Knowledge, Volition and Action: Unraveling Secrets

Knowledge, Volition and Action: Unraveling Secrets

Young man in prayerful attitudeO God, O Thou Who hast cast Thy splendour over the luminous realities of men, shedding upon them the resplendent lights of knowledge and guidance, and hast chosen them out of all created things for this supernal grace, and hast caused them to encompass all things, to understand their inmost essence, and to disclose their mysteries, bringing them forth out of darkness into the visible world! “He verily showeth His special mercy to whomsoever He will.” 

O Lord, help Thou Thy loved ones to acquire knowledge and the sciences and arts, and to unravel the secrets that are treasured up in the inmost reality of all created beings. Make them to hear the hidden truths that are written and embedded in the heart of all that is. Make them to be ensigns of guidance amongst all creatures, and piercing rays of the mind shedding forth their light in this, the “first life”. Make them to be leaders unto Thee, guides unto Thy path, runners urging men on to Thy Kingdom.

Thou verily art the Powerful, the Protector, the Potent, the Defender, the Mighty, the Most Generous.   — Abdu’l-Bahá 

oOo

The above quote is a Bahá’í prayer. It may seem unusual to some readers that a religion would encourage its adherents to pray for scientific knowledge, but Bahá’u’lláh does exactly that and this prayer given to Bahá’ís by His son, Abdu’l-Bahá, is evidence of it.

The seeds of the Bahá’í regard for education and the acquisition of knowledge were planted with this early effusion from the pen of Bahá’u’lláh.

O SON OF SPIRIT! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. 

 (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, v 2)

Higgs, Baby!

With this brief verse, Bahá’u’lláh establishes the importance of education, which is critical to a person’s ability to understand themselves and their world first-hand. The independent investigation of truth—a central tenet of the Faith—goes hand in hand with a commitment to acquiring the knowledge necessary to accomplish this goal. Bahá’u’lláh counsels us to

Strain every nerve to acquire both inner and outer perfections, for the fruit of the human tree hath ever been and will ever be perfections both within and without. It is not desirable that a man be left without knowledge or skills, for he is then but a barren tree. Then, so much as capacity and capability allow, ye needs must deck the tree of being with fruits such as knowledge, wisdom, spiritual perception and eloquent speech.  (From a Tablet of Bahá’u’lláh – translated from the Persian)

There is a purpose to this acquisition of knowledge. It is intended to unify. Rather like those pro-education commercials that used to run on TV, Bahá’u’lláh suggests that the more you know, the more progress you will make as a society.

Man is the supreme Talisman. Lack of a proper education hath, however, deprived him of that which he doth inherently possess. Through a word proceeding out of the mouth of God he was called into being; by one word more he was guided to recognize the Source of his education; by yet another word his station and destiny were safeguarded. The Great Being saith: Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom. If any man were to meditate on that which the Scriptures, sent down from the heaven of God’s holy Will, have revealed, he would readily recognize that their purpose is that all men shall be regarded as one soul, so that the seal bearing the words “The Kingdom shall be God’s” may be stamped on every heart, and the light of Divine bounty, of grace, and mercy may envelop all mankind.”   (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings CXXII)

This passage states a real-world goal of education: “that all men shall be regarded as one soul”. Bahá’u’lláh regarded education and the acquisition of knowledge as a prerequisite for human unity and world peace. His son, Abdu’l-Bahá, enlarged on this during his speaking tour of the US and Europe 100 years ago, and suggests why knowledge can play a key role in establishing unity.

Bahá’u’lláh has announced that inasmuch as ignorance and lack of education are barriers of separation among mankind, all must receive training and instruction. Through this provision the lack of mutual understanding will be remedied and the unity of mankind furthered and advanced. Universal education is a universal law…. 

(The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 300)

Bahá’ís believe that knowledge is essential to the progress of the individual and the larger communities of which the individual is a part. But this knowledge must bear fruit, for that is the goal of every human life. Hence, Abdu’l-Bahá also warns of the negative results of a lack of education, which we see in the world around us every day: ignorant prejudice, irrational fear, distrust and demonization of the “other”, scientific ignorance, etc.

In The Secret of Divine Civilization, he writes:

The primary, the most urgent requirement is the promotion of education. It is inconceivable that any nation should achieve prosperity and success unless this paramount, this fundamental concern is carried forward. The principal reason for the decline and fall of peoples is ignorance. Today the mass of the people are uniformed even as to ordinary affairs, how much less do they grasp the core of the important problems and complex needs of the time.

(The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 109)

gardenofedenConsider the relevance of these words at a time in which even the elected leaders of some nations revile science as evil. Consider its relevance when roughly half of Americans claim to believe in a literal reading of the creation story in Genesis, putting their beliefs in conflict with the sciences of geology, physics, paleontology and archaeology (to name but a few) and with the God-given capacity for reason that their own scriptures call upon them to use when judging truth from fiction.

More importantly, consider its relevance in a society in which at least that many people fear that more scientific knowledge will undermine their faith—pull the spiritual rug out from under their feet. When I was 19 I faced that fear first hand and found my fear to be unfounded. Certainly, an increased knowledge of science undermined very dogmas held to be true by the various churches I attended as a child, but it never violated by so much as a grain of mustard seed (a favorite measure used by Christ) the core principles of faith as set forth in scripture.

Abdu’l-Bahá suggests that if it seems science and religion are in conflict, then we are not seeing a true representation of one of both. It is our perceptions and expectations that are in error. Perhaps we have come to view a religious text as a scientific statement or we have begun to give science the attributes of a belief system.

Food for thought.

Next time: Knowledge and purpose

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48 thoughts on “Knowledge, Volition and Action: Unraveling Secrets

  1. Yes, the Baha’i Faith too should finally acknowledge that we are descended from ancient apes, and so we are closely related to modern apes, rather than stick with the dogma that we are an independent creation, on a totally separate line of evolution from the other animals, and not related to them.

    1. This comment made me give a Minion-style “Whaaaaaaaat?”

      The talks and writings of Abdu’l-Baha make it pretty clear that our bodies are animal bodies, descended, as you note from a common ancestor with other primates. While Ardipithicus Ramidus threw a monkey wrench in the works of evolutionary scholars who “believed” that the separation of the branch came much earlier than previously thought, the Baha’i Faith “doctrine” on this (and I use the term loosely for several reasons) is that Baha’is should believe what science and reason tell them. Our goal is to have an understanding of reality.

      That includes human reality, which the Baha’i sacred texts tell us is a duality. We are, as CS Lewis has noted, spiritual beings having a physical experience. While we are 99% plus like our closest relatives—the bonobos—bonobos are not “almost people”. They are animals. What Baha’is believe is that while the bodies we possess are completely animal, the human spirit is not. He has referred to us as children of the half-light—in part mirrors of or receptacles for a divine spark which Baha’u’llah refers to as the “rational soul”, and in part animals learning to be fully human. Without that rational soul, we would be very much like our cousins.

      1. Look at Abdul-Baha’s book Some Answered Questions. For example on page 184 he writes “Man was always a distinct species, a man, not an animal”. In fact the whole chapter attempts to prove that while man has evolved, he was always a distinct species.
        And look at Matthews’s book The Challenge of Baha’u’llah. There this Baha’i author writes of a prophecy of Abdul-Baha, that science will never find a missing link between people and apes. Abdul-Baha told an audience at Stanford in 1912 “The lost link of Darwinian theory is itself a proof that man is not an animal… It will never be found”. Yet science has found ancient ape fossils of a few million years old that look like they might be ancestral to both modern apes and people. So it has found some missing links, so Abdul-Baha’s prophecy has failed, in spite of Matthew’s claim that the prophecy has not failed. And likewise Abdul-Baha’s claim that we have always been a distinct species, has turned out to be false.

        1. If what makes us human is the rational soul, then Abdu’l-Baha is absolutely right and this is not a prophecy, but a statement of fact. There are no “almost human” animals on the planet. Not even our closest relations, the bonobos, who share almost 100% of our DNA are “almost human”. A human couple cannot adopt a bonobo baby and raise to be nearly human in behavior or intellect. It’s been tried. Their intelligence is qualitatively different.

