Bahá’u’lláh and the Houri of the Deep

There is an old mystical tradition in Islám, generally attributed to Sufis and Persian poets that represents God as “the beloved,” a beautiful “youth” who can sometimes border on the erotic. It seems to be that some more subversive poets such as Hafez made use of this equivocation between God and desire in taking license to celebrate wine, women, and song. Where did this sense of God as the obsession of a drunken lover come from? I haven’t studied this topic nearly enough to hope to have anything new to contribute on the matter, but here’s what I’ve got.

La Houri: Black-eyed beauty , 1919

Constant Montald: La Houri: Black-eyed beauty, 1919

Let’s go back to the old Zoroastrian tradition of Daena, the goddess or daemon that greets each soul three days after death. The old tradition says that good souls are greeted by a beautiful, even voluptuous maiden, but bad souls are greeted by an old hag. I composed (or perhaps plagiarized) a poem on the subject years ago. It turns out that Daena, that heavenly reward for the good and punishment for the wicked is really just a reflection of the soul’s own character, expressed esthetically and sexually. The “paradise” of this model is the paradise of one’s own character. As Heraclitus is known to have said, “character is destiny.”

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A Salacious Peek into the Creepy Closet of Bahá’í Love

Who are the Ungodly and Why Should We Avoid Them? That’s the double-question answered by Bahá’í blogger Susan Gammage in a recent post. Her answer to the first question implies her answer to the second. It comes in two parts:

The ungodly are

  1. those who disbelieve in God
  2. those whose hearts are turned away from God

I’m not sure whether the answer is “1 and 2” or “1 or 2.” Either way, the implications are astonishing.

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Our Daily Bread: Non-Bahá’í Covenant-Breakers

In the following passage, Shoghi Effendi—or rather his secretary—explains the harsh treatment awaits the Bahá’í who attacks Bahá’u’lláh:

“When a person declares his acceptance of Bahá’u’lláh as a Manifestation of God he becomes a party to the Covenant and accepts the totality of His Revelation. If he then turns around and attacks Bahá’u’lláh … he violates the Covenant. If this happens every effort is made to help that person to see the illogicality and error of his actions, but if he persists he must, in accordance with the instructions of Bahá’u’lláh Himself, be shunned as a Covenant-breaker.”

—from a letter dated March 30, 1957 on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, “Messages to Canada,” pg. 64

This passage indicates that a Bahá’í, having declared his or her belief in Bahá’u’lláh as a consenting adult at—say—age 15, has no right to turn around and criticize Bahá’u’lláh. Such a Bahá’í—or Ex-Bahá’í—is to be regarded as “Covenant-breaker,” and—as if that weren’t heinous enough—an illogical.

Apparently it’s illogical to criticize someone that you once worshiped as a child.

Though apostasy is not a capital offense in the Bahá’í Faith, it was no small crime in the eyes of Shoghi Effendi.

“People who have withdrawn from the Cause because they no longer feel that they can support its Teachings and Institutions sincerely, are not Covenant-breakers—they are non-Bahá’ís and should just be treated as such. Only those who ally themselves actively with known enemies of the Faith who are Covenant-breakers, and who attack the Faith in the same spirit as these people, can be considered, themselves, to be Covenant-breakers.”

—from a letter dated March 30, 1957 on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, “Messages to Canada,” p. 64

Hence belief in Bahá’u’lláh is not a prerequisite for Covenant-breaker status. The only prerequisite is that one is or once was a believer. The key point is keep your mouth shut. You can’t be blamed for ceasing to believe, but to openly criticize the Bahá’í Faith—having once believed—is the most reprobate of offenses.

The following is a specific reference to a Bahá’í who turned against the Bahá’í Faith in its entirety. Abdu’l-Husayn Ayati had been an eminent Bahá’í historian. `Abdu’l-Bahá’ had named him “Avarih,” and Shoghi Effendi declared him a Covenant-breaker for his criticisms of the Bahá’í Faith:

“Avarih … will be condemned by posterity as being the most shameless, vicious, relentless apostate in the annals of the Faith, who, through ceaseless vitriolic attacks in recorded voluminous writings and close alliance with its traditional enemies, assiduously schemed to blacken its name and subvert the foundations of its institutions.”

—Shoghi Effendi, Messages To The Bahá’í World: 1950-1957, pages 53-54

Shoghi Effendi often spoke of apostasy of as though it is an evil in and of
itself. Let’s close with several examples:

“Some have apostatized from its principles, and betrayed ignominiously its cause.”

—World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, page 195

“The volumes which a shameless apostate composed and disseminated, during that same period in Persia, in his brazen efforts not only to disrupt that Order but to undermine the very Faith which had conceived it,…”

—God Passes By, page 327.

