Our Daily Bread: Quid Pro Quo

Hey, a little quid pro quo never hurt nobody. You scratch my back—I’ll scratch yours!

One of the most reliable ways for a Bahá’í to “grow spiritually” is by proselytizing. Bahá’ís call it “teaching.” I remember wondering as a child: what will Bahá’ís do when everyone is a Bahá’í, and there’s nobody left to teach?

O SON OF MAN! Magnify My cause that I may reveal unto thee the mysteries of My greatness and shine upon thee with the light of eternity.

—Bahá’u’lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words

O SON OF BEING! Make mention of Me on My earth, that in My heaven I may remember thee, thus shall Mine eyes and thine be solaced.

—Bahá’u’lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words

Our Daily Bread: Blind thine eyes

Today’s sweet slice of salvation directs us to block all sensory input, wash our brains, empty our wallets, and close our minds so that we may fully and properly adore Bahá’u’lláh, the Promised Idol of All Ages:

Blind thine eyes, that thou mayest behold My beauty; stop thine ears, that thou mayest hearken unto the sweet melody of My voice; empty thyself of all learning, that thou mayest partake of My knowledge; and sanctify thyself from riches, that thou mayest obtain a lasting share from the ocean of My eternal wealth. Blind thine eyes, that is, to all save My beauty; stop thine ears to all save My word; empty thyself of all learning save the knowledge of Me; that with a clear vision, a pure heart and an attentive ear thou mayest enter the court of My holiness.

—Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words

Our Daily Bread: It's All About Growth

growth [ grōth ]

noun (plural growths)
medicine tumor: a mass of cells with no physiological function, e.g. a tumor that forms in or on an organ

Encarta® World English Dictionary

Pathology An abnormal mass of tissue, such as a tumor, growing in or on a living organism.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language

The words “growth” and “expansion” occur six times in a recent announcement of the Bahá’í Universal House of Justice, not because growth and expansion are occurring so much as they are anticipated.

When the Universal House of Justice got word of the global economic crisis that broke back in September, they anticipated a weakening in the world’s immunity to religion, and acted promptly, alluding to the Bahá’í prophecy that the “Old World Order” is doomed to collapse:

Behold how even in the short span of time since we raised this warning in our Ridvan message, financial structures once thought to be impregnable have tottered and world leaders have shown their inability to devise more than temporary solutions, a failing to which they increasingly confess.

Message to the Bahá’ís of the World, October 20, 2008

It is the weakening of the morale of a society, after all, that religions like the Bahá’í Faith feed upon:

the continued strengthening of the [Bahá’í] community should be matched by a further decline in the old world order

So they’ve got right to work. They’ve primed “scores of clusters” for “systematic expansion”:

Scores of clusters around the globe are being primed for systematic expansion, and we expect to see a wave of intensive programmes of growth launched in the months leading up to Ridvan next year.

They don’t just strike everywhere with their clusters, but rather, target specific weak points:

identify receptive segments of society and share with responsive souls the message of the Faith

Large-scale crises are always a promising time for those who would stand to benefit from crisis. The question for Bahá’ís, I think, is how might this crisis be different? What will make the crisis at hand the crisis of victory? Looking at America, I see people turning to their traditional saviors. Looking abroad, I don’t see much that is different for the Bahá’ís this time around, and it’s because of this: the Bahá’í Faith doesn’t appear to have changed, except that it’s not quite as new as it was before. What the Bahá’í “Administrative Order” appears to be banking on is their recent effort to “systematize” and “develop human resources.” Perhaps Bahá’ís are better organized and prepared to convert new seekers than they were before.

Our Daily Bread: Ultimate Idols

Today’s slice of divine guidance begins with the obvious: we humans can never have universal, divine knowledge. This is not a problem for those of us who have come to terms with the fact that we cannot know everything.

O Salmán! The door of the knowledge of the Ancient Being hath ever been, and will continue for ever to be, closed in the face of men. No man’s understanding shall ever gain access unto His holy court. …

There are those among us, however, who continue to harbor ambitions for the unattainable. For them, we have religion:

As a token of His mercy, however, and as a proof of His loving-kindness, He hath manifested unto men the Day Stars of His divine guidance, the Symbols of His divine unity, and hath ordained the knowledge of these sanctified Beings to be identical with the knowledge of His own Self. …

There you have it: the solution. God can be known by knowing these special messengers the Baha’i Faith calls “Manifestations of God.” These Manifestations are specially created by God to be the perfect images of God, tuned with precision to the capacities of our minds at any given time. For instance: Jesus was perfect for the Roman era, and Muhammad was perfect for the MIddle Ages. These images of God are so perfect that as humans, the only appropriate response is for us to regard them as God himself:

Whoso recognizeth them hath recognized God. Whoso hearkeneth to their call, hath hearkened to the Voice of God, and whoso testifieth to the truth of their Revelation, hath testified to the truth of God Himself. Whoso turneth away from them, hath turned away from God, and whoso disbelieveth in them, hath disbelieved in God.

—Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

That’s the ultimate in idolatry, right there. Feast your eyes.

Our Daily Bread: No more questions, thank you!

Happy New Year, everyone!

Today’s slice of sustenance is a reminder of the mind-numbing principle under which I was raised. I remember learning just how much of a problem this would become for me around New Year’s Day, 1988, when my parents stunned me by reacting quite desperately and angrily to my doubts as a young Bahá’í.

Bahá’ís talk a lot about their principle of “independent investigation of truth,” but this only applies to those who haven’t yet found the truth—the Bahá’í Faith. Since I was born a Bahá’í, there was nothing for me to investigate:

what would it profit any man to strive after learning when he hath already found and recognized Him Who is the Object of all knowledge?

—Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh

But that’s not all. It’s not enough to cease looking for truth; it’s equally important to abstain entirely from questioning Bahá’u’lláh:

Blessed is the man that hath acknowledged his belief in God and in His signs, and recognized that “He shall not be asked of His doings”. Such a recognition hath been made by God the ornament of every belief and its very foundation. Upon it must depend the acceptance of every goodly deed. Fasten your eyes upon it, that haply the whisperings of the rebellious may not cause you to slip.

—Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas

The question and answer period has ended.

This insight—this epiphany—gave special meaning to “New Year” for me at the outset of 1988. Within six months, pending long days and nights of reconsideration and reflection, I would completely detach myself from any belief in my religion of birth.

Our Daily Bread: Of Sheep and Men

When I left my religion of birth, the Bahá’í Faith, it was due to one characteristic of that religion more than anything else: its contempt for humanity.

We previously discussed the authoritarian character of the Bahá’í Faith. We revealed the fact that the Bahá’í religion bases human virtue solely upon recognition of Bahá’u’lláh’s divine authority and obedience to him. What we didn’t mention is the poor opinion of men that underlay this authoritarianism:

Regard men as a flock of sheep that need a shepherd for their protection. This, verily, is the truth, the certain truth.

—Bahá’u’lláh, Kitab-i-Aqdas

This view is expressed in more than one place by Bahá’u’lláh:

Men at all times and under all conditions stand in need of one to exhort them, guide them and to instruct and teach them.

—Bahá’u’lláh, Lawh-i-Maqsud

I once held a very dim opinion of Christians for regarding men as sinners, and I still disagree with the view, but I now understand that Christian view leaves room for transcendence. I cannot say the same for the Bahá’í view of man. To Bahá’u’lláh, men are lower than sinners: they are blind, ignorant, utterly helpless, and, for the most part, unable to act virtuously except when threatened. Even the most submissive, deterministic views of Muslims seem to give humanity more credit.

Men are seen as so low, in fact, that they cannot even understand their own scriptures:

Man is unable to comprehend that which hath streamed forth from the Pen of Glory and is recorded in His heavenly Books.

—Bahá’u’lláh, Lawh-i-Maqsud

Thus the Bahá’í doctrine of the Covenant, which guarantees the sheep that they will never be left without a shepherd. This “Covenant”, Bahá’ís boast, is what makes the Bahá’í Faith special, and I agree; only I see it as a sign of what is most wrong with the Bahá’í Faith: its distinctive contempt for humanity.

Our Daily Bread: The Twin Duties

Any given religion can mean a variety of things to its adherents. The religion I was raised in, the Bahá’í Faith, is no exception to that rule of thumb, though that changed substantially with the long-overdue publication of Bahá’u’lláh’s “Most Holy Book” in 1993, five years after I had left the Bahá’í Faith. The book provides a definitive, unambiguous “mission statement” for the Bahá’í religion that runs counter to the pluralistic vision that some Bahá’ís had embraced previously.

The statement begins by declaring that the author is the sole representative of God in the universe and that men are duty-bound to recognize him as such:

The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation.

Bahá’u’lláh then goes on to state that those who recognize his exclusive divine authority are the good guys, and everyone else, however virtuous, is lost. Authority trumps morality.

Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed.

However, he adds this critical afterthought: believers, though they have “attained unto all good,” must also be absolutely obedient.

It behoveth every one who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other.

Note that there are no concessions made to virtue per se. The only virtues recognized by Bahá’u’lláh are recognition of him and obedience to him.

