Sunday, January 30, 2005

Opposition to Baha'i Temple in Chile

As most Baha'is know, one of the recent projects of the Baha'i world community is the building of another House of Worship (mashiq'u'adhkar) in Santiago Chile. As was the case in the other temples, it will be an impressive structure, meant more to be a "silent teacher" of the Baha'i Faith than a practical place of worship. As some folks online have pointed out, the mashriq was meant, scripturally, to be the center of local community worship, but the way history has played out, we have ended up building only a few of them world-wide: Wilmette, IL; Germany, Samoa, India, Uganda, Australia. They are generally described as "mother temples", and the hope is that sometime in the future, the majority of Baha'is will have local places of worship. (Right now, the larger communities have Baha'i Centers, which are administrative in nature, although they are used for worship, and the small communities which make up the majority generally meet at somebody's house.) So, the idea of the mashriq'u'l-adhkar and what it means, and what it is supposed to be, has been the subject of some controversy online.

Well, as my good friend Baquia pointed out on Baha'i Rants , some Chileans are less than thrilled at having a Baha'i temple in Santiago, especially in the initially proposed location in Metropolitan Park. I ran across another blog, written in Portuguese, and including links to the Spanish-language press, that speaks about the controversy, as well. Don't be daunted by the foreign language. Altavista has a pretty decent translator, which gives you the sense of what's going on, even if somewhat inelegantly. One thing that struck me is that, unlike Baquia, Marco at Pova de Baha'i denies that there was significant opposition by the Catholic Church, instead insisting that it was largely evangelical Protestant groups, and Muslims that have opposed the building of the temple.

The debate looks to be pretty hot; I myself had a private inquiry by a Chilean journalist, before I even knew anything about the conflict. Besides asking specifics about Baha'i teachings, he also asked me about the economic and social influence of the Baha'i Faith, which tells me that there are rumors down there about the ability of the Baha'is to pull behind-the-scenes strings to get things done. Baha'i institutions offically take a non-political stance, but they generally try to cultivate warm relationships with current governments -- which is not always a good thing, since it has sometimes meant that Baha'is have got themselves hooked up with leaders who are oppressive or otherwise unsavory. However, I don't believe that Baha'i "influence" should be exaggerated -- the Baha'is just hope to have friendly relationships with governments so they are free to practice and promote their religion. (Some might fantasize about converting influential figures, but that remains a fantasy, except in a few select cases.) Overall, Baha'i communities need the government, far more than the government needs them -- and you don't have "influence" unless you have something to trade. A temple like this could bring in tourist dollars to Santiago, certainly, but that doesn't mean that the Chilean NSA gets whatever it wants. In fact, the deal for building the House of Worship in the Metropolitan Park fell through, and they are still looking for a location, even though construction is supposed to start this year.

Both Marco and Baquia, in typical Baha'i fashion, are sanguine about the controversy on the principle that "no publicity is bad publicity" -- at least people are hearing of the existence of the Baha'i Faith.


Baquia said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Baquia said...


I actually mentioned that the largest opposition force and ultimately the one who managed to mobilize political pressure against the Metropolitan Park location, was the evangelical community. The Muslims huffed and puffed a bit but they lack the political and societal clout to actually do anything.

I also mentioned that the Catholic church has representatives on the Bicentennary Commission, the governmental body which made the offer to the Baha´is in the first place.

The only question now is, where will they build it? The clock is ticking and much preparation must be made before breaking ground. I suspect the mid 2005 start date will be pushed back to sometime in 2006 or beyond.

Marco said...

I there is one thing I am happy about your post is to know that translation tools seem to work better than I thought. :-)

From what I read on those Chilean newspapers (only the ones that have online editions) the baha'i community seem to have kept the distance from the polemics. Religion shouldn't be the cause of dissension, that is what 'Abdu'l-Bahá told us on several occasions. And the Chilean Baha'is seem to have followed His advice.

I did not deny that there was significant opposition by the Catholic Church; what I wrote was that the Catholic Church didn’t lead the opposition. As for publicity, two of the articles I found are in fact very positive towards the Faith.

In my opinion the proposal from the Bicentenary Commission was not a very good deal. A sort of a loan during 50 years… I would rather the baha'i community own a piece of land somewhere else. And I also believe it would not be right to build a Temple against Chilean public opinion. But this is just a personal opinion.

Karen said...

Dear Baquia: Thanks for the correction; sorry I misread you.

Dear Marco: Translation software works o.k. to get the gist of the passage -- sometimes I'll use two different sites, if I feel like a particular word is crucial. Also, I have a little familiarity with Spanish, so I can catch some really overt mistakes. I'm not sure how well I'd do if I depended upon computer translation for other languages.

I would expect the Baha'i community to keep its distance from the public arguments -- that's usually the way things are done. Certainly, it would be self-defeating for the House of Worship to be built against the wishes of the Chilean people. I'm sure the whole thing will be worked out eventually, even if the project ends up a little behind schedule.

clothilde said...

i am baha'i from brussels belgium. Most of critics about baha'i temple in chile is that we need one milliard dollars to build it (what about the poors ?)and the worst is that we had to move some mapuche people. Do you know something about that ?

Karen said...

