Entry by troops (time to be announced)
Posted by Sen on February 17, 2009
It has been my experience that Bahais often become discouraged as a result of having unrealistic expectations of what is called entry by troops (EBT) and large scale conversion. I would like to look again at what the Bahai scriptures say about this, and at how Shoghi Effendi conceived the historical process of growth. The little that the scriptures say suggests to me that its importance has been over-rated, and that the time-frame of entry by troops, its nature, and how the Bahais can bring it about have all been misunderstood. From my reading of the world and of the scriptures, I suggest that we should not now be greatly preoccupied with entry by troops or large scale conversion: a concern with the needs of the age we live in, and the needs of our Bahai communities today, will indicate healthier, locally-specific priorities which – ironically – will be more conducive to actual ‘growth’ in every sense. We will start by briefly looking back over the last two generations.
Almost since its inception, the Universal House of Justice has put a high priority on achieving entry by troops, and has had high hopes that it is imminent. In its Ridvan message for 1964, the Universal House of Justice says:
We begin this Plan with a tremendous momentum, exemplified… by the beginning, in several countries, of that entry by troops into the Cause of God prophesied by ‘Abdu’l-Baha and so eagerly anticipated by Him.
and in the Ridvan message for 1965:
Almost universally there is a sense of an impending breakthrough in large-scale conversion. … entry into the Cause by troops has been a fact in some areas for a number of years. But greater things are ahead. … Destiny is carrying us to this climax
A decade later, in 1977, in a letter to an individual, the Universal House of Justice wrote: “As mankind passes through the darkest phase of its history, the Baha’i community will have to face not only entry by troops, which it is now experiencing, but, before too long, mass conversion.”
Skipping forward twenty-odd years, in a letter dated 27 December 1985, the Universal House of Justice wrote, “Surely the time cannot be long delayed when we must deal universally with that entry by troops foretold by the Master as a prelude to mass conversion;” and in its 1986 Ridvan message it says,
The stage is set for universal, rapid and massive growth of the Cause of God; … nearly half a million new believers have already been reported. The names of such far-flung places as India and Liberia, Bolivia and Bangladesh, Taiwan and Peru, the Philippines and Haiti leap to the fore as we contemplate the accumulating evidences of the entry by troops …
A year latter, in the 1990 Ridvan message:
Over the last two years, almost one million souls entered the Cause. The increasing instances of entry by troops in different places contributed to that growth, drawing attention to Shoghi Effendi’s vision which shapes our perception of glorious future possibilities in the teaching field. For he has asserted that the process of “entry by troops of peoples of divers nations and races into the Baha’i world…will be the prelude to that long-awaited hour when a mass conversion … will suddenly revolutionize the fortunes of the Faith, … and reinforce a thousandfold the numerical strength as well as the material power and the spiritual authority of the Faith of Baha’u’llah.” We have every encouragement to believe that large-scale enrolments will expand, involving village after village, town after town, from one country to another..
Enrolling significant numbers of … [people of capacity] is an indispensable aspect of teaching the masses, … to broaden its base and accelerate the process of entry by troops… there are indications that the Lesser Peace cannot be too far distant …
In its 1992 Ridvan message, the Universal House of Justice reported that “more than one and a half million souls entered the Cause during the Six Year Plan.” In October 1993 they wrote: “that entry by troops will soon become an established pattern for the growth of the Faith in country after country.”
The lesser peace
This Ridvan message for 1990, from which I’ve quoted two extracts above, mentions entry by troops, large scale enrolment and mass conversion on the one hand, and also says “the Lesser Peace cannot be too far distant.” There is a marked similarity between what the Universal House of Justice has said about entry by troops and mass conversion, and what it was saying about the Lesser Peace and unity of nations during the same period.
