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Kofi+Annan+UN

No two men can be found who may be said to be outwardly and inwardly united. The evidences of discord and malice are apparent everywhere, though all were made for harmony and union. The Great Being saith: O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.

(Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh – page 163)

Let all be set free from the multiple identities that were born of passion and desire, and in the oneness of their love for God find a new way of life.

(From Selected Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá – page 76)

The current sequence of workshops on unity that I am blogging about at the moment also has roots in the insights expressed in a book I delved into about two years ago. Here is the fifth post of eight. I will be posting them interwoven with the Becoming True Upholders of His Oneness sequence. Century of Light is this key text published by the Bahá’í World Centre designed to help us understand the challenges we face in the world today. If you prefer you can download this in PDF version (5 Unity the implications). I learned a huge amount both from preparing these materials and from walking with others in the 2015 workshop along a path of intense exploration over a period of days. 

Whole Group Session (Slide Presentation)

Unity: Methods of Implementation

Given that (page 22) ‘the development of the whole range of human potentialities will be the fruit of the interaction between universal spiritual values, on the one hand, and, on the other, material advances that were even then still undreamed of,’ what should we be doing? This will hopefully become clearer after reading the following.

Page 24: [‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s] hearers were summoned to become the loving and confident agents of a great civilising process, whose pivot is recognition of the oneness of the human race.

. . . . It is equally clear, however, that the wide range of expression and understanding among them did not prevent them or their fellow believers from contributing to building a collective unity that was the chief attraction of the Cause.

Page 41: For unity to exist among human beings – at even the simplest level – two fundamental conditions must pertain. Those involved must first of all be in some agreement about the nature of reality as it affects their relationships with one another and with the phenomenal world. They must, secondly, give assent to some recognized and authoritative means by which decisions will be taken that affect their association with one another and that determine their collective goals.

. . . . . Unity is a phenomenon of creative power, whose existence becomes apparent through the effects that collective action produces and whose absence is betrayed by the impotence of such efforts.

Page 51: Deliberation on this vast conception was to lead Shoghi Effendi to provide the Bahá’í world with a coherent description of the future that has since permitted three generations of believers to articulate for governments, media and the general public in every part of the world the perspective in which the Bahá’í Faith pursues its work: [my bullet points]

The unity of the human race, as envisaged by Bahá’u’lláh, implies the establishment of a world commonwealth:

  • in which all nations, races, creeds and classes are closely and permanently united, and
  • in which the autonomy of its state members and the personal freedom and initiative of the individuals that compose them are definitely and completely safeguarded.

This commonwealth must, as far as we can visualize it,

  • consist of a world legislature, whose members will, as the trustees of the whole of mankind,
    • ultimately control the entire resources of all the component nations, and
    • will enact such laws as shall be required to regulate the life, satisfy the needs and adjust the relationships of all races and peoples.
  • A world executive, backed by an international Force, will
    • carry out the decisions arrived at, and
    • apply the laws enacted by, this world legislature, and
    • will safeguard the organic unity of the whole commonwealth.
  • A world tribunal will adjudicate and deliver its compulsory and final verdict in all and any disputes that may arise between the various elements constituting this universal system….
  • The economic resources of the world will be organised,
    • its sources of raw materials will be tapped and fully utilised,
    • its markets will be coordinated and developed, and
    • the distribution of its products will be equitably regulated.

Page 55: Unlike the Dispensations of the past, the Revelation of God to this age has given birth, Shoghi Effendi said, to “a living organism”, whose laws and institutions constitute “the essentials of a Divine Economy“, “a pattern for future society“, and “the one agency for the unification of the world, and the proclamation of the reign of righteousness and justice upon the earth”.

. . . . [Spiritual Assemblies are forerunners of local and national ‘Houses of Justice,’ the Guardian explained.] As such, they were integral parts of an Administrative Order that will, in time, “assert its claim and demonstrate its capacity to be regarded not only as the nucleus but the very pattern of the New World Order destined to embrace in the fullness of time the whole of mankind”.

. . . . For the vast majority of believers . . . great messages from the Guardian’s pen, such as “The Goal of a New World Order” and “The Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh”, threw brilliant light on precisely the issue that most concerned them, the relationship between spiritual truth and social development, inspiring in them a determination to play their part in laying the foundations of humanity’s future.

Page 129: “Unity in freedom” has today, of course, become a universal aspiration of the Earth’s inhabitants. Among the chief developments giving substance to it, the Master may well have had in mind the dramatic extinction of colonialism and the consequent rise of self- determination as a dominant feature of national identity at century’s end.

Whatever threats still hang over humanity’s future, the world has been transformed by the events of the twentieth century.

. . . . . On 22-26 May 2000, representatives of over one thousand non-governmental organisations assembled in New York at the invitation of Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General. In the statement that emerged from this meeting, spokespersons of civil society committed their organisations to the ideal that: “…we are one human family, in all our diversity, living on one common homeland and sharing a just, sustainable and peaceful world, guided by universal principles of democracy….”

Page 130: [Re: Millenium Summit] Nothing so dramatically illustrates the difference between the world of 1900 and that of 2000 than the text of the Summit Resolution, signed by all the participants, and referred by them to the United Nations General Assembly:

“We solemnly reaffirm, on this historic occasion, that the United Nations is the indispensable common house of the entire human family, through which we will seek to realise our universal aspirations for peace, cooperation and development. We therefore pledge our unstinting support for these common objectives, and our determination to achieve them.”

(End of Presentation: any questions?)

 Creative Pause

As we have agreed that memorising is a valuable way to internalise important quotations and can help us in moments of quiet reflection, can we take a few moments now to begin to reflect upon a quotation we have memorised.

Groupwork

Change of Method: For each group discussion the group should choose a facilitator. It would be best to change the facilitator for each piece of group work over the series of workshops but the group will remain the same. During the consultation, the facilitator’s role is to keep track of the time, to ensure that:

  1. everyone contributes something,
  2. no one keeps repeating the same point, and
  3. no one makes excessively long contributions.

All group members need to keep their own record of the main points for using in the role play at the end of the group consultation. The notes should be easy to use in a conversation. Both groups will use the same material.

For source of image see link.

For source of image see link.

Unity: Implications & Immediate Impact

Page 7: He came to it resolved to proclaim to responsive and heedless alike the establishment on earth of that promised reign of universal peace and justice that had sustained human hope throughout the centuries. Its foundation, He declared, would be the unification, in this “century of light”, of the world’s people:

. . . . . Hence the unity of all mankind can in this day be achieved. Verily this is none other but one of the wonders of this wondrous age, this glorious century.

Page 9: ‘My meaning is that the beloved of the Lord must regard every ill-wisher as a well-wisher…. That is, they must associate with a foe as befitteth a friend, and deal with an oppressor as beseemeth a kind companion. They should not gaze upon the faults and transgressions of their foes, nor pay heed to their enmity, inequity or oppression.

‘. . . . . He hath brought the whole creation under the purview of His gracious utterance, and hath enjoined upon us to show forth love and affection, wisdom and compassion, faithfulness and unity towards all, without any discrimination.’

Page 24: . . . . . Unity is a phenomenon of creative power, whose existence becomes apparent through the effects that collective action produces and whose absence is betrayed by the impotence of such efforts.

Page 131: Despite the historic importance of the meetings and the fact that the greater portion of humanity’s political, civil and religious leadership took part, the Millennium Summit made little impression on the public mind in most countries. . . . This sharp disjunction between an event that could legitimately claim to mark a major turning-point in human history, on the one hand, and the lack of enthusiasm or even interest it aroused among populations who were its supposed beneficiaries, on the other, was perhaps the most striking feature of the millennium observations. . . . .

Those who long to believe the visionary statements of world leaders struggle at the same time in the grip of two phenomena that undermine such confidence. The first has already been considered at some length in these pages. The collapse of society’s moral foundations has left the greater part of humankind floundering without reference points in a world that grows daily more threatening and unpredictable. To suggest that the process has nearly reached its end would be merely to raise false hopes.

Page 132: The second of the two developments undermining faith in the future was the focus of some of the Millennium Summit’s most anguished debates. The information revolution set off in the closing decade of the century by the invention of the World Wide Web transformed irreversibly much of human activity. The process of “globalisation” that had been following a long rising curve over a period of several centuries was galvanised by new powers beyond the imaginations of most people.

Pages 133-34: The benefits to many millions of persons are obvious and impressive.

  • Cost effectiveness resulting from the coordination of formerly competing operations tends to bring goods and services within the reach of populations who could not previously have hoped to enjoy them.
  • Enormous increases in the funds available for research and development expand the variety and quality of such benefits.
  • Something of a levelling effect in the distribution of employment opportunities can be seen in the ease with which business operations can shift their base from one part of the world to another.

The abandonment of barriers to transnational trade reduces still further the cost of goods to consumers. It is not difficult to appreciate, from a Bahá’í perspective, the potentiality of such transformations for laying the foundations of the global society envisioned in Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings.

Far from inspiring optimism about the future, however, globalisation is seen by large and growing numbers of people around the world as the principal threat to that future.

  • The violence of the riots set off by the meetings of the World Trade Organisation, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund during the last two years testifies to the depth of the fear and resentment that the rise of globalisation has provoked.
  • Media coverage of these unexpected outbursts focused public attention on protests
    • against gross disparities in the distribution of benefits and opportunities, which globalisation is seen as only increasing, and
    • on warnings that, if effective controls are not speedily imposed, the consequences will be catastrophic in social and political, as well as in economic and environmental, terms.

Such concerns appear well-founded. Economic statistics alone reveal a picture of current global conditions that is profoundly disturbing. The ever-widening gulf between the one fifth of the world’s population living in the highest income countries and the one fifth living in the lowest income countries tells a grim story. According to the 1999 Human Development Report published by the United Nations Development Programme, this gap represented, in 1990, a ratio of sixty to one. That is to say, one segment of humankind was enjoying access to sixty percent of the world’s wealth, while another, equally large, population struggled merely to survive on barely one percent of that wealth. By 1997, in the wake of globalisation’s rapid advance, the gulf had widened in only seven years to a ratio of seventy-four to one. Even this appalling fact does not take into account the steady impoverishment of the majority of the remaining billions of human beings trapped in the relentlessly narrowing isthmus between these two extremes. Far from being brought under control, the crisis is clearly accelerating. The implications for humanity’s future, in terms of privation and despair engulfing more than two thirds of the Earth’s population, helped to account for the apathy that met the Millennium Summit’s celebration of achievements that were, by every reasonable criteria, truly historic.

From Universal House of Justice letter to Bahá’ís of Iran (2 March 2013):

The rejection of deeply ingrained prejudices and a growing sense of world citizenship are among the signs of this heightened awareness. Yet, however promising the rise in collective consciousness may be, it should be seen as only the first step of a process that will take decades—nay, centuries—to unfold. For the principle of the oneness of humankind, as proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, asks not merely for cooperation among people and nations. It calls for a complete reconceptualization of the relationships that sustain society.

  1. The idea of unity should be powerfully appealing. What obstacles are there, do we think to its acceptance and implementation?
  2. In what ways is globalisation a mixed blessing and how does this affect the work of those seeking to convey the value and reality of humanity’s essential oneness?

Group Report Back: this is to be done as an exercise in role play. As far as time permits, one member of each group takes it in turns to explain to a member of the other group what they have learnt and needs to field whatever questions and comments come their way. The exact method for this will be determined on the day when we know the exact group sizes.

It’s fatal when I’m left to wait with time on my hands near a book shop, especially with three book tokens burning a hole in my wallet – well, it’s perhaps more accurate to say they were making it too thick to fit comfortably into my pocket. I had nearly half-an-hour to kill within one hundred yards of a Waterstones. I gravitated first towards my usual ground floor book-stacks – Smart Thinking, hoping I’d learn how to do it one day, and Biography. Zilch. History was tucked into a corner to my left. I usually don’t bother. History books bore me as a general rule.

Not this time. For some reason one book I wasn’t remotely looking for leapt out at me: The Islamic Enlightenment. I pulled it down and skimmed the inside of the dust cover. I saw the words ‘brave radicals like Iran’s first feminist Qurrat al-Ayn.’ I flipped to the index. ‘Baha’ism 144-147.’ 

