Baha'i Faith -- Part Four
by Dr. John Ankerberg and Dr.
The Manifestations and the Nature of God
What is the nature
of the Baha’i prophet or Manifestation? He is seen as divine in that
he reflects the divine nature, but he is not God, only a revealer and
servant of God. He reflects or even contains the divine attributes,
but he is ultimately only a divinely enlightened human. In other
words, the prophet is a combination of the human and in some sense the
divine, but ultimately only a very special man.
Baha’u’llah’s mysticism led to declarations about
the prophet that did not always clarify matters. On the one hand, he
asserted they are not incarnations of God: "Know thou of a
certainty that the Unseen can in no wise incarnate His Essence and
reveal it unto men." 34 But
then he spoke more forcefully in terms of their divine nature.
Apparently referring to himself: "Unto this subtle, this mysterious
and ethereal Being [Baha’u’llah] He [God] hath assigned a twofold
nature; the physical, pertaining to the world of matter, and the
spiritual, which is born of the substance of God Himself...
‘Manifold and mysterious is My relationship with God. I am He,
Himself and He is I, Myself; except that I am that I am and He is
that He is.’" 35
Baha’u’llah alleges that the Bab declared of him, "There is none
other God but Him." 36 Baha’u’llah also says unashamedly, "When I
contemplate, O My God, the relationship that bindeth me to Thee... I
am moved to proclaim to all created things, ‘verily I am God!’;
and when I consider my own self, lo, I find it coarser than clay." 37
rationalistic influence in modern Baha’i theology, as well as its
Islamic roots, dictate that the prophet cannot be deity, and this is
the official teaching.
And there are other difficulties. Baha’u’llah
attempted to distinguish between the prophets’ station (rank)
and mission. As to their station, the prophets are all equal in
an absolute sense. "No distinction do We make between any of His
Messengers"; they "are regarded as one soul and the same person."
38 They all have the same
value, even though the most recent Manifestation supersedes the others
in importance by means of progressive or superior revelation. As to
the prophets’ mission, however, "the words and utterances ... appear
to diverge and differ… [still] all their utterances are, in reality,
but the expressions of one Truth." 39
Even though their teachings appear as contradictory, they
really aren’t because all the prophets "are regarded as one soul and
the same person" giving revelation from the one and same God.
Supposedly then, in the end, Krishna, a polytheist, and Jesus, a
monotheist, are One, despite their vast theological differences, not
to mention natures. Buddha and Muhammad are One, despite Buddha’s
practical atheism and Muhammad’s zealous theism.
The problem with a mystic is that one does not
always know when to take him literally, but we assume literalness was
not the intent when Baha’u’llah stated: "Were any of the all-embracing
Manifestations of God to declare: ‘I am God,’ He, verily, speaketh the
truth, and no doubt attacheth thereto."
Certainly the biblical Abraham or Moses (or Buddha or
the Muslim Muhammad) would react with horror to such an expression
literally meant. Regardless, this statement still cannot be reconciled
with the teachings of Abraham, Muhammad, Buddha, Moses or Jesus, for
it is also implying that all the Manifestations were God-sent and
God-empowered to teach Baha’i truths, "truths" which these other
religions deny. In effect, the Baha’i Achilles heel is that nothing
they can ever do will justify their approach to comparative religion,
at least not if we examine religious scriptures frankly and let words
mean what they say. Unfortunately, verbal clarity of expression is not
the goal of a mystic who wishes to unify all religions into his own
Baha’is may respond to these problems by declaring
that the prophets’ progressive revelation is only relative and that
therefore no prophet has ever denied an absolute truth of another
prophet. But if all revelation is relative, no absolute truth exists
and Baha’i claims to absolute truth are spurious:
The problem with this concept of revelation is that it is
self-defeating. The statement, "revelation is relative," which is
allegedly a revelation spoken by Baha’u’llah, must be either
relative or absolute. If the statement is relative, it is not
absolutely binding, and it is possible that absolute revelation does
exist. If the statement, "revelation is relative," is absolute, then
the statement, "revelation is relative," cannot be true. Thus, the
Baha’i doctrine of relative revelation is self-defeating and untrue.
