Thursday, May 31, 2007


Sylvan, or Authority

By John Taylor; 2007 May 31

My friend and brother in the Faith, Sylvan, raised some questions about the comparative authority of the respective Central Figures and Institutions. I replied:

"Certainly there is an equal authority among them but there is a big difference between the Creative Word of God, and an authoritative pronouncement upon it; the latter is derivative in its infallibility. For instance, there is a clear protocol to be followed in the order of the (writing of the Central) figures, as you know, in Baha'i Canada and other such publications."

Sylvan gave the following response:

"The phrase 'derivative in its authority' is confusing... The authority associated with infallibility is the same whether the UHJ or Baha'u'llah wrote it, as you indicated. Then, why your reference to the term `derivative?' Is there such a term in the Writings?"

I looked and found no use of the term "derivative" in this context in the Writings. I used the word to describe the dependent position of latter institutions as opposed to the supreme and original Authority of the Word and Spirit of Baha'u'llah. The House does use the word "extension," however.

"In the Baha'i Faith there are two authoritative centres appointed to which the believers must turn, for in reality the Interpreter of the Word is an extension of that centre which is the Word itself. The Book is the record of the utterance of Baha'u'llah, while the divinely inspired Interpreter is the living Mouth of that Book -- it is He and He alone who can authoritatively state what the Book means. Thus one centre is the Book with its Interpreter, and the other is the Universal House of Justice guided by God to decide on whatever is not explicitly revealed in the Book." (letter, 7 December 1967, Universal House of Justice to an individual believer)

Sylvan: "What are the implications (of derivative)? It seems to give the false impression that UHJ pronouncements have 'less' authority which is certainly not the case. Both are to be equally obeyed. In fact whosoever has disobeyed the House has disobeyed God (Will and Testament of Abdul-Baha)."

Now that I think of it, a case could be made that the latter institutions, as opposed to the Central Figures, have *more* authority. This would be the case if we considered the shade of meaning between the words "power" and "authority." The American Heritage Dictionary offers several definitions of authority, some of which are synonymous with power. However the second definition says that authority is "power assigned to another; authorization: Deputies were given authority to make arrests." For example, a crook or a lynch mob may have the power to hang me on a tree but only the state, carrying out duly established laws of capital punishment, has the authority to do that.

In this sense, the creative Word of God would have power, while the current leadership would have (mostly) authority. The enactment of the laws of the Aqdas is explicitly and in writing delegated to the Administrative Order. But this delegation is narrowly defined; it is not Carte Blanche. Some secular institutions have the authority to define the limits of their own authority; the House of Justice (vis-à-vis the text) most emphatically does not. It must follow Baha'u'llah's lead in everything He says. The House is free to rule only in matters not explicitly mentioned in the Text, as you well know. They have tons of authority but less independent power. On the other hand, the very concept of authority implies that it is the duty of the one who wields authority, not those under it, to decide the bounds of its own control. The Guardian wrote,

"...It is not for individual believers to limit the sphere of the Guardian's authority, or to judge when they have to obey the Guardian and when they are free to reject his judgment. Such an attitude would evidently lead to confusion and to schism. The Guardian being the appointed interpreter of the Teachings, it is his responsibility to state what matters which, affecting the interests of the Faith, demand on the part of the believers complete and unqualified obedience to his instructions." (Shoghi Effendi, quoted in, Universal House of Justice, 1977 Aug 22, Clarification on Infallibility)

In order to have authority, the balance must do the measuring, not the object being weighed. Each level is a balance in itself, but each lower balance is in turn set onto another, higher and greater Balance:

"Say: This is the infallible Balance which the Hand of God is holding, in which all who are in the heavens and all who are on the earth are weighed, and their fate determined, if ye be of them that believe and recognize this truth." (Aqdas, para 183, p. 85)

Sylvan: "If you could also elucidate more fully what you mean by 'big difference' that would be useful."

I will try to be brief here. I call it a big difference because when we talk about power, this is a major spiritual principle of the Faith, the Power of the Holy Spirit. God's creative Spirit has all power over the heart; meanwhile Baha'u'llah clearly delegates authority over outward actions to the powers that be. But notice that the Master gave this principle the name He did for a reason. He did not call it the "Authority of the Holy Spirit." That is because authority refers to questions like, "What am I going to do right now?", "How do I carry out the Will of God for me here, today?" Such questions of authority involve current deliberation, the sphere with the greatest potential for divisions and splits.

True, if someone tries they could easily go through the Seven Valleys and argue, split hairs and create sects based upon purely theoretical issues. But in practice the potential for disagreement is orders of magnitude greater when you get into questions of how and when to apply the laws and deciding what to do next. This could be called the political aspect of religion. If religion bogs down in its own internal politics, it loses its spiritual power to influence the hearts. This is why Baha'u'llah repeatedly says that God wants only our heart, and authorizes leaders and other authorities (such as scientists) to reap the outward benefits of religion's fruit: purified hearts.

In order to freely and effectively apply the principle of the Power of the Holy Spirit, final authority over "religio-political" issues must firmly rest in the hands of a current, authorized, living, responsive institution. They have authority, but they also have a mandate not to get in the way of the principle of Power of the Holy Spirit. The latter principle demands that power rest in the hands of an Entity that by definition cannot be grasped, much less institutionalized or legislated upon. If the House ever tried to interfere with that, God forbid, they would cease even to be Baha'is, for a Baha'i is, by definition, someone who believes in the Holy Spirit. The Master went so far as to state that the Holy Spirit is "infallible" in its own sphere,

"But the bounty of the Holy Spirit gives the true method of comprehension which is infallible and indubitable. This is through the help of the Holy Spirit which comes to man, and this is the condition in which certainty can alone be attained." (Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, 298)

Again, none of this is difficult to understand if you talk about just individuals. The great difficulty arises when you try to factor in the mind-numbing complexities of group interaction. Power concerns collective matters, unity, our ability to move and act together. Here political power starts to resemble the force of nature we call electric power. Which raises the question, "What is power?" The Wiki article on politics defines it thus:

"Power is a concept that is central to politics. Max Weber defined power as the ability to impose one's will `even in the face of opposition from others,' while Hannah Arendt states that `political power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert.' Many different views of political power have been proposed."

The Baha'i view of political power is that it is a form of energy, a mover of the universe, like love. How our energy interacts with light and matter (E=MC2) is, I think, explained by that word I have been exploring over the past few weeks, polity. Polity, like Einstein’s famous equation, describes a consultatively derived mix of the best of several fundamental elements.

This understanding of power explains why it would be mistaken to say that the Spirit has power but no authority over our lives -- the very word "authority" comes from the Latin "Auctor," for creator. God is the Ultimate Creator and all is under His Thumb. But the problem is that the heart is inscrutable. Politicians, scientists, even the self have no infallible knowledge or control over the mysterious leanings of the human heart.

