Social laws and spiritual laws

Baha’is often think that progressive revelation is easily demonstrable to a Christian. Simply point out that Christ abrogated many of the laws of Moses. If God’s law could be abrogated once, why not multiple times? Especially since the world keeps changing.

Deepened Christians will not find this argument compelling. In order to understand why, one must understand the different ways that Baha’is and Christians understand God’s purpose in revealing laws.

For Baha’is, there are two kinds of laws: spiritual and social. Spiritual laws, such as the necessity of prayer and fasting, remain constant from one dispensation to the next. Social laws, on the other hand, are not constant. They are tailored to the needs of each age, and can change for each new dispensation depending on what the new problems are.

By contrast, Christianity does not distinguish between spiritual and social laws in the Bible. Rather, it distinguishes between laws that prepared mankind for the coming of Christ, and laws that logically follow from God’s nature as revealed in Christ.

We do have social laws in Christianity, but they are not mandated by scripture. For example, fasting is a necessary part of living a Christian life. But the regulations of fasting may be set by the Church to suit the needs of a given culture, and therefore change over time. We don’t need a revelation from God to set new rules. The Church, in her role as shepherd of the faithful, can set new rules if they are necessary, and can even tailor those rules to the needs of a particular culture. Thus, the rules for fasting are slightly different in the U.S. than they are in other parts of the world.

Let’s take divorce for instance. Moses allowed divorce and Christ prohibited it. Seemingly a classic case of a social law. But look more closely. The Mosaic law of divorce is summarized in Deuteronomy 22 and 24. Note that scripture does not institute divorce. Rather, it recognizes that divorce exists and seeks to regulate it.

Then when Jesus came he had this exchange with the Pharisees:

The Pharisees approached and asked, “Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?” They were testing him.

He said to them in reply, “What did Moses command you?” They replied, “Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and dismiss her.”

But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:2-12)

This is not a social law designed for 1st-century Palestine. This is a statement about what is natural to us as human beings.

Jesus’ attitude toward divorce is different from Baha’u’llah’s. For Baha’u’llah, the phenomenon of divorce is in itself morally neutral. It is either appropriate or inappropriate purely on pragmatic grounds – what will best serve the social issues of the time. For Christ, divorce is fundamentally unnatural, always and everywhere. Moses merely permitted divorce to exist, “but from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female, and the two shall become one flesh.”

Other places where Christ talks about divorce are Matthew 5 (in the Sermon on the Mount), Matthew 19, and Luke 16.

As I said above, laws in the Bible either prepare for the coming of Christ or logically follow from God’s nature as revealed in Christ. The laws of Moses regulating divorce prepared Israel by restricting divorce under certain circumstances. But the Old Testament also condemns divorce as evil. In several places, God explains that just as marriage is meant to be permanent, so the relationship between God and his people is meant to be permanent.

Judah has broken faith; an abominable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. Judah has profaned the temple which the LORD loves, and has married an idolatrous woman. May the LORD cut off from the man who does this both witness and advocate out of the tents of Jacob, and anyone to offer sacrifice to the LORD of hosts!

This also you do: the altar of the LORD you cover with tears, weeping and groaning, because he no longer regards your sacrifice nor accepts it favorably from your hand. And you say, “Why is it?”

Because the LORD is witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have broken faith though she is your companion, your betrothed wife. Did he not make one being, with flesh and spirit: and what does that one require but godly offspring? You must then safeguard life that is your own, and not break faith with the wife of your youth.

For I hate divorce, says the LORD, the God of Israel, and covering one’s garment with injustice, says the LORD of hosts. You must then safeguard life that is your own, and not break faith. (Malachi 2:11-16)

If you must use the spiritual-law/social-law distinction, then in Christianity, the prohibition of divorce is a spiritual law. It logically follows from the nature of God and from our nature, and is therefore eternal.

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39 Responses

  1. Hi Jonah,

    This statement in your post was a bit of a surprise:

    “For Baha’u’llah, the phenomenon of divorce is in itself morally neutral.”

    Baha’u’llah stated in the Kitab-i-Aqdas:

    “Truly, the Lord loveth union and harmony and abhorreth separation and divorce. Live ye one with another, O people, in radiance and joy.”

    Not a neutral view of divorce, I think!

