Tuesday, March 31, 2009
On the Passing of Anne Nichols,
From Haldimand LSA Secretary Ron Speer:
Many may already know that our dear devoted Ann Nichols has departed this life and winged her way to the Abha Kingdom in the early hours of Monday March 30th.
Her daughters Jolene and Sofia, wish me to share these details with you all… Jolene has asked that the memorial be a celebratory gathering- a time to share many wonderful memories of this very spiritual sister, mother, relative and friend to so many. Ann specifically asked that people not wear black but rather the many colours of the rainbow at this time. We, who have had the privilege of knowing Ann, are richer for what she brought to all who shared precious moments with her. Prayers for the progress of her soul and for her special daughters, Jolene and Sofia, will wrap them in your warm loving embrace at this difficult time. Should any of you wish to contact the Haldimand Baha'i Community please feel free to call Ron Speer at 905-774-6526.
Former LSA Member Fran Laner writes in the Hamilton Newsletter:
As a former member of the Haldimand Baha'i Community Assembly I was totally shocked of the news with respect to Ann Nichols passing away this morning at 1 am March 30th. Ann and her home has been a lighthouse for this community for many years. All who knew her loved her. She served many and she served well.
This community had requested for some time new members to move into the area, these requests were sent to varied larger communities without success. The need is even greater now, Ron Speer will be moving sometime in May, I left due to a devastating flood from the Grand River February 13th 2009, and now recently the death of our beloved Anne. Haldimand is a large community and there are areas that have not been reached because of lack of manpower. This Assembly needs help!
In earlier days Hamilton was known for its pioneers that moved out to either help open a new area, or to assist the formation of a new Assembly nearby. I am hoping someone from Hamilton will respond.
Blessings to all.
Love, Fran Laner
From John Taylor:
I got the news of Anne's passing yesterday in the middle of writing one of my daily essays. I was so upset that I could not write another word until now, in tribute to her life.
Anne was one of the most devoted Baha'is I have ever met. Her home was open to meetings constantly. Her services as hostess to every function were always at the ready. She went to great effort to see that her home was spotless for every event.
She was intuitive to the point of being psychic, although in loyalty to the instructions in the Writings, she did not develop this talent. Nonetheless, in blatant self-interest whenever I was wondering about some course of action, I would ask her what she felt about it and then take what she said very seriously. When I had a moment with her alone at a recent fireside at the library where we were the only ones to show up, she shared a feeling of unease and foreboding, saying she was certain something was going to happen perhaps to this or that person. Now I know in my heart that the prophet was prophesying her own passing over.
As a former nurse we would always call her up for medical advice when we had small children and somebody got sick. She was there for Marie as an unofficial midwife when our son Thomas was born; long after I had left from complete exhaustion from that all night vigil, she stayed in the birthing room, rubbing Marie's back and keeping her company. She later kept a special interest in Tomaso, she asked about his progress, and I am sure that she will continue to act as his guardian angel and godmother for him throughout the worlds of God.
For me, Anne was always special because she was a member of that happy few, that band of brothers and sisters who were present at the fireside in Ancaster in 1973 where I declared my belief in Baha'u'llah. I was pleased to hear that the speaker at that fireside, Gordon Naylor, will be reading a prayer for her at the graveside. A spiritual circle is closing for me, but I am certain that another, larger circle is opening up. Anne's spiritual influence will only increase now that she is unhindered by a "mortal coil."
Sunday, March 29, 2009
By John Taylor; 2009 Mar 28, Baha 07, 165 BE
I have a rebellious fourteen-year-old on my hands and I find myself constantly being challenged on the Big Two -- that is the two major respects in which the Baha'i Faith deviates from current political correctness, homosexuality and the lack of women on the UHJ. This happen at the most inopportune times, like those rare and precious opportunities when I am explaining the basics of the Faith to a non-Baha'i, or in the middle of the consultation section of the Feast. At such moments I have to drop everything and against my will defend the Faith from a direct and energetic assault. Arguments that had satisfied me are discarded out of hand, until lately I just respond with,
"I sought out the question by doing things like reading books for myself. Maybe you should do the same. Nothing can take the place of reading. Conversation and asking questions are condiments, not staples. If you want to learn you have to read books on your own."
Today I want to talk about the former of the Big Two, homosexuality, or rather the broader context of which homosexuality is a mere subset, the question of chastity. By design, and in order to hopefully dispel these doubts, we are studying the compilation called "Living a Chaste and Holy Life" in our almost-daily children's class.
First of all, I think it is important to get the context of this question right first. Chastity is not merely a personal issue. It is highly significant that this generation is suddenly faced with the simplest and most urgent challenge imaginable, stopping global warming, and yet it does little to nothing to stop it. In the U.S. both wings of the business party, market fundamentalists and their mirror twins, liberals, have stepped up to the bat and struck out. Corruption and nationalism remain sacrosanct and there is no attempt to do what must be done immediately: persuade meat eaters to become vegetarians, a total changeover to renewable energy, complete electrification of industry and transport -- even, to mention only the most recent problem pointed out by Greenpeace, just stopping the destruction virgin forests so that Americans can wipe their bums with softer toilet paper.
When it comes to making even the most basic adjustments to our lifestyle, well, arbitrary personal change or even sacrifices for the general good do not come up. Extreme capitalism is all about choices, so the only context in which you can talk about this survival issue is as one of many other choices. We love our freedom. You can be an environmentalist, or you can be this or that, you can be gay or straight, pro-choice or pro-life, or any of a thousand other lifestyle choices. You can think about life or death survival, or you can think about something else, or whatever. Do your own thing and we will be alright. Forget the logical fact that total freedom and infinite choice is the same as total slavery and no choice at all. That is mere sophistry.
How could we all be so torpid and unresponsive to dire threats to our survival as a species? Can you blame politicians for this blaze renunciation of our responsibility to do what is necessary to continue living? Is anything to blame but the whole culture, including the capitalist system?
