The Eighteen Terraces and the Nineteenth Hole

Welcome, pilgrim, to the Dan Carmel and the Terraces at the Bahá’í World Centre.

This is a brief guide to help you golf this authoritative, par-95 course.

the lumpy grass

“The Lumps” at “the Terraces”

In all these terraces the fairwayer must stray not the breadth of a hair from the “Law”. Please observe and heed all signs, and please refrain from wading after balls into the founts of Divine Bounty. Divots are strictly forbidden, and grounds for immediate expulsion without warning.

Please don’t feed the badgers.

By playing the BWC Links, you help to finance the maintenance of the terraces. Your continuing patronage is appreciated.

Disclaimer: though infallibly guided by the Sun of Divine Composition, the author knoweth very little about golf, and it ill-beseemeth him to go into great technical detail, for quotation from the words of others proveth acquired learning, not the divine bestowal. Furthermore, for they that move on these 18 differing terraces, the understanding and the words of the fairwayers have differed.

  1. The Terrace of Contentment. Why the fairwayer ever attempteth to drive his balls out of this terrace can only be said to be a divine mystery, but yea, golf is itself inscrutable. No man knoweth its secrets, and to go into detail on this matter would not prove meet or seemly.
  2. The Terrace of Search. The steed of this terrace is patience, for the course is well-concealed in the city, and the cabbies know not where it can be found.
  3. The Terrace of Conversion. The steed of this terrace is pain, and such that it would seem it may never end, for the gravel is something fierce for its sharp edges, and no steed will have anything to do with carrying anyone anywhere, and the fairwayer must find a place to change into more appropriate footwear, then lifting his bag, and turning toward the tee, the fairwayer is straightaway cast into …
  4. The Terrace of Proselytism. On this terrace the fairwayer is thrown into confusion. This terrace has no steed, for the steed has refused to go this far. Here the fairwayer is accosted from every direction by a host of holy caddies, each granting game advice at no charge, while the fairwayer stands firm beneath the Sun of limitless thirst. Secrets are many, but strangers are myriad. It is vital that the fairwayer find the right path, so that he may free himself of the all-knowing caddies. Peace be upon him who followeth the Right Path! The weary fairwayer, wearied out with his own life, waiteth longingly for those founts of unwelcome knowledge to ascend the steps to the …
  5. The Terrace of Wonderment, wherein the weary fairwayers, both proselyte and proselytizer, begin to wonder what they’ve signed up for. Thinking to excess upon this question, they find themselves pitching into …
  6. The Terrace of Shame, but growing weary of the pangs of conscience, they shake off their misgivings, return to the game, and find themselves groping through the lumpy grasses of …
  7. The Terrace of Administration. It is related that one day they came upon Majnun sifting the sand trap (it ill beseemeth thee to say “bunker”), and his tears flowing down. They said, “What doest thou?” He said, I seek for but one ball—any ball, that I may play out of this desert of dysfunction. I seek her everywhere; haply somewhere I shall find her. Finally finding a ball and chipping upslope, the weary fairwayer finds his ball trapped once more in …
  8. The Terrace of More Administration. Once again finding a ball and chipping upsloap, the weary fairwayer finds his ball trapped once more in …
  9. The Terrace of Still More Administration. This is the terrace of the highest authority, and the Men of the House sit consulting right over yonder in that big white house, but see that thou dost not approach them for the way is barred and to seek it is impiety. Just when the fairwayer loses hope that there may ever be a non-administrative terrace, he is reassigned to …
  10. The Terrace of Relocation, wherein the fairwayer must forsake every possession in exchange for freedom from administrative obligations and other community burdens, and receiving a set of rental clubs for the back half of the course. Shanking a beaten old secondhand ball into the prickly shrubs, he wanders in upon …
  11. The Terrace of Alienation, where culture sickness is but a euphemism, and the weary fairwayer loses whatever remains of his sense of place. The fairwayer inevitably finds his way from this hapless state into the …
  12. The Terrace of All-Consuming Homesickness, which is bound to lead to …
  13. The Terrace of Wholesale Forfeiture, wherein the fairwayer fails utterly to keep his head in the game, with thoughts only for the 19th Hole, and what delights lay waiting there, which I have not thought pertinent to mention here. The cloud of the Loved One’s mercy raineth only in the season of spring, wherefore the fairwayer, feeling the symptoms of overexposure and lusting for shade, ascendeth at last upon …
  14. The Terrace of Knowledge, where many a fairwayer dwelleth within the shadow of the tree of knowledge, having finally come upon the knowledge of the whereabouts of the tree of knowledge. After a siesta of undetermined duration, the fairwayer hooks a ball up upon …
  15. The Terrace of True Poverty, wherein pitiless ravens do lie in wait to pilfer balls. Having sliced his final ball into a fountain, the weary fairwayer begins to hit ghost balls up the fairway. Doing this, he mimes his way upward to …
  16. The Terrace of Illusory Contentment, wherein bliss causes the weary fairwayer to misplace his one remaining club, requiring that he shadow golf into …
  17. The Terrace of Absolute Nothingness, wherein the weary fairwayer wanders in a trance of delirium. And just when he thinketh it couldn‘t get worse, he swaggereth as one inebriated up to …
  18. The Terrace of Absolute Exhaustion. Labor is needed, as he struggleth up this infernal ascent, hacking away at the path with an imaginary chipper, until, lost in vain hallucinations and pummeled by heat exhaustion, he stumbleth into …
  19. The Nineteenth Hole, the very lounge of the Dan Carmel on High, and drinketh from its bountiful, divers taps. Ecstasy alone can encompass this theme, not utterance nor argument; and whosoever hath dwelt at this stage of the journey knoweth whereof We speak.
© MMVII Dan “Carmel” Jensen Promotions. Provisional alternative land use partner of the Baha’i World Centre.