Our Daily Bread: Naw Rúz Drift

Note 26 to the Kitáb-i-Aqdas explains the timing of Naw Rúz as follows:

“Naw-Rúz is the first day of the new year. It coincides with the spring equinox in the northern hemisphere, which usually occurs on 21 March. Bahá’u’lláh explains that this feast day is to be celebrated on whatever day the sun passes into the constellation of Aries (i.e. the vernal equinox), even should this occur one minute before sunset.”

Bahá’ís appear to believe that the Sun enters the constellation Aries at some time on or around the Vernal Equinox. This is not so. It was true about 2500 years ago, but not at present. At this time, the Sun enters Aries on April 19, about four weeks after the Equinox. This is because of something called precession.

The constellation Aries

One might possibly argue that what Bahá’u’llah really meant was the actual equinox (lit. “equal night”), and that the mention of Aries was only meant to refer to the first month (12th) of the astronomical year, but this argument has a leak: the Bahá’í system of watching for the equinox at some time of day is an impossible system, because the equinox cannot be determined empirically until a 12-hour day has passed, and at that point the equinox may need to be retroactively set to the day before (if the day before was closer to 12 hours).

One could conceivably stand at the equator and watch the sun pass overhead, but the sun passes over the equator at a different place each year. Better be on your toes! Of course, thanks to astronomy, one will know where to look. But there’s a catch:

“The Guardian has stated that the implementation, worldwide, of the law concerning the timing of Naw-Rúz will require the choice of a particular spot on earth which will serve as the standard for the fixing of the time of the spring equinox. He also indicated that the choice of this spot has been left to the decision of the Universal House of Justice.” (note 26)

Okay. Nevermind chasing the sun around the equator.

If one is to pick a single observation point, one had better pick a place not frequented by clouds, fog, dust storms, or mountain ranges. Muslims can tell you all about this problem.

There’s one final thing. The suggestion that a single observation point be selected for the determination of the equinox is, alas, manifestly ignorant of the science. The equinox is a global phenomenon. It does happen at a precise time, but it happens to the entire planet, at the moment that the radius vector of the earth’s orbit is at a right angle to the earth’s axis.

Our Daily Bread: Six Steps To World Order

“… to be followed by its establishment and recognition as a State religion, which in turn must give way to its assumption of the rights and prerogatives associated with the Bahá’í state, functioning in the plenitude of its powers, a stage which must ultimately culminate in the emergence of the worldwide Bahá’í Commonwealth, animated wholly by the spirit, and operating solely in direct conformity with the laws and principles of Bahá’u’lláh.”—Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, page 15.

If you’ve read the writings of Shoghi Effendi, you might have gathered that the Baháí Faith will undergo a number of stages before the “World Order of Bahá’u’lláh” is realized. These are those stages as I see them:

  1. Obscurity (where most Baháís are at now)
  2. Repression (The Iranian Baha’is)
  3. Emancipation (not there yet, though it might have seemed like it before the Iranian Revolution)
  4. Recognition
    • a single nation-state “recognizes” the Bahá’í Faith
    • not yet a theocracy
    • “the State Religion of an independent and Sovereign Power”
    • “the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh will be recognized by the civil authorities as the state religion”
  5. The Bahá’í State
    • “the Bahá’í state itself, functioning, in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas”
    • Concurrent, to some degree, with a secular “world government which will herald the advent and lead to the final establishment of the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh”
  6. The Bahá’í Commonwealth
    • “the world’s future super-state.”
    • “the Kingdom of Bahá’u’lláh”
    • the “truth” of the Bahá’í Faith “is embraced by the majority of the peoples of a number of the Sovereign States of the world”

More pertinent statements by Shoghi Effendi

This passage clarifies the comprehensive role of the Universal House of Justice in the “future super-state”:

“Not only will the present-day Spiritual Assemblies be styled differently in future, but they will be enabled also to add to their present functions those powers, duties, and prerogatives necessitated by the recognition of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, not merely as one of the recognized religious systems of the world, but as the State Religion of an independent and Sovereign Power. And as the Bahá’í Faith permeates the masses of the peoples of East and West, and its truth is embraced by the majority of the peoples of a number of the Sovereign States of the world, will the Universal House of Justice attain the plenitude of its power, and exercise, as the supreme organ of the Bahá’í Commonwealth, all the rights, the duties, and responsibilities incumbent upon the world’s future super-state.”—Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, pages 6-7.

