Shoghi Effendi and Christian authority

This is the second in a series on Shoghi Effendi’s comments in The World Order of Baha’u’llah. In this series we are exploring yet another facet of the Baha’i Faith’s misplaced superiority complex. In this case, Shoghi Effendi insists that the Baha’i Faith is superior to Christianity and Islam because the Baha’i Writings explicitly spell out how the Baha’i administration should be put together.

He [Baha’u’llah] has not merely enunciated certain universal principles, or propounded a particular philosophy, however potent, sound and universal these may be. In addition to these He, as well as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá after Him, has, unlike the Dispensations of the past, clearly and specifically laid down a set of Laws, established definite institutions, and provided for the essentials of a Divine Economy. …

Not only have they revealed all the directions required for the practical realization of those ideals which the Prophets of God have visualized, and which from time immemorial have inflamed the imagination of seers and poets in every age. They have also, in unequivocal and emphatic language, appointed those twin institutions of the House of Justice and of the Guardianship as their chosen Successors, destined to apply the principles, promulgate the laws, protect the institutions, adapt loyally and intelligently the Faith to the requirements of progressive society, and consummate the incorruptible inheritance which the Founders of the Faith have bequeathed to the world.

Should we look back upon the past, were we to search out the Gospel and the Qur’án, we will readily recognize that neither the Christian nor the Islamic Dispensations can offer a parallel either to the system of Divine Economy so thoroughly established by Bahá’u’lláh, or to the safeguards which He has provided for its preservation and advancement. (WOB 19-20)

I hope Shoghi Effendi doesn’t think all Jesus Christ did was “merely enunciate certain universal principles,” because he didn’t. But that’s another post. More to the point, Shoghi Effendi misunderstands the purpose of the Bible. I discussed this in the previous post on this topic, but I should make one more point in that regard.

It is important to understand that the Bible is a witness to the establishment of the kingdom of God. It doesn’t contain specific prescriptions for the Christian hierarchy (again, that’s not what the Bible’s for), but the Bible does, as a witness of events, give glimpses of that hierarchy being established.

It is clear that Jesus intended for there to be an organized church that would act in his name and be led by a designated authority. Speaking to his disciples, he said,

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear you, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established’ [Deut. 19:15]. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:15-18)

So not only does Jesus anticipate the establishment of the Church, but he gives his disciples the authority to expell people from it. Earlier, when speaking to the apostle Simon he said,

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18-19)

So while the Gospels don’t spell out how the authority of the Church will be structured, they assume such an authority will exist. This authority is not given to just any old Christian. Not all disciples exercise the power of binding and loosing. It’s given to specific individuals within the Church who are publicly recognized as holding this authority.

After the resurrection, when Jesus appeared to the apostles in Jerusalem, he finally grants them this authority that he had promised them:

Then Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23)

What is Jesus’ legacy? Is it a detailed set of regulations? Clearly not. But look at what his legacy is:

And being assembled together with them, he commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, “which,” he said, “you have heard from me; for John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

Therefore, when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” And he said to them, “it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:4-8)

When a charismatic, innovative thinker founds a new movement, he takes care to delineate for his followers exactly how the movement should be run after his death. Jesus is different. He doesn’t go into much detail. He tells them, “You’ll receive the Holy Spirit, and he’ll guide you into all truth.” Far from being a weakness, as Shoghi Effendi claims, this is a strength of Christianity’s claim. Jesus didn’t rely on human power for the success of his movement. (And creating a detailed administrative code would be exactly that.) He left everything to God, literally – by leaving the movement to God the Holy Spirit.

Shoghi Effendi demonstrates a fundamental stumbling block for Baha’is. Baha’is assume that a religion is ultimately summed up in its text. While the Manifestation is bodily present, he can convey God’s commandments orally and answer questions. In his absence, his followers have no choice but to rely on his teachings in written form.

Notice what Baha’i spirituality consists of: reading the Writings. Period. If you have a doctrinal question, you read the Writings. When you pray, you read the Writings. Even group worship consists of sitting in a circle and reading the Writings. If you want to mix things up a bit, you’ll listen to the Writings set to music or recited in another language.

There’s nothing wrong with that. If that’s how your religion works then so be it. I just want to highlight that in other religions, that is not normal. And to assume that other religions work that way is wrong. Case in point: Christianity.

