Ahmadinejad Asked About Baha’is In Iran

Ahmadinejad, the puppet president beholden to the Supreme Leader (Khamenei), came to the US this week and brought with him his Cheshire cat grin.

I’m a believer in free speech so I personally had no qualms about the platform that he was given on American media. The problem is that the world, for the most part, is unaware of the intricate details that shape this man and his extremist beliefs.

For example, I would bet that less than 0.00001% of those in attendance at Columbia University know what the Hojjatieh Society is, nor that their recent guest is a member of that organization.

Were the American people to be truly informed as to the motivations behind this troll of a man, they would be able to clearly see through his hackneyed performance and his insincere crocodile smile.

In the video below, Ahmadinejad is asked about the plight of the Baha’is in Iran. He follows his usual modus operandi and sidesteps the question. When he is again asked he gives another non answer (around the 3:00 mark).

In this second video, he is asked about the plight of homosexuals in Iran (for those that don’t know, Iran regularly executes suspected homosexuals — even those younger than 18, which is against international law to which it has bound itself voluntarily).

Here is a CBC documentary on the lives of homosexuals in current Iranian society (part 1):

The Concept of Infallibility In The Baha’i Faith

I’ve put forward my own thinking on the concept of infallibility, or rather, the question of the infallibility of the House of Justice. You can find them here:

Is the Universal House of Justice Infallible?
Is the Universal House of Justice Infallible? part II

Here’s a recent message by Sen McGlinn, as part of a discussion on Talisman. Sen’s exploration of this concept is much wider than mine but is nevertheless intriguing. Of course, you’ll recall that Sen was disenrolled after the publication of his book: Church & State.

*********

I think [……] has explained why people want to get hold of something infallible, in the sense of its never being wrong. It is so that they can be not-wrong themselves, it is a way of short-circuiting the critical faculty and banishing doubt and reflection. The inerrancy of scripture in Protestant doctrine is the clearest example: the claim is usually not used as a statement of humility in the face of scripture, but as a claim of superiority: it generally says, “I have the scriptural faith which cannot be wrong, so everyone different is wrong.” Infallibility is also an assurance that something will be constant: it is used as a crutch for people who are having difficulty in coping with a world of constant universal change.

Infallibility in the sense of never being wrong is simply a non-existent thing. Arguments about its general nature are therefore futile, and it cannot be proved or disproved in any specific case. What we can say is that, for infallibility in this sense to exist in the world, there would first have to be one universal standard of “rightness” and then one contingent thing or being which somehow escapes contingency and always has and always will be “right” against this one standard. Which standard then? The will of God? Scientific accuracy? effectiveness in maximising human happiness? Effectiveness in some other respect? If there is no universal “rightness” there cannot be anything which is universally and always right.

Infallibility in the Bahai writings does not mean never being wrong. Baha’u’llah for instance was wrong on some historical and scientific matters. Bahai infallibility is in the first place an attribute of God, and as such is shared with the whole creation, and its meaning is defined as “free from sin” that is, not bound by sin, free to do otherwise. Infallibility is a statement that sin does not reign — except when we allow it to. It is an attribute of empowerment, a statement of our liberty from what seems to us to bind us. At every breathe, we are free to start again with a fresh slate. That is why the new believer is assured by Baha’u’llah:

Thou hast mentioned Husayn. We have attired his temple with the robe of forgiveness and adorned his head with the crown of pardon. … Say: Be not despondent. After the revelation of this blessed verse it is as though thou hast been born anew from thy mother’s womb. Say: Thou art free from sin and error. Truly God hath purged thee with the living waters of His utterance in His Most Great Prison.
(Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 76)

This is infallibility at the individual level.

