Monday, March 19, 2018
The virtues of the seed are revealed in the tree; it puts forth branches, leaves, blossoms, and produces fruits. All these virtues were hidden and potential in the seed. Through the blessing and bounty of cultivation these virtues became apparent. Similarly, the merciful God, our Creator, has deposited within human realities certain latent and potential virtues. Through education and culture these virtues deposited by the loving God will become apparent in the human reality, even as the unfoldment of the tree from within the germinating seed..
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 91)
Recall that one of the purposes of the rational faculty or power of understanding is to “discover the secrets of creation.” Now, this endeavor, as seers and poets through the ages have noted, is really a gigantic exercise in self-discovery. “This spirit has the power of discovery; it encompasses all things.” (Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions: 144)
The Master stated: “God's greatest gift to man is that of intellect, or understanding. The understanding is the power by which man acquires his knowledge of the several kingdoms of creation, and of various stages of existence, as well as of much which is invisible. Possessing this gift, he is, in himself, the sum of earlier creations—he is able to get into touch with those kingdoms; and by this gift, he can frequently, through his scientific knowledge, reach out with prophetic vision. Intellect is, in truth, the most precious gift bestowed upon man by the Divine Bounty. Man alone, among created beings, has this wonderful power.” (Paris Talks: 41)
Recall, too, that ‘Abdu’l-Baha stated that “(T)he religion of God is the promoter of truth, the founder of science and knowledge, it is full of goodwill for learned men; it is the civilizer of mankind, the discoverer of the secrets of nature, and the enlightener of the horizons of the world.” (Some Answered Questions: 136)
Let me say again that, for me, religion and the Religion of God are rarely the same thing. The Religion of God is what comes to humanity as Revelation, and It both founds religion and science as complementary systems of belief, knowledge and practice, stimulates the arts, and all the other things that the Master attributes to It, including aiding the discovering the secrets of creation, for it embraces all consciousness.
While in Paris, a center of materialism and the eclipse of God, ‘Abdu’l-Baha made this bold declaration about the origins of religion and science: “God made religion and science to be the measure, as it were, of our understanding. Take heed that you neglect not such a wonderful power. Weigh all things in this balance.” (Paris Talks: 146)
The Word, (i.e. Revelation, or the Religion of God) is the first bestowal from God and the power of understanding is its recipient and discover. My view is that the power of understanding may discover the Word as Religion, as Justice, as Morality, or as Intellect, or, let us say divine philosophy. It may also discover It as divine Will, or divine Love. There are other ways, too, such as prophecy or social teachings.
To see the relation between peace and intellect, we start again at the beginning, namely, that peace stems from an inner state, a spiritual condition of unity. The garden metaphors presented in the opening quote are not by accident, since we are talking about an interrelated spiritual/organic process. The relation of the spiritual to the organic is that the spiritual origin is both the foundation for the organic origin, or seed, and is fully embodied in the organic end, goal, or fruit. The seed holds all the life that comes out from it, while the fruit holds all the life folded into it, creating a new seed, making a double-end from a double origin; the double joining and knitting together of the B and the E; the past is the mirror of the future. The glory of the essence, beginning and foundation is, then, not fully revealed until maturity, the manifest end and fruit. This is true for all things. Consider these statements from Baha’u’llah. First in regards to human knowledge, whose fruit is the recognition of God: “The root of all principles and the cornerstone of all foundations hath ever been, and shall remain, the recognition of God.” (Baha'u'llah, Tabernacle of Unity: 24-25)
Secondly, in regard to Revelation Itself, whose glory is the Revelation of Baha’u’llah: “For this day is the Lord of all days, and whatsoever hath been revealed therein by the Source of divine Revelation is the truth and the essence of all principles. This day may be likened to a sea and all other days to gulfs and channels that have branched therefrom. That which is uttered and revealed in this day is the foundation, and is accounted as the Mother Book and the Source of all utterance.” (Baha'u'llah, Tabernacle of Unity: 25)
Thus while peace is the goal of humanity, ‘Abdu’l-Baha also said: “Peace is the foundation of God…”(The Promulgation of Universal Peace: 120) In His reply to a letter received from Executive Committee of the Central Organization for a Durable Peace, He wrote: “(P)eace is of the foundation of the religion of God.” (Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha: 296) In another place He clearly asserts: “The fundamental truth of the Manifestations is peace. This underlies all religion, all justice.” (The Promulgation of Universal Peace: 32)
This same relation exists between the human spirit and mind. The Master explained: “But the mind is the power of the human spirit. Spirit is the lamp; mind is the light which shines from the lamp. Spirit is the tree, and the mind is the fruit. Mind is the perfection of the spirit and is its essential quality, as the sun's rays are the essential necessity of the sun.” (Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions: 208) Yet, as ‘Abdu’l-Baha stated about the mind: “This supreme emblem of God stands first in the order of creation and first in rank, taking precedence over all created things. Witness to it is the Holy Tradition, "Before all else, God created the mind." From the dawn of creation, it was made to be revealed in the temple of man.” (The Secret of Divine Civilization: 1)
The House of Justice extended this imagery of mind by stating: “The endowments which distinguish the human race from all other forms of life are summed up in what is known as the human spirit; the mind is its essential quality.” (The Universal House of Justice, The Promise of World Peace, p. 1)
If peace stems from an inner spiritual state it is no wonder that Spirit is really what this inner state seeks, for that is what nourishes it and drives it toward manifestation. This drive is called in another context the return to God. Again, this is, both historically and today, an educative process initiated by the generating influence of unfolding eternal, spiritual principles. As ‘Abdu’l-Baha stated: “The Sun has sent forth many rays to illumine human intelligence, the light is always the same.” (Paris Talks: 142) What is that light? “The source of all learning is the knowledge of God, exalted be His Glory, and this cannot be attained save through the knowledge of His Divine Manifestation.” (Tablets of Baha’u’llah: 156)
So, what does this endowment of mind enable human beings to do, and what are its natural limitations? “These endowments have enabled humanity to build civilizations and to prosper materially. But such accomplishments alone have never satisfied the human spirit, whose mysterious nature inclines it towards transcendence, a reaching towards an invisible realm, towards the ultimate reality, that unknowable essence of essences called God. The religions brought to mankind by a succession of spiritual luminaries have been the primary link between humanity and that ultimate reality, and have galvanized and refined mankind's capacity to achieve spiritual success together with social progress.” (The Promise of World Peace: 1)
While I have listed intellect fourth, in an educational context intellect is first and primary. We have seen the interplay between knowledge and being, how one draws forth the other to create the dynamic of growth.
