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Theology 2005-10-17

From: Sen & Sonja
To: YY, Tarikh
Subject: Re: The Universal House of Justice, Nov 14, 2005
Date sent: Thu, 17 Nov 2005

> If the only issue was the use of the term “Baha’i theologian”,
> perhaps there wouldn’t be an issue. But because of the tone of the
> next-quoted statement, some of which — criticizing, clarifying, and
> purifying the ideas of the Baha’i community–has an air of
> superiority;

No superiority was intended (You left out strengthening, by which I
mean finding scriptural bases). This 4-part checklist is my functional
definition of a Bahai theology performed in service of a religious
community, as distinct from the history-of-religion approach which
aims at an objectivity that is above either support or attack.

Statements like this, in which the author says what he hopes the book
may achieve, are common enough, usually right at the end of the
Foreword, and they do not normally cause objections. After all, anyone
may hope — the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, and that’s
up to the readers.

At the end of his Foreword, Julio Savi says “It is hoped that these
concepts … will assist the reader to understand, appreciate, and put
into practice the practical and concrete suggestions which the Bahai
Faith offers to individuals and societies for achieving a world of
justice and peace.”

In my Foreword, I said

… 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.

You can see immediately why Julio covers more ground in 200 pages than
I do in 400 🙂

> and more especially because of the history of having frankly ignored
> the guidance of the House on the subject,

I don’t see how it is possible, with courtesy, to engage with the UHJ
on any question of the Bahai teachings, because they are not permitted
to engage in interpretation, and especially in the absence of the
Guardian have to “build a fence around the law” — i.e. avoid even the
remote appearance of interpreting, as well as not in fact interpreting
the teachings. To seek to include them in a conversation about the
Bahai teachings as if they were another participant seems to me
insensitive and discourteous, like a politician publicly speaking to
the Queen on some party political issue (to a constitutional Queen, as
in the Netherlands or the UK). Whatever is said to her, the Queen is
forced to smile and nod, because either a disagreement or agreement
would be against the rules of the game. But it would be incredibly
gauche of the politician, who would not be invited to share the podium
with her offended Majesty again.

Please, could we have a little empathy and consideration for their
sensitive position, and not seek to enrol the UHJ to support our
various ideas and convictions — or to call down lightening on our
opponents. Any ideas that cannot be sufficiently defended from
authentic scriptures using reason, are tested and found wanting


Related content:
Compilation on the learned
What is theology, and what’s it good for ? (2008)
The knower as servant (response to Paul Lample) (2008)
Knowledge: project or process? (2009)

and in the email archive:

Scholarship and review in the Bahai community (1990)
Scholars in the Bahai Community 1 (1996)
Scholars in the Bahai Community 2 (1996)
Foreword to ‘Church and State’ (2005; see the section on the limits of theology)
Theology – 2005-12-03
Theology 2005-10-21
Theology – 2005-12-03
Theologians, the learned and the wise (2006)
Theology 2006-02-13
Theology 2007-01-01
Theology 2008-06-03
Church, State, experts, consensus (Oct. 2009)
Theology – a defence (2009)
No Clergy?” (2009)
Theology 2009-10-00
Bahai Studies and the academic study of religion” (2010?)
Method and focus in my Church and State (2010?)

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