Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Wayfarer (promo trailer)

ull version available, visit:

Sin as Debt, Debt as Sin

Reader feedback, Sin as Debt

By John Taylor; 2008 Dec 1, 8 Qawl 165 BE

Yesterday we broached the subject of the crash and economic quagmire. Lynnea in response, wrote:

"Thank you, John. I've been puzzling about the economic and spiritual situations and very much welcomed your thoughts. Rather than passively sitting back and waiting and worrying, on a personal level I need to ensure my finances, from household expenses to Huquq', are in good spiritual order with as little debt as possible. Still got a mortgage. I'm glad your children are young enough to learn from your example!"

Another reader, Sen, wrote,

"Be of good cheer. The world economy has in fact been lifting millions of people out of abject poverty every year. It could do better, perhaps much better, but the improvement requires not so much a better economic theory as more political will."

I ended the essay with the question: "To what extent is our ignorance a matter of sin, a wilful affront to God, as opposed to a lack of technical know-how?" In response to this question, evidently, Sen wrote:

"I don't see anything inherently sinful about ignorance of economics. There are matters, such as medicine, that are inherently complex and in which we should consult the expert and follow a prescription. Mere intelligence is not sufficient - as Chomsky shows. One has to actually go to school and study the subject, to be able to distinguish the good doctor and the plausible prescription from the quacks."

I am glad you brought that up, Sen, because the role of sin in economics is just what I wanted to talk about next. Sin may not be the same thing as ignorance, but it certainly is wrapped up in it. Sin leads to ignorance, and ignorance compounds sin like a runaway credit card debt. For example, nations today are permanently owe money to the tune of trillions of dollars; even when the taxes we pay are not eaten up by interest payments to private lenders, a sizeable percentage still is burned up paying down huge government debt.

This may not be a sin in itself, but let us not forget that throughout history the position of religion on this matter was not a neutral one. Usury was strongly discouraged if not strictly forbidden. For example, the following Psalm says,

"Yahweh, who shall dwell in your sanctuary? Who shall live on your holy hill? (he) ... who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and doesn't change; He who does not lend out his money for usury, nor take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be shaken. (Ps 15:1, 4-5, WEB)

As for Christianity, the entire sixth chapter of the Book of Matthew is devoted to money matters, the giving of charity and how to make financial matters not only more ethical but actually a major spiritual expression. For example, in the Lord's Prayer Jesus has us ask: "And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." (6:12, KJV) Today this is more often translated "forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others." Both renderings are correct because in the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus the same word is used for both "sin" and "debt."

The Qur'an similarly forbids usury (2:274-280 3:128-134, 4:160-162) and, like Jesus, equates sin with debt,

"Allah does not bless usury, and He causes charitable deeds to prosper, and Allah does not love any ungrateful sinner." (Qur'an 2:276, Shakir)

Note that this also suggests that charity and almsgiving are more effective ways to general social prosperity than the present split between slavery to debt payments on one side and idle, leach-like income based on living off interest on the other. Baha'u'llah, in the Ishraqat, points to what was certainly the intent of earlier laws against usury, discouraging excess and instability while encouraging kindness, prudence, temperance, sobriety and simple moderation in financial matters.

"Many ecclesiastics in Persia have, through innumerable designs and devices, been feeding on illicit gains obtained by usury. They have contrived ways to give its outward form a fair semblance of lawfulness. They make a plaything of the laws and ordinances of God, but they understand not.

"However, this is a matter that should be practised with moderation and fairness. Our Pen of Glory hath, as a token of wisdom and for the convenience of the people, desisted from laying down its limit. Nevertheless We exhort the loved ones of God to observe justice and fairness, and to do that which would prompt the friends of God to evince tender mercy and compassion towards each other. He is in truth the Counsellor, the Compassionate, the All-Bountiful. God grant that all men may be graciously aided to observe that which the Tongue of the One true God hath uttered. And if they put into practice what We have set forth, God -- exalted be His glory -- will assuredly double their portion through the heaven of His bounty. Verily He is the Generous, the Forgiving, the Compassionate. Praise be unto God, the Most Exalted, the Most Great.

"Nevertheless the conduct of these affairs hath been entrusted to the men of the House of Justice that they may enforce them according to the exigencies of the time and the dictates of wisdom." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets, 133)

John Taylor


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thinking about the Crash

Are we in for Seven Lean Years?

By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 29, 7 Qawl 165 BE

I have been sitting on an essay about debt for quite a while, held back by the fact that the more I think about it, the weaker my grasp of finances seems to get. How to write about what perplexes and befuddles you? Yet as an aspiring Baha'i I abide under a divine dictate to be "anxiously concerned" about the times I am living in. Surely it would be remiss to let the collapse of world-embracing financial institutions go by without comment.

My desire to deal with economics is not all my doing. Thomas of late has often been dunning me with the question, "What is money?" No doubt the financial meltdown is being discussed in his Grade Four class. Silvie, in Grade Nine, is asking, "Is there going to be a Depression?" I dread both questions because I honestly do not know. Money and markets and economics have always mystified me.

Yesterday I spent a long time trying to write an essay on another topic, but could not finish because of a migraine. That night I went to sleep and dreamed that I was in a shifting game, an enterprise or negotiation of some kind involving money. Strangely, my opponent was a little friend of my nine-year-old son Thomas (not an actual friend that I can name, a new one) and at one point I said to him, "I owe you a hundred and fifty dollars." The game continued for a long time after that; at times he would owe me, other times I owed him. We stopped and later on he came up to me with a note from his parents saying, "You said that you owe our son a hundred and fifty dollars. Please pay up." The dream ended there, with me feeling aggrieved that I should be taken into account in this way. I should owe only the final tally in the game, not what I owed the kid at one point. So now I take this as a sign that I should forget my flaws and limitations and just write about economics and get it over with. I may fall on my face, but I find that I fail miserably I always learn by writing about it, even if it is not of the best quality.

Everybody is talking about this financial collapse but every expert that I listen to has a different analysis and a different diagnosis. Each sounds more convincing than the one before -- this sounds just like the scenario that Baha'u'llah talks about in His letter to Queen Victoria: one very sick patient, the world, with many doctors crowding around, each with a different diagnosis and a contradictory prescription. The Divine Physician meanwhile, is crowded out and ignored by one and all.

Thomas has been asking me what money is so endlessly that I finally relented. We all sat down watched once more the Internet video "Money as Debt," that I ran across last summer and wrote about in the following essay:

Another talk in which mention the money as debt problem is:

Workplace Constitution, IV; 2008 July 03, 10 Rahmat, 165 BE

This time around I looked deeper into the footnotes to the film to be found at the "Money as Debt" website. Briefly, the thesis in this film and website is that the reason we are in such trouble right now is that both governments and individuals have unquestioningly handed control over the money supply to private hands. Even as the system collapses and American hegemony is threatened, nobody seriously considers that there might be an alternative to private banks and lending institutions. The U.S. government just handed over hundreds of billions of dollars to some of their worst-run institutions.

The monetary reformers who inspired this film are suggesting that we consider the possibility of using alternate ways of creating money through credit, such as using publicly-owned infrastructure as "collateral" for lending, rather than handing it to private financiers and their corporate lackeys. Decisions that affect the public should be in public hands, they say.

In several essay instalments after the above-mentioned July 3rd essay I explored the possibility that the Master in His talk in Montreal to the socialists was proposing just such an alternative to private lending institutions. Abdu'l-Baha's "community storehouse" idea is a communally-owned, locally run institution with first access to local resources and taxation. It is tasked with equalizing personal income over good times and bad.

The name "storehouse" suggests that He had in mind biblical precedents, such as Joseph's interpretation of Pharaoh's dream suggesting that he use seven "fat years" to fill a storehouse in preparation for a coming famine of "seven lean years." His proposal, then, is not to be confused with either welfare or a guaranteed annual income. He sees the aged and disabled cared for by this body unconditionally, but every able person capable of a career would be invested in and given credit by the storehouse. This would assure that the locality benefits from locally generated prosperity, and tide all workers over during hard times.

At the same time, unlike clumsy centrally-run welfare schemes, the Master's storehouse would not encourage a sense of entitlement or prop up unproductive workers with uneconomical careers over the long term. Presumably, if a local storehouse bungles or for other reasons resources prove insufficient to support the population, the storehouse could go bankrupt, unlike a government; in that case, the population of the locality would be reduced, a city would become a town or a town a village.

George Monbiot has been pointing out in his books and a recent column that the economic genius John Maynard Keynes suggested a similar idea for the international order just after the Second World War at the Breton Woods economic summit.

"He proposed a global bank, which he called the International Clearing Union. The bank would issue its own currency - the bancor - which was exchangeable with national currencies at fixed rates of exchange. The bancor would become the unit of account between nations, which means it would be used to measure a country's trade deficit or trade surplus." (Clearing Up This Mess,

This International Clearing Union would have ensured that both lenders and debtor nations have an interest in making debt and loans among themselves as light and temporary as possible. Instead, the powerful American delegation set up the present "world" bank, where all debts must be paid in American dollars. This makes the US dollar the de facto world currency, just as English is the unofficial world language. This, combined with veto power over the World Bank and WMF, assures that no matter how heavily the US sinks into debt, it will never be forced into the onerous cutbacks that the World Bank requires of poor nations.