Intellect enables us through knowledge to discover the secrets of creation, but in this context it is the faculty that enables human beings to grasp and articulate spiritual principles that arouse and educe the faculties of religion, justice and morality to maturity and to be trained in spiritual understanding. Intellect is the supreme faculty of human consciousness, the fruit of the spirit and its essential quality, though as I have been at pains to present, all the faculties come forth from the archetypal rational faculty. Its first faculty, the religious, is from the heart, then increasingly abstract qualities of justice, morality and intellect come forth in their full flower, with human reasoning intelligence entering maturity at about fifteen, and maturity, the fruit, defines that condition. That is true collectively also.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
I hope that each one of you will become just, and direct your thoughts towards the unity of mankind; that you will never harm your neighbours nor speak ill of any one; that you will respect the rights of all men, and be more concerned for the interests of others than for your own. Thus will you become torches of Divine justice,
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks: 160)
I would like to return to certain images characteristic of justice, because justice and morality interpenetrate and thus share certain qualities.
Justice, discerning the truth in words and deeds and what is fair and equitable socially, and morality, living principles of right and wrong, interpenetrate because both use reward and punishment to train behavior, which come from foundational statements of divine promise and the threat, as can be seen in the Golden rule, the Mosaic Code of commandments, and in the spiritual principles of Baha'u'llah. Recall that the promise of reward and the threat of punishment, of gain and loss, generate the primary sentiments of hope and fear, expectation and regret.
Justice and morality are also interconnected if, as the Master asserts: “Truthfulness is the foundation of all human virtues.” Discerning truth is the special power of the faculty of justice, whose axial value is equity, which Baha’u’llah names “the most fundamental among human virtues”, a virtue so central to our collective happiness that “the evaluation of all things must needs depend upon it.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah: 202) The personal morality of society’s leaders is the guiding model of that society, though higher principles ideally govern the actions of the members of society. But, too, equity is a form of truthfulness as seeking the truth that is unity in any situation. Again, truth is discerned by the faculty of justice.
Similarly, one of the images of justice is the balance, the inner equilibrium of human qualities. The Master says the means to accomplish this is to oppose the passions to create that inner balance that is moderation. “The third element of the utterance under discussion is, 'opposes his passions.' How wonderful are the implications of this deceptively easy, all-inclusive phrase. This is the very foundation of every laudable human quality; indeed, these few words embody the light of the world, the impregnable basis of all the spiritual attributes of human beings. This is the balance wheel of all behavior, the means of keeping all man's good qualities in equilibrium.” (Abdu'l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization: 59)
The same principle is expressed in regards to the moral ecology of the human family: “Similarly, with regard to the peoples who clamour for freedom: the moderate freedom which guarantees the welfare of the world of mankind and maintains and preserves the universal relationships, is found in its fullest power and extension in the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh.” (Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha,: 305)
Finally, the faculties of justice and morality further interrelate because they are connected by religion. “If administrators of the law," states ‘Abdu’l-Baha, “would take into consideration the spiritual consequences of their decisions, and follow the guidance of religion, 'They would be Divine agents in the world of action, the representatives of God for those who are on earth, and they would defend, for the love of God, the interests of His servants as they would defend their own.' If a governor realizes his responsibility, and fears to defy the Divine Law, his judgments will be just. Above all, if he believes that the consequences of his actions will follow him beyond his earthly life, and that 'as he sows so must he reap', such a man will surely avoid injustice and tyranny.” (Paris Talks: 158) “Behold how important it is that Ministers of State should be enlightened by religion!” (Paris Talks: 157)
And should anyone think that his private actions have little or no social influence, ponder this statement from Baha’u’llah: “A good character is, verily, the best mantle for men from God. With it He adorneth the temples of His loved ones. By My life! The light of a good character surpasseth the light of the sun and the radiance thereof. Whoso attaineth unto it is accounted as a jewel among men. The glory and the upliftment of the world must needs depend upon it.” (Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 36)
Human moral advance, both individually and collectively, is intimately tied to our connection with the spiritual dimension of creation. Good moral behavior is the one means that any soul, high or low, rich or poor, may use to advance civilization and fulfill one of his central purposes. This dimension is also within the human reality. Only the creative message of the Manifestations of God, which sets that dimension reverberating with new energy, brings them into connection. By Their influence the darkness of the human world is illumined, and the dark coal of the lower nature is turned into sparkling diamonds of the higher nature. But all must pass the tests of justice and reason. As the Master put it: “A good character is in the sight of God and His chosen ones and the possessors of insight, the most excellent and praiseworthy of all things, but always on condition that its center of emanation should be reason and knowledge and its base should be true moderation.” (The Secret of Divine Civilization: 59)
Sunday, March 4, 2018
The root cause of wrongdoing is ignorance, and we must therefore hold fast to the tools of perception and knowledge. Good character must be taught. Light must be spread afar, so that, in the school of humanity, all may acquire the heavenly characteristics of the spirit, and see for themselves beyond any doubt that there is no fiercer hell, no more fiery abyss, than to possess a character that is evil and unsound; no more darksome pit nor loathsome torment than to show forth qualities which deserve to be condemned.
(Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha: 136)
A moral faculty exists, and a moral dimension, too, exists, but connecting with that dimension is left to the individual’s choice. Thus training is important. As ‘Abdu’l-Baha plainly states: “Good character must be taught.”
In the following passage, Baha’u’llah points to the axial principle of this faculty and hence how it is trained: "Verily I say: The fear of God hath ever been a sure defence and a safe stronghold for all the peoples of the world. It is the chief cause of the protection of mankind, and the supreme instrument for its preservation. Indeed, there existeth in man a faculty which deterreth him from, and guardeth him against, whatever is unworthy and unseemly, and which is known as his sense of shame. This, however, is confined to but a few; all have not possessed and do not possess it.” (Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 63)
Now to say that this moral faculty arising out of a sense of shame is confined to a few and that all have not possessed and do not possess it is not to say that only these few have any chance of being moral. I believe He meant something like few people have an innate and active sense of right and wrong, or working conscience. Most people must be trained in moral awareness. Shame is that painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior, always accompanied by a loss of respect and dishonor. Within the self-conscious, reflective, individual shame is felt as guilt: that one observing one’s own wrongful behavior is ashamed of the way one acted, knowing he could have done better. One loses self-respect.
Every human being can be trained in moral behavior, whose emotional and spiritual origin is the fear of God, through proper education. Too, we have only to remember that hope and fear are also the main emotional springs of justice. Thus Baha’u’llah admonishes: “It is incumbent upon the kings and the spiritual leaders of the world to lay fast hold on religion, inasmuch as through it the fear of God is instilled in all else but Him." (Epistle to the Son of the Wolf: 27)
However, though moral training occurs through evoking and training the innate sense of shame that is built upon the fear of God it cannot be inculcated in children through tyranny and fear, or it will likely, as we read in the discussion on justice, “injure the children by resulting in ignorant fanaticism and bigotry.” (Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 68)
Thus, in another place He writes: "That which is of paramount importance for the children, that which must precede all else, is to teach them the oneness of God and the Laws of God. For lacking this the fear of God cannot be inculcated, and lacking the fear of God and infinity of odious and abominable actions will spring up, and sentiments will be uttered that transgress all bounds..." (Lights of Guidance: 236)
The fear of God then is actually the shame one feels when disappointing a loved one through unseemly acts. Our sense of shame is because the nobler element within us, the divinely bestowed reality, is fully aware of the surrender of the consciousness to inferior and wholly mortal snares. But the fear of God must be balanced by the hope of forgiveness and reward for good actions, though that reward will become intrinsic; namely, the good action itself will be the reward.
Ignorant fanaticism and bigotry has been the sad result of much of religious education in many cultures. The House of Justice remarked: “The resurgence of fanatical religious fervour occurring in many lands cannot be regarded as more than a dying convulsion. The very nature of the violent and disruptive phenomena associated with it testifies to the spiritual bankruptcy it represents. Indeed, one of the strangest and saddest features of the current outbreak of religious fanaticism is the extent to which, in each case, it is undermining not only the spiritual values which are conducive to the unity of mankind but also those unique moral victories won by the particular religion it purports to serve.” (The Promise of World Peace para. 18)
Now merely stirring up the sentiments of hope and fear is not a sufficient basis for any education, but, rather, leads to disaster. As indicated above, and in our discussion of properly educing the faculty of justice, training involves a triple pairing: hope and fear; Promise and Threat; Reward and Punishment. The dangers of a moral education based solely upon hope and fear can be overcome through true religion and rational, spiritual principles backed—and in some cases lead—by science.
‘Abdu’l-Baha says: “Now, all questions of morality contained in the spiritual, immutable law of every religion are logically right. If religion were contrary to logical reason then it would cease to be a religion and be merely a tradition. Religion and science are the two wings upon which man's intelligence can soar into the heights, with which the human soul can progress. It is not possible to fly with one wing alone! Should a man try to fly with the wing of religion alone he would quickly fall into the quagmire of superstition, whilst on the other hand, with the wing of science alone he would also make no progress, but fall into the despairing slough of materialism.” (Paris Talks: 143)
A letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi expressed the following: “What can control youth and save it from the pitfalls of the crass materialism of the age is the power of a genuine, constructive and living Faith such as the one revealed to the world by Bahá’u’lláh. Religion, as in the past, is still the world's sole hope, but not that form of religion which our ecclesiastical leaders strive vainly to preach. Divorced from true religion, morals lose their effectiveness and cease to guide and control man's individual and social life. But when true religion is combined with true ethics, then moral progress becomes a possibility and not a mere ideal.
"The need of our modern youth is for such a type of ethics founded on pure religious faith. Not until these two are rightly combined and brought into full action can there be any hope for the future of the race." (From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, April 17, 1926. Lights of Guidance: 630.
If questions of morality are logically right, then they can be formulated into principles which can be taught. In practical terms, the training of the moral faculty and the emergence of good character is done through reward and punishment. But even these have a spiritual foundation, as we will see in the next post.
Sunday, February 25, 2018
One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendor of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahá'u'lláh.
