Read: New Role of Scholars in Baha'i Society, The

1. The Concept of the Divine

The first thing to notice is that a Bahá'í scholar's "Bahá'íness" is never separate from them. Essential to the Bahá'í scholar is the concept of the "Divine". Nothing you can discuss or study in the physical world can be separated from the Divine; the physical world is an outer expression of the spiritual world. Example: when you drop an object to the floor, if you don't understand gravity you can make up strange explanations for its behavior. It is no less specious when our scholars attribute development of the Faith to the "ripeness of the time".

Example from a Bahá'í scholar's book:

The Bab's abilities and acquaintance with general knowledge of his time. His knowledge of tafsir was not as Sufi as one would expect. At the same time He began to realize His divine mission. If Mulla Husayn had not met him his course would have been very different. His interpretation of events were forced into the definition of the Shaykhi prophecies. [quotation from Resurrection and Renewal by Abbas Amanat]
This is not heresy; it is bad scholarship, because it cannot accept that an unseen force may have been operating. Why does he not state this? Because he would be laughed at!

Quote from Universal House of Justice compilation on scholarship:

The principal concern of the House of Justice is over a methodological bias and discordant tone which seem to inform the work of certain of the authors. The impression given is that, in attempting to achieve what they understand to be academic objectivity, they have inadvertently cast the Faith into a mould which is essentially foreign to its nature, taking no account of the spiritual forces which Bahá'ís see as its foundation. Presumably the justification offered for this approach would be that most scholars of comparative religion are essentially concerned with discernable phenomena, observable events and practical affairs and are used to treating their subject from a western, if not a Christian, viewpoint. This approach, although understandable, is quite impossible for a Bahá'í, for it ignores the fact that our world-view includes the spiritual dimension as an indispensable component for consistency and coherence, and it does not beseem a Bahá'í to write ... about his Faith as if he looked upon it from the norm of humanism or materialism.
In other words, we are presented in such articles with the spectacle of Bahá'ís trying to write as if they were non-Bahá'ís.

How do you explain the origin of the Bahá'í faith without getting into the God stuff?

To describe history without describing the forces behind it is like describing a falling object without describing gravity.

Note that it is not that _scholarship_ is evil and bad...scholarship is learning, and learning is good.

This first section was on the pervasive nature of the Divine. A Bahá'í would do well to talk about this not because it's a polemic, but because it's true.

Bahá'u'lláh, in the Lawh-i-Hikmat mentions that all of the thinkers of the past presume that progress derives from singular great individuals. On page 144: "The sages aforetime acquired their knowledge from the Prophets, inasmuch as the latter were the Exponents of divine philosophy and the Revealers of heavenly mysteries." Would you assert this in a history of philosophy?

Page 146: "Verily, the philosophers have not denied the Ancient of Days."

Page 147: "Plato...acknowledged his belief in God and in His signs which pervade all that hath been and shall be.... These men who stand out as leaders of the people and are pre-eminent among them, one and all acknowledged their belief in the immortal Being Who holdeth in His grasp the reins of all sciences.... Balinus...surpassed everyone else in the diffusion of arts and sciences and soared unto the loftiest heights of humility and supplication. Give ear unto that which he hath said, entreating the All-Possessing, the Most Exalted: `I stand in the presence of my Lord, extolling His gifts and bounties and praising Him with that wherewith He praiseth His Own Self, that I may become a source of blessing and guidance unto such men as acknowledge my words.' And further he saith: `O Lord! Thou art God and no God is there but Thee."

Page 151: Bahá'u'lláh says a true philosophers would never deny God: "We are quit of those ignorant ones who fondly imagine that Wisdom is to give vent to one's idle imaginings and to repudiate God, the Lord of all men."

2. The Concept of Authority

In the Bahá'í Faith the concept of infallibility says there are two types: essential + conferred.

The Manifestations of God have the essential one from birth. They are pre-existent, knowledgeable of all. Note, however, that infallible does not equal authoritative. `Abdu'l-Bahá says infallible means "without error".

