Wednesday, April 30, 2008

p39 ridvan

The Holy Ground of Ridvan

By John Taylor; 2008 Apr 29, 02 Jamal, 165 BE


This is a rescript of an excerpt from a Badi' Blog essay of a couple of years ago.


Ridvan roisterers celebrate a collective coming of age, the arrival of a New Day, the One True Enlightenment. At the primal moment when Baha'u'llah declared His Station in that garden, God raised us out of the particulars of minority to the universality of maturity. This radical change was initiated at the point of departure of Baha'u'llah from Baghdad, where He had been exiled from His native Persia (Iran) for about a decade. While His first exile had been perpetrated by the Shah of Persia, this second exile from Baghdad to Constantinople was ordered by the Turkish Sultan, as were all of His subsequent exiles and almost thirty years of imprisonment.


When the order came to leave for the capitol, Baha'u'llah agreed but requested and was granted a month to prepare. His popularity had grown over the years. Very frequent were the visits and paying of respects from people high and low whose lives had been touched by Him. So great was the pushing and shoving that it was finally decided to rent an island in the River where He would entertain His friends and followers. This place He named Ridvan, or Paradise.


The first day of Ridvan commemorates the time when Baha'u'llah and a handful of aids crossed over to that garden on that island on the outskirts of Baghdad. According to Nabil's account, they arrived just before the afternoon call to prayer. (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, 152) From that first Ridvan forward, anyone who accepted the station of Baha'u'llah was no longer properly named a Babi but a Baha'i. Reflecting this, Baha'u'llah from that day forward adopted a new attitude and more dignified form of dress.


"...the perceptible change noted in His demeanor; and finally, His adoption of the taj (tall felt head-dress), on the day of His departure from His Most Holy House - all proclaimed unmistakably His imminent assumption of the prophetic office and of His open leadership of the community of the Bab's followers." (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, 152)


Starting on the first day Baha'u'llah revealed a prodigious number of His most important Tablets, each of which in one way or another announced His station and the nature of His mission to the followers of the Bab. These letters, some of which were book-length, were entrusted to certain prominent Babis, now Baha'is, who were charged to take them back to Persia, where most Babis lived at the time. They were given the mission of demonstrating the difference between a Babi and a Baha'i.


In the following passage, Baha'u'llah Himself sums up the essence of the message He expounded on that first day of Ridvan, and every day afterwards,


"On the first day of His arrival in the garden designated the Ridvan, the Ancient Beauty established himself upon the Most Great Throne, thereupon the Tongue of Glory uttered three blessed verses. First, that in this revelation the use of the sword is prohibited. Second, that whoso layeth a claim ere the expiration of a thousand years is assuredly in grievous error; by year, a complete year is intended and any interpretation of this matter is forbidden. And third, that the One True God, exalted be His Glory, at that very moment shed the splendours of all His Names upon the whole creation." (Baha'u'llah, provisionally translated in Saiedi, Logos and Civilization, 242)


More broadly, these three "blessed verses" cover the three salient features of His revelation as a whole. By forbidding the sword, Baha'u'llah began His mission to eliminate all standing obstacles to peace, both within and among religions, and in the world at large. Such reconciliation, He often wrote, was His greatest aim and desire. In His subsequent proclamation to the Kings, Baha'u'llah fleshed out His peace plan in detail.


The second point covers His Covenant; years after, in Adrianople, this covenant matured further when it was extended to the appointment of a successor, Abdu'l-Baha, in the Tablet of the Branch. Just before Baha'u'llah's passing, He confirmed this choice in the Kitab-i-Ahd. This covenant guaranteed in written form the legitimacy of the institutions and teachings coming out of His Revelation. It is a first in the history of religion and the distinguishing mark of His message. Without it, there could be no third point.


The third point connects His Revelation to the collective maturity of the human race. By shedding "the splendour of all His names upon the whole creation," the human race gained a new ability to take in the full spectrum of God's Names. This is the full station of humanity, the fact (often articulated elsewhere in Baha'u'llah's Writings) that whereas lower forms of life can reflect just one Name or attribute of God each, our supernatural, human station is holistic or hologram-like in that it can reflects the universe in a grain of sand, all divine Names radiate out from a single, synoptic mirror.


Ridvan makes of us all philosopher kings, the chosen few who escape the dark cave and return with full vision of the totality of reality.


"Reflect thou, how, in one hand, He hath, by His mighty grasp, turned the earth of knowledge and understanding, previously unfolded, into a mere handful, and, on the other, spread out a new and highly exalted earth in the hearts of men, thus causing the freshest and loveliest blossoms, and the mightiest and loftiest trees to spring forth from the illumined bosom of man." (Kitab-i-Iqan, 48)


The true Ridvan, then, is a fertile garden we feel beating whenever we lay our hand on our own breast.

Monday, April 28, 2008

thos Need and Desire

Courtesy and Reconciliation, Baha'u'llah's Greatest Desire, Our Greatest Need

By John Taylor; 2008 Apr 28, 19 Jalal, 165 BE


I did a lot of driving yesterday with nothing else to do but listen to the radio. The topic of discussion on the CBC Radio One talk show "Cross Country Checkup" for the longest time was the crying need for civility in Canadian public life in general, and in parliament in particular. Not only parliamentarians but the press and just about all Canadians of prominence have become noticeably less cordial and more truculent over the past decade. This is all the more surprising since we have had a minority government for the past few years.


