In response to your letter of 26 February 1984, we are asked by the Universal House of Justice to share with you the attached extract from a previously untranslated Tablet revealed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá on the subject of "speaking in tongues". We are also to refer you to Chapter XXVII of "Some Answered Questions" which may help to answer questions about the Holy Spirit....
"The disciples of Christ taught His Faith with the language of the Kingdom. That language conformeth to all languages, for it consisteth of celestial meanings and and divine mysteries. For the one who becometh conversant with that language the realities and secrets of creation stand unveiled before him. Divine truths are common to all languages. The Holy Spirit, therefore, taught the disciples the language of the Kingdom, and they thus were able to converse with the people of all nations. Whenever they spoke to those of other nations of the world, it was as if they concersed in their tongues. The well-known and outstanding languages of the world number about a thousand. It was necessary for the disciples to have written the Gospels in at least one of the known languages of other nations. Thus, as it is known, the Gospels were written only in Hebrew [perhaps a reference to colloquial Hebrew or Aramaic - Mark Foster's note] and Greek [the language of another nation - Mark Foster's note], and not even the language of the Romans [Latin - Mark Foster's note], although it was at that time the official language. As the disciples were not well-versed in it, the Gospels were not written in that language."
(Extract from a previously untranslated Tablet revealed by 'Abdu'l-Bahá - 'Abdu'l-Hamíd Ishráq-i-Khávarí, "Má'idiy-i-Ásmání" [Tihrán: Bahá'í Publ. Trust], Vol.9, pp.21-22]
Written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice by The Department of the Secretariat to Mark A. Foster, April 1, 1984
Dr. Mark Foster
Dear Baha'i Friend,
The Universal House of Justice has consulted on your email message of 4 April 1995 concerning the character of some of the postings on Baha'i subjects in electronic discussion groups, and has asked us to convey to you the following.
Your concerns, in the context in which you have described them in the second paragraph of your message, are legitimate for a Baha'i, and you should not hesitate to express them, as you wish, in a manner that is intended to illumine the exchange of ideas in any discussion in which you may participate.
The opportunity which electronic communication technology provides for more speedy and thorough consultation among the friends is highly significant. Without doubt, it represents another manifestation of a development eagerly anticipated by the Guardian when he foresaw the creation of "a mechanism of world intercommunication ... embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity".
As you well appreciate, the extent to which such technology advances the work of the Faith depends, of course, on the manner in which it is used. As a medium for Baha'is to exchange views, it imposes on participants the same requirements of moderation, candour, and courtesy as would be the case in any other discussion. Likewise, those involved should avoid belittling the views of one another. In this regard, the House of Justice has noted your understandable repugnance at an apparent temptation to use misleading and invidious labels like "traditionalists" and "liberals", which divide the Baha'i community. To the extent that this divisive habit of mind may persist in the Baha'i community, it is obviously a carry-over from non-Baha'i society and a manifestation of an immature conception of life. If Baha'is were to persist in this mode of thinking, it would bring to naught even the most worthwhile intellectual endeavour, as has so conspicuously been the case with societies of the past.
Most important of all, as with any exploration by Baha'is of the beliefs and practices of their Faith, electronic discussion will serve the interests of the Cause and its members only as it is conducted within the framework of the Baha'i Teachings and the truths they enshrine. To attempt to discuss the Cause of God apart from or with disdain for the authoritative guidance inherent in these Teachings would clearly be a logical contradiction. To take the first point mentioned in your letter, it is obvious that seeking to impose limits on the universality of the authority of God's Manifestation would lead to the frustration of serious scholarly work and generate disharmony within an effort whose success depends precisely upon a spirit of unity and mutual trust. The standard is the one made clear by Baha'u'llah Himself:
Dr. Mark Foster 17 May 1995 Page 2
The essence of belief in Divine unity consisteth in regarding Him Who is the Manifestation of God and Him Who is the invisible, the inaccessible, the unknowable Essence as one and the same. By this is meant that whatsoever pertaineth to the former, all His acts and doings, whatever He ordaineth or forbiddeth, should be considered, in all their aspects, and under all circumstances, and without any reservation, as identical with the Will of God Himself.
