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Houses of Worship in all the lands

Posted by Sen on September 1, 2018

[Revised July 2019]

I have put up a revised revised draft on the first chapter of my thesis on the Bahai Commonwealth. The topic is not crystal-ball gazing about the future, but rather an examination of the intentions of the community’s founders, by looking at their writings and actions. Chapter 1 is on the House of Worship. I am hoping for feedback please: what is wrong, what is missing, what is redundant? It is a Word (doc) document for downloading here

10 Responses to “Houses of Worship in all the lands”

  1. fpvrcmower said

    The most holy book refers the children chanting the verses of God as the families of the community gathers in the morning.

    I read from this that it is not for the old to intone but to guide the young to do so.

    In the west the old dominate in a way that reflects entitlement born from the ample social welfare system that aids the old over the young as politicians pander for votes.

    This I feel is hampering the growth of the faith in the West.

    And your House of Worship must need focus on the most holy book directly after the passage of Baha’u’llah anointing with rose water

  2. # Title / Sub-title

    The first thing that struck me was the sub-title of the thesis: “the shape of the Bahai community as intended by its founders”. Baha’u’llah once commented (negatively) on the title of a book He had been given as reflecting the character of the author, and your subtitle for me (I’m sorry to be so frank about this) reminded me of His comment. Does it not seem a little arrogant to claim to know the intention of the authors of a global religion to such a degree as to be able to write a book about it? Can anyone ‘know’ the intentions of another? Let alone the intentions of those whose foresight has already been shown to exceed the petty-mindedness of their contemporaries!

    Another implication of the sub-title is that other explications of Baha’i text or custom or tradition, eg. letters of the Universal House of Justice, do not describe the shape of the Baha’i community as intended by the founders.

    It is reasonable to express one’s own view about what a Baha’i Commonwealth might look like, based, as your thesis definitely is, on an exhaustive investigation of the Writings of the Central Figures. It is quite possible that many others will agree with such a vision, but it cannot claim to be anything other than an individual’s interpretation. The words ‘…as intended by its founders’ suggest a higher pretension.

    # Acanonical definitions.

    Another problem with this text is the term ‘founders’ and its definition as ‘Baha’u’llah, Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi’. Even though in the footnote you accept that Shoghi Effendi would have been unhappy with this term, and the term he himself introduced – ‘Central Figures’ referred to the Bab, Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha, you do not mention why Shoghi Effendi would have been unhappy. Further, if Shoghi Effendi is included as a determiner of the structure of a Baha’i Commonwealth – and there can be no doubt that he is, then so too must the Universal House of Justice. Furthermore, the exclusion of the Bab from the ‘founders’ is strange given multiple references to the Bab within the text of this chapter. If you are looking for some generic term as a source for authority, why not ‘authorised text’. Agreed this is a change of emphasis from people to a product of their activity, and psychologically the two are significantly different. However, it does seem to me that a dispassionate exploration of the beliefs of the Baha’i Community should focus on what all Baha’i believe, and what they have been exhorted to adhere to, namely the written word. Furthermore, the entire thesis itself draws on the written word more than on the actions of individuals.

    In brief, it seems to me that if the sub-title of your thesis contains the word ‘founders’ and you assign to this phrase a non-canonical definition, your definition and justification of the term, particularly the exclusion of the Bab and the Universal House of Justice, and the inclusion of Shoghi Effendi, should not be consigned to a short footnote.

    # First Elements / Total Revelation

    In the Preamble, you state:

    > The theme of the ‘new day’ is already present. What we don’t see, in this and similar accounts, is any particular concern with theology and doctrines, the Covenant, the House of Justice, and distinctive Bahai laws.

    This regards an event in 1860, when Abdu’l-Baha is 18, not even married. So even Shoghi Effendi is a distant future. Yet you include Shoghi Effendi in the ‘founders’ of the Baha’i Commonwealth, but you exclude the Covenant, the House of Justice and Baha’i laws as being somehow secondary. Further in your text you cite the Most Great Book – the Kitab-i-Aqdas – a book concerning law, and a book that Baha’u’llah explicitly tells us that He withheld for a period of time from the Baha’i community for reasons of wisdom.

