Wednesday, January 30, 2008

p22 NORM

A Strong Statement on NORM Politics
2008 Jan 30, 12 Sultan, 164 BE
"Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, 'Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the lord.'" (Matt 23:39)
He that comes to you in the name of the Lord, be that Lord Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, or Whoever, as long as that believer abides in God and the spirit of his world faith, that person is blessed. Betray that, and, Jesus promises us, His Christ Spirit will not be there. The resurrection will not come till then.
Several years ago I wrote about this saying of Jesus: "This is the the heart of all religions, the choicest ground of every philosophy, it is oneness, Agape." In view of the ground we have covered here in the past few days, I am coming to realize that this wonderful saying of Jesus built the very foundation of inclusivist religion, the faith that we Baha'is consider to be true kind. Glynn cites something Mohandis Gandhi said, no doubt inspired by Jesus' statement: "If a man goes to the heart of his own religion he has reached to the heart of the others too." (quoted in, God: The Evidence, 156) Lest we Baha'is forget, Baha'u'llah laid out the very same principle -- no, he broadens it -- in His last and crowning work, the "Crimson Book," the Kitab-i-Ahd, His Will and Testament:
"We fain would hope that the people of Baha may be guided by the blessed words: 'Say, all things are of God.' This exalted utterance is like unto water for quenching the fire of hate and enmity which smoldereth within the hearts and breasts of men." (Tablets, 222)
The Universal House of Justice, in its document "One Common Faith," says that the great truth that God is one and has only one faith, whatever its outward name and form, is not a fact that can be safely shunted aside. It must be set up as the basic assumption of interfaith discourse. Referring to its early letter to religious leaders, the House says in the Forward to this book,
"It was intimations of this truth that originally inspired the interfaith movement and that have sustained it through the vicissitudes of the past one hundred years. Far from challenging the validity of any of the great revealed faiths, the principle has the capacity to ensure their continuing relevance. In order to exert its influence, however, recognition of this reality must operate at the heart of religious discourse, and it was with this in mind that we felt that our letter should be explicit in articulating it." (OCF, ii)
Now the reason I say all this is that the more I read about modern atheism -- and their dueling partners, exclusivist believers, so-called fundamentalists -- the clearer it becomes that it will be impossible for me to avoid mentioning politics, however hard I may try. These people are heavily, heavily involved, not to say implicated, in politics. What am I to do? Baha'is are admonished not to "breathe a word" of politics.
For a Baha'i writing about this terrible situation -- and if you keep reading this blog in upcoming essays you will see how parlous the world's political crisis really is -- is to enter into a painful, contradictory position. It is not unlike that of Edmund Burke. Burke was regarded as a liberal and progressive statesman all his life, until he encountered an insurrection led by atheists, wolves in sheep's' clothing, who hypocritically robbed, exploited and murdered under a ruse, their noble slogan, "Liberty, fraternity and equality." The list of ten thousand innocent souls who were beheaded by the guillotine was not matched until fifty years later when the grandfathers of the present Islamo-fascists of Iran indulged in a bloodbath of suppression against the new Faith begun by the Bab. In the face of the rise of anti-theism, known at the time as anticlericism, Burke could not remain silent. He wrote a great deal about his contemporary brand of atheists that remains relevant today, and I plan to go into his insights at length in future.
Therefore before I write another word I want as both shield and prophylactic to write:
A Strong Statement on Baha'i Non-Involvement in Politics
Many learned Baha'is approach this issue narrowly, their superficial viewpoint formed by hints in certain statements of the Guardian about how events will play out in the future. They hold that the Universal House of Justice will one day be the world government, and that it will therefore have a political function.
Actually what the Guardian is doing is interpreting predictions in the Writings that as soon as those in power (and unless things change rapidly, that means none other than the unholy alliance of atheists and quasi-fundamentalists currently cowing both the White House and the Islamic world), as soon as they perceive that there is a real prospect that the Universal House of Justice can take political power into their hands, they will assume that they (the UHJ) will take it. Power mongers naturally assume that having the opportunity the UHJ will automatically do exactly what they would, that is, grab as much power as possible at the first opportunity. Hence the holy Writings predict that as soon as there is mass entry on a global level, they will begin shedding Baha'i blood around the world.
But hold on! The reason they will persecute and murder Baha'is is because of a mis-perception made into a cynical lie! Baha'is who go around saying that the UHJ will be the world government are not only wrong, they are inciting the enemies of truth to commit unjust violence against us. I assert in the strongest possible terms that there is _no way_ the Universal House of Justice could or would ever arrogate to itself a political function. Why not? Because the ban is clearly, permanently and unambiguously engraved in its founding document, the Kitab-i-Ahd. They have no authority even should they wish it to go against that, ever. The Book of the covenant starts off by abjuring His possession of any worldly power in the first place, saying,
"Although the Realm of Glory hath none of the vanities of the world, yet within the treasury of trust and resignation We have bequeathed to Our heirs an excellent and priceless heritage. Earthly treasures We have not bequeathed, nor have We added such cares as they entail." (Tablets, 217)
Trust and resignation are what Baha'is get, not political power. Political issues do not figure, the very word does occur.
Here is a brief story about that. A Baha'i messenger named Salman during the lifetime of Baha'u'llah was captured, along with a large pile of Tablets of Baha'u'llah. While in jail he overheard the suspicious captor complain that he had combed the letters carefully but found only prayers and supplications, not a word of politics in the whole lot. After a hundred years, such a thing still cannot be found, anywhere. For example, do a word search in Ocean of Baha'u'llah's Writings translated into English for the word "politics." It does not turn up.
So, in the Ahd, Baha'u'llah says quite truthfully that He owns no "vanities of this world." Not even power. Recall that God, speaking in the Kitab-i-Aqdas, had already taken power from kings and put it in the hands of the people. So it is hardly to be expected that He would bequeath what was already given away.
Lest there be any further doubt, Baha'u'llah a couple of paragraphs later in the Kitab-i-Ahd says,
"O ye the loved ones and the trustees of God! Kings are the manifestations of the power, and the daysprings of the might and riches, of God. Pray ye on their behalf. He hath invested them with the rulership of the earth and hath singled out the hearts of men as His Own domain." (Tablets, 220-221)
Re-affirming what He had written at the beginning of His mission in the Hidden Words, and later told world leaders directly in the Proclamation to the Kings, it is unambiguous: kings rule outwardly and God gets the lion's share, our heart. This is not exactly separation of church and state but, reflecting a preexistent gap between inner conscience and outer action, between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, this certainly draws a clear and permanent line between God's rule and the outer power of political leaders.
There is this line, and Baha'is are to accept the gift of trust and resignation, but that does not mean that Baha'u'llah forbids either goodwill or spiritual involvement in common ends. He orders believers to pray for as well as actively aid our kings and rulers.
"It is incumbent upon everyone to aid those daysprings of authority and sources of command who are adorned with the ornament of equity and justice."
Then in the following sentence He charges the entire leadership of the Baha'is, both rulers and learned, with a mission not of enforcing the authority or command that kings have, but of trusteeship of His command (and that command, just stated, is not to become embroiled in politics).
"Blessed are the rulers and the learned among the people of Baha. They are My trustees among My servants and the manifestations of My commandments amidst My people." (Tablets, 220)
Can it be any stronger than that? Let us try a mind experiment to test it out. Imagine the entire planet save one soul have become Baha'i. This goes against the principle of diversity, but for argument's sake let us assume such a thing happening. Imagine that everyone in the world begs the UHJ on bended knee to take over our outer political affairs, including the one non-Baha'i in the world. Would the House do it? Would the House be authorized to do it?
Absolutely not.
Baha'u'llah is very clear that they never do so, they have divine sanction never to do so. Such is the trusteeship handed down to both learned and rulers directly from Baha'u'llah in His Will and Testament.
That said, I agree that it is not precisely true to say that Baha'is sanction what is presently termed the separation of church and state. This, in the American context at least, is not so much a separation of powers as it is a permanent divorce causing ensconced secularism in the public realm. Secularism is a compromise, a truce upon among warring religious leaders and supported by non-religious leaders, many of whom were atheists. In the past decade the number of atheists has increased, as well as the stridency of their calls to expunge not only the truce but also end the consensus that support of religion, for example through tax exemptions, benefits society as a whole.
Anti-theists with their inherently bifurcating world view are very skilled at describing whatever involves divorce or separation. This is their element. I found that a term that they are using, "Non-overlapping Magisteria" (abbreviated, for some reason, to "NORM") describes the American divorce between religion and politics beautifully. The anti-theists, use NORM in a different context, to describe a complete divorce between science and religion -- magisteria describes the totality of scientific knowledge, which is deemed "non-overlapping," that is, to have absolutely nothing to do with the sum total of religious knowledge. This is their degraded, exclusivistic version of the Baha'i principle of harmony between science and religion.
NORM is the kind of superficial harmony that a married couple adopts when they agree to an "amicable" divorce.
I very much doubt that Baha'u'llah, by keeping even the word "politics" out of His Writings, intended NORM, for such would be an insane, artificial, arbitrary division. After all, during His lifetime He did commission Abdu'l-Baha to write both The Secret of Divine Civilization and, later, another statement clarifying the Baha'i position on politics. These were printed and widely distributed among the non-Baha'i leadership of Persia.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Evidence for God

