Recently on Reddit, someone made accusatory statements about me with regard to the fact that I was disenrolled from the Baha’i community in 2000. For example, the person said: “By your own admissions, you are violating the express guidance of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha. You are claiming to know more and supplanting the judgements of Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and the House of Justice with your own judgements.” When I suggested that the person’s discourse was unkind, the person justified it saying: “We have to apply balance but do not have to put up with or tolerate those so attached to their opinions as to repeatedly insist on their own views and opinions to the point of wanting to alter what is set forth in the Writings and authoritative guidance and attacking those who differ.”
Rhetoric aside, the question at issue, as I see it, is this: can I have a narrative about the Faith that differs from the narrative held by the Baha’i institutions? The quoted statements above seem to assume that I do not have the right to a different narrative, and sharing any such narrative is considered attacking the institutions. Any narrative that differs from that of the Baha’i institutions, by definition, contravenes the guidance of Baha’u’llah etc, and is an instance of me supplanting my judgements for those of Baha’u’llah etc. In this situation, Baha’is have the right not to tolerate me.
As I see it, this position rests on the assumption that the Baha’i institutions have the right to control the narrative about the Faith. Even though Baha’u’llah says that the Word has infinite meanings, it is the meaning understood by the institutions that must be promulgated to the exclusion of everyone else’s. Everyone must share the institutions’ narrative and no one can share their own. Anyone who shares their own narrative is an enemy. They must have evil motives, because otherwise, why else would they ‘work against’ the institutions in such a blatant way?
But what about this from Baha’u’llah’s Tablet of the Son (paragraph 28):
“My friends, you are the wellsprings of my own discourse. In every spring, a droplet from the heavenly stream of divine meaning wells up. .. In this greatest of dispensations, all must appear with branches of knowledge and sayings of wisdom. For in these days wherein doubt has been banished, celestial gales have rendered all human beings – indeed, all things – bearers of the divine emanations to the extent of their capacity. “
It seems to me that Baha’u’llah is encouraging people to do exactly what the Baha’i institutions don’t like them doing – in fact, he is commanding them to do it: “appear with branches of knowledge and sayings of wisdom”. Why? Because “all things” are “bearers of the divine emanations”. Wow, that means every human being carries within them a little drop of the reality of the revelation. If this is the case, it seems important that everyone should express their understanding, so that everyone can play their part in spreading the divine meaning. Furthermore, Baha’u’llah stresses the importance of each individual’s influence on the world: “The influence of individual souls is and always will be beloved. For the influence of each soul is its fruit, and a soul without influence is considered a tree without fruit in the most great realm. Speak forth for the sake of God, and spread the cause for his sake.” (Tablet of the Son, para 33) People must speak in order to bear fruit. But what if their views differ from those held by the institutions? Should the person stop themselves from fruiting? They can’t, because if they do, they become a fruitless tree.
My understanding of this is that everyone carries the revelation within them and, consequently, will have a unique perspective on the Faith. Their unique view is needed for the Faith to be fully revealed. Given this, the Baha’i institutions are out of line bullying people into being quiet about their views. It is not individual views that will harm the Faith, it is the institutions trying to control the narrative about the Faith and narrow it down to their version. The Eternal Truth is a transcendent reality that no one, and no institution, embodies. It flourishes in everyone. To prosper, we need everyone’s expression. But you can see from the quotes above the heavy accusations and condemnation that are levelled against someone who dares to share their own narrative. The person is made out to be a pariah. Their true motivations are buried beneath an avalanche of negative rhetoric about them being an enemy of the Cause, a violator of one’s sacred covenant with Baha’u’llah, and someone whose every word contradicts what Baha’u’llah said. Just look at the short passages quoted above and the attempts to dictate the narrative about me: “By your own admissions…”. Ha? “You are claiming to know more…” Ha? All I claim is that, like everyone else, I have a unique perspective on the Faith and it is my right to share it.
So here’s what I have to say to my correspondent: You and your institutions do not have exclusive right to the Baha’i religion or to control what it means. The Baha’i religion belongs to the whole world and every human being has the right to express what it means to them. Morover, it is wrong to make people out to be enemies of the Faith just because they express views you don’t like. It is your aggressive behaviour that causes disunity; it drags the community into dramas that you create out of your fears. I am not going to let your unkindness stop me from continuing to share with the world what Baha’u’llah and his revelation mean to me. It is my right to do so and, despite what you imagine, it is you, not me, who will bear the consequences of your actions.