Papers delivered at the ‘Irfán Colloquium Session #9 (English)

Bahá'í National Center: Wilmette, Illinois USA

March 29 – April 1, 1996.

Theme: "Responding to anti-Bahá'í Polemic"


Continuity of Consciousness and Phenomena, The

by Kim Bowers

Any worthwhile and comprehensive study of natural phenomena inherently involves or leads to a study of the observer himself and of a fundamental, relativistic, and all-encompassing reality. An aspect of our natural desire to explore and discover, science is a response to the human need to understand ourselves, our origin, our purpose and place in the universe. Arising from the same impulse as humanity's love for God and the recognition of spiritual principles, humanity's intellectual passion for unraveling the intricate mysteries of the phenomenal universe is an immutable expression of our desire for ever more clearly apprehending our own identity and our relationship to the world and its Creator.

As a result, however, of the unprecedented achievements of contemporary research, humanity has outgrown the ancient religious cosmological models of the universe, and science and religion have become alienated. Since the ancient spiritual cosmologies were expressed in a metaphorical language based on world views now thousands of years out of date, their parables are now regarded as antiquated and unscientific, and their symbolic meaning is usually lost. The advent of scientific cosmology has thus had a profound effect on the vitality and influence of traditional and religious cosmologies and the cohesive function and sense of purpose they have always imparted.

For centuries, the natural continuity of spiritual and scientific inquiry has remained irreparably fragmented in the absence of a cosmological model by which they may be rationally justified, mutually fostered, and ideologically reunited. Such an indispensable cosmological model, periodically renewed and updated throughout the history of civilization by successive divine religions, has been the primary means by which humanity has understood its own identity, its relationship to the universe, and the essential purpose for its appearance in the world.

Though as yet undiscovered by the scientific community, the practical cosmological foundation for relating the science of phenomena to the study of humanity and divinity has once again been revealed through the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh. Prominent in the Bahá'í teachings are profound insights into the nature and essential continuity of human consciousness, the spiritual dynamics of scientific research, and the nature of physical phenomena.

The Bahá'í scriptures tell us that the transformation world civilization is destined to undergo for the new world order to be established is indeed cosmological in scope and more fundamental than we can now adequately appreciate. It requires a totally new way of perceiving and understanding the universe and humanity. Without fostering progressive insights into this fundamentally new heaven and new earth, progress toward the new order cannot be expected.

An excellent place to start is by gaining a clearer apprehension of the cosmological elements of the Bahá'í scriptures that can help put into perspective the emerging Bahá'í cosmology so vitally important to the progress, wise application, and understanding of science and technology, and an integrated conception of the universe in which humanity has been created and through which we may discover those mysteries of divinity placed in nature by Providence for our enlightenment.

Discordant World Views within Bahá'í Studies and the Detraction They Encourage

by Richard Harmsen

Bahá'í studies appears to be at a critical juncture in its evolution, not the least reason being the Faith's emergence from obscurity. Accompanying such emergence is inevitable academic scrutiny of the Bahá'í religion. Such scrutiny forces the Bahá'í scholarly community to clarify its own understanding of the true nature and fundamentals of Bahá'í scholarship, lest by default others do it for them. The longer Bahá'í scholars delay (collectively) the clarification and articulation of "Bahá'í fundamentals" and the unique methodological requirements of a truly Bahá'í scholarship, the more it will be obliged to forfeit such clarification and articulation to a skeptical and increasingly hostile non-Bahá'í academy.

The pervasive nature of currently dominant non-Bahá'í, world views translates into predictable consequences in every dimension of life, and Bahá'ís cannot entirely escape their influence. One consequence is severe mental testing of the Bahá'í community or of its individual members. Dr. Peter Khan, in a published address delivered in Wilmette in the fall of 1995, alluded to how some of these influences negatively affect Bahá'í individuals and Bahá'í administration in the West. Even more recently the Universal House of justice made reference to the "corrosive influence of an overbearing and rampant secularization" invading the North American Bahá'í community (letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States dated 19 May 1994 and published in the June 1995 issue of The American Bahá'í). Both statements clearly have direct bearing upon the state-of-the-art of Bahá'í scholarship, and it is obvious from the letter and from Dr. Khan's remarks that it is critical for Bahá'ís involved in Bahá'í studies to meditate deeply about the impact of non-Bahá'í world views on their scholarship. This paper offers a relative outsider's view of specific areas of Bahá'í studies that appear particularly vulnerable to criticism when observed from this wider world-view perspective. If Bahá'í authors fail to recognize that Bahá'í scholarship in some cases requires significantly different criteria and methodologies than are currently popular in the academy, they may very well be encouraging the subtle (yet persistent) attacks that are being launched from various quarters.

