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The best lack all conviction, while the worstSand Sculpture
Are full of passionate intensity.

(W. B. Yeats: ‘The Second Coming‘)

The issues I have been looking at lately – war, the economy, the rigid approach to mental health – all raise the question, ‘Why do we find it so difficult to fix such problems, even when we can see that something is seriously wrong? One factor, among many, is discussed with great insight by Jonathan Haidt, whom I quote from in a short sequence on conviction, which I have decided to republish now. This is the second of three. The first came out on Monday: the last will come out tomorrow.

Ruling passion

We obviously need to take care what we believe in. It tends to determine the person we will become. Sadly, most of us devote more conscious effort to choosing a car than creating a character. We simply accept what we have been given, rarely assessing its value, rarely considering whether or not it could be changed for the better, and if we do feel dissatisfaction with what we have become we tend to test it against inappropriate measures such as the wealth it has brought us, the worldly success we have achieved, the number rather than the quality of our friendships, the power we derive from it and so on. We seldom carefully reflect upon our beliefs and how they have shaped and are still shaping who we are.

Culture has struggled to get a handle on this problem for generations. In the 18th Century they talked of people having a ‘ruling passion.’ This was the organising principle around which all activities and aspirations were supposed to revolve. Alexander Pope wrote:

The ruling passion, be it what it will,
The ruling passion conquers reason still.

(Moral Essay iii: lines 153-154)

(Samuel Johnson, though, questioned the usefulness and validity of this concept in his usual robust fashion.) That they called it a ‘passion’ gives us a clue about what is going on here.

Samuel Johnson (for source of image see link)

Samuel Johnson (for source of image see link)

Erich Fromm’s book, ‘The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness‘ (1973: page 260) develops this idea very clearly.  He argues that, in human beings, character has replaced instinct as a driver of what we do. And character creates a special need in us.

Man needs an object of total devotion to be the focal point of all his strivings. In being devoted to a goal beyond his isolated ego, he transcends himself and leaves the prison of absolute egocentricity. He can be devoted to the most diverse goals and idols but the need for devotion is itself a primary, essential need demanding fulfilment.

This has created a god-shaped hole in the middle of our being. We cannot help but fill it with something. Our sense of identity is at stake. In 2001 the Bahá’í World Centre published a review of the Twentieth Century which contained these words (page 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 organize experience and dare again to assume the risks that are an inescapable aspect of life.

Is conviction, like atomic power, a double-edged sword? Can we truly say that no great enterprise was ever accomplished and no huge and large scale evil ever completed without it? If this is so, and I think it is because both great good and massive evil require great energy and great persistence, what determines whether it will be destructive or constructive?

Idealising something (or someone) seriously flawed corrupts us: I  think the opposite is also true and that worshiping something both better and greater than ourselves improves us. I would like to entertain the possibility that it is the object of our devotion as we understand it rather than simply the intensity of the conviction that makes the greatest difference, though if the object of devotion is less than good then the intensity of our devotion will strongly influence how destructive espousing that belief will make us.

Is there any object of devotion that does not induce in its followers intolerance and hatred towards others especially those who have a different god?

Tolerant Devotion

The issue of what determines the strength and nature of our convictions is not a straightforward one. When I was studying psychology for the first time in the 1970s I came across the work of Thomas Pettigrew, which is still referred to even now. It illustrates nicely the exact nature of the difficulty.

To put one set of his findings very simply, whether you were a miner  in segregated West Virginia or apartheid South Africa, the culture around you differed depending on whether you were above ground or below it. Below ground discrimination was potentially dangerous so the culture there frowned on it: above ground the culture was discriminatory. What was particularly interesting to me was that 20% of people discriminated all the time regardless of the culture and 20% refused to do so at all: 60% of people shifted from desegregation below ground to segregation above it (the percentages are approximate: the pattern is accurate).

The implications are fascinating.

First, as Richard Holloway stresses, most of us are ‘infirm of purpose’ and lack the courage of our convictions or even any convictions at all. We follow the herd, a potentially dangerous tendency.

Secondly, the proneness to develop strong convictions does not lead us to develop only the best ones. In the example of the mining communities, segregation and desegegration are antitheses and cannot both be right and desirable, but clearly both attract approximately equal numbers of adherents with equivalent degrees of courage in their convictions, in stark contrast to the moral cowardice or lack of conviction of the rest of us. It is questionable whether it is the ‘best’ that  ‘lack all conviction.’

Thirdly, while most of us are drifting with the tide rather than choosing a firm rock to cling to, the strong-minded do choose but on grounds that have little if anything reliably to do with their strong-mindedness. Authoritarianism  has been wheeled out as a favourite explanation for why people end up fascist or fanatical. It would though be hard to make it work as an explanation of the moral courage and firm conviction of a Martin Luther King or a Ghandi. The vision of these two men was not one of replacing their oppressors in power and becoming oppressors in their turn but of transcending oppression altogether.

So where on earth or in heaven does that leave us? Are these two men so exceptional that their example does not count? Or is a humane and constructive kind of strong conviction possible for most if not all of us?

A Possible Way Forward

When it comes to determining what might provide a positive vision of sufficient power to heal the divisions of the world of humanity, a consideration of religion is inevitable. Although I was brought up a Christian, became an atheist for nearly two decades and was strongly attracted to Buddhism for a period of years, the religion I know best is the Bahá’í Faith.

Much of what I will be describing in the next post about the vision I have derived from its teachings, is also to be found in other faiths. For instance, anyone who wants to know about the healing heart of the Christian message and the positively empowering concept of God it enshrines, there is no better place to go than Eric Reitan’s book, and I would also see God in much the same way as he does. His view also opens the way towards discerning the same spirit in other faiths.

One of his premises is that our concept of God, who is in essence entirely unknowable, needs to show Him as deserving of worship: any concept of God that does not fulfil that criterion should be regarded with suspicion.  Our idealism, our ideology, will then, in my view, build an identity on the crumbling and treacherous sand of some kind of idolatry.

I will though confine my discussion now to what the faith I know best, with its inclusive vision of the divine, has taught me about a way out of this divided and intolerant state by which we are bedevilled. Even those who do not believe in the divine can relate to much of what I will be saying by reframing the ‘divine’ as their highest most inclusive sense of the ultimate good around which to organise our lives.

