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“… a body of learned Bahais”

Posted by Sen on July 15, 2015

Ivan Sakhnenko, The Anatomy Lesson
On a facebook group, one Bahai wrote:
Obviously the House of Justice needs someone w/ an appropriate background to explain the Writings to them.” This was in the context of letters that showed the Universal House of Justice’s understanding of Bahai teachings evolving over time. I will give more details below.

I am sure the suggestion was well meant, but I think it is heading in the wrong direction entirely. However first I will have to explain why the suggestion could be made. The ‘problem’ for the Bahais, is that it is clear from doctrine and practical observation that the Universal House of Justice, the head of the Bahai community, does not always understand the Bahai scriptures correctly. If there was a guarantee that it would always be correct, the Guardianship would have been unnecessary. The Bahais could simply have elected a house of justice, after the death of Abdu’l-Baha. But the understanding of the Universal House of Justice evolves through interaction with the community, and it may at a particular point be incomplete and even incorrect. For example, one message written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice on 29 July 1974 says:

It is true that ‘Abdu’l-Baha made statements linking the establishment of the unity of nations to the twentieth century. For example [in the “7 candles”]: “The fifth candle is the unity of nations — a unity which, in this century, will be securely established, causing all the peoples of the world to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland.

This assumes that “this century” is equivalent to “20th century,” without any basis. It is incorrect, for reasons I have explained elsewhere.

Another letter on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, dated April 15, 1976, states: “Abdu’l-Baha anticipated that the Lesser Peace could be established before the end of the twentieth century.” (cited here). This is again incorrect, since the various texts that make this link are ‘pilgrims notes,” i.e., reports of what an interpreter said Abdu’l-Baha had said. I’ve enumerated these reports in another post.

By 2001, in the light of the great disappointment, the Department of the Secretariat could write

… there is nothing in the authoritative Baha’i Writings to indicate that the Lesser Peace would be established before the end of the twentieth century.” (April 19, on the subject of Unity of Nations and the Lesser Peace).

This demonstrates in actual fact what we would expect from the principles laid down by Shoghi Effendi: the Universal House of Justice is not an authorised interpreter of the Bahai teachings, and can be wrong about them, just as a local or national spiritual assembly may have an incorrect understanding of the Bahai teachings. Since the House of Justice is not an authorised interpreter, we as readers have no permission to take their words as authoritative expositions of Bahai teachings. If we wish to know what the Bahai teachings are, we must turn to the Writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha’s exposition of their implications, and Shoghi Effendi’s interpretations.

Albrecht Leistner Auferstehendes Paar.JPGIn most religious communities, the administrative head of the community is also the authoritative interpreter of its doctrines and scriptures. Bahais, by and large, are aware that this is not the case in the Bahai Faith, but may not have prepared answers to two questions that follow from it.

The first question is, does the fallibility of the Universal House of Justice in this sphere, at a time when there is no living Guardian, reduce its authority? The answer is a decisive no. Shoghi Effendi wrote:

Though the Guardian of the Faith has been made the permanent head of so august a body he can never, even temporarily, assume the right of exclusive legislation. He cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow-members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances. (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 150)

Shoghi Effendi foresees instances in which the Universal House of Justice will pass legislation that conflicts with the meaning or spirit of the Bahai Scriptures, as interpreted by the Guardian, and the Guardian of the time objects – yet the decision of the majority is to prevail. If this is true when a living Guardian has objected, it is certainly true where there is no Guardian. The authority of the enactments of the Universal House of Justice rests on the authority of that body itself, and its being elected in accordance with the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha. It does not depend on being ‘correct’ in relation to anyone’s understanding of the scriptures. If the Guardian cannot override the majority decision on the basis of his interpretation, neither can anyone else.

The second question is, can we do anything about this? This is where this Bahai’s suggestion of an expert advisor comes in (I should say that I am sure he was not thinking of himself as a candidate for this role). Would it be somewhat better if someone, or a group of people, were available to advise the Universal House of Justice? Circle shape, BorisUnlike most other religious communities, in the Bahai Faith those who are elected to leadership do not have to satisfy any qualifications in terms of religious expertise. Nor are they systematically trained after being elected. Could an advisory body reduce the number of bloopers?

Not only is it very doubtful that that effect would be achieved – for experience tells us that the right people usually turn out, in hindsight, to be those who were not consulted – the suggestion is wrong in principle. The Universal House of Justice has addressed this idea directly, in a letter through its Secretariat dated June 3, 1997:

“Some people have put forward the thesis that in place of the Guardian’s function of authoritative interpretation, a check on the Universal House of Justice should be set up, either in the form of the general opinion of the mass of the believers, or in the form of a body of learned Baha’is — preferably those with academic qualifications. …. As to the latter alternative: this would constitute usurpation of a function of the Guardian.

“Scholarship has a high rank in the Cause of God, and the Universal House of Justice continually consults the views of scholars and experts in the course of its work. However, as you appreciate, scholars and experts have no authority over the Institutions of the Cause.”
(The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

This rejects the idea of a body of experts who would have “authority” over the elected institutions, but also mentions that the Universal House of Justice consults scholars and experts. Wellcome L0025092.jpgThat consultative role is, I think, what that facebook poster had in mind: a ‘standard operating procedure’ that would ensure that the Universal House of Justice checked the facts before stating that something is, or is not, ‘in the Writings,’ by double-checking the authenticity of sources, the accuracy of translations, and the plausibility of the interpretations implicit in what the Universal House of Justice intended to tell the community. Could this advisory role be a task for the Centre for the Study of the Sacred Texts?

The reason I think this suggestion is wrong in principle, is that to the extent it worked, it would reinforce the supposition that the Universal House of Justice in some way provides more-or-less authoritative guidance on the meaning of Bahai teachings. The separation of the two spheres of the Guardian, in his role as authorised interpreter of the Bahai teachings, and of the Universal House of Justice, consulting on “those things which have not outwardly been revealed in the Book,” is a distinctive strength of the Bahai Administrative Order. It is as important in its own way as the separation of the legislative, executive and judicial powers in civil government. Those instances in which the Universal House of Justice reveals, in relation to some relatively minor matter, that it is not an authority on the Bahai teachings, can be regarded as providential reminders of the “fundamental difference … between this … divinely-appointed Order and the chief ecclesiastical organizations of the world.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 18). Their effect is not to weaken the authority of the House of Justice, but to reinforce what we all should know, that “the faith of no man can be conditioned by any one except himself.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 143).

Baha’u’llah treats us as adults, and gives us a responsibility to search out the truth for ourselves, using our hearts and minds, in prayer and diligent study, alone and in groups. We cannot shuffle any part of this responsibility onto the shoulders of a new ecclesiastical hierarchy created by pushing the Universal House of Justice into the shoes of the Guardian.


The suggestion that a body of learned Bahais could in some way substitute for the Guardian’s role, by advising the House of Justice about the meanings of Bahai scriptures, should be distinguished from the suggestion put forward by Udo Schaefer, of a body of legal experts to be “involved in the [Bahai] legislative process.” What Schaefer has in mind is a technical, not a theological, body, and the need he sees is not due to the absence of the Guardian, but rather because the drafting of laws and design of legal institutions and procedures is a complex task that requires legal expertise. schaeffer-ethics-1BIn a footnote on page 131 of Volume 1 of his Baha’i Ethics in Light of Scripture, Schaefer writes:

[The Guardian’s] advice that ‘individual cases should be dealt with as they arise, according to the Teachings,’ should surely be interpreted in historical context. In some countries the national communities have now grown so large that a minimum of procedural regulations would appear desirable. Clearly defined and made known universally, this regulation would avoid the arbitrariness that is occasionally observed in assembly decisions. Procedural regulations with minimal legal precautions, such as the right to a legal hearing, arrangements in situations of partiality …, [and] a definition of the rights of believers. … The principle … whereby each case should be judged ‘on its own merits’ is no substitute for this minimum of regulation. That principle is self-evident in the application of material and formal law, but such a framework of legal regulations is precisely what is lacking in the Baha’i community.

Legislation does not materialize in a vacuum. Many issues must be clarified beforehand. Legal theory and legal techniques count among the necessary foundations for any type of legislation. In my opinion, the clarification of legal principles, the development of Baha’i jurisprudence, must precede the laying down of clear and reliable law and has to be conducted by the ‘scholars,’ the ‘learned ones in Baha’ … According to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the ‘learned’ (‘alim) are the ‘focal centre … of the legislative’ (Secret, p. 37). It is inconceivable how the groundwork for legislation by the supreme institution could be prepared without the input of specialists in the law, which also involves knowledge of humanity’s various legal cultures … That the decisions of the ‘ulama’ fi’l-Baha’ in the Bahá’í community are not binding “unless they are endorsed by the Universal House of Justice,” schaefer-apologeticsby no means makes their work superfluous. Rather, this passage would seem to me to indicate that this body of experts should be involved in the legislative process.

In Making the Crooked Straight, p. 183, he says that in preparation for legislation, the “Universal House of Justice needs to inquire into the conditions of all aspects of the matter to be regulated and to know the legal dogmatic implications as of legislation.” The reference is to legal dogma (principles), not to religious dogma, as he explains in a footnote:

Legal dogmatics and legal techniques are among the necessary foundations of any type of legislation. This legal dogmatic groundwork, which is a prerequisite for the clarity and reliability of the law laid dowm, will be conducted by the “scholars” or the “learned ones in Baha'” … who are at ‘the focal centre of the legislative (power) (see Kitab-i-Aqdas [paragraph] 173; Abdu’l-Baha, Secret, p. 37) but whose legal views “have no authority unless they are endorsed by the House of Justice.”

His proposal rests to a significant extent on the Aqdas verse that refers to ‘the learned in Baha,’ and a section in The Secret of Divine Civilization. I will deal with each of these in turn. The Aqdas text he refers to concerns the respect due to the ‘learned in Baha,’

Happy are ye, O ye the learned ones in Baha. By the Lord! Ye are the billows of the Most Mighty Ocean, …. Well is it with him that turneth unto you, and woe betide the froward.

