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About … disenrolment

As I noted on the ‘about’ page of this blog, in November 2005 I was removed from the membership rolls of the Bahai Community following a decision of the Universal House of Justice. The reasons for my dis-enrollment and the purpose served by dis-enrollment are not at all clear to me, so I am not in a position to say much about the rights and wrongs of it. However other people, who know as little about it as I do, have been quite ready to explain the UHJ’s reasons. I think it is extremely unlikely that the UHJ has ever given anyone any information on the question, since the Guardian wrote:

Regarding the very delicate and complex question of ascertaining the qualifications of a true believer, I cannot in this connection emphasize too strongly the supreme necessity for the exercise of the utmost discretion, caution and tact, whether it be in deciding for ourselves as to who may be regarded as a true believer or in disclosing to the outside world such considerations as may serve as a basis for such a decision.
(Bahai Administration, p. 90)

[در مورد سوال خیلی حساس و پیچیده چگونگی اطمینان از خصوصیات یک معتقد واقعی، من نمی توانم تاکیدم در باره موضوعی با این درجه از حساسیت را، بر روی این بگذارم که آیا این تصمیم برای داخل جامعه امر است که چه کسی بهائی واقعی است، یا افشای نوع برخورد ما با موضوع است به دنیای خارج که ممکن است نشان دهد مبنای ما برای این تصمیم گیری چگونه است. –( تاکید کنم این ترجمه از من می باشد، و فهم من از مطلب را نشان می دهد]
Draft translation by Joo Ya, December 2015: improvements welcome.

I don’t wish to judge the UHJ’s decision, or defend myself; I present a few documents here to allow people to judge whether other people’s speculations about the reasons have any merit.

The explanations proposed are generally of one of two types:

– either I was dis-enrolled for the opinions I hold (and the pundits vary as to whether the offending opinions are on the meaning of infallibility in Bahai theology, the role of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar in the Bahai community, the Bahai teachings on the separation of church and state or something else), or

– I was dis-enrolled as a punishment (usually called a “sanction” in Bahai parlance), for some breach of Bahai law. Here various pundits have claimed I have advocated bigamy, done something unnamed in Tehran on a visit there a few years ago, breached the publication review process, claimed a position of authority in the community, challenged the Universal House of Justice, and so forth.

As for the first, Daniella Pinna wrote a long letter to the UHJ in 2006. Her letter supposes that my expulsion related to the research I reported on in my book Church and State. The Universal House of Justice in its reply says “Concerns with Mr. McGlinn’s actions have nothing to do with his treatment of topics such as church and state…” and “Every individual has the right to hold and express personal views” while also saying [in my paraphrase] that one who professes or propagates personal interpretations that violate Baha’u’llah’s criteria for understanding and practicing His Faith, removes himself from the Faith. That leaves open the possibility that I was dis-enrolled for some opinion that I have, or that the UHJ thinks I have, but not on “topics such as church and state.” [But In 2008 I got a copy of a UHJ letter to an individual about my disenrollment, dated 2006, which states that it was not because of my “personal understanding.”] I have no further information than that.

As for the second, the variety of sins attributed to me should be a warning that those who pose as explainers of the UHJ’s decision do not have any facts. Rather, on the supposition that dis-enrollment is a sanction for wrong-doing, they have tried to imagine a suitably serious offense for me. But so far as I know, the Universal House of Justice has not used the word “sanction” with respect to dis-enrollment, in my case or any other, and has not applied the procedures which are involved before any sanction, such as the removal of voting rights, is applied in the Bahai community. Nor have they indicated any action that those dis-enrolled could take if they wish to be re-enrolled in the community.

If we disregard explanations which are merely imaginative, we are left with what the Universal House of Justice itself has said, in its letter of 14 November 2005. That indicates that the decision was based wholly or primarily on some words in the Foreword to Church and State, which the UHJ has construed as a claim to personal authority. Since the UHJ itself has widely distributed that letter, I suppose that they will not object if people read the letter, and the Foreword to Church and State, for themselves and form their own opinion about the reasons for dis-enrollment and what purposes it may serve in the Bahai community. [But note that a subsequent letter has indicated that my disenrollment was not because of “a single statement drawn out of context from the preface of his book” — despite the apparent meaning of the November 2005 letter. ]

I’ve also posted my NSA’s brief letter informing me that I had been removed from the membership rolls, and on another page, some applications to be re-enrolled and the responses to them.

In 2008, there was a Q&A session on Bahai Rants, in which I responded to questions about Church and State. I’ve edited that up as one consecutive page here.

[The story continues: in 2012 I obtained a copy of a confidential letter dated December 19, 2005, written by some VIPs at the World Centre (not the UHJ), and addressed to Councillors. It explains my disenrollment by reference to two ideas I am supposed to maintain, one of which was an absurdity that has never crossed my mind, supported by maliciously selective quotations from my words; the other was a citation I had made from memory of Shoghi Effendi’s words, for which I had neglected to cite the source. When I followed up on this, the UHJ wrote to me that their decision that I did not meet the requirements of Bahai membership was not based on some fragments of my emails pulled out of context. As the two ideas named in that letter have not surfaced in internet speculations about the reasons for my disenrollment, it seems likely that the misquotes in the letter dated December 19, 2005 were discovered soon after it was first circulated, and Counsellors were told not to use it to explain my disenrollment. ~ April 2014]

[Update September 2016:  It appears that a (possibly official) explanation for my disenrollment has recently been issued : “efforts, spanning over twenty-five years, to promote erroneous and misleading perspectives on the Baha’i teachings.” (Source withheld on request) This is positive in one sense, since the assertion that I was claiming some authority for my views has been dropped. I never claimed any authority, and state specifically that my views are simply my views. However what my “erroneous perspectives” are has apparently not been specified. Bahais may ask themselves whether their own perspectives might include something erroneous and misleading. Many Bahais have found some part of my research useful, some have claimed that my views are erroneous, but they diverge among themselves as to the topic and where my error lies. Probably there is no stance that I have outlined in my writing that is not held by at least one member of the House of Justice or the International Teaching Centre. So whether my error is left unspecified, or an attempt is made to reach agreement among the leaders of the community to specify what is an error, the result of this approach can only be more confusion, and even disunity.

On August 6 this year, in response to one of the friends who objected to my explanation of the Seven Candles of Unity and wanted it removed from my blog, I wrote to the Universal House of Justice asking “whether there is anything on my Bahai Studies blog that you would prefer me to remove?” If there are erroneous perspectives that warrant my exclusion from the membership rolls, this query will both reveal what they are, and solve the problem: I will remove them.

I have in the past (1997, 2007 and 2010) invited the Universal House of Justice and the International Teaching Centre to request explanations from me if they have any specific concerns. They have not responded, which suggests that my “erroneous and misleading perspectives” are not really a question of concern for those institutions — or that they found they could not reach agreement among themselves as to what was a question of concern. If an individual member of these institutions feels strongly that my perspective on some point is erroneous, he can write a paper or make a recorded presentation on the topic, and drop me an email to draw my attention to it.

My own view (which may be wrong) is that the Bahai community is not like a Protestant church, where membership is defined by uniformity of belief, and those with different opinions should found their own church. Nor it it like the Roman Catholic Church, where the consensus of the faithful is normative, and deviations from the consensus can incur sanctions, as in the cases of Hans Kung and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The Bahai community is not an orthodoxy at all: it is a community of people with a common centre (Baha’u’llah and his Covenant).

My guess is that it is neither my opinions nor my behaviour that concern the House of Justice, but qualifications. In 2009, a letter on behalf of the Universal House of Justice regarding the development of the Yerrinbool Baha’i Centre of Learning in Australia suggested that:

the nature of the Centre’s programs would change.  …. it would not conduct courses in Baha’i studies in the same sense as those offered in universities by departments of religious studies, which, as you know, the House of Justice discourages since it could easily lead to a class of individuals in the Baha’i community who assume a degree of authority on the basis of some formal qualification.

I hope that in the long run the pendulum may swing back to encouraging university-level courses in Bahai studies, and academic approaches such as close reading, historical contextualisation and source criticism. Whether the tide turns or not, there is nothing I can do about this: I have formal qualifications and the knowledge and skills that justify them, and there would be no point in my renouncing the universities’ qualifications when I cannot un-know what I learned through the universities.

I think the Yerribool letter is based on misinformed stereotypes of academia, over-rating its dangers without seeing the benefits of the academic study of religion. The discouragement of university education in religion today will leave the community, 30 and 40 years later, lacking mature scholars who can study, translate, clarify and defend its teachings.  There is also no present danger of a class of individuals coming from that quarter to assume authority in the community. The membership of the House of Justice and the International Teaching Centre, and to a lesser degree of the National Spiritual Assemblies of larger communities shows that authority in the Bahai community is accorded to high-prestige occupations such as medical doctors and the hard sciences. It would take a profound change of culture for religious historians and philologists to be given that degree of respect.

In any case, my approach to Bahai studies is not  that of a religious studies department, but theology. Theology is the study of the implications of faith from within, or “faith seeking understanding.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~
Short link: http://wp.me/PcgF5-11a

60 Responses to “About … disenrolment”

  1. Super Mayn said

    “of a Bahai theologian, writing from and for a religious community”

    “I seek to criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the Bahai community, to enable Bahais to understand their relatively new faith and to see what it can offer the world. ”

    These sentences make me feel sick in my stomach. Why do you dodge around the issue in this blog post instead of confirming the glaringly obvious error from the outset?