The paper will also pose some questions which beg to be answered regarding the need for sound strategies to preserve our sacred trust, that is, the Bahá'í Writings. The challenge clearly is to apply the Writings to current problems in ways that are palatable to the wider secular society, while simultaneously upholding the unique status of a Bahá'í world-view. Maintaining this paradoxical balance would seem to be the best way for Bahá'í scholars to facilitate the destined academic renaissance which shall accompany the emergence of the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. Not keeping that balance in either direction can have serious consequences for the development and growth of the Faith. Finding that balance may well be the most difficult and challenging issue facing Bahá'í scholarship at this historical moment.

Dream of Uniting the Nations, The: The Culminating Vision of the Hebrew Bible

by Gary Selchert

That the primary source of organized opposition to the Bahá'í community and its expansion in the western world has been Christian clergy scarcely needs to be stated. That this opposition will be of benefit to the Bahá'í community and its expansion has been unequivocally stated by 'Abdu'l-Bahá (Promulgation of Universal Peace, 429-30). I contend that the extent and quality of that benefit will in large part be determined by the ability of Bahá'í scholarship to map credible connections between the findings of biblical scholarship and the revealed interpretations of the Bible advanced in the Bahá'í sacred writings.

In order for Bahá'ís to establish serious ongoing dialogue with the community of traditional biblical scholarship, we must transcend the simplistic "proof text" approach to scripture that has permeated Bahá'í popular literature dealing with biblical prophecy and that can with equal or greater plausibility be used as a basis for anti-Bahá'í polemic. I will examine at some length a recent example of this genre and attempt to show some of its shortcomings. Bahá'ís must, I believe, move toward a thoroughgoing Bahá'í hermeneutic of the Bible grounded in the discussion of the major themes discernible in the writings of the Hebrew prophets.

While much concerning the full meaning and intent of the Hebrew prophets remains controversial, there is considerable agreement across confessional and denominational lines (including Jewish, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, and evangelical expositors) concerning the main themes and sequences of imagery that are present and that serve as unifying strands within the biblical text. Major themes generally recognized in the scriptural text and discussed in the paper include:
  1. The violation of the Mosaic covenant by the Israelite nation through idolatry, sinfulness, and injustice.

  2. The consequent rejection and punishment of Israel by God.

  3. The full restoration of Israel to the Holy Land as a sovereign kingdom.

  4. The proclamation of a new covenant entailing internalization of the Law, the individualization of responsibility before God, and the forgiveness of sin.

  5. The raising up by God of a righteous descendant of David to reign and to establish justice and righteousness.

  6. The final attack on Israel by jealous and hostile neighbors, the defeat of the attackers by divine intervention, and God's judgment and punishment of the nations of the Earth.

  7. Establishment of the Kingdom of God: the submission of the survivors of the nations to a system of justice, order, and peace established by the Davidic king and centralized around the presence of the "glory" in the Temple on the "Mountain of God."
Particularly with respect to the seventh item on the list--the theonomous unification of the nations--there is ample reason to contend that it is in the Bahá'í realm of discourse and action that the potentialities latent within the original vision of the prophets are most adequately realized.

Good Tree, The: Distinguishing the Bahá'í Faith From Destructive Cults

by Stephen Vaccaro

For many Americans, the horror of the events of 1993 in Waco, Texas and other tragedies like it has fostered skepticism and fear of any new or unfamiliar religious group. For this reason, it is important that there be Bahá'í literature to dispel these fears for those attracted to the truth of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation, and for their loved ones. The Bahá'í Faith is clearly not a destructive cult. This lecture represents a first attempt to demonstrate this reality.

From the literature on destructive cults, the author has identified five "defining characteristics" of a cult:
  1. It has a charismatic leader demanding total authority and who is plagued by ethical improprieties.

  2. It uses "controlling techniques"--primarily confession--which fosters an unhealthy dependency and the loss of independent thought in the cult follower.

  3. It fosters social isolation--primarily by viewing noncult members as "impure" or "unsaved"--and physical isolation.

  4. It utilizes extreme or fanatical behavior, including excessive rituals, aggressive "witnessing," and the promotion of violence.

  5. It uses secrecy and deception, especially in doctrine and finances.
The Bahá'í Faith, in each case, clearly does not embody these characteristics:
  1. There is no single living leader, and administrative authority rests only on elected assemblies making their decisions using consultation;

  2. Confession, the most common "controlling technique," is forbidden, and there is absolutely no condemnation of reason, questioning or independent thought in the Bahá'í writings.

  3. There is no notion of exclusive salvation, thus, no distinction is made between the pure and saved versus the impure and unsaved; also "living in seclusion or practicing asceticism is not acceptable in the presence of God" according to Bahá'u'lláh (Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 71).

  4. Bahá'í teaching stress the importance of moderation in all things: ritual is virtually nonexistent; fasting is regulated, and there are numerous exemptions which prevent it from being dangerous; aggressive proselytizing is forbidden; and violence is condemned in the Faith.