… we can appreciate more adequately the unfolding reality of the vision projected by Shoghi Effendi when he explained the implications of the raising up of buildings that will constitute the world administrative seat of the Faith of Baha’u’llah. “This vast and irresistible process”, he said, “will synchronize with two no less significant developments .. the establishment of the Lesser Peace and the evolution of Baha’i national and local institutions.” It is a vision which, given the state of the world, compels the completion of the Mount Carmel Projects as scheduled. [i.e., in the year 2000]
In the 1998 Ridvan message they wrote: “Even a cursory survey of the global scene in recent years cannot but lead to observations fraught with special significance for a Baha’i viewer. For one thing, amid the din of a society in turmoil can be discerned an unmistakable trend towards the Lesser Peace.”
It didn’t happen
Eighteen years after the Lesser Peace was pronounced to be not too far distant, it is obvious that it has still not arrived, and obvious to me that it is not even close. Even after the treaties are written and signed, and the institutions of global governance are in place, many years and false starts will go by before all of the people of the world actually enjoy peace and security. I will not see it, and it’s likely that my children will also not see it.
I think there have been three kinds of reasons for this miscalculation of the time scale involved. The first is religious and scriptural. At the most specific level, I have shown in ‘Century’s end‘ and ‘Century of light‘ that the meaning of ‘century’ has been misunderstood, and misapplied to the 20th century of the Gregorian calendar, leading to expectations for the year 2000 that had no basis in the Bahai Writings.
More generally, the Bahais have been thinking within an eschatological framework derived from Christian and Jewish and Islamic frameworks. In Christian eschatology, we have “every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him.” (Revelation 1:7) In this picture, there are no ‘other religions’ or even irreligion remaining; God intervenes, zap, every eye sees it, and the righteous are raised – not from the dead, but to positions of authority – while those that opposed them repent and wail.
Islamic eschatology is not so different; the Day of Judgement is a cosmic historic event that everyone participates in, and all humanity is divided into two groups.
Baha’u’llah’s take on this is quite different: the Day of Judgment is whenever the Manifestation of God comes – his being puts a question before us, an issue, and we judge ourselves by the choices we make. Such days of judgment recur in history, and each time they recur, the old religions continue to live alongside the new one, and life goes on. The heavens have been split asunder, the stars have fallen, but not in a literal sense.
This reinterpretation by Baha’u’llah, and his disciples’ difficulty in grasping it, is not new. Jesus said, ‘the kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17:21), but the early Christians still wanted to see the Messiah reigning on a throne. Instead of seeing that Christ had reinterpreted the concept of the coming Messiah and the Kingdom, they supposed that the fulfillment was merely delayed. The episodes of prediction and disappointment in the Bahai community, whether it is 1917, 1957, the year 2000 or the imminent but undated Lesser Peace and entry by troops represent the same kind of preference for a satisfyingly worldly sign of being right.
O hypocrites, you can discern the face of the sky; can you not discern the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign; but no sign will be given it, except the sign of the prophet Jonas.
(Matthew 16:3, and 12:39)
A second reason for expectations of the Lesser Peace coming soon has been undue optimism in assessing the state of the world and the readiness of governments to make the treaties and empower the institutions on which the Lesser Peace must be based. The difficulties and the time required have been underestimated, reflecting the Bahai community’s lack of experience with government and world affairs.
Third, it has not been understood that while governments must create the Lesser Peace, they in turn are dependent on the mood and understanding of the masses in their respective countries. There must be widespread propaganda for world peace through world governance, sustained over several generations, expressed in terms that are relevant and understandable to local populations. Education must be reformed, to remove the stereotypes of the feared or hated “other,” and the historic lies that have been inserted to sustain national sensibilities. Moreover, the masses must see some of the tangible benefits they can expect from further global integration, benefits in terms of peace, prosperity, and wider opportunity and horizons. Barriers to the free movement of people and of ideas must be removed. Even with all of this – which has been largely implemented in the European Union – experience here shows that the popular support for further integration remains tenuous and allows for only incremental steps. This is discouraging, for it means a long long process before humanity can even approach its potential, but it is also an agenda for action. There is a task laid out for us, to suffuse the awareness of human unity and its societal implications throughout the globe.
