After Anglican Evensong and some socialising on Sunday 19th, I spent quite a bit of time running around the Internet looking at some Bahai related websites and especially those of individuals. There is comment from Sen McGlinn here. He is one of those who has stayed loyal to Bahai believing despite being mysteriously removed from the rolls of believers by the Universal House of Justice (now with an interesting and definitely anti-uniformity view that pluralism is a sign of building the Kingdom of God). Another free-floating Bahá’í is Alison Marshall, and there is Eric Stetson who left the Bahai Faith for Christianity. He is interesting: with good material on the Bahá’ís, he's a chap who seems to dive in with both feet into a religion and then find a critical angle, as he is now doing with his Christian Universalism, though he gives statements that make assumptions about the historical Jesus I'd certainly challenge him about. His approach is different from mine: I am liberal and critical from the beginning.
This little reinvestigation gets more interesting as an update for me, because clearly the Universal House of Justice is losing it somewhere. There was the time of crisis, between 1957 and 1963, when the Bahai faith could not longer follow its expectation of a succession of family Guardians, because either Shoghi Effendi did not leave a will or some didn't like what they had read when going through his papers. Only the Guardian would have excommunicated people, and Shoghi Effendi knocked out quite a few, indeed left no one credible. A comment was made here someone of the Regents argument (Tarbiyat Community) that gets a kind of approval from Eric Stetson: there was no one who could be the Guardian, but the UHJ overreached itself beyond its intended powers, and really the Bahá’íis should have been like the Shia Muslims waiting for the return of the Hidden Twelfth Imam, in their case waiting for an eligible Effendi family descendent to take up the reins.
There does now seem to be a plethora of small groups, somewhat like the Judaea People's Front and the People's Front of Judaea etc.. There are those with different Guardians and those without, and those free floating. What seems to be coming from the UHJ is the various years-long plans that take account of the failure to recruit and retain. The education programmes are clearly strategies to retain, and in some cases to attract.
If, in a small faith, there is a large turnaround of people, in that they come in to the faith and then find themselves bored with the administration and fleeced for their money, then there are going to be quite a few people who retain the commitment of the faith, or at least discuss it knowledgably, and as leavers or removed start to change the very basis on which the faith exists. In the time of the Internet, every individual can be a publisher, and there are all kinds of ways to join up individuals. Clearly, with so many cats out of the bag, they can start to run around the streets with their own communities in their own ways.
My own view of Bahá’u’lláh is that he is an interesting man who made a transition of a faith stance from his appointed half-brother's militancy to peace via various religious sources, but rather claimed too much for himself (when he wasn't that original when you add it all up). There are the mistakes that rather upset this Islamic tradition of claiming infallibility, and I'm not sure that Sen McGlinn answers the point sufficiently, as if we don't know because we don't have the revelation but presumably Bahá’u’lláh does. The words should speak for themselves. Incidentally, I have a distrust of translations that by accident or design imitates the language style that appears in the Book of Mormon. The words ought not to have to rely on Shogi Effendi's strained olde worlde religioso English. Religious concepts are old enough without adding to the age-feel, like dropping old tea bags on paper. The real star of the show was Abbas Effendi or `Abdu'l-Bahá, a traveller in the West and who contradicted Bahá’u’lláh's own strictures against attending congregational gatherings: Friday prayers, synagogues, Unitarian and Christian congregations, and the like. As a charismatic figure he could, as a personality, break the rules and keep the factions together, whereas Shoghi Effendi as a lesser figure was a bureaucrat in a very Weberian sense. Abbas Effendi was even knighted.
So I suppose that, in adjusting my picture of the Bahá’í Faith, whilst the UHJ is the bigger strand, it is full of contradictions that come from its obsessive control of membership in an Administratiove Order, and its failures regarding its own adopted prophetic projections (no Great Peace, doesn't recruit as expected, losing a philosophical connection with advancing religious ideas elsewhere). The UHJ as it is will most likely produce a rather a tiny, failing religion, simply because people will leave either as ejected dissidents or via administrative boredom - and yet one with a future that might expand more organically outside of that frustrated core. In any case, it simply does not have the sheer intellectual and grounded resources that are available within Christianity, or Buddhism, or Hinduism, in the sense of development and it is missing a trick in not building them organically.
How could it be different? The Faith could just let be. The texts were produced from Bahá’u’lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá, and that they are a value in themselves: they have clearly a strong spiritual impact, they represent a transition and a time and place even if they date quickly. So do all scriptures in Faiths (except where they are deliberately philosophical and abstract) and they become understood and used in various ways. To be a Bahá’í could be just a preference to use these scriptures and have Firesides and Feasts with a serving administration more transparent than the current layered-democratic centralism; perhaps, instead, a limited International Spiritual Assembly. Certainly there should be no censorship. It looks like, to me as an outsider, that the transition of 1957 to 1963 could be the Faith's long term undoing, and that it forgot about modesty and humility: but the seeds of such a bureaucratic approach of power was set by the first and only Guardian and possibly earlier during the First World War.