Thursday, April 30, 2009

Transport Plan

Plan B for Transport

By John Taylor; 2009 April 29, Jamal 02, 166 BE

Unfortunately, the ideas for change that are being considered at the highest level are heavily influenced by the ideology of crony capitalism. Even the words we use for world issues are putrefied by ideology rather than thought. The word "Internationalism" reeked of communism, so now we are forced to say "globalization" instead. Like an automated telemarketer, it has a different ring tone but the result is the same.

A specific example is the idea of cap and trade. President Obama explained it thus at an Earth Day commemoration at a wind tower installation in Iowa last week:

"We would set a cap, a ceiling, on all the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that our economy is allowed to produce in total, combining the emissions from cars and trucks, coal-fired power plants, energy-intensive industries, all sources. And by setting an overall cap, carbon pollution becomes like a commodity. It places a value on a limited resource, and that is the ability to pollute... Over time, as the cap on greenhouse gases is lowered, the commodity becomes scarcer -- and the price goes up. And year by year, companies and consumers would have greater incentive to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency as the price of the status quo became more expensive. What this does is it makes wind power more economical, makes solar power more economical. Clean energy all becomes more economical."

I got the text of this speech from a reader who passed it on from a newsletter edition called "Obama the Explainer" at:

Amazingly, this article praises the clarity of Obama's explanation. Personally, I think this is not only incomprehensible, I suspect it is intentionally so. It is obfuscation by those with an imagined interest in burning. How is the price on capped goods going to go down? Is this not like saying that if we jigger the works the evils jumping out of Pandora's Box will increase in value and jump back in when they are expensive enough?

Environmentalists like George Monbiot point out that cap and trade is absurd. It is exactly as if ethicists suggested that we cap and trade crime or evil, as if they said that the way to stamp out stealing is not to make it illegal but to allow some robbers to keep stealing, on condition that they limit their thefts. Trading limits on how much thieves can scoff from us all is mere insanity.

No wonder cap and trade is so hard to understand.

If something is hard to grasp there is a reason for it, as we found out to our cost with the market crash. It turned out that a complicated scheme had been trading in bad debt was groundless. No matter how you dress it up, bad debt is bad debt. Polluting the air is polluting the air. It is worth nothing. You cannot trade it, you have to write it off for what it is, an evil. How can you trade the right to destroy the planet's atmosphere? There is no way a responsible authority can allow anybody to muck up the air we all breathe, no matter how well connected they may be with those in power and no matter how plausibly mathematical their scheme may seem.

What we need are plans to solve the problem, not to perpetuate it by limiting it and having blind faith that the shining knight of the market will somehow destroy it on its own.

My daughter for her Grade Nine English class wrote the following poem, which pretty well sums up the problem.

The earth is dull,
She is crying like me,
Our hearts are broken,
What does the future foresee?
The earth wasted away,
By pollution created.
The humans do not care
If the earth is hated.
For what kind of man
would hate his home?

I subscribe to the email RSS of, of which I have become quite a fan. In response to a report about scrappage, the idea of having the government pay owners of old cars to buy new ones. The post reads in part,

"Plan #2: Cash for inefficient vehicles
"The other plan will give tax credits of up to $4,500 dollars to consumers who trade in vehicles that get less than 18 mpg and purchase vehicles that get at least 25% better mileage than the segment average.
"This plan is a much better one. Instead of picking arbitrary fuel economy targets, it encourages a constant increase in fuel economy in terms of a percent above the average. This means perpetual innovation without the need to legislate every few years. Furthermore, it is the most inefficient vehicles that will benefit for higher mileage. A 25% increase in fuel economy on a full-size truck will save more than a corresponding increase on a Prius.

Or, more simply, you could tax vehicles by weight. Make SUV's and minivans too expensive to use on a broad scale. Anyway, you can read the whole article at:

I wrote the following response to this article,


"I am interested in your opinion of what the British environmentalist George Monbiot has to say about scrappage, at:

"I am enjoying your blog. It influenced me to buy a Toyota Echo lately and try my hand at ecomodding and hypermiling."


The author, Benjamin Jones, wrote the following response to my question:


"Hi John,

"Thanks for the comment. That is a good post by Monbiot, even if it is a bit overdone. I tend to agree with him, these things are pretty much scams, as are what they have in Japan. However, the Japanese system, rather than scrapping cars, simply prepares them for export to other countries or disassembly into parts to be used in repairs, so its not destroying working cars.

"Good luck with the Toyota Echo!"


As for my Toyota Echo, it is black in color and I am finding that it is very hard to keep cool. No wonder California is thinking of banning black cars. They are heat magnets in summer. Even if the air conditioning worked, which it does not, it would take too much energy to cool off. Maybe I could paint the roof silver or get the windows tinted, or something. The constant cries from the kids in the rear seats to open our windows is getting on my nerves. To my amazement, I found after I bought it that there is no way you can open the rear windows. I definitely should have bought a four door.