          We can’t find a missing link for something that is non-physical in nature. The closest we can come, if I understand Abdu’l-Baha’s words about the physical “perfections” of the human form attracting the rational soul, is to find a fossil whose structure is very similar to our own. We cannot find a fossil soul to tell us whether that being was of the human or animal kingdom. In order to know that, we’d have to look at ancillary information, I would think, such as whether the lifeform’s behavior was human or animal in nature,

          I think part of the problem lies in the translation of the notes from Abdu’l-Baha’s talks. I’m not sure what word he used that was translated “species” but I do know that in other circumstances it was translated “kingdom” and also that he clearly states that at one time we may have had primate or even reptilian form but we were always potentially human.

          1. You need to check Some Answered Questions, chapter 47, carefully, there Abdu’l-Baha writes mainly about our biological evolution, he does say that our species did change its form over time, did not look like people originally, but still we were always people, never animals. So false. Abdu’l-Baha might have had some wisdom about religion, but he did not know that much about biology. For example on page 187 he claims “the sight of animals is more keen than the sight of man”. Now that is true of some animals, like eagles, but many other animals see much worse than people, and some animals don’t see at all. Several phyla of animals, for example sponges, have separated from us before the evolution of eyes, some subterranean animals have lost sight, have degenerate eyes, others have somewhat degenerate eyes, but they see a little. The various worm phyla have only simple eyes, not compound or lens eyes, so they don’t see very clearly, can’t estimate distance for example. Many animals have no color vision, just see black, white and gray, so colors are just different shades of gray to them. Many animals have their eyes on the sides of head, with no overlap of vision between the eyes, so they don’t have the advantage that we have, of being able to judge distances very well.

          2. Tom, I have read SAQ over many many times over the years. I understand what you’re saying. But I also know that there are other places in his talks (some even in the same book) in which Abdu’l-baha makes it clear that we came up through the animal creation. That our bodies are animal bodies that had to have evolved through even more primitive forms. He does not equivocate. And this is why, I am rather eagerly awaiting the retranslation of SAQ that has been ongoing for several years. Neither the original note-taker nor the translator of SAQ were scientists. And Abdu’l-Bahas overarching guidance on this is also clear. What science proves (or at least provides a preponderance of evidence for) is what must form our understanding of the physical world. Period.

            But I think, that, again, his point is lost. What makes us uniquely human is not the physical vehicle or its complexity, but the fact that that incredibly complex vehicle has a driver’s seat into which God saw fit to deposit us.

            I would have to be God in order to determine what is ultimately meant by Abdu’l-Baha’s assertion that, whatever form we took and whatever branch of whichever trunk we sprang from, we were always (at least potentially) human.

            I wish we could get Lisa to bring her formidable talents to bear on this thread.

          3. That should be interesting, a retranslation of SAQ. I wonder if the Baha’i translators will try to make Abdu’l-Baha seem more scientific, to try to look more credible. Like translations of the Bible can be biased. What is needed then is a neutral translation, by somebody neither a Baha’i nor someone hostile to Baha’i Faith.

          4. The translators will try to get it as close to an accurate concept for concept, word for word translation as they can. It’s entirely possible that they will use some non-Baha’i translators on the team—since Shoghi Effendi died, the House of Justice uses a team of translators who also check everything against Shoghi Effendi’s translations of key words and concepts.

            The archives at the World Center are not Baha’i only. The Center for the study of the Scriptures is there for scholars in general, as I understand it.

            What they are most interested in is accuracy and authenticity. Only a couple of years ago, the scholars at the world center removed one of the global Baha’i community’s favorite prayers from the prayerbook because it could not be authenticated as having been written by Abdu’l-Baha. So, I know they’re above the sort of “aw, it’s such nice prayer, let ’em keep it” sentiment.

            I don’t think they need to make Abdu’l-Baha sound more scientific. I don’t think that’s the problem. I think the problem is the English language (at least) doesn’t have the words for some of the concepts we’re now confronting in the realms of both divine and material physics.

          5. Yes, Maya, it can be that the Baha’i translators will try to translate accurately. But no person is beyond influence of subconscious or conscious bias. For example the Bible translators try to be accurate. Yet trinitarian translators will prefer to translate several verses as Jesus being God, even though that is not necessarily what the Greek text says, several relevant verses are ambiguous about it, and a couple of verses depend on what ancient manuscript you use. Or the verses in Matthew about divorce, where Jesus says if a man divorces a woman, except for fornication, and marries another, he commits adultery. So since the words ‘except for fornication’ are puzzling, there are translators that try to be helpful and translate ‘except for adultery’, since they believe dogmatically that divorce is valid only for adultery. Other translators think, based on Mark, Luke and 1 Corinthians, that no divorce is valid, so one translation says ‘except if the marriage is unlawful’. After all, an unlawful marriage, whether due to incest or age under consent or whatever, is fornication, and has to be annulled. They try to make the verse be more understandable, and so make it less literal, and so less accurate, even if more understandable.

          6. There’s a distinct difference, though, Tom between what Bible translators are asked to do and what translators of Baha’i scripture are asked to do. In the case of the writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdul-Baha, the original text still exists in the hand of the Authors in the original language(s) that They spoke and wrote in. There is no question about whether Baha’u’llah used a particular Arabic or Farsi word to refer to something; the word is there, in Arabic or Farsi, in Baha’u’llah’s own writing. Bible translators are often called upon to determine what christ said from two or three transcripts, none of which are in the language He actually spoke. This is not the case with the Baha’i texts.

            In the case of collected talks, the original Arabic transcripts are available. Where they are not, the documents are considered to be Pilgrim’s notes—that is, these are unauthenticated statements from one of the Central Figures of the Faith. At best, they are paraphrasings of what the Speaker said. And where this is the case, the translators have, so far, been scrupulous about explaining the circumstances under which the notes or transcripts were made.

            I would expect that same careful attention to detail to continue. That people have their own preferences and influences is why the translations are not done by one person, but by a team of people and why that team takes such precautions as referring back to Shoghi Effendi’s word usages, referring back to the context in which the Speaker or Author used the words or phrases previously, etc. This is one of the reasons that it takes so long to achieve an authoritative translation.

          7. It is true, Maya, that sometimes biblical manuscripts differ, presenting a problem about which text is more accurate in the verse. That is true with a couple of verses, concerning the deity or non-deity of Christ. But most of the relevant verses are disputed because they are ambiguous. For example John 1:1 can be translated “… and the Word was God”, or it can be equally translated “… and the Word was a god”. The Greek does not have a definite article before God in this case, so it can be just as easily translated as “God” or as “a god”. Or in Hebrews 1:8, the Greek is ambiguous, it can be translated “But of the Son: Your throne, O God, is forever and ever”. That is the translation preferred by believers in the deity of Christ. But it can be equally understood as “But of the Son: God is your throne forever and ever.” There is an ambiguity in the Greek grammar which makes both translations possible. And of course those who believe Christ is not God, prefer the second translation. I know enough ancient Greek to understand the issues. And likewise other verses are ambiguous. So that sure makes translation difficult, and the bias of the translator asserts itself. And that is even though all the ancient manuscripts agree on what the Greek words are.
            With the divorce passages in Matthew, the problem is not ambiguity, the text is clear in all manuscripts, it says except for fornication. The problem is how to explain it to the reader, is it adultery, or is it an unlawful, fornicating marriage. The best translators leave it a puzzle, translating it: except for fornication. But other translators want to convey the meaning, so their bias influences how they translate it. Of course you are right, that Jesus was not speaking there in Greek, but probably in Aramaic. But the more conservative Christians believe that the text is inspired and inerrant in Greek, even though it is a translation of what Jesus said. In other words, God guided the translation of the speeches from Aramaic to Greek, producing an inerrant text. So it is supposed to be reliable in Greek. But anyway, most Christians feel that the translations from Greek to English or other modern languages, are not inerrant, not guided by God, so then many feel that the text is inerrant only in the original languages, like Greek in the New Testament. Though there are Christians who claim that the King James Version was guided by God, so it is infallible in English in the King James Version. And of course the KJV is a Protestant translation, favoring the idea that Jesus is God.

        2. Hi Tom:

          I did an award-winning article examining these issues (with Courosh Mehanian) in the Journal of Baha’i Studies several years ago that addresses these questions in detail (do a search on Religion and Evolution Reconciled: ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Comments on Evolution for a PDF).

          We can talk about the details later, but the salient point has to do with reality of man – is it is soul and consciousness or is it the material “matrix”?

