Chile Temple Finally Underway

The Baha’i House of Worship in Chile is finally underway. According to a recent interview with the CBC, the firm of Soheil Mosun has started to manufacture the necessary components to graft together the massive transluscent walls of the building.

No word yet how things are going on the ground in Chile but we can assume that things are going well since the special firm of Soheil Mosun would never be commissioned to start otherwise.

You can read the CBC article here.

Soheil Mosun.png

Sundry

Baha’i Rants is back after a well deserved summer hiatus. There is a lot to catch up on so lets get started with a quick round up of what has transpired recently.

BAHA’I NEWS ROUNDUP

Another Baha’i has been unenrolled. Larry Rowe from Canada had his membership withdrawn by the National Spriritual Assembly of Canada. Its mind boggling how idiotic the NSA’s decision was because Larry clearly believes in Baha’u’llah and is a Baha’i. Rather than dealing with and talking about, the issues that he raised, the NSA decided to take the easy way and just boot him out. Hmmm…didn’t Shoghi Effendi say something about ‘dictatorial authority’ and ‘arbitrary power’? Larry worded his letter to the NSA in a very specific way to elicit a response to something which they vociferously deny and ignore. Rather than read the letter with wisdom, the NSA chose to read it like a heartless beaurocrat.

And sadly, another Baha’i may be destined for the same end. It all started when Brendan, a person I must confess impresses me with his eloquence and rapier sharp wits, started posting several essays on the internet (if curiousity is getting the better of you, they are in talk.religion.bahai and in the ‘Files’ section of Yahoo!Groups: Unenrolled Baha’i and Talisman). Of course, they are harmless opinions of one individual Baha’i. But since when did that stop the thought police? An alert and we must add, rather anal, Baha’i, breathlessly forwarded Brendan’s postings to the Auxilliary Board Member for Protection, Shahkar Arjomand. Arjomand swiftly countered Brendan’s words with his own. I feel it my duty – even though charges of cliche peddling will be levelled at me – to remind Brendan that when engaged in a battle of wits, one must have the compassion to abandon the field of battle when facing an opponent as utterly and wholly unarmed as Arjomand.

Being the good little trouper that he is, Arjomand went further and asked to meet Brendan to ‘talk about his views’. Needless to say, this invitation was for a ‘friendly and social’ visit and had nothing to do with Arjomand’s station as an ABM. Oh no, it was just a friend dropping by for a visit. Well, not exactly, as Brendan and Shahkar have never met. Lets say it was a friendly visit … that was scheduled like a dentists appointment three weeks in advance (August 14). Oh and Arjomand is ‘dropping by’ … by driving more than an hour. But its just a social visit! Oh, erm, but Brendan must meet with Shahkar alone. None of his friends can be there for this ‘friendly’ visit and neither can his fiance be there. I may be naive but it sure is building up to be one hell of a Code Red. If I may offer Brendan an observation; ABMs for protection come for social visits the same way that, oh say, a Tyrannosaurus Rex gets a might peckish.

On a lighter note, Sen McGlinn’s book on Baha’i views on theocracy has just been published by Kalimat Press. Its title, Church and State, is rather boring, but the content is sure to be anything but. Having read many of Sen’s postings on Talisman, I can’t wait to get my hands on this tome. I recommend that you buy this book, not only to learn about a very important and tragically misunderstood facet of the Baha’i Faith, but to also support a fantastic independent Baha’i publisher.

bahai-theocracy-sinfest

I couldn’t help but notice that Spritual Degrees hasn’t put out anything in over three months. I hope it wasn’t something I said.

And finally, its official; the end of the world is nigh. No, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse haven’t galloped down Main Street. Its worse. Baha’is in the US have been teaching by going door-to-door (as reported from American Baha’i magazine). Yup, you know, knocking on people’s door and starting a conversation with a total stranger about something as personal as their religious convictions. Some have defended this strategy saying technically, its not proselytizing. This reminds me of an obnoxious game my nephew used to play with me where he would hover his hand millimeters away from my face and add a raucous chorus of I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you….

