Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Right to Look


The Right to Look; Cruel Imitation in Diet; A 100 Year Committee




By John Taylor; 2008 Oct 30, 13 'Ilm 165 BE




Today, let us highlight some fallacies about diet. The following conclusions about food myths are exposed in one of the few books to look at what we eat scientifically and critically, "Good Calories, Bad Calories."




The 11 Critical Conclusions of Good Calories, Bad Calories




1. Dietary fat, whether saturated or not, does not cause heart disease.


2. Carbohydrates do, because of their effect on the hormone insulin. The more easily-digestible and refined the carbohydrates and the more fructose they contain, the greater the effect on our health, weight, and well-being.


3. Sugars -- sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup specifically -- are particularly harmful. The glucose in these sugars raises insulin levels; the fructose they contain overloads the liver.


4. Refined carbohydrates, starches, and sugars are also the most likely dietary causes of cancer, Alzheimers Disease, and the other common chronic diseases of modern times.


5. Obesity is a disorder of excess fat accumulation, not overeating and not sedentary behavior.


6. Consuming excess calories does not cause us to grow fatter any more than it causes a child to grow taller.


7. Exercise does not make us lose excess fat; it makes us hungry.


8. We get fat because of an imbalance -- a disequilibrium -- in the hormonal regulation of fat tissue and fat metabolism. More fat is stored in the fat tissue than is mobilized and used for fuel. We become leaner when the hormonal regulation of the fat tissue reverses this imbalance.


9. Insulin is the primary regulator of fat storage. When insulin levels are elevated, we stockpile calories as fat. When insulin levels fall, we release fat from our fat tissue and burn it for fuel.


10. By stimulating insulin secretion, carbohydrates make us fat and ultimately cause obesity. By driving fat accumulation, carbohydrates also increase hunger and decrease the amount of energy we expend in metabolism and physical activity.


11. The fewer carbohydrates we eat, the leaner we will be.




Another excellent investigator of our pitiful modern diet is Michael Pollan.




"In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan describes what he says are the four principal food chains in the United States: the industrial, the big organic, the local farm, and the hunter-gatherer. Pollan follows each of these food chains from a group of plants photosynthesizing calories, through a series of intermediate stages, and ultimately to a meal. Along the way, he suggests that there is a fundamental tension between the logic of nature and the logic of human industry; that the way we eat represents our most profound engagement with the natural world; and that industrial eating obscures crucially important ecological relationships and connections." (from: "Michael Pollan," Wikipedia)




from: In Defense of Food, An Eater's Manifesto, by Michael Pollan




"Which brings us -- reluctantly, necessarily -- to the American factory farm, the place where all such distinctions turn to dust. It's not easy to draw lines between pain and suffering in a modern egg or confinement hog operation. These are places where the subtleties of moral philosophy and animal cognition mean less than nothing, where everything we've learned about animals at least since Darwin has been simply . . . set aside. To visit a modern CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) is to enter a world that, for all its technological sophistication, is still designed according to Cartesian principles: animals are machines incapable of feeling pain. Since no thinking person can possibly believe this any more, industrial animal agriculture depends on a suspension of disbelief on the part of the people who operate it and a willingness to avert your eyes on the part of everyone else."


"Much of this description is drawn from `Dominion,' Matthew Scully's recent book in which he offers a harrowing description of a North Carolina hog operation. Scully, a Christian conservative, has no patience for lefty rights talk, arguing instead that while God did give man ''dominion'' over animals (`Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you'), he also admonished us to show them mercy. 'We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality but . . . because they stand unequal and powerless before us.'"


"Scully calls the contemporary factory farm `our own worst nightmare' and, to his credit, doesn't shrink from naming the root cause of this evil: unfettered capitalism. (Perhaps this explains why he resigned from the Bush administration just before his book's publication.) A tension has always existed between the capitalist imperative to maximize efficiency and the moral imperatives of religion or community, which have historically served as a counterweight to the moral blindness of the market. This is one of `the cultural contradictions of capitalism' -- the tendency of the economic impulse to erode the moral underpinnings of society. Mercy toward animals is one such casualty.


"Salatin's open-air abattoir is a morally powerful idea. Someone slaughtering a chicken in a place where he can be watched is apt to do it scrupulously, with consideration for the animal as well as for the eater. This is going to sound quixotic, but maybe all we need to do to redeem industrial animal agriculture in this country is to pass a law requiring that the steel and concrete walls of the CAFO's and slaughterhouses be replaced with . . . glass. If there's any new 'right' we need to establish, maybe it's this one: the right to look.


