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This newsletter reports on various papers presented at the third annual Canadian Association for the Studies on the Baha’i Faith (later renamed the Association for Baha’i Studies Conference).
It includes a retelling of the Baha’i community of Ishqabad by Tony Lee (including some personal interpretation of why things turned out the way they did which turned out to be controversial enough to interrupt the slumber of most attendees); a paper on the legal status of LSAs (and its ramifications) and a paper on early Christian theology.
The newsletter also discusses a paper on the universal auxiliary language; proposing various candidates along with a brief pro/con debate. Personally, I would nominate Klingon. I know it wasn’t around at the time of the writing of the newsletter and that it may seem a bit unusual to some, but come one! if you can google in it, it must be a real language, right? Only a petaQ would disagree.
If this is your first newsletter, you might also want to read the introduction to the LA study class, here.
On with the 70’s class . . .
January, 1978 — Vol. III, No. 1
[Ed. personal home address]
Home of the “Idi Amin Milk of
Human Kindness Memorial Museum”
An unusually large turnout showed up for the January study class at which Tony Lee, Mehrdad Amanat, and Bob Ballenger reported on the Third Annual meeting of the Canadian Association for the Studies on the Baha’i Faith.
The CASBF meeting was held in Vancouver, British Columbia, over New Year’s Weekend. More than 150 persons (roughly twice the number expected, including a bunch of American interlopers) attended the conference. The sessions were held at a Catholic retreat called Rosemary Heights, about 20 miles outside Vancouver. The retreat is run by the Order of the Good Shepherd. (The nuns of this order appeared to be quite short, about 5 feet, or 5’2″ tops. Ballenger reported he caught himself singins the lyrics to Randy NEwman’s current hit tune, “Short People.”)
The papers which provoked the most comment and controversy at the conference had that same effect in the study class, wich began with Tony Lee talking about his paper, “City of Love: The Rise of the Baha’i Faith in Ishqabad from the Beginnings to the Russian Revolution.” (The substance of that paper has been the topic of discussion in previous class sessions when Mr. Kazem Kazemzadeh of Santa Monica, who was born in Ishqabad, reviewed for us the early history of the Baha’i Community there.) Copies of Lee’s paper, at $1 each, are available by writing Mrs. Paula Wahlstrom, [Ed. personal home address follows].
Essentially, to summarize Lee’s paper, following the murder in 1889 of a prominent Baha’i in Ishqabad by hired Muslim assassins, the Baha’i Community appeared to be on the verge of a pogrom at the hands of Islamic fanatics. However, the Baha’is managed to persuade Russian government officials to intercede in the situation. The assassins and their accomplices were arrested and brought to trial. During the courtroom proceedings, the Czarist authorities accorded the Baha’is independent status, marking the first time the Faith had been given recognition by a government body as a separate religion from Islam.
The murderers were convicted and several were sentenced to be hanged. Despite pressure from the Muslim community, the Russian government refused to commute its death penalty judgement. However, the Baha’i Community was able to persuade czarist officials not to impose capital punishment in the case, and the status of the Community began to rise as a result of that gesture.
The Baha’i Community at Ishqabad began to flourish in the opening years of the 20th century. The world’s first Mashriqu’l-Adhkar was constructed near the centre of town. Baha’i schools, a medical clinic, traveler’s inn and other amenities were constructed. Baha’i merchants became active in the tea trade and it made many of them wealthy, especially during World War I. At the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917, tehre were about 500 Baha’i families – an estimated 4,000 believers – living in Ishqabad. In terms of community life and social interaction, it was the most complete Baha’i Community in the history of the Faith.
The Communist takeover after the Revolution gradually changed all that. And this was the most controversial part of Lee’s report. He said his research led him to conclude that the Community had become too complacent, wealthy, comfortable and unconcerned with the threat of a hostile Soviet regime. He noted that, partly because the Persians were foreigners in Russia, and partly because they were wealthy or at least well off, they were vulnerable to attack by the Communist government.
Lee stirred up a good deal of discussion by alluding to a “failure” of the Baha’i Community, although he did not say the Baha’is brought on the destruction of their Community by their own actions. In any event, the history of the Ishqabad Baha’i Community after the Revolution is one of a brief flowering and then increasingly severe oppression by the government and, finally, collapse.