I am not claiming that others have not grappled with these issues: nor am I saying that what they have discovered as possible antidotes to fanatical intolerance is to be ignored or discounted. Zimbardo and McCullough, for example, have much of great value to say from which we can all learn a great deal.

I do believe though that religion and spirituality have recently been so demonised in certain quarters that we are in danger of neglecting the powerful antidotes to evil that they also can provide. It is to these that I wish to draw our attention in the next post.

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buddhistThis article by Maya Bohnhoff on the Bahá’í Teaching website is a valuable starting point for anyone trying to learn how to engage in a constructive dialogue with others on the nature of religion. Several of my posts in the next few days will be illustrating my own inadequate forays into this area. This morning’s post is a cinch by comparison as it ducks the religion question altogether, even though my faith lies behind my statement about unity. Others show me trying a bit harder. Below is a short extract: for the full article see link.

I’m a writer by passion and profession. I write a lot about religion, even though it tops the list of things one supposedly shouldn’t discuss in “polite company.” If you do talk about religion with others—if you study it, read about it, write about it, care about it, or simply wish to understand the elements of some religious dialogue—then I’d like to provide some food for thought.

I deal with religion, magic, faith, or some sort of spiritual belief system in most of my fiction and a great deal of my non-fiction. I write essays, give presentations, and blog about comparative religion on a fairly regular basis, and I’ve also ghost- or shadow-written memoirs for people of different faiths. If not the main thread, religion, faith, spirituality and magic and/or science form at least a subtle part of the world in which my all of my fictional characters operate.

These are not simple things to write or talk about, and there are a number of pitfalls inherent in dealing with matters of faith and spirituality in fictional and real life contexts. Many people avoid discussing religion or reading about it for a variety of reasons. They may find the subject confusing, or they may be afraid that reading about the beliefs of others will challenge their own strongly held beliefs, or that they will cause offense by expressing those beliefs. They may fear drawing censure for expressing themselves, or for displaying their ignorance in some way. They may, in fact, have very deep and sophisticated thoughts about any number of subjects relating to faith and reason and simply feel incapable of expressing them.

On top of all that, the terminology of religion can seem dauntingly alien. Someone from a Buddhist background might wonder what a Christian meant when they talked about “the Rapture,” or “the Trinity.” As a young Christian, I didn’t know what to make of terms like “avatar,” “karma,” or “Nirvana,” either.

This can even happen within a single religious community. A Methodist may hear “transubstantiation” from the lips of a Catholic and draw a complete blank. A Baha’i of Buddhist background might confuse one from a Christian or Wiccan background by referring to Abdu’l-Baha as a bodhisattva. Moreover, a key doctrine to one religionist may be completely meaningless to another.

 

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Pan of Arc

I am embarking on sequences of new posts which examine a number of ideas from books I have recently read. These ideas relate to where our society is heading and what we as individuals might be able to do about that. I decided that I also needed to republish other posts from the past that related in some way to that basic theme. This post was first published in 2009.

Yes, I can spell better than that. I know the title is a silly joke but it captures my mood of the moment very well.

Currently circumstances are pushing me to think hard about what I would describe myself as doing as a Bahá’í, about what I think is the core purpose of the Bahá’í community, and most of all about what I think the work of all human beings is most concerned with. In the end, I have concluded,  all those three descriptions come down to the same thing.

And what is that exactly?

Responsibility for the Welfare of the Entire Human Family

I can’t do better than use the words of the central governing body of the Bahá’í community:

. . . 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 revolutionising principle will increasingly empower individuals and Bahá’í institutions alike in awakening others to . . . the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world.

(Universal House of Justice: 24 May 2001 in Turning Point page 164)

 For ‘individuals’ I think it’s fair to read ‘everyone’ whether Bahá’í or not

 This passage was written when a major building project  at the Bahá’í World Centre had been completed. The project was of great spiritual significance to the Bahá’í community world-wide. The buildings form an arc around Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, a place already of symbolic importance within Judaism, Christianity and Islam:

In mainstream Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thought, it is Elijah that is indelibly associated with the mountain, and he is regarded as having sometimes resided in a grotto on the mountain. In the Books of Kings, Elijah is described as challenging 450 prophets of a particular Baal to a contest at the altar on Mount Carmel to determine whose deity was genuinely in control of the Kingdom of Israel; since the narrative is set during the rule of Ahab and his association with the Phoenicians, biblical scholars suspect that the Baal in question was probably Melqart.

(See Wikipedia entry for a full background)

The word ‘arc’ becomes a pun when this semi-circle of buildings is seen as a symbol of our strivings as Bahá’ís to work alongside others to build a social system that will become a point of refuge for a beleaguered humanity in crisis rather in the same way as the Ark Noah built did physically in the Biblical story of a flooded world.  Bahá’u’lláh Himself points this out:

Call out to Zion, O Carmel, and announce the joyful tidings: He that was hidden from mortal eyes is come! . . . . . Oh, how I long to announce unto every spot on the surface of the earth, and to carry to each one of its cities, the glad-tidings of this Revelation—a Revelation to which the heart of Sinai hath been attracted, and in whose name the Burning Bush is calling: “Unto God, the Lord of Lords, belong the kingdoms of earth and heaven.” Verily this is the Day in which both land and sea rejoice at this announcement, the Day for which have been laid up those things which God, through a bounty beyond the ken of mortal mind or heart, hath destined for revelation. Ere long will God sail His Ark upon thee, and will manifest the people of Bahá who have been mentioned in the Book of Names.

(Tablet of Carmel)

There are two points perhaps worth making here.

Are We Utopians?

The first relates to what what some may feel is the utopianism of these ideas. The very word utopia, which means ‘nowhere’, contains the seeds of some of this contempt. John Gray in his anti-utopian book Black Mass is keen to remind us of this as is Chris Hedges in his intriguing book I don’t believe in atheists. They are also both deeply suspicious of the tendency towards self-righteous violence that seems inseparable from the behaviour of all those who feel they know what’s best for us in the long run, no matter what the cost.

[After the Enlightenment] [t]error in the name of utopian ideals would rise again and again in the coming centuries.

