Little Known Facts: The Supreme Institution?

universal-house-of-justice-supreme-institution

It has been a while since we cracked open a case of “Little Known Facts…” but don’t worry, this is a fresh batch.

If you are a Baha’i or have spent enough time around some recently, you may have heard the expression: “the Supreme body” or “the Supreme institution” at least a few times.

In current Baha’i vernacular, this refers to the Universal House of Justice. But where did it come from? and is it accurate? any why is it important to wonder about these questions?

During a recent discussion online at Talisman, the oldest continuous online Baha’i forum, the topic turned to the House of Justice and the quandary of how to distinguish if they are legislating or not. Within the discussion, as is now sadly becoming the norm, someone used the expression to refer to the UHJ.

Your humble scribe interjected:

pardon the digression, but where did this habit of calling the UHJ as
the “supreme body” or “supreme institution” come from?

According to Shoghi Effendi, the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar, is “the crowning institution”. Furthermore, Shoghi Effendi does on to describe the relationship between the Administrative Order and the Mashriq:

“The seat round which its (referring to the AO) spiritual, its humanitarian and administrative activities will cluster are the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar and its Dependencies.”

It was obvious to me that everyone seemed to have simply accepted this title. But what was less obvious was how legitimate it really was.

If we are speaking in generalities, from a rudimentary reading of the Writings about the Administrative Order, it would seem that the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar has a very focal place within the Baha’i community. One, around which, the administrative institutions cluster.

Unfortunately the institution of Mashriqu’l-Adhkhar is totally ignored in the current Baha’i culture. A severe oversight when you actually take the time to read about its importance in the Writings. This error will, I hope, be corrected in the future. But to stick to the topic at hand, why have Baha’is spontaneously started to give this generic title of “supreme body” to the House? and does it have any real significance?

I was delighted when Sen wrote a lengthy reply to my question. You can read it here at Sen’s own blog. Here’s an excerpt:

This usage was not found in the 1960s or 1970s to my knowledge. I think the change in terms used for the UHJ is significant. I think that the shorter terms such as “the Supreme Body” are – usually – a way of indicating that the speaker asserts the UHJ’s ideal supremacy over everything and everybody. Whether that is the intention or not, it will sound that way to hearers.

The same sort of dynamics, an “inflation” of titles and claims, exist in all religious movements that I know of, from New Religious Movements to Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism, and Shiah and Sunni Islam. In all religions, there are minimisers and there are exaggerators, and there is an internal dynamic that favours the exaggerators, so that in the long term the metaphysical claims a religion makes and the titles it uses inflate.

The dynamic that favours the exaggerators is that an exaggeration always appears more pious, even if technically wrong. And what is just “more pious” in this generation, is self-evident orthodoxy for the next. Those who want to seem more fervently pious then have to move up one step of hyperbole.

Another “little known fact”, brought to you by Baha’i Rants, thanks to Sen. The Universal House of Justice is not the “Supreme body” nor the “Supreme institution”.

Fine, you may say, but isn’t this nitpicking or is this really important?

The reason such a distinction is truly important is that language is important. We use words to communicate ideas and concepts. Because of this connection to values, ideas and concepts, words vicariously have tremendous power.

The Guardian, along with the other central figures of the Faith, were wordsmiths and always used precise language – after all, that was their primary tool to act upon the world. How silly do we look if we insist on using a term that wasn’t used by Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi, and neither used by the very institution the term refers to?

Finally, although words do have power, actions are immensely more powerful. If our intention is to show piety, we do ourselves and our communities a disservice if we merely use empty but exaggeratedly pious sounding words:

The essence of faith is fewness of words and abundance of deeds; he whose words exceed his deeds, know verily his death is better than his life.
Baha’u’llah

Oil Plunge Heightens Tensions in Iran

For several years I was reluctant to even consider the possibility of a regime change in Iran. Predominantly because of the high price of oil which allowed the IRI to funnel vast amounts of petro-dollars in order to prop up their decaying government. But the financial crisis that we are all going through now has profound consequences for Iran and by corollary, the Baha’is living there. A recent article from the Wall Street Journal highlights the situation (see below).

iran-flag-crude-oil.pngEven Ahmadinejad can no longer continue his usual anodyne analysis of the situation. Whereas he once claimed that Iran would be fine with oil at $5 a barrel, he is now acknowledging reality, more or less. The fact of the matter is that because of structural challenges, Iran has the highest break-even point for oil. A level many experts put at $70 to $90 a barrel.

Some question that Iran will undergo economic stress pointing to the decline in oil prices during the 1980’s, when the commodity briefly changed hands at single digits. The problem with drawing such comparisons is that they are irrelevant. For one, the severity was less in 1980’s – that is the slope or degree to which prices fell, relative to time, was much slower. This year, prices have fallen to an unprecedented intensity.

As well, Iran’s economy was much smaller back then. Recall that Khomeini pushed policies which encouraged Iranians to have children as well as simply mandating it as piety and loyalty to the Islamic Revolution. As a result, Iran’s population grew from approximately 46 million to 70.5 million. This increase, coupled with the high level of government subsidies for fuel, has seen a growing portion of oil pumped out of the ground consumed inside Iran by gas-guzzling junkers, leaving a smaller and smaller portion to export.

Meanwhile, because of trade embargoes which restrict technology transfers related to military and oil services industries, Iran has been unable to increase its daily oil output by a significant degree. All of this means that Iran is in a much more precarious situation now than it was at the beginning of the Islamic takeover.

The myopic policies of Ahmadinejad also have contributed to a weakened economy. Almost every month economists plead with him to return to a sensible economic plan. But he continues to hand out money, stoking inflation which by the government’s own account is running at 25% and by objective estimates much, much higher.

No one has a crystal ball to see if Iran’s future will be economically turbulent enough to cause the present regime to collapse, but it is obvious now that the country will go through a severely harsh time. I suspect that collapse is a very real possibility given three assumptions: the continued global recession, the continued weakening of crude oil and continued economic isolation from the rest of the world. For more, read the Wall Street Article:

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Sault College Offers Ruhi Course

sault-college-ruhi-course

A community college in Ontario, Canada is offering the Ruhi course. Or at least the first book in the sequence:

In this course you will develop an understanding of the Baha’i writings through three guided segments of the text, Reflections on the Life of the Spirit. Through class discussion and self-reflective exercises you will explore the following areas: Understanding the Baha’i Writings, Prayer, and Life and Death. The workbook, Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, Ruhi Institute can be purchased from the Campus Shop.

Unless I’m mistaken, this is the first time a Ruhi course has been offered by a non-Baha’i educational institution.

EDIT: I’m told by Steve M in the comments below that this isn’t the first instance at all.

This is great news! Now perhaps we can have non-Baha’is take Ruhi while we get on with actually doing something, you know, useful.

What do you think?

Poor Economic Times = Full Churches

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A recent article from the International Herald Tribune on the increase in church attendance that coincides with the economic troubles:

The sudden crush of worshipers packing the small evangelical Shelter Rock Church in Manhasset, New York – a Long Island town of yacht clubs and hedge fund managers – forced the pastor to set up an overflow room with closed-circuit TV and 100 folding chairs, which have been filled for six consecutive Sundays.

In Seattle, the Mars Hill Church, one of the fastest-growing evangelical churches in the country, grew to 7,000 members this fall, up 1,000 in a year. At the Life Christian Church in West Orange, New Jersey, prayer requests have doubled – almost all of them aimed at getting or keeping jobs.

This reminds me of the Pew survey which linked wealth to religiosity. We may be sliding up and to the left on that curve.

Can I get an Amen ?