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The Guardian and the protection of the Faith

Posted by Sen on July 15, 2019

[This post no longer represents my views: as a result of the discussion in the “comments” section I have come to the view that “protection” and “protecting” are essential attributes of infallibility, and that one must begin with the definitions of infallibility given by Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha, and only then — from that perspective — look at the scope of the infallibilities recognized in Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament and in Shoghi Effendi’s writings regarding the spheres of the Guardian and the House of Justice. ]

… as he [the Guardian] is infallible in the protection of the Faith” (1956)

… he is guided in his decisions to do that which protects it and fosters its good and highest interest ” (1945)

I will not attempt here to define what ‘inerrancy’ and ‘infallibility’ mean in the Bahai teachings, focusing instead on an interesting question about the scope of the infallibility of the Guardian.

The question has been brought to my attention by another Bahai author, and I am building on unpublished research and discussions on the topic. If and when they are published, some acknowledgements and more footnotes pointing to sources will be in order. For now, this is my version of ongoing joint efforts.

A letter on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer says :

Instructions sent on behalf of the Guardian are binding, as are the words of the Guardian; although of course, they are not the Guardian’s words.
The Guardian’s infallibility covers interpretation of the Revealed Word and its application. Likewise any instructions he may issue having to do with the protection of the Faith, or its well being must be closely obeyed, as he is infallible in the protection of the Faith. He is assured the guidance of both Baha’u’llah and the Bab, as the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha clearly reveals.” (August 20, 1956, published in Lights of Guidance, 1994 edn., p. 313).

An earlier letter written on the Guardian’s behalf by Ruhiyyeh Khanum and addressed to an individual on May 13, 1945, says :

Just as the National Assembly has full jurisdiction over all its local Assemblies, the Guardian has full jurisdiction over all National Assemblies; … He is the Guardian of the Cause in the very fullness of that term, and the appointed interpreter of its teachings, and is guided in his decisions to do that which protects it and fosters its growth and highest interests.
He always has the right to step in and countermand the decisions of a national assembly; if he did not possess this right he would be absolutely impotent to protect the Faith, just as the N.S.A., if it were divested of the right to countermand the decisions of a local assembly, would be incapable of watching over and guiding the national welfare of the Baha’i Community. (Letters from the Guardian to Australia and New Zealand 55)

An alternative version from the same author differs in one word:
“… that which protects it and fosters its good and highest interest.” (Ruhiyyeh Khanum, The Priceless Pearl, 299).

If we can assume that, for Ruhiyyeh Khanum, being assured of [divine] guidance is equivalent to being infallible, then this letter too is saying that the Guardian is infallible in the protection of the Faith. The letter bears the Read and approved of Shoghi Effendi. It casts the scope of the Guardian’s infallibility very wide: not just in interpreting the teachings, but also for the protection, growth and best interests of the Cause. Perhaps all of this is covered by “and its application” in the 1956 letter. Neither letter includes administrative matters, science, economics and history – not even Bahai history. So it is far from a maximalist position. It assumes that infallibility has a delimited scope.

These are the only texts I have found that state that the scope of the Guardian’s infallibility includes “the protection of the Faith” as well as the interpretation of scripture, and both come from a secretary. So the discussion below relates to the lesser status of letters written on behalf of the Guardian. But it also relates to a distinction I have drawn elsewhere, between the Guardian’s doctrinal authority and his role as the Head of the Faith.

Doctrinal authority

According to the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, the Guardian has a unique authority as the expounder of the verses of God, i.e., in giving authoritative interpretations of scriptures: “He [Shoghi Effendi] is the expounder of the words of God (mobayyen-e ayatu’llah / مبيّن آيات اللّه).” Shoghi Effendi affirms “that the Guardian of the Faith has been made the Interpreter of the Word” (The World Order Of Baha’u’llah, 149-150), which shows that “expounder” and “interpreter” are two words for the same thing in Shoghi Effendi’s lexicon (since he translated the Will and Testament), and that this authority was conferred on the holder of the office of Guardian and not only on Shoghi Effendi. The Will and Testament does not explicitly refer to infallibility at this point, or elsewhere, with the possible exception of a reference to Shoghi Effendi as the “priceless (`asmaa’ / عصماء) pearl.” This word is related to infallibility both etymologically and conceptually, for infallibility (esmat / عصمت) in Islam and the Bahai Faith is conceived as a freedom from moral stains, like the Catholics’ “immaculacy,” rather than a propositional inerrancy). Yet there can be no doubt that, in his capacity as “expounder of the words of God,” Shoghi Effendi was inerrant, and not merely (!) exempt from blame, in a specific sphere of action (see “infallibility as freedom” on this blog). It is central to our perception of the infallibility conferred upon him to understand why this is so and cannot be otherwise.

First, it is necessary to distinguish between doctrinal and administrative authority, i. e. between the Guardian’s authority to interpret scripture and his authority, as Head of the Faith, to exact obedience and define disobedience. His administrative authority concerns instructions and directives that the believers are obliged to act on without qualification (see Will and Testament 1:17; 3:13); it is logically independent of his authority as the expounder of the words of God. The House of Justice and the local and national Spiritual Assemblies also have administrative authority, but are not expounders of the words of God. An authoritative interpretation from Shoghi Effendi, unlike his instructions on what should be done in a particular situation, constitutes an integral part of the meaning of scripture, to which Bahais, by definition, assent. This doctrinal authority has nothing to do with obedience in the sense of following instructions. In short, doctrinal authority and administrative authority are entirely distinct, although it is possible to imagine situations in which both play a role.

Another letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi makes this distinction between the timeless doctrinal and context-bound administrative authorities clearer :

… there must have been some misapprehension on your part of his statements regarding future Guardians: they cannot “abrogate” the interpretations of former Guardians, as this would imply not only lack of guidance but mistakes in making them; however they can elaborate and elucidate former interpretations, and can certainly abrogate some former ruling laid down as a temporary necessity by a former Guardian.” (February 19, 1947, in Messages to Canada, 1999 edn, 89)


The ultimate source of scripture is God’s revealed will, transmitted in human language and a human example through the Manifestation of God. This transmission is `esmat (عصمت) in both basic senses of that word: morally faultless and protected from error. Though not actively part of this inerrant transmission – since what we receive is according to our own capacities — each human soul is in possession of fetra, an inner nature. This includes the innate capacity to recognise the divine Manifestation through himself or his works. Shoghi Effendi renders it in his translations with words such as ‘inner ears,’ ‘discerning hearts,’ ‘innate powers’ and ‘the nature made by God.’ I have discussed this ‘discernment of the disciple’ (sensus fidei, or in Arabic, feraaseh) in another blog posting.

Belief is the spiritual recognition (`erfan) of the truth of divine revelation and wholehearted submission to the holy command. Recognition does not entail or require correct doctrine, which is why the role of theology is limited and remedial. Bad theology can be a stumbling block to Recognition, but good theology is not equivalent to Recognition.

If this transmission of the divine Will lacked infallibility at any point, it would be flawed. It is not possible conscientiously to believe, in the sense of Recognition, and at the same time to challenge the inerrancy of what is believed. By virtue of his appointment as “expounder of the words of God,” Shoghi Effendi, like the Abdu’l-Baha before him, has been incorporated into the chain of transmission of Truth and bears doctrinal authority. Were he not vested with inerrancy he could not participate, with authority, in this transmission. However knowledgeable, wise, experienced and well-intentioned he might be, his interpretations would never rise above the level of informed personal opinion. But by virtue of his inerrancy, his interpretations of scripture are in their own right “the Truth and the Purpose of God,” as binding for the faithful as the words of Baha’u’llah and the expositions of Abdu’l-Baha.

In short, the inerrancy of Shoghi Effendi is intrinsic to his doctrinal function as authoritative interpreter of scripture and is inseparable from it. This is analogous to Abdu’l-Baha’s argument, in Some Answered Questions (using the 2014 revised translation):

Know that infallibility is of two kinds: infallibility in essence and infallibility as an attribute. The same holds true of all other names and attributes … Infallibility in essence is confined to the universal Manifestations of God, for infallibility is an essential requirement of their reality, and the essential requirement of a thing is inseparable from the thing itself. The rays are an essential requirement of the sun and are inseparable from it … If the rays could be separated from the sun, it would not be the sun. Therefore, were one to imagine the Most Great Infallibility being separated from the universal Manifestation of God, He would not be a universal Manifestation …” and would lack essential perfection.

An authoritative interpreter of scripture who could not consistently communicate true, and understandable, interpretations would not be authoritative. The Guardian’s infallibility in interpretation is a logical requirement of the office of authorised interpreter, and is distinctly implied in Bahai scripture, in the first place by Abdu’l-Baha’s designation of him as “expounder of the Words of God,” the same designation as Abdu’l-Baha was granted by Baha’u’llah, and in the second place by the affirmation in Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament (1:17):

After the passing away of this wronged one, it is incumbent upon … the loved ones of the Abha Beauty to turn unto Shoghi Effendi … as he is the sign of God, the chosen branch, the guardian of the Cause of God, … He is the expounder of the words of God and after him will succeed the first-born of his lineal descendants. The sacred and youthful branch, the guardian of the Cause of God, as well as the Universal House of Justice, … are both under the care and protection of the Abha Beauty … Whatsoever they decide is of God. (tr. by Shoghi Effendi, in Baha’i Administration 6).

Infallible in protection?

As I noted at the beginning, there are two letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi that say, with different wording, that he is infallible in the protection of the Faith. The 1945 letter seems not to have been commented on. The 1956 letter has been quoted in various statements from or on behalf of the Universal House of Justice and has become a consensus position. It is usually quoted without the initial sentence, “Instructions sent on behalf of the Guardian are binding, as are the words of the Guardian; although of course, they are not the Guardian’s words.” That’s a pity, because the sentence’s imprecision tells us something about the writer’s thought processes, and the Guardian’s supervision of outgoing correspondence.

