During the last Baha’i National Convention, Bill Davis addressed the convention attempting to re-direct their attention away from the NSA’s own annual report, which presented an honest assessment of the situation on the ground in Baha’i communities in the US, to the letter from the UHJ directing Baha’is to “stay the course”.
Towards the end of the remarks Bill Davis says (4:37):“We do not want to find ourselves pushing a rewind button and arguing over core curriculum and Ruhi.”
If you have no idea what this is about, then this short summary should be illuminating.
The reason that excerpt stands out for me is that it means there were disagreements over Ruhi and core curriculum with some obviously feeling very strongly against it. And so much so that the NSA as a body wrote that letter basically calling both Ruhi and core curriculum, bunk. But the UHJ came down on them like a tonne of bricks. Sending an enforcer to oversee the National Convention from the ITC as well as erasing the NSA’s own annual report and replacing it with their own.
I’ve uploaded the annual report for the largest Baha’i community in Canada. The most interesting part is Appendix 5 on page 3 which outlines the results of the implementation of the core activities for the past 5 Baha’i years, from 2004 to 2008.
I thought it may be fruitful in our discussions of Ruhi, the core curriculum and their acceptance by the community. According to the data in this report, there are
It is fascinating that after so many years and after such an intense focus and increasing insistence upon these rote activities, it has only resulted in about a third of the community to complete Book 1 of Ruhi and less than a tenth to complete Book 7.
Book 5 is also especially rejected/ignored by the community since only a handful have completed it. Book 5 is Raising up Animators of Junior Youth Groups. It may be because it was once a part of Book 3 and in 2005 inserted as its own ‘Book’.
“We welcome the decision of the Institute…to move the book currently occupying the fifth position in the sequence to a set of courses branching out from Book 3 for preparing Baha’i Children’s class teachers and to insert in the fifth place a new book for raising up animators of junior youth groups.”
- Letter from the Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies, 28 December 2005
Or perhaps because it is a specialized ‘course’ only a few people are interested to take it or need to take it to become ‘junior youth animators’.
In most communities, Ruhi is presented as a cumulative course and an individual can only take a subsequent book or course if they have done a previous one. So the fact that only about a hundred or so out of more than 1500 Baha’is (adults and youth) is very telling.
It is well known and accepted that for almost all Baha’i communities, there is a range of accuracy when it comes to membership data. The larger the community, the more difficult to get a truly accurate measure of membership. So instead of the 1560 number which includes all adults and youth, a more accurate number would be those with “good” addresses who still consider themselves Baha’is.
So lets be kind and estimate a more accurate measure of the population of Baha’is in this community by going with the number of people who have contributed to the Fund at least once during the year. This isn’t a perfect qualifier but it does mean that we are counting those who are, at minimum, involved with the community emotionally and physically. That number is roughly 40% or roughly 620 people. That gives us about 21% of these ‘active’ members having done the full Ruhi courses.
Is that a “success” or “failure”? Ultimately that will depend on your views about Ruhi and your built in biases. Some will say that is a resounding success while others will see it as utter failure. Since the conclusion relies on what or how we define success or failure, it is open to debate.
Personal I think that it would be a stretch to call this a success. After all, the active membership of the community would as easily and exuberantly take up tether ball or bird-watching if they were directed to do so in the same fervor and intensity that the ITC and UHJ has pushed Baha’is to take up Ruhi.
For me, among other measures, success should be demonstrated by how many regularly inactive Baha’is are drawn to Ruhi and finish it. After all, they are 60% of the community. As well, I have to wonder, if Ruhi is the bees knees, why haven’t 100% of ‘active’ Baha’is completed it. It has been ongoing for, what? 8 years now. How many years will it take to convince the most loyal and active membership? And if Ruhi can not hold their attention or inspire these most loyal and devoted Baha’is, what hope does it have for the less active? the less devoted?
While the above example comes from one of the wealthiest and most developed countries in the world, we have another from a very different part of the world which shows remarkably similar levels of rejection for Ruhi. I say this because many believe that while Ruhi may be ineffective for western cultures, it is useful for less developed ones.
From the international convention held recently to elect the membership of the Universal House of Justice, we have official reports that in India, more than 80,000 people have completed a Ruhi course, and some 6,000 people have completed all seven books in the series.
That number may seem amazingly large… until you consider that there are by some accounts 1.8 million Baha’is in India. So let’s see, that would mean that less than 4.5% have done one single Ruhi course and about 0.0033% have done all 7.
Another idea is that while there may have been growth in devotional meetings and other worship related social events, how do we know if this was brought about as a consequence of Ruhi or core curriculum? how do we separate causation with just correlation?
Finally, what no one can answer is what benefits and successes the community has given up by diverting attention to this end. How many individual initiatives were ignore? how many unrelated projects were sidelined in the single-minded quest to press everyone to walk in lock-step? Take a look at this 1987 document full of recommendations for the revitalization of the American Baha’i community.
I wonder how many more years of this we will have to endure until this latest fad is finally dropped for its obvious ineffectiveness and rejection by the Baha’i community?
The problem is that there is group think gripping the highest levels of Baha’i administration. This is not the same as unity. For unity allows diversity of thought, action and methods. Instead, through the trend of ITC members being elected to the UHJ, and then turning around and appointing ITC members… we have now a situation where there are many individuals at the highest levels of office who have a very personal vested interest in the success of Ruhi.
It is not an impartial question or concept. It is deeply embedded and deeply part of their contribution to the Baha’i world community. For it to be seen to have failed, or for them to admit that it has failed or been rejected by the membership, is not just a simple realization. It means accepting that their contribution has fallen short. Most people simply can not take that. Compound that by several like minded individuals and you have: group think.
No where is the death grip of group-think more apparent than the categorical denial by the UHJ/ITC of the report prepared by the NSA. Who is more adept at gathering, analyzing and reporting what is going on within a community? the community itself? or a body that is half-way around the world?
Oh, right. Silly me. I’m trying to see with my own eyes and hear with mine own ears.