Dear Clothilde,

No, I'm sorry, I don't have any information of people being moved so that the temple can be built. I am, however, aware of many in the Baha'i community who are tired of these extravagant building projects and who think that the money could be better spent. I even know of Baha'is who stop giving to the Fund for that reason.

I have often said that the administration, instead of just deciding what to do then trying to rally support, should listen to the grassroots community about what they want to do. I hear over and over again that Baha'is want to do more social service and less building, but the administration is deaf to these pleas.

Mahnaz said...

If you have questions about these decisions, all of which were made by the Supreme Body of the Baha'i Faith, nothing stops you from asking them, properly, correctly and respectfully. But they ARE decisions of the Supreme Body and you need only to refer to the Kitab'i'Aqdas and the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha to understand the authority with which these decisions are made. Is that clear, now? Nobody forces anybody to be a Baha'i, but if you are, you need to understand and accept the mystical and practical nature of the decision making process.

Graham said...

The comment that building beautiful Baha'i house of worship when there is so much poverty can be responded to in several ways, not the least of which is the fact that at present there are very few such houses of worship on the planet. The emphasis in the Baha'i Faith is very much on matters other than buildings, including on social, economic and community development. In addition, these houses of worship are an inspiration for all peoples and all religions - all the holy books are found in them and all people are welcome to come together and worship the one God in peace, harmony, mutual respect, tolerance and love. In my view, in such a divided confrontationist world that we presently have, there is no more important matter. Address this spiritual/moral first, and many other major issue would be much more likely to be solved.
Graham N

Anonymous said...

Build ye beautiful houses of Worship in God's name is an exhortation of Baha'u'llah. When people will come from allover to pray in this most beautiful edifice, they surely will be inspired and someone will come forth some wonderful idea for eradication of poverty

Gary Kerns said...

Regarding the topic of forced movement of people in order to clear space for construction of the House of Worship. As you probably know, the temple site is located in Peñalolén, a suburb of Santiago, Chile. Peñalolén in the Mapudungun language of Chile means "fraternal meeting place". The site is located on a slope of the Andes Mountains, adjacent to the Old Grangonian Sports club, at the end of Arboretum Avenue, in Peñalolén, Santiago, Chile. I was told that the temple is being constructed on the 9th hole of the club's former golf course. The site can be viewed by using the Google map engine.

Gary Kerns said...

A really nice presentation regarding construction of the House of Worship, complete with construction progress reports, is available at:

Carol Handy said...

Instead of complaining about building beautiful houses of worship instead of "feeding the poor", I have to say that rather than complain, go find a poor person and feed him. This is called Charity; it is what 'Abdu'l-Baha did and we are told to do likewise. Further, the Universal House of Justice knows exactly what it is doing, and in time all will see the perfect wisdom of their decisions.

Unknown said...

I think you need to go to India and see how the lotus temple has completely transformed their local and larger community for the better, where money alone would not have done this. I find it sad when I hear Bahá'ís like you question the structure and decisions of the faith. Really makes me wonder how deepened you are and how much you have actually read of the writings. If Bahá'ís you talk about want to do more social service then what is stopping them doing that at the grassroots level? You don't need money to share love and teach the principles of love and unity.

Aaron Zanzibari said...

Karen seems confused on a lot of basic fundamentals about the purpose of the Temple in Santiago, and elsewhere in the world. Karen makes a typical Western European-like assessment of Religion in general, and her opposition is motivated by a trend which has been seen consistently by individuals in the West who have a similar cultural/ethnic background as hers.

Karen mentions that the money could be better spent on other things, and cites a few "Baha'is" who supposedly and w/o Karen presenting nothing aside from hearsay, that they have stopped contributing to the Baha'i Fund. Her attitude is one of contempt and perhaps some veiled animosity for not having her ego properly acknowledged---this is a major issue with many Westerners, particularly those of European descent---a branch of Modern Humans who migrated out of Africa, moving northward into what is now termed "Europe", have settled down and developed an outstanding culture and social fabric, and many of whose descendants immigrated to the US. This branch/tribe of Modern Humans evolved a peculiar outlook on life and have a certain perspective about things that run counter to their individual sentiments. Such individuals have a habit of denigrating and formally expounding in tracts and by other means their opinions of other members of the Human Family who have adopted new Religions, and who have evolved different cultures and styles of expressions. The early settlers to America from Europe had similar contempt for the Indigenous peoples of the Americas they encountered. In America today, we see the same attitudes and mannerisms---as I've noticed as an African-American born and raised in Jim Crow Mississippi in the 50's and 60's.

A rhetorical question to Karen might be: "Does Karen harbor the same sentiments about how the Vatican allots its money? Has Karen ever raised the same concerns about Mosques being built across the globe?" Chances are, the answer is "NO", and so Karen's main motive is to rant and exercise a desire to assert her personality in order to cast aspersions, for whatever deep-seated reasons, against the Baha'i Community. In which case, the dispassionate and objective person would be led to conclude that Karen nurses a personal grudge against the Baha'is.

A brief review of the demographic profiles of those who rant against the Baha'is in public spaces all share a commonality of provenance and cultural similarities.

I am "Aaron_of_Portsmouth".