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The Baha'i Culture of Learning and Growth

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This book of 650 pages and 230 thousand words contains reflections and understandings regarding the new Baha'i culture of learning and growth, what amounts to a paradigmatic shift, in the Baha’i …

This book of 650 pages and 230 thousand words contains reflections and understandings regarding the new Baha'i culture of learning and growth, what amounts to a paradigmatic shift, in the Baha’i community. This international community found in over 200 countries and territories, as well as some 120 thousand localities has been going through this shift in its culture since the mid-1990s. The Baha'i Faith claims to be the newest, the latest, of the Abrahamic religions. This Faith had its origins in mid-19th century Iran. This new culture, or paradigm, will be developing in the decades ahead at least until 2044, the end of the second century of the Baha'i Era(1844 to 2044), and perhaps beyond into that third century of the Baha'i era, 2044 to 2144. Time will tell when the next paradigmatic shift will take place in the international Baha'i community.

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  • 1. QUEUE UPLOAD ADMIN LOGOUT . .Home Search author Search title Journals Browse language New Popular Site map . . . >> Essays and poetry by Ron Price About this document (click for more) edit q·edit archived w3.org diff my diff Abstract: The building of the structure of this new world Faith, a structure with many functions, was at the core of Bahai programs and policies, goals and game- plans, so to speak, from 1921 to 1996, a period of 75 years, as well as back into the 19th century. Notes: This book of 550 pages(font 14) and 230 thousand words contains reflections and understandings regarding the new Baha'i culture of learning and growth, what amounts to a paradigmatic shift, in the Baha‘i community. This international community found in over 200 countries and territories, as well as some 120 thousand localities has been going through this shift in its culture since the mid-1990s. The Baha'i Faith claims to be the newest, the latest, of the Abrahamic religions. This Faith had its origins in mid-19th century Iran. This new culture, or paradigm, will be developing in the decades ahead at least until 2044, the end of the second century of the Baha'i Era(1844 to 2044), and perhaps beyond into that third century of the Baha'i era, 2044 to 2144. Time will tell when the next paradigmatic shift will take place in the international Baha'i community. .
  • 2. Comparisons and contrasts are made to several previous paradigm shifts in the Baha'i community. Thoughts on future developments within this paradigm and future paradigms are suggested. In the first six years, 2007 to 2013, of the presence on the internet of this commentary, it has contributed to an extensive dialogue on the issues regarding the many related and inter-related processes involved in the many ongoing changes in the international Bahai community. This work is dedicated to the Universal House of Justice, trustee of the global undertaking which the events of more than a century ago set in motion. The fully institutionalized charismatic Force, a Force that historically found its expression in the Person of Baha'u'llah, had effloresced by a process of succession, of appointment and election, at the apex of Bahai administration for half a century by the end of April 2013. I have also written this book as a form of dedication to, by some accounts, an estimated 15 to 25 thousand Baha'is and Babis who have given their lives for this Cause from the 1840s to the second decade of this third millennium. I have also dedicated this book to the many best teachers and exemplary believers--those ordinary Bahais--who have consecrated themselves, indeed their lives, to the work of this Faith. Finally, I have written this work in memory of my maternal grandfather, Alfred Cornfield, whose life from 1872 to 1958 has always been for me a model of an engagement in a quite personal culture of
  • 3. learning and personal growth. This book is, arguably, the longest analysis and commentary on this new Baha'i paradigm that is currently available in the Bahai community, although several other books have appeared since this piece of writing first appeared in cyberspace in 2007. The overarching perspective in this book is a personal one that attempts to answer the question: "where do I fit into this new paradigm?" Readers are left to work out their own response to this question as readers inevitably must, now and in the decades ahead, as this new paradigm develops a life of its own within the framework already established in the first two decades of its operation: 1996 to 2016. The question now is not "if" but "how" each Baha'i will engage themselves, will participate, in this new paradigm as the first century of the Formative Age comes to an end in 2021 and in the years beyond as this third millennium continues to challenge all of humanity. See also bahai- library.com/price_pioneering_four_epochs. Reflections on a Culture of Learning and Growth: Community and Individual Paradigm Shifts: A Contemporary, Historical, Futuristic and Personal Context by Ron Price PREAMBLE Section 1:
  • 4. This book of 550 pages(font 14) and 230 thousand words contains reflections and understandings regarding this new Bahá'í culture of learning and growth, what amounts to a paradigmatic shift, in the Baha‘i community which it has been going through since the mid-1990s. This newest, this latest, of the Abrahamic religions, has been developing a new culture in the last two decades, from 1996 to 2016. This new culture or paradigm will be developing in the decades ahead at least until 2044, the end of the second century of the Bahá'í Era(1844 to 2044), and perhaps beyond into that third century, 2044 to 2144. Time will tell when the next paradigmatic shift will take place in the international Bahá'í community. Comparisons and contrasts are made to several previous paradigm shifts in the Bahá'í community. Thoughts on future developments within this paradigm and future paradigms are suggested. In the first six years, 2007 to 2013, of the presence of this book, this commentary, on the world-wide-web, this work has contributed to an extensive dialogue on the issues regarding the many related and inter-related processes involved in the many ongoing changes in the international Bahai community, a community which exists in more than 200 countries and territories, and more than 120,000 localities, across the planet. Section 2: This work is dedicated to the Universal House of Justice, trustee of the global undertaking which the events of more than a century ago set in motion. The fully institutionalized charismatic Force, a Force that historically found its expression in the Person of Bahá'u'lláh, had fully effloresced by a process of succession, of appointment and election, at the apex of Bahai administration for half a century by the end of April 2013.
  • 5. I have also written this book as a form of dedication to, by some accounts, an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 Bahá'ís and Babis who have given their lives for this Cause from the 1840s to the second decade of this third millennium. I have also dedicated this book to the many best teachers and exemplary believers--those ordinary Bahais--who have consecrated themselves, indeed their lives, to the progress of this Faith. Finally, I have written this work in memory of; firstly, my maternal grandfather, Alfred Cornfield, whose life from 1872 to 1958 has always been for me a model within my own family of an engagement in a quite personal culture of learning and personal growth; and secondly, the many others who have been my mentors in life, others whose learning or experience, or both, has been an inspiration from my late teens when I began to read seriously in the social sciences and humanities, and when I began to take part in the community life of a religion which had come into my family's life back in 1953 when I was just nine years old. INTRODUCTION Part 1: The Internet This book is, arguably, the longest analysis and commentary on this new Bahá'í paradigm that is currently available in the Bahai community, although several other books have appeared since this piece of writing first appeared in cyberspace in 2007. Some of these books devoted part of their content to this new culture of learning. The overarching perspective in this book is a personal one that attempts to answer the question: "where do I fit into this
  • 6. new paradigm?" Readers are left to work out their own response to this question as readers inevitably must, now and in the decades ahead, as this new paradigm develops a life of its own within the framework already established in the first two decades of its operation: 1996 to 2016. Each Bahá'í has to work out what form his or her ready embrace of the unfolding guidance of the Plan will take. Each Bahá'í has to work out what form, what attitude, what ways and means, their approach to learning and the cultural attainments of the mind will take in this new paradigm. The question now, as one prominent Bahá'í writer put it, is not "if" but "how" each Bahá'í will engage themselves, will participate, in this new paradigm as the first century of the Bahá'í Formative Age comes to an end in 2021, and its second century unfolds in the years beyond 2021 as this third millennium continues to challenge all of humanity in ways that can now only be dimly envisaged. In drawing on the works of other writers over the last six years, 2007 to 2013, I should emphasize at the outset of this lengthy read that, by 2013, the internet had a myriad print and audio-visual resources on this new paradigm. Indeed, more than a little emphasis should be given in this book and in this new paradigm to the internet. Since the mid-1990s when this paradigm began its life in the Baha‘i international community as a critical means for the growth of a distinctive Baha‘i culture of learning, the internet has transformed communication on the planet, at least for those with access to the world-wide-web. My book is just one of the seemingly infinite number of resources now available for the 5 to 8 million Bahá'ís and the billions of others on the planet who want to know more about this new world Faith, and about its unfolding paradigm. Advanced computational and communications technologies play a highly varied and diverse, set of roles in today's global economic, social, cultural, political, and even ecological orders. The new Bahá'í culture is one of the many cultures that have been transformed due to the internet. Evidence of this exists in technologies used to implement the internationalization, the globalization, of this Bahá'í culture of learning and growth. The world-wide- web lives in many of the cultural manifestations of the Bahá'í culture of learning spread as it is now across 1000s of localities on the planet. The tools that shape this new media and its practices have transnational impacts and profoundly influence the global outreach of the international Bahá'í community. The new media tools in cyberspace provide contexts for local, regional, national and global-scale interaction. The academic study and the
  • 7. practical everyday use of the world-wide-web is a truly interdisciplinary undertaking that has no fixed academic home and, by extension, no organized intra-disciplinary, self-regulating value system or ethics -- in other words, it has no cohesive philosophical discourse. It is utilized by the Bahá'í community at all levels in a virtually infinite number of ways. The internet is imbedded in the larger societal and cultural, subjective and objective, economic and community structures of lived experience. The systems within which Bahá'ís exist and operate are now deeply connected to the WWW. At the same time, through this embededness, this new digital media acts back on the social so that its specific capabilities can engender new concepts of the social and of the possible. The communication and the communicating subject in cyberspace is endowed with a great deal of autonomy... over the institutions and organizations of communication. The paradigm shift that is the new culture of learning has taken place at the same time as the pardigm shift in communication that has resulted from the internet. This transformation of communication is, in some ways, a transformation from mass communication to mass self-communication. The autonomy of social actors like myself has increased &, therefore, the power relationships in the Bahá'í community as well as the larger society has altered. The nature of this altered power relation implicit in this communication shift due to the internet has possibly four particular sources of power. The new mass self-communication provides for people like me: (i) with networking power which is the power to include or exclude entities from my system of communication; (ii) with network power which is the power to set the terms of the interactions that take place within the system through protocols that I define; (iii) with networked power which is the power of enabled social actors over other social actors within the system; and finally, (iv) with network-making power which is the power to shape a system by installing protocols that adhere to my particular goals and values. The programmer/maker of the work, for example, this book, in setting the terms of the conversation, can be said to shape the limits of engagement in relation to that work. Both myself and my readers, in turn, exert pressure on the system, the Bahá'í community. We can strengthen the system, the Bahá'í community by using it as the forum for communicating what I am writing. But my book may also potentially cause a negative input into the community. In the case of the new media, the internet, it can work with little or no interaction. The digital media we now use are not neutral tools. They enact social, ethical and moral worldviews as this book attempts to do. The work I do as a writer and author is relevant. But what I write must be sensitive to Bahá'í core values and ethics. Writers like myself need to
  • 8. possess both a disciplinary sense of self-assuredness that what I am writing is good work within the intellectual culture that is the Bahá'í international community. My work must be underpinned by a strong ethical philosophy that is consistent with (i) the broad framework of the Bahá'í teachings and (ii) my covenantal relationship with the Cause. Part 2: This Book as Centrepiece of My Literary Output This book had become for me a sort of centerpiece, not only within all the internet posts on the subject, but also within the context of my own writing in these last two decades. Readers wanting to understand this new Bahá'í culture were not and are not short on analyses and commentary if they want to get a picture of what this new Bahá'í culture was, and is, all about. After six years of having this book in cyberspace this book had become somewhat irrelevant to the mass of readers who preferred short posts, and for whom a book of this size was just too much in our 21st century world of print and image glut. As the first months of 2013 went by, and the 50th anniversary of the election of the Universal House of Justice in April 1963 came and went, I found I was adding more and more to this book on a variety of topics that I had no intention of writing about back in 2007 at the inception of this work. There were always several occasions each year when the Universal House of Justice sent further explanatory messages which (a) extended this new Baha‘i culture in either or both its structure and its functioning, and which (b) provided a continuing exegisis for the benefit of a community which was striving to put in place the many dimensions of this new Baha‘i culture. I was always able, therefore, to add and edit, comment and analyse this new Bahá'í culture at least several times each year. Who knows where and when this book will find its final edition! Part 3:This Book As Useful Resource to the Bahá'í Community This book had become for many a useful resource for readers wanting a macroscopic view of the new Bahá'í paradigm. As 2013 advanced month by month, and the current Five Year Plan, 2011 to 2016, moved through the first months of its third year from 21/4/'13 to 21/6/'13, I continued to edit a document that had grown to well over 500 pages. Editing is an endless task, as most serious writers find. Time would tell, given the highly dynamic nature of this new Bahá'í paradigm, and the extensive growth in the new Bahá'í culture, just how large a book this piece of writing would become in
  • 9. the remaining years of the current FYP, and the years taking the Bahá'í community in 2021 to the end of the first century of its Formative Age. What appears to be emerging from the digital revolution is the possibility of a new mode of temporality for public communication, one in which public exchange through the written word can occur without deferral, in a continuously immediate present. A world in which we are all, through electronic writing, continuously present to one another, at least to the extent and in whatever ways we desire. There is, I would like to suggest, something unprecedented in this possibility of the escape of writing from fixity. What the digitalization of text seems to have opened up is the possibility for writing to operate in a temporal mode hitherto exclusively possible for speech, as parole rather than langue, (Hesse, 1996: 32), to use expressions from the analysis of language and linguistics. This ‗continuously immediate present‘ of writing allows one's writing projects, and one's conversations around those projects, to develop in a more fruitful, more organic fashion. Such is the case here. There are now many ways that writing in cyberspace can be described. I have just written a few things in the paragraph above and readers should not concern themselves if they don't understand some of the ways, some of the words, I have used. The internet is a new medium of communication, like the TV and the radio, the telephone and the telegraph before it. There is now an extensive literature on the subject of the internet and its ways and means of communicating. Each reader will, of course, have their own experience. The majority of the 5 to 8 million Bahá'ís will never see this book; for less than half the world has access to the internet as of 2013. I write for a coterie, but so do all writers. Some coteries are big ones and some are little. After some 30,000+ hits, I'd say this coterie is in the middle range; it is not likely to go viral, and I will never be either famous or rich. Writers like myself in this document are willing to expose some of the process of editing online as they go about extending their work in cyberspace, in public. This process allows some readers at least to see some of the bumps and false starts along the way. I didn‘t at first sense, as I wrote the first edition of this now lengthy work in cyberspace back in 2007, that I was even embarking on a book-length project; I only knew that I had a small,
  • 10. persistent series of questions that I wanted to think a little bit about. Having formulated an initial stab at some possible answers, and having been disagreed with, as well as supported and encouraged by those who read my work in its first two years online(2007 to 2009), the feedback from my commentators made me think in more complex ways about the issues I‘d presented. Only then was I able to recognize that there was more to be said, that there was something in the ideas to which I felt compelled to commit myself. Without the simple and highly focused beginnings of this book back in 2007, without those first questions and, by then, by 2007, a decade of thinking about this new Bahá'í culture, as well as the often inadvertent process of drafting more and more commentary in the public space that is the internet, I would not have been led by sensible and insensible degrees to this longer text, a text that is now more than 500 pages. The book has come together bit by bit over the last 73 months. Approaching my writing from the perspective of process, thinking about how ideas move and develop from one form, one post, one piece of writing to the next, and thinking about the ways that those stages are represented, connected, preserved, and ‗counted‘ within new digital modes of publishing, all helped to foster what has become, for me, a highly fertile text. I took full advantage of the web‘s particular temporality, its sense of and use of time. A great deal of stuff that appears, that is published, on the web exists, in some sense, in a perpetual draft state, open to future change. Writers therefore, like myself, recognize both the need this creates for careful preservation of the historical record of the stages in a text‘s life and the equal importance for all authors who utilize this cyberspace mechanism of approaching their work openly, thinking about how their texts might continue to grow even after they‘ve seen the light of day in some 'published' form. The internet is a new world for both writers and readers. As a writer and teacher over many decades, I am fully aware of how much many find the process of analysis like a disease and with a weary sigh they often turn to other topics if the analysis goes on too long. Indeed, there are many potentially tortuous considerations which, as a writer, I simply ignore. One can not keep everyone happy all of the time with what one writes. As I often say in this book: I write for a coterie. Part 4:This Book Has Many Authors
  • 11. As this text became increasingly available for the sort of ongoing development to which I refer above, I recognized more and more the degree to which I was no longer the sole author working on this book. This work became far more collaborative than any book I have written in the past. New modes of collaboration – over time, across distances – made possible by networked writing structures required me to think about originality quite differently, precisely because of the ways that these new modes intervened in my conventional associations of authorship with individuality, with this work as mine. This was a new world of publishing and it was a new Bahá'í culture as the fin de siecle closed and the first years of the 21st century advanced incrementally. The two facets of conventional authorship, individuality and originality, are intertwined in complex and subtle ways: insisting that a text must consist of one‘s ‗own‘ work is to insist that it make an original contribution to the field. The bottom-line, as they say these days, is that one's work is not simply one's own, not uniquely one's own. Not only does the operation of the digital network exclude the possibility of uniqueness in its very function, the links and interconnections that the network facilitates profoundly affect the shape of any given text. In digital scholarship, the relationships between the authors whose ideas we draw upon, and the texts that we produce is highly dynamic. The work of our predecessors is in some sense contained within whatever increasingly fuzzy boundaries draw the outlines of one's own texts. And so it is that readers may find this work somewhat fuzzy and not to their liking. It will be too long a read, as I say above, for many but, "such is life" as the Australian outlaw Ned Kelly is reported to have said on his way to the gallows in NSW in 1880. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Reflections on a Culture of Learning and Growth: Community and Individual Paradigm Shifts: A Contemporary, Historical, Futuristic and Personal Context by Ron Price
  • 12. George Town Tasmania Australia ______________________________________ PREAMBLE #2: Section 1: This book of 550 pages and 230 thousand words(font 14) contains reflections and understandings regarding the new Bahai culture, what amounts to a gradual paradigmatic shift, in the Baha‘i community. This community is now found in over 200 nations and territories on the planet. It is the second most widespread religion on earth. This paradigm shift has been taking place since the mid-1990s, with its first intimations going back arguably as far as April 1988 or even the 1970s when the concept of the institute first became part of the Bahá'í community's process of deepening its adherents. This new paradgim will continue in its various permutations and combinations, its wide-ranging developments at least until 2021, if not until the end of the 2nd century of the Bahai Era in 2044. This shift will possibly find an increasing elaboration beyond 2044 into the third century of the Bahá'í Era, 2044 to 2144, as this new world Faith plays an increasing part in the affairs of the world and its peoples. From time to time in this book I make mention of the paradigm shifts in our wide-wide world as it increasingly globalizes, planetizes and becomes one world socially as it already it, to a significant extent, technologically and scientifically. Of course, the wider paradigm shifts that involve the entire planet are all very complex and these wider shifts, are not the focus of this book, although they cannot be entirely divorced by the Bahá'í community and its 5 to 8 million adherents. This book also aims to offer, such is my hope, many pages that help its
  • 13. readers evaluate who they are, or think they are, in relation to the ideal they perceive before them, the ideal conveyed in Bahá'í texts and the ideal they see as they view their own lives. I feel somewhat presumptuous insofar as this aim is concerned. I am sure most readers who are Bahá'ís are already very much aware and are more than a little able to recognize the distance that lies between their present capacities and those toward which they strive. But our real selves are so often hidden within us, even though we know there are angels who can and do help us. These angles are the confirmations and the celestial powers that come our way in this paradigm and in previous paradigms. The God within is a somewhat complex idea: "Look within thyself and thou wilt find Me standing within thee, Mighty, Powerful and Self-Subsistent." Intercession is the result of generous devotion more than logical analysis. I trust that my desires, my efforts to gain the intercession of faithful souls over several decades, will overcome my unmortified passions. The deepest need in our characters is right desire and there are many prayers that express these right desires. Right desire is very important for a writer who is trying to convey a wide range of complex ideas. The impersonal power of the Cause, in so many subtle ways, comes to be seen by writers and artists, indeed, people in all walks of life, as one's personal power. The mind does not countenance such an idea, but the ego proceeds undetected in its insidious and evil course, underground, as it were. Each of us must come to know themselves; it is on this basis that we come to know others. We each have to do battle with our inner demons and dragons, our lower self; no one else can fight that battle for us. In rejecting the sin and not the sinner, this also includes our own dear selves. And, to conclude some of this aphoristic advice let me say that, so often the cup must become empty before it is filled again. I think this is as true for ourselves as it is for others who first come to this new Faith and study it for the first time, or even for those who study it for years. Everyone fills their lives with all sorts of stuff, and it so often is this "stuff" that keeps the cup full and the person never really enters the garden of the Cause. He or she stands at the gate and looks within, but never enters. This is true for more reasons that we are aware. I hope that I will not be hindered from that which has been ordained for me, hindered by wayward appetites, appetites which cause the profoundest trouble in my character.(Gleanings, p.315) I also hope the same for my readers. And who knows what is ordained for each of us as we travel the
  • 14. path. May God help my readers, as I pray that He helps me, to disentangle each of us from evil, from great human passions, and to deliver us from evil because so often we are not strong enough to do it on our own. In this new paradigm Bahá'ís have to deal with so many forces in the world of existence- -but they matter not at all, if we only realized it, and realizing this is no easy task. At least it is no easy task for me. What matters is our own dear lives. They are of the greatest importance.(Paris Talks, p.118) Our outward conflicts are but an echo of a more inward war. It is a war that is fought with prayer, prayer which calls eternal forces into alliance. This war is also fought with meditation, and the sign of meditation is silence. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Prayer provides an expression of the craving of a man's heart. Prayers are always answered. Sometimes circumstances change or He changes us. Of course, believing that what happens to us is always for the best, does not mean we will not suffer. And it is so often very difficult to believe that what is happening to us, to say nothing of the billions of others, is "for the best>" The more than a century and a half of Bahá'í history is filled with suffering. As I examine Bahá'í history from time to time in this book, I often examine it in a metaphorical sense. John Hatcher has written about this way of studying and thinking about history and I leave it to readers with the interest to examine some of Hatcher's books. I also leave it to readers to study secular history, especially history in the last century or more. Recent modern history throws much light on this new paradigm. The world we entered in this new paradigm was one in which catastrophe was writ-large. The world a century before, in 1900, had no idea of the magnitude of the catastrophes ahead. The vast majority of humankind lived outside the Western world. There was vast and hopeless misery in many places especially: Russia, China, India and Africa. Again, I leave it to readers to try and grasp the general story of modern history and the light, if any, they can find that throws our world a century later in an historical perspective. I taught history for several decades and I am more than a little aware of the anarchic confusion that exists in the study of history. This is not only true of history; it is true of all the social sciences, young and inexact as they are, and far more complex than the physical and biological sciences. Complexity faces us all in the study of man, society, and the vast field of values, beliefs and attitudes, in a word, religion.
  • 15. Section 2: The Baha‘i community had already put in place, through the guidance of its leadership over more than a century-and-a-half, through prayer and meditation, through sacrifice and suffering, and through much else, an evolving structural base for community building. During those decades, filled as they were with appauling suffering across the face of the earth and unparalleled scientific and technological change, the Bahá'í Faith spread to every corner of the planet and forged its Bahá'í administration in many thousands of localities. The latest of the Abrahamic religions, which is what this new Faith claims to be, entered the 21st century with a structural-base that was just in embryo, in what you might call the chrysalis phase, a century before, in 1900. The community-building that has been taking-place in the last two decades, 1996 to 2016, has been built on this structure, and on the work of several million adherents in the Bahá'í community. Bahá'í institutions and the millions of individuals who have been part of its tapestry over more than 150 years before the emergence of this new paradigm have a story that I encourage readers to become as familiar with as they possibly can. This new religion has grown up in the light of modern history and there is much to study, in some ways, far too much for any of us to really take in to its fullest. We can but try and, hopefully, we have the interest and the discipline to make the effort and avoid the massive distractions that beset us all in this new digital age of print and image-glut. Community building became a focus for a process that the internationally and democratically elected body of the Bahá'ís, the Universal House of Justice, said began, that had its kick-start, at the outset of this new paradigm in the mid-1990s. Most of my life as a Baha‘i, as far back as the 1950s, and before that in the lifetime of my parents who were also Baha‘is, during that first epoch(1937-1963), and its three stages, of Abdul-Baha‘s Divine Plan, the major goal and emphasis was on building the structure, the institutional base of this "nascent Faith of Baha‘u‘llah.‖ The House of Justice referred to present Bahá'í administration in its Ridvan message of 2011 as ―the harbinger of the New World Order.‖ "The evolving administrative structures offer glimmerings, however faint," the House of Justice pointed out, "of how the institutions of the Faith will incrementally come to assume a fuller range
  • 16. of their responsibilities to promote human welfate and progress."(Ridvan 2012) Section 3: The building of the structure of this new world Faith, then, a structure with many functions, was at the core of Bahai programs and policies, goals and game-plans, so to speak, from 1921 to 1996, a period of 75 years, if not in at least the quarter-century before that in the ministry of Abdul-Baha and before that in the lives of those two-God-men of the 19th century--the Bab and Bahá'u'lláh. In the last 20 years, 1996 to 2016, the focus has been on "community" in addition to "structure." Of course, teaching this Faith, extending the base, the number of localities, the numerical, the statistical, foundation as far and wide as possible, making a larger group of believers, has always been high on the agenda of Bahá'í communities everywhere since the origins of this newest of the Abrahamic religions in the middle of the 19th century. The latest messages from the House of Justice during this current Five Year Plan, 2011 to 2016, are examples, par excellence, of the elaboration of the details of this community building focus. This book attempts to incorporate commentary on the messages from the House of Justice and national assemblies as they are published, and as they relate to this new Bahá'í culture. The latest message from the Supreme Body came out in the first week of May 2013, and I have added passages into the text of this book from that Ridvan message of 2013. Each message from the House of Justice serves as a continuing exegisis, an exegisis that goes back well before the emergence of this new Bahá'í culture in the mid-1990s. "On each front," the Supreme Body closed its Ridvan message of 2013,"we see the Bahá'í community moving steadily forward, advancing in understanding, eager to acquire insights from experience, ready to take on new tasks when resources make it possible." For readers I leave the pleasure of studying this message as I am confident many will in the weeks ahead as the winter in the southern hemisphere approaches, and summer in the northern hemisphere. I hope, too, that the document entitled Insights from the Frontiers of Learning, prepared by the International Teaching Centre at
  • 17. the request of the Universal House of Justice for distribution at the Eleventh International Bahá‘í Convention, can also be studied in the weeks ahead. This latest in a series of documents beginning in 1998, a document of some 12,000 words, has been issued to provide a broad overview of the progress being made across the globe in advancing the process of entry by troops. It has now been twenty years since the House of Justice began to prepare the Bahá'í community for "a phenomenon" that can be sustained once it has started. As a Bahá'í who began his experience in the Bahá'í community in 1953, I remember well when the Guardian referred to this process of entry by troops. I mention it here in passing because that preparation process is still on-going in this new Bahá'í culture. The House of Justice noted, in forwarding this document entitled "Insights from the Frontiers of Learning," the vital role that the ITC continues to play in the prosecution of the global Plans of the Faith and its diligent efforts to capture, in documents such as this one, the richness of the experience of the believers and institutions on every continent. The House of Justice also expressed the hope that this material would lend an impetus to the endeavours of the friends who, in diverse circumstances, were tirelessly engaged in building vibrant communities. In some ways this latest document, this "close examination of the pattern of action characteristic of the clusters at the forefront of learning" coming, as it does, at the completion of the first two years of this current FYP(2011-2016, is aimed at helping the international Bahá'í community move from 1200 clusters to 5000 by April 2016. The International Teaching Center, sometimes referred to as "the ITC", is a Bahá‘í institution based in the World Center in Haifa, Israel. Its duties are to stimulate and coordinate the Continental Board of Counsellors and assist the Universal House of Justice in matters relating teaching and protection of the faith. The membership of the International Teaching Center is made up of nine Counsellors appointed by the Universal House of Justice. Membership terms last for 5 years and new appointments are made immediately following the International Convention and election of the Universal House of Justice. There are many messages from the ITC on this new Bahá'í culture as well as from the UHJ and many NSAs. Readers are advised to: (i) do some Googling if they want to get a good grasp of the literature now available on this new Bahá'í paradigm, and (ii) study this latest ITC message since it is the most comprehensive statement of the current state of play in the achievement of
  • 18. the goals of this new Bahá'í paradigm. Section 4: Some 17 months ago, on 12/12/'11, a particular, a special, message from the House of Justice was six pages in length and it foreshadowed many developments in the community in the decades to come. I discuss this message in detail toward the end of this now lengthy book at BLO. The Ridvan message of 21/4/'12, one year ago, among many other Ridvan messages, I will comment on briefly in this book from time to time as I have already done to some extent. The next Ridvan message from the House of Justice is due in April 2014 and, at that point, the current Five Year Plan will be 60% over. The letters from the UHJ to the Iranian Bahá'í community, while not about the new paradigm explicitly, have certainly contributed their part to the international Bahá'í culture, and that culture's most newsworthy, controversial and terrifying maelstrom of turmoil and trouble: the Iranian Bahá'í community. Those letters to the Iranian community offer a whole segment of commentary on Bahá'í experience in recent decades, and in this new paradigm. While all these messages and all this community-building takes place, in the form of home visits and study circles, devotional meetings and children's classes, junior youth and youth activities, inter alia, the process of becoming a Bahá'í goes on and on for each of us. We each have to be patient with ourselves to say nothing about being patient with others. This is done little by little and day by day. Often one dies daily, as St Paul told the Christians at Corinth; the ego is subdued over a lifetime. Sometimes it is not subdued. In this new paradigm as in life itself, there are winners and losers. You and I do not win all the battles. And as Shoghi Effendi once said: "the only real battles in life are within the individual." INTRODUCTION #2:<
  • 19. Part A: The process I have described above in a few sentences and paragraphs, and below in many more sentences and paragraphs, is far more complex than the simple sketch I am outlining, a sketch that goes back to the first intimations of this Order in the 1840s. ―The unveiled brilliance of the gilded dome that crowns the exalted Shrine of the Bab,‖ which the House of Justice referred to in its April 2011 message, is a tribute, a memorial, to the memory of the Man who was martyred in 1850. It was a martyrdom that acts as a central part, a critical moment, in the blood-bath in which this new System was born. This System's structures and functions, its communities and its millions of believers find their historical origins in the life of the Bab and His Successor Who initially sketched this System: He Whom God would make manifest, Baha‘u‘llah. That sketch is found in His voluminous writings as well as those of His Successor, Abdul-Baha. Still, this international Bahá'í community is only glimpsing, only manifesting, the first streaks of the promised dawn that is the promise and vision within the new Order to which this System has given birth. The full force of its implications are only slowly developing within the embryo that is the present paradigm. Like the processes in geology and archaeology, in palaeontology and the other physical and biological sciences, the wheels of God grind slowly. Often the process is far too slow for the people of our age and time who far prefer immediate gratification and instant rewards for effort. Part B: Section 1: What I have written in the above, of course, is my own way of putting things, my own thoughts, as the rest of this now lengthy book continues to
  • 20. explore these thoughts, thoughts put on paper beginning in 2007 and continuing in the six years since then. These were years of receiving messages from the elected and appointed branches on this new world Faith, messages which, as I say above, have provided a continuing exegisis on this new Bahá'í culture. I have also drawn on the thoughts of others extensively. Some who read this book will say I have drawn on these many sources too extensively. But I make no apologies for the ample quotations from the words of others, individuals and institutions. This book has grown over the last six years largely through the writings of others, institutions and individuals, and this needs to be emphasized at the outset. The plane of words and appearances is not the only one on which one truly and productively meets the Blessed Beauty. The realities of the Cause are found on the plane of rational thought, personality and raw emotion. But they are also found on a divine level, in the sphere of the soul where one sees the world as a mirage, an ash heap, vain and empty, bearing the mere semblance of reality. Here one sees oneself as a gaged-bird with the potential to soar in the greatest happiness, joy and freedom to the nest of the bosom of God. This book has grown as a result of many things of which the collective memory of the international Bahá'í community and my own individual memory are the core. The nature and function of individual and collective memory is, from my point of view, something that is constructed, and I want to say a few things about that memory below. Section 1.1: Memory Remembering often emerges or begins, certainly for me, in an attitude and/or an emotion, a feeling. The recall is then a construction made largely on the basis of this attitude or feeling. Its general effect is that of an explanation, a description, even a justification of the attitude. I am both skeptical and convinced of the constructive nature of my individual remembering. I also concede that social organization, in this case Bahá'í administration, gives a persistent framework into which all detailed recall must fit, and it very powerfully influences both the matter and the manner of my recall. In other words, only individuals have the capacity to remember, but preliminary, and, indeed, prior, to the process of individual recall there exists a mental pre- disposition that has been at least partly shaped by the social or communal
  • 21. environment. To speak of the memory of a group is to reify and transcendentalize. I encourage readers to check-out the meaning of these two words I have just used because they contain a world of meaning that I don't want to stop here to explain and discuss. In the Bahá'í Faith this shaping of memory, this exegisis, is done by the Supreme Body, an elected institution that is, to use Max Weber's term, the institutionalization of the charismatic Force that gave birth to this new Abrahamic religion in mid-19th century. To speak of memory in a group is to acknowledge both the singularity of individual recollection and its relation to a surrounding society or community—the global Bahá'í community, and the global society in which that community is embedded. It is my hope that, in its small way, this book may help to awaken an "attitude" of recall, to help bring to the surface a memory, to help create a "framework" of remembrance that will enable my fellow Bahá'ís to build and retain a certain consciousness, a consciousness that is intimately connected with memory; indeed, without memory that consciousness is hardly functional. As Bahá'ís we need to be aware of the unique and often fragile communities and environments in which we work, and the difficulties in trying to resist the homogenizing & degrading effects of much that is found in modern society. Forgetfulness is driven by many things of which a belief in progress is but one. A pervasive social and economic dynamic in which oblivion and novelty feed off each other, flourish in the same shopping mall as "planned obsolescence," "rampant subjectivism," "blind materialism, and superficial humanism." Memory is crucial to the reclamation of men and women‘s full humanity—their sense of a continuity, even a comradeship, between present, past, and future generations. As the philosopher Edmund Burke expressed the idea famously in 1790 in his Reflections on the Revolution in France: "society is a contract, a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born." Without this contract the human race and its sustaining environments are doomed to become the victims of pernicious and widely ranging cultural and personal values. The Bahá'í community is not immune to these pernicious forces. This problem has arisen partly because we have become, almost
  • 22. overnight, a complex global society, a society that is especially prone to "social amnesia," to the "refusal or inability to think back." Thinking back to the past has been for the most part something that has taken place in a local and or national context. The new global context of over 200 nations is more than we can handle and our ability to think critically about this planetary civilization is limited. We find it difficult to use language accurately, to understand and exercise our democratic rights and responsibilities in this world framework. We are in many ways citizens of a new world, but we are also embedded in an old world. We are a world rich in history and values as well as hopes and resources. The West is a vast and privileged portion of the globe in which memory and understanding may yet so nourish right thinking and right action that they become rhizomes. Without the memories of the past cultural and intellectual continuity is not possible; there can be no fully comprehended present either for a collectivity or for an individual. With no remembered past to define and direct the present, there can be no planned or idealized future. To misunderstand, to not know the past, is to have no sense of the future. If a person's roots are shallow, their trunk and branches, stems and offshoots do not grow fully. As the famous Roman orator, Cicero, put it as the Roman republic was gradually being transformed into an empire: "to be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child." A key element for the realization of our individual destiny as Bahá'ís is memory; it is also a means by which relatively powerless and poverty-ridden clusters of cultural and personal identity are able to resist the coercions of larger powers. These larger powers often possess economic or ideological systems that can convince them that their own history can be treated either selectively or as "bunk," to use Henry Ford's words. In view of the possibly enormous stakes involved, a concerned look at the state of memory in the Bahá'í community, at what is remembered and forgotten in Bahá'í history and its culture, could prove both valuable, indeed, intriguing and telling. The same man, Henry Ford, who proclaimed history "bunk," also invented the assembly line and the monochrome car. His hostility to history and a dehumanizing drive towards uniformity are by no means unrelated aspects of our consumer culture, a system which has every economic reason for
  • 23. coercing people to live a present-participle existence, an existence of drinking, eating, sailing, and having fun, in a perpetual present that, even as it happens, is obsolete by design. Some people may be immune to such coercion but, if so, it will not be by grace of today‘s educational system which, under the pressure of the liberal ethos that governs this consumer culture. This consumer culture has allowed itself, at nearly every level, to be predicated on a belief in process. This belief in process is at the root of the notion that the act of thinking and writing about issues and problems is as important as, or more important than, what is thought or written about. The idea of memorizing something, for example—a great poem, an historically important speech, a piece of purple prose from a novel (the Bible, of course, cannot be mentioned, even for its style)—seems to modern educators and students to be as pointless as studying Latin or some other "dead language." It has become, for too many people, sufficient to know a few sentences and slogans and, not surprisingly since, after school, the greatest influence on most children are the media. Most of the sentences and slogans that people find in their minds are from advertisements: "Harvey‘s makes a hamburger a beautiful thing," "Just for the taste of it—Diet Coke," "Come to where the flavor is." The issue of educational content and process, theory and practice is far too complex, though, to deal with here. The generality of the world's peoples are eager to leave behind them the memories of the suffering that the decades of the 20th century brought with them. As a recent document published at the Bahá'í world centre in the year 2000 began: "No matter how frail the foundations of confidence in the future may seem, no matter how great the dangers looming on the horizon, humanity appears desperate to believe that, through some fortuitous conjunction of circumstances, it will nevertheless be possible to bend the conditions of human life into conformity with prevailing human desires." The opening page of that review of Bahá'í experience in the 20th century went on to say that: "such hopes are not merely illusory, but they miss entirely the nature and meaning of the great turning point through which the world has pssed in these crucial years." Only as humanity comes to understand, during these years of this new paradigm, the implications of what has occurred in the last century and a half will it be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. The value of the contribution we as Bahá'ís can make to the process demands that we grasp the significance of the historic transformation wrought by the 20th century and especially these early years of the new Bahá'í paradigm.
