Sunday, June 28, 2009

Peer Meta-Review

Peer Review in a Meritocratic Democracy

By John Taylor; 2009 June 28, Rahmat 04, 166 BE

We have been talking over how to improve democracy. Yesterday we considered votes for children and what might be called meritocratic democracy (earning the right to vote on an issue by formally studying it and gaining work experience in that area). We also have been discussing "face-to-face democracy," where a citizen's own integrity limits voting only for individuals that they know directly and have worked or interacted with recently, or from participating in consultations only on issues that they are duly familiar with.

Behind these are other ideas that we have gone over on the Badi' Blog in the past. One i democracy in the workplace through a worker's constitution and bill of rights, privileges and responsibilities. Another is democratizing corporations by means of a revised corporate charter and, through profit and power sharing, the erasure of artificial dichotomies among workers, managers and owners. I also advocate giving much more power to essential trades and professions, especially teachers, doctors and farmers, in exchange for their full participation in a meritocratic democracy. These learned experts would be duty bound, as a result, to help extend democracy into the earliest roots of education.

Before going further, let me say: at the heart of any democracy is a universal duty that in any bill of rights should come before all rights and privileges: the obligation of every citizen to learn and earn a living from a trade or profession (that is, everybody learns a trade or craft, and those who show interest and ability learn a profession as well).

Given all this, in a meritocratic democracy each child would apprentice at an early age to a craft or tradesperson, preferably in an area in which the pupil has expressed interest or shown an aptitude in. These very young apprentices would be encouraged not only to help with his or her master tradesperson's labor but also to participate fully in every deliberation and policy decision that the trade obliges her to participate in. As I said yesterday, there is no reason that a young apprentice who works hard and qualifies technically should not be given a full vote. This, rather than writing a test on theory that is soon forgotten, that earns a mark and then is thrown away, would encourage a sense of grave responsibility in children at an early age.

One aspect of face-to-face, meritocratic democracy that I have not gone into yet is peer review.

Our educational system at all levels ignores completely the ability of a student to work well in a group. The only thing that will get a student ahead is his or her ability to write a test, alone and unaided. Teachers are chosen for how well they write examinations, not for how well they can teach, which is itself a highly social group skill. When a group of kids do work together on a group project, only the result is marked. If one of them does more work than the others, or even if one blocks the group, the assessment is done exclusively by the teacher. Our autocratic traditions preclude the obvious conclusion: the most qualified person to assess one's ability to work in a group is another member of that group.

In the workplace it is the same. Co-workers are in a better position to judge a worker's social contribution and group skills than the boss. In politics it is the same -- and this is a fundamental flaw of democracy that must be addressed. From every point of view the people best qualified to say how well a leader is doing are not the people, not even his own party, it is those who work with him behind closed doors. Not coincidentally, these are least in a position to offer a frank assessment, even if they were immune from retaliation and were properly trained to give a fair judgement in the first place.

In order to address this flaw we must go back to the kindergarten level, the very moment children first come together. That is the moment training in cooperation must start. The teacher in kindergarten should have the children play cooperative games and report afterwards on how well their peers helped the group. If necessary the whole game and each child's later comments can be videotaped and reviewed together -- football teams use this method of review routinely together to improve their teamwork, and this is far more important than any game. This group review -- and review of their own assessments -- would force the children to think about the consequences of their attitudes and behavior in a group. When the next game comes up, which is designed to follow up on what the first cooperative game taught, the child will be ready to improve upon his or her previous social performance.

If similar peer reviews went on with increasing sophistication throughout our education we might expect that a prime minister or president -- if such a powerful position is tolerated -- would not surround himself with cowering toadies offering a front to the world, but he would want rather to challenge himself by seeking out as diverse a group as possible. This would assure that he sees every point of view early on and would also enable him to display their obligatory peer reviews to the world, showing that his ability to work well with others is worthy of one occupying the highest position in the land.

This peer review, I think, is essential to the cosmopolitanism that Immanuel Kant, in the last words of his Cosmopolitan History, held up as the goal of our human nature.

"Although this government at present exists only as a rough outline, nevertheless in all the members there is rising a feeling which each has for the preservation of the whole. This gives hope finally that after many reformative revolutions, a universal cosmopolitan condition, which Nature has as her ultimate purpose, will come into being as the womb wherein all the original capacities of the human race can develop." (last words in: Kant, Cosmopolitan History, p. 260)

John Taylor



Saturday, June 27, 2009

Kid votes, et. al.

Face-to-Face Democracy, War Rooms, and Children's Votes

Face-to-Face Democracy

"The greatest problem for the human race, to the solution of which Nature drives man, is the achievement of a universal civic society which administers law among men." (Kant, Cosmopolitan History)

Yesterday we talked about adding two new levels of governance, the household and the neighbourhood, to our present political order. This would be an essential step to what Kant calls a universal civic society (UCS). The locality is the true grassroots, the one part of society that is truly universal. It is the only level where there is direct, intimate contact among citizens; the prime minister of Canada, for instance, can meet only a tiny percentage of Canadians, whereas everybody in a household knows everybody else. Everyone in the world (barring the homeless) lives, or should live, in a household and we all have (or should have) contacts in our neighbourhood, which includes everything within walking distance.

I speculated on the possibility of both electing and rotating a "first family" to the neighbourhood government. This first family would have both ceremonial and administrative duties in a neighbourhood government. These two new levels of government would be enriched and bolstered by stronger local media run by locals and designed to encourage the contributions by amateur as well as professional talent. Such cultural activity would enable a UCS by re-circulating locally grown talent and wealth. Best of all, from a political point of view, it would improve and increase personal contacts among neighbours. This would enable, perhaps for the first time, a government that is truly creative.

Without a strong local culture, our present democracy is a sham. It is impossible for a person of integrity to vote for someone they have not met. Instead, we vote for individuals based on promises of how they will handle specific policy, which at best sets handcuffs on their wrists. A strong family household and a vital neighbourhood government would engender a purer form of democracy that could be called "face-to-face democracy." In a face-to-face election the only vote would be for a person or institution that we know well and have interacted with personally. Every vote would be based on direct, recent personal knowledge, not whim, image or mood. This is according to a principle that Immanuel Kant set out in his "Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View,"

"Nature has willed that man should, by himself, produce everything that goes beyond the mechanical ordering of his animal existence, and that he should partake of no other happiness or perfection than that which he himself, independently of instinct, has created by his own reason." (Kant, Cosmopolitan History, 251-252)

An individual's vote, then, is a creation of the heart, mind and will, every bit as much as our conversations, our friendships, careers, sports and artistic expressions are. In a face-to-face democracy a vote would never be laid down lightly or promiscuously. In matters requiring expert knowledge, a citizen would have to earn his or her vote by taking courses and gaining work experience. Since there is a limit to the amount of time we are given in life, our votes should be limited too, just as we limit the number of friends we make, the careers we undertake and the sports and recreations we involve ourselves in.

