Investigating and Explaining Baha'i Human Rights

By Charles Black

In January of 1853 an eight year old boy named Abbás Effendí was forced to accompany a small, persecuted, religious minority almost 600 miles from Tehran to Baghdad on foot. Rations were low. The winter nights were unbearably cold. But, the boys father was a holy man named Baha’u’llah. His followers believed him to be a prophet. The Iranian authorities didn’t agree. They wanted Baha’u’llah and his followers out of Tehran forever.

Those followers would later become known as Baha’is. The eight year old boy would change his name to Abdu’l Baha. He is now considered to be the infallible interpreter of his father's work. In his later years, Abdu’l Baha would travel to the United States. In June of 1912, he stood in front of an audience at a Baptist temple in Philadelphia and said the following words;

“Bahá’u’lláh taught that an equal standard of human rights must be recognized and adopted. In the estimation of God all men are equal; there is no distinction or preferment for any soul in the dominion of His justice and equity.”

-Abdu’l Baha

In 1912, Abdu’l Baha was insisting that human rights should be unrestrained by the shackles of nationalism, racism and all other prejudices. According to the Baha’i faith, no tyrant, domestic or foreign, would ever mistreat his own people again. That’s because those tortured souls do not belong to the tyrant. They belong to God. Thus, the world is responsible for their safety.

Roughly two years after that speech, the first of two major world wars would accelerate the movement towards global human rights protections. In 1920, the League of Nations was formed. It lasted twenty five years. Then in 1945 it was replaced by the United Nations. That’s when international human rights enforcement really began to flourish. But, violations continue to occur in both developed and impoverished nations.

Collections of Collective Action Groups

People living in the United States have access to a multitude of collective action groups. Many of these groups can be described as human rights organizations. Issues like racial equality and gender equality are directly related to human rights. But, things like environmentalism, and animal welfare are dependent upon the rights of the people who choose to participate in those kinds of groups. All of these groups seem to be based on some type of science. But, many of these sciences contradict each other. How is it possible for scientific truths to contradict other scientific truths?

Imagine that a teacher places a cardboard box in front of a classroom full of students. The teacher tells the class that there is a mystery object inside this box. Also, there is a hole cut into one side. The teacher instructs the students to take turns putting their hands into the hole. Next, they are asked to report on what they think they are touching. What types of answers would you expect to get?

If most of the students are telling the truth, then most of them should arrive at similar conclusions. Any difference should just be a matter of interpretation. But, even those disagreements can be cleared up through thoughtful discussion. So, what happens when all of the students arrive at contradictory conclusions? That shouldn’t really happen. But, it does. Consider the following quote from Abdu’l Baha;

“The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is necessary if we would reach truth, for truth is one.”

-Abdu’l Baha

Always remember that peer review is not an infallible process. Try disregarding those scientific theories that are conducive to divisions and conflicts between various types of activists groups. Not only are they counterproductive, they are also less likely to be true. How could truthful information contradict other truthful information? If there is only one truth, then the truth will always lead to unity. Thus, unity is a good indication of the presence of truth.

Take time to research the work of scientists that have a track record for creating unity. If you find something that makes sense, share it with the people around you. I’m hoping that this process causes dangerous pop scientists to loose popularity. Over time, I would like to see more unifying social scientists from all the various types of collective action groups. Perhaps this progress could start with you.

At this point, it is important for me to demonstrate the dangers of disunity. So, I want you to imagine yourself as a leaf on a tree. You spend your days collecting sunlight. Then, you feed nutrients into your branch. If all of the branches of this tree work together, they can keep the roots and trunk alive. In turn, the roots and trunk feed water and other nutrients to the leafs and branches. But, what would happen if the branches of this tree got into conflicts with one another? Some of them might just decide to stop feeding nutrients into the tree. If the problem got bad enough, the entire tree would die.

Racial equality groups, gender equality groups, environmentalists and animal welfare groups are all really just ideologies. They can be compared to multiple branches of the same tree. Surely, the tree will remain healthier if the branches work together. But, in practice, these groups engage in frequent conflicts with one another. These conflicts are often supported by ever changing scientific theories. These theories are treated like permanent infallible truths. But, peer review is not infallible.