  • 24. Section 1.2 Bahá'í Culture This history, this Bahá'í culture, is something that must be chosen if we want to be part of it. It is a history and culture filled with simplicity and complexity, with peace and violence, with vast diasporas over decades, leaving home and making new homes. The present Bahá'í culture, like a landscape, is part of a fascinating and mysterious narrative going back at least two centuries, if not several millennia. It is a narrative of catastrophe and slow accumulation, of new generations arising and building on the old, of the sublime flow of ideas generated by turbulence and tragedy, by heroic individualism, great, intense, drama, and by irreconcilable forces, and an immense, a staggeringly massive literature, by a great turning-point in the world's religious history and fanaticism. "Our greatness rests," writes Bahiyyih Nakhjavani, "in faithful orbits that circle around the great souls now living or dead."(Four on an Island, p.119) Often, she continues, "our preoccupations with our own patterns result in personal tragedy." The prison we need to be most conscious of is that of self which we carry around with us wherever we go. This is often a darksome well and a blind pit which our idle fancies dig over and over again burring us in the process. Section 2: This Book If there is any inventiveness here in my work, it is in putting the writings of others into some warp and weft, some pattern of significance to me, a pattern I hope is also significant to readers. I hope to outline some of the dynamics of light and darkness, idealism and disillusionment that are characteristic of the revolution at the heart of this paradigm. Light and darkness are words with vast metaphorical implications. The coming of the light into the world does not attract everyone. The hawk, the owl and the bat all flee in consternation. Many find the Cause very unattractive; as much as we would like everyone to come in, we often find our entire lives have been spent with most of those whom we knew remaining outside the Cause. We should take heart, though, for--as Moojan Momen points out in relation to the life of Bahá'u'lláh: most of those who met the Blessed Beauty did not become Bahá'ís. One's expectations, as one travels the road, the spiritual path, need to
  • 25. be realistic. A lack of realism often courts disappointment and even bitterness in the long run. Of course, again, this is not always so. It is difficult to make any statement that covers the experience of everyone on the planet. People, personalities, are highly idiosyncratic. Section 2.1: This Religion A religion as revolutionary in its origins and development over the last two centuries, a religion that has grown-up in the light of modern history, has a different set of issues to deal with than any of the old religions, religions which are all as busy as beavers trying to become, to remain, to be relevant in our age of change. This paradigm does not eliminate the issues which the Bahá'í Faith has faced for decades, indeed, for at least a century and a half. This paradigm takes to a whole new stage some of the intractable issues that this Faith has had to deal with for more than 150 years, and attempts to deal with them in new ways. The growth of this newest of the Abrahamic religions has been both an amazing, an unparalleled, process, and one filled with difficulties, tests and problems of all sorts and sizes which anyone who takes that history seriously and reads extensively is only too aware. Part C: There is now, on the internet, an extensive body of work devoted to the concepts: culture of learning, culture of growth, paradigms, structure, function, and many other related ideas. You can Google "cultural learning", "culture of learning", "culture of growth", "organizational culture", inter alia, and the literature on these concepts is burgeoning. Cultural transmission, so goes one site, is the way a group of people within a society or culture tend to learn and pass on new information. Learning styles are greatly influenced by how a culture socializes its children and young people. Cross-cultural research in the past fifty years has primarily focused on differences between Eastern and Western cultures (Chang, et al., 2010). Some scholars believe that cultural learning differences may be responses to the physical
  • 26. environment in the areas in which a culture was initially founded (Chang, et al., 2010). These environmental differences include climate, migration patterns, war, agricultural suitability, and endemic pathogens. Cultural evolution, upon which cultural learning is built, is believed to be a product of only the past 10,000 years and to hold little connection to genetics (Chang, et. al., 2010). The above paragraph is but one of dozens which readers, who would like to widen their understanding of some of the concepts utilized in the new Bahá'í paradigm, can study. Not all readers here will be interested in many of the secular and academic useages of terms used in this culture of learning in the international Bahá'í community, but, for those who would, you may find some helpful parallel perspectives in the generla field of knowledge. I leave this with you, with each reader who has their own interests and activities, time-frames and circumstances, desires and goals---their highly individual life-narrative. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- THE END OF THE CURRENT FIVE YEAR PLAN(FYP) in 2016: By the end of this current Plan, 2011 to 2016, Abdul-Baha‘s Divine Plan will arguably be one century old and the religion in which this Plan is being put into action will have some two centuries of historical experience. Much of our knowledge in life is acquired by experience.(Ridvan 2012) The Author of the letters providing the details of the Plan for the extension of this Faith around the world, penned His first words in March and April 1916 nearly three years after returning from His epoch-making journeys to the West. Those journeys were described by Shoghi Effendi as ―a service of such heroic proportions no parallel to it is to be found in the annals of the first Baha‘i century (GPB,p.279) They were both celebrated and commemorated during the first two years, 2011 and 2012, of this FYP. The messages and literature which have flowed in celebration of these 100th anniversaries has been extensive and has added significantly to the tissue and
  • 27. texture of this new paradigm. This Plan and this history, going back as it does into the 19th century; Bahá'u'lláh's life and writings and that of His Son Abdul-Baha, the appointed and legitimate Successor, is at the core of this new paradigm. This new Bahá'í culture is inseparable from this Plan and this history. It was in September 1911, when Abdul-Baha arrived in London, the city He chose, the metropolis of the British Empire, as the scene of His first appearance before the public, that His western tour could be said to have begun.(Balyuzi, Abdul-Baha, p.141) In the last century, 1911 to 2012, the light of this Cause has penetrated, suffused and enveloped many a region of this planet and this process will go on inexorably in the next hundred years: 2012 to 2112. In some ways, Abdu‘l-Baha‘s journey to the West simply initiated, or perhaps more accurately, extended and began to systematize a process of teaching in the West begun in 1894, if not as far back as the 1840s when the first reports of this new religion began appearing in Western newspapers in Europe and North America. During this centennial period of that historic whistle-stopping journey, the Bahá'í community turned again and again to Abdul-Baha's words and His emphasis on the new social forms that will emerge in this Bahá'í Era.(Ridvan, 2012) GLOBAL DIFFUSION: A LONG WAY TO GO This Cause has not suffused the entire planet after the passing of nearly 170 years of the Baha‘i Era(BE): ―that goal is far from being fulfilled.‖(UHJ, April, 2011) In the course of the evolution of this new paradigm the international Bahá'í community may see that goal fulfilled. Perhaps during one of the next major shifts in the Baha‘i administration‘s way of going about things, so to speak, that goal will be completed. Time will tell when and how. I have no doubt that this goal will be fulfilled. My belief, like so many of the beliefs of the adherents of this new world Faith, is characterized
  • 28. by a sense of its inevitability. It is only a question of time in the ongoing evolution of this new world Faith, this newest of the Abrahamic religions when its promise and purpose will be fulfilled. In many ways the work of ―the penetration of that light into all the remaining territories of the globe‖(UHJ, April 2011) has just begun in this first century, 1911 to 2011, the first century since the travels to the West of the Bahá'í Faith's exemplar, Abdul-Baha. As Paul Lample, one of the current nine members of the House of Justice, notes in his useful discussion of this new paradigm: ―Of the more than 16,000 clusters at the start of the second Five Year Plan of this new paradigm in 2006, some 10,000 remained unopened to the Faith and less than 2% of those that had been opened were capable of taking on the challenge of growth.‖ (Paul Lample, Revelation and Social Reality, Palabra, 2009, p.104.) The implications of this statement of Lample's, of course, around the thousands of Bahai communities in dozens of countries is obvious: this Faith founded by Bahá'u'lláh in the 19th century, has grown very slowly in many, many places and this slow growth may continue for some time in many places. It is important, it seems to me, not to infuse this new paradigm with a problem Bahai communities have had for decades: unrealistic expectations of the growth in the numbers of believers. The assumption that numbers will increase by hard work and effort is true, but only partly and only in some places. In some places this assumption is warranted. The experience I have had in the 60 years I have been associated with this new Faith, and the experience I am aware of from my reading and study of the vast literature of this Cause, leads me to have high expectations for this Faith's growth. But these expectations have become, over the decades, more realistic ones due to this Faith's slow growth in many parts of the globe. My last 60 years of experience(1953-2013) are the basis for my judgement. My experience often, but not always, makes me feel "sure-footed in the application of the knowledge I have gained through this experience."(Ridvan 2012) The Bahai Faith has grown from some 100 thousand at the outset of the first organized and systematic Plan in 1937, when my parents were about to first meet and marry in the lunch-pail city of Hamilton Ontario, to some 200 thousand in 1953. That year, 1953, was a historic juncture in the history of
  • 29. this Cause for a number of reasons, not the least of which personally, was that my mother joined the Bahá'í Faith that year. I was into sport, in love with at least three different girls, busy keeping on top of my school-work, and growing through my last years of childhood at the time. The Bahá'í Faith was far out on the periphery of my young life. The Bahá'í temple in Chigao was dedicated that year; the Ten Year Crusade was launched and the Shrine of the Bab was completed. It was a big year for the emerging international Bahá'í community, an historic juncture in the gradual evolution of a religion which claims to be the newest of the Abrahamic religions. This Faith now has some 5 to 8 million depending on what set of statistics one draws on. The subject of numbers, of statistics, has complex dimensions and the subject is one that seems to raise controversy from time to time due to the long-standing emphasis on numbers, an emphasis both inside the Faith and out. In most places I have lived in my day-to-day life and in many, many places I have not lived, growth has been 'discouragingly meagre' and, from my point of view, this has often, but not always, been due to those unrealistic expectations, among other reasons. This slow growth is also due to many other factors which this book alludes to from time to time. The whole question of the growth of this Cause is a complex one with complex answers. Peter Smith's book(2004), Bahá'ís in the West, gives an excellent overview of the growth of the Cause from decade to decade, up to 1990. I cannot do better than refer readers here to this book if they are interested in the statistical side of this new Faith up to the emergence of this new paradigm in the 1990s. In the last decade of internet activity, 2003 to 2013, there have become available a host of sites with statistics for: local, cluster, regional, state, national and international levels of the Bahá'í community. This book does not make any attempt, though, beyond some very general observations, to provide a vast and detailed statement regarding the numbers of men and women, children and youth, in country after country and cluster after cluster who are part of this immense global tapestry of believers. COMPARISONS AND CONTRASTS WITH OTHER PARADIGMS
  • 30. I could make extended comparisons and contrasts between the current culture of learning and growth, the new Baha‘i paradigm, and the several previous paradigm shifts in the Bahai community going well back into the 19th century. I could also anticipate future developments within this paradigm and future paradigms. In spite of the enthralling, the stupendous, vision that Bahá'u'lláh gifted to the world, as the House of Justice put it in its Ridvan 2012 message more than one year ago,regarding the future of humankind this temptation is also avoided. My own particular proclivities in sci-fi writing also tempt me in the direction of hypothesizing on the developments of this Faith in the decades and centuries, indeed, millennia and epochs, eras and cycles. But I shall resist that temptation. The scope of what was originally an essay in the middle of 2007, and is now a book of more than 500 pages(depending on what font-size is used), does not allow for any detailed comparisons and contrasts with previous paradigms beyond some very general observations. The elaboration of what will clearly seem to many like the utopian visions of this world religion is also something I do not deal with. Such comparisons and such visionary statements can be found in many published Bahai works, at posts on the internet for those readers who are interested, and in the talks of various Bahai speakers--some published and some not. The Bahai vision is so enthralling that it inspires the optimist and leaves the skeptic and cynic laughing and somewhat bemused---and I mean this quite seriously, for I have often read the posts of writers who find the Baha‘i vision too utopian for words. As I say, though, I only make some general and limited comments later in this book for those readers who enjoy or who persist in their reading through these 100s of pages. The new paradigm, I should emphasize here, is best conceptualized as a mixture, a dynamic mixture, of past paradigms and present, making-up this new Bahá'í culture. This new Bahá'í culture has not sprung-up ex nihilo. This new Baha‘i culture is also not some monolithic scheme superimposed
  • 31. everywhere and anywhere in the same way. There is what you might call a case-specific contextualization. This new paradigm is a vast meta-text in which the smaller contexts, the local communities and our individual lives, have been cast. This has been the case throughout Baha‘i history, throughout previous paradigms. As we approach this new meta-context, though, we must be on our guard that we avoid what has always seemed to me to be our curious tendency towards oversimplification and absolutism when it comes to spiritual matters. Our knowledge in many aspects of the individual and society is notoriously imprecise, a fortiori, in relation to spiritual matters. Uncertainty, with its implications of trust, is our spiritual condition and it is quintessential to our spiritual development. So much of the Bahá'í journey is dynamic and continuously changing, a moving and fluctuating system, a flexible road-map to all possibilities. There is "an extraordinary reservoir of spiritual potential" available to the individual to draw on(Ridvan 2012) to help him or her act and, in the process overcome the "layered veil of false premises," the apparent "insurmountable obstacles," and "the prevailing theories of the age" which "seem impervious to alteration."(Ridvan 2012)As the House of Justice went on to say in this same context in April 2013, writing about the complexity of this dynamic process:"it does not lend itself to ready simplification." UNITY IN DIVERSITY Unity in diversity has always been the watchword inspite of the best efforts of individuals to impose some simplistic and sterile uniformity. Each cluster, each assembly, each community, each Bahá'í, develops in their own way given the special circumstances of each individual and each community. The Baha‘i community and the individuals within it in this new paradigm, and in the old, have been one and all expected to master worldly evils as they have gone about creating the Kingdom of God on Earth. As they have done this, of course, they have needed to reject the sins people commit, but not the sinners. We all need to do battle with our inner demons and not worry too much about the demons of others. The context for all of this is what you might call contraries which we so often try in vain to reconcile and balance:
  • 32. principles of mercy and justice, of freedom and submission, of the sanctity of the right of the individual and of self-surrender, of vigilance, discretion and prudence on the one hand and fellowship, candor and courage on the other. To act in accordance with this new Faith‘s teachings has always been an imperative and it has always been a challenge. This has often been against popular opinion, but it has not been against secular authority. This has often been difficult and it has required a robust optimism. This is true, a fortiori, in this new Bahá'í culture. A goodly portion of humility is also a prerequisite in the Bahá'í life since no Bahá'í knows what his or her own end shall be and, without humility, so many activities simply do not come to fruition. This is not a religion which guarantees individual salvation through either belief or good works. The Bahá'í community and its adherents are more interested in saving the planet. The ultimate judgements about souls is left to God. There are many people in the world doing good work for humanity, but it is the Bahá'ís who have the blueprint for the erection of the dam that will in time stop the flood which, at present, threatens to engulf humankind. At least that is one way the Bahá'í game plan has been stated all my Bahá'í life since the 1950s and the century in Bahá'í history before I became a Bahá'í. This new paradigm is, in some ways, just another chapter in the ongoing growth and development of this latest of the Abrahamic religions. This nascent Faith of Baha‘u‘llah, this harbinger of the New World Order, requires of the faithful to labor on His behalf to create that humane Kingdom in His behalf. Such labor requires method and system and a movement away from egocentric individual interests toward far broader tasks. This mission requires a religious obligation; this mission ties individuals into a community. The purpose is far higher than utilitarian calculations and the pursuit of material gain. A family of trust and helpfulness exists in this community and it serves as a natural training ground for group participation skills. This training ground has an increased specificity in this new Bahá'í culture. Habits and theories of blame have no place in this paradigm but, given the nature of human beings, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, the lack of personal development in many souls if not most, many obstacles limit the growth of this new culture in ways similar to the limiting
  • 33. factors in previous paradigms. THE PROBLEMS OF BLAME AND COMPLEXITY AND THE ARDUOUS TASKS AHEAD Blame is a negative reaction to the limitations we struggle with daily, and like doubt, which undermines the very basis of that daily struggle, it is a mental habit that often produces adults more aware of human weakness than human strength. There is, too, a gradual and inevitable absorption in the manifold perplexities and problems afflicting humanity as Bahá'ís everywhere try to put into place the complex structure and increasingly elaborate community at the heart of this paradigm. We are buffeted by circumstances and distracted by crises both in the wider secular and religious world, and in our own relatively small international community. The arduousness of the task we face in this new paradigm, is one we sometimes dimly recognize as we aim high and hope for the best. The problem of non- partisanship, the Bahá'í approach to political non-involvement, has always provided Bahá'ís with its set of tests and difficulties in a world where often one's very soul and lifestyle is measured by active stands vis-a-vis some politicized issue like conservation and mining, abortion and homosexuality, inter alia. The tasks we face are not easy. They are often very difficult and the acceptance of this difficulty at the centre of our psyche is important. There is a pain at the heart of life and it cannot be denied, although it often is in our adoption of various kinds of popular psychology like the power of positive thinking and "she'll be right, mate." All things really worthwhile are, it seems to be just about by definition, very difficult. Much of the education most of us have is like a knife without a handle and it is, at worse, dangerous and, at best, often useless. We labour under so many misconceptions and false assumptions: literalism, the heavy burden of ludicrous expectations of others and of our own dear selves, as well as the notion, the falseness, of a spiritual
  • 34. life not rooted in our animal existence. The totality of the human condition embraces both the sublime and the daemonic. They have always been part of the existential realities and they will be seen, ad nauseam, in this new Bahá'í culture, immersed as it is in the life and the times of this 21st century. Readers here must acknowledge the magnitude of the ruin that the human race has brought upon itself during the last century to century and a half. The loss of life alone has been beyond counting. The disintegration of basic institutions of social order, the violation-indeed, the abandonment of standards of decency, the betrayal of the life of the mind through surrender to ideologies as squalid as they have been empty, the intervention and deployment of monstrous weapons of mass annihilation, the bankrupting of entire nations and the reduction of masses of human beings to hopeless poverty, the rechless destruction of the environment of the planet--such are only some of the more obvious in a catalogue of horrors unknown to even the darkest of past ages. A tempest is indeed, sweeping the face of the earth. As I say above, a failure to accept that pain is always a necessary tiller of the heart's soil, and the soil of human civilization, leads the believer into a range of problems that arise when the tests come. This has always been true in this and in other paradigms right back to the 1840s, as Shoghi Effendi describes in his Epilogue to the Dawnbreakers(See p. 652) I MAKE NO PROMISES I trust that readers who stay with this text will have some reward. Of course, as in any writing, writers cannot promise and---if they do---it is either at their peril or it is because of their previous literary successes. This I cannot claim due to my many unsuccessful efforts to write books and I don't like to venture into perilous territory, literary and otherwise, if I can help it. I have developed a more cautionary approach to life as I have come to head into its evening hours. In the first six years, 2007 to 2013, of the presence of this book, this commentary on the new Bahai culture, on the internet, this work
  • 35. has contributed its part---as some posts on the internet do---to an extensive dialogue on the issues regarding the many inter-related processes, complex structures and community functions involved in the ongoing changes in the international Bahai community in these last two decades. This book at BLO has received more than 15,000 hits at this site alone to say nothing of the several 1000 hits it has had at other sites. My current guestimation is some 30,000 hits as of 1/5/'13. This is but one measure of the extent to which this book has been clicked-on, and if read at least to some extent. But words, I must emphasize, are one of the least parts of faith; faith I have often thought is a gift to be lived and, even after several decades, I feel as if I am a beginner---however much I write in this analysis of the new Bahá'í culture. I cannot give others faith nor understanding. That is their job. You can lead a horse to water, goes the old saying, but you cannot make it drink. My task, and the task of those who are Bahá'ís and who read this work, is to offer their gifts with a purse heart and a correct motive and to detach themselves from the responses of those to whom they offer the chalice, the light, the fire, of the Cause. No one is really adequate to the Message that we bear and which we offer to others as a gift. There are many writers in cyberspace who are leading all sorts of horses to all sorts of drinks. Cyberspace has become, in many ways, a parallel universe besides the real space we all live in. In real space the small handful of Covenant-Breakers and people who identify with and refer to Bahá'í sects, are given not only publicity but a profile all out of proportion to their real existence, their existence in real space. People coming across these so-called sects in cyberspace get the distinct impression that the Bahá'í Faith is a house divided into at least half a dozen sects. In cyberspace the Bahá'í Faith becomes, for many, just another cult. The terms cult and sect have specific definitions and meanings to academics who study the sociology of religion, the history of religion, of religion within the rubric of some other academic field. The Bahá'í Faith is neither a cult, nor is it divided into sects, but the casual and uninformed reader is led to quite another opinion as he or she surfs the net wanting to learn about the Bahá'í Faith and its sects that they have heard about in some casual conversation. The Bahá'í Faith has always had people bent on its destruction. This was true in the first years of the Babi Faith from 1844 to 1848, and this opposition and hatred existed both outside the Cause and, often, within the Cause itself. Bahá'í history is a fascinatingly complex story that the internet has given a visibility to for those who want to
  • 36. study and real about it. Of course, only about one-third of humanity has access to the internet, and most of the Bahá'í community, most of its 5 to 8 million members live in communities with no internet facility. TEMPERAMENT AND TEMPERAMENTS: PERSONALITY CONSTRUCTS AND PARADIGMS The word ‗temperament‘ comes to us from medieval physiology. A temperament was seen as a balance of multiple humors, a composite of multiple psychical forces, a concept for the general trend of the soul. Temperament was seen, and it is, a vague sensibility, a kind of broad appraisal of a person‘s attitude. It is a category that spans one‘s nature and education across the lifespan from childhood to old-age. People's temperaments guide our attention, but they are also reflections of their past experiences. Temperament changes, such was the medieval view, according to the balance of humors in the body; it changes with age, and it is reflective of one‘s upbringing and general cultural inheritance. A temperament is also part of the culture of an individual, but it extends beyond the individual into deep and often unconscious attitudes, habits, prejudices and capacities. Temperament is both indirectly and directly expressed; it is uncovered through the analysis of actions. One‘s temperament shows through as a vague or quite specific and general propensity, the sum total of many disparate and unrelated acts. It is a broad composite, built and undone, and rebuilt over the course of a lifetime. It is a psychic and emotional, as well as rational and irrational process embedded in complex social processes, and individual inclinations. It lies behind and under and is also within what I am writing in this book about the new Bahá'í culture. It is also at the heart of what one does in this new Bahá'í culture as it did in the old paradigms. It is a reality we all have to deal with in the drama that is our life-narrative and community life. In writing this book it is my hope that I have uncovered and exemplified a certain philosophical-historical spirit which is grounded in the living
  • 37. specificity of my 60 years of association with this new world Faith. It is a philosophical spirit echoed among a number of my contemporaries and historical predecessors in the Bahá'í community. It is a philosophy of the street and of the neighbourhood, of the local and of the specific, of the problem-centred and of the community-oriented. It is also playful and affirmative. It is a type of spirit that contains a genealogical criticism and evaluation, as well as a social critique. It construes the historical sense as attitude, perspective, and a way of life rather than as system, as book, or as an ascetic and transcendental attitude. It means affirming temperament, locality, and problems. I hope readers who stay with this now lengthy work, do not find it to be a glib and pervasive criticism, written from a type of expert contrivance. Although this book contains many criticisms, it is far from glib and far from contrivance. I see this book as one that has gorwn-out of experienced conviction over many decades. Still, I do not expect this gook to receive a popular reception; it is far too long to ever be popular and the reading public is now drowning in images and print, a glut of stuff that overwhelms Everyman. There is much else in cyberspace for readers to get their teeth into and give them pleasure. My modus operandi seeks out origins and explanations, but only to a limited extent; it attempts to make interventions into particular habits and attitudes that I have lived with and observed for decades. The practices of reading and interpreting, of arguing and analyzing, are each and all woven into the very field of the new Bahá'í paradigm itself, as a part of its game-plan, its aims and objectives. My writing has been shaped by a century of tempestuous violence on the planet as well as the historical and intellectual tradition of which I am a part---now a global cultural tradition. I write in order to help heal whatever wounds I find in my life and the life of my society. I also write to express my appreciation for differences between people, differences which are part of living together in community. Ironically, I write as much to create and to clarify problems for readers who come to this book, as to dissolve and solve them. That is one of many ways I define my writing exercise here. Some problems are intractable both in my own life and in the life of my society; others are simple to solve, and still others have already been solved
  • 38. GRIEF AND LOSS "Dealing with grief and loss," as Susan Gammage writes, "is never easy in this paradigm or at any time. One can not always forgive and forget, and even as one does, it is often a process that is very slow in working itself out. Often, it is best not to force oneself to do things for the Cause; not to fret and worry about what you can't do; one's health, among other factors, often prevents us from engaging in certain aspects of community life. In cases like this it is often best to engage in avenues of service which do not interfere with one's health, or even withdraw into solitude where the forces within can adjust the balance and you are able to be set on your feet again. We should not interpret this as a dereliction of duty. Advice from well-meaning Bahá'ís often acts as a weight; to be told one should transcend one's psychological problems and not judge is often not good advice at all.(Letter to an individual believer, 23/10/'94) It is useful to keep in mind that service to this Cause takes an infinite shading of forms and styles. The conventional gestures of service are often safe and secure. Being hurled into forms of service with too much turbulence, too much distress, is often the cause of withdrawal and inactivity. The so called and often used term "the inactive-believer" is often the result of this turbulence. We love the truth, but often dread what it might do to us, and so it is often necessary to keep a safe distance from the blazing summons that Bahá'u'lláh has issued on thousands of pages of what is now the sacred Text. TWO TEXTS: TWO SOURCES For this writer, and for each Bahá'í, there are two texts: (i) the Book and its legitimate interpreters and (ii) the forever unfinished, decentralized text of history—forever supplemented, new chapters being written in all sorts of places by all sorts of people not especially, not necessarily, in touch with one another. There is some work of ‗correspondence,‘ and some of ‗production.‘ I write, or so I like to think, as a type of Emersonian-self, exhorting others through my temperament or because of my particular temperament and
  • 39. motivation, towards a fundamental faith in the possibility of personality beseeching others with Emerson to, "affront and reprimand the smooth mediocrity and squalid contentment of the times." I also exhort others by means of this book "to hurl in the face of custom, trade and office, the fact which is the upshot of all history," that there is a great responsible thinker and actor, an indwelling God "within me mighty, powerful and self-subsistent." This indwelling God is working wherever I work. I belong, as a true man, to no other time or place, and I act at the center of things. Where he is, there is nature.‛(Emerson, Self Reliance, p. 270). My temperamental prison, made as it is of glass, is also a prism that reflects and refracts thought so that it might be broken and colorful. I draw here on Emerson and leave it to readers with the interest to read more of Emerson. I encourage this reading of Emerson because of what I feel to be the broad relevasnce of his writing to this new paradigm. POWER AND AUTHORITY IN THIS NEW PARADIGM Power, as I conceive it, is not seen as a property, but as a strategy. Its effects of domination are attributed not to ‗appropriation‘, but to dispositions, manoeuvres, tactics, techniques, functionings.‛ Power in this sense is not only something exercised by the powerful, but is a network of activities carried out by everyone in society each in different ways. In short, power is something exercised rather than possessed; it is not the ‗privilege‘, acquired or preserved, of the dominant class, but the overall effect of strategic positions. It is an effect that is manifested and sometimes extended by the position of those who are dominated. The operation of power, or rather its manifestation, is found in particular acts. As such, power does not ‛obey the law of all or nothing‛ but is rather manifested in localized episodes that have effects on the entire network in which it is caught up. At the same time, power cannot be separated for purposes of understanding its operation since power produces knowledge. There is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations. From the perspective of the theory of power, individuals themselves are products of
  • 40. the system of power relations. The individual man is already himself the effect of a subjection much more profound than himself. What I have just written is a complex subject and I leave it to readers with an interest in the subject of power to do some reading because it is an important subject in this new culture of learning. What I have written in the above paragraph is, to reiterate, somewhat complex, given the often simplistic view that people have of the concept in everyday life. In organizations, in the international organization that is the Bahá'í Faith, authority is the scope of the legitimate power of the elected institutions of this new world Faith, or legitimate power possessed by individuals when acting on behalf of these elected institutions. Authority and power are two different concepts. This authority is conferred through officially recognized channels within the Bahá'í Faith, and represents a portion of the power of these elected institutions. For example, a Bahá'í institution might have the authority to deprive an individual of his voting and administrative rights. That institution could also provide an authorized person to determine if a member of the community should have such rights removed. In contrast, a group of Bahá'ís might have the power to do all of the above things, but still lack the authority because the actions would not be legitimate. Authority in the Bahá'í community can also be seen in situations in which authority is an institutional function. An elected Bahá'í body, for example, might hire employees as a standard function of its existence. However, most of that body's members are not authorized to hire employees. This authority is passed down through Bahá'í administration to specific individuals sometimes with limited institutional involvement. Authority and power are complex entities; they are abstractions about which much has been written and this book does not go into these two terms as much as it should. Perhaps, as this book evolves in future years I will deal with these two terms in more detail. They are important to understand because they lie at the basis of so much that takes place in Bahá'í groups and in this new paradigm. I encourage readers, again, to make a personal study of these two concepts and their relation to the individual and the community. In the process they will be
  • 41. better prepared for understanding the nature of this new paradigm. THE LANGUAGE OF PARADIGMS The language of paradigms has been used across many academic disciplines and fields of discourse to describe current and shifting understandings of knowledges, beliefs, assumptions, and practices. Thomas Kuhn (1962) made the term ―paradigm‖ recognizable with his publication of Structure of Scientific Revolutions in the very year before the emergence of another Bahá'í paradigm in 1963---the year of the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963. That was the same year--1962--my own travelling and pioneering for the Canadian Bahá'í community began. For Kuhn, a paradigm was a collection of shared beliefs, a set of agreements about how the world may be understood. According to Kuhn, the differences between Newton's mechanical universe and Einstein's relativistic universe represented a shift in paradigms. Each of these two approaches to physical science represented a worldview, or a paradigm, that guideed how scientists saw the world. Hans Kung (1988), the great Catholic theologian, is among those who has applied Kuhn‘s understanding of paradigms to religion. He identified several paradigms that have shaped religious history. Among recent Christian worldviews are the modern, Enlightenment paradigm and the emerging Ecumenical paradigm. In comparing these two paradigms, Frederick Schleiermacher‘s (1996; 2001) contributions that shaped much of modern liberal theology have been challenged by the pluralism of more recent ecumenical and interfaith theological understandings (Cobb, 1982; Hick, 1982). The new does not replace the old, yet it does provide an alternative foundation of thought for understanding contemporary religious practices. This is also true of the new Bahá'í paradigm: it does not replace the old, but it does provide an alternative foundation, an altered, an additional, structural, institutional, organizational scheme or framework, a new language so to
  • 42. speak. This framework, this structural embellishment, has assisted and is assisting the Bahá'í community to deal with a multitude of functions: its emergence from obscurity and the public image it has slowly acquired in the last several decades; the new horizons and developments in the wider society; the unfolding educational processes from childhood to old age, the several stages in the lifespan, within the Bahá'í community; the extension of the Cause to every corner of the planet and the deepening of those people who are attracted to this global, this very wide-spread, religion---and much more, a more that this book discusses in its 500++ pages. A paradigm as a worldview containing deep-seated assumptions that are so much a part of a person that it is often difficult to step back and see what the assumptions are. Such assumptions and views of the world are central to a person‘s belief system and to the ways that a person lives and acts in relation to others. In some ways, as this new paradigm has evolved in its first two decades(1996-2016), Bahá'ís need to be able to practice multi- paradigmatically, to discern the assumptions most often used within the Cause as an organization and then use their critical thinking and their personal skills to move across different facets of the paradigm to accomplish goals congruent with the values, beliefs and attitudes necessary to implement the aims and goals of this new Bahá'í culture. This multi-paradigmatic perspective is useful when deciding what course of action to take when faced with the many options now open in both individual and community life in this 21st century. A new complexity has emerged both in the wider world and in the Bahá'í community. In the Bahá'í community this is particularly the result of developments in this new Bahá'í culture of learning and growth, developments that have been slowly introduced, incrementally developed, and analysed each year in an ongoing exegisis that is top down, an exegisis that flows from the legitimate and authoritative Interpreter of The Book. This book, on the other hand, is an interpretation of this exegisis, and includes a discussion of the philosophical assumptions and the practical implications of this new paradigm. Paradigms emerge from many sources and they are seen in practical frameworks based on these assumptions. The practicval framework here is the multi- paradigmatic perspective to which I refer is, for me at least and I hope for others. It is a heuristic tool for approaching so much that is found in this new
  • 43. Bahá'í culture. The Universal House of Justice has been at the apex of Bahá'í administration for 50 years, and the paradigmatic shift that has taken place since I was first a Bahá'í in the 1950s, and especially since the mid-1990s, has been extensive. A PARADIGM IN A MULTI-PARADIGMATIC FRAMEWORK There are several practical and theoretical elements to think about when considering this paradigm, a paradigm which for me possesses, as I pointed out above, a multi-paradigmatic framework. Religion and spirituality have a range of meanings and they provide a category for understanding the context of broad and diverse spiritual and sacerdotal practices engaged in by individuals and communities. With Bahá'ís located in some 120,000 localities there is an immense diversity of practice taking place within this paradigm. The epistemology, the nature of the knowledge, that each Bahá'í has acquired and will acquire, is as varied as there are Bahá'ís. How does one know what is true or real? Traditional sources of knowledge in the Bahá'í community include: intuition, perception, testimony, experience, and rational thought. Within Bahá'í history there are four common sources: reason, revelation, tradition, and experience. There are, of course, variations on these sources and the weight they carry, with some sources dominating others. For example, the socially hegemonic force of authority is found in Bahá'í religious tradition, in what Bahá'ís call "the Writings" or The Book. This is balanced by what you might call individual thought and emotion as an experiential source of knowledge. This latter source lacks authority but it is crucial in determining what each Bahá'í does in practice, what he or she does in the context of this paradigm. It is here, in the practice and activities of each of the several million Bahá'ís, that what I call the multi-paradigmatic framework is born. Here, we begin to see one important factor: the distinction between hard knowledge, which is capable of being transmitted in a tangible form, the tradition of sacred writings, and soft knowledge, which is more innate, more experiential, and
  • 44. more personal. A rational, orderly approach to the new Bahá'í culture and a feeling that there is ―one best way‖ or a commonly accepted ―right way‖ to accomplish tasks characterize what you might call a functionalist approach to the new Bahá'í paradigm. Most assumptions and theories that have guided Bahá'í practice in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are also central to a functionalist approach to this new paradigm. A second approach, an interpretive approach, to this new paradigm has as its focus consensus and equilibrium. But this interpretive approach is subjectivist in nature so that the social reality of the new paradigm for each individual is based on human experiences and these experiences exist primarily as a human, an individual, a social construct. Interpretations of what is real in life and what each individual engages in within the new Bahá'í culture reflect individual understandings and inter-subjectively shared meanings. The individual Bahá'í seeks to understand written texts and his or her lived experiences as well as those of the Bahá'í community. The populations served by the Bahá'í community, what are sometimes called targeted or receptive populations, those small pockets of the population where the limited resources of the Bahá'í community can be brought to bear, brought to a focus in the teaching and service work of individuals and the community, are an important part of the community building process in this new Bahá'í paradigm. Each Bahá'í approaches these pockets of the population in their own way guided by the institutions of the Cause, institutions which have been around for decades and new institutional forms which have arisen only in the last twenty years and which constitute the evolving institutional nature of the new paradigm. As the House of Justice pointed out in its most recent Ridvan message released just this week: "it does not follows that every person must be occupied with the same aspect of the Plan." In addition, the Supreme Body goes on to say, that each cycle of the expansion phases of the programs of growth does not need to be directed toward the same end. Diversity, as always, is the watchword. As part of this multi-paradigmatic perspective to which I refer above, Bahá'ís must watch that no trace of paternalism, superiority or prejudice comes into their interaction with others or estrangement and disaffection will result among those whom they want to teach/reach. This is not an easy call; much of the work in the Cause is not an easy call. It never has been. Rather than
  • 45. seeing the new culture's issues in black and white terms, there are many Bahá'ís who are more comfortable with many shades of gray and they see themselves and their roles in this new paradigm in many different ways. What I seek, and what the Bahá'í community has been aiming at for decades- --and no less in this new culture---in this articulation of the context of this new Bahá'í culture is a basis for universal participation. Volition and choice, a variety of lines of exploration and walking the path in the company of others in different ways, or walking alone, depending on the circumstances, are all part of this interpretive approach.(12/12/'11) Another approach to this new paradigm might be called the radical humanist. With a focus on emancipating the human consciousness, a major concern of this paradigm, in this context, is releasing human development from the constraints of the status quo. Postmodern philosophers who concentrate on individual changes rather than social change, including Foucault (1980) and Derrida (1981) may be relevant to this approach to the new paradigm. Due to their generalizing nature, few theoretical perspectives are found in this approach; rather, the individual focus of emerging spiritual, transpersonal and holistic practice modalities align with the assumptions of this approach. If a Bahá'í values the subjectivity of the interpretive approach, but feels that the change emerging from the understanding of the community consensus doesn‘t match their own understandings, and he or she sees contradictions which they cannot resolve, then the change-oriented and consciousness- raising relativism of this approach may be a more appropriate fit. This is a complex idea to which I hope to return at a future time here at BLO. The multi-paradigmatic approach offered here reflects one understanding of the complex intersections of theory and theology as well as the integration of the individual and the community, the institutions and the immense variety of Bahá'í groups. With the knowledge and expertise that individuals develop, as well as their own understandings, hopefully each person will find a heuristic for considering the problems and successes of this new Bahá'í culture from diverse perspectives. I feel that the information in this multi- paradigmatic framework can be of value to individuals who seek to put into place this new culture. This understanding of paradigms may serve as a
  • 46. teaching tool for promoting increased self-understanding, for conducting organizational analysis, for evaluating practice theories, and for discussion related to the integration of everyone into a system of universal participation- --what has been an elusive goal in the Bahá'í community for decades. The philosophical assumptions can be utilized in conversations about self- awareness and a more professional use of self in community, so to speak. The continuums or the spectrums of approach to this new paradigm, can also be of value in framing our thought and practice. This framework may also serve to aid in understanding differences and similarities among Bahá'ís and the assumptions of each Bahá'í about the world and society. Any time we say or hear, ―Well, God expects us to....‖ ―The Writings say....,‖ or even, ―the new paradigm demands..." we have an opportunity to reflect on our assumptions, and this matrix of paradigms provides a tool to aid us in considering these things. Whether used in teaching human behavior, practice or reflection, in discussing the relationships between faith and knowledge, or in introducing teaching in relation to different religious perspectives, this framework can be built into existing tutor and study circle practice in an effort to encourage students to consider the role of our many underlying assumptions that often go unnoticed and unmentioned. THE CONCEPT OF EMOTION: EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE IN THIS NEW PARADIGM Over the last decade and a half, since the emergence of this new Bahá'í culture, there has emerged a growing interest in the concept of emotional intelligence(EI). This is particularly true within literature relating to
  • 47. occupational psychology, leadership, human resource management, and training. EI is especially relevant to the importance of social constraints and self-restraint. The general emphasis in the Bahá'í writings is not on repression and restraint, on gult and on that moral crmapinbg of the soul so familiar to us in systems of thought and belief which depend upon domination and suppression for control. On the contrary, we are called upon to focus our eyes on the intense power and the majesty, the unconstraining glory of the Cause so that our greater attraction towards its beauty will motivate us to "conform ourselves to that meekness which no provocation can ruffle, to that patience which no affliction can overwhelm, to that integrity which no self-interest can shake." EI can enshrine a more general move towards greater emotional possibility and discretion both within the Bahá'í community and beyond — an ostensible emancipation of emotions from the attempts of others to script the management and display of the feelings of individuals. Rather than offering a simple liberation of our emotional selves, EI can be seen to present demands for a heightened emotional reflexivity concerning what is emotionally appropriate in interaction with others. EI involves both greater emotional freedom plus a proliferation of new modalities of emotional control, albeit based now on the expression of feelings as much as their repression. People often regard emotion as a value-laden concept which is inappropriate for life in communities. In particular, emotional reactions are often seen as disruptive, illogical, biased, and weak. Emotion in this context is seen as a deviation from what is sensible or intelligent. It should be linked to the expressive arenas of life, not to the instrumental goal orientation that drives groups. Emotions are often regarded by people as a pollutant to clear-headed decision-making: something that needs to be checked on entry to any group setting because they are a deviation from intelligence. Emotions in this context are seen as being linked only to the expressive arenas of life: to leisure, to pleasure, to personal life.