With regard to the harmony of science and religion, the Writings of the Central Figures and the commentaries of the Guardian make abundantly clear that the task of humanity, including the Baha'i community that serves as the "leaven" within it, is to create a global civilization which embodies both the spiritual and material dimensions of existence. The nature and scope of such a civilization are still beyond anything the present generation can conceive. The prosecution of this vast enterprise will depend on a progressive interaction between the truths and principles of religion and the discoveries and insights of scientific inquiry. This entails living with ambiguities as a natural and inescapable feature of the process of exploring reality. It also requires us not to limit science to any particular school of thought or methodological approach postulated in the course of its development. The challenge facing Baha'i thinkers is to provide responsible leadership in this endeavour, since it is they who have both the priceless insights of the Revelation and the advantages conferred by scientific investigation.
The ease and relative impersonality of the electronic medium require in some ways an even higher level of self-discipline than is the case in situations where a spirit of unity is reinforced by the opportunity for direct personal contact and social interaction. In the pursuit of such a spirit of unity, Baha'is will, without doubt, wish to assist the consultative processes by sharing and discussing relevant Baha'i texts. This will itself have the further effect of drawing attention back to the framework of Baha'i belief.
The House of Justice assures you of its prayers in the Holy Shrines on your behalf that the abundant confirmations of Baha'u'llah may ever sustain you.
With loving Baha'i greetings,
Department of the Secretariat
14 March 1996
Dr. Mark Foster
Dear Baha'i Friend,
The Universal House of Justice has asked us to respond on its behalf to your email letter of 4 January 1996 conveying your concern about certain issues which have arisen in the discussions on the Talisman network.
You express disquiet that attempts being made to introduce a distinction between "Baha'i laymen" and "Baha'i scholars" with respect to the study of the Faith tend to generate a spirit of disunity among the friends. Your concern is fully justified. Such an approach to the study of the Cause would betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the pattern of Baha'i society as set out in the Teachings of the Faith.
As you know, Baha'u'llah says that the pursuit of knowledge has been enjoined upon everyone, and knowledge itself is described by Him as "wings to man's life" and "a ladder for his ascent". Those whose high attainments in this respect make it possible for them to contribute in important ways to the advancement of civilization are deserving of society's recognition and gratitude.
In the study of the Revelation of God, an individual's proficiency in one of the physical or social sciences, in law, philology, or other fields of specialization will often throw valuable light on issues being examined, and such contributions are greatly to be appreciated. The field of Near East studies, mentioned in your letter, is one that can assist in this way.However, no one specialization among the many branches of scholarly research can confer upon its practitioners an authoritative role in the common effort of exploring the implications of so staggering and all-encompassing a body of truth.
Collateral with His summons to the pursuit of knowledge, Baha'u'llah has abolished entirely that feature of all past religions by which a special caste of persons such as the Christian priesthood or the Islamic `ulama came to exercise authority over the religious understanding and practice of their fellow believers. In a letter written in Persian on his behalf to the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Istanbul, the Guardian is at some pains to underline the importance of this marked departure from past religious history:
But praise be to God that the Pen of Glory has done away with the unyielding and dictatorial views of the learned and the wise, dismissed the assertions of individuals as an authoritative criterion,
Dr. Mark Foster 14 March 1996 Page 2
even though they were recognized as the most accomplished and learned among men, and ordained that all matters be referred to authorized centres and specified assemblies.
The Baha'i Dispensation is described in the words of its Founder as "a day that shall not be followed by night". Through His Covenant, Baha'u'llah has provided an unfailing source of divine guidance that will endure throughout the Dispensation. Authority to administer the affairs of the community and to ensure both the integrity of the Word of God and the promotion of the Faith's message is conferred upon the Administrative Order to which the Covenant has given birth. It is solely by the process of free election or by unsought appointment that the members of the institutions of this Order are assigned to their positions in it. There is no profession in either the teaching of the Faith or its administration for which one can train or to which a believer can properly aspire. Cautionary words of Baha'u'llah are particularly relevant:
Ever since the seeking of preference and distinction came into play, the world has been laid waste. It has become desolate....
Indeed, man is noble, inasmuch as each one is a repository of the sign of God. Nevertheless, to regard oneself as superior in knowledge, learning or virtue, or to exalt oneself or seek preference is a grievous transgression.
The promotion of learning of every kind among the Faith's members is an activity fundamental to the achievement of the community's wide-ranging goals. Consequently, the encouragement of individual believers to acquire knowledge, the operation of Baha'i schools, universities, and training institutes, the organization of study groups, and the work of task forces dedicated to relating the principles of the Revelation to the challenges facing humankind all represent activities with which both the Counsellors and their auxiliaries, on the one hand, and National and Local Spiritual Assemblies, on the other, must concern themselves. In shouldering these demanding responsibilities, Baha'i institutions everywhere find their efforts greatly enhanced by the assistance of believers whose intellectual pursuits, qualities of character, and devotion to the Cause particularly fit them to contribute their services.
