LA Study Class Newsletter [#23]

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My Notes:

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 . . .

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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.

[END DOCUMENT]

Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.

Ruhi Redux

My previous commentary on the Ruhi course got a lot of feedback so I wanted to revisit the topic. Previously, I didn’t really delve into any specifics. I hope to remedy that here.That Ruhi has become a controversial and polarizing topic within Baha’i communities is not in doubt. In fact, it has almost become a secret handshake of sorts that distinguishes free thinking Baha’is from others.Some have pointed out the similarity between Ruhi and its Chrisian kissing cousin, the Alpha course. I can’t comment on a comparison in any significant way because I haven’t taken the Alpha course. But I think it is totally conceivable that some cross pollination (to put it politely) took place when the Alpha course began to take off in the Christian world in the early 1990’s. Its not hard to imagine that some in the Baha’i administration saw its success and took note. From what I read about the Alpha course, it seems much more flexible and customizable than Ruhi. It also seems much more open ended and intellectually stimulating. If anyone has taken both courses, please feel free to drop a comment below.

The first and most important point that must be made when talking about validity and quality of Ruhi is that it is based upon a foundation of implied assumptions. These are that a systematic and standardaized curriculum is best – or atleast, better. I can not overstate how important, yet silent, assumptions these are. I have never really seen anyone point them out or to question them. Instead they are unblinkingly accepted. I do question these assumptions and wonder why such a fundamental element of Ruhi is never discussed. My take on this is that it isn’t because it can not withstand intellectual scrutiny.

I have no doubt that Ruhi met with great success when it was first introduced in Columbia. Arbab created something which worked great teaching and consolidating poor and semi-literate Baha’is in the rural communities of Latin America. Unfortunately, with these initial successes, the man with a hammer began to see the whole world as a nail.

The whole essence of Ruhi is taqlid (blind and unquestioning imitation in action or belief). At the time of Baha’u’llah this was a big deal since much of Shi’ite doctrine (and the orthodox authority of the Mullah’s and Mutjahid) rested on taqlid. Baha’u’llah instructs Baha’is to put it aside and instead use individual investigation of truth. We have anectodal evidence (where Baha’u’llah admonishes a student for parroting the teachers lesson and then rewards him when he comes to a personal understanding and puts the lesson in his own words) as well as explicit texts which condemn taqlid.

Another negative aspect of Ruhi is that it has a strong crowding out effect in every community that it is implemented. Each person and each community has a finite amount of time, energy, money, etc. And when we devote our resources in one direction, we are simultaneously denying them to any other area. Since the Baha’i community has been pushed into doing the sequence of Ruhi courses they have very little resources to devote elsewhere. Like the Mashriq’ul-Adhkar, charitable and SED projects, deepenings, teaching projects and the like. I’ve even seen some groups take it over and over again in a sort of crazy Groundhog Day scenario.

Putting aside all that, the strongest argument against Ruhi is its own content. It is a jumble of authenticated Baha’i texts (from the writings of the central Figures), pilgrims notes (which have dubious historical accuracy) and the commentary and interpretation of the editors and creators of the Ruhi courses themselves. What’s more, no distinction is made between these differing sources. Also non-existent is any sort of context for the quotes. The student is expected to treat them all the same way, that is read, write in the questions, repeat, and memorize.

Yet, for all of its flaws, in a very short time Ruhi managed to become sacrosanct. The how and the whys of this are rather simple. It is the only such program mentioned repeatedly by name by the House of Justice and the ITC in their official communiques. Actually it is not only mentioned by the highest Baha’i institutions, it is strongly recommended and aggressively promoted by them. The NSAs, LSAs and individual Baha’is in turn take these cues for what they are.

For these same reasons, any criticism of the weaknesses of Ruhi is interpreted as a direct criticism or attack on the House of Justice and the ITC. This has resulted in a situation where, as a Baha’i, you either get with the program or are branded as covenantally weak. The poisonous effects of this on the Baha’i world community are already apparent and will be even more pronounced with time.

For some other ideas on Ruhi, you can read this essay by Anthony Lee.