In the same way, sovereignty is an attribute of God, and the individual can choose sovereignty for himself:

“Possess a pure, kindly and radiant heart, that thine may be a sovereignty ancient, imperishable and everlasting
(Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words)

Each of the attributes of God takes different forms at different levels. So the kings are called “the manifestations of affluence and power and the daysprings of sovereignty and glory” (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 30), and in the Aqdas are told: “Arise, and serve Him Who is the Desire of all nations, Who hath created you through a word from Him, and ordained you to be, for all time, the emblems of His sovereignty.” At the same time, the founders of religions exhibit a different kind of sovereignty:

“by sovereignty is meant the all-encompassing, all-pervading power which is inherently exercised by the Q??’im whether or not He appear to the world clothed in the majesty of earthly dominion. … That sovereignty is the spiritual ascendancy which He exerciseth..” (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p.107)

The same is true of infallibility: it takes different forms in the individual, in institutions, in relationships and so on.

“Know thou that the term ‘Infallibility’ hath numerous meanings and divers stations. In one sense it is applicable to the One Whom God hath made immune from error. Similarly it is applied to every soul whom God hath guarded against sin, transgression, rebellion, impiety, disbelief and the like. However, the Most Great Infallibility is confined to the One Whose station is immeasurably exalted beyond ordinances or prohibitions and is sanctified from errors and omissions.” (Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 108).

I will puzzle out the details of this below, but we can note now that it includes “every soul” but not all in the same sense, and that it says NOTHING about not being wrong: it is all about not **doing** wrong. And we can look to the next page and see that the example of the Most Great Infallibility which Baha’u’llah gives is the designation of Mecca as the place of pilgrimmage. Muhammad puts Mecca in place of Jerusalem. He changed the Law of God. “Consider thou the blessed, the divinely-revealed verse in which pilgrimage to the House is enjoined upon everyone. It devolved upon those invested with authority after Him to observe whatever had been prescribed unto them in the Book. Unto no one is given the right to deviate from the laws and ordinances of God….” (There’s a critiique here of the Umayyid Caliphs in Damascus, who tried to make Jerusalem at least a rival place of pilgrimmage). So the example of infallibility is that Muhammad changed the place of pilgrimmage, and all after him had to obey that change. Except we do not go to Mecca on pilgrimmage, do we? Baha’u’llah changed the Law again.

It is not just that infallibility means “being always right but only within one dispensation” — which would be nonsensical anyway. It is stronger: infallibility actually MEANS freedom from bondage and therefore the freedom to change. In the case of the Manifestation, it means the freedom not to be bound by the Law of God as it was up till then. In the case of House of Justice, it is bound by what is revealed in the Book, but it is free to change its own rulings. It can say, “sorry, that is wrong” or “that is no longer best” and head off in another direction. The UHJ is not bound by its own history, or by the need to appear consistent to the world. If is FREE, in a way that the Pope is not. He, like the Shaykh al-Azhar and the Shi`ah Mujtahids, dare not be seen to change what the authorities before them have laid down. They are prisoners of history, and of the expectations of the faithful.

I said I would puzzle out the passage from the Ishraqat about infallibility in more detail. In Taherzadeh’s translation of the Ishraqat, a new paragraph begins here:

When the stream of words reached this stage [maqaam, station], the sweet savours of true knowledge [?irfan] were shed abroad and the day-star of divine unity [tawhiid] shone forth above the horizon of His holy utterance. …. Whoso faileth to quaff the choice wine which We have unsealed through the potency of Our Name, the All-Compelling [al-qayyuum – better would be ?the Self-Subsisting], shall be unable to discern the splendours of the light of divine unity or to grasp the essential purpose underlying the Scriptures of God, the Lord of heaven and earth, the sovereign Ruler of this world and of the world to come. Such a man shall be accounted among the faithless in the Book of God, the All-Knowing, the All-Informed.

There is no mention here of infallibility, but there is in the following paragraph, and the theme of the oneness of God forms a link. I am inclined therefore to think that it is not the sum of the foregoing Ishraqat, but rather the specific statement that the Manifestation has no partner in the Most Great Infallibility, which gives us ?true knowledge.’

