It's been a long time since I've written anything about the Baha'i Faith on Karen's Thoughts; most of my Baha'i Writing these days is over on Unenrolled Baha'i -- and I made a promise for that blog that I wouldn't talk about the Baha'i administration. I wanted it to be a positive place, focused on "living the life". However, several days ago, my friend Baquia has posted a talk from former house member 'Ali Nakhjavani, which obliquely mentions folks like me. The first half talks about "Baha'is and non-Baha'is" advancing the idea that the Covenant is not important -- which is a distortion of what's being said out here. The second half refers to "freethinkers" who go "back to Baha'u'llah." So, I think I'm pretty safe in my assumption on who he's talking about.
*sigh* I have been hesitant to address this; I know what I'm letting myself in for. I really have no wish to go back to the old days when all these issues were constantly argued out on email lists , but they did have one advantage: liberal positions on those issues were very visable to a regular audience. These positions are now so much part of my universe that to talk about them is a bit like teaching the ABCs, but there are people who don't know them. It disturbs me to see people who give up on Baha'u'llah because they accept the conservative stance as the only possible stance. I'll never understand the fundie preference that a person renounce Baha'u'llah rather than be a liberal Baha'i.
Anyway, Mr. Nakhjavani's talk is really quite a standard spiel about the Covenant -- I doubt if anyone in his audience heard anything that they already weren't familiar with. It all sounds fine, even inspiring, except that this "domino theory" of the Covenant when it gets down to brass tacks means you must accept every single decision of the UHJ as right and good, or all the dominos fall down and you aren't a Baha'i. People can get really absurd about it -- you don't like Ruhi? What's the matter, do you have a problem with the Covenant? Worried about the environmental impact of the terrace gardens? You aren't loyal to the Covenant. In its extreme form, "the Covenant" has devolved into a form of taqlid -- the blind obedience forbidden in the Writings of Baha'u'llah.
First and foremost, my "problem with the Covenant" has always been the appalling way that a number of people have been treated -- from the editors of Dialogue magazine to the disenrollment of Sen McGlinn. I just can't get behind this unspiritual suspicion, looking for "internal enemies" in every corner, and seeing "agendas" in every email conversation. That unreasoning fear just sucks all the compassion out of the religion and leaves it an empty husk. I want no part of it. I didn't just wake up one day and decide "Hey, it would be cool to be a freethinker, because I'm just not down with those stodgy old authorities"; it was a painful ethical choice that I wish I didn't have to make.
I've kept Baha'u'llah, Mr. Nakhjavani; it's only the paranoia I've left behind. My covenant with Baha'u'llah doesn't require it.