Monday, 21 April 2008

A Ridvan vision

From ressentiment to rapprochement

I know this will sound trite, but I had a dream - I really did have a dream. It came on the night after the anniversary of my expulsion. I was expelled on March 27 2000, and so this dream, coming in the year 2008, came as I was entering my ninth year of being unenrolled. To me, the ninth year is significant because Baha'u'llah spent nine years in Akka before he allowed others to persuade him to leave. Baha'u'llah was kind enough to send me a dream warning me about my expulsion, so it's likely he'll kindly send me signs of what's going to happen after it. I know that my expulsion was considered to be the 'end of an unpleasant matter', but there are no ends in creation that do not result in birth.

I don't want to share the details of the dream, but I do want to share the vision that resulted from it. I felt the grace of Baha'u'llah stretched over the entire Baha'i world. He waits silently in anticipation that we will look and see him in his supreme majesty overshadowing us with his attentive gaze and all-encompassing love. But whether we see it or not, this is the reality of his presence upon us all the time. When I looked at the Baha'i world from this vantage point, I realised that all was not hopeless after all. I realised that, for years, I had assumed that it was inevitable the Baha'is would continue to curse and revile each other and that the Cause would be forever crippled by this. But this vision gave me hope that this tragic scenario was not inevitable at all. With the grace of Baha'u'llah, the slowly unfolding tragedy could be turned around. It was possible that people's hearts could be softened toward each other and those who were estranged could associate with each other in a civil manner.

How could such a thing be possible, you might ask. Well, for starters, we need only look at history and the numerous situations where the hope of a few seemed fantastic in the face of the odds. It must have seemed like all hope was gone when Christ was crucified on the cross, Muhammad took his flight to Medina and Baha'u'llah languished in the Siyah Chal. But we know from the benefit of hindsight (and from what Baha'u'llah teaches us) that these dark days are just the beginning of a miraculous plan God has yet to unfold. We know God sets up these situations to see who'll believe despite the odds. When Martin Luther King said he had a dream, he dreamed it in the face of huge opposition to his vision of universal love for all people despite their colour.

The key thing is that one's vision is in keeping with the divine plan. And what, I ask, is not in keeping with Baha'i principles about the dream that Baha'is should stop cursing and reviling each other and reach out to each other in a spirit of tolerance? Here is the principle that we are exhorted to live by:

"'Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.' Whatsoever hath led the children of men to shun one another, and hath caused dissensions and divisions amongst them, hath, through the revelation of these words, been nullified and abolished." (Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p87)

In this passage, Baha'u'llah is not telling us all to agree with each other. He is telling us how to treat those who have different religious views. We should associate with them in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. We should not shun them, much less revile and attack them. The principle applies equally within the Baha'i world as it does between religious communities. Individual Baha'is have different views on things. They all proclaim their belief in Baha'u'llah, but they still disagree over the details. Again, we should associate with believers who have different views in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.

It is easy to see how the principle works when we apply it to others. We look at the religious strife around the world and say to ourselves: it just doesn't need to be that way. Why don't they just get along? Why does it matter to one that another holds a different view? Why do the differences matter so much that they must lead to such tragic consequences? Why don't they just live and let live? Why indeed. And the same questions apply to the Baha'is today. Why do they attack each other for holding different views? We can see when we look at warring factions that when they point out each other's faults, they do not thereby make themselves righteous or win. You want to tell them that the only path to peace is forgiveness and letting go. If we want the Cause to spread throughout the world, this is what we must do. We must forgive, let go and live in peace with each other. If we cannot move ahead together in peace, then we offer the world only what it has already and we fail to offer Baha'u'llah's healing remedy. That remedy must be an inner reality in our hearts if we're to have an effect.

And so, today, this Ridvan, I make an unconditional declaration of peace to the Baha'i world. I unconditionally forgive anyone who, to my mind, has wronged me and I hold in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship all Baha'is who have different views to me: the House of Justice, the NZ NSA, the Baha'is in my local community and all Baha'is on the Internet that I have had dealings with. If I have hurt any of you in any way, I unreservedly apologise. And I unconditionally forgive any grievance I may once have felt you had caused me. If you imagine that I hold a grievance against you, please this minute know that it is extinguished. If you wish to check that out with me, please email me privately.