As this verse is not strictly relevant to his argument about the uses of legal expertise, I will simply say that Baha’u’llah, and the Bahai teachings as a whole, are far from anti-clerical. The same term that is translated as “learned” or “scholar” when it refers to the Bahai community, is translated as ‘the divines’ in Christian and Islamic contexts, so that if one reads the Writings in the original languages, there is no doubt that the Bahai Faith does have clerics, divines, scholars, ‘doctors’ (of religion) and the like. Terms such as clerics and divines are avoided by translators, in Bahai contexts, to indicate that the role of these ulama’ is more constrained in the Bahai community, although their station is no less, and they have an important role in the Bahai life. I have collected some of the teachings on this in a compilation on this blog, and Shoghi Effendi has compiled many scriptural references to refute the idea that the Bahai Faith is anticlerical, in The Promised Day is Come, beginning:

DalaiLama-TenzinNor should it be thought for a moment that the followers of Baha’u’llah either seek to degrade or even belittle the rank of the world’s religious leaders, … should their conduct conform to their professions, and be worthy of the position they occupy.

Schaefer’s reference to a body of experts at “the focal centre of the legislative,” in Abdu’l-Baha’s Secret of Divine Civilization, can be addressed along with what I see as a basic error in his approach both to the role of the learned in Baha, and to the question of the scope of the infallibility of the Universal House of Justice. In both cases, he supposes that “legislation” and “legislative” have the same meaning in Bahai literature and in civil and legal literatures. This is incorrect. I have discussed the meaning of “legislative” in Abdu’l-Baha’s vocabulary in Legislative and Executive on this blog, with reference to four places in which Abdu’l-Baha speaks of this pairing, in his Will and Testament, in On the Art of Governance, in A Traveller’s Narrative, and in The Secret of Divine Civilization. These works span Abdu’l-Baha’s lifetime and leave no doubt that when he refers to the “legislative” (tashri`eh) he does not mean a law-making body as distinct from the judiciary and executive, but rather the entire programme of organized religions, to propagate, implement and specify the religious ‘law’ (shari`eh). In each of these texts, this ‘legislative’ is paired with the ‘executive,’ which is the government, including the civil law, the courts, the civil service and armed forces. Legislative and executive, in Abdu’l-Baha’s parlance, corresponds to Church and State in modern political terminology. This much broader meaning of legislative also means that possible roles of the learned as the ‘focal centre … of the legislative’ is broader than he imagines. In my translation, the section of Abdu’l-Baha’s Secret of Divine Civilization to which Schaefer refers reads, “The center of the executive agency is the government, while wise scholars are the point of reference for the propagation of religious law.”

‘Law’ in the context of religious law is quite unlike the civil law: it is a path (shar`) of discipleship, of religious praxis which leads to growing understanding and virtue. What Abdu’l-Baha is advocating, in The Secret of Divine Civilization, is not that experts in jurisprudence should advise the House of Justice on legal dogmatics, but rather (as the following paragraph shows) a learned institution, whose diverse members are proficient in “the sacred Scriptures ….divine and natural philosophy and the fields of study relating to religious law, the arts of government and contemporary scholarship, and … the great deeds of previous nations and peoples” (my translation), to advise the civil government in the broad task of governance.

The role of the learned in the Bahai community, indicated by the Aqdas verse quoted above (“Well is it with him that turneth unto you”) and many similar verses, is something different again to the body of diverse experts that, Abdu’l-Baha suggests, could advise a government. I know of nothing to suggest that the ‘learned of Baha’ have any direct relation to an institution. Rather they relate directly to the believers, and the believers to them:

lamp-of-redundant-guidanceO people of God! Righteous men of learning … are … stars of the heaven of true knowledge. It is essential to treat them with deference. … Happy is he that followeth them. Verily such a soul is numbered in the Book of God, the Lord of the mighty Throne, among those with whom it shall be well. (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, 96-7)

Respect ye the divines and learned amongst you, they whose conduct accords with their professions, …. they are the lamps of guidance unto them that are in the heavens and on the earth. They who disregard and neglect the divines and learned that live amongst them — these have truly changed the favor with which God hath favored them. (The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, 203).

It is personal guidance, not institutional technical advice, that the learned of Baha offer. Quite simply, knowledge of any value is knowledge that can help someone. It may be someone who is missing a bit of knowledge they need, or who is struggling because he or she thinks something is solid when it is mistaken. Critique — when it is well intended and wisely done — is one of the gifts of the learned of Baha.

I will not elaborate on the learned in Baha in the community, since I have explored this further in The knower as servant on this blog. Let me summarise it under the heading “lamps of guidance” and ask who are the lamps of guidance. Who are the learned in Baha? They are not I think the university-trained legal experts whom Schaefer has in mind. Shoghi Effendi defined them in this way:

In this holy cycle the “learned” are, on the one hand, the Hands of the Cause of God, and, on the other, the teachers and diffusers of His teachings who do not rank as Hands, but who have attained an eminent position in the teaching work. … The duties of each of these souls will be determined in the future.
(4 November 1931, translated from the Persian, cited by the Universal House of Justice in a letter ‘Elucidation of the Nature of the Continental Boards of Counselors’ (1972))

‘Teaching’ is not something directed at a non-Bahai with the aim of turning them into a Bahai. That is incompatible with a relationship of genuine fellowship, and it would also mean that if there is no unlucky non-Bahai on hand, a Bahai’s urge and religious duty to ‘teach’ must be frustrated. Bahai ‘teaching’ I suggest covers all forms of guidance, all the ways we can offer what we know to assist others. The learned in Baha, who have an eminent position in the teaching work, are those who have both knowledge and the humility and skills that enable them to use knowledge effectively to help others where they need it. The Bahai teacher is analogous to the dance teacher or the master builder who takes an apprentice: the teacher has been there and done that, and now teaches others to dance the steps and lay the bricks themselves.

I will return soon(ish) with some thoughts on “the general opinion of the mass of the believers,” i.e., the sensus fidei and the consensus fidelium, in Bahai theology.

Short link:

Related content:
Compilation on the learned
Executive and legislative
He cannot override …
The Guardianship and the House of Justice (Opens in Bahai-Library)
What is theology, and what’s it good for ? (2008)
The knower as servant (response to Paul Lample) (2008)
Knowledge: project or process? (2009)

and in the email archive:

Bahai Studies and the academic study of religion
Learned – good and bad
No Clergy?” (2009)
Scholarship and review in the Bahai community (1990)
Scholars in the Bahai Community 1 (1996)
Scholars in the Bahai Community 2 (1996)
Church, State, experts, consensus (Oct. 2009)
Bahai Studies and the academic study of religion” (2010?)
Theologians, the learned and the wise

37 Responses to ““… a body of learned Bahais””

  1. Tony Bristow-stagg said

    I think this may be easy, put the ideas to the Universal House of Justice and let them make the decision.

    In the end 100 percent submission to the decisions of the Universal House of Justice is Required. If one is not happy with the decision it is then the right of the individual to ask for further clarification.

    God bless all Regards Tony

  2. Sen said

    It seems to me the Universal House of Justice has already decided, as I have quoted them: they rejected the idea. It doesn’t hurt to repeat their words, and explore the reasoning behind them.

  3. There is so much work in Sen’s very interesting post and in the several associated with it that I regret not having the time to analyze all contained therein. It seems to me that much hinges on what Baha’is of last century expected vis-a-vis entry by troops and the Lesser Peace and its link with The Promise of World Peace in 1985 – especially in regard to prophecy in 7 Candles of Unity: “a unity which, in this century, will be securely established, causing all the peoples of the world to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland”. Is the claim that the prophecy did not apparently come true a fair enough point to talk of a great disappointment as valid? Maybe I’m overly simplifying things or have it wrong altogether? It’s not my field, but doesn’t all this come down to interpreting for oneself what’s meant by the Master? According to some academics I’ve heard on BBC and NPR etc the latter half of the 20th century, especially post Vietnam, in regard to nations rising up against other nations (nation state openly against nation state) is in fact for most of us now a relatively peaceful era in comparison to all previous times if one considers the number of actual deaths in percentage terms in declared wars and non-proxy conflicts since WW2. Just because horrendous social break down, attempts at a Caliphate (is an Imamate on the cards as Iran’s cash flow kicks in as of yesterday?) and ginormous dislocation are occurring on a Biblical scale – devastating and heart rending as it is – belies not the fact that a lesser peace or political unity or international interdependence is de facto in place since a generation ago. In other words, as the Master’s prophecy states (only future generations BTW will be able to fully assess it) we’ve already been in the Lesser Peace for decades; both words are important and one can interpret Lesser or Peace as one wishes. Moreover, His prophecy is perhaps deliberately ambiguous in that perhaps the unity in question is indeed already “securely established” by virtue of that interdependence, the LN and the UN (perhaps even a future more evolved UN), which have to some degree already united humankind and will increasingly catalyze all the peoples of the world into seeing themselves as world citizens. I mean, the structures came into place in the 20th century (maybe even by1945) if not into full realization as of 2015. For a long time already just about all human beings have already taken that unity on board to some degree, if only as today’s or tomorrow’s UN refugees, more’s the pity, “to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland.”

    I’ve got my doubts about ‘fatherland’ over ‘motherland’ or ‘world’ as in the 7 Candles translation but that’s another story

    Baha’i love. Paul

  4. Sen said

    Certainly the world has become more peaceful, but the Lesser Peace, as defined in the Bahai Writings, is not here, and I fear not even close. The Supreme Tribunal, which ill be a contributing factor in establishing the Lesser Peace” has not been established. The arms reduction which will be its first fruit (Tablet to Queen Victoria) is not yet evident. The great peace conference (“all-inclusive assembly”, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf 30) has not been summoned. The political unification of the earth is still the dream of dreamers (like us). The enforcement of the great Pact by military deterrence, applicable to every country on earth (ESW), is not yet a remote possibility.

