January 25, 2008

In BAHA'I FAITH TODAY - THE RELIGION OF RULERSHIP, MRDONUT makes a number of claims about the Bahá'í, concluding that it is a cult today. I shared a response on the blog and promised that I would include specific passages supporting some of my claims. Of course, some of my statements were purely anecdotal — as, it would seem, are all of MRDONUT's. I am not here to be in an argument or flamewar, and I do not claim that MRDONUT has not experienced these things. Rather, I would like simply to show how my personal experience differs.

To summarize the claim: the Bahá'í Faith today is a cult of rulership / leadership, well beyond Bahá'u'llah's intentions. Supporting claims:

  • Members are expected to "lavish devotion" on administrators and not ask questions "about anything in the religion"
  • The "Bahá'í Funds" and treasurers thereof are personally coercive and guilt-inducing
  • "distancing of the believer from his roots" -- through denial of family, country, etc.
  • literature lost in the "clouds of Rube Goldberg inventions" to reconcile selves to cult membership
  • "preponderence of intellect over emotion, administration over spirit"

I cannot imagine where the notion of denouncing one's parents, education, country, etc. comes from — I've never encountered anything like this. When I became a Bahá'í, no one pressured me to abandon my family and friends, indeed, it was suggested to me that I be even more mindful of them, given Bahá'u'lláh's exhortations to respect that parents. Bahá'ís strive for high educational attainment, they are explicitly taught not to reject the laws of their country, and in general are encouraged to be an active participant in the affairs of the world.

Consider that which the Merciful Lord hath revealed in the Qur'án, exalted are His words: "Worship ye God, join with Him no peer or likeness; and show forth kindliness and charity towards your parents..." Observe how loving-kindness to one's parents hath been linked to recognition of the one true God!

(Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitab-i-Aqdás, p. 139)

The primary, the most urgent requirement is the promotion of education. It is inconceivable that any nation should achieve prosperity and success unless this paramount, this fundamental concern is carried forward. The principal reason for the decline and fall of peoples is ignorance. Today the mass of the people are uninformed even as to ordinary affairs, how much less do they grasp the core of the important problems and complex needs of the time.

(Abdu'l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 108)

Furthermore each and every one is required to show obedience, submission and loyalty towards his own government. Today no state in the world is in a condition of peace or tranquillity, for security and trust have vanished from among the people. Both the governed and the governors are alike in danger.

(Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 293)

Knowledge is as wings to man's life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone. The knowledge of such  sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth, and not those which begin with words and end with words. Great indeed is the claim of scientists and craftsmen on the peoples of the world.

(Bahá'u'lláh, Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 51)

Now, these passages hearken back to the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, and His Son. How do they relate to the Bahá'í Faith today? Simply in this: that all actions by members (including administrators) are expected to follow this guidance. Indeed, that is what it means to be a Bahá'í — to accept Bahá'u'llah's guidance as something to uphold and strive to live by. My words and understanding, anyway. And I emphasize strive, for that is all that we can do.

I have been a contributor to the Bahá'í Funds since joining the Faith more than a decade ago, and have never once been personally pressured to give or give more. In fact, it is strictly forbidden to solicit funds from specific people. I have heard rumor that this occurs, and I hope that anyone who receives such a letter consults with the proper administrative representatives to ensure that the incident does not re-occur. It is true that finding the balance of how to raise funds required for various activities — in which the community should have a full voice in choosing — without coming across as guilt-inducing is difficult. I know this from recent personal experience as a treasurer. In the end it is up to every individual to respond, and there is nothing that any institution can do to compel giving or punish the lack thereof.

Whenever they make reference to the Huquq [closest equivalent to tithing], let them confine themselves to a mere word uttered for the sake of God and this will suffice; coercion is unnecessary, inasmuch as God hath never wished that those engaged in His service should experience any hardship.

(Compilations, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 502)

And among the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh is voluntary sharing of one's property with others among mankind. This voluntary sharing is greater than equality, and consists in this, that man should not prefer himself to others, but rather should sacrifice his life and property for others. But this should not be introduced by coercion so that it becomes a law and man is compelled to follow it. Nay, rather, man should voluntarily and of his own choice sacrifice his property and life for others, and spend willingly for the poor, just as is done in Iran among the Bahá'ís.

(Compilations, Bahá'í World Faith, p. 288)

I have never personally experienced unreasonable administrative actions, coercion, "devotion to administration," etc. I will readily admit that there is a great stress placed on obedience and unity. Unity is the whole point of this enterprise. But that does not mean there is no questioning, or that decisions are imposed upon a group.

The members 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. If after discussion, a decision be carried unanimously well and good; but if, the Lord forbid, differences of opinion should arise, a majority of voices must prevail

(Abdu'l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 87)

It is true that this is a young Faith that has its growing pains. Each community will experience different things, depending on the members themselves, who are far from perfect. I don't think a day goes by where I do not ask myself — am I doing the right thing? By being a Bahá'í, by promoting the Bahá'í Faith? Bahá'u'lláh tells us to "bring [ourselves] to account each day." This is part of my accounting. Clearly my answer is still yes.

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