GLOBAL ROUNDUP

Iran

Home to a lot of pistachios, murdering Mullahs, large deposits of oil, the two Baha’i sites for pilgrimage and just recently, a magnificently rigged election. Yes, ‘the election’ is over and Baha’i Rants has egg all over its face. Rafsanjani did not win. On the bright side, Baha’i Rants has a lot of company being completely wrong because everyone (except Khamenei) was surprised by this. Yet, after all the noise and clatter of views and counterviews, nothing elemental has changed. As I’ve repeatedly said, no structural change will occur in Iran with the price of oil where it is because it gives the ruling kleptocracts too much leeway to fill in the gaps of a corrupt and decaying regime with petrodollars. After all, the cash that was given to hordes of Basijis (the fanatical militia controlled by Khamenei) to bully voters into supporting a dark horse candidate, has to come from somewhere.

Iran also recently executed two young men for the crime of homosexuality. This appalying wrong against humanity is even more shocking when you consider that one of them was not even 18 years old. The execution of a minor is illegal in Iran but then again, when have things happened according to the law (either moral, domestic or international) in Iran? This tragedy gives the Baha’i representatives to the United Nations an opportunity to prove that they exist to implement the principles of the Faith, irregardless of partisanship and partiality. Human rights are exactly that, human. And we as Baha’is must fight for them for all of humanity. Not just for Baha’is.

Chile

Home to Pablo Neruda, world famous BBQ and gauchos … and the latest Baha’i Temple. Well, eventually it will be built, we hope, and pray. But don’t hold your breath. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts things got off to a rocky start. And things haven’t exactly gotten any better. The site that has been purchased is in the middle of nowhere and as such requires a lot of work to prepare. Ground breaking hasn’t happened yet and won’t for a good while. Part of the difficulties have to do with technical challenges (dragging construction equipment and crew out to the back country) as well as legal and procedural ones (permits for water, hydro, sewer extensions, etc.) as well as environmental assessment and permits. Its an uphill climb (pun unintended). Even with the reservations expressed, Baha’i Rants wishes the project all the best and at the same time, acknowledges that it probably won’t be finished for a good 2-3 years.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Here is a small smattering of what you can look forward to in the following weeks and months:

What does Pythagoras have to do with the Baha’i Faith?
Continuing installments of Its a Little Known Fact
My pilgrima… I mean, visitation to Israel
Baha’i Speak
Reviews of Baha’i cyberspace discussion forums
Continuing installments of the LA Study Class Newsletter

News from Chile [2]

Here is some recent news from the BWC on the ongoing Temple project in Chile:

THE UNIVERSAL HOUSE OF JUSTICE
Bah??’? World Centre . P.O. Box 155 . 31 001 Haifa, Israel
Tel: 972 (4) 835 8358 . Fax: 972 (4) 835 8280 . Email: secretariat@bwc.org

Transmitted by email
TO: All National Spiritual Assemblies
DATE:14 April 2005

Dear Bah??’? Friends,

It gives us great joy to announce that on 8 April 2005, having finalized a purchase agreement, the National Spiritual Assembly of Chile took possession of the site on which will be built the last of the continental Mashriqu’l-Adhk??rs of the Bah??’? world. The land is located north of the capital city of Santiago on a rise nestled in the foothills of the majestic Andes mountains. The way is now open for realizing the intention expressed by Shoghi Effendi that the first House of Worship in South America be erected in Chile.

Following our announcement on 12 June 2003 of the choice of the design presented by the architect Mr. Siamak Hariri, news spread rapidly in the architectural world, arousing favourable interest among influential circles, leading to unprecedented media coverage of the project in Chile, and attracting attention to the Faith of a wide range of its citizens. Much has occurred as a result.

In connection with the current decade-long commemoration of Chile’s two hundred years of independent nationhood, the Chilean Bicentennial Commission has designated the House of Worship as one of a limited number of official bicentennial projects in the private sector. This clearly reflects the civil authorities’ recognition of the significance of this edifice and their confidence in the benefit the undertaking will bring to Santiago and to Chile as a whole. As a consequence, the possible location of the project in the city’s central park was explored with the open support of several government officials, but, for various reasons, this proved unfeasible.

