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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The Grand Old Iranian Feast

With the great Iranian harvest festival approaching, I’ve got food on my mind.

Okay. I often have food on my mind.

But I’m not alone. Zoroastrians are religious about food, and who can blame them? There are, by name at least, seventeen feast days on the Zoroastrian calendar. Eight of these feasts are observed religiously. Imagine having eight Thanksgivings throughout the year!

A Tajik 'No Rooz' feast

A Tajik No Rooz feast

And no, they don’t fast.

After the harvest feast of September comes Mehregan, a particularly significant feast. It is also a harvest feast, by virtue of its placement on the second day of October. It is the Feast of Mehr, or Mithra. Mehr represents two things in the Iranian mind: ethically, faithfulness to contracts, and symbolically, the sun. Thinking of the crucial role the sun plays in the harvest, and thinking of agriculture as a crucial contract with the earth, one can easily see that Mehr is as good a celestial power as any to be recognized at the onset of Autumn.

Not to suggest that there aren’t other good times to throw a feast. The ancient Iranians also had a Spring feast, a feast for the rains, a Summer feast, a round-up feast (yes, like the cowboys have), a Winter fire feast, and an “All Souls Feast” at the year’s end.

Each Zoroastrian congregation celebrated these festivals by attending religious services early in the day, devoted always to Ahura Mazda, and then by gathering in joyful assemblies, with feasts at which food was eaten communally which had been blessed at the services. Rich and poor met together on these occasions, which were times of general goodwill, when quarrels were made up and friendships renewed and strengthened.

Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians

As I have mentioned more than once before, I was raised in an Iranian religion that has little regard for its pre-Islamic Iranian heritage. I never heard of these feasts as a Bahá’í. If my family had a feast day, that was Thanksgiving. I really liked Thanksgiving. Turkey Day was right up there with Halloween and Independence Day. Thanksgiving was one of those Western holidays that we were free to observe because of its lack of any strong ties to Christianity. It would have been a slippery slope. It seems harmless enough to have a Christmas dinner, but next thing you know you’re fasting for Ramadan. You have to nip these things in the bud!

I attended my first Zoroastrian New Year’s (No Rooz) celebration last Spring, and I’ve been meaning to write something down about what a pleasant experience it was. I went to the fire temple first, with no real intention of joining the festivities in the community hall. I enjoy the fire temple, and I’d go much more often if it were in a more convenient location. It’s a quiet, casual experience. One is expected to remove one’s shoes and wear a cap, but that’s not much to ask. I wouldn’t be comfortable tracking dirt in there anyway, and though the cap is a bit formal for my general liking, it gives me a comfortable sense of—how should I put it—spiritual discipline.

As for the festivities, well, I’m hesitant to jump into the fray with a lot of Iranian strangers (and thus they’ve remained strangers over the years), but once invited, I generally enjoy myself. And what’s not to like? Good food, song, dance, and conversation.

Someone’s bound to point out that Bahá’ís do have observances which they call “feasts”. The Bahá’í Calendar features nineteen meetings which they call “Nineteen Day Feasts.” These Bahá’í “feasts” may have been originally inspired by Iranian culture, but they have little in common with Zoroastrian feasts, or any other traditional feast, for that matter: Bahá’í “feasts” are not really feasts at all.

The 19-day Feast is administrative in function …

Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian

The Bahá’í feast is primarily an administrative event. It does generally include food in its “social portion” as any good committee meeting would, but the meeting is generally a rather exclusive affair, being limited to Bahá’ís who have not lost their administrative rights, hence these Bahá’í feasts tend to exclude non-Bahá’ís and Bahá’ís without said administrative rights.

The Zoroastrian feasts are quite literally feasts; traditionally an opportunity for the fortunate to share the bounty of their good fortune with the less fortunate. The Bahá’í feast, though it generally involves food, is more often described as a feast of spiritual sustenance — in a distinctively administrative sense so characteristic of Bahá’í practice.

Further Reading

John Walbridge, The Nineteen Day Feast

The Heritage Institute: Gahambar

God vs. Good

As a child in a Bahá’í family, I was taught that there have been a number of great Messengers of God such as Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. One of the most ancient, and certainly the most unfamiliar, was the Iranian prophet Zoroaster. We Bahá’í youth were told that Zoroaster was as divine as Jesus himself, but in spite of the fact that the Bahá’í Faith is an Iranian religion and Zoroaster has been known throughout the millennia as “the Persian Prophet”, the Bahá’í Faith has very little to say about Zoroaster. I was curious about this ancient, most mysterious of prophets. I remember digging through libraries for information on him, but my resources were limited, so that treasure hunt didn’t last long.

