Our Daily Bread: the Sanctity of Life

Today’s white slice of wisdom comes from The Tabernacle of Unity, a compilation of works of Bahá’u’lláh published in 2006. It advises Bahá’ís on the extent to which they ought to value human life:

O servants! This nether world is the abode of demons: Guard yourselves from approaching them. By demons is meant those wayward souls who, with the burden of their evil deeds, slumber in the chambers of oblivion. Their sleep is preferable to their wakefulness, and their death is better than their life.

What value, then, should be put on human life? It is well-known that Bahá’u’lláh was not against the death penalty, or even cruel punishment:

Should anyone intentionally destroy a house by fire, him also shall ye burn; should anyone deliberately take another’s life, him also shall ye put to death. —Kitáb-i-Aqdas

There’s no deterrent like execution, or better yet, a painful execution.

It seems fair to suggest that Bahá’u’lláh adopted the Islamic standard with regard to corporeal punishment, but would Bahá’u’lláh also advise that anyone authoritatively judged as a “demon” (say, a covenant breaker) be put out of their misery? Would Bahá’u’lláh also adopt an Islamic standard in that regard?

After all, their death is better than their life. Right?

To address this question, we might inquire whether Bahá’u’lláh might have ever ordered the assassination of an enemy. He had certainly been accused of such an act, but—not surprisingly—he claimed to be innocent of the crime.

3 comments on “Our Daily Bread: the Sanctity of Life

  1. Amanda says:

    Wow, that is a really intense passage from Baha’u’llah. Thank you for posting it. I think it is quite clear when you compare the structure of the legal thinking in the Aqdas to an Islamic standard (although, of course there are multiple “schools” of Islamic legal thought) that the Baha’i legal approach is hardly new. And there are some alarming strains within it.

    Thanks for putting this out there!


  2. Dan Jensen says:

    Thanks Amanda,

    Good point. There are and have been many schools of Islamic thought (legal or otherwise), and to say the obvious, Islam, taken at its worst, is not the only religion/culture to have a history of capital and inhumane punishment, whether of murderers, enemies, or heretics.

    I’d like to think it’s a question of flexibility, for Islam and the Baha’i Faith. Can they rise above the cultural trappings of their founders?

  3. Amanda says:

    Hi, Dan.

    I think you raise a really good question about whether or not the followers of any religion can rise above the cultural trappings and rigidity of their founders. I think they can, but I think doing that requires a willingness and ability to explicitly do your own moral reasoning. There are so many Christians, for example, who openly critique some of the more inhumane elements of the Bible and create their own tradition based on what they discern to be good. I think that process happens in any non-fundamentalist approach to any religion. But people get trapped when they insist on the infallibility of their particular “source.” They start to see it as a matter of obedience because good has been located outside of themselves, and the ability to discern good has been located outside of themselves. It reminds me of an exercise I had to do when I was learning techniques to work with visually impaired students. To “get” what it was like to navigate the classroom without eyesight all of the teachers were blindfolded and had to rely on a guide to lead us around the room. The experience of being led into table corners and furniture by inattentive guides made us more sensitive to more effective ways to assist students through their physical environment. By way of analogy, I think that the fundamentalist obedience model of morality puts all people in the role of the blind student, who has to rely on an external guide to be their eyes. The problem, of course, is that human beings are not morally blind. But in order to participate in the fundamentalist model of belief, you have to feign moral blindness consciously or unconsciously. You have to convince yourself you are blind to follow.

    I think it’s in this position that humanity becomes subjugated to our idea of infallible sources of truth. I have thought about the ringstone symbol in this vein since leaving the Baha’i Faith- it couldn’t be more clear that in that paradigm human beings have no direct access to good or truth, and are shown our position in relationship to the hierarchy. I don’t think it’s good.

    The ironic thing to me is that even the people who insist that they are not the decision makers about what is right and wrong, and must rely on what they are told externally about it through some fundamentalist system are still just “voting with their feet.” They are asserting and assenting to a particular value system, but insisting that they aren’t. But the reality is they are constructing their beliefs about what is right and what is wrong just as directly as the non-fundamentalists who admit they are doing it.

    Tricky stuff.

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