The following passage anticipates the transitional role of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh as a state religion as something similar to the Church established by Constantine:

“This present Crusade, on the threshold of which we now stand, will, moreover, by virtue of the dynamic forces it will release and its wide repercussions over the entire surface of the globe, contribute effectually to the acceleration of yet another process of tremendous significance which will carry the steadily evolving Faith of Bahá’u’lláh through its present stages of obscurity, of repression, of emancipation and of recognition—stages one or another of which Bahá’í national communities in various parts of the world now find themselves in—to the stage of establishment, the stage at which the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh will be recognized by the civil authorities as the state religion, similar to that which Christianity entered in the years following the death of the Emperor Constantine, a stage which must later be followed by the emergence of the Bahá’í state itself, functioning, in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy, the Mother-Book of the Bahá’í Revelation, a stage which, in the fullness of time, will culminate in the establishment of the World Bahá’í Commonwealth, functioning in the plenitude of its powers, and which will signalize the long-awaited advent of the Christ-promised Kingdom of God on earth—the Kingdom of Bahá’u’lláh …”—Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Bahá’í World, page 155.

The following passage enumerates the “successive stages” of the evolution of Bahá’í influence to succeed the initial stage of obscurity:

“Indeed, the sequel to this assault may be said to have opened a new chapter in the evolution of the Faith itself, an evolution which, carrying it through the successive stages of repression, of emancipation, of recognition as an independent Revelation, and as a state religion, must lead to the establishment of the Bahá’í state and culminate in the emergence of the Bahá’í World Commonwealth.”—Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, page 364.

The following passage makes it clear that the Bahá’í Commonwealth is not to be confused with the secular world government that Shoghi Effendi expected to precede the future Bahá’í super-state:

“As regards the International Executive referred to by the Guardian in his “Goal of a New World Order”, it should be noted that this statement refers by no means to the Bahá’í Commonwealth of the future, but simply to that world government which will herald the advent and lead to the final establishment of the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. The formation of this International Executive, which corresponds to the executive head or board in present-day national governments, is but a step leading to the Bahá’í world government of the future, and hence should not be identified with either the institution of the Guardianship or that of the International House of Justice.”—Shoghi Effendi, Peace Compilation, entry 60.

Our Daily Bread: Not Purely Pure

Bahá’u’lláh’s letter to Mánikchí Ṣáḥib is noteworthy for being one of his few “pure Persian” compositions, but it is not purely pure. In fact, the closing passage, a prayer for forgiveness, is written in Arabic. This would not have made much difference to the addressee, because he was a Parsee, and probably spoke only Hindi and Gujarati. The only difference it might have made is that it may have required an extra translator.

I have no idea whom the prayer asks forgiveness for, if it’s actually asking at all.

Since the prayer is omitted from all English translations of the letter, and because this makes me curious as to what this omission consists of, and because I’m generally curious about everything relating to Zoroastrians, I’ve taken a stab at a rough translation, which is bound to remain an unfinished hack. The prayer begins as follows:

اى ربّ أستغفرک بلسانى و قلبى و نفسى و فؤادى
و روحى و جسدى و جسمى و عظمى و دمى و جلدى ،
و إنّک أنت التّوّاب الرّحيم

O Lord! Thou forgiveth with my tongue, and my heart, and my soul, and my heart, and my spirit, and my body, and my flesh, and my bone, and my [دم], and my skin; verily Thou art the Relenting, the Compassionate.

It’s been over twenty years since I tried to read anything in Arabic. I’ve asked Juan Cole if he ever finished translating the letter, but he’s not got back to me yet. I don’t hold it against him. He’s got bigger fish to fry.

Just in case anyone out there wishes to help me with this, here’s the rest of the prayer. It’s basically a refrain of the form “Thou forgiveth, O my God … Thou forgiveth, O my King … Thou forgiveth, O my Pardoner …,” and ends with two of the 99 names of God, “the Almighty, the All-Knowing.”

و أستغفرک يا إلهى باستغفار
الّذى به تهبّ روائح الغفران على أهل العصيان و به
تُلبس المذنبين من رداء عفوک الجميل . و أستغفرک يا
سلطانى باستغفار الّذى به يظهر سلطان عفوک و عنايتک
و به يستشرق شمس الجود و الافضال على هيکل المذنبين
و أستغفرک يا غافرى و موجدى باستغفار الّذى به يُسر عَنّ
الخاطئون الى شطر عفوک و احسانک و يقومنّ المريدون
لدى باب رحمتک الرّحمن الرّحيم . و أستغفرک يا سيّدى
باستغفار الّذى جعلتَه ناراً لتُحرق کلّ الذّنوب و العصيان
عن کلّ تائب راجع نادم باکى سليم و به يَطهُر اجساد
الممکنات عن کدورات الذّنوب و الآثام و عن کلّ ما
يکرهه نفسُک العزيز العليم

Source: Daryay-e-Danesh, pages 9-10.