Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Infallibility Verdict

Infallibility Artifice debunked the bogus idea that Universal House of Justice (UHJ) statements are infallible, based on official Baha'i sources and the simple model shown below.
After weeks of deliberation in the court of public discussion including comments by readers of that report, it appears that a verdict is in with an apparent victory for the interests of the Baha'i Faith and its institutions. This article adds some common sense to the logic based on official sources in the previous report to further support this verdict and victory.

History Speaks
From the founding of the Baha'i Faith by Baha'u'llah in 1863 to 1963, when the UHJ was first elected, based on an enormous amount of dedicated work by Baha'is around the world, Baha'is lived and their faith prospered and grew without this bogus idea that UHJ statements (output in the figure above) are infallible. Generally speaking, this movement was energized by the crystal clear message -- such as oneness of God, religion and mankind -- articulated by Baha'u'llah and his successors.

Fast forward to 1963, when I became a Baha'i. At that time, in Chicago, applicants for membership had to attend a number of firesides and had to read and be prepared to answer questions about the Will and Testament of 'Abdu'l-Baha, son of Baha'u'llah and authorized interpreter of his father's teachings. To finalize the membership process, I was required to meet with the Local Spiritual Assembly (LSA) of Chicago -- the elected administrative body, for an interview about my enrollment application, related experiences and the assigned reading.

The interview was very warm and cordial with many questions from the LSA members, and I was officially enrolled then and there. This entire process proceeded smoothly without the slightest hint, in either the assigned readings or from any Baha'i at the firesides or on the LSA that UHJ decisions were purported to be infallible.

In subsequent years, I had the opportunity to attend many U.S. National Baha'i Conventions, Baha'i schools and other activities and to hear talks by some of the most outstanding leaders of the development of the Baha'i community of that era. These included Hands of the Cause (appointees of Shoghi Effendi, Guardian from 1921 to 1957), such as Mr. Sears, Mr. Khadem, Mr. Samadari and several others.

Not a single one of these learned individuals ever attempted to burden the Baha'i community with their own theological inventions or personal theories, as we now so often hear from supposedly learned speakers including some Counsellors and others. If this is true, what else could they have talked about? The answer is simple, although it may seem to have been completely lost among many speakers in recent times -- namely, they spoke of the magnificent status of the centers of the Baha'i Faith from Baha'u'llah through the UHJ, using actual statements from the Baha'i writings, not thoughts that they made up which do not appear in the Baha'i writings. How did they ever manage being restricted to official statements by the founder Baha'u'llah and subsequent centers of the Faith ('Abdu'l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the UHJ)? But manage they did, and the Baha'i community grew in those years.

In this period of some 120 years (1863 to the early 1980's), the Baha'i Faith did not need any amendment to Baha'i scripture to the effect that UHJ statements are infallible.

However, after about 120 years, some self-styled genius apparently decided that Baha'i scripture was "not good enough" and needed additions. Of course, the implication was that Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha had somehow failed to explicitly state that UHJ decisions are infallible, and this genius would save us all by correcting this presumed omission from the Baha'i writings.

Repetition Matters
In recent decades, an apparently well-organized society within the Baha'i community, designated as insurgents in a previous article, used the propaganda principle that a falsehood repeated over and over might eventually be accepted as truth. Thus, we see in recent decades that participants in this self-appointed society repeat their bogus theories about the UHJ in almost every talk they give. And could it be coincidence that many authors agree that the Baha'i community slowed its growth and even lost thousands of members in exactly this same period?