Having declared the redundancy of the Muslim clergy, Bahá’u’lláh and his son and successor, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, proposed one of the most enlightened social systems of the time.

I quickly Googled for reviews and came across this one from the Guardian. There were clearly many other good reasons to buy this book, which is lying on my desk at this very moment along with several others, waiting its turn to be read in a rather long queue. Below is a short extract from the review: for the full post see link.

A celebration of an age of reformers in Istanbul, Cairo and Tehran provides a powerful corrective to lazy, prejudiced thinking.

Fifteen years ago, I sought out the oldest surviving folios of Plato’s philosophy. My hunt took me first to the Bodleian library in Oxford, and then past vats of indigo and pens of chickens in the souk in Fez, through the doors of al-Qarawiyyin mosque and up some back stairs to its archive storeroom. There, copied out and annotated by the scribes of al-Andalus, was a 10th-century edition of Plato’s works: in my hands was evidence of a Renaissance, in Islamic lands, three centuries before “the Renaissance” was supposed to have happened.

The jibe too often heard today that Islam is stuck in the dark ages is simplistic and lazy – as evidenced by this vigorous and thoughtful book about Islamic peoples’ encounters with western modernity. One of the pertinent questions Christopher de Bellaigue asks is: did a rational enlightenment follow on from Islam’s deep-rooted interest in the works of Plato and other classical philosophers? The answer he gives is: yes, in certain places and at certain times.

The author has a keen eye for a story, and our companions as we follow his argument are those vivid heroes (and occasionally heroines) who had the vision and the guts to bring about reform. The narrative takes us through Napoleonic Egypt, Tanzimât Istanbul and Tehran in the 19th century, and the swirl of nationalism and counter-enlightenment beyond. De Bellaigue makes it clear that in the Islamic east, after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt, a lot happened – in some cases reformation, enlightenment and industrial revolution – in very little time. The telegraph appeared within a heartbeat of the movable-type printing press; trains arrived at the same time as independent newspapers. Many of the challenging concepts being gingerly embraced by Islamic pioneers were also being given a name for the first time in the west – “human rights” in the 1830s, feminism in the 1890s. The tsunami of modernity was both thrilling and fearful.

On occasion, as with the Albanian-born Muhammad Ali Pasha of Egypt and the Ottoman sultan Mahmud II, the enlighteners were “both modernisers and martinets”. Often they died for their ideas. The story of the Persian feminist-martyr Fatemeh Zarrin Taj Baraghani [Qurrat al-Ayn], who read too much, wrote too much and, veil-less, promoted the social vision of the Bahá’ís (a united, anti-nationalist, monolingual world), is poignantly told. As well as big history analysis there are delightful incidental details. Egyptians, for instance, were horrified to discover that Napoleon’s troops trod on carpets with their boots and didn’t shave their pubic hair – at a time when Egypt was instituting such hygiene reforms as the fumigation of letters before delivery.

Abdulbaha Using the familiar metaphor of “candles”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote to Mrs. Whyte:

“O honoured lady!… Behold how its [unity’s] light is now dawning upon the world’s darkened horizon. The first candle is unity in the political realm, the early glimmerings of which can now be discerned. The second candle is unity of thought in world undertakings, the consummation of which will erelong be witnessed. The third candle is unity in freedom which will surely come to pass. The fourth candle is unity in religion which is the corner- stone of the foundation itself, and which, by the power of God, will be revealed in all its splendour. The fifth candle is the unity of nations – a unity which in this century will be securely established, causing all the peoples of the world to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland. The sixth candle is unity of races, making of all that dwell on earth peoples and kindreds of one race. The seventh candle is unity of language, i.e., the choice of a universal tongue in which all peoples will be instructed and converse. Each and every one of these will inevitably come to pass, inasmuch as the power of the Kingdom of God will aid and assist in their realisation.”

While it will be decades – or perhaps a great deal longer – before the vision contained in this remarkable document is fully realised, the essential features of what it promised are now established facts throughout the world.

(Century of Light – pages 127-28)

The recent sequence of workshops on unity that I am blogging about at the moment also has roots in the insights expressed in a book I delved into about two years ago. Here is the fourth post of eight. I will be posting them interwoven with the Becoming True Upholders of His Oneness sequence. Century of Light is this key text published by the Bahá’í World Centre designed to help us understand the challenges we face in the world today. If you prefer you can download this in PDF version (4 Impact of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Unity the Core). I learned a huge amount both from preparing these materials and from walking with others in the 2015 workshop along a path of intense exploration over a period of days. 

 

The Impact & Legacy of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Creative Pause

As we have agreed that memorising is a valuable way to internalise important quotations and can help us in moments of quiet reflection, can we take a few moments now to begin to memorise either this quotation or another from the first session.

Whole Group Session (Slide Presentation)

Basic Background

In addition to Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, there are two other key individuals and one key institution whose roles are of central importance to the unfolding story we are following right now.

The first is the son of Bahá’u’lláh, Whom His father designated as the Centre of His Covenant, the Mystery of God and the Perfect Exemplar. Some of the meaning of these terms will become clearer to those not familiar with them as the remainder of this sequence of workshops progresses. For now I will simply say that Bahá’ís believe God has made a Covenant with both His Followers and with humanity as a whole. The former is known as the Lesser Covenant, the latter as the Greater Covenant[1]. We will be coming back to an examination what those terms mean in more depth, but basically the role of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá as Centre of the Covenant refers to how all Bahá’ís in His lifetime and beyond should see Him as the One to Whom His Father entrusted the protection of the unity of the Faith. We will be looking closely at ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s role and its impact in the next two workshops.

Shoghi EffendiLater we will focus on Shoghi Effendi, the grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá who was designated the Guardian of the Cause of God on ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s passing. He was also authorised to be the translator and interpreter of the Writings.

Finally we will come to the Universal House of Justice. Elected in 1963 the House is the elected international governing body of the Bahá’í Faith. More on that later.

There are other writers who can shed some further light on this before we plunge into the details.

We are clearly living through a critical period. Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson write in Cultural Creatives (page 236): ‘[We are also facing] a breathtakingly dangerous tipping point for our civilisation and our planet. Our need to discover a way through is the most urgent, most central question of our time.’ They add (page 203) ‘In the consciousness movement, the people who can persevere for ten, twenty, and thirty years are the ones who can have a dramatic impact on the culture – because that is the true time horizon of effective action.’ The Universal House of Justice feels this will be the work of centuries (from a letter to Bahá’ís of Iran – 2 March 2013):

The rejection of deeply ingrained prejudices and a growing sense of world citizenship are among the signs of this heightened awareness. Yet, however promising the rise in collective consciousness may be, it should be seen as only the first step of a process that will take decades—nay, centuries—to unfold. For the principle of the oneness of humankind, as proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, asks not merely for cooperation among people and nations. It calls for a complete reconceptualization of the relationships that sustain society.

As Paul Lample explains in Revelation & Social Reality (page 109), Bahá’ís share this perspective and recognise that Bahá’ís alone can never bring about such changes. To say that the process of building a new civilisation is a conscious one does not imply that the outcome depends exclusively on the believers’ initiatives. . . . emphasis on the contributions Bahá’ís are to make to the civilisation-building process is not intended to diminish the significance of efforts being exerted by others. He also states (page 6): ‘Human beings are not passive observers of reality and our personal reality, our thought, is not simply imposed upon us. In a very specific way we may consider ourselves – collectively – as co-creators of reality, for through the power of the human mind and our interactions, the world undergoes continued transformation.’

And the time scale, as well as the engagement of all humanity, is very clear (page 48): ‘Generation after generation of believers will strive to translate the teachings into a new social reality. . . . . . . . [I]t is not a project in which Bahá’ís engage apart from the rest of humanity.’

Ray and Anderson make a key point (page 246): ‘Cultural Creatives may be leading the way with responses directed towards healing and integration rather than battle. For these responses to contribute to the creation of a new culture, grassroots activism and social movements will have to evolve into new institutions. . . . [W]hile new social movements are transitory, institutions can turn the energies of these movements into everyday action.’

(End of Presentation: any questions?)

For now we return to the role of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and begin with the core concept of unity or oneness.

Group Work

For each group discussion the group should choose a facilitator. It would be best to change the facilitator for each piece of group work over the series of workshops but the group will remain the same. During the consultation, the facilitator’s role is to keep track of the time, to ensure that:

  1. everyone contributes something,
  2. no one keeps repeating the same point, and
  3. no one makes excessively long contributions.

The group also needs to agree who will keep a record of the main points for reporting back to everyone at the end of the group consultation. The aim should be to make the report back no longer than five minutes.

Unity

Group One Task

Unity

Page 7: [‘Abdu’l-Bahá] came to [this moment in history] resolved to proclaim to responsive and heedless alike the establishment on earth of that promised reign of universal peace and justice that had sustained human hope throughout the centuries. Its foundation, He declared, would be the unification, in this “century of light”, of the world’s people:

. . . . . Hence the unity of all mankind can in this day be achieved. Verily this is none other but one of the wonders of this wondrous age, this glorious century.

Page 9: My meaning is that the beloved of the Lord must regard every ill-wisher as a well-wisher.… That is, they must associate with a foe as befitteth a friend, and deal with an oppressor as beseemeth a kind companion. They should not gaze upon the faults and transgressions of their foes, nor pay heed to their enmity, inequity or oppression.

. . . . . He hath brought the whole creation under the purview of His gracious utterance, and hath enjoined upon us to show forth love and affection, wisdom and compassion, faithfulness and unity towards all, without any discrimination.

Page 18: [Of those who responded to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s call] Their response arose from a level of consciousness that recognized, even if sometimes only dimly, the desperate need of the human race for spiritual enlightenment. To remain steadfast in their commitment to this insight required of these early believers on whose sacrifice of self much of the foundation of the present-day Bahá’í communities both in the West and many other lands were laid – that they resist not only family and social pressures, but also the easy rationalisations of the world-view in which they had been raised and to which everything around them insistently exposed them.

  1. Bahá’ís have been dismissed as hopelessly Utopian. Part of the reason for this lies in the perception that the ideals of, on the one hand, learning to evince the degree of love ‘Abdu’l-Bahá describes, and, on the other, of establishing universal peace and justice, are permanently beyond humanity’s reach. What do we feel about that?
  2. What can we learn from the experiences of the early believers that might give us some hope, especially as the Universal House of Justice describes this as the work of centuries?

Page 20: The gift of God to this enlightened age is the knowledge of the oneness of mankind and of the fundamental oneness of religion. War shall cease between nations, and by the will of God the Most Great Peace shall come; the world will be seen as a new world, and all men will live as brothers.

To fully understand the relationship between man’s progress towards peace and the role of the Bahá’ís compared to the role of all humanity, it will help to provide some background. In the compilation on Peace (pages 38-39) we read in the words of the Universal House of Justice:

As to the Lesser Peace, Shoghi Effendi has explained that this will initially be a political unity arrived at by decision of the governments of various nations; it will not be established by direct action of the Bahá’í community. This does not mean, however, that the Bahá’ís are standing aside and waiting for the Lesser Peace to come before they do something about the peace of mankind. Indeed, by promoting the principles of the Faith, which are indispensable to the maintenance of peace, and by fashioning the instruments of the Bahá’í Administrative Order, which we are told by the beloved Guardian is the pattern for future society, the Bahá’ís are constantly engaged in laying the groundwork for a permanent peace, the Most Great Peace being their ultimate goal.

  1. How would a wider acceptance of the concept of the oneness of humanity be conducive to peace?
  2. In the light of this, what are Bahá’ís meant to be doing and why?
  3. What might people in the wider world be working at and why?

 

Group Two Task

The Full Implications of Unity

Page 21: {Shoghi Effendi unpacks these as follows – my bullet points:]

  • The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition;
  • the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith;
  • the basic unity of all religions;
  • the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national;
  • the harmony which must exist between religion and science;
  • the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar;
  • the introduction of compulsory education;
  • the adoption of a universal auxiliary language;
  • the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty;
  • the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations;
  • the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship;
  • the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and
  • the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind

these stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity which He proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large in the course of these missionary journeys.

