Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Bahai in a nutshell

The Bahai Faith is, first of all, the path of faith that was taught by Baha’u’llah (1817-1892). It has been expounded by his son Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921) and by the Guardian he appointed, Shoghi Effendi (1897-1957). The Bahai community can be found in most countries (google yours), and is now administered by an elected council, the Universal House of Justice. The community has no clergy. Local communities are also administered by elected councils, the Spiritual Assemblies.

Among the Bahai teachings are:

– The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition;
– the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith;
– the basic unity of all religions;
– the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national;
– the harmony which must exist between religion and science;
– the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar;
– the introduction of compulsory education;
– the adoption of a universal auxiliary language;
– the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty;
– the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations;
– the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship;
– the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society,
– and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations;
– and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind —

these stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity which He [Abdu’l-Baha] proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large in the course of these missionary journeys [to Europe and North America, in 1911-1913]. The exposition of these vitalizing truths of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, which He characterized as the “spirit of the age,” He supplemented with grave and reiterated warnings of an impending conflagration which, if the statesmen of the world should fail to avert, would set ablaze the entire continent of Europe. He, moreover, predicted, in the course of these travels, the radical changes which would take place in that continent, foreshadowed the movement of the decentralization of political power which would inevitably be set in motion, alluded to the troubles that would overtake Turkey, anticipated the persecution of the Jews on the European continent, and categorically asserted that the “banner of the unity of mankind would be hoisted, that the tabernacle of universal peace would be raised and the world become another world.

(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 281-2)

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9 Responses to “Bahai in a nutshell”

  1. mommaskyla said

    Man, I am so impressed by what I find here! You left a comment on my blog and wen I clicked here to see who you were, I found a regular cave of wonders. Good work! I hope you don’t mind me linking to you. As a new Baha’i I am still trying to explain this amazing faith to friends and family and boy do I think the content here might help out!

  2. Sen said

    You’re welcome mommaskyla. I don’t have the answers for every question, there’s a lot I struggle with myself. When I do find an answer, I try to make it comprehensible for others and post it here.

    What’s religious knowledge for? It doesn’t get us to heaven. It doesn’t get us rich, or even modestly self-sufficient, and in the Bahai Faith it doesn’t make us leaders of the community. At worst it gives us something we think we know, to hang on to, which can then become a hurdle. “And God has led him astray by means of some knowledge.” (Q 45:23) But knowledge can also be used to clear away the undergrowth – itself consisting of bits of knowledge and supposition – that gets in the way of being or becoming a Bahai, and living our lives as disciples of Baha’u’llah.

  3. Sen said

    Shoghi Effendi gets a bad press, because some people use his letters (usually those written by his secretary) to bludgeon other Bahais into line on trivial issues. This is possible because neither the bludgeoned nor the bludgeoner have examined how Shoghi Effendi himself wanted his letters to be read and used. Shoghi Effendi writes, for example, that the Guardian cannot legislate. Surely that means his secretaries also cannot legislate? So if a secretary — or the Guardian himself — says something like “don’t teach the children to say Grace before eating, that’s a Christian practice” — it does not become a new bit of Bahai Law we all have to follow. Maybe it was the right thing to say, to the summerschool or children’s class that the letter was addressed to. Perhaps that particular organiser was teaching a Grace that incorporated the concepts of incarnation and original sin. Not knowing the circumstances or what question was asked, we can’t really judge their wisdom, but we do know that “the Guardian cannot legislate.” Such letters were administratively valid, they shared in Shoghi Effendi’s authority as head of the community and they have to be obeyed, by the person receiving them, but they do not become like the minutae of the Shariah, religious rules that every pious Bahai has to follow everywhere and always to be on the right path, and that every self-righteous Bahai is entitled to impose on his or her fellow-beleivers.

    Another thing Shoghi Effendi says of such letters is that “their authority is less.” He decided which issues he would respond to with a general letter from himself, as Guardian, sent to the Bahais of the World through the NSA of Persia, the United Kingdom or the USA. If he decided instead to let an issue be dealt with by a secretary, it was because he wanted the answer to have a lesser authority, just as the UHJ decided to have the year 2000 issue addressed in a work “commissioned by” the UHJ rather a letter on the UHJ’s own letterhead. They didn’t want what it said to be mixed up with their own legislative authority, and if the Guardian did not want some response to be confused with his own interpretive authority, it was written as a letter on behalf, precisely so that its authority would be less.