"The industrialization -- and dehumanization -- of American animal farming is a relatively new, evitable and local phenomenon: no other country raises and slaughters its food animals quite as intensively or as brutally as we do. Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to do it this way. Tail-docking and sow crates and beak-clipping would disappear overnight, and the days of slaughtering 400 head of cattle an hour would come to an end. For who could stand the sight? Yes, meat would get more expensive. We'd probably eat less of it, too, but maybe when we did eat animals, we'd eat them with the consciousness, ceremony and respect they deserve.






We have a dangerously cruel way of enriching our diet with meat. It is all a symptom of short term thinking. No civilization can expect to please God, or even survive, if it treats nature as this capitalist, anarchic, short term oriented system is doing. The following proposal by George Monbiot might counteract some of the bias toward now as opposed to tomorrow that is built into our present system.




"What can be done about political short-termism? With the environmental thinker Matthew Prescott, Ive hatched what might be a partial solution. We propose a new parliamentary body - the 100 Year Committee - whose purpose is to assess the likely impacts of current policy in 10, 20, 50 and 100 years time. Like any other select committee, it gathers evidence, publishes reports and makes recommendations to the government. It differs only in that it has no interest in the current political cycle. Its maximum timeframe is roughly the residence time of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


"The members of this committee would not be equipped with crystal balls; they would simply be released from the need to balance the interests of the present against a heavily-discounted future. Their purpose would be to provide a voice for those who have not yet been enfranchised. A 100 Year Committee cannot insure us against political stupidity, but it deprives governments of one of their excuses: that they could not see trouble coming.


from: Free the Unborn! A proposal for slowing down politics", By George Monbiot. Guardian, 21st October 2008,

John Taylor



Turkish Untergang

This Untergang parody was written by a fellow who is pretty upset that Mein Kampf is a bestseller in Turkey. 

Hitler and Turkey. The reason why.

He writes in introduction:

"No one knows why Hitler committed suicide. This footage caught by an SS Bunker security camera gives us a valuable insight about this historical event. For the Turks, praise yourselves, the man with the mustache is the author of your #1 book "Mein Kampf". For everyone else, it was one of the most despicable human beings on earth who murdered millions of innocent people. Not for the easily offended."

Myself, I was surprised when Hitler mentioned that the Turkish flag looks like PacMan. A little investigation turned up this:

Judge for yourself. I guess for the heirs of those who mistreated the Lord of the Age the way they did, you could expect nothing less than a Pacman flag.


One of the better Downfall scene parodies

Hitler finds out his subtitles are wrong


Fly Me to the Moon

Of all the versions of this song that I just listened to, this is my favorite. By Astrud Gilberto, 1965.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

10 Tips to Increase your Fuel Mileage

3 kinds of happiness

Psychologist Martin Seligman is the most prominent and sensible thinkers in his field. His contrast of "Hollywood happiness" with flow happiness is similar to a distinction that Horace Holley made way back when. 


Homosexuality Brought Up Twice

Homosexuality Brought Up Twice

By John Taylor; 2008 Oct 29, 12 'Ilm 165 BE

Reader Feedback
Testing My TQ
Is the unnatural wrong?

Reader Feedback

One of the fun things about running the Badi' blog is meeting nice new friends who write in with kind comments and questions. Ned Walker wrote,

So John ... I was reading your postings about homosexuality and the organization in Canada (BNASAA) that has got a forum on this topic and the Faith, and the topic in general which I suppose all of us think about and deal with. One of our local Baha'i friends has said that she would have a lot more success in teaching if this "issue" weren't in the way, undoubtedly true.  What I have been thinking about is from part of a letter from the Master to Martha Root, as it is quite insightful.

"Today the world of humanity will not find peace and tranquility except through these teachings and this darkness will not, otherwise, be dispelled, these chronic diseases be cured. Nay, these would, otherwise, be aggravated from day to day. The Balkans will not rest, but become worse than before; the subjugated natives will not sit quiet, nay they will cling to every instrumentality until the flame of war will be rekindled. Now popular movements will concentrate their entire energy upon the realization of their aims. The northern movement (Russian Sovietism) will attain great importance and will be spread. You should, therefore, endeavor with a shining heart, merciful spirit, and heavenly power and Divine confirmation in order to become a lordly Bounty to the world of humanity and become the cause of rest and tranquility to mankind." (Abdu'l-Baha, Letter to Martha Root)

The "gay movement" if you will accept this term as accurate, seems to qualify well as one of the "popular movements" mentioned by Abdu'l-Baha, even though the context is Balkan politics. The implications are much broader. If you want to discuss a bit, it would be OK with me.

