Sylvan, or Authority
My friend and brother in the Faith, Sylvan, raised some questions about the comparative authority of the respective Central Figures and Institutions. I replied:
"Certainly there is an equal authority among them but there is a big difference between the Creative Word of God, and an authoritative pronouncement upon it; the latter is derivative in its infallibility. For instance, there is a clear protocol to be followed in the order of the (writing of the Central) figures, as you know, in Baha'i Canada and other such publications."
Sylvan gave the following response:
"The phrase 'derivative in its authority' is confusing... The authority associated with infallibility is the same whether the UHJ or Baha'u'llah wrote it, as you indicated. Then, why your reference to the term `derivative?' Is there such a term in the Writings?"
I looked and found no use of the term "derivative" in this context in the Writings. I used the word to describe the dependent position of latter institutions as opposed to the supreme and original Authority of the Word and Spirit of Baha'u'llah. The House does use the word "extension," however.
"In the Baha'i Faith there are two authoritative centres appointed to which the believers must turn, for in reality the Interpreter of the Word is an extension of that centre which is the Word itself. The Book is the record of the utterance of Baha'u'llah, while the divinely inspired Interpreter is the living Mouth of that Book -- it is He and He alone who can authoritatively state what the Book means. Thus one centre is the Book with its Interpreter, and the other is the Universal House of Justice guided by God to decide on whatever is not explicitly revealed in the Book." (letter,
Sylvan: "What are the implications (of derivative)? It seems to give the false impression that UHJ pronouncements have 'less' authority which is certainly not the case. Both are to be equally obeyed. In fact whosoever has disobeyed the House has disobeyed God (Will and Testament of Abdul-Baha)."
Now that I think of it, a case could be made that the latter institutions, as opposed to the Central Figures, have *more* authority. This would be the case if we considered the shade of meaning between the words "power" and "authority." The American Heritage Dictionary offers several definitions of authority, some of which are synonymous with power. However the second definition says that authority is "power assigned to another; authorization: Deputies were given authority to make arrests." For example, a crook or a lynch mob may have the power to hang me on a tree but only the state, carrying out duly established laws of capital punishment, has the authority to do that.
In this sense, the creative Word of God would have power, while the current leadership would have (mostly) authority. The enactment of the laws of the Aqdas is explicitly and in writing delegated to the Administrative Order. But this delegation is narrowly defined; it is not Carte Blanche. Some secular institutions have the authority to define the limits of their own authority; the House of Justice (vis-à-vis the text) most emphatically does not. It must follow Baha'u'llah's lead in everything He says. The House is free to rule only in matters not explicitly mentioned in the Text, as you well know. They have tons of authority but less independent power. On the other hand, the very concept of authority implies that it is the duty of the one who wields authority, not those under it, to decide the bounds of its own control. The Guardian wrote,
"...It is not for individual believers to limit the sphere of the Guardian's authority, or to judge when they have to obey the Guardian and when they are free to reject his judgment. Such an attitude would evidently lead to confusion and to schism. The Guardian being the appointed interpreter of the Teachings, it is his responsibility to state what matters which, affecting the interests of the Faith, demand on the part of the believers complete and unqualified obedience to his instructions." (Shoghi Effendi, quoted in, Universal House of Justice, 1977 Aug 22, Clarification on Infallibility)
In order to have authority, the balance must do the measuring, not the object being weighed. Each level is a balance in itself, but each lower balance is in turn set onto another, higher and greater Balance:
"Say: This is the infallible Balance which the Hand of God is holding, in which all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth are weighed, and their fate determined, if ye be of them that believe and recognize this truth." (Aqdas, para 183, p. 85)
Sylvan: "If you could also elucidate more fully what you mean by 'big difference' that would be useful."