    Best wishes.

  2. Hi Jonah,

    John has already corrected your misunderstanding of how divorce is treated in the Baha’i Faith, so I won’t belabor that point.
    Thank you for explaining the two kinds of laws from a Catholic perspective. I was curious as to whether you would see this principle as articulated by Paul as an example of a law which grows out of God’s very nature?

    But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God.

    (King James Bible, 1 Corinthians)

    Would the principle of the equality of men and women be completely contrary to God’s very nature then?

    warmest, Susan

  3. Mr. Bryden,

    If the Lord abhors divorce, then why does he permit it? Especially given that a previous dispensation prohibited it?

    The quote you provide from the Aqdas is actually a perfect illustration of what I’m saying. The Lord doesn’t abhor divorce for anything intrinsically wrong about it. He abhors it because it is an instance of disunity.

    But then look at how he deals with this disunity. This is very interesting. The couple waits for a year, and if after a year “their love hath not returned”, then the divorce goes through. That’s it.

    I could be wrong on this, because I had little exposure to these issues in my LSA experience, but as far as I know there are no conditions on what constitutes valid grounds for divorce. Either party may initiate the year of waiting for any reason, and after the year, the LSA “witnesses” (i.e. rubber stamps) it.

    I know Baha’u’llah says the Lord abhors it, but his legislation seems only meant to prevent the rash method of divorce allowed in Islamic law. Even the Law of Moses was more restrictive.

    This indicates a conception of marriage that aligns with Islam but is radically different from Christianity. In Islam, marriage is a contract, pure and simple, and divorce is a dissolution of said contract. Baha’u’llah has the same approach, but he tweaks it by requiring a year-long period before the contract can dissolve.

    In Christianity, the marriage contract is a civil matter. The real marriage is the sacrament, where your marriage becomes, by God’s grace, a sign of his love. A truly married couple could no more divorce each other than God could divorce the human race.

    Dr. Maneck,

    Forgive me if I’m being obtuse, but I don’t see how this implies that men and women are unequal. By unequal, I assume you mean that men are preferred over women, rather than being merely dissimilar.

    Remember, in Christianity, the head serves the body. See for example John 13:12-15 and Ephesians 5:21-33.

  4. Jonah,

    Please call me John! I’m a New Zealander and we like to keep things casual. (I assume you don’t mind the first-name basis as that is how you present yourself here.)

    Anyway, thanks for taking the time to further elaborate your views for my benefit. The interplay between spiritual principles and social laws is obviously a fascinating and worthwhile subject for exploration.

    As stated by ‘Abdu’l-Baha in “Some Answered Questions” there are two parts to the Religion of God, namely the spiritual “foundations” which are eternal and the laws referring to material things, which are temporary in nature:

    “These foundations of the Religion of God, which are spiritual and which are the virtues of humanity, cannot be abrogated; they are irremovable and eternal, and are renewed in the cycle of every Prophet.

    “The second part of the Religion of God, which refers to the material world, and which comprise fasting, prayer, forms of worship, marriage and divorce, the abolition of slavery, legal processes, transactions, indemnities for murder, violence, theft and injuries – this part of the Law of God, which refers to material things, is modified and altered in each prophetic cycle in accordance with the necessities of the times.”

    But clearly the spiritual principles (on the one hand) and the temporal aspect of religion (on the other hand) are not separate and independent — but rather the temporal laws are an expression of the eternal spiritual principles in relation to the exigencies of particular circumstances. As the Universal House of Justice has stated in its introduction to the “Kitab-i-Aqdas”: “Throughout, it is the relationship of the individual soul to God and the fulfilment of its spiritual destiny that is the ultimate aim of the laws of religion.”

    Now the greatest of all spiritual laws (the greatest commandment according to Jesus) is love: first, love for God, and its corollary, love for one’s neighbour. Therefore the foundation of morality from the perspective of religion is love. When an act is “intrinsically wrong”, its wrongness arises from its opposition to love. The Baha’i teachings share the Christian perspective on the primacy the spiritual principle of love and give expression to it particularly in the form of advocating “unity” in all its dimensions. So the Lord abhors divorce because it is contrary to unity, and there is nothing more intrinsically wrong than that which is contrary to unity.