Anyway, back to the environment. I was interested to read about a new plan to save the world in this month's Scientific American. I looked up the book, "Plan B 2.0," that is listed in the article. The site has a PowerPoint presentation explaining the plan. Here is the text of the part dealing with automobiles:

"Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) running primarily on emissions-free electricity generated by the wind and the sun would allow for low-carbon short-distance car trips. Combining a shift to PHEVs with widespread wind farm construction would allow drivers to recharge batteries at a cost equivalent of less than $1 per gallon of gasoline."

This is slightly inaccurate. There is only a need for hybrids for long distance driving, which is less than five percent of driving for city motorists (country dwellers like me do more highway driving, but we are a minority). Local trips are best done with electric cars, or, better still, electric buses and bicycles.

My plan is to universalize the locality by introducing world standards, a smart sort of "Plan B."

For example, right now London, England is planning to host the next Olympics. As part of the preparation the city wants to reintroduce the double-decker buses that were part of their traditional look until they were cancelled. Some of the old double-decker buses were shipped here to Canada and are being used in Toronto and Niagara Falls for tours. I know that because I chatted with a driver of one a couple of years ago in Niagara Falls.

So anyway, the city of London is holding open bidding among several manufacturers for designs of a new version of that old two level, red bus that says "London" like nothing else. Some science magazines are featuring the proposals, some of which are quite ingenious. When I read about that I had a Eureka moment.

It is true that an open competition for a large contract like this cuts down on corruption. But it is inadequate because it is still largely closed, restricted to one location, London. The winner of the contract has one customer, the city of London, and that is it. They may be able to export a few of the red buses, but London will still be their main customer.

Why does it have to be that way? Why do we think so small? Here is how it should be:

All transportation should be under the wing of a democratic world government. Let them sponsor a huge, open design competition for the whole world, for every city on the planet.

Make the contest for both single and double-decker buses, and stipulate that every part made for it is open, non-proprietary and compatible with every other local bus in the world. Make the standard such that it is easy to adapt a single bus into a double-decker when the route is in high demand, or even to split passenger compartments into smaller modular components to fit onto smaller buses or trucks, for suburban routes with smaller demand. Make the design compatible with containerization standards so that buses can be shipped everywhere.

Since it is clear that we have to electrify now and eliminate all burning to stop global warming, make the motors for these buses electric, or at worst some kind of hybrid for intercity buses. Where the electricity comes from does not matter, what matters is the standard. Smaller versions of these buses might use batteries, larger designs might be trolleys with direct contacts to the grid, either by overhead wires or through the road underneath.

The point is that this would be an absolutely open competition for a standard design. Being very large, large companies would not need to bid, they could just make the best compatible design and be assured of a place in the huge world market.

There would be thousands of customers in many cities around the world available to buy into a given design. Meanwhile, standard parts allows smaller companies to compete fairly. They are free to adapt their design to specialist markets, and to make parts for any given bus made by any company. Because local workers are closed to where the tire touches the road, so to speak, they are the best informed, the most efficient and need the least transport, work, money and smarts to do the job.

But this also allows for advantages for larger corporations to use their economies of scale to access the big market of cities everywhere both freely and fairly. Tata Automotive in India is already working this way to a limited extent; its main design for a car can be assembled and adapted by local workshops, within proprietary limits. A Tata car can be gas burning, electric or hybrid, according to how local shops assemble it.

So it soon has to be with every bus, train or car in the world. It would be standard, yet infinitely customizable. With such a world industrial model all mistakes and lessons learned would be passed on to the world level for revision by a single standards body composed of trustees of the highest expertise and integrity. Larger decisions would be democratically arrived at by large bodies of experts. Our lives depend on this, so we can afford to do nothing less.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Evolution and Intelligent Design

Your friendly neighborhood Baha'i blogger is also coordinator of the monthly philosopher's cafe that takes place on the second Thursday of the month in Wainfleet, just west of Welland and Port Colbourne. Contact me if you would like to come out for a good discussion of evolution.

Philosopher's Café

Thursday, May 14 at 6:30 p.m. Drop by for refreshments and a lively discussion. This
month's topic of discussion is "Evolution and Intelligent Design."

All welcome! No philosophy
training required, real life experience desired!

John Taylor


Eliminating Prejudices of the Learned

Comenius's Scientific Plan A

By John Taylor; 2009 April 28, Jamal 01, 166 BE

Being the next in a series on the contribution of Panorthosia to the principle of harmony of science and religion...