  • 48. EI embodies the understanding that the degree and pattern of control exercised over emotions is something that is learned, developed, enhanced, and can be harnessed to the advantage of the group. The notion of EI, as it has evolved in the last two decades, aims at dissolving the traditional opposition between emotionality and rationality, cognition and affect, thinking and feeling. It stylistically renders all activity as profoundly personal. It potentially offers an emancipation of the emotions within the group and beyond — a corrective to the myth of the rational group, and to traditional models of intelligence which stress only cognitive functioning and abstract reasoning ability. EI is about how we handle ourselves and others. EI can essentially be defined as how well you handle yourself. It refers to the extent of our emotional literacy, our ability to recognise our own emotions and those of others. It relates to a person‘s capacity both to manage their emotions and to draw upon these as a resource. As Aristotle writes: Anyone can become angry — that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not easy. It is precisely these kinds of capacities that are not detected by conventional models of intelligence, and yet, they matter fundamentally. EI serves to highlight that institutions cannot simply script the emotions of the individuals in the community, cannot simply manufacture a desired subjectivity. Individuals inevitably resist such attempts and, moreover, the model of power that is implied in such notions itself needs to be revisited. Indeed, as a consultancy discourse, EI centrally involves the notion that the kinds of control practices involved in any organizational scripting of emotions, any engineering of feeling, are profoundly unintelligent. A key theme behind the application of the concept of IE is that, within a group, individuals should be afforded considerable personal discretion concerning how they display, manage, and monitor their feelings. In this way, then, the discourse of EI ostensibly offers the conditions for a liberation of emotional expression. In the place of scripting or defining how others should behave, EI promotes
  • 49. the development of a heightened emotional reflexivity concerning what is emotionally appropriate in group settings and in the inner life and private character of the believers. Put simply, EI involves a discursive shift towards implicit, unstated, and mobile standards of what is emotionally fitting, apposite, appropriate, or intelligent. And these shifting and flexible standards of behaviour are in many ways more demanding, more difficult to negotiate than scripts or clearly delineated formal rules regarding what is permitted and correct, and what is not. Thus, rather than offering a simple and unequivocal free play of emotions expressed in a group, EI presents the discursive conditions for a proliferation of new modalities of emotional control, albeit based on the expression of feelings as much as their repression. As far as long-term changes in the character of social/self-control are concerned: freedom and constraint are conceived not so much as opposites, but as two sides of the same coin. I leave it to readers to further their understanding of EI and its application to the new Bahá'í culture. Like many of the concepts I introduce in this book, they are not simple. Like the new Bahá'í culture itself, it takes much time and effort both to understand the concepts and put them into practice. Whom the gods would destroy they first make simple, then simpler and simplest. In this new paradigm and, indeed, in the wider world, we must all learn to live with higher degrees of complexity. THE CONCEPT OF A LEARNING COMMUNITY The concept of the learning community has been promoted in many places in recent decades. Educational effectiveness is enhanced when people are part of a learning community. The Bahá'í community is not a classroom, but it is a social environment, and each member of each Bahá'í community has psychological and cognitive, sociological and historical understandings, personal constructions of knowledge which depend on relations with others.
  • 50. Bahá'ís are engaged in community building and they aim to create a safe environment for their learning community, safety for taking risks and for authentic collaboration. In this new paradigm the perception of individuals that they are members of a community and this membership is the basis for their collaborating and learning is important. The community provides its members with shared goals and culture, a shared feeling of being part of a greater whole. The ability to negotiate meaning, and the ability to reproduce the community through acquiring new members is part of the group ethos and experience. Mutual support among community members or communities of learners, has long been considered beneficial in the Bahá'í community long before this new paradigm. The sense of community affects the success of all programs. Understanding what is meant by community can be challenging, as members do not always have the same definition of community as they go about their work. Community has been described as shared experiences in which both individual and group needs are met, either linked to a place and time or transcending place and time. Another way of seeing a community is as a group of individuals interacting and connecting with each other either through formal or informal organizationat activity. The presence of experienced community members provides the learning context for new members as they enter. As the House of Justice emphasized in its most recent Ridvan message in making a general comment about the worldwide Bahá'í community: "this community is refining its ability to read its immediate reality, analyse its possibilities, and apply judiciously the methods and instruments of the Five Year Plan." That Ridvan message of 2013 had a great deal to say about this new Bahá'í culture. Readers here could do no better than to reread that message yet again since that message contains a continuing and extensive exegisis on the meaning and progress of this new paradigm. Teachers or tutors can engage students or participants in a process of mutually negotiating the norms and values of the learning community. Empowering members to establish the criteria for designing and assessing their learning community has its theoretical foundation in constructivism. The perspective supported by
  • 51. constructivism states that the instructor is a facilitator and the learner is an active constructor in knowledge creation. Similarly, the recently popular concept of the ―guide on the side‖ encourages increased interaction among participants, with the tutor stimulating consultation as needed. Members of a Bahá'í community are almost always given the opportunity to assess their experience. Teaching and learning do not always consist simply of the teacher‘s planting knowledge in the student‘s garden. In this new paradigm all Bahá'ís learn from each other. Further, having students self- assess is a skill they may have to do professionally, since giving and receiving feedback is a vital part of social work practice. The study presents the results of a community-building exercise in which three cohorts of students create the assessment standards and later use the standards to assess faculty and their peers. SOCIAL RELATIONS Individuals and groups in this new Bahá'í culture need to be understood as relational beings. Indeed, the entire paradigm is one of social relations and relationships. The lack of interpersonal skills has an immense effect on the effectiveness of the new Bahá'í culture. Rather than marking a structure of static or passive relations, individuals whether singular persons or groups of related persons are agents whose relations are manifested in purposive action. In human relations we never react to another person, but to you-plus- me; or to be more accurate, it is I-plus-you reacting to you-plus me. ‗I‘ can never influence ‗you‘ because you have already influenced me; that is, in the very process of meeting, by the very process of meeting, we both become something different. In this process, called ‗circular response‘, we are creating each other all the time.‛
  • 52. Agents on this account emerge not as separate individuals, identical with themselves---that is, individuals as understood through a logic of identity--- but rather as intersections, as the activity-between.(I thank Mary Parker Follett for this idea) Reality is in the relating, in the activity-between. From this perspective, individuals, of whatever sort, are such because of their ability to act with purpose and to do so in response to the actions of others. As a result, who one is, must be understood as a co-constitutive process that has the double effect of marking off one from others and of connecting one to a larger whole where the differences between individuals are connected. As agents, individuals are not merely passive but act in accord with desires. Desire, in this sense, is a goal-directed disposition that marks an agent and has its meaning in action. The character of individual agents—agents whose desires are formed and are to be fulfilled through reactions to relations to others in the Bahá'í culture-— are framed by three factors: (1) one's response to an environment that is not to a rigid static one, but to a changing environment; (2) to an environment which is changing because of the activity between it and me; (3) that function may be continuously modified by itself. In this sense, agents are always situated in relation to an environment in terms of which their desires are a new relation formed by the intersection of the agent‘s history and interests with the interests and constraints that emerge from the environment. The situations in the Bahá'í culture that we each encounter and ourselves change through the process of interaction, and formulate new desires to be realized. Put another way, as individuals encounter other individuals, their desires change and develop in relation to the desires and the activities of the other individuals. In order to realize these changing desires, individuals must take action in the newly emerging situation. They must become parts of new wholes. This process of becoming parts of new wholes is the process of integration in which the desires of individuals interact in a way that evolve new desires and new individuals that include the original individuals but
  • 53. which are also more than a mere sum of its parts. Follett calls this more a plus value, which then becomes new collective desires of the community. They lead to still more action and still more new wholes. Or it might be put thus that response is always to a relating, that things which are varying must be compared with things that are varying, that the law of geometrical progression is the law of organic growth, that functional relating always has a plus value. The House of Justice, and before in the 36 years of the ministry of the Guardian, often refers to the organic nature of the Cause and the fact that "the work of the Cause proceeds at different speeds in different places and for good reason."(Ridvan 2013) This approach marks a psychology, individual and social, that studies integrative processes. These processes are concerned with activities; when we are watching an activity we are watching not parts in relation to a whole or whole in relation to parts; we are watching a whole a-making. The participants in the process, however, are not just the recognizable human agents, but the environment as well which constitutes another individual in relation. The environment too is a whole a-making, and the interknitting of these two wholes a-making creates the total situation— also a-making. To summarize, individuals gain their identity as embodied habits and desires formed at the intersection of body, place, and the desires and habits of already present wholes that form one‘s environment. Identity is a slow binding together process; it binds material, social, and spiritual selves in an individual consciousness that is also a whole a-making, that is, subjects are more than ‚mere sums‛ but rather new agents. At the same time, the forming desires of individuals become manifest in their relations with others, the process of reacting to you reacting to me reacting to you, and so on. As we interact, we begin a process of unification that at once affirms our differences and generates a new level of desire evolved through our shared needs and disagreements. This new whole a-making is the evolving collective will that in turn interacts with a still wider environment of desires and again seeks a new unification, new agency, and new ‚plus values.
  • 54. We can have power only over ourselves. In order to achieve self-hood, individuals actualize desires and in so doing exercise power. What the formula I am using shows us is that the only genuine power. It is that over the self—whatever self may be. When you and I decide on a course of action together and do that thing, you have no power over me nor I over you, but we have power over ourselves together. In contrast to power as non- subjective intentionality this conception of power is self-control or, put another way, the ability of an individual to self-govern where he may be as an individual human being, a neighbourhood, a city, region or nation. In the new Bahá'í culture this form of power is sovereignty as looking in, as authority over its own members, as the independence which is the result of the complete interdependence of those members When we at the same time think of this independence as looking out to other independences to form through a larger interdependence the larger sovereignty of a larger whole this kind of power, power-with, is what democracy should mean in politics or industry. While genuine power is power with, power that emerges as control of others, called, power-over, stands as an obstacle to fostering agency and its potential for a larger collective life. Power-over marks an invasion or an intervention from outside the agent/situation that, since it is from outside, simultaneously denies the possibility of self-control and leads to subjection. Power-over undercuts the ability of agents to actualize their own desires and so leads to pain and suffering even as it destroys differences that make integration and new life possible. From this angle, the idea of power-over provides a framework for a kind of critical theory, in terms of which present social structures, institutions, and practices can be examined. Just as Foucault‘s conception of power offers a method of analysis to show the ways in which widespread practices construct systems of that foster ongoing oppression, so the idea of power-over can provide a means to identify practices that undercut the free play of desire and the ability of people to self-govern.
  • 55. Readers are advised to make a study of psychology and sociology for the vast fields of knowledge in these two disciplines and how this knowledge relates to the new paradigm. I have made a start in the above, but each readers must approach these two fields of the social sciences on their own and draw out what is for them meanings and understandings to help them make the new Bahá'í paradigm a meaningful whole as they work out their style of participation. COMMUNITY BUILDING AND HOUSES OF WORSHIP: With the construction of the last of the continental temples in Santiago under way, the initiation of projects for building national Houses of Worship offers yet another gratifying evidence of the penetration of the Faith of God into the soil of society. The House of Justice made this point in its Ridvan 2012 message. They went on to say that "the Mashriqu'l-Adhkar, described by 'Abdu'1-Baha as "one of the most vital institutions of the world", weds two essential, inseparable aspects of Bahá'í life: worship and service. The union of these two is also reflected in the coherence that exists among the community-building features of the Plan, particularly the burgeoning of a devotional spirit that finds expression in gatherings for prayer and an educational process that builds capacity for service to humanity." The community-building work, the House of Justice emphasized in its Ridvan 2013 message, "influences aspects of culture." In that same message the Bahá'í community was informed that they were "entering into consultations with respective National Spiritual Assemblies regarding the erection of the first local House of Worship in each of the following clusters: Battambang, Cambodia; Bihar Sharif, India; Matunda Soy, Kenya; Norte del Cauca, Colombia; and Tanna, Vanuatu." To support the construction of the two national and five local Mashriqu'l-Adhkars, a Temples Fund at the Bahá'í World Centre has been established "for the benefit of all such projects," and "the friends everywhere were invited to
  • 56. contribute to it sacrificially, as their means allowed."(Ridvan 2012) The House of Justice notes that as the process of entry by troops is advanced enough to merit the construction of a national Mashriqu‘l-Adhkar in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Papua New Guinea. According to the House of Justice, the construction of the Temple in Chile and these new houses of worship mark the ―Fifth Epoch of the Formative Age of the Faith‖. Baha‘is who have been keeping up with the news of international teaching successes will be aware of the logic of these building announcements. A document from 2008, ―Attaining the dynamics growth: Glimpses from five continents‖ prepared by the International Teaching Centre outlined several of these localities. Among them: Bihar Sharif in India which is a predominantly rural area with 1200 villages each with 1000 average population. Matunda Soy and Tiriki West clusters in Kenya were noted for their achievements in the 2008 Regional conference as part of the international Five Year conferences. A personal Baha‘i blog from Tiriki West cluster offers a bit more detail. Another locality with this distinction is Norte del Cauca in Colombia which is the site of the original Ruhi courses. "Responding to the inmost longing of every heart to commune with its Maker," wrote the House of Justice at Ridvan 2008, many of the believers are carrying out "acts of collective worship in diverse settings, uniting with others in prayer, awakening spiritual susceptibilities, and shaping a pattern of life distinguished for its devotional character." And as the House continued: "As they call on one another in their homes and pay visits to families, friends and acquaintances, they enter into purposeful discussion on themes of spiritual import, deepen their knowledge of the Faith, share Bahá‘u‘lláh‘s message, and welcome increasing numbers to join them in a mighty spiritual enterprise. As a final note the first Bahá'í temple, built in Ashkhabad, Russia, which no longer exists, was part of a compound including schools, a hospital and a guest house. It was completed in 1908 and there have been, then, more than 100 years of temple constructions around the Bahá'í world. In the years following the Communist Revolution, sadly, nearly all Bahá'ís there were exiled or deported, the men to Siberia, and the women and children to Iran. Today Bahá'ís are still found in Ashkhabad, but the government does not
  • 57. formally recognize the Bahá'í Faith. As part of this new paradigm, the building of temples is yet another context for the expression of the new Bahá'í culture. THE INTERNET The following passage from Century of Light(p.133), published in 2001 was prescient of developments that have taken place both in the Bahá'í community and in the wider world: ―The system, so prophetically foreseen sixty years ago by Shoghi Effendi, builds a sense of shared community among its users that is impatient of either geographic or cultural distances.‖ This description of the sense of shared community created by the internet was clearly, as I say, a prescient insight into the evolution of internet use worldwide as published in that Bahá'í publication in 2001. It is interesting to note that Friendster began in 2001, Linkedin and Myspace in 2003, and Facebook in 2004, and that statement in Century of Light, that analysis, preceded the social networking revolution, or at least was coextensive with its earlier years from the mid-to-late 1990s. This book itself is part of that revolution in communication in the last two decades, decades synchronizing with this new Bahá'í culture. At the same time I am only too aware that we all communicate by means of an instrument that is most powerfully aware of its inadequacy to communicate. Language itself is often an expression of one's inner tension. As the Guardian once put it: "the devoted believer always feels that he has failed because in comparison to what he desires to give, his services seem so inadequate."(Four On an island, p.100) The information revolution set off in the closing decade of the 20th century by the invention of the World Wide Web transformed irreversibly much of human activity. Internet communication, which has the ability to transmit in seconds the entire contents of libraries that took centuries of study to amass, vastly enriches the intellectual life of anyone able to use it, as well as
  • 58. providing sophisticated training in a broad range of professional fields, again, for those with the interest. The system, as I say, so prophetically foreseen many decades ago by Shoghi Effendi, builds a sense of shared community among its users that is impatient of either geographic or cultural distances. It is this shared community that I have drawn on in my own work both inside the Bahá'í community and out---especially in cyberspace---in these years of my retirement from FT, PT and casual-volunteer work. Coincidentally this has taken place in the first two decades of the development of the new Bahá'í culture. In the first year after I retired from FT work, July 1999 to July 2000, Google officially became the world's largest search engine. With its introduction of a billion-page index by June 2000 much of the internet's content became available in a searchable format at one search engine. The new Bahá'í culture had then just finished its first organized teaching Plan within this new culture of learning. In the next several years, 2000-2005, as I was retiring from PT work as well as casual and most volunteer activity, that had occupied me for decades, Google entered into a series of partnerships and made a series of innovations that brought their vast internet enterprise billions of users in the international marketplace. I was one and I became a published author more extensively than I had ever been with thousands upon thousands of readers, indeed, probably millions; it became impossible to count my readership since it was spread across some 8000+ internet sites and among some 2 billion users of the world-wide-web. Not only did Google have billions of users, but internet users like myself throughout the world gained access to billions of web documents in Google‘s growing index/library. The information revolution set off in the closing decade of the 20th century by the invention of the World Wide Web transformed irreversibly much of human activity, especially communication between people. Internet communication, which has the ability to transmit in seconds, as I say, the entire contents of libraries that took centuries of study to amass, vastly enriched the intellectual life of anyone able to use it, as well as providing sophisticated training in a broad range of professional fields, fields that I was very interested in exploring, have done so and will do in the
  • 59. years ahead. It was a finer and more useful library than any of those in the small towns where I would spend my retirement in the years ahead in the third millennium. It was also a library with a myriad locations in which I could interact with others and engage in learning and teaching in ways I had never dreamt of in the first five decades of my life as a student and teacher: 1949-1999, and the first four decades of my life as a Bahá'í: 1959-1999. This new technology had also developed sufficiently by the time I had freed myself from FT, PT and all volunteer work(except that associated with my writing) to a stage, as I say, that gave me the opportunity, the capacity to post, write, indeed, ―publish‖ is quite an appropriate term, on the internet at the same time. From 1999 to 2005, as I say, I released myself from FT, PT, casual and most volunteer work, and Google and Microsoft offered more and more technology for my writing activity for my work in a Cause that I had devoted my life to since my late teens and early twenties. But, most importantly, I was able to teaching the Cause in direct and indirect ways, more extensively than in the first forty years of my membership. I now go to religion and philosophy sites, history, sociology, indeed, all the social sciences and humanities sites that I can find, as well as the physical, biological and applied sciences. Sometimes I mention the Cause right away and sometimes I don‘t, but I join the dialogue as best I can across a wide- range of communities. The Internet has become emblematic in many respects of globalisation. The sites I join and the people on them are spread across the planet. The planetary system of the web is a fibre optic cable system and it instantaneously transfers information. By many accounts, one of the essential keys to understanding the transformation of the world into some degree of order and the ability to imagine the world as a single, global space, is this world-wide-web. The Internet has widely been viewed as an essential catalyst of contemporary globalisation and it has been central to debates about what globalisation means and where it will lead. MILLIONS OF READERS:
  • 60. AN EXERCISE OF PERSONAL INITIATIVE There are now several hundred thousand readers, perhaps millions, engaged in parts of my internet tapestry, my jig-saw puzzle, my literary product, my creation, my immense pile of words across the internet--and hundreds of people with whom I correspond on occasion as a result. I keep this interchange as brief as I can when people write to me; if I did not I would be worn to a pulp by the sheer amount of literary contact with others. This amazing technical facility, the world wide web, has made this literary contact and success possible. If my writing had been left in the hands of the traditional hard and soft cover publishers, where it had been without success when I was employed full time as a teacher, lecturer, adult educator and casual/volunteer teacher from 1981 to 2001, these results and this contact with others would never have been achieved. I have been asked how I have come to have so many readers at my website and on my internet tapestry of writing that I have created across the world- wide-web. My literary product is just another form of published writing in addition to the traditional forms in the hands of publishers. The literally hundreds of thousands of readers(perhaps even millions since it has become impossible to keep even an accurate account of all those who come across what I write and see the name of the Cause) I have at locations on my tapestry of prose and poetry, a tapestry I have sewn in a loose-fitting warp and weft across the internet, are found at over 8000 websites where I have registered: forums, message boards, discussion sites, blogs, locations for debate and the exchange of views. These are sites to place essays, articles, books, ebooks, poems and other
  • 61. genres of writing. I have registered at this multitude of sites, placed the many forms of my literary output there and engaged in discussions with literally thousands of people, little by little and day by day over the last decade. I enjoy these results without ever having to deal with publishers as I did for two decades without any success. I go to: Christian and Jewish sites, Buddhist and Hindu, Islamic and Baha‘i sites, sites for sects and cults, denominations and branches, isms and wasms. The internet is a cornucopia of accurate, well-argued and knowledgeable information. But it is also a place for specious and spurious, inaccurate and beguiling arguments. People who know little about an issue are often easily taken-in on the internet. Many often believe a u-tube post they can see to one that requires study and reading on their part. The internet, like many forms of technology before it, is both boon and beast, asset and debit, to the lives of its participants. Indeed, a quite separate section of this book could be devoted to the negative and positive impacts of cyberspace, a space which has itself developed a whole new world---a new technological paradigm-- during the first two decades of this new Bahai paradigm. SOME CRITIQUES OF THE CAUSE IN CYBERSPACE Some writers with an axe to grind, so to speak, earnestly seek to present their views of this new Faith as a detached commentary on a body of neutral "facts." They often appear in the guise of dispassionate scholars and commentators with their years of patient research or extensive community experience. The concluding or continuing efforts of their literary careers, or just their grinding axes are found increasingly in cyberspace. Their posts often begin with an assertion that they are writing for the purpose of presenting in a concise or not so concise, an orderly or not so orderly fashion, the facts which have been established, or other trustworthy scholars have established. Sometimes their posts have nothing to do with scholarship,
  • 62. but it is clear within a few words or a sentence or two, that they don't like the Bahá'í Faith, that their experience of it over a few months or a few, or indeed, many, years, has been negative. The disgruntled and the disillusioned Bahá'í, or X-Bahá'í, or disenrolled Bahá'í, or covenant-breaker, that person as I say above with some axe to grind, make it their job to let everyone who reads what they write know that this latest of the Abrahamic religions is many things, and they are all negative. In a religion of millions there are inevitably going to be people who have negative experiences when they join or after they have been in this Faith for sometime. If one was to judge this religion by these people one would make a quick exit. I should add that if one judged any religion or philosophy, if one judged atheism, agnosticism or any of the isms, by the experience of those holding some religious or philosophical position one would not be anything. Even nihilists and indifferents, or the so-called unbiased scholars, all have their members, all groups holding any position at all, have people who do not represent the best of those positions, people whose behaviour is far from exemplary. The posts of such people often end with the measured question "can the Bahai World Faith be an adequate religion for the world today, and for the millennium to come? The magisterial judgement of such individuals is often "decidedly negative." Their opinions of Bahai administration and the Bahai community often leave this reader wondering if the community they are writing about is the same one I have been a member of for over half a century. As I have also mentioned elsewhere in this book, publicity is given in cyberspace to groups of Bahá'ís who are given the term 'sects.' If one took such people seriosuly one would come away with the view that the Bahá'í Faith is divided into at least half a dozen distinct and separate divisions. The internet is, as I have emphasized elsewhere, a place for highly informative and scholarly posts as well as erroreous and ill-informed individuals---with that proverbial axe-to-grind. At the same time, after decades of participation in many different Bahai communities, I have seen many a person join the Cause, become
  • 63. disillusioned and leave. I have seen many become so critical of others and of Bahai institutions that they find it very difficult to see the wonders and beauties of this Cause. When one becomes a Bahai the tests often come hard and fast, as Abdul-Baha said they would as far back as 1911---before He began his western tour of Europe and North America. The frustrations involved in teaching this Cause also add to the above mix which I have briefly described---resulting in an emotional over-boil, so to speak. The result is negative posts on the internet by frustrated and discouraged Bahais, x-Bahais, disgruntled Bahais, inter alter. Often the posts and articles, essays and think-pieces of various writers on the world-wide-web have an air of thoroughness and authority. Where matters of belief and religious practice are discussed, the author's own opinions are closely woven into the fabric of quotation and reference. The most damning conclusions are presented in a tone of surprise and regret. Sometimes the writing is heavily footnoted, drawing on an apparently wide range of sources; and sometimes it is not. A degree of animus is often unmistakable, an animus often deriving from some experience in Bahai community life which, as I say above, has left the author cynical and sceptical, if not totally disillusioned and wanting to tell everyone and anyone who will listen and read what he or she has to say in cyberspace's endless spaces. In an international community of millions of souls it is not surprising that some of its members lose whatever passion of belief they once had. Such disillusionment happens to people in all groups, to say nothing of disillusionment that sets into the lives of those who never join a formal group. The last century or so is littered with the disillusionment of people's former passions and ideals. The lives of millions of souls and a library of books now documents the details of this massive and personal discouragement both inside this new Faith and outside across a myriad of groups and individuals. PASSION AND DEDICATION
  • 64. Whether an individual knows it or not he or she forms their own self as they work toward the perfection of their lives. This self achieves its highest, its finest, expression when burning passion and a cool judgement work together in the same soul. This was the view of arguably the greatest sociologist of the last 200 years, Max Weber. But this passion and judgement must work together ―so that neither the passion nor the intellectual guidance lose their commanding force.‖ They both need to be ductile enough so as to be relied upon when, in the face of the passion that may blind us, we need to gather the strength to subdue the soul, and when, in the face of a world which seems to have dashed all hopes, we need to say nevertheless and, immune from discouragement, be ready to make still another effort?‖ We all need to be, increasingly, beings of insight and endurance who can confront the fate of the times and, instead of passively yearning and resignedly waiting, we can wholeheartedly embrace our longing, whether in science, politics or art, whether in the context of the Bahá'í paradigm or in our own personal and everyday lives, and, spurred by this embrace, set out to the task before us. Such is the context we need to meet the demands of the day and, beyond that, to seek to bring about the highest human possibilities. It is true that obligation is first, but it is not less true that devotion is higher. We also need to experience a compulsion toward a cause, a cause felt as if one has been called to it, or for which one has been born. It is a kind of inner necessity stemming from love or desire and thus inwardly generated. Contrary to the compulsion stemming from fear, that stemming from love cannot, by its very nature, be imposed from without. It is part of one‘s innermost being as given by nature. Therefore, it is inescapable and yet at the same time amenable to growth and development, and receptive to appropriate education—one able to arouse and foster it. It is this love which we need to be able to summons in order to ―find and obey.‖ This is the ―daemon that holds the threads‖ of one‘s life. The injunction ‗become who you are‘ may be another way of expressing it. This force, this summoning, is creative or productive; it is directed to the
  • 65. positive construction of something worthwhile or to the transformation of the world. It is not the mere avoidance of an evil, although it is partly that. This productive character is a very complex feature, as it is usually only through long and disciplined hard work that the creative acts and productions of science or politics, art or religion may come to light. Devotion or dedication involves much more than diligence. We must not only be diligent; he must be obsessed in our devotion. The core meaning of this obsession lies in sacrifice or giving oneself over to a cause, to the point of ―perishing in the calling‖. I am aware that the mere mention of ‗devotion‘ or ‗dedication‘ may sound shrill, to say the least, in liberal ears—those who conform to the prevailing fear of any passionate commitment.‖ What is desired is the strength of mind and heart to be inwardly alive and persevere in one‘s devotion. Such a person is not only the teller of ‗what is‘, the teller of their own story, but also the seeker after the highest possibilities in their own life and the life of their community. Nothing is worthy of man as man unless he can pursue it with passion‖, even if passion alone, assuming that it could exist in any form other than as ―sterile excitement‖, is of course not sufficient. By linking biography and history, individual and society, self and world, the famous sociologist C. W. Mills sought to show that underlying people‘s experience of difficulty, anxiety or apathy and the troubles and issues they confront are the fundamental problems, the problems of reason and liberty, which are not only the imaginative sociologist‘s problems but also Everyman's.(C.W. Mills, The Sociological Imagination, Oxford UP, 1959; and Carlos Frade, The Sociological Imagination and Its Promise 50 Years Later: Is There a future for the Social Sciences as a Free Form of Enquiry? in Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, vol. 5, no. 2, 2009) DEDICATIONS
  • 66. This work is dedicated, as I have mentioned at the outset of this book, to the Universal House of Justice, trustee of the global undertaking which the events of a century ago set in motion. The fully institutionalized and legitimate charismatic Force, a Force that historically found its expression in the Person of Bahaullah, has effloresced at the apex of Bahai administration by a process of succession, of appointment and election, for half a century as I write these words on 3/5/'13. I have also written this book as a form of dedication to an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 Bahais and Babis who have given their lives for this Cause from the 1840s to the first decade of this third millennium. This dedication includes the many best teachers and exemplary believers--those ordinary Bahais--who have run this marathon of the spirit, consecrated themselves, indeed their lives, to the work of this Faith before they continued their marathon and stepped into the worlds of light in the mysterious country beyond. Finally, I have written this work in memory of my maternal grandfather, Alfred Cornfield, whose life from 1872 to 1958 has always been for me a model of an engagement in a culture of learning and personal growth. Undisturbed reading, research and writing time made my grandfather happy and it has made me happy, especially in the evening of my life. I also write this book in memory of the many mentors I have had in my reading life, mentors whose writing has been an inspiration to me over several decades. A LIFETIME OF LEARNING
  • 67. The traditional division between work and play does not really apply in the context of my life these days of my retirement after a working life of 40 years: 1959 to 1999. In his autobiography Johann Wolfgang von Goethe(1749-1832) warned his readers that what they wish for in their youth they may get in their adult life. I have spent a lifetime, my adult life, learning and I am grateful that my fate has given me precisely that. It was something I wished for in my youth: something I could throw myself into with passion and intensity to fill my spirit to overflowing. This something came into my life by sensible and insensible degrees during the years of my adult life: early, middle and late adulthood, the years from 20 to 40, 40 to 60 and 60 to 69, respectively. This lifetime of learning was also the central means I found to serve this Cause for I was: a teacher and lecturer, a tutor and adult educator, among many other roles, for some 40 years. In my many educational roles, it was a quintessential necessity that I became a learner not only from books but from my students. I also became, by those same sensible and insensible degrees, a writer and author, a poet and publisher, an editor and online journalist and blogger, an independent scholar and researcher with an obsession, what became a type of compulsive creativity. Some have blamed, indeed I often think this is the case, the source of this tendency on my bipolar disorder(BPD). That may be partly true. I have written a 190 page book here at Bahai Library Online(BLO) on my experience of BPD if readers want to follow-up on this idea. In all of these roles, among others, I have been able to serve the Cause sometimes with satisfaction and sometimes with confusion and bewilderment. As it says in the Quran the pen of a scholar is more valuable than the blood of a martyr. This is an interesting concept which I will leave for a more detailed discussion. FINDING YOUR NICHE
  • 68. Finding a niche within which to serve this Cause is a sine qua non for all Bahais: for the veteran and the novitiate, for those who were Bahais before this new paradigm and for those who entered the Cause after those fin de siecle years of the twentieth century when this new paradigm found its inception. Although the niche in which I now serve the Cause is one heavily laden with print and communicating with others in cyberspace, I long ago learned to avoid the vice of scholars to suppose that there is no knowledge of the world but that of books. "The most learned," that fine essayist William Hazlitt once observed, "are often the most narrow-minded." Having spent many years in institutions of higher learning I am more than a little aware of this reality. This new paradigm provides a multitude of niches; indeed, this book argues that everyone can find a niche if they want to be active agents of their own learning, if they want to engage in some pattern of action suited to their own personality constructs, if they want to be involved in what has become a complex of networks in a growing new religion with an important part to play in the unification of the peoples of the world. Some of those who are at present wholly unaware of Bahaullah's coming and who are not acquainted with the society-building power of this Faith will, in the years ahead, enter into conversation with Bahais and come into contact with this new culture of learning and growth which has been so painstakingly developed in the last two decades: 1996-2016, and in its several global Plans. This culture of learning is part of a global enterprise of personal concern now to millions of adherents of this Cause. Indeed, the well-being of the total human family and the individual families of the Bahais are interlocked in a common concern, in a communitas communitatum, a community of communities. For many, as has always been the case, since the Babi-Bahá'í Faith had its origins in the middle of the 19th century, their niche is largely on the sidelines. Such people were, for decades, called "inactive believers", but this term has died away in most places. All organizations, and the Bahá'í Faith is no different in this respect, have a portion of their members who play passive and inactive roles.