Before answering the question, Baha’u’llah explains that he has delayed unveiling the doctrine because it will elicit opposition from the `ulamaa’ and persecution for the faithful. Then he prefaces the actual explanation with a restatement of the sovereignty of the Manifestation, and the threat this represents to existing religions:

… thou didst firmly adhere unto seemly patience during the days when the Pen was held back from movement and the Tongue hesitated to set forth an explanation regarding the wondrous sign [al-ayah al-`azmii], the Most Great Infallibility [`ismat al-kabrii]. Thou hast asked this Wronged One to remove for thee its veils and coverings … We restrained the Pen for a considerable lapse of time in accordance with divine wisdom [hikmat] and for the sake of protecting the faithful …. The All-Merciful is come invested with power and sovereignty. Through His power the foundations of religions have quaked … Know thou that the term ?Infallibility’ [`ismat] hath numerous meanings and divers stations [ma`aan shattaa wa maqaamat shattaa = diverse meanings and diverse stations].

The reason why infallibility (in its Bahai meaning) causes the foundations of religions to quake, is that in Bahai teachings infallibility entails change and freedom to change, whereas in previous religions and even in the minds of some Bahais, it is used as a buttress *against* change. ( !! ) The parallel construction in the last sentence links the diversity in meaning to the different stations or levels at which infallibility applies, as we have seen above. Taherzadeh’s translation continues

In one sense it [infallibility] is applicable to the One Whom God hath made immune from error.

?In one sense’ does not appear in the text, and the capitalization of One, implying that this is the first station, the most great infallibility of the Manifestation, is an inference by the translator. In my view it is incorrect: this sentence and the following one are talking about the general use of the term, and its Arabic etymology. What it says literally is:

Where there is one whom God guards (`s.mahu) from slipping (az-zalal), he (God) confers upon him this name (infallible) as a station [fii maqaam].

Baha’u’llah is emphasising that the word `ismat comes from the verb `sm, to guard or protect, and the concept ?infallible’ means that God has protected someone from something – in the first case, from a slip. Zalal is a simpler term than khataa’, it means a lapse, slip or mistake. Coincidentally, this explanation works in English: in-fallible means ?saved from falling,’ as if God is beside us and catches our elbow when we are about to fall. The English etymology in this case is false, but the coincidence gives us a mnemonic for one meaning of the term.

The text continues, in my translation:

Similarly where God has guarded anyone from sin (khataa’), rebellion (`isyaan), impiety (`iraaz) disbelief (kufr), joining partners with God (shirk) and the like, God grants each and every one of them the name of ?infallibility.’

In short, where God guards anyone from anything, this guarding is called ?ismat.

However, the Most Great Infallibility belongs to the One Whose station is a holiness above ordinances and prohibitions and an exemption from sin (khataa’) and forgetfulness (nisyaan).] Indeed He is a Light which is not succeeded by darkness and a suitability [s.awaab = rightness, fittingness, perhaps righteousness here?] that is not subject to sin/failing (khataa’). Were He to pronounce upon water the decree of wine (i.e., that it is forbidden) or upon heaven the decree of earth, or upon light the decree of fire, it is the truth [haqq = truth, reality, legal right] and there is no doubt about it; and it is not for anyone to object to it (or, against him) or to say ?why and wherefore?.’ If anyone objects, he is one of the objectors in the Book of God, the Lord of the worlds. Truly, he is “He shall not be asked of His doings, but they shall be questioned.”

The Qur’an verse (21:23) refers to God, but the subject of this paragraph is the Manifestation of God. The last sentence asserts that the Manifestation is in this respect like God: free to do as he (or she) wills, without having to answer to others. This freedom includes changing laws, of which the extreme example would be to forbid the believers to drink water. It includes changing the language and symbols of the religions, in which, for instance, fire has been the symbol of punishment and disgrace, and light symbolises insight and purity. What is meant by pronouncing the decree of earth upon heaven?

We imagine the physical and metaphorical heavens to be unchanging, while the earth (or the sub-lunar realm in medieval cosmology) is the realm of change, relativity and conditionality. The Manifestation has the authority to introduce change into “heaven” — into religion.

He is come from the invisible heaven (or: the heaven of concealment), and with him the banner `He doeth whatsoever He willeth’ and the hosts of power and authority (ikhtiyaar, which is authority in the sense of being able to *choose*) while it is the duty of all besides Him to hold fast to the religious laws (shari`ah) and ordinances (ahkaam) that have been enjoined upon them. Should anyone transgress them, even to the extent of a single hair, his work will miscarry.