War Rooms

One of my main interests is in how face-to-face democracy might affect architecture and town planning, and vice versa. Ideally, every household and neighbourhood would have at the center of its administrative building -- or in a home its living room or media room -- a large display, combining physical models and maps with virtual enhancements, showing the exact current condition of the locale under that institution's purview.

Because this "war room" is open and universal, it could easily be inspected and understood by any visitor from anywhere in the world. Its hardware and software would be connected to and inspected by a world UCS network, making it impossible for corrupt politicians to manipulate or gloss over mistakes. Statistical displays are updated in real time and the design allows viewers to interact, for example by making side-by-side comparisons with similar families and neighbourhoods in other places.

It should be possible for a young child to come in and point out unexpected features of the household or neighbourhood that its most experienced administrator may never have noticed. Indeed in a household we should make up games that would introduce and involve children and young people in the war room display. By thus integrating politics into education at every level, each new generation would be better prepared to participate as responsible, effective, involved citizens.

Children's Votes

As my daughter often points out to me with her characteristic vigor, it is unfair that children cannot vote. I explain to her that this would subject them to manipulation and undue influence by unscrupulous adults. She is not convinced by this, and, upon reflection, neither am I. If children cannot vote in "real" politics, they should still be voting in lesser matters that affect them. As it is, after hundreds of years of nominal democracy, the educational system is no more democratic than the workplace.

More than anything, I deplore our educational system's overdependence on tests and examinations. In fact, it occurs to me that it might be a good idea for teachers sometimes to substitute instead participation in an election. A course in health, say, would not end in a gruelling test that teaches little, is soon forgotten and takes up class time; rather the class would vote in a plebiscite or poll that affects the health of a certain household or neighbourhood.

Because it is a specialized issue that significant adults would not be directly involved in, it is unlikely that they could or would wish to manipulate the votes of children. Because recent knowledge is the most important factor, there is no reason that children would not be as qualified as any adult to vote on such a specialized issue.

It may be true that children would make more mistakes as first-time voters, but the same is true for a novice in any trade. We accept a higher rate of errors for new doctors or apprentice carpenters as the price of having a new generation, and the same tolerance should apply for beginning citizens. I submit, therefore, that under the controled conditions of a school, children should be given a full adult vote. If their vote is as "real" as any adults, most pupils would take their studies much more seriously than they do examinations (which, in the case of my son and his nine-year-old buddies, is not very seriously at all) and study the issue much more diligently.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Two New Levels of Government

Taking Democracy from Households to Neighbourhoods

By John Taylor; 2009 June 26, Rahmat 02, 166 BE

Everybody spouts unqualified, uncritical praise for anything to do with the word "democracy," yet there has been pitifully little research and active experimentation on how to improve it. A couple of years ago this Badi' Blog proposed an LBC, or Local Broadcasting Cooperative, in an essay called, "Cosmopolites for a Local Broadcasting Cooperative." (2007 Aug 01, Here I suggested that every locality have its own broadcasting network spanning several media (radio, television, local theaters, internet) that would not just publicize local initiatives and activities but also offer a forum for face-to-face consultation and a forum for artists, playwrights and other performers. Such an open, public broadcaster would encourage expression in an area that is now a cultural and political desert.

My latest thinking is that I was being too vague when I spoke of "local." Now that I have gone over Comenius's master plan, the Panorthosia, I realize that we do not just need stronger local government, we actually could add onto the existing setup several more levels of governance below, starting with household government, proceeding to neighbourhoods and in urban areas perhaps going from there to several higher levels of government as well. This would be based on a general formula based on population and geographical distances that would determine where each new level of local organization is erected. For this I am contemplating a new form of democracy called "household democracy."

In a household democracy, instead of individuals voting on, say, the neighbourhood level, its constituents might be entire institutions. A neighbourhood government would be based not on "one man, one vote," but "one family, one vote." And instead of leadership by individuals, households might lead as well. Here is one idea on how it might work. Say there are fifty households in a neighbourhood. Every few years an election is held by secret ballot to choose the neighbourhood's "first family." This first family would work with career civil servants to administer the neighbourhood.

If problems arise, measures can be invented to keep strong individuals from dominating households or ambitious families from having undue influence. The problem of tyrannical individuals might be reduced by a "super-secret ballot," that is, not only an individual's vote within the family is confidential but the entire family's collective vote is kept secret as well, even among family members. Social pressure can be used not to talk about who voted for what. That way, after the voting only the final result of the neighbourhood election is released to the public. Nobody would know which families voted for or against the first family.

Several techniques might alleviate incumbency, where one or more families form a compact or dynasty by winning several successive elections. One way would be to make the same family ineligible after more than one or two terms of office. Another idea is to alternate elected terms with a rotating term. For example, families in a neighbourhood might vote a first family in for a three year term, then the family at the top of a list of those that had not had a recent chance at serving as first family would take over for a second three year term. This way there would be an election only every six years, and plenty of chance for voters to compare various new and alternate familial styles of administration.

At this point, I want to return to what the essay I referred to at the beginning was intended to help solve, the problem of the obscurity of local governance. I have lived in a small town for twelve years, and still I know only the Mayor, Marie Trainer, by name. There are several regional counsellors under her who remain anonymous in my mind, in spite of the fact that they are notoriously contentious (their confrontations with native protesters in Caledonia has been given nation-wide publicity over the past decade). Although I am theoretically allowed to vote them in every few years, from any rational point of view my vote is useless. How can you vote for somebody you do not know from Adam? In what sense are you making a choice?

The solution to this that I proposed before was to institute an LBC, a local media outlet to shift the focus of information sharing away from the center towards the periphery. In this essay, I wrote:

"We require a local identity far more than a national one. We need local contact, more, I daresay, than a world identity. A local broadcaster should be built into of the infrastructure of the local fact, it should be considered every bit as important as roads, sewers, electric wires and telephone and broadband cables. It should cut across all media, radio, television, the internet, covering live events, presentation and other productions in parks and theatres."

I also suggested that the reason that elite, spectator sports have become so popular, sophisticated, specialized and over-developed is, for one thing, that there is plenty of scope for the amateur on the local level. Every male in this culture is expected to have some involvement in amateur sports. There is no such expectation for what I call the Comenian Bird, politics (the bird's head), religion (one wing), and science (the other wing). There is no expectation for local, amateur political involvement, and this has been worsened by the decline of the family as a socio-economic force. There is no such expectation for religious involvement (one result: in the U.S., suicide has ousted murder as a cause of death) or for scientific investigation. I wrote:

"We are missing out on an entire dimension of human culture, the amateur. The amateur level can only thrive at the local, neighbourhood level. We have ample amateur sports, we make sure to involve young people at all ages in participatory sporting events (but, sadly, not older people), but when it comes to the avocations and professions that interface with the public, well, you are either a professional or you are nothing, you are either big time or a no-time wannabe. The local, amateur level is sparse, struggling, and unsupported... Hollywood and big media broadcasters bleed billions of dollars, and all the talent, away from the local level."

