Friday, April 30, 2010

Fwd: [The Badi Blog] New comment on My Tahirih Moment.

My recent essay suggesting we drop the word "theologian" has provoked more comment than I recall getting for years. Here is my response to some of these comments, which, it seems to me, miss the point.

John Taylor


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: The Baha'i Principles <>
Date: Fri, Apr 30, 2010 at 3:46 PM
Subject: [The Badi Blog] New comment on My Tahirih Moment.

The Baha'i Principles has left a new comment on the post "My Tahirih Moment":


While I am grateful for any comment at all, I want to emphasize that I was suggesting that we use the term "divine philosopher" rather than theologian. A theologian is an academic branch of a profession that Baha'u'llah has forbidden.

Thus Mirza Abu'l-Fadl was a divine philosopher, not a theologian. He would have been horrified to hear himself named for the profession he was drummed out of when he became a Baha'i. It really is a new day, with new terminology. Same way, we breath oxygen, not phlogistin, which was a term that came out of a discredited scientific theory.

The Master said that the true believers are the real philosophers. So it makes sense to call the study of Baha'i matters and principles "divine philosophy."

New theories have new terminology. Get used to it.

Post a comment.

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Posted by The Baha'i Principles to The Badi Blog at 3:46 PM, April 30, 2010

Wisdom as Soul Beauty

The Beauty of Seeking Knowledge

Wisdom as Social Purity

By John Taylor; 2010 April 30, Jamal 02, 167 BE

You can talk about most divine virtues without having to drag God into it, but that is impossible for wisdom. At least, that is my experience. Maybe that is why I am having such a hard time writing about wisdom, when I, fool that I am, thought it would be easy at first. For one thing, you have to tread through some very thorny, politically not-so-correct ground right at the start.

The Bible throws down the gauntlet early on, saying not only that those who do not believe in God are fools, but that all folly can be traced to one's relationship to the Godhead in the first place. Both the 14th and the 53rd Psalms are nothing less than declarations of war against atheists. Did I say atheists? Is that right? Consider what the first passage says,

"The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they have done abominable works. There is none who does good. Yahweh looked down from heaven on the children of men, to see if there were any who did understand, who did seek after God. (Psalm 14:1-2, WEB)

This does not actually mention atheists, it equates folly with corruption and doing wrong, which is not controversial, right? We can all agree that every injustice and atrocity that takes place ultimately boils down to somebody's foolishness and lack of wisdom. That is what Socrates taught, that all wrongdoing is an expression of ignorance. Here it says that all corruption is an expression of folly. Folly, then, is an aesthetic value judgment about what goes on in the heart. Conversely, wisdom is the beauty of what happens in the invisible realm of the heart. Alexandrian philosopher Plotinus put this well,

"One Soul is wise and lovely, another foolish and ugly. Soul-beauty is constituted by wisdom." (Plotinus, qi Wisdom, Mortimer Adler, the Great Ideas, p. 939)

If wisdom is a sort of beauty of the soul and folly is its ugliness then, like physical poise and bodily frumpiness, they are difficult to perceive, and futile to point out. As effective as the nerd's lame pickup line, "Hnuk, Hnuk, you are beautiful!" This, I can tell you, does not generally glean good results, unless you yourself are very, very attractive. The ugliness of folly and the beauty of wisdom, then, are probably best discerned in collective behaviour.
The Psalm then turns its condemnation not to any individual's private belief, believer or atheist, but to the nature of the society that comes out many individuals agreeing to a single social contract.

"They have all gone aside; they have together become corrupt. There is none who does good, no, not one. Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call on Yahweh? There were they in great fear, for God is in the generation of the righteous." (14:3-5)

The 53rd Psalm is identical to the 14th, except that it adds here, "They have become filthy together." In other words, lack of belief is a kind of group impurity. It is a condition where a group fails to question -- recall the 2nd verse, which describes God looking down at the heart from above and asking one crucial question: does anybody seek after Him? Those who do so thereby show, if not wisdom, then at least understanding. Wisdom, then, is defined as search for God. This investigation of the divine may or may not result in social conformity, depending on the cleanliness or purity of the covenant that holds the group together.