          Its true that many people want to interpret Some Answered Questions as you suggest, an interpretation driven by assumptions that the world – and therefore fundamental aspects of reality – are of material origin.

          If you abandon those assumptions – as `Abdul-Baha urges us to do – then the reality of the “seed” from which we derive (which goes back even before biological life) is an immaterial thing, not just a material configuration. Our human nature is there – of course – potentially all along.

          We can go into details later. And yes, this is a common misinterpretation of SAQ. But, when you examine what Abdu’l Baha says in depth – we spent months and months – it is absolutely eye-opening.

          Stephen

          Stephen Friberg

          1. Interesting. If your interpretation is correct, then those chapters in SAQ are badly written, too easily misinterpreted. Or as Maya suggests, mistranslated and a new translation is necessary.

    2. Hi Tom

      I am not a biologist so cannot articulate one theory verses another, hence this is my last comment on this subject, but there seems to be new theories that give a new perspective on this subject.

      here is the first line of an article “New Theory of Cell Evolution Rejects Single-Ancestor Doctrine”

      “Instead of one universal evolutionary tree, picture a three-trunk stand sharing a communal root system.”

      article:

      https://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=new-theory-of-cell-evolut

      PS The pioneer of this ‘new’ theory seems to be a well respected scientist,

        1. Of the 3 trunks of Woese’s theory, we are on the same trunk as bamboo, the eucaryote trunk. And certainly we have a lot more in common with bamboo and other plants, than we have with bacteria or archaea. Except that the mitochondria in our cells, bamboo cells and other eucaryote cells, do seem to have origin among bacteria or archaea.

      1. Bahram, yes, I am familiar with Woese’s theory. And horizontal gene transfer does happen, especially among unicellular organisms, so the 3 trunks of life (bacteria, archaea, and eucaryotes) do exchange genes. But to be able to exchange genes, they have to be related, so I do believe they have a common origin. Anyway, there is plenty of evidence that eucaryotes have originated by some form of symbiosis involving perhaps both bacteria and archaea. In any case, both apes and humans are examples of eucaryotes, so we are on the same trunk of life as apes. So certainly Woese does not think that we of different origin than apes.

    3. Hi Tom:

      We’ve run out of space for replies, so I’m trying to revive our discussion here:

      On July 26, 2013 at 8:22 pm you had written:

      “Interesting. If your interpretation is correct, then those chapters in SAQ are badly written, too easily misinterpreted. Or as Maya suggests, mistranslated and a new translation is necessary.”

      Yes, indeed, those are three possible interpretations. My thinking is more complicated.

      1. Are they badly written? Actually, they were not written at all, but were spoken in informal conversation and transcribed. But their succinctness and non-formal or non-philosophical flavor has make them extraordinarily accessible and popular. So they are much closer to dialogue or conversation – think Socrates or Hume.

      2. Are they too easily misinterpreted? I don’t know about “too easily” but they are easily misinterpreted. I’ve seen people who were extremely knowledgeable about some of the background issues misread them completely on causal reading – so yes, they are easily misinterpreted.

      3. Are they mistranslated? There is a new translation in the works, but I would disagree about their being mistranslated. I would say that the translation can sometimes be misleading and archaic but they are not mistranslated. Especially about evolution, there should be a wide canvassing of the statements in the Baha’i Faith on the topic, not just extrapolation from a single statement or phrase. And this is on no lesser authority than that of Shoghi Effendi, the guardian of the Cause.

      My own opinion is that they are extraordinarily powerful comments in a very succinct, compact form. For me, they are like many things in the Baha’i Writings – they can be revisited very profitably again and again and again.

      It has been said that revelation is like a seed – its only when the tree and its fruit are revealed in the fullness of time that you can fully understand what is written. These dialogues in SAQ have been like that for me – they have reflected back at me both what I thought to be true and a challenge to what I thought to be true and have forced me to rethink. And this has not just happened once or twice, but repeatedly as I try to understand them. Thee whole process was – and is – a powerful dialectic that opened – and opens – new vistas of thought shows the limitations of what was once widely accepted as a commonplace truth.

      Stephen

      1. Hi Stephen, I would suppose that if they are so easily misinterpreted, then they were badly composed, which I suppose is easier to compose badly when they were just talks, answers to questions put to Abdul-Baha, and not prepared edited writings, where a person can put more thought into it, write it slowly and carefully. But I am guessing that also their non-formal, non-philosophical flavor, makes them more accessible to the reader, which could explain their popularity. I found my copy in a bookstore, a normal secular bookstore, maybe Barnes and Noble. So I was wondering why it is so popular, after all, it is not by a Manifestation of God, but by Abdul-Baha, so I would have thought it has less sacredness, maybe less authority. But it sure has some memorable passages, unlike the other scripture book I bought later, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, which tends to be rather bland. I wonder why they published Gleanings, rather than a complete scripture book. I suppose some complete scripture books are available from Baha’i publishers, but I bought just what I saw in a bookstore. And I have read somewhere that not all the Baha’i scriptures have been translated into English. I guess you have a lot of scripture, and some still not available, unless you speak Arabic or Farsi. I know only very few words in Arabic and Farsi, so I can’t read them anyway, even if I convert to the Baha’is Faith, so my interest in reading all the scriptures would increase. I read well only in English and Czech, and quite well in Slovak, but I would guess even far less has been translated into Czech and Slovak anyway.

        1. Gleanings, bland? Now that’s one that’s hard to fathom. Gleanings is, first of all, a compilation of tablets chosen by Shoghi Effendi that are arranged in four sections that deal with such subjects as the nature of God and Manifestation, the nature of the Soul, principles for world civilization, and the application of those principles. Bland is not a word I would ever associate with it. I have worn out more copies of Gieanings than I have Seven Valleys and Four Valleys (Bahau’llah’s foremost mystical writing).

          I find that Gleanings has the answers to most of the questions I asked about life the universe and everything and most of the questions I find myself answering.

          Some of the passages have affected me so profoundly that they’ve inspired me to write music. Perhaps that is in part because I read it differently than I would say, a book of fiction or a treatise on physics. Or perhaps because my soul resonates differently. Gleanings has left me breathless, moved me to tears and surprised laughter as (perhaps after a number of readings) I reach a new level of comprehension.

          My husband found Baha’u’llah’s voice of authority off-putting. His response to the Kitab-i-Iqan, which was significant to my own journey with the Faith, was: “Who does this guy think he is?” His response to Abdu’l-Baha, however, was radically different. Abdu’l-Baha’s unconditional love and gentleness were what prompted him to a deeper study of Baha’u’llah’s teachings. He was an atheist when he first read Baha’i sacred texts. It was a great surprise to me when he told me he had come to believe that Baha’u’llah was who He claimed to be. Could’ve knocked me over with a feather.

          You commented in another thread about your own spiritual journey. I found it interesting in its at least surface similarity with a client I had who was raised in a Communist country. His parents were secretly Jewish. My client came out of his childhood experience as a professing atheist, but with a deep conviction that something had been stolen from him. Choice, certainly—his parent’s faith, too. He is alternately stridently atheistic and desperately wanting God to exist which, given the events of his life in the Soviet Union is not surprising. My own greatgrandparents fled Poland at about the time things were becoming uncomfortable for people with religious beliefs. My grandmother and father were both raised with Catholicism, but my father became a Protestant at some point—possibly after he met my mother. I’ve bounced around through different churches my whole life because of my mother’s impatience with church dogma. If I could state a set of guidance that summed up my mother’s philosophy it was: 1) Always question the authority of men; 2) never question the authority of God. 3) When in doubt, read the scriptures and try to make sense of them in context with what you know—if you talk to the pastor, refer to #1.

          This is why I am less interested in theological opinions about Christ or Baha’u’llah or any other Manifestation and more interested in what they have to say about themselves.

        2. Tom, there’s a lot more than just Gleanings translated into English and a host of other languages, probably including Slovak. You could check with the National Baha’i Distribution Service. I believe Slovakia has a Baha’i National Spiritual Assembly, I know the Czech Republic does which means they probably have their own publishing trusts as well.

          Re Baha’u’llah’s writings, the first translations we had were done by His great grandson, Shoghi Effendi who was a native speaker of Persian and who was educated at Oxford and spoke and loved English as well. Since his passing, the House of Justice has taken the utmost care in translating and authenticating the writings that we have, lacking the particular skill and intimate knowledge of Baha’u’llah’s message that Shoghi Effendi had.