Every dollar that we spend on a video game, Hollywood movie or cable broadcast is money that could support cultural activity on the missing levels of governance, the family and neighbourhood, and the obscure levels of governance, town, city and regional. It is true that these sums, staggering as they are, are dwarfed by individual vices like graft, betting, drugs and alcohol, and by collective vices like armaments and lobbying. As these vices are brought under control, we should see to it that the monies they have leached out of peoples' pockets are directed back to vivifying several layers of local and amateur activity.

I have mentioned several alternate ways to organize democracy on the household and neighbourhood level. If we strengthened local and amateur cultural activity, money would start to flow into these fledgling institutions. As they learn to fly, their wings, religion and science, would need to become stronger.

Religious groups could improve their effectiveness in bolstering the spirits of their members and displaying spiritual values for all on the local level. They would prime us all for long-term growth in virtue for the next life. They could animate charitable activity and remove problems like poverty and disease.

Like religion, science can do a great deal to bolster the political structure. Investment could be directed to research which of any number of types of democracy is most productive. I mentioned a couple of possibilities for this at the start of this essay. Local and amateur scientists might well ask questions like:

What jobs should be left to appointed experts and what need to be elected by general vote? Should experts be appointed, or elected, and if so, by the general population or by their qualified peers? Which of the many possible types and variants of democracy would work best on the local level? Answers to such questions would be very useful in organizing both households and neighbourhoods.

John Taylor



Thursday, June 25, 2009

Still Thinking about Prejudice

Thoughts About Holmes On Homes

By John Taylor; 2009 June 25, Rahmat 01, 166 BE

I just went through a library DVD of the fourth season of the television program "Holmes on Homes." I watch these episodes with a mixture of horror and admiration. Horror at how much these renovations cost, and at how even if I had the money, how easy it would be, with bad luck, to see it all fly out the window. Admiration I feel when I watch a master at his trade at work. Almost every time at the end of the episode I am in tears. My horror at how badly a renovation can be botched then turns to horror at myself, at how I can get so sentimental about a silly home repair show. What is wrong with me?

For those who do not know about this production of the cable network "Home and Garden Television," Mike Holmes is a Toronto contractor whose motto is "Build it Right," perhaps intentionally a corrective to the animated character Bob the Builder's motto, "Can we build it? Yes we can!" Holmes goes into botched home renovations, assesses what has to be done and does it. Like the original James Bond series, where the spy is motivated by righteous indignation at a master criminal, Holmes is motivated by anger at incompetents and, worse, out-and-out grifters and scam artists who well know that the law is such that you cannot be arrested for fraud if you can demonstrate that you went in and did at least some work on the home, even if it is just banging in one nail.

At the start Holmes assesses the stalled project and points out what is wrong with it and why the workmanship is shoddy. He calls in experts to advise him and then tears out all sub-standard, half-finished construction, which sometimes is the result of several previous renovations, and starts afresh. Unlike in real life, he does not have to consider a tight budget; if anything is wrong with the house, he fixes it, shouting curses at the clowns who preceded him. "Unacceptable." "This is below code. Gut it!" are his repeated declarations. This tends to compromise some of the show's drama but for me it increases its educational value, since without budgetary constraints he can show new techniques and materials that I usually have never heard of.

At the end of each episode it is touching to see Holmes hand over the fruit of his work to delighted owners, many of whom had been burned so badly they lost their life savings paying for an unfinished project. Why do I feel sorry for people who are ten times richer than I am? I just do not understand myself. Anyway, you can see that Holmes and his co-workers not only know what they are doing, not only love their jobs, but they also derive genuine pleasure in giving these poor people a renovation that is correct, safe, and beautiful. In many cases the homeowner is already broke and they are donating their services -- though no doubt the publicity of being on television is worth its weight in gold as advertising. I hear that one of his suppliers and subcontractors, a spray insulation firm, is located not far from where I live.

This is how they should make television cop shows. Right now policiers concentrate exclusively on the violent, spectacular side of a grossly inadequate legal system. Police shows are all about justice as revenge and retribution, black deeds, killing, shooting, arrests and jails, all the aspects of criminal injustice that proper education would avoid in the first place.

Imagine a "Holmes on Homes" style approach for cop shows. There is no equivalent for a general contractor in the justice system, unfortunately, so this takes a very big leap of the imagination. But imagine a television show based on the aboriginal style of restorative justice where a wrongdoer is not branded a "criminal" for the rest of his life and segregated in prison, but rather he is purified by spending a period in the wilderness where he must fend for himself, completely alone. Imagine that purgation followed by efforts on the part of the whole community to reconcile the perpetrator with his victims, to restore the situation to how it was before the wrong was done, or even better. All this is already being done with minor crimes in many native communities across Canada, and it is being tried out tentatively with non-native crimes too.

Imagine a community with Holmes's motto, "make it right," who decided to do whatever it takes, spend any amount of money not only to "solve" a crime in the sense of finding whodunnit and punishing them, but really, actually solving the crime. I mean solving it for good, by healing its every bad effect as a particular crime and then seeing to it that such a wrong will never take place again.

A television series that dramatized restorative justice in action would be a great service to society. What is more, judging by the tears I often shed at the end of this -- of all things -- home renovation program, it would surely not be so hard for a cop show where wrongs are not retaliated against but righted to be a deeply moving and compelling experience. In fact I find that watching endless dramas of punitive justice, in spite of all their suspense and gunfire, an unsatisfying experience. As soon as the echo of shots dies down tedium sets in. To see a crime restored and cured would surely be both encouraging and inspiring. And, as Holmes does, a show highlighting innovation and improved methods in law and order might actually make us expect progress in abolishing crime and corruption. Once people imagine and expect something to get better, it tends to happen.

At least, that is what I am hoping for by watching Holmes on Homes these days. I expect, perhaps vainly, that if I watch it enough I might learn enough to get the confidence and gumption to renovate. Somehow I also have to conjure up the money, even if I do it all myself. Somehow our household needs to get a cheaper alternative to our present heating system, electric baseboard heaters. Last winter we paid more for heat than ever before, sometimes as much as 900 dollars a month. We clearly must do something before next winter hits and our stipends are sucked dry again.

I watched several Holmes on Homes episodes last night just before bed. In the morning I woke thinking about this theme -- a master craftsperson comes into a bad situation and uses all his skill to make it right. How close this is to what the Manifestation of God does to the hearts of men, and to the corrupt organizations that dare call themselves religions! He goes in, points out exactly what the problem is, tears it out and builds it right. Surely God's Messenger viewing the world feels very much the same indignation that a master builder like Mike Holmes does when he walks through botched houses, some of which are about to collapse or burn down because some loser wanted to save himself an hour's work.