Within a few years I had abandoned theism after realizing the basic immorality of it. Theism is worship of a God or gods that are capable of acting in response to worship or failure to worship. When I figured out that this is essentially arrogant, self-serving power worship, I cast it aside. The only theism that I could abide was that of Ahab:

I now know that thy right worship is defiance

—”Moby Dick,” Herman Melville

Saviors or Space Invaders?

Saviors or Space Invaders?

About 15 years later, that curiosity regarding Zoroaster was revived by a new book about Zoroaster by Paul Kriwaczek. Up to that point, I had understood that Nietzsche’s manifesto, “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” was not actually about Zarathustra, but upon reading Nietzsche, I realized that it’s not quite that simple. Nietzsche had selected Zarathustra for a couple of reasons, his primary reason being Zarathustra’s singular place in human history as the prophet of morality. I liked what I read about this ancient, prehistoric icon. Make no mistake, this was not a prophet “born in the full light of history”, but his story was a good one, and isn’t that what matters? The factuality of a story need not have any bearing on the virtue, or usefulness, of that story.

Here was a prophet who essentially rebelled against the gods, but unlike Moses and Muhammad, he did not reject the gods on the behalf of a “One True God”, rather, he rejected the gods for the sake of goodness. He rebelled against the worship of power, and replaced it with worship of the good.

Zoroastrianism is fundamentally about right and wrong; good and bad; good and evil. Where gods had previously been revered as celestial powers, they now had to pass the Zoroastrian test of being “worthy of worship”. It was no longer good enough to be a god. A god had to have the best interests of the world in mind, or that god would be opposed.

The drama of Zoroaster is close to my heart. Over the years I’ve grown sick of the myriad excuses theists make for evil. It is just as though they were Satan’s attorneys, defending their Dark Lord in court, or creating verses for “Sympathy for the Devil” too cynical for Mick Jagger to imagine.

I found it quite refreshing to find a religion that is willing to call a spade a spade.

Zarathushtra stigmatizes evil as evil. The existence of so much evil in the world lies heavy on the heart of man. Evil is a challenge, and Zarathushtra accepts it. He does not palliate evil. It is not, he teaches, the passive negation of good. It is the active enemy of good. It is not complementary to good, nor is it good in the making. It is not evil only in name. Evil is just evil, nothing more nor less. It is the fundamental fact of life, and haunts us like our shadows which we cannot evade. Illusion does not cause evil; it exists in the realm of reality. It is the most disagreeable fact in Ahura Mazda’s universe, and the prophet of Iran looks it in the face. It is futile to speak of things as better than they actually are. Bad things of life do not lose their badness by giving them good names.

—M.N. Dhalla, History of Zoroastrianism

As Nietzsche pointed out, here at last was a truth-telling prophet; a prophet prepared to speak truth to power even though that power is a celestial power. This reason, above all, was the reason why Nietzsche chose Zarathustra as the man who would have the courage to pronounce the death of God.

Zoroastrianism, on the whole, is certainly a religion full of dogmatism and superstition, but we need not see Zarathustra a dogmatist, particularly with regard to delineating good and evil. As Nietzsche’s Zarathustra points out, it is futile to attempt to identify any one thing as thoroughly good or evil, but it is not the point of Zoroaster to classify things as good or evil; rather, it is the point of Zoroaster to recognize and oppose evil wherever it appears. Plutarch, an outspoken moral dualist, saw everything in the world as a mix of good and evil, and cited Zoroastrian tradition in making his case:

Twenty-four other gods he [the Good God] created and placed in an egg. But those created by Areimanius [the Evil God], who were equal in number to the others, pierced through the egg and made their way inside; hence evils are now combined with good.

—Plutarch, “Isis & Osiris,” XLVII (from the Moralia)

Is this what the “real” Zoroaster actually preached? No question could be less pertinent. A good idea is a good idea regardless of its origin, and a bad idea doesn’t become good just because it comes from a superhuman being. Gods are like space invaders and conquistadors: we’re all in awe of their technology, but how do we know we can trust them?

