Internet - Opposition

All Bahá’ís, “however humble their origin, however limited their experience” are called
upon to vindicate the distinguishing truths and defend the interests of the Faith.
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

As Bahá’ís enter this arena of activity, the words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá impart assurance as to
the outcome of such efforts: …ultimately the radiance of the Kingdom will overwhelm the
darkness of the world of being, and the holy, exalted character of your aims will become unmistakably apparent.
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

As a number of the friends are aware, a campaign of internal opposition to the Teachings is currently being carried on through the use of the Internet, a communications system that now reaches virtually every part of the world. Differing from attacks familiar in the past, it seeks to recast the entire Faith into a socio-political ideology alien to Bahá’u’lláh’s intent. In the place of the institutional authority established by His Covenant, it promotes a kind of interpretive authority which those behind it attribute to the views of persons technically trained in Middle East studies.
Early in 1996, the deliberate nature of the plan was revealed in an accidental posting to an Internet list which Bahá’í subscribers had believed was dedicated to scholarly exploration of the Cause. Some of the people responsible resigned from the Faith when Counsellors pointed out to them the direction their activities were taking. A small number of others continue to promote the campaign within the Bahá’í community.
In the past, in situations of a somewhat similar nature, the patience and compassion shown by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Guardian helped various believers who had been misled by ill-intentioned persons to eventually free themselves from such entanglements. In this same spirit of forbearance the Universal House of Justice has intervened in the current situation only to the extent that has been unavoidable, trusting to the good sense and the goodwill of the believers involved to awaken to the spiritual dangers to which they are exposing themselves. Nevertheless, certain Counsellors and National Spiritual Assemblies are monitoring the problem closely, and the friends can be confident that whatever further steps are needed to protect the integrity of the Cause will be taken.
As passages in the enclosed reprint make clear, this campaign of internal opposition-while purporting to accept the legitimacy of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice as twin successors of Bahá’u’lláh and the Centre of His Covenant-attempts to cast doubt on the nature and scope of the authority conferred on them in the Writings. When other Bahá’ís have pointed out that such arguments contradict explicit statements of the Master, persons behind the scheme have responded by calling into question the soundness of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s own judgement and perspective. Gradually, these arguments have exposed the view of those involved that Bahá’u’lláh Himself was not the voice of God to our age but merely a particularly enlightened moral philosopher, one whose primary concern was to reform existing society.
By itself, such opposition would likely stand little chance of influencing reasonably informed Bahá’ís. As one of the letters in the enclosed reprint (20 July 1997) points out, the scheme relies for effect, therefore, on exploiting the confusion created in modern thought by the reigning doctrines of materialism. Although the reality of God’s continuous relationship with His creation and His intervention in human life and history are the very essence of the teachings of the Founders of the revealed religions, dogmatic materialism today insists that even the nature of religion itself can be adequately understood only through the use of an academic methodology designed to ignore the truths that make religion what it is. In general, the strategy being pursued has been to avoid direct attacks on the Faith’s Central Figures. The effort, rather, has been to sow the seeds of doubt among believers about the Faith’s teachings and institutions by appealing to unexamined prejudices that Bahá’ís may have unconsciously absorbed from non-Bahá’í society. In defiance of the clear interpretation of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Guardian, for example, Bahá’u’lláh’s limiting of membership on the Universal House of Justice to men is misrepresented as merely a “temporary measure” subject to eventual revision if sufficient pressure is brought to bear. Similarly, Shoghi Effendi’s explanation of Bahá’u’lláh’s vision of the future Bahá’í World Commonwealth that will unite spiritual and civil authority is dismissed in favour of the assertion that the modern political concept of “separation of church and state” is somehow one that Bahá’u’lláh intended as a basic principle of the World Order He has founded. Particularly subtle is an attempt to suggest that the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar should evolve into a seat of quasi-doctrinal authority, parallel to and essentially independent of the Local House of Justice, which would permit various interests to insinuate themselves into the direction of the life processes of the Cause.
Typically, when misrepresentations of the kind described are challenged, the reaction of those behind the campaign has been to claim that their civil rights are being threatened, an assertion that is of course meaningless in the light of the purely voluntary nature of Bahá’í membership. Much emphasis is placed by them also on academic freedom, their view of which proves, on examination, to be merely freedom on their part to pervert scholarly discourse to the promotion of their own ideological agenda, while seeking to exclude from discussion features of the Bahá’í Faith that are central to the Writings of its Founders.
The effect of continued exposure to such insincerity about matters vital to humanity’s well-being is spiritually corrosive. When we encounter minds that are closed and hearts that are darkened by evident malice, Bahá’u’lláh urges that we leave such persons to God and turn our attention to the opportunities which multiply daily for the promotion of the truths which He teaches. In words written at the direction of the Guardian, regarding a situation similar to, though much less serious than, the present one, “...the friends should be advised to just leave these people alone, for their influence can be nothing but negative and destructive....”
The enclosed material is being sent to your Assembly less out of concern over the immediate situation, which is being systematically addressed, than because of longer-term considerations to which it lends perspective. What we are currently seeing, in a relatively primitive form, is the emergence of a new kind of internal opposition to Bahá’u’lláh’s Mission. While it will no doubt assume other features as time passes, it is a kind of opposition that takes aim directly at Bahá’u’lláh’s assertion of the spiritual nature of reality and of humanity’s dependence on the interventions of Divine Revelation.
Developments of the kind described will come as no surprise to friends who are familiar with the Guardian’s description of the successive waves of “crisis” and “victory” that have marked the history of the Faith ever since its inception. It is precisely this cyclical process, Shoghi Effendi says, that has propelled the steady unfoldment of Bahá’u’lláh’s intent, testing our commitment to His Teachings, purifying His community, and releasing a greater measure of the capacities latent in His Revelation. That resistance to Bahá’u’lláh should now be emerging in yet a new guise is itself a tribute to the gathering strength of the Cause, offering the friends everywhere new opportunities for the deepening of their faith and the energizing of their work.
(The Universal House of Justice, 1999 Apr 07, Issues Related to the Study of the Bahá’í Faith, p. 1)

