LA Study Class Newsletter [#8]

My Notes:This edition of the newsletter contains the first attempt to broach Biblical topics within the class – specifically, Paul’s pattern of composition in I Corinthians. As well, there is a restatement of the general guiding principles of the group for those who have recently joined. The guiding principles are important foundations for any intelligent and fruitful discussion and I can understand why they are repeated here. Most Baha’is (then, as now) have a sense that they shouldn’t ask hard questions nor stray from that which is generally accepted for fear that others (individual Baha’is as well as institutions) think that their faith is suspect. Therefore, there is a real need to establish these basic principles as given before proceeding.

Before proceeding, 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. home address removed]
January 26, 1977

Dear Baha’i Friends,Jon Hendershot of Manhattan Beach made the main presentation at the Baha’i study group meeting of January 23. His talk was on Paul’s pattern of composition and use of symbols in the 15th chapter of I Corinthians.

Jon noted that many Baha’is blame Paul for the conception that many modern Christians have of a literal descent from a literal heaven of Christ’s physically-resurrected body. In I Corinthians 15, for instance, this impression is given since Paul asserts Christ’s resurrection before discussions of the afterlife and the return of Christ and the setting up [of] the Kingdom of God on earth. Between these two subjects come these famous lines: “As in Adam all men die so in Christ will all be brought to life; but each in his own place. Christ the firstfruits, and afterwards, at his coming , those who belong to Christ.” The literal interpretation of these line is further enforced by Paul’s assertion that true Christians at Christ’s second coming will be “clothed with immortality”without physically dying.

For Baha’is, Paul’s message is not confusing. He asserts that there is an afterlife where souls exist after the body dies. Christ was resurrected spiritually to that Kingdom. The return of Christ is described symbolically. Adam is a symbol for man’s lower nature, while Christ is a symbol for man’s higher nature. Through Christ’s perfections, individuals can attain to the higher nature.

What makes I Corinthians 15 confusing is the juxtaposition of a discussion of the afterlife and the return of Christ with the symbols of Christ and Adam sandwiched in between. With all of these subjects on top of each other, the whole chapter has a phantasmagorical effect. Certainly, this pattern is deliberate in asmuch as Paul follows it twice within the space of I Corinthians 15 alone. The question is: why does Paul do this? Does he seek to befuddle or mislead his readers, or is there method in his madness.

Jon asserted that there are two reasons for Paul’s pattern. First, the afterlife and the Kingdom of God on earth, that is to be established at Christ’s second coming, are analogous subjects in Paul’s mind. This was demonstrated by showing that these two subjects plus two others — the soul and the Christian church — were all individually (and perhaps collectively) symbolized for Paul by the single image of Christ’s crucifiction and resurrection. Paul writes that we must all “crucify” “the lower natures” (Galatians 5:22-25) and take on the spiritual perfections of the higher nature. Elsewhere (Romans 12:5), he calls all Christians and Christ all together “one body.” Christ’s church and the soul are prefigurations of both the Kingdom of God (the afterlife) and the Kingdom of God on earth. All these, then, are analogical subjects, and it is logical for Paul to treat two of them together, since each one reflects on the other.

The second reason for Paul’s pattern of composition is that it is modeled after an Old Testament method of composition. Drawing ideas and materials from A. C. Charity’s Events and Their Afterlife, Jon noted that some Old Testament prophets used the merging of analogical past, near past and future events or situations in the present to stimulate spiritual change in the reader. The most evoked event was the Exodus, where the Jews were compelled to either accept or reject God’s Will. The future event that was contrasted with the Exodus was the Judgement, where spiritual life or death would be decided. This promise from Isaiah 11:11-15 is also germane to a parallel future event: “Yahweh will extend his hand . . . and there will be a highway from Assyria for the remnant which is left of his people, as there was for Israel when they came up from the land of Egypt.” Both Old Testament scripture and rituals impinge analogical past and future events on the present to create moments of heightened feeling that motivate the individual to obey God and strive for spiritual perfections, instead of living solely on a natural plane.

Paul follows this pattern in I Corinthians 15 by invoking figures who made past spiritual decisions (Adam failed, while Christ succeeded) between two eschatological moments (future events — the afterlife and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth). That this is to have a beneficial spiritual impact on the reader is made explicit by these lines: “Make no mistake: ‘bad company is the ruin of a good character.’ Come back to a sober and upright life and leave your sinful ways.” (I Corinthians 15 :33-34)

Some criticisms were made by the study group. It was pointed out that A.C. Charity’s views on
“primitive religions” were accepted too readily by the speaker and were superflous to the main thrust of the talk. Furthermore, it was suggested that ritual and scripture have other roles than the one discussed. There was also some disagreement over how much Judaism emphasised as a future event the coming of the Lord of Hosts and the establishment of an earthly righteous kingdom.