(Hedges: page 19)

And Hedges, who is attacking a secular utopianism that does not accept humanity’s proness to sin, goes on to say (pages 57-58):

Those who believe human beings can be morally reformed are . . . . suicidal. . . . [The delusions of a utopian vision] seem to elevate the deluded, especially those who are deemed to be favoured by race or nature, above other forms of life. This lack of reverence, this refusal to see that we exist as an integrated whole, blinds humankind to its vulnerability, the fragility of life and human weakness. These delusions are part of a worldview that places itself and its selfish desires and dreams before the protection of life itself.

A main charge is also that, for all utopians, the ends will come to justify all means no matter how horrific.

It is important to emphasise here that, while Bahá’ís yearn to help create a more just society, we also recognise that this is an evolutionary process that will take many generations and requires love and patience as well as the passage of a vast amount of time. We also recognise that we, as imperfect human beings, contain the seeds of the very problems  in society we are hoping to help solve with this empowering vision of humanity’s potential and that it would be very easy for us to betray the blueprint of the Divine Arkitect by, for example, the same kind of self-righteous impatience as has bedevilled such utopian projects as the English, French, Russian and Chinese Revolutions (not all them religious, it is worth noting).

Empowerment

The second relates to the difference between patronising or exploitative rescue and empathic empowerment. We are not saying we already know exactly how to fix a broken world at the level of practical action. Nor are we saying that there are not multitudes of other compassionate and self-sacrificing people with decades of experience in tackling aspects of the challenges that face us all. That would be arrogant and self-deluded.Building Project

There are two things though that mean we can  contribute something special, we would say unique. We have a concept of unity expressed in a body of spiritual, organisational and practical teachings and we are learning to apply this systematically and world-wide in our daily lives (for a fuller explanation of this see Baha’i Epistolary). However, what makes up this special contribution is not just the concepts, though they evince a high level of originality and coherence,  nor simply the experience of applying them, though to some degree this makes up in rich diversity for what it  lacks in duration and size given the newness of the Faith on the world scene.

There is a third key ingredient, not unique to us but rare in the world,  which hopefully will militate against utopian self-righteousness and the destructive arrogance that goes with it. We are striving, with a keen sense of our own frailty, to empower ourselves to respond more effectively to the needs of all humanity to be empowered. We are striving to become capable of enabling others to respond to their particular challenges in their own way.  We feel we can  bring extremely useful tools to that process while having a huge amount to learn from others at the same time.

There are service projects in many places in the world that dwarf what we are currently doing as Baha’is. I’ve just been reading about the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. They provide child care for thousands of children every Sunday. Their vast array of buildings is open seven days a week for dawn till dusk. They have banks, pharmacies and schools as well as counselling and guidance groups. They help people prepare for tests, fill out tax forms and buy houses, as well as offering classes in martial arts. Their marketing of what they offer is second to none. In fact, they base their operation on the ‘same principle as all successful businesses: putting the customer first.’ (For a fuller description see  God Is Back by Micklethwait and Wooldridge pages 183-187).

That last sentence is the give away. Too many projects are driven by the desire to provide what they see people as needing and will eagerly consume, but in a predefined and often formulaic way. There is an emphasis on the passive consumption of what is on offer.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge go on to describe (page 187) how ‘many megapreachers have begun to worry that they are producing a tribe of spectators who regards religion as nothing more than spectacle.’ Some are attempting to address this problem. They have not escaped being labelled the ‘Disneyfication of religion’ and ‘Christianity Lite’ (page 189), charges which the authors feel are a touch too dismissive. However, their measured summary of what is happening highlights a major problem:

. . . . the target audience for the megachurches consists of baby boomers who left the church in adolescence, who don’t feel comfortable with overt displays of religiosity, who dread turning into their parents, and who apply the same consumerist mentality to spiritual life as they do to every other aspect of experience.

The Bahá’í model in contrast emphasises, from a non-negotiable set of spiritual principles that are seen as absolutes, that it is imperative to enable people to become active participants in change, in the process of deciding what to do and doing it. In the old adage, it is teaching people to fish rather than giving them fish — an ideal that, sadly, all too few social development projects exemplify. It is not providing something that, if you were no longer there, could not be sustainably provided by those whom you are seeking to help.

Arc building siteI visited Mount Carmel as the buildings referred to earlier were nearing completion. On my return to the UK I wrote the poem that I will be republishing soon – Carpenters of Minds.

It describes the beauty of the whole environment, where there were, though, still many traces of a work in progress such as you can see on any building site — sacks of concrete, exposed foundations, ladders, cranes, piles of stone, heaps of rubble. You could see plain evidence of the hard work and planning that had gone into the process. At the end of the poem, realising how similar in some ways was the work of building a new kind of society, I wrote:

But who are the masons, the carpenters of minds, who will raise
up the New Jerusalem from this dust?           “Why you, of course!” He says.Wordsworth was clear: getting and spending we lay waste our powers.

. . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  In this brief pause
I half-sense some hope of beauty in this building site of ours.
But who are the masons, the carpenters of minds, who will raise
up the New Jerusalem from this dust?  “Why you, of course!” He says.

So, anyone want a job working for the Divine Arkitect? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t miss out! And the job spec says that, while being a Bahá’í may be desirable, it’s not essential. We want to work with anyone who wants to create a better world with love, patience and empowerment.

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Graveside Stockport

My cousin’s grave

The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

Andrew Marvell – To His Coy Mistress

I felt it would be appropriate to follow up the two posts on the power of tears with some of my earlier posts that fill in more of my childhood influences that might have a bearing on the topic. Tuesday’s post was first published in 201o: the poem I republished on Thursday describes a typical encounter at the house of the aunt described below. This post looks in more detail at the background of my Uncle Frank’s family: it was posted first in November 2009.

I’ve had a graveside week of it this week.

That’s not quite as morbid and unpleasant as it sounds. The visits I made to gravesides in my home town were full of interest and contained at least one fascinating surprise. The visit to the resting place of the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith along with other members of the Hereford Bahá’í community was a spiritually rewarding one.

We went up to Stockport to see my cousin’s husband. My cousin died recently and we wanted to keep in touch with him during this difficult period. Obviously we also visited her grave, which awaits the headstone once it has settled. When we told him of our plan he mentioned that my grandparents’ grave was close by in the same cemetery. I was astonished because I had never realised this, even though I had had many conversations about their parents with my aunt and my mother before they died. It was amazing to me that they had never mentioned where my grandparents were buried, nor could I remember their taking me with them to visit the grave.

