, and not to the Bahai teachings concerning the civil government of countries and of the commonwealth of nations.
This Administrative Order can not be transformed later into a government because the Shoghi Effendi had written, just two years earlier, in words that deserve to be repeated, recited and indelibly memorised, that the Bahais must never “allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries.” (World Order of Baha’u’llah 66). This continued to be his position throughout his life. 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 151 in the 1998 edition).
It is hardly surprising that the Administrative Order is described as a theocracy. It is after all the internal order governing a religious community. If theocracy is defined as rule by the institutions of the religious order, any self-governing religious order is by definition theocratic. The Methodists and Quakers are internally theocratic in this sense, since they hope and have faith that the church, as part of the body of Christ, will be guided (through its elected system) by God. This is not the same as ‘theocracy’ in the political sense, which is the kind of government that was attempted in Iran after 1979, a government in which the persons and institutions of the religious order either control or replace the organs of the civil government. In this, which is the usual sense of ‘theocracy,’ the Bahai teachings are decidedly anti-theocratic, since they forbid and condemn this usurpation of the power that God has granted to the Kings and Rulers.
Shoghi Effendi, a theocratic undercurrent?
Despite the absence of any mention of government responsibilities in the passages in which Shoghi Effendi outlines the duties of the Assemblies, some have suggested that “a theocratic undercurrent definitely exists in [Shoghi Effendi’s] writings,” that Shoghi Effendi had ‘loosely theocratic’ views, that the Bahai Writings contain “some contradictions” on this question, that he might have changed his mind in the course of his ministry, or even that Shoghi Effendi actually rejected the separation of Church and State as a basic principle of the World Order Baha’u’llah founded, but did not commit this to writing because it would have been imprudent. The last of these is irrefutable, because it contains within itself a reason why there can be no evidence to support it.
There is no solid evidence to support the idea of a theocratic undercurrent in Shoghi Effendi’s writings, and everything we know about Shoghi Effendi tells us that he was not inconsistent or careless.
It is perhaps redundant to say that theocratic rule has never been an official Bahai teaching (see the compilation on Church and State under the ‘compilations’ tag above), but there have always been some Bahais, at least in 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, and in recent decades they have looked particularly to Shoghi Effendi’s writings. However theocratic ideas became current among Bahais long before the time of Shoghi Effendi. His statements cited above are part of his attempt to stem a tradition of theocratic thought which had begun around 1900, principally in the American Bahai community, at first because converts brought in their baggage Christian expectations of the theocratic rule of Christ and the saints, in the end times, and because Kheiralla taught theocratic ideas. These admixtures of Christian themes were reinforced, in two footnotes in the early editions of Some Answered Questions, by the equation of the House of Justice with the Universal Tribunal, were confirmed by the publication of books and articles in which Bahai authors assumed an ultimately theocratic design or innocently used the word ‘theocracy’ to refer to a godly society, were then embodied with some inconsistencies in some pilgrim’s notes, and compounded by the interpolation of theocratic ideas into at least two reports of Abdu’l-Baha’s talks, in Paris Talks [PDF here] and in The Promulgation of Universal Peace.
Shoghi Effendi’s direct statements that “The Administrative Order is not a governmental or civic body” and that the Bahais must never “allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries,” should be read in this context: he is arguing against views then widely current among his Bahai readers, and refuting critics of the Bahai Faith such as Samuel Wilson in Bahaism and its Claims (1915).
In addition to the few passages in which Shoghi Effendi says in his own words that the Bahai Administration is not, and must not be allowed to become, a government, we can see his views through the window of his translations and explication of the words of Baha’u’llah. In 1935, Shoghi Effendi 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:
CII. Give a hearing ear, O people, to that which I, in truth, say unto you. The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath ever regarded, and will continue to regard, the hearts of men as His own, His exclusive possession. All else, whether pertaining to land or sea, whether riches or glory, He hath bequeathed unto the Kings and rulers of the earth. From the beginning that hath no beginning the ensign proclaiming the words “He doeth whatsoever He willeth” hath been unfurled in all its splendor before His Manifestation. What mankind needeth in this day is obedience unto them that are in authority, and a faithful adherence to the cord of wisdom. 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 from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, 206-7)
CXV. The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath bestowed the government of the earth upon the kings. To none is given the right to act in any manner that would run counter to the considered views of them who are in authority. That which He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men’s hearts; and of these the loved ones of Him Who is the Sovereign Truth are, in this Day, as the keys. (Gleanings 241)
CXXVIII. Dispute not with any one concerning the things of this world and its affairs, for God hath abandoned them to such as have set their affection upon them. Out of the whole world He hath chosen for Himself the hearts of men–hearts which the hosts of revelation and of utterance can subdue. (Gleanings 279)
CXXXIX: “..your Lord hath committed the world and the cities thereof to the care of the kings of the earth, and made them the emblems of His own power, by virtue of the sovereignty He hath chosen to bestow upon them. He hath refused to reserve for Himself any share whatever of this world’s dominion.” (Gleanings 304)
Other examples are found in sections LIV, LVI, CV, CX, CXII, CXIV, CXVII CXVIII, and CXIX of Gleanings. There is no doubt from this, that Shoghi Effendi thoroughly understood Baha’u’llah’s political thought and wished the Bahais in the West to understand it as well.
