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Posts Tagged ‘Sherry Ruth Andersen’

Shoghi Effendi

Return, then, and cleave wholly unto God, and cleanse thine heart from the world and all its vanities, and suffer not the love of any stranger to enter and dwell therein. Not until thou dost purify thine heart from every trace of such love can the brightness of the light of God shed its radiance upon it, for to none hath God given more than one heart. . . . .  And as the human heart, as fashioned by God, is one and undivided, it behoveth thee to take heed that its affections be, also, one and undivided. Cleave thou, therefore, with the whole affection of thine heart, unto His love, and withdraw it from the love of any one besides Him, that He may aid thee to immerse thyself in the ocean of His unity, and enable thee to become a true upholder of His oneness., the Exalted, the Great.

(Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh: page 52)

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 seventh post of eight. I will be posting them interwoven with the Becoming True Upholders of His Oneness sequence. Century of Light is a 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 (7 The Guardianship). 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)

The Situation the Guardian Was Faced With

Before we look at the implications of the Guardian’s ministry for us now, we need to understand the situation in which he had to operate. As we have seen, he assumed his role in 1923 between two world wars. This helps us (page 45) ‘to understand the magnitude of the challenge facing Shoghi Effendi at the outset of his ministry.’ The situation was bleak: ‘there was nothing that would have inspired confidence that the vision of a new world bequeathed him by the Founders of the Bahá’í Cause could be significantly advanced during whatever span of years might be allowed him.’

Nor were the resources within the Bahá’í community apparently adequate to the task (ibid): ‘Nor did the instrument available to him appear to possess the strength, the resilience or the sophistication his task required. . . . . the core of Bahá’u’lláh’s followers consisted of the body of believers in Iran, of whose number not even a reliable estimate could have then been produced.’

Consultation with leading Bahá’ís made it clear (page 46) that ‘the creation of an international secretariat would be not only useless, but probably counterproductive.’ The daunting reality was that Shoghi Effendi was alone in his monumental task: ‘How completely alone he was is almost impossible for the present generation of Bahá’ís to grasp; to the extent one does grasp it, the realisation is acutely painful.’

He candidly explained the implications to the Bahá’ís (page 83): ‘Shoghi Effendi proceeded with scrupulous regard for the constraints placed on him by circumstance, a faithfulness that will be the pride of Bahá’u’lláh’s followers throughout the ages to come. The record of his thirty-six years of service to the Faith . . . contains . . . no action on his part that would in any degree “infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain” of the Universal House of Justice.’

Bahiyyih Khanum (For source of image see link)

Bahiyyih Khanum (For source of image see link)

The members of his own family, who should have supported him, took every opportunity to do exactly the opposite (page 47). Only the sister of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stepped forward to help him (page 48): ‘Bahiyyih Khanum played a vital role in guarding the interests of the Cause after the Master’s death and became Shoghi Effendi’s sole effective support. Her fidelity evoked from his pen perhaps the most deeply moving passages he was ever to write.’ After her passing in 1932 he sent a letter to the Bahá’ís “throughout the West”, which read in part:

Which of the blessings am I to recount, which in her unfailing solicitude she showered upon me, in the most critical and agitated hours of my life? To me, standing in so dire a need of the vitalizing grace of God, she was the living symbol of many an attribute I had learned to admire in ‘Abdu’l- Bahá.

His aim was crystal clear (page 49): ‘. . . . . ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had been . . . . emphatic in asserting, as already noted, that the revolutionary changes taking place in every field of human endeavour now made the unification of humanity a realistic objective. It was this vision that, for the thirty-six years of his Guardianship, provided the organising force of Shoghi Effendi’s work.’

The path towards it was fraught with difficulties (pages 53-54): ‘Fully aware of the condition into which society had fallen, the consequences of his betrayal at the hands of family members on whose assistance he should have been able to rely, and the relative weakness of the resources available to him in the Bahá’í community itself, Shoghi Effendi arose to forge the means needed to realise the mission bequeathed to him.’

In the end (page 83) ‘In important respects Shoghi Effendi may be said to have extended by an additional, critical, thirty-six years the influence of the guiding hand of the Master in the building of the Administrative Order and the expansion and consolidation of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. One has only to make the fearful effort of imagining the fate of the infant Cause of God had it not been held firmly, during the period of its greatest vulnerability, in the grip of one who had been prepared for this purpose by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and who accepted to serve – in the fullest sense of the word – as its Guardian.’

His achievement was truly remarkable. He could (page 85) ‘look nowhere but to the Writings of the Founders of the Faith and the example of the Master for the guidance his work required.’ He had no advisors. His wide reading ‘could do no more than supply raw materials that his inspired vision of the Cause must then organise.’ Not even the most sceptical ‘can fail to acknowledge that the integrity with which a young man in his early twenties accepted so awesome a responsibility – and the magnitude of the victory he won – are evidences of an immense spiritual power inherent in the Cause he championed.’

(End of Presentation: any questions?)

Groupwork

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 needs 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.

We need to look at the developments Shoghi Effendi engineered under two main headings:

  1. The Value of Administration

Page 54: It fell to Shoghi Effendi, however, to assist the community to understand the place and role of these national and local consultative bodies in the framework of the Administrative Order created by Bahá’u’lláh and elaborated in the provisions of the Master’s Will and Testament. An obstacle faced by a significant number of believers in this respect was the unexamined assumption of many that the Cause was essentially a “spiritual” association in which organisation, while not necessarily antithetical, did not constitute an inherent feature of the Divine purpose. Emphasising that the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and the Will and Testament “are not only complementary, but … mutually confirm one another, and are inseparable parts of one complete unit”, the Guardian invited the believers to reflect deeply on a central truth of the Cause they had embraced:

Few will fail to recognize that the Spirit breathed by Bahá’u’lláh upon the world, and which is manifesting itself with varying degrees of intensity through the efforts consciously displayed by His avowed supporters and indirectly through certain humanitarian organisations, can never permeate and exercise an abiding influence upon mankind unless and until it incarnates itself in a visible Order, which would bear His name, wholly identify itself with His principles, and function in conformity with His laws.

I will repeat again here the quote used earlier from Cultural Creatives by Ray and Anderson (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.

  1. What might have been, and perhaps still is, so difficult about seeing spirituality and organisation as compatible?
  2. How can we move beyond this apparent conflict and carry a whole community with us in a spirit of what the Universal House of Justice terms ‘efficiency and love’?

2. Implementing a Divine Plan

Our struggle to integrate spirituality with planning had to be addressed by the Guardian.

Page 66: With the administrative structure of the Cause taking shape, Shoghi Effendi turned his attention to the task he had been compelled to delay for so long, the implementation of the Master’s Divine Plan.

Page 67: The two chief instruments by which Shoghi Effendi set about cultivating a heightened devotion to teaching in both East and West were the same as those on which the Master had relied. A steady stream of letters to communities and individuals alike opened up for the recipients new dimensions in the beliefs they had embraced. The most important of these communications, however, now became those addressed to National and Local Spiritual Assemblies. Their effect was intensified by the stream of returning pilgrims who shared insights gained by direct contact with the Centre of the Cause. Through these connections every individual believer was encouraged to see himself or herself as an instrument of the power flowing through the Covenant.

In 1944 God Passes By was published (page 70):

History is a powerful instrument. At its best, it provides a perspective on the past and casts a light on the future. It populates human consciousness with heroes, saints and martyrs whose example awakens in everyone touched by it capacities they had not imagined they possessed. It helps make sense of the world – and of human experience. It inspires, consoles and enlightens. It enriches life. In the great body of literature and legend that it has left to humanity, history’s hand can be seen at work shaping much of the course of civilisation . . . . . .

God Passes By elevates this great work of the mind to a level ardently striven after but never attained in any of ages past.

Page 77: [In 1952] [b]efore the believers could celebrate these achievements, a new challenge of staggering proportions was unveiled by Shoghi Effendi. Impelled by historic forces that only he was in a position to appreciate, the Guardian announced the launching at the forthcoming Ridván of a decade-long, world-embracing Plan, which he designated a “Spiritual Crusade“.

