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.”
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 (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]
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.
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.”
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)
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
- those who disbelieve in God
- 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.
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 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. 
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.
The American Empire, it might well be said, was born on the day Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders defeated the Spanish in Cuba. Roosevelt was surely the first American Emperor — though a democratic emperor, and his Cuban adventure was the heroic gesture that crowned him. Largely ignoring the Constitution, Teddy expanded the powers of the Presidency so as to rein in monopolies. He made the United States a world power, and the United States and the world have not been the same since.
One of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders was Teddy’s Harvard classmate, Guy Murchie. Roosevelt wrote of Murchie:
The Harvard contingent was practically raised by Guy Murchie, of Maine. He saw all the fighting and did his duty with the utmost gallantry, …
I haven’t done much with this blog lately. Too much is going on in life and the Bahá’ís have been very quiet of late. I need to find something to post about! Oh here: this will do …
It was recently brought to my attention that I had been removed from Wikipedia’s list of Ex-Bahá’ís, which was quite a surprise given that I didn’t know I’d ever been on any such list. It’s hard to enjoy fame when nobody tells you you’re famous.
It happened that when yours truly was stricken from the honor roll, the list was broken up into two much shorter lists … and one really long list:
- Former Bahá’ís: Juan Cole and Abd al-Hosayn Ayati
- Apostates: K. Paul Johnson, Denis MacEoin, and Ehsan Yarshater
- Covenant-breakers: (too many to mention here)