Meditations

Talisman messages of June to September 1999

Date: Thu, 1 Jul 1999 22:18:15 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: more on infallibility
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X said:
>I hear what you are
>saying about the UHJ being able to make mistakes. This has me really
>confused.

X I think the guts of the issue is this: that being *good* and being *right* are not the same thing. True, they are related to each other and impact on one another, but they are not the same thing. Perhaps it could be argued that if someone is good, that person is more likely to be right. But not necessarily, it all depends on circumstances and is rather complex. For example, if someone is good, that doesn't make him an expert on history, but if someone is good, then she will more likely make productive choices in life.

So, we know the House of Justice has conferred infallibility, along with all holy souls. Baha'u'llah says that conferred infallibility means: "guarded against sin, transgression, rebellion, impiety, disbelief and the like". What this means is that the House of Justice is *good*. It does not mean that everything the House says is right or that everything it does is right. When Abdul-Baha says that the House is 'free from error', he is saying it is *good* not that it will always be *right* in what it does and says.

If we look at this distinction on an emotional level, it reveals a great deal. Do we love someone because she is good or because she is right? Usually, we would love a person who is good. If a person is good, that person is trustworthy, truthful, humble and so forth. These are spiritual qualities. Such a person reflects the Names and Attributes of God.

But what would it mean to love someone because you think he is always right? Why would anyone need another person to always be right? Alternatively, why would person A want person B to always think that person A is right? This is not love; it's codependency.

I don't mind if people want to base their faith on the House always being right. It is their business to run their spiritual lives as they wish. The trouble comes when this perspective is claimed to be the Baha'i one, and all other perspectives are viewed as contrary to the covenant. It means that I am then forbidden to show my love for the House by offering a reasoned criticism of one of its decisions. This is what a person whose love is based on goodness would do. And because goodness and conferred infallibility are the same, in actual fact, it means that I am prevented from demonstrating my recognition of the House's conferred infallibility.

Alison


Date: Mon, 5 Jul 1999 22:08:34 +1200 (NZST)
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: polygyny and Tahirih

I've been thinking about what it would be like to be one among a number of wives. I accept that I shouldn't try to see that situation through the eyes of a Western woman. But it seems to me that what happened to Asiyih Navaab, if in fact she did commit suicide, shows that despite her being brought up within Persian culture, she nevertheless died broken hearted. I can't believe this was a one-off situation, just because it involves the Manifestation. There must have been other women who ended up in a tragic situation because of polygyny. But, hey, I accept that it was perhaps rare.

Anyway, here's a poem by Tahirih ["A beauty mark"]. It was posted on H-Baha'i a long time ago. It came to mind because I remember someone saying that she thought the poem was about polygyny. If it is, and parts of it sure look that way, then we have here a perspective on polygyny by a Persian woman: "Look at the poor bastard: one dad, and two moms." I get the firm impression, she doesn't like it.

Now that I come to look at the poem again, though, I think Tahirih is comparing the tragedy of polygyny for a woman with the tragedy of the Beloved for the mystic. The tragic element for the mystic in her love of the Beloved is that He is both faithful and faithless (as opposed to unfaithful) - although he is faithful to her, he is nevertheless beyond her, she cannot 'have' him. It is the idea behind Baha'u'llah saying: "Ye shall be hindered from loving Me ... for hearts cannot grasp Me nor hearts contain Me." The mystic sees traces of the Beloved in the world, but can never grasp Him completely.

So, likening the promise of the Beloved (the Bab) with that of a polygynous husband, Tahirih says: "You betray me and still promise the union of love. Now, here is one man who swears two vows".

Alison


Date: Thu, 8 Jul 1999 18:13:44 +1200 (NZST)
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: Re: Praised be my Lord, the most high

Dear X

How can I ever thank you for translating these Maiden tablets? They fill my heart with joy, and make my prayers and meditations very exciting and interesting! I've been meditating on this latest one, and I really love it. It's interesting that, like the Houri of Wonder, it finishes with a little message. I'm still thinking about the message in this one. It's got me in the grip.

In the meantime, I was wondering if you would tell me what you think about a few things that puzzle me. Who is being addressed here as "Letter of eternity", and who is doing the addressing? Do you think this is the Maiden addressing Baha'u'llah? What is meant by the word "runner" in "walk upon the exalted brocade runner"? What do you think is meant by "the foot of one of the saints"? Who or what could this saint be - someone in particular, or just a holy person?

And finally, I get confused about two thirds through:

Behold, the crier called out in the midst of the air at the center of appearance;
praised be the one who created and made.
She said, "By the Lord of the heavens! A glance at her is better than possessing this world and the next."
Praised be my Lord, the most high.
Then she rose, and the most great resurrection took place;
praised be the one who created and made.

I'm not sure about who is doing what here. The one scenario that makes sense is that it is the crier who says "By the Lord of the Heavens! A glance at her....". It can't be the Houri, because the Houri is mentioned in the third person. Then it is the Houri that is being referred to again when Baha'u'llah says, "Then she rose..." (not the crier, who is also female). Is that right?

Thanks so much Alison


Date: Sat, 10 Jul 1999 19:52:01 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: Praised be my Lord, the most high
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X
The reason I asked who you thought was addressing who in the beginning was because I couldn't work out a scenario that fitted all the facts. I refer here to the passage from the beginning up to the Say passage. I must admit, I hadn't thought that it might be God talking to the Maiden, because I usually think that the voice of God is the Maiden, given that She is the Source.

I agree with you that the tablet does seem to start with God talking to the Maiden, but then in the third verse, the speaker says: "Do not let the comings and goings of this world sadden you, then ascend to the realm of faithfulness". That doesn't sound like the sort of thing God would say to the Maiden. It sounds more like God or the Maiden talking to Baha'u'llah, who was living in "this world". I don't think of the Maiden as being in "this world" (the world of creation?), but rather as always having been in the realm of faithfulness - She *is* the realm of faithfulness. (On the other hand, She does get sad. Like in the Tablet of the Maiden when She gets so sad, She dies.) So I wonder if this third verse is in the same place as the passages that talk of Moses taking off his shoes and so forth, the sort of cleansing process the person (Husayn Ali) goes through to become the Manifestation (Baha'u'llah/Faithfulness). This fits with putting on the bridal trousseau and getting on a posh carpet, only on another level.

So perhaps in the first section of the tablet (up to the Say passage), God is addressing the various aspects of Baha'u'llah, preparing him for his declaration, and telling him about all the good things to come. For it follows with the list of goodies and ends with the prospect of finding the lights of guidance within.

This is one way to reconcile what I see as switches in perspective: on the one hand "put on the bridal trousseau", which sounds like God talking to the Maiden, but then "And shall drink red wine from the beauty of God", which sounds like God talking about the Maiden, not to Her. That the Maiden is the beauty of God is supported by the fact that further on the Maiden is depicted serving red wine.

Alison


Date: Sun, 11 Jul 1999 11:11:28 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: Praised be my Lord, the most high
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

Now that we come to examine them, the first lines are proving very revealing. :-)

Perhaps the first line itself contains a switch in point of view. For example, "Letter of Eternity" - I would have thought this a direct reference to Baha'u'llah too. I think of it as reference to the Alif, the first letter to take shape out of the Point.

As for "bridal trousseau", I think your take on this fits well, because in the next clause, the addressee is told to walk on the "exalted brocade runner". In Breath of the Spirit, the Maiden also walks on a brocade carpet. This suggests that the addressee is in fact meant to be the Maiden. I quote the passage from Breath of the Spirit:

"An irresistible decree now went forth that the people of the pavilions of grandeur, the people of the veils of power, the assemblage of cherubs, and the pure realities must embellish the garden of immortality with the lights of beauty, and must carpet it with brocade and sacred silk embroidered with calligraphy. Then the permission to come out arrived from the heaven of manifestation, and that houri of the spirit emerged from behind the most great curtain, bestowing true spirit upon those who dwell among the people of the heavens and the earth. She stood upon the brocade carpet and began to move. Her movements tossed her hair, causing a few black droplets to be distilled on the embroidered silk upon the ground, bespeaking that resplendent darkness. These wondrous words were embellished by those few droplets, and the river of love was concealed beneath the dark depths of the spring of these words."

(Interestingly, in this quote, various beings are asked to "carpet" the "garden of immortality", while in "Praised by my Lord", the speaker describes the carpet as the "earth of immortality".)

So, about the first line, my point is this: if the "Letter of Eternity" is Baha'u'llah, I don't think this makes the "bridal trousseau" wrong. I like the idea of a switch in addressee occurring right there. All in one line, both the female and male parts of Baha'u'llah are addressed together. Like the snake further on - Baha'u'llah is both the sperm/Alif and the womb/bride. If we're talking here about a new creation, then we must have both the female and male aspects uniting to produce it.

Alison


Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 09:30:48 +1200 (NZST)
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: Re: `Is this true to your knowledge

Well, there is one thing that this quote does demonstrate. Abdul-Baha is honest about the fact that the exclusion of women as members of the UHJ/Chicago LSA [choose whichever suits your spiritual preferences] *is* a breach of the equality principle. Women do not have the same legal rights as men in the Baha'i community. No matter how much the Baha'is try to deny it.

The official line from the administration should be: "We believe in the equality of men and women in all respects except with regard to membership of the Universal House of Justice."

Alison


Date: Mon, 12 Jul 1999 21:39:31 +1200 (NZST)
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: men and their makeovers

X, No, I don't think the administration does admit that the exclusion is a breach of the equality principle. Quite the contrary, which is why I brought this up.

The fact that the administration *never* mentions the exception when it trumpets the equality principle in its public relations is compelling evidence that it is a proper embarrasment to them. This is interesting; on the one hand the Baha'is are told to swallow this exception with deep faith - unerring guidance from Abdul-Baha, you see - and yet, the administration itself hides it away! The administration hasn't swallowed it with deep faith, at all costs it won't let the exclusion mar its public face. Heaven forbid!

The justification given for not telling is that people need "deepening" before they can be allowed to know the secret handshake. Once in, you're educated to accept it without question, conditioned into feeling that if you tell you're being disobedient, and guided into being a part of the carefully crafted makeover. We all carry the shame and dishonesty of it in our hearts. Who wants to share with people that sort of thing? Better to powder the nose.

Well, after exploring the issue in the open and discovering that there were all sorts of reasons for why there should be women on the House, I became free of the shame and no longer felt obliged to wear the compulsory public relations smile.

I'm in the mood for telling it like it is: the exclusion *is* a violation of the equality principle, and the people responsible for perpetrating it should be exposed and forced to face the consequences of their actions: public criticism. At the moment, they are protected by the believers. But if this fell apart, so would the very thing that keeps the exclusion in place.

Alison


Date: Wed, 14 Jul 1999 12:25:24 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Maiden theology and equality
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Well, X You've asked the tough question. Now that I come to examine my current response to the inconsistencies you point to - between the spiritual equality and the legal inequality - my real, honest and true response is that it doesn't trouble me anymore.

The reason for this is that, to me, the only reality with power or significance is the spiritual world. My focus is living in that world, so what goes on in the physical world is secondary. However, Baha'u'llah says we should be attached to this earthly life for the sole purpose of serving the Cause (to me, that's spiritual principle, not the Baha'i community), so while here, I work for legal equality for women.

The fact that the Baha'i community can exhibit behaviours that are inconsistent with the teachings is a product of the relationship between the spiritual and physical worlds. The physical world is an imperfect reflection of the spiritual, and so there will always be work to do. I guess it's set up that way to sift out the sincere.

The main thing is knowing that what's happening in the physical world is not the primary reality, and knowing that the spiritual world is the one with power. The effective way to achieve change physically is to attract the divine fragrances here - education, supplication, that sort of thing - not to manipulate those on the ground (so to speak). With this, those who are going to be attracted to the Cause (not the community) will be guided to it and the goal will be achieved.