For those whose civics is rusty, a minority government is when voters spread wide across the political spectrum and no single party gets enough seats to overrule the others all on its own. Against what one might expect, in Canada minority governments have often proven surprisingly productive. When every decision must arise from a consensus on all sides, everybody works harder on their position before they sit down at the table. Compromises are made before issues are put up for public discussion. What with the rise in contentiousness in this parliament, many commentators are amazed that this minority government has lasted as long as it has.


In an age when our very survival depends on rapid, decisive collective effort and the ability to adapt and solve crying problems that have escaped everybody before, this decline in courtesy on the part of our leaders does not bode well. In fact, it is extremely worrying. How can we expect to save the environment, reverse climate change, keep prosperous and solve a thousand other pressing dilemmas when the main preoccupation of our leadership is petty squabbling?


In His Tablet of the World, Baha'u'llah called courtesy a "sublime station," and prayed that He Himself and everybody else would attain to it. (Tablets, 88) He also called it the "prince of virtues," which means, I think, that you cannot aspire any other virtues if you do not have this one. What is more, you cannot aspire to be an effective prince or leader of any kind unless you are extremely skilled at all that courtesy entails: politeness, gentility and diplomacy.


In other words, the roots of both the problem and its solution are sunk into our educational system, as always. Our training is not virtue-centered enough to produce leaders with courtesy. Maybe I should go over what I think courtesy is. Courtesy cures diseases before they enter the body. We nurture it in our prayers and spiritual life. There we diffuse our mental bombs; the traps in thinking that degrade ideas into ideologies and perspectives into straitjackets. In other words, a courteous person avoids attachment. Courtesy does not just know when to step away from the emotional minefields that can instantly blow our feeling of brotherhood to pieces. It is a more active virtue than that. It teaches how to become a sort of bomb disposal expert who can safely diffuse those minefields and actively eradicate whatever leads to contention. A courteous person is aware that as soon as there is a hint contention, the battle is already lost; the unity that is our only hope falls apart and cooperation becomes a pipe dream.


A New York Times article this weekend struck a nerve. It describes the extreme diligence, the almost insane devotion that some Korean prep schools put their students through in order to get them into the world's most prestigious colleges. These picked but pitiable minions study formally from dawn until ten in the evening, then many decide to stay up all night long doing extra homework on their own. All that extreme cramming just for a slightly higher mark on artificial exams that elite post-secondary institutions think might help. There is no denying that this works, as far as the narrowest of aims go. But really, is a mere quiz worth staying up all night for? Should we not sacrifice ourselves for something eternal, for a virtue like courtesy, for instance? Surely it would be more productive to concentrate on virtues rather than grade-point averages that anonymous admission test corporations think make for a good student. Scientific knowledge changes rapidly, and human memory forgets. Ten years afterwards knowing how to make a point without offending our listeners would be far more useful than a memorized answer to some trivial question. Surely the SAT's and the entire examination system for sifting admissions are failing the grade and should be replaced.


It is true, as Abdu'l-Baha said that there are no results without steadfastness. He taught that hard study is the key to success. At the lowest point in His career, when it looked like He would soon be exiled, Abdu'l-Baha told one of his secretaries, Youness Afroukhteh, to go off to medical school. The young man did not feel ready and spent a night,


"filled with anxiety and apprehension and in a state of prayer. Next morning I was again summoned to the presence of `Abdu'l-Baha. As He walked the dark narrow alleys of `Akka on His usual visits to the poor and the downtrodden, He continued with the theme He had begun to expound the previous day. He repeated the necessity of the dispersion of the resident believers, and then explained the importance of education, and the secrets which would lead to success. He considered success and progress in any field conditional first on divine confirmation and then on wholehearted perseverance. He also gave some astonishing examples of the power that is generated from focussing one's mental faculties on a single goal. He gave the example of the heat that is created through the concentration of light at one point, and the pressure that is generated by the concentration of steam in an enclosed space, and other similar examples." (Memories of Nine Years in Acca, p. 331)


This disquisition quieted his heart. Afroukhteh followed this advice to focus and became an excellent doctor. It is interesting that one of the most promising techniques of gaining solar energy uses a field of parabolic mirrors to focus on a single point, where generators collect the heat and turn it into electricity. This is quite literally what the Master described here.  Anyway, right now the mirrors of our mental world are concentrated exclusively on narrow, material goals, the second step that the Master suggested. Education does not concentrate on the Master's first step, divine confirmation. In fact, schooling can stifle the first step. Abdu'l-Baha Himself did not have much formal schooling, nor did the Manifestations of God. Some of the greatest geniuses in history made their discoveries because they were not spoiled by formal schooling. Formal schooling teaches form, and now we need spirit.


The question behind it all is, what should the next generation focus its powers on? What would government consultation look like if the present catty, foul-mouthed parliamentarians had been sifted all their lives by an education based on courtesy, rather than mere filling in of multiple choice questions? If the next generation is not learning courtesy before math, language and science, all the rest is wasted, since courtesy is the most important team and inter-team virtue. Teams work years for what can be destroyed in a second by one abusive word. If graduates of our best schools were getting these skills, if we were solving the problems of the world, then I would applaud the dedication of those who want to do well in this system. They are certainly learning to work very hard and get done whatever it is that they set out to do. That is a good thing. But there is more to taking a journey than just getting there. Like the modern automobile, you can get there and destroy the air as you do it. Same way, you can be highly educated but with a narrow skill set, and be afflicted by a driven, obsessive personality incapable of changing direction or working creatively in a team.


