Controversies

Anna presents the New World Order

An awkward question

Anna’s come a long way – to national television, in fact. She’s being interviewed on her favourite subject: the Bahai Faith. It’s going well. The interviewer has been well prepared, with some questions designed to let her enthuse about peace, unity, and equality, and some that are meant to be difficult. She has been describing the Bahai administrative system – how it functions without priests or gurus, and with democratic machinery which offers the greatest possible room for grassroots participation. All over the country hands are hovering over telephone books as people wonder whether this new Faith might be listed in their town. The interviewer glances significantly at the clock to indicate she has 45 seconds left, and asks one more question: “That sounds more like a system of government than a church. Is that what it will become? Will the Bahais eventually set up a church state, or a theocracy like the one in Iran? Because I’ve been reading some Bahai books that say this will occur.”

How should Anna answer? What short passages in the Bahai Writings best sum up the Bahai viewpoint?

{josquote}...we need a ready answer to questions about the ultimate shape of a Bahai state, and the role of the Bahai religious institutions in it.{/josquote}

The question is not improbable. Such accusations are common on the internet, usually coming from malicious anti-Bahai sources, but sometimes out of ignorance. And it’s fair comment to some extent. There really are Bahai books (but not Bahai scriptures!) that say something like this. For example John Robarts, in The Vision of Shoghi Effendi, writes that “The Bahai spiritual assemblies will be the local government and the National Spiritual Assemblies the national government.”

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On being declared the enemy of an entire movement


K. Paul Johnson

An event I've not mentioned on Theosophical fora deserves airing in light of the recent accusation that I'm the declared (yet also the insidious, undeclared) enemy of "the Theosophical teachings." Crazy talk like that is not new to me from Theosophists, but after all I've written three books about Theosophical history, a subject which brings out lots of crazy talk from certain types. Anyone who feels privileged to speak on behalf of HPB, to identify her present-day "enemies" and encourage collective anger toward the unfortunate individuals thusly labeled, is going to find historical authors an attractive, convenient target for their free-floating hostility. There is an unquenchable resentment in certain kinds of followers at the world at large for not properly appreciating their Teacher. Allen Kazlev analyzes this attitude as that of a Slanderous Devotee.

{josquote}But all those enemies of the founder are now dead, and the belief system of the Baha'is requires living enemies against whom to rally the faithful.{/josquote}

Understandably, history books tend to provoke such types and I've seen such reactions from a handful of Theosophists to my own and those of other authors. My book on Edgar Cayce provoked no such repercussions, interestingly. But the source of my most unpleasant consequence of writing about religion was not a Theosophist but rather a Baha'i. The writing which got me declared an enemy was not a book -- the only book in which I write about the Baha'is was never a source of complaint from them -- but a one page article in Gnosis about the controversy involved in the closing of the online forum Talisman. Late in 2007, the most eminent historian of the Baha'i movement in the UK wrote an article in the journal Religion in which I was labeled as an "apostate" and identified first in a list of 12 people who were supposedly lifelong obsessed opponents of the Baha'is. Considering that Baha'i is far down the list of my religious interests and Internet discussions and that I rarely give much thought to the subject, I was astonished that my name would be dragged into their internal squabbles. My reply to the editors explains how far from an enemy of the Baha'is I have been. Dan Jensen's response to the editors is a comment about all twelve cases which supports my own complaints.

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The Trouble with the World

The topic being discussed currently in various Baha’i forums is a speech given by Peter Khan, on July 3rd 2009 titled “Reflections on the Ridvan Message”. You can read the complete speech here.

There isn’t much remarkable about it but if you manage to hack through the thick underbrush of verbiage you’ll find that almost at the end Khan says:

The solution is childish simple; the solution is so simple, it [sic] hardly worth mentioning. The solution is no more and no less than unreserved acceptance of whatever the central authority of the Cause, in this case the Universal House of Justice decrees.

Unfortunately Khan doesn’t explain what he really means by ‘decrees’.

Does that mean anything the House decides? every word they write? every answer they give to a questioner? every letter of guidance to members or national administrative bodies? or does it mean what they decree as in their legislative authority within Baha’i administrative structure?

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Muhammad at Medina

While Ayatollah Khomeini was in exile in Najaf in 1970, he said:

This slogan of the separation of religion and politics and the demand that Islamic scholars not intervene in social and political affairs has been formulated and propagated by the imperialists; it is only the irreligious who repeat them. Were religion and politics separate in the time of the Prophet? Did there exist on one side a group of clerics, and opposite it, a group of politicians and leaders? (As cited by Nader Hashemi)

The answer to the Ayatollah is, Yes: in the time of the Prophet there were several groups of political leaders: in Medina, in Mecca, and in the neighbouring kingdoms and city-states. Muhammad knew them, corresponded with them, and treated them with respect, and did not seek to overthrow them. Perhaps there was no group of clerics as we now know them, but there was an Islamic religious leadership, comprising Muhammad himself, `Ali, and the various believers designated as prayer leaders and as teachers of the recitation of the Quran. There were also Jewish and Christian religious leaders, whose authority Muhammad did not seek to undermine.

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Mitchell's mistake

I’ve been looking again at an old claim that Abdu’l-Baha’s Will and Testament was not written by Abdu’l-Baha, that it was ‘fraudulent.’ This claim is the foundation for two small Bahai splinter groups that reject the institution of the Guardianship (established by Abdu’l-Baha in his Will and Testament), and it has also been propagated in Germany in anti-Bahai polemics published by the Lutheran ‘Central Office for Questions of Ideology’ (EZW). In looking through the documents, I’ve noticed something that doesn’t seem to have been commented on in the past.

Let me begin by saying that there is no doubt that the Will and Testament is genuine. At the time it was opened and read, there were some hundreds if not thousands of Persian Bahais, including Abdu’l-Baha’s family and secretaries, and also Persian opponents of the Bahai Faith or opponents of Shoghi Effendi, all of whom were familiar with Abdu’l-Baha’s handwriting. Not one of them has suggested that the Will and Testament is not written in Abdu’l-Baha’s hand – not even those Persian opponents of Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi who stood most to gain by casting doubt on its authenticity. Mountford Mills, who saw the Will, said that the first two parts bore the seal of Abdu’l-Baha.

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