Generic Faith

by John Taylor; 2008 Jan 28, 10 Sultan, 164 BE

Patrick Glynn, God: The Evidence; The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Postsecular World, Prima Publ., Rocklin, CA, 1997

The struggle between theists and anti-theists (I am dropping the terms "atheist" and "agnostic" for now, since neither credo is necessarily against God or religion) resembles one of those knife duels where two contestants have their wrists tied together with a short cord. They are in a bitter, life-or-death struggle, and the tie holding them together, the link that defines all their stratagems, is exclusivism. For the anti-theist, exclusivism permits the oldest ploy in the world, the "divide and conquer" approach; for the theist, exclusivism acts like a mighty wall to protect their beliefs from incursions by rival beliefs about God. If an inclusivist believer, such as a Baha'i, a Gandian Hindu, or a Kuhnian Christian, enters the scene, both knife fighters immediately turn and unite in discounting the validity of their claim to religiosity.

That said, I want to review Patrick Glynn's truly wonderful book, "God: the Evidence" today. As an inclusivist believer, I embrace this book wholeheartedly. Having read it, I feel that I am a better Baha'i than I was before I came upon it. I do not think a better positive argument for theistic belief could be put together by a Christian. If somebody has written such a book, I would like to know who it is. Unlike the other books I am reading, this one is positive, it sets up the positive grounds that an atheist has for believing in God. It does not attempt to defend religion, to uphold the Baha'i principle the Master called "Religion is a Mighty Bulwark." That job is undertaken by another book, which I am not finished reading yet, called "Is Religion Dangerous?" by Keith Ward. I shall review that one presently.

 It should not be surprising that both of our knife duelers, the fundamentalists and the crusading atheists, have agreed not to disagree long enough to condemn "God, the Evidence." They forget their own duel and come at it with knives flailing. As one atheist reviewer repeated over and over in his screed against "God: the Evidence," "There is no generic religion," "There is no generic religion." If he gives up his hold on that, religion would not be the force for evil that he tenaciously holds it to be; it might even be susceptible to change and improvement. The one Christian reviewer that I uncovered on the Web said that he was pleased that the atheist Glynn had found faith but that he prays that Glynn will come to realize that Jesus is the One and Only Lord, and On and On.

 It seems that the arbiters at Wikipedia agree with the knife fighters. While there are extensive articles on all of the opponents of theism, Patrick Glynn is not famous enough to merit a mention.

 The first chapter tells Glynn's own spiritual journey from atheist to theist, a trip that took decades to traverse. At the same time he tells of the rise to ascendancy and gradual fall of atheistic belief systems in several scientific disciplines, and how their failures in the realm of practical experience persuaded him that there must be more to belief in God than he had imagined in his youth. He estimates that sometime in the mid-Sixties atheism reached its high point; this was marked by the week when in 1966 Time Magazine plastered over its cover, "Is God Dead?" After that, it was gradually tried and found wanting.