          We have volumes of His complete tablets, including the Kitab-i-Aqdas (book of laws) the Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys, The Hidden Words, Gems of Divine Mysteries, Tabernacle of Unity, the Book of Certitude (which is His commentary on the prophecies and doctrines of Judaism, Christianity and Islam), The Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, and others. We also have all of His letters to the secular and religious leaders of the world at His time (including Pope Pius the 9th, Czar Alexander and Napoleon III. Other books are collections of His letters to individuals who wrote to ask Him questions. The same is true of Abdu’l-Baha. Besides the record of His talks, we also have The Secret of Divine Civilization, Memorials of the Faithful, the Tablets of the Divine Plan and His letter to mathematician Auguste Forel, who later embraced the Baha’i Faith.

          Then there are the various volumes of Shoghi Effendi’s work. I recommend his “God Passes By” which is a detailed history of the Faith from its inception to the time of Abdu’l-Baha.

          Many of these books are available as eBooks and in print from various Baha’i publishing trusts—I have most of them on my iPad. The Indian Publishing Trust published a complete volume of all of Baha’u’llahs’ major works that had already been translated. It’s huge and on onion skin paper. My point is that we have a lot more than you seem to be aware of and are getting more every year as letters and tablets are authenticated and translated.

          1. I know there is a lot more than Gleanings, from Baha’u’llah translated into English. But anyway, you seem to imply that indeed not all from Baha’u’llah has been translated already. He wrote clearly a huge amount, so it is very different from Christianity, where in most churches the only scripture is the Bible. The Bible is not huge, it is not difficult for the average Christian to finish reading it. But I guess no Baha’i, not even a Farsi speaking Baha’i, has read all the Baha’i scriptures. It is hard to believe that the true religion would have so much scripture that nobody can read it all. Of course that is not only true of the Baha’i Faith, but even more of Buddhism or Hinduism. Scripture is supposed to guide us, but if we can’t read it all, we get only partial guidance.

          2. There is a huge difference, though, Tom, between Baha’i Scripture—which was written by the revelator Himself or His appointed Interpreter—and the Hindu or Buddhist scriptures which are collections of what the compilers believed to be the utterances of Buddha, and the pondering of later thinkers on same. I believe that when the Buddhist community came together after Gautama’s death and put together the Tripitaka, much of what they collected was Buddha’s teachings, but even then there was a conflict around what it meant that resulted some time later in the splitting of Buddha’s faith into first two, then more sects.

            There is also this: Baha’u’llah has Himself, indicated which of His writings are of greater importance and in what realm they are important. They are also written for different recipients. The Kitab-i-Aqdas is the Most Holy Book and the book of Baha’u’llah’s laws, the application of which He left to the administrative order He designed. Beyond that, He directed different tablets to different purposes. His letters to the world leadership (including the divines of earlier faiths) is, to me, awe-inspiring, but I, as an individual soul, derive the most spiritual sustenance from His more mystical writings—Seven Valley and Four Valleys, for example. He, Himself, has told us that, after the Aqdas, the Kitab-i-Iqan and Hidden Words are the most important and that the latter basically takes the essence of religion and distills it to brief verses. If that were the only book we had, it would be sufficient, I think, for the individual believer to understand the main precepts necessary to live and grow.

            So, the essentials have already been translated and form the foundation of Baha’i belief. Baha’u’llah distinguishes between law and exhortation, between what is intended to inform and what is intended to transform. Beyond the books and tablets He has designated to be foundational, some are refinements upon one point or another and some are letters to individuals—both believers and non-believers—and therefore have a more narrow significance for the community as a whole. (Which is not to say that individual Baha’is don’t find inspiration or transformative power in the words.) The main points of Baha’u’llah’s message—what a soul needs to comprehend the faith and her place in it—have been established long since and elucidated repeatedly by Abdu’l-Baha, Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice.

            Personally, I think it’s pretty cool that there’s more to look forward to, but I imagine that at the end of my life, Seven Valleys and the Four Valleys will still be my most beloved because it has been so significant in my own spiritual development and because I have learned perhaps my most important life lessons from it. It is, if you will, the most transformative book to me personally. Other Baha’is respond to other of Baha’u’llah’s writings, and this is great. We are all different and we come to faith in different ways.

            If I haven’t already, I should note too that while I’ve referred to both the writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha as scripture, there is a distinction between the words of the Divine Messenger (the Word of God made flesh) and any other person—even someone as unique as Abdu’l-Baha. The words of Baha’u’llah (or Christ or Buddha or any of God’s Emissaries) are what Baha’u’llah refers to as the “Creative word of God”. This has the power to recreate us, to regenerate us, to cause rebirth. Baha’u’llah writes about this in the Kitab-i-Iqan, but it’s also in Gleanings (vs CXXV). Baha’is often refer to this as the Tablet of the True Seeker. It is one of the passages that hit me like a bolt of lightning when I was busily debunking the Baha’i Faith back in the day. It had never occurred to me that love and hatred could form a barrier between the lover and the Beloved or keep someone from seeing clearly. Taking that one idea to heart not only allowed me to look at such things as Biblical prophecy and the Gospels I claimed to live by without the lens of theology, but it completely changed the way I related to people I found myself in disagreement with. As I incorporated that insight into my life, it made me a better Baha’i, a better coworker, a better manager of people, a better mother.

            The Word of God is not intended to be read and kept on a shelf. It’s intended to inform our lives. Some Baha’is are perfectly happy to own a book or two—Gleanings and Hidden Words, say—and apply what they find there in life and are amazing. Others collect huge libraries of Baha’i books (and the scriptures of other faiths) and find much joy and spiritual sustenance in studying them to find in the older writings the skillful weaving of the Master Craftsman. There is no one way to be a Baha’i; there is no one scripture that we are all intended to resonate to. And that, to me, is part of the beauty of the Faith.

          3. Yes, I see your point about what scriptures are more important to read.
            Anyway, you believe that not all the Bible is the word of God, inerrant. Yet you believe that the scriptures by Abdul-Baha are inerrant, because he is the appointed Interpreter. Well, most Christians believe that likewise all the Bible authors are appointed Interpreters of the word of God, and therefore equally inerrant. Likewise many Buddhists can say that scriptures not from Buddha are by appointed Interpreters. And many Hindus can say the same about Hindu scriptures. Anyway, what guarantee do we have that the words in the Dhammapada or other works supposedly by Buddha himself are really from Buddha? Or that the words quoted from Krishna in for example the Bhagavad Gita are really accurate quotes from Krishna? Or even that Jesus was accurately quoted in the New Testament? For whatever reason, Jesus never wrote a book. I suspect he was not able to write one. Or maybe he never wrote any book because he thought the end was coming very soon, maybe in his lifetime. Anyhow, the gospels were written decades after Jesus died, and supposedly only two of the gospel writers were actual disciples of Jesus. How can we be sure that the two accurately remembered what Jesus actually spoke, decades later? We can’t even be sure that the gospels of Matthew and John were really written by the apostles Matthew and John. Some Bible scholars think there is far more likelihood that most of the epistles of Paul were actually written by Paul than that the gospels of Matthew and John were written by the 2 apostles. But they think that some epistles of Paul were written by others and attributed to Paul to make the epistles look more important. It seems like plenty of ancient writers wrote under the name of somebody more important, to make their works look reliable. The same might have been true even of the books attributed to Buddha.

          4. Tom, I think you have to admit that there is a world of difference between the books of the Bible and the authenticated writings of Abdu’l-Baha. What I believed about the Bible as a young Christian was irrelevant; the reality was that all the books of the Bible are not equal and are not regarded as equal by Biblical scholars. There are books so ancient as to defy attempts to know their exact origin, let alone how many individuals worked on them. Scholars try to determine this from writing style and from the stories (some borrowed from older writings) that are included.