The last sentence need not mean that one who ignores the religious laws will not prosper in this world – the opposite is quite likely. The worst sort of people generally rise to the top. It seems more likely to mean that respect and obedience for the religious laws is a condition for the acceptability of good works in the eyes of God, and for the success of the mystic’s efforts.

Because Bah??’u’ll??h Said So!!

Here’s a very interesting article from the 1995 Baha’i Studies Review. This means that it actually passed Baha’i pre-publication review – so if you’re concerned, rest assured that the institutions ok’ed this. As far as I know, the author isn’t a naughty Baha’i “dissident”.

If it was up to me, this sort of material would be in Ruhi, rather than the mind-numbing regurgitation of platitudes we currently have. It may be a bit long but I think when you finish the first paragraph you’ll be hooked (bold is my own emphasis):

?Because Bah??’u’ll??h said so?: dealing with a non-starter in moral reasoning
Arash Abizadeh
Published in the Baha’i Studies Review, vol. 5.1 (1995)

My aim here is to deal with one faulty way of justifying a normative Bah??’? position, not because it carries any serious philosophical weight, but because of its apparent popularity amongst those who wish to eliminate, right at the outset, any need for further moral reflection and consultation. This is the “because Bah??’u’ll??h said so” school of thought. Such-and-such is wrong, it is asserted tout court, because Bah??’u’ll??h said it is wrong, and no other reason need be provided. This “answer”, though philosophically bankrupt, is rhetorically powerful, because its proponents can immediately end any dissent by making agreement with them seem like a matter of faithfulness to the Covenant. (1) Because the rhetorical power of pulling the “Covenant card” here heralds an end to the independent investigation of truth and consultation, it is a particularly insidious non-answer that we would do well to consider carefully.

Let us first distinguish two senses of saying that x is wrong because Bah??’u’ll??h says it is wrong (where x is some activity, action, state of affairs, etc). First, one might simply be asserting that Bah??’u’ll??h’s saying that x is wrong gives us a (peremptory) reason for believing that it is so. Much of the rhetorical power of the because-Bah??’u’ll??h-said-so school rests on this intuition. But this is besides the point when one is engaged in moral justification. When we demand the basis of the Bah??’? normative position on x, we are asking for (a) the philosophical justification of the position that x is wrong, and not for (b) the reason for the belief that it is so, or for the moral agent’s reason for action according to that position.(2)

One may, for example, have very good reasons for believing that something is true, but without knowing the reasons why it is that it is true.

Second, one might be asserting that Bah??’u’ll??h (or God) saying that morality is such and such makes it so. That is, one might adopt the position of divine voluntarism, which holds that the moral good is the moral good simply because it is willed as the moral good by the divine Will. Here then, one could reject the “because Bah??’u’ll??h said so” school by rejecting voluntarism. One would accuse the school of getting it backwards: x is not wrong because Bah??’u’ll??h said it is wrong, rather, Bah??’u’ll??h said it is wrong because it is wrong.(3) But I wish to remain agnostic on this issue, and leave open the possibility, without committing myself to it, that Bah??’? ethics presupposes divine voluntarism. For example, one might cite, in favour of a voluntarist position, the passage in The Kit??b-i-Aqdas in which Bah??’u’ll??h urges religious leaders not to judge the word of God by their own prevalent standards since God’s word itself is the standard of right and wrong, truth and error: “the Book itself is the unerring Balance established amongst men” (¶99). This passage need not at all be taken to be one in support of the voluntarist position, but my argument here does not depend on settling that issue one way or the other.

