Monday, January 30, 2006

Vows and Proofs

Vows and Proofs

By John Taylor; 30 January, 2006

The prayer from Baha'u'llah that was part of my morning ablutions
today included this petition:

"Write us up, then, with those who have fulfilled their pledge to Thy
Covenant in Thy days, and who, through their love for Thee, have
detached themselves from the world and all that is therein." (Prayers
and Meditations, 174)

It asks not for the usual steadfastness in the Covenant but to be able
to plan it, live it out, and fulfill vows in it. My pledge over the
past year has been to build up my health, and I have not been entirely
unsuccessful. Fortunately, food is cheap these days; if you can slough
off the advertising sirens (see the mention of detachment in the above
prayer), we can eat better now on a smaller budget than any time in
history. I realized last year that I had no excuse not to eat as well
or better than 99 percent of our ancestors.

As the Badi' faithful know, I restrict myself to one recipe, gazpacho
soup, hence my nickname, Gazpacho Guy. I have little time and energy,
so I keep it simple. I make a quick gazpacho, it takes a couple of
hours to prepare a batch that supplements three meals a day for at
least a week. To save more time, I dip a mug into the pot rather than
ladling it into a bowl. Over five months I have become a fairly expert
gazpacho cook -- if "cook" is the word since there is no cooking, it
is a cold soup. A big pot sits in our fridge most of the time. Even
when Mom makes her kid friendly meals my bowl of gazpacho weakens my
appetite and I take only a token portion. Not that anyone partaking of
my soup would be impressed by the taste, for I am no gourmet; I cook
for health not taste. I have added to the basic gazpacho ingredients
of tomatoes, cucumbers, celery, onions, olive oil and apple cider
vinegar. Now I include, well, basically whatever I see turning up in
studies as beneficial. That means heaps of garlic in every batch for
one thing. My breath, even with all the parsley I throw into the mix,
is powerful enough to melt non-ferric metals with a single puff. But I
do not care. It feels good, this permanent taste of garlic. It marches
like an army in my mouth, sinking into soft tissues like the claws of
a purring cat. It feels like health.

Another big hurdle I surmounted was the sorry lack of exercise in my
routine. Energized by the gazpacho, I now go for a one hour walk out
to Taylor Road and back (about three clicks) every morning. Then after
work in the afternoon I practice table tennis in the garage, another
hour. I find that ping pong is the only aerobic exercise that captures
my interest enough to continue at it. My stationary bicycle remains in
the garage, unused. In fact I have become so enthusiastic about my new
sport that my difficulty is limiting it. Left on its own my brain
would rehearse overhand table tennis shots full time, over and over.
To cure me of that, I go to my Mac Mini to play a few chess games on
its Gnu Chess program. Being crushed at chess by an object smaller
than a cereal box somehow restores my mental balance and after that I
can go on to other things.

None of this enthusiasm for table tennis would be happening now if it
were not for the new friend I made last year at the Wainfleet
Philosopher's Cafe, Stu. He comes twice weekly to the Youth Center and
we have built up quite a little rivalry on both the chessboard and the
table tennis table. Stu comes on Thursdays for a homework club; as a
retired grade school teacher he helps our children and several others
with homework. On Friday he runs a chess club in the Youth Center, but
lately nobody has turned up and we devote our time to our chess and
table tennis matches. He is a much more experienced ping pong player,
smart and flexible. Until recently I suspected that he was holding
back from utterly humiliating me. On the chess board we are as even as
two players can be, sometimes I dominate and sometimes he does.

For a couple of years I practiced table tennis off and on at the youth
center. Not having much game experience, whenever even casual
onlookers challenged me to a game, they would crush me. Then Stu gave
me a focus. I began more regular practice. Years before I had bought a
table tennis table from Dominic, the founder of the Youth Center not
long before he died. It sat idle in the garage until a couple weeks
ago when I broke it out and practiced there daily in order to get an
edge on Stu. I was making little improvement until a believer from
Smithville, Dale, came over to buy a lathe in the garage. He noticed
the table and though he had not played for years he agreed to a game.
Dale, turned out to be in a wholly different league from anything I
had experienced. He has a frightening ability to propel the ball to
near-supersonic speeds. I found myself flinching and even ducking when
a smash came too close. Once he missed the table and it hit my leg,
and the ball stung like a bee, even through thick jeans. Of course,
after a few minutes of readjustment he blew me off the table -- though
like a good Baha'i, never without an encouraging word. But the thing
is that I am the sort that thrives on defeat. Now my game has gone
into "post-Dale" mode. Do not tell Stu this, but I play my best when
certain defeat is hanging over my head. Why else would I even be here,
alive, writing to you? Though Dale has not come back yet for a
promised rematch, the very fact that such a player exists and could
come any time has improved me immensely. I am catching up to Stu in
our win-loss tally. Best of all, now when a casual non-player sees me
practicing at the youth center and challenges me to a game, I do not
lose. My serves come over too fast and curvy to return. Thank God for
small mercies...

I have been doing a little research on table tennis. One website
claims that it is the second most popular sport in the world, after
soccer. How could that be? thought I. I cannot find a table tennis
club within an hour's drive of here, nor have I ever seen a single
match on television. What are they talking about? Then I realized. Of
course, China. A billion enthusiasts make a difference. I also read on
the net an amusing account of a better-than-average North American
club player who happened to travel to a Japanese school. He met some
eleven year old girls who were playing table tennis, all the age of my
daughter Silvie. When he challenged them to a game they all won
easily. He noticed that before each match they engaged in a little
game using hands and fingers. When they had finished, one or the other
would come over to play him. Later on, he asked them what they had
been doing.

"We were deciding who would play with you."
"You mean the winner got to play?"
"No," they answered, embarrassed, "The loser."

It seems that the level of play here will have to make big strides
before it can touch a Japanese schoolgirl.

I had written the above and was proofreading when Silvie came along
and pointed out several errors, including spelling slips and the wrong
date. With each correction she would gleefully exclaim: "The spoiler
strikes again." Well, keep it up, spoiler, you may have a future as a
copy editor.

Before I go on to our reading for this morning from the Bab's Seven
Proofs, let us note a newspaper report. Although the new Pope Benedict
has gone out of his way not to innovate like his predecessor, one
commentator noticed that while addressing the Jews of Rome he called
Jews "the people of Israel." This was an apparent shift from a
long-held dogma that Catholics replaced Jews as the people of God. ("A
pope who trusts in basics," Daniel Williams, Hamilton Spectator,
January 28, 2006, D16) Be that as it may, the Qu'ran too made that
concession quite a long time ago. It confers upon the Jews that
crucial title, given by God Himself to Abraham, notably in the third
verse of its 17th Surih,

"And we gave the Book to Moses and ordained it for guidance to the
children of Israel - `that ye take no other Guardian than me.'"

The Bab in the Seven Proofs (Dala'il-i-Sab'ih) singles out this verse
and actually renames the 17th Chapter of the Quran, "The Children of
Israel" despite its commonly recognized name, "The Night Journey."
Speaking of the question of proofs of validity in religion, the Bab
cites another passage from this 17th Surih,

"The evidences which the people demanded from the Apostle of God
through their idle fancy have mostly been rejected in the Qur'an, even
as in the Surih of the Children of Israel it hath been revealed..."
(Selections, 121-122)

The verse from this chapter of the Qu'ran (17:92) that the Bab then
cites details a long list of idle and presumptuous requests for
"proofs" of Muhammad's divine mission. They wanted him to magically
conjure up gardens, fruits, rivers, a house of gold, and on and on.
This refers back to the point the Bab made earlier, which I cited the
other day, which stresses that if Muslims had used the same criteria
and proofs for themselves that they offer to other faiths, everyone
would have become a Babi instantly He announced Himself. After citing
these verses from Surih 17, the Bab continues to point out the folly
of demanding of God made-to-order religious proofs. How could they,
when their own scripture condemned and rejected that so emphatically?

"Now be fair! The Arabs uttered such words, and now, prompted by thy
desire, thou dost demand yet other things? What is the difference
between thee and them? If thou dost ponder a while, it will be evident
that it is incumbent upon a lowly servant to acquiesce to whatever
proof God hath appointed, and not to follow his own idle fancy. If the
wishes of the people were to be gratified not a single disbeliever
would remain on earth. For once the Apostle of God had fulfilled the
wishes of the people they would unhesitatingly have embraced His
Faith. May God save thee, shouldst thou seek any evidence according to
thy selfish desire; rather it behooveth thee to uphold the unfailing
proof which God hath appointed. The object of thy belief in God is but
to secure His good-pleasure. How then dost thou seek as a proof of thy
faith a thing which hath been and is contrary to His good-pleasure?"
(Selections, 122)

The Bab points out here the first essential to religious proof,
getting at the right kind of evidence. Who decides what is evidence?
Do we? No, it has to be God not imperfect mortals. God tests and sets
the criteria for testing. Students do not examine teachers, students
do not make up exams or decide professional qualifications. That is
absurd. Teachers examine students. In the same way, patients do not
treat doctors, doctors treat patients. In a sane, ordered universe it
cannot be the place of lower intellects to test the All-Highest
Intelligence or set the criteria for testing Its work.

John Taylor

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Secrecy, Cats and the Market

Eliminating Secrecy, Military Industrial Cats, Charity as Friendship Market

On the slate today:

Eliminating Secrecy,
Military Industrial House Cats
Charity as Bargain Friendship Market

The House Cat essay I started in December, but it seems apposite here.