The Guardian (page 50), addressing the friends in the West in 1931, ‘opened for them a brilliant vista’:

The principle of the Oneness of Mankind – the pivot round which all the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve – is no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope. Its appeal is not to be merely identified with a reawakening of the spirit of brotherhood and good-will among men, nor does it aim solely at the fostering of harmonious cooperation among individual peoples and nations. Its implications are deeper, its claims greater than any which the Prophets of old were allowed to advance. Its message is applicable not only to the individual, but concerns itself primarily with the nature of those essential relationships that must bind all the states and nations as members of one human family…. It implies an organic change in the structure of present-day society, a change such as the world has not experienced…. It calls for no less than the reconstruction and the demilitarisation of the whole civilised world – a world organically unified in all the essential aspects of its life, its political machinery, its spiritual aspiration, its trade and finance, its script and language, and yet infinite in the diversity of the national characteristics of its federated units.

. . . . using as illustration the same ‘organic metaphor in which Bahá’u’lláh, and subsequently ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, had captured the millennia-long process’ that has brought us to this point (ibid):

The long ages of infancy and childhood, through which the human race had to pass, have receded into the background. Humanity is now experiencing the commotions invariably associated with the most turbulent stage of its evolution, the stage of adolescence, when the impetuosity of youth and its vehemence reach their climax, and must gradually be superseded by the calmness, the wisdom, and the maturity that characterize the stage of manhood.

  1. There is a huge amount of detail here. Basically though, in what ways do the above passages help us understand what the Bahá’í Faith means when it uses the word ‘unity’ or speaks of ‘oneness.’
  2. How would the ‘political machinery’ and ‘trade and finance’ be changed do we think?
  3. What might it feel like to live in a world reconstituted in this way?

Report Back: One member of each group explains their conclusions and what they have learnt. Their group members can join in to field whatever questions and comments come their way.

Footnote:

[1] This terminology dates from the time of the Báb as Shoghi Effendi makes clear in God Passes By (page 27): ‘The Greater Covenant into which, as affirmed in His writings, God had, from time immemorial, entered, through the Prophets of all ages, with the whole of mankind, regarding the newborn Revelation, had already been fulfilled. It had now to be supplemented by a Lesser Covenant which He [ie the Báb] felt bound to make with the entire body of His followers concerning the One [ie Bahá’u’lláh] Whose advent He characterized as the fruit and ultimate purpose of His Dispensation. Such a Covenant had invariably been the feature of every previous religion.’

 

child-soldier-empty-roadOnly as humanity comes to understand the implications of what occurred during this period of history will it be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. The value of the contribution we as Bahá’ís can make to the process demands that we ourselves grasp the significance of the historic transformation wrought by the twentieth century.

(Century of Light – page 0)

The recent sequence of workshops on unity that I am blogging about at the moment also has roots in the insights expressed in a book I delved into about two years ago. Here is the third post of eight. I will be posting them interwoven with the Becoming True Upholders of His Oneness sequence. Century of Light is this key text published by the Bahá’í World Centre designed to help us understand the challenges we face in the world today. If you prefer you can download this in PDF version (3 Components of Our Wreck). I learned a huge amount both from preparing these materials and from walking with others in the 2015 workshop along a path of intense exploration over a period of days. 

Reflecting on Quotations

We agreed in the first workshop that we would start the day today by trying out one way of building reflection on a quotation into our moments of quiet contemplation.

We need to sit comfortably in our chairs, our backs reasonably erect, both feet in contact with the floor and hands lying loosely in our lap. We need to spend a few moments withdrawing our attention from the outside world and instead focusing it on our breathing. This is probably most easily done by resting our full attention on the movement of our diaphragm. At the start, if it helps, we can use our rate of breathing to slow down our inward recitation of the passage we have memorised. When we are alone we can of course recite the passage out loud. If anyone has not yet memorised a passage it is fine to begin this process by reading it slowly and mindfully after settling quietly into a reflective state of mind.

Keeping our breathing steady and even, we should focus our entire attention upon each phrase as we read or recite it. As Easwaran points out (page 32) in his excellent book, in the end we have to find the pace that suits us best: ‘the space between words is a matter for each person to work out individually.… If the words come too close together, you will not be slowing down the mind… If the words stand too far apart, they will not be working together…’

If we find our mind has wandered, we should, without getting irritated with ourselves, begin the passage again at the beginning. This teaches the mind that it cannot getaway with wandering: there is a price to pay.

In these early stages we should consider ourselves very successful if we can meditate in this way upon a text for five minutes without losing our concentration. Our aim over a period of months could be to increase their concentration span to something like 20 minutes. Clearly this would enable us, if we wished, to memorise longer passages for reciting, rather than repeating the same short text. It is advisable to change the text we use each week to fend off the indifference which can come from overfamiliarity.

  1. Why would regularly experiencing the wisdom captured in words in this way be helpful to us?
  2. What was our experience like this time?

Group Work

Reminder: For each group discussion the group should choose a facilitator. It would be best to change the facilitator for each piece of group work over the series of workshops but the group will remain the same. During the consultation, the facilitator’s role is to keep track of the time, to ensure that:

  1. everyone contributes something,
  2. no one keeps repeating the same point, and
  3. no one makes excessively long contributions.

The group also needs to agree who will keep a record of the main points for when there is a report back to everyone at the end of the group consultation. The aim should be to make the report back no longer than five minutes.

Ukrainian government army soldiers examine weapons captured from rebels in the city of Slovyansk, Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine on July 5, 2014 (For source of image see link)

Ukrainian government army soldiers examine weapons captured from rebels in the city of Slovyansk, Donetsk Region, eastern Ukraine on July 5, 2014 (For source of image see link)

Group One Task

The Evidence of a Corrosive Cultural Climate

Pages 1: The loss of life alone has been beyond counting. The disintegration of basic institutions of social order, the violation – indeed, the abandonment – of standards of decency, the betrayal of the life of the mind through surrender to ideologies as squalid as they have been empty, the invention and deployment of monstrous weapons of mass annihilation, the bankrupting of entire nations and the reduction of masses of human beings to hopeless poverty, the reckless destruction of the environment of the planet – such are the more obvious in a catalogue of horrors unknown to even the darkest of ages past.

This is a powerful indictment of our culture. We need to unpack some of the implications before we can move on to more positive perspectives.

  1. Where do see evidence of ‘the disintegration of basic institutions of social order’ and ‘the abandonment . . . of standards of decency’? Is there an antidote to this process?
  2. What do we think is meant by ‘betrayal of the life of the mind through surrender to ideologies as squalid as they have been empty’? How might that best be remedied?
  3. Are any of the other points unclear in their implications?

Pages 3-4: The vast majority of the human family, living in lands outside the Western world, shared in few of the blessings and little of the optimism of their European and American brethren. [Refers to China, India, Latin America, & Africa.] . . . Most tragic of all was the plight of the inhabitants of the African continent, divided against one another by artificial boundaries created through cynical bargains among European powers. It has been estimated that during the first decade of the twentieth century over a million people in the Congo perished – starved, beaten, worked literally to death for the profit of their distant masters, a preview of the fate that was to engulf well over one hundred million of their fellow human beings across Europe and Asia before the century reached its end.

These masses of humankind, despoiled and scorned – but representing most of the earth’s inhabitants – were seen not as protagonists but essentially as objects of the new century’s much vaunted civilising process. Despite benefits conferred on a minority among them, the colonial peoples existed chiefly to be acted upon – to be used, trained, exploited, Christianised, civilised, mobilised . . . . To a large extent, religious and political pieties of various kinds masked both ends and means from the publics in Western lands, who were thus able to derive moral satisfaction from the blessings their nations were assumed to be conferring on less worthy peoples, while themselves enjoying the material fruits of this benevolence.

Additional Information:

In his book The Bottom Billion (2007) Paul Collier explains there are at least 58 countries worldwide trapped in poverty, as a result of factors such as incessant conflict or bad governance. The total population of these countries at that time was 980 million people, seventy per cent of whom live in Africa.

In addition we can factor in the abuse of children in various ways (Universal House of Justice: Ridván 2000):

Our children . . . . should not be left to drift in a world so laden with moral dangers. In the current state of society, children face a cruel fate.

  • Millions and millions in country after country are dislocated socially.
  • Children find themselves alienated by parents and other adults whether they live in conditions of wealth or poverty.
  • This alienation has its roots in a selfishness that is born of materialism that is at the core of the godlessness seizing the hearts of people everywhere.
  • The social dislocation of children is in our time a sure mark of a society in decline; this condition is not, however, confined to any race, class, nation or economic condition – it cuts across them all.

It grieves our hearts to realise that in so many parts of the world children are

  • employed as soldiers,
  • exploited as labourers,
  • sold into virtual slavery,
  • forced into prostitution,
  • made objects of pornography,
  • abandoned by parents centred on their own desires, and
  • subjected to other forms of victimisation too numerous to mention.

Many such horrors are inflicted by parents themselves upon their own children. The spiritual and psychological damage defies estimation.

Additional Information from ten years ago:

26,575 children die every single day. Of the 62 countries making no progress or insufficient progress towards the Millennium Development Goal on child survival, nearly 75 per cent are in Africa. In some countries in southern Africa, the prevalence of HIV and AIDS has reversed previously recorded declines in child mortality. Achieving the goal in these countries will require a concerted effort. Reaching the target means reducing the number of child deaths from 9.7 million in 2006 to around 4 million by 2015. Accomplishing this will require accelerated action on multiple fronts: reducing poverty and hunger (MDG 1), improving maternal health (MDG 5), combating HIV and AIDS, malaria and other major diseases (MDG 6), increasing the usage of improved water and sanitation (MDG 7) and providing affordable essential drugs on a sustainable basis (MDG 8). It will also require a re-examination of strategies to reach the poorest, most marginalized communities.

Trafficking in children is a global problem affecting large numbers of children. Some estimates have as many as 1.2 million children being trafficked every year. There is a demand for trafficked children as cheap labour or for sexual exploitation. Children and their families are often unaware of the dangers of trafficking, believing that better employment and lives lie in other countries. Most child casualties are civilians. But one of the most deplorable developments in recent years has been the increasing use of young children as soldiers. In one sense, this is not really new. For centuries children have been involved in military campaigns—as child ratings on warships, or as drummer boys on the battlefields of Europe. Indeed the word ‘infantry’, for foot-soldiers, can also mean a group of young people. What is frightening nowadays is the escalation in the use of children as fighters. Recently, in 25 countries, thousands of children under the age of 16 have fought in wars. In 1988 alone, they numbered as many as 200,000. And while children might be thought to be the people deserving greatest protection, as soldiers they are often considered the most expendable. During the Iran-Iraq war, child soldiers, for example, were sent out ahead in waves over minefields.

  1. How do you think that we managed to disguise from ourselves the iniquity of what we were doing in all these areas for so long and why has Africa come out of it all so badly?
  2. Have we now moved past that period of exploitation, neglect and abuse, or is it still happening? If it is, why does it persist?
  3. If we have moved on to some degree, how did we do it?
  4. Why is the harm we have been doing to our children a crucially important issue for us to address urgently, probably as urgently as climate change if not more so?
  5. What does all this tell us about the size of the task still ahead, if we are to turn things round completely?

Group Two Task

Materialism

Page 6: Where winds of change did dispel the mists, among the educated classes in Western lands, inherited orthodoxies were all too often replaced by the blight of an aggressive secularism that called into doubt both the spiritual nature of humankind and the authority of moral values themselves. Everywhere, the secularisation of society’s upper levels seemed to go hand in hand with a pervasive religious obscurantism among the general population.

Page 89: Fathered by nineteenth century European thought, acquiring enormous influence through the achievements of American capitalist culture, and endowed by Marxism with the counterfeit credibility peculiar to that system, materialism emerged full-blown in the second half of the twentieth century as a kind of universal religion claiming absolute authority in both the personal and social life of humankind. Its creed was simplicity itself. Reality – including human reality and the process by which it evolves – is essentially material in nature. The goal of human life is, or ought to be, the satisfaction of material needs and wants. Society exists to facilitate this quest, and the collective concern of humankind should be an ongoing refinement of the system, aimed at rendering it ever more efficient in carrying out its assigned task.

