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Religion Library: Baha'i

Rites and Ceremonies

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There are several other features of the new culture that Baha'is are trying to create. One is the fact that there are no individuals in hierarchies of power in this culture. Authority and direction come from the elected institutions  at local, national, and international level. However, it is the institutions that are authoritative, rather than the individuals in these institutions. The decisions made by these institutions are the result of a consultative decision-making process. Furthermore, except for extreme circumstances when an individual's behavior is threatening to cause divisions in the community or is bringing the religion into disrepute, power resides largely with the individual Baha'is. The institutions have the authority to lay plans of action before the Baha'i community but they do not have the power to coerce Baha'is to carry out these plans. Initiative and the power to carry plans forward rest with individuals.

Principles of Freedom and Authority in the Baha'i Faith
From the Writings of Shoghi Effendi

Let us also remember that at the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views. If certain instructions of the Master are today particularly emphasized and scrupulously adhered to, let us be sure that they are but provisional measures designed to guard and protect the Cause in its present state of infancy and growth until the day when this tender and precious plant shall have sufficiently grown to be able to withstand the unwisdom of its friends and the attacks of its enemies.

Let us also bear in mind that the keynote of the Cause of God is not dictatorial authority but humble fellowship, not arbitrary power, but the spirit of frank and loving consultation. Nothing short of the spirit of a true Baha'i can hope to reconcile the principles of mercy and justice, of freedom and submission, of the sanctity of the right of the individual and of self-surrender, of vigilance, discretion and prudence on the one hand, and fellowship, candor, and courage on the other. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá'í Administration, pp. 63-4.)

Another aspect of the new culture that Baha'is are trying to create is its openness. The Baha'i culture aspires to be open to all of the positive aspects of every local culture. It also tries to be inclusive in the sense of welcoming anyone who wishes to cooperate with the Baha'is in advancing the social principles and carrying out local plans of action formulated by the community, without necessarily becoming full members of the Baha'i community. The cluster meetings at which many of these plans are formulated are open to all. Furthermore, the Baha'i community is willing to cooperate with any other organization that is advancing such plans, provided their course of action does not involve partisan political action (which Baha'is do not take part in because of its divisive nature).

Study Questions:
     1.    Does the Baha'i Faith have many set forms for its rituals and ceremonies? What is the consequence of this?
     2.    Describe some of the activities of the new culture or ethos that is being developed in the Baha'i community since about 1996.
     3.    What does it mean when it is said that the new Baha'i culture is a “culture of learning”?


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