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

From the Ruhi Course To the Collaborators (if you are unfamiliar with Ruhi vocabulary, this refers to any and all who participate in the Ruhi program, either as students or as teachers – er, sorry…tutors):

“It is natural that a verse from the Writings should bring to mind myriads of noble and beautiful ideas. To share these ideas with the friends on appropriate occasions conduces to joy and happiness. But care must be exercised so that this practice does not become an exercise in the expression of ego and an insistence on the sovereignty of personal opinion.”

Interesting. Especially when you consider the elevated station that the individual’s conscience has in the Baha’i writings. Also interesting when you consider that individual investigation of truth is a major tenet of the Baha’i Faith. I also wonder what role ego has to play when the writers of Ruhi, without any distinction, comingle their own words and understanding with the sacred texts and impose on the students to study and memorize them in the same way.

The experience of the Ruhi Institute has shown that we do not suppress the imagination or the personality of the participants when we refrain from posing questions such as, “What does this mean to you?”

Not only is this never shown by the Ruhi Institute to be the case, the anecdotal evidence contradicts it:

This reminded me of an experience last summer: several Baha’is and guests were gathered for a monthly potluck social. A relatively new believer came into the drive, leapt from his car, stormed over to our group by the barbeque- obviously agitated. In a firm voice he said: “I will NOT be indoctrinated!” It took a bit of consoling to arrive at the source of his distress. As a new believer he had been encouraged to participate in a Ruhi Book I study circle. He explained that he was so insulted by the “shallowness” of the material that he couldn’t take it any more and walked out…

Unfortunately, since the same group (Arbab, Correa, Lample, etc.) that created and promoted Ruhi are now in the highest positions within the Baha’i Administration, it will be long time until we put it all behind us. For this small group of persons, there is just too much personal interest at stake. I can empathize. Its never easy to admit that one is wrong. That’s just human. But usually when we fall prey to this defect of human nature, it is only ourselves that we hurt. But in the case of Ruhi, the whole Baha’i community is suffering.

Related:

Check out Alison’s post on taqlid.

Iran’s Future – Update

Next month will augur national elections in Iran. Already there is a lot of jockeying for position as people sign up to be candidates. This is all great theatre but the winner is already chosen (and in the process of carefully coming out of mothballs). Rafsanjani may be 70 years old but he is as powerful and as wily as ever. I don’t doubt that he is relishing taking over the presiden’t position once again after seeing many enemies come and go. He is, after all, the most successful cleptocrat within Iran. His family owns and controls some of the largest bonyads and through them much of Iran’s industrial and commercial assets.These elections will be very different from the previous ones that brought Khatami to power. The thin veneer of hope has long worn off from the reformer’s campaign as they have been shown to only have vague intentions but no power with which to implement them. The Iranian youth (which happen to make up 75% of the population of Iran) have changed tactics. Through the bitter lessons of the past 8 years they have accurately identified the game and do not wish to participate in a political system that is rigged. Their tactic this time is apathy. And it is a surprisingly effective weapon because it goes to the heart of the illegitimacy of a non democratic government. The Mullah’s know this and will be out in full force intimidating people to vote.

But as I said in my last comment on Iran’s future, these are all cosmetic and superficial changes. Nothing meaningful will change in Iran as long as the price of oil is this high (and anywhere down to the thirties range). It allows the Mullah’s to maintain a teetering social, economic and political structure by filling in the cracks with cold hard petrodollars. Until this tool is taken away from them nothing will change. Sure, people may come and go – as with the presidents, or even with Khamenei’s death in a few years – but the system will be able to maintain itself.

There are some conspiracy theories going around that the price of oil is this high because the US wants it to be this high in order to fence in China’s growth. I’m not really sure what to believe these days but I do know that the USSR’s collapse did come about sooner rather than later due to low oil prices. The US government did have a hand in that. Also, the fact that the US government is backing up the truck to buy oil on the open market for the Strategic Oil Reserve does raise some eyebrows. Of course, it doesn’t help that opportunistic hedge funds have piggy backed onto a sure trade and rode the commodity to dizzying heights. I’m not sure if there is any truth to these stories. But I have to confess that if true, it is the quintissential American style – doing something to solve a problem in one place which causes a new problem elsewhere.