Page 135: There has not been a society in the history of the world, no matter how pragmatic, experimentalist and multiform it may have been, that did not derive its thrust from some foundational interpretation of reality. Such a system of thought reigns today virtually unchallenged across the planet, under the nominal designation “Western civilisation”. Philosophically and politically, it presents itself as a kind of liberal relativism; economically and socially, as capitalism – two value systems that have now so adjusted to each other and become so mutually reinforcing as to constitute virtually a single, comprehensive world-view.

Appreciation of the benefits – in terms of the personal freedom, social prosperity and scientific progress enjoyed by a significant minority of the Earth’s people – cannot withhold a thinking person from recognizing that the system is morally and intellectually bankrupt. It has contributed its best to the advancement of civilisation, as did all its predecessors, and, like them, is impotent to deal with the needs of a world never imagined by the eighteenth century prophets who conceived most of its component elements. Shoghi Effendi did not limit his attention to divine right monarchies, established churches or totalitarian ideologies when he posed the searching question: “Why should these, in a world subject to the immutable law of change and decay, be exempt from the deterioration that must needs overtake every human institution?”

Page 136: Tragically, what Bahá’ís see in present-day society is unbridled exploitation of the masses of humanity by greed that excuses itself as the operation of “impersonal market forces“. What meets their eyes everywhere is the destruction of moral foundations vital to humanity’s future, through gross self-indulgence masquerading as “freedom of speech”. What they find themselves struggling against daily is the pressure of a dogmatic materialism, claiming to be the voice of “science“, that seeks systematically to exclude from intellectual life all impulses arising from the spiritual level of human consciousness.

These are key paragraphs for us to understand thoroughly if we are to grasp the importance and true nature of a more spiritual path forward.

Blake Newton

Additional Information:

From A Compilation on Scholarship: Baha’i Reference Library):

Just as there is a fundamental difference between divine Revelation itself and the understanding that believers have of it, so also there is a basic distinction between scientific fact and reasoning on the one hand and the conclusions or theories of scientists on the other. There is, and can be, no conflict between true religion and true science: true religion is revealed by God, while it is through true science that the mind of man “discovers the realities of things and becomes cognizant of their peculiarities and effects, and of the qualities and properties of beings” and “comprehendeth the abstract by the aid of the concrete”. However, whenever a statement is made through the lens of human understanding it is thereby limited, for human understanding is limited; and where there is limitation there is the possibility of error; and where there is error, conflicts can arise.

Medina, in his book Faith, Physics & Psychology, explains that he sees the current worldview as destructively rooted in the thinking of Descartes and Newton. He refers to it throughout as the ‘Cartesian-Newtonian worldview.’ Descartes split mind from body, which he considered to be a machine. He considered that all true understanding derived from analysis (splitting into components) and logic. Add to this Newton’s determinism (we can predict anything from our knowledge both of its starting state and the operation of immutable universal laws) and, in Medina’s view, we have the current, in his view pernicious, Cartesian-Newtonian worldview (page 14):

. . . . this classical science worldview is based on a mechanistic view of human beings and the universe that alienates human beings from their spiritual, moral, and emotional faculties. It has divided the world into mutually exclusive opposing forces: the dichotomies of science versus religion, reason versus faith, logic versus intuition, natural versus supernatural, material versus spiritual, and secular versus sacred. The result is a materialistic worldview that emphasises the truth of science, reason, logic, the natural, the material, and the secular while ignoring or even denigrating the truth of religion, faith, intuition, the supernatural, the spiritual, and the sacred.

Medina goes on to unpack what for him at least are the limitations of ‘secular spirituality’ which (page 94) ‘do not necessarily promote an altruistic social ethic or a desire on the part of individuals to improve society for the benefit of all.’ He includes ‘religious fundamentalism’ (page 95-96) under this umbrella ‘because it represents an attempt to use religion as a vehicle to fulfil worldly desires for leadership or power or as a justification for ungodly acts such as forced conversion of pagans or warfare against infidels.’

He goes on to state that our version of Christianity has contributed to the problems the Cartesian-Newtonian worldview creates (page 129) as a result of its concept of ‘an all-transcendent God Who is essentially divorced from the cursed natural world.’ He concludes (pages 129-30):

It is my belief that an extremist form of Christian theism actually worked hand-in-hand with the Cartesian-Newtonian worldview to promulgate a false sense of separation between the spiritual and the material and between the sacred and the secular.

It is important to stress that he is not criticising the true essence of Christianity here, simply some of its more extreme distortions with their destructive consequences.

For those interested in a more mainstream Christian take on the matter see God, Humanity & the Cosmos (Southgate et al: pages 95-98): they too conclude that a mechanical view of the world prevailed as a result of the success of this Descartes/Newton fusion, and this then negatively affected economics and political theory as well as religion and our view of ourselves. 

  1. Why do we think secularism and religious obscurantism might go hand in hand in the way described here?
  2. What are the achievements of American capitalism and what makes them so persuasive given the damage the system seems to be causing?
  3. How can materialism, dogmatic or otherwise, be effectively a religion? What are the parallels?
  4. What is ‘liberal relativism’ and how has it been fostered by a materialist world view? How does this philosophical and moral approach make such a perfect marriage with capitalism? Do we agree that this arrangement is bankrupt?
  5. Are market forces not really impersonal?
  6. Are science and materialism not really in tune?

Report Back: One member of each group explains their conclusions and what they have learnt. Their group members can join in to field whatever questions and comments come their way.

Compensating Accomplishments

Pages 4-5: To point out the failings of a great civilisation is not to deny its accomplishments. As the twentieth century opened, the peoples of the West could take justifiable pride in the technological, scientific and philosophical developments for which their societies had been responsible. . . . . A continuous process of discovery, design and improvement was making accessible power of unimaginable magnitude – with, alas, ecological consequences equally unimagined at the time – especially through the use of cheap fuel and electricity.

Page 5: Changes taking place at the deeper level of scientific thought were even more far-reaching in their implications. The nineteenth century had still been held in the grip of the Newtonian view of the world as a vast clockwork system, but by the end of the century the intellectual strides necessary to challenge that view had already been taken. New ideas were emerging that would lead to the formulation of quantum mechanics; and before long the revolutionising effect of the theory of relativity would call into question beliefs about the phenomenal world that had been accepted as common sense for centuries.

  1. How do we feel about the advantages they quote? Why aren’t they enough to turn our society round and avert the crisis towards which we seem to be hurtling?
  2. In what ways do we think new scientific paradigms may have changed our perspective on reality?

Where now?

. . . . . As the twentieth century opened, Western civilisation was reaping the fruits of a philosophical culture that was rapidly liberating the energies of its populations, and whose influence would soon produce a revolutionary impact throughout the entire world.

More on all this next time.

To download the complete materials click this link Upholders of His Oneness v2.

Each day we drove into Strathallan from Dundee. This was because my health issues meant that I needed to make sure I had enough rest each day. Being a resident at summer school means that you have the benefit of more activities but with that goes a greater expenditure of energy that I couldn’t afford this time round.

So, after the long ribbon of the bridge over the shining waters of the Firth of Tay and the 17 miles of dual carriageway under alternating showers and sunshine, we arrived back at the school in time for prayers and Khazeh Fananapazir’s engaging exploration of the significance of this year. Two hundred years ago Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, was born in Tehran. This year therefore Bahá’ís are taking every opportunity to remember His life and connect with Him spiritually, as well as to deepen our understanding of the spiritual connection between Bahá’u’lláh as the Manifestation of God for this day and the Báb as His Herald .

After that, and a cup of coffee and a cake, we headed for our workshop.

Consensus Consciousness

It might help if we begin more or less where we left off. Charles Tart in his book Waking Up.’ begins his analysis of social reality and its impact on the individual by contending (page 9) that ‘Consciousness, particularly its perceptual aspects, creates an internal representation of the outside world, such that we have a good quality “map” of the world and our place in it.’ He doesn’t mince words when he describes what he feels is an important correlative of this (page 11): ‘Our ordinary consciousness is not “natural,” but an acquired product. This has given us both many useful skills and many insane sources of useless suffering.’

He chooses to introduce a phrase that captures this (ibid):

. . . [For the phrase ordinary consciousness] I shall substitute a technical term I introduced some years ago, consensus consciousness, as a reminder of how much everyday consciousness has been shaped by the consensus of belief in our particular culture.

He continues (page 59):

. . . . one of our greatest human abilities, and greatest curses, is our ability to create simulations of the world . . . . These simulations, whether or not they accurately reflect the world, can then trigger emotions. Emotions are a kind of energy, a source of power.

In the workshop at Strathallan School we delved deeply into this down side and its costs from a spiritual point of view. In a mystical work of poetic power and great beauty Bahá’u’lláh writes (Seven Valleys – pages 19-20):

Thus it is that certain invalid souls have confined the lands of knowledge within the wall of self and passion, and clouded them with ignorance and blindness, and have been veiled from the light of the mystic sun and the mysteries of the Eternal Beloved; they have strayed afar from the jewelled wisdom of the lucid Faith of the Lord of Messengers, have been shut out of the sanctuary of the All-Beauteous One, and banished from the Ka’bih of splendour. Such is the worth of the people of this age! . . . . .

Clearly, this kind of tunnel vision is more than enough to account for why Bahá’u’lláh can dismiss much of what we think as superstition, illusion, delusion and ‘vain imaginings.’ There was some discussion in the workshop as to whether invalid should be taken to mean ‘sick’ or ‘unconfirmed/inauthentic.’ Fortunately we had the chance to check out with Khazeh, the presenter of the plenary sessions and a reader of both Arabic and Persian, what the word in the original text meant: he said without the slightest hesitation, ‘sick’.

Also, what we see is still very much in the eye of the beholder. In an exploration which compares reality at the spiritual level to the sun, whose pure light is white, Bahá’u’lláh illustrates how different what we observe is from the light itself (pages 19-20):

In sum, the differences in objects have now been made plain. Thus when the wayfarer gazeth only upon the place of appearance–that is, when he seeth only the many-colored globes –he beholdeth yellow and red and white; hence it is that conflict hath prevailed among the creatures, and a darksome dust from limited souls hath hid the world. And some do gaze upon the effulgence of the light; and some have drunk of the wine of oneness and these see nothing but the sun itself.

It cannot be emphasised too strongly that these subjective differences, which result from the imperfections of our vision, can give rise to utterly toxic conflicts, conflicts whose origins are in essence delusional.

Cleansing the Mirror

As individuals, brainwashed by flawed worldviews, what can we do to transcend the resulting limitations?

In exploring this angle on the issue I am not discounting that steps also need to be taken to address the limitations of our culture, but, in seeking to capture the flow of consultation around the quotations we were considering, it’s easiest to start from here and deal with the wider issues later.

Bahá’u’lláh writes (Gleanings – XXVII):

. . . These energies with which the Day Star of Divine bounty and Source of heavenly guidance hath endowed the reality of man lie, however, latent within him, even as the flame is hidden within the candle and the rays of light are potentially present in the lamp. The radiance of these energies may be obscured by worldly desires even as the light of the sun can be concealed beneath the dust and dross which cover the mirror. Neither the candle nor the lamp can be lighted through their own unaided efforts, nor can it ever be possible for the mirror to free itself from its dross. It is clear and evident that until a fire is kindled the lamp will never be ignited, and unless the dross is blotted out from the face of the mirror it can never represent the image of the sun nor reflect its light and glory.

I have dealt at length elsewhere on this blog with the idea of the human heart as a mirror that needs to be burnished if it is to reflect the light of spiritual reality and that we also need to be sure that we do not mistake what is reflected there for the mirror itself. It is enough at this point simply to quote a writer whose insights, along with my experience of Buddhist meditation, helped prepare me to understand Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation sufficiently to choose the path He reveals to us. What this writer says covers what our consultation on the day disclosed to us about the power and challenges of separating consciousness from its contents, a process he calls reflection.