Shoghi Effendi claims that the Baha’i Faith is superior to Christianity because its Writings contain more administrative detail. From a Christian point of view, his assertion is irrelevant.

Getting back to the Bible, in the Acts of the Apostles and in some of the letters we can see the hierarchy, the Christian administrative order if you will, continuing after the Ascension.

There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need. Thus Joseph who was surnamed by the apostles Barnabas (which means, Son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, sold a field which belonged to him, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:34-37)

So the Bible doesn’t prescribe “when Christians share their possessions, the common property will be administered by the apostles.” Like I said, rather than giving a set of regulations, it witnesses the formation of the hierarchy. Moreover, the apostles didn’t claim the right to hold this authority because of a quote from Jesus written somewhere. Their authority is not based on a text. It is handed on directly from the Lord.

They also hand their authority on to others. See for example Paul’s letter to Titus:

For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you…” (Titus 1:5)

Let’s close with a look at Acts 15. At the beginning of the chapter, a controversy arises in Antioch over a doctrinal question:

Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and presbyters about this question. (Acts 15:1-2)

So again, the Bible witnesses to the fact that the Church operated with a recognized authority. They went to Jerusalem, and the apostles and presbyters had a long discussion of the matter. Some of the Christians were on one side, some on the other. Then the apostles Peter and James spoke before the assembly, and they reached a decision and drafted a letter. There are a a few things to highlight about the letter:

1) In order to make statements about Christian doctrine you have to have authorization from the rightful leaders:

Since we have heard that some of our number who went out without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind… (Acts 15:24)

(In another English translation it is rendered, “…some went out from us without our authorization…”.)

2) The Holy Spirit was involved; it was not just a human decision:

It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities… (Acts 15:28)

3) The decision was reached not by looking for an answer in the Hebrew scriptures (they gave no clear answer, anyway). It was by taking their understanding of the principles of the Gospel, gathered from their knowledge of the scriptures and the light of their own experience with God, coupled with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that they were led to their decision. And this is how the Church continues to make decisions.

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15 Responses

  1. I am from Australia and have enjoyed reading your articles. Let me say I am a firm Baha’i but from a solid Christian background. My grandfather was a devout Anglican priest from Ireland who had been a missionary in India charged with the mission to convert Muslims to Christianity. A tough job. I would like to make a comment but within the context of both this post and your previous article “What’s the Bible for?’ which I cannot find on your site. Have you removed it? Please either send me a copy or tell me where to find it on your site.

    Just a private question to satisfy my curiosity and not for publication or reference to in any response – What is the reason you no longer believe in Baha’u’llah as the Manifestation of God?

  2. Hi John, thanks for bringing that up. The post does seem to be gone. Maybe I accidentally deleted it. It’s a blessing in disguise, though, because that post wasn’t very good. I’ll put up a new one with the same title and along similar lines (although hopefully better and less rambling).

    That means, of course, that in this series of posts, part 1 is dated July 12 and part 2 is dated July 10. (Part 3 will probably come along in August.)

    It’s difficult to sum up why I don’t believe in Baha’u’llah anymore. There are lots of little reasons, any one of which by itself probably wouldn’t be enough to make me lose faith, but which acted on me cumulatively. Here are a few, in no particular order:

    Learning about Neoplatonism. I found that the Baha’i worldview is not a new thing, correcting the literalness of previous dispensations with fresh spiritual interpretations. Rather, it’s the old Neoplatonic approach that has been around since ancient times.

    Original sin. My experience over the years dealing with people is that they’re pretty stubborn in their bad behavior (myself included), so the Baha’i idea that all you have to do is educate people about virtue and they’ll spontaneously choose it seemed increasingly far-fetched. The idea that people are afflicted by a spiritual illness or deformity called original sin that they cannot overcome by themselves seemed more consistent with reality.

    Learning about Christianity. I studied the Bible a lot in order better to teach Christians. As I got a better grasp of it, I found that the Baha’i interpretations of it, especially of the Resurrection and the nature of Jesus’ ministry, were untenable.

