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Abstract:
A case study in opposition literature and anti-Baha'i polemicism.

Bahá'í Faith, The, by John Boykin:
Underlying Principles and Approach for a Bahá'í Response

by Shahriar Razavi and Khazeh Fananapazir

published in Bahá'í Studies Review, 2:1
London: Association for Baha'i Studies English-Speaking Europe, 1992
The Bahá'í Faith
Author: John Boykin
Publisher: Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship of the United States of America, Downers Grove, 1982
Review by: Shahriar Razavi and Khazeh Fananapazir


THE RISE AND SPREAD of the Bahá'í Faith and its phenomenal growth result in essentially two types of response:(1) one has led to its acceptance while the other has led to opposition. This latter response has been aided, over the years, by the growth of polemical literature which seeks to oppose the Faith on theological, historical and socio-political grounds.(2) The Bahá'í sacred Scriptures point to the regular conjunction of the inception of a religious faith and concomitant opposition:
Not one single Manifestation of Holiness hath appeared but He was afflicted by the denials, the repudiation, and the vehement opposition of the people around Him. (Kitáb-i-Íqán 5)

and to the mysterious transformative effects of such opposition:

... the history of the first hundred years of its [the Bahá'í Faiths] evolution resolves itself into a series of internal and external crises, of varying severity, devastating in their immediate effects, but each mysteriously releasing a corresponding measure of divine power, lending thereby a fresh impulse to its unfoldment. (God Passes By xiii)

The nature of this opposition has depended on the environment in which it has occurred. Whereas in the East it has taken a physically violent form, the particular characteristic of opposition in the West has been its concentration on the written form(3) mainly contained in conservative evangelical literature. The most well-known works in this area include Vatralsky, Wilson, Jessup, Richardson, and more recently Miller, whose work has been cogently responded to by Douglas Martin.(4) In the last decade, associated with resurgence of fundamentalism both in the East and the West, three publications have gained widespread circulation: Beckwith, Boykin and McCormick.

The present authors wish to make an attempt to respond to some theological points contained in John Boykin's work, The Bahá'í Faith.(5) In so doing we will attempt to highlight the qualities which we believe should determine a Bahá'í response(6) to theological attacks. We will also seek to offer some clarifying insights gained from the Bahá'í writings regarding the Manifestations of God, their two-fold stations and the twin natures of their utterances which provide the framework within which to comprehend their message and purpose for mankind.

Affirmation

In a remarkable number of instances, Shoghi Effendi delineates this approach. He states that Bahá'ís should not: 'invalidate those first and everlasting principles that animate and underlie the religions that have preceded their own (World Order 114); deny 'the God-given authority of other religions (ibid. 1 14); regard other religions as anything other than 'different stages in the eternal history and constant evolution of one religion, Divine and indivisible, of which it [The Bahá'í Faith] forms but an integral part (ibid. 114); 'obscure their Divine origin (ibid. 1 14); 'dwarf the admitted magnitude of their colossal achievements (ibid. 114); 'distort their features (ibid. 58, 114); 'belittle their value (ibid. 58); 'stultify the truths which they instil (ibid. 114); 'detract one jot or one tittle from the influence other religions 'exert or the loyalty they inspire (ibid. 1 14); 'seek to undermine the basis of any mans allegiance to the 'cause' of the Prophets of the past (ibid. 58); pursue the intention of 'dwarfing any of the Prophets of the past, or of whittling down the eternal verities of their teachings (ibid. 58); 'conflict with the spirit that animates their claims (ibid. 58); be 'arrogant in the affirmation of Bahá'i' claims (ibid. 58); claim finality for the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh (ibid. 59, 115) or arrogate to the Faith they have embraced, powers and attributes intrinsically superior to, or essentially different from, those which have characterised any of the religious systems that preceded it (ibid. 59, cf. 60) [emphasis added]. Shoghi Effendi further states that:

Rectitude ... must be demonstrated in the impartiality of every defender of the Faith against its enemies, in its fair-mindedness in recognising any merits that enemy may possess and in his honesty in discharging any obligation he may have towards him. (Advent 22)