In his brilliant book on existentialism The New Image of the Person: The Theory and Practice of Clinical Philosophy, Peter Koestenbaum states that (page 69):

[a]nxiety and physical pain are often our experience of the resistances against the act of reflection.

By reflection, amongst other things, he means unhooking ourselves from our ideas.

An example he gives from the clinical context illustrates what he means:

. . . to resist in psychotherapy means to deny the possibility of dissociating consciousness from its object at one particular point . . . To overcome the resistance means success in expanding the field of consciousness and therewith to accrue increased flexibility . . .’

But overcoming this resistance is difficult. It hurts and frightens us. How are we to do it? In therapy it is the feeling of trust and safety we develop towards the therapist that helps us begin to let go of maladaptive world views, self-concepts and opinions.

This process of reflection, and the detachment it creates and upon which the growth of a deeper capacity to reflect depends, are more a process than an end-state at least in this life.

Koestenbaum explains this (page 73):

The history of philosophy, religion and ethics appears to show that the process of reflection can continue indefinitely . . . . there is no attachment . . . which cannot be withdrawn, no identification which cannot be dislodged.’

By reflection he means something closely related to meditation.

Reflection, he says (page 99):

. . . releases consciousness from its objects and gives us the opportunity to experience our conscious inwardness in all its purity.

What he says at another point is even more intriguing (page 49):

The name Western Civilisation has given to . . . the extreme inward region of consciousness is God.

I feel this brings us in psychotherapeutic terms close to the exact place ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is describing in Paris Talks. These are the quotes we wrestled with at the Summer School, striving to understand the role of silence more fully (page 174-176):

Bahá’u’lláh says there is a sign (from God) in every phenomenon: the sign of the intellect is contemplation and the sign of contemplation is silence, because it is impossible for a man to do two things at one time — he cannot both speak and meditate.

It is an axiomatic fact that while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed. . . .

Through the faculty of meditation man attains to eternal life; through it he receives the breath of the Holy Spirit — the bestowal of the Spirit is given in reflection and meditation. . .

Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries. In that state man abstracts himself: in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves. To illustrate this, think of man as endowed with two kinds of sight; when the power of insight is being used the outward power of vision does not see.

This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God.

. . . Through this faculty man enters into the very Kingdom of God. . . .

The meditative faculty is akin to the mirror; if you put it before earthly objects it will reflect them. Therefore if the spirit of man is contemplating earthly subjects he will be informed of these. . . .

Therefore let us keep this faculty rightly directed — turning it to the heavenly Sun and not to earthly objects — so that we may discover the secrets of the Kingdom, and comprehend the allegories of the Bible and the mysteries of the spirit.

May we indeed become mirrors reflecting the heavenly realities, and may we become so pure as to reflect the stars of heaven.

Bronze mirror, New Kingdom of Egypt, Eighteenth Dynasty, 1540–1296 BC. For source of image see link.

This paved the way for our attempt to understand the relationship between achieving oneness and cleansing the mirror of the heart, which Bahá’u’lláh describes as burnishing, a process of intense friction involving metal against metal, not just picking up a duster and some polish to bring the shine back to a modern glass mirror. Once again a quick confab with Khazeh confirmed that the original word implied effort and friction. This suggests that Bahá’u’lláh may have had the early metal mirrors in mind when He wished to convey how difficult, even painful, the polishing process would be for the heart’s mirror. A Wikipedia article states:

. . . . stone and metal mirrors could be made in very large sizes, but were difficult to polish and get perfectly flat; a process that became more difficult with increased size; so they often produced warped or blurred images. Stone mirrors often had poor reflectivity compared to metals, yet metals scratch or tarnish easily, so they frequently needed polishing. Depending upon the color, both often yielded reflections with poor color rendering.[6] The poor image quality of ancient mirrors explains 1 Corinthians 13‘s reference to seeing “as in a mirror, darkly.”

The art of making glass mirrors was not perfected until the 16th Century.

If we become capable of polishing the mirror of our hearts, then we can potentially become capable of reflecting the pure undivided light of spiritual reality, thus transcending both our inner conflicts and our conflicts with others.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá describes this possibility in the following words (Selected Writing of ‘Abdul-Baha 1978 – page 76):

For now have the rays of reality from the Sun of the world of existence, united in adoration all the worshippers of this light; and these rays have, through infinite grace, gathered all peoples together within this wide-spreading shelter; therefore must all souls become as one soul, and all hearts as one heart. Let all be set free from the multiple identities that were born of passion and desire, and in the oneness of their love for God find a new way of life.

This then will remedy our current conflicted state, wherein we are at war with ourselves as well as with others. This is Bahá’u’lláh’s description of the challenge we face compared with the reality most of us are blind to (Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh = CXII):

No two men can be found who may be said to be outwardly and inwardly united. The evidences of discord and malice are apparent everywhere, though all were made for harmony and union. The Great Being saith: O well-beloved ones! The tabernacle of unity hath been raised; regard ye not one another as strangers. Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.

He is unequivocal about the role of religion in this healing process (ibid. – CXXVIII):

The religion of God is for love and unity; make it not the cause of enmity and dissension. . . . Conflict and contention are categorically forbidden in His Book. This is a decree of God in this Most Great Revelation.

And now we come to a cusp where we move from looking mainly at the individual to where we look at the community. And here it is that we will see where words can change from misleading labels or names, corrupted by misguided worldviews, to lamps of guidance.

That needs to wait for the next post.

When we got back to Dundee that evening, from the window of the flat where we were staying we could see the lights of a cruiser docked at the harbour side. Though purely material, it had a beauty of its own.

stockport-war-memorialIn one of the major newspapers in Montreal, where press coverage of [‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s] trip was particularly comprehensive, it was reported:

‘All Europe is an armed camp. These warlike preparations will necessarily culminate in a great war. The very armaments themselves are productive of war. This great arsenal must go ablaze. There is nothing of the nature of prophecy about such a view’, said ‘Abdu’l- Bahá; ‘it is based on reasoning solely.’

(Century of Light – page 28)

The recent sequence of workshops on unity that I am blogging about at the moment also has roots in the insights expressed in a book I delved into about two years ago. Here is the second post of eight. I will be posting them interwoven with the Becoming True Upholders of His Oneness sequence. Century of Light is this key text published by the Bahá’í World Centre designed to help us understand the challenges we face in the world today. If you prefer you can download this in PDF version (2 Inevitability of WW1). I learned a huge amount both from preparing these materials and from walking with others in the 2015 workshop along a path of intense exploration over a period of days. 

2. Inevitability of WW1 & its Aftermath

We will now be looking at two rather dark issues, but out of their sequence in Century of Light because of the session lengths. Next time we will be considering what, in general, are some of the key challenges we are facing: these, in a sense, provide the overall context for what we are examining today.

The slide into war has a complex set of causes and the aftermath has many interwoven consequences.

Group Work

For each group discussion the group should choose a facilitator: if the blended groups this morning worked well we can stick with them. It would be best to change the facilitator for each piece of group work over the series of workshops but the group will remain the same. During the consultation, the facilitator’s role is to keep track of the time, to ensure that:

  1. everyone contributes something,
  2. no one keeps repeating the same point, and
  3. no one makes excessively long contributions.

The group also needs to agree who will keep a record of the main points for when there is a report back to everyone at the end of the group consultation. The aim should be to make the report back no longer than five minutes.

Group One Task

  1. Materialism, Science & War

A key component in the toxic mix of perspectives that led into WW1 was communism, with its messianic belief in the achievement of world revolution by any means no matter how violent (page 30):

The Communist Party, deriving both its intellectual thrust and an unshakeable confidence in its ultimate triumph from the writings of the nineteenth century ideologue Karl Marx, had succeeded in establishing groups of committed supporters throughout Europe and various other countries. Convinced that the genius of its master had demonstrated beyond question the essentially material nature of the forces that had given rise to both human consciousness and social organisation, the Communist movement dismissed the validity of both religion and “bourgeois” moral standards. In its view, faith in God was a neurotic weakness indulged in by the human race, a weakness that had merely permitted successive ruling classes to manipulate superstition as an instrument for enslaving the masses.

The advances in science that materialism had helped make possible, added other sinister components into the mix:

  1. Ibid: To the leaders of the world, blindly edging their way towards the universal conflagration which pride and folly had prepared, the great strides being made by science and technology represented chiefly a means of gaining military advantage over their rivals.
  2. Page 31: Science and technology were also exerting other, more subtle pressures on the prevailing order. Large-scale industrial production, fuelled by the arms race, had accelerated the movement of populations into urban centres. By the end of the preceding century, this process was already undermining inherited standards and loyalties, exposing growing numbers of people to novel ideas for the bringing about of social change, and exciting mass appetites for material benefits previously available only to elite segments of society. . . . . .
  3. Ibid: Beyond these implications of technological and economic change, scientific advancement seemed to encourage easy assumptions about human nature, the almost unnoticed overlay that Bahá’u’lláh has termed “the obscuring dust of all acquired knowledge”. These unexamined views communicated themselves to ever-widening audiences . . . . and continued to undermine the authority of accepted religious doctrines, as well as of prevailing moral standards.

These two workshops are largely focused on negative issues, but are an essential requirement if we are to understand (a) the predicament of those who lived through this period, (b) the roots of the problem, and (c) the challenges that confront us now. There are some key questions we now need to address.

  1. Why is materialism so toxic? Why does it matter that it confidently asserts what is now widely believed in the West, that we are nothing but the product of our physical bodies and material circumstances?
  2. How is it, do we think, that science could so easily be commandeered to manufacture horrendous weapons, such as mustard gas, that would give us an edge in any conflict? Have we grown out of that kind of folly yet?
  3. The quotation lists the damage that stemmed from industrialisation, including the erosion of standards and the appetite for material goods. What other problems do we think we have seen from an increasing use of industrial methods on a global scale?
  4. In what ways does the undermining of religious standards matter?

Group Two Task

  1. The Costs of War

Page 32: It would serve no purpose here to review the exhaustively analysed cataclysm of World War I. The statistics themselves remain almost beyond the ability of the human mind to encompass: an estimated sixty million men eventually being thrown into the most horrific inferno that history had ever known, eight million of them perishing in the course of the war and an additional ten million or more being permanently disabled by crippling injuries, burned-out lungs and appalling disfigurements. Historians have suggested that the total financial cost may have reached thirty billion dollars, wiping out a substantial portion of the total capital wealth of Europe.

Even such massive losses do not begin to suggest the full scope of the ruin. One of the considerations that long held back President Woodrow Wilson from proposing to the United States Congress the declaration of war that had by then become virtually inescapable was his awareness of the moral damage that would ensue. Not the least of the distinctions that characterized this extraordinary man – a statesman whose vision both ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi have praised – was his understanding of the brutalisation of human nature that would be the worst legacy of the tragedy that was by then engulfing Europe, a legacy beyond human capacity to reverse.

Page 33: The ruinous reparations demanded of the vanquished – and the injustice that required them to accept the full guilt for a war for which all parties had been, to one degree or another, responsible – were among the factors that would prepare demoralised peoples in Europe to embrace totalitarian promises of relief which they might not otherwise have contemplated.

. . . . The deaths of millions of young men who would have been urgently needed to meet the challenges of the coming decades was a loss that could never be recovered. Indeed, Europe itself – which only four brief years earlier had represented the apparent summit of civilisation and world influence – lost at one stroke this pre-eminence, and began the inexorable slide during the following decades toward the status of an auxiliary to a rising new centre of power in North America.

These two workshops are largely focused on negative issues, but are an essential requirement if we are to understand (a) the predicament of those who lived through this period, (b) the roots of the problem, and (c) the challenges that confront us now. There are some key questions we now need to address.

  1. What do we think might have been, and perhaps still are, the signs of the ‘moral damage’ and ‘brutalisation of human nature’ caused by war? What part if any would the deaths of millions of young men have played in this process of brutalisation?
  2. The Bahá’í Writings and evolutionary theory suggest that a sense of justice or fairness is inherent in human beings. How would this have affected the way that the conquered nations experienced the ‘ruinous reparations’ and how might their sense of righteous action have affected the victors?

Report Back: One member of each group explains their conclusions and what they have learnt. Their group members can join in to field whatever questions and comments come their way.