Page 78: In effect, the Plan called for the Cause to make a giant leap forward over what might otherwise have been several stages in its evolution. What Shoghi Effendi saw clearly – and what only the powers of foresight inherent in the Guardianship made it possible to see – was that an historical conjunction of circumstances presented the Bahá’í community with an opportunity that would not come again and on which the success of future stages in the prosecution of the Divine Plan would entirely depend.

Page 80: As the conception of the Ten Year Crusade took shape in his mind, Shoghi Effendi moved to mobilise the spiritual support [the institution of the Hands of the Cause of God[1]] could bring to achieving the tasks of the Plan. In a cablegram of 24 December 1951, he announced the appointment of the first contingent of twelve Hands of the Cause of God, allocated equally to the work in the Holy Land, in Asia, the Americas and Europe. These distinguished servants of the Cause were called upon to focus directly on the challenge of mobilizing the energies of the friends and providing the elected bodies with encouragement and counsel. Shortly thereafter the number of Hands of the Cause was raised from twelve to nineteen.

The resources available for the discharge of this responsibility were greatly increased by the Guardian’s decision in October 1952, calling on the Hands of the Cause to create five auxiliary boards, one for each continent: . . . Subsequently, separate auxiliary boards were created to assist with the protection of the Faith, the other of the two chief functions of the Hands of the Cause.

  1. Letters and books are still a key means of communication for the World Centre with the Bahá’í community. How easy do we all find it to read and relate to these documents?
  2. Are we able to use them effectively as a way of deepening our understanding of and engagement with the plans of the Faith?
  3. Many Bahá’ís, as well as their friends and family, visit the Bahá’í World Centre. Do we feel that the spirit of this infuses the lives of our communities and impacts upon our thinking and behaviour as visits to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Guardian clearly did for the Bahá’ís of the past?
  4. We still have Auxiliary Board members, but the Hands of the Cause have all passed away, and now it is the Counsellors who perform their role (we will explore that in more detail in the next session). How hard do we feel it is, in the sceptical and materialistic climate of the current Western world, for the Counsellors to seek to emulate the impact of the heroic sacrifices of the Hands of the Cause?

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. This should involve those, if any, whom time did not permit to do this earlier. The exact method for this will be determined on the day when we know the exact group sizes.

Shoghi Effendi passed away in London in 1957, and is buried at the New Southgate cemetery. (For source of image see link)

Shoghi Effendi passed away in London in 1957, and is buried at the
New Southgate cemetery. (For source of image see link)

 Pause of Reflection

If there is time let us pause for a few moments to reflect quietly in the way we have learnt, on a passage we have memorised or else begin to memorise the quotation at the head of this handout.

The Passing of the Guardian

Page 81: Less than a month thereafter, the Bahá’í world was devastated by the news of Shoghi Effendi’s death on 4 November 1957 from complications following an attack of Asiatic influenza contracted during the course of a visit to London. The Centre of the Cause who, for thirty-six years, had day by day guided its evolution, whose vision encompassed both the flow of events and the actions the Bahá’í community must take, and whose messages of encouragement had been the spiritual lifeline of countless Bahá’ís around the planet, was suddenly gone, leaving the great Crusade half finished and the future of the Administrative Order in crisis.

Page 84: It is not only that Shoghi Effendi refrained from legislation; he was able to fulfil his mandate by introducing no more than provisional ordinances, leaving decisions in such matters entirely to the Universal House of Justice.

Nowhere is this self-restraint more striking than in the central issue of a successor to the Guardianship. Shoghi Effendi had no heirs of his own, and the other branches of the Holy family had violated the Covenant. The Bahá’í Writings contain no guidance in such an eventuality, but the Will and Testament of the Master is explicit as to how all matters that are unclear are to be resolved:

It is incumbent upon these members (of the Universal House of Justice) to gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book. Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself.

In conformity with this guidance from the pen of the Centre of the Covenant, Shoghi Effendi remained silent, leaving the question of his successor or successors in the hands of the Body alone authorized to determine the matter.

It is to the issue of that successor that we return after lunch.

[1] During His own lifetime, Bahá’u’lláh had appointed a few distinguished Bahá’ís as “Hands of the Cause of God”. Their role was formally defined by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Will and Testament, where He emphasized and clarified their responsibilities, including protecting and propagating the Faith. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote that the Guardian must appoint and direct future Hands of the Cause. During the last six years of his life, Shoghi Effendi named 32 Bahá’ís as Hands of the Cause. When he passed away, 27 of them were still living. In a message penned just weeks before his passing, Shoghi Effendi referred to the Hands of the Cause of God as “the Chief Stewards of Bahá’u’lláh’s embryonic World Commonwealth”.

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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.’

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William James. (For source of Image see link.)

William James (for source of image see link)

We may think of science as one wing and religion as the other; a bird needs two wings for flight, one alone would be useless. Any religion that contradicts science or that is opposed to it, is only ignorance—for ignorance is the opposite of knowledge. Religion which consists only of rites and ceremonies of prejudice is not the truth. Let us earnestly endeavour to be the means of uniting religion and science.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Paris Talks – pages 130-131)

“Let empiricism once become associated with religion, as hitherto, through some strange misunderstanding, it has become associated with irreligion,” James writes, “and I believe a new era of religion as well as philosophy will be ready to begin.”

(William James quoted in Lamberth – page 152)

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.

(Paul LampleRevelation and Social Reality – page 6)

. . . . and this is the last post republished on the back of my most recent visit to Hay-on-Wye. What would I do without second-hand books? not much, I suspect!

My battle to finish reading Irreducible Mind, the Kellys’ monumental and significant collection of chapters on how psychology lost the plot at the beginning of the last century and where it should think about going from here, alerted me, when I visited Hay-on-Wye and Cardiff, to look out for anything about William James or Frederick Myers.

I found zilch on Myers in either place, sadly, as I wanted some real books of his instead of the soft copies I’ve downloaded. It feels distinctly incongruous reading massive 19th Century masterpieces on an iPad.

I was much luckier with the better known, but not necessarily more significant James. I decided to start by reading the thinnest of the three books I now have, one I’d acquired in a bookshop hidden away down Morgan’s Arcade in Cardiff near the Plan café.

This may not have been as smart a move as I thought as thin does not mean easy to read, as I discovered. None the less David Lamberth’s book, William James and the Metaphysics of Experience, has turned out to be an excellent starting point, even though I probably understood less than half of the first half of the book.

The last part, though, from my point of view, was crammed with valuable insights into where James took us to and where we might now profit by following the path he was pointing towards.

The key to what Lamberth feels James is saying is summarised in the title to this piece. Not surprisingly grasping this idea, for me, Lamberthdepends upon a rigorous way of analysing what religious revelation might mean operationally for those of us who are striving to understand where humanity is spiritually at this point in its history. By that I mean ‘What does it imply both for how we enhance our understanding further and how do we turn that understanding into effective action, socially, scientifically and morally? Lamberth helps towards the clearer definition of those implications.

Acknowledging that Lamberth may not be able to recognise his own ideas in the use I am going to make of them, I will quote him whenever possible, though obviously outside of the full context of his thinking which I don’t completely understand. I doubt I’ll ever make it now as a philosopher.

James’s Dissatisfaction with Materialism

It would seem that, while James was a resolute empiricist, he was deeply frustrated by materialism (page 155):

[James] generally sides with empiricism on methodological grounds, even though he was consistently dissatisfied with the world-view of its premiere representative, materialism.

This seems partly to relate to the distinction, in James’s own words (page 182), between ‘theoretic . . knowledge about things’ as against ‘living contemplation or sympathetic acquaintance with them.’ The former ‘touches only on the outer surface of reality.’

Lamberth explains (page 184):

. . . [c]uts that are made in the fabric [of experience] conceptually must be seen to be arbitrary to a degree, in that they are not necessarily “natural” to the pure experience itself . . .

James expresses the problem vividly (page 186):

Philosophy should seek this kind of living understanding of the movement of reality, not follow science in vainly patching together fragments of its dead results.

Lamberth goes on (ibid.):

(James) seeks a philosophy that both can account for the practical successes of the sciences and can value and provide insight into our moral and religious sentiments and experiences . . . .