Meanwhile, substantial progress has been made with technical preparations for the construction work to be initiated in a few months. A groundbreaking ceremony is planned as part of a three-day gathering to commence Friday, 14 October 2005. Selected representatives from all national Bah??’? communities of the Western Hemisphere, with a special emphasis on the countries and indigenous peoples of South America, will be invited to attend this event.

The financial implications of this enterprise present the Bah??’? world with a new challenge. Total cost of the project is estimated at twenty-seven million dollars, and the plans now call for its completion within a period of three years. It is vital that the flow of contributions to the already established Chilean Temple Fund be greatly increased to ensure full support to the work. The friends everywhere are called upon to seize the opportunity to contribute sacrificially to an undertaking that holds immense promise for the advancement of the Cause and has already been the object of marvellous confirmations.

Let all reflect on the stirring words of the Master, revealed in connection with the raising up of the first House of Worship of the West, and draw from them inspiration for the great task ahead:

O God, my God! I implore Thee with a throbbing heart and streaming tears to aid whosoever expendeth his energy for the erection of this House, and the construction of this Building wherein Thy name is mentioned every morn and every eve. O God! Send down Thy divine increase on whosoever endeavoureth to serve this edifice and exerteth himself to raise it amongst the kindreds and religions of the world. Confirm him in every good deed in promoting the welfare of mankind. Open Thou the doors of wealth and abundance unto him and make him an heir to the treasures of the Kingdom, which perish not. Make him a sign of Thy bestowals among the peoples and reinforce him by the sea of Thy generosity and bounty, surging with waves of Thy grace and favour. Verily, Thou art the Generous, the Merciful and the Bountiful.

The Universal House of Justice

cc: The Hand of the Cause Dr. ?Al?-Muhammad Varq??
International Teaching Centre
Boards of Counsellors
Counsellors

********************

First, the House of Justice glosses over the details by saying, “for various reasons, this proved unfeasible.” I’ve already discussed the details of why the location in Metropolitan park was denied, so I won’t repeat them here.

Second, the Chilean Bicentennial Commission’s recognition of this project is really being blown out of proportion here. If you recall the Commission’s role is to organize various projects and events to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Republic of Chile. This project is being recognized only because of the prestige that it brings to the country (lets face it, which enlightened government wouldn’t want something like this in their backyard?) and not due to any relevance to Chile, its history, or culture.

Third, the project is now officially behind schedule as the original ground breaking was supposed to have already taken place. Though I’m glad that they got their hands on some land rather quickly, it does seem that the project team was taken by surprise when the Metropolitan Park land offer fell through.

Now to get down to the numbers. As you know, the Baha’i world community has already been earmarking funds for the construciton of the Chile temple for years. I estimate there are around $10+ million on hand, or about one third of the estimated cost. (By the way, the currency being discussed is the US dollar.) I’m not sure just how realistic the $27 million (or the three year time table) is. Such projects have a tendency to run over-budget, especially in a developing country. But then again, the project team could pull it off without a hitch. I wish them the best.


And as usual, ancillary costs are not mentioned. I’m referring to the continual costs of maintenance and management once the building is constructed. In the world of large scale projects, usually a percentage or a dollar amount per sq. footage is quoted for such costs. We’ve already seen this happen with the Arc project on Mount Carmel. There the cost was around $250 million and afterwards we were informed that the ongoing costs are around $7 million annual. Using the same rough ratio these ongoing costs would be around $1 million for the Santiago temple.

If I were the Chilean Baha’i community I would be asking myself how in the world I’m expected to meet those costs. After all the Baha’i community in Chile is rather small (around 2500 from a population of around 16 million) and the standards of living are not that high. Previously built temples have shown that such costs are very real and must be taken into consideration (the recent refurbishment of the roof of the Frankfurt temple and comprehensive works of the Illinois temple being good example). Yet, I doubt these ideas are creeping into anyone’s mind as it is just too darn exciting to think about such an architectural marvel being built. But once they sober up, they will have to deal with it. Either they’ll have to meet the extra $1 million annual cost or the international Baha’i funds will have to (or some combination of the two).