    Even more distant is the unity of nations [literally, unity of homeland, or homelandish-unity], which Abdu’l-Baha explains entails that “the peoples of the world … regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland.” (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 32) “Fatherland” in both places in this sentence is watan / وطن which is grammatically masculine, but this does not force the translator to chose a masculine noun in English.

  5. In regard to timing Sen, all the examples that you correctly site are unknown. Who knows what’s gonna happen even in regard to changes initiated by President Obama on the Iranian question which might just be the catalyst for ratcheting up events leading to the Most Great Peace etc. From my frame of reference the great peace conference and the political unification to which you refer can’t come about in full until the the provisos laid down in those same documents by the Master are acted on. Isn’t that fair enough? Your readers no doubt have read in BIC documents that you cite that all of this is a process like boiling the water and that we must be patient and work together to effect its overdue arrival.

    The Bahá’í International Community’s belief that world peace is inevitable is firmly centered in the Bahá’í writings. (see The Promise Of World Peace, paragraphs one and two.) Reassuring as this almighty promise is, true believers are in no way vicariously complacent for we know neither how long the process of achieving a meaningful peace will continue nor all the sufferings it will entail. Moreover, an extract from Peace Among the Nations, a document sanctioned by the Universal House of Justice, indicates unimaginable havoc, universal fermentation and horrendous social upheavals existing within the framework of today’s evolving globalization and world order theory. This global interdependence, known in Bahá’í parlance as the Lesser Peace, Bahá’u’lláh foretold in His tablets admonishing potentates of the nineteenth century to be reconciled with one another in the interests of world peace and of the poor. Never in recorded history has the promise of world peace been attainable. What now then are the catalysts marking the transition from a warlike world to a peaceful one? And what are the opposing forces?

    “Inevitably, the movement heading to world unity must encounter opposing tendencies rooted in stubborn habits of chauvinism and partisanship that refuse to yield to the expectations of a new age. The suffering imposed by such conditions as poverty, war, violence, fanaticism, disease and degradation of the environment to which masses of people are subjected is a consequence of this opposition. Hence, before the peace of nations matures into a comprehensive reality, it must pass through difficult stages, not unlike those experienced by individual nations until their internal consolidation was achieved. But that the process toward peace is far advanced can hardly be denied.”

    Peace Among The Nations, Bahá’í International Community, 20-III-1999.

    Although this topic is not my forte I have composed a copyright and fee free essay titled The Price of World Peace which addresses many issues raised in Sen’s scholarship

    Baha’i love


  6. Eric Pierce said

    the existence of imperialism lite, or neoliberal globalist corporate plutocracy, including the USA’s “military industrial complex”, the fossil fuel industry, corrupt megabanks and similar financial institutions makes any assertion that some kind of “lesser peace” has arrived absurd. the world is replete with corporate imperialism and “terrorism”.

  7. Bad as things are today Eric (lesser in the sense than what is promised in the Most Great Peace when human kind has repented!) consider comparing the evils of 19th century laissez faire capitalism, that you in essence reference and I look at from its birth, with our age of entitlements and the welfare state in which many of today’s poor, particularly in the west, find themselves. I know where I’d sooner be looking for help! China and India are also lifting their people out of poverty. Alternatively, consider the institutionalized slavery prior to President Lincoln vis-a-vis the yet very imperfect situation for minorities and indigines living now in previously colonized countries. I’m ready and willing to listen to contrary views politely argued and backed up with stats or real examples. Baha’i love. Paul

  8. Sen said

    I have little patience with the Jeremiads that are always proclaiming that society is deteriorating and the world is going to hell in a handcar, Paul. Objectively measured, humanity is making progress every generation in very many areas that matter to people’s everyday lives, from security and health to prosperity and intellectual opportunities. The institutions that embody our best selves are becoming ever more capable. At the individual and necessarily subjective level, I am convinced that tolerance and altruism are on the rise. However as compared to the definitions of a “Lesser Peace” and “Unity of Nations” in the Bahai Writings, there is still a long way to go, in the areas of global governance and world-mindedness respectively.

  9. I too avoid the Doom Sayers because I just don’t have time, due to my main work, for gloom and doom and because the future’s so bright we have to wear shades. Horrid and horrible nadirs raise their ugly heads though en route to the brave new world – Nazism, Stalinism etc. On the other hand. it’s important for Baha’i leaders to realize i m o that the horrors of WW2 are just a foretaste of what’s coming and then at long last the real solution can be put in place. “…the crass materialism, which lays excessive and ever increasing emphasis on material well-being, forgetful of those things of the spirit on which alone a sure and stable foundation can be laid for human society. It is this same cancerous materialism, born originally in Europe, carried to excess in the North American continent, contaminating the Asiatic peoples and nations, spreading its ominous tentacles to the borders of Africa, and now invading its very heart, which Bahá’u’lláh in unequivocal and emphatic language denounced in His Writings, comparing it to a devouring flame and regarding it as the chief factor in precipitating the dire ordeals and world-shaking crises which must necessarily involve the burning of cities and the spread of terror and consternation in the hearts of men. Indeed a foretaste of the devastation which this consuming fire will wreak upon the world, and with which it will lay waste the cities of the nations participating in this tragic world engulfing contest has been afforded by the last World War, marking the second stage in the global havoc which humanity, forgetful of its God and heedless of the clear warnings uttered by His appointed Messenger for this day, must, alas, inevitably experience.” Shoghi Effendi Citadel of Faith [1954] p124 Is there any doubt as to a third stage of destruction? Am I overstating the imminent horrors awaiting us before the Most Great Peace begins? Is there some alternative interpretation I’m missing re the Guardian’s prophecy describing WW2 as a foretaste? Is there some reason that the body of learned Baha’is almost never refers to Shoghi Effendi’s explicit and i m o unequivocal warning above?

    Baha’i love


  10. Sen said

    Shoghi Effendi was not gifted with prevision, Paul. That is a supernatural attribute, and “however much he may share with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the right and obligation to interpret the Bahá’í teachings, he remains essentially human.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 151). In the “person of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá the incompatible characteristics of a human nature and superhuman knowledge and perfection have been blended and are completely harmonized,” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 134), but “The Guardian of the Faith must not … be exalted to the rank that will make him a co-sharer with ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the unique position which the Center of the Covenant occupies … So grave a departure from the established tenets of our Faith is nothing short of open blasphemy.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 150)

    Although Shoghi Effendi’s warning might well have come true, it did not, although it was a close run thing. There was no “tragic world engulfing contest” after WWII. This is the two-fold problem of Cassandra: nobody seems to listen, and if they do, disaster is averted. Now we have moved on to other pressing problems that he did not envision, such as climate change and mutating diseases, and the every-present enemy of poverty.

  11. Give the man time Sen. Life can be long and yet they say in the end that it’s the blink of an eye. Climate change, mutating diseases, poverty and a whole other bunch of worse ills all seem to be melding together at this point in history. Internal collapse of the USA and of her satellites, making cities uninhabitable though no outside force has physically invaded, is still on the cards – unfortunately. Biblical type events are occurring in the US and in its Supreme Court at present; that country and these events affect the whole world. The Guardian has a pretty good record recording what’s gonna happen even though one may rightly say he aint no prophet, minor or major. Are there any other paragraphs or predictions etc penned by Shoghi Effendi that we may group with page 124 of Citadel of Faith in your view or is he without prevision only there? “The tragic world engulfing contest” that you think, in this context, never happened is playing out before our eyes as two Goliaths in China and the USA battle for financial control and economic hegemony, i.e. the root cause of what he’s talking about is “the cancer of materialism”, not WW3 or nuclear annihilation. There’s never been a materialistic age like ours and yet each year it gets worse until the prisons over flow and then eventually the Most Great Peace kicks in – imo. Baha’i love. Paul

  12. Sen said

    It’s a general principle, that the Guardian does not have supernatural prevision. I’ve discussed this with examples in an essay ‘The Guardianship and the House of Justice.’

    One early example is given by Ruhiyyeh Khanum, “In order to understand even a little of the effect this [appointment] had on him we must remember that he himself stated on more than one occasion, not only to me, but to others…that he had had no foreknowledge of the existence of the Institution of Guardianship, least of all that he was appointed as Guardian …”

    And even towards the end of his life, he was still anticipating an ongoing line of Guardians. In the World Order letters he anticipates the Guardianship and the House of Justice functioning at the same time.

    A quick glance through Shoghi Effendi’s writings will show a multitude of phrases such as “An exact and thorough comprehension…is for obvious reasons beyond the reach and ken of our finite minds.”, “This commonwealth must, as far as we can visualize it…”,”All we can reasonably venture to attempt is to strive to obtain a glimpse of the first streaks of the promised Dawn..”, “We stand too close to so colossal a Revelation…”, “Not ours, puny mortals that we are, to attempt, at so critical a stage in the long and checkered history of mankind, to arrive at a precise and satisfactory understanding of the steps which must successively lead a bleeding humanity…from its calvary to its ultimate resurrection.”

    I disagree that “each year it gets worse,” and I think that jeremiads about the evils of the day characterise the Faith, in the eyes of the public, as a cult without answers, waiting for the apocalypse to happen, and expecting to be miraculously saved.

  13. Neither A jermiah Nor An Ostrich Be?

    Horace Vernet’s easily Googled 1844 painting of “Jeremiah on the ruins of Jerusalem” got me wondering why our English language along with people aplenty poo poo poor Jeremiah – a major Prophet of God referenced even in Islam and by Abdu’l-Baha. Wikipedia’s understanding is on the mark: “Jeremiah’s sole purpose was to reveal the sins of the people and explain the reason for the impending disaster (destruction by the Babylonian army and captivity)” It’s a no brainer as to why the unrepentant then, now and over centuries, label him one who complains continually and foretells disasters as though the latter is contingent upon the former and vice versa. Given that the story of Cassandra is merely myth it’s only right that no one believe her prophecy:

    My guess Sen is that after forty years serving a Cause you love you are as sad as I at the paucity of interest in the Faith and the fewness of enrolments over the last thirty years; ergo you rack your brains and sweat over copious compositions of quality and yet this consumed generation ignores you, and me, and the whole Baha’i community no matter how we try to down play the doom and gloom that short term must be visited upon humanity for its own cleansing.