The power and authority of God, the principle of the Power of the Holy Spirit, rules exclusively over the heart and mind of the individual. Only the infallible Holy Spirit dwells here, and it is up to us to give up our power to the Spirit, the only thing that is remotely qualified for rule here. Our renunciation of our power unleashes the energy of personal poverty,

"Astonishment here is highly prized, and utter poverty essential. Wherefore hath it been said, `Poverty is My pride.' And again: `God hath a people beneath the dome of glory, whom He hideth in the clothing of radiant poverty." These are they who see with His eyes, hear with His ears..." (Four Valleys, 62)

Energy radiates out from the individual who arises to do the bidding of God; it determines belief, decides the amount donated to the fund, who to vote for, prayer, and so forth. No institution can or should meddle in such matters. This is the lowest but most fundamental element of the Polity of Baha'u'llah.

Sylvan: "What do you think Abdul-Baha meant when he said this about the pronouncements of the UHJ: `Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself.'"

Again, authority but not power; as the Wiki says, "`Power' refers to the ability to achieve certain ends, 'authority' refers to the legitimacy, justification and right to exercise that power." Let me in turn ask you a question: if you or I were to travel to another planet orbiting another star and became involved with a civilization of intelligent beings there, who would you obey, Baha'u'llah or Whoever is the current Manifestation of God for them? In my opinion, you would have to submit to the latter. In other words, there is a chain or hierarchy of power and authority going down from God, to Baha'u'llah, to the Master, the Guardian, and to the House of Justice. Each has its limit, and each, even that of God, is conditioned by justice. Each is the scales or standard for all below. Baha'u'llah explains it thus,

"He doth verily incarnate the highest, the infallible standard of justice unto all creation." (Gl 175)


Wednesday, May 30, 2007


A Moderate Ascension

By John Taylor; 2007 May

In response to the most recent installment of the Badi list, The Ruhi Thing, reader Jean sent a note on advertising the Ruhi thing, saying that it has been well done at:


As the title indicated, I have a thing about the Ruhi thing, so it will be a while before I get up the gumption to review these videos but I trust that Jean would not steer me wrong, so I share this with you un-reviewed.

I attended a deepening on protection of the Faith on Monday night given to the Niagara Cluster by Joe Woods. One of the organizers of the series, Nancie, sent out such an enthusiastic promotional email that I could not stay away, though it is quite a drive from Dunnville to St. Catherines. Fortunately, I picked up Peter in Smithville on the way and he showed me a quicker route. Here is what Nancie wrote:

"He (Joe) is such an inspiration - having committed to memory tons of passages from the Writings that he weaves into his conversation in such a natural way. To be able to hear and consider the meaning of instant phrases and passages that he can so easily insert into everything he says is truly remarkable and a wonderful example of how the Writings can influence our thoughts and discussions if only we can remember them at the appropriate times!"

"When asked about his technique for memorizing, he said that what he does is to pick out what verse he wants to concentrate on the night before and when he wakes up he reads it and then writes it out long-hand three times that morning and again 3 times that evening before bed. Then he repeats this until he has it memorized, and then he looks for the first opportunity to use it in his next talk or discussion so that it enters his long term memory bank. He continues to periodically look for opportunities to keep using it as he adds new quotes to his repertoire."

I cite Nancie's promo in full here because this is a memorizing technique that actually works. I had been slaving over my own list of quotes-to-memorize for most of that day. I had tried for the longest time to memorize them as laid out in my outliner Maxthink's display, without much to show for my efforts. So all day long I had gone through the long, tedious process of converting each citation from ASCII to PowerPoint format in hopes that projecting the Holy Writ on the inside wall of my garage door might make them more accessible and easy to read aloud and remember. In any case, it should be good practice combining the laptop and video projector, something I will have to do if my multimedia curse lifts and I ever start giving illustrated talks.

I arrived home late and, having no alarm clock available, slept through until quarter to four, too late to go to our local Ascension of Baha'u'llah commemoration but not too late to say the Visitation Tablet on my own. It turned out to be a wonderful if solitary experience. This prayer is my favoritest prayer in the whole world and not for over ten years, since we moved to Dunnville, have I had the chance to read it aloud. That night, all alone, I did. Before, when I was in a much larger community I was almost always chosen to read it in English, while a Persian was chosen read it in Arabic. But here, in spite of repeated hints and even eventually open pleading, I have never once had the bounty of reading it. Instead I had to listen to others stumble over unfamiliar territory and mispronounce words while I silently, excruciatingly, tore out every hair on my head. I feel like Nicolo Peganini might have if he were forced to listen to a full concert by a violin student of three months experience. I love this Tablet and have it practically memorized. Its words should be read so as to move the listener to tears. But at least this year, for me alone, I moved myself to tears.

On our Holy Day we were planning an excursion to Port Colbourne when my brother Bob phoned to say he was coming on one of his rare and brief visits. He took Grandpa and the rest of us over to Grand Island for a fish dinner. The kids were fascinated to hear about his treasure hunting, and he explained to an avid Silvie how to pan for gold and how he has been walking the beaches of Florida with his metal detector, picking out of the sand bottle caps and the occasional bit of lost jewelry. He has also been getting into birding, photographing birds, insects and other wildlife. He showed us on his laptop scads of shots taken in Texas of gators and squirrels ("Sandy!" the kids shouted, remembering the Texan squirrel in Spongebob Squarepants). I was interested to try out his expensive camera; it was the first time I have had the chance to put a digital SLR through its paces, and it was smooth, much quicker, more responsive and produced nicer pictures than my El Cheapo special. I was suitably envious, if it is ever suitable to evince one of the seven deadly sins.

I was tired from the driving I had done the night before and disinclined to go out but the kids for once dragged me out (instead of the other way around) on a walk to the library. Thomas chose no fewer than five Spongebob Squarepants videos, and Silvie concentrated on the Disney Cinderella films. On the way back we stopped by the Youth Outreach Center, where a talk was in progress by a local Dunnville High School student and Dr Reza Kazemi. Reza is an Iranian of Muslim background (but not belief) who has become something of an activist on behalf of the world's underprivileged masses. He and his wife, Barbara, are Marie and the kids' family physicians. I had heard his spiel about his trip to India where he found out how farm subsidies in rich countries are artificially depressing the prices of staples in the Third World, crushing the hopes and dreams of poor farmers. But this time, it was different.

The Powerpoint presentation was mostly given by the student, which was part of her duties on the student program that Reza is running. I did not catch her name, so we can call her Sally. Sally told how the good doctor had taken her and a group of other students to a tiny Mayan village in Mexico on a two week long literacy program. They lived with the Mayans and during the day paired off with two or three aboriginals to teach them how to read. How they got around the triple language barrier I am not too clear on, but they seem to have made some progress.