A fool, then, says in his heart that there is no God, and thereby gives up the search before it starts. This abrupt abortion of the soul begins an inner rot, "They are corrupt...," for we were created by nature to know and love God. Something inside has died, and started to putrefy. The result is a "filthy" group consent.

Even with the best of wills, we are pretty helpless in this search. We are by nature incapable to conduct our search for Truth on our own -- which is why God is looking down from above, searching those who seek Him. We need God in order to find God. As Heraclitus put it,

"Human character has not the means of knowing, but the divine one has." (fr. 78).

Worldly wisdom is by nature oppressive. It gives birth to cruelty and violence. Divine wisdom is peaceful. It has the ability to forge a pure social agreement. It starts a just society and a compassionate civilization going.

"But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, [and] easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." (James 3:17)

God loves a loving group, and He sees to it that they succeed. That is why the major religions have lived on, while so many philosophies and faiths have gone by the wayside. As the Qur'an and Abdu'l-Baha both advised, take a trip across Asia and you will see very frequently the ruins of cities that once were prosperous, but which did not last. Their folly sunk them into oblivion, and only ruins remain standing -- or, now, archaeological digs.

God and His divine wisdom are at the heart of evolution. God works His creative energy through natural selection in nature, but among groups of intelligent beings He guides through what might be called "divine selection." In the words of the Psalm, He looks down from heaven at the hearts, seeking out the seekers and loving the lovers. Only corrupt science and corrupt religion imagine that there is a contradiction between evolutionary theory and progressive revelation. I leave the last word to the One Who opened the ancient scriptures with the key of a Revelation that openly explains progress in faith.

"O ye wise men of the City and philosophers of the world! Beware lest human learning and wisdom cause you to wax proud before God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. Know ye that true wisdom is to fear God, to know Him, and to recognize His Manifestations. This wisdom, however, can be attained only by those who detach themselves from the world, and who walk in the ways of the good pleasure of their Lord." (Summons, 5.113, p. 233)


Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Power of Woman, Two Female Geniuses

Lifestyle Engineering


By John Taylor; 2010 April 29, Jamal 01, 167 BE

Here is the fourth draft of the first essay in the first section of People Without Borders, which is about infrastructure.

Engineering Lifestyles First

"Not I, but the city, teaches."  -- attributed to Socrates

The following proposals have a single, simple aim: to take civilization forward by first taking one step backwards. We all have basic needs which have evolved over tens and hundreds of thousands of years that are being denied, suppressed and perverted by our economy, infrastructure and built environment. For example, human nature is such that we are used to living in extended family groups and communities that offer on a daily basis a wide variety of contacts with a variety of humans, young and old, similar and different. When humans do not get such a wealth of relationships, they are inclined to ever narrower thinking, imitation, stereotypes and bigotry. At the very least, we are liable unhappiness and depression.

At the same time, we all need meaningful contact with nature. In a natural environment we feel recreated and uplifted. We all feel a visceral fulfilment when we walk through fields and forests, through paths where mineral, plant and animal mix together in an ecological balance, often harmonious, sometimes not, that no human organization can imitate. When humans are deprived of this, they feel out of place. Even when we do not consciously recognize it, we feel wrong in our skin. If this continues too long, we feel inclined to act out our anomie in unjust, violent ways.

Everything from a cruel word to crime and murder can usually be traced back to some imbalanced caused by a long-term lack of variety in the human or natural lifestyle of the perpetrator. This is not to deny personal responsibility, it is only to assert that we should be exercising this responsibility socially as well as personally, we should start earlier and further back, back when we actually plan and design our homes, neighbourhoods and cities.

Every individual needs to take his or her own responsibilities in their own educational, devotional, civic, financial and professional life into account as often as possible, preferably daily and weekly. Once this personal planning is regularized by means of open, standardized software, then local planning will naturally begin to evolve.

The present system shirks the responsibility to engineer lifestyles before they are embedded in pavement, concrete and stone because of the human inclination to concentrate power into as few hands as possible, preferably in a central location. This is why world government has been rejected out of hand for so long. By its very act of formation, a world authority designed along the lines envisioned by John Amos Comenius, would rectify whatever is universal to the human condition. It would pacify conflict at the center through planetary stewardship and planning. This would shift more rather than less responsibility onto the shoulders of the individual. One result, paradoxical as it may seem at first, would be to actually decentralize power and planning. Responsibility would devolve back down to the levels of the village, neighbourhood, block and family household, and ultimately to that of the individual.