Moreover, 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.” Shoghi Effendi is not talking about monarchy as a particular form of government, but about ‘kingship’ as a symbol for civil government in any form. He precedes his compilation with a quotation from Baha’u’llah: “One of the signs of the maturity of the world is that no one will accept to bear the weight of kingship. Kingship will remain with none willing to bear alone its weight.” When ‘kingship’ is borne collectively, it is constitutional rule in some form. Moreover the first selection in Shoghi Effendi’s compilation on the topic is from 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.’
Caesar is not a King, in the literal sense, since the position was not hereditary: rather ‘Caesar’ and ‘kingship’ are being used as metonyms for worldly government, which includes monarchs and sovereigns, but also other forms of worldly government.
Finally one can point to Shoghi Effendi’s translations of the Iqan in 1931, and Epistle to the Son of the Wolf in 1941. The second part of the Iqan is devoted to the theme of the two sovereignties, spiritual and temporal, while the Epistle to the Son of the Wolf includes the reference to Caesar cited above.
So the ideas that Shoghi Effendi changed the Bahai teachings to incorporate a theocratic rule by the Houses of Justice, that he harboured loosely theocratic notions in private, or changed his mind on the issue in the course of his life, are untenable. Taking his own statements and his translation and exposition together, we see that he was trying throughout his life to educate the Western Bahais, in opposition to a variety of theocratic notions that were held by some in the Bahai community.
The world’s future superstate
One of the passages that has been cited as evidence that Shoghi Effendi harboured theocratic ambitions is in the first of Shoghi Effendi’s World Order letters, written in February 1929 and published in The World Order of Baha’u’llah pages 6-7. The background to this is a book published in 1929 by Ruth White, Is the Bahai Organization the Enemy of the Bahai Religion?. As you can tell from the title, Ruth White was in conflict with the Bahai Administration and with Shoghi Effendi. She had among things claimed that the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha was forged (see Mitchell’s mistake). White’s view, which was marginal or even unique to her, was that the elected Spiritual Assemblies were for mission purposes and had no authority to govern the Bahai community, while the Houses of Justice were an entirely different institution of worldly government. The distinction hinged on the two different names used for the institution. In response, Shoghi Effendi wrote:
That the Spiritual Assemblies of today will be replaced in time by the Houses of Justice, and are to all intents and purposes identical and not separate bodies, is abundantly confirmed by ‘Abdu’l-Baha Himself. … For reasons which are not difficult to discover, it has been found advisable to bestow upon the elected representatives of Baha’i communities throughout the world the temporary appellation of Spiritual Assemblies, a term which, as the position and aims of the Baha’i Faith are better understood and more fully recognized, will gradually be superseded by the permanent and more appropriate designation of House of Justice. (World Order of Baha’u’llah, 6)
For Shoghi Effendi, the two institutions are ‘to all intents and purposes identical,’ and the name will be changed back to House of Justice when the Bahai Faith is better understood – not when there is some change in the institution itself!
The reasons for the temporary change of name are “not difficult to discover.” The change was made in a letter from Abdu’l-Baha to one of the local spiritual assemblies in America, which had been published at the beginning of Volume 1 of Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha (3rd edition in 1919) and would have been very familiar to the members of the National Spiritual Assembly to whom this latter was addressed. Abdu’l-Baha writes:
The signature of that meeting should be the Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality) and the wisdom therein is that hereafter the government should not infer from the term “House of Justice” that a court is signified, that it is connected with political affairs, or that at any time it will interfere with governmental affairs.
Hereafter, enemies will be many. They would use this subject as a cause for disturbing the mind of the government and confusing the thoughts of the public. The intention was to make known that by the term Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality), that Gathering has not the least connection with material matters, and that its whole aim and consultation is confined to matters connected with spiritual affairs. This was also instructed (performed) in all Persia. (Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, 5)
After pointing to Abdu’l-Baha’s tablet changing the name of the House of Justice so that its non-political character would be clearer, and having demonstrated that the House of Justice and the Spiritual Assembly are one and the same thing, Shoghi Effendi looks towards the future, to demonstrate (against Ruth White’s claims) that the Bahai Faith can and would be organised:
Not only will the present-day Spiritual Assemblies be styled differently in future, but they will be enabled also to add to their present functions those powers, duties, and prerogatives necessitated by the recognition of the Faith of Baha’u’llah … as the State Religion of an independent and Sovereign Power. And as the Baha’i Faith permeates the masses of the peoples of East and West, and its truth is embraced by the majority of the peoples of a number of the Sovereign States of the world, will the Universal House of Justice attain the plenitude of its power, and exercise as the supreme organ of the Baha’i Commonwealth all the rights, the duties, and responsibilities incumbent upon the world’s future superstate. [The World Order of Baha’u’llah 6: punctuation has been altered to match Shoghi Effendi’s manuscript (Bahai National Archives, Wilmette)]
The original tablet of Abdu’l-Baha concerning the name of the institution, to which Shoghi Effendi points, provides a framework within which we can understand what powers, duties, prerogatives and responsibilities Shoghi Effendi does envision the House of Justice exercising. He says that the Bahai Faith will be recognized as “the State Religion” of at least one country, and there are similar references in The Advent of Divine Justice page 14 and in God Passes By, Chapter 24. So we need to be clear that the establishment of religion does not mean theocratic government, or even non-separation.