If ‘protection of the Faith’ refers to the Guardian’s responses to various challenges to the unity and authority of the community and its institutions, it is clearly not possible to infer his infallibility in such matters from the competency of interpretation granted in the Will and Testament. If that is what is meant by ‘protection of the Faith,’ then there appears to be no explicit scriptural support for this claim. According to Shoghi Effendi, letters written on his behalf are “in no sense the same as his” and his letters to individual believers are “only for their personal benefit” (see letters on his behalf, dated 25 February 1951 and 16 November 1932). That a statement of such fundamental importance for the entire community should be announced in such an offhand fashion – and not until nearly the end of his ministry – seems quite implausible. Moreover there are parallel letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi that also outline the scope of his authority, but without mentioning infallibility in the ‘protection of the Faith.’ If this was a Bahai teaching, endorsed by Shoghi Effendi, why was it omitted in the parallel letters? One example of these does mention matters of protection – but not infallibility :

The infallibility of the Guardian is confined to matters which are related strictly to the Cause and interpretation of the teachings; he is not an infallible authority on other subjects, such as economics, science, etc. When he feels that a certain thing is essential for the protection of the Cause, even if it is something that affects a person personally, he must be obeyed, but when he gives advice, such as that he gave you in a previous letter about your future, it is not binding; you are free to follow it or not as you please.” (October 17, 1944, published in Directives from the Guardian 33-34)

Here we see “he must be obeyed” without that curious non-sequitur “… as he is infallible in the protection of the Faith.”

… inherently implausible …

In addition to the weak textual basis for this belief, infallibility in protection issues is inherently implausible. Take the case of a Bahai who is represented to the Guardian as spreading heretical notions, or who is said to have entered politics, or interpolated the text of scripture. What if that information is not correct? Or take the case of a court action that Shoghi Effendi pursued to protect the Faith in some way. To ascribe its successful outcome to infallibility would be tantamount to adorning Shoghi Effendi with prescience or with supernatural influence over court procedure. And there are cases on record where Shoghi Effendi went to court and lost. His appointment of Mason Remey to the Bahai International Council had negative results for the protection of the Faith, which rumble on to the present day. The Guardian is not omniscient, “he remains essentially human,” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah 151) and his works contain errors of facts and incorrect attributions. Based on incorrect information, he might make a wrong decision on such a matter of protection.

The Universal House of Justice could also make an error based on incorrect information, for the two institutions are both responsible for “the protection of the Faith” although they have different tools to use. A letter on behalf of the House of Justice, in 1977, explained:

…authoritative interpretation of the Teachings was, after Abdu’l-Baha, the exclusive right of the Guardian … The exclusive sphere of the Universal House of Justice is to “pronounce upon and deliver the final judgment on such laws and ordinances as Baha’u’llah has not expressly revealed. … insofar as the other duties of the Head of the Faith are concerned, the Universal House of Justice shares with the Guardian the responsibility for the application of the revealed word [and] the protection of the Faith… However, the Universal House of Justice is not omniscient; like the Guardian, it wants to be provided with facts when called upon to render a decision, and like him it may well change its decision when new facts emerge….
(Aug 22, 1977, Clarification on Infallibility)

But perhaps that was not what the secretary meant by ‘protection of the faith.’ Perhaps it refers to devising broad-brush strategies for the community as a whole, that are not likely to be affected by incorrect information. It’s a tempting way to square the circle, but the secretary’s words appear to refer to specific cases requiring immediate action from the Bahais:

… any instructions he may issue having to do with the protection of the Faith, or its well being must be closely obeyed, as he is infallible in the protection of the Faith.

Infallibility in deciding what is to be done in a specific case (casuistic infallibility) would require perfect knowledge of that case – which the Guardian could never have. In the 1932 pilgrim’s notes of Lorol Schopflocher, Keith Ransom-Kehler, Clara Dunn and Lyle Loveday, he is reported to have explained his limitations in these words, “For example I have no idea what is going on in America at present. I must depend upon information for such knowledge…” The 1977 letter on behalf of the Universal House of Justice (Clarification of infallibility) tells us that the House of Justice, too, is not omniscient in matters of protection (or anything else for that matter) and may change its decision when new facts emerge.

It would be convenient if history presented an example of a matter of protection in which the Guardian changed his decision in the light of new facts, but history is not arranged for my convenience. One anecdote that does seem relevant says “In the early 1950s, Shoghi Effendi restricted the travel of Iranian Bahais to the United States. The son of an Iranian Bahai father and a Muslim mother went to the US and this was reported to the Guardian, without mentioning that the son wasn’t a Bahai. The Guardian cabled that the son was a Covenant-breaker, but this was soon rescinded when he learned that the son was not a Bahai. Later, the son became a Bahai.”

The beauty of publishing in blog format is that someone may fill in the names in this story. Without any names, and with the somewhat unlikely feature of a Muslim woman being married to a non-Muslim man, the story can only be considered a bit of Bahai lore. I don’t know (yet) of any example where the Guardian changed his decision on a protection matter in the light of better information. It’s up to you, dear readers, to find me one! I wish he had changed his decision about Mason Remey’s appointment — but how could he know what Remey would do? Shoghi Effendi was not omniscient, and not prescient.

Prudence

Pending further evidence, the prudent conclusion is that the infallibility of the Guardian in matters of protection is not a Bahai teaching. To say that protection matters do fall under the heading of infallibility – based on the these two letters on Shoghi Effendi’s behalf – would make the doctrine of infallibility as an acquired attribute (‘conferred infallibility’ in the older translation of Some Answered Questions) vulnerable to any instance in which the Guardian made a decision that was proved to be unfortunate by subsequent events or better information. Something like Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle applies: the more we extend the claimed scope of infallibility the less secure, persuasive and meaningful the doctrine becomes. Moreover, the wider we cast the net of the Guardian’s infallibility, the more similar his function appears to that of Abdu’l-Baha, whereas Shoghi Effendi is at pains to stress the difference between them, as persons and as functions :

There is a far, far greater distance separating the Guardian from the Center of the Covenant than there is between the Center of the Covenant and its Author. No Guardian of the Faith … can ever claim to be the perfect exemplar of the teachings of Baha’u’llah ….
… however much he may share with Abdu’l-Baha the right and obligation to interpret the Baha’í teachings, he remains essentially human …In the light of this truth to pray to the Guardian of the Faith, to address him as lord and master, to designate him as his holiness, to seek his benediction, to celebrate his birthday, or to commemorate any event associated with his life would be tantamount to a departure from those established truths that are enshrined within our beloved Faith. (The World Order of Baha’u’llah 151)

The question still remains: what led the secretary to say “as he is infallible in the protection of the Faith”? One possibility is that that 1956 letter is a condensed paraphrase of a letter (on behalf, to an individual) of October 17, 1944. The difference is that the 1944 letter merely states that “when he feels that a certain thing is essential for the protection of the Cause … he must be obeyed,” whereas the later one professes to explain why: because he is infallible. Furthermore, the secretary claims that the Guardian’s infallibility covers both the interpretation and the application of the Revealed Word. Perhaps the intended meaning was that the Guardian was infallible when telling the believers how they should apply the Word, that is, the secretary is saying that the functional effect of the Guardian’s interpretation embraces both doctrine and the Bahai praxis that follows from an interpretation. In that case, the phrase is both unexceptionable, and not relevant to the Guardian’s supposed infallibility in protection. But if the secretary’s intention was that the Guardian’s own application of the Word was infallible, it would imply that Shoghi Effendi was infallible in every action he ever undertook and every directive he ever issued in the course of exercising his duties as Guardian.

The secretary explains why obedience to the Guardian is imperative: “… as he is infallible in the protection of the Faith.” This is a non-sequitur: being infallible in the protection of the Faith could (in the secretary’s opinion) be presented as justification for demanding obedience with respect to the protection of the Faith, but apparently not with respect to instructions having to do with its well-being – unless, of course, the secretary feels that these two grounds are equivalent, in which case “or its well-being” is redundant and misleading. It is hard to resist the feeling that the secretary is gilding the lily with empty phrases such as “and its application”, “or its well-being” and “closely” obeyed.

Another possibility is that the secretary – perhaps Ruhiyyih Khanum in both cases – has received an explanation of infallibility from the Guardian, saying that `esmat (عصمت) and ma`sum (معصوم), although they are translated as infallibility and infallible, literally mean “protected.” Might the words “infallible in the protection of the Faith” simply be due to a mental association between the concepts of infallibility and protection?

In any case, the letters were sent. It is conceivable that, in a world community that had by that time become considerably larger and more complex, the pressure on Shoghi Effendi had increased to such a degree that his surveillance was no longer as close as it had been. In ‘Textual Context and Literary Criticism: A case Study based on a Letter from Shoghi Effendi’, published in Lights of Irfān Book Eleven, 2010, 55-98, Gerald Keil presents a detailed analysis of a series of passages from letters written as early as 1940 on behalf of the Guardian, whose linguistic deficiencies compel the conclusion that they were at best superficially scrutinised by Shoghi Effendi (pp. 74-78). In my blog posting on ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablet of Emanuel’ and in other similar research (see the ‘related content’ links under that post), I suggest that “the Guardian’s secretaries in some cases, and perhaps in general, composed these letters themselves according to their own understanding and the knowledge available to them,” and that Shoghi Effendi did not consider the letters written on his behalf at all comparable to his own letters. We should take quite literally the assertion (by a secretary !) that “their words are in no sense the same as his.” My conclusion there is that the Guardian did not foresee that later generations of Bahais would start to attribute interpretive and doctrinal authority to letters written on his behalf by his secretaries. He didn’t read them to endorse them as equivalent to his own interpretations, but simply to inform himself on what was being said, and to check that they were fit for the immediate purpose (relating to his administrative authority, not his doctrinal role). This makes the ‘pressure of work’ hypothesis redundant, but not less probable: work pressure would surely have been a factor. But the letters were not in any sense the same as those of the Guardian: it is clear that the Guardian did not see them in that light, and he should know.

