Monday, March 24, 2008

Unenrolled Baha'is and World Order

Question: Do you see yourself as a part of building the World Order of Baha'u'llah?

This is a very good question -- one which required me to do some thinking about the answer, which is "Yes". There is a tendency among Baha'is (not excepting myself) to identify the World Order of Baha'u'llah with the Administrative Order, but that's not really the case. There is more to the Baha'i religion than its administration, and more to the World Order of Baha'u'llah than just Baha'is. I see the World Order as having both the institutions of the Baha'i Faith, and non-Baha'i institutions -- in which Baha'is might participate, but they don't administer.

Then, looking at simply the Baha'i Faith, there are the administrative institutions, where membership and voting rights decide who participates, and the mashriq'u'l-adhkar and its auxiliary institutions, where being an enrolled Baha'i with voting rights doesn't matter. For the last couple of generations, the building of the administrative institutions has been the main focus -- to the point that the institutions for worship and service have sometimes been overlooked. (The recent creation of devotional meetings has been a wonderful reversal to this trend.)

There is a quote from 'Abdu'l-Baha' where he says that the heart of the believer is the mashriq'u'l-adhkar -- so it's a mistake to think of it simply as the physical House of Worship. The devotional groups many Baha'i communities have started since "core activities" became the rage are building the mashriq'u'l-adhkar. So are any unofficial Baha'i prayer groups. The mashriq is a worship community, and one's status as a voter in the administrative order doesn't matter there -- yet, the mashriq is a Baha'i institution. Unenrolled Baha'is are able to participate, both in local Baha'i communities, or in devotional groups they create, or singly -- worshipping God in the temple of the heart.

The same is true of the "service" part of the mashriq, which 'Abdu'l-Baha' said was essential. When your actions serve mankind, are you not building the World Order of Baha'u'llah? What is the difference if you feed the hungry at the direction of the LSA or you feed the hungry at a non-Baha'i soup kitchen? The hungry get fed through your service, either way -- and isn't the elimination of poverty so dire people lack food one of the aspects of the World Order? Did 'Abdu'l-Baha' wait for direction from an institution before he helped the poor? Yet, you cannot say he wasn't serving the goals of Baha'u'llah by doing that.

And finally, I don't believe in having too much emphasis on what the Baha'i future will look like -- all of our predictions will be wrong to some extent. We know what the goals are -- peace, race unity, religious tolerance, education, elimination of extreme poverty, equality of the sexes, etc. As far as I'm concerned, any activity that furthers those goals serves the World Order of Baha'u'llah.


Anonymous said...


I see, if I'm not mistaken, that you've taken down your post on George Wesley Dannells' and recent hysteria over "marginality." I can see why you'd do that because, if you think about it, that post wasn't necessary. In my opinion, this one addresses the questions associated with people who take the line Dannells has recently been taking much more effectively.

That's because this is the the only post, of the two, that addresses what I think is the real issue here. The real issue isn't whether or not you or Alison or anyone else writes about children -- too silly to need refuting -- or even whether there aren't a lot of 'unenrolled Baha'is' out there -- a head count is no way to understand anything, especially not in a religion that is yet a minority around the world. What really matters is the subject of the present post, what it means either to support or, by implication, to oppose the World Order of Baha'u'llah. Because when people like Dannells talk about 'opposition' and when people like you write about 'support' it all boils down to the same thing. To ask what helps or hinders the World Order is to ask what the World Order is in the first place.

I obviously don't have a complete answer to this, but then who does? Did even Baha'u'llah understand every detail of the vision God revealed to Him? I wonder. The only insight I have to offer is this: the World Order is about ends, not means. What do I mean? Only that the kind of world we want to see is more important than the instruments used to achieve it. Baha'u'llah wants a world where people love one another and are members of a single family. That's the 'what' of His vision, and I think we need to bear in mind that the 'how' is secondary.

This is what I think the Guardian is trying to tell us when he says that the Baha'i administration is only the means to an end. And it's also, I think, what Abdu'l-Baha is saying, even more radically, when he declares that if religion causes conflict, the absence of religion is preferable. What a concept! Religion itself, let alone the Baha'i Faith, is just a tool, to be valued only so far as it serves God's ends.

The problem happens -- and isn't it the typical human story -- when people love the means more than the ends. They think about the beautiful instrument, and not what it's designed to do. Think of Bob Dylan saying back in the 'sixties that he felt the *cause* of peace was more important to some of his contemporaries than peace itself. Now we have Baha'is who are in danger of forgetting that the Baha'i Faith -- at least in its administrative manifestation -- should never have precedence over the *goals* of the Baha'i Faith. They need to remember that we're supporting the Baha'i Faith whenever we try, however imperfectly, to develop and advance the vision first announced by Baha'u'llah. Anything else takes a back seat.

Sorry for such a long comment, but I guess you strayed into areas I've been thinking about for a while. Also, I don't know if you read my dialogue *Love*, but it seems that you and I are of one mind on not worrying about the future, too. But I suppose a discussion of that matter will have to wait for another time. Thanks for the post.


Karen said...

Dear Brendan,

No, I didn't take it down; you're just lost. :-)

My post about George's stuff is over on my other blog:

Karen's Thoughts: Correcting "Baha'i Views"

"Karen's Thoughts" is my general blog. For this one, I try to stay away from the focus on administration in Baha'i life, and the liberal/conservative arguments. I'm trying to give things a more positive orientation. If I have the need to gripe (and being human, I inevitably will), I'll do it elsewhere. So, I put my complaints about George over there.

One reason I really had to think about the answer to this question is that "World Order" is something I haven't spent a lot of time pondering -- at least not in recent years.

I was kind of reminded of Alison's discussion of the Biblical verse where Jesus says "If they aren't against us, they are for us." Do we literally have to be part of the administration to be part of Baha'u'llah's vision of the future? I don't think so.

Anyway, I'm always happy to have your insights. Thanks for stopping by.

Love, Karen