Here is an example of what I am talking about.

I have been going over one of Baha'u'llah's most important statements about how to eliminate prejudice, and I note that right in the middle He inserts a very strong personal declaration of lifelong commitment to this mission:

"This wronged One hath, ever since the early days of His life, cherished none other desire but this (i.e. to root out contention), and will continue to entertain no wish but this wish." (Proclamation, 114)

It is wonderful that Baha'u'llah formalized the universal need for security in the branch of the institution of the learned who specialize in protection.

As I lay in bed, I imagined an entire profession of philosopher, inspired by guys like Mike Holmes, not to mention the learned guardians of Baha, who took a tour through our everyday thoughts and consultation, tore pieces away, examined our faulty presuppositions and angrily shouted, "This is just unacceptable!" "This is below code!" and, "What was this guy thinking?" If there had been guardian philosophers prowling the beer-halls of Germany in the 1920's, expunging racism, stereotypes and other fallacies as soon as they popped to the surface, I am sure that Nazism would never have stood a chance of gaining popularity.

Where are the master thought builders when we need them, now that global warming is breathing down our necks? Are we learning how to expunge prejudice, the lifelong dream of Baha'u'llah, or are we just stamping out a brushfire that will spring up somewhere else? I leave you with the thoughts of Comenius on how to get at the root of prejudice, which is ego and selfish lack of perspective. How similar his ideas are to a certain general contractor in Toronto!


 "A(n) ... obnoxious obstacle is a strangely inborn mental indifference which rests content with any kind of knowledge derived from any and every source, so that no room is found for truer or better things, although they are there for the taking. For since first impressions make their mark on men's minds, and hold fast there without giving way to those which come later, they keep our minds fully occupied.

 "This is the origin of our prejudice that our views are truer and better than those of others, even though we do not know what kind of views the others hold. Prejudice of this sort keeps our minds so fettered that whatever opinion happens to be held by someone by chance or force of habit is believed to be above comparison with those of others; we therefore disdain, scorn, and condemn them without a hearing.

 "This explains why every man's philosophy, and his opinions about things, his religion and his ritual for worshipping God, his politics, and his customary form of government, are just like idols. Therefore if we undertake the reform of affairs in earnest, we must make a strenuous effort to remove this barrier, too, so that every human being recognises that he is human, and just as liable as his neighbour to suffer from illusion, to make mistakes, and to lapse into error. ... Unless we set men universally free from the fetters of prejudice, it is futile for us to expect Universal Reform." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 6, para 5, pp. 100-101)

John Taylor


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

ep and the gam

Elimination of Prejudice in the Great Announcement of Baha'u'llah

By John Taylor; 2009 June 24, Nur 18, 166 BE

In this and the next essay or two I want to look at the origins of the principle of elimination of prejudice in some representative Writings of Baha'u'llah. But first, some general background.

Abdu'l-Baha by His own admission was grilled many times during His stay in America on the question: "What is new about Baha'u'llah's message?" In the last month of His stay He devoted two entire talks to this. In both of these New York addresses, He listed the elimination of prejudice, along with about a dozen other Baha'i principles, as wholly unique to Baha'i, qua religion. He clearly did not intend to say that prejudice goes completely unmentioned in earlier scriptures, only that its removal had not been taken to be a central purpose. There are many so-called "dark sayings" throughout older scriptures that could be and were twisted into excuses for denigrating other beliefs.

While the devil quoting scripture is dangerous enough, the problem of religious prejudice in practice is even worse. Corrupt faith leaders tend to think that they are strengthening their own hand by fomenting hatred for out-groups. The Baha'i principle of eliminating prejudice addresses religious fundamentalism and fanaticism head on. Not only religious but all other forms and combinations of prejudice are condemned, be it national, racial, economic or cultural in origin.

We are reading Andre Brugiroux's account of his hitchhiking voyage around the world. He was audacious enough to cross two war zones, Southeast Asia at the height of the Vietnam war and the Middle East. His grassroots contacts with the people there expose the fact that while both wars -- like all wars -- were outcomes of prejudice, there was a world of difference between their severity. The denizens of Southeast Asia, weakened by language, culture and lack of education, were subject to manipulation by outside interests. Those in the Middle East were systematically indoctrinated by both religion and nationalist politics in the attitudes and language of bigotry. From Brugiroux's account one can easily see why the Middle East remains a hot spot even today, some forty years later, while Vietnam and its neighbours have largely recovered, in spite of the fact that the Vietnam War initially was "hotter" and deadlier.

As in earlier scriptures, Baha'u'llah gave attention to elimination of prejudice as a spiritual principle, especially in His early Writings, for example in the Seven Valleys and the Hidden Words. However it was not until His publicly announced mission that He articulated the broad social principle. The latter is what we are concerned with here.

The Proclamation of Baha'u'llah

For reasons that will become clear, I want to concentrate on a particular section of the first compilation of Baha'u'llah's Writings edited, published and widely distributed by the Universal House of Justice. This is called "The Proclamation of Baha'u'llah."

As we all know, the Universal House of Justice formed in 1963, just before the World Congress in London, the commemoration of the centenary of Baha'u'llah's declaration in the Garden of Ridvan, near Baghdad. Among the first tasks the new institution took upon itself was to oversee the compilation of the English translations by Shoghi Effendi of the Writings of Baha'u'llah. These translations had been made at various points in his life and were distributed throughout many of his published letters and books.

It was urgent to collate and organize what the Guardian regarded as the most salient pronouncements of the Founder of the Baha'i Faith in order, among other reasons, for the House to be certain of what Baha'u'llah had said about its role and purpose. This would enable it to make up a constitution for itself (this document was finally drawn up and adopted in the early 1970's).

Parenthetically, let me say here that I was recently thumbing through the UHJ's constitution and right at the end there was a clause that I had not noticed before. It makes one big difference between this and any other constitution that I have seen. It states that the UHJ's constitution can be amended at any time by  a unilateral decision on its part. As long as the Writings are not compromised, there will never be a need for another individual or institution to approve a change to the UHJ's constitution. Every national constitution I have heard of requires an elaborate process of approval from many levels of government in order to make a change. In the 1980's, in the so-called "Meech Lake Accords," the Prime Minister of Canada tried to amend its new constitution. This required elaborate and unanimous approval by all provincial parliamentarians. The slow process of amendment proved to be extremely tedious, contentious and expensive. Eventually, it failed to pass. No more elaborate procedure than a decision of the House of Justice is required to make major changes to the make-up of the Baha'i Faith.

