Monday, April 30, 2007

Everything is on the blog today


I tried a few times in the past to include graphics in the Badi mail-out with mixed results. Rather than mix them, I have figured out how to include graphics directly on the blog site itself at Blogspot So if you get this mailed to you, hit this link and look at the blog itself to read today’s post. If for some reason you need a higher rez picture, some of the pictures include a link to the original Picassa site where you can see the originals.

फोतोस ऑफ़ रेसन्त अच्तिवितिएस

From Badi Blog

Here is the Spiritual Assembly of Hamilton, as they were last night at the 9th of Ridvan celebration. I did not at all mean to write the title of this post in Hindi script, it just came out that way. Since at least one of these LSA members can read what it says, ask her to transliterate.

Thomas has opened up a branch of the top secret skunkworks installation in our living room. I offered to buy a skunk for a penny but he only had baby skunks and they were going for several hundred dollars a pop. As the Czech and Polish saying goes, little kids little problems, big kids big ones.

This is the Voices of Unity in performance. They will soon be performing at the Chicago House of Worship.

From Badi Blog

Here is what I miss most about Hamilton, the Persian food.

This is the VOU beforehand. Not being tall, I blocked out some singers in the back. Fortunately, this is not the official picture, which had been taken by someone else just beforehand.

Here, for purposes of comparison, are the current members of our LSA, that of Haldimand County. It was taken at the annual meeting on the first day of Ridvan.

I was hitting table tennis balls against the wall, my daily exercise, in the garage when Thomas wandered in and, completely on his own, began salvaging parts from leftover equipment and electronic kits. He stuck them together and when we finally got a live 9 volt battery he connected it to the contraption and lo and behold it lit up! Nobody was more amazed than he was. He wondered if this would go down in history with Edison's inventions but we said probably not. Nonetheless a good entry into the world of electronics. Edison said that chance favors a prepared mind but sometimes it favors unprepared minds too.

Our neighbor, Mrs. Goodfellow, is organizing a knitting drive for these Izzy Dolls, which Canadian soldiers give out to Afghani kids.

These were knit by local people. Ready to send off. She says if you know a knitter who might be interested it doing this, that there is a website. Google "Izzy Doll." She is involved in Eastern Star, and has several other such groups involved in this.

This is Silvie's 2nd Dunnville Scout Troupe at a camp in Stevensville, on the outskirts of Fort Erie, Ontario. The boys were all off planting trees this weekend, so they were all girls at this camp. They had ten contests and 2nd Dunnville came in first in 6 of them, which qualified them for the grand prize. Silvie, the leader told me, did very well in the memory test. I maintain that they did so well because they had an unfair advantage, being all girls.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


An SR-71A Blackbird On My Shoulder

By John Taylor; 2007 Apr 29

Next month's public talk sponsored by the Haldimand Spiritual Assembly will take place on Tuesday, May the 8th at the Dunnville Library's Garfield Disher Room. Ron Speer will be speaking on "Mary Lou's remarkable spiritual journey, at 8:00 PM. Here is his summary of the presentation, which I have been asked to video tape.

"Ron Speer and his daughters, Kim and Shannon will share the story of Mary Lou Speer's 7-8 month research into what the Baha'i Faith was all about. It became a spiritual journey that was very intense and life altering for her and her family. The result was a greater understanding of the unfolding revelation of God's messages to his people through His Manifestations, the great Messengers. Christ became even more significant to her as she embraced this new Faith."

Two days later, on Thursday 10 May, our monthly Philosopher's Cafe meeting will take place in the Wainfleet Public Library, the subject of discussion being, "Is the Internet a Good Thing?"

Golden Rule Feedback

Recently I wrote a series of posts on the different gradations of reciprocity and the Golden Rule. Roberta Hill responded:

"The Platinum Rule as described by Tony Alessandra (who is credited with taking this concept and elaborating on it) is actually: "Treat others the way they want to be treated." Sounds simple and obvious once you think about it. . . but not so easy to put into practice. How often do we stop and think `What would our spouse like?' or `What does my boss really want?' Perhaps as you wrote: "Above that still is Baha'u'llah's "do unto others more (or better) than you would have them do unto you." I guess you could call that the Uranium Rule." It still comes from an ethnocentric position of "me". As I believe you are saying - it is not what is right. What would the other want?

"The Platinum Rule is not just a concept but has a whole model behind it to help others figure out where others are coming from and help someone put himself or herself in someone else’s shoes. There is even an assessment to better understand your own style and that of others. To find out more, you might be interested in reading this article by Tony Alessandra on my web site:


"My associates (and) I use The Platinum Rule assessment with individual coaching clients but where we really see the power of the tool is when working with teams. But some of us use it with families and children just as successfully. Disclosure: Besides having my own blog about assessments and personality tests, I also sell "The Platinum Rule" online. If readers are interested, they can purchase this create tool to use at 40% off just contact me for the special code. <>

Blackbird on my Back

Raising a boy has been very different from a girl. Silvie at Tomaso's age (7 years old) devoured almost the entire fictional picture books section of the library with me, but Thomas fixates. He picks out one non-fiction book, like one called "Black Holes," and goes over one or two pages at a time. In this book it was a two-page spread speculating on how a worm hole might transport you from point A to point B instantly. His latest interest is in "The Big Book of Airplanes." Not the whole book, mind you, but the two pages dealing with the SR-71A "Blackbird." This, I soon learned, was a spy plane, or more officially, a reconnaissance aircraft. I had the page almost memorized, constantly answering questions about its airspeed (Mach 3), its heat levels after a flight (you could overcook a steak on its skin), its stealthiness, and on and on.

I was sick to death of the constant barrage of questions at all hours about the SR-71A. My knowledge of that plane is sadly inadequate, even with the little briefing in that library book. Then I remembered the all-seeing oracle, Google and took him onto the Net to read more. A mistake, I realize that now. We got onto the manufacturer's site, which had new pictures, then the Wikipedia article (now that searches are ridden with advertisers hawking biased and unreliable information, I always look for the Wiki article, which is usually quite close to the top in just about anything you search).

Wiki explained that the SR-71A's skin is made of an 85 percent titanium, 15 percent composite alloy -- and Thomas was hooked. Titanium! Many a time I have played down the properties of titanium, to no avail. The Yugi-oh or Pokeman or some other kid brain worm ideology plays up the magical properties of titanium, I suspect. But I keep telling him over and over that titanium is just a metal, it may be a bit stronger and lighter than aluminum but it is not all that special. It does not defend you against hyper blasts or confer immortality. But a father's words fall upon unbelieving ears. The Wiki article makes it worse by talking about how when the plane was first built they had to smuggle titanium out of Russia, how when they forged it with one kind of water at one time of year and it had different welds from when they forged it at another time. Worst of all, the titanium gets stronger and harder with age, being annealed by the severe heating of frequent hypersonic flier miles. "Does that mean that it will be impervious to nuclear weapon attacks?" No, no, it just means that it gets a little harder with time.

When Tommy first mentioned the Blackbird I said I thought they stopped making them back in the Sixties. "No, our principle told me that they made a new one." I had promised them a reward point when they demonstrate that they have learned something in school that I did not know before. He claimed his point. I tried to weasel out of it. "Where did you learn it? What was the principle doing in your classroom?" We were in the library when she told me. "Sorry, you have to be in the classroom to get a point." But it was in the school library, not the public library. I had to concede the point. Then when we were reading the Wiki article we read that the last Blackbird went out of commission in 1998. I could have disputed his reward point but let it pass; the point is that they try to learn something new. I can hardly hold them responsible when the information is flawed.

Another big thrill came when we read that the Blackbird was flown out of the Skunk Works facility. I told them how nobody is allowed near that place, how for decades a special breed of hobbyists would congregate on the hills nearby to take pictures of the mysterious machines flying out of there.

Then things got much worse for me.