Female leadership, when allowed to express itself, has traditionally acted as a centripetal force that counteracts the centrifugal force of hierarchies. The 31st Chapter of the Book of Proverbs describes how motherly power works. Reading this encomium to womanly responsibility gives one a sense of why most traditions personify wisdom as a woman. Without this factor being fully exercised, it is difficult to imagine the human race reaching its full potential.

The independent, enterprising female householder in this chapter of Proverbs works her beneficent influence first on the next generation. She turns her sons and daughters away from the lure of promiscuity, destroyer of families, and from what are now called mind-altering substances. Her honour as householder is priceless.

"Who can find a worthy woman? For her price is far above rubies."

This praise is not empty. A mother's example is known to be the first and greatest influence on a child's progress later in life. Nor has this advice for mothers to steer their charges away from controlled substances lost its currency. Smoking and alcohol are, according the World Health Organization, the number one and two deadliest threats to human health and longevity. The existence of a world government would turn the attention of the world to empowering mothers so that they can steer their sons away from dangers such as this. We can expect that empowering women will be the factor that finally breaks the culture of alcohol and tobacco that the most starry-eyed dreamer lost hope of changing long ago.

In view of the strategic position of female householders, it is no coincidence that some of the greatest pioneers of citizens as local planners have been women. Let us look at two, Jane Jacobs and Flora Tristan.

One of the great geniuses of citizens as guardians of their own neighbourhoods was Jane Jacobs. She opposed excessively centrally planned architectural movements like the one started by Le Corbusier, who assumed that residents in their buildings and developments do not plan their own lives. People are reduced by our present structures and infrastructure to sims and automatons, divorced from nature and the larger social bonds that give life its meaning and rewards. Jacob's motto was "eyes on the street," a system that arises on its own in a well-designed neighbourhood. Living in these connected communities, city dwellers gain a sense of social reciprocity. Their care for what happens in their neighbourhood then becomes a first line of defence against crime and injustice. Nine of ten wrongs and crimes can be either prevented or nipped in the bud by amateurs before professional law enforcers need to be called in.

Another genius of decentralizing reform was Flora Tristan. Her early proposal for workers' palaces heavily influenced the neighbourhood restructuring program discussed throughout this section of People Without Borders. Next time we will expand a little on Flora Tristan's ideas.


Monday, April 26, 2010

check this out

go to:
and type in "Baha'i"

looks like a good visual search engine...

Wisdom and Avatar


Wisdom and Avatar

By John Taylor; 2010 April 24, Jalal 15, 167 BE

Yesterday we reviewed the movie Avatar. As with everything else, I saw this movie in terms of the triple division of society that Comenius made, into politics, science and religion. The leader of the earth colony on Pandora is the CEO of a mining company. He stands for the voracious breed of capitalism that is ravaging mother earth right here and now. His right-hand bulldog is the head of a group of mercenaries named "SecOps," for security operations. Together the capitalists and trigger-happy soldiers stands for a politics that cares nothing for peace, much less the environment. They take the first excuse to pick a fight with the apparently technologically-inferior natives. Their sole goal is to mine for the strangely named mineral "unobtainium."

Matched against them, playing the role of religion, are what the bad guys contemptuously call the "blue monkeys," the Na'vi, a tree-loving, spiritual race of humanoids who inhabit Pandora, the moon of a much larger planet. Science is personified by Dr. Grace Augustine, played by Sigourney Weaver, who struggles valiantly for funds and permission to study the aliens, teach English to them, and maintain good relations as their land is stolen from under their feet. In the film, then, science and religion are the underdog enemies of a politics run by corporate minions whose sole concern is short-term profit for the corporation's shareholders. In other words, a government just like ours. At the end of the film, science and faith, against all odds, win out over the political element. The military loses the war, mining operations are shut down and the human aliens are deported from Pandora.

The reason that this movie has been so wildly popular, I theorized in yesterday's movie review, is because the imbalance is ours. We feel it in our own lives. It threatens our happiness and survival. The battle in Avatar is the result of conflicts among faith, science and politics. This war we fight every day in our hearts, in the workplace and the environment. What fulcrum will balance what is making us topple over?