In the eleventh chapter of Panorthosia, Comenius deals with universal philosophy, the principle that in the Baha'i scheme is called Harmony of Science and Religion. The chapter is subtitled: "Concerning the New Universal Philosophy Which Will Guide the Human Mind Towards a State Of Perfection." (175)

It is ironic that the day before I started to write on this chapter an editorial appeared in the New York Times appealing for just the sort of reform in the structure and philosophy of current universities that Comenius proposes here, centuries ago. (End the University as We Know It, Written by Mark Taylor, a professor in the Religious Studies Department of Columbia University (a school where Abdu'l-Baha gave one of his most important speeches), the article suggests that universities are training large numbers of graduate students and putting them to work doing the bulk of the institutions' teaching and research, with miniscule pay and no hope of long-term employment or of paying off their massive student loans. Meanwhile faculty members are so specialized that they have little to say to one another, much less to society at large. He uses the example of a current PhD student whose life work is on the use of footnoting in the writings of Duns Scotus. Instead, he suggests rather vaguely, the academic should be working in a cooperative web network doing interdisciplinary studies that would be of general benefit.

Comenius is much more specific in his proposed plan for change. First of all, he says, we should set the power of knowledge in the hands of the academic to work on what is being called "Plan A," stopping "business as usual," eliminating old habits, traditions and prejudices that obstruct real change and adaptation. In the Baha'i principles this is called elimination of prejudice. In essence, academe has got itself into a cruel, self-perpetuating mess by building on prejudice rather than the reality that faces us all.

In the seventeenth paragraph of this eleventh chapter Comenius asserts that the way to go about reforming this malaise is first of all to tear ourselves away from the adversarial system, our addiction to contention that has become engrained into our thinking that we are no longer aware of it.

"The ability to take a chosen topic and argue it from both sides on grounds of probability was a trick of the ancient Sophists which many people are far too eager to practise today, evidently obstructing the truth or at least doing nothing useful to promote it." (Panorthosia, Ch. 11, para 17, pp. 181-182)

Comenius then addresses the leaders of each of the three major pillars of society, science, politics and religion.

"Pray tell me, Academics all, after two thousand years of discussion about space, motion, the void, the meaning of Existence, the question whether the sky or the earth is moving, what conclusions have you every drawn?"

"Tell me, Politicians all, after so many generations of debate about the form of government that is best, most peaceful, or most likely to advance the common good, have you made any definite findings?"

"Tell me, Theologians all, after sixty generations of argument about the best ritual for worshipping the Creator, and the most direct way to Heaven, have you found any perfect and incontrovertible answer? Behold, how vain and unprofitable all your labours have been! Now is the time, I beg you, to learn some wisdom!"

These questions may not all be exactly to the point today, but the most important thing is that we should all be asking such general questions and holding leaders of thought to account for what they are doing and thinking. We cannot let specialists wander off into corners and argue with one another as isolated specialists. That is an abdication of their high responsibility to humanity and the planet. Comenius continues,

"Now you must all stop amusing yourselves and others with probabilities, knowing how to attend only to certainties, which can be confirmed by proof and demonstration to the eye. Those who indulge in disputations dispute the case for and against, and thereby go on for ever producing and multiplying controversies, creating insoluble labyrinths for the minds of men."

The solution is not to sit back and take the contention to this or that group, but to take everything and everybody into account, starting with myself and what I know. Is my knowledge based in reason, or blind tradition and other borrowings? If it fails the test then take it off the agenda and start with what will help the world in its dire crises.

"From now onwards everyone should see that his knowledge consists only of what he can prove, and furthermore that deeds follow knowledge as closely as knowledge follows proof. Gods who have not made heaven and earth must perish. Knowledge which does not produce deeds must perish. The same applies to Faith which does not operate through acts of charity, and to a Political System which fails to maintain human affairs in peace."

Mark Taylor, in the article mentioned at the start of this essay, cites Immanuel Kant, who, "in his 1798 work `The Conflict of the Faculties,' wrote that universities should `handle the entire content of learning by mass production, so to speak, by a division of labor, so that for every branch of the sciences there would be a public teacher or professor appointed as its trustee.'"

It is indeed ironic that this concept of trusteeship is what Baha'u'llah also put forward in His Tablets to the Kings, and which Comenius also advocated, as we shall see t
omorrow when we move on to Plan B, the positive aspect of Comenius's plan to save the world.

John Taylor


NSA of Canada, 2009

Why we do not save our planet

Why are X so?

Here is something I just stumbled across, on the options Google gives you when you type in "Why are x so ...?"

I tried Canadians, and it was complementary, then I tried why are Baha'is so... and there was nothing at all. Why are Christians so... and Muslims, and atheists were not complementary at all.

Any further suggestions?

I tried out, "Why is John Taylor so...? and got nothing. It must mean either that I am a Baha'i, or just off the radar.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Eco-essay Contest

So, to connect our politicians with reality before it is too late, we've come up with a question. And, we'd like to know what you think. nef has teamed up with the Ecologist to run an essay competition. The question is:

"How do you price the extra tonne of carbon that, once burned, tips the balance
and triggers potentially catastrophic, irreversible global warming?"

Ecological Debt

All submissions must be under 1,000 words, submitted electronically to and and be received by June 30th.