    Thinking about the first and third points above, and about other issues like how Hinduism and Buddhism fit into the Progressive Revelation framework, led me to realize that the Baha’i view of other religions is a view imposed on those religions, which the followers of those religions would not necessarily recognize. In other words, the Baha’i Faith makes Progressive Revelation work by changing the other religions to fit into the pattern. They don’t fall into it naturally. (This does not necessarily mean that the Baha’i Faith is false, only that its progressive revelation paradigm cannot be corroborated by any evidence outside itself.)

    I also thought about the Most Great Peace (this kind of relates to the second point above). It occurred to me that whenever there is a problem in society and people go and fix it, the fix creates new problems. So things never really get better in an absolute sense, only relative to this or that problem.

    That’s what I can come up with off the top of my head.

  3. I said:

    That means, of course, that in this series of posts, part 1 is dated July 12 and part 2 is dated July 10. (Part 3 will probably come along in August.)

    Forget I said that. I backdated the new post to July 9 so it’ll be in the right order.

  4. While you often asks interesting questions, it seems that your critique of the Baha’i Faith is based on many misunderstandings and the use of selective quotations. In your reference to Shoghi Effendi’s quotation about the institutional structure of various religions, he is not saying Christianity and Islam are inferior, but that there has a been a progressive unfoldment of divine will regarding the vessels for administering His ever evolving Faith. You seem not to give any emphasis to Shoghi Effendi’s many testimonies to the power of Jesus and the Christian Faith to transform lives. But his role included helping the Baha’is and others understand certain features of the Baha’i revelation that are either distinguishing or more fully developed or are a new formulation of perennial spiritual teaching.

    I am puzzled by your incorrect assertion that Baha’i spirituality is reading the Baha’i Writings, period. That is not my Baha’i Faith nor the faith of most of my Baha’i compatriots. What about prayer, meditation, mysticism (the heart of every faith), fasting, pilgrimage, the performing of charitable works, the development and practice of virtue, the reflection of heavenly attributes? What about the living of a Baha’i life (no less powerful and not much different from living a Christian life)?

    What disappointments foster such easy dismissal of the profound spirituality at the heart of Baha’u’llah’s message?

  5. Hi, William. Thanks for your comments.

    In your reference to Shoghi Effendi’s quotation about the institutional structure of various religions, he is not saying Christianity and Islam are inferior, but that there has a been a progressive unfoldment of divine will regarding the vessels for administering His ever evolving Faith.

    When I read the passage I link to (WOB pp. 18-22), what I see is a comparison between the Baha’i Faith, Islam and Christianity that is favorable to the Baha’i Faith and unfavorable to the other two. Shoghi Effendi says the Baha’i Writings are more complete, more clear and more specific. He clearly regards completeness, clarity and specificity as good things. Therefore, the Baha’i Faith is more good than the other two.

    I’m aware of what the Writings say about all the Manifestations being equal, “soaring in the same heaven,” etc. But don’t let that blind us to when Shoghi Effendi makes an unfavorable comparison.

    I don’t think Shoghi Effendi is really saying that Christianity’s deficient administrative provisions were part of the “progressive unfoldment of divine will.” He argues in that passage that these deficient administrative provisions were responsible for the divisions in the Christian community. Was that part of God’s plan? Of course not. The Baha’i explanation is that the Christians weren’t ready for an administrative order as complete as the Baha’i Faith has.

    The Writings make it quite clear that the Baha’i Faith is fuller, more complete and more relevant-to-modern-times than any other religion. The Christian religion is obsolete. That means the Baha’i Faith is superior. Not superior in the sense that Baha’is will get closer to God in the afterlife, but superior as a religious system here on earth.

    Why do you think God sent another Manifestation? For kicks and giggles? No, God sent Baha’u’llah because the other religions weren’t cutting it.

    What about prayer, meditation, mysticism (the heart of every faith), fasting, pilgrimage, the performing of charitable works, the development and practice of virtue, the reflection of heavenly attributes?

    Yes, you have a good point. I didn’t word that passage well. Charity and development of virtues are part of Baha’i spirituality. Fasting and pilgrimage are also a part of it (although they do involve reading the Writings). I’m not convinced, though, that Baha’i prayer and meditation is independent of the Writings. And I don’t know what Baha’i mysticism would look like without somehow reading or meditating on the Writings.

    There’s something I’m trying to say but I don’t know how to word it. Let me try by comparing it to Catholicism.