The Nature of the Transcendent

This leads on to the consideration of exactly what is truth and its possible relationship with our concept of the absolute. Lamberth quotes James’s own statement of part of this problem (page 192):

. . . .[I]s one all inclusive purpose harboured by a general world-soul, embracing all sub-purposes in its system? Or are there many various purposes, keeping house together as they can, with no overarching purpose to include them?

James clearly struggles with this, remarking on the next page of A Pluralistic Universe, from which this quote was taken, that ‘We are indeed internal parts of God and not external creations.’

Lamberth takes the view that, in the end, James does not feel able to conclude with certainty that there is an Absolute. His ‘pluralism’ (I will return to what that might mean for James) assumes (page 197) ‘that the superhuman consciousness, however vast it may be, has itself an external environment, and consequently is finite.’ As we will see as this argument unfolds, this is a much subtler and far less reductionist position than might at first seem the case.

It will help to start from James’s own words (page 198):

Our “normal” consciousness is circumscribed for adaptation to an external environment, but the fence is weak in spots, and fitful influences from beyond leak in, showing the otherwise unverifiable common connection [between all]. Not only psychical research, but metaphysical philosophy and speculative biology are led in their own way to look with favour on some such “panpsychic” view of the universe as this.

The modern mind, saturated as it is in materialist mantras, could find this naïve. Lamberth is keen to dispel this preconception (ibid):

Contrary to what his final conclusions suggest, James was actually quite sceptical of jumping to conclusions about the veracity of purported psychical events. He did, however, find himself forced to resolve that the most reasonable explanation for certain psychical phenomena was to postulate some sort of “leakage” between a wider, interpersonal area of consciousness (or experience) and the otherwise “fenced” individual field or sphere of experience.

Windrose

Wind-rose (for source of image see link)

From this we move, in my view, to a strong sense of the transcendent (page 199):

Every bit of us at every moment is part and parcel of a wider self, it quivers along various radii like the wind-rose[1] on a compass, and the actual in it is continuously one with possibles not yet in our present sight. And just as we are co-conscious with our own momentary margin, may we not ourselves form the margin of some more really central self in things which is co-conscious with the whole of us? May not you and I be confluent in a higher consciousness, and confluently active there, tho [sic] we now know it not?

The pluralism mentioned earlier therefore stems from our multitude of different perspectives as unique individuals who are subliminally interconnected and potentially subsumed into a greater consciousness.

James’s use of the word ‘pragmatism’ has been part of the source of confusion as to exactly what he means and what the implications are for any sense whatsoever of the ‘Absolute.’ Lamberth is clear that pragmatism, for James, was not limited to the material realm (page 212).

This allows for the possibility of the transcendent, the absolute even, and therefore absolute truth, in some sense, but in what sense exactly has been a vexed question apparently (page 216):

. . . the question of “Truth” has continued to vex interpreters of James to the present.

Lamberth finds Hilary Putnam’s work helpful here. Putnam sees James as distinguishing between ‘absolutely true’ and ‘half-true’ (page 216-17):

On Putnam’s reading, what is merely verified is always only “half-true” for James, while what is “true” by contrast, is true absolutely, standing in relation to an ideal or absolute truth to which we imagine all our formulations will converge.

Which is not the same, by any means, as saying that anyone knows the absolute truth (page 217):

“No relativist who ever actually walked the earth,” writes James, “has denied the regulative character is his own thinking of the notion of absolute truth. What is challenged by relativists is the pretence on anyone’s part to have found for certain at any given moment what the shape of that truth is.” James concludes by noting that “the proposition ‘There is absolute truth’ is the only absolute truth of which we can be sure.”

He continued (page 220):

. . . “[W]e have to live to-day by what truth we can get to-day, and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood.” . . . . . “No pragmatist needs to dogmatise about the consensus of opinion in the future being right,” James writes; “he need only postulate that it will probably contain more truth than anyone’s opinion now.”

Lamberth unpacks exactly what this implies, clearly and succinctly (page 222):

On this view, truth claims – however stable – are only ever hypothetical and provisional; moreover, counterfactuals, should evince some concrete grounding in fact, are only the beginnings of new trails of enquiry that lead to the revision of old truths or the addition of new ones. For James, then, there are falsification conditions for any given truth claim, but no absolute verification condition, regardless of how stable the truth claim may be as an experiential function. He writes in The Will to Believe that as an empiricist he believes that we can in fact attain truth, but not that we can know infallibly when we have.

A Two Way Street

Lamberth explains that after James’s death (page 226):

. . . the study of religion . . . . . developed in such ways that the insights of James’s views, in particular, the varied commitments of radical empiricism as a systematic, spiritualistic world-view, were never fully explored, much less embraced.

Science nominally endorses James’s criteria for the correct application of empiricism, but in practice privileges its own untestable assumptions while dismissing those of others. James has little patience with this kind of double standard[2].

Lamberth explains (page 227):

James seeks critically to hold off temptations towards reduction, whether reduction to quasi-mystical phenomenalism that eschews valuable reflective insights – scientific or philosophical – or reduction that privileges the philosophical or scientific account over the concrete, diverse first-order experiences that are its spark.

Lamberth nails his own colours to the mast shortly after this (page 229):

I . . . think that James’s turn to experience – understood in the broader context of his radical empiricism – is of crucial, substantive importance to the philosophy of religion, now and in the future.

A core component in his view as in James’s is a two-way street (page 234):

Considering James closely suggests that we should not adopt a theoretical stance that presumptively protects dominant metaphysical assumptions concerning “scientific” or “realistic” explanations from . . . scrutiny any more than we should adopt such a protective strategy for religious explanations and experiences.

If science were (page 235) to subject ‘its own metaphysical assumptions . . . to critique, testing and revision in a dynamic, empirically informed but rationally accountable form of inquiry, ’Lamberth feels, ‘such an open, minimally presumptive stage for investigation’ would be most beneficial. It would facilitate two important things:

1. the productive reopening of a range of presumptively foreclosed questions for novel reconsideration; and

2. the development of new insights.

Bahá’í Implications

A full understanding of all the implications of these insights goes further than simply hoping to reconcile science and religioncolorful_hands_small while they continue to go on their separate ways.

The Bahá’í Faith is a pragmatic religion – striving to learn how to walk the spiritual path with practical feet. The components of this process are described as study of guidance, consultation, action, reflection along with prayer and meditation on Scripture. This provides a set of interconnected steps to assess how effectively action is transforming our communities[3].

For those who have the time, a viewing of the video below will demonstrate a part at least of what I am trying to say.

Here we see communities across the globe applying their current understanding of the Bahá’í model for community action, learning from what goes well and what does not, to enhance their implementation.

It is important also to realise that all significant details concerning these experiments are fed back to the centre of the faith, collated and fed back to the Bahá’í world as a whole for further implementation, experimentation and hopefully eventual validation. What is learnt is also preserved, to be cascaded down through time as well as across widely dispersed locations.

It is precisely the lack of this co-ordinated and consolidated kind of information preservation and exchange that Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Andersen lamented in Cultural Creatives, their seminal examination of modern movements for cultural change. Too many people pick off parts of the problem unable to see or agree that they are all interconnected. When a group in one place dies, as is often the case, all that they learnt is lost. In the end the core issue cannot be evaded (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.

For pragmatism, scientific or religious, to produce valid revisable conclusions of lasting practical value, the improbable combination of radical open-mindedness and strong institutional co-ordination is vital. It is to this combination of essential qualities that the Bahá’í community aspires – not an easy task by any means, calling as it does for a degree of detachment from what you think you are doing so you can see what is actually going on, whether at the individual, community or institutional level.

Whereas so far the main attempts to validate religious practice have focused on such admittedly significant areas as meditation, and the related experience of mysticism, or the correlation between religious beliefs and an individual’s charitable action, there have been very few examples indeed of the careful examination of the beneficial impact of constructive religious practices on communities as a whole. This is what in my view makes the Bahá’í process an innovative if embryonic example of pragmatism in the Jamesian sense. To operate this way effectively, of course, those who are testing the model need to accept that they will sometimes get it wrong as well as right.