JET: Briefly, one thing I learned from the recent Sexual Identity Conference at McMaster was that the Gay Liberation movement has changed considerably from its militant stance in the 1990's. Now it is less concerned with labelling anybody and everybody they can as gay in order to gain recognition. They are recognized, so they are getting over it. In 2008 there tends to be more celebration of the diversity of human sexual experience. As a result, gays tend to be more fractionalized and tolerant. Going by that, Baha'is do not need to fear the violent reaction from gays themselves that they might have ten years ago. On the other hand, society in general now accepts many non-religious presuppositions about homosexuality, and Baha'is, along with other faiths, are increasingly marginalized in our position.

As the speaker suggested, it is wisest to avoid giving sound bites about the Baha'i position and discuss it only when there is time to draw a detailed picture of the full context of our beliefs.

I lately got an enquiry from Carol Rutstien, and responded:

"If you are related to Nathan Rutstein, he was kind enough to pick me up hitchhiking in Sherbrooke Quebec, back in the 1980's. He is one of my favorite Baha'i writers... we talked about my getting published. I remain an unpublished writer, but now I can at least call myself a blogger. Thank you for your interest in my work."

She gave this generous reply:

"Thanks so much for your reply.  I have been enjoying your blog, however it's dangerous as there is so much to draw one in.  Its easy to get lost in all the topics, etc. But when I do have time, it is enjoyable to read. 
"I am Nat's wife. We were married for almost 51 years, when he passed away suddenly in May on 2006. Actually he died two hours after sunset on the 22nd of May. Its fitting that he passed on at the time of a Holy Day. Although I miss him every day I cannot be sad for long, as we enjoyed a very long and wonderful relationship together. We have four children who have produced 11 grandchildren, two of whom are serving at the Baha'i World Centre. 
"I wish you all the best with your blog -- and who knows, publication may still be in your future."

Carol's original inquiry was about a Shakespearian insult generator that I had written about a few years ago. At first I could not believe that I had written about such a frivolous, even morally questionable subject as Shakespearian insults, but sure enough, there it was on the Badi' Blog at:

And she was right, my frivolous moments are dangerous time wasters. Inspired by that insult machine I uncovered this euphemism generator at:

Here are some examples of the euphemisms it produced for me. How delicious some of unspeakable acts seem when covered over by a colourful turn of phrase. When they describe nothing at all, they are even more enticing.

"He spent every lunch hour at home, pinching the rubber lightbulb."
"They found him naked in the alley behind the bar, hazing the royal pickle." 
"She couldn't believe her luck as she discovered him burying the brass egg." 
"She seemed like a shy girl when they met, but a few drinks later, they were wielding the squid."

Ed always supplies us with interesting material, some of amusing time wasters as well. Like this, for instance,

Ed also offers some interesting selections from Secret of Divine Civilization about civil service. I will cite these later.

Testing My TQ

Another time waster, though a more serious one, I came across this morning while looking for a philosophy magazine to subscribe to (my father dumps piles of science magazines on me, and I figured that if I must read magazines, I would much rather be reading philosophy than endless popular science). I did not find one I definitively want, but one periodical, The Philosopher Magazine, had a fascinating teaser, a "philosophical health check" quiz. It measures the "tension" between your various beliefs and compares them to other readers of the magazine. You can take the test at:

They explain that "The PHC is designed to identify tensions or contradictions (a Tension Quotient) between various beliefs that you have. The PHC does not aim to identify which of your beliefs are true or false, but where the set of beliefs you hold may not be compatible with each other." I found it hard indeed to provide an answer yes or no to these difficult philosophical generalizations. Really, it was as painful as pinching the rubber lightbulb. But I did my best. Going over the instantly generated results, it turned out that I have a "Tension Quotient" of 47%. I was assured that the "average player of this activity to date has a Tension Quotient of 28%" What does that mean? They explain,

"It may help to think of the idea of 'tension' in terms of an intellectual balancing act. Where there is little or no tension between beliefs, little intellectual effort is required to balance both beliefs. But where there is a lot of tension, either one has to 'jump off the tightrope', by abandoning one belief; maintain one's balance by intellectual effort and dexterity; or else 'fall off the tightrope' by failing to reconcile the tension and holding contradictory beliefs."

As far as I can see, the main result of having a high TQ like mine is that I got far more feedback from this philosophy teacher's marking machine than others.

Since we started off with the question of homosexuality, and since my Baha'i inspired convictions about that evidently raised my already soaring TQ even higher, let us close today by looking at how stretched to the breaking point my beliefs about homosexuality are.