    When a Catholic prays, he might compose his own prayer, or else read one someone else wrote. That someone else is not Christ or an Apostle, just another Christian, usually anonymous. In the Baha’i Faith a prayer is especially potent for having been composed by a Central Figure. In Catholicism that isn’t an issue.

    In Catholicism, when we worship at Mass, we recite passages from the Bible, but we also have special movements (standing, sitting, kneeling) that have special meanings, and that are part of the worship. We also eat something, and that’s part of the worship. So it isn’t just reading the Bible.

    Baha’i worship on the other hand, at a Holy Day celebration or devotional gathering, consists of reading the Writings. Most will read it off the page. Two or three Persians might chant something from the Writings in Persian. Maybe a passage from another religious scripture is read. But it all amounts to the same thing: reading (or reciting from memory) the words of the Writings.

    Consider what the UHJ said, with my comments in brackets:

    “It is not accurate to state that the Baha’i Faith has no ceremonies. The marriage ceremony and the funeral service [both of which consist of reciting a certain passage from the Writings, btw] are examples of such observances in our teachings.

    “It would be correct, however, to state that the Faith has certain basic laws and simple rites prescribed by Baha’u’llah [Note – their legitimacy comes from having been “prescribed by Baha’u’llah”, i.e. through the Writings] and that its teachings warn against developing these into a system of uniform and rigid rituals [uniform and rigid = bad] by introducing into them man-made forms and practices. [Note the dichotomy: either it’s revealed by a Manifestation or it’s man-made. One is good and the other is bad.] Rituals in other religions usually consist of elaborate ceremonial practices [The implication is that they weren’t revealed in a religious scripture, so they’re man-made, and therefore bad.], such as those of the Catholic Church in the celebration of the Mass and the administration of the sacraments, which are performed by a member of the clergy.

    “In carrying out the basic laws of our Faith the friends should always maintain a standard of utmost simplicity and observe flexibility in all matters of detail.”

    (Letter from the UHJ to the NSA of Colombia, 31 August 1967, in Lights of Guidance p. 138)

    Two points to observe: one is that the UHJ regards Baha’i worship as superior to that of other religions. That superiority consists of simplicity and flexibility, and on being based on the Writings.

    Which brings me to my second point: the legitimacy of Baha’i worship rests in its form being explicitly taught by Baha’u’llah in the Writings. Rituals are usually bad, but the rituals Baha’is do have are okay because they’re mandated in the Writings (and involve reciting from the Writings). The simplicity of Baha’i worship in general is a good thing because that means it’s pure. Pure what? Purely based on the teachings of Baha’u’llah. I.e., pure Writings.

  6. What disappointments foster such easy dismissal of the profound spirituality at the heart of Baha’u’llah’s message?

    It’s interesting that you ask this. Every time I tell a Baha’i that I’ve left the Faith, they immediately assume I left because I didn’t like the community. And here, you seem to be making the same assumption. Why is that?

    I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “the spirituality at the heart of Baha’u’llah’s message”. Do you mean the expressions of love and adoration for God found in the Meditations of Baha’u’llah, the insights into the spiritual journey in The Seven Valleys, the profound and pithy expressions of the encounter between God and man in the Hidden Words? I haven’t lost any of that as a Catholic, because these expressions of spirituality are also found in the Catholic tradition, and more abundantly. I have found the spirituality in the Catholic tradition far more profound than what I found in the Baha’i Faith.

    Your question seems to assume that the Baha’i message is perfect, so anyone who leaves must do so for personal reasons. But for me, there was nothing personal about it. I had a pretty good time as a Baha’i. I will always miss the community aspects of the Faith, especially my time hanging out with my fellow youth.

    My problem was actually with the Baha’i message itself. I’ve already listed reasons in a previous comment in this thread, in response to John Walker’s question. To put it very succinctly, the Baha’i worldview just isn’t consistent with reality. As much as I wanted to believe in it and be a part of the excitement and optimism and love of the community, I just had to face that. Wishful thinking is not a legitimate criterion for discovering truth.