Consequences

One might think that the scope of the infallibility of the Guardian is a purely academic issue with no practical repercussions for today’s community. The Bahai community has more urgent matters on its agenda than contemplating how the community formed a consensus regarding the infallibility of the Guardian in matters of protection. Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, if the infallibility of the Guardian covers multiple areas of responsibility (of which interpretation of scripture, protection of the Faith, the well-being of the community and the application of the Revealed Word are the ones we happen to know about), then we are talking about an entirely different concept of infallibility than in the case where the scope of the Guardian’s doctrinal authority and of his infallibility are coextensive.

Second, the respective functions of the Twin Institutions of the House of Justice and Guardianship are intimately intertwined, and it makes no sense to try to understand infallibility in the contemporary Bahai community – and that essentially means the infallibility ascribed to the Universal House of Justice – isolated from the infallibility of the Guardian. Inadvertent ‘doctrine’ resulting from careless or uninformed utterances on the part of secretaries distort our picture of Shoghi Effendi the man, the thinker, and the Guardian.

Thirdly, as a result of thinking about the differences between the Guardian in his doctrinal and administrative roles, I am now more persuaded by Udo Schaefer’s thesis, that the infallibility of the House of Justice refers only to its supplementary legislative function and not to its other roles as the present head of the Faith. But I continue to maintain that the legislative function, in Abdu’l-Baha’s terminology, is much broader than Schaefer supposes (see “Executive and Legislative” on this blog).

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Related content:
Infallibility as freedom
Infallibility and the meaning of khata’
anything Shoghi Effendi said is Baha’i doctrine

On Will McCant‘s blog:
Shaykh Ahmad on Infallibility
On Baquia‘s “Baha’i Rants”:
Is the House of Justice Infallible?

On my pre-blog website:
Infallibility – the old chestnut
Infallibility (what is the added value?)

35 Responses to “The Guardian and the protection of the Faith”

  1. fpvrcmower said

    “Growth” of the NSA is the word I pick up in.

    In physics a lower entropy

    And this gives a scientific measure

  2. Brent Poirier said

    Briefly, Baha’u’llah did not elaborate the powers of Abdu’l-Baha – He just said to “turn to” Him. The Master provided the elaboration. Baha’u’llah did not say that the Master is infallible – the Master provides that information. It is implicit in His appointment.

    The Master in turn says to “turn to” the House of Justice and the Guardian. He emphasizes the importance of this by making that the last guidance He gave to the human race. http://www.bahai.org/r/691205948

    The words “turn to” are big words and carry implications of infallibility and broad [but not unlimited] authority to the Master, the Guardian and the House of Justice.

    As to the Guardian’s infallibility in matters of protection, this may well be implicit in these words in the Will, for example, protecting the Cause from “rebels” and those who “deviate” or “separate themselves”:

    “Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God; whoso disputeth with him hath disputed with God; whoso denieth him hath denied God; whoso disbelieveth in him hath disbelieved in God; whoso deviateth, separateth himself and turneth aside from him hath in truth deviated, separated himself and turned aside from God.”

    But also in the Will the Master has explicitly granted infallibility to the Guardian in matters of protection:

    “The mighty stronghold shall remain impregnable and safe through obedience to him who is the Guardian of the Cause of God.” http://www.bahai.org/r/181898597

    Likewise, in the Aqdas Baha’u’llah expressly endows the House of Justice with a protective function:

    “O ye Men of Justice! Be ye in the realm of God shepherds unto His sheep and guard them from the ravening wolves that have appeared in disguise, even as ye would guard your own sons. Thus exhorteth you the Counsellor, the Faithful.” http://www.bahai.org/r/530558575

    … using the same image the Master used in His warning:

    “The faithless, however, by day and night, openly and privily do their utmost to shake the foundations of the Cause, to root out the Blessed Tree, to deprive this servant of service, to kindle secret sedition and strife and to annihilate ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá. Outwardly they appear as sheep, yet inwardly they are naught but ravening wolves. Sweet in words, they are but at heart a deadly poison. O ye beloved ones, guard the Cause of God! Let no sweetness of tongue beguile you—nay, rather consider the motive of every soul, and ponder the thought he cherisheth. Be ye straightway mindful and on your guard. Avoid him, yet be not aggressive! Refrain from censure and from slander, and leave him in the Hand of God. Upon you rest the Glory of Glories.” http://www.bahai.org/r/197760198

    Brent

  3. Sen said

    Hi Brent, you argument turns on the equivalence between “turn to X” or “obey X” and “X is infallible.” But the Cause is kept safe when local communities obey their local assemblies — and the assemblies are not infallible. It is the obedience, not the infallibility, that keeps the Cause safe.

  4. Richard Hainsworth said

    Sen, it seems to me that your summary of Brent’s argument is correct, viz., ‘turn to’ and ‘obey X’ is ‘equivalent’ to ‘X is infallible’. I would also argue that Brent’s argument is indeed a resolution of the causes of concern raised in your blog.
    Your second thesis ‘But the Cause is kept safe …’ is not relevant to this discussion because it was not an explicit part of your original blog, and besides it is also your opinion, rather than a conclusion based on a study of the Writings.
    Since you have offered an opinion about the safety of the Faith, allow me to offer mine: the safety of the Faith comes when all individuals and institutions ‘turn to’ the centres of authority. This is far more than simply obedience to injunctions or hair-splitting adherence to ‘teaching’.

    Regarding the content of the blog, you say: “First, it is necessary to distinguish between doctrinal and administrative authority”. This distinction is not one that seems to me to follow naturally from the Revelation of Baha’u’llah. It is reminiscent of the distinction between the civil and the secular used in European countries, where what you do in church can be divorced from what you do in ‘real’ life. Rather, my perception is that Baha’u’llah’s teaching have much more in common with holistic approaches, in that the way in which people behave at all times reflects their inner spirituality. Consequently, behaviour and obedience to instructions fall naturally within the bounds of interpretation of Baha’u’llah’s Revelation, which the Guardian, you have accepted, possesses. If the Guardian gives instructions about the way something should be done, then that is an interpretation of the Revelation, not an administrative function.
    Second, there is the question of ‘infallibility’. Consider finding a route through a city from point A to point B. Several possibilities exist. You ask an Oracle at the beginning of the journey which is the best route, and are given one set of streets and intersections. Under normal circumstances, that set would be best by some measure, eg fastest or least traffic. But suppose the traffic lights on some intersection breaks, causing a traffic jam at a point within the given route. In this case, another route would be best. For the Oracle to give you the alternate route, it would need omniscience to know that the traffic light was broken before you left. If the traffic lights broke after you left, it would require prescience. Advice about what is best changes when conditions change. But if the conditions had been normal, the first route would have been better than all the others, and that is infallibility in this scenario.
    You say: “Pending further evidence, the prudent conclusion is that the infallibility of the Guardian in matters of protection is not a Bahai teaching”.
    It is not just further evidence that might be lacking, but a more explanatory method of looking at the texts. It seems to me, as mentioned above, there are ways of looking at the same texts and coming to a different conclusion. Second, we have completely different ideas about prudence. It would seem more prudent to me to accept the status quo and what seems even by your own text to be the multiple ramifications of protection infallibility, than to reject the idea of infallibility over protection altogether. I am also somewhat sceptical of the term “a Baha’i teaching”, as if there is a cannon of such things set in stone and collected for reference.
    You say: ‘The secretary explains why obedience to the Guardian is imperative: “… as he is infallible in the protection of the Faith.” This is a non-sequitur.’
    How is this a non-sequitur? If he is infallible in protection, then obedience is imperative. You may question whether he is infallible in protection, and if assertion is false, then the consequence may also be false, but one still follows from the other.
    Further, the clause introduced by ‘as’ has ambiguous semantics. The clause could contain the necessary and sufficient cause for the previous clause, in which case ‘as’ could be substituted by ‘because’. But it could also be supplementary, in which case the ‘as’-clause is an essential but not sufficient reason for the first clause. In which case, the term non-sequitur does not apply.
    So the ‘addition to doctrine’ you apparently infer the secretaries have made relies on your distinction between doctrinal and administrative categories, and on a particular way in which you parse ‘as’ in a clause. Neither of these seem to be particularly strong reasons to say that the sentences are so heinous that the Guardian should have picked them up and corrected them. In fact, I think they are completely consistent with what the Guardian was trying to explain to the Baha’i World through the instruments of his secretaries.
    You say: “My conclusion there is that the Guardian did not foresee that later generations of Bahais would start to attribute interpretive and doctrinal authority to letters written on his behalf by his secretaries. He didn’t read them to endorse them as equivalent to his own interpretations, but …”
    This conclusion is only valid if the chain of your reasoning is valid, which I think you might have gathered already.
    Further given Brent’s reasoning, and my own objection to the validity of your distinction between doctrinal and administrative roles, it becomes entirely reasonable for the secretaries to have been wholly correct in their explanations, and for the Guardian to have approved their work.
    Finally, it seems to me that you have come to a far reaching conclusion on the flimsiest of evidence. Even if you had been right about some inconsistency between the generality of the Guardian’s massive corpus of work, and wording in letters written on his behalf, to say that the Guardian had an inadequate understanding of the import of the letters written on his behalf neglects a significant literature about the Guardian by those who worked with him about how he worked, and the care and scrupulous attention he paid to all his responsibilities. If you want to say that the Guardian lacked vision about the future, you neglect another aspect of his work and actions.

  5. The scriptural basis for Baha’i belief that the Guardian infallibly protects our Faith is — the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. These letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi (important though they are) are not the source of that understanding. They simply paraphrase what we already know from the Will.