There is a great article on Iran in the current US edition of GQ magazine (May 2005). It also includes an interview with the outgoing president. Don’t miss it. The main thrust of the article is that there are steps being taken behind the scenes that mimic the process that the Bush administration went through before its adventures in Iraq. The most public maneuver is the “Iran Freedom and Support Act” (H.R. 282/S.333). Iran’s insistence to gaining nuclear capabilities is not endearing it to the Bush camp and its adamant position that it is for peaceful purposes (energy production) is hollow considering the abundance of oil and natural gas in Iran. I think that eventually Iran will join the nuclear club. After all, short of invading them right now, there really is nothing that the US or the rest of the world can do about it. I think the chances of the US taking military action are extremely slim because the US is already stretched too thin in Iraq and Afghanistan. The numbers just aren’t there. Iran is after all, more than twice the size of Iraq.

The House of Justice seems really anxious to maintain a strong Baha’i presence in Iran – almost as if it is anticipating an imminent regime change. I don’t agree with this position. For one thing, as I’ve argued before a change may not be in the cards (atleast not in the next 10 years or more), but even if it is, I don’t think it justifies keeping the Iranian youth in such a poisonous environment. Of what use would be a community that is beset by the same social ills that are affecting the rest of Iranian society? Why not just let them get out and live their lives in a normal healthy society and then go back when things change?

LA Study Class Newsletter [#22]

SKIP TO NEWSLETTER
My Notes:

The main subject of this newsletter is a discussion of a presentation regarding the idea of spiritual “rebirth” in the Baha’i Faith. I think this concept is similar to what has recently been labelled as “transformation”. Perhaps if the person originally sharing this idea had used this label there would have been much less controversy.

The other subject discussed in this newsletter is a talk by Dr. Khan. At that time, of course, he was just a prominent member of the community (giving talks and so forth). But currently, he is a member of the House of Justice. Its noteworthy that the members of the class pull no punches in their commentary regarding his speech. This is rather unique as most Baha’is would just nod politely and smile. Generally, critical thought, especially when it brings you to directly oppose an idea being promoted by a prominent Baha’i, is discouraged.

We also gain insight into why Khan believes that building a temple is so important:

. . .for the money we spend on building Mashriqu’l-Adhkars we could endow a hospital or an agricultural college, but that Houses of Worship create a pattern which is a magnet for spiritual forces (ie, they are Collective Centers).

First, I wanted to point out a pet peeve of mine here. Referring to temples (such as the ones that we have around the world) as Mashriqu’l-Adhkhars is not at all accurate or truthful. Mashriqs are much, much more than just a lone building with nine sides. So much so, that we do not have a real Mashriqu’l-Adhkhar (yet).

Second, it is laughable to imagine that we label the temples as ‘collective centers’ and by virtue of doing so we somehow imbue them with some spiritual significance. If, as the class correctly points out, the point is to do the Divine Will, then anything that accomplishes this is pleasing to Him and will have spiritual significance. And that, according to the repeated and intense exhortations in the Writings, would include a hospital, a well to give clean water, schools, etc. (oh and by the way, the house of the elderly near the Chicago temple – which was not even run as a charity but as a for-profit business – was closed in the early 1990’s).

To me, Khan’s reasoning may seem outright silly but when you think about it, it fits with the actions taken by the AO. Unfortunately, it seems that other high ranking members of the AO share this warped logic.

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 . . .

[START DOCUMENT]
“World Headquarters for the
Bionic Tooth Fairy”

STUDY CLASS NOTES, Vol. II, No. 17 (December, 1977)

It is a balmy summer day in 198-. Strolling in a crowded park you are approached by a smiling, pamphlet-wielding youth with eyes shining with fervor. Steppin in front of you to block your way he asks, “Have you been saved; have you been reborn?” Hesitating for a moment, trying to phrase an appropriate reply that will both communicate your love for this “veiled” soul and inform this misguided fanatic that Christ has returned in the person of Baha’u’llah to unite the world, you are shocked to hear this third question: “Have you heard of Baha’u’llah?” You manage to sputter, “But I, have heard of Baha’u’llah! I’m a Baha’i!” The young man replies joyously, “That’s wonderful. But, have you been reborn?”

What is going on here? This is not a “reborn” Christian fundamentalist fishing for man by witnessing to the power of the risen Lord Jesus. No, rather, this is a “born again” Baha’i quickening souls (non-Baha’i and Baha’i) with the healing message of Baha’u’llah. And, he is rattling off the same “rebirth,” “born again,” resurrection” terminology one might hear from an evangelical preacher.