And I challenge enrolled Baha'is and unenrolled Baha'is to see their common ground, let go the past and begin associating with one another in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship. Think about the dream that Martin Luther King had. He saw a time when black people would associate freely with whites, even though at that time, the idea of associating with blacks was anathema to many whites. I know that unenrolled Baha'is are anathema to many enrolled Baha'is, but my purpose here is to bring about a change there. I want to start a movement that will lead to peace between us. And I begin by making my declaration of peace. I lay all my cards on the table. I am not your enemy; in fact, the opposite. As Sen McGlinn has pointed out, the unenrolled Baha'is worldwide are surely the most fruitful target for declarations. These people already say they believe. I recall, when I was a member of the community, there used to be people who would come to Baha'i events but who were not enrolled members of the community. We used to call them Baha'is because, for all intents and purposes, they were. We called them 'friends of the community'. We cherished their fellowship. Why should things be different today? Why can we not open our hearts to each other, worship together and work together? Would the Cause suffer by this or would it blossom? I believe, it would blossom to such an extent that we would all be astonished. The believers often point to the power of unity; well, here's our chance to harness it. Let's take up this precious opportunity offered us. Let's overlook our differences and work together to revolutionise the fortunes of the Faith.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Effective teaching

Lately I've been hearing Baha'is talking about teaching: What's an effective method? What's an appropriate method? Should we do direct teaching or indirect teaching? Is it in keeping with the dignity of the Faith to be door knocking? I'm not familiar with what goes on in Baha'i communities these days, but as I understand it, Baha'is are encouraged to go door knocking when their communities are judged to be sufficiently advanced along the Ruhi Path.

The first thing that hits me about this discussion is how familiar it is to me. The issues and the way that they are framed are the same as when I was a member of the community - only in my day, the administration frowned on door knocking and did not encourage it. It surprises me greatly to see the shift in thinking there.

But now that I have been out of the community for just over eight years, my way of looking at teaching has changed. I no longer think about it in the way that the community does. One thing about being unenrolled that I really like is that it means you go back to what Baha'u'llah says about things and use that to guide you. The community discourse and focus on issues no longer bears on you; it's just you and Baha'u'llah and he's the man you go to for direction. It makes you see how sidetracked the community gets. Discussion takes place within an established framework that has grown up over time from bits here and there. But participants do not say to themselves: what are the principles laid down by Baha'u'llah about teaching? The nearest the discussion seems to get to that is the idea that Baha'u'llah forbids proselytizing. But no one asks: where does Baha'u'llah forbid proselytizing? Perhaps he does make a statement like that somewhere, but I've not come across it. Then the discussion revolves around the meaning of the English word 'proselytizing' and so on it goes.

So, I thought I'd cover here what Baha'u'llah says about teaching, as I understand it from the writings that we have. The relevant passages seem to me to be covered in Tablets of Baha'u'llah and I'll confine myself mostly to the writings in that book.

Deeds and words

As I understand it, Baha'u'llah explains that we influence others with both our deeds and our words. In many places, he says that our deeds will render the Cause victorious; for example:

"The fourth Ishraq: In this Revelation the hosts that can render it victorious are the hosts of praiseworthy deeds and upright character. The leader and commander of these hosts hath ever been the fear of God, a fear that encompasseth all things and reigneth over all things." (Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p126)

He also says that God has ordained that we are to achieve victory by means of our words (presumably, and not by the sword):

"Our loving providence surpasseth all things, We have ordained that complete victory should be achieved through speech and utterance, that Our servants throughout the earth may thereby become the recipients of divine good. This is but a token of God's bounty vouchsafed unto them. Verily thy Lord is the All-Sufficing, the Most Exalted." (Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, pp 197-198)

I want to confine my discussion here to words. In Tablets of Baha'u'llah, a passage about the influence of words appears three times. Baha'u'llah appears to have revealed it and then quoted it again and again. It seems to me to contain the fundamental principles about teaching that he wanted to emphasise. I'll quote the shortest version of the passage first and deal with the other two next. In the two longer versions, Baha'u'llah adds some commentary on the passage, which gives us extra useful information.

