Thursday, April 30, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Thursday, May 14 at 6:30 p.m. Drop by for refreshments and a lively discussion. This
month's topic of discussion is "Evolution and Intelligent Design."
All welcome! No philosophy
training required, real life experience desired!
Comenius's Scientific Plan A
By John Taylor; 2009 April 28, Jamal 01, 166 BE
Being the next in a series on the contribution of Panorthosia to the principle of harmony of science and religion...
In the eleventh chapter of Panorthosia, Comenius deals with universal philosophy, the principle that in the Baha'i scheme is called Harmony of Science and Religion. The chapter is subtitled: "Concerning the New Universal Philosophy Which Will Guide the Human Mind Towards a State Of Perfection." (175)
It is ironic that the day before I started to write on this chapter an editorial appeared in the New York Times appealing for just the sort of reform in the structure and philosophy of current universities that Comenius proposes here, centuries ago. (End the University as We Know It, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/27/opinion/27taylor.html) Written by Mark Taylor, a professor in the Religious Studies Department of Columbia University (a school where Abdu'l-Baha gave one of his most important speeches), the article suggests that universities are training large numbers of graduate students and putting them to work doing the bulk of the institutions' teaching and research, with miniscule pay and no hope of long-term employment or of paying off their massive student loans. Meanwhile faculty members are so specialized that they have little to say to one another, much less to society at large. He uses the example of a current PhD student whose life work is on the use of footnoting in the writings of Duns Scotus. Instead, he suggests rather vaguely, the academic should be working in a cooperative web network doing interdisciplinary studies that would be of general benefit.
Comenius is much more specific in his proposed plan for change. First of all, he says, we should set the power of knowledge in the hands of the academic to work on what is being called "Plan A," stopping "business as usual," eliminating old habits, traditions and prejudices that obstruct real change and adaptation. In the Baha'i principles this is called elimination of prejudice. In essence, academe has got itself into a cruel, self-perpetuating mess by building on prejudice rather than the reality that faces us all.
In the seventeenth paragraph of this eleventh chapter Comenius asserts that the way to go about reforming this malaise is first of all to tear ourselves away from the adversarial system, our addiction to contention that has become engrained into our thinking that we are no longer aware of it.
"The ability to take a chosen topic and argue it from both sides on grounds of probability was a trick of the ancient Sophists which many people are far too eager to practise today, evidently obstructing the truth or at least doing nothing useful to promote it." (Panorthosia, Ch. 11, para 17, pp. 181-182)
Comenius then addresses the leaders of each of the three major pillars of society, science, politics and religion.
"Pray tell me, Academics all, after two thousand years of discussion about space, motion, the void, the meaning of Existence, the question whether the sky or the earth is moving, what conclusions have you every drawn?"
"Tell me, Politicians all, after so many generations of debate about the form of government that is best, most peaceful, or most likely to advance the common good, have you made any definite findings?"
"Tell me, Theologians all, after sixty generations of argument about the best ritual for worshipping the Creator, and the most direct way to Heaven, have you found any perfect and incontrovertible answer? Behold, how vain and unprofitable all your labours have been! Now is the time, I beg you, to learn some wisdom!"
These questions may not all be exactly to the point today, but the most important thing is that we should all be asking such general questions and holding leaders of thought to account for what they are doing and thinking. We cannot let specialists wander off into corners and argue with one another as isolated specialists. That is an abdication of their high responsibility to humanity and the planet. Comenius continues,
"Now you must all stop amusing yourselves and others with probabilities, knowing how to attend only to certainties, which can be confirmed by proof and demonstration to the eye. Those who indulge in disputations dispute the case for and against, and thereby go on for ever producing and multiplying controversies, creating insoluble labyrinths for the minds of men."
The solution is not to sit back and take the contention to this or that group, but to take everything and everybody into account, starting with myself and what I know. Is my knowledge based in reason, or blind tradition and other borrowings? If it fails the test then take it off the agenda and start with what will help the world in its dire crises.
"From now onwards everyone should see that his knowledge consists only of what he can prove, and furthermore that deeds follow knowledge as closely as knowledge follows proof. Gods who have not made heaven and earth must perish. Knowledge which does not produce deeds must perish. The same applies to Faith which does not operate through acts of charity, and to a Political System which fails to maintain human affairs in peace."
Mark Taylor, in the article mentioned at the start of this essay, cites Immanuel Kant, who, "in his 1798 work `The Conflict of the Faculties,' wrote that universities should `handle the entire content of learning by mass production, so to speak, by a division of labor, so that for every branch of the sciences there would be a public teacher or professor appointed as its trustee.'"