  5. There is no "secret doctrine" and local finances are audited to prohibit improprieties.
Finally, destructive religious groups almost invariably reach their height during the lifetime of their authoritarian leader (strictly speaking, this is not a characteristic of cults). Unless another leader arises, the cult disappears after his death. It is, therefore, interesting to note that the Bahá'í Faith has exhibited the exact opposite growth pattern. When Bahá'u'lláh ascended in 1892 there were approximately 50,000 Bahá'ís; when 'Abdu'l-Bahá' ascended in 1921 there were approximately 100,000 Bahá'ís; when Shoghi Effendi died in 1957 there were less than 400,000 Bahá'ís worldwide. Since 1957--with no living leader--the Bahá'í Faith has increased thirteenfold to well over 5,000,000 Bahá'ís worldwide. Thus, the Bahá'í Faith embodies none of the defining characteristics of a cult, nor has it exhibited the same growth pattern as destructive religious groups.
Click here to read this paper online.

New World Order and the Convergence of Religious and Secular Opposition, The

by Behrooz Sabet

The Bahá'í concept of world order has two goals: spiritual transformation of the human race and renewal of culture and civilization. The first goal describes a divinely ordained process that marks "the healing of the nations" and the "spiritualization of the masses" and stands identified with the "coming of age of the entire human race" and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. The second goal--renewal of culture and civilization--describes the consummation of historical development that must result in profound changes in the social and political life of the world. The renewal of culture and civilization, Bahá'ís believe, must inevitably reach a fitting climax by the adoption of a universal framework for world unity and peace and the establishment of a united world authority.

Bahá'ís believe that the emerging world order is not a manmade secular enterprise. Historically, they assert, the intensification of social solidarity and complexification of social organizations are impelled by the unifying spiritual forces released by the progressive appearances of the Manifestations of God. Thus a new world order, within the Bahá'í context, describes a single spiritual-social unit within which the progressive revelation of God and the path of human evolution coalesce and converge.

The Bahá'í scriptures emphatically emphasize that nothing short of spiritual forces, released by the revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, can succeed in establishing a new world order. Christian fundamentalists, however, reluctant to entertain the possibility that Bahá'u'lláh's revelation has fulfilled Christian prophecy concerning the return of Christ, claim that the emerging world order represents nothing less than a new order for the human race under the dominion of Satan.

To them, a new world order epitomizes everything that is anti-Christian. The ultimate goal of a new world order, they assert, is to destroy the Christian faith, personal freedom, and capitalism. They believe that a new world order represents a satanically inspired conspiracy that has been quietly germinating in satanic secret societies and has now reached its culminating period, marked by global dominance and an alliance with occult and mystery religions. The ideals of international peace and security, propagated by proponents of a new world order, are viewed as exercises in futility and given a demonic context.

Fundamentalists consider resisting this new world order a sacred duty. Paradoxically, the same new world order, they believe, must usher in the rapture of the church and the coming of the Lord.

Secular criticisms of a new world order have also been influenced by reactionary political views that espouse racism and supremacy. These views portray the emerging world order as a fearful prospect that would undermine America's national sovereignty and bring the United States under the yoke of a global dictatorship.

It is possible that as the full measure of the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith are disseminated and understood, these religious and secular forces, in their vain imaginings, may come to view the Bahá'í Faith as the missing link in the worldwide web of conspiracy to establish a new world order, and, thus, will feel compelled to mobilize their optimum efforts to oppose it.

Question of Exclusivism, The: A Scientific Perspective

by Jena Khadem Khodadad

This study looks at the dogma of exclusivism, instituted by many Christian denominations, with the aim of demonstrating that this doctrine is no longer viable. The operating principles necessitating a shift in scientific "paradigma," as discussed by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, are applied to the paradigm of exclusivism. Although Thomas Kuhn relates his analysis and discussions to the evolution of scientific knowledge, the principles involved also operate in and are fundamental to all progressive processes in history.

This presentation first examines two major views of the universe: the geocentric model of Aristotle and Ptolemy and the heliocentric model of Copernicus. The theological implications of these models are discussed and the underlying reasons for the vehement opposition to the heliocentric model and the resistance to adoption of this paradigm are considered.

The successive stages of paradigm adoption, emergence of anomalies, and consequent state of crisis precipitating a scientific revolution (i.e., the Copernican Revolution) leading to a change in world view are considered and the attendant phenomena of rejection of and opposition to the new paradigm as well as its eventual assimilation and integration are discussed.

The same stages are applied to the analysis of the structure of "spiritual revolution." The paradigm of exclusivism is considered against the background of our particular juncture in history. The emerging anomalies of the exclusivistic world view and the consequent state of crisis has led to a state of spiritual revolution necessitating a major shift in world view, from the paradigm of exclusivity to that of relativity. The Bahá'í paradigm of relativity of religious truth, often referred to as "progressive revelation," is examined and its dynamic features considered. The Bahá'í paradigm presents an expanded world view providing fresh insights so that with new eyes one perceives underlying dynamic relationships one had not known existed.