As to the Aqdas itself, Baha'u'llah says emphatically that the first proof of what he is, is *Himself*. The Person of Baha'u'llah is the main thing, and that's Baha'u'llah and the Maiden. The next proof is the revelation and lastly, for those who didn't get it the first time, there's the book.

"Say: The first and foremost testimony establishing His truth is His own Self. Next to this testimony is His Revelation. For whoso faileth to recognize either the one or the other He hath established the words He hath revealed as proof of His reality and truth." Baha'u'llah: Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 105

So, to my mind the book must read in the light of the Person/Reality of the Manifestation. Once you get to the book, you're in the physical world and in trouble when it comes to conveying a message of Oneness in a world where multiplicity is written in. It's inevitable that the message of Oneness will be filtered through cultural lenses. This isn't a sign that Baha'u'llah was defective or sexist; Baha'u'llah is not the book or the way the book is interpreted, He is sanctified from those things. He is the "Living Book", and we shouldn't use the written book to refute the Living Book:

"In this verse of the Aqdas, and again in paragraph 168 of the Aqdas, Baha'u'llah refers to Himself as the "Living Book". He cautions the "followers of every other Faith" against seeking "reasons in their Holy Books" for refuting the utterances of the "Living Book". He admonishes the people not to allow what has been recorded in the "Book" to prevent them from recognising His Station and from holding fast to what is in this new Revelation." (Baha'u'llah: Aqdas: Notes, Page: 231)

I live in the Reality between Baha'u'llah and the Maiden, the Lover and the Beloved. That is my spiritual world. It is my spiritual right to have it and live in it. I've developed it with my own eyes. And although people try to tell me my world is covenantally suspect or against the Law, I don't care anymore. I think they are wrong.

Alison


Date: Wed, 14 Jul 1999 19:56:56 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: Maiden theology and equality
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

I don't see an erosion like you do. I don't have a sense that anything has been lost.

At the heart of it all is the Cause, and that's Baha'u'llah, and He says His flame cannot be put out. If you pour water on the flame, it acts like oil. Baha'u'llah describes Himself as the Crimson Oil. That's magic alchemical Oil that just goes on transforming and transforming and transforming and transforming and transforming. There is no stopping it. So I don't fear a great reversal. He's here to net the sincere, and whatever the state of the Cause in the physical world at any particular time, the sincere get themselves found.

I think our rights as Baha'is are the best they've ever been, as a result of cyberspace and the sacrifice of some of the Baha'is who wore the initial negative reaction of the administration to open Internet discussion. The kind of connection I describe and the spiritual world I have created for myself have been made possible by their courage and knowledge. So I agree with you entirely that the more we all share our own experiences and understandings, the more others are encouraged by the creativity and energy that is released. This idea of sharing ourselves is, I think what Baha'u'llah means when He says in the short obligatory prayer that we should "worship" Him. Whatever the action, it is "worship" if it is an outward expression of our spirituality.

Alison


Date: Thu, 15 Jul 1999 09:01:30 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: men and their makeovers
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X said:
>The tricky thing for me is that I recognize that in a *promotional* piece of
>literature for public consumption most organizations don't point out their
>most troubling parts......

But does the administration see the exclusion as a troubling part? On the contrary, they are proud of it! They are being obedient to the covenant! So if they are so proud of their obedience, why cover it up to the public? They clearly believe that being obedient to the covenant is the essence of the Faith, so perhaps if they were more honest about this, we would have the entry by troops that we're supposed to.

I thought your story about telling a seeker about the exclusion at a fireside was a classic. One is a traitor if one is actually honest at firesides. I had an illuminating experience over the inequality coverup too. The Baha'is had asked the head of Women's Studies to address the Baha'i students at a meeting at the university. She obviously had done her homework and gave a wonderful presentation outlining all the reasons the Baha'i Faith stood for equality, and sincerely praised the religion and its founder for their openmindedness. But clearly, she had not seen the exclusion (or the Aqdas for that matter).

When she had finished, the idea was that we would discuss what she had said. There was silence, complete silence. We sat there for what seemed like ages and no one said anything. Eventually, this silence went on for so long that the facilitator stopped the meeting. You see, no one could discuss the principle in public because they had all swallowed the party line and internalised the shame. Also, being the prime target of the meeting, she had already convinced herself of all the things that she needed to be convinced of, and that was the work done. You could tell she was bewildered by our behaviour, here she was telling us all these wonderful things about ourselves and we respond with silence! We just didn't believe it ourselves.

Alison


Date: Fri, 16 Jul 1999 09:12:55 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: men and their makeovers
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X said:
>In short, the cause of their shame was their own philosophical ignorance.
>You may be sure that I would not have hesitated to mention this Teaching -

Actually, X, there was a guy there who reminds me very much of you. He has very similar views on logic, function and so on. He was sitting just a couple of seats away from me, and I was sure he would say something of the nature you describe. And I was dreading the prospect of it. But he didn't! I'm sorry to say, he let your team down. :-)

Now that I come to think about it again, I think it a real shame you weren't there. The woman from Women's Studies would have realised that what she had read and what some Baha'is believe are different. It certainly would have given her a more honest insight into the Baha'is and the equality issue.

>Once they are out of the post-modernist fog, Baha'is quickly see they have
>nothing to be embarrassed about on this or any other teaching.

I certainly agree with you that we shouldn't be embarrassed about what we honestly believe. Baha'u'llah was down on hypocrites.

Alison


Date: Sat, 17 Jul 1999 13:28:08 +1200 (NZST)
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: Rumi on love (for X)

Hi X

This wonderful book arrived in the mail the other day: Annemarie Schimmel's "The Trimphant Sun. A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi". I love Rumi cos Rumi loves love, and so I cut to the chase and went straight to the section on love. And I found on page 335 the best definition of love ever: "love means to fall into a goldmine"; and I found a verse on love for you:
>From love bitternesses become sweet, from love copper becomes gold from love the dregs become pure, from love the pains become medicine from love the dead become alive, from love the king becomes a slave. --Rumi

Alison


Date: Mon, 19 Jul 1999 10:47:30 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: Enchanted
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

At 04:45 AM 18/7/99 -0400, you wrote:
>Do you think the person who becomes so ineberated
>through "love" could be becoming enchanted away from
>his/her Own True Self? How does one in this state keep
>from transgressing the boderlines of moderation (good
>or evil).

Dear X

Rumi is talking entirely in the context of his higher self. He is talking about the passionate love affair he has with his higher self. If a king gives the head of a person to a slave in desire for her, then he has sold his higher self to have her. The king in Rumi's poem has such a well developed relationship with his higher self that, despite his earthly power, he is nonetheless as humble as a slave. Now, that is really saying something about a person's virtue.

But in the context of the question we often must ask ourselves: are my feelings of love motivated by my higher or lower self, then I suggest two tests. First, from the Seven Valleys, Baha'u'llah says:

"In all these journeys the traveler must stray not the breadth of a hair from the "Law," for this is indeed the secret of the "Path" and the fruit of the Tree of "Truth"; and in all these stages he must cling to the robe of obedience to the commandments, and hold fast to the cord of shunning all forbidden things, that he may be nourished from the cup of the Law and informed of the mysteries of Truth." (Baha'u'llah: Seven Valleys and Four Valleys, Pages: 39-40)

Second test, do the feelings of love lead you to feel these virtues?:

"The virtues and attributes pertaining unto God are all evident and manifest, and have been mentioned and described in all the heavenly Books. Among them are trustworthiness, truthfulness, purity of heart while communing with God, forbearance, resignation to whatever the Almighty hath decreed, contentment with the things His Will hath provided, patience, nay, thankfulness in the midst of tribulation, and complete reliance, in all circumstances, upon Him. These rank, according to the estimate of God, among the highest and most laudable of all acts. All other acts are, and will ever remain, secondary and subordinate unto them...." (Baha'u'llah: Gleanings, Page: 290)

This second test, I think, captures the genuine feeling of humility associated with love - the humility that renders a king a slave. You see, love is something that comes to us from God even though we are unworthy. Who are we beside God? The fact that God might send a glance our way is pure mercy and grace. Love is therefore something that is experienced as a precious bounty (a goldmine), and whatever is produced by that bounty is beloved. The king in your story sold his goldmine (his higher self) in order to possess the gold, but the minute he did that, the goldmine and the gold disappeared. You can't reach out and grab it; you have to be resigned and let it flow through you so that it can work its magic and create your world.

Remember the qualities of the true seeker?

"Only when the lamp of search, of earnest striving, of longing desire, of passionate devotion, of fervid love, of rapture, and ecstasy, is kindled within the seeker's heart, and the breeze of His loving-kindness is wafted upon his soul, will the darkness of error be dispelled, the mists of doubts and misgivings be dissipated, and the lights of knowledge and certitude envelop his being." (Baha'u'llah: The Kitab-i-Iqan, Pages: 195-196)

Note here, how Baha'u'llah associates the feelings of love and passion with the path that *dispels* the "darkness of error" and the "mists of doubts and misgivings".

So, I would say that if one's feelings of love pass the two tests or, more realistically, keep you operating within their sphere, then you can be sure they are coming from the higher self and will not lead you astray. I think if you're in touch with the humility, then you're unlikely to break the Law.

As for moderation, I would say that when it comes to the love of God or of one's higher self, moderation isn't relevant. Moderation is desirable in the context of our relationship with the physical world.

Alison


Date: Thu, 22 Jul 1999 08:31:56 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: For X, on magic
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

I think your magic is teaching some sound principles! I agree with you completely that one can be sucked into looking the other way, and consequently not examine in depth what another is doing. This is precisely the position the Baha'is are in. They are asked to focus constantly on teaching and EBT and yet, they do not see that in the meantime, they are letting by a glaring inconsistency: that we believe in equality, but do not give women equal rights. If the Baha'is spent more of their energies cleaning up their administration and community of dogma, fear and orthodoxy, the Baha'is would transform hearts with their breath.

Alison


Date: Thu, 22 Jul 1999 20:38:45 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: RE: For X, on magic
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

I agree completely with what you say. Baha'is erroneously think that being a Baha'i means being a member of the Baha'i community, but this is not the definition of Baha'i that Baha'u'llah left to us. In the Book of the Covenant (yes, the *Covenant*), Baha'u'llah defines Baha'i like this:

"Every receptive soul who hath in this Day inhaled the fragrance of His garment and hath, with a pure heart, set his face towards the all-glorious Horizon is reckoned among the people of Bahá in the Crimson Book. Grasp ye, in My Name, the chalice of My loving-kindness, drink then your fill in My glorious and wondrous remembrance."

The "Cause" is a spiritual reality that we access through our hearts, minds and souls; it is not the institutions of the Faith. The "Cause" is spiritual principle, not obedience to institutions. As you suggest, the primary consideration is spiritual principle, and it is the role of the institutions to uphold that principle. If they do not, I believe it is the role of the Baha'i (referring to the definition above) to uphold that principle nonetheless, even if that means acting in a way that seems on its face to be disobedient or against those institutions. I believe that Baha'u'llah allowed for the possibility of a split between principle and institution in the Hidden Words, when he said: "Know thou of a truth: He that biddeth men be just and himself committeth iniquity is not of Me, even though he bear My name." (Baha'u'llah: Arabic Hidden Words, Page: 28)

The trouble is that Baha'is have a simplistic understanding of the "infallibility" of the House. They believe it means that the House can do no wrong, in any sense of the word. They interpret "freed from error" in such a way as to elevate the station of the House to the equivalent of that of the Manifestation: what it says and does is considered divine, not human. There is danger in giving humans this sort of power. It makes people safe in their positions, so they don't like it when people point out that they are wrong. Consultation goes out, and "obedience to the covenant" comes in.

