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The ‘mutilation’ passage

Subject: Mutilation passage
Date sent: Sat, 31 Oct 2009 21:02:50 +0100

The theme [in this section of The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah]
is that the two institutions are complementary, not alternatives or substitutes:

“Each exercises, within the limitations imposed upon it, its powers, its
authority, its rights and prerogatives. These are neither contradictory,
nor detract in the slightest degree from the position which each of these
institutions occupies. Far from being incompatible or mutually
destructive, they supplement each other’s authority and functions, and are
permanently and fundamentally united in their aims.”

Then the core sentence:

“Divorced from the institution of the Guardianship the World Order of
Baha’u’llah would be mutilated and permanently deprived of that hereditary
principle which, as ‘Abdu’l-Baha has written, has been invariably upheld
by the Law of God….”

By divorced I think he is thinking of a forceable and artificial
separation, that is, if a version of the Bahai Faith were to be
constructed (eg by Sohrab) without this institution, it would lack
the hereditary principle. In that event, there would still be a
theoretical hereditary element, since Abdu’l-Baha was the son of
Baha’u’llah; but he says, without the Guardianship the Faith would be
deprived of the hereditary principle, so he must mean, a living exemplar
of the hereditary principle. This is just the hand that history has dealt
us, and the deprivation is permanent. No way to fix it. But we probably do
not mourn the loss of a hereditrary institution too much. What follows is
more serious :

“… Without such an institution the integrity of the Faith would be
imperiled, and the stability of the entire fabric would be gravely
endangered. Its prestige would suffer, the means required to enable it to
take a long, an uninterrupted view over a series of generations would be
completely lacking, and the necessary guidance to define the sphere of the
legislative action of its elected representatives would be totally

Integrity, stability, prestige and a long view are definite plusses. But
these ones are not entirely “lost” – because this sentence can be read to
a certain extent as “If there had not been such an institution the
integrity of the Faith would have been imperiled…” etc. If Abdu’l-Baha
had died without the House of Justice elected and had not appointed the Guardian, it’s
not hard to see that things would have gone very badly. However the Faith
has suffered some of these negative effects through having one and one
only Guardian: some prestige (no equivalent to the Aga Khan as a public
figure), we’ve lost that element of the oral transmission of wisdom within
the family
. The Guardian has given us a lot of guidance about the sphere
of legislative action
that was not clear from the writings of Baha’u’llah
and Abdu’l-Baha: his specifying that we must not “allow the machinery of
their administration to supersede the government of their respective
countries” is priceless, to give one example.

[in a later posting]

God’s will is not exhuasted by the “governor” model (in theology-
speak, gubernatorial providence). God is also described in the New
Testament as one who reaps where he did not sow, which is to say,
there is also redemptive providence, which opens every situation to a
divine possibility. If gubernatorial providence was 100%, there would be
no *** to redeem

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7 Responses to “The ‘mutilation’ passage”

  1. Dear Sen: I have examined this passage from Shoghi Effendi’s “Dispensation” letter here:

  2. Hasan Elías said

    Sen, could you give some examples? What we have lost exactly? For example, do you believe that the same review policy would be in force we had a living Guardian?

  3. Sen said

    I do not know Hasan: but we have lost the possibility that the UHJ and the Guardian could consult about this and other issues. That may mean that some decisions are different, it probably means that more time is taken over the decision-making, making the institution more conservative in effect if not in intent.

  4. Hasan Elías said

    I agree, also I think we lost sensibility in some issues.

  5. Hasan said

    Hi Sen, I think the key proposition to understand what we lost for no having a living Guardian is the one that takes into account the TIME as a main factor, this one:

    “an uninterrupted view over a series of generations would be completely lacking,”

    “uninterrupted” and “series of generations” imply TIME, here is evident that the Guardian had in mind a serie of Guardians.

    So, what we need to identify is what is this “view”, is it something the UHJ cannot have? is it the authoritative interpretation exclusive of the Guardian?

    In any case it seems the Covenant is strong enough to palliate this by other means.

    Do you agree with this?

  6. Sen said

    A very qualified ‘yes.’ I think Shoghi Effendi was probably thinking primarily of his own work in defining the essential Bahai teachings, which he did in “The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah.” In doing that, he was drawing on his own experience of learning from Abdu’l-Baha, who drew on his own experience of learning from Baha’u’llah. Any successor he might have imagined to himself, could only have learned from Shoghi Effendi, and he was quite clear that “There is a far, far greater distance separating the Guardian from the Center of the Covenant than there is between the Center of the Covenant and its Author.” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 151).

    To say that the Guardians would have an uninterrupted view is not to say that it would be an undiminished one. Clearly there is a vast distance between Shoghi Effendi learning at the feet of Abdu’l-Baha, and any possible guardian learning from Shoghi Effendi. Thus I think this can be classed as largely something we would have lost had there been no Guardian, rather than something we have lost because there is no guardian today.

  7. Hi – I really appreciate Brent’s post on this subject, but want to suggest a slightly different understanding. This is revelatory to me: “The Baha’is were not expecting the Institution of Guardianship after the passing of Abdu’l-Baha
    During the lifetime of Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha never spoke to the Baha’is about the institution of the Guardianship. He frequently stated that after Him, the Universal House of Justice would be organized and would be the Head of the Faith.”

    If this is true then the mutilation passage becomes very very clear. Not having a clear understanding of where to fit the Guardianship into their understanding, Shoghi Effendi set forth to defin the limits of his office and of the role of the Universal House of Justice, and says that the Faith’s entire purpose would be essentially upended without the Guardianship. But we can see that in operation today. The Universal House of Justice’s authority is constrained by the pronouncements of the Guardian, long after his absence, and even without a new Guardian to replace the first (and now we know, only). In short – til today the Guardianship cannot be divorced from the Universal House of Justice.

    It seems to me that viewing the end of the line of Guardians as some sort of hardship is erroneous – amongst other things, there is some evidence that the end of the line was anticipated in the Aqdas, or so I’m told. 🙂 But in any event, the fact that there EVER was a Guardian, means that the existing Universal House of Justice is permanently shaped by that reality.


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