I just viewed a Canadian documentary on suburbanism called "Radiant City," which I highly recommend. It describes all the selfish reasons why the burbs have grown to dominate our minds and the world we build around us. We think we are making things better when we move out of high density housing into low density suburbs, but we end up with much worse, and destroy the planet while we are at it.
We should be desperately seeking for alternatives. For example, in the Trustworthiness Compilation is a passage from Baha'u'llah that makes it clear why it is that business and capitalism, divorced from virtue and ethics, are such a corrosive force.
"Commerce is as a heaven, whose sun is trustworthiness and whose moon is truthfulness. The most precious of all things in the estimation of Him Who is the Sovereign Truth is trustworthiness: thus hath it been recorded in the sacred Scroll of God. Entreat ye the one true God to enable all mankind to attain to this most noble and lofty station." (quoted in, Compilation of Compilations, #2046, vol II, p. 335-336)
Extreme capitalism is so corrosive because it leads to commercialism, a perceived need to promote growth, debt, frivolity and unlimited consumption without regard to consequences, a mind set that is plunging us into global warming. Unchastity and impurity are part of this. They degrade the very spirit of justice and trustworthiness that helped free enterprise to prevail over communism in the first place. A consumer is not serious like a citizen; he or she is frivolous by nature.
There are many warnings against frivolity in compilations like that on Trustworthiness and the Chaste and Holy Life compilation. Take the following letter from the Persian writings of Shoghi Effendi. He starts by citing the Kitab-i-Ahd, which says that the,
"Fear of God is the greatest commander that can render the Cause of God victorious, and the hosts which best befit this commander have ever been and are an upright character and pure and goodly deeds."
Expanding upon this, he continues,
"The people of Baha should, then, lead their lives and conduct their affairs with the highest degree of sanctity and godliness, and uncompromisingly repudiate and dissociate themselves from the disreputable practices, the deplorable modes and customs prevalent among the people of the West. Piety and devotion should be the object of all who would be accounted lovers of this Cause, and the adornment of every righteous soul; otherwise, slowly but surely, the illumination conferred on the innermost reality of men's hearts by the virtues of the human world will flicker and fade and die away, to be overwhelmed by the engulfing darkness of vice and depravity. Courtesy and dignity are what bring nobility and standing to a man; whereas frivolity and facetiousness, ribaldry and effrontery will lead to his abasement, degradation and humiliation... Any action, therefore, that is calculated to detract from the dignity of man's station must be steadfastly avoided and shunned." (Compilation of Compilations, Vol II, p. 351)
The Frivolity of the Simpsons
Our kids, having seen over and over all of the Futurama DVD's, moved on to another product of Matt Groening; they are now heavily into the Simpsons, a good twenty years of satire directed against a corrupt and frivolous television culture. Others (who have network television) get the Simpsons in small doses, but these kids get it in concentrated form in DVD's and the Web. They have been overindulging to the point where I have to limit their daily exposure. At first I was not worried. There are worse things they could be getting their laughs from and I enjoy as much as anybody this lampoon of American life.
Except that at their age, satire is not what it is for an adult.
Unconsciously and by osmosis, the foibles of Homer Simpson become the model for how it should be in a family. Thomas tends to take on the brute, unthinking rebelliousness of Bart, and Silvie the blank-faced superficiality and extreme liberalism of the female members of that cartoon family. I find myself declaiming especially against all that Homer, the father, stands for. "But he is a loyal husband and a devoted father," they say. Yes, but he is also a dumb drunk, an unrepentant glutton, an anti-intellectual nihilist devoted to a life of pleasure and self-gratification. In real life, if anybody did what he does they would be in jail within a week. He is steadfast only in standing for nothing important, and in that respect the rest of the family is little better. This is the last person to use as a role model for a father.
As I mentioned, the last thing we need in a giant climate crisis is an attitude of frivolity, which is just the attitude that the Simpsons, in spite of its attempts to poke fun at television, entertainment and even itself, unambiguously promotes and propagates. Frivolity is an outcome of the same attitude to life that makes sex into a game, an entertainment, a recreation, an expression of unreasoned personal choice, rather than a sacred part of our duty of eternal love as reflections of God.
Contrast Homer and his brood to the sort of lifestyle held up in the "Chaste and Holy Life" compilation. The booklet is named for the passage in ADJ where Shoghi Effendi says famously,
"Such a chaste and holy life, with its implications of modesty, purity, temperance, decency, and clean-mindedness, involves no less than the exercise of moderation in all that pertains to dress, language, amusements, and all artistic and literary avocations. It demands daily vigilance in the control of one's carnal desires and corrupt inclinations. It calls for the abandonment of a frivolous conduct, with its excessive attachment to trivial and often misdirected pleasures. It requires total abstinence from all alcoholic drinks, from opium, and from similar habit-forming drugs." (Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, 30)
We are all familiar with this but the compilation also contains an interesting commentary on it by the UHJ to an individual believer. I was especially gratified to see its mention of sports -- yet another Homer Simpson-like attribute. The obsession with sports, especially spectator sports, is not only a blight on American culture, it degrades the entire male sex. Men everywhere waste their lives watching, rather that getting up and doing something to end greenhouse gas emissions. I will close with this passage.
"... the beloved Guardian is describing the requirements not only of chastity, but of "a chaste and holy life" - both the adjectives are important. One of the signs of a decadent society, a sign which is very evident in the world today, is an almost frenetic devotion to pleasure and diversion, an insatiable thirst for amusement, a fanatical devotion to games and sport, a reluctance to treat any matter seriously, and a scornful, derisory attitude towards virtue and solid worth. Abandonment of "a frivolous conduct" does not imply that a Baha'i must be sour-faced or perpetually solemn. Humour, happiness, joy are characteristics of a true Baha'i life. Frivolity palls and eventually leads to boredom and emptiness, but true happiness and joy and humor that are parts of a balanced life that includes serious thought, compassion and humble servitude to God are characteristics that enrich life and add to its radiance.
