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                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Twoness, two sovereignties

Subject: Re: Theocracy
Date sent: Tue, 27 Dec 2005 11:54:43 +0100

Twoness is an islamic philosophical concept, which becomes the
structural principle of society in the Bahai teachings. There are many
things which are actually pairs (House of Justice, House of Worship;
Guardianship & House of Justice; Fund & Huquq, etc.) – I’ve discussed
this at more length from page 249 of Church and State. There is a
consistent pattern in which institutions are differentiated from a
partner institution that operates on a radically different basis.

The principle is not only embodied in the community, it is found
explicitly in Bahai writings:

From separation doth every kind of hurt and harm proceed, but the
union of created things doth ever yield most laudable results.
From the pairing of even the smallest particles in the world of
being are the grace and bounty of God made manifest; and the
higher the degree, the more momentous is the union. ‘Glory be to
Him Who hath created all the pairs, of such things as earth
produceth, and out of men themselves, and of things beyond their
ken.’ [Qur’an 36:36, and cf. 51:49] (Selections from the Writings
of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 119)

For this union of the male and female exists in all living beings
and plants. This pairing of things is even shown forth in the
Qur’an: “Glory be to Him Who has created all the pairs: of such
things as the earth produceth, and of themselves; and of things
which they know not”[1] — that is to say, men, animals and plants
are all in pairs — “and of everything have We created two kinds”
— that is to say, We have created all the beings through pairing.
(Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 87)

Abdu’l-Baha structures The Art of Governance around this
principle: government and religion are the ‘two forces’ that God uses
to regulate the world, and they are supposed to be like milk and
honey. His exposition of this theme uses a quranic quote as a proof
text, as in the example above. In this case his verse is “You see the
earth lifeless: when we let rain descend upon it, it stirs and swells,
and produces plants from all the pairs, causing rejoicing (22:5).” The
remainder of the book is like a sermon based on this text, applying it
to the contemporary situation. In sections 5 and 6 of The Art of Governance he
introduces the two powers, government and religion, and cites
Baha’u’llah who confirms the principle of “render to Caesar the things
that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s” (in ESW
89-91). There’s a long section of historical examples of disasters due
to religion interferring in political matters, then a section on the
good learned and the bad ones, and then at section 18 he restates the
principle: the earth needs governance, and it comes in two kinds, and
then he goes on to describe the relationship between the two:

The religious law is like the spirit of life,
the government is the locus of the force of deliverance.
The religious law is the shining sun,
and government is the clouds of April.
These two bright stars are like twin lights in the heavens of the
contingent world,
they have cast their rays upon the people of the world.
One has illuminated the world of the soul,
the other caused the earth to flower.
One sowed pearls in the oceans of conscience,
while the other has made the surface of the earth a garden of
It [ie worldly governance] has turned this mound of dust into the envy
of the heavens,
and made this dark house of shadows the cynosure of the world of
lights. The cloud of mercy rose, the gentle rain of benevolence came
the fragrant breeze of grace diffused musk and ambergris.
The dawn breeze blows, wafting the perfume that quickens the soul. The
face of the earth has become like heaven on high,
the agreeable season of spring has arrived.
The showers of the heavenly spring have conferred
a wondrous freshness on the garden of the world.
The sun of ancient grandeur has lavished new radiance
on the horizon of the contingent world.
The tawny dust has been turned into sandalwood and ambergris.
The blackened furnace has become
the rose arbour of the Merciful,
the flowering garden of illumination.

The point is this, that each of these two signs of grandeur is the
aid and assistant of the other, like milk and honey, or the twins
of Gemini in the sky. Thus, contempt for one is betrayal of the
other, and any negligence in obedience to one is sinful rebellion
against the other.

