Sunday, May 31, 2009

Cooking as lost art

from:
The Commander in Chef
New York Times: May 31, 2009
Michelle Obama’s good food campaign is missing a crucial yet neglected aspect of the discussion: cooking.
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/31/opinion/31hesser.html

"For most of the last century, Americans have been told repeatedly that cooking is a time-consuming drag. Companies like Kraft and General Foods promoted mix-and-eat macaroni and cheese, rice with mix-in flavor pouches and instant pudding. Pillsbury, the flour maker, became Pillsbury the biscuit, pie and cookie dough maker: baking just by turning on the oven. According to a 2008 NPD study, of all supper entrees “cooked” at home, just 58 percent were prepared with raw ingredients.

"The twist, of course, is that convenience foods save neither money nor time. As Marion Nestle pointed out in her 2006 book “What to Eat,” prewashed romaine hearts cost at least $1.50 a pound more than romaine heads. And the 2006 U.C.L.A. study found that families saved little or no cooking time when they built their meals around frozen entrees and jarred pasta sauce."

Pictures of our new dog

Here are some shots of Amber, our new and very expensive puppy, on my wife Marie's Czech language blog:

http://ontario.bloguje.cz/790248-amber-podruhe.php

Saturday, May 30, 2009

On Debt

Some Thoughts, Not all my Own, on Debt, Lending and Indebtedness

By John Taylor; 2009 May 29, Azamat 13, 166 BE


Last week a striking headline in the Toronto Star declared that the average Canadian is sunk some sixty thousand dollars in debt, not including mortgages. Being so badly in hock prevents consumers from spending and stimulating a tottering economy. A mountain of personal debt, rather than corporate behavior or monetary policy, is thought by experts now to be the main obstacle to recovery.

How could we have avoided this dilemma? As always, the best preventive medicine is education. I remember my father repeatedly warning me throughout my childhood never to get into debt, with the one exception of a mortgage on your house. I do not remember ever being warned against debt in school, though, and I took accounting courses throughout High School.

Evidently, the present generation has not been prepared by either parents or teachers, or if they were the advice was completely ignored. Ad Nausium my father would repeat the saying, "Never borrow, never lend, and you will never lose a friend." Of course, the first friend you lose when you borrow is yourself, because in effect you are stealing from your own future. Not only is it theft, but often it turns into murder. Debt is a strong factor in a surprising number of suicides.

I watched a documentary about debt in America last week produced just before the big crash last year. I learned from it a little about the role of religion in this. Many Christians pastors, it seems, also do debt counselling. They meet with couples up to their ears in debt, open up thier books and go right to the religious contributions column. Why did you stop contributing to the church?, they ask. The believers answer that they are in too much distress to give for now. That is why you are in distress, they respond. If you start paying you will recover. According to them, this advice always helps. The couples inevitably come back a couple of weeks later saying how astonished they are at what happened to get them out of their bind.

Fair enough. The Baha'i Writings offer similar promises, though they stop well short of suggesting that one borrow in order to contribute, as some high-profile televangelists are doing. After we die our estate has to pay off all debts before we can contribute to the Huqquq. Therefore, when a Baha'i gets into debt, he or she has to bear in mind that this not only imperils their own financial security, it also takes from the Right of God. On the other hand, since debt is the lifeblood of finance, there are no doubt cases where getting into debt will increase our net worth in the long run. But this happens only when the debt will directly contribute to a large future increase in income.

One (non-religious) debt counsellor in this film said something that still has me thinking. Asked what society should do about predatory lenders who go to new university students offering free gifts to sign up for credit cards (this temptation leads many to their ruin and suicide), he answers that "all lending is predatory." There is truth to this, but I think it should be qualified by saying, "All lending for profit is predatory." Or perhaps further qualified, bearing in mind what the Aqdas says about usury and moderate profits from lending being acceptable, "all lending for profit is, at the very least, uncharitable."

Here is an idea. We now have the technology to make debt visible. We alread have on media of expression, color. This is based on the century old use of colored ink on the bottom line in accounting practice; so we say that a person in debt is "in the red," and one free of debt is "in the black." You could easily hook up a shirt to change color from black to red according to what your bank says your overall financial condition is. If you wore such a shirt around there would be no need to meet with a debt counsellor to know what must be done to improve things. Would this lead to more debt-induced suicides, or fewer? I suppose it would depend on how often we had to wear our shirt, and how early in our lives.

Here, more or less in chronological order, is a small compilation of thoughts on debt gathered from others that I have gathered over the years.

 
========== 



 "May wealth not desert you, men of Ephesus, that you be convicted of your wrongdoing." (Heraclitus, fr. 125a)

 "Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law." (Rom 13:8)

 "Give to him that asketh thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away." (Matt 5:42)

 "A small debt produces a debtor; a large one, an enemy." - Publilius Syrus

 "That which ye give in usury in order that it may increase on (other) people's property hath no increase with Allah; but that which ye give in charity, seeking Allah's Countenance, hath increase manifold." (Q30:39, Pickthall)

 "I place economy among the first and most important of republican virtues, and public debt as the greatest of the dangers to be feared." (Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Governor Plumer, 1816, from Thomas Jefferson on Democracy, 160, S. Padover Ed. 1953)

 "He hath now made interest on money lawful, even as He had made it unlawful in the past. Within His grasp He holdeth the kingdom of authority. He doeth and ordaineth. He is in truth the Ordainer, the All-Knowing. ... Render thou thanks unto thy Lord, O Zaynu'l-Muqarrabin, for this manifest bounty." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets, 133)

 "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. (Baha'u'llah, in Trustworthiness Compilation, 335-336)

 "The rich will do anything for the poor but get off their backs." (Karl Marx)

 "Borrow money from a pessimist - they don't expect it back."

 A young Scottish boy approaches his father and says "Dad, can I borrow fifty bucks?" The father quickly replies "Forty bucks! What the heck do you need thirty bucks for?"