Back to the Basics Dept.: Over the weeks since these classes began last november we’ve picked up a good many new names on the mailing list (more about that below) . So, we thought it would be a good idea to restate for those who just joined us (hello out there) that our Baha’i study group meets every other week (more or less) to take on various topics. In recent meetings we have pondered and argued about myth and ritual in the Baha’i Faith (both exist, though many Baha’is would heatedly deny this), the effects of religion on personality and we have undertaken a critical analysis of an article in a recent “World Order” magazine by Denis MacEoin, a British Baha’i scholar, writing on “The Concept of Nation in Islam”. And, we have traced, using non-Baha’i sources, the fate of a band of covenant breakers in Akka (would you believe . . . they opened a used camel lot in Qatar? would you believe it was a falafel stand in Islamabad? No? Well, then, how about a pizzaburger joint in Fresno? )

With so many new faces showing up and new names on the mailing list , it ought to be restated that the approach of the class is academic and intellectual, in the best sense of those terms. We hope to help dispel some of the all-too-common bits of misinformation about the Baha’i Faith perpetrated by (one assumes) well-meaning but poorely deepened Baha’is. We go about our task in no organized, nor are we crusaders . We expect those who attend the classes (and everyone who can is encouraged to do so) to prepare topics for discussion, and this will involve some research.

There are only a few groundrules to our discussions: (1) No topics are taboo. We’ve thrashed out covenant breaking and its implications and its causes.We’ve wondered aloud about whether certain passages in the Kitab-i-Aqdas are sexist. In short, there are no questions which cannot be expressed openly and bluntly. (2) No one’s commitment to the Baha’i Faith can be questioned. We enter these classes as Baha’is with a common commitment to its beliefs which is above challenge or suspicion. Statements made and positions taken are done so in good faith. We may be wrong — indeed, expect to be in error on occasion — but no one is to be considered subversive for taking an unpopular or offbeat stance. (3) Ideas and viewpoints inevitably will differ, and ought to. All those who present papers should expect that their ideas will be challenged and ought to be ready to support them with evidence acceptable to others.

Last time we held an impromptu analysis of how the classes have been going so far and seemed to agree they were more informal and less radical than at the beginning. But perhaps compensating for this is the fact that we have aggressively attacked old concepts and, along the way generated, an excitement about deepening that makes the old style pass-the-book-around class seem Neanderthal by comparison. There are still some rough spots. Too often those who attend the classes find themselves in the position of having to react to someone else’s paper without having any familiarity with the subject matter. That puts everyone at a disadvantage. We are trying to make future discussions include suggested reading s to help the listeners understand the intent of each topic.

Speaking of topics we are canvassing for a volunteer to present one. Class members thought it was time we had a discussion and review of the almost seven-year period when the Baha’i Faith was without official leadership. From November, 1957, when Shoghi Effendi died, until April, 1963, when the first Universal House of Justice was elected, the Baha’i Faith passed through one of its most critical periods. How the upper level leadership functioned and an analysis of what happened, and why, is something we like to hear about. Any takers? If so, contact Tony Lee.

Nuts and Bolts Dept. : ok, gang, we got problems. Our mailing list is now up to 40+ names and the expense of it all has devolved on Tony like a 253-pound lady plopping down for a picnic lunch. Those who have atteneded the classes in person have kicked in some money. It hasn’t been nearly enough, and its unfair to depend on them. The duplication and mailing costs of these summaries come to about $20 per issue. Class members decided, after discussing the matter, to charge for these letters. So, it will now cost you $1 per month to remain on the mailing list. That should offset the cost of sending these out. We hate to sound ruthless, but those who do not pay (and mail your money; checks, no cash please, to Tony Lee, whose address appears at the beginning of this missive) will be dropped from the subscriber list. EXCEPTION: the mailing fee will NOT apply to anyone on the list who resides outside of the continental United States. Persons living overseas who reveive these summaries will continue to be subsidized. The rest of us can consider that an inducement to go pioneering.

NEXT MEETING: will take place (God willing, and the [Ed. best estimate of word:] crik don’t rise) at 11 am on Saturday, Feb. 5, 1977. Location: the palatial realms and sumptuous delights of Dinny and Mandy Gronich [Ed. personal home address and phone number follows]. Dinny urges all those planning to attend to consult a map beforehand. He tried to explain how to get there, but wound up mumbling “Actually, you can’t get there from here.” Very reassuring. Mark your calendars and remember the time and location. Bonnie Barnes was to have presented her paper on “A Baha’i Theory of Personality”, but requested an extention of time. So, instead Tony Lee will review the relation of the Faith to politics. We talked about this some at the last meeting and discovered there is a lot of cofusion about this point. For instance, one class member told how she was instructed by a local assembly where she used to drop out of the local National Organization of Women (NOW) chapter in which she was a member. The assembly members thought that NOW qualified as a political organization. They were wrong; it doesn’t. Tony suggest that everyone read the relevant passages about politics in the World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp.64-65 and whatever might apply to the topic which appears in Baha’i Administration. Bonnie Barnes’ presentation will be re-scheduled for a future class. The next meeting. . . uh. . .that is, the meeting after the next one will take place at 2 pm Sunday, Feb. 20, 1977 at Jon and Chris Hendershot’s [Ed. personal address follows]. Greg Wahlstrom will present a paper on the calamity. Passports, prayer books, Geiger counters and flame-proof attire are advised.

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Links:

The original scanned documents can be found here.