Thursday, December 04, 2008

Baha'i Equality

Governance, Human and Divine; First in a Series on Equality 

By John Taylor; 2008 Dec 4, 11 Qawl 165 BE
The 19th Psalm declares,
"The law of Yahweh is perfect, restoring the soul. The testimony of Yahweh is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of Yahweh are right, rejoicing the heart. The commandment of Yahweh is pure, enlightening the eyes." (Psalm 19:7-8, WEB)
 This inspiring vision of power portrays divine authority as a force inherently directed at our happiness, enlargement and enlightenment. Compliance with God's holy law broadens the soul and, like a fusion reaction or perpetual motion machine, it creates more energy than it consumes. It encourages us to reach out to forever and beyond. This is the mirror opposite of human rule, which, no matter how broad and liberal, is inevitably based on the ignorance and limitations of mortal minds.
I just posted on this blog an interview with Abdu'l-Baha (The Era of Independence; An Interview with Abdu'l-Baha Although not dated, it was given, I would imagine, towards the end of His stay on earth. In answer to a question as to whether there are leaders in the Baha'i faith, He said no. This is, He said, an "era of independence." He was quoted as saying,
"The Baha'is are a community of cooperative servants, they have no leader. Their only leader is God. They have no ordained ministers or priests. Whosoever hears and believes in the principles of this Cause, it is required of him to convey this Message to others."
If that was so in Abdu'l-Baha's time, how much more must it be the case today, now that the physical presence of the Central Figures of the Faith among us is gone forever! The egalitarian leanings of the Master are easy to miss; we His lovers tend to be blinded by His charismatic qualities and forget how much He valued equality. This age, in His view, is ruled by a "community of cooperative servants;" this is a wholly new kind of governance, never before seen. It is not to be confused with liberalism, anarchism or libertarianism.
The first known anarchist or "minarchical libertarian" thinker was the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi (370-301 BC), who held that good order results spontaneously when we let go and do not try to govern the world. He was a relativist, teaching that "There is no good or bad, only thinking makes it so," and that world is illusion caused by our senses, experiences and interpretations, and that "illusions are irrelevant to conclude a definite right or wrong way." We do not and cannot know how others feel, and therefore it is arrogant to presume to make decisions affecting them. A famous anecdote of Zhuangzi goes like this:
"Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling along the dam of the Hao Waterfall when Zhuangzi said, `See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That's what fish really enjoy!'
Huizi said, `You're not a fish -- how do you know what fish enjoy?'
Zhuangzi said, `You're not I, so how do you know I don't know what fish enjoy?'
Huizi said, `I'm not you, so I certainly don't know what you know. On the other hand, you're certainly not a fish -- so that still proves you don't know what fish enjoy!'
Zhuangzi said, `Let's go back to your original question, please. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy -- so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao.'" <>
Baha'i relativism does not deny the ignorance of mortal men on this count. The difference is that we recognize one Being who does see and know how all beings feel and think, directly and absolutely. That Being, of course, is God. Although unknowable by us directly, God offers His mirror or Manifestation. His great legacy is His Word and Law for each age. Insofar as we unite in this, we will succeed both personally and socially, without leaders or worship of personality. Abdu'l-Baha sets up this ability to come together on our own as a clear measure of truth, both existential and pragmatic.
"It therefore becometh manifest that amity and cohesion are indicative of the training of the Real Educator, and dispersion and separation a proof of savagery and deprivation of divine education." (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections, 290)


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