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Hereditary Successors

Oct 01, 1995 11:09 PM
by K. Paul Johnson

This week I received my first copy of Venture Inward, the
magazine of the Association for Research and Enlightenment,
which I joined a few weeks back. It contains some rather
startling news that relates to a theme I've contemplated in
relation to Baha'i, Theosophy, Radhasoami, and other traditions.

The headline is "A.R.E. shifting to team management." I quote:

The Board of Trustees has approved a "new paradigm" plan to
invest top administrative authority at A.R.E. in an executive
team instead of a single administrator. This structural change
eliminates the positions of president, held by Charles Thomas
Cayce since 1977, and chief executive officer, vacant since
Edwin Johnson departed last March. In their place will be an
executive team of three directors plus Cayce, in his capacity
as president of the Edgar Cayce Foundation.

It goes on to say that CTC helped plan the transition. This is
extremely important in that it marks the end of hereditary
successorship in the ARE presidency-- by abolishing the
office. In joining ARE I had worried about precisely this
issue because it has been troubling elsewhere. TS President
Radha Burnier is daughter of a previous president, and ran
against her own aunt, sister of the previous president in
question, and widow of an earlier one. At present it appears
that she will be unopposed for
life. This gives the appearance of dynastic succession, and is
similar to the way the Nehru/Gandhis became royalty manque in
an officially democratic state.

In the case of Baha'i, hereditary succession is at the root of
the most troubling and divisive issue in its history--
"covenant-breakers." Baha'u'llah, allegedly omnisicient, and
his son `Abdu'l Baha developed a model of the "Covenant" that
relied upon a hereditary succession of leadership. At many
points in history, sibling rivalry created power
struggles resulting in excommunications. Finally, the expected
future succession of Guardians ended due to the childlessness
of the first and only Guardian. I can only wonder why
Baha'u'llah would design, and his son further define, a future
religious succession through a family that was destined to
experience such a series of divisions and disappointments.
Clear foresight would seem to have been lacking, and a
hereditary model for Baha'i administration was chosen due to its cultural
ubiquity rather than its inherent appropriateness.
Shi`a Islam, perhaps especially the Isma`ilis, has been marked
by frequent violent power struggles involving family domination
and religious succession. The Sunnis have been much more
stable by avoiding the issue to some degree.

In short, I am encouraged to see ARE consciously and
deliberately choosing to end its dynastic succession, something
that in the case of Baha'is was brought about by unconscious
and accidental factors. OTOH it is not so encouraging to see
the TS as an example of the emergence of such dynastic motifs
in an organization which had not had them heretofore.

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