  7. I have two thoughts. First, there are two parts to the Baha’i approach to sacred “Text.” One is about the written Book. For every religion this is important. The Baha’i teachings do not disparage what individuals may discover, write, or understand on their own. But there is a difference in authority between one’s own understanding and the content of the scripture. I would argue that this is as true of Catholicism as it is of Islam or the Baha’i Faith. But there is a more important aspect to text that one would think is comparable to the Christian view of Chirst. Baha’u’llah states in the Aqdas:

    ‘Take heed lest ye be prevented by aught that hath been recorded in the Book from hearkening unto this, the Living Book, Who proclaimeth the truth: “Verily, there is no God but Me, the Most Excellent, the All-Praised.”‘ (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 67)

    ‘Say: God, the True One, is My witness that neither the Scriptures of the world, nor all the books and writings in existence, shall, in this Day, avail you aught without this, the Living Book, Who proclaimeth in the midmost heart of creation: “Verily, there is none other God but Me, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.”‘ (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 81)

    This is saying, in my view, that text itself is only useful insofar as one experiences the Living Book
    Himself.

    The second point is that I wasn’t at all assuming that you left because of the Baha’i community. One can be disappointed in various things; in your case, it was the message itself. My question was really skirting a particular issue: If your problem was the Baha’i message and you have whole-heartedly embraced the Catholicism from which you originally entered the Baha’i Faith, what makes it so important to carry out an extensive critique of the Baha’i teachings? Is it not more valuable to focus on living and being Catholic and teaching its views of human nature and spirituality?

  8. But there is a more important aspect to text that one would think is comparable to the Christian view of Christ.

    Not exactly. Christ is not a living book. There is a lot I could say about this, but let it suffice to mention one aspect of this.

    After Christ’s ascension, the most immediate form of encounter between the Christian and Christ is the sacraments.

    After Baha’u’llah’s passing, the most immediate form of encounter between the Baha’i and Baha’u’llah is through the Writings.

    I don’t have time to look it up now, but somewhere Baha’u’llah says “after I’m gone, you have recourse to my writings,” or something like that.

    If your problem was the Baha’i message and you have whole-heartedly embraced the Catholicism from which you originally entered the Baha’i Faith

    I didn’t come to the Baha’i Faith from Catholicism. I came from agnosticism. Nor was I raised Catholic. My family isn’t, and never has been, Catholic. I’m a convert.

    what makes it so important to carry out an extensive critique of the Baha’i teachings? Is it not more valuable to focus on living and being Catholic and teaching its views of human nature and spirituality?

    If there was a religious group out there promoting a warped and derogatory view of the Baha’i Faith, wouldn’t you speak up? Or would you say that to speak up would conflict with your being Baha’i?

    That’s what I’m doing. There’s a religious group out there that promotes a warped and sometimes derogatory image of Christianity and dupes its followers into thinking Christianity is something it isn’t. I’m trying, in this small way, to counteract that.

    If it says in the Baha’i writings, for example, that no other religion teaches race unity, then don’t accuse me of starting something when I defend my faith. It’s the Central Figures who started it. They made the accusation. I’m playing defense.

    Or in this case. Have you read WOB 18-22? It’s honestly pretty harsh. Shoghi Effendi isn’t just making some detached, academic remarks about administration. He’s attacking Catholicism. He says my belief system is a sham. He says it doesn’t come from Christ, that some self-appointed authorities made it up. William, do you think I shouldn’t defend my faith?

    Shoghi Effendi also distorts how authority works in Christianity, and what legitimizes that authority. Do you think I shouldn’t set the record straight?

    What I find really disheartening is that Baha’is are so convinced that their religion is all about tolerance and respect, that they don’t see it when the Baha’i Writings say misleading and unfair things about other religions. By definition, anything a Central Figure says must be tolerant and respectful, right? So if I try to defend my faith, it probably looks to some of them like I’m really just attacking the Baha’is.

    “The best-beloved of all things in my sight is justice…” Justice cuts both ways, Jack.

  9. Having read through the various articles on your site I am finding it difficult to establish some basic facts, principles or understandings on which we can agree as a foundation for further discourse.

