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Posts Tagged ‘vegetarianism’

The cover of a Bahá’í compilation: for the full text see link.

Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men. There can be no doubt that whoever is cognizant of this truth, is cleansed and sanctified from all pride, arrogance, and vainglory…. 

(Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, Wilmette, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1988, p. 44) 

This is where we are in history – to think
the table will remain full; to think the forest will
remain where we have pushed it; to think our bubble of
good fortune will save us from the night – a bird flies in
from the dark, flits across a lighted hall and disappears.

(From ‘Where We Are (after Bede)’ by Stephen Dobyns in Staying Alive: real poems for unreal times edited by Neil Astley – page 52)

Picking up from where we left off last time, what if anything can be done? 

Let’s start with Katherine Hayhoe’s perspective:

The technology and knowledge are there. The economics already make sense. In Texas, where I live, the biggest military base, Fort Hood, switched last year to renewables because they were cheaper than natural gas. And finally, it means weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, which is challenged by the fact that the majority of the world’s richest companies have made their money from the fossil fuel economy – so the majority of the wealth and power remains in their hands.

There is the possibility of our using economic leverage:

In the world we live in, money speaks loudly. Thanks to the growing divestment movement, we have seen cities, universities and entire countries, in the case of Ireland, withdrawing investments from fossil fuel assets. This isn’t only happening for ethical reasons but for practical ones as well. As clean energy continues to expand, those assets could become stranded. When money talks the world listens

Naomi Klein makes essentially the same point in This Changes Everything, emphasising at the same time the need for reinvestment in renewable energy (page 403):

The benefit of an accompanying reinvestment strategy, or a visionary investment strategy from the start, is that it has the potential to turn the screws on the industry much tighter, strengthening the renewable energy sector so that it is better able to compete directly with fossil fuels, while bolstering the frontline land defenders who need to be able to offer real economic alternatives to their communities.

Investment agencies active in the UK are beginning to respond. AXA is one such example. 

This is not an option though for those with no money to invest.

Veganism seems to be a possibility, according to one Guardian report: 

In May, scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet declared that avoiding meat and dairy products was the single biggest thing an individual could do for the environment.

Joseph Poore, of Oxford University, who led the research, said: “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth – not just greenhouse gases but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”

According to the supermarket chain Waitrose, a third of UK consumers say they have deliberately reduced the amount of meat they eat or removed it from their diet entirely. One in eight Britons are now vegetarian or vegan, and a further 21% say they are flexitarian – where a largely vegetable-based diet is supplemented occasionally with meat.

For health reasons three years ago I switched to soya yoghurt and oat milk. Recently, in the light of all these investigations I am working my way towards going vegan. I don’t have a problem giving up eggs. They’re boring. But cheese, that’s another story. Cheese is second only to coffee as one of my must-have intakes. 

However, as I experimented with various vegan versions, I discovered a surprisingly convincing blue-cheese-flavoured vegan option in Holland and Barretts, even though it’s as white as a sheet. What’s even more surprising is that the cheese slices and grated cheese I bought from Waitrose, though they contain high percentages of coconut oil, don’t taste of coconut at all. This is good news for me, because if they did, it would be a deal breaker. I hate coconut, a mysterious impediment to a good life that my wife finds hard to understand.  

I can’t quite convince myself that this move will checkmate the fossil fuel fanatics, but it seems a step in the right direction, however small, similar to refusing to buy South African produce during apartheid. A possible sign that I might be right in that respect were the packets of vegan cheese nestling alongside other produce on the butcher’s stall in Hereford’s indoor market the other day. ‘Were the stall holders hedging their bets?’ I wondered with a broad grin on my face.

Moving towards a vegan diet is slightly challenging even for a long-term vegetarian like me, and I still have not managed to eliminate milk entirely from my coffee and tea (and I know I still shouldn’t be drinking coffee – its carbon footprint is too big). For most people it is likely to seem too big a step. Thankfully recent research suggests there is a less demanding but still effective step:

The first science-based diet that tackles both the poor food eaten by billions of people and averts global environmental catastrophe has been devised. It requires huge cuts in red meat-eating in western countries and radical changes across the world.

The “planetary health diet” was created by an international commission seeking to draw up guidelines that provide nutritious food to the world’s fast-growing population. At the same time, the diet addresses the major role of farming – especially livestock – in driving climate change, the destruction of wildlife and the pollution of rivers and oceans.