It is for me exciting to see a rigorous explanation of why, in philosophical terms, such an enterprise makes sense, though it is also disappointing that there are, so far, so few concrete examples in either field of pragmatic and dispassionate investigation crossing the currently great divide between religious and scientific practice, though both these disciplines have the capacity to mount them and a self-evident duty to do so.

[1] A wind rose is a graphic tool used by meteorologists to give a succinct view of how wind speed and direction are typically distributed at a particular location. When the magnetic compass began to be used in navigation, the wind rose was combined with it and used as a compass card.

[2] Not everyone would agree that science lacks this kind of humility. For instance, Paul Jerome Croce describes it somewhat differently in his book Science and Religion in the Era of William James – page 4 – stating ‘probabilism, relativity, and hypothetical methodologies firmly established the fundamental uncertainty of modern science.’ I will be looking at this in more detail in a subsequent post. My suspicion is, as Croce also suggests, that the evangelists of science, who tend to monopolise the public gaze, were then and, for me, are now mostly dogmatic materialists. This is even more true in the UK, I suspect, than in the States.

[3] There are those on what are probably the edges still of the scientific community who would already recognise this as a viable method of investigation, one that will enhance both understanding and practice. One example is the model of action research described by Peter Reason.

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Shoghi Effendi

Return, then, and cleave wholly unto God, and cleanse thine heart from the world and all its vanities, and suffer not the love of any stranger to enter and dwell therein. Not until thou dost purify thine heart from every trace of such love can the brightness of the light of God shed its radiance upon it, for to none hath God given more than one heart. . . . .  And as the human heart, as fashioned by God, is one and undivided, it behoveth thee to take heed that its affections be, also, one and undivided. Cleave thou, therefore, with the whole affection of thine heart, unto His love, and withdraw it from the love of any one besides Him, that He may aid thee to immerse thyself in the ocean of His unity, and enable thee to become a true upholder of His oneness., the Exalted, the Great.

(Proclamation of Bahá’u’lláh: page 52)

The reason I gave recently for my being triggered to step back somewhat from blogging was the increased demand on my time. This was mostly from a particular project – the preparation of a series of eight workshops for a Bahá’í summer school. I thought it might be worth posting the material on this blog to see if it proves useful to others. Here is the seventh post of eight. I will be posting them on Mondays and Thursdays over four weeks. Century of Light is a 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 (7 The Guardianship). I find I have learned a huge amount both from preparing these materials and from walking with others in the workshop along a path of intense exploration over a period of days.

Whole Group Session (Slide Presentation)

The Situation the Guardian Was Faced With

Before we look at the implications of the Guardian’s ministry for us now, we need to understand the situation in which he had to operate. As we have seen, he assumed his role in 1923 between two world wars. This helps us (page 45) ‘to understand the magnitude of the challenge facing Shoghi Effendi at the outset of his ministry.’ The situation was bleak: ‘there was nothing that would have inspired confidence that the vision of a new world bequeathed him by the Founders of the Bahá’í Cause could be significantly advanced during whatever span of years might be allowed him.’

Nor were the resources within the Bahá’í community apparently adequate to the task (ibid): ‘Nor did the instrument available to him appear to possess the strength, the resilience or the sophistication his task required. . . . . the core of Bahá’u’lláh’s followers consisted of the body of believers in Iran, of whose number not even a reliable estimate could have then been produced.’

Consultation with leading Bahá’ís made it clear (page 46) that ‘the creation of an international secretariat would be not only useless, but probably counterproductive.’ The daunting reality was that Shoghi Effendi was alone in his monumental task: ‘How completely alone he was is almost impossible for the present generation of Bahá’ís to grasp; to the extent one does grasp it, the realisation is acutely painful.’

He candidly explained the implications to the Bahá’ís (page 83): ‘Shoghi Effendi proceeded with scrupulous regard for the constraints placed on him by circumstance, a faithfulness that will be the pride of Bahá’u’lláh’s followers throughout the ages to come. The record of his thirty-six years of service to the Faith . . . contains . . . no action on his part that would in any degree “infringe upon the sacred and prescribed domain” of the Universal House of Justice.’

Bahiyyih Khanum (For source of image see link)

Bahiyyih Khanum (For source of image see link)

The members of his own family, who should have supported him, took every opportunity to do exactly the opposite (page 47). Only the sister of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá stepped forward to help him (page 48): ‘Bahiyyih Khanum played a vital role in guarding the interests of the Cause after the Master’s death and became Shoghi Effendi’s sole effective support. Her fidelity evoked from his pen perhaps the most deeply moving passages he was ever to write.’ After her passing in 1932 he sent a letter to the Bahá’ís “throughout the West”, which read in part:

Which of the blessings am I to recount, which in her unfailing solicitude she showered upon me, in the most critical and agitated hours of my life? To me, standing in so dire a need of the vitalizing grace of God, she was the living symbol of many an attribute I had learned to admire in ‘Abdu’l- Bahá.

His aim was crystal clear (page 49): ‘. . . . . ‘Abdu’l-Bahá had been . . . . emphatic in asserting, as already noted, that the revolutionary changes taking place in every field of human endeavour now made the unification of humanity a realistic objective. It was this vision that, for the thirty-six years of his Guardianship, provided the organising force of Shoghi Effendi’s work.’

The path towards it was fraught with difficulties (pages 53-54): ‘Fully aware of the condition into which society had fallen, the consequences of his betrayal at the hands of family members on whose assistance he should have been able to rely, and the relative weakness of the resources available to him in the Bahá’í community itself, Shoghi Effendi arose to forge the means needed to realise the mission bequeathed to him.’

In the end (page 83) ‘In important respects Shoghi Effendi may be said to have extended by an additional, critical, thirty-six years the influence of the guiding hand of the Master in the building of the Administrative Order and the expansion and consolidation of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. One has only to make the fearful effort of imagining the fate of the infant Cause of God had it not been held firmly, during the period of its greatest vulnerability, in the grip of one who had been prepared for this purpose by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and who accepted to serve – in the fullest sense of the word – as its Guardian.’

His achievement was truly remarkable. He could (page 85) ‘look nowhere but to the Writings of the Founders of the Faith and the example of the Master for the guidance his work required.’ He had no advisors. His wide reading ‘could do no more than supply raw materials that his inspired vision of the Cause must then organise.’ Not even the most sceptical ‘can fail to acknowledge that the integrity with which a young man in his early twenties accepted so awesome a responsibility – and the magnitude of the victory he won – are evidences of an immense spiritual power inherent in the Cause he championed.’

(End of Presentation: any questions?)

Groupwork

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 needs 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.

We need to look at the developments Shoghi Effendi engineered under two main headings:

  1. The Value of Administration

Page 54: It fell to Shoghi Effendi, however, to assist the community to understand the place and role of these national and local consultative bodies in the framework of the Administrative Order created by Bahá’u’lláh and elaborated in the provisions of the Master’s Will and Testament. An obstacle faced by a significant number of believers in this respect was the unexamined assumption of many that the Cause was essentially a “spiritual” association in which organisation, while not necessarily antithetical, did not constitute an inherent feature of the Divine purpose. Emphasising that the Kitáb-i-Aqdas and the Will and Testament “are not only complementary, but … mutually confirm one another, and are inseparable parts of one complete unit”, the Guardian invited the believers to reflect deeply on a central truth of the Cause they had embraced:

Few will fail to recognize that the Spirit breathed by Bahá’u’lláh upon the world, and which is manifesting itself with varying degrees of intensity through the efforts consciously displayed by His avowed supporters and indirectly through certain humanitarian organisations, can never permeate and exercise an abiding influence upon mankind unless and until it incarnates itself in a visible Order, which would bear His name, wholly identify itself with His principles, and function in conformity with His laws.

I will repeat again here the quote used earlier from Cultural Creatives by Ray and Anderson (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.

  1. What might have been, and perhaps still is, so difficult about seeing spirituality and organisation as compatible?
  2. How can we move beyond this apparent conflict and carry a whole community with us in a spirit of what the Universal House of Justice terms ‘efficiency and love’?