Eliminating Secrecy

I admit I am a bit of a spy story fan. I love cloak and dagger
activity. Secrecy gives zing to a story. Indeed, secrecy is
unavoidable, an essential part of drama. Every plot, even the plots of
fiction and poetry, involves a secret, the slow unveiling of reality
behind illusion, meaning behind confusion. God does it; we his mirrors
are born ignorant and gradually learn to reflect the secret meanings
of life. A good teacher "spies" by detecting the learning style of
students and helping them progress. Every good lesson plan is a secret
gradually unveiled. But still, my love for James Bond and his
colleagues does not mean that I think of espionage is a good thing.
True, without spies there would be no spy stories, just as without
crime and clever murderers there would be no detective novels. No
Agatha Christie fan, no matter how dedicated (like my wife Marie -- I
sometimes think that she learned English just to be able to access the
complete works of Agatha in the original) ever imagines that murder is

But incredible as it may seem, there is a conference being put on in
Washington on the ethics of espionage. Many in the intelligence
community are dismayed as I am pointing out that "moral spy" is an
oxymoron, that spying is an inherently unethical activity. Spies lie,
cheat, steal and persuade other nationals to betray their country. One
presenter on the slate in the end could not present because her paper
was gutted by the CIA, due secrecy concerns. She told the press that
she used two handy moral rules of thumb in her decades as an operative
in the Middle East. She would ask herself, What would my mother think
of this? Or she would ask: What would this activity look like if it
were plastered on the front page of a newspaper? These are very good,
I admit, and could be used to good effect in any family or business.
But still, it seems to me that the question remains as to whether
spying should be eliminated entirely. In a united world there is
information gathering but spying can only be only spying on yourself,
since humanity is one. Espionage is a symptom of war, and as soon as
peace enters the political equation espionage must be criminalized and

This leads to the Baha'i attitude to secrecy. Shoghi Effendi had only
been Guardian a couple of year when he wrote to us North American
believers: "They must at all times avoid the spirit of exclusiveness,
the atmosphere of secrecy, free themselves from a domineering
attitude, and banish all forms of prejudice and passion from their
deliberations." (Lights of Guidance, 32) He recognized something that
many ethicists forget, that avoiding moral compromise involves not a
single decision or set of moral choices but complete restructuring of
one's life.

"Let them so shape their lives and regulate their conduct that no
charge of secrecy, of fraud, of bribery or of intimidation may,
however ill-founded, be brought against them." (Lights of Guidance,

This holistic reform applies not only to our attitude but also to our
procedure in approaching any group activity, and especially the Holy

"This indirect way of expressing your views to the Assembly not only
creates an atmosphere of secrecy which is most alien to the spirit of
the Cause, but would also lead to many misunderstandings and
complications. The Assembly members must have the courage of their
conviction, but must also express whole-hearted and unqualified
obedience to the well-considering judgement and directions of the
majority of their fellow-members." (Lights of Guidance, 177)

The Guardian in his personal attitudes seems to have lived up to this
ideal. May Maxwell met Shoghi Effendi in 1924 and noted later on in a
published pamphlet:

"... Shoghi Effendi discusses the affairs and conditions of the Cause
with astonishing openness and frankness; he does not like secrecy and
told us many times that this openness, frankness and truthfulness
among the friends constitutes one of the great remedies for many of
our difficulties, and he sets us the example of free and open
consultation, with a modesty and simplicity which one must see in
order to appreciate because it is foreign to our American temperament;
he invites suggestions and consultation from the visiting friends and
from those around him... The spirit of criticism is abhorrent to
Shoghi Effendi ..." (from Ugo Giachery, Shoghi Effendi -
Recollections, 190)

As noted, alienation and secrecy are symptoms of war; war in turn is
caused by tyranny and over-centralization of power. When government is
not a friend of the people, individuals defend themselves by keeping
secrets; conversely, leaders keep secrets from the people in order to
avoid insurgency and retaliation. Persia is a supreme example of such
a society, infected by the "habit of secrecy."

"Only a close and unbiased observer of the manner and habits of the
Persian people, already familiar with the prevailing tendencies of
different sections of the population, such as their apathy and
indolence, the absence of a sense of public duty and of loyalty to
principle, the lack of concerted effort and constancy in action, the
habit of secrecy and blind surrender to the capricious will of an
ignorant and fanatical clergy, can truly estimate the immensity of the
task that faces every conscientious believer in that land. He will
moreover readily testify to the high standard already attained by the
Baha'is of Persia in their efforts to inculcate in the minds of their
fellow-countrymen the principles of the Divine Civilization ushered in
by Baha'u'llah." (Shoghi Effendi, Baha'i Administration, 172)

The institutions of God and those serving on them have as part of this
war recovery mandate the goal of eliminating any contagion of secrecy
and intrigue that enter it from the broader community.

"Theirs is the duty to purge once for all their deliberations and the
general conduct of their affairs from that air of self-contained
aloofness, from the suspicion of secrecy, the stifling atmosphere of
dictatorial assertiveness, in short, from every word and deed that
might savor of partiality, self-centeredness and prejudice." (Shoghi
Effendi, Extracts from the USBN)

Military Industrial House Cats

Wherever humans go, cats go too. Kittens are winsome, and grow into
pleasant companions as adults. What is wrong with that?

The problem is that cats are wreaking havoc on the local ecosystem
wherever humans live. Some cats kill as many as three or four small
birds and rodents each outing. When told of the depredations of their
feline charges, cat owners say, "Well, that is the balance of nature."
Which is fine, except that the creatures in the wild have to stay out
in the cold and fend for themselves often under famine conditions.
Meanwhile pampered house cats are fed scientifically designed diets
and kept in peak hunting condition. There is no balance of nature for
them and killing is a pleasant hobby for them. Some domestic felines
may be sated by the easy life and are content and lose their hunting
edge, others learn to be experts at killing for sport.

The same depredation occurs in the economy with what Dwight D.
Eisenhower, himself a former general, called the greatest threat to
the world, the military industrial complex. Defense contractors and
academic researchers, indeed large sectors of the economy of so-called
"developed" nations are protected by the threat of war from the
competitive discipline of a "wild," decentralized market. There is no
"balance of nature" for large corporations with ties to the defense

Like lean and mean house cats, these large corporations invade areas
considered strategic (including most notably the automobile, oil,
nuclear and other energy industries) are pampered by their
governmental keepers and kept in peak killing condition. Big
government sees to it that, as Chomsky puts it, risk and cost are
socialized while profits are privatized. Well fed but still ferocious
corporations then go out and "compete" with smaller companies that
have to survive on their own in the wild of real competition, who must
pay for their own basic research and underwrite their own startup and
marketing costs.

This sloping playing field is difficult enough to play on in wealthy
lands where literacy and education are virtually universal and the
English language predominates. For all others, justice is unknown. The
obligatory prescription of the World Bank until recently has been what
they termed market liberalization. Such liberty is unknown in the home
economies of those pushing the idea, but the fat cats are too content
and are having too much fun killing to split moral hairs.

Market liberalization means that no investment by taxpayers in their
own economic infrastructure is allowed -- that is "unfair" --much less
putting their own money into building up their own military industrial
complex. Just stand aside and let free market forces weed out the
inefficient players; just be sure to permit our housecats,
multi-national corporations, into the mix. They need to compete with
locals on a level playing field. Oh, you need to defend yourselves? We
have just the thing, piles of second generation arms here that our
taxpayers have already researched and paid us to make in huge
quantities; we will sell that to you at a discount. Ditto for energy,
transportation, and other strategic industries. It is only fair, we
help you, you help us.

The military industrial house cats have done very well by this policy
until now; as long as the mass media was under control and their
resold second hand weapons were a threat to nobody, world order and
prosperity at least for the few, were assured. Until recently it was
impossible for upstart, low budget terrorists to compete with state
sponsored terror. Retaliation was rare and ineffectual.

For better or worse, this is changing rapidly. I follow technology
news closely and in the past five years almost every new invention
favors not centralized armies but small insurgency forces. I used to
read tech news to keep up the fires of hope for a better world, but
even this area is becoming too frightening to read. The big guys,
seeming unaware of the trend, are arming the little guys with
frightening weapons. What will it be like when small groups of ten or
twenty people with a tiny budget can bring order and civilization to
its knees? Suitcase a-bombs, biological doomsday weapons in a test
tube, the list goes on and on.

O God, let us give peace a chance! Save us from the house cats, and
from the rats that the house cats are arming!

True, the Internet is a hopeful sign in the long term. It is making it
very hard any more to keep dirty tricks under wraps. And we have to
believe that spiritual progress is going on. It may even catch up with
material advance. One hopeful sign is that, as the normally
pessimistic Noam Chomsky pointed out, in recent years American
citizens are actually going to live with the victims of their own
government's state terror operations. This makes it very hard to keep
mass upheavals from the home press corps, who tend to show rebellious
concern when their own citizens fall victim to CIA trained operatives.
Such a thing has never happened under any Imperium in history. This is
an astonishing credit to the spiritual perceptiveness of Americans.
Imagine, for an imperial power to have its own members join in
solidarity with its victims. This is a sign of the end of power
mongering, a sign of the spiritual leadership that `Abdul-Baha foresaw
for the Americas.

Will it be enough, or is the genie out of the bottle, never to be
tricked back in again?

Charity as Bargain Friendship Market

Zenophon's Memorabilia of Socrates Book II, Part X

Here is an excerpt on friendship from Xenophon's Socrates, the last
one slated for inclusion in our Badi' essays. I have called it
"charity as a bargain friendship market" because it suggests that when
times are tough those in a position to help out should rush to do so,
for the same reasons that low prices or a sinking stock market are
attractive to bargain hunters. Would it were so...

Again I may cite, as known to myself for which I can personally vouch
the following discussion; the arguments were addressed to Diodorus,
one of his companions. The master said:

Tell me, Diodorus, if one of your slaves runs away, are you at pains
to recover him?

More than that (Diodorus answered), I summon others to my aid and I
have a reward cried for his recovery.

Soc. Well, if one of your domestics is sick, do you tend him and call
in the doctors to save his life?

Diod. Decidedly I do.

Soc. And if an intimate acquaintance who is far more precious to you
than any of your household slaves is about to perish of want, you
would think it incumbent on you to take pains to save his life? Well!
now you know without my telling you that Hermogenes is not made of
wood or stone. If you helped him he would be ashamed not to pay you in
kind. And yet--the opportunity of possessing a willing, kindly, and
trusty assistant well fitted to do your bidding, and not merely that,
but capable of originating useful ideas himself, with a certain
forecast of mind and judgment--I say such a man is worth dozens of
slaves. Good economists tell us that when a precious article may be
got at a low price we ought to buy. And nowadays when times are so bad
it is possible to get good friends exceedingly cheap.

Diodorus answered: You are quite right, Socrates; bid Hermogenes come to me.

Soc. Bid Hermogenes come to you!--not I indeed! since for aught I can
understand you are no better entitled to summon him that to go to him
yourself, nor is the advantage more on his side than your own.

Thus Diodorus went off in a trice to seek Hermogenes, and at no great
outlay won to himself a friend--a friend whose one concern it now was
to discover how, by word or deed, he might help and gladden Diodorus.