"Shoghi Effendi's choice of words was always significant, and each one is important in understanding his guidance. In this particular passage, he does not forbid `trivial' pleasures, but he does warn against `excessive attachment' to them and indicates that they can often be "misdirected". One is reminded of 'Abdu'l-Baha's caution that we should not let a pastime become a waste of time."
Friday, March 27, 2009
The Nature of Consciousness and the Oneness of Humanity
Panorthosia and the Oneness of Humanity, II
Our focus for now is on the Panorthosia and how it relates to the principle of the oneness of humanity. The initial essay in this series was: "Comenius's Panorthosia and the Oneness of Humanity, Part I;" or, "Bolivia and the Miracle of Principle." It can be found at,
Next time we will go on to how Comenius in the Panorthosia treats this principle in an essay that I will probably call: "From Conscience to Consciousness; On the Oneness of Humanity in Panorthosia." Before that, however, I want to get back to basics and talk today generally about what the oneness of mankind is.
The Nature of Oneness of Humanity
Baha'u'llah said that religion is the light of a sun, fasting, and a moon, obligatory prayer. All other aspects of faith and religion derive inspiration from these two simple but absolutely fundamental devotional practices. If it is the case that there is a sun and a moon for principle, the sun here would have to be the principle of independent investigation of reality and its moon the principle of the oneness of humanity.
This makes sense if we consider that the oneness of humanity will always perforce remain a distant abstraction in the eyes of the individual. Nobody, no matter how well-travelled or how broad their experience, can ever meet or even glimpse every member of the human race. There are several billion humans on this planet, and a billion is a very large number. One could spend a lifetime going over mug shots and barely scan tens of millions of faces, let alone a billion. The principle of the oneness of humanity, then, is just like the moon in that it shines through a very dark night and its cold light will always derive from the sun of the search of individuals for truth and reality. The indirect, reflected illumination of the oneness of humankind can only partly illumine the mind, and will never give it much heat. The diffuse glow of this "moon principle" is termed the consciousness of the oneness of humanity.
This is not to say that the oneness of mankind is unimportant. Indeed in a sense it has always been central to faith and religion. Believers in God accept that there is only one way to help the seven billion neighbours that God created for us on this planet, and that is to be true to our Creator. If we do right by Him, we can at the same time be just to all our brothers and sisters on this vast, teeming planet. As Comenius put it,
"If they are seized with His love, and truly unite with Him in their desires, they will also find it easier to cooperate with one another." (Panorthosia, Ch. 19, para 13, pp. 14-15)
Faith is so effective, efficient and persuasive because monotheism is by nature the ultimate simplifier. I do not have to deal with seven billion, I just have to meet One. Know Him and love Him intimately, and I will be far closer to truth than if I knew every one of those billions. If faith is then firmly based upon the Word of God's Manifestation, God will arm us with the instrument known as the law of parsimony, or Occam's Razor. This razor cuts away all illusion, imitation and distraction. As Comenius expresses it in the Panorthosia, "truth must be taught before errors are untaught." (Ch. 18, para 16, p. 246) The Razor of religion cuts in its own particular direction in every age, but today it is going directly towards the consciousness derived from our common oneness. As Abdu'l-Baha explains,
"In every Dispensation the light of Divine Guidance has been focused upon one central theme.... In this wondrous Revelation, this glorious century, the foundation of the Faith of God, and the distinguishing feature of His Law, is the consciousness of the oneness of mankind." (Abdu'l-Baha, quoted in, Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, 119)
If I may sum up: The principle of the oneness of mankind is where the truth that we uncover for ourselves melds into the universal truth of all humanity, and vice versa. The word we use for this bi-directional reciprocity between the two pivotal principles is "consciousness." Search is individual conscience, oneness is collective consciousness. The upshot is that oneness of humankind operates through an intangible, spiritual quality, consciousness, rather than any particular skill or methodology.
Understanding well the juncture between search and oneness is crucial to understanding and applying principle. It may seem obvious to a Comenius or an 'Abdu'l-Baha that search leads inevitably to oneness, and vice versa, but in the secular, unbelieving, non-theistic eyes of most of the human race this remains very much to be proved. I want to close with a passage from Panorthosia where Comenius addresses this problem. He very eloquently demonstrates that the grounds are solid and true for accepting that individual search will naturally to take us all to a single opinion.
Grounds for Believing Truth
from: Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 33, pp. 122-123
"If anyone is still in doubt, I shall proceed to prove that if we adopt this way there will be no reason to despair of the most perfect reconciliation, since the time is ripe for us to begin to hope for it. For at present in our schools, churches, courts and parliaments we are all indoctrinated with different forms of theory and practice in philosophy, religion, and politics, and we flatter ourselves with natural self-satisfaction that our leaders can do no wrong. The result is that the more eagerly we drink our first pledge, so to speak, the more easily we succumb to the intoxication which fetters our judgment so that it is seldom, if ever, possible for us to use our minds freely when we awake.
But if we reject the ways of man and embrace those of God (drawing from God's Holy Books as our only source of wisdom, prudence and devotion), and advance along the pathways to Order which He has indicated, I would wager my life that our common Teacher, and the common Lover of all men without respect of persons, will thereby lead us back to agreement. For,
I. since the whole world is subject to the senses, and these are all of the same structure, if we all alike examine everything in the world with our senses, it will be impossible for anything to affect different people in different ways, but a similar sensation in all people will produce agreement.
II. Since common innate ideas, instincts and faculties are imprinted upon all men's minds in the same way, if we co-ordinate them and all adopt and apply the same forms and standards for their consequences, the same common mental light cannot fail to shine on us all in the same way.
III. Lastly, since all God's revelations, commandments, and promises in Holy Scripture are revealed, commanded, and promised to all men in the same way, if we all believe all His revelations and do all that He commands and hope for all that He has promised, surely we shall all believe and do and hope for the same things.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Bolivia and the Miracle of Principle
By John Taylor; 2009 Mar 23, Baha 03, 165 BE
Comenius and the Oneness of Humanity, I
Working through the Gospel of Mark in the almost-daily study class with our children, we came across the following advice from Jesus on how to pray.