Globally, the diet requires red meat and sugar consumption to be cut by half, while vegetables, fruit, pulses and nuts must double. But in specific places the changes are stark. North Americans need to eat 84% less red meat but six times more beans and lentils. For Europeans, eating 77% less red meat and 15 times more nuts and seeds meets the guidelines.

The article recognises that mobilising sufficient people to adopt this diet won’t be easy:

The report acknowledges the radical change it advocates and the difficulty of achieving it: “Humanity has never aimed to change the global food system on the scale envisioned. Achieving this goal will require rapid adoption of numerous changes and unprecedented global collaboration and commitment: nothing less than a Great Food Transformation.”

They do not feel that it is insanely utopian and completely beyond reach, though:

But it notes that major global changes have occurred before, such as the Green Revolution that hugely increased food supplies in the 1960s. Moves to tax red meat, prevent the expansion of farmland and protect swathes of ocean must all be considered, the commission said.

The Bahá’í Perspective

Not surprisingly I have also turned to the Bahá’í Revelation for some possible answers.

In his book Revelation and Social Reality Paul Lample helps explain the hard realities. The Universal House of Justice describes it as the work of centuries. Lample writes (page 48):

Generation after generation of believers will strive to translate the teachings into a new social reality… It is not a project in which Baha’is engage apart from the rest of humanity.

He amplifies the second point later (page 109):

. . . 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.

In fact (page 210) ‘Spiritual progress and moral behaviour are won by degrees, in incrementally better actions day by day, in an incrementally better world generation after generation.’

Nor will it be achieved by merely materialistic motivation nor by self-interest no matter how enlightened (pages 147-48):

The profound and far-reaching changes, the unity and unprecedented cooperation required to reorient the world towards an environmentally sustainable and just future, will only be possible by touching the human spirit, by appealing to those universal values which alone can empower individuals and people to act in accordance with the long-term interests of the planet and humanity as a whole.

Progress in turn results from the mutually reinforcing interaction of individual and society (page 58): ‘Living a Bahá’í life involves the twofold purpose of individual and social transformation.’ He quotes the Guardian’s insight (Shoghi Effendi, from a letter to an individual Baha’i, 17 February 1933) that:

We cannot segregate the human heart from the environment outside us and say that once one of these is reformed everything will be improved. Man is organic with the world. His inner life moulds the environment and is itself deeply affected by it. The one acts upon the other and every abiding change in the life of man is the result of these mutual reactions.

This is a cogent account of the process of creative consciousness-raising. So, what’s my problem exactly? 

There are no prizes for spotting it. If it will take us centuries to arrive at the wide-spread lifting of our collective consciousness to a level that would make effective action against global-warming not just possible but absolutely certain, and we only have a few decades at best, what’s going to happen, especially when we have dynamics at work such as Katherine Hayhoe describes?

The more doom-filled reports the scientists release, the stronger the pushback from politicians whose power, ideology and funding depends on maintaining the status quo, and who are supported by those who fear the solutions to climate change more than they fear its impacts.

Can we do anything effective to forestall climate armageddon?

The Bahá’í International Community, an NGO, issued a statement in 2015. This was in response to the UN’s Agenda 30, in which a key paragraph reads:

We resolve, between now and 2030, to end poverty and hunger everywhere; to combat inequalities within and among countries; to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies; to protect human rights and promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; and to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources. We resolve also to create conditions for sustainable, inclusive and sustained economic growth, shared prosperity and decent work for all, taking into account different levels of national development and capacities.

The BIC statement includes the following:

Baha’i efforts at social action seek to reach beyond establishing a mere set of activities, and address deeper issues such as modes of expression and patterns of thought and behaviour.

Such endeavours have direct relevance to the goals articulated in Agenda 2030. For example, . . ., in-depth exploration of the implications of the oneness of humankind has fostered a growing sense of world citizenship and strengthened commitment to more sustainable lifestyles (SDG 12). [Goal 12 reads: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.]

Goal 13 reads: ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’ and includes, amongst a list of mostly governmental initiatives, ‘13.3 Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning.’ This falls directly into the focus of the Bahá’í programme for engaging youth in community service, and the BIC includes a reference to it in their 2015 statement:

Young adolescents, for example, build their capacity to undertake acts of service, but also to discern what service is needed in their community. Is there a lack of jobs providing a sufficient living wage (SDG 8)? Distrust and hostility between ethnic or racial groups (SDG 16)? Exploitation and pollution of the natural environment (SDG 13)? Developing the ability to make such assessments empowers individuals to formulate action according to their own perceptions and values — prompted by a dynamic and advancing process of action and reflection.

