Meditations

Talisman messages of August to December 1998

Date: Sat, 1 Aug 1998 00:44:11 +1200
Subject: two right-thinking Baha'is

Dear X

I agree with you that those two Baha'is who stuck up for that guy so he wouldn't lose his rights did real good. I think they were extremely brave to take such a stand, and I was deeply impressed. I agree with you that justice should be the outcome we desire, because it is by this that Baha'is are judged. So often, Baha'is act with the aim of making the Faith 'look good' for the sake of teaching, when not looking good is a better teacher.

Love
Alison


Date: Sat, 1 Aug 1998 00:44:13 +1200
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: Anglican martyr

Not long ago, I was discussing role models of people who are living martyrs. Here is an example of one. She was the first Anglican woman bishop in the world (she is the bishop of our region), and it's clear from the article that she lives in hell. She is speaking out about her experiences even though the church doesn't want her to, but she says she will not "collude in silence".

Alison

--------------------------------

Bishop lashes out at discrimination 27-July 1998

By Dave Cannan

Eight years after becoming the world's first woman bishop, the Rt Rev Dr Penny Jamieson, Bishop Jamieson Bishop of Dunedin, says she has been the victim of "destructive abuse" from within the church.

In a hard-hitting lecture, given at Kings College, London, a few days before the 10-yearly Lambeth Conference opened last week, Bishop Jamieson said while the forward-looking part of the Anglican Church wanted more women bishops, she would not endorse the role.

"You will not find in me a very powerful advocate of women as bishops for I cannot recommend the job and I cannot think that anyone would want it or seek it.

"I think the same could be said about men but uncertainty and a lack of ambition do not as readily reveal themselves in men as they do in women," she said.

English-born Bishop Jamieson (55) was ordained in an historic ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin, in June 1990. There are 10 other women bishops attending the Lambeth Conference for the first time - two from Canada and eight from the United States.

In her lecture Bishop Jamieson, whose cathedral church in Dunedin, St Paul's, is embroiled in controversy over the sacking of its choirmaster, said while there had been "plenty of adulation" since she became a bishop, she had also been the target of other people's agendas.

As a women she was expected to be "more malleable" than a man. When she was not, she was seen as being "hard and demanding".

"Leadership that embraces the edge is very difficult and very vulnerable. It is necessary, in a way, to reach the heads of the inner circle of gatekeepers while still treating them seriously and with respect.

"For me this has meant challenging some of those who have been held in considerable respect.

"It is the leader who advocates the marginal who must take the responsibility. All authentic Christian living is challenging, therefore inherently perilous; a Christian leader can become a focus, a bearer of that peril.

"The role of the bishop is consequently a very vulnerable one. I have been deeply hurt, punished even, for such leadership and I am not always sure that I have the courage to risk it again," she said.

Bishop Jamieson said she had been victimised in her role as the seventh Anglican Bishop of Dunedin, Otago and Southland but she was "too ashamed" of her church to give public voice to some of the tactics and "sick projections" that had been used against her.

"The continuingly subtle, even underground power of patriarchy, whether exercised by men or by women, to destroy from a base of self-righteousness is truly appalling; even if they do not know what they do.

"For to be vulnerable is to be wounded. It is to know what it is to be broken, to lose complete confidence in vocation and in the ability to even survive.

"It is to know dereliction and nothing, total abandonment by God . . . it is to touch death . . . to keep going, somehow, in the daze of inner numbness . . . it is to maintain the raw habit of communication and relationships, even in the face of such destructive abuse."

Bishop Jamieson's claims were publicly supported by Christine Rees, a lay member of the Church of England's general synod, who said some would find her comments embarrassing and would question why she raised such negativity in public.

"But by giving this speech she is saying, `I'm not going to collude in silence.'

"Bishop Jamieson wants to make people realise that those [bishops'] are not roles taken up by puppets but inhabited by living beings with flesh and blood who hurt in the way that anyone would hurt when they come up against opposition, snide comments and downright cruelty."

Invited to appear to BBC4 Radio after the speech, Bishop Jamieson said she was seen as either a "saint or a devil" in New Zealand where she had been subject to destructive abuse from both clergy and laity.

"But I have stood up to this; I have not let it happen.

"They have been enough to de-glamorise the job for me. No-one in their right mind would wish for it, but God has given me the grace to be grateful," she said.


Date: Sat, 15 Aug 1998 10:58:59 +1200
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: playing God again

Hi X

I noted the following comments that you made a few weeks back now, and they stuck in my mind long enough for me to comment, even at this late stage. You said:
>I wonder how much experience you have of the Baha'i Faith?
>For instance, if I were to judge the Faith solely from what
>I read on Talisman (and some other sites on the 'net), I
>would declare it a failure, a Faith in which a high
>proportion of the adherents do not even follow (and in some
>cases, believe) the teachings of their own Prophet.

What I just can't work out is how you know what people believe, and who you are to judge what they do? X, sometimes when I read what *you* write as your opinions, beliefs and ideas, I shiver in horror! But does this give me the right to judge your heart and soul and claim that "you don't believe in the teachings of your own Prophet"? No, and I'm sure you do, in fact, believe in Baha'u'llah.

The fact that the Baha'is have different interpretations of what Baha'u'llah said is *inevitable* - you just can't get away from it, unless we all become Borgs. And these different interpretations are going to filter through in what we do. For example, some people are going to be members of a list called Talisman and really get a lot out of it and say things like "If it weren't for Talisman, I wouldn't still be a Baha'i". I am one such person. So in your mind, it may be a failure, but in my mind it has been an unimaginable success. Do you wish to rob me of this? X, if you think Talisman is so bad, then why are you on it? Are you here just to save our souls? Because if you are, I don't want saving by you thanks. I have my relationship with Baha'u'llah, and it suffices me. If you want to be helpful, you could try some openminded acceptance of me and who I am; in other words, you could try love.

Regards Alison


Date: Mon, 17 Aug 1998 08:17:37 +1200
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: Re: question

At 07:46 PM 15/8/98 -0700, you wrote:
>In these cases, things must really be considered on an individual basis as
>spiritual/health issues.

I think there is already enough flexibility in the justice systems of both your country and mine to allow for these kinds of individual differences. These differences are allowed for in sentencing. What the Baha'i community doesn't have, but needs, is an exhaustive list of infringements with indications as to sanction. It would function as the equivalent of our Crimes Act. It must be a code in that it contains everything a person can do against the law that is a crime, so that no one can go making up the rules after you have done a particular act. We need such a code in the Baha'i community, especially if we want to make some claim to justice.

>>One thing that definately needs clarifying is whether one can be
>>declared a covenant breaker when one is not a Baha'i.
>
> If Joe Blow has never been a member of the Baha'i Faith, but claims that
>he is the "New Guardian" of the Baha'i Faith and does what he can to
>encourage Baha'is to turn away from the Covenant of Baha'u'llah and follow
>him instead, what is he? Is he a Covenant Breaker? Is he attempting to
>undermine and violate Baha'u'llah's Covenant? Well, the answer is *we
>can't say for sure* because ONLY the Universal House of Justice, on a case
>by case basis, makes that call. No one else can say -- not you , not me,
>not anybody.
>ONLY the Universal House of Justice.

THis is a recipe for disaster. This tells me *who* can determine whether I get shunned - the worst possible sanction - but not the circumstances under which this would happen. It's like saying that Mary can cut off your head off whenever she feels like it, but you don't know under what circumstances she might do it. We're all agreed that she is the one to do it; after all, she wanders around town with a sword, but what determines when or why she will do it? We're all agreed that the House is the only one to announce that someone is to be shunned, but we need to know under what circumstances it can do this. Otherwise, its power is arbitrary, and we have moved miles from the ideal of justice.

Alison


Date: Mon, 17 Aug 1998 21:40:48 +1200
Subject: Re: re question
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X observed:
>so power seems to control the mass behavior regardless
>of whether it is one pope or a pope made of many.

I think what contributes to this power and control is the idea that we individuals can't make a difference. This is why I am so bothered by the idea of the House being infallible in the sense that everything it says is right. Not only is this notion inconsistent with the covenant, but it leaves individual believers feeling powerless and like "it doesn't matter what we do, well the House has got it all taken care of anyway". I am convinced that it is this underlying assumption that paralyses the growth of the faith today.

We need to take a hold of the spirit of the faith and not let the institutions or anything get in between us and our purpose of knowing and worshiping God. I know I used to experience God through the filter of the institutions. Now I view the institutions through the filter of my relationship with God.

warmest Alison


Date: Tue, 18 Aug 1998 21:08:31 +1200
Subject: my wish list
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X asked:
>But imagine if you could serve on the House. What would you do?

First up, I'd heal injustices. I'd ask, invite, beseech, entreat, implore, plead, beg, and whatever else it took, Juan to re-declare. And I would also extend that invitation to Steven Scholl, Linda Walbridge and Michael McKenny, and I would restore the voting rights of David Langness. I would offer apologies to all those threatened with 'an encounter with the covenant'.

I would promote free speech, through such media as the Internet and the press, and through the development of Baha'i journalism. Of course, I would stop review. This would give fresh impetus to Baha'i scholarship.

I would make the House's job of legislating more transparent and pass a Bill of Rights and code of all sanctionable offences. I would put promote the development of Bahai jurisprudence so that legislative decisions could be made with the best research available. This would lead to letting women on the House. I would debunk the notion that everything the House says is true.

I would promote the two purposes of our existence - knowing (irfan) and worshipping God. I would put resources into educating the believers about irfan, through especially making the translations of the mystical writings widely available. And I would educate the believers about the Mashriq and encourage communities all over the globe to work toward having a Mashriq building. All this would lead to entry by troops.

>You'd
>work for change, of course. You'd use your influence and insight,
>through prayer and guidance from Baha'u'llah, to make the changes you
>felt needed in the Baha'i World. That's why it's important to keep
>relatively low liberal profiles and get elected to the Nationals so one
>can be elected to the House of Justice or, at least, have some control
>on who serves.