If this passage is interpreted as supporting voluntarism, it could also be cited in favour of the because-Bah??’u’ll??h-said-so school, but only if one interprets its application in the first of two ways. The first way is the doctrine of immediate application, the second a doctrine of mediate application. On the first doctrine, one would apply voluntarist justification immediately at the level of each and every particular injunction, ordinance, exhortation, law, and claim of Bah??’? ethics. So the moral reason that, say, taking mind-altering substances is wrong, would be that Bah??’u’ll??h has forbidden it, period. We would need no further reflection on the matter, and the reasons given in the Bah??’? writings for the law, such as its effect on the soul and human moral agency, would be superfluous. Much of the rhetorical force of the doctrine of immediate application rests on the ambiguity, identified earlier, between two very different propositions. One was (a) the proposition that the divine say-so provides the justificatory basis for a given moral claim or principle; another was (b) the proposition that the divine say-so provides a (peremptory) reason for belief in, or a (peremptory) reason for action according to, that principle. The because-Bah??’u’ll??h-said-so school, and its doctrine of immediate application, would have us believe that the second proposition (b) justifies the first (a), but the move from (b) to (a) is clearly logically fallacious.

In the case of the doctrine of mediate application, the (fiat of the) divine Will serves as a voluntarist justification for the totality of the ethical theory as a whole, but not as a justification for a particular moral or ethical claim. Instead, the justification for a particular moral claim is made in terms of the other moral principles and concepts which form a part of the total theoretical framework. On this doctrine, for example, Bah??’? ethical theory’s justification for the particular moral claim that some action (e.g., taking mind-altering substances) is wrong, must be given in terms of the other moral principles and concepts which form the totality of Bah??’? ethics (e.g., it retards the progress of the soul, or it forfeits “moral responsibility”), even if the ultimate basis for that totality be the divine say-so. In other words, the divine say-so plays a role in meta-ethical, but not ethical, justification. The mediate doctrine presupposes, of course, that Bah??’? ethics forms a rationally coherent theoretical framework.

The point here is not that divine voluntarism is correct; rather that even if we were to concede it, we would still need to reject the immediate application doctrine, and with it the because-Bah??’u’ll??h-said-so school, because a Bah??’? voluntarist account must adopt a mediate application doctrine. That this is so can be readily seen by the fact that both Bah??’u’ll??h and ‘Abdu’l-Bah?? write as if their teachings form part of a coherent whole, and hence both freely justify a given principle (e.g. the forbidding of alcohol) in terms of other Bah??’? ethical principles and concepts (e.g. moral responsibility, or the progress of the soul). This also appears to be part of the reason why so many Bah??’?s have difficulty coming to terms with the fact of male-exclusivity in the membership of the Universal House of Justice: because it appears not to be justifiable in terms of, indeed it appears to contradict, other moral principles which form a part of the totality of Bah??’? moral and political philosophy. Notice again that citing Bah??’u’ll??h’s say-so regarding male-exclusivity only provides Bah??’?s with (b) a (peremptory) reason for believing that it is a proper moral principle(4) (presumably fitting coherently into the whole theoretical framework), and a (peremptory) reason for action according to that principle, without illuminating (a) the justificatory basis for that principle–after all, ‘Abdu’l-Bah?? had said that that justificatory reason would become apparent in the future, even though Bah??’?s already had Bah??’u’ll??h’s say-so when ‘Abdu’l-Bah?? was writing. The latter does not provide the former.

So to determine the basis for the Bah??’? position on some question in ethics, one must consider Bah??’? ethical theory as a whole, and justify the position in those terms, and not in terms of the divine say-so. What is more, given the Bah??’? principle of the harmony of science and religion, and that religion must be scientific in its method, the Bah??’? position must be interpreted in light of some background knowledge gleaned from the natural and social sciences. If an interpretation of the Bah??’? position on racism were advanced which entailed or presupposed that the earth was flat, then that would count against the interpretation in question–insofar as the scientific evidence suggests that the earth is not flat.(5)

End Notes

1. This is a favourite rhetorical tool used when one is too fearful to hold one’s own beliefs up to the light of consultative scrutiny, and wishes instead to silence others into submission.