The present financial meltdown recently forced outgoing US President Bush to hold a summit on how to reform the present order. But, as always, real structural change is kept way off the agenda.

"On Saturday the leaders of the G20 nations admitted that the Bretton Woods Institutions must be comprehensively reformed. But the only concrete suggestions they made were that the IMF should be given more money and that poorer nations should have greater voice and representation. We have already seen what this means: a tiny increase in their voting power which does nothing to challenge the rich countries' control of the Fund, let alone the US veto."

The Bretton Woods economic summit did have some good results, including capital controls, currency regulation that restricted the free flow of funds around the world. In recent years these laws were deregulated out of existence. Now private capital can bring recalcitrant governments to their knees by simply pushing a button and instantly pulling their money out of the country. This new power has been called an "invisible parliament," only instead of the people, wealthy capitalists do the voting. This was mentioned in another important article by Noam Chomsky that appeared online lately. Again, John Meynard Keynes comes up.

"The Bretton Woods system was designed in part to create a space for government action responding to public will - for some measure of democracy... John Maynard Keynes, the British negotiator, considered the most important achievement of Bretton Woods to be the establishment of the right of governments to restrict capital movement. In dramatic contrast, in the neoliberal phase after the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system in the 1970s, the US treasury now regards free capital mobility as a `fundamental right', unlike such alleged `rights' as those guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: health, education, decent employment, security and other rights that the Reagan and Bush administrations have dismissed as `letters to Santa Claus', `preposterous', mere `myths'." (After the Breakdown of Bretton Woods Exposing the Un-Democratic Face of Capitalism," )

Chomsky elsewhere points out, as always, that the entire political system is designed for the benefit not of the people but private capital -- owned by a super-rich elite, who, because of their effects on the world, are now being called the "pollut-ocrats."

"... after the dismantling of the postwar (Breton Woods) system, democracy is restricted. It has therefore become necessary to control and marginalise the public in some fashion, processes particularly evident in the more business-run societies like the United States. The management of electoral extravaganzas by the public relations industry is one illustration. `Politics is the shadow cast on society by big business,' concluded America's leading 20th century social philosopher John Dewey, and will remain so as long as power resides in `business for private profit through private control of banking, land, industry, reinforced by command of the press, press agents and other means of publicity and propaganda.'"

Although I greatly admire the critiques made by the likes of Monbiot and Chomsky, when it comes to prescriptions and solutions, they are rather thin. I have been listening to the podcasts of the teacher's television network in Ontario, TVO, which has been interviewing educators and other economic experts about the economic crisis. One recent study being discussed found profound ignorance of financial fundamentals all the way down the line, from the householder balancing their weekly budget to the suits in skyscrapers making billion dollar deals at the punch of a button. It is one thing for Chomsky to say that the people are being blocked from financial decision making, but surely ignorance is behind the impotence of the greater part of humanity.

One of the questions I will be trying to answer in upcoming essays is: how do we go from ignorance to knowledge in economic matters? Another more important issue behind this that I want to address is: "To what extent is our ignorance a matter of lack of sin, a wilful affront to God, as opposed to a lack of technical know-how?

John Taylor



Thursday, November 27, 2008

International tribute to steadfastness

Return of an Institution

All Hail, Mrs. Aqdas Javid

By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 27, 5 Qawl 165 BE

The following is a caption in reference to the photo on the Badi' Blog at:

Mrs. Javid, in her own words, "dragged herself out of the grave" to see that last night's fireside took place. Last week she had heart failure, followed by pneumonia. Somehow she talked her way out of hospital that very day; still she had arranged a speaker for last night. Then she had cancelled two days before the fireside. Undaunted, Mrs J. heard that Ninaz Shadman was available and got her to come. Meanwhile, in the hospital Mrs Javid, in her unfortunately inimitable way, had persuaded one of the nurses who was taking care of her to come to the fireside, but she canceled out at the last minute, too.

Fortunately by an extraordinary coincidence the night before some Chinese friends had at last agreed to come out to the Day of the Covenant in Hamilton. Some had been attending the Javid fireside periodically last summer but I had not been in contact for a couple of months. They met Ninaz at the Day of the Covenant. I am told that she is the only Baha'i public speaker in Canada who is fluent in Chinese; she said the closing prayer of the meeting in Chinese. They were impressed with her and agreed to come to Mrs. Javid's the next night. She spoke to them, explained what Ruhi is, and gave her talk half in English, half in Chinese. For political reasons I have to be discrete (which is why they are not in the photograph), but let us just say that her words did not fall on unhearing ears.

Who knows how much longer this institution of the Wednesday night Javid fireside will continue? Will we mere mortals be able to carry on when she is gone? The fireside has been going on since 1967. I became a Baha'i quickly at the Millington's home in Ancaster back in 1973, but I attended the Javid meetings regularly for years afterwards; that is where my first deepening happened. I cannot imagine it ending.

As always, we were reluctant to leave after the fireside and Mrs. J started talking about her favourite topic, teaching. She complained that no believers are bringing out contacts to her meeting. I can imagine her going up to St. Peter at the Pearly Gates and before he can open his mouth she would be asking, "Have you got any contacts? Have you been teaching the Faith?" Anyway, I mentioned that we have no Persian believers in Haldimand and she said that the Guardian said:

"The Persians are like salt, they are wonderful when dispersed but when they gather in the cities, they kill anything that grows."

We really need to think about how to carry on this fireside, or at least its spirit, into perpetuity. I wrote the following suggestion, inspired in part by her, to a Baha'i newsgroup yesterday:

"We should offer far more support and encouragement for Baha'i speakers, including a speaker's circuit. I think this is the greatest need in the Faith right now. Since the Hands passed on, we have not given the problem of nurturing inspiring speakers nearly the attention it deserves."

Mrs. J. did that. She had a stable of speakers who often would preface their talks by saying, "I was doing this and that but then Aqdas called and asked me to speak, and when you get that call you drop whatever you are doing and go, no matter what." Such was the devotion she inspired.

She has had the spectacular success with her fireside not just because she is bold -- and she is bold, she puts the most macho young men (including me a few decades ago) to shame in her ability to go up to strangers and tell them about the most dreaded subject in this society, religion. Once at a conference a Baha'i in the elevator asked her how she does it, and she proceeded to talk up everybody who entered the elevator; they all left with an invitation to come to plenary session. Her approach was not pussyfooting. Just try and get a muscleman like Arnold Swartzeneggar to go up to a stranger and say:

"Have you heard of the Baha'i Faith?"
"Why not? I do not believe it! You have really never heard of Baha'i? Really? You are not joking, you have really never heard of it?"
"Um, no. No I haven't."
"Well you should look into it. Baha'i is really the greatest thing. Come to my place on Wednesday, I am having a wonderful speaker who will tell you all about it."

Not only in her moral courage, I say, but mostly I am convinced that the secret of her success is steadfastness. We are talking every Wednesday night since 1967, and the rest of the week dunning reluctant non-Baha'is to come and even more reluctant Baha'is to bring their friends. I always think of her when I read the Master's encomiums of this virtue. Let us close with two examples.


"O thou who art firm in the Covenant!
"Thank thou God for that thou art assisted to establish a spiritual meeting in that city. That assembly is the rose-garden of the Cause of God and that meeting is the gathering-place of the beloved of God. If it endureth, it is the first assembly of the world and is the greatest assembly of mankind. Exert thyself with all heart and soul so that it may continue and be stable and constant until blessed results may ensue therefrom, for without firmness and steadfastness no matter shall prove effective in existence. Some of the friends organized meetings for teaching in the neighborhood of that region, but owing to lack of steadfastness those meetings scattered with great rapidity. I hope that thy spiritual meeting may become continual and cause the spread of the lights." (Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets, vol. 2, 457-458)


"The Sunday school for the children in which the Tablets and Teachings of Baha'u'llah are read, and the Word of God is recited for the children is indeed a blessed thing. Thou must certainly continue this organized activity without cessation, and attach importance to it, so that day by day it may grow and be quickened with the breaths of the Holy Spirit. If this activity is well organized, rest thou assured that it will yield great results. Firmness and steadfastness, however, are necessary, otherwise it will continue for some time, but later be gradually forgotten. Perseverance is an essential condition. In every project firmness and steadfastness will undoubtedly lead to good results; otherwise it will exist for some days, and then be discontinued." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections, 143-144)


Aqdas Javid, a Baha'i teaching institution

From Baha'is

Aqdas Javid and Ninaz Shadman at last night's fireside, 26 November, 2008


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Day After Day of Covenant

The Day After the Day of the Covenant

By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 26, 4 Qawl 165 BE

Since it is the Day of the Covenant, today let us talk about the covenant. Okay, maybe that is a little ambitious. Covenant is a huge subject, the distinguishing feature of the Baha'i Faith; it pervades just about everything we think, read, write and do. Let me restrict myself today to what is new, to what I have learned about covenant lately. If we take "lately" to mean the past five years, in that time I have come to realize that covenant is, along with other things, a spiritual principle. Yes, it is a practical and administrative principle, but more than anything it can and should be classified along with oneness of God, power of the Holy Spirit and love as a primal spiritual phenomenon.

