Sunday, January 31, 2010

God as Basis of One Common Faith

One Common Faith,

as taught by John Amos Comenius

By John Taylor; 2010 Jan 31, Sultan 12, 166 BE

Historians of science warn students to avoid studying the science of past ages in an anachronistic way by blithely assuming that investigators of nature in the ancient and medieval worlds understood science anything like we do today. Not only do we possess a much larger base of dependable knowledge but also our very definition of science and the scientific method have changed radically over the past two centuries.

A modern scientist is radically different a "natural philosopher" of the past. Although we have a huge variety of scientific disciplines, they all benefit from a large body of common scientific presuppositions that everyone calling himself a scientist is assumed to be familiar with. How otherwise could the members of an international, interdisciplinary institution like the UN's Panel on Climate Change even talk to one another, much less come to common agreement on the dangers of climate change? Even our lay understanding of science is infinitely more sophisticated; today, we expect every educated person to have some familiarity with basic scientific facts, especially since we have all studied elementary science for at least a decade in our youth.

Governments and corporations spend billions of dollars every year, in effect betting that scientific research will bear fruit and that society will know enough to apply it safely. We all benefit from the common understanding of science taught in schools and universities around the world.

Unfortunately, none of this can be said about religion. As with science centuries ago, there is no received definition of religion. Students in public schools are lucky to be taught that religions exist at all, and it is not universal for parochial schools to expose students to more than one of the world's religious traditions. Experts and the public alike fail to see common features among any two religions, much less among them all. Nor is there a consensus even as to what religion is, much less one that is taught in schools. We do not expect every educated citizen to know religion as they do science, or that religions will change, or even can change. While many faith groups do evolve rapidly, others are indistinguishable in core beliefs from what they were centuries and even millennia ago.

Teachers have no confidence that even if schools did teach world religions, that commonalities among faiths would be discernable, or even that students would gain from learning that. Worst of all, there is a common idea, held by religious and secular alike, that faith most come as a bolt from the blue, that it is a kind of knowledge that cannot be taught. This is an insidious misconception. As Thomas Hobbes pointed out in the 17th Century, such an attitude hardly leads to lawfulness or good citizenship, rather it instils an insidious individualism that exterminates all hope of common ground in matters of faith.

"It hath been also commonly taught that faith and sanctity are not to be attained by study and reason, but by supernatural inspiration or infusion. Which granted, I see not why any man should render a reason of his faith; or why every Christian should not be also a prophet; or why any man should take the law of his country rather than his own inspiration for the rule of his action." (Hobbes, Leviathon, Ch. 24, Of the Things that weaken or tend to the dissolution of a commonwealth)

John Amos Comenius had no truck with such religious exceptionalism. It is the duty of writers about religion to teach it in such a way that all serious believers, no matter what tradition they come from, will agree with what is being said.

"Religion or Theology must be so written that it is necessarily acknowledged by adherents of every existing religion or sect, Christian, Jew or Mohammedan, as the one and only way unto God and blessed eternity." (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 13, para 12, p. 203)

Religious leaders must broaden their concern from the exclusive good of their own flocks to that of all humanity. Playing with the common sound in Latin of the words for "ecumenical" and "economic" (household management), Comenius urged his fellow Christians to broaden the scope of their ecumenicalism to the entire household of humanity.

"It has been customary in the past to convene ecumenical councils where bishops from all the Christian countries assembled to consult about the business of the whole church. But we shall have a truly economic council only if we assemble enlightened men from all over the habitable world, philosophers, churchmen, and politicians of outstanding eminence in wisdom, piety, and prudence pledged to introduce plans at long last full enough to secure, establish, and increase the safety of all mankind." (Panorthosia, Ch. 25, para 1, p. 128)

He believed that the first step to his proposed democratic parliament of religions would be for every school to teach world religions, starting at the primary level. Here the fundamentals of religion would be taught to everybody, as science is today. The trappings of religion distract and divide more than they unite; they can safely be ignored by a world curriculum. If teachers avoid needless externals, the specific doctrine, dogma, laws and rituals that make up the facade of world religions, they will have time to teach what benefits us all, a purified understanding of God and what He has to teach in Holy Scripture. What is more, this reading of scripture should be done with a view to action and application rather than as historical documents or dead letters.

"I contend that if we ensure in our schools in future that only the Books of God are explained, and these only are applied by the churches to men's consciences and by political systems to the government of our affairs, we shall certainly produce mental light and a semblance of uniformity in our affairs." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 34, p. 123)

This is similar to how a good science teacher instructs today, not not merely trying to instil a body of scientific findings but rather introducing students to how scientists think, to the essential elements of the scientific method.

Just as science includes common goals for both experts and society, this educational program should aim at establishing a common faith for every world citizen. This would start with a long period of meeting, mixing and reconciliation among members of formerly warring religious traditions. In this process, we all would learn to understand and talk about faith in ways that do not alienate or antagonize one another. Each believer should be able to feel that all respect his or her traditions and beliefs and that it is welcomed and included in the faith common to all.

"It is necessary also to look for agreement in the process of reconciliation, which will mean that we are prepared to make every possible concession to one another. It is to be hoped that this will be easily obtained through seeking a compromise even in cases of apparent contradiction. For when everyone sees that his own opinions and arguments are not being rejected but only adapted to the general universal feeling, would anyone in his senses choose to disagree and engage in further conflict? For any man would prefer his own possessions to be left intact or only limited in the interests of general harmony, and if he saw the fighting ended on these terms he would surely congratulate himself and others on a bloodless victory and unexpected triumphs in the cause of truth." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 44, p. 128)

Comenius agreed with Bacon that the main obstacle in establishing both a common science and a common religion is the faith that it is possible to do so. If we think we can, we can, and if we think it is impossible, it is. Since the Bible teaches that "with God, all things are possible," it would be impious for any adherent of a monotheistic religion to doubt that this is possible. We can make it all the more possible by using God, the Being with Whom all becomes possible, as the cornerstone of the common faith of the human race. I will give Comenius the last word on this.


