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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Disenrolment – Tarikh 2006

This is a message to Tarikh, 24 Oct 2006, in response to a number of suggestions as to how I could go about righting the misunderstanding about the word ‘theologian’ and get myself re-enrolled in the Bahai community. The first suggestion was to complete my PhD, the others are quoted in turn in my reply:

– –
Dear XX,

I appreciate the spirit of your suggestions. I am indeed working on the PhD, which will be an ‘ecclesiology’ – ie a theological (not sociological or historical) study of the scriptural basis and broad principles underlying the Bahai community and its institutions: the House of Worship, the Administrative Order (Guardianship and House of Justice), the Covenant, the role of the “learned and the wise’ (ulama); all of it held together – though not necessarily to ZZ’s satisfaction – by the thread of organic unity, and the fit between this kind of unity and postmodern societies.

> 2. Write a clearer, more definitive prefatory disclaimer.

The Foreword to Church and State says:

“This book presents my own understanding of the Bahai teachings … I should declare at the outset that 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, and I speak as if the reader shares the concerns of that community. As a Bahai theologian, 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. The approach is not value-free. I would be delighted if the Bahai Faith proved to have a synergy with post-modernity, if it prospered in the coming decades and had an influence on the world. The reader who is used to academic studies of religion that avoid such value judgements will have to make the necessary adjustments here and there. I do not however write as an apologist: the goal is a serious study that can aid the Bahai community and others to discover the potential for contemporary religious life which lies within the Bahai scriptures, rather than simply to repackage the Bahai Faith in a palatable form for present needs.
… The views offered here are not an authoritative view of the Bahai teachings, nor a definitive statement of my own views on these topics. These are samples from a work in progress, born out of an ongoing argument with myself.”

There is also a section ‘the limits of theology’ (page 20, also pp 8-10 on what ‘theology’ can mean) and some thoughts on the dialogue process that leads us forward to better understandings (ie pp 6-7, 10-11).

The UHJ has selectively quoted a small part of this, turning a statement of my commitment to the Faith into something preposterous, to make it appear that I was claiming what I actually deny – a position of authority, that I was even seeking to establish a caste with “ecclesiastical prerogatives.” This is a complete misreading, as is evident even from reading the whole of the paragraph that the UHJ has quoted only selectively.

In any case I do not have any position that would enable me to impose my views on the believers, even if I had the desire to do so. I don’t want to hit at the UHJ by saying this (God Forbid), they are entitled to do whatever they want to do, and if they find it necessary to misrepresent what I wrote in the Foreword, so be it. Perhaps it was a good faith misreading. In either case, there will presumably be a wisdom in the decision. What I am saying is rather that becoming ‘clearer’ would evidently not help. The Foreword is perfectly clear, there is no ambiguity I could clear up, so far as I can see.


> 3. Articulate a more accurate and nuanced position on the House’s authority and role in doctrinal matters.

This is indeed the topic for the next book. A good deal of the criticism that my Church and State has received has been for what I did not write, and did not deal with, simply because I intend a much more extensive treatment later. I think the church-state relationship is one of the clearest examples of what is meant by organic unity (the other two clear organic relationships are the Guardianship and the House of Justice, and the House of Worship and House of Justice). I could in principle have started with any one these, but the church-state relationship, and an examination of the Bahai teachings on the issue, also shows us clearly what the Bahai community and Bahai Administration are not. If I had started with a study of the institutions of the Bahai community in their organic relationships, I would have continually to be avoiding and clearing up misunderstandings about the Bahai Administration being a sort of government-in-waiting. I still think it was clearer and more economical to begin with Church and State, which both establishes what is meant by organic unity and establishes what the Bahai institutions are not and can never be. That clears the undergrowth so to speak for a study of what the Bahai institutions are, how they differ (in remarkable ways) from the structures of previous religious communities.

> 4. Submit your dissertation to Baha’i review.

Yes, the NSA has already asked me to do this. This is not necessarily particular to me, it is the Dutch NSA’s policy in relation to all PhD theses.


> 5. Publish your dissertation.

God willing. In fact the university has now shifted from publication on paper to electronic publication on a site attached to the university library, so ‘publication’ in the old sense of the term is no longer required.


> 6. Apply again for Baha’i membership.

I have already done this, and I was refused. I could reapply every year, or something to that effect, but I think it is unnecessary and simply puts the NSA in the position of having to turn me down again, which cannot be very pleasant for them. They know I want to be a member. I attend community events and summer schools, and my attachment to and involvement in the community is evident to everyone. I am assuming that I have been excluded for life, and will continue to live the Bahai life like one of those ‘lay brothers’ who served not within the order, but outside the doors. If the assumption proves wrong, and my application is approved, I will be delighted. In the meantime, you know I am with you in spirit, and doing my best to serve the good in the position I find myself

Best Wishes
Sen

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