Archive for the ‘Quotations by Shoghi Effendi’ Category

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Homosexuality – a false dichotomy?

June 7, 2015

” … I feel I can no longer associate with a religion that does not perceive LGBT rights as a true social value,” Rayshel said, adding, “I, as a gay man, find it offensive that my same-sex attraction is primarily summed up to a sex act or a perceived notion that I over-emphasize my sexuality which is seen as destructive and self-indulgent.”
Sean Rayshel in The Bay Area Reporter, 4 June 2015.

Is the Bahai Faith “a religion that does not perceive LGBT rights as a true social value?” At the practical level, that is true except where a Bahai makes it clear that they do not discriminate and that their communities do not discriminate. For the present at least, the Bahai community has something to prove in this respect.
Because of the dominance of the perception of discrimination within the Bahai community, I have to constantly state first that I am for equality for gays and lesbians and only then state that I am a Bahai. Otherwise the person I am speaking to is put off from the beginning. I have so many stories, so many encounters, in which people do a double-take and tell me, “but Bahais don’t like gays” or “Bahais discriminate.” In the Philippines, in the U.K., in New Zealand, in the U.S., in the Netherlands … people have said things such as: “Oh what is the Bahai Faith about, because when I read that you didn’t accept gays, I stopped reading” or “So tell me more – I thought the Bahai Faith was conservative” and “When I read about homosexuality being forbidden I thought it was a fundamentalist church.”

I explain that I am as much a Bahai as the person who told them that gays cannot join the Bahai Faith. Then they learn that the discrimination is not embedded in our teachings. For me it is not so much whether or not a seeker is put off but two bigger issues: that our gay children are not tormented by impossible demands, and that our community practises the essential Bahai principles of justice and equality.

So I understand why Sean Rayshel withdrew his membership in response to the 2014 letter from the Universal House of Justice. As far as I know, letters from the Universal House of Justice, since 2010 (see 2013 + 2010) on the topic of homosexuality put an emphasis on removing discrimination and on Bahai communities not taking sides on the discussion of same-sex marriage. These letters maintain that marriage is only possible between a man and woman, but there is no negative association with homosexuality made in these letters.

In the 2014 letter the Universal House of Justice calls the discussion on homosexuality a “false dichotomy,” using ambiguous wording — but this letter makes it very easy for Bahais to continue to discriminate against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. My May 9th, blog is a response to the first part of this letter:
The reference to a false dichotomy is here:

“The contemporary discussion surrounding homosexuality, which began in the West and is increasingly promoted in other parts of the world, generally takes the form of a false dichotomy, which compels one to choose between a position that is either affirming or rejecting. It is understandable that Baha’is would be sensitive to acts of prejudice or oppression in any form and to the needs of those who suffer as a result. But to align with either side in the public debate is to accept the premises on which it is based. Moreover, this debate occurs within the context of a rising tide of materialism and consequent reorientation of society, over more than a century, which has among its outcomes a destructive emphasis on sexuality.” (Department of the Secretariat for the Universal House of Justice, 9 May, 2014. The full letter is here)

Perhaps the discussion about same-sex marriage is a Western invention, but I would not assume that non-Western cultures discriminate against homosexuality. (See this link for a discussion of “two spirit” persons, in the context of Native American culture) Is it relevant to know where the discussion about same-sex marriage arose? The vote for women first appeared in the West: the fact that something is a Western invention does not mean that it is not universally a good thing or that it can’t be implemented in the Bahai community. In the Secret of Divine Civilisation, Abdul-Baha demolishes the argument that advances in civilisation are to be rejected just because they come from the West.

The Western phenomenon that is new is the legalization of same-sex marriage. It is possible this is what the Universal House of Justice means by “contemporary discussion surrounding homosexuality,” however what I respond to most strongly in the sentences above is that this is followed by the words: “generally take the form of a false dichotomy.”

The premise for a Bahai should be justice and equity, and I interpret the false dichotomy as meaning that in the public debate you have people who confuse the rights, responsibilities and legal protections to marry and raise children with a focus on sex. So I ask, if the focus is really on sex why would they wish to marry?

The letter doesn’t state what this false dichotomy is, so another Bahai can easily use this statement of the Universal House of Justice to argue that Bahais must not identify themselves as gay because that “affirming” visibility is part of a false dichotomy.

It is also possible to interpret this to mean that Bahais must stay away from the topic of homosexuality, or that anyone who discusses the rights of gays or lesbians is part of the false dichotomy. I think it is not wise to attempt to squash any discussion on the rights of gays and lesbians, and this is why I felt compelled to write my May 9th, blog and the second one on criticism and now this blog. If as Bahais we cannot think and express ourselves as individuals, then there is no free will and no principle of the independent investigation of truth.

If the 2014 letter had been addressed to a Bahai Institution then I would have understood this to mean that Bahai Institutions are not to get involved in the discussion of gay rights in keeping with the Bahai principle of not getting involved in party politics. I could see the wisdom of that. However the letter is addressed to an individual so the implication is that in general any discussion on this topic is labelled a false dichotomy. This appears to be undermining the discussion – the discourse.

When I first read the first page of this letter it made me feel ill. So for me there is no choice. Either critique this letter or renounce membership in the community.

I am a Bahai because of Baha’u’llah’s teachings, so I remain a Bahai. And I think I can do more good working from the inside. The Universal House of Justice is perfectly free to make any policy it wishes. That is the authority the Universal House of Justice has. It can change its policies too, and it has.

Shoghi Effendi wrote: “He [the Guardian] cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow-members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s revealed utterances.” The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh by Shoghi Effendi, p. 151.

If Shoghi Effendi can allow for the possibility that the Universal House of Justice could “depart from the spirit of Bahá’u’lláh’s revealed utterances,” surely this means that policies of the Universal House of Justice can be critiqued and even criticized by anyone, because there is no guarantee that what they say reflects the spirit of the Bahai Teachings. These are Shoghi Effendi’s words.

Can someone show me that the 2014 letter cannot be used by Bahais to promote discrimination against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters? Even worse, might it not be used as an argument to silence the debate? That would mean denying our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters a voice or visibility by shifting the discussion from justice and equality to a supposed “destructive emphasis on sexuality.”

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Is criticism allowed?

May 28, 2015

A number of responses by Bahais on several Facebook groups to my previous blog “Critiquing the Universal House of Justice” indicated that I was doing something wrong by critiquing. Some called this criticism. For arguments sake, I thought, let’s see if criticism is allowed in the Bahai Teachings?