Quotation one

"Teach thou the Cause of God with an utterance which will cause the bushes to be enkindled, and the call `Verily, there is no God but Me, the Almighty, the Unconstrained' to be raised therefrom. Say: Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets. Meditate upon that which hath streamed forth from the heaven of the Will of thy Lord, He Who is the Source of all grace, that thou mayest grasp the intended meaning which is enshrined in the sacred depths of the Holy Writings." (Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p143)

The part that gets repeated starts from "Say: Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert an influence…" and stops at "… Holy Scriptures and Tablets".

There's a basic structure to the passage, which Baha'u'llah adheres to in each version. First of all, Baha'u'llah tells us that speech is an essence. In other words, it is a spiritual power that comes from within our spiritual self. Then he tells us two things about that essence:

  1. That it seeks to exert an influence.
  2. That it needs moderation.

He then gives a comment on each of these two aspects of the essence of speech:

  1. About its influence, this is conditional upon refinement and hearts that are pure.
  2. About its need for moderation, this needs to be combined with tact and wisdom as set out in scripture.

Fortunately, in the next two quotations, Baha'u'llah gives us more information about these things. I'll quote the next passage and add the new details.

Quotation two

"Should anyone perceive the sweetness of the following passage in the Tablet revealed in honour of Nabil of Qa'in,(1) he would readily comprehend the significance of assistance: Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement, which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets.

O My Name! Utterance must needs possess penetrating power. For if bereft of this quality it would fail to exert influence. And this penetrating influence dependeth on the spirit being pure and the heart stainless. Likewise it needeth moderation, without which the hearer would be unable to bear it, rather he would manifest opposition from the very outset. And moderation will be obtained by blending utterance with the tokens of divine wisdom which are recorded in the sacred Books and Tablets. Thus when the essence of one's utterance is endowed with these two requisites it will prove highly effective and will be the prime factor in transforming the souls of men. This is the station of supreme victory and celestial dominion. Whoso attaineth thereto is invested with the power to teach the Cause of God and to prevail over the hearts and minds of men." (Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, pp198-199)

Note that in the first paragraph, Baha'u'llah repeats the passage we looked at above. In the second paragraph, he gives us some information about it. He begins commenting on aspect 1 above:

1. Speech seeks to exert an influence. About its influence, this is conditional upon refinement and hearts that are pure.

Baha'u'llah tells us that speech needs to have a penetrating power, otherwise it won't succeed in influencing people. Next, he tells us that this influence depends on a pure spirit and stainless heart.

Then he moves on to aspect 2 above.

2. Speech needs moderation. About its need for moderation, this needs to be combined with tact and wisdom as set out in scripture.

Baha'u'llah gives us quite a bit more information here about the moderation aspect. He tells us first of all why moderation is needed - because otherwise the audience will not be able to hear the message we are delivering, and will oppose us instead. Next, Baha'u'llah tells us how to achieve moderation. This is done by blending our words with small pieces of wisdom from the writings.

Finally, Baha'u'llah tells us that, with the two aspects outlined above under our belts, we will be successful teachers.

Before moving on to the last quotation, I'll put together all that we have learned so far about the two aspects. I'll call them the 'influence aspect' and the 'moderation aspect'.

  1. Influence aspect: Speech seeks to exert an influence. Speech needs to have a penetrating power, otherwise it won't influence people. About its influence, this is conditional upon refinement and hearts that are pure or, put another way, a pure spirit and stainless heart.
  2. Moderation aspect: Speech needs moderation. This is because the audience will not be able to hear the message we are delivering, and will oppose us instead. About its need for moderation, this needs to be combined with tact and wisdom as set out in scripture. This is done by blending our words with small pieces of wisdom from the writings.

Quotation three

"The Great Being saith: Human utterance is an essence which aspireth to exert its influence and needeth moderation. As to its influence, this is conditional upon refinement which in turn is dependent upon hearts which are detached and pure. As to its moderation, this hath to be combined with tact and wisdom as prescribed in the Holy Scriptures and Tablets.

Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible. The Great Being saith: One word may be likened unto fire, another unto light, and the influence which both exert is manifest in the world. Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility. And likewise He saith: One word is like unto springtime causing the tender saplings of the rose-garden of knowledge to become verdant and flourishing, while another word is even as a deadly poison. It behoveth a prudent man of wisdom to speak with utmost leniency and forbearance so that the sweetness of his words may induce everyone to attain that which befitteth man's station.