Establishment is a constitutional agreement between the state and one or more religious organizations to place the relationship between them on a long-term footing, and thus beyond the vagaries of day-to- day politics. Establishment is only possible if the church and the state are two separate and distinct institutions, so that they can recognize and affirm one-another. Establishment does not necessarily mean a greater political role for religion, and the disestablishment of religion does not mean that religion is confined to the private sphere. Religion plays a more visibly intrusive role in American politics today than it does in either England or Denmark, both of which have established churches. While establishment may privilege one religious group over others, it does not necessarily do so: England and Denmark do not discriminate between citizens on the basis of religion. Nor is establishment necessarily limited to a single church or religion. The Belgian state, for example, has such a relationship with six religious organisations, including state funding for church and mosque personnel. In a pluralist society the state could invite several religious communities to provide representatives for a consultative body such as the House of Lords, or for regular forums with the leaders of the political parties.
Finally, establishment does not in itself say anything about the religious quality of the state: the state may regard religious institutions in a purely pragmatic fashion as a means of inculcating desirable ethics and providing necessary social services, or the state may constitutionally commit itself to follow religious teachings. Shoghi Effendi presents these as successive stages in the relationship, when he refers to “the stage of establishment” being followed by “the emergence of the Baha’i state itself.” (Messages to the Baha’i World 155). In Roman history too, we can see a considerable gap between the establishment of Christianity and the Christianization of the Roman state, and also that the latter is not achieved once-for-all.
Having set aside what establishment does not mean, or does not necessarily mean, we are left with a minimal definition. The establishment of religion requires only that there be a constitutional understanding between a state and one or more religious institutions: it is a contract between government and religion as partners.
In the first sentence of the passage we are considering, the Bahai Faith attains the stage of becoming “the State Religion” in a country and as a result adds additional “powers, duties, and prerogatives.” What those might be depends on the terms of the establishment and the nature of the government. They could include the power of solemnizing marriages and divorces, the duties of burying unclaimed bodies of no known religious affiliation and providing chaplain’s services, in prisons and the armed forces, to those of no religious affiliation, the prerogative of having seats in the House of Lords alongside the Bishops, or reading prayers at the opening of Parliament.
The second sentence reads:
And as the Baha’i Faith permeates the masses of the peoples of East and West, and its truth is embraced by the majority of the peoples of a number of the Sovereign States of the world, will the Universal House of Justice attain the plenitude of its power, and exercise as the supreme organ of the Baha’i Commonwealth all the rights, the duties, and responsibilities incumbent upon the world’s future superstate.
What has changed in the situation envisioned in the second sentence? The Faith has become more widely accepted and the Universal House of Justice has come into being as the supreme institution of a Bahai Commonwealth. Note that it is not the supreme institution of the state, or of the super-state. The process of recognition and establishment has occurred in a number of the Sovereign States of the world, and it will then be incumbent on the world’s future super-state to enable the Universal House of Justice, which is the supreme organ of the Baha’i Commonwealth, to attain to certain rights, duties, and responsibilities. What rights duties and responsibilities? Isn’t the phrase here parallel to the “powers, duties, and prerogatives” of the established religion at the national level? That indicates that Shoghi Effendi expected the superstate first to recognise, and then “establish” (reach an agreement of establishment with) the Universal House of Justice.
If Shoghi Effendi was intending to say that the Bahai administrative institutions should become the governments of nations, the decisive change in the role of the Universal House of Justice would come when one National Spiritual Assembly had become the government in one nation. But what is said is that the Bahai Faith will first become the State Religion of one power and then, as more countries become Bahai States, the Universal House of Justice will come to exercise some function that the superstate is obliged to grant or recognise. One might understand this to be the role of government, but this would be incompatible with the letter of Abdu’l-Baha to which Shoghi Effendi pointed in the preceding paragraph, saying that the House of Justice does not have political or judicial functions. It would also involve an unexplained contradiction because of the different memberships and electoral methods that are set out in the Bahai scriptures for the Universal House of Justice and the institutions of world government. It seems more logical, in the light of the progressive structure of the paragraph, to suppose that Shoghi Effendi expected us to understand that it would be something analogous to the “State Religion.” But there is no term for the state religion of a super-national commonwealth.
I understand Shoghi Effendi to be saying that the Bahai Faith, with its National Houses of Justice or National Assemblies, first becomes the state religion in a number of countries and then the Universal House of Justice has rights, duties, and responsibilities in the world superstate, because it is the supreme organ of the Bahai Commonwealth. Surely these unspecified rights and responsibilities of the Universal House of Justice must be analogous to those of an established religion in a nation.
This is consistent with Shoghi Effendi’s later statement, in 1931, that the Bahais should “be on their guard lest the impression be given to the outside world that the Baha’is are political in their aims and pursuits or interfere in matters that pertain to the political activities of their respective governments.” [note 2]. A year later, in the letter `The Golden Age of the Cause of Baha’u’llah,’ Shoghi Effendi writes:
“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.”
This is very strong: the “much less” construction seems to mean that allowing the Bahai administrative institutions to supersede national governments would be worse than a violation of the national constitution (as indeed it would, for it would violate God’s law as well). It certainly rules out the suggestion that, while the Bahai institutions might not be politically ambitious and are not seditious, they could accept temporal power if it were freely offered to them. As Abdu’l-Baha wrote:
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. (Tablets of the Divine Plan 51)
One more comment is in place, regarding the Guardian’s words: “”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,…” Some have supposed that ‘while’ here indicates a temporary condition, allowing for the possibility that the Bahais, once they have perfected their administration, will violate the provisions of their country’s constitution, or worse. This reading is due simply to a lack of familiarity with English grammar. ‘While’ can be used to link two thing in either a temporal or a logical opposition. For example, ‘While I understand your point, I cannot agree,’ does not mean that when I cease to understand, I will agree.