Baha’u’llah’s writings contain many references to the importance of seeking knowledge for oneself such as:
“The incomparable Creator hath created all men from one same substance, and hath exalted their reality above the rest of His creatures. Success or failure, gain or loss, must, therefore, depend upon man’s own exertions. The more he striveth, the greater will be his progress.” (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 81-82)
And not only that, but: “Knowledge is one of the wondrous gifts of God. It is incumbent upon everyone to acquire it.” (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 39)
Abdul-Baha wrote: “Thank thou God that He hath given thee a power for discriminating the reality of things.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 79)
So it seems that being critical, in the sense of thinking or looking into things for oneself, is so important that in Baha’u’llah’s words, a person “must search after the truth to the utmost of his ability and exertion, that God may guide him in the paths of His favour and the ways of His mercy.” (Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 27-28)

So far I have not found any text by Baha’u’llah nor ‘Abdul-Baha that restricts the topics one is allowed to critique, although there is also a stress on the importance of unity and warnings about not using words just for their own sake. To me this means we should question our motive, or at least be open to change, if we find that our motive is not productive. It seems to me that it would be up to each of us to determine what is meant by motive or being productive. For me, obeying an instruction without question, without considering the implications, is not a very productive route to take. I obey road rules because I understand them and because I understand them I can use them, I hope, with wisdom. There might be occasions when I have to break them – to save someone’s life, for example. If I only follow rules without question, I would not be in a position to adjust to a new situation, such as if I should see someone collapsed on the street and quick action is necessary.

So back to the topic. It seems to me there is nothing in Bahai Scripture that states we are not allowed to critique or to criticise, but there is plenty to warn us that we should use wisdom so we do not cause divisions.

To avoid the problem of Bahais mistaking my critique as divisive I wrote in my last blog:
Abdu’l-Baha said that we must obey the Guardian to safeguard the “mighty stronghold,” the Baha’i community. The same could be said of obedience to the House of Justice, which is the Head of the Bahai community today. Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha wanted to avoid the problems other religions had of being torn into schisms, so they emphasized obedience very strongly. It doesn’t mean that Bahais can’t think for themselves.
So I am free to disagree and to critique, but I am not free to go and claim any form of leadership or a new Bahai religion. I am also not interested in any ideas associated with what might be called reform because I see no need for these. My arguments and the ideas I express on my blog here as just a Bahai aim to follow Baha’u’llah’s pleas for each of us to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93)

If I wanted to lobby the Universal House of Justice or wanted to attempt to have any influence on them, I would write a letter directly to the Institution, but I do not. I do not see it as my place and I do not think they should take any notice of what any particular Bahai might say. Their goal, I think, should be on how best to act according to their understandings and in line with the Teachings of Baha’u’llah.
“…the Universal House of Justice is not omniscient; like the Guardian, it wants to be provided with facts when called upon to render a decision, and like him it may well change its decision when new facts emerge” Secretariat for the Universal House of Justice, 22 Aug, 1977

In critiquing the first few paragraphs of the 2014, May 9th letter penned by the secretariat of the Universal House of Justice I was looking at what the words seem to mean or imply to me. In doing this, I am not suggesting how I would write this nor am I making any form of an evaluation, only a critique. That’s all. I wouldn’t assume that I would know a better way, and I say this not out of fear but out of principle. Bahais should be free to critique everything including texts written by the Universal House of Justice, knowing that the Universal House of Justice has the authority to have the final word. I am not critiquing their authority. Why would I?

I think it is human nature to speak up when you see something you disagree with and to say nothing when you do agree. Most of my blogs here are written because I am trying to grapple with what I perceive as discrimination against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. But another aspect of Baha’u’llah’s teachings is that they focus on the positive and optimistic. Abdul-Baha wrote “…the unity of all mankind can in this day be achieved. Verily this is none other but one of the wonders of this wondrous age, this glorious century. Of this past ages have been deprived, for this century — the century of light — hath been endowed with unique and unprecedented glory, power and illumination. Hence the miraculous unfolding of a fresh marvel every day.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 31). I am a Bahai because of the positive. My words here are because I believe the Bahai teachings allow for critique and criticism and if I critique something it doesn’t mean that I know better, but if I don’t critique then I will only have myself to blame. Personally I think self-censorship is the worst form of censorship.

If criticism was not allowed then we would end up with a managed democracy, much like how Iran currently operates, where there are elements of free speech, but the parameters for differences of opinion or investigation are controlled by an authority in power who can operate without transparency or accountability.

A statement from the Bahai International Community, a PR department of the Universal House of Justice, sums this up nicely: “Those who wield authority bear a great responsibility to be worthy of public trust. Leaders — including those in government, politics, business, religion, education, the media, the arts and community organizations — must be willing to be held accountable for the manner in which they exercise their authority.” (Baha’i International Community, 1998 Feb 18, Valuing Spirituality in Development)

Also, unlike other religious authorities in the world, the Universal House of Justice may not interpret what the Bahai Teachings are, but at the same it has full freedom to make policy and to change this policy in light of its understandings of the teachings and of current issues. This is another revolutionary aspect of Baha’u’llah’s teachings – an authority which can change its own policy. One reason Bahais get upset at me is that they see the Universal House of Justice’s policies as being set in stone.

“We make these observations not to indulge in criticism of any system, but rather to open up lines of thought, to encourage a re-examination of the bases of modern society, and to engender a perspective for consideration of the distinctive features of the Order of Bahá’u’lláh. What, it could be asked, was the nature of society that gave rise to such characteristics and such philosophies? Where have these taken mankind? Has their employment satisfied the needs and expectations of the human spirit?” (The Universal House of Justice, 1988, Dec 29, Individual Rights and Freedoms, p. 6)

Is there any reason why it would be un-Bahai, to take the same approach and ask the same questions of the evolving policy of the Universal House of Justice regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage? It has changed over time, and for the better, as the science and the social understanding of questions has developed. But this blog is looking just at the 2014, May 9th letter penned by the secretariat of the Universal House of Justice and the first step is to clarify for myself just what the Universal House of Justice is saying now.

A comparison with letters from the 1980s would show the development, and could be used as evidence of the flexibility that Shoghi Effendi takes pride in (World of Baha’u’llah, p. 54). That trajectory will continue. Those who reject criticism or critique of any present policy seem to be implicitly supposing that whatever may have changed in the past, the policy is now perfected and the flexibility is at an end — so analysis is futile.

For some Bahais it appears that any form of critique, whatever the topic, is a big no, no. Here are a few responses to my question “Can a Bahai critique texts penned by the Universal House of Justice or the Department of the Secretariat?”

Bahai A: No. We must leave our egos behind and obey the word of God

Bahai B: If I want to come to the point of critiquing Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, or the Universal House of Justice (which is the only authorized elucidator of the Writings), I would simply take my name off the list.

Bahai C: …it depends. If one’s purpose and attitude is to better understand or to bring up an unforeseen consequence, surely so; if one is trying to undermine the institution or to showcase oneself… no.

It is not a Bahai Teaching that letters penned by the Universal House of Justice are “letters from God.” In fact, both Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi were very clear about the separation of spheres between legislation (making rules and policy which the Universal House of Justice does) as separate from Bahai Scripture and Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi’s interpretations of this.