X, I don't see it this way. Even if I were male and eligible to serve on the House, I would not think that being on the House or any institution would be the most effect way to bring about change. I am not on our local assembly and am very pleased about that. In fact, it suits me to make sure I have a high liberal profile so that I might never be placed in the situation where I would have to work with the AO. I think it is a waste of time because it is not serving the spirit. I just love spending all my time and energy focussed on Baha'u'llah and my spiritual relationship with him. The most effective way to bring about change, in my view, is to deepen my relationship with Baha'u'llah, for it is this that transforms souls and is the real power.

Love Alison


Date: Thu, 20 Aug 1998 20:51:39 +1200
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: changing the AO

Dear X

You said:
>You also know you are the Administration. And without the Administration
>we can't keep it all together so that the job can get done. I sometimes
>feel that frustration you say until I sit back and realize that the
>Administration is me.
>
>Essentially, if I went to Convention as a fully-informed delegate, I
>voted for them, made my choices as it were. If I don't like what they
>do, am I helpless? Heck no! Can I change what they do? You're darn
>straight!

I accept in principle that the administration is me, and that it is necessary. But I don't accept that the administration currently reflects me. I don't think it reflects the spirit. As for what I can do about changing it, I would be interested in hearing what you feel are effective strategies. What can you change, X?

I have thought about this for years and years and have spent a lot of that time trying to twist myself into all sorts of contortions hoping that by changing myself, I would somehow impact on the administration. But in the end, nothing worked. As I see it, the administration is Baha'u'llah's problem, not mine. It's a problem of enormous proportions and all I can do is my part. And I have determined that my part is to speak out against injustices and lunacies like the House is propositionally inerrant, even if that means I lose my voting rights, because that is what a martyr would do and we are asked to choose the martyr's path. And I work on, on a daily basis, my purpose in life - to know and worship God, and I tell others about the cosmic love affair I experience and invite them to fall in love too.

That's what I do, and I am happier now than I have ever been in my efforts to change the community or administration. I figure that if change takes place in some future time, then I will be confident that I did not stand in the way of Baha'u'llah's work. I don't believe in propping up something that isn't working. Better to let it fall away and create itself anew. The old 'talk' just isn't working and I refuse to talk it anymore. I want a new discourse, and I'm helping to develop it.

With Love
Alison


Date: Sat, 22 Aug 1998 13:11:07 +1200
Subject: colonisation
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X You commented that in Australia, "the Assemblies are artificial Assemblies because according to the Guardian they are not comprised of the people of this country but rather the people of the origin of the Faith." I have heard that this is a big problem there.

This is a really big issue. It impacts on New Zealand as well, although I am not aware that we have the problem of Iranians being the majority on assemblies. Here, the issue is more one of cultural colonisation, rather than the more obvious issue of being outnumbered. New Zealanders tend to be informal, easy going people, who don't take things too seriously. My personal belief is that the dominant culture here has been influenced by the indigenous Maori culture, which has these characteristics. Luckily for New Zealand, the European culture did not have quite the devastating impact on the indigenous culture that it had in, say, Australia. This is largely due to the fact that the Maori people in large measure out smarted the British during the New Zealand wars and would have won them all for sure had they not been significantly outnumbered. In effect, they won the battles but lost the wars.

Unfortunately, this propensity towards informality and such is outshadowed in a mixed cultural environment, and when significant numbers of Iranians arrived, it was extinguished. Because NZ is situated so far from the major centres of the world, NZers tend to sit back and watch because we are used to being onlookers who do not/can not participate in the world's affairs. We are also a young country with a very malleable culture that is open to outside influences. The NZ Bahai community was, therefore, overawed by the Iranians because they came from the Faith's country of origin, and this was contributed to by the material from National telling us how wonderful the Iranians were and how lucky we were to have them. Feasts became formal occasions and much of the community's activities, which were an expression of New Zealanders' genuine friendly fellowship, died. New activities grew up out of a new cultural expression that no one took the time to explore. Things basically went from bad to worse from there. Also unfortunte was the fact that this process happened just at the time when we were overcoming the cultural influence of the US pioneers.

Because the process I have identified is spiritual, it's very difficult to explain to those without insight what you are talking about. It is so easy to dismiss the person identifing the problem as racist. But, for me, the quest is to empower and re-express that ephemeral thing that is a New Zealand expression, and ward off the colonists, if it's the last thing I do. Identifying and valuing this expression has been a very important step in this process.

Love
Alison


Date: Sat, 22 Aug 1998 13:11:12 +1200
Subject: Re: changing the AO
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

You said:
>I'm not much of a spiritualist but an activist by inclination and
>experience. I believe in change and change agents. Get a book on
>change. Take a course on becoming a change agent.

IMV the only change agent is the power and sovereignty of Baha'u'llah. This is the only thing that can transform hearts. Our job is to die to ourselves so that Baha'u'llah can live in us. From there, Baha'u'llah takes over and our job is to continue being a vassal and not get attached to the drama that unfolds around us at his behest. IMV, to aspire to any other goal, including an adminstrative position, is folly.

Al


Date: Sat, 22 Aug 1998 15:12:35 +1200
Subject: women on the House
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

You asked us to consider the following:
>It is said that current moral and social conditions of the
>American adolescents is influenced by the fact that
>most households are run by single mothers.
>I like to make the analogy between *humanity in its
>adolescent stage* and the adolescents run by single mother
>households.
>
>With some exceptions it is true that men are better
>disciplinarians when they apply their natural ability
> in this process. If, the human race is in its rebellious
>adolescent stage (I can do whatever I want. It is my right
>to do as I please, etc. etc. etc.)then it is only reasonable
>to believe that human race is not mature enough to have a
>balanced governing body composed of men and women to deal
>with its current problems. Thus, when
>it is mature and ready things may change to meet the needs.

This reasoning seems to me to be the wrong way around. I would argue that the child will not mature until it gets balanced parenting; that is, it is not a matter of the child having to mature in order to deserve balanced parenting, but a matter that we want the child to mature and therefore must provide it with balanced parenting.

This idea that a child will mature if you make it pull itself up by its bootstraps, that it must be deserving in the first instance, is a silly male notion, if you ask me. It is unbalanced in that it is lacking the quality of nurturance. Recently, I saw a move called "Character", where this notion was portrayed in its extreme form: the father thought he was maturing his son by, in effect, working against him and renouncing him. The son grew up loathing his father and aspiring to do anything that would prove himself, but was incapable of receiving and giving. In the end, he overcame his father's power over him by stopping himself from killing the father when he had the opportunity to do so. So, I would argue that this method of parenting does not and will never produce mature adults.

I would argue that the moral and social conditions of American adolescents is precisely a product of this bootstrap nonsense and nothing to do with solo mothers. Fathers have a role nurturing too. Why blame the parents who are hanging in there doing the best they can? I never got any nurturing from my dad, and this has patterned me irrevocably. The script for my quest for mental and spiritual health has been written around the theme of finding the 'nurturing father'.

Alison


Date: Tue, 25 Aug 1998 20:13:16 +1200
Subject: Re: slavery
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X asked:
>X's views are highly perceptive. Who is he?

X is a Bahai who lives in X. He has done a lot of research on aspects of Bahai theology, such as the Maiden, the Mashriq, transcendence and Remembrance, the covenant, slavery and liberation theology.

He is taking a workshop called "Healing the Hearts and Minds of Women and Men" at Bosch Bahai School November 13-15, which I am flying all the way from New Zealand to attend! Terry says he will be looking there at his Maiden theology and its self and cultural development implications.

>Didn't someone say that we won't have justice until we have the oneness
>of mankind?

Baha'u'llah said we wouldn't have unity until we had justice.

"The purpose of justice is the appearance of unity among men." (Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, Page: 67)

>If I knew we had true belief that all mankind was one, I'd
>feel better about being called to the station of servitude and would
>serve justly with my brothers and sisters. Until then, count me out for
>servitude. I'll be a helper, though.

I feel it's important to realise that we are asked to serve *God*, not the administration or any person - ignorant or knowledgeable. Serving God should work because God knows more about me than I know about myself. It's an act of trust, inspired by passion and devotion, brought on by experience that bares this out. I think how much we see God as acting in our best interests is influenced by our conditioning.

It has taken me ages to discover, for example, that the fact that I am a very sensitive person is a reflection of God and something that is *good* about me, not something to be put down. (I say to my friend X, "But I'll get all overwhelmed and cry" and X says "That's good, that's what's wonderful about you. It's you".) Knowing now that this aspect of my personality is a gift to the world and a reflection of an attribute of God, I stand up for it everywhere around me. It makes me value the mystical aspect of the faith and want to share it and my experiences widely. And so, you could say that I am a servant to it, and this is wonderful because it is, in reality, a real expression of who I am. I really really want to serve it because I love it passionately.

Love Alison


Date: Sat, 29 Aug 1998 13:53:48 +1200
Subject: Divine gaze
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X said:
>When I related this to my Jungian analyst, he helped me understand that,
>for me, 'Abdu'l-Baha was the reflection of Self and I had encountered It
>there in that blessed Chamber and found my self wanting, so I was
>afraid. In getting to do, all those years, what I thought was to know
>the Master was also to clarify for myself who I was and was not. I can
>tell you that that experience was the beginning of a new way, for me, of
>seeing things. My love for Him now is tied inextricably to
>responsibility; and I guess that's what has become problematic--because
>I've lost some kind of innocence, or joy, something I can't explain
>only feel. Do you understand what I'm saying? I know I've gained
>understanding and better emotional stability, but I miss the once me,
>when love for Him was easy.

This reminds me of something I have been thinking and feeling alot about over the last few months. In particular, I have been thinking about how I would react if someone like Baha'u'llah or Abdu'l-Baha or someone who I deeply admired gazed at me. People who came into the presence of Baha'u'llah were completely overwhelmed by the experience and would literally collapse on the floor.

Perhaps the most terrifying of all experiences is to allow someone with penetrating insight to actually gaze at you and know you really, while you know that you are completely open and vulnerable to them. I refer to something akin to what happens in love-making, but of course it is easy to mistake love-making for this experience because one can have sex and reveal nothing. I think opening oneself up like this is a supreme act of courage, for it is easier to close off and not let others and ourselves see. 'Am I lovable?', 'Am I, really, I bad person underneath it all?' - whatever our deepest fears, they must be confronted at such a moment. I think that it's not until we take the risk and open ourselves up to such vulnerability that we discover we are in fact a reflection of God, and beautiful and loveable.