The winner will receive a copy of Andrew Simms' book, Ecological Debt: Global Warming and the Wealth of Nations, and will be considered for publication in the Ecologist.

Dan Seals

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ending Collective Drug Dependency

Three Steps to Really Getting Off Drugs

By John Taylor; 2009 April 26, Jalal 17, 166 BE

You may think that you are clean and sober, but you are not. Neither am I. Nor are we on one drug, but many, so many we cannot count or estimate them.

The reason is that ever larger traces of drugs, prescribed and over-the-counter, substances both legal and controlled, are turning up in the streams and rivers that keep plants, animals and us humans alive. You would think that when this was discovered that we would start rethinking how we medicate ourselves. You would think that Plan A, ending business as usual, would be our first order of business. But drugs spell big money. And scientists follow the money, while doctors have devolved over the past century into nothing better than pushers, or, more charitably, applied pharmacists. Why change a good thing? The same centralized system that offloads packaging and pollutants onto nature's back is dumping a pharmacopeia of untested medications and other chemicals, none of which we have any idea of how they will affect the environment, either singly or in combination.

I am proposing on this blog a locally based "mound" architecture that would design everything according to laws, standards and codes arrived at by the consultative "open systems" methodology and run under the moral authority of a world government. All drugs, save a tiny number known to be environmentally benign, would be kept out of a mound community. This regulation would not be enforced from afar, it would in the direct interest of everybody in the neighborhood. Think about it. If you are eating food composted and recycled directly from your own waste, or the waste of any guests you have, you definitely do not want to introduce poisons, or suspected poisons, or even untested and unknown chemicals.

It may seem harsh not to allow even prescription medications into a housing development. What about heavily medicated groups, such as the infirm and the old? But that is to ask the wrong question. A sustainable neighborhood would only force us to face up to a responsibility that the present centralized, nationalistic, capitalist system shirks, marginalizes and ignores. Unfortunately, the chemicals we are churning out are not going away and we must do something radical to keep our planet pure.

Actually, I think that a little investigation will turn up many now-ignored, environmentally friendly alternatives to drugs, such as herbs, diet and exercise, that will result in far better health than our druggie culture can imagine. Today there is so much money to be made from drugs that it drives politics, advertising and the entire scientific research industry. Whenever you pick up a science magazine with a new discovery about the body, even when the knowledge can be applied without alteration to improve health and lifestyle, it is always followed by the proviso, "It is hoped that a means will soon be found to turn this into a pill." So powerful is Big Pharma that anything that is not in pill form must be steadfastly ignored.

A sustainable mound architecture neighborhood would also have to keep out the piles of packaging and plastic, the shrink-wrapped armor that "protects" every product on store shelves. However, as a planet-wide purchaser on the scale of a Walmart, mound neighborhoods, acting together and backed by a world government, would have enough influence to end this atrocious practice forever. Already Amazon has added on a service where they remove the packaging of some products they ship before the customer sees it. This is a good first step, but it is not nearly big enough to count as "Plan A."

Mound neighborhoods are "Plan A" (ending business as usual) and "Plan B" (radical change based on new presuppositions) combined. In every locality there would be a publicly accessible "war room" -- or, better, a "peace room" -- designed to map out statistics on the health of that area, and contrast it with commensurate neighborhoods around the world. It would illustrate everything that is otherwise invisible and ignored, such as the drug and chemical content of compost and sewage, such as how much food waste there is and whether products are properly reused or recycled.

The peace room would also track the physical health and psychological well-being of its plant, animal and human inhabitants. It would show how these are being improved elsewhere, and why and how that is being done. It would show the viewer how changes in his or her choices can influence these broader results, and it would offer feedback on how their work, service and hobbies are impacting the broader picture. In this way the peace room would make everybody into an activist for change.

I was delighted to come across John Comenius's Panorthosia because his plan offers a comprehensive way of accessing the data of a peace room without missing anything of major importance. In a real way, Comenius is the founding father of the peace room. I imagine three buttons for viewing each information display according to his tripartite division of knowledge, action and meaning, that is, teaching, politics and religion. As for the purpose of the first, science or philosophy, Comenius wrote:

"Philosophy deals with books and knowledge and the reasons for things for the purpose of enlightening mankind." (Panorthosia, Ch. 13, para 12, p. 205)

Information projected in a peace room is designed first and foremost for edification and enlightenment, not obfuscation or separation. When a display has informed adequately of the philosophical background of a given problem or issue, the second button will explore its implications for action.

"Politics deals with rule and authority for the purpose of keeping mankind in order." (Idem.)

In this society everybody will have a job, a career, and a member of a family or household. In that sense, each will be a politician, involved in practical action with the ultimate goal of peace. This is democracy of universal participation, but tempered by deference for the knowledge and creative genius of individuals and respect for experts and tradespersons. Finally, the display will attempt to fit knowledge and action into the overall meaning of life.