Our approach is determined first by the acknowledgement of our own limitations in apprehending the Revelations of God; by an attitude of kindliness and love that fosters acceptance; and by an appeal for purity of heart which Bahá'u'lláh indicates to be an essential prerequisite:

He hath chosen out of the whole world, the hearts of His servants, and made them each a seat for the revelation of His glory. Wherefore, sanctify them from every defilement, that the things for which they were created may be engraved upon them. (Gleanings 297)

Such an approach is essential if we are to unravel the limitless meanings and inexhaustible significance of the sacred scriptures. 'Every knowledge has seventy meanings, of which one only is known amongst the people. (Kitáb-i-Íqán 255) We also remain mindful of the words of Christ:

Why do you not understand what I say [lalian]? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word [logon]. (John 8:43) [emphasis added]
For judgement I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind. (John 9:39)
'Consider the Past'

Bahá'ís believe that the reasons which lead to the rejection of each Manifestation of God upon their appearance in the world are very similar in every dispensation, and that it is spiritually instructive to recall the recurring pattern of objection and denial that has attended their coming:
Should you acquaint yourself with the indignities heaped upon the Prophets of God, and appreciate the true causes of the objections voiced by the oppressors, you will surely appreciate the significance of their position. (Kitáb-i-Íqán 6)

Drawing the parallel with the past is indeed illuminating, highlighting as it does the often identical objections which are raised from age to age. This is a prevalent theme in Bahá'u'lláh's own apologetic works wherein He defends the Manifestations of God and affirms their unity.

The Kitáb-i-Íqán as the Foundation

In the first section of the booklet, under 'Basic Concepts, Boykin challenges Bahá'í teachings about God and the Manifestations. For example he states: 'Bahá'í beliefs begin with the concept of Manifestations of God, being 'pure from every sin, and sanctified from faults. According to the Bible, though, the men who head the Bahá'í list were ordinary sinners like you and me [sic].' (Boykin 15). He further asserts that the differences are 'too fundamental to permit acceptance of Bahá'u'lláh's premise that they were all "uttering the same speech and proclaiming the same Faith."' (ibid. 16)

To offer clarifications in this regard, we refer to Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Íqán which, in the words of Shoghi Effendi, 'by sweeping away the age-old barriers that have so insurmountably separated the great religions of the world, has laid down a ... foundation for the complete and permanent reconciliation of their followers.' (God Passes By 139) [emphasis added] Bahá'u'Iláh in that work 'proclaims unequivocally the existence and oneness of a personal God, unknowable, inaccessible, the source of all Revelation, eternal, omniscient, omnipresent and almighty.' (ibid. 139) He states:

To every discerning and illumined heart it is evident that God, the unknowable Essence, the Divine Being, is immeasurably exalted beyond every human attribute such as corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress... He is, and hath ever been, veiled in the ancient eternity of His Essence, and will remain in His Reality everlastingly hidden from the sight of men... He standeth exalted beyond and above all separation and union, all proximity and remoteness... "God was alone; there was none else besides Him" is a sure testimony of this truth. (Kitáb-i-Íqán 98)

In the light of the overwhelming transcendence of God, Bahá'u'lláh asserts that human beings can only know of God through His Manifestations:

The door of the knowledge of the Ancient of Days being thus closed in the face of all beings, He, the Source of infinite grace ... has caused those luminous Gems of Holiness to appear Out of the realm of the spirit, in the noble form of the human temple, and be made manifest unto all men, that they may impart unto the world the mysteries of the unchangeable Being and tell of the subtleties of His imperishable Essence... A11 the Prophets of God, His well-favoured, His holy and chosen Messengers are, without exception, the bearers of His names and the embodiments of His attributes... These tabernacles of Holiness, these primal Mirrors which reflect the Light of unfading glory, are but expressions of Him who is the Invisible of the Invisibles. (ibid. 103)

By considering these principles of Bahá'í belief, we arrive at a framework within which to re-examine traditional Christian interpretation of scripture which has led to the idea of the exclusivity of Christ and the consequent superiority of Christianity. Consider the following statements in the Gospels:

I and my Father are one. (John 1030)

for the Father is greater than l. (John 14:28)