The big question for educators of our era is: how do you measure and assess virtue? The only way I know is face-to-face. We need to devise a virtue based system where the best thinkers in a group rise to the top automatically. The great challenge in the broader world is not so much technical or technological as it is learning cooperation and how to forgive one another. What is even more difficult, leaders must reconcile larger groups, religions and contending peoples who have hated one another for decades, centuries and millennia. Not an easy job, to reconcile black with white, north with south, rich with poor, English speaker with other languages, specialists with lay, and on and on. A courteous, considerate leader who dares attempt that is as rare as the Philosopher's Stone. Like every precious commodity, such heroes should be valued highly, especially in the ballot booth.


We need to seek and recognize leaders of reconciliation, prominent people who know how to reach out to the heart and reinforce what is common in all. We need to praise them, and praise those who at least try. We need wise leaders of thought who can magnify what is in our common interest and set former rivals working together. Baha'u'llah's directive to reconciliation is a desideratum which, just as He does in praising of courtesy, He also applies to Himself:


"O contending peoples and kindreds of the earth! Set your faces towards unity, and let the radiance of its light shine upon you. Gather ye together, and for the sake of God resolve to root out whatever is the source of contention amongst you. Then will the effulgence of the world's great Luminary envelop the whole earth, and its inhabitants become the citizens of one city, and the occupants of one and the same throne. This wronged One hath, ever since the early days of His life, cherished none other desire but this, and will continue to entertain no wish except this wish." (Proclamation, 113)

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Praying for a Decent Election

By John Taylor; 2008 Apr 27, 18 Jalal, 165 BE


"God's most lordly gift to man is decency of mind." (Aeschylus)


The Guardian said that the Universal House of Justice "must be regarded as the apex of the Baha'i Administrative Order," (God Passes By, 332). But it is more than just the leadership of a world religion. It presents something new under the sun, a model for purified polity unheard of in the history of the world. Because of our small numbers, the press does not give the Baha'i Faith or the House of Justice the same attention that it gives the Dalai Lama or the Pope. But that will surely change.

According to an official press release called, "Baha'is to elect Universal House of Justice," the supreme body of the Baha'i Faith will be elected on the 9th Day of Ridvan, the time when the Holy Family joined Baha'u'llah on the island where His declaration had taken place, which will be the day after tomorrow.


"A global election process that began with people in 100,000 cities and villages around the world will culminate on 29 April when delegates gather here to elect the international governing body of the Baha'i Faith." (Baha'i News Service, 22 April 2008


I pray for these electors, members of some 170 National Assemblies, who are themselves reflecting silently over a grave choice. Not just me, but Baha'is around the world are thinking and praying for these participants at the World Center. The convention is taking place not only on the holiest ground for Baha'is, but also at our holiest time of the year, the Ridvan festival. From the outside, this election is more interesting than usual, since two members of the outgoing institution have retired. This leaves at least two seats of nine with instead of faces a big question mark sitting in them.


These elections are not being televised. It is hard to imagine how they could be. As a result, so we have no flashes of the paparazzi, live satellite feeds or other striking images of what is going on in Haifa right now. Certainly, there will be no smoke arising from an enclosed building signalizing the beginning and consummation of the voting, as there is for the choice of a Pope. Everything that happens is open and plainly displayed to the onlooker. Still, an aura of holy mystery must still surround the gathering. If it were depicted, the reflection of awe and sanctity on the faces of the participants may not be as striking from a distance as a smoke signal, but in an age of television closeups, it has potential to make an intimate impact, one day. We can be sure that the usual trappings of the democratic process are absent in Haifa. Certain it is that these almost sixteen-hundred electors are not embroiled in calculating tactics, in manipulation, juggling names or complex power plays. Only silent prayer and reflection. Pomp, display, even oblique mention of personalities -- gossip is a sin at the worst of times for Baha'is -- is, whatever the subject of their deliberations, far from the tongues of the participants at that convention.


Still, the fateful choice before them has to be prominent in their subjective world, in private thoughts and meditation. The unknown names of nine men called to show forth the right stuff is hidden right now, like a babe in the womb. It exists only inside the Spirit which will move these hearts to vote. Theirs is to concentrate on but one thing: the Will of Baha'u'llah. His Spirit is invisible, it inhabits the silence hovering over the Shrines, where right now voters are being primed to decency of mind by the greatest of bounties, regular visits to the Holy Sites. The effect of their turning to the Cynosure of the age will only be presented to the world when the time is right, two days from now.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

tenv An Environmental

Mental at the Table

By John Taylor; 2008 Apr 26, 17 Jalal, 165 BE


Our interest today, as always lately, is in the environment. I have been reading the following book, though it is harrowing at times.


"Earth Odyssey, Around the World in Search of our Environmental Future," by Mark Hertsgaard, Broadway Books, 1998, 352 pages


Its account of Ethiopia and Darfur, written ten years before the present atrocities, is amazing. Even back then the Dinka were undergoing sufferings that would be rejected as unbelievable in a work of fiction. You read about the misery, homelessness, illness and hopelessness that they go through and it just silences you. How can anybody keep plugging on in abject poverty in the middle of a war zone? After a while you just give up feeling sorry for them. You actually start feeling admiration, and humility. These desert dwellers make me feel unworthy to call myself a human being. If they can go through gross oppression with such stoic courage, well, thank God I am a member of the same human race as them.


My only question is, why are the rich not going there on pilgrimage to find out the secret of these amazing people? Where did they get such fortitude? Why not ask them on the speaker's circuit telling their astonishing story? I would rather hear from one of them than a dozen huckster self-help gurus who charge ten thousand bucks a pop to spout regurgitated truisms.