2. Implementing a Divine Plan

Our struggle to integrate spirituality with planning had to be addressed by the Guardian.

Page 66: With the administrative structure of the Cause taking shape, Shoghi Effendi turned his attention to the task he had been compelled to delay for so long, the implementation of the Master’s Divine Plan.

Page 67: The two chief instruments by which Shoghi Effendi set about cultivating a heightened devotion to teaching in both East and West were the same as those on which the Master had relied. A steady stream of letters to communities and individuals alike opened up for the recipients new dimensions in the beliefs they had embraced. The most important of these communications, however, now became those addressed to National and Local Spiritual Assemblies. Their effect was intensified by the stream of returning pilgrims who shared insights gained by direct contact with the Centre of the Cause. Through these connections every individual believer was encouraged to see himself or herself as an instrument of the power flowing through the Covenant.

In 1944 God Passes By was published (page 70):

History is a powerful instrument. At its best, it provides a perspective on the past and casts a light on the future. It populates human consciousness with heroes, saints and martyrs whose example awakens in everyone touched by it capacities they had not imagined they possessed. It helps make sense of the world – and of human experience. It inspires, consoles and enlightens. It enriches life. In the great body of literature and legend that it has left to humanity, history’s hand can be seen at work shaping much of the course of civilisation . . . . . .

God Passes By elevates this great work of the mind to a level ardently striven after but never attained in any of ages past.

Page 77: [In 1952] [b]efore the believers could celebrate these achievements, a new challenge of staggering proportions was unveiled by Shoghi Effendi. Impelled by historic forces that only he was in a position to appreciate, the Guardian announced the launching at the forthcoming Ridván of a decade-long, world-embracing Plan, which he designated a “Spiritual Crusade“.

Page 78: In effect, the Plan called for the Cause to make a giant leap forward over what might otherwise have been several stages in its evolution. What Shoghi Effendi saw clearly – and what only the powers of foresight inherent in the Guardianship made it possible to see – was that an historical conjunction of circumstances presented the Bahá’í community with an opportunity that would not come again and on which the success of future stages in the prosecution of the Divine Plan would entirely depend.

Page 80: As the conception of the Ten Year Crusade took shape in his mind, Shoghi Effendi moved to mobilise the spiritual support [the institution of the Hands of the Cause of God[1]] could bring to achieving the tasks of the Plan. In a cablegram of 24 December 1951, he announced the appointment of the first contingent of twelve Hands of the Cause of God, allocated equally to the work in the Holy Land, in Asia, the Americas and Europe. These distinguished servants of the Cause were called upon to focus directly on the challenge of mobilizing the energies of the friends and providing the elected bodies with encouragement and counsel. Shortly thereafter the number of Hands of the Cause was raised from twelve to nineteen.

The resources available for the discharge of this responsibility were greatly increased by the Guardian’s decision in October 1952, calling on the Hands of the Cause to create five auxiliary boards, one for each continent: . . . Subsequently, separate auxiliary boards were created to assist with the protection of the Faith, the other of the two chief functions of the Hands of the Cause.

  1. Letters and books are still a key means of communication for the World Centre with the Bahá’í community. How easy do we all find it to read and relate to these documents?
  2. Are we able to use them effectively as a way of deepening our understanding of and engagement with the plans of the Faith?
  3. Many Bahá’ís, as well as their friends and family, visit the Bahá’í World Centre. Do we feel that the spirit of this infuses the lives of our communities and impacts upon our thinking and behaviour as visits to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and the Guardian clearly did for the Bahá’ís of the past?
  4. We still have Auxiliary Board members, but the Hands of the Cause have all passed away, and now it is the Counsellors who perform their role (we will explore that in more detail in the next session). How hard do we feel it is, in the sceptical and materialistic climate of the current Western world, for the Counsellors to seek to emulate the impact of the heroic sacrifices of the Hands of the Cause?

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. This should involve those, if any, whom time did not permit to do this earlier. The exact method for this will be determined on the day when we know the exact group sizes.

Shoghi Effendi passed away in London in 1957, and is buried at the New Southgate cemetery. (For source of image see link)

Shoghi Effendi passed away in London in 1957, and is buried at the
New Southgate cemetery. (For source of image see link)

 Pause of Reflection

If there is time let us pause for a few moments to reflect quietly in the way we have learnt, on a passage we have memorised or else begin to memorise the quotation at the head of this handout.

The Passing of the Guardian

Page 81: Less than a month thereafter, the Bahá’í world was devastated by the news of Shoghi Effendi’s death on 4 November 1957 from complications following an attack of Asiatic influenza contracted during the course of a visit to London. The Centre of the Cause who, for thirty-six years, had day by day guided its evolution, whose vision encompassed both the flow of events and the actions the Bahá’í community must take, and whose messages of encouragement had been the spiritual lifeline of countless Bahá’ís around the planet, was suddenly gone, leaving the great Crusade half finished and the future of the Administrative Order in crisis.

Page 84: It is not only that Shoghi Effendi refrained from legislation; he was able to fulfil his mandate by introducing no more than provisional ordinances, leaving decisions in such matters entirely to the Universal House of Justice.

Nowhere is this self-restraint more striking than in the central issue of a successor to the Guardianship. Shoghi Effendi had no heirs of his own, and the other branches of the Holy family had violated the Covenant. The Bahá’í Writings contain no guidance in such an eventuality, but the Will and Testament of the Master is explicit as to how all matters that are unclear are to be resolved:

It is incumbent upon these members (of the Universal House of Justice) to gather in a certain place and deliberate upon all problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book. Whatsoever they decide has the same effect as the Text itself.

In conformity with this guidance from the pen of the Centre of the Covenant, Shoghi Effendi remained silent, leaving the question of his successor or successors in the hands of the Body alone authorized to determine the matter.

It is to the issue of that successor that we return after lunch.

[1] During His own lifetime, Bahá’u’lláh had appointed a few distinguished Bahá’ís as “Hands of the Cause of God”. Their role was formally defined by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in His Will and Testament, where He emphasized and clarified their responsibilities, including protecting and propagating the Faith. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá wrote that the Guardian must appoint and direct future Hands of the Cause. During the last six years of his life, Shoghi Effendi named 32 Bahá’ís as Hands of the Cause. When he passed away, 27 of them were still living. In a message penned just weeks before his passing, Shoghi Effendi referred to the Hands of the Cause of God as “the Chief Stewards of Bahá’u’lláh’s embryonic World Commonwealth”.

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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 reason I gave recently for my being triggered to step back somewhat from blogging was the increased demand on my time. This was mostly from a particular project – the preparation of a series of eight workshops for a Bahá’í summer school. I thought it might be worth posting the material on this blog to see if it proves useful to others. Here is the fourth post of eight. I will be posting them on Mondays and Thursdays over four weeks. Century of Light is a 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 find I have learned a huge amount both from preparing these materials and from walking with others in the 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.’

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William James. (For source of Image see link.)

William James (for source of image see link)

We may think of science as one wing and religion as the other; a bird needs two wings for flight, one alone would be useless. Any religion that contradicts science or that is opposed to it, is only ignorance—for ignorance is the opposite of knowledge. Religion which consists only of rites and ceremonies of prejudice is not the truth. Let us earnestly endeavour to be the means of uniting religion and science.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Paris Talks – pages 130-131)

“Let empiricism once become associated with religion, as hitherto, through some strange misunderstanding, it has become associated with irreligion,” James writes, “and I believe a new era of religion as well as philosophy will be ready to begin.”

(William James quoted in Lamberth – page 152)

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.

(Paul LampleRevelation and Social Reality – page 6)

Because in the background of my current sequence of posts lurks the thinking of William James, it seemed a good idea to republish this post and then my sequence on The Eclipse of Certainty from last Autumn. 

My battle to finish reading Irreducible Mind, the Kellys’ monumental and significant collection of chapters on how psychology lost the plot at the beginning of the last century and where it should think about going from here, alerted me, when I visited Hay-on-Wye and Cardiff, to look out for anything about William James or Frederick Myers.

I found zilch on Myers in either place, sadly, as I wanted some real books of his instead of the soft copies I’ve downloaded. It feels distinctly incongruous reading massive 19th Century masterpieces on an iPad.