"Religion deals with God and conscience for the purpose of kindling in mankind the flame of faith, charity and hope (or keeping it alight)." (Id.)

This third button might blank the screen so that viewers can meditate undistracted on these three "flames," faith, charity and hope. Unlike steps one and two, this step can be taken immediately by each and all, no matter what they think or believe. Faith fits the information of step one and the action of step two into the meaning of existence under the aspect of eternity. Charity renews the resolve of the individual to sacrifice for the group and the group for the individual. Hope we derive from piety and religious devotions; it is what keeps us going in the face of difficulty.

When a viewer has had enough of praying before a blank screen, further "button three" displays might pinpoint natural areas, statues, outlooks, panoramas, gardens and other beauty spots in a neighborhood where one might go to reflect and meditate. It might highlight the locations of shrines and places of worship that are open to the public, or of other institutions inspired by faith, hope and charity.

To conclude, let us narrow this broad scheme down to our original question, how to get our society off pills and drugs, both medical and recreational. Button one on our display shows a simulation of the broader social effects of a drug-ridden neighborhood, and of one that is pure and free of the pollution of artificial chemical. Step two would lay out the things that can be done in our area of expertise, our home and job, to reduce drug use. Step three, taken as a whole, suggests effective spiritual alternatives to drugs. For example, one study showed that a walk in a tranquil woods had the same effect as a dose of antidepressants. We can expect that just as we presently fear not only trace drugs in our water but possible effects of exposure to combined, mixed chemicals, so we can expect a combined benefit from regular contact in our day with many spiritual goods, such as visiting holy places, praying in holy buildings, and so forth.



Saturday, April 25, 2009

Why Does God Keep Sending Us Religious Messages?

Hi everyone
This has some funny parts, and is obviously based on a degree of prejudice and ignorance. Would anyone like to share some ideas on how, if at all, one could respond briefly to this? -- Ed

JET: This argues that God should not send us religious messages but scientific ones. As a former atheist, I would argue that this is scientism, a confused attempt to make science into a religion.

Religion addresses questions that science has nothing to do with, such as, how do I prepare for the next life? This preparation involves things that have nothing to do with science, such as loving others, showing virtues like humility and compassion.

That is why I think this video, mocking as it is, is one that many shallow believers would benefit from watching. We have to ask why God did what He did when He sent His Representative to suffer and be killed. Otherwise, as they suggest here, he might as well have sent us some facts and figures that would have benefitted us physically, rather than spiritually.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Integration of teaching, governance and faith

Three Mottos for a Comedy of the Commons

By John Taylor; 2009 April 24, Jalal 15, 166 BE


Baha'is are familiar with the comparison that Abdu'l-Baha made of science and religion with the two wings of a bird. If science and religion are the wings to the body politic, then politics is the body of the bird. The body controls each wing and it also has the eyes and brain that lead its flight. Comenius suggested brief mottos for the individual and the family, as well as each founding institution of world order, symbolized by the body and its two wings. Each motto defines in a few words its role and mission in the world.

Science and Education: "Light in Things"

Politics: "Peace on Earth"

Interfaith Religion: "Peace of Conscience"


Our educational system permanently skews our thinking about the world and how to change it. The ideas of John Amos Comenius are a healthy corrective to that bias.

Right now in Ontario there is a public and a Catholic school board, both of which receive public funding, along with a private school system that takes in all the rest, including at least one Baha'i school, the Nancy Campbell Institute. The Catholic system gets public monies because, the argument goes, almost half of Ontarians are in or related to someone in the Catholic Church. Other parochial schools are funded exclusively by parents, and they can teach whatever faith is acceptable to them, within certain limits. In schools run by the Catholic school board, religion, including world religion courses, is actively taught. Unfortunately, public schools, funded by everybody, can barely mention God, religion or even philosophy because of the protests of parents. As a teacher recently explained it to me,

"We would like to teach philosophy and religion earlier, but how would you like it if your son in Grade Four was exposed to various beliefs and decided to become a Scientologist or a Moonie?"

I am perhaps a bad person to ask because of the liberal, universalist leanings of the Baha'i Faith. But even I had to pause and think about that for an uncomfortably long time. Certainly I would like to have a shot at influencing my children undistracted for at least a few of their early years. On the other hand, I would like to see them exposed to as broad a spectrum of thought and opinion as possible, as early as possible.

Comenius envisioned the public sphere in a much healthier, more integrated way than our fractured congeries of contradictions. As we saw in yesterday's essay, public affairs in a Comenian system would be in the hands of three permanent institutions concerned with the three main spheres of human endeavour, philosophy (including science and education), politics and religion.

These, he held, should be consecrated as firm common ground on which everybody stands. In other words, there is a part of philosophy, politics and religion that is sacrosanct, that every citizen has a stake in, and which we all have a duty to support without qualification or reservation. Although there may and indeed should be a variety of schools of thought in philosophy, a broad choice of political leanings and many kinds of religious bias, these should be kept outside a strong fence protecting a calm, sacred commons. Outside the pale, particularities may compete and disagree but dispute and contradiction cannot be allowed inside.