The world-traveling author of this book, Mark Hertsgaard, has an interesting presence in the blogosphere. In an article on his website <> he wrote last year,


"The oil giant (Exxon-Mobil) ... announced in February that it would stop funding (some of) the climate deniers it had previously supported and it pronounced itself eager to join discussions on Capitol Hill about new legislation. It's understandable that Exxon-Mobil would want a seat at the table for such negotiations. To quote an old Washington saying, "If you don't have a seat at the table, you're on the menu."



Take it from the world's largest and most powerful corporation, that is why we need to consult: if you are not at the table, you are on the menu. That is why we do not have anything like real democracy. If most people did have a seat, the poor of the world would not be on the menu.


Here is an idea. Instead of going to all the trouble of forming a world government, just give everybody a vote on Exxon Mobil. Make them the world government. They are already far richer than any other body, governmental or not. They already pull the strings. They are the main guys keeping us from decarbonising the world economy. They already have us all on their menu. So for our own survival, call the chairman of their board the president of the world. Make it open and official before we are all swallowed whole.


I have been getting too intense, I know. I must concentrate on the positive, avoid negativity. It must be as hard for you to read these Poverty of Environmentalism essays as it was to write them. But we are talking the survival of the human race, or, failing that, the looming death of billions of souls. Please forgive me if it bears down heavy.


Fortunately, we are all friends here.


One kind reader wrote to comfort me for not having a paying career, making the very good point that my disability gives me the rare leisure to become fully involved in the education of our children, and that this is the most important work of all. I would have laughed at this a year ago, but last fall they quit scouts and piano lessons and were home all evening. This emboldened me to try teaching a Baha'i class in the evening, and it is working out, though I have a lot to learn about being a teacher.


Eight-year-old Tomaso did not miss my lack of teaching experience and lately, unprompted, made up and filled out a sort of spontaneous teacher evaluation form of his own design. It consists of about eight charts, showing a spiky line graph of what my class looks like now, and in beautiful rounded curves what he thinks the class would look like if I added activities to the mix. I get the hint, more like the classes he gets in school. Thinking about how I spontaneously settled on this strange way of presenting the daily class, I realized that the technique I use, spiky as it may be, is the same thing I used to keep sane through my decades of illness. I would set up a pile of books by the side of my bed, including Baha'i Writings, the Qu'ran, the Bible, a science book, and so forth, and every morning read a page out of each, one book after the other, every day. No matter how dense and boring the book, and no matter how scattered my thought processes, I could endure a page of it, at least. Then later on I would write out the marked passages by hand and later cut them out and put them under whatever Baha'i principles and other categories they seemed to fit under. Crazy as this sounds, I was able to make unexpected links between bodies of knowledge that had rarely been connected together.


These Badi' Blog essays are the fruit of that idiosyncratic study methodology. Now that we have search engines to plow through the Writings in one bite, much fruit picking can be done easily and quickly -- too quickly, the old codger in me says. I am glad that I paid my dues the hard way by reading the books in hard copy, and collating the best of it over long years. Thank God the Web came along, but thank God it did not come earlier in my search, for it would have created a different, lazier, more superficial student.


God willing, one day these young ones will grow into a position to take over what I call my absorption system. I think of the old cartoon image of the industrialist father looking out the window at his factories, saying: "One day, my son and daughter, all this will be yours." Okay, mine is an intellectual legacy and not an industrial one, but it is rich nonetheless. It is a leg up onto the shoulders of giants.


As for the Baha'i classes right now, I plan to introduce more activities, as Tomaso's charts recommend, but doing what we do now, simply reading from (right now) the Virtues Project, our prayer book, a Hidden Word, and the Book of Matthew, is the best foundation. In spite of the spikiness of it, how many kids in Tomaso's grade school class have read a book out of the Bible in the context of divine virtues and the Baha'i teachings? Reading and discussing the original texts will always be the backbone of our classes, I think, however much turnover there is in the texts themselves. Last week they noticed that we were not studying other religions, so I read a short chapter from the Qu'ran, to give them a taste. I asked which faith tradition (I like Deepak Chopra's term, "wisdom tradition" the best) they would like to study next, and they both agreed upon Buddhism. So that is on deck, as are the Ruhi lessons, both the children's and the adult versions.


Jimbo, the friend who was so foresighted and generous as to give us our book on the Virtues Project as a gift long before we had children writes about something I said in Poverty of Environmentalism,


"Hi John! Pretty soon even forming a world government, though needed, is going to fall short of helping the world find effective solutions to our environmental woes. We already have an infallible World Institution put there by God just waiting to be used by us earthlings. We, the Baha'is, had better ask the Universal House of Justice the right questions very soon and then show the world how perfect those answers are. Do you follow my drift? Or, as you say, we will all be spinning our wheels deeper into oblivion. Generations down the road will look at us in wonder at the chance we missed."


This is an interesting idea, using the UHJ as an oracle! In future, world leaders may well use this resource to help solve their problems, even if all they come away with is a sense of inspiration and assurance.

 I was intrigued at this idea of an oracle, in Baha'i terms. Will Mount Carmel one day perform the same role that Delphi did in Hellas? I did a search for the word "oracle" in Ocean. It does not turn up in the writings of the Central Figures. Certainly, the House is "protected from error," but they themselves do not claim to know everything.


I get this question in our Baha'i class a lot. For example, when Mirza Yahya poisons Baha'u'llah's rice bowl, they ask, "If Baha'u'llah knew everything, why did He eat it?" The answer is that the human side was not all knowing, I guess. More philosophically, this world is inherently unknowable by the dianoetic faculty -- the power of the soul which reasons scientifically. Because reason operates using principles, and principles cannot be derived from chaos or evil, the latter worldly details are invisible and unimportant, like the speck in the eye of a dead ant. So the human side of Baha'u'llah may have missed it; or maybe He saw and ate anyway, I do not know. But yes, we can all get a lot out of intermittent dialog with the Supreme Body.