"I want to buy a blackbird." No individual can have them, even a billionaire. They are only allowed to be even seen by skunk works personnel. Nobody can get near the skunk works, much less fly one. "I want to work at the skunk works." Sorry, you would have to be very good at math and science to get a job there. "But I am good. I am among the best in our class." Sorry, I am talking very, very good. Math geniuses. To give you an idea how good you have to be, they station skunks around every corner in the skunk works. Whenever you round a corner the skunk sprays you and you have to calculate where every droplet of spray is and dodge it. A supercomputer could not make that calculation, but you have to do it instantly. If you come out at the end of the day and the guards smell the slightest whiff of skunk on you, you are toast."

His response was, "No, they did not!" along with laughter.

Note to self: at seven years old they have passed the fun stage of total gullibility. Now that they have the Internet they could check up on my confabulations in a few seconds anyway. Really, the Internet must be a bad thing if it makes it so hard to have a little fun with the innocent. An age of parenting is dead, long live the new information age.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


MLK and Education Compilation

By John Taylor; 2007 Apr

Over the past several days I have been listening to an audio book version of a reconstructed "autobiography" of Martin Luther King, as narrated by LeVar Burton. Trekkies know Burton well from his role as Geordie Laforge in TNG, and he has since become a regular on PBS children's television. He has the sweetest, most kindly personality imaginable. I swear, he is the only Hollywood star that if I ever met him in the flesh I would want to hug him and tweak his cheek, and coming from a non-hugger like me, that is saying something. At first it was jarring to hear him read MLK's words in the first person. If there is one thing that Martin Luther King was not, it was affable.

If King had been as lovable and unassuming as Burton, well I quail to speculate what would have happened. Burton's pristine reading voice is astonishing, a force of nature. I imagine it reading King's most angry and stirring speech to an assembly of the KKK and their going home afterwards saying, "What a great guy. What were we thinking? Why did we hate these people anyway?" That was my thought at first, anyway, but fortunately the editors interspersed Burton's narration with well chosen recordings of MLK's speeches. This lets the listener hear for herself the contrast between the loving side of MLK and the gritty, angry, defiant reformer who led an oppressed people to defy centuries of hatred, racism and oppression. And no doubt Burton captures the most important side of King's persona, his love. Yes, King was angry, but his anger was born of love for justice, and anybody who loves God's creatures will be just as angry to see them held down by the mental as well as physical chains of a sick tradition of slavery.

My knowledge of MLK's life had been superficial. I was surprised to see how closely King followed Muhatma Gandhi. He studied Gandhi's books, visited India and followed his techniques of non-violence carefully. When his followers were tempted to go over to violence or exclusivism -- as symbolized by their newfound desire to throw out King's "Freedom Now" slogan in favor of the new favorite, "Black Power" -- it is interesting to witness King telling them:

"No. I am not advocating non-violence only because it is nice and pretty, I use it because it works. If you do not believe me, look at what Gandhi accomplished. You could fight, you could talk, theorize, expostulate and recapitulate for a thousand years and you could not persuade the Hindu majority to take the Untouchables into their temples. But Gandhi did it simply by fasting. He swore that he would not eat again until they took them in. And they did, because of their love for that man."

Gandhi had worked out an entire set of non-violent techniques for tweaking the conscience of oppressor and oppressed alike, and the hunger strike was just one of them. The salt march was another, and in working that technique out in America, MLK at one point stumbled.

In this text, King is frank about his own errors in leading the non-violence movement, and he candidly explains why some things did not work and how he overcame them. Non-violence is a technique that has to be learned. Like Kennedy after his Bay of Pigs fiasco, King learned from his slips and did not repeat them (as Kennedy said at the time, errors only become mistakes if you do not learn from them). What helped him get this all-too-rare ability to learn from experience was, again, Gandhi. Gandhi was very strict in reserving one day of the week for fasting and meditation, and it is strange to see a MLK, a Christian minister, struggling to do the same, in effect to hold the Sabbath sacred, in his week. This made me realize that this must be especially hard for the clergy, since they have to work on Sundays. Without Sunday to rest, some other day must be taken off for meditation; imagine how hard it must have been for one as famous and in demand as MLK to drop everything to meditate for a few hours a week, much less take off an entire day.

Will it be the same for Baha'is? Will we take our Fridays off to listen to talks from the Learned -- and will that force the learned to take another day off in the week for reflection? Certainly, the Friday convocation and prayer "Jum'ih" is not obligatory as for Muslims. Still, I imagine we would hold something on our "Independence," or Istiqlal, day. The point is that we all, not just our leaders, take the time off for silent reflection on a regular basis. Unlike every other leader, except maybe MLK, Mahatma Gandhi did not worry even if there was a national crisis; on his day of silence nothing was going to make him break his vow. The point is that we should all be just as strict about our battery recharge time. Baha'u'llah repeated often the Hadith that an hour's reflection is worth seventy years (in other words, an entire useful lifetime) of pious worship (and since work is worship, that means your whole working life).

You may say, that is impossible, we need our individual leaders to be there at times of crisis, even if it cuts into their time of reflection. I say, quite the reverse. This is why Baha'u'llah has removed power from the backs of the learned, in order to free the individual from the burden of responding to crises as they turn up. In my experience on an Assembly I am often jarred when the institution make decisions that I would never make if I were leading. It took a while to see the wisdom, but now I see clearly a wisdom in the holy institution far beyond any individual, no matter how brilliant or enlightened. Every decision should be filtered by these "many minds." I see clearly why God has relieved us of the burdens of individual leadership and direct decision making, so that we will each be free to reflect and make a creative contribution, when the seed is ready.

In proof of this, witness MLK's own life. You can see how far his own original thought and self-directed education takes King, but you also see the limits built right into his education. When he talks of Malcolm X, he tries his hardest at toleration, but still calls the man's Muslim faith a "quasi-religion." He persuades some militants that non-violence is practical, but many more are unimpressed. It is hard. Hatred spreads like wildfire, good sense like fog. The inveterate hatred and jealousy between Christians and Muslims is bred in the bones of their education, and has been for millennia. Since 9-11 this antipathy got even worse.

At the same time as his training as a Christian denies Malcolm X's Islam, MLK is shocked at the tacit injustices that racist-inspired education gives rise to. For example, he attends a musical retrospective of American music and hears only songs like "Dixie," and no mention of great African American contributions like Jazz or the Spirituals. He deplores this, and rightly so. But an educator might well ask, where does it end? What about the notorious parochialism of nationalist educational systems? There are thousands of ethnicities and cultures and if you give attention to them all, you emphasize none. No educational system will ever have time to put every culture first while still having time to build a common ground on which all can stand. What does a good teacher do?

The troubles of our world can only be overcome by individual search for truth, it is true. King's victories exemplify what can be done with determined self-education. But even if we all had his courage, objective self-criticism and initiative, it will still always be an uphill battle. The number of original thinkers will always be tiny compared to the number of imitators. Racism and errors will continue to spread unless and until we adopt a universal curriculum that starts with our history as human beings first. I am not talking about Dead White Men, or a European education, or a Western education, but a human education, based on our accomplishments as a species, with lesser loyalties placed only after. The term for that is "cosmopolitan."

That is why, again and again, I have been returning to Immanuel Kant's Cosmopolitan History. I thought that nobody was reading my essays on that history until I came across some encouraging comments that I had missed on the Badi blog site. One was:

"I am now quite interested in what Kant had to say. Keep up the good work. ... Thank you for further clarifying what was hidden as in a seed and needed the right time to unfold and become manifest."

The notable thing about both MLK and Gandhi is that they were both martyrs. Both stood up for challenges that were really impossible for any but God, such as unifying the religions of India or the races of America. God decreed that they give their lives for daring the impossible dream, and that intensified their influence. It is not a coincidence that King's most famous phrase is, "I have a dream." Both used a strange technique that had no name, we only call it "non-violence" for the lack of a better word. Whatever it is, they proved that it is a practical way to force reform upon a reluctant system.

