LA Class Newsletter [#30]

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My Notes:

I found this newsletter a bit dry and boring. But maybe that’s just me. Hope you enjoy it more than I did.

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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[Ed. personal address]
�Land of the Slightly Fat�

Vol. III, No.8
August, 1970

“Hierarchies, Analogies, and Degrees of Reality: A Model,â€? represents an ambitious effort by Betty Conow of Hacienda Heights (a town east of Los Angeles) to set out a Baha’i view of Reality. Her cosmology, based on the Baha’i Writings, presents an approach to explaining existence as an ordered system, describing what is and how it works.

Conow made her presentation to our study class on August 27, as we met in the lavishly appointed environs of Tony Lee’s apartment, renowned for its sumptuous delights including newly installed hot arid cold, running wenches. Her paper was offered to our class, partly in reaction to an earlier class discussion of John S. Hatcher’s essay �The Metaphorical Nature of Physical Reality,� In that paper, originally presented to the Canadian Association for Studies on the Baha’i Faith, Hatcher outlined the reasons that mankind, which is fundamentally spiritual, should have a material plane of existence. The Conow reaction to some of Hatcher’s concepts amounted to an elaborate survey of Reality, as viewed through the vehicle of religion. She asserted that the fundamental purpose of religion is to reveal truth to humanity which it does by showing mankind how to understand Reality.

Here, is a summary of her presentation: (The attached charts and short statement were passed out during the course of the class.)

Once we know the reality of things, we can understand what truth is. Truth is those statements made about the condition of reality. And, Reality is all that exists potentially, presently or in the past. There are two ways of considering reality. One is man’s way, that is, from within the system of the universe as part of it. The other lies outside the system, and it is God’s way. Human knowledge uses its own criteria, learned through intellectual discovery, to judge reality. Religion, however, establishes a different standard.

This presents a formidable problem, especially in contemporary philosophy. For instance, two twentieth-century thinkers, Kurt Godel, a German scientist, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian philosopher, both argued that the language we use to discuss Reality itself limits our inquiry.

Wittgenstein, for example, wrote that when men wish to discuss a concept, say, a chair, they do so not by considering the chair, but through the use of language to describe the object. The use of language involves symbolic representations. And these representations themselves limit the field of inquiry. Wittgenstein argued, therefore, that it is not possible for man to look outside the system in which he lives because his language — the tools of his exploration — limit him in finite terms.

Conow challenged that assertion, countering that one of the roles of the Manifestation of God is to present an �outside view of reality, one that is not constrained by human limitations, riot the limited proofs the mind of man can muster. Her thesis has it that religion, even from ancient times, has presented Reality as existing in various degrees or, as she called them, hierarchies, which stem from one Source which we call God.

Her theme was not an easy one to follow. Consider this passage from the pr?©cis she presented to the class: â€?The created universe of existence, being composed of matter, reflects Reality on different levels, depending upon which material level each created thing occupies in the cosmic hierarchic order. Each level or hierarchy can reflect only certain aspects of Reality dictated by the laws of that particular hierarchy. We, from the vantage point of our own limited conditions, occupy a unique hierarchy which is simultaneously both the lowest and the highest of all Hierarchies. At our level, Reality is the most differentiated, thereby presenting us with an enigma which speaks both of Oneness and its Appearances.

�Science and philosophy interpret these multiplicities as the standard of Truth whereby all truth and knowledge can be known. The material, visible world encloses us in logic based on probabilities and relativities. inside the system, we define it only by the criteria the system itself provides.

Conow’s presentation continued with a section on analogies and. hierarchies. Reality exists within a setting Like a series of Chinese puzzle boxes, each level lodged within a larger level. This order of things resembles the set Theory of science which holds that everything that exists operates in obedience to the rules of a system. For instance, an atom functions within a system which itself is part of a larger system o the molecule, and so on up the line.

Although mankind is part of this system, human knowledge of it can transcend the limits of the levels through the Manifestation. The Prophet, with Divine Knowledge, understands and explains the entire system, helping man become informed of the workings of the material universe. Manifestations explain the Divine workings by using analogy and symbolism in their language. The purpose of such indirect language is to open up humanity’s inner consciousness. Language is not used so much to communicate ideas as it is wielded to achieve a spiritual reflect on the reader.

The model of Reality presented in the Baha’i Faith amounts to a recasting of an older religious model, connecting the finite, material world to the infinite. In an attempt to demonstrate this link, Conow passed out a chart (see diagram) She defined �cosmos� as everything, that exists, either in potential or in reality. (This definition struck one member of the class as being disturbingly close to the definition of Reality.) Within the cosmos is the material universe. God, she said, exists within the cosmos as a Creative Force, a Fashioner of all that is, and outside of it as an unknowable Essence. God than has a �Hidden Aspect�, which we can be told of but do not know of, and a �Manifest Aspect�, the evidences of which exist as the created, material universe.