"Therefore I tell you, all things whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them." (Mark 11:24, WEB)
This promise that you get what you pray for if only you really, truly, sincerely believe is expressed several times in the New Testament, but usually with the proviso: "if ye ask in my name," which Abdu'l-Baha interpreted to mean asking in the loving spirit of the Christ. For example, if you pray that the flames of hell will lick the soles of your enemies, that is not in the right spirit and probably will not be answered anytime soon. In fact, you had better pray that it is not answered.
What amazes me is not that Jesus made miracles, but that he taught his disciples how to perform miracles themselves with their prayers. Not only did they go out, believe and perform miracles on their own, away from Jesus, but others too, who were not disciples, borrowed the idea of doing that too, just by watching how Jesus did it; they prayed themselves, and believed -- and no doubt at the same time a similar state of conviction and expectation was communicated to those they performed miracles on. And lo and behold, these amateurs performed miracles too! All that is required, it seems, is to believe and ask in the name or spirit of Christ.
When strangers started having the same success at performing miracles as the disciples, they complained to the Master. If He had been a modern corporation he might have slapped a copyright or trademark on His miracles and said these and these only are real miracles. "We want you only to accept our miracles because we are concerned about quality control. Other peoples' miracles may be dangerous. They are just cheap knock-offs." Instead, he told them, "Those who are not against us are for us." Simple as that. The cause of God is God's, it is not a human possession. Anybody who does good does good. All who pray and believe, get.
So, this promise that if you pray and believe that it is already answered, it will be answered speaks to us today, but in a slightly different way. We now understand the principles of faith, even as it was predicted (these two prophesies Comenius often refers to):
"All thy children shall be taught of the Lord." (Isa 54:13)
"It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God." (John 6:45)
Having this direct relationship to divine truth, we bestride the juncture between two pivotal principles, search and oneness. We seek truth, and come to believe that the truth will make us all one, that our many opinions and viewpoints will merge. That is the great miracle of our time. Though it is purely mental and does not offer physical cures, it is universal, unlike anything in the past.
And so it shall be.
We will seek our own truth and having sought it out we will love humanity as our self. If we believe, the miracle will already be accomplished. The varied opinions and oppositions that keep us apart will disappear, just like a movie on the cinema screen when somebody pulls out the plug on the projector. Gone completely. There will be no significant differences in opinion, only what unites. Comenius describes the principle like this:
"If we weigh up the situation correctly, there is no reason for contempt on anyone's part. We are all the work of the same God, who tolerates and even loves and fosters us all because He recognises in everyone some part of Himself which He has contributed personally. For the common Creator and Preserver of all mankind has so distributed His gifts that no nation or mind or language or age is deprived of its inheritance, if only mortal men knew how to use it to the common advantage." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, Para 13, 113-114)
The ability to perform this miracle of unity is not restricted to any group or class. All reflect some of the truth, and a good leader nurtures it in every fertile garden. This is proven by the fact that even the highest leaders, the Manifestations of God, often took counsel from the lowest. Baha'u'llah, in the Iqan, points out that Muhammad took the advice of a lowly fellow to dig trenches, and that saved the city of Medina from imminent conquest by Meccan allied armies. Comenius uses the example of Moses, who took the advice of Jethro.
"Even if we had someone like the original Moses, privileged to have converse with God Himself, yet if Jethro the Midianite (Exodus 18:19-24) also offers him some good advice, he will find that he cannot afford to scorn it. For the wind of Heaven bloweth where it listeth upon lowly and exalted places alike, and who shall prevent it?" (Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 13, pp. 113-114)
Who can doubt but that the solutions to climate change will be found in the most unexpected of places? It is ironic that the largest deposit of lithium in the world -- the metal that we will soon need in order to change every automobile over from gasoline to electric -- is to be found under lakebeds in Bolivia, a country that for the first time in history just elected an aboriginal to its presidency.
There is talk of cooperatives and other traditional native ways of enterprise. The attention -- not to mention the prayers -- of the world should be directed at Bolivia. We have much to learn from the native peoples. Let us hope that we will learn aboriginal ways and regard resources as the property of all humankind, to be distributed for the good of all, even those unfortunate enough to live over those resources. May we be just to this nation and protect them from the violence and subversion that have been the mark of those charged with extracting precious resources up until now... Miracles do happen, if we pray and believe.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Comenius's Four Consultants
By John Taylor; 2009 Mar 20, 'Ala 19, 165 BE
Yesterday in an essay entitled "Three Orders of Magistrate" (http://badiblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/three-orders-of-magistrate.html) we discussed Comenius suggestion of three orders of magistrate, a public relations specialist, a guardian and a planner to rule them. (Panorthosia, Ch. 24, para 1, p. 110) The law is a blunt instrument; our present legal system is largely concerned with negative punishments for violations of the law. This triad of magistrates would be pro-active and positive, and could make the law into something more precise and elegant.
The first order, teaching magistrates, would use public relations to raise the general standard of moderation and piety. A second order, guardian magistrates, would adjudicate disagreements and disputes in order to keep the peace. Since justice is concerned with both order as well as law, a third and senior order of judge, called an ephor or censor, would be concerned with keeping good order in society, presumably by making certain that laws are applied in ways that will promote broader social goals and plans. Baha'is will recognize in this a hint of the learned and rulers in the Commonwealth of Baha'u'llah, where the learned specialize further into roles dedicated to propagation and protection.
Today I want to look over another proposal that Comenius suggests in the same paragraph of the Panorthosia. Again, he trumps me on what I thought was my own original idea, a standard dashboard display and internet portal for every world citizen. Although of course computers and the Internet were not around in the time of Comenius, he did envision a support system for every person in a position of leadership. This would be a coterie of four advisors whose expertise covers every major area a leader needs: a spiritual counsellor, a lawyer, philosopher and a doctor.