Further, we know with certainty what the basic
doctrines of the major world religions are. The Baha’i faith is wrong
to declare that the real differences among religions are in outer form
and ritual and not in fundamental doctrine. In fact, almost all
religions, more or less, are similar in outer form and ritual but
distinct in doctrine. No orthodox Christian, Muslim or Jew, for
example, would accept Krishna or Buddha as prophets of God. No
orthodox Buddhist or Muslim could ever accept Jesus as the atoning
Savior and Son of God. Only if Baha’i can presuppose religious unity
by discarding the teachings of the prophets can it find a way
to "harmonize" fundamentally contrary faiths. Unfortunately for Baha’i,
the horse was dead at the gate. Prophets who collectively contradict
one another on essential doctrinal teachings have nothing to say to
anyone. And at that point it is then impossible to determine any
religious truth from them. All that can remain from the Baha’i
approach to religion is skepticism and agnosticism. As Francis
Beckwith points out in his study Baha’i:
Though Shoghi Effendi has said that the manifestations disagree
on "non-essential aspects of their doctrine," it would stretch
credibility to the limit to suppose that the nature of God is one of
these non-essential aspects. God cannot be impersonal, personal,
transcendent, polytheistic, pantheistic, monotheistic, able to
beget, not able to beget, relevant, and irrelevant all at the same
time. If it is true that God is all those things, then we are driven
to agnosticism. Such an illogical God can never be known based on
the contradictory information given to us by His alleged
manifestations. Irreconcilable data gives us no knowledge of God
In order to be fair to any world religious leader, one should
accept what the leader says at face value, instead of twisting it in
order to fit a predetermined belief. In other words, if the leader
says, "I am a sinner," or "I have failed God," this must be
accepted. It should not be distorted in order to fit a particular
prejudice of the reader (such in the case of ‘Abdu’l-Baha—"the
manifestations never sin"). The burden of proof is on the Baha’i
leaders to justify their interpretation. Since they have not done
so, we must accept what has been written at face value. This is the
only honest and fair way to read any given text.
It could be said, without fear of contradiction, that the
religious leaders who the Baha’i faith believes to be
manifestations, are "authorities" with wax noses—noses which can be
twisted in any way the Baha’i apologist sees fit, in order to keep
his religious beliefs "consistent." 43
Thus, in the following quotation, note that the basic message that
Baha’u’llah communicates is of not listening to the meaning of
the prophet’s words themselves. His teaching is that, regardless of
how contradictory the prophets’ words are, all of them must be seen as
valid regardless! Baha’u’llah declares of the Manifestations what any
first year comparative religion major would know is false: "If thou
wilt observe with discriminating eyes, thou wilt behold them all
abiding in the same tabernacle, soaring in the same heaven, seated
upon the same throne, uttering the same speech, and proclaiming the
same Faith.... Who so maketh the slightest possible difference between
their persons, their words, their messages, their acts and manners,
hath indeed disbelieved in God, hath repudiated His signs, and
betrayed the Cause of His Messengers." 44
The truth is that the Baha’i prophets have not simply amended or
expanded the minor teachings of the prophets before them; they
have rejected the major teachings. For example, how could the
Buddha "establish the Oneness of God" when he didn’t even believe in
God? 45 Buddhism actually
nullified Hinduism (there is no absolute deity); Islam "nullified"
Christianity ("God has no Son"); Baha’i nullified Islam (Muhammad is
not the final prophet). How then can the prophets be prophets of the
same God? Further, why do Baha’is maintain that their
faith is the one being misrepresented? Where have Muslims, Christians,
Buddhists and Jews misrepresented Baha’i? Is not the reverse true, and
is it not their own personal religious biases and intolerance that
cause them to claim misrepresentation?
Essentially, then, it is hardly unexpected to
discover Baha’is stressing their basic ideals to potential converts,
such as world peace and brotherhood, rather than an actual study of
different religions to prove their alleged unity.
