LA Study Class Newsletter [#18]

My Notes:

I just have three quick comments about this newsletter. First, the main topic is a fascinating one because it challenges the assumption that most Baha’is have about the nature of revelation in the Baha’i Faith. I dare say its something which most have not really thought about. But that isn’t to say that most will agree with the ideas presented below. I guess some Baha’is may argue that such mortal interference, intervention or participation isn’t necessarily proof of an external force acting on revelation; but that that itself was brought on by the Will of the Manifestation of God and in a sense was all part of the grand design. Whether you agree or disagree, it is a very interesting topic and one that doesn’t get to see much light of day.

The other comment I have is about the mention, in the newsletter, of LSA and NSA by-laws which were written by average, ordinary (American) Baha’is and approved by the Guardian. So although there did not originate from the pen of Shoghi Effendi, they did become official and binding from 1927 and onwards. Most Baha’is don’t know (is this a little known fact? hmmm…) that these by-laws were changed in a special resolution of the NSA of the US in 1994. And after this change, the by-law change applied to all LSAs and NSAs around the world. I’ll leave it at that for now. In reality, this is an important topic as it has consequences which are far reaching for the Baha’i worldwide community. Hopefully, I’ll find some time in the near future to write about it and explain further what I mean.

Finally, my last comment is about Greg Dahl’s opinion that the calamity may be an economic collapse brought on by the protectionist stance of governments around the world (the restriction of trade). Maybe it is almost 30 years of hindsight which allows us to see the error of such an opinion, or maybe it is the fact that, as Dahl himself mentions, Baha’u’llah praised and encouraged free-trade. Dahl’s opinion reflects what I mentioned in my commentary of the calamity; that it is easy to be cought up in the zietgeist of your time and lose perspective. We see that this has claimed another victim as the economic malaise of the 1970s affects his view and causes him to make such predictions (notice how he implies a comparison to the Depression). Today, we know that the world – unwittingly – heeded Baha’u’llah’s wishes and we also see the economic wealth that it created as a result. Shoghi Effendi might disagree with me, but I think Baha’u’llah would feel right at home with the Austrians.

If this is your first newsletter, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.

On with the 70′s class . . .

[START DOCUMENT]

July 30, 1977 — Vol. II, No. 13

[Ed. personal home address]
City Motto: “Nihil Movetur Et Curat Nemo.”

To most Baha’is, the Abha revelation has taken the form of a monologue, from the Manifestation to the masses. In the popular conception, the Prophet’s method was to reveal the Will of God, while the body of believers was to listen and render, the the Baha’i phrase, “instant, exact and complete obedience.”

That view of how Baha’i teachings came into being was challenged in our July 30 study class by Tony Lee. Lee argued the developement of Baha’i doctrine and the tenents of the Faith came as a result of a dialogue — indeed, a collaboration — between the central figures of our religion and individual believers. He said his study of the issue led him to conclude the development of the Baha’i Faith was never a one-way street in which edicts were handed down from on high to be unquestioningly obeyed. Rather, Lee asserted, individual Baha’is took an active role in developing the Cause an deven went so far as to introduce doctrine which subsequently became part and parce of Baha’i dogma. However active the believers were in helping formulate the Faith, anything htey did had to subsequently be ratified or approved by a central figure to be valid, he noted. That veto privilege, however, in no way intimidated Baha’is from taking initiative and introducing some of our most basic concepts and practices.

Lee’s presentation was somewhat off-the-cuff, the result of being an eleventh-0hour substitution for Ruth Campbell’s paper on the role of women in the Faith. Ms. Campbell was unable to complete her research in time for our class. Since Tony’s presentation was a fill in, he had no time to compose a paper, but spoke from notes. Therefore, there is no formal report that our readers may send away for, so this summary will have to do. Lee cited examples of his collaborative revelation thesis in each of the major epochs of Baha’i history. Following that outline, here, in condensed form, is what he said:

BABI DISPENSATION: The most dramatic examples of interaction between central figure and believers take place in this era. A careful reading of Nabil’s Narrative, “The Dawnbreakers”, makes it clear that the declaration of the Bab was a dialogue between the Bab and Mulla Husayn [Ed. also spelled Mullah Husayn]. Baha’is celebrate the Declaration of the Bab at about two hours and 11 minutes after sunset on the evening of May 23. However, Nabil makes it clear that the Bab declared Himself to Mulla Husayn before that exact time. Briefly, here is the story, Mulla Husayn, whose search of the Promised Qa’im has taken him to the city of Shiraz, is met just outside the city gate by the Bab. The Bab takes Mulla Husayn home with Him and, together, as the sun sets, they say their evening prayers. Afterwards, they begin conversing about Mulla Husayn’s quest for the Promised One. The Bab asks Mulla Husayn how he will know who this is. The Mulla then reels off a list of qualifications, including a sketchy physical description. At that point, the Bab, according to Nabil’s Narrative, tells Mulla Husayn, “Behold, all these things are manifest in Me!” At that point, the Bab has formally declared Himself to be the Promised One Mulla Husayn is in search of. That is the Declaration of the Bab. That is not, however, the moment we Baha’is celebrate.