    Most of my questions are left unanswered here. So this amateur in my two closing paragraphs will provide the one and only solution as penned by the beloved Guardian whose elucidations eclipse all but the central Figures’.

    But first, that Shoghi Effendi was surprised at his appointment as Guardian in no way diminishes his written forecasts and warnings vis-à-vis America and her satellites passing through a crisis of Biblical proportions. Who for example among pundits galore foresaw a similar scenario, panned out on a lesser stage for the Soviet Union? No one is suggesting that the Guardian was omniscient! In the interests of truth-seeking what must be aired are examples of his supposed mis-sayings as far as his own books or official letters are concerned. Proper consultation will demonstrate the calibre of his penpersonship. Why, for example, in any way dismiss his writing re pending catastrophes when it mirrors Baha’u’llah’s: “The time for the destruction of the world and its people,” Bahá’u’lláh’s prophetic pen has proclaimed, “hath arrived.” “The hour is approaching,” He specifically affirms, “when the most great convulsion will have appeared.” “The promised day is come, the day when tormenting trials will have surged above your heads, and beneath your feet, saying: ‘Taste ye what your hands have wrought!’” Many other examples are found in the Manifestations’ prophecies re disasters, writ big, should one seek to attribute a figurative or merely spiritual interpretation to the last cited.

    From your frame of reference and also from my sense of disappointment re a generational stasis in the Faith your closing paragraph is poignantly understandable but flawed in several ways: “..I think that jeremiads about the evils of the day characterise the Faith, in the eyes of the public, as a cult without answers, waiting for the apocalypse to happen, and expecting to be miraculously saved.” The evils of this day shine un-resplendent in the highest echelons of society; they are alluded to in our recent posts re “… a body of learned Bahais”. Only the prejudiced or those with hidden agendas consider our highly visible and recognized, though largely ignored, Faith, a cult. While I’m personally too busy to dwell on how these catastrophes will pan out some people have and do change because of Baha’u’llah’s warnings surrounding an Apocalypse or a Promised Day. Baha’is are not simply waiting, real Baha’is know the only solution and act on it whether or not others come on board, whether or not Baha’i leaders as individuals are cognizant of it, act on it or consult on it:

    “Humanity, through suffering and turmoil, is swiftly moving on towards its destiny; if we be loiterers, if we fail to play our part surely others will be called upon to take up our task as ministers to the crying needs of this afflicted world. 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 skeptical 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 Bahá’u’lláh.” Shoghi Effendi, “Bahai Administration”.

    [See also ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s China Tablet, final line: “The promotion of the principles of Bahá’u’lláh is the most dominant issue before the believers of God.” and the two final paragraphs of the Foreword to The Promulgation of Universal Peace in which the Master points out (a) his “purpose to set forth in America the fundamental principles of the revelation and teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and (b) the prime virtue vis-a-vis unfoldment and application of the Faith’s principles in the minds, hearts and lives of the people – courage. Three equally famous Bahá’í works that I’m ready, willing and able to list prioritize the fundamental principles lived out by individual believers as THE ONLY CURE.]

    Baha’i love


  14. Sen said

    The “China tablet” is not authentic Paul : see “China China Chinaward” on this blog.

    The words “Upon the day of His arrival in New York He said, “It is my purpose to set forth in America the fundamental principles of the Revelation and Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh. It will then become the duty of the Bahá’ís of this country to give these principles unfoldment and application in the minds, hearts and lives of the people.” are attributed to Abdu’l-Baha by Howard MacNutt, an unreliable source, who does not say where he found them, just that Abdu’l-Baha said this on his arrival in New York. They are in the third paragraph of MacNutt’s Introduction as it is printed in The Bahai World vol.2 p. 219-20). However they are also in the Persian translation of MacNutt’s words, which Abdu’l-Baha approved, although without “this country.”

    I have not found a source for the your statement that “the prime virtue vis-a-vis unfoldment and application of the Faith’s principles in the minds, hearts and lives of the people” is courage.

    However these are quibbles, the important thing is “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 Bahá’u’lláh.” (Shoghi Effendi, letter of September 24, 1924, published in Baha’i Administration, p. 66)

  15. Pim said

    The Guardian does not need to have supernatural prevision in order to forecast humanity’s suffering. Paul seems to me to be closer to the relevant point when he states that the Guardian’s delineation of humanity’s past (as a consequence of rejecting God’s Manifestation for this time), current and future suffering and ordeals “mirrors” Baha’u’llah’s. In other words, Shoghi Effendi in his sphere as the authorized interpreter of the sacred texts is able to understand and forecast what is likely to happen to humanity based on Bahaú’llah and Abdu’l-Baha’s own statements. Indeed, this is precisely what he does in several passages in The Promised Day is Come, The World Order of Bahaú’llah and The Advent of Divine Justice.

    It is important to note that he by no means restricts this delineation to any imminent catastrophe due to war only but specifies that it includes a range of varying types of suffering which is both a punishment for humanity’s rejection of the Manifestation and a purification/preparation for the future spiritualization of the planet. A global financial collapse (narrowly avoided in 2008) could be one of many such scenarios. There is no need for me to cite the references as they are several and should be well known but he does refer as early as the1930s to the spread of terrorism and many other ills now afflicting mankind.

    I do not agree that his references to the Guardianship in the World Order letters are in any way related to an ongoing line of hereditary Guardians. Obviously, he knew that future Guardians had to be lineal descendants according to the provisions of the Master’s will. As he had no children and his relatives had broken the Lesser Covenant there was no one he could appoint so he chose to remain silent. He was certainly not stupid so it is not plausible to read into the World Order letters a reference to hereditary Guardians.

    it seems to me that there is one problematic factor running through Sen’s discussions of both the Guardian’s and House’s alleged failings and flaws re, for example, the prophecies concerning the Lesser peace in the 20th century and the House’s ‘problematic’ situation in the absence of a Guardian to correct its decisions. Please note that even this is a dubious claim if one insists that the Guardian makes mistakes such as with transmuting copper to gold as it follows that he could make mistakes also when correcting the House’s decisions. One cannot have one’s cake and eat it too as the saying goes. This factor is the mystery of Divine tests.

    In the Iqan, Bahaú’llah repeatedly refers to the Prophets and the way in which they test humanity. Re the Lesser Peace, please note that Bahaú’llah cites in the Iqan the example of Noah who repeatedly promised a specific date for the flood and when it did not come to pass the faith of many were shaken. It is these tests which separate the faithful from those who challenge God’s Prophet and those whom He designates as His successor. So there are several aspects re the Master’s references to the Lesser Peace and cessation of the line of hereditary Guardians (clearly anticipated in the Aqdas) which must be viewed in this context. Indeed, another (there are several others I could cite) example is Bahaú’llah’s taking the poison which Mirza Yahya gave Him. Why did He do this since he possessed, like all Manifestations, God’s attribute of Omniscience? One answer I think is to test people.

    I have never gotten the impression that Bahai’s are viewed as being preoccupied with a major apocalyptic event. This may have been true of some Bahais in the West at some stage in the 50s to 70s but there have been for several decades far too many economic and social development projects, initiatives in the arts, business (EBBF), clusters, cooperation with the UN and so on which demonstrate a vibrant global community intensely engaged in the pressing issues of today within the limits of its limited human and other resources.

    Finally, I would suggest Paul that we are still in a fairly early phase of the Faith’s development. We do not have full-time Priests and growth cannot be expected according to our preconceptions. It varies from country to country (mass conversions in some African and Asian countries and slower growth in the West which is blighted by materialism. The workings of divine providence are in any event mysterious. Christianity offers some useful parallels. It was much maligned and persecuted for centuries yet its status changed almost overnight when it was embraced by the Emperor Constantine. God’s ways are not ours and the mysteries which vex the intellect exist for a reason. Tests re firmness in both the Greater and Lesser Covenants are one of them. When he reached the Sea of Grandeur, “The knower straightway flung himself into the waves, but the grammarian was lost in his reasonings.”(Four Valleys, The First Valley).

  16. bias disclosure: I’m an ex-bahai.

    ” I’m ready and willing to listen to contrary views politely argued and backed up with stats or real examples. Baha’i love. Paul”

    Thanks for the offer (discussing the existence, or not, of the “lesser peace”), but it really isn’t the point of this thread.

    The issue, as opposed to your opinions, might be interesting to discuss if the idea that the “lesser peace” had actually come about was still prevalent in the bahai community, and/or if the bahai institutions were still claiming such. Neither is the case as far as I can tell.

    As Sen says, there is fairly obvious evidence (including vast quantities of it from various think tanks, researchers and social theorists) that social conditions are improving in many parts of the world, but not in the manner that I recall bahais (delusionally, IMO) thinking they would leading up to the year 2000.

    My impression from reading social theory, and evolutionary theory, for the last decade or so, is that global capitalism is far less stable than most people think, but there is a mix of bright spots, problems and potentially highly disruptive techno-economic challenges that are looming.

    The bahai writings are not of much use as far as I can tell, other than stating that “someone else” will have to figure out the details of world peace. lol

    The role of religion is to provide meaningful myth structures that create social cooperation. There is ZERO evidence that any kind of planetary culture can be created based on how human culture and DNA developed, we are a tribal species, and scaling tribes up to SuperTribes (“universal civilizations”) is highly problematic, dangerous and an invitation to instability.

  17. Pim said

    One important point re the World Order letters. One should bear in mind that these were written in the 1930s and first published in 1938 only two years after the Guardian’s marriage. So even if one concedes he may have hoped children would have been born from his union with Amatu’l Baha and envisaged living Guardians he could not have known divine providence decreed otherwise. As Hand of the Cause Dr.Giachery once mentioned in a speech, religions have mysteries and the existence of only one Guardian is one of them. The line of Guardians was never guaranteed to last until the end of the 1000 year Bahaí Dispensation. I recall that Baha’ú’llah selected a bride for the Master but then she died. Munirih Khanum took her place. The Virgin Birth, Moses’s stuttering and manslaughter, Noah’s explicit failed promises – all these and many more are among the numerous mysteries with which He Who does what He wills tests His servants and carries out His purpose for humanity’s never ending spiritual progress.