"Generations down the road will look at us in wonder at the chance we missed."


My worry is that the way things are going there might not be any future generations to look back on this one. Baha'u'llah assured us that there will be a future, I know, and when He did He certainly was speaking in the voice of God. But He also said that humanity has a choice. Evil choices are being taken while the miasma of hell creeps into our nostrils. It is hard to think we are going to make it through this mess.


On an earlier occasion, Jimbo wrote,


"Hi John! I don't know if I qualify to be an environmentalist or not, but here is a couple of songs I have written on environmental issues if you're interested. The first one is called `Earth's Rainforests,'


 The second one is called "Turn Around Global Warming,"


 "Also, if you are more specific in your google search like for instance Baha'i Global Warming, you can get some pretty interesting results."


Jimbo referred to this passage in a Badi' essay called "No Matter How Small", "Am I the only Baha'i interested in saving the environment? I did a lonely little Web search for other Baha'i environmentalists..." and wrote the following,


"Searching for other Baha'i environmentalists on the Internet is like searching for Baha'i fathers or husbands. It does not mean they do not exist. It is just that the standard of good qualifications for these roles are a little daunting to say the least. Talking about the environment is almost like talking about the weather but in a deeper fashion. Everyone seems to have a different opinion of what we can do to help the environment. My wife is proud to say that her showers last under five minutes and she challenges everyone else in the family to do the same to save our most precious resource. Is she an environmentalist?"

"A new car called the Tato Nano is going to be a big hit since it is going to be affordable to the masses unlike most other vehicles,

"MUMBAI, India: Tata Motors' ultracheap car will be the least polluting vehicle on Indian roads, the company's chairman said, refuting criticism that the 100,000-rupee (US$2,500) car would add to traffic chaos and carbon emission."


"What is confusing is - Will it add to the world's pollution or take away overall? If we all traded in our gas guzzlers for this new one, we'll yes. But if they sell millions of them, then we have achieved what? Environmentalists must be scratching their heads... That's why you can't find any of them anywhere."


I like this little environmental challenge to take showers in less than five minutes, and challenging others to do the same. Not as good as a functioning rainwater and brown water recycling system, but it is a start. As the writings say, let our actions be prayers...


On "Poverty of Environmentalism" a semi-anonymous reader using the initials SMK commented in part,


"While I agree a world playing field will be a strong aspect to solving the problems of environmental degradation and changes we start but may not be able to live with, it's hard to credit your analysis/reaction when you state,

`The same applies to the environmental movement. Like all "isms," environmentalism is non-science. It notes that our world is deteriorating, but when it comes to actually solving the problem, the only answer is silence.

"There are plenty of references to solutions out there. One of the largest was a massive presentation through Scientific American on a solar energy system that could massively change our relationship with the world we are building and living in. There are other examples..."


I agree that there are many references to solutions out there, but references do not butter any parsnips. Until we devise legal and political mechanisms for practical action on a world level, that is all they will ever be, references, pipe dreams. Geo-engineering projects to regulate climate, for instance, cannot be done for free. That means somebody has to pay taxes to a world government. In order for such enterprises to happen, the first step is a United Earth. Thinking about anything less is a waste of precious time and energy. The reader continues,


"But the noise is mostly where the argument is and plenty of people still argue if global warming is happening or not, or actually good for us, or beyond our control one way or the other. I suggest your analysis is narrowed by focusing on that aspect."


Agreed, except the part about narrowness. An analysis has to be narrow in order to be focused. If our eyes cannot focus, we are legally blind. This is the most difficult problem in history and we have to focus in on what has worked in the past. It is well known that countries with a strong central government are far more prosperous than those that do not. So a strong, democratic world government working in the interests of the entire human race is our only hope to turn away from a nuclear Mad Max apocalypse.


"But again, there is a broader world that will play a role in estimating the danger and damages and our goals and methods.

 If by "broader world" you mean civil society, yes, everybody has a right and duty to participate in forming a world government. It must be what Baha'u'llah called a "universal assemblage of man." Environmentalists need, as the Gospels put it, to repent. Nothing less than this has the remotest chance of success, since whatever else we can touch is part of the problem, not the solution. Here is what I wrote earlier in the comments section of the Badi' blog in response to this overall communication:


"Here is a question for you, SMK:

"Who is going to get to the moon, somebody who talks about attitude shifts or somebody who plans and builds a rocket (or, preferably, a space elevator)?

"It is absurd to talk about planetary solutions without talking world government. Only a world government is going to get you there. That is why I say it is futile and dishonest to mention the environment out of the context of the only way we will get there.

"The technical fixes, however wonderful and hopeful, will only solve part of a huge, multi-pronged situation, one bordering on anarchy."


Let us give the last word to Baha'u'llah, who urged us to repent too, to rely only on the remembrance God, prayer and study of the Text, and not on worldly frivolities that soon will pass into nothingness.