It’s all a simple matter of comprehension. Not everybody can take the time to get a degree in things like feminine studies, or environmental science. So, the members of the various collective action groups may never fully comprehend each others ideologies. But, that’s okay. If everybody follows the word of God, they will all arrive at the same conclusions. Consider the following quote from Abdu’l Baha;

“how can the human reality, which is limited, comprehend the eternal, unmanifest Creator? How can man comprehend the omniscient, omnipresent Lord? Undoubtedly, he cannot, for whatever comes within the grasp of human mind is man’s limited conception, whereas the divine Kingdom is unlimited, infinite.”

-Abdu’l Baha

As we read through the text, we will find ourselves returning to the importance of the word of God. Questions get asked. Then Baha’u’llah answers those questions by simply referring people back to the text. The theme is repetitive. But, it is not redundant. The sacred text is an excellent anchor point for things like truth and justice. That’s an important thing to remember while you are reading the next section.

Humanity as a Single Human Body

It’s safe to say that the Nazis had a substantial impact on the global enforcement of human rights. To most people, it seems quite obvious that Nazis are bad. But, a Nazi might view this issue as being debatable. The Nazi theologian Ernst Bergmann insisted that Adolf Hitler was the new messiah. So, what would have happened if the Nazi faith had grown to outnumber all of the other religions? Would that have made Bergmann right? I don’t think so.

Tyrants often think themselves to be righteous. But, the righteous will almost always make the same claim. So, how do we know the tyrants from the righteous ones? How do we know who is the disease and who is a healthy part of the body politic? Abdu’l Baha likened the world of humanity to a single human body. But, finding and treating the diseases of that body politic can be tricky. Many would attempt to identify societal diseases by the effect that they have on humanity. But, that will only lead to an argument about the likely effects of certain policies and behaviors. Arguments like that might never be fully resolved.

Only a qualified physician can diagnose, and treat an illness. In the Baha’i faith, dispensations like Baha’u’llah are likened to a physician. Those physicians have already prescribed a cure. But, where can you find this cure? Is it buried deep inside a complex religious document? Not really. For Baha’is, the cure for societies ailments is adherence to all of the teachings of Baha’u’llah. It’s not just adherence to the parts of the text that you like best. Consider the following quote;

“Every soul who lives according to the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is free from the ailments and indispositions which prevail throughout the world of humanity; otherwise, selfish disorders, intellectual maladies, spiritual sicknesses, imperfections and vices will surround him, and he will not receive the life-giving bounties of God.”

-Abdu’l Baha

Baha’u’llah has given us an objective way to identify diseases of the soul. Any departure from the word of God is a disease of the soul. Even the most well intentioned departure could have unintended consequences. Also, don’t be surprised if extreme departures have extremely bad consequences. Consider the following quote;

“When this recognition is not attained, man remains veiled from God and, as he is veiled, his good works fail to achieve their full and desired effect. This verse does not mean that those who are veiled from God are all equal, whether they be doers of good or workers of iniquity. It means only that the foundation is the recognition of God and that good deeds derive from this knowledge. Nevertheless, it is certain that among those who are veiled from God there is a difference between the doer of good and the sinner and malefactor. For the veiled soul who is endowed with good character and conduct merits the forgiveness of God, while the veiled sinner possessed of bad character and conduct will be deprived of the bounties and bestowals of God. Herein lies the difference.”

-Abdu’l Baha

Every human on earth will be veiled from God at one point or another. That is to say, we will all shield ourselves from the illumination of his words. But, some of those veiled people aren’t that bad. While others fall into the category of “the sinner and malefactor.” Those people not only ignore the text. They actually engage in behavior that deviates from it. At the very least, their actions will “fail to achieve their full and desired effect.” But, in extreme cases, these kinds of human rights activists could become quite dangerous.