I think the answer is wisdom. Wisdom would have made humans successful on Pandora. We will have to learn wisdom if we are to survive much longer, even on our own planet. Fortunately, I am writing an essay series on wisdom, so stay tuned to this blog.


Saturday, April 24, 2010


Avatar, My Review


By John Taylor; 2010 April 24, Jalal 15, 167 BE

I latched onto Avatar as soon as it came out on DVD.

Like everybody else, I was impressed with the production values and graphics. This film takes computer animation to a whole new level. As the main character says after his avatar -- a living proxy of his DNA mixed with alien DNA -- goes to sleep and his consciousness re-enters his normal body, you start to wonder which is actually the real world. Actually, he at one point talks about taking the fight to a whole new level.

My point is that quality graphics or filmmaking skills are not enough to make this the highest grossing film in history. All through the film, I am wondering, what is the secret of this? How did another Fern Gully or "Pocahantas in Space" strike such a chord? A thousand reviewers have already pointed out that this story of a white boy who goes native has been told a thousand times through the years, from Tarzan to "Dances with Wolves." Why is Avatar so special?
Is Avatar just an involving science fiction story? I devour every SF story that falls into my hands, but that cannot be it. Most movie goers do not break down the doors of the cinemas just to see another story of an attempted colonization of the nearest star system -- actually, using our fastest rockets it would take ten thousand, not a few of years, as in the film, to get to Proxima Centauri, but SF has to ignore that. Is it the aboriginal element that made Avatar the must-see film of the century? Face it, not everybody is a Ruhiyyih Khanum going around defending native cultures and praising their deep spiritual perception.

As I watched, I latched onto a theory. Like the semi-domesticated animals in Avatar, my theory latched onto me at the same time, and it has not let go of me since.

Surely the secret of Avatar is its capitalist theme. This, I think we all feel, will be the story that future schoolchildren will be reading about our age in their history books. Even as we speak, greedy corporations are ripping into central India, uprooting traditional forest cultures in order to get at the minerals under their feet. Just like Avatar, except that you know there is no happy ending over the horizon.

We feel for Avatar because we know that unfettered capitalism is trampling us all down. It injects itself into and inoculates our minds with its ubiquitous advertising. It tramples over the human rights of not only of native people but everybody, of not just the poor but the rich as well. It takes away our rights, and blocks us as citizens, workers and believers. Extreme capitalism dumps most of the wealth on a small power elite, and exploits everybody else.
The very corporate stooges who are crushing our own work lives and trampling the environment, soiling the air and water with impunity, get their comeuppance in this film.

The capitalist and militarist mind sets get us kicked off the planet Pandora.

So obnoxious is it to see this element representing us all that the viewer actually feels good at the end to hear the protagonist say, "The aliens are being ejected from this planet..." – meaning not the Nav'i of Pandora but the humans who invaded in order to exploit their mineral wealth.
Avatar reminds me mostly of Michael Moore's "Capitalism, A Love Story," which has the same theme. Only I begin to think that Moore has oversimplified and stereotyped capitalism. There really are two things that we refer to when we say "capitalism." One is free enterprise, which is simple justice. The competent, efficient company deserves to profit from its effort. But the other is an evil ideology that has mounted free enterprise from behind, buggering us, pushing free enterprise beyond the bounds of moderation.

This is why Avatar comes closer to the mark than "Capitalism, A Love Story," because it points out how damaging power is when the military and a pro-capitalist government are in cahoots, when they plot their own benefit before that of the people. This is corruption when individuals are unrestrained by religious or ethical scruples, and when a narrow outlook keeps them from seeing the whole picture. That makes aliens of us all.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Interview with Ludwig Zamenhof

The inventor of Esperanto visited Washington in 1910. We are commemorating this event this year.

Ridvan, Ensaf and God’s Peace Plan

Peace Plan

Thoughts on the Second Day of Ridvan

By John Taylor; 2010 April 22, Jalal 13, 167 BE

Yesterday, the first day of Ridvan, was a warm, beautiful day. My 10-year-old son Thomas and I walked and shopped, biked and hiked around Dunnville before the Holy Day and election, which took place in late afternoon.