Questions 19 and 7: Is the unnatural wrong?
You agreed that: 
"Proper sanitation and medicines are generally good for a society."
And also that:
"Homosexuality is wrong because it is unnatural."
18191 of the 139281 people who have completed this activity have this tension in their beliefs.
Philosophical Engine: "You believe that something is wrong if it is unnatural. Yet you believe that sanitation and medicine are good. But aren't these also unnatural? What is natural about sophisticated modern sewage systems and the domestic supply of clean water? What is natural about chemotherapy or other sophisticated medical treatments?"

JET: Hmm. Our cat Malley finds it quite natural to lick himself all over to clean himself. Birds could not fly if they did not preen. Cleaning and expunging waste is "natural" to most if not all animals. The problem is that I have been forced by the excluded middle between "Yes" and "No" to conflate human "naturalness" with that of animals. What is natural to humans is, by definition, unnatural, that is, artificial. But matters of survival, including sanitation, are natural at all levels.
In the same way that humans use artificial tools, like sewage and water pipes, to sanitize our bodies, we use artificial tools to help our soul. For example, reason and the will regulate our moral condition according to what is natural to our highest nature.
If we assume that humans are animals and nothing more, then I agree that these ideas contradict. But the Manifestations teach that we have a dual nature, and that duality changes the presuppositions.

Philosophical Engine: "So the first problem here is that it is simply not true that most people think all things unnatural are bad. So that means being unnatural is no reason for homosexuality to be considered wrong. (There is also the question of in what sense homosexuality is supposed to be unnatural)."

JET: We have a spiritual and a physical nature, so if God's Representative tells us that homosexuality is not natural to the spiritual nature or compatible with eternal existence, we have to accept that on faith. So I do. It is pointless to argue about matters permanently beyond rational understanding that have been ruled upon by those we deem competant to do so.

Philosophical Engine: "The second problem is a logical one. Because something 'is' the case, it doesn't follow that it 'ought' to be the case. 'Cancer kills' is true, but that doesn't mean 'cancer should (in the moral sense of the word) kill'. So there is a problem in trying to derive matters of moral value directly from matters of pure fact."

JET: Okay. I will avoid the red herrings and go to the main argument.
We know that science understands nature by applying natural selection, survival of the fittest, to large populations. Elephants have trunks because they "should" have trunks, because they conduce to their survival.
There is also such a thing as "ethical selection." A handful of large world religions have survived for thousands of years, and they pretty much unitedly condemn and suppress homosexuality. Far, far more religions have competed with them and in the long run they lost out; and to varying degrees they all tolerated homosexuality. So in a broad sense revulsion for homosexuality must conduce to the survival of an ethical stance, if only by encouraging higher birth rates. Therefore regarding homosexuality as wrong and unnatural must be a desirable thing for any society that desires a stable moral order.

John Taylor


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Family as Cure for Climate Change

The Particular Reform of Families.

By John Taylor; 2008 Oct 26, 10 'Ilm 165 BE

The Particular Reform of Families.


By John Taylor; 2008 Oct 26, 10 'Ilm 165 BE


Jan Amos Comenius launches this chapter on the family in the Panorthosia (Universal Reform) by quoting the entire 101st Psalm, known as the householder's prayer. Unlike the passive, corrupted remnant of an institution that the family is today, this psalm places a heavy burden of responsibility on family members. They are charged with an active role in controlling and filtering the flow of information both into the home and within it. They are to censor data flow coming in by following the example of a God Who sets "no wicked thing before mine eyes." They control communication among themselves by avoiding lies and "working deceit," "slandering his neighbour" and having a "proud heart." As he does for every level of society, Comenius suggests a motto or declaration of success in reforming the family.


"THIS IS THE DWELLING PLACE OF VIRTUE, ORDER, AGREEMENT, AND GOD AMONGST MEN! Therefore let nothing that is evil ever enter it!"


This declaration of domestic interdependence, this epitome of which Comenius suggests be placed above the entrance door of the house, is directly inspired by the householder's psalm. It suggests first a nurturing function, a positive duty to foster virtue, order, harmony and godliness, followed by a protective duty, sternly keeping evil out. Perhaps most important, it sets up service as the ideal of a perfect family member, since God says in the Psalm,


"He that shall walk in a perfect way shall serve me."