Not surprisingly then my wife and I could hardly wait to search for my grandparents’ grave. We found it without too much difficulty apart from soggy turf and uneven ground. Then I had another shock. My uncle Frank, whose funeral I attended in 1960, was also buried in the same grave. How could I have stood there when his coffin was lowered and not realised? The only explanation that occurs to me is that the stone was not visible at that time he was buried and, as I had never been particularly close to my uncle, I had not visited his grave after the stone had been replaced. It also makes sense of why neither my aunt nor my mother ever thought to tell me where my grandparents’ were buried.

Alice and Richard

Because there was very little information on the stone, we called in at the cemetery office on our way out to see if we could learn anymore. The lady there was very helpful. We saw the register of Catholic burials for that period and to my surprise I learned that my uncle and his parents had lived at the same address from at least 1937, when my grandmother died, and he had stayed there after their deaths. I had visited him a couple of times in that same tiny terraced two-up-two-down red-brick house, with its steep narrow stairs and dark interiors, but never realised that this was where they also had lived for so long. I thought they had lived and died in Heaton Norris, not off Shaw Heath as it finally turned out.

This news gave me a link to them that I never knew I had: I knew the house they had lived in till their deaths. They had both died before I was born. Memories of what I had been told about them came flooding back.

Alice, my grandmother, from what I can make out from what is left in my memory from all my mother’s accounts, was a very brave and resourceful woman. Richard, her husband and my grandfather, had been a signalman on the railways, a skilled and well-paid job by the standards of the times. This would be at the turn of the nineteenth century into the first decade of the twentieth. In the census of 1901 he described himself as still a “railway signalman.” He was 37 years old: his wife Alice was 36. My mother wasn’t yet born.

They had both converted to Roman Catholicism as a result of the influence of Cardinal Newman in the wake of the Oxford movement. While he was able to work the family would’ve been reasonably comfortable. Sadly, when my Uncle Harold, the eldest child of the family, was fourteen years old and not very long after my mother was born, Richard had an accident which sprained his ankle. Nobody thought that was much of a problem at first and he carried on working as best he could. It didn’t get any better. His doctor said it was nothing serious but he ought to rest it for a while, which he did. Even when he rested it still got worse. The pain got so bad that he could not bear the leg to be touched. Eventually Richard went to another doctor who explained that the situation was serious. The sprain had turned gangrenous and an amputation was necessary. They cut off his leg to save his life. I am not sure whether he was able to return to work after that. I have the impression he did, but to lighter and less well-paid duties. The family coped with the downturn in their fortunes reasonably well.

The final and most disastrous blow was when he fell on the ice of a children’s slide one winter and damaged his hip. After that he could not walk at all easily or well and therefore could not work. There was no longer a wage coming in. Harold had to leave school and give up his piano classes, at which he was doing very well, and go to work to earn some money to help the family who were now struggling very hard. Their savings were too little to manage on. They had had to pay so much to the doctors (there was no Health Service or Social Security in those days). His sister, my Aunt Ann, also had to go to work. This would have happened by about 1904 I reckon. My mother would have been about three.

It was apparently my grandmother’s resourcefulness that kept them going. She fixed and mended and did odd jobs for extra cash. She was creative and tireless. The strain did eventually take its toll on her also. She developed a heart condition which caused her death after a long illness in the late nineteen-thirties. Still, she survived into her early seventies.

My grandfather, Richard, who survived her by four years, had his own way of coping with the drastic change in his circumstances. He had a passion for music and had been instrumental (sorry about the pun!) in encouraging Harold to keep up his piano practice. Though he couldn’t read a note of music he had a good sense of pitch and rhythm and knew immediately if Harold made a mistake. He loved to go to listen to concerts and the opera at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, so when Harold and Aunt Ann were earning enough they used to treat him to surprise trips there. He also had a wide-ranging curiosity about other countries and about nature. He used to get hold of books on these subjects from the library and read them all voraciously. His memory for what he read was apparently excellent.

GRP TripImplications

It may just be a coincidence that I share his love of books – not noticeably, of course – and found a new Faith which I enthusiastically embraced rather as he seems to have done. (His passionate and accurate ear for classical music rather missed me out though!) On the other hand a combination of genes and the experiences my mother shared with me about him could easily have influenced me in that direction. Either way my identity owes more than a little to his influence.

But for him my visits to the Guardian’s Resting Place might never have taken place. Who knows!

Graveyard encounters don’t just evoke our ancestors though.

Andrew Marvell

Two views of mortality are strongly connected with images of death such as skulls and tombs: memento mori and carpe diem. Each view of mortality has a different take on morality, interestingly enough:’Gather ye rose buds while ye may’ (Herrick) versus ‘be mindful of thy last end and thou wilt never sin’ (translated from the Vulgate‘s Latin rendering of Ecclesiasticus 7:40). It is a rare sensibility that manages to look both possibilities squarely in the face as Marvell‘s lyric masterpiece To His Coy Mistress succeeds in doing. Shira Wolosky has written a brilliant critique of this feat in The Art of Poetry. She states (page 79):

The poem offers, then, not one, but two topoi [themes]: the overt “carpe diem” and a subversive remembrance of death inscribed into the text alongside the call to seduction. . . . . . Both topoi are urgent calls, calls to weigh your life to see what, in its short compass of time and space, you really can accomplish; what, in its short span, really has value; what you should be striving for.

Which view we take hinges as a rule on whether we believe in an afterlife or not.

I have dealt at length in earlier posts with this issue in terms of its truth value and usefulness. It is interesting to add into the mix Robert Wright‘s evolutionary perspective. It is not as dispiriting as you might think.

Evolution and God

In The Evolution of God he attempts to show how the image of good Christians being welcomed by Christ into heaven (page 310)

may have been crucial in the eventual triumph of Christianity. This image gave it an edge over the religions  that didn’t offer hopes of a pleasant afterlife and kept it competitive with the many religions that did.

This image was also a lever to help ensure that people who became Christian behaved in ways that helped the faith succeed socially (page 316):

The message has not just got to attract people, but to get them to behave in ways that sustain the religious organisation and spread it. For example: it would help if sin is defined so that the avoidance of it sustains the cohesion and growth of the church.

He ties in the value of a religion with its capacity to create solidarity amongst all the diverse people’s brought together within a developed civilisation. When it is inclusive enough to prevent conflict between all those that  trade and travel bring together it works for the benefit of all.