In addition to that, Arthur Dahl, whose blog post is linked to the International Environment Forum, a Bahá’í inspired organization for environment and sustainability, summarises what we need to do as follows:

Change ourselves. Addressing our demand for energy is the biggest challenge. When we use an electrical appliance, spend time inside a building, use hot water, travel anywhere in a vehicle, or buy or eat anything, we are contributing to the problem. We need to start today to make sacrifices: drive less, fly less, consume less meat, have fewer children. A plant-based diet reduces a food carbon footprint by 90%. Avoid beef with a carbon footprint three times pork and six times chicken. Tropical fruits imported by air, and cheese are other offenders. Reduce short car journeys; car-pool, bike or walk instead. But one vacation flight would wipe out the benefits of going vegetarian for a year or driving 2500 km less. In your home, replace appliances with energy-efficient models, lower the temperature of hot water, use a low-flow showerhead, do not leave appliances on standby, and dry washing outside. Smart thermostats can reduce household emissions by up to 26%. Moving to a smaller home can cut emissions by 27%. At the office, turning off lights and your workstation when leaving, and unplugging your phone charger, can cut emissions by up to 28%. Working from home in the US can mean driving 77% less.

Above all, there is a lack of political will for the biggest transformation ever. People have to demand these changes with mass movements. This may seem impossible, but we have to try. We need to convince everyone that green alternatives improve our quality of life as well as the environment.

There is a compilation of more relevant Bahá’í quotations at this link.

In November 2017 the Universal House of Justice, at the Bahá’í World Centre, wrote a letter in response to issues raised with it. The entire letter requires careful reading. I will only share a small number of key insights here. They acknowledge that ‘there does exist at present a striking degree of agreement among experts in relevant fields about the cause and impact of climate change.’ However they warn that ‘A phenomenon as complex as climate change cannot be reduced to simple propositions or simplistic policy prescriptions.’ There are traps we need to avoid:

Bahá’ís have to avoid being drawn into the all too common tendencies evident in contemporary discourse to delineate sharp dichotomies, become ensnared in contests for power, and engage in intractable debate that obstructs the search for viable solutions to the world’s problems.

They also point out that:

The incessant focus on generating and magnifying points of difference rather than building upon points of agreement leads to exaggeration that fuels anger and confusion,

This does not prevent Bahá’í involvement:

While as a fundamental principle Bahá’ís do not engage in partisan political affairs, this should not be interpreted in a manner that prevents the friends from full and active participation in the search for solutions to the pressing problems facing humanity.

Care needs to be taken though in how this is done:

Whenever Bahá’ís do participate in activities associated with this topic in the wider society, they can help to contribute to a constructive process by elevating the discourse above partisan concerns and self-interest to strive to achieve unity of thought and action.

Hopefully I have not transgressed that injunction in my desire to explain my position.

The Current State of Play

Naomi Klein detects signs of hope, however fragile, both in terms of more effective action, thanks in part to the concerted opposition from diverse interest groups triggered by the high-handed over-reaching of the fracking and tar oil industries, and to a changing perspective about power relations with our home planet.

She quotes the words of Melinda Laboucan-Massino, a charismatic spokesperson for the Lubicon First Nation (page 322):

‘People are listening now,’ she told me, with tears in her eyes in the summer of 2013. ‘But it took a long time for people to get to that place.’ And this, she said, means that ‘there is hope. But it can be pretty dire sometimes in Alberta.’

Recent developments in Canada, logged by the Guardian newspaper, suggest there is still a long way to go, and ground that seemed to have been secured remains under possible threat. For example, ‘In 1997 the supreme court put an end to one of the longest-running legal battles in Canadian history, ruling that the Wet’suwet’en had effectively demonstrated clear title to their land. The plaintiffs exhausted more than an estimated $25m on legal fees – only to have a retrial called, leaving uncertainty around their claim.’

Klein’s insight concerning our relations with the earth, rooted too deeply in our earlier exploitative arrogance and misplaced sense of power, is also hopefully spreading (page 285):

In pragmatic terms, our challenge is less to save the earth from ourselves and more to save ourselves from an earth that, if pushed too far, has ample power to rock, burn, and shake us off completely. That knowledge should inform all we do.