 "Everybody likes a kidder, but nobody lends him money." (Arthur Miller)

 "When we were looking at a game show to develop, we figured that by the way Americans were spending money, most of them had already bought their prizes ." (Andrew Golder, producer of the Lifetime TV game show 'Debt', which pays off the winning contestant's credit card bills at the end of each show. The Oregonian; 22 August, 1996; p. B6)

 "I remember feeling incredibly anxious about my debt in law school. But after you rack up the first $15,000.00 in loans, it all just begins to seem unreal." Nicole Deering, recent graduate of Lewis & Clark University's Northwestern School of Law, and now nearly $60,000.00 in debt. (Oregon State Bar Bulletin, "Law Degrees on Credit"; November, 1995; p. 9)


========== 

John Taylor

email: badijet@gmail.com
blog: http://badiblog.blogspot.com/


::

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thoughts on Ascension Eve

An unbeliever's testimony

By John Taylor; 2009 May 28, Azamat 12, 166 BE

The other night one of my computers broke down and I had a long, boring job of troubleshooting and glacial reboots ahead of me. So, as I worked I listened on one of the computers that still worked to a lecture put out by a California bookstore through Fora TV. This was a talk called "Losing My Religion," by journalist William Lobdell from the L.A. Times, a specialist in religion, hawking his latest book. He told the story of his somewhat reluctant but sincere conversion in a men's retreat. After much hemming and hawing, he finally came around to accepting Christ into his heart. This experience prompted him to start writing about religion for the local paper. He started off with nice stories about the super-churches in his area, then his journalism brought him into long contact with the seamier side of Christianity, especially child-abusing priests. Their terrible deeds disillusioned him and led to his eventual rejection of all religion.

 At one point, in explaining why he was coming around to not believing, I was amazed that he used almost the exact phrasing that Shoghi Effendi did when somebody asked why some believe in God and others do not. Paraphrasing, the journalist said something like, "I really feel that what I now believe comes from a quality in my soul." The Guardian had said that atheism or faith are qualities of the soul. And you can conclude from that that unbelief is not blameworthy, though, as Baha'u'llah points out, issues of trust do come up.

 He tells his story eloquently and in a heartfelt manner. He really feels closer to the truth now that he has ejected faith in God and become a non-believer. Among his former co-religionists, he says, there is a large "mushy" center who feel threatened by his de-conversion. Those on the liberal left and the conservative right do not feel that way, though, and often invite him to speak and share what he learned. To other unbelievers, some of whom he calls "arrogant anti-theists," he has given talks about this book and they admonished him for taking so long to come around to what they knew as children (I myself converted to atheism at seven, a sinking feeling that I still remember to this day). Unlike them, he is fair and knowledgeable enough about religion to acknowledge that it does a great deal of good in the world. He points out that if charitable faith-based giving were ever to suddenly stop, American society would be gutted. As a former atheist, I could not listen to his story unmoved, even though he had travelled in the opposite direction from me.

 At one point somebody in the audience stands up and asks him if he has investigated other religions, "such as, say, Baha'i." He avoids answering the question directly, saying only that if you do not believe in another life after this one, there is not much to seek in any belief system that does. I think even scripture agrees with him on that point, though, as the Qur'an points out, a clear vision even of worldly things depends upon clear vision of their meaning under the aspect of eternity,

 "Whosoever is blind in respect to (the things of) this life is also blind in respect to (the things of) the other life, and follows a misleading path." (Qur'an 17:74)

 As I write, it is the evening before the Ascension of Baha'u'llah. My thoughts turn to the meaning of Baha'u'llah's life and what it means for my life, for the world at large, and for the believer and the unbeliever. Mostly, my thoughts turn to what He called the "messenger of joy," death.

 This journalist spent much of his talk defending why he does not believe that there will be a life after this one, and how he has become reconciled to that bitter reality. He understands, at least, how important it is to have a position on this to understand religion. Death stands as an inherent deadline built into life on this plane, one that, like the irreversibility of time, even applies to the Manifestations of God.

 Death has to be a messenger of joy to believers because it forces us to eat at the table of God. If there were no such deadline, religion, and indeed the lives and Teaching of any of the the Manifestations of God, would not mean a whole heck of a lot. And, as our journalist points out, the religions based on their Teaching would hardly be worth investigating. As Baha'u'llah wrote,

 "For the life of the flesh is common to both men and animals, whereas the life of the spirit is possessed only by the pure in heart who have quaffed from the ocean of faith and partaken of the fruit of certitude. This life knoweth no death, and this existence is crowned by immortality. Even as it hath been said: "He who is a true believer liveth both in this world and in the world to come." If by "life" be meant this earthly life, it is evident that death must needs overtake it." (Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, pp. 120-121)

 At the beginning of Baha'u'llah's Ministry He was exiled without a shred of evidence by a malicious official, Ali Pasha, who among other unjust actions forced them to board a ship under such harsh conditions that some of the babies and children in His party died. This cruel deed prompted Him to write a letter of protest, asking the Pasha not to help Him but to save the children. It is now known as the Tablet to the Chiefs, or Lawh-i-Ra'is.

 In this letter, Baha'u'llah cuts to the heart of the matter, both for Him and for the unbeliever. He tells a story from his childhood about a miniature puppet play that He witnessed at a wedding, an event that underlined to Him how temporary and ephemeral life is. There is a double or triple irony here, since that play was a satire of the same court that Ali Pasha lived in, only a century earlier in the time of Sultan Salim. The young Baha'u'llah, known as Husain Ali at the time, was no stranger to court and was thought to be destined to the same role as his father had, and Ali Pasha had, that of Prime Minister to the king. However seeing this play evidently changed Baha'u'llah's mind, and He turned to a higher Court, as it were. Such, needless to say, was not the case with this Pasha. His crush with this world and the pomp of that court Baha'u'llah -- in some of the strongest language you can imagine -- compares to a drunk who commits bestiality in his slumber with a dog. He will wake one day and feel the shame of what he did. However, even those who do not believe and remain unrepentant, though they may not be expected to perform religious devotions, are not entirely absolved of responsibility. They still must be just and fair. Referring to the folding up of the puppet play into a small box, Baha'u'llah says,

 "It behoveth everyone to traverse this brief span of life with sincerity and fairness. Should one fail to attain unto the recognition of Him Who is the Eternal Truth, let him at least comport himself with reason and justice. Erelong these outward trappings, these heaped-up treasures, these earthly vanities, these amassed battalions, this gorgeous finery, these proud and overweening souls -- all shall pass into the confines of the grave, as though into that box. In the eyes of those possessed of insight, all this conflict, dissention and vainglory hath been, and will ever be, like unto the sport of children. Take thou good heed, and be not of those who see and yet deny." (quoted in, David Ruhe, Robe of Light, The Persian Years of the Supreme Prophet, Baha'u'llah, 1817-1853, pp. 29-30)

 So tonight Baha'u'llah's body, like all flesh, was folded into a box and set aside. Only now it is our Qiblih. A glory that had been concealed only now is starting to unfold its full glory in a panoply that will make the Earth His spiritual court. And why? Certainly for many spiritual reasons beyond our ken, but from our point of view because in the unity of His followers, He will have established the happiness of all humans, everywhere. As Abdu'l-Baha said,

 "O ye beloved of God! Know ye, verily, that the happiness of mankind lieth in the unity and the harmony of the human race, and that spiritual and material developments are conditioned upon love and amity among all men." (Selections, 285)


John Taylor

email: badijet@gmail.com
blog: http://badiblog.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Recommendation

The Badi' Blog recommends the following blog entry from the Baha'i Perspective blog, which is both insightful and thought provoking. That is the kind of commentary on the Writings we need more of.

http://www.bahaiperspectives.com/society/2009/05/26/o-brother/

What Price Freedom?