  • 69. One can use many terms for such members across all groups and causes, organizations and institutions: apathetic and asleep, non-compliant and docile, going through the motions and idle, indifferent and inert, motionless and phlegmatic, quiet and sleepy, static and stolid, unassertive and uninvolved. Some Bahá'ís worry about such members of the community, and some don't. There are always, and in addition, some members who actively work against the aims and purposes of the Cause and this, too, has always been true. One can not and should not measure the organization they belong to by its weakest links. Otherwise no organization would be seen as an attractive entity, and individualism itself would be a cause not worthy or anyone's commitment. Millions in the wider world sleep-on-indifferent, chilled and vulnerable to the evils the night conceals. Each of us must be vigilant for vast numbers are sleeping and dark terrors stalk the streets. Many of these terrors are as insidious as the shadows that rise up in peoples' minds to diminish this new Faith and deflect us from the purpose of our existence. We are so easily deflected by the distractions of our culture that fill the spaces and the many hours of our time. People are easily disaffected and we should not worry about them; they are as foam as Abdul-Baha once referred to many who are called. The price of ecstacy in the Cause exacts heavy dues and not all the dues get paid as the journey has many twists and turns in our lifespan. THIS BOOK: AN OVERVIEW This book is, as far as I know, the longest analysis and commentary on this new Bahai paradigm that is currently available in the Bahai community. The overarching perspective in this book is a quite personal one that attempts to answer the question: "where do I fit into this new paradigm?" Readers are left to work out their own response to this question as readers inevitably must now and in the decades ahead as this new paradigm develops a life of its own within the framework already established in the first 20 years of its operation: 1996 to 2016. By 21 April 2013 this current Plan will be two years old. By the end of the current Five Year Plan, 2011 to 2016, on 21
  • 70. April 2016, this new Bahai culture will have been developing, as I say, for two full decades. The question now is not "if" but "how" each Bahai is to engage themselves, to participate, in this new paradigm, this system of limitless potentiality. This is a work that I like to think is of value to anyone who has ever thought at all about this new Bahai culture and who would like to think about it more deeply than he or she has thusfar. I am more than a little aware that more than 500 pages is just too much in our world of print and image-glut, and that simple talks and videos, little booklets and short posts on the subject get a better press, are more popular, but this lengthy analysis has its place in the same way that many, very many, big and fat books have in Bahá'í libraries all around the world, a place they have had for the last two centuries of Babi-Bahá'í history. Still I have little doubt that the mass of humankind, as well as the Bahai community, will eat, drink, sleep, and perform their many and diverse tasks, and do as their lives dictate by circumstances and creativity, desire and duty, without casting an eye on this book. They will care nothing for my scribbling and enthusiasms as well as whatever carping and quibbling readers see here.I like to think these finely-spun distinctions, interesting theories and lines of analysis and demarcation that I include in this work, will be seen by a significant coterie,if not significantly, due to the great mass of information now available. We in the West face a print and image glut. I would argue there are many useful lines of thought here, but these pages will not possess, for many a reader, any advantage over their own wit, genius, shrewdness, or melting tenderness. Sometimes, of course, they will; sometimes they won't. With some two-thirds of the world still without access to the net and with most of the several million Bahais engaged in activities other than reading extensive postings like this one, I have no illusions about the impact of this work. As I say above: this book has had some ten thousand clicks over five years, a needle in a haystack of cyberspace. In two February 2013 messages from the House of Justice here in Australia a focus was placed on the receptivity of youth in the Sydney area. The House also announced in a February 2013 message that 95 youth conferences would be held around the world from July through October 2013. In October 2013,
  • 71. the current Five Year Plan(2011-2016) will be exactly half over. In April 2013, the House of Justice celebrated 50 years at the apex of Bahá'í administration. Youth have always made a decisive contribution to all the Bahá'í paradigms. Many youth, after only a brief association with the Cause, contribute significantly to its community-building. Community building, as I have pointed out elsewhere in this book, and as the Supreme Body points out again and again,"influences aspects of culture." In some ways this hardly needs saying; it is only too obvious. Youth, generally speaking those in their teens and twenties, have often been the recipient of messages from the House of Justice as so often, from the 1920s to the 1950s, the Guardian wrote about the contribution of the youth. Ninety-five conferences is an unprecedented number over the face of the globe and it will be an opportunity for youth to steel themselves for service as this current FYP comes to its end in 2016 and the first century of the Formative Age comes to its end in 2021. As the House of Justice concludes this 8/2/'13 message to youth, or more accurately about youth, the goal of the youth is "to bring those who have been excluded into the circle of intimate friends." This was a goal I had back in the 1960s when the House wrote its first message to youth on 10 June 1966, but this message enlarges on the role of youth and sets it in a framework of this new Bahá'í culture. Each of the youth, according to their individual capacities and the possibilities before them, is being asked to reach out to their families, their friends, their colleagues and acquaintances inviting them, as circumstances permit, to core activities and going to their homes for Home Visits, among other things. This is all part of this new Bahá'í culture. "So overwhelming has been the response," wrote the House of Justice in April 2013, "that a further complement of gatherings is required." An additional 19 conferences will be convened in this same period. This announcement came on 1 May 2013. This most recent announcement illustrates that it is impossible in this book to deal with all the developments that arise each year in the context of this new Bahá'í culture. There are also hundreds, indeed, thousands of letters and messages that go out to specific
  • 72. national Bahá'í communities as well as to individuals in the 120,000 localities where Bahá'ís reside. With between 700 and 900 people working in Israel at the Bahá'í world centre dealing on a daily basis with incoming communications from the 200+ Bahá'í national communities it is impossible for this book to cover what is happening except by means of the Universal House of Justice messages to the Bahá'ís of the World. The House focusses in their letters and messages on those who are becoming active participants in establishing copmmunity-building activities, and populations that are moving in various ways toward the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. People who are immersing themselves in some aspect of the Bahá'í culture or just having more contact with: its literature, its buildings, its study circles and tutors, its devotional meetings and its youth animators,inter alia, are given more emphasis and regular activities that are having more success than others are highlighted. The deep reservoirs of commitment, for example, that youth often possess toward significant social change are spoken-of highly by the House of Justice time and time again. Before concluding this emphasis on youth, I should mention the merit of the junior youth empowerment program which, as the House wrote in a letter to the NSA of the Bahá'ís of Australia on 20/2/'13: "lies in its effectiveness at enhancing the power of expression and the quality of spiritual perception within its participants." The House wrote much more but these words give the tone and texture of the current emphasis of this youth empowerment program which is embedded in the wider scheme of community building, and which is part of the organic unfoldment of the educational process and the institute process within this new Bahá'í culture. BURGEONING RESOURCES AND THE NEW MEDIA Ours is a world of burgeoning sources and resources from the print and electronic media, of that print and image-glut. A writer like myself should have no illusions about the popularity of his work which is but a drop in the ocean of visual and auditory material and their worlds which threaten to swamp, to inundate, the average person who seeks to get a handle on the
  • 73. plethora of issues facing him and his society. Today, as I was working on this latest update, this latest edit, of this book, the Bahá'í World Centre released a video, a film, over one hour in length, which summarizes this new Bahá'í culture. The film is entitled: Frontiers of Learning. For those who prefer audio-visual means in their learning, this film will accomplish what this book is trying to do. And it will do so much more simply. The new media of which the world-wide-web is but one, play an important part in providing on-demand access to content any time, anywhere, on any digital device. It can also provide, on many occasions, what is now called interactive user feedback. This is a form of creative and often critical participation. It is also an aid to community formation and consolidation around the media content and around the planet; as well, it might be added, it is an aid to of divisiveness and fractured community. Another important promise of what some now call the New Media is the "democratization"---the creation, publishing, distribution and consumption of media content. The rise of this new media has increased communication between people all over the world in cyberspace through the Internet. It has allowed people to express themselves through blogs, websites, pictures, and other user-generated media. As a result of the evolution of these new media technologies, globalization occurs much more extensively. Globalization consists of more than just the expansion of activities beyond the boundaries of particular nation states. Globalization shortens the distance between people all over the world by the speed of electronic communication. These activities and processes have all taken place in the background, in the wider society, and a part of this new Bahai paradigm from 1996 to the present. Part of the success in achieving the goals of this new paradigm is the extent to which youth, as well as adults, utilize the internet effectively in bringing this new Faith to their contemporaries. PERMISSION TO PUBLISH ON THE INTERNET
  • 74. I have been given permission by the Review Office of the NSA of the Bahais of the USA to publish my autobiographical writing on the internet. That Office pointed out to me several years ago that, if I wanted to put this writing in the cover of a book, I would have to go through a further process of review. In Australia, no process of review is required on the world-wide- web. Much of this book is simply a literary instrument tempered in the crucible of my experience, an experience of this Cause going back to the beginning of the ninth stage of its history, the years 1953 to 1963, what was and is called the Ten Year Crusade, the third stage of the first epoch of Abdu‘l-Baha's Divine Plan. This Plan could be said to have now witnessed several paradigmatic shifts since its inception in 1919 and its systematic implementation after a hiatus of well-nigh two decades---in the first Seven Year Plan of 1937 to 1944. That first Plan had more than a little importance to me because it was then that my parents met and married and I was born. This Plan has provided, in some ways, a framework for my entire life. I can now see, as I head into my 70s in the next few months, how my entire life has been shaped and contextualized in terms of Abdu‘l-Baha's divine Plan. I sought permission to publish in cyberspace as the 21st century turned its corner because a great deal of serious discussion was taking place on the net. After more than half a century of association with this Cause, I had spent a good deal of my life studying it. The internet provided for me, as it does for all those who are well-versed in the Bahá'í teachings and are attracted to the immense value that sites on the world-wide-web provide for teaching, a myriad opportunities for teaching. Cyberspace is like another world where every possible view of the Cause is found and this has only been the case during the years of this new Bahá'í culture. I have done more explicit teaching, direct-mainline, so to speak, than I had done in the years from 1953 to 2003, half a century in real space. I go to the sites of all the major religions, the major philosophies, the sites for skeptics and cynics, every conceivable topic under the sun and spread the seeds of the Cause in the best way I know how. Many other Bahá'ís are in cyberspace. Given the fact that there are between 5 and 8 million Bahá'ís in the world, my guess is that something approaching a third of these people use the net in some way or another. That is just a guesstimation.
  • 75. INTERPRETATIONS AND CONTRADICTIONS However personal my perspective may be I want to emphasize that no single perspective is adequate to the task I have set myself in this book. The storey, the narration, of my own experience is an interpretive one, a refashioning so to speak of my past and not a simple mirroring of what I have experienced; it is a refiguring and an updating. Standards are various, the actions and events of individuals and communities are many-faceted and the most important activities often proceed from mixed and complex motives of individuals and groups. My language and my approach is intended to open-up a multiplication of meanings. The result I am sure will be, for some reader of this now 500+ page book, a tension between what he or she expects of me as the author of this book and what they experience as they read its many pages. I feel somewhat like the poet W.H. Auden who was fond of quoting the woman in the novel by the English novelist E.M. Forster(1879-1970) who said: ―How do I know what I think until I see what I‘ve said.‖ This book is, then and in some ways, a thinking out-loud. Because of the contradictions and complexities of social life everything that happens to individuals and groups depends on the specific context in which the events of life are embedded. In many ways it becomes nearly impossible to predict how individuals and groups will behave or what outcomes will extend from deliberate organizational policy. The role of social scientists in general, and sociologists in particular, as one of the many categories of engineers of the future often dissolves into a much less attractive role as professional doubters and critics. Some people, then, come to see such critics and sceptics, such commentators and analysts, as unfaithful members of the community who are not responding the way they are supposed to respond to the directives of the Supreme Body. Awareness of the paradoxical character of many institutional policies, much of the social and organizational structure
  • 76. and the nature of group dynamics leads naturally, at least to people like myself and others who come across what I write, to caution. The critic is often aware of this and some members of the community come to see him or her as a threat to the general orthodoxy of the way policies and programs are supposed to be implemented. I do not see myself as a threat; indeed, I see what I write as part of the very warp and weft of this new paradigm. I see this book as part of the exercise of my individual initiative in the promotion and the consolidation, in my service activity and in my social activism in relation to this wondrous Cause. In many cases, as I say above, it is impossible to predict what will happen as a result of individual initiative and organizational policy. On the other hand and in many places one can predict what will happen with great accuracy. In hundreds of towns and cities across the world where the Bahá'í Faith has been part of that location's group composition, the growth of the Cause is so slow as to give the local believers great frustration as they try and try to teach their contemporaries from many walks of life. The Bahá'í Faith is not some rabbit's-foot which one can rub and instantly achieve all that the local Bahá'ís want to achieve. Often, as is the cause in individual lives, the processes involved are slow in working themselves out, and complex in their functioning. This very slowness is a great contributing factor to the pessimism and scepticism of many a believer. In one's assessment of this new paradigm and its working-out in one's own locality, one must be realistic and not have aims that will inevitably lead to disappointment, and disappointment's potentially soul-destroying effects on individual initiative. MESSAGE TO CONTINENTAL BOARD OF COUNSELLORS: A SPECIAL FOCUS As the House of Justice pointed out some 28 months ago now, in its 28 December 2010 message to the Conference of the Continental Board of
  • 77. Counsellors assembled in the Holy Land: "opportunities afforded by the personal circumstances of the believers dictate how the process of growth begins in a cluster." What often happens, the Supreme Body went on to say more than two years ago now: "follows no predetermined course." In this message of nearly 10,000 words, a message that continued to define and describe, outline and analyse this new culture of learning and growth, the House of Justice responded to the concerns and criticisms, the problems and exigencies of the international Bahai community in implementing this new Bahai paradigm, as it did in previous letters and messages in the ongoing process that is the development of this new Bahai culture. That December 2010 message is but one of a long series of messages from the House of Justice to assist the Bahais of the world to implement the Divine Plan of Abdul-Baha which He began to write between 26 March and 22 April 1916. I refer to the above message of 28/12/'10 again from time to time in this book as I try to integrate both the House of Justice messages, the general body of the Bahá'í writings and the words of many others that are now found in books and in cyberspace. As the last weeks of the last year of this current FYP come to an end in April 2016, this Divine Plan will be 100 years from its initial drafting by its Author. THANKS TO DR. MARK FOSTER I want to thank Dr. Mark Foster, a professor of sociology in Kansas, for the ideas contained in the following paragraphs. Indeed, in some ways, this book is a pot-pourri of ideas, as I indicated above, gathered from others. Acknowledging as one must that individual narratives and experiences are inexact and perspectival, as illustrated by the parable of the blind men and the elephant, and allowing for diverse, even contradictory, divine and human reality constructions, one should simultaneously recognize, even advocate and celebrate, a radical multidoxy or polydoxy of variegated Baháʾí faiths. These groups, some which even function presently, would consist of Baháʾís who, while accepting the authority of the Baháʾí primary sources, may differ in their relative understandings of, or approaches to, certain substantive issues. By the same token, one should also have reason to expect a similarly radical orthopraxy of covenantal obedience which contrasts with
  • 78. orthodoxy, an emphasis on a correct belief and activity. Orthopraxy places emphasis on correct action, activity, or practice and not on rituals. Right belief is combined with right practice, with the emphasis placed on the latter. Some of this language and these terms were especially used in Latin American liberation theology, often in contrast with an orthodoxy that is seen as insufficiently interested in the practical and political content of faith. The aim is, to put some of these ideas of Foster's another way, "to reach a common vision for the growth of the Bahai community, discuss strategies for action and help the friends to steer away from thinking merely in terms of the mechanics of projects and to infuse their plans and subsequent action with the spirit of the Faith."(UHJ in Bahai Canada, April 2011, p.23) We all need to "learn to read our own reality and see our own possibilities as well as make use of our own resources."(UHJ, 28/12/'10) Part of this common vision is our belief in the mysterious power of spirit and its existence as an integral element of our universe. This leads us into behaviors which are sometimes essentially irrational from a material perspective. A consequence of the fact that we believe in strange and almost indefinable entities like: soul, spirit, indeed, a whole range of abstract forms--is that our teachings call upon us to behave in ways which are strange, somewhat bewildering and, indeed, in the too-hard-basket for the society around us, if not for us as well, from time to time. The Bahá'í Faith provides for its adherents many easy to reach goals and many ideals to guide their lives, but not all of the package of beliefs and practices are easy. In some ways this hardly needs to be said. BLIND FREDDIE The inevitable contradictions between, often within, certain faith-based scriptures can only be resolved in the linguistic texts of religiously authorized interpreters: in the case of our Faith, the Bahai Faith, by the House of Justice. For some believers resolution, inevitably, will not and does
  • 79. not, take place. In an organization of millions of souls in which there cannot be some rigid imposition of formulae, protocols and processes; in which there cannot be a simple emphasis on technique; in which the spirit of the law is often more important than its letter; in which an unintentional stifling of personalities results from dominating personalities; in which temporary imbalances and stumbling blocks are part and parcel of any learning process; in which tendencies to over-instruct and dangers of complacency exist because teaching and learning are rarely perfectly executed processes, indeed, are often highly subtle and complex; in which unmet needs and a haphazard, hasty and controlling atmosphere is often found in communities-- with all these realities I have outlined as part of community life at various levels from the local to the international community---not everyone is going to be happy with things all of the time. Even blind Freddie could see this! This entire culture, this immense and complex Bahai machinery is a means and not an end. Many get caught-up with the means to such an extent that it becomes and end. Some souls have been, are and will get disgruntled; some have left the Cause, and will leave the Cause in the years and decades ahead; some will take years, if not decades to join; some will never join; some will show complete indifference and even opposition; some people need protocols of piety, formula and instructional packages to help them feel secure and they look in vain in the Bahá'í teachings for forumulaic fixtures to help them make sense of complexity. The range of reactions to this wondrous Cause is as varied as there are Bahais and as those who are outside its formal institutional boundaries. The laws, principles, and exhortations of the Cause are not translated into practice in a fixed and inflexible manner, a code that determines what must be done in every circumstance. A very wide area is left to the conscience of the individual & binding pronouncements are only made on details which are considered essential. However binding such pronouncements may be, there will always be some souls who will not feel bound by them and will not follow their implications and apply them in action. Anyone who has been associated with the Bahá'íFaith for any length of time is only too well aware of this reality, a reality one comes to accept with some equanimity if one is not to be paralysed by negative thought, by the downside of life, and the behaviour of one's fellow believers. In the end one is not responsible for the success of the Cause locally, regionally or nationally. One is only responsible for what one does oneself and, even then, there are often factors which result in a sharing of that responsibility with a few others.
  • 80. The Baháʾí Faith advocates a prima scriptura, that is: the written text first, more than a sola scriptura, that is: only the written text, scriptural hermeneutic. Thus, Martin Luther‘s view of sola scriptura would establish the sovereignty of individual exegesis over the authority of Rome. He objected, not to tradition per se or to using interpretive tools external to the Bible. He objected to the sola ecclesia, an "only the church", approach to texts in the Roman Catholic Church. Baháʾís, in both their study circles and as individuals, are not sola scriptura, in the manner of Luther or the Protestant Reformation, in that they accept the authority of the Guardian to interpret and the authority of the Universal House of Justice to legislatively elucidate. Bahais have a living canon. On the other hand, given the right to personal interpretations or understanding of Sacred Texts in the Baháʾí community, the Bahá'í community has nothing quite like the traditional sola ecclesia approach of Roman Catholicism either. For readers who find this line of thinking of personal value I encourage them to read the work of Dr Mark Foster, an American Bahá'í who has written voluminously in cyberspace. SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT AND SPIRITUAL TRANSFORMATION The methodology of spiritual development in this new paradigm involves the radical deconstruction of one's old mind, including its socially scripted patterns of reactions. Given that individuals habitually react to situations from their human imperfections, and if they desire to escape these socialized, reactive constructions of the mind, they must, each time, fall into the habit of pausing, reflecting, and making a spiritually informed, salutary decision. Through this means, and by associating with a community of like-minded souls, their reactive constructions can, reaction by reaction, be progressively conquered and replaced with the spiritually proactive constructions of a new mind. Of course, even blind Freddie would realize that this is a process and it
  • 81. takes a lifetime. For some, the process seems to work faster and, for others, often the process seems to be so slow as to give the appearance that nothing is happening at all. Spiritual transformation has its mysteries and is only partly quantifiable. The mind of man is like a clock that is always running down, and requires to be constantly wound up. The heart is more like a pump that runs out of renewing blood and requires to be constantly refreshed. We all have quite different clocks and pumps, and sometimes we feel our clock or our pump is seriously damaged and ineffective. For others, they seem to be always impressed with the workings of their pump and clock. We each have our own personal stance vis-a-vis the judging of ourselves. Sometimes our self-image is far too high and sometimes it is far too low. It is difficult to be spot-on in the evaluation of ourselves; that is one reason we are given a community in which to get feedback from others however uninvited that feedback often is. The character and temperament of individuals, such has been my experience, often possess the same image and quality as he or she grows and is strengthened with the years. In this sense, as in the English poet William Wordsworth's phrase, "the child is the father of the man" makes this point in another way. The same tendencies may not always be equally visible, but they are still in existence, and break out, whenever they dare and can, and often even more for being checked. Again, we often distinctly notice the same features, the same bodily peculiarities, the same look and gestures, in different persons of the same family; the colour of our lives is woven into the fatal thread at our births: our original sins, our socialization, and our redeeming graces are infused into us; nor is the bond, that confirms our destiny, ever cancelled. Transformation possesses continuities as well as changes in personality. To expect otherwise is often to court disappointment. The whole notion of transformation is a topic unto itself which I only occasionally refer to in this book. This book is not essentially one of psychology and sociology, history and applied science, although I make use of various important disciplines in the social and applied sciences from time to time. There are also many topics besides 'transformation' which this book makes no attempt to survey. To expect to be able to locate a manual with a series of simple steps to achieve transformation is also to court simplicity's many problems. The House of Justice, the Guardian and the Central Figures
  • 82. of the Cause have made mention of this fact on many occasions in Their voluminous writings. Whom the gods would destroy they first make simple, then simpler and simplest! Seekers will find no manual to follow. This Faith is not a mere list of prohibitions to preen ourselves on our pious ability to adhere rigidly to a limited course. These rules and prohibitions are merely preparation, merely a context, for the wondrous experience of the Cause. The social sciences have much to say about the concepts of simplicity and complexity, about rule-making and rule-breaking, for those readers who would like to further their understandings of not only these concepts but the disciplines in which they are enmeshed. THE ROLE OF CRITICS Despite the many limitations of the roles of critics in Bahai community life, their role often seems preferable, at least to them if not to others, to that of the enthusiastic but naive visionary. The sceptical stance of these critics can lead, under certain conditions, to a more sophisticated understanding of the culture under consideration: in this case the culture of learning and growth in this new Bahai paradigm. This new paradigm has had its critics, as this Cause has had its critics far back into the recesses of the first two centuries of its history. The process of march and victory has not been without crisis and calamity, themselves often produced by savage and unfriendly critics who would do all in their power to frustrate the aims and objectives of this new and revolutionary world-encircling Faith. The stimulus in this Cause, the stimulus towards civilization and culture grows stronger in proportion as the environment grows more difficult: such is one view of the polarity of crisis and victory in both personal lives and the history of the Cause. I find this is especially true at the individual level where "whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth." This new Bahai culture is certainly providing that stimulus, that chastising element, as it has for two centuries, as many millions have found, and will find, out.
  • 83. THE POWER OF UNDERSTANDING AND THE CRITIC This new Bahai culture will provide what this Faith has always provided for its adherents: the power of spiritual understanding which surpasses, in the end, any materialistic understanding or ideological power and authority. It provides the basis for true civilization, the secret of Divine civilization. Here the story has been long and it will play itself out for many decades, and perhaps centuries, to come in a host of complex patterns and ways. This Faith does not provide a quick fix to the problems of the world and their staggering complexity inspite of the apparently simple core belief of "one God, one religion and one humanity." Slogans, often used by political parties and the many isms and wasms in the world, have the function of bringing simplicity to complex issues. The last thing this new Faith needs to secure the belief of the seeker and the skeptic is a slogan. It's difficult for the individual believer not to invoke some simple phrase or slogan in the midst of an immensely complex human condition. Millions do battle with the phantoms of a wrongly informed imagination, as the House of Justice pointed out in their 1999 Ridvan message and these same millions, that Supreme Body went on to say in April 1999, "are ill- equipped to interpret the social commotion at play throughout the planet as they listen to the pundits of error." There are pundits of error both within and without this sacred Cause and we all must learn to deal with them as we travel the spiritual and social path that is our lives. It is for reasons like these that the House of Justice in December 2011 cautioned those who would work in the junior youth programs not to dilute the educational content into "a mesmerizing sea of entertainment." Our culture is drowning in entertainment and hype, in sloganeering and advertising's endless sales- pitching. To free oneself to see things with our own eyes and hear things with our own ears, which Bahaullah equates with justice on the first page of His inimitable book Hidden words, is no easy thing. We are all part and parcel of our culture and, as several commentators have said in my 60 years of contact with this Faith, most of our behaviour is produced by the dominant culture in our life. Again, this subject of socialization and belief
  • 84. has many complex aspects which I leave to readers to ponder and study in their years ahead. Clusters and LSAs need to assist junior youth, the House of Justice pointed out in its Ridvan 2008 message nearly five years ago now, "to navigate through a crucial stage of their lives and to become empowered to direct their energies toward the advancement of civilization. With the advantage of a greater abundance of human resources, an increasing number of these junior youth are able to express their faith through a rising tide of endeavours that address the needs of humanity in both their spiritual and material dimensions. The latest message of the House of Justice, on 8 February 2013, has a great deal to say in this area and I leave it to readers to refresh their reading of that seminal message about youth. The institutional policies that are aimed at enriching that culture of learning and growth can often be understood with more clarity by the enlightened critic. This is because such a critic is not blinded by excessive enthusiasm and unreasoning religious zeal, by an ignorance of the importance of moderation and taking one's time and by little knowledge of the history of the Cause. If he or she keeps himself informed, well-read in the writings of the Cause and develops qualities which will attract the hearts of others; if this said critic does not try to stamp all situations with universally applicable blueprints, blueprints that are often the products of his own imagination and sense of self-importance; if that same critic scrupulously avoids the glorification of the self and the bolstering of the ego in the name of confidence-building(UHJ: 12/11)---he or she can contribute enormously to the consultation on whatever the issue is being reviewed in: the cluster, the assembly, the registered or unregistered group, the committee, or simply in some informal discussion. "The hearts," wrote Abdul-Baha, "are as a blank scroll of paper upon which thou canst write any phrase."(he Bahá'í World, Vol. XIII, p.283.)
  • 85. The wider community can benefit from honest and sincere criticism; indeed it should be open to criticism. This book deals with this issue of criticism at some length if readers persist or just use their word-processing tool and scroll through all the references to the subject in these 530+ pages. The section devoted to the work of Dr. Irving Janis in this book is especially pertinent in this regard. The entire subject of criticism, though, is complex and needs much more attention than I give it in this online book, and much more attention by readers since one's own life-narrative has to deal with criticism from cradle to grave. Overlooking the shortcomings of others is just one facet of a complex subject, a subject involving many obstacles that can only be overcome with forbearance, patience, and love. A relentless questioning of the initial blueprints and an examination of the various contingencies at each step of program implementation in this paradigm, or in relation to any policy and program, can be very helpful to the institutions whose role is to implement policy. In particular, this approach, this questioning, should not be seen as rat-baggery since it often results in two eventualities. First, the eventuality that results from the reality that so often change proceeds in measured and unmeasured steps, with close attention to fortuitous events and pressures from outside forces; second, the eventuality that results from knowing the actors involved in the process we are examining. The actual and personal goals of these actors need to be known in order to anticipate their reactions to external interventions. As the House of Justice, and before that Supreme Body, the Guardian of the Faith, to say nothing of each of the Central Figures of the Cause as far back as the 1840s, have emphasized and reemphasized the importance of: (I) questioning---and especially self-questioning and (II) understanding. These two factors cannot be over-estimated. Without the painstaking searching and the lifetime of effort involved in trying to understand human situations, the context in which plans and programs are intended to take place, no matter how much planning, no matter what the organizational blueprint, no matter how well it is devised, the results will often be discouraging. These results will often come to no
  • 86. fruit. Hopes will completely vanish as they have for individuals in the Bahai community since its inception more than a century and a half ago. How often has the very life of a Bahai community been exterminated by dogmatic assertions and overzealous enthusiasm, by fixed points of view and rigid attitudes. There are so many sources of social extermination, so many deficiencies of interpersonal skills that result in a lack of fertility and social- stasis. Narrowness of vision and intolerance toward differing points of view have often produced and will continue to produce sterile relationships; religious habits of mind often have little to do with essential truths. A religious habit is often not the same as a spiritual attitude. This is a subtle and complex process which I do not intend to elaborate on here, but it is important in our understanding and execution of this new paradigm. THE GUARDIAN AS CRITIC The Guardian, himself, in his review of Nabil's narrative and its 600 pages, makes some telling criticisms of the Babis which I would encourage any enthusiast of the new Bahai culture of learning to examine for what may very well be some telling comparisons and contrasts between this paradigm shift in the 3rd millennium and that paradigm shift which took place in the middle of the years 1844 to 1850 or 1852. The Guardian concludes, though, on very high notes as he always does after informing the Bahai community through his wise exegisis(Nabil, 1974, p.652 and following). I do the same in this book for this book is essentially a pean of praise for the new Bahai paradigm inspite of appearances to the contrary, appearances which some readers have already found objectionable as they travelled through the text of this work. After referring to some of the Letters of the living who were "leading an obscure life in some remote corner of the realm", the Guardian briefly describes the wreckage of the slender hopes of the Babis amidst the confusion of the late 1840s and very early 1850s. "The mass of the devotees
  • 87. were cowed and exhausted....the Cause of the Bab....seemed to have failed in accomplishing its purpose." Among the many reasons for the apparent failure of the Babi cause was the failure of the Babis to observe the moderation that the Bab had exhorted them to put into practice. They had, Shoghi Effendi, states simply, "forgotten."(p.652) This work below is entitled: Reflections on a Culture of Learning and Growth: Community and Individual Paradigm Shifts: A Contemporary, Historical, Futuristic and Very Personal Context. I encourage readers to delve into the historyof this Cause for many of the directions that need to be taken in this new paradigm. Many readers need to make revisions in their understandings of the present paraqdigm as I do, too, as I travel through this book. REVISIONS TO THIS BOOK Some of the revisions to this text are a result of feedback I have received. The feedback in the last six years has been concessive but none, at least thusfar, has been defiant. I am neither unconcerned about how this book is received nor am I unresponsive to what reception it receives once I am aware of some specific reaction. Not everyone puts down in writing what they think of this book nor of any other book for that matter. Indeed there is, for the most part, what you might call a languid indifference of private life to the musings of writers of books of this nature, indeed, of any nature. In a world like our own with its booming and buzzing confusions, its powerful and pervasive media intrusions, its frenetic passivity and its multitude of forms of hype from the print and electronic worlds which surround us, any writer who expects a serious view of his work on the part of masses of people, inside or outside the Cause, is barking up the wrong tree.
  • 88. People may enjoy or be critical of a book but the exchange of views, except in the occasional journal review and in the occasional comment on the internet, is largely left to informal exchanges between individuals, exchanges which are verbal and not written---and when they are written they so often die a quick death due to the failure of the author to incorporate what is often good advice into the text of his work. Here at BLO it is possible for readers to make suggestions to writers and for writers to have these views incorporated into the text. This is true in this particular book and has been true for the last six years. I am appreciative of everyone who has written to me even those whose criticism is harshest. Sometimes I can make alterations as a result of incoming feedback and sometimes I can't for various reasons. MY AIM IN THIS BOOK My aim in this book is to be true to my own leanings which I trust will impart direction, movement and life to this work and prevent me from being overwhelmed by the minutae of historical and geographic, sociological and psychological, statistical and philosophical facts. Over the last 20 years I have heard and read many a criticism of the Ruhi, the institute, program, as well as just about everything the Cause stands for and attempts to place into the world of actuality from potentiality. Readers here will find no criticisms of this new Bahai culture from my pen, although I do point out some of the criticisms of others. My Bahai library is one in which there are some twenty or thirty volumes that I have read over and over again in the course of my 60 years of contact with this latest of the Abrahamic religions. These books are not the only ones that I have a desire to read, but they are old friends. I do not think altogether the worse for a book for having survived the author a generation or two. I do not have more confidence in the dead than the living authors.