“As Shoghi Effendi explained, “…it is made indubitably clear and evident that the Guardian of the Faith has been made the Interpreter of the Word and that the Universal House of Justice has been invested with the function of legislating on matters not expressly revealed in the teachings.” The Universal House of Justice, 7 Dec, 1969, published in Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1963 to 1986

“Shoghi Effendi has given categorical assurances that neither the Guardian nor the Universal House of Justice ‘can, nor will ever, infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain of the other.’ Therefore, the friends can be sure that the Universal House of Justice will not engage in interpreting the Holy Writings. . . .” The Universal House of Justice, 25 Oct 1984, Messages of the Universal House of Justice 1963-1986, p. 645

Bahais are free to their opinions as much as I am to mine, but we do need to be careful if we assert that what we say is a Bahai Teaching. So I am free to critique and still remain a Bahai.

Not only is it not a Bahai Teaching that I cannot critique, but that I should critique the Bahai Writings. If I can critique Baha’u’llah’s writings, then why not texts penned by the Universal House of Justice?

Another Bahai pasted a section from a 1997 letter penned by the secretariat of the Universal House of Justice – “Furthermore, at the very end of the Will and Testament, in warning against the danger of Covenant-breaking, `Abdu’l-Bahá wrote: ‘Beware lest anyone falsely interpret these words, and like unto them that have broken the Covenant after the Day of Ascension (of Bahá’u’lláh) advance a pretext, raise the standard of revolt, wax stubborn, and open wide the door of false interpretation.’ In this context, He continues: ‘To none is given the right to put forth his own opinion or express his particular conviction. All must seek guidance and turn unto the Centre of the Cause and the House of Justice. And he that turneth unto whatsoever else is indeed in grievous error.’” (Secretariat of the Universal House of Justice, 3 June 1997)

Without any further context it appears that Abdul-Baha is saying that our own opinion or expression is not allowed, however what Abdul-Baha was referring to at the end of the Will and Testament was to avoid the schisms and infighting after the death of Baha’u’llah. Abdul-Baha meant that we (Bahais) must accept Shoghi Effendi as Centre of the Cause. Here is more of the text which makes this context clear
“O ye the faithful loved ones of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá! It is incumbent upon you to take the greatest care of Shoghi Effendi, …. he is, after ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Guardian of the Cause of God … the beloved of the Lord must obey him and turn unto him. He that obeyeth him not, hath not obeyed God; he that turneth away from him, hath turned away from God and he that denieth him, hath denied the True One. Beware lest anyone falsely interpret these words, and like unto them that have broken the Covenant after the Day of Ascension (of Bahá’u’lláh) advance a pretext, raise the standard of revolt, wax stubborn and open wide the door of false interpretation. To none is given the right to put forth his own opinion or express his particular conviction. All must seek guidance and turn unto the Center of the Cause and the House of Justice. And he that turneth unto whatsoever else is indeed in grievous error”(Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 25)

So now we can see that the ‘grievous error’ is to fail in our duty to turn to Shoghi Effendi or not to obey the Universal House of Justice. The grievous error is not that we express our opinion or critique.

Another Bahai posted an excerpt from the same 1997 letter “As you recognize, the authority of the Universal House of Justice is unchallengeable.” But critiquing or even criticism of a letter penned by the secretariat does not challenge the authority of the Universal House of Justice. In fact, because the authority of the Universal of Justice is so solid, so clearly outlined in Bahai Scripture, I think it should be clear that any criticism or critique of any texts has to do with the content at hand and not to do with their authority.

I finish by quoting Udo Schaefer a Bahai scholar: “It is dangerously reductionist — almost a dismemberment of our faith — to portray rational thought and the qualities of the heart, rationality and spirituality as opposites, and to identify critical thinking with an absence of spirituality. There is widespread skepticism — one might almost call it a profound mistrust — within the Bahá’í community, which has been directed at critical thinking. This is a serious prejudice, harmful to the faith.”
Schaefer, Loyalty to the Covenant and Critical Thought, p. 2)

And Abdul-Baha said: “The fourth teaching of Bahá’u’lláh is the agreement of religion and science. God has endowed man with intelligence and reason whereby he is required to determine the verity of questions and propositions. If religious beliefs and opinions are found contrary to the standards of science, they are mere superstitions and imaginations; for the antithesis of knowledge is ignorance, and the child of ignorance is superstition. Unquestionably there must be agreement between true religion and science. If a question be found contrary to reason, faith and belief in it are impossible, and there is no outcome but wavering and vacillation.” (9 June 1912 Talk at Baptist Temple, Broad and Berks Streets, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.180)

I am just a Bahai, and this means that I aim to question, and to seek clarity, and to express my opinions. I do believe that through the clash of differing opinions, sparks of truth illuminate understanding.

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Critiquing the Universal House of Justice

May 22, 2015

Can a Bahai critique texts penned by the Universal House of Justice or the Department of the Secretariat? My answer, “Of course. Critiquing is engagement. We must obey the Universal House of Justice but that doesn’t mean we must be silent if we do not understand their reasoning.”

Abdu’l-Baha said that we must obey the Guardian to safeguard the “mighty stronghold,” the Baha’i community. The same could be said of obedience to the House of Justice, which is the Head of the Bahai community today. Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha wanted to avoid the problems other religions had of being torn into schisms, so they emphasized obedience very strongly. It doesn’t mean that Bahais can’t think for themselves.

So I am free to disagree and to critique, but I am not free to go and claim any form of leadership or a new Bahai religion. I am also not interested in any ideas associated with what might be called reform because I see no need for these. My arguments and the ideas I express on my blog here as just a Bahai aim to follow Baha’u’llah’s pleas for each of us to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93)

And so to the letter, dated 9 May 2014, penned by the secretariat for the Universal House of Justice which I will critique.

A letter, dated 18 May 2015 from the National U.S. Bahai administration has already been widely circulated in diverse online Bahai groups and e-lists. It states:
“A four-page letter from the Universal House of Justice on the subject of homosexuality has recently been receiving wide circulation via the Internet and through personal email lists, and we are increasingly being asked to comment on its authenticity.

The letter—dated May 9, 2014, to an individual believer in response to a personal inquiry—was indeed issued by the Supreme Body through its Department of the Secretariat. We enclose it here for your reference.”

I have inserted section breaks in the letter, and have placed relevant texts in the column on the right as well as any emphasis in the texts.

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
DEPARTMENT OF THE SECRETARIAT

9 May 2014

Transmitted by email: ……U.S.A.

Dear Bahá’í Friend,
Your email letter dated 11 January 2014 has been received by the Universal House of Justice. We have been asked to convey to you the following. You express concern about the challenge Bahá’ís encounter in understanding and upholding the Teachings in the face of powerful social forces influencing public attitudes towards homosexuality.