If Only …

My religion of birth, the Bahá’í Faith, is often described to non-Bahá’ís with a list of a dozen principles, though there are fundamental aspects of the Bahá’í Faith that are not revealed in those principles. Here, I would like to propose a similar list of principles that, were they to fully define Bahá’í belief, I would still be a Bahá’í today.

  1. Strict Unitarianism. God is one, thus God cannot be associated with any name, attribute, or individual over any other. No man speaks for God to the exclusion of others; rather, all things speak equally for God. This principle precludes any belief in divine messengers and prohibits any covenants thereto. Any vow of allegiance to any man or institution is naught but idolatry.
  2. Independent Investigation of Truth. In accordance with the Unity of God, no one path can be exalted to the exclusion of any other. This is not an endorsement of apathy; to the contrary, it is a mandate to actively seek truth with one’s own eyes.
  3. Religion is multifarious. In accordance with the Unity of God, there can be no One True Religion. Religions should not be forcibly unified, though interfaith harmony and tolerance are worthy goals.
  4. Mankind is one species, but people are not uniform. People are entitled to have different values and talents.
  5. Though people are not the same, people should be treated equally when their differences are irrelevant, whether in terms of race, gender, height, weight, elderliness, or sexual orientation. Any preference based on any of these criteria with respect to religious office or ceremony is antithetical to this principle.
  6. Harmony of science and religion. The cultural merit of religious myths and practices should not be invalidated by their lack of conformity with science. In turn, knowledge obtained by means of a rigorous scientific process must not be contested by religion. Religion must defer to science in all matters within the domain of science. To anticipate the eventual vindication of religious beliefs by future advances in science is a violation of this principle.
  7. Mitigation of suffering by means of the elimination of extreme poverty, malnutrition, illness, violence, and illiteracy.

Our Daily Bread: What Does God Look Like?

If there’s one verse from the Qur’án that I consider enlightened, it’s this:

Whichever way ye turn, there is the face of God. (2:109/115)

What an inclusive, compassionate sentiment!

I’m not certain that the author intended it to be translated as above (Rodwell), though this is the most literal translation as far as I know. Some translators have utilized more figurative meanings of the word wajh (face), such as “purpose”. Even then I would consider the verse enlightened. It comes out to something similar, but I like “face” better. It’s more intimate.

Bahá’ís might recognize this verse from the Book of Certitude and Questions and Answers, wherein the verse is associated with issues regarding the direction of the Qiblih. That involves a rather geographic interpretation that distracts from the metaphysical. If Bahá’u’lláh is aware of a possible unitarian interpretation, he isn’t letting us know about it. Here’s what he says about the intent of this verse in the Íqán:

In the eyes of God, the ideal King, all the places of the earth are one and the same, excepting that place which, in the days of His Manifestations, He doth appoint for a particular purpose.

From this, it is not at all evident that Bahá’u’lláh recognizes the verse as a profound statement about the divine nature of all things. At least, though, he does appear to recognize the literal interpretation of the word wajh in Questions and Answers, or does he? Is it possible that he simply interprets the verse to be saying “all places are the same”? offers an interesting argument in favor of the literal interpretation of wajh.

To Believe is Human

My neighbor casually tells me, “Dan, some people are believers and some people aren’t.” Neurologist Robert Burton, likewise, says “some people are naturally doubters, and nothing feels as though it’s certain.” Burton, unlike my neighbor, sees the gap between believers and skeptics as more as a spectrum; a continuum.

