Thursday, June 05, 2008

p33 In Memory of the Martyrs

Seven Sweets from Gleanings, Part II

By John Taylor; 2008 June 05, 01 Nur, 165 BE


Yesterday we looked at four of seven mentions of "tasting sweetness" that turned up in Gleanings, the Guardian's selection of the "best parts" of the Writings of Baha'u'llah. Only three remain in our box of chocolates. The fifth mention of sweet taste is in reference to ownership.


The whole idea of property has always been a problem to philosophers;  thinkers on both sides of the political spectrum have rejected it completely, holding that owning something for yourself and excluding everybody else from it is just another form of theft. "Property is theft" is their self-contradictory motto. Others contend that one can just as easily say that theft is property, since every good has been taken from somebody else, and all originally was owned by God. The Baha'i teachings, following the Ten Commandments, are surprisingly strong on the "for" side of ownership, as this shows,


"Some have regarded it as lawful to infringe on the integrity of the substance of their neighbor, and have made light of the injunction of God as prescribed in His Book. Evil fall upon them, and the chastisement of God, the All-Powerful, the Almighty, afflict them!" (Gl 298)


Pretty strong. It is interesting that Baha'u'llah is blaming here not petty thieves themselves but those who rationalize systemic theft in their thinking, those who "regard it as lawful." That seems to include the situation in the world right now. We are living through the most massive resource theft in history. Rich nations and corporations go into poor countries, bribe a few officials, and walk away with billions of dollars worth of mineral and other rights and concessions, while the people there continue to languish in dirt poverty. Last week the New York Times had an Op Ed piece finally admitting that maybe Americans should stop thinking of poor countries as dependent on them, since foreign aid is a pittance compared with the staggering quantities of undervalued resources flowing in from countries whose land is rich but the people are living hand to mouth. The real parasites are the wealthy.


I heard on the radio the testimony of an activist who is traveling around explaining to officials in undeveloped countries the idea of the auction. That is my kind of activist, not a protester but an educator! He points out that the English government in '05 wanted to sell a band of airwaves for two million but at the last minute decided to auction it off. It sold for twenty million. If the best informed governments can underestimate the value of their property by a factor of ten, imagine what it is like in poor, remote places! A fair and open auction allows a government to sell assets at their true market value; they do not need to find out what it is worth, since competition among buyers determines it. This is why the last thing the "liberators" of Iraq wanted was a fair auction and why it soon become a money sink of unprecedented proportions. Worse still, the spending comes from borrowed funds, which means that the victim behind the victim is our future.


Covetousness is the bitter taste of property. Avarice is the mark of failing this spiritual test. We are still not at the sweet part. Baha'u'llah continues,


"By Him Who shineth above the Day Spring of sanctity! If the whole earth were to be converted into silver and gold, no man who can be said to have truly ascended into the heaven of faith and certitude would deign to regard it, much less to seize and keep it." (297-298)


The price of resources has shot through the roof over the past year, what with the industrialization of India and China. So Baha'u'llah pretty much describes the situation of the world right now; the whole earth has been converted to precious commodities. Gold and silver prices have shot up, but other resources are even more valued.


There no end to greed.


So gross is it that surely more and more people will start looking for leaders who can show detachment from the money grab. Of course in order get leaders who are detached large numbers of ordinary people must become impervious to the many subtle bribes that illegitimate prosperity offers them. Baha'u'llah offers sweet divine rewards to those who do detach,


"... God is Our witness! Whoever hath tasted the sweetness of those words will never consent to transgress the bounds which God hath fixed, neither will he turn his gaze towards any one except his Well-Beloved. Such a man will, with his inner eye, readily recognize how altogether vain and fleeting are the things of this world, and will set his affections on things above. (Gl 298)


Mixed in with this sweetness is a profound message about owning God in our own heart. We are all greedy and ambitious; we all want to live and grow. Our only choice is how to grow, where to expand. Will it be in this world, or the Kingdom of God? A lover of God is avid for his or her Beloved, and sacrifices all worldly goods for that end. A rebel against God regards property as an end in itself, and is willing to do what it takes, lie, cheat or steal, to get his filthy hands on it.


