Posted by: samandal | January 19, 2011

Bahá’í Unitarianism, II: The Devil is in the Details

Díyáfat-i-Sultán, the Feast of Sovereignty

Bahá’í religion, in general, comprises two main components: transcendental beliefs, such as the creation of the world by the Creator; and categorical obligations, the legislative source of which is presumed to be God.

Bahá’í spirituality, in general, also comprises two main components: fear or reverence for God, which guards against intellectual conceit; and compassionate love, which mirrors and reflects divine union.

Those Bahá’ís, indisputably a majority, who are primarily oriented toward religion emphasize beliefs and obligations (orthodoxy or correct belief); diversity in practice is permitted whenever it can be reconciled with uniformity in doctrine. The accent is on scriptural literalism and doctrinal purity: how to behave, what to think, how to judge, what to choose, when to defer, who is friend, who is foe, whom should one seek out, whom should one avoid. Conformity to religious expectation is the price of admission. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoughí Effendí valued uncritical obedience to their authority very highly—more as a conditioned reaction than as a thoughtful response; they were very clear on who must be shunned, a practice which continues in the Bahá’í International Community of Haifa and ‘Akká to the present time.

Those Bahá’ís, undoubtedly a minority, who are primarily oriented toward spirituality emphasize reverence and compassionate love (orthopraxis or correct practice); both diversity in doctrine and diversity in practice are not only permitted but are positively encouraged. The accent is on scriptural subjectivism and doctrinal syncretism: the educated, informed, responsible and aware individual is the primary arbiter in matters of conscience and morality. Indeed, Bahá’u’lláh himself encouraged his followers to develop their own beliefs, views, and interpretations of scripture; he was tolerant, even indulgent, toward many instances of apparent disobedience. Unfortunately, many of his latter-day followers have been much less latitudinarian in their views, which is regrettable.