The reins of government
A letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in 1939 says:
“The Bahais will be called upon to assume the reins of government when they will come to constitute the majority of the population in a given country, and even then their participation in political affairs is bound to be limited in scope unless they obtain a similar majority in some other countries as well.”
(Cited in UHJ letter 27 April 1995, ‘Separation of Church and State’)
This does not say that the Houses of Justice will assume the reins of government, or become any part of the government apparatus: the meaning is that (in a democracy) Bahais as individual citizens will assume the reins of government, when they constitute a majority. The two basic principles are set out in tablets of Abdu’l-Baha. The first is addressed to what we now call a Spiritual Assembly:
The signature of that meeting should be the Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality) and the wisdom therein is that hereafter the government should not infer from the term “House of Justice” that a court is signified, that it is connected with political affairs, or that at any time it will interfere with governmental affairs.
Hereafter, enemies will be many. They would use this subject as a cause for disturbing the mind of the government and confusing the thoughts of the public. The intention was to make known that by the term Spiritual Gathering (House of Spirituality), that Gathering has not the least connection with material matters, and that its whole aim and consultation is confined to matters connected with spiritual affairs. This was also instructed (performed) in all Persia
(Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 5)
So a House of Justice is not a court, not connected with political affairs, not even interfering with governmental affairs. “its whole aim and consultation is confined to matters connected with spiritual affairs.” That tells us the role of Bahai institutions. The second tablet says:
Thou hast asked regarding the political affairs. In the United States it is necessary that the citizens shall take part in elections. This is a necessary matter and no excuse from it is possible. My object in telling the believers that they should not interfere in the affairs of government is this: That they should not make any trouble and that they should not move against the opinion of the government, but obedience to the laws and the administration of the commonwealth is necessary. Now, as the government of America is a republican form of government, it is necessary that all the citizens shall take part in the elections of officers and take part in the affairs of the republic.
(Letter to Thornton Chase, Tablets of Abdúl-Baha Abbas, 342-43)
So we have two principles: (1) that the Houses of Justice or Spiritual Assemblies are not connected with political affairs, and (2) that, in a democratic system, their citizenship in the commonwealth requires Bahais to “take part in the affairs of the republic.” But there is a particular exception to the second of these: at present, individual Bahais’ participation in politics is limited, for the protection of the Bahais in some countries and so as not to give the wrong impression of the Faith. Shoghi Effendi explained this policy in his Naw Ruz message of 1932:
I feel it, therefore, incumbent upon me to stress, now that the time is ripe, the importance of an instruction … which involves the non-participation by the adherents of the Faith of Baha’u’llah, whether in their individual capacities or collectively as local or national Assemblies, in any form of activity that might be interpreted, either directly or indirectly, as an interference in the political affairs of any particular government. … Let them refrain from associating themselves …. with the policies of their governments and the schemes and programs of parties and factions. (Published in The World Order of Baha’u’llah, 63)
These limitations can be lifted to some extent when the Faith is less vulnerable, not just in one country but in a number of countries. At that point, if the Bahais continued to refuse to participate in the political process in democracies, they would be undermining the system of government.
The right, indeed the duty, of individual Bahais to participate in politics does not rest only on a single letter from Abdu’l-Baha. In the Aqdas, Baha’u’llah looks forward to “the king who will arise to aid My Cause in My kingdom, who will detach himself from all else but Me! … All must glorify his name, must reverence his station …, and Shoghi Effendi confirms that the king concerned will not merely aid, but will himself will profess, the Faith (Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, 52). A Bahai ‘King’ (ruler) is obviously a Bahai participating in politics. While he was in Paris, Abdu’l-Baha praised Persian Bahais who held high posts in government and acquitted themselves well. I’ll quote just a few words: I have put a full translation (alongside two pilgrim’s note versions from Star of the West and Paris Talks) in appendix 3 of Church and State and as a pdf on my web site.
… if government officials are religious, naturally that is better, for they are the manifestations of the fear of God. My intent with these words is not that religion should have any business in politics. Religion has absolutely no jurisdiction or involvement in politics. For religion is related to spirits and the conscience while politics is related to the body. Therefore the leaders of religions should not be involved in political matters, but should devote themselves to rectifying the morals of the people. They admonish and excite the desire and appetite for piety. They sustain the morals of the community, they impart spiritual understandings to the souls, and teach the [religious] sciences, but never get involved in political matters. Baha’u’llah commands this. In the Gospels, it is written that you should give Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s. The essence of the matter is this: in Iran the righteous Bahai government officials observe the utmost justice, because they fear the wrath of God and hope for the mercy of God.
So the reason that Shoghi Effendi’s secretary expected the Bahais to assume the reins of government when they are the majority (assuming they live in a democracy) is because they will be “[taking] part in the elections of officers and …. in the affairs of the republic” as Abdu’l-Baha says they should. Naturally when there come to be a large number of Bahais voting and participating in public life, they will be a large portion of the government in every sense of the term. And this participation in politics by individual Bahais, as citizens of their countries, is perfectly compatible with Abdu’l-Baha’s words about political leaders, cited above, and with the Guardian’s similar words regarding the institutions of the Bahai Administration:
“Theirs is not the purpose,… to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their countrýs constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah 66)
Merged in the House of Justice
Another letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi says:
The Universal Court of Arbitration and the International Tribunal are the same. When the Baha’i State will be established they will be merged in the Universal House of Justice.