Finally, I wanted to offer some heretical thoughts (and you thought the above was bad). Its just that I keep asking myself about the opportunity costs of this project. By that I mean, what else we could do with $30 million? How many humanitarian projects could we undertake? How many people’s lives could we improve or save?

Lets face it, the effect of this temple is minimal to the lives of people around the world and even those inside Chile. It really changes nothing. The only gain is a few prestige points in the eyes of architects around the world who may feature the structure in one of their magazines and ooh and aah over it for a few minutes (as they have already begun to do).

I don’t have anything against building temples per se. Its just that the priorities of the Baha’i world wide community are out of whack. We should concentrate on things like charitable funds and the Mashriqu’l-Adhkhar:

The most beloved of hopes will never show her face in these lands until charitable trusts are founded, their continuation is assured, and their scope widened, as mentioned and underlined before in the letters of this servant.
(Shoghi Effendi, December 30, 1926)

Let the friends recall and ever bear in mind the repeated exhortations and glowing promises of our beloved Master with reference to the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, the crowning institution in every Baha’i community.
(Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, page 108)

I read these words and can’t believe that they are being ignored so flagrantly.

And I would prefer that things take shape organically with grass roots support, rather than arbitrary top down decisions imposed on all. Take this example: the AO is funneling funds from all around the world to build a really nice building in Chile. Not only does that effect Chile (which has to bear the ongoing costs once it is finished) but it effects other countries and communities who have a finite amount of resources and are now forced to channel some of these precious resources to this project, thus forgoing other projects in their own communities.

Why don’t we imagine how many local initiatives (yes, tiny little ones) can be started with $30 million? why don’t we imagine how many Mashriqs we can have?

Also, I truly wonder which has benefited the world more, a bookish professor who founded Grameen Bank (which has gone on to help millions of the poorest people in the Indian subcontinent) or the Baha’is who have built a beautiful lotus temple, which is just nice to look at?

Why can’t we set up something like that? or maybe ACCION, the most successful South American version of it?

Perhaps some will criticise this idea, claiming that we do not have the competence in the Baha’i community to create such programs. To that I say, balderdash. If we have the competence to build and manage such building projects then we can tap the resources to do these charitable projects as well. Its just a matter of putting money where your mouth is.

For more recent news about the Temple in Chile check out this entry (bottom of page).

News from Chile

Even before being constructed, the planned Baha´i temple in Santiago, Chile is causing heated debate within that country. The magnificent temple which will have 9 alabaster petals, a capacity for 600 people and stand as high as a 10 story building is planned to begin construction in 2005. But first, a location will have to be found.The Baha´i community always thought that the temple would be situated on a plot of land outside of the Chilean capital. However, just as they began the process of requesting construction permits and such, the government of Chile, specifically the Bicentenary Commission approached the Baha´is of Chile with a surprising and generous offer. They asked the Baha´is to relocate the temple from outside the city to the Metropolitan Park situated on a prominent Northern hill just outside the city center.

This offer, made public in mid December, set off a huge debate within the political and public arenas. Chile, like most South American countries is full of Roman Catholic and Evangelical Christians and it is logical for the people, as well as the Churches, to be shocked by the offer to cede so much land and of such high caliber to a religion wholly unfamiliar to most Chileans. As well, the timing of the leaked information was inflammatory, coming at a time of deep religious significance. According to one politician who railed against the offer, “it makes no sense that the Bicentenary Commission has offered such land to a religion which has not even contributed one paragraph to the written history of Chile”.

The Bicentenary Commission was created to oversee different acts and events for the commemoration (on September 18th 2010) of the 200th anniversary of the Republic of Chile. And although it is under the supervision of Ministry of Housing, its function is strictly defined. In hindsight, it shouldn’t have been the organization to make such an offer because it automatically opened itself up for much deserved criticism.

It seems that the Baha´i community of Chile has an uphill (forgive the pun) battle to fight as the vast majority of Chileans know nothing about them nor their beliefs. They are therefore, easily mislead by erroneous reports by journalists who use the word “sect” to describe the Baha´i Faith. And in general they are ignorant of the basic facts related to the Baha´i Faith and can´t really be expected to be able to make a sound judgment call about the question. There has been no organized, public response by the Baha´is of Chile, either in rejecting the offer or in fighting in the political and public arena to ensure its success.