"Therefore every king, prince, consul, and even the individual citizen should have (1) his own preacher, as a guardian of his conscience, and a counsellor in the things which concern God, (2) his own lawyer as a supervisor in the things which concern man, (3) his own philosopher or sage to guide him in the business of life, and (4) his own doctor as guardian and director of his physical health." (Panorthosia, Ch. 24, para 1, pp. 110-111)
Comenius's proposal, as always, is an outcome of his unitary "pansophic" philosophy, designed to cover essentials while still being understandable and accessible to every human being on earth. A world parliamentarian would have world-class experts as consultants, but as Comenius makes clear such consultants would not be exclusive to a small elite. Everybody needs good advisors so as to assure success in what they are weak at as well as in their strengths. A dashboard computer display would automate details and data input, and would act as an alarm when things start to go wrong. It would also act as an intermediary with the broader intelligence and experience of human knowledge on the internet. However, no matter how good the programming it will never be possible or desirable for software to take the place of professional advisors. The poor have friends and relations to advise them, and since their need is more acute they should be provided with the best consultants gratis when they cannot afford it.
I imagine Comenius's four specialties shown in four dials that a person would see whenever they log onto their computer. The first is a summary of known measures of spiritual health, such as time spent in prayer, meditation, pilgrimage, and amount of money given to the poor and other charitable ends. A second dial is a justice meter, displaying measures of study and inquiry accomplished, perhaps also showing how one is keeping up with career plans and goals. The third indicator, science and philosophy, shows metrics of wisdom, such as the quality of one's discussions and teaching, progress in virtues, as shown from feedback from those we interact with which is provided anonymously, and other metrics. The fourth dial charts physical health through blood pressure, quality of diet, exposure to stress, and whatever other factors physicians consider important.
As such, a plan and a life planner, periodically adjusted by expert advisors, would be available to make everyone a more effective world citizen, always training and honing our leadership and "followership" skills.
Of course the best advisors may help the bungler but they are useless for a fool or someone unwilling to engage in self-criticism. Comenius therefore starts off his discussion of this issue with a nod to the Sine Qua Non of everything, personal integrity.
"It is essential that those who are appointed to rule over others should themselves be honest, wise, pious, brave, and vigilant, since nothing can rule unless it is right, nor enlighten unless it is full of light."
This is not a minor problem, and the higher we go in human governance the more difficult it becomes. Indeed the most cogent objection to a world government is that if its members are corrupt (as lower levels already are corrupt) we will have no appeal to a higher authority. The whole world will rot and there will be no escape. Stark and other world federalists are suggesting that we avoid even a suspicion of corruption by subjecting high public servants to almost constant surveillance. Video feeds of their every move should then be made available live for any and all to view on the internet. They argue that since security cameras are already recording our every move in public places, why make an exception for all-too-corruptible politicians? Some go so far as to argue that bathroom activity, and even their sex lives be included.
Comenius on his part would probably weigh in against such paranoid counter-measures to corruption. For one thing, the worst corruption in the world is not individual but systemic. Families are weak, and that weakens institutions on every other level. The reform that Comenius puts forward is based on well-ordered households that in turn would raise the bar for their members.
"Finally all will be well in city, state and kingdom if all is well at home and individual families are as well-ordered as I recommended ... Since this depends on the wise self-control of individual people, all magistrates will be vigilant to see that individuals promote the safety and peace of the state by leading pious, righteous, and sober lives." (Panorthosia, Ch. 24, para 1, p. 111)
In other words, as the general standard of virtue at home is raised, so will that of the leaders that emerge from them. What is more, a leader's sincerity and probity are hardly bolstered by the external overview of a security camera. This ends up as interference, since it comes from outside the close feedback loop of a successful family household. A leader has to be one who has demonstrated family leadership skills, already proving that they can be trusted to take the reigns and lead in more universal matters. If they do not, a committee is a better answer than an individual leader.
We are used to hiring only individuals today, who are then expected to sacrifice family interests and ties for the job on offer. However, in future entire households as working units will be hired for many jobs, including political leadership. It would then be in the interest of all members to cut out the slightest hint of corruption before it defeats all their aspirations. Then a leader's ability to work in groups and lead a family enterprise, rather than individual talent, would be the operating principle. Comenius holds that we do not need passive representative of outside interests, even the holy of holies in a democracy, the will of the people. We need creative, autonomous leaders.
"It is absurd for kings to be ruled, or for leaders to be led by other men. The real sun does not need oil poured into it. The real fountain does not need water poured into it."
In this Comenius followed Paul, Peter and other early Christian thinkers, who, influenced by Jesus' example of associating with winebibbers in order to help them (a principle I call "going to the need"), repeatedly made the point that the external law is not there for believers but sinners. Being responsible, believers do not benefit from outside supervision. They are already subject to a much more strict and exacting standard, the intrinsic law of the love of God. For them, improvement comes from devotions, prayer, fasting, alms and personal sacrifice, combined with regular, daily self-assessment. Outside purview does more harm than good because it distracts from a far closer and more exacting trial going on within the heart. A true leader is like the Good Samaritan doing good outside the box, performing pure deeds for goodness's sake and not for social reward.
But as we have seen the principle of leadership autonomy does not mean that it is impossible for the sincere believer to make mistakes. Examination and self-criticism are, therefore, the foundation of justice. From justice come all good and all wisdom. Nor does it preclude taking advice. As Baha'u'llah's meta-advice says, "Consult in all things." Knowledge can never be complete. For that reason the two subsequent steps, volition and action, benefit from more ample data. Here is how Comenius, in his inimitable way, makes this point,
"Nevertheless great magnates (who have many heavy responsibilities) are allowed to have assistants who co-operate with them in drawing up their policies and putting them into action, as a safeguard against error and its ill-effects, just as our mind, which rules its own body like a queen, is provided with a guard of senses, such as sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch." (Panorthosia, Ch. 24, p. 110)
I think that a leader integrated in a family unit that incorporates a set of good advisors would be immune to corruption. This system constitutes a far more dependable "safeguard against error" than any number of twenty-four-hour-a-day surveillance cameras could provide.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
By John Taylor; 2009 Mar 18, 'Ala 17, 165 BE
I have often thought that we need a profession like the Chinese "neighborhood helper." In the West we tend to either neglect people, especially those living alone, or intervene with a clumsy, heavy, violent hand. We need a Socratic dialectician, a trained expert who would act as a go-between among government and other agencies, and individuals, between officials, corporations, private persons and other groups. This would perhaps be a female-dominated profession, a cross between a cop and a social worker, somebody to talk to before you call in the government or the police. To my great surprise, when I read the Panorthosia I found that Comenius had centuries ago proposed something very similar.