            Look at the Torah, alone. The Jews divide the book into the Law and the Prophets, but there is yet a third division—the philosophies of “wise men”. In other words, there are the books that Jews, Christians, Muslims and Baha’is believe to reflect the law of God as given to Moses and then there are rebbinical refinements on that law. There are books of prophecy attributed to minor prophets such as Isaiah and Ezekiel who had specific missions among the Jewish people. There are books such as Ecclesiastes and Proverbs which are the thoughts of allegedly wise men. It wasn’t until I realized all of these variations within what I had thought of as a single holy book that I began to understand the fragmentary nature of the Biblical record (or of other holy books such as the Bhagavad Gita and Vedas, or the Buddhist cannon). How could we be expected to function ad infinitum with such a fragmentary record? Even the Gospels and Epistles contain at least two different kinds of writings. Teachings attributed directly to Christ (which can be checked against each other in context) and the record of what He and the disciples did. Then there are Paul’s Epistles which are open letters to the various congregations as he tried to stem the tide of sectarian doctrine (doomsday groups that didn’t work, Judaizing groups that insisted men must still be circumcised, etc). I know there are Christians who unwittingly place the words of Paul above those of Christ, but that, again, is irrelevant. Jesus Christ was the Voice of God. Paul was the first to admit that he was a very flawed man who didn’t always “get it.”

            To me, Baha’u’llah’s assertion that God didn’t expect us to do that and would continue to send Messengers made sense. So, at the time of Christ, believers must rely upon men like Luke who went about after the fact gathering stories. At the time of Muhammad, believers collected both the revelatory messages and the casual sayings of Muhammad. The first became the Qur’an, the second became Hadith. In the time of Baha’u’llah, believers had the written word of the Prophet in His own hand, or the hand of His scribe, edited by Him and set with His seal. And we have the spoken record and writings of Abud’ul-Baha whose particular charge it was to interpret and illumine His Father’s words and to lay the first foundations for the administrative order Baha’u’llah designed.

            That is, I think you will admit, a far cry from what we have had in previous dispensations—and for a very good reason. We had not, as a species, developed the tools (written language, methods of dissemination or authentication, or even a real awareness of the import of the Prophet’s message) to have then what we have now.

            Baha’u’llah’s greatgrandson, Shoghi Effendi spoke, back in 1936, of a tool that had not yet been invented, but that would be to facilitate the unification of the planet: “A mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvelous swiftness and perfect regularity.” World Order of Baha’u’llah pg 203

            God works with the tools on hand. As a science fiction writer, I sometimes contemplate what some of the earliest Prophets/Avatars must have been like—the first creature that “taught” other single-celled creatures how to bind themselves together to become multi-celled creatures; the following one that taught how cells might specialize to work for the good of the whole.

            Our species’ progress is toward higher and higher planes of spiritual intelligence and unity. This is what religion (from the Latin religio, meaning “to bind together”) is intended to do. That is the purpose of the tool, but some of us have worked long and hard to make it a means of division for very human reasons. And of course, this is something Baha’u’llah has also spoken to: “The Purpose of the one true God, exalted be His glory, in revealing Himself unto men is to lay bare those gems that lie hidden within the mine of their true and inmost selves. That the divers communions of the earth, and the manifold systems of religious belief, should never be allowed to foster the feelings of animosity among men, is, in this Day, of the essence of the Faith of God and His Religion. These principles and laws, these firmly-established and mighty systems, have proceeded from one Source, and are the rays of one Light. That they differ one from another is to be attributed to the varying requirements of the ages in which they were promulgated.” – Gleanings CXXII

          5. interesting idea, that there could have been a prophet teaching other cells to bind themselves together to become multi-celled creatures. Anyway, there is not really a totally sharp division between unicellular colonial creatures and multicellular beings, there are transitional organisms among the algae and fungi. Multicellularity developed several times, independently of each other.
            Anyway, our subject is religion and scripture. So while you are right that there is a lot of agreement on what the different gospels quote Jesus as saying, that is not very surprising, since apparently Matthew copied from Mark, and Luke might have copied from both Matthew and Mark, he wrote that he had read some gospels already. Still, there are some differences even among them about what they quoted Jesus as saying. For example Mark and Luke quoted Jesus as not allowing divorce for any reason, while Matthew quoted him as allowing divorce for fornication. Matthew and Mark quoted Jesus as requiring us to forgive everybody, otherwise the heavenly Father will not forgive us. Luke quoted Jesus as requiring forgiving only when the guilty party asks for forgiveness. Matthew quoted Jesus as requiring the Law of Moses, while Mark interpreted a saying of Jesus as meaning that all foods can be eaten now. Matthew, Mark and Luke had Jesus distinguishing clearly between himself and God, while John, though sometimes agreeing with the other gospels that Jesus is not God, sometimes he quotes Jesus as basically equating himself with God.

          6. I would actually be more concerned if the synoptic Gospels were identical. Clearly there was some individual interpretation involved. But there is enough there to be able to understand the core message, regardless of how one interprets Christ’s words on divorce (adultery or no). I think Christ put it best when He says, after prescribing that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, that “upon this commandment the Law and Prophets depend”. Or, as the Jewish scholar Hillel put it, “This is the entire law, all the rest is commentary.”

            We in our finite wisdom have argued whether Christ was more human or divine, whether He meant for us to divorce for adultery or not, and on and on. But if you look at the synoptic Gospels and John, then fast forward to Acts and Paul’s epistles to see what the disciples were teaching, the message is clear. It’s about love. Period. All the rest is commentary.

            And this is the larger context I was really trying to get you to consider. From Krishna to Buddha to Zoroaster to Christ to Muhammad to Baha’u’llah, this message of human unity is paramount. It isn’t just that these Messengers agree here and there on this or that, it is that they agree on the most critical, the most central teachings that deal with our relationship with God and with each other.

            You bring up the way that Christ Jesus speaks of His own relationship to God. Baha’u’llah says clearly that if the Prophet says He is God, He speaks the truth because He faithfully radiates the glory of God and if He says He is not God, He also tells the truth, because of that dual nature I mentioned elsewhere. He is human in body; He is divine in Spirit.

            I feel that I must have shared this somewhere earlier, but here’s food for thought: How various claimants to divine teaching speak of themselves:

            I am the Way, and the Master who watches in silence; thy friend and thy shelter, and thy abode of peace. I am the beginning and the middle and the end of all things; their seed of Eternity, their Treasure supreme. — Bhagavad Gita 9:16-18 


            This indeed is the Way — there is no other — for the purification of one’s vision. Follow this Way. I have taught you the Way … making the effort is your affair. — Dhammapada vs. 274-276


            I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No man comes to the Father but by Me. If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him. — John 14:6,7 


            This is the way of thy Lord, leading straight: We have detailed the signs for those who receive admonition. For them will be a home of peace in the presence of their Lord: He will be their friend, because they practised (righteousness). — Quran, Surih 6:126-127


            …He hath manifested unto men the Day Stars of His divine guidance, the Symbols of His divine unity, and hath ordained the knowledge of these sanctified Beings to be identical with the knowledge of His own Self. Whoso recognizeth Them hath recognized God. Whoso hearkeneth unto Their call, hath hearkened unto the voice of God, and whoso testifieth to the truth of Their revelation, hath testified to the truth of God Himself…. Every one of them is the Way of God that connecteth this world with the realms above…. They are the Manifestations of God amidst men, the evidences of His Truth, and the signs of His glory. — Gleanings p. 49,50

            Baha’u’llah’s dissertation on the subject almost feels as if He is continuing a conversation that has taken place over millennia.

          7. OK, I agree with you that Jesus said the basic law is to love God and to love your neighbor. But that does not mean that other laws can be disregarded. So the fact that they are sometimes so unclear and even contradictory in the gospels, is certainly troubling for the effort to treat the report of the words of Jesus in the gospels as inerrant. And after all, you believe they were binding on us until Muhammad revealed the Qur’an. Laws are not unimportant. After all, you would not want Baha’i laws in the Kitab al-Aqdas and other books to be misunderstood or disregarded? Sure you believe the Kitab al-Aqdas law on polygamy to be superseded, but you want the present law on monogamy to be followed. So loving your neighbor is not enough. You would not want your husband to love another woman so much he would want to marry her while remaining married to you.

          8. I sure did not know that the Bhagavad Gita is fragmentary. On the other hand the Vedas are so ancient, that I am willing to accept they might be fragmentary, with some parts being possibly lost. But I did read the Gita, and it did not look to me like any part is missing.