    Shoghi Effendi is being misused to create a detailed religious Law on the basis of cases (as Islamic shariah is derived from traditions of ‘what the Prophet did when…), which is bad in itself, and also sad, because he was not that kind of man at all, he did not want his letters to be used like that, and the image of the dour administrator comes between readers and the man himself. I am man-struck by the essential Shoghi Effendi — the Shoghi Effendi who reveals himself in his general letters, explain the ‘fundamental verities’ and the demands of the age, patiently explaining why this or that idea will not fly, carefully and beautifully translating the scriptures to enrich both the understanding and the devotional life of the believers. It pains me that so many Bahais do not see that he is one of the world’s great souls.

    Shoghi Effendi did not chose or even anticipate that he might be appointed Guardian at a young age. It was a position imposed on him, explicitly in Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament, and it imposed an obligation on him to maintain the authority of the office, for the sake of the future of the community. Perhaps he made mistakes. I recall hearing of one case in which he declared an Iranian Bahai living in India a Covenant-breaker, and reversed the decision a few months later when he had met the man. But we know enough about those he did excommunicate to know that they were not all “Godly people” – far from it. There was money and status on hand, and only that young fellow Shoghi to guard them: the temptation brought out the worst in many of those who felt they had more seniority in the family or as leaders of the Bahai community.

    If Shoghi Effendi had excommunicated himself – or more plausibly, had stayed in the Swiss mountains walking, meditating and studying the scriptures – the Bahai community would have diffused, and then formed competing groups, and then combative groups. The history of Christianity would have been replayed. The centre had to hold, and Shoghi Effendi had to be the one to insist on it. I believe Ruhiyyah Khanum’s description of his reluctance. It was something against his nature – he would far rather recruit a network of helpers – but in some cases the demands of history and the obduracy of individuals left him with no choice.

    You are still free to have a religion of summer breeze, the Seven Valleys and Abdu’l-Baha stories. I do. It’s part of the Bahai Faith but not all of it. There’s also Baha’u’llah’s audacious act of sweeping away the authority of the religious experts and putting the authority to lead the community and define and even make religious law in the hands of the Houses of Justice. There’s his sacralisation of politics, and his vision of a world government representing all peoples and faiths, and serving the well-being of all. A great deal in his vison, both religious and secular, requires institutions that exercise authority. But you don’t have to be part of it: you have to know your own self. Don’t put yourself into a situation where you know you will behave badly, or be badly affected. If a house in the country and caring for God’s creation is your part in God’s great plan, it’s no less a part than someone else’s life of conferences and position papers. Plant trees. Raise children. Do no harm.
    ~~ Sen

  4. BRAVO! Sen, that was a great and balanced exposition on the Beloved Guardian. He was the one appointed by the Master, so what should be our attitude to him, if we are obedient to the Master? Pray, everyone at all times, for firmness in the Covenant –the Master did, and He was the Center of the Covenant!
    We are concerned with authenticity here, so I sincerely encourage those who have had their administrative rights taken away to return and repent, whatever it takes, re-apply and re-enter the community of active service. If we recognize the Universal House of Justice as the channel of guidance from the Holy One of Israel, we will want to participate it its’ election as mature adult servants in this Kingdom. Make no mistake about it:
    God’s “kingdom come” involves this House of Justice –perhaps not the end all, but the way-station where we are now. I came from a biblical background, and studiously searched other traditions before coming to Baha’i, knowing there had to be a common denominator, a unifier.

    “But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Matt.6:31-33)

    The Kingdom is Mine. I, Myself, am, of Mine own right, its Ruler. ~Bahá’u’lláh, GWB, p.33

    We, who have found Bahá’u’lláh should rejoice, and fall on our faces in adoration, even if we are not from a religious tradition.
    It is not the House of Justice we worship -they are His instruments.

    “And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counsellors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” (Isaiah 1:26)

  5. thecollectivei said

    Every day I learn and grow, and your blog has helped me learn and grow with the history of the Faith and has given me much to think about in my own faith. For this, I thank you.

  6. RAINBOW MAN said

    Sen-Do you ever think about going back to the Chatham Islands.

  7. Sen said

    Not really. For my work, anywhere with an internet connection is equally good (and I could plant the forest there that I had planned once), but I am also an artist and married to an artist, and (what goes with that), poor. That points to a place with cultural facilities and low rents, not to a remote Island where all building materials have to be shipped in because someone didn’t plant a forest 30 years ago. So a provincial centre such as Whanganui looks like a better retirement site for us.

  8. RAINBOW MAN said

    Yes-A good choice-up on the hill….

  9. Brendan said

    This website is very useful- thank you. I am dating a Baha’i lady and want to be aware of her culture and sensitive to her beliefs and upbringing. Be safe.

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