It is indeed ironic that this concept of trusteeship is what Baha'u'llah also put forward in His Tablets to the Kings, and which Comenius also advocated, as we shall see tomorrow when we move on to Plan B, the positive aspect of Comenius's plan to save the world.
I tried Canadians, and it was complementary, then I tried why are Baha'is so... and there was nothing at all. Why are Christians so... and Muslims, and atheists were not complementary at all.
Any further suggestions?
I tried out, "Why is John Taylor so...? and got nothing. It must mean either that I am a Baha'i, or just off the radar.
Monday, April 27, 2009
"How do you price the extra tonne of carbon that, once burned, tips the balance
and triggers potentially catastrophic, irreversible global warming?"
All submissions must be under 1,000 words, submitted electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com and be received by June 30th.
The winner will receive a copy of Andrew Simms' book, Ecological Debt: Global Warming and the Wealth of Nations, and will be considered for publication in the Ecologist.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Saturday, April 25, 2009
JET: This argues that God should not send us religious messages but scientific ones. As a former atheist, I would argue that this is scientism, a confused attempt to make science into a religion.
Religion addresses questions that science has nothing to do with, such as, how do I prepare for the next life? This preparation involves things that have nothing to do with science, such as loving others, showing virtues like humility and compassion.
That is why I think this video, mocking as it is, is one that many shallow believers would benefit from watching. We have to ask why God did what He did when He sent His Representative to suffer and be killed. Otherwise, as they suggest here, he might as well have sent us some facts and figures that would have benefitted us physically, rather than spiritually.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Three Mottos for a Comedy of the Commons
By John Taylor; 2009 April 24, Jalal 15, 166 BE
Baha'is are familiar with the comparison that Abdu'l-Baha made of science and religion with the two wings of a bird. If science and religion are the wings to the body politic, then politics is the body of the bird. The body controls each wing and it also has the eyes and brain that lead its flight. Comenius suggested brief mottos for the individual and the family, as well as each founding institution of world order, symbolized by the body and its two wings. Each motto defines in a few words its role and mission in the world.
Science and Education: "Light in Things"
Politics: "Peace on Earth"
Interfaith Religion: "Peace of Conscience"
Our educational system permanently skews our thinking about the world and how to change it. The ideas of John Amos Comenius are a healthy corrective to that bias.
Right now in Ontario there is a public and a Catholic school board, both of which receive public funding, along with a private school system that takes in all the rest, including at least one Baha'i school, the Nancy Campbell Institute. The Catholic system gets public monies because, the argument goes, almost half of Ontarians are in or related to someone in the Catholic Church. Other parochial schools are funded exclusively by parents, and they can teach whatever faith is acceptable to them, within certain limits. In schools run by the Catholic school board, religion, including world religion courses, is actively taught. Unfortunately, public schools, funded by everybody, can barely mention God, religion or even philosophy because of the protests of parents. As a teacher recently explained it to me,
"We would like to teach philosophy and religion earlier, but how would you like it if your son in Grade Four was exposed to various beliefs and decided to become a Scientologist or a Moonie?"
I am perhaps a bad person to ask because of the liberal, universalist leanings of the Baha'i Faith. But even I had to pause and think about that for an uncomfortably long time. Certainly I would like to have a shot at influencing my children undistracted for at least a few of their early years. On the other hand, I would like to see them exposed to as broad a spectrum of thought and opinion as possible, as early as possible.
Comenius envisioned the public sphere in a much healthier, more integrated way than our fractured congeries of contradictions. As we saw in yesterday's essay, public affairs in a Comenian system would be in the hands of three permanent institutions concerned with the three main spheres of human endeavour, philosophy (including science and education), politics and religion.
These, he held, should be consecrated as firm common ground on which everybody stands. In other words, there is a part of philosophy, politics and religion that is sacrosanct, that every citizen has a stake in, and which we all have a duty to support without qualification or reservation. Although there may and indeed should be a variety of schools of thought in philosophy, a broad choice of political leanings and many kinds of religious bias, these should be kept outside a strong fence protecting a calm, sacred commons. Outside the pale, particularities may compete and disagree but dispute and contradiction cannot be allowed inside.
Comenius did not think that this would come about spontaneously or by magic but rather through the power of education. Our entire schooling, the press and everything in the public sphere must be designed to give as firm a grounding in the essentials of science, politics and faith as possible. Today we might call the tranquility inside the fence the science, politics and faith of supermen. However, for Comenius it was simply the way that saints consult with the world, with one another and with their God.