I see this experience of the Divine Gaze as a reflection of the following Names of God: "O Thou Who Penetratist all things", "O All-Seeing God", "O On-looker Sought by all". Further, I think at least one interpretation is that it was the Divine Gaze that Baha'u'llah experienced when the Maiden moved her head down to His breast and searched everywhere for His heart, then His breast, and then His soul (Tablet of the Maiden). It is significant that, here, the Divine appears as a woman:

"She bowed Her head in the direction of my heart, scrutinizing all my limbs, members, bones, and inner organs, and though She had lost something and sought it everywhere. Her examination lasted for a long time. Then She lifted Her head until it reached my breast..." "Then She tilted Her head and brought it near once more to my breast, searching for so long a time that it cannot be expressed in the realm of glory, nor can it be uttered by the tongues of the eloquent." " At that point She was gazing at Me as a lover looketh on the beauty of the beloved."

Of course, Baha'u'llah also gazes at Her, but note that prior to Baha'u'llah gazing at Her, no-one in creation had ever done so: "Praised be to God! This is a houri upon Whom none have gazed save God, the exalted, the most high." "I was bewildered by the subtleties and wonders of Her creation. Behold, I discovered within myself a passion that grew out of my yearning for Her. I raised my hands toward Her, and lifted the hem of Her veil from Her shoulder. I found Her hair to be sandy, wavy and curly, lying on Her back in ringlets, hanging down almost to Her legs. And when the gales blew it to the right of Her shoulder, it perfumed the heavens and the earth. When it was blown to the left, from its fragrance there spread a holy musk-like scent."

I think it is something like this that Abdu'l-Baha refers to when he says "open up your self, your soul, your heart and your innermost being to this spring from which flows the Salsabil of the Wisdom of God the King, the Mighty, the Bounteous."

BTW, for anyone considering attending the workshop at Bosch (Nov 13-15), the Tablet of the Maiden will be one of the tablets that X will be focussing on.

Alison


Date: Mon, 31 Aug 1998 21:12:36 +1200
Subject: Re: reflecting the God within
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X said, and I agree with completely...
"At least the Mormans were able to know that they have the potential to reflect the attributes of God and therefore be delegated with God's authority in relation to governing one of the planets eventually. Your Baha'i Writings tell you similar things but the AO discourages looking at those verses which leaves the average Baha'i not being intouch with the reflect God power within. "Look within and you will see ME standing there, Mighty, Powerful, and Self-subsisting.....Arabic Hidden Words, No. 13 Being instructed to not dwell on this aspect - one is capped and has little chance of developing the powers of the reflected Source and therefore always must take orders of the interpretations of others of the Writings - that is the individuals choice however IMO - what does it take for a Baha'i to break this limited understanding imposed?"

Dear X

I feel you really have got to the heart of the matter. We are not encouraged to consciously recognise that we reflect the Names and Attributes of God. Rather, this process is mediated for us by the administration. We come to believe that we have no direct access to God or Baha'u'llah because this access is only through the administration. In a sense, it's like the administration has taken the place of the clergy. We look to it for what's True and Right; it gives us the Right Way to think and see things; it tells us the 'Baha'i' approach to this and that, including scholarly methodology.

And we sit around wondering why we don't have the kind of increase in numbers that we dream about! But it seems to me that in this state, we cannot dream, because someone else is dreaming for us.

Alison


Date: Mon, 31 Aug 1998 21:12:38 +1200
Subject: Re: Divine gaze
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X asks:
>What I've never understood, though, is how believers could be in the
>presence of Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha and never ask anything--just be
>swept away, sometimes even pass out. Thank God for people like Laura
>Barney or we wouldn't have SOME ANSWERED QUESTIONS even. We could have
>known the answer to getting rid of fear if somebody had asked. What the
>International Language would be. Even more about the next world. Lots
>of things (maybe even most of everything) if somebody had been able to
>be in their right minds in Their Presence. What is it about the Divine
>Gaze that sweeps us away?

Dear X

I was reading the Ode of the Dove yesterday, and what seemed like an answer to your question came. Baha'u'llah is describing the Maiden in the following verses. In one sense, the Maiden is the spiritual self of Baha'u'llah, so when the believers came into the presence of Baha'u'llah, they experienced what Baha'u'llah describes in relation to the Maiden. I have quoted a number of verses to give the context (there are 127), but it is especially verse 8 that I thought was significant. It seems to me that Baha'u'llah is describing an ecstatic state where you would feel like all your questions were answered, and so don't think to ask questions. As for why one might be swept away, wouldn't you be if you encountered something akin to what Baha'u'llah describes?

Al


Date: Tue, 1 Sep 1998 19:31:36 +1200
Subject: backbiting?
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

At 07:23 AM 31/8/98 -0400, you wrote:
>Hello all,
>
>What is the difference between men fighting by guns and
>knives, tanks and bombs,
>versus men fighting with words and thoughts? It is very
>difficult -for me at least-
>to understand how persons of such intellect, talent and
>position in life find themselves
>in contradictory actions to their beliefs. What I see here
>is everyone is backbiting.

This is the kind of position some Baha'is took when Baha'u'llah and Azal fell out. They thought it was all such a bother that such silly pettiness should bring us all down. But was Baha'u'llah just backbiting when he stuck up for himself against someone who did him wrong, but was often clever enough to hide it?

Alison


Date: Sat, 5 Sep 1998 12:38:23 +1200
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: Re: mutilation theology

"Pasteur Monnier: Is your aim to found a new religion?

'Abdu'l-Baha: Our aim is to free the foundations of the religion of God from the clouds of dogmas for the sun of reality is prevented from shining forth. We desire to dispel these black impenetrable fogs, so that the regions of the world may be flooded and illumined. May these foul clouds never return, may the rays of the sun of reality encircle all countries, for the sun has no beginning in time and no ending."

-- transcript of an interview with 'Abdu'l-Baha.

I think there's every indication that the Baha'is are focussed on founding a new religion, and have completely missed the point about dogma. Here's an instructive example, which shows this process at work at levels other than the ones Juan describes. This was reported in BINS (aptly named) about a statement put out by the NZ NSA:

------------ NEW ZEALAND The National Assembly Addresses Issues of Human Rights and the Writings

The Teachings of Baha'u'llah bring a new definition of what it means to be human and, therefore, new standards of human rights. To help educate the friends in human rights issues, the National Spiritual Assembly prepared a paper entitled Indigenous People and Minorities in the Baha'i Faith' to be disseminated throughout the Baha'i community.

There is a high level of awareness among the friends in New Zealand that indigenous peoples make a unique contribution to the advancement of the Cause,' an introduction to the paper stated. However, the National Assembly has noticed that there are some misunderstandings on the subject abroad in the Baha'i community. It prepared the paper so as to offer a balanced understanding of the Teachings of the Faith regarding the advancement of indigenous peoples.'

------------

Note the language here: "To help educate the friends in human rights issues..." "The National Assembly has noticed that there are some misunderstandings on the subject abroad in the Baha'i community." "It prepared the paper so as to offer a balanced understanding of the Teachings of the Faith regarding the advancement of indigenous peoples."

To me, this is a classic example of the institutions assuming the role of interpretation. The implication is "the believers had it wrong and we the institutions, who know, had to put them right". It has all the hallmarks of dogma-making to me. (Dogma: "principle, tenet, doctrinal system as laid down by authority of church".) Am I free to disagree with the NSA on this matter? I think not, for by definition, my opinion would be a misunderstanding of the writings and not balanced. At this point, I would be lovingly encouraged to alter my opinions to bring them into line with 'right-thinking' Baha'is. And so, I now fall into line, or stand up for my sacred expression of reality: "Hey, I believe my opinions to be the result of my own reasoned investigation of the matter". If I speak out and the institutions consider the matter important enough, they would tell me that I have 'violated the covenant' because I have acted contrary to their authority by saying something that disagreed with their conclusions on a matter. But I say, who has violated the covenant? Me or the institutions who have attempted to take from me my sacred right to form an opinion and express it?

And to all those who say my expression is a behaviour and therefore legitimately within the realm of control by institutions, I say this: that the Aqdas says I must *know and worship* God. The two are inseparable; it is not enough that I should just know that Baha'u'llah is a manifestation of God, I must express this in the world through my devotion. And similarly, it is not enough that I should just form opinions, I must express these in the world as part of my devotion. So by expressing myself, I am not breaking the law, I am abiding by the law and not letting others rewrite that law for me.

Alison


Date: Thu, 10 Sep 1998 20:39:57 +1200
Subject: Re: the pig
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X said, and I agree with her... "I've worked for the concept of the "protection of the faith" so I do have a lot of experience in that field - and now I look at things the other way around which is: The Faith should protect the individual (love,care,assistance) and that is the true way to protect Itself."

Well said! Our loyalty is to God, Truth, Love, that Essence that abides with us and nourishes us daily. To me, this is the guts of the covenant. The covenant is about the *remembrance of God*, not obedience to the institutions. That's why Baha'u'llah says in the Aqdas that we violate the covenant if we don't read the writings everyday.

Protecting the covenant is about protecting this God-given right of each individual to experience and express this remembrance. Remembrance is at the heart of who I am, who I can be. I *need* it to realise Baha'u'llah's hopes for me and to serve Him. For this reason, it is sanctified, and the writings are full of the importance of protecting it - "The healer of all thine ills is remembrance of Me, forget it not. Make My love thy treasure and cherish it even as thy very sight and life." (Baha'u'llah: Persian Hidden Words, page 32)

So, as I see it, the role the AO is to foster this in me and do everything it possibly can to encourage me on this path, love me for following it, and harness its energies. In my view, however, the AO works against this process by permitting what I consider to be the promotion of fear in the community. Baha'is are terrified of the 'covenant'; it inspires believers to shut down, not open up and create. It keeps them tame. It leads them to collude in a situation where they believe they do not need due process in AO procedures.

X said, and I agree with her again... "This panoptican model is deadly for the spirit of humans. Where is the Spirit of love and compassion. Baha'u'llah was the father of compassion and yet there is no where to find that valuable attribute within the Faith anymore."