  18. Sen said

    I agree Pim that the Guardian does not have to have supernatural vision forecast what is likely to happen to humanity based on Bahaú’llah and Abdu’l-Baha’s own statements, and his own close study of world affairs and political economy. I made the same point in my essay on the Guardianship and the House of Justice:

    While it is true that he does speak a great deal about the future, for example in Bahá’í Administration, The Goal of a New World Order, The Unfoldment of World Civilization, and The Promised Day is Come, a glance at these will show that they are either (1) collections of hints in the Bahá’í scriptures concerning the shape of the Bahá’í commonwealth, synthesised into masterly visionary outlines, or else, (2) an analysis of the forces underlying past history and of the dynamics of the present, seen in the light of the knowledge of Bahá’u’lláh and projected forward. In the latter case, for example in The Goal of a New World Order, the intention is not to tell the friends what is going to happen, but to teach us to see the underlying dynamics at work. If we shirk this understanding, and treat these writings as tables of coming events, we deprive ourselves of the strength and flexible response which come from understanding, and will find these passages increasingly irrelevant as the events which they predict either occur or are bypassed by the accidents of history.

    Since he is using his mind, and his knowledge, rather than supernatural abilities, not everything he expects to happen, does, and that thing happen which he did not anticipate. And he also ‘grew in understanding’ — his view of the future changed as events developed.

    With respect to the ongoing line of the Guardians, things may be a little more complex than you suppose. Even in 1948, his secretary (possibly Ruhiyyeh Khanum) expected the line to continue, and either Shoghi Effendi agreed, or he allowed that hope to continue. His secretary writes:

    “He feels that if … ponders more deeply about the fundamentals of Divine Revelation, she will also come to understand the Guardianship. Once the mind and heart have grasped the fact that God guides men through a Mouthpiece, a human being, a Prophet, infallible and unerring, it is only a logical projection of this acceptance to also accept the station of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Guardians. The Guardians are the evidence of the maturity of mankind in the sense that at long last men have progressed to the point of having one world, and of needing one world management for human affairs. In the spiritual realm they have also reached the point where God could leave, in human hands (i.e. the Guardians’), guided directly by the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, as the Master states in His Will, the affairs of His Faith for this Dispensation. This is what is meant by ‘this is the day which will not be followed by the night’. In this Dispensation, Divine guidance flows on to us in this world after the Prophet’s ascension, through first the Master, and then the Guardians. If a person can accept Bahá’u’lláh’s function, it should not present any difficulty to them to also accept what He has ordained a divinely guided individual in matters pertaining to His Faith.”
    (From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, November 25, 1948: Bahá’í News, No. 232, p. 8, June 1950)

    and in the following year:

    once a Bahá’í has the profound conviction of the authority from God, vested in the Prophet, passed on to the Master, and by Him, to the Guardians, and which flows out through the Assemblies and creates order based on obedience — once a Baha’i has this, nothing can shake him…. (11 April 1949, on behalf)

    The first of these seems to be confused to the point that I would bracket it out, pending further evidence that it was in fact written on behalf of the Guardian, but the second is prima facie an authentic letter, in line with his own 1934 reference to “future Guardians,” in ‘The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah.” The importance of this is (a) that he did not in fact foresee a matter of great import to the Bahai community, for many years (I know of no indication from him that his expectations changed even in his last years, but he might have changed his views and kept silent) and (b) that this is in accordance with his own comment that “he remains essentially human,” etc.. Fact and theory coincide, so it behooves us to take him quite literally when he speaks of his own limitations.

    I have not said that the Guardian made a mistake in his translation of the Iqan passage on copper turning to God. You can read the post on my blog here. Nor have I said that there is a failing or flaw in the House of Justice or Guardian: each is exactly what it should be. My hope is that Bahais and others will learn to read scripture in a literary rather than literal way. So far as I have a critique to offer, it is directed at literalist impoverishments, and at those who want to make the Bahai central figures and institutions ‘better’ with fanciful exaggerations which, however well-intended they may be, have the unintended effect of undermining the credibility of the Faith as a whole. See my posting “The Supreme Institution” for an example and a discussion of the dangers of exaggeration in a small religious community.

  19. Who knows, Sen, maybe lineal Guardians will serve 850 years hence, perhaps after a new Manifestation of God has arisen and confirmed what Shoghi Effendi and-or his secretaries have written in documents to which you refer. Too many understandings, possibilities and scenarios exist for me to spend much time getting my head around all that for now because we have in place in Haifa a perfect institution i m o which is more than capable of analyzing and explaining what’s what for me about the lineal Guardianship etc. The House’s clarifications on this are more than sufficient for this amateur.

    As to The China Tablet not being authoritative, I agree, but the Secretariat of the Universal House of Justice has importantly explained that many Baha’i books (even more famous than the China Tablet) such as Abdu’l-Baha in London, Paris Talks, Promulgation of Universal Peace etc are not to be taken as word for word authoritative; nevertheless their usefulness is still important and may be studied and used by the friends. I can dig up the exact wording if you wish. And, even the new English rendition of Some Answered Questions is not in the same category as the Farsi original. Conversely, sort of thing, I’m still trying to find out the status of Baha’u’llah and the New Era in its Persian translation???

    Though ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s oft quoted China Tablet (CT) is classified in Bahá’í terminology as Pilgrim Notes and therefore at this time is not considered authoritative its multi-faceted importance stresses the teaching work and repeatedly in that connection highlights the role of the core principles, all of them. (The China Tablet completes a quintet on the specialness of the Bahá’í principles: Seven Candles of Unity (7C), Tablet to The Hague (T2H), Promise of World Peace (PWP) and Promulgation of Universal Peace (PUP)) All of these are famous Baha’i works that are virtually mirroring what the Guardian wrote in Baha’i Admin about the one thing, and only one thing to bring about the triumph of the Cause. The clincher of AB’s closing sentences in CT vis-a-vis those principles applies universally. The prerequisites for teaching and the virtues required of Bahá’í teachers of the Faith in China apply equally in many lands it seems to me.

    The important thing that I’m trying to convey Sam, in referencing the Guardian in Baha’i Administration (p66) and the Master in the China Tablet, and as is confirmed in book after Baha’i book, is the overarching importance of the Faith’s core principles lived by us as individual believers vis-a-vis solving all of the concerns raised in all of your essays.

    This is no peripheral issue or claim! What’s crucially important is for individuals to ask themselves how best to react when a new or as yet under appreciated understanding is revealed. The Guardian’s statement in Baha’i Administration on its own, without the China Tablet adding weight, should suffice in support of what I’ve just said. Nevertheless, much more is available as underpinning given that the famous Baha’i works 7C, T2H, PWP, and PUP are what the Guardian seems to have based such an unequivocal and superlative statement. i.e. “one thing and only one thing…”

    In Falling Into Grace, Justice St. Rain’s chapter titled The Blessing Of Principles wisely explains how accepting and promoting only those Teachings that we like prevents us from realizing the interconnectedness of all the Bahá’í principles. Addressing the question of “the greatest means of progress towards the union of East and West”, elsewhere by the Master assigned to a common language, St. Rain cites from Paris Talks in Abdu’l-Bahá’s similarly titled chapter, The Need For Union Between The Peoples Of The East And West: “The principles of the Teachings of Bahá’u’lláh should be carefully studied, one by one, until they are realized and understood by mind and heart—so will you become strong followers of the light, truly spiritual, heavenly soldiers of God, acquiring and spreading the true civilization in Persia, in Europe, and in the whole world.”

    Abdu’l-Bahá’s Tablet To The Hague and his Seven Candles of Unity were composed about a century ago. What those precious documents share with The Promise of World Peace is a similar accenting of all the fundamental principles of our Faith as the only practical cure for what ails humanity today. Let us dispense the principles with justice or at least let us consult on their unique importance!

    Baha’i love

  20. Sen said

    But perhaps a tribe of tribes is possible Eric: the federal system and the principle of subsidiarity are intended to combine local identities and participation with a broader scope of action to deal with problems that are not local.

    “The role of religion is to provide meaningful myth structures that create social cooperation.” – so said the founders of sociology. It was true once but it cannot be the role of religion in modern or postmodern society, because religious pluralism is here to stay, and because the secularisation of much of social life is here to stay. We don’t have shared myths, and we do not allow our various mythical languages to invade the public discourse on most issues. Religion (and politics, and economy) has to reinvent itself for the postmodern world, and much of the sociology of religion must be discarded, to begin again with actual observations of the role of religion. In a pluralist society religion — seen from a sociological perspective, which may not be same as a participant perspective — serves to cultivate individual and group identity in contrast to the anonymous mass, and to strengthen family and subcultural institutions which produce ethical citizens. See “pluralist society” on this blog.

  21. Hey Sen, thanks for the link to your excellent article on pluralism (which social theorists agree is the central differentiating value in postmodern culture), I missed it when you wrote it, sorry!

    I agree with what you say in the article, but note that you do not address the problem of capitalism as it relates to the state, social cooperation, how virtues are generated in various ways, and religion.

    All forms of capitalism that actually exist are actually “state-capitalism”, more precisely “industrial state-capitalism”. Capitalism as we know it, including neoliberal globalism (imperialism lite), requires robust support from the state.

    Some theorists feel that the only significant structural features that has been added by postmodern culture are networks, and NGOs. Ronfeldt’s TIMN model provides a good, simplified guess, and relates it to military problems such as terrorism, or 4G, 4th generation, warfare.

    Side note: anarchists correctly note that conservatives are incoherent in wishing for “small government” unless they also wish for “small corporations” (not multinational banks and not vertically integrated manufacturing/tech, not small militaries, etc.), which is not likely to happen.

