Saturday, November 01, 2008

Definition of Faith

Three kinds of faith



By John Taylor; 2008 Nov 01, 17 'Ilm 165 BE


For many years I tried and failed to find chapter and verse for a definition of faith that the Guardian gave. I remembered it as "instant, exact and complete obedience." That is nowhere in the Writings. Last night, as I was doing some housework in my filing system, I came across what I think I was looking for. It does not use those exact words, but it is so close that I am convinced that it has to be what I had in mind. Here is the complete quote:


"But one word of warning must be uttered in this connection. Let us be on our guard lest we measure too strictly the Divine Plan with the standard of men. I am not prepared to state that it agrees in principle or in method with the prevailing notions now uppermost in men's minds, nor that it should conform with those imperfect, precarious, and expedient measures feverishly resorted to by agitated humanity."

"Are we to doubt that the ways of God are not necessarily the ways of man? Is not faith but another word for implicit obedience, whole-hearted allegiance, uncompromising adherence to that which we believe is the revealed and express will of God, however perplexing it might first appear, however at variance with the shadowy views, the impotent doctrines, the crude theories, the idle imaginings, the fashionable conceptions of a transient and troublous age? If we are to falter or hesitate, if our love for Him should fail to direct us and keep us within His path, if we desert Divine and emphatic principles, what hope can we any more cherish for healing the ills and sicknesses of this world?" (letter written by Shoghi Effendi to the Baha'is in America on 23 February 1924, in Baha'i Administration, p. 62)


This, it seems to me, is a good corrective to the common Baha'i definition of faith as knowledge followed by action.


Yes, faith is a kind of knowledge, but it has to be a higher kind of knowing, one independent of and even contradictory of outer, superficial, worldly knowledge. This is why the first and greatest philosopher was able to say without self contradiction, "I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance." (Socrates, quoted by Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers) He still knew something even though he knew better than any other in Athens that he did not know. He somehow knew holistically, beyond what any one mind can contain at any one time.


Faith indeed is defined by at least one present-day authority as inherently holistic: "an attitude of the entire self, including both will and intellect, directed toward a person, an idea, or -- as in the case of religious faith -- a divine being." (Encarta Encyclopaedia) This source mentions that when Paul, in Hebrews (11:1) defines faith as, "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen," he used the Greek word "Pistis," meaning an act of giving one's trust. To trust, then, is to obey, but not just anybody. It has to be someone worthy of trust.


Socrates knew that he did not know, but he had faith. He was aware that what knowledge or right opinion he did attain to must have come from beyond, from what he called his daemon. We all have a daemon, and we show good faith if we follow, bad faith if we rebel against it. In that sense, then, faith is nothing more than, in the Guardian's words, "implicit obedience, wholehearted allegiance and uncompromising adherence" to the revealed will of God. Any spirit of rebellion must be smothered immediately before it replicates and burns down the entire edifice of faith.


"Insolence, more than a fire, must be extinguished. (Heraclitus, fr. 43)


Faith then, is giving trust to what is most worthy of trust, to God, the Holy Spirit and His inerrant Manifestation. Abdu'l-Baha, speaking at the Theosophical Society in England, distinguished no fewer than three kinds of faith. One faith is imitative, the second understanding and the third action. Only the third involves "implicit obedience" to truth; that is the only faith that will make us sons of God.


How can one increase in faith?


You must strive. A child does not know, in learning he obtains knowledge. search (sic) for Truth.

There are three kinds of Faith: first, that which is from tradition and birth. For example: a child is born of Muhammadan parents, he is a Muhammadan. This faith is weak traditional faith: second, that which comes from Knowledge, and is the faith of understanding. This is good, but there is a better, the faith of practice. This is real faith.

We hear there is an invention, we believe it is good; then we come and see it. We hear that there is wealth, we see it; we work hard for it, and become rich ourselves and so help others. We know and we see the Light, we go close to it, are warmed by it, and reflect its rays on others; this is real faith, and thus we receive power to become the eternal sons of God.

from Abdu'l-Baha in London, 64-65


John Taylor


1 comment:

Sen McGlinn said...

The "instant, exact and complete" phrase starts with a popular prayer attributed to Abdu'l-Baha, not to Shoghi Effendi. The UHJ writes:

"The following works that commonly circulate in the Bahá'í community are not authentic: ... "O our God! We beg of Thee...that Thou wilt guide us always...and that we may ever be strong and fully prepared to render instant, exact and complete obedience."

This prayer cannot be confirmed as authentic as no original has been found."
(UHJ, 1992 Sept 27, Authenticity of Some Well-known Prayers)

The phrase might have been independently devised, but I think it is likely to have been borrowed from an article by Helene Blavatsky in the Theosophical Quarterly Magazine 1917-18:

"In civil law, in mechanical law, there is no such thing as conditional or delayed obedience -- obedience must be instant and exact...."

Blavatsky is repeating a theological ‘common place’ : “Instant obedience is the only kind of obedience there is; delayed obedience is disobedience.” ~ Thomas a Kempis.

But given the ties and overlap of memberships between the Bahais and theosophists in the UK and USA in the 1920's, it is quite likely that the person who put these words in the mouth of Abdu’l-Baha drew them from Blavatsky.

They got transfered to the mouth of Shoghi Effendi through a pilgrim's note in which it is not clear who is speaking. It's from of Hand of the Cause William Sears, concerning his meeting with Shoghi Effendi

Now is the time for obedience.. In the words of the prayer, "Instant, exact and complete obedience." We must be like the cypress trees standing outside the Shrine of Bahá'u'lláh. They bow and bend low before the breeze of God from whichever direction it may blow.

The Guardian said that ...

Sears does not attribute these words directly to the Guardian, whereas he does say that the following paragraph is what Shoghi Effendi said. I also think it unlikely that the Guardian would quote a prayer that is not authentic. But many western Bahais have a 'memory' of Shoghi Effendi saying this somewhere, and many have quoted it as his words.

Bahai Lore is a fascinating topic. A lot of the postings on my blog are debunking of similar confusions:

The great disaster followed by world peace by the year 2000

The 20th century as the century of light:

The UHJ as 'the Supreme Institution'

The Houses of Justice running the economy:

An eventual Bahai theocracy:

"the House of Justice ... the consummate union and blending of church and state"

"Prayer is conversation with God"

"Before 1917 kingdoms will fall and cataclysms will rock the earth. Then all nations shall be as one faith, all men as brothers, and these fruitless strifes and ruinous wars shall pass away and the most great peace shall come; and man shall not glory in this, that he loves his country, but rather in that he loves his kind."

Entry by troops coming soon:

...the earth would “fall off its axis and spin wildly for three days”…

The hearts of all children are of the utmost purity,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states. “They are mirrors upon which no dust has fallen.”

And there's one delightful story, told in two different versions by one person,

The point is, we cannot trust Bahai Lore, and we cannot trust our own memories.