Mulla Husayn is surprised by this statement and refused, at first, to accept it. He asks the Bab to prove Himself, first by explaining some of the hidden, abstruse teachings of the Shaykhi sect, and second, by writing — unbidden — a commentary on the Surih of Joseph in the Qur’an.

The Bab complies with both requests and, it is important to note here, we have a dialogue in which Mulla Husayn, who is to become the first Babi, is directly affecting and shaping the Babi Revelation. Once the Bab has completed His commentary on the Surih of Joseph, it begins to dawn on Mulla Husayn that his quest is over, he has found the Qa’im. Stunned by the growing realization fot his knowledge, Mulla Husayn glances at the nearby clock and sees the time as two hours and 11 minutes past sunset. He rises to leave, but is restrained by the Bab, Who tells him, “If you leave in such a state, whoever sees you will assuredly say: ‘This poor youth has lost his mind.’”

It is one of history’s little ironies that the moment we Baha’is celebrate as the Declaration of the Bab is a time when the Bab has told Mulla Husayn, “Don’t go outside, people will think you’re nuts.” But as amusing as this small quirk may be, it has some far-reaching implications. We do not, in fact, celebrate the actual Declaration of the Bab. That event occurred early in the evening. What we celebrate as the beginning of the Babi dispensation is the acceptance by Mulla Husayn of that declaration. In other words, a Babi, the first Babi, has played a direct and bital role in the revelation.

The single most striking example of the influence of believers on the course of religious revelation occurs at another point in the Babi dispensation. It is the conference of Badasht during which the Babis broke with their Islamic past and sent the Babi Movement on its own, separate course. Eighty-one Babis, including such prominent figures as Baha’u’llah, Quddus and Tahirih, met for 22 days in June and July 1848 and, acting on their own authority, abdogated the Shari’ah, the Muslim canonical law based on the Qur’an. They had absolutely no legitimate authority to do this. Yet that act, rightfully reserved for the Prophet, changed the entire course of religious history. It is also at this point that Tahirih declared the principle fo the equality of men and women. The Bab, held prisoner in the fortress of Chihriq, did not learn of these developments until later, but did not repudiate them, allowing the acts of His disciples to stand. Tahirih’s proclamation of the equality of men and women is of special interest in this regard. As far as we know, the Bab wrote little, if anything, about this concept. Even Baha’u’llah never made it a central point of His revelation, although perhaps this is because, by the time He declared His mission, the principle of sexual equality had become a fundamental part of Babi creed and He felt it unnevessary to affirm what was already accepted dogma.

BAHA’U’LLAH: The influence of the believers on the course of the revelation is almost as far reachign in the Baha’i Faith as it was in the Babi dispensation. Baha’u’llah revealed the Kitab-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy Book, at the direct request of the believers as is evidenced by this passage from page three of the Introduction to the Synopsis and Codification of the Kitab-i-Aqdas[Ed. at the time of this newsletter only the Synopsis was available]:

“‘For a number of years,’ Baha’u’llah states in one of His Tablets, ‘petitions reached the Most Holy Presence from various lands, begging for the laws of God, but We held back the Pen ere the appointed time had come,’”

It is this same interaction, this same request for information that led Baha’u’llah to write the Kitab-i-Iqan, which Shoghi Effendi called “unequalled by any work in the entire range of Baha’i literature, except the Kitab-i-Aqdas.” The Iqan was written for an uncle of the Bab who asked Baha’u’llah to explain progressive revelation to him.

Even after “the appointed time had come,” Baha’is could still influence and coax more out of the Prophet. “Questions and Answers.” an explanatory appendix to the Aqdas, is the result of questions a Persian Baha’i submitted to Baha’u’llah, hoping for an explanation of some passages in the Aqdas. Again, it is another example of a Baha’i playing a direct role in the revelation.

ABDU’L-BAHA: While there are many stories illustrating instances where Baha’is influenced ‘Abdu’l-Baha (His journeys to Europe and America came at the request of early Western Baha’is), a couple of examples will suffice.

The idea of constructing a House of Worship in Wilmetter, Illinois, was not one Abdu’l-Baha suggested to the handful of American Baha’is. Rather, they heard about plans to erect a Temple in Ishqabad and wrote to Abdu’l-Baha requesting permission to follow suit in the United States.

The book Some Answered Questions, which almost singlehandedly defines the Baha’i attitude to Christianity and its doctrines, came as the result of a series of interviews Abdu’l-Baha granted to Laura Clifford Barney. There are amusing stories about Mrs. Barney pestering the Master with questions, but the fact remains that had she not done so, we might not have material we possess.

SHOGHI EFFENDI: There is evidence to suggest that much of the form of the Baha’i administrative order developed out of a dialogue between Shoghi Effendi and Horace Holley. Holley would write to the Guardian with questions and the replies laid the basis for our administrative machinery.