    The Baha’i law of divorce is not intended as a rubber stamp process in the manner that you have described. Bear in mind as background, that marriage is regarded by the Baha’i teachings as “a fortress for wellbeing and salvation”. The institution of marriage is vigorously upheld, the value of family is emphasized, the wellbeing of children is described as a weighty responsibility of parents, and adultery is severely censured. In this context, divorce is obviously seen as undesirable in the extreme. It is only permitted if there is “irreconcilable antipathy” between the partners. So it is not correct to say that “there are no conditions on what constitutes valid grounds for divorce”. Let me grant that “irreconcilable antipathy” is not defined in terms of specific types of conduct, but that is because circumstances vary widely as to what could give rise to such a state of affairs. The purpose of the year of waiting is specifically defined as being a period when the partners should make every effort to reconcile. The Local Spiritual Assembly also has an explicit duty to assist their efforts at reconciliation.

    I submit that the “eternal spiritual principle” relevant to divorce is in fact, as you have identified from the teachings of Christ, that divorce is always and everywhere unnatural (i.e. contrary to the will of God). Nevertheless, unfortunately this world being what it is, and people being who they are, it is a fact of life that some relationships break down irretrievably. (I speak from experience.) How should this situation be dealt with? The Roman Catholic Church, recognizing this reality, provides for the procedure of annulment of a marriage. The philosophical basis for this procedure is the notion of determining whether a particular marriage was in fact never a “true marriage” to begin with, owing to the immaturity of the parties or some other relevant factor. The Protestant churches allow divorce. John Milton’s pamphlet arguing for its permissibility is well known. Martin Luther regarded marriage as an “order of creation” rather than an “order of salvation”, and marriage is accordingly not a sacrament in Protestantism.

    In the light of these considerations, I think that there is less difference between the Baha’i and Christian positions on marriage than you’ve suggested. I hope that my comments are helpful towards dialogue and understanding.

    (By the way, I don’t normally have time for writing such lengthy items. You need not fear an extended “debate” — :-) — as its unlikely I’ll be able to say much more in the near future.)

  5. John,

    Thanks for taking the time to explain and give an accurate and more correct account of what it is that Baha’is actually believe.

    I note that faithfullness is one of the virtues of humanity according the Baha’i Teachings.

    Puc Fada.

  6. Jonah,

    You say – “For Baha’is, there are two kinds of laws: spiritual and social. Spiritual laws, such as the necessity of prayer and fasting, remain constant from one dispensation to the next. ”

    I am sceptical that this is what Baha’is believe. Would you kindly quote or direct me to the Baha’i Writings which state the three things you mention-

    1) that there are two kinds of _laws_?

    2) that the necessity for prayer and fasting is a spiritual law not a social law ?

    3) the spiritual law regarding prayer and fasting remains constant from one dispensation to the next?

    Thanks.

    Puc Fada

  7. While I’m sure there are passages that support all three of those claims, it should be noted that, even if they are not scripturally based, they are indeed popular beliefs among Bahais, and are used in their introductory literature and pamphlets.

  8. >While I’m sure there are passages that support all >three of those claims,

    If you are sure that there are such passages, please quote or direct me to the passage where these three claims about prayer and fasting are made.

    Since I am sceptical that there are such passages stating what Jonah claims Baha’is believe about prayer and fasting and you are sure there are, I think it reasonable to request that you quote or direct me to those passages.

    > it should be noted that, even if they are not >scripturally based, they are indeed popular beliefs >among Bahais,

    I have been among Baha’is for many years and my experience is that the belief that is popular among Baha’is is not that prayer and fasting are spiritual laws that remain constant from one dispensation to the next, nor is it that there are two types of _law_, spiritual and social.

    Rather the belief that I have found popular among Baha’is is that that there is two parts to the Religion of God,-

    I) spiritual “foundations” which are the “virtues of humanity”

    2) _laws_ referring to material things.

    As John states above states-

    As stated by ‘Abdu’l-Baha in “Some Answered Questions” there are two parts to the Religion of God, namely the spiritual “foundations” which are eternal and the laws referring to material things, which are temporary in nature:

    “These foundations of the Religion of God, which are spiritual and which are the virtues of humanity, cannot be abrogated; they are irremovable and eternal, and are renewed in the cycle of every Prophet.