Prompted by Reza, the taciturn and almost inaudible Sally told how the short trip changed her life permanently. She saw how people with almost zero opportunity and no purchasing power are much, much happier than anybody around here. They get up in the morning cheerful and work all day long while singing a happy song. When she got back here Sally was hit hard by culture shock. Everybody swears and is grumpy, and though we have a thousand times the opportunities that these aboriginals will ever have, we care nothing about that and fritter our lives away in petty squabbling and idle pleasure seeking.

Reza told how every student on this program (the name of it also escaped me) who takes the trip down to Mexico immediately afterwards raises his or her marks by an average of 15 to 20 percent. They see with their own eyes that what we get handed to us on a platter is beyond the wildest dreams of most of the world's population. It is one thing to say, "Eat your veggies, others are starving," and another to go down and see people who have nothing to eat. Well, not nothing, but as their pictures show, the villagers are malnourished. They eat nothing but corn and as a result a grade 12 student there is as tall as a grade 3 student here. But spiritually and socially, they are far more advanced than we are. We are willing chattel for the bribery of the corporate machine, they live fulfilled, productive lives, and their waste, their ecological footprint, is practically nil. In other words, Ruhiyyih Khanum was right, the native peoples are way ahead of us, which is why the teaching of the Faith does so well there, and not here. Even the study circle method -- what I have been railing about as inappropriate here -- is perfectly suited to these villages. The photos and descriptions of the literacy program these students went through with the Mayans look for all the world like a Ruhi circle thing.

Just as the Mayan villagers are physically stunted, we are intellectually stunted. I can see that now. For the past few weeks I have been enthusiastically learning and discussing the word "polity." Polity describes everything we are missing out on with our insane preoccupation with materialism and individualism. For the villager, all this analysis would seem laughably simplistic. Of course you give it up for the whole, and the whole gives it up for the individual. They do that all day long, and are all the happier for it. We are miserable, all the while wallowing in waste, wealth and opportunity.

As if to reinforce that point, yesterday the first issue of my new subscription to World Order arrived. (I have decided to spend more money on Baha'i publications, as opposed to technical gadgets like my brother's Nikon, and this and Brilliant Star were the first periodicals I chose) The lead editorial, "Civility, Society and Individual Freedom" (WO, 2006, Vol. 37, No.4) is a very similar essay to my recent blog entries on polity, except that instead of polity they focus in on the word "civility." They point out that civility is not a synonym for courtesy, it is broader, implying full participation in the social order around you -- in other words, the typical virtues of a Mayan villager, the almost forgotten virtues of anybody in a developed country. They cite part of the following letter from the Guardian to the British believers explaining why Baha'is, in spite of the centrality of peace in our ideals, are not full-blown pacifists:

"With reference to the absolute pacifists, or conscientious objectors to war; their attitude, judged from the Baha'i standpoint, is quite anti-social and due to its exaltation of the individual conscience leads inevitably to disorder and chaos in society. Extreme pacifists are thus very close to the anarchists, in the sense that both these groups lay an undue emphasis on the rights and merits of the individual. The Baha'i conception of social life is essentially based on the principle of the subordination of the individual will to that of society. It neither suppresses the individual nor does it exalt him to the point of making him an anti-social creature, a menace to society. As in everything it follows the 'golden mean'. The only way that society can function is for the minority to follow the will of the majority." (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, 435-436)

So, as the Guardian states, the rule of moderation in all things applies to our social involvement. Could it be that aboriginals are too social? Certainly it would be hard to attain a high level of education staying in a group all day long, laughing, working and singing, the way they seem to do. In that case the cut directed at Aristotle could also come at us Baha'is. Aristotle got an early reputation as the supreme philosopher of the golden mean. Everything for him was enough, not too much or too little. Finally, perhaps inevitably, his detractors started accusing him of being "immoderate in his moderation." Still, we cannot go far wrong in following the discoveries of the fellow who most agree is the most intelligent man in history.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

My Ruhi Thing

My Thing about the Ruhi Thing

By John Taylor; 2007 May 27

Strange that with such emphasis by the central institutions of the Faith on the series of study programs set up and organized by the Ruhi Institute, that it has so little promotion and advertising. By advertising I do not mean commercials on television, just some sort of easily accessible introduction, either a short promo or even an inspirational speaker, anything to gently encourage Baha'is and their friends to dip in their feet. I often mention this idea to those I meet who are involved in the Administration, and all agree that there is need. I thought of making something up myself, perhaps a slide presentation with photos and anecdotes of Ruhi participants. A classified advertisement appeared in the back of a recent Baha'i Canada asking for personal stories about Ruhi Study Circles. I replied to it by email, saying that I was thinking of making up a presentation on Ruhi and asking them to share any stories that are sent in to them. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of calling it Ruhi; evidently calling a spade a spade is a no-no. Here is the reply I got,

 Dear Friend,

 Thank you for your email message of 15 May 2007 regarding stories you are requesting to accompany a slide presentation you are preparing. We would encourage you to use some of the many excellent stories that now have been gathered regularly by the International Teaching Centre in the newsletter "Reflections on Growth", the newsletter from the Baha'i Council of Ontario "Letter of Learning", and the "Spotlight" section of Baha'i Canada.

 We would also like to make a point about terminology. Sharing "stories about Ruhi" is not quite accurate, and will sound alien to any person not familiar with Baha'i community life. The curriculum that is currently used in the world for the purposes of human resource development is created by the Ruhi Institute. But apart from that, it is more accurate simply to refer to study circles - just as we would not talk about Furutan children's classes or Badi junior youth groups. This is even more important if one considers that the purpose of the sequence of institute courses is to build up and integrate a spiritual community life, and can therefore not be isolated from other activities such as children's classes, junior youth groups, devotional meetings, and home visits.

 With loving Baha'i greetings, Blah, Blah, Blah...

 On the other hand, calling them study circles seems too vague to be useful. If I held a study circle on, say, the Kitab-i-Iqan, it would not be counted by the statistical officers now set up in every cluster. It must be a study circle organized by an approved tutor who uses the strict Ruhi-approved curriculum, or it does not count. So in my opinion calling it "study circles" to non-Baha'is borders on dishonesty. I have therefore reconsidered the idea of an inspirational talk. If there is difficulty even naming it, fuggedaboutit, I cannot even inspire myself, much less others. Do Christians have this problem with their Alpha Program? Are they not allowed to call it "Alpha"? Come to think of it, the Alpha program, run by a completely different religion, still qualifies as a "study circle." I wonder if my statistical officer will count them. Maybe we should abolish the word "fireside" too. It might seem strange to non-Baha'is, most of whom these days have never heard of FDR and his "fireside talks." Remember the advice of Confucius, one's first step always is to get the names right, otherwise you are in for a world of trouble.

 I discern grave problems with our teaching work, and our ambivalence about Ruhi is only part of it. I often attend Mrs. Javid's fireside (probably the largest regular event like that in Canada) on Wednesdays and whereas ten years ago there was a mix of ages among the contacts present, now I find that at fifty years old I am often the youngest person there. We are not only not reaching the younger audience; we are not coming anywhere close.