Our discussion of Mrs. Conow’s presentation proved to be somewhat of a frustrating experience, for her as well as for the class members. For example, on her chart, Conow placed �The Reality of Realities� outside the cosmos. But she had, in response to a question, defined the cosmos as everything, all potential and all that exists. A similar definition had been given to �Reality.� So then, it was asked, how could there be a separate �Reality of Realities� outside of what she already defined as Reality? And what would such a thing be, anyhow? Conow said that the term �Reality of Realities� was used by Abdu’l-Baha, but failed to explain its place in the scheme of things or why she chose to include it as part of her chart.

A similar collapse in communication occurred over the concept of what she called �The Inner Path of Mysticism,� Linking certain enlightened men to God. (See chart.) Essentially, this mystic path is one taken by religious devotees and mystics in an effort to attain unity with God. It is an important concept in Sufi lsam. Baha’u’llah’s work, The Seven Valleys, which traces the journey of the soul back to its Creator, uses the Sufi model of seven stages. Mystics of all stripes, Sufis, Buddhists and the rest, all have claimed to have taken this path (using whatever means their religion prescribed) to attain oneness with God. Baha’is do not believe that such union with divinity is possible. As such it is not possibe to transcend finite limitations to attain a meeting with the infinite.

Still, such a path exists on Conow’s chart and it appears that it leads directly to God. If such is the case, she was asked, why bother with all the rest. What is the use or the Manifestations? Conow replied that, though mystics believe that they have encompassed the whole cosmos within themselves, they have only traveled the path, which is just a small part of the cosmos. So, what is �the path�? And, if it lends directly to God, why bother with anything else?

Class members received no satisfactory answer to this question, partly because Conow said that she did not wish to become trapped in Wittgenstein’s paradox — being hampered by the limits of language used in an argument. In essence, it appeared that she was unwilling to get into an intellectual analysis of her elaborate system. In particular she felt that a precise definition of terms was inappropriate. That, she implied, would eliminate any possibility of understanding what lies outside the material system because the meanings of words torpedo such an exercise.

When her refusal to talk in specifics became clear, discussion was impossible. The Conow thesis was presented on what amounted to a �take it or leave it� basis. At least some of the class members chose the latter course.

ABOUT TRANSITIONS

Our valued class members, Jon and Chris Hendershot have left the Los Angeles area and are pioneering in Venezuela. We wish then well and miss them, especially Chris, who patiently typed up and proofread these newsletters. She denies that an overwhelming desire to escape the tedium of such activities played a major role in the decision to go pioneering.

BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES

Tony Lee, our class leader, has forsaken his life of posh lassitude to become a partner in the newly created publishing firm of �Kalimat Press� based in Los Anqeles. Actually, the company is a partnership between Tony and one other Baha’i. The object of the company is to produce Baha’i-related materials. Tony and his partner feel that an alternative to the Baha’i Publishing Trust in Wilmette is needed in the United States (similar to George Ronald in England).

Right now the company is working on Baha’i children’s materials. But if there are any good manuscripts floating around out there in need of a Baha’i publisher, their starry-eyed authors might write to Kalimat Press, [Ed. business address follows]. (Remember: It never hurts budding authors to be obsequious.)

YES THERE WILL BE A NEXT CLASS:

Dr. Daniel Jordan, member and chairman at the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States, recently moved to California with his family. His Anisa program, an approach to education based on Baha’i principles, has moved with him. At our next class Dr. Jordan will speak about Anisa and the Baha’i view of childhood education.

The class will be held. on Saturday evening, September 23rd at 8 P.M. at the home of Sidney and Karan Morrison. The address is: [Ed. personal address and telephone follows]

See you all there !

HIERARCHIES, ANALOGIES, THE DEGREES OF REALITY
A MODEL

Click to make bigger:

mysteries-of-reality-conow

Click to make bigger:

reality-conow

This presentation covers two ways of looking at Reality–from inside our system, or man’s way and from outside the system, God’s Way, or Revealed Religion. The mainstream of Revealed Religion and the ancient religious traditions have all presented Reality as existing in degrees, gradients, or hierarchies, emanating from the Undifferentiated Whole as One Reality. The created universe or existence being composed of matter, reflects Reality on different levels, depending upon which material level each created thing occupies in the cosmic hierarchic order. Each level or hierarchy can reflect only certain aspects of Reality dictated by the laws of that particular hierarchy. We, from the vantage point of our own limited conditions occupy a unique hierarchy which is simultaneously both the lowest and the highest of all hierarchies. At our level, Reality is the most differentiated thereby presenting us with an enigma which speaks both of Oneness and Appearances, Science and philosophy interpret these multiplicities as the standard of Truth whereby all truth and knowledge can be known. The material, visible world encloses us In logic based on probabilities and relativities. Inside the system, we define it only by the criteria the system itself provides.

If the Holy Teachers did not exist, there would be no way to make any statements about anything outside our system. All knowledge of the non-visible or the Divine Spiritual World comes from these Holy Beings. They alone experienced, lived in, and shared with humanity the living Reality behind all realities. With knowledge from that World They were able to establish the relationships and correspondences that exist between the Spiritual World and the created universe of phenomena, They explained the motions, the energies, and the forces which manifest themselves eternally as Universal Laws in both worlds. Through Their religions they balance our laws as social beings so that the two-worlds may be in harmony and connected,

8/22/78
Betty Conow

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The original scanned documents can be found here.