The Resting Place in London of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith 

There is a catch for us though (page 324):

But [the] modern-day effectiveness is a more complex question. When Christianity reigned in Rome, and, later, when Islam was at the height of its geopolitical influence, the scope of these religions roughly coincided with the scope of whole civilisations. . . . . Today’s world, in contrast,  is so interconnected and interdependent that Christianity and Islam, like it or not, inhabit a single social system – the planet.

He sees the progress of civilisation, which has now reached a global level, almost inevitably driving the development of a global faith in only one God with one name (page 435):

[As] the scope of social organisation grows, God tends to eventually catch up, drawing a larger expanse of humanity under his protection, or at least a larger expanse of humanity under his toleration.

He sees this as compatible both with a materialist view of the process and a sense of God working through the logic of the universe to bring about this shift in consciousness. He argues that its explicability from a materialist viewpoint does not disprove the religious case.

Which is how my graveyard encounters have led to both a keener sense of the contribution of my ancestors to my view of the world and, with the help of Robert Wright, a keener sense of how awareness of our mortality can underpin an expanding consciousness of God’s purpose for all of us not just for some of us.

Those who wish to see the grave as leaving no room for God are free to do so. Personally, I’ve made a different choice which I believe is equally rational and valid.

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The best lack all conviction, while the worstSand Sculpture
Are full of passionate intensity.

(W. B. Yeats: ‘The Second Coming‘)

In the wake of the anniversary of 9/11 and as a response, however inadequate, to the enormity of the recent beheadings of three innocent hostages by IS, I feel it is worth republishing a sequence of posts I first published several years ago. The situation in the world is at least as fraught as it was then, if not more so, making the sequence still as relevant now. Moreover, I feel that the ideas I tried to pull together continue to deserve careful attention if we are to learn how to respond effectively to those influences within and around us that might pull us into the quicksand of extremism. This is the second of the sequence: the first was published yesterday

Ruling passion

We obviously need to take care what we believe in. It tends to determine the person we will become. Sadly, most of us devote more conscious effort to choosing a car than creating a character. We simply accept what we have been given, rarely assessing its value, rarely considering whether or not it could be changed for the better, and if we do feel dissatisfaction with what we have become we tend to test it against inappropriate measures such as the wealth it has brought us, the worldly success we have achieved, the number rather than the quality of our friendships, the power we derive from it and so on. We seldom carefully reflect upon our beliefs and how they have shaped and are still shaping who we are.

Culture has struggled to get a handle on this problem for generations. In the 18th Century they talked of people having a ‘ruling passion.’ This was the organising principle around which all activities and aspirations were supposed to revolve. Alexander Pope wrote:

The ruling passion, be it what it will,
The ruling passion conquers reason still.

(Moral Essay iii: lines 153-154)

(Samuel Johnson, though, questioned the usefulness and validity of this concept in his usual robust fashion.) That

Samuel Johnson (for source of image see link)

Samuel Johnson (for source of image see link)

they called it a ‘passion’ gives us a clue about what is going on here.

Erich Fromm’s book, ‘The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness‘ (1973: page 260) develops this idea very clearly.  He argues that, in human beings, character has replaced instinct as a driver of what we do. And character creates a special need in us.

Man needs an object of total devotion to be the focal point of all his strivings. In being devoted to a goal beyond his isolated ego, he transcends himself and leaves the prison of absolute egocentricity. He can be devoted to the most diverse goals and idols but the need for devotion is itself a primary, essential need demanding fulfilment.

This has created a god-shaped hole in the middle of our being. We cannot help but fill it with something. Our sense of identity is at stake. In 2001 the Bahá’í World Centre published a review of the Twentieth Century which contained these words (page 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 organize experience and dare again to assume the risks that are an inescapable aspect of life.

Is conviction, like atomic power, a double-edged sword? Can we truly say that no great enterprise was ever accomplished and no huge and large scale evil ever completed without it? If this is so, and I think it is because both great good and massive evil require great energy and great persistence, what determines whether it will be destructive or constructive?

Idealising something (or someone) seriously flawed corrupts us: I  think the opposite is also true and that worshiping something both better and greater than ourselves improves us. I would like to entertain the possibility that it is the object of our devotion as we understand it rather than simply the intensity of the conviction that makes the greatest difference, though if the object of devotion is less than good then the intensity of our devotion will strongly influence how destructive espousing that belief will make us.

Is there any object of devotion that does not induce in its followers intolerance and hatred towards others especially those who have a different god?

Tolerant Devotion

The issue of what determines the strength and nature of our convictions is not a straightforward one. When I was studying psychology for the first time in the 1970s I came across the work of Thomas Pettigrew, which is still referred to even now. It illustrates nicely the exact nature of the difficulty.

To put one set of his findings very simply, whether you were a miner  in segregated West Virginia or apartheid South Africa, the culture around you differed depending on whether you were above ground or below it. Below ground discrimination was potentially dangerous so the culture there frowned on it: above ground the culture was discriminatory. What was particularly interesting to me was that 20% of people discriminated all the time regardless of the culture and 20% refused to do so at all: 60% of people shifted from desegregation below ground to segregation above it (the percentages are approximate: the pattern is accurate).

The implications are fascinating.

First, as Richard Holloway stresses, most of us are ‘infirm of purpose’ and lack the courage of our convictions or even any convictions at all. We follow the herd, a potentially dangerous tendency.

Secondly, the proneness to develop strong convictions does not lead us to develop only the best ones. In the example of the mining communities, segregation and desegegration are antitheses and cannot both be right and desirable, but clearly both attract approximately equal numbers of adherents with equivalent degrees of courage in their convictions, in stark contrast to the moral cowardice or lack of conviction of the rest of us. It is questionable whether it is the ‘best’ that  ‘lack all conviction.’

Thirdly, while most of us are drifting with the tide rather than choosing a firm rock to cling to, the strong-minded do choose but on grounds that have little if anything reliably to do with their strong-mindedness. Authoritarianism  has been wheeled out as a favourite explanation for why people end up fascist or fanatical. It would though be hard to make it work as an explanation of the moral courage and firm conviction of a Martin Luther King or a Ghandi. The vision of these two men was not one of replacing their oppressors in power and becoming oppressors in their turn but of transcending oppression altogether.