I cannot emphasize enough that this ideal of service is not the same as happiness or fulfilment. Indeed, service can be seen as -- at least in the short term -- mutually exclusive of happiness and fulfilment. This is because of the law of the universe that philosophers call the "hedonic paradox": it is impossible to gain pleasure by "pleasuring." Only doing other things calculated to lead to pleasure do we get a chance to experience pleasure later on. In the same way, as the Psalm says, the perfect way in a household is to serve God. That means trusting that by selflessly serving, "he that shall save his life shall lose it, and he that gives it away shall gain it." Service requires faith that in the long run we do what God created us for, and for that reason a measure of pleasure, fulfilment and happiness must be added unto us later, if not in this world then in the next.


Consider, then, what the Wikipedia article on the family has to say about its traditional role. In a section entitled "Contemporary Views of the Family," it does not mention service at all, but rather states,


"Contemporary society generally views family as a haven from the world, supplying absolute fulfillment. The family is considered to encourage `intimacy, love and trust where individuals may escape the competition of dehumanizing forces in modern society from the rough and tumble industrialized world, and as a place where warmth, tenderness and understanding can be expected from a loving mother, and protection from the world can be expected from the father. However, the idea of protection is declining as civil society faces less internal conflict combined with increased civil rights and protection from the state. To many, the ideal of personal or family fulfillment has replaced protection as the major role of the family. The family now supplies what is vitally needed but missing from other social arrangements.'"


So, not only has the family taken a viper to its bosom -- the sham fallacy of "absolute fulfilment" in place of service -- not only does family no longer have an economic role (most parents work for joint stock companies rather than family businesses) but it also suffers a permanent imbalance toward nurturing and away from protection, towards "expectations" and away from duty and service. If the traditional "male" protective function (symbolized by God as father figure) is taken over by the state, if men do not play a distinctive role of paterfamilias protecting the family name, if society continues to misapprehend sex roles and the nature of service, the family will remain sunk in an impotent backwater.


Comenius here offers a particular methodology for regaining the destined health of family affairs, but he admits straight off that it will demand a great amount of "zeal" to implement, "But what method should we adopt? Let us learn from the example of David [in the householder's psalm] how much zeal is required if we are to rid our household of corruption and corruptors." This process does not stop at the household but proceeds upwards. He points out that higher levels of governance derive any effectiveness they have from lessons learned at the family hearth,


"Let all kings and princes bear these words, all counts, barons, nobles, and ordinary citizens who have to rule over houses large or small, so that they compose themselves according to this idea of holy zeal and begin their reforms by removing every offence from their own household."


Moral illness, then, should be prevented with the same desperate energy that we reserve for epidemics of life threatening disease. He suggests that the measures prescribed in the Law of Moses for purifying and expunging all traces of the "plague of leprosy" from a home are not intended for that problem alone, but should be taken as a metaphor for all ethical dangers. "One has only to apply this method and the mystic meaning will be obvious." Ten steps were required, as Comenius sums up the long Biblical prescription beginning at Leviticus 14:34,



1. It was the duty of the owner to attend to his household, and

2. if he saw the plague, not to stand idly looking on, but to ask the priests for their advice.

3. It was the priest's duty to come, look, and examine, and

4. to take away the infected stones,

5. to scrape the remainder of the house to prevent further infection

6. to put other stones in place of those that were removed,

7. to pronounce the whole house unclean if he saw that the lep rosy came again and spread,

8. to cause the whole house to be destroyed,

9. but if he saw that the plague was not spreading, to pronounce the house clean,

10. and finally to see that thanks were given unto God.



As with many other former functions of the family, the job of protecting health is now in the hands of professionals, in this case epidemiologists hired by the state. However, in my opinion Comenius is right in his scripturally inspired belief that the buck for protection starts with individuals serving in family groups.


For one thing, while the state is good at dealing with old threats like that of plague, it has badly fumbled new dangers that fall outside jurisdictional lines. The most famous example is the need to act to prevent climate change. While the evidence is hardening that we are already too late to reverse it now, it was not always so. On the Badi' Blog I have collected two copies of a film made back in the 1950's by Fritz Capra,



This clearly shows that if we had been as alert and vigilant, especially on the family level, as the Law of Moses demanded, vigorous action could have been taken on the local and higher levels to reverse climate degradation. It would not take much to rewrite the above set of precautions against leprosy in order to counteract all sorts of dangers we are facing today.


The newspapers are full of protection measures that, now we realize, should be done by all, such as buying local, buying organic, purchasing economical transport, and so forth. With all the warnings in the world, few are actually doing any of it, largely because of the emasculation of protective functions that should be hardwired into the family, but which are not.

John Taylor



Unchained Goddess

How long have we known about global warming?