    In His Will and Testament, the Master says that

    (a) Shoghi Effendi is “the Guardian of the Cause of God”, through obedience to whom
    (b) “the mighty stronghold shall remain impregnable and safe”, since he
    (c) “[is] under the care and protection of the Abhá Beauty, under the shelter and unerring guidance of the Exalted One” in such wise that “whatsoever [he decides] is of God.” (quoted from the Will by Shoghi Effendi in The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh; http://www.bahai.org/r/380105844) (As you know, Sen, these promises of infallibility apply both to the Guardianship and the House of Justice, in their respective spheres.)

    Please note, a “guardian” is one who guards. To guard is to protect. The Guardian is the scripturally designated Protector of the Cause: That is his defining function. It’s this protective function of guardianship through which ‘Abdu’l-Baha says the Cause will “remain impregnable and safe” on account of its Guardian’s “unerring guidance”. The text could hardly be more explicit.

    In other words, guardianship — keeping God’s Cause “impregnable and safe” — isn’t some half-baked theory cooked up by an overzealous secretary whose imprecise words Shoghi Effendi carelessly overlooked. It’s the very name and description of his office.

    When I first read the Master’s Will and Testament, this was one of the foremost doctrines I took from it: that the Guardian is infallible in protecting the Cause. This was years before I ever saw, or heard of, either of the secretarial letters of which you make so much ado. I’m pretty sure nearly all Baha’is who study the Will read it just as I do, in this respect. The secretary’s letters don’t break any new ground or try to cast a wider net: Rather, they reflect a well-nigh universal Baha’i consensus based squarely on scripture.

    You’re certainly free, Sen, to insist that we’ve all misread ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s Will regarding the Guardian’s “unerring guidance” in keeping the Cause “impregnable and safe”. By “free” I mean you wouldn’t violate any laws of physics by challenging that consensus. (Though you might well violate laws of logic and exegesis!) But knowing that His Will *is* the source and foundation for this Baha’i understanding, you can’t reasonably propose an alternative reading without first dealing explicitly with these Sacred Texts.

  6. To my earlier comment, Sen, may I add two further minor points:

    (1) You write as if the secretary were attempting to push outward the scope of the Guardian’s infallibility. As I read those letters, the opposite is true: They emphasize the *limits* of his protective guidance — that it is confined strictly to matters that directly affect the Baha’i Cause. I thus can’t look to the Guardian for inerrant guidance on how to avoid osteoporosis or to safeguard my retirement benefits in old age. He isn’t an infallible authority on copyright law, species endangerment, climate change, or anti-terrorism policy (except insofar as these may involve protecting the Cause). The letters caution us against over-extending and over-generalizing.

    (2) The Guardian’s infallibility in interpreting scripture and doctrine is one highly specialized application of his more general role as the Faith’s unerring Protector. The Will emphasizes this interpretive function, not to limit the Guardian’s infallibility, but to make sure we know it extends that far. Had ‘Abdu’l-Baha not stressed this, then pedants like me and you might well question whether protective infallibility includes interpretation. Obviously (we’d be saying) it applies to practical issues like legalizing Baha’i marriages, fostering cordial relationships with governments, purchasing adequate buffer zones around Baha’i shrines, and the like. But how (we might well ask) could it possibly apply to anything so esoteric as prayer, life after death, or the inner workings of Baha’u’llah’s mind? Thanks to ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s insistence, we know it does.

    The Guardian’s ability to protect Baha’i doctrine from misinterpretation was nothing short of a metaphysical miracle. By comparison, his more general guardianship — protecting the Cause from outward threats — seems like a walk in the park.

  7. Sen said

    Thanks Gary, I may rewrite the posting in light of that. The Guardian’s choice of “Guardian” as a translation of ولی does seem to be an indication that protection is inherently included. The kind of protection that a ولی offers is patronage: it doesn’t require intervention on a case by case basis, so the objection that casuistic infallibility is not possible with limited knowledge is not relevant.

    Naturally I know about the Will and Testament – but you also know that the Guardian interpreted it, in his Dispensation of Baha’u’llah in particular. The question I am asking is what is the Guardian’s interpretation of the authority given him in the Will and Testament. The Will and Testament is a blank cheque written to Shoghi Effendi: “He that obeyeth him not, hath not obeyed God; he that turneth away from him, hath turned away from God.” Shoghi Effendi turned the cheque over and wrote the constitution of the Bahai Commonwealth on the back:

    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 Bahá’u’lláh’s revealed utterances. He interprets what has been specifically revealed, and cannot legislate except in his capacity as member of the Universal House of Justice. He is debarred from laying down independently the constitution that must govern the organized activities of his fellow-members, and from exercising his influence in a manner that would encroach upon the liberty of those whose sacred right is to elect the body of his collaborators.

    (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 150)

    He is a precise writer, a deliberate and wise thinker who looks ahead to the consequences of every word. In the paragraph above, and many others, he gives the guardianship limited authorities. In other passages he limits his own infallibility. It’s perfectly reasonable to ask what his thinking was on his own infallibility in protection (his authority in protection is not a question, for me or anyone else I think). And it is perfectly foolhardy to think that one can read the Will and Testament and jump to the answer without any further ado.

  8. Your “blank cheque” analogy strikes me as excellent, Sen. We surely agree that Shoghi Effendi filled in that cheque — and wrote, as you say, all over its back — with humility, vision, and foresight. Instead of seizing a chance to consolidate power (as he easily could have done), he submitted himself and his successors to extensive checks and balances. This along with a nuanced exposition of his promised divine guidance with its many limitations.

    You write: “It’s perfectly reasonable to ask what [Shoghi Effendi’s] thinking was on his own infallibility in protection.” That’s absolutely correct. As I read your post, however, this was not the question you set out to explore. You opened by disclaiming any intent to explore the meaning and nature of infallibility, focusing instead solely on its scope: Does infallibility — whatever it means or doesn’t mean, and however it may operate — extend to the Guardian’s role as Protector of the Faith?

    Your answer (insofar as I hope to have understood you) is that we have no scriptural warrant for thinking it does. It’s that specific, sharply focused question (and only that) that prompted my reply: As I read the Master’s Will and Testament, it makes clear that if infallibility means anything, and applies to anything, then it does cover the Guardian’s protective duties.

    Even if I’m right, we agree that this leaves vast scope for exploring what the Guardian’s “thinking was on the question of his own infallibility in protection”. But whatever it might mean, I see no scope for wondering whether he possessed it. The latter point, I take it, we can “jump to [from the Will] without further ado”. Then and only then does it strike me as fair to delve into the details. Does infallibility mean propositional inerrancy? moral sanctity? unquestioned authority? or something else — perhaps some mutation or permutation of any or all of the above? Good questions all, along with many others — and you acquit yourself well whenever they’re up for discussion. But by your own words, they are outside your purview in this particular article.

  9. Sen said

    Thanks to everyone who has contributed. I find Gary Matthew’s point convincing, although not as he formulated it. But if one adds in Abdu’l-Baha’s explanation of infallibility in SAQ, it is reasonable to say that infallibility in guardianship is the general category, and infallibility in interpretation is a specification of that, unique to him, while infallibility in protection is a necessary attribute of Guardianship — but only in those cases where error would lead the faithful astray. It’s a broad scope, but a soft definition, for infallibility.

    … these souls are not essentially infallible, yet they are under the care, protection and unerring guidance of God which is to say, God guards them from error. Thus there have been many sanctified souls who were not themselves the Daysprings of the Most Great Infallibility, but who have nevertheless been guarded and preserved from error under the shadow of divine care and protection. For they were the channels of divine grace between God and man, and if God did not preserve them from error they would have led all the faithful to fall likewise into error, which would have wholly undermined the foundations of the religion of God. …

    For instance, the Universal House of Justice, if it be established under the necessary conditions that is, if it be elected by the entire community that House of Justice will be under the protection and unerring guidance of God. Should that House of Justice decide, either unanimously or by a majority, upon a matter that is not explicitly recorded in the Book, that decision and command will be guarded from error. Now, the members of the House of Justice are not essentially infallible as individuals, but the body of the House of Justice is under the protection and unerring guidance of God…
    (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions 2014 Translation)

    ‘Abdu’l-Baha’s argument applies equally to the Guardianship I think. I will have to rewrite the entire post. Just at the moment the need to earn a living has intervened. When I do the rewrite I will also explain breifly why I don’t think Gary’s formulation of his argument holds water. While the Will and Testament is the strongest statement about authority, our strongest statements about infallibility are those in Some Answered Questions (above) and in the Ishraqat :

    Know thou that the term ‘Infallibility’ hath numerous meanings and divers stations. In one sense it is applicable to the One Whom God hath made immune from error. Similarly it is applied to every soul whom God hath guarded against sin, transgression, rebellion, impiety, disbelief and the like.
    (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 108)

    In short, I think the attempt to carve out “infallibility in protection” as a separate domain that could be dealt with separately — making the general concept of infallibility immune to cases such as the appointment of Remey as Hand and to the ITC — has failed.

  10. Sen said

    Hi Fpvrcmower (for the uninitiated, an Fpvrcmower is a First Person View Remote Controlled mower, which is what you get when you level up from Mary’s little lamb),

    My guess is that “that which protects it and fosters its growth” is the correct text, and “… fosters its good..” is the mistake. In either case, is the growth or good of the Cause that is referred to — not that of an NSA.

