Monday, March 29, 2010

Reward and Punishment

Thinking about two "Great Being" Statements


By John Taylor; 2010 March 29, Ala' 09, 166 BE

Let us look today at a "Great Being" statement from the Tablet to Maqsud, one of Baha'u'llah's most important tablets. As my regular readers know, I have been mystified for a long time by these pronouncements labelled as coming from the "Great Being." Who is this Great Being? Is it another name for God? Why did Baha'u'llah label these, and not other statements, as coming from this Being? Indisputably, these are "great" in the sense that they are salient teachings of Baha'u'llah.

Certainly, the Master seems to have thought so.

Many, if not most of the Baha'i principles that Abdu'l-Baha proclaimed throughout Europe and North America, for example, come out of one or more of these Great Being statements. As we shall see, the two that I have selected for today can be applied to the principles of economic equity and of the promotion of education.

Here is the Great Being statement for today,

"The Great Being saith: The structure of world stability and order hath been reared upon, and will continue to be sustained by, the twin pillars of reward and punishment." (Tablets, 163)

But this all ends at the border.

Pollution and climate change are the result of the fact that on the international level corporations and other groups act with total impunity. Money is easily shifted around the world at a keystroke; even the 9-11 attacks on the U.S. only briefly slowed the flood of hot money. Interpol reports that this finances a veritable explosion of international criminal activity over the past decade. The chaotic, failed state of Somalia, for example, allows organized criminals to turn it into an illegal dumping ground for toxic waste from around the world. Most terrorism is a cross-border phenomenon, as is modern war, particular the bloodiest war in recent memory, the free-for-all for mineral wealth in the Congo. Even stable states, like India, are uprooting their aboriginal population in exchange for bribes from mining conglomerates. I could go on but it would only discourage both myself and my readers.

Nor are there any international awards or titles available to encourage good behaviour across borders. Here is an idea, let Queen Elizabeth and other royal houses pass on their right to confer knighthoods and other aristocratic titles to some world institution devoted to that purpose. Then that body could hand out knighthoods, for example, to the police operatives who bring down the new mafias. Or perhaps a sort of Nobel prize given to officials instrumental in blocking the flow of hot money.

I would like to see a title, like "sir," awarded to entire families. That way, any man in the family can call himself "sir," or any woman call herself "dame," as long as that family maintains the highest moral standard. Let one of them be caught committing adultery or some other sexual transgression, and they all lose their title. Every family member loses out on an international honour.

I am old enough to remember when adultery was illegal, and the concern of the wronged spouse at that time was that even if he or she felt very hurt and angry at the betrayal, it remained in their material interest to be sure that their wandering spouse was not arrested and thrown in jail. The only result of imprisoning an adulterer is worse privation for the whole family unit. The innocent suffer more than the guilty. But if the loss is entirely nominal or titular, then it would remain in every family member's interest to keep each other honest -- "honest" in the Shakespearian sense of "chaste".

Another idea for a cosmopolitan award that might appeal to a more egalitarian world is to keep the bar very low, at least in the beginning. At the opening ceremonies of a world government, say, let the new institution confer upon everybody on earth a title, like "human," as in "Human Jane Jones," or, "Citizen John Smith," or perhaps the Shakespearean title for the lowborn: "sirrah," like, "Sirrah Joan Smith." Make the title universal, but a privilege that can be lost. Once the right to bear a title is revoked due, say, to wrongdoing, make it easy, after taking a course or two, to earn this basic title back with a little work. Higher titles would be correspondingly harder to regain. This could be the start of an entire system of moral education based on rewards and incentives rather than the little we have now, sterile condemnation and impotent indignation.

One reason personal sexual morality was tossed out in Western nations after the 1960's was that, as explained by a slogan of the time, "The state has no business sticking its nose into the bedrooms of the nation." That may be so, but under a Comenian world government, families would be given the power to maintain their own integrity. Thus any title would have to be approved by families first, and then confirmed by all three wings of governance, science, religion and politics. It would not be just the state, it would be science and religion, as well as the family, that stick their noses in. This would not satisfy the most liberal among us, but it would at least assure that any laws enforcing morality would be the opinion of the whole society as to what is right and what is wrong. This would strike a proper balance between being too Puritanical and being overly liberal and tolerant. The award of a title would come with high expectations of righteousness, without encouraging dour severity or a moralizing, patronizing attitude.

This prepares us for a second "Great Being" statement, which I will look at next time.


1 comment:

Unknown said...

"The Great Being" is Shoghi Effendi's translation for hazrat-e maujuud, meaning literally "His Holiness, the existing" or "the presence that is present." I understand it as something similar to "I am that I am" - it is a name of God that does not attribute any particular attribute to God.