    The central question to be ultimately addressed is whether or not Bahá’u’lláh’s claim to be the infallible bearer of a revelation direct from God is true or not. Further He claims to be the return of the Son in the Glory of the Father. Bahá’u’lláh declares in his letter to Pope Pius IX:

    “The Word which the Son concealed is made manifest. It hath been sent down in the form of the human temple in this day. Blessed be the Lord Who is the Father! He, verily, is come unto the nations in His most great majesty. Turn your faces towards Him, O concourse of the righteous… This is the day whereon the Rock (Peter) crieth out and shouteth, and celebrateth the praise of its Lord, the All-Possessing, the Most High, saying: ‘Lo! The Father is come, and that which ye were promised in the Kingdom is fulfilled!…’ My body longeth for the cross, and Mine head waiteth the thrust of the spear, in the path of the All-Merciful, that the world may be purged from its transgressions….”

    One can argue various points ad infinitum but this will lead nowhere unless some basic premises are agreed between the protagonists. Without this basic agreement the premises of various lines of argument and thought shift from one ground to the next ultimately making discourse a waste of time.

    Given that you are a convert to the Roman Catholic faith I wonder if a good place to start may be the nature of God, of man and of Jesus Christ. As there are many views on these questions among Christians in general, and amongst some Roman Catholics, it would be interesting to explore these questions to see if it is possible for us to arrive at a common understanding about them. If you are interested in pursuing these themes a good start may be for you to outline the nature of the God you believe in, the nature and purpose of man and his relationship with God and the nature and purpose of Jesus Christ in your world view. A more fundamental question is what is the purpose of creation per se.

  10. Hi John, thanks for your comment.

    The central question to be ultimately addressed is whether or not Bahá’u’lláh’s claim to be the infallible bearer of a revelation direct from God is true or not. Further He claims to be the return of the Son in the Glory of the Father.

    Well, I guess. I would have thought a more pressing question is whether Jesus Christ is God incarnate and the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who reconciled us to God through death on the cross and rose bodily from the dead on Easter morning. But to each his own.

    One can argue various points ad infinitum but this will lead nowhere unless some basic premises are agreed between the protagonists.

    I agree, but only if each person in the conversation is trying to persuade the other that his religion is true. I’m not really trying to do that here. I’m working on a more mundane level with the blog here. I’m trying to clarify what Catholicism is. I can’t convince you that it’s true, but I can clear away misconceptions so that, by God’s grace, you might see the truth for yourself.

    Without this basic agreement the premises of various lines of argument and thought shift from one ground to the next ultimately making discourse a waste of time.

    Yeah, that’s right. That’s why Baha’i teaching is a little bit of a parlor trick. One can’t really give proofs of Baha’u’llah that mean anything in Catholic terms. Baha’i “proofs” are only proofs if you already accept the Baha’i paradigm.

    That’s why the ground seems to shift – because there’s actually two different grounds here, one Baha’i and the other Catholic. They’re not on the same ground. This is a theme of mine on this blog. Baha’is are under the impression that all religions sit on Baha’i ground. They are mistaken. We don’t all have the same “fundamental verities.” The Catholic fundamental verities are different from Baha’is’. They’re mutually exclusive.

    …it would be interesting to explore these questions to see if it is possible for us to arrive at a common understanding about them. If you are interested in pursuing these themes a good start may be for you to outline the nature of the God you believe in…

    This is a good suggestion. I would be happy to discuss these topics with you. I’m getting ready to go out of town so I don’t have time now, but late next week, God willing, I’ll write a new post on these topics (rather than keep it relegated to comments) so we can go further with this.

  11. I look forward to your new post on the above topics.

  12. My post can be found here.

  13. My reading of Shoghi Effendi’s statement that Baha’u’llah has not merely enunciated universal principles, is that Shoghi Effendi is not referring at all to the Revelation of Jesus Christ. (i.e. he is not saying that unlike Jesus who only brought universal principles, Baha’u’llah brought more.) Rather, I think he is identifying a mistaken perception that many Baha’is of the time had — that the Baha’i Faith is accurately encapsulated in the setting forth of the great Principles of the Faith, generally referred to as the 12 principles. Shoghi Effendi also addressed this mindset when he wrote of the “mere exposition” (by Baha’is) of a “set of new and noble principles”, and says that living a truly spiritual life is what is demanded:

    “Not by the force of numbers, not by the mere exposition of a set of new and noble principles, not by an organized campaign of teaching — no matter how worldwide and elaborate in its character — not even by the staunchness of our faith or the exaltation of our enthusiasm, can we ultimately hope to vindicate in the eyes of a critical and sceptical age the supreme claim of the Abha Revelation. One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendor of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh.”
    (Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 66)

    Those eternal principles are much the same as those found in the words of Christ in the New Testament. He is emphasizing the spiritual regeneration — that that’s the only way of effectively establishing and spreading the Baha’i Faith.

