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Book Review - Charles Mason Remey and the Bahá'í Faith

Charles Mason Remey and the Bahá'í Faith

Francis C. Spataro

Tover Publications, The Remey Society.  80-46 234 St., Queens, NY 11427-2116. 2003; 40 pages (paperback). $15.  ISBN 0-9671656-3-6.

Reviewed by Ron Burks, Ph. D.

Mr. Spataro’s account of Remey’s life borders on adoration. Spataro’s intensity is, of course, not shared by the current leadership of the Faith.

The back cover tells the reader that Spataro, a high school teacher, was first introduced to the Faith by followers of Remey in 1976. For three years he researched the life of Remey and others who follow what they call the “Orthodox Bahá'í Faith.”  He gives an economical but clear history of the Faith up to the time of his writing, 1987.

For Spataro, the “apostolic period” of the Faith began in 1863 when Mirza Husayn Ali, (1817 – 1892) exiled son of the Persian prime minister, was living in Baghdad. Spataro said he was recognized by “Moslems, Jews, Zoroastrians, Hindus, Buddhists and Christians” as Jesus Christ returned to earth. His disciples called him Bahá'u'lláh, the glory of God on Earth. For Spataro, the apostolic period ended when Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, Bahá'u'lláh's great-grandson died in 1957 without a will specifying who should be the next guardian of the Faith.

Spataro compares what happened next to the violation of God’s covenant that occurred in early Islam when certain Muslim elders set aside the wishes of Mohammed that his son-in-law Ali be his successor. In 1963, the institution of guardianship, set up by Bahá'u'lláh's son was set aside by the “Hands of the Cause” and, according to Spataro, an “unduly elected” “International House of Justice” abrogated the guardianship completely.

Remey, appointed by Shoghi Effendi himself in 1951 as the President of the International Bahá'í Council, led a minority of the membership against the “Hands of the Cause,” who decided they should simply carry on the Faith without a guardian, utilizing the democratically elected local, national and international “Houses of Justice” as the final word on matters not specified in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh.  Spataro condemns all this implying a will was unnecessary and that Remey was the legitimate and duly designated Sacred Head or Second Guardian.

Forced into “exile” in the Florentine suburb of Fiesole,  Remey lived out his life branded as a defector, who, after losing lawsuits, was publicly unable to use the term “Bahá'í. Those who followed him called the new group, “The Abha World Faith: the Orthodox World Faith of Bahá'u'lláh.” His followers consider The Bahá'ís of Haifa “usurpers.”

Spataro is not content to leave the story there. He adds a final chapter as a sort of olive branch that asserts all “Bahá'ís” agree that Bahá'u'lláh is the “Lord of the New Day,” regardless of their view of the present administration.

Precious few details of Remey’s early life are given. The book feels like it is a mercilessly cut-down version of a longer work, skipping sometimes in mid sentence from one thought to another. The story of Remey’s conversion in 1899 at age 25 out of the anti-hierarchy Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement is astonishingly short of detail. Spataro instead focuses on the “firmness and devotion to the cause” of those who were Remey’s early instructors.

Spataro asserts that Remey’s spiritual pedigree before the Oxford Movement led back through both parents to the Pilgrims and the Huguenots, giving him “the unadulterated, reformed tradition coming directly from both John Calvin and the Puritans.” This appears to be groundwork for the author's later assertion that Remey should have been recognized as the Guardian of the Faith.

Spataro discusses the history of Presbyterian Millenarianism as espoused by Edward Irving in the 1830s, though he does not document a direct connection between Bahá'í Faith and Irving. Spataro does connect Irving to Sun Myung Moon in an apparently positive reference. He does not directly give the reader insight into the relevance of this to the Bahá'í Faith or Remey’s memory but he seems to imply that Moon is on the right track, as Remey was when he found the Bahá'í Faith.

Despite the book's many deficiencies, it sheds a bit of light on the complaints of some Bahá'ís.  Bacquet (2001), for example, says:

The Bahá'í Faith clearly lacks many of the features that are usually associated with dangerous cults. It does, however, include some doctrines and practices that put it closer on the “cult-like” end of that continuum than even most conservative religious groups, and that are starkly at variance with its tolerant public image.  It does not, for example, have a living, charismatic leader, but it is governed by an elected body that is believed to be endowed with divine guidance and that cannot be challenged. While outright exploitation is rare, Bahá'ís are encouraged to make considerable voluntary personal sacrifices for the good of their faith.  Unlike cults that insulate their members from outside influences, Bahá'ís do not consider the rest of the world evil, and in fact are encouraged to mix among people of various faiths. However, the existing governmental systems of the world, including Western democracy are considered inferior to the system of Bahá'í governance and doomed to eventually go by the wayside.  Bahá'í institutions also express fears over external threats, especially those that might endanger the religion’s reputation. This is often given as a reason for the careful screening of publicly-available information. More marked, however, and perhaps the most “cult-like” aspect of Bahá'í belief and practice is the fear of internal enemies that threaten to disrupt the religion’s unity and undermine its self-definition as the agent of mankind’s salvation.

Charles Mason Remey and the Bahá'í Faith seems intended primarily to encourage the followers of Remey’s “orthodox” group. It is not likely to have changed the minds of any of the “Haifa” Bahá'í, the largest of the Bahá'í organizations. It is not a clear presentation or defense of Ali, or Bahá'u'lláh as the return of Christ on earth. Nor is it a clear articulation of debates within Bahá'í, as is the Bacquet article cited above.  It is an interesting window into one side of a controversy in a very large new religious movement that has been severely persecuted in the Moslem world and little known in the West.

Reference

Bacquet, Karen. (2001). Enemies within: Conflict and control in the Bahá'í community.  Cultic Studies Journal, 18, 140-171.

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