His idea, based on the Roman model, was for justice to be divided among three kinds or "orders" of magistrates.
"The world will be more orderly if every political system, or state or city has magistrates who are devoted to piety, peace and order." (Panorthosia, Ch. 24, para 1, p. 110)
The first order of judge (concerned with piety) would be consuls who would give general advice to everybody, attempting to solve public and private difficulties before they become severe. They must "make themselves fully available to all men at stated times and give advice on all kinds of business for the purpose of smoothing out any public or private difficulties." These, he stipulated, must be wise and good teachers, able to explain the law in clear terms and to convince both officials and the general public of its fairness.
A second magisterial profession (concerned with peace) would be judges trained to settle disputes and lawsuits that slip past the consuls. These should be righteous themselves, yet unwilling to use force and compulsion. Three, there would be ephors or censors (concerned with order), who see that everything is done in proper order. They must "have a most observant eye" and be willing to assert authority over the first two orders of judge.
These magistrates would not be judges, the passive listeners we are familiar with in English speaking countries. Rather he or she must be a good planner and executive, possessed of sound knowledge, a decisive will and be ever active in good works. For all three orders of magistrate, they must be just first, before they impose law on others.
"Their main qualification is that they should all have the knowledge, the will and the ability to do good works."
Comenius made this proposal before there were professions in the modern, scientific sense. There were police (called "watchmen" in England at the time) lawyers and judges, but their methods were hardly up to modern standards. At the same time, we have lost much of the good in old ways. For example the apprenticeship system had local youths chosen journeymen to learn their trade on the job, thus avoiding the huge debt that burdens students of today. But still, I think in coming years we should take this proposal very seriously as we implement a just world government.
Sunday, March 15, 2009
Comenius's Contribution to Universal Search for Truth
By John Taylor; 2009 Mar 14, 'Ala 15, 165 BE
We have been concerned for some months on this blog with what John Amos Comenius has to say about justice as expressed on the individual level, that is to say, the quality of a person's search for truth. Dostoevsky wrote: "Each one of us is undoubtedly responsible for all men and everything on earth." I believe that the converse is also true, that any future world government should take on as its first duty the task of doing everything in its power to aid the individual to find out how to maximize their potential. The investigation of reality is the first and last of all human rights and any just world government would maintain and defend this as its first order of business.
As we have seen, Comenius sees the goal of the individual in seeking truth as threefold. One, to uphold "truth with agreement," that is, reason. A seeker of truth understands and accedes to the demands of reason. Two, in relation to eternal, universal matters, a seeker stands for moderation and piety. They express the longing of the heart through their own worship, whatever its form. And third, to bolster social order by complying to what is socially beneficial.
"...every individual, regardless of his station in life, ought to play his part in the building of this new Jerusalem like a well-measured beam or a well-squared stone, ready at all events to uphold truth with agreement, piety with worship, and order with obedience..." (Panorthosia, Ch. 20, para 3, pp. 20-21)
If this is how the individual thinks, the personal will embrace world government, and world government will do the same for each of us. In this respect, Comenius cites the Psalm, "Righteousness and peace have kissed each other." (6:10) On this holy ground, the love between personal and collective, is where a program of education for universal liberation begins.
On the Badi' blog in past years we have proposed a sort of universal planning template, a computerized dashboard or instrument panel, to aid the individual to investigate reality. Though each of us has a unique perspective on the world, there is every reason to think that a universal internet portal, including a banking and financial planner, would reinforce the both the particular and the common aspects of an individual's investigation of reality. Comenius's philosophy, which he called "universal wisdom" or pansophy, was designed for just that, to gather commonalities and universals of search for truth while nurturing whatever is particular to each seeker. Since we all have a mind, a heart and the ability to act, each of these can be understood and improved.
"The heart of Philosophy will be wisdom, of Religion, simplicity, and of Politics, vigilance." (Panorthosia, Ch. 13, para 12, p. 205)
In order to accomplish reform for each of these, he envisioned a society with a school built into every level, from the individual to the family to the culture and language group, right up to a world government, which would not be solely a political body but also a scientific institution and a parliament of religions. These proto-institutions for every level he called pampaedia, or universal schools.
"The end of universal schools will be to provide opportunities, not only for all nations and tongues and orders of men, but for every single individual to rise out of the darkness of ignorance and barbarism." (Via Lucis, qi Murphy, Daniel, Comenius, A Critical Reassessment, 147)
Right now government is oriented towards power and hegemony, but a Comenian world order would shift that away from this fundamentally violent and warlike worldview towards one based on education and the promotion of virtues. Baha'u'llah, of course, does the same thing in the Tablet of the World,
"O people of God! Do not busy yourselves in your own concerns; let your thoughts be fixed upon that which will rehabilitate the fortunes of mankind and sanctify the hearts and souls of men. This can best be achieved through pure and holy deeds, through a virtuous life and a goodly behaviour. Valiant acts will ensure the triumph of this Cause, and a saintly character will reinforce its power. Cleave unto righteousness, O people of Baha!" (Baha'u'llah, Tablets, 86)
The genius of Comenius is to point out that transformation is of the essence of the religious belief that we can be, at our best and with effort, the image of God.