The game works as follows. They act as if Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha "forgot" to state that UHJ decisions are infallible. They attempt with noteworthy success to cite other statements from the writings, which uncritical, untrained minds will sum up to imply or actually assert the missing proposition in the writings. Voila. Good talkers can create their own teachings for the Baha'i community and achieve some success in having their personal musings accepted as if they were part of Baha'i scripture. It is sort of like "Prophet for a day". Here is a simple example:
Suppose that you always wanted to be a prophet of God with all the trappings, followers, etc. You decide that Baha'u'llah "forgot" to state that "war is good". You find a few quotes, say, about self-defense and an international police force or whatever, and weave a story that really this scripture states that "war is good". You repeat this over and over and even include your personal revelation that "war is good" in books used as Baha'i study guides. With some luck, you get a whole generation of Baha'is professing that "war is good", oblivious to the fact that Baha'u'llah never said such an absurd idea. If listeners who are literate raise any questions, as a last resort you might find a single comment in a letter written by a secretary of Shoghi Effendi to buttress your new "war is good" theology.
However, the present premise is that the verdict is in. The jig is over for the false prophets repeating and repeating, almost as a litmus test for believers, their personal theory that UHJ statements are infallible.

Master of Precision
Yes, repetition matters. And not only in propaganda. It is a genuine source of beauty how Baha'i scripture repeats over and over in a precise manner key points covered in Infallibility Artifice. In the last weeks, in the "Comments" section, readers have provided additional quotes from the writings which all further support the debunking of this "Dial a Scripture" wizardry, which is a failed attempt to make a "new" Baha'i Faith, as if the previous one was less than adequate.

In particular, please consider the quotes from 'Abdu'l-Baha, known as "the Master". Let us suppose that these several quotes arise from authorized translations of talks and writings over some extended period. Now notice the complete consistency and how key points are precisely repeated in slightly different terms over time. One must conclude that 'Abdu'l-Baha knew exactly what he was saying and exactly what he was not saying, and maintained this clarity and precision over time, when discussing topics related to UHJ input such as divine guidance, that this institution was divinely ordained in Baha'u'llah's revelation, with words to the effect that its decisions are the closest thing possible to realizing the will of God for the Baha'i community and so forth.

Next let us notice that 'Abdu'l-Baha did not lack self-discipline and blurt out "UHJ decisions are infallible", or any words whatsoever to that effect, at any point during this period. His ministry spanned 1892 to 1921 so he had plenty of time to make such a significant point (and Baha'u'llah, also, from 1863 to 1892) if that was in fact to be an official attribute of the UHJ.

All of the other basic and very important Baha'i teachings are stated in simple, clear and usually very short, pithy sentences. E.g., the earth is one country and mankind its citizens (Baha'u'llah). So thanks to the comments of Independent readers, we have additional debunking evidence. Either Baha'i scripture has failed us by omitting the statement that UHJ decisions are infallible, or Baha'i scripture is in fact complete on this issue -- namely, many issues are repeatedly stated without even a single statement with the text "...are infallible" with words to the effect that the subject of the sentence is "UHJ decisions". That such a statement does not exist is more strongly supported as the volume of the quotes on the UHJ without it increases.

It is also common sense that if such a statement existed in Baha'i scripture, it would have been produced by our arm-chair theologians years ago.

Take your pick: Baha'i scripture was successful on this issue (the statement does not exist) or Baha'i scripture failed but some Baha'i wandering around somewhere has the magical answer because Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha failed to come up with goods.

Votes Count
With simple common sense, further debunking is possible. The nine elected members of the UHJ are said to consult on issues and vote as might be necessary to reach a conclusion. Why is there a research department to help the members become informed of relevant data and scripture? If there is "unerring guidance of God", a childish, magical interpretation might imply that they could just vote immediately.

And this does not explain why some issues may take more time to process than others. Is God so limited? If the decision is infallible, why dilly-dally around? Just vote and move on.

And in a split vote, say 5 to 4, are the five better vehicles to "hear" the divine guidance and the 4 are dummies? What if the 5 (or majority) consists of different persons in different votes. Can the dummies become perfect receptacles over night?

Finally, Douglas Martin and Peter Khan, both proponents of their personal vision of a new, modified Baha'i Faith as cited in the "Outputs" section of "Infallibility Artifice", were members of the UHJ itself. It is a major fact of the matter that these two, with whatever support they had over many years among other UHJ members, never succeeded in getting five or more votes for the UHJ to proclaim, contrary to scripture and in violation of its own Constitution, that its decisions were infallible.