And he who sees me sees him who sent me. (John 12:45)

These and similar utterances which appear divergent and contradictory are resolved by the insights provided in the Kitáb-i-Íqán. Bahá'u'lláh explains the two-fold station of the Manifestation: one is the station of 'pure abstraction and essential unity', the other the station of 'distinction' which pertains to the world of creation:

It hath ever been evident that all these divergencies of utterance are attributable to differences of station. Thus, viewed from the standpoint of their oneness and sublime detachment, the attributes of Godhead, Divinity, Supreme Singleness, and Inmost Essence, have been, and are applicable to those Essences of Being, inasmuch as they all abide on the throne of Divine Revelation, and are established upon the seat of divine Concealment... Viewed in the light of their second station – the station of distinction, differentiation, temporal limitations, characteristics and standards – they manifest absolute servitude, utter destitution, and complete self-effacement. Even as He saith: 'I am the servant of God. I am but a man like you.' (Kitáb-i-Íqán 177)

Furthermore, Bahá'u'Iláh explains the dual nature of the language which the Manifestations employ; one literal, the other metaphorical:

It is evident unto thee that the Birds of Heaven and Doves of Eternity speak a twofold language. One language, the outward language is devoid of allusions, is unconcealed and unveiled; that it may be a guiding lamp and a beaconing light whereby wayfarers may attain the heights of holiness, and seekers may advance into the realm of eternal reunion... The other language is veiled and concealed, so that whatever lieth hidden in the heart of the malevolent may be made manifest and their innermost being be disclosed. (ibid. 254)

In this perspective, the two aspects of Christ's relationship with God are reconciled and explained. Thus, we do not interpret the utterances of Christ cited earlier to indicate exclusivity, rather they emphasise the imperative importance of responding to the advent of the Manifestations when they appear.

Christ warned that it was through failure to recognise His appearance, that the world of 'sinful rebellion' was realised:

If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin... If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin. (John 15:22-24)

Likewise, in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, we read:

... he who turns away from this Beauty hath also turned away from the Messengers of the past and showeth pride towards God from all eternity to all eternity. (Bahá'í Prayers 212)
The Divinity of Christ

The attitude of accepting the Divine Revealers in every age does not, however, have the consequence implied by Boykin of rejection of the glory and splendour of the previous Manifestation – a view which is supported by the following words of Christ:
If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words? (John 5:46-47)

According to Bahá'í expository Scripture, the station of Christ is eternal, His Divinity and Sonship unassailable:

As to the position of Christianity, let it be stated without any hesitation or equivocation that its divine origin is unconditionally acknowledged, that the Sonship and Divinity of Jesus Christ are fearlessly asserted, that the divine inspiration of the Gospel is fully recognised, that the reality of the mystery of the Immaculacy of the Virgin Mary is confessed ... (Promised Day 108)

And further:

The Faith standing identified with the name of Bahá'u'lláh disclaims any intention to belittle any of the Prophets gone before Him, to whittle down any of their teachings, to obscure, however slightly, the radiance of their Revelations, to oust them from the hearts of their followers, to abrogate the fundamentals of their doctrines, to discard any of their revealed Books, or to suppress the legitimate aspirations of their adherents. (ibid. 108)

In discussing the station of Christ, Boykin implies that Bahá'u'lláh usurps the Lordship of Christ (Boykin 30), but Bahá'í believe that Christ's Lordship is eternal and cannot be usurped. In this connection it should be noted that the Bahá'í Writings do not give a hierarchical concept of Lordship and sovereignty as repeatedly affirmed in the Kitáb-i-Íqán.(7)

These attributes of God are not, and have never been, vouchsafed specially unto certain Prophets, and withheld from others. Nay, all the Prophets of God ... are, without exception, the bearers of His names, and the embodiments of His attributes. (Gleanings 48)

Far from usurping Christ or 'mocking' Him (Boykin 21), Bahá'u'lláh does indeed 'glorify' Him (ibid. 21) and extols in the most moving language both the Divinity of Christ and His sacrificial ministry:

Know thou that when the Son of Man yielded up His breath to God, the whole creation wept with a great weeping. By sacrificing Himself, however, a fresh capacity was infused into all created things... We testify that when He came into the world, He shed the splendour of His glory upon all created things. Through Him the leper recovered from the leprosy of perversity and ignorance. Through Him the unchaste and wayward were healed. Through His power, born of Almighty God, the eyes of the blind were opened, and the soul of the sinner sanctified. (Gleanings 85)
Sacred Laws

In the Bahá'í perspective a consequence of the acceptance of the Prophets of God(8) is the acceptance of their revealed laws and teachings.
The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws... It behoveth every one who reacheth this most sublime station ... to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other. (Synopsis 11)

To understand the nature of Divine ordinances, we need first to ref1ect on the social milieu in which they were revealed and consider the historical perspective. Furthermore, of course it is possible to catalogue, deliberately disregarding context, a list of laws and ordinances in minutiae(9) revealed by any Manifestation of God and claim that we cannot perceive a pattern for spiritual salvation. But in doing so, might we not, in the words of Christ, be 'straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel' (Matthew 23:24)? Consider the words of Bahá'u'lláh:

Think not that We have revealed unto you a mere code laws. Nay, rather, we have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power. (Synopsis 12)

When the laws are revealed in each Dispensation, there are also corollary expressions of finality and eternality. No less than eleven times in the Old Testament, we read that the laws and statutes of Moses are 'for ever' and that they should be observed 'throughout their generations' (Exodus 27:21).(10) An orthodox and literal interpretation of these would surely prove problematic for a Christian. And yet the next Manifestation of God had the Divine authority to question the law of the Sabbath:

Some of the Pharisees said, 'This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath'. (John 9:16)

In another dimension, we entirely agree with Boykin that today people are just as much in need of Divine bestowals, grace and salvation as in the first century of the Christian Era and that 'the person on the street in the twentieth century' does not 'differ morally from the typical person of any earlier century.' (Boykin 17). Indeed, the Bahá'í writings indicate that it is this continuing need for spiritual and moral education that the Manifestations of God come to address. Writing on the theme of the Manifestations as Divine Educators, 'Abdu'l-Bahá states:

He [the Manifestation] must also impart spiritual education; so that intelligence and comprehension may penetrate the metaphysical world, and may receive benefit from the sanctifying breeze of the Holy Spirit... He must so educate the human reality that it may become the centre of the divine appearance, to such a degree that the attributes and names of God shall be resplendent in the mirror of the reality of man, and the holy verse, 'We will make man in Our image and likeness', shall become true. (Some Answered Questions 9)

This is why Bahá'u'Iláh reaffirms the 'self-same exalted standard of individual conduct inculcated by the Prophets gone before Him' (Shoghi Effendi, World Order 61) but owing to the special exigencies of the age, His appeal is also coupled with His teachings for the establishment of a new civilisation which embodies the principles of World Order and a Divine Economy.

Teachings on Unity

An issue which recurs throughout Boykin's work is the fear experienced by him in contemplating what he variously calls 'an international political empire' (Boykin 12), 'a Bahá'í global empire' (ibid. 24) and 'utopian ambition' (ibid. 13). The quotations from the Bahá'í writings cited earlier should be sufficient to illustrate the animating spirit of the Bahá'í Faith. To raise such fears regarding the projected World Order as adumbrated in the Bahá'í writings is unsupportable bearing in mind that its character is wholly spiritual, its essential motive non-partisan and its establishment ultimately conditional upon the spiritual transformation of humankind, a 'transformation of unparalleled majesty and scope which humanity is in this age is bound to undergo' (World Order 46). This World Order is Divine in origin and spiritual in expression and 'rise[s] above all particularism and partisanship' (ibid. 64). The Bahá'í Faith does not aim at the 'subversion of the existing foundations of human society', it does not 'stifle the flame of a sane and intelligent patriotism' nor does it seek 'to abolish the system of national autonomy. (ibid. 41) 'Its watchword is unity in diversity (ibid. 42) carrying with it the clear implication of the freedom of individual expression as 'a fundamental principle of the Cause (Individual Rights 12). The establishment of the Christ-promised Kingdom is Gods immutable purpose for mankind and represents the fulfilment of all religious prophetic anticipation and indeed is viewed by Bahá'ís as the consummation of messianic expectation for this day. That the Bahá'i writings contain an explicit vision of the steps which will lead to its establishment does not, therefore, carry with it the implication that it will be imposed upon the world nor that it is utopian(11) in nature.