2. For the reader not familiar with the terminology, I offer the following explication of a “reason for belief”, a “reason for action”, and a “peremptory” or “preemptive” reason, as these concepts are used in moral and political philosophy. For example, consider a possible claim in political philosophy that (1) a legitimate authority’s commands give you a “peremptory reason for action”, but (2) not a “peremptory reason for belief”. This dual claim means the following. Let us say that there are a set of (say, moral) reasons why you ought to do x, and a set of other (moral) reasons why you ought not to do x, but do y instead (where x and y are distinct actions). And let us say that after careful reflection, you think the balance of moral reasons tells you that you ought to do x, rather than y. But then the Local Spiritual Assembly (LSA), after independent consideration, tells you that the balance of moral reasons means that you ought to do y, and commands you to do this. Now, on the account of the legitimacy involved in the dual claim we are examining, the LSA, as a legitimate authority, does not simply add one more reason to the balance of reasons in favour of doing y. Rather, (1) its authoritative command provides a reason for action that preempts – replaces and overrides – all other reasons in the previous balance of reasons that you were considering; i.e., you ought to do y. The LSA telling you that the balance of moral reasons requires y might also provide you with a reason for believing that the original balance of moral reasons was in favour of y after all. But the second part of the dual claim above says that (2) the LSA does not provide you with a peremptory reason for belief – in other words, you might still believe that the LSA’s evaluation of the original balance of reasons was mistaken, but (1) your reason for action (in accordance with the command of the LSA) is independent of that belief, because the LSA’s authority is legitimate.

What is important about the above is not that one accepts the philosophical claim about the nature of (an LSA’s) legitimacy; rather, what is important, for the purposes of this essay, is that one understands the difference between peremptory and non-peremptory reasons, and between reasons for action and reasons for belief. These distinctions are discussed more fully by Joseph Raz, The Morality of Freedom, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.

3. Of course, this is an ancient debate, going at least as far back as Plato (cf. Euthyphro 10a).

4. A fallibilistic qualification is due even here. Because our understandings of the Writings are always subject to the fallible limitations of our own interpretations, this means that even those interpretations, which give rise to reasons for belief, must always be held to be subject to revision.

5. I should also like to make brief reference to appeals to “faith” in moral argument. Appeals to faith to settle moral questions have almost exactly the same structure as appeals to the divine say-so; indeed, this essay could have been written, in much the same form, about appeals to faith. Just as the faulty appeal to the divine say-so that I have tried to identify here often serves as a way of ending further moral reflection and consultation, so too does a faulty appeal to faith as the justification for some ethical claim. It is a fundamental Bah??’? belief, as I understand it, that faith has an important role in moral life. For example, just as appeals to the divine say-so may partially explain our reason for belief, an appeal to faith may also partially explain that belief, or even better, help explain our reason for action. But, as this essay has attempted to argue, neither an appeal to the divine say-so, nor an appeal to faith, plays a role in the philosophical justification of particular moral principles (as the doctrine of immediate application would have us believe). Such appeals might, on the other hand, partially account for one’s commitment to an ethical theory as a whole, though this essay has failed to argue for a position on this question one way or the other.

Thanks to that troublemaker, “mavaddat” on Baha’i LJ forum for the tip 😉

Bill Davis Comment On UHJ April 19th Letter

Bill Davis at the US National Convention asking the delegates to bury the NSA’s own letter and instead focus the attention of Baha’is on the UHJ’s letter:

What is this all about?

US NSA Annual Report – Ridvan 2007

House of Justice Letter April 19 2007 – Response To NSA US

Counsellor Rebequa Murphy’s Comment At Convention

bill-davis-nsa
Mr. William E. Davis
Former Chairperson
National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States of America

Those Naughty, Naughty “Baha’i Dissidents”

A few weeks ago, fellow Baha’i blogger J. A. McLean wrote an article titled “Dissidents and the Baha’i Faith”. It attracted a lot of attention, especially from quite of few of those naughty, naughty “dissidents”.

So much so that Jack seems to have changed his mind about the whole thing and decided to call it all off… by erasing his post from his blog.

Before the self-censorship, the blog post was featured on Baha’is Online. And Allison also wrote a commentary on her own blog. As for this humble blogger, for now I’m withholding any comments.

However, the internet and the technologies it contains allows us to punch a few buttons and take a ride in our own time machine (also known as, Google Cache) to retrieve Jack’s original post.