Nonetheless, one must marvel at the number of Baha'is who appear to have swallowed -- what should we call it? -- the Martin-Khan doctrine in spite of the fact that their bogus theory has no basis in official Baha'i sources and no written, public support from the UHJ itself.

It is a further testament to the power of propaganda repetition that this doctrine, as a direct assault on the credibility of the UHJ, caused damage to the interests of the Baha'i Faith on so many fronts that another article or even a complete book would be required to begin recounting the ways.

To conclude with a positive note, this sorry episode may also be seen as a tribute to the strength of the UHJ, indeed, as promised by Baha'u'llah, that it could have at least two members, for so long a time, Martin and Khan, who wittingly or unwittingly, were running around the world misrepresenting and thereby diminishing the status of the UHJ, and perhaps recruiting other Baha'is to support them, in effect, acting in direct opposition to the plans and hopes of the UHJ for Baha'i growth and development. Could you, dear reader, have done that? Have had so much patience? Let us call that a sign of strength of the institution to have been forced to deal with such a difficult situation.
© 2010 James J Keene


  1. Dr. Keene, now I've read enough of your posts to get a feel for your approach. You would like to not be an alarmist, but just jostle reasonable readers to pull up our socks! For example, the idea that fundamentalism is on the decline - an approach that I enjoy and appreciate.
    Analyzing "infallibility", you've taken all our basic sources seriously rather than questioning them. I respect this, too, because it is the pathway conducive to reuniting! Like teaching a Christian by taking the Bible seriously rather than pointing out its flaws.
    However, I do think there is a next step. Not only is the Haifa House not infallible, I think we need to rethink the perfection of our guidance from not only Shoghi Effendi's secretaries, not only from Shoghi Effendi, but even from Abdu'l-Baha and Baha'u'llah!
    Perhaps the Master is our perfect example not because everything he did was perfect, but because he, as a human like us, did his best!
    One little example: Baha'u'llah's three wives, three families and resulting splits: Abdu'l-Baha did an end run on his brother putting SE in charge, and SE then excommunicated the whole lot of them!
    Perfect - in the sense that we can be consoled that not even a holy family is perfect!
    But not a good foundation for arguing 100% infallibility for all the central figures!

    Anyway, thanks for your peace-building approach, your humor, and what I see as trail-blazing: just as you perceive the dumbness to be diminishing, I see the wrangling on Internet sites as a great way to teach! I believe Abdu'l-Baha said (in a whole nother context - I think referring to Muslim priests' harangues from the pulpit) that even such criticism is ultimately beneficial and brings more people into contact with the teachings! I will be bringing a couple of blogs on-line shortly, and consider myself to be standing on the shoulders of my giant fellow Bahai bloggers!


  2. Dear Amado, Thanks for the generally favorable review. I hope by now we don't have Counsellors running around promoting the discredited Khan-Martin doctrine, which, in retrospect, may have been intentionally designed to damage the Baha'i community. These two apparently lead a team who over several decades seem to have left no stone unturned in their campaign to weaken the Baha'i community and the prestige of its institutions.

    About the wives of Baha'u'llah, I miss the point. As a wealthy Persian prior to his revelation and founding of the Baha'i Faith, what would have been the right number of wives? Two, six or what? Apparently, in those 19th century times, three is a bad number for some reason in your view. As far as I can see, it is "so what" re the number of wives of Baha'u'llah. Then, after the revelation, should Baha'u'llah have discarded one or more wives, casting them into poverty and disgrace? Again, number of wives has nothing whatever to do with "perfection", or does it?

    Re use of the term "perfection" and "perfect" in general propositions, I think some care is warranted. E.g., a behavior (of anybody or 'Abdul-Baha) may be "perfect" in one situation but not in another. In summary, rumaging around in the personal history and traits of the central figures of the faith (how they trimmed their beard or whatever) seems to be pretty much irrelevant to anything, since these persons are significant only by the roles they played (e.g., Manifestation of God, the Exemplar, etc).