As a result, the institutions effectively mediate between the believers and God. What the House says and does is of God, and God becomes something *outside* of us, not something we experience within through our own conscience, minds, hearts and souls. Hence Baha'is quite happily throw out principle if told to do so. The administration becomes the location of the experience of 'being a Baha'i', and Baha'i identity is determined entirely on one's relationship to the administration.

This is the reason the Baha'is do not have a civil society. Except for the odd exception like Talisman and H-Baha'i (which are considered threats), you'd be hard pressed to find any example of a 'group' of Baha'is that is not formed under the auspices of an institution. There is no freedom of information - it is all controlled by the administration. You are told things when someone else believes it is best for you, and if you want to publish something, what you want to say is censored. If you have a problem, you go to an institution and are treated in private as an isolated individual. If anyone else has the same problem as you, you never find out about it. Talisman blows that one apart. People come here and find others saying things they've been thinking for years.

So, yes, for me being a Baha'i means standing up for principle and being vocal about the way the administration fails those principles.

Alison


Date: Sat, 24 Jul 1999 11:04:19 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: For X, on magic
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X asks:
>My question is: Do we really care if religion is logical, consistent,
>politically correct, and makes sense as long as it satisfies some inner
>longing? Are we Baha'is because it makes sense and is consistent with
>no problems?

I think the important thing is that we be honest and sincere wayfarers. This does not guarantee "rightness" or "correctness" as opposed to being wrong about things, but it does guarantee a journey towards truth, God or whatever. This is the key; to expect perfection in any other sense is unjust, for we are not perfect beings by design. Constantly, constantly, we are hung up with being right, when being right is not a virtue, but being honest is.

So, on one level, I agree with you that inconsistencies and problems in themselves do not matter. The issue is what we do with them. If the religion does indeed satisfy an inner longing, then we will work through them as honest and sincere wayfarers.

But I suggest that many do not engage religion on that level. Rather, they prefer a model where they abdicate responsibility for their salvation to others - clergy or administration, it is the same - and leave the issues for them to deal with. Answers come, not through each individual's heart, mind and soul, but from those in authority. At elections, we choose who we are going to give this responsibility to, and inevitably, we choose those who are paternalistic and authoritarian, not those who will openly engage us in decision-making, because we just want to forget about it for another year. You think I am being too cynical? From what I can determine, this was Baha'u'llah's critique of the masses and their relationship with religion:

"And, now, strive thou to comprehend the meaning of this saying of Ali, the Commander of the Faithful: "Piercing the veils of glory, unaided." Among these "veils of glory" are the divines and doctors living in the days of the Manifestation of God, who, because of their want of discernment and their love and eagerness for leadership, have failed to submit to the Cause of God... And the people also, utterly ignoring God and taking them for their masters, have placed themselves unreservedly under the authority of these pompous and hypocritical leaders, for they have no sight, no hearing, no heart, of their own to distinguish truth from falsehood. Notwithstanding the divinely-inspired admonitions of all the Prophets, the Saints, and Chosen ones of God, enjoining the people to see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears, they have disdainfully rejected their counsels and have blindly followed, and will continue to follow, the leaders of their Faith." (Baha'u'llah: The Kitab-i-Iqan, Pages: 164-165)

My experience is that this model suits many Baha'is. In my community, apathy is rife, but the members turn up to feast just as a person might go to church on Sunday. It satisfies their conscience that they have done their duty to God. Going to feast is devotional to them because when they do it, they are participating in the divine, the administration. Also, as someone said to me recently, the Baha'is think that when they go to feast, they are doing their bit to serve humanity.

What I am saying is all evidenced in this quote from Gil. Note how he thinks religion is an institution and that that institution will save humanity, and how he has abdicated his reasoning powers to this institution:
>You see we are the ones that
>have to become educated to certain things before we can even judge
>what is right and what is wrong. We may never really know the reason
>but that is no reason to stop teaching and enrolling the people into
>the only institution that will save mankind from total ruin. I used
>the word institution instead of religion for a reason. Our
>comprehension of what religion is , is sorely corrupted. We are seeing
>a new world rolled out in the place of the old one and even the words
>have acquired new meanings.

Alison


Date: Thu, 29 Jul 1999 09:22:15 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: (Fwd) automatically conferred radical sainthood
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

I have read your position on this matter many times and have given it a great deal of thought. In essence, you seem to be saying that the radicals do not provide solutions but, rather, are caught up in a destructive reactionary response to administrative fundamentalism. You want them to produce positive models for change. This seems fair enough to me. This challenge is something we should all accept, not just the radicals.

Just to defend X for a moment, despite all that you say about his supposed destructive behaviour, he has, I believe, met your challenge. Just to take one example: H-Baha'i is a positive, constructive long-term response to the ever-narrowing sphere of 'acceptable' Baha'i scholarship. Despite the deficiencies that some like X might attribute to H-Baha'i, it is nevertheless an independent institution and it will live longer than X does. Over the decades and centuries, it should have an enormous influence in preventing the Faith from falling completely into superstition and orthodoxy. X's book is another example of his positive, long-term contribution.

X, what I haven't been able to determine is your own positive response to the administration's fundamentalism. It seems to me that as the person who calls for models of change, you should be the one role modelling them for us. I agree with the implication of your position, that creating role models is the most effective strategy for change. Would you tell me about your strategies?

Alison


Date: Mon, 2 Aug 1999 21:28:33 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: issues related to criticism
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

You ask for quotes that support the following five stances. You have defined the stances yourself, and I think your characterisation of them is highly emotive, but I will run with them nonetheless.

>1. There usually tends to be a focus on defining the problem in depth
>and detail with the belief that doing this will help solve it (which is
>what I'm doing in relation to this problem in itself).

CXI. O contending peoples and kindreds of the earth! Set your faces towards unity, and let the radiance of its light shine upon you. Gather ye together, and for the sake of God resolve to root out whatever is the source of contention amongst you. Then will the effulgence of the world's great Luminary envelop the whole earth, and its inhabitants become the citizens of one city, and the occupants of one and the same throne. (Baha'u'llah: Gleanings, Page: 217)

I propose that this quote positively *requires* that people examine in detail the issues that they disagree over. "Root out" to me means getting in there and getting one's hands dirty, as one would root out a tree. Don't get me wrong, I am also aware that the Guardian counsels us to forgive and forget when it comes to trifling issues between Baha'is. I agree with this also. But the issue that divides, for example, what you would call Western-influenced Baha'is and the administration is of fundamental importance. I don't believe that the House of Justice has examined the issues in the spirit of "rooting out" the source of contention, rather it has simply tossed out of the community and threatened those it disagrees with. This is not consultation.

>2. There is a powerful anti-authoritarian tone in the criticisms where
>the notion of a conspiracy or a 'cover-up' is always simmering in the
>background.

Well, Baha'u'llah was anti-authoritarian. "Know ye not why We created ye all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other". The members of the administration are all servants. It is in their humility alone that there is glory. The minute they get out of line and start trying to tell people what to believe, then they are grossly exceeding their powers and every Baha'i worthy of the name ought to be telling them so.

>3. This anti-authoritarian tone is supplemented by a unending supply of
>narratives regarding the incorrect behavior of either individuals who
>are part of Institutions or the Institutions themselves. Unfortunately,
>almost in every case, and perhaps unwillingly, the criticisms are
>riddled with examples of backbiting.

Baha'is believe in the rule of law. If Baha'is are not treated according to Baha'i law, then they have every right to speak out about it - particularly when the institutions demonstrate an unwillingness to listen. This has nothing to do with backbiting. The argument that speaking openly is backbiting is an example of the totalitarian tactics, which other members of this list have referred to. These references to oppression are not attacks on you personally.

>4. It is also believed that public self-criticism of the Faith is a
>healthy and necessary thing. Or more specifically, there exists the
>entrenched belief that it is through unmitigated freedom of expression
>that the Faith progresses and develops.

Shoghi Effendi: "Let us also remember that at the very root of the Cause lies the principle of the undoubted right of the individual to self-expression, his freedom to declare his conscience and set forth his views." (Shoghi Effendi: Baha'i Administration, Page: 63)

Abdul-Baha: "But when they removed these differences, persecution, and bigotries out of their midst, and proclaimed the equal rights of all subjects and the liberty of men's consciences, the lights of glory and power arose and shone from the horizons of that kingdom in such wise that those countries made progress in every direction; and whereas the mightiest monarchy of Europe had been servile to and abased before the smallest government of Asia, now the great states of Asia are unable to oppose the small states of Europe. These are effectual and sufficient proofs that the conscience of man is sacred and to be respected; and that liberty thereof produces widening of ideas, amendment of morals, improvement of conduct, disclosure of the secrets of creation, and manifestation of the hidden verities of the contingent world. Moreover, if interrogation of conscience, which is one of the private possessions of the heart and the soul, take place in this world, what further recompense remains for man in the court of divine justice at the day of general resurrection? Convictions and ideas are within the scope of the comprehension of the King of kings, not of kings; and soul and conscience are between the fingers of control of the Lord of hearts, not of [His] servants. So in the world of existence two persons unanimous in all grades [of thought] and all beliefs cannot be found. `The ways unto God are as the number of the breaths of [His] creatures' is a mysterious truth, and `To every [people] We have appointed a [separate] rite'(50) is one of the subtleties of the Qur'an." (`Abdu'l-Baha: A Traveler's Narrative, Pages: 91-92)

Note that Abdul-Baha is emphatic that the world of people's consciences, minds, souls and so forth is the world of God, not of kings. Baha'u'llah has reserved for himself the "hearts of men", and no human or institution on Earth has a right to dominate that realm. That's the sacred realm of the God/ess within, which must be respected. Any institution that coerces a person's conscience for the sake of obedience to it is acting outside its mandate.

>5. Finally, and perhaps related to the previous point, there is the
>rampant belief that there is something terribly wrong with Faith
>(whether it's the Faith itself or its believers is rarely spelled out)
>and that if we don't publicly criticize it first, to the knowledge of
>everyone, Baha'i and otherwise, someone else will (a non-Bahai that is)
>and that will be the destruction and the demise of the Faith.

I won't try and find a quote for this. But I will say this: that if there is something wrong with the Baha'i community and no Baha'is are around to say so, I'd be real glad if non-Baha'is got stuck in there and spoke the truth. If they did, they would be acting as God's agents and would be the Baha'is.

As for your constant references to public criticism, let me suggest to you that, rather than my position being tainted by Western culture, your position is pure Middle Eastern culture. In Middle Eastern culture, you do not publicly criticise people. This is to dishonour them. It simply is not done. This is the reason there is such a fuss about the public criticism of the House. We must not dishonour the House by airing our dirty laundry in public. Well, the Faith is not Middle Eastern. It rests on spiritual principles, and anyone, whether individual believer or institution, that violates those principles can expect to be exposed. No stone left unturned this Day.

You also say:
>4. A wonderful compilation has been prepared in this regard and its
>available at
>http://bahai-library.org/uhj/dissidence.criticism.html

Another excellent compilation is the one put together by Juan Cole in response to the House of Justice's letter dated 7 April 1999. And another excellent resource, largely on the topics you have raised, about the Baha'i Faith's support for the principles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, can be found at http://h-net2.msu.edu/~bahai/bhpapers/vol3/rights.htm.

>One final issue is that rarely the postings in this forum or expressions
>of criticism elsewhere make mention of any part of the Writings - rather
>they tend to be extended statements of personal opinion.

How long have you been on Talisman, X? How do you know whether Talismanians quote regularly from the writings?