"The days of your life are far spent, O people, and your end is fast approaching. Put away, therefore, the things ye have devised and to which ye cleave, and take firm hold on the precepts of God, that haply ye may attain that which He hath purposed for you, and be of them that pursue a right course. Delight not yourselves in the things of the world and its vain ornaments, neither set your hopes on them. Let your reliance be on the remembrance of God, the Most Exalted, the Most Great. He will, erelong, bring to naught all the things ye possess. Let Him be your fear, and forget not His covenant with you, and be not of them that are shut out as by a veil from Him." (Summons, 5.42, Suriy-i-Muluk, 202-203)

Friday, April 25, 2008

tenv Avoiding Zugzwang

Poverty of Environmentalism, III

By John Taylor; 2008 Apr 25, 16 Jalal, 165 BE


On Tuesday Tomaso and I took a walk along Hamilton's mountain brow, enjoying the panorama of a city I left ten years ago. When we moved away the air over the city was noticeably cleaner. You could see Toronto across the lake on a clear day like it was on Tuesday. Not anymore, the air is visibly worse. In ten years Toronto has disappeared! This shook me. I am the sort of person who is the first to be dragged under by bad air. A whiff from a smoker walking by is enough to provoke a migraine attack. I am a walking, talking canary-in-a-coal-mine, except this is an outdoor coal mine.


Shaken and stirred, I have been feverishly going over the solutions suggested in the final chapters of Tim Flannery's "The Weather Makers: The History and Future Impact of Climate Change." The author's website lays them out succinctly in, "11 Realistic Ways You Can Help Reduce Global Warming," at:




These are good ideas. But note the final suggestion, to put pressure on your political representative. In other words, keep the status quo and put all your hopes for survival in present institutions.


What kind of an intellectual world are we living in? Clouded as the air is, our thinking is worse. One question agitates me as I read Flannery,


"This is a thinker who is obviously one of the most qualified and intelligent observers of the state of our planet, yet why does he veer toward but then shy away from the only, the obvious, the unavoidable solution, world government?"


Surely the prospect of an answer to our suicidal mess should be enticing. It should be the holy grail in the eyes of an environmentalist, but no, the one chapter where he cannot avoid talking world-level solutions he calls, "2084; The Carbon Dictatorship?" In his sticky brain the terms "world government" and "dictatorship" cannot be torn apart. They are synonyms, co-dependents, one cannot exist without the other.


Why? Oh God, why?


Flannery starts this chapter well, but making the point that it looks like the human race will soon have to pay for massive geo-engineering projects to reverse climate destabilization. The alternative, he recognizes, is unthinkable. The first of three possibilities for the future is,


"Our response to limiting emissions is too slow or unco-ordinated to avert great climate shifts, which destroy Earth's life support systems and destabilise our global civilisation. As a result humans are thrust into a protracted Dark Age far more mordant than any that has gone before, for the most destructive weapons ever devised will still exist, while the means to regulate their use, and to make peace, will have been swept away. These changes could commence as soon as 2050." (Weather Makers, p. 291)


So in sum, there is no turning back. Doing nothing about climate change is not an option since even choosing to act sporadically may lead to a post-apocalypse Mad Max scenario, only with road warriors armed with nuclear bombs. Flannery then reluctantly posits two other choices. One is Utopian, prompt action followed by complete victory, without any structural change,


"Humanity acts promptly on individual, national and corporate levels to reduce emissions, and so avoids serious climatic consequences. Based on current trends, we will need to have commenced significant decarbonising of our electricity grids by around 2030, and to have substantially decarbonised transport systems by 2050. If we are successful, by 2150 or thereabouts greenhouse gas levels will have dropped to the point where Gaia can once again control Earth's thermostat."


Weather Makers was written only a couple of years ago but even in this short time an avalanche of evidence has come in; it now seems extremely unlikely that climate redemption will be that quick and easy. Famine, the first of the three horsemen of the apocalypse, has already crossed the finish line; how long war and pestilence will follow is moot. So, what about Flannery's third possibility?


"Emissions are reduced sufficiently to avoid outright disaster, but with serious damage to Earth's ecosystems results. With world climate on a knife-edge, Crutzen's vision of internationally agreed geo-engineering projects becomes mandatory. Civilisation will hover on the brink for decades or centuries, during which period the carbon cycle will need to be strictly controlled, by large and small geo-engineering projects alike. Under this final scenario humans would have no choice but to establish an Earth Commission for Thermostatic Control, something that could easily grow from the Kyoto Protocol."


Why the "no choice but to establish..."? Why is world regulation of the environment such a scary last resort? As Flannery then points out, there are over thirty greenhouse gases that have to be regulated on an international level. Carbon dioxide and methane are just the first two in line. Yet here even the world's greatest climate expert and most public advocate of climate control gives the impression that he is reluctant. He only contemplates us edging backwards into an Earth Climate Commission.


I will continue with this and the next chapter in this solution section of Flannery's Weather Makers in the next essay in this series. But before we end, let us look back at what is moving this series.


When you arrive at the Badi blog a slide show runs through a couple of dozen digital snapshots; in one I am lying on the carpet on my back with a newspaper article spread across my face. Marie took that photograph last year, but even today I feel weighed down by the headline, which as I recall says something like "Bush stalls climate talks." When I first unearthed the clipping in my files I did a double take when I saw the date. It is not a new headline, it is over seventeen years old. The delaying Bush was Bush senior. I should have realized it could not be current. Nobody on the world stage is so naive anymore as to bother with talks among nations. They were scuppered a decade ago, before they came near Kyoto. Nobody seriously expects nations, rich or poor, to act when corporations, not "sovereign" nations, set the agenda, and an anonymous elite sets the corporate agenda.


The Presidents Bush are not the only ones stalling, for it is the thesis of this series, The Poverty of Environmentalism, that environmentalists are doing it just as well. They are spinning their wheels in a rut, digging deeper the harder they try. Because of a poorly framed problem they got stuck early on in a repeating time loop, like in the film "Groundhog Day," their thinking frozen in a permanent repeat cycle while nature deteriorates at an accelerating pace.


