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.

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20 Responses

  1. Jonah, there is a lot in this post, a lot I agree with and a lot of important stuff. When I have some more time in the next week I am going to re-read and consider what you have to say and try and piece together a reponse.

    Your true brother,
    Gerald

  2. It is true that all of these sources of information that you mention should not be relied upon for faith. As a Baha’i I know that relying upon anyone else’s experience/understanding is a morally unacceptable thing to do according to the Teachings of Baha’u’llah. So…yeah, you’re right, I think any Baha’i would agree that having faith based on those scholars etc. is unacceptable and inimical to the Baha’i Faith.

    Something that maybe Baha’is aren’t generally quick to discuss is the fact that form many of us (most?), belief in Baha’u’llah is in fact a matter of the heart, a mystical inner relationship with the Divine. It is a personal connection that certainly includes rational inquiry and conscious understanding but also transcends them.
    I bring this up because I notice that often Christian criticism of the Baha’i Faith includes the idea that Baha’is don’t have a personal relationship with God/the Christ, and I think this is in fact unequivocally a misconception.

    Perhaps the prevailing prejudice against religion in general contributes to this perception, as Baha’is are generally quite proud to be able to talk about how they believe their religion is rational and so on, and this obfuscates the issue. Just because Baha’is may not talk about their personal relationship to the Christ as readily as Christians may does not mean that it isn’t in fact the very core, foundation, essence and cause of their faith.

    Anyway, I bring all this up to say that I believe in Baha’u’llah because I can feel Him in my heart, and what I feel adds up with what I can rationally examine. That is to say, I am a Baha’i because of my individual experience with the living Christ. I am not, I sincerely pray, a Baha’i because of the opinions any other human being, Baha’i, scholar, Christian or otherwise. This is, I believe, independent investigation of truth.

    Once you recognized Jesus as the Christ in your heart and mind, did you really care about what, say, the Sabeans might say about Him, or what their prophecies foretell? No. He is Himself the new measure by which everything else is weighed. This is the position I am in as a Baha’i; having recognized and experienced (to some extent, anyway) the reality of Baha’u’llah, I must logically turn to that Spirit, that Reality, as the measuring stick of everything else.

    I acknowledge that I may be wrong, but it is the best I can do at this point, and if I am mistaken then God willing at some point I will realize it and have the courage and humility to act accordingly.

  3. I think I will pass on replying! Lukas has said everything I would have. I think your post had a lot of truth to it and some criticisms of common Baha’i approaches that are important and needed to be raised.

    Thanks!
    Your true brother,
    Gerald

  4. The folks who say that you don’t have a relationship with God or Christ represent a minority of the world’s Christian population – conservative evangelicals, for lack of a better term. It is important to keep in mind that they are not the be all and end all of Christianity.

    In the Catholic understanding, all experiences of the divine are in reality experiences of the living Christ, whether people realize that or not. So if a Buddhist monk is moved to sacrifice his own interests for the sake of another, it is Christ who is moving him, though he will attribute the impulse to something else.

    So I have no doubt that you have a relationship with Christ, and probably a deeper one than any of us realize.

    Regarding independent investigation of truth: I think, based on my limited knowledge, that this was originally a counter to the Shi’ite practice of taqlid, where you rely upon a trained specialist to tell you what actions are and are not consistent with Islamic law. Strictly speaking, the phenomenon of taqlid does not exist in other religions, though one may make a poor analogy to any number of other situations, including situations in the Baha’i community (like when I asked Kiser Barnes what I should major in).

    I think that for many modern-day American Baha’is, especially converts from Christianity, independent investigation of truth has become shorthand for, “Christian clergy are wrong about Christianity,” a sentiment that is very popular among Americans at large. There are many, many Christians in America, including a majority of Catholics, who refuse to obey the teachings of their faith with the excuse that they are thinking for themselves. In actuality, they are replacing one authority with another one. Instead of trusting the authority of their clergy, they trust the authority of popular culture, the media, and their social circles.

  5. Jonah said:
    In the Catholic understanding, all experiences of the divine are in reality experiences of the living Christ, whether people realize that or not. So if a Buddhist monk is moved to sacrifice his own interests for the sake of another, it is Christ who is moving him, though he will attribute the impulse to something else.

