Tuesday, February 09, 2016

It was in the news…

"Sublime meteoric shower all over the United states - 1833" from The National Memorial Volume: Being a Popular Descriptive Portraiture of the Great Events of Our Past Century

This is a presentation that is going to review the newspaper coverage of the Baha'i Faith and is going to review it in light of the kind of news-of-the-day early Christianity had. This is for two reasons - first though the spiritual teachings are attractive and heart-felt the history is very tense. One may think a religious Founder comes and everyone just believes but history says it is not so. And second, the parallels between early Christianity - even Jesus Himself - and early Baha'i history are inescapable and have been made by those inside the religion as well as some outside. Here we will see it for ourselves. The early history of Christianity as noted in the Gospels should be well known before this at least in general (things like the manger, baptism, crucifixion, apostles suffering and basically the progress of the growth of the religion) - but what is often less well known is how others at the times noted these events. There are various quotes either from history or from published works. This compilation and my words, outside of the quotes, have no authority within or outside the Baha'i Faith. These are just for your consideration.

 So first we have the analysis of a Baha'i authority making the parallel…
"It would indeed be no exaggeration to say that nowhere in the whole compass of the world’s religious literature, except in the Gospels, do we find any record relating to the death of any of the religion-founders of the past comparable to the martyrdom suffered by the Prophet of Shíráz. … The passion of Jesus Christ, and indeed His whole public ministry, alone offer a parallel to the Mission and death of the Báb, a parallel which no student of comparative religion can fail to perceive or ignore. In the youthfulness and meekness of the Inaugurator of the Bábí Dispensation; in the extreme brevity and turbulence of His public ministry; in the dramatic swiftness with which that ministry moved towards its climax; in the apostolic order which He instituted, and the primacy which He conferred on one of its members; in the boldness of His challenge to the time-honored conventions, rites and laws which had been woven into the fabric of the religion He Himself had been born into; in the rôle which an officially recognized and firmly entrenched religious hierarchy played as chief instigator of the outrages which He was made to suffer; in the indignities heaped upon Him; in the suddenness of His arrest; in the interrogation to which He was subjected; in the derision poured, and the scourging inflicted, upon Him; in the public affront He sustained; and, finally, in His ignominious suspension before the gaze of a hostile multitude—in all these we cannot fail to discern a remarkable similarity to the distinguishing features of the career of Jesus Christ.”
 - God Passes By, by Shoghi Effendi, 1979, p. 56, (paragraph 15)
Now these are names you may not have heard as much - the Bab and the Babi Dispensation and Shiraz. You may have heard Baha'is note the year 1844 as the origin of the history of the Baha'i Faith. Indeed the 1800s had many astounding events like the 1833 meteor storm.

Baha'is see a relationship akin to John the Baptist and Jesus between the persons of the Bab and Baha'u'llah - a subject we'll return to another time. From the Christian narratives we know John the Baptist was out moving the people to repent and be baptized to outwardly and inwardly refine their lives with a personal commitment to a new life. So the history of the Baha'i Faith begins with the history of the Bab and here we see a remarkable case being made - that the history of the Bab and of Jesus are extremely parallel. But again what was the view of the people of the day on the coming of Jesus? We all kind of know the Biblical story but what were people talking about outside the Bible? A historian of the period concerned with Jewish history is known as Josephus - we know almost nothing about where Josephus got his information but it was clearly second or third hand at best and clearly the color of the coverage was unfriendly. He has three references to these early matters. This is taken from the Wikipedia article "Josephus on Jesus":
"And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. … Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.
Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man... Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion... Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death.
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
The third is in some dispute among scholars who broadly think there was some kernel of truth that got changed a bit. But I'll let it stand. Here we have a very different angle on what we we've come to know of the history of Christianity. There's no manger, no wise men, no gathering of apostles. First we hear of things because Jesus' brother James got in trouble and then John the Baptist and finally Jesus were all put to death. The chronology is out of the familiar order not to mention a whole different slant. And this is not the cozy realm of spiritual thought and ideals. This is the hardness of human hearts - of intolerance of unconventionally, of politics and traditions and fears. And people were stoned to death and hung on a cross.

Josephus wrote about 30 or 50 years after the events of the Gospels. This is the considered thought of a historian. And it gets worse. The historian Tacitus writes another 20 odd years after Josephus about more news of Christians now almost a century after Jesus. This is from the Wikipedia article "Tacitus on Christ".
"But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”
Harrowing. Very harrowing. Something happened - a fire - some plead guilty, and then Christians who had nothing to do with it were rounded up and killed in very heinous ways. It can even be argued they were entirely innocent. Notice Tacitus thinks the Christians culpable for being so different - but it is "lamentable" they had to be put to death this way.

There are a few more quotes from the first century or so of the Christian history. But I don't wish to prolong this over much. These are the key quotes about how things were viewed from the outside so to speak. This is a broad picture of the history it is contended is a parallel for looking at the early history of the Baha'i Faith and its basis in the Babi Faith.

And O yes, there is a record of a quake after Jesus was crucified. It was symbolic but it was also physical. Not much is known of it, but earthquakes are not fun to go through. Recall the quake in Haiti was very terrible even though stronger quakes had hit California where few died whereas in Haiti it was very terrible. This also, we will see, happened in the history of the Bab.

Here's the quote on a quake after Jesus' martyrdom - "[…sediments in the Dead Sea] … reveal a seismic event that happened sometime between the years 26 and 36.”

So, like the Christians starting with the notable Origen who observed Josephus' writing near two centuries later, Baha'is didn't rely on historians and reporters - we have our own narratives and chroniclers who wrote our own records. So coming to hear of the non-Baha'i comments took some time to find, to discover they even existed, and here we are near two centuries later. Just as it wasn't until many years later that Josephus was noted by Christians.

We speak of things in the 1800s but it wasn't until the 1970s that newspaper stories referring to the first public events of Babi history come to our own eyes. And the hint of the trail is noted in 1973 by Hasan Balyuzi who published the biography, The Báb: The Herald of the Day of Days. It is a newspaper clipping with the title "Mahometan Schism" - referring to Muhammad, peace be upon Him, and already you see a sense of division and strife being referred to by One whom we call meek and gentle. And that trail led back to earlier and earlier dates - from America in 1846 back to Nov 15 1845 and then finally to Nov 1, 1845 in London as the first public event of the religion that makes the news- a paper was published in 1976 when this was finally identified - "Persia": An Early Mention of the Báb, by Robert Cadwalader, in World Order magazine, Winter 1976-77, pp. 30-34.

This was further summarized in 1981 in Moojan Momen's book. "The Bábí and Bahá'í religions 1844-1944: some contemporary western accounts" published in 1981, ISBN 978-0-85398-102-2. For the careful researcher this is an excellent review of the material as it was known circa 1980.

Recall James got in trouble and was stoned? That happened way later compared to the Gospel narrative. So the earliest moments of the Baha'i narrative for Babi history begin much earlier and are private events. In May a man left his school, wandered in search of a promised one, came to a city gate and was welcomed to take rest in the home of the Bab. That night there was intense discussion and hearts won to a Cause of enlightenment and fulfillment - yet there was no reporter present, no historian, no anthropologist. Just as Jesus walked into the River Jordan and no one really took note so it was with the first moments of the Babi Faith. These events we are to hear about in the news come later.

18 individuals each independently and quietly, personally, even in dreams, came to affirm specifically that the Bab was their promised one. Only then did He give them their first missions. One He sent out to tell the students at the school that the promised one had come. Another He sent north to look for a hidden secret and found a family man who would later be called Baha'u'llah. But the Bab Himself - and the lead disciple Quddus as he was later known - went off on pilgrimage to Mecca and there proclaim the new Day. But none of these are matters western reporters would be interested in. Recall this was a time of colonies and empires - British, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish colonies were spread through the world. Russia was pushing out too - so in Persia we had Russia pushing down from the north and the British pushing in from the south and east. Shiraz is the city of the Bab and it located in the south. And colonies are about trade flowing. The Boston Tea Party was about trade fairness and that's the kind of thing that makes the news to the British concerns - threats to trade. So the first coverage of the Babi history is to come soon. The Bab and Quddus return from Mecca, land at the port city near Shiraz and the Bab sends Quddus and a few others already converted on to Shiraz to make the news in His hometown.