We have a total of 24 believers in Haldimand, and over half voted; but so few of us are able, willing or active that it pretty much meant that a discernable pulse and a willingness to show your face once a year (and sometimes not even the latter) is sufficient qualification to be elected to the Assembly. One hopeful sign however was an apparent unanimity of opinion among voters as to who should serve. Normally, the Assembly member with the greatest number of votes becomes the convener, who is responsible to arrange the first meeting where the officers are elected. In this case, however, seven of the nine were tied at twelve votes each. Seven convenors? We decided just to leave the job up to the former secretary.

A sad note was that Ron Speer was not re-elected, having moved to Georgetown earlier in the year. He was on the old Dunnville Assembly and later on the amalgamated Haldimand LSA for a total of over thirty years, since its foundation.

Our daily Baha'i class continues unabated. Tomaso insisted that we read God Loves Laughter for what must be the fifth or sixth time. Each time I read it, it is different. One reading I got the impression that Sears' family was run by a father who today would be considered a child abuser. He was always ready to whack his son and Bill as a result became closer to his grandfather. The next reading refuted that thesis. I noticed that Sears was close to his father, and the father with the rest of the family, in spite of the corporal punishment. My father always prided himself that he never hit the five kids he raised; he thought that hitting is an act not only of cowardice but of stupidity – if you cannot outsmart a little tyro like that, you are not really using your brain.

Anyway, Bill Sears' family was probably pretty normal for the time, and if you banished all humour at the expense of fathers you would have to shut down the whole genre of the family sitcom.

Our reading of GLL this time is different. I notice typos that are themselves amusing. The copy we have is clearly the first edition, printed in England. You can see the Hand of the Cause writing something and then an officious copywriter coming along and changing it to something incomprehensible. For example, there is a reference to the Green Bay Packets, instead of the Packers...

This morning, Ridvan Day Two, I lured Thomas out of bed and persuaded him to get ready for school by reading aloud the twelfth chapter of the novel City of Ember, which his teacher read to his Grade Five class, and which he liked so much we are reading it again together. This is youth fiction, with a restricted vocabulary.

For me, when I read a novel the main lure is the author's command of language. If the novelist is not as much poet as storyteller, I rapidly grow bored. So as a way to amuse myself with the author's pedestrian diction, I read with an Oxford accent or Irish brogue, or, as lately, I mimic a famous actor, like John Wayne or, lately, Christopher Walkin. This is surprisingly difficult to do, because if my parody gets at all noticeable, Thomas, or Silvie before him, immediately stops me and asks that I read in a "normal voice." So I have to keep it very subtle, it has to be an impression, not a send up, or my little accent buzzer goes off.

This morning we were at an exciting point in the novel with much action and suspense, so I was able to push the limits with my accent game. The buzzer went off only once, late in the chapter. By then it was too late. I had actually become Christopher Walkin and I could not shake that broken lilt, that downturn at the end of each sentence, even when I tried. Then came the time for us all to recite our morning prayer and reading. I found that Christopher Walkin can recite the words of Baha'u'llah. The kids protested, "Is that not disrespectful?" I thought not, since Walkin is one of the best orators in the English language. Go onto YouTube and listen to his reading of Poe's "The Raven." It is the best rendition of that poem I have ever heard, including the formidable version by James Earl Jones.

Then as I rushed the kids off to school, I found that Christopher Walkin can speak fluent Esperanto as well. In fact, my impression of his voice is actually better in Esperanto than in English, since for the life of me I cannot do a New York accent. I have been trying to correct that with my usual learning method lately, YouTube videos. A youth by the moniker "Sunghero" gives an excellent little seminar on how to do an impersonation of this actor, and impersonations generally. Sunghero also gives some good situations in which to use a Walkin impression, including awkward silences and approaching members of the opposite sex. Since he is Chinese and speaks with an English accent, among others, I think Sunghero should do a music video showcasing his talent done to the tune of "Secret Agent Man," only with the lyrics changed to "Secret Asian Man." The latter is what my kids go around singing whenever we listen to the Tom Jones CD in our car.