 Not that it is entirely our fault, mind you. The other night I was walking home and happened to overhear behind me a long stretch of conversation among a group of adolescent boys. Their whole concern was the length of their penises. They were speculating about how long the penis of an unnamed colleague was. "He said that the length of a person's penis does not matter, so that probably means that his penis is short." That was their sole concern. I thought after a few minutes they might veer off to some other topic, but no. It was clear that anybody among this group who tries to discuss something else or downplay the importance of penile length is ostracized and branded as lacking in virility because he is on the short end of the spectrum. Jaize, among women at least they can see the size of each others' breasts through their clothes and are not forced to speculate endlessly. In my younger days we had some pretty raunchy conversations with my peers, but never do I recall this sort of one-upmanship, or in fact any sort of comparisons at all.

 I felt like turning around and saying to them, "If you want to know how long his penis is, just look at how tall he is. Length of the penis tends to be proportional to the rest of the body, like the length of your arms or legs." But I did not do that; I am of average height and they were unusually tall. My saying that would just have proven their point, denials only prove how short a man's penis really is. Talk about viral advertising! Some companies find it in their interest to spread a solution to a non-existent problem, and suddenly the entire culture of youth is corrupted. Corrupted, that is, worse than it already was corrupted.

 What was I talking about? Oh yes, teaching. Here is what I think of Ruhi, or rather study circles, or whatever they are. From the point of view of an educated person living in the developed world, these institutes come as a slap in the face. If they were designed to slap us in the face, they could not do a better job. We are used to having everything new being specifically designed for us, and to hell with the rest of the world. Not that stuff designed for us does us much good, since it is always exploitative. We are used to viral attacks like the advertisements for penile lengtheners that you see everywhere. But Ruhi comes out of the Third World, and why not? The poor majority of the human race, the so-called "Third World" has been taking the lead in the teaching work of the Faith for several decades. Only there has there been anything like mass entry. It only makes sense, therefore, that the most successful and advanced sector should design the program. They are the only ones who know anything about teaching the masses, so we must humbly turn the other cheek and accept their lead.

 That being said, in my opinion grave mistakes are being made in how Ruhi is being adapted for world consumption. And not just nominal slips, like leaving open the question of what to call it.

 First of all, copyright is a major block. The Ruhi Institute wished to protect the integrity of what they were doing, so everything is protected by strict copyright. Ten years ago that would have been the only way to do it, but not now. Now, there are other choices.

 Whoever is responsible should carefully look into some new terms, like Wiki and the Creative Commons. Using these more flexible digital means of distribution, the sting would be taken out of the Ruhi slap to the face. The mistakes and slips in the Ruhi books are so embarrassingly frequent that a few years ago I started to list them and try to correct them here on the Badi' list. After they piled up by the hundreds I finally had to give up. I was utterly overwhelmed.

 Lately I read that a more bold and learned scholar of the Faith than myself, Susan Maneck, actually approached the Ruhi Institute with her corrections and was told that because they are being translated into hundreds of languages, no more changes are being made to the English text. It is all set in stone. If the whole deal were put on a Wiki in the first place, the mistakes could be ironed out rapidly, systematically and dynamically. As it is, everything is set in stone because of the translation problem.

 For heaven's sakes, we are doing everything the same way as if we were living in the 19th Century. Even study circles were not new in the 19th Century, but if they work, more power to them. The problem is in the distribution method, printed booklets. The Wikipedia should be the model. It deals in hundreds of languages; it is dynamically corrected and updated by anybody, while at the same time a select few have the final say about what stays. Best of all, Wiki is putting to work the untapped resources of amateur introverts everywhere, the very target audience of the Ruhi program, at least in this part of the world. Why is the Ruhi institute lagging behind on this stellar example?

 Next time I will talk some more about how Ruhi would have to be changed in order to make me into the enthusiastic promoter that I would love to be.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Bagger Johnny

Rick Mitchell, the media guy for the Hamilton Spiritual
Assembly, shared this with me, and I will do the same for you.
A lovely slide presentation, not by Baha'is, but the sort of thing
that we should be doing. Here is what Rick says,

In a world fraught with turmoil, how do we go about making a difference?  At
first thought, it may seem almost impossible.  In truth, however, making a
difference can be accomplished simply by making one small, seemingly
insignificant change at a time. And each and every one of us is capable of
making that one change.  We just have to be like Johnny, the supermarket bag
boy, who wanted so badly to make a difference that he refused to let his
limitations stop him. Johnny's story is a beautiful story of hope and
purpose. Recently  *Simple Truths* released a slide show centered on
Johnny's story. Hopefully, it will inspire us all to look for new
ways to make a difference in the lives of others.

Here's the link to the movie:
Warmly, Rick


Biography of Rahmat Muhajir

By John Taylor; 2007 May 25

Dr Muhajir, Hand of the Cause of God, Knight of Baha'u'llah, by Iran Furutan Muhajir, Baha'i Publishing Trust, New Delhi, India, Rev. Ed., 2005

When I found out that this biography was written by the subject's wife, I was disappointed. I had just read "A Radiant Gem," a life written by the subject's daughter that suffers from a lack of a hint of critical objectivity. It is true that an objective viewpoint is often a pretense, but it is a comforting one. In the case of Dr Muhajir, I need not have worried. His wife is a more than competent biographer, and she often adds details, more often than not grueling and hair-raising details, about the daily life of these two pioneers to Malaysia in the 1950's that a husband would not appreciate as forcefully.

I now see why our Iranian friends reflexively respect and revere any returning pioneer. I think I will do so too, for reading about the travails of these two Knights of Baha'u'llah, their bouts with malaria and other, less pronounceable tropical diseases, the danger, isolation, loneliness, the struggle she went through just to get water to cook, I can appreciate what this high title of "Knight" means in the Order of Baha'u'llah.

I attended a meeting where Dr Muhajir spoke in the mid-1970's, and he impressed me with his humility, which was palpable. He was an inspiring speaker who made you want to go right out and teach the masses. Indeed, now that I think of it, he was the most humble soul I have ever met, and having had this direct experience with him I see why the word "humble" turns up so often among those who knew him. A childhood friend of Rahmat Muhajir wrote the author about the subject's youth, telling how he decided that the Baha'i youth needed to learn about the Administrative Order, how he arranged for the teachers and accompanied every youth, on foot or by bicycle, to and from every meeting.