I will try to be brief here. I call it a big difference because when we talk about power, this is a major spiritual principle of the Faith, the Power of the Holy Spirit. God's creative Spirit has all power over the heart; meanwhile Baha'u'llah clearly delegates authority over outward actions to the powers that be. But notice that the Master gave this principle the name He did for a reason. He did not call it the "Authority of the Holy Spirit." That is because authority refers to questions like, "What am I going to do right now?", "How do I carry out the Will of God for me here, today?" Such questions of authority involve current deliberation, the sphere with the greatest potential for divisions and splits.
True, if someone tries they could easily go through the
In order to freely and effectively apply the principle of the Power of the Holy Spirit, final authority over "religio-political" issues must firmly rest in the hands of a current, authorized, living, responsive institution. They have authority, but they also have a mandate not to get in the way of the principle of Power of the Holy Spirit. The latter principle demands that power rest in the hands of an Entity that by definition cannot be grasped, much less institutionalized or legislated upon. If the House ever tried to interfere with that, God forbid, they would cease even to be Baha'is, for a Baha'i is, by definition, someone who believes in the Holy Spirit. The Master went so far as to state that the Holy Spirit is "infallible" in its own sphere,
"But the bounty of the Holy Spirit gives the true method of comprehension which is infallible and indubitable. This is through the help of the Holy Spirit which comes to man, and this is the condition in which certainty can alone be attained." (Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, 298)
Again, none of this is difficult to understand if you talk about just individuals. The great difficulty arises when you try to factor in the mind-numbing complexities of group interaction. Power concerns collective matters, unity, our ability to move and act together. Here political power starts to resemble the force of nature we call electric power. Which raises the question, "What is power?" The Wiki article on politics defines it thus:
"Power is a concept that is central to politics. Max Weber defined power as the ability to impose one's will `even in the face of opposition from others,' while Hannah Arendt states that `political power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert.' Many different views of political power have been proposed."
The Baha'i view of political power is that it is a form of energy, a mover of the universe, like love. How our energy interacts with light and matter (E=MC2) is, I think, explained by that word I have been exploring over the past few weeks, polity. Polity, like Einstein’s famous equation, describes a consultatively derived mix of the best of several fundamental elements.
This understanding of power explains why it would be mistaken to say that the Spirit has power but no authority over our lives -- the very word "authority" comes from the Latin "Auctor," for creator. God is the Ultimate Creator and all is under His Thumb. But the problem is that the heart is inscrutable. Politicians, scientists, even the self have no infallible knowledge or control over the mysterious leanings of the human heart.
The power and authority of God, the principle of the Power of the Holy Spirit, rules exclusively over the heart and mind of the individual. Only the infallible Holy Spirit dwells here, and it is up to us to give up our power to the Spirit, the only thing that is remotely qualified for rule here. Our renunciation of our power unleashes the energy of personal poverty,
"Astonishment here is highly prized, and utter poverty essential. Wherefore hath it been said, `Poverty is My pride.' And again: `God hath a people beneath the dome of glory, whom He hideth in the clothing of radiant poverty." These are they who see with His eyes, hear with His ears..." (Four Valleys, 62)
Energy radiates out from the individual who arises to do the bidding of God; it determines belief, decides the amount donated to the fund, who to vote for, prayer, and so forth. No institution can or should meddle in such matters. This is the lowest but most fundamental element of the Polity of Baha'u'llah.
Sylvan: "What do you think Abdul-Baha meant when he said this about the pronouncements of the UHJ: `Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself.'"
Again, authority but not power; as the Wiki says, "`Power' refers to the ability to achieve certain ends, 'authority' refers to the legitimacy, justification and right to exercise that power." Let me in turn ask you a question: if you or I were to travel to another planet orbiting another star and became involved with a civilization of intelligent beings there, who would you obey, Baha'u'llah or Whoever is the current Manifestation of God for them? In my opinion, you would have to submit to the latter. In other words, there is a chain or hierarchy of power and authority going down from God, to Baha'u'llah, to the Master, the Guardian, and to the House of Justice. Each has its limit, and each, even that of God, is conditioned by justice. Each is the scales or standard for all below. Baha'u'llah explains it thus,
"He doth verily incarnate the highest, the infallible standard of justice unto all creation." (Gl 175)