>To everyone, myself included, who really wishes to find out about
>anything or the slavery issue, Baha'u'llah promises, "Whoso seeketh out
>a thing with zeal shall find it." The issue is to not whether you will
>be able to find the truth but whether we will be able to do it without
>causing harm to ourselves or to the unity the Faith in the process of
>our discovery.

One can only 'harm' others when searching for truth if those others want to hide the truth. The principle of the independent investigation of truth does not contradict the principle of unity. They are the same thing in different form. Truthfulness is the foundation of all virtues; it is upon justice that unity is based.

Alison


Date: Tue, 3 Aug 1999 21:46:32 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: issues related to criticism
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

In my opinion, to say that the House is the "source of all good" does not mean the House cannot make mistakes. This is not to deny that the House is the head of the worldwide Baha'i community - of course it is. But to be the head of the Baha'i community, it doesn't have to be impervious to error. Not only is this an impossible standard for any institution made up of humans to aspire to, I can't see any reason why it is desirable. The process of seeing and righting error is fundamental to the spiritual journey. To my mind, if you take that from the House, you also remove its ability to grow and it becomes inflexible and brittle and, eventually, broken. But, I realise that for you, you need to believe that the House is God on Earth, and where ever one places God in one's scheme, that's where we seek perfection.

I myself place God in Baha'u'llah, as God's Manifestation. He is reflected everywhere in the world, but most importantly, as Baha'u'llah emphasises repeatedly, He is in my heart. This is where he lives and this is where I should seek him. For this reason, I seek perfection and guidance inside myself. This leads me to acquire spiritual attributes and to see the world and assess it with my own eyes. No one tells me how to see the world. I assess it myself in accordance with spiritual principle. To me this is primary, and that is why I assess the House according to this standard. So if, in my opinion, the House is not acting according to spiritual principle, then I will say so. This is not "contending" with the House; it is me exercising my right to express my opinions (what I see with my own eyes) openly.

The other difficulty I have with your position is that you have elevated a literal interpretation of one clause, "freed from all error", and made it the basis of your faith and assessments of the world. This literal interpretation of that one clause has become, for you, your primary spiritual principle. This is consistent with locating God in the House and needing the House to be perfect. The "freed from all error" principle perfectly supports and justifies that schema. For me, however, not only do I disagree with your literal interpretation of the clause, I do not give that principle such an exalted status. The Guardian has said that the most important principle is the Oneness of God. The principle of justice is also important, given that justice is necessary for the appearance of unity.

I will leave you with Baha'u'llah's definition of Oneness. On the basis of this principle, I base my faith on the transcendent God, and not on anything in the physical world.

Alison


Date: Thu, 5 Aug 1999 09:21:10 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: The House of the Lord
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X said:
>I admire your honesty and integrity, Alison. I'm sure that if you lived in
>the time of Abdu'l-Baha, and we had email, you would write, "if, in my
>opinion, the Master is not acting according to spiritual principle, then I
>will say so." And the Master would probably laugh and encourage you to let
>Him know when he screwed up.

Yes, I agree. The important thing is that Abdul-Baha *did* allow people to say whatever they liked to him and was not threatened by it. He never once said: 'you can't say that because I am infallible' or 'if you say that you are not a Baha'i'.

>In the Days of the Blessed Beauty (which, in
>reality, exist today) you would write: "if, in my opinion, the Blessed Beauty
>is not acting according to spiritual principle, then I will say so."
>Speak right up, Alison, Baha'u'llah doesn't need to subscribe to the list to
>read our messages. :-)

No. This is where you misunderstand me. I would not take this position with Baha'u'llah. This is fundamental. Baha'u'llah *is* spiritual principle; Baha'u'llah is the Manifestation of God; Baha'u'llah is the Most Great Infallibility, so what He is is by definition the Divine Standard. But this is not true of Abdul-Baha or the House. They do not carry the station of Most Great Infallibility, and herein lies the difference between my position and yours. To me, Baha'u'llah defines the Standard, and the rest of us are judged by it - including Abdul-Baha and the House. Neither of these in themselves define spiritual principle; they are *servants* of it. But look at what X says in his last message:
>Even if they [the House] were to decide that which would cause the suffering of the entire
>Baha'i community and bring about the wailing of every citizen of the world, their
>decision would not be anything but "the Truth and the Purpose of God Himself."

Now, to me, this is the kind of statement that can only be attributed to the Manifestation. My reading of X's position here - and I assume it's the same as yours, X - is that *no matter what* the House did or said, even if it was plainly inconsistent with Baha'i principle, it would nonetheless by definition be of God. To my mind, this is placing God in the House; this is attributing the Most Great Infallibility to the House. IMV, Baha'is should judge the House by Baha'u'llah's Standard, not believe that the House sets the Standard.

Now, what did Abdul-Baha mean when he said that the House was infallible (freed from error)? I append below a quote from an old message of mine, wherein Abdul-Baha and Baha'u'llah define it for us.

>While I only know you via messages, I get the impression that you have a very
>good heart, care passionately, love Baha'u'llah, etc. Sometimes I think that
>one day you got confused when ordering desert and had a big helping of Sohrab
>instead of Sorbet -- mistook the bitter to be sweet, and are still trying to
>pass that which your higher self will not digest.

X, you are saying that my views are heretical. But let me tell you something. My higher self is doing a lot of digesting these days, much more that it used to when it was fed a whole lot of undigestible baloney, which I wasn't allowed to chew using my reason. I was desperate; in the end I was driven to ask questions, and I got answers and I found Baha'u'llah inside. And deliciously digestible He is too.

The thing about Abdul-Baha that we miss is that he didn't give a damn what people believed, so long as they were good people. People are going to believe all sorts of wierd and wonderful things. If we were all examined for consistency with the Divine Theology, we would all be found wanting. It is not the role of the adminstration to spend its time climbing into the minds of believers and examining them for orthodoxy. And the Baha'is are all way out of line picking each other to pieces over their beliefs. The fact that Baha'is have an assumption that examining beliefs is their perogative is the only reason there is a so-called 'problem' that the House identifies in its April 7 letter. If everyone just stopped judging others, the problem would literally disappear and we would realise, yet again, that we have been the victims of our own superstitions and fears.

Alison


Date: Sun, 8 Aug 1999 21:12:06 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: Abdul-Baha on his own infallibility
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X said:
> Do you think that the infallibility the House has and He "doesn't" is in
>the matter of legislation?
> After all, only the Universal House of Justice can legislate -- even the
>Centre of the Covenant and the Guardian could not do that.
>Either way, both the
>Master and the Universal House of Justice are under the "unerring guidance
>and protection" of Baha'u'llah.

You are right, only the House is given the power to legislate. To my mind, the House of Justice is like the government of any Western country. It is elected "after the manner of the customary elections in Western countries such as those of England" and is the legitimate head of the Baha'i community, just like the US government is the head of the US community. It makes laws like those governments and everyone recognises its legitimate right to do so. If the House is under the guidance of Baha'u'llah, then we can be sure that it's status as the head of the Faith for the next whatever years is safe. This is what I think that means.

Similarly, expressing opinions that are different to those who are in government is not an act of contention. An act of contention would be like trying to overthrow the government in some way or set up an alternative one. Civil discourse takes place in Western societies all the time and it is just taken for granted. The same will one day be true of the Baha'is. It will be no big deal that Baha'is will say that they disagree with the House on a matter, and the House will look at it as public opinion, and not as a threat to its existence. All this silliness about academic methodologies being "materialistic" will disappear, and the libraries will be full of books on the Faith that have been written by Baha'i academics (not apologetics).

Alison


Date: Wed, 11 Aug 1999 09:40:20 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Scholarship and the House
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

>X: For that to happen their will have to be a different understanding
>either from the House or the scholars on how to meet the demands of the
>House and still render scholarship which will meet the demands of their
>professional peers.

X, I think the main point to remember is that it is not the role of the House of Justice to define scholarship or its methodology, or in anyway set limits on such things. The House has been given the power by Baha'u'llah to legislate on what is not in the Book, and that is about it. Other than that, it is the legitimate administrative head of the Faith and therefore manages the worldwide community, but it is not empowered to tell Baha'is how to carry out scholarship (anymore than any government is). So I don't accept that scholars must meet the demands of the House with regard to scholarship. And if the House is making any demands, then it is acting outside its authority.

I know that the House argues (like in the April 7 letter) that academic methologies are materialistic. Because a paper or book is written in a style that does not assume that Baha'u'llah is a manifestation of God, the House seems to assume the author has renounced his or her belief in Baha'u'llah. But this is not the case at all (nor is it the business of the administration to be concerned about it, given that it is a matter of personal conscience). Academic writing is just a style of discourse that has certain functions and strengths. It is a part of the creation of God. The Baha'is have nothing to fear from it and everything to gain, for Baha'u'llah is bigger than academia and will harness it for His Cause.

I know that the House is concerned about what it perceieves to be the bad motives of some academics writing on the Faith, but it needn't be worried. If any author is publishing polemics against the Faith (like Miller), that person will very quickly be discredited by the academic community. For this very reason, it would be better for the House to promote real academic scholarship so that this kind of balanced enquiry can take place. It is very sad, I think, that the April 7 letter will lead Baha'is to dislike or even fear academic scholarship just because the House believes some academics are writing polemics.

>Revelation can enter scholarship not as a truth, but as
>someone's unverified belief. Truth is not the issue. It is the
>availability of the truth. If it is not available to the audience (non
>Bahais) then it is irrelevant.

I couldn't understand what you were driving at here. Perhaps you could explain more.

Alison


Date: Wed, 11 Aug 1999 16:40:59 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: Scholarship and the House
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

To me (and the Guardian confirms), the main principle of the Faith is the oneness of God. I'll quote Baha'u'llah on the oneness of God:

LXXXIV. Regard thou the one true God as One Who is apart from, and immeasurably exalted above, all created things. The whole universe reflecteth His glory, while He is Himself independent of, and transcendeth His creatures. This is the true meaning of Divine unity. He Who is the Eternal Truth is the one Power Who exerciseth undisputed sovereignty over the world of being, Whose image is reflected in the mirror of the entire creation. All existence is dependent upon Him, and from Him is derived the source of the sustenance of all things. This is what is meant by Divine unity; this is its fundamental principle. (Baha'u'llah: Gleanings, Page: 166)

I take the following from this. God is outside of all creation, but the whole of creation reflects God's glory, names and attributes. Oneness, then, is both transcendent and reflected in creation. This means that humans are not entitled to single out any one thing in creation and call it impure, unholy or the like. For example, we cannot say that Muslims or blacks or women or Jews are bad, but rather: "Say, all things are of God". (This quote is actually in the Tablet of the *Covenant*.) Baha'u'llah explains that everything in creation has within it a sign of God, hence the reflection of God in the world. For humans, this is each person's soul, and it is their purpose in life to perfect this sign. They do this by knowing and loving God; in other words, through their devotional and other acts of remembrance and service.

IMV, these things are primary and it is the job of the institutions to safeguard and promote this process in us. This process takes place inside the hearts, minds and souls of humans and part of that process is the expression of whatever is going on in there. This is called expression of conscience. The conscience is a sacred, inviolable part of the human being. No institution or person on the planet has the right to interfere with it:

These are effectual and sufficient proofs that the conscience of man is sacred and to be respected; and that liberty thereof produces widening of ideas, amendment of morals, improvement of conduct, disclosure of the secrets of creation, and manifestation of the hidden verities of the contingent world. Moreover, if interrogation of conscience, which is one of the private possessions of the heart and the soul, take place in this world, what further recompense remains for man in the court of divine justice at the day of general resurrection? Convictions and ideas are within the scope of the comprehension of the King of kings, not of kings; and soul and conscience are between the fingers of control of the Lord of hearts, not of [His] servants. So in the world of existence two persons unanimous in all grades [of thought] and all beliefs cannot be found. `The ways unto God are as the number of the breaths of [His] creatures' is a mysterious truth, and `To every [people] We have appointed a [separate] rite'(50) is one of the subtleties of the Qur'an." (`Abdu'l-Baha: A Traveler's Narrative, Pages: 91-92)

So, I argue that rules such as review must be interpreted in the light of these principles. The adminstration is, therefore, acting outside of its authority if review (or any other ruling or exercise of power for that matter) in any way impinges on these sacred human rights. Review cannot be used to coerce the conscience of a Baha'i scholar (nor was it ever intended to). To place a scholar in the position where he or she is forced, as you describe, to achieve the impossible and somehow include matters pertaining to revelation in academic studies is a misuse of power.