In any case, as soon as it formed, the House set the goal of completing a partial compilation of the Guardian's translations five years later, in time for the commemoration in 1968 of the hundredth anniversary of Baha'u'llah's the Tablets to the Kings, most of which were originally sent out between 1867 and 1868. This compilation they called "The Proclamation of Baha'u'llah." The House of Justice announced its publication in these words,

"The Centenary campaign has been opened by the Universal House of Justice presenting to one hundred and forty heads of state a compilation of Baha'u'llah's Own proclamation." (Letter addressed to International Conferences, October, 1967)

Baha'is were called upon to distribute Proclamation more widely among not only prominent people, heads of state and leaders of thought, but ordinary people. Many years later much of this material, along with new official translations, was incorporated into the book now known as "The Summons of the Lord of Hosts."

The Proclamation does not follow the order of addressing leaders in the original Surih of Haykal. Instead it starts with a collective declaration to the Kings, continues through perorations to various secular kings and religious leaders, then democratic leaders and those in America, and ends with the section that I am concerned with here, the "Great Announcement to Mankind." This subsection is addressed not to a king or other leader but to the entire human race.

This is not a separate document but a combination of material from the Tablets to the Kings (that is, Summons of the Lord of Hosts), and also includes selections from later Tablets, such as the Kitab-i-Aqdas and the Tablet to Maqsud. What unites everything in this subsection is the fact that, with a couple of exceptions, it was addressed to the human race as a whole, not to our leaders. It is therefore highly telling that it is here that Baha'u'llah outlines the principle of Elimination of Prejudice. Upon reflection, this perhaps should not be surprising. While leaders and officials may have a certain, limited power to censor hate literature and to outlaw some blatant pronouncements of prejudice, there is a limit to what legal sanctions can do without suppressing fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression.

In the next installment we will plunge into what Baha'u'llah specifically says in His Great Announcement to Mankind.

John Taylor



Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lotus Visit

This just in. A report of a visit to the Lotus Temple, from a traveling blogger:

"The real prize today was the Baha'i Temple, which unfortunately I got
no pictures of (which is no real concern, since others had cameras)
due to lack of preparation in the department of batteries.
Nevertheless, the temple itself is a rather large building in the
shape of a Lotus flower, designed in a fashion that must have called
for quite a streak of engineering genius to pull off. We watched a
video concerning the Baha'i architectural achievements, and while the
information puts the construction in context, it is still difficult
not to stare at it in disbelief. I suppose I shouldn't have my mind
blown so quickly on this trip, but the folding patterns and sloping
design are incredible on this temple. It is flanked on both sides by
what look like pools (though I never got a chance to ask what they
were for, if anything, since I didn't see anyone in them – just for
show?), and when entering the temple one is to remain completely
silent and reverent. When we got back from the temple and the museum
associated with it, I stopped by the internet café to do a quick
look-up of this faith and the corresponding temple here in Delhi, and
scrounged up a few numbers – apparently over 50 million people have
visited the Lotus Temple in Delhi, which puts it as one of the most
viewed buildings in the world. Pretty impressive for such a minor
faith, I would say. Even more impressive (to me) are certain tenets of
the faith itself, for instance the refusal of donations by anyone who
isn't part of the Baha'i faith itself, which to me shows proof of a
religion willing to stand on its own two feet. Also the reconciliation
between faith and science, listed under the principles of the Baha'i
faith, and the equality of the sexes, elimination of poverty, etc,
make the Baha'i look incredibly progressive as a religion."

John Taylor


Monday, June 22, 2009

Upheaval in Baha'u'llah's Hometown

Current Events in the Land of Ta

By John Taylor; 2009 June 22, Nur 16, 166 BE

As I write, the streets of Tehran, the birthplace of Baha'u'llah, are torn with crowds of protesters rioting in the name of democracy. The shouts of the people are raised against a regime dominated by a clerical order that Baha'u'llah called "veils of glory,"

"What veils of glory more grievous than these embodiments of error! By the righteousness of God! To pierce such veils is the mightiest of all acts, and to rend them asunder the most meritorious of all deeds!" (Baha'u'llah, quoted in Promised Day is Come, p. 82)

At this point it is not at all clear whether these veils will be pierced and torn asunder or not, but if they are it would be appropriate that it be the people en masse who do it, rather than yet another run-of-the-mill coup d'etat.

It was by mass consent, a unified agreement among all levels of society that there was no choice but regime change that the original Iranian revolution started out in 1979. When this revolution took place, I remember being astonished at its peacefulness, at least in the early stages. It seemed to me that it had to be different from any earlier revolution, most of which were foisted upon a reluctant people by a fervid minority. In the French Revolution it was an anti-clerical merchant class, in the Russian it was a small number of Bolsheviks who forced collectivism and atheism down the throat of a large, diverse country.

The Iranian people saw that they had no choice but act in unison. They knew well how easily in the early 1950's fledgling spy Kermit Roosevelt for the newly formed CIA had handed out fists full of dollars, created confusion and an illusion of popular revolt, and ousted an elected, populist leader Mohammad Musaddiq, who had dared nationalize the hated British-owned oil concession. That was how the young Shah had come to power, and it was with American support that he stayed in power for decades. There was no way that the Iranian people could rely upon a small number of representatives to determine their fate on their behalf. As a result, it was the entire society that hit the streets next time. The Shah, already ill, had no choice but board the next jet out of the country.

What a contrast that was to other regime changes and other revolutions! Only when the Iranian people handed power over to the professional body that Baha'u'llah called the "embodiments of error," did things turn bloody.

Nonetheless, I cannot help but think that it was the Iranian revolution's example of radical change by means of pure unity, a peaceful, mass consensus to take to the streets rather than violent tumult that inspired the "velvet" revolution in Czechoslovakia and eventually led to the overthrow of Communist regimes throughout Eastern Europe a decade later. Let us hope that something just as good comes out of the present troubles taking place on the ground where Baha'u'llah first walked upon this earth. I cannot but think of the prophesy that He made about His birthplace, the "land of Ta," in the Aqdas, His Most Holy Book:

"Let nothing grieve thee, O Land of Ta, for God hath chosen thee to  be the source of the joy of all mankind. He shall, if it be His Will, bless thy throne with one who will rule with justice, who will gather together the flock of God which the wolves have scattered. Such a ruler will, with joy and gladness, turn his face towards, and extend his favours unto, the people of Baha. He indeed is accounted in the sight of God as a jewel among men. Upon him rest forever the glory of God and the glory of all that dwell in the kingdom of His revelation." (Aqdas, para 91, p. 54)

John Taylor


Sunday, June 21, 2009

About several Baha'i things.