Theology of Church and State in the Bahá'í Order, The: Analytical Foundations for a Rational Synthesis of Scientific, Traditional, and Religious Cosmologies

by Sen McGlinn

Because the Bahá'í Faith offers a definite model for both the political and spiritual transformation of the human world, it is liable to be criticized and evenfeared on the sensitive issue of the ideal relation that it proposes between religious and political institutions. The question is made even more current by the republication, in the framework of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, of Bahá'u'lláh's statement that: "All matters of State should be referred to the House of Justice ..."1

Will the Bahá'ís eventually set up a church state? The widespread fear of any political system run on religious principles, and the present growth of the Faith, make it essential that the Bahá'í teachings on this be better understood. We also need to understand the theory behind our relationship with the state in general. Is the civil state no more than a temporary, perhaps necessary evil? Or is it an institution mandated by God? Is the principle of obedience to the civil authorities which at present governs our behavior a short-term tactic adopted during the period in which we have no political power, or a permanent principle?

This paper will approach this question by making a broad survey of the principles involved as we find them in the Bahá'í writings. I have selected three 'landmarks' which are easily memorable and which seem to me to sum up the fundamental principles involved:
  1. Shoghi Effendi said that the Bahá'ís should not allow their Bahá'í administration to supersede national governments.2

  2. Bahá'u'lláh says that God has given the task of government to kings and rulers, while the cities of men's hearts are reserved for God.3

  3. The civil and religious administrations of a Bahá'í social order are distinct but not separate: they are organs of one body, whose distinct natures are required so that they can work together in a 'harmony of forces'.4
My selection of these points as typifying the relationship between church and state will be justified with an analysis of is the "pattern of the New World Order." The administrative order is an organic system, characterized by division into separate organs, each with its own intrinsic nature and mode of operation, and each organ requiring the others. This conception of organic unity will then be applied to the relationship between state institutions and the Bahá'í Administrative Order, and the divine charter of government will be briefly outlined.

Notes
  1. The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Most Holy Book, page 9 1, also in the "Eighth Ishraq," Tablets of Bahá'u'lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 128.

  2. Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá'u'lláh, p. 66: "Theirs is not the purpose, _to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country's constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries."

  3. Bahá'u'lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh, CXV, "The one true God, exalted be His glory, hath bestowed the government of the earth upon the kings... That which He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men's hearts..."

  4. 'Abdu'l-Bahá, The Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Bahá, pp. 14-15: "This House of Justice enacteth the laws and the government enforceth them. The legislative body must reinforce the executive, the executive must aid and assist the legislative body so that through the close union and harmony of these two forces, the foundation of fairness and justice may become firm and strong..."

Understanding the Bahá'í Faith through Study of the Christian Faith

by Benjamin H. La Framboise

Any discussion of the Bahá'í Faith with Christians will reveal certain common criticisms of it. The purpose of this paper is not to discuss specific criticisms and responses in detail, but to illustrate an approach to responding to criticisms based on an understanding of the seeker's own religion. Adib Taherzadeh, in The Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh, describes such an approach as follows:
The Kitáb-i-Íqán is the best example of how to teach the Cause of God. Instead of explaining at once the proofs of the authenticity of the Message of the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh first speaks about other Prophets, portrays Their lives and Their sufferings, demonstrates the truth of Their missions and describes the common features of Their Faiths. In this way He brings to the understanding of the reader the truth of his own religion and enables him to recognize the reality of his own Prophet. Having built this strong foundation He then, towards the end of the book, speaks of the Báb and His Message and applies to this new Revelation the standards He has applied in verifying the truth of the other Prophets (vol. 1, p. 161).
Some of the criticisms, concerns, or issues about the Faith include "How can Bahá'ís believe that Jesus, Moses, and Bahá'u'lláh can be seen in the same light?" and "How can I believe in Bahá'u'lláh when the Bible tells me that Jesus is the ,only begotten Son' and that He is the only 'Way'?" In response to such criticisms of the Faith, the author has studied both the Old and New Testaments, various Bible commentaries, and other Christian and Jewish texts to demonstrate the claims, beliefs, and principles enshrined in the Bahá'í scriptures.

It is recommended that both Bahá'ís, who are seeking ways to share their Faith with interested souls, and non-Bahá'ís who sincerely wish to understand the Bahá'í Faith, approach the Faith through the principles and perspectives of other religions. Once the validity of the animating principles of the Faith are demonstrated as true within the Christian Faith, a foundation for understanding the Bahá'í Faith will be in place, thus making it much easier for an interested soul to see the same truths within the Bahá'í Revelation.