"He often advised us to memorize the Hidden Words of Baha'u'llah and other Writings. He said that scientists believe that the more we exercise our brain the stronger memory we will have. Dr Muhajir, from that early age, believed in actions rather than words. When he noticed a youth struggling with his studies, he would find someone who could tutor him or her and would bring them over himself. He was not just another youth; he was our guide, our adviser, our teacher, and the one who gave us encouragement. He was our leader. However, he was all these things without being aware of his effect on us, always with humility and detachment." (Dr Muhajir, p. 12)

This same person tells of an early Crise de Foi,

"One night, while we were walking to the meeting together, I talked to him about my doubts on how to conduct my life. I told him, `If I live according to the teachings of the Faith, my friends consider me gutless, simple and stupid. If I pay attention to material and worldly things, I feel guilty.' Although Dr Muhajir still had not studied medicine, he explained to me the function of the human body like an expert physiologist. He then continued to explain about the soul, and its role and progress in this world and the next. He then smilingly advised me to have moderation in all spheres of my life. This conversation instilled such calm and confidence in my soul that from then onwards I did not worry anymore." (Id.)

The educational theorist John Dewey recommended taking time off for travel or to briefly enter into the work force; such breaks during one's education enrich one's studies and make for a more rounded personality. Dr Muhajir seems to have either heard of Dewey's ideas or come up with a variation of it on his own, for he in his own schooling took time off to serve the needs of the Faith in a remote region of Iran, and advised other youth to do the same. So it is to Rahmat Muhajir, it seems, that we the now-familiar pioneering "year of service" program for teens and pre-teens. Speaking of the Baha'i classes on the Admistration that Muhajir organized, our biographer writes,

"Many of those who participated in the classes later pioneered to various parts of the world, most of them encouraged by their boyhood friend. He even accompanied some of them to their destinations and assisted them to settle in their posts. It was also in that year that encouraged his friends to take a year off from their studies in order to visit and inspire the Baha'is around the country. This concept of a year of service, which he had conceived as a youth, was always dear to his heart. In later years he shared it with the Baha'i youth of many parts of the world and inspired them to rise to service. When their parents objected, he would often go to meet with them and calm their fears by telling them of his own experiences. He believed that a year in the life of an 18 year old was only significant if it was spent in the service of the Faith. A youth could always go back to his or her studies, often with a much clearer understanding of the importance of education, but he or she could never recapture the opportunity to serve at a moment when it was needed." (Ibid., pp. 12-13)

Later on, after he graduated from medical school, Muhajir and a young aristocratic wife who had had servants all her life and did not even know how to cook, pioneered to a mud hut village in the middle of nowhere. Muhajir soon learns that individuals do not convert to another in this region, only entire villages did. This only makes sense in view of the almost universal illiteracy there. Having the village elders go over the pros and cons of every proposal allowed for a level-headed decision-making process. Muhajir, after the spilling of much blood, sweat and tears, converts his first village.

Muhajir soon finds out that the "expatriots" (outsiders and foreign immigrants) are openly exploiting the poor, naive natives. They trade cheap cigarettes for the locals' valuable plants and handicraft. The fags are slowly killing the villagers. Muhajir makes himself very unpopular with the expates by telling them what their bartering goods are really worth, and encouraging them to trade for items that they also really need, not just cigarettes. He works to make selling cigarettes to minors illegal, and explains the concept of money. In other words, like any good Baha'i, he upholds the polity, and does not exploit the information deficit caused by the language barrier.

As the biographer comments at one point, describing her extreme difficulties in learning the local language, only then did she understand why Baha'u'llah had laid such emphasis on the need for an international language. We native speakers of English have no idea; I only learned this when I began to correspond in Esperanto. For the first time in my life I spoke to foreigners on an equal, neutral basis. We think of New York and Hollywood as the centers of world culture as if it were some natural right, rather than the artificial result of English being forced down the world's throat as a De Facto world language. English is no more the world language than the World Bank is, well, the world's bank. If you doubt, just try to open an account at the World Bank.

Now that the Internet is upon us, I see a tremendous potential for good in networking the far-flung pioneers of the world, good not only for the Faith but the world polity in general. Dr Muhajir was able to do a great deal as a doctor and social reformer in isolation, but imagine what he could have done if all the pioneers of the world were working together, intimately, using an organized information exchange, such as can easily be done now through the Web. And let there be no mistake, the challenge before us is daunting. Think of how the Master quietly saved the local population from starvation during the Great War by cultivating and storing a few crops. Think of the cataclysm that is facing us now, the prospect of hundreds of millions of climate refugees driven from their homes. With the same prescience that the Master showed, our pioneers could save many, many more lives and help save the world from the worst of the trauma and dislocation fast approaching.

This is an almost 600 page biography and I have no idea if I will have time to finish it, but I have certainly read enough to recommend it with full confidence that it is worthwhile, uplifting, interesting reading. To read the exploits of this Hand of God's Cause is almost as inspiring as it must have been to have the young Rahmat Muhajir as a childhood friend.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Baha'i Polity

Spies, Baha'is and Polity

By John Taylor; 2007 May 23

Nationalist polity is embroiled in war and covert struggle, which means that secrecy trumps clarity, enlightenment and openness. Though future historians will no doubt find many turning points away from the old nationalistic polity toward a new order, the following headline caught my eye as significant:

"US spy chief backs study on impact of global warming."

It seems that the head of the CIA, though almost everything he knows and pays for is a closely guarded secret even from his own government, had to defend a nod to the dangers of global warming. "Stepping into the middle of a partisan debate on Capital Hill," the article writes, "the United States' top intelligence official has endorsed a comprehensive study by spy agencies about the impact of global warming on national security." Here we see Judas betraying his Lord with a kiss, or, to use an analogy from nature, the snake beginning to swallow its own tail. A world issue, the atmosphere of the planet, is handled by nationalists on corrupt, partisan grounds, and even their own spooks must come in and remind them that security and order depend upon dealing with this now. Nobody is betting on it, you can bet on that.

Speaking of America, the Guardian emphasized that the crisis of the present hour is designed by God to purge and merge the current, corrupt polity into a more universal form,

"Many and divers are the setbacks and reverses which this nation, extolled so highly by 'Abdu'l-Baha, and occupying at present so unique a position among its fellow nations, must, alas, suffer. The road leading to its destiny is long, thorny and tortuous. The impact of various forces upon the structure and polity of that nation will be tremendous. Tribulations, on a scale unprecedented in its history, and calculated to purge its institutions, to purify the hearts of its people, to fuse its constituent elements, and to weld it into one entity with its sister nations in both hemispheres, are inevitable." (Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, 36-37)

As the Guardian says, the inherent "structure and polity" of nationalist government is inadequate. The most powerful of them all is demonstrating even to its own spymasters its own poverty and ineffectiveness in the face of challenges that are planetary in scope. This fiasco leaves only one option open, to weld them all into "one entity."

Traumatic as it is to live through this transition, we must have faith in the answer given by God, and believe strongly that we have but to turn to His Teachings to find our role in His plan. As things are, polity of nation-states predominates. It effectively blocks out the true and natural polity of the human race, that is, planetary polity, divine polity and principle.