 So here's one of the versions of that first newspaper story:
"We have been favored with the following letter, dated Bushire, August 10: A Persian merchant, who has lately returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca, had been for some time endeavoring here to prove that he was one of the successors of Mahomet, and there had a right to demand of all true Mussulmans to mention him as such in their profession of faith; he had already collected a good number of followers, who secretly aided him in forwarding his views. On the evening of the 23d of June last, I have been informed from a creditable source, four persons being heard at Shiraz repeating their profession of faith according to the form prescribed by the new impostor were apprehended, tried, and found guilty of unpardonable blasphemy. They were sentence to lose their beards by fire being set to them. The sentence was put into execution with all the zeal and fanaticism becoming a true believer in Mahomet. Not deeming the loss of beards a sufficient punishment for the believers in the impostor, they were further sentenced on the next day to have their faces blacked and exposed throughout the city. Each of them was led by a Mirgazah (executioner), who had made a hole in his nose and passed through it a string, which he sometimes pulled with such violence that the unfortunate fellows cried out alternatively for mercy from the executioner and for vengeance from Heaven. It is custom in Persia on such occasions for the executioners to collect from the spectators, and particularly from the shopkeepers in the bazaar. In the evening, when the pockets of the executioners were well filled with money, they led the unfortunate fellows to the city gate, and there told them:
"The world was all before them where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide."
After which the Mollahs at Shiraz sent men to Bushire with power to seize the impostor, and take him to Shiraz, where, on being tried, he very wisely denied the charge of apostasy laid against him, and thus escaped from punishment."
You can find this newspaper clipping archived at http://bahai-library.com/first_newspaper_accounts_babism

It turns out there are actually many echoes of this first newspaper story in fact. Here's a list - just skim to get a sense of it:
1 Nov, London Times
6 Nov, Bradford Observer
15 Nov, Literary Gazette and Journal of the Belles, Letters, Arts, Sciences, etc., London, England
18 Nov, Morning Post
19 Nov, London Times and London Standard
20 Nov, Patriot of London
21 Nov, Stamford Mercury, Lincolnshire, England, and Newcastle Courant, Tyne and Wear, England
22 Nov, Leamington Spa Courier, Warwickshire, England
25 Nov, Kentish Gazette, Kent, England and Freeman's Journal Dublin, Republic of Ireland
26 Nov, Blackburn Standard, Lancashire, England, Hereford Journal, Herefordshire, England
27 Nov, Fife Herald, Fife, Scotland
28 Nov, Royal Cornwall Gazette, Cornwall, England
29 Nov, West Kent Guardian, West Yorkshire, England, Northern Star, Hereford Times, Herefordshire, England, Sherborne Mercury, Dorset, England, Western Times, Devon, England, Northern Star and National Trades Journal
5 Dec, Liverpool Mercury, Merseyside, England
5 Jan, Caledonian Mercury, Midlothian, Scotland
6 Jan, Dundee Courier, Angus, Scotland
14 Jan, Dumfries and Galloway Standard, Dumfriesshire, Scotland
26 Jan, Troy Daily Whig, Troy NY
30 Jan, Christian observer of Louisville, Kentucky
19 Feb, Vermont Watchman and State Journal, Montpelier, Vermont
23 Feb, Signal of Liberty, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Feb (Jan/Feb issue) The Eclectic Magazine of Foreign Literature, Science, and Art (New York, NY)
31 Mar, Melbourne Australia's Port Phillip Herald
4 Apr, Boon's Lick Times, Fayette, Missouri, p. 1, Morning Chronicle, Sydney, Australia, p. 4  7 Apr, South Australian, Adelaide, Australia
11 Apr, South Australian Register, Adelaide, Australia
15 July, New Zealand Spectator Cook's Strait Guardian

And - get this - I'm absolutely sure this is an incomplete list! England... England... England... and then 27 November we have Ireland…Scotland... on it goes... under 1846 we have New York, Troy New York, Louisville Kentucky, Montpelier Vermont, Ann Arbor Michigan, here's Fayette Missouri - and Sydney Australia! And then down to New Zealand!   (Now here we are in the online "world"/"country?" of Blogger! lol) Echoes of this newspaper article have been found in almost every country on the planet that had an English language newspaper in the day. Britain, the US, Australia and New Zealand are confirmed. We hope to find it yet in Canada and other places; maybe even in other languages. All these are footnoted (though some depend on a subscription to a newspaper clipping service.) The link to go to is at http://bahaikipedia.org/%22Persia_-_or_-_Mahometan_Schism%22

So after the events in Shiraz the Bab was arrested, accused of things He didn't claim and punished - well you get the picture. Punishment just because He was challenging a cardinal rule of Islam which others thought was a prophetic day, the rule of clerical order of the day, and who were founded with a promise that one day a One unlike any other would come and were warned the day would be tough. From Shiraz the Bab was sent away and He then directed His followers to spread to different directions. Here we have a newspaper story from 1848. Two years have gone by. Here you see reports He has gathered some 30,000 converts and the Bab has again been arrested. Recall the news of Jesus - He was accused of idolatry and sorcery. What sorcery was that? People would meet Him and be magnetized to a whole different approach to life even if they were scholars or fixed on denying Him many were converted or dumbfounded. People not there see this and develop fear and loathing. Here we have a supposed confession under torture. Recall the judges accusing Jesus and bating Him with questions. Non-Baha'is noted this later. All this can be read in the histories but here - June 1848 - we have a letter from May being printed in French in the Journal de Constantinople of a letter from Persia.

In June 1848 a letter from May 1 is summarized and printed in the Journal de Constantinople
"…from Persia, dated May 1st from Teheran,…
… encouraging the supporters of the Bab in their resistance to religious authorities of the country. The Bab is a madman who has announced himself in Persia, some time ago, to be the Mahdi (Messiah), and by his preaching in Azerbaijan and Gilan, he has succeeded in gathering around him about 30,000 converts. The royal prince named last governor of Tabríz, having been able, by persuasion, to get (p. 2) the Bab to confess his imposture. The latter has been thrown into a dungeon, after having previously been subjected to torture, in accordance with the laws of the country.… "- http://bahaikipedia.org/%22name_of_Bab%22
The only part mentioning the details is a short bit in a longer story but you get the sense of things and the mixed attitudes.

Next (from the same url)
"This was written to us from Tabríz on the 1st of March, 1849:We have been talking for some time of a religious sect who took up arms in Mazenderan to defend its dogmas and its leader who is currently in jail there. Babis, so named after their leader, profess some very advanced socialist ideas. They are also furious as one can imagine, and they are already worn to excesses against delegated power. Now that the government seems completely delivered of embarrassment by Khorasan, it probably will reduce them."
Here we have Babis who had been a threat to the public order by converting 10s of thousands of people in many cities in just three years to change religions, to set aside previous understanding, to live according to different rules and here they are called "very advanced socialist ideas". Mazanderan(various spellings in these newspaper clips) is a province in Persia. This hint of taking up arms... let's read the next one:
29 March, 1849
"I have seen it announced that the Bab, after his rebellion and imprisonment in Erdébil some months ago, has taken refuge in Mazandaran where he is surrounded by a party of about 600 angry men occupying a small fort, from which they have repelled the troops repeatedly sent against them. A body of 3,000 men could finally exterminate these rebels, and evict them from their hideout..…"

600 men facing 3000 soldiers and it is called a hideout in this Turkish-French newspaper.

