March 4, 2009
This PDF file (above) is a copy of the chapter on “The Administrative Order” from “The Dispensation of Baha’u’llah” by Shoghi Effendi.
In it Shoghi describes a certain Baha’i Administrative Order which, he claims, is “the framework of [Adbu’l-Baha’s] Will” and “the very pattern of the New World Order destined to embrace in the fulness of time the whole of mankind”.
He goes to great lengths to dilineate the ways in which this Administrative Order “is fundamentally different from anything that any Prophet has previously established”, and to explain that “it would be utterly misleading to attempt a comparison between this unique, this divinely-conceived Order and any of the diverse systems which the minds of men…have contrived for the government of human institutions”. In other words, he makes it clear that it is the very “salient features” of this Administrative Order which distinguish it from other systems, and which make it what it is: “the” Baha’i World Order.
In this chapter Shoghi further explains that, while it is not his object to “define with accuracy and minuteness the features” of this Order, it nevertheless is his intention to “explain the character and functions of the twin pillars that support this mighty Administrative Structure”, and to “elaborate certain salient features of this scheme which, however close we may stand to its colossal structure, are already so clearly defined that we find it inexcusable to either misconceive or ignore”.
In other words, he wishes to give the Big Picture here. He wants to explain, not the minutiae, but the important things; the parts of “this scheme” which are essential to the World Order he is describing.
And what are these “salient features” of the Administrative Order? What, in other words, are the “twin pillars” he is referring to?
He says: “The pillars that sustain its authority and buttress its structure are the twin institutions of the Guardianship and of the Universal House of Justice”. Both of these pillars he characterizes as “essential” and “inseparable”, and declares that the World Order would be “mutilated”, “paralyzed”, and “powerless” without them, and that certain vital functions would be “totally withdrawn” and “completely lacking”.
In other words, in the absence of either the Guardianship or the UHJ, the World Order of Baha’u’llah would cease to be “the” World Order of Baha’u’llah, and would, in fact, necessarily stagger, fall, and come to an end. As Shoghi himself quite correctly asserts, his language is in fact quite “clear and unambiguous”.
However, this Administrative Order was not to be. For (schismatic controversies aside) it is claimed by the UHJ that Shoghi died without being able to appoint a successor, and thus the Guardianship, as hereditary institution, came to an end before it even began.
The present World Order is therefore deprived of the institution of the Guardianship: that is, there is no longer a living Guardian to fulfill some of the functions that Shoghi considered vital and necessary to the World Order of Baha’u’llah. And Shoghi also made it clear that no one but a Guardian could perform those functions. The consequences of this situation must, obviously, be catastrophic.
And Shoghi has, in fact, in typically “clear and unambiguous” language, interpretated the significance of this situation:
“Divorced from the institution of the Guardianship the World Order of Baha’u’llah would be mutilated and permanently deprived of that hereditary principle which..has been invariably upheld by the Law of
God…Its prestige would suffer, the means required to enable it to take a long, an uninterrupted view over a series of generations would be completely lacking, and the necessary guidance to define the
sphere of the legislative action of its elected representatives would be totally withdrawn.”
“Permanently deprived”…”completely lacking”…. “totally withdrawn”. Shoghi is not mincing words here; he is not leaving any wiggle room. He is, in fact, being quite clear, and quite logical: without the Guardianship, the World Order of Baha’u’llah would be deprived of certain vital functions, and would thus fail.
The “divinely-conceived Order”, the “colossal structure” with its “salient features”, simply failed to materialize.
One of the twin pillars “sustaining its authority and buttressing its structure” was taken away, and the edifice crumbled before it was even built.
Shoghi’s “new-born child”, was, in fact, still-born.
In spite of this (or, perhaps, because of this….) the Universal House of Justice claims that it is the Head of the Faith, and that the Administrative Order which it governs is the same World Order as that “embedded in the Writings”, including the writings of Shoghi Effendi, which the UHJ claims “constitute [its]binding terms of reference” and its “bedrock foundation”.
But, obviously, an Administrative Order consisting of only one pillar is not the same Administrative Order as that consisting of “twin pillars”.
According to the UHJ, the “salient features” of the Administrative Order of Baha’u’llah are as follows:
“The UHJ is the supreme institution of an Administrative Order whose salient features…consist, on the one hand, of a series of elected councils….and, on the other, of eminent and devoted believers”.
Again: the “salient features” according to the UHJ: “elected councils and believers”.
In contrast to Shoghi’s “salient features”: “twin pillars” (Guardianship and House).
Obviously, these are descriptions of two very different “World Orders”.
Typical of the “reasoning” which the UHJ uses to escape from Shoghi’s unambiguous language is the following statement:
“As you point out with many quotations, Shoghi Effendi repeatedly stressed the inseparability of these two institutions. Whereas he obviously envisaged their functioning together, it cannot logically be deduced from this that one is unable to function in the absence of the other”.