God Must be the Basis of the One Common Faith

"You will say that it all depends on whether this is possible. My answer is to admit that disagreements in philosophy, religion, and politics have grown so strong that it is impossible for us to be reconciled through self-reform, but it is possible through nature and through God, who is the foundation of nature.

"For nature remains the same for all men, regardless of our differences. The earth indeed supports all men equally, even although we should prefer it to swallow up those whom we hate. The sun looks upon all men with equally direct rays, irrespective of our habit of looking askance at one another. A rose smells equally sweet to Jews and Christians, and so on. Similarly God is the God of all, and every word that he speaks is addressed to all who are ready to listen.

"Therefore, if we only look upon our own dogmas and books and works, (which we ourselves have produced in a thousand varieties), we are wholly incapable of reconciliation; but if we accept with due attention and reverence God's thoughts concerning us, and His actions, words and inspirations given to us for our use, reconciliation will be very easy." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 29, p. 121)

(Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 29, p. 121)


Our Monthly Fireside

Contributed by Betty Frost (for the Dunnville Chronicle)

To the Editor

This coming Wednesday, February 10th there will be a meeting in the Garfield Disher Room at 8:00 p.m. sponsored by the Haldimand Baha’i community.  We are very fortunate to have as our speaker, Terry Spratt, whose knowledge not only of the Baha’i teachings but of history and the current world condition is quite vast.  Those of us who have heard him speak here before have always been impressed with how articulate and knowledgeable he is.  His background is in Philosophy, teaching English literature and the study of world religions.  His graduate interest was in International Relations. Terry has travelled extensively, visiting at least 18 countries.

When asked to give a brief summary about his subject, he was very brief indeed - stating that he will focus on Religion as the basis/impulse of civilization with attention to current history which reflects the decline of culture and rise of mediocrity and spectacle.  With this as a general background, he will also bring in the challenging question of what happened in Haiti.  No doubt his summation of the situation will not only be centered on that unfortunate country, but on why it should have happened and what responsibility the rest of the world has to prevent a similar

There will be an opportunity for questions and a social period with the usual refreshments.  Please join us for what we believe will be an illuminating evening.

Betty Frost
Haldimand Baha’i community

Wednesday, Feb. 10th

An interesting speaker will again come to Dunnville - Terry Spratt - whose background in Philosophy, teaching of English literature and a study of International Relations will provide him with tools needed to speak on the subject of “Religion as the basis/impulse of civilization with attention on current history with the decline of culture and the rise of mediocrity and spectacle.”  The meeting will start at 8:00 p.m. in the Garfield Disher room of Dunnville’s library.  All are welcome.  Sponsored by the Haldimand Baha’i community.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Comenian Outline

An Outline of Comenian Governance

By John Taylor; 2010 Jan 29, Sultan 10, 166 BE

There follows here the umpteenth draft of the introduction to my book-in-progress, People without Borders. My apologies to regular readers for the repetition.

Comenian world government

The Enlightenment project in the 18th Century proposed that progress toward an ideal enlightened state can be attained through science alone. Religion can safely be left out of the equation. Faith is at best a distraction, at worst inherently harmful. It is reactionary, corrupt and prone to fundamentalism. For over a century the spectacular advance of scientific research seemed to justify this notion, especially in physics and medicine. Since the close of the 20th Century, though, it has become clear that in spite of its many benefits, scientific knowledge has also contributed to potentially lethal threats to human survival. To name only two striking examples, we now live under the constant threats of both nuclear Armageddon and accelerating global warming.

The cause of human betterment would have been better served had there been no divorce between science and religion, for ultimately the purposes of both are the same, the betterment of humanity. Although they have slightly different purposes and methods, and they deal in vastly different scales of time and space, as long as they recognize and keep within their limitations both can enrich human experience and conduce to progress and enlightenment.

Rather than drawing false dichotomies and bringing these essential kinds of knowledge into competition, we should heed the latter writings of one pre-enlightenment genius who straddled all three of the great potential sources of human progress: politics, science and religion. John Amos Comenius was an experienced peace negotiator, a renowned educational reformer, a founding father of the Royal Society, and a leader in his religious community, the Moravian Brotherhood.

His long experience in these three fields inspired his posthumous masterpiece, the Panorthosia, or Universal Reform, a detailed proposal for a comprehensive reform program that works simultaneously on the personal, local and planetary levels. Panorthosia details how we might strike a happy balance among science, politics and religion. This is by far the most persuasive proposal for a world government ever put forward.

Proposition: the best government conceivable, one far more reliable and efficient than any in the past, should run a world order.

The most common objection to world government is ancient, familiar even in the time of Comenius. The argument goes that world government may well degrade into a tyranny, as have so many well-intentioned regimes in the past. By its very nature, a planetary autocracy would be more oppressive and intrusive than geographically limited authoritarian regimes because it would be impossible to escape. Barring space travel, there would be no escape into exile.

In Panorthosia, Comenius proposes a unique design for a world government that systematically decentralizes power. Its very structure excludes individual leaders and prevents orthodoxies or ideologies from gaining ascendancy. It is inspired by what is often regarded as impossibly idealistic, the dictum in the Sermon on the Mount to see to it that we "call no man master."

A world republic based on this model would not be solely political, or merely religious, or exclusively scientific, but a carefully balanced union of the best of each. Most importantly, it would encourage individuals to strike the same balance in their own lives among practical action, spiritual piety and learning scientifically. A Comenian world government would consist of democratically elected continental parliaments functioning semi-independently of one another. In matters of international law and universal policy, these continental bodies would unite in a tripartite world parliament consisting of three separate, core institutions, disparate in jurisdiction and function but harmonious in purpose.