(Shoghi Effendi, Baha'i Administration: 66)
To better understand the phrase used by the House of Justice that spiritual principle “harmonizes with that which is immanent in human nature” we should go back to the difference between origins and foundations. The first is an event that starts a process in time, an evolutionary or historical origin, while the other is an eternal structure that progressively unfolds in time. The first, the manifest foundation and origin, is connected to and manifests the second, or essential foundation and purpose; that is, the origin and life of the temporal structure is an eternal, spiritual one.
Thus, by the foundations of morality I mean that eternal, metaphysical foundation laid at the creation of the universe and in the very creation of the spirit of humanity, and which is, too, the foundation and origin of community, what Jesus called “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (The Book of Matthew 25:34) Living these eternal principles is the goal of human action, the behavioral aspect of the soul’s “mysterious nature” that “inclines it towards transcendence”.
The essential foundation of the human reality is, as Baha’u’llah stated that “all were made for harmony and union.” The essential purpose of human social activity—i.e. how that essential foundation develops from origins in time and history—is that: “All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah: 214)
For me the origins of morality are in the interaction between an innate moral faculty and the Word of God. Or, in the absence of the Word directly, in any moral code that the faculty encounters and stimulates into action.
But first: Is there a moral faculty?
Linguist and social theorist, Noam Chomsky, stated the argument for the existence of an innate moral faculty, writing that “it certainly seems reasonable to speculate that the moral and ethical system acquired by the child owes much to some innate human faculty and is rooted in our nature.” (Noam Chomsky, Language and Problems of Knowledge: The Managua Lectures, Cambridge MA: MIT Press p.153)
In the following passage, Baha’u’llah identifies the moral faculty in every human being: "Indeed, there existeth in man a faculty which deterreth him from, and guardeth him against, whatever is unworthy and unseemly, and which is known as his sense of shame. This, however, is confined to but a few; all have not possessed and do not possess it.” (Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 63) (An important passage for Him as He repeated it in Epistle to the Son of the Wolf: 27-28)
This moral faculty, like every other faculty, must connect with some dimension of life. Wayne Meeks states: “Morality names a dimension of life, a pervasive and, often, only partly conscious set of value-laden dispositions, inclinations, attitudes, and habits.” (Meeks: 4) Psychologist and self-styled atheist, Jonathan Haidt, writes in his book The Happiness Hypothesis: “My claim is that the human mind perceives a third dimension, a specifically moral dimension that I will call ‘divinity’…. In choosing the label ‘divinity’, I am not assuming that God exists and is there to be perceived. Rather my research on the moral emotions has led me to conclude that the human mind simply does perceive divinity and sacredness, whether or not God exists.” (The Happiness Hypothesis: 183-184) To perceive “a specifically moral dimension” via scientific research means there is an objective dimension there to perceive.
This beautiful description of the spiritual dimension of human nature comes from a Bahá’i document: “Although there are mystical aspects that are not easily explained, the spiritual dimension of human nature can be understood, in practical terms, as the source of qualities that transcend narrow self-interest. Such qualities include love, compassion, forbearance, trustworthiness, courage, humility, co-operation and willingness to sacrifice for the common good—qualities of an enlightened citizenry, able to construct a unified world civilization.” (Baha'i International Community, 1993 Apr 01, Sustainable Development and the Human Spirit)
However, like all those other dimensions and higher worlds that are the source of qualities that characterize our better natures, moral virtues are, because of the powerful undertow of egoistic self-interest, for the most part, and for most people, not within human power to consistently manifest without the assistance provided by the divine Manifestation of God and His Revelation.
‘Abdu’l-Baha issued this trenchant comment on how the higher virtues come forth: “These virtues do not appear from the reality of man except through the power of God and the divine teachings, for they need supernatural power for their manifestation. It may be that in the world of nature a trace of these perfections may appear, but they are unstable and ephemeral; they are like the rays of the sun upon the wall.” (Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions: 79-80)
He reinforced this idea to an American audience: “Through the breaths of the Holy Spirit man is uplifted into the world of moralities and illumined by the lights of divine bestowals. The moral world is only attained through the effulgence of the Sun of Reality and the quickening life of the divine spirit. For this reason the holy Manifestations of God appear in the human world. They come to educate and illuminate mankind, to bestow spiritual susceptibilities, to quicken inner perceptions and thereby adorn the reality of man—the human temple—with divine graces.” (The Promulgation of Universal Peace: 330)
Higher virtues will not come forth and appear naturally and unannounced. Rather, to receive heavenly assistance the individual must make a conscious decision to act in a certain way. Choice is of the essence of the free will. The most important decisions are moral. “Some things are subject to the free will of man, such as justice, equity, tyranny and injustice, in other words, good and evil actions; it is evident and clear that these actions are, for the most part, left to the will of man.” (Some Answered Questions: 248)
Nonetheless, divine assistance, like the light of the sun, is there regardless of human choice, for it is the propulsive power for motion and action in either moral direction. That is, though an individual may be propelled by the divine, the direction he takes is up to him.
The Master again: “… man’s stillness or motion itself is conditioned upon the aid of God. Should this assistance fail to reach him, he can do neither good nor evil. But when the assistance of the all-bounteous Lord confers existence upon man, he is capable of both good and evil. … This condition can be likened to that of a ship that moves by the power of wind or steam. Should this power be cut off, the ship would be entirely unable to move. Nevertheless, in whatever direction the rudder is turned, the power of the steam propels the ship in that direction. If the rudder is turned to the east, the ship moves eastward, and if it is directed to the west, the ship moves west. …
“In like manner, all the doings of man are sustained by the power of divine assistance, but the choice of good or evil belongs to him alone.” (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 288-289.
