Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Baha'is: Forecasts I

This is Part I of an anticipated series of posts trying to forecast future trends and events which may impact Baha'is. Who are Baha'is? Literally, the word Baha'i means follower of Baha'u'llah. For our purposes, the Baha'is are those who say they are Baha'i. Most Baha'is, including the author, are members of the Baha'i Faith, a world-wide community. The much smaller remainder consists of individuals and smaller "splinter" groups, many of which have one or more points of disagreement with the Baha'i majority.

Similar to investors in the financial markets or clinicians examining patients, systematic and appropriate evaluation of performance is required to make informed forecasts. For investors, this is known as "fundamental and technical analysis" of various asset classes such as stocks, bonds and commodities. For physicians, it is the patient history and physical and mental status exams. The present rather informal methodology is partly based on available internet content on the Baha'is.

Quick Preview

Major good news: In the last 10-20 years, the world has not come to an end and most of the key players seem to be happily carrying on their tasks as they see them. The administration of the Baha'i majority is still building communities, making plans, attempting to inspire its members, building temples, etc. Meanwhile, the remaining Baha'i minority -- a very diverse collection -- seem to be as strong as ever, aided by the internet, in presenting their viewpoints. For Baha'is overall -- majority and minority, over the time period considered -- almost a generation, there has been the expected turnover, e.g., as people retire, bringing new blood into the Baha'i population which should be a positive factor re future performance forecasts. Finally, and perhaps most important, the writings of Baha'u'llah, the founder, and 'Abdu'l-Baha, the "exemplar" of the teachings, are still prominently cited by both majority and minority Baha'is, indicating an underlying deep and significant value.

Some bad news: The Baha'i majority has not grown in numbers much at all, and definitely far less than might have been anticipated one or two decades ago. Worse, many of the Baha'i minority were, in fact, previously enrolled members of the Baha'i majority. That is, this loss by the Baha'i majority of enrolled members reduces the size of the majority. Worst yet, many of these persons, lost to the majority, possess considerable abilities, talent and intellect, resources needed for the growth of any group, including the Baha'i majority. Indeed, some authors in the Baha'i majority may use words like "heretic", "apostate", "enemies" or even worse to describe some of these new entries into the Baha'i minority category. There is also evidence that some creative activities (e.g., Google "A Modest Proposal" and "Dialogue" magazine) that might have resulted in growth of the Baha'i majority ironically appear to have been actively discouraged by elements in the majority. Finally, persecution of Baha'is in many countries continues unabated.

Quick Forecasts 2010-2020

Before more detailed and specific forecasts for Baha'is, here are some quick forecasts, where I might be "betting my money", so to speak, in the Baha'i movement growth "market" over this coming decade. First, as in the financial markets, what everybody expects to happen is almost guaranteed not to happen. For example, if most expect prices to go up, they have already bought into the market and at some point there are no more "greater fools" to buy to further push up prices; that is, nobody to sell what you have to, to take profits, and therefore prices drop. So some of my forecasts may seem "contrarian" or not widely expected among most Baha'is.

1. The number of Baha'is will more than double.

2. Priorities of the Baha'i majority will undergo noteworthy changes actively promoting experimentation and creative, challenging individual initiative in promotion of Baha'i teachings. It will be an almost "anything goes" and "proof is in the pudding" atmosphere in this area.

3. Persecution of Baha'is will increase dramatically.

4. Large numbers of "inactive" and "alienated" and "unenrolled" Baha'is will return to, and thereby reinforce, the Baha'i majority.

5. A slow, but definite and noteworthy shift in priorities of the "appointed" side of the Baha'i majority (counselors, board members, etc) re "protection" of the Baha'i Faith. Namely, a mandate to protect individuals (defined as those who express "radical" opinions or ideas) from, um, the majority of more conventional thinkers in Baha'i communities. This would be an almost 180 degree reversal. Yes, friends, markets do go up and then reverse and go down.

6. Likewise, for the "administrative" side of the Baha'i majority, many policies will be completely reversed, although most probably believe some of these are "written in stone". If so, you may be in for a big surprise. Leading to forecasts including...

7. Prepublication review by the Baha'i administration will soon be "completely voluntary", meaning Baha'is will have the same free speech rights as non-Baha'is in many countries. This would merely be a recognition of what is already fact now, as internet content on the Baha'is clearly indicates.

8. Baha'i academics and intellectuals will be allowed to speculate and write about whatever they please, without fear -- e.g., that persecution of Baha'is in some countries would increase or that the Baha'i community would be disrupted. Think about it. Who reads? Not many people. Who writes? Fewer yet. So it's almost a "so what". Such writings are "small potatoes" in the bigger picture. Whatever people write and publish, if considered "heretical" or "distasteful" by certain folks in the Baha'i majority, so what. Not many will read it anyway. Basically, this trend will simply reaffirm a conviction that the writings of the Baha'i central figures (e.g., Baha'u'llah) do in fact have value and will ultimately prevail. Time wasted on the often silly ideas of intellectuals like me, for example, is time better spent promoting Baha'i growth. Rather, resources will be focused on education re the Baha'i teachings, laws, etc; it will be a simple "keep your eye on the ball" practical approach, recognizing that imperfection (and often unusual or "crazy" ideas) are something that is common among humans and in the end, of no great import.

