Although this blog is a personal endeavor, I am blessed with the company of many friends who share with me their thoughts and opinions. Within a previous discussion, there was a comment about the sacredness of individual conscience and how it relates to the Baha’i Faith.
There are those who hold this opinion:
â€?We have inherited a dangerous delusion from Christianity that our individual conscience is supreme. This is not a Bahaâ€™i belief. In the end, in the context of both our role in the community and our role in the greater world, we must be prepared to sacrifice our personal convictions or opinions. The belief that individual conscience is supreme is equivalent to â€?taking partners with Godâ€™ which is abhorrent to the Teachings of the Faith.â€?
Douglas Martin (former member of the Universal House of Justice)
I’m not sure I would word it as “supreme” but yes, individual conscience is pretty darned important. It is, after all, what guides people to find the Baha’i Faith (or whatever spiritual path they choose). It is what guides our daily lives, our daily actions. And what allows us to, however imperfectly, implement this injunction:
Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds.
Baha’u’llah (Arabic Hidden Words #31)
Regarding individual conscience, last night I read this quote from Abdu’l-Baha:
“Moreover, if interrogation of conscience, which is one of the private possessions of the heart and soul, take place in this world, what further recompense remains for man in the court of justice at the day of general resurrection? Convictions and ideas are within the scope of the comprehension of the King of kings, not of kings.”
Provisional translation from Prof. Juan Cole
The context of this is religious freedom within society. Abdu’l-Baha is saying that civil government has no say when it comes to religious matters. Yes, the Baha’i Faith believes in separation of church and state. But since the argument is that religious “convictions and ideas” can only be judged by God, it leads me to believe that they are basically outside the purview of all earthly institutions.
Unfortunately, not everyone has internalized this. Especially the appointed arm of Baha’i institutions which are given the responsability of “protection” of the Faith. They mistakenly believe this to mean they have carte blanche to interrogate fellow Baha’is and bully them.
So the question then is, what happens when the innate and noble faculty of conscience finds itself in conflict with a decision or path taken by an organization or society? Does one simply sacrifice their conscience and fall in line? Or does one pursue it and try to change society.
Often the example of “terrorists” or “genocidal maniacs” are brought up. Should we allow them freedom to do what their conscience dictates? That would make no sense!
It would perhaps be useful to look at what Baha’is do in societies which are openly hostile to them and their beliefs. Or perhaps at the examples of Christ, the Bab, Baha’u’llah or Abdu’l-Baha when faced with threats, prosecution and potential violence?
The key for me is to ask: Is “it” in accord with the unchanging principles and laws of God?
I think this is what the UHJ is trying to say:
“A Bah??â€™? recognizes that one aspect of his spiritual and intellectual growth is to foster the development of his conscience in the light of divine Revelation â€” a Revelation which, in addition to providing a wealth of spiritual and ethical principles, exhorts man ‘to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye’. This process of development, therefore, involves a clear-sighted examination of the conditions of the world with both heart and mind. A Bah??â€™? will understand that an upright life is based upon observance of certain principles which stem from Divine Revelation and which he recognizes as essential for the well-being of both the individual and society.”
Document: Issues Related to the Study of the Bah??â€™? Faith
So if push comes to shove, I would say that observing divine precepts is supreme. What are they? Unity, love, fellowship and compassion. You will find these in every single religion. They have been and are, constant, and will remain so.
That is what will protect society from genocidal maniacs who may claim they are simply following the dictates of their conscience. While they may be sincere (or simply crazy), because they are in direct conflict with the spirit of the age, it can not be used as an excuse to act in ways which are contrary to the wellbeing of themselves and others.
Individual conscience is sacred because it is divinely inspired. The distinction is then whether a decision or action is in accord with divine principles or not. If it isn’t, we can not simply “submit” our conscience to the “decision of the majority” when that is, far too often, a euphemism for injustice. Abdu’l-Baha never did.
Finally, when conscience is allied with the Word of God and His principles, it is supreme by the very fact that its ally is Supreme. This ties into what Baha’u’llah said regarding infallibility. And perhaps what Rumi meant when he said: “A’nal-haq” (I am God). It is not “partnership with God” but rather total and utter annihilation within Him.