Last week, in Dundas, I attended an inspiring deepening on the Arabic Hidden Words given by Ninaz Shadman. I have been telling everyone who will listen that she is great, not since the Hands were still around have I heard a Baha'i speaker put the pedal to the metal like that; she is the equivalent of a Baha'i Bible-thumper. This term puzzles my kids, and I have to explain that it means that she speaks with verve, vim, passion, all the spiritual uplift that the first AHW says that we should have if we want to be able to say that we got anything out of Baha'u'llah's Writings. All others, in comparison, might well say, in Shakespeare's words in Richard III,

"I have not that alacrity of spirit nor cheer of mind that I was wont to have..."

Better still, Ninaz is familiar with the original languages and does not shy away from using the actual words used by the Central Figures. For example, I learned for the first time the difference between Ensaf, personal justice, and Adalat, social justice, or balance. Thus, when Baha'u'llah says, "The essence of all that I have revealed for thee is justice...," the word He is using is Ensaf, the same term as in the second Arabic Hidden Word. I did not know that. My justice, not ours. In English we just say "justice," we seem to have no distinction between personal and social. This is funny and disconcerting. It makes me feel strange, kind of like it does to let some unknown actor inhabit you and take over your mannerisms and quirks of speech.

Let me close with a frank email exchange that I recently had with a rather conventionally-minded believer about the book I am writing. They wrote:

"There is something I saw in this blog and in others you have written which disturbs me somewhat.  You state that the world government proposed by Comenius "is the most insightful and appealing plan for a world government ever devised." Where does it leave the plan for world government which Baha'u'llah gave us now stand in your opinion? It sometimes seems to me that you have supplanted the Baha'i Faith in your book by idolizing Comenius..."

JET: Dear ----,

My book, People without Borders, will be a work of political science, which as you know, the Guardian encouraged young Baha'is to study. I am comparing Comenius's design of a world government with other plans made up by world federalists and political scientists.  I would not compare the Plan of God to what any man has thought up, if only because nobody knows how God's inscrutable Plan will play out.

When Baha'is speak of the Plan we do not refer to any detailed plan for a world government, since we are non-political. The Guardian was emphatic that we not advocate any scheme for a world government, nor are we to put forward a political platform. Nor did Baha'u'llah try to make up any detailed design of a world government, although He did advocate the attempt by kings and leaders, not by Baha'is. He forbids such meddling by His followers in the Kitab-i-Ahd.

Besides, since Comenius's plan is based on Biblical teaching, I'd say that his plan is to a large extent God's plan, and that he would presumably have submitted to Baha'u'llah had he lived a few centuries later. I am intentionally not mentioning Baha'i in this book, for several reasons. I may follow it with a book that does, I certainly have lots of material.

Thank you for reading along, and feel free to mention any further problems that occur to you.

Response: "Dear John, Thanks very much for your clarification. That will certainly help me to understand your future essays."


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Tahirih Moment

From Theology, the Alchemy of Faith, to Divine Philosophy


Wisdom and Folly, Speaking Qua Baha'i

"In the discussion of wisdom in your email of ... you observe that maybe `Baha'i academics all too often have not recognized that to a great extent failure to exercise wisdom represents a failure of love.' The House of Justice agrees that the exercise of wisdom calls for a measure of love and the development of a sensitive conscience. These, in turn, involve not only devotion to a high standard of uprightness, but also consideration of the effects of one's words and actions."

This letter from the Universal House of Justice (8 Feb 1998) points out several themes that turn up repeatedly in any discussion of wisdom. One is that wisdom somehow straddles the gap between love and knowledge -- in fact, the Master said that knowledge _is_ love. Another is that wisdom teaches us to curtail our tongue. A wise person thinks before talking, is never capricious and takes every use of speech, especially speech about God, very seriously. We shall be spending much time on this theme in future essays. And finally, there is the seemingly universal tendency of experts and professionals to become insular and selfish, and to regard their own interests before those of society.

As this letter of the House demonstrates, Baha'is are not immune to this form of corruption. I recently was shocked to come across a post-graduate thesis where the author was openly calling himself a "Baha'i theologian." How could this happen? Baha'u'llah has specifically and emphatically excluded a professional clergy from His Cause. In the 24th Persian Hidden Word, which the Guardian interpreted to be a reference to the "Islamic" clergy of Iran, Baha'u'llah addresses them thusly, "O ye that are foolish, yet have a name to be wise!" Their egregious behaviour is such as to bring shame upon the very word "religion," how much more the word "theologian,"

"Wherefore do ye wear the guise of shepherds, when inwardly ye have become wolves, intent upon My flock? Ye are even as the star, which riseth ere the dawn, and which, though it seem radiant and luminous, leadeth the wayfarers of My city astray into the paths of perdition."