          9. The Bhagavad Gita is a fragment of a larger piece of work called the Mahabharata. Scholars I’ve read are not certain which came first or why the teachings of this particular Avatar were ensconced in the epic poem. Perhaps the religious leaders figured more people would read it or listen to it and memorize it if it was part of an entertaining story about a battle. Wouldn’t be the first or last time 🙂

            One thing I’ve noted about the Bhagavad Gita is that many scholars who have done translations for the Western market have approached it as a piece of poetry rather than a sacred text. This is why I particularly love the Juan Mascaro translation. I also like the Eknath Easwaran translation for the same reason. Mascaro also doesn’t try to translate certain critical words into English equivalents (i.e. atman becomes “over-soul” or some equally impenetrable phrase).

            I love the Bhagavad Gita, by the way. it’s one of my favorite sacred texts. With every reading, I get more out of it.

          10. OK, so you are not saying that Bhagavad Gita is fragmentary as meaning some parts are missing, but as in it being a fragment of the Mahabharata. Sorry for my misunderstanding. As far as the translations are concerned, I am glad to have Winthrop Sargeant’s translation, because he not only provides a translation verse by verse into normal English, but he provides also a more word for word translation, and explains each Sanskrit word, like for verbs what tense, voice etc. it is, for nouns what case it is, etc. So I can compare the Sanskrit text with translations and see how faithful translations are to the text. And I can do that also with the Bible or the Qur’an, nowadays there are online interlinear word for word translations. So I don’t have to care if a translation is more literal or more interpretive and so not necessarily accurate, I have the originals. Very useful.

  2. Hi Tom/Maya

    I donot think the answers to these are crystal clear. We donot know if there are any physical and biological characteristics that only the humans have. If there are unique characteristics only for humans, say in the human brain, then we need to use this knowledge to go back in time.

    I heard second hand that a Baha’i, a PHD in biology may publish a book in a few years that shows that the latest trend in scientific circles seems to point towards parallel lines of evolution between mineral, vegetable, animal and human kingdoms (note only the kingdoms are suggested to be separate).

    Also we have examples that Abdul’-Baha states that accepted scientific understanding is not always right (He talks about Ptolemy understanding of the universe was the accepted norm but ended up being incorrect)

    Again I think the Jury is still out here, There is a lot that we don’t understand, how is the is Human brain capable of abstract thought…lets not dismiss other possibilities it is way too early for that.

    1. I don’t think this is a zero sum game, Bahram. What Abdu’l-Baha says is clear and it’s not either/or.

      Yes, human beings evolved through what he calls the animal condition or kingdom or state, whatever word you want to use. So, yes we have animal bodies. I don’t think that’s in dispute.

      Yes, we have something that differentiates us from other animals. Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha call this the rational soul and make it clear that no other creature on this planet has yet been endowed with it. Both are very clear that this is what makes us human. I don’t think that’s in dispute either.

      Might there also be physiological differences? I believe there are. For example, the extreme complexity of the human brain, but this begs the question: which came first, the complexity or the consciousness that makes use of it?

      My reading of Baha’i scripture causes me to favor the idea that the endowment of a rational soul guided human evolution in that it caused the evolution of a complexity necessary to the expression of the rational soul. And here is where the “battle lines” are drawn between some secularists and some religious. Where one group says the complexity gave birth to the consciousness, the other says the consciousness (the rational soul) gave birth to the complexity.

      What I note is that attributing the consciousness to the complexity leaves unanswered a key question: Why, of all the creatures on the planet—even those closest to us genetically and physically—are we the only ones who have evolved this complexity. “We climbed down out of the trees” doesn’t answer the question. Other hominids also did this and are still just animals.

      If you posit that human consciousness or rational soul gave birth to the complexity, the genesis of that physical complexity is accounted for. And, if you look at the repeated, age old record of spiritual texts, the consciousness is accounted for, as well. It is a reflection of a greater consciousness that is at work in the universe and that, as Krishna notes. pervades and supports it without dwelling in it in any physical sense.

      As I said, this is not a 1/0 proposition in which we are entirely animal or entirely human (in many ways, I think we’re just learning to be human, but that’s a different philosophical discussion). What is clear is that Abdu’l-Baha gives support to the idea that life on this planet evolved through various states or kingdoms to reach their present forms and that whatever form our physical bodies took, they were always potentially human.

      What we don’t know and perhaps never will on this plane, is at what point in the process of evolution a particular life form was endowed with that rational soul. From the “beginning”, yes, but which beginning? There are so many….

      1. Hi Maya

        Yes the soul is what distinguishes us. But it may be that in order for the soul to connect to the human body, the human body may (or may not) need a higher level of sophistication in the brain than say a monkey, we don’t know.

        This article in scientific American may be completely without basis but it demonstrates that there is a lot we don’t fully understand. The current set of accepted theories are not totally set in concrete.. we have 5000 centuries of unimaginable scientific advancement ahead of us, it is too early to be certain either way.

        https://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=new-theory-of-cell-evolut

        1. So, to look at both sides of the issue:

          Abdu’l-Baha says that the soul was “attracted” (the English word the translator used) when the physical being had manifested or acquired the qualities necessary. I’m not even going to suggest that I understand what those qualities were, though pondering that might be interesting.

          The other “side” is this: “Some think that the body is the substance and exists by itself, and that the spirit is accidental and depends upon the substance of the body, although, on the contrary, the rational soul is the substance, and the body depends upon it. If the accident — that is to say, the body — be destroyed, the substance, the spirit, remains.”
          (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 239)

          I just ran across this quote in a piece Ian Klluge will have on Common Ground Group in the near future (starting Wednesday, I believe). The blog post is not on evolution, but on the human spirit or soul itself where it relates to the concept of free will. But it speaks to the subject of evolution as well. It suggests, to me, that we ought not to let ourselves get sucked into a “chicken and egg” debate, for if one considers it carefully, I think perhaps one might suppose that there are two interwoven, or at least complimentary processes at work whether one is considering chickens and eggs or bodies and souls.

          Which makes me wonder how significant the debate is, ultimately, if we posit that the Intelligence of which our human faculty is a mere reflection created this all—including our “substance” (as Abdu’l-Baha defines it above). Consider the metaphor of a light in a lamp. The lamp maker loves the light and because He loves the light he crafts a lamp in which the light will burn. When the lamp is sufficient to His purpose, He places His light within it and continues to craft the lamp so that it better suits the light.

          The metaphorical light came first, but the lamp would not have existed without it, for the Lampmaker would not have crafted the lamp in that manner.

    2. The mineral kingdom is not a life kingdom. Vegetables, animals, and humans are all eucaryotes, unlike bacteria or archaea, so we are descended from the first eucaryote living cell, that originated maybe a bit over a billion years ago, by a symbiosis of what seems to be both bacteria and archaea. But bacteria and archaea are both much more ancient.

      1. I’m pretty sure Abdu’l-Baha is not using the word “kingdom” in the currently understood scientific sense that our friend Lisa Ortuna (who is a Baha’i and a biologist) would use it. He’s not talking taxonomy, but giving a thumbnail sketch of life forms as we know them. No, minerals are not—at least on this planet—a life form. Or perhaps they are and we’re just looking at them the wrong way.

        Suffice it to say that arguing about terminology misses the point of everything that Abdu’l-Baha was trying to convey—that we are human because we have been invested with (as Baha’u’llah puts it) the robe of such gifts. Our intellect and rational soul is the one thing we do not have in common with the other forms of life, or non life on this orb. It is that which distinguishes us and grants us the capacity to hold this rather abstract discussion.

        1. Yes, mentally we are very different from our nearest relatives, chimps and bonobos. Yes, even chimps and bonobos living and being educated among humans from early childhood are not able to have such conversations with us, they apparently have not progressed in language more than the average two-year old child, regardless if they are taught American Sign Language, or some computer symbols or what (they can’t speak of course, so they have to be taught different languages than spoken, though they do learn to understand also some spoken words). So we seem to be far more advanced in intellect. Whether they have souls, I don’t know. But as I wrote above, Abdu’l-Baha was writing in Some Answered Questions also about us allegedly having separate biological evolution.