John Taylor

Saturday, January 28, 2006


Archedemus, the Watchdog

By John Taylor; 28 January, 2006

Today is Peacemakers day, the unique children's class run in Caledonia
by our LSA chair, family counselor and retired schoolteacher, Pat
Kvarsgaard. Her virtues program is based upon the badge system used by
Guides and Scouts; whatever she does, it is popular with the kids and
we have no trouble getting them to go. This leaves little time for an
essay before we leave, so I will let others do the writing today.

Lately I shared the essay I wrote on the Hindu Gayatri mantra with the
Hinduism speaker at our World Religion Day, Swadesh Sachdeva. She
kindly replied, and here are her comments.


(The) word "mantra' means prayer coming from our hearts to God. (Here
is an alternate) translation of Gayatri:

"Om is the Giver of life, the Dispeller of miseries and the Bestower
of happiness. We should meditate upon tha Creator the most acceptable
and the most knowledgeable God. May that that God inspire and lead our
intellect " -Gayatri mantra, Rig Veda, Mdle 3, Hymn 62. In Yajur Veda,
Chp 36, mantra 3.

Hinduism is not a religion but more a way of life. People interpret it
as they wish according to their own understanding. There are Jim
Joneses and Koreshes in every faith. 90% of Vinay Lal and Britannica
makes no sense to me. You may wish to refer to "Vaidya Mantras &
Translations " by Uma A. Saini The U.K. Publishing Co., Rockville,
Maryland, USA

How to be Omnipresent

Recently the technology columnist for the New York Times wrote a list
of ways that you can be an email boor, or what he calls an "internet
pill." A reader pointed him to the following article, How to be a
Disagreeable Companion," written centuries ago by Benjamin Franklin,
which covers the same ground, minus the electronic gadgetry. From our
Baha'i perspective, this could well be entitled, "How not to Consult,"
or "How to be a Gossip." I especially like it when Franklin points out
that the non-spiritual person can attain an almost god-like
omnipresence: a polite person "can please only where he is, you
where-ever you are not."

Rules for Making Oneself a Disagreeable Companion

-originally printed in The Pennsylvania Gazette, November 15, 1750,
The Writings of Benjamin Franklin: Philadelphia, 1726 - 1757 Volume I

RULES, by the observation of which, a man of wit and learning may
nevertheless make himself a disagreeable companion. Your business is
to shine; therefore you must by all means prevent the shining of
others, for their brightness may make yours the less distinguish'd. To
this end,

1. If possible engross the whole discourse; and when other matter
fails, talk much of your-self, your education, your knowledge, your
circumstances, your successes in business, your victories in disputes,
your own wise sayings and observations on particular occasions, &c.
&c. &c.;

2. If when you are out of breath, one of the company should seize the
opportunity of saying something; watch his words, and, if possible,
find somewhat either in his sentiment or expression, immediately to
contradict and raise a dispute upon. Rather than fail, criticise even
his grammar.

3. If another should be saying an indisputably good thing; either give
no attention to it; or interrupt him; or draw away the attention of
others; or, if you can guess what he would be at, be quick and say it
before him; or, if he gets it said, and you perceive the company
pleas'd with it, own it to be a good thing, and withal remark that it
had been said by Bacon, Locke, Bayle, or some other eminent writer;
thus you deprive him of the reputation he might have gain'd by it, and
gain some yourself, as you hereby show your great reading and memory.

4. When modest men have been thus treated by you a few times, they
will choose ever after to be silent in your company; then you may
shine on without fear of a rival; rallying them at the same time for
their dullness, which will be to you a new fund of wit.

Thus you will be sure to please yourself. The polite man aims at
pleasing others, but you shall go beyond him even in that. A man can
be present only in one company, but may at the same time be absent in
twenty. He can please only where he is, you where-ever you are not.

Archedemus; from Zenophon's Memorabilia of Socrates Book II, Part IX

The following discusses the service of protection that a friend can
play for his or her friends. I just love this. Some screenwriter could
make a successful movie out of this material; you could call it "The

At another time, as I am aware, he had heard a remark made by Crito
that life at Athens was no easy matter for a man who wished to mind
his own affairs. As, for instance, at this moment (Crito proceeded)
there are a set of fellows threatening me with lawsuits, not because
they have any misdemeanour to allege against me, but simply under the
conviction that I will sooner pay a sum of money than be troubled

To which Socrates replied: Tell me, Crito, you keep dogs, do you not,
to ward off wolves from your flocks?

Cr. Certainly; it pays to do so.

Soc. Then why do you not keep a watchman willing and competent to ward
off this pack of people who seek to injure you?

I should not at all mind (he answered), if I were not afraid he might
turn again and rend his keeper.

What! (rejoined Socrates), do you not see that to gratify a man like
yourself is far pleasanter as a matter of self-interest than to
quarrel with you? You may be sure there are plenty of people here who
will take the greatest pride in making you their friend.

Accordingly, they sought out Archedemus, a practical man with a clever
tongue in his head but poor; the fact being, he was not the sort to
make gain by hook or by crook, but a lover of honesty and of too good
a nature himself to make his living as a pettifogger.

Crito would then take the opportunity of times of harvesting and put
aside small presents for Achedemus of corn and oil, or wine, or wool,
or any other of the farm produce forming the staple commodities of
life, or he would invite him to a sacrificial feast, and otherwise pay
him marked attention. Archedemus, feeling that he had in Crito's house
a harbour of refuge, could not make too much of his patron, and ere
long he had hunted up a long list of iniquities which could be lodged
against Crito's pettifogging persecutors themselves, and not only
their numerous crimes but their numerous enemies; and presently he
prosecuted one of them in a public suit, where sentence would be given
against him "what to suffer or what to pay."

The accused, conscious as he was of many rascally deeds, did all he
could to be quit of Archedemus, but Archedemus was not to be got rid
of. He held on until he had made the informer not only loose his hold
of Crito but pay himself a sum of money; and now that Archedemus had
achieved this and other similar victories, it is easy to guess what

It was just as when some shepherd has got a very good dog, all the
other shepherds wish to lodge their flocks in his neighbourhood that
they too may reap the benefit of him. So a number of Crito's friends
came begging him to allow Archedemus to be their guardian also, and
Archedemus was overjoyed to do something to gratify Crito, and so it
came about that not only Crito abode in peace, but his friends

If any of those people with whom Archedemus was not on the best of
terms were disposed to throw it in his teeth that he accepted his
patron's benefits and paid in flatteries, he had a ready retort:
"Answer me this question--which is the more scandalous, to accept
kindnesses from honest folk and to repay them, with the result that I
make such people my friends but quarrel with knaves, or to make
enemies of honourable gentlemen by attempts to do them wrong, with the
off-chance indeed of winning the friendship of some scamps in return
for my co-operation, but the certainty of losing in the tone of my

The net result of the whole proceedings was that Archedemus was now
Crito's right hand, and by the rest of Crito's friends he was held in

John Taylor

Friday, January 27, 2006

Gazpacho Guy Meets Jules Verne

Gazpacho Guy Meets Jules Verne

By John Taylor; 27 January, 2006

When I was working on my mound construction book last fall I
researched the history of proposals for tube transit, floating cities
and flying cities. I found my paths led back to one source, my
childhood favorite writer, Jules Verne. Although in recent years I
have rarely found it in me to crack a novel of any sort, I do read
biographies of novelists. I just completed this one of Verne,

Peter Costello, Jules Verne, Inventor of Science Fiction, Hodder and
Stoughton, London, 1978

I do not recommend this biography, it has many errors and typos and
the research is incomplete and out of date. Nonetheless it has its
virtues, offering a critical overview of his vast work, and insights
into the interplay of his thought with personal problems. Costello
gives a good picture Verne's illustrious career and that is what
interests me at the moment. Coincidentally this biography came out in
1978, the year my own successful writing-to-survive career began (it
is successful because I have survived, until now, and that has to be
enough). In the years since 1978, Verne's reputation took off like a
rocket to the moon, though I am certain that happened in spite of this
bio, not because of it. There is an active Verne society with a
newsletter now, and Verne's later novels are coming out in annotated
versions, often translated into English for the first time. Thanks to
critics like Roland Barthes, academics are coming to realize that
there is much more to Verne than the children's novelist he is made
out to be in the English speaking world. In reality he wrote only one
or two novels specifically for children, and they are not ones that
you would recognize or even find in the children's section of your
neighborhood library.

Jules Verne called his oeuvre "scientific novels," and readers are now
realizing that it fits much better than the later term, "science
fiction." Verne spent his apprenticeship as a writer slogging for ten
or fifteen undistinguished years writing light musical dramas for the
stage. In order to make ends meet, he worked on the stock exchange for
a while. His father disapproved in an age when a father's approval
meant something. Then Verne turned a corner; he met a receptive
publisher and learned how to turn his dramatic skills to better ends.
He combined melodrama with his love for science, exploration, music
and the sea. Most important, though not mentioned in this bio, this
publisher forced him to take the edge off his bred-in-the-bone
cynicism and pessimism. For a time at least he wrote optimistic,
encouraging novels about the possibilities of scientific discovery.
The world loved him for it, but ignored him when he reverted to his
natural disposition. Verne built up a large file cabinet full of cards
(now it would be called a database) recording snippets from press
reports and scientific journals. This database was the raw material
and inspiration for his novels to the end of his life.

One thing that strikes me from this life is Verne as father. Verne
married late to a widow with two small children, and she bore him one
son, Michel Jules Verne, after which there were marital problems
probably caused by a mistress or two, all trace of which Verne
succeeded in expunging from the record before he died. The
estrangement with his wife persisted for many years, though eventually
they reconciled. Verne was a distant father and his son grew up
delinquent in his eyes. He was very critical of his son in
adolescence, and, in the words of this biographer, Michel "lived down"
to his father's expectations. Eventually though, they reconciled too
and in his last years Michel became Verne's literary executor and
finished many of his unfinished projects.

Michel turned out to be a talented and original writer in his own
right and several times wrote, submitted and published novels of his
own, taking advantage of the similarity of his name to that of his
father. Indeed several of the ideas that attracted me back to Verne
actually seem to have been cooked up by Michel rather than Jules. If
Verne had lived up to his responsibility as a father he would have
taken an effort not only to apprentice Michel but, when his skills
were ready, he would have pushed him into the limelight so that he
could have had an independent career. As it was, Michel never made it
on his own; though he wrote a handful of original works in later years
there were few readers to notice.