I have thought a lot about this fear business, and how it keeps us tame. I think it has something to do with our concept of sin, which we've picked up from Christianity. We worry that we may *do something wrong* and if we do something wrong, we will be punished, thunderbolted or whatever. But from my reading of the Kitab-i-Iqan, this is not how Baha'u'llah sees things. He argues that we are judged on our mystical insight, and that for those with mystical insight, their sins are forgiven them. For, logically, we can never be perfect and so to argue that we cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven because we may do something wrong, is unjust. (Note, moreover, that mystical insight is promoted through the remembrance of God.)

"Hearts have they, with which they understand not, and eyes have they with which they see not!"(2) Consider how with this one verse which hath descended from the heaven of the Will of God, the world and all that is therein have been brought to a reckoning with Him. Whosoever acknowledged His truth and turned unto Him, his good works outweighed his misdeeds, and all his sins were remitted and forgiven. Thereby is the truth of these words concerning Him made manifest: "Swift is He in reckoning." Thus God turneth iniquity into righteousness, were ye to explore the realms of divine knowledge, and fathom the mysteries of His wisdom. (Baha'u'llah: The Kitab-i-Iqan, pages 113-114)

For me, this is where compassion begins. I do not have to be perfect, and I have no need to fear being judged or doing wrong. My job is to love as much as I possibly can! "Love Me that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee." Oh, the warmth of a passionate, ever-abiding embrace.

X said:
" Because I have been involved in mass teaching/consolidation in my past when I arrived here I had moles attached to all my teaching endeavors (even in consultation on Assemblies) who I thought were my good friends only to find out they were in a conspiracy to undo all efforts of reaching the troops and rendering me ineffective in reaching the troops. All these smiling faces pretending to be friends while they were reporting my every hope for the advancement of the Faith thereby subterfuging my pure heart. That kind of protection is not for God."

X, I would be interested in hearing more about this, if you feel like telling us about it.

Yours Alison


Date: Sun, 13 Sep 1998 13:01:44 +1200
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: dreamin'

X said: "What do they need to know: Baha'u'llah is the Promised One, Abdu'l-Baha is the Centre of His Covenant, the Universal House of Justice is the God-guided world embracing administrative institution directing our efforts. Pray, fight your own spiritual battles, and give to the fund. Go study."

Well, X, IMV, they need to know a darn sight more than that. This tired old formula won't keep 'em. It sure wasn't going to keep me. They need to know that everything that they are, or can be, or yearn for, or dream about, or love is a divinely-inspired path that the world desperately needs them to walk.

X asked: "So can we dream the invisible Divine Unity into the visible - that is the Question?" I say, yes we can, and what we need is more people dreaming. Our dreams have power; that's what I hear Baha'u'llah saying. I'm gonna dream what others are too fearful to dream. I want women on the House; I want the Faith broken free of its administrative shackles; I want a Faith that is empowered by Beauty.

Last night I dreamed that 'Abdu'l-Baha was lying on a bed - he was very ill, or dead or asleep, whatever, but he was not physically active in this world. I had to move his things and was in the process of doing this, putting them outside on the footpath/sidewalk. I picked up one item that I knew contained something Precious and took it outside. I knew that I was being watched, and that someone did not like me looking after and protecting this Precious-container. I wondered where I should put it down, knowing that I was holding a hot potato. Eventually, I put it down in a way that I thought would make it unnoticable amongst other items. I also didn't want it stolen. I put it down, turned around and began to walk back to get more things from inside, when someone came up to me and accused me of trying to steal this Precious-container. I felt unjustly accused. I was trying to help, and was being protective of it. My actions were deliberately misinterpreted. The person who accused me was large and male and I knew he had no heart. He wanted to possess me, but knew he had lost control of me when he saw how lovingly I cared for the Precious-container. Before I had a chance to profess my innocence, he put his arm around my throat and I woke up.

Alison


Date: Sun, 13 Sep 1998 22:11:16 +1200
Subject: Re: dreamin'
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X says: "So, I think in God's Plan we must identify the Spirit wherever it may be and nourish that Knowledge in this stage of unfoldment."

I agree. We need to follow the Spirit wherever it takes us. To me, this is pioneering. It takes courage and direction, though, and, for me, the only way to find these is to fall in love with Baha'u'llah's Beauty through remembering and worshipping Him. I see that Beauty when I read the mystical writings like the Tablet of the Maiden and the Ode of the Dove. In the Tablet of the Maiden, Baha'u'llah describes how inebriated He is with the beauty of the Maiden. He refers to her beauty as being powerful. "Then blessed be God, Her fashioner, for the manifestation of might that I witnessed in Her beauty, and the modalities of power that I saw in Her splendour."

He describes His vision as a "vision of eternity". To me, this means that it is a divine drama that is unfolding all the time - from a 'beginning that knoweth no beginning' to an 'end that knoweth no end'. Each generation participates in this drama; and so, following the Spirit is about working out where in the drama we each fit. In the Iqan, Baha'u'llah makes it clear that we are all 'returns' of the previous generations. We are not a return of the physical aspects of those generations, but a return of their "fragrance".

"Therefore, those who in every subsequent Dispensation preceded the rest of mankind in embracing the Faith of God, who quaffed the clear waters of knowledge at the hand of the divine Beauty, and attained the loftiest summits of faith and certitude, these can be regarded, in name, in reality, in deeds, in words, and in rank, as the "return" of those who in a former Dispensation had achieved similar distinctions. For whatsoever the people of a former Dispensation have manifested, the same hath been shown by the people of this latter generation. Consider the rose: whether it blossometh in the East or in the West, it is none the less a rose. For what mattereth in this respect is not the outward shape and form of the rose, but rather the smell and fragrance which it doth impart." (Baha'u'llah: The Kitab-i-Iqan, pages 158-159)

I agree with X that those believers who have left the community, or withdrawn, have done so because they were following the Spirit and the Plan of God for them and the world. They are still working for the Faith of Baha'u'llah and are, no doubt, in better positions to do so. They have not abandoned us or the Faith, but have been true to the covenant and have borne a great deal of grief for their efforts.

67. Look on the tears of My eyes, how they flow;
gaze on My inmost heart, how it doth fade.
68. Each day the spears of all have struck Me down,
and each night I died by rejection's blade.
69. I read each line of atheism's book;
each second I heard everyone's rude jeers,
70. And faced false charges of idolatry.
Each day I was transfixed by exile's spears--
71. As though fate's woes descended just for Me,
and fury's blades were sharpened for My neck:
-- Baha'u'llah, "Ode of the Dove"


Date: Fri, 25 Sep 1998 08:03:08 +1200
Subject: Re: The photograph
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X:

While it may be true that the AO controls things, that the faith has become a cult and the Baha'is make mysterious things that really need to be out in the open, IMV this is different.

It may be that a photograph of Baha'u'llah is just a photograph to you, but to me, it is a photograph of the Most Beautiful Being ever. Putting aside all issues of how the AO manages photographs of Baha'u'llah and whether they get that process right, a photograph of Baha'u'llah is a sacred thing to me. Your posting a file of that photograph to all the members of Taliman in such a cavalier and insensitive manner shows to me just exactly what you think of the Very Thing I consider most sacred in existence. What you did was deeply offensive to me and demonstrates that you have only contempt for my feelings and for what I believe.

Why did you do it, X? You could have given the URL to everyone so that people could have gone to the site for themselves? At the very least, you could have *asked* people if they wanted a copy of the file. But no, you have to take something that you know the Baha'is love more than anything and shove it in their faces with an arrogance and disrespect that I find unfathomable. X asks for the URL and you attack her for this. It is not sufficient for you that poeple should be allowed the space to make up their own minds about a matter that deeply affects them - yes, emotionally, as you say contemptuously. You have to rob them of that right to choose. You have shown yourself to be no better than those you condemn.

Alison


Date: Sat, 26 Sep 1998 18:57:29 +1200
Subject: Re: The photograph-meaning of gift...
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

I admire your courage in coming out and defending what is obviously so infinitely precious to you. It was a really difficult thing for me to do, and X's cruel response to me sent me to my Mashriq, where I cried for a good hour. I feel certain that you have read X right, despite his protestations about his intentions. The issue is how best we can defend and protect our hearts and feelings from one so obviously bent on being malicious.

Clearly, X arrogantly thinks he knows what is best for us, and believes he has the right to unveil our Beloved whenever he thinks the time is right. I agree completely with X that X's actions were a violation of my privacy. I would be interested in knowing how other Baha'is feel about all this.

Alison


Date: Sun, 27 Sep 1998 07:17:47 +1200
Subject: Re: The photograph-meaning of gift...
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X I appreciate your willingness to 'hear' my feelings on this, even though you disagree with, or cannot understand, them. Thanks.

For my part, I agree with you that the Baha'is should have access to photographs of Baha'u'llah if they wish to. Not everyone can afford to go on pilgrimage, which means that their access is cut off. But even so, I don't think increased access would mean that the photograph will be seen as 'just a photo', in the same way that a photo of anyone we love lots is more than that. Sure, in one sense, it is 'just a photo', but in another sense it is not.

Alison


Date: Sun, 4 Oct 1998 12:40:35 +1300 (NZDT)
Subject: Re: Control
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X,

I like your Act of Freedom. I am very interested to find out what happens when you apply it in your own life. Keep me posted. I predict that one of the things that will surprise you will be the identity of those who do, in the end, try to stand in your way and deliberately misinterpret your intentions. It is not until the process is generated and you are in the middle of it that these people reveal themselves. My experience is that it is often the ones you least expect. In the Ode of the Dove, the Maiden tells Baha'u'llah that he must "renounce all necessity". For me, this means in this context that the person who will stand in your way might be the person you love most of all in the world, so we must be prepared for such a possibility.

About Baha'is being quiet at feast, I think that there is another dynamic happening in addition to the one you describe. I think that the Baha'is are quiet at feast because their imaginations have not been activated. I have just been reading the writings of Abd Al-Karim Jili. He says that the "imagination is the substance of all the universes". What he means is that it is in our imaginations that we process our reality and experiences and come to 'know' God. He would say that we use our imaginations to witness the divine theophany, that is, God's self-revelation in everything around and in us. I hear him saying something akin to Abdu'l-Baha, when he says that "the reality of man is his thought".