  • 89. Contemporary writers may generally be divided into two classes for me: the deep and meaningful and the peripheral. Of the first I also read and reread, and of the last I virtually ignore. Given the burgeoning nature of the print that is becoming, and has become, available during the time this culture of learning has been in place, we each have to choose the library of books and journals, essays and articles, both on and off the internet, with which we will engage. This depends on many factors, factors which are different for each of us in this new paradigm. Learning is a highly idiosyncratic exercise, inspite of some broad and similar principles and process. All these details, these reflections, on my reading should give those who come across this book some idea of my personal activity within the Bahai culture, new and old. As that fine British essayist William Hazlitt once wrote and I paraphrase: "the dust, smoke and noise of many modern books have nothing in common with the pure, silent air of immortality." But, I must add, many modern books do have, for me, an air of immortality and this new Bahai culture of learning, in addition to the Ruhi resources, has a rich reservoir of reading far beyond anything available in any previous paradigm. Some people are literally drowning in the print and many are hardly aware of its existence. Inevitably, there are many who are not print-oriented types: the garden, the kitchen, the TV, family and friends, and a host of leisure activities are central to the lives of many. Print has to take third or fourth place. That has probably always been the case; indeed it is a subject all unto itself. Readers will not find in this book a systematic, a detailed and organized history of the 20 years from 1996 to 2016, the first two decades of this new paradigm. Nor will readers find a systematic study and analysis of the new Bahai culture of learning and growth at the centre of this paradigm. The history of this Cause over its first 15 decades(1863-2013) is far beyond the scope of this work, although I allude to it from time to time to illustrate some point or other of the Bahai story and its teachings. This culture of learning is set in an historical context and it is important to get a handle on this context to appreciate the setting in which this new Bahai paradigm has been introduced. There is also a virtual, a literal, mountain of print about this new
  • 90. Bahá'í culture for those who want to study it systematically. There is no unity of form and content in this now sprawling book. It is, rather, a sort of pot-pourri of thoughts in which performance struggles with ideal, a personal and quite idiosyncratic ideal. I try to handle divergent and often unfocussed material and bring it into the light of day, a light for my own use as much as the use of readers. I trust readers will not find the series of thoughts, gestures and episodes which they have already read and which follows too unconnected. The messages of the Universal House of Justice and the International Teaching Committee as well as the letters and internet posts of many individuals and institutions from the elected and appointed sides of this Faith have provided more than enough systematic and organized commentary on this new paradigm as well as commentary. The materials I have had to work with are far from scanty. The perfections and imperfections of the inspired as well as the uninspired followers of Bahaullah both illuminate and cast a shadow over the history and the present implementation of the current paradigm. As I point out elsewhere in this book, the pot-pourri of information now available, especially on the internet, is often erroneous, fallacious, false, hollow, idle, illogical, and inaccurate. What is often unsound, untrue, vain, and simply wrong becomes, in the hands of those with casuistic skills, a distracting, diverting and beguiling set of words that manipulate the ignorant and uninformed. THE WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ABDUL-BAHA In eight years the Baha‘i community will have spent a century ―beneath the benevolent shade of the Will and Testament,‖(UHJ, April, 2011)a document one commentator described as ―the charter of world civilization, the Bill of Rights of all mankind.‖(David Hofman, 1982, p.9) But ―we stand too close,‖ wrote the House of Justice in 1969 in relation to that same document, ―to the beginnings of the System ordained by Baha‘u‘llah to be able to fully
  • 91. understand its potentialities or the relationships of its component parts.‖(UHJ, Messages: 1968-1973, 1976, p.44.) After more than 40 years since this statement was made by the Supreme Body this is still the case, but the broad outlines of its component parts and its potentialities are beginning to surface in this contingent world and, the greater the understanding of the individual believer, the greater the understanding of both the covenant and its future role in the international, national and local developments of the Cause, and especially in the lives of the individual believers. The literature now available on the subject of the Covenant is extensive, particularly when one compares what literature was available in the late 1960s when the House of Justice made the above statement. The channel for the protection of the Word and to ensure the continuous flow of Divine guidance has been dug deeply in the last 150 years. The ultimate sanction for the authentic interpretation of the "Book," the gift to the current generations of believers, is flowing through this new paradigm from the Universal House of Justice. There is no constricting of the creative force latent in the human soul which, when evoked by the Word of God is the motivating power of civilization. Excesses, wastefulness and confusion which have beset all the old religions in their history, will not beset this everlasting candle, at least not in the centuries immediately ahead. Those working in this new paradigm need to have this idea firmly in their minds and hearts as they work in the Cause and for the Cause. I encourage readers to examine David Hofman's commentary on the Will and Testament of Abdul-Baha published over 30 years ago to help them understand the phenomenon that is this document, a document that pies at the base of this new Bahá'í paradigm. 100 YEARS OF BAHA'I HISTORY As this paradigm was opening in 1996 the Bahai community had just
  • 92. completed its first 100 year history in North America and was about to complete its first 100 years on the European continent. Other continents and other countries each had their own story, their own history, most of the approximately 200 countries and independent territories where the Cause had been introduced had less than a century of Bahai experience. Of the nearly 20,000 LSAs in the world, most of them had a history going back for less than half a century. It is not the purpose of this book to explore those histories. I leave such historical study to readers with the curiosity and interest. I make mention of this brief timeline, though, to provide a cursory historical perspective on where this new paradigm fits into the overall history of the Bahai Faith, a history one could arguably take back to the time Shaykh Ahmad left his home in northeast Arabia about the time of the French revolution in 1789 at the very beginning of some versions of what is called modern history. Since that time, for more than 200 years in the history of this Cause and in the lives of its two chief precursors, people have been leaving their homes to create a home where it did not exist before. The process is often arduous, often unrewarding, lonely and immensely routine in many respects. These people have spent their lives removing strangeness from the heart to make it a home. Their efforts are focussed upon adapting the teachings to the temperaments of the diverse races and nations whom they are called upon to attract. They aim to find a home for this Revelation wherever they go. But it is not easy and so often the result is easy platitudes. We leave behind the comfortable and the safe and, so often, enter into bewilderment. But the Cause is not a system of philosophy; it is a way of life in which one believes something as true and acts upon it as best as one can. The makeshift shelters of pop-psychology and pseudo-political jargon need to be left behind with sagacity in motion to install the lover to become seated within the heart. Bahá'í history, in at least 100 countries, only goes back to the Ten Year Crusade. This makes the Bahai experience in at least half the world a period of about half a century. The institutional development of the fabric of Bahá'í administration on the planet and of the NSAs which are all in the first century of their operation, places this new Bahá'í culture in an institutional perspective that, for this believer at least, makes him more than a little aware of how new this entire institutional framework is for us who labor in the vineyard. The desire to act over many years often results in disappointment; sometimnes this results fairly quickly for the new believer. As time passes many find it easier to abdicate responsibility for doing anything at all within the framework of Bahá'í activity. Nothing they do, so often, seems the slightest bit effective. This reality lies behind the immense number of Bahá'ís
  • 93. in the West who are not contactable, have no return address or telephone number. They have become part of the great unwashed mass of inactive believers. This has always been part of Bahá'í history and not talking about it does not take away its reality. Others, though, find in their Bahá'í experience that each tiny act, each gesture takes on magnitudes of meaning and channels of communication. They find that the days of their lives, when viewed in the mirror of the Bahá'í Revelation, become mightier than a mountain. The very chains of limitation that encumber him in material terms, paradoxically, transform into his wings and speed him on his way. The process is nothing less than mysterious. Why is it that some believe and act and some don't? I have found that gradually, over many decades, that the words I write have become, for me at least, deeds. The dance of my words on paper express my very life. My writing reflects my meditations on and the expression of the power of the Word of god on the tablet of my existence. Like Mishkin-Qalam, I can no more still the flood of my words than the blood in my veins as I shape my art to many a purpose. In many ways, though, it is not the writing itself which is so wondrous, but my awareness of the greater purpose toward which it is bent. I find, as Bahiyyih Nakhjavani puts it, a freedom in plunging into "the water of metaphorical exploration." I invite readers to plunge as well, if they can "dig it" as the hippies of the 60s used to say, and as John Hatcher expresses the process so well in several of his books. WHO IS WRITING BAHA'I HISTORY? This history, that is Bahá'í history, is also, I want to emphasize, one that continues to be constructed, interpreted, created, forged, fashioned, defined, produced and formulated within this new paradigm. As this new Bahai culture establishes greater and greater social and community cohesion the view of Bahá'í history itself changes and gains a fresh and in some ways, more fertile context. This new Bahai paradigm also plays a continuing historical role in the legitimation of the Bahai authority structure and helps to
  • 94. create a variety of cultural frameworks at local, cluster, regional, national, transnational, intercontinental and global levels. Bahai tradition is an ongoing phenomenon, both its creation and the meaning it has to the present Bahai community; it is crucial--this history and our view of it----to the construction of the international Bahai community at all levels. The House of Justice, through its many letters, plays an ongoing role in what might be called the live broadcasting of history. It produces an experience through its many communications where private and public moments, where history, present activities and future plans coalesce into one ongoing narrative. It is a narrative that is an authorized interpretation; it enjoys the imprimatur, the stamp of authority, the acknowledgment of the body of the Bahai community that this is the straight path, this is the set of principles in this Cause and how they apply in today's world, in the Bahai community in which they are currently being implemented in the context of this new Bahai culture. Although reports of the Babi Faith, the critical precursor of the Bahai Faith, and especially Bábí persecutions appeared in the European press from 1845, and although Bahá'u'lláh resided on European soil in 1863-8 in the course of his final exile to Palestine, it was not until 1898 that the first Bahá'í group was established in Europe. From small foundations in Paris, Bahá'ís from Europe have distinguished themselves in many ways in the international Bahá'í community. This book does not attempt to survey some of the unique features of that regional community or the Euro-centric communities in our global world. Nor does this book attempt to review some of the European Bahai community's distinctive contributions to the development of the Bahá'í Faith in the decades of the systematic execution of Abdu'l-Bahá's Plan from 1936 to 2013. Nor does this book attempt to review the special developments in the amazing last half-century, say, 1963 to 2013, in other parts of the world since many territories were first opened in that astounding 10 Year Crusade: 1953 to 1963. All of this history, though, sets the stage, the setting, the mise en scene, as it were, for the most recent developments in this new paradigm in a religious community now of several million members spread across the face of the Earth, spread more widely than all but one other religion according to no less an authority than the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  • 95. PARADIGMATIC CHANGES IN BAHA'I HISTORY Paradigmatic changes have occurred during the nearly two-and-a-half centuries, 1753 to 1996 before this latest of the Bahá'í paradigms emerged in that fin de siecle decade of the 1990s. Those 250 years take one back to the earliest settings for the matrix of the Babi-Bahai Faiths. Those 250 years take one back to the beginnings of the industrial, agricultural, and many of the scientific changes, indeed, revolutions of modern history. Nabil, that useful historian, traces the years 1753 to 1853 in his seminal historical work, but they are not explored in this book except, occasionally and in a cursory fashion, in order to place this new paradigm in what I hope is a helpful perspective. This book is, in the main, about the 20 years from 1996 to 2016, and the closing years ahead of the first century of the Formative Age, the decade 2016 to 2021. This author has his eye on the vision of this Faith's and this Formative Age's second century, though, the years beyond 2021 within this new paradigm. This book does not survey, except in the briefest of ways, the immense shifts that have and are taking place in our global society during this new paradigm. Nor does this book focus on the "matrix within which a world spiritual civilization will gradually mature."(Ridvan 2012) There is much that this book does not attempt to do, as I often say. But there is much that it does attempt to explore as it sets this new Bahá'í paradigm in a range of contexts and textures to help both himself and others understand what is not a simple entity. Unlike all the old religions which grew up far from the light of modern history, the Bahá'í Faith is drenched in the colours and the hews of contemporary history. The believers and the historians are not short on information as they so often are when they study the origins of any of the old-time religions. If anything, there are so many facts and features, details and delineations, that the critical observer is faced with so much information he is not sure where to begin, and when he does begin he is faced with two centuries of massive detail in English, Farsi and Arabic, to say nothing of the many other languages into which this Faith has been translated and which is another story in itself.
  • 96. SHIFTS IN THE WIDER SOCIETY The shifts in the wider society cannot be ignored, indeed they often play a crucial if indirect role, as this new paradigm struggles to be put into place across the dozens of countries and thousands of Bahai communities into which it is articulated. We cannot divorce this last decade and a half, either, from the wider historical setting out of which this new paradigm emerged. The vision of the future is also critical, as I often emphasize in this book, in examining this paradigmatic shift. John Hatcher, that prolific professor and director of graduate studies in English literature at the University of South Florida in Tampa, and widely published poet and distinguished lecturer, has spent three books emphasizing the metaphorical nature of Bahai history. He provides a metaphorical, a mythological framework, for the interpretation of the time we live in and the Bahai paradigm that will be with us for perhaps some decades to come. That metaphor and its myriad of meanings is one of the core features of the lives of Bahais since those fin de siecle years when this paradigm emerged. Each Bahai must and will, each in their own way, make of this metaphorical reality their own meaning. I can only point the way to Hatcher's extensive commentaries on the Bahai revelation and leave it to readers to make of them what they will as this new Bahai paradigm develops in the years ahead, and as each Bahá'í and each reader here seeks to implement this new culture in their own ways and their own lives. The success of any organization carries with it the need to continuously redefine its strategy in order to progress. The Bahai Faith, as a religious, a cultural, a non-partisan political, a community, organization, has redefined its strategy many times in the 15 decades of its existence(1863 to 2013), as its religious precursor had done during the Babi period going back to 1844. The many results of these shifts are evident both in the world, in Bahai history and in much that I have recounted in this book. I do not recount them all, all the shifts and all the paradigms; indeed, I recount very few and, as in
  • 97. many aspects of this analysis, I leave it to readers to understand, to analyse and to figure out what it all means. For we are, in the end, each the author of our own meaning systems, the significance of our own experience, in this new world Faith. Many meanings are never complete unless they carry within them the seeds of other meanings. And the job is for each individual, each community, and each Bahá'í institution as it sets about putting into place the increasingly complex context of this new Bahá'í culture. ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS At this critical juncture in history and in the Bahai community perhaps the most important question facing each of us is whether or not we can begin to ask the correct questions soon enough and provide for our individual lives the correct meanings soon enough to halt the deadly consequences of asking the wrong questions and finding the wrong meanings, of taking the wrong actions and of not really understanding the nature of this new Faith we belong to. In this book I do not address such questions and such meanings in any depth. There is an increasing literature, a literature that has been coming on stream especially in the years of this new paradigm. Again, each reader is on his or her own here as we are so much of the time even after all the messages from the Supreme Body have arrived in our hands, all the writings of the Central Figures have been spread before us on our book shelves and we have come home from all the meetings, deepenings, study circles and Feasts. METAPHORICAL NATURE OF BAHA'I HISTORY
  • 98. Bahai history provides metaphorical and mythological stories which can, if understood, provide powerful forces for the motivation and justification for the individual behaviour and collective activity of the groups in which they are told and retold. They provide, in other words, existentially meaningful narratives to help people deal with the present and the future. Put another way, this history and these stories can exist within webs of significance that determine what we should value and what we need to learn to value. Thereby, through their mediations, these ritualised story-telling performances significantly contribute to socialising us in our present day to day lives. It is precisely because culture's many forces, of which these stories are but one, matter so much that culture deserves full critical attention. This book gives that attention to culture, the new Bahai culture of learning and growth. FREEDOM AND COMPLEXITY IN THIS NEW PARADIGM At the same time, as the philosopher Merleau-Ponty pointed out half a century ago, there is no way of living with others which takes away the burden of being the person you are, that takes away either the responsibility and the freedom which allows you to have an opinion; there is no ‗inner life‘ which is not, in some ways, a first attempt to relate to another person. In this ambiguous, ambivalent, partly polarized position, we can never know complete rest unless we are totally sedated and half asleep. Life has a heavy side to put this in simple terms: "he aint heavy; he's my brother", as the song says. But life has a million other sides which are expounded in religious and philosophical books, novels and works in the many humanities and social sciences. Both subjectivity and the social construction of our reality are cultural impositions and they cannot be wished away. They form the introspective and interpersonal core of this new Bahai paradigm in what you might call a sociological, a psychological, sense. The
  • 99. fear of giving offense and the ease with which we are often offended often tend to limit if not destroy sincerity, and without sincerity there can be no true enjoyment of society, nor unfettered exertion of intellectual activity. As one noted poet once remarked: sincerity tastes of pain, and it is better to be sincere about our doubts than hypocritical about our faith. And pain, the philosopher might argue, is preferable to oblivion--although not always and not for everyone! The art of life in community is often to know how to enjoy a little and to endure very much. The capacity to endure, the sacrificial mode and manner so to speak, is not the same in each individual. Over many decades of one's Bahai experience one usually finds the limits of one's devotion, of one's capacity to suffer for the Cause. Some, though, seem to have an unlimited capacity; perhaps they are the martyrs. Some, too, pursue the aims of the Cause under a myriad social and economic guises. All of this, and many other variables, make community life the complex phenomenon that it is. It also helps to make the growth of the Cause the complex entity, the enigma, that it is for the believers--both the veterans and the novices. Humans have a degree of freedom but its extent is nowhere near to the level which millions believe or would like to be the case. Our destinies are, in my view, significantly and essentially conditioned by the structures internalized within us and the communities of which we are a part. Thus, free will is relative, relative to social structure and far from being an absolute freedom. Freedom operates within certain parameters, parameters of which we are often unaware on the one hand or too much aware on the other. One of the essential goals, both now and in the decades ahead, must be the establishment of a more humane system of normative coercion based on a consultative and volitional unity in diversity. To do this we need to be able to make and break patterns ceaselessly in our efforts to find ways of expressing the purity of the Cause through word and deed. Most of us are so preoccupied by our own patterns. Although this is an aspect of our creativity, it is also and often a tragedy because so many of our patterns are self- suffocating. We seem to be singularly inept at breaking out of our patterns, patterns that have resulted from the forces of socialization, habit and the simple need to survive in a complex world. An acute level of self-scrutiny is
  • 100. required, and this is not easily done; it is often rarely done. This consultative and volitional framework, this structure of complexity, is behind this new Bahai paradigm. And it is an evolving complexity. Members of the community need to avoid the tendency to speak more and more in terms of simplifying slogans. "The habits the friends are forming in study circles," the House of Justice emphasized in 2010, "to work with full and complex thoughts" are necessary "to achieve understanding and to extend the work of the Faith to various spheres of activity. "Closely related" to this question of complexity and simplifying tendencies, "to the habit of reducing entire themes into one or two appealing phrases," the House continued, "is the tendency to perceive dichotomies, where, in fact, there are none. It is essential that ideas form part of a cohesive whole. Sometimes ideas need to be held in opposition to one another, to contain the maximum paradox. We are each and all a bundle of contradictions and our power to survive and revive our civilization depends on our ability to find structures capable of serving our individual and social needs. The new culture of learning is just that, but it will take some time before its uniquely flexible and disturbingly comprehensive system evolves into a form capable of sustaining and supporting conflicts without abdication or compromise. For more on these fascinating themes I encourage readers to go to Bahiyyih Nakhjavani's writings, especially her Four On an Island, and Asking Questions: A Challenge to Fundamentalism. SHORT TERM AND LONG TERM GOALS And so it is that short-term goals and activities are important to us, but so also are the long-term perspectives. As Peter Khan pointed out at the end of a talk he gave in 2006: "it‘s an expression of zealotry to say, ―Forget the long- term; only focus on the short-term.‖ Such an expression is a confusion between priority and exclusivity. Our priorities are the objectives of the
  • 101. current Plan. But that is not all; that is not exclusively the whole story. We should maintain the richness of our diversity of Bahá‘í expression and activity so that we are prepared for the distant future in 20, 30, 40, or 50 years. In this way we will be able to meet the needs of the Bahá‘í community at that time. We have to prepare now by addressing the long-term as well as the short-term. Sometimes, ironically the goals of our life can be expressed in the words: "what am I going to do now?" Doing what is in front of our nose and attending to our immediate responsibilities keeps most of us busy most of the time. But then there is leisure and the product use of leisure-time. That is an isse that could take its own book. But I will not begin that book here. CONSTRUCTIONIST THEORY As I have contemplated and analysed this new Bahai culture over the last several years I have come to see it in terms of a constructionist theory, that is, a theory which holds that humans are social constructs and that their institutions of all sorts are constructs upheld by humans acting according to their images of what reality is, of how they perceive that reality. I reproduce and transform the Bahai paradigm in personal terms as I shape my daily activity. This new paradigm provides for me one of the critical constructs through which I envisage and reproduce my reality. As I see this new Bahai paradigm, in order to understand the individual, one must begin with the synergetic concept of social structure, on both the macro and micro levels. In a psychologistic society, such as exists in the West, conceptualizing social structure as a force which dominates, and acts over and above, any individual influences, is difficult for people to internalize. As Firuz Kazemzadeh put it as far back as the 1960s: "we are 1% Bahá'í and 99% our society, our culture." THE ADVICE IN THE WRITINGS
  • 102. This book also attempts to deal with the many difficult and human tendencies that militate against the carrying out of the advice Abdul-Baha gave in His Tablets of the Divine Plan for the spread of His Father's Cause. It was advice that is as difficult to implement in this new paradigm as in the old. The tendency to argue and prove one is right, the tendency to stay in ones place of residence either by birth or immigration surrounded by hundreds of Bahais and the simple tendency not to follow the many, many injunctions, wisdoms, forms of advice and guidance given in the Writings. There is a very strong tendency to invent a false, unrealistic and finally personally justified(but falsely so), image of oneself as an exceptional phenomenon in the world, not guilty as others are, but justified in the sins one inevitably commits because one does not want to admit to the many omissions and commissions in life which become part of ones journey over the years. At the opposite end of the self-image continuum there is a strong tendency to underestimate one's self. Getting the balance right is no easy game, task or exercise. We each must deal with this struggle all our lives and there is an extensive literature both within the Cause and without to help us here. I encourage readers to google this subject for the now extensive literature available in Bahá'í books and journals. SELF-C0NCEPTs and CONTRADICTIONS "The degree to which our self-concept is false," writes William Hatcher(Bahai Studies, V 11, p.21) "is the degree to which we will experience unpleasant tensions and difficulties as we become involved in various life situations." We are all a mosaic of true and false, real and unreal. Often it is our self-righteousness that leads to a misunderstanding, not only of oneself but of the nature of man and the cosmos. The mythologist Joseph Campbell, argues this in his works on mythology. One cannot emphasize all of this too much as one goes about dealing with this new Bahai culture as
  • 103. this book attempts to do. Difficulties seem to be part of our common lot: slipping into one argument after another, taking up poses of defensive safety within our self-constructed ideology that anaesthetizes us from life's turbulence, shying away from paradox and contradictions. There are, as Abdul-Baha has emphasized "secret wisdoms, enigmas, inter-relationships and rules which govern our lives." There is no simple rule-book or set of aphorisms to cover the journey. RELIGION IN OUR GLOBAL SOCIETY SINCE 9/11 In the years of this new paradigm and especially after September 11 2001, when this new Bahá'í culture was in its 6th year, religion has become an ever more vital, and contested, part of the many national cultures across the world. The aftermath of September 11 has not seen a re-assessment of what legitimately constitutes the domain of the religious or the spiritual. But it has seen an emphasis on the political implications that stem from religious belief. Debates over abortion, gay marriage, terror legislation, Israeli settlements, Middle East policy and so on are inflected with religious beliefs and practices, yet these debates so often take religious positions as given. The terms shift depending on the context, of course, but there is a marked tendency to take religious beliefs as unified positions, static and fixed traditions—becoming variously: religious/secular, Christianity/Islam, Judaism/Islam, East/West, and so on. Both atheists and religious adherents make this presumption, the former from a disdain of religion that often simplifies in order to rebut as outmoded; and the later in advocating the eternal, fixed truths of religion. All of this makes the extension of the Bahai paradigm into the teaching fields difficult for the individuals working to share the message among their contemporaries. The domain of the religious has become a complex, divisive and more emotive field for Bahais actively involved in their new paradigm of learning and growth. In many places the word 'religion' is, as they say, on the nose. It's about as popular as a python; it is seen as irrelevant as an old and dead tooth, and it is also seen as the cause of more problems for any culture that takes it seriously. This, of course, is but one view shared by millions and it is a view mixed with dozens of other views all rattling around in the psyches of the souls of western man,
  • 104. to say nothing of those in eastern adn underdeveloped countries. The view of religion is, at rhew very least, is very mixed bag of tricks---making the teaching efforts in this new Bahá'í culture highly challenged and often unsuccessful no matter how much effort is poured onto the teaching program. The industry and zeal of individual Bahais, inspite of the above, will diffuse this Cause even more than that industry and zeal has diffused it in the more than a century and a half in which it has been taken to the remotest and fairest regions of the world. After the evolution of 15 decades(1863-2013) most--if not all--of the Bahai principles are accepted everywhere as the voice and example of enlightenment. These principles are not seen as Bahai principles as such but as expressions of advanced and enlightened civilization wherever such civilization exists. In this complex world where the forces of traditionalism and obscurantism darken the horizon, of course, many of these principles have yet to be recognized. Again, the picture across the more than 200 countries in the world where the Bahá'í Faith is practiced, is a complex whole of many levels of the application of these principles. THE SEARCH FOR A NEW VOCABULARY What I do in this book is to complicate the discussion and many of the matters even more substantially by pointing out how the sacred and profane have become so very entangled within one another both in the world's literature and in the minds of the 7.4 billion residents of the planet. We live in an age with many labels: modernist, postmodernist, transmodernist, nihilist, sceptic, cynic, obscurantist. Our world is awash with many isms and wasms. There are labels which seek, which seem compelled to formulate, a new vocabulary. However suggestive much of the new terminology may be it is graphically, hopelessly inadequate to grasp the reality of the experience of our time. Since at least the 1950s, since at least the beginning of the Ten
  • 105. Year Crusade and the passing of Shoghi Effendi to the years before and within this new paradigm, more than half a century, we have lived in an age in which the roots of faith in large parts of the planet have been severed. In other places these roots have spread even deeper while the trees they still feed have become mundane and irrelevant to the needs of a bewildered humanity. This issue of modernity and traditionalism, modernism and post- modernism, is far too complex to deal with here in any degree of depth, but it is part of the essential socio-political milieux in which this new paradigm exists and is trying to fertilize the world with its new Bahai culture. METANARRATIVES AND POLARIZATIONS One of the characteristics of this age, too, is that it has collapsed the many polarized, binary, distinctions between, say, high and low culture or the religious and the secular. This, of course, has not happened for everyone and everywhere. I do not want to make of this book an object of extraneous complications but, as I proceeded along the path of its 520 pages, I may have made its content unduly complicated to some readers. In the process I'm sure I will have lost some of those who started out in this work with some enthusiasm. That is a common experience when reading a book. A writer cannot win all those readers who come across his work and who begin with an optimistic fervour in its opening pages. It should not be surprising that many other social distinctions and differences, what are sometimes called worldviews or metanarratives should also have collapsed in this age. This age is one which, in some ways, is without faith, and in other ways, is characterized by a plurality of faiths as I have intimated above. No society can long endure without faith. The enduring legacy of the twentieth century is that it compelled the peoples of the world to begin seeing themselves as the members of a single human race, and the earth as that race‘s common homeland. As they do this, millions still
  • 106. cling to cosmologies with a narrow ecclesiasticism, a religious exclusivism and fundamentalism. As I say yet again, the picture is highly complex. Despite the continuing conflict and violence that darkens the horizon, prejudices that once seemed inherent in the nature of the human species are everywhere giving way. Down with these prejudices have come barriers that long divided the family of man into a Babel of incoherent identities of cultural, ethnic or national origin. That so fundamental a change could occur in so brief a period—virtually overnight in the perspective of historical time—suggests the magnitude of the possibilities for the future. I quote, in the following paragraphs, a statement from the Universal House of Justice in 2002. These paragraphs provide a useful backdrop for much of the work in this new Bahai paradigm. ORGANIZED RELIGION IN OUR WORLD "Tragically, organized religion, whose very reason for being entails service to the cause of brotherhood and peace, behaves all too frequently as one of the most formidable obstacles in the path; to cite a particular painful fact, it has long lent its credibility to fanaticism. The dark past has not been erased, nor has a new world of light suddenly been born. Vast numbers of people continue to endure the effects of ingrained prejudices of ethnicity, gender, nation, caste and class. All the evidence indicates that such injustices will long persist as the institutions and standards that humanity is devising only slowly become empowered to construct a new order of relationships and to bring relief to the oppressed."
  • 107. "A threshold has been crossed, though, in the years from the appearance of the Bab and Bahaullah in the 19th century up to the emergence of this new paradigm from which there is no credible possibility of return. Fundamental principles have been identified, articulated, accorded broad publicity and are becoming progressively incarnated in institutions capable of imposing them on public behaviour. There is no doubt that, however protracted and painful the struggle, the outcome will be to revolutionize relationships among all peoples, at the grassroots level. As the course of civilization demonstrates, religion is capable of profoundly influencing the structure of social relationships. Indeed, it would be difficult to think of any fundamental advance in civilization that did not derive its moral thrust from this perennial source. Is it conceivable, then, that passage to the culminating stage in the millennia-long process of the organization of the planet can be accomplished in a spiritual vacuum? Part of the filling of that spiritual vacuum is the work of this new Faith in the context of its new culture of growth and learning." Since 1996 a new vocabulary is found in the Bahá'í community; it is not a vocabulary created ex nihilo, though. There are still the basics of Bahá'í administration: LSA, NSAs, the Universal House of Justice, ABMs, Continental Borads of Counsellors, inter alia. It is evident that growing numbers of people are coming to realize that the truth underlying all religions is in its essence one. This is more and more in evidence in this new paradigm, but at the same time there is lots of conflict deriving from religious roots. This recognition of the oneness of religion arises, not through a resolution of theological disputes, but as the House of Justice puts it "as an intuitive awareness born from the ever widening experience of others and from a dawning acceptance of the oneness of the human family itself. Out of the welter of religious doctrines, rituals and legal codes inherited from vanished worlds, there is emerging a sense that spiritual life, like the oneness manifest in diverse nationalities, races and cultures, constitutes one unbounded reality equally accessible to everyone. In order for this diffuse and still tentative perception to consolidate itself and contribute effectively to the building of a peaceful world, it must have the wholehearted confirmation of those to whom, even at this late hour, masses of the earth‘s population look for guidance. This diffuse and still tentative perception will also be consolidating itself at the grassroots level where Bahais all around the world will be working with others to contribute effectively to the building of a peaceful world."
  • 108. "The Bahá‘í community," the House of Justice continues, "has been a vigorous promoter of interfaith activities from the time of their inception. Apart from cherished associations that these activities create, Bahá‘ís see in the struggle of diverse religions to draw closer together a response to the Divine Will for a human race that is entering on its collective maturity. The members of the Bahai community will continue to assist in every way they can in the years of this new paradigm not only to stimulate the development of interfaith activities but, indeed, a range of social and economic projects far more in both quantity and quality than those initiated in the international Bahai community in the previous epochs of its existence." This notion of maturity also needs to be given a context since for many it does not mean what is used to mean. Maturity used to mean the ability to get along independently in society as it is, conscious of one's moral responsibility. So often in recent decades the word maturity has come to mean, to be defined as, the emotional disposition to subject society as it is to radical criticism and to help in the work of changing it according to one's own view. This often happens in Bahá'í communities. "With every day that passes, danger grows that the rising fires of religious prejudice will ignite a worldwide conflagration the consequences of which are unthinkable. Such a danger civil government, unaided, cannot overcome. Appeals for mutual tolerance cannot alone hope to extinguish animosities that claim to possess Divine sanction. The crisis calls on religious leadership for a break with the past as decisive as those that opened the way for society to address equally corrosive prejudices of race, gender and nation. In matters of conscience the world is waking-up to a wide cross-section of social issues aimed at serving the well-being of humankind. At this greatest turning point in the history of civilization, the demands of such service could not be more clear. ―The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable‖, Bahá‘u‘lláh urges, ―unless and until its unity is firmly established.‖"
  • 109. THE TRANSMODERN AND THE POSTMODERN Contemporary culture in developed countries has become soaked through and through with simulacra or images which some theorists--and I for one borrowing the term from Mark Foster--describe as trans-modern. This is as true for the sacred as it is for the profane. The process has resulted in an increase in the complexity of social phenomena as individuals try to make sense of their culture and seek answers to the dilemmas of their lives and their society. This trans-modern thought in the decades preceding this new paradigm and in the decades in which this paradigm is taking place in history has challenged and is challenging the assumptions and approaches of all systems and collective approaches to human endeavour. In the process, trans-modernism has opened the way for new and more effective orientations to be established for people to deal with their worlds. These new orientations also lie at the backdrop of the cultures within which Bahais, acting within this new paradigm, will develop new directions of activity, thought and imagination. In the Bahai community these new ways will all be part of this new Bahai paradigm. This is at least one of the possible, the many, contexts in which to analyse the emergence of this new Bahai culture in the last 15 years. In some ways this modern world of image-glut and the many forms of media underline the notion that life is but a show, vain and empty, bearing the mere semblance of reality, like a vapour in the desert which the thirsty dreams to be water. The complexity and confusion of the real world lies behind the world of fantasy created for us by these media. This world of fantasy often seems more real that the real world which seems increasingly unreal. All of this, too, underlines what for the Bahai is reality: the inner life and private character--his thought. What matters is our personal singularity of thought, analysis and language behind the hyper--reality and the images, the excesses and the speed of meaning and events, the spectacles and the horrors as well as the information and knowledge explosion.
  • 110. Instead of attacking the paucity and inadequacy of the modern, postmodern or trans-modern worldviews—which is the standard move by spiritual and new-paradigm advocates—it is perhaps more useful to reformulate and reconstruct the pre-modern interpretations of religion in light of developments in this tenth stage of history. There are enduring fundamentals of the pre-modern, modern, and postmodern forms of religion which contain truths which are perennial but not archaic. As social beings, learning takes place as we come into a tension with the social structures around us. But to become engaged in any activity in society one needs to develop a sociological imagination and avoid conceptualizing one's experiences in purely personal categories. Rejoicing in a unity in diversity is the sine qua non without which only an anarchous society prevails. At the centre of this sociological imagination is a powerful ideology that can serve as a cultural base for our social structure. This new Bahai paradigm offers a framework for this ideology, a framework for the social construction of reality within which we as Bahais can live and have our being. The notion that every question has a noble answer or that there are reliable structures of ideology to believe in wholeheartedly has become, at best, quaint in these fin de siecle and 3rd millennium years. Some believe that the once-relied-upon audience of learned readers has disappeared, giving way to a generation desensitized to complex argumentation by television and the Internet. This is only partly true for there are millions more readers now and millions can handle human and intellectual complexity. Ideologies still abound in our world and the Bahai Faith offers yet one more. Many a soul goes down before his or her intellect and is imprisoned behind a wall of rationalization. The skeptical ego and the proud intellect must solve their own problems in their own way. One's spirit and one's mind cannot force itself upon others but must be invited. Others must make their own preparation; we cannot do it all for them. The power of the Cause is an impersonal one and we cannot see it as our own spiritual, personal, power. This is a subtle and dangerous development that happens all-too-easily in the lives of believers. The Most Great Prison is more than a place in Bahá'í history. It is part of this new paradigm as we all carry around the prison of self, the darksome well which we build through our vain imaginations. It is the blind pit of our idle fancies which we dig over and over again.