Conferred infallibility does not mean it is less so. You can't be less infallible! So if we attribute ideas to Shoghi Effendi because of environment, Oxford, the Middle East, forget it. And `Abdu'l-Bahá wrote well about evolution etc.; how did He know this? `Abdu'l-Bahá's answer: "I know what I need to know." The Hands of the Cause have recounted stories of the Guardian saying what it felt like to experience infallibility. Leroy Ioas said the Guardian would get facts about a situation and then get a feeling "which no power on earth can shake."

How do we accept infallibility of an institution like the Universal House of Justice elected by a fallible populace? How do you deduce the infallibility of the Universal House of Justice? Answer: you don't, because it is an unseen force that works that way. It is "infused with divine assistance"; that's what makes it infallible.

Quoting an e-mail letter by a Bahá'í scholar dated 3 May 1996:

I therefore hereby declare and state that I am not any longer a Bahá'í, that I do not believe that the Bahá'í administration in its current form is divinely inspired or guided. And since I accept, as well, that Bahá'u'lláh did create these institutions and gave us to understand that they would in fact receive divine guidance, I renounce belief in him as the Manifestation of God for this day.
The individual has wonderful credentials...what's the problem in this reasoning? Answer: it is illogical, because if you accept Bahá'u'lláh, then "He doeth what He willeth" and His promise is: "I will perplex you". If you judge the infallibility of an institution by its decisions, this is backwards. It presumes that the individual is infallible and can make such a judgment!

The logic _should_ go like this: first establish Bahá'u'lláh is who He says He is; after that you do not question `Abdu'l-Bahá's infallibility. Without the links of the Covenant it all comes crashing down.

Please note that we are not to worship mysteries; we should try to unravel them and try to understand them.

Faith is a process of investigation to corroborate Bahá'u'lláh's claim. We can test it: "when I read the Writings, am I changed?" Look for confirmation of this; it is an unending process.

Think of an arch in an old European building: if you remove one stone from the arch it comes crashing down. The Covenant is like that. Nevertheless, things come up, e.g. Women on the House of Justice, and we don't know the answer. This is Faith of a more traditional sort; we know there is an explanation, because `Abdu'l-Bahá told us so.

The mistake of the scholar's letter is that he no longer has sufficient faith. Note, however, that none of us is without the possibility of losing that faith, and it is gut-wrenching. A story: on pilgrimage in 1972, one thing Dr. Hatcher couldn't understand was how could someone be a Covenant-Breaker. On the third day, the group went to Bahji, and seeing Bahá'u'lláh's bed, he thought, "What a small man!". His faith was tested by Bahá'u'lláh's being a small man. He could accept Bahá'u'lláh's word, but how much more difficult must it have been for those of His children who broke the Covenant if He was your father. He ran out of the room and into the hall, but at that moment, a pioneer from Transvaal appeared, one from Norway, a worker a the World Centre came out, and then he realized they had only come to serve and be close to Bahá'u'lláh; there was no external influence in 100 years to accomplish this. It had spread all over the world with no ulterior motive, with nothing to gain. That feeling of lost faith was short, but horrible; he thought to himself, "So that's what it's like." It evoked Milton, in Paradise Lost, where Satan says, in effect: "I know I would be happy back in heaven, but I'm not going to do it; I'll destroy Eden." Goethe said cynicism is the only sin.

Bahá'u'lláh states two contradictory things. If people are saying things against the Faith and you don't know what to do, He says: "If any man were to arise to defend, in his writings, the Cause of God against its assailants, such a man, however inconsiderable his share, shall be so honored in the world to come that the Concourse on high would envy his glory." (Gleanings CLIV). But on the other hand, He says, "Time and again have We admonished Our beloved ones to avoid, nay to flee from, anything whatsoever from which the odor of mischief can be detected." (Gleanings XLIII). There are two kinds of questions a child may ask: "Where did I come from?", and "Do I have to go to bed now?". The second one is rhetorical; we should flee from the odor of mischief. The role of a scholar is that of a servant to servants, which is the highest position one can achieve. Scholarship is not only valuable; it is essential, as long as a scholar doesn't try to think for us or be like a cadre of divines. v2.7 (213613) © 2005 - 2021 Emanuel V. Towfigh & Peter Hoerster | Imprint | Change Interface Language: DE