The Guardian, in his masterwork on Baha'i history, "God Passes By," uses "polity," the word that we have had under the microscope for the past two essays of this series, to sum up what the Master taught in His public contacts. There are, Shoghi Effendi said, fourteen points that "stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity which He (Abdu'l-Baha in His Western journeys) proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large in the course of these missionary journeys." Shoghi Effendi places these fourteen teachings into a single paragraph, which you can read for yourself in God Passes By. For purposes of easy reference, I have broken them up into fourteen numbered points, retaining his original wording, as follows,

1. Independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition.
2. Oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith.
3. The basic unity of all religions.
4. The condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national.
5. The harmony which must exist between religion and science.
6. The equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar.
7. The introduction of compulsory education.
8. The adoption of a universal auxiliary language.
9. The abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty.
10. The institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations.
11. The exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship.
12. The glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society.
13. And (the glorification) of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations.
14. The establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind.

Since each of these fourteen points falls under one or more of the twelve Baha'i principles, it is safe to conclude that "polity" is to some extent synonymous for principle in the Baha'i understanding. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the Baha'i principles cover the essential, divine elements of a world polity. A Baha'i, the Guardian says, is an agent of that polity,

"Let them affirm their unyielding determination to stand, firmly and unreservedly, for the way of Baha'u'llah, to avoid the entanglements and bickerings inseparable from the pursuits of the politician, and to become worthy agencies of that Divine Polity which incarnates God's immutable Purpose for all men." (Shoghi Effendi, World Order, 64)

A spy is an agent of nationalism, and must by the very nature of this mission act secretly. A Baha'i is an agent of world polity, and must by the very nature of her mission act openly and without malice. It is for that reason, the fact that a spy and a Baha'i, though their names rhyme, are in essence mirror opposites, that I watched that Spielberg film "Munich" with such utter fascination. It struck me forcefully that the head of the undercover agency, a former French resistance agent, was fascinated with the subtleties of high cuisine. Here he was, the main supplier of secret information, the chief purveyor of non-principle, CEO of the European Wal-Mart of undercover shenanigans, and he spends most of his time cooking. He justifies his organization's crimes and backstabbing by plucking a fruit off a tree in his orchard, saying,

"One does what one must in order to feed one's family."

The film shows the flesh and blood members of his family, but it makes it clear that the family that spies serve is nebulous; its very existence is lost in layer after layer of secrecy and duplicity. Look into it and good becomes bad, bad good, and madness seeps into mind and heart. Hearing him speak I thought: just as our Master called himself the "servant of the servants," this Frenchman here is servant of the spies and here he is, utterly preoccupied with cuisine. This shady character expatiates on trivial details of the culinary art and, suddenly, I recalled how Plato in the Gorgias had so heatedly condemned the art of the cook, refusing even to defile the word "art" with its name,

"Cookery simulates the disguise of medicine, and pretends to know what food is the best for the body; and if the physician and the cook had to enter into a competition in which children were the judges, or men who had no more sense than children, as to which of them best understands the goodness or badness of food, the physician would be starved to death. A flattery I deem this to be and of an ignoble sort ... because it aims at pleasure without any thought of the best. An art I do not call it, but only an experience, because it is unable to explain or to give a reason of the nature of its own applications. And I do not call any irrational thing an art..."

Nationalism and spying are false arts, just like cooking, because, as Plato says, they are not based on rational grounds. An art has to explain how it serves the general good, and spies, nationalists and partisans can do nothing of the kind. How many chefs refer their recipes to dietitians? How many dieticians check the particular needs of the body, and the world, before every meal? How many spies report to the United Nations? If they did, they would not have to be secret agents. Though national polity may have had validity in the past, it no longer serves the interests of humankind; worse, it opposes them. It is no art, only fraud. Speaking of the World Order of Baha'u'llah, the Guardian said,

"The divers and ever-shifting systems of human polity, whether past or present, whether originating in the East or in the West, offer no adequate criterion wherewith to estimate the potency of its hidden virtues or to appraise the solidity of its foundations." (Shoghi Effendi, World Order, 152)

The film "Munich" is based on real events, and the fact that its spymaster is a chef is, as I say, of immense symbolic significance. Same thing with my gazpacho soup, I made it and continue to make it not because it tastes good or seems good or because it flatters my pleasure sensations but for one reason only: a scientific experiment showed that it upholds the health of the human body. In other words, it is the art of the physician and not of the culinary fraudster. If my entire diet were supervised by physicians and not con men, I would be healthy, and the world would be too.

But that is not enough to call my diet an art, that is, scientific, set on entirely rational grounds. Educators would have to supervise too, and farmers. Farmers would look at where the food is coming from. Somebody lately calculated that the average bit of food on our plate travels an average of a thousand miles to get there. How did that happen? No need for details, suffice to say that secret agents who, in Plato's words, "simulate the disguise" of polity, stepped in to block the general interest on behalf of particular, partisan, corrupt interests.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Beware, Death

Beware of Me, and Death by Media

By John Taylor; 2007 May 20

In this cybernetic age every virtual location you visit, on the Net or your own computer, is a citadel on a hill protected by some kind of handle and password. We are constantly pressed to come up with new names, and of course to remember them every time we return. I found it useful to name our hard drives after the kids' pets. Our older hard drive is named for "Escape," their now-deceased hamster, and our new and biggest drive is called "Twitchy," after their bunny, whose nose twitches. My father asked me to get him a subscription to New Scientist Magazine, and naturally I had to come up with yet another handle and password in order to fill in the online forms. I asked twelve-year-old Silvie for a suggestion, and she came back with, "Beware of Me," an expression that she finds amusing lately, in the manner of teens everywhere -- they have a potent fashion sense, even in language, I find. I said that the name had to be one word. "Make it `bewareofme' then." So I did, and that is my logon name at that site now. To my surprise, I later found that Silvie without knowing it was quoting God, who says just that in the Qu'ran, and Baha'u'llah cites it in the Iqan where He says,

"Gracious God! How could there be conceived any existing relationship or possible connection between His Word and they that are created of it? The verse: "God would have you beware of Himself" (Qur'an 3:28) unmistakably beareth witness to the reality of Our argument..." (Kitab-i-Iqan, pp. 98-99)

If you beware of God, then, you pay attention to the difference between Him, His word, and all other creatures. "Beware of Me," says God, and by understanding and accepting His Manifestation, we beware.

I could not write my usual blog entry yesterday because our Haldimand community staged a garage sale (to defray the the National Fund's current deficit) at our home and we were busy moving objects around; the event turned out well and made more money than I have seen in a sale like this, the sum amounting to well over a unit. Tomaso had an earache and I left it to Marie to hold the fort while I drove him to the emergency. They X-rayed him and, though the results are not final, adenoid problems are suspected. Later, exhausted after the activity, I sat down with the kids to watch two episodes of the original Star Trek series on VHS tape.