 To mention only psychology, nineteen out of twenty psychiatrists at the time were atheists. Then, over the next couple of decades the scientific evidence began piling up that belief in God, far from being a symptom of mental illness, is in fact a fundamental component of mental health. Now Freudianism is all but discredited among shrinks. Family therapy witnessed an even swifter decline. In the early Seventies a book called "Open Marriage" was a bestseller, but five years later the test subjects acknowledged that consensual adultery had been a mistake, and the author essentially renounced what she had propounded.

 The next chapter, called "A not-so-random universe," talks about the rise of the anthropic principle in physics. In the early Seventies it was found that the constants on which the universe are constructed are very finely tuned; a tad out in either direction and there would be no life, the universe or anything. Atheists counter that this assumes that there is an array of little dials that God twiddles in order that we will come into existence. Be that as it may, as I was reading this I had a feeling that this would be unpersuasive to atheists. It was not even convincing to me, and I am a believer. It is too much of a stretch to use physical evidence to prove spiritual entities, much less God Himself.

 The next two chapters deal with physical and mental health, and here Glynn is on much firmer ground. He cites large numbers of broad-based statistical studies of the entire population. Unlike the anti-theist books I am reading, which rely very little on statistics, an apologist for theism can happily roll around in virtually all of the findings of social science. Anti-theists must, generally speaking, sit back and take potshots at the hotheads, the idiots and suicide bombers among people of faith in order to make their points.

 Truly, God seems to have engraved His image on us, for if we believe in Him the evidence is overwhelming that we are much healthier and happier than if we do not. Data continues to mount that we are less prone to addiction, suicide, divorce and other vices if God is actively involved in our lives, and especially if we express that actively in some kind of religious commitment. Perhaps surprisingly, it was even found that married women believers enjoy sex more than their sisters outside faith and the bonds of holy matrimony. This goes against what secular hedonists had held, that we are healthier if we put pleasure first and express natural desires without moral restraint.

 An anti-theist reviewer of this book, Michael Martin, although unconvinced himself, is forced to concede that moral standards, relatively speaking, sort of, maybe are needed for some people, some of the time,

 "Another dubious aspect of Glynn's argument is his thesis that immoral living -- by which he seems to mean sexual promiscuity in particular and rampant hedonism in general -- is conducive to unhappiness and psychological ill heath. As I have argued elsewhere, absolute moral standards are compatible with atheism. Here let me just say that Glynn wrongly assumes that atheists would have a problem embracing the thesis that uncontrolled hedonism leads to unhappiness and psychological ill health." <>

 It is one thing for an anti-theist to concede that some breeds of atheism are "compatible" with standards, and quite another to center your life upon the Absolute, to put moral standards first, before your desires, and to love God in your heart of hearts. It is difficult enough for ardent, conscious believers to accomplish this. Making reluctant concessions to what is essentially foreign to your deepest convictions is just not going to cut it. We are talking about a positive contribution of religion to social and personal stability, and if you are going to take it away you are going to have to show that you have something more effective to take its place. Otherwise you are taking a dangerous leap of faith, or in this case, of scientistic anti-faith.

 I should devote entire essays to each of the last two chapters of "God: The Evidence." These chapters, "Intimations of Immortality" and "Reason and Spirit," are required reading for anybody bold enough to enter into the arena where this knife battle is taking place. If you are in need of armor that a sharp weapon cannot penetrate, look no further.

 Reading "Intimations of Immortality" was for me a confirmation, a nostalgic, invigorating ... a wholly transforming experience. Words cannot express what it did for me. It changed me, confirmed me in faith, especially after reading so much dreary, hackneyed, hateful material against the God that I am absolutely in love with. When you are in love it is painful to see the name of your beloved dragged through the mud. You know that it is just a name and that He is untouchable, and you know that they know not what they do and all that, but the tears flow from your eyes unbidden and unstoppable. This chapter cleaned up His name for me, no, it purified it to a state of pristine clarity that it had not been in for decades, if ever.

 "Intimations of Immortality" is about near death experiences. Something like one in five patients who have a close brush with death report either an out-of-body experience or the full scale trip through a tunnel into the light. Many meet a holy figure, God, Krishna, Jesus, an angel or a relative (depending on their beliefs), and this Being reviews the moral quality of their entire life with them.

 One of these eyewitnesses -- and this is eyewitness testimony, one of the most direct and convincing forms of evidence for the historiographer -- reported something that still sticks in my mind: "Nothing is lost, not a single thought." Everything that passes through the brain is weighed in the balance and counts for something. That is what hit me so hard about this. There is no such thing as a discrete, private world under the aspect of eternity. Ever since I read that, I have been getting my act together, walking the talk, inside and out. Not a thought, not a thought has been out of line, or ever will be, if God confirms my faith.

 But along with the honey, a little vinegar must come. This scientific confirmation of the afterlife has not been met with enthusiasm among theists, committed as they are to exclusivism. An evangelical does not meet with enthusiasm the news that Jesus does not meet with everybody who dies to tell them how right their church really was, and point out to them the path to hell.

 I wish that I could say that Baha'is are wholly different, but such has not been the case in my experience. As a former atheist, I have always found this evidence for God to be utterly convincing, and I remember after I became a Baha'i I devoured avidly "Life after Life" and its successors. I remember being in Ottawa, where there were scads of young believers, and sharing my enthusiasm for the latest Life after Life book. We were at a restaurant and we went around the table. Of about eight youths, all of them agreed that this did not prove anything to them. They doubted that it means a thing.

 Like the anti-theist Michael Martin, they marked it down to some kind of inexplicable ESP. Man oh man, if the sworn testimony of one in five about the afterlife is not enough for you, well, all I can say is, go out and wait for Jesus to descend from the clouds, because nothing short of that is going to convince you. Here is how Martin, enemy of God, handles the argument in this chapter:

"Glynn does leap, but to which supernatural account he jumps is not altogether clear. Glynn seems to think that heterogeneous NDEs (near death experiences) can somehow be harmonized to support a type of generic religious belief and he speaks glibly of a core moral vision common to all major religions. But if there is one thing that the comparative study of religion teaches us, it is how different the moral -- not to mention the metaphysical -- visions of reality are in different religions. There is no generic religion. NDE cannot support Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism at the same time for in important respects these religions are inconsistent with one another. Independent of Glynn's misplaced hankerings for a generic religion, one thing is clear: he wants us to think that NDE supports belief in an afterlife."