(17 June 1933, on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer)
The problem is only the words ‘merged in’ – almost any other virtual synonym such as ‘be integrated with’ would be consistent with the Writings, but ‘merge in’ is not, if we understand that as an institutional merger. Let’s suppose for the moment that ‘merging’ means that the tribunal would become redundant and the Universal House of Justice would take over its functions. Note that this would still leave the legislature and executive operating, so the differentiation of the two orders would still be there, but instead of their being complementary and equal in dignity, the Universal House of Justice would now be in a subordinate position, delivering judgements according to laws made by the legislature.
However it is difficult to imagine that merger in that sense can be meant here. Shoghi Effendi includes the supreme tribunal among the machinery of world government which is to be established “once for all” (WOB 202), and the tribunal has a direct charter in the writings of Abdu’l-Baha. If it were to be accidentally lost, we would be obliged to re-establish it. (‘We’ here being ‘the peoples and nations of the earth’ since the task is not given to the Baha’i institutions – see GPB 305).
The same objection applies to the idea one writer has proposed, that the Tribunal should eventually replace the Universal House of Justice. There is no-one, including the Universal House of Justice, with the authority to make such a change in the system designed by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha. Great as the powers of the Universal House of Justice are, they do not extend to abolishing itself, because the Universal House of Justice’s own existence is explicit in the Aqdas. The same applies to the world legislature, and for that matter kings and kingship: the institutions of the Aqdas cannot be abolished.
Nor is a full institutional merger possible. In the first place, the election method for the Tribunal is set out by Abdu’l-Baha and therefore cannot be changed by the Universal House of Justice:
– The Tablet to the Hague provides for national assemblies (parliaments) to elect two or two or three electoral delegates to elect the tribunal, whereas Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi say that the International House of Justice is to be elected directly by the “Secondary House of Justice (i.e., National Spiritual Assemblies) (Bahai Administration 84)
– The Tablet to the Hague limits membership of the electoral college for the Tribunal to “persons who are … well informed concerning international laws and the relations between governments”
– The Tablet to the Hague provides for proportional national representation according to population. While National Spiritual Assemblies of large countries could have more than 9 members, Abdu’l-Baha specifies that the electoral college for the Tribunal consists of only two or three delegates per country.
– The delegates for the election of the tribunal are confirmed by various other bodies who have no right to confirm the election of National Spiritual Assembly members.
– The Supreme Tribunal is to be elected out of this electoral college (remembering they are all experts in international law) whereas the members of the Universal House of Justice are not necessarily chosen from among the delegates at the international convention: every adult (male?) Baha’i is eligible.
Since the electoral methods are laid down in scripture, and the methods are so different that the electoral college for the Tribunal and the International Convention can never be the same, the institutions themselves cannot merge unless the two electoral bodies were miraculously to choose the same people, and keep choosing the same people.
In the second place, the tribunal is clearly given the task of interpreting and applying international law, which is to be made by the international legislature (another body that cannot be united with the Universal House of Justice, since its own electoral methods are again different). The idea of the Universal House of Justice applying laws created by a human government is repugnant, since it would make the Universal House of Justice subordinate.
In the third place, a merger would be contrary to the principle of the separation of the religious and worldly powers, which I have covered in this and previous postings.
In brief, it is clear that a merger between the institutions in the sense defined above is neither possible nor desirable. On the other hand, Shoghi Effendi says that the institutions of the world government, including the Tribunal, are to be sustained by “universal recognition of one God and by its allegiance to one common Revelation” and since the Baha’i state is to function “in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy, the Mother-Book of the Baha’i Revelation” (Messages to the Baha’i World 155; see also (Advent of Divine Justice 15) it must be assumed that, having given its allegiance to the ‘common Revelation’, the world government would also be committed to function in accordance with the Aqdas. And who is to set forth and supplement the laws of the Aqdas for the world government except the Universal House of Justice?
The relationship between the Universal House of Justice and world governments is comparable to the relationship between Baha’u’llah and the kings: he did not tell the kings to give up their thrones, but he did set before them a very high standard of justice and integrity. (The Pope, in contrast, was called on to give up earthly sovereignty). When the institutions of the world government indeed make a formal commitment to function in conformity with the laws and principles of Baha’u’llah, the Universal House of Justice will clearly acquire an integral and institutionalized role in world governance.
So what to make of the words “merge in”? We know that Shoghi Effendi did not generally dictate the letters written on his behalf, and he said that if he had something important to convey he did so in his general letters to the Baha’i world. One of his secretaries warns
Although the secretaries of the Guardian convey his thoughts and instructions and these messages are authoritative, their words are in no sense the same as his, their style certainly not the same, and their authority less, for they use their own terms and not his exact words in conveying his messages. (Unfolding Destiny 260)
So we need not – should not – hang too much on the particular phrase “merged in” in a letter that is not only written by a secretary, but is addressed to an individual. If the apparent meaning is in conflict with the Baha’i principles in general and with Shoghi Effendi’s own words, there is good justification for reading the words in a less usual, but more consistent, manner. (See for example the secretary’s letter discussed at the end of ‘Words of Grace‘ on this blog).
