Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Learned – good and bad

To: FF,
Subject: Prog. Rev.
Date sent: Sat, 14 Mar 2009

On 13 Mar 2009 at 22:01, F wrote:

> Yes Sen, but what constitutes the “learned”, surely not just those
> with academic strength. The spirit of faith must also be added is
> how I understand it.

Academic achievements are not what it intended. Abdu’l-Baha quotes a
saying “”Not every cleric’s turban is a proof of continence and
knowledge; not every layman’s hat a sign of ignorance and immorality.
How many a hat has proudly raised the banner of knowledge, how many a
turban pulled down the Law of God!

(The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 58)

Baha’u’llah defines what he means here:

Respect ye the divines and learned amongst you, they whose conduct
accords with their professions, who transgress not the bounds
which God hath fixed, whose judgments are in conformity with His
behests as revealed in His Book. Know ye that they are the lamps
of guidance unto them that are in the heavens and on the earth.
They who disregard and neglect the divines and learned that live
amongst them — these have truly changed the favor with which God
hath favored them. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of
Baha’u’llah, p.128)

Abdu’l-Baha makes a similar point in Secret of Divine Civilization,
using the Islamic tradition:

As for him who is one of the learned: he must guard himself, defend
his faith, oppose his passions and obey the commandments of his Lord.
It is then the duty of the people to pattern themselves after him.

… The primary meaning of this guarding of oneself is to acquire the
attributes of spiritual and material perfection. … The first
attribute of perfection is learning and the cultural attainments of
the mind, and this eminent station is achieved when the individual
combines in himself a thorough knowledge of those complex and
transcendental realities pertaining to God, of the fundamental truths
of Qur’ánic political and religious law,… (etc, it is a long list)
… The second attribute of perfection is justice and impartiality.
This means to have no regard for one’s own personal benefits and
selfish advantages, and to carry out the laws of God without the
slightest concern for anything else. It means to see one’s self as
only one of the servants of God, the All-Possessing, and except for
aspiring to spiritual distinction, never attempting to be singled out
from the others. … The third requirement of perfection is to arise
with complete sincerity and purity of purpose to educate the masses…
… Other attributes of perfection are to fear God, to love God by
loving His servants, to exercise mildness and forbearance and calm, to
be sincere, amenable, clement and compassionate;…

(etc., another long list)

The second of these spiritual standards which apply to the possessor
of knowledge is that he should be the defender of his faith. … the
whole population should be protected in every way; that every effort
should be exerted to adopt a combination of all possible measures to
raise up the Word of God, increase the number of believers, promote
the Faith of God and exalt it and make it victorious over other

The third element of the utterance under discussion is, “opposes his
passions.” How wonderful are the implications of this deceptively
easy, all-inclusive phrase. This is the very foundation of every
laudable human quality;… A good character is in the sight of God and
His chosen ones and the possessors of insight, the most excellent and
praiseworthy of all things, but always on condition that its center of
emanation should be reason and knowledge and its base should be true

The fourth phrase … is: “obedient to the commandments of his Lord.”
It is certain that man’s highest distinction is to be lowly before and
obedient to his God; [and] close observance of the Divine commands and
prohibitions. Religion is the light of the world, and the progress,
achievement, and happiness of man result from obedience to the laws
set down in the holy Books.

(Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 34, 38, 39, 40,
58, 59, 70)

I have more about this on a posting on my blog,

It’s a response to Paul Lample’s paper “Learning and evolution in the
Bahai community” — adding a
category that Lample missed.

Another good source for the difference between the ‘good’ learned and
the ‘bad’ learned, is Abdu’l-Baha’s The Art of Governance:

first the bad:

“the sources of opposition to the friends of God, and of
disputation with those who believed in the divine verses, have
been certain individuals who have been outwardly graced with the
jewel of knowledge, but piety and the fear[52] of God have faded
from their hearts. They are learned in form, and ignorant in
truth, devout of speech but deniers at heart, devotees in the
flesh, but lifeless in spirit.”

and then for the good:

But as for the learned who are pure of heart and soul,
each one is a mercy from the Lord and a gift of God.

They are a candle for guidance and a lantern of God’s grace,
the lightning bolt of truth and the guardians of the law.

They are the scales of justice and the sovereigns of trustworthiness.

They are the true dawn and the towering palm,
the bright star, and a planet clearly seen.

They are the fountainhead of mystical insight,
the spreading of the sweet waters of life.

They are the educators of souls
they bring glad tidings to the hearts.

They are a guide to the nations,
the heralds of God among the children of Adam.

They are the greatest sign and the loftiest banner,
the jewels of being and the Graces of existence.

They are the manifestations of detachment,
the dawning place of the sun of sanctity.

This ephemeral mortal existence has no attractions for them,
they hold themselves apart from the lusts and passion of the human

In the meetings of the enraptured ones,
they are drunk with the virtues and praises of their
beloved Lord,

but in that court where God is manifest and seen,
they are performing the rites of prayer.

They are firm pillars of the divine edifice,
an impregnable fortress for the manifest religion.

They are the sweet waters of the Euphrates for the thirsty,
and the path of salvation for those who have lost the way.

They are birds giving thanks in the gardens of “God is One”,
and candles giving light in the councils of “I renounce
all else.”

They are God’s scholars, and the heirs of the prophets,
the initiates of mysteries, and the commanders of the
company of the pious.

They turn the private chapel, where dhikr is chanted,
into a cloister in the Kingdom of heaven.

They consider the surrender of all that is other,
as attainment to the threshold of divinity.

If they are not like this, they are as lifeless bodies and images on
walls. As it is written in the authoritative text of the Qur’an, “And
God has led him astray by means of some knowledge.”

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