It seems much wiser to cease all this forfeiture of reason and conscience to heavenly masters, and join one of my fellow Zoroastrians-in-spirit in swearing our allegiance to this simple creed:

To do good is my religion.

—Thomas Paine, “The Age of Reason”

… or as Zoroaster is said to have summed things up:

Good thoughts, good words, good deeds.

The Submission of Iran

It has often been wondered how the Persian Empire was so thoroughly conquered by the armies of Islam. How could so many Persians, with their deep belief in freewill and the divinity of the Good, convert in such large numbers to a religion of predestination and submission to fate?

Since I’ve been reading Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh, I believe I’ve gained a new insight into that transformation.

As Ferdowsi depicts the annihilation of the Persian Empire at the hands of Alexander, he has these words spoken by the Persian king Darius III:

Know that evil and good both come from God.

This, to me, may mark the lesson of the Shahnameh in general. It is a book of fate, of mortal glories given and taken away by God. God is in total control of the fates of men. If men have any control at all of their own fates, it is in their ability to accept their fates gracefully. Each man plays his part in the drama, but in the end every step is preordained by God.

This may not have been the way the ancient Persians saw the world given what we suspect were their beliefs, but by Ferdowsi’s time, the Persians were watching their world consumed in Arab conquest, bit by bit. So much of what they had believed in was annihilated mercilessly; much more completely than what Alexander achieved. How else could they have seen God but as a capricious, amoral, absolute dictator? There was no point in striving, and no role for freewill; only an impotent hope that prayer and piety would satiate their new heavenly despot.

The Iranians, it would turn out, were conditioned by events to make the most steadfast of Muslims, for they themselves had witnessed the awesome, amoral might of Fate. They learned that the God of Fate blesses whom he will, so they chose to submit themselves, however reluctantly, to Fate’s favored ones: their Arab conquerors.

The Great Peace of the Magi

Plutarch, in his treatise on Isis and Osiris, describes the great peace that the Magi foretold:

But the time appointed by fate is coming, … when the earth becoming plain and level there shall be one life and one government of men, all happy and of one language.

It reminds me of the utopian visions that I was raised on as a young Baha’i, right down to world government and a universal language. I sometimes yearn for that innocent vision, yet there’s always that nagging suspicion that such utopian visions can be terribly hazardous, in that their luminous purity can blind us to the immediate realities that we must face as denizens of the real world.

Indeed, Heraclitus would certainly have regarded such utopianism as blasphemy, just as he complained regarding Homer’s prayer for a permanent peace.

Killing your Buddhas

Continuing our discussion of the correspondences between Heraclitus and the Zarathustras, we have the directive that each one find truth for oneself; that one must never follow. As the old Buddhist epigram goes, “if you meet the Buddha on the road, Kill him.” Heraclitus, likewise, bids his readers not to listen to him, but rather to the Logos. Heraclitus also says “eyes are better witnesses than ears.”

Peters Denial of Jesus

Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, likewise, is intent upon shaking off his disciples, for their own good:

Verily, I counsel you: go away from me and guard yourselves against Zarathustra! And better still: be ashamed of him! Perhaps he has deceived you. … One repays a teacher poorly if one always remains only a student.

— Thus Spoke Zarathustra 1.22.3: On Bestowing Virtue

Zarathustra continues, cautioning his disciples against idolizing him:

You revere me; but what if your reverence should someday collapse? Be careful lest a statue fall and kill you!

— Thus Spoke Zarathustra 1.22.3: On Bestowing Virtue

As Heraclitus says, “I went in search of myself”, so Zarathustra instructs his disciples to do the same:

Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when you have all denied me will I return to you.

— Thus Spoke Zarathustra 1.22.3: On Bestowing Virtue

This sounds curiously similar to the story of Peter’s denial of Jesus:

Peter said unto him, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now? I will lay down my life for thy sake. Jesus answered him, Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice.

— John 13:37–38

In a sense, I can personally claim to have been similarly instructed by the Idol of my youth, Bahá’u’lláh, who chased me off with his manifold contradictions while he subtly—perhaps unintentionally—instructed me in the ways of divine Godlessness.

Unfortunately, I know of no doctrine of virtuous denial in Bahá’u’lláh’s writings.

Our Daily Bread: Mazda in the Shadows

The Bahá’í religion, though Islamic in its fundamentals, retains a remarkable wealth of Zoroastrian residue from its Iranian heritage.