  2. Sen said

    Perhaps you could tell us what the obvious error is, and I can fix it; simply emoting takes us nowhere. But thanks for your comment anyway – it illustrates to everyone one kind of gut reaction which is part of the whole picture. I’ve heard something like that reaction from various people — it came as a total surprise to me, and anything you can add about why you feel this way would help.

    I have in fact expanded on the sentences you quote, in the email archive here and here and here and probably more – but that will do for a start. You might also read the context of the words you quote, in the Foreword to Church and State on this blog.

  3. Sen said

    Further to Super Mayn: the last paragraph in the posting
    What is theology, and what’s it good for ?” on this blog
    clarifies the words you quoted, as follows:

    “..we never have the Revelation – we each rather have our own understanding and recognition of the Revelation. That understanding and recognition is something we make for ourselves; it is always inadequate and incomplete, it contains inconsistencies, it is mixed with other ideas we have brought in our baggage, and it can always be improved upon. So our understandings – our ideas, not the Revelation itself – can be criticized, clarified, purified and strengthened. And that I think is what theology is good for.”

  4. robert van der hope said

    I have recently come across your blog site as you will have noticed. Your erudition and wit is admirable. I feel the reason for your “disenrollment” may well be because of a wrongly perceived understanding by the individual members of the UHJ that you were in some unexplainable way “incalcitrant” – to use an expression of a former Australian Prime Minister (also a wit). We must remember always that these nine men are just that – nine men like any other Baha’i Faith members. Their judgement as the Institution of the UHJ I find usually to be wise and well-guided, as one would expect. There are instances such as yours, where they appear perplexed, and act therefore with what you (not I) might describe as “ecclesiastic caution.”. Some academics like yourself have proceded beyond their organizational capacity to cope. Udo Schaeffer, for one, does not seem to have done this. What the guidelines are we do not know. This makes you no less important than Udo, and no less authoritative where your research skills match international peer reviewed guidelines. I am saying nothing you do not already know, just confirming it. In one sense you are most fortunate to have been given (by God Himself in fact) the right to continue, – un-interrupted by BAHA’I PEER REVIEW, – to explaining and elucidating the Faith through scholarly examination of known and verifiable realities and real certifiable facts and historical documents. Having some knowledge of Eastern culture and language is a huge advantage in this respect. You are thus doing the Faith a great service, and can address also the wider community with sincerity of view minus constrictions of institutional obedience. This is a great blessing. Perhaps one day you will be “Re-enrolled”, so make the most of your current position in fairness, acuity and pure honesty. In the process you are meeting sometimes rebellious spirits who are having their own struggles with truth and reality. No doubt you will bear with them in patience and kind consideration. I myself have witnessed, indeed been embroiled in an extraordinary and reprehensible period of disunity engendered by slander and personal attack in my own community, and am one of the few left standing after the smoke finally cleared. The UHJ to its credit finally moved in to re-establish true harmony amongst the Friends. Too little too late, but a few of the “Troops” survived. I now have much less administrative work to do, our numbers having been decimated. Shoghi Effendi warned against this. I think,in defence of the NSA and UHJ, it is rather harder to deal with ego driven rich westerners than socially group dependent Eastern or Asian communities, more used to accepting group cohesion and values (read conformity). Not necessarily better than the western individualism, but certainly less troublesome. Congratulations on your work and your blog, you are of great value to the Cause.

  5. Pukirahe said

    My voting rights have been taken away in 1972, and I knew my mistakes for acting worngly. I was repenting and asking for forgiveness, and my standing has been reinstated in 1975 by the Universal House of Justice.
    I wish that the sincere Baha’is,especially the famous Baha’is, should think of their own faults to get back into the community under the guidance of the Universal House of Justice. I believe that the Universal House of Justice has no reason or freedom to act unjustly against any individuals on earth.
    People who create any doubts about the infallibility of the Universal House of Justice may lead other sick friends into disobedience, which is not good at all for the unity in the Faith, then unity of the whole human race. Perhaps, the purpose of man’s creation is not to preserving self, but to sacrifying it for his selfless existence under the sole Existence of God.

  6. mashed potato said

    Dear Sen,

    Have you asked the House or has the House told you what you need to do in order to get re-enrolled in the Baha’i community?

  7. Sen said

    Rather than ask “why?” which might sound like questioning the decision, I have applied to be re-enrolled. That gives the UHJ the opportunity to tell me what I must do to get re-enrolled, if they wish. In one letter to the UHJ I did ask “if there is anything I can do to speed the process.” I’ve put three of my requests for enrollment on a separate page.

  8. mashed potato said

    I am not telling you to ask “why” but “what” exactly you need to do in order to get re-enrolled. You have not asked this question to the Universal House of Justice. You have asked it to the NSA of Holland. Since the Universal House of Justice disenrolled you I think it would be appropriate to ask this question to them.

  9. Sen said

    Formally, it was the NSA that disenrolled me, since they are the custodians of the membership rolls here. But I doubt that it makes any difference who I address the letters too. The 2010 one is addressed to the UHJ with a copy to the NSA, and at other times I’ve addressed letters to the ITC. I’m sure the message gets through to anyone in the Administration who wants to know, whoever I address my letters to.

    The first step to getting re-enrolled is obvious: apply for enrollment. I’ve done that, and I’m still waiting for a reply to the most recent application. If there’s a procedure required or something else I have to do, someone will let me know.

  10. Abbas Effendi said

    The silence on this case by the [UHJ ~edited] is seriously deafening! The least they could do is tell you thy mistake, so ye may know how to fix it, of which you would need to know what to fix to begin with! The NSAs and Counselors who obey orders like [~edited] need to learn and re learn one of the divine principals of the faith which is INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION OF TRUTH. Now if it is as stated in comments the actions of individuals members of the UHJ, then my dears the UHJ is to work as ONE Body NOT as individual men (and someday women apparently)if it is found that any member of the UHJ acted in the name of the UHJ, then it is that or those members who should be removed as members of the Baha’i faith, as they are acting against Baha’i teachings.

    I for one, prefer my adversaries, judges, bodies of law, enemies whoever to attack me to my face and stab me in the chest, then those who stab in the back, accuse in the shadows, and then act as if nothing happened so no one will have anything to even question about, because no one would have heard of anything. You folks tell me which of these two tactics the UHJ is using and which one “rhythms” with cowards.

  11. Sen said

    The last time I applied to be re-enrolled, in March 2010, I also suggested that the UHJ might clarify the relationship between being on the membership rolls, and being a Bahai, and also the distinction between the removal of voting rights, which is a sanction for breaking a Bahai law, and disenrollment, which appears to be something quite different. The analogy I have used is that being on the membership rolls is meant to be like voluntary membership of an association, which is a free choice on both sides. There seem to be no procedures or reason required for taking away membership or not giving it in the first place. No explanation is given. It’s like the coach deciding who doesn’t make the cut. That may not be the UHJ’s thinking: if they answer my questions about it I will be sure to put the answer on my blog.

  12. Gerry said

    Sen,

    The lack of explanation by the Baha’i Faith’s administration exactly why you were unenrolled, the apparent fact you were not invited to consult with any Baha’i institution prior to their verdict, and the fact that the decison was not carried out in accord in a manner that Shoghi Effendi required, namely that you should have been “repeatedly warned” that whatever you were doing could lead to expulsion, indicate a religious attitude that’s off-track from the Faith’s original intent.

    True, they did no throw you into a prison and violate your human rights in that extreme sense, but they did not afford you the necessities of human fairness they themselves complain their beleaguered co-religionists in Iran are often not granted. No hearing was afforded you; no opportunity for you to express yourself whatsover prior to their verdict. No evidence provided. Nor were you provided a clear idea of the duration of your disenrollment, if any, and what you must do to regain membership and if that is ever possible.

    So why are you seeking any relationship with such a religious organization? What does the Baha’i Faith offer that is different from Islam when it comes to judicial process? Why would any fairminded person seek to promote such a faith?

  13. Sen said

    There is no requirement that those who are disenrolled should be “warned,” or that they should be required to do something or not do something, on pain of being disenrolled. Those processes relate to the deprivation of voting rights, which is something quite different: it is a sanction for behaviour. For example, a letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi says:

    those who conspicuously disgrace the Faith or refuse to abide by its laws can be deprived, as a punishment, of their voting rights; this in itself is a severe action, and he [Shoghi Effendi] therefore always urges all National Assemblies (who can take such action) to first warn and repeatedly warn the evil-doer before taking the step of depriving him of his voting rights.
    (Lights of Guidance, p. 184)

    and the Universal House of Justice writes:

    In the case of a believer who continues to take alcoholic drinks the Assembly should decide whether the offence is flagrant, and, if it is, should try to help him to understand the importance of obeying the Bahá’í law. If he does not respond he must be repeatedly warned and, if this is unsuccessful, he is subject to loss of his voting rights. In the case of an alcoholic who is trying to overcome his weakness the Assembly must show especial patience, and may have to suggest professional counselling and assistance. If the offence is not flagrant, the Assembly need take no action at all. (26 September 1978 to a National Spiritual Assembly)

    In my case, and so far as I know the other Bahais who have been disenrolled, there has never been any suggestion of wrong-doing, let alone flagrant offences. Since bad behaviour is not involved, naturally there is also no warning about bad behaviour.

    In my most recent re-enrollment letter, I asked also “for some clarification about the meaning of enrollment and disenrollment. I ask this for myself, and also to assist some the friends who feel some uncertainty on this score,” and said “some clarification of the thinking of the Universal House of Justice would be helpful for the whole community, especially if disenrollment is intended to be a life-time situation, meaning that disenrolled Bahais will be a permanent part of the Bahai scene.”