Not that you can blame Jules Verne for this neglect since he made very
little effort at promoting his own career either, much less that of
his son. After the spectacular successes of his early books, he
settled down like a factory worker punching a clock, producing two
novels a year until his death. He learned his dramatic métier but
avoided learning the necessary corollary, the art of self-promotion.
He let his publisher take the lion's share of the profits from his
early books, and just kept on writing regardless. When he traveled it
was not to promote his books, it was in virtual anonymity, though his
wife was very pleased with all the attention from notables. Verne's
readership over two decades went down from hundreds of thousands to
sales of a mere few thousand per book, which is as much as your
ordinary, run of the mill, unknown, hack novelist can expect.

To put this another way, Jules Verne was an exemplary Catholic in one
way especially, he genuinely hated Mammon. In spite of his being a
former stock broker, the very idea of profit and money grubbing was
repugnant. Many critics are surprised at the high praise Pope Leo gave
his work for "purity" when Verne and crew were given an audience with
him in Rome. They point out that there are virtually no references to
God, Jesus, sin or salvation in anything he wrote. But when it comes
to this, Verne's dislike of money was Catholic to the core. This is
why I have always had problems with Verne's greatest character,
Captain Nemo. The fellow invents a submarine, plunders undersea
treasures around the world, then condemns other people for corrupt
money grubbing. That I just find strange, incomprehensible, more
hypocritical than righteous. Nemo is far from a sympathetic character
to me.

Okay, you guessed it, I focus on this aspect of Verne because it hits
close to home. I am no self promoter of my career either. Worse, I
have no moral scruples about profit like Verne did, so why my problems
forcing myself to grub for it? Like Verne, I like the process of
writing more than being a famous personality. And like Verne I resent
the fact that I would have to go out and scrounge for my career to
flourish, to stop writing and start schmoozing for a large enough
readership to sustain our family. If this was true even for the
world-famous Jules Verne, it is especially so for me. At least that is
how I think until my next failure in health, after which the whole
thing is mooted again, for the thousandth Sisyphonian time.

It was surprising to learn that Verne ran for election on the local
city counsel in the late 1880's and held the position of what we would
call an alderman to the end of his life. True, his scientific novels
involve much city planning, so local political decisions, especially
having to do with his old love the theatre, did hold his interest.
Myself, I have the same revulsion for administration and bureaucracy
that Verne had for Mammon, and I find it hard to understand why he
would voluntarily subject himself to all of that. Yes, he was schooled
as a lawyer, but still... The hardest thing by far for me about being
a Baha'i is serving the Administrative Order in an official capacity;
if I had a free choice, I would be an observer and supporter from far
back in the wings, not a participant in the grind of decision making.
Consultation is for me like the cross was for Jesus; I would have God
make the cup disappear if I had my druthers.

Before I end let me say that although I am not a novelist and do not
even read novels (though I watch avidly every filmed version of
Verne's stories that I can get my hands on, even the butchered
made-for-television productions -- like the abominable adaptation of
Mysterious Island that hit the video stores this week), I have a deep
love for what Jules Verne loved, discovery, exploration, the sea,
justice, music, storytelling, and the possibilities opened up by
technology. In the spirit of Verne, let me speculate a little about
the possibilities for the immediate future stirred up by reading about
his life and career.

First of all, careers are a crock, especially for writers. The
Guardian said that in future history will be written by groups, not
individuals. I say that this is not the half of it. Not only writing
about history but almost all writing, in my opinion, will be done in
packs. Wolves, the most intelligent of all predators, run in packs, so
why not original writing? In view of the scientific discoveries
outlined in Surowiecki's Wisdom of Crowds, group writing must
predominate more and more over individual careers.

This is already happening. Work is carved out by advancing information
technology and distributed to writers' studies around the world. Take
Wikipedia, a group writing project on a grand scale, the logical
continuation of the Enlightenment's Encyclopedie, only it is being
written not in French or English but in all human languages, all at
once, by millions of enthusiastic writers around the world. Open ended
writing, moderated by self effacing authority, born in and of the
Internet, is the writing of the near future. Or take video games, or
MUDs on the Web. These soon will become the writing paper of the
future; they are novels, movies, entire virtual worlds all mashed into
one. Hook them up to a stationary bicycle or other virtual reality
exercise machine, run them under an open regime devised by teachers
and health professionals promoting virtues like wisdom and moderation,
and such invention can easily be made into utopia generating devices
of monumental proportions. All it will take is the spirit of true
Baha'is working together, and our world will be transformed beyond
Verne's wildest imagination.

All thoughts in these essays are humble offerings to the Holy Word,
for they originally derive from communion with It in my obligatory
morning reading and prayer. Today's reading comes from the Bab's Seven
Proofs, and follows upon proofs cited yesterday:

"Now consider the Revelation of the Bayan. If the followers of the
Qur'an had applied to themselves proofs similar to those which they
advance for the non-believers in Islam, not a single soul would have
remained deprived of the Truth, and on the Day of Resurrection
everyone would have attained salvation." (Selections, 120)

This points to the complete dependence of groups upon critical
abilities of the individuals in the group. Without that, hypocrisy
rules, we criticize others instead of ourselves. Creeping tyranny
rises to the top in group functions, and artist and groups divorce.
Creative workers are corrupted by lack of self-criticism, and groups
fail in their function along with them. Hard as it is, an artist must
work in and with groups, for consultation is key. No individual ever
compares in power and correctness to a group. Conversely, assuming
that consultation is done properly and in a spiritual manner, groups
need not cramp the style and originality of an inspired genius like

No, more. I believe that if Jules Verne had been part of a "scientific
novel" production group cooperating with working scientists, his
imaginative output and accuracy and relevance might not have tanked as
they did. He and his son after him might have gone on to world
changing influence. In view of his concern for the environment and
beauty in his city planning career in city hall, we might not be in
the mess we are today if he had worked his full potential as an artist
in a group. Today, scientists and astronomers are increasingly
recognizing the importance of the role of science fiction in promoting
and popularizing the ideas and ideals that they deal with technically.

The reason groups and artists need each other is that working alone,
no matter how brilliant, an artist inevitably hits his level of
incompetence. The quality of their words suffers the moment he or she
(Margaret Atwood is a name that springs to mind) becomes prominent
enough that the opinions of publishers, editors and copy writers cease
to carry due weight. Every individual must recognize that creative
freedom, like all freedoms, ceases to be a good when carried to
excess. Like the French Revolution, too much rebellion, freedom and
independence become violent and eat their own children. The flashing
brilliance of the Renaissance happened when, for a brief time,
scientists, artists and planners worked in harmony as teams. Let us
pray that this happens again on a world level. Today's prayer was for
just that:

"Darkness hath encompassed every land, O my God, and caused most of
Thy servants to tremble. I beseech Thee, by Thy Most Great Name, to
raise in every city a new creation that shall turn towards Thee, and
shall remember Thee amidst Thy servants, and shall unfurl by virtue of
their utterances and wisdom the ensigns of Thy victory, and shall
detach themselves from all created things. Potent art Thou to do Thy
pleasure. No God is there but Thee, the Most Powerful, He Whose help
is implored by all men." (Baha'u'llah, Prayers and Meditations, 171)

John Taylor

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Baha'u'llah's Brave New World

Baha'u'llah's Brave New World

By John Taylor; 26 January, 2006

The Marquis de Sade shot past the 18th Century deists and wrote "A
Dialog between a Priest and a Dying Man," an apology for atheism, a
refutation of Christianity and all it stood for. More than any other
philosophe, Sade captured the anti-religious undercurrent of the
"Enlightenment." As a former atheist myself, reading a summary of this
dialog infuriated me and I plan to get a hold of an etext, if I can,
and deal with it in detail. It was especially distressing to read that
what the dying man regarded as his most devastating ammunition against
belief in God is now actually fully accepted by most believers,
especially by us Baha'is. The very nature of belief in God is
completely different now. Now, we believe in a reasoned manner. Proofs
enter in. Consider this, from another in the series I am reading, this
time, "Introducing Philosophy,"

"But all of them (philosophers) believe that philosophers are obliged
to provide some kind of explanation, proof or evidence for their
ideas. And this obligation marks the one obvious difference between
philosophy and religion." (Introducing Philosophy, Dave Robinson and
Judy Groves, Icon Books, Duxford, UK, p. 5)

Splutter, splutter. I think that the reason that such an extraordinary
distinction can pass muster in Europe must be that so few ever read
the Qu'ran. Depending on the translator, there are between 9 and 55
mentions of proof in that Holy Text alone. If de Sade's dying man had
a mullah instead of a priest by his side, he might not have won so
decisively. But still, Jesus did say, "By their fruits ye shall know
them," does that not count for anything? Besides, the KJV offers six
mentions of the word "proof," and the World English Bible ten. The
dying man's priest should have searched them on his Blackberry.

Take a deep breath, John, and count to ten. Let us back off from this
and take another tack. What is to follow is ground I have covered
before but it is worth plowing it over, perhaps annually, like a crop.
The House of Justice begins "One Common Faith" with a special
reassurance that we can be confident that the,

"period of history now opening will be far more receptive to efforts
to spread Baha'u'llah's message than was the case in the century just
ended. All the signs indicate that a sea change in human consciousness
is under way."

Let us focus in on this phrase, "sea change in human consciousness."
Consciousness is a slippery word, hard to nail down almost by
definition. John Lock defined it as the "perception of what passes in
a man's own mind." Dictionaries suggest a broader definition, an
awareness or concern for something, be it within or without the mind.
As for "sea change," this interesting expression was born, like many
English words, in the imagination of the Bard. His last play, his swan
song, and my favorite of them all, The Tempest, has prince Ferdinand
stranded on a beach thinking that his father and all hands are dead in
a storm and shipwreck from which he has barely escaped. He wonders
about some music he thinks he hears,

"Where should this music be? i' the air or the earth?
It sounds no more: and sure, it waits upon
Some god o' the island. Sitting on a bank,
Weeping again the king my father's wreck,
This music crept by me upon the waters,
Allaying both their fury and my passion
With its sweet air: thence I have follow'd it,
Or it hath drawn me rather."