I love this rationalization. He is absolutely forced to flee into the arms of his opponent on the other end of the cord that binds them, the exclusivist theist. If it were a video of a knife fight, the two of them would be in one of those Wild World of Sports highlights, a spectacular head over heels, flying-through-the-air crash right onto the point of both of their knives. Hit the rewind button -- he uses the word "generic" no fewer than three times. Count them, three times.

All I can say to Martin is, try attending a World Religion Day celebration. Here the common values of all faiths are paraded before you like holy strippers, stripping down to what an eyewitness would have to admit has to be something pretty close to the essentials of theistic belief. All we have to do is act upon our similarities by forming a parliament of religions. Oh, and do not worry, there is no reason that atheists and agnostics should not be invited too, though I doubt if the anti-theists among them will want to turn up at what would amount to their funeral.

I would like to get this review over and done with, but the final chapter, "Reason and Faith," seems so important that it stands on its own and only a full essay can do it justice. So that for next time, or whenever.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

United Philosophers

Bigthink Question; Extracting ourselves from Total Trebuchet

By John Taylor; 2008 Jan 27, 9 Sultan, 164 BE

A couple of days ago I came across a discussion on a journalist's blog of an initiative hoping to become a video website alternative to YouTube. Not the first to come up with that idea, that is for sure. Anyway, this is how the reporter introduces it:

"BigThink -- a video site with big ideas"

"Since its public launch a couple of weeks ago, a new video-oriented website and community called BigThink has been called everything from snobbish to `a YouTube for smarty-pants.'"


I checked this site out thinking that it might be a different place to upload the videos that I would like to make up to supplement the Badi' Blog. I found that it had been seeded with conversation-opening questions. The following question intrigued me and I cannot resist giving atheism a rest for a while and trying to answer it. Here is the question, placed under their category, "Faith and Belief":

 "Why is there not a "United Philosophers" or "United Religions" like the United Nations? If nations see the benefit of international cooperation, why is there not a forum where the major religious heads and the great thinkers of our time can congregate?  And if there is, why isn't anyone paying attention?" <>

 A couple of half-hearted answers follow, including this, by someone using the handle, "Prince of this World,"

 "I think great thinkers would be able to get together, but not the heads of major religions. They would not be able to come to any agreement, or make any progress, because they would not be able to go beyond the confines of their religion."

 Here is my response to all these questions,

 Baha'u'llah called for an "all-embracing assemblage of man," which would include religion, philosophy and every other area of human endeavor in a world governing body. He said that we should strive to work out "one common cause," with the foundation of a single religious heritage of all humans. Baha'is have made an effort to cooperate with other faiths, both locally -- mostly with World Religion Day, which just occurred -- and internationally. We made a first step in the direction of a "United Religions" with our participation in the periodic inter-faith meetings called the "World Parliament of Religions" and, just after 9-11, with an open letter written by the UHJ, the ruling body of the Baha'i Faith, to the leaders of the world's religions.

 As for a parliament of philosophers, there have been Ad Hoc summits of thinkers, including the Club of Rome and the international body of climate scientists that just shared the Nobel Peace prize with Al Gore, but the idea of an official, democratically elected, standing body of philosophers is intriguing and enticing. I am involved with a popular movement of amateur philosophers called, Socrates Cafe, which strives to seed the method of inquiry invented by Socrates at the grassroots level. One hopes that professional philosophers will begin to realize their responsibility to come together at all levels, especially the international level. It was a philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who drew up what he called a "sketch" of an international constitution. This turned out to be the first draft of the covenant of both the League of Nations and the present body, the United Nations. He did see philosophers playing an important role in what he called a "perpetual peace," but unfortunately the best his colleagues have done since then is malinger and dawdle. You cannot even say that they talk about forming such a body; there is much talk about morality in their, but the most ethical act a philosopher could ever do, form a world parliament of philosophers, escapes their attention.

 To be fair, the reason the elites do not make such initiatives is that there is no perceived need on the part of most people for any sort of broad-based international institutions.

 The climate crisis is rapidly changing that.

 The climate crisis means that everything we can conceivably do to survive using present outmoded thinking and institutions only exacerbates it. In chess this kind of quandary is called Zugzwang, or "move compulsion." We have to move, but every move we have leads to swift decline and fall. The best course would be to do nothing and tough it out, but the output of greenhouse gases is accelerating daily, so we no longer have that choice. The only way out is to change the rules of the game. The problem is that, lacking the virtues that religion and philosophy instill, there is splitting on all sides, and all sides are in Zugzwang. According to the Wiki article on Zugzwang, in chess such an extreme situation of reciprocal Zugzwang is called a Trebuchet. We are talking universal dispersal ending in total Trebuchet.

Before, this would inevitably have meant talk of revolution. But our bitter experience with history. Over past centuries revolutions of all kinds, from the French to the Iranian Revolutions, have made things worse for decades and centuries afterwards. This leaves a bitter taste in one's mouth. One of the most intelligent comments I have ever seen on revolutionary change and the need to keep it as non-violent and cerebral as possible, came from G.W. Leibniz in the 16th Century,

 "As for.. the great question of the power of sovereigns and the obedience their peoples owe them, I usually say that it would be good for princes to be persuaded that their people have the right to resist them, and for the people, on the other hand, to be persuaded to obey them passively. I am, however, quite of the opinion of Grotius, that one ought to obey as a rule, the evil of revolution being greater beyond comparison than the evils causing it. Yet I recognize that a prince can go to such excess, and place the well-being of the state in such danger, that the obligation to endure ceases. This is most rare, however, and the theologian who authorizes violence under this pretext should take care against excess; excess being infinitely more dangerous than deficiency." (excerpt from a 1695 letter from Leibniz to Baron J. C. Boineburg's son Philipp, in the Wikipedia article, "Leibniz")

 Leibniz's wisdom is all too apparent. We need revolutionary change, but not the violent kind. Who better to help with that than people of faith and philosophers? We can no longer afford leave idle these powerful areas of human endeavor. A United Philosophers and United Religions would seem to be our only hope to get us out of Zugzwang, to change the rules of the game and figure out how to form a perpetual peace.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Local Publicity

Is All for the Best?