My question afterwards was, do Baha'is use non-violence? Certainly the martyrs in Iran are non-violent. They are obedient to government and do not retaliate in the face of furious hatred. But at the same time, they are not marching in the streets provoking reaction, the way Gandhi and King were doing. I guess the answer is that we are not only non-violent, we are also loyal and non-political. And mostly, our appeal is not to a single people or nation but the world. Once, when the Young Turks were challenging King's non-violent leadership, they said that his theme song, "We shall overcome," should be changed to "We shall over-run." If it were to be changed to a Baha'i way, the words would be, "God will overcome." It is all in His hands, so let us do the right thing in our activism, and God will overcome. But certainly we are united with our more political friends in protesting that,

"None calleth for justice, nor any pleadeth for truth: they trust in vanity, and speak lies; they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity." (Isaiah 59:4)

Let me finish with a series of sayings from the Master on education that, if followed carefully, would surely fill in the missing pieces from our collective education and tear out racial and nationalist prejudices by their very roots.

Education Must Include the Spiritual Ideals of World Peace and Brotherhood; A compilation from the words of Abdu'l-Baha

(from Star of the West, Vol. 15, pp. 37-38)

The duty of educated men, especially university presidents of the nation, is this: To teach in the universities and schools ideas concerning universal peace, so that the student may be so molded that in after years he may help carry fruition the most useful and human issue of mankind. The schools should be free from all religious and racial prejudices, for these often prevent good results from being obtained. All schools and colleges should have these three foundations.


They should be sincere in the service of training the souls. They should discover the mysteries of nature and extend the circle of art, commerce, etc. so that ignorance and the lack of knowledge will pass away and the lights of science and knowledge shine forth from the horizon of the soul and heart. In all schools and universities, a general rule for training should be made.


Training in morality is necessary, so that the pupils' good conduct may remain unchanged and so that they may progress in a most befitting man nor, become possessed of lofty ideas, lovers of the world of humanity, and SO that they will hold fast to the spiritual perfections and to that which does not displease God.


Service to the world of humanity should be obligatory. Every student should know, with perfect certainty that he is the brother of the people of all religions and nations and that he should be without religious, racial, national, patriotic or political bias, so that he may find the thoughts of universal peace and the love of humankind firmly established in his heart. He should know himself as a servant of human society of all the countries in the world. He should see God as the heavenly father and all the servants as his children, counting all of the nations, parties and sects as one family. The mothers in the homes, the teachers in the schools, the professors in the universities, and the leaders in the lofty gatherings, must cause these thoughts to be penetrative and effective, as the spirit, circulating in the veins and nerves of the children and pupils, so that the world of humanity may be delivered from the calamities of fanaticism, war, battle, hate and obstinacy, and so that the nether world may become the paradise of heaven'

In this age every face must turn to God! so that spiritual enlightenment will go hand in hand with material education.

Material education alone cannot make the world happy. Spiritual civilization must assist the material. The material civilization is like the lamp, but the spiritual civilization is like the light in the lamp. The lamp without the light is a useless thing."

Ideals of Peace must be nurtured and spread among the inhabitants of the world They must be instructed in the school of Peace and the evils of war, The advocates of Peace must strive clay and night, so that the individuals of every country may become peace loving, public opinion may gain a strong and permanent footing, and day by day the army of International Peace be increased."

Baha'u'llah teaches that the world of humanity is in need the breath of the Holy Spirit, for in spiritual quickening and enlightenment true oneness is attained with God and man.

The "Most Great Peace" cannot be assured through racial force and effort; it cannot be established by patriotic devotion and sacrifice; for nations differ widely and local patriotism has limitations.

Furthermore, it is evident that political power and diplomatic ability are not conducive to universal agreement, for the interests of governments are varied and selfish; nor will international harmony and reconciliation be an outcome of human opinions concentrated upon it, for opinions are faulty and intrinsically diverse. Universal Peace is an impossibility through human and material agencies; it must be through spiritual power. There is need of a universal impelling force which will establish the oneness of humanity and destroy the foundations of war and strife. No other than the divine power can do this; there fore it will be accomplished through the breath of the Holy Spirit.

No matter how far the material world advances it cannot establish the happiness of mankind. Only when material and spiritual civilization are linked and coordinated will happiness be assured.

Then material civilization will not contribute its energies to the forces of evil in destroying the oneness of humanity, for in material civilization good and evil advance together and maintain the same pace. For example, consider the material progress of man in the last decade.

Schools and colleges, hospitals, philanthropic institutions, scientific academies and temples of philosophy have been founded, but hand in hand with these evidences of development, the invention and production of means and weapons for human destruction have correspondingly increased. In early days the weapon of war was the sword; flow it is the magazine rifle. Among the ancients men fought with javelins and daggers; now they employ shells and bombs. Dreadnoughts are built, torpedoes invented and every few days a new ammunition is forthcoming.

All this is the outcome of material civilization; therefore although material advancement furthers good purposes in life, at the same time it serves evil ends.

The divine civilization is good because it cultivates morals. Consider what the prophets of God have contributed to human morality. His Holiness, Jesus Christ, summoned all to the "Most Great Peace" through the acquisitions of pure morals. If the moral precepts and foundations of divine civilization become united with the material advancement of man, there is no doubt that the happiness of the human world will be attained and from every direction the glad tidings of peace upon earth will be announced.

Then humankind will achieve extraordinary progress, the sphere of human intelligence will be immeasurably enlarged, wonderful inventions will appear and the spirit of God will reveal itself; all men will consort in joy and fragrance, and life eternal will be conferred upon the children of the kingdom. Then will the power of the divine make itself effective and the breath of the Holy Spirit penetrate the essence of all things.

Therefore the material and the divine or merciful civilizations must progress together until the highest aspirations and desires of humanity shall become realized."

Friday, April 27, 2007


Towards the Sunlit Uplands of Good Government

By John Taylor; 2007 Apr 27

After France fell, Hitler's war machine turned towards England. Winston Churchill in his famous "sunlit uplands" speech rallied England for the fight of its life, a struggle known soon after as the Battle of Britain. Not unexpectedly, he mentioned as reasons for resisting the Nazi invader their tyranny, injustice, contempt for minorities and their many violations of human rights. Listening over the recording of Churchill's speech yesterday, though, I was surprised to hear him mention, as among the Nazi's greatest atrocities, what he calls a "perverted science."

How ironic is that?

The great man holds forth a vision of a happier future, calling it the "sunlit uplands" of freedom from a perverted science. But the free world won out, and now look at what is happening to science today. Talk about perverted! We have the reverse of sunlit uplands, now light barely penetrates our atmosphere to get to the uplands, which are smogging over with frightening rapidity. Long term studies measured all of the elevated regions of the planet and found visibility reduced by over a third in the past three decades, and at the same time rainfall diminished by a similar proportion. Sunlit uplands are no more sunlit but are dank, sooty deserts. The tip of our collective nose is stuck straight into the rectum of global warming.

Scientific knowledge is more advanced and widespread than ever before, nor is it in the hands of malevolent Fascists but democratically elected governments. Yet nobody can gainsay its perversion. Why is it killing us?

The answer is clear.

Our battle today is no less dire than Churchill's Battle of Britain. Only now it is not death from the skies sent down by Adolph Hitler, it is death from the skies sent down by Adolph Nobody. Nobody controls science. Nobody sees that science is good rather than evil. Nobody is exclusively responsible for making science, well, responsible. As long as mankind is not represented by the single voice of a strong world government, science will continue to be mad, bad and out of control.

At the beginning of the Battle of Britain, Churchill was not at all certain of final victory. In spite of his bluster, you can feel the tension in his voice and choice of words. If our planet had a Churchill to rally us now in our hour of crisis -- in actuality we do not have a world government at all, much less one with a bulldog like Churchill at its head to rally us -- I am sure that this leader would be even more shaken at our dim prospects of victory. The latest UN report coming in bears ill tidings indeed. Now it seems clear that stopping the growth of emissions, or even biting the bullet and substantially reducing them, are not going to cut it. By 2050 we will have to be net reducers of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, in the air. And even then there are no guarantees that it might not just be too late to tip the balance.

