Oxford: George Ronald, 2001, 862 pages
In an age of increasing inter-religious dialogue, what is the place of apologetics and what contribution can it make to dialogue between the religions? On the basis of this work, apologetics has important contributions to make, particularly in the case of new world religions such as the Bahá'í Faith.
Making the Crooked Straight is an apologetic work par excellence, perhaps the most important apologetic book published on the Bahai Faith so far in English. It is a translation of Desinformation als Methode, published in German in 1995, which itself was a response to a work published in 1981 by the Evangelische Zentralstrelle für Weltanschauungsfragen [EZW] (Central Office of the Protestant Church for Questions of Ideology). EZW is an agency of the Protestant Churches in Germany that provides information to the church administration, theologians, and church workers. The 1981 work was entitled, Der Bahá'ísmus-Religion der Zukunft? [Bahá'ísmReligion of the future?], and was written by a Swiss ex-Bahá'í, Francesco Ficicchia. Ficicchias work was presented by EZW as a standard introduction to the Faith, and received favourable reviews in some German academic journals. It presented a hotch-potch of polemical materials against the Faith, from attacking the personal integrity of the central figures of the Bahá'í Faith, to highlighting problems in successorship, to criticizing its doctrines and the policies of its current leadership. It gave the impression that the religion is a confused, fundamentalist cult that has rewritten its history, distorted its origins, and has imperialist claims on the world.
Making the Crooked Straight is co-authored by three individuals: Udo Schaefer, a jurist, Ulrich Gollmer, a political scientist, and Nicola Towfigh, whose doctoral work was in Middle East studies. It is an accomplished and meticulous work. In brief, the authors criticise Ficicchia on a number of fronts. They demonstrate that his methodology is seriously flawed, which is not entirely surprising because he has no academic training. His sources are problematic basing them almost entirely on anti-Bahá'í polemical literature written by disgruntled former Protestant missionaries to Iran. His lack of any Persian or Arabic is problematic when Ficicchia deals with early Bahá'í history and sources. Ficicchias personal history does not necessarily make him well qualified to write an authoritative book on the Bahá'ís, having left the religion disaffected after 4 years and subsequently writing to the Bahá'í institutions declaring that he was an "embittered enemy" (33). Ficicchia loses any semblance of credibility when he blames Bahá'ís for their long and often violent persecution in Iran. He states that Bahá'ís were "advocates and supporters of the imperial state doctrine" and suspects them of "conspiracy with the throne" (458). Gollmer makes the chilling comparison with the euphemistic ways in which Nazi Germany justified the genocide of the Jews, and concludes, quite rightly, that, "[i]t is scandal that such things should be propagated by official publications of Christian churches" (459).
There are three possible contributions of this book to the Bahá'í dialogue with other religions. First, by clarifying some misconceptions about the religion, it clears the air and makes it possible to dialogue in a deeper way. Second, by being open about some of the problems that the Bahá'í Faith has faced in its first 150 years, it addresses one of the concessions that John Saliba states that new religions must make in order to participate more meaningfully in dialogue. Third, it gathers together a wealth of foundational academic work on its history and theology that provide a basis for a deeper and more meaningful dialogue between Bahá'ís and others.