I have learned quite a bit about how covenant is unique, and how it is not. We all know the difference between the lesser and the greater covenant, that one refers to the Baha'i Faith especially, and the other to all Faiths, both past and future. But beyond that, there are features to the covenant that I used to think are unique to Baha'i, but they are not. For example, plastered on the back of one of our prayer books is the stern verse from the Aqdas,

"Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide. Whoso faileth to recite them hath not been faithful to the covenant of God and His testament, and whoso turneth away from these holy verses in this Day is of those who, throughout eternity have turned away from God. Fear ye God, O my servants, one and all."

What I have learned is that although the strength and centrality of this teaching may be unique to Baha'u'llah's Teaching, other religions, Christianity and Judaism in particular, treat daily reading as a necessary discipline -- this is evident, for instance, in the chapter on family in Comenius's Panorthosia that I have been going through on this blog during the past couple of months. And although it sounds strange to invoke the secular quasi-religion of the self-help movement, these advisors have observed that successful people inevitably start their day with a half-hour of reading some important text in their trade or profession. They counsel ambitious readers to do the same in their daily routine. Of course, there is no reason that a Baha'i cannot do both, read from the Writings, then read something from their own studies. In fact I did that for many years and was often struck by the coincidental insights gained by comparing the two sources of knowledge one after the other.

One of my major interests is history, and I have come to at least one new realization about the background of the covenant in general, and the history of the Day of the Covenant in particular. Here is how it happened. This summer I was listening to a professor of American history discuss his book about early African American Baha'is. Although it was very well done, I went away with a vague feeling that he had been doing the Master an injustice somehow. I could not put my finger on it until later. I saw that when somebody writes a comprehensive history of the Master's travels in America ("239 Days" does not pretend to be such, it is little more than a collection of anecdotes), they will have to put tremendous emphasis on a certain event that, I suddenly realized, has been all but ignored. I am talking about the title of this blog entry,

"The Day After the Day of the Covenant."

This day after event is told briefly in Mahmud's Diary, how Jim Crow kept the African Americans out of the formal banquet in a snooty hotel, and how the White Baha'is on their own initiative decided to hold a meeting the next day for the Blacks who had to miss it, where they personally served them their food. I will include the full text of Mahmoud's account at the end of this post. I now see that this meeting after the covenant banquet merits much more attention than we have been giving it. If anything we treat it like a footnote to a footnote, but now I see that it was one of the brightest highlights of the Master's visit, if not (in view of how important covenant was in the eyes of the Master -- see the Tablet about the Covenant that He had published earlier on that year in the Star of the West, 13 July, 1912, which is enclosed at the end of today's blog entry) the very climactic event of the trip to America. We have a photo of the formal, Whitey-only affair, a poor reproduction of which I have posted at:

I often think about how this second banquet came about.

The Master had the option to cancel that first, formal banquet in the hotel completely. He probably could have found a place where all races are allowed, though hardly such a posh venue. It would not have been the first time He made such a stand on principle. But no, He let it happen, and left it up to the White believers to right the balance. He wanted Whites to take the extra step, to go beyond staid complacently and make an effort to right the balance of inequality. This is very significant, and very telling about what the Covenant is meant to be teaching us.

Nobody that I know of took a picture of the Whites serving the Blacks -- probably the lightest of several darker reasons that the event is so obscure and often overlooked. Baha'i artists, here is your chance, draw a painting of how you imagine this event might have looked. Or better still, why not have a re-enactment? Let us face it, it was probably all White ladies who did the serving of African Americans at the banquet, so why not wipe out all tinges of sexism as well as racism and have a banquet where white men serve everybody else, non-white men, and all women and children? Speaking as a white man myself, in view of the harm our arrogance in ascendency has done in the world, this would be the very least we could do...

I have a lot more to say on this, but for today I cannot resist giving the last word to the Master Himself. Maybe I will have the rest of my say in the upcoming essay on the Ascension of Abdu'l-Baha.




Covenant Banquet, and the Day After

Tablet on the Covenant


Covenant Banquet

from Mahmud's Diary, pp. 405-407

Saturday, November 23, 1912 [New York]

The friends arranged a banquet in commemoration of the Day of the Covenant and the journey of the beloved of all hearts. Today many came to the Master with bouquets of flowers in their hands. The banquet was held in the ballroom of New York's Grand Northern Hotel. The hall was decorated similarly to that in Washington with festoons, banners, ornaments and exquisite screens, with the Greatest Name suspended above all on the stage in its customary calligraphy.

In the center of the ballroom were two rectangular tables, between which was another large table exquisitely set. Around these tables on both sides were placed small circular tables bedecked with colorful flowers, a variety of sweets and crystal glassware. The electric lighting reflected the glassware and caused the whole room to shine brilliantly. More than three hundred guests, formally attired, attended. Several friends and specifically Miss Lali Lloyd served at the banquet.

When the Master appeared, all rose from their seats and with smiling faces cried out, 'Allah-u-Abha!' Many of the hotel guests saw the banquet and were astonished to see the grandeur of the Master and the sincerity and enthusiasm of the friends. After the Master took His seat, Mr Hoar, on behalf of the Baha'is, read an address of welcome expressing obedience and firmness in the Covenant. The Master rose and responded with an address about the divine teachings and the oneness of humanity. He then walked around the tables and perfumed the heads and faces of the friends with attar of rose. When He returned to His chair, the friends, accompanied by the piano, sang songs of praise to Him.

Later the Master spoke about the wars and massacres of the nations and the need for the teachings of the Greatest Name. He encouraged all towards peace, harmony and sincere love for all the people of the world. After His talk, the Consul General, Mr Topakyan, and others gave short speeches praising 'Abdu'l-Baha.

This evening's banquet was so grand that the hotel staff were curious to know about the Cause. They came to see the Master to ask about the banquet and why so many distinguished Americans were praising and glorifying a person from the East. Indeed, it was a banquet for a king and a source of awakening to every person of insight.

Two photographs were taken with a good quality glass and special lighting. Although the photographs do not show the entire group, they tell much about the banquet.


The Day After

Sunday, November 24, 1912 [New York]

A gathering of black Baha'is was held at the home of Mrs Kinney. They had been invited by the New York Baha'is to attend the banquet of the Covenant but when the proprietor of the hotel heard about it, he was not pleased. The more the friends endeavored to persuade him, the more vehement was his refusal. He said, 'If the people see that one colored person has entered my hotel, no respectable person will ever set foot in it and my business will go to the winds.' Such is the depth of prejudice between blacks and whites. Since it was impossible to invite the black Baha'is to the banquet, the friends arranged today's feast for their black brothers. Many white women came forward to serve their black guests, showering them with love. The Master approved of this meeting very much and He said:

Today you have carried out the laws of the Blessed Beauty and have truly acted according to the teachings of the Supreme Pen. Behold what an influence and effect the words of Baha'u'llah have had upon the hearts, that hating and shunning have been forgotten and that prejudices have been obliterated to such an extent that you arose to serve one another with great sincerity.

The Master's words made a great impression. The meeting embodied the grandeur of the Covenant and demonstrated the power and influence of the Cause in uniting, in sincerity and love, two races of humanity.


Tablet on the Covenant

from: Star of the West, Vol. 3, No. 7, p. 16, July 13, 1912

Star of the West editor's note: The time has come when the Baha'is of the West should understand what is intended by "The Center of the Covenant," therefore we are pleased to publish in this issue the article from the pen of Charles Mason Remey, "`Abdu-l-Baha, the Center of the Covenant." A tablet regarding this important subject was recently revealed by `Abdu'l-Baha through Mr. Remey. We publish it herewith:


To his honor Mr. Remey.

Upon him be Baha'u'llah-el-Abha!

O thou who art firm in the Covenant! Thy letter was received and I was informed of its contents. Explain the matter according to the following Teachings, and do not add one word thereto:

His Holiness Abraham -- Upon him be Peace! -- took the Covenant of His Holiness Moses and gave the glad tidings of His appearance. His Holiness Moses took the Covenant of the Promised One, His Holiness the Christ, and gladdened the world with the glad tidings of His Manifestation. His Holiness the Christ took the Covenant of the "Paraclete" which means His Holiness Mohammed and announced the glad tidings of His Appearance. His Holiness Mohammed took the Covenant of His Holiness the Bab, and the Bab was the Promised One of His Holiness Mohammed, for He gave the good news of His Coming. His Holiness the Blessed Perfection Bahaullah WAS the Promised One of His Holiness the Bab. The Blessed Perfection has prophesied of the coming of a Promised One after one thousand years, or after thousands of years. That Personage is the Promised One of the Blessed Perfection, and He will appear after one thousand years or after thousands of years. Likewise with the trace of the Supreme Pen He has taken a great Covenant and Testament from all the Baha'is that after His Departure they must obey the Center of the Covenant and must not deviate one hair's breadth from obedience to him. He has commanded in the most explicit term in two instances in the Book of Akdas and He has appointed most unmistakably the interpreter of the Book.