    “The second part of the Religion of God, which refers to the material world, and which comprise fasting, prayer, forms of worship, marriage and divorce, the abolition of slavery, legal processes, transactions, indemnities for murder, violence, theft and injuries – this part of the Law of God, which refers to material things, is modified and altered in each prophetic cycle in accordance with the necessities of the times.”

    > and are used in their introductory literature and >pamphlets.

    Such as…..?

    Puc Fada

  9. 1. Your anecdotal experience with popular Bahai attitudes towards the status of fasting and prayer is different from mine. *shrug*

    2. As for introductory literature adressing the two types of laws, look up Hatcher’s The Bahai Faith: The Emerging Global Religion, pg.96 to 97. Regarding pamphlets, I’m thinking of the type handed out on university campuses and during public proclamation activities.

    3. Below are a couple of quotes that seem to affirm the immutability of fasting and prayer for religion, confirming Jonah’s point that “For Baha’is…Spiritual laws, such as the necessity of prayer and fasting, remain constant from one dispensation to the next. ”

    Granted, the prescriptive form of fasting and prayer may be subject to social laws but the activity itself remains “irremovable and eternal.”

    Cling firmly to obligatory prayer and fasting. Verily, the religion of God is like unto heaven; fasting is its sun, and obligatory prayer is its moon. In truth, they are the pillars of religion whereby the righteous are distinguished from those who transgress His commandments. We entreat God, exalted and glorified be He, that he may graciously enable all to observe that which He hath revealed in His Ancient Book.

    (Compilations, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting)

    Be not neglectful of obligatory prayer and fasting. He who faileth to observe them hath not been nor will ever be acceptable in the sight of God. Follow ye wisdom under all conditions. He, verily, hath bidden all to observe that which hath been and will be of profit to them. He, in truth, is the All-Sufficing, the Most High.

    (Compilations, The Importance of Obligatory Prayer and Fasting)

  10. The couple of quotes you present do not state that prayer and fasting are “irremovable and eternal”.

    On the other hand, what is “irremovable and eternal” are explicitly stated to be the “virtues of humanity”.

    “… the Law of God is divided into two parts. One is the fundamental basis which comprises all spiritual things — that is to say, it refers to the spiritual virtues and divine qualities; this does not change nor alter: it is the Holy of Holies, which is the essence of the Law of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Christ, Muhammad, the Báb, and Bahá’u’lláh, and which lasts and is established in all the prophetic cycles. It will never be abrogated, for it is spiritual and not material truth; it is faith, knowledge, certitude, justice, piety, righteousness, trustworthiness, love of God, benevolence, purity, detachment, humility, meekness, patience and constancy. It shows mercy to the poor, defends the oppressed, gives to the wretched and uplifts the fallen.

    (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 47)

    Baha’is believe that it is the spiritual virtues and divine qualities that comprise the first or unalterable and eternal part of the Religion of God.

    Prayer and fasting are neither spiritual virtues nor divine qualities and are included in the alterable part which is the “second part of the Religion of God, which refers to the material world, and which comprise fasting, prayer,….”

    Puc Fada.

  11. >>The couple of quotes you present do not state that prayer and fasting are “irremovable and eternal.<<

    Baha’u’llah’s description of prayer and fasting as the “pillars of religion” and his remark that “He who faileth to observe them hath not been nor will ever be acceptable in the sight of God” ostensibly support the contention that they are “irremovable and eternal” (i.e., immutable, and therefore spiritual laws).

    These two quotes pose a problem for Abdul Baha, and by extension, you.

  12. CoL and Puc Fada,

    IMHO, the both of you are right.

    It seems clear that prayer and fasting are part of the eternal religion of God. To engage in prayer and fasting is also one of the virtues of humanity; in fact, one might say it is a primary virtue. Is not “prayerfulness” a virtue?

    Prayer and fasting have their eternal aspect and their temporal aspect. In every age and in every religion, prayer and fasting are central to the spiritual life of individuals and communities. This is the eternal aspect. The temporal aspect is that in different places and times, different forms of prayer and fasting are observed, e.g. Muslims have certain rituals for their congregational worship with set genuflections, and a Catholic church service has particular times to kneel, to stand, responsive prayers, etc. These are the outward form. The inner spirit with which these things are done is the eternal, unchanging aspect.