    Because I have invited the International Teaching Centre (that is, Counsellors) to approach me with any concerns they might have, and have had no reply at all, I surmise that there is no “term,” for disenrollment – it is probably for life. If it was reversible through some action or statement on my part, they would no doubt have told me what this is, or at least responded in some way to indicate that the channel of communication is open. Non-response presumably means they see no point in talking about something that cannot be changed. But the Universal House of Justice might nevertheless provide clarification to the whole community of their thinking on the meaning of enrollment and disenrollment. If I hear about it, I will be sure to put it on a page of this blog, with a link from the page “about disenrollment.”

    I apply for enrollment, because I am a Bahai, and I am sure that Abdu’l-Baha would want Bahais who are living in a country where there is a Bahai Administration to support and contribute to it. Each enrollment application also gives the House of Justice an opportunity to explain the reasons for expulsion, recheck the facts on which it based its decision, and perhaps say what purpose it hopes will be served by having unenrolled Bahais. That purpose might have some relation to the concept of a “community of interest” – that is, a vaguer definition of the boundaries of the Bahai community that recognises that many people will in some sense identify with the Bahai community without having or necessarily seeking membership rights. Perhaps, in their vision, membership will become something that entails quite intense involvement in activities and strict adherence to Bahai law, and another kind of Bahai identity has to be developed for those whose character, wishes or circumstances don’t suit that, at least for a period in their lives, who are therefore better to be unenrolled Bahais. In a sect (sociologically speaking), all believers are active members, whereas a religion exists in society as a cadre of active members, usually tracked on membership rolls of some sort, and a penumbra of believers who are not so actively involved and may not be known to the organisation. Perhaps the UHJ’s purpose is to foster such a development, and its judgment is that I am one of those whose characters makes them best suited to the unenrolled Bahai status. And I suppose they are quite right. I’ve been a Bahai for almost 40 years, so there’s been plenty of time for my basic character to be known to the UHJ. I am however sorry that the fact of there being disenrolled Bahais, without an explanation of the thinking behind this, is a cause of concern for quite a number of Bahais.

    I promote the Bahai Faith because I believe in it, and because I believe that religion is an ineradicable part of society, and can do great good or great evil, according to its quality, that religion as a whole needs to be renewed periodically, that this renewal occurs most radically and at long intervals through the injection of a new religion into the global religious system, and that this has in fact occurred, in the form of the Babi and Bahai twin revelations. Much as I am drawn to both Islam and Christianity, for their truths and for the richness of their heritage, I find the excitement of a pioneer’s role in the early centuries of a Faith’s development more attractive. To each his own.

    ~ Sen

  14. xyz said

    “I am however sorry that the fact of there being disenrolled Bahais, without an explanation of the thinking behind this, is a cause of concern for quite a number of Bahais.”

    The Universal House of Justice has given explanation for your disenrollment in their letter dated 14 Nov. 2005:

    “…here is a claim that lies well outside the framework of Bahá’í belief and practice.”

    It is your belief that is the cause of your disenrollment. Your belief that you are a “Bahá’í theologian, writing from and for a religious community,” whose aim is “to criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the Bahá’í community, to enable Bahá’ís to understand their relatively new Faith and to see what it can offer the world”.

    No Baha’i has the power to do what you claim here.

    For example an individual who believes that Baha’u’llah was God Himself or the final Manifestation of God puts himself outside the framework of Baha’i belief and should be disenrolled if he insists on his beliefs.

  15. Sen said

    I agree that this seemed perfectly clear at the time – the Universal House of Justice thought that I had written what it quoted (a misquote, because out of context), thought that a theologian was somebody with authority in the community (confusing theology with priesthood, which is something different), and expelled me. I’ve quoted the whole sentence and context on this site in ‘Disenrollment, Tarikh 2006.’ However the Universal House of Justice must fairly soon have realised that what I wrote really said something quite different, and a later letter from the UHJ (14 May 2006) said, “It has nothing to do with a believer’s expressing a personal understanding, or even holding an erroneous perspective, about some aspect of the Teachings. Nor was the action taken on the basis of a single statement drawn out of context from the preface of his book.” That sounds to me as if they are both recognising that what they had quoted from me was taken out of context, and are saying that the theologian thing was not the basic reason anyway. Whatever theory you may have about the reasons in my case, the larger question is what purpose the UHJ has in mind, in creating unenrolled Bahais?

    I believe all Bahais have the capacity to criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the community: are we uniquely doomed to be a religious community with uncritical, muddy, weak ideas mixed with various baggage brought in from other backgrounds, while other religious communities strengthen their intellect life? How are we to correlate our ideas with those of society, if we are not clear what our ideas are, and what they are based on?

    I’ve defended theology as an important branch of Bahai scholarship on this blog in several places:
    Church and State: Q&A on Bahai Rants
    Theology a defence
    Theologians, the learned and the wise
    Theology – 2005-12-03
    Theology 2005-10-17
    Theology 2005-10-21
    Theology 2006-02-13
    Theology 2007-01-01
    Theology 2008-06-03
    Theology 2009-10-00

    I do not claim that Baha’u’llah was God himself, or the final Manifestation of God. Various absurd ideas and nasty acts have been imputed to me (see ‘A list of slanders‘ on this site): I don’t generally respond to such claims when they are made, for they say more about the mentality of the speaker than about me, but I am prepared to answer questions if a sincere person thinks there’s any possibility of substance to such accusations.

  16. xyz said

    I never said that you claim that Baha’u’llah was God Himself or final Manifestation of God. The example I have given is an imaginary case of an individual who can be disenrolled for his beliefs and not because of his violation of a Baha’i law. I hope this is clear as I donot want to commit slander.

  17. xyz said

    “I believe all Bahais have the capacity to criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the community…”

    Obviously you disagree with the Universal House of Justice on this matter. Since you accept the Universal House of Justice as the legitimate Head of the Baha’i Faith don’t you think you should change your thinking to make it conform with the views of the Universal House of Justice?

  18. robert van der hope said

    Sen, you are doing a good job. For the Baha’i seeking an increase of knowledge your site is valuable We are all individuals with the right to our views. As you say, the UHJ has also the right to decide our individual roles in the service of Baha’u’llah. Your contribution is a valuable one. By the way the word I used previously suggesting the UHJ viewpoint (suggesting only because I have no way of verifying it) -was “recalcitrant” – meaning “objecting to restraint”, used by former Prime Minister Paul Keating, not “incalcitrant” (an unintentionally invented word of mine which I hereby disclaim). I guess some of us get carried away by our brilliance and our ego at times – myself included. You do not need to take any further steps regarding the UHJ. If God so wills, you will receive further elucidation from them.

  19. xyz said

    You have made two points: the House confused theology with priesthood and the House took your statement out of context.

    I cannot speak for the House and therefore what follows is my personal opinion.

    I don’t think the House has any issue with a Baha’i calling himself a “Baha’i theologian”. The objectionable issue is a Baha’i claiming to write from and for a Baha’i community.

    There is no context in which a Baha’i can claim to “criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the Bahá’í community, to enable Bahá’ís to understand their relatively new Faith and to see what it can offer the world”. You cannot justify this claim by saying it applies in a particular context because it applies in no context.

  20. Sen said

    I don’t see what is objectionable about writing from and for the Bahai community. An etic approach takes an objective, disinterested standpoint, an emic approach — that is, writing from the community — takes a committed approach, like the biologist who studies a rare species to save it from extinction, while a value-free approach would instead study it to document the process of extinction. The standards of evidence and argument are no lower for an emic approach, the difference is in the commitment of the writer. I am a committed Bahai, and I hope the Bahai Faith fulfills the potential I see in it, so I write “from” the Bahai community. Bahai belief and participation in the community is where I am coming from.

    I also write for the Bahai community. If other people read it, that’s welcome, but the audience I have in mind, especially on this blog, is the Bahai community. Naturally a dissertation is somewhat different, I had to straddle two audiences, the academics and the Bahais, but the Bahai community is definitely my priority.

    I think I’ve explained adequately why it’s a good thing to criticise, purify, clarify and strenthen our ideas, and you’ve given no indication of what you think is objectionable. Is it simply that you don’t like intellectual endeavour in general?

    Criticism refers to theology’s self-critical method, and to criticism in the sense that the word is used in ‘literary criticism.’

    Clarification follows from the systematic and critical method of theology, which exposes vague expressions used without thought about their meaning, and uncovers muddles. (see my blog for some examples!) Church and State addressed the Baha’i teachings concerning the House of Justice and the International Tribunal, which had been conflated in footnotes to the earliest translations of Some Answered Questions and in some influential early Baha’i books. As soon as it is noticed that two separate things are being discussed, the texts themselves become largely self-explanatory, because the apparent contradictions were due to approaching the texts with a confusion of concepts.

    Purification is an aspect of theology’s self-critical method: as we study the Bahai texts in a systematic way, it becomes evident that some of what we thought were ‘Bahai teachings’ are contaminations, resulting from the adoption by Bahais, in various generations, of assumptions accepted in their various societies and political environments. It is difficult to detect and escape the gravitational pull of our philosophical, religious and cultural backgrounds, but we can try to do so by returning to the scriptural texts in a systematic way.

    Finally, theology strengthens the ideas of the Bahai community, first by removing muddles, and then by locating the scriptural roots of the various teachings so distinguished. But more important is the role of any open discussion: what is discussed remains alive and lived, while what is merely taken as a given quickly becomes a dead letter. Thus a good theology is not necessarily one that brings about a change in ideas. A theology which takes what is known and ‘makes it new’ has also strengthened the ideas of the community.