In all the Tablets, especially the chapter of "Branch," whose meanings are all Abdu'l-Baha, that is, "the Servant of Baha," everything that is necessary as revealed from the Supreme Pen. As Abdu'l-Baha is the interpreter of the Book, he says that the chapter of "Branch" means Abdul-Baha, it refers to the servitude of Abdu'l-Baha and nothing else.

In brief, one of the special favors of this dispensation of His Holiness Baha'u'llah which is not seen in past Manifestations is this that He has left no place for difference. For in His own Day, with the Trace of His own Supreme Pen He has taken a Covenant and a Testament. He has pointed to the one who should be looked upon as authority by all, He has shown the interpreter of the Book and has closed the doors of outside interpretation.

Everyone should thank God that in this Blessed Cause He has tranquilized all and has left no place for hesitation. Therefore obedience and submission must be shown and the face turned completely to him (the Center of the Covenant)

Restrict discussion to this and do not exceed thereto, so that it may become the cause of fellowship and the remover of differences.



Translated by M. Ahmad Sohrab, Montclair



John Taylor




Day of the Covenant

Day of the Covenant Banquet

The day before what is in my opinion the climax of the Master's mission in America.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Good, the Tasty and the Beautiful

Talks Dan Barber: A surprising parable of foie gras

Purpose of Principle

The Purpose of Principle and Religion

More on the Master's Explication of the Principles in Paris; BPS III

By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 25, 3 Qawl 165 BE

We have looked in earlier parts of this essay series at the first two Baha'i principles, search for truth and oneness of humanity. We have seen that together these twin principles act as a pivot around which all the other principles revolve. It is the intimate connection between them, their close togetherness and reflection of one another, that makes these two into principles. Without this, none of the Baha'i principles would be principles, and the methodology of principle would not be unique as it is.

Think of it.

Most educated, liberal-leaning people today agree with either of these two principles. They think it would be great if more people became seekers of truth and forgot old traditions and superstitions; at the same time, they could hardly fail to acknowledge that all humans are one, and that we should treat every underprivileged member of the human club with kindness and compassion.

But, and this is a big "but," they would not see one leading naturally into the other. After all, if everybody became in independent truth seeker, pounding out their own personal views of reality, who is to say that this will not lead to more differences rather than less? Is it reasonable to expect human variance to just go away on their own? Would not unification require tremendous effort, even elaborate indoctrination and expensive propaganda campaigns designed to persuade the masses to think alike? And even then, what reason do we have to think that conflicts will be spread even more by all this effort? Yet that is exactly what Abdu'l-Baha said must happen, effortlessly, smoothly, as a natural outcome of the nature of truth, God and the universe. He wrote,

"... the nations of the world have to investigate after truth independently and turn their eyes from the moribund blind imitations of the past ages entirely. Truth is one when it is independently investigated, it does not accept division. Therefore the independent investigation of truth will lead to the oneness of the world of humanity." (JWTA, 35)

The reason truth will not admit of division is simply because there is One God Who Personifies Truth, and, like all great artists, He creates the universe in His own image, according to his own, single vision. He wills oneness and makes it our deepest, inner nature to agree with one another in all that matters most.

Oneness cannot accentuate conflict, it by nature dispels it, without any direct human effort, like snow melting under a hot sun. The more ardent and sincere our investigation of reality, the great the heat, the more clearly our similarities to other seekers is made clear before our eyes. At the same time, we will perceive diversity, but we will know that it is a condition of this world, and particularity is only of secondary importance in the greater scheme of things. "Put the kingdom first, and all will be added unto you." This is a spiritual reality that all great spiritual teachers have spoken of, but only today are we ready and able to respond to it as the entire human race.

For example, Jesus often said, "It is written," and, "So it was from the beginning..." At such times He was speaking of the nature of spiritual principle. By "beginning" He did not mean a temporal, worldly provenance, much less some primitive Golden Age lost to history. He was referring to existential purity, to a thought or condition where the mind relates to the One True God as its direct Origin. Such is principle. Again, the dozen or so Baha'i principles are prophesied in the Book of Revelation,

"...the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations." (Rev 22:2)

According to this vision, the twin pivotal principles would be the trunk of the tree, the several spiritual principles its roots, and the leaves -- the tree's vivifying link to the sun and air, the principle of universal peace. Peace on earth is the ultimate goal of all principle. The rest, the supporting branches and fruits of the tree of principle, would be the several other principles that we are examining in the order given in the address Abdu'l-Baha gave to the Theosophists in Paris, 1911.

Our next principle, then, is that "Religion should be the cause of love and affection,"

"Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth, give birth to spirituality, and bring life and light to each heart."

The traditional view of religion -- accepted by fanatics and scholars alike -- is that religions are mere traditions, sets of belief without purpose other than their own self-perpetuation. Of course this should be anathema to anyone who believes in God, since only He, and no set of doctrines, however basic, is the "be all and end all," beyond questioning or change. Abdu'l-Baha pre-supposes that the world's faiths are there to benefit mankind, and this places religion in line with science as a tool or appliance for the general good. He continues,

"If religion becomes a cause of dislike, hatred and division, it were better to be without it, and to withdraw from such a religion would be a truly religious act. For it is clear that the purpose of a remedy is to cure; but if the remedy should only aggravate the complaint it had better be left alone. Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion."

This is a radical definition. Religion is anything that brings about love and unity. But the same is true of the Baha'i principles. If principles do not result in peace on a universal level, they are not worthy of the name. We would be better off going back to ideology and imitation as ways of pacifying, organizing and indocrinating large numbers of people.

"All the holy prophets were as doctors to the soul; they gave prescriptions for the healing of mankind; thus any remedy that causes disease does not come from the great and supreme Physician."

It is ironic that the half dozen or so large religious traditions in the world today all can look back on many centuries of successful integration of the societies they influenced. This is a great fruit, and proof that the "doctors" who started them prescribed a worthy remedy for the world as they found it. Nothing can take that away from them. But the irony is this: those who imagine they are upholding their faith tradition by opposing their remedy to those of others, as exclusive and final, are in reality betraying and destroying the best of the past, not to mention any hope we may have for a peaceful future. Baha'u'llah very emphatically forbade any such negation of "rival" faith traditions by followers of His Faith and its principles,

"There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God." (Gleanings, 216)


John Taylor



Sunday, November 23, 2008

Housecleaning, II

Baha'i Housecleaning, II

By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 23, 1 Qawl 165 BE

Silvie heard that some Baha'i youth investigate other faiths before they turn 15 and become full fledged Baha'is. This morning she dragged me out to the Anglican service at St. Paul’s, just a few doors down from our house. What a change from Baha'i! I knew there was more singing than we have in our meetings, but I had no idea; this meeting was almost all music. In future we plan to check out other churches in Dunnville, and maybe some other faith groups in Hamilton.

I have no time left for original writing so I will have to content myself with more housecleaning. Here are today's topics:


Proposal for a Baha'i Speaker's Bureau
Pioneer Leaves Post with a Bang
Baha'i Blogger's Prayer
Upcoming International Years
Baha'i Scientist on Discovery Channel


A Baha'i Speaker's Bureau

I mentioned yesterday my view that we should keep track how popular Baha'i YouTube videos are, and try to make better, more popular presentations on the Faith. At the same time, we should also be actively improving the number of quality live speakers. In June of 2007 I wrote an essay advocating this called "Towards a Baha'i Speaker's Bureau," which is available at:


Pioneer Leaves Post with a Bang

A Persian Baha'i pioneer was evidently persecuted at her post in a small Ontario town. She protested her treatment to the town council just before leaving for good. This according to an article dated 18 November in that town's newspaper called: "Betrayal is for cowards," at:

"With tears rolling down her face and a quiver in her voice, Tolou Rouhani spoke to council and the community about her experience in the city and that she is leaving North Bay due to its ignorance towards immigrants, races, religion, and diversity. `If its all white, its like a garden filled with all white roses. How ugly is that,' Rouhani said. Rouhani's presentation was cut-off at the ten minute mark and Mayor Vic Fedeli refused to let her complete her final paragraph explaining her reason for leaving the city. `I don't believe this, that was very rude Mr. Mayor, Rouhani said as she stormed out of council chambers."

We have no Persians in our Haldimand Community and have been unsuccessfully trying to get some to move out of the big city and come here. We are rapidly ageing and shrinking in numbers, and support from Persian homefront pioneers is pretty much our only realistic hope to keep our LSA much longer. Already a nearby community, Port Colborne, has lost and delisted its incorporated Assembly. Pioneering, what with clusters and Ruhis, has become a thing of the past and I am afraid that an incident like that is going to it all the harder to encourage Persians to leave Toronto.

"Rouhani has lived in North Bay for 20 years and said she has suffered a lot in her years here. She said that she was interviewed by the RCMP to make sure she was not a terrorist. Another form of racism she experienced was when she was relaxing on the beach and a police officer told her that if she wanted to sleep she had to go to her car. I lived here for 20 years. Its my Lake Nipissing, my North Bay. They can have it all and shove it, Rouhani exclaimed."