If reports of the imminent arrival of the Lesser Peace were premature, the miscalculation in relation to entry by troops has been greater. Forty five years have passed since entry by troops was announced, and large-scale conversion was said to be imminent. Great victories have been reported. What has been the actual numerical outcome?
In a message dated 17 October 1967, the Universal House of Justice announced that the “Baha’i International Community, …now includes at least five million believers.” That is now some 41 years ago. With the high levels of enrollments mentioned above, with the world being so ripe, for so long, for “universal, rapid and massive growth,” the Bahai community today must be gigantic. Yet there do not seem to have been any announcements recently of the numbers of new enrollments world-wide: we have to put together local pictures.
There are some national Baha’i communities that are steady-to-growing: mine in the Netherlands is one. There are some, in New Zealand and Scandanavia for example, that have been shrinking over quite a number of years. There are some for which no reliable data is available: Wikipedia for example says (on 9 February 2009), that there are 2.2 million Bahais in India, and 350,000 in Iran. I bump into Iranian Bahais quite often, but I cannot remember when I last met a Bahai from India. When did you?
One community for which we do have reliable recent figures is the United States. In its Ridvan 2007 Annual Message the National Spiritual Assembly of the USA observes and compares:
These encouraging indices of spiritual vitality stand in sharp contrast to the persistently low rate of growth of our community. At the present rate, our net growth will approach zero. From 1980 to 1997, the Baha’i community nearly doubled in size (77,000 to 137,000, excluding Iranian immigrants), with significant increases in the rate of retention. The 50 percent drop in enrollments since 1997 means that enrollments are now at the same level they were in the 1960s, when the Baha’i community was a small fraction of its current size. The number of enrollments to date for this year is 872.
This year, withdrawals (369) from Baha’i membership have risen 30 percent”
If we remember that many people do not explicitly leave the community but simply fade away, and that deaths are presumably not counted as withdrawals, this does not look good for the Bahai community there. In fact if one takes into account 369 withdrawals, and the normal mortality in a community of even 100,000, I cannot see how with 872 enrollments the community is even approaching zero net growth. It must be falling quite a bit short of that.
In the story of the Emperor’s new clothes, it is the boy who holds no position who dares say that the emperor has no clothes on. With no position, and no desire to have one, let me be the one to say, that the emperor’s magnificent regalia is invisible to my unworthy eyes. I’ve looked, but I cannot see the entry by troops, let alone large-scale conversion. From the scattered information available, it appears to be all sizzle and no steak.
What the Bahai Writings say
The compilation ‘promoting entry by troops‘ prepared by the Research Department at the Bahai World Centre in 1993, contains little from Shoghi Effendi. This is significant in itself, for we can suppose their search was reasonably exhaustive (although they did miss at least one quote). Evidently what has become a great preoccupation since Shoghi Effendi’s passing, was not such a prominent issue during his life.
What Shoghi Effendi does say is also surprisingly different to what the Universal House of Justice has been saying.
In 1932, in a letter written on Shoghi Effendi’s behalf, we find:
… it is only when the spirit has thoroughly permeated the world that the people will begin to enter the Faith in large numbers. … We are still in the state when only isolated souls are awakened, but soon we shall have the full swing of the season and the quickening of whole groups and nations into the spiritual life breathed by Baha’u’llah.
In 1936 Shoghi Effendi asks himself:
Must a series of profound convulsions stir and rock the human race ere Baha’u’llah can be enthroned in the hearts and consciences of the masses, ere His undisputed ascendancy is universally recognized, and the noble edifice of His World Order is reared and established?