By John Taylor; 2008 Jan 26, 8 Sultan, 164 BE

Dunnville has a small airport that was used to train fighter pilots in yellow Harvards and Yales during the Second World War. Our library has a Yale trainer prominently impaled on a cement post just outside its doors. When we moved here ten years ago the huge hangers of the old airport were being used as coops for a turkey farm, but soon some local businesspersons reopened it as an airport. Lately, a Chinese company opened up a flight school to train civilian airline pilots. It seems that aviation outside the military in China is non-existent. So our little town has been inundated by young, strong men, many of whom are skilled in pingpong at a level beyond my wildest dreams. This week a new contingent of four guys came in; one is a very good player, the best I have ever played. They asked me for help in locating an apartment, since they speak little English, so last night I bought a copy of the Dunnville Chronicle and cut out the classified "apartment for rent" section and gave it to four of them for their search.

 Looking over the remaining parts of the paper that I had bought, I was pleased to see that there were no fewer than three articles of interest mentioning the Baha'i Faith. The first was a report of Ron Speer's pilgrimage to Haifa, the third of three weekly installments, no less. You can read it online at:

 “Pilgrimage to Israel; Chronicle Columnist Ron Speer Reports from Israel,”


 The second article was a report of our local World Religion Day celebration last Sunday called, "World faiths united in protecting the Earth," written by the paper's reporter.

 The online version does not have the lovely pictures that you find in the printed edition. This meeting was ably hosted by Jim Millington (illustrious Badi' blog reader), and the Baha'i section was presented by his son, Jared.

 The third article was written by Betty Frost, a report of the talk and discussion that Peter Gardner and I presented this month on the proofs of deity. This can be read at:

 Since there is no way of knowing how long this article will remain available online, I include the full text below, followed by some comments.


 IS THERE A GOD, OR WHAT? By Betty Frost

 This intriguing question which has been before mankind since its earliest beginnings, was bravely tackled by two members of the Baha'i Faith - John Taylor of Dunnville and Peter Gardner of Wainfleet at the recent meeting held in the Garfield Disher Room of Dunnville's library. We were informed that the idea of an almighty Being, an infinite and supreme God is perhaps the most pervasive in the history of ideas. Mortimer Adler, an Aristotelian philosopher, wrote an introduction to the Encyclopedia Britannica's "Great Books" series about "The Great Ideas". It was a survey of the main thoughts of the greatest minds of Western science and philosophy. His conclusion was that God was the one concept that he had run into the most often.

 Taylor stated that as science has progressed over the past few centuries, the belief in God has been challenged. However, on a world-wide level, belief in God is by far the most frequently held conviction - well over 90 percent of human beings accept some kind of Supreme Being. This figure changes in wealthy, developed nations where lack of belief is more rampant. In fact a spate by of books by atheists has climbed the bestseller lists spawning many responses from defenders of theism. The speaker said that the belief in God seems to be in decline.

 The most damaging criticisms leveled by theists against religion is their claim that it is reactionary, anti-modernist and refuses to change in response to modern realities. In a book written by Baha'u'llah, Founder of the Baha'i Faith, entitled "The Book of Certitude", He speaks of how the Founders of religion have revealed laws and concepts progressively more advanced as man is able to accept them and put them into practice. It is called progressive revelation and shows how the major faiths are not mutually exclusive.

 `Abdu'l-Baha, son of Baha'u'llah travelled in Europe and America interpreting His Father's teachings, offering what could be called the `principle proofs" of the existence of God. One such principle is the search for truth. Each individual has a sacred duty to seek the truth for herself. Even though God is unknowable in any direct sense, He gives us virtual knowledge through His Manifestations (Founders of world religions).

 Another principle, the oneness of humanity, is the principle of God's love and kindness towards all. He created us and sustains us, and we have a duty to do the same for one another. When we seek truth, this is the first thing we discover, that we all are one, we find His Face in each other. We thus prove that God exists when we act upon a world level to help and nurture one another; we deny God when we neglect that.

 Some other fundamental principles urged by Baha'u'llah in this enlightened age are: the equality of men and women, the elimination of all types of prejudice, the promotion of universal education, the harmony between science and religion and a need for universal action in promoting peace.

 Towards the end of the evening John posed the following question to each member of the audience: "Is this the best of all possible worlds?" (Voltaire) Thinking of the terrible things which are happening in the world, no doubt, most answered "no". One replied -"yes, potentially". In thinking about it afterwards this writer felt that the answer should be "yes". If we were in charge of creating a human being, how could we improve upon what are certainly the innate qualities placed within every human being - the spiritual capacities of love, forgiveness, understanding, etc.; the perceptiveness and creativity of the mind so that man can build civilizations, discover the qualities which are hidden in the earth - - and how would we change for the better this incredibly complex creation, the earth?

 To those who claim that such creations are simply nature, one must say that nature is a captive to itself. The sun has to move in a certain way. Man overcomes nature's so-called "laws", for example, by flying. Those who are agnostics or atheists will often say "If there is God, why does He allow evil things to happen?"

 The only logical response is, I believe, that we have been given free will. It is a great gift and without it, we would simply be puppets. But free will is just that. We either have it or we don't. We can use our intelligence for the good of humanity or to destroy it. Either way, it demands the existence of intelligence and this presupposes that whatever is the cause of this creation is Intelligence itself - or the Creator, God.

 One further evidence is found in a book by C.S. Lewis (author of the Narnia tales). He refers to an accepted "moral code" which is within all of us. If we are accused of anger, for example, we know it is wrong; but we justify it: "He, she, makes me furious." Even criminals accept the idea of justice. In splitting the loot after a robbery, if it is not fairly distributed, the criminal will certainly take action. Where did this innate sense of a moral code spring from and why, when we don't do the right thing, do we try to justify our actions? Again, it must be pointed out that this is unseen guidance and it surely must come from God.