It wasn't until I read Resurrection and Renewal that I realised for the first time just how much our [the Baha'is'] imaginations are, what Abd Al-Karim Jili would describe as, "asleep". Reading the book, you get an image of the Bab and the Letters of the Living all working together to 'imagine' the course of the Revelation. They actively created its path through their dreams, passions and inspirations, creating theology as they went. It was a dynamic process that bordered on the chaotic. Interestingly, the Bab, although the Manifestation, did not *lead* this process as such, although, of course, he made a unique contribution to it. Rather, he participated in it with his disciples.

My feeling is that it is precisely the lack of this process that renders the Baha'is silent. Our imaginations are not activated and therefore we cannot, and are not, creating the world Baha'u'llah has told us is there for the taking. It is through our imaginations that we would unlock the unbeatable power Baha'u'llah says he has that would enable us to realise our dreams. Instead, I see the Administration wanting to do the imagining for us; we are not encouraged to do so, despite what is said in the correspondence. Do you believe what is said in the correspondence? Of course, it is reasonable to do so, but I don't. I have come to see the correspondence in a similar way to how Abdul-Baha saw the statements of those in his time who claimed they wanted democracy for Iran. I attach the quote below. It is easy to say all the right things, but I don't see the process described above being encouraged by the administration, and, to me, this is what counts.

I agree with you, X, it would be wonderful if all the Baha'is were to follow your Act of Freedom. To do so would be to overcome what I see as the administration's domination of the Faith, but also any other obstacles that stand in our way of realising the spiritual heritage left to us by Baha'u'llah. Of course, many are not going to see any obstacles because they will not follow your Act of Freedom and so will not push the boundaries sufficiently to encounter obstacles. And so we have, in my mind, the tragedy of humanity such as it is; why the Baha'is do not realise their dreams and why humanity continues to suffer, as is described in the Tablet of the Holy Mariner.

Love Alison

--------------------

"You, who are firm in the covenant: You wrote a glorious letter saying that the time has arrived, of the most great glad-tidings that a national parliament [shura-yi milli] has been established in Iran and that arrangements are being made for a constitutional government that is in accord with the divine Law, in conformity with the explicit command of the Most Holy Book. I read what you wrote about the joy and delight of the American intellectuals and scholars at this life-giving good news, as well as the rejoicing at the Ottoman embassy. This became a cause for great happiness. The constitutional government is, according to the unequivocal divine Text, sanctioned by the revealed Law, and it is a cause of the might and prosperity of the State, to which allegiance is owed, and of the progress and liberty of the respected citizenry.

"But, of a certainty, the hand of the selfish clerical leaders is at work. Outwardly, they desire a national parliament and raise a hue and cry. But secretly, they are endeavoring to spread turmoil, to instigate, and to oppose the good intentions of the State. Most secretly of all, they have no desire whatsoever to see the establishment of a national parliament. Their purpose is not in the least that Iran should become civilized, that the nation should gain insight, that modern progress be achieved, that sufficient information become available or that knowledge become the property of the masses. For thieves seek darkness, hunters desire to foul everyone's water, and bats hate the light of the sun. The dung beetle does not smell of fragrant gardens. The ravenous wolf craves snow and food, and the wine-seller desires uncomprehending drunks. Likewise, these leaders of religion wish to cast the nation into the whirlpool of ignorance, so that the reins will fall into the hands of the evil clerics. In the same way, they believe that learning, rectitude, progress, and the nation's devotion to the truth would lead to their own debasement."


Date: Fri, 27 Nov 1998 18:46:40 +1300 (NZDT)
Subject: a response to your response
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

Recently, I had a chance to read some of your reply to Dr Cole's article. I was struck by some comments you made and felt moved to respond. In particular, you say:

"In order to resign from membership in the Baha'i community an individual must publicly renounce his recognition of the prophetic station of Baha'u'llah, the validity of his Covenant and the obligatory character of the Baha'i laws and teachings. Anyone who takes such a drastic course of action must assume full responsibility for his behaviour. If Dr Cole is sincere in his renunciation of Baha'i membership, the present writer will look forward to his transition to a new identity, one not associated with the Baha'i Faith. However, his comments in this article, and his recent book on the Baha'i Faith seem to indicate that Dr Cole wishes to remain associated with Baha'u'llah, as a protestant and dissident, as a reinterpreter of Baha'i text, doctrine and history."

X, why do you "look forward" to Dr Cole taking on a new identity - one not associated with the Baha'i Faith? I can't understand this. You are a Baha'i, don't you yearn for people to take on a Baha'i identity? Instead, you seem to want him to 'get out' and stop dragging his feet. You even don't want him to 'associate' with Baha'u'llah! Surely the ideal here is to extend the hand of friendship and invite Dr Cole to return to the Baha'i community.

You argue that Dr Cole should not associate with Baha'u'llah because you believe he "reinterprets" Baha'i text, doctrine and history. But what, exactly, is he supposed to have reinterpreted it from? Everyone is entitled to their interpretation - even Dr Cole, whether he is Baha'i or not. The only 'problem' you have, that I can see, is that Dr Cole has a different interpretation to you, and has therefore "reinterpreted" Baha'i text, doctrine and history from *your* perspective. This is backed up by the fact that you call his interpretations "unusual", and view those who hold similar interpretations as "dissidents". You also see nothing unusual in 'reporting' dissidents to the institutions, as though their opinions are somehow culpable.

X, how do you know you are right? Perhaps it is your interpretation that is 'unusual'. Furthermore, how can you be so sure of your position that you feel justified in standing in judgement over someone else, wishing them miles from Baha'u'llah and then claiming that you are doing this for the covenant? You accuse Dr Cole of trying to attract followers, but what I hear coming from you is 'agree with me or else!' That is *your* covenant X, not Baha'u'llah's. You are getting them mixed up. Baha'u'llah's covenant says "Am I not your Lord?" In other words, do not cause disunity by judging others, because you are nothing and "He doeth whatsoever He willeth".

It is easy to stand up for the status quo. You have risked nothing by doing this. For my part, I admire Dr Cole for standing up and saying a lot of things that many others are too scared to say. He is hated for this. Who wants to hear voiced what we dare not acknowledge? It is all very well to nit pick about the detail in Dr Cole's article, but I'm hopeful that one day the Baha'i community will be mature enough to take a good look at itself and say, "Hey, we've got some real problems here. Why don't we investigate them and see if we can't sort some of this stuff out." If we could just take our egos out of the equation, we would do this in an instant. We would see that this is what Baha'u'llah would have us do. There is no shame in this course of action, only glory. Rumi tells us that we find humility by finding the troubled soul inside.

Alison Marshall


Date: Tue, 1 Dec 1998 20:47:00 +1300 (NZDT)
Subject: Re: Baha'is and Big Buildings
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

After reading the article, I was left with the impression that local people were fully justified in feeling uneasy about the Arc developments: huge developments that they could not relate to, with benefits, such as the gardens, that they have to fight to partake of. If I was a local, I would be worried. The Baha'is come across like multi-national property developers that have only grudging respect for local sensibilities. To argue, for example, that the people cannot expect to use the gardens because they are on private property is a materialist (as well as an exclusivist) position. This is my land not your land, so keep out. I think the Baha'is are failing to appreciate how big an impact they are having on the lives of locals. They seem to have their own vision firmly planted before their eyes and can no longer appreciate how that affects others. This is made worse by the self-righteous belief that this is what Baha'u'llah would have wanted.

I don't believe all this is necessary. OK, one day we will need big buildings for when there are millions of Baha'is, but not now. We are miles from the Golden Age, let's not build Golden Age buildings before their time. Golden Age buildings need to be the fruit of their time, not the burden of generations. This is also my understanding of the Shoghi Effendi quote, that things will develop naturally if allowed to. There is no need to impose or undertake a conquest, and frighten people in the process. Unfortunately, the Baha'is never really got a hold of what teaching was all about. We see it as a conquest, not as a spiritual leavening. As a result, things have not turned out as planned. And partly as a result of this conquest-thinking and partly because of disappointing community growth, we've come to think that if we build, they will come.

I think we're in for a big disappointment. We will build, but they won't come and the institutions will not mature. Thinking that you can achieve such outcomes by erecting a building is just desperate literalism. As for the Lesser Peace, whatever it is, it is probably with us already.

Alison


Date: Fri, 4 Dec 1998 08:32:54 +1300 (NZDT)
Subject: Re: moving discussion
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

>H-Baha'i is interesting to me, because the participants appear to
>present the best of what they know and are researching in the Faith.
>There's no reason Talisman II couldn't rise to that level, in my
>opinion. Wasn't Talisman I interesting and controversial proferring
>substantive information?

Yes, indeed. This is exactly what I would desire for Talisman II. There is nothing to prevent us from being this way, except ourselves.

It's hard to put my finger on it, but there is something unique about Talisman. I am very attached to it and consider it a significant part of my Baha'i community. What I like about it, even though it gets me down a lot, is that there are real people here just being themselves and revealing their beauty in this. Because H-Bahai is academically focused, I think this beauty is lost quite a bit. For me, H-Baha'i feeds my intellect, but struggles to feed my soul and heart. But if we chose it, Talisman could be both. Then it really would be a talisman, like Talisman I was.

Love Alison


Date: Thu, 10 Dec 1998 17:26:29 +1300 (NZDT)
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: re binding law

Hi guys

Here is a message I wrote to H-Baha'i in response to X's message, which X forwarded to Talisman a few days ago.

Alison

----------------

Date: Tue, 8 Dec 1998 18:05:37 +1300 (NZDT)
From: Alison Marshall alisonz@clear.net.nz

Thank you to X for his wonderful explanation of the priority of the Person of the manifestation, or Word, over the texts in determining the Law or the Will of God.

From this perspective, the text is viewed as Baha'u'llah's attempt to capture in words his mystical experience with the Maid of Heaven. X has argued that the written revelation - all of it - is an inspired account of this relationship. Even issues involving justice are outcomes of it. The texts, therefore, must be interpreted in the context of this relationship, not the other way around. The texts and everything else in creation are *servants* of this mystical union, hence the error in paths such as literalism and legalism.