Does this sound preposterous? Think this scene could never happen because the Baha’i Faith shuns such emotionally loaded terms as “rebirth,” “sin,” “judgement day” and the like? Guess again. According to a class Jon and Chris Hendershot of Manhattan Beach presented to our study group, it is not at all far-fetched. The concept of being “born again” not only transcends fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity, but forms a primary, essential part of Baha’i doctrine as well.

Jon reported on a series of classes he and Chris attended at the Bosch Baha’i School in November, Dr. Allan Ward’s “Baha’u’llah and Us.” He began by expressing sore discomfort at giving a report of someone else’s views. He felt uncomfortable because it seems impossible to give a completely accurate record of another’s thoughts. He felt the effort worthwhile, however, because Dr. Ward’s classes were very provocative – not merely intellectually, but spiritually as well. That is, Dr. Ward’s views demand a reevaluation of one’s own spiritual condition.

What follows, then, is a summary (with apologies to Dr. Ward) of what Jon said Dr. Ward said. There are also some critical comments by Jon on some of Dr. Ward’s principles views. Dr. Ward’s central thesis is that in addition to modern-day teachings, Baha’u’llah stresses the role of personal salvation for the individual, a concept Baha’is can and ought to use to transform their own spiritual conditions and in their attempts to reach Christians with the Faith.

Dr. Ward noted that there is a common set of symbols that Christianity and the Baha’i Faith share involving the use of terms like “rebirth” and “resurrection.” He quoted in this regard Baha’u’llah in the Kitab-i-Iqan (p.120):

“In every age and century, the purpose of the Prophets of God and their chosen ones hath been no other but to affirm the spiritual significance of the terms of ‘life,’ ‘resurrection,’ and ‘judgement.’ If one will ponder but for a while this utterance of Ali in his heart, one will surely discover all mysteries hidden in the terms ‘grave,’ ‘tomb,’ ‘sirat,’ ‘paradise,’ and ‘hell.'” (Sirat: literally, bridge or support; denotes the religion of God)

Abdu’l-Baha explains (Some Answered Questions, p.96) that the prophets use sensible terms to explain the reality of the spirit.

In the understanding of such symbols, it is important to know whether symbol refers to the animal self or the spiritual nature. Such terms as “Satan,” “blindness,” “dead,” “evil,” “sin,” “serpent,” “hell,” and “torture” can be understood only through the concept of the animal or lower nature.

In Promulgation of Universal Peace (p.179), Abdu’l-Baha states that the animal’s propensities are to “eat, drink, wander about, and sleep.”

Men are “blind” to the spiritual existence (Reality of Man, p.14) when their desires are centered on the physical world. The “dead” are those “who are deprived of the spirit of the love of God and have not a share of the sanctified eternal life” ((Some Answered Questions, p.69). “Satan” and other terms such as “devil,” “Evil Whisperer,” and “Evil one” refer to the lower nature.

God, however, has never created anything “evil.” Dr. Ward asserted that anything which does not live up to its potential is evil. “Sin” is any action that stems from us when we are not living up to our potential. “Serpent” represents attachment to this world and constitutes sin. “Hell” and “torture” refer to the spiritual condition of someone who lives only in the lower nature and is veiled from God and his higher nature.

The higher or spiritual nature refers to man’s capacity to reflect the attributes of God. This concept is important for understanding such symbols as “rebirth,” “second birth,” “spiritual birth,” “saint,” “angel,” “baptism,” “water,” “fire,” and “salvation.”

“Rebirth,” “second birth,” and “spiritual birth” all refer to the process or event of leaving the life of the lower nature for the life of the higher nature. Dr. Ward called “rebirth” the conscious control of the animal self. Detachment from the lower nature and becoming motivated by divine virtues and the love of God characterize this process or event. A “saint” or “angel” is a person who has become free of the animal nature.

“Baptism” is a symbol of the repentance of all sins. Baptismal “water” is divine knowledge while baptismal “fire” is the love of God.