In this connection, you observe that some Bahá’ís are susceptible to the argument that the Faith must change to keep up with what are perceived to be progressive social values, while some others, despite their firm adherence to the Teachings, are unable to resolve the incongruity between the Bahá’í perspective and attitudes prevailing in the wider society. Your thoughtful analysis of the issues you raise is warmly appreciated.

The contemporary discussion surrounding homosexuality, which began in the West and is increasingly promoted in other parts of the world, generally takes the form of a false dichotomy, which compels one to choose between a position that is either affirming or rejecting.

It is understandable that Bahá’ís would be sensitive to acts of prejudice or oppression in any form and to the needs of those who suffer as a result. But to align with either side in the public debate is to accept the premises on which it is based. Moreover, this debate occurs within the context of a rising tide of materialism and consequent reorientation of society, over more than a century, which has among its outcomes a destructive emphasis on sexuality.

Various philosophies and theories have eroded precepts of right and wrong that govern personal behavior. For some, relativism reigns and individuals are to determine their own moral preferences; others dismiss the very conception of personal morality, maintaining that any standard that restrains what is considered a natural impulse is harmful to the individual and ultimately to society.

Self- indulgence, in the guise of expressing one’s true nature, becomes the norm, even the touchstone of healthy living. Consequently, sexuality has become a preoccupation, pervading commerce, media, the arts, and popular culture, influencing disciplines such as medicine, psychology, and education and reducing the human being to an object. It is no longer merely a part of life, but becomes the defining element of a person’s identity.

grey1x1pixels “The Lord hath ordained that in every city a House of Justice be established wherein shall gather counsellors …. It behoveth them to be the trusted ones of the Merciful among men and to regard themselves as the guardians appointed of God for all that dwell on earth. It is incumbent upon them to take counsel together and to have regard for the interests of the servants of God, for His sake, even as they regard their own interests, and to choose that which is meet and seemly. Thus hath the Lord your God commanded you.”
– Baha’u’llah,
The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 29

“Be ye … vanguards of the perfections of humankind; carry forward the various branches of knowledge, be active and progressive in the field of inventions and the arts. Endeavour to rectify the conduct of men, and seek to excel the whole world in moral character.”
– Abdu’l-Baha,
Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 129

“It should also be borne in mind that the machinery of the Cause has been so fashioned, that whatever is deemed necessary to incorporate into it in order to keep it in the forefront of all progressive movements, can, according to the provisions made by Bahá’u’lláh, be safely embodied therein.”
– Shoghi Effendi,
The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 22-23

“The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes…”
– Baha’u’llah,
The Hidden Words

“Be thou of the people of hell-fire, but be not a hypocrite.”
– Baha’u’llah,
cited in a compilation on Trustworthiness. Also in Compilation of compilations, Volume 2, page 337

“Justice and equity are twin Guardians that watch over men. From them are revealed such blessed and perspicuous words as are the cause of the well-being of the world and the protection of the nations.”
– Baha’u’llah,
Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 14

“Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”
– Baha’u’llah,
Gleanings, p. 213

“The Bahá’í Faith … enjoins upon its followers the primary duty of an unfettered search after truth, condemns all manner of prejudice and superstition, declares the purpose of religion to be the promotion of amity and concord, proclaims its essential harmony with science, and recognizes it as the foremost agency for the pacification and the orderly progress of human society.”
– Shoghi Effendi,
The Promised Day is Come, p. v

“Should a man wish to adorn himself with the ornaments of the earth, to wear its apparels, or partake of the benefits it can bestow, no harm can befall him, if he alloweth nothing whatever to intervene between him and God, for God hath ordained every good thing, whether created in the heavens or in the earth, for such of His servants as truly believe in Him.”
– Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, p. 276

“So Bahá’u’lláh made the utmost efforts to educate [His people] and incite [them] to morality, the acquisition of the sciences and arts of all countries, kindly dealing with all the nations of the earth, desire for the welfare of all peoples, sociability, concord, obedience, submissiveness, instruction of [their] children, production of what is needful for the human race, and inauguration of true happiness for mankind…”
– Abdu’l-Baha,
A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 41, translation: EG Browne

“The fundamental purpose animating the Faith of God and His Religion is to safeguard the interests and promote the unity of the human race, and to foster the spirit of love and fellowship amongst men. Suffer it not to become a source of dissension and discord, of hate and enmity.”
– Baha’u’llah,
Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 168

The letter above states that “The contemporary discussion surrounding homosexuality … generally takes the form of a false dichotomy, which compels one to choose between a position that is either affirming or rejecting.” and they continue: “to align with either side in the public debate is to accept the premises on which it is based.”

As you can read in the quotations on the right, the premise for a Bahai should be justice and equity, and I interpret the false dichotomy as meaning that in the public debate you have people who confuse the right, responsibility and legal protection to marry and raise children with a focus on materialism.

These people then make arguments based on “wrong” ways of living, often focussed on sex or sexual acts to avoid the fact that this is an issue of justice.

It goes something like this “their sex is unnatural therefore it is wrong” “because it is wrong …” when this has nothing to do with sex or materialism. It is about two consenting adults making a commitment to take care of each other, and whether society will accord them equal recognition, as a couple, or not. Is this dichotomy ‘false’ or does it require us, as Bahais, to make a stand for justice?

As a Bahai myself, I think it is important to engage in the debate on justice and be anxiously concerned with the needs of my age. I hate it that gays and lesbians are labelled as being obsessed about sexuality. To me this is as offensive as labelling an African American as being obsessed about race, when all they are doing is being visible. No person should have to hide who they are. There is not a lot diversity if minorities are denied membership or visibility.

The following seems to be objecting to the visibility of a non-heterosexual identity:
“Consequently, sexuality has become a preoccupation, pervading commerce, media, the arts, and popular culture, influencing disciplines such as medicine, psychology, and education and reducing the human being to an object.”

Surely they are not saying that doctors, scientists, and researchers who have shown us that homosexuality is not abnormal, not curable and not a barrier for healthy married relationships, are just obsessed about sexuality? Their research does not make the individual an object, it highlights the prejudices in society.
Abdul-Baha wrote that “And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is, that religion must be in conformity with science and reason” Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 299

I do not think that the Universal House of Justice would be objecting to the science itself but rather have misunderstood it. It seems that they see the scientific findings as an agenda. Their sentence is a harsh statement against decades of scientific research and clinical experience which in my view goes against the Bahai teaching that we honour scientists and that science and religion go hand in hand. I think Baha’u’llah says this better than I can:
“Beware, O My loved ones, lest ye despise the merits of My learned servants whom God hath graciously chosen to be the exponents of His Name ‘the Fashioner’ amidst mankind. Exert your utmost endeavour that ye may develop such crafts and undertakings that everyone, whether young or old, may benefit therefrom. We are quit of those ignorant ones who fondly imagine that Wisdom is to give vent to one’s idle imaginings and to repudiate God, the Lord of all men; even as We hear some of the heedless voicing such assertions today.”
(Baha’u’llah, LAWḤ-I-HIKMAT (Tablet of Wisdom), Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 150/151)

When I see statements such as in this letter, which can be used by Bahais as ammunition to aim hatred or intolerance at others, I am reminded that I am a Bahai because of Bahaú’llah’s Teachings and not because of the Bahai administration, important as it is. Shoghi Effendi expresses the hope that unprejudiced observers of the Bahai Faith may be impressed by “the reasonableness of its claims, the comprehensiveness of its scope, the universality of its program, [and] the flexibility of its institutions…” (The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 54). Reading this letter, I am not clear that a observer will see the underlying comprehensiveness and universality.