9. Prepare for a dramatic increase of net flow of money (Baha'i funds) from the top down (from the Universal House of Justice to National Assemblies and from the latter to Local Assemblies) slowing or even reversing a decades-long trend associated with major construction at Baha'i sites (world center, temples, etc).

Forecasts like those above and in the financial markets or in clinical medicine (prognosis), are never guaranteed. It's a best guess. Please keep in mind that forecasts are not suggestions or recommendations as such. For example, I can forecast that the gold and silver prices will at least double in the next few years, but that is not a suggestion per se. These prices will or will not rise, on average in this time period. However, a good forecaster for the weather or anything else hopes to be right more often than wrong. For some of the forecasts above, the trend is already established; that is, nobody necessarily has to specifically do or propose anything about it. It will happen, so to speak, all by itself, given factors in force at present.

Finally, accurate forecasts help position individuals on the right side of the market, which of course can lead to some very substantial benefits. So how folks might consider positioning themselves based on these forecasts is on the agenda in further posts. [This is called a "teaser" for future episodes.]
© 2010 James J Keene


  1. These are very bold and counterintuitive predictions. What's your reasoning and evidence to suggest that things will go in this direction, i.e. that the Haifa-based Baha'i Faith organization will significantly liberalize its attitudes and policies during the next 10 years? Are you suggesting they will do this out of desperation, because their leaders will finally realize that if they don't, their organization will diminish or even collapse into massive debt and disillusionment? I can't imagine any other reason why they would liberalize, as the Haifan organization is currently VERY dominated by religious conservatives and a top-down, obedience-oriented mentality.

    I am supportive of the liberal Bahai cause, having been drawn back into an active interest in Bahaism after several years as an ex-Bahai, and being a Unitarian Universalist now. One phenomenon you might want to watch as a bellwether for the relative strength and trendline of liberal/heretical/non-majoritarian Bahais is the Unitarian Bahai movement. It only started last year and is growing quite fast. This is a group of non-Haifan Bahais who openly reject not only the majoritarian Bahai organization but also many of the central assumptions of Haifan Bahaism, and who are in the process of developing a completely different interpretation and tradition of the Bahai faith based on very liberal theology and a fellowship with Unitarian Universalists. Will it keep growing and turn into something significant? Time will tell. If it does, then it will be interesting to see how the Haifan Baha'i Faith organization reacts to it (condemns it? adopts some of its ideas? something else?).

  2. Eric Stetson wrote: "What's your reasoning and evidence to suggest that things will go in this direction"? You might agree that many of my subsequent posts provide some of that reasoning and evidence. I myself am amazed -- who would have thought that the theocratic, authoritarian comrades in the Baha'i community would be so totally discredited in such a short time (about a decade or so)? And none too soon; the Baha'i community needs to prepare for severe challanges as Part 2 of the Greater Depression unfolds in the next few years.

    Did anybody catch the big-shot U.S. Treasury secretary Tiny Tim "Turbotax" Geithner trip to China where students were laughing at what he was saying in a speech? Will the same happen for some of the erstwhile theocracy comrades -- will they dare appear before a Baha'i audience for fear of being laughed off the stage? Will they retool and opt for promoting unity in the Baha'i community?

    Although I didn't realize it at the time the forecasts were made, more study revealed to me that many of the predicted trends had already started in earnest.

    Now we can't belittle Baha'i historians for being "asleep at the switch". E.g., some of Dr. Cole's articles review events a decade prior and that's just how historians do their work -- but now it is evident that this work has been, for the most part, right on the mark. That is, it has withstood the test of time. So give the historians a chance -- I suspect that the stunning collapse of fundamentalism is going to the subject of much study -- with the Baha'is perhaps providing a model which will be of wide interest in other religions, too. Could in the end be a good proclamation story -- how the Baha'is defeated an assault on freedom, conscience and the unity of their own community.

    In retrospect, it seems the theocrats were destined to loose favor and be sent home from the very beginning. They were no match for the power of the internet, for the patience, intellect and persistence of pro-freedom, pro-unity Baha'is, and perhaps most of all, for the Baha'i teachings themselves.

    Perhaps our fine Baha'i historians will marvel at how a relatively small contingent of persons in relatively high positions in the community could imagine that increasing disunity and tension within the Baha'i community could ever result in anything good.

    Maybe the cost was a lost decade or so in terms of membership growth, but others might well pause before they take on the Baha'is given what appears to be the current scoreboard: Baha'is 1; theocrats 0.

    More forecasts and supporting evidence to come. Be optimistic and take care.