If all things are of God, then academic discourse is also. To characterise it as "materialistic", is to suggest that it does not reflect the names and attributes of God, that it is somehow devoid of anything divine, that is is impure or evil. But this is not the case at all; academic pursuits serve the Cause and do have God reflected in them. Just because Revelation is not mentioned directly in discourse, does not make it materialistic. Such a characterisation is inconsistent with the principle of the oneness of God.

Alison


Date: Thu, 12 Aug 1999 22:30:43 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: Scholarship and the House
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X Yes, I believe there are examples of the House using its power to censor a publication. In 1982, Kalimat Press was about to go to print with the memoirs of Baha'u'llah's barber, Salmani, in the original Persian and in English translation. The House only found out about it at this very late stage and contacted Kalimat. Negotiations resulted in the Persian text being pulled completely and some sentences from the English translation being deleted and replaced with elipses or equivalent.

So, I disagree with you that the House does not place individuals in situations where they are forced to choose between the House and their conscience. For me, the whole April 7 letter is another example. Take X, for example, a member of this list. He and his wife recently resigned because they felt the April 7 letter coerced their consciences. Did you read their resignation letter? Again, as you have stated on several occasions, the letter places scholars in the position where they must include references to revelation in their academic work. To my mind, this in itself is sufficient evidence that believers' are asked to choose between the House and their conscience. I genuinely believe that there is a case for women to serve on the House, but the April 7 letter tries to forbid me from discussing this issue. I genuinely believe that Baha'u'llah never intended the Baha'i institutions to become civil governments. But the April 7 letter characterises the idea of a seperation of church and state as "materialistic" and therefore bad. These are the sorts of tricky situations that occur when an institution strays into interpretation.

We can't just look at the text in the Will and Testament and state with complete assurance that the House will never stray into interpretation territory. First of all, the House does not have the power to determine its own sphere. This is the job of the Guardian, and there is no Guardian to do that now. But this is how Abdul-Baha imagined it would work - with the House and Guardian acting together. Now, it is generally believed by the Baha'is that unity can only be maintained by a literal interpretation of the Will and Testament, which elevates that text to the primary principle of the Covenant and Faith. The result, to my mind, is that the Baha'is are asked to give blind obedience to the House in a mistaken belief that this is the only way to avoid schism. But this business about obedience and legitimate authority, if we go back to the Tablet of the Covenant and look, is a very, very small part of that Tablet. The main issue is that all things are of God - that unity is achieved through the relationship each one of us has with the transcdendent. There are as many paths to God as breaths of the servants - and this is a *good* thing, not a recipe for schism.

To my mind, if the House acts in a way that I believe strays into conscience territory, then I think the role of the Baha'i is to simply say so, not leave the Faith. We have to see this as a very, very long journey. If the House can make mistakes, then we need to let it and point them out and be patient. Future UHJs will not act towards academics like this one does. Things will calm down over generations. If the US government does something outrageous, do the people up and leave the country? No, they hang around and use public opinion. The more public opinion and civil society becomes a part of the everyday lives of Baha'is, the more we will have this as an option. Already, cyberspace gives Baha'is that option. If it weren't for cyberspace, I would have left the Faith long ago.

>X: No I believe they are drawing distinction between the temporal and
>the spiritual. There is an equivocation about the term "materialistic."
>One "materialistic" refers to greed, avarice and coveting material things.
>The other older term "materialistic" refers to the study of things material,
>matter, things quantifiable, the rational and sensible. It is not a moral
>valuing in the use of the latter. But it does by necessity exclude the
>spiritual and by extension elements of revelation which they would like to
>see in academia.

I agree with you that the House is probably using the word "materialistic" to mean the second of your definitions. However, I disagree that they mean it in a morally neutral way. I think they are using it pejoratively - hence they emphasise their point by adding the word "dogmatic". They don't like materialistic methodologies, and they would probably go so far as to say that those who do them are people who fit the first category. (Note their assumption in the April 7 letter that those they disapprove of are motivated by malice.) The House says:
>By itself, such opposition would likely stand little chance of influencing
>reasonably informed Baha'is. As one of the letters in the enclosed reprint
>(20 July 1997) points out, the scheme relies for effect, therefore, on
>exploiting the confusion created in modern thought by the reigning
>doctrines of materialism. Although the reality of God's continuous
>relationship with His creation and His intervention in human life and
>history are the very essence of the teachings of the Founders of the
>revealed religions, dogmatic materialism today insists that even the nature
>of religion itself can be adequately understood only through the use of an
>academic methodology designed to ignore the truths that make religion what
>it is.

The House assumes that those involved in dogmatic materialism necessarily believe that religion can be adequately understood using academic methodology. Why? Because the House has a narrow definition of what is spiritual. The House's position (as you have stated) is that *by definition* materialism rules out the spiritual - that if you cannot talk about revelation then all spirituality is ruled out. Well, I am arguing that Baha'u'llah would disagree. The material does include the spiritual because all things are of God. The fact that in academic discourse you do not directly mention revelation does not make it unspiritual or lacking in spirituality. The fact that it is temporal, or factual, or rational, or sensible does not necessarily mean it denies anything religious.

X gave an example of how so-called materialistic scholarship had had a religious effect on him. This is a perfect example of how all things are of God. You cannot rule out the significance of Lindsay's experience just because he is a Baha'i. You don't know how the many thousands of readers, Baha'i and not, responded to Ressurection and Renewal and were inspired by it spiritually and in their own studies.

I think the quote is proof that the House believes that academic methodologies should not be used for the study of the Faith because they are not spiritual, therefore to do is inconsistent with the Covenant. And I am saying that those methodologies are of God and have much to offer the Cause and that the believers who use them are acting entirely within the Covenant.

Alison


Date: Wed, 18 Aug 1999 09:38:14 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: church and state
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

>Allison: I genuinely believe that Baha'u'llah never intended the Baha'i
>institutions to become civil governments.
>
>X: The House of Justice does not agree with your belief. I don't either.

Dear X

Here's what the House says in the April 7 letter:
>Similarly, Shoghi Effendi's explanation of
>Baha'u'llah's vision of the future Baha'i World Commonwealth that will
>unite spiritual and civil authority is dismissed in favour of the assertion
>that the modern political concept of "separation of church and state" is
>somehow one that Baha'u'llah intended as a basic principle of the World
>Order He has founded.

It's not clear what this means. The unity of spiritual and civil authority could be anything. It could be a unity in the sense of two different entities co-operating, or it could be a merger. The House is roundly denouncing the concept of the 'separation of church and state'. Again, it's not clear how they understand that concept. Perhaps by it they mean the opposite of the unity they previously mention, in which case, a "separation" of the two institutions could mean that the two institutions do not co-operate. Alternatively, they could mean that a "separation" is a Western nonsense that will precede a righteous merger.

To my mind, it is fundamental that we approach this issue by *first* looking at what Baha'u'llah says on the matter. In fact, Baha'u'llah covers it in the Most Holy Book, and no person or institution has the right to overrule any rule or principle in that book. I will quote from a paper by Sen McGlinn on this. Baha'u'llah clearly states that he does not want to "lay hold on your kingdoms. Our mission is to sieze and possess the hearts of men":

"In the Aqdas, Bahá'u'lláh recognizes and exalts the institution of human government, in the forms of monarchy, democracy and republican government, and enjoins all people to obey "those who wield authority". Given the importance attached to this book, no alteration to these principles is conceivable. Those who have suggested that the Bahá'í recognition of the rights of temporal government and the duty of obedience to it is no more than the tactical response of a powerless community have not taken this into account. Bahá'u'lláh announces himself to the kings in apocalyptic terms and in prophetic denunciation, using messianic political titles ('the desire of the nations' and 'the King of kings'), so that the reader has no doubt that this is the Qá'im speaking. But he combines this with a forthright renunciation of any claim to earthly sovereignty:

He Who is the sovereign Lord of all is come ... from the heart of Zion there cometh the cry: "The promise is fulfilled" ... Ye are but vassals, O kings of the earth! He Who is the King of Kings hath appeared, ... Arise, and serve Him Who is the Desire of all nations, Who hath created you through a word from Him, and ordained you to be, for all time, the emblems of His sovereignty. ... By the righteousness of God! It is not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms. Our mission is to seize and possess the hearts of men. ... To this testifieth the Kingdom of Names, could ye but comprehend it. ... Forsake your palaces, and haste ye to gain admittance into His Kingdom. This, indeed, will profit you both in this world and in the next. (Aqdas, extracts from paras 78 to 83)

... it should be noted that Bahá'u'lláh refers to the kings as the emblems of God's sovereignty, "for all time'. It follows that the phrase "forsake your palaces" does not mean 'give up your thrones'. ..."

[extract from Sen McGlinn: "A theology of the state from the Baha'i teachings" http://bahai-library.org/unpubl.articles/church.html]

Alison again: I think this is clear. What's more, there are many other passages from Baha'u'llah that support it. So we don't have an apparent contradiction in what Baha'u'llah says on this matter. And no person or institution can override him on this - it's in the Aqdas.

The idea that God is not interested in temporal power is based on Baha'u'llah's interpretation of the concept of sovereignty. Baha'u'llah said that "sovereignty" has two meanings, one that related to earthly power and one that related to spiritual power. In essence, Baha'u'llah kept spiritual power for Himself and gave earthly power to the kings and rulers. Sen discussed it in his message "Baha'i Commonwealth", which he posted to H-Baha'i and I quote below. You can see that Baha'u'llah is saying He doesn't want earthly power because it is not God's way to take on that kind of power. All manifestations have been shorn of earthly power by God so that the people can be tested in faith. This tactic that God uses does not change. To my mind, of what benefit to God are things earthly, when when God owns everything anyway? So, He lets the fools take earthly power, and think they have mastered something. In reality, it is not that the Manifestations are shorn of power, but that the fools are shorn of vision.

>1) The doctrine of the two sovereignties in the Kitab-i
>Iqan is the decisive step in moving from a theocratic sectarianism
>shaped by Shí`ih expectations to a new religion defined by
>Baha'u'llah's own ideas and person. In part two of the Kitab-i Iqan,
>Baha'u'llah explains the nature of the sovereignty of the Qa'im:
>
> "... by sovereignty is meant the all-encompassing, all-pervading
> power which is inherently exercised by the Qa'im whether or not
> He appear to the world clothed in the majesty of earthly
> dominion. ... That sovereignty is the spiritual ascendancy ...
> which in due time revealeth itself to the world ... (pp. 107--8)
>
>The sovereignty of the prophets resides in the power to attract
>devotion and to change hearts, to reform morals, call forth
>sacrifices, and to create a new form of human community. While it is
>clearly differentiated from worldly dominion, and superior in as much
>as it is longer-lasting, Baha'u'llah does not say that it over-rules
>or displaces temporal government:
>
> Were sovereignty to mean earthly sovereignty and worldly
> dominion, were it to imply the subjection and external allegiance
> of all the peoples and kindreds of the earth - whereby His loved
> ones should be exalted and be made to live in peace, and His
> enemies be abased and tormented - such form of sovereignty would
> not be true of God Himself, the Source of all dominion, Whose
> majesty and power all things testify. ... (p. 125)
>
>Baha'u'llah is saying that the ways of God do not change: if God does
>not force belief or obedience on humanity, then the Qa'im cannot. But
>he is also saying that the distinction between earthly and spiritual
>sovereignty is proper to God's own self: that the Kingdom of God
>created by the Qa'im must reflect the Kingdom in Heaven.

