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.

It’s an old story: holy fools, playing against bad odds, courageously slaughtered by unholy monsters, while themselves slaughtering more than their share. It is a story that Bahá’í children know as the story of the siege and fall of Fort Shaykh-Tabarsi. That “fort,” like the Alamo, had been conceived as a religious site, the shrine of a Muslim holy man.

Jeffers’ poem happens to tell the general story well, throwing light on the irony inherent in using the word “dawn” to represent progress. According to the poem, dawn only serves to shed light on the stubborn evil of the human world.

Bahá’ís call their holy warriors of mid-19th Century Iran “the Dawn-Breakers.” For them, this image of carnage within the breached walls of the Alamo may give a westernized peek into the fall of their holy martyrs to the Shah’s troops, as the Alamo itself becomes an odd sort of Bahá’í shrine.

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

 

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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In the Beginning was the Voice

Qur'an 96:1: Recite in the name of your Lord

Recite in the name of your Lord

Though Muslims generally reckon their religion to be based upon a book, Islám is a profoundly oral religion. Even its theology is fundamentally oral. The God of Muhammad, it might reasonably be said, is something of a poet; a lyricist and vocalist.

The book that Muslims hold in such reverence as to be an object of worship is not so much something to be read as something to be recited. The book is even named “the Recitation,” and its very first word, according to the traditional chronology of the book, is “recite:”

Recite [اقرا] in the Name of thy Lord who created,
created Man of a clot of blood. (96:1)

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A Salacious Peek into the Creepy Closet of Bahá’í Love

Who are the Ungodly and Why Should We Avoid Them? That’s the double-question answered by Bahá’í blogger Susan Gammage in a recent post. Her answer to the first question implies her answer to the second. It comes in two parts:

The ungodly are

  1. those who disbelieve in God
  2. those whose hearts are turned away from God

I’m not sure whether the answer is “1 and 2” or “1 or 2.” Either way, the implications are astonishing.

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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. Continue reading

Guy on the Horizon

Guy Murchie, Jr. had big shoes to fill, and a big name to live up to. He lived as though he was keenly aware of his father’s figurative shoe size.

While a student at Harvard, Guy was a member of the school’s prestigious rowing team. He graduated from Harvard in 1929, at age 22. He left before commencement ceremonies for a trip featuring Alaska, Hawaii, East Asia, and Russia that lasted about a year. His plan was to pay his way by working as he went, sailing “before the mast” as did Ishmael in Moby-Dick, though he paid his way as a conventional traveler much of the way. He kept a trip journal that would become the book, Men on the Horizon, published in 1932. The book was something of a success, making the New York Times “Best Sellers” list for nonfiction. [1]

The Stock Market Crash of October 1929 would strike while Murchie was just getting work in the engine room of a liner from Honolulu to Kobe, Japan. Though he discussed economics at length throughout the book and throughout the Soviet Union, he seemed to do so as an open-minded but proud and optimistic American, utterly oblivious to the mounting economic catastrophe at home. But though he may have been a patriot, he delivered a pointed message of international brotherhood.

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