How will science, even under the strong hand of a world government, ever figure out how to reverse this climatic disaster?

The challenge is technical but mostly it is ethical. Ethics must not only be made into a science, it must be crowned queen of the sciences, for at the heart of the scientific method is a firm faith, an iron conviction that knowledge is a boon to mankind. If knowledge harms, science demands that we back up and change what we are learning. If ethical misunderstanding perverts science and technology, we must rapidly become very clear on what is ethical and what is not.

Peter Singer is one of the few philosophers and academic ethicists who has shown the faintest concern for the fate of our planet, as opposed to hairsplitting and pet theorizing. He begins his book, "One World," by saying,

"Consider two aspects of globalization, first, planes exploding as they slam into the World Trade Center, and second, the emission of carbon dioxide from the exhausts of gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles. One brought instant death and left unforgettable images that were watched on television screens all over the world; the other makes a contribution to climate change that can be detected only by scientific instruments. Yet both are indications of the way in which we are now one world, and the more subtle changes to which sport utility vehicle owners unintentionally contribute will almost certainly kill far more people than the highly visible one." (One World, The Ethics of Globalization, 1)

If ethics were a science, we would automatically distinguish between atrocities that make big waves on the surface but do not affect our general survival, and universal moral concerns that are worthy of our close and constant attention. If ethics are primitive, surely that is where we need to make the biggest changes. Later in his book, Singer continues this thought,

"All of this forces us to think differently about our ethics. Our value system evolved in circumstances in which the atmosphere, like the oceans, seemed an unlimited resource, and responsibilities and harms were generally clear and well defined. If someone hit someone else, it was clear who had done what. Now the twin problems of the ozone hole and of climate change have revealed bizarre new ways of killing people. By spraying deodorant at your armpit in your New York apartment, you could, if you use an aerosol spray propelled by CFCs, be contributing to the skin cancer deaths, many years later, of people living in Punta Arenas, Chile. By driving your car, you could be releasing carbon dioxide that is part of a causal chain leading to lethal floods in Bangladesh. How can we adjust our ethics to take account of this situation?" (Peter Singer, One World, The Ethics of Globalization, 19-20)

It is not surprising that we should be so easily duped. In spite of the abundance of technological advances and scientific findings, a depressingly small proportion of the world's population even understands what science is, much less distinguishes between what beneficial and what is perverted science.

Singer wrote this six years ago, and since then the moral situation has changed. Vehicle emissions, bad as they are, are now known to be a lesser contributor to greenhouse gasses than eating meat, especially beef. Cow farts produce methane, which is a far worse greenhouse contributor than carbon dioxide. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization calculated last year that they contribute 18 percent of greenhouse gasses, more than all vehicles combined. We burn masses of fuel to make the fertilizer to feed them, and their solid and liquid effluent is straining the environment, breeding killer bacteria, putting us in danger and, even when we think we are rid of it, it runs off and makes "dead zones" in the oceans and destroys coral reefs.

No matter how you look at it there is only one solution: change what we eat. If we are perverted ourselves, how can we expect science to be otherwise? If Churchill were here now to urge us how to fight against Adolph Nobody, it is pretty clear that he would still be warning against perverted science. He would be saying:

"Become a vegetarian, or as near to one as you possibly can. Form a world government now, and form policy based upon science and reality. But first, get rid of the perversions in your own minds. Sunlit uplands are found first in the heart."

Once we get our own tastes and desires under control, then we will be worthy of being led to the sunlit uplands of freedom; then, and only then, can we think about how to solve the technical problem of quelling a climate gone mad.

Not long after Baha'u'llah wrote the Book of Laws in the early 1870's, He commissioned Abdu'l-Baha to write the Secret of Divine Civilization. Here the Master laid out to the world's most fanatical and reactionary society the secret to successful reform. It was a secret then, and remains so today, now more than ever. This book is the ultimate manifesto for development, for all of our salvation. His strong medicine would have worked for Persia, but now that Adolph Nobody has his grip on the throat of the planet, we need it now more than ever. In this passage from the Secret, Abdu'l-Baha explains exactly how to go about reforming a corrupt, perverted, inert world order:

"Should anyone object that the above-mentioned reforms have never yet been fully effected, he should consider the matter impartially and know that these deficiencies have resulted from the total absence of a unified public opinion, and the lack of zeal and resolve and devotion in the country's leaders. It is obvious that not until the people are educated, not until public opinion is rightly focused, not until government officials, even minor ones, are free from even the least remnant of corruption, can the country be properly administered. Not until discipline, order and good government reach the degree where an individual, even if he should put forth his utmost efforts to do so, would still find himself unable to deviate by so much as a hair's breadth from righteousness, can the desired reforms be regarded as fully established." (Secret of Divine Civilization, 16)

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Kiwi Fighters, Barry Smith and an Appeal to Baquia

By John Taylor; 2007 Apr 26

Continuing with the highlights of a many-year-long backlog of reader response, some feedback involved error correction. I had read, for example, that the New Zealand armed forces had sold off their entire air force. Reader Steve corrected me on that. My apologies to the good air service personnel of New Zealand. You are still with us, defending freedom.

Hi John, "You wrote: "...Then I read what [New Zealanders] had done with their air force. They just up and sold the whole deal." I believe you're mistaken. The New Zealand Air Force still has a range of aircraft, as you can see if you go to the aircraft page on its website. You can even check on Wiki, which seems a little more up-to-date and comprehensive. :-) Perhaps your kiwi friend was thinking of the 2001 decision to sell the Air Force Skyhawks and a few other aircraft."

Last year I read about a Baha'i comedian giving a slideshow on his introduction to the Baha'i Faith. I wrote at the time the following enquiry:

"I came across on some small town newspaper's website the following article about a one man show by a fellow who discovered the Baha'i Faith. If any of my readers can give some more background on this, please share it with us all."

None of the Badi' List members had anything to say about that, but the blog community did. Steve Marshall, I now know, did reply, saying:

Here are a couple of sites to visit:

Barry Smith's blog entry:

Barry Smith's story

Given what Barry smith says about his experience with the "Montana cult" I'm guessing he hung out with the Baha'is Under the Provision of the Covenant (BUPC), led by Montana chiropractor Dr. Leland Jensen.

I just went on Barry Smith's blog and left the following enquiry:

Hi, I came across some of your publicity and have written a little about you on my blog, <>. I wonder if you could answer some questions for me and my readers. Please feel free to give an introduction to yourself, maybe some of your publicity material. My readers are mostly in Ontario and I notice that you are coming to the fringe festival in Toronto this summer. My questions for you are: Are you a Baha'i? Where do you live, in Canada? How do you work such wonders with Powerpoint? I find it clumsy. Do you have the help of a visual artist? I am afraid that I do not even know what a fringe festival is, what is it?

Glancing at Barry Smith's latest entry to his blog I found out about the following site, which uses face recognition to link you to family members, and, as he demonstrates, even finds out your celebrity look-alikes and puts your photo onto a poster surrounded by the famous faces that look like you. Check it out:

Myself, I am a bit creeped out about voluntarily submitting to face recognition software. I wandered into a gambling emporium a year or so ago, just to see what it was like, so I know my face is already in the databases of the non-authorities and Mafiosi who deal with this software. But should I spread my face around even more, even if it means getting an idea of which stars resemble me? Probably not.

Another thing that, for some reason, has always creeped me out is watching about the Baha’i Faith on video. I do not know why I had this reaction; I guess I just felt that the Faith was too intimate and private to me to see it laid out in public like that. I would have a similar reaction watching a video of my genitalia bouncing around as I walk, I suppose. Any presentation on the Faith on television still makes me cringe in unutterable embarrassment, though if I sneak it up on myself I can sometimes endure it. But since my mention a few days ago of the 1983 20/20 television show on the persecutions of the Baha’is in Iran brought in two very positive reactions from Badi List readers, I will point you to this site, which seems more or less official, of videos about the Baha’i Faith. One includes a video of Doug Martin, whom I met once or twice in the flesh, many years ago.