Here's another quote that Sen cites to support this 'dual sovereignty' reading:
>The one true God ... hath ever regarded, and will continue to
> regard, the hearts of men as His own, His exclusive possession.
> All else, whether pertaining to land or sea, whether riches or
> glory, He hath bequeathed unto the Kings and rulers of the earth.
> ... The instruments which are essential to the immediate
> protection, the security and assurance of the human race have
> been entrusted to the hands, and lie in the grasp, of the
> governors of human society. This is the wish of God and His
> decree.... [The Lawh-i Ashraf, in Gleanings, CII, pp. 206--7.]

I suggest you read Sen's paper, I've given the URL above, and the first chapter of Juan's book "Modernity and the Millenium".

Alison


Date: Thu, 19 Aug 1999 21:05:06 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: Church and State
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X I'm sorry that you left the ACLU on account of what you had been incorrectly lead to believe about Baha'u'llah's position on the separation between the political and religious spheres of society. Baha'u'llah was *desperate* to get people to believe him when he said he did not want civil power, but was never believed. Not only did the leaders of state not believe him then, but it seems the Baha'is did not believe him either. Here is Baha'u'llah speaking with resignation about how he has been misunderstood:

"Most imagine that this Servant hath the intention of establishing a full-blown government on earth - even though, in all the tablets, He hath forbidden the servants to accept such a rank. ... Kings are the manifestations of divine power, and our intent is only that they should be just. If they keep their gaze upon justice, they are reckoned as of God." p. 35 of Juan's book

This separation is *confirmed* in World Order by Shoghi Effendi, who says that the Baha'is must not let the AO supersede the government of the countries:

"Theirs is not the purpose, while endeavoring to conduct and perfect the administrative affairs of their Faith, to violate, under any circumstances, the provisions of their country's constitution, much less to allow the machinery of their administration to supersede the government of their respective countries." (World Order of Baha'u'llah, Pages: 65-66)

And as for the notion of Baha'i commonwealth, Sen explains that the word commonwealth does not mean a political commonwealth such as the UN or the British commonwealth. SE was using the word "as Gibbons uses it, where he talks of the Christian commonwealth functioning as a society of mutual care and common values spread and joined throughout the Roman Empire (before Constantine)."

About the fact that the Baha'is seem to universally believe that the AO will take over the governments, Sen, who has read all the secondary literature on this, says that this is inexplicable, given that it contradicts what Baha'u'llah taught. Sen says:

"...many writers, including both anti-Baha'i polemicists and the Baha'i secondary literature, have claimed that the Baha'is aim ultimately to establish a world theocratic government in which their own administrative institutions would replace national governments and provide an international government. This is the reverse of what Baha'u'llah taught. An extensive review of the secondary literature, as part of the research for this paper, has not disclosed any single reason for the almost universal misrepresentation of Baha'u'llah's views."

It is very interesting to note that the separation of church and state was originally included as a principle in the list of principles that the Baha'is use to summarise the Faith's teachings. At the time, the principle was called "non-involvement in politics"! Sen explains that "Lists of principles that include this principle derive from a talk given by Abdul-Baha ... Abdul-Baha's primary theme here is the positive involvement of believers in the process of government, with the proviso that religious and political affairs should nevertheless be kept separate." So you see, the idea of non-involvement in politics in fact *is* the principle of the separation of church and state. What happened, though, is that Baha'i understanding of what Abdul-Baha intended by the principle gradually changed and became what we think it means today. Sen explains:

"The modification of this teaching to accord with the millennialist views of the Bahá'í community can be traced in successive versions in X of the West, 3:2 April 1912, page 7 and Paris Talks, London, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1912, Eleventh edition 1972, pp. 157--160. In the end it is the editorial additions of the latter (the chapter heading and the phrase 'in the present state of the world') which have passed into Bahá'í lore, as part of a scheme in which Bahá'ís withdraw from the unclean world of politics and look forward to a cataclysmic change."

You can see from this how we came to believe what we do now: that Baha'is do not have anything to do with politics, wait for the great upheaval that is going to make the governments all grovel on their knees before us, and then take over the world. The above demonstrates that this is a perversion of the concept of separation of church and state.

You see, the church taking over the state is no different to the church wanting to rule science. You have argued eloquently about how truth is crushed if the religions are allowed to control what is published or how things are researched and so on. You know this by the way we believers are told by our leaders what writings and history we are, and are not, allowed access to. There is a principle of the unity of science and religion and that does not involve a merger of the two. The same is true of religion and government. There is a unity, a co-operation, a mutual need, but there should be no take over of one the other. As you rightly anticipate, this would lead to the eradication of human rights.

Alison


Date: Mon, 23 Aug 1999 07:55:32 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: answer to X's question
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X said:
>A question to Alison. For what reason did you use Sen seemingly to rebut
>these very points? And with such assurance? Your comments were very
>misleading to someone so new in the faith as I. Sen as you can see, was
>one of the earlier people privileged to read this.

X: What I did was quote from Baha'u'llah and a couple of times from Shoghi Effendi. I also quoted from Sen McGlinn who I know has been researching this issue over the past 4 to 5 years, and has recently produced his long awaited paper on the topic. In my messages, I have argued for the conclusions arrived by what I consider to be the world's leading scholars on this issue: Sen McGlinn and Juan Cole. Their conclusions, except for some details, are exactly the same. Sen's paper uses scholarship done by Juan. Maybe you have a different understanding to me, but in a scholarly discussion on a topic it is usual to cite the most recent research done on a matter.

What I have *not* done is mislead you. I understand you to believe in the sanctity of conscience - what I was doing was expressing my considered opinion on this issue. I have just as much right to do this as you do. The fact that you are new to the Faith is irrelevant. I understand you to be a well educated person, perfectly capable of examining a field of research on a topic and forming an opinion on it, without being influenced by me.

Alison


Date: Fri, 27 Aug 1999 21:14:53 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: gender socialisation
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X said:
>Differences between women and men based on biology, or sex,
>appear to exist, but they can be difficult to isolate from
>gender (sociological differences). How do you control on
>gender (on socialization)?
>
>Therefore, I think that psychological androgyny, which
>essentially attempts to deconstruct "maleness" and
>"femaleness," and then to observe what remains, makes the
>most sense.

Dear X,

I haven't been following the discussion closely, but I am indebted to you for providing the current scientific theories about the biological and psychological differences between the sexes. Being on Talisman has taught me to take good notice of science, what's going down in academia and so forth. :-)

Would you explain to me the context in which you mean your comments about psychological androgyny? Are you saying that, psychologically, the sexes are the same, once socialisation is taken out of the equation? What implications do you draw from this conclusion?

What I'm driving at is this: on the one hand you are arguing for this androgynous ideal, but on the other you also say that we cannot get to it because we cannot control socialisation. This is the bind I always find myself in when it comes to discussions about socialisation: on the one hand I am told that my socialisation is all bad (as you have said, structural oppression), but how can I get beyond it! I am a hapless victim of my socialisation cage.

Must socialisation be all bad? If I can't get out of it, surely there must be good aspects to it, or I can make good ones. The one thing I liked about the cultural feminist position is that it celebrates the good things about women - even if those things are a product of socialisation. If we look for example at the various cultures, they all have their good and bad aspects and they are all a product of socialisation. Do we denounce them for being socially constructed? Do we want to eradicate their differences as a result? Is this the answer to domination? Obviously, we need a good critique of socialisation - the pressure on women to maintain particular norms in physical appearance is an appalling oppression - but doesn't socialisation also help to create identity?

As regards the so-called male and female attributes - I propose a theological theory. What humans reflect are the names and attributes of God: All-Loving, All-Powerful and the like. Some of these names and attributes have the qualities we would culturally attribute to women and some have the qualities we would attribute to men. But all humans can reflect *all* the names and attributes of God, therefore in that spiritual sense, we are androgynous souls in that we are all both male and female.

When I look at something like the Tablet of the Maiden, I think to myself, well, here is God talking (Baha'u'llah), and in this tablet we can hear a conversation between the various aspects of God. In this case, the various attributes and the resulting dialogue and vision are all socially constructed (by God) in such a way that the human Baha'u'llah can relate to it and so can the people of the world. In the case of that tablet, God (the Maiden) plays a classically female role: she is all heart, merciful, understanding, loving, caring beyond belief, compassionate, passionate, given to swooning, fainting and crying, makes references to mothers and sisters, implying that men like to share their emotions with women (and are not naturally given to sharing them with other men) and so on. I tell you, it's an androgynist's nightmare. :-) And Baha'u'llah plays a male role, he tries to protect her from the extent of his pain; he's a hero. And self-effacing with it; he doesn't go around skiting about his manifestationhood. He lets her figure it out. [to skite: to boast or brag]

And for me, as a poor humble human whose been socially constructed into the female gender, I'm not above saying that I love that stuff. It makes me feel great. The tablet affirms my gender identity, and sets up voices of intimacy in my head, heart, and soul. It reveals the experience of union God desires with me. God is wooing me, if you like, in the socially constructed way s/he knows will work best. So I think that I use my experience of being a particular gender to lead me into that divine drama, and then to participate in it and swoon out of existence. :-) But at the same time, I don't believe that union is possible without having acquired all the names and attributes of God - both male and female - cos in reality we are each both Baha'u'llah and the Maiden.

Alison


Date: Sat, 28 Aug 1999 22:05:43 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: X's missive
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

When I said: "Perhaps you are interested in knowing what Baha says", I was not being sarcastic. I was being serious. I have said over and over that if we want to look into the issue of the relationship between religion and state, we must first look at what Baha'u'llah says. Everyone quotes the Guardian and the House, no one quotes Baha'u'llah and Abdul-Baha, except Juan and Sen. BTW, when I say "the religion and state issue", I do not necessarily mean the separation of anything. I am speaking generally of the relationship between the two spheres of society.

X, I am wanting to bring our discussion right down to a very narrow focus. When I referred to Baha'i jurisprudence, what I meant was that the Baha'is need first of all to look at what Baha'u'llah says about a matter. It is particularly important if what Baha'u'llah says is in the Aqdas. I know you have told me repeatedly that this is obvious, but you and I disagree at this fundamental level. If we cannot agree on what Baha'u'llah says, then I see no point in discussing what the Guardian or the House says, unless it sheds light on a matter. Furthermore, it is a basic principle of Baha'i jurisprudence that what the Guardian and the House say must be interpreted *in the light of* what Baha'u'llah says.

For example, the US legislative body passes a law on a matter and in that piece of legislation they state that it is to be interpreted "in the light of" certain principles. This means that any judge in the land, when determining a case, will have recourse to those principles when determining a case. In this way, the judge will be sure to sanction the type of activity that was evisaged by the law and not sanction others, which perhaps technically fall within the literal wording of the statue, but were never meant to be caught by it. For example, New Zealand's Sale of Liquor Act has the overall principle that the commercial sale of liquor must be licensed. The intent is to control the sale and consumption of alcohol because it wreaks havoc on society. This principle could therefore be used to rule out the need to licence pharmacists who sell prescription medicines that contain alcohol. In this case, pharmacists are not meant to be caught by the legislation.