Many Baha’is, according to Dr. Ward, do not relate to Baha’u’llah as a personal savior in the way that Christians regard Jesus. But, Baha’u’llah is our personal savior – He is the One Who comes to save us from our animal self. Thus, “salvation” is freedom from the lower nature.

Another difference between Baha’is and Christians is that Christians often say that if you accept Jesus you are reborn (“Christians are not better than other people, just forgiven.”) However, when we accept Baha’u’llah, we are not necessarily reborn. Acceptance is but a doorway to rebirth. And, even then not all Baha’is attain it. This dichotomy is emphasized by Shoghi Effendi when he pointed out (Baha’i News, No. 241) that there are two kinds of Baha’is: those whose religion is Baha’i and those who live their lives for the Faith. Dr. Ward also noted that Abdu’l-Baha (Star of the West, Vol. III, No.4, pp.6-7) stated that by 1911 all Americans would have become Baha’is if the believers had become true Baha’is.

Touching on a controversial point, Jon said that Dr. Ward asserted that complete rebirth is possible only for Baha’is. His source was Abdu’l-Baha, p.408 of Baha’i World Faith: The Baha’is “…must arise to perform good deeds according to divine instructions, so that they may guide the people with heavenly actions an dmanners: – to such an extent that all the inhabitants of the world may draw conclusions from their behavior and deeds, that these persons are Baha’is. For the manifestation of such deeds and actions from anybody else except Baha’is is impossible and impracticable.”

Dr. Ward asserted that the process of rebirth is not some obscure, arcane mystery that is discovered only after a lifetime of self-mortification and patient meditation. Dr. Ward said that Baha’u’llah indicates in The Seven Valleys that it can happen in the twinkling of an eye or in 100,000 years. But, often Baha’is do not make enough of an effort to change themselves, merely saying that eventually they will change, after all, no one is perfect. This is a copout that only perpetuates imperfections, leads to difficulties, often despondency, and certainly does not attract anyone to the Faith. In this regard, Shoghi Effendi wrote (Baha’i Administration, p.66):

“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 Baha’u’llah.”

Dr. Ward asserted that the section of the Kitab-i-Iqan (pp.192-196) which many Baha’is call the “Tablet of the True Seeker” enumerates 31 conditions that must be attained before rebirth is possible. Some of these are: cleanse the heart from the obscuring dust of all acquired knowledge; purge the breast of every defilement; never seek to exalt one’s self above anyone; refrain from idle talk; be free from inordinate desires’ and, to put one’s trust in God.

Dr. Ward also indicated that you can tell persons who have been reborn by their faces. Their faces become “Joyous and beaming with light.” (Baha’i World Faith, p.118) The Kitab-i-Iqan (p.196) also enumerates other characteristics of a reborn person: darkenss of error will be dispelled; spirit of kindess wafter over his soul; mists of doubts and misgivings will be dissipated; lights of knowledge and certitude will enter his being.

In our study class, all this did not go down without some disgruntled harrumping. It was pointed out, for example, that some of Dr. Ward’s most important points were buttressed with quotations from Promulgation of Universal Peace, Paris Talks and pilgrims’ notes, while more authoritative sources were ignored. Also, it was argued that some quotations did not justify the conclusions that were drawn by Dr. Ward. For example, several alternative interpretations could be found for the quotations Dr. Ward used to support the idea that only Baha’is can become fully reborn.

Also it was argued that Dr. Ward’s emphasis on the Christian idiom in the Baha’i Writings misses the dominant theme – the unity of mankind – of the Baha’i Faith. Dr. Ward also was accused of trying to reduce the Baha’i message to Christian terminology and force the Faith into a Christian framework simply as an expedient [way] to attract Christians to the Faith. One criticism of the doctor’s approach dismissed it as “warmed over Christianity.” Other reactions noted that, contrary to what Dr. Ward reported, there is no universal set of religious symbols, not even in the Baha’i Faith itself. Sometimes terms are used in abstract, sometimes as concrete examples, and sometimes, in different places, to convey different meanings.