O friend of mine! The Word of God is the king of words and its pervasive influence is incalculable. It hath ever dominated and will continue to dominate the realm of being. The Great Being saith: The Word is the master key for the whole world, inasmuch as through its potency the doors of the hearts of men, which in reality are the doors of heaven, are unlocked." (Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, pp172-173)

Again, Baha'u'llah begins in the first paragraph with the passage we are now familiar with. The next two paragraphs give us some very useful commentary on it. What does he tell us? Here is a summary of the ideas in paragraph 2:

  1. Every word is endowed with a spirit. This is linked to the idea that speech is an essence. It is a spiritual power within us.
  2. Given that speech is a spirit, we have to be careful about how we deliver our words - being mindful of time and place - so that we give the right impression. Then Baha'u'llah gives an example of what he means. A word can be, depending on its delivery, a fire or a light.
  3. Therefore, we should primarily speak with words as mild as milk. This is an important idea about moderation. Why, because the goal is to use words so that they will nurture and edify (that is, inspire a person toward moral or spiritual improvement). Again, Baha'u'llah gives an example. A word can be, depending on its delivery, a springtime or a deadly poison.
  4. Finally, Baha'u'llah gives more examples of what is meant by moderation. We should speak with leniency and forbearance so that the sweetness of our words inspires our audience to achieve its highest spiritual station.

In the third paragraph, Baha'u'llah focuses on the Word. This tells us why it is important, as we saw from the moderation aspect, to blend our words with the Word in scripture. Summarised, the ideas are: The Word of God is the king of words. Its influence is incalculable; it dominates creation. It's the master key that unlocks the hearts of people (which are the doors of heaven).

Again, on the matter of mixing the word of God with our own, Baha'u'llah explains that we should memorise short passages so that we can recite them when an appropriate time comes up. It is the Word that transforms people:

"The sanctified souls should ponder and meditate in their hearts regarding the methods of teaching. From the texts of the wondrous, heavenly Scriptures they should memorize phrases and passages bearing on various instances, so that in the course of their speech they may recite divine verses whenever the occasion demandeth it, inasmuch as these holy verses are the most potent elixir, the greatest and mightiest talisman. So potent is their influence that the hearer will have no cause for vacillation." (Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p 200)

Summary

I'll now summarise what Baha'u'llah says about effective teaching in the quotations above.

  1. Speech is an essence. Every word is endowed with a spirit.
  2. Influence aspect: Speech seeks to exert an influence. It needs to have a penetrating power, otherwise it won't influence people. About its influence, this is conditional upon refinement and hearts that are pure or, put another way, a pure spirit and stainless heart.
  3. Moderation aspect: Speech needs moderation. This is because the audience will not be able to hear the message we are delivering, and will oppose us instead. About its need for moderation, this needs to be combined with tact and wisdom as set out in scripture. When speaking, we should be mindful of time and place so that we give the right impression. We should primarily speak with words as mild as milk because the goal is to use words so that they will nurture and edify. We should speak with leniency and forbearance so that the sweetness of our words inspires our audience to achieve its highest spiritual station. We should blend our words with small pieces of wisdom from the writings. The Word of God is the king of words. Its influence is incalculable; it dominates creation. It is the master key that unlocks the hearts of people. We should memorise short passages from scripture so that we can recite them when an appropriate time comes up. It is the Word that transforms people.

Proselytizing

I'll finish with a comment about proselytizing. As I said, I'm not aware that Baha'u'llah ever said we should not proselytize. As I understand it, the Guardian said that and he was extrapolating from the principles that Baha'u'llah laid down about teaching.

"Care, however, should, at all times, be exercised, lest in their eagerness to further the international interests of the Faith they frustrate their purpose, and turn away, through any act that might be misconstrued as an attempt to proselytize and bring undue pressure upon them, those whom they wish to win over to their Cause." (Shoghi Effendi: The Advent of Divine Justice, p 66)

In my view, the principle that we should not proselytize can be gleaned from the following passages from Baha'u'llah. As I understand what Baha'u'llah says below, we should only talk to someone about the Faith if they show a genuine interest in hearing about it. Otherwise, we should remain silent. To my mind, this is what's meant by the fact that we should not proselytize and, to my mind, it rules out door knocking.