However, it is important to note that this whole debate was an entirely internal matter and true to form, the Baha´is did not side with nor entered the debate even. Also, it must be pointed out that the offer was not to simply give the Baha´i community of Chile the land in the park. This is a common misinformation spread within the Baha´i world community. Due to the legal ownership of the park lands on the hillside of Dos Gemelos, it is not possible to transfer title, instead, the offer was to lease the land for 50 years in return for relatively little consideration. Presumably, the lease would have been extended at its end. As well, there were numerous conditions to the offer and the non-compliance of any one of them would present the danger of the land and everything else reverting back to the government.

It didn´t take long for the Islamic community to throw in their two cents. Their reaction was predictable: vehemently negative. At the start of the hubbub, they announced that they may hold a press conference to discuss the Baha´i Faith, which they consider to be “adversarial” to Islam.

According to Mockenburg, one of the two Chilean politican most opposed to the idea, “they [Bicentenary Commission] have chosen the least appropriate place, but not only that: it strikes one as odd that they give this land to a religion practically insignificant and one which does not exist in Chile. For now, there is nothing constructed, because it is planned to begin in the middle of 2005, but what does the Baha´i religion have to do with our country and specifically, the Bicentenary Commission?”

In actuality, the Baha´i community of Chile numbers around 15,000. Roughly one for approximately a thousand Chileans.

Other politicans defended the offer made by the Commission saying that they don´t see it as a religious matter at all, but rather, recognize in it an opportunity to revitalize an area of the city and perhaps gain international accolades for the architectural qualities of the project. It is reasonable for them to think along these lines, especially as the Lotus Temple in India has shown just how powerful and prestigious such structures are and how positively they impact their immediate surroundings. As well, among urban planners the “Guggenheim effect” has also gained popularity after the revitalization that the city of Bilbao, Spain experienced with the location of the van guardian structure designed by Canadian-born architect, Frank Gehry.

One Chilean expert on sects and religions who has published a book on the Baha´i Faith said that if this decision goes forward, it may set a dangerous precedent where other small groups will expect equal treatment from the government. As well, many people argued against the location of the temple in the Metropolitan Park because they believe that the Commission should not give away land which is the right of all Chileans. To them it is not appropriate to cede such a public place to a specific group or organization. The politicans in favour of the decision pointed out that once constructed, the temple would be open to all the peoples of the world, regardless of religious affiliation, color or creed. And that the Baha´i Faith is a religion devoid of any form of clergy or fixed special ceremonies.

It would be wrong, however, to categorize the opposition to this offer as led by the Catholic Church. The Commission, itself has several members as representatives of the Catholic Church and they were the ones who made the original recommendation. Instead, it appears that most of the opposition to the idea came from misinformed public opinion as well as Evangelical churches and politician members of these churches who could not imagine the idea of an obscure religion putting down such prominent roots in their city.

The whole debate concluded as fast as it arose and having been one sided from the start, it was lost rather easily. The Baha´is, it seems, were happy to stand back and allow the people and government of Chile to make the final decision, knowing that they are not bound at all, to even accept the offer, where it to be confirmed and finalized. They refused to be drawn in to a debate or argument, only limiting themselves to correcting, when the opportunity arose, misinformation about themselves, their intentions and their faith.

Finally, an excuse was used to scrap the whole thing altogether: it seems that the zoning permits in the area of the park only allow a 3 story high building to be constructed and since the temple is atleast 10 storeys the project is not possible. The idea that such zoning restrictions can and sometimes is ammended was brushed aside. One gets the feeling that everyone involved, the politicians on both sides, as well as the Baha´is, simply want the conflict to go away.

So the search goes on for a location with the clock ticking (construction is supposed to begin in mid 2005). But the temple of Santiago seems to have garnered a unique distinction. Even before being built it is living up to its monicker of a “silent teacher”.

For an update on the Temple in Chile, click here and here (bottom of page).