The American NSAs website also has some high quality podcasts at:

Check out the second to the last of the featured podcasts, which includes an entire symphonic composition on the Writings. I am listening to it right now.

Another person who has commented several times is a woman who uses the moniker "Baquia," and runs the notorious website "". She welcomed the Badi' blog onto Bahaisonline by saying something she evidently has to say to every Baha'i she meets: "I hope you realize that loyal and critical are not mutually exclusive." Hmm. It seems to me that a good argument could be made that they in fact are mutually exclusive, maybe not administratively but mostly from a mystical point of view. Recall what Baha'u'llah says at the start of the Tablet of the Seeker, that an idle word can chase out the spirit for good, how much more words meant to hurt.

Looking over Baquia's "Baha'i rants" site I wonder about her relationship to the Baha'i Faith. I am reminded of a long term but very unhappy marriage. You can say that the parties are loyal and love each other, but their arguments and verbal abuse belie the fact. They regularly wake up the neighborhood with their rants and insults. Even if they are loyal to one another, a relationship racked by arguments, criticism and hard words degrades into abuse, and that destroys the happiness of all concerned, especially the children.

I am reminded of how the Master, a religious leader, openly declared that when a religion promotes hate, it is better not to have such a religion. Ditto for relationships gone sour. And marriage; and faith. When there is an atmosphere of harsh criticism to one's Faith, your own faith may hold, your loyalty may seem strong for now, but at best it will remain sterile. Even if it does bear fruit the offspring must be scarred for life by the habit of using words as weapons.

As Baha'u'llah says, courtesy is the king of virtues, and if we cannot speak with common civility to our nearest and dearest, what kind of abusers are we? Myself, I have been always very conscious of how I speak to strangers. When I speak nicely to someone I have an interest in being nice to I think: "Am I being more lovey-dovey with this stranger than I am with my wife and children?" If so, I brand myself with hypocrisy. I take pause, and make a special effort to use more courtesy with them than with any mere passing acquaintance I happen to like.

The same courtesy mandate applies for our fellow believers. They are like family, or they should be. And by family, I do not mean dysfunctional family. Are the institutions an exception? No, Abdu'l-Baha said that bad as it is to impugn an individual, it is far worse to blacken an institution, which stands for many people. Think about it, Baquia.

Baquia intervened directly when I indulged in some bitter sarcasm. I wrote:

"Here is a shocker, especially for anybody who has even heard of the Middle East: the BIC calls for "the United Nations to affirm unequivocally an individual's right to change his or her religion under international law." Yeah, right. Let us say the UN does adopt this resolution and it transpires that it was the Baha'is who suggested it. The next thing that will happen is that a Baha'i from anywhere in the world will be able to fly to just about anywhere in the Middle East and as soon as they get off the plane they will be immediately hoisted onto the shoulders of a grateful population and carried about to cheers and general acclaim. We will be feted and dined and there will be tears of affection in every eye, a feast of wit, reason and soul all around. I can hardly wait to see it happen."

Now I come from a very dysfunctional family and sarcasm and bitter words are no stranger to me, as you can see in the above. But note, my sarcasm here is not directed at the Baha'i International Community, it is directed squarely at the hatred-ridden place we call the "Holy Land." But Baquia in her response, directed her habitual sardonic attitude over to her favorite target, the Baha'i institutions, in this case the BIC.

"Sometimes I really wonder what the people over at the BIC are smoking. Do they realize that one more UN resolution or 'unequivocal' right is not the answer when countries in the ME and elsewhere right now do not even enforce the declaration of human rights? What makes them think that by adding one more they will somehow miraculously enforce it? And have these people absolutely no idea that the ME is populated by a lot of Muslims? You know, the religion which considers apostasy a sin punishable by death? Helloooo? Why don't they just suggest that "the United Nations to affirm unequivocally an individual's right to" wear nothing but his or her thong "under international law."? That has about the same chance under Islamic culture and law as the abolition of apostasy. I shudder to imagine how much of the precious funds of the Faith are wasted on this bunch of ignorant fools to put out such drivel."

Now we have to assume that the BIC does nothing without the express knowledge and consent of the UHJ. Insofar as that is true, they are divinely guided when they call for an explicit declaration of the right to change your religion. Far from being drivel, this is a serious, momentous declaration that you or I, as Baha'is, may have to give our lives for at any time. Remember, the House itself is in the center of that cauldron of hatred, and it doubtless took a lot of personal courage for every member of that body to make that decision.


Faith is not ignorance. Faith is conscious knowledge followed by action. They have acted on our behalf and we, new denizens of an era that the Guardian called the Age of Responsibility, must stand by this stand of conscience. The right to convert is a right every bit as sacred as the right of free speech that we so often abuse and thus prove our own unworthiness of being free. We must rise up to a loyalty that wipes out criticism with pure soul power. Forgive me, God, but I lashed out with sarcasm at the hate mongers when I should have born it with the exemplary longanimity of the martyrs.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lost Years

Lost Years of Feedback, Part I; C.S. Lewis and Homosexuality

By John Taylor; 2007 Apr 25

Last night I improved the look of the Badi Blog, <> so check it out. Also, to my surprise, I accidentally discovered how you can conveniently look over the comments that other bloggers have been making over the past few years. Here I thought I was in a vacuum and all this time I was being read and written to. I had no idea. I feel like the lead penguin in the kid's film (which I nonetheless recommend highly to adults) called "Happy Feet." This penguin has a message for humanity but is put into a zoo enclosure where he is separated by reflective glass. He has no idea anybody is even there until he looks closely and discerns vague images of human beings. So it has been with me and the blogosphere.

Much of the commentary on the Badi Blog essays was spam. The machine spews out something complementary to be sure it has your attention, then casually, as if in passing, mentions some slimeball sponsor's website. After the fiftieth mechanical compliment you become jaded and suspicious of flattery, until you really do get something nice from a flesh and blood human being. Like this brief comment: "Thanks be to God for directing me to this blog--bless you!" No pitch, just that. This person must be real, she even left a name. Bless you back! Still, it seems that every time I mentioned finances in an essay, a spew of financial advice websites spammed me vigorously. The same happened with the word "migraine." Migraine seems to be an exception in that mixed in with the spam some real readers appear to have answered back, though I am still not entirely sure that it was not just an unusually clever spammer. If you are real, let me tell you this. Even if your drug of choice helps you for a while, you need to get to the cause of the problem. A chronic condition cannot be treated by the symptoms alone, your entire lifestyle has to be reformed, one atom at a time.

I went through the preferences and found that you can in fact block off most spammers by erecting a specially designed visual barrier. You will see this when you go on the blog and hit the comment button at the end of the daily essay. The default setting is to only allow other members of blogspot to comment, but I changed that so anybody can leave feedback. Give it a try and let me know if it works for you.

Going over the comments that were left, and desiring to respond to the writers directly, I noticed that most responders had set up empty blogs. Evidently they joined with the sole purpose of leaving comments on the millions of Blogspot blogs, rather than making their own blog. Fair enough, but none of them, as far as I can see, left a return email address. That means that the only way I can respond to their commentary is here, publicly, in this space. So, let us get to it.

Last year I made some critical comments about CS Lewis, a writer that I have never liked. This did not sit well with one reader, Alison Marshall, who wrote:

"You appear to have set up a straw man. You have not told us what Lewis says about monasticism. And you have not given any examples of what he says that leads to your conclusion that his faith has no social benefit."

I did not write what I did about Lewis in order to prove him a bad writer -- you do not get as prominent as he was without being very gifted -- but only to get my finger on why I get this clammy feeling all over whenever I come in contact with him. Often one is prejudiced by a popular caricature of a thinker, but with Lewis I have made a real effort to get beyond the shibboleths and confront his full fledged thinking. I did not like my first impression, nor what I saw upon close examination. I forced myself to read his books to the bitter end but afterwards I always want to take a long, hot bath.