Most Baha'is are familiar with this passage from "PAIN AND SORROW," a
talk by Abdu'l-Baha given in Paris on November 22nd, 1911:

"In this world we are influenced by two sentiments, Joy and Pain. Joy
gives us wings! In times of joy our strength is more vital, our
intellect keener, and our understanding less clouded. We seem better
able to cope with the world and to find our sphere of usefulness. But
when sadness visits us we become weak, our strength leaves us, our
comprehension is dim and our intelligence veiled. The actualities of
life seem to elude our grasp, 110 the eyes of our spirits fail to
discover the sacred mysteries, and we become even as dead beings."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 109)

Now scientific evidence is backing up this view of the practical value
of happiness to intelligence. See the following blog caast from CBC's
science program, Quirks and Quarks:

"This is your Brain on Rose-Coloured Glasses. Sure, being in a good
mood changes the way you see the world, but it also looks like it
changes the way the brain works." To hear the whole thing, go to:
Again, most Baha'is are familiar with this passage from the Lawh-i-Maqsud:

"Concerning thine own affairs, if thou wouldst content thyself with whatever might come to pass it would be praiseworthy. To engage in some profession is highly commendable, for when occupied with work one is less likely to dwell on the unpleasant aspects of life. God willing thou mayest experience joy and radiance, gladness and exultation in any city or land where thou mayest happen to sojourn. This lowly servant will never forget that distinguished and kind friend. He hath
remembered and will continue to remember thee. The decree lieth with God, the Lord of all worlds. I fain would hope He may vouchsafe divine assistance and grant confirmation in that which is pleasing and acceptable unto Him." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah, p. 175)

I was intrigued to find a modern philosopher come to very much the same conclusion in a study of our work lives. I am thinking particularly of part 8 in this talk, under the subtitle, "The Importance of Work." Truly work is a distraction. It is very much like worship in that it is a very good kind of distraction, a placebo in the best sense of the word.'s Summer Book Club; Alain de Botton on the Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, at:

Here is a grab bag of more discoveries of general interest to Baha'is.

From the Hamilton Baha'i Newsletter

Upcoming Junior Youth Summer Camps near Toronto this summer. Below is the link to the information that Brian Graham presented at the Reflection Meeting last night. If you have any further questions about these wonderful opportunities, please email:

A real treasure... translations into English of recollections from early Friends.

Here is just some of what is listed on that page...
Published eBooks
•Vol 1 The Genesis of the Babi-Baha'i Faiths in Shiraz
•Vol 2 The Babis of Nayriz: History and Documents
•Vol 3 Eight Years Near Abdu'l-Baha: The Diary of Dr. Habib Mu'ayyad

My thanks to David Bowie,, whose mailing list is a constant source of news on such discoveries. Here are some more recent links and notes from him. His wife Carol is a former Auxiliary Board Member for Ontario. They are now living in British Columbia.

You might be interested in listening to the following segment from the "Tell Me More" blog of the US National Public Radio Service ( If I understand it correctly, this 5 ½-minute segment would not have been broadcast, but is available only on the web. It's worth a listen! Thanks to several Bahá'í friends on Facebook who linked it there.

Now you'll be able to download and listen to great talks and presentations by the Hands of the Cause, Adib Taherzadeh, Ali Nakhjavani and many others!

Finally, from the wonderful blog on the persecutions in Iran:

Why is there no universal right to believe? Here are some words of a martyr addressing her persecutors:

"Freedom is a heavenly gift; so do not deprive yourselves of such a gift! By God; it is a pitiful sin to do so! God has granted this freedom within the essence of every human; and therefore you as a creature of God cannot deprive me of it; and I, as a creature of God, shall not grant you permission to deprive me of it." For more, see:

John Taylor



Friday, June 19, 2009

Comenius and Elimination of Prejudice

Awareness, Laziness and the Removal of Prejudice

By John Taylor; 2009 June 19, Nur 13, 166 BE

The sixth chapter of Panorthosia is about how to remove barriers to reform. The sub-title sets up the task of "first and foremost ... ridding our minds of stupidity, careless prejudice, and obstinacy." Comenius held that we can remove all three, stupidity, prejudice and obstinacy, by admitting our mistakes and returning to the point where we erred. Last essay, we discussed his ideas on how to apply this "principle of return" to get around obstinacy. Another major barrier to reform is what he calls "stupidity." Stupidity is the result of confusion, which is mostly the effect of disunity.

Like Baha'is, Comenius believed that we should value unity as something divine, as an end in itself. We get past errors by rejecting mere opinion and coming to grips with truth, by going "from conflicting pursuits and fighting" to "love of common welfare to peace and concord." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 6, para 12, p. 102) Like sheep cut off from the flock, we are miserable unless we are aware of the whole human race. To stand alone is not to be in our element. "Let us return, therefore, from confusion through simplicity to unity..." (Ch 6, para 12, p. 102) Recent studies on happiness have confirmed that human happiness cannot come about when we feel alone. Happiness is a product of meaningful connection with others, a sense that we are doing good to those we love. Thus the return is a return to our own justice, the place where we observe and learn how best to serve.

Unfortunately, ignorance is widespread, then as now.

"No one can possibly be unaware of the stupidity of the general public concerning their environment and all that is happening in it. Most people are profoundly ignorant of God, the world, themselves, and everything, and those who know something about them have no more than a superficial knowledge, and do not take trouble to probe them further or to attend to distinctions of true and false, good and evil." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 6, para 4, p. 100)

A natural response is to despair, to give up on humanity and just try to survive on our own. Mixed in with this is simple laziness. It always seems easier just to sit back and accept shadows as reality.

"So long as this indolence fetters the sense of men, it is vain for us to conceive any hope of Universal Reform. For what reform would we expect of the man who is not even aware of corruption and the necessity for reform? But this is the ignorance of the man who does not know the ideal and perfect state of affairs which has been left behind. Therefore if we propose to persuade men to concern themselves with reform, we must first rouse them from their slumber." (Panorthosia, p. 100)

As Comenius put it in an earlier work, "He who knows not that he is ill cannot heal himself." (Great Didactic, quoted in Daniel Murphy Daniel, Comenius, A Critical Reassessment, p. 261) Once we do recognize our need for change, the next step is to increase awareness, and then sort through what this open-mindedness discovers in what we now would call a scientific spirit.

"It is therefore in the common interest to adopt a different attitude, for example,

1. we should all pay more attention to everything, so that each of us is able to apply the test of reason to our doubts and our judgements on every single subject;

2. we should prove all things and hold fast that which is good, which is the advice given by God Himself in I Thessalonians 5:21,

3. whenever it is recognised that we have gone astray, everyone should be ready to exchange error for truth." (Ch. 6, para 7, pp. 101)

This is especially significant when we recall Comenius's position that everything we know arises from the senses, that all knowledge is a projection of what the senses perceive. This was in contrast with Rene Descartes, who held that mind and body are entirely separate, independent entities. On one occasion Comenius met with Descartes personally and discussed this with him. It is interesting that in the study of the brain, their disagreement lives on to this day. Very recent studies have swung the pendulum in Comenius's direction by showing how important physical motions, gesticulations and gesture are to how we all speak, remember and reason.