As with all instruments of human expression, the Internet mirrors the social reality in which it is embedded. The Universal House of Justice has observed: “It is useful to bear in mind that the Internet is a reflection of the world around us, and we find in its infinitude of pages the same competing forces of integration and disintegration that characterize the tumult in which humanity is caught up. In their use of the Internet, Bahá’ís should stand aloof from the negative forces operating within it, availing themselves of its potential to spread the Word of God and to inspire and uplift others, while ignoring any negative reactions their efforts may from time to time elicit.
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

At times, however, Bahá’ís will find it necessary to correct misconceptions about essential Bahá’í tenets and goals, or respond to attempts that deliberately misrepresent
Bahá’í beliefs or history. In determining appropriate responses to criticisms, disparaging commentary or distortions of the Bahá’í teachings, believers can draw on a number of spiritual principles.
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

Bahá‘u’llah counsels His followers “not to view with too critical an eye the sayings and writings of men. Let them rather approach such sayings and writings in a spirit of openmindedness and loving sympathy.”
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

Clearly, any tendency toward argumentation or confrontation is to be eschewed by Bahá’ís while opportunities to clarify or defend the Faith’s basic precepts and goals should be carried out “in a restrained and unprovocative language.”
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

Consequently, an “inescapable duty” falls on Bahá’ís to deepen their knowledge of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation so that when circumstances require they may “uphold the integrity of the Faith.”
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

Freedom to believe or disbelieve is a fundamental Bahá’í principle, and the Bahá’í community has distinguished itself by the respect it has shown for the convictions of
those who are not Bahá’ís.
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

Given the remarkable scope and achievements of the Bahá’í community, particularly its evident spiritual vitality and visible commitment to social betterment in all parts of the
globe, it is inevitable that the aims and purposes of the Faith will be misunderstood, challenged and even vilified. In this regard, the Universal House of Justice advises: In correcting misrepresentations of the Faith made by those who are hostile to it, our obligation is to set forth Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings cogently and courteously, but firmly, supporting them with rational proofs. Once this has been done, the challenge rests with our hearers, whatever their interests or motivations, to consider our responses in this same spirit of courtesy and objectivity. For Bahá’ís to go further than this, by engaging in acrimonious debate, much less by reflecting on the character of others, would be to cross the line that separates legitimate defense of the Faith from contention. Because circumstances differ so widely, the responsibility must rest on each individual believer to determine, on the basis of the specific situation, where that line applies.
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

