Wednesday, January 13, 2010

boss parables

World Governance and the Parables of the Boss

By John Taylor; 2010 Jan 13, Sharaf 13, 166 BE

We have seen in previous essays that John Amos Comenius based his whole plan for world government on one dictum promulgated by Jesus Christ in the Sermon on the Mount:

"Call no man on the earth your father, for one is your Father, he who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for one is your master, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you will be your servant." (Matt 23:9-11, WEB)

If you had to build an entire world government on a single dictum, I cannot imagine a more appropriate one. How dangerous would a president of the world be if he sees himself as our humblest servant? Of course, if he did, he would probably be the first mortal in history not to be corrupted by power. As Lord Acton's saying goes, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." (It is unsurprising that a lord should have noticed this!)

In fact, Comenius interpreted "call no man master" to mean that power should never be placed into the hands of a single individual. Otherwise, that individual would not be a servant, he or she would be a master. As a result all governments, and especially a world government, would look very different from what it does today. It would be so designed that there could never be anything like a president of the world in the first place.

Instead, Comenius designed a world government that does not allow power to concentrate, since, like the rain from heaven that falls upon the place beneath, everything is divided into many tiny drops.

First of all, power is distributed on the continental level, with continental parliaments carrying the brunt of the day-to-day burden of running the world. On the highest level would be the world government, which would never have a sitting president. Instead, this central body would be broken into three committees. 

One is concerned with peace, the political world government, the second is charged with enlightenment, the scientific and educational body, and the third deals with religion, spirituality, culture and the arts.

Each of these policy making committees is a separate institution, and may never meet either with another committee or a continental parliament. Each independently culls the best of expert opinion in its area of expertise and presents it for debate and ratification by the collective membership of the continental parliaments. What the continental parliaments agree upon is law everywhere in the world. In other words, this world government may never meet as a single entity. There can be no wheeling and dealing behind closed doors because power is so diffuse, yet open and accountable. As long as a majority of those involved are sincere and take "the greatest among you will be your servant" to heart, there is no reason that this should not be a highly effectual and efficient world governing body.

However, before I continue with world government, I want to talk more about the scriptural basis of this decentralizing imperative. This is not the only case where scriptural authority advocates keeping power out of the hands of individuals. I cannot cover all scripture today, so let me restrict myself to a few quotations from the Qur'an that not only sanction what was said in the Sermon on the Mount, they actually extend and fulfill it. Take this,

"God puts forth a Parable -- a man belonging to many partners at variance with each other, and a man belonging entirely to one master: are those two equal in comparison? Praise be to God! but most of them have no knowledge." (Qur'an 39:29, Yusuf Ali tr)

This is a common enough experience in poorly run institutions. Effective organizations are unambiguous in distributing tasks. In a sloppy one, a worker will be directed by one manager to do a job, until another boss comes along and tells him something different. He has no clear job description, the buck stops nowhere and the chain of command is chopped to bits. Without a single authority nobody is responsible for anything and nothing gets done. The result is stress and factionalism. The poor worker is bullied. Not only the Pointy Haired Boss but Dogbert and Catbert as well join in pushing the hapless Dilbert around.

What is most significant is this is Holy Writ clearly asking that we use human organization, or lack thereof, as a metaphor for the belief in God. Where there is no God, there is no clear, ultimate authority in our minds, and society is doomed to schizophrenia and dissipation.

The Qur'an not only offers a parable for leadership, it also offers one for the other side of the coin, what can only be called "followership." In fact, it offers a twin parable. The first part contrasts the difference between a slave leading a slave, a situation rather like Jesus's "the blind leading the blind," and a follower who has an independent mindset. Such a servant not only supports himself but society and his God as well. No service is incompatible with the others.

"God sets forth the Parable (of two men: one) a slave under the dominion of another; He has no power of any sort; and (the other) a man on whom We have bestowed goodly favours from Ourselves, and he spends thereof (freely), privately and publicly: are the two equal? (By no means;) praise be to God. But most of them understand not." (Qur'an 16:75, Yusuf)

We can be slaves to this world, in which case we are slaves of a slave, a mindless, fickle, self-contradictory boss. Or, we can become servants of God. A servant of God is no mindless consumer, rather a mature agent with a clear purpose.

Michael Crichton as a medical student observed this happening to members of the medical profession. They concentrated so hard on the technical aspects of their trade that they could not be well rounded human beings. They failed to understand basic cultural references of their patients. They recommended perfect cures that destroyed the lives of their patients. In other words, they were servants of science, not of God or human beings. Such doctors are dangerous because they are imbalanced, and ignorant of many essential aspects of being a human being. This Abdu'l-Baha compared to travel; a well travelled person is well rounded, and better able to stand independently before God.

"It is evident, therefore, that man is in need of divine education and inspiration, that the spirit and bounties of God are essential to his development. That is to say, the teachings of Christ and the Prophets are necessary for his education and guidance. Why? Because They are the divine Gardeners Who till the earth of human hearts and minds. They educate man, uproot the weeds, burn the thorns and remodel the waste places into gardens and orchards where fruitful trees grow. The wisdom and purpose of Their training is that man must pass from degree to degree of progressive unfoldment until perfection is attained. For instance, if a man should live his entire life in one city, he cannot gain a knowledge of the whole world. To become perfectly informed he must visit other cities, see the mountains and valleys, cross the rivers and traverse the plains. In other words, without progressive and universal education perfection will not be attained." (Abdu'l-Baha, Promulgation, 295)

Just as one is more perfectly informed about the world by travel, the Manifestation of God informs us of what is most important about every aspect of existence, be it here or in eternity. The philosopher Haraclitus said the same thing,

"The wisest of all men, compared to a god, seems an ape in wisdom, in beauty, and in all else." (Heraclitus, fr. 83)

The second half of our parable from the Qur'an looks at another aspect of human servitude, organization and authority.

"God sets forth (another) Parable of two men: one of them dumb, with no power of any sort; a wearisome burden is he to his master; whichever way be directs him, he brings no good: is such a man equal with one who commands Justice, and is on a Straight Way? (Qur'an 16:75-76, Yusuf)

A servant of God, then, is subservient to the Deity, but he or she is the reverse of a slave in relation to the world. He or she commands justice and walks a straight path.

In regard to other servants, all are equal. If all submit to the single divine authority no need will be felt for tyrants, or even authority figures. Servants are repulsed by the very idea of a single individual ruling over other servants. The more people feel that way, the harder it will be for tyrants to get a foot in the door. And perhaps most importantly, God would oppose anybody who tries to lord it over or put down another servant.

"Do not slander a servant to his master, lest he curse you, and you be held guilty." (Prov 30:10, WEB)

I will comment more on this proverb in future.


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