In a similar way, we must look at what Baha'u'llah says and understand the principles he gives us and then, in the light of those principles, look at what others say, such as the House and Shoghi Effendi. We do this so that we can be sure we are not assuming things in, for example, the World Order of Baha'u'llah that Shoghi Effendi never intended. Such assumptions would become evident if a certain reading of World Order conflicted with principles set out by Baha'u'llah.

It is also important to realise that an untrained person looking at the exact wording of a section of a statute will most probably come up with a completly different understanding of it than say a lawyer, who is familiar with the jargon. The reason for this is that the meaning of the words is not in the words themselves, but in our heads and in the contexts and understandings we hold in them. We filter words through our minds and decide on their meaning accordingly. For example, Baha'is tend to interpret the word "separation", with regard to the separation of religion and state, in the light of common notions of unity and conclude that a separation of religion and state must undermine unity. But this is simply not the case.

So you see, an ordinary understanding of language does not always suffice for an understanding of the meaning of the text. This is especially the case when what you and I read is an English translation, and the original is in Persian or Arabic. This is why it is important to find out the context of the words that Baha'u'llah uses, and also the context of the ideas and principles that he draws on. That's why Juan's book is crucial reading for anyone wanting to understand Baha'u'llah's take on the relationship between religion and state.

Now, you cite the 8th Ishraq:
>"Inasmuch as for each day there is a new problem and every problem there is
>an expedient solution such affairs should be referred to the House of
>Justice that the members thereof may act according to the needs and
>requirements of the time. That for the sake of God arise to serve the
>Cause are the recipients of divine inspiration from the unseen kingdom. It
>is incumbent upon all to be obedient unto them. All matters of state should
>be referred to the House of Justice but acts of worship must be observed
>according to that which God hath Revealed in his book

and argue the obvious meaning of the words "all matters of state should be referred to the House of Justice". However, the original phrase, translated here as "matters of state", is "umur-i siyasiyyih", which does not mean matters of state, so much as affairs of leadership in general. This leaves the question, leadership of what, but the following from 'Abdu'l-Baha (as well as other passages from Baha'u'llah) indicates that Baha'u'llah could not have meant the affairs of the state, so most likely intended the affairs of the Baha'i community:
>From a Tablet of `Abdu'l-Baha: "According to incontrovertible divine texts we are commanded to obey the existing government and never to intervene in affairs of [governmental] leadership [umur-i siyasi]. Nor are we to express our own judgments. For the Cause of God has had and has absolutely no connection to affairs of [governmental] leadership [umur-i siyasiyyih]. Matters of leadership are the concern of those in charge of affairs [awliya'-i umur]. What relationship do they have with individuals who must strive to make conditions more orderly, to encourage high character and moral perfections?" -- Quoted in Fadil Mazandarani, ed. Amr va Khalq. 4 vols. in 2, Bahai-Verlag, 3:275

In a recent H-Baha'i posting, Juan has argued that the passage from Ishraq 8 is better rendered as:
>"Matters of administrative regulations are to be referred
>to the House of Justice, whereas ritual law
>is to be practiced according to what was revealed in the Book."

Of course, these issues are complex and beyond my field of expertise, so I append Juan's explanation below. Suffice to say, though, that the English word "state" used in the translation you cite, which you have relied upon as evidence that Baha'u'llah intended the Baha'i adminstration to take over government, is 1. a misleading translation; and 2. inconsistent with other passages from Baha'u'llah (which I have cited in previous messages).

Alison


Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 12:10:04 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: gender socialization
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

I have read your reply closely and considered your points and tried to understand them. My reaction could be a fundamental something in me that is being challenged and needs to be; or a voice that's leading me to uncover truth; or something I don't understand. I don't know what it is yet, but I give it to you as is.

My feeling is that I have spent my whole life being told that what I am, at a simple "being" level, is not OK - something wrong with it somehow. I assume this is not news to you, as any feminist will tell you this is the result of patriarchy. Thing is, though, when I hear you say things like: "women have, due to their oppression, accepted a false consciousness imposed upon them by the gender consciousness of men," I still 'hear' the voice that tells me I am not OK. Now I am not OK because I am a victim of oppression. I need now to arrive at a hopeless ideal beyond socialisation before I can be OK.

Please don't get me wrong. I am all for your exposing and getting rid of the junk. I am not in any way attacking or even trashing what you are doing in your work. I agree completely with your analysis of 'motherhood' - I despair at the thought of ever having another child. But your focus seems to be totally negative. Is there anyone doing research on the positive aspects of socialisation on both sexes? You say, socialisation is neutral, oppression is bad. That sounds fair enough. It is your job to look at oppression; is it someone else's job to analyse (I can't think of a word for it) liberation/equality (socialisation that has a positive focus)? It sounds like Sociologists have lots of words and language for the negative stuff. Can you tell me about the language for the positive stuff? You said that "reconstruction" was the field of spiritual education. Does this mean that the focus of Sociology to always deconstruct?

There are many positive things about the differing socialisation within the various cultures, and this is taken for granted. We do not look at their socialisation entirely within the lens of oppression, even though oppression is a part of the cultures' interaction. Could we not also do this with gender socialisation?

Oh, and on another topic, I think you are dead wrong about how women feel deep down about their exclusion from House membership. If there was *ever* a classic example of how patriarchy imposed a false consciousness on women, their acquiesing in that denial of equality is one of them. If you were able to uncover womens' true feelings, I'd bet my life on it, you'd be blown out the door.

Alison


Date: Sun, 29 Aug 1999 23:40:35 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: gender socialization
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X says:
>Objectively, I don't see how the male membership of the
>House of Justice could be said to constitute oppression. To
>me, if members of the House were, as *individuals*, entitled
>to greater wealth, power, and privilege than other Baha'is,
>*and* if evidence could be produced showing that women have
>been deprived of real economic opportunities because the
>House is composed of men, then I might agree with you.
>However, ***inequality*** (in a few areas) and
>***oppression*** are not necessarily the same. Analytically,
>they are two distinct concepts.

X I just can't figure your position. You have said that all gender socialisation is oppression. Given that gender socialisation exists within the Baha'i community, then so does oppression. Why don't you look at behaviour within the Baha'i community in this way? On the principle of the harmony of science and religion, I think it is very important for you to do this. Also, we Baha'is are morally obliged to accept such results on the basis of the harmony of science and religion.

What would you come up with if you looked at the exclusion of women from the House in this way? It seems to me, that on your theory, the acceptance by women of their inequality in this area is an example of gender socialistaion and therefore of oppression. (And it also seems to me to be head-in-the-sand stuff not to see that the men of the House enjoy personal power that other members of the community do not.)

Alison


Date: Mon, 30 Aug 1999 09:05:38 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: gender socialization
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X said:
>Although, from a psychological standpoint, there may exist
>what some writers might call (mental?) oppression, I am not
>familiar with that usage, and I am obviously not a
>psychologist.

But you talk about "false consciousness". Obviously, you don't feel you have to be a psychologist to talk about this, but this is about what's in people's brains, and not just about economics.

What is the false consciousness of patriarchy? I suggest this: for men it is "I am normal because I am male"; and for women it is "I am abnormal because I am not male". From this it follows that men must control women, because they are a loose cannon.

The fact that women cannot serve as members of the House is just more of this thinking. It is oppression; it is based on this false consciousness. Your references to economics, psychology, class vs rank distinctions and so forth, are to my mind, a smoke screen.

Alison


Date: Fri, 10 Sep 1999 12:08:05 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: apologies from institutions
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

Dear X

No, I have never known a Baha'i institution at any level to apologise. Given the doctrine of the House's infallibility, I don't imagine we will ever hear the House apologise for its own behaviour, although it has recently proved itself able to apologise for the actions of its servants - as in Terry's case. However, the assemblies are not thought infallible, so there is no reason that I can see for them not to apologise, in situations that demand it.

I can remember in my fundy days when I was a member of the local assembly, thinking about the issue of whether an assembly should apologise. I remember a close friend of mine saying: "An assembly doesn't apologise!", as if to do so would be beneath it. I toyed with this, not being able to decide if an assembly should apologise; I could see no reason for why it shouldn't, but it just 'felt' wrong, too humbling for an institution of God to get down on its knees like that.

I think this is the key to the thinking behind the lack of apologies. There is an assumption that an assembly as an institution of God is in a class above the believers and therefore, even if it does wrong, there is no need for it to apologise. Apologising requires honest self-assessment, and it is easiest to write a screw up off to the learning curve and forget to reverse the impact it has had on people's hearts. Instead, believers are exhorted to forgive and forget.

I think if we were to ever get real consultation, we'd get with it things like feelings, understanding, forgiveness, honesty, sorries, and justice. No egos, just communication for the sake of our love for each other and Baha'u'llah. In that context, I can forgive the minor things easily, and not even concern myself with an apology. I think that's what the Guardian had in mind when he encouraged us to be patient with each other. He imagined a scenario where the basics were in place, and within those safe, divine boundaries, we would grow beyond the need to dwell on the petty issues.

The Guardian says that one of the basic principles of Baha'i administration is not dictatorial authority, but humble fellowship. The institutions need to get beyond their special class consciousness and see themselves as being a part of, not apart from, the community.

"Let us also bear in mind that the keynote of the Cause of God is not dictatorial authority but humble fellowship, not arbitrary power, but the spirit of frank and loving consultation."(Shoghi Effendi: Baha'i Administration, Page: 63)

Alison


Date: Sun, 12 Sep 1999 14:31:35 +1200 (NZST)
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: unity of doctrine

Dear friends, I thought I'd post this interesting message from Sen to H-Baha'i. Baha'is often say that it is not possible for us to have unity in the faith unless we let the House tell us what's what. You know, the old line that if we disagree on a matter, we should turn to the House for eludication or a ruling. This is all very well, but in matters of theology, the House, while able to give an opinion, is unable to give an authoritative interpretation on it. This seems to upset Baha'is, because they think that this will mean Baha'is will have all manner of old ball things rattling around in their heads, and how on earth would we have unity?

In the message below, Sen includes a quote from the Guardian about doctrinal unity, which comes about, not by any one interpreter enforcing one interpretation, but by each and every one of us adhering, of our own volition and with our own understanding, to the Revealed Word. The second principle that the Guardian cites, obedience to the adminstration, is not a problem for me so long as the first principle is followed and I am free to come to my own understanding of the Revealed Word without fear of reprisal from the administration.

I think this quote reinforces the concept that the adminstration does not have the right to say that obedience to them includes my holding to the same doctrine as them. In other words, whatever position Baha'is hold on the three issues raised in the April 7 letter - religion and state, women on the House and the Mashriq - they are perfectly entitled to hold those views.

This shows how loose the notion of doctrinal unity is. As Sen says, for all intents and purposes, it is simply a "common allegience" to the Faith.

Alison

-----------------------

To: H-BAHAI@h-net.msu.edu
From: "Sen McGlinn" Date: Mon, 9 Mar 1998 18:24:52 +0100
Subject: Re: elucidation

X wrote:
> If the Universal House of Justice does not have the authority to
> "elucidate" the "authorized interpretation" of the Baha'i
> Scriptures then it must follow that there is no doctrinal unity to
> the Baha'i Faith, that nobody has authority to delimit doctrine and
> hence that anyone may interpret doctrine as he or she sees fit.

Yes and no. There is a letter on behalf of the Guardian, July 10, 1936, in Dawn of the New Day pp. 60-61, which states:

With regard to the problems confronting the believers; these; the Guardian fully realizes, are by no means easy to solve .... There are two main principles which the Guardian wishes the friends to always bear in mind and to conscientiously and faithfully follow. First is the principle of unqualified and wholehearted loyalty to the revealed Word. The believers should be careful not to deviate, even a hair breadth, from the Teachings. Their supreme consideration should be a safeguard the purity of the principles, tenets and laws of the Faith. It is only by this means that they can hope to maintain the organic unity of the Cause. There can and should be no liberals or conservatives, no moderates or extremes in the Cause. For they are all subject to the one and the same law which is the Law of God. This law transcends all differences, all personal or local tendencies, moods and aspirations.