Whole Group Session (Slide Presentation)

  1. League of Nations & the United States

On pages 34-35 Century of Light explains the flawed process by which the League of Nations was set up and failed to function as a result. As Shoghi Effendi pointed out ‘It received its initial impetus through the formulation of President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, closely associating for the first time that republic with the fortunes of the Old World. It suffered its first set-back through the dissociation of that republic from the newly born League of Nations which that president had laboured to create . . . ’

While the world must move ‘to the emergence of a world government and the establishment of the Lesser Peace, as foretold by Bahá’u’lláh’ the obstacles that still remain are many, and we will be looking at part of this process in a future workshop.

The League of Nations foundered on the rocks of other problems than simply the dissociation of the United States: ‘it could take decisions only with the unanimous assent of the member states’, and it failed ‘to include some of the world’s most powerful states: Germany had been rejected as a defeated nation held responsible for the war, Russia was initially denied entrance because of its Bolshevik regime, and the United States itself refused – as a result of narrow political partisanship in Congress – either to join the League or to ratify the treaty.’ It is in this context that we begin to look at the heroic efforts of a key Bahá’í figure.

Shoghi Effendi’s Ministry

A topic to which we will be returning for consideration in its own right is the station and role of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith. For now we will simply look at the impact of the war’s aftermath on the world within which he had to work.

i) The Context of his Work

The most obvious factor impacting upon his work is that (page 43) ‘the first half of [his] ministry unfolded between wars, a period marked by deepening uncertainty and anxiety about all aspects of human affairs.’

The situation thus created was not all bad (ibid): ‘On the one hand, significant advances had been made in overcoming barriers between nations and classes; on the other, political impotence and a resulting economic paralysis greatly handicapped efforts to take advantage of these openings.’

An important potential positive was that (ibid) ‘There was everywhere a sense that some fundamental redefinition of the nature of society and the role its institutions should play was urgently needed – a redefinition, indeed, of the purpose of human life itself.’

Century of Light spells out some of the details of these possible positives, some of which are the reverse side of the coin of the period’s downside (ibid):

In important respects, humanity found itself at the end of the first world war able to explore possibilities never before imagined (my numbering).

  1. Throughout Europe and the Near East the absolutist systems that had been among the most powerful barriers to unity had been swept away.
  2. To a great extent, too, fossilised religious dogmas that had lent moral endorsement to the forces of conflict and alienation were everywhere in question.
  3. Former subject peoples were free to consider plans for their collective futures and to assume responsibility for their relationships with one another through the instrumentality of the new nation-states created by the Versailles settlement.
  4. The same ingenuity that had gone into producing weapons of destruction was being turned to the challenging, but rewarding, tasks of economic expansion.
  5. . . . . Most important of all, an extraordinary effort of imagination had brought the unification of humanity one immense step forward. The world’s leaders, however reluctantly, had created an international consultative system which, though crippled by vested interests, gave the ideal of international order its first suggestion of shape and structure.

Century of Light goes on to refer to the positive examples of Sun Yat-Sen in China and Mahandas Ghandi in India.

ii) Shoghi Effendi’s Perspective

There is a key paragraph on page 52 (my numbering):

The landscape of international affairs would, he said, be increasingly reshaped by twin forces of “integration” and “disintegration”, both of them ultimately beyond human control. In the light of what meets our eyes today, his previsioning of the operation of this dual process is breathtaking:

  1. the creation of “a mechanism of world inter-communication … functioning with marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity”;
  2. the undermining of the nation-state as the chief arbiter of human destiny;
  3. the devastating effects that advancing moral breakdown throughout the world would have on social cohesion;
  4. the widespread public disillusionment produced by political corruption; and
  5. – unimaginable to others of his generation – the rise of global agencies dedicated to promoting human welfare, coordinating economic activity, defining international standards, and encouraging a sense of solidarity among diverse races and cultures.

These and other developments, the Guardian explained, would fundamentally alter the conditions in which the Bahá’í Cause would pursue its mission in the decades lying ahead.

  1. In terms of the world as we understand it, how accurate do we feel this analysis is?
  2. What, if any, do we feel are the weaknesses of the many global agencies now in existence to effectively address the problems of the planet and of humanity?
  3. Do those weaknesses have any remedies?

(End of Presentation)

Group Work

Group One Task

  1. The Corrosion of Ungodliness

Century of Light describes how the Bahá’í Faith is gaining increasing recognition while the social fabric surrounding it increasingly disintegrates (page 59): ‘As the Bahá’í community was constructing administrative foundations which would permit it to play an effective role in human affairs, the accelerating process of disintegration that Shoghi Effendi had discerned was undermining the fabric of social order. Its origins, however determinedly ignored by many social and political theorists, are beginning, after the lapse of several decades, to gain recognition at international conferences devoted to peace and development.’ Alongside this comes an increased recognition of ‘the essential role that “spiritual” and “moral” forces must play in achieving solutions to urgent problems.’

That there is still prevalent a ‘corrosion of ungodliness’ is primarily, in the Guardian’s view, the ‘responsibility . . . . . of the world’s religious leaders. Bahá’u’lláh’s severest condemnation is reserved for those who, presuming to speak in God’s name, have imposed on credulous masses a welter of dogmas and prejudices that have constituted the greatest single obstacle against which the advancement of civilisation has been forced to struggle,’ while he acknowledges at the same time ‘the humanitarian services of countless individual clerics.’

Their mistakes have left a vacuum that had to be filled (pages 59-60): ‘The yearning for belief is inextinguishable, an inherent part of what makes one human. When it is blocked or betrayed, the rational soul is driven to seek some new compass point, however inadequate or unworthy, around which it can organise experience and dare again to assume the risks that are an inescapable aspect of life.’

This is something that Bahá’ís must take into full account. Nowadays, in the Guardian’s words, ‘an idolatrous world passionately and clamorously hails and worships the false gods which its own idle fancies have fatuously created, and its misguided hands so impiously exalted…. Their high priests are the politicians and the worldly-wise, the so-called sages of the age; their sacrifice, the flesh and blood of the slaughtered multitudes . . . .’

Additional Ideas from John Fitzgerald Medina’s Faith, Physics & Psychology:

Page 184: [He speaks of] classical science’s de-spiritualised view of the natural world. Francis Bacon, an early classical scientist, provides a quintessential example of this despiritualised view. He wrote that nature should be ‘hounded in her wanderings,’ ‘bound into service,’ and made a ‘slave, while the goal of the scientist is to ‘torture nature’s secrets from her.’

Page 217: [cf Blackfoot Physics by F. David Peat): Quantum physics now supports a picture of the universe as a dynamic, indivisible whole in which everything is interconnected and interrelated. . . .

Page 223-24: . . . in a much needed move, Enlightenment intellectuals did much to expose the gross corruption of the worldly, power-seeking clergy of their time. Unfortunately, because of their ‘blind rationalism’ and their overzealous efforts to expose church superstition, fanaticism, and hypocrisy, they ultimately promulgated an antimetaphysical outlook that has done much to undermine the faith and spirituality of people to this day.

Page 226: Unbalanced materialism has ultimately resulted in a loss of reverence for life and has diminished our appreciation for the supreme values of life such as compassion, justice, unity, joyfulness, love, service, generosity, patience, moderation, humility – all of which lead to personal wholeness and add an essential richness, beauty, and purpose to life.

Page 227: Locke’s ideas eventually led to the establishment of Western economic values such as free markets, property rights, individualism, and self interest as the primary force that motivates the actions of individuals, and the idea that prices are determined objectively by supply and demand. According to Locke, the right to private property represents the fruits of one’s labours. Furthermore, he emphasises the idea that the purpose of government is to protect individual private property.

. . . . Unfortunately, as will be shown later, Locke’s ideas (as is the case with most Cartesian-Newtonian concepts) have led to destructive outcomes.

Page 230: In retrospect, considering all the defects of laissez-faire capitalism, it can be argued that had it not been for the eventual “interference” of government reforms, laissez-faire capitalism would have doomed, to this day, the European and American masses to industrial slavery.

. . . it is important to note that the alternative economic system of socialism is also fundamentally flawed. . . Both systems place undue importance on economics as the core of civilisation. . . . From a spiritual perspective, in spite of all their surface differences, capitalism and socialism, when applied in actual practice, have both been destructive to human beings, communities, and the environment.

Page 238: . . . . Herman Daly, a World Bank economist, and John Cobb, a Protestant theologian, . . affirm that the exclusion of religious and spiritual values from ‘economic science’ has had a devastating impact on people, communities, and the environment. They state, ‘Adam Smith himself emphasised in his Theory of Moral Sentiments that the market [freemarket capitalism] is a system so dangerous that it presupposes the moral force of shared community values as its necessary restraining context.’

Pages 250-51: Holistic advocates, in contrast, insist that the entire global order must be transformed in order to honour the true spiritual potential of people. They assert that transcendent spiritual qualities make human beings inherently capable of great acts of altruism, love, generosity, and self-sacrifice; however, the current global order encourages the development of greed, self-centredness, competition, hedonism, and the like.

  1. Why might spiritual and moral forces be so crucial to solving the world’s current problems?
  2. Why is ungodliness corrosive? What is the evidence, do we think, for the idea that ‘the rational soul is driven to seek some new compass point, however inadequate or unworthy, around which it can organise experience’?
  3. The cost in flesh and blood of our idolatries was evident throughout the 20th Century. Are we still paying the same price for the same reason?
  4. Are the checks and balances that have been introduced to reduce the injustices of the untrammelled sufficient? If so, how do they work? If not, why not?

Group Two Task

  1. The Three ‘Crooked Doctrines’

Mixed Dictators v5We have already met one of these – communism – earlier today: the other two, according to Shoghi Effendi (pages 60-63), are Nationalism and Racism. These are among the ideologies that amount to being false religions in terms of the fanatical fervour they elicit from their adherents. He spells out the distinction between the latter two: ‘. . . . While sharing Fascism’s idolatry of the state, its sister ideology Nazism made itself the voice of a far more ancient and insidious perversion. At its dark heart was an obsession with what its proponents called “race purity”. . . . . The Nazi system was unique in the sheer bestiality of the act most commonly associated with its name, the programme of genocide systematically carried out against populations considered either valueless or harmful to humanity’s future, a programme that included a deliberate attempt literally to exterminate the entire Jewish people. . .’

Communism was, however, not well placed to claim the moral high ground: ‘For long years, the Soviet system created by Vladimir Lenin succeeded in representing itself to many as a benefactor of humankind and the champion of social justice. In the light of historical events, such pretensions were grotesque. The documentation now available provides irrefutable evidence of crimes so enormous and follies so abysmal as to have no parallel in the six thousand years of recorded history. . .’ As a result partly of the influence of these three pernicious perspectives ‘The brutalisation that the first world war had engendered now became an omnipresent feature of social life throughout much of the planet.’

Additional Ideas from John Fitzgerald Medina’s Faith, Physics & Psychology:

Page 112: As proof that such secular spirituality is highly dubious, consider the fact that many Enlightenment philosophers spoke eloquently about justice, equality, and liberty, and yet in the end, supported slavery, racism, classism, sexism, and genocide against American Indians.

Page 233: It is ironic that Marxist revolutionary Communists set themselves up as the primary mortal enemies of laissez-faire capitalism because, in actuality, Marxist Communism and laissez-faire capitalism are both extreme manifestations of the same Cartesian-Newtonian worldview.

Page 235: Many fervent advocates of capitalism boast that the failures of socialist schemes prove the inherent superiority and basic soundness of capitalist theory. Such boasts are warranted only if one thinks that capitalism and socialism are the only two economic choices available to humanity. The fact that so many people have been conditioned to think that capitalism and socialism are the only two plausible economic choices clearly reveals the Cartesian-Newtonian stranglehold on the Western imagination.

Page 272: Based on an overall view history, it is clear that the Cartesian-Newtonian world view that began to emerge in the 1500s is a common denominator connecting all the following movements:

  1. The Scientific Revolution and the development of the Age of Science (from the 1500s until now);
  2. The establishment of the American colonies and the founding and consolidation of the United States – including the conquest of the Indians and the enslavement of Blacks (from the late 1500s through the late 1800s);
  3. The formal development of the ideology of racism – the ideology of White racial superiority and on-White inferiority (from the late 1600s until now); . . .