In emphasizing the importance of harmony in human relationships, Bahá’u’lláh declares that “conflict and contention are categorically forbidden in His Book.” He further exhorts all people to “utter that which is meet and seemly,” to “refrain from slander, abuse and whatever causeth sadness in men,” and to recognize that the “religion of God is for love and unity” and not to be made the “cause of enmity or dissension.”
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

In some cases, it may be appropriate to directly address topics raised by critics, but in other situations, it may be more constructive to simply present the authoritative Bahá’í perspective on a matter. Confusion or erroneous understandings surrounding Bahá’í belief can best be dispelled through a reasoned focus on issues, and the principles underlying issues, without reference to the motivations or identity of individuals raising the criticisms.
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

It is apparent that some opponents seek to draw Bahá’ís into exchanges with the intent of demonstrating that Bahá’ís are either na´ve, dogmatic, or intolerant. In particular,
adherence to the provisions of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh is sometimes cast in these terms, while for believers such adherence expresses faith in a power “which quickeneth
and promoteth the development of all created things on earth.” Bahá’u’lláh affirms that it is indeed possible to both tread the path of religious faith and to be tolerant:
"…observe tolerance and righteousness, which are two lights amidst the darkness of the world and two educators for the edification of mankind.”
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

On a practical level, to argue directly or indirectly with those critical of the Faith can be counterproductive. Disputatious interactions can provide opponents with platforms to
disseminate their views and agendas, and repel the wider audience observing such interactions. In addition, as the House of Justice notes, “Under most circumstances, it
would seem worse than futile for a Bahá’í to attempt to defend the institutions or members of the Faith from the kind of reckless slander that has become an all too
common feature of the moral deterioration of contemporary society, and that tends to characterize much of the language of the Faith’s current critics.”
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

Regardless of the approach taken, “in our presentations and relationships we should always try to build bridges so that our beautiful Teachings can be understood and
accepted, and the power which they have to establish unity amongst men will be exemplified.” In the end, though, if critics are not receptive to clarifications or explanations offered, it is preferable to respectfully leave them to themselves.
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

The Bahá’í community, Shoghi Effendi further explains, should not “be afraid of any criticism that might be directed against it,” for “the voice of criticism is a voice that indirectly reinforces the proclamation of its Cause.”
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

The Internet extends unprecedented opportunities for Bahá’ís around the world to participate in this endeavor. Although wide latitude is given to the individual believer in pursuing initiatives on the Internet, the advice of Bahá’í institutions should be sought in
circumstances where public perception of the Faith is being unduly affected by
misinformation or misrepresentation.
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

The efforts of Bahá’ís to use various Internet media to explore the spiritual underpinnings of human life have opened new avenues of dialogue, study and reflection. Blogs, social networks, multimedia presentations, discussion fora and other Internet tools provide creative ways to share insights from the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh and relate them to the central issues of individual and social well-being. Bahá’ís welcome an unfettered and constructive examination of these teachings, but will not engage in forms of exchange or
presentation that are divisive or contentious in character. At the same time, Bahá’ís will not hesitate to respond, in a spirit of courtesy and fairness, to serious misrepresentations
of their Faith.
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

Thus, whether offering comments on Web sites, discussion boards, blogs, video or social network pages, what is being called for is a pattern of behavior and “an etiquette of expression worthy of the approaching maturity of the human race.”
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

Unity of understanding and progress at the collective level are achieved by the application of knowledge through consultative processes. In the interactive environment that characterizes current and emerging Internet technologies, exceptional discipline is necessary if Bahá’í standards of moderation, amity, dignity, civility, probity and candor are to be upheld. As with all Bahá’í undertakings, Internet initiatives should reflect a spirit of cooperation, trust, and genuine concern for others.
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

While some categories of criticism might best be ignored for their benign character, or understood as sincere but uninformed explorations of Bahá’í belief, intentional efforts to assail or defame the Faith, Bahá’u’lláh indicates, are to be treated differently: “It is incumbent upon all men, each according to his ability, to refute the arguments of those
that have attacked the Faith of God.”
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)

With regard to the treatment of detractors, Shoghi Effendi stresses that uncompromising rectitude “must be demonstrated in the impartiality of every defender of the Faith against its enemies, in his fair-mindedness in recognizing any merits that enemy may possess, and in his honesty in discharging any obligations he may have towards him.”
(Bahá’í Internet Agency, Responding to Criticism and Opposition on the Internet, 2009)