If we refuse to even consider solving a world problem at a world level, what is to become of us?


One word describes such a situation perfectly: Zugzwang. Zugzwang is a German chess term meaning literally "move compulsion," referring to a position usually in the end game where a player has to make a move, but every possible move leads to defeat. According to the rules of chess, you have to make a move. True, in the real world we have the option of doing nothing. But we have to realize that doing nothing is a move too. As long as we continue thinking like we are, Zugzwang will tighten like a noose and we will be hanging over the abyss.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

p14 My Desolate,

Abominable Morning

By John Taylor; 2008 Apr 24, 15 Jalal, 165 BE


This morning I woke with a phrase in my head: "the abomination that maketh desolate." Cool, thought I, this is just like when the Master had a nap and awoke with the word "distinction," (Imtiyaz) on his lips, and then right after gave His famous talk about the kind of distinction that Baha'is should strive for -- that is, spiritual distinction. (for more, see last year’s essay on Imtiyaz, at, Could I write something along those lines this morning about the phrase "abomination that maketh desolate"? I may not attain His immortal incisiveness and eloquence but at least, thank God, I have leisure to follow my dream guidance.


Let us give it a shot on this lovely, abominable and desolate morning.


I may not have the intuitive knowledge of the Great Exemplar, but I do have Google. You type in "define:" followed by a word, and you get definitions from various authoritative sources. So, for abomination I got, "a person who is loathsome or disgusting, abhorrence, hate coupled with disgust; an action that is vicious, vile or arouses contempt, hatred or abhorrence." I dug a little deeper and found that the Biblical phrase translates Ta'ab or To'ba, which are not quite as strong, at least for a secular society,


"The term in English signifies that which is exceptionally loathsome, hateful, wicked, or vile. In Biblical terms to'ba does not carry the same sense of exceptionalism as the English term. It simply signifies that which is forbidden or unclean according to the religion. Linguistically it is therefore close in meaning to the Polynesian term taboo or tapu, signifying that which is forbidden, should be left alone and not touched, or (for some items) brings death by the act of touching. (Wikipedia, "Abomination")


 The phrase "abomination that maketh desolate" comes from Jesus, who pointed to this phrase in the Book of Daniel as a sign pointing to the time of His return. "And they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate." (Daniel 11:31) Bill Sears talks about this a lot in his most famous book, Thief in the Night. For example, in the following he offers as a bonus a lovely little definition that covers the essence of both terms, both abomination and the ritual uncleanness of to'ba.


"Thus Daniel prophesied that two thousand three hundred days (2300) would pass before the sanctuary would be cleansed. Following this time, all things would be made pure again. Before this time, the people would have fallen into a state of 'abomination' without love for God or man; then the Messiah would appear and restore their Faith and the purity of their belief. This was the general conclusion." (William Sears, Thief in the Night, p. 19)


So, an abomination that maketh desolate is ultimately a failure to love God and our fellow man. Other, more spectacular abominations derive from that. So maybe the phrase came into my head because of the passage from the Book of Matthew, 31-46, that we studied as part of our children's class just before retiring last night. In this combined parable and prophesy of the final judgment, a king asserts in no uncertain terms that if you do good or evil to the "humblest of my brothers," you have done it to him. And this king is lavish to those on the right and very harsh to the ones on the left, the sheep and the goats. Silvie defended left hands and goats, and I had to say that God has nothing against goats, it is just that they do not herd like sheep, they take off in their own direction, just like those who reject God. Goats and left hands do not know any better; bad people do.


Tomaso asked what doing good to the king's humblest brother means, and in my explanation I almost broke down as I told how a philosophy that selfishness is good created international policy that has lead over the past three decades to the homelessness and destitution of over a billion poor, banished to a truly abominable life of victimization in slums and favelas around the world. The astonishment and abomination for me is that when I was an atheist, before I was a Baha'i, I believed that too. I in fact read a book by my heroine at the time, Ayn Rand, called "The Virtue of Selfishness." The kids could not believe that such a book could have been written. They thought I was joking, but I assured them that it was so. By the way, if you want to see her philosophy articulated in popular form, go to YouTube with the keywords "Gordon Gecko speech on capitalism" and watch both speeches from the film, Wall Street. Contrast this idea that greed is a good thing, a product of the sifting forces of evolution that benefits humanity, with Baha'u'llah's image,


"Say: O people! The darkness of greed and envy becloudeth the radiance of the soul even as the clouds obstruct the light of the sun. Should anyone hearken unto this utterance with a discerning ear, he will unfurl the wings of detachment and soar effortlessly in the atmosphere of true understanding." (Baha'u'llah, Tabernacle of Unity)


Maybe my spirit was feeling guilty, mulling over my early complicity in an evil belief, or maybe waking up with "abomination of desolation" on my lips was just God's way of wishing me "Happy Ridvan." For Abdu'l-Baha interprets the following prophesy of Daniel,


"And from the time that the daily sacrifice shall be taken away, and the abomination that maketh desolation be set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days. Blessed is he that waiteth, and cometh to the thousand three hundred and five and thirty days." (11-12)


He interprets this period of the "abomination of desolation" as ending in April of 1863, that is, the Festival of Ridvan.