Abdul-Baha’s words remind me that, whatever our orientation or sexuality, we are all united – born from the same God. “In like manner, when divers shades of thought, temperament and character, are brought together under the power and influence of one central agency, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of The Divine Plan, p. 102)

My next blog will continue with the rest of the 9 May 2015 letter.

For me Bahau’llah’s teachings are forward thinking and positive and I am a Bahai because these teachings make sense to me, so I end with Shoghi Effendi’s summary of the purpose of Bahaú’llah’s teachings:
“`Abdu’l-Bahá expounded, with brilliant simplicity, with persuasiveness and force, and for the first time in His ministry, those basic and distinguishing principles of His Father’s Faith, which together with the laws and ordinances revealed in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas constitute the bed-rock of God’s latest Revelation to mankind. The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind — these stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity which He proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large in the course of these missionary journeys. The exposition of these vitalizing truths of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, which He characterized as the “spirit of the age,”
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 281)

That society and the Bahai community must forever refuse to recognize married couples of the same sex as worthy members and as couples is not an essential element of the Bahai teachings, as I understand them. Even those who feel that way, must admit that it is a secondary matter, on which there is room for flexibility. My hope is for something more than mere grudging acceptance. I hope to see an open embrace that demonstrates the universality of our programme and the flexibility of our institutions.
 
 
A copy of the 9 May 2014 letter is on Sen McGlinn’s blog.

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Society and the individual – a Bahai view

March 24, 2014

Recently I came across this Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi:
“The Bahá’í conception of social life is essentially based on the subordination of the individual will to that of society. It neither suppresses the individual nor does it exalt him to the point of making him an anti-social creature, a menace to society. As in everything, it follows the ‘golden mean’. The only way that society can function is for the minority to follow the will of the majority.”
Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 21 November, 1935. Printed in 1973 in Directives from the Guardian.

This made me sit up because it is the individual, not the collective, that is “created in the image of God,” (See Genesis 1:27 or Some Answered Questions, pp. 195-197) and because the protection and priority given to minorities is characteristic of the form of democracy intended for a Bahai society. And that the spiritual priority of the individual, over all the structures that are created by and consist of various individuals, underlies many other Bahai teachings. For example:

Independent search after truth: “the faith of no man can be conditioned by any one except himself.”Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 143 (click to view the source online)

No “original sin”: “Know thou that every soul is fashioned after the nature of God, each being pure and holy at his birth.”Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 189 (click to view the source online)

The law is a means to an end, not an end in itself: “The primary purpose, the basic objective, in laying down powerful laws and setting up great principles and institutions dealing with every aspect of civilization, is human happiness; and human happiness consists only in drawing closer to the Threshold of Almighty God, and in securing the peace and well-being of every individual” – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 60 (click to view the source online)

While the priority of the individual is a strong principle, we also have the principle of majority rule in decision-making, when consultation has failed to form a consensus and the group needs to make a decision:
“unquestionably accepted by the entire body of the believers, not necessarily because they represent the voice of truth or the will of Bahá’u’lláh, but for the supreme purpose of maintaining unity and harmony in the Community. Besides, the acceptance of majority vote is the only effective and practical way of settling deadlocks in elections. No other solution is indeed possible.” From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, July 10, 1939 (Published in Lights of Guidance in 1983)

“There is only one principle on which to conduct the work of an Assembly, and that is the supremacy of the will of the majority. The majority decisions must be courageously adopted and carried out by the Assembly, quite regardless of the opinionated adherence to their own views which any minority may cling to.” From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, November 20, 1941 (Published in Lights of Guidance, 1983)

But against this, there is the Bahai principle of positive discrimination:
“Since the Guardian’s instruction on this point is unequivocal where it is obvious that one of the persons involved represents a minority, that person should be accorded the priority without question. Where there is doubt further balloting will allow every voter present to participate.

“With reference to the provision in Article V of the National By-laws governing the situation where two or more members have received the same highest number of votes, if one of those members represents a minority that individual should be given priority as if selected by lot.” Universal House of Justice addressed to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States, January 25, 1967. (Published in Lights of Guidance, 1983)

You might notice that all the quotations concerning majority rule are from letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, which the Universal House of Justice may take into consideration when it makes its own rulings, in line with Bahai Scripture, concerning Bahai policy. The role of the Bahai administration is to rule on new situations as much as to give structure to the worldwide Bahai community. So it could be that in some situations an LSA decides it is best to listen to the views from a minority in their midst, or to minority views and then to act accordingly, and this would not contradict Bahai teachings because Letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi do not form part of unchangeable Bahai Scripture.

Back to the initial phrase on this blog “to follow the will of the majority.” This implies that we cannot have a huge diversity of lifestyles or ways of perceiving the world. As Bahais we obey the authority of the institutions but that doesn’t mean we are not free to think or to take action. However this directive “to follow the will of the majority” refers to society in general and not the Bahai administration, and so implies that a ‘majority rules’ attitude is how Baha’is are expected to behave. The subordination of the individual will to that of society is akin to how communism evolved. Individuals were subordinate to the state and so the importance of individual conscience, responsibility and action was forgotten or suppressed. Baha’u’llah in contrast wrote: “Man is the supreme Talisman” (Gleanings From the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 346 (click to view the source)) – It is not the society or any group that is the supreme talisman.

Rather than treating the individual as subordinate to larger social groups, the Bahai teachings, as I see them, regard the individual as the root, and larger groups, from the family upwards, as the branches and fruit. 
The Persian notes of a talk given by Abdu’l-Baha say “a family is composed of individuals, and a nation likewise is formed of individual persons.” (Khitabát-i-`Abdu´l-Bahá, Reprint Hofheim; Bahá´í-Verlag [1984] p. 402. This translation here is by Sen McGlinn). So the freedom and development of the individual is the condition for the progress of the family, the nation and the world, and their first duty is to foster the freedom and development of the individual. Shoghi Effendi wrote:
“The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded.”
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 203)
It is the individual, not the collective, that is “created in the image of God.” The spiritual priority of the individual over all the structures that are created by and consist of various individuals is illustrated in many places in the Bahai writings. Some of these have been quoted above. I will close with two more:

The third candle is unity in freedom which will surely come to pass.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 32)

So the unity that Abdul’-Baha refers to above implies that each of us exercises individual spiritual responsibility.

“Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration.”
Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 213

 
Further reading: Sen McGlinn’s 2010 blog, Evolving to individualism which explains two different ways in which the Enlightenment and its fruits in Western societies can be viewed, in relation to the goal of building a Bahai society.

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The individual in society – Bahai perspectives

March 31, 2012

I’ve just read the article, “Human Nature and Human Society: A Baha’i Viewpoint” by William S. Hatcher (available here) where he sets out the Bahai teaching that human nature consists of both spiritual and material capacities. He stresses that in contrast to other religious traditions, Bahais do not believe in “original sin” (the Christian concept that we are born with bad parts that need to be overcome). He wrote: “Bahá’ís view all human capacities, whether physical or spiritual, as potentially helpful to the process of full, adequate, and proper development.” (page 29).

And there is solid support for this view in the Bahai Writings:

O SON OF BEING! Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee. Get thou from it thy radiance and seek none other than Me. For I have created thee rich and have bountifully shed My favor upon thee.” (Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, Persian #11)
… With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. … (Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, Persian #12)

In short: “Man is the supreme Talisman” (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, CXXII, pp. 259-260) born “in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26, English Standard Version (ESV)) with lots of potential and no bad bits. However, not all Bahais interpret the Bahai teachings in this manner, see this 1996 selection of quotations: “The Struggle Between the Material and Spiritual Natures of Man where the stress is the opposite. And the way the quotations in this selection are chosen and arranged strikes me as being influenced by conservative Christian perspectives. Just to give one example:
Then we must labor to destroy the animal condition, till the meaning of humanity shall come to light. (Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 34)

Selected in this manner is the impression that Baha’u’llah is stating that the animal (material) needs to be suppressed. Let’s look at the context for this quotation:
…At every moment he beholdeth a wondrous world, a new creation, and goeth from astonishment to astonishment, and is lost in awe at the works of the Lord of Oneness.

All these states are to be witnessed in the Valley of Wonderment, and the traveler at every moment seeketh for more, and is not wearied. Thus the Lord of the First and the Last in setting forth the grades of contemplation, and expressing wonderment hath said: “O Lord, increase my astonishment at Thee!”
Likewise, reflect upon the perfection of man’s creation, and that all these planes and states are folded up and hidden away within him.

Dost thou reckon thyself only a puny form
When within thee the universe is folded?

Then we must labor to destroy the animal condition, till the meaning of humanity shall come to light.
Thus, too, Luqmán, who had drunk from…”
(Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 33-34) The text goes on to emphasise the importance of dreams.

It is difficult to work out what is specifically intended by the above text, but it certainly is not a Manichaean (material vs spiritual) perspective, given that it comes directly after a phrase in praise of human creation in holistic terms. It could mean that we must strive (use our intellect) not to act like animals or that we have to work hard to discover what being human is. To me Baha’u’llah here is most certainly presenting human creation as a good thing, not as a struggle between good and evil.

Another essay “Morality and Spiritual Growth” on Bahai.org refers to a transformation which is affected, in my view, by a holistic view of human nature: “Moral maturity thus comes from spiritual awareness. As stressed throughout the Bahá’í writings, the primary purpose of God in revealing His will through His Messengers is to effect a transformation in the moral and material conditions of human existence.”

I view “Spiritual awareness” as a holistic perspective (how one would define this is another matter, but there is no indication in the Bahai writings that ‘spiritual’ capacity competes or struggles with the material) because arguing from a differing perspective requires not only changing the context of the quotation but also going against other Bahai Teachings. Baha’u’llah wrote: “Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom of existence and the essence of all created things.” so not only have we been created, without if and but clauses, but there are no taboes. Everything in the world is an aid for greater understanding.

Hatcher’s article then moves onto how “(t)he Bahá’í concept of morality–of behavioural norms and value choices– is closely linked to the Bahá’í concept of human nature and human purpose”. And summarizes this to mean: “That which tends to favour the development of human spiritual capacity is good, and that which tends to hinder it is bad”. (page 29)

On the face of it this summary might seem to be vague and tenuous, but personally I can’t think of a better way to express this because at the end of the day each of us must be responsible for our own actions and our own conscience, however when we are discussing social actions or society, or a particular Bahai community we need something more solid.
A stating point for a Bahai would be the Bahai teachings and that any Bahai Teaching should match or make sense with other Bahai Teachings. I don’t know if this is expressed as directly as this anywhere in Bahai Scripture but the following Bahai Teachings make a collective sense to me:

Science and Religion agree “And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is, that religion must be in conformity with science and reason, so that it may influence the hearts of men.” (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 299)

Independent investigation (reading and thinking for oneself and the freedom (and importance) of self expression “The members [of a Spiritual Assembly] thereof must take counsel together in such wise that no occasion for ill-feeling or discord may arise. This can be attained when every member expresseth with absolute freedom his own opinion and setteth forth his argument. Should anyone oppose, he must on no account feel hurt for not until matters are fully discussed can the right way be revealed. The shining spark of truth cometh forth only after the clash of differing opinions.”(Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 87)

Progressive revelation (that religious teachings as much as society are in a continual process of development – the general attitude that things change for the better);

Equality (of all peoples, “Justice and equity are twin Guardians that watch over men. From them are revealed such blessed and perspicuous words as are the cause of the well-being of the world and the protection of the nations.” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 13);

Unity in Diversity (to work together but not necessarily think nor act in the same ways and in fact many Bahais interpret this to mean to value diversity as a sign of a healthy society);
For another listing of Bahai Teachings see: “Eleven essentials: the Bahai principles as taught by Abdu’l-Baha in London” or scroll down for a list of Bahai Teachings written by Shoghi Effendi.

 
While the degree of in-born empathy can be disputed in the scientific world, there is no doubt that it is a trait humans are born with (for an example see the article: Tracing the Origins of Human Empathy).

Looking in history, when there have been examples of a lack of empathy, an ideology has had to be created in support of this. If empathy, an awareness of the other as equal or with equal rights was not something in-born, there would be no need to develop an ideology where some group is to be excluded: ideologies such as Nazism or in today’s world, the anti-gay (you will be respected only if you are celibate for your whole life, don’t tell anyone you are gay, or if you don’t identify yourself as gay) stance taken by some societies.