"O son of dust! The wise are they that speak not unless they obtain a hearing, even as the cup-bearer, who proffereth not his cup till he findeth a seeker, and the lover who crieth not out from the depths of his heart until he gazeth upon the beauty of his beloved. Wherefore sow the seeds of wisdom and knowledge in the pure soil of the heart, and keep them hidden, till the hyacinths of divine wisdom spring from the heart and not from mire and clay." (Baha'u'llah: Persian Hidden Words, no 36)
"Arise thou to serve the Cause of thy Lord; then give the people the joyful tidings concerning this resplendent Light whose revelation hath been announced by God through His Prophets and Messengers. Admonish everyone moreover to observe prudence as ordained by Him, and in the Name of God advise them, saying: It behoveth every one in this Day of God to dedicate himself to the teaching of the Cause with utmost prudence and steadfastness. Should he discover a pure soil, let him sow the seed of the Word of God, otherwise it would be preferable to observe silence." (Baha'u'llah: Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p 242)

Friday, 4 April 2008

Infallibility 3

Infallibility is an attribute

In the last installment, we saw that Baha'u'llah says that infallibility "has diverse meanings and stations", which is the opposite of John Hatcher's claim that "Infallibility admits of no degrees". I also covered the basic idea of infallibility, which, Baha'u'llah says, is that it is the name given to a person – any person, not just leaders of religion - who God protects from sin. (I'll note here for clarification that the meaning of infallibility has another dimension altogether when it is applied to the manifestation. But for now, I want to focus on infallibility as it is applied to ordinary humans. I'll discuss the Most Great Infallibility later. Infallibility is such a big topic that I have to deal with small chunks at a time.)

In order to shed more light on the above, I want to discuss next the idea that infallibility is an attribute of God. In my view, this idea is very important because it gives us a way of understanding how infallibility works in the scheme of things. The trouble Baha'is face, I think, is that they see infallibility as a magical thing because they have no framework in which to view it. And, because they see it as magical, they are happy to apply it to others such as their religious leaders, who are people they will never know personally, and assume it couldn't possibly apply to them.

What do I mean by 'attribute of God'? I simply mean the attributes of God that we see referred to all through the writings. A good place to find attributes of God is the Long Healing Prayer. It is a prayer based entirely on the recital of attributes and names of God. Let's quote a few lines from the US Baha'i prayer book (p91) to see what I'm talking about:

"He is the Healer, the Sufficer, the Helper, the All-Forgiving, the All-Merciful.
I call on Thee O Exalted One, O Faithful One, O Glorious One! Thou the Sufficing, Thou the Healing, Thou the Abiding, O Thou Abiding One!"

The above are attributes and names of God. Examples of attributes are: healer, sufficer, helper, all-forgiving, all-merciful and so on; examples of names are: O Exalted One, O Faithful One, O Glorious One. The point I want to make is that 'infallible' is another attribute too – God is also infallible or, as a name, Infallible One. It may seem to some like I'm saying something obvious, but believe me, this obvious idea cuts ice in a big way when the logical consequences of it are examined. If infallibility is an attribute like any other, then we should view it in the same way that we view other attributes. Whatever principles apply to other attributes apply to it also. We know from the writings a lot about the attributes of God and the way they behave, and so we can get a long way to understanding infallibility simply by applying those principles to it.

It is clear from the passage about infallibility in Some Answered Questions that Abdu'l-Baha thought of infallibility as an attribute of God. This comes through in these two sentences:

"Know that infallibility is of two kinds: essential infallibility and acquired infallibility. In like manner there is essential knowledge and acquired knowledge; and so it is with other names and attributes." (`Abdu'l-Baha: Some Answered Questions, p171)

I expect you'll be familiar with the first sentence: that infallibility has two stations – essential infallibility and acquired infallibility. But you may not have taken much notice of the second sentence. Here, Abdu'l-Baha is likening knowledge to infallibility. He is saying that, like infallibility, which has two stations, knowledge has two stations also. And, what's more, so do other names and attributes. What Abdu'l-Baha is doing here is thinking of infallibility as an attribute of God; he is explaining how infallibility works in terms of the framework that all attributes operate in. And, in this passage, he is making the point that all names and attributes have two basic stations: an essential one and an acquired one.