I had the idea that Persians were thicker skinned than that. I remember when I was a new Baha'i a major Mafia ring was broken up when they tried to lean on an Iranian immigrant the way they had been terrorizing the Italian community in Hamilton. The Iranian did not cave, he testified and the Cosa Nostra suffered a temporary setback.

Here is another article about the Faith in Ontario. This Guelph believer, Jaellayna Palmer, has more positive things to say about the Cause,


Baha'i Blogger's Prayer

The ever-interesting Baha'i blog "Baha'i Views" offers this prayer from Holy Writ that seems to be applicable to bloggers like us.

"Lord! Do Thou kindle in their hearts the flame of Thy divine attraction and grant that the bird of love and understanding may sing within their hearts. Grant that they may be even as potent signs, resplendent standards, and perfect as Thy Word. Exalt by them Thy Cause, unfurl Thy banners and publish far and wide Thy wonders. Make by them Thy Word triumphant, and strengthen the loins of Thy loved ones. Unloose their tongues to laud Thy Name, and inspire them to do Thy holy will and pleasure. Illumine their faces in Thy kingdom of holiness, and perfect their joy by aiding them to arise for the triumph of Thy Cause." -'Abdu'l-Baha


Upcoming International Years

In our planning we often need to be aware of what the official UN theme for the year is well ahead of time. Here are the years, taken from the UNO's website, at:


International Year of the Potato

International Year of Planet Earth

International Year of Sanitation



International Year of Natural Fibres

International Year of Reconciliation

Year of astronomy (not a UN year, but interesting nonetheless)


2010 International Year of Biodiversity


2011 International Year of Forests


The Year of Reconciliation next year seems especially timely in view of the collapse of stock markets and the credit squeeze. Remember, the KJV translation of the Lord's Prayer says "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." I will soon be writing about that at length.

"On 20 November 2006, the General Assembly ... expressed its steadfast determination to pursue reconciliation processes in those societies affected or divided by conflicts, describing such processes as necessary for the establishment of firm and lasting peace. The Assembly invited concerned Governments and international and non-governmental organizations to support reconciliation processes among such societies. It also invited them to implement adequate cultural, educational and social programmes to promote the concept of reconciliation, including the holding of conferences and seminars, and the dissemination of information on the subject."


Baha'i Scientist on Discovery Channel

Faithful Badi' Blog reader Jean sent the following good news last week:

"My research project on recovering water from trash in space is now the subject of an online news story and video. It will also air on Discovery Channel Canada tonight at 7 pm and again at 11 pm. Nothing here relevant to the Badi blog but I thought you might be interested. Space habitations take to an extreme the ideas of sustainability and cooperative living, about which you have so often written.

With best wishes,

Article featured in Friday's edition of the Cornell Chronicle.


Discovery Channel Canada tonight at 7pm & 11pm, EST. The show is called "Daily Planet," and this week is a special "Flying Things Week."

John Taylor


Saturday, November 22, 2008

About Several Things

Baha'i Housecleaning

By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 22, 19 Qudrat 165 BE

I have been doing some housecleaning in my "to write" file. Under "Baha'i Topics" is a long list of bits and ideas that have been sitting idle so long that I am pretty sure they are not going grow into to anything more than fragments. So today, here is a succession of material on the Baha'i Faith, some from me, some sent to me by readers, some from my reading online and off.




Six-Word Memoirs

Top Ten Most Popular Baha'i Youtube videos

Baha'i Communities

Louhelen Schedule for 2009

Ruhi Around the World

Baha'i Podcast Interviews


Six-Word Memoirs


The American public radio network NPR featured the latest literary genre, super brief memoirs confined to a mere six words at:

The original site ( explains the "legend" of the six word memoir, saying:

"Legend has it that Hemingway was once challenged to write a story in only six words. His response? For sale: baby shoes, never worn. Last year, SMITH Magazine re-ignited the recountre by asking our readers for their own six-word memoirs."

As always, a book is underway. Plus, if you go to the above site you can find some pretty good visual presentations featuring various writers' six word memoirs. Here is mine: "Stymied by migraine, writes Badi' Blog." Pretty much sums it up for me. But before I was moved to write the following memoirs of my religion, the Baha'i Faith. No doubt each Baha'i will come up with a different six words, but these are mine.



Twin Manifestations, one Plan, golden age


The Bab:

God's revolutionary passes through the gate



Suffering of divine Prisoner liberates all.


God's glory manifest in Greatest Name



Son of the One, Baha'i paradigm


Baha's servant centers covenant with God


Shoghi Effendi

Plato's Guardian class, last of type.


Invisible UHJ chair bedizons spiritually learned


The Top Ten Most Popular Baha'i Youtube videos


Last night I typed the keyword "Baha'i" into YouTube, then set the criterion "most popular." This, as of then, is a list of the ten most popular short videos in the world.


1. Seals & Crofts perform "Summer Breeze" at Oregon State Fair in 1992; Views: 445,609

2. Thought of war (very brief display of Abdu'l-Baha's quote from Paris Talks); Views: 259,140

3. Saddam's Execution Prophesied (A flake and apparent covenant breaker's prediction of the Iraq president's execution); Views: 73,349

4. Iran president on Baha'is at UN press conference (in 2007); Views: 64,952

5. Abdu'l-Baha Ascension 28 Nov 1921 (commemorative video); Views: 63,413

6. Rainn Wilson on the Late Late Show (movie star plugs film, mentions Faith); Views: 59,200

7. Super Baha'i Girl (??? unbelievable that this zero production value vignette got more than one viewer other than those who made it!!!); Views: 52,777

8. The Baha'is Question? (official defense of believers in Iran); Views: 51,861

9. BNE Stickers Graffiti on ABC World News (mysterious logo may spell "Baha'u'llah and the New Era); Views: 44,452

10. I Wanna Bop with You Baby! (adaptation of a Dan Seals song); Views: 41,858


My comments on this list

This is just pathetic. Any Baha'i who is concerned about teaching the faith should be very worried that the most viewed video has less than a half million views, and that many of the most popular videos are not even about it, they are peripheral to the Faith. There are seven million Baha'is in the world, we could do better than that just by watching Baha'i videos ourselves, much less presenting something of interest to the world at large.

Here is a suggestion for the auxiliary board for propagation: keep a live feed of this top ten list on your websites and blogs. We keep track of statistics like the number of LSA's, so for heaven's sakes, why not keep track of this? Try to encourage believers to film activities and come up with better, more interesting videos to present the teachings to the world.


Baha'i Communities

A reader wrote:

"Have you heard about Baha'i Communities? It's a social networking website, with over 5000 Baha'is and growing. You can put up a blog there, join groups of likeminded people, get a discussion going . . . sounds like the perfect place for you. If you're not already there, would you like an invitation?"

Can anybody tell me more about this group?


Latest Louhelen Schedule for the first part of 2009

Our family were delighted with our stay at Louhelen last summer. The highlight for me was the chance to say prayers in the presence of a chair that Abdu'l-Baha Himself sat on. We hope to be able to go again next year. Details on the courses at Louhelen, and more are at the Louhelen Website, at:


February 13 - 15 Celebrating Marriage

February 13 - 15 Islam and the Baha'i Faith

March 27 - 29 Naw-Ruz Family Weekend

April 10 - 12 Youth Eagle Institute

April 24 - 26 Spiritual Empowerment for Junior

May 1 - 3 Women's Spiritual Retreat

May 15 - 17 INSIGHTS Reunion Conference

May 22 - 24 Spring Family Weekend


Ruhi Around the World

Most people will have seen this photo show of Ruhi gatherings around the world, but for those who have not:


Baha'i Podcast Interviews

There are three interviews with Baha'is available on the Web, all with special emphasis on mystical aspects of our beliefs.

Exploring the World Religions: The Baha’i Faith, Parts 1-3


Friday, November 21, 2008

All in the Panorthosic Family

More on Family in Jan Amos Comenius's "Panorthosia, or Universal Reform"

By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 21, 18 Qudrat 165 BE


A Prayer for the Home, by George Townshend

"This home is a garden, O Lord, which Thy hand has planted in the world, and the hearts of these children are Thy flowers. Do Thou tend them and nourish them.
Pour down the rays of Thy truth upon them. Breathe Thy Holy Spirit upon them at every breath. Let Thy mercy descend on them like refreshing rain.
So shall these flowers of Thine mature, and bloom in beauty, and shed afar the fragrance of Thy love and remain thine to their lives' end." (George Townshend, The Mission of Baha'u'llah, #25, p. 135)


As I write, headlines are declaring that NATO is caught up in yet another spy scandal. A mole was caught, its dirty mouth full of secrets. The question that should be in everybody's mind is: why are there secrets at all in this day and age? The one bold attempt to give the human family a single government declared the first essential of a stable peace: open covenants, openly arrived at.

This Wilsonian directive -- rejected then as it still is today -- was based on a basic spiritual principle set up by Jesus Christ Himself in the parable of the lamp. Do not hide your lamp under a bushel, keeping all your light to yourself and to blazes with everybody else. Better a single large lamp in the middle of the room, so everybody can benefit and that the light of justice will illuminate all of our dealings.