From a 1958 documentary by Fritz Capra, "Global Warming - It's NOT newly known"

This is discussed more at length at:

Larry Brilliant: The case for informed optimism director Larry Brilliant uses a clip from an old Frank Capra movie to show that we've known about global warming for 50 years -- yet in half a century, we've done almost nothing to solve it. He explores this and other megatrends that could inspire pessimism. But, he says, there is a more powerful case for optimism.

Monday, October 27, 2008

City in History

The City in History, God as Friend and Neighbour
By John Taylor; 2008 Oct 25, 9 'Ilm 165 BE

Lewis Mumford, The City in History, Its origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects, Harcourt, Inc. San Diego New York London, 1961

I want to pause in my study of the Panorthosia to consider Lewis Mumford's book about the role of cities (this is no book review, I've only read the first dozen or so pages). Consulting this classic book in its field provided me with some powerful insights into the origin and continued importance not only of the city but also of villages, towns and indeed the world.

Before, there were civilizations based on capitol cities there were smaller villages and towns. How did they come about? For some unknown reason nomads and hunter-gatherers gathered into villages, and then into larger, more permanent places of residence. Such events are lost to prehistory, but as Mumford points out, at least some scholars have speculated that the first villages grew into towns out of a religious impulse, out of our visceral need to visit a holy place.

"... spiritual stimulus no less than trade remains one of the essential criteria of the city, a witness to its inherent dynamism, as opposed to the more fixed and indrawn form of the village, hostile to the outsider. (Lewis Mumford, The City in History, p. 10)

In these holy places we build our worldview, we form an image of our place in the universe by simply walking on ground associated with our Creator. The pilgrimage to this sanctified locale epitomizes our entire journey in life from cradle to grave. From that trip comes the political order we make out of our new understanding, whatever form it may take.

"The first germ of the city, then, is in the ceremonial meeting place that serves as the goal for pilgrimage: a site to which family or clan groups are drawn back, at seasonable intervals, because it concentrates, in addition to any natural advantages it may have, certain 'spiritual' or supernatural powers, powers of higher potency and greater duration, of wider cosmic significance, than the ordinary processes of life. And though the human performances may be occasional and temporary, the structure that supports it, whether a paleolithic grotto or a Mayan ceremonial center with its lofty pyramid, will be endowed with a more lasting cosmic image." (p. 10)

Muhammad, then, made a lasting contribution to the advance of civilization when He began a formalized, universal institution of pilgrimage applicable to all Muslims. He started with the ancient center of the Bible, and then turned it to "the city," Medina. As Islam spread across Asia, Europe and Africa its contribution was to take the spiritual basis of urban life, the need to journey and visit a holy place, and make it into what was called the Umma, a broader community than a tribe or city, one formalized by common prayer and pilgrimage. Thus began the nation.

Revolutionary as it was to have cities, and the agriculture that supports cities, the village remained fundamental. It made an essential, lasting contribution to human happiness, the neighbour.

"Before the city came into existence the village had brought forth the neighbor: he who lives near at hand, within calling distance, sharing crises of life, watching over the dying, weeping sympathetically for the dead, rejoicing at a marriage feast or a childbirth. Neighbors hurry to your door, as Hesiod reminds us, while even kinsmen `dawdle over their gear.'" (pp. 14-15)

The vexed question, "Who is my neighbour?" was what Jesus addressed with His message of love and spirit. The parable of the Good Samaritan, told about a pilgrim in answer to that question as to who is our neighbour, was that it is not those nearest or most like us but those who love by doing most good who are the true neighbours, no matter where they live, whose tribe or family they belong to, or how important a place in the social order they may occupy. Combine Muhammad's teaching of formalized religious pilgrimage with Jesus's teaching of universal neighbourliness, and we got the ability to break away from clannishness and tribalism and gather into larger units without losing contact with nature or one another. What hope would we have of a global village without any of that?