The Faravahar: Glory of God

The Most Great Peace

In spite of all the prophecies of doom that I had to endure as a young Bahá’í, I remember having a vision of a more distant future utopia; a clean, civilized world civilization that would balance urban and rural economies, and accomplish great scientific and technological feats. This is what Bahá’ís call the Most Great Peace. Though I now find it unrealistic, I still look back on that naive vision with sentimental sighs of what might have been if reality hadn’t broken into my childhood and robbed my world of its innocence.

Yet there are many Bahá’ís who still look forward to the Most Great Peace.

It was years after I abandoned that vision that I encountered the ancient vision in whose womb the Most Great Peace appears to have been conceived. I discovered that the ancient Zoroastrians also had such a utopian vision of a renewed, purified world. Note that they weren’t looking forward to the end of the world, but rather its reform and renewal. This vision permeates both Bahá’í and Zoroastrian world views.

Progressive Revelation

It’s not just a utopian view of the future that these oldest and newest of Iranian religions have in common, but their views on the purpose and history of religion are also quite similar:

Be it known that, the reason for mankind becoming doers of work of a superior kind is religion; and it is owing to it only that there is a living in prosperity through the Creator. It is always necessary to send it (religion) from time to time to keep men back from being mixed up with sin and to regenerate them. … All the reformers of mankind (i.e. prophets) are considered as connected with its (religion’s) design;… —Dénkard 3.35

Thoughts, Words, & Deeds

The phrase “doers of work” in the above passage is reminiscent of the great Zoroastrian mantra “good thoughts good words good deeds.” Does this not recall one of characteristic themes of the Bahá’í Faith, as a religion of deeds that recognizes the influential nature of words?

Glory, Light, & Fire

As I’ve discussed before, the closely related themes of fire, light, and glory are also held in common between these two faiths. Some of this commonality can be tracked through Iranian religious themes of illumination and glory from Zoroastrianism through Shí’a Islám to the Bahá’í Faith.

The “New” Calendar

Then there’s the Bahá’í calendar, which is based on the old Iranian solar calendar—from name days, feasts, an end-of-year adjustment, to No Rooz itself, rather than the lunar Islamic calendar, except that the Bahá’í calendar replaces the natural 12:1 lunar:solar cycle ratio with 19:1, and inserts a month of fasting (in Islamic fashion).

Fire Temples and Sunrise Temples

Even the Bahá’í “mashriqu’l-adhkar”, a term that carries an intimation of fire in its meaning “dawning place of remembrance” seems to hearken back to the old Persian fire temples than the Islamic mosques that were also inspired thereby:

… The fire-temples of the world stand as eloquent testimony to this truth. In their time they summoned, with burning zeal, all the inhabitants of the earth to Him Who is the Spirit of purity. —Bahá’u’lláh, in a letter to Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl


  • emphasis on cleanliness
  • love of gardens (Zoroastrians are famous gardeners)
  • 15 as the age of maturity (or is it technically 14 for Bahá’ís?)

Some related entries:

Our Daily Bread: Relativistic Revelation

Today’s relatively inspiring slice is from the pages of “The Dispensation of Bahá’u’lláh”, by the fifth leader of the Bábahá’í revelation, Shoghi Effendi:

… the fundamental principle which constitutes the bedrock of Bahá’í belief, the principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is orderly, continuous and progressive and not spasmodic or final.

This is probably the most foundational statement on the doctrine of “progressive revelation” in the Bahá’í writings. It might be argued that Shoghi Effendi’s approach might reach a little too far by establishing relativism as the foundation of his religion. It might be a great argument, come to think of it, for no revelation at all. Why not have God come to each person on that person’s terms, so that person can best learn what he needs to learn from God? God doubtless has the time to make house calls, so why not go the distance and do the job right? Indeed, if God wishes to avoid spasmodic revelation, it seems to me that personal revelation might be the way to go.

The Bahá’í idea of relativism in revelation is depends on the premise that men only progress as a society more than they do as individuals. According to Bahá’í thinking, I have more in common with my bushman contemporaries than I do with a Roman or a Greek from two millennia back. My spiritual maturity is strictly defined by the millennium in which I reside, regardless of my education or culture.

The doctrine of progressive revelation, quite contrary to the doom-laden Islamic doctrine of a final, corrective revelation, is actually quite reminiscent of an old Iranian idea about the renewal of the world.