Yet in order to maintain their superior status,
Baha’is emphasize that they are neither eclectic nor syncretistic.
Incredibly, Sabet declares that such an idea is "historically
incorrect and unfounded in substance.... Baha’u’llah’s teaching is not
syncretic." 46 But isn’t the
dictionary definition of syncretism, "the attempt or tendency to
combine or reconcile differing beliefs, as in philosophy or religion"?
Baha’is must adopt a circular argument, assuming the truth of what is
argued. Supposedly, Baha’i is not syncretistic because it presupposes
the truth that all religions are One. So how can it be syncretistic:
Baha’i is only teaching the original truth of all religion.
Unenlightened people and their false doctrines and interpretations of
their scriptures have clouded the primordial unity. 47 Not
surprisingly, in "Baha’i Houses of Worship the Holy Scriptures must
not be interpreted by the word of man," 48
and no sermons are ever given on the Holy Books. As a
result, Baha’is remain safe in their world of religious "unity."
Undoubtedly, having an infallible interpreter or
spokesman that proclaims "all religions are one" by fiat solves many
difficulties, but it also denies the individual his fundamental right
to examine "God’s Word" to make up his or her own mind as to what it
teaches. If we truly accept the idea of an independent investigation
of the truth, then we may expect that, with reverent and objective
study, we will not fall prey to another’s false interpretation.
As there can be no more vital a topic than the Word of God, no one
should have the right to deny another person the opportunity of
determining what God does or does not say. God places no premium on
credulity (Proverbs 14:15) or ignorance (Hosea 4:1, 6; 2 Timothy
2:15). Giving infallible authority to one person or governing body may
"solve" problems for those in power, but the problems it creates for
the laity are far more serious.
Thus, if we take a critical look at the teachings of
the Bab, Baha’u’llah, ‘Abdu’l-Baha and modern Baha’i writers, we find
not only anti-Christian, anti-Islamic, anti-Buddhist and anti-Hindu
teachings but also serious internal problems for the Baha’i member.
There are numerous false biblical interpretations, and many denials of
earlier proclaimed infallible truths. Such basic errors are
inconsistent with the divine nature. For God to be unknowable is one
thing; for Him to change His mind every time He manifests, for Him to
pronounce error and misinterpret His own Scripture, is another thing
entirely. What kind of God is this?
Just as many people would rather be in the company
of an honest sinner than a hypocritical saint, so they would rather
have an honest disunity in religion that is respectful of other
people’s religions beliefs than a contrived unity that is
disrespectful to other people’s religious beliefs and undermines them
by stealth, all the while claiming friendship. The Baha’i approach to
Christianity illustrates this problem clearly.
34. Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith
(Wilmette, IL: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1976), p. 20.
35. Shoghi Effendi, Gleanings from the Writings
of Baha’u’llah (Wilmette, IL: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1976),
pp. 66-67, emphasis added.
36. Abid Taherzadeh, The Revelation of
Baha’u’llah Adrianople 1986-68 (Oxford: George Ronald), p. 146,
citing Epistle to the Son of the Wolf (p. 141).
37. Ibid., p. 80 citing Shoghi Effendi, World
Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 113, emphasis added.
38. Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah,
39. Ibid., p. 53.
40. Baha’i World Faith, p. 24.
41. Francis Beckwith, Baha’i (Bethany,
1985), pp. 20-21.
42. Ibid., p. 18.
43. Ibid., pp. 18-19.
44. Baha’i World Faith, pp. 20-28.
45. Abdu’l-Baha, Christ’s Promise Fulfilled
(Wilmette, IL: Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1978), p. 71.
46. For example, cf. Huschmand Sabet, The
Heavens are Cleft Asunder (Oxford, England: George Ronald,
1973), pp. 48-49.
47. Ibid., pp. 49-50.
48. Ibid., p. 49.
Mrs. Lorri MacGregor
Mr. Marvin Cowan
Dr. John Ankerberg
Dr. John Weldon
Copyright 2006, Ankerberg Theological Research Institute