I had not seen the old Star Trek for over two decades, though in the Seventies I watched every one over and over Ad Nauseum. The years had done their work and it all seemed like new again. I did not expect the kids to take much interest, being used to modern, special effects-laden fare. Most of the special effects in these two episodes involved chintzy colored floodlights. Silvie hovered, though she saw enough to notice the similarity of the plot to a certain Futurama episode. I had to explain that Futurama is a relatively new production, and that Futurama rips off Star Trek, not the other way around. Tomaso was enraptured, though, and though I had planned only to watch one episode he coaxed me to watch both.

Most of the time the characters on Star Trek are doing what the audience is doing, watching television screens, though they can often talk back to theirs. This is not photogenic. But what surprised me was how effective they made the coordinated operations of the flight deck of the original series. It is still so utterly cool! They made the right decision when they modeled it on submarine rather than airplane crews. In a sub everything is repeated several times, presumably in order to be sure that it is not misunderstood or forgotten. The captain is like, "Forty five degrees left rudder," and the rudder guy comes back with, "Forty five degrees left rudder." In an airplane the pilot just moves his arms to the left. What is cool about that? No movie about airplanes has anything like the spine tingling suspense of the excruciatingly slow moving world of the submarine. Airplanes crash and burn before you have time to react, but a submarine has creaks and groans; it does not go gently into that dark night, it dies a slow, crushing death. If you have to die on one, pick the airplane; if you want to watch somebody die in an interesting way, pick the sub any day.

Even in the second Star Trek series, the New Generation, with better writing, acting and special effects, they still could not improve upon this standard submarine model. I still recall with a tremor the all-time most suspenseful TNG Star Trek episode. Picard is on the flight deck and Laforge is deep in the bowels of the Enterprise doing something complicated under a deadline. Picard is like, "Are we doomed, or what?" And Laforge, preoccupied, replies, "Stand by." "Doomed?" "Stand by." "Doomed?" "Stand by." I swear, Laforge says "stand by" a dozen times, and each time it gets worse until I almost jump out of my own skin from frustration. Ever since I have been longing for a situation where I could do that, tell somebody in authority who wants desperately to hear the results of what I am working on to stand by, but it never comes. Such real life's destitution compared to fiction's opulence. Or maybe I should just get a publisher who has paid me an advance; then I would have lots of opportunity to say, "Stand by."

But nobody doubts that the great appeal of Star Trek was its vision of a happy future with a united humanity occupied with great challenges. It educated several generations in the appeal of our Baha'i ideal of diversity. Sure, if you take the original series from the perspective of today it seems tepid. In that future the world was still run by white men speaking English. But compared to the alternatives offered at that time, this was a diamond in the rough. Even today, though the media has improved its diversity, you still do not see Pygmy starship captains or Aboriginal newscasters. And of course, never a hint that any language other than English rules, even in the latest incarnations of Star Trek, at least among humans in the United Federation of Planets.

I mentioned that my father subscribes to New Scientist. After he is finished, I read them over. This is the most interesting article found there lately,

"The Media Make a Killing; Can media coverage of suicides inspire copycats?," by Michael Bond, 09 May 2007,


"On 28 April, the president of the American Psychiatric Association, Pedro Ruiz, did what many of its members wish he had done earlier. He wrote an open letter to the news media asking editors to stop airing photos, video clips and writings of Cho Seung-hui, the student who killed 32 people and then himself at the Virginia Tech campus on 16 April. Ruiz warned that the publicity would inspire copycat suicides and killings."

The earlier Columbine suicide murders, and the massive attention given to them, inspired hundreds of imitators, the article points out, and the even greater attention given by a profit-hungry mass media machine to this atrocity will surely kill many more innocents. Death by media. The article continues,

"There is compelling evidence that extensive media coverage of a suicide is followed by an increase in the number of people taking their lives the same way. This pattern has been observed across the world. In a report released in 2000, the World Health Organization warned that repeated coverage of suicides tends to encourage suicidal preoccupations, particularly among young people."

I remember when this WHO report came out, it inspired me to explore the Baha'i faith, and religion in general, as tools for suicide prevention. I was preoccupied with suicide for over a month, producing dozens of essays, to the extent that at least one of my readers worried that I was gliding down the slippery slope to self-destruction myself. Now that I am going over the thought of Plato and Aristotle again I am reminded forcefully how important it is to keep a tight control of the flow of information.

Both these thinkers advocated strict censorship, and each for slightly different but very cogent reasons. Sum it up in three words: "Beware of Me." Forget that stale, stupid debate between total license and stark censorship, it should just be a matter of taking control of our own destinies, and of keeping the channel open to our God. Humans live and breathe data, and it only makes sense to take firm hands on the steering wheel and turn it in the right direction. One expert is quoted in this article saying,

"Publicity about a celebrity murder and murder-suicide serves as the spark to send a vulnerable, questioning, suicidal person in one of many directions."

Exactly, there are many directions which a traumatic experience can send a sensitive soul, and suicide and murder are just one option. Another, healthier choice is to pray to the extent that one's soul is telling one to pray, which may be a great deal; this desire may rise to the extent that a large percentage of the population may become mystics. That is a good thing, far better than murderers and suicides, or both. If the media pays attention to bad options, these will inevitably be imitated. Here is the value of productions like Star Trek that point to a happy future with hope, where all can participate in the good of all. On the other hand, the present media obsession with Muslim extremists digs up the reverse, a future threatened by diversity. It is,

"... in the public interest for the press to exercise restraint in times of tension. Unpublished studies by a team at the University of Sussex in the UK show that news reports of `Islamic terrorists' tend to promote prejudice not only against Arabs but against minority groups in general."

If you want to take an instant, powerful anodyne for the anger and truculence that the media inspires, just read aloud one of the public talks of the Master. They are amazing examples of rhetoric. The more you read, the more amazing it becomes. If only the news media talked like that! We would have to declare peace and shut down all the arms factories. Sometimes you read these addresses and it all seems to be saying the same thing, very predictably. But then these sharp little statements jump out, fly high, and explode in your face. "Beware of me!" They are like landmines, those cluster munitions that leap up and chop off limbs at the knee. Of course, I mean "landmine" in the highest and purest sense of the word, good landmines, the sort that remove hate, anger and self-destructive urges. Anyway, this is one of the most important paragraphs in the article,

"Tom Pyszczynski at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, has found that attitudes towards extreme solutions - such as using excessive force against an enemy - are easily influenced by public debate. Iranian students stopped supporting suicide attacks against the US once they believed public opinion was against the tactic, and Americans who favoured strong military force against their "enemies" softened their attitudes when shown pictures of families from different countries or when reminded of what they shared with others (New Scientist, 14 April, p 42). `Information in the media affects the kinds of thoughts that come to mind, which in turn affect attitudes and behaviour,' he says."

