I’m a Baha’i (in good standing) who is nonetheless disillusioned with the current state of the Baha’i world community. My aim is not to persuade or convince anyone of any conclusion. I simply hope that by voicing these thoughts, I can come to grips with the spiritual challenges that I am wrestling with personally. This is a most selfish endeavor and you are free to disagree with me. In fact, I welcome differences of opinion, for without them, it would be difficult to arrive at the truth.
So first things first, what do I believe and what are my values?
First and foremost, I believe in God as the Creator, the Unknowable Essence, and the Architect of the universe; in Baha’u’llah, as God’s Manifestation for this age; in the legislative authority of the Universal House of Justice and in the institution of the Guardianship (last held by Shoghi Effendi).
Furthermore, I value unity in diversity, not conformity, nor uniformity. Sadly, in today’s Baha’i community anyone who voices an opinion that does not agree with that of the majority or the administration, is looked at suspiciously. Somehow, the mistaken idea that unity must equal conformity has gripped the Baha’i community and as a result, a sterile group think has replaced the vibrant, and dynamic exchange of clashing viewpoints.
I value decentralization, over centralization. Central planning and its proponents, assume that life is static, linear and mechanistic; that it can be categorized, numbered and therefore, understood and controlled. However, life is not like that. It is messy, chaotic and dynamic. Unfortunately, the now widely discarded 19th-century ideal of centralization permeates the Baha’i community. Nowhere is it better seen than in grandiose multi-year plans. These plans are largely ignored by the community because they are imposed top-down and therefore, fail to motivate individuals. Yet they keep coming. Another example of centralization in the current Baha’i community is the funneling of donations from localities to the World Centre where they are expended without any disclosure or explanation – in contrast these funds could be used at the level where they are generated to build better communities.
Related to the previous issue, I believe in the empowerment of the individual to take personal and independent initiative. There are uncountable potentialities within each and everyone of us. Baha’u’llah describes man as a mine rich in gems; the way to mine these riches is to empower the individual to go forward to do what their soul inspires them. Like a young child, they will stumble, and make mistakes, but that is the only way to grow and develop. Despite the mentions of this value in communiques from the UHJ, its opposite rules the community and impedes personal initiative. Most individual Baha’is are loath to start any service project or act on any idea, unless it is first reviewed and sanctioned by their LSA or NSA.
Among the spiritual instincts latent within everyone of us, the drive for knowledge, is perhaps the strongest. This is why I believe in scholarship and the unfettered investigation of truth. Sadly, many documents related to the Faith and its history as well as volumes and volumes of the Writings of Baha’u’llah and the Bab have not yet been translated or released publicly . Although translation of these documents may take time, there is no reason why scanned versions of them can not be made available to all through the internet. Why are we so behind the others in this regard? By controlling or limiting access to what is in essence, the heritage and right of humanity, not only is scholarship hamstrung, but all of mankind suffers.
Closely intertwined with the search for knowledge is the free expression of our perception of it. I believe that the practice of ‘review’ where the product of individual Baha’i’s talents and intelligence is filtered and in many instances censored, is in direct violation of justice. This temporary measure, enacted by Abdu’l-Baha as a way to protect the Faith in a time of confusion, has been extended to an age where information is readily available and its instantaneous exchange made possible by technology. The case for maintaining this anachronism is made by some that it serves to protect the Faith from misunderstandings by both Baha’is and non-Baha’is. This paternalistic attitude however, disregards the fact that both groups are perfectly able to shoulder their God given responsibility to investigate the truth. As well, the non-Baha’i world is also capable of distinguishing from the words and actions of individual Baha’is, imperfect as they may be, and the Baha’i Faith itself. They do this everyday with regards to other religions and their adherents.
Too much emphasis is place on quantification in the Baha’i community to the detriment of the qualitative aspects of the community, such as vibrancy, unity, diversity, happiness and maturity. A tremendous amount of energy within the Baha’i community is wasted to collect, analyse and disseminate a huge pile of numbers for: enrollments, travelling teachers, pioneers, Ruhi course participants, cluster numbers and levels, and figures for the various Baha’i funds. Yet, qualitative aspects not only matter more in the lives of individuals and communities alike, they are prerequisites for numerical growth and achievement.
I value the administration as a tool rather than as a substitute for the Faith. Unfortunately, it has substituted the mystical and spiritual life of communities with mundane, bureaucratic, paper-pushing. This may be a result of ignoring the repeated mentions and entreaties, in the Writings, to establish the institution of the Mashriqul’Adhkar in all localities.
Also troubling for me is the confusion surrounding the recognition of the station and authority of the twin institutions of the administrative order: the UHJ and the Guardianship. Too many Baha’is believe that the UHJ is “God on earth”, “God’s representative” or some other such nonsense. Usually, these same people also mistakenly believe that every word uttered by Shoghi Effendi and his secretaries is Baha’i law. This is perhaps one of the most damaging mistakes because it touches on so many aspects of our community. I believe deepening on the meaning and significance of infallibility – in the context of the language and culture that it was used – would go towards removing this confusion and its negative effects.
I believe in an open and transparent due process; secrecy and justice can not coexist side by side. This point has been demonstrated repeatedly through human history and needs no further arguments. I sincerely hope that the voices within the administration which advocate opacity (however it is excused) will remember that justice is the best beloved in His sight.
I am aware that such views and their open expression in a public forum, is not in keeping with current Baha’i culture. As Baha’is, we are asked to share our concerns, criticisms and feedback directly with the institutions of the Faith. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be working. It is a most human need to want to be heard and acknowledged. When Baha’is, like myself, do not feel that the institutions fulfill this need, they reluctantly seek other channels. This is not motivated by malice, but by extreme frustration and a hunger for justice.