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

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