A special responsibility in the matter rests on the Counsellors because of the duty assigned to them to assist in releasing the potential of the individual believer. The members of this institution, appointed for specific terms, have been given the task of carrying forward into the future the functions of the protection and propagation of the Faith conferred in the Will and Testament of Abdu'l-Baha on the Hands of the Cause. Thus, the Counsellors are called on to "diffuse the Divine Fragrances, to edify the souls of men, to promote learning, to improve the character of all men and to be, at all times and under all conditions, sanctified and detached from earthly things." Like the Hands, the Counsellors have no interpretive authority, an authority conferred by the Covenant only on Abdu'l-Baha and the Guardian of the Faith. While some Counsellors, like some of the Hands, will have pursued various academic or professional disciplines in their individual careers, their discharge of their duties is not dependent on proficiencies of this kind. All of them share fully in the vital task of encouraging believers everywhere
Dr. Mark Foster 14 March 1996 Page 3
in the acquisition of knowledge, in all its dimensions. All share, too, in the responsibility assigned to the institution of which they are members to protect the Faith against its enemies, both external and internal, a concern to which both the Master and the Guardian attached pre-eminent importance.
An understanding of the principles by which we explore the Revelation of Baha'u'llah depends, too, on an appreciation of the broad nature of the authority conferred on the Universal House of Justice. Speaking of the relevant responsibilities of its elected membership, the "Will and Testament" states:
It is incumbent upon these members (of the Universal House of Justice) to gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book. Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself.
Emphasizing, in this same Charter of the Administrative Order, the importance of believers' wholehearted adherence to the guidance given by both the Guardian and the Universal House of Justice, Abdu'l-Baha says:
Whatsoever they decide is of God. Whoso obeyeth him not, neither obeyeth them, hath not obeyed God; whoso rebelleth against him and against them hath rebelled against God; whoso opposeth him hath opposed God; whoso contendeth with them hath contended with God...."
Your concern for the integrity of the study of the Faith and your desire to promote it do you much credit. Be sure that the House of Justice will pray ardently in the Holy Shrines that Baha'u'llah will abundantly bless and confirm your efforts in this path.
With loving Baha'i greetings,
Department of the Secretariat
cc: International Teaching Centre
Board of Counsellors in the Americas
National Assembly of the United States (by email)
Transmitted by email
TO: Dr. Mark Foster DATE: 28 May 1998
Email address: email@example.com -----------------------------------------------------------------------------
We regret the delay in replying to your email messages of 10 December 1997 and 13 April 1998, which has been caused by pressure of work. The Universal House of Justice has asked to convey the following.
Regarding your concerns about Covenant-breakers participating in and posting material to the "Baha'i Forum" on America Online (AOL), you should, of course, scrupulously and impartially uphold the rules of AOL's "Religion and Beliefs" area. You may warn the friends about interaction with Covenant-breakers if you feel it to be appropriate and if you can do so without violating the impartiality that you, as Forum manager, must demonstrate.
With respect to your concerns about your own contact with Covenant-breakers, you should feel no trepidation at having to interact with them in this particular situation and, if necessary, to read their postings. It is suggested, however, that your contact with them be kept to a minimum, as strictly required by your obligations as Forum manager. You will want to resist any temptation to be drawn into discussions or consideration of the arguments which they may advance.
A suggestion has been made in the past that Baha'i activities on AOL could perhaps be sponsored by an official committee or institution of the Faith. In an email message to the House of Justice dated 22 March 1997, a Baha'i who has been active on AOL indicated that the Roman Catholic Church has an officially sponsored group on AOL that is administered independently of the "Religion and Beliefs" area. Presumably, a similar Baha'i-sponsored area would be able to set its own policies with respect to matters such as what literature or other material is archived online. Such an arrangement may or may not be viable or desirable, but it is a possibility that as manager of the Baha'i Forum you may wish to investigate. Should you decide to pursue this matter, the Baha'i Computer and Communications Association might be approached as a potential sponsoring agency.
Dr. Mark Foster 28 May 1998
You are assured that the House of Justice will offer prayers in the Holy Shrines that your service to the Faith may be bountifully blessed and that Baha'u'llah may surround you with His loving protection.
Department of the Secretariat
cc: Counsellor Jacqueline Left Hand Bull
National Assembly of the United States
A letter to the House of Justice on the Lesser Peace and the unity of nations, with the response from the Secretariat, is here.