Q: How do we guard against the emergence of fundamentalism within the Bahá’í community?

A: It think you have to have a very good sense of humour. And patience. Some people are very eager. And they sound enthusiastic, too enthusiastic. And then one’s got to get people to be able to look around things. Does it make sense? One has got the principle that Bahá’u’lláh says one should go back to the Texts. And we should base everything on the Revelation. But also on experience in life. One of the problems people sometimes fall into, sounds like fundamentalism. It is to say “Look! In this text Bahá’u’lláh says so and so, and that’s it. Finish!” But then they’ve forgotten that in another text Bahá’u’lláh says something else that means exactly the opposite. And you have to understand that, and see how the texts relate to one another, and think about things.

A fundamentalist temperamentally is someone who wants to stop you thinking. And of course that’s where a sense of humour comes in, because you say this is ridiculous. The way to stop getting into fundamentalism is to insist on thinking about things. Examine them. Remember what the Guardian wrote. I’ve heard some people say that independent investigation of truth is until you find Bahá’u’lláh; after that it doesn’t apply. But the Guardian has written that the Bahá’í Faith “enjoins upon its followers the primary duty of an unfettered search after truth...” So why, therefore, do you continue investigating truth after you have found Bahá’u’lláh? The answer is because you have the humility to recognise that you are a fallible human being and unless you keep thinking hard and investigating hard, you are not going to understand what Bahá’u’lláh said. You are going to misunderstand it, and that’s fundamentalism: misunderstanding and misapplying a Revelation and insisting that you are right.

Question asked of Mr. Ian Semple, former member of the Universal House of Justice – talk given by him in London 28 January, 2006