The Prophet Muhammad had a longer Mission involving in the end political as well as spiritual leadership. He took this spriritual principle to the next level by initiating the constitution of Medina, the first open, written covenant of its kind. On this blog I have been considering an early proposal by Jan Amos Comenius for an open covenant to be promulgated within the family. This covenant would enable households to earn for themselves a stamp of approval to openly display on their portal, both their physical door and their virtual portals, such as family websites, galleries and blogs. In a world of open systems this emblem would coordinate with similar emblems on every level, from individuals to the world governing body. In the last words of the chapter Comenius suggests what the family emblem should say:

"THIS IS THE DWELLING PLACE OF VIRTUE, ORDER, AGREEMENT, AND GOD AMONGST MEN! Therefore let nothing that is evil ever enter it!"

This emblem is earned, it is not mere cant. Only by following the set of rules in an openly promulgated constitution can a family earn the right to sum it all up, without blot, in those two sentences. Last time we looked at Comenius's proposed family rules based on what worked for decades in his own home.

A reader, Marion, commented on the last essay in this series, which was called, "A Household Constitution,"

"Very interesting concept. Though I don't know if I would want to be part of a family following these rules strictly (e.g., the last 2 rules!)..."

These two rules were directed at junior members of the household, asking that they avoid getting waylaid from the task at hand.

"If anyone is sent to do some special duty, he should concentrate on the purpose of his mission ... without wandering off elsewhere and dealing with things that are none of his business. On your return, you must report promptly ... and then go back to your work. (see "A Household Constitution," November 18, 2008, at:

In order for such rules to make sense, we have to imagine what the family was four hundred years ago -- and I am writing about Comenius because I think we should consider swinging the pendulum back that way again in order, among other things, to revivify the family and better adapt to challenges of our time, like pollution and global warming.

Comenius's 16th Century home must have been, by today's standards, a very large, varied and busy enterprise offering many distractions to young minds. No need to use the television as a babysitter! It was closer to a family business than our isolated nuclear families; many services had not yet been offloaded to governmental social service bureaucracies or to the main rival today of family, the private corporation. We think of our over-housed, small families as "independent," but that is a deceptive misperception. In reality the extended family of that age was comparatively stable, efficient and very environmentally friendly. Like all high density housing arrangements there were economies of scale in infrastructure; the ecological footprint per person was far lower than today.

Comenius's family household suffered challenges unimaginable to us; he lost two wives to the Black Death that was sweeping Europe at the same that the gross religious violence of the Reformation ravaged his native land. The family had to flee ethnic cleansing every bit as horrendous as the holocausts of the 20th Century, if not worse. After several exiles, Comenius ended up in Holland. He was head of his church as well as a family household, but his concern went beyond that to encouraging the peace negotiations between Holland and England, as well as enthusiastically following of the new science, as laid out in the writing of Francis Bacon. He was well aware of the flaws of his time, but his optimism about our perfectibility went against it; his example still inspires today.

One thing I have learned going through the suggestions in the Panorthosia for reforming the family is that there are two pillars holding up the management of a household, not one. The first is the obvious paternal headship (in a Baha'i household paternalism is replaced by a diarchy, including maternal as well as paternal leadership; this is also called "symmetrical marriage"). The other ruling factor I forgot to consider: seniority. Comenius suggests that supervisory jobs be doled out according to seniority as well as merit.

Now that I think of it, Baha'u'llah in the Seven Valleys did give family seniority attention -- indeed assigns it profound mystical significance -- when discussing the "cosmology" or evolution inherent to the perpetuation of both individuals and families,

"Although a brief example hath been given concerning the beginning and ending of the relative world, the world of attributes, yet a second illustration is now added, that the full meaning may be manifest. For instance, let thine Eminence consider his own self; thou art first in relation to thy son, last in relation to thy father. In thine outward appearance, thou tellest of the appearance of power in the realms of divine creation; in thine inward being thou revealest the hidden mysteries which are the divine trust deposited within thee. And thus firstness and lastness, outwardness and inwardness are, in the sense referred to, true of thyself, that in these four states conferred upon thee thou shouldst comprehend the four divine states, and that the nightingale of thine heart on all the branches of the rosetree of existence, whether visible or concealed, should cry out: "He is the first and the last, the Seen and the Hidden...." (Qur'an 57:3) (SVFV, 26-27)

This tie of seniority rules natural selection, evolution, and the beginnings and ends of the universe itself, and its model in our mind is seniority in the family. This seniority extends to the laws that all respect and obey parents, even when they retire from active management of the household. In old age grandparents play a role like what corporations call consultants or chairs of the board of directors. I noticed lately that Baha'u'llah said something to the effect that the good pleasure of God now and forever is dependent upon our "loving-kindness" to parents. This seems to be looking at the time when seniors, as their faculties weaken, pass out of management completely. In that case -- just as Baha'u'llah speaks of "kindness to animals" rather than Peter Singer's "animal rights" -- their frailty is subject to the compassionate action mandate central to the principle of the oneness of humanity. In this way the conflict-causing question of rights and wrongs does not arise, and any growth of elder abuse or ageism is eradicated.

Let us continue with the chapter we have been dealing with in the Panorthosia. After laying out Comenius's old family rules (this book was his last, written when his health no longer permitted him a management position in the household). In the seventeenth paragraph he returns to the always vexed question of punishments and rewards. Like Baha'u'llah, He emphasizes the greater importance and effectiveness of reward over punishement.

"But punishment must be imposed on anyone who ventures to default, and those who are specially trustworthy and industrious should be recommended for a reward, bearing in mind that children or even servants should occasionally be allowed to have fun and games and parties, particularly if they have diligently performed the serious duties falling to them, for example, at the time of the harvest or the vintage."

This brings up several points. Setting aside reward and punishment for a moment, notice that Comenius gives family a responsibility for making its own entertainment and recreation. Especially since radio, television and video entered homes, families are used to being entertained, not entertaining themselves. He is suggesting a more active, do-it-yourself approach to family entertainment. Plus, he suggests linking it to rewards and punishment. Entertainment, then, is conditional, a privilege, not an inalienable right, and it serves serious educational and occupational purposes as well.

Anybody who has seen the portraits of the Dutch masters knows how dour and serious culture was in Comenius's age. He is advocating a relaxed attitude, a rejection of Puritanism that we now take to an extreme. Our preoccupation with home entertainment would have seemed utter frivolity to anybody of his age, or any other age for that matter. The need to relax together and celebrate seems obvious now that entertainment and recreation are pretty much the sole occupation of most family members in most of the time they spend together. I imagine Comenius coming back and hearing about the TED conference (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design). He surely would protest: "Entertainment? Why not call it "Technology, Education and Design?"

But I notice another thing about the family diversions that Comenius suggests. They are tied to the natural cycle of the seasons. Families in every age except now were much more involved in agriculture, and their relaxation was synchronized to the plants that keep us all alive. The only remnant of this is Thanksgiving, which comes after the harvest, oblivious as we are to that reason for the season.

We should definitely go back to this traditional direct link of family to nature. We should reintegrate modern households with the jobs of growing fruits and vegetables, minding livestock, etc., even in the most urban neighbourhoods. This would have untold benefits; it would not only reduce our carbon footprint by encouraging local consumption, it also would reduce SAD and other types of depression, increase the robustness of children’s' immune systems, teach us about our dependence on agriculture from an early age, and so forth. If our entertainment were connected to the earth in this way, we would surely tend to be less materialistic and hedonistic. We would be celebrating not for the sake of celebrating but because, to use Comenius's example, we just brought in the vintage and have grapes to make grape juice with.

That is why George Townshend's prayer that we started off with, comparing a family to a garden, is so appropriate to today's theme. Townshend followed a favourite analogy of Abdu'l-Baha; visiting Paris, for instance, He compared it to a garden sown with new seeds of spiritual growth. So let it be with all our families and households.

John Taylor



Thursday, November 20, 2008

Self Pleasuring

Can We Please Ourselves?

By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 20, 17 Qudrat 165 BE

I have been devoting this essay series to certain self-contradictions among my beliefs, as uncovered and challenged by a philosophical robot that I butted horns with online not long ago. Today I want to start off with a broadside that it called "Can we please ourselves?"


You agreed that: So long as they do not harm others, individuals should be free to pursue their own ends.

But disagreed that: The possession of drugs for personal use should be decriminalised.


The bot points out that only some forty thousand of the almost one hundred and forty thousand philosophy aficionados who completed this activity had this "tension" in their beliefs. Meaning, I guess, that I am in the bottom third of the population. Not the first time I have been caught out as a bottom dweller, I must say. Here is how it analysed the clash between my two answers to questions on the quiz.

"In order not to be in contradiction here, you must be able to make a convincing case that the personal use of drugs harms people other than the drug user. More than this - you must also show that prohibited drug use harms others more than other legal activities such as smoking, drinking and driving cars, unless you want to argue that these should also be made criminal offences. As alcohol, tobacco and car accidents are among the leading killers in western society, this case may be hard to make. You also have to make the case for each drug you think should not be decriminalised. The set of drugs which are currently illegal is not a natural one, so there is no reason to treat all currently illegal drugs the same."