In all its effulgent glory (minus the holy numbered comments), behold:

[START DOCUMENT]

Thursday, August 23, 2007
DISSIDENTS AND THE BAHA’I FAITH

On the Internet today one may find webpages, websites and member lists that contain disgruntled views and/or bitter attacks, usually against the Bah??’? Administrative Order, from a relatively small number of so-called dissident and ex-Bah??’?s. A dissident is not, of course, an ex-Bah??’?, but someone who still claims to be a follower who has serious grievances against the Bah??’? Faith and who continues to militate for their acceptance. A dissident must be distinguished from the individual, who for personal reasons, chooses not to associate with the community, and from the person who, for one reason or another, drifts away from the Faith. Surprisingly, some of these attacks are made even by ?Bah??’?s in good standing.?

In the early 1990’s, I gained first-hand experience of this phenomenon when I was a temporary member of the original Talisman list, hosted by ex-Bah??’?, Dr. Juan Ricardo Cole. I subsequently resigned from Talisman I when Dr. Cole, in his grand design to be the ?gadfly? reformer of the Bah??’? Faith, made direct, frontal attacks on the Universal House of Justice. What is perhaps not so well-known was that by that time Dr. Cole had been remonstrating with the Universal House of Justice more or less steadily for about 20 years.

It is not the purpose of this message to reanimate the specifics of Cole’s case which are well-known to those who once belonged to Talisman I and who are familiar with his articles that attempted to blacken the reputation of the Bah??’? Administrative Order. He has since found new enemies: his blog is largely devoted to attacking the foreign policy of the United States government. However, I would like to make some general comments about dissidents and ex-Bah??’?s, whether it be Juan Cole, Francesco Ficicchia in German-speaking Europe in the 1980’s and ?90’s, and/or the like-minded Internet club of present or past hostile critics.

The behaviour of these individuals, if one wants to step back and observe it, reveals a negative dynamic or pattern of behaviour that continues to be dismally instructive. I am submitting the following observations, consequently, not to revive some old grudges, nor to perpetuate present ones, but because I seriously doubt that the Bah??’? community has seen the end of the complaints of the constantly disgruntled, the doctrinally innovative and the permanently embittered. While space is lacking here to set out fully the entire dynamic of this pattern, I would like to comment briefly on the climate of sympathy that seems to be created, at least momentarily, for the grievances of these individuals.

Allow me to preface these observations with this comment: I do not doubt for a moment that these persons have been hurt or that some have been betrayed by a fellow believer or that some decision by an administrative body has not gone their way. Most Bah??’?s, if they live long enough, will experience betrayal, or be subject to an administrative decision that has not been in their favour. The latter phrase applies sometimes to members of these very same institutions. These experiences contribute to our awakening to the stark realities of the human condition.

One of the keys to the sympathetic ear temporarily lent to the disgruntled has to do with the way that organized religion is generally perceived in contemporary society. In modernity, religion and spirituality have gone their separate ways. Individuals may willingly affirm their theism or spirituality but many disavow being official members of an ?organized religion.? Of course, the whole notion of being against organized religion per se is a strange one, when one thinks about it. People, generally, do not object to organized government, to an organized judiciary, to organized political parties, to organized education, to organized medicine, clubs, associations and societies. But except for official members, the religious ?organization? in a secular age has become definitely suspect.

And for good reason. This climate of suspicion has been created by a long history of the violent repression of doctrinal minorities, and other past or present moral travesties. Uninformed observers, consequently, tend to be predisposed to accept the viewpoint of the dissident without further reflection or investigation. If she has dissented from a religious institution, ergo, the charges must be true and she must be a victim: at least, that is the hasty conclusion. This predisposition was clearly at work for a time in Juan Cole’s case, just as it was for another ex-Bah??’?, Francesco Ficicchia.

What the dissidents fail to realize, and do not accept, is that the Bah??’? Faith, while it allows for a fair and reasonable largesse of individual interpretation, has nonetheless its own doctrinal boundaries and ethical norms. But in the final analysis, these doctrinal boundaries and ethical norms are simply not accepted by these individuals who, driven by frustration at the non-acceptance of the perceived moral rightness of their cause, ego-mania, hyper-individualism and the principles of ?liberal democracy,? engage in corrosive attacks which by definition are beyond the ethical norms and the principles of consultation which Bah??’u’ll??h has mandated to replace acrimonious and divisive debate.