  11. Roland said

    The Universal House of Justice has elucidated its role and that of the Guardianship (and Guardian) in several letters which address the scope of its/his (inter alia) infallibility, authority, role in protecting and guiding the Faith. I find those dated 9 March 1965, 27 March 1966 and 7 December [1969] of particular importance here. My view is that a humble and careful study of these letters as well as the Will and Testament of Abdu’l Baha makes Sen’s essay somewhat redundant. One very important point reiterated in these letters is the following: “Just as the Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l‑Bahá does not in any way contradict the Kitáb-i-Aqdas but, in the Guardian’s words, “confirms, supplements, and correlates the provisions of the Aqdas,” so the writings of the Guardian contradict neither the revealed Word nor the interpretations of the Master. In attempting to understand the Writings, therefore, one must first realize that there is and can be no real contradiction in them, and in the light of this we can confidently seek the unity of meaning which they contain.” https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-of-justice/messages/19691207_001/19691207_001.xhtml?3055c0fc
    “How vast is the Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh! How great the magnitude of His blessings showered upon humanity in this day! And yet, how poor, how inadequate our conception of their significance and glory! This generation stands too close to so colossal a Revelation to appreciate, in their full measure, the infinite possibilities of His Faith, the unprecedented character of His Cause, and the mysterious dispensations of His Providence.”
    (Letter dated 21 March 1930, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 24

  12. Karl said

    You state that that there is an anecdote that the Guardian declared someone a covenant breaker then rescinded this but you have not provided a reference. Basic academic standards should prevent you from including such an unsubstantiated anecdote unless it is verified by the BWC or some other reputable source. Pilgrim Notes are not authoritative so how much less so are such anecdotes.

    It is gratifying to read your use of letters by the Guardian’s secretaries as authoritative sources representing his views and instructions. Anyone with even a rudimentary familiarity of your strongly held positions would know that you have argued strongly for at least decades that these letters are not authoritative and were simply the personal opinions which were not approved by the Guardian. When did your view that these letters are indeed authoritative change and why did you not post an essay explaining your changed opinion re such a profoundly important hermeneutical principle?

  13. Sen said

    You are scoring points, Karl, not holding a conversation. Or trying to score points. But the weakness of the anecdote you mention is explicitly mentioned in the article, as well as my reason for including it in the blog.
    I have not changed my view of the letters on behalf of the Guardian at all – it is and always has been that every letter must be examined on its own merits. In this blog article we have one badly written, inconsistent letter to an individual, alongside another that is addressed to an NSA, written in the Guardian’s diction (“the full sense of the word”) and bears his “seen and approved” rather than a “love, Shoghi.” Only an idiot would treat these as the same quality of source, and I am not an idiot.

  14. Richard Hainsworth said

    ” Only an idiot would treat these as the same quality of source, and I am not an idiot. ”
    Scoring points not?
    I do not quite understand what you may mean by ‘same quality of source’.
    I take the words of the Guardian as one quality of source because the words can be parsed carefully and meaning taken from them. I take ‘written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi’ as authoritative because Shoghi Effendi has approved the letter and would not have permitted it unless the meaning was consistent with the instructions Shoghi Effendi had given to the secretary. In compilations prepared under the auspices of the Universal House of Justice, quotations of works written by Shoghi Effendi are distinguished and placed before quotations written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi. Consequently, it seems to me that the Universal House of Justice considers this distinction important. But the Universal House of Justice does not rank the letters according to secretary, and letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi are considered authoritative.
    The quality of guidance does not depend on who the secretary was, the quality of the expression, or the choice of words. Letters written behalf of the Guardian contain guidance because he approved them, and not because of the inherent quality of the letter. If — as in your two examples — there is an difference of view not found elsewhere, then this to me clarifies Shoghi Effendi’s overall vision.
    So given that you distinguish between the guidance in letters on the basis of a secretary’s exposition, and consider anyone who does not an idiot, then — by your view I am an idiot. Like you, I do not consider myself an idiot.

  15. Karl said

    I am sorry if it came across as “scoring points.” I wrote hurriedly and now readily concede that you did acknowledge the weakness of the anecdote.

    As far as the letters on the Guardian’s behalf are concerned I am genuinely baffled. You use two of them as the basis for much of your argument yet even casual readers will have noted that you have dismissed these letters as not having doctrinal authority. This is one of several comments of yours about these letters: : Shoghi Effendi himself wanted the Bahais to make a strong distinction between his writings and those of his secretaries. One of his secretaries warns “Although the secretaries of the Guardian convey his thoughts and instructions and these messages are authoritative, their words are in no sense the same as his, their style certainly not the same, and their authority less, for they use their own terms and not his exact words in conveying his messages.” (Unfolding Destiny 260)
    If these letters had doctrinal authority, it would not make much sense to say they had ‘less authority.’ I think the meaning here is that they share in Shoghi Effendi’s authority as Head of the Faith, they have to be followed by the assembly or individual to whom they are addressed, and we may suppose that they were the right thing to say, to the assembly or individual concerned (since Shoghi Effendi checked them, with very few exceptions).

    It has been pointed out to you several times that the UHJ’s elucidation includes the fact that the Guardian approved those letters and often signed them and stated that they are authoritative an dthat th eUHJ has affirmed that there is no basis for any categorical dismissal of their authoritative nature: https://bahai-library.com/uhj_letters_behalf_guardian However, this does not seem to have changed your views as you yourself confirm.

    The reasoning I quoted is what you have used (for example) to dismiss letters written on the Guardian’s behalf prohibiting the Faith’s position re homosexuality and same sex marriage. So it is not an attempt to score points to ask why you think the two letters you refer to here can be used as references in an essay on infallibility and protection rather than also being dismissed as having no relevance to such a weighty issue. What makes them worthy of inclusion whereas the letters re homosexuality are not (or on copper to gold and the Tablet of Emmanuel et al) are not? Is this not a legitimate question to ask and one which, although not raised by Brent, Gary and Richard must have occurred to them and many of your readers also?

    I would also suggest that the Guardian’s loss of a court case and appointment of Mason Remey have no bearing on his infallibility. The innocent lose cases all the time hence the hundreds released by having wrongful convictions overturned through the Innocence Project). The Bab designated Mirza Yahya as the Head of the Babi community and Baha’u’llah appointed Mírzá Muhammad `Ali as the Greater Branch but this has no bearing on Their infallibility.

  16. Karl said

    I forgot to include the last paragraph of your comment re secretaries letters on behalf of the Guardian which I quoted:

    It is not legitimate to attribute a general significance to a letter intended for the benefit of a particular person. A doctor may tell the patient what they need to “know” to minimise their stress, although it is not true. A teacher answers a question in terms appropriate to the pupil. And a Guardian helps individual Bahais with their particular difficulties at that time, instructs assemblies about what is to be done, and also defines Bahai teachings in general letters to the Bahai world. Only the last of these have general and unchanging doctrinal applicability.

    [[ Karl is referencing my comment on the Copper to Gold posting. ~ Sen ]]

  17. Peter said

    I don’t have the impression that Karl is trying to score points although he is mistaken about the anecdote. It also occurred to me that it is puzzling that you cite two letters on the Guardian’s behalf about infallibility and protection. Your position over a long period has been that these letters are only relevant to communications as advice to individuals and NSAs and have no doctrinal authority comparable to letters written by the Guardian himself. The obvious question would therefore be why these letters are exempt from the doctrinal criteria you apply to them as a category of guidance. Of course, your position is diametrically opposite to the guidance of the UHJ so I suspect readers would wonder why the shift from a core tenet of yours? Why not use letters written only by the Guardisn himself? That would be consistent with your position rather than dismissing them but doing a 180 degree and quoting some. If they are not suitable for citing re several doctrines you have examined in the past why are they suitable re a discussion of infallibility and protection?

  18. Sen said

    Dear Peter, if the Guardian himself has written anything about the Guardian being infallible in protection, we should of course begin with that. But I didn’t find anything. If you know of something, please post it.

    I found one letter to an individual which is badly formulated, such that I do not consider it reliable, and one letter to an NSA which is better written and has the Guardian’s “read and approved.” Is this enough to found a doctrine on? I do not think that would be prudent. But Gary Matthews has proposed an alternative approach, which I have tweaked with a source (Some Answered Questions) to back it up. And that is good enough, for me, to affirm the doctrine, and also to adjust our understanding of it. If it is based on Some Answered Questions, then the conditions given in SAQ apply.

    This is how we make progress in understanding. I am grateful to the friend who first pointed out to me that all the references to this teaching in the secondary literature cite only a letter on behalf, to an individual (August 20, 1956), and then omit its opening line, “Instructions sent on behalf of the Guardian are binding, as are the words of the Guardian; although of course, they are not the Guardian’s words” — a formulation so bad that editors have apparently felt justified in omitting it in Lights of Guidance, Directives and various UHJ letters.

    But I pointed out in my article that there is a stronger letter, although it is still “on behalf,” — the letter of May 13, 1945. This one says “He is the Guardian of the Cause in the very fullness of that term, and the appointed interpreter of its teachings, and is guided in his decisions to do that which protects it and fosters its growth and highest interests.” Nevertheless given the Guardian’s own views about the letters written on his behalf, and the absence of references to infallibility in protection in the Guardian’s discussions of the role of the Guardian, I do not feel it is strong enough. You may consider it is strong enough, but if so, you must surely agree that knocking out the 1956 letter to an individual and building on the clearer 1945 letter to an NSA is a strengthening move.

    I in turn am grateful to Gary Matthews for his conceptual insight, and I have added to Gary’s contribution — so that now I think the secretaries’ letters are both of secondary interest only.