    I don’t see a problem!

    My best wishes to you both.

  13. Col,

    I understand that you belive the quotations you provide support your contention that prayer and fasting are “irremovable and eternal” (i.e., immutable, and therefore spiritual laws).

    As I said, the quotations do not state that they are eternal and irremovable spiritual laws. So, I am still sceptical that your contention is what the Baha’i Writings support.

    >These two quotes pose a problem for Abdul Baha, >and by extension, you.

    Since I do not go along with your contention as to the meaning of the quotations, how do you come to the conclusion that they pose a problem for me?

    John,

    You say- “The inner spirit with which these things are done is the eternal, unchanging aspect.”

    I agree with you. The love, humility, detatchment, faithfullness and other spiritual virtues which which these and any other activities are done is the eternal unchanging aspect of the Religion of God.

    The activity of prayer and fasting without these virtues and all other such outward activities, are not virtues in and of themselves and as such are part of the changable aspect of the religion of God.

    Puc Fada.

  14. I doubt a third attempt will make you any less sceptical, and I don’t believe that’s due to any fault of my own.

    Next topic.

  15. >I doubt a third attempt will make you any less >sceptical,

    If your third attempt used quotations that do not state that prayer and fasting are eternal and irremovable spiritual laws, you are correct, I would still be sceptical that your contention is what the Baha’i Writings support.

    >and I don’t believe that’s due to any fault of my own.

    I do not blame you for my scepticism.

    The reason I’m sceptical is that I have not read any Baha’i Writings which state that prayer and fasting are “irremovable and eternal” (i.e., immutable, and therefore spiritual laws). This includes the quotations you present which you claim are to be interpreted to mean prayer and fasting are “irremovable and eternal” (i.e., immutable, and therefore spiritual laws) in some sense that would contradict or pose a problem for Abdu’l Baha.

    Puc Fada

  16. >Next topic

    Jonah,

    You say-
    >Rather, it distinguishes between laws that prepared >mankind for the coming of Christ,

    Baha’is understand that the Divine Revelation one Manifistation gives prepares mankind for the appearence of the next Manifistation of God,

    > and laws that logically follow from God’s nature as >revealed in Christ.

    That sound remarkably like what Abdu’l Baha describes as the first part of the Religion of God and which “is the fundamental basis which comprises all spiritual things — that is to say, it refers to the spiritual virtues and divine qualities..”

    Puc Fada

  17. John wrote:

    Bear in mind as background, that marriage is regarded by the Baha’i teachings as “a fortress for wellbeing and salvation”. The institution of marriage is vigorously upheld, the value of family is emphasized, the wellbeing of children is described as a weighty responsibility of parents, and adultery is severely censured. In this context, divorce is obviously seen as undesirable in the extreme.

    In this, Catholics and Baha’is agree. Let me try to explain what I’m getting at differently.

    You’ve probably heard of the seven sacraments. These are means by which God’s grace is conveyed to us through a physical event. The sacraments are baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, confession, marriage, holy orders, and anointing of the sick.

    Three of these (the Eucharist, confession and anointing of the sick) can, and should, be performed over and over. But the other four aren’t designed to be performed over and over. Rather, they cause a fundamental change in the person’s nature.

    When you are married, the sacrament leaves an indelible mark on your soul that cannot be undone. You are bonded to that person for life, and there’s nothing you can do to change it. That’s why Catholics don’t divorce: because divorce is not possible.

    This may cause confusion so I should clarify that the word “divorce” can mean two different things. It can refer to the legal dissolution of a civil marriage, or it can refer to the dissolution of the sacrament of marriage. Even if a government puts on a piece of paper that you are divorced, your nature is still the same. You still have marriage imprinted on your being.

    The Baha’i Faith treats marriage in the sense that civil authorities do – as a publicly-recognized contract. The Catholic Church recognizes that civil governments exist and have a right to pass laws regarding marriage, but in Catholicism marriage is not a contract. It is a sacrament.

    It’s kind of like parenthood. Once you father a child, you’re a father, period. You might shirk your responsibilities; you might get a civil government to “divorce” you. But in reality, your nature is indelibly marked by the fact of fatherhood. As long as that child lives, you are her father, and there’s nothing you can do to change it.