    It seems to me that the temporal order in which the elements of the Baha’i Revelation were made known by Baha’u’llah, and the fact tthathat He appointed Abdu’l-Baha with the right inter alia to interpret His Word, does not imply any other sort of order, such as an order of importance, or distinction. Indeed, Baha’u’llah’s own words about the timing of aspects of His Revelation being determined by Wisdom indicates that a very different dynamic was in place. Consequently, pointing to an event in 1860, near to the start of Baha’u’llah’s Revelation, cannot say much about the relevance of individual components in the totality of Baha’u’llah’s Revelation either today or in future centuries when a Baha’i Commonwealth will appear. It would be more consistent, in my view, to regard the elements of a nascent Baha’i identity that Baha’u’llah was facilitating as being those closest in experience to the first few believers, rather than the elements which will identify and characterise communities of Baha’is who have access to the totality of His Revelation and the expositions of Abdu’l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi, and their contemporary application in letters of the Universal House of Justice.

    # Worldview of Author

    There are individual elements in this thesis that seem to me to be more a reflection of the author’s own mindset than an exploration of themes within Baha’u’llah’s Revelation. For example, in the section on the Administration of the Mashriqu’l-Adhar, you say:

    > … ʿAbdu’l-Bahā allows for multiple Mashreq el-adhkārs in a locality, and individuals and groups are encouraged to initiate both Mashreq el-adhkār meetings and buildings. “He who pays the piper, calls the tune.” Someone who dedicates their home, or a room in their home, as a place of worship (see for example page 15) could hardly be expected to surrender control of it.

    ‘He pays the piper calls the tune’???? Really. Where does this characteristically Anglo-Saxon aphorism appear in any of the Baha’i Writings? I don’t recall even Shoghi Effendi citing it. But the aphorism is characteristic of one of the cultures resident on this globe, a European culture and one close to the author of the thesis. For a contrast, I would suggest the author contemplates a visit to an Asian-Pacific nation. Recently, I visited Bali, and the profusion of temples astounded me. Although there is a priesthood associated with these temples, and their administration is complex, it is certainly not true that the devout believer, or community, who provided the resources for some temple are those in ‘control of it’. If this is already true of some current culture, why is it beyond the bounds of reason to think that it will be true of a Baha’i Commonwealth?

    The linkage between funding a building and control over its use derides other motivations for the devout, such as piety, faithfulness, trust in God, altruism, generosity. It is my sincerest belief, based on meditation of Baha’u’llah’s prayers and His Revelation that He intended that any future society claiming to be based on His Writings would be founded on the virtues of charity, devotion to God, generosity, thankfulness to God, and not control based on funding.

    # Unique Vision / Multiple Visualisations

    A major problem that I have with the entirety of the thesis, or rather a seemingly unstated assumption, is that there will only be **one** Baha’i Commonwealth. Given that Shoghi Effendi has said that Baha’u’llah’s influence will be for half a million years, there is sufficient time – for all recorded human history is encompassed by a few thousand years – for there to be several such civilisations. Furthermore, I am convinced that it is possible for there to be concurrently multiple Baha’i societies/cultures within a single Commonwealth – hence the use of the word ‘commonwealth’ rather than ‘nation’. My interpretation is that Baha’u’llah did not draw out the plans for some defined structure that would be built and whose likeness could be ascertained from the plans before the structure was erected, but He has set out principles according to which any number of creations are possible, none of which can be foreseen until their creators – the community of believers – have made their own choices, based on their interpretations of Baha’u’llah’s vision.

    # Diversity of Human Experience

    A great deal of the reasoning in this thesis extrapolates from the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Humanity has other experiences of the Divine. That they are not written and that the cultures sustained by them have been violently repressed does not negate their Divine origin, or their inevitable contributions to human society. These other experiences of Divine and the effect they have on culture, together with ideas about inclusion and unity in diversity seem to me to indicate a very rich and unpredictable Baha’i commonwealth, one that is unconstrained by our current conceptions.

    And for that reason, it seems to me, the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar will be important not because it is necessary for a Baha’i community to exist, but because it reflects the Baha’i community that erected and sustains it.

  3. lapistuner said

    The text is unreadable, as all blocked out in blue. Oddly the footnotes are all okay. Am I the only one with this problem?

  4. Sen said

    I will post a pdf version, with a contents page and a few corrected typos.

