IntroductionEver since I came upon the truth of the continuing Guardianship, I have been unable to reconnect with the heterodox organization. Any attempt to associate with them has caused me much spiritual torment, as though they represent some evil principality, power and spiritual wickedness in high places spoken of in Ephesians 6:12 ["For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places"]. Because of my fear of being cast out and shunned by individuals who were dear to me, I tried to deny the truth. I only suffered tremendous spiritual, emotional, physical, and material hardship as a consequence to the point where I began to doubt that Bahá'u'lláh is God's Manifestation for this day.
In 2003, I received a visit from auxiliary board members of the heterodox organization. I was very intimidated by them. They came to my home, and in the spirit of `Abdu'l-Bahá, I made every effort to be hospitable and courteous. As humble as I was, they acted as bullies and did not mention God once in our meeting. Still, I did not have the courage to let them know that they were violating the Covenant of Bahá'u'lláh and had not one ounce of respect for our beloved `Abdu'l-Bahá. Please forgive me for my cowardliness. I suffered greatly for this.
[Note: Vonda has once again joined the ranks of the faithful believers in the Orthodox Bahá'í Faith]
Versus Mindless Conformity Within the Bahá'í World Faith
by Vonda Turner
“Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens . . . are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion . . . No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion." —Thomas Jefferson
I was loyal to the Bahá'í World Faith leadership and administrative structure even when I found through my own investigation that this leadership structure was not the intention of founders Bahá'u'lláh and `Abdu'l-Bahá. I was compelled to remain loyal to the Bahá'í World Faith, even though I disagreed with their beliefs on the leadership structure, because I was a victim of the abusive forces meted out by the leadership, who manipulate members into compliance by deliberately creating errors of perspective (Ruggiero 97) among the members, concealing vital historical information, and utilizing social and psychological sanctions, or “gross and subtle pressures to keep every individual member in line” (Allport 66).
My paper will be an analysis of tactics utilized by Bahá'í leadership to compel me to go against beliefs formulated through my independent investigation. The paper will apply Allport theories of in-group membership to my experience as a Bahá'í and examine Ruggiero’s principles for critical thinking as they parallel with the Bahá'í principle “Independent Investigation of Truth.”
Human beings are social creatures and have fundamental needs for love, affection and belongingness (Abraham Maslow). Allport points out that people “….like to be with people: they have simply found people lock-stitched into the very fabric of their existence (Allport 61). The presence of other people in our lives validate our existence as good and meaningful. Membership in socially ascribed or achieved in-groups provide us with identity, a sense of belonging, and a forum by which we can have our needs met for achievement, status, responsibility and reputation (Allport, Maslow). My membership in the Bahá'í World Faith was an achieved status because I had to fight to be apart of a community consisting of members of my reference groups (Allport 63), who I perceived to be well informed, progressive, educated, and economically self-sufficient, qualities and lifestyle I sought to have in my own life (Allport 65, Sherif 65). I had let go of the Christian circles of my youth and embraced a religion founded upon my personal beliefs in the unity of God, religion, and the human race. Membership in the Bahá'í World Faith validated my identity and put me in alignment with what I believed was God’s purpose for me, as well as, the destiny of humankind. My service to the Bahá'í community was to perform music at Bahá'í gatherings and events. This function was rewarding, in that with it, I had developed a sense of purpose and high reputation in the community (Maslow). My loyalties to the community developed through strong identification and rewarding service work and within a period of 1 year, I became cemented in the structure that being a Bahá'í had provided for my life (Allport 61).
For 11 years, I lived my life according to Bahá'í standards and expectations. I had settled into “a way of living with characteristic codes and beliefs, standards and 'enemies' ” (Allport 66). Everyday, I performed water ablutions and recited the Bahá'í obligatory prayer. I regularly attended Bahá'í fellowship services and events. I developed strong friendships, and married into a prominent Bahá'í family. And I had passively accepted what everybody in the Bahá'í World Faith seem to know (Ruggiero 44), that (their so-called) Universal House of Justice (UHJ) was the supreme and infallible governing body of the religion. From that body, all of the subordinate Bahá'í institutions and members received their guidance, a guidance that is considered tantamount to receiving guidance from God. A demonstration of loyalty to the Bahá'í World Faith is one’s dislike and non-association with an out-group of Bahá'ís (Allport 67) who challenge and threaten the existence of the current leadership structure headed by the UHJ.