This experience of union generating text and written law is illustrated in Jackson's article on the generative imagery in The Dispensation of Baha'u'llah. In it, Jackson tells us that Shoghi Effendi describes the Will and Testament as a "child" of the "mystic intercourse" between Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha. The Will and Testament is the result of the "creative energies released by the Law of Baha'u'llah ... permeating and evolving within the mind of 'Abdu'l-Baha". Note that 'Abdu'l-Baha is, to quote X, a 'person freely co-operating' in this relationship. Jackson says that ''Abdu'l-Baha contributed to the character' of the Will.

Similarly, I would argue, the House of Justice, the Administrative Order, the Baha'i community and each one of us has a relationship with the Word or the Maiden, and that it is from this relationship that we also determine the Will of God and Law, and place ourselves in a position to understand the texts. Like 'Abdu'l-Baha when he created the Will and Testament, this process requires us to *use* our free will; the process is subverted if we, for example, act from blind obedience, or are in some way constrained. This ties in with Terry's emphasis on protecting the agency of human beings, which is required if we are to extract meaning from our experience of the divine.

This fits with Baha'u'llah's statement that creation is manifested at each moment - even as I write this sentence: "Verily, the Word of God is the cause which hath preceded the contingent world... yet is being renewed and regenerated at all times." (Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p 141). In effect, each moment of our lives, we are in union with God and writing our text on the Preserved Tablet. The manifestation doesn't write our script for us - the Báb tells us, for example, that the covenant came into being, not when the Bab declared, but when Mulla Huseyn believed.

When it comes to determining the Law or the Will of God for ourselves, therefore, the answers come firstly from our experience of Beauty - just as it did for Baha'u'llah. The *meaning* of the text is a child of that union. And as the relationship unfolds, so the meaning changes. Law becomes a dynamic, growing process. In the article referred to above, Jackson argues that the meaning of the Will and Testament is played out in the context of the functioning of the Administrative Order. "The expression in action of the Will within the Baha'i community is not something fixed but something that must be worked at within particular circumstances and as those circumstances change so may the 'meaning' of the Will and Testament".

We end up, as X suggests, with a formulation in which Law is viewed as something indeterminate and determinative - it engages our will and we change in response to it. It is not something determined that we are powerless in the face of.

This takes me to the issue of excluding women from membership of the House of Justice. From the above, we know that the most important thing about the law is that it must make sense in the context of the Law; that is, in the context of a union with the most beautiful creature Baha'u'llah ever laid eyes on. Does the exclusion fit with the Law? Good evidence for it not fitting is in the fact that the acceptable 'explanation' of the exclusion is that we can't understand it at all, but that it will become clear. This suggests to me that no one has ever had a vision or mystical experience of Beauty that would help explain it - not even Baha'u'llah or 'Abdu'l-Baha, who have failed to explain it in the text. Can you imagine Baha'u'llah telling the Maiden that, should She choose to embody Herself on earth in female form, She wouldn't be eligible for House membership? (In effect, this is to argue that if Baha'u'llah was a woman, She would not be eligible.)

Furthermore, the kind of law or understanding we'd expect from a vision or experience of Beauty is an appreciation of the subtleties of spiritual principle, and the exclusion is a contradiction of spiritual principle. The application of the spiritual principle can be put on hold for the sake of wisdom, but this does not remove the contradiction.

The exclusion, therefore, does not seem to fit with the Law. It is from this perspective, then, that we must examine the texts. Are there any explicit arguments in the texts for a positive law requiring an exclusion? No. Baha'u'llah does not exclude women from House membership in the Aqdas. The issue is therefore not clear in the Book. 'Abdu'l-Baha's interpretation is not clear either; we know that he changed his position on the issue of women on local houses in reaction to circumstances. Moreover, as X has pointed out, 'Abdu'l-Baha's example can be problematic in that he did things that seemed to contradict the Aqdas, such as give to the poor.

I suggest that, in view of considerations such as these, to interpret the texts as requiring a positive exclusion is to do so in spite of what we might reasonably believe is the Law on this issue. And, on the formulation that our primary source of law is not the text but the Law, it is inconsistent with the Law and the law that women should not be eligible to be members of the House of Justice. I can accept that such an outcome may be delayed for reasons of wisdom; however, I think it is necessary to be clear that the spiritual principle is primary and requires the ultimate removal of the exclusion.

I also do not think that the House's hands are tied by the written text. To adopt this position betrays a view of the law as determined and as something that does not engage our free will. We may think that this is the safe option, but it doesn't work that way - we are still writing something on the Preserved Tablet. The House is empowered to act: it has a union with Her that requires it be faithful to its experience of Her Beauty and it is empowered in the Will and Testament to legislate for what is not in the Book.

In the end, I suspect that a clear statement from 'Abdu'l-Baha that women could be members of the Universal House of Justice would not have eliminated the fundamental problem that Baha'is see themselves as passive instruments of the law, as opposed to active participants in its development.

Alison Marshall


Date: Fri, 11 Dec 1998 18:23:34 +1300 (NZDT)
Subject: Re: re binding law
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

Thanks for your comments.

I guess what you are saying is that if the exclusion was a purely practical matter, this supports the view that in the realm of the Law, there is no basis for the exclusion.

The bit about the female manifestation or the Maiden not being eligible for House membership was meant to be a thought experiment to demonstrate the logic of the position currently held. It was not meant to be seen as a real scenario. Of course, what is spiritual is what's most real, so in that sense, we do exclude the Maiden from our community life, and this is just one example of that in my view.

I don't believe the Guardian has 'boxed in' the House of Justice. Neither the Guardian nor Abdul-Baha were empowered to legislate; they are interpreters. Abdul-Baha's interpretation of the Aqdas is unclear, and from what you suggest, probably based on hikmat. The Guardian's comments are based on this interpretation. I suggest that this hardly a situation of clear interpretation, and certainly not enough to justify a blatant violation of spiritual principle. For example, we have no clear reasoning here, like we do for why two wives means one wife. It is the House's function to legislate and I believe that this is a matter they are empowered to legislate on given that it is not clear in the Book.

You say: "A related problem X pointed out is that if the Universal House of Justice decides that it *can* start overriding the Guardian on this issue, what is next? Things might get even more scary for liberals than they are now!"

They couldn't get more scary without more damage to the Cause. That's what I care about. It's not my butt I'm looking after. I'm already dead.

I don't think the problem is the House overriding the Guardian. As I said above, the House can override the Guardian and legislate for whatever it wants. What it can't do is interpret Baha'u'llah's Religion authoritatively. In my view, however, the House is already doing this; for example, accusing people of changing the essential nature of the Cause. It's not the function of the House of Justice to enforce its view of the essential nature of the Cause. This is a matter of interpretation.

The exclusion issue has nothing to do with who is a liberal and who a traditionalist, and even less to do with people who feel they are a priori entitled to a level of respect beyond that of others. Just because my views can be conveniently labelled "liberal" doesn't make them wrong or able to be disregarded on that basis. I have put forward what I consider to be some worthwhile arguments against current thinking. Those who don't like them can come up with some better arguments - ones that have nothing to do with me being a liberal Westerner who is sunk in a sea of individualism and pushing her own disgruntled agenda.

From my view, the issue should be looked at on the basis of justice. Isn't it justice we should put before us? As I have demonstrated, the exclusion is a violation of the Law/Logos/Word and with our union with the Maiden. This must be our starting point. Even if the consequences of this can be only gradually brought into effect, that's OK. But the bottom line is that we must be honest. We can't go on making fools of ourselves by maintaining that the current position is defensible.

As to the question: "will it do more damage to the larger interests of the Faith if the Universal House of Justice makes the change, than if it leaves things 'as is'"?

I think the answer is no. If the basis of the Law is the Word/Logos and our relationship with the Maiden, then this is where we start from, not from considerations in the physical world. This is the problem, we look at the physical, decide it is too hard and then chicken out. What a waste of Baha'u'llah's power. What a tragic blindness to the Beauty of His Revelation! We need to change this around and start by seeing the Beauty, then believe and love and die, and then everything comes to us! This way *we* create our future. Everything is possible!

You say: "I would argue that this discussion is not of much importance outside of small intellectual circles unless the Universal House of Justice publishes something that specifically supports X's "theoretical" position."

This discussion has much wider implications than you suggest. X's argument cannot be written off as "theoretical". He put forward proof texts for it. It stands up; it holds water. Anyone who disagrees with it should come up with some arguments. X's argument does not need the approval of the House of Justice to make it legitimate, nor is it the function of the House to determine authoritatively whether it has value.

Alison


Date: Sat, 12 Dec 1998 15:16:20 +1300 (NZDT)
Subject: change
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X: I do not post my arguments on this list because I want to pressure the House to change the exclusion rule. Everything that happens in the world happens by the leave of Baha'u'llah. "Think that the hand of God is chained up?" No. If Baha'u'llah willed it, the exclusion would be gone tomorrow, no question.

I post my arguments here because I believe they are arguments that merit consideration. And I post my arguments here because I am in love with Truth and Beauty. That is all.

My personal belief is that the exclusion issue is one we have created for ourselves as a result of our own ignorance. Now, the wisdom in this unjust situation is this: it provides a context for those who chose it to speak out the Truth as they see it. It is a blessing!

As I see it, what happens in the physical world is of no consequence. In the end, no matter how powerful a person or institution is or thinks it may be, there is nothing more powerful than someone who loves so much that they are willing to die for their Beloved. This testimony is so attractive it will take people completely over. This is what the Faith is built on; that's how the Cause perpetuates itself. It has no need of self-perservation because in every act of death there are a thousand acts of life.

I post because I love this process more than anything else. There is nothing else to love. It is so beautiful that I just swoon away at the thought of it. I want to be a part of it more than anything.

"Were any man to taste the sweetness of the words which the lips of the All-Merciful have willed to utter, he would, though the treasures of the earth be in his possession, renounce them one and all, that he might vindicate the truth of even one of His commandments, shining above the Dayspring of His bountiful care and loving-kindness." (Baha'u'llah: The Kitab-i-Aqdas, page 20)

Alison


Date: Wed, 16 Dec 1998 20:04:06 +1300 (NZDT)
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: hikmat and such

Dear X

You brought up the issue of hikmat and of the Guardian's comments on the women on the House issue. I offer the following considerations.