I was reminded of these words of Bahá’u’lláh as I read that (Persian Hidden Words: No 20):

. . . ye walk on My earth complacent and self-satisfied, heedless that My earth is weary of you and everything within it shunneth you. Were ye but to open your eyes, ye would, in truth, prefer a myriad griefs unto this joy, and would count death itself better than this life.

Every great and successful civilisation in the past has inexorably expanded until it reached an impassible barrier that meant it had to either change direction or die. Those that were flexible enough to change direction, and China seems to have been one such so far at least, managed to find a way of dodging the bullet and flourishing even across millennia. The rest of them are now extinct as civilisations, though, because they were not global, they didn’t take too many other peoples down with them. If, as major global polluters, we don’t want to join them, and take most of the rest of the world with us, we’ll have to take action along the right lines right now, it seems to me.

It should be a no-brainer, then, to choose total transformation rather than annihilation within decades. 

Paradoxically, the very magnitude of the increasingly imminent threat and the totality of its potentially destructive power may be the trigger to our mobilising a more effective response. As David Wallace-Wells puts it in his apocalyptic warning, The Uninhabitable Earth (page 25):

If you had to invent a threat grand enough, and global enough, to plausibly conjure into being a system of true international cooperation, climate change would be it.

So, which do we collectively prefer – transformation of annihilation? The answer to that will lie in the overall pattern of our actions from now on.

Meanwhile I seek to slake my imperishable thirst for an immediate, impossible solution to this intractable problem with the less traumatic puzzle of a sealed-room-murder episode of Death in Paradise, all too aware the title might be prophetic, and not just for the inhabitants of islands in the tropics, but also for those of us who live in the high tech cocoon of an intensely industrialised world. 

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Illegal cattle

Cattle at an illegal settlement in the Jamanxim National Forest, state of Para, northern Brazil, November 29, 2009. With 1,3 million hectares, the Jamanxim National Forest is today a microsm that replicates what happens in the Amazon, where thousands of hectares of land are prey of illegal woodcutters, stock breeders and gold miners. Photograph: Antonio Scorza/AFP/Getty Images

Needless to say this was music to my vegetarian ears, although there was also a clear message that with my obstinate taste for cheese I have not gone far enough! So, you will understand why I could not resist posting a link to this Guardian article. Below is the usual short extract as a taster.

Biggest analysis to date reveals huge footprint of livestock – it provides just 18% of calories but takes up 83% of farmland.

Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.

The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.

The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.

The study, published in the journal Science, created a huge dataset based on almost 40,000 farms in 119 countries and covering 40 food products that represent 90% of all that is eaten. It assessed the full impact of these foods, from farm to fork, on land use, climate change emissions, freshwater use and water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification).

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

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Cattle

A cattle farm in Mato Grosso, Brazil. 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock. Photograph: Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

Another Guardian article has motivated me to recommend it, even though I’m treading very lightly on my blog at present. I have always known we have a disproportionate impact on the planet, but grossly underestimated the size of the mismatch, it seems. And, of course, it’s good to see the vegetarian case strengthened by this data! Below is a short extract: for the full article see link.

Groundbreaking assessment of all life on Earth reveals humanity’s surprisingly tiny part in it as well as our disproportionate impact.

The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds.

The new work is the first comprehensive estimate of the weight of every class of living creature and overturns some long-held assumptions. Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter. All other creatures, from insects to fungi, to fish and animals, make up just 5% of the world’s biomass.

. . .

The new work reveals that farmed poultry today makes up 70% of all birds on the planet, with just 30% being wild. The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.

“It is pretty staggering,” said Milo. “In wildlife films, we see flocks of birds, of every kind, in vast amounts, and then when we did the analysis we found there are [far] more domesticated birds.”

. . .

Despite humanity’s supremacy, in weight terms Homo sapiens is puny. Viruses alone have a combined weight three times that of humans, as do worms. Fish are 12 times greater than people and fungi 200 times as large.

. . .

[O]ur impact on the natural world remains immense, said Milo, particularly in what we choose to eat: “Our dietary choices have a vast effect on the habitats of animals, plants and other organisms.”

“I would hope people would take this [work] as part of their world view of how they consume,” he said. ”I have not become vegetarian, but I do take the environmental impact into my decision making, so it helps me think, do I want to choose beef or poultry or use tofu instead?”