Be it known that, the reason for mankind becoming doers of work of a superior kind is religion; and it is owing to it only that there is a living in prosperity through the Creator. It is always necessary to send it (religion) from time to time to keep men back from being mixed up with sin and to regenerate them. … All the reformers of mankind (i.e. prophets) are considered as connected with its (religion’s) design;… —Dénkard 3.35

… or perhaps an Indo-Iranian idea, as this does resemble the Indian idea of divine guidance somewhat.

Unlike the Bahá’í vision, this ancient Iranian vision does foresee a time when revelation will cease, because it will not be needed any longer.

there will be no necessity for sending religion, through a prophet, for the (benefit of) Creatures of the world who will be in existence after him (Soshyant)…. —Dénkard 3.35

Though the vision does not involve an idea of continuing incremental progress, it does involve the ideas of periodic rejuvenation, and eventually, a complete renewal of the world.

Our Daily Bread: Partners of God

Anyone who claims to be on God’s side is a polytheist. To be a true monotheist, one must be either a strict determinist or an agnostic (with regard to the will of God).

I’ve been known to throw around the terms “idol” and “partner of God” ad nauseam among friends. It’s a chip that seems to have appeared on my shoulder during my employment at the Bahá’í World Centre, where a particularly high saint-per-capita ratio gave me some food for thought. Since that time, I’ve slowly come to regard the believers of the Judaic tradition (including most Jews, Christians, Muslims, Bahá’ís, etc.) as worshipers in various polytheistic partnerships and rivalries.

I get the term “partnership” from Islám. The Qur’án makes it clear that God has no partners, and needs no help from anybody.

الْحَمْدُ لِلّهِ الَّذِي لَمْ يَتَّخِذْ وَلَدًا وَلَم يَكُن لَّهُ شَرِيكٌ فِي الْمُلْكِ وَلَمْ يَكُن لَّهُ

All praise is due to God, who begets no offspring, and has no partner in His dominion, and has no weakness, and therefore no need of any aid. (17.111)

The most literal meaning of the term “shirk” (شرك‎) is a lesser god who might help or otherwise harm God or his cause. Thus, anyone who would diminish his belief in God’s omnipotence by ascribing any power whatsoever to any being other than God would be guilty of this offense. The classic example of this offense is the Christian worship of Christ, as the alleged son and accomplice of God, but the problem of partnership goes much deeper.

Any free agent (individual) with any influence whatsoever must be seen as a partner or rival of God. Some might assert that this is not applicable to the Islamic notion of partnership, because people don’t worship people, but don’t they? Isn’t the attribution of any power whatsoever to any free entity the deification of that entity?

How many self-professed Muslims, I wonder, truly internalize the mantra “all praise be to God (الْحَمْدُ لِلّهِ)”?

This is not a problem for the traditional, deterministic Sunni, the Calvinist Christian, or for Zoroastrians who believe in freewill but not in an omnipotent God (partnership is virtuous in Zoroastrianism); but it is a serious indictment of any observant Muslim who claims to be a free monotheist, with one possible exception.

Many people consider themselves believers in an all-powerful God and at the same time consider the destinies of individuals and society to be up to others than God, but that is not really monotheism; rather, it is a form of polytheism, where the pantheon consists of billions of lesser gods that we casually call immortal souls. The Big God—call him Zeus—may have the power to frustrate the wills of any of these minor Gods, or even punish them for all eternity, but notice: He has never claimed to be able to annihilate a soul; not, at least, for a very long time.

But that Zeus is not the God of the inshá’alláh (إن شاء الله) Muslim. That Muslim’s God, so dominant in the Qur’án, is a God who meddles with the intentions of men; who “seals the hearts of men” as he deems appropriate. He is truly omnipotent, and the only will that men possess is a gift (or a curse) from Him. In other words, all individual will is an expression of divine will.

Blessed is He Who doeth as He willeth by a word of His command. He, verily, is the True One, the Knower of things unseen. Blessed is He Who inspireth whomsoever He willeth with whatsoever He desireth, through His irresistible and inscrutable command. Blessed is He Who aideth whomsoever He desireth with the hosts of the unseen. His might is, in truth, equal to His purpose, and He, verily, is the All-Glorious, the Self-Subsisting. Blessed is He Who exalteth whomsoever He willeth by the power of His sovereign might, and confirmeth whomsoever He chooseth in accordance with His good pleasure; well is it with them that understand! —Súriy-i-Haykal

There is, I suppose, one loophole out of all this for the non-deterministic monotheist: if one were not to claim to be on God’s side, perhaps—say, because one considers the will of God to be utterly inscrutable, one need not be tried as a polytheist in the court of strict monotheism. It is, after all, hard to partner up with God if one doesn’t know what God wants.