Shakespeare then has the airy spirit Ariel sing the song again. Since
Shakespeare, Ariel has become a symbol for poetic inspiration, but
here she offers a song of Dutch comfort; it is consolation passing
strange, assuring Ferdinand that his father is dead, drowned and
gradually being encrusted by jewels under the sea:

"Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell"

It turns out that this song of Ariel is a spell, not to say a lie,
that Ariel has been charged by Prospero to cast upon the young prince.
The image reflects the anger of Prospero, a brother wronged by the
present king of Milan. Ferdinand's father, the present king of Milan,
is in reality alive and stranded elsewhere on the island. However, the
plot of the play does offer real sea changes to all concerned,
anointed by the magical imagination of Shakespeare. Many magical
twists and turns finally correct the dislocated political situation.
Wrongs are righted, Prospero regains his usurped crown, Ferdinand
meets and falls in love with Miranda, his cousin and Prospero's
daughter. When she first meets Prospero, Miranda has no memory of life
off of the desert island, and has never seen a man other than the base
and deformed Caliban and her aged father. She declares,

"O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous
mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in't!"

Aldous Huxley took Miranda's innocent wonder at what a beautiful thing
a healthy youth in full flower can be, and made it infamous by
entitling his satire of our technology and pharmaceutical obsessed
life, "Brave New World." A thousand times, alas. Now, you cannot say
"brave new world" without echoing Huxley's rank cynicism, the reverse
of what Shakespeare's poetic expression intends. Fortunately, "sea
change" did not undergo such a bad sea change. It still implies not a
bad change (like the encrustation that actually happens to an object
left for centuries under the sea) but an imaginary transformation of
our "fading parts" into something "rich and strange;" moldering flesh
in the sea of imagination turns into coral and diamonds, into a
precious, rare and wonderful thing.

Now the reason I am alive and still have hope, the reason that I am a
Baha'i, is that I still look forward to a brave new world without
qualm or hint of irony. I really believe that if we could see with our
inner eye we would witness this sea change going on in our soul and in
the general consciousness of society. However ugly it may look
outwardly, I believe with all my heart that a sea change is in the
offing, a wonder is in the making. I believe that the day will soon
come that anyone entering a religious gathering, not just a Baha'i
meeting but any gathering of sincere believers in God, will make that
very declaration that Miranda made upon seeing her cousin Ferdinand:
"How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people
in't!" Why would people of faith turn from objects of revulsion into a
thing of beauty? The Bab made it clear when he defined the word
"manifestation" in the following passage. Speaking of Islam's promised
Qa'im, he wrote,

"God hath made Him manifest invested with the proof wherewith the
Apostle of God was invested, so that none of the believers in the
Qur'an might entertain doubts about the validity of His Cause, for it
is set down in the Qur'an that none but God is capable of revealing
verses." (Selections, 118)

A prophet points to a future time when religion and faith will be
known and understood. The followers of a prophet place their trust in
his insight, they do not really know anything of themselves. A
Manifestation of God, though, makes all clear by offering proof. He
sets forth arguments that stand on their own before any who try to
comprehend. Proof is the big criterion, the difference between now and
past ages of prophesy. Today there need no longer be any "doubts about
the validity of His Cause" because His proof is set out in revealed
verses, a body of literature that backs it all up. The Bab continues
with His proof, pointing to His own lack of qualifications, especially
his youth,

"Now the Ever-Living Lord hath made manifest and invested with supreme
testimony this long-awaited Promised One from a place no one could
imagine and from a person whose knowledge was deemed of no account.
His age is no more than twenty-five years, yet His glory is such as
none of the learned among the people of Islam can rival; inasmuch as
man's glory lieth in his knowledge." (Id.)

The glory of the coming brave new world will be that not one or two,
but many, many people will be intellectually equipped to stand up and
offer extempore all necessary proofs of the existence and relevance of
the One True God. It will all be manifest, obvious. Let me, O God, one
day be in that number.

John Taylor

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Against Ignorance and Apathy

A Stand Against Ignorance and Apathy

By John Taylor; 25 January, 2006

I awoke this morning with a heavy question on my mind: "What is the
difference between ignorance and apathy?" After much heartache and
hairsplitting I finally came up with an adequate answer: I do not know
and I do not care. Later, I said the daily obligatory prayer and I had
a change of heart. I had borne witness that God created me to know and
to worship Him, so my purpose has got to be the reverse of ignorance
and apathy. It has to be to know and to care, to recognize and to have
concerns. Knowledge and love work separately, but together, like,
well, the wings of a bird or the legs of a wombat. Or the legs of a
person, for that matter. Muhatma Gandhi on his famous salt march had
his followers sing a Bhajan by Narasimha Mehta, a 15th century
Gujarati Bhakta, the words to which went like this:

"He only can be called a Vaishnava who feels the sufferings of others
as his own."

I am not entirely sure what a Vaishnava is, but I think you could
substitute "Baha'i" or "follower of `Abdu'l-Baha" for Vaishnava and it
would probably fit without much squeaking. Similarly this, from the
oldest Hindu scripture,

"Truth is one, sages name it variously." (Reg Veda 1.164.46)

This persuaded some Hindus in the 19th Century that their faith is in
fact monotheistic at heart. Certainly this could be read at any Feast
without the slightest incongruity. The only kind who would object are
those who hold their faith cards too close to their chests, like the
evangelistic preacher I heard at a church on Inman Road in Dunnville a
few years ago, who had the children (including my Silvie) sing a
rendition of the verse, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no man
cometh unto the Father save by me." He then shouted at his flock,

"Do not accept anyone who says that truth is like a mountain with many
paths up to the summit. Jesus is the way, the path. There is only one
Path that will get you there, and He is It."

This exclusionist, anti-mountain attitude to truth contrasts starkly
with the eclectic spirit of China in the time of Christ. At that time
everyone was borrowing from one another in a veritable orgy of
syncretism. It was then that the Great Appendix of the Yi declared,

"In the world there is one purpose, but there are a hundred ideas
about it; there is a single goal, but the paths toward it differ."

I especially like the illustration in "Introducing Eastern Philosophy"
that goes along with this quote from the Great Appendix. It shows a
soccer field with many lines where the ball can possibly be kicked by
any of several players into the goal. Many paths, one goal. Of course,
as far as I know soccer had not been invented in the year 0 CE, but
the image is still striking. Maybe truth is like that, even easier
than a mountain summit, maybe it is a pair of soccer posts between
which we all have to work together to kick the ball. If so, Jesus can
still be the goal posts, the way, truth and life, albeit the pastor
may abhor it. Or, for that matter, maybe truth is even harder to
avoid, maybe we are spiders caught in a sink or bathtub drain. We try
to grip that slippery porcelain in a furious bid to escape, when the
goal is down there in the drains somewhere.

So the real question is, is truth a mountain summit, a soccer goal, or
a sink hole? Or is it all three at the same time? We all have a
physical nature, a body trying to fill its appetites in full freedom,
like our friend the Marquis de Sade. de Sade is the spider in the tub
sliding toward the drain but doing its best to escape to the freedom
that is slavery. At the same time that the higher self mounts the
summit and plants its flag at exactly the moment when the spider of
self is sucked into the drain to its doom. Meanwhile, in the social
soccer stadium, someone on your team scores; maybe it is you, maybe
another team member, it does not matter. The goal is one, the ways in
are infinite. Consider what the Master said,

"Consider the virtues of the human world and realize that the oneness
of humanity is the primary foundation of them all." (Abdu'l-Baha,
Baha'i World Faith, 245)

In the spirit of work as worship, and worship as work, let us continue
with our excerpts from Zenophon's Memorabilia of Socrates, this time
from Book II, Part VIII.

At another time chancing upon an old friend whom he (Socrates) had not
seen for a long while, he greeted him thus.

Soc. What quarter of the world do you hail from, Eutherus?

The other answered: From abroad, just before the close of the war; but
at present from the city itself. You see, since we have been denuded
of our possessions across the frontier, and my father left me nothing
in Attica, I must needs bide at home, and provide myself with the
necessaries of life by means of bodily toil, which seems preferable to
begging from another, especially as I have no security on which to
raise a loan.

Soc. And how long do you expect your body to be equal to providing the
necessaries of life for hire?

Euth. Goodness knows, Socrates--not for long.

Soc. And when you find yourself an old man, expenses will not
diminish, and yet no one will care to pay you for the labour of your

Euth. That is true.

Soc. Would it not be better then to apply yourself at once to such
work as will stand you in good stead when you are old--that is,
address yourself to some large proprietor who needs an assistant in
managing his estate? By superintending his works, helping to get in
his crops, and guarding his property in general, you will be a benefit
to the estate and be benefited in return.

I could not endure the yoke of slavery, Socrates! (he exclaimed).

Soc. And yet the heads of departments in a state are not regarded as
adopting the badge of slavery because they manage the public property,
but as having attained a higher degree of freedom rather.

Euth. In a word, Socrates, the idea of being held to account to
another is not at all to my taste.

Soc. And yet, Eutherus, it would be hard to find a work which did not
involve some liability to account; in fact it is difficult to do
anything without some mistake or other, and no less difficult, if you
should succeed in doing it immaculately, to escape all unfriendly
criticism. I wonder now whether you find it easy to get through your
present occupations entirely without reproach. No? Let me tell you
what you should do. You should avoid censorious persons and attach
yourself to the considerate and kind-hearted, and in all your affairs
accept with a good grace what you can and decline what you feel you
cannot do. Whatever it be, do it heart and soul. Study to make it your
finest work, the expression of a real enthusiasm. There lies the
method at once to silence fault-finders and to minister help to your
own difficulties. Life will flow smoothly, risks will be diminished,
provision against old age secured.

John Taylor

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Gazpacho Guy meets the Marquis

Gazpacho Guy meets the Marquis de Sade

By John Taylor; 24 January, 2006

I just finished "Introducing Marquis de Sade," not exactly a writer
that I would stumble over in the normal course of events, but
illuminating nonetheless about the dark side. Sade has a horrid
reputation and face it, he deserved every bit of it. As an aristocrat
he learned early to indulge his appetites, taking full advantage of
the rampant inequality, sexual and economic, in pre-revolutionary
France. He went to a Jesuit school that introduced him to theatre and
corporal if not sexual abuse. He entered the cavalry at 14, writing
later, "I am sure I gave a good account of myself. The natural
impetuosity of my character ... served to enhance that unflinching
savagery men call courage." Then in private life he carried on until
he was tossed into prison. There, he read diligently for years and
entered the lonely apprenticeship of a writer, an apologist destined
to carve out the rationalizations of license.