    I personally wish to suggest that rather than focusing on the idea that Shoghi Effendi was saying that Christ merely brought universal principles, here is perhaps a more direct expression of his views of the Revelation of Christ:

    “The Revelation associated with the Faith of Jesus Christ focused attention primarily on the redemption of the individual and the molding of his conduct, and stressed, as its central theme, the necessity of inculcating a high standard of morality and discipline into man, as the fundamental unit in human society. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find any reference to the unity of nations or the unification of mankind as a whole. When Jesus spoke to those around Him, He addressed them primarily as individuals rather than as component parts of one universal, indivisible entity. The whole surface of the earth was as yet unexplored, and the organization of all its peoples and nations as one unit could, consequently, not be envisaged, how much less proclaimed or established. What other interpretation can be given to these words, addressed specifically by Bahá’u’lláh to the followers of the Gospel, in which the fundamental distinction between the Mission of Jesus Christ, concerning primarily the individual, and His own Message, directed more particularly to mankind as a whole, has been definitely established:  “Verily, He [Jesus] said: ‘Come ye after Me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.’ In this day, however, We say: ‘Come ye after Me, that We may make you to become the quickeners of mankind.'”
    (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, p. 119)

    As to your earlier comment that Shoghi Effendi is stating that the great advancement of the Baha’i Faith over both Christianity and Islam is “administration”, it is much broader and deeper than that, in my view. It has to do with the Successorship; and who is the legitimate leader of the Faith; and who is plugged in to the Holy Spirit. It’s the Great Covenant– not mere “administration”. This Covenant is the mutual promise that the Successors of the Manifestation will be divinely guided (God’s part of the Covenant) and that the believers will follow that Successor (the Baha’is part of the Covenant). And he is saying that the written Covenant for the first time in the Baha’i Dispensation, is an advancement over what the earlier Manifestations were allowed to reveal; or perhaps, what humanity in its state at the time was capable of handling.

    While there is a great benefit to freedom of thought and expression, in that the individual seeks his or her own level of spirituality and means of communication with God; I see no benefit at all in vagueness about who’s the authority, and the scope of that authority, and again, divinely written confirmation of being plugged in unfailingly to the Holy Spirit. And this is where Shoghi Effendi spent a great deal of his time — being crystal clear about the authority. It has to do not only with maintenance of the unity of the community (and the lack of a written Covenant has had no small impact on the maintenance of the integrity of the Church); it has to do with the soul finding rest, knowing that it can trust what the guidance of the appointed leader is.

    As I said, I feel that what he is describing is broader and deeper than administration.

  14. Thanks for your response. I apologize for not responding sooner. I haven’t had much time to even look at this blog lately.

    Brent Poirier said: My reading of Shoghi Effendi’s statement that Baha’u’llah has not merely enunciated universal principles, is that Shoghi Effendi is not referring at all to the Revelation of Jesus Christ. … Rather, I think he is identifying a mistaken perception that many Baha’is of the time had …

    You may be right, and I can see how that would the case in other contexts. What trips me up, though, is Shoghi’s subsequent sentence in the passage from WOB:

    In addition to these [universal principles] He, as well as ‘Abdu’l-Bahá after Him, has, unlike the Dispensations of the past, clearly and specifically laid down a set of Laws, established definite institutions, and provided for the essentials of a Divine Economy.

    So it still looks to me that he’s drawing that contrast.

    Regarding your quote from The Promised Day Is Come, Shoghi Effendi is wrong. At least, he contradicts the Gospel as it is presented in the New Testament, and as it is understood in the Catholic/Orthodox tradition. The NT is quite clear (such that I don’t know how he could have missed it, if he had bothered to read it, and since reading it for myself I’m not so sure he has) that Christ has come to reconcile the world to God.

