Independent investigation of truth

A reader named Lukas recently made this observation in the comment thread under the post Resurrection Pie:

That is to say, the only way to test the validity of Baha’u’llah’s claims (or the claims of anyone calling themselves the return of Christ) is independently, for oneself; otherwise one is conditioning one’s faith upon the judgment and faith of others. Was this not exactly what caused the Jewish people to reject Christ as the Messiah? That the religious authorities denounced Him, since He failed, according to their understanding, to fulfill the prophecies regarding the Messiah? That the people as a whole accepted the judgment of the authorities against Him? Therefore it is clear to me that the institutions of the previous Divine Revelation are in no way an acceptable standard of measuring the validity of the Christ when He appears.

I actually believe the same thing in reverse. I believe that many Baha’is don’t investigate the claims of Christianity fairly because they uncritically accept what the Central Figures and Shoghi Effendi said about it. Shoghi Effendi said that Christ was born of a Virgin, so Baha’is believe it. If he had said he wasn’t, then they wouldn’t. Abdu’l-Baha said that Christ was speaking figuratively when he called himself the bread of heaven, so Baha’is believe him. And then Baha’is tell us Christians that we should investigate the truth for ourselves instead of blindly accepting what our “religious institutions” tell us. Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black.

How do you know that a book of Baha’i history is accurate? Because it was published by a Baha’i Publishing Trust? That’s not independent investigation of truth.

How do you know that when a Baha’i author says Baha’u’llah fulfilled a particular prophecy from some religion, that he is both quoting the prophecy accurately and reporting the event in Baha’u’llah’s life accurately? Because the author is a respected Baha’i? That’s not independent investigation of truth.

When I was a Baha’i, one of my favorite books was Portals to Freedom. My perception of Abdu’l-Baha was therefore partly dependent upon Howard Colby Ives. In other words, it wasn’t independent. This example can be multiplied a hundredfold – for Taherzadeh, for Ruhe, for Esslemont, etc.

There are also subtler forms of influence. The way you were raised, and the culture you were formed in, shaped how you see the world, and therefore how you will evaluate truth claims. You are also influenced by the kinds of friendships you form. If a seeker is particularly impressed by a certain Baha’i, she will be favorably disposed to accepting the Baha’i message, whereas that same woman in a different situation, meeting a different Baha’i and having a different relationship, may not.

I’m not waiting for the Church to tell me if a self-proclaimed Messiah is the return of Christ. It isn’t that simplistic. I have faith that the Catholic belief system is true, and within that belief system the phrase “return of Christ” has a certain meaning. You have faith in the Baha’i belief system and have accepted its definition of “return of Christ”, a definition which Baha’u’llah fits.

Baha’u’llah’s claims are only compelling if you already accept the Baha’i Faith’s way of seeing things. If you don’t, then Baha’u’llah’s claims are nonsensical.