 Note from JET: It is my fault since this was given to me to proofread, but of course it was not Voltaire who put forward the "best of all possible worlds" thesis, it was G.W. von Leibniz (1646-1716); Voltaire, a deist, mocked Leibniz's idea incessantly. In the eyes of Europe, Leibniz articulated this but of course, as somebody at a Philosopher's Cafe I attended a few months ago pointed out to me, everybody who has ever believed in God accepts this implicitly. I plan to write at length about the "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds" idea in a future essay, or essays.

Friday, January 25, 2008

p13 Master Proof

The Master's Proof by Creativity

By John Taylor; 2008 Jan 25, 7 Sultan, 164 BE

"It is not good to have zeal without knowledge; Nor being hasty with one's feet and missing the way." (Prov 19:2)

I have been going on about how there is no proof in religion, only signs, miracles and confirmations. This in spite of the fact that I named my son "Hujjat," Arabic for proof, implying "Hujjatu'llah," proof of God. As a former atheist, proof of God's existence means that much to me. But that does not mean that I cannot be muddleheaded about it! Sure, there are proofs of God, just not in the modern English, scientific sense of the word. A proof of God is a very different kind of thing than a mathematical proof. Every discipline has its own criteria of proof, and divinity is no different. Anyway, today I want to look at the seminal proof that Abdu'l-Baha shared with a Western woman at the dinner table while He was still a prisoner in

Some Answered Questions is among the few pilgrim's notes that was read and approved by the Master, which elevated them to the status of authentic holy scripture for Baha'is. The following disquisition was chosen, probably by the compiler, but certainly with the approval of Abdu'l-Baha, as the second talk in this collection of dinner table talks. This indicates the prime importance that He placed on the question that we are investigating in these essays, the proofs of deity.

Although I have thought about what the Master says here for many years, I still am not sure what to call it. Sometimes I use the term "Via Negativa," but I just went over the definition in the Catholic Encyclopedia, and their theologian's definition seems much narrower in scope, more a technical term guiding the use of other technical terms than an independent proof of deity. Where is a historian of ideas when you need one? Anyway, I am considering referring to it as a "Proof by Creativity," or even, using His exact words (not here, but elsewhere), "No Kingdom Without a King." His use of the term "contingency" suggests a family resemblance to Avicenna's proof by contingency. I will have to study a lot more to be able say anything more about it, one way or the other.

I will not give any further comments of my own but will append after the text of His talk a selection of quotations alluding to aspects of this proof of deity.


from: `Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions
Proofs and Evidences of the Existence of God

One of the proofs and demonstrations of the existence of God is the fact that man did not create himself: nay, his creator and designer is another than himself. It is certain and indisputable that the creator of man is not like man because a powerless creature cannot create another being. The maker, the creator, has to possess all perfections in order that he may create.

Can the creation be perfect and the creator imperfect? Can a picture be a masterpiece and the painter imperfect in his art? For it is his art and his creation. Moreover, the picture cannot be like the painter; otherwise, the painting would have created itself. However perfect the picture may be, in comparison with the painter it is in the utmost degree of imperfection.

The contingent world is the source of imperfections: God is the origin of perfections. The imperfections of the contingent world are in themselves a proof of the perfections of God.

For example, when you look at man, you see that he is weak. This very weakness of the creature is a proof of the power of the Eternal Almighty One, because, if there were no power, weakness could not be imagined. Then the weakness of the creature is a proof of the power of God; for if there were no power, there could be no weakness; so from this weakness it becomes evident that there is power in the world.

Again, in the contingent world there is poverty; then necessarily wealth exists, since poverty is apparent in the world. In the contingent world there is ignorance; necessarily knowledge exists, because ignorance is found; for if there were no knowledge, neither would there be ignorance. Ignorance is the nonexistence of knowledge, and if there were no existence, nonexistence could not be realized.

It is certain that the whole contingent world is subjected to a law and rule which it can never disobey; even man is forced to submit to death, to sleep and to other conditions -- that is to say, man in certain particulars is governed, and necessarily this state of being governed implies the existence of a governor.

Because a characteristic of contingent beings is dependency, and this dependency is an essential necessity, therefore, there must be an independent being whose independence is essential.

In the same way it is understood from the man who is sick that there must be one who is in health; for if there were no health, his sickness could not be proved.

Therefore, it becomes evident that there is an Eternal Almighty One, Who is the possessor of all perfections, because unless He possessed all perfections He would be like His creation.

Throughout the world of existence it is the same; the smallest created thing proves that there is a creator. For instance, this piece of bread proves that it has a maker.

Praise be to God! the least change produced in the form of the smallest thing proves the existence of a creator: then can this great universe, which is endless, be self-created and come into existence from the action of matter and the elements? How self-evidently wrong is such a supposition!

These obvious arguments are adduced for weak souls; but if the inner perception be open, a hundred thousand clear proofs become visible. Thus, when man feels the indwelling spirit, he is in no need of arguments for its existence; but for those who are deprived of the bounty of the spirit, it is necessary to establish external arguments.

(Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, pp. 4-6)


"Thales of Miletus, the first of the Greek philosophers, declares: `Of all things that are, the most ancient is God, for He is uncreated. The most beautiful is the universe, for it is God's workmanship.'" (The New Story of Science, 154)

"By the work one knows the workmen." - Jean De La Fontaine, 1621-1695

"I have no knowledge of Thee, O my God, but that which Thou hast taught me whereby I might recognize Thy Self, a knowledge which reflecteth only my failure and sinfulness." (The Bab, Selections, 206)

"Should the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? Should the saw magnify itself against him that moveth it? as if a rod should move them that lift it up, or as if a staff should lift up him that is not wood." (Isa 10:15, Nev'im)

"What nature is, then, and the meaning of the terms `by nature' and 'according to nature', has been stated. That nature exists, it would be absurd to try to prove; for it is obvious there are many things of this kind, and to prove what is obvious by what is not is the mark of a man who is unable to distinguish what is self-evident from what is not. (This state of mind is clearly possible. A man blind from birth might reason about colours. Presumably therefore such persons must be talking about words without any thought to correspond." (Aristotle, Physics, 193a, p. 117)

"No man's understanding shall ever gain access unto His holy court. As a token of His mercy, however, and as a proof of His loving-kindness, He hath manifested unto men the Day Stars of His divine guidance, the Symbols of His divine unity, and hath ordained the knowledge of these sanctified Beings to be identical with the knowledge of His own Self." (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings, 49)

"The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that won't Believe."