So where on earth or in heaven does that leave us? Are these two men so exceptional that their example does not count? Or is a humane and constructive kind of strong conviction possible for most if not all of us?

A Possible Way Forward

When it comes to determining what might provide a positive vision of sufficient power to heal the divisions of the world of humanity, a consideration of religion is inevitable. Although I was brought up a Christian, became an atheist for nearly two decades and was strongly attracted to Buddhism for a period of years, the religion I know best is the Bahá’í Faith.

Much of what I will be describing in the next post about the vision I have derived from its teachings, is also to be found in other faiths. For instance, anyone who wants to know about the healing heart of the Christian message and the positively empowering concept of God it enshrines, there is no better place to go than Eric Reitan’s book, and I would also see God in much the same way as he does. His view also opens the way towards discerning the same spirit in other faiths.

One of his premises is that our concept of God, who is in essence entirely unknowable, needs to show Him as deserving of worship: any concept of God that does not fulfil that criterion should be regarded with suspicion.  Our idealism, our ideology, will then, in my view, build an identity on the crumbling and treacherous sand of some kind of idolatry.

I will though confine my discussion now to what the faith I know best, with its inclusive vision of the divine, has taught me about a way out of this divided and intolerant state by which we are bedevilled. Even those who do not believe in the divine can relate to much of what I will be saying by reframing the ‘divine’ as their highest most inclusive sense of the ultimate good around which to organise our lives.

I am not claiming that others have not grappled with these issues: nor am I saying that what they have discovered as possible antidotes to fanatical intolerance is to be ignored or discounted. Zimbardo and McCullough, for example, have much of great value to say from which we can all learn a great deal.

I do believe though that religion and spirituality have recently been so demonised in certain quarters that we are in danger of neglecting the powerful antidotes to evil that they also can provide. It is to these that I wish to draw our attention in the next post.

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Graveside Stockport

My cousin's grave

I’ve had a graveside week of it this week.

That’s not quite as morbid and unpleasant as it sounds. The visits I made to gravesides in my home town were full of interest and contained at least one fascinating surprise. The visit to the resting place of the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith along with other members of the Hereford Baha’i community was a spiritually rewarding one.

We went up to Stockport to see my cousin’s husband. My cousin died recently and we wanted to keep in touch with him during this difficult period. Obviously we also visited her grave, which awaits the headstone once it has settled. When we told him of our plan he mentioned that my grandparents’ grave was close by in the same cemetery. I was astonished because I had never realised this, even though I had had many conversations about their parents with my aunt and my mother before they died. It was amazing to me that they had never mentioned where my grandparents were buried, nor could I remember their taking me with them to visit the grave.

Not surprisingly then my wife and I could hardly wait to search for my grandparents’ grave. We found it without too much difficulty apart from soggy turf and uneven ground. Then I had another shock. My uncle Frank, whose funeral I attended in 1960, was also buried in the same grave. How could I have stood there when his coffin was lowered and not realised? The only explanation that occurs to me is that the stone was not visible at that time he was buried and, as I had never been particularly close to my uncle, I had not visited his grave after the stone had been replaced. It also makes sense of why neither my aunt nor my mother ever thought to tell me where my grandparents’ were buried.

Alice and Richard

Because there was very little information on the stone, we called in at the cemetery office on our way out to see if we could learn anymore. The lady there was very helpful. We saw the register of Catholic burials for that period and to my surprise I learned that my uncle and his parents had lived at the same address from at least 1937, when my grandmother died, and he had stayed there after their deaths. I had visited him a couple of times in that same tiny terraced two-up-two-down red-brick house, with its steep narrow stairs and dark interiors, but never realised that this was where they also had lived for so long. I thought they had lived and died in Heaton Norris, not off Shaw Heath as it finally turned out.

This news gave me a link to them that I never knew I had: I knew the house they had lived in till their deaths. They had both died before I was born. Memories of what I had been told about them came flooding back.

Alice, my grandmother, from what I can make out from what is left in my memory from all my mother’s accounts, was a very brave and resourceful woman. Richard, her husband and my grandfather, had been a signalman on the railways, a skilled and well-paid job by the standards of the times. This would be at the turn of the nineteenth century into the first decade of the twentieth. In the census of 1901 he described himself as still a “railway signalman.” He was 37 years old: his wife Alice was 36. My mother wasn’t yet born.

They had both converted to Roman Catholicism as a result of the influence of Cardinal Newman in the wake of the Oxford movement. While he was able to work the family would’ve been reasonably comfortable. Sadly, when my Uncle Harold, the eldest child of the family, was fourteen years old and not very long after my mother was born, Richard had an accident which sprained his ankle. Nobody thought that was much of a problem at first and he carried on working as best he could. It didn’t get any better. His doctor said it was nothing serious but he ought to rest it for a while, which he did. Even when he rested it still got worse. The pain got so bad that he could not bear the leg to be touched. Eventually Richard went to another doctor who explained that the situation was serious. The sprain had turned gangrenous and an amputation was necessary. They cut off his leg to save his life. I am not sure whether he was able to return to work after that. I have the impression he did, but to lighter and less well-paid duties. The family coped with the downturn in their fortunes reasonably well.

The final and most disastrous blow was when he fell on the ice of a children’s slide one winter and damaged his hip. After that he could not walk at all easily or well and therefore could not work. There was no longer a wage coming in. Harold had to leave school and give up his piano classes, at which he was doing very well, and go to work to earn some money to help the family who were now struggling very hard. Their savings were too little to manage on. They had had to pay so much to the doctors (there was no Health Service or Social Security in those days). His sister, my Aunt Ann, also had to go to work. This would have happened by about 1904 I reckon. My mother would have been about three.

It was apparently my grandmother’s resourcefulness that kept them going. She fixed and mended and did odd jobs for extra cash. She was creative and tireless. The strain did eventually take its toll on her also. She developed a heart condition which caused her death after a long illness in the late nineteen-thirties. Still, she survived into her early seventies.

My grandfather, Richard, who survived her by four years, had his own way of coping with the drastic change in his circumstances. He had a passion for music and had been instrumental (sorry about the pun!) in encouraging Harold to keep up his piano practice. Though he couldn’t read a note of music he had a good sense of pitch and rhythm and knew immediately if Harold made a mistake. He loved to go to listen to concerts and the opera at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, so when Harold and Aunt Ann were earning enough they used to treat him to surprise trips there. He also had a wide-ranging curiosity about other countries and about nature. He used to get hold of books on these subjects from the library and read them all voraciously. His memory for what he read was apparently excellent.