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Holland House

Last Monday I was scheduled to give a short talk at Holland House, Cropthorne, to an interfaith group on the Bahá’í approach to health and well-being. It was an opportunity both to share the Bahá’í perspective on these matters and learn from other religions what their take on the matter is. I hope to deal with these other points of view in a separate post. This one is going to be long enough without them! It was another occasion when I had more to say than the time allowed and readers of this blog are paying the price!

More than that though, this time the talk I eventually gave was rather different from the one I planned, though it included some of the original points.

I was derailed by various things. No pun intended, but the train journey there was a nightmare. The four carriage train before mine had been cancelled when its brakes failed. The two carriage train I was on had to find space not just for us but for all the passengers from the first train who were still waiting. Sardine time! At every stop the wait got longer and longer as it became ever more difficult to squeeze more sardines into the tin. My chance of getting my connection faded gradually into Never Never Land.

I’d already begun to revise my talk when I got the final copy of the programme a few days before. It spelt out the topic of the day more clearly than the earlier version: ‘How does my faith community understand and support wholeness, wellbeing and health in individuals and communities?’ I’d started to rework it in the time available but needed to do more on the train.

That proved easier said than done. When I boarded the train I headed for a table with only one man sitting there. As soon as I started to sit down I realised I’d miscalculated. It was one man and his guide dog. No problem, I thought. I’ve done this before. These dogs are well-trained, quiet and docile. He readjusted his dog, and I did the same with my expectations as more passengers climbed on board and a lady joined us at the table. Still not a major problem as Milo, the brown-eyed labrador, still had room to lie down quietly. Until that is a second lady asked if she could sit at the window seat beside me.

From that point on, my revision of the talk was punctuated by unpredictable interactions with Milo who was clearly excited to be surrounded by so many people at close quarters. His harness was on the table. His owner explained that when Milo had his harness on he was in work mode. Without the harness it was playtime!

I arrived at the station for my connection with the train I planned to be on long gone. The next train was more than an hour away. Time for some lateral thinking. In the end, I bit the bullet and took a taxi to the venue. No way I could carry on revising my plan as we bounced along. I had to do that while the other speakers were doing their bit and before my turn came.

Anyway, I felt it might still be worth sharing in this sequence what I originally planned to say, before trying to type up what I actually said into a later post.

So, here it is.

The Basics

It’s probably best at the start to make two very basic points.

We need to use doctors when we are ill and Bahá’ís have no reservations about accepting medical best practice. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is unequivocal: ‘the sick must refer to the doctor.’[1]

Also we have no Bahá’í healers as such, even if a Bahá’í feels they have healing powers. The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, Shoghi Effendi makes this crystal clear: ‘although there is no objection to your helping others to regain their health, he does not feel you should associate the name Bahá’í with your work, as it gives a wrong impression; we have no “Bahá’í healers” . . . You are a Bahá’í and a healer, and that is quite different.’[2]

We are free to use the material means at our disposal to help others in need: ‘There is nothing in the teachings which would forbid a Bahá’í to bequeath his eyes to another person or for a Hospital; on the contrary it seems a noble thing to do.’[3] and ‘There is nothing in the Teachings to prevent a Bahá’í from willing his body for medical research after death. However, it should be made clear that the remains must be buried eventually and not cremated, as this is according to Bahá’í law.’[4]

Complicating Factors

Now I’m going to complicate things a little.

Medicine is not the only option. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains: ‘There are two ways of healing sickness, material means and spiritual means. The first is by the treatment of physicians; the second consisteth in prayers offered by the spiritual ones to God and in turning to Him. Both means should be used and practised.’

He also adds an interesting rider to this: ‘Illnesses which occur by reason of physical causes should be treated by doctors with medical remedies; those which are due to spiritual causes disappear through spiritual means. Thus an illness caused by affliction, fear, nervous impressions, will be healed more effectively by spiritual rather than by physical treatment. Hence, both kinds of treatment should be followed; they are not contradictory.’[5]

This is not to say that spiritual means in some way trump material means. Shoghi Effendi wrote: ‘Healing through purely spiritual forces is undoubtedly as inadequate as that which materialist physicians and thinkers vainly seek to obtain by resorting entirely to mechanical devices and methods. The best result can be obtained by combining the two processes: spiritual and physical.’[6]

This sense of the complementary nature of the relationship between spiritual and material means is increasingly being endorsed by evidence such as that adduced in Goleman and Davidson’s excellent book on meditation where they explain that what matters most is our relationship to the pain we suffer from. Our experience, as the authors put it (page 148), is not based on the direct ‘apperception of what is happening, but to a great extent upon our expectations and projections.’ They add, ‘consciousness operates as an integrator, gluing together a vast amount of elementary mental processes, most of which we are oblivious to.’