600 vs 3000 - this isn't a fair fight and this isn't even a fight. The Babis had taken refuge at the Shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi from neighboring villages where Babis had been stoned and without provisions, as refugees. Other Babis heard of them and they gathered to a number near 600 it is said. This occupation was from October 10, 1848 to May 10, 1849. So we are hearing almost live reports as it were but from behind one side of the line certainly. But like the march on Selma you get a very different view of things from the other side of the line. You don't hear about the woman that was among these 600 angry men for example or that they were surrounded on a flat plain open to all - hideout indeed. Or how they managed to hold off the 3000 soldiers.
12 April 1849, Morning Post, London
"From our Correspondent: Constantinople, March 25… Another rebel, who made himself very formidable of late in Mazanderan, has just been taken and put to death. This was a fanatic of the name of Bab, who, at the head of a band of enthusiasts, who are called "Babies," had committed all sorts of atrocities in the south of Persia; and having been driven thence by the troops of the Shah, he betook himself to the north, which he treated much after the same fashion, ravaging and raving(text is alittle unclear) his way all through Mazanderan. By the last accounts, however, it appears that an end had been put to him and his exploits by the hand of the public executioner. There is a striking analogy between the career of General Bab in Mazanderan and that of the General Ben of Transylvania; and it is not unlikely that, like Bab, Ben will come to a bad end." 
23 April London Daily News, p. 5 …
"The following news from Persia appears in the Journal de Constantinople:… Bab, whose revolt and imprisonment at Erdebil I announced to you several months ago, having taken refuge in the Mazanderan, was there with about 600 violent men, who occupied a small fort, from which he had repeatedly repelled the troops sent against him. A corps of 3,000 men, however, has at last exterminated this factious band, and blown up their retreat. … "
(Almost a verbatim quote of the March 29th Journal article from above.)

Now here's the confusion coming in - the Bab was executed by soldiers in July 1850. We have a mistake here about who is being talked about. This was the singled out disciple of the Bab probably - Quddus - who was indeed executed after the Battle at the Shrine of Shaykh Tabarsi. How did the soldiers win?  After failing to conquer them militarily the general of the army promised the Babis if all they wanted was to go live peaceably they could go and swore it on a copy of the Qur'an. The Babis put down their arms and walked out of the "Fort" after months with no provisions and when they surrendered they were executed almost on the spot.
Revue de l'Orient in the April 1849:
"… The Babis, for it is thus they are called, profess the most advanced socialist ideas, so fanatical as one can imagine, they have already taken matters to excess against delegates of authority in Mázindarán. Their chief is in prison in Tauris, and they say they have taken up arms in order to defend him, him and dogmas which he has imposed upon them, and which they accept without a murmur."
The Morning Post, 20 July 1850
"Persia - We are in possession, through our correspondents at Erzeroom and Constantinople, of dates from the capital of the Schah's(sic) dominions to the commencement of June, which report the country as generally quiet, with the sole exception of Tenjaun, where the Babees hold the town, and have gone the length of forming a Nizam. A military expedition has been dispatched against them from Tabreez, from when the constituted authorities have claimed the delivery up, for public execution, of the prophet Bawb, under confinement in the fortress of Tchehrik; but it would seem that his gailers have become proselytes to Babeeism, for they stoutly refuse to give him up. The Bab-el-Bale, or wise beauty of Kazoeen, is a close prisoner at Teheran, where rumour says, she has all but (ital in original-ed) converted some of the influential officers of state, who have been allowed to visit her dungeon."
3 Sept 1850, Morning Chronicle
"We have dates from Tabreez to the 31st July, announcing the important fact that the Sheik ul Islam, of Azerbaidjan (of which extensive district Tabreez is the capital), a very influential personage, as being on of the highest dignitaries of the Church of Persia, has been arrested, and forcibly conveyed to Teheran, by special order of the Emir Nizam, together with his son, under charge of intriguing to secure an extension of power to the clergy, to the manifest detriment of the State.
Babism, notwithstanding the recent execution of its chief and founder Bab, the soi-disant (ed - "supposedly") representative of Mahommed Medhi, the twelfth and last Imam, claiming direct succession from Mahommed, continues to increase, and its followers are said to number in Persia alone 50,000. The village of Zeudjan, which is their stronghold, though only containing a population of 8,000, including women and children, continues to hold out against five regiments of well-disciplined troops, which have closely besieged it for the past three months, and in a late sortie, 200 of the latter were massacred. It is said that the inhabitants have put themselves in a position, as regards provisions and warlike stores, to hold out for at least two years, against even a much superior force."

All from http://bahaikipedia.org/Newspaper_coverage_of_the_Zanjan_Upheaval 

And here from January 1851:
The accounts received from this kingdom represent it to have been recently in a disturbed condition. The Shah has attempted to introduce several reforms, but they had not met with general approbation.The Persian sect of Babis, whose main doctrine is said to be the denial of the existence of God, and who recognize no other authority than that of their chief, has at last been extinguished. They had been persecuted for two years, and their Chief, Bab de Shiraf, put to death at Tauris, when they betook themselves to Longrian, which they fortified. The city was stormed by a considerable body of troops under Mehemet Chan, and most of the Babis fell in the struggle. The prisoners were doubtless all killed. They were accused of scandalous offenses against the religion and morals of the country.
The Cheikul-islan, or chief of religion, of Tabris, has been arrested by order of the government, and sent under a strong escort to Teheran; the charge against him was having favored the subversive projects of the Babis. The Khorassan was in full insurrection. Yar Mehemet Khan revolted against his father, the viceroy of the Shah, and besieged him in Herat.
Stryker's American Register and Magazine, James Stryker, E. C. and J. Biddle, January, 1851, p. 129-130

So the Bab was executed in July 1850. It's another whole topic about how execution took place - rather incredible, but a story for another time. The country broke out in some violence but things appeared to calm down. Many leaders of the new religion were also dead or had turned away in the face of so much violence. The Babis that remained active were in disarray - other leaders like Tahirih who still lived were in prison. Many gather to pray about the turn of events and seeds of thoughts of revenge stirred. A few set themselves aside and a few of them gathered in secret and plotted. Out of tens of thousands, maybe over a hundred thousand who had survived, maybe 6 gathered and plotted and of them only three or four made the actual attempt on the Shah's life. Let us recall the times of Christianity that we will see paralleled and even more heinously.

From Tacitus again…
"But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”
So like the fire lit in Rome and turned into something else entirely there is the case of the "attempted" assassination of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar was on August 15, 1852. I say "attempted" because in a few quotes you will see it was not really meant to do so in the words of an eyewitness.

But here is one of the first long accounts, from the London Times, October 23. Note I have cut out sections to not extend the bloody commentary over much – this is less than half of the original text which was published in the newspaper:
The late attempt to assassinate the Shah of Persia was made by two persons who belonged to the religious sect of the Babis. This was the only confession they made in spite of the inexpressible torments of the rack, and, though their bones were crushed by screws, still their lips remained closed, and all they said was, "We are Babis." …. Look at others, whose teeth have been broken out by the hands of the executioner, offering their bare heads to the hammer which is to break their skulls. Or look at the woeful spectacle of the bazaar, lighted up by heretics, whose breasts and shoulders are drilled through and through, and made to contain burning candles. I have seen them marching through the bazaar with a band of music preceding them. … Nor are these the only torments ….  I shall never forget the scene. Not a groan had escaped him;… but the flesh is weaker than the mind - he staggers and falls! For mercy's sake, give him the coup de grace, and make an end of it. … The judges now and then present some Crown officer or dignitary with a few Babis, and the Persian feels delighted and honoured by shedding the blood of the gagged and defenseless man. The infantry, cavalry, artillery, the King's guards, the guilds of the butchers, bakers - all took part in the bloody scenes. A certain Babi was sent as a present to the officers of the garrison; the commanding general had the first cut at him, and the other officers followed, each with his sword, according to rank and seniority. … After their death, the bodies of the Babis are cut into halves, and either nailed to the gates or thrown out to the dogs and shakals."
Now in case you didn't catch the parallel, let me share a few people's comments:

Robert Grant Watson (b. 8 February 1834, d. 28 October 1892)
In 1866 British career diplomat Robert Grant Watson published a history the first half of the 19th century of Persia and included 16 pages on the events related to the history of the Babi Faith. Watson makes the very point himself about the parallels. He says of the Babi Faith:
"Bábism, though at present a proscribed religion in Persia, is far from being extinct, or even declining, and the Báb may yet contest with Mahomed the privilege of being regarded as the real prophet of the faithful. Bábism in its infancy was the cause of a greater sensation than that even which was produced by the teaching of Jesus, if we may judge from the account of Josephus of the first days of Christianity. Far from foreseeing the future spread of that religion, the Jewish historian contents himself with observing — "And the tribe of Christians, so named from him (Christ), are not extinct at this day."
This is at the footnote at this url - http://archive.org/stream/ahistorypersiaf00grangoog#page/n363/mode/2up

Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch (b. June 18, 1809 -  d. October 12, 1870)
Studies in the evidences of Christianity (1869) pp. 129 – 140, comments on Babi history. Bulfinch had been a Unitarian minister since 1830 but circa 1860 he accepted the trinity doctrine. He makes comparisons between the Bab and Jesus in various ways saying in part:
In various respects, the history of Mirza Ali Mohammed, surnamed the Bab, presents startling resemblance to that of the Savior. Claiming descent from an ancient prophet king, he was yet, like Jesus, born in a lowly station; still he was regarded by his followers as the sovereign of his nation and of mankind, whose advent had been long foretold and ardently expected. After leading a life of purity, and uttering words of wisdom, he was put to death, through the hostility of his own government, but by the hands of foreign soldiers; and, before his execution, he was denied by some of his most prominent followers; nay, the very form of contumely with which thy were compelled to treat him, was the same which had been used towards the Savior in the hall of the high priest.
It is high honor for a teacher of wisdom thus to bear in his own history a resemblance to that of the Redeemer and we would fain believe that Mirza Ali Mohammed was worthy of the distinction. But we cannot forget that the claim was made for him, that he was "the Gate of Truth, the Imam of Islam," the subject of ancient prophecy, the worker of present miracles, and the destined possessor of universal empire.…"
He then elaborates that the Bab was deluded but not consciously an impostor, but of pure character. - footnote 36 for the quote is at http://archive.org/stream/cu31924031235546#page/n142/mode/1up

Here's one comment from 1874:
Sacramento Daily Union of 14 February 1874 , p. 4, 4th col - "He (the Shah) then massacred the Babis and religious sects, and set fire, a la Nero, to some of his victims.”- http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=SDU18740214.2.34
Here's one from 1885 by Mary Wilson - she published an article in the periodical Contemporary Review and included in it comments of scholar Gobineau:
”…a joyful constancy in the face of bitterest suffering, torture and death, as vivid and touching as any that are found in the records of the heroic days of old”… We have been accustomed to claim it as an argument for the truth of our Christianity that its believers have been strong to suffer martyrdom for its sake. But here we have not men only, but tender and delicate women and little children, joyfully enduring torture "not accepting deliverance," for the sake of the faith that was in them.…The account of this closing day in the Bab’s history almost irresistibly recalls a similar day in a more sacred story. The mock trial – the outburst of blind, popular fury, stirred up by a jealous and vindictive priesthood – the cruel mockings and insult …"
- http://books.google.com/books?id=aJPQAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA808 
Now I said before that this wasn't much of an "attack". Here's the eyewitness report. In 1865 polish doctor Jakob Polak published his first hand account of on the attempt on the life of the Shah in Das Land und seine Bewohner. It mentions(translated from the German):
"In late summer 1852 as the Shah, accompanied by an approximately 500-man guard, underwent an outing from his summer palace Riaveran, three men came towards him, whereupon one of them point blank fired a pistol at him, ... The shot grazed the stomach of the Shah's horse; the guard appeared to back off, leaving him to his fate, then everyone believed him to be dead and murdered at the hands of a pretender to the throne. Had there been a decaying corpse among the living it would have seemed superfluous [very loosely translated]. Only one foreign servant noticed the Shah stirring. He lunged dauntlessly and seized one of the murderers. A fight arose in which the servant received a stab wound to the stomach; in the meantime others trudged towards the murderers - and the king was saved. What resulted were only a few small grains of shot in the area of his backside. Of the assassins one recognized fanatical Babis, who wanted to avenge the death of their Prophet. The pistol and the ammunition which they operated were so poor that only a miracle could have enabled them to realize their goal. The Shah immediately showed himself the wolf, in order to prevent malicious rumours... . He retorted that God had saved him: "Certainly God has saved me, because you all have forsaken me.”
For much more on the who and what of these attempted "assassins" go listen to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B3Xl9py3z5w (which was also published in a journal - "Millennialism and Violence: The Attempted Assassination of Nasir al-Din Shah of Iran by the Babis in 1852". Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 12 (1): 57–82. doi: 10.1525/nr.2008.12.1.57. JSTOR  10.1525/nr.2008.12.1.57.

Continuing from the polish doctor:
Then began the persecution. The Shah was encouraged to believe in a further widely networked conspiracy of Babis, shut up behind regiments, civil servants, attendants, priests, teachers, garden, in every sigh he found plotters and he was not for a moment without fear for his life. Even the wife of the grand vizier, born in Masandaran, was accused belonging to the sect [...]. Seized by fear and horror from every side the Shah lapsed into Machiavellian ways to exterminate the believers. … seek out all Babis and throw them in to jail. Then he ordered every corps, ever branch of the civilian and military detail to surrender at least one Babi in case within one or the other corps were still secret members of the sect … [... passage about torture]. The martyrs demonstrated the courage and steadfastness of fanaticism; no recanting of faith, no hint of a cry of pain."
- original in German at http://books.google.com/books?id=lyFDAAAAcAAJ&jtp=350
- a translation at http://www.paintdrawer.co.uk/david/folders/Research/Bahai/Tahirih/Martyrdom%20of%20Tahirih%20(Dr%20Jakob%20Eduard%20Polak).htm

Alas the tale is not ended. Not ended by half. A mass execution of Babis began. Exactly how big is debated. In The Babi and Baha’i community of Iran: a case of “suspended genocide”?, by Moojan Momen, Journal of Genocide Research (2005), 7(2), June, especially page 222   - there Momen mentions:
"Conservative estimates put the total number of Babis killed during the whole period of 1848 to 1853 at 3,000, while other historians, including the Iranian court chronicler Sipihr and the Baha’i leader ‘Abdu’l-Baha (1844–1921), claim 20,000 or more. The main reason for the indecisiveness about the numbers killed relates to the events after the attempted assassination of Nasir ad-Din Shah. While many only give a list of 35 men officially executed in Tehran and a small number elsewhere, there are some accounts… that seem to imply a much larger number of deaths…”
This is what was known in 2005 - that scholars had found evidence of "only" 3,000 people. But Baha'is had long claimed 20,000 or more; just that the names of all were not recorded. What was unknown at the time was these very newspaper clippings I'm presenting now.

First there are reports of hundreds:
"Des Nouvelles de Perse", 3rd column, half way down in , Journal des débats politiques et littéraires, 30 Oct 1852, page 1 (translated from French)"Letters of Tauris September 27, arrived yesterday from Trebizond, the city brought news of Persia, who are of a certain gravity….The execution in Tehran about four hundred Babis, said to be complicit in the attack against the Shah of Persia, which we reported in our preceding numbers; took place with a great camera. They were subjected to the greatest tortures. This ensures that the Shah of Persia is seriously affected as a result of the attack directed against him by the Babis."
By December the reports are taking far larger tones:
20 December 1852, London Standard, p. 3:
"…Letters from Bagdad of the 7th ult. are of importance. The Shah's brother, accused of being a Bab, had escaped from Teheran, and had sought refuge at Bagdad. The Turkish Governor, Namik Pacha, had refused to receive him, which is contrary to the sentiments shown by the Government towards refugees. The Persia prince, however, entered the city with a British passport, and, disguised as a British officer, took up his quarters at Colonel Rawlinson's, our consul general, who acted with great humanity and friendship towards the unfortunate young man. By the same letters we learn that the persecution against the Babs was awful, and the 20,000 or 30,000 had been put to death in the south of Persia."
Further discussion about 20,000 martyrs see https://senmcglinn.wordpress.com/email-archive/20000-martyrs/

This has been a harrowing review. You may get some grasp of the intensity of spiritual commitment Baha'is have when they engage in projects and prayers trying to make the world better. Perhaps our pleas for spiritual virtues like peace, race unity, equality of the sexes may seem like disconnected abstractions to some but, let us say, we have paid for these ideals greatly. Very greatly. And I ask you - is this a reasonable parallel to the suffering of Jesus and the early Christians and how they suffered?