    It’s interesting Shoghi Effendi uses the phrasing, “nowhere in the Gospels do we find any reference…”, which is implicitly to suggest that the Gospels are the only reliable evidence of Christ’s teaching, and we can discard the other NT writings. Given that the scholarly consensus dates the letters of Paul (at least some of them) earlier than the Gospels, and that Gospels are considered to be the product of a period of oral and textual development, I’d say that Shoghi is putting his eggs in the wrong basket.

    There’s a lot more I could say about this passage – above all by pointing to the biblical passages that refute his argument. I can’t get to that today. I’ll write a new post. But I think I should do a series of short posts on this passage, highlighting one or two NT verses at a time, rather than try to set aside time for one really big post.

    As to your earlier comment that Shoghi Effendi is stating that the great advancement of the Baha’i Faith over both Christianity and Islam is “administration”, it is much broader and deeper than that, in my view. It has to do with the Successorship; and who is the legitimate leader of the Faith; and who is plugged in to the Holy Spirit. It’s the Great Covenant– not mere “administration”.

    I agree. But here’s the rub: how is this different from apostolic succession and from, in a larger sense, the Church as the abiding Bride of Christ? You believe the Baha’i community is plugged into the Holy Spirit via the Covenant. I believe the Church is plugged into the Holy Spirit through the sacraments and the sacraments are valid through apostolic succession. So what makes your claim more compelling than mine?

    I think Shoghi answers that question in the passage from WOB, even though he didn’t characterize Christianity’s understanding of the Covenant as charitably as I just did. His argument is that the Baha’i claim is more compelling because the Central Figures wrote down a set of bylaws.

    Brent Poirier: And he is saying that the written Covenant for the first time in the Baha’i Dispensation, is an advancement over what the earlier Manifestations were allowed to reveal; or perhaps, what humanity in its state at the time was capable of handling.

    I bantered that notion around a lot when I was a Baha’i: what humanity was capable of handling. What does that mean? Could you expand on that? Looking back, I’m not sure what I meant. I assume you don’t mean that people were stupider back then. But why else would they be incapable of handling a written Covenant?

    While there is a great benefit to freedom of thought and expression, in that the individual seeks his or her own level of spirituality and means of communication with God; I see no benefit at all in vagueness about who’s the authority, and the scope of that authority, and again, divinely written confirmation of being plugged in unfailingly to the Holy Spirit.

    I’m not sure I follow. Are you saying that the only way to be sure you’re plugged into the Holy Spirit is if there’s a written document saying so? Why is that a more reliable indication than our sacramental system?

    When you complain of vagueness, what you seem to be saying is that there is no point in God setting up an authority unless he spells it out explicitly in the scriptures. Is that what you believe? If so, why? Why can’t God do it his way?

    It’s not like writing it down makes much difference. Look at how stridently Jesus condemns divorce in the Gospels. Yet many Christians today are quick to explain that away. You can explain away anything you don’t like in a scripture. All you have to do is change your hermeneutic.

    You see exactly this sort of thing among Baha’is, too. There are Baha’is who want women on the UHJ, or that want to condone homoerotic behavior, in spite of the obvious teaching of the Central Figures. How they make that work in their own heads, I cannot fathom. Yet they do. That’s human nature for you. No matter how clear the written text gets, it won’t stop believers from twisting their heads to get around it if they really want to, while all the time insisting that they’re good believers.

  15. Jonah

    The pope says that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah that Jews have not recognised.

    Since Jews do not agree that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, would you consider it just for a Jew to claim that the pope is promoting a warped and sometimes derogatory image of Judaism and dupes his followers into thinking Judaism is something it isn’t?
    I mean, in some small way, to defend his faith and counteract what he considers to be this distortion of Judaism, would a Jew be acting justly if he were to accuse the pope of promoting a warped and sometimes derogatory image of Judaism and attacking Judaism of being a sham that doesn’t come from God but is made up?

    After all, a Jew may consider it unfair and dishartening that Catholics are so convinced that their religion is all about tolerance and respect, that they don’t see it when the Pope says misleading and unfair things about other religions. So if a Jew was to defend his faith, it probably looks to some (but not to you) like the Jew is really just attacking the Pope. So, to cut out all intolerence, distortion and misrepresentation of Judaism, the Pope shouldn’t say that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, right?

    Justice certainly does cuts both ways, Jack.

    Puc

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