-William Blake, Auguries of Innocence, 1803

“Why do they deny their Lord and Master?
They exist only through Him that is without form;
What, then, means their disavowal of their Sustainer?
This very denial of Him proceeds from Him,
This act is naught but a reflection from Himself!”

-Mathnavi of Rumi, Vol. 6, E.H. Whinfield, tr.


Thursday, January 24, 2008


The Sign of Jonah

By John Taylor; 2008 Jan 24, 6 Sultan, 164 BE

A careful reader of these essays will notice with feelings of frustration how I always begin to waver, wobble and finally wander completely off-track. My attention span, like Pooh's brain, is very small. But thank God now I have my beloved friend ePhilo to steer me back again. This is from our latest exchange.

ePhilo: "This is why I'm frustrated by your continued description of the God/No-God debate as something which doesn't concern Baha'is."

JET: "Oh, it concerns us alright. I just read in the Wiki article about proofs of deity that there are two kinds of theists, those who believe that God can be proven and those who, like atheists, hold that such a thing is impossible. We are in the latter camp, Christians tend to be in the former. The reason Baha'is stay silent while Christians are arguing, then, is that we agree that there can never be a proof, by definition. That does not mean that we do not care, or have nothing to say about it. It is possible to believe in God, even though we hold Him above conception, if you accept that through His mercy He sends perfect reflections, Manifestations, who stand in His place..."

For extraneous reasons, ePhilo also asked about the place of Jonah in the Baha'i teachings, but I could find nothing in the Writings themselves in a superficial search of the Ocean program, though I did find to my surprise that Baha'u'llah on His exile walked right by Nineveh and the traditional grave of Jonah. Maybe some of my readers, most of whom are much more focused and systematically learned than a flibbertigibbet  like myself, will be able to find something.

In any case, what I did find about Jonah in the Bible and the Qu'ran seems relevant to our discussion of the existence of God. Although I shared these quotes from the Bible and the Qur'an with ePhilo in bulk format already, I would like to reorder and re-arrange them into a more consistent argument.

We are all familiar with the story of the reluctant prophet Jonah, God calls him to warn the Ninevites, he shirks his duty, runs off in this medieval galley, gets shot out of a cannon -- no, wait, I am thinking of the Veggietales version. Anyway, he ends up in the belly of a whale -- Abdu'l-Baha, being shown a whale skeleton by Juliet Thompson in New York's museum of Natural History remarks, "That whale could swallow seventy Jonahs!"

On a not totally unrelated note, the atheist writer Thomas Paine cynically commented that being swallowed by a whale is not miracle enough, it would only be a miracle if Jonah had swallowed the whale. Do not be a pain, Paine, miracles are not proofs. Really, they are not. This explains why I made up that little mind experiment a few essays ago about the word "Jesus" being written in the sky. A determined skeptic could doubt such a sign, saying it is not enough, until "Jesus" were written on every atom of the universe, and even then he could continue doubting internally, as long as he had free will. Conversely a totally credulous believer could do the same with "There is no God" being written on every atom of the universe. We are all somewhere between these two extremes, total skepticism and total credulity. Safe to say, and just as well.

Atheists like Richard Dawkins love to solidify their position by defining faith as "belief in spite of all evidence to the contrary." In other words, the blind faith of a believer makes him, whether he admits it or not, that blathering idiot who would believe even if every atom in the universe had a big sign on it saying: "There is no God." Which is why this Baha'i at least feels uncomfortable when Christians and other believers try to adduce proofs that God exists. If you start walking down the path of "proving" that God exists, you only show that your belief in the Oneness of God has been compromised, and that is our greatest shield against doubts of all kinds.

It seems to me that the miracle in the Book of Jonah never did have anything to do with the whale. The miracle came when he repents, gets spat up by the whale, decides to obey the call of God and finally he does warn the Ninevites. When he does, to his surprise (and, yes, dismay) they actually heeded the warning! Who'da thunk? People are dumb, they would rather die than admit they are wrong. But hey, these people, given a choice between carrying on and meeting certain death, well, they made the right choice.

This was a miracle according to my favorite definition of a miracle; a miracle is "anything that turns the soul towards conscious acceptance of God and God's Will." Note that it does not "prove" anything. A proof is something that must follow, and this is a question of will, of acceptance, it is a decision. God's will is going to be done anyway, if we accept it or not. As the Bab's prayer says, "All are His servants and all abide by His bidding." As the prayer of Jesus says, "Thy will be done, on earth as in heaven." If the Ninevites had said `No, we would rather die than change,' they would have fallen quicker than they did, but their city today is in any case yet another ruin on the banks of the river Tigris.

Jesus upped the stakes of Jonah's story, as Luke 11:29-30 recounts,

"When the multitudes were gathering together to him, he began to say, "This is an evil generation. It seeks after a sign. No sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah, the prophet. For even as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will also the Son of Man be to this generation."

 First of all, note that Jesus is not talking about proofs. Proofs have nothing to do with it. He is talking about a sign, an indicator, a pointer -- in computer programming a pointer is often used in place of an actual program. Windows users are familiar with this: if you delete what it terms a `shortcut' you are not deleting the original file or uninstalling a program, you are just deleting a pointer. You can have a million pointers scattered all over your desktop and you can alter them, rename them, give them different icons, or you can delete them all, but the thing pointed to is not affected in the slightest. The program abides, just as the prayer says of the Will of God, "All abide by His bidding," "Thy will be done." That is what a sign is, it is a virtual proof that, from our point of view, stands for but does not take the place of wherever it is that God lives, or abides.