O - and remember that earthquake after Jesus?

Consider these:
The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana)5 May 1853, Thu • Thursday's Evening Edition
Earthquake at Washington A slight shock of an earthquake was felt in Washington yesterday.
The Sun(Baltimore, Maryland)6 May 1853, Fri • Page 1
Earthquakes and meteors are the order of the day; but neither of these phenomena have honored Baltimore with any demonstrations lately, though we hear of them in many quarters over the country. In addition to the earthquake which was on Monday felt at Washington, and so sensibly and alarmingly at Wheeling and other points,…
Evening Star(Washington, District of Columbia)11 Jul 1853, Mon • First Edition
"Smyrna June 15 - The city of Shiraz, in Persia, was totally destroyed by an earthquake in the night of the 1st of May.Erzeroum, June 3 - We have news of an extraordinary earthquake in Persia which killed 12,000 persons during one night. A plague had arisen from their unburied corpses."
Devestating. Indeed. But now here's the interesting thing:

Year-book of Facts in Science and Art by Charles Robert Cross, etc., published 1854, p. 328

"A terrible earthquake destroyed the city of Shiraz, Persia, on the 3d of May, 15,000 perishing in the ruins. This earthquake dried up the river Zsianderwood, upon which the town of Ispahan depended for its supply of water. This calamity was followed by a flight of locusts, which, in a few hours, destroyed vegetation; and following these, was an inundation which did great damage; - and with all this, the cholera morbus set in at Teheran, carrying off 150 persons daily. On the 2d of May, shocks of earthquake were felt at Washington City, on the Potomac; Lynchburg, Va., on the James River; Wheeling, Va., on the Ohio River, and at Zanesville, Ohio, on the banks of the Muskingum River. The difference in longitude is about equal to the difference in clock-time between Shiraz and Washington."
Now I leave it to you - what indeed hath God wrought?

And what does the picture of meteors over the Mississippi have to do with it? Well that will be another note… the theme is so vast it requires more than one review. And - these meteor showers stopped people in the tracks.

For another approach to the goings on in the period see Thief in the Night or The Strange Case of the Missing Millennium by William Sears

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Suffering in the centuries... still we face the future

I think it useful to spend some time contextualizing what the history of the persecution of the Baha'is in Iran compares with in other circumstances and what the Baha'i response has been.

As onerous as the treatment of Baha'is has been in Iran it fails to rise to some of the worst atrocities human memory alas can take note of. From the ongoing genocidal events in the Congo and recently in Rwanda, to the well known Holocaust of Jews in Eastern Europe, to the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during WWI, the devastation of the First Nations of the Americas - the mind wearies of such hugely sad events. These things transcend the outward treatment of the Baha'is in any circumstances. Thousand of Baha'is lost their lives in Persia in it's early decades of existence there but the situations were not systematic enough, pervasive or persistent enough to kill that many people and while some villages or towns had Baha'is driven out it did not rise to a whole region of what we might call, today, ethnic cleansing, as much as some may have hoped for it. This is not to say it wasn't tried. There are terrible tales of the suffering.

During the days of the Babi and Baha'is Faiths - which are inseparably linked - during such events our reactions were to send letters, walk into prisons, walk to firing squads, walk to whatever means of death was pushed on us. We counted only on God and the virtues that transcend time and place in the heart. We did not gather arms, we did not seek to shame leaders of government, or take sides in political squabbles seeking to advance the rightful treatment of Baha'is by siding with one side against another. Mind you we had opportunity to do so as well as the occasional overture from one side or another to seek to intercede on our behalf which would have resulted in a political agenda being advanced under the guise of helping our situation. We only sought fairness and peace and only in the earliest circumstances did we gather in self-defense. “You have demonstrated (it has been said to the Baha'is of Iran) in the example of your lives that the proper response to oppression is neither to succumb in resignation nor to take on the characteristics of the oppressor. The victim of oppression can transcend it through an inner strength that shields the soul from bitterness and hatred and which sustains consistent, principled action.”

An example of historical persecution in another case, it seems plain to me, outstrips what Baha'is in Iran have suffered after its earliest days, and still the Baha'is sought a standard of conduct to appear completely outside the machinations of political agendas. The events of the Soviet Union were far more heart straightening than things in Iran since the 19th century. The atheistic government systematically and viciously disrupted, deported Baha'is one family member from another or filled mass graves with our bodies on occasion.1, 2 The government was so implacable that standing up for the defense of the community from inside the system through perfectly legal means only earned more arrests and disappearances. They only stopped when they couldn't find any more Baha'is. Such was the case from the 1930s through the 1980s. But with the release of central control social and legal situations changed and Baha'is began to self-assemble into communities and begin to establish and enact the kinds of priorities the Baha'is have sought to do around the world. In some places the communities continue to flourish while in others reactionary governments comfortable with totalitarian control have reinstated some of the same rules on minority religions that existed previously for all - in fact the closer you get to Iran the more stringent the rules have been. But we can drink tea. Through all of this the Baha'is accepted the legal requirements forced on us - what was confiscated was given up, what was illegal to do we stopped doing, guarding only what was in our hearts and minds but acting with a rectitude of conduct that echo the accomplishments of the spiritual fortitude to seek independence in India or the nonviolent African-American Civil Rights movement but rising to a refinement unparalleled in eschewing partisanship and showing radiant acquiescence in the face of brutality. No government is our enemy, no religion, no people. "My object is none other than the betterment of the world and the tranquillity of its peoples. The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established. This unity can never be achieved so long as the counsels which the Pen of the Most High hath revealed are suffered to pass unheeded." Given the opportunity to petition for change or speak to issues of society for the benefit of all we do. The object has been to note virtue and self-effacement.

As time has gone on there has been a broadening of international standards of conduct as historically most countries have done things too unfair to their minorities. Indeed I doubt any country has a radiant history of how it has treated its minorities. In all the history I know of there are only a couple of examples of real success in how minorities were treated. The first - and unquestionably to me the best - was when the (probably) Zoroastrian Cyrus the Great of ancient Persia took the enslaved Jews and others and not only freed them from Babylon but mandated they return to their home lands and rebuild their temples. A command that succeeding Kings of Persia saw through.3 For more on Cyrus see ** Alas the Zoroastrians did not live up to that standard in succeeding centuries but this remarkable set of actions has been immortalized in historical and religious writings to shine down on us to this day. The other example is the Islamic "golden age" when leaders of thought and peoples of all kinds were able to gather and live and prosper under a Muslim based system of government and society unlike anything we see around the world today. During such times towering intellects, mystics, poets, traders, doctors, engineers and artists of many kinds were more often rewarded than perhaps anywhere in the world before or since. I do not know the full cultural circumstances of the time - what Muslim schools of jurisprudence, what policies of government and religion commonly espoused, what relationships across peoples and lands existed, I do not know what made those times so successful for minorities and the majority. But it is worthy of note and awareness and appreciation in the West as it should be to the East. However, past glory cannot be regained by seeking to hold up the visible triumphs of the past because they were fermented by living hearts presently engaged with the life we have at hand. It is the spirit of the age that matters. An outmoded idea will fail to inspire the vitality of life necessary to accomplish coherent change. Something has to wake us up.