Sunday, February 18, 2018
As religion inculcates morality, it is therefore the truest philosophy, and on it is built the only lasting civilization.
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks: 32)
“Peace”, the House of Justice, explains “stems from an inner state “supported by a spiritual or moral attitude.” Now an attitude is a settled way of thinking or feeling that is demonstrated in behavior. Thus there are two moral dimensions to explore in the following discussion, the inner spiritual attitude that supports peace, and the outer practical action that builds peaceful community on the global scale. It is what statements originating with the Universal House of Justice call the twin duties of individual and social transformation. The change in scope of human community from national to global and universal parallels and occurs with an advance in being from human to spiritual being. From a long historical perspective this is, again, another example of the changing temporal/organic social form embodying more fully the unchanging eternal/spiritual pattern. Now it reaches its highest form, that of maturity.
With the practical side of morality we are in the realm of actions that everyman can do to bring about world peace. Here, morality means not the abstract rules and principles of right behavior, but what transpires between human beings under the guidance of those rules of engagement of individuals. That is, out of the interplay between moral rules and practices and the relations of individuals with those authorities that are the guardians of these rules there gradually emerges both a normative canon of concepts of economic, legal, cultural and social justice, and civil institutions that adjudicate, apply and mediate these. However, while principles and systems are real enough, in a social context the essence of all morality is to be sought for in the respect which the individual acquires for these rules and institutions. Morals comes from mores and ethics from ethos, which are, respectively, customs and habits.
In many respects morality is the glue building community and holding its members together, especially in times of stress. In fact, it is difficult to think of the formation and evolution of morality without also thinking of forming, building, and maintaining distinctive community. Wayne Meeks, in his book, The Origins of Christian Morality, wrote: ‘Making morals means making community.” (Meeks: 5) Yet, because images of reality differ, codes of behavior that set out what is and is not moral differ, and when systems and beliefs differ clashes occur.
Morality, then, is, socially, deeply conservative and communal, identifying an individual as a member of a community. From this view, in any society moral advances are individual acts of courage of moral reformers in the name of higher principles or powers that go against the settled way of thinking, but which nonetheless constitute a broadening or humanizing, of established morality, and which often cost these pioneers, such as Socrates, Martin Luther King, and Gandhi, their lives. Today, there is little traditional community left. But a new global community is emerging.
The situation today was summed up by Baha’u’llah: “No two men can be found who may be said to be outwardly and inwardly united. The evidences of discord and malice are apparent everywhere, though all were made for harmony and union.” (Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 163-164)
Now, if moral rules and principles harmonize with that which is immanent in human nature, as the House of Justice says that spiritual principles do, and if institutions embody the same spiritual principles and seek the same moral goals as individuals, then the moral faculty has a situation of coherence or unity, i.e. a harmony between inner and outer aspects. Thus there is no contradiction between the individual’s inner sense of what is right and his outer behavior that demonstrates and expresses that moral potential.
The only way to achieve this goal in a world that is simultaneously unifying and fracturing along myriad of moral fault lines is to adopt an universal code of morality. And if humanity is one then our collective moral development would occur with principles of right and wrong that resonate with something immanent to the native faculties of people everywhere.
Now let’s note again that there are two natures in the human being, traditionally called lower and higher, animal and angelic. It is here, also, within the soul of the individual, that the spiritual and social worlds meet, interact, and influence each other, where the two natures of the human being either contend or cooperate, where morality takes shape. The phrase “harmonizing with that which is immanent to human nature” assuredly means this higher, spiritual nature. It is this nature that responds with alacrity to spiritual principles, and not to principles that legitimate or support prejudice, oppression and discrimination, principles that so attract the lower nature.
Religion has been the foundation of nearly every code of morality. Unity in the moral realm, then, is inconceivable independently from the teachings of the world’s greatest Spiritual Figures. “All the Manifestations of God and His Prophets have taught the same truths and given the same spiritual law. They all teach the one code of morality. There is no division in the truth. The Sun has sent forth many rays to illumine human intelligence, the light is always the same.” (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks: 142)
These universal moral principles, the one code of morality spoken of by ‘Abdu’l-Baha, are not any eclectic mix of the various cultural norms, nor man-made codes restricting and training behavior., which are often unconscious holdovers from simpler times or the mere articulation of abstract principles which have little power to actually change human behavior. This one code of morality is not any cultural norm, but a spiritual one. It is those principles and attitudes that connect with that which is immanent in the human spirit and bring it forth in good behaviors and practices.
In short, it is the eternal principles of right behavior that are part and parcel of every Revelation that harmonize with higher human nature. But, as we have learned, eternal structures don’t enter the world in their full form, but unfold as the human race develops and evolves in its understanding of spiritual reality. Hence Baha’u’llah makes statements such as: “From the heaven of God's Will, and for the purpose of ennobling the world of being and of elevating the minds and souls of men, hath been sent down that which is the most effective instrument for the education of the whole human race. The highest essence and most perfect expression of whatsoever the peoples of old have either said or written hath, through this most potent Revelation, been sent down from the heaven of the Will of the All-Possessing, the Ever-Abiding God. Of old it hath been revealed: ‘Love of one's country is an element of the Faith of God.’ The Tongue of Grandeur hath, however, in the day of His manifestation proclaimed: ‘It is not his to boast who loveth his country, but it is his who loveth the world.’ Through the power released by these exalted words He hath lent a fresh impulse, and set a new direction, to the birds of men's hearts, and hath obliterated every trace of restriction and limitation from God's holy Book.” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah: 95-96)
Spiritual principles and the latent potentials and inner powers they bring forth are in a reciprocal relationship. That is, they educe and support each other. For example, the House of Justice states that: “The essential merit of spiritual principle is that it not only presents a perspective which harmonizes with that which is immanent in human nature, it also induces an attitude.” Thus spiritual principle induces an attitude that supports peace when it is evoked. A little later they declare about the commonality of the revealed religions: “The teaching that we should treat others as we ourselves would wish to be treated, an ethic variously repeated in all the great religions…sums up the moral attitude, the peace-inducing aspect, extending through these religions irrespective of their place or time of origin; it also signifies an aspect of unity which is their essential virtue, a virtue mankind in its disjointed view of history has failed to appreciate.” Hence the moral attitude that supports peace also induces it through spiritual principles.
