Sunday 21 March 2010

Warm Welcome to the Liberal Bahais

One of the features of the Internet is that it points out and exposes to view those that organised religions might want to suppress, and this includes the Covenant Breakers of the institutionalised Baha'i Faith who remain Bahai but are cast out, often without knowledge of why. Baha'is can get pretty fed up with demands upon them ahead of an almost magical belief that one day armies of people are going to join and the world will be governed by a nine member male only parliament that combines the religious and the secular. The official faith stresses unity, but achieves it by removing dissenters called Covenant Breakers, and it has done it down the line. At every change of leadership, the dissenters were removed.

In 1957 a period understood as 'bada' took place, in that the failure of Shoghi Effendi to leave a Last Will and Testament led to a crisis of leadership where none of the options were entirely laid out. The French Baha'is backed Mason Remey, of the Orthodox Baha'is (for a time) as a new Guardian, but the official faith moved to a complete Administrative Order that puts Lenin's democratic centralism to shame. Plans are dished out from on high by people elected from the level below with no one able to have an election campaign: in a 'who you know' system conservatism rules.

Couple of interesting aspects, going back in time from that division. Germany was the centre of the Free Baha'is who believed that the Last Will and Testament of Abdul Baha was a forgery. The Free Baha'is followed on with Abdul Baha's freer, more charismatic, sometimes rule-breaking Western orientated ministry (for example, he attended congregational worship, which Baha'is were not supposed to do, and his spreading across different religions was closed down by the bureaucratic Shoghi Effendi). But before that, when Abdul Baha' became the spiritual leader, Muhammad Ali formed the then called Unitarian Baha'is. They were called that not because they were liberal, but because they were known as "People of the Book". Muhammad Ali's complaint was that Abdul Baha' was not following his father's scriptures, and was doing too much off his own bat.

Well today's Unitarian Bahais don't start from the Baha'i movement but from removed or dissenting Bahais and people attracted to Baha'u'llah without having to sign on the dotted line that his writings (and Abdul Baha's) are infallible, Qur'an style. It must also mean, of course, a revision from him being a Manifestation of God in any absolutist sense. I suppose this is an independent movement (from the Administrative Order) from the off, using Bahai without the apostrophe, and is not a branch off the institutional tree that the institution then prunes.

I hope it receives many enquiries and those people who have been ejected can find a gathering here that does them proud: and what an excellent mission for the Unitarian Universalist umbrella. This is indeed a pluralist world and the Universal House of Justice will just have to be a kind of Baha'i Roman Catholicism for those who like being told what to believe and wish to accept authoritarianism and literalism until either they leave or get kicked out.


Murdoch Matthew said...

I had a good friend at work who belonged to the Bahais. She introduced me to some Bahai publications and organizations. I found that she wasn't mentioning the Bahai rigidity on sexuality. Evidently, Bahai would have cured me of being gay if I'd joined; till then she could ignore it. Top-down stories aren't appealing anymore, and Bahai makes catholicism seem free and open.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your kind mention of the Unitarian Bahai Association.

The comment about 'a new Bahá’í movement that hosts a very broad welcome indeed' (posted on your entry 'Regurgitating on Liberal Religion') was written by me.

I also contribute to the Samandal weblog: it is written and edited by members of the Unitarian Bahai Association, the Tarbíyat Bahá’í Community, and a Hindí Naqshbandí tradition, so we try to harmonize all three points of view, with varying degrees of success.

The person who initially had the vision for the Unitarian Bahai Association is the Rev. Eric Stetson, himself a Unitarian. You might be interested in this entry (on another blog) which provides some more background information:

Thank you also for the links: Samandal has now been linked to your website.


Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

If you joined the Bahais 100 years ago it would have been an open, fresh, even mystical movement; even in the 1950s despite the bureaucratic changes it would have appealed to the 'alternative', but I don't see how it can do now. A body that loses the distinction between its 'Church' and its 'faith' as the Haifa Baha'is have done is not going to be open to theological development and change. And indeed it is anti-gay, just as it is not equal regarding the sexes because of its high end leadership.

Eric S. said...

Thank you for posting this article about the Unitarian Bahais. Interest in this movement seems to be growing pretty fast. Our Yahoo discussion group ( has grown from 1 to 90+ members in only 7 months. Until this past weekend, we have done little or no promotion -- it has grown almost completely under the radar. With more public attention on blogs, forums, and websites, the growth rate will surely accelerate even more.

Btw, about Muhammad Ali (the second son of Bahaullah, who was given the title Ghusn-i-Akbar and was originally supposed to be Bahaullah's second successor), his conflict with his brother Abdul-Baha was mostly about the degree of authority of the successors of the Bahai prophet. Muhammad Ali argued that Abdul-Baha's authority was limited, that his writings were not scripture, and that he was not infallible. He would have said the same thing about himself or Shoghi Effendi, too. In this sense, he may be considered something of a liberal -- at least in the context of his own time and culture.

Modern-day Unitarian Bahais are not interested in promoting an alternative successorship in the Bahai faith, but we are interested in historical accuracy about the development of the religion and the leadership conflicts it went through. Haifan Baha'is, like fundamentalists of all religions, are interested in maintaining and promulgating a one-sided polemical narrative about historical events and characters, with classic "good guys" and "bad guys." Unitarian Bahais, like other religious liberals, wish to deconstruct these biased narratives and look for the actual facts about what happened. When this is done with Bahaism, the "official" Haifan story crumbles pretty fast.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I remember reading a Bahai account of a Ph.D, by Johnson if my memory is that good, and it was most unPhD-like. So I ordered it through my university. When I read it and found it different, I showed it to a Bahai leader. He asked why he was doing it to them, and I said no that is not the question. The question is why has he been misrepresented when he never wrote what the Bahai article said he wrote.

Their account of things often does crumble pretty quickly. And you even have to look critically at the dispute between Bahaullah and his half brother, the latter being a bad guy, but he was appointed by the Bab was he not?

Anonymous said...

For a relatively high-profile response (from a very doctrinaire perspective) to the emergence of the Unitarian Bahai Association you might wish to read:

Then again ... you might not. It might expose you to an anarchic environment filled with homicidal maniacs who cannot disagree with one another unless they spill blood. Or something.

Bahai apologists are advocating narratives that are based on factual inaccuracies, slander, systematic distortion and attempting to fit the UU Bahai movement into the only conceptual framework they can envision within the narrow confines of their religious commitment: that we are a renegade sect based on a pathetic man (friendless, alone, dead branch, fruitless, lost soul, blah blah blah) who was the "Arch Covenant-breaker of the Baha'i Faith." I think what they can't stand is that we actually have a realistic chance of changing the narrative, because the facts are not on their side and this will come out more and more in due time -- *unlike* the very different situation with the Remeyite Guardianist traditions, which don't stand up to factual scrutiny. I think this is why one can detect a truly frenzied, almost ferocious tone in certain articles, since Bahai fundamentalists know that the UBA represents a great threat to Haifan Bahaism such as has not been seen in a very long time.

Oh, and we really are Unitarians: members of the Unitarian Universalist Association, not followers of the dispossessed brother of 'Abdu'l-Baha. But I guess they can spin the narrative to their own satisfaction, even if it is a tissue of lies (so what else is new?).


Anonymous said...

I am also a Unitarian Bahai, because I'm not conservative!