The French Revolution marked the first victory of atheists over a world power; even the leaders of Greece and Rome had not rejected the religion of the people completely. Instead, empty ideals like equality, liberty and fraternity were set up as idols, convenient devices to cover the absconding of the possessions of the old nobility by a new bourgeoisie. It was a smaller scale version of right now. The technique has been perfected, the slogans vary, but the goal is the same: theft. It will be a sweet thing when nobody consents to "transgressing the bounds," and the goods and property of the world are secure in the hands of all.


Our next "sweet taste" quote is about liberty, that most misunderstood of the basic drives, since it is basic to plants and animals as well as men and saints. Baha'u'llah makes it clear that the latter is the liberty we should be striving after,


"Say: True liberty consisteth in man's submission unto My commandments, little as ye know it. Were men to observe that which We have sent down unto them from the Heaven of Revelation, they would, of a certainty, attain unto perfect liberty. Happy is the man that hath apprehended the Purpose of God in whatever He hath revealed from the Heaven of His Will, that pervadeth all created things. Say: The liberty that profiteth you is to be found nowhere except in complete servitude unto God, the Eternal Truth. Whoso hath tasted of its sweetness will refuse to barter it for all the dominion of earth and heaven." (Gl 336)


Exhilarating as lower levels of freedom may be for a time, the taste of servitude to God is far sweeter for much longer. This only is real freedom. If people in 18th Century France had tasted of true liberty, service to the Kingdom, they would never have allowed the nobility to steal from the poor, or the Jacobin to steal from the robber, or for such revolutionaries to pretend that it was all done in the name of liberty. A servant of God can detect hypocrisy.


It is not well known that the original statue of liberty was erected during this revolution in Paris. It was soon torn down, and later a larger one was given by the French people to America. It is well to remember the incident that probably eventually led to the destruction of this first statue of liberty in the area now known as the Place de la Concorde. Madame Roland, a brave and eloquent writer whose husband, a better known writer, had fallen into disfavor, was dragged before a Revolutionary Tribunal where evidence was heard but she was not allowed a word in her own defense.


"Pronounced guilty of a `horrible conspiracy against the unity and indivisibility of the Republic, and the liberty and safety of the French people,' she was ordered to be executed that very afternoon. On a bleak, wintry November day, Madame Roland traveled in a cart to the foot of the guillotine in the Place de la Revolution. Mounting the platform, she looked calmly around at the vast concourse; before placing her head on the block, her eyes fastened on the artist David's statue of Liberty. She bowed to it and exclaimed, "O Liberte, que de crimes on commet en ton nom!" (Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name!)


The only way to attain to liberty that is sincere and not criminal, that does not impinge upon the rights and property of others, is to cleave to the Law of God. The sweetness of law is the concern of our last selection from Gleanings,


"O ye peoples of the world! Know assuredly that My commandments are the lamps of My loving providence among My servants, and the keys of My mercy for My creatures. Thus hath it been sent down from the heaven of the Will of your Lord, the Lord of Revelation. Were any man to taste the sweetness of the words which the lips of the All-Merciful have willed to utter, he would, though the treasures of the earth be in his possession, renounce them one and all, that he might vindicate the truth of even one of His commandments, shining above the day spring of His bountiful care and loving-kindness." (Gl 332)


The law is a lamp of providence and a key of mercy. We prove that we have tasted of the divine command when we feel willing give our all to vindicate its truth, and when we relieve ourselves of the burden of "one and all" of our possessions to this end.

This taste of divine law takes us full circle back to the question of property. Property puzzled so many great minds and sincere reformers because we need it, yet we need to be free of it. Ownership is obscure because we have not perambulated full circle around what Baha'u'llah sets before us here. Worldlings have not tasted the sweetness of detachment from gain, of true freedom in servitude, and of upholding the Great Lawgiver. I feel in my heart that our band of sisters and brothers in Iran have taken this walk for certain, and shown us the way, for their lives and property are at the mercy of those who would steal the awesome power of the Law of God itself. May God deliver them, and us, from the mugger.

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