  • 111. THE CONCEPT OF IDEOLOGY The concept of ideology is used in many ways in social science literature. In one of the main ways it refers to the values, the attitudes and the world of thought or understanding of the world which the majority share. In this sense, ideology is the worldview of a group at a particular time and historical period. In practice, then, the concept of ideology refers to worldviews and structures of meaning in a certain socio-cultural context, as to what is considered to be important or make up correct descriptions and standards for collective and/or individual actions. The single individual's frames of understanding and value systems for the social world are thus considered to be the result of mirroring the frames of understanding and values which dominate on the collective level. The concept of ideology refers then to how a society at the collective level understands, conceptualizes or describes the material and social world. This collective level is then laid down or mirrored in the individual's consciousness. This new culture of learning and growth is, in fact, a micro and a macro- society that is both a web of consciousness and an imaginative framework. The restoration and the acceptance of the many approaches to truth as well as the acceptance of transcendent reality itself cannot be accomplished by engaging in ideological warfare. Dogmatic battles between ideologues who assert propositions as evidence of the truth of their ideology will not re- establish consciousness of transcendence. More philosophically-minded
  • 112. individuals will recognize that the preconditions for rational debate include the acceptance of human experience and transcendence. "Questions of social order can be discussed rationally only if the whole concept of the order of human existence, of which the social order forms a part, is viewed in its entirety and right back to its transcendental origin." The failure to accept this condition is precisely what Eric Voegelin called logophobia and what he understood as at the core of what has corrupted the modern world. There are many ways of describing or accounting for this 'corruption.' Science cannot deal with moral values, nor can it provide ultimate purpose for human beings because it cannot determine the nature of man. When the motivation to avoid what is forbidden is weak there is a storng temptation to live, not by the Decalogue, but according to the 11th commandment: thou shalt not get caught. To appoint reason as the ultimate arbiter and ruler on earth is tantamount to abandoning everything to caprice. As Schopenhauer emphasized that the concept of 'ought' cannot be based on reason, on some categorical imperative, some sense of human dignity. These are empty phrases, cobwebs and soap-bubbles when divorced from a metaphysical base. It is this metaphysical base which is at the centre of this Bahá'í paradigm, as it has been at the centre of this religion for more than a century and a half. Bahá'ís in trying to extend their Faith to others have an uphill battle laying the foundations in the lives of others of this new metaphysical base. THE PUBLIC AND THE PRIVATE IN THIS NEW PARADIGM In this new Bahai paradigm there is a strong, an important, relation between public issues and private troubles, between community problems and personal difficulties. There is an equally important relationship between the larger historical scene at all levels of society and the inner life of the individual. Each individual in this paradigm is involved in an experiment that helps to shape the society, the culture, of learning and growth that is this new paradigm. Each individual is involved in grasping both history and biography; he or she is intimately involved in Bahai history and the history of his society and the stories of his own life and the lives of others: biographies and autobiographies. This complex of polarities, of biography
  • 113. and history, of society and autobiography is at the centre of each of our journeys in and through this new paradigm. In addition, the final battle of Armageddon turns out to be a war not between nations but within our own selves. It is not waiting to be fought. It is already upon us and we have been engaged in this battle for some time. All attempts to base morality and politics on worldly intelligence are built upon illusions, as Max Horkheimer, one of the founders of the Critical Theory in sociology has argued. But try to get this idea out there in the public domain where there is only a multiplicity of non-obligatory values and opinions. The consensus omnium is weak and unstable and it is this aspect of society, a highly vulnerable and pluralistic miliex, that makes teaching and consolidation work in community life the struggle, the battle, that it is. A society without taboos and a binding system of values cannot function properly, indeed, cannot continue to exist. Without the roots of faith, no society can exist. It best it is moribund. An obligatory ethic and a common sense of purpose are essential and conveying this, this unified Weltanschauung in which science and religion go hand in hand, to our contemporaries is no easy task. I have been trying for more than half a cnetury, both before and during this new paradigm. This has been at the heart of my silent war, a war without weapons and guns, swords or uniforms. Each Bahai is, in the end and in their own way, oriented to this new paradigm as one of their central and continuing life-tasks. Each Bahai is called upon to understand the nature and drift of this new paradigm, the shaping of its forms and the meanings of its increasingly complex structures and processes, relationships and activities as well as their relevance to the wider society in which they exist and attempt to serve and act. All the other major orientations--political and religious--have virtually collapsed as adequate explanations of the world and of ourselves. Although they have collapsed, they are still drawn on and discussed; they still fill the public space in the print and electronic media and they cannot be ignored by the individual Bahai as he or she sets about integrating the new Bahai paradigm into the wider society of which it is a part. This new paradigm does not assign labels or crystallizations of opinion into such contending and contentious, predetermined and fixed positions and
  • 114. polarities as: conservative and liberal, deepened and uninformed, veteran and novitiate, radical and progressive, active and inactive. It is a paradigm in which human beings, each human being, investigate reality, seek to interpret and understand it, and then act/s in such a way to achieve consensus and shape social reality. Knowledge and reality in this new paradigm are intimately tied to language and to Bahai culture, to the transcendent and to a moral cohesion at the centre of this community of communities, this culture of learning and growth. This knowledge and this reality are tied to experience and are sensitive to context. They are also tied to theory and, at least for me and for my purposes, universal norms deriving from the transcendent myth which is at the core of Bahai ideology. Our personal knowledge and the theory we draw on are both part of a never-ending process of investigation, of study, and of learning. The certitude which Bahais possess in this paradigm is one of belief in the goals, methods and teachings, but it is not a certitude based on some set of absolutes and its base in factual knowledge. The norms within this new paradigm are functional and native to the process of experience. They are not, as I emphasize in this book, arbitrary absolutes that uphold some set of categorical imperatives which call down fire from heaven. Our ends, our goals as Bahais, should not be confused with complete objective reality. They are purely functional and relative. Reality, one could say, is like a white light and this light is broken into the prism of human nature and its spectrum of values, values that are derivative aspects of the same reality. We try as far as it is humanly possible to avoid arbitrary orthodoxy. Our values should aim at a tolerant assertion of preference not an intolerant insistence on agreement of finality. "We must spurn the temptation," the House of Justice warns us in hits Ridvan 2012 message, "to insist on personal opinion." Bahá'í institutions must seek to nurture and encourage not control" the behaviour of individuals.(Ridvan 2012). Cultural similarities must be discovered beneath deceptive but often superficial institutional divergence. UNCERTAINTIES DOUBTS AND ENTHUSIASMS
  • 115. There is always some theoretical doubt as we travel the road of dialogue. Faith implies doubt. The grasp of truth for the Bahai lacks certainty's assurance, its totality of conviction. The grasp of truth, though, is not a totally arbitrary one; nor is it associated with an irresponsible freedom. There is always a theoretical uncertainty even with the surest of statements. It is the explicit awareness of this uncertainty which is, in some ways, the greatest asset for Bahais in adapting to their human situation (Bahai Studies, Vol. 2, p.9). That road of dialogue or that journey in Bahai community life is one we know more about by having travelled it year after year than by all the conjectures and descriptions in the world. The uncertainties I refer to above, though, should not result in some reluctance to express wholehearted enthusiasm. Nor should they result in an avoidance of the total response of the heart. This new Bahai paradigm invites a totality of response unchecked by any "maybe," as Bahiyyih Nakhjavani writes in her analysis of "Artist, Seeker and Seer."(See: Bahai Studies,V.10, p.3) For me, as I go about implementing this new paradigm, my imagination works in two contexts, at two levels of consciousness so to speak. In one of the contexts I see my life and the new Bahai culture as a house, a body, a landscape and sometimes a suburb, a space in which I move with a storehouse of images, very crucial images made up of aspects of physical reality and their metaphorical significance and aspects of Bahai history and its living reality in the present. In the second context, I see myself as working and living, having my life and being in a series of concentric circles, mostly in the outer concentric circle with a focal point at the Bahai World Centre with the holy dust of the Bab and Bahaullah, the epicentre of the Bahai order and its system, its physical reality. This centre does not dissolve and its energies flow out to the world, to my world. The artist knows what inspiration is all about. He or she is not the only category of person who knows about inspiration, of course. But inspiration has descended on him or her, palpably and they know its pure effects. If he
  • 116. or she is a true artist and an artist who is detached and knows the value of humility and the taste of sacrifice, they will enable others to make the leap of trust knowing that without it anything that is uttered is so often spiritless. What I am talking about here is a highly varied phenomena from person to person. What I would like to emphasize in this discussion of inspiration and an accompanying certitude are the levels of consciousness applied both in and before this new paradigm. It is important to emphasize and to restate here within the context of developments in this new Bahai culture is that there are so many new perspectives for Bahá'ís. The new Bahai culture is faced with many crises that are new. The modern crisis in the study of literature is but one. It is a practice of reading that begins with the assumption that meaning is a textual construction and it is a construction in the hands and mind of the individual reading the text. For the last quarter century deconstruction as a literary theory has challenged the way many literary theorists and analysts think about texts. Perhaps even more useful than the noun ―construction‖ is the verb ―constructing‖ because deconstruction is a continuous process of interacting with texts.According to deconstruction, a text is not a window a reader can look through in order to see either the author‘s intention or an essential truth, nor is the text a mirror that turns back a vivid image of the reader's experiences, emotions, and insights. DECONSTRUCTION Deconstruction eludes definition and detailed description. It is a practice of reading that aims to make meaning from a text by focusing on how the text works and is connected to other texts as well as the historical, cultural, social, and political contexts in which texts are written, read, published, reviewed, rewarded, and distributed. The individual reading is the one who makes meaning, but it is meaning within a intelligible pattern of beliefs established over time by the reader. It is meaning in the context of language. Human reality, to the deconstructionists, is linguistic and infinitely complex.
  • 117. Speech, words, continually shape and reshape our vision of the world. If we do not give shape and meaning to the words they are, to that extent, meaningless. We not only must give shape to thought, we must act. This is the fundamental unity and coherence of philosophy and religion within this deconstruction---at least as I see it, as I interpret it. Deconstruction helps the individual discover the continuity of history and truth in language.(See: Beyond Deconstruction by Kenneth Kearans. Deconstruction is, for me, part of the whole metaphorical nature of the Bahai Writings. The new Bahai paradigm is experienced, from my perspective, as a way of studying the Bahai writings and Bahai history. Each tutor, each Bahai and each person who examines Bahai texts will sift the material in his or her own way. For my money deconstruction offers heuristic insights and I, therefore, emphasize this method of reading and study within this new paradigm, a paradigm which allows for many types and styles of reading. Readers need to be reminded frequently in this book that my views are just that--my views. They are my approach to the study and interpretation of the Bahai writings as an activity within this paradigm and its implementation in Study Circles. Readers are left to work out their own approaches. We all have to do this as Bahais all our lives whether we are discussing Study Circles, interpretation of some aspect of the Cause, this new paradigm of culture and growth or one of an infinite number of other topics. Man is an animal at the apex of creation and he is suspended in webs of significance which he himself has spun. This Bahai paradigm provides a context for the spinning of these webs of significance. If the individual does not spin these webs, and their meaning and significance, knowledge and action will not get caught in their net. In using deconstruction, the reader uses interpretive strategies that reveal how a text unravels many meanings. Deconstruction is a strategy for revealing the under-layers of meaning in a text, under-layers that may not have been considered or assumed by others from the obvious and the clearly intended meanings. Texts are never simply unitary in meaning; they include resources that run counter to their overt assertions or even their authors‘ intentions. In other words, deconstruction helps the reader examine the
  • 118. givens in a text and create his own meaning system based on these givens. One of the givens in some schools of Western metaphysics has been that language can be put aside by reason to arrive at a pure, self-authenticating truth or method. However deconstruction, as an interpretive strategy, assumes that language is unstable and ambiguous, can often be inherently ambiguous and contradictory; meaning therefore is only partly, and never fully, grasped. One must often defer meaning. There is often no one and only answer to the many questions that arise from a text. For me, this is all part and parcel of the opening out of the Bahai culture to a host of interpretations and ways of looking at both the Bahai writings, Bahai community life and the wider society. To the Bahai studying the writings, he or she assumes these writings matter. In the beginning was the word and, as the deconstructions would emphasize, the word is not on trial, everything is in the text itself.(Frank McConnell, "Will Deconstruction Be the Death of Literature?," Wilson Quarterly, Winter, 1990. RE-CREATION AND SELF-RENEWAL We moderns, post-moderns, trans-moderns or whatever term one wants to use for us as Bahais are centred, so to speak, in this new paradigm; those doing this literary deconstruction, are rather like Michelangelo‘s captives struggling for meaning out of their formlessness. We are each a ―self- producing‖ system. We are involved in a system that is engaged in a constant recreation and redefinition of itself, of us as individuals, and of the community. This is done through the selective reorganization of the order and the disorder, the endless sensory and ideational diversity present in the surrounding worlds and within ourselves. This way of seeing life as a constant form of self-recreation and self-renewal as well as community recreation and renewal is all part of a narrative process. The construction of
  • 119. identity takes the form of a narrative. The narrative-self occupies a position in a vast web, a nexus, a host of points of intersection, a linkage of past, present and future. We are all intimately involved and preoccupied with what is real, with an image and print glut and especially an image glut. This self aims at learning and the cultural attainments of the mind, but it must possess a sense of its own nothingness so that the ego does not dominate the social interaction in which the self is engaged. No self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations that is now more complex and mobile than ever before. Young or old, man or woman, rich or poor, each of us is located at ‗nodal points‘ of specific communication circuits however tiny these may be. Or better: one is always located at a post, a place in the landscape, through which various kinds of messages pass. The self in this sense, then, is a type of social nexus. The self exists only within webs of interlocution or interchange. We are not the centre of the universe; we revolve around a centre; we endow the world with its significance and provide meaning for our world. There is only one essential Centre and one Text and all the participants in this new paradigm revolve around this Centre and this Text. This may sound to some readers as all too abstract and complex to take in. Such readers are partly right. The process is complex and in many ways very abstract. I encourage readers to persist through this written, this verbal, complexity that I am trying to describe. In true consultation diverse points of view can reverberate across the wide range of Bahá'í writings. Individuals dominating and a majority being passive and watchers of the spectacle of interaction is not true consultation; having tidy discussions with conclusions arrived at is not always a sign of success. This process is much like the Baha‘i journey itself. it is not about arriving; it is about being committed to tread step by step on the never-ending journey towards more sympathy and understanding, wider relationships and definitions. To draw on and refer to Bahá'í standards will often mean bearing in mind the constant possibility of standards other than those restricted by the gravity of our own experience. Hang in there, then, as I try to explore the implications of this new paradigm.
  • 120. In the Bahai teachings there is a convergence of spiritual, scientific and philosophical thought, indeed, a unified model of the universe in all it complexity and wonder, its mystery and awesomeness. The universe is infinite and spiritual knowledge is infinite. Our inner and outer struggles will never be over. This new Bahai culture of learning and growth invites both Bahais and interested seekers to take a spiritual journey that does not rely on gullibility but on one's deepest desire to know and understand oneself in relation to the Unknown. The Bahai paradigm asks readers to put the world's current paradigms on hold and to examine a renewed way of looking at things, a way that is philosophically logical, scientifically accurate and spiritually unifying. The Bahai model ties together and connects many of the floating abstractions into one logical and cohesive unity. This unity, and its notion of truth, results from how we use our language. To put this another way: Truth/truth verbalizes Reality/reality in this latest of the Abrahamic religions and its profoundly anti-clerical stance. It is not my purpose in this book to go into any detail regarding Bahai theology or ontology, Bahai cosmology or cosmogony, Bahai philosophy or sociology, Bahai psychology or history, among other disciplines. These many subjects have begun to be explored in other books which the serious reader can access either on the internet or in a good Bahai bookshop. The new Bahai culture of learning and growth does imply what Bahai culture has always implied both explicitly and implicitly a deep reading program. The simple core of the Ruhi materials serves as a beginning but it is not the end. When one has finished the Ruhi sequence one has arrived at the end of the beginning so to speak. ANTHONY LEE AND THE RUHI PROBLEM AS HE SEES IT
  • 121. Such an understanding of the new Bahai culture will help to deal with some of the criticisms of the Ruhi, the institute, process as were outlined in Anthony Lee's essay "The Ruhi Problem"(See BLO) some six years ago in February 2005 at the end of the first decade of this new paradigm. I would encourage readers to go to this essay for it contains just about all of the criticisms I have come across in the first two decades of the implementation of this new Bahai culture: 1996 to 2016---the end of the current FYP. None of us should be afraid of criticism, for it can be life-giving, life-enhancing, indeed, crucial for the maintenance of any group. But, as I state elsewhere in this book, the problem of criticism is a separate issue that readers need to do a word check in order to read all the references I make to this subject in these more than 400 pages and 190,000 words. THE COMPLEXITY OF THE NEW PARADIGM In many ways what I am writing about here is, as I say, complex and it is a result of: (a) the complexity of the subject matter and (b) my decades of learning as a student from the multitude of my teachers. What I am writing about here is the result of my own learning and is, as the historian Peter Gay emphasizes about the choice of topic, "a deeply emotional affair." My style of writing is, as the historian Edward Gibbon once wrote, the image of my mind. The choice and command of my language is the fruit of my exercise of it over more than six decades and it is the fruit and function of both nature and nurture. I hope it is a bridge to a helpful substance of content and analysis for readers. What I write and how I write will not appeal to all readers. This literary exercise is the result of years of meditation and a sincere and deep interest in the subject matter. In the end, of course, one's work appeals to some and not to others. So, too, does deconstruction, a word, a topic, I mentioned above, appeal to some and not to others.
  • 122. We in the developed nations live in a world of the virtual, in which media permeates everything and everyone. In this tenth and final stage of history which began in 1963, to use one of Shoghi Effendi's outlines of the past, the media has shifted from its former semi-saturation by/with what we could call ―old media:‖ radio and newspapers, magazines and journals, as well as the first 3/4 of a century of cinema and, perhaps, two decades of television. A shift has taken place in the last half century, since the election of the House of Justice in 1963, involving the development and convergence of new forms of media and distribution. This has produced profound social changes. The task of analysing what these changes are and mean is even more important than it was twenty years ago in the years before this new Bahai paradigm emerged and before some of these new media emerged. The task of theory now, at least as I see it, and one of the tasks I take on in this book, is to trace the changes in society in this tenth stage of history and especially since the emergence of this new paradigm in 1996. Most of those in the West, those who are immersed in these new media, are influenced by the culture, and mediated culture that is saturated with an often disempowering and ultimately unsatisfying consumerism. The saturation of images, a type of image-glut laid on top of issues of immense complexity, has produced the world in which this new paradigm operates, its mise en scene. All of the print and electronic media are, in some ways, a form of public pedagogy which are a crucial means for the organizing, shaping, and disseminating of information, ideas, and values. These media are components of broader cultural politics that have been co-opted by corporate power, shaped by neoliberal, market-driven ideology. This public pedagogy is seen as a powerful ensemble of ideological and institutional forces whose aim is to produce competitive, self-interested individuals vying for their own material and ideological gain. Media, then, bear influence on society not only by shaping ideas and perspectives, but also by doing so in the context of broader, increasingly concentrated corporate interests. Many argue, too, that media play a stronger role than either family or school in the shaping of individual values in this 21st century. Whether this is true or not, there is little doubt that the new Bahai culture, the new Bahai paradigm, must contend with these powerful strongholds of public pedagogy and try to understand their insinuating as well as educative affects if the influence of what one might call the spirit of a true Bahai consciousness is to be developed. This issues here are of great complexity and my few comments
  • 123. here are only intended to skirt the edges. I leave it to readers to tease-out their own meanings and interpretations of the issues. MATERIALISM AND GAPS The emphasis on materialism, on consumption, connects directly to religious values. Lives spent valuing acquisition of material possessions tend to place less value on the intangible, the spiritual, and the self-sacrificing. Materialism becomes a distraction from a God-centred life. Excess materialism is a social contagion, draining global resources, straining lives, and debasing values in the dogged pursuit of more. This cancer makes the efforts of individuals to teach the Cause as difficult, if not more difficult, than ever. The gap between the rich and the poor among the world's 7.4 billion people has been widening for some time and it is impossible to separate this gap from the operation of this new paradigm. This new Bahá'í culture operates in the context of a range of social values and attitudes, and these values and attitudes have a strong affect on how the new Bahá'í culture is put into practice. There is another gap of equal or even greater importance to those who take part in this new paradigm. It is the gap between the thoughts we had and the words we found, the desire we felt and the achievement we made, the vision of what a Bahá'í should be and the effort of being one. This gap tells us something is missing. This gap is also an expression of where we are in relation to the Perfections manifested in the history of this Cause and of our desire to find a better expression for the union, the home, of our yearnings. There exists a tension in our lives that is not the result of our faith or lack of it, our love or the lack of it, our earnestness to serve and to act or their deficiencies. This tension is the result of our separation from those Perfections, and our awareness of our failures, our poverty. As we slowly become angels of fire and snow there is much melting that takes place and
  • 124. much fire which flames in our inspiration. This experience I am describing here is all to familiar to the veteran believers and it becomes, soon enough, the experience of the novitiates. Believers rifle and flick, scan and turn, the pages of the Text, looking for that elusive and imminent glimpse of what we might have read or should have read, what we could have been said or quoted. We yearn to find and to manifest that hidden Word. So often more than its presence we feel its absence and that gap tells us more than we realize or admit. How many theories and ideologies, movements for reform or even revolution, that have inspired groups of people to act in certain ways. In the end they have been prevented from achieving the very hopes toward which they have been motivated. In some ways, it is intrinsic to human aspiration that it should constantly be aware of this gap. RECEPTIVITY Receptivity to the Cause has been great since Abdul-Baha told us it was great back in the years of the Great War nearly a century ago, but the manifestations of this receptivity are often subtle and require understanding on our parts if we are not to be disappointed by the meagre outward and quantitative results of our teaching efforts and in our own inner lives. This has been true all my Bahai life and it is true, a fortiori, in this new paradigm. It has been true in all the places in the West where I have lived since World War 2. From a planetary perspective there has been an increase in the growth, the size of the Bahai community since my mother joined this Cause in 1953, but in most places in the West numbers continue to see only a slow, if steady, increase. Understanding the dynamics of growth, understanding and knowing about the patterns of growth in the last two centuries, as far back as the lives of the two chief precursors, indeed, as far back as the middle of the 18th century, helps the individual Bahá'í in this 21st century deal with the realities of his or her Bahá'í experience in their own life, in their community, cluster, region, nation and across the wide-wide-world. Without understanding, often a great deal of anxiety is experienced. Commenting as recently as Ridvan 2013, on the dynamics of growth, the House of Justice, remarked that: "a worldwide community is refining its ability to read its immediate environment, analyse its possibilities, and apply
  • 125. judiciously the methods and instruments of the Five Year Plan." Now at the beginning of the third year of the present Plan, 2011 to 2016, there has taken-place much refining and there is much more to take place in the years ahead. "Receptivity manifests itself, wrote the House of Justice in its Ridvan 2010 message, "in a willingness to participate in the process of community building set in motion by the core activities. In cluster after cluster where an intensive programme of growth is now in operation, the task before the friends this coming year is to teach within one or more receptive populations, employing a direct method in their exposition of the fundamentals of their Faith, and find those souls longing to shed the lethargy imposed on them by society and work alongside one another in their neighbourhoods and villages to begin a process of collective transformation." The House went on to say that: "If the friends persist in their efforts to learn the ways and methods of community building in small settings in this way, the long-cherished goal of universal participation in the affairs of the Faith will, we are certain, increase within their grasp by several orders of magnitude. To meet this challenge, the believers and the institutions that serve them will have to strengthen the institute process in the cluster, increasing significantly within its borders the number of those capable of acting as tutors of study circles; for it should be recognized that the opportunity now open to the friends to foster a vibrant community life in neighbourhoods and villages, characterized by such a keen sense of purpose, was only made possible by crucial developments that occurred over the past decade in that aspect of Bahá‘í culture which pertains to deepening. But a vibrant community, indeed, community building itself, is still in its early years as the House of Justice informed us as far back as the mid-1990s. It is important to understand that we are still near the beginning of a process that, it is my view, will take many decades and perhaps centuries. INDIVIDUALISM AND EGOISM: ASOCIAL TENDENCIES
  • 126. The one-dimensional calculating ego-based idea of the individual which dominates as the a priori taken-for-granted basic assumption of individual human nature, makes psychology and the social sciences, as I see them, unable to solve most of today's pressing problems. To attack our civilization's problems with knowledge based on the predominant position of the individual as an asocial egoist, is totally insufficient. Practice cannot any longer be based only on this particular voice or conception of human nature. We must therefore, I would conclude, try to understand the social individual on the basis of a broader perspective of assumed ideas other than the individual only being concerned with calculating and evaluating own individual advantages and disadvantages. An alternative a priori assumption about social and collective behavior and development is at the basis of this new paradigm; notions which have received little attention from psychology and the social sciences. There are deep urges and needs for solidarity, community, sharing, and reciprocal understanding. It is these fragile experiences that must be preserved and fostered if we want to keep alive the idea of moral and social development. THE SACRED IN OUR TIME How is the sacred modified in this new paradigm through its interaction with virtual, media culture? Subjectivity in the contemporary is clearly what Scott Bakutman (1993, p.5) calls a ―terminal identity,‖ one formed in front of the computer, television and mobile screens, at the intersection of various information networks. Media ―news‖ seems unable to relay ―real‖ events without first mediating them through popular culture references from music, films or TV; indeed the lines between journalism, entertainment and advertising are blurry at best. This is the age of the spin-off, of product placement and infotainment. Symbols slide through different mediums, from the movie screen to the television to the computer to the mobile phone to the written page to the clothing with which we brand ourselves. The new Bahai paradigm is set in this context among many contexts.
  • 127. Not every reader here will find my emphasis, my theoretical position, a helpful framework for analysis of this paradigm. For me, though, there is a cultural logic to my analysis with its emphasis on the global, the dispersed and the virtual in culture. It is very important to understand our society, to understand our world---if we want to have an understanding of the new Bahai paradigm. For billions of others in our planetary culture all these new media forms have no meaning for theirs is a world of poverty, third world status and simple survival. The world people in these third-world cultures have to understand is, in many ways, a very different one than the typical world of those in the Western middle class. This reality of the different cultural and social worlds in which the Bahá'ís in over 200 countires live, this multiple-reality must be kept before us as we explore the implications and the realities of the new Bahai paradigm. To put this another way, the new Bahá'í paradigm is many things to many people across the infinitely varied world that is our 21st century. The devoted believer often feels a certain poverty in the outward forms, the actions, that make up his or her contribution to this new world Faith. Abdul- Baha was fully aware of this inner feeling that is so often part of our inner life. That is probably the reason, among many reasons, why He stressed the wealth of sincerity within. "When sincere intent hath been attained and the power of detachment," He wrote, "an eloquent tongue is bestowed and this attracts mighty confirmations."(unpublished tablet quoted in Four on an Island, p.98). It is not the separate elements themselves but the subtle interaction that creates this magnetic field. Success lies not in our single lives, but in our striving for unity. This has become especially true in this new paradigm as millions more are and will be entering this community of the sacred. The sacred in our time, though, has come to consist of forms that are consumed by the mass, by millions in the world of popular culture. These forms are consumed, in part, for their spiritual content, for the experience of the transcendent they provide to their votaries. The sacred is often ambivalently situated on the boundary of formal religious and spiritual traditions. The new forms of the sacred are everywhere once one begins to
  • 128. look for them; popular culture is rife with the detritus of millennia of religious traditions. Because of the suspension of the usual rules of the ―real world‖ in their textual universes, the new forms of the sacred often occur in the literary and visual genres of science fiction, horror and fantasy--what might be termed the ―fantastic postmodern sacred.‖ Although they are produced for the profane purposes of capitalism and entertainment, these texts are heavily packed with spiritual signifiers cobbled together from various religions and myths. All of these, I argue, refract religious symbols and ideas through a postmodernist or trans-modern sensibility, with little regard for the demands of ―real world‖ epistemology, real world systems of knowing.(See John C. McDowell, ―Wars Do Not Make One Great‖: Redeeming the Star Wars Mythos from Redemptive Violence Without Amusing Ourselves to Death," in The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Spring, 2010.) What I am writing about here in the above paragraph is really quite complex and readers might like to do some reading in sociology, psychology and media studies to try and get a handle on what I am saying. Our world in recent decades has become infinitely complex, arguably as far back as the birth of the postmodern in the 1950s and 1960s. Up until that time the good guys and the bad guys were easier to identify; the world's polarities were simple, at least simpler than they have become now in the 21st century. They were simple politically with the party-system; they were simple religiously and socially as well: the rich, the poor and people in the middle. The whole picture has become, just about overnight, a complex whole and the new paradigm, it seems to me anyway, is built to cope with this pluralistic, multi- paradigmatic, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, gender-rich and varied, exceedingly complex global community. All such diversities in this global Bahá'í community are recognized and valued. But so long as some withdraw or feel threatened, feel excluded or undermined, then to that extent are the confirmations attending the collective effort of this community not experienced. THE WIDER CULTURE, THE CULTURE THAT IS OUR SOCIETY
  • 129. While Bahais in the developed cultures, in my case, virtually all the Bahá'ís I have known since my lifeline was part of the Bahá'í narrative--while Bahá'ís experience various activities in their new culture of learning and growth, they are also experiencing so many media forms in much more extensive proportions than previous generations. A study circle of two hours a week must compete in the consciousness of many, if not most Western, Bahais with dozens of hours of television and cinema, radio and music. As Firuz Kazemzadeh, the 'oft-time secretary of the NSA of the Bahá'ís of the United States, said back in the first plan of the House of Justice when my pioneering life had begun to take-off: "we are one per cent Bahais and 99 per cent our culture." I make this statement several times in this book to give it the emphasis I think it needs to receive. The new Bahai culture, though, provides for the Bahai community a living and developing tradition. It is not some dead weight from the past, but something that informs and shapes thought and is, itself, evolving. Meaning emerges over time; the meaning of the Bahai texts also evolve within an infinite process, and this evolution always takes place in the context of an authoritative, a legitimate, succession. This aspect of the new paradigm is absolutely crucial. It is the Covenantal centre, the authoritative centre without which the entire ediface would fall apart. It would fall apart in the same ways that all the old religions are, indeed, falling apart at the seams due to division. This age has become the era of a 1000 Christianites, a 1000 Buddhisms, inter alia. The Bahá'í Faith has grown-out of the Shaykhi school of the Ithna- Ashariyyish sect of Shia Islam and it has fulfilled the prophecies of the old- time religions. Of course there are many interpretations of these prophecies. But the crucial question is: who is right? Only time will tell. For now the playing field is littered with views. This littering is not only with respect to prophecies, but also with respect of all the major issues outside the world of science. Our 21st century is built on science and it needs a religion to join with science. That religion is the Bahá'í Faith; science and religion will grow together in this new paradigm in this 21st century making this latest of the Abrahamic religions an immensely powerful force in the decades ahead, little by little, day by day. The game-plan so to speak, though, is partly based on that aphorism: slow and steady wins the race.
  • 130. EDWARD GIBBON As a final opening note I would like to add here some words of Edward Gibbon which hopefully place this new Bahai culture in what is, at least for me, a helpful perspective. The words come from Gibbon's book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the book which Shoghi Effendi often read for the pure pleasure of enjoying gibbon's use of the English language: "There are two very natural propensities which we may distinguish in the most virtuous and liberal dispositions, the love of pleasure and the love of action. If the former is refined by art and learning, improved by the charms of social intercourse, and corrected by a just regard to economy, to health, and to reputation, it is productive of the greatest part of the happiness of private life." There is, in this Cause, a great emphasis on the inner life and private character and how this one feature of our life is more important than all the organized plans and programs. As Shoghi Effendi once wrote: "Not by the force of numbers, not by the mere exposition of a set of new and noble principles, not by an organized campaign of teaching—no matter how worldwide and elaborate in its character—not even by the staunchness of our faith or the exaltation of our enthusiasm, can we ultimately hope to vindicate in the eyes of a critical and sceptical age the supreme claim of the Abhá Revelation. One thing and only one thing will unfailingly and alone secure the undoubted triumph of this sacred Cause, namely, the extent to which our own inner life and private character mirror forth in their manifold aspects the splendor of those eternal principles proclaimed by Bahá‘u‘lláh."
  • 131. The Guardian prefaced the above words with: "Humanity, through suffering and turmoil, is swiftly moving on towards its destiny; if we be loiterers, if we fail to play our part surely others will be called upon to take up our task as ministers to the crying needs of this afflicted world." This, of course, is taking place as literally thousands of organizations have arisen, especially during the years of this new Bahá'í culture, to minister to the crying needs of our afflicted world for the most part at the local level, but often with regional, national and international organizational affiliates. "The love of action," Gibbon continues, "is a principle of a much stronger and more doubtful nature. It often leads to anger, to ambition, and to revenge; but when it is guided by the sense of propriety and benevolence, it becomes the parent of every virtue, and, if those virtues are accompanied with equal abilities, a family, a state, or an empire may be indebted for their safety and prosperity to the undaunted courage of a single man." Indeed, this, too, is more and more evident as we go from decade to decade in this new paradigm. The internet is full of these men and women of action and so too is real space. How often it is that some expression of appreciation is given in one of the many print and electronic media to such individuals that society is deeply indebted to. "To the love of pleasure," Gibbon goes on, "we may therefore ascribe most of the agreeable, to the love of action we may attribute most of the useful and respectable, qualifications. The character in which both the one and the other should be united and harmonised would seem to constitute the most perfect idea of human nature." This new Bahai paradigm provides, it seems to me, an excellent context for the manifestation of these two natural propensities in the individuals across the Bahá'í world. Perhaps, though, more than either of these propensities, is the soul's motion in relation to its Beloved unfolding in the process so much of the meaning of life as the lifespan develops from its early years through middle and old age---if one lasts that long.
  • 132. Looking back from these days of my retirement from the world of jobs and endless meetings and administrative responsibilities, no longer bitter with feelings that I once had of anxiety and gloom due to my bi-polar disorder, I often recall with appreciation and gratitude those unmistakable evidences of affection and steadfast zeal which I have seen and now see from time to time, and which served to encourage me, in no small measure, that the realization of this Cause's goals and vision are slowly taking place in this tormented world. I can well imagine the degree of uneasiness, nay of affliction, that often agitates the mind and soul of many loving and loyal servant of this Cause during these long years of global trouble and woe. We all need to rest assured that this Cause is protected in ways no religion in the past has been protected. Each Bahá'í needs to evince such tenacity of faith and unceasing activity as they have never displayed for its promotion. This cannot but in the end be abundantly rewarded by ‗Abdu‘l-Bahá, who from His station above is the sure witness of all that we have each endured and suffered for Him, each in our own way. AN OPENING NOTE: IT'S ABOUT TIME This book of 420 pages and 190,000 words contains my personal reflections and understandings regarding the new culture of learning and of growth, the paradigmatic shift that the Baha‘i community has been going through since the mid-1990s. Back in the mid-1990s the pattern most prevalent in the Bahai community, the pattern that had existed for many decades, for helping individual believers increase their understanding of the Cause they had joined consisted primarily of occasional courses and classes. Some were offered locally, some were part of national deepening programs and for the most part individuals were left to deepen or not to deepen their knowledge as the case may be. This is still the case; individuals are free to participate or not; there has never been in the Bahai Faith the kind of compulsion one often finds in other religious and quasi-religious movements.