Baha’ullah’s entreaty (below) for justice and equality support the notion that empathy is so much a given human trait that you cannot have peaceful world without it. “We entreat God to deliver the light of equity and the sun of justice from the thick clouds of waywardness, and cause them to shine forth upon men. No light can compare with the light of justice. The establishment of order in the world and the tranquillity of the nations depend upon it.” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 28-29)
So Baha’u’llah argues for a society based on justice and equality. What else has Baha’u’llah written about the functioning of society? He wrote: “Our hope is that the world’s religious leaders and the rulers thereof will unitedly arise for the reformation of this age and the rehabilitation of its fortunes. …. It is incumbent upon them who are in authority to exercise moderation in all things.” (Gleanings, p. 216)

Moderation, as it is addressed to leaders here, could mean aim for a middle way or to be tolerant so that, I assume, there’s room for more diversity, but I’ve come across Bahais using this passage as an argument that individuals must conform to a majority view or middle of the road perspective. As you can read for yourselves that is clearly not the intent. After all society or any particular Bahai community could never progress, adapt or develop if new ideas from individuals were to be suppressed. “Thoughts are a boundless sea, and the effects and varying conditions of existence are as the separate forms and individual limits of the waves; not until the sea boils up will the waves rise and scatter their pearls of knowledge on the shore of life. … ” Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 109-110

Baha’u’llah’s text continues: “How long will humanity persist in its waywardness? How long will injustice continue? … (R)esolve to root out whatever is the source of contention amongst you. Then will the effulgence of the world’s great Luminary envelop the whole earth, and its inhabitants become the citizens of one city, and the occupants of one and the same throne. … There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed.”(page 216)

To summarize Baha’u’llah’s text: we come from the same source and when there is something that is unjust or that doesn’t make sense, we should resolve to get to the bottom of this and when we do, wonderful things will happen. Here is Abdul-Baha “[To ensure] freedom of conscience and tranquility of heart and soul is one of the duties and functions of government, and is in all ages the cause of progress in development and ascendency over other lands. Other civilized countries acquired not this preeminence, nor attained unto these high degrees of influence and power, till such time as they put away the strife of sects out of their midst, and dealt with all classes according to one standard. All are one people, one nation, one species, one kind. The common interest is complete equality; …” (Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 87)

Humans need society and society needs the input of all voices if it is to be a society that reflects diversity. Again Hatcher expresses this very well: “We hold that it is impossible for an individual to develop his or her spiritual capacities in abstraction from the process by which others are developing their spiritual capacities. In other words, it is through the creation of a just, unified, and progressive social order that spiritual capacities can best be developed.”
The very argument, I’d say, for doing our very best to include our gay brothers and sisters in Bahai community life. In fact, I am convinced that one reason why Bahais write awful things such as “being gay is a spiritual disease” is due to an imbalance of their own ideas about what is a healthy society (“And among the teachings of His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh is justice and right. Until these are realized on the plane of existence, all things shall be in disorder and remain imperfect” (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablet to the Hague, p. 8-9)). They have put gays into an ‘another category’ of humanity and called this diseased. Other Bahai’s tell me that they are being neutral by saying “it’s a complex issue” when in fact it is very simple. A community or society acts according to the principles of justice and equality or it doesn’t. And a community, in particular any Bahai community, should in my view, encourage and stimulate “the realm of conscience [where] naught but the ray of God’s light can command,” (Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 39) so that each individual acts as “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression” (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 93). In a nutshell it is up to each individual – our conscience doesn’t work in any other way.

 

Bahai Teachings
“The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind — these stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity which He proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large in the course of these missionary journeys.”
(Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 281-2)”

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The Universal House of Justice membership and related topics

May 1, 2010
Detail of the "Chronological Membership of the Universal House of Justice" from www.bahairants.com

Detail of a graph at the bottom of Baquia’s blog: Universal House of Justice: Results of By-Election

Bahai Rants” began in December 2004 and I wrote a summary about the Bahai Rants blog here.

In March 2010 Baquia wrote a blog in response to two new members being elected to the Universal House of Justice and noted that both had been previously members of the International Teaching Centre, to which they had been appointed to by the UHJ itself.
B’s statement:
“The most important trend is that we have, since 2008, a membership drawn completely from the ITC – which itself is appointed by the Universal House of Justice. So in essence, there is a closed loop with the UHJ appointing its future candidates”
is supported by a graph showing the history of the membership of the Universal House of Justice, a detail of which is above. The orange sections indicate the individuals who were previously members of the ITC.

Below are a few of my comments that I posted on Bahai rants. Each post has a link back to its location on Bahai rants, should you wish to read the other responses surrounding this and you can make your response there.
Responses here are moderated, mainly for practical reasons: I couldn’t cope the traffic that the Bahai Rants blog has. Also my purpose on the blog is just to have a reference for my own responses on particular topics. I am not looking at creating a forum or community. So if you wish to be 100% sure your response is aired, then post it on Bahai Rants. Posting it on Bahai Rants means I’m likely to find it there and even better, you would have the bonus of feedback from the diversity of a community.

Sonja’s comment posted on 2 April 2010
So L, I’m one of “the rest of the Bahais” [you refer to] and I’m all for nuance, diversity, open debate, change, and going to the source of the Writings (as much as is possible and in ways which will always involve flexibility and change) till the day I drop.

In a nutshell, what I think we lost with not having the guardianship, is flexibility. Look at Shoghi Effendi’s own writings, how one of his main missions seemed to be to limit and to spread power.
Getting back Baquia’s original blog here, I think one of the problems of the elected becoming more and more, it seems, a consequence of being appointed is a loss of flexibility that comes with new blood and differing views. Locally, what is happening is that now individuals appointed by the NSA or by cluster things or by the Ruhi system, are managing things where previously elected bodies such as the LSAs did this. I haven’t done my homework on this, so it would be good hear from others of their experiences on this change from the elected to the appointed at local community levels.

And finally, when the first UHJ was to be elected, the Hands of the Cause (who had been appointed) informed everyone that they were not eligible for election, thus keeping in the spirit of openenss and new blood. The UHJ could easily announce that members of the ITC cannot be elected onto the UHJ if they wanted to. It could help keep a balance of the appointed and the elected distinctive. A feature I think Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi intended.

Sonja’s comment posted on 4 April 2010
I wrote: “The UHJ could easily announce that members of the ITC cannot be elected onto the UHJ if they wanted to. It could help keep a balance of the appointed and the elected distinctive.
A feature I think Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi intended.”

L wrote: “Interesting idea could you support it?”

