Two Unworkable Pieces of Marble
By John Taylor; 2009 Oct 30, Ilm 15, 166 BE
Baha'is believe that the Manifestation of God always comes to the most corrupt place in the world. This is how God proves His expertise as teacher and reformer. It is like that messed up, split, dirty, ugly hunk of marble that ordinary sculptors found unworkable. They left it aside until along came the greatest among them, Michelangelo. He drags the block out of the dump and carves his masterpiece, the famed David. So it is with the cradle of the Baha'i Faith, the nation formerly known as Persia. Iran, from a religious point of view, was a sub-standard piece of marble, by far the most corrupt, bigoted nation in the world. This is obvious to all, whether they have heard of Baha'u'llah or not.
"All observers agree in representing Persia as a feeble and backward nation divided against itself by corrupt practices and ferocious bigotries." (George Townshend, introduction to Shoghi Effendi, The Dawn-Breakers, p. xxiv)
No human can do anything with a nation so embroiled in prejudice; only God, the supreme Reformer, could ever turn it into anything but a pile of rubble. The root of its corruption is a confusion between politics and faith. Religion is all but indistinguishable from politics in Iran, and has been for centuries. The Guardian describes how the Mullas find it convenient to persecute Baha'is in order to enhance their own power and influence.
"In the land of its birth, wherein reside the immense majority of its followers ... a civil authority, as yet undivorced officially from the paralyzing influences of an antiquated, a fanatical, and outrageously corrupt clergy, pursues relentlessly its campaign of repression against the adherents of a Faith which it has for well-nigh a century striven unsuccessfully to suppress." (Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 4)
The Iranian revolution kneaded religious opinion even deeper into the fabric of their administration. Still, one might think that this concern with religion might give its leaders the faith to reach out to stranger and trust the West. Unfortunately, revolutions, like the titan Chronos in Greek mythology, eat their own children. The power of Mullahs and parliamentarians alike is now permanently built on protest, negativity and reaction. Fear and xenophobia predominate, hatred, not love, suspicion, not trust. And, as often happens, the dislike has become mutual. Now the West has put Iran at the top of its enemies list. Take this sample headline from a recent New York Times article:
"Both Iran and West Fear a Trap on Uranium Deal; Iran is afraid of falling for a Western ruse to neutralize its `strategic reserve' while the West fears being lured into a plot to buy time for a nuclear bomb program." (David E. Sanger, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/26/world/middleeast/26iran.html?th&emc=th)
Contrast that with the trust and cooperation that Abdu'l-Baha promoted between America and Persia. When He spoke to the "Orient-Occident-Unity Conference" in Washington, He said,
"Tonight I am most happy in presenting myself before an audience such as this. I am an Oriental and have come into the West to meet the people of the Occident. Praise be to God! Upon the faces of those assembled here I perceive the light of God. This I consider an evidence of the possibility of uniting the East and the West, of establishing a perfect bond between Persia and America -- one of the objects of this conference. For the Persians there is no government better fitted to contribute to the development of their natural resources and the helping of their national needs in a reciprocal alliance than the United States of America, and for the Americans there could be no better industrial outlet and market than the virgin commercial soil of Persia. The mineral wealth of Persia is still latent and untouched. It is my hope that the great American democracy may be instrumental in developing these hidden resources and that a bond of perfect amity and unity may be established between the American republic and the government of Persia. May this bond -- whether material or spiritual -- be well cemented. May the material civilization of America find complete efficacy and establishment in Persia, and may the spiritual civilization of Persia find acceptance and response in America. ... Surely there will be great harvests of results forthcoming for Persia and America. In Persia advanced material civilization will be established and the doors thrown open wide to American commerce." (Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation, 35)
Nor were the central figures of the Baha'i Faith silent before the authorities in Persia, antagonistic as they may have been. Although Baha'u'llah disdained to mention politics in His own Writings, He saw to it that the Baha'i position was available to those who sought it out. Not long after He revealed His Book of Laws, He commissioned His son, Abdu'l-Baha, to write down some suggestions for eliminating the "ferocious bigotries" afflicting His native land. This book, "The Secret of Divine Civilization," is in my opinion one of the greatest works of reform and political science ever written. Needless to say, it was ignored in Baha'u'llah's native land. In a recent letter to the Baha'is in Iran, the Universal House of Justice continues the story of what happened after Abdu'l-Baha wrote "Secret of Divine Civilization."
"Locked in the grip of an antiquated Qajar autocracy restrained only by its incompetence, Persia drifted ever deeper into stagnation. Venal politicians competed with one another for a share of the diminishing wealth of a country driven to the verge of bankruptcy. Worse still, a population that had once produced some of the greatest minds in the history of civilization -- Cyrus, Darius, Rumi, Hafiz, Avicenna, Rhazes and countless others -- had become the prey of a clerical caste, as ignorant as it was corrupt, whose petty privileges could be maintained only by arousing in the helpless masses an unreasoning fear of anything progressive." (The Universal House of Justice, 2003 Nov 26, To the Followers of Baha'u'llah in the Cradle of the Faith, paragraph 10, p. 2)
Next time I will talk about the other rock the workers threw out that, as Jesus prophesied, would one day become the corner of the foundation, that is, the administrative cradle of the Baha'i Faith, North America.