Page 274: In his book Racial Unity: An Imperative for Social Progress, [Historian Richard] Thomas writes,

American fashioned a special brand of political and moral compromise that helped it to rationalise both the conquest of the native people and the enslavement of blacks. Since America was not about to abandon slave labour or its policy of dispossessing the native peoples of their land, the only real and practical choice was to minimise the nature of it sins: blacks and native peoples (Indians) were not to be considered on the same level of humanity as whites; blacks were heathen and immoral, next to the apes in the scale of evolution. Gradually an ideology emerged in the United States and Britain which explained that white racial dominance was a blessing… Both countries began formulating a racist ideology to cover those moral contradictions that collided with certain Christian and Enlightenment beliefs [all men created equal, inalienable rights, et cetera]. . . .

He explains how the pathology of racism, as we now know it, can be traced to the conquest of American Indians and the enslavement of Blacks in the American colonies beginning in the late 1600s.

Page 282: One of the most tragic aspects of this [the 1950s] period is that some of it could have been prevented had American leaders acted with wisdom and courage. Sadly, even President Dwight D Eisenhower, the same man who, as a ranking general, had commanded great armies against the forces of Nazi oppression in Europe, publicly made it clear that he was not in favour of school integration and that he thought the Supreme Court decision requiring desegregation was wrong.

Page 344: Nonetheless, as seen in the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith, it is unnecessary to adopt a moral relativist attitude to combat cultural imperialism and racism. The Bahá’í teachings assert that there are some absolute values such as justice and compassion, which apply equally to all the members of the human race irrespective of culture.

  1. How is it possible for huge numbers of human beings to commit such large scale atrocities?
  2. When we look around us now, where do we see evidence of brutalisation?
  3. How can people on the one hand advocate equality, as the founding fathers of America did, and yet at the same time condone slavery and effective genocide.
  4. What are the dangers of ‘moral relativism’? Does this mean there are no problems with moral absolutes? Are absolutes such as justice and compassion free from any of these dangers? If so, why? If not, why not?

Report Back: One member of each group explains their conclusions and what they have learnt. Their group members can join in to field whatever questions and comments come their way.

AND please don’t forget the memorisation practice over night!

Supplementary Material for Group Work

(to be tackled if there is time or deferred to Session 4)

Having confronted over the last hour or so the dark side of human reality, now we can begin to examine the flickering of various candles beginning to combat this darkness.

Group One Task

  1. Unity and the UN

Kofi+Annan+UNCentury of Light explains how even the darkness itself contains hints of potential light (pages 70-71): ‘At a relatively early point in the second world war, the Guardian set that conflict in a perspective for Bahá’ís that was very different from the one generally prevailing. The war should be regarded, he said, “as the direct continuation” of the conflagration ignited in 1914. It would come to be seen as the “essential pre-requisite to world unification“. The entry into the war by the United States, whose president had initiated the project of a system of international order, but which had itself rejected this visionary initiative, would lead that nation, Shoghi Effendi predicted, to “assume through adversity its preponderating share of responsibility to lay down, once for all, broad, worldwide, unassailable foundations of that discredited yet immortal System.”

The dimly discerned positives relate to the key concept we will be exploring more fully later (page 71): ‘If the change could not yet be described as an emerging conviction about the oneness of humankind, no objective observer could mistake the fact that barriers blocking such a realisation, which had survived all the assaults against them earlier in the century, were at last giving way. . . . . The years immediately following 1945 witnessed advances in framing a new social order that went far beyond the brightest hopes of earlier decades.’ The clearest example of this, they explain, (pages 71-72) is found when, ‘Meeting in San Francisco in April 1945 – in the state where ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had prophetically declared, “May the first flag of international peace be upraised in this state” – delegates of fifty nations adopted the Charter of the United Nations Organisation, the name proposed for it by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. . . .’

This led onto (pages 72-73) ‘the United Nations’ adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The moral commitment it represented was institutionalized in the subsequent establishment of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. In due course, the Bahá’í community itself would have good cause to appreciate, at first-hand, the system’s importance as a shield protecting minorities from the abuses of the past.’

And even the shibboleth of national sovereignty had taken a hit (page 73): ‘[Concerning the trial of Nazi leaders] Although the integrity of the proceedings was gravely marred by the participation of judges appointed by a Soviet dictatorship whose own crimes matched or exceeded those of the defendants’ regime, the act set an historic precedent. It demonstrated, for the first time, that the fetish of “national sovereignty” has recognizable and enforceable limits.’

Most of what is said immediately above is straightforward history. There are two questions we might want to deal with briefly.

  1. Do we wish briefly to explore the nature of such prejudices as have caused great suffering not only to the Bahá’ís in Iran but to many other minorities elsewhere?
  2. Why does Century of Light describe ‘national sovereignty’ as a ‘fetish’? (Fetish means an obsession or idol in this context.)
  1. Green Shoots

Page 74: Beyond all the continuing educational disadvantages, the economic inequities, and the obstructions created by political and diplomatic manoeuvring – beyond all these practical but historically transient limitations – a new authority was at work in human affairs to which all might reasonably hope somehow to appeal. . . . [Once subject peoples were now being represented.]

. . . . As time passed, growing numbers of outstanding figures in every walk of life would escape the familiar limits of racial, cultural or religious identity. In every continent of the globe, names like Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr., Paolo Freire, Ravi Shankar, Gabriel Garcia Marques, Kiri Te Kanawa, Andrei Sakharov, Mother Teresa and Zhang Yimou became sources of inspiration and encouragement to great numbers of their fellow citizens. . . . . The world-wide outpouring of affection and rejoicing that was to greet the release from prison of Nelson Mandela and his subsequent election as president of his country would reflect a sense among peoples of every race and nation that these historic events represented victories of the human family itself.

Question. Apart from the most famous ones in the list, ie Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Anne Frank and Nelson Mandela, do we know why the others are mentioned? What does this suggest about the possibility of a sea-change in world affairs?

Group Two Task

  1. The Cold War & beyond

After the second world war we moved into a period termed the ‘Cold War.’ Century of Light summarises the situation (page 87): ‘Hardly had hostilities ended than the ideological divisions between Marxism and liberal democracy burst out into attempts to secure dominance between the respective blocs of nations they inspired. The phenomenon of “Cold War”, in which the struggle for advantage stopped just short of military conflict, emerged as the prevailing political paradigm of the next several decades.

This tense stand off was in response to the atom bomb’s threat of ‘mutually assured destruction’ (page 88): ‘For Bahá’ís, the prospect could only bring vividly to mind the sombre warning uttered by Bahá’u’lláh decades earlier: “Strange and astonishing things exist in the earth but they are hidden from the minds and the understanding of men. These things are capable of changing the whole atmosphere of the earth and their contamination would prove lethal.”’ The Soviet Union sought to capitalise on the injustices of colonialism in what was termed the ‘Third World’ while ‘the response of the West – wherever development aid failed to retain the loyalties of recipient populations – was to resort to the encouragement and arming of a wide variety of authoritarian regimes.’

Even after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, materialism continued effectively unchallenged (pages 89-90): ‘impulses to devise and promote any formal materialistic belief system disappeared. Nor would any useful purpose have been served by such efforts, as materialism was soon facing no significant challenge in most parts of the world. Religion, where not simply driven back into fanaticism and unthinking rejection of progress, became progressively reduced to a kind of personal preference, a predilection, a pursuit designed to satisfy spiritual and emotional needs of the individual. The sense of historical mission that had defined the major Faiths learned to content itself with providing religious endorsement for campaigns of social change carried on by secular movements. The academic world, once the scene of great exploits of the mind and spirit, settled into the role of a kind of scholastic industry preoccupied with tending its machinery of dissertations, symposia, publication credits and grants.’

  1. How can we explain how religion in certain places at certain times slides into fanaticism?
  2. At the same time, elsewhere, it becomes a consumer fad. How does that happen, do we think?

Whether as world-view or simple appetite, materialism’s effect is to leach out of human motivation – and even interest – the spiritual impulses that distinguish the rational soul. “For self-love,” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has said, “is kneaded into the very clay of man, and it is not possible that, without any hope of a substantial reward, he should neglect his own present material good.” In the absence of conviction about the spiritual nature of reality and the fulfilment it alone offers, it is not surprising to find at the very heart of the current crisis of civilisation a cult of individualism that increasingly admits of no restraint and that elevates acquisition and personal advancement to the status of major cultural values. The resulting atomisation of society has marked a new stage in the process of disintegration about which the writings of Shoghi Effendi speak so urgently.

. . . . . However important the application of legal, sociological or technological expertise to such issues undoubtedly is, it would be unrealistic to imagine that efforts of this kind will produce any significant recovery without a fundamental change of moral consciousness and behaviour.

Page 91-92: . . . the unification of humankind under a system of governance that can release the full potentialities latent in human nature, and allow their expression in programmes for the benefit of all, is clearly the next stage in the evolution of civilisation. The physical unification of the planet in our time and the awakening aspirations of the mass of its inhabitants have at last produced the conditions that permit achievement of the ideal, although in a manner far different from that imagined by imperial dreamers of the past. . . . .

. . . . . That yet greater suffering and disillusionment will be required to impel humanity to this great leap forward appears, alas, equally clear. Its establishment will require national governments and other centres of power to surrender to international determination, unconditionally and irreversibly, the full measure of overriding authority implicit in the word “government”.

The quotations immediately above pinpoint precisely the opposing forces of integration and disintegration.

  1. In what way could ‘the spiritual impulses that distinguish the rational soul’ lead to ‘a fundamental change of moral consciousness and behaviour’ that would reverse the ‘atomisation of society’?
  2. How would such a transformation assist humanity to relinquish its attachment to the nation state and allow ‘national governments and other centres of power to surrender’ their authority ‘to international determination’? The current debate over the European Union helps give us a sense of what might be involved.

Group Report Back: this is to be done as an exercise in role play. As far as time permits, one member of each group takes it in turns to explain to a member of the other group what they have learnt and needs to field whatever questions and comments come their way.

 Next time:

We will be examining the components of the wreck preparatory to inching towards an understanding of what we all need to do in response, whether Bahá’ís or not.

Candle ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Only as humanity comes to understand the implications of what occurred during this period of history will it be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. The value of the contribution we as Bahá’ís can make to the process demands that we ourselves grasp the significance of the historic transformation wrought by the twentieth century.

(Century of Light – page 0)

The recent sequence of workshops on unity that I am blogging about at the moment also has roots in the insights expressed in a book I delved into about two years ago. Here is the first post of eight. I will be posting them interwoven with the Becoming True Upholders of His Oneness sequence. Century of Light is this key text published by the Bahá’í World Centre designed to help us understand the challenges we face in the world today. If you prefer you can download this post’s material in PDF version (1 Our Roles in the World). I learned a huge amount both from preparing these materials and from walking with others in the 2015 workshop along a path of intense exploration over a period of days.

The Overview

Century of Light challenges both every Bahá’í and all other citizens of this changing world, to gain a clear understanding of the conditions that face us, now that the processes of the 20th Century have done their work. What we will hope to achieve in this series of workshops is:

  1. To understand something of those processes;
  2. To begin to understand what they are compelling us to do in consequence;
  3. To glimpse at least in part how the vision of three key agents of change – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice –can enable us all to rise more effectively to the challenges that confront us.

This first session will touch on all these themes at some point, but will mainly focus on the relationship between what the Bahá’ís are attempting to do and what the rest of humankind needs to do.

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Memorising (to be read in your own time after the session)

Eknath Easwaran

Eknath Easwaran

Socrates was very concerned about the invention of the alphabet and the reading it brought with it. He feared that human memory would be destroyed. What he would have had to say about the iPhone and the internet I can barely begin to imagine.