    Yeah, I totally agree with this statement. I think it is a really important concept for people of any religion to get their heads around, as it is in my opinion one of the very best ways to overcome animosity and prejudice.

    I also think that in another sense, doing good is in itself a form of recognizing Baha’u’llah (or Jesus); that is to say, if our love for Truth compels us to be honest, then we have recognized the spirit of the Christ (Truth) and are obeying it, whether this occurs on a conscious level or not. We know that many people recognize the reality and spirit of Baha’u’llah without necessarily recognizing the name. We also know that, as Jesus said,

    I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
    (King James Bible, John)

    which necessarily implies that any time anyone does good, it is through the grace of the Christ; it is not possible for good to be done other than through the Christ (no man cometh unto the Father, but by me), whether it is done consciously in His name, or without conscious knowledge. To assert that good can be done outside of the grace of the Christ implies that there is good outside of God, which is an absurdity inasmuch as it implies the existence of that which God did not create, meaning God is not God.

    The following quotes from Abdu’l-Baha and Jesus are also important to me, as they demonstrate that salvation is not necessarily dependent solely on conscious recognition of the Christ:

    …a person of good deeds is acceptable at the Threshold of the Almighty…Moreover, a soul of excellent deeds and good manners will undoubtedly advance from whatever horizon he beholdeth the lights radiating…(Abdu’l-Baha)

    12:31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
    12:32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
    (King James Bible, Matthew)

    To me the quote from Jesus shows that what matters is not love for any given “Lamp” (Manifestation) per se, but rather the love of the light itself (the Holy Spirit).

    (By the way, one of the common “Christian” evangelical teachings and points of disagreement with the Baha’i Faith, namely that it is through confession of faith in Jesus that we attain forgiveness of sin/salvation or whatever, is completely refuted by the above quote from Christ Himself. Interesting, no?)

    Anyway, I find this concept to be a wonderful liberating thing. We’re all just human, seeking the divine, and truth is beautiful no matter what name it has.

  6. […] Read “Independent investigation of truth”. […]

  7. Jonah-

    Your blog is a very special place for which I am deeply grateful. It would take many a back and forth for me to explain all that is contained in this statement-so I hope you will just take it at “face value”.

    I am a little envious of those who engage with you in a disscussion such as you have here. Each one just adds value to the original post and it is clear that all are engaged in seeking to have a sincere and meaningful exchange of not just ideas but the inner longings of their souls. If all of us around the world who have responded to the living Christ in whatever form He has come to us, would be able to recognize oneanother and then listen to oneanother speak from our different points of observing the reality of what we call life, then I think we could finally begin to make a difference in this world and heal the hurts of our fellow human beings and thereby manifest the glory of God.

    Through your blog I have finally began to listen to those who follow the Bahai faith which I have encountered here and there (including in a 1986 visit to Mt.Carmel, Israel), but never took a special interest in until now. I exchange blogs with a muslim from Iran from whom I have learned to respect even more the ancient Persian heritage-this is one more reason that I have taken an interest in listening to those of Bahai tell me what their faith system actually means to them-not what their teachers tell them about it, such as you evidently were doing at one time. All the more reason for you to be able to love both them and we christians of the west and help us understand oneanother.

    Thank you for your life and dedication to the task you have been called to.

    John Paul Todd

  8. Hare Krishna!

    As a former Baha’i (for only a year – it is barely a claim to have known the Faith, but having such a minute taste was enough to tell me that the Faith was never for me) and now a (Gaudiya) Vaishnava, what I find troubling is that the “Independent Investation of Truth” to Baha’is is really to investigate the truths of the Baha’i Faith as the Absolute Truth as opposed to anything else in the world. Since God’s transcendental spirit is moving within the confines of the Baha’i Faith and bereft from the so-called ‘Dispensations’ of the past, it is logical to the Baha’i that only the Baha’i Faith is the legitimate representative of God’s Faith for humanity on Earth.