It is from these twin pillars, neighbourly love and journey to sanctity, that Baha'u'llah raises the universal moral order of a united humanity. Just as it was impossible to be fully human living in a village without connecting with one's spiritual neighbours by respecting the holy times and places of fellow villagers, the same is true on a planetary level today, as Baha'u'llah insists: "That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race." (Tablets, 167) Mumford talks about how this sense of what makes us wholly human developed as cities gradually grew over the millennia,

"The order and stability of the village, along with its maternal enclosure and intimacy and its oneness with the forces of nature, were carried over into the city: if lost in the city at large, through its overexpansion, it nevertheless remains in the quarter or the neighborhood. Without this communal identification and mothering, the young become demoralized: indeed, their very power to become fully human may vanish, along with neolithic man's first obligation -- the cherishing and nurturing of life. What we call morality began in the mores, the life-conserving customs, of the village. When these primary bonds dissolve, when the intimate visible community ceases to be a watchful, identifiable, deeply concerned group, then the 'We' becomes a buzzing swarm of 'I's', and secondary ties and allegiances become too feeble to halt the disintegration of the urban community. Only now that village ways are rapidly disappearing throughout the world can we estimate all that the city owes to them for the vital energy and loving nurture that made possible man's further development." (p. 15)

The implication of this longer perspective on the city is clear. We got to where we are by forming alliances with nature at all levels, from the tiniest microorganisms to the larger predators, including cats and dogs. Now that we are on the brink of a world civilization our survival is being threatened because, having lost touch with a common point of pilgrimage, we imagine that it is possible to make it by breaking our alliance and dominating and exploiting our former allies.

I was astonished to learn of the long term role that pigs have had as walking "departments of sanitation" in the following passage from Mumford. Now we factory farm pigs in cruel industrial operations that have larger ecological footprints than large cities. Yet, once upon a time, pigs actually helped cities get rid of their garbage.

"Originally the dog was less a hunting animal than a watchman and a scavenger: without the dog and the pig it is doubtful if the close-packed community could have survived its sanitary misdemeanors: indeed, the pig served as an auxiliary department of sanitation right down to the nineteenth century, in supposedly progressive towns like New York and Manchester. Then, too, when grains became plentiful, the cat -- and in Egypt the domesticated snake -- served to keep down the rodents that carried disease and sapped the food supply. But one must add, in fairness, a word about the negative side: the mouse, the rat, and the cockroach also took advantage of the new settlements, and formed an all-too permanent attachment." (pp. 14-15)

Even these latter, unwanted alliances, are not as bad as Mumford thought. There is video on the TED website ( of a lecture given by a guy who challenged this old presupposition that we are natural enemies and must inevitably try to exterminate all vermin and other dependent species that cross our path.

He decided to start an alliance that has never existed before. He designed and built, using principles of operant conditioning, a "crow vending machine" that trains crows, a species to be found within twenty miles of all human settlements except Antarctica, to go and find lost coins in exchange for peanut snacks. As he says, it is perfectly possible to make friends with any number of other species and make them as useful as pigs were for thousands of years in cleaning up detritus and sewage created by city life. 

As subjects of a God Who calls us His Friend, this would seem to be the right thing to do.