Thus the universal parliament of humanity intentionally diffuses power. It functions by relying on indirect influence through a world-embracing network of affiliation by common design and methodology, rather than direct fiat. That is, its threefold structure is in some way reflected on each level of society and, like a tuning fork, the vibration of one prong sets forth a harmonic vibration that is heard, understood and expressed everywhere, at every level, especially on the periphery. Thus, individuals, families and neighbourhoods all respond to governance in the center by finding their own balance among common religious, scientific and political experiences and expressions.

The Cosmopolitan Condition and the UCS

In People without Borders I will adapt two Kantian terms to refer to the condition of the world after a de-centralized Comenian world government forms. The first term, "cosmopolitan condition," refers to the ways of thinking and acting that all or most individuals will adopt when the first constitutional and therefore permanent peace comes into being. Continuing the analogy of the tuning fork, the cosmopolitan condition is the form and material of the fork, the shape and strength that make it vibrate as a single entity. The second term, universal civic society (or UCS), I will use to describe the new social structure that planetary unification will permit. The UCS is, then, the musical instrument that a skilled technician, using the vibrations of the fork, puts into perfect tune.

A World Infrastructure

Cosmopolitan reform in the UCS permits us to contemplate a rebuild of our infrastructure from the ground up, including quicker, more efficient travel, the elimination of combustion through electrification using renewable power sources, and new ways of building. Combining these infrastructural improvements would not only avoid pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and other negative impact on the environment but would also maximize the freedom, welfare and security of residents.

As local human potential learns to express religion, science and politics in balance, plans and policy promulgated by the universal parliament will commensurately grow stronger and more effective. Since the mutual tie between the collective center and the individual is not forced but indirect, not dictatorial but ineffable and spiritual in nature, there can be no degradation into arbitrary measures, corruption or manipulation. Democracy itself will for the first time be subject to evolutionary improvement.

A World Electoral System

Instead of "one man, one vote," a new electoral system would offer each individual three votes in three ongoing election cycles, based on a repeating ten year world plan. Each of the three election cycles supports its respective world institution, the religious and spiritual institution, the scientific and educational body, and the institution for politics, peace and practical policymaking. Thus, the triple voting franchise confers upon each human being one vote as a believer, one as a worker and one as a citizen.

As believers, each elects members of an affiliated interfaith institution at each level of society, starting at the household and neighbourhood level and extending right up to the world parliament of religions.

The same applies for our vote as a worker and as citizen. In a Comenian system, everybody is a worker. In this role as tradespersons, professionals, experts or teachers, each votes in an affiliated scientific and professional body, again at the local, neighbourhood, continental and world levels. The general purpose of these institutions of science and education is to promote the enlightenment of humankind. As part of this, they will regulate science and technology and work out an educational curriculum, not only for schools and universities but also for the press, the Internet and other media.

Similarly, as citizens we will elect once every decade a political institution that will keep the peace at each level, right up to the political parliament.

Next Time:

A World Financial System

A World Intelligentsia

World Security


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Recent Persecution of Baha'is in Iran

 Quenching The Light highlights the persecutions of Baha'is in Iran. It features the paintings of Baha'i martyrs mixed with live video footage of the decedents of the martyrs.  

Coverage of the Trials of Baha'is by TV in India


For all four parts of this report:

Invitation to the Monthly Meeting that I Animate

Philosopher’s Café

A second Thursday of the month destination for provocative, insightful discussion around ideas and issues that matter.

Thursday, February 11 6:30 p.m. in the Library’s meeting room
Topic for discussion:


•    Everyone welcome. Drop in for refreshments and a lively discussion.

•    There is no fee to participate.

•    No formal philosophy training required; real life experience desired.

Wainfleet Township Public Library
19M9 Park Street, P.O. Box 118 Wainfleet, ON L0S 1V0 905-899-1277

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Amanda's Eulogy for Ann Nichols

Ann Nichols

It is nigh on a year since Ann Nichols passed from our midst. The Baha'is of Haldimand miss her sorely.

On the occasion, I wrote the following eulogy for Ann at:

One of Ann's foster daughters, Amanda Lynn Tremeer, has recently declared her faith in Baha'u'llah. She requested that I post on the Badi' Blog her own eulogy for Ann, which I include below.


Our Mother Margaret Ann Nichols.

She was our everything. She had open doors for all the children, I feel that it is right to say that we are all Ann's children.

I came to live with My Mom Ann when I was about eight or nine, when I first met her, there was a glow on her face, as I walked through her doors, for once in my life I felt love and kindness, her smile was so lovely. I felt at home. Through the years my mother would teach us the blessed writings of the faith, she would teach us everything that she knew (and the classes with Marylou Speer).

When I heard of my mothers passing, I went to Dunnville that very day to stand beside my sister's side. As soon as I walked through the doors, I went right to my mothers bed. This was the household meeting place, our poor mother never had space. Where she was we always there, right beside her.

As I prayed at her bedside, I started to cry. I got up, making my mother's bed the way that she had taught us to do. Then I lay one single rose one my mothers pillow, with her Baha'i prayer book that she would always read from. At that moment I knew that our Father had taken mother home.

I remember when I gave birth to my daughter, Caitlyn. I was talking to my mother from the hospital phone. She could not make it to the hospital, so she read me prayers over the phone. Thirty minutes later, Caitlyn Marion Dianne Bridges was born. I called Mom, I told her the words that are still fresh today,

"Guess what Mom, you are a grandmother!"

"Call Jolene right away to tell her that she is an auntie!"

My mother cried with joy.