    I also agree on what you have said in regards to the fact that Baha’is themselves do not, and in some cases, are not even allowed, to investigate (that is, poke at, doubt, question) the many doctrines of the Baha’i Faith that could rightly have come out of speculation. For example, I was talking to a Baha’i about how in Gaudiya Vaishnavism, the soul is eternal and was neither created, nor will ever be destroyed, and explained to him in basics where the originally constituted soul, a servitor of Krishna in the spiritual planets (or spiritual realms), goes back Home to God and becomes so eternally. His belief in the eternal progression of the soul in the spiritual worlds plainly condemned my own belief. But I told him that his view could equally be of speculation, because we have no hard evidence of the Afterlife other than what is revealed in Scripture. All else that is left is interpretation.

    He just could not accept that I believe that God allows anyone – Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Baha’i – anyone to come to God as long as they follow their respective, bona fide Scriptures. One of the things that made me a Gaudiya Vaishnava was the fact that the Baha’i Faith touts itself as the ONLY Faith for this Age, and all else is bereft of the Grace of God…

    Ah well. ;)

    Jaya Radhe!

  9. Jaya,

    Re the following reported view of one Baha’i: “He just could not accept that I believe that God allows anyone – Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Baha’i – anyone to come to God as long as they follow their respective, bona fide Scriptures.”

    Such a view, in my personal opinion, is a serious distortion of the Baha’i teachings. I have written about the Baha’i view of “salvation”, here:

    http://voxcosmicos.blogspot.com/2007/09/bahaullah-god-sent-quickener-of-mankind.html

    I hope this might throw some light on the subject.

  10. For Baha’is, independent investigation of the truth is cool as long as it confirms Bahai beliefs.

  11. For Baha’is, independent investigation of the truth is cool as long as it confirms Bahai beliefs. And once you become Bahai, indepdent thought and inquiry becomes obsolete.

  12. I read the Baha’i Writings for myself and have a personal understanding of them, an understanding which continually changes as my comprehention of the teachings grows.

    Once one becomes a Baha’i independent thought and enquiry do not need to become obsolete. My own personal thought and inquiry are a necessary elements in that process of having an evolving personal understanding of the teachings. I do not depend upon other Baha’is or non-Baha’is to do this for me.

    I have faith that “Truth” and both Christ and Baha’u’llah are one and the same thing. I arrive at that understanding using my own thought, enquiry, experience, study and reading of the Writings of Baha’u’llah.

    Puc

  13. Puc said:
    I have faith that “Truth” and both Christ and Baha’u’llah are one and the same thing.

    Precisely.

  14. Dear Jonah,
    I wish I didn’t have to write this, but I actually find your rationale to be nonsensical. All belief systems depend upon second hand knowledge. Were you alive when Christ is purported to have performed miracles, rose from the dead, etc.? No. But you believe that those things occurred, right? Of course you can’t prove it, not can anyone else alive today. Such belief is grounded in faith. Faith that what you’ve been told is true as validated by whatever it was/is that holds significance for you.

    An independent investigation of truth does not result in an outcome that is independent of faith. It requires that you assess the information provided to you and determine whether it is true. The standard for doing so for those of us who accept the truth of Christ is the true spirit of His Word in the Bible, which itself is open to intepretation. The critical question here is what steps we take to validate our faith – i.e. trying to determine that what one believes in is true. This is ultimately dependent on the individual and not the belief system.

    This leads to a critical gap in your entire post. How do you reconcile the existence of apparently sincere, practicing Christians who become Baha’is? Are they simply dismissed as wayward, untrue Christians? People who never really believed in Christ? How else could they possibly accept something so “nonsensical”? What could be considered truly nonsensical is how supposedly “Christian” laypeople and leaders alike, including the Pope at various instances in history, have committed such acts that calling themselves “Christians” could arguably be considered a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. My reason for mentioning all of this is that it’s not up to you, me, or any other human being to decide who qualifies as a believer in Christ, as having true faith in Christ, which is at the core of this entire discussion.

    Worth noting, just as you suggest that Baha’u’llah’s claims are nonsensical for anyone that doesn’t accept the Baha’i viewpoint, Christ’s claims are nonsensical for anyone that doesn’t accept the Christian viewpoint, and more directly, Catholicism’s claims are nonsensical for anyone that doesn’t accept the Catholic viewpoint. Does something considered nonsensical to a certain person or party mean it’s untrue? I think this is something upon which all of us can agree – this is not a standard of determining truth or falsehood. Christ’s words give us an indication of how to determine whether something is from God or not – judging by fruits, which is reinforced by the Apostle John’s admonition to test the spirits, presumably in consideration of the fruits of the spirit, to know whether they are of God or not.