John Taylor

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Paris Printalk, II

Note to those getting email copies of my essays on the Badi' list: I have extensively revised and rewritten yesterday's essay, "Paris Printalk; BPS I." The latest version, as always, is the one on the blog. You can find it at:
Paris Printalk; BPS II, More on our oneness in equality
2008 Oct 25, 9 'Ilm 165 BE
Yesterday we talked about search for truth and ended with the "one central theme" of the principles, the Oneness of Humankind. Before continuing with this principle, a little background.
`Abdu'l-Baha laid out the principles on this autumn day in 1911 Paris to a meeting of Theosophists. This was the second time He had spoken to this organization, and on both occasions Abdu'l-Baha laid out the dozen or so Baha'i principles. The first time was at the Theosophical headquarters in London on the 30th of September (ABL 27-30), which was only the third major talk He had ever given in public. The second talk where He listed several principles was this one in Paris. Afterwards, in America, He spoke several more times to the Theosophists -- the spiritual progenitors of the present "New Age" movement -- but never again listed the principles to them. Instead He laid emphasis on what was probably of more central interest to this group, the nature of the soul and other mystical topics.
Theosophy in the early 20th Century was larger than it is now. There are probably far more Baha'is than theosophists in most of the places Abdu'l-Baha visited. Although originally founded more or less on the Baha'i principle of the oneness of religions, theosophy also holds to doctrines like reincarnation and the transmigration of souls. I have posted on this blog a picture of the symbol of the Theosophical Society that I got from the website of their Washington chapter, at:
As you can see, their motto is "There is no religion higher than truth." This seems to be in reaction to the fanatic theologian's presupposition and credo: "Religion is higher than truth." It is significant, then, that this group was honored with hearing for the first time the Baha'i principles, "vitalizing truths" and the "spirit of the age," that in the following passage the Guardian also called part of the "bedrock" of the Faith.
"It was in the course of these epoch-making journeys and before large and representative audiences, at times exceeding a thousand people, that 'Abdu'l-Baha expounded, with brilliant simplicity, with persuasiveness and force, and for the first time in His ministry, those basic and distinguishing principles of His Father's Faith, which together with the laws and ordinances revealed in the Kitab-i-Aqdas constitute the bed-rock of God's latest Revelation to mankind.... -- these stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity which He proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large in the course of these missionary journeys." (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 281)
I find it highly significant that the Guardian calls this set of principles a "Divine polity." We shall return to this word "polity" later.
One more background note. Yesterday, discussing the first two principles, I was moved to bring up Plato's metaphor of the cave or den. I came across the following artist's illustration of how some have imagined the cave. I posted it here on the Badi' blog:
Oneness of Mankind, explicated in Paris, Continued
As Abdu'l-Baha describes the basis of human oneness you can almost see the liberated dwellers of the den coming out, weak eyes hurting, making the glorious discovery of the One in the full, bright light of day, realizing at last that all of us are one.
"The same rain has fallen upon them all, the same warm sun makes them grow, they are all refreshed by the same breeze."
Thinking back on their former animal life in the den, the underlying reason for all that conflict, the chains, the illusions and constant bumping into one another becomes easily apparent. Our animal nature, inherently dark, weakens and blinds us. Now that we have gained our object in life, the only solution is service, compassionate action for others,
"The only differences that exist and that keep them apart are these: there are the children who need guidance, the ignorant to be instructed, the sick to be tended and healed; thus, I say that the whole of humanity is enveloped by the Mercy and Grace of God."
I think it helps to recall that Abdu'l-Baha is speaking to the children of the so-called Enlightenment, an atheist rejection of religion which consummated in the bloody French Revolution, whose rallying cry was "Liberty, Equality and Fraternity." Perhaps because of where He is speaking here, He gives equality before God in this address more attention than usual. For example, as we shall see, He even mentions later on `equality before the law' as a separate Baha'i principle, one of the few if not the only time He does so in a public talk.
This is not to say that Abdu'l-Baha denounces the Enlightenment completely. Later on in Paris Talks he puts the blame for this divorce on the clergy, whose stubborn adherence to supersition and fanaticism forced those who believe in reason to reject religion entirely. And indeed the thinkers of the Enlightenment did settle upon many elements of Baha'i principles, including equality. However, in doing so they forced a collective amnesia as to where the whole idea of equality comes from. Abdu'l-Baha now proceeds to remind the Parisians of equality's origin in ancient scripture when He says,
"As the Holy Writings tell us: `All men are equal before God. He is no respecter of persons.'"
The Master does not give chapter and verse as to which part of scripture he is citing here. A superficial search turned up over a dozen references in the Bible to God as a non-respecter of persons. The very idea of a God of righteousness in Judaism held that this God does not "respect persons," that is, He judges between us equitably, according to merit and not by how much external goods we happen to have gathered. Human judges can be bribed from greed or dazzled by pomp and power, but not a God of righteousness.
"To have respect of persons is not good: for for a piece of bread that man will transgress. He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him." (Prov 28:21-22)
The Law of Moses forbids "respecting persons," taking the power and influence of those we judge, or who may be affected by our decisions, into consideration.
"Thou shalt not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind, but shalt fear thy God: I am the LORD. Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty: but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour." (Lev 19:14-15)
The Apostles and early Christians were very conscious that such an impartial God would not disapprove of any group, no matter who they are, chosen people or not, who did good in the world.
"Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, `Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.'" (Acts 10:34-35)
Equality is an inevitable consequence of belief in God. We are all infinitely distant from an Infinite Being.
Surely the day will soon come when Christians on the right wing of the political spectrum will hang their heads in shame for sitting back and letting secular socialists eclipse them in their highest ideal, equality. They will rue their unthinking respect of persons, their support of what helps the rich, unfettered materialistic capitalism, while ignoring the needs and holiness of the poor and underprivileged,
"My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment; And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before the judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, `Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,' ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors." (James 2:1-9)
I will have much more to say about equality when we reach that principle later on in this address. Suffice to say for now that total universality -- the Divine -- is needed for equality and freedom to co-exist together. This is the unique characteristic of God. Only a divinely created underlying truth could create a oneness powerful enough to enlighten the entire planet at once.
Thus, Baha'u'llah affirms the understanding mentioned above that equality is the expression of the divine law of loving our neighbor as ourselves. But He also extends it further into a view of every human as servant of all. As He says,
"Blessed and happy is he that ariseth to promote the best interests of the peoples and kindreds of the earth." (Tablets, 167)
Let us continue with this next time...

John Taylor