There are other less crucial problems in understanding this letter. The secretary says “When the Baha’i State will be established they will be merged in the Universal House of Justice.” Shoghi Effendi uses ‘Baha’i State’ (ADJ 15; GPB 364; MBW 155) to refer to government at the national level. But the secretary seems to be using Bahai state in some other sense, perhaps meaning the commonwealth of nations, or Baha’u’llah’s World Order, or something else we cannot guess at. In the first sentence, the secretary says that “the Universal Court of Arbitration and the International Tribunal are the same” – which is correct, they are simply different translations of the same term. But in the next sentence they are to be merged. How can two things which are the same thing, merge? Presumably the meaning was either, it (the Tribunal) will be merged with the Universal House of Justice, or they (the Bahai state and the international tribunal) will be merged with the Universal House of Justice. But what the letter says is that they will be merged in the Universal House of Justice – and God knows what that means.
All we can be sure of, is that this is not like the careful and coherent formulations we see in Shoghi Effendi’s own letters, and in those he considered important. In the circumstances, that is not surprising. This letter was written on a day when Shoghi Effendi was grappling with a crisis concerning the legal title to the shrine of the Bab, which had been precipitated by the claims of Covenant-breakers that the Bahai community had no legal existence in Palestine. He was organising an international campaign to persuade the British authorities to formally recognise the Bahai community. A letter about this, written on his behalf on the same day, is published in Messages to the Indian Subcontinent, page 99. A comparison of this, and other letters written on that day on important matters, with the ‘merge’ letter, reveals a wide difference in clarity and coherence. It is hardly credible that they were all produced by the same hand and process.
Polemicists and Pilgrims
The anti-Bahai polemicist William Miller, in The Baha’i Faith: Its history and teachings, page 290, says:
In the Baha’i World 1934-1936 (p. 199) he [Shoghi Effendi] is quoted as saying: “Former faiths inspired hearts and illumined souls … The Faith of Baha’u’llah, likewise renewing man’s spiritual life, will gradually produce the institutions of an ordered society fulfilling not merely the functions of the churches of the past, but also the functions of the civil state. By this manifestation of the Divine Will in a higher degree than in former ages, humanity will emerge from that immature civilization in which church and state are separate, and partake of a true civilization in which spiritual and social principles are at last reconciled as two aspects of one and the same Truth.
This is a mischievious misquotation. The phrase “humanity will emerge from that immature civilization in which church and state are separate and competitive institutions, and partake of a true civilization in which spiritual and social principles are at last reconciled as two aspects of one and the same Truth” appears in a statement issued by the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, dated October 8 1935. It is published in Bahai World vol. 7, page 246, which is available from the Internet Archive. (It is also in Bahai World volume 6 on page 200). Miller has removed the words “and competitive institutions” and then attributed the statement to Shoghi Effendi, to support his claim that the Iranian government had well justified fears of a Bahai takeover (page 291). In fact Shoghi Effendi anticipated “the formal and complete separation of Church from State” [see note 1] specifically in Iran, and eventually everywhere, because this is anticipated in Baha’u’llah’s teachings (see the passages from Gleanings quoted above). Denis MacEoin has levelled the same charge at Shoghi Effendi in two published articles, apparently in the naive supposition that William Miller’s citation is reliable.
John Robarts writes in The Vision of Shoghi Effendi page 174 that “the Baha’i spiritual assemblies will be the local government and the national spiritual assemblies the national government.” He bases himself here on his own shorthand notes of remarks made to him by Shoghi Effendi in 1955, but the words flatly contradict what Shoghi Effendi had written in 1932, in the essay ‘The Golden Age of the Cause of Baha’u’llah’:
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. (The World Order of Baha’u’llah 66)
If Shoghi Effendi indeed said the words that Robarts attributes to him, that would be a remarkable about-face. But Robarts says that his shorthand was slow and “I missed much of what he said.” (Page 172) He claims the Guardian said that “Muhammad left no successor,” which is odd, since the Guardian wrote:
the essential prerequisites of admittance into the Baha’i fold … is [sic] the wholehearted and unqualified acceptance …. of the Prophetic functions of both Muhammad and Jesus Christ, of the legitimacy of the institution of the Imamate, and of the primacy of St. Peter … (The Promised Day is Come, 110)
How could the institution of the Imamate be valid, if Muhammad had left no successor? Surely it is easier to believe that Robarts misunderstood much of what he heard, than that Shoghi Effendi said such things.
Bernard Leach visited Haifa in the previous year, and wrote in a letter:
Here Shoghi Effendi is quietly and persistently laying the foundation of the future, “Most Great Peace”, the inspired Theocracy of the unity and maturity of mankind. He constantly at supper time laid emphasis upon the Administrative Order. He said clearly that the Lesser Peace (prophesied for 1963) would be a political peace instituted by the nations following upon the inevitable and necessary disaster approaching us.
We have seen that Shoghi Effendi does use the term ‘theocracy’ to refer to the internal order of the Bahai community, so this is not improbable. But that Shoghi Effendi would have predicted the Lesser Peace coming in 1963 is not. Nowhere in Shoghi Effendi’s authentic writings do we find dated predictions, and a letter written on his behalf says “There is no statement in the teachings indicating that the Lesser Peace will definitely be established by 1957 or 1963.” (Directives from the Guardian, 69)
Isobel Sabri, who was in Haifa with the Guardian in 1957 records him saying, “The primary function of the Guardian is interpretation, of the Hands protection and propagation, of the Assemblies government.” This is plausible, if the meaning is that the function of the Assemblies is church government. It is not plausible that Shoghi Effendi would have said in private that Assemblies were to be governments when a letter written on his behalf in 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).