  • 133. The efforts to teach the Cause, to spread it to every corner of the Earth, have continued in this new paradigm as they had done since the formal inception of this new Faith in the 1860s. The focus, too, in the organizational structure of the Bahai community during the first six decades of the formal implementation of Abdul-Baha‘s Divine Plan, 1936 to 1996, was on the spread of the Cause, the building of an international Bahai community, of national and local spiritual assemblies as well as a broad infrastructure of committees and agencies at the international, national, regional and local levels. The result was an organizational form for the Bahai community, a form which entered a new, a Four Year Plan, in 1996 and which began to make some major adjustments to its outward and inward structure for the purposes of teaching and consolidation, ethos and functioning as well as effectiveness and efficiency. The methods of teaching and consolidation as well as the organizational focus and form that had existed during the lives of virtually the entire Bahai community since the opening of Abdu‘l-Baha's Plan in 1936/7 began to undergo a paradigmatic shift in the years 1996 to 2013. Those methods and forms that were seen as satisfactory as the Cause spread first from the Middle East in the 19th century and then to many countries outside the Middle East by and after the 1930s, were reviewed and revised, reoriented and reinvented in such a way that the overall patterns and programs, indeed, the ethos and outreach of the Bahai community could be said to have begun a paradigmatic shift. This subject can be studied in more detail, in a systematic way in a series of letters, papers, articles and books. In this book I have been compiling and composing, writing and editing in the last four years I subject this paradigm to a personal examination and survey, a seeing it with my own eyes and not the eyes of my neighbour, an idiosyncratic focus that places the emphasis on what role I have and will play in the years ahead. This book is, then, a highly personal statement and
  • 134. readers need to see it as such. I engage in some of the core activities, but most of my teaching time is spent on opportunities which arise on the internet. They are ―outside the box‖ activities and they are rooted in my individual initiative. If this book helps others to work out their own role in this new paradigm, both inside and outside the box, as it were, I will be more than pleased. As the House of Justice pointed out in its message of 28/12/'10, Bahais need to "discern with ease those areas of activity in which the individual can best exercise individual initiative and those which fall to the institutions alone." As the Supreme Body continues: "wealth of sentiment, abundance of good-will and effort are of little avail when their flow is not directed along proper channels." It should be obvious to readers by now, at the early stage of this book, that much of what I write applies in the main to the Western world, to developed societies and not to those many parts of our planet that do not have, as yet, access to the enormous benefits of the world's scientific, technological and material developments. To choose but one example: of the 7 billion inhabitants of the planet less than two billion use the internet. Much of my work in the international Bahai community in the last 15 years has been on the internet and my guess is that, of the approximately seven million Bahais, less than two million are on the internet. Much of the quantitative success in teaching and in the implementation of much of the new paradigm applies more to village life in the third world. This is not to say that the urban centres of the West do not require the harmonious interaction of the three key participants--the individual, the institutions and the community---for they clearly do and have for decades. SIXTY YEARS BEFORE THIS PARADIGM: 1936 TO 1996 Since the 1930s the Bahai Faith has taken-off, so to speak, across the globe from the first systematic plans and the inception of that Plan and its teaching
  • 135. programs from 1936 to 1996, a period of sixty years. The spread of this Cause during those sixty years was unprecedented. It came to cover the face of the Earth and it had done so, for the most part, during my lifetime. I do not mean by this, of course, that the Bahai Faith can now be found in every town, city, hamlet, village and rural locality. Far from it. This would occur, as the Bahai vision would have it, in the decades and indeed centuries to come with an inevitability that was part of this Faith's teleological, providential, religious, view of history. Still, the spread of this Cause, in some ways, has been a most extraordinary achievement in my lifetime: some four epochs. This book is not a historical documentary of those epochs, those sixty years but a sort of 'what's next?' story. The 'what's next' is the first 20 years of this paradigm and the years to come which will also be in the historical and contemporary context of this paradigm. More than half the clusters into which the Bahai community now divides the earth's landscape have no Bahais. The spread of this new world religion still has far to go and it will be done in the context of this new culture of learning and growth. The goal of the Plan from 2011 to 2016 is "to raise the total number of clusters in which a programme of growth is underway--at whatever level of intensity-- to 5000." There will still be about 10,000 clusters out of the 16,000 total with no Bahais and/or little growth in 2016. There will still be much work to do at the end of the Plan the Bahai community is currently embarked upon: 2011- 2016. Indeed, there will be much work to do in all the Plans that remain to 2044 when I am 100 years old, if I last that long, and the Bahai world, the Bahai Era, is at the opening of its third century. In the several thousand clusters, though, "which have embarked on intensive programs of growth, or are at the threshold of doing so the Regional Bahá‘í Councils have appointed an Area Teaching Committee, whose role is to coordinate and unify the collective teaching activities of the friends in the cluster, and to work closely with the institute coordinator and the Auxiliary Board member in planning the cycles of growth and the cluster reflection meetings". (letter from NSA of Australia to LSAs 29/7/2008). Each year the House of Justice comments on these reflection meetings and their role in providing the opportunity for "earnest and uplifting deliberation."(ridvan 2013)
  • 136. There has unquestionably been a freshness and a radiance associated with this new Faith both within its community life and externally in its visibility across the planet in the decades since my family in Canada made its first contact, went to its first fireside in 1953--after the Cause had been in Canada for a little more than half a century. The indirect effects of this Cause are, from a Bahai perspective, immeasurable, incalculable. As the Bahai Faith has gone from strength to strength and as millions of its adherents found it was 'bliss to be alive' under a new dispensation so much has happened since the formal and systematic beginning of Abdu‘l-Baha‘s Plan in the mid- 1930s. Not everyone, of course. felt that bliss and the feeling of bliss did not prevail in the heart of each believer 24/7, as they say these days. Trials and tribulations generally tend to make the feeling of bliss a transitory entity. The individuals in the developing Bahai community were clearly part of the many are called and each one of its members might wonder if they were part of the 'few are chosen.' For this was not a community of the saved, the elect, the chosen, in the traditional exclusivist sense. An instrument of God's will and purpose with a new Book, the Bahai community had spread across the surface of the Earth and, in this new paradigm, the spread was continuing and would continue based on many more systematic Plans, all part and parcel of that vision of Abdul-Baha as outlined, among other places, in His Tablets of the Divine Plan written during the Great War and unveiled in New York in 1919. EMPOWERMENT Empowerment in this new Bahai culture is multilateral and multi- dimensional. Competence and meaning, self-determination and individual choice, impact and trust are all emphasized. This new paradigm aims to induce a strong commitment among the members of the community. This sense of commitment has several dimensions: affective, continuance and a normative aspect. Empowerment and organizational commitment are important and they are issues in all modern societies and organizations. Success in the global marketplace of culture and growth comes to organizations built on synergy, collaboration, flexibility and partnership. An
  • 137. organization that expects individual accountability in return provides a good deal of individual freedom to its members. Compulsion, coercion, demand, force, pressure, domination, control: these are not part of the Bahai paradigm; they are rarely conducive to empowerment. A kindly longue, understanding, empathy, a host of spiritual qualities and an awareness of the distance between our visions and the form they take, our aspirations and their expression are all part and parcel of any genuine sense of the many-faceted nature of this chameleon thing we call empowerment. Despite its widely recognized role, there has been no consensus on the definition of empowerment. Scholars have considered it mainly in connection with organizational practices or managerial techniques; they have often neglected to investigate its underlying process. In addition, the word has been used with a variety of meanings such as delegation of power, autonomy, leadership skills, teambuilding experiences, intrinsic motivation or self-determination, effectance motivation or competency, sense of control, need for power, and self-efficacy. It is not my intention to address all these components of empowerment in the context of this new paradigm but, suffice it to say, they are all addressed in one way or another within this paradigm's framework. Empowerment is the delegation of decision-making prerogatives to members of the community, along with the discretion to act on one's own. There is a dual emphasis in this paradigm on working in groups and on individual initiative. Empowerment is the process which enables people to gain power and influence not so much over others, over institutions or over society as over their own selves. Empowerment is many things. It blends and embodies a dozen different contexts: agreement, concession, acquiescence, freedom, liberty, indulgence. Readers need only look the word up in their thesaurus to get the immense range of its potential meanings. Probably the totality of the following or similar capabilities provide a helpful context for understanding empowerment:
  • 138. (i) Having decision-making power of one's own (ii) Having access to information and resources for taking decisions (iii) Having a range of options from which one can make choices (not just yes/no, either/or) (iv) Ability to exercise assertiveness in collective decision-making (v) Having a positive and realistic attitude on one's ability to make change (vi) Ability to learn skills for empowering one's personal or group power (vii) Ability to change other's perceptions by democratic, consultative means, by means of the power of words (viii)Involvement in a growth process and its changes, a process that is never ending and self-initiated (ix) Having a self-image that is a mosaic of true and false, real and unreal (x) Having an increase in intentionality, that is, the willingness and the desire to act. We want to act because we are anxious to experience the sense of increased mastery: this acting, this action, is the dramatization of our intentionality. The greatest drama in the world of existence is the drama of people in community. The spiritual growth process is lived and dramatized by each individual in a
  • 139. way which is unique to him though the basic mechanism of progress and the rules which govern it are the same. The fact that this process is unique to each individual means that we each must come to know our own selves. As Socrates said 25 centuries ago, and as the Bahai writings emphasize time and again, "the unexamined life is not worth living." This is the base from which we each must act: a knowledge of our own selves. This is no cliche; it has many depths of meaning which when understood provide a wealth of understanding of: why we do what we do, what we should and should not do. The concept, the issues at stake here, are complex. The story is long, too long to go into in more detail here. One psychological perspective on empowerment views it as a subjective phenomenon. Empowerment in this view is a motivational construct where power and control are seen as motivational states internal to individuals. As a psychological construct empowerment in this sense raises the convictions of community members about their own effectiveness. Some studies view empowerment as a psychological construct where the responsibility for motivation lies with the individual; others see the responsibility lying with the group, the leadership in the community. Again, this aspect of empowerment can provide much insight but the concept would require too many words to explore here in detail. Another assumption about empowerment is that members who feel a sense of power are more likely to obtain what they desire and be of genuine value to a community. Community members who have this sense of power are more likely to achieve outcomes that are desired by the community they are part of. Members who lack the sense of power are more likely to feel critical of others, feel their activity is not effective and never realize their personally desired outcomes. Empowerment in the sense I am using it here is defined as a dynamic, continuous variable. There is no "final" state of empowerment. It is a continuum with group members feeling various degrees of intrinsic task motivation. And again, readers are encouraged to follow-up on this topic.
  • 140. A community's shared beliefs, ideology, values, language, ritual and myth define its culture. The culture of any community is comprised of a set of shared beliefs and assumptions that are actualized through artefacts and rites, rituals and symbols, activities and attitudes. A group`s culture emphasizes its unique or distinctive character, a character that provides meaning to its members. Culture is deeply embedded, enduring, and often slow to change. The culture of any community exerts control over its member's behavior in a host of ways and that subject is deserving of a book unto itself. THE NEW BAHA'I PARADIGM AND EMPOWERMENT One could posit five elements of the Bahai culture of learning and growth that reflect a sense of empowerment in the individual members: Systems thinking: Systems thinking challenges the illusion that the world is created of separate, unrelated forces. It is a conceptual framework that rests on the underlying assumption that actions and events are interconnected. Personal mastery: Personal mastery is a philosophical element whereby individuals establish personal aspirations and live to serve these aspirations. There are no simple formulas here and often this sense of mastery is built- into conversations with others which are distinguished by depths of understanding. This sense of self-mastery takes place when individuals see themselves as active agents of their own learning.
  • 141. Mental models: These are the deeply ingrained assumptions, generalization, and/or pictures and images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action. This is the foundation on which a group's culture is built. It draws on history and sociology, psychology and the humanities. It is built on the cultural attainments of the mind. Building shared vision: This represents creating a shared picture of the future that the group wishes to create. Creating a shared vision instils the genuine commitment of its members and this vision is a form of control that softens or negates the use of compliance mechanisms. This shared vision can be created without the individuals even meeting each other. Ties of friendship can result, as they now are doing by the millions and billions, as a result of cyberspace. Team learning: Teams learn when the intelligence of the team exceeds the intelligences of the individuals making up the teams and the individual members are growing more rapidly than could have occurred otherwise. These teams can work together or they can work apart. In our planetary culture, individuals can benefit from the experience of others even if they never meet in real time and space. In the international Bahai community, there is now one team working across the nations of the world. THE PURPOSE OF LIFE: SUMMUM BONUM
  • 142. One of the aspects of our secular culture and civilization in the West, and an aspect radically distinctive from all previous cultures is not science and technology, however wonderful that has been, but the lack of a summum bonum, an end. We are the first civilization that does not know why we exist outside of the here and now, material advancement and learning, pleasure and some individualist end.(Peter Kreeft, C.S. Lewis for the Third Millennium: Six Essays on The Abolition of Man, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1994, p.46). The new Bahai culture seeks, in the decades ahead, to provide for millions a common summum bonum, a summum bonum in which religion and science can exist side by side. Science in any of its forms and disciplines is a structure, a series of judgements, continuously revised, the systematic use of man's rational faculty. But technology and science do not fulfil any promise of transcendence. The kind of progress suggested by much in the world of science and technology, reason and the senses, is only progress in a certain materialistic sense. Often it amounts to regress. The last century offers some proof of this. Kreeft, in his analysis of The Abolition of Man, suggests that to understand progress, one needs first to understand the difference between kronos and kairos. Kronos is objective, measured time and kairos is ―the time measured by human consciousness and purposive reaching out into a future that is not yet but is planned for. Only kairos knows anything of transcendent goals and values.(Kreeft,p.53)Only spirit can progress because only spirit lives in kairos. For only kairos touches eternity, knows eternity, aims at eternity. Progress means not merely change but change toward a goal,a goal which is far, far more than what is offered by the gloomy and sterile philosophy of materialism. The changes along the way toward goals are, of course, relative and shifting, but the goals provided by this new Bahai culture involve the complex and enigmatic unity of the children of humankind. This will be achieved by a religion that is not competing with others but one with a unique contribution to play in the future of man. The goal, the goals, change along the way in the context of this paradigm and with the movement toward each step along the
  • 143. way. From a Bahai perspective the key word is progress and not just change; two other key words are spiritual-ethical and universal-global. This Bahai culture has as part of its continuing goal to free those with whom it comes in contact from what is so often a lingering and transient assumption that a new Revelation of God, a new major world religion is incompatible with the object of society's long search. A NEW CIVILIZATION We are living through the birth pangs of a new civilization whose institutions are not yet in place. Those involved in this new paradigm believe they are part of a process involved in the smooth and not-so-smooth spread of a transition to a new civilization, a new set of spiritual and political, economic and social institutions. This new Faith does not merely enunciate a set of universal principles or a particular philosophy, however potent and sound it may be, but it provides a new set of Laws and establishes definite institutions that are part of the Revelation Itself. No previous religion can offer a parallel, especially insofar as providing a more complete and more specific set of provisions, a more definite framework of guidance in the matter of succession. The problems arising in the matter of succession, the continuance of legitimate authority for interpretation of the Text, the Word, have been the source of so many, if not all, of the dissensions and controversies in the religions of history. The language is clear, unequivocal and emphatic regarding the provisions for the unity of this new Faith. It is in this that the unique feature of this Cause lies. This was true before this new paradigm and it is true, a fortiori, within the context of this paradigm. This aspect of the new paradigm must not be lost sight of in all the new discussion about a culture of learning and growth. For this new culture of learning and growth draws much of its sustenance from the guidance in this matter of succession, guidance which will protect
  • 144. the Cause from the heresies and calumnies which will assail it in the years of this new paradigm and which have already begun to be a source of some concern in the first decade and a half of the implementation of this new paradigm. I deal with problems which have arisen in this context to some extent in this book. As it was written in the Psalms(cxviii, 22-23): "This is the Lord's doing and it is marvellous to our eyes," I often mused as the decades of my own life rolled by. The Bahais have been spiritually conquering the planet for decades and this process is continuing, although the world does not know it; indeed, the flame of this Cause is being ignited in the hearts of humankind: one by one and quietly. And this has happened, as I say above, is happening and will continue to happen in my lifetime and my children's lifetime---and, I have little doubt, their children's. This book contains some of that story but, mostly, the story I write of here is one that only came on board after I turned 52 in this new paradigm. I am now 68. THE THEOLOGICAL AND THE PROPHETIC IN THIS PARADIGM It is important, though, to understand some of the historical, indeed, the theological and prophetic context in which this paradigm was first introduced and is now developing. Both the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh undertook a courageous, for its time, demythologisation of apocalyptic scenarios anticipated in Biblical and Islamic scripture and tradition. It is the Bahá'í belief that the "catastrophe" or the apocalyptic upheaval of the last days has very largely, if not completely, been realised in the troubled yet brilliant 20th century. In the Bahá'í view, the coming of peace will be gradual and realized as a process in the 20th and 21st centuries. In the light of the Bahá'í teachings it is possible to argue convincingly that with the end of the cold war during the Plan that preceded the Four Year Plan(1996-2000)in which this new paradigm began---the "lesser peace" has all but been realised. One
  • 145. can also argue, perhaps not as convincingly, that this lesser peace is a process which began as far back as Woodrow Wilson's proposal for the League of Nations in his final address in support of the League of Nations in September 1919. The increasing trend towards disarmament, international co-operation, and globalisation, though, makes the argument that the "lesser peace" has all but been realised a strong one--at least in my mind. Yet this secular, politically oriented "lesser peace" is not comparable to that peace which is spiritually rooted; the future truly millennial peace which is more than a virtual cessation of many intractable global conflicts. Realistic about the establishment of global, political peace, 'Abdu'l-Bahá predicted multi-national disarmament. The Montreal Star of 11 September 1912 reported that He had stated that nations would be forced into a peace process in the 20th century. Humanity would sicken over the cost of warmongering. Prior to the unfoldment of that secular disarmament which is the "lesser peace," varieties of "calamity" or "catastrophe" were and are clearly anticipated in Bábí-Bahá'í scripture. It is clear, however, that Bahá'í scripture does not expect or support a literal apocalyptic collapse of the cosmos or an absolute "end of the world." Scriptural writings that appear to suggest this possibility are not interpreted literally, at least not in a Bahai context. Of course, one will come across individual Bahais who argue with some fervour for a highly apocalyptic and cataclysmic future for not all Bahais, all the millions of Bahais, see everything in the same way, whether it be prophecies or paradigms. This new paradigm comes, in one of the many time-frames in which one could set it, half a century after the following words of Shoghi Effendi in 1947: "The stage is set. The hour is propitious. The signal is sounded. Bahá'u'lláh's spiritual battalions are moving into position. The initial clash between the forces of darkness and the army of light is being registered by the denizens of the Abhá Kingdom in the "celestial worlds". The Author of the Plan that has set so titanic an enterprise in motion is Himself. He is mounted at the head of these battalions, and leads them on to capture the cities of men‘s hearts."(Citadel of Faith, Wilmette: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1965, p.26) I have spent my entire adult life, and some of my adolescent life,
  • 146. as one of the members of that army of light. By 2007, the year this paradigm had been in place for more than a decade, I had been part of the discussion of this paradigm's content for three years. I had also been in that army in varying capacities for more than fifty years. I had written an 800 page account of my experience, an account housed in the Bahai World Centre library. This account, this memoir, was not so much my story as it was an analysis, a personal commentary, on that half century. This new Bahai culture is part and parcel of the new Order of Bahaullah. It is an Order, to use Biblical language, built upon the rock. The civilization in which this new Order is growing is, from a Bahai perspective, built upon sand. It is an old tree whose roots are gradually decaying and the tempest of our times is tearing them up and overthrowing the solid trunk. The Bahai Order is a young sapling whose stems are swaying in the breeze while its roots remain firmly planted deep in the soil. The traditional and time- honoured strongholds of orthodoxy--political and religious---are, what you might call, dead-alive, while the Bahai Order is animated by a fresh vitality. The orthodoxies are now moribund and the Bahai Order is engaged in an act of creation due to the germ of creative power which it harbours. It is a chrysalis out of which will emerge in the fullness of time a new society, a globalized, planetized civilization. The Bahai community sees itself as the author, the genesis, of the spiritually-based society of the future. It is indeed, the emerging world religion and this new Bahai culture of learning and growth is a critical part of this emergence. A major shift in Bahai community life, in the study of the writings and in the overall organization and patterns of interaction both within and without the Bahai community itself was announced in the years from 1996 to 2000, a Four Year Plan, the 6th initiated by the House of Justice since that institution was first elected in 1963. The aim of this new direction, this shift, this alteration, this rearragement of the deck-chairs which some critics thought all this coming and going, all these new programs and policies merely constituted, was in order to spur large numbers in the community into the field of action. Indeed, the purpose of this new paradigm was multifaceted and aimed at accomplishing many things, things this book deals with in
  • 147. circuitous ways. I had been in the army, as I say above, for more than half a century. As Roger White, that unofficial poet-laureate of the Bahá'í community back in the 1980s and early 1990s, had written: "I had tired of this old war" and "my barren fields were parched beneath the sun." I was a "mute witness to misfortune's scorching kiss." And yet: "each endearing stratagem" of "my beloved foe" "enchanted me"--at least sometimes. I could wax eloquent or not-so-eloquent with that poet White and his words which gave expression to some of my Bahai experience over those decades before this new paradigm came into being and the new millennium opened in 2001--and as the first Plan of this new paradigm also closed. This new Plan which opened in 1996 with its goal of advancing the process of entry-by-troops placed an emphasis on developing the capacities of the believers.(Century of Light, p.109). that emphasis has continued until now and looks like it will be one of the essential emphases in the decades ahead as more and more people join this Faith. BAHA'I EDUCATION: 1964-1994 A universal system of Bahai education had begun to take place in the three decades 1964 to 1994, the first three decades of my adult life. That system was significantly reinforced in the context of this new paradigm by the Ruhi Institute--a system which allowed for the almost infinite development by various user communities of a series of levels of study and branching sub- sets of topics and themes that served particular needs.(ibid, p.155). This new paradigm, focussing as it does on extending this universal system of Bahai education, was initiated for a number of purposes not the least of which was, as I say, in order to facilitate the process of entry-by-troops which has been emphasized in the Bahai community since the early 1990s. It was a process, this entry-by-troops, which the House emphasized would accelerate in the
  • 148. years and decades ahead. It was a process which the community could prepare for, and it has been doing just that for the last two decades. It was a process at first envisaged, arguably, in a letter of the Guardian as far back as 1953. Forty years later, in 1993, the Bahai community was gearing-up and this new paradigm was part-and-parcel of a crucial preparatory period. Inspite of, or perhaps because of, the extensive literature that became available on the process of entry-by-troops, or perhaps, again, because many aspects of this Faith are not simple, many of the Bahais anticipated a mass entry of new believers and when this mass entry did not occur discouragement and disappointment set in. The key word, as one of the more prominent Bahais emphasized at the outset of this new paradigm in 1996, was not "entry" or "troops", but "process". After more than two decades, then--1990 to 2013--of this new emphasis on troops, most of it in the context of this new paradigm, it is clear that the key word was and is "process." For entry in more than a trickle has not occurred except in a very few places. This spurring into action was one of the main aims of this new Bahai culture. It is taking place in the last half(1992-2021) of the second epoch(1963-2021) of 'Abdu‘l-Baha's divine plan, a plan which was unveiled, as I say above, in New York in June 1919 and was formally inaugurated in an organized form in North America in May 1937 after a year of preparatory work. This plan is now in its 8th decade of systematic implementation and it is destined to unfold over many epochs, generations and, indeed, I have little doubt, many paradigm shifts to come. The process is often slow, stony and tortuous and it often leaves the believers in a state of perplexity. This is in part due, as I mention above, to the need that individuals often have for immediate gratification and instant success which the social forces of their society, especially after world-war 2, have socialized them to expect at least in the more affluent parts of Western society. Immediate gratification, the personal difficulties people have in delaying gratification, is at the root of many of the frustrations that Bahá'ís, to say nothing of individuals in the woder society, have throughout their lives.
  • 149. As the Guardian wrote in God Passes By, though: "The process whereby the unsuspected benefits of this new Cause have been manifested to the eyes of men has been slow, painfully slow." "Crises," he went on to say, "at times threaten to arrest the unfoldment of the Cause and blast all the hopes which any former progress has engendered."(GPB, p.111) These crises and this slow unfoldment have often been the Cause of the disillusionment and discouragement of the believers. In some ways this is natural; it is to be expected. But this slowness set side-by-side a process like entry by troops provided a contrast, a paradoxical, an enigmatic, experience which was for thousands, if not millions of Bahais, a test to their intellectual and spiritual selves. This test could be seen as part of the core experience of the many tests of many generations which could and would come to those who were the spiritual descendants of the Dawnbreakers, a complex role which would inevitably have its unpleasant aspects. I make comparisons and contrasts in this book to previous paradigm shifts in the Bahai community, as I have indicated several times above. I also make suggestions regarding this new paradigm's future development that seem to me will take place in the years ahead and which have already begun to take place in recent years. Some of my suggestions will also appear in this book in the years ahead as this work develops: for this book is an evolving entity here at Bahai Library Online(BLO). A brief commentary on the history of the Bahai Faith, on the history of our time and my own life is also included. I attempt to integrate these several histories into one organic, if not systematic, whole in the context of this new paradigm. I do this exercise of integration as much, if not more, for myself, as I do for readers. Each Bahai is involved in integrating his life, the Cause and the wider society into some complex and, hopefully simple whole. Hopefully, then, what I am doing in this book may be of use to readers as they travel on their own path and work out their unity in multiplicity, their unity in diversity. In the first six years of the existence of this book on the
  • 150. internet(2007-2013) this book has begun to contribute, as I say above, to a dialogue on the issues regarding the many related processes involved in this ongoing paradigmatic shift. The book has also provided, at the same time, part of a relevant and much wider context in which some of the fundamental issues within this paradigm are being discussed--not only on the internet but also in the international Bahai community. This is, of course, due to the fact that the internet is an international community in its own right--whatever the many different attitudes to it may be. As a matter of principle, individual understanding or interpretation of this paradigm is not and should not be suppressed. Sometimes, such is the view and the experience of a small group of Bahais, views are suppressed. It is difficult to experience the cut-and-thrust of any genuine community life without a feeling that one cannot say what one wants to say. The problem is a little like the problem associated with honesty and frank consultation. One can go through one‘s life and ones relationships saying everything one feels and thinks if one wants to create chaos wherever one goes. The issue is not so much honesty but knowing what to say and when to say it: tone, manner, mode, etiquette of expression, tact, how much to disclose, timing, measuring the reception of ones remarks, wisdom, knowledge, understanding. What each person says needs to be valued for whatever contribution it can make to the discourse of the Bahá‘í community, but this process of verbal interchange is one of the most complex entities for human beings in community. The virtues project, a global program in its own right, has contributed much to this understanding of the many qualities needed in Bahá'í community life. And so it is that frankness and civility, courtesy and kindness are not easily achieved when people consult. An individual‘s verbal output, through dogmatic insistence on one's opinion, should not be allowed to bring about disputes and arguments among the friends; personal opinion must always be distinguished from the explicit Text and its authoritative interpretation by ‗Abdu‘l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi and from the elucidations of the Universal House of Justice on ―problems which have caused difference, questions that are obscure and matters that are not expressly recorded in the Book‖. These
  • 151. are the words of a recent House of Justice letter and they act like a refrain through this book. This book is not part of the recent internet noise in relation to this paradigm or in relation to developments in the Cause outside the explicit paradigm that have stirred-up so much controversy in the last 15 years. I trust there will be no readers who come to see this work as part of that seemingly endless verbiage and conflict, dissention and distrust that have characterized a corner of the internet since the mid-1990s. Given the increasing complexity not only of the Bahai paradigm, but also the society in which it engages, it is likely that some will come to see my book as part of the critical thrust of lance and parry that has arisen in the last decade and a half. Often when a thing ceases to be a subject of controversy, it ceases to be a subject of interest. On this basis the new Bahai paradigm is still of interest. My aim has not been to pass verdicts and conclusions and, in the process, not to find a sense of closure, but to open up questions, examine a complex set of events from different angles and enlarge, what often seems to me anyway, the often narrow circle in which this paradigm is discussed. I try not to impoverish the facts of this paradigm by discounting or softening some of their complexity. There seems to be an emerging system of learning and growth across the international Bahai community, a system of great simplicity as well as a system with some complex features for the community to comprehend as this paradigm develops a life of its own in the 120,000 localities and 6000 clusters where Bahais presently live--as well as in the 10,000 clusters where at present there are no Bahais. For this culture is an expanding one, as I have emphasized above, as the Cause itself by its very nature has been expanding and will continue to expand in the decades and, indeed, centuries ahead. I have detected the complexity to which I refer above in both the literature and in the discussions that have taken place in the first 17 years of the implementation of this paradigm. As a retired teacher who used booklets like those in the Ruhi program as part of what in post-secondary education in Australia was often called the core curriculum and extension resources; I am more than a little conscious of their apparent simplicity as well as some of the complex problems associated with their implementation by teachers,
  • 152. tutors, lecturers or whatever names one gives to those who help students learn through their use. This dichotomy of simplicity and complexity is not a new thing in the Bahai community. I would argue that the complexity- simplicity spectrum has been part and parcel of Bahai history since its beginning. Indeed, it is one of life's polarities that contributes to its richness, its fascination, its enigmas and its paradoxes. The Universal House of Justice mentions this complexity to which I rewfer above in one of its most recent message, a message of 13,000 words, at Ridvan 2010. They refer to the "growing complexity" of the Cause and the need to manage it with "greater dexterity." I should emphasize, en passant, that this book attempts to integrate many views contained in the most recent messages from Bahai institutions as well as letters and internet posts from significant individuals in the Cause as well as many others, especially those who now post on the internet and who contribute effectively to an ongoing and virtually continuous dialogue in that world of cyberspace. In the process of this literary integration over 520 pages, some readers may find I have ered on the side of complexity when they were searching for simplicity. What I am trying to do in this book is very much along the line of Mr. Lample's comment in June 2010 in relation to the Ridvan 2010 message. I am trying to get my bearing and answer two fundamental questions: ―Where are we going next?‖ and ―Where have we been?‖ That 8,000 word 2010 Ridvan message has gone a long way to help me answer these two questions. ONE PERSON'S VIEWS ON THE RUHI BOOKS, THE INSTITUTE PROCESS: As I indicate in this book, I am not providing a systematic study of this new Bahai culture. I would like, though, in the following paragraphs to outline the experience of one person who has been associated with the Ruhi Books since their inception and with deepenings for a decade or so before the
  • 153. implementation of the new Bahai culture of learning. I do this because what this person has written is, from my point of view, an excellent overview of the many pluses and minuses of this new learning process that the Bahai community has embarked upon in the last decade and a half and which, as I see it anyway, is merely the beginning of an elaborately detailed learning mechanism and process that will evolve in the Bahai community in the decades ahead. This person begins by saying that back in the early 1990s early drafts of Ruhi Book One began to appear in North America. Early drafts of other Ruhi books also appeared before the implementation of the entire sequence in country after country in the late 1990s and in the first decade of this third millennium. As I write there is a sequence of seven Ruhi Books with more on the curriculum-design books to come. Many people enjoy the exercises and activities, the memorizing, the quizes and the word games associated with some of the Ruhi content. The problems associated with deepenings in the decades before the implementation of the Ruhi program in the late 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium were eliminated by this new curriculum. This same person continues: "many study classes or deepenings from the 1930s to the 1990s were both good and bad as Abdul-Bahas Plan was put into place. There was a wide variety in the quality of study classes and deepening meetings in the Bahai communities in which I lived. I'm sure this was a common experience for most Bahais who have been in the community for decades. The Ruhi method has been a very useful addition to what was taking place in, say, the years 1937 to 1997, the first 60 years of the systematic implementation of Abdul-Bahas Plan. The Ruhi books have demanded that Bahais continue to focus on the actual Writings as previous programs of study always did. It uses some innovative exercises and introduces a strong element of systematization and commonality across the planet."
  • 154. This person goes on: "Anyone who has witnessed first-hand the mass teaching and mass enrollment in parts of the world also knows the difficulties associated with the consolidation and deepening that should have followed, but did not. Such consolidation was plainly inadequate in most places. There are stories where tens, hundreds and sometimes thousands of people have declared their belief and then received nothing from the Bahai community as follow-up. The institute process is a counter to these sad realities of previous decades." Here is a short list of the things this person has written about why they like the Ruhi sequence of books: 1. There are no lectures from an authority figure. Instead a facilitator keeps the process going. 2. The facilitator emphasizes that there are no right answers, and encourages participants to have fun and be creative. 3. The Ruhi course often has some very creative and humorous people involved, so there is often also plenty of laughter and imaginative thinking. 4. People enjoy some of the "games" played with the Holy Word where participants try to think of concrete examples of concepts and words in the passages they are studying. In the process of checking definitions, and doing interesting things with the exercises there is much learning going on. For example, people often share their visual imagery and this helps people memorize the passages from the scripture. 5. Sometimes people poke fun at the questions and exercises and have a
  • 155. good time with them. Everyone in the group understands that the Ruhi books and the exercises are just tools to give people a fun way to embrace the Creative Word. 6. People can look things up. The citations and the commentary gloss in Ruhi seems inadequate to some extent, but people meet in a Bahai context and, if there is a good library, the members of the study circle can frequently look up things to see the context, or trace the notes back to original sources. 7. There are service activities. The service is often fun. Members of study circles can initiate devotional meetings, and experiment with devotional meetings. Participants can try visual effects, play with the atmosphere, try new things with music and lighting, vary the seating arrangement, the types of devotional readings, and so forth. 8. The people in the Ruhi study circle usually like each other and often get together outside of the Ruhi course. 9. The people in the Ruhi study circle often spend more time on preparing the devotions and the devotional service than they spend on the Ruhi exercises and books. Probably for every 40 minutes spent on Ruhi study circles, participants often spend over an hour on their devotional meetings service. 10. The people in the Ruhi study circle spend more time together as friends socializing and supporting each other than they spend on either the Ruhi books or the service work. In a typical month they might have two hours of time with the Ruhi book, nearly four hours preparing and holding a devotional meeting, and five or six hours eating meals together at each other's homes for get-togethers and parties, not firesides or deepenings. The act of just sitting together and talking about life and politics, society and television, what they are reading and what is going on in the wide-wide world helps to foster relationships without which teaching in groups, accompanying each other, does not take place fruitfully.
  • 156. On balance, this person writes, the Ruhi books and their learning packages are a force for good in the Bahai community. On the other hand, this same person writes that the Ruhi sequence of learning materials is not the greatest thing they have ever experienced since the invention of the car, the TV or cinema. If Bahai study classes were nearly uniformly awful before Ruhi, then Ruhi probably has raised the level of Bahai study. Prior to the Ruhi Books community study groups and classes were, of course, not uniformly awful. People's experience was that study courses, retreats, and schools were a mixed bag, with some good and some not-so-good, and even a single class could have a mix. Ruhi reminds this person, he continues, of an antidepressant medication. It seems to smooth out the extremes and prevent a class from getting really awful or really great. Until the late 1990s, this writer goes on, Ruhi and institute activities were but one item on a menu of courses, and Bahai communities were encouraged to develop their own plans and programs. Ruhi had a fairly positive image in those earliest decades, say, 1970 to 1995. Gradually, in the first 15 years of the new Bahai culture, 1996-2011, national spiritual assemblies everywhere have decided, under the direction and encouragement from the ITC and the House of Justice, to implement the Ruhi book sequence as the core of all study circles. Everyone who wants can and should do Ruhi as the core of the institute process. It is, of course, left to the individual to opt into these study circles or not. There is no compulsion. The formal development by institutions of the Cause of other courses has been abandoned. Everyone who wants to do a series of courses trys Ruhi books for a year or two or more. If they want they can go back to developing their own courses, perhaps drawing on their common experience in Ruhi courses. But as Ruhi courses have become the dominant theme and core of the institute process everywhere other courses have been abandoned or so it seems from all the information I have at hand. This, of course, is impossible to judge in a world- wide community of some 120,000 localities in which diversity has always been encouraged. Bahai literature is now so extensive and individual communities are free to have deepenings and study programs on virtually any topic they like. Inevitably, then, in the wide-wide Bahai world other programs will be found in the interstices of Bahai community life across the planet.