(The World Order of Baha’u’llah, pp. 201-2)
Two letters written on his behalf in 1944, and one each in 1945 and 1949, warn that people will not respond in large numbers until they see the Bahai teachings in action in the Bahai community. I will quote a fifth such letter on his behalf, from 1951, which is typical of these:
Although tremendous progress has been made in the United States during the last quarter of a century, he [the Guardian] feels that the believers must ever-increasingly become aware of the fact that only to the degree that they mirror forth in their joint lives the exalted standards of the Faith will they attract the masses to the Cause of God.
Far from encouraging a belief in the imminence of entry by troops, these letters seem to be written to people who already believed that entry by troops was imminent, to warn them that it is not going to happen until they have first built communities that embody the Bahai virtues and teachings. There is one other letter, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi in October 1953, which seems to be written to somebody who is discouraged at slow growth, and which does hold out a promise of entry by troops, without indicating a time for it:
This is the ebb of the tide. The Baha’is know that the tide will turn and come in, after mankind has suffered, with mighty waves of faith and devotion. Then people will enter the Cause of God in troops, and the whole condition will change.
In Citadel of Faith, written in the same year, Shoghi Effendi again holds out the prospect of entry by troops and mass conversion, but in a distant future which cannot yet be even dimly visualised:
This flow [of new believers], moreover, will presage and hasten the advent of the day which, as prophesied by ‘Abdu’l-Baha, will witness the entry by troops of peoples of divers nations and races into the Baha’i world — a day which, viewed in its proper perspective, will be the prelude to that long-awaited hour when a mass conversion on the part of these same nations and races, and as a direct result of a chain of events, momentous and possibly catastrophic in nature and which cannot as yet be even dimly visualized, will suddenly revolutionize the fortunes of the Faith, derange the equilibrium of the world, and reinforce a thousandfold the numerical strength as well as the material power and the spiritual authority of the Faith of Baha’u’llah.
Only a single passage from Shoghi Effendi in the compilation on promoting entry by troops gives a sense of imminent fulfillment. It is from his own hand, one of the messages to America, written in April 1956:
Premonitory signs can already be discerned in far-off regions heralding the approach of the day when troops will flock to its standard, fulfilling the predictions uttered long ago by the Supreme Captain of its forces.
With this one exception, the tone of Shoghi Effendi’s writings is one of the assurance of ultimate, not imminent, triumph, and a sober awareness of the long difficult path ahead as the community develops.
There is one very relevant passage from Shoghi Effendi’s own hand which has been omitted from that compilation on promoting entry by troops, yet it seems to me that it gives us the key to his thinking. It’s in The Promised Day is Come:
Suffice it to say that this consummation will, by its very nature, be a gradual process, and must, as Baha’u’llah has Himself anticipated, lead at first to the establishment of that Lesser Peace … involving the reconstruction of mankind, as the result of the universal recognition of its oneness and wholeness, [This]…will bring in its wake the spiritualization of the masses, consequent to the recognition of the character, and the acknowledgment of the claims, of the Faith of Baha’u’llah — the essential condition to that ultimate fusion of all races, creeds, classes, and nations which must signalize the emergence of His New World Order.
I quoted above a letter from the Guardian’s secretary that said that “only when the spirit has thoroughly permeated the world” will people “begin to enter the Faith in large numbers.” Here the Guardian says that that spiritualization of the masses has two pre-requisites: the universal recognition of the oneness of humanity, and the subsequent establishment of the Lesser Peace. From this it seems clear to me that he envisioned the fruitful time for the spiritualisation of the masses, and then for preparing for the process of entry by troops, will be when the flames of war and antagonism have been stilled, when “the fury of a capricious and militant nationalism will have been transmuted into an abiding consciousness of world citizenship.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 41). In Shoghi Effendi’s vision, entry by troops, and mass conversion, comes at the end of this two-fold process leading to “the unification and spiritualization of the entire human race.” (Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith, p. 149)
If the Lesser Peace and entry by troops, and mass conversion, are not imminent prospects, this has implications for the orientation of our individual lives as Bahais and for our communities.