Apostates, rebels, betrayers, heretics, had exerted their utmost endeavors, privily or openly, to sap the loyalty of the followers of that Faith, to split their ranks or assault their institutions.”

—God Passes By, page 408.

Our Daily Bread: A Demon-Haunted World Order

There’s an ancient tradition in Iran of regarding some things as “ritually” unclean. Any exposure to such things can cause spiritual illness, and requires that the exposed be ritually purified. If this sounds exotic, just think of baptism or crucifixion—two Christian examples of ritual purification. Among the carriers of such contagious impurity is the infidel—the unbeliever. The tradition goes back into Zoroastrian times, and has persisted as a doctrine of Shi’a Islam and the Bahá’í Faith:

Beware! Walk not with the ungodly and seek not fellowship with him, for such companionship turneth the radiance of the heart into infernal fire.

—Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words

Though the Bahá’í Faith doesn’t provide a ritual for cleansing Bahá’ís after exposure to unbelievers, it definitely teaches that exposure to “the ungodly” sickens the soul. The contagion appears to be quite common, though its severity appears to depend on the degree of ungodliness of the “carrier,” being at its worst when acquired from exposure to people that Bahá’ís call “Covenant-breakers.”

Covenant-breakers are the demons of the Bahá’í Faith. I don’t think there’s anything quite like them in any other religion, though they are somewhat reminiscent of the old Zoroastrian demons of death. They are outwardly ordinary people, though it has been claimed that a very unpleasant odor precedes them wherever they go.

In the following passage, Bahá’u’lláh appears to employ the words of his predecessor in warning his followers against becoming infected by these “manifestations of Satan”:

“Protect yourselves with utmost vigilance, lest you be entrapped in the snare of deception and fraud.” This is the advice of the Pen of Destiny. “Therefore, to avoid these people will be the nearest path by which to attain the divine good pleasure; because their breath is infectious, like unto poison. Endeavor to your utmost to protect yourselves, because Satan appears in different robes and appeals to everyone according to each person’s own way, until he becomes like unto him — then he will leave him alone.”
“…If you detect in any man the least perceptible breath of violation, shun him and keep away from him.” Then He says: “Verily, they are manifestations of Satan.”

Bahá’í World Faith, p. 431

Bahá’u’lláh was also reported by his son Abbas to have warned Bahá’ís throughout his writings about these wicked Covenant-breakers, likening their breath to snake venom:

Bahá’u’lláh, in all the Tablets and Epistles, forbade the true and firm friends from associating and meeting the violators of the Covenant of His Holiness, the Báb, saying that no one should go near them because their breath is like the poison of the snake that kills instantly.

`Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 430

This is no incidental, secondary doctrine. It is, rather, “one of the greatest and most fundamental principles” of the Bahá’í Faith:

… one of the greatest and most fundamental principles of the Cause of God is to shun and avoid entirely the Covenant-breakers, for they will utterly destroy the Cause of God, exterminate His Law and render of no account all efforts exerted in the past.

`Abdu’l-Bahá, Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha, paragraph 38

One fascinating aspect of Covenant breaking is that it is presumed to be passed from parents to children:

children of Covenant-breakers, who have grown up with and still associate with their parents, are probably thoroughly infused with the Covenant-breaking spirit, and the friends must not associate with them until the Hands of the Cause have ascertained that these children have understood the sin of their parents and dissociated themselves from them.

a letter of the Universal House of Justice dated 5 February 1969 to an individual believer

It should be explained that descendants of Covenant-breakers who have not positively repudiated their forebears and sought readmittance to the Cause should be viewed with caution as they may well have received the poison of Covenant-breaking from their parents and would then have to be shunned by the friends.

a memorandum of the Universal House of Justice to the Hands of the Cause in the Holy Land dated 2 December 1971

For more juicy citations, see Non-association with Covenant-breakers, Directives from the Guardian, and What does the term “Covenant-breaking” mean?

Shunning of Covenant-breakers is typically done on an individual level, but Bahá’í institutions have also been seen exhibiting this practice. In a recent dispute between the United States National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) and the Second International Bahá’í Council, the WIPO panel that oversaw the dispute voiced some disapproval over the unwillingness of the conplainant (the NSA) to communicate with the other party:

Complainant did not send a copy of its request directly to Respondent, apparently believing Respondent had a “religious objection” to communicating with it. While the Panel appreciates Complainant’s sensitivity, it did not interpret the statement that Respondent had, consistent with Respondent’s religious beliefs, ignored Complainant’s cease and desist letter, to be an objection to receiving communications. Moreover, the Panel reminds Complainant of Rule 2(h): “Any communication by . . . a Party shall be copied to the other Party, the Panel and the Provider, as the case may be” (emphasis added).