  21. Sen said

    So far as I know, the House of Justice has not said that the Bahais are not able to, or are not allowed to, criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the community. The only statements I know of from them are these:

    Individual interpretations based on a person’s understanding of the teachings constitute the fruit of man’s rational power and may well contribute to a more complete understanding of the Faith. Such views, however, lack authority. The believers are, therefore, free to accept or disregard them. Further, the manner in which an individual presents his interpretation is important. For example, he must at no time deny or contend with the authoritative interpretation, but rather offer his idea as a contribution to knowledge, making it clear that his views are merely his own.
    (The Universal House of Justice, 1995 Jan 31, Questions on Scholarship)

    There is also an important distinction made in the Faith between authoritative interpretation, as described above, and the interpretation which every believer is fully entitled to voice. Believers are free, indeed are encouraged, to study the Writings for themselves and to express their understanding of them. Such personal interpretations can be most illuminating, but all Bahá’ís, including the one expressing the view, however learned he may be, should realize that it is only a personal view and can never be upheld as a standard for others to accept, nor should disputes ever be permitted to arise over differences in such opinion
    (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 518)

    So far as I know, the Universal House of Justice does not ask the Bahais to change their thinking to conform with its own. I think you are applying to the Bahai Faith a model of religious authority more appropriate to the Vatican. In the Bahai Faith, the current head of the community, the Universal House of Justice, does not have doctrinal authority, for we have a “division of powers”, or rather spheres. The Master and Shoghi Effendi had doctrinal authority, the House of Justice has legislative authority, and the position of Head of the Faith, whose purpose is to ensure unity of action, is a hat worn successively by Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and the Universal House of Justice, and also delegated at times to the custodians (the Hands of the Cause elected by the Hands in the interregnum), and to Bahiyyih Khanum. Head of the Faith is therefore a hat that can be worn by various people (properly appointed as such), and does not in itself confer any doctrinal authority, or authority to make religious law: it is an authority simply in terms of having to be obeyed in our actions.

  22. Sen said

    Yes, I understand that it was a hypothetical. There have been a lot of hypotheses about what I supposedly believe, and why it is wrong; also about what I may have done. I have however heard of some Bahais who claimed that Baha’u’llah was God himself, and the way I heard the story, they were not disenrolled. Indeed the same case came up in the lifetime of Baha’u’llah, and again he did not make an issue of it, as long as it did not cause disunity. Protestant churches in particular, but Christian churches in general, define their memberships by ortho-doxy (right speaking), that is, affirming the correct doctrines. But this is not the only way of establishing and maintaining a religious community. Judaism for example centres on ortho-praxy (right religious practices), with doctrine taking second place. In my view, the Bahai Faith is neither an orthodoxy nor orthopraxy, but a community that has in common, that it derives its inspiration from the persons of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha (in different senses), and turns to the Bahai scriptures for spiritual guidance and maintains its unity by obedience to the Head of the Faith. The religious practices are largely left to the individual, both as to how to best perform them (what does bend down with your hands on your knees mean), and how diligently to perform them. Religious doctrine is rendered something of a moot point, for our doctrine is our scripture, and we believe that individuals’ various interpretations are not evidence of error, but evidence of their different capacities and inclinations:

    “… all the variations which the wayfarer in the stages of his journey beholdeth in the realms of being, proceed from his own vision.”
    (Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 18)

    It might be objected that the Assemblies, in determining registration, use a doctrinal test that looks like a creed:

    Regarding the very delicate and complex question of ascertaining the qualifications of a true believer, I cannot in this connection emphasize too strongly the supreme necessity for the exercise of the utmost discretion, caution and tact, whether it be in deciding for ourselves as to who may be regarded a true believer or in disclosing to the outside world such considerations as may serve as a basis for such a decision. I would only venture to state very briefly and as adequately as present circumstances permit the principal factors that must be taken into consideration before deciding whether a person may be regarded a true believer or not. Full recognition of the station of the Forerunner, the Author, and the True Exemplar of the Bahá’í Cause, as set forth in ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Testament; unreserved acceptance of, and submission to, whatsoever has been revealed by their Pen; loyal and steadfast adherence to every clause of our Beloved’s sacred Will; and close association with the spirit as well as the form of the present day Bahá’í administration throughout the world — … Any attempt at further analysis and elucidation will, I fear, land us in barren discussions and even grave controversies … I would therefore strongly urge those who are called upon to make such a decision … to refrain from drawing rigidly the line of demarcation except on such occasions when the interests of the Cause absolutely demand it.
    (Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 90)

    However in practice, we do not exclude new believers who are not entirely clear on these points, and the last of these is not a matter of belief, but of self-identification with the Bahai community. The Assemblies are not given any way of determining precisely what someone’s beliefs are, and are not themselves an authority on Bahai belief (that’s the Guardian’s role). Assembly members don’t have to pass a doctrinal test before serving, in the way that Anglican clergy have to assent to the 39 articles for ordination. And the ‘creed’ asks for recognition “the station of the Forerunner, the Author, and the True Exemplar,” but does not specify what these stations are, except by the names that are chosen for them. So I understand these criteria rather as an indication of how the Assemblies may evaluate the person’s level of commitment, rather than test their doctrinal orthodoxy.

    Given sufficient commitment, and aided by participation in the community and exposure to other people’s insights, every Bahai will grow and change in understanding. Therefore an Assembly may quite properly admit somebody who has, for example, never heard of the Bab, or confuses the Exemplar and the Guardian, or is not familiar with the rather complex form of Bahai Administration today (as compared to the time of Shoghi Effendi).

  23. xyz said

    “In the Bahai Faith, the current head of the community, the Universal House of Justice, does not have doctrinal authority…”

    It was the Guardian that established the doctrine that individual interpretations of the scriptures are personal views and lacks authority. The House is simply defending this doctrine by not allowing an individual to impose his personal interpretations on the Baha’i community. So the House is not establishing a new doctrine but defending an established doctrine.

    I again go back to the imaginary case I have given before. It was the Guardian who established the doctrine that Baha’u’llah was not God or the final Manifestation of God. If a Baha’i believes the opposite is true and gets disenrolled for it he cannot say the House is making a new doctrine. Here again the House is defending a doctrine established by the Guradian and not making a new doctrine.

  24. Sen said

    It’s a hypothetical case isn’t it, since there’s no-one who has been disenrolled for believing the Baha’u’llah is God, or the final Manifestation. Nor has the UHJ given such doctrinal reasons for any of the few cases in which it has disenrolled people. Perhaps one day the UHJ will start to do this, and yes, that would be defending a doctrine established by the Guardian, not making doctrine. But I will leave the future to take care of itself. I don’t think such hypothetical possibilities affect my argument that the Bahai Faith is not an orthodoxy, or an orthopraxy, but rather a new kind of religious community defined by orientation to the person of Baha’u’llah, rather than by doctrinal or liturgical conformity.

  25. Gerry said

    Sen stated April 11, 2011 at 11:20 am

    ” …..Whatever theory you may have about the reasons in my case, the larger question is what purpose the UHJ has in mind, in creating unenrolled Bahais?”

    But this assumes that you are still considered to be a Baha’i by the Baha’i community and it’s Administrators.

    Since you have been “unenrolled”, and this apparently means the Universal House of Justice no longer considers you to meet the requirements of being a Baha’i…. and since all faithful Baha’is believe what they have decided is “infallible”….. therefore you are not a Baha’i in any way or form so far as Baha’is are concerned.

    So, perhaps as long as you continue to claim to be a Baha’i, when they consider you not to be one, it is something they will hold against you, preventing their reconsideration irregardless of other amends they expect from you which they have not fully explained to your satisfaction.

  26. Sen said

    So you think I have to declare that I do not believe in Baha’u’llah, in order to be considered for enrollment? But according to Bahai teachings, we are not to deny our beliefs, even on pain on death, although we should certainly express them in ways that do not cause opposition (this distinguishes Bahai hikmat/wisdom from Shiah taqiyyah/dissimulation of Faith). I don’t think it is at all plausible that I would ever be re-admitted, if I did as you suggest.

    As noted in a previous comment, Shoghi Effendi urged “the utmost discretion, caution and tact, …in disclosing to the outside world such considerations as may serve as a basis for such a decision [regarding enrollment].” It’s therefore very unlikely that the UHJ would state its reasoning, or that any member privy to that reasoning would allow even a hint of it to leak out. That gives free scope for any and all speculations.

  27. Larry Rowe said

    That the UHJ had their reasons for disenrolling you Sen is evident. It is the view of those Baha’i powers that be that their word-judgement is the final word, a word-judgement not in any need of explanation; at least this is how it was explained to me by Mosen Enyat some years before your disenrollment. What he also made clear to me was that the UHJ has drawn a line. On one side of that imaginary line are all those Baha’i dissidents, ‘apostates’, such as Juan Cole, Alison Marshall, Michael McKenny, as well as any and all Baha’is who ‘side’ with them. On the other side of that imaginary line of course are they, the divinely infallible, and all those Baha’is who in no way question their absolute, infallible, authority.

    This drawing of lines is quite obviously contrary to Abdu’l-Baha’s teaching that we should draw no such lines and see no enemies, but of course Abdu’l-Baha’ himself failed to live by this teaching so it comes as little surprise that today the UHJ fails to live by it as well. Baha’u’llah’s supposed removal of such backward religious division of humanity: the “pure tree” from the “evil tree”, the “faithful” from the “irreligious”*, is a wonderful ideal, yet it is quite apparent that since Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and today the UHJ all failed/fail to live by this laudable precept that this precept has always been for Baha’is simply mouthing of the words.