  3. I’m going to let Abdu’l-Baha answer this one: “What, then, is the mission of the divine Prophets? Their mission is the education and advancement of the world of humanity. They are the real Teachers and Educators, the universal Instructors of mankind. If we wish to discover whether any one of these great Souls or Messengers was in reality a Prophet of God, we must investigate the facts surrounding His life and history, and the first point of our investigation will be the education He bestowed upon mankind. If He has been an Educator, if He has really trained a nation or people, causing it to rise from the lowest depths of ignorance to the highest station of knowledge, then we are sure that He was a Prophet. This is a plain and clear method of procedure, proof that is irrefutable. We do not need to seek after other proofs. We do not need to mention miracles, saying that out of rock water gushed forth, for such miracles and statements may be denied and refused by those who hear them. The deeds of Moses are conclusive evidences of His Prophethood. If a man be fair, unbiased and willing to investigate reality, he will undoubtedly testify to the fact that Moses was, verily, a man of God and a great Personage.

    “In further consideration of this subject, I wish you to be fair and reasonable in your judgment, setting aside all religious prejudices. We should earnestly seek and thoroughly investigate realities, recognizing that the purpose of the religion of God is the education of humanity and the unity and fellowship of mankind. Furthermore, we will establish the point that the foundations of the religions of God are one foundation. This foundation is not multiple, for it is reality itself. Reality does not admit of multiplicity, although each of the divine religions is separable into two divisions. One concerns the world of morality and the ethical training of human nature. It is directed to the advancement of the world of humanity in general; it reveals and inculcates the knowledge of God and makes possible the discovery of the verities of life. This is ideal and spiritual teaching, the essential quality of divine religion, and not subject to change or transformation. It is the one foundation of all the religions of God. Therefore, the religions are essentially one and the same.

    “The second classification or division comprises social laws and regulations applicable to human conduct. This is not the essential spiritual quality of religion. It is subject to change and transformation according to the exigencies and requirements of time and place. For instance, in the time of Noah certain requirements made it necessary that all seafood be allowable or lawful. During the time of the Abrahamic Prophethood it was considered allowable, because of a certain exigency, that a man should marry his aunt, even as Sarah was the sister of Abraham’s mother. During the cycle of Adam it was lawful and expedient for a man to marry his own sister, even as Abel, Cain and Seth, the sons of Adam, married their sisters. But in the law of the Pentateuch revealed by Moses these marriages were forbidden and their custom and sanction abrogated. Other laws formerly valid were annulled during the time of Moses. For example, it was lawful in Abraham’s cycle to eat the flesh of the camel, but during the time of Jacob this was prohibited. Such changes and transformations in the teaching of religion are applicable to the ordinary conditions of life, but they are not important or essential. Moses lived in the wilderness of Sinai where crime necessitated direct punishment. There were no penitentiaries or penalties of imprisonment. Therefore, according to the exigency of the time and place it was a law of God that an eye should be given for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It would not be practicable to enforce this law at the present time—for instance, to blind a man who accidentally blinded you. In the Torah there are many commands concerning the punishment of a murderer. It would not be allowable or possible to carry out these ordinances today. Human conditions and exigencies are such that even the question of capital punishment—the one penalty which most nations have continued to enforce for murder—is now under discussion by wise men who are debating its advisability. In fact, laws for the ordinary conditions of life are only valid temporarily. The exigencies of the time of Moses justified cutting off a man’s hand for theft, but such a penalty is not allowable now. Time changes conditions, and laws change to suit conditions. We must remember that these changing laws are not the essentials; they are the accidentals of religion. The essential ordinances established by a Manifestation of God are spiritual; they concern moralities, the ethical development of man and faith in God. They are ideal and necessarily permanent—expressions of the one foundation and not amenable to change or transformation. Therefore, the fundamental basis of the revealed religion of God is immutable, unchanging throughout the centuries, not subject to the varying conditions of the human world.” Promulgation of Universal Peace pp 361-370

    This is part of a longer answer to a question similar to the ones you’ve been asking.

    For myself, I’d merely add that whether I would “like” my husband to have another wife or not is irrelevant. Baha’u’llah’s laws revealed in the Aqdas have to reconcile cultures as diverse as the modern West and the Muslim culture into which He was born. Just as Muhammad modified the practice of polygamy (in such a way that He effectively called for its elimination) among the tribal groups He taught, Baha’u’llah did something similar, leaving it to time, His appointed interpreter to define His laws and the House of Justice He prescribed to enact them at the appropriate times.

    Jesus, you will note, did not bring an entire new set of social ordinances. That was not part of His mission. Moses and Muhammad were both the temporal and spiritual law-givers for the people He was sent to. Jesus endorsed the ten commandments given by Moses and dealt with social issues directly in very few cases.

    The social laws are important to a society, but it is up to us to take the principles of faith and determine what detailed social laws are needed and appropriate. And what social laws are needed and appropriate is, as Abdu’l-Baha suggests, dependent upon the requirements of the specific society.

    Baha’u’llah Himself said that “The All-Knowing Physician hath His finger on the pulse of mankind. He perceiveth the disease, and prescribeth, in His unerring wisdom, the remedy. Every age hath its own problem, and every soul its particular aspiration. The remedy the world needeth in its present-day afflictions can never be the same as that which a subsequent age may require. Be anxiously concerned with the needs of the age ye live in, and center your deliberations on its exigencies and requirements.”

    Except where the Manifestation of God has made specific pronouncements, it is our job to take the spiritual principles and combine them with the needs of the time and place to create the minute social laws that govern our individual societies. The problem arises when we focus on selfish needs and leave the principles behind. Hence, the mistreatment of women in some religious societies or the elevation of doctrine above the primary commandments of faith that transcend every culture.

    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_war

      Maya, culture wars and social laws go together as related topics. Life issues, sexuality, education, parenting, drugs, environment, energy, society, culture, law, government, and many more topics are subjects people debate over. See battleground issues on the Wikipedia link for examples of culture war issues. Culture wars aren’t just between religious people and secular people like some conservative talking points would have people believe, but it happens both between religions and within religions.

      Deleted wiki link (moderator)

      Relgious ethics can show the differences both within and between religions. Each culture war issue has an ethical debate within and between differing religious ethical approaches.

      Religions and groups within religions differ in various ways: sex regulations, dietary restrictions, time commitment, cost, conversion difficulty, afterlife quality, traditional, rate of growth, holidays, aesthetics, purpose of life, deities, key texts, where, afterlife promises, categories, what they are, perks, drawbacks, activities, and paraphernalia.

      For a list of categories I gotten from a book on 99 religious groups, here below is the index results. Religions are listed as well as denominations. Secular philosophies are listed as well as political ones. Lodges are listed as well.

      Deleted list (moderator)

      ” If we wish to discover whether any one of these great Souls or Messengers was in reality a Prophet of God, we must investigate the facts surrounding His life and history, and the first point of our investigation will be the education He bestowed upon mankind. If He has been an Educator, if He has really trained a nation or people, causing it to rise from the lowest depths of ignorance to the highest station of knowledge, then we are sure that He was a Prophet. This is a plain and clear method of procedure, proof that is irrefutable. We do not need to seek after other proofs. We do not need to mention miracles, saying that out of rock water gushed forth, for such miracles and statements may be denied and refused by those who hear them.”

      Maya, if the above paragraph is the criteria Abdul Baha told people to use for telling if a person was a Manifestation/Messenger/Prophet or (insert equivalent religious term here), why did you earlier say you only use quotes from people you know to be Manifestations given that the above criteria leaves no room for ambiguity? Just take Moses and replace his name with anyone else’s name and she whether or not the argument still holds. The quote tells people to evaluate people to see if they qualify or not rather than just saying we can only stick to a list of fourteen or so people for sure. The quote says the the one and only character trait of a Manifesation is that they educate and advance people by training people ethically and morally, basically causing people to undergo a religious induced heel face turn also known as a heel faith turn to be specific. One the one hand you say Manifestations are infinite, yet you limit yourself effectively to fourteen or even less when using quotes of them. How is it even possible to say that only fourteen or less people have definitely fulfilled the above simple criteria?

        1. Interesting. Except for the title, I don’t really see how this relates to vague language, which is something I’ve blogged about, myself. Especially, on the issue of language where it applies to things we think (erroneously) that we all share definitions or conceptions of.

          I never assume that the word “religion” means the same thing to the person I’m talking to as it does to me, for example, and I will often pause in a conversation and say, “This is what religion means to me”, then get the other person’s take. I often offer to let the person I’m talking to decide which definition to use simply because it seems more fair for me to adjust my mindset, than to try to force someone else to adjust theirs.

