Friday, December 04, 2009


Religion is a Mighty Bulwark

By John Taylor; 2009 Dec 04, Qawl 13, 166 BE

Today let us talk about what John Amos Comenius's Panorthosia has to say about the Baha'i principle that religion is a mighty bulwark. First, let us be clear about what the Baha'i principle itself says. `Abdu'l-Baha articulated it for perhaps the first time in his 1874 work, Secret of Divine Civilization. Here he wrote that,

"Religion is the light of the world, and the progress, achievement and happiness of man result from obedience to the laws set down in the holy Books. Briefly, it is demonstrable that in this life, both outwardly and inwardly the mightiest of structures, the most solidly established, the most enduring, standing guard over the world, assuring both the spiritual and material perfections of mankind, and protecting the happiness and the civilisation of society -- is religion." (SDC p. 71-2)

There are doubtless many ways to demonstrate that religion is the main protector of human happiness and civilization. Here I just want to point to some of the many demonstrations to be found in the Panorthosia.

In the very first chapter, Comenius points out one important way in which religion is indispensible. Religion, of course, promotes belief in an all-powerful, all-knowing God. This, in turn, prepares the mind to deal in social universals.

"In our present plight we have lost our sense of dependence upon God and Jesus. The individual is inwardly perplexed because mankind as a whole no longer relies on the foundation of universal peace..." (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 1, para 12, p. 50)

In this way, faith frees us from the chains of particularity and enables us to think of the universe as a unity, as a single, synchronized entity. Today we usually think of that machine as a giant computer, but like most thinkers in his time and for centuries later, Comenius compared it to the most elaborate machine then known, the clock. In the same paragraph, Comenius continues,

"Then the light and peace would return to the world, which would work like an elaborate clock with all its components well-connected, well-balanced and functioning together for a common purpose. Every man in creation would return to the image of God within him. And similarly every family group, every state and church and finally the entire world." (Id.)

Religion, then, trains us to seek out the image of God, in the individual, the family, and every other group, not only in religious organizations. Seeking this image prepares the mind for peace, harmony and unity with others.

Another clear benefit of having a religion is that it prepares the mind to imitate the humility of Socrates, whose understanding of wisdom obligated him to doubt his own knowledge and mental abilities. In spite of that humble realization, a person of faith is not discouraged by the limitations of finite, mortal existence.

"Also the sole intention of the laws of Moses and the Prophets, of Christ and the Apostles (if we weigh the question correctly in the balance) is that men should make a habit of viewing their own reasoning-powers with suspicion and listening only to God, the supreme Teacher, and Christ whom He appointed to teach us." (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 22, para 26, pp. 50-51)

Believers ever seek to improve themselves and the world, to refine their powers of logic and reasoning by always holding that image of God in their sights. This makes them serious and concerned about eternal things. One who neglects religious observance, on the other hand, tends to be frivolous about what most matters in life.

"It is true that there are very many people whom you would not desire to pay extraordinary attention to things, but they should at least have the necessary knowledge. For they only know how to attend to things that are amusing, vain, and unimportant, but in serious matters they are apathetic." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 9, para 4, pp. 144-145)

Comenius goes on to cite Cicero's criticism of theatre-goers, who hiss and boo off the stage performers who make the slightest misstep or slip of the tongue. "You see how critical the common people are towards the subtleties of even the most trivial things!" (inParadoxa, 111, 2, 26) This has worsened today, of course, now that an entire sports, gossip, news and entertainment industry has grown exploiting the foibles of celebrities. It is doubtful that interest in such things could be maintained if religious observance were universal. Comenius continues,

"And the same attention is paid to rhythmic dance-movement accompanied by music as to spicy foodstuff and the sensual, earthly, and transitory things. But confront a man with serious, intellectual, and religious matters and you will soon see that he is apathetic. Therefore human effort has its shortcomings, mostly where we can least afford them." (Id.)

It would be a mistake to dismiss this frivolity as innocuous or harmless fun. Apathy is dangerous because it distracts the majority from justice. This permits the ruthless to thrive, to exert their will through force and violence. Religion trains us, Comenius points out, to pay attention to the "One Thing Needful," the image and example of a God Who stands against all forms of prejudice and injustice.

"If it were possible to prevail upon all men to share and copy this example, we would in effect release the human race (1) from particular prisons into the open freedom of Heaven, (2) from labyrinths of multiplicity into level pathways, (3) from the thorns of violence into the fragrance of lilies. The result would be that all men would escape from the distractions of endless preoccupations and concentrate on the true necessities of Life; they would also know how to rely only on certain knowledge instead of endless obscurities, and to lead a pleasant life instead of engaging in a welter of compulsion and conflict, and this would be a boon to all mankind." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 47, p. 171)


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