In the first place, that our activities and choices must have intrinsic meaning now: they must be good and productive in themselves. We cannot waste our swiftly passing days on matters that will be meaningful if some momentous chain of events should happen. Nor can we live for generation after generation in the expectation that the great reversal is just about to happen.
Second, that our individual and community activities have to be shaped to meet the widely varying needs of the many countries we live in, and their readiness to engage in the reformation of the world and of religion. Growth will come from answering needs and demonstrating the viability of those answers, not from having a large pool of human resources ready to incorporate the masses when they convert.
It is true that a mass dynamic, where it happens, may have more striking effects than the steady growth produced by personal contacts through individual social networks; but it is also true that where ‘entry by troops’ or something like it has happened in Bahai communities in the past, we do not today see large and active Bahai communities as a result; striking as the phenomenon is where it happens, it is not very meaningful. It is also true that since it happens rarely, and in some areas of the world not at all, the global focus on preparation for the process of entry by troops means that much Bahai activity, in most of the world, is misdirected.
Third, we can reconstruct our personal lives in the light of Shoghi Effendi’s responses to those who looked for mass conversions soon, being “aware of the fact that only to the degree that they mirror forth in their joint lives the exalted standards of the Faith will they attract the masses to the Cause of God.” Not only is there no quick fix coming soon: there is no fix at all unless it begins with our personal lives and character:
Not by the force of numbers, not by the mere exposition of a set of new and noble principles, not by an organized campaign of teaching — no matter how worldwide and elaborate in its character — not even by the staunchness of our faith or the exaltation of our enthusiasm, can we ultimately hope to vindicate in the eyes of a critical and sceptical age the supreme claim of the Abha Revelation. One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendor of those eternal principles proclaimed by Baha’u’llah.
(Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 66)
Fourth: the immediate future will be one in which the Bahai community is one small minority among many other religions. We can see in history that the way of God has been to renew religion through a new religion, not to suddenly pull the plug on old religions:
“Such hath been the way of God … and no change canst thou find in the way of God.” (Quran 33:62; 48:23)
I’ve written more on this in ‘the future of religions.’
These multiple religious communities will have to work together to achieve the spiritualisation of the masses, and will have to work in support of governments, whose responsibility it is to establish the treaties and institutions of the Lesser Peace. Becoming a trusted partner with other communities will be an important priority for the Bahai community, and running intensive programmes to convert their flocks is probably not the most helpful way to start.
One implication of a pluralist future is that the Bahais’ task of understanding Islam, and presenting Islam in an unbiased way in the West so as to counter anti-islamic prejudice, will continue for long into the future. More generally, it implies the need for scholars and thinkers who can thoughtfully relate to the issues of society and the way they are expressed in society, which in turn means a need for more bottom-up substantial deepening along the lines of that offered by the Wilmette Institute, rather than a need for a machinery to cope with elementary-level familiarisation for large numbers of new members.
Fifth: that the most important things need not change, outwardly. In a recent message the Universal House of Justice referred to a community centering on the creative Word [which is, in the first place, the Manifestations, and then their scriptures] and engaging in the activities of worship, the study of scriptures and service to society. Such a community does not require the promise of imminent entry by troops to be meaningful: it is meaningful and a goal in itself. The difference is simply between presenting this community as a well-honed instrument designed to act on an object (the prospective converts), and presenting it as our home and a good in itself (which we are of course willing to share). Needless to say, the first of these presentations may be a source of pride for participants, but it is hardly attractive for the potential converts: it is self-defeating.
The idea that communities are built for their intrinsic value and not as instruments is simply the application at the collective level of a principle we are already familiar with in our individual lives: if it is to be acceptable, our service must be purely for God’s sake, not in the expectation of some reward.
“We nourish your souls for the sake of God; We seek from you neither recompense nor thanks.” (Quran 76:9)