But, traditionally, this reciprocal relationship failed to endure and our moral faculties became stunted, for the same reason that the faculties of religion and justice failed to fully develop as they should have; namely, universal divine thought was twisted and deformed by human self-interest into narrow privilege and prejudice. “Had humanity seen the Educators of its collective childhood in their true character, as agents of one civilizing process, it would no doubt have reaped incalculably greater benefits from the cumulative effects of their successive missions. This, alas, it failed to do.” (The Promise of World Peace: 1)
The same situation appears today. The Master explains: “Now, in our own day, history repeats itself.
“Those who would have men believe that religion is their own private property once more bring their efforts to bear against the Sun of Truth: they resist the Command of God; they invent calumnies, not having arguments against it, neither proofs.” (Paris Talks: 102)
Baha’u’llah warned the moral and religious leaders of His time: "O ye the dawning-places of knowledge! Beware that ye suffer not yourselves to become changed, for as ye change, most men will, likewise, change. This, verily, is an injustice unto yourselves and unto others.... Ye are even as a spring. If it be changed, so will the streams that branch out from it be changed.” (Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come: 83)
Sunday, January 28, 2018
Justice, which consisteth in rendering each his due, dependeth upon and is conditioned by two words: reward and punishment. From the standpoint of justice, every soul should receive the reward of his actions, inasmuch as the peace and prosperity of the world depend thereon, even as He saith, exalted be His glory: ‘The structure of world stability and order hath been reared upon, and will continue to be sustained by, the twin pillars of reward and punishment’ In brief, every circumstance requireth a different utterance and every occasion calleth for a different course of action.
(Baha'u'llah, Tabernacle of Unity: 40)
While justice “consisteth in rendering each his due”, the concept of equity—“every circumstance requireth a different utterance and every occasion calleth for a different course of action”—broadens and relaxes the strictures of the equality of law, making true justice. Equity may demand that more be given to some than what may be, by law, due to them, because they have been deprived of equal opportunity and resources. Equity restores the balance and moderates the selfish impulses of those already blessed with social advantage. The Master stated: “The Kingdom of God is founded upon equity and justice, and also upon mercy, compassion, and kindness to every living soul.” (Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha: 158)
Now equity itself, while the axial principle, or fundamental human value, in justice, is brought about through two other powers working in tandem. The first of these is consultation, but consultation does not function alone. In our discussion of the kerygmatic, we saw that consultation is paired with compassion. I wrote there: “…compassion works collectively to build the unity of a group. It is itself an unique form of knowing and generating knowledge. Baha’u’llah says compassion is of equal importance to consultation in the meaningful exchange of thought: “The heaven of divine wisdom is illumined with the two luminaries of consultation and compassion...”(Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 126)
Their relation with justice as the inner faculty which discerns truth, and with the consultative processes that operate within the outer institutions of justice to educe and train that faculty, is further strengthened when we look at the larger statement. Baha’u’llah wrote: “The heaven of divine wisdom is illumined with the two luminaries of consultation and compassion and the canopy of world order is upraised upon the two pillars of reward and punishment.” (Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 126) Consultation and compassion are connected with intellect and the power of understanding, i.e. the recognition of spiritual principle: “The Great Being saith: The heaven of divine wisdom is illumined with the two luminaries of consultation and compassion. Take ye counsel together in all matters, inasmuch as consultation is the lamp of guidance which leadeth the way, and is the bestower of understanding.” (Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 168)
As the faculty that discerns truth and orders society, justice “traineth the world.” Perhaps this is why it is the “best-beloved of all things” in His sight. When it is a consistent system of rewards and punishments, justice and equity are life-giving, as are all other spiritual faculties when functioning properly. Baha’u’llah tells us: “That which traineth the world is Justice, for it is upheld by two pillars, reward and punishment. These two pillars are the sources of life to the world. Inasmuch as for each day there is a new problem and for every problem an expedient solution, such affairs should be referred to the Ministers of the House of Justice that they may act according to the needs and requirements of the time.” (Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 27)
“The structure of world stability and order,” He further asserts, “hath been reared upon, and will continue to be sustained by, the twin pillars of reward and punishment. And in another connection He hath uttered the following in the eloquent tongue: Justice hath a mighty force at its command. It is none other than reward and punishment for the deeds of men. By the power of this force the tabernacle of order is established throughout the world, causing the wicked to restrain their natures for fear of punishment.” (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 163-164)
Yet, what society today embodies both of these ideals?; which community uses both wings of justice to fly? In a stinging indictment of many penal systems, ‘Abdu’l-Baha remarked: “They build prisons, make chains and fetters, arrange places of exile and banishment, and different kinds of hardships and tortures, and think by these means to discipline criminals, whereas, in reality, they are causing destruction of morals and perversion of characters.” (Some Answered Questions: 271)
The best means of achieving justice is through moral education. The Master again: “The communities must punish the oppressor, the murderer, the malefactor, so as to warn and restrain others from committing like crimes. But the most essential thing is that the people must be educated in such a way that no crimes will be committed; for it is possible to educate the masses so effectively that they will avoid and shrink from perpetrating crimes, so that the crime itself will appear to them as the greatest chastisement, the utmost condemnation and torment. Therefore, no crimes which require punishment will be committed.” (Some Answered Questions: 268-269) He is not so sanguine as to believe that crime can be completely eliminated. But His category of crimes that do not require punishment is suggestive of the kind of community that can be built.