    My position was and is that every letter from a secretary has to be considered on its merits, looking at its diction, considering whether it has been correctly classified as “on behalf” by the editor, seeing whether it is amended by later letters on the topic, as in the series of letters on the immaculate conception and the tablet of Emanuel, whether it is consistent with Shoghi Effendi’s own words, and so on. In practice, my experience is that in almost every case the secretary’s letter can be used as a signpost pointing towards a better source. Once the scriptural foundations are found, there’s no point in spending time on a secretary’s wording. That’s why I seldom find I need to cite the words of a secretary. One exception is the knotty matter of how to read letters written on behalf of the Guardian. Every letter that refers to this, is written by a secretary. So we get a paradoxical loop. The secretary says “their words are in no sense the same as his…” but maybe that’s a poor formulation and what it really means is that the secretary’s words are in some sense the same as the Guardian’s words, but in that case the statement that they are not the same is in some sense true so …
    You can see that a far sounder approach is to use the letters as signs pointing to the firm ground, so skirting around the boggy patch on the path

  19. BRENT POIRIER said

    Abdu’l-Baha states in the Will that the Guardian is infallibly guided by both the Bab and Baha’u’llah in protection. In the first sentence of the following quoted paragraph from the Will, He promises the guidance of both Manifestations to the Guardian, then describes ways in which one’s posture to him is one’s posture towards God, and then in the last sentence states that the Guardian’s role in protection:

    “The sacred and youthful branch, the Guardian of the Cause of God, as well as the Universal House of Justice to be universally elected and established, are both under the care and protection of the Abha Beauty, under the shelter and unerring guidance of the Exalted One (may my life be offered up for them both). Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; … The mighty stronghold shall remain impregnable and safe through obedience to him who is the Guardian of the Cause of God.”
    (Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 11)

    I suppose you might feel that Abdu’l-Baha could have improved on His language by adding parenthetical phrases to make sure we understand that when, in various parts of the Will, He gives authority to the Guardian, He intends us to understand that His promise that the Bab and Baha’u’llah are guiding him apply there, too:

    New, improved version of the Master’s Covenant:

    … (“He’s still infallibly guided by the Bab and Baha’u’llah when exercising this next role:”) The mighty stronghold shall remain impregnable and safe through obedience to him who is the Guardian of the Cause of God… (“And he’s still guided by Them here:”) It is incumbent upon the Guardian of the Cause of God to appoint in his own life-time him that shall become his successor … . (“Here too!”) The Hands of the Cause of God must be nominated and appointed by the Guardian of the Cause of God.”

    But Shoghi Effendi – in his own hand asserts his own infallibility in protection bestowed by the Will, feeling that the “surprisingly emphatic language” of the Will sufficiently makes the point:

    “Unlike the Dispensation of Christ, unlike the Dispensation of Muhammad, unlike all the Dispensations of the past, the apostles of Bahá’u’lláh in every land, wherever they labor and toil, have before them in clear, in unequivocal and emphatic language, all the laws, the regulations, the principles, the institutions, the guidance, they require for the prosecution and consummation of their task. Both in the administrative provisions of the Bahá’í Dispensation, and in the matter of succession, as embodied in the twin institutions of the House of Justice and of the Guardianship, the followers of Bahá’u’lláh can summon to their aid such irrefutable evidences of Divine Guidance that none can resist, that none can belittle or ignore. Therein lies the distinguishing feature of the Bahá’í Revelation. Therein lies the strength of the unity of the Faith, of the validity of a Revelation that claims not to destroy or belittle previous Revelations, but to connect, unify, and fulfill them. This is the reason why Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá have both revealed and even insisted upon certain details in connection with the Divine Economy which they have bequeathed to us, their followers. This is why such an emphasis has been placed in their Will and Testament upon the powers and prerogatives of the ministers of their Faith.
    “For nothing short of the explicit directions of their Book, and the surprisingly emphatic language with which they have clothed the provisions of their Will, could possibly safeguard the Faith for which they have both so gloriously labored all their lives. Nothing short of this could protect it from the heresies and calumnies with which denominations, peoples, and governments have endeavored, and will, with increasing vigor, endeavor to assail it in future.”
    (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 21-22)

    And by the phrase “their Will” he explains to us that its Author is Baha’u’llah as well as Abdu’l-Baha.

    Brent [snipped by Sen: WordPress comments function is very heavy for my little laptop to handle]

  20. Sen said

    You may like to read the article again. The letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi appear there because I think it remarkable, if this was a Bahai doctrine, that it only appears in two letters on his behalf — so far as I have been able to discover. If you look through my blog you will find very many letters on behalf of Shoghi Effendi referenced. It’s often difficult to know how to read them, what weight to give them — but just omitting them is not an option. In a few cases I think they are both factually wrong and do not reflect Shoghi Effendi’s ideas — but I only get to that conclusion after citing them. Similarly, I’ve cited the two letters on behalf of the Guardian that I’ve found on this topic.
    Counter-evidence of historical errors is certainly relevant, if it indicates what infallibility is not. But first check the history: I know of no good evidence that the Bab “designated Mirza Yahya as the Head of the Babi community.” Shoghi Effendi says he nominated him to act “solely as a figure-head.” The so-called Will and Testament of the Bab summons Mirza Yahya to some duties, but heading the community is not explicitly there. Also Baha’u’llah gave Mirza Muhammad `Ali a title — but not a function in the community. I cannot think of any comparable case in the life of Abdu’l-Baha, so I’m using the appointment of Remey as Hand and as President of the International Bahai Council as the best test case.

    In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha refers to “sanctified souls” who have been “guarded and preserved from error…” :

    For they were the channels of divine grace between God and man, and if God did not preserve them from error they would have led all the faithful to fall likewise into error, which would have wholly undermined the foundations of the religion of God

    Obviously the credibility that Shoghi Effendi gave to Remey did not wholly wreck the ship, for we are still here, and still united, but Remey’s claim to the Guardianship did tremendous harm, and is still harming some individuals today. Perhaps he would have claimed the Guardianship anyway, because he was extraordinarily vain, and had a great deal invested in his arguments that the Guardianship was essential to the Faith — from the many years when he opposed those who disputed the Will and Testament. But did he have to be a Hand? Dear God, why?

  21. BRENT POIRIER said

    Sen writes about Remey: “But did he have to be a Hand? Dear God, why?”

    Remey’s father George Collier Remey was a rear admiral and somewhat of a hero – he has a Wiki page. Around the turn of the 19th-20th century he had been commandant of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, which a few years later was the site of the negotiations for the end of the Russo-Japanese War, for which Teddy Roosevelt received the Nobel Peace Prize. A few years after that, during His visit to Green Acre, Abdu’l-Baha visited that same shipyard and saw a battleship being repaired. During the Second World War a ship was named for Admiral Remey. He lived out his years in Washington DC in a home immediately adjoining Dupont Circle.

    So I assume that Charles Mason Remey grew up in a well-connected Washington DC family. Their home may have been the site of various receptions, and Remey may have become familiar with dealing with diplomats and other powerful people. Very few Baha’is had the background for diplomatic work. In January 1951 Shoghi Effendi created the International Baha’i Council, then in March of that year named Remey its President. Among the important responsibilities of this body was the development of relations with government officials in Jerusalem. Remey know how to present himself and knew how to speak with important people without being overawed. The Guardian had to give him an exalted title so that when he sent Remey to meet with government officials, they knew from the rank of the person sent to them, that they were being dealt with in a respectful and befitting manner. Later that year Remey was one of the first contingent of Hands named by the Guardian. I think he was well-chosen for the work.

    I recall reading a pilgrim’s note in which Shoghi Effendi reportedly mentioned various Hands and why they had been selected. As I recall, he reportedly mentioned that Remey had traveled extensively for the Faith and met the Baha’is in many communities around the world.

    Yes, he had a considerable ego, but he had a choice. In 2001 I asked Mr. Furutan if this was the case. I asked, along these lines: “Is it possible that Mason Remey was not the one with the original desire for leadership. That Marangella was, but no one knew who Marangella was. *Everyone* knew who Mason Remey was, and he was aged, and is it possible that Marangella thought that if he flattered Remey and urged Remey to claim the Guardianship, that maybe out of gratitude, Remey would designate him his successor. Is that a possibility?” Most emphatically, Mr. Furutan responded: “NO. It is NOT a possibility.” (Pause) “It is a FACT.”
    He then added, “I sat across the table from Mason Remey in the Mansion of Bahji during the Conclaves of the Hands of the Cause, and many times I looked into his face. And I can tell you that the thought of claiming the Guardianship never once cross his mind — until he went to France and met that man.”

    Brent

  22. Sen said

    Hi Richard,
    You assume that which is to be proved — you assume that when Shoghi Effendi read outgoing mail he was making it “authoritative” by giving it “approval.” Is this indeed what he meant us to understand? The question cannot be deflected by wishing it away. What did he mean? I think this can only be answered in each particular case, in light of some general principles which will be somewhat clarified below.

    I rather doubt that you are such an idiot, as not to make distinctions between the Guardian’s letters on doctrine, his letters on administrative matters, and those of his secretaries, and between the various qualities of the letters written on his behalf. Perhaps you have to have them held before you, to admit to yourself that you do indeed distinguish.

    Here’s exhibit A.

    “In regard to the question as to whether people ought to kill animals for food or not, there is no explicit statement in the Bahá’í Sacred Scriptures (as far as I know) in favour or against it.”…

    Is this expressing the Guardian’s ignorance, or the secretary’s? There are tablets from Abdu’l-Baha [and Baha’u’llah] on this topic. The letter goes on:

    “It is certain, however, that if man can live on a purely vegetarian diet and thus avoid killing animals, it would be much preferable….”

    If we take this as the Guardian speaking as interpreter, he is offering an interpretation on something which he himself thinks is not in the Writings – and therefore is in the province of the UHJ not the Guardian. But he says in the Dispensation of Baha’u’llah that the Guardian will not do this. But it gets more puzzling, because the next sentence says

    …”This is, however, a very controversial question and the Bahá’ís are free to express their views on it.”

    – so the writer (the secretary expressing personal views, in my opinion) does not think this defines Bahai belief. But aren’t the authoritative interpretations of the Guardian supposed to do that? Finally, note that the letter is written on a Holy Day: 9 July 1931. What are the chances that the Guardian required his secretary to work on a Holy Day? You can find the letter in The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 475.

    Exhibit B is an example of a kind of letter that is usually not published at all:

    I was very pleased to receive this morning your letter of 28th April, but we were very sorry to hear you have been ill and hope your health will soon be completely  restored. It was nice that you saw Shoghi’s sister and Soheil’s brother in London.

    I forget whether I gave you the address of Mr and Mrs King, c/o Messrs Hayman and King, 202 Old Christchurch Rd. Bournemouth. They are very kind-hearted Bahá’ís and will be delighted to see any of you if you call. Both of them work in the business and you are most likely to see them if you call there. They live above the shop.