GRP TripImplications

It may just be a coincidence that I share his love of books – not noticeably, of course – and found a new Faith which I enthusiastically embraced rather as he seems to have done. (His passionate and accurate ear for classical music rather missed me out though!) On the other hand a combination of genes and the experiences my mother shared with me about him could easily have influenced me in that direction. Either way my identity owes more than a little to his influence.

But for him my visits to the Guardian’s Resting Place might never have taken place. Who knows!

Graveyard encounters don’t just evoke our ancestors though.

Andrew Marvell

Two views of mortality are strongly connected with images of death such as skulls and tombs: memento mori and carpe diem. Each view of mortality has a different take on morality, interestingly enough:’Gather ye rose buds while ye may’ (Herrick) versus ‘be mindful of thy last end and thou wilt never sin’ (translated from the Vulgate‘s Latin rendering of Ecclesiasticus 7:40). It is a rare sensibility that manages to look both possibilities squarely in the face as Marvell‘s lyric masterpiece To His Coy Mistress succeeds in doing. Shira Wolosky has written a brilliant critique of this feat in The Art of Poetry pages 70-79. She states:

The poem offers, then, not one, but two topoi [themes]: the overt “carpe diem” and a subversive remembrance of death inscribed into the text alongside the call to seduction. . . . . . Both topoi are urgent calls, calls to weigh your life to see what, in its short compass of time and space, you really can accomplish; what, in its short span, really has value; what you should be striving for.

(page 79)

Which view we take hinges as a rule on whether we believe in an afterlife or not.

I have dealt at length in earlier posts with this issue in terms of its truth value and usefulness. It is interesting to add into the mix Robert Wright‘s evolutionary perspective. It is not as dispiriting as you might think.

Evolution and God

In The Evolution of God he attempts to show how the image of good Christians being welcomed by Christ into heaven

may have been crucial in the eventual triumph of Christianity. This image gave it an edge over the religions  that didn’t offer hopes of a pleasant afterlife and kept it competitive with the many religions that did.

(page 310)

This image was also a lever to help ensure that people who became Christian behaved in ways that helped the faith succeed socially:

The message has not just got to attract people, but to get them to behave in ways that sustain the religious organisation and spread it. For example: it would help if sin is defined so that the avoidance of it sustains the cohesion and growth of the church.

(page 316)

He ties in the value of a religion with its capacity to create solidarity amongst all the diverse people’s brought together within a developed civilisation. When it is inclusive enough to prevent conflict between all those that  trade and travel bring together it works for the benefit of all.

Resting Place of Shoghi Effendi, London

There is a catch for us though:

But [the] modern-day effectiveness is a more complex question. When Christianity reigned in Rome, and, later, when Islam was at the height of its geopolitical influence, the scope of these religions roughly coincided with the scope of whole civilisations. . . . . Today’s world, in contrast,  is so interconnected and interdependent that Christianity and Islam, like it or not, inhabit a single social system – the planet.

(page 324)

He sees the progress of civilisation, which has now reached a global level, almost inevitably driving the development of a global faith in only one God with one name.

[As] the scope of social organisation grows, God tends to eventually catch up, drawing a larger expanse of humanity under his protection, or at least a larger expanse of humanity under his toleration.

(page 435)

He sees this as compatible both with a materialist view of the process and a sense of God working through the logic of the universe to bring about this shift in consciousness. He argues that its explicability from a materialist viewpoint does not disprove the religious case.

Which is how my graveyard encounters have led to both a keener sense of the contribution of my ancestors to my view of the world and, with the help of Robert Wright, a keener sense of how awareness of our mortality can underpin an expanding consciousness of God’s purpose for all of us not just for some of us.

Those who wish to see the grave as leaving no room for God are free to do so. Personally, I’ve made a different choice which I believe is equally rational and valid.

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Pan of Arc

Yes, I can spell better than that. I know the title is a silly joke but it captures my mood of the moment very well.

Currently circumstances are pushing me to think hard about what I would describe myself as doing as a Bahá’í, about what I think is the core purpose of the Bahá’í community, and most of all about what I think the work of all human beings is most concerned with. In the end, I have concluded,  all those three descriptions come down to the same thing.

And what is that exactly?

Responsibility for the Welfare of the Entire Human Family

I can’t do better than use the words of the central governing body of the Bahá’í community:

. . . 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 revolutionising principle will increasingly empower individuals and Bahá’í institutions alike in awakening others to . . . the latent spiritual and moral capacities that can change this world into another world.

(Universal House of Justice: 24 May 2001 in Turning Point page 164)

 For ‘individuals’ I think it’s fair to read ‘everyone’ whether Bahá’í or not

 This passage was written when a major building project  at the Bahá’í World Centre had been completed. The project was of great spiritual significance to the Bahá’í community world-wide. The buildings form an arc around Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, a place already of symbolic importance within Judaism, Christianity and Islam:

In mainstream Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thought, it is Elijah that is indelibly associated with the mountain, and he is regarded as having sometimes resided in a grotto on the mountain. In the Books of Kings, Elijah is described as challenging 450 prophets of a particular Baal to a contest at the altar on Mount Carmel to determine whose deity was genuinely in control of the Kingdom of Israel; since the narrative is set during the rule of Ahab and his association with the Phoenicians, biblical scholars suspect that the Baal in question was probably Melqart.

(See Wikipedia entry for a full background)

The word ‘arc’ becomes a pun when this semi-circle of buildings is seen as a symbol of our strivings as Bahá’ís to work alongside others to build a social system that will become a point of refuge for a beleaguered humanity in crisis rather in the same way as the Ark Noah built did physically in the Biblical story of a flooded world.  Bahá’u’lláh Himself points this out:

Call out to Zion, O Carmel, and announce the joyful tidings: He that was hidden from mortal eyes is come! . . . . . Oh, how I long to announce unto every spot on the surface of the earth, and to carry to each one of its cities, the glad-tidings of this Revelation—a Revelation to which the heart of Sinai hath been attracted, and in whose name the Burning Bush is calling: “Unto God, the Lord of Lords, belong the kingdoms of earth and heaven.” Verily this is the Day in which both land and sea rejoice at this announcement, the Day for which have been laid up those things which God, through a bounty beyond the ken of mortal mind or heart, hath destined for revelation. Ere long will God sail His Ark upon thee, and will manifest the people of Bahá who have been mentioned in the Book of Names.