Why do I get this strong reaction to a good man and a brilliant mind?

The answer was what I wrote back then; I re-warmed an old observation (it is made in the Qu'ran, to name but one source) that monasticism killed Christianity early on, and is still having a nefarious, insidious and often unnoticed influence on its theology. But you are right; I did not try to prove this rigorously.

As for CS Lewis's faith "having no social benefit," that is not what I was trying to say. His theology may be of benefit or it may not, but the point is that it has no reference to anything outside the individual's convictions, nor any deep concern for social reform. That is the negation of the very purpose of faith. Coincidentally, yesterday I came across what Martin Luther King (a Christian pastor himself) said on this: "Religion that ends in the individual, ends." Exactly. Faith's goal is social action. Take the Hidden Words, a very mystical book, it still begins and ends in very practical advice. And, as the Master pointed out, they contain many new principles not in religion before. A mysticism that isolates itself from context isolates itself from truth and ends in words ending in words, wasting readers’ time. That is why generally speaking the old, traditionalist creeds of which Lewis is the chief apologist are every bit as spiritually moribund as the fundamentalist lickspittles.

Going over the essays that attracted the most comments, I was a little surprised at how truculent I can be. Certainly, the angry essays are going to be the ones that arouse comment in the first place. Balance and nuance are the editorial writer's enemies. But still, I have a cutting tongue and should be careful. Several times last fall I mentioned certain malcontents and bitter fringe dwellers, and tried to refute their arguments. To my surprise they were answering me all the time in long, excruciating detail. In retrospect, I am relieved that I did not see what they were saying at the time, as the controversy would have been tedious and pointless. That glass wall protects the penguin as well as isolating him.

It is less surprising to see that my comments about homosexuality aroused comment. John Barnabas wrote, "Baha'is may remove the moral blame on homosexuals, but Baha'u'llah strongly condemns the act. This quotation is pretty strong stuff." He then cites a passage from the words of Baha'u'llah that are, as he says, very strong indeed. I will deal with that in detail presently. He goes on to say, "The big challenges for Baha'is are to adhere to this unequivocal ethic and to state it clearly in a world which is traveling rapidly in the opposite direction." Another reader, David Douglas, wrote:

"I am a member of the Baha'i Faith in Holland Michigan. The town is very conservative and ... has almost no visible gay community. Members of our local Baha'i community are wrestling with the issue of how to present the teaching of the Faith regarding homosexual behavior to the few seekers who have attended Baha'i Firesides and have asked about the Baha'i teachings on homosexuality. I appreciate your willingness to tackle this difficult subject.

"I would like to share the following observations. First that the Faith emphasizes unity: We are one human family, children of a common Creator. To me this means that it is a mistake (to) regard people who have a different sexual orientation as "other". People who identify themselves as gay should automatically without the slightest hesitation, be treated with the same unconditional love as our other family members. Second, we are admonished not to judge others, as you have pointed out. This means that we should never think of condemning people who identify themselves as homosexual.

"Baha'is who are flagrantly violating the laws against homosexual behavior may be subject to sanctions from the Local Spiritual Assembly -- but as individuals our attitude needs to be loving and supportive. Third, it is clear that Baha'is should not expect people who are not members of the Baha'i faith to follow the laws of the faith. It is not our business to try to force or compel others to follow the Baha'i teachings. Ours is the duty to share our Faith with those who are open to it. If people inquire about the Baha'i views on homosexual behavior, I think that is important to tell them the teachings in context of the above three principles."

Both of these writers state the standard Baha'i position clearly and well. I only would add that we should not forget that homosexuality has become politicized and is now the spearhead of a secularist attack on God, religion and religious values. Consider what Baha'u'llah says in the strong statement mentioned earlier:

"Ye are forbidden to commit adultery, sodomy and lechery. Avoid them, O concourse of the faithful. By the righteousness of God! Ye have been called into being to purge the world from the defilement of evil passions. This is what the Lord of all mankind hath enjoined upon you, could ye but perceive it. He who relateth himself to the All-Merciful and committeth satanic deeds, verily he is not of Me. Unto this beareth witness every atom, pebble, tree and fruit, and beyond them this ever-proclaiming, truthful and trustworthy Tongue." (cited in a letter dated 11 September 1995 from the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly)

Let me repeat: God says we were called into being for the express purpose of purifying the world from "the defilement of evil passions." We were designed for it. Mind, soul, body, all were built for higher desire to rule over the lower, be it deviant or legitimate, straight or gay, kinky or ascetic. No matter what, the animal's urge to purge must be controlled and made into a positive force for good.

We are challenged by this, not only by non-Baha'is asking about the Faith but as part of our own search for truth. We need somehow to be very clear in our own minds why debauchery is such a bad thing. Can you say quickly why it threatens the very survival of the human race? Are you clear on exactly why the Guardian says it is "against nature"? Most of the time I cannot, which is why I write about this topic so often and at length. My goal is, like the Rabbi, to sum it up while standing on one foot. I cannot do it now but hope to one day.

Next time we will go over more comments that came in over the three or four years of the Badi' Blog.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Branded an Enemy

Branded an Enemy

By John Taylor; 2007 Apr 24

The latest news (not to do directly with Baha'i) coming out of Iran is very telling. A Supreme Court ruling just overturned a lower court conviction of some street thugs who killed several people on suspicion of immorality. For example, one man was killed for the sin of walking in public with his wife. For shame! But at least his avenger was exonerated by the highest court in the land. In effect, the law now says that you do not even have to be guilty of the Mullocracy's flimsy definition of immorality, you just have to be suspected of being such. Since anybody can be suspected of anything, it is now legal, in effect, to murder anybody you please and then later claim they were suspect of turpitude. How confident the Mullocracy must be in their popularity! Correct me if I am wrong, but are they not thumbing their nose at the firestorm? Now that they have figured out how to subvert a constitutional democracy with the same aplomb that they subverted the Shahs, they think they can now throw out the law books without even a pretense of legality. Are they as impervious as they think they are?

I was shaken by this news item and in my daily review of my life (Baha'is must take themselves into account before God on a regular basis) I lately have felt moved to look into the persecution of the Baha'is in Iran and try to feature their plight on this blog more than in the past.

After an elementary Google search, I came across this video, from a 1983 broadcast of the American television news program, 20/20. Check it out:


It is depressing to think that is nigh on twenty five years since that expose was broadcast and today the same benighted cabal of fanatics are still in power, still plotting, killing and spreading lies and terror around the world. As the introductory material says, the Ayatollah came back to Iran with the express intention of wiping out the Baha'is completely from its native soil, and his successors are still just as intent on carrying that out that plan. Depressing to think that they do what is portrayed in this broadcast, scrawl in black letters on the legs and arms of the stricken bodies of Baha'i martyrs phrases like, "Enemy to Islam."

Here is proof that they are complete strangers to independent thought.

If they paused to think, the question would arise: who is the real enemy of Islam? Is it a non-violent Baha'i or a bloodthirsty bigot who desecrates human bodies in order to make his points? His Holiness Muhammad is surely ashamed of these prigs and the blot to His name that they constitute. It is infuriating that they get away with this. If the person next to you drops dead and you carry the body across the room, you are liable to be charged with desecrating a human body, but in this regime killing Baha'is and desecrating their bodies catapulted at least one Mullah to the highest office in the land, the presidency of Iran.

Then there are the interviews in this broadcast with the Mullah representing Iran at the United Nations. The reporter asks if it is true that the family members of Baha'i martyrs were forced to pay for the bullets. The thug's smug answer is that if Baha'is had to pay, then probably so do the families of all the other victims of this regime. He does not even trouble himself to think about checking his facts. When you manufacture your own reality for yourself what need is there to check into anything outside your own head? Oh, where is Stephen Colbert when you need him? What fun it would be if he gave the interview!