    Religion has both the problem of postmodern pluralism and the problem of modern rationalism to deal with. Both rationalism and pluralism ferociously erode the metaphysics and myth structures of traditional “Axial” religion (contemplative spirituality). Various attempts to fix that problem have been proposed by a variety of religious thinkers from traditional, modern and postmodern perspectives. As well as the newest group, the Holistic, New Age, and “Integral” or “Integrative” (east-west/mind-body nondualists , systems thinkers, consciousness studies types, etc.).

    My impression is that there is a problem in human evolution that limits the possibilities being able to implement (as opposed to “envision”) possibilities for planetary spirituality and culture.

    We were wired as a species by evolution to function biologically, socially and psychologically/spiritually in relatively small kinship groups, clans and tribes with little or no institutional complexity. This is because in a “natural”, nomadic hunting/gathering (or shepherding) mode of existence, which is 99.9% of human history to the end of the ice ages, without settlement, such institutions and the infrastructure they require can’t come into existence.

    Religion and government/politics are almost purely local. Magical, shamanistic religions include a rich set of rituals and beliefs that create cultural “enclosures” (bubbles) that nurtures such primitive culture and confers incredible survival value, via social cooperation and shared learning, absent in most other species.

    At the end of the ice ages, when climate change allowed for the widespread adoption of farming and settlement, settled people faced a number of extremely difficult problems that the tribal paradigm, and magic-nature religion, could not solve. Tribal culture had to scale up into SuperTribal culture. Magic religion evolved into mythic religion in settled communities. Eventually the magic gods became imperial war lord gods and the war gods became one mega war god, and then the mega war god became the god of transcendence. Mythic religion resonated deeply with the archetypes of human consciousness first discovered by magic religion, taking such archetypes to new levels of sophistication.

    The huge flaw in Axial/mythic (SuperTribal) culture was that it required severe limits on the freedom of people in comparison to nomadic cultures. Slavery became far more widespread as settled communities became large empires. Peasant classes were necessary to make the farm economy work productively so that the ruling elites would have the wealth and power to force social cooperation on the slaves and peasant, to organize hierarchical social institutions with their specialized roles/rules, such as militaries and religions. The authoritarian/patriarchal principle became a permanent feature at the core of Axial cultures, and the Divine Feminine was banished or marginalized, with the loss of compassion, altruism, nurturance found in tribes,

    Marx describes the alienation of people in modern unable to directly subsist on the nature for survival, but the problem started earlier in settled cities 3,000 years ago when walls had to be built for defense.

    Despite all the ethical solutions that various philosophers, sages and prophets tried to cook up to tame the harsh realities of Axial SuperTribes, the terrible levels of “law and order” authoritarian control (and imperialist conquest/defense) always seem to create corruption and a cycle of the “rise and fall of civilizations. (Which of course Bahai “progressive revelation” tries to explain within the context of the myth structure, not from the outside, scientifically.)

    So, the problem with Mythic and metaphysical religions is that it originated, and is rooted in, a system of cultural adaptations (politics, economics, hierarchical institutional structure and practices) that it can’t fully transcend, as was explained by Marx, Nietzsche, all so forth – the new conditions of existence created by rationalist culture and individual achievement (the “strive meme”), in seeking to transcend the medieval forms of communal culture, have popped the nurturing bubbles of culture that provided deep meaning and purpose in previous forms of culture.

    The alternative that the Modernists proposed, Rationalism, has proven to have its flaws and limits, as has the Pluralism proposed by postmodernists (and greens and new age spiritual types). The Holistic-integrative thinkers and other Metatheorists of the last several decades (or extending back to Aurobindo and Gebser before WWII) have been groping for post-postmodern solutions, but are just getting started trying to fit ecological science, consciousness studies, systems theory and other newly emergent ways of being aware of human existence together in a coherent manner.

    The tendency toward deconstruction in postmodern pluralism, political correctness, and the glib disregard for tradition are some of the problems that the Metatheorists are concerned with. they seem to be well on the way to creating a new way of describing culture, developmental levels and paradigms that is useful for understanding problems, but not necessarily solving them.

    So, the solutions that the Metatheorists have proposed to solve global crisis are still being argued over, with very little practical result that is reliable.

    What is needed is an effective post-capitalist techno-economic model, because as per Marx, everything else flows from economic and technological “disruption” (not the Axial “God”).

    Some theorists propose that radical decentralization is needed, or post-hierarchical and post-patriarchal cultures. Even if such theories turn out to be true, which is highly debatable and controversial, no one has a good theory of how ethics or a new system of non-dual spirituality would actually function to prevent some element of a decentralized global polity from becoming aggressive and trying to grow into an imperial power.

    So, based on all that, like I said, there do not seem to be any proven, practical models of harmonious planetary culture that exist, and are proven that transcend the problems and limits of traditional religion, rationalist capitalism or the postmodern rejection of “universals”.

    We might have religious-spiritual, philosophical, moral or maybe even scientific *hopes* for global harmony, but those hopes seem to be rooted in the very paradigms that created the problems we are hoping to transcend and solve.

    I’m not sure that any group of scriptural advisors to a religious institution would be any better at grappling with the real problems faced by religion. The politics of selecting such a group, and providing it with a functional institutional and financial structure seem significant. Such a group would always be a danger to the authority and power mission of the body it was advising if it became “too independent”. Or, if not willing to challenge conventional wisdom, it would be the opposite, incapable of generate necessary challenges to wrong thinking.

    Here is an example of what some theorists are exploring:

    Thanks to you, Don and the others for providing some excellent ideas to ponder.

  22. There’s much truth in what you say ex-Baha’i Eric.

    Many of my friends are exes and they all seem to have a different understanding of what ex actually means. None of them for example abandon Baha’u’llah’s claim to Prophethood but they all have problems with our institutions or with individuals of influence in the community.

    Despite the perfection of the Universal House of Justice (not necessarily its research Dept or its ITC ) and despite our magnificent national and local institutions the Lesser Peace is a process whose progress has been drastically slowed imo because few Baha’is as individuals , much less individuals in the wider community, obey instructions from the House, from the Master and from the Guardian , especially in regard to one particular core principle of the Faith:

    “A fundamental lack of communication between peoples seriously undermines efforts towards world peace. Adopting an international auxiliary language would go far to resolving this problem and necessitates the most urgent attention.” Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace. Eric, in your Baha’i days did you ever attend a fireside around the principle of a universal auxiliary language; they’re as rare as hen’s teeth just about? So much for obeying Haifa’s use of the superlative and the imperative!

    “Therefore the very first service to the world of man is to establish this auxiliary international means of communication.
    It will become the cause of the tranquillity of the human commonwealth. Through it sciences and arts will be spread among the nations and it will prove to be the means of the progress and development of all races. We must endeavour with all our powers to establish this international auxiliary language throughout the world.” AB in DC
    So much for “all our powers” mes amis

    No less an authority than Shoghi Effendi himself interprets ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s many requests of the Bahá’ís to study one particular auxiliary language as ‘repeated and emphatic admonitions’. (See Shoghi Effendi’s letter in his own hand dated 17 April 1927) The one and only Interpreter of holy text uses: “repeated and emphatic admonitions”

    My point here is not to engage the selection question which is not in the domain of individuals but to ask why few Baha’is are cognizant of the unique role of the fundamental principles collectively and why even fewer believers consult on the divine blessings surrounding the language principle in general and its direct link to world peace:

    The closing page of Bahá’u’lláh’s Kitáb-i-Aqdas adjures the parliaments: “a single language for the use of all on earth…will be the cause of unity, could ye but comprehend it, and the greatest instrument for promoting harmony and civilization” Related to Peace?

    “The sixth Ishráq is union and concord amongst the children of men. From the beginning of time the light of unity has shed its divine radiance upon the world, and the greatest means for the promotion of that unity is for the peoples of the world to understand one another’s writing and speech….We have previously revealed that which is the means of the reconstruction of the world and the unity of the nations.”
    Related to Peace?

    Baha’i love


  23. Pim said

    Point well taken re the further references to Guardians Sen. Even so, as I indicated, the breaking of the line is anticipated in the Aqdas and I’m quite comfortable with the elucidations of the House in Wellsprings of Guidance re the Guardianship and House and their independent and complementary roles. I suppose I just don’t (guess I’m like Paul in this respect) get too worked up about whether or not there’s a living Guardian as the House has been doing a wonderful job in guiding the Bahaí world over the past decades. I also place the existence of only one Guardian in that category of mysteries I referred to.

    I never wrote anything asserting you stating that the Guardian had made a mistake with his translation of copper to gold. My point was about your differences with the Guardian re a metaphorical versus literal meaning. In my view, where the Guardian interprets the sacred text to mean something it isn’t helpful for Bahaí unity and prevention of schism to put forward an explanation of one’s own which diametrically opposes this. The whole point of the Master (and indeed His own appointment by the Blessed Beauty) appointing a Guardian was to prevent us breaking up into hundreds of denominations like Christianity.

    We are encouraged to investigate the truth and deepen in the Writings but our understanding is our own and cannot supersede the Guardian’s. I understand your concerns about literalism but it seems to me that there are many topics which are clearly literal (ethical exhortations to be honest, just, truthful etc) and some which are metaphorical. The Writings are neither entirely literal or entirely metaphorical. We can’t always know the true meaning of those which are metaphorical. For example, Shoghi Effendi interpreted the metaphorical meaning of “be thou as a flame of fire to my enemies” in The Tablet of Ahmad. We might have our own understanding of what that means before discovering this but once we do the best approach is to defer to his interpretation. This preserves Bahai unity. There are also numerous passages which we can explore for the 72 meanings. No doubt Bahais will be doing that for the next 1000 years as they dive into the ocean of His words to discover pearls of inestimable luster. The wonderful difference with this Faith is that such activities will be within a framework which safeguards Bahai unity.

  24. Sen said

    I was not aware that I had a difference with the Guardian regarding the metaphorical versus literal meaning Pim. Perhaps you could explain that.