    * In this way His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh expressed the oneness of humankind whereas in all religious teachings of the past, the human world has been represented as divided into two parts, one known as the people of the Book of God or the pure tree and the other the people of infidelity and error or the evil tree.

    … His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh removed this …

    (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 246)

    Why has the Baha’i Faith done little or nothing to promote this “oneness of humanity”? Because for Baha’is this oneness has always been and continues to be conditional when in truth such oneness is unconditional.

    Cheers

    Larry Rowe

  28. Sen said

    I think you are failing to distinguish two quite different things, and therefore think that Abdu’l-Baha was inconsistent. One is the teaching of some religions, at some times, that all people outside their own community are lesser, or are unclean, or a danger in some other way, simply by virtue of not being in the ‘chosen’ community. These are collective judgements, regardless of individual merit. For example, a Zoroastrian however saintly was regarded as possessing a ritual uncleanliness (najes) by Iranian Shiah Muslims, and since this quality was supposed to be transmitted by moisture, Zoroastrians were not permitted in the market places when it rained.

    These collective judgements against all people of another or all other communities are abolished and condemned in the Bahai writings, and I think you will find the Bahai key figures were perfectly consistent in not excluding anyone on the basis of their race, religion or nationality.

    Quite distinct from this are the judgements we must all make about the individuals we encounter, whether of our own community or outside it. There are wicked people, and dangerous people, and boors and egoists, and we are by no means required to include such people in our circle of acquaintances, even if they happen to belong to the Bahai community.

    Baha’u’llah writes:

    “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.”
    (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 94)

    and also –

    “Treasure the companionship of the righteous and eschew all fellowship with the ungodly.”
    (The Persian Hidden Words no 3)

  29. Byron cardozo said

    Larry Rowe said:

    “This drawing of lines is quite obviously contrary to Abdu’l-Baha’s teaching that we should draw no such lines and see no enemies, but of course Abdu’l-Baha’ himself failed to live by this teaching so it comes as little surprise that today the UHJ fails to live by it as well. Baha’u’llah’s supposed removal of such backward religious division of humanity: the “pure tree” from the “evil tree”, the “faithful” from the “irreligious”*, is a wonderful ideal, yet it is quite apparent that since Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and today the UHJ all failed/fail to live by this laudable precept that this precept has always been for Baha’is simply mouthing of the words.”

    Please explain with examples this statement.

  30. hankowings said

    I agree with other posters that the language – taken out of context or not – that you use to describe yourself as a “theologian” connotes some sense of religious authority. And while you have repeatedly demonstrated on this site that you are not claiming that position, merely articulating your opinions given your academic background, I believe this will go on deaf ears insofar as it has come after the fact.

    Regarding “disenrollment”: I cannot remember where I read it (although I think it might have been in Bower’s God Speaks Again), but both covenant-breaking and disenrollment are for life. The difference being that covenant-breaking is a spiritual disease rooted in claiming personal authority or attacking institutions or figures of the Faith; whereas disenrollment is simply “we no longer want this individual to be a part of our community.” Obviously, since you have been “disenrolled,” I do not think it rests in your criticisms of the UHJ, as other posters have speculated. However, this also confounds the issue of what “authority” you claim, since if it were religious you would have been declared a covenant-breaker and not simply disenrolled. I think that both covenant-breakers and the disenrolled can be reinstated after petitioning the UHJ, but it usually involves an apology to the Faith, a recognition of one’s actions, and the declaration that one lacks the authority they claimed.

    I enjoy your blog and hope the UHJ eventually reviews your status.

  31. Sen said

    Hi Hank
    I also hope that my status may be reviewed, but the fact that no contact person has been nominated for me, and no indication has been given as to what I must do or not do (and this is true also of the other disenrolled Bahais so far as I know), suggests to me that disenrollment is for life. I’ve already made it clear that I do not claim any authority, and I don’t know what exactly I should apologise for, or what actions I should recognise, so apart from applying for re-enrollment every few years, I don’t think there’s much I can do.

    Theologians and theology do not have authority generally, and certainly not in the Bahai community. That’s so obvious, it shouldn’t need to be said. There are two basic ways of studying religion: from the outside, studying religion as a historical and social and psychological phenomenon, and from the inside. Both are valid and helpful. The first is the “default” mode of studying religion at a university. The second way, which is (or was) known as theology, comes into action when one has faith, beliefs, and membership of a faith community, and one asks as a believer what that faith, belief and membership implies, and in the case of a scriptural religion, what the scriptures mean in terms of that faith. This is doing theology, or in Bahai parlance, deepening in the faith. It should among other things be critical, rational and evidence-based, and lead to clarifying muddy ideas (what actually is the difference between Abdu’l-Baha and Baha’u’llah), purifying one’s conceptions and practices from the baggage we bring into the Faith, and strengthening our intellectual structures for both teaching and apologetic (defence of the Faith) purposes. When one takes a theological approach, in a university setting today, it is wise to say so outright: otherwise readers and listeners will naturally expect a value-free approach that does not seek either to help or hinder the life of faith. So in my Master’s dissertation I write, “my stance is not that of a historian or academic scholar of the science of religion, but of a Bahai theologian, writing from and for a religious community,..” The spin given to this is simply due to selective citation, and a good deal of ignorance.

    When I was at school, theology, under the name “divinity”, was part of the curriculum. It is an indication of the extent to which people today are estranged even from the basic language of religion, that “theology” “dogma” and “doctrine” have come to be classed among the dark arts. In the Sureh-ye Haykal, Baha’u’llah says,

    O Inmost Heart of this Temple! We have made thee the dawning-place of Our knowledge and the dayspring of Our wisdom unto all who are in heaven and on earth. From thee have We caused all sciences to appear, and unto thee shall We cause them to return. And from thee shall We bring them forth a second time…..

    Bearing in mind that “sciences” in Persian and Arabic at the time usually meant the religious sciences, and that Baha’u’llah is speaking here of the sciences that come through the Manifestation, I think he is speaking of the collapse and regeneration of the theological disciplines.

    You mention my “articulating your opinions given your academic background.” While I would argue that believers with an academic background should have the same right to expect their opinions to be read constructively and without prejudice as any of the believers, I must point out that I am not an academic: I have no university appointment and don’t seek any academic career. I don’t buttress my thoughts with appeal to academic position, or to works by renowned authors, but rather with quotations from the Bahai writings, and the example set by the founders of religion and by Abdu’l-Baha. I think I’ve been labelled an academic by some people simply because the word has a negative connotation in an anti-intellectual culture. The most I can claim is that some of my best friends are academics, and that’s one prejudice I am innocent of.

  32. Larry Rowe said

    Howdy Hank, The term theologian has no connotation of religious authority in it when that authority is understood to be temporal or clerical power, words can have power but only the weak fear words, especially words which speak truth. That the UHJ fears what Sen has to say I find quite interesting, it shows the depths that this Baha’i institution has sunk to. It is so insecure that it can’t tolerate the open independent investigation of the truth, it is so debased that it can’t even follow it’s own advise: “Above all, we expressed our conviction that the time has come when religious leadership must face honestly ii and without further evasion the implications of the truth that God is one and that, beyond all diversity of cultural expression and human interpretation, religion is likewise one.” ~ One Common Faith ~ So apparently this advice of theirs is for religious leadership willing to face the matter of the oneness of religion and the diversity of human interpretation honestly. Quite obviously they themselves are unwilling to do exactly this. It is the Universal House of Justice which owes Sen an apology not the other way around.

  33. Sen said

    I don’t think the UHJ fears the results of my research, or even knows about them. That suggestion makes me more important than I am, and it supposes that there’s something in my research that threatens the UHJ. But what would that be? It’s easy to impute “fear” and other intangibles to other people – but without evidence it’s just idle talk.

    I don’t suppose any of the members have even read my articles — why should they? The community is far too large for micro-management of that sort. I think it’s likely that they were misinformed about my understanding of basic Bahai teachings, or my activities, or both, and concluded I didn’t meet the requirements of membership.

  34. Larry Rowe said

    Personally I’m not sure what’s to fear about anything you’ve written either Sen, but then there is a pattern. Denis McEoin was made to feel so uncomfortable about his scholarly research into Babi history that he felt he had no choice but to resign from the Faith. I don’t know Sen. It would take more than someone implying that you didn’t meet the requirements of membership for them to pull the rug out on you. I can’t see how association could possibly be used as an reason but then again it has been used in the Faith’s history as an excuse to coerce and to other.

  35. I stumbled upon this blog in a keyword search, and was intrigued by the term dis-enrollment, and what does it mean? Is dis-enrollment analogous to annulment, wherein you cannot be divorced from something that it has been determined you were never legitimately married to in the first place? Perhaps that would be the logically consistent explanation as to why you could not be sanctioned as a Covenant-breaker, or even deprived of administrative rights, since it was retroactively determined that the appropriate institutions did not ascertain that you sufficiently satisfied the requirements as specified in the Tablet of Carmel of being enrolled in the Faith to begin with? If that may be the case, then perhaps demonstrably attesting scholastically & behaviorally to the utter acquiescence to the verities of the Tablet of Carmel would go a long way to setting the stage for your formally recognized initial enrollment in the Faith to take place forthwith? In any case, is it truly surprising that the allowances given to the understandably ignorant are not applied to the declarative erudite; and perhaps the institutional reply of silence is a signal for the cessation of back-and-forth theological dialoguing and an invitation to begin personal reflection & meditation as the ultimate means of individual resolution of the matter at hand? You have my prayerful support to arrive at a satisfactory reconciliation of the relevant issues in the service of His Cause, as adjudicated by His Supreme Institution. – IHS, Bert

  36. Sen said

    I don’t think it is a retrospective annulment Bert. Back when I became a Bahai, we had to read “The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah and answer questions on the fundamental verities and the Covenant to be accepted. Then I served on a good number of local assemblies and as an assistant to the ABM. As a pioneer in a difficult spot, I got a personal letter from the UHJ. So I can’t really see the institutions deciding retrospectively that they missed a relevant question in the beginning.