A Roundabout Answer to a Question About Laser Tattoos


I continue reading Weston Price's Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, the story of a dentist, traveling with a couple of doctors and nutritionists in the early 1930's. It was in this area and right around this time that Shoghi Effendi vacationed and regained his strength from his severe illness.

In the early chapter I am reading, Price and his friends examine the health of members of one village after another in various places in rural Switzerland. At the time, these isolated mountain people were just coming into contact with the rest of the world. Roads were being built connecting some valleys that had subsisted with little or no outside contact for centuries. Price found that villagers in one valley might have vineyards, which allowed grape juice and wine (and therefore vitamin C) as part of their diet, and in the next valley they did not. They never touched alcohol.

But such is the nutritional quality of locally-produced food that it made no difference, almost everybody was fit and healthy. Dental caries varied somewhere between two and four percent, compared to as much as fifty percent in places that had access to factory-processed, imported foods (in such areas, between a quarter and a half of the teeth examined had had a cavity at some point).

This is the reverse of what you would expect. You would think that if you had access to more varied foods that were made with the latest, scientifically helped food production techniques, that it would improve peoples' diet and health. Price found in every case that the reverse was the case. When upon examination a subject had a few more than the usual number of cavities and facial deformities, that they had spent a few years outside their home valley eating the modern diet. As soon as they came back, the cavities stopped appearing.

Price noticed other side effects of this healthful lifestyle. Almost everybody, being properly nourished, had a full, deep, beautiful singing voice. They practiced what we now call sustainable agriculture. On the mountainside terraces runoff topsoil was collected at the edge and carried -- by hand -- back to the inner end of the field. Labour saving devices? These people did not need to go to pay a personal fitness trainer to stay fit, they did strenuous but useful work and felt all the better for it.

Sometimes locals would hold a regional fair where athletic contests were staged. The prize for the winner of a race was a bowl of fresh cream! These Swiss treated cream as a treat, just like we do ice cream. No doubt it tasted much better, with no sugar, no chemicals, no flavouring, no colouring, no junk at all. Just cream from a cow that had spent its life outdoors eating real grass in fresh mountain air. The cows and other livestock were healthier and happier than our poor grain-fed creatures kept indoors in giant factory farms hooked up to Matrix-like milking machines. For our food producers quantity beats out quality.

Price's findings in this book are surely among the most important in dietary knowledge of the 20th Century. His discovery that local diets are superior is something that the popular mind still has not come to terms with. I am sure that if you offered the athlete's prize, a bowl of fresh cream, to any diet conscious modern, they would refuse to eat it, invoking poorly understood buzzwords like "fat" and "calories." How grossly misinformed we are about what is good for us! Misinformation on diet is rampant.

With envy I read about these Swiss peasants and long to go live in the mountains too. Flatlands are boring and un-healthful. Here in North America we have spent decades using bulldozers to erase every hill and valley to build malls and parking lots when if we had a lick of sense we would be using earth moving equipment to do the reverse, to make large, mountainous, valley-filled urban living areas whose deep contours force people and animals to climb wherever they go. That alone might end obesity, which is all but unknown in mountain people.
After Price's dietary discoveries in the 1930's, the economic bullies expunging traditional, local diets and replacing them with commercially based food became more ruthless. All around the world sinister corporations have corrupted the foreign policy of Western governments, which literally at gunpoint forced aboriginal and traditional peoples to have the "choice" of eating local, or eating fast food hamburgers and drinking carbonated sugar-water. The only capitol city that escaped was Havana, which was forced by an American boycott to become the world's greenest city (for more on this, seehttp://thetyee.ca/Life/2006/09/12/UrbanAgriculture/#). More vulnerable poor regions that refuse to "liberalize" their markets face dire, bloody consequences. Instead of learning from the superior diet of these people, unfettered capitalism routinely exploits and preys upon them for ephemeral profit. As a result, today obesity is catching up to smoking and alcohol as the overall worst health threats around the world.

What God must think of our present uglification of the human body, not to mention our planet! So terrible is our diet that obesity is ubiquitous not only in rich lands but is even worse in poor ones. Yesterday I ended the daily Badi' essay with this quote from the Master,

"Man is the temple of God. He is not a human temple. If you destroy a house, the owner of that house will be grieved and wrathful. How much greater is the wrong when man destroys a building planned and erected by God! Undoubtedly, he deserves the judgment and wrath of God." (Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation, 498)

Coincidentally, my nine-year-old son Thomas asked me a question that gave me a chance to apply this quote. He has evidently been thinking about today's fashion of tattooing the body. Yesterday, outside the local tattoo parlour, he asked, in his usual science-fictiony way, "What if when I grow up they invent a laser that will paint a picture on the body without pain? And what if it could be removed painlessly? Should I get a tattoo?" I answered that that would be his decision. If after reflection and your heart still moves you, and you consult with a variety of people, and your local LSA and your parents all agree, I suppose you might decide to get a tattoo.

However, you should consider it carefully. Historically, religion has been very suspicious of images, especially Judaism and Islam. And they have a good point. I myself find images by nature irksome, and I quickly tire of the same picture on the wall. And as the Master says, it is a fact that our bodies are temples of God. They are not our possession but His domain. Myself, I would be very disinclined to mark it up in any manner. I went into a long history of how Islam forbade images entirely, and how that forced artists to decorate temples with designs so ingenious that they actually pioneered new branches of mathematics.

In any case, essentially what happened in the chalets of Switzerland was that the people were not corrupt. They had no choice, so they chose to live well. If they had not made that choice, these mountains long ago would have become uninhabited.