But turning our attention to the modern age again I was saying that international standards of conduct have begun to be known and agreed to. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva conventions and Hague Courts come to mind. Alas that they came after a century of punishing death of far too many. And even before they were widely promulgated there were circumstances where Baha'is had to deal with other forms of legal marginalization. Two come to mind - one was out of Morocco and the other across central Africa. In Morocco in 1962 Baha'is were noted publicly and the familiar reactions took place to the point that a handful of Baha'is were jailed and eventually sentenced to death for their belief. But a new dynamic entered the stage. World opinion mattered. The King of Morocco traveled to speak to the UN and while in the States had opportunity to appear on US TV. At the same time early harbingers of these international legal standards started to use diplomatic channels and public opinion about such circumstances. Only when private contacts failed and the penalties chosen became clear did the Baha'is make the situation public. The outcry got the attention of the TV producers in the US and the King was taken to task for the treatment of the Baha'is live on the air. The Baha'is were initially found guilty of being members of an illegal religion but things changed and they were released. While the Baha'is there do not enjoy substantial freedom they are not the objects of anything more the polemics published in newspapers, so far, since then. The other example was in the mid 1970s when various Saharan governments leveraged their economic muscle by giving financial aid with conditions like making the Baha'i Faith illegal in their sub-Saharan neighbors with the outward cry of fears of secret agendas against the common good. The Baha'i response to such concerns of the governments was to patiently show our true purpose in society and to prove our faithfulness amidst much suspicion such that by the later 1980s we were successful in all cases at having these restrictions lifted and all of this without any public campaign though sometimes murderous death very painful to behold came upon us.

But now these laws and international standards are here and attempts of people of good will are promulgated through various agencies to try to live up to them. And, through well worn habits, Baha'is have ample evidence to make claims about our treatment. Not that it's been easy or always successful. In Egypt hadith-based standards of laws had not only made the religion illegal but required Baha'is to either convert or lie in order to receive payment for work or when seeking medical treatment when the government required identity cards that listed religion and forbade the Baha'i Faith from being listed or from having the box blank. This was eventually overturned through legal redress thanks to the stalwart Muslim lawyers who systematically came to the aid of the Baha'is. But things are not all good. The Arab Spring's arrival in Egypt has not seen the extension of this brief new standard. Indeed again newspapers cover political parties announcing polemics calling for our systematic disenfranchisement.

Walls could be filled with stories of the suffering of Baha'is and are. (page can be slow to load.... there is so much to load just in the last 30 odd years, and hasn't been updated since 2010.) Above I said that the persecution in the 19th century was not "systematic enough, pervasive or persistent enough". Experts and agencies raise the warning alarms of genocidal intentions because of the secret policies and outward policies. Experts and agencies raise the warning alarms of genocidal intentions in the government of Iran.(4, 5, 6, 7.) Indeed it is not through lack of trying that the Baha'is have not been done away with. The Baha'is in Iran are too numerous to be ignored. The balance seems to be in the wind. But even the self-confessed have sometimes sought to mend their ways. Still some do not credit we exist as a religion.(9, 10, 10)

It is with these examples I think it prudent to see what is going on in Iran, and what the Baha'i institutional and community response has been. Public awareness has been engaged and Iranians responding outside and inside of Iran has been heartwarming in their eagerness to be aware of and publicly decry the treatment we have been faced with. Moslem Iranians inside Iran helped us homeschool universities when we were kicked out of public ones. Moslem, Christian and Jewish academics, theologians and philosophers from around the world echoed again and again. People who from their religious heritages _they_ see as the very application of the ideals of their religion to this case. From Indian to Brazil leaders of thought have taken up the cause. Prison mates lauded their conduct and gained strength from Baha'is in prison. Moved by the reality of hearts Muslims and others used their creativity, steadfastness, and eagerness for the Baha'is to live without such persecution. Lawyer after lawyer after lawyer stood up for us when we could not stand up for ourselves. They did this out of their *own* sense of what was right. Though it does not immediately redress the suffering of the imprisoned and martyred at least joins our calls for peace and fairness in common cause. Even in facebook and it's progenitor on the web and cousin sites stand as unique efforts - more than a century of suffering has not seen such outcry about how we are treated as we have seen in the last few years.

Thank you.

To the people of Iran and all countries who have stood up in their private lives to defend and find common cause with the Baha'is, a special note and prayer for blessing upon you from our hearts. And to the lawyers who have tried to stand up for us our heartfelt care and prayers. Your efforts will be remembered for many years to come. They seem to harken back to a bygone age. God bless you. Failure is no limit to your tireless efforts. May your families one day come to know the virtue of your efforts if they lack any understanding of what you have stood out publicly to do.

And to the people of Iran in general. Know this. Despite circumstances as are too easy to delineate know clearly that we pray for your safety, your health, your honor and that peace rules the day and the drums of war silenced. Too high a price may come from such eventualities. If it be something human hands make happen please God it will be without any hint of agenda from the Baha'is. We seek to live in peace and justice whomever is given the authority of a nation. We care less which regime is in power than any regime that lives with Godly virtues all have been informed of through the religious gifts of the ages God has given every people.


His Holiness Muhammad


Blessed King Cyrus

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Steven's thoughts on Karma

Karma means many things to many people.

First let's bring a few things together – science and religion. Strange bedfellows truth seekers are.

NDE research suggests that we remember everything after death but not the way we experience memories here normally. Here we remember events; this happened and that happened, I had that for breakfast, this happened on the way to work. The memory we have in the afterlife is different. It's more like what we have when we are in a time of great joy or turmoil or anniversaries or holy days - times when we remember how we got here, our great appreciation of who affected our lives whether close at hand or from across history. It is a memory governed by what matters to us. But NDE research suggests it goes further. We not only remember things we went through, we also experience how it affected others - how we affected them with our choices both mindless and mindful but again not in the way of a series of events but in a manner of the importance and meaning of those interactions. NDE also suggests that the value of all these is measured in spiritual terms - the ability to bring forth virtues of love, courage, caring, kindness, and sacrifice.  It is measured by giving and accepting, understanding or awareness - actions taken and not taken.  Renee Pasarow, one who has shared her extreme experience, speaks of this dynamic of memory, at Lightafterlife.com (about 3/4ths in part 1 where she describes both general and a specific case in a daycare camp.) Baha'i scripture also speaks to these things in similar form. Here's just one quote: "And now concerning thy question regarding the soul of man and its survival after death.… the soul… will continue to progress … It will endure as long as the Kingdom of God… will endure.… that soul will freely converse, and will recount … that which it hath been made to endure in the path of God.…" So it is agreed we remember everything, and the meaning of everything to ourselves and to each other as we affected each other. This speaks an aspect of karma - that our deeds are measured and credit and debt are counted. "Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds." He says again.

So both in this life and beyond we are to take into account how we have made choices or not and affected others and ourselves. So in the sense that our deeds are noted and recalled and we get the deserts of our choices both evidence and scripture support it. So in the sense that karma deals with things actually mattering, that it comes back to us, yes there is something one can call Karma.

Some versions of the topic of Karma also deal with reincarnation - the idea being that the summary of good and bad we were responsible for previously affects our present lives. Generally speaking far eastern religions (Hinduism and Buddhism) support reincarnation and near eastern religions (Abrahamic) do not. This is complicated by the fact that the religions evolved over time. Even in Hinduism there is no mention of reincarnation at first and instead there are indicators of death being final.[1] Another part of the problem is that in the west we are only getting some of the discussion of what the other far eastern religions are like. Buddhism, for example, is as divided into groups as Christianity. So where Christianity has Catholic, Protestant, and groups neither accepts so too are Buddhists segregated into groups - ranging from pure atheists to a mixed case, to pure theists who claim a Buddha as a personal savior.[2] So across the evolution of religions and what we are likely to hear about in the west we are sometimes pretty far from how things began.

The subject is also part of psychic and NDE research with some taking it completely as real and some taking it completely as false. Few have taken care to review the evidence carefully. One NDE researcher, Phyllis Atwater, in “Coming Back to Life” (p. 143-4) after performing and experiencing past life regression came to feel that the attitude of the hypnotist seemed to be the leading indicator on what people experienced and no technique seemed to get round that, though profound healing could be achieved, whatever the facts were. David Fontana in “Is there an Afterlife” (p. 440-2) reviewed the available research and though something of past life regressions seems to be legitimate in terms of information content it was impossible to determine if these were the experiences of the same identity, or simply those of other identities with whom they were connected “beads on the same necklace and the memory they share is contained in the string.”