Perhaps the most concerned criticism that was leveled came in response to an impression Dr. Ward’s thesis – perhaps inadvertently created; that spiritual rebirth for a Baha’i can and sould be a relatively short-term process which, once attained, influences all susequent behavior. For one thing, it was argued, this thinking is potentially dangerous if it leads to a kind of class distinction among Baha’is – for instance, the “reborn” and, on some lower level, those who still are wrestling with their animal desires. Moreover, it was noted that some of the more pre-eminent Baha’is, including a few of the Cause’s most loyal and praised servants, suffered personal problems (drinking, wenching, you name it) virtually all their lives. It was felt that some individual described by Abdu’l-Baha as a “saint” could be found to support this view, although none was produced.

Furthermore, none of the materials drawn on to support this idea seemed to characterize rebirth as reaching a plateau where the animal self is quelled via some kind of break-through experience and then entering the gradual process of drawing closer to God. The quotations used by Dr. Ward could be used equally well to support the view that there is only one process – moving slowly or rapidly – from the animal to the spiritual.

Joe did not attempt to defend the view that only Baha’is can become completely reborn. The evidence was not felt to be persuasive. He did not try to defend Dr. Ward’s basic view that there is rebirth and then a gradual growth beyond that and that this experience should not take such a long time. Jon argued that the so-called “Tablet of the True Seeker” seems to emphasize some kind of awakening experience from which further growth can develop:

“Only when the lamp of search, of earnest striving, of longing desire, of passionate devotion, of fervid love, of rapture, and exstasy, is kindled within the seeker’s heart, and the breeze of His loving-kindness is wafted upon his sould, will the darkness of error be dispelled, the mists of doubts and misgivings be dissipated, and the lights of knowledge and certitude envelop his being. At that hour will the mystic Herald, bearing the joyful tidings of the Spirit, shine forth from the City of God resplendent as the morn, and, through the trumpte-blast of knowledge, will awaken the heart, the soul and the spirit from the slumber of negligence.”
(Kitab-i-Iqan, pp.195-196)

Furthermore, this is a constant theme of both Abdu’l-Baha in his talks in Promulgation of Universal Peace and of Shoghi Effendi (as quoted in Baha’i Administration above).

Finally, there was this reaction to Dr. Ward’s thesis about similarities in motive and intent between Christianity and the Faith. It is preferable for the Baha’is to be different and distinct as a means of attracting people, rather than to identify with Christianity with emphasis on some kind of “me, too” religious terminology and practice as a means of siphoning off Christians into the Baha’i Faith. Our teaching successes to date have come when we have presented our religion as an alternative to prevailing spiritual thought, not as some modernized extention of today’s practices.

Part two of our class also dealt with a presentation first made at Bosch Baha’i School. In this instance, the review presented by Chris Herndershot, was a videotape shown at the school. The tape, of Dr. Peter Khan, was on “Collective Centers,” what these are and how they affect the Baha’i Faith.

The term “collective centers” first (and, as far as can be determined, only) appears in Abdu’l-Baha’s Tablets of the Divine Plan. The Master defines a collective center as anything that functions to unify interests or people. Examples He gives of collective centers are political alliances, patriotism and the unity of ideals (whatever that is). Contrasting these with religion, Abdu’l-Baha writes that the Divine Collective Center surpasses nationalism, political interests, and cultural interests as rallying points.

Taking off from that position, Dr. Khan (in the videotape Chris reported on) cited three underlying principles of collective centers: the interaction of matter and spirit, the principle of magnetism and the principle of evolution. In brief, Dr. Khan said Abdu’l-Baha characterized all creation as interaction between matter and spirit. Spirit manifests itself by movement, cohesion, growth, and developemtn. Love derives from the existence of spirit. Love impresses itself on the atoms. Spririt is the life of the form. With regard to magnetsm, Dr. Khan said by serving the Cause, the Baha’is become like magnets and attract the aid of God. When a pattern of behavior corresponds to the Divine Will, it attracts a level of spirit. And, finally, as to evolution, he said that when Baha’is create an entity or an action that attracts teh Divine spirit, the spirit works on the entity and changes it. The activity then evolves and becomes a greater, more effective creation.