  • 157. As this same person continues in their commentary on the implementation of the Ruhi books: "Ruhi isn't that great. We can certainly do better. It should remain an option, and it should be encouraged in some circumstances. It's not the best thing going. In fact, I wouldn't dream of insulting my colleagues and neighbors by inviting them to a Ruhi study circle. To do so would be extremely unwise, and it would show a lack of wisdom, a lack of tact, and a lack of empathy on my part. The Ruhi exercises and the formats of the books are different from other study materials. Visiting people, saying prayers with people, and performing acts of service, may seem strange to some people. They are all things, though, that I can do. They can be done tactfully, and with wisdom, and people can enjoy those things." "I'm also one who thinks the art projects which are part of the Ruhi activities are excellent especially for some participants. I take a social-worker and do- it-yourself approach to art and music. I'm influenced by the punk rock and the counter culture movement. I'm glad that Ruhi attempts to let people experiment with arts. I recognize,though, that some people feel that such activity is not really art, or they just hate doing the craft activities." Here are the things that concern this same person about the Ruhi-centred study circles: 1. Ruhi's emphasis on the actual Holy Word is a strength, but the gloss written by the authors of the compilations of quotations is sometimes misleading. The quotations that are chosen are given without context, and quotations from non-scriptural sources are mixed in with scripture. The very process of the memorization and the exercises encourages a literal understanding of the quotations that are used.
  • 158. 2. The Ruhi course emphasis on service seems, in practice, to be mainly about service to the Bahai community. I'm a social worker, and I think Bahais have a duty through their institutions and especially through the "Dawning Place of the Mention of God" to do service for the entire, the wider, community. Bahais should also do much more than children's classes. It seems the Ruhi courses are asking Bahais everywhere to become very good at doing moral education and children's classes in order to teach the Bahai Faith and its message to the children in their communities. The strategy is perhaps to become good at two things, and then after the Bahai community has mastered the art of doing excellent moral education and children's classes it can move on to other avenues of service. This is far too limited for the Bahai community's service to humanity. I think that sometimes the emphasis on doing service for Bahais goes too far. Let our deeds rather than our words speak for us, and let our deeds be bold. We should be a balm to humanity, and admonishers to the wealthy and to tyrants. 3. The Ruhi books are not scripture. There is nothing in the Holy Writings about study circles, core activities, the Ruhi sequence of courses, and so forth. These things are tools. But, I'm afraid that instead of seeing Ruhi courses as special tools, many Bahais are incorporating Ruhi courses into the core of their religious experience. As such, I'm afraid Ruhi courses, including the limitations of the Ruhi books, are becoming an accretion, a man-made addition to the Revelation, a ritual, an unauthorized source of dogma, and a method of unifying Bahai thinking in a way that defeats the more essential teaching of unity in diversity. 4. The more I study the Ruhi material and do its exercises, the more tiresome and tedious they become. Some of the questions and answers we often give are inane. In some cases it seems the Ruhi exercises and questions are attempting to push us toward a literalist and very conservative approach to
  • 159. religion. I'd even say the Ruhi books betray a hint of the spirit of fundamentalism. So long as Ruhi is just one way of studying among many ways of studying, that is fine for me. But by making Ruhi books so strongly emphasized, I think we are pushing a particular aspect of our faith, a particular agenda, and it's not the agenda of Bahaullah, of 'Abdu'l-Bahá or Shoghi Effendi. So I'm worried. 5. The books seem very clearly aimed at people from cultures where the education level is very low. The courses seem well-designed for children, or persons who never got past the ninth year of schooling, or for people of sub- average intelligence. If you happen to be intelligent or well-educated, it's difficult to take the books seriously. 6. I've been in many classes where there is an obvious rush to get through the Ruhi courses. Instead of thinking deeply about the teachings and exploring their meaning I feel that I am rushing through the books. This rush to do what is on the page, and the corresponding insistence that we stick to only what is there on the Ruhi pages, is upsetting to me. It doesn't meet my social or spiritual needs. I think facilitators need to let people take Ruhi at their own pace and have fun with it. Study circles should not be like assembly meetings or business meetings. 7. The service component of Ruhi has never been emphasized in any course I've taken since a single good one that I did in the late 1990s. All the courses I've taken since 158 B.E.(2001) have either done nothing or very little with service programs and exercises. When we do just a little of the service component, it's a matter of personal experience rather than part of the class. That is still far better than the classes where the service is just an afterthought or ignored completely.
  • 160. 8. The choices of passages for study are usually pretty good. But the choices are not perfect. I think it would be easy to produce books with better choices of quotations from scriptures in order to achieve the lesson objectives. I also think the citation system in the Ruhi books is inadequate, as if the people putting the books together were not especially familiar with the Writings. The books should at least be revised with decent scholarship getting the citations right, and citing original sources where possible. 9. I am appalled that merit and honor seems to apply to persons and communities who complete Ruhi courses. Those who have not completed the Ruhi books are often seen as less than those who have. If a national spiritual assembly will only use its resources to render assistance to communities where there is enthusiasm for Ruhi, that is wrong; for example, if advertising and special support only comes to places where everyone is doing Ruhi, then only places where everyone is doing Ruhi will get the benefits of advertising and special support. We will also be limiting our potential if only people who have done particular Ruhi courses can be allowed to teach children's classes. The number of Ruhi courses a person does should carry no more weight than the number of years of schooling a person has experienced. That is to say, it should have almost no importance. 10. I am aware that members of the Universal House of Justice, including Paul Lample and Peter Khan, for example, have said that the regular firesides and deepenings and study classes must continue, and should not be abandoned for Ruhi. Rather, Ruhi should supplement, and be an addition to the community on top of the previous teaching efforts. The question that I hear is, "how many people joined the Faith because of your old methods?" and the answer is usually "not many" and the conclusion is, "then try this new thing, this Ruhi-institute process and see if you do better than you have been doing with the old methods, because in some places loads of people are embracing the Faith and staying active in it because of Ruhi." I agree that the old method and old culture in the Bahai communities where I lived weren't
  • 161. bringing in new believers and sustaining them. I agree that we need changes and new things and new approaches to improve the quality and capacity of our communities and our individuals. I see that Ruhi is doing some of this needed transformation. But, I also think Ruhi has replaced what we were doing well. Finally, this person writes: "I came into the Faith without the Ruhi courses. I have become less active in Bahai studies in my local community because I am unenthusiastic about Ruhi. I am less active in my teaching because I'm embarrassed by Ruhi courses and would be ashamed to bring almost anyone I know to a Ruhi study circle as they have been recently taught. In fact, all this emphasis on Ruhi courses is making me feel alienated from the wider Bahai community at least the administrative aspects of it. I agree it's nice to check with Bahai friends around the world and find we've studied the same Ruhi materials, but I'd rather we were checking with each other about the same Hidden Words or the same sections of the Kitab-i-Iqan and so forth. I'd rather that we were comparing notes about things that we really found inspiring and challenging, instead of laughing about how silly the Ruhi books are, whether we read them in English, Spanish, or Mandarin, and how strange it is that we're being pushed to do these, and how out-of-touch people must be in Haifa to think Ruhi is the greatest thing to come along since the passing of 'Abdu'l-Bahá. Such are some of the views of one person. As the years go on there will undoubtedly be a much more extensive analysis of the entire institute system as there has been of the elected and appointed sides of Bahai administration as it has developed in the last century and more. The above comments of one individual do not represent the generality of the Bahai community throughout the world. It would be impossible for one person's experience to be representative of that of the millions of adherents of this new world Faith. I have included the above comments because they are representative of a range of views after 15 years of Ruhi, of institute, implementation.
  • 162. These comments have some parallels to my experience with books of a very similar educational and curricular design in my work in technical and further education, post-secondary education, here in Australia. Many of my students back in the 1990s in a college in Western Australia said similar things about instructional booklets I used in my classrooms in similar, indeed, in the same ways to the Ruhi books. The story of these resource materials has just begun in the last two decades. In my experience, any learning program has its positive and its negative features and, to some students, the negative outweigh the positive. That is only natural. It's paret of education systems everywhere and at all times. THE HOUSE OF JUSTICE RIDVAN 2010 I would like to conclude this section with three quotations from the House of Justice Ridvan 2010 on the institute process and the role of cluster activity, the wider framework within which the Ruhi materials are implemented. These quotations illustrate the increasing definition of both the institute process and the cluster in the broad map of the Bahai community structure and functioning. The community building process which the House of Justice referred to as "just beginning" back at the outset of this new paradigm is, indeed, being increasingly elaborated upon within the organizational structure of elected and appointed institutions. All of these quotations come from the Ridvan 2010 message nearly a year ago now. "The believers and the institutions that serve them will have to strengthen the institute process in the cluster, increasing significantly within its borders the number of those capable of acting as tutors of study circles; for it should be recognized that the opportunity now open to the friends to foster a vibrant community life in neighbourhoods and villages, characterized by such a keen
  • 163. sense of purpose, was only made possible by crucial developments that occurred over the past decade and a half in that aspect of Bahá‘í culture which pertains to deepening." And secondly: "In every cluster, once a consistent pattern of action is in place, attention needs to be given to extending it more broadly through a network of co- workers and acquaintances, while energies are, at the same time, focused on smaller pockets of the population, each of which should become a centre of intense activity. In an urban cluster, such a centre of activity might best be defined by the boundaries of a neighbourhood; in a cluster that is primarily rural in character, a small village would offer a suitable social space for this purpose. Those who serve in these settings, both local inhabitants and visiting teachers, would rightly view their work in terms of community building." "To assign to their teaching efforts such labels as "door-to-door", even though the first contact may involve calling upon the residents of a home without prior notice, would not do justice to a process that seeks to raise capacity within a population to take charge of its own spiritual, social and intellectual development. The activities that drive this process, and in which newly found friends are invited to engage—meetings that strengthen the devotional character of the community; classes that nurture the tender hearts and minds of children; groups that channel the surging energies of junior youth; circles of study, open to all, that enable people of varied backgrounds to advance on equal footing and explore the application of the teachings to their individual and collective lives—may well need to be maintained with assistance from outside the local population for a time. It is to be expected, however, that the multiplication of these core activities would soon be sustained by human resources indigenous to the neighbourhood or village itself—by men and women eager to improve material and spiritual conditions in their surroundings. A rhythm of community life should gradually emerge, then, commensurate with the capacity of an expanding nucleus of individuals committed to Bahá‘u‘lláh's vision of a new World Order."
  • 164. And thirdly: "As learning has come to distinguish the community's mode of operation, certain aspects of decision making related to expansion and consolidation have been assigned to the body of the believers, enabling planning and implementation to become more responsive to circumstances on the ground. Specifically, a space has been created, in the agency of the reflection meeting, for those engaged in activities at the cluster level to assemble from time to time in order to reach consensus on the current status of their situation, in light of experience and guidance from the institutions, and to determine their immediate steps forward. A similar space is opened by the institute, which makes provision for those serving as tutors, children's class teachers, and animators of junior youth groups in a cluster to meet severally and consult on their experience. Intimately connected to this grassroots consultative process are the agencies of the training institute and the Area Teaching Committee, together with the Auxiliary Board members, whose joint interactions provide another space in which decisions pertaining to growth are taken, in this case with a higher degree of formality. The workings of this cluster-level system, born of exigencies, point to an important characteristic of Bahá‘í administration: Even as a living organism, it has coded within it the capacity to accommodate higher and higher degrees of complexity, in terms of structures and processes, relationships and activities, as it evolves under the guidance of the Universal House of Justice. SOME QU0TATIONS FROM RUHI BOOK 6 Here are some excellent quotations from Ruhi Book 6 on: Teaching the
  • 165. Cause The Ruhi Books are full to the brim with relevant quotations and no book on this new Bahai culture would be complete without acknowledging these quotations. Here are some from Book 6 which are especially germaine to the new Bahai paradigm: "The proclamation of the Faith, following established plans and aiming to use on an increasing scale the facilities of mass communication must be vigorously pursued. It should be remembered that the purpose of proclamation is to make known to all mankind the fact and general aim of the new Revelation, while teaching program should be planned to confirm individuals from every stratum of society." (From the 1974 Naw-Ruz message of the Universal House of Justice, published in Teaching the Bahá'í Faith: Compilations and a Statement Prepared by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, no. 312, p. 160) "Having on his own initiative, and undaunted by any hindrances with which either friend or foe may, unwittingly or deliberately, obstruct his path, resolved to arise and respond to the call of teaching, let him carefully consider every avenue of approach which he might utilize in his personal attempts to capture the attention, maintain the interest, and deepen the faith, of those whom he seeks to bring into the fold of his Faith. Let him survey the possibilities which the particular circumstances in which he lives offer him, evaluate their advantages, and proceed intelligently and systematically to utilize them for the achievement of the object he has in mind."(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 51)
  • 166. "Let him also attempt to devise such methods as association with clubs, exhibitions, and societies, lectures on subjects akin to the teachings and ideals of his Cause such as temperance, morality, social welfare, religious and racial tolerance, economic cooperation, Islam, and comparative religion, or participation in social, cultural, humanitarian, charitable, and educational organizations and enterprises which, while safeguarding the integrity of his Faith, will open up to him a multitude of ways and means whereby he can enlist successively the sympathy, the support, and ultimately the allegiance of those with whom he comes in contact."(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 51) "Let him, while such contacts are being made, bear in mind the claims which his Faith is constantly making upon him to preserve its dignity, and station, to safeguard the integrity of its laws and principles, to demonstrate its comprehensiveness and universality, and to defend fearlessly its manifold and vital interests. Let him consider the degree of his hearer's receptivity, and decide for himself the suitability of either the direct or indirect method of teaching, whereby he can impress upon the seeker the vital importance of the Divine Message, and persuade him to throw in his lot with those who have already embraced it."(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, pp. 51-52) "Let him remember the example set by ‗Abdu'l-Bahá, and His constant admonition to shower such kindness upon the seeker, and exemplify to such a degree the spirit of the teachings he hopes to instill into him, that the recipient will be spontaneously impelled to identify himself with the Cause embodying such teachings. Let him refrain, at the outset, from insisting on such laws and observances as might impose too severe a strain on the seeker's newly awakened faith, and endeavor to nurse him, patiently, tactfully, and yet determinedly, into full maturity, and aid him to proclaim his unqualified acceptance of whatever has been ordained by Bahá'u'lláh."(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 52)
  • 167. "Let him, as soon as that stage has been attained, introduce him to the body of his fellow-believers, and seek, through constant fellowship and active participation in the local activities of his community, to enable him to contribute his share to the enrichment of its life, the furtherance of its tasks, the consolidations of its interests, and the coordination of its activities with those of its sister communities."(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 52) "Let him not be content until he has infused into his spiritual child so deep a longing as to impel him to arise independently, in his turn, and devote his energies to the quickening of other souls, and the upholding of the laws and principles laid down by his newly adopted Faith."(Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 52) TO CONTINUE ON OTHER THEMES: I should mention here, thanks to the feedback of one of my readers, that I use many terms and sets of words for the elected institution at the apex of Bahai administration, a crucial institution that represents the full institutionalized charismatic Force which entered history over a century ago, the trustee of all which that Force represents and which, after its physical dissolution in 1892, continued to "energize the whole world to a degree unapproached at any stage in the course of its existence on this planet."(GPB, p.244). I use, as the case may be and as seems appropriate for the context the following terms: the Seat, the House, the House of Justice, the Supreme Institution, the Supreme Body, the apex of Bahai administration, that institutionalized and charismatic Force, and, in some cases and especially in footnotes, the UHJ. I trust that some readers do not interpret my flexible and varied use of these
  • 168. terms for the Supreme Body as being disrespectful or discourteous, do not see my language as inappropriate in whatever context they come across my varied terms. I want to thank readers, at this point, for their continuing input into this evolving document and I look forward to the contributions both critical and in praise of what they find here at BLO. Some of this input is direct and some of it is by by use of quotations from the writings of others. I like to think of this book as a collected work in more ways than one. In the minds, in the eyes, of many Bahais who have been attempting to get a handle on the many processes and activities involved in this new Bahai culture, all is not a simple exercise in understanding. Much of life and much of this paradigm presents to the student who would go about setting out its microscopic and macroscopic content an awkward and tangled reality. Penetrating below the surface of the paradigm's many dimensions is the result, for me, of a wondrous and distant gaze as well as a minute scrutiny. The power of this paradigm, to some extent, eludes the net of language, my language, as much as I would try to capture it in my mental and verbal net. This is partly because the implementation of this new culture of learning and growth is across the entire planet and partly because the experience of each cluster, each region and each national community is so very diverse. At this stage in the evolution of this new paradigm it is, indeed, impossible for me to do justice to the vast tapestry of the implementation of this new Bahai culture and the weaving of its innumerable strands of warp and weft. The implementation of the essential features of this paradigm, the evolving nature of its structures and functions and the successes and failures from region to region, cluster to cluster and country to country are simply beyond the scope of this book. This book is a general and somewhat idiosyncratic statement, a view of the process and content of this new Bahai culture from down at the bottom of the world in Tasmania where I live and have my Bahai being. And the aim of this book is, as I have said, highly personal and idiosyncratic. I want to answer the question: where do I fit in? I leave it to readers here to work out this answer for themselves.
  • 169. Although I have found the writing of this book more tedious and toilsome than I had anticipated, I have also found, somewhat paradoxically, that there exists a fascinating immensity in the subject matter. The result is for me a literary performance that I enact before readers with the deepest observations and the most lively analysis and images that I am able to convey. In the process I hope to both clarify and enlighten on the one hand, both myself and readers. I aim to set this new paradigm in a wider perspective than the one in which it is usually set. It is good to aim high and I achieve this aim only in part. And, it must be stated often that this book is just one man's view; it possesses no authority and does not seek to impose any particular view of this paradigm on anyone. This book is, as I have already stated and as I will state again, merely a pot-pourri of thoughts and I hope readers will enjoy their time swimming about in the pot and tasting some of the flavoured soup which it is my hope is contained therein. This dialogue, this discussion of the new Bahai culture, beginning as it did in the last years of the twentieth century really, got going--at least for me---with Moojan Momen's essay "A Change of Culture"(September 2004) when this paradigm was in its 8th year of execution. There was at that time, by 2004, in those earliest years of the first decade of the implementation of this new paradigm in the Bahai community, little written analysis by major writers in the Bahai community and little discussion on the internet, although the major institutions of the Cause and many NSAs had produced a wealth of literature to launch the framework for this new Bahai culture. In the next nine years, from 2004 to 2013, an immense dialogue has taken place both on and off the internet about the nature and purpose, the details and structure of this new paradigm. This book is, among other things, the story of some of this dialogue, a summary of some of its essential features and the elaboration of its details by the Universal House of Justice and the International Teaching Centre(ITC) on the one hand, by many of the NSAs and individuals among the appointed and elected sides of the Cause on the
  • 170. other--as well as an increasing host of individuals. But this book does not presume to be an organized outline, a systematic analysis, as I say above, of this new paradigm. For this, readers need to seek other sources and there are many. Indeed, serious students of this new paradigm will not find a shortage in available literature on the subject. By April 2011, the month of the opening of the fourth Plan of this new paradigm, some 15 years into this new Bahai culture, a wealth of messages and letters, internet sites and internet posts, formal and informal analyses as well as dialogue in clusters and localities around the world had resulted in a plethora of written material available for anyone wanting to get a handle on this new paradigm. In 2013, the year of the celebration of the first half-century of the House of Justice at the apex of Bahai administration, this new paradigm will have been in place for 17 years, nearly two decades. As far back as Ridvan 1988, the House of Justice had already referred to "a new paradigm of opportunity for further growth and consolidation" of the world-wide Bahai community. By 2013, then, after a quarter of a century with the word paradigm in the air, so to speak, there will be even much more written about this paradigm's development and much more will have taken place in the field of action. I hope to incorporate these developments into this book as both the paradigm and the book evolve in the years ahead in this space at Bahai Library Online which allows for ongoing additions, subtractions and alterations, in a word, editing. The literature on the subject of this new Bahai culture, as I say, is now burgeoning making the interpretation of the nature and purpose, the functioning and the myriad-sided structure of its features capable of many meanings to many people. We each come to see it through the lens of our own minds and hearts. This is only natural. This book is the view through one man's lens and the story of how he sees not only the participation of others, but his own participation in this new Bahai culture. Readers of this book, in the end, must work out the story of their own participation. Hopefully this book will help them in their decision-making process. CRITICISM OF THE CAUSE IN GENERAL AND OF THIS PARADIGM IN PARTICULAR
  • 171. After several years of what became a heated discussion of this new culture of learning and growth the temperature seems to be cooling down to more moderate levels, although not everywhere either on the planet or on the internet which has become a sort of cyber-planet. In a community of some six million souls one can be sure that there is lots of both criticism and praise of just about everything. That is partly the nature of people in community, the greatest drama of our lives. The Central Figures of this Faith encouraged the use of the mind, the rational faculty, and each Bahai must use their mind to see where they fit in, where they can make their particular contribution to the many aspects of the workings of this new Bahai culture. There is, as I say, criticism and praise of this paradigm outside the internet. Each cluster where Bahais reside, for Bahais only reside in some 6000 of the 16000 clusters around the world, each Bahai locality--and there are some 120,000 localities--has, as I say, its unloving critics and its critical lovers. Those who are actively engaged in cluster and community activity to some degree are always only a portion, for there are nearly always(if not always) those who could not possibly be defined as participants using virtually any of the possible criteria of community engagement. But this has always been the case; the notion of everyone being active at the same level of intensity and engagement, involvement and participation, is not and has never been achieved. It is not only not realistic it is not the way groups work in either the Bahai Faith or in any other organization. Like so many things in life individuals and groups achieve only so many of their aims and goals, only so much of what they want to accomplish. One needs to be conscious of the point made by George Bernard Shaw about socialism and politics in general in relation to Bahai activity and that is the tendency to evaluate ones fellow members by how many meetings to which they come or go. "The trouble with socialism," Shaw once said, "is that there are too many meetings." Universal participation, though, I would argue, is a more
  • 172. achievable entity in this new culture where the menu of activities to choose from is greater. There is something for everyone to do, if they want to be a participant and, if the various institutional organizers arrange things to enable community members to feel they are participating, however humbly, however simply and minimally. Of course, the line between "anything will do" and "do whatever you want" and actual participation in this new paradigm may wind-up being one with a very fine distinction if universal participation is actually achieved. On the other hand, if the criteria for participation in the new Bahai culture, if the bar is set too high, to use a modern and popularized expression, then universal participation will remain as elusive as ever. A note of practical realism must often be struck as one goes about the utopian tasks the Bahai community has set itself in order to keep its expectations at levels which will not be productive of disappointment and discouragement. To keep themselves motivated to achieve greater success there are many roads to travel. There are also many roads to take them down which decrease their levels of participation. And then, to draw on a famous poem by the American Robert Frost, there are roads less travelled by others and as he says, "they may make all the difference." Some members of the Bahai community attend virtually every gathering and some attend virtually none; some are 50-50; some 60-40. The variations are infinite. Everyone has a part to play if they want to be a part of this new Bahai culture, and if the various institutions of the Cause define participation in a flexible and diverse, inclusive and non-absolutist manner, as I have mentioned above. In this new Bahai culture the definitions of participation have made universal participation just about guaranteed...but not quite. There is always a but! Everyone will, in the end, be a part of the Bahai community, will be part and parcel of that all-inclusive, world-wide participation if they are faithful to the core elements of the Covenant and recognize the Supreme Body as the fully legitimate institutional interpreter of the Word and the Texts. If, on the other hand, only a small handful of explicit criteria for participation are used to define the engagement of the individual Bahai in the community programs-- as one does hear from overly enthusiastic individuals who are keen to get
  • 173. everyone going their way--then, inevitably, participation rates--or the ever elusive goal of universal participation--will continue to be just that--elusive. There is, too, an element of uncertainty, ambiguity and arbitrariness either latent or manifest, or both, in community life. These realities can only be held in check to an extent by customary forms, routines and regularities of the social and community existence. The Bahai community is not a formal educational institution which has compulsory attendance and a degree, a diploma or a certificate at the end, although there are certainly some aspects of the paradigm which are formal, systematic, organized and require attendance in order to move from one step to another. Within this paradigm, within the international Bahai community there are schools, certificates of attendance, indeed, the whole panoply and pageantry of the educational apparatus found in the vast secular society of which the Bahai community is but a small part. Those remarks of that English critic about meetings are useful to emphasize from time to time as each Bahai, as he or she desires, goes from Ruhi Book 1 to Book 8, attends devotional meetings, LSA meetings, cluster meetings and, if he or she is involved with youth or children, one of these programs or one of many other community activities. This new paradigm of learning and growth is not like that Anisa Model which was current in the Bahai community back in the early 1970s. This new paradigm has some of the goals, the aims and purposes of that Anisa Model for educational planning: it attempts to translate potentiality into actuality; it attempts to interpret large fields of reality; it attempts to transform experience into attitude and unify factual knowledge and belief; it emphasizes interaction with the environment as the general means by which the process of translating potentiality into actuality is sustained; it is a process with an order and a rhythm; the role of the tutor is, in part, to help the student attain more learning competence and not just acquire more information; it aims to deal with content and process, with translating learning into service and activity. Albert Schweitzer's words apply as much now in this new paradigm as in the years when the Anisa Model inspired some of the Bahai community with its learning model. Schweitzer wrote: "I
  • 174. don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve." How true it is Albert! How true it is! Such a simple aphorism, a simple remedy but, so often, easier said than done for many. I encourage readers to google the Anisa Model and the various deepening programs--like one entitled the Bahai Comprehensive Deepening Program(USA, 1974)--once in existence and still available in the Bahai community for comparisons and contrasts with this new paradigm and its new culture of learning and community growth. The exercise for readers will be, hopefully, a heuristic one for the Bahai community has always been engaged in learning and growth. Readers will also gain an insight into how this new paradigm is so much more than the deepening programs of the years 1936/7 to 1996/7 ever were. This new paradigm has not sprung-up ex nihilo. It has profited much from those many decades of experience with growth and learning, with teaching and consolidation, with service and community building. MY ROLE IN THIS NEW PARADIGM As I have pointed out in the opening passages of this book, and as I repeat from time to time to give what I feel is a necessary emphasis, this work is highly idiosyncratic and focuses on my own role in this new Bahai culture. By 2003, forty years into "the war" which I have mentioned above and which I had become a part of as a member of that 'army-of-light' I had become quite ill. I do not want to go into the details of this illness here, but readers can examine my illness in some detail here at BLO in a 60,000++ word 190 page document entitled "my chaos narrative." My illness prevented me from actively participating in many of the aspects of this new Bahai culture. But my illness also forced me to focus on what I could do, on what was within my capacity and, as the House of Justice often put it, "as my
  • 175. circumstances permitted." What follows then is a result, an outline, of what I have been doing and will do in the years ahead. This book deals as much with my experience, my story within this new paradigm, as with the generalities of the paradigm itself. But my story is not so much narrative, as analysis. This book is no life-narrative, engaging story-line, novelistic exercise to keep readers involved until the last page as any thriller tries to do. In many of the writings one comes across on the internet, as I have already pointed out, one sees negative and earnest presentations of views and experiences, some within the paradigm and some without. Of course, one comes across earnest presentations of views off the internet in simple daily conversations. Such earnestness is part of the very core of Bahai experience along with humour and the many things that are part and parcel of people in community. This has always been the case for me in the more than half a century I have been a Bahai. Sometimes these views one comes across in cyberspace are intended, as I have also emphasized above, as a detached commentary on a body of supposedly neutral facts gathered in a seemingly dispassionate way through much patient or not so patient experience and research. Sometimes these views are not so detached. Sometimes the internet posts carry with them a venom and a bitterness that has resulted from some negative experience of an individual. It is difficult to go through a Bahai life for years without experiencing some challenges to one‘s personality, to ones way of being, to the core of one's life, challenges that hurt and hurt deeply. In the years before this paradigm, when there was no internet to read, none of the sad tales of the searing emotional experiences of others were as accessible in print form as they now are. One could keep oneself insulated from the exit-narratives, as one Bahai writer calls some of the experiences of marginal Bahais who eventually left the Cause. Now, if one wants in this new paradigm one can read a variety of these experiences of Bahais who passed from marginality to apostasy, of people who are or were preoccupied with a variety of campaigns against the Bahai community. I was aware of such campaigns in the years before this new paradigm for such campaigns have been part of Bahai history since its inception. But the presence of such campaigns on the internet at a few clicks
  • 176. of the wrist was a new experience for me and for many of my fellow believers. For many, too, indeed for most of the Bahais, these stories were not part of their reading. They simply did not expose themselves to such accounts either because they had no access to the internet or, if they did, they simply did not read such accounts and, if they did read them, they never engaged in any written dialogue. I read a few of them but they were the sorts of accounts I had heard verbally in the decades before this new paradigm, in the decades before the internet became the public vehicle it became after the inception of this paradigm in the mid-1990s. Only on rare occasions did I engage with one of the many who had sad tales to tell. Suffering from mental illness as I had for years, I tended to focus my helping role, my compassion if one could call it that, on Bahai internet sites for the mentally-ill and others who experienced various traumatic disabilities. I also engaged in dialogue with various artistic and literary groups both within the Cause and without, sometimes defending the Faith as I went and often not discussing the Cause explicity at all. Most Bahais I have come across on the internet at the many sites now available do not write more than a few lines here and there; most are not engaged in a critical examination of the Bahai community. Most Bahais on the internet are engaged in a wide variety of ways which it is not the purpose of this book to examine in any detail. When many of these criticisms which I refer to above are examined at closer range the carefully constructed and sometimes scholarly illusions begin to rapidly fall apart. The most serious shortcoming of such criticisms, indeed the fatal one, is the use which is made of the sources. This is an old problem for critics and it will be one they will face increasingly in the decades ahead within this new paradigm. The problem takes several forms, the first of
  • 177. which is an attempt to provide in concise and orderly fashion the facts which have been established by E.G. Browne and other scholars. There is now a rich body of historical material on which to draw. The rise of the Bahai Faith in the 19th and early 20th century very early attracted an impressive group of scholars and observers: Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau, A.L.M. Nicholas, Clement Huart, E.G. Browne, Alexander Tumansky, Baron Victor Rosen, Mirza Kazem Bek, and Hermann Roemer, to mention only the most important. (See Douglas Martin, The Missionary as Historian, footnote # 7: E.G. Browne provides a valuable bibliography on the Babi and Bahai Faiths prior to 1917 in two of his works: A Traveller's Narrative Written To Illustrate the Episode of the Bab, trans. Edward G. Browne (Cambridge, England: The Univ. Press, 1918), pp. 175-243.) Of course, there are criticisms written by non-Bahais with academic credentials and levels of scholarship and reading far in excess of my own and I can not compete on the playing field of such discussions. I simply do not know enough; I have to leave the defence of the Cause in relation to such critics to other Bahais with the academic knowledge. We all have to do this. Until this new paradigm the critics were usually in learned journals and now they are more accessible, if one wants to access them, on the internet. This is a new problem in the Bahai community and each Bahai deals with this problem in his or her own way. A book written by a disinterested non-Bahá‘í scholar about the Faith, as the House of Justice emphasized in a recent letter, even if it reflects certain assumptions and puts forward conclusions acceptable within a given discipline but which are at variance with Bahá‘í belief, poses no particular problem for Bahá‘ís, who would regard these perceptions as an honest attempt to explore a religious phenomenon as yet little understood generally. Any non-biased effort to make the Faith comprehensible to a thoughtful readership, however inadequate it might appear, would evoke genuine Bahá‘í appreciation for the perspective offered and research skill invested in the project. The matter is wholly different, however, when someone intentionally attacks the Faith whether they be non-Bahai scholars, leave- takers and defectors, dis-enrolled Bahá'ís or X-Bahá'ís, terms that came to be
  • 178. applied in the early years of this paradigm to those who had left the Cause, or apostates, those involved in contested exits and affiliated with some oppositional coalition to the Cause. An inescapable duty devolves upon the friends, the Supreme Body went on to say, so to situate themselves in the knowledge of the Teachings as to be able to respond appropriately to the challenges of critics as they arise and thus uphold the integrity of the Faith. In the last decade on the internet, 2001 to 2011, I have come to so situate myself to "respond appropriately." The words of Bahá‘u‘lláh Himself shed light on the proper attitude I should adopt. He warns the believers ―not to view with too critical an eye the sayings and writings of men‖. ―Let them‖, He instructs, ―rather approach such sayings and writings in a spirit of open-mindedness and loving sympathy." Those people who have been led, in their inflammatory writings, to assail the tenets of the Cause of God, are to be treated differently, Bahaullah Himself emphasizes. "It is incumbent upon all men, each according to his ability, to refute the arguments of those that have attacked the Faith of God.‖ The internet, since the outset of this new paradigm, has offered an excellent venue for such lance and parry activity. According to my ability I engage in defence of the Cause on the internet. I have come to see this as a legitimate, and often useful, activity for me as a Bahai. It was an activity I had been engaged in, anyway, for decades but not in such a public manner as the internet. What I wrote became easily accessible by others who wanted to read what I wrote. This activity is, in some ways, not an explicit part of the new paradigm, but it is a task I have set myself within the confines of my abilities and interests. This writing is also a simple manifestation, a result, a form, of individual initiative. On the other hand, I have no difficulty seeing my role on the internet as a Bahai actively involved in this new paradigm with its wide menu of choices for engagement. I see myself as involved in: strengthening the pattern of expansion and consolidation; developments at the more profound level of culture; the steady increase in the tempo of teaching, a fundamental feature of Bahai life, across the globe; conversations with souls; participation in community building; study and service carried out concurrently; the active
  • 179. agency of my own learning; an increasing understanding of the importance of humility, delighting in the accomplishments of others and realizing there are no formulas and no shortcuts; a capacity building that is long-term; lending assistance to the building of a global civilization; contributing my part to a rich tapestry of community life; contributing to prevalent and relevant discourses in society; a type of social action that can not be measured by an ability to bring enrolments; not projecting an air of triumphalism and; finally, not being premature in my various forms of social engagement. All these phrases can be found in the Ridvan message of 2010. The messages of 2011 to 2013, reiterate these same points. "Social action," the House of Justice emphasized at Ridvan 2013, "happens naturally as a growing community gathers strength." "The transformation of society, they went on to say, requires much more thought and reflection in order to understand the processes involved. To those whose familiarity with Bahai history is limited, and this is often a significant portion of the Bahais in the many clusters especially as they grow significantly in numbers, they are placed in the difficult position of being unable to defend the Cause from outside criticism due to their limited knowledge. For the most part this does not matter since most of the Bahais on the internet do not engage in the endless historical and theological hair- splitting, the casuistry regarding the new Bahai paradigm and the culture of learning and growth with which it is sometimes associated. In this paradigm, though, this engagement in literary dialogue is increasing. Bahai intellectuals and non-intellectuals are coming home to roost; Bahais with academic backgrounds from the physical and biological sciences, the humanities and the social sciences can be found all over the internet as can those without academic credentials but who like to write, like to argue a case, like to state a view often at variance with either orthodoxy or convention. There are many in life, both on and off the internet, who enjoy argument and disagreement, and who so often play the devil's advocate, so to speak. At the other end of the literary spectrum are the Bahais on the internet who write in phrases and single sentences and rarely put more than two or three lines of print into a post. The internet, like the real world, is a place for
  • 180. people of all kinds, all capacities and talents: good writers and poor writers, writers of excess and high ability as well as writers of more modest talents who write in various quantities and qualities. The internet, like this book, is a place for a pot-pourri of people, places and things, analyses and observations, cut-and-thrust, backs-and-fourths. In the case of this book, though, I like to think the process of literary expression here is one characterized by a high degree of civility and etiquette of expression as well as that brilliant inventiveness which one noted Bahai writer said was a useful quality in consu