Even though I was not her blood child, even though I married and painted my own future, Ann was my mother. I was not a foster child in her eyes; I was one of her daughters.

Our Mother's birthday was January 1st. This year, her granddaughter put bright blue roses on the top of hear head stone, and gave the angel on the ground a kiss. We sang happy birthday. My daughter, almost three now, looked up at me and said,

"Mommy, we come more to bring Grandma flowers."

My reply was,

"Your grandmother had love for flowers you know. Of course we can."

Even though she is gone, there is not a day that goes by where I do not think of her. And the funniest thing, she is not gone. She still lives. We are right under her nose, like when we were little.

Jolene and Ann did wonders for us children. God blessed me with a Mother and a sister. That I will always hold deep in my heart.

Thank you for reading this.

Amanda Lynn Tremeer
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bar and Bat Mitzvahs in a UCS

The Cosmopolitan Mitzvah

By John Taylor; 2010 Jan 26, Sultan 08, 166 BE

Lately, I stumbled across a site on the Web showing charts illustrating the impressive career achievements of Jews over past centuries. In spite of their small population, the names of Jews turn up in highly disproportionate numbers on honour lists. An astonishing number have attained the highest possible distinction in their field of endeavour, including the Nobel Prize, Oscars, any honour you can name. This is all the more amazing when you consider that IQ studies have consistently failed to uncover any mental superiority on average among Jews. It is true that Judaism values learning highly. As Steven L. Pease points out in his book, The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement, the Jews were the first tribe to mandate universal literacy. However, since then other, less gifted nations and cultures have become literate, and many value knowledge no less than Jews. What is it about Jews -- not, it seems, Israelis but Diaspora Jews -- that makes their careers so brilliant?

Myself, I suspect that the Jewish bar and bat Mitzvah ceremony is a factor in their high achievement. Many recent educational studies have found that this age, around when a child reaches middle school, is a crucial period to later development. It often make the difference between drifting into failure and having a mission in life. To find direction at the age of 13, when the bar and bat Mitzvah takes place, is the basis of success later on. Failure to find oneself at this age can make it all but impossible to recover from later on.

The bar Mitzvah ceremony is highly demanding for Jewish junior youth, requiring a great deal of study and preparation on their part. At the same time, the ceremony extends to them tremendous adulation, attention and offers of support from both God and the community. It is safe to say that the lack of a coming-of-age ceremony in an industrial and post-industrial society is the main cause of maladjustment, shiftless and dislocation in adult life. It is a major reason why moderns tend to be unhappy, compared to simpler, aboriginal cultures that continue their traditions of initiating their young into their ranks.
After a world government forms, that is, in a Cosmopolitan Condition, I would like to see the Mitzvah be a universal transition to adulthood, as universal a requirement as literacy and numeracy. Every youth should undergo his or her own special coming-of-age ceremony that is in some way equivalent to the bar and bat Mitzvah ceremony. As with the bar and bat Mitzvah, it should be designed to put the adolescent in touch with his or her heritage, both religious and cultural.

However, instead of concentrating only on religion, I would like the study for a Cosmopolitan Mitzvah to cover everything that is needed to be a well-rounded human being in a Universal Civic Society. Make it, to use the term Kant used in his essay, "What is Enlightenment?", a "Release from Tutelage Ceremony." Make it a mix of personal and official elements -- though less free ranging and idiosyncratic than the content of some modern weddings. Make it something to which parents, the child's ethnicity, language, religion, local community, all have contributed to and benefited from.
Ideally, in a Cosmopolitan Condition the educational system would be efficient enough to prepare a fifteen year old to be at least potentially independent at this age. That way a Cosmopolitan Mitzvah ceremony could also include a graduation ceremony from trade school and apprenticeship. That way the youth would be qualified, if need be, to go out, marry and start her own family; at the very least the initiate should be able financially to support herself on her own using the skills she has mastered in elementary school.

This is just the base requirement for a Cosmopolitan Mitzvah, however. A new adult should also demonstrate competence in all three of the basic elements of a well-rounded human being. That is, she should be a logical thinker, a competent executive and a moral agent contemplating the eternal. That means having some basic competence in philosophy, politics and religion. John Amos Comenius concisely sums up what each of these fields covers:
"Philosophy deals with books and knowledge and the reasons for things for the purpose of enlightening mankind. Politics deals with rule and authority for the purpose of keeping mankind in order. Religion deals with God and conscience for the purpose of kindling in mankind the flame of faith, charity and hope (or keeping it alight)." (Panorthosia, Ch. 13, para 12, p. 205)

In this essay series, we have considered the possibility that a cosmopolis will require world citizens to vote in elections and even use a special currency designed for each of these three universal elements of human endeavour. A Cosmopolitan Mitzvah ceremony would require, therefore, that the young adult have enough basic knowledge to vote intelligently in each of the three types of election, and to get and spend each of their currencies in a productive way. Let us look at each of them in turn.


"Philosophy deals with books and knowledge and the reasons for things for the purpose of enlightening mankind."

A youth should be familiar with the scientific method and be ready to apply it in his or her trade, or, if so inclined, in her future profession. Having finished her apprenticeship and attained the journeyman level, she should now be ready to teach these skills to younger apprentices, as well as promoting for the benefit of the general public the special lessons and values for which this area of knowledge stands. She should say what she will look for when she votes and what virtues and qualities she would like to bring when she serves as a world citizen. She also should state how she has spent the eduterra currency that has so far come into her hands, and how she plans to spend this money in future.


"Politics deals with rule and authority for … keeping mankind in order."

The youth should be able to stand up in public and summarize what she has learned and accomplished so far in life, and what her hopes and dreams are for the future. She should state concisely, in both general and specific terms, what she believes, what she seeks to learn and what she plans to accomplish during her life and career. She should say what she thinks is important policy, and what goals she wants for her family, neighbourhood, right up to the continental and world level. She should say how she plans to follow through on that in her voting and her use of the paxterra currency.


