The Terraces on Lake Constance

During all the time that Shoghi Effendi spent in Switzerland, I wonder whether he ever ventured out to Mainau, a famous garden island on Lake Constance (just over the German border). Mainau is famous for a variety of features, one of which is a water staircase lined with cypresses. One quick look at the staircase is likely to remind any Bahá’í of the grand terraces on Mount Carmel.

Mainau's Water Staircase

Mainau’s Water Staircase


Membership: Window to the Soul

Look what I just found in the garage!

Once upon a time I was 25 years old and I tried to resign quietly from the religion I’d been born into—and formally “declared” myself into. I’m not sure that my declaration, at the mature age of fifteen, amounted to more than saying “yes” to my parents, but sure, I was a believer—just as I’d been a believer when I was five. I don’t remember being particularly interested in religion at the time.

By the time I resigned, or requested to do so, I’d been around the Bahá’í block, so to speak. I’d studied the Bahá’í religion intensely, studied Arabic, served on a Local Spiritual Assembly, participated in several mass teaching projects in four states, and served at the Bahá’í World Centre in Haifa, Israel. I knew a thing or two about the Bahá’í religion, but I hadn’t believed in it at all for more than two years, and I was watching a Bahá’í leader in my local community behaving quite badly, so I was moved to mail in my resignation.

The NSA replied that I could not be permitted to resign unless I was no longer a believer, which struck me as an amusing affront. Here I’d thought my faith—or absence thereof—was between me and God, presuming the existence of God. Membership cannot be a matter of belief; it is a social institution. What if I did tell them that I don’t believe? Perhaps deep down in my heart I actually did believe. How can belief really be a matter of social identity? Well I suppose it can be. It seems to be just that in the Bahá’í Faith. The Universal House of Justice makes that clear in a letter cited by the NSA in their reply to my attempted resignation. Yet still, would not then my resignation be tantamount to a declaration of unbelief? Given the evident social basis of Bahá’í religion, are not belief and membership one and the same?

NSA Letter, 18 Oct 1990

A Prayer for Peace

I am of the general opinion that each of us has a religion. Each of us holds something to be sacred, though not all of us choose to follow self-proclaimed infallible guides. Not all of us involve prayer as part of our religion, but for those of us who do, prayer can take the form of a poem. For Bahá’ís, sunlight is a favorite metaphor for right guidance from God, but not everyone thinks that light is necessarily the best guide. For Robinson Jeffers, a prayer to a Goddess of darkness is more appropriate than a prayer to a God of light.

@ 1925 Robinson Jeffers
Jeffers Literary Properties
Stanford University Press
Reading © 2017 Kaweah

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Give me a sky burial every time.

Here’s one of my favorite aspects of Zoroastrianism. Why mess with success?

Published posthumously in 1963.
Jeffers Literary Properties
Stanford University Press
Reading © 2017 Kaweah

For more discussion on this and other Jeffers poems, see Robinson Jeffers: Fire from Stone.

The Dawn-Breakers of the Alamo

Remember the Alamo?

While recently looking for images for a video project featuring the poem “Dawn” by California poet Robinson Jeffers, I came upon the painting “Dawn at the Alamo,” a rather imaginative and partisan depiction of the fall of the Alamo.

For those readers who aren’t familiar with the story, a band of Anglo-American Texans, apparently disregarding the urgings of their general Sam Houston, holed up in a Spanish mission after taking a Mexican town. They were doomed from the start. Major General Houston had no interest in holding the town, regarding it a strategic liability. The defense of the town did little or nothing for the cause of Texan independence, rather more likely harmed it—at least tactically, yet the defenders of the Alamo are remembered as martyrs of the cause, probably because they had to be remembered as such. They fought bravely, probably knowing that General Santa Anna, a bloodthirsty tyrant by all accounts, had no intention of sparing the lives of any of them. Continue reading

The Guardian’s Guardian?