One final point needs be made regarding the proper training of the faculty of justice. I will let ‘Abdu’l-Baha make it, and only say to the reader to pay attention to His last phrase: “As to the difference between that material civilization now prevailing, and the divine civilization which will be one of the benefits to derive from the House of Justice, it is this: material civilization, through the power of punitive and retaliatory laws, restraineth the people from criminal acts; and notwithstanding this, while laws to retaliate against and punish a man are continually proliferating, as ye can see, no laws exist to reward him.” (Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha: 132) What might be the result of laws that reward citizens for righteous actions? Again, crimes for which punishment is not required, and laws that reward for good actions are ideas that grow from the principle of the oneness of humanity and its correlate, in this context, of equity—taking account of extenuating circumstances.
Basically there are two types of justice, retributive and distributive. Loosely, the first is punishment, the second, reward. Both are necessary, but in individual psychology as in collective life, the retributive mentally emerges first, while some idea of distributive emerges later with socialization. (See, for example, Jean Piaget, The Moral Judgement of the Child) But this chronology indicates that distributive justice is, spiritually, the higher form. Real distributive justice has as its goal unity, the just distribution of goods, services, opportunities and wealth in society. Hence it centers round equity as its axial principle.
Socially, equity and justice depend first upon a personal sense of justice among the rulers. “The heaven of statesmanship is made luminous and resplendent by the brightness of the light of these blessed words which hath dawned from the dayspring of the Will of God: It behoveth every ruler to weigh his own being every day in the balance of equity and justice and then to judge between men and counsel them to do that which would direct their steps unto the path of wisdom and understanding. This is the cornerstone of statesmanship and the essence thereof. From these words every enlightened man of wisdom will readily perceive that which will foster such aims as the welfare, security and protection of mankind and the safety of human lives.” (Baha'u'llah, Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 166) But there is emerging today a third kind of justice.
If humanity had the inner faculty of justice better developed there would be no need for so many laws, because previous ones would not need abrogation; and all such laws would be in harmony with that which is immanent in human nature, not the desires of the ruling classes. True justice would also preserve the universal relations of human society, as all would be in harmony with Wisdom. That is, justice would no longer be either retributive or distributive, but restorative, putting relations in manifest unity and, thereby, renovating the conditions of existence. The balance of social forces, classes and aspirations would be dynamically set upon the primary ideal of the oneness of humankind, much as proper bodily health comes from the balance of foods and nutrients. It is necessary for the world's peace and prosperity that societies have laws that reward people for their good actions. This is but true manifest justice. Baha'u'llah, in our opening quote stated: From the standpoint of justice, every soul should receive the reward of his actions, inasmuch as the peace and prosperity of the world depend thereon. This innovation alone would cause a great change in people’s attitude toward the law and authority, and direct their behavior along productive lines, certain, as they would be, of proper reward.
World civilization cannot be built without institutions of justice at every level. The best means of bringing forth the faculty of justice is good moral education. They go hand-in-hand. We read where rulers must daily weigh their own actions in the balance of justice and equity, then rule over their subjects. But justice in a globalizing world cannot be established without a universal code of morality, agreed upon by all people, that sets out what is right and wrong for everyone. Morality, too, is intimately connected with both individual and social transformation.
Another way that the word of God can be discovered and recognized is through the moral faculty. We turn to that next.
Sunday, January 21, 2018
The world's equilibrium hath been upset through the vibrating influence of this most great, this new World Order. Mankind's ordered life hath been revolutionized through the agency of this unique, this wondrous System—the like of which mortal eyes have never witnessed.
(Baha'u'llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas: 85)
The realization of justice, especially today, is central to the Divine purpose. Yet all around there is a lack of justice and equity. This lack of justice, that discerning faculty whose core value and principle is equity, stems from the degeneration of the faculty of recognizing God and the failure to acknowledge the principle of the oneness of humankind: i.e. that all are children of the one God. So befogged and dissipated has the discernment of the faculty of justice become that Baha’u’llah could write: “For the people are wandering in the paths of delusion, bereft of discernment to see God with their own eyes, or hear His Melody with their own ears. Thus have We found them, as thou also dost witness.”
To remedy this situation Baha’u’llah designed the institutions of His Order around the principle of justice. These administrative institutions of the Bahá’i Order are, according to Shoghi Effendi, to be both the nucleus and pattern for the social institutions of a new world order. Too, given the prominence of justice in the Bahá’i Writings, it probably should come as no surprise that the governing bodies of the Bahá’i community are called Houses of Justice, for their members are to discern the truth in all things that come before them. Their collective means of educing the faculty of justice, of finding the truth in any matter, to look into all things with a shared, searching eye, are the principles and practice of consultation.