Comenius did not think that this would come about spontaneously or by magic but rather through the power of education. Our entire schooling, the press and everything in the public sphere must be designed to give as firm a grounding in the essentials of science, politics and faith as possible. Today we might call the tranquility inside the fence the science, politics and faith of supermen. However, for Comenius it was simply the way that saints consult with the world, with one another and with their God.

"The Philosophy of Saints is simply a conversation between Man and his soul or God's Creatures or His Oracles. The Politics of Saints is simply an amalgam of all human societies, a mutual conversation among men and a policy of service. The Religion of Saints is simply continuous walking with God, conversation with God, and working with God." (Panorthosia, Ch. 13, para 12, p. 205)

These ongoing conversations would be mediated and regularized by three institutions whose center is integrated in the world government and with branches in every nation, region, province and neighbourhood. As we saw in an essay series on the family last fall, Comenius even envisioned a miniature school, a governing council and a church to be held regularly in a common room located in the typical family household. These functions would be essential utilities to the minds and spirits within, just as electricity and heat to the bodies being housed.

Needless to say, in order for philosophy, politics and religion to be this universally applied, major adaptations would have to be made in the content each. The status quo or business-as-usual are out of the question. Universality in essentials is the order of the day.

"This will come to pass if philosophy submits all things to the human intellect, and politics commits human power itself to human prudence, and religion truly refers all men and all things to God. To achieve this, Philosophy must be a true mirror of God's wisdom, which contemplates all things; Politics must be a living example of the power of God, which manages all things rightly; and Religion must sweetly dispense the goodness of God, which spreads through all things." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 38, pp. 167-168)

Having said that, Comenius goes on to propose three mottos for the three fenced off areas, the sacred commons devoted to the good of all. For the institution dedicated to science and education, the motto is "Light in things," emphasizing its primal duty to enlighten, inspire and edify everyone.

"Perfect Philosophy will take the form of universal agreement and harmony between Art and Nature, and its end will be LIGHT IN THINGS, and an abundance of them." (Ch. 10, para 38, pp. 167-168)

On the door of larger, dedicated institutions of learning the motto "Light in Things" would perhaps be placed above the front portal. In a multitasking family common room of the future I imagine when the family school or laboratory goes into session a flashing sign saying "Light in Things" turning on while on the walls are projected a picture of a mixed native plant and classical garden, perhaps interspersed with buildings to reflect the theme of "art in nature." In a Baha'i home the obvious choice of decor would be a panorama of the Arc on Mount Carmel.

When discussion turns to a formal consultation, the sign would change to "Peace on Earth."

"The test of perfect Politics will be the restoration of human prudence to the certainty of the mechanical arts, and its end will be PEACE ON EARTH, and a quiet life."

If these three words were emblazoned over the door of every political institution and flashed on the table of every meeting, it is unlikely that old, disputatious ways would ever encroach the sanctity of the public sphere. As Comenius says, the laws of peace, well understood, would be as dependable as the mechanical laws that assure that when you press the "on" button a machine will start working. The final motto is for the one area that has been so disputatious that it is all but expelled from the public realm in advanced countries, that is, religion.

"The seal of perfect Religion will be full agreement between the human will and the Will of God, and its end will be PEACE OF CONSCIENCE, that passeth all understanding, which would be heaven on earth."

Currently believers have little training in avoiding fanaticism and in keeping parochial elements and particularistic beliefs out of public fora. At the same time agitation by their secular counterparts, atheists and anti-theists, keeps God out of the common conversation completely. It takes a genius like Comenius to think of a motto acceptable to every stripe of reasoned opinion, Peace of Conscience. Even humanists and other non-believers cannot object to peace or conscience, which would allow them to participate fully and without compromise in the interfaith activities of the third universal institution.

The fact that a relatively small body of specific knowledge is allowed into this commons is not necessarily a disadvantage for Comenius, since he considered simplicity to be at the heart of religion.

"The heart of Philosophy will be wisdom, of Religion, simplicity, and of Politics, vigilance." (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 13, para 12, p. 205)

Whereas simplicity is the essence of religion, clarity is a general criterion for keeping all three specialties pure and healthy.

As already mentioned, Comenius in his plan for a world government invoked Descartes' method of approaching a difficult problem systematically; that is, in sorting out what countries a world government should deal with first, "the rules of method dictate that we must proceed from the easier to the more difficult." (Panorthosia, Ch. 25, para 10, p. 149) That is, the then undeveloped continents of Africa and America had best be left for later.