These fools in wise man's clothes are like the morning star, that is, that ultimate greenhouse-gas planet Venus, pretending to be the sun. Anybody who mistakes them for the sun is, well, a fool's fool. A willing victim of meta-foolishness. It is true that the Mullahs are not without competition, now that the scandal from the sheltering of child-abusing clergy has reached the Pope himself. But I ask you, which is worse, failing to protect a few dozen innocents from the lusts of some of your colleagues, or openly depriving half the population of their fundamental right to contribute to society, and conniving to suppress rival religions, denying their very right to call themselves a religion?

That is why I think Baha'is should recoil in horror at the very word "theology."

Think of it this way. Baha'u'llah did not forbid polygamy, He left it up to the Center of the Covenant to rule that this custom is unjust and unfair. Same way,
He left it up to us to come to that conclusion. He did not explicitly say never to use the word "theology," but it is implied. The word is unnecessary. A similar thing happened, I recently learned, with the term "timocracy;" in the 1950's some guy started using the wholly unnecessary word for the same thing, "meritocracy." He meant it as a sort of sarcastic joke, but the word caught on, being more readily understandable to a generation of scholars unfamiliar with Greek.  Before that, there was no need for the term, since timocracy, rule of honour, covers merit nicely. But there is, I hope it is apparent, very good reason to shy away from the word "theology," when discussing the Baha'i Faith, just as there is to steer away from words like "heresy," "propaganda" and "dogma," which come out of mind sets that are wholly foreign to the Baha'i spirit.

I discussed this with the learned organizer of an academic Baha'i studies forum, and he did not agree. He said that the word "theology" as presently used does not necessarily imply that somebody studying this subject area is necessarily a professional, much less a clergy-person.

I countered with this argument: the very word theology stinks of folly. Its components, "theo," God, and "ology," study of, imply that an expert is "studying God." God is by definition an unknowable essence. Therefore anybody who thinks of himself as a theologian is stepping close to the precipice. He will be tempted to assume that the progress he makes in his study will give him privileged information about God, or at least that he will know more about Him than somebody who did not study the subject area. If it were the case that the study of religion led directly to achievement in religion, then Jesus would have been the most learned Rabbi in Jerusalem, Muhammad would have been chief shaman in Mecca, and the Bab the number one Mujtahid in Shi'ih Islam.

No, one does not lead to the other. No, one does not lead anywhere near the other.

In fact, this reflection supports an even stronger formulation of this argument. Why study theology at all? Why is the very subject area on the curriculum of a Baha'i institution of learning? There is no trade of alchemist anymore for good reason. It is because that study has been discredited. Alchemy has long been recognized as a complete waste of time to learn about. I may go about boasting of my vast knowledge of alchemy but nobody should be impressed because no good comes of such learning. Yet Baha'is allow themselves to be impressed by what theologians think constitutes knowledge of God, and we let these discredited professionals lead us down the garden path by studying what they think is important.

Is that not following the morning star as if it were the sun?

Consider this anecdote, which the Master often repeated when He was an old man. He was a child being dandled on the knee of Tahirih while Quddus and other prominent Babis were in an idle discussion of the usual theological hairsplitting. Did she go along? She was certainly qualified to talk with them as equals. No, she stopped it and said, essentially, that this is all a waste of time, that religion is not about words, it is an action, a leap of faith from prayer to action. Such talk is a waste of time and wisdom dictates that it be halted post haste. "Wisdom is before the face of one who has understanding, but the eyes of a fool wander to the ends of the earth." (Prov 17:24, WEB) Faith is reflection followed by sacrificial action, and talking about it does as much good as talking about alchemy.

Did the Master tell this anecdote disapprovingly, saying that we should not do what Tahirih did, we instead should involve ourselves wholly in theological blathering? No, he told the story advisedly. Be like Tahirih.