Lee’s analysis was criticized by a few people, especially Dr. Amin Banani of Santa Monica. He said the Baha’is did not bring about the destruction of their own Community, nor were they readily identifiable as a foreign element since all of southern Russia was heavily populated by Persians, Turkomans and other ethnic minorities who were regarded with suspicion and hostility. To Lee’s assertions that the Baha’i Community remained oblivious to the intentions of the revolutionary Communist government and heedless of the fact it was on the verge of total destruction, Dr. Banani said there was nothing the Community leadership could have done. The doctrines and beliefs of the Communist regime were utterly at variance with Baha’i tenets, so a clash was inevitable, whatever the Baha’i might have done to avoid one, he said. The Baha’i Community was overtaken by events it could not control, including the Stalinist purges of the late 1930’s which swept the whole of the Soviet Union, jailing and executing thousands of people, including about 500 Baha’is, Dr. Banani noted. Even so, there remained to this day about 200 to 300 Baha’is living in Ishqabad, although they do not have an organized community. (The House of Worship in Ishqabad, seized by the Soviet authorities and later converted into an art gallery was severely damaged by an eathquake in 1948. It stood abandoned for a number of years before being razed as a public hazard.)
One other report that generated considerable discussion was a review of a paper presented at the Canadian conference by Richard Heiser, an attorney living in Sackville, New Brunswick. Heiser’s paper, “The Legal Personality of Baha’i Assemblies,” covered the implications of incorporation for Local Assemblies.
Heiser noted (as Ballenger and Lee related in their report on his paper) that a corporation is, in the eyes of the law, a legal person. It has a birthday, the date of its incorporation; a birth certificate, its corporate charter; and a lifespan all its own. An unincorporated Local Assembly, on the other hand, comes under the legal definition of an association. Case law on associations is skimpy, unclear, and occasionally contradictory.
A corporation is not a natural being; it is a creation of the law. But, it has legal rights, a fact that until recently in human history, belonged only to living beings. Corporations have limited legal liability. For example, corporate debt is separate, in the eyes of the law, from the debts of corporation members or officers.
Corporations exist independently of the lives of their members. Heiser told a famous case in which an English corporation survived when all its officers were killed during a German bombing raid in World War II. The corporate officers dies, but the corporation they represented lived on. (An association, by contrast, ceases to exist when its members stop associating with one another. That has a parallel in the Baha’i Faith. An unincorporated Local Assembly ceases to exist when fewer than nine adult Baha’is live in the Community at Ridvan.)
The longevity of corporations poses some potential problems for incorporated Local Assemblies. For example, as fas as the law is concerned, an incorporated Assembly would continue to exist even if there were not enough adult Baha’is on hand to maintain the Assembly. If a group of Covenant-breakers managed to win control of an incorporated Assembly, Heiser said much havoc could be wreaked. This point, which Ballenger and Lee reported, stirred up much uneasy discussion among study class members. Several people pointed out that one of the by-laws of a Local Assembly requires its obedience to the National Spiritual Assembly, assuming that proviso would thwart Covenant-breakers. Such, however, is not the case. Unless and until a lawsuit is filed against the dissident group, seeking to enjoin it from using Assembly funds or corporate powers, as far as the law is concerned, it is proper for the Covenant-breakers to be in control. The law will not interfere in the internal management of a corporate body acting within its legal powers. So, while the National Assembly could revoke the administrative rights of some dissident members of an incorporated Assembly, that sanction would have no legal standing or effect on its own. It would require a lawsuit (and presumably the filing of a request for a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injuntion) to block the Covenant-breakers. This news came as a surprise to a great many people and, as Heiser pointed out in his report to the Canadian Association, represents one of the rists of Assembly incorporation.
Three other papers reviewed at the study class deserve mention here. The first of these is Kay Balser’s “Toward a Universal Auxiliary Language.” While not an academic paper in the sense of breaking new ground, it did review the current state of affairs on where we stand on a common-tongue second language for mankind.
There has been not much movement in recent years towards selecting a universal auxiliary language. Many people (including Baha’is) more or less assume English will be selected as the language, mainly because of its widespread influence in the world. English is spoken and understood by an estimated 400 million people in the world. English, however, presents some difficult and probably insurmountable problems. The spelling is a nightmare; the language is not phonetic and it has borrowed many words from other langages. There is also a bewildering array of homonyms. English is loaded with ambiguities which the listener must sort out by understanding the context in which a sentence is uttered. (Jon Hendershot, who has studies linguistics, pointed out, however, that English is not alone in suffering a homonym problem. Most other languages also have words that sound alike, leaving the listener to figure out the proper meaning by understanding the context of the sentence.)
Perhaps the most serious drawback to the selection of English as the universal auziliary language is the political implications of choosing it. While English is acceptable to those nations which speak and understand it, the language represents a particular political and social system that is an anathema to other large and politically powerful nations. This same political stigma also would work against the selection of Chinese and Russian as worldwide secondary languages. That might mean that less politically tainted languages like Danish, Icelandic or Malay which are neutral could have a better chance of selection.