"But inasmuch as you are the image of God, you must wholly transform yourself for the purpose of representing the very likeness of God in the actions of your daily life. This means that you should be holy, even as our God is holy," (Leviticus 24:2) and merciful and generous, and kind yet just to all men without respect of persons, (Romans 2:11) and so on, as true religion teaches you." (Panorthosia, Ch. 20, para 15, p. 25)
We have seen that Comenius proposes this slogan for the individual: "Here is a Splendid Image of God." These seven words could be stamped prominently on the world citizen's virtual dashboard or personal space, or even on the mirror on their vanity. He also suggests another saying that might be appropriate to place there: "If any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass.' (James 1:23-4) Reinforced by computer software planners, websites, blogs and other portals, these messages would serve as a constant reminder that we are not here to passively reflect our material surroundings or "natural face" but the image of God. To see the natural face is to worship idols and allow materialism and externals to triumph. The goal must be otherwise.
"The goal of your Reform will be to put yourself, with God's help, in the happy state in which all is well for you in body and soul in this world and unto eternity. This will come to pass if your relationship with nature, mankind, and God entitles you to expect peace and quietness, help and consolation everywhere, or through having your proper share of life's necessities, no more and no less, or by cultivating peaceful coexistence with your neighbours' and befriending them one and all, or by serving God with such devotion that you can be fully confident of earning His favour." (Panorthosia, Ch. 20, para 4, p. 21)
To reflect the image of God is rather to commune with the best of what is real, God. Nowhere else can we establish what is right about the first human right, the right to seek reality.
"...no-one can be prevented from founding Paradise in and around himself, and establishing God's Kingdom within himself, and setting up an altar to God likewise, and finding delight in the world and himself and God, by acting reasonably and reverently in all things." (Panorthosia, Ch. 20, para 2, p. 20)
This paradise can be gained if we all help each other in a lifetime of search through education, regular devotion and good works.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
World Government and the Population Explosion
By John Taylor; 2009 Mar 13, 'Ala 14, 165 BE
One of the greatest challenges we face now is the population explosion. Thomas Malthus calculated centuries ago that growth operates according geometric progression while resources stretch only mathematically. Inexorable as this is, it will surely soon be worsened by rising sea levels and a flood of climate refugees in their billions.
On this blog we have been exploring how to respond to this looming crisis. One of the answers we stand for is to combine world governance with local -- personal, familial, neighbourhood -- planning. Our message is to take the saying `think globally, work locally' quite literally. Contrary to what many world federalists expect, it is on the neighbourhood level -- not internationally or regionally -- that the advantages of a world government will have their greatest impact and appeal. Jim Stark, in his book "Rescue Plan for Planet Earth," says,
"This analysis implies that the problem is not too many people, but too much greed, especially in the developed countries. But this conclusion has some fatal difficulties. First, it is just not credible to suggest that those who live in developed nations will ever willingly reduce their standard of living to that of a Chinese or Indian citizen (or anywhere close to that)." (Jim Stark, Rescue Plan for Planet Earth, p. 136)
I personally find this quite credible. The slave trade was abolished. Yes, there was struggle and civil war, but eventually chattel slavery was outlawed. Why can we not believe that reductions of the standard of living are impossible. Even if they were, this begs the question. Right now nobody has a standard of living, which is why we are going down the tubes environmentally. Affluent nations, while materially rich, are generally speaking languishing in cultural, social and spiritual poverty. The reorganized neighbourhoods that we have been working out on the Badi' blog over the past decade would offer an improved standard for everybody, rich and poor. Stark continues,
"And second, in the unlikely event we did `even out' the consumption imbalance, population growth would continue, and we will once again be up against the problem of having not-enough-of-everything when we are 10 or 12 billion. If all rich or well-off people want to share with the world's poor (which is at least half of humanity), I'm all for that, but even those with religious beliefs saying they have to do this type of caring and sharing do not do much of it -- not nearly enough to make a serious difference. And again, even if they did, if we do not slow down our rate of reproduction, we will only postpone the hardest decisions for a few decades. It is mathematically impossible to get away from the conclusion that we have to at least stop the net increase in human numbers, or we will end up with 15 or 20 billion people, at which point nothing short of constant warfare (for increasingly scarce resources) will assure that anyone lives any kind of life." (Id.)
This ignores the vast resources of human creativity stored up at the local level, and currently left to rot. Religion is sorely corrupt. Individuals rarely seek truth, and when they do their products are stifled. Education is very inefficient. Women, by and large, are badly oppressed, overworked and are operating at a fraction of their potential. The same is true of the poor, the old, and of hundreds of vital cultures obscured by the language barrier. Properly designed neighbourhoods would unleash these oceans of human potential to solve problems like runaway growth and the population explosion.
This release of untapped human resources would burst out as soon as a democratic world government (DWG) is formed. At first, all the new DWG would have to do is set up standards and coordinate efforts at the local level. With proper organization and construction neighbourhoods would be built everywhere, and a great demand would arise to live there. A world neighbourhood, arranged around cooperatives and full service house lifestyles, would offer more services than all but a tiny minority enjoy today. It would involve everybody in productive work and soon produce enough renewable resources to provide every human, no matter who they are or where they live, with the basic needs of survival without doing harm to nature. Meanwhile, improved religion, science and technology, and a vital culture, would remove the perceived need for greed.
The great power of this system is applied justice. Just standards would involve each person, family and neighbourhood. As their potential is released, local innovations would, guided by law and standards, take in all cultures and areas of knowledge equably. Success on the local level would be far more visible and persuasive than anything that happens in any world capitol city.
For example, both business and environmental leaders agree that in order to neutralize our environmental footprint it will be necessary in every neighbourhood to live up to what is being called subsidiarity, the principle that what can be done locally is done locally. Another new standard for buildings and vehicles is "net-zero." A net-zero operation is designed to be independent of central grids and at every step generates at least as much energy as it uses. All materials must be infinitely recyclable. We have been proposing several other principles and proposals for standard local organization.
Basic human needs are the same everywhere -- food, clothing and shelter. This universality constitutes a vast market, a global market involving several billions of consumers. Just by publishing a set of open standards for food, dress and housing, a world government would stimulate industry everywhere to compete for the vast profits to be won for them. Meantime, subsidiarity would assure that local employment and innovation are maximized. Economies of scale would quickly reduce prices for any green technology that affects the fundamental needs of all.