I have been sitting on my counter-argument to this broadside for weeks. Not, I suppose, that I could not have given an adequate defence right away. It is just that I wanted to treat the bot as goad, a gadfly, like Socrates was to the Athenians. I felt a need to think all that it said through deeply and thoroughly. Clearly, any direct argument you might offer would be squeezed out of all recognition by the carefully pre-arranged presuppositions. It is as if somebody opened up a door and invited you to put your finger in the crack next to the door jam. The best response is to refuse to put your finger in there.

During the time I was mulling this over I ran across at least three wonderful papers by the world's most compendious Baha'i scholar, Moojan Momen. These papers, each in its own indirect way, offered a different answer to this argument. I will mention Momen's helps when the time comes. But first, my much delayed bare bones argument for advocating free agency while supporting laws against drugs.

First of all, I refuse to put my finger into the crack.

The machine puts the onus squarely on me. Why should I accept such a heavy burden of proof? Every time a new chemical is discovered, is it my job to prove that if somebody decides they want to eat, inject, smoke or otherwise introduce it into their body for any reason whatever, they should have the right to do so unless I can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it will harm not only that individual but society in general? Surely the reverse should be the case. Anything new must be proved safe by scientific tests beyond a shadow of a doubt before we allow it anywhere near our bodies, or even into the world at large. This is the principle of conservatism.

Second of all, why don't you put your finger in the crack?

We are at a point in history where thousands of new chemicals are being invented daily. Because of arguments like this one, the onus is on everybody to prove that each and every one of these chemicals does more harm than good. There is no conservative principle left. These chemicals are indiscriminately introduced not only into our bodies but the environment generally. More and more thinking people realize that there is no hard and firm line between the body and the planet, between individual and earth. A libertarian may think he harms only himself when he takes Viagra or snorts cocaine. But that is a dangerous illusion. Both those substances and many more are turning up in the water system, which means that plants, animals and other humans are doing these drugs right along with the selfish uses whose unbounded desires created the demand in the first place.

The sad fact is, nature does not care if a chemical is legal or not. Neither should we. We should do what is right and actively purify ourselves, the environment, and most of all, our own desires. The first step to doing that is to learn to refute and reject fallacious arguments like this one. Once that is done, we can start blocking new chemicals coming out of Pandora's Box, and when that conservatism is established, we can go on to putting more ills roaming the earth back into her Box. That is, eliminating one by one all older noxious poisons, be they legal or not. The long term survival of the human race depends on our doing this.

I guess I have been spending time on this because behind the surface dispute is another, subtler argument. Refuting a shadow proposition like that is harder but also more rewarding. This is where Moojan Momen came in handy. Let us go there.

I agreed that "So long as they do not harm others, individuals should be free to pursue their own ends." But I consented with a grain of salt. Most of the salt fell on that word "should." Why is it there?

The fact is that, barring a tyranny or some other variety of dictatorial rule, people _are_ free to pursue their own ends. There is no "should" about it. They do what they want. The only thing that constrains them are the bounds of their own understanding. I cannot jump inside the skin of others and force them to do my will. In fact, thinking and doing what you want is fundamental to all thinking beings. Without some degree of free will, thought would be impossible. So freedom is a fact, it not need to be defended. People do what they want, what they think best, and there is nothing you or I can do to change that.

True, anybody can be fooled, coerced or influenced by rewards and punishments to do what others wish and what they started out not wanting. But under rule of law and morality there is no question of forcing anything upon someone who does not want to, especially if they are mature and educated enough to think competently for themselves. The only way I can see that this might change and there might be a need to argue that people "should" do what they want is if in future some technology connected brains directly to computers; then we could introduce a virus forcing others to our will. Otherwise, there is no means to force free citizens to think thoughts and pursue ends not their own.

To go from "individuals are free to pursue their own ends if they do no harm" to arguing that individuals "should" be free is to commit the `is' `ought' fallacy, the same as saying, "Trees ought to grow out of the ground towards the sky."

What, then, is behind this ridiculous proposition? Why is it so often invoked, especially by liberals, utilitarians and libertarians? What they really are after is quite different from a mere defence of freedom. By defending the right to total exclusion from interference, even from owning controlled substances, they are really making freedom into a form of absolutism, paradoxical as it sounds. "Absolute freedom" is an oxymoron if ever there was one. What they really are after is the same thing any fanatic longs for: complete exclusion. Nobody, not society, not the law, not nobody, has any right to influence or educate, other than the individual.

This is where the stellar work of Moojan Momen came in so handy. He wrote in the early 1990's a paper with the strange title, "In all the Ways that Matter, Women Don't Count." He explains what he means by that title in the paper. Check it out, and we will meet back here at the Badi' Blog next time.

"In all the Ways that Matter, Women Don't Count"

John Taylor


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Baha'i Principle, Now and Then

Baha'i Principle

By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 19, 16 Qudrat 165 BE



The First TEDster
Principle Retrospective


The First TEDster


Abdu'l-Baha, The First TEDster

Over the last couple of years we netizens have been inspired by the short talks, all less than twenty minutes in length, that are now freely available for all to watch at the TED Website. The startling (and especially annoying when you are watching late at night) introductory TED theme riff is now familiar to millions. I have watched TED presentation videos regularly but now that I have a MIRO Vodcast, I look forward with tingly anticipation to the release every week of a new TED talk or two, left over from the previous year's conference.

I just picked up a DVD documentary film on TED, called: "The Future We Will Create, Inside the World of TED," at the Hamilton Public Library. It gives more background on the TED conference's history and recent development into a Web phenomenon, as well as offering some sample talks for those without a fast Internet connection.

Since the 1980's TED has been an elite get-together of only about a thousand invited attendees who watch certain brilliant leaders of thought and other innovators give brief summaries of their work. The talks not only inform but also inspire conference attendees, known as TEDsters, and now the entire Internet, to make changes that make a difference. The overall result for even a casual viewer, somebody points out in the DVD documentary, is to act as an antidote to the depressing view of the world given by the stream of bad news that we get from the media.

At least one school or university in Toronto, it was recently reported in the Globe and Mail, is borrowing from the TED format for its commencement address. Instead of one boring speaker going on and on about the same old thing for an hour or so, they offer several brilliant presenters talking about their work one after the next. The effect on new students, reportedly, is electric. Like at TED, each speaker gives a brief twenty minute summary of what they are doing and what they suggest we can do to change the world.

After watching the documentary on TED last night with my son Tomaso, I woke in the middle of the night with the realization that Abdu'l-Baha was the first TEDster. Eureka! It is true. I have been inspired all my life by just reading the text of His talks. When I first came across them at the tender age of 17, they turned me from a confirmed atheist into an enthusiastic Baha'i. Imagine what it must have been like to hear Him speak in person!

It was an inspiring background He came from. Just released from forty years of exile and prison for His beliefs, the Master spoke not as an idle theorist but as someone Who lived his beliefs. He created a sensation as, in 1911 to 1913, He travelled to London, Paris, New York and other cities giving addresses both informative and inspiring on the grounds of a stable world peace. So ravished were His listeners that He was flooded with invitations to speak at churches, clubs and other organizations. He was able to accept only a tiny percentage of these offers in the short time allotted to Him.

These travels and disquisitions generated a great deal of publicity and, similar to TED, had a subtle, uplifting influence on elite opinion. They made people optimistic about our prospects for a better world. It is unlikely, for instance, that Woodrow Wilson would have come up with his fourteen point peace program if Abdu'l-Baha had not already spread the twelve Baha'i principles across America some seven years before.

In the talks Abdu'l-Baha gave on this journey, He set forth something new under the sun: a new, holistic methodology for change on a planetary -- and at the same time personal -- level. I believe that the revolutionary value of principle is underappreciated, even among the most enthusiastic Baha'is. The Baha'i principles are designed to inspire and organize just the sort of Ad Hoc, peaceful change that the TED conference is aiming at.

In fact, the principles proposed by the Master are the only viable alternative to ideology. The century since He spoke has seen the rise and fall of two vicious materialist ideologies, first communism and, most recently, market fundamentalist capitalism. Now that it is crashing, and along with it the world economy, principle is the only possibility left.

This shows that, in spirit, Abdu'l-Baha was the first TEDster. Properly taught and adapted for general consumption, His principles could become an educational framework for peaceful reform, for a permanent end to war and the addiction to weaponry that is crushing the economy to the breaking point. They can transform large numbers of people without the violence or arbitrary measures that superficial, materialist, political revolutionaries have always had to resort to in the past.

My friend Peter Gardner and I are working on a web video presentation on the principles. We want to design it to resemble the short-but-sweet, less-than-twenty-minute format of a TED talk. We have been using as our model one of the first public presentations of the principles given as a body ever given, the address Abdu'l-Baha gave to the Theosophists in Paris. Peter has read them already, and this series of essays on that talk will provide the background and introduction to the bare bones the Master gave. All in less than a third of an hour. As the TED presenters all say, it is a tremendous challenge to sum up your life's work that way, but it also is good discipline and gives great rewards for understanding just where you want to go with it all.