  5. I had the same problem. But if you open in a word processor like LibreOffice (or perhaps MS Office) select all (control A) and then change the background colour to default, the horrible blue colour disappears.

  6. Roland said

    Richard’s comment re the difficulty of determining the shape of the Bahai community in the future reminded me of this comment by Shoghi Effendi after his delineation of key aspects of the World order which will be established: ” Who can doubt that such a consummation—the coming of age of the human race—must signalize, in its turn, the inauguration of a world civilization such as no mortal eye hath ever beheld or human mind conceived? Who is it that can imagine the lofty standard which such a civilization, as it unfolds itself, is destined to attain? Who can measure the heights to which human intelligence, liberated from its shackles, will soar? Who can visualize the realms which the human spirit, vitalized by the outpouring light of Bahá’u’lláh, shining in the plenitude of its glory, will discover?” The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p.206

    The fact that future Manifestations of God will make refinements over a 500,000 year period indicates that the task of imagining, conceiving, measuring and visualizing the future Bahai Commonwealth is an interesting idea but one which cannot reach any definitive conclusion considering that Shoghi Effendi himself asked in th epassag eI quoted “who is it” that can claim to do so. Shoghi Effendi foresaw “a mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity” but one would not be surprised if even our present degree of interaction could not have been envisaged by Bahais of several decades ago or if our current mechanisms of world inter-communication may not seem utterly primitive to those in the future. This one aspect alone indicates how difficult it is to visualize and define an ongoing development which will unfold organically for hundreds of thousands of years.

  7. Sen said

    The shape of the Bahai community in the future is not my topic: personally, I do not think I can predict anything, and in any case the framework I am working within, a PhD at a secular university, means I cannot speak normatively about what should happen, or give a value judgement on what has happened. My topic is looking back, at what the Founders of the community intended to be the shape of the Bahai community.

  8. Sen,
    ‘a PhD at a secular university’ seems a bit of an excuse, as if you are compelled by others to subscribe to constraints you otherwise would not have. There are a variety of ways of presenting material.

    Your choice of topic, namely what ‘the Founders intended’ makes an assumption that is not addressed. How do we know what the ‘Founders’ intended?

    This is not a meaningless question. When for example a game designer creates a game, s/he does not specify in advance each of the possible games that may take place, but rather a set of rules that will guide players through millions of variations (Go has the simplest of rules, but is one of the most complex of games). This is a different paradigm to an architect or playwright who may have a specific vision, one that is defined by a set of architectural drawings or script. Another paradigm is a teacher – say of decorative art – who may teach students rules about the use of colour, design, perspective, light, position, line, and so on. But what the students do with that knowledge is not prescribed by the teacher.

    What I was trying to convey to you in my first post is that your thesis – as it stands and as the subtitle implies – makes an assumption about the very nature of Baha’u’llah’s activity, and that assumption seems very very constrained, even by the standards of a conservative academia.


  9. lapistuner said

    Thanks Sen for fixing the problem. I can read it now okay. Cheer!

  10. daleramsdell said

    . Excellent effort here. Well done, brother.

    . As per the “idea” or essential prototype of the Mashriqu’l-Adhkār, the parallel thought occurs of bees building hives with a hexagon as the idea prototype, with design variations according to sub-species in accordance with environmental materials available. Such hives are highly functional for their role in the ecosystem, which they support to a superlative degree, and “perfect as possible in the world of “bee-ing”…” (pun intended) … where “work is worship” is second to none!!!

    . Baha’u’llah, the Manifestation of God for this Age, has given us the “idea prototype” of a 9 sided, 9 doored, domed building, made “as perfect as possible in the world of being”, with dependencies of a practical nature, which reflect both the spiritual and material reality of creatures invested with capacity to fulfill their purpose:
    “to know and worship God”.

    . How much greater is our potential than bees? Though we are currently in little more than at a larval stage of development, when the world has thousands of Mashriqu’l-Adhkārs, complete with dependencies, we will truly be humming.

    . That we are at an evolutionary point in humankind’s development should be regarded as a “natural” occurrence, and not merely whatever might be associated with such a term as “supernatural” might limit or imply. Thus, our “hives” are the Mashriqu’l-Adhkārs and the dependencies associated with them, spiritually and practically.

    . Allah’u’Abha
    . Dale Ramsdell

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