  25. Pim said

    I had to check again as I saw an essay by you on copper to gold and then differences of opinion in the subsequent thread. Your view seemed to be that it was metaphorical and fundamentally spiritual: “In all but the last of these examples, and in the Iqan text, we see that ‘copper’ refers to the original lower station of the soul, while gold is the goal, the possible and desired station…..A person progresses through the spiritual stations by acquiring virtues and eliminating vices, but they remain the same person.”

    Then Roland quoted from the Guardian re it being literal:

    “Considering that a century ago, nobody knew the nature of matter, and couldn’t split any kind of an atom, it should not surprise the scientist that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states that copper can be transmuted into gold.

    “There may come a time, for all we know, when the mass of many atoms can be changed by scientists. We have no way of proving or disproving at present the statement of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Just because we cannot demonstrate a contention in the Bahá’í Teachings does not mean the contention is not true.

    “The same holds true of the statement of Bahá’u’lláh in the Íqán, regarding transmutation of copper into gold after seventy years, under certain conditions.

    “We as Bahá’ís must assume that, as He had access to all knowledge, He was referring to a definite physical condition which theoretically might exist. Because we don’t know what this condition is in scientific terms does not refute Bahá’u’lláh’s statement at all.

    “The Guardian hopes that Mr. … will not let so small a thing stand in his path. The principle of Faith is to accept anything the Manifestation of God says, once you have accepted Him as being the Manifestation. That is really the crux of the whole matter. It is a question of confidence.”

    (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, March 14, 1955)

    After that there was a debate about individual letters. What I’ve noted re individual letters is that the House often uses them in various messages and compilations. I would tend to agree that even if it was sent to an individual that the Guardian is here making a definitive statement as to what the meaning in the Iqan is.

  26. Sen said

    Then I simply do not agree with your reading of that letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi Pim. The context is clearly pastoral aid, for someone who has difficulty with the text because they can only read at a literal level. The secretary tells him that a literal meaning may possibly be possible in the future. He does not tell him not to read the spiritual meaning in the text ! He may eventually develop the ability to read the author’s intended meaning, which is metaphorical.

    In the Haifa Talks of Keith Ransom-Kehler and Lorol Schopflocher, we read:

    Shoghi Effendi:
    In you human affairs I make suggestions and recommendations. When I interpret the Words I am guided by Bahá’u’lláh.

    Why does `Abdu’l-Bahá call down the fierce indignation of God upon those who disobey you?

    Shoghi Effendi:
    This is only when I insist or command, then my interpretation is infallible. The believers must distinguish between what I recommend or definitely state.

    Can you imagination [sic] the firends [sic] refusing to follow your recommendation?

    Shoghi Effendi:
    They must discriminate.

    There are some characteristics that help us to distinguish when the Guardian or his secretary is giving personal advice, when as head of the community he is making a ruling of specific and temporary application, and when he is speaking as Interpreter of the writings. One clue is whether he delegates the matter to a secretary, and another is whether he directs his answer to an Assembly or the Bahais generally, or only to one person. However the most important, in my opinion, is the way he expresses himself (so we come back to reading religious literature in a literary way). I discussed the characteristics of Shoghi Effendi’s “voice of authority” in an essay in Bahá’í Studies Review, vol. 7 (1997).

    However, if you read this letter as an authoritative interpretation of the writings, and if you believe it says that the references to copper and gold and elixir are literal and not metaphorical, you will be in good company. Mark Twain once defined faith as believing what ain’t so: it’s a very common condition. I do not think Baha’u’llah would value that kind of discipleship.

  27. Pim said

    Sen, Haifa Talks are pilgrim’s notes. In no way can they be used to support an argument re the validity or not of the Guardian’s letters to individuals just as we can never rely on pilgrim’s notes re Bahaú’llah or Abdu’l-Baha. His use of secretaries was also discussed in the thread and it was clearly stated in a quote you yourself provided that such letters are “authoritative”: 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) Now, of course their style would be different from Shoghi Effendi’s and their authority less. But he signed and/or approved those letters or they would not be authoritative (“” having or proceeding from authority” and “clearly accurate or knowledgeable”. Lest we forget, Baha’u’llah (Mírzá Áqá Ján) and Abdu’l-Baha (Ali Kuli Khan et al) also had secretaries. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this. I do not at all mind the company I am in as it includes the House of Justice which, as I have stated, does include the Guardian’s individual letters in its elucidations.

  28. Pim said

    I focused on the fact that the quote you provided states the Guardian’s letters are “authoritative” which is indisputable. I just realized on reading the quote more carefully that he states preceding this that: “the secretaries of the Guardian convey his thoughts and instructions.” It could not be any clearer than that in my view: the letters convey his “thoughts” and “instructions”. It seems to me that many Baha’is reading the quote you provided would conclude, as I did, that the letters convey his thoughts and instructions and are therefore authoritative. Contrary to you Mark Twain quote, this is believing what is so! As for your opinion re what kind of discipleship Baha’ullah would value let’s leave that up to Him shall we?

  29. Sen said

    Unfortunately the secretary did not clarify what “thoughts and instructions” were meant: his thoughts and instructions regarding the activities of the Bahais and their institutions, and/or his work as authoritative interpreter of the sacred texts? Since I know of no basis in scripture that would allow the Guardian to delegate his role as interpreter, and what I know of his practice does not suggest that he did this, I have to suppose that the question was about the authority of these letters in directing Bahai activities, and that the reply is worded on the assumption that the person who will read it will know this.

    This is one quite systematic difference between the general letters of the Guardian to the Bahai community, and those he delegated to his secretaries. In the general letters, he does not assume that the reader knows the immediate context, because he is envisioning them being read and applied around the world, and over generations.

  30. Pim said

    I think we can keep this simple by sticking to the topic. You quoted a letter approved by the Guardian that the Guardian’s thoughts and instructions in his letters are authoritative. There is no caveat whatsoever: i.e. re some letters only applying to specific topics such as activities of Bahaís and their institutions and/or his work as authoritative interpreter. This therefore applies to the literal meaning of transmuting copper to gold which is his authoritative interpretation of this subject in the Iqan. He states it means a literal process which scientists may well discover in the future. This letter is also in conformity with his thoughts re the Master’s comments on the same matter of transmuting copper into gold. There is no need for clarification as if the Guardian had wanted the secretary to delineate any categories of letters which did not convey his thoughts and instructions and were not authoritative he could have done so. As we know he wrote a vast number of letters which include interpretations of many aspects of sacred texts such as the meaning of transmuting copper to gold. A logical conclusion would therefore be that such letters re the sacred texts are indeed authoritative.

  31. Pardon me that I referred to you as Sam, Sen. In our home (I’m in my mid sixties this year) reside a six y o and his 11 y o brother whose idea of the Lesser Peace’s actuality is way under Eric’s appraisal.

    The Secretariat of the Universal House of Justice, quoting work done in the Research Department vis-a-vis “God Passes By”, has explained officially that ‘authoritative’ doesn’i always mean ‘authoritative’ as far as the penpersonship of the Guardian is concerned. For example p382 of the aforementioned tour de force praises “Baha’u’llah and the New Era” (BNE) as “splendid, authoritative and comprehensive” whereas Haifa has distanced itself from the authoritativeness label being attached to BNE, probably in the main due to ‘failed’ prophecies re 1957 or 1963 etc.

    I’ve reached a stage in my own work, where as far as institutional letters etc are concerned since 1963, I attribute infallibility only to official documents signed by the House itself and under its own letterhead as distinct from the Research Dept, the ITC, or the Secretariat’s documents under its distinct letterhead

    Mark Twain who’s erroneously and unjustly often labelled an atheist considered in his own estimation the pinnacle of his authorship – Joan of Arc. He attributed to Disraeli a now famous epigram about three kinds of lies supported by statistics: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Being a bit of a book worm I do love stats and maps. Sometimes I’m so excited by statistics during Cluster Reflection meetings (i.e. self-examination and work together sessions for Bahá’í communities to advance growth) I’m hardly able to pronounce the word. Given that beauty is truth which in turn is a foundational virtue consider acquainting the rank and file on statistics pertaining to actual enrolments over the last 30 years as one of your essays Sen

    Baha’i love. .Paul

  32. Sen said

    I have no access to statistical sources not already published Paul, and since the publication appears to be somewhat selective, I suspect that even if each published piece is accurate, the picture they give is too rosy by half. The fullest statistics I know of are in Attaining the dynamics of Growth</em>, published by the ITC in 2008. This document describes itself as ‘glimpses.’ The report is analysed in “Swine flew” by Steve Marshall, for which I have proposed a substitle: “: an epidemiological analysis of the chances that Ruhe & IPG’s will be the Next Big Thing.”

  33. Pim said

    Your reference to “Happy are ye, O ye the learned ones in Baha” as being solely scholars does not take into account that “the learned among the people of Baha” is interpreted by the Guardian as follows: “In this holy cycle the “learned” are, on the one hand, the Hands of the Cause of God, and, on the other, the teachers and diffusers of His Teachings who do not rank as Hands, but who have attained an eminent position in the teaching work.”
    There are people who may be erudite but lack moral characteristics and the necessary firmness in the Lesser Covenant and therefore cannot be considered as “learned in Baha” as the history of the Faith amply shows re several individuals who were scholars but lacked humility and other essential qualities.

  34. Sen said

    You have read what you expected to read, not what I actually wrote. I will quote myself:

    Who are the learned in Baha? They are not I think the university-trained legal experts whom Schaefer has in mind. Shoghi Effendi defined them in this way:

    In this holy cycle the “learned” are, on the one hand, the Hands of the Cause of God, and, on the other, the teachers and diffusers of His teachings who do not rank as Hands, but who have attained an eminent position in the teaching work. … The duties of each of these souls will be determined in the future.
    (4 November 1931, translated from the Persian, cited by the Universal House of Justice in a letter ‘Elucidation of the Nature of the Continental Boards of Counselors’ (1972))

    ‘Teaching’ is not something directed at a non-Bahai with the aim of turning them into a Bahai. That is incompatible with a relationship of genuine fellowship, and it would also mean that if there is no unlucky non-Bahai on hand, a Bahai’s urge and religious duty to ‘teach’ must be frustrated. Bahai ‘teaching’ I suggest covers all forms of guidance, all the ways we can offer what we know to assist others. The learned in Baha, who have an eminent position in the teaching work, are those who have both knowledge and the humility and skills that enable them to use knowledge effectively to help others where they need it. The Bahai teacher is analogous to the dance teacher or the master builder who takes an apprentice: the teacher has been there and done that, and now teaches others to dance the steps and lay the bricks themselves.