The document, The Prosperity of Humankind, states: “[C]onsultation is the operating expression of justice in human affairs. So vital is it to the success of collective endeavor that it must constitute a basic feature of a viable strategy of social and economic development. Indeed, the participation of those on whose commitment the success of such a strategy depends becomes effective only as consultation is made the organizing principle of every project. ‘No man can attain his true station,’ is Bahá’u’lláh's counsel, ‘except through his justice. No power can exist except through unity. No welfare and no well-being can be attained except through consultation.’" (The Prosperity of Humankind: Section III para: 6)
But outside of the Bahá’i Order much can be changed. In our discussion of the religious faculty we noted that it can be smothered, crushed, or distorted by the wrong sort of education, or by no spiritual education at all, whenever human thought usurps divine thought, narrowing it, clogging its fresh streams of insight, turning it into prejudice and oppression. Similarly with justice.
Baha’u’llah observed that those who oppose the Manifestations mostly do so because, lacking discernment and: “…having weighed the testimony of God by the standard of their own knowledge, gleaned from the teachings of the leaders of their faith, and found it at variance with their limited understanding, they arose to perpetrate such unseemly acts.” (The Kitab-i-Iqan: 14)
Recall Baha’u’llah’s counsel that: “Schools must first train the children in the principles of religion, so that the Promise and the Threat recorded in the Books of God may prevent them from the things forbidden and adorn them with the mantle of the commandments; but this in such a measure that it may not injure the children by resulting in ignorant fanaticism and bigotry.” (Baha'u'llah,Tablets of Baha'u'llah: 68)
The first part of this statement is the key to educating, or bringing forth this faculty, as we will explain. But how to do this in such a way that it does not result in fanaticism and bigotry?
First, is recognition of the principle of the oneness of humanity and, second, is the goal of world unity. The first is the foundation, the second the mature expression of justice. Shoghi Effendi writes: “Of the principles enshrined in these Tablets the most vital of them all is the principle of the oneness and wholeness of the human race, which may well be regarded as the hall-mark of Bahá'u'lláh's Revelation and the pivot of His teachings. Of such cardinal importance is this principle of unity that it is expressly referred to in the Book of His Covenant, and He unreservedly proclaims it as the central purpose of His Faith. "We, verily," He declares, "have come to unite and weld together all that dwell on earth." "So potent is the light of unity," He further states, "that it can illuminate the whole earth." "At one time," He has written with reference to this central theme of His Revelation, "We spoke in the language of the lawgiver; at another in that of the truth seeker and the mystic, and yet Our supreme purpose and highest wish hath always been to disclose the glory and sublimity of this station." Unity, He states, is the goal that "excelleth every goal" and an aspiration which is "the monarch of all aspirations." (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By: 216)
Now, regarding the proper training and expression of this faculty of justice, whose purpose is the appearance of unity, and also to prevent tyranny and oppression, the Master tells us that it is done, in part, through a combination of hope and fear. “There is no greater prevention of oppression,” He asserts, “than these two sentiments, hope and fear. They have both political and spiritual consequences.
“If administrators of the law would take into consideration the spiritual consequences of their decisions, and follow the guidance of religion, ‘They would be Divine agents in the world of action, the representatives of God for those who are on earth, and they would defend, for the love of God, the interests of His servants as they would defend their own.’ If a governor realizes his responsibility, and fears to defy the Divine Law, his judgments will be just. Above all, if he believes that the consequences of his actions will follow him beyond his earthly life, and that "as he sows so must he reap", such a man will surely avoid injustice and tyranny.
“Should an official, on the contrary, think that all responsibility for his actions must end with his earthly life, knowing and believing nothing of Divine favours and a spiritual kingdom of joy, he will lack the incentive to just dealing, and the inspiration to destroy oppression and unrighteousness.
When a ruler knows that his judgments will be weighed in a balance by the Divine Judge, and that if he be not found wanting he will come into the Celestial Kingdom and that the light of the Heavenly Bounty will shine upon him, then will he surely act with justice and equity. Behold how important it is that Ministers of State should be enlightened by religion!” (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks: 157)
Baha’u’llah states that this method of moderating behavior has always been the method of training of God and His Manifestations. Indeed, it goes back to the very foundations of human society. His statement expands on the Master’s: “Above all else, the greatest gift and the most wondrous blessing hath ever been and will continue to be Wisdom. It is man's unfailing Protector. It aideth him and strengtheneth him. Wisdom is God's Emissary and the Revealer of His Name the Omniscient. Through it the loftiness of man's station is made manifest and evident. It is all-knowing and the foremost Teacher in the school of existence. It is the Guide and is invested with high distinction. Thanks to its educating influence earthly beings have become imbued with a gem-like spirit which outshineth the heavens. In the city of justice it is the unrivalled Speaker Who, in the year nine, illumined the world with the joyful tidings of this Revelation. And it was this peerless Source of wisdom that at the beginning of the foundation of the world ascended the stair of inner meaning and when enthroned upon the pulpit of utterance, through the operation of the divine Will, proclaimed two words. The first heralded the promise of reward, while the second voiced the ominous warning of punishment. The promise gave rise to hope and the warning begat fear. Thus the basis of world order hath been firmly established upon these twin principles. Exalted is the Lord of Wisdom, the Possessor of Great Bounty.” (Tablets of Baha'u'llah,: 66)
From this quote we glean that any statement of spiritual principle from “the peerless source of Wisdom” is a cognitive combination of promises of rewards and warnings of punishments. These “two words” when understood bring forth an emotional response built upon the pillars of hope and fear. Then authorities of society are charged with instituting the rewards and punishments. That is, rewards and punishments should be part and parcel of the laws and institutions themselves.
These dualities of promise/threat, hope/fear, reward/punishment provide the structure of equity, the arena for moderating extremes, the scales for balancing the powers of the human soul.
More next post.