As Price found, even their faces were prettier for having no dietary choice, no choice but to walk uphill so very often. As far as good health goes, the Swiss villagers were surely far wealthier than almost everybody today, even the richest of us. But we should not forget that they were information poor. The isolation of these mountain villages was total. We would think of them as hopelessly unsophisticated. I doubt if I could keep my sanity if I lived there, cut off from news, radio, phones, computers and screens, longer than a month. However, this makes me wonder. Have I become addicted to cheap data in the same way the modern diet has made me addicted to cheap calories and unnourishing fat? As a father, I am witnessing this happening to my children even worse than, at a later stage of life, it hit me. They cannot stand to be away from a screen more than a few hours.

In spite of (or perhaps because of) their data poverty, I envy the rural Swiss. At the heart of our problem, I think, is how we misunderstand and mismeasure wealth. Wealth is not money alone. All the money in the world is useless if you are sick. Wealth is happiness, godliness, a healthful lifestyle full of variety and nourishment for mind, soul and body. The lesson is that purity must come before choice. Otherwise, liberty only undermines health and leads to further corruption. Corruption should not be an option.

Some Swiss villages close by virgin ones had had roads for a while, which allowed them more choices, more contact. They traded with the outside world and chose, for example, to keep their cows indoors, feed them grain and use the milk to make the famous Swiss milk chocolate instead of giving it to their children to drink. The ugly effects on their teeth and bodies were strikingly apparent to Price and his team of doctors.

Given a choice, most, including those who had eaten traditional diets all their lives, would prefer to gobble down sweets, chocolate and ice cream, rather than good food. Given a choice, we would all be happy to let machines do all our manual labour. However, it would be most sagacious to avoid false choices before they come up. We need purity first, then freedom. Corruption cannot be an option.

Without thinking or deliberating, we on the Western diet have handed these crucial choices over to corporations and other centralized institutions. The result is desecration of our body, the house of God. We deface ourselves internally far worse than an external tattoo ever could.

That trend, in a nutshell, is what the open, multi-pronged approach in "mound architecture" would be designed to reverse. You start by building as much surface area as possible into the locality by piling up mounds of earth. Then, place modular buildings and homes into the hillside. This would introduce "labour creating" devices into the lifestyle of all. But it would also increase surface area and aid in locally-grown agriculture and urban agriculture, which could grow the sort of local, healthful food that made traditional Swiss so healthy.

But this project would involve more than an outward reengineering. It would depend upon fundamental improvements in both democracy and capitalism. Mound agriculture would ensure that as many people as possible live in dense proximity (which is easiest on the environment), and in order to do that their whole day would be designed to put purity before license. This would turn as many important decisions as possible over to locals concerned to beautify the house of God. Each neighbourhood would be plugged into an open building code under the oversight of science and a world governing authority.

Mostly, this system would remove the corruptive influence of corporations. Plato called the merchant the "nursemaid of society," but as things are now, our nursemaid is a Frankenstein monster run amuck, whose first victims are children, the poor and vulnerable. Employers routinely downsize and lay off millions of workers every day but rarely if ever do governments consider disbanding a corporation. Even discussing such a blasphemy is anathema in the press. No corporation, no matter how evil or destructive, has lost its charter in America at least three decades. Lately, even banks that commit suicide are untouchable, even at the price of trillions of dollars and are deemed "too big to fail." This is the same blind, self-destructive, ideological madness that brought down communism. Any system that refuses to reform is doomed to be wiped away. We should be thinking about what to replace the carcass with once the stink becomes unbearable.

Abdu'l-Baha saw the Great War coming, and did what He could to alleviate the suffering of those close to Him. He quietly stashed away corn and grain, and later when food was not available He just as discretely distributed it to the people. Such realism, foresight and planning is what our Exemplar did. In our present crisis of global warming accompanied by the collapse of liberal, unfettered capitalism, I believe that starting projects like mound architecture would be just what the Master would be doing if He were alive today.

That is what this Badi' Blog is dedicated to establishing.

::

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009

blessed is the spot

T of A in Original

Tablet of Ahmad chanted in Arabic.


Lingering effects of slavery

New York Burning


By John Taylor; 2009 May 25, Azamat 09, 166 BE


Before continuing with Comenius, science and the elimination of prejudice, I want briefly to discuss an audio book I am auditing, "New York Burning; Liberty, Slavery and Conspiracy in Eighteenth Century Manhattan," by Jill Lapore. Although primarily concerned with a particular rash of fires in New York which may or may not have been set by slaves, this book also offers some insights into the early childhood of the party system that were new to me and I think should be general knowledge.


It seems that the idea that factionalism and political parties are a good thing, or if not good then perhaps a necessary concomitant of democracy, arose in the early years of the 18th Century in America. In England party and faction were still synonyms, and both were thought of as evil compared with the system that they later replaced, patronage based on nobility and aristocratic privilege. Two movements came about in America that helped change peoples' minds about party politics. One was the spread of secret societies, especially freemasonry, and the other was the "institution" of slavery, and in particular the slave revolt.


Secret societies were popular among the elite and trained rising young professionals in how to learn and accomplish things by working together behind closed doors.


The slave revolt movement started off with a startling early success in Jamaica where black slaves actually won out. The colonial government was forced to free a group of rebellious slaves and give them the land they had taken by force. This shocked, terrified and humiliated Englishmen everywhere, especially in America, where slave labour was building the new continent. Reading about the hysteria that gripped the inhabitants of the 2000 member colony of Manhattan after some slaves (maybe) used arson to get back at their oppressors, one is strongly reminded of the reaction in New York and across the nation to the 9-11 attacks. In America and the West generally, the mentality of master and slave is embedded in the cultural DNA. Liberty means freedom for a few rich men and oppression for many, and anything that threatens the elite causes a frenzy of abject terror.


Not that there was not good reason in early days to be afraid of a slave revolt. Unlike a modern opposition party that takes power, whenever slaves won over their masters there followed an orgy of revenge where white men were murdered and girls and women raped, then murdered. Bad as the contention of a loyal opposition party is, it was nothing compared to the alternative, a successful slave revolt.


Slave-owning America was obsessed with this threat.


In contrast the new party democracy growing up did not seem so bad. Since then England and other modern democracies took up the party system and, more broadly, the adversarial model for law. The adversaries of master and slave became the paradigm for politics and, in the form of predatory lending and unfettered capitalism, for economics as well.