In follow up studies they state (page 167) ‘no research so far has found that meditation produces clinical improvement in chronic pain by removing the biological cause of the pain – the relief comes in how people relate to that pain.’ And at the neurological level, the more you meditate, the lower are the levels of activation in the reactive areas of the brain. So, they are clear we don’t cure the pain by meditation: we maximize the efficacy of the way we deal with it and thus enhance our quality of life.

The value of human contact and support is endorsed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: ‘We should all visit the sick. When they are in sorrow and suffering, it is a real help and benefit to have a friend come. Happiness is a great healer to those who are ill. . . .You must always have this thought of love and affection when you visit the ailing and afflicted.[7]

It may even be legitimate at times to exploit the placebo effect: ‘…if a doctor consoles a sick man by saying, “Thank God you are better, and there is hope of your recovery,” though these words are contrary to the truth, yet they may become the consolation of the patient and the turning point of the illness. This is not blameworthy.’[8]

These points also strongly suggest that what we believe has an important role in recovery from illness, and, just as negative thoughts and feelings can impair our health, positive ones can enhance it.

The wealth of modern evidence pointing towards the power of the placebo reinforces this even when physical problems are involved. The nocebo effect, where our negativity undermines the benefits of interventions, points in the same direction in terms of the impact of our minds upon our bodies. It is also becoming increasingly recognised that the value of the medical approach can be augmented by adding psychological approaches into the mix, in terms, for example, of recovery from surgery.

Caveats

There are in addition some interesting and important caveats against blindly following medical advice.

First of all, Shoghi Effendi advises: ‘Before having any serious operation, you should consult more than one qualified physician.’[9]

Secondly, we should not become unnecessarily dependent upon medication: ‘Do not neglect medical treatment when it is necessary, but leave it off when health has been restored…. Treat disease through diet, by preference, refraining from the use of drugs; and if you find what is required in a single herb, do not resort to a compounded medicament. Abstain from drugs when the health is good, but administer them when necessary.[10]

This warning seems to apply to such situations as the abuse of antibiotics and the habituation and addiction to painkillers that escalates the dosage to dangerous levels over time.

Relevant aspects of diet include sugar, which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá consistently warns us is not good in excess, and possibly meat. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá goes as far as questioning its long-term value: ‘What will be the food of the future?’ he asks. ‘Fruit and grains,’ is his answer. ‘The time will come when meat will no longer be eaten. Medical science is only in its infancy, yet it has shown that our natural diet is that which grows out of the ground. The people will gradually develop up to the condition of this natural food.[11]

I must confess to a bias here. I am a vegetarian and have been for just over forty years. I must not though give the impression that the Faith prohibits the eating of meat. It does not. However, Shoghi Effendi states: ‘It is certain, however, that if man can live on a purely vegetarian diet and thus avoid killing animals, it would be much preferable. This is, however, a very controversial question and the Bahá’ís are free to express their views on it.’[12]

Next time I’ll be picking up on the importance of diet and exploring what else is said in the Bahá’í Writings about what we can do to improve our health.

Footnotes:

[1] From a Tablet – translated from the Persian.
[2] From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 13 December 1945 to an individual believer.
[3] From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 6 September 1946 to an individual believer.
[4] 
In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 26 June 1956 to the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada.
[5] Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Sec 133, pages 151-52.
[6] (In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 12 March 1934 to an individual believer)
[7] 
(The Promulgation of Universal Peace: Talks Delivered by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá during His Visit to the United States and Canada in 1912 2nd. ed. – Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982 – page 204).
[8] 
(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, “Some Answered Questions”, 1st pocket-sized ed. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1984), pp. 215-16)
[9] 
(In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 8 April 1954 to an individual believer)
[10] 
(Bahá’u’lláh, cited in J. E. Esslemont, “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era”, 5th rev. ed. (Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1987), p. 106)
[11] (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, cited in Julia M. Grundy. Ten Days in the Light of ‘Akka, rev. ed. – Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust – 1979, pages 8-9)
[12] 
(In a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 9 July 1931 to an individual believer)

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