You may be familiar with some of the more startling things said about homosexuality in the Bahá’í writings. If not, here’s a sampling:

Homosexuality is highly condemned … (6 October 1956)

… through the advice and help of doctors, through a strong and determined effort, and through prayer, a soul can overcome this handicap. … it is forbidden by Bahá’u’lláh, … (26 March 1950)

… [the homosexual] must mend his ways, if necessary consult doctors, and make every effort to overcome this affliction, which is corruptive for him and bad for the Cause. If after a period of probation you do not see an improvement, he should have his voting rights taken away. (20 June 1953)

These excerpts paint a bleak picture, but the broader image is one of tolerance and compassion. Still, homosexuality itself is depicted as a “handicap” and an “affliction” that ought to be treated by doctors. On top of this, “homosexuality is highly condemned.”

None of these words were written by a leader of the Bahá’í Faith, but rather by a secretary of Shoghi Effendi, “Guardian of the Cause” from 1921 to 1957. Though the mere scribblings of a lowly secretary, these words are thoroughly authoritative—the Guardian himself said so. He appeared to have cosigned each one of the letters (I have not verified every case). Still, what virtuoso secretary would the Guardian of God’s Cause bless with the privilege to speak on his behalf?

Mary Maxwell

Mary Maxwell

His wife, probably. We know that she wrote one of the three cited letters, and I’m going to guess that she wrote the other two as well (which I have not been able to locate).

This conjecture should surprise no one who knew his wife, Mary Maxwell, whom he named Ruhiyyih. She was as sharp as she was beautiful. She had been raised in a leading Bahá’í family. Her father, like Mary herself, had been honored with the title “Hand of the Cause.” Few Bahá’ís would have been more qualified to speak on the subject of the Bahá’í Faith.

The time period of the four known letters on the subject of homosexuality was from 1949 to 1956, the final eight years of Shoghi Effendi’s life. It was during these years that the Guardian bestowed a number of honors on his his friend Charles Mason Remey, an older Bahá’í who had been a leading Bahá’í when Shoghi was just a boy.

In 1950, the Guardian asked Remey to move to Israel so that they could work together. The Guardian then appointed Remey a Hand of the Cause and appointed him president of the International Bahá’í Council, the predecessor of the Universal House of Justice. The president of the Universal House of Justice was going to be the Guardian.

The Guardian also made Remey the architect of several temples and appeared to give Remey some holy relics.

Given Remey’s track record by 1950, all these honors may have been misdirected. His credentials as an architect were dubious. He hadn’t designed any building other than his own mansion and mausoleum, so far as I know. The mausoleum, which he dubbed the Remeum, was a towering example of self-indulgent excess and poor planning. Living off of inherited wealth, with friends and associates in high places, Remey had never been much more than a promoter of the Bahá’í Faith. As such, he had introduced Mary Maxwell’s father to the Faith. In 1909, Shoghi’s illustrious grandfather `Abdu’l-Bahá’ asked prominent Bahá’í Juliet Thompson to marry Remey. Thompson politely and respectfully declined.

What did `Abdu’l-Bahá’ see in Remey in 1909? What did the Guardian see in him in 1950?

I have wondered whether Ruhiyyih was guiding the Guardian himself through those four letters. Why did the Guardian seem reticent to write on the matter? It is possible that he had gay friends. Some have said that Mason Remey was gay. Did the Guardian himself have gay leanings? He certainly wasn’t the most masculine man in appearance, he didn’t marry until age 40, and his young, beautiful wife would later claim that he had been too busy to have children (I believe I heard her say this during a visit in Israel). I don’t believe the Guardian was gay, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he was.

Some few have alleged that the Guardian left a will in which he appointed Remey to be his successor, and that Ruhiyyih destroyed the document when Shoghi died. I doubt this, but if it was the case, Ruhiyyih Khanum may have saved the Bahá’í Faith. Remey was visibly incompetent. He made a fool of himself when he claimed to be the new Guardian at age 75, but he’d always been incompetent.