If 9-11, and the anti-communist hysteria before it, had not happened, it would be hard to believe that slavery could continue to pervert the culture of America for so long after it was officially abolished back in Lincoln's day.


But I recently read of another cultural hang-on in Hong Kong, Singapore and other Far East nations. Students, even average students, in these places earn the highest marks in the world in calculus and similar scientific disciplines. Studies found that this is because the challenge of learning calculus is very similar to what confronts a rice farmer every day. These farmers have to systematically approach a major engineering as well as agricultural challenge. In order to succeed they must believe that a person of average intelligence, working long, hard and with much patience, can do great things as a matter of course. Most of these spectacular students do not come from rice farmer stock for many generations. But the rice farming mentality long ago permeated the culture and today's students continue to benefit.


Now that I think of it, our opposite belief that only a few of us are "brains" who have "mathematical minds," while the majority are wasting their time trying to understand mathematics also probably comes out our slave-owning cultural roots. The slave owner could only rationalize the gross injustice of "owning" a human being by clinging tenaciously to the belief that some have a "gift" and others simply do not. There was no choice but to believe that an indicator like skin color can reliably predict natural gifts. That is partly why we cling so tenaciously to the myth of IQ, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For example, studies have proven that anybody whose IQ is 120 or higher has an equal chance of winning a Nobel prize. But that fact does not stop universities from systematically weeding out applicants on the lower end of this scale.

Combine slave mentality with the cronyism of secret societies, who believe that power is and should be wielded by an elite few based on underhanded manipulation, and you get the modern party system.


The mirror opposite of the competitive party system is the compassion of Abdu'l-Baha's principle of the oneness of mankind, and the reconciliation principle put forward by Comenius. Both propose that we treat human failings and conflicts the same way that a rice farmer does his field, moving heaven and earth in order to nurture a finicky crop. We should not exploit or enslave the weak, ignorant and powerless, we should help, free, strengthen, teach and empower them, like plants in God's garden. As Comenius said,


"The easier it is to fall into error in this respect, the more considerate we should be, since it is easy for those of us who believe that we have some advantage over others to please ourselves. Inferior number, a humbler lot in life, difference in nationality, race, language and the like, are excuses for reviling our fellow men. But these must be set aside in such a holy task, and we must guard against appearing to despise our fellow-men for any reason. It is a grievous obstacle to the Reconciliation for which Tolerance paves the way, if one of the parties sees or suspects that it is being brushed aside with contempt." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 12, p. 113)


Our lives are gifts of God, Abdu'l-Baha taught, and it is His concern before it is ours. Any insult to the dignity or gifts of anyone is first of all an insult to the Creator.


"Man is the temple of God. He is not a human temple. If you destroy a house, the owner of that house will be grieved and wrathful. How much greater is the wrong when man destroys a building planned and erected by God! Undoubtedly, he deserves the judgment and wrath of God." (Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation, 498)


Writings put to Music

'O my Lord and my Master! O my Desired One and my Best Beloved!
O Thou who art the Beloved of all that are in the heavens and on the earth!
I beseech Thee to grant, from the ocean of Thy bounty and the day-star of Thy heavenly grace,
that I may be cursed, reviled and denounced a myriad times for the sake' of Thy love,
that these ears of mine may but once be blessed by hearing Thy sweet words:
"Verily thou art of the people of Baha".'
Baha'u'llah
(Compilations, Fire and Light, p. 12)




Saturday, May 23, 2009

Removing Religious Prejudice

Purification in Panorthosia


Today we continue our series on the purity principle, also known as the elimination of prejudice, in John Amos Comenius's Panorthosia. The sixth chapter of this work is entirely devoted to the "evils which are powerful barriers to the universal reform of our affairs, and how to remove them." Before dealing with the systematic therapy in this chapter, however, I would like first to look over the several other locations throughout the first half of Panorthosia where Comenius deals with prejudice.


The two centuries known now as the Reformation brought with it in Europe a universal desire to reform that soon sank into partisan, sectarian violence, the Inquisition and sporadic witch hunts, literally. Old women were periodically dragged out to woodpiles where they were burned. Comenius himself suffered greatly from religious persecution and was forced to spend his life in exile from such Ad Hominem attacks. He devoted his life to showing that the best way to reform is to change bad thought and habits without resort to repression or violence. The weapons we bear should be intellectual ones directed against bad ideas rather than flesh and blood men and women,


"Therefore let everyone come to this sacred world-assembly; but (just as the Germans and the Gauls of old used to come to their assemblies fully-armed) let them all be well-armed with zeal and light, even with fire to burn away all the tares and stubble of the entire world." (Panorthosia, Ch. 25, para 10, p. 137)


The only way to use mental acumen to unite without attacks would be through a program of promoting education as free, universal and magnanimous as possible. Instead of taking sides and fighting, we need instead to suppress,


"all sects and all partisan desires. That is to say, it requires 1. that no kindred state should be suppressed, but all should be reformed (just as a good doctor does not remove diseased limbs, but heals them); 2. that no reality' or science or art should be suppressed, but all should be reformed; 3. that no nation, language, philosophy, religion or political system should be oppressed or cast into darkness, but all should be enlightened and restored to harmony. The effect will be that all philosophies become one supremely good philosophy under one supreme teacher, Christ, and all religions will become one supremely good religion under one supreme priest, Christ, and all political systems will become one supremely good system under one supreme monarch, Christ." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 10, p. 156)


Reform in Religion; Three blocks to integration


Even today religion is rarely understood as anything but partisan. Comenius's determined ecumenism was rare in his age and only has spread significantly in liberal Christian denominations and the interfaith movement during the past fifty years. Only the Teaching of Baha'u'llah rivals this ecumenism, since while He saw world religions persisting permanently, at the same time He held that God wishes all humans to find common cause in matters of faith, in what He calls "one universal faith, one common cause."


Comenius was all but unique in that he was pioneering reformer in both religion and science. As we have seen in the previous series on science and religion, he pictured science, politics and religion as the wings and body of the bird of humanity. All three need to grow together in order for the bird to fly. Again like Baha'u'llah, he saw the main obstacles to progress coming from our failure to reform the religious wing of society. Before going on to scientific reform, let us briefly look at what he proposed for religion.