What, then, did Shoghi mean by “inseparable”? Did he mean, in fact, “separable”? Shoghi was defining these two institutions in terms of each other: their very definition depended on the existence of the other, not to mention the viability of the World Order itself (when certain vital functions cease, an organization, like any organism, simply dies; or else, the functions were not really “essential”, or “vital”).
Similar unreasonableness is found when the UHJ says:
“The Guardianship does not lose its significance nor position in the Order of Baha’u’llah merely because there is no living Guardian”.
“Merely”…???!!! That is like saying that the office of the President of the United States would not lose its significance or position in the government of the United States if there were, in fact, no President.
Shoghi’s language is, indeed, quite clear and unambiguous. And it simply leaves no room for a World Order of Baha’u’llah without a living Guardian.
It leaves no room for the World Order presently headed by the UHJ of Haifa.
This is, obviously, unacceptable to that same UHJ, and hence it attempts to wriggle free of the Catch-22 which negates its legitimacy. However, the very irrationality of its attempts betray its true position: it is, in fact, in a Catch-22, and it cannot, in fact, escape from it. All it can do is what it has done: descend into unreason; and obfuscate, ignore, and twist Shoghi’s otherwise clear and unambiguous language…..
Schism has already happened in the Baha’i Faith. It always does, in every fundamentalist religion. This one is no different. Indeed, it is fundamentalism itself–the kind of religion that claims to be “the” religion (“the” Church, “the” Baha’i Faith, etc.)–which is the very cause of schism.
The attempt to find “The” Truth and to claim it as one’s own is itself the surest path to discord and disagreement, to shunning and anathema and excommunication. It is over “the” Truth that religions split. They do NOT split over shared opinion, common uncertainty, or over “well, it seems to me”…..
There are in every religion (from their very inception all the way through every stage of their growth) both fundamentalist and universalist strains: and the universalist in each religion is always open to the truth to be found in other religions. And that is a truer kind of unity than mere doctrinal conformity, isn’t it?
Unity can exist across doctrinal borders. In fact, real unity MUST exist across doctrinal borders, or it will not exist at all, for every person in fact has his or her own interpretation of their faith–even the most conservative and conformist people will still, inevitably, have an understanding of their faith that is not identical in all respects with their fellow believers. Even dogma must be interpreted…..
There will always be differences. And all attempts to wipe them out will always, and in every single case, eventually fail (though often not before they have left quite a long trail of blood and tears behind them).
The Haifan Baha’i obsession (and I would add the fundamentalist Catholic, the fundamentalist Protestant, and the fundamentalist Muslim obsession) with doctrinal, or even Covenantal, conformity must therefore surely be a misguided approach to the establishment of real spiritual unity.
Unity is NOT of the mind, or words, or doctrine; it is of the heart.
Perhaps Baha’u’llah really is the Prophet for this age, and perhaps everything that happened was meant to happen. Who knows? I certainly don’t.
However, I’m not even sure it matters, for even according to the Writings themselves, there is, now, no living infallible Interpreter. There is only a set of Writings. Words. And words must be interpreted before they can mean something. But in the absence of authoritative interpretation, no one can, authoritatively, interpret them. And no one can claim the right to authoritatively interpret what has happened since Baha’u’llah began his mission.
To me, personally, the meaning of what has happened is this: events led eventually to the Catch-22 that I have described elsewhere on the blog, and, as a result, we have been required to grow up spiritually, and to set aside, once and for all, the search for inerrant scriptures and infallible leaders. And we have been given (either by God or by chance) a lesson in the need to renounce fundamentalism.
But that is just my opinion. The Universal House of Justice may have another opinion. But what they cannot say is this: they cannot claim to authoritatively interpret the Writings, for, even according to the House itself, no one but a Guardian would have had that right. And there is, now, no Guardian. The House therefore has no more interpretative authority than I do. Or than you do. In other words, no one can, now, claim to have the authority to declare, dogmatically, what “World Order of Baha’u’llah” must mean.
Where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us with each other. In consultation.
And that, I would suggest, is a very good place to be.
Being fallible, I could of course be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the truth is this: the universe does not support “inerrancy” and “infallibility”. Wherever and whenever those concepts are introduced, intellectual decadence, injustice and moral destruction are sure to follow (just as wherever fundamentalist authoritarianism’s opposite twin–fundamentalist relativism–is introduced, intellectual decadence, injustice, and moral destruction are also sure to follow).
But notice this: the history of the Baha’i Faith (if I am right about the Catch-22), provides a kind of “crash course” in learning this truth.
Who knows? Might this not be part of what Baha’is call “the Major Plan”…..? Might not a group of Baha’is who have first been trained in the ways of fundamentalist thinking (along with sound universalist ideals), and who have then been forced to extricate themselves from fundamentalism (due to the ending of the Guardianship and thus the ending of the “minor Baha’i plan”)—might they not be in an exceptionally good position to challenge the forces of fundamentalism threatening to destroy our world?
For they have first faced the fundamentalism within themselves, and overcome it…..