Distressingly, today Sade's libertinism is mainstream,
indistinguishable from normality, even in language. If you call
someone a libertine, most will say, "What does that old fashioned
expression mean anyway? Do you mean sexually active? A sex addict? A
sexual athlete? An abuser? A rapist?" There is no name to distinguish
such fellows anymore. Philosophically, Sade ended up an atheist and a
"Manichaean." As what was then called a "libertine", his thought
anticipated what is now called libertarian thought and politics. Both
physically and emotionally, Sade was a prisoner to the end of his
days, an unapologetic thrall to appetite and ideas. He was living
proof of the paradox that to give oneself up to complete, uninhibited
freedom is not liberation but self-enslavement. Most interesting is
Sade's espousal of extreme dualism, which the "Introducing..." book I
think incorrectly labels "Manichean." He holds that the natural way is
for life to fade into death and death into life, so why not go with
the flow? At the other end of the spectrum is the God, family and
family values. Then, as now, it was the libertine versus the family.
The libertine feeds upon the family, which supplies him with a steady
supply of daughters and sons upon which to sate his desires. Then, as
now, the family had few defenders.

Sade was released from prison by the French revolution and for a long
time was in favor with the rebellious leadership of the Revolution. He
rose high and fast in the new tyranny and, ignoring his being an
aristocrat, his ideas were startlingly close to theirs, especially
when it came to the complete rejection of Christianity. At the same
time, like the Scarlet Pimpernel, Sade surreptitiously spirited away
from the impending guillotine many fellow aristocrats. Among them were
his former parents-in-law, the people who had conspired to have him
committed for insanity for twelve years. He forgave them such a wrong
and actually saved their lives.

True, that traumatic experience in prison had made him what he was and
he may have felt that gratitude rather than spite was in order. But
still, I find this much more disturbing than his worst excesses, real
or imagined. How could one on the opposite end of the ethical spectrum
perform such a good deed? How many believers in God would be so
forgiving of someone who wronged them so sorely? Would I? I can only
suppose that de Sade knew what shocks people, and he must have been
aware that repeating this anecdote would surely do the trick. After
all in his novels he often has his actors place the holy wafer where
the sun does not shine, not because he cared himself about sacrilege,
he was an atheist, but because he knew it would shock most of his
readers. Now in Quebec these communion wafers have lost their
religious cachet apparently, since they are sold in stores and have
become a popular, low fat snack food. But the idea of a baddy doing a
far better thing than most goodies would do, that is still just as
shocking now as it was then.

This is why I feel uncomfortable around discussions about ethics. What
is the point of talking about good deeds or bad, trying carefully to
fit them into a consistent philosophy when most people, as soon as the
chips are down, act so unpredictably? A libertine with the worst
imaginable ideas, like Sade, can forgive the unforgivable while a
person with all the right opinions can, in the pressure of the moment,
act despicably. If this is so common, why even bother to open our
mouths about right and wrong? Why not let computers make our moral
choices for us? Real moral choices, the ones we work at every day, are
not subject to one or two momentary choices, they are built up, like a
family mansion, brick by brick, moment by moment over a lifetime. As
Goethe said, "Nothing that makes us happy is illusory." And no snap
decision is enough to make us happy or unhappy.

John Taylor

Monday, January 23, 2006

Crimson Fear 1

Crimson Fear, Part One

By John Taylor; 22 January, 2006

In the past several essays we have been exploring Baha'u'llah's uses
of the color "Crimson" and His use of terms like "Crimson Ark" and
"Crimson Book." In a Hidden Word last time we saw how crimson
symbolizes a soul's mystic passage from enlightenment to sacrifice, a
spiritual reality that seems somehow reflected physically in the
genetic code, which is the machinery of evolution. The ability to read
this crimson code unites us in a single spiritual heritage; puts us
into the same boat, almost literally, on a journey that will extend
far beyond the bounds of material existence.

"And now concerning thy question whether human souls continue to be
conscious one of another after their separation from the body. Know
thou that the souls of the people of Baha, who have entered and been
established within the Crimson Ark, shall associate and commune
intimately one with another, and shall be so closely associated in
their lives, their aspirations, their aims and strivings as to be even
as one soul. They are indeed the ones who are well-informed, who are
keen-sighted, and who are endued with understanding. Thus hath it been
decreed by Him Who is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise." (Gleanings,
LXXXVI, 169-170)

On a sociological level, the unifying power of the "Crimson Book"
manifests itself in Baha'u'llah's covenant, demonstrably the first
written, authoritative Will and Testament in religious history. This
Book acts as a sort of genetic code which believers and those in the
"crimson spirit" can "read" or "decode" into unity, social progress
and ultimately the Most Great Peace. Today I want to decrypt crimson
in relation to the fear of God. Baha'u'llah identifies His Crimson Ark
and those who enter its "shadow" with a "luminous standard" embodied
by fear of God.

"We have admonished Our loved ones to fear God, a fear which is the
fountainhead of all goodly deeds and virtues. It is the commander of
the hosts of justice in the city of Baha. Happy the man that hath
entered the shadow of its luminous standard, and laid fast hold
thereon. He, verily, is of the Companions of the Crimson Ark, which
hath been mentioned in the Qayyum-i-Asma." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets, 120)

I must pause here to admit that I am stymied by the mention of the
"Qayyum-i-Asma" in this passage. I will append a note at the end of
this essay explaining how far I got in the Writings of the Bab; I hope
someone familiar with the source languages and documents will chase
this little mystery to ground.

In spite of this hiccup, the meaning of this passage is evident.
Sometimes "Companions of the Crimson Ark" means unambiguously the
members of the House of Justice, and though in this case it is
addressing all believers, His "loved ones," there is nonetheless a
hint that since justice is their commander, the House of Justice is
the arbiter of what is just. The overall thrust of what He is telling
us about fear seems to say, in the argot of my youth, "Fear of God has
had a bad rap. Get over it." The reason fear will never go away is
that it is essential to justice, and justice is the characteristic
teaching of Baha'u'llah.

Fear is unavoidable in talking about justice because of the problem of
hypocrisy. The Greek philosophers talked of this intractable problem:
all too often, then and now, a man seems to the world to be
meritorious but secretly, in private, he exploits widows and orphans,
traditionally the vulnerable, unprotected members of society. As long
as he can hide his wrong there is nothing to stop him except by
meeting with God. To commune with the Supreme Being and not to fear,
blithely to continue at whatever one was doing before, wronging others
if one can get away with it, is implicitly to deny the influence of
the All-Seeing. The Law of Moses therefore asserts: "You shall not
wrong one another; but you shall fear your God: for I am Yahweh your
God." (Lev 25:17) Later, Jesus railed at the hypocrite who washes the
outside of the plate -- that is, public wrongs subject to scrutiny --
yet leaves the inside, unseen, private wrongs, unwashed.

This is not to say that the fear of God should be over-emphasized or
singled out, as so often in the past. `Abdu'l-Baha admonishes parents
to teach it in a balanced way, along with love and other virtues, to
children from the earliest age.

"Let them (mothers) strive by day and by night to establish within
their children faith and certitude, the fear of God, the love of the
Beloved of the worlds, and all good qualities and traits."
(Selections, 125)

In the concluding passage of a late Tablet, the Ishraqat, Baha'u'llah
again invokes the "companions of the Crimson Ark."

"... We exhort all believers to observe justice and fairness and to
show forth love and contentment. They are indeed the people of Baha,
the companions of the Crimson Ark. Upon them be the peace of God, the
Lord of all Names, the Creator of the heavens." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets,

Here Baha'u'llah does not mention fear but He does justice, along with
fairness, love and contentment, all being defining elements of a
believer. The context is important though, for fear and its opposite,
hypocrisy, enter in here nonetheless.

Baha'u'llah has been discussing a case where a law of the Holy Book
against usury had been flouted De Facto by the Islamic clergy. This
corrupt body in Persia had been given the task of enforcing Islamic
law but wangled around it in the most hypocritical, brazen manner.
This made, in Baha'u'llah's words, a "plaything of the laws and
ordinances of God." (id.) Baha'u'llah alters and moderates the severe
restrictions of Islamic (and Mosaic, for that matter) law against
interest on loans, and entrusts such ticklish issues entirely to the
House of Justice. The,

"conduct of these affairs hath been entrusted to the men of the House
of Justice that they may enforce them according to the ... dictates of
wisdom." (id.)

Wisdom is an important proviso here. In order for justice not to be a
"plaything" it must be applied strictly, but also wisely, moderately
and in a timely manner. This tension in God's covenant between hard
and strict application of the law and merciful accommodation to human
weakness is hardly new. Jewish scholars point to two instances in the
Bible where God and man enter into dialogue and negotiate, God's
proposed destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and God's order to Abraham
to sacrifice His long awaited son, Isaac. As always between lovers in
a marital relationship, in the Crimson Covenant fear and love,
strength and weakness, justice and wisdom, eventually work a happy
balance. This in itself, while not eliminating fear, tends to moderate
it; in the future we can be confident that however harsh an
application of law may seem, it is not applied in the arbitrary,
terror inspiring manner of a law unmated by wisdom.

We are not finished with crimson fear, and will continue next time.

End Note on "Qayyum-i-Asma."