©2017 Kaweah


The Triumph of the Cause

The Party represents unity of will, which precludes all factionalism and division of authority in the Party.

Joseph Stalin, The Foundations of Leninism
Chapter VIII: The Party

The unification of our country, the unity of our people and the unity of our various nationalities — these are the basic guarantees of the sure triumph of our cause.

Mao Zedong, On the Correct Handling of Contradictions Among the People
February 27, 1957, 1st pocket ed., pp. 1-2.

Door-to-Door Campaigning in the 21st Century

You know those people who knock on your door to introduce you to God? That used to be me. I have knocked on doors in the San Joaquin Valley of California, Los Angeles, South Carolina, North Carolina, and even on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota. I did it to “teach” the Bahá’í Faith, as recently as the mid 1980s. I’d been told a few years ago that Bahá’ís don’t go door-to-door anymore, but apparently that is not entirely true.

I recently heard that Bahá’ís in the Pacific Northwest had been running door-to-door “expansion campaigns” (a rather aggressive form of what Bahá’ís call “direct teaching”) as recently as two years ago, so I went out into Googlespace to see what I could scare up. There is ample evidence that Bahá’ís in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington State were knocking on doors in the years 2008–2010. I have also found videos about “direct teaching” from 2011, but I don’t see much in the years since then.

I think this activity was prompted by the Universal House of Justice in the wake of the 2007-8 Global Financial Crisis. Bahá’ís, like some other religious groups, beam with anticipation at the first rumor of crisis. The failures of others are their reassurance that they have the answer and that the world will soon come begging for help.

In the following video, a poster board street map is presented during a 2009 planning session during what was called the “17th Intensive Baha’i Program of Growth.”

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The Face of God

It is commonly known that Muslims, for the most part, shun images of their prophet. They certainly do not approve of images of God, though Islám is perhaps as stained by idolatry as any religion. Muslims worship the Qurán as an uncreated being (the word of God exists before creation), they revere Muhammad as the perfect man, and they circumambulate a black stone in what is perhaps their foremost expression of worship. In addition to all that, the Qur’án itself reduces the will of God to a very specific image that can stifle the imagination.

Qur'án 2:115

Qur’án 2:115 (Muhammad al-Qtayfani)

But when it comes to the actual Face of God, the Qur’án anthropomorphizes God in a rather non-idolatrous way which I find quite inspired (“your mileage may vary”). It arises in the way that the Qur’án speaks of “the Face of God.” The Qur’án makes reference to this specific construct only twice. In one passage, the point is made that the Face of God can been seen everywhere, and presumably, in everything:

To God belong the East and the West; whithersoever you turn, there is the Face of God; God is All-embracing, All-knowing. [2:115]

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Bahá’u’lláh and the Houri of the Deep

There is an old mystical tradition in Islám, generally attributed to Sufis and Persian poets that represents God as “the beloved,” a beautiful “youth” who can sometimes border on the erotic. It seems to be that some more subversive poets such as Hafez made use of this equivocation between God and desire in taking license to celebrate wine, women, and song. Where did this sense of God as the obsession of a drunken lover come from? I haven’t studied this topic nearly enough to hope to have anything new to contribute on the matter, but here’s what I’ve got.

La Houri: Black-eyed beauty , 1919

Constant Montald: La Houri: Black-eyed beauty, 1919

Let’s go back to the old Zoroastrian tradition of Daena, the goddess or daemon that greets each soul three days after death. The old tradition says that good souls are greeted by a beautiful, even voluptuous maiden, but bad souls are greeted by an old hag. I composed (or perhaps plagiarized) a poem on the subject years ago. It turns out that Daena, that heavenly reward for the good and punishment for the wicked is really just a reflection of the soul’s own character, expressed esthetically and sexually. The “paradise” of this model is the paradise of one’s own character. As Heraclitus is known to have said, “character is destiny.”

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