I was much luckier with the better known, but not necessarily more significant James. I decided to start by reading the thinnest of the three books I now have, one I’d acquired in a bookshop hidden away down Morgan’s Arcade in Cardiff near the Plan café.

This may not have been as smart a move as I thought as thin does not mean easy to read, as I discovered. None the less David Lamberth’s book, William James and the Metaphysics of Experience, has turned out to be an excellent starting point, even though I probably understood less than half of the first half of the book.

The last part, though, from my point of view, was crammed with valuable insights into where James took us to and where we might now profit by following the path he was pointing towards.

The key to what Lamberth feels James is saying is summarised in the title to this piece. Not surprisingly grasping this idea, for me, Lamberthdepends upon a rigorous way of analysing what religious revelation might mean operationally for those of us who are striving to understand where humanity is spiritually at this point in its history. By that I mean ‘What does it imply both for how we enhance our understanding further and how do we turn that understanding into effective action, socially, scientifically and morally? Lamberth helps towards the clearer definition of those implications.

Acknowledging that Lamberth may not be able to recognise his own ideas in the use I am going to make of them, I will quote him whenever possible, though obviously outside of the full context of his thinking which I don’t completely understand. I doubt I’ll ever make it now as a philosopher.

James’s Dissatisfaction with Materialism

It would seem that, while James was a resolute empiricist, he was deeply frustrated by materialism (page 155):

[James] generally sides with empiricism on methodological grounds, even though he was consistently dissatisfied with the world-view of its premiere representative, materialism.

This seems partly to relate to the distinction, in James’s own words (page 182), between ‘theoretic . . knowledge about things’ as against ‘living contemplation or sympathetic acquaintance with them.’ The former ‘touches only on the outer surface of reality.’

Lamberth explains (page 184):

. . . [c]uts that are made in the fabric [of experience] conceptually must be seen to be arbitrary to a degree, in that they are not necessarily “natural” to the pure experience itself . . .

James expresses the problem vividly (page 186):

Philosophy should seek this kind of living understanding of the movement of reality, not follow science in vainly patching together fragments of its dead results.

Lamberth goes on (ibid.):

(James) seeks a philosophy that both can account for the practical successes of the sciences and can value and provide insight into our moral and religious sentiments and experiences . . . .

The Nature of the Transcendent

This leads on to the consideration of exactly what is truth and its possible relationship with our concept of the absolute. Lamberth quotes James’s own statement of part of this problem (page 192):

. . . .[I]s one all inclusive purpose harboured by a general world-soul, embracing all sub-purposes in its system? Or are there many various purposes, keeping house together as they can, with no overarching purpose to include them?

James clearly struggles with this, remarking on the next page of A Pluralistic Universe, from which this quote was taken, that ‘We are indeed internal parts of God and not external creations.’

Lamberth takes the view that, in the end, James does not feel able to conclude with certainty that there is an Absolute. His ‘pluralism’ (I will return to what that might mean for James) assumes (page 197) ‘that the superhuman consciousness, however vast it may be, has itself an external environment, and consequently is finite.’ As we will see as this argument unfolds, this is a much subtler and far less reductionist position than might at first seem the case.

It will help to start from James’s own words (page 198):

Our “normal” consciousness is circumscribed for adaptation to an external environment, but the fence is weak in spots, and fitful influences from beyond leak in, showing the otherwise unverifiable common connection [between all]. Not only psychical research, but metaphysical philosophy and speculative biology are led in their own way to look with favour on some such “panpsychic” view of the universe as this.

The modern mind, saturated as it is in materialist mantras, could find this naïve. Lamberth is keen to dispel this preconception (ibid):

Contrary to what his final conclusions suggest, James was actually quite sceptical of jumping to conclusions about the veracity of purported psychical events. He did, however, find himself forced to resolve that the most reasonable explanation for certain psychical phenomena was to postulate some sort of “leakage” between a wider, interpersonal area of consciousness (or experience) and the otherwise “fenced” individual field or sphere of experience.

Windrose

Wind-rose (for source of image see link)

From this we move, in my view, to a strong sense of the transcendent (page 199):

Every bit of us at every moment is part and parcel of a wider self, it quivers along various radii like the wind-rose[1] on a compass, and the actual in it is continuously one with possibles not yet in our present sight. And just as we are co-conscious with our own momentary margin, may we not ourselves form the margin of some more really central self in things which is co-conscious with the whole of us? May not you and I be confluent in a higher consciousness, and confluently active there, tho [sic] we now know it not?

The pluralism mentioned earlier therefore stems from our multitude of different perspectives as unique individuals who are subliminally interconnected and potentially subsumed into a greater consciousness.

James’s use of the word ‘pragmatism’ has been part of the source of confusion as to exactly what he means and what the implications are for any sense whatsoever of the ‘Absolute.’ Lamberth is clear that pragmatism, for James, was not limited to the material realm (page 212).

This allows for the possibility of the transcendent, the absolute even, and therefore absolute truth, in some sense, but in what sense exactly has been a vexed question apparently (page 216):

. . . the question of “Truth” has continued to vex interpreters of James to the present.

Lamberth finds Hilary Putnam’s work helpful here. Putnam sees James as distinguishing between ‘absolutely true’ and ‘half-true’ (page 216-17):

On Putnam’s reading, what is merely verified is always only “half-true” for James, while what is “true” by contrast, is true absolutely, standing in relation to an ideal or absolute truth to which we imagine all our formulations will converge.

Which is not the same, by any means, as saying that anyone knows the absolute truth (page 217):

“No relativist who ever actually walked the earth,” writes James, “has denied the regulative character is his own thinking of the notion of absolute truth. What is challenged by relativists is the pretence on anyone’s part to have found for certain at any given moment what the shape of that truth is.” James concludes by noting that “the proposition ‘There is absolute truth’ is the only absolute truth of which we can be sure.”

He continued (page 220):

. . . “[W]e have to live to-day by what truth we can get to-day, and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood.” . . . . . “No pragmatist needs to dogmatise about the consensus of opinion in the future being right,” James writes; “he need only postulate that it will probably contain more truth than anyone’s opinion now.”

Lamberth unpacks exactly what this implies, clearly and succinctly (page 222):

On this view, truth claims – however stable – are only ever hypothetical and provisional; moreover, counterfactuals, should evince some concrete grounding in fact, are only the beginnings of new trails of enquiry that lead to the revision of old truths or the addition of new ones. For James, then, there are falsification conditions for any given truth claim, but no absolute verification condition, regardless of how stable the truth claim may be as an experiential function. He writes in The Will to Believe that as an empiricist he believes that we can in fact attain truth, but not that we can know infallibly when we have.

A Two Way Street

Lamberth explains that after James’s death (page 226):

. . . the study of religion . . . . . developed in such ways that the insights of James’s views, in particular, the varied commitments of radical empiricism as a systematic, spiritualistic world-view, were never fully explored, much less embraced.

Science nominally endorses James’s criteria for the correct application of empiricism, but in practice privileges its own untestable assumptions while dismissing those of others. James has little patience with this kind of double standard[2].

Lamberth explains (page 227):

James seeks critically to hold off temptations towards reduction, whether reduction to quasi-mystical phenomenalism that eschews valuable reflective insights – scientific or philosophical – or reduction that privileges the philosophical or scientific account over the concrete, diverse first-order experiences that are its spark.

Lamberth nails his own colours to the mast shortly after this (page 229):

I . . . think that James’s turn to experience – understood in the broader context of his radical empiricism – is of crucial, substantive importance to the philosophy of religion, now and in the future.

A core component in his view as in James’s is a two-way street (page 234):

Considering James closely suggests that we should not adopt a theoretical stance that presumptively protects dominant metaphysical assumptions concerning “scientific” or “realistic” explanations from . . . scrutiny any more than we should adopt such a protective strategy for religious explanations and experiences.

If science were (page 235) to subject ‘its own metaphysical assumptions . . . to critique, testing and revision in a dynamic, empirically informed but rationally accountable form of inquiry, ’Lamberth feels, ‘such an open, minimally presumptive stage for investigation’ would be most beneficial. It would facilitate two important things:

1. the productive reopening of a range of presumptively foreclosed questions for novel reconsideration; and

2. the development of new insights.