Comenius pointed to three obstacles blocking the purifying waters of a river that could integrate our many beliefs into a single faith for all humans. The first is a tendency to become distracted, "We prevent the current of God's works in nature from reaching us by the turmoil of our own works and preoccupations." The second is a lack of confidence in our ability to express the God reflected in the mirror within the heart,


"Our instinctive desire for God is thwarted by evil murmurs forever echoing round us, as witnessed by Solomon, who says; 'This only have I found, that God hath made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions' (Ecclesiastes VII, 29)."


The third obstacle we set up for ourselves comes from our reluctance to delve into the Holy Word of God, and to take in the empty calories of light entertainment.


"The Books of the Bible are prevented from shedding their supernatural light upon us by the piles of human books around us, which merely titillate their readers and pre-occupy them to the exclusion of the Scriptures." (Panorthosia, Ch. 3, para 41, pp. 80-81)


Next time let us look at the Panorthosic vision for universal reform in science.



John Taylor

email: badijet@gmail.com
blog: http://badiblog.blogspot.com/

Friday, May 22, 2009

Evolution and Conservation of Species

Design, Purpose and Evolution


By John Taylor; 2009 May 22, Azamat 06, 166 BE


Last week the topic chosen -- not by me -- at our Philosopher's Cafe meeting was "Intelligent Design." This is an old debate, intelligent design vs. evolution, and I am royally tired of it. However one of our group is a Catholic whose faith group have been discussing it, even though intelligent design is an American Protestant initiative.

Still, I found some points fresh and interesting.


One idea that came to the fore during our heated discussion was that this idea of intelligent design is fairly recent. From a faith perspective, design is less important than purpose. Purpose, our reason for being, is really what religion is about. Quasi-scientific arguments for a Designer are a red herring. Deep down, believers accept that there is a purpose in life, the universe and everything. Materialists deny it. Science itself has nothing to say about it either way. Among working scientists polls indicate that there are about equal numbers on both sides.


Arguments from design have never been the strongest of the many kinds of proof of God. Still, believers do hold that there has to be a reason that we are here, that God has a goal and a high destiny for us. Thus, when it comes to purpose Baha'is (and Catholics for that matter), who accept evolution almost completely, have to side with their fellow religious believers that there is a purpose to our existence. Without purpose there would be no God, only deism.

Coincidentally, around the same time a Baha'i friend forwarded to me a record of an email exchange that he was having with a scientist. He held that humans evolved separate and distinct from other higher animals, all the way back to the genetic soup out of which life arose. This idea was not flying with the scientist. She objected to the idea -- long understood as standard Baha'i doctrine -- that human genes never mixed with other species and that we always evolved separately from animals.


Here is a slightly revised version of my response:


==========


I too have had pressure not to quote scripture when talking to non-believers and I know how hard it is to avoid doing so. This is an unusual case where there are real contradictions that we have to come to terms with.


On the one hand, the latest genetic evidence beautifully confirms the Baha'i position that mankind is one, that the whole idea of races is illusory. The genetic evidence is now incontrovertible. On the other hand, there is no doubt that genetics now directly contradicts the idea, taught as standard Baha'i doctrine, that humans have any genetic distinction from animals, that we somehow evolved in parallel in a sort of genetic apartheid since the beginning of life. DNA evidence is just as strong that we do share most of our genes with chimpanzees, and even yeast, right down to certain quirks and errors in the gene sequence.

Since we have to accept scientific evidence -- and it could not be stronger that humans did have common ancestors with animals -- we have no choice but to revise our understanding of what the Master meant, unless somehow the evidence makes a swift about face.


I have not made a deep study of this, but I did reread the Master's talk at Stanford last year while discussing it with an atheist. Thinking about what Abdu'l-Baha said, I now think that we have no choice but to revise our understanding of evolution to something like: humans at some point reached a level of sophistication where we could reflect the spirit of intelligence, a spirit that has always been on earth since the beginning.


Certainly, if we want to keep our credibility with scientists we will have to make some adjustments with what we regard as authentic but which now is pretty much discredited.

The fact that we have a spiritual heritage is what matters, not our physical heritage, which we share with animals, and, for that matter, plants and minerals. Abdu'l-Baha concern in this address is to establish that humans have a spiritual reality that is part of a deep-down oneness in all things. The physical separation is less important, especially when we recall that He held that the human spirit has always existed on this planet, presumably even before the earth's crust cooled. Possibly the person recording and translating this talk had his or her own biases.


So, in sum, I have revised my understanding and would have no problem accepting what this person is asking you to accept, that we are genetically connected with animals. The important thing is the light that we reflect is not from here but from another, higher realm, the kingdom of God.


==========


Since writing this, I did some more research on the matter.


I found that the address that I was thinking of was the Stanford address -- though it is interesting too in this context -- but of an address that Abdu'l-Baha gave soon afterwards to a group of free thinkers and atheists called the Open Forum. Here He discusses what he calls "conservation of species," asserting that the stages of the womb (ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny) constitute proof that humans are not inherently part of the animal kingdom. It is very easy to understand conservation of species in such a way that it contradicts what Abdu'l-Baha had just said in Stanford just two days before where the subject was the oneness of all existence,


"Therefore, each phenomenon is the expression in degree of all other phenomena. The difference is one of successive transferences and the period of time involved in evolutionary process." (Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation, 494)


How does oneness fit in with conservation of species? This was puzzling, but then I did some surfing and found an excellent Wikipedia article called "Science and the Baha'i Faith." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bah%C3%A1%27%C3%AD_Faith_and_science) It has a section on evolution focusing on the Master's use in the Open Forum talk of the term "conservation of species." It seems that the original Persian word for "species" does not refer to a type of animal, as our English word does. It means something closer to type, station or category.


So, there was no need in the first place for Baha'is to hold that humans always were separate from animals. We are distinct only insofar as we participate in the station of rationality. This raises us to a distinct position above the Kingdoms of God below, animal, mineral and vegetable. As the Master said in the quote above, we are better on in that we evolved faster into a different category, a category that has always existed on this planet potentially.

Indeed to hold that we are genetically separate from other species seems to go against the lesson that the Qur'an draws from the mini-evolution stages that we go through in the womb. It says that we should not "attribute purity to our souls," that is, think of ourselves as hoity-toity and separate.


"He knows you best when He brings you forth from the earth and when you are embryos in the wombs of your mothers; therefore do not attribute purity to your souls; He knows him best who guards (against evil)." (Qur'an 53:32, Shakir tr.)