          The problem brought out in the Bahaitheway column wasn’t really vagueness of language, but rather a lack of clarity as to who sets the parameters for what is read in that very specific venue—the House of Worship in Wilmette. What the Universalist minister probably still doesn’t understand—unless someone specifically told him—is that a Baha’i who went in with a reading from Shoghi Effendi or Siyyid Kazim or some other Baha’i or Bab’i luminary would also be told that particular writing could not be read as part of a devotional service in the House of Worship Sanctuary. Because the Baha’i community did not vote on what could be read there, neither did the National Spiritual Assembly or even the House of Justice set those parameters. I believe they are set in the authorized writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha and I can research that if you like.

          This is a point that may be hard for some folks to grasp. Baha’u’llah isn’t just some wise man whose words can be taken or left if one is an avowed Baha’i. You, certainly, are free to argue with them until the proverbial chickens come home to roost, but unless that was a directive of the House of Justice and not Baha’u’llah or Abdu’l-Baha, it can’t just be rescinded.

          The words of philosophers or saints or whomever, can be read in Foundation Hall, or in local Baha’i Centers or in our homes during devotions—we often have devotions to which we invite people to bring even their own personal prayers or whatever they find wise or feel sacred. The House of Worship in Wilmette, however, is a different venue and Baha’u’llah saw fit to limit the readings to sacred texts without sermonizing or commentary. This is so that no one can “spin” the texts or express human opinion as if it were the sacred word.

          Here’s the Q&A from the Baha’i Website: “What do devotions consist of at the Baha’i House of Worship?
          Devotions are brief programs of prayers and holy texts from the Baha’i Faith and the world’s other great religions. They are read, chanted or sung at the lectern in the auditorium without sermons or comments.” The site further elaborates: In these brief programs readers share passages from the Baha’i sacred texts and scriptures of other world religions. No talks or sermons are delivered, and no elaborate ceremonies are practiced. Since the Baha’i Faith has no clergy, no one person leads devotional programs. Instead, volunteer readers, who may be adherents of any religion, are invited to recite or chant the holy scriptures. Sunday programs sometimes feature music from the House of Worship Choir and chanting in various languages. Only a cappella music based on words of holy scripture is performed; no recorded or instrumental music is used in the auditorium.”

          I don’t know what the unitarian minister sought to read in the House of Worship, but it clearly did not fit the criteria. As I said, even the words of the Guardian of the Faith, Shoghi Effendi are not used in these devotions.

      1. Kent, you asked:Maya, if the above paragraph is the criteria Abdul Baha told people to use for telling if a person was a Manifestation/Messenger/Prophet or (insert equivalent religious term here), why did you earlier say you only use quotes from people you know to be Manifestations given that the above criteria leaves no room for ambiguity?”

        I said that because while I may study the sayings attributed to, say, the Egyptian God Ra and believe that there was a Manifestation of God behind the mythos, that is my opinion, not authorized Baha’i belief. The plethora of religious groups you listed (sorry, but it was simply consuming too much space in our comment thread), exist in part because people expressed their opinions as “church” doctrine.

        When making a point about the way various Manifestations of God spoke about themselves (as the Way), for example, I used quotes from Krishna, Buddha, Christ, Muhammad and Baha’u’llah. Those are all Persons that Baha’u’llah or Abdu’l-Baha have confirmed were independent Prophets. Baha’u’llah also confirms that Joseph (son of Jacob) was an independent Prophet, but we have precious few quotables from Him, alas.

        I do sometimes make use of quotes from other holy men–such as Deganawida or Black Elk or Guru Nanak–for the very reason you mention above, that their words fit the criteria of divine inspiration. That doesn’t necessarily make them a Manifestation of God and I would be remiss if I insisted that it did. I do not want to confuse my opinion with divine truth or reality. Does that make sense?

        Perhaps the most important reason that I use quotes from the Prophets of the most widely known extant religions in my public communications is that they are the most widely known religions. This means that my audience will have a better chance of being acquainted with the Prophet and the books they need to verify that what I’m saying is true are easily available. If I quote some obscure source — even something like the Egyptian Book of the Dead — my audience is far less likely to be familiar with the source or be able to acquire a copy to check my references.

        If I were just talking to myself, I might debate that Ra was Manifestation of God — or at least that the words attributed to him in the BOD fit Abdu’l-Baha’s criteria. But that would just be my opinion.

    2. Maya, Abdu’l-Baha was far from inerrant in what he declared in that document. He was even wrong about Socrates getting the idea of immortal souls from the Jews. The Jews in his time taught that the dead are totally dead, do not think, do not praise God, see Eccl. 9:5,10, Psalms 115:17, 146:4, Isaiah 38:18-19. The idea of immortal souls came into Judaism later and likewise the idea of a future resurrection, which they apparently got from Zoroastrianism.
      And he was wrong about ancient laws in Judaism. There is no evidence that Noah allowed shellfish or camels, Genesis is very clear that Noah was supposedly told to take seven of each clean animal. The reason was that they could be used for food and for sacrifices. They would not allow sacrificing unclean animals like shellfish or camels. Sarah was not Abraham’s aunt, but his half-sister, they had a father in common, but different mothers, see Gen. 11:29. Though that marriage too was later banned by the Law of Moses. And the Law of Moses did not prescribe amputating the hand for theft, that is done in Islam. The Law of Moses specified fines for theft. Cutting off a hand was prescribed in the Law of Moses for a wife who wanted to protect her husband by grabbing the genitals of the man who her husband was fighting with. Surely a cruel law. Hardly likely to be from God, even though you consider Moses a Manifestation of God. But then the Law of Moses had even worse laws, like genocide against 7 nations, like Canaanites, Amorites etc. Or exterminating an Israelite town that converts to polytheism. Even the babies were to be killed.
      Anyway, I mentioned Noah because Abdu’l-Baha mentioned him, though I don’t even think Noah existed, and I wonder if even Abraham and Sarah existed. Maybe Moses did not even exist, there is no archaeological evidence of an Exodus from Egypt, nor anything about it in historical accounts of Egyptians or others besides the Bible. Of course somebody wrote the Laws of Moses, but we don’t know if one person or more. But even if Moses did lead a little exodus from Egypt and write his laws, and even if Abraham existed and married his half-sister, as the anonymous author of Genesis wrote, the fact is still true that Abdu’l-Baha was wrong in remembering the laws, or the facts about Abraham’s marriage, or the myths about Noah, or in remembering what the ancient Jews still in the time of Socrates, around 500 BCE, thought of life after death.

      1. I don’t have time, alas, to respond to the entire post, but I’d like to comment that Abdu’l-Baha is not in error about Jewish teaching. There were different rabbinical schools that taught different things. The Sadducees, I believe it was, taught that there was no immortal soul — the idea being that when the breath (nephesh) left the body the person was simply dead. Other schools of thought held that since we were created in God’s image, we must have an eternal, spiritual component.

        I’ve also read that Abdu’l-Baha’s words about “ether” were discredited … that was until physicists began to recognize the interconnectedness of the different parts of the universe. They brought “ether” back with a different name or names. Abdu’l-Baha simply used the then current terminology. Did he know about quarks and subatomic particles by name? I have no idea.

        1. Sure there were disagreements among rabbis, on immortality as you mentioned, or on divorce or timing of the feast of Shavuot. But where the Law of Moses is very clear, they did not have disagreements. No rabbis advocated cutting off the hand for stealing, they saw clearly in the Law that the punishment for theft was a fine, while cutting off the hand was punishment for women who defended their husbands by grabbing the genitals of the opponent. Likewise sacrificing or eating shellfish, all ancient rabbis were opposed to that, since the Law is clear on this. Likewise concerning Sarah not being Abraham’s aunt or anything but his half-sister, the rabbis were unanimous on this, since Genesis is crystal clear on this.

          Concerning immortality, at the time of Socrates, there were no rabbis yet, the Law was taught instead by the hereditary priest caste. And the idea of immortal soul came into Judaism much later, maybe at about the same time as Judaism started having rabbis. But as you said, the Sadducees did not like this innovation, they preserved the older doctrine, that God punishes sins only in this life, and not after death, in any hell or anything. So when you are dead, you are totally dead, not conscious, as still taught by Isaiah, or David or somebody in psalms, or by the author of Ecclesiastes, who pretended to be Solomon, but was instead a later writer, Ecclesiastes is written in a later form of Hebrew, as used after Jews returned from exile in Babylonia.

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