Sunday, 9 August 2009

He is God, not the House

On 1 August, a talk by Peter Khan, member of the House of Justice, appeared on the blog "Reflections on teaching the Baha'i Faith". The talk is entitled "Reflections on the Ridvan 2009 message" and was apparently given on 3 July 2009. Peter devotes the talk to two issues he labels: the significance of Baha'i activity, and the question of change in religion.

In the first section, Peter dwells at length on what he argues are "two processes at work in the world today, a process of decline in the quality of life, and a growth in positive elements...". Relying on passages from the Guardian, he identifies the 'correct' Baha'i response to the declining process - that it is inevitable and that it will be severe and protracted, and end in "barbarism, chaos, and ultimate extinction" (World Order, p187). Peter then explains the role of religion in all this: that the process is caused by the decline in religion. He quotes Baha'u'llah in support: "Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue..." (Tablets, p125).

Peter explains that the purpose of the Ridvan message, and indeed that of Baha'u'llah, is to free the world from this oppressive downward spiral, by spreading the news of Baha'u'llah's coming. He gives several examples of this oppression: the rise of religious extremism and authoritarianism in religious leaders; the fomenting of hatred and division in the world; the search for instant solutions; indulging in extreme behaviour such as with drugs; and the worship of idols, as instanced in Michael Jackson's death. He argues that the answer is not to get depressed but to devote oneself to spreading the Faith, as stated in the 2009 Ridvan message. What the Baha'is are doing is building a new world civilisation. The civilisation we exist in today is like the Roman Empire, which took 400 years to decline and fall. He outlines what he believes are the essential features of this new civilisation - individual and community worship; application of divine teachings to daily life; altruism and the transmission of values to new generations - and argues that these are all met by the "elements of the core activities of the Five Year Plan".

The second section of the talk is a defence of how change in religion is legitimate, based on the fact that religions must evolve. This changing process produces division because some believers want change and others don't. This division has appeared in response to the Five Year Plan framework that the House of Justice has developed - "...the House of Justice in 1996 began a process of quite significant change and that change is a test to some sincere and devoted believers" - but if the believers would understand that change is natural, they will go along with what the House asks of them. In this spirit, Peter ends with a general, rousing appeal:

"The solution is no more and no less than unreserved acceptance of whatever the central authority of the Cause, in this case the Universal House of Justice decrees. If we would hold to that... we are safe. Nothing can trouble us, we are in an impregnable stronghold, and we would become part of this massive movement of humanity to rescue the world from the perilous disorder, the intense suffering of the declining process and to usher in the ordained new world civilization in the Golden Age of the Cause."

So that's it: the world is in dire straits and the answer is to do what the House tells you to. This is what will "rescue the world from perilous disorder". I was shocked mightly when I read this passage, particularly by the language Peter uses, for it appears to conflate the House of Justice with Baha'u'llah. The concepts of being safe and in a stronghold are used in the Arabic Hidden Words; they relate to the manifestation, not the House of Justice.

"9. O son of being! My love is My stronghold; he that entereth therein is safe and secure, and he that turneth away shall surely stray and perish."

It astonishes me that Peter Khan would openly make such a claim for the House of Justice. He refers to idols in his speech but seems completely unaware of the idolatrous nature of this claim. Only a power that transcends physical existence can provide safety and act as a stronghold, for all else is subject to the contingencies of physical existence. The House of Justice is as powerless as everyone else is.

To illustrate this, I challenge Peter Khan to answer the following question, which Baha'u'llah asks of another, with respect to the House of Justice:

"Say: O people! We shall put to you a question in all truthfulness, taking God for a witness between you and Us. He, verily, is the Defender of the righteous. Appear, then, before His Throne of glory and make reply with justice and fair-mindedness. Is it God Who is potent to achieve His purpose, or is it ye who enjoy such authority? Is it He Who is truly unconstrained, as ye imply when ye say that He doeth what He pleaseth and shall not be asked of His doings, or is it ye who wield such power, and who merely make such assertions out of blind imitation, as did your forebears at the appearance of every other Messenger of God?" Suriy-i-Haykal para 58

This is my question to Peter Khan before the Throne of glory: "Is it God Who is potent to achieve His purpose, or is it [the House of Justice] that enjoy[s] such authority? Is it He Who is truly unconstrained, as ye imply when ye say that He doeth what He pleaseth and shall not be asked of His doings, or is it [the House of Justice] who wield[s] such power, and who merely make[s] such assertions out of blind imitation, as did your forebears at the appearance of every other Messenger of God?" That is my question to Peter Khan. If you believe, as you claim, that God does as He pleases and is unconstrained, then why don't you say to the believers that the answer is to turn to God/Baha'u'llah? Why don't you remind them that God is their safety and stronghold, the healer of all their ills? Does the House of Justice have the power to "quickeneth the world of being and reneweth the temples of all created things", or is that the power of the Word of God? Is the House really the central authority of the Cause or is it Baha'u'llah?

Peter appears to have missed the central point in the Baha'i concept that today is the Day of God. It means that today is the appearance of the principle that He is God, and the consquences are that anyone who comes in cooee of that station does so at their very grave peril. It's Peter's job to tell the believers "to put thy trust in Me" - that is, Baha'u'llah - "and not in thyself" - that is, not in the House of Justice. Why? Because "I desire to be loved alone and above all that is" (AHW 8), including the community's central administrative authority.

"Say: This is the Day of God, the Day on which naught shall be mentioned save His own Self, the omnipotent Protector of all worlds." (Kitab-i-Aqdas, para 167)