"Baha'u'llah, in the year 1290 from the proclamation of the mission of Muhammad, caused His manifestation to be known." (SAQ 44)


If so, Happy Ridvan to you, inspiring angels! If so, this saying captures the spirit of the Most Great Festival. Now we celebrate the beginning of the end of a millennia long abomination that maketh desolate, that is, an end to regarding other people as ritually unclean, the inauguration of the principle of the oneness of humankind. And at last an end to the horrors of greed and violence. At last a time when we can look forward to the beginning of a new, winsome time of peace and happiness. May He protect his poor from the greed of those whose minds are sunk in imitation of the desolation of ages past.


"For in those days there will be oppression, such as there has not been the like from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be. Unless the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh would have been saved; but for the elect's sake, whom he chose, he shortened the days." (Mark 13:19-20, WEB)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Comic Adventure

Our iMac was useless after the net connection died, and I had left it aside to be sold. Meantime, 13 year old Silvie used it's webcam, in combination with a comic book program on our main computers, to tell the following stories. It is on my wife’s blog “Obycejna zenska” but the story is in English. As always, I turn up as the heavy. Fathers are doomed, no matter how nice we try to be.

You can comment on her work, if you want, if you can make out the Czech instructions. In fact, if you can read Czech, you can tell me what the previous comments are all about.


For the Mac lovers among you, yes I got it going by moving it into the living room. I have no idea why that works as a repair, but there you go. It is a great television, it plays dvds that choke in any other player. Hopefully, with some other additions, I can use it as a computer too.

p19st Four Kinds of Fruit Bearing

Inspired by the 81st PHW

By John Taylor; 2008 Apr 23, 14 Jalal, 165 BE


Our reading for today is the 81st Persian Hidden Word. As a disabled person, prevented by constant migraine attacks from pursuing my calling professionally, more than most I read this Hidden Word with fear and trembling. Yet I look around and many able bodied souls fail in what they set out to do. Few bear the fruits they intend, and few of these are needed or wanted by posterity.


"O MY SERVANT! The basest of men are they that yield no fruit on earth. Such men are verily counted as among the dead, nay better are the dead in the sight of God than those idle and worthless souls."


Here, it seems to me, is the difference between baseness and nobility. Noble, of course, meaning worthy of entering God's aristocracy, not the elites that the world calls a nobility. A noble life is productive of fruits God wants to see; it shows up on the bottom line of the divine balance sheet. Nobility is obedience to the command: bear fruit and multiply. Baha'u'llah seems to have written this to supplement or extend the seed saying of Jesus Christ, "let the dead bury their dead." Pay attention, that is, to what counts, and ignore what does not conduce to eternal life.


Life has a purpose, and the lesson here is that it is possible, indeed all too easy, for a life of diligent effort to count as a liability rather than an asset on the divine spreadsheet. The environmental debacle that we are living through in these times proves this: many busy lives and outwardly successful careers are, in the eyes of God, worse than if they had not been lived at all. If the fruit of our labor is blithely to destroy the world and obliterate any chance that future generations will live at all, well, it is an understatement to say that that life was worse than being counted among the dead.


The lesson of this Hidden Word is clear: Even if we are alive and productive outwardly, it is our God-given obligation as servants to constantly check and be sure that we really are alive, that we really are productive. The difference between a life that bears fruit and an idle existence is just what this and other Hidden Words hint at: incessant self-examination. We are always to ask: Are my efforts bearing the fruits intended?


But how do we take into account our actions, before and after the fact?


Here is an idea. Like a pilot, we could put every day of our life through a preflight checklist in the morning and a post-mission debriefing at the end. Dante offered a four step process by which the meaning of every action can be judged: the historical, anagogic, tropological and the allegorical. Let us go through this scheme one by one,


Historical: How do my acts fit into the overall story of my life, my family and the human race? Are they making it better? Morning: let my planned acts follow through on the best story of me and us so far. If I forget the history, let my choice of morning reading remind me now. Evening: Did I see my errors? How can I fit their lessons into the plan for later? Make notes for future reference.


Anagogic (mystical, what leads to God): Refer all acts to the king, as befits a member of His nobility. Morning: Let me pray for the success, not just outward but anagogic, of every phase of today's plan. If I lose outwardly, let me rejoice inwardly nonetheless, for the success I aim at is not registered here. Evening: Did all my acts serve mere superficial ends, or did I do a pure act, beyond logical understanding? Let purity be my holy grail.


Tropological (moral): Bear in mind that every deed is as seed, as Aeschylus said, "The impious act begets more after it, like to the parent stock." And as Baha'u'llah teaches, the reverse is true, a righteous act has endless power. Morning: Perform a good deed or take a moral stand each day. Walk against the current, do a right thing you otherwise would not have done. Evening: Clean up after yourself in your prayers. Pray that the good will reproduce, the bad die, dry and fly.


Allegorical: Life is a matrix, a simulation, an unheard conversation behind all things. God is carrying it on with God, and the noble hear it. The noble learn politely to edge their daily plans and efforts into that silent conversation. Morning: Plan your words, not just your acts. Try to say what fits into the Allegory, the Dialectic. Speak seriously to avoid gossip. Evening: Did my words reflect my subsistence diet of God's Word? Did I seed It into the earth of my heart today? Am I listening every moment? What were the conversation-starting words I spoke that would please the Manifestation? Did I make my day into His Day? Did I ignore all the rest?


"Devotion to the tree is profitless, but partaking of the fruit is beneficial. Luscious fruits, no matter upon what tree they grow or where they may be found, must be enjoyed. The word of truth, no matter which tongue utters it, must be sanctioned. Absolute verities, no matter in what book they be recorded, must be accepted. If we harbor prejudice, it will be the cause of deprivation and ignorance. The strife between religions, nations and races arises from misunderstanding." (Promulgation, 151-152)