Unlike later empiricists, though, Comenius saw sense perception not as the be all and end all, but as a tool for getting at the light. Once we all stand in the daylight, everything will change. If we all become receptive to the light our common vision will surely disperse our former darkness and collective ignorance. The method for doing this is,

"By persuading all who have been admitted into God's theatres equipped with eyes, ears, and other senses, to take a lively interest in everything, to review things for themselves and get to know them anew, and so to imbue their minds with universal light. If this desire for mental light is aroused, the first and most obvious obstacle, mental darkness, will at once be removed, and the ways and means of doing so have been investigated in my 'Universal Education'." (Ch. 6, para 4, p. 100)

John Taylor



Wednesday, June 17, 2009

play and happiness

The sense of play is important in religion.


The sense of being happy makes us more intelligent. The Master said it is so, and here is proof.

Approaching the Center of Truth

Consultation is Prior to Environmental Progress

By John Taylor; 2009 June 17, Nur 11, 166 BE

Last week I drove my father to one of his doctors' offices in Hamilton.
For a moment's distraction I picked up a copy of Toronto Life. The
only article remotely interesting was called "A Mighty Wind," by
Andrew Westoll. It is available online at:

The article tells the distressing tale of a failed attempt by the
Ontario government at gaining democratic approval for a wind farm
planned for the shallow waters of Lake Ontario, offshore of
Scarborough in northern Toronto. As the article says, you would expect
in this day and age that an alternative energy installation like that
would gain instant approval from everybody concerned.

Unfortunately, according to the author a series of blunders in setting
up public meetings by Ontario Hydro and the present government of
Ontario rapidly polarized the issue between fanatical
environmentalists and foaming-at-the-mouth NIMBY'ists (NIMBY means
"not in my back yard"). Every half-hearted attempt at bringing
citizens together in a common learning process was botched. Each
successive public meeting ended in a fight for the microphone, after
which the citizen who did speak was then drowned out by shouted
denunciations and insults from the crowd. Bad feelings worsened on
both sides and bitter contention escalated out of control.

As a result, now there is no hope that either side might learn
something from the government sponsored "information sessions." What
little agreement did come about was a common consent that the
government is not to be trusted. Meanwhile the slow process of
environmental assessment -- rather tellingly termed a "proponent
driven self-assessment" -- has not even begun.

I read in the Toronto Star another astonishing angle on this. It seems
that there has never been study, anywhere, of the impact of wind
turbines on peoples' health. One fellow on the other side of the lake
is trying to rectify this with a mailed-in survey approach. He is
sending a questionnaire to residents near a new wind turbine.

I can say from personal experience (several large turbines have sprung
up around our town of Dunnville) that I have never heard a peep out of
these startlingly beautiful constructions, even in high winds. I
cannot imagine how you would find any health impact at all from them.
The largest around here, at a large Dutch florist called Rosaflora, is
built right beside the owner's house. The problem of noise from wind
turbines was all but eliminated a couple of generations ago, from what
I have read in science magazines. Again, astonishingly, another
proposed wind turbine installation near Toronto Island is similarly
being held up for lack of a noise impact study. How they will ever
detect any sound there that is not drowned out by the roar of rushing
vehicles on the Lakeshore Expressway is beyond me. My, how cautious we are about alternative energy, and meanwhile anything currently operating, trains, planes and automobiles, does not have to have a noise assessment. Nothing that burns hydrocarbons need be examined, only solar panels and wind turbines pose a menacing threat to ourselves and the world.

The Toronto Life article tells about an interesting proposal from a
Swiss research institute called the Council of the Federal Institute
of Technology. They suggest that we can get around the
Environmentalist vs. NIMBYist fight by establishing clear goals for
all aimed at small steps for energy conservation, as well as new
mega-projects. They call it the "2,000 Watt Society."

"Having established that average energy consumption worldwide works
out to 2,000 watts per person per day, they are now challenging
members of the higher-energy-consuming societies to meet that average.
(Europeans currently use 6,000 watts per capita, while Africans use
only 500. Canada and the U.S. are at 12,000.) If Torontonians lowered
their consumption enough to meet the 2,000-watt challenge -- a stretch
at the moment, but bear with me -- the wind farm off the Bluffs would
cover the continuous energy needs of 90,000 people." (Andrew Westoll,
"A Mighty Wind," Toronto Life, May 2009, p. 43)

This is a perfect first step towards what I have been proposing here.
If everybody sported a dynamically-linked escutcheon displaying such
indicators as the number of watts used, and if these escutcheons were
posted prominently on web sites, at front doors and in every
neighbourhood and city hall, then there would be no perceived need to
divide up into NIMBY's and environmentalists. Nobody would want to see
their escutcheon blackened and uglified by using more than their fair
share of 2000 watts. I am sure that if the Ontario Government had
already had strong consultation links to households and
neighbourhoods, and if they had pictured the wind farm as a way to
remove a blot from everybody's escutcheon, then there would never have
been any argumentation at all. Such projects would instantly gain
grassroots support from all levels of governance if we took a less
centralized, more local and goal-oriented approach.

Another way to avoid consultational fiascos like the one discussed in
this article would be to invest in meeting technology. Mohawk College
and other research groups and companies have invented remarkable ways
of using computers to enhance classrooms, conferences and public
meetings. There is no excuse in this millennium to have people lining
up before a microphone. It is possible to have dynamic discussions
among members of the audience along with moderated cross-talk, all
projected on the wall above the presenters at a public meeting.

Teachers already use clickers to get dynamic feedback on students'
reactions. Why not have a clicker at every public consultation? With
all the money at stake in a project like this -- not to mention the
danger to the environment -- you would think that such technology
would be in high demand.

But this is not just a technical issue. Everybody needs to be better
trained in the spiritual as well as intellectual requirements of
consultation. We need to take consultation more seriously. We should,
each and every one of us, be more actively involved in consultation on
a daily level by practicing it in our families and households. The
family meal is the primal "meeting technology," used for thousands of
years as ground zero of social progress. It founded most religions,
including Christianity with its "love feasts" and the Baha'i Faith
with its "19 Day Feasts." We also need an entire new level of
government, the neighbourhood. If families voted for a neighbourhood
council, and neighbourhoods elected city and town councils, we would
have something closer to the face-to-face cordiality that democracy
and consultation both require.

We must learn that it is possible to have an extremely effective
consultation without clashes, even without opening our mouths to
speak. Total silence allows each individual to arrive at the truth in
the most economical way for their own powers and abilities to act.
Abdu'l-Baha discussed how effective this meditative silent meeting was
for an ancient society of thinkers called the Illuminati in his talk
to the Quakers in London (see the last part of Paris Talks). I cannot
help but think that silence would have been far more productive than
the shouting matches that put the kybosh on any wind farms to be built
near Toronto. All the great inventions and real, lasting progress
throughout history did not come from heads bashing in heated
contention. They arose in silence, from hard work combined with
meditation, prayer and silent reflection on what reality demands of
each of us. That is the only way we can directly approach what
Comenius called the "center of truth."