It might be possible to circumvent any political onus by selecting an older language, such as Latin. Although technically a ‘dead’ language (no one, aside from a few academics, speak it anymore), Latin was the universal auxiliary language of the Roman Empire and served as the medium of Western scholarship throughout the Middle Ages. Even so, Latin is losing ground as a candidate language.
Some scholars have suggested the invention of a new language as the best way to avoid the political implications of choosing an existing group. A number of attempts to invent a language have been made. The most famous of these is Esperanto, devised in 1887 by Ludovic Zamenhoff, a Polish linguist. Esperanto, however, has been criticized as being too westernized in its vocabulary and too rigid in its sentence construction to gain worldwide acceptance.
Ballenger reported that Balser commented that Baha’u’llah Himself may have favored Arabic or Persian, nothing those are the language of the Baha’i Revelation and Baha’u’llah praised Arabic as a language. However, one class member said that comment did not constitute an endorsement of Arabic and, if Baha’u’llah had wanted Arabic selected as the universal auxiliary language, He would have said so.
Despite its title, “Nazoraean/Ebionaean Christianity and the Emergence of Historical Theology,” by Christopher Buck of Bellingham, Washington, was a provocative [and] unusual paper. Christianity today is essentially a Romanized faith, whereas the Christianity of Christ’s time was much more oriental in flavor with a distinctly different dogma. The early Christians, who called themselves Nazoraeans, were a Hebrew people with an access to the entire gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew. They accepted this gospel as the most accurate and – significantly – rejected Paul as an apostate to Christianity. Specifically, the Nazoraeans refused to accept the Pauline doctrines which elevated and venerated the personage of Christ, saying that dogma corrupted Christianity by molding it to harmonize with Roman (that is, pagan) customs and practices. (The Hebrew Christians who opposed Paul, ironically introduced the concept of heresy in the early church.) The most serious breach was over the resurrection. The concept of bodily resurrection (which is a fundamental doctrine of Paul) was not unknown tothe Hebrew Christians, but they regarded it as no proof of prophethood and, at best, a minor theological point.
The Ebionaeans were the spiritual descendents of the Nazoraeans. The Ebionaeans fled Jerusalem during the time the Romans destroyed the city, about 132 AD. An important theological point with regard to both the Nazoraeans and the Ebionaeans is that neither group made much of the physical resurrection of Jesus. These early Christians tried to follow the example of the Apostle Peter and created a Hebrew Christianity, emphasizing the gospels of Matthew and Mark which center on the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. Paul disregarded that message and concentrated instead on the person of Jesus, introducing the concept of salvation through personal relationship with Christ, and taking early Christianity outside its Hebrew framework by seeking converts among non-Jewish and pagan people. In the end, the Pauline doctrine emerged triumphant and dominates Christian theology to this day.
“Zarathustra and the Baha’i Faith” (Alan Coupe, Burlington, Ontario). Of all the Manifestations of God which Baha’is accept as forerunners to their religion, perhaps none is less well known than Zarathustra; although He, like Baha’u’llah, is of Persian origin. Zarathustra is sometimes called Zoroaster, the Greek version of His name. (Interestingly enough, scholars continue to accept “Zoroastrianism” as the proper name for the religion He brought.) One of the mysteries of Zoroastrianism is the approximate dates of Zarathustra’s life. The exact times cannot be established with any certainty because reliable records simply no longer exist. Greek historians (Zarathustra is mentioned by Plato) place His birth at about 1,000 years before Christ. In his report to the Canadian conference, Coupe ventured into an elaborate aside on this issue, citing a variety of sources to place Zarathustra’s time as about 1150 BC. He did so, he said, partly because one of the arguments William Miller uses in his book The Baha’i Faith, Its History and Teachings, a relentlesly hostile assessment of the Faith, is that Baha’is believe major Manifestations are separated in time by about 1,000 years. Because some scholars place Zarathustra and Buddha as both living at about 600 BC, Miller uses this ‘argument’ in an attempt to discredit the validity of Baha’i theological theory. (Members of our study class pointed out, however, that even if Zarathustra and Buddha were contemporaries, they existed in such different cultures and brought such different religious messages, that any coincidence in timing is irrelevant.)
One major reason so little about Zoroastrianism is known is that many of the writings of this religion were lost when the Greeks burned the library at Persepolis. Even so, the basic Zoroastrian gospels, the Avesta, survives, although in corrupted form. The Avesta is not easily translatable, mainly because it was composed in what is now an obscure, mysterious Persian dialect. At the heart of the Avesta are the ‘gathas,’ which were not discovered and translated until the 1850s. These ‘hyms,’ as they are called, are regarded by some experts as the only uncorrupted part of the Zoroastrian writings.