Bahá’í Implications

A full understanding of all the implications of these insights goes further than simply hoping to reconcile science and religioncolorful_hands_small while they continue to go on their separate ways.

The Bahá’í Faith is a pragmatic religion – striving to learn how to walk the spiritual path with practical feet. The components of this process are described as study of guidance, consultation, action, reflection along with prayer and meditation on Scripture. This provides a set of interconnected steps to assess how effectively action is transforming our communities[3].

For those who have the time, a viewing of the video below will demonstrate a part at least of what I am trying to say.

Here we see communities across the globe applying their current understanding of the Bahá’í model for community action, learning from what goes well and what does not, to enhance their implementation.

It is important also to realise that all significant details concerning these experiments are fed back to the centre of the faith, collated and fed back to the Bahá’í world as a whole for further implementation, experimentation and hopefully eventual validation. What is learnt is also preserved, to be cascaded down through time as well as across widely dispersed locations.

It is precisely the lack of this co-ordinated and consolidated kind of information preservation and exchange that Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Andersen lamented in Cultural Creatives, their seminal examination of modern movements for cultural change. Too many people pick off parts of the problem unable to see or agree that they are all interconnected. When a group in one place dies, as is often the case, all that they learnt is lost. In the end the core issue cannot be evaded (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.

For pragmatism, scientific or religious, to produce valid revisable conclusions of lasting practical value, the improbable combination of radical open-mindedness and strong institutional co-ordination is vital. It is to this combination of essential qualities that the Bahá’í community aspires – not an easy task by any means, calling as it does for a degree of detachment from what you think you are doing so you can see what is actually going on, whether at the individual, community or institutional level.

Whereas so far the main attempts to validate religious practice have focused on such admittedly significant areas as meditation, and the related experience of mysticism, or the correlation between religious beliefs and an individual’s charitable action, there have been very few examples indeed of the careful examination of the beneficial impact of constructive religious practices on communities as a whole. This is what in my view makes the Bahá’í process an innovative if embryonic example of pragmatism in the Jamesian sense. To operate this way effectively, of course, those who are testing the model need to accept that they will sometimes get it wrong as well as right.

It is for me exciting to see a rigorous explanation of why, in philosophical terms, such an enterprise makes sense, though it is also disappointing that there are, so far, so few concrete examples in either field of pragmatic and dispassionate investigation crossing the currently great divide between religious and scientific practice, though both these disciplines have the capacity to mount them and a self-evident duty to do so.

[1] A wind rose is a graphic tool used by meteorologists to give a succinct view of how wind speed and direction are typically distributed at a particular location. When the magnetic compass began to be used in navigation, the wind rose was combined with it and used as a compass card.

[2] Not everyone would agree that science lacks this kind of humility. For instance, Paul Jerome Croce describes it somewhat differently in his book Science and Religion in the Era of William James – page 4 – stating ‘probabilism, relativity, and hypothetical methodologies firmly established the fundamental uncertainty of modern science.’ I will be looking at this in more detail in a subsequent post. My suspicion is, as Croce also suggests, that the evangelists of science, who tend to monopolise the public gaze, were then and, for me, are now mostly dogmatic materialists. This is even more true in the UK, I suspect, than in the States.

[3] There are those on what are probably the edges still of the scientific community who would already recognise this as a viable method of investigation, one that will enhance both understanding and practice. One example is the model of action research described by Peter Reason.

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William James. (For source of Image see link.)

William James (for source of image see link)

We may think of science as one wing and religion as the other; a bird needs two wings for flight, one alone would be useless. Any religion that contradicts science or that is opposed to it, is only ignorance—for ignorance is the opposite of knowledge. Religion which consists only of rites and ceremonies of prejudice is not the truth. Let us earnestly endeavour to be the means of uniting religion and science.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Paris Talks – pages 130-131)

“Let empiricism once become associated with religion, as hitherto, through some strange misunderstanding, it has become associated with irreligion,” James writes, “and I believe a new era of religion as well as philosophy will be ready to begin.”

(William James quoted in Lamberth – page 152)

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.

(Paul LampleRevelation and Social Reality – page 6)

My battle to finish reading Irreducible Mind, the Kellys’ monumental and significant collection of chapters on how psychology lost the plot at the beginning of the last century and where it should think about going from here, alerted me, when I visited Hay-on-Wye and Cardiff, to look out for anything about William James or Frederick Myers.

I found zilch on Myers in either place, sadly, as I wanted some real books of his instead of the soft copies I’ve downloaded. It feels distinctly incongruous reading massive 19th Century masterpieces on an iPad.

I was much luckier with the better known, but not necessarily more significant James. I decided to start by reading the thinnest of the three books I now have, one I’d acquired in a bookshop hidden away down Morgan’s Arcade in Cardiff near the Plan café.

This may not have been as smart a move as I thought as thin does not mean easy to read, as I discovered. None the less David Lamberth’s book, William James and the Metaphysics of Experience, has turned out to be an excellent starting point, even though I probably understood less than half of the first half of the book.

The last part, though, from my point of view, was crammed with valuable insights into where James took us to and where we might now profit by following the path he was pointing towards.

The key to what Lamberth feels James is saying is summarised in the title to this piece. Not surprisingly grasping this idea, for me, Lamberthdepends upon a rigorous way of analysing what religious revelation might mean operationally for those of us who are striving to understand where humanity is spiritually at this point in its history. By that I mean ‘What does it imply both for how we enhance our understanding further and how do we turn that understanding into effective action, socially, scientifically and morally? Lamberth helps towards the clearer definition of those implications.

Acknowledging that Lamberth may not be able to recognise his own ideas in the use I am going to make of them, I will quote him whenever possible, though obviously outside of the full context of his thinking which I don’t completely understand. I doubt I’ll ever make it now as a philosopher.

James’s Dissatisfaction with Materialism

It would seem that, while James was a resolute empiricist, he was deeply frustrated by materialism (page 155):

[James] generally sides with empiricism on methodological grounds, even though he was consistently dissatisfied with the world-view of its premiere representative, materialism.

This seems partly to relate to the distinction, in James’s own words (page 182), between ‘theoretic . . knowledge about things’ as against ‘living contemplation or sympathetic acquaintance with them.’ The former ‘touches only on the outer surface of reality.’

Lamberth explains (page 184):

. . . [c]uts that are made in the fabric [of experience] conceptually must be seen to be arbitrary to a degree, in that they are not necessarily “natural” to the pure experience itself . . .

James expresses the problem vividly (page 186):

Philosophy should seek this kind of living understanding of the movement of reality, not follow science in vainly patching together fragments of its dead results.

Lamberth goes on (ibid.):

(James) seeks a philosophy that both can account for the practical successes of the sciences and can value and provide insight into our moral and religious sentiments and experiences . . . .

The Nature of the Transcendent

This leads on to the consideration of exactly what is truth and its possible relationship with our concept of the absolute. Lamberth quotes James’s own statement of part of this problem (page 192):

. . . .[I]s one all inclusive purpose harboured by a general world-soul, embracing all sub-purposes in its system? Or are there many various purposes, keeping house together as they can, with no overarching purpose to include them?

James clearly struggles with this, remarking on the next page of A Pluralistic Universe, from which this quote was taken, that ‘We are indeed internal parts of God and not external creations.’

Lamberth takes the view that, in the end, James does not feel able to conclude with certainty that there is an Absolute. His ‘pluralism’ (I will return to what that might mean for James) assumes (page 197) ‘that the superhuman consciousness, however vast it may be, has itself an external environment, and consequently is finite.’ As we will see as this argument unfolds, this is a much subtler and far less reductionist position than might at first seem the case.

It will help to start from James’s own words (page 198):

Our “normal” consciousness is circumscribed for adaptation to an external environment, but the fence is weak in spots, and fitful influences from beyond leak in, showing the otherwise unverifiable common connection [between all]. Not only psychical research, but metaphysical philosophy and speculative biology are led in their own way to look with favour on some such “panpsychic” view of the universe as this.