The Bab wrote two "Books of Names," one in Arabic and the other in
Persian, both of which veer close to the mention above. There may be
others not included in the excerpts that we have in English. One is a
mention of "ark" in the Kitab-i-Asma (XVI, 17),

"If ye seek God, it behooveth you to seek Him Whom God shall make
manifest, and if ye cherish the desire to dwell in the Ark of Names,
ye will be distinguished as the guides to Him Whom God shall make
manifest, did ye but believe in Him. Verily then make your hearts the
daysprings of His exalted Names as recorded in the Book, and ye shall,
even as mirrors placed before the sun, be able to receive
enlightenment." (Selections, 131)

The other, perhaps more likely, is in the Arabic Qayyumu'l-Asma, in
chapter LVII,

"Indeed God hath created everywhere around this Gate oceans of divine
elixir, tinged crimson with the essence of existence and vitalized
through the animating power of the desired fruit; and for them God
hath provided Arks of ruby, tender, crimson-coloured, wherein none
shall sail but the people of Baha, by the leave of God, the Most
Exalted; and verily He is the All-Glorious, the All-Wise."
(Selections, 57-58)

John Taylor

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Television Still Bad

Television is Still Bad For You

By John Taylor; 21 January, 2006

I caught the tail end of a Pete Rose interview with the author of a
book called "Everything Bad is Good For You," about how television and
video games are not as bad as many people think. He points to Woody
Allen's film Sleeper, where a fellow goes into suspended animation and
wakes up in a distant future only to find that smoking is now
considered good for you. Whenever anyone feels tired they are urged,
"Take a cigarette, it will pep you up." Everything we now think is bad
turns out to be a good thing and vice versa.

The writer does not go that far but he does claim that television has
become better over past decades and many people put it down and avoid
it unfairly in his opinion. The writing quality in television series
is now much more compelling, the number and depth of characters are
improved, and so on. He cites studies showing that while movies have
not become more complex (you can only go so deep in an hour and a
half) television has done so, by leaps and bounds. Perhaps so, but
movies have improved in other ways, in my opinion; maybe not
complexity but quality of writing is better, special effects are
incredible, and on and on. This degrades his point, since you now get
a better bang for your buck, and more to the point one hour of movie
watching will provide more entertainment value than the hundreds of
hours sitting on a couch that it takes to cover a season of a
television series. I cannot say this with his authority because I have
never attempted such a marathon couch-sitting session, but I have not
tried heroin either and I am against that too.

The author (whose name I did not catch) points to the fact that video
games above all have exploded in complexity to such an extent that IQ
scores in youth are soaring. A person rated above average in an
intelligence test in the 1960's would be far below average now. Kids
today have little general knowledge but a razor-like ability to solve
problems on the fly. To me this may just be proof that standard IQ
tests always have been inadequate; they do not measure what is most
important, such as the ability to work creatively with others, to
evince virtues and deal with real life situations -- so called EQ, or
emotional intelligence.

Above all, there is the problem of testing itself. Examinations are
artificial; they only approximate the real world. This is demonstrated
in the so-called Winston Churchill effect, where people very good at
taking tests are eclipsed by others, like Churchill. He is the
familiar extreme of someone who showed up terrible in every test he
ever took and failed in school but excelled in life itself by saving
the free world. Putting noses to video terminals may pump up youths'
ability to take tests and do nothing else for them. Judging by the way
things are, this may be so. For every technical problem solved today a
thousand new ones crop up. What little social, political, moral and
spiritual savvy we used to have are degrading to the crisis point.

Our author concedes that like everything, television and video games
have to be taken in moderation. The question is, how much is a
moderate quantity? That is always the question, recognized in every
reasoned debate since Aristotle and before. The only thing I can
answer to that is, a lot less than most people think.

This author says more TV may be better than many think, as does my
father, who is a sort of TV evangelist. He deplores my keeping
television away from our kids, calling the deprivation a "punishment"
(they are allowed only after homework and piano practice, and then
only films, not television). He calls me cruel and goes on about all
the wonderful kid's shows the little ones are missing out on. He even
pays for a second satellite feed from his dish for us just in case I
ever change my mind. But I tell him over and over that I would not
take that feed even if they paid me the fifty bucks a month it costs,
instead of their having the temerity to ask *me* to pay for it. But I
have to restrict it so severely mostly for myself. I admit it, I
easily get addicted. More than the tiniest tidbit of television -- we
get PBS and sometimes TVO from our antenna, and I sometimes watch a
little after the kids have gone to bed -- easily grows into an evil,
unbridled force that gets inside my brain and metastasizes into a sort
of mental cancer.

I concede that television would not be as bad if it were not situated
where it is. Planted in the middle of the living room, it sucks away
at the natural information flow of family and communal life. It
catches you just when your defenses are down and bathes you in images
designed to manipulate. The center of the home no longer can properly
be called a living or even a recreation room, it should be called the
vegetating station or the brainwashing chamber. Believe me, it is no
coincidence that TV execs call evening hours "prime time." There was
no such term in the family before because evening is not just "prime
time" for them, it is the only time. Those few hours are the only
chance for everyone to come together and interact on more than the
most superficial level. Prime time has become stolen time. The robber
is the state, the wealthy few and the corporations. The victim is the
institution of the family.

The insidiousness of television, even a very little of it, is that it
cuts out the guest-host relationship that is perhaps the main
information function of a family. Guests have become interruptions,
distractions from the boob tube. For millions of years households
gratefully accepted guests, offered them free food and accommodation
in order to get one thing back: information. Not having a mass media
data pump flowing into their living room, people felt a lack, a real
need for news and entertainment, and guests offered that. Believe it
or not, a guest, even the worst of the lot, is better at giving news
than any news anchor backed up by a wealthy network and dozens of
hired consultants and talking heads. A guest does things with
information that no television can hope to offer.

How so? Because a guest is alive, present, right before you. You can
cross examine a guest. You can argue with them. You can mingle,
sympathize, change a guest and change yourself, or even better,
pretend to change for them. You can form a new friendship, or thank
God that you do not have a friend like that. You can serve a guest and
in doing so get to know a whole, three dimensional human being. If the
guest turns out to be a schlep, that is even more fun. Best of all,
you can witness other family members interacting with that schlep. A
guest is a new element, an untested commodity worth far more than five
hundred channels.

The best thing about getting to know a guest is that you do not forget
the information you pick up. It stays because it is yours, you helped
make it. I had a guest a decade ago who hailed from Sweden. Not a
pleasant person at all, rather a know-it-all. The sort of tourist who
goes around the world in a quest to prove how much better her home is
than anywhere else. Yet I learned more from her than a thousand
televised travel documentaries taken in passively and forgotten a few
days later. This Swede was alive, obnoxious and got me angry.

She said, her nose turned in the air, you guys are stupid here. You
pay five bucks a month on your phone bill for "services" like call
waiting and call forwarding and in Sweden we get them all, at no extra
cost. What are you paying for, something that is already built into
the microchips of the phone exchanges? It costs them nothing extra,
once the chip is installed. That is not a service, it is rank
exploitation. Such capabilities should be included in every telephone
bill free, like in Sweden. This infuriated me and I swore never to pay
a cent extra on my phone bill. Plus, it gave me ammunition against the
thousand salespersons who in the intervening decade have called
periodically and tried to persuade me to pay for the bells and
whistles of telephony. I am grateful to that Swede, who made me a
better consumer, or non-consumer, who I am sure saved me thousands of
dollars over the past decade. Five dollars a month for this and five
for that adds up to big money over time, as corporate swindlers well

The importance of guests I cannot emphasize enough. A salon with
guests in it gives a chance for every person in your home to see one
another in a novel situation. We are bound to say things we otherwise
never would, teach lessons that children would not otherwise hear from
you; you will show a part of yourself they otherwise never might
witness in the family alone, especially in "couch potato" mode. You
and family members can work ideas out together with the guest, show
virtues in motion, get involved with the guest together as a family
learning team. You learn and teach, both together and apart. You can
put homegrown ideas forward and mingle them with similar yet different
commodities and attitudes grown in foreign soil on another side of the
planet. Even a neighbor next door offers novel lessons, interesting
possibilities, information of surprising local events that a whole
world flickering on an idiot box cannot offer.

As with most things, television is at root a spiritual problem. I was
interested to hear at our World Religion Day a Buddhist monk recite
the vows that they now require of new acolytes. One vow is to swear
off promiscuous television viewing, which subjects the mind to
violent, lust-provoking images. All right Buddha! That is making an
old spiritual teaching relevant to the dilemmas of the 21st Century.
Swearing off the tube is the first step to inner peace, to chastity,
and to a stronger, more vibrant family and social life. In a word, the
biggest reason of all to avoid it is to give us a chance to make love
real, to expunge the lie that we call love today.

"In the hearts of men no real love is found, and the condition is such
that, unless their susceptibilities are quickened by some power so
that unity, love and accord may develop within them, there can be no
healing, no agreement among mankind. Love and unity are the needs of
the body politic today. Without these there can be no progress or
prosperity attained. Therefore, the friends of God must adhere to the
power which will create this love and unity in the hearts of the sons
of men." (Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation, 171)

John Taylor

Friday, January 20, 2006

Code of Soul

Crimson Code of Soul, Philosopher's Café, World Religion Day

By John Taylor; 20 January, 2006

Today's essay, the Crimson Code of Soul is shorter than usual, so I am
including a recent article from a local columnist about the
Philosopher's Café in the Wainfleet Library that Stu and I are
co-hosting this year, as well as the local paper's report on the World
Religion Day celebration held in Dunnville last Sunday. The Café
article includes a big photo of Stu, myself and another attendee in a
"Rodin's Thinker" pose. It is strange to be referred to as a "computer
guru," though since I did not mention my being a Baha'i I guess that
is all she had to go on.

1. Crimson Code of Soul,
2. Philosopher's Café report,
3. World Religion Day report

The Crimson Code of Soul

The House of Justice in its recent document, One Common Faith,
distinguishes religion's perspective from past ideologies, all of
which built utopia on unaided human conceptions. Ideology not only
failed but provoked endless suffering and wars both hot and cold. In

"Religion's perspective on humanity's future, therefore, has nothing
in common with systems of the past -- and only relatively little
relationship with those of today. Its appeal is to a reality in the
genetic code, if it can be so described, of the rational soul." (OCF,
para 72)

Religion works on this spiritual DNA invisibly, since as Jesus said,
the Kingdom is within. People of faith do not agitate or manipulate
externals, they, in hidden communion with the Spirit, somehow work out
the "purpose and leading edge of the creative process."

The idea of spirit being like the genetic code is an increasingly
powerful one; this analogy is taking on the influence that clockworks
-- God as designer of clocks makes and winds up the universe and then
leaves it alone -- had among deist philosophers in the 18th Century.
From what I hear, Anthony Flew, a leading philosopher and atheist,
recently crossed over to accepting the existence of God, finally
persuaded by the unbelievable complexity and adaptability of the
genetic code. He saw that there is no way that such a mechanism,
infinitely more complex and mysterious than any clock, far beyond what
the best scientists can fathom, could have evolved on its own, unaided
by Something ineffable and far beyond our comprehension.