Principle Retrospective


The Principles as Principles; A Retrospective of Essays on this Blog

Over the past few months on this Badi' Blog I periodically have returned to my life's work, the Baha'i principles. First, in September I talked about the principles, especially the spiritual principles insofar as they are part of the Baha'i Faith, in an essay called "The Baha'i Principles Qua Baha'i," at:

Here I discerned four wholly spiritual principles that were emphasized by the Master in talks to Western audiences. The first was the Oneness of God, the second, the Power of the Holy Spirit, the third, Love, and fourth, Covenant.

Then in a piece written on the 9th of October called, "Principle, the Magnet of Polity," ( I discussed how principle, and each specific principle, be it spiritual or social, is an outcome in its own way of the great meta-principle, the Oneness of God. Understanding Oneness as a principle sets up an almost magnetic pull towards polity, a term that can be defined as governance in the interest of the entirety, combined at the same time with service by each equal individual to the whole. Polity is, to express it in a motto, "all for one, and one for all." More about polity soon in this series.

Having given a nod to spiritual principle and principle as inherent to Baha'i, we proceeded in October to the social principles as the Master laid them out in France almost a century ago. After outlining them briefly, Abdu'l-Baha emphasized that the principles are no mere platform or list of beliefs; they are tools for seekers and lovers of truth.

"In short, it behoves us all to be lovers of truth. Let us seek her in every season and in every country, being careful never to attach ourselves to personalities. Let us see the light wherever it shines, and may we be enabled to recognize the light of truth no matter where it may arise. Let us inhale the perfume of the rose from the midst of thorns which surround it; let us drink the running water from every pure spring."

Principle, then, is not to be compared to ideology; it is in fact the replacement of ideological systems, which are inherently imitative, violent and patriarchal.

In "Paris Printalk; BPS I" and "BPS II" I discussed the first two principles mentioned in this talk, the oneness of humanity (all for one) and search for truth (one for all) respectively. The first essay is at:

In it I talked about the Master's "one sun, many dawning points thesis," the background from which He derives the principles in this talk. I brought in Plato's famous parable of the den or cave as a way to understand search for truth.

The second BPS essay, subtitled, "More on our oneness in equality," I speculated on the possibility that the Master's emphasis on equality in this and subsequent talks may have been influenced by where He was at the time, that is, Paris, city of lights, artistic and cultural center of the West. Tentatively, I went into how He may have been speaking to certain liberal Enlightenment traditions conditioning the intellectual reflexes of the Parisians He was addressing. This essay is at:

In a series of subsequent blog postings I pointed to several video renditions of Plato's cave parable available on YouTube. An example is:

John Taylor



Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Household Constitution

Twenty Articles for a Constitution

By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 18, 15 Qudrat 165 BE

Ever since Muhammad, after His flight from persecution in his hometown of Mecca and forced emigration to Medina, offered that city-state a constitution, written down, agreed upon and signed by all segments of society, protecting the rights of each minority and assuring that all live up to clearly defined responsibilities, advanced nations around the world have almost universally adopted some kind of written constitution. Today, it is the mark of an independent nation to have a written constitution, consented to by all, assuring the rule of law, limiting centralized power and guaranteeing just protections for minorities. Constitutions distinguish republics from tyrannies and absolutisms, as well as territories and protectorates, where citizens do not have directly guaranteed rights and freedoms.

In the fifteenth paragraph of his chapter on family, Comenius suggests a set of written rules for households that, I would argue, amounts to a constitution for the family. It would be impossible to overemphasize the importance of such a document for the long term survival of the human race.

"Written rules should be given to the whole family, so that no-one can go wrong through ignorance or plead ignorance as an excuse. In addition to being read out once, they must be posted in full view so that everyone knows what his duty is and may be held to it."

Comenius describes what is termed a promulgation, the open proclamation and public display of a new law so that each and all will know that it exists and understand what it requires of them. Abdu'l-Baha insisted that His talks in North America be called "The Promulgation of Universal Peace" because He saw it as His prime mission there to make clear the universal requirements that peace demands of each and all. Peace, He repeatedly told the Americans, is not a narrow compact among a few bigwigs but a universal agreement, a total and complete commitment to unity by all to all, heart, mind and soul.

Not long after Abdu'l-Baha left America for Haifa, the Great War broke out. It very soon transpired that one of the chief reasons that a local assassination in Sarajevo caught flame and turned into a worldwide bloodbath was a complex web of invisible, secret treaties among nations. Just before hostilities broke out the British foreign minister, challenged by a muckraking journalist to admit that they existed, denied it. Months later, when it was far too late, he admitted that he had lied. The lesson of the Master's peace promulgation was clear: peace cannot be trustworthy or stable as long as it is defended by a narrow, concentrated elite.

Woodrow Wilson attempted to make that conflict the "war to end all wars," roundly condemning secret pacts with a peace program that proposed "open covenants, openly arrived at." The United Nations now furnishes a forum for open discussion among nations and other organizations, but it still falls far short of the world constitution for a "perpetual peace" that Immanuel Kant had sketched out, and others (including Comenius) had been advocating for centuries.

The genius of Comenius in the Panorthosia is that he recognizes our fundamental need for open, promulgated constitutions, not just at one level of society but all -- this is the "pan" or "universal" in Panorthosia, Universal Reform. In order for there to be peace we must devise a set of firm, standard, open and mutually compatible constitutions that would apply not just in international diplomacy but at all levels of society, including the cornerstone of the body politic, the family.

Nor is Comenius instituting a rigid, confining straitjacket of a constitution. "Various rules of this kind can be prescribed as need arises. In my own family circle I used to prescribe as follows..." A family, perhaps more than any other institution, has to be flexible and adapt its constitution to changing circumstances. As children grow up, marry and become parents, they must abide by radically different house rules. In the following, 16th paragraph, Comenius makes it clearer that although these were rules that he had used successfully himself there might be other ways that work equally well.

"I offer the above as an example, not to suggest that rules for domestic order cannot be prescribed in a different form, but insisting that such prescription should not be overlooked. But there must be an additional safeguard ensuring that the rules are observed by everyone. This can be in the hands of the father of the family or his substitutes."

So, without further background, here is the set of twenty rules used in Comenius's household.

Comenius's Working Document for a Family Constitution

Jan Amos Comenius, Panorthosia, or Universal Reform, Chapters 19 to 26, translated by A.M.O. Dobbie, Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, England, 1993, pp. 34-36

from para 15, The Particular Reform of Families.

I. Everyone must fear God with a pure heart. For the Lord looks to the heart, to see that no-one in our midst is a hypocrite, a son of perdition.' (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7: 'man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart' and, Job 8:13: 'So are the paths of all that forget God, and the hypocrite's hope shall perish.')

II. Everyone must praise God with a cheerful heart. For He daily loadeth us with His benefits, Psalm LXVIII, 19.

III. Everyone must pray to God with humble heart. For we are all sinners in His sight.

IV. Whenever we meet for the daily worship of God, both morning and evening, everyone must be present without exception and join in devotion, praising God and calling upon Him. For these are the sacrifices which He wishes us to use in our worship.

V. Everyone should remember his own contract with God, entered into in the act of baptism, and cultivate the habit of keeping His Commandments with inward piety. For God hath no pleasure in fools; pay that which thou hast vowed (namely, obedience), Ecclesiastes 5:4.

VI. See that you perform and complete any task that is demanded of you, not just in appearance but in truth, not for man's sake but for God's.

VII. Everyone must keep an attentive eye on his neighbour (especially according to seniority) with a view to maintaining order.

VIII. Anyone who sees his neighbour going wrong must not remain silent, but must warn him.

IX. Anyone who receives a warning should confess, give thanks, and reform, and do the same favour to his neighbour. For one hand washes the other. (Proverb from Seneca's Apocolocyntosis, 9,9)

X. Anyone who refuses to take a warning or to reform should be brought before one of his superiors.

XI. Everyone should treat his superiors with respect and honour them with obedience (as unto God), so that we have no-one in our midst like Ham, who mocked his father, or Absalom who conspired against his father (Ham, son of Noah - see Genesis IX, 22-3; Absalom: See 11 Samuel 15: 3 etc.)

XII. In all your dealings with one another you must be sincere, open, and peaceful. I wish secret enmity and open quarrelling to be banished from my house.

XIII. No-one should carry trifling criticisms out of the house nor bring them in from elsewhere. If anyone has any complaint to make against another member, he should do so openly face to face.

XIV. You must take care of your neighbour's property in good faith, neither appropriating what does not belong to you, nor allowing it to suffer loss, but removing it into safe custody, and thereby you will generally prevent any loss and earn the affection of your neighbour and the blessing of God.

XV. No one may leave the house without good reason, or, if there is a reason, without the permission of a superior member, so that the activities and whereabouts of everyone are always known.

XVI. Everyone must practise moderation; apart from dinner and supper there should be no dainty fare, in the interests of health and strength.

XVII. If anyone notices the possibility of a change for the better in any respect (anywhere in the household), he shall be obliged on conscience to inform the Father or Mother of the family.

XVIII. Everyone should behave courteously towards visitors and answer their questions politely.

XIX. If anyone is sent to do some special duty, he should concentrate on the purpose of his mission and proceed to complete it carefully and faithfully, without wandering off elsewhere and dealing with things that are none of his business.

XX. On your return, you must report promptly what you have done, and then go back to your work.

John Taylor