    That’s why a Catholic could never comprehend divorce as a social law in the Baha’i sense. Baha’is and Catholics have a fundamentally different concept of what marriage is.

  18. Puc Fada,

    In Catholicism, Manifestations of God don’t exist.

    Yes, you can bend people’s words to make them sound like they believe what you believe. But that is not dialogue. That is rhetoric.

    I’ve talked about this in some past posts, like Teaching Christians about Christianity and Resurrection Pie.

  19. Jonah,

    Thank you for your well-considered and intelligent reply to my comment. Time allowing, in due course I hope to respond further — if any observations come to mind that I think might genuinely add value to the discussion.

  20. >In Catholicism, Manifestations of God don’t exist.

    I know. I have not said otherwise.

    >Yes, you can bend people’s words to make them >sound like they believe what you believe.

    So can you.

    I simply pointed out what I consider to be some points of _similarity_ between what you have written and what I believe.

    In case you have not noticed, I have also been pointing out some points on which your beliefs and mine _differ_.

    >But that is not dialogue. That is rhetoric.

    Are you of the opinion that it is rethoric, not dialogue, if one express the view that there are _some_ points of similarity between one’s own belief and the and the stated beliefs of one’s interlocutor?

    Puc Fada

  21. The baha’i Faith teaches that marriage is a Divine institution, essentially a spiritual and moral act of union, a true relationship, a spiritual coming together as well as physical one, so that throughout every phase of life, and in all the worlds of God, their union will endure; for this real oneness is a gleaming out of the love of God.”

    The Baha’i Faith teaches that marriage has
    moral and spiritual purposes and functions with which it has been invested by an All-Wise and loving Providence in which both parties have the intention of establishing an eternal bond, of improving the spiritual life of each other, becoming the manifestors of the love of the Merciful and exhilarated with the cup of the love of God.

    These are not exhaustive of the reasons why I disagree with that The Baha’i Faith merely treats marriage as a publicly-recognized contract.

    Puc Fada.

  22. >Yes, you can bend people’s words to make them >sound like they believe what you believe. But that is >not dialogue. That is rhetoric.

    >I’ve talked about this in some past posts, like >Teaching Christians about Christianity and >Resurrection Pie.

    The Baha’i teachings regarding the resurrection of Christ are quite clear. No attempt is made to make it sound like Baha’is believe what those Christians who believe in bodily resurrection believe. For instance Shoghi Effendi states-

    “We do not believe that there was a bodily resurrection after the crucifixion of Christ, but that there was a time after His ascension when His disciples perceived spiritually His true greatness and realized He was eternal in being. This is what has been reported symbolically in the New Testament and been misunderstood. His eating with His disciples after resurrection is the same thing”

    I find that the Baha’i Writings clearly teach what it is that Baha’is believe, regardless of what it is that most Christians believe and without making it sound like Baha’is always believe those things that most Christians believe.

    Puc Fada

  23. Hey, I was just reading this through and thought this quote from Abdu’l-Baha might make it quite clear as to whether Baha’i scripture classifies prayer and fasting as a spiritual law or a material law.

    These foundations of the Religion of God, which are spiritual and which are the virtues of humanity, cannot be abrogated; they are irremovable and eternal, and are renewed in the cycle of every Prophet.

    The second part of the Religion of God, which refers to the material world, and which comprises fasting, prayer, forms of worship, marriage and divorce, the abolition of slavery, legal processes, transactions, indemnities for murder, violence, theft and injuries — this part of the Law of God, which refers to material things, is modified and altered in each prophetic cycle in accordance with the necessities of the times.

    (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 47)

    So that kinda seems clear…

  24. I also thought this might be relevant. It clearly shows how Baha’is are to view the spiritual nature of marriage. I believe this succinctly demonstrates that there is quite a lot of unity between Jonah’s/Catholicism’s/Christ’s understanding of marriage and the Baha’i understanding. Enjoy…

    The marriage of the Bahais means that both man and woman must become spiritually and physically united, so that they may have eternal unity throughout all the divine worlds and improve the spiritual life of each other. This is Bahai matrimony.