Zoroastrianism as a religion suffered a major blow with the Muslim conquest of Persia. Although there are today about 18,000 Zoroastrians living in Western Iran, most of the religious community migrated to India at the time of the Muslim takeover. The immigrants settled in the Bombay area, where they remain to this day. There are now an estimated 90,000 Zoroastrians living in the world.
Zoroastrianism ought to be of more than passing interest to Baha’is. For one thing, Zarathustra helped create the cultural milieu that led to the Baha’i Faith. Historian Arnold Toynbee places Zoroastrianism in what he calls the ‘Syrian’ period of religious history. Other religions belonging to this period are Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Zoroastrianism shares with these faiths the concepts of a judgement day, a belief in heaven and hell, an end of the world concept, and an allegiance to a single deity. Baha’u’llah himself identified Zarathustra as a Manifestation of God and there are references to Zarathustra in the Baha’i Writings.
OTHER PAPERS: A list of papers which were to be presented at the Third Annual Meeting of the Canadian Association for Studies on the Baha’i Faith follows:
- Dr. Hussein Ahdieh, Douglaston, New York – “Tahirih, the Great Persian Poetess”
- Kay Baltaser, Edmonds, Washington – “Towards a Universal Auxiliary Language”
- William Barnes, Lansing, Michigan – “Human Rights as God-Given Rights”
- Keith Bloodworth, Stonewall, Manitoba – “In Seach of a New Visual Myth”
- Christopher Buck, Bellingham, Washington – “Nazoraean/Ebionaean Christianity and the Emergence of Historical Theology”
- Alan Coupe, Burlington, Ontario – “Zarathustra and the Baha’i Faith”
- Dr. Hossein Danesh, Ottawa, Ontario – “Health and Healing”
- Dr. M.R. Finley, Jr. Quebec, Quebec – “Uses of the Computer and Related Micro-technologies in the Evolving World Order”
- Dr. A.M. Ghadirian, Pierrefonds, Quebec – “Count Leo Tolstoy and the Baha’i Faith”
- Kenneth Goldstone, Vancouver, BC – “The World Centre of the Baha’i Faith: An Analysis of the Sacred Landscape”
- Richard Heiser, Sackville, NB – “The Legal Personality of Baha’i Assemblies”
- Anthony Lee, Los Angeles, California – “The Rise and Fall of the Russian Baha’i Community: An Historical Sketch”
- Jane Nishi-Goldstone, Vancouver BC – “A Review of Maitrya-Amitabha Has Appeared by Jamshed Fozdar”
- Dr. Anne Schoonmaker, Summit, New Jersey – “Erikson and the Worldwide Crisis of Identity”
Ahdieh, Barnes, Finley and Ghadirian failed to show up at the conference and, so, their papers were not heard.COMING ATTRACTIONS: For out next class, we have invited Dr. John Cornell, a Baha’i dentist from Reedley, California, to lecture to us on “Baha’i Justice” – what it is and how it works. Dr. Cornell is a co-compiler of a course on Baha’i Law published by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the Hawaiian Islands. We have recently received the following in a letter from Dr. Cornell:
Baha’is are solidly in agreement on many points, but recently I became aware of differing views on two questions. At the CASBF conference, I polled as many people as possible and found them evenly divided on the following:
Should Baha’is expect to (1) slowly become a majority over the next centuries, co-exist with all other faiths until the next Messenger of God, or (2) soon become a totality (everyone calling himself a Baha’i)?
Did Baha’u’llah give institutions such as the Houses of Justice (local and international) (1) purely for religious administration to function alongside a secular civil government with separation of church and state, or (2) to become government replacing all existing government?
What is YOUR view?
As the topic of the next study class is justice, please come prepared to tell what is wrong with the following real life statements:
“Justice and mercy are exactly the same thing: they’re just two different words.”
“Why did Baha’u’llah praise ‘the just kings’? I guess because they were the most merciful.”
“When the Assembly adjudicates a dispute between two people, it is important to always temper justice with mercy.”
“The purpose of unity is the appearance of justice among men.”
“Justice can be defined as whatever is best for the majority.”
“Justice is for each of us to work according to our ability and be paid according to our needs.”
“Justice is for everybody to be paid the same.”
“When Baha’u’llah speaks of equity He is referring to the British courts of equity.”
The class on Baha’i law with meet on Sunday, February 12, at 2 pm in the palatial and breathtaking environs of Tony Lee’s apartment [Ed. personal home address follows].
LOOSE TALK: While Tony Lee and Bob Ballenger were at the CASBF conference, they conned the organizers into letting them make an announcement about our study group. That resulted in a dozen or so Canadian Baha’is asking to be put on our mailing list. They should be receiving this as their first newsletter from us. Welcome, and remember: if all else fails, these pages can be used to wrap fish or, in a weather emergency, as a stand-in rainhat.
The original scanned documents can be found here.