In a more direct example of believer influence, the by-laws for local and national Spiritual Assemblies were not, as is sometimes assumed, written by Shoghi Effendi, but a cadre of American Baha’is who sent them off to Haifa for his approval. The Guardian did not change one word of those suggested by-laws and, in fact, insisted that all local and national Assemblies in the world adopt them in uniformity.

Examples of individual influence persist even to the present. The correspondence from the Universal House of Justice in its letters about the Guardianship came in response to a detailed and direct request of an American Baha’i.

Summing up, Lee said all this history serves to point out that Baha’is are expected – even encouraged – to take an active role in the development of the Faith. The notion that we sit waiting for some higher authority to take the initiative always has been erroneous.

This unorthodox view went down with hardly a murmur of protest from class members who appeared to accept it as reasonable and accurate. One class member noted, however, that the initiative for individual action was more likely to exist when there was a vacuum of leadership. The Bab’s confinement in Mah-Ku and later Chihriq made Him unavailable to lead the infact Babi community. In that absence of leadership, various Babis, including Baha’u’llah, exercised authority. But once an authority figure, a Baha’u’llah, an Abdu’l-Baha or a Shoghi Effendi, was on the scene, individual Baha’is were not deciding doctrine.

CALAMITY FOLLOW-UP: Greg Dahl of Washington D.C. pointed out one direct reference to the calamity we missed in our recent study class on that topic. Shoghi Effendi summarized his views of the calamity in Baha’i News, No.283 (September, 1954). It adds some interesting thoughts to what appeared in our notes. Also, some of the most interesting reactions to that class came from people who wanted to know why Greg Wahlstrom, who taught the session, had not used any pilgrim’s notes. Essentially, it was because Greg was presenting the on-the-record view. While interesting, pilgrim’s notes are unofficial and there is no way to validate their accuracy. However, as part of his paper on the contrast between Shoghi Effendi’s public statements and private views, Jon Hendershot plans to include pilgrim’s notes summaries of the Guardian’s thoughts on the calamity. Since pilgrim’s notes of this nature are not readily available, anyone having such documents is asked to contact Jon by writing to him at [Ed. personal home address and phone number follows].

In a cassette recording played for our class, Greg Dahl, who is an economist, also touched on the possibility of a calamity stemming from an economic collapse. The Baha’i Faith supports two economic principles that run counter to current economic practice in the world. The first of these views is that there must be free trade, that is, the unhindered movement of goods from nation to nation. Unfortunately, this position stands opposed to prevailing economics practice in which many nations, in an effort to protect their home-grown industries, erect stiff import barriers on imported goods. This sort of protectionism courts retaliation from other nations miffed that their goods should be so slighted. Dahl reported that protectionism was on of the factors aggravating the worldwide depression of the 1930s. The world’s economic health now depends on a high level fo trade, but the growing trend toward protectionism threatens global economic stability, Dahl warned. Relative to this, and equally threatened by the trend of events, is the Baha’i view of a world superstate in which a global currency will be established, linking national economies together as never before. Contrasting the trend of events to the Baha’i view, Dahl concluded his remarks by saying, “It’s a very unstable prosperity we are enjoying now.” For those interested in a fuller discussion of the Baha’i Faith and economics, read Dahl’s article “Economics and the Baha’i Teachings: An Overview” in the Fall 1975 issue of World Order magazine.

WHAT’S NEXT: We have two classes set for August. The first of these will present Bob Ballenger’s hysterical ravings on “Roles in Conflict: Baha’i Administration versus the Individual.” That laugh-loaded event will take place on Sunday, August 14, at 2 pm in the home of Jon and Chris Hendershot [Ed. personal home address and phone number follows]. If you can’t find it on the map (rumors that Manhattan Beach does not exist have been greatly exaggerated; the city is there, it’s just that few people care to admit it), call Jon and Chris for directions. Then, on Saturday, August 27, at 2 pm Bonnie Barnes’ paper, “A Baha’i Theory of Personality,” will be given in the home of Greg and Paula Wahlstrom [Ed. personal home address and phone number follows].

AND NOW, A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR: Dues for newsletter recipients are $12 a year, payable to Paula Wahlstrom, our esteemed treasurer. If you haven’t paid up, do it now. Mail your checks to her at [Ed. personal home address follows]. Back issues of this gozamba (that’s Yoruba for “trashy newsletter”) as well as photocopies of papers presented to the class also are available at a buck each from Mrs. Wahlstrom.

[END DOCUMENT]

Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.

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  • Winston Smith

    Horace Holley’s role in popularizing a lot of obvious distortions and errors as accepted Baha’i doctrine is understated, since the man is seen as basically a saint in the historical record. But for all his tireless work, all the trust the Guardian reposed in him, all the good he did in logistical and organizational terms, he seems not to have understood many of the tenets of his own religion very well at all; he’s very influential in the pernicious ‘theocracy’ doctrine, for instance, which is so obvious that I’m surprised Sen McGlinn doesn’t do more to point this out.

    The man was basically a totalitarian, in philosophical terms, and always was. Had he been born in a different place, and under different influences, he might have been a wholehearted Stalinist, for instance.