"Religion deals with God and conscience for the purpose of kindling in mankind the flame of faith, charity and hope (or keeping it alight)."
A student should demonstrate the lessons she has learned from direct experience with her traditional or family religion, and any other religion she may have chosen. She should show basic cosmopolitan knowledge of spirituality by talking about at least two other religions or faith traditions. She should state what she believes and how she carries out that belief in her worship, her past and future charitable support using the ecuterra currency, and in the hope she inspires in her contacts and relationships with friends and family.


Since this Cosmopolitan coming of age ceremony is new for virtually everybody except Jews and a few remnant hunter-gatherer cultures, I would like to see it supported and promoted as an institution. Scientists and educators should study it as carefully as possible; they should keep long term records of what was said by each adolescent. That way, the elements of the ceremony that a child brings who later gains distinction in life and career can be used as feedback for the Mitzvahs of the next generation.


Monday, January 25, 2010

We are Trees, not Machines

Imitation and the Crossfire Syndrome

By John Taylor; 2010 Jan 25, Sultan 07, 166 BE

A couple of years ago I compared our complacency in the face of global warming to the no-man's-land between opposing in a war zone, a land owned by nobody and opposed by all for no reason. I even personified the owner of this disputed territory; I called him Adolph Nobody. Whenever you get personal attacks based on ideology and fixed opinions, our common ground becomes disputed territory, and it is safest to stay low, no matter what you think. Adolph Nobody is the enemy of all, extremists and moderates alike. This is why all Holy Scriptures forbid gossip and backbiting.

Lately I ran across the following passage from a speech that Michael Crichton gave almost twenty years ago, where he calls this problem the "crossfire syndrome." He is talking about the press to reporters, but this way of thinking applies to every section of society I think.

"Worse still, characterization lies at the heart of the impulse to polarize every issue - what we might call the Crossfire Syndrome.  We are all assumed, these days, to reside at one extreme of the opinion spectrum, or another. We are pro-abortion or anti-abortion. We are free traders or protectionist. We are pro-private sector or pro-big government. We are feminists or chauvinists. But in the real world, few of us holds these extreme views. There is instead a spectrum of opinion." (Michael Crichton, Speech given to the National Press Club, Washington D.C., April 7, 1993,

I have to wonder how this speech came across to the lickspittles in Washington. He roundly blames journalists for what he calls out and out incompetence at their job by refusing to take the time to ask nuanced questions, or wait for detailed replies. He even tells a funny story of how an Inuit instantly knew whether it was a television, radio or print reporter just by the amount of time he spent interviewing his people. Myself, I do not blame the pawns, the rooks, the queen or the king; I blame the player who moves them all. That is, I blame the owners of the press. Anything less than a representative ownership by all humans of the press subjects it to manipulation. Incompetence is not the problem; the problem is that they know very well what they are doing. Crichton continues:

"The extreme positions of the Crossfire Syndrome require extreme simplification - framing the debate in terms which ignore the real issues. For example, when I watch Crossfire, or Nightline, or MacNeil-Lehrer, I often think, wait a minute. The real issue isn't term limits; it's campaign finance reform. The real issue isn't whether gasoline tax is regressive, it's national security -- whether we'd prefer to go back to war in the Gulf instead of reducing oil consumption by taxing it more heavily, as every other nation does. The real issue isn't whether the US should have an industrial policy, it is whether the one we have - because no policy is a policy - serves us well. The issue isn't whether Mickey Kantor is a protectionist, it's how the US should respond to its foreign competitors."

Not coincidentally, the issues that Creighton points out here are all deeply engrained in the root causes of climate change, and we still swallow red herrings that keep us from addressing the real issue. He goes on to point out, all too correctly, that both the cause and the effect of polarization and redirection is blind prejudice and imitation.

"This polarization of the issues has contributed greatly to our national paralysis, it posits false choices which stifle debate that is essential for change to occur. It is ironic that this should happen in a time of great social upheaval, when our society needs more than ever to be able to experiment with different viewpoints. But in the media world, a previously-established idea, like a previously-elected politician, enjoys a tremendous advantage over any challenger.

"Hence the familiar ideas continue to be repeated, long past their demonstrable validity. More than two decades after right-brain, left-brain thinking was discredited in scientific circles, those metaphors are still casually repeated in the media. After thirty years of government efforts to banish racism, persistent racial inequality suggests the need for fresh perspectives; those perspectives are rarely heard. And more than three decades after the women's movement began amid media ridicule, the men's movement finds itself ridiculed in exactly the same way - often by leading feminists, who appear to have learned little from their own ordeals."

The measure of man is man, not Adolph Nobody. Equanimity and temperance impossible if the crossfire syndrome dominates the discussion of public affairs. Conflict perverts the forum of opinion and makes it into a war zone, a no-man's-land. As J.S. Mill pointed out in "On Liberty," freedom is a good thing only if use of it makes us fully rounded human beings. This happens if and only if we go to the trouble of working out truth for ourselves. This is only done by avoiding the facsimile of truth, which is imitation.

"He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself, employs all his faculties. He must use observation to see, reasoning and judgment to foresee, activity to gather materials for decision, discrimination to decide, and when he has decided, firmness and self-control to hold to his deliberate decision. And these qualities he requires and exercises exactly in proportion as the part of his conduct which he determines according to his own judgment and feelings is a large one.

"It is possible that he might be guided in some good path, and kept out of harm's way, without any of these things. But what will be his comparative worth as a human being? It really is of importance, not only what men do, but also what manner of men they are that do it.