The most gross of pressures (Allport 66) meted out by the UHJ to keep members in compliance within the Bahá'í World Faith consists of the consequences to questioning the authority, legitimacy and the infallibility of the UHJ. Built into Bahá'í social consciousness is the belief that to go against the UHJ is tantamount to going against God. To do so is viewed as breaking God’s covenant, which is an unforgivable sin. Those who rebel against or oppose the UHJ are declared to be covenant-breakers, suffering with a soul sickness, a contagious cancer that could spread through association with members of the covenant-breaker out-group. [In truth, a covenant-breaker is one who opposes the Guardian according to the Will and Testament of `Abdu'l-Bahá] I along with other ex-Bahá'ís perceive this threat of excommunication, as an abuse of power, because it manipulates a person’s sense of belongingness, identity and self-esteem. The threat of excommunication also stifles the freedom to independently investigate, examine, and criticize the UHJ‘s claim of infallible authority.
I accepted most of the fundamental principles of the Bahá'í World Faith through independent reading and understanding. However, I had passively accepted that the institution of the UHJ was legitimate (Ruggiero 44) , until the year 1999 with the advent of the World Wide Web, I had accessed information regarding the intended nature and the actual history of successorship in the Bahá'í World Faith, which the leadership had deliberately concealed from the masses.
Ruggiero proposes that to know something requires more than having the right answer. It involves the ability to express what is known and how we came to know it (Ruggiero 41). During the majority of my time as a Bahá'í, I could not articulate the reasons I believed in the legitimacy and infallible authority of the UHJ. I was subjected to mindless conformity, an “error of perspective” (Ruggiero 97), because I believed in the UHJ from the way it appeared, without knowledge of its history or how it came to be (Ruggiero 97). I agree with Ruggiero that I had followed members lead because I had not thought for myself (Ruggiero 102). But I did not have the information necessary to establish a sound conclusion about the UHJ’s authority, because, up until the existence of the World Wide Web, this information had been concealed from the majority.
One of the basic principles expounded upon by Bahá'í prophets is that we live in a day and age that requires us to utilize our own God given faculties to independently investigate and determine the truth. To do so is regarded as the “best beloved of all things in My [God’s] sight…”, that we should “…see with our own eyes, and not through the eyes of others (Hidden Words of Bahá'u'lláh from the Arabic 3-4). Through this writing God has encouraged us to exercise freedom of independent thought. So, I applied characteristics of critical thinkers to the issue at hand (Ruggiero 20-21). I was honest about the fact that I did not know how the UHJ came to have so much authority. I regarded the question of the UHJ’s legitimacy in the face of new information as a controversial and exciting issue. After reading through the newly discovered information, I based my conclusions, on supportive evidence found in the Bahá'í Holy Writings, that the UHJ’s existence is not infallible and lacks the authority it claims to possess.
The information undeniably tells the straightforward truth. There is no need for interpretation; any person after reading this information would come to my same conclusion, that the current successor is in a position of authority based on notions that are contrary to the will of the religion’s founding fathers.
Did I go against my conscience, and disregard this new-found truth, so as to remain in good standing in the sight of the community and God? How had I been affected by this new discovery while under the gross pressure to comply with the standards of a false leadership? At first, I was excited about the new information and joined forces with the Orthodox Bahá'ís, regarded as the enemy of the Bahá'í World Faith. The Orthodox Bahá'í community is a very small minority of Bahá'ís that uphold and promote the true path of successorship and leadership as intended by the Bahá'í prophets. But my association with that group was short-lived, as I was pulled by the stronger forces of the dominant majority to maintain my identity as a good and compliant Bahá'í within the larger community (Allport 65)-66).
For awhile I tried to ignore my conscience and remain loyal to the UHJ despite my discovery of the truth. The thought of being shunned by people who had been part of my being, was pretty devastating. I begin to second guess my interpretations and perceptions of the new information. It was difficult for me to accept that I had come across the truth, when so many thousands of people where in the dark, even with the existence of the Orthodox Bahá'í community. Because I second guess what I had discovered through reading and critical analysis, I became confused, bitter and unhappy towards all Bahá'ís. In the end I stand alone having no association with any of the Bahá'í groups.
After examining my membership in the Bahá'í World Faith, I conclude that the force that caused me to ignore what I had discovered through independent reading, critical thinking and observation is the fear of not having my needs met as defined by Abraham Maslow. The fulfillment of these needs is essential to human existence. It is an abuse of power to impose a sociological punishment which would threaten the fulfillment of essential human needs, simply because one has arrived at a truth derived from his independent investigation. I was a victim of these abusive forces, but only after I confronted the leadership about my discovery. I saw that what was in the real world did not match the written intentions of the Prophets.
That the leadership would encourage mindless conformity is a violation of the Independent Investigation of the Truth, one of the twelve fundamental principles upon which the Bahá'í religion was built. These tactics of concealing vital historical information from the masses, and the gross and subtle pressures used to keep members in line have been justified on the basis of maintaining cohesiveness and unity within the Bahá'í World Faith. But I (and others) argue that such knowledge is condoned because it threatens the existence of a self-appointed leadership within the Bahá'í World Faith.
Given all this, the question I have is, “Should we place greater value on independence and freedom of conscience or on dependence and mind slavery?