    I do not seek to engage the UHJ in theological dialogue, let alone back-and-forthly: it would be rather rude to do so. The dignity of the institution requires it to be above such things. Thank you for your prayers.

  37. Bahá’ís’ with extremely illustrious records of prior service have had their membership revoked for subsequent assertions, acts & questions that were deemed unworthy of continued membership in the Faith. Given that the enrollment granted by some local institution, with its resulting subsequent presumption of good standing by other senior institutions in the past is clearly notwithstanding now, perhaps the relevant question for the UHJ would be in regards to their assessment of the appropriate alignment of your current assertions, acts & questions in relation to the unquestionable acceptance required of every Bahá’í of the verities explicitly specified in the Tablet of Carmel?

    Sen, as a side note, contrary to any impression I may have given, I openly acknowledge that to all appearances your published communications with the senior institutions on this matter have been exceedingly acquiescent & respectful.

  38. Sen, I think personal cases escapes the scope of “infallibility” of the Universal House of Justice (whatever “infallibility” means here). Everything that happens in this world is according the Will of God, it doesn’t mean that everything is morally correct.
    Perhaps these personal situations were different if the members of the UHJ treat you case directly without the intermediation of NSAs, Counselors and ABMs. But this is impossible, the UHJ cannot take every personal case of the Bahá’í World, they have not the time to do this. I think the major problem of the UHJ in these cases is the lack of quality information since bahá’ís members of the bahá’í institutions are so fallible and many of them filled with personal problems, hatred and fundamentalism.
    Anyway, I agree with you that some decisions the UHJ made are in conflict with the spirit of the Faith specially those decisions on personal cases (future judicial cases) this lack of quality information as well as the blind confidence on institutions (NSAs, Counselors and ABMs) are crucial to affect their “infallibility”. Virtually any NSA that has the majority of their members spiritual sick (for example a spiritual illness of fundamentalism that produces alienation on them) could manipulate the UHJ. It is a sad situation, an anomaly that delays the promise of God, the divine justice. Also the individuals that conforms institutions like Counselors and ABM also have a lot of hatred. Perhaps if we had a living Guardian, he could take these personal issues more carefully since he could perceive more clearly the spiritual qualifications of the Hands (now Counselors assuming their functions of expansion and propagation), he could also be more sensible in detecting a intentions of reports in personal cases.
    As a bahá’í I sincerely think that bahá’í institutions and many individuals have kind of fundamentalism. So, I think you should continue asking for reintegration in the Bahá’í Community. If any of your “heretic” interpretations (Church and State for example) caused the problem, I think this reinforce my view about the “fundamentalism”. Since I think “heretic” interpretations should be tolerated, but, of course any heretic interpretation that leads to schismatic assumptions are a quite different thing, but I think you have only heretic interpretations.
    Our bahá’í community (yes I include you here) is inmmature. Perhaps this would not happen if we had a living Guardian, first because he would explain many of your questions AUTHORITATIVELY, this is the exclusive right of the Guardian to interpret the writings authoritatively, and I think you would not be punished in this scenario.
    But we cannot fix the past; it is the Will of God.

  39. Ben said

    If the government of a country handed down a verdict without explanation to the defendant, would that be considered just or lawful? And then doesn’t the convicted felon of a crime have the right to appeal the verdict? Yes, of course because that is fair and just and basic human rights. If a government doesn’t allow those rights of appeal and explanation of why the verdict was given then would that government be considered a dictatorship?

  40. Sen said

    One cannot apply the same standards to governments and voluntary organisations. They are different in essence. A government holds a monopoly of violence on all the people within a geographic territory, whether they like it or not. It can even prevent people leaving its territory. The ethics of “good government” are defined in relation to its essential purpose (to exercise a monopoly on violence) and the practicality of governance (perceived legitimacy is crucial, since the state’s actual resources of control are never adequate to impose its will without broad acceptance).

    The Bahai Administrative Order is not a government and therefore has different procedures which must be evaluated in comparison to its own purposes. A letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi states this explicitly:

    “… the Administrative Order is not a governmental or civic body, it is to regulate and guide the internal affairs of the Bahá’í community; consequently it works according to its own procedure, best suited to its needs. …”

    As for the requirements of membership, Shoghi Effendi writes :

    Regarding the very delicate and complex question of ascertaining the qualifications of a true believer, I cannot in this connection emphasize too strongly the supreme necessity for the exercise of the utmost discretion, caution and tact, whether it be in deciding for ourselves as to who may be regarded as a true believer or in disclosing to the outside world such considerations as may serve as a basis for such a decision.
    (Bahai Administration, p. 90)

    If the reasons for even one decision on eligibility were made public, this would become in effect an article of the Bahai creed. Such a development is certainly premature, and in my view never will be appropriate, since the Houses of Justice do not have the authority to define Bahai doctrine or interpret Bahai scripture. It follows that every decision to enroll or disenroll an individual must be expressed as an overall evaluation of the person’s suitability for enrolled membership of the administrative community, as it stands at that time. Because the person concerned does not know the reasons, it is possible that the decision may be based on wrong information, so it behoves everyone not to attach any further significance to the decision, beyond the simple fact that X is, or is not, accepted for enrollment. The alternative would be a heresy trial system, in which the accusations are made known and the person concerned has a chance to dispute the supposed facts and present clarifying material. After such an open process, the members of the community and anyone else interested may consider themselves justified in expressing opinions about the ideas, behaviour and general character of the person. I have seen this, and it is ugly. I very much prefer the Bahai system, in which a decision is made without explanation, although the same system applied in a government context would be authoritarian.

    I must point out that I have not suffered substantially from being removed from the administrative rolls. I am still a member of the community in a sociological sense: serving the community is a large part of my life, and most of my friends are Bahais. I have lost the ability to be elected to office, which I never desired, and to vote, which I did as a duty not as a wish. In contrast, when a government deprives someone of their freedom or citizenship or some civil rights, they suffer substantially from the decision.

  41. we are in similar positions, Sen; neither of us vote or are elected. i am (quietly) inactive by choice (due to an ongoing crisis of faith over everything from male membership of the seat to gay rights and silence on Gaza!). i’ve followed your own crisis, and i’m left with the question: if the House has based its decision on false information furnished by fallible people, then does that make the House’s decision fallible? i can see from your writing that you are humble and deferent to the administrative order. given the unlikelihood that the House is clandestinely testing you or using your response as a template for an interface with inactive believers in the periphery (or “penumbra”, as you call it), the remaining options are: either you have in fact behaved indecorously, or the House is fallible in at least one of its decisions. as with many issues for me, i’m afraid there’s only so much waiting (for the answer to become as clear as the midday sun) i can do. it would be much more helpful for all if you would be informed as to how to make corrections. best of luck. may you find peace.

  42. Sen said

    Thank you, I already have peace, in plenty. Life is about as good as it gets.

    Know that radiant acquiescence has infinite stages. We shall instruct you in them by means of the words God makes to flow from my pen. This shall enable you to dispense with all that the ancients and moderns possess. Whoever wishes to tread the path of radiant acquiescence must be content with God, his creator, and with what he has ordained for him and written with an exalted pen in truth, and with whatever he has specified in holy and guarded tablets.

    He must be content with himself. But no one can attain this state until he has severed himself from all who are in the heavens and the earth, if you be among the mystic knowers. For if a human being commits the least iniquity within himself, he will not be content with himself. This is that which we have shown you in truth, so that you might be content and might ascend to the station wherein honey and poison are the same, since both are decreed by the mighty, the ordainer. Were someone to worship God from all eternity and yet abhors within himself any of the calamities and adversities that have afflicted him, his name shall not be entered in the tablets as among those who are content with the holy and radiant pen. For those who claim in themselves the love of God but who regret their tribulations in his path cannot rightly be called content.

    (Baha’u’llah, Lawh Madinat ar-Rida / City of Radiant Acquiescence (provisional translation))

    I assume that there was a degree of misinformation involved in the decision to remove me from the rolls, since whatever X you fill in, in “Sen was expelled because he’s so X,” faces the objection that many other Bahais are more (s)exy than Sen. I’m not so extraordinary in reality, as to merit extraordinary treatment.

    The UHJ itself, or a committee thereof, since the letter comes from the secretariat, has said that “… 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’) Bad information leads to a sub-optimal decision, or a wrong one. This is a general rule that does not require a particular instance to prove its validity. So the idea that the infallibility of the Universal House of Justice means that it can never make an objective mistake is untenable. But that meaning of infallibility is also untenable in the case of the Manifestations of God and the scriptures: they contain objective errors as regards scientific matters and history. The Manifestations and prophets are not sent to teach us science and history, but rather to transform human spirits and reform morals and religion, so these errors do not affect their mission except insofar as such incidentals are a barrier to people hearing their true message. And where the people’s beliefs about the physical world or history are uniformly wrong, the Manifestation or indeed any wise person has to assume them for the sake of argument, in order to convey the right message on the more important questions. The wise speak in the language of their hearers.