  35. Pim said

    It wasn’t a matter of what I wanted to read. I noticed it after posting before your reply. I had played several hours of competitive chess and when I read it after missed that part. It’s just that the chess had tired me somewhat mentally.

  36. BRENT POIRIER said

    Sen, you wrote, “Shoghi Effendi foresees instances in which the Universal House of Justice will pass legislation that conflicts with the meaning or spirit of the Bahai Scriptures, as interpreted by the Guardian, and the Guardian of the time objects – yet the decision of the majority is to prevail. . . If the Guardian cannot override the majority decision on the basis of his interpretation, neither can anyone else.”

    I wish to address this phrase in your comment: “on the basis of his interpretation”

    We are talking about the passage in the Dispensation where the Guardian in his legislative capacity as a member of the House of Justice “is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances.” You view this as the Guardian presenting “his interpretation.” My question is this: If it was a matter of interpretation, it would not be before the House of Justice for legislation – it would be determined by deduction from the revealed Text by the Guardian as sole interpreter. The fact that the matter is before the House shows that it is not in the Text, literally or by implication; it’s a new matter not in the Text. Therefore, it’s not a matter for the Guardian’s interpretation. In the Dispensation Shoghi Effendi makes clear that the Guardian’s individual infallibility does not extend to legislation: He can “never … assume the right of exclusive legislation.” If the Guardian’s infallibility extended to legislation, there would be no need for the Universal House of Justice. This is further bolstered, in my view, by Shoghi Effendi’s choice of words – if the Guardian “conscientiously believes” that the enactment conflicts with the meaning and spirit of the sacred Text. In all of Shoghi Effendi’s interpretations he never used terminology like “I conscientiously believe” that the interpretation is such-and-such. As the divinely-guided Interpreter, he *knew* what the verse meant. However, in matters of House legislation, all of the members – the elected members and the Guardian – operate on the basis of “the dictates and promptings of their conscience,”
    and the vote of this collective conscience is what is guaranteed by Baha’u’llah and the Master to be divinely guided.

    The Master did not set up a conflict of authority in the divine institutions – where the Guardian’s interpretation could conflict with the House’s new legislation. This is developed more fully in my posting here,
    and the illustration is given in resolution of the apparent conflict in authority of the nine chosen Hands and the Guardian.

    My point is this: This is not a matter of the Guardian not being able to override the majority decision of the House “on the basis of his interpretation” – as the Guardian would not be engaged in interpretation and was not in that situation the recipient of interpretive guidance. He would be exercising his legislative capacity and would be guided the same as all of the other members, and in that capacity could conceivably be in the minority in a majority-vote decision.

    Take a look at my blog post – it’s much better developed there and with fuller quotations and references.


  37. Sen said

    My point is this: This is not a matter of the Guardian not being able to override the majority decision of the House “on the basis of his interpretation” – as the Guardian would not be engaged in interpretation and was not in that situation the recipient of interpretive guidance.

    To achieve that conclusion, you have to assume that when the Guardian tells the House of Justice that he conscientiously believes an enactment of the House conflicts with the meaning or departs from from the spirit of Baha’u’llah’s revealed utterances, he is mistaken, because in fact the subject in question is not covered even by the spirit of the revealed utterances, and therefore the Guardian cannot speak authoritatively on it. Who then can say that a given subject is not covered by the scriptures? According to Shoghi Effendi, it is the Guardian himself:

    Divorced from the institution of the Guardianship … the necessary guidance to define the sphere of the legislative action of its elected representatives would be totally withdrawn.
    (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 148)

    But you say that when the House is considering something not covered by scripture, the Guardian may mistakenly think it is covered by – and conflicts with – some aspect of scripture, but as he is mistaken about this his voice is just one vote out of ten.

    God preserve us, what a concatenation of casuistry from bad premises you’ve produced here, and in the blog article you’ve referenced. In both cases, it stems from an unexamined assumption at the beginning of the chain. In relation to “a reconsideration… of any enactment,” the unexamined assumption is that the Guardian is present when the enactment he thinks is contrary to the Writings is made. Or more precisely, you suppose that when the Guardian wrote “He cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow-members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s revealed utterances,” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 150) he was envisioning the Guardian making his protest in the House of Justice after the enactment has achieved a majority. But Shoghi Effendi had very likely read the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha (he translated it), and would recall that it says “… the Guardian of the Cause of God is its sacred head and the distinguished member for life of that body. Should he not attend in person its deliberations, he must appoint one to represent him.”

    Take this into account, and all the rest of your argument becomes superfluous. Shoghi Effendi is supposing that the Guardian in question learns about an enactment that has already been made, finds that it conflicts with the meaning or spirit of the Writings, and asks the House of Justice to reconsider its decision, but he cannot simply over-rule the House of Justice by virtue of his authoritative understanding of scripture. At most he can attend in person and presumably have a vote – which his representative is not explicitly granted – and so tip the balance in the House.

    The importance of this imagined situation for us today is, (1) that it shows Shoghi Effendi was sure that the House of Justice, consulting as a body under the protection of its infallibility, could make decisions contrary to the meaning of the Bahai Scriptures, and (2) that even when a living Guardian objected, the decision was still valid until overturned by another decision of the House itself. This is an extreme case illustrating the unquestionable authority of the House of Justice. It shows that no individual or Assembly has the right not to apply a particular ruling, because they think it’s not in line with the Writings. Perhaps it is indeed contrary to the teachings, but it remains a valid ruling until it is replaced by another.

    You write : “The fact that the matter is before the House shows that it is not in the Text, literally or by implication …” but this supposes that all issues fall neatly into the dichotomy, in the Writings or not in the Writings.

    What about the situation where the House of Justice rules on something not found explicitly in the text, for instance on artificial insemination, or parental permission for marriage where a parent has abused the child, but its solution to the problem infringes on some wider principle that is in the writings? What about the situation in which the House of Justice has ruled on something believing it is not covered in the text, but when the Guardian learns of it, he points out that it is explicitly covered? There is no guarantee that the House of Justice members between them will know and understand every verse of the vast Bahai scriptures. In such cases there is initially a conflict of authorities, and the Guardian gives us the answer that resolves that conflict: the decision of the House of Justice prevails. Your argument is that since a conflict is unthinkable (based on an unexamined premise in your reading of a letter on behalf of the Guardian, {could not have provided for a conflict of authority in the Faith.}), the situation that the Guardian explicitly envisions and provides an answer for is just a rhetorical device or a flight of his imagination?

    If you think about it, the situations that require the House to legislate generally have a direct relationship to something that is in the Writings. Take parental permission for marriage where a parent has abused the child, for example: the House has made a ruling here.

    The requirement that both partners have permission from both parents is explicit in the Aqdas, and further specified in the Questions and Answers. It covers every possible case since there is no exception. But the Guardian has allowed the House of Justice to provide exceptions, and it has done so, ruling for example “it is unjust to require a true victim of abuse to renew ties with, or submit to the will of, an abuser.” The House has taken a general principle that is in the writings, justice, and a less general principle, that in unspecified circumstances the parent-child relationship can be severed, and on the basis of what is in the Writings and the needs of the age, it has produced new legislation.

    The Guardian did not conclude that since the matter is covered by the Book, the House could not rule on it! Rather he points to the principle of severability and allows the House to decide. A Guardian today might decide that some part of its ruling is contrary to the spirit of the Writings: we will never know.

    Artificial insemination, or the direction of obligatory prayers in a space station, are new questions – but they are religious questions for Bahais because they intersect with matters that are covered in the Writings: the marriage bond and obligatory prayer respectively. If the question was three-legged stools or whether to peel our bananas from the flower end, the House of Justice would not have to make a ruling because these do not relate to anything in the Writings. But your reasoning is the reverse, you suppose that the House can only legislate on matters that have no relationship to the Writings, not even its spirit, and are therefore not covered by the Guardian’s interpretations – and not religious questions at all for Bahais.

    I did take a look at your blog posting. On the ungrounded assumption that a letter on behalf of the Guardian is (a) the last word on the matter – see the Tablet of Emanuel here – and (b) is in answer to a question about the right of the nine elected Hands to approve the successor to the Guardian, you conclude that when Abdu’l-Baha writes “This assent must be given in such wise as the assenting and dissenting voices may not be distinguished,” (The Will and Testament) he doesn’t mean they can dissent ! You’ve put a flimsy tissue over one of the rocks of the Covenant, and declared it a cabbage. And where do you get your second assumption? From the Remeyites, who have to argue away the text of the Will and Testament because Remey did not get the required assent. So they pick on precisely the letter-on-behalf that you have found, elevate it to scriptural status, and make the same argument you have. In fact, Abdu’l-Baha wisely provided for a check and a certification of the Guardian’s choice, and provided explicitly for a resolution in the event of conflict: the decision of the 9 elected Hands must prevail. Which is why Mason Remey was never the Guardian.

    It is amusing to see that here you are prepared to believe that the Guardian’s conscientious belief, expressed to the House of Justice, that an enactment is against the spirit of the Writings is somehow not an interpretation, and thus not authoritative, while, in the posting on your own blog that you referenced, you treat a secretary’s letter that says that “could not have provided for a conflict of authority in the Faith” as undoubtedly an authoritative interpretation, even though this letter does not present itself as an interpretation or provide anything in the Writings to support this supposition. All the letter tells us is that a conflict of authorities is beyond the scope of the secretary’s imagination. If you were to take the opposite approach, starting with questions about the authority and the context of that letter-on-behalf, you would end by affirming the authority of the provisions of the Will and Testament as written. “Dissent” really does mean “dissent.”

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