This would, of course, require a degree of modesty rarely exhibited among believers, and any mention of divine covenants or pacts would immediately disqualify the believer from this exemption.

Our Daily Bread: Changing Faces

Bahá’u’lláh’s letter to Mánikchí Ṣáḥib, as we considered recently, is a rather progressive composition, and one can easily detect signs that it was addressed to a Zoroastrian. Without going so far as to recite “good thought, good words, good deeds”, the letter discussed the triad of good thought, expression, and action that is so familiar to Zoroastrians, and exalted the place of wisdom to divinity as we’re told Zoroaster did three millennia ago. It did not touch upon the more obvious theme of fire, which Bahá’u’lláh did in a couple of letters to Zoroastrian Baháís, but gave passing reference to the theme of purity. Like Bahá’u’lláh’s letters to Zoroastrian Baháís, that letter omitted any mention of Muhammad, Islám, or the Qur’án.

Beside all that, the letter was just plain warm and affectionate:

Thy letter hath reached this captive of the world in His prison. It brought joy, strengthened the ties of friendship, and renewed the memory of bygone days. Praise be to the Lord of creation Who granted us the favour of meeting in the Arabian land, 1wherein we visited and held converse. It is Our hope that our encounter may never be forgotten nor effaced from the heart by the passage of time, but rather that, out of the seeds thus sown, the sweet herbs of friendship may spring forth and remain forever fresh and verdant for all to behold. (1.3)

Bahá’u’lláh’s letter to Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl, also in the volume Tabernacle of Unity, is conspicuously different, and of evident Islamic content and character.

Make sure the butter’s soft. Today we are nourished by several slices, beginning with this:

Once the validity of a divinely appointed Prophet hath been established, to none is given the right to ask why or wherefore. Rather is it incumbent upon all to accept and obey whatsoever He saith. (2.46)

This is a reponse to the basic question of reason vs. revelation: should we live according to reason, or according to the dictates of revelation? Whereas Bahá’u’lláh’s letter to Mánikchí Ṣáḥib seemed to take the former position, his letter to Mírzá Abu’l-Fadl takes the opposite position, as clearly and concisely as Bahá’u’lláh ever did. That is not to say that he didn’t make similar statements elsewhere, for he certainly did, in the Aqdas, Íqán, and in other places.

The reason given in the present letter is that men do not possess the rational capacity to go it alone:

It is nonetheless indisputably clear and evident that the minds of men have never been, nor shall they ever be, of equal capacity. The Perfect Intellect alone can provide true guidance and direction. (2.22)

Thus it must be that, according to Bahá’u’lláh, human reason is better fitted to understand the words of the prophets than what it might otherwise gather from life.

It is important to note, though, that excessive analysis of scripture can be a hazardous pastime. For, because of the great variance in intellectual capacity, scripture is conceived to be understood by feeble minds as well as Sen McGlinn. It isn’t a matter of reason or evidence; it’s a matter of obedience:

It is incumbent upon all to turn their gaze towards the Cause of God and to observe that which hath dawned above the horizon of His Will, since it is through the potency of His name that the banner of “He doeth what He willeth” hath been unfurled and the standard of “He ordaineth what He pleaseth” hath been raised aloft. For instance, were He to pronounce water itself to be unlawful, it would indeed become unlawful, and the converse holdeth equally true. (2.31)

And finally, we have a fourth slice that echoes the opening passage of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas:

The whole duty of man is to recognize Him; once this hath been achieved, then whatsoever He may please to ordain is binding and in full accordance with the requirements of divine wisdom. (2.24)

Sorry: that’s a lot of toast, and the slices aren’t thin. Don’t eat it all at once.

Perhaps the fact that the letter is addressed to a Muslim Baháí has a lot to do with Bahá’u’lláh’s striking change in tone and content in this letter. This leads me to pause and wonder, can the entire repertoire of Bahá’u’lláh be sliced cleanly into mutually distinct revelations, if the blade is sufficiently sharp and serrated?