John Taylor

email: badijet@gmail.com
blog: http://badiblog.blogspot.com/

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Brief Intro to Baha'i

Some members of the Bahai Faith share their views on thier religion.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Baha'i Song. we are drops

Amber, Sheepdog

This is our new puppy, Amber, a purebred Sheltie bitch, but without papers. Cost us an arm and a leg. This was when we first saw it, a few weeks old. I would show more pictures but our camera broke. These were taken by the previous owners. Thomas subscribed to Sheltie Nation, and we get a picture of a sheltie every day sent to us. It is a sheepdog and since I was raised with Labs and it is very strange to have a dog that is disinclined to play fetch. It prefers to herd us like sheep. Oh well, Baha'u'llah does say in the Aqdas to regard mankind as sheep. 







Note to God

Jimbo writes: 

Here is a beautiful song and singer on video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMeu2os1rj8
The young girl's name is Charice and her song is called "The Note to God" and this was her third appearance on one of Oprah's shows.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Purity Principle

Purgation Principle


By John Taylor; 2009 May 20, Azamat 04, 166 BE


The Parable of the Soaring Bird


Yesterday's essay was about purity and its role in freedom and democracy. It was inspired by a parable in the Hidden Words where Baha'u'llah links purity to true freedom, as opposed to material freedom. In this parable of the soaring bird, a creature of the air stays free, happy and safe as long as it is in its element, soaring high above the world. Unfortunately, passion and desire lure it earthward where snares and unnumbered dangers lie in wait. Like the bird, we are safe as long as we keep our soul pure. With a clean heart, we are in our element, the heaven of spirituality. We observed that purity conditions every area of life, including the sordid arena of politics.


Today we move on in our series on the Panorthosia to how it contributes to our understanding of the next major Baha'i principle, the elimination of prejudice. I have often observed that this is the only principle that we think about in negative terms. It is primarily concerned with purgation, the destruction of imitations, premature judgements, stereotypes, superstition and all manner of harmful thoughts and unhelpful ideas.


However, having just written about purity yesterday it occurs to me that this virtue offers a positive way to understand the elimination of prejudice. Do not call the divine principle elimination or destruction. Getting rid of prejudices is all about good hygiene of body, mind and soul, so why not call it the purification principle?


Comenius and the Purity Principle


In this time of muddled response to a looming climate crisis, I turn my studies back to the Panorthosia, a largely posthumous work lost for centuries that only recently was fully translated into English. Here that Seventeenth Century genius of educational reform, John Amos Comenius, discusses what is needed for universal reform, which is what "Panorthosia" means in Latin. Most of the strategies he advocates for world governance by re-educating the entire human race are exactly what we should be discussing right now as our future existence faces such dire threats.


Like most philosophers and teachers, especially his immediate predecessors during the Reformation, Comenius recognized the need to purify the mind in the same way that a painter starts with a clean canvas or a gardener weeds a garden. Francis Bacon, for example, wrote in his Essays that,


"If we begin with certainties, we shall end in doubts; but if we begin with doubts, and are patient in them, we shall end in certainties."


Comenius had read Bacon carefully and recognized that faith is never blind but is actually more concerned with creative doubt. The human mind is very fertile, but this also makes it prone to bad habits and cascading errors. If a gardener is not vigilant, weeds rapidly grow in and choke out desirable plants. As gardeners of the mind we spend the bulk of our time clearing away invasive growth. This demands infinite diligence before, during and after planting. However when heart and mind are pure, our tended garden is a delight, peaceful, harmonious and beautiful. Purification, then, is the first step to peace.


"Therefore since we also have allowed our prejudices to lead us into conflict with one another, it must be agreed that as a preliminary to reform we should come to a halt, and silence should reign on earth more or less universally, to make it easier for us to introduce among all people the agreement and harmony which we are seeking. Would that the sun of universal Truth, which is at present enshrouded in the mists of altercation, may have its brightness more easily restored, dispelling the mists and darkness, and the winds of contradictions and arrogance which produce them!" (Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 23, p. 118)


Thus the principle of elimination of prejudice begins with silent contemplation and clear thought in individuals. However, since it also roots out all causes of war, conflict and disagreement, the purification principle is also the first, unavoidable step to world peace.


Comenius held that agreement on essentials does not require the persuasion and hard labour that purification does. Good plants grow on their own. It is a question of clearing the way for them by seeing things with our own eyes. As long as everybody else gets a comprehensive view of the same reality there is no room for disagreement.


"Let me give an example to illustrate my point and show how easy it is for opposing parties to be reconciled. Suppose that there are six hundred people who have heard or read a description of the city of Rome; the ideas of the individuals, if we were able to examine them, will certainly vary widely. But take them all to visit Rome, to have a careful look at everything on the spot, and soon the ideas of all will have much in common and will tend to become identical. In our present situation we should do likewise; those who disagree about the nature of things or about God, or the ideas of the mind, must be brought to see nature or God or the mind, and soon they will be reconciled." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 30, p. 121)


It can be seen that this Parable of Rome is the converse of Rumi's Parable of the Blind Men. Rumi's story of blind men who are led to different parts of an elephant and conclude from their examination that elephants are like a rope, a tree trunk, and so forth demonstrates the ill effects of a non-comprehensive, overspecialized education. The curriculum of Comenius aimed at a carefully designed guided tour of Rome that would counterbalance the tendency of varied temperaments to come to differing conclusions from the same data. It strove for a unified common knowledge of the world as it is by carefully balancing specialized, practical training with liberal studies.


It may be inevitable that some tourists will be drawn into different sections of Rome and come away with varied understanding of the city. However, there will be little longstanding contradiction as long as there is a map that allows us to visit the city again. The map allows us to systematically dispel misconceptions by visiting places that seem poorly understood.


"What plan must we therefore adopt? Three desperate diseases need three remedies. Blindness needs guidance and eye-salve. Delusion needs removal of darkness and clearer light. Abuses need the true use of things." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 9, para 10, p. 146)


In coming essays, we will look in more detail at the clarification, purification plan that Comenius had in mind.




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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On Political Chastity and Fidelity

Purity and Incumbency


By John Taylor; 2009 May 19, Azamat 03, 166 BE


Incumbency is the tendency of the electorate to choose somebody and never change their minds. Election after election brings the same result until the poor individual chosen either burns out or dies. This is an ongoing issue in Baha'i administration. Although as electors we are supposed to be investigating new people all the time, in practice it is very rare -- at least in my experience -- for there to be much turnover. This is distressing when you are on the institution and see with your own eyes how certain LSA members' service is less than stellar, yet they get re-elected again and again. Usually the problem is not so much contention and querulous attitudes as with the notorious politicians in Ottawa right now. Usually poor service is for the prosaic reason that an Assembly member simply does not turn up for meetings. It is distressing from an inside perspective to see how little the electorate is aware of attendance records of those they vote for.