    (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v2, p. 325)

  25. Hi Lukas, thanks for your input.

    I agree that Baha’is and Catholics have a lot in common, in that we both value marriage and family life. And it’s good that Baha’is make such an effort to find common ground. But you can’t achieve true understanding of someone else’s worldview if you only focus on what you have in common and ignore the differences. And the difference here is an important one simply because it illustrates a deep, systematic difference in how Catholics make sense of the world around them.

    Catholics believe that when you marry someone, if it is truly marriage, then you experience an ontological change at the moment of the wedding. It is the act of getting married that changes you – and it changes you deeply, fundamentally, through and through. The moment you exchange vows you are transformed from one species to another. One second you are single and the next second you are married. Your being and her being are grafted together into a single being. It is the marriage vow that makes than change in you and creates that unity.

    Now is that what Baha’is believe? No. Baha’is believe that a married couple *might* grow closer together over time, if they don’t grow apart and develop irreconcilable differences. Baha’is believe that a married couple might *grow* closer together *over time*. Notice the verbs in Abdu’l-Baha’s quote in the preceding comment: “both man and woman must become united”, “they may have unity”, “improve the spiritual life of each other”.

    For Abdu’l-Baha, as throughout the Baha’i writings, the vows exchanged on the wedding day do not have the potency that Catholics understand them to have. For Baha’is, the marriage contract merely provides a context within which unity can develop between the husband and wife.

  26. My intent is not, as you imply, to ignore differences and repetitively state points of similarity and agreement. My intent is to show that that there are many interpretations and implications that you are making about the Baha’i Writings that A. I personally disagree with;
    B. Contradict very clear and basic statements in authoritative Baha’i scripture, and
    C. are generally contrary to what I have experienced to be prevailing understandings within the Baha’i community.

    Quite frankly, I am very happy that the Baha’i Faith is different from the Catholic (and every other) Church. Indeed, if it wasn’t, there would be no purpose in being a Baha’i. So my intent in posting is to make my own personal, fallible attempt to share my perception of a truth that seems to be missing from the dialog as a whole. In effect, I am trying to refute some of the assertions made about the nature of Baha’i marriage and other laws that I believe to be in contradiction with the reality of the Baha’i Teachings. That is to say, I certainly do believe there are differences between the Church and the Baha’i Faith, but I disagree with some of the above posts as to what some of those differences are, specifically the assertion/implication that Baha’is do not view marriage as a sacred spiritual bond, and that prayer and fasting are considered spiritual, eternal laws.

  27. Sorry for so many posts – I just reread all of this and wanted to apologize for the poor choice of words in the above post. Upon rereading it I realized that it sounded kind of snippy and that was not the intent at all – it’s just hard to convey tone particularly well in typed messages. Hopefully this is all just in my head anyway but just in case, I’m sorry if it came across that way. As I’ve said before the only reason I felt interested and motivated to participate in this blog is because it is so much more civil and fair than many of the other websites that deal with similar topics. Thanks for providing this forum for us, and for being patient with me!

  28. Don’t worry, Lukas, I wasn’t offended. And you’re right about conveying tone in writing. I find that the most frustrating thing about this medium.

    Let me reiterate that I know Baha’is view marriage as a sacred spiritual bond. My point is that the Bible and Christian Tradition disagree with Baha’is when they claim that divorce is a “social law” that can be instituted and abrogated according to specific social conditions.

    Let me try to explain in another way: Why is it that in the Baha’i Faith you can divorce your wife but not your sister?

  29. Well thank you for the generosity of spirit…

    Yeah, that does make sense, in which case we have reached the point at which our beliefs do, in fact, differ.

    If I understand correctly, that point is this; that for you, marriage is an eternal spiritual law and a spiritual phenomenon; for me (as an individual Baha’i), marriage is both a social law, subject to change, as well as a spiritual phenomenon which is eternal regardless of the outward form it takes at any given time or place. (Awkwardly phrased, but I hope the meaning is clear.)

    It also definitely seems to me that Baha’is in general do not take marriage as seriously as we should. I mean, it’s ABHORRENT to God, for crying out loud! What Jesus said about not letting man separate what God has joined together should indicate how seriously we ought to take it.

  30. Why is it that in the Baha’i Faith you can divorce your wife but not your sister?

    As the old saying goes-“A man chases after a woman until she catches him”

    A man does not choose his sister but he does choose his wife. In the Baha’i Faith a man can not divorce his sister because he is prohibited from choosing any of his sisters to be his wife.