Now, the thing is this: Baha'is like to say all over the place that infallibility has two levels – they are very aware that there is this thing called 'essential infallibility' and this thing called 'acquired infallibility', which they usually refer to as 'conferred infallibility'. Take John Hatcher's classic mainstream explanation about infallibility for example. He is aware of the two levels. I've italicised the two words that indicate where he is referring to the passage above from Some Answered Questions:

"Thus, in this dispensation, only Baha'u'llah as a Manifestation partakes of the 'Most Great Infallibility'; only He is inherently infallible. The infallibility of guidance from 'Abdu'l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice is conferred and derives from Baha'u'llah." John Hatcher, "Letters from God". The Amercian Baha'i Online, 18 September 2007

But there is not, as far as I'm aware, a single Baha'i commentator who has pointed out that the other attributes have two levels too. Baha'is don't emphasise, when discussing trustworthiness for example, that there are two levels: essential trustworthiness and conferred trustworthiness. And yet, there are. There is essential trustworthiness and conferred trustworthiness. What's more, there is also essential loving kindness and conferred loving kindness, essential forgivingness and conferred forgivingness, essential generosity and conferred generosity, essential truthfulness and conferred truthfulness. In the sentences following the above passage in Some Answered Questions, Abdu'l-Baha does something similar to what I have just done, he points out that, just as there is essential infallibility, there is also essential knowledge and essential power.

"Essential infallibility is peculiar to the supreme Manifestation, for it is His essential requirement, and an essential requirement cannot be separated from the thing itself. The rays are the essential necessity of the sun and are inseparable from it. Knowledge is an essential necessity of God and is inseparable from Him. Power is an essential necessity of God and is inseparable from Him." (`Abdu'l-Baha: Some Answered Questions, p171)

The characteristic of the two levels – essential and conferred – is a characteristic of the framework in which all the names and attributes operate. All attributes have an essential dimension and a conferred dimension to them. This is because the essential dimension applies to God and the manifestations, and the conferred dimension applies to the rest of us. For God and the manifestations, their attributes are an inherent part of them and this means that they do not lack perfection on any level. We, on the other hand, receive our perfections as a ray of bounty from the manifestation (who reflects them to us from God). All our perfections are conferred on us from the manifestations. They are not an inherent part of us; we have to work at acquiring perfections by carrying out the spiritual disciplines outlined for us by Baha'u'llah, such as reading the writings, praying and fasting. Abdu'l-Baha refers to these things when he says the following about acquired infallibility: "But acquired infallibility is not a natural necessity; on the contrary, it is a ray of the bounty of infallibility which shines from the Sun of Reality upon hearts, and grants a share and portion of itself to souls." (`Abdu'l-Baha: Some Answered Questions, p172)

In light of this, let's go back to the statements in the first paragraph. First, Baha'u'llah says that infallibility "has diverse meanings and stations", which is the opposite of John Hatcher's claim that: "Infallibility admits of no degrees." Let's look at this using another, different, attribute, such as patience. You probably have no problem accepting the idea that being patient has diverse meanings and stations. One person might wait patiently while a disabled person slowly moves across in front of them on the footpath; another person might put up with decades of irritating behaviour from a spouse. It is certainly not true that "Patience admits of no degrees." This is not true of any attribute of God. The attributes are reflected by us in varying degrees and at varying levels, and this principle applies equally to the attribute of infallibility.

Baha'u'llah says that infallibility is the name given to any person who God protects from sin. Let's look at this in terms of degree. A person refuses to participate with fellow believers in a backbiting session about another member. This person is reflecting the attribute of infallibility. A person stops themselves from making a cutting remark in response to an underhand comment from a spouse. This person is reflecting the attribute of infallibility. A person walks through a valley of gold and doesn't notice it. This person is reflecting the attribute of infallibility. A person refuses to recant their faith even though it means they lose their life. This person is reflecting the attribute of infallibility. A person says publicly 'I believe in Baha'u'llah' even though this means being ostracised by their family. This person is reflecting the attribute of infallibility. We can show the attribute of infallibility in a multitude of situations. To everyone who has ever stood up for truth, justice and moral integrity in the face of adverse circumstances, 'infallibility' is your name. We are selling ourselves short in a big way if we imagine that only our religious leaders can be infallible. We never say that only the House of Justice can be loving, powerful and knowledgeable. Similarly, we should not imagine that only it can be infallible.

Forthcoming book about Baha'u'llah's mystical teachings

  Paradise of Presence: Conversations in the Mindscape of Eternity by Alison Elizabeth Marshall