Similarly, Comenius proposed that those who guard the gates of the fence around the public commons imitate the law of ancient Rome. Roman judges would refuse a case if a judgement was not clear enough, declaring it "Non Liquit." In a footnote Dobbie cites Bacon in Advancement of Learning II, 8, 5, who wrote: `These doubts, or non liquets, are of two sorts, particular and total.' When a gatekeeper (and everybody who walks in is a gatekeeper) keeps out an unclear idea or doctrine from public discussion he or she is applying the virtue of modesty or prudence.

"... since it goes without saying that anyone with a modest opinion of himself has a fair opinion of all his neighbours and does not wish to appear to understand everything, the Romans at least had a solemn formula in their law-courts, when the issue tended to be obscure, i.e. 'It is not clear, I defer sentence,' and I see no reason why we should all be ashamed to copy this modesty. Each of us is equally a human being, and a man cannot perceive everything; he was made in the image of God, yet he is not God. Therefore whenever obscurities arise which we cannot quite grasp or see through (the sort of things on which disagreement usually occurs) it is useful and quite honourable to have recourse to the verdict 'IT IS NOT CLEAR' as a shield of modesty and a confession of ignorance. For it is fair to grasp the truth where it is revealed, but to worship and admire it where it is unrevealed." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 19, p. 116)


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Importance of Devotionals

From Joe Woods, writing in the Hamilton Baha'i Newsletter:

Dear Friends,

The beloved Guardian reminds us of the imperative need to establish a
culture of devotionals that ultimately transforms the collective life
of humanity:

“The flourishing of the community involves the collective worship of
God ... Indeed, the chief reason for the evils now rampant in society is
a lack of spirituality. It is this condition, so sadly morbid, into
which society has fallen, that religion seeks to improve and

“For the core of religious faith is that mystic feeling
that unites man with God. This state of spiritual communion can be
brought about and maintained by means of meditation and prayer. And
this is the reason why Bahá'u'lláh has so much stressed the importance
of worship” (Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p. 86)

Love me like a rock

3 Unwierd Sisters

Three Sister Handmaids to Love

By John Taylor; 2009 April 23, Jalal 14, 166 BE

First in a Series on the Impact of the Panorthosia of Comenius on the Principle of Harmony of Science and Religion

"I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also.' (I Cor 14:15)

This Biblical admonition, referred to by Comenius in Panorthosia, could well be taken as model and motto for his thinking about the divine principle of harmony between religion and science.

Comenius conceived of, planned and through his writings and correspondence had a hand in the birth of a new educational and scientific institution. It was to be founded in England and he was invited to move back there in order to become its first president. Unfortunately, circumstances (including war and revolution) decreed that it was never built. However it soon transformed into the wall-free institution known as the Royal Society. This amorphous but brilliant institution whose members included the likes of Harvey, Newton and Boyle, led the systematic inquiry into nature for some two centuries. In the mid-19th Century natural philosophy combined with wider education and the systematic, experimental laboratory method pioneered under Napoleon Bonaparte in France. This changed the activity so radically that the older name "natural philosophy" was dropped and it became known from then on as science.

Scholastic thinkers of earlier centuries had subordinated science to religion, as evidenced by the saying that "philosophy is the handmaid of theology." Comenius would have none of that. Properly conceived of science had the potential to contribute every bit as much as religion to order, advance and civilization.

"If our Mind is trained and refined by such a philosophy it cannot fail to live in the light, since Ideas and Nature and the Testimonies of God will send their rays to converge upon it so brightly from all directions that at every turn the Mind thus enlightened will find itself in joyful splendour. In this happy event, we may come to describe Philosophy not as the handmaid of Theology, which it has been in the past, but its true-born sister, akin to Politics, these being the three veritable Graces, each making its full contribution to the other two and receiving each other's gifts in return." (Panorthosia, Ch. 11, para 23, p. 185)

A footnote in Dobbie's text of Panorthosia explains that the three Graces in Greek mythology were three daughters of Zeus who attended Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Three sisters, then, work together as handmaids to love. The three equal servants of a single higher power are faith, science and politics.

Comenius took this tripartite format very seriously throughout the over one hundred and fifty books that he wrote. He even modelled upon it, as we have seen, the structure of his proposed world government. He saw these three fundamentals as arising from the nature of the universe, one the physical universe, two, human nature and three the nature of God.

"Universal Philosophy should be the Practice of the Artificial World, Universal Politics that of the Moral World, and Universal Religion that of the Spiritual World." (cf. Pansophia V-VII, Panorthosia, Ch. 13, para 12, p. 206)

Each of the three complements and reflects the others, but is distinct in its field of expertise. Each, in the words of Christ, is known by its fruits.

 "Universal Philosophy should be an agent of enlightenment for all men. Universal Politics should be their agent of government, and Universal Religion their agent of blessedness." (Ch. 13, para 12, p. 206)

Our problem is that we fail to treat universals as universals. In our immaturity, we particularize and dichotomize what should be common, or we do the opposite, we choose a part and try to make it into a universal. When human affairs fail and we fall short of happiness, it can always be traced to one of the three basic kinds of disease of the mind, blindness, delusion or violence (abuse).