Never the less there are ideas of return that do appear in various ways in scripture. There is a way to bridge the gap and take into account both points of view. I first thought of this when I was wrestling with a topic in Baha’i scripture, (see a discussion of multiple kinds of “return”.) So on the one hand you have the return specified and at the same time there are denials of personally, individually, returning. So for example on the one hand Jesus says that John the Baptist was the return of Elijah and on the other John the Baptist says he was not Elijah. People argue about this in every direction. John just didn't know what he was talking about and he was the reincarnation, or this is just one example of the contradictions of the Bible, or it was just symbolic and prophetic but had no real meaning in itself. I think all these are wrong.

Think of it like this. We all play roles in life. We are fathers or mothers, friends, sons or daughters. We are bosses or employees. We serve as guides and helpers and we are guided and helped. There are only so many jobs, roles, we can play in the world and we shift among them all the time. Now above I emphasized that some things matter more than others and the spiritual emphasis is in how things matter. So to the extent we act in our roles with spiritual distinction and bring virtues to bear, we are acting in our roles well. And good or bad there are also others acting in their roles - across history, and every culture. Some of those roles are seemingly singular - like Jesus came - but become repeated - like Jesus will come again. And some are pretty crowded. But whatever role we play there are those like us - and we "get" them in ways we don't even have to talk about. We see what they go through and it's just like us. We read of some ancient event and we can see ourselves doing the same thing. There is a resonance. A kinship. I have done that. I know what that feels like from the inside. Even if we do not specifically see ourselves in roles others have inhabited sometimes these are pointed out to us. Thus Jesus saw John the Baptist in the role of Elijah even though of his own self he was not Elijah. Make sense? This is a natural capacity in fact - the basis of empathy.

Now there are also suggestions of one’s condition in this life being affected by the past; nature and nurture. We are given gifts and have to make our own choices. Consider - in the Bible there is the initial statement that the sins of the father are visited upon the sons which later evolves into a conditional statement that if one follows in the sins of the father the son too will suffer. A modern form of it might be called the cycle of poverty: on the negative side – and of primogenitary on the positive side - (hey, Jesus was in the station of the Son, remember?)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The times are confusing

Times are sure confusing. We are hearing of seemingly radically different approaches to life both from a diversity of places in the world and in the implications of changing society and technology affecting every corner of our lives including religion.

But this is not the first time religion in society has gone through transformation and challenge. And none are more substantial in history than when the largest religions who's origins we know of were themselves born. In the far-east when Buddhism arose there was a period of confusion and ferment - "The period during which the Upanishads were being formulated and eventually recorded, roughly… 800 to 600 BCE, was a period of tremendous religious fermentation… change was happening at an extraordinarily fast rate, historically."[1] During the time of the establishment of Christianity there was a period of "…confused and confusing systems of thought that are the direct outcome of the helplessness and confusion afflicting the Christian Faith and the great variety of popular cults, of fashionable and evasive philosophies which flourished in the opening centuries of the Christian Era, and which attempted to absorb and pervert the state religion of that Roman people….”[2] And in the case of Islam there was a period of wrestling with the so-called ''Ghulat'' when "There thus arose a ferment of discussion around some of the concepts introduced by these older religious systems (which were encountered by Islam's growth).… In Iraq  (various religious systems) contributed to a kaleidoscope of religious debate and speculation probably unequalled in the ancient world."[3]

There is some room for considering the recent age in parallel with such histories. We sure have had more than a few religious developments over the last couple centuries!

• the Protestant group separating into Methodists, Pentecostalism,[4]
• Seventh Day Adventists,     • consider Aikido,     • Tenrikyo,
• Christian Science,      • the Ghost Dance of Native Americans 
• Unification Church,   • …
And not only these new systems creating an air of confusion but a degradation of the heritage of systems of order were disintegrating like the final fall of the Holy Roman Empire,[5] the dissolution of the Caliphate of Islam[6], and the Pope's loss of most of his temporal authority's last vestige in the Papal States[7] amid harrowing scenes.[8]

Religion, it would seem, could never be the same as it was before. But we were forming one world - transportation and communications, organizing peoples and nations - we spread around the world and made it one, big (though seemingly shrinking every day), place and religion has to wrestle with that.

A few of the above are syncretistic - attempting to just merge traditions - while others are schisms. But there was another approach: simple acknowledgement of the fact of the authentic religious experience of the diversity of peoples. Into this period of ferment comes an attempt to look at the diversity of religious experience authentically. And this arose out of America - the United States and Canada in the form of two books and lives of research -  "Cosmic consciousness: a study in the evolution of the human mind" by Richard Maurice Bucke and The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James.

Seemingly for the first time the very fact of a diversity of religious experience was acknowledged and embraced. And it arose out of America where other institutions would unfold in time trying to bring world unity together - Wilson's 14 Points, the League of Nations, the United Nations, etc.  At the turn of the last century William James' work was the first definitive contribution of America to world philosophy and in it he mentions the founders of the religions mentioned above - Jesus, Buddha and Muhammad - in the same sentence: "First-hand individual experience of this kind has always appeared as a heretical sort of innovation to those who witnessed it's birth. Naked comes it into the world and lonely; and it has always, for a time at least, driven him who had it into the wilderness, often into the literal wilderness out of doors, where the Buddha, Jesus, Muhammed… had to go.”[9] In doing so he focused attention on the profound and moving experiences of religionists and gave credibility to such experiences thus founding the philosophy of Pragmatism (from which it can be said something is true if it works for people) - and "… paving the way for modern study of parapsychology and religious experience."[10] And related work has indeed shown up in research on parapsychological phenomena of near death experiences[11] where Phyllis Atwater in her book (and ongoing work) "Coming Back to Life" spends a chapter on the spiritual implications of what NDE might illumine of the spiritual world and our eternal nature. She calls up the work of Richard Bucke's who wrote Cosmic Consciousness that William James mentions.[12] Recognizing that a sense of God comes through NDE reports, Phyllis wrestles with the diversity of religion as well[13] while others research religious scriptures.[14] And papers and books continue to work on the realm of the study of religious experience.[15] And this wrestling with religion has continued in other circles arising out of America as well - consider Scifi author Robert Heinlein's "Job: A Comedy of Justice" where he tries to poke at the diversity of religions by saying they are all true, literally. Joseph Campbell and his "Hero with a Thousand Faces" finding the "monomyth" buried in all our stories of search and triumph – who also mentioning the Buddha, Jesus and Muhammed.[16] Indeed if the religions are all true somehow we have a lot of work of making sense of things, but if it is to be it surely must acknowledge the reality, if subjectivity, of experience. While science inquiry bids fair to wrestle with the issue of the ferment of religion, it seems to be supposing that the religions are going to change beyond recognition. It is remarkable that James wrote his book for scholars and scientists and spent no little time dismissing arguments of atheism (that religious experiences are derangements of biological basis for example[17]) and yet the academic study of religion in the field of the Psychology of religion suggests that the evolution of religion will align along one of three paths[18]: atheism, (a religion of science and technology, of which there are many posts on this site responding to), a religious transformation aiming at appreciation of spirituality vs religion (i.e. individualism vs organized institutional religion) or a cultural divide where the poor and uneducated have one experience of religion more aligned with history and the rich and or well educated fall into one of the previous groups which this site may address at some time.

America may have it's own mixed sense of manifest destiny following on the Great Awakening seeking to be that light on a hill, but I'd hazard this unique contribution to the understanding of religion - of giving fair air to the reality of the experiences of the diverse religions of the world also echoed by the "Parliament of the World's Religions" in Chicago in 1893 - makes fair play to be a place where a ferment of religion is being worked out in a way that recognizes the basis of all the religions and not just our own.