My response: The differences between the appointed and elected institutions, and ways they complement each other, have been worked out in many UHJ messages, but they derive ultimately from the fact the Will and Testament refers to both the Guardianship and the Hands (appointed), and the Houses of Justice (elected). That already indicated a complementary relationship with different roles, which Shoghi Effendi then detailed in his World Order letters.
For example:
“It must be also clearly understood by every believer that the institution of Guardianship does not under any circumstances abrogate, or even in the slightest degree detract from, the powers granted to the Universal House of Justice by Bahá’u’lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, and repeatedly and solemnly confirmed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Will. It does not constitute in any manner a contradiction to the Will and Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, nor does it nullify any of His revealed instructions. It enhances the prestige of that exalted assembly, stabilizes its supreme position, safeguards its unity, assures the continuity of its labors, without presuming in the slightest to infringe upon the inviolability of its clearly-defined sphere of jurisdiction.”
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 8 )

“An attempt, I feel, should at the present juncture be made to explain the character and functions of the twin pillars that support this mighty Administrative Structure — the institutions of the Guardianship and of the Universal House of Justice. … these twin institutions of the Administrative Order of Bahá’u’lláh should be regarded as divine in origin, essential in their functions and complementary in their aim and purpose. Their common, their fundamental object is to insure the continuity of that divinely-appointed authority which flows from the Source of our Faith, to safeguard the unity of its followers and to maintain the integrity and flexibility of its teachings. Acting in conjunction with each other these two inseparable institutions administer its affairs, coordinate its activities, promote its interests, execute its laws and defend its subsidiary institutions. Severally, each operates within a clearly defined sphere of jurisdiction; each is equipped with its own attendant institutions — instruments designed for the effective discharge of its particular responsibilities and duties. Each exercises, within the limitations imposed upon it, its powers, its authority, its rights and prerogatives. These are neither contradictory, nor detract in the slightest degree from the position which each of these institutions occupies. Far from being incompatible or mutually destructive, they supplement each other’s authority and functions, and are permanently and fundamentally united in their aims…. ”
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 147-8 )


and lots more, see
http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/se/WOB/wob-40.html


L then wrote: “if the master was against the appointed serving on the UJH why did he make the Guardian (an appointed person) a life time member of the UHJ? it seems that he had no problem with a member of the appointed serving on the UHJ. and none of the experts provided suggest otherwise. Im sorry but no where do they say that the appointed should not be elected to the UHJ in these quotes provided. Could you post some that do please?”

my response: I was explaining the principle of having the elected and the appointed as “twin pillars that support this mighty Administrative Structure” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 8 ) and in support of this principle, I gave the example of how the Hands of Cause chose not to make themselves available for election to the UHJ. I saw their action as meaning, they saw the need for new blood as a good thing. Perhaps they even thought that being appointed and in the public positions each of them had, that unless they did this, they would have been elected to the UHJ?
Of course, I have no idea what their motive was, all I am saying is that they did this and my suggestion is that if the members of the ITC chose to do this, this would help maintain this principle of having the elected and the appointed as complimentary aspects of the Bahai administration.

L: the source for this is:
“The Hands of the Cause in their message of November 4, 1961, referred to the election of the Universal House of Justice in these terms:
“That all male voting members throughout the Bahá’í world are eligible for election to the Universal House of Justice. The Hands do not limit the freedom of the electors. However, as they have been given the explicit duties of guarding over the security and ensuring the propagation of the Faith, they ask the electors of the House of Justice to leave them free at this time to discharge their duties. When that Supreme and Infallible Body has been elected, it will decide on all matters concerning its own membership.”

(Custodians, Ministry of the Custodians, p. 392)

At the moment what is happening at the highest level of the Bahai administration is that individuals are being appointed by the UHJ to the ITC, and then the males of the ITC are being elected to UHJ. The issue is that membership of the UHJ has become a result of the UHJ chosen appointments. Given that membership on the UHJ is a matter of just 9 members, my suggestion is: if the UHJ decided to make ITC members ineligible or if members of the ITC chose to make themselves ineligible, then surely there are plenty of other males perfectly suitable to serve on the UHJ. That’s my suggestion based on the above thinking. I am not suggesting it is bad to have appointed members of the ITC move to the UHJ, but when since 2008 (see Baquia’s graph) ALL NINE members of the UHJ come from the ITC, then it indicates that the electoral process is not bringing in any new blood. Here’s just one of the many quotations in the Bahai writings on the importance of new blood.

“Upon the local Assemblies, whose special function and high privilege is to facilitate the admission of new believers into the community, and thereby stimulate the infusion of fresh blood into its organic institutions,…”

(Shoghi Effendi, January 30, 1938, Messages to America, p. 11)

Sonja’s comment posted on 5 April 2010
in response to:
Surly you must have some excerpt that supports your claim that Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi did not intend for members of the appointed to serve on the UHJ

L: Please read my posts more carefully, I wrote:
“It could help keep a balance of the appointed and the elected distinctive.
A feature I think Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi intended.”

The second sentence refers to the former sentence, a balance. The point of my responses has been to see how the principle of this balance could work better.

re: your idea that the Guardian was intended to be a member of the UHJ:
Abdu’l-Baha wrote in the Will and Testament:
“By this body [the UHJ] all the difficult problems are to be resolved and the Guardian of the Cause of God is its sacred head and the distinguished member for life of that body. Should he not attend in person its deliberations, he must appoint one to represent him.”
(Abdu’l-Baha, The Will and Testament, p. 14)

From this we can see that the Guardian is not eligible for election (he is appointed), and that he is not just a member of the UHJ, since he can appoint someone else to represent him. It is not stated that the Guardian does not have a vote on the UHJ, but this is implied, first because nothing is said about whether the Guardian’s representative would have a vote, and second because that would mean there are ten votes rather than nine, which would be allow for the possibility of a 5-5 split. I’d say that it’s unlikely that Abdu’l-Baha would discard the symbolism of 9, and raise the possibility of a hung vote, by making the UHJ a ten-member body.

Instead it seems, in preserving this principle of the distinctions of the elected and appointed, the Guardian or his representative who could have been a woman, would not be a member of the UHJ but rather that s/he sat at meetings and participated, and most likely did not have a say in the final decisions that would be made.

h1

Introduction

September 5, 2009

“Love is a light that never dwelleth in a heart possessed by fear”

Baha’u’llah, The Four Valleys, p. 58

I am an artist and a Bahai living in the Netherlands. I’ve started this blog in response to being blocked from a Dutch Bahai e-list (August 30th 2009). My first blog says more about this, and about the topic I was discussing at the time: homosexuality and the Bahai writings.

Misunderstandings can happen, and it certainly was painful to me that I was silenced from this list. This blog is an attempt at a constructive response to the situation.
An attempt at what the Bahai teachings inspire in me. It is an attempt at openness, dialogue and discussion, to show that even mistakes or misinterpretations are not dangerous. In fact I’d argue that freedom of expression (bearing in mind of course respect for particular contexts) is a Bahai principle.

It is likewise so in the world of religion. When freedom of conscience, liberty of thought and right of speech prevail, that is to say, when every man according to his idealization may give utterance to his own beliefs development and growth are inevitable.

‘Abdul-Baha, Star of the West, Vol. 3, No. 10, p. 19


Rumours or backbiting about issues or people are destructive. In fact in the Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, Bahais are told to

“regard backbiting as grievous error, and keep himself aloof from its dominion, inasmuch as backbiting quencheth the light of the heart, and extinguisheth the life of the soul.”

(p. 265).


So I will monitor comments and delete any that backbite as well as any rants against the Bahai Faith. I intend this blog to be for discussion or debate on Bahai-related topics. Anonymous comments are welcome! Just type in ‘sss’ as your name and ‘sss@sss.nl’ as your email address.