Part II of the Iqan is likewise structured around the two

There are many other pairs and twins and twonesses to be found in the
Writings. Baha’u’llah speaks of reward and punishment as twins, and

this peerless Source of wisdom … proclaimed two words. The first
heralded the promise of reward, while the second voiced the
ominous warning of punishment. The promise gave rise to hope and
the warning begat fear. Thus the basis of world order hath been
firmly established upon these twin principles. (Baha’u’llah,
Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 66 (Words of Paradise), see also p 164,
Lawh-e Maqsuud)

then there are the twin holy trees of the Will and Testament, the twin
duties of recognition and obedience in the Aqdas, the twin festivals
(birth days), the two pilgrimmage sites, the twin Covenants of
Baha’u’llah and of ‘Abdu’l-Baha (Citadel of Faith, p. 76), the twin
shrines and twin pilgrim houses (ditto p 93)…

The last is perhaps tending to the ridiculous, but it shows how far
Shoghi Effendi goes in finding pairs in everything. XX is not the
only one whose heart jumped when she got the big picture; Shoghi
Effendi is passionate about this (Look at Messages to the Baha’i World
p. 8 for example), and I once spoiled an otherwise comprehensible
presentation at a Bahai Studies conference by bursting into tears
because of a sudden in-spiration of the beauty of the divine twoness
of things on one hand, and the ineffable oneness of God on the other.
It was not an appropriate moment for a mystical experience :-).

Shoghi Effendi speaks of the Bahai community being regulated by “the
twin directing principles of the worship of God and of service to
one’s fellow-men.” (Messages to America, p. 24), and he frequently
calls the Guardianship and the UHJ twin institutions. Specifically in
relation to church and state, he calls the Sultanate and Caliphate
(governance and religion) the twin institutions of the Sunni world —
the point being that the idea that the Sultan was also Caliph emerged
only with the decline of the Ottoman empire, and turned it into an
“effete theocracy” (Baha’i Administration p 151 / Unfolding Destiny p
78, see also PDC p. 60, WoB 57, 173).

But these are negative examples: can we find anything in the writings
of Shoghi Effendi that shows he thought of the twoness of church and
state as a good and intended thing, and not merely as a characteristic
of the Ottoman state? I think we find it the idea of parallel
historical processes, in the world and in the Bahai community, that
complement one another. In The Citadel of Faith (31- 33), he speaks of
a number of processes occurring within the Bahai community, and the
goals that will have to be achieved. The American believers, he says,
have a great part to play. How could it be otherwise, when:

… the great republic of the West, government and people alike, is
itself …. unwittingly and irresistibly advancing towards the
goal destined for it by both Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha? Indeed
if we … appraise correctly the significances of contemporaneous
events that are impelling forward both the American Baha’i
Community and the nation of which it forms a part on the road
leading them to their ultimate destiny, we cannot fail to perceive
the workings of two simultaneous processes … each clearly
defined, each distinctly separate, yet closely related and
destined to culminate, in the fullness of time, in a single
glorious consummation.
One of these processes is associated
with the mission of the American Baha’i Community, the other with
the destiny of the American nation
. The one serves directly the
interests of the Administrative Order of the Faith of Baha’u’llah,
the other promotes indirectly the institutions that are to be
associated with the establishment of His World Order.

The institutions of ‘Baha’u’llah’s World Order’ are the civil
institutions of international governance, described by Shoghi Effendi
in The Unfoldment of World Civilization (see below), not the religious
institutions of the Bahai community. “The first process,” he says,
entails both external expansion and the erection of the institutions
of the Bahai Administrative Order. “It will be consummated through the
emergence of the Baha’i World Commonwealth in the Golden Age of the
Baha’i Dispensation.” The second process is the development of a new
political order, which “dates back to the outbreak of the first World
War,” “received its initial impetus through the formulation of
President Wilson’s Fourteen Points,” “suffered its first setback” when
the American Senate failed to endorse the League of Nations, and
developed, through the second World War, until:

It assumed a definite outline through the birth of the United
Nations at the San Francisco Conference. … It must … lead,
through a series of victories and reverses, to the political
unification of the Eastern and Western Hemispheres, to the
emergence of a world government and the establishment of the
Lesser Peace, as foretold by Baha’u’llah and foreshadowed by the
Prophet Isaiah. It must, in the end, culminate in the unfurling of
the banner of the Most Great Peace, in the Golden Age of the
Dispensation of Baha’u’llah.

If we look at Shoghi Effendi’s works with an awareness that, for him,
the separation of church and state was not so much a principle of
constitutional law as a description of the fundamental dynamics of
history, the link between his thinking and the two sovereignties of
Baha’u’llah and the two powers of Abdu’l-Baha is clearer. Shoghi
Effendi’s metaphysics is more historical, embodied in developing
institutions, whereas Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha speak more in terms
of the timeless order of things

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