The article, importantly, also points out the complicity of scientists, who stood in line to be interviewed about the killings. Such was the rush that one got the feeling that it would be a betrayal, an offense to the dignity of the dead, to say nothing about it. But something lurked below, bugging me. Consider that,

"...there is evidence that the number of copycat suicides is proportional to the amount of media coverage they get."

It is the same thing with all sex and violence, the more attention it gets the harder it is to get rid of the problem. The song says that "evil grows in the dark," but it is clear that very often it grows in the full light of day, it grows because we look at it.

I resisted a strong urge to talk about those killings at the time, for I felt that would only emphasize what is all too obvious, the tragedy of mass killings. Hardly a controversial thing to say. At the same time I felt in my gut that it had suddenly been deemed politically correct to mourn them loudly and publicly. Having read this article, I know why I felt chary. In reality the best contribution was to contribute nothing at all. As the Writings put it, "silence is best." Yes, they were tragic ends, but so were the deaths of many, many more traffic victims and other un-baptized, unprofitable deaths out of the media spotlight that day. These ends were just as lamentable, but they did not feed quarters into the slot machine.

It was therefore with mixed feelings that I read of Baha'i institutions coming out with pious statements about this suicide killing. We need to be careful not to be like those shrinks, lining up to talk about an issue that it would do the world a lot more good just to keep our mouths shut about. We may get some attention for ourselves by doing that but our first concern must be sincerely to further the public good.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Polity II

Polity II; From Theocracy to Polity

By John Taylor; 2007 May 18

Last time we talked about polity in a general sense, defining it as the common, consultatively derived interest of all, including God, as opposed by lesser loyalties, fanaticism and partisanship. This time let us glance back at the history of polity, how it grew out of theocracy. Next time, we will go on to examine it as a Baha'i term. First, here is the definition in Wikipedia,

"Today (polity) is usually a general term that refers to political organization of a group. It is often used to describe a loosely organized society such as a tribe or community, but can mean any political group including a government or empire, corporation or academy. It is also used in the phrase `ecclesiastical polity' as a synonym of church government."

The Wiki encyclopedia (which itself is written as an expression of a polity of experts and concerned onlookers) goes on to add that Aristotle used the word in this sense, and also as a more specialized term describing,

"a society ruled by the many, from all parts of the wealth continuum from rich to poor (mainly middle class), in the interests of the whole community. He believed it to be the best form of government practicable for most polises, lying somewhere between oligarchy (rule by the wealthy) and democracy (rule by the poor)."

They seem to be thinking of the ninth book of the Politics, where Aristotle says that most governments have some form of polity, which is an attempt to "unite the freedom of the poor with the wealth of the rich..." A polity is a meritocracy, a union of the best virtues of all parts of society, each participating in the good of all.

"But as there are three grounds on which men claim an equal share in the government, freedom, wealth, and virtue (for the fourth or good birth is the result of the two last, being only ancient wealth and virtue), it is clear that the admixture of the two elements, that is to say, of the rich and poor, is to be called a polity or constitutional government; and the union of the three is to be called aristocracy or the government of the best..."

No form of Government, he says, "except the true and ideal, has a right to this name." Plato in the Republic had actually used the phrase "universal participation," and recognized the necessity for each element to contribute, but saw he only monarchy, (rule of one) oligarchy (rule of the wealthy), democracy (rule of many), and aristocracy (rule of the best). Aristotle discerned a fifth, a hybrid form, "which retains the generic name of polity or constitutional government; this is not common, and therefore has not been noticed..." Again, polity is still a kind of aristocracy, but not hereditary, the best are the best not because of advantages of wealth, education and other marks of privilege but because they are in the best position to serve the common good.

With astonishing insight Aristotle observed that in his time everything was twisted around by the fact that only a wealthy few had access to a quality education. Since knowledge is fundamental to power, as long as this continued it would pervert the body politic, make democrats pander to populism and incline monarchy to aristocrats, whose sole concern is clamoring for wealth. Thus knowledge inequity blocks the emergence of a polity.

"For polity or constitutional government may be described generally as a fusion of oligarchy and democracy; but the term is usually applied to those forms of government which incline towards democracy, and the term aristocracy to those which incline towards oligarchy, because birth and education are commonly the accompaniments of wealth."

Aristotle would not have discerned polity without having been exposed to the Jewish civilization of the time, whose theocratic element banished images and lesser loyalties that tend to block out direct converse with God. Only if our creator, the One, participates actively does the unity of a polity become palpable. Jewish iconoclasm swept away the images and idols that vitiate this theocratic element, freed them from the tyranny of the seen and allowed a polity to be seen clearly in mind and imagination.

With time, theocracy in Palestine degraded into political squabbling, but later renewed itself with the advent of Christianity, which brought Spirit back into the equation but was unfortunately less avid in its iconoclasm. This changed with the rise of Islam, which was as close to a pure theocracy as we are ever likely to see. George Townshend points out how Islam created by religious means a state dominated by theocratic values,

"Muhammad swept away the former limited loyalties of tribe and family -- A believer who adopts Islam must forget and forgo his own kith and kin unless they were his companions in the Faith. All connections depended on religion alone. The community of Islam was different from any other. It was the chosen of God to whom was entrusted the furtherance of good and the repression of evil. It was the sole witness for God among the nations, the sole seat of justice and faith in the world. Instead of the impersonal life of the tribe there emerged the personal life of the individual which took its claims and its duties not from membership of the community but from adherence to the Faith. Patriotism was thus the element of faith." (Christ and Baha'u'llah, 34)

Townshend then quotes a specialist who says,

"Islam is the direct government of Allah, the rule of God ... upon his people.... Allah is the name of the supreme power, acting in the common interest... between Allah and the believer there is no mediator: Islam has no church, no priests, no sacraments . . . Man is alone in the presence of God, in life and in death . . . to Whom is present every action, every word . . .; alone he will answer for his deeds, and alone will he face the judgment of God . . . The most rigid Protestantism is almost a sacerdotal religion, compared with this personal monotheism, unbending, and intolerant of any interference between man and his Creator." (de Santillana, The Legacy of Islam, pp. 286-287)

The fruit of theocracy was science and mathematics, born of the individual search for truth, combined with an aristocracy of education and expertise. Islamic civilization came into brief flower and it too sunk into corruption and tyranny. Later Europe banished its own autocratic theocracy, Christianity, invented the secular state, a step to polity bolstered by the university and science (both born under Islam), as well as industry. But even with universal education, our polity is falling apart, destroyed by the same quasi-religious images that always obscured the vision of the One behind the many. Now our educator is not the world distilled in language and books but images of the world. We live, as one columnist puts it,

"In a world where good and bad are no longer learned from the Bible or absorbed from the classics, the mass media have taken on the role of the village stocks." ("Hasselhoff, Baldwin, and King Lear," Rosalind Miles, Macleans, May 21, 2007, p. 69)

Next time let us turn to the last hope of a troubled world, the Polity of Baha'u'llah.