Next is the principle of complete, and immediate obedience to the Assemblies, both local and national. ... Doctrinal unity and administrative unity, these are the two chief pillars that sustain the edifice of the Cause, and protect it from the storms of opposition which so severely rage against it.

I know there is a letter from the UHJ which also distinguishes between doctrinal unity and administrative unity (the first ensured by the writings or the Guardian (?), the latter by the UHJ). I haven't got a search programme which includes their letters, so perhaps someone who has immerse could dig this out - search on `doctrine'.

So yes, everyone is obliged to interpret doctrine of himself or herself, but on the other hand no, it is not true that there is no doctrinal unity. There is no body (nobody) empowered to enforce that unity, so it arises from the voluntary dedication of the Baha'is to "the revealed Word". That's pretty broad, since there is no likelihood even of agreement about what 'revelation' means or the Word is, with views ranging from a take-it-or-leave-it published-in-heaven literal book to the person of the Manifestation as an epiphanic locus in which one can perceive the meaningfulness of history. And the odd postmodernist screwball who believes in both. A unity based on a voluntary allegience might seem weak, but becoming or remaining a Baha'i is also voluntary, a state of mind and heart.

However I think Peter meant to say that there is no doctrinal *uniformity* under such a system, and this is quite correct. There is only a common allegience

Sen


Date: Tue, 14 Sep 1999 08:23:52 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: Holy Mariner
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X These symbols, such as the Maid of Heaven, have many possible meanings. You'll recall how Baha'u'llah stresses that the word of God is infinite in its meaning? I think that all the interpretations put forward, that the Maiden representing `Abdu'l-Baha or the next manifestation, are true. The important thing about the tablet is the story and how it shows that humanity continually betrays God. This meta-history of humanity repeats over and over. It is a story that is happening outside time and happening all the time. Symbolically speaking, there are houris determing whether we are emitting the musk of faithfulness right at this very moment.

You may recall that the Houri in the "Houri of Wonder" also expresses grief at having been rejected by the people of the Book because they clung to their "pride and suspicion". They were not able to humble their hearts and listen to the beloved calling inside them. Instead they cut off her voice of love inside themselves. On its face, it could be said that these lines refer to the Babis rejecting Baha'u'llah. But again, the story is the same one that repeats over and over. Hence Baha'u'llah's concept of 'return', which he dwells on in the Kitab-i Iqan.

Alison


Date: Tue, 14 Sep 1999 19:56:05 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: Holy Mariner
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

>Why did I grow up hearing that the Tablet prophecied the next
>Manifestation who would be a female? I always felt dumb when Persians
>told me that because I could never see it, but just assumed it was
>there and at some point some new document would unearth as a Rosetta
>Stone to interpret the Tablet. Is there any other oldtimer out there
>who was taught it predicted the next Manifestation? Did I write a poem
>about Her for nothing?

X, You didn't write a poem for nothing. It is your right, along with everyone else, to have your own interpretation of the poem. Never mind what anyone else says, your interpretation is just as valid as all others. This is what it means to actively participate in the revelation, especially when it comes to the mystical writings like this. It is our privilege to read them and come to our own interpretation and then express that in the way we are inspired to. The fact that you have done this so wonderfully - your poem is magical - shows just how mature your response to the revelation is! Of course, it is good to know what knowledgable people think the mystical writings mean, but in the end, we each create our own reality by dreaming our own dreams about it. Listen to the magic within, X; don't crucify that beauty to an insatiable search for what others think.

Alison


Date: Sun, 19 Sep 1999 15:14:39 +1200 (NZST)
To: talisman@umich.edu
Subject: divine love and detachment

Here's a rave I sent to another list.

---------------

XX tells us about the importance of `Ishq:
>The most important prerequisite is not based on knowledge, religous
>affiliation or any other human concpetions. The most important
>prerequisite, according to my teacher, is the capacity of `Ishq (divine
>love). The feeling of love for all humanity, creation and foremost for
>Allah.

I wanted to share with everyone some of the things I have been meditating on over the last week or so about love. (I'm always thinking about love, so I guess this isn't really saying anything!)

I was deeply struck by the quote from Hazrat Samuel L. Lewis that "love is life". These three words capture my experience perfectly. If I did not love, life would be meaningless for me. I can see now that when the Bab says in his prayers things like this:
> "I beg Thee to forgive me, O my Lord, for every mention but the mention of Thee, and for every praise but the praise of Thee, and for every delight but delight in Thy nearness, and for every pleasure but the pleasure of communion with Thee, and for every joy but the joy of Thy love and of Thy good-pleasure, and for all things pertaining unto me which bear no relationship unto Thee..." (The Bab: Selections from the Bab, Pages: 182-183)

I think what he means is that he is begging forgiveness for his not reading the Book of his self, for not experiencing and being what is written on the tablet of his heart.

When I think about it now, I can see all the zillions of things that get in the way of us doing this. I know Baha'u'llah says that knowledge is the most grievous veil, but I say, what about work, the very strong Protestant work ethic that says that the purpose of life is to work? During last year, my spiritual life became such that my relationship with work completely changed. My life was set up with work primary, and I fitted in my spiritual life around it. Now my spiritual life is primary, and I fit work in around it. (By 'work', I mean simply the need to work to earn money to live. Of course, work has a broader meaning - I also 'work' in that I write poetry and study mysticism too.) Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to create an absolute here - for some, their work is written on the tablet of their heart.

To give an example of what I mean. I was reading Nicholson's "Studies in Islamic Mysticism", in particular the bit at the back where he discusses the Odes of Ibnu' l-Farid. Nicholson says that Farid would go into states in which he would write poetry for days and days on end! Also, he had scribes that took down his every word. Now, that sort of behaviour was just accepted in his time and culture. Did Farid have to go to work to earn a living? I find I have to wrestle the phone, work, daily routines and so on. I just want to live in a meditative world, but the way western society is set up, it takes some serious management to achieve this.

I have long wrestled with Baha'u'llah's concept of 'detachment'. I know for me, whenever I hear that word I think it means I should not 'feel'. If I don't feel anything, then I am detached from all save God. My western conditioning that detachment means not-feeling is enormous. It has been a supreme effort to overcome this. For example, we might say to ourselves: "Oh my God, I think I have feelings for this person. Dear God, that's desire! I have become attached!" And so we block it out, thinking it's a dead-end road taking any notice of those pesky feelings. We sit around with our hearts cut off from everything, and we think we are in control, we are detached, nothing can get to us. We think: I am good, I go to work and serve humanity.

Well, that is not life to me. I go down those emotional roads, and I now believe that it is 'detachment' to do so. Baha'u'llah says that detachment is "detachment of the soul from all else but God. That is, it consisteth in soaring up to an eternal station, wherein nothing that can be seen between heaven and earth deterreth the seeker from the Absolute Truth. In other words, he is not veiled from divine love or from busying himself with the mention of God by the love of any other thing or by his immersion therein." And so there it is, detachment is immersion in divine love - the wine of intoxication. This is a very emotional state; it is not emotionless. It is not 'detachment' to involve ourselves in the things of the material world in order to cut our hearts off from this wine of intoxication. We serve humanity by being in love, not by cutting ourselves off emotionally, in an illusory 'I am in control' way.

I think this is what Baha'u'llah is saying when the Houri says in Subhana Rabbiyya'l-A`la (Praised be my Lord, the Most High):

-----------

She said, "You shall be subjected to temptations, companions of virtue;" praised be my Lord, the most high. "You shall be denied access to the shrine of beauty in the Ka`bah of unknowability;"
praised be the one who created and made.

----------------

To me, she is saying that we cannot get ourselves into a comfortable state where we can say, "I've got things sorted, nothing can touch me. I am knowledgable, I am above temptation. I am 'detached'". Rather, if we are lucky, always our hearts are susceptable to love and laid low by it, and we bend our necks to it and learn the lessons it graciously confers on us.

And just by way of a PS: we also say to ourselves, I can't love X because how do I know that my love for X is not misguided? I think this is exactly that same as saying, I shouldn't follow this path of knowledge (be it any kind of philosophy or religion or study) for how do I know it will lead me to God? I think it's the walking the path that leads us to God, not the form that our object of knowledge or love takes. To my mind, all paths of knowledge and all loves lead to God, if we walk truthfully and without fear.

Alison


Date: Mon, 27 Sep 1999 22:08:57 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: questions
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X said:
>My problem was I had lots of questions the more I read but felt guilty,
>because I couldn't sort out the difference between questioning
>Baha'u'llah and questioning the Faith--its history, its evolution, its
>ideas, etc.--the whole process of becoming educated. Does anybody know
>the answer to this?
>
>In fact I still haven't been able to sort out the difference. Has
>anyone on this list?

X, I reckon that if we ever believe that Baha'u'llah cannot answer a question, and we think we therefore should not ask it, that is when we are questioning Baha'u'llah.

I think Baha'is believe they can't ask certain questions because to do so would be detrimental to the Cause. For example, before the classic discussions on Talisman in 1996, almost no one asked why there were no women on the House. I think this was one of those questions. But then, some very brave people asked that question and looked into it with a searching eye and came up with some answers. And the reason they came up with answers is because Baha'u'llah can answer all questions.

To my mind, all questions, all ideas, and all emotions should be openly examined and used as stepping stones. They should not be suppressed in the erroneous thought that Baha'u'llah cannot answer them or will thunderbolt us for having them.

Alison


Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 08:53:04 +1200 (NZST)
Subject: Re: Dawnbreakers approved?
Cc: talisman@umich.edu

X said:
>As to the question of what "approved" means, it is clear that
>Baha'u'llah, 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi regarded the con-
>tents of the first portion of Nabil's Narrative to be accurate, in
>fact and in spirit, to reliably describe the persons and events
>pertaining to the early history of the Faith.

I don't believe you have proved this. What I need is scriptural evidence from the hand of Baha'u'llah and 'Abdu'l-Baha that this is the way they saw that book. As for what Nabil says Baha'u'llah says, I think this proves nothing on its own. Hearsay won't do. The fact that Baha'u'llah made corrections to the text is not evidence of his approving it, either. The other thing to bear in mind is that neither of these Figures claimed infallibility in matters of history, so approval from them is meaningless unless they were eye witnesses or some such to the events at issue.

You have produced one quote from the Guardian, who is neither 'Abdu'l-Baha or Baha'u'llah nor infallible in matters of history, that the Baha'is should regard the book as a textbook. But as you know, the Baha'is in the West knew very little about the history of the Faith, and this was the audience he was addressing.

>Furthermore, Shoghi Effendi also regarded Nabil's Narrative
>as a fountainhead of accurate information about the Bab and His
>followers. I am speaking here of the first portion of Nabil's Narra-
>tive, that which the Guardian translated into English with copious an-
>notations, and not the second portion, which has yet to be translated.

You speak of 'portions'. Do you think Shoghi Effendi translated it without editing it? You can hardly say he 'translated a portion' of the text, when he missed out passages that described miracles. Shoghi Effendi's 'translation' also involved moving the text around. After doing that, and no doubt checking its accuracy while doing so, I imagine he then satisfied himself that it would be a work he could recommend as a textbook.

I'm glad that you have pointed out that the Dawnbreakers may contain errors of fact, because it is important to get away from the notion that it is an infallible text. Baseless comments about its 'official approval' tend to suggest this conclusion. We should regard it as no more than one source among many of the Faith's history.

Alison