    So if infallibility (in the way it is used in the Bahai teachings) cannot mean never making an objective mistake, what does it mean? The Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha says that “… the Guardian of the Cause of God, as well as the Universal House of Justice … are both …
    under the shelter and unerring guidance (`ismat) of the Exalted One.“ (Will and Testament, p. 11)

    `ismat is the word used in Shiah Islam for the infallibility of the Imams, and `ismat-e `azami is the phrase that Shoghi Effendi translates as “the supreme and infallible authority” (of the Manifestation) in Gleanings LXXV; `ismat-e kabri is the term Shoghi Effendi translates as “most great infallibility” in God Passes By p. 214. So the Will and Testament promises the same “unerring guidance” to the UHJ and to the Guardian, and this “unerring guidance” is an alternative translation for the term infallibility.

    However – `ismat is also the word that Shoghi Effendi translates as “purity” in the Iqan page 216 (the Source of Purity), as “immaculate souls” in Iqan page 35; as “inviolable” treasuries in Iqan page 167, and “inviolability” in Iqan page 90; as “purity” in The Advent of Divine Justice page 32 (twice). There is not a simple one-to-one mapping between the term `ismat in the Persian and Arabic texts and infallibility in English. `ismat has a cloud of meanings, just as infallible means something different in the contexts of medicine or engineering, protestant theology, Catholic theology and so on. Have a look at Infallibility and the meaning of khata’ and Infallibility as freedom on this blog, to see if they may help you to get a satisfying sense of what Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha and the Guardian were saying.

  43. Sen, do you have any ideas of your own about how to become qualified for membership? If so, have you tried any of them? Would you be interested in anyone else’s ideas about how you could become qualified for membership?

  44. Sen said

    I don’t see any point in getting more ideas Jim. It’s not a puzzle that has to be unlocked with the right procedure. I’m convinced that the best thing to do is not complain, get on with serving the servants of God, and leave it all in the hands of the Universal House of Justice.

  45. janine van rooij said

    Dear Sen,
    I have only just now read this and I did not know that you were disenrolled. I have no clue as to why, and it does puzzle me but I also believe in the saying by Abdu’l-Baha about truth being revealed when unity is upheld. There is a lot that we think we see with our western minds which are well trained in being critical to authority and authorative institutions.

    My mind says it does not know why this decision was taken.

    I know you as a gentle kind helpful person, and I am sad this happened to you. Luckily you write you feel happy and life is good.

    I don’t condemn the House for making this decison, I don’t cheer the House either. I just realise that I have no clue, but that I am also not a member of the Universal House of Justice and have no access to their information. I do firmly believe that if a person makes sure their heart is pure, are turning towards God for guidance and their belief in Baha’u’llah is staunch, and keeps an open mind, also to the possibility that they are blind to something in themselves, insight, clarification and truth will be revealed to them and any wrongs will be righted. Even if it was the Universal House of Justice who committed the wrong. And as I wrote before, I don’t know enough to know whether they did or not.

    I know only this: that whenever you as a human being affiliate yourself with any group of people, any at all, any club, any organisation, sooner or later you will run into a no, from the lower management or sometimes top of the management of that organisation. Cause their task is also to protect the club and see it abides by the rules. When I was investigating the Bahai faith this knowledge was an issue, cause I did not want to become member of an organised religion, but I also realised that we humans need organisation and some kind of administrative order to get going towards universal peace and a truly better life for everybody.

    I do have faith in the Universal House, I do have faith in councillors, I do have faith in your good heart and your willingness to serve God in whatever way. I have a lot of faith in the words of Abdu’l-Baha about how important unity is, in all aspects of life where people live with other people, form a community.
    You have received a test, and the Bahai community world wide is tested. My experience in life has always been that to turn to God and rely utterly on the Great Spirit, in everything I do, will give me insight, and open doors and windows and opportunities for me. And humbleness and willingness to ask God to reveal my blind spots about myself, are part of that, a very essential part. When I leave that behind, which I do, numerous tmes, I get a warning. I also know that some things I discovered about myself were such blind spots that for years I could not hear what others were saying when they talked about it. It went in one ear and out another. Or I blocked it. My brain would not retain the information, sometimes not even noticing they were talking about me, even not when they said my name and talking directly to me. It was simply not the time for me to hear it. Only upon long reflection and years for praying that I may keep an open mind, that truth may be revealed to me, and really feeling that wish my mind opened up. This experience has made me understand that this world is full of illusions, even when it comes to how we view ourselves and what is inside us. All I know is that even when I reject myself, loathe myself, or even when I love the image of myself I see, God loves me as The Great Spirit loves all of creation, and humanity, and loves each human soul personally. He is closer than my life vein, and a greater friend to me than I am to myself.
    And life is an adventure 🙂

  46. Sen said

    Job 33:8. “[but Job tells them]… I have heard the voice of thy words, saying, … ‘He counteth me for His enemy, He putteth my feet in the stocks, He marketh all my paths.’
    Behold, in this thou art not just: I will answer thee, that God is greater than man. Why dost thou strive against Him? for He giveth not account of any of His matters.

  47. Sean said

    Dear Sen,

    I once made a carrot cake, put in eggs, flour, sugar, carrots, raisins, walnuts, but I reduced the salt because it’s bad for blood pressure, and the cake was great and my family loves it. Later I made it again, but this time Left out the eggs because of bad cholesterol, the flour because of gluten is just not a good idea, sugar I took out because of all those empty calories, and baked it in the oven and gave it to my family. Guess what happened, they had a strange and inexplicable reaction, they said it wasn’t a carrot cake! You have so many great ideas on so many subjects, do you have any opinions on why the had such a strange reaction?

  48. Sen said

    Not really, though I do think it’s best to taste the cake personally before reacting to it. There have been various suggestions about what I leave out of my recipe, but they all face the objection, that other Bahais leave out even more of that, and their cakes don’t get this strange reaction. The inverse is also valid: there are suggestions that I am too much of this or that X, but it’s hard to argue that I am the x-iest guy in the Bahai world. So I assume there was a degree of misinformation involved, that made me appear x-eptional.

  49. Sean said

    Dear Sen, I feel somehow that this occurrence is a gift to you and not a curse, and that you have been chosen by God for a special lesson because, whatever the scope of your beliefs, you are sincere in them. It is certainly a test, but one that you can certainly meet. I once knew a great Bahai researcher that was very concerned about the Edict of Toleration as described and interpreted by HCG William Sears and confirmed somewhat in the writings. He communicated this to a particular House Member about it, describing how he had searched long and hard, and had never found any evidence of the edict affecting Jews. The House Member told him, you must first have faith, and then you will find it. I swear by the One True God that I just a normal Joe, when I was in school one day in the college library, I decided to look for the history of the Edict with absolute faith in it, and in one day, I both found not only the edict, which is fairly easy, but also, by accident almost, a book that said that although the edicts of that period where ostencibly procured by the British to benefit Christians, they were used for a period of Immigration by Jews which opened up in that period and then was later closed back up by the Turks later in the 19th Century. My point is that faith leads to truth…and not the other way around… Truth does not lead to faith… I live abroad and go to Church to be with the people in the spirit of St Peter in Antioch as described by the Master. I was there this Sunday and the day’s verses were in Galatians 5… Dear Sen, I have no doubt of your beautiful sincerely, and have faith in you, and these thoughts came to me that you have been chosen by Bahaullah for this test, to give this truth to all scholars… The answer lies in your heart, but first you must have absolute faith in the truth…This applies to every thing you are interested in, including the decision of the House. May the Blessed Beauty guide your sincere heart!

  50. Larry Rowe said

    absolute faith in the truth“. Mmmmmm. The thing is Sean the Truth, although self evident, is absolutely elusive. Attempting to put an edifice around the truth only blocks any potential illumination. Faith in lineage is the cousin to sectarianism and cult think. True diversity is other than what those who believe that their personal view on faith and truth are absolute, believe.

  51. Sean said

    Dear one, you may be right, but it may be seen differently. Is truth elusive or absolute…can it be absolutely elusive, like you stated? I wonder. If something can be absolutly elusive, can’t it also be elusively absolute? And anyway God designed this, and he should know His design, that is if He exists. He says sex outside of marriage is not a good idea. We think why not? How silly of you God. But then some scientist comes up with an answer eventually and then we are not so certain about “doubt everything but doubt itself!” Like this Dear Siva, check this out and think about the implications of the many teachings that we don’t understand today, but may understand in the future when science catches up… This one on the importance of celibacy before marriage: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11133203/Could-previous-lovers-influence-appearance-of-future-children.html

  52. Hooshang S. Afshar said

    Sen, I find reading the seven valleys and four valleys open my eyes to the mystery of God and His manifestation in the world/creation through religions is very spiritually wonderful but one must reflect patiently. “Now is the traveler unaware of himself, and of aught besides himself. He seeth neither ignorance nor knowledge, neither doubt nor certitude; he knoweth not the morn of guidance from the night of error. He fleeth both from unbelief and faith, and deadly poison is a balm to him. A lover feareth nothing and no harm can come nigh him: Thou seest him chill in the fire and dry in the sea..A lover is he who is chill in hell fire.”

    What I mean is if we look at the Bible or Quran critically and scholarly we would reject them no question. The Bible has over hundred verses of killing and cutting of limbs, (stone to death your rebellious son), Joshua is involved in pogroms, and it’s full of errors and contradictions, (sun stood in the middle of sky all day for Joshua to finish off the kingdoms from all living things.) The contradictions and errors of Quran are so many found on internet and we know about the missing words and disjointed letters at beginning of Surahs. Seems Quran was designed to confuse and was so in fact for the Church. But millions loved Islam and its book including great people like Rumi, Hafez, Khayam, Abu Ali Sina, Razi and hundreds of other famous wise men in Islamic lands and elsewhere.