The founders of the Bah??’? Faith have repeatedly warned their followers—some individuals even balk at the very notion of a warning–of the grave moral and spiritual consequences that accompany such hostile, confrontational approaches. But these individuals, unless they disaffiliate themselves from the religion to which they belong, and although they have knowingly accepted these doctrinal boundaries and ethical norms, imagine that these standards do not apply to them. They clearly view themselves as belonging to a different category. Dissidents believe somehow that they are fully within their rights to violate these norms with impunity.

Yet, just like the perpetrators who claim to be victims, they act shocked and surprised, and charge betrayal and harassment, when the government of their religion finally asks them to withdraw or takes measures to remove them permanently from the membership list. This removal, I should add, usually takes place after a lengthy and patient hearing and exchange of views, counselling and, final warnings. This careful process, however, has sometimes resulted in charges of fascism and religious fundamentalism being levelled against the institutions of the Bah??’? Faith. Of course, neither Bah??’? doctrine nor covenants gives any one a licence to radically alter Bah??’? belief or ethical practice to the point of making it unrecognizable to the community itself and to the institutions of the Bah??’? Faith. But for these individuals, this seems to be quite beside the point.

As sequitur to this last sentence: the point of this message is not, as might be supposed, simple justification, the basic preoccupation of theology, of administrative sanctions taken against these individuals. Methodologically, the confrontational, heavy-handed approach is also unsound. It is both strange and ironic when this defective, ineffective tool originates with the learned. Phenomenologist of religion, William Brede Kristensen, the Norwegian-Dutch scholar (1867-1953), in his instructive essay ?What is Phenomenology?? was perhaps the first to make the point that serious students and scholars of religion must identify with the faith of others to the extent that they ?must therefore be able to forget themselves, to be able to surrender themselves to others? (p. 49). The respected comparative religionists, Wilfred Cantwell Smith and Huston Smith have since made the same point both in their writings and in their lives by profound study and congenial practice with followers of faiths outside the Christian tradition.

Kristensen is promoting here, not some objective and detached study of a particular religion—let alone an inflammatory one–but rather a process of initiation into the sympathetic understanding of ?the faith of other men,? as the title of Cantwell Smith’s 1962 comparative study of Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Chinese philosophy, Christians and Jews put it. Smith’s innovative little book aimed to elucidate, not only the beliefs of these world religions, but also and especially, how these religions formed the personal values of the men and women who practiced them, and how their personal beliefs motivated their lives. In other words, Cantwell Smith recommended that the observer be willing to be taught by the participants of the tradition he or she was investigating, and to assume their point of view, without necessarily adopting their faith. In the academic study of religion, then, the testimony of believers is consequently the starting point and the meeting place of authentic understanding and must necessarily carry great weight.

Some may think that this argument is irrelevant and has no bearing on the present case; these individuals are, after all, already Bah??’?s, and are no longer studying the faith to which they belong. But Kristensen’s views are pertinent to this discussion. The point is that with Cole, Ficicchia, and present-day dissenters, the testimony, sacred writings, history and ethical norms of believers were either ignored or distorted to the extent that members of the Bah??’? Faith were no longer able to recognize their own religion in the distorted or hostile depictions by these critics. So much for the elementary protocol advocated by Brede Kristensen, Cantwell Smith and Huston Smith and other respected scholars of religion.

What one sometimes reads from these poisoned pens is even more surprising since some of them claimed, or still claim, to be Bah??’?s. It is no wonder that the appointed and elected institutions of the Bah??’? Faith ultimately came to the intellectually defensible conclusion that they were not. Neither is it a wonder that the Universal House of Justice has written that character, that is, active spirituality, ethics, values and norms, and methodology cannot, and should not, be separated. In this, as in all things Bah??’?, character and methodology are one.

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Posted by J.A. McLean at 11:45 AM 9 comments

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I was unable to retrieve the nine comments, if anyone has them, please forward them for inclusion.