Shoghi Effendi’s Persian writings
In several places in his Persian letters, Shoghi Effendi refers to the sovereignty of the Cause of God or the Law of God, and in one place to the sovereignty of Bahai institutions. This section of a letter he wrote in April 1953 gives comfort to the Iranian Bahais during a time of repression, and also throws light on the stages of obscurity, repression, emancipation and recognition, leading to the establishment of the Bahai state and ultimately to the plenitude of the Bahai Commonwealth, which Shoghi Effendi described in a parallel passage in English in May 1953 (Messages to the Baha’i World 1950-57, 155). I have therefore translated it all:
O my friends, you who have offered your lives unstintingly! Be confidently assured that the divine decree is continually and progressively becoming more discernible, in the effects of the momentous events that lie ahead, in the resplendent victories whose first signs are now appearing in the Bahai community, and in the fresh infusions of God’s infallible assistance and the revolutionary changes in the world. In the coming epochs of the formative age, which is the second age in the Bahai dispensation, and in the golden age, which is the third and last age of this first dispensation in this holy cycle, God’s great Cause will pass through the remaining stages in all of the countries and regions that have been illumined by its brilliant lights in this luminous century. The divine promises that have been laid in store in the treasuries of cherished scriptures will all be fulfilled.
The period of obscurity is the first stage in the development of the Bahai community. The second stage is the stage of oppression and repression: the Faith of Baha’u’llah is at present passing through this stage in Iran. Both stages will be completed, and the third stage, which is the stage at which the Dispensation of God is emancipated from the abrogated religions, will be attained. This differentiation itself will precede the hoisting of the standard of the independence of the Faith of God and the establishment and acknowledgement of the rights wrongfully taken from the People of Baha, and their equality with the followers of the recognised religions, in the eyes of world leaders. This independence in turn will smooth the way for the official recognition of the Faith of God and the revelation of a glorious victory, comparable to the triumph and victory that fell to the Christian community in the fourth Christian century, in the reign of Constantine the Great. With the passage of time, official recognition will be transmuted and will lead ultimately to the establishment of divine Sovereignty and the manifestation of the temporal power of the Law-Giver of this great Cause. This divine Sovereignty will eventually result in the foundation and establishment of the worldly sovereignty and the revelation of the splendour of the all-encompassing outward and spiritual dominion of the Bahai institutions, the establishment of the supreme tribunal, and the promulgation of universal peace, which is the seventh and last stage. As Baha’u’llah has written: “these great oppressions that have befallen the world are preparing it for the advent of the Most Great Justice.” (Trans. by Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, 27.) This Most Great Justice is the one and only foundation for the Most Great Peace, and the Most Great Peace is the guarantor of permanent unity between peoples and kindreds, and this permanent unity will reveal to all eyes the sovereignty of the Most Great Name throughout the world. This final stage itself is the prelude to the emergence and efflorescence of true divine civilization, to the world’s attainment to the greatest possible perfection and its transfiguration into a province of the heavens, “attaining to the Garden of Glory” and “Glory to our Lord, the all-Glorious, and Praise be to God, the Exalted. (Tawqi`at-e Mubarakih, Bahai-Verlag 1992, pp 500-504, corresponds to pages 119 to 123 in the 1962 Iranian edition)
For our present purposes the relevant phrase is “the all-encompassing outward and spiritual dominion of the Bahai institutions,” which is followed by “the establishment of the supreme tribunal, and the promulgation of universal peace.” The Supreme Tribunal is mentioned in Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament: “…that all the dwellers on earth may become one people and one race, that the world may become even as one home. Should differences arise, they shall be amicably and conclusively settled by the Supreme Tribunal, that shall include members from all the governments and peoples of the world.” (Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, 13)
The Supreme Tribunal is a political body, whose job is to deliver final judgement on differences that arise between nations. Its name, purpose and membership differ from those of the Universal House of Justice, also named in the Will and Testament. Shoghi Effendi also calls it the ‘world tribunal.’ (WOB 203) So if Shoghi Effendi expects the establishment of the supreme tribunal to accompany and follow the worldly and spiritual dominion of the Bahai institutions, he can hardly have subscribed to that fantastic theory whereby the Bahais and people of good will would work for generations to establish ‘once for all’ the world commonwealth of nations with its world legislature, world executive and world tribunal, only to abolish them to allow the Bahai Administrative Order to supersede mere human governments.
Having defined what “worldly sovereignty,” the “outward … dominion of the Bahai institutions,” and the “temporal power of the Law-Giver” cannot mean, what is meant? What kind of worldly sovereignty and temporal power would leave room for the Tribunal and for Baha’u’llah’s statement that “The one true God … hath bestowed the government of the earth upon the kings.” Baha’u’llah himself explains (and Shoghi Effendi translates):
Consider, how great is the change today! Behold, how many are the Sovereigns who bow the knee before [Muhammad’s] name! How numerous the nations and kingdoms who have sought the shelter of His shadow, who bear allegiance to His Faith, and pride themselves therein!… Such is His earthly sovereignty … (Kitab-e Iqan, 110)
Shoghi Effendi’s two references, to the outward dominion of Bahai institutions, “the establishment of the supreme tribunal” are not contradictory, if we suppose that the institutions’ outward dominion is of the same type (but of a lesser order) as the earthly sovereignty of the Manifestations, and as such is not in competition with the institutions on which Baha’u’llah bestows “the government of the earth.” One is in the religious sphere, the other is political. ‘Sovereignty’ is a concept we are most familiar with in the doctrine of national sovereignty, but the word means holding the highest authority, free from external control: it is not exclusively political in meaning.