On the basis of X's fine argument, I have suggested: -- that the Law and the Will of God is found, in the first instance, in the Person of the manifestation and his mystical experience, and that this is the primary determiner of law in the physical realm -- that the text is a means of capturing that mystical experience in words and is therefore a secondary determiner of law.

If we look for law in the texts, without regard for Law or, by extension, spiritual principle, then its likely we will end up with bad law. We know that the physical realm is the world of separation and that in it there are apparent inconsistencies because everything reflects the attributes and names of God differently. Because of this, we know that conflict arises when we focus on these seeming inconsistencies in a bid to find truth. It just doesn't work. Nothing makes sense until we focus on the One, and transcend the apparent contradictions. This is also the case when we determine law; if we look to the texts first, we will find inconsistencies and not answers.

Given this, I suggest that when determining the issue of House membership, the principle of the equality of the sexes should be our starting point. In fact, the House of Justice has confirmed that spiritual principle is primary. The assumption can then be made that the texts should be interpreted in line with this principle. Any text that seemed to contain a law contradicting this principle would need to be *explicit* and contain very good arguments for the contradiction. The text would need to be strong enough to displace a presumption in favour of the principle.

My conclusion is that there is nothing in the texts about House membership that gives sufficient reason to overturn spiritual principle. If there was, we would expect to find a clear statement in the Aqdas, but it is not there. Instead, what we have is a handful of statements that refer in passing to the membership being men. Nowhere does Baha'u'llah say that the membership must be men. 'Abdu'l-Baha interpreted these texts to mean that membership was limited to men, but did so inconsistently and without explaining the justice behind this conclusion. This, and other historical details, suggest that his decisions were pragmatic ones, based on the application of wisdom. Shoghi Effendi made no new statements on this matter, but reiterated the position taken by 'Abdu'l-Baha.

I don't believe the above demonstrates that Baha'u'llah meant to make a law that was inconsistent with principle. However, if we look at the issue from the perspective of the texts first, focusing particularly on those of Shoghi Effendi and 'Abdu'l-Baha, we might well come to a different conclusion, which is probably why the House has come to the conclusion it has.

We need also to bear in mind that it is the House of Justice that is empowered to legislate for what is not in the Book, not the Guardian. The House can overrule any legislation the Guardian has previously put in place. It is also possible, as X has pointed out, that the House might legislate contrary to the Guardian's interpretation of the writings.

"He [the Guardian]cannot override the decision of the majority of his fellow members, but is bound to insist upon a reconsideration by them of any enactment he conscientiously believes to conflict with the meaning and to depart from the spirit of Baha'u'llah's revealed utterances." (World Order p150)

Now to the issue of hikmat, let's assume that 'Abdu'l-Baha's interpretation as to House membership was based on an application of wisdom and that the conditions requiring his conclusions still apply today. This still does not remove the fact that the law is inconsistent with spiritual principle. This is the key issue. Hikmat is the apparent suspension of spiritual principle in response to some condition in the world. This does not mean that the spiritual principle *itself* is suspended; hikmat involves the suspension of only the principle's application in a particular situation. For example, due to threats on my life I might say I am not Baha'i, but of course I am Baha'i, I am just saying that I am not.

This gets to the heart of my problem with the House's position. It has argued that the exclusion is *not* inconsistent with spiritual principle, but in my view it clearly is. Also, denying an inconsistency means that the House's position cannot be based on hikmat - also a problem if 'Abdu'l-Baha's position was based on hikmat. The House's position is, arguably, an innovation in interpretation - not found in the Aqdas or 'Abdu'l-Baha's writings - that the House has (wrongly) thought necessary, to justify continuing the exclusion.

For the above reasons, and to avoid hypocrisy, I think it is imperative that the House come clean and say that the rule contradicts principle, and, if necessary, say that it has legislated for the exclusion following on from 'Abdu'l-Baha's application of wisdom. If the House did this, the emphasis in the debate would shift from whether the principle itself is violated to whether the conditions requiring the suspension of principle still apply. This would be a huge step forward. This would bring hope. It would make it easier for the believers to teach the Faith.

You have suggested that I should apply the principle of hikmat myself in relation to this issue, rather than speak out the truth as I see it (bayan). The main issue here is that the House has openly taken a position that is inconsistent with spiritual principle. I have argued that spiritual principle must be primary, and so I do not believe that the House's position is justified. If it said that its ruling was contrary to principle but based on wisdom, then that would help. But to displace principle is another matter. When it comes to that realm, I think there can be no compromises, and believe I have a personal obligation to defend Truth. So, no, I do not believe that this is a situation that calls for me to fall silent.

Alison


Date: Sun, 20 Dec 1998 14:29:44 +1300 (NZDT)
Subject: equality and the covenant
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X said:
"I should like to point out that `Abdu'l-baha ascended in 1921 (therefore indicating 'hikmat', in this instance, is no longer in vogue) and that it is indeed a Covenant problem not to be applying the Spiritual Principle of the Equality of Women as decreed by Baha'u'llah at "this time" when The House is supportive of the 'Advancement of Women' in society which makes the 'hikmat' that you cited, IMO, out dated. Also the Universal House of Justice, in its Peace Message made it clear to all the leaders of the world that it is no longer just to keep 'equality' from one half the world's population. I believe to support the Covenant is support this fundamental principle enunciated by Baha'u'llah and the Universal House of Justice."

I think X has got to the heart of the matter. This is exactly my position.

The essence of the covenant is *the remembrance of God*. This is backed up by X's reference to the fact that the covenant asks us to "be ever responsive to the question: 'Am I not your Lord?'"

"Verily We have taken a covenant from every created thing upon its coming into being concerning the Remembrance of God, and there shall be none to avert the binding command of God for the purification of mankind, as ordained in the Book which is written by the hand of the Bab." (The Bab: Selections from the Bab, page 65)

"With each and every Prophet Whom We have sent down in the past, We have established a separate Covenant concerning the Remembrance of God and His Day. Manifest, in the realm of glory and through the power of truth, are the Remembrance of God and His Day before the eyes of the angels that circle His mercy-seat." (The Bab: Selections from the Bab, page 68)

And this from the Book of the Covenant: "Every receptive soul who hath in this Day inhaled the fragrance of His garment and hath, with a pure heart, set his face towards the all-glorious Horizon is reckoned among the people of Baha in the Crimson Book. Grasp ye, in My Name, the chalice of My loving-kindness, drink then your fill in My glorious and wondrous remembrance." (Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, page 220)

Unfortunately, the community does not know that the remembrance of God is at the heart of the covenant, but places unwarranted emphasis on the aspects of the covenant that relate to the legitimate authority of the institutions. In doing this, it has lost sight of the fact that the legitimacy of the institutions stands on the shoulders of this remembrance. We don't obey the institutions in order to remember God, we remember God first, and it is through this remembrance that we recognise the authority of the institutions.

From this, it becomes clear that: -- the institutions must *defend* this name of God (Remembrance), and -- the legitimacy of their authority is dependant upon their doing this.

The Remembrance of God refers to, among other things, our relationship with God. For Baha'u'llah, this relationship was symbolised by his relationship with the Maid of Heaven, who was the embodiment of the Revelation. We are all like Baha'u'llah in this respect. We each have this love affair going on. The extent to which we aware of this and nurture it is the extent to which we remember God.

We learn about our relationship with God by learning about the Revelation. One part of the Revelation says this: "In this Day the Hand of divine grace hath removed all distinctions. The servants of God and His handmaidens are regarded on the same plane. Blessed is the servant who hath attained unto that which God hath decreed, and likewise the leaf moving in accordance with the breezes of His will. This favour is great and this station lofty." - Baha'u'llah in "Women" no 2094

From this, we know that the equality principle is an intrinsic part of the Revelation and, by extension, the remembrance of God, and, by extension, the covenant. It is primary, and no institution on the planet can take it away from us. The legitimacy of ALL institutions, be they civil or religious, Baha'i or non-Baha'i, is dependant on it. No matter how many texts the House can point to to justify the legitimacy of its authority, it loses this authority if it is not functioning in accordance with this principle - in other words, in accordance with the covenant.

Alison


Date: Fri, 25 Dec 1998 22:04:15 +1300 (NZDT)
Subject: Re: equality and the covenant
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X says:
>Then the question that needs to be answered is why didn't Shoghi
>Effendi the authorized interpreter appointed by 'Abdu'l-Baha
>recognize this? Why did he continue to insist that women could
>not be on an institutional body which did not yet even exist?

I have had another look at what "Shoghi Effendi" was supposed to have said about the gender of House members and have only found quotes from his secretaries. Do you have an actual quote from Shoghi Effendi himself?

X said:
>You have laid out some significant principles of jurisprudence which might
>well have some merit, in and of themselves *except* that the Will and
>Testament does not give us the right to judge the House of Justice on the
>basis our our own principles of jurisprudence. On the contrary, it explicitly
>forbids us to do precisely that. Let us examine the passage in question
>once again:
>
>"Beware lest anyone falsely interpret these words, and like unto them
>that have broken the Covenant after the Day of Ascension (of
>Bahá'u'lláh) advance a pretext, raise the standard of revolt, wax
>stubborn and open wide the door of false interpretation."
>The word interpret here is "ijtihad" while "falsely" does not appear in the
>original text. Ijtihad means to engage in an individual act of religious
>jurisprudence.
>
> "To none is given the right to put forth his own opinion or express his
>particular conviction. All must seek guidance and turn unto the Center of
>the Cause and the House of Justice."
>The term for opinion here is "ra'i." It refers to the type of juridical
>reasoning which provides one of the principles of Islamic jurisprudence.
>The bottom line here is that the Will and Testament forbids us to express
>such legal opinions and interpretations in opposition to a ruling on the
>part of the House of Justice.

X, I think you interpret this passage too widely. On your intrepretation, there is no room for people to write scholarly papers discusing jurisprudential issues that are pertinent to House decisions. This is a process that goes on in universities all over the world and there are journals full of papers written about what principles may or may not apply to such and such a decision of the Supreme Court or House of Lords or Court of Appeal. Often, these discussions are sparked by decisions of these courts of high authority, and debate whether the courts have applied the principles correctly. Under your interpretation of the Will, this activity would be considered against the covenant! Do you really believe that's what 'Abdu'l-Baha intended? Everyone knows that when people publish these papers in journals, they are not "advancing a pretext" or claiming to be making law. The authors are not writing these papers because they want to sit on these courts. They are just doing their job: they have studied law because they have an interest in it and, naturally, like to discuss the issue of the day in the journals. That's all! Moreover, this activity has the benefit for society of furthering the cause of scholarship, especially in jurisprudence. As you have said yourself, discussion helps inform the House of matters that may ultimately lead to a new way of thinking.