"Among the works of man, which human life is rightly employed in perfecting and beautifying, the first in importance surely is man himself. Supposing it were possible to get houses built, corn grown, battles fought, causes tried, and even churches erected and prayers said, by machinery -- by automatons in human form -- it would be a considerable loss to exchange for these automatons even the men and women who at present inhabit the more civilised parts of the world, and who assuredly are but starved specimens of what nature can and will produce.

"Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing." (J.S. Mill, On Liberty)


The Impossible Hamster

Explanation of the animation

What the impossible hamster has to teach us about economic growth. A new animation from nef (the new economics foundation), scripted by Andrew Simms, numbers crunched by Viki Johnson and pictures realised by Leo Murray.

We wanted to confront people with the meaning and logical conclusion of the promise of endless economic growth. We used a hamster to illustrate what would happen if there were no limits to growth because they double in size each week before reaching maturity at around 6 weeks. But if a hamster grew at the same rate until its first birthday, wed be looking at a nine billion tonne hamster, which ate more than a years worth of world maize production every day. There are reasons in nature, why things dont grow indefinitely. As things are in nature, sooner or later, so they must be in the economy. As economic growth rises, we are pushing the planet ever closer to, and beyond some very real environmental limits. With every doubling in the global economy we use the equivalent in resources of all of the previous doublings combined.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Iranian Dream

Words to the Iranian People

Last night I dreamed I was serving on an Assembly, sitting around a table with the three Iranian members of our institution. We did not have a quorum yet, as the Canadian members had not arrived for some reason. Then it transpired that we were in Iran, and there was a Mullah standing there ready to execute us all. Part of me was surprised and horrified. I am going to die for my Faith! Then I realized that this was a unique situation; I might soon be the only Canadian Baha'i and Assembly member in history to be martyred! I felt like Zoidberg:

"What an honor, a personal aspiration come true."

Slowly I rose out of the dream state with the thought: I am not going to say a word to this Mullah, I am going to demand to speak to the people of Iran. I want to point out to them the direction they are going. I woke further and thought, well I could at least write about that subject today. Then I realized that I must be dreaming even more now that I am awake than when I slept, since I have nothing to say to these people. Then I remembered this, which I came across in a science magazine soon after the Port au Prince quake:

"Haiti Earthquake Disaster Little Surprise to Some Seismologists, January 13, 2010"

Although seismic predictions work on geologic timescales and can miss big quakes by decades, one expert said last week that a temblor in Port-au-Prince was of greater concern than a San Andreas slip,

"The Enriquillo-Plaintain Garden Fault is one of dozens around the world that run through populous, but often poorly prepared, areas. Last week, Yeats also called the city of Tehran "a time bomb that is waiting to go off." The North Tehran Fault could unleash an earthquake similarly massive to the one anticipated to strike southern California in the coming decades. But in the Iranian capital, he says, despite advanced regional technology, many of the buildings are not shake-proof. Other worrisome locales, he notes, are Lima, Peru, and Karachi, Pakistan, as well as much of Turkey, where many areas are ... unsafely built due to corruption or poverty."

We must learn how important it is to do things right, especially to build things right. I watched on TVO an interview with a seismologist who recalled a striking picture of three buildings in a Japanese city after a similar 7.0 earthquake to the one that just occurred in Haiti. They happened to be adjacent to one another, one a traditional style wooden building, which had been flattened, killing everybody in it; the second a 1960's vintage concrete building, which partly collapsed with heavy damage but no loss of life; the third was a new building, up to code, which had no damage at all.

Another bit of advice for Iranians is to raise up the lot of women. Islam should be a great advantage in the fight against poverty. For one thing, it prohibits the consumption of alcohol. I have been reading some of 19th Century reformer Flora Tristan's reports on the lot of the poor working class in France. She observed what is still common in poor areas today, that alcohol is a major factor in the cycle of poverty. Yet I have to wonder why there are still large numbers of poor in Muslim lands. True, alcohol is often replaced by hashish, opium and other chemicals. However, I think another, more important drag to progress is the degradation of women. As long as they do not have equal access to education, poverty and factionalism will continue to grind down the family in Iran. Tristan wrote,

"All the ills of the working class are summed up by these two words: poverty and ignorance, ignorance and poverty. But to get out of this labyrinth, I see only one way: to start by educating women, because women are entrusted with raising the children, male and female." ("A Passage From Flora Tristan's l'Union Ouvriere," Translated by Doris and Paul Beik

She made this observation 1844, years before the principle of equality of the sexes was proclaimed in Iran at the conference of Badasht. Badasht was broken up by an angry, deluded mob. Imagine how little poverty there would be in Iran if the reactionary clergy who incited this mob had not taken up the repression of women as a mark of Muslim piety.

Another Baha'i teaching is the elimination of gossip and backbiting. This is also in the Qur'an and the Bible as well. The Qur'an compares it to cannibalism. The Bible hints that it is what makes for the sort of slackers who, for instance, build substandard buildings in earthquake prone areas.

"The words of a gossip are like dainty morsels: They go down into a person's innermost parts. One who is slack in his work is brother to him who is a master of destruction." (Prov 18:8,9, WEB)

That is why I would advise you to eliminate words of war from the public forum. Think of the slackers who built Teheran, flouting basic building codes... Remember the opening words of the Qur'an, which warn that God, the Master of the Day of Judgment, will be merciful to all, save those whose "portion is wrath," for against such will come judgment.

"In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Praise be to God, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the world; Most Gracious, Most Merciful; Master of the Day of Judgment. Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek. Show us the straight way, the way of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray." (Qur'an 1:1-7, Yusuf Ali tr)


Friday, January 22, 2010

Crimes Against Free Speech

Flora Tristan, Women and Reparation

By John Taylor; 2010 Jan 22, Sultan 04, 166 BE

"King as thou art, free speech at least is mine

To make reply; in this I am thy peer."