The modern mind, saturated as it is in materialist mantras, could find this naïve. Lamberth is keen to dispel this preconception (ibid):

Contrary to what his final conclusions suggest, James was actually quite sceptical of jumping to conclusions about the veracity of purported psychical events. He did, however, find himself forced to resolve that the most reasonable explanation for certain psychical phenomena was to postulate some sort of “leakage” between a wider, interpersonal area of consciousness (or experience) and the otherwise “fenced” individual field or sphere of experience.

Windrose

Wind-rose (for source of image see link)

From this we move, in my view, to a strong sense of the transcendent (page 199):

Every bit of us at every moment is part and parcel of a wider self, it quivers along various radii like the wind-rose[1] on a compass, and the actual in it is continuously one with possibles not yet in our present sight. And just as we are co-conscious with our own momentary margin, may we not ourselves form the margin of some more really central self in things which is co-conscious with the whole of us? May not you and I be confluent in a higher consciousness, and confluently active there, tho [sic] we now know it not?

The pluralism mentioned earlier therefore stems from our multitude of different perspectives as unique individuals who are subliminally interconnected and potentially subsumed into a greater consciousness.

James’s use of the word ‘pragmatism’ has been part of the source of confusion as to exactly what he means and what the implications are for any sense whatsoever of the ‘Absolute.’ Lamberth is clear that pragmatism, for James, was not limited to the material realm (page 212).

This allows for the possibility of the transcendent, the absolute even, and therefore absolute truth, in some sense, but in what sense exactly has been a vexed question apparently (page 216):

. . . the question of “Truth” has continued to vex interpreters of James to the present.

Lamberth finds Hilary Putnam’s work helpful here. Putnam sees James as distinguishing between ‘absolutely true’ and ‘half-true’ (page 216-17):

On Putnam’s reading, what is merely verified is always only “half-true” for James, while what is “true” by contrast, is true absolutely, standing in relation to an ideal or absolute truth to which we imagine all our formulations will converge.

Which is not the same, by any means, as saying that anyone knows the absolute truth (page 217):

“No relativist who ever actually walked the earth,” writes James, “has denied the regulative character is his own thinking of the notion of absolute truth. What is challenged by relativists is the pretence on anyone’s part to have found for certain at any given moment what the shape of that truth is.” James concludes by noting that “the proposition ‘There is absolute truth’ is the only absolute truth of which we can be sure.”

He continued (page 220):

. . . “[W]e have to live to-day by what truth we can get to-day, and be ready tomorrow to call it falsehood.” . . . . . “No pragmatist needs to dogmatise about the consensus of opinion in the future being right,” James writes; “he need only postulate that it will probably contain more truth than anyone’s opinion now.”

Lamberth unpacks exactly what this implies, clearly and succinctly (page 222):

On this view, truth claims – however stable – are only ever hypothetical and provisional; moreover, counterfactuals, should evince some concrete grounding in fact, are only the beginnings of new trails of enquiry that lead to the revision of old truths or the addition of new ones. For James, then, there are falsification conditions for any given truth claim, but no absolute verification condition, regardless of how stable the truth claim may be as an experiential function. He writes in The Will to Believe that as an empiricist he believes that we can in fact attain truth, but not that we can know infallibly when we have.

A Two Way Street

Lamberth explains that after James’s death (page 226):

. . . the study of religion . . . . . developed in such ways that the insights of James’s views, in particular, the varied commitments of radical empiricism as a systematic, spiritualistic world-view, were never fully explored, much less embraced.

Science nominally endorses James’s criteria for the correct application of empiricism, but in practice privileges its own untestable assumptions while dismissing those of others. James has little patience with this kind of double standard[2].

Lamberth explains (page 227):

James seeks critically to hold off temptations towards reduction, whether reduction to quasi-mystical phenomenalism that eschews valuable reflective insights – scientific or philosophical – or reduction that privileges the philosophical or scientific account over the concrete, diverse first-order experiences that are its spark.

Lamberth nails his own colours to the mast shortly after this (page 229):

I . . . think that James’s turn to experience – understood in the broader context of his radical empiricism – is of crucial, substantive importance to the philosophy of religion, now and in the future.

A core component in his view as in James’s is a two-way street (page 234):

Considering James closely suggests that we should not adopt a theoretical stance that presumptively protects dominant metaphysical assumptions concerning “scientific” or “realistic” explanations from . . . scrutiny any more than we should adopt such a protective strategy for religious explanations and experiences.

If science were (page 235) to subject ‘its own metaphysical assumptions . . . to critique, testing and revision in a dynamic, empirically informed but rationally accountable form of inquiry, ’Lamberth feels, ‘such an open, minimally presumptive stage for investigation’ would be most beneficial. It would facilitate two important things:

1. the productive reopening of a range of presumptively foreclosed questions for novel reconsideration; and

2. the development of new insights.

Bahá’í Implications

A full understanding of all the implications of these insights goes further than simply hoping to reconcile science and religioncolorful_hands_small while they continue to go on their separate ways.

The Bahá’í Faith is a pragmatic religion – striving to learn how to walk the spiritual path with practical feet. The components of this process are described as study of guidance, consultation, action, reflection along with prayer and meditation on Scripture. This provides a set of interconnected steps to assess how effectively action is transforming our communities[3].

For those who have the time, a viewing of the video below will demonstrate a part at least of what I am trying to say.

Here we see communities across the globe applying their current understanding of the Bahá’í model for community action, learning from what goes well and what does not, to enhance their implementation.

It is important also to realise that all significant details concerning these experiments are fed back to the centre of the faith, collated and fed back to the Bahá’í world as a whole for further implementation, experimentation and hopefully eventual validation. What is learnt is also preserved, to be cascaded down through time as well as across widely dispersed locations.

It is precisely the lack of this co-ordinated and consolidated kind of information preservation and exchange that Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Andersen lamented in Cultural Creatives, their seminal examination of modern movements for cultural change. Too many people pick off parts of the problem unable to see or agree that they are all interconnected. When a group in one place dies, as is often the case, all that they learnt is lost. In the end the core issue cannot be evaded (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.

For pragmatism, scientific or religious, to produce valid revisable conclusions of lasting practical value, the improbable combination of radical open-mindedness and strong institutional co-ordination is vital. It is to this combination of essential qualities that the Bahá’í community aspires – not an easy task by any means, calling as it does for a degree of detachment from what you think you are doing so you can see what is actually going on, whether at the individual, community or institutional level.

Whereas so far the main attempts to validate religious practice have focused on such admittedly significant areas as meditation, and the related experience of mysticism, or the correlation between religious beliefs and an individual’s charitable action, there have been very few examples indeed of the careful examination of the beneficial impact of constructive religious practices on communities as a whole. This is what in my view makes the Bahá’í process an innovative if embryonic example of pragmatism in the Jamesian sense. To operate this way effectively, of course, those who are testing the model need to accept that they will sometimes get it wrong as well as right.

It is for me exciting to see a rigorous explanation of why, in philosophical terms, such an enterprise makes sense, though it is also disappointing that there are, so far, so few concrete examples in either field of pragmatic and dispassionate investigation crossing the currently great divide between religious and scientific practice, though both these disciplines have the capacity to mount them and a self-evident duty to do so.

[1] A wind rose is a graphic tool used by meteorologists to give a succinct view of how wind speed and direction are typically distributed at a particular location. When the magnetic compass began to be used in navigation, the wind rose was combined with it and used as a compass card.

[2] Not everyone would agree that science lacks this kind of humility. For instance, Paul Jerome Croce describes it somewhat differently in his book Science and Religion in the Era of William James – page 4 – stating ‘probabilism, relativity, and hypothetical methodologies firmly established the fundamental uncertainty of modern science.’ I will be looking at this in more detail in a subsequent post. My suspicion is, as Croce also suggests, that the evangelists of science, who tend to monopolise the public gaze, were then and, for me, are now mostly dogmatic materialists. This is even more true in the UK, I suspect, than in the States.

[3] There are those on what are probably the edges still of the scientific community who would already recognise this as a viable method of investigation, one that will enhance both understanding and practice. One example is the model of action research described by Peter Reason.

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