    Puc.

  31. “My point is that the Bible and Christian Tradition disagree with Baha’is when they claim that divorce is a “social law” that can be instituted and abrogated according to specific social conditions.”

    Baha’is don’t claim that divorce is instituted at all. Divorce is not an institution in the Baha’i Faith it is an abhorrent last resort allowence.

    Laws regarding divorce falls into the second alterable part of the Religion of God since divorce is not regarded as a spiritual virtue or attribute of God.

    There is an allowence for divorce in the statutes that God gave to Moses. Baha’is believe Christ prohibited divorce and that Baha’u’llah has granted a “last resort” allowence for divorce which is not an institution but is described in terms that God “abhorreth separation and divorce. .”

    Your point about Baha’is claiming that divorce is instituted is a strawman and an inaccuracy.

    Puc Fada

  32. “For Baha’is, the marriage contract merely provides a context within which unity can develop between the husband and wife.”

    I disagree. From day one they unite.

    “The true marriage of Bahá’ís is this, that ‘husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God. This is Bahá’í marriage.”

    (Compilations, Lights of Guidance, p. 368)

    Puc Fada.

  33. To the comment that “Manifestations” aren’t Catholic, I’d like to throw out for consideration 1 Timothy 3:16,

    “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness; He who was manifested in the flesh, Justified in the spirit, Seen of angels, Preached among the nations, Believed on in the world, Received up in glory.”

  34. Hi Jonah,

    Catholics make a distinction between social and spiritual laws as well. Divorce is a good example. It is incorrect to say that Catholics do not divorce. The divorce rate for Catholics is similar to that of non-Catholics. However the divorce that takes place is a civil divorce. In the eyes of the state, Catholics are divorced, but in the eyes of God (according to the Catholic Church), they are still married. Within the spiritual laws of the Church divorce does not exist. However Catholics are permitted to seek a legal divorce for various reasons.

    Such a legal divorce does not place Catholics out of communion with the Church. Only when Catholics remarry is it considered sinful unless they live “like brother and sister”. This is because in the eyes of God, they are still married to their first spouse. Hence any intercourse in their second marriage is considered adultery.

    Peace,
    Daniel

  35. Kimberlee, what are Catholics supposed to consider in the verse you quote?

  36. Daniel, you’re not exactly wrong, but you’re using the terms “social law” and “spiritual law” very differently than they are used in the Baha’i literature.

    In the Baha’i Faith, both social and spiritual laws are taught by the Manifestation. Their difference is that one has an expiration date and the other doesn’t. But they are both endorsed by the Manifestation and are considered the will of God.

  37. Interesting post and thread. I am puzzled though by your assertion that “Deepened Christians will not find this argument compelling.” Numerous deepened (assuming you mean knowledgeable) Christians have become Bahá’ís and accepted these and other arguments including clergy such as Hand of the Cause George Townshend who was a Canon and offered a position as a Bishop and those either studying to become Priests or accepted to Divinity School (John Hatcher–Yale). I personally have met numerous knowledgeable Christians who have joined the Faith over the past four decades since I became a member. Your assertion therefore seems far too sweeping a generalization to be valid.

  38. Typo–I meant William Hatcher who wrote a letter to the Yale faculty explaining to the Yale Divinity School, his reasons for declining to enroll at the school where he was recently admitted. Some of these deepened Christians who became Bahá’ís have also written books on various Christian topics related to the Faith and have also been active in teaching both online and in summer schools and other venues. Two dear friends of mine were ardent Christians who spent many years winning souls to Christ before their recognition of His return in the Glory of the Father.

  39. But Jesus told them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother (and be joined to his wife), and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
    In the house the disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:2-12)

    So I wonder how this relates to polygamy? As we know Baha’u’llah had three concurrent wives and fathered fourteen (?) children. I read somewhere that Navvab lived in a separate household from the second wife and Baha’u’llah visited she and Abdu’l-Baha and his sister, but lived with the second wife as the children were younger. Now since this was the middle east and multiple wives and concubines were the norm, how does this fare with Christ’s teachings, which to my mind infer monogamy? In any event, through my studies I came to the conclusion that Navvab suffered greatly under these and other circumstances!!! She WAS the wife of his youth.

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