The Faith attaches great importance to memorising quotations from the Bahá’í Writings. There are several reasons for this, including the usefulness of such quotations in conversation to convey the ideas of the Faith in their original form rather than in one’s own translation. Another key reason, in addition to the benefits of enhancing the power of our memory, something which our reliance on electronic devices is seriously diminishing, is that the internalisation of truths in this way changes our inner being to some degree. We can enhance that effect by using, in our quiet periods of meditation, the quotations we have memorised.

These are significant benefits, as Eknath Easwaran explains in his excellent and accessible book Meditation: common sense directions for an uncommon life

Among the advice he gives is this (Pages 39-40):

In meditation, the passage becomes imprinted on our consciousness. As we drive it deeper and deeper, the words come to life within us, transforming all our thoughts, feelings, words, and deeds. . . . . As you commit a new passage to memory, it is good to spend some time reflecting on the meaning of the words and their practical application to your life. But please don’t do this while you are actually meditating. . . . . And avoid choosing passages that are negative, that take a harsh and difficult view of the body, of our past mistakes, or of life in the world. We want to draw on our positive side, our higher Self, and the passages should move you to become steadfast, compassionate, and wise.

Lasse Thoresen, in his thoughtful book Unlocking the Gate of the Heart which explores meditation from a Bahá’í viewpoint, reinforces basically the same idea (pages 91-92):

Whether we are conscious of it or not, a passage we know by heart will always be with us wherever we may go, whether we are asleep or awake. We have fed our subconscious with the words of God, allowing them to work within us and appear in our consciousness when we have need for them, perhaps as a part of new insight.

It seemed a good idea therefore to introduce right at the start of this sequence of workshops a technique for making memorising easier. The method I am quoting here has been adapted from a way of memorising poetry. I sorry to say that I have no record of whose original idea I have borrowed here.

This is the method:

How to Learn Passages: 

  1. Read the passage once. Then divide it into convenient short sections, each equivalent to a line of poetry.
  2. Now read the first section out loud. Take your eyes from the page and immediately say the section again. Glance back to make sure you got it right. If you made a mistake, try again. Now do the same with the second section. Repeat the procedure for every section in the passage.
  3. Go back to the beginning. This time, read the first two sections out loud, look away and repeat them aloud. Check. If you made a mistake, try again. Now move onto the next two sections, going through the whole passage two sections at a time.
  4. Repeat the passage three sections at a time, then four sections at a time, then five and then six. By the sixth pass, no matter how long the passage, you will have memorised it.
  5. Recite the whole passage just before going to bed at night.
  6. Crucial: stop thinking about the passage. Your sleeping mind is very important for memory.
  7. The next day, you should find (after a glance at the first section to bump-start your memory) that you can recite the whole passage.

In using this method I have found it important, if I am to retain the whole passage permanently, I need to slowly reduce the frequency of repeating it over a reasonable period of time. At first, perhaps for a week, I repeat it every night. Then every other, then every third night and so on until I repeat it only once per week. I can then choose to use it whenever I wish in my daily meditations. It is important to keep it fresh by revisiting it occasionally, maybe once every month or two in this way. We’ll be talking about how to build a memorised passage into a daily meditation later.

I would like to ask everyone to choose, perhaps from the ones we’ll be using today, a passage from Bahá’u’lláh’s Writings – for a Bahá’í these are the most powerful, along with the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, for developing spiritual insight – and then use the method above to commit it to memory. We will be looking tomorrow at an approach to using a memorised passage in quiet reflection.

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A. Dipping our Toes in the Deep Water

It is easier to clarify what we need to be doing, if we first look at a quotation from a message of the Universal House of Justice to all those gathered on Mount Carmel to mark the completion of the project there on 24th May 2001:

Humanity’s crying need will not be met by a struggle among competing ambitions or by protest against one or another of the countless wrongs afflicting a desperate age. It calls, rather, for a fundamental change of consciousness, for a wholehearted embrace of Bahá’u’lláh’s teaching that the time has come when each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family. Commitment to this revolutionizing principle will increasingly empower individual believers and Bahá’í institutions alike in awakening others to the Day of God and to the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world.

Taking this together with a longer quotation from the Century of Light helps us gain a better understanding of what is meant here (page 94):

Realisation of the uniqueness of what Bahá’u’lláh has brought into being opens the imagination to the contribution that the Cause can make to the unification of humankind and the building of a global society. The immediate responsibility of establishing world government rests on the shoulders of the nation-states. What the Bahá’í community is called on to do, at this stage in humanity’s social and political evolution, is to contribute by every means in its power to the creation of conditions that will encourage and facilitate this enormously demanding undertaking. In the same way that Bahá’u’lláh assured the monarchs of His day that “It is not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms”, so the Bahá’í community has no political agenda, abstains from all involvement in partisan activity, and accepts unreservedly the authority of civil government in public affairs. Whatever concern Bahá’ís may have about current conditions or about the needs of their own members is expressed through constitutional channels.

The power that the Cause possesses to influence the course of history thus lies not only in the spiritual potency of its message but in the example it provides. “So powerful is the light of unity,” Bahá’u’lláh asserts, “that it can illuminate the whole earth.” The oneness of humankind embodied in the Faith represents, as Shoghi Effendi emphasized, “no mere outburst of ignorant emotionalism or an expression of vague and pious hope”. The organic unity of the body of believers – and the Administrative Order that makes it possible – are evidences of what Shoghi Effendi termed “the society-building power which their Faith possesses.”

Questions for General Discussion (to orient us to some of the issues we will be returning to in more detail later)

To tackle these questions briefly at this point, we need to break into four groups – one for each question. We’ll use the counting system for this, everyone numbering off from 1 to 4. Notes should be taken of the points made to they can be reported back to everyone at the end of the consultation period.

  1. Our society seems to have built its institutions around adversarial processes – political parties in parliament, prosecution and defence in a courtroom and competing contenders in the global market place. Do we agree that this kind of approach will no longer solve our problems? If so, why not? If not, how can they ever succeed?
  2. Does the solution put forward by the Universal House of Justice seem likely to be more effective, ie that ‘each human being on earth must learn to accept responsibility for the welfare of the entire human family’? If so, how? If not, why not?
  3. The role of Bahá’ís in relation to others is at least partly captured in the words of the House when they say Bahá’ís should be ‘awakening others to the Day of God and to the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world.’ How easy is that going to be? What problems might lie ahead as Bahá’ís try to do that, both within the Bahá’í community and in the wider community as well? How are those problems to be transcended?
  4. We will be returning later in these workshops to the question of a world government. Clearly many problems lie ahead in terms of the eventual realisation of that idea. At this point can we speculate a little as to what conditions might ‘encourage and facilitate this enormously demanding undertaking’? Given that a Bahá’í ‘abstains from all involvement in partisan activity’ how exactly would the Bahá’í community create the necessary conditions for world government to be realised?

 

Unity

Getting a Glimpse of Unity

(Page 68): In acknowledging the darkness that widespread godlessness, violence and creeping immorality was engendering, Shoghi Effendi described the role that Bahá’ís everywhere must play as instruments of the transforming power of the new Revelation:

Theirs is the duty to hold, aloft and undimmed, the torch of Divine guidance, as the shades of night descend upon, and ultimately envelop the entire human race. Theirs is the function, amidst its tumults, perils and agonies, to witness to the vision, and proclaim the approach, of that re-created society, that Christ-promised Kingdom, that World Order whose generative impulse is the spirit of none other than Bahá’u’lláh Himself, whose dominion is the entire planet, whose watchword is unity, whose animating power is the force of Justice, whose directive purpose is the reign of righteousness and truth, and whose supreme glory is the complete, the undisturbed and everlasting felicity of the whole of human kind.

Before we look at a quotation from Bahá’u’lláh as a way of going even more deeply into the core concept animating the Bahá’í community and which we believe to be the key principle upon which the whole world now needs to operate, we need to consider briefly the quotation above, particularly the words of Shoghi Effendi, someone whose exact significance in the Faith and whose writings we will be returning to in more detail in a later workshop. He is describing the exact nature of the torch Bahá’ís believe we are holding high up in the darkness of these difficult days: the ‘dominion’ is the ‘entire planet,’ the ‘watchword is unity,’ and it will benefit the ‘whole of human kind’ animated by ‘the force of Justice’ and directed by the aim ‘of righteousness and truth.’

What do we feel is the relationship between these ideas? Is there an organising principle that holds them together? If so, what is it? If not why are they placed here in such close association?

It may be useful also to bear in mind the words of Bahá’u’lláh when He wrote:

This Wronged One exhorteth the peoples of the world to observe tolerance and righteousness, which are two lights amidst the darkness of the world and two educators for the edification of mankind. Happy are they who have attained thereto and woe betide the heedless.

(Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh: page 36)

And likewise He saith: The heaven of true understanding shineth resplendent with the light of two luminaries: tolerance and righteousness.

O my friend! Vast oceans lie enshrined within this brief saying. Blessed are they who appreciate its value, drink deep therefrom and grasp its meaning, and woe betide the heedless. This lowly one entreateth the people of the world to observe fairness, that their tender, their delicate and precious hearing which hath been created to hearken unto the words of wisdom may be freed from impediments and from such allusions, idle fancies or vain imaginings as ‘cannot fatten nor appease the hunger’, so that the true Counsellor may be graciously inclined to set forth that which is the source of blessing for mankind and of the highest good for all nations.

(ibid: page 170)

Does this help in integrating the elements referred to by Shoghi Effendi?

Beginning to Unpack Some Implications

Perhaps most importantly of all we read:

O CHILDREN OF MEN! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you, O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.

(Bahá’u’lláh – Arabic Hidden Words No. 68)

We will be returning once more to this topic in later workshops.

  1. So, briefly, what do we think it means to be ‘even as one soul’?
  2. What might be the connection between ‘oneness’ and ‘detachment’?
  3. How important is it that our actions and our ‘inmost being’ should harmonise?

This is dealt with to some degree in more straightforward prose in Century of Light (pages 114 & 136):

Bahá’u’llah’s mission is not limited to the building of the Bahá’í community. The Revelation of God has come for the whole of humanity, and it will win the support of the institutions of society to the extent that they find in its example encouragement and inspiration for their efforts to lay the foundations of a just society.

. . . . . for a Bahá’í the ultimate issues are spiritual. The Cause is not a political party nor an ideology, much less an engine for political agitation against this or that social wrong. The process of transformation it has set in motion advances by inducing a fundamental change of consciousness, and the challenge it poses to everyone who would serve it is to free oneself from attachment to inherited assumptions and preferences that are irreconcilable with the Will of God for humanity’s coming of age.

For these two questions Groups 1 and 3 combine together to tackle question (1), as do groups 2 and 4 to tackle question (2). Note taking and reporting to be as before.

  1. Why might it be necessary to ‘free oneself from attachment to inherited assumptions and preferences’ before we can move forward in the way that God requires of us?
  2. How does the harmony between our inner being and our actions empower our example?

The Beginnings of a Breakthrough?

This is something to which we will return in more detail after the third workshop, which will look at the components of the wreck that we were left with in the last century and whose negative influence persists to some extent to this day.

Page 99: Although the breakdown of society was creating problems for Bahá’í administrative institutions, a related effect was to generate a greatly increased interest in the message of the Cause. . . .

As believers from urban centres set out on sustained campaigns to reach the mass of the world’s peoples living in villages and rural areas, they encountered a receptivity to Bahá’u’lláh’s message far beyond anything they had imagined possible.

Page 138: Shoghi Effendi describes this process of world unification as the “Major Plan” of God, whose operation will continue, gathering force and momentum, until the human race has been united in a global society that has banished war and taken charge of its collective destiny. What the struggles of the twentieth century achieved was the fundamental change of direction the Divine purpose required. The change is irreversible. There is no way back to an earlier state of affairs, however greatly some elements of society may, from time to time, be tempted to seek one.

The importance of the historic breakthrough that has thus occurred is in no way minimized by recognition that the process has barely begun.

Discuss, keeping to the same two groups, allocating questions on the same basis. Note taking and reporting to be as before.

  1. Why do we think that the receptivity to Bahá’u’lláh’s message should have been so significantly increased?
  2. The Major Plan of God, as we will come to understand in more detail, is for the whole of humanity to carry forward. Do we all feel, looking back on our own experiences, that there was a fundamental change of direction in the 20th Century?