 Specifically, the sign the Jews were looking for was the Messiah, a conquering savior who would come and liberate them from Roman overlordship. And recall that Jesus did conquer the Roman Empire, just not in the outward way that they hoped for and expected. They wanted a political solution, a nationalist leader like, well, Hitler or Genghis Khan. The only sign they got was that of Jonah. Jonah's "sign" to the Ninevites said that they must stop the way they were going, repent, and submit to God, or else face imminent destruction. The fall of Jerusalem happened only a few years after Jesus had been crucified. In the face of that total destruction, the Jewish Faith reformed itself, it got rid of Temple priests and went over to rabbis and synagogues, and ceased its persistent political, nationalist agitation. But the message of Jesus spread across the Roman Empire.

 There is more I should probably say about that, but I want to rush on to the Surih of Jonah, the tenth book of the Qur'an. It says in the 96th verse,

 "Those against whom the word of thy Lord hath been verified would not believe- Even if every Sign was brought unto them,- until they see (for themselves) the penalty grievous." (Qur'an 10:96, Yusuf Ali tr)

 The fact is that never in history has any people, no matter how rational, reasoned out the way to get ahead. For a skeptic there is no proof, never can be. The vast plains of Asia are scattered with the ruins of past cities and civilizations that fell because they did not recognize what had to be done to survive. You do not have to look far to see a more impressive example. Climate change deniers, who, in the words of Paul, hold their religions in their wallets, are willing to be skeptical until doom is printed on every atom of the universe before they will eat crow and admit that global solutions are our only way to survive.

 And note what it says: "Even if every sign was brought," that would be our skeptic who denies the word "Jesus" printed on every atom of the universe. Nor is the God of the Qur'an talking about atheists and honest skeptics, undoubtedly He is talking about so-called fundamentalists, so-called believers, wolves in sheep's clothing who in their hearts are total skeptics, who go for outer power using religion for their own ends. These are the tares among the wheat. These were the nationalist agitators whose incessant rebellions caused the Romans to lose patience and crush Jerusalem.

 Recall that Jesus had stood on the hill over Jerusalem, seen what was about to happen, and shed tears for His "chicks" that He would have gathered under his wing. Nineveh was quite the reverse, the people heeded the "sign" and Jonah, out of spite, afterwards had shed tears of frustration that they had saved themselves. God had proven Himself right, and Jonah was still angry that he was dead wrong about the worthiness of his prophetic calling. This is now called "cognitive dissonance." Humans hate being proven wrong, and deny or ignore every evidence that they were mistaken. God, in the Qur'an, seems to be commenting on this when it continues,

 "Why was there not a single township (among those We warned), which believed,- so its faith should have profited it,- except the people of Jonah? When they believed, We removed from them the penalty of ignominy in the life of the present, and permitted them to enjoy (their life) for a while." (Qur'an 10:98)

 There was an incident in the flight of Muhammad (I shared Balyuzi's full account of it with ePhilo) where a Christian slave from Nineveh meets the Prophet, Who says something innocuous like, "Oh yes, Ninevah, the place where my brother prophet, Jonah, lived." The Christian falls to His feet and believes, in spite of the contemptuous comments of his master, who says, "Your religion is better than His..." It seems clear that this Christian had Jesus' warning about the "sign of Jonah" in mind, and seeing the persecution of Muhammad, plus His radiant personality, renounced all skepticism.

 As it says in the quote above, Ninevah was the only place in history where a prophet came and the people actually listened to him. Jesus Himself had confirmed this when He said, "A prophet is not without honor save in his own country." And, hey, Jonah was not from Nineveh, they were a foreign, contemptible people in his mind. Why should he care about them? Yet to prove something to Jonah, God made the only exception in history to the rule. In Jonah's case there was a cross-cultural transference of truth, as with Christianity. Thus the sign of Jonah for Jesus was that His message went beyond Palestine. The Qur'an continues,

 "If it had been thy Lord's will, they would all have believed,- all who are on earth! wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe! No soul can believe, except by the will of God, and He will place doubt (or obscurity) on those who will not understand." (Qur'an 10:99-100)

There are no proofs, just signs that we can pay attention to or ignore at our peril. It is and always has been an act of will to believe. Signs that it was the right thing to do come afterwards, confirmations that the decision was right or wrong, but let there be no mistake, either way, the judgment of God is on us. Truth is truth, whether we say "Thy will be done" or not.

Jonah did the will of the Lord, he presented the warning to the Ninevites. Then he went up on the "east side" (the east is where the sun comes from) and sat on a hill to look down on the city to see what happens to them -- which of course was nothing, since they had heeded and repented. His anger seethes.

"Yahweh God prepared a vine, and made it to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to deliver him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the vine. But God prepared a worm at dawn the next day, and it chewed on the vine, so that it withered." (Jonah 4:6-7, WEB)

Hot sun and wind blow on Jonah so hard the next day that at the end of it he faints dead away. It is necessary that a prophet suffer, for the greatest men suffer most. Jonah has hit his limit and gone beyond. Like Job, in his extremity he curses his own life (a believer in God knows that there is no point in doubting God, the source of all being, but does so indirectly by cursing his or her own existence). This, the God who says "Choose life," disapproves of, but there is a purpose behind the lesson.

"(Jonah) requested for himself that he might die, and said, `It is better for me to die than to live.' God said to Jonah, `Is it right for you to be angry about the vine?' He said, `I am right to be angry, even to death.' Yahweh said, `You have been concerned for the vine, for which you have not labored, neither made it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night. Shouldn't I be concerned for Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle?'"

A footnote in my edition explains that a person who cannot tell between right and left hands was understood to be a child.

It all boils down to love.

God, the creator, loves all His creatures, especially the innocents, the poor and the children, and even the animals, for these go down when the ones in a position to decide make the wrong choice. Yet we, from our limited individual perspective, minimize that greater love and get petulant only over what affects our interests directly, in this case a vine sheltering Jonah from death by exposure under the naked sun. His selfish huff proves itself self-contradictory right away, because soon afterwards, Jonah, a spoiled child, asks to die. If he wants to die, why was it so bad for God to take away the vine? Jonah learns on that high hill that God loves all His creatures, even if they live in a strange place and a foreign land.