A New Respect for Veils

I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to Gretel Murchie Porter (deceased), her brother Barnaby, and Gretel’s son Samuel Goldsmith for their time, patience, and trouble. Thanks to Sam in particular for granting me permission to copy his grandfather’s manuscript “The Veil of Glory,” in order that I might be able to read it. Thanks, finally, to the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center for preserving Guy Murchie’s materials and making them available.

I’m a Guy Murchie fan. I respect his popular works on science and though I am no longer a Bahá’í I consider his magnum opus, “The Seven Mysteries of Life,” the best presentation of the Bahá’í Faith ever made for a modern audience. It follows naturally that when I discovered that Murchie had been working on a history of the Bahá’í Faith in his late years (ca. 1980 to 1988) I wanted to see if some hidden gem had been waiting to be discovered; a gem, if nothing else, for Bahá’í readers. Yes, I think I can suspend my disbelief long enough to dig up a gem that is only of value to someone else, but this is easy when the memory of an author whom I admire is involved.

After obtaining 430 photocopied pages of edited and redacted text for a fee of $250, I set off immediately to read the preface, introduction, and a bit of the body before skipping on to the concluding chapters. I am not ashamed to say that I was thrilled.

Unfortunately, this mystery drama does not end as I had hoped. I don’t want to say much more. The tone of the beginning and end is evangelical and even arrogant. The embellishments that Murchie adds to the narrative are difficult to believe; often logically and geographically unsustainable. There are cases where he creates geography from whole cloth for the sake of his imaginative fillers, and the servitude of his fictional geography to his fictional vignettes is transparent. All this, and not a single footnote.

The Universal House of Justice, I think, was being charitable in their assessment that this book would “muddy the waters of Bahá’í history,” as I think Houghton Mifflin was being equally charitable in saying that the book was “too much like the Gospel.” (See Murchie, Guy. The Soul School: Confessions of a Passenger on Planet Earth. Fithian Press. Santa Barbara, California. 1995. Page 609–10.)

I can only say in Guy Murchie’s defense, hoping to avoid ageism, that such a project was a monumental task for a man of his advanced years. He’d already been in his seventies when he published “Seven Mysteries.” He was 75 when “Seven Mysteries” was listed as a finalist for the American Book Award. Perhaps we should leave it at that.

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