    I gave you Sister Challis’s address at West Moors (Ferndown Lodge). You can get there by ‘bus from Bournemouth Sq. or Lansdowne, which will drop you right at Sister Challis’s door (She keeps a nursing home) or you can go by train from West Bournemouth to West Moors station which is within 5 minutes’ walk of Ferndown Lodge. I hope you will be able to see her.

    As I write, the Greatest Holy Leaf is on a visit to the Shrine of the Master. It is over a year, I think, since she has been able to visit the shrine and until now she has not seen the new Gardens, in the laying out of which Shoghi Effendi has taken such a deep interest. The Gardens are looking lovely now and it is easy to imagine how delighted she will be. One day during the feast of Ridvan she and the Holy Mother were able to visit Bahji and the Garden of Ridvan.

    I have quite recovered from my pleurisy now and am steadily regaining my strength.

    Shoghi Effendi is still tired. I hope he will soon be able to take a rest.

    All the friends here join in loving greetings and best wishes to yourself, your son and daughter, Miss Stevenson and Effie Baker.
    With warmest greetings.
    Your brother in the service of the Beloved,
    J. E. Esslemont

    [From the Guardian:]

    My dear precious sister in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:

    I was so glad to hear from you directly and learn of your improved health and meeting with the English Bahá’ís. I need not assure you of my ardent prayers for your happiness, good health and continued success in the service of the Cause. I hope and pray you will be enabled by the guiding spirit of the Master not only to stimulate the interest of your friends and relations in this Cause but to make of some of them earnest and whole-hearted believers and supporters of the Faith.
    Shoghi

    (Shoghi Effendi, Arohanui – Letters to New Zealand, p. 5)

    This is just a chatty letter from Esslemont, but the Guardian read it (because he wanted to read everything going out) and added a postscript (because postscripts were much more practical than his trying to conduct his own correspondence). It’s classified by the book editor as a “letter on behalf of the Guardian.” Would your statement “Letters written behalf of the Guardian contain guidance because he approved them,..” apply here?

    Exhibit C you will have to read for yourself, because it is very long. It’s the “white Australia” letter of 19 April, 1925, written by Esslemont and addressed to Major Norman Macleod in Melbourne. It’s length is part of the message, which you won’t get unless you indeed read it from beginning to end, and then ask yourself “is this divine guidance, because Shoghi Effendi approved it? Or is it Esslemont who is the I and we and me in the letter, communicating on behalf of Shoghi Effendi only in the sense that Shoghi Effendi wanted someone to do some communicating, and he volunteered?

    Exhibit D is the letter from a secretary that says “He (the Guardian) does not feel that the friends should make a practice of saying grace or of teaching it to children. This is not part of the Bahá’í Faith, but a Christian practice,…” – when in fact it is ordained by Baha’u’llah, and Abdu’l-Baha said grace himself and gave us a number of prayers to use for the purpose (and Shoghi Effendi also said grace himself, at least sometimes) – see ‘Words of Grace‘ for the sources on this.

    One last example, a letter that says “All Divine Revelation seems to have been thrown out in flashes. The Prophets never composed treatises. (The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 453)

    Is the Bisharat not an organised treatise? the Iqan? The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf? Other lines in the same letter suppose that prophethood is the perfection of the human station, whereas Bahai teaching is that revelation is transcendent, even if the place-of-revelation is human.

    Then we have the meta-discussion: the statements by secretaries about statements by secretaries :
    “His personal letters to individual friends are only for their personal benefit ..”

    ” …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. He feels that in any future edition … the words of the Guardian [should be] clearly differentiated from those of his secretaries.”

    Your statement “Letters written behalf of the Guardian contain guidance because he approved them, ” doesn’t seem to leave room for the differentiation that – according to the secretary – the Guardian wished.

    Letters by secretaries often contain errors and improbable statements, but seldom an admission that they were in error. I’ve found one exception :

    Concerning the list of Baha’i teachers sent to America by the Master, I wish to make it clear that the statement I made on that point on behalf of the Guardian in my communication (see article entitled “Explanation of Passages in ‘America and the Most Great Peace’”, published in BAHA’I NEWS February, 1934.- Editor [page 5]) is, due to a misunderstanding on my part, incorrect. Khayru’llah could not have been one of these teachers, since these were sent to the United States in order to remedy the situation which Khayru’llah himself had created through his treacherous actions against the Master and the Cause. A careful perusal of the paragraph on page 14 in “America and the Most Great Peace” makes that point indubitably clear. As to the five teachers referred to in that epistle of the Guardian, there must have been a typographical error, and instead of five we should, therefore, read only four. (signed) H. Rabbani.

    The secretaries express their level of knowledge, their opinions, and sometimes their ignorance (“that I know of”). Their knowledge and opinions are of course elevated by their contact with Shoghi Effendi, but I think I’ve presented enough evidence to show that the secretaries do not give up their agency. They are not extensions of Shoghi Effendi, and he did not intend their words to be read as in any sense like his own.

    And on the distinction between doctrine and administration, within the Guardian’s writings – via a secretary or not – I have already cited:

    … there must have been some misapprehension on your part of his statements regarding future Guardians: they cannot “abrogate” the interpretations of former Guardians, as this would imply not only lack of guidance but mistakes in making them; however they can elaborate and elucidate former interpretations, and can certainly abrogate some former ruling laid down as a temporary necessity by a former Guardian.” (February 19, 1947, in Messages to Canada, 1999 edn, 89)

    De facto, the less important of those rulings laid down as a temporary necessity are going to be in letters on behalf of the Guardian, but there are matters that the Guardian handles himself, and also says that this is a temporary ruling. The voting methods for NSAs is one that comes to mind.

    If you consider all this evidence, and the paradox involved if one treats it all as equally guided, I think you’ll agree that the Guardian’s reading them all does not make them all the same. There’s no broad brush here. Equally untenable is the view Karl attributed to me :

    Anyone with even a rudimentary familiarity of your strongly held positions would know that you have argued strongly for at least decades that these letters are not authoritative and were simply the personal opinions which were not approved by the Guardian.

    That would be the view of an idiot. Note that I did not call Karl an idiot. If he or anyone else is going to attribute ideas to me I would be flattered if they were intelligent ones. Better still is to engage with what someone has actually written, with quotes and sources, so that third parties can join in and follow, concurrently and years and decades later.

  23. Karl, I wonder if you have perhaps misconstrued Sen’s argument. You say:

    “As far as the letters on the Guardian’s behalf are concerned I am genuinely baffled. You use two of them as the basis for much of your argument yet even casual readers will have noted that you have dismissed these letters as not having doctrinal authority.”

    Please note, Sen does not use these two letters as proof-texts for any Baha’i doctrine. Least of all for their assertion that the Guardian is infallible in protecting the Cause. On the contrary, Sen appears to question whether the latter *is* a Baha’i doctrine. He’s arguing (if I’ve understood him) that we can’t know how accurately these letters reflect Shoghi Effendi’s own view of the scope of his infallibility. This strikes me as entirely in line with Sen’s other postings in which, as you say, he “dismissed these letters as not having doctrinal authority”.

    In other words, it isn’t these two secretarial letters Sen is using “as the basis for much of [his] argument”. It’s their purported inadequacy he’s using. That’s an entirely different approach!

    As already noted, I disagree with what I take to be the main thrust of Sen’s article: Specifically, I find that these two secretarial letters are not, as Sen insists, our only sources for the doctrine of the Guardian’s “infallibility in protection” of the Faith. ‘Abdu’l-Baha in His Will and Testament, in His own words as translated by Shoghi Effendi, articulates this very doctrine! So even if neither of these secondary letters existed, that belief would remain a core tenet of our Faith.

    I should add that Sen and I also differ as to the weight we generally give such letters “on behalf of” the Guardian. Either of these two particular letters, in my opinion, by itself is more than enough to substantiate the doctrine in question (the Guardian’s infallibility in protection). This in my view would remain true even if the doctrine were not explicitly spelled out, as it is, in the Master’s Will.

    Please note that in all I’ve just said, I’m characterizing my own admittedly imprecise understanding of Sen’s article as originally posted. He has said he intends to rewrite it, so the new version may render moot at least some of my stated reservations. Who knows? We may find ourselves in much closer agreement than we now think.

  24. Sen, you speak of “the knotty matter of how to read letters written on behalf of the Guardian”, adding: “Every letter that refers to this, is written by a secretary.”

    If this were precisely true, it would indeed create, as you say, a “paradoxical loop”. However, Shoghi Effendi in his own handwriting, using his own words, wrote: “I wish to add and say that whatever letters are sent in my behalf from Haifa are all read and approved by me before mailing. There is no exception whatever to this rule.” (Although this occurs in a postscript to a letter composed by the secretary — 7 December 1930 — this authoritative comment is pure Shoghi Effendi.)

    We can make of this what we will. But as I read it, it certainly “refers to” the “knotty matter” in question — and it isn’t written by a secretary. That being so, it strikes me as an appropriate foundational starting point for any further analysis.

  25. Sen said

    The coherency of the writings of Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and the Guardian is my starting point Roland: I’ve called it the Covenant as epistemology (in theology). It’s also a safe assumption in doing history with a scientific approach, for their lives were so close and their devotion to one cause so obvious, that a difference between them on any point would be the kind of “strong claim” that needs strong evidence.
    You don’t tell us is what you concluded, and on what basis, using this method.

  26. Pim said

    The coherency of the writings of Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and the Guardian is my starting point Roland: You don’t tell us is what you concluded, and on what basis, using this method”
    Sen, no “Roland” has posted in this thread.