Conclusion

Having established the framework within which to attempt a response to such attacks, we hope to treat in more detail a number of the specific objections raised by Boykin in a subsequent article.

Works cited

  • 'Abdul-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1981.
  • Bahá'í Prayers: A Selection of Prayers Revealed by Bahá'u'lláh, the Báb, and 'Abdul-Bahá. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1985.
  • Bahá'u'lláh. Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh. Wilmette: Baháf Publishing Trust, 1982.
  • ____. The Kitáb-i-Íqán. The Book of Certitude. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1982.
  • ____. Synopsis and Codification of the Laws and Ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Haifa, Bahá'í World Centre, 1973.
  • The Bible, Revised Standard Version.
  • Boykin, John. The Bahá'í Faith. Downers Grove. Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship of the United States of America, 1982.
  • Crisis and Victory. Compiled by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice. London: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1988.
  • Shoghi Effendi. World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1974.
  • ____. Advent of Divine Justice. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 197 1.
  • ____. Bahá'( Administration. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1968.
  • ____. God Passes By. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1979.
  • ____. Promised Day is Come. Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1980.
  • Universal House of Justice, The. Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh. Wilmette.: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1989.
End Notes
  1. Bahá'u'lláh refers to two broad categories of response to the Manifestation of God: The people of the left hand sigh and bemoan. The people of the right abide in noble habitations' (Gleanings 40) in which context 'left' signifies rejection and 'right' signifies acceptance. Cf. 'Then the King will say to those at his right hand, "Come O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world"... Then he will say to those at his left hand, "Depart from me, you cursed, into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." ' (Matthew 25:34-41) Cf. Qur'án 74:39, 56:8.
  2. The article On the Azhar Statement in this Review is a response to one such attack.
  3. ' ... part of the mental tests and trials destined at various times by the Almighty to stir and reinvigorate the body of His Cause' (Bahá'í Administration 60). See also reference to 'intellectual tests'. (Bahá'í Administration 16)
  4. See Douglas Martin, 'The Missionary as Historian' in Bahá'í Studies: Three Studies on Bahá'( History. Ottawa, Association for Bahá'í Studies 1978.
  5. 'Given the rise in most parts of the world of religious bigotry and fundamentalism, it may be timely for your National Assembly to arm the Bahá'ís in such attacks as appear in this book [A Guide to Cults and New Religions by John Boykin], which is so typical of the approach by Christian Churches.' (From a letter written on behalf of The Universal House of Justice, Crisis and Victory 18)
  6. This area is discussed by Michael Sours in the first volume of his trilogy, Preparing for a Bahá'í/Christian Dialogue: Understanding Biblical Evidence (Oxford: Oneworld, 1990)
  7. Cf. 'and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings.' (Revelation 17:14)
  8. The use of the term 'Prophet' is not a derogatory term as implied by Boykin (Boykin 23). In the Gospels and elsewhere in the New Testament, there are many instances of Christ being referred to as a 'Prophet'. See Matthew 13:57, Mark 6:4, John 4:44, Luke 1333, Acts 3:22, Acts 7:37. The designation 'Prophet' does not, however, mean that Christ did not possess all the other exalted attributes of God, a truth repeatedly asserted in the Kitáb-i-Íqán.
  9. See Boykin p. 11-12.
  10. See Fazel and Fananapazir, 'A Bahá'í Approach to the Claim of Exclusivity and Uniqueness in Christianity,' Journal of Bahá'í Studies, 3 (2), 1990:22.
  11. 'Utopia' is the title of Sir Thomas Moore's book in 1516 [Latin term from the Greek 'ou' (not), 'topos' (place)] and signifies a desirable but impracticable state. The Kingdom of God, however, is destined to be established upon this earth:
      Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)
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