Mullah: Nobody is being killed in Iran because of religion. The Baha'i Faith is not a religion. It is a political movement with ties to Zionism. They are agents of Israel and are being shot for spying on Iran.

Colbert: That makes it alright then. I am so relieved. When your head of state and most of your parliament go around wearing turbans and clerical garb, it is a relief to know that the Baha'is at least are not religious. You should definitely kill them before people start thinking that political people should act non-violently. And without violence and bloodshed how would politics ever compete with wars and natural disasters for the world's attention? Let me tell you that I really admire what you are doing, for religion, for politics, for truth. By the way, what evidence do you have that Baha'is are spies?

Mullah: They have buildings and land in Israel. They donate money for their upkeep.

Colbert: Yeah, right. And when Muslims give money for the upkeep of the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem the difference is that...

Mullah: That is a holy place. The places Muslims support are holy but the Baha'i places are not holy, they are political. There is a difference between a holy spot and a cesspool of Zionist plots.

Colbert: Exactly. If you are going to kill somebody for their religion, you should at least do it for a good reason. And if you have any doubts, why not write it all over their cold, dead bodies? But never kill them for religious reasons. That would be wrong. You should just kill them for not being a religion. And for giving money for their suspicious "non-holy place" upkeep. You have got be fair and impartial and I think we have shown here who is the pot calling whom black. Am I right or am I right?

Monday, April 23, 2007


Ridvan Deviance Challenge

By John Taylor; 2007 Apr 23

 This year the Universal House of Justice has seen fit to make the 2007 Ridvan Message available to the entire Baha'i community at the beginning of the Greatest Festival rather than waiting for it to filter down from the National Conventions. As for its contents, continuing their tendency of the past couple of years, the Ridvan Message no longer makes any attempt to serve as an annual report. There is no detailed retrospective or even much of a summary of the accomplishments of the Baha'i world over the past year. The magnifying glass is still squarely on the advance of the institute and cluster process, which, the House asserts, is bringing results wherever regions apply it in a "coherent" manner. In its conclusion the message punches down to the chief thing that we all need to be thinking about which is not surprisingly teaching:

 "With so firm a foundation in place, the foremost thought in the mind of each and every believer should be teaching."

 They end the message with these inspiring, not to say daunting, words:

 "We look with expectant eyes to the day when teaching is the dominating passion in the life of every believer and when the unity of the community is so strong as to enable this state of enkindlement to express itself in unremitting action in the field of service. This, then, is our ardent hope for you and the object of our most fervent prayers at the Sacred Threshold."

 Before this they do give a nod to the deteriorating condition of the world, though as always with our response to it squarely in mind.

 "... What all must acknowledge, irrespective of circumstance, are both the crying need of a humanity that, bereft of spiritual sustenance, is sinking deeper into despair and the urgency of the responsibility to teach with which we each have been entrusted as members of the community of the Greatest Name."

 Teaching the Baha'i Faith on the personal level calls into motion all the skills which I, as a shy, isolated writer, tend to be worst at. Then I married a spouse who is even more shy than I am. This cross I must bear. I did have a friend who was attracted to the Faith and almost declared a few weeks ago, but then his on-again off-again girlfriend came back and that was the end for now. Teaching the faith simply does not happen if you do not continually make new friends, and that is harder for some of us than others.

 Much of our teaching as a family should be through our children's contacts, but one of our children is painfully shy and refuses to open her mouth before friend and stranger alike, and the other now that the warm weather has set in just disappears with the little neighborhood urchins and only returns when it is too dark to see. I do not discourage this, since these days the electronic media are so attractive that a concerned parent is only too happy to see the nippers spending time outdoors. In fact, today is the first day of "screen-free" week at our children's school. Both kids came home on Friday with a brochure entitled: "Take the Pause to Play Family Challenge."

 This little handout we Baha'is, as well as activists outside the Faith, would do well to emulate. Instead of browbeating, patronizing or affronting families with their lazy, sedentary couch-potato lives, this "Pause to Play" just throws down a non-confrontational challenge. They must endure one week without screens, "For one week in April we challenge you and your family to turn off your TV, video games and computers."

 On the front cover of the brochure is a frame of a television screen where the young ones are encouraged to draw in the physical activities they do this week instead of sucking on the glass teat. On the second page is a chart to put a check into for each day detailing whether they were 100 percent screen free, or spent 1 hour or less using screens, or one hour or more, as well as the number of minutes they were active. They make an exception for homework done on the computer. Now that his initial enthusiasm for music is flagging, Thomas tried to wiggle the piano into the challenge, since it undeniably has a little LCD screen. We had to be very firm that piano practice counts as a homework exception too.

 These goals do not seem all that hard, especially for our kids, who already have no broadcast television or video games, and are limited to an hour or less on the computer and Internet. Not only that, they have to earn this time by doing their piano practice first, and reading a certain amount aloud to myself or Marie. Unless and until that is done, no computer or movies. That was the only way, I found, not to have reading and music squeezed out of the day entirely.

 As for myself, I try to limit my screen time as much as I can, though since I got high speed Internet a few weeks ago, this has become much harder. How people find time to squeeze in television as well and still have a life, I do not understand.

 Now that, for health reasons, I spend several hours in physical activity each day, my reading time, the heart of everything for a writer, has been severely curtailed. I read before bed, but often I am too tired from all that activity and just drop right off without cracking a book. I try to make up for the lack of intellectual stimulation by listening to spoken books as I exercise, but the choice of material is unfortunately narrow. I look forward to the time when my computer's robotic reading voice is improved and sounds less metallic, more natural. Then I will be able to listen to things like the Baha'i writings (I know, there are Baha'i spoken books, but they are not read by professional actors as are mass market audio books).

 Not reading so much, I find it hard to keep up my writing output to the furious pace I kept only a few months ago. But the feeling of health makes up for my inadequacy as a writer. Physically, I feel like I am walking on air, but professionally, I feel like I am standing at the bottom of Niagara Falls with the waters of failure crushing me flat. A healthy body walks in the front door and my muse walks out the back.

 On some days I get too busy to exercise, especially when we drive into town. When I miss activity for as little as one day, though, my body tells me loud and clear now. It talks to me. I seem to hear it say, "I have rights too. Why did you not use me today? What am I, putty?" Yeah, I get sarcasm from it. Before it went over my head, but now I have ears that can hear. At first I laughed at this seemingly ridiculous thought that a mere body can have human rights, but I am coming around.

 On the other hand, the Muse has rights too. What I really need is a "writer's challenge brochure" in which to check the things I need to do to be healthy and creative, and teach the Cause, all at the same time.

 Another time sink threatening my reading of books is the huge and ever mounting pile of surplus newspapers and magazines left over from my father's many subscriptions. He now has a veteran's pension as well as his senior's pensions, and spends all his disposable income, it seems, on science magazines, all of which are passed on to me after he has read them. I have an awful time keeping up: the information explosion is a daily, palpable reality.

 One thing I came across last night in my overdose of science magazines seems relevant to the planned teaching effort combined with personal initiatives that the House (following Abdu'l-Baha) is encouraging us to do. It is from a review of a book by a medical journalist, Atul Gawande, called Better. This collects together all the good things that the cream of the medical profession are accomplishing, everything from miraculous battlefield surgery to the designers of hand washing campaigns at home. These chosen few innovators, whom Gawande calls "positive deviants," all seem to follow to a tee the practices that the Baha'i life teaches, especially our daily taking of the self into account,

 "The elements of their success, he tells us, boil down to key personal strengths, diligence, moral integrity, willingness to acknowledge failure, and ingenuity in seeking solutions. This includes carefully tracking the details of their own performance, since only by measuring outcomes can they later analyze which approaches work and which do not." (Tony Dajer, "Reviews," Discover, May, 2007, p. 68)

 This is why I look forward to the day when we can plug all our daily data flow into a single source, and have it visually go over everything that we have done in the past day, week, month, and so forth, as we take ourselves into account. Imagine how much more effective we would be as Baha'is and as "positive deviant" world citizens.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Prayer to End Violence

Prayer to End Violence

By John Taylor; 2007 Apr 19

When I entitle this essay a "prayer to end violence" it does not mean that I am about to write a prayer. I only wish to make the point that prayer itself is the first step to ending violence.  Prayer in and of itself constitutes an end to violence. Prayer is an act of love making; it begins and ends in peace. If it fails in this, it is not prayer.