    In the Hidden Words and the Writings God’s wisdom is unknowable to us mortals and “He holds the rein of His creation, He has power over all things” including creatures’ minds and hearts, and in SAQ “in relation to God all existence is a reflection, mirage”. And we saw how thousands rushed to embrace the new faiths by just hearing a verse in ignorant Arabia or Persia etc. and even gave their lives in thousands for their new faith.

    I suggest you remove every critical word/instance re eg. infallibility of Abdul-Baha and Guardian eg. 7 candles from your blog and if you are not clear on anything ask UHJ and don’t yourself opine or hypothesize. Your sharp mind and extensive knowledge of the Writings and insights in them in addition to your scholarly studies and university educations are invaluable and needed for protection of the Faith of Baha’u’llah who I know you love dearly. Bless you.

  53. Sen said

    Hooshang wrote:

    “What I mean is if we look at the Bible or Quran critically and scholarly we would reject them no question.”

    Not at all – this is the comment of someone who has not done critical and scholarly study, it is what you imagine or fear such study will lead to. But this is evidently not true: if it were true, why would the churches insist that their Ministers and Priests include critical and scholarly study in their training for ministry? Why would Muslims build universities for religious studies? and so on… a moment’s thought would show there must be more to the story than this.

    It is true that the results of historical and critical study leads most people to lose some of their faith, but then, it is because that part of their faith was in something insubstantial that could not stand the light of day. The same methods lead many to find faith, in something more solid. A faith unexamined is not worth living.

    I would caution against believing the things you read on the internet about errors in the Quran — the sources tend to be people with an axe to grind and little knowledge of the subject. If the Quran really was that faulty, do you imagine that scholars such as Avicenna would not have noticed, while a dentist from Idaho with an internet connection has discovered them?

    I have taken your suggestion, asking the Universal House of Justice whether there is anything they wish to me remove from my web site. I think they will so say no, because they operate from different premises about the relationship between faith, reason and authority than you do. Approaches to faith, reason and authority fall in a spectrum with two extremes, on the one hand those who look for an authority to answer any question that may arise, leaving individual reason and consultation little role in matters of belief, and on the other hand those who regard questions, answered through individual reason and rational consultation, as a process that leads to individual and social maturity, leaving little role for authority in matters of belief. The Bahai teachings are of the latter kind, and the House of Justice in particular has been trying to move the Bahai community from the congregational attitude that looks to leaders to answer questions and set direction, and towards a more mature community that can initiate action and answer questions from its own resources through research, consultation and cooperative action, without waiting for some higher authority to set the agenda. It would be inconsistent with the evolutionary trend in the history of religions, and with their own current programme — if I have understood them correctly — for the House of Justice to ask me to remove anything. If they did, I would remove it, but I’m pretty sure it’s a purely hypothetical possibility. Nevertheless, I have asked them whether there’s anything on my blog they would prefer me to remove.

    I think you have misunderstood my blog on the 7 candles of unity Tablet – my point is not that Abdu’l-Baha failed, or Shoghi Effendi failed, but simply that readers have often failed to understand what is being said in that Tablet. Both the tablet, and my comments on it, might appear in a different light if you were to read them carefully and critically.

  54. Stella Herbert said

    Dear Sen

    If the Universal House of Justice were to tell you that this or that sentence were the cause of their concern, and you removed it, certainly that would demonstrate your obedience to the Institution.

    However, if their reason is that they believe you did, and still do not, understand what it means to be a Baha’i, then obedience alone, though admirable, is not enough – you have to humbly look at your heart and your actions, pray, and come to understand not why or how or what the Universal House of Justice has taken out of context, or misunderstood, but what you have, albeit perhaps unwittingly, written or conveyed, that has caused an Institution whose decisions are to be regarded as ‘ of God’ , to take such a rare and drastic action against you.

    I have learnt much from your blogs and hope to continue to do so.

    Please excuse me for posting a quote which I am sure you will be very familiar with, from comments of the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice on the Bahá’í Studies Seminar on Ethics and Methodology dated 3 January 1979:
    From http://bahai-library.com/compilation_bahai_scholarship_khan

    “A scholar who is imbued with an understanding of the broad teachings of the Faith will always remember that being a scholar does not exempt him from the primal duties and purposes for which all human beings are created. Not scholars alone, but all men are exhorted to seek out and uphold the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. But they are also exhorted to be wise in their utterance, to be tolerant of the views of others, to be courteous in their behaviour and speech, not to sow the seeds of doubt in faithful hearts, to look at the good rather than at the bad, to avoid conflict and contention to be reverent, to be faithful to the Covenant of God, to promote His Faith and safeguard its honour, and to educate their fellow men, giving milk to babes and meat to those who are stronger.

    The distinction desired by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá for all Bahá’ís is certainly for attainment by Bahá’í scholars, who by following the exhortation of Bahá’u’lláh to moderation, kindliness, tact and wisdom, may restore scholarship to that high station of dignity and admiration which it formerly had and which is confirmed by the utterances of Bahá’u’lláh.

    If ye be aware of a certain truth, if ye possess a jewel, of which others are deprived, share it with them in a language of utmost kindliness and goodwill. If it be accepted, if it fulfil its purpose, your object is attained. If any one should refuse it, leave him unto himself, and beseech God to guide him …”
    Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings CXXXII.

  55. Larry Rowe said

    Clearly The Universal House of Justice is not ‘of God’, infallible, or even just or universal. It has continued to fail to understand what the oneness of humanity and the full equality of women with men truly signifies.

  56. Sen said

    Baha’u’llah gave authority to Abdu’l-Baha in his Kitab-e `Ahd (book of the Covenant), and Abdu’l-Baha wrote, in his Will and Testament:

    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. … It is incumbent upon these members (of the Universal House of Justice) to gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book. Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself.”

    (Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, pp. 11, 20)

    The chain of texts and authority leaves no wriggle room. One cannot consistently be a follower of Baha’u’llah and not follow this chain to the logical conclusion, the authority and infallibility of the Universal House of Justice.

    Having said that, there are diverse views on what infallibility means, and what kinds of decisions it applies to. Another point to bear in mind is that we cannot be certain whether a decision communicated by the Secretariat is made by the House of Justice itself. The Secretariat has described its general procedure as follows:

    “As to whether there is a distinction between correspondence from the World Centre that has been signed “The Universal House of Justice” and that signed on behalf of the Secretariat: In brief, the manner in which each of these letters is prepared depends upon the contents of the letter. Drafts of letters which contain newly formulated policies are consulted upon and approved during a meeting of the House of Justice; correspondence dealing with previously enunciated policies, or with matters of a routine nature, are prepared, as delegated by the House of Justice, by its Secretariat and initialled by at least the majority of the members of the House of Justice before being dispatched. All letters written over the signature of the Department of the Secretariat are authorized by the Universal House of Justice.”

    (On behalf of the House of Justice, October 22, 1996: Authentication and Authority)

    Abdu’l-Baha has said,

    “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: this is called conferred infallibility.

    (Some Answered Questions, Chapter 45, New Translation)

    If individual members are not infallible, then a decision made by circulating a document among them separately, to obtain five signatures, cannot be infallible, or at least, we cannot have any assurance that all the individuals were at that time guided by God. It is always possible, but we cannot know it.

  57. Stella Herbert said

    As I understand it, no decisions are made by circulating letters, this method is used only “for correspondence dealing with previously enunciated policies, or with matters of a routine nature” . Of course a person may question the definition of “matters of a routine nature” it would be fair to assume that this has been defined and agreed upon by the House, but if not, or if a member of the secretariat were to attempt to send out unauthorised correspondence in the name of the World Centre, five members of the House of Justice will see these replies and if any one of them is concerned at the contents they would assuredly raise a question. To question this procedure would, in my humble opinion, be to see the Institution and its members in the same light as we view our non Baha’i parliaments and leaders, and to deny the divine origin and God’s promise of protection of the Baha”i administrative order.

  58. Sen said

    I don’t question the procedure Stella, it is necessary. The secretariat says “Drafts of letters which contain newly formulated policies are consulted upon and approved during a meeting of the House of Justice; correspondence dealing with previously enunciated policies, or with matters of a routine nature, are prepared, as delegated by the House of Justice, by its Secretariat and initialled by at least the majority of the members of the House of Justice before being dispatched.”

    That procedure allows the secretariat or any individual member to say, “this should go to the House.” Matters of a routine nature are by definition those for which no-one says this.

    My point is simply that, according to Abdu’l-Baha’s words, such decisions are not covered the infallibility of the House of Justice, since that is not vested in individuals but in the body consulting together. This means that, if a letter from the secretariat seems to have an obvious error, this should not immediately lead to questioning the infallibility of the Universal House of Justice.

  59. Abdullah said

    Isn’t it obvious that they kicked you out because you defended the separation of church and state and they want to establish a theocracy? They won’t admit it outright because it would damage their PR campaign but that’s exactly what they want.

  60. Sen said

    That’s a common assumption, but unlikely for several reasons. First, many deepened Bahais and the majority if not the totality of the Persian-speaking Bahais in Iran have recognized that the separation of church and state has a central place in the Bahai teachings. I was far from the first to make this observation. That leaves the question, for what X is it true, that Sen is X-ier than all other Bahais? Clearly it is not, ‘finding the principle of the separation of church and state in the Bahai Writings. Second, the UHJ itself has said that the topic of my book Church and State was not the reason for my disenrollment. Third, I’ve recently heard that my disenrollment related to efforts, spanning over twenty-five years, to promote erroneous and misleading perspectives. That would point to some opinion I expressed or was thought to express in 1991 or earlier, long before I began to research church and state. I have no idea what that could be.

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