Chris reported that it is Dr. Khan’s view that when Abdu’l-Baha talked about “collective centers,” He meant patterns of arrangement that correspond to Divine Will. If the activities of the Baha’is correspond to Divine Will, they will act as magnets and thereby attract Divine spirit and become conducive to unity, happiness and progress. This, in turn, makes the Baha’is spiritual magnets to the world at large and, it is through this device, that man progresses. Relating to the practical level, Dr. Khan noted that the power of prayer is divine magnet. Supplication aids the individual. The action of reciting a prayer is a pattern to attract divine confirmations. Through meditation, we receive the blessings of the Holy Spirit, and also set a life pattern in our being. He also related the principle of collective centers to the construction of Houses of Worship. By erecting these religious edifices, we are heeding a Divine Command, and creating a magnet for spiritual forces. Dr. Khan related each aspect of the Five Year Plan to collective conferences, forming Local Spiritual Assemblies, etc. In summary, Dr. Khan said that if we abide by what the Manifestation says to do, we can become Collective Centers. He said that the structure of the Five Year Plan fits into Collecive Centers and that the function of the Universal House of Justice in giving us the Five Year Plan is to create agencies so that the powr of the Holy Spirit is attracted, greater spirit will flow, and the world will be affected.

This was all received with something less than a standing ovation. One class member dismissed Dr. Khan’s thesis as “a big non-sequitur,” saying if we do the things that Baha’u’llah tells us and because He tells us to, all this talk about collecive centers is irrelevant. It was also argued that Dr. Khan’s talk sounds impressive but, when boiled down to its essentials, goes nowhere and says nothing. A lot of high falutin’ jargon is spewed out, but it’s mostly pap and window dressing. Dr. Khan said that for the money we spend on building Mashriqu’l-Adhkars we could endow a hospital or an agricultural college, but that Houses of Worship create a pattern which is a magnet for spiritual forces (ie, they are Collective Centers). One class member pointed out that construction of a hospital can be as much of a collective center as anything else and can please the Divine Will. The fact that there is a home for the elderly as an adjunt to the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmetter should prove this point.

MAIL: We are hoping to encourage more feedback from our readers and broaden our base of support. So, from time to time, and as space permits, we’ll include some comments we get via the mail. Herewith a sampling. Dr. John B. Cornell, a dentist in Reedley, California, wrote us recently about the issue of individual initiative and the Baha’i Faith, noting in part:

“It is refreshing to see that you believe in individual initiative and in the right to present your own opinions. I had quite a struggle for this when I was a student in dental school. The leaders of the Baha’i community were the domineering type who thought it quite heretical of me to think that I had a right to my own opinions. That is why I wrote to the Guardian, who replied that we all have a right to our opinions, we are bound to think differently. His statement to me to this effect appears in the December, 1947, Baha’i News on page 3.

My own observation is that a large segment of the Baha’i population considers initiative to be heretical, on the grounds that everything must come from the top down. They reason that we should not do any original thinking because the Universal House of Justice will decide everything for us. This is one reason why we emphasized in our study course on Baha’i law that national assemblies are to be as independent as possible. I think the same principle applies to local assemblies and also to individuals, to allow them as much independence and initiative as possible. I believe that our Baha’i Faith teaches a maximum of individual responsability and initiative.

It appears to me that we have an orthodox element in the Cause that believes that a few of the elite have the responsability to do all our thinking for us. Sometimes this is quite openly expressed and sometimes it is quite subtle, like saying that what we need to do is to pray more. You and I would be more likely to say that what we need to do is to study the writings more. There is a big difference. Those who spend all their time praying instead of studying will need to be told what to do; while students of the writings are likely to be doing a lot of their own thinking and then some of the leaders will not be so needed to do all our thinking for us.”

And, we also got these nice words from Sandy Parr Tjitendero, a Baha’i pioneer in Lusaka, Zambia, now back in the US for a while. She wrote, “…please rush me copies of the newsletters. They are a real bright spot in the lives of the pioneers here. So much of our teaching work is only basics of the Faith over and over again that you can’t imagine how stimulating and uplifting your newsletters are!”

FUTURE FROLICS: Our next class will be held on Sunday, January 8, 1978 at 2 pm in the home of Mehrdad Amanat [Ed. personal home address and phone number follows]. The topic will be a report on the annual meeting of the Canadian Association for Studies of the Baha’i Faith, held in Vancouver, BC over the New Year’s weekend. Tony Lee and Bob Ballenger have promised a stupifyingly boring review of the conference and papers presented at it.

[END DOCUMENT]

Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.

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. â€?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).