This kind of universalism, one that is achieved through an internal spiritual struggle (“jihad”)–is it not therefore a stronger universalism, a universalism better equipped to fight the fundamentalist forces arrayed against knowledge, understanding, civil liberty, brotherhood and peace?
Might not THIS be one possible meaning of the Baha’i experience?
Could be? What do YOU think?
This last section is not for the faint of heart: it involves the interpretation of a rather obscure passage in the Baha’i Writings, which the UHJ has used to justify its own position.
This passage from the Kitab-i-Aqdas speaks of some kind of authority that passes from “the Dawning-Place of Revelation” (the Prophet, I believe), then to the “Agshan” (Branches, descendents of Baha’u’llah, though some think it means his sons only), and then “after them” to “the House of Justice–should it be established in the world by then.” If not, the authority passes to “the people of Baha”.
According to the UHJ (as they interpret it), this passage seems to “envisage the possibility of…a break in the line of Guardians”. Since it also mentions a House of Justice, and leaves it open as to whether that House would have been established “by then”, that is, by the time of the break in the line of Guardians, the UHJ apparently concludes that the present situation–namely, a UHJ without a Guardian–has been foreseen, and is thus acceptable.
And yet, is that the only possible interpretation of this passage?
Maybe a break in the Guardians had been forseen (if, in fact, that is how one must interpret “Aghsan”). But notice there is no provision for what to do about a House of Justice that had not yet been established at the time of the break–i.e. “by then”.
All Baha’u’llah says is that some limited authority would then pass to “the people of Baha”. That’s all he said. Nothing at all follows from that. Nothing but speculation.
He doesn’t say “until the House is established”. He doesn’t say, “and then, once the House is established, the authority will pass to the House”. No. He just says: “should the House be established in the world by then”.
Maybe Baha’u’llah DID forsee the present situation. But maybe he saw it differently than the UHJ does…..
So, yes, maybe he saw the end of the Guardianship before the House had been established. But maybe the World Order he was talking about was, in fact, the same World Order as the one described by Shoghi Effendi. That would mean that any House established NOT “by then” would in fact be deprived of its “essential” and “inseparable” twin, the Guardianship.
And what would that mean? It would mean that the “minor plan”, the Baha’i plan, would not be realized, and any House established in the world AFTER “then”, after the end of the Guardianship, would not be “the” House referred to in the Writings, and could not function, for “divorced from the institution of the Guardianship the World Order of Baha’u’llah would be mutilated and permanently deprived of that hereditary principle which..has been invariably upheld by the Law of God…Its prestige would suffer, the means required to enable it to take a long, an uninterrupted view over a series of generations would be completely lacking, and the necessary guidance to define the sphere of the legislative action of its elected representatives would be totally withdrawn.”
So maybe Baha’u’llah foresaw that the “minor” Baha’i plan was not going to come to pass. And maybe that’s what Shoghi saw too, and why he didn’t write a will–because he couldn’t, and because it was “foreseen”.
And what would that mean? It would mean that the minor plan would be swallowed up by the Major Plan.
Perhaps part of Baha’u’llah’s Major Plan was that the Baha’s were going to be tested: would they follow Shoghi Effendi’s clear and unambigous language, and realize that no infallible House could be established without a Guardian (though perhaps some other International Body could be, one that could still promote the Major Plan’s goal of world peace)?
Or would the Baha’is fail the test and descend into unreason and try to escape the Catch-22 that inevitably arises from the establishement of a House without a Guardian, a House that had not, in fact, been established in the world “by then”?
In other words, would they free themselves from fundamentalism, or would they turn fundamentalist in their attempt to salvage “infallibility”?
Could be? Why not? This interpretation fits even better than the UHJ’s interpretation. It maintains both the integrity of Baha’u’llah’s writings AND the writings of Shoghi Effendi. It avoids the Catch-22. And it does not in the least obstruct the basic Baha’i desire for world peace and inter-faith understanding. For there is nothing to prevent Baha’is from promoting International law, and inter-faith understanding. They could still practice consultation. They could, perhaps, even re-construct a World Order with checks and balances, with an Interpreter of sorts (though I think “infallible” should be left behind with the Old World Order), acting in conjunction with a House of Justice of sorts (though, again, not an “infallible” one).
It would a humbler World Order, to be sure, deprived of “infallibility”.
But, without claims of “infallibility”, wouldn’t the way to peace and mutual understanding be made even smoother? After all, it is fundamentalism itself which causes schism….
Most Baha’is naturally feel that the World Order of Baha’u’llah MUST survive. For them, Baha’u’llah’s promises are guarantees. But Baha’u’llah himself also mentioned the possibility of the Baha’is failing in their mission. And what did he say would happen then? Why, he would raise another people to take their place……
It would seem, then, that even the Writings themselves do not quite guarantee the inevitable survival of the present World Order, for they envisage the possibility of failure. And of replacement…..
And isn’t that rather like the rest of Western religious history? The Holy Texts the different religions use to justify their various forms of fundamentalism also contain passages that seem to undermine fundamentalism itself. But that is another story….. (See the post “Words and the Word”)