Well, what do we call this outburst of the greatest heroine of the Babis? Oldsters talk about a "senior moment" when they forget something, so let us call it a "Tahirih moment." A Tahirih moment comes when we remember what is surely one of the most important lessons of wisdom, that we should forget talk and act; when we realize that theology useless talk about what we cannot know, ever. A Tahirih moment is when we remember to forget what deserves to be forgotten, and when we go straight to the essence of the question, sacrificial action.

It is true that whereas in the West we stereotype women as artsy fartsy, spiritual, head in the clouds types, in Iran the stereotype is the opposite. Women are practical, hard headed thinkers and men are the poetic dreamers. In that case, Tahirih would have been making a contribution towards rebalancing her society back towards a balance with the women's perspective. So be it. Her point that theology is a waste of words and time still stands.

I once had a Tahirih moment. I was on the bus going from the mountain to downtown Hamilton. I had been sitting alone in my seat for the whole bus trip wading through several pages of dense text from Sartre's Being and Nothingness. Suddenly I grasped what he had been saying, but at the same time I realized that what he had said in ten pages of close reasoning could have been said in a musical phrase, a stanza of poetry, or in a flash of meditative reflection. It was interesting that it is possible to express this in words, but why? Why bother with this? If the shortest distance from point A to point B is a straight line, why go through C to Z before you reach B? Is it not a waste of time? Is it not better to do what science did with alchemy, that is, leave it aside as a wrong answer? There are an infinite number of wrong answers; and in life as in mathematics, we only have time to study the right ones.

I call this a Tahirih moment, but maybe I am being arrogant. A true Tahirih moment is the time when one decides to shut up and teach or pioneer, or to give to the fund until it hurts. Or, in the case of Tahirih and Quddus, to leave off all the garbage and palaver and start down the path to martyrdom. I call my moment that only because it helped me understand what a Tahirih moment is.

Certainly Baha'u'llah was of the opinion that words and learning do not matter a hang unless they bring about results. You should not call a skilled or learned person wise from the mere fact that they have learned a great deal. You should only call wise those who have brought their learning to a good, happy end, and who have followed the Law of God. He says, for instance, in the Kalimat-i-Firdousiyyih that,

"This Wronged One hath invariably treated the wise with affection. By the wise is meant men whose knowledge is not confined to mere words and whose lives have been fruitful and have produced enduring results. It is incumbent upon everyone to honour these blessed souls. Happy are they that observe God's precepts; happy are they that have recognized the Truth; happy are they that judge with fairness in all matters ..." (Tablets, 62)

Baha'u'llah offers Himself as an example, and then says that we all have an obligation to "honour these blessed souls." So Baha'i teaching is the reverse of anti-intellectual. Like the Jews, whose proportion of intellectual overachievers and Nobel Prize winners is partly attributable to the fact that Jewish culture values learning highly, Baha'is love and respect the learned. But only those who produce, not the poseurs and alchemists among them. And especially not the discredited theologians, who have made themselves the very personifications of sinister folly. Their mistake should be clear to all Baha'is, and we should steer well clear of their odour.

"Say, O people of the earth! Beware lest any reference to wisdom debar you from its Source or withhold you from the Dawning-Place thereof. Fix your hearts upon your Lord, the Educator, the All-Wise." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 149)

In the essay written yesterday, I mentioned that scientists are being implicitly arrogant by using the Latin word Scientia for their discipline, which implies that all other pursuits are not knowledge. I suggested we go back to the original name for it, natural philosophy. I did not mention another unfortunate name shift around that time. Before, the many disciplines we now call philosophy were called "metaphysics." A philosopher was a non-specialist, a generalist, by definition. Scientists and theologians were types of philosopher. Around the early 19th century, natural philosophers started calling themselves scientists and meta-physicians started calling themselves philosophers, leading to a terrible narrowing of what I think is the most important, universal and general way of understanding the world. Everybody, especially every intellectual, should be a philosopher first, and a specialist only afterwards.

Anyway, my friend Peter read that essay that and suggested that we could do the same for what Baha'is study, we could call it what the Master did, divine philosophy. The second volume of His talks in Paris, after all, was called, presumably with His knowledge and consent, Divine Philosophy. So when we sponsor a course, please, please do not call it theology, call it divine philosophy. Give Tahirih a chance.