    God bless,

    Eric

  15. Eric wrote:
    All belief systems depend upon second hand knowledge.

    That’s what I was getting at in my post. I was writing in response to a common attitude among Baha’is (and others), that basically boils down to this: “I believe what I believe because I’m enlightened; you believe what you believe because you are blindly following what your religious leaders tell you.” My response was that the real world isn’t that simplistic.

    This leads to a critical gap in your entire post. How do you reconcile the existence of apparently sincere, practicing Christians who become Baha’is? Are they simply dismissed as wayward, untrue Christians? People who never really believed in Christ? How else could they possibly accept something so “nonsensical”?

    I think you’re responding to my view that from the perspective of the Christian belief system, the Baha’i faith is nonsensical. (Of course it also goes the other way.)

    When I speak of the Christian belief system, I’m treating it in a vacuum. But human beings don’t exist in a vacuum. They have their religious affiliation, but then there are also social, cultural and psychological factors that shape how a person looks at the world. Certain aspects of the Baha’i Faith will resonate with a culture, so it isn’t entirely nonsensical to people, even if they’re Christians.

    My reason for mentioning all of this is that it’s not up to you, me, or any other human being to decide who qualifies as a believer in Christ, as having true faith in Christ, which is at the core of this entire discussion.

    You’re confusing two different issues: (1) Do we have a right to say what constitutes Christianity? (2) Do we have a right to decide whether an individual is a good Christian?

    No one but God can say whether you are or I am a good Christian or a good human being. We don’t have the right to judge what’s in someone else’s heart.

    We do have the right to evaluate whether a doctrinal assertion is consistent with Christianity or with the Baha’i Faith. If we didn’t, then terms like “Christianity” would mean whatever anyone wanted them to mean, and the words would cease to mean anything at all.

  16. Jonah,
    As regards the last point you were trying to make, the problem with your assertion is that human interpretation is again involved in interpreting doctrine. Just because there’s consensus within what you could loosely term the “Christian community” doesn’t mean that that community accurately espouses the teachings of Christ, which for the purpose of this discussion we can refer to as true Christianity. Just as you can’t judge a true follower of Christ, you can’t judge a true following of Christ.

    So my response is, no, you don’t have the right to say what constitutes Christianity, regardless of what you think the term means and regardless of whether that makes the term as you understand it meaningless and regardless of what Wikipedia says for that matter. Ours is a spiritual discussion. Appeals to academic definitions won’t provide any more legitimacy than your own opinion. God alone is still the judge.

    Peace, brother,

    Eric

  17. Eric, I’m confused about where you’re going with this. Are you saying no one has the right to call themselves Christians? Or are you saying that everyone can call themselves Christians?

    I apologize for not acknowledging everyone else’s contributions to this thread. I have little time to devote to this blog, so unfortunately I can’t respond individually to everyone. But I appreciate what everyone wrote and I enjoyed reading your comments.

  18. Jonah said- “I was writing in response to a common attitude among Baha’is (and others), that basically boils down to this: “I believe what I believe because I’m enlightened; you believe what you believe because you are blindly following what your religious leaders tell you.” My response was that the real world isn’t that simplistic.”

    In the real world I do not find the attitude you ascribe to Baha’is (and others) to be common at all. I find that Baha’is (and others) attitudes as to what motivates the beliefs of others is not as simplistic as the attitude you ascribe to them (and others) in the real world.

    Puc.

  19. ** 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.**

    I am a Baha’i from Perú, and I believe that this judgment is more applicable to many million Catholics of my country who rapidly turn in evangelical basically because they do not know well their religion.
    I was born in a Baha’i family and I have explored my religion and other religions from very young. My father was an agnostic before knowing and to accept the Baha’i faith and my mother was an Adventist of the seventh day. My mother knows very much on christianity and she shelters tender recollections of her youth as Christian.
    The intention of the independent investigation of truth is the practice of the taqlid comes out, and this is my comprehension as a Baha’i, this is what I learned of my parents: a Latin man and a native American woman.

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