So on this basis, I am perfectly entitled to discuss jurisprudential principles that may further our understanding of the issue of the gender of House membership. I am not advancing a pretext or claiming to be making law.

Alison


Date: Sun, 27 Dec 1998 22:51:20 +1300 (NZDT)
Subject: Re: equality and the covenant
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

>Alison writes:
>>
>> I have had another look at what "Shoghi Effendi" was supposed to have said
>> about the gender of House members and have only found quotes from his
>> secretaries.
>
>That is fine Alison. Then we have to ask the question as to why he
>told his secretary to write this?

Are you saying, then, that we have no writings whatsoever from the Guardian on this issue? This seriously weakens the argument in favour of the exclusion, especially for those who would argue that the exclusion is, in the final analysis, based on what the Guardian said.

>But ultimately the decisions of the House of Justice
>are the highest principle upon which Baha'i jurisprudence must be
>based. Therefore, to argue that the House violates some principle
>of jurisprudence is nonsensical. They *are* the highest authority on
>such matters.

It's true that the House has had to apply certain jurisprudential reasoning to arrive at the decision it has, and that it has the authority to do this. However, discussing that reasoning is a part of consultation. The House might change its mind and use different reasoning in the future.

>> Often, these discussions are sparked by
>> decisions of these courts of high authority, and debate whether the courts
>> have applied the principles correctly. Under your interpretation of the
>> Will, this activity would be considered against the covenant! Do you
>> really believe that's what 'Abdu'l-Baha intended?
>
>Jurisprudents are categorically forbidden to judge the decisions of
>the House itself on the basis of their own principles. Yes, that is
>*exactly* what 'Abdu'l-Baha intended! I see no other way of reading
>those passages of the Will and Testament. Whether or not it
>accords with the study of jurisprudence in the West or in the
>Islamic world, is beside the point. It wasn't intended to. In fact it
>was specifically designed to prevent the learned from opposing the
>decisions of the House of Justice.

No one wants to *judge* the decisions of the House on the basis of their own principles. They want to *discuss* the House's decisions and the reasoning it uses. This is called consultation. No one is *opposing* anything. Where are we when consultation is seen as a threat?

There is another way to read the Will and Testament passage, and I append it below for those on Talisman who have not read it.

Alison

--------------

Date: Wed, 21 Jan 1998 01:52:37 -0500
From: jrcole... (Juan R. I. Cole)
Subject: Re: H-Bahai: Rijal and Ra'i

Dear X:

It might be more useful for me to lay out some basic concepts than to reply point by point.

The key concept is istinba:t. In Usuli Shi`ite Principles of Jurisprudence, istinba:t. is the *process* whereby a jurisprudent or court judge *derives* a judgment in a dispute from the texts of the revealed law by a process of *reasoning*. This is the meaning that the word had for all Qajar Iranian thinkers, and certainly had for Baha'u'llah and `Abdu'l-Baha.

A trained jurisprudent who engages in complex istinbat or jurisprudential reasoning reaches a conclusion about some point of law. This conclusion is only valid as a result of the action of the reasoning process on the relevant texts and facts. Should the jurisprudent rethink the issue later and change his mind, then the first conclusion would be invalidated. Since jurisprudential reasoning can change, in Usuli Shi`ite thought one may only follow the rulings of a living jurisprudent, since dead ones are no longer actively engaging in the process of jurisprudential reasoning.

In the Baha'i system the houses of justice have been given the prerogative of istinbat or jurisprudential reasoning, and have been given the *sole* prerogative of enforcing the results of that reasoning in a practical manner. When the Universal House of Justice found that there can be no further guardians, it did so as a result of istinbat or jurisprudential reasoning (which is also translated "elucidation.")

But the houses of justice have not been given the *sole* prerogative of engaging in jurisprudential reasoning. Indeed, *all* believers in a revealed religion practice jurisprudential reasoning, another fact that is is recognized by all Qajar thinkers. When, as a Muslim or a Baha'i, you make a determination of where the point of adoration/ qiblah is, you are engaging in istinba:t. When you decide not to take a cough medicine because it has a high alcohol content, you are engaging in jurisprudential reasoning. Any time the law isn't perfectly clear and you make a reasoned determination as to how it should be *practically applied* in any given case, you are doing istinbat.

In Qajar Iran, it was common for mujtahids or trained jurisprudents to perform jurisprudential reasoning for other Shi`ites with less religious knowledge or training, even though these jurisprudents held no official religious or governmental position. And as I said, the jurisprudential conclusions to which these individuals came often were enforced, either by virtue of their high status or even by their private bodyguards. I did not mean to say that there was no theoretical distinction in Qajar society between the official, legitimate, state-appointed qadi or judge and the informal jurisprudent. What I meant was that in practice the mujtahids often managed to assert prerogatives that they theoretically should not have had. And Qajar reformers universally decried this practice.

What `Abdu'l-Baha wanted to do was to deny those informal jurisprudents any *practical* power, and to stop their jurisprudence from having the force of law. He put juridical decision-making about Baha'i law, i.e., judicial rulings that are necessarily implemented, in the hands of houses of justice alone.

However, `Abdu'l-Baha did not forbid learned individuals from researching and writing on jurisprudence in an abstract manner. Indeed, he explicitly says that he expected them to do so, and that their writings might well provide jurisprudential arguments that would be adopted by the houses of justice. However, only the houses of justice could transform such jurisprudence into judicial judgments with the force of law.

Obviously, it would in this system be wrong for a learned Baha'i jurisprudent (and I think we have established that there is and can be such a category) to seek to have his or her idiosyncratic jurisprudential conclusions (ra'i) *implemented*. It would be even more wrong for him or her to seek to implement his or her conclusions where they contradicted the *official* rulings of the houses of justice. Thus, clearly, if a Baha'i jurisprudent encouraged and presided over a second, bigamous marriage for a Baha'i man, that would be wrong.

However, I do not believe `Abdu'l-Baha says it would be wrong for a jurisprudent to exercise his reasoning on the law in such a manner as to write a paper concluding that there was no way actually to bar bigamy in Baha'i law, given the clear text of the Aqdas. As long as he did not act on this conclusion, and only presented it as abstract reasoning, then `Abdu'l-Baha appears to allow this sort of activity when he says that opinions are free in the Baha'i faith, as long as they are expressed politely, but behavior is not. Given that the universal house of justice now has no guardian on it, and therefore cannot engage in authoritative interpretation (tabyin), I do not believe, moreover, that the universal house of justice has the legal right in the Baha'i system to prevent ordinary Baha'is from holding any opinion they choose, or from expressing it publicly in a polite manner. The only scripturally sanctioned grounds for their intervention would be if an individual attempted to *enforce* his or her idiosyncratic opinion on others.

Baha'i qadis are called for in the Questions and Answers appended to the Kitab-i Aqdas and Shoghi Effendi once contemplated having a Baha'i court authorized in Egypt, with Baha'i judges who would apply Baha'i personal status law.

In response to my statement that I am engaged in the academic study of Baha'i law, just as I am of Islamic law, X replied that such an enterprise in her view did not violate the letter of the Will and Testament "so long as one was not attempting to utilize ones scholarship to pressure the Institutions, to criticize their policies or worse as a pretext for ignoring their decisions. "

I am afraid I must reject this formulation of things. While academic scholarship is not in any particular case antithetical to the current (usually conservative or traditionalist) practice of the Baha'i faith (as opposed to Baha'i scriptural principle, which is usually more liberal), such scholarship is founded upon the principle of free reasoned inquiry and the responsibility of the scholar to report his or her findings to the public in a completely honest manner. It cannot be constrained by such considerations as X mentions, or it is no longer academic scholarship.

If academic inquiry leads one to publicly stated positions, the statement of which is perceived as the application of "pressure," then I'm afraid that is just too bad. (*Any* publicly stated position in any community is after all open to being *perceived* as a form of pressure, regardless of the author's intentions). If academic inquiry leads one to publicly stated positions that constitute a criticism of the Baha'i authorities or their policies, then that is where it leads. You can't engage in circumscribed free and reasoned inquiry any more than you can be only partially pregnant. Free, reasoned inquiry is simply the independent investigation of reality in an honest and forthright manner. If it is incompatible with the Baha'i covenant (and it is not I who say that it is), then the Baha'i covenant is ipso facto incompatible with reality, honesty and forthrightness, and that would be too bad for the covenant.

cheers Juan Cole


Date: Mon, 28 Dec 1998 09:13:20 +1300 (NZDT)
Subject: Re: equality and the covenant
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

>> No one wants to *judge* the decisions of the House on the basis of their
>> own principles. They want to *discuss* the House's decisions and the
>> reasoning it uses. This is called consultation. No one is *opposing*
>> anything. Where are we when consultation is seen as a threat?
>
>If that is what you are doing, that is quite fine, Alison, but that isn't what I saw you doing when you posted this statement:
>
>"No matter how many texts the House can point to to justify the legitimacy of its authority, it loses this authority if it is not functioning in accordance with this principle - in other words, in accordance with the covenant."
>
>This statement went well beyond consultation and discussion.
>You fairly directly challenged the authority of the House for making a
>decision you felt was contrary to your own personal understanding of the
>Covenant. I think that clearly could qualify as "opposition." If that isn't
>what you intended then you may want to watch your diction a bit more
>closely. I think this is a good example of how easily such consultations
>can spin off into dangerous and undesirable directions if we aren't very
>careful.

My statement does not go beyond consultation and discussion. You are reading something into it that is not there. I believe my statement to be correct. The House's authority is dependant on its working within the covenant, and if it functions outside of it, then it immediately loses its authority. This is a statement of fact. It has nothing whatsoever to do with opposition. And no, I am not going to watch my diction because you or anyone else reacts emotionally to what I say. It is these reactions that cause consultation to spin off.

Alison