(Teiresias, in Oedipus Rex)

I have been researching the life and writings of Flora Tristan. Never heard of her? She is the one that Marx and Engels plagiarized to write their Communist Manifesto. She died several months after the Bab declared His mission, in November of 1844. Every educated person is expected to have heard of these two truculent men whose Manifesto, it has been said, makes everyone who reads it want to go out and kill a member of the bourgeoisie.

But nobody outside of France and Peru has even heard of her.

Extremes and extremism hit the mark. Her more moderate message was too nice, too womanly and conciliatory. She called for a union of workers, not a violent slave revolt. She called for constructive cooperatives, not forced egalitarianism. She believed in God, Marx and Engel were atheists. She called not only for equality of women but also for a "moralizing mission" for women, one which, I must say, feminism has not consistently picked up on, to say the least. In any case, Tristan wrote something about the equality of the sexes that I had never thought of before. Here it is:

"By a very simple calculation it is obvious that wealth will increase indefinitely when women (half of the human race) are summoned to bring into social service their intelligence, strength, and ability. This is as easy to understand as that two is double one." (Flora Tristan, "A Passage From Flora Tristan's l'Union Ouvriere," Translated by Doris and Paul Beik,

In the 170 odd years since she wrote that women have gained many rights, and indeed wealth has increased "indefinitely." Unfortunately, way over 80 percent of that wealth remains in the hands of a tiny, mostly male, minority. That elite keeps its arms firmly hugging its pile of money by the old tactic of divide and rule. Divide everything into groups and ideologies, then let some groups, the ones the elite sponsors, win out over all the others. The elite robs women of the right to enjoy the legitimate fruits of their labour. It keeps the vast majority of the human race in rags, as it did in Flora Tristan's time. It maintains its stranglehold by committing what I call:

A Crime Against Democracy

The law does not allow ER doctors to set off bombs in the street so as to injure people and drum up business. As soon as they do that, they cease to be healers and become terrorists. We can all see that if an individual subverts society, it is a crime. Carpenters cannot destroy buildings to reduce unemployment for their own. That is a crime. However, if a group with the proper connections does the same thing, well, we are less clear about that. Depends on the group.

"If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech." - JUSTICE ANTHONY M. KENNEDY, writing for the majority in a Supreme Court decision overturning a ban on political spending by corporations." (Today's Headlines, New York Times on the Web, January 22, 2010)

This is a far-reaching ruling. It makes corporations untouchable. A corporation cannot even be punished, according to this, for using its legitimate right to free speech. Even if, as is now happening, that group's speech negates both the power of the people and the free speech of most individuals.

According to everything I have been reading and thinking lately, this is wrong.

There is a huge difference between what this judge equates here as indistinguishable: citizens and groups of citizens. They are not the same thing, and to treat them as such is injustice, pure and simple. You can either protect free speech for citizens or for groups, but not both. Citizens are human beings made of flesh and blood, created by God. Groups of citizens are creations of the human mind, not God. The former take precedence over the latter. Groups are a convenience, an appliance, nothing more.

For example, if everybody in the world voted to kill one innocent individual, they would not have the right to do so. Even if that individual agreed with them that he should die, that unanimous, universal vote would not suffice to make taking a life legal and moral. Like God, the human being, in Kant's language, an end in itself. The rights of the individual must be kept sacred and inalienable, and groups must defer to that. Groups may have certain rights, but they are necessarily conditional. Groups are expendable. If we extend to groups anything like the God-given rights that humans have, we negate the human rights of people.

This is why this supreme court ruling misses the point.

There is a crucial difference between a law-abiding group expressing its point of view and a company or interest group spending more money than the average citizen can hope to gain in a lifetime in order to corrupt the democratic process, to subvert the machinery of making laws. That is an act of subversion even more harmful than setting a bomb in a public place.

It is a crime against democracy.

Democracy is a tool designed to give the people equal access to free expression. Any group that subverts inalienable individual rights is, by definition, an enemy of the people, in other words, a monster.

This is not a new story. Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein immediately was understood as a metaphor for the newly invented corporate being, the charter company.

So the question remains: How do you fight a monster?

You cage it. You remove its ability to harm the people. The only just choice, then, is to take away the right to unfettered free speech from all companies, corporations, agencies, pressure groups, advertisers, any group at all. Take away their right to spend for such purposes; make it an exclusive human right, not a corporate one.

Pass strict laws forbidding corporations or any other interest group from spending money for anything other than strictly limited purposes. They can free talk about what is related to their corporate charter, a charter that is open and subject to revision by a ruling constitution. But only when such talk is in the public interest.

Advertising especially should be suspect. Let drug companies spend money on making better drugs, not on subverting health and society by making people perceive drug taking as an unavoidable necessity. Let a company discuss what it does with potential clients, but anything more broadcast is mental pollution, and should be repressed with the same severity that chemical pollution and the release of greenhouse gases is, or should be.

In a just world, and a just world will only be possible after the formation of a world government, we can expect that groups will be relegated to second place, after human beings. God will rise above human imagination. In that case, reparations will be due to women for the ongoing robbery over past centuries of their rightful share of the wealth.

Although some of what Flora Tristan now seems dated, I think the following points to where these reparation payments should go: to the level of the household, the domain of women, and the most neglected part of society.

"Woman is everything in the life of the workers. She is their sole providence. If she fails them, everything fails them. Consequently it is said: `It is the woman who makes or unmakes the household,' and this is the exact truth; that is why a proverb has been made of it. But what education, what teaching, what direction, what moral or physical development does the woman of the common people receive? None." (Ibid.)


Thursday, January 21, 2010

World Religion Day Celebration

Ron Speer put on a great show for world religion day on Sunday. Here is the report in our local newspaper.