"What plan must we therefore adopt? Three desperate diseases need three remedies. Blindness needs guidance and eye-salve. Delusion needs removal of darkness and clearer light. Abuses need the true use of things." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 9, para 10, p. 146)

The reason we fail to reform these basics and permanently erase these three problems from the slate forever is that we fall short of thinking comprehensively and simply enough for everybody to come to agreement on what is essential.

"But please notice that although Universality, Simplicity, and Agreement ... seem to apply to all three estates of Wisdom, Religion, and Politics, yet there is good reason for close relationship between the first and the first, the second and the second, or the third with the third. For example, our new Universal Wisdom or Philosophy ought to be just as universally available to all human minds as is the light of day to all men's eyes, our new Religion just as pure and simple as God, who is its object, and the new Government of man by man just as peaceful as that of the body by the soul." (Ch. 10, para 49, pp. 171-172)

All attempts at progress and reform will fail as long as philosophers and scientists fail to convey the flame of essential truth to large numbers of people, as long as religious leaders fail to turn souls in the direction of God, and politicians to accustom us to thinking in terms of peace, as Comenius puts it, with the same harmony that the soul controls the body.

"When human affairs are so reformed that our Philosophy, Religion, and Politics are all truly universal, it will be the task of scholars to collect and purify essential truths and transplant them into the minds of men, of churchmen to attract men's souls away from the world in the direction of God, and of politicians to maintain peace and tranquillity everywhere, competing with each other, as it were, in holy rivalry to make an outstanding contribution in their respective spheres to the salvation of mankind." (Ch. 15, para 1, p. 216)

Comenius envisioned the reins of these three basic human endeavours in the hands of three institutions with branches in every locale, region and even on the world level. Like the individual and the family, each of these founding institutions of world order has its own motto to define in a few words its role and mission in the world. These we will examine next time.

John Taylor


Ridvan Message

Note on the UHJ Ridvan Message for 166 BE, 2009, CE

You can read the latest Ridvan Message at:

And you can see reaction shots to the first reading of the message at:

For those readers who are not familiar with this institution, you can read more on what the Universal House of Justice is at:

The passage that struck me was the following:

“What an extraordinary contrast did its coherence and energy
provide to the bewilderment and confusion of a world caught in a spiral of crisis! This, indeed, was the community of the blissful to which the Guardian had referred.” From the 166, B.E. UHJ Ridvan Message

This is a possible reference to:

“For upon our present-day efforts, and above all upon the extent to which we strive to remodel our lives after the pattern of sublime heroism associated with those gone before us, must depend the efficacy of the instruments we now fashion -- instruments that must erect the structure of that blissful Commonwealth which must signalize the Golden Age of our Faith.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 98)


“My chief concern is not with the happenings that have distinguished the First, the Apostolic Age of the Bahá'í Dispensation, but rather with the outstanding events that are transpiring in, and the tendencies which characterize, the formative period of its development, this Age of Transition, whose tribulations are the precursors of that Era of blissful felicity which is to incarnate God's ultimate purpose for all mankind.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 171)

Or, perhaps most likely, this (note the reference to "world polity"):

"The civilization," writes Bahá'u'lláh, "so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men... If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation... The day is approaching when its flame will devour the cities, when the Tongue of Grandeur will proclaim: 'The Kingdom is God's, the Almighty, the All-Praised!'"

"From the moment the Suriy-i-Ra'is (Tablet to Ra'is) was revealed," He further explains, "until the present day, neither hath the world been tranquillized, nor have the hearts of its peoples been at rest... Its sickness is approaching the stage of utter hopelessness, inasmuch as the true Physician is debarred from administering the remedy, whilst unskilled practitioners are regarded with favor, and are accorded full freedom to act. The dust of sedition hath clouded the hearts of men, and blinded their eyes. Erelong they will perceive the consequences of what their hands have wrought in the Day of God."

"This is the Day," He again has written, "whereon the earth shall tell out her tidings. The workers of iniquity are her burdens... The Crier hath cried out, and men have been torn away, so great hath been the fury of His wrath. The people of the left hand sigh and bemoan. The people of the right abide in noble habitations: they quaff the Wine that is life indeed from the hands of the All-Merciful, and are, verily, the blissful."

“Who else can be the blissful if not the community of the Most Great Name, whose world-embracing, continually consolidating activities constitute the one integrating process in a world whose institutions, secular as well as religious, are for the most part dissolving?

They indeed are "the people of the right," whose "noble habitation" is fixed on the foundations of the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh -- the Ark of everlasting salvation in this most grievous Day. Of all the kindreds of the earth they alone can recognize, amidst the welter of a tempestuous age, the Hand of the Divine Redeemer that traces its course and controls its destinies.

They alone are aware of the silent growth of that orderly world polity whose fabric they themselves are weaving.

(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, pp. 193-194)