I’ve been listening to a fascinating interview with Robert Burton on KQED’s Forum. Give it a listen. Burton appears to be suggesting that faith is a physiological impulse. This may sound reductionistic, and perhaps it is. Less reductionistically, you might say that faith is a “feeling”. I find it interesting because I have such a hard time—how should I put it—believing that believers really believe. This doubt is so strong that I often wonder whether believers are just lying about their belief. It sounds rather like a paranoid fantasy, doesn’t it? Well, so be it. On Being Certain

You see, I used to be a believer. That is, I was raised as a believer. When I was young, I suppose it might have been that I accepted my indoctrination as a factual education. It’s hard to tell, but I do remember having a sense of faith being a willful effort to conform to my upbringing. I considered myself a believer, in a doubtful sort of way. Maybe in an envious sort of way.

Thanks to the testimony of Dostoevsky and others, science has come up with the notion that many mystical experiences are related to epileptic seizures. Can I try one of those? I feel quite deprived. Honest! I wonder what it feels like.

What’s peculiar in my case is that my mother is an epileptic, and she had some bad seizures back around the time she became a Baha’i and married the man who spoke at the first Baha’i meeting that she attended. I wonder how different the world feels to her. Does she really have a sense of certainty about the faith that she seems so overly confident about?

I must admit that this gives me a new sense of tolerance for believers, as obnoxiously overbearing as they can be. Maybe believers aren’t a load of liars. Maybe they really do believe. Maybe belief is just part of being human; or rather, maybe belief is just part of being mammalian?

Offender of the Faithful?

This blog got its name “Idol Chatter” for a reason, or even a couple of reasons. First of all, the blogger is a rather militant unitarian (note lowercase ‘u’). Secondly, he tries not to take his own chatter too seriously.

By “unitarian” is here meant anyone who recognizes the tendency of leaders, doctrines, and ideologies to become idols that stand in the way of our search for truth. Idolatry, according to this school of thought, is a mighty sly shape-shifting devil. As a former Unitarian minister once challenged us:

“We boast our emancipation from many superstitions; but if we have broken any idols, it is through a transfer of the idolatry.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Similarly, a Greek philosopher once cautioned:

“It is wise to listen not to me, but to the Logos, …” — Heraclitus

I use the term “unitarian” because this cautious mode of thinking is embodied in the Unitarian tradition, in which some Christians long ago determined that worshiping Jesus is missing the message of Jesus, who did not forbid blasphemy against himself, but rather forbade blasphemy against “the spirit”. It is the spirit of the message that gives life, he said, not the flesh of the messenger; not even the letter of the message.

In this sense, we can see that Jesus, whom some identify with the Logos, was not so different from Nietzsche’s anti-prophet Zarathustra:

“All the names of good and evil are parables: they do not declare, but only hint. Whoever among you seeks knowledge of them is a fool!” — Thus Spoke Zarathustra

The Great Iconoclast

Imagine if you will a medieval man, centuries after Christ, who was familiar with Judaism and Christianity. Imagine that this man was impressed by the Judaic aversion to idolatry, but also recognized Christ as a man—or messenger—of Truth. Imagine that he rejected the Trinity, and the notion that Jesus is God. Imagine that this man became quite well known for his opinion that Jesus is not God, such that we might consider him the first Unitarian. Imagine that he was a man of his time, and realizing the efficacy of power, mustered an army and ordered that army to pursue idolators and smash idols to the ends of the earth.

Let us call this man, for lack of a better name, Muhammad. Maybe this man was so single-minded about smashing idols that he might be called a prophet. Perhaps he was such a dedicated Unitarian that he rejected the very possibility of any religion other than the religion of Unitarianism, going so far as to call himself “the Seal of the Prophets”:

“Muhammad is not the father of any man among you, but he is the Apostle of God, and the seal of the prophets: and God knoweth all things.” Qur’an (Rodwell translation)

Let us further imagine that this man was seen by by his enemies as a militant religious fanatic and his followers as a crusader for his god Allah. Perhaps we can imagine that they had him wrong. Perhaps we can imagine that he was after something more fundamental, and that the rest—his doctrines, methods, and even his personal beliefs—was all circumstantial.

Idolatry in Islam

The man in the painting is not going bowling. If we look closely enough, we find that even Muhammad was an idolator; but who isn’t? Shall Muslims be permitted to rise above the man? Not if they continue to idolize him.

It is commonly understood that Islam means “submission”, but submission to what? Submission to Islam? Certainly not. That would be circular, would it not? It has always been understood to mean “submission to God”; but what is God? Is God to be taken as the Islamic image of God, “Allah”, or is God to be taken as that ultimate, unknowable creative essence behind—or within—things? Perhaps the core meaning of Islam is “submission to no idol, however subtle”.

“Seek knowledge even unto China” — Muhammad

If we were to take this as the essence of Islam, could this not be a religion of the future? Could we go so far as to say that Islam is faith in Reason? If this seems like too much of a stretch, can we at least see how Islam might be seen as a medieval attempt to free humanity of idolatry?

Let the true Muslims step forward to smash the idols of Islam.