"The Philosophy of Saints is simply a conversation between Man and his soul or God's Creatures or His Oracles. The Politics of Saints is simply an amalgam of all human societies, a mutual conversation among men and a policy of service. The Religion of Saints is simply continuous walking with God, conversation with God, and working with God." (Panorthosia, Ch. 13, para 12, p. 205)
These ongoing conversations would be mediated and regularized by three institutions whose center is integrated in the world government and with branches in every nation, region, province and neighbourhood. As we saw in an essay series on the family last fall, Comenius even envisioned a miniature school, a governing council and a church to be held regularly in a common room located in the typical family household. These functions would be essential utilities to the minds and spirits within, just as electricity and heat to the bodies being housed.
Needless to say, in order for philosophy, politics and religion to be this universally applied, major adaptations would have to be made in the content each. The status quo or business-as-usual are out of the question. Universality in essentials is the order of the day.
"This will come to pass if philosophy submits all things to the human intellect, and politics commits human power itself to human prudence, and religion truly refers all men and all things to God. To achieve this, Philosophy must be a true mirror of God's wisdom, which contemplates all things; Politics must be a living example of the power of God, which manages all things rightly; and Religion must sweetly dispense the goodness of God, which spreads through all things." (Panorthosia II, Ch. 10, para 38, pp. 167-168)
Having said that, Comenius goes on to propose three mottos for the three fenced off areas, the sacred commons devoted to the good of all. For the institution dedicated to science and education, the motto is "Light in things," emphasizing its primal duty to enlighten, inspire and edify everyone.
"Perfect Philosophy will take the form of universal agreement and harmony between Art and Nature, and its end will be LIGHT IN THINGS, and an abundance of them." (Ch. 10, para 38, pp. 167-168)
On the door of larger, dedicated institutions of learning the motto "Light in Things" would perhaps be placed above the front portal. In a multitasking family common room of the future I imagine when the family school or laboratory goes into session a flashing sign saying "Light in Things" turning on while on the walls are projected a picture of a mixed native plant and classical garden, perhaps interspersed with buildings to reflect the theme of "art in nature." In a Baha'i home the obvious choice of decor would be a panorama of the Arc on Mount Carmel.
When discussion turns to a formal consultation, the sign would change to "Peace on Earth."
"The test of perfect Politics will be the restoration of human prudence to the certainty of the mechanical arts, and its end will be PEACE ON EARTH, and a quiet life."
If these three words were emblazoned over the door of every political institution and flashed on the table of every meeting, it is unlikely that old, disputatious ways would ever encroach the sanctity of the public sphere. As Comenius says, the laws of peace, well understood, would be as dependable as the mechanical laws that assure that when you press the "on" button a machine will start working. The final motto is for the one area that has been so disputatious that it is all but expelled from the public realm in advanced countries, that is, religion.
"The seal of perfect Religion will be full agreement between the human will and the Will of God, and its end will be PEACE OF CONSCIENCE, that passeth all understanding, which would be heaven on earth."
Currently believers have little training in avoiding fanaticism and in keeping parochial elements and particularistic beliefs out of public fora. At the same time agitation by their secular counterparts, atheists and anti-theists, keeps God out of the common conversation completely. It takes a genius like Comenius to think of a motto acceptable to every stripe of reasoned opinion, Peace of Conscience. Even humanists and other non-believers cannot object to peace or conscience, which would allow them to participate fully and without compromise in the interfaith activities of the third universal institution.
The fact that a relatively small body of specific knowledge is allowed into this commons is not necessarily a disadvantage for Comenius, since he considered simplicity to be at the heart of religion.
"The heart of Philosophy will be wisdom, of Religion, simplicity, and of Politics, vigilance." (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 13, para 12, p. 205)
Whereas simplicity is the essence of religion, clarity is a general criterion for keeping all three specialties pure and healthy.
As already mentioned, Comenius in his plan for a world government invoked Descartes' method of approaching a difficult problem systematically; that is, in sorting out what countries a world government should deal with first, "the rules of method dictate that we must proceed from the easier to the more difficult." (Panorthosia, Ch. 25, para 10, p. 149) That is, the then undeveloped continents of Africa and America had best be left for later.
Similarly, Comenius proposed that those who guard the gates of the fence around the public commons imitate the law of ancient Rome. Roman judges would refuse a case if a judgement was not clear enough, declaring it "Non Liquit." In a footnote Dobbie cites Bacon in Advancement of Learning II, 8, 5, who wrote: `These doubts, or non liquets, are of two sorts, particular and total.' When a gatekeeper (and everybody who walks in is a gatekeeper) keeps out an unclear idea or doctrine from public discussion he or she is applying the virtue of modesty or prudence.