Dunnville Celebrates the Joy in Religion

By CATHY PELLETIER , Dunnville Chcronicle

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Moving Beyond Imagination

Beyond Effort of Imagination

By John Taylor; 2010 Jan 19, Sultan 01, 166 BE

Religulous, by Bill Maher

Religulous is not a movie I would pay to see, but as soon as I stumbled upon it yesterday in the Binbrook Library I borrowed and watched it. Comedian Bill Maher made this documentary as a statement of belief, and a way to convert theists to atheists, and atheists to anti-theists. It has a few funny moments, but mostly this comedian is deadly serious. His argument is summed up with a chart that he shows at one point comparing the number of non-believers in God (almost one in five Americans) to the number of gays, blacks, Jews and other groups. All of these are far fewer in number but far more influential in pushing their agendas. Why are non-theists, atheists and agnostics, so disunited and uncommitted?

Why indeed.

Surely it is one thing to not believe in something and quite another to stand up for it. It is contradictory base faith on a non-conviction. If such a thing were possible, I could make withdrawals from a bank account that I know does not exist; I could build a luxurious mansion on a piece of land that does not exist and that I do not own.

As a former anti-theist I am well familiar with the intellectual ammunition that Maher uses against religion. I used it myself when I was fifteen years old. Of course he presents it well, with modern multi-media illustrations. He enjoys stumping Christians with the many self-contradictions in the Bible. Jonah's being swallowed by a whale is similar to Santa and the tooth fairy. He heaves on their heads the bomb of the non-originality of Bible stories. Elements of events surrounding the life of Jesus are also found in the CV's of preceding gods, such as Horus, Osiris, Mythros, Krishna and various others. Therefore Jesus was not God.

When I see that old objection presented now, all it seems to prove is that story elements repeat. Plot devices are reused by storytellers over and over. There has to be a reason for that, especially when a movie or comedy routine like Maher's own seems dated after only a decade or two.

At my age and after a thousand brain draining migraines, details flow over me like water, but my daughter Silvie is quite sharp. She has become adept at pointing out repeating plots in everything we watch. For example, recently we viewed the Whoopy Goldberg comedy "The Associate," and she pointed out that it was the same story as an episode called "Todd," in the animated series "Dilbert." We rewatched the episode and noticed that Scott Adams had actually improved on the older story by introducing a satiric echo of God into the story of an imaginary partner who takes on a life of his own.

Last night we saw an episode called "The Child," in the second season of Star Trek, The Next Generation. It was about a benign "energy being" style of alien that decides to contact the Enterprise by impregnating a female crew member and running the child's pregnancy and childhood in fast forward. Then it finds its presence is harming the ship, so the kid voluntarily dies to save the ship. Both Mom and Sis were in tears, Dad and brother less so, but still interested.

Silvie pointed out that later on the Star Trek Voyager series repeated almost exactly the same story in an episode called "One." Is she refuting Star Trek, in the same way that anti-theists like Maher think they are refuting Christ? Or does the fact that the same story moves people to tears over many generations and millennia only prove that there is an element of truth, a characteristic of God and the universe that we all respond to at a deep level?

As if to back that idea up, Maher in an attempt to mock Christianity shows a modern passion play in a hokey Florida "Land of the Bible" theme park. An actor playing Jesus covered in dye is raised on a mechanical cross while a jet airliner crosses the sky in the background. The camera pans over to a small, elderly audience of fat tourists in deck chairs, most of whom are in tears. To me that just says, the story still works after two millennia. Why? The only conceivable reason it still moves is that it must be based on something real.

Maher has the same approach throughout. He does not take his arguments to learned or distinguished representatives of Christianity, Mormonism, Islam and Judaism. Rather he seeks out fringe elements and makes fun of their ignorance. At the same time, he does not attack really pathetic believers, like the dirt poor living in slums and favelas with their dreary lives without worldly hope but God. That would be just too pathetic, though they are the majority of believers, and of the human race.

Instead he goes to ignorant folk in America, who in a land of infinite opportunity openly reject science in exchange for religion, as if such a trade were necessary or even pleasing to God. Even so, he often tricks or bullies his marks into dropping their guard and saying something ridiculous. In spite of the deck being stacked against them, they sometimes do score points off Maher. The best riposte comes from the Holy Land theme-park Jesus, whom Maher interviews in full costume, as if he were talking to Jesus in the flesh. When Maher mocks the trinity this "Jesus" comes back with the response,

"The three in one is like the three phases of water, ice, liquid and vapour. It is always water, though it takes on different forms according to the ambient temperature."

Later Maher admits that he had been taken aback, saying, "It is nonsense on nonsense, and I am far from convinced by it, but I have to say I was not expecting that." I do not think that an idea like this is going to convince an atheist either, but it certainly shows that acting in a passion play makes you think about the story you are telling.

Abdu'l-Baha did talk about sacrifice being like the seed that sacrifices itself in order to become a tree, so the idea of God being like different states of water is not wholly ridiculous. However, in explaining the trinity he did stick to the Bab's analogy of the image in a mirror.

"But as to the question of the Trinity, know, O advancer unto God, that in each one of the cycles wherein the Lights have shone forth upon the horizons ... there are necessarily three things: The Giver of Grace, and the Grace, and the Recipient of the Grace; the Source of the Effulgence, and the Effulgence, and the Recipient of the Effulgence; the Illuminator, and the Illumination, and Illuminated." (Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha v1, p. 117)

He also explains the trinity in Some Answered Questions, but I will not cite it all, only a very telling sentence that, I think, also hints at why these story elements are repeated so often, and why they have such an impact on the soul.

"A thing cannot be grasped by the intelligence except when it is clothed in an intelligible form; otherwise, it is but an effort of the imagination." (Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 115)