All that being the case there is also a sense that things are as they have never been before. Religiously this is expressed as the “end times”. After all, we’ve never had World Wars before – however much Rome or Persia and other Empires waged wars – even Genghis Khan didn’t reach the Americas, though the Native Americans died in great number from the arrival of the Europeans and might call it a world war.[19] Among those that saw a religious connection with the idea of end times was Joseph Miller. But the “Great Disappointment” of seeing a literal Jesus descending literally on clouds was smoothed over by the idea of a divine side-step into a heaven preserved from the eyes of men until the real end of days – an idea also used in Shi’a Islam, with similar overtones – that the fulfillment of the age before the end times would be when the occultation would end. And others have taken note that Armageddon may relate to the WWI Battle at Megiddo. Note that for hundreds of years we had a sense of a world not least by Columbus’ voyage. But only in the 1900s were we consumed in a process of world war and alienation and universal estrangement – even the struggle between British and Spanish Empires that included navies at odds around the world did not rise to a World War. And in this century tyrants rose up, some even who killed more of their own people than the World Wars (Mao Ze-Dong may have killed upto 78 million people through his decisions alone – then add Joseph Stalin and others while about 97 million were killed in the World Wars altogether).[20] Plagues[21] and new diseases[22] arose. Many religions have their own approach to end times – not just Christians. For example Hindus have the end of the Kali Yug to be followed by a golden age. While official interpretation taking things pretty literally pushes this into the deep future, looking at the characteristics of man’s inhumanity to man it sure seems to fit.[23] Even the Hopi tribe[24] and Mayan calendar[25] point to new golden age after a terrible one.[26]

But is there a way forward other than atheism, degeneration of institutional religion, or social fragmentation? Is there an approach that holds virtue together that arises out of such times of confusion, devastation and ferment and can call all people together?

Beginning in the 1800s a new age has indeed been announced, implemented in ever greater detail, and rolled out across the world by another religion that appeared amid the tumult of the last centuries. And in recent decades it has been recognized as the second most widespread of the world's independent religions in terms of the number of countries with organized communities[27] while still numbering less than 10 million.[28] The only place it is clearly absent is in North Korea and the Vatican[29] having arrived in "outer" Mongolia in 1989.[30] And it has placed first or second in world wide growth according to Christian based statistics since 1970 when such statistics began.[31] Indeed it is wrestling with the diversity of rich and poor experiences.[32] And I think it no accident that America figures prominently in the history of the religion.[33] Indeed one of the things that comes to mind is that when `Abdu'l-Baha traveled across Europe (twice) and America (US and Canada) a century ago[34] He talked to certainly thousands or tens of thousands of people - looked in the faces and shook hands with hundreds or thousands - and with all the unique terrors about to be unleashed in the world millions upon millions more would die. Yet He was endlessly merciful and encouraging and trying to awaken on every turn. Surely they faced trials that dwarf ours. I think more people died then from war and disease at that time than any time previously. And the Baha’is were not side stepped in the pains of the age - Baha'i populations centers in His lifetime - mostly in Iran and north into southern Russia generally speaking - were going to be gutted, not just figuratively, in the coming decades while with this act of reaching and sending plans to the West brought a scale of the spreading of the religion magnified several times. This is what He chose to do, was inspired to do, in the face of scales of devastation we cannot, perhaps should not, clearly appreciate. He chose these acts - the best acts available - to change the course of civilization, by investing in people personally.

And this religion has made clear both its support the religious enterprise of humanity, and also their reconciliation:

"The Faith of Bahá’u’lláh has assimilated, by virtue of its creative, its regulative and ennobling energies, the varied races, nationalities, creeds and classes that have sought its shadow, and have pledged unswerving fealty to its cause. It has changed the hearts of its adherents, burned away their prejudices, stilled their passions, exalted their conceptions, ennobled their motives, coordinated their efforts, and transformed their outlook. While preserving their patriotism and safeguarding their lesser loyalties, it has made them lovers of mankind, and the determined upholders of its best and truest interests. While maintaining intact their belief in the Divine origin of their respective religions, it has enabled them to visualize the underlying purpose of these religions, to discover their merits, to recognize their sequence, their interdependence, their wholeness and unity, and to acknowledge the bond that vitally links them to itself. This universal, this transcending love which the followers of the Bahá’í Faith feel for their fellow-men, of whatever race, creed, class or nation, is neither mysterious nor can it be said to have been artificially stimulated. It is both spontaneous and genuine. They whose hearts are warmed by the energizing influence of God’s creative 198 love cherish His creatures for His sake, and recognize in every human face a sign of His reflected glory."[35]

"Nor does the Bahá’í Revelation, claiming as it does to be the culmination of a prophetic cycle and the fulfillment of the promise of all ages, attempt, under any circumstances, to invalidate those first and everlasting principles that animate and underlie the religions that have preceded it. The God-given authority, vested in each one of them, it admits and establishes as its firmest and ultimate basis. It regards them in no other light except as different stages in the eternal history and constant evolution of one religion, Divine and indivisible, of which it itself forms but an integral part. It neither seeks to obscure their Divine origin, nor to dwarf the admitted magnitude of their colossal achievements. It can countenance no attempt that seeks to distort their features or to stultify the truths, which they instill. Its teachings do not deviate a hairbreadth from the verities they enshrine, nor does the weight of its message detract one jot or one tittle from the influence they exert or the loyalty they inspire. Far from aiming at the overthrow of the spiritual foundation of the world’s religious systems, its avowed, its unalterable purpose is to widen their basis, to restate their fundamentals, to reconcile their aims, to reinvigorate their life, to demonstrate their oneness, to restore the pristine purity of their teachings, to coordinate their functions and to assist in the realization of their highest aspirations. These divinely revealed religions, as a close observer has graphically expressed it, “are doomed not to die, but to be reborn… ‘Does not the child succumb in the youth and the youth in the man; yet neither child nor youth perishes?’””[36]

"The Revelation, of which Bahá’u’lláh is the source and center, abrogates none of the religions that have preceded it, nor does it attempt, in the slightest degree, to distort their features or to belittle their value. It disclaims any intention of dwarfing any of the Prophets of the past, or of whittling down the eternal verity of their teachings. It can, in no wise, conflict with the spirit that animates their claims, nor does it seek to undermine the basis of any man’s allegiance to their cause. Its declared, its primary purpose is to enable every adherent of these Faiths to obtain a fuller understanding of the religion with which he stands identified, and to acquire a clearer apprehension of its purpose. It is neither eclectic in the presentation of its truths, nor arrogant in the affirmation of its claims. Its teachings revolve around the fundamental principle that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is progressive, not final. Unequivocally and without the least reservation it proclaims all established religions to be divine in origin, identical in their aims, complementary in their functions, continuous in their purpose, indispensable in their value to mankind."[37]

And this religion has continued to release statements and work on interfaith projects local and international:
• at the United Nations,[38]
• helping the NGO forum at the 1992 Earth Summit,[39]
• participating in the 1995 World Conference on Women,[40]
• schools in many many countries,[41]  
• relief efforts,[42]
just to name a pittance[43] of endeavors where it has not been legal proscribed.[44]

I recommend you investigate it. It's trying to make one world in our experiences even as it must be in reality.es even as it must be in reality.

[1] The emergence of Buddhism, by Jacob N. Kinnard,  p. 10
[2] The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, by Shoghi Effendi, p. 184.
[4]  Diagram of Protestant denominations and movements, Wikipedia editor, Lokal_Profil
[8] The Promised Day Is Come,  by Shoghi Effendi, p. 53 ( and next three paragraphs)
[9] The Varieties of Religious Experience‬,  by William James, p. 269.‬‬
[11] Near-Death.com,  (FAQ).
[12] The Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James, p. 439.
[13] Coming Back to Life; The After-Effects of the Near-Death Experience (Revised and Updated), by PMH Atwater, chapter “Spiritual Implications” pp. 109–149. (sorry, no url.)

[16] The Hero with a Thousand Faces,  by Joseph Campbell, p. 30.
[19] Indigenous Native American Prophecy,  (Elders Speak part 1, youtube.)
          • • World War II casualties, Wikipedia
          • World War I casualties, Wikipedia.
[26] Native American Indian prophecies, talk by Lee Brown, 1986.
[32] FUNDAEC, Wikipedia.
[33] "Abdul Baha Talks to Kate Carew of Things Spiritual and Mundane",  New York Tribune by Mary Williams (page 1) May 5th, 1912 and bottom left of (page 2).
[35] The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh,  by Shoghi Effendi, p. 197-8.
[36] The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, by Shoghi Effendi, p. 114.
[37] The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh,  by Shoghi Effendi, p. 57-8.
[40] The Role of Religion in Promoting the Advancement of Women, statement to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, distributed officially to all participants. (Beijing, China; 13 September 1995)