For Baha’i human rights activists, the solution is clear. We should try to lift the veils off of our own eyes through independent investigation of the faith. Next, we should try to lift the veils away from the eyes of the people around us. This doesn’t have to require a discussion about the Baha’i faith. It could just culminate in a discussion about right and wrong. But, your part of that discussion should always be guided by the Baha’i text. Don’t be afraid to do research or ask other Baha’is before having those kinds of discussions with your fellow human rights activists.

Human rights groups always attract a lot of attention. That attention will inevitably attract a few diseased souls to the group. But, those people can be easily identified. Just look for deviations from the words of Baha’u’llah. Then try addressing the issue through teaching and consultation. You might want to recruit some of the more religious group members for this task. Do your best to be both kind and convincing. But, if this doesn’t work, the group will have to resort to the application of justice. Consider the following quote;

“The essence of all that We have revealed for thee is Justice, is for man to free himself from idle fancy and imitation, discern with the eye of oneness His glorious handiwork, and look into all things with a searching eye.”

-Baha’u’llah

In this quote, Baha’u’llah mentions idle fancy as one of two major impediments to justice. In a human rights group, idle fancy could be described as willful inactivity. Baha’u’llah doesn’t want you to see something and do nothing. If you see a group member deviating from the text, you have to take action. That doesn’t mean that you have to get into a fight. So, what should you do? For many, the answer lies in the understanding of how imitation works.

In the aforementioned quote, imitation is given as the second of two major impediments to justice. In situations like this, diseased souls will often engage in out-of-context imitations of effective historic figures such as Martin Luther King Junior or Mahatma Gandhi. Other times, they publicly declare themselves to be Baha’is. Then they threaten to leave the faith. But, no true Baha’i would leave the faith because they disagree with the sacred text. You should never give into the demands of imitators. Stay firm in your adherence to the text.

The actual arguments that you have with imitators might never be fully resolved. In theory, these people could just pretend that the issue is resolved. Then they could behave as though the issue is not resolved. When dealing with imitators, know that their behavior is the only real true indication of their goodness. They must behave in a way that is consistent with the words of God. But, sometimes human rights activists disagree on the fine points of which religious text to use. Other times, they might disagree on various interpretations of the same text.

Religion or Religious Leaders

At this point, we can see that religion is a good way to identify and neutralize imitators. But, what happens when those same people just start imitating religious leaders? The whole thing can be a bit confusing. With that confusion comes divisions, prejudice, and unjust wars. That’s because those religious leaders are usurping religious rituals. Then they are using those rituals to create hatred. Consider the following quote by Abdu’l Baha.

“It is evident that prejudices arising from adherence to religious forms and imitation of ancestral beliefs have hindered the progress of humanity thousands of years. How many wars and battles have been fought, how much division, discord and hatred have been caused by this form of prejudice!”

-Abdu’l Baha

The process of evaluating a religious leader can be quite rigorous. You might have to read or listen to hours worth of notes and lectures. But, there is a simple way to toss out the obviously rotten fruit right away. We can use the same basic screening process that we used for scientific theories.

There can only be one truth. So, how can truthful information contradict other truthful information? It can’t. During the screening process, try to favor religious leaders that minimize conflicts with other groups. Find one that you like. Then, check their teachings against whatever sacred text they use. Always remember the following quote by Abdu’l Baha.

“And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is that religion must be the cause of fellowship and love. If it becomes the cause of estrangement then it is not needed, for religion is like a remedy; if it aggravates the disease then it becomes unnecessary.

And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is that religion must be in conformity with science and reason, so that it may influence the hearts of men. The foundation must be solid and must not consist of imitations.”

-Abdu’l Baha

In Conclusion

Each individual member of a collective action group should think of themselves as a one-person social action organization. You should constantly evaluate the members of the group for their adherence to the sacred texts. You should avoid aggressive and dangerous confrontations with the people who deviate from that text.  However, religious adherents should always remember that inactivity is your worst enemy. Form alliances with other religious members of the group. Extend those alliances to non religious members who know how to behave. But, always nutralize the threat posed by imitators.

For further guidance and support, you are invited to join our Multi Faith Action Group.  It is a great resource for advice, information and support.