"We see how disagreements could be tolerated without mutual hatred,
and how unnecessary it is on their account to clash with one another
with hostile minds and pens and arms. But it is desirable that
differences should be not only tolerated but capable of solution, i.e.
all controversial questions should be solved with such wisdom that the
centre of truth is found, and even diametrically opposite opinions are
duly brought back to it, and inasmuch as any one opinion contains a
particle of truth it should help to establish truth in general and
thereby should be itself established, and any irrelevant ingredient
would incidentally disappear." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para
28, pp. 120-121)

John Taylor



Press Report on our Public Meeting Last Week

Why Does God Permit Evil To Exist?
Dunnville Chronicle - ON, Canada
Baha'u'llah, Founder of the Baha'i Faith said: "Upon the inmost reality of every created thing He [God] shed the light of one of His names and made it a ...

Monday, June 15, 2009

More on the Golden Rule of Elimination of Prejudice

Khashiyat, the Golden Rule, and Getting Back to Where We Went Astray

Comenius saw that we cannot approach the problem of bigotry and
fanaticism in the same way as other social problems. The poor can be
made rich simply by increasing wealth, the ignorant can be educated,
but the prejudiced are not so easily changed. This is because at the
heart the problem of bigotry is obstinacy, a stubborn refusal to even
see that one's sense of justice has been compromised. At one point in
this chapter Comenius refers to this admonition in the Bible to avoid

"A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of
understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: to understand a
proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark
sayings. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools
despise wisdom and instruction. (Prov 1:5-7, KJV)

The obstinate put their opinion before all else. They do not love the
common good or see that the situation requires that they repent of
earlier, sloppy pre-judgments. The only way for them to go ahead,
then, is to go back to how they were before they were corrupted. This
rule, then, is like John the Baptist, the "voice crying in the
wilderness" for repentance and justice. That is, before an error can
possibly be corrected we must always start by recognizing the problem,
finding where we wandered and starting afresh from there.

Some kind of retracing of our steps to the point of error is required
in every intervention. Patients must recognize that they are ill
before doctors can cure them, students must know they are ignorant and
desire to learn before a teacher can teach them. This was systematized
for addicts in the 1930's with the development of Twelve Step
programs, which start with a conversion experience where the addict
sees his or her helplessness before the source of corruption. If we do
not recognize that we are dirty, we will never want to be clean.
Eliminating prejudice, then, starts with the difficult but necessary
realization that we are lost sheep who have wandered and dispersed not
only from the safe path of God but also from the safety in numbers
that made them into successful herd animals in the first place.

"If this is done in earnest, we shall all have much to gain, since I.
every man will know more than he thinks he knows; II. every man will
acknowledge that men go astray like sheep, as God says in Isaiah 53:6;
III. every man will have the chance of returning from some error to
some truth. And in time the holy intention to avoid all errors will
spread to all men, when it becomes abundantly clear to all that the
only way to recover from error is to return to the point where you
went astray." (Ch. 6, para 8, pp. 101-102)

In our last essay on this theme
( we saw
Comenius propose that a slogan based upon this be publicized and
treated as a Golden Rule for purification from prejudice: "Let us
return to the way from whence we have gone astray!" (Panorthosia II,
Ch. 6, para 10, p. 102) The question we ended with was: "In what sense
is this a "Golden Rule" of elimination of prejudice? Before we look at
that question, let us take a small step backwards.

As we all know, the Golden Rule states: "do unto others as you would
have them do unto you." The "return to the way we were before we went
astray" rule resembles this Golden Rule in several ways. Both require
a sense of responsibility and reciprocity coming out of a leap of the
imagination. Both project personal taste and ambition into a model for
serving others in a spirit of altruism. Both assume awareness and
recognition of the problem of what is good, and both benefit from
self-assessment, from questions like, "How would I have others do unto
me?" "Do I even know what is best for me?" And both are outcomes of
the Biblical concept of integrity, where the Oneness of God is
integrated into one's entire being, both personal and social. Comenius
puts this beautifully when he says in the 13th paragraph of this

"This means that every man should be a self-contained individual, an
undivided whole, and every family and household should constitute one
body, and similarly for every city, kingdom, and people. And finally
the whole human race, with the whole complex of its affairs and all
the choirs of angels, should be one unit under the ONE GOD..."

However the "return to where we went astray" principle differs from
the Golden Rule in other ways. In one sense the Rule of Return is a
pointer back to a point in the past where we fell short of doing unto
others as we would have them do unto us. However, in another sense the
Rule of Return is an outcome of an even higher law.

Prior to the Golden Rule is the Rule of Love, "thou shalt love the
Lord thy God with all thy might" combined with its equivalent, "thou
shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." This Rule of Love is at the
heart of all Western religion. It comes before the Golden Rule because
while the latter explains how to do right, the former deals with why.
Without love of one's neighbour, ethics would be mere technical rules,
what the Apostle Paul called "the tinkling of bells." It would be
better suited to regulating machines than human beings.

An interesting paper turned up this month on the "Iran Press Watch"
Website called "Iran's Islamic Theocracy and the Problem of Khashiyat
(Fear of God): A Baha'i Perspective," (Aram Anahid, June 3rd, 2009 It points out that
there is a distinction drawn in Islamic law (and the Baha'i Writings)
between "Khauf," dread of divine scourge, and "Khashiyat," fear in the
sense of awestruck recognition of the absolute greatness of God. The
latter is considered to be an outcome of the love of God rather than
fear, since it transcends all consideration of benefit or punishment.
Baha'u'llah calls Khashiyat our "true protector and ... spiritual
guardian." (Tablets, 92) The paper also cites a passage from
Baha'u'llah's Panj Kanj that makes it clear that if one falls short of
Khashiyat and retains even a hint of Khauf, which considers one's own
harm or benefit, this would make the soul unworthy to enter the divine

Comenius's "return whence you went astray" principle is in a sense the
Golden Rule in error checking mode. But it is also more than a
technique or activity. It is Khashiyat, the kind of reverent love that
galvanizes us to become the solution to the ethical problems that
confront us. In the last paragraph of this chapter Comenius states the
goal of the principle of elimination of prejudice, to purify whatever
in ourselves is unworthy of this exalted Law of Love.

"The first solid beginning of reform would be like the removal of all
the mud of indifference, prejudice and wicked obstinacy from the
springs of the senses, the fountain of understanding, and the outflow
of the will, so that the rivulets of attention, judgment and ready
inclination towards every improvement begin to flow forth in greater
purity for the benefit of all." (paragraph 16)