(Tablet of Carmel

There are two points perhaps worth making here.

Are We Utopians?

The first relates to what what some may feel is the utopianism of these ideas. The very word utopia, which means ‘nowhere’, contains the seeds of some of this contempt. John Gray in his anti-utopian book Black Mass is keen to remind us of this as is Chris Hedges in his intriguing book I don’t believe in atheists. They are also both deeply suspicious of the tendency towards self-righteous violence that seems inseparable from the behaviour of all those who feel they know what’s best for us in the long run, no matter what the cost.

[After the Enlightenment] [t]error in the name of utopian ideals would rise again and again in the coming centuries.

(Hedges: page 19)

And Hedges, who is attacking a secular utopianism that does not accept humanity’s proness to sin, goes on to say (pages 57-58):

Those who believe human beings can be morally reformed are . . . . suicidal. . . . [The delusions of a utopian vision] seem to elevate the deluded, especially those who are deemed to be favoured by race or nature, above other forms of life. This lack of reverence, this refusal to see that we exist as an integrated whole, blinds humankind to its vulnerability, the fragility of life and human weakness. These delusions are part of a worldview that places itself and its selfish desires and dreams before the protection of life itself.

A main charge is also that, for all utopians, the ends will come to justify all means no matter how horrific.

It is important to emphasise here that, while Bahá’ís yearn to help create a more just society, we also recognise that this is an evolutionary process that will take many generations and requires love and patience as well as the passage of a vast amount of time. We also recognise that we, as imperfect human beings, contain the seeds of the very problems  in society we are hoping to help solve with this empowering vision of humanity’s potential and that it would be very easy for us to betray the blueprint of the Divine Arkitect by, for example, the same kind of self-righteous impatience as has bedevilled such utopian projects as the English, French, Russian and Chinese Revolutions (not all them religious, it is worth noting). 

Empowerment

The second relates to the difference between patronising or exploitative rescue and empathic empowerment. We are not saying we already know exactly how to fix a broken world at the level of practical action. Nor are we saying that there are not multitudes of other compassionate and self-sacrificing people with decades of experience in tackling aspects of the challenges that face us all. That would be arrogant and self-deluded.Building Project

There are two things though that mean we can  contribute something special, we would say unique. We have a concept of unity expressed in a body of spiritual, organisational and practical teachings and we are learning to apply this systematically and world-wide in our daily lives (for a fuller explanation of this see Baha’i Epistolary). However, what makes up this special contribution is not just the concepts, though they evince a high level of originality and coherence,  nor simply the experience of applying them, though to some degree this makes up in rich diversity for what it  lacks in duration and size given the newness of the Faith on the world scene.

There is a third key ingredient, not unique to us but rare in the world,  which hopefully will militate against utopian self-righteousness and the destructive arrogance that goes with it. We are striving, with a keen sense of our own frailty, to empower ourselves to respond more effectively to the needs of all humanity to be empowered. We are striving to become capable of enabling others to respond to their particular challenges in their own way.  We feel we can  bring extremely useful tools to that process while having a huge amount to learn from others at the same time. 

There are service projects in many places in the world that dwarf what we are currently doing as Baha’is. I’ve just been reading about the Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. They provide child care for thousands of children every Sunday. Their vast array of buildings is open seven days a week for dawn till dusk. They have banks, pharmacies and schools as well as counselling and guidance groups. They help people prepare for tests, fill out tax forms and buy houses, as well as offering classes in martial arts. Their marketing of what they offer is second to none. In fact, they base their operation on the ‘same principle as all successful businesses: putting the customer first.’ (For a fuller description see  God Is Back by Micklethwait and Wooldridge pages 183-187). 

That last sentence is the give away. Too many projects are driven by the desire to provide what they see people as needing and will eagerly consume, but in a predefined and often formulaic way. There is an emphasis on the passive consumption of what is on offer.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge go on to describe (page 187) how ‘many megapreachers have begun to worry that they are producing a tribe of spectators who regards religion as nothing more than spectacle.’ Some are attempting to address this problem. They have not escaped being labelled the ‘Disneyfication of religion’ and ‘Christianity Lite’ (page 189), charges which the authors feel are a touch too dismissive. However, their measured summary of what is happening highlights a major problem:

. . . . the target audience for the megachurches consists of baby boomers who left the church in adolescence, who don’t feel comfortable with overt displays of religiosity, who dread turning into their parents, and who apply the same consumerist mentality to spiritual life as they do to every other aspect of experience.

The Bahá’í model in contrast emphasises, from a non-negotiable set of spiritual principles that are seen as absolutes, that it is imperative to enable people to become active participants in change, in the process of deciding what to do and doing it. In the old adage, it is teaching people to fish rather than giving them fish — an ideal that, sadly, all too few social development projects exemplify. It is not providing something that, if you were no longer there, could not be sustainably provided by those whom you are seeking to help.

Arc building siteI visited Mount Carmel as the buildings referred to earlier were nearing completion. On my return to the UK I wrote the poem that features at the end of the earlier post Degrees of Conviction. It describes the beauty of the whole environment, where there were, though, still many traces of a work in progress such as you can see on any building site — sacks of concrete, exposed foundations, ladders, cranes, piles of stone, heaps of rubble. You could see plain evidence of the hard work and planning that had gone into the process. At the end of the poem, realising how similar in some ways was the work of building a new kind of society, I wrote:

But who are the masons, the carpenters of minds, who will raise
up the New Jerusalem from this dust?           “Why you, of course!” He says.Wordsworth was clear: getting and spending we lay waste our powers.

“. . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  In this brief pause/ I half-sense some hope of beauty in this building site of ours./ But who are the masons, the carpenters of minds, who will raise/ up the New Jerusalem from this dust?  “Why you, of course!” He says.”

So, anyone want a job working for the Divine Arkitect? This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Don’t miss out! And the job spec says that, while being a Bahá’í may be desirable, it’s not essential. We want to work with anyone who wants to create a better world with love, patience and empowerment.

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