  27. Sen said

    Thank Brent, the term “unerring” in the phrase “under the shelter and unerring guidance of the Exalted One” is indeed ma`sum, which takes us to “Whatsoever they decide is of God.” Shoghi Effendi nuanced this, as you are aware, in letters written on his behalf and in pilgrims’ notes, and he defined the scope of the Guardianship vis-a-vis the House of Justice. If you are happy with “Whatsoever they decide is of God,” then go with that. I am interested in figuring out what Shoghi Effendi, the authorized interpreter, thought about it, and what Abdu’l-Baha thought about it, in the light of their writings and actions.
    A good case has been made, by Udo Schaefer and others, that the infallibility of the House is in its role as legislator, and the infallibility of the Guardian is in his role as Interpreter. That is, that there’s a boundary implicit in “whatsoever they decide is of God,” and that it coincides with the defining roles that each is given uniquely, in the same document. Part of that argument I have summarized in this posting: that “interpretation” involves being a channel for Truth, and a now-and-then truth is not Truth at all. That it is impossible to conceive – when thinking deliberately – of the authorized interpreter being fallible in his interpretation. I find that a convincing mode of argument BUT I am critical of Schaefer’s thesis in that there’s nothing inconceivable about a fallible legislator, especially one that can refine and reverse its own legislation. At the point, his argument is an argument by analogy, and I don’t have enough understanding to trust an analogy. But the argument is credible if not watertight. At least it doesn’t contradict the Will and Testament, so far as I can see.

    Protection is a role of both institutions, and of other bodies and individuals as well. A protection that sometimes works and sometimes fails is not inconceivable. So “infallible in protection” becomes a test case. The “last sentence” you refer to, “The mighty stronghold shall remain impregnable and safe through obedience to him who is the Guardian of the Cause of God” does not tell us that the Guardian is infallible in protection. Quite the opposite, it says that the stronghold will be impregnable IF we are obedient. It’s a protection that can fail.

    There’s also an aspect of protection that falls under interpretation. One of the two letters I have quoted says “He is the Guardian of the Cause… and the appointed interpreter of its teachings, and is guided in his decisions to do that which protects it and fosters its growth and highest interests.” (13 May 1945, to the NSA of Australia and New Zealand) His exposition of the Will and Testament, defining the two separate spheres of the UHJ and Guardian, and refuting readings of Abdu’l-Baha’s words by the anti-organisation Bahais, as well as exaggerations of the sphere of his authority that had reached him through the North American pilgrims, is surely both interpretation and protection at once. Is this what “that which protects it ” means? if so, the Schaefer thesis is not affected. Or does “that which protects it” embrace specified cases such as expelling a covenant-breaker or appointing a Hand? If, as I suspect, we have no way of knowing, then what was intended as a step to clarifying the issues around the infallibilities of the House of Justice and the Guardian, leaves me not just back where I started, but worse off. The Schaefer thesis doesn’t seem to have a way of dealing with the Guardian being infallible in protection, but I know of no better model to put in its place. There are at least two places to begin: my “infallibility as freedom” idea, and Gary’s idea that being infallible in “that which protects it” is the broader category, and infallibility in interpretation falls within this for the appointed interpreter, while infallibility in legislation falls within this for the appointed legislator.
    I can feel a new paper coming on … but I hope someone else will write it. I have other fish to fry at the moment

  28. Sen said

    Yes, it should be highlighted more in my analysis, here and previously, since is Shoghi Effendi himself. Whether it was in fact implemented consistently throughout his ministry is still a question, but this letter is indicative of what he meant by reading and approving outgoing correspondence. It meant more, apparently, than just keeping an overview of progress on tasks that he had delegated to others. But we know from other correspondence (on his behalf) it did NOT mean that the letters were in any sense the same as his own. I don’t think a generalising approach will refine a precise point within that range, because the letters on his behalf are varied in quality and credibility. We are still left — in my opinion — with evaluating each one on its merits, with the lower limit that IF he saw the letter (i.e., if it is correctly characterised as “on behalf” of the Guardian), his “seeing” entailed “approving” in some sense. And the upper limit that his approval of the letters did not make them like his own correspondence.

  29. h said

    There’s another issue here about Sen’s objections to letters written on the Guardian’s behalf, which I think are a red herring. His objection is primarily founded on examples of letters he has found, written by secretaries, where the secretaries stated in the letter that they did not in fact have the Guardian’s approval prior to sending the letter. With a letter or two like this, he seeks to invalidate all letters written on the Guardian’s behalf, and to refute the general statement Shoghi Effendi made, that he approved every letter before it went out.

    And the reason I say “red herring” is that the letters which are under discussion (here on the subject of protection, in previous discussions on the subject of homosexuality) WERE countersigned by the Guardian. So the doubt he raises are irrelevant to the matter under discussion. The fact that the Guardian did not countersign some other letter before sending it does not weaken or undermine the authority of the secretaries’ letters which were.

    Brent

  30. Sen said

    Roland’s post is number 11, Pim, dated July 20, beginning “The Universal House of Justice has elucidated its role and that of the Guardianship (and Guardian) in several letters which address the scope of its/his (inter alia) infallibility, authority, role in protecting and guiding the Faith. I find those dated 9 March 1965, 27 March 1966 and 7 December of particular importance…”

  31. Sen said

    I am not aware of a secretary’s letter saying that he did not have the Guardian’s approval for the letter. Such a letter would not be published, I think, because editors select for us the more credible and relevant letters.

    The letter that states “… as he [the Guardian] is infallible in the protection of the Faith” (1956) is by a secretary to an individual believer. It’s weaker authority is relevant, because it has been extensively cited in the discussions of the point in question. But it is also a moot point, because ““… he is guided in his decisions to do that which protects it and fosters its good and highest interest ” (1945) is in a letter to an NSA and shows the Guardian’s diction. You will recall that another letter on his behalf said “He has also said that whenever he has something of importance to say, he invariably communicates it to the National Spiritual Assembly or in his general letters.” (To NSA of US November 16, 1932 (Bahá’í News #71, Feb 1933, pp 1-2).

    The distinctions that Shoghi Effendi draws, between the various kinds of correspondence, should be observed by us, even if they make no difference to the conclusion, and especially because they quite often do make a difference to the conclusion! If we don’t divide the material using the distinctions he himself made, we cannot use it to give us a picture of his mind, intent and character.

  32. hasanelias said

    Sen wrote:
    “The distinctions that Shoghi Effendi draws, between the various kinds of correspondence, should be observed by us, even if they make no difference to the conclusion, and especially because they quite often do make a difference to the conclusion! If we don’t divide the material using the distinctions he himself made, we cannot use it to give us a picture of his mind, intent and character.”

    I agree 100%. Sadly this distinction is not made.
    And if we go further, even dubious quotes are present in both official materials (like Ruhi books) and secondary literature.
    I would be not surprised to find pilgrim notes there (official and secondary material)!!!
    Dubious quotes = talks of `Abdu’l-Baha without the original approved Persian.

  33. Sen said

    Indeed. I’ve only been to one Ruhi class, and what struck me immediately was the dilution of authentic teachings with other things, sometimes unsourced. The people who made these materials clearly did not think about sources. We need a source-critical culture in the Bahai community. It’s a way of thinking, like separating the whites and coloured in the wash, and then a bit of knowledge and skills to sort the strong from the weak. On this blog see “Conversation with God,” which came from the Ruhi class I did :
    https://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/2009/02/28/conversation-with-god/

    More generally, the tag “Bahai Lore” gathers more research on unauthentic materials that are influential in the Bahai community.
    https://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/tag/bahai-lore/

  34. Larry Roofener said

    Sen:

    Having not read this blog article until more recently, I still wanted to make some brief comments after giving consideration to your perspectives as well as the comments made by others.

    I first will state that I appreciate your article because striving to more fully understand the institution of the Guardianship and its intended role within the unfolding Administrative Order and the future World Order of Bahá’u’lláh has become a priority and an evolving focus of mine over the last decade or more. Secondly (but certainly not in order of importance), your article is timely because the centenary of the unveiling of the Will and Testament of `Abdu’l-Bahá occurring in late December 2021 and early January 2022 is rapidly approaching.

    Addressing the relationship between the institution of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice, and the Will and Testament of `Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi wrote, “We stand indeed too close to so monumental a document to claim for ourselves a complete understanding of all its implications, or to presume to have grasped the manifold mysteries it undoubtedly contains. Only future generations can comprehend the value and the significance attached to this Divine Masterpiece, which the hand of the Master-builder of the world has designed for the unification and the triumph of the world-wide Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. Only those who come after us will be in a position to realize the value of the surprisingly strong emphasis that has been placed on the institution of the House of Justice and of the Guardianship. . . .” (Shoghi Effendi, Letter dated February 27, 1929 published in The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 8)

    Related, a letter written on behalf of the Guardian stated: “The contents of the Will of the Master is far too much for the present generation to comprehend. It needs at least a century of actual working before the treasures of wisdom hidden in it can be revealed. . . .” (From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, March 25, 1930; Lights of Guidance compilation, no. 598)

    In his Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh treatise dated February 8, 1934, Shoghi Effendi further wrote, “To define with accuracy and minuteness the features, and to analyze exhaustively the nature of the relationships which, on the one hand, bind together these two fundamental organs of the Will of `Abdu’l-Bahá (the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice) and connect, on the other, each of them to the Author of the Faith and the Center of His Covenant is a task which future generations will no doubt adequately fulfill. . . .” (The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 147)

    Sen, regardless whether or not all your perspectives shared in this article are agreed upon by all, my point here is to commend you for your contribution(s) toward the accomplishment of what the Guardian described some 85 years ago as that “task which future generations will no doubt adequately fulfill. . . .” Thank you.

  35. Sen said

    My thinking has evolved, as you can see in the comments thread. I now think it impossible to simplify the questions of what infallibility is, and what its scope is, by separating out “infallibility in protection.”
    Each individual, and also the conversations in the community, evolve by testing and correction. We are one of the “future generations” Shoghi Effendi refers to, and can I believe see somewhat further now than was possible in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, but we are far from the last of the future generations.

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