Not that this knowledge always helps. In an extreme case, I know of one LSA that elected as its chair a member who had not turned up for a meeting for at least three years before!


In general terms we do recognize incumbency as a problem, though. It is always a heated issue whether to publish attendance records of LSA members in the newsletter or the annual report. Although it is technically permitted to do so, there is in practice great reluctance. I have only seen it actually done a couple of times in all my years of service. When the record was made public, the deadwood was swept away very quickly. Almost too quickly.


It is always difficult to assess performance in a leader. Attendance is one indicator, but that says nothing about how well an elected public servant does when they do turn up. The "who will guard the guardians?" quandary applies to anybody in a position of authority.


I sometimes think that there should be some way to collect a combined visual display of several statistical indicators that would look beautiful when the job is done well and ugly when done poorly. This would supplement the electoral process and allow experts to have a say along with the people. This escutcheon, as Comenius suggested, could be displayed for all to see in a prominent place. Maintaining official badges, escutcheons or coats of arms visible to all would make sure that professional failure or incompetence is not hidden and secret, it would be automatically public knowledge. Moral taint would be fair and measurable. Wrongdoing and negligence would literally become a blot on a permanent public record, impossible to hide, deface or minimize. As long as we do this fairly and accurately, and it is monitored by expert opinion, an escutcheon would assure that public officials give due attention to the basic aspects of their job, such as attendance, punctuality and reliability.


In a recent issue of Macleans Magazine, political columnist Paul Wells points out something I had not realized, that incumbency is not always a bad thing. In fact, when an elected official takes the job seriously it is a very good thing to have the chance to see things from the perspective of decades rather than only a couple of years. It takes skill, wisdom and years of experience to perform any difficult job, and we should not expect politics to be an exception. Unfortunately, the bad reputation of politicians is becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. I will cite his entire first paragraph since Wells frames the problem I think quite eloquently,


"Apart from sex, the only realm of human achievement where ignorance and inexperience are widely seen as virtues is politics. Sarah Palin is only the most notorious recent example of the phenomenon; the `vote for me, I have no experience' gambit succeeds with remarkable frequency, which speaks volumes about public attitudes toward the political process and politicians. Politics is seen as a profession in the same sense that prostitution is, practised only by people of highly suspect moral character." (Why every day is amateur hour in the House, http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/05/14/why-every-day-is-amateur-hour-in-the-house/)


The problem in Ottawa, he points out, is that we have had several minority governments in a row, with many incumbents booted out of office after only one term of office. The result is that most members of parliament are inexperienced, compared to England and the U.S. Worse, in most cases members are not qualified for the job in the first place.


"Only two-thirds of Canadian MPs have a university degree, while 72 per cent of British members have attended university and fully 93 per cent of members of the U.S. House of Representatives have a degree. David Mitchell, the head of the Public Policy Forum, finds this all pretty alarming. The amateur character of the Commons has led, he says, to an unprecedented level of partisan acrimony and a high degree of distrust between elected representatives and the federal public service."


Canada has a traditionally high turnover rate in its parliament, and the level of civility has been declining severely over the past decade. Wells calls its televised feedback session a "daily disgrace" and a "monkified feces-toss,"


"To call question period a zoo would be an insult to the relative civility and good temperament of wild animals; one suspects that the occasional parleys between Bloods and Crips in South Central Los Angeles are less partisan and hostile affairs."


The present situation involves "an entrenched and experienced government facing off against a transient and largely clueless House of Commons." Our tendency to elect what Wells calls "uncivil, hyper-partisan ignoramuses" is making it increasingly obvious that we need to improve the structure of democracy with basic institutional changes.


The most obvious reform is to how we stage elections.


In a blog posting by the same columnist called, "Christy switched, and so should you," he points to a radio confession on YouTube by a former elected official in British Columbia. Wells comments, "Apparently I'm not the only late convert to BC-STV (a rejected electoral reform commission that suggested an alternative to the present "first past the post" system). Here is Christy Clark, Gordon Campbell's former deputy premier." 


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhccpzI4lbQ


In the video she admits that she had looked at electoral reform with a jaundiced eye when she was in office, since the old way was what got her into office. But now that she is working as a radio talkback host in close contact with the people, she sees that electoral change would be the most effective way to assuage spreading anger against politicians. Continuing with his comparison of politics to sex, Wells concludes his column,


"In both Parliament and the bedroom, there is something deeply attractive about someone who has yet to be morally tainted by what goes on once the doors are shut. But in both chambers, if it is civility, consideration and effectiveness you are after, it helps to have someone who knows what they are doing."


As a husband of almost twenty years, I am constantly reminded of how permanent marriage is. The fact that God does not want us to flit from lover to lover lays upon us a sort of built-in divine conservatism. In effect, in the world of sex God puts in a holy vote for incumbency. You only lose virginity once but you can show fidelity through all the worlds of God. And both chastity and fidelity require one thing: purity of motive.


Similarly, in the world of work Baha'is are encouraged to have a long term career or profession. The latter is more difficult to start, requiring long training and education, but flitting from job to job sacrifices our long-term view of past and future in the name of expediency. Here too purity takes a worker from innocence to experience.


Baha'i writer Paul Lample in his "Creating a New Mind" devotes an entire chapter to the importance of purity. In it he points out that,


"Among the highest aspirations of all people is freedom. It is their dream, their expressed ideal, the object of their constant struggle. Yet few in modern society recognize that purity is the door to freedom, since it is purity that releases a soul from earthly bondage and oppression." (31)


Only by purifying the soul can it take on the apparent burdens, the balls and chains, the huge commitments of marriage, children and career without stress, moral taint or loss of freedom. In fact, if we know how to constantly clean the body and purify the soul we can, with the help of a loving community, avoid moral taint completely. We increase our own freedom by learning how to make a whim into a long-term project over several decades. As Lample puts it,


"purity is neither an unattainable ideal, nor easily achieved. Purification is an ongoing process won by degrees -- a struggle that lasts throughout a lifetime. Each time some frontier is conquered, a challenging new horizon appears." (33)





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