There’s a very similar reference, in Shoghi Effendi’s letter for the following Naw Ruz [note 3]. He describes the Bahai world administrative centre in Haifa as “the seat of sovereignty, and of spiritual and temporal dominion, and the highest authority, for the followers of the Cause.” (An observant reader of the Persian will notice that it is not only the ‘seat’ but also ‘the place where the groom lifts the veil of the bride and sees her beauty’ – which is all one word in Persian !).
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: You have heard the various charges against ‘your humble brother,’ Shoghi Effendi. That he introduced the doctrine of theocratic government into Bahai teachings, in contradiction to the clear text of the scriptures that “..your Lord hath committed the world and the cities thereof to the care of the kings of the earth” and Abdu’l-Baha’s confident prediction “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.” That he wavered on this issue, contradicted himself, changed his mind during the course of his ministry, said one thing in Persian and something different in English, or held other views in private than those that he stated in public.
Exonerate Shoghi Effendi – and relieve yourselves of a burden. Reason tells us that theocracies never work, and a state in which people of only one faith are allowed to vote for a government organ whose decisions affect all, can never be equitable in principle, however kind one might hope it would be in practice. The World Order of Baha’u’llah cannot be based on a fundamental inequity.
And if we are clear that the separation of Church and State is a principle that is consistently taught by Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, and applies to the Bahai institutions as much as to non-Bahai ones, we will have much less difficulty in presenting the Bahai World Order model.
It has a basic two-part architecture, the religious and the political spheres, separate and cooperating. In the political sphere there are three arms: the judicial, executive, and legislative. They exist at local and national levels and according to the Guardian will eventually exist at a global level, as part of the commonwealth of nations. This is a civil government: in the Guardian’s descriptions of it there is no mention at all of the Houses of Justice or Assemblies. (see, for example, World Order of Baha’u’llah 203 )
We also have an Administrative Order, which is a government of the religious community, by the religious community, in religious and community matters. This does not separate the judicial, executive, and legislative; rather it separates the liturgical (House of Worship), the doctrinal (the Guardianship) and its extensions for propagation and protection, known collectively as the Learned of Baha, and the ‘legislative’ which is also the religious judiciary (the House of Justice both makes the laws and is the highest court of appeal for Bahais), known collectively as the Rulers of Baha.
All this is simple enough: The world order has two arms, each divided into three organs, giving six core institutions. The Bahai community also has the function of “Head of the Faith’ which was held first by Baha’u’llah, then Abdu’l-Baha, then the Guardian and now by the Universal House of Justice. This position entails “authority” – something like the executive in the civil government. The Guardian is the head and sole member of the doctrinal arm (though he had assistants), and he often refused to “legislate” on matters, saying instead that the future Universal House of Justice would have to decide. Nevertheless, when he gave instructions to NSAs and individuals, they had to be obeyed; yet these instructions did not become part of Bahai law. And now, when the Universal House of Justice gives instructions, they have to be obeyed (yet they do not become part of Bahai doctrine). So instead of three distinct judicial, executive, and legislative arms, as in the commonwealth of nations, in the Bahai Commonwealth we have the House of Worship, the Guardianship and the House of Justice, representing Liturgy, Doctrine and Law, and another function, the executive, which we call “Head of the Faith,” now performed by the Universal House of Justice. The distinction between the Guardian as authorised interpreter of the Bahai Writings, and Shoghi Effendi acting as Head of the Faith at the time, gives us a clearer idea of what was essential to the Guardianship. The tens of thousands of letters from or on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, on minor administrative matters, do not represent the essence of the Guardianship, and by their simple volume they tend to give us an impression of Shoghi Effendi as a prosaic administrative type. That’s a false picture: these prosaic matters fell to him because he was Head of the Faith, but if we want to see who Shoghi Effendi was and what he thought the office of Guardianship entailed, we should look to his books and the general letters he addressed to the Bahai community as a whole.
On the political side of the World Order, nations have heads of state, which may take the form of a monarch, a president, or some other form. The ideal form of government is a constitutional monarchy but that ideal has to embodied in the material actually available in a nation, its history, culture, existing institutions etc. The Head of State may have executive power, as in an American-style presidency, but in the most successful democracies, the executive power is exercised by a cabinet rather than the head of state. (For the reasons why this is most successful, see the Practicalities of Monarchy on this blog).
The six essential organs, and the head of the Faith and head of state, gives us a six-plus-two model of the World Order of Baha’u’llah. If we then read the Bahai Writings, putting each bit into the appropriate box, the Writings are quite clear and not (very) hard to understand. The difficulties Bahais have arise largely from trying to impose preconceived categories on the Writings, and to a lesser extent by the difficulties of the Guardian’s prose, some awkward or bad translations etc., and misunderstandings based on pilgrim’s notes. But if the basic architecture of the model is right, it is all simple and non-contradictory, and that’s how you know that the architecture is ‘right’ — if you try some other model, the Bahai teachings on governance look contradictory and confusing. You might then think that it is Shoghi Effendi who is inconsistent. But that would be wrong. After all, if you interpreted the US constitution on the assumption that the Supreme Court was another name for the legislature, and the House of Representatives was an early stage of the legislature and it would be called the Senate in the Golden Age and they would all eventually be merged somehow in the Supreme Executive – with those sort of assumptions, the constitution would look complicated and contradictory, and rather terrifying, would it not? But this, more or less, is what has happened with previous attempts to outline the structure of Baha’u’llah’s World Order. And such a muddle does not do justice to Shoghi Effendi’s thinking.
Church, State, experts, consensus