"... since it goes without saying that anyone with a modest opinion of himself has a fair opinion of all his neighbours and does not wish to appear to understand everything, the Romans at least had a solemn formula in their law-courts, when the issue tended to be obscure, i.e. 'It is not clear, I defer sentence,' and I see no reason why we should all be ashamed to copy this modesty. Each of us is equally a human being, and a man cannot perceive everything; he was made in the image of God, yet he is not God. Therefore whenever obscurities arise which we cannot quite grasp or see through (the sort of things on which disagreement usually occurs) it is useful and quite honourable to have recourse to the verdict 'IT IS NOT CLEAR' as a shield of modesty and a confession of ignorance. For it is fair to grasp the truth where it is revealed, but to worship and admire it where it is unrevealed." (Comenius, Panorthosia II, Ch. 8, para 19, p. 116)
Thursday, April 23, 2009
The beloved Guardian reminds us of the imperative need to establish a
culture of devotionals that ultimately transforms the collective life
“The flourishing of the community involves the collective worship of
God ... Indeed, the chief reason for the evils now rampant in society is
a lack of spirituality. It is this condition, so sadly morbid, into
which society has fallen, that religion seeks to improve and
“For the core of religious faith is that mystic feeling
that unites man with God. This state of spiritual communion can be
brought about and maintained by means of meditation and prayer. And
this is the reason why Bahá'u'lláh has so much stressed the importance
of worship” (Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p. 86)
Note on the UHJ Ridvan Message for 166 BE, 2009, CE
You can read the latest Ridvan Message at:
And you can see reaction shots to the first reading of the message at:
For those readers who are not familiar with this institution, you can read more on what the Universal House of Justice is at:
The passage that struck me was the following:
“What an extraordinary contrast did its coherence and energy
provide to the bewilderment and confusion of a world caught in a spiral of crisis! This, indeed, was the community of the blissful to which the Guardian had referred.” From the 166, B.E. UHJ Ridvan Message
This is a possible reference to:
“For upon our present-day efforts, and above all upon the extent to which we strive to remodel our lives after the pattern of sublime heroism associated with those gone before us, must depend the efficacy of the instruments we now fashion -- instruments that must erect the structure of that blissful Commonwealth which must signalize the Golden Age of our Faith.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 98)
“My chief concern is not with the happenings that have distinguished the First, the Apostolic Age of the Bahá'í Dispensation, but rather with the outstanding events that are transpiring in, and the tendencies which characterize, the formative period of its development, this Age of Transition, whose tribulations are the precursors of that Era of blissful felicity which is to incarnate God's ultimate purpose for all mankind.” (Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, p. 171)
Or, perhaps most likely, this (note the reference to "world polity"):
"The civilization," writes Bahá'u'lláh, "so often vaunted by the learned exponents of arts and sciences will, if allowed to overleap the bounds of moderation, bring great evil upon men... If carried to excess, civilization will prove as prolific a source of evil as it had been of goodness when kept within the restraints of moderation... The day is approaching when its flame will devour the cities, when the Tongue of Grandeur will proclaim: 'The Kingdom is God's, the Almighty, the All-Praised!'"
"From the moment the Suriy-i-Ra'is (Tablet to Ra'is) was revealed," He further explains, "until the present day, neither hath the world been tranquillized, nor have the hearts of its peoples been at rest... Its sickness is approaching the stage of utter hopelessness, inasmuch as the true Physician is debarred from administering the remedy, whilst unskilled practitioners are regarded with favor, and are accorded full freedom to act. The dust of sedition hath clouded the hearts of men, and blinded their eyes. Erelong they will perceive the consequences of what their hands have wrought in the Day of God."
"This is the Day," He again has written, "whereon the earth shall tell out her tidings. The workers of iniquity are her burdens... The Crier hath cried out, and men have been torn away, so great hath been the fury of His wrath. The people of the left hand sigh and bemoan. The people of the right abide in noble habitations: they quaff the Wine that is life indeed from the hands of the All-Merciful, and are, verily, the blissful."
“Who else can be the blissful if not the community of the Most Great Name, whose world-embracing, continually consolidating activities constitute the one integrating process in a world whose institutions, secular as well as religious, are for the most part dissolving?
They indeed are "the people of the right," whose "noble habitation" is fixed on the foundations of the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh -- the Ark of everlasting salvation in this most grievous Day. Of all the kindreds of the earth they alone can recognize, amidst the welter of a tempestuous age, the Hand of the Divine Redeemer that traces its course and controls its destinies.
They alone are aware of the silent growth of that orderly world polity whose fabric they themselves are weaving.
(Shoghi Effendi, The World Order of Baha'u'llah, pp. 193-194)