The beauty of it is that these universal standards would be self-implementing. There would be no need for a "carbon dictatorship," an autocratic big brother enforcing green change by force from the top down.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Thursday, March 12, 2009
My Theory on "Sock-rates"
Socrates' name is too long and needs to be shortened to "Sock." Sock is no longer a hero because his evil sidekick Stinky took over his job. These days people hate philosophy, and they want heroes who are female, or black, or both. Today, Sock rates poorly on the cool scale. And he was probably poor too.
My Theory on Adolph Nobody
The word Adolph sounds like Adam and Rudolph combined. If Adoph is a Nobody then why listen to his book, unless it has a lot of action and more major characters. Now you know how it feels to have (your name here) insulted.
Comenius, Property Rights, and Life in Common
By John Taylor; 2009 Mar 12, 'Ala 13, 165 BE
I just listened to a podcast of the BBC program In Our Time about the recovery efforts after the 1665 Great Fire of London. As the historians interviewed here explain, there arose two schools of thought after virtually nuclear destruction had all but devastated the center of the city. One side, including the architect Sir Christopher Wren, itched to rebuild from scratch, while the property-owners, including some of my own ancestors perhaps, wanted to follow the old street plan. The latter won out, and the In Our Time historians had high praise for the order and discipline with which the fire courts took on a very daunting task.
I was reminded of the very strong emphasis that the Aqdas gives to property rights in the Aqdas. Surely there is a divine wisdom in keeping ownership sacred. Yet we are told that Baha'u'llah wrote this law because the Baha'is in Baghdad and Teheran had become so spiritual that they were keeping property in common. Abdu'l-Baha speaks of these early believers becoming so God-intoxicated after spending their days in the Presence of Baha'u'llah that they forgot whose shoes and coats were whose, and simply left them by the door for the next person to take. This was evidently the case with the early Christians, when the Christ spirit shone at its purest among them.
"And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common." (Acts 4:31-32, KJV)
Usually we worldlings respect other peoples' property out of fear of human sanctions, but among the Christian the fear was of God. And since the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, they wisely ceased to worry about who owned what piece of property among themselves.
"And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need." (Acts 2:42-45, KJV)
No doubt the glory of this communal life encouraged the Christians to institutionalize and perpetuate it in the form of monasticism. But love cannot be put in a box. This led to one of the most persistent, anti-social strains of corruption in that religion.
Still, it is surely one of the greatest proofs of a Manifestation of God that people with no other bond than that of belief can be made to share meals, and eventually everything together without disputes or disharmony. The continuance of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, through the last supper to the love feasts and indeed to our 19 Day Feast today is testament to the power of God to unite us in meals both physical and heavenly.
The Moravian Brotherhood of Christ, the sect for which Comenius served as a bishop, also took "all things in common" as their basic creed. As Murphy points out, they "sought to promote the spirit of brotherly cooperation and a sharing of all material resources amongst their own communities, hoping thereby to provide an example of Christian responsibility to others." (Murphy, Daniel, Comenius, A Critical Reassessment, 146-147) Unlike most of their co-religionists, they were strictly pacifist, anti-dogmatic and ecumenical in their outlook. Murphy points out the difference between their "holding things in common," done out of brotherly love, and the violent, angry, secular communism that arose two centuries later.
"Unlike the socialists of later years, however, Comenius saw this being achieved, not through a process of radical political change, but by a process of individual self-reform initiated by every person in the privacy of his own conscience and, by extension, in the conduct of all aspects of his daily life. Social reform, he suggests, is rooted in self-reform; it is achieved not through radical political action but as a natural outcome of the genuine practice of Christian love." (Murphy, Daniel, Comenius, A Critical Reassessment, 148)
Murphy mentions the fanatical socialists in Anna Karenina and Resurrection who devote themselves to an abstract, generalized ideal while being harsh and insensitive to their immediate circle of family, friends and acquaintances, as well as Dostoevsky's parable of a socialist doctor who loves mankind but hates his neighbour. These are the reverse of the religious approach to communal life. Religion, in other words, always starts first with the individual's search for reality. Only when they see God and express it in direct contact with others do believers consider themselves lovers of mankind. As Comenius puts it,
"For every man will understand that the welfare of each individual (including his own) depends upon the welfare of all." (Comenius, Via Lucis, qi Murphy, Daniel, Comenius, A Critical Reassessment, 147)
That very eloquently explains why truly religious persons could never corrupt themselves by joining a party. A partisan is on one side of a two sided or many-sided fight over truth. A believer holds all mankind before One God, Who loves us all. God is the one truth, and beyond that there is naught but error.
Let me close with a passage from the famous parable of Comenius that Murphy chooses to illustrate this aspect of Comenius's "communism."
From: The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart
"As regards possessions, I saw that, though most of them were poor, had but little of the things that the world calls treasures, and cared but little for them, yet almost everyone had something that was his own. But he did not hide this, nor conceal it from the others (as is the world's way); he held it as in common, readily and gladly granting and lending it to him who might require it.
"Thus they all dealt with their possessions not otherwise than those who sit together at one table deal with their utensils of the table, which all use with equal right. Seeing this, I thought with shame that with us everything befalls in contrary fashion. Some fill and overfill their houses with utensils, clothing, food, gold and silver, as much as they can, meanwhile others, who are equally servants of God, have hardly wherewith to clothe and feed themselves.
"But, I must say, I understood that this was by no means the will of God; rather is it the way of the world, the perverse world, that some should go forth in festive attire, others naked; that some should belch from overfilling, while others yawn from hunger; some should laboriously earn silver, some vainly squander it; some make merry, others wail.
"Thence there sprung up among the one, pride and contempt of the others; and among these again, fury, hatred and misdeeds. But here there was nothing such. All were in community with all; indeed, their souls also." (Labyrinth, qi: Comenius, Via Lucis, qi Murphy, Daniel, Comenius, A Critical Reassessment, 147)