The first way that prayer ends violence is by ending the violence we do to ourselves. Nobody can defend you against your own violence, not even God, unless you ask Him. Depression is a serious clinical condition, and it has become pandemic. Materialistic society has forgotten the power of prayer. Instead of praying for peace, it is reflex action when confronted with a dilemma to pop a pill. The problem with medication is that it attacks only one physical symptom of a universal, existential condition. Only prayer can confer comprehensive peace. The Guardian gave the following advice to someone with a depressive illness,

"He was very sorry to hear of the condition of your dear sister. He would advise her to turn her thoughts determinedly and intelligently -- by that I mean unemotionally -- to God, realizing that He is forgiving, that in one moment He can, through His Blessed Mercy, take away our sense of failure and help us to do better in the future -- if we sincerely wish to; to turn to Him in prayer and seek to draw closer to Him; and to accept His Will and submit her own desires and opinions to His Wish and plan for her.  There is a tremendous darkness in the world today, the darkness caused by mankind's going against the Laws of God and giving way to the animal side of human nature. People must recognize this fact, and consciously struggle against pessimism and depression." (From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, July 14, 1945, in Lights of Guidance, pp. 115-116)

Yes! We must "consciously struggle against pessimism and depression." Prayer is not a last resort, it is the main weapon we have in a battle we are fighting against negativity. In the peaceful respite from struggle that is our daily prayer we can plan out our strategies of the day for fighting the forces of negativity. For when the Guardian said that prayer for happiness is "unemotional," I think he was speaking of the objective state of detachment that is the prayerful attitude. He did not mean to say that God is uncaring. He is caring, He is the reverse of value neutral. To pray is to say "Yes!" to life, and to revere life along with our creator. It is to declare in your heart,

"But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives." (Job 19:25-27, WEB)

Prayer, every bit as much as pill popping, is highly addictive. But unlike chemicals, it does not have ill aftereffects or unexpected side effects when taken in combination with other therapies. Unlike chemicals, we were designed for prayer, not only our souls but, in a strange way, our bodies too. In my youth I recall being shocked by a young Baha'i bride who frankly compared prayer to sex. She said, the afterglow of sexual climax lasts but a few minutes but a good prayer can last hours and even days. If the prayer is pure enough, it can last a lifetime, it can change things without restriction of time and space.

To pray is to declare war on war. To pray is to serve notice to Satan, to that shadowy lurker that I have been calling Adolph Nobody, that we will no longer abide by him. The more I look at the state of the world, the more I care about what happens to us all, the more I learn to hate this guy. Adolph is the author of the tragedy of the commons, the tendency to neglect and shamelessly exploit whatever is a bounty given to us all, like the air, the water and the earth. Neglect is a form of abuse, and the thing we neglect the most is prayer. The atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who knew neglect of prayer as well as anybody, famously said,

"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." (Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism 146)

No pious believer could ever explain better than this atheist did why prayer is absolutely necessary, and why the World Redeemer makes it obligatory on us all, every day. If you look exclusively into the outer nothingness of this world, nothingness will reflect back into whom you are. Your nature and not just your circumstances will become inherently violent. This is the reverse of what happens in the state of prayer,

"Whensoever the light of Manifestation of the King of Oneness settleth upon the throne of the heart and soul, His shining becometh visible in every limb and member. At that time the mystery of the famed tradition gleameth out of the darkness: `A servant is drawn unto Me in prayer until I answer him; and when I have answered him, I become the ear wherewith he heareth...' For thus the Master of the house hath appeared within His home, and all the pillars of the dwelling are ashine with His light." (Baha'u'llah, Seven Valleys, 22)

There are several steps to prayer, each of which is designed to end the hegemony of violence and upraise the Most Great Peace in the heart. As Jesus Christ taught, it starts in firm belief, proceeds to imagining the end result, and at last it all is consummated in action. If hard feelings for any of God's creatures intrude at any point, the prayer is nullified, for in that case it would not be a prayer to end violence.

"Therefore I tell you, all things whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them. Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father, who is in heaven, may also forgive you your transgressions. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your transgressions." (Mark 11:24-26, WEB)

Prayer, as the Master said, is the "sweetest state in the world of existence." It is a sublime blessing to find a lull in this hectic world, a haven in the eye of the hurricane to revive the soul for a brief time. It is so sweet that methinks I can see how it that His near ones pray for greater afflictions, for the wilder the storm, the more blessed the pause. It matters nothing whether the state of prayer lasts a second or an hour, the blessing comes of being caught up in pure thoughts of peace, love and forgiveness. Consider this story that Lady Blomfield told about a "notoriously bad man, calling himself a Christian" who was living in the Holy Land in the time of Abdu'l-Baha. This fellow was on his death bed, and as often happens, he prayed for the first time, perhaps the first time ever for him. His thoughts rose above his own selfish concerns and, sitting in the eye of the hurricane, he saw others for the first time. He saw that the terrible repayment of his sins would soon, after his death, be visited on his wife. So he called for Abdu'l-Baha to come to his bedside. He begged him,

"O Master, I have been a wicked man. Forgive me all my sins and mistakes and help me, I pray; my wife will be so alone, my family will oppress her, and if not prevented, will rob her of all her sustenance. I beg of you, Master, to protect her and guide her when I am gone."

Lady Blomfield goes on to say that, "The promise was given -- the man died in peace, his mind at rest, knowing that his poor wife would be helped and protected." (Lady Blomfield, The Chosen Highway, 101) In this case, even in this world that bad man's prayer was answered, it gave him a measure of peace knowing that his pure wish had been interceded for by the integrity of the Mystery of God.

There is a special power, no doubt, in deathbed prayers. They cannot be faked or diluted. At the point of death multiple, complex worldly motivations are washed away and all that is left must be pure, simple and unadulterated. Later, when Abdu'l-Baha had just arrived in Jim Crow Washington, He recalled before a church congregation the dying wish of Jesus Christ Himself, which was a prayer for forgiveness.

"Therefore, all of you must strive with heart and soul in order that enmity may disappear entirely and that strife and hatred pass away absolutely from the midst of the human world. You must listen to the admonition of this Spirit of Truth. You must follow the example and footprints of Jesus Christ. Read the Gospels. Jesus Christ was mercy itself, was love itself. He even prayed in behalf of His executioners -- for those who crucified Him -- saying, `Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.' If they knew what they were doing, they would not have done it. Consider how kind Jesus Christ was, that even upon the cross He prayed for His oppressors. We must follow His example. We must emulate the Prophets of God. We must follow Jesus Christ. We must free ourselves from all these imitations which are the source of darkness in the world." (Promulgation, 41)

All this is prelude to a little prayer of visitation that I came across this morning. It struck me that this supplication, revealed by Baha'u'llah for His wife Navvab, the Greatest Holy Leaf, and for those who visit her grave in Haifa, is a supreme prayer for forgiveness. May God accept this prayer of us all, even from those who like me have not yet had the bounty of visiting that holy locale.

"May God have mercy upon him that draweth nigh unto thee, and remembereth thee through the things which My Pen hath voiced in this, the most great station. We pray God that He may forgive us, and forgive them that have turned unto thee, and grant their desires, and bestow upon them, through His wondrous grace, whatever be their wish. He, verily, is the Bountiful, the Generous. Praise be to God, He Who is the Desire of all worlds; and the Beloved of all who recognize Him." (Baha'u'llah, in Shoghi Effendi, Messages to America, 35)