Is there a genetic code in the soul, a "meta-genetic code" that gives
form to the evolution of our physical DNA, perhaps? Baha'u'llah
definitively tells us that the soul itself is inherently
incomprehensible; it cannot know itself any more than the eye can see
itself. The this quality of soul is probably similar to, even part of,
language; everyone with all their mental faculties can speak, even
though the smartest linguist cannot grasp exactly where or how we get
this strange faculty. In the last Arabic Hidden Word Baha'u'llah
leaves us hope that we can grasp how the soul works out the purpose of
God, in spite of its inability to grasp what it is itself.

"Write all that We have revealed unto thee with the ink of light upon
the tablet of thy spirit. Should this not be in thy power, then make
thine ink of the essence of thy heart. If this thou canst not do, then
write with that crimson ink that hath been shed in My path. Sweeter
indeed is this to Me than all else, that its light may endure for
ever." (Arabic Hidden Words, 71)

This encoding process God does not do alone. We are not written on, we
write. We actively collaborate in composing His creativity on the
"tablet of thy spirit." This starts in recognition of God,
enlightenment. Since complete recognition of the Impenetrable Mystery
is impossible (one cannot recognize what one does not understand),
then He says, write it in the language of love, in gratitude,
closeness, adherence. In this stage of obedience and fidelity the
heart obeys and holds to faith. Again, impossible. Faith is knowledge
followed by action; its knowing is flawed and as yet there has been no
action. The third and last stage is that of action, writing with the
crimson ink shed in His path. Only sacrifice of life's blood activates
the entire process, to know, to obey, to sacrifice. The Bab seems to
paint a picture in words of the invisible, inconceivable actions
happening in this soul place,

"Indeed God hath created everywhere around this Gate oceans of divine
elixir, tinged crimson with the essence of existence and vitalized
through the animating power of the desired fruit; and for them God
hath provided Arks of ruby, tender, crimson-coloured, wherein none
shall sail but the people of Baha, by the leave of God, the Most
Exalted; and verily He is the All-Glorious, the All-Wise."
(Selections, 57-58)

Philosopher's Café report

Great minds do not always think alike

Lynn's Page

Inport News, January, 18, 2006, p. 13

Lots of healthy, brain stretching and exercising going on at the
Philosophers' Cafe, last Thursday, held in the meeting roam at
Wainfleet Public Library at 6:30 p.m.

I've always believed that the brain is like any other body part; if
you do not regularly use it - it gets out of shape. I think of the
Philosophers' Cafe as a lively yoga class for the brain: relaxing,
invigorating, and rejuvenating.

You don't have to be a member of the Wainfleet library to attend but
they do ask you to call ahead to pre-register. No university degree or
specific reading or research required for this cafe - but do bring you
own traveler cup of coffee. All you need to bring to this group are
your honest opinions, ideas, life experiences, and an open mind.

Heck, you don't even have to talk you can just listen, but I doubt
you'll be able to stay quiet for long.

It is a marvelous forum to try to figure out what you think about
hot-button issues. How can you know what you think unless you put some
deep thought and discussion into it? And its amazing how your ideas
can change when' you consider others' experiences in the matter. Walk
into the meeting roam and there's a nametag waiting for you; first
name only.

Seated in a circle are 8 adults on the evening I attended, men and
women, ranging in age from young 20s to seniors. I fall somewhere in
the middle, with a few others...

Last year when I attended I think there was double the attendance - so
the numbers of philosophers vary on any given night. The topic of the
evening is: "Illness and Human Nature," and after everyone briefly
introduces themselves, our philosophy group leader, Stu, starts us off
with a notable quote from a famous MD; and in response to the quote he
offers up an anecdote from his own life experience.

He gets the conversation ball rolling - and everyone from the circle
is busting with something to share.

Some people choose to talk about general ideas, and back up their
argument with articles or books they've read. One computer guru is
full of statistics, informative websites, and a library of books he's

Same philosophers choose to talk about their ideas and back up their
arguments with very personal life experiences.

All ideas are listened to; all ideas are welcomed and pondered. If you
agree or disagree, you can have your say next. It's all very
courteous, fascinating, sometimes wandering off-topic, but mast of all
there's a god respect for what everyone brings to the discussion.

There are times that it's even funny. One quick witted woman in the
group made an astute observation that had us all laughing out loud. It
was just so true that it struck us all by surprise. Enlightening,
spontaneous moments like these happen often during the Philosophers'

There's only one face I recognize from my past visit. And there's a
paradoxical, intimate and yet anonymous relationship between
philosophers. There's a comfortable zone of anonymity amongst
participants yet everyone wears a nametag with their first name
displayed - and we respond to each other on a first-name basis.

There weren't any cliquey groups of people, everyone there seemed to
have come on their own.

I regretted not bringing my 17-year-ald daughter because I knew she
would have enjoyed it and there were more than a few experiences
shared that she could have benefited from.

Some philosophers share very personal stories to illustrate their
arguments, and indeed, it provides strong reasoning that nobody can

And in every personal story you can find same glimmer in it that
pertains to your own life, or to someone who is close to you, so it's
all very relevant and really reinforces that we are all different and
yet really all the same too, no matter what ages or genders.

I got to speak afterwards with Philosophers' Café leader, Stu,
afterwards. Stu is a recently retired elementary school teacher whose
expertise in drawing everyone in conversation comes naturally to him.

He tells me he's much like a carpenter in a way; except his tools and
materials that he works with are ideas. He has this very calming and
serene influence on the group during discussions and comes forward
only to put us back an track when we've conversationally derailed -
and it happens - but Stu's there to put us back an track with another
quote or definition that generates more ideas and directions we can

From my perspective, the evening was so highly enjoyable because, as a
mother of young and older children, I hardly seem to have quiet time
in a day to think, much less talk to other adults.

So this hour and a half of adult discussion was heaven. It made me
think about things and experiences I might have otherwise not thought

Next topic of discussion is Euthanasia: When Does Human Life Lose its
Quality or Value? The next meeting is on Thursday, Feb. 9 at 6:30 p.m.
Meetings are about an hour in length, although our group went into
overtime and everyone seemed almost reluctant to leave. To
pre-register call 905-899-1277.

Dunnville Celebrates l5th Annual World Religion Day

Chronicle Staff Writer,
DUNNVILLE Chronicle (Reproduced with permission)

Children sang about virtues, the central theme at the 15th World
Religion Day celebration at Grace United Church.

In introductory comments, event emcee Ron Speer said virtues are a
part of the sacred teachings of the great faiths of the world.
Representatives of 10 religions shared their views of virtues at the
Sunday afternoon gathering.

Before a choir of students from Grandview, St. Michael's and Dunnville
Central Schools sang, Bethany Ricker read a Bible passage and Silvie
Taylor recited a Baha'i prayer.

This year Zoroastrianism was the focus faith. The ancient religion is
based upon the teachings of Zoroaster who was a Persian prophet.
Because most of the faith's documents were destroyed by Alexander the
Great in 331 BC, his teachings are passed on through songs and

Nozer Kotwal, one of the 2000 Zoroastrians who 1ive in Canada,
explained key tenets of the faith: God is without beginning and end,
he said. People use their own freewill to choose how to live. Those
who choose good over evil enjoy a happy afterlife.

"Living in about 1500BC, Zoroaster received this message and others in
a revelation at 30. He began a lifelong mission to spread the message
that God is the father of truth. Thirty four centuries ago, Zoroaster
preached about preserving all elements of nature and women's' rights,
pointed out Kotwol.

Zoroastrians believe that fire is the most important creation and it
is used in all the faith's rituals. Kotwol emphasized that this does
not mean that they are fire worshippers.

After the Arabs invaded Persia in 641 AD, followers were forced to
convert to Islam. Zoroastrianism all but disappeared. In 1925, it
rebounded. However its future is uncertain. Dwindling numbers, late
marriages and non-acceptance of conversions are factors in a recent
decline, said Kotwol.

He hoped that modern scholars will inspire Zoroastrian youths to live
a life of truth and to take care of the world according to their
faith. The most important message from the faith's founder is, "Real
happiness lies in giving happiness to others."

Throughout the rest of the proceedings, representatives of Hinduism,
Judaism, Christianity, native spirituality, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism
and the Baha'i Faith offered inspiration. Betty Frost, who also
assisted in event organization, said learning about other religions
fosters a spirit of community in this multicultural country.

Strife will lessen in the world if everyone understands there are
different religions, said Swadesh Sachdeva, who is a Hindu. Mike
Wiersma read a Torah passage describing the four decades that the
Jewish people spent in the wilderness. God disciplined them to keep
his commandments to earn a life in the land of olives, oil and honey
where they lack nothing.

Of the seven cardinal Christian virtues, mediaeval priests selected
faith, hope and love as the most important, Brian Melick of the Dunn
United Church told the audience. Virtues arc best looked at through
the lens of love for God, others and self, he continued.

The Creator gives everyone all they need for a good life, said Elize
Hartley, a Metis woman from Hamilton. While aboriginal people follow
natural laws where sun, air, fire and water are key elements of life,
others are not and are destroying the earth, she warned. Everything in
the world has a spirit and destroying any small thing destroys part of
mankind, she continued. People must consider seven generations back
and seven generations forward, Hartley reminded listeners. Then she
was joined by five other Metis women for songs that lifted their
voices to the Creator.

Justice and non-violence, loving kindness, respectful sexual conduct,
considerate communication and healthy consumption of food and media
are key virtues for Buddhists, explained Sister Tinh Quang. Kindness
is a mark of faith which is necessary to enter paradise according to
Islam teachings. Sikhs believe the one God, who is worshipped by all
faiths, is equally in every man and woman.

In the middle of the program, Breanne Pottie filled the church room
with sacred music. Eyes closed, she eased her bow across the violin's
strings, creating solemn and joyful expressions of worship

Throughout life, people practice and develop virtues, said Pat
Kjarsgaard who represented the 162 year old Baha'i Faith. The key
virtue is courage because it is often the prerequisite for other
virtues. One may need courage to love or to be kind, she explained.
The life purpose of most people is to acquire as many virtues as they
can, she summed up.

John Taylor