The Carrot, the Stick, the Maiden, and the Fire...

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The Carrot, the Stick, the Maiden, and the Fire...

Postby brettz9 » Sat Oct 27, 2007 4:58 pm

Hello all,

I've wanted to put together some article on the significance of Reward and Punishment in the Baha'i Faith, but as I'm not able to have the time or energy now to synthesize it all harmoniously, and as I'd like the process to be more interactive if possible, I thought I'd share it in this forum. I intend to begin with a general discussion and then highlight how it applies to specific issues.

One of my strongest perceptions about Baha'i communities everywhere is that while communities and individuals rightly put the focus of seeking spiritual, moral and social development for the sake of God and not for any reward or punishment, there is also not sufficient appreciation of the absolutely vital role of reward and punishment--including the anticipation of future spiritual ones--for the individual and society and in a vast range of areas, as spelled out in the Baha'i Writings.

I believe strongly (and wish to convey and discuss this understanding) that failing to appreciate these "twin pillars" and "sources of life to the world" could limit both our ability to teach the Bahai' Faith and to implement the moral and social reformation amidst Baha'is and the wider public, which it is the purpose of the Baha'i Revelation to bring.

You may have already encountered such passages as this one:

"O people of God! That which traineth the world is Justice, for it is upheld by two pillars, reward and punishment. These two pillars are the sources of life to the world."

(Tablet of Ishraqat, at ... ml#ishraq8 )

But if you are like many Baha'is, you might be inclined to reserve the application of this to areas such as the need to punish criminals or pay salaries according to merit, etc.

Yet 'Abdu'l-Baha states "Now punishments and rewards are said to be of two kinds: first, the rewards and punishments of this life; second, those of the other world." (Some Answered Questions, Chapter 60).

He also confirms that punishments (and presumably rewards by extension) are not limited to the act itself (i.e., as other passages also show, there is also a role for this more down-to-earth kind):
"Know that there are two kinds of torment: subtile and gross. For example, ignorance itself is a torment, but it is a subtile torment; indifference to God is itself a torment; so also are falsehood, cruelty and treachery. All the imperfections are torments, but they are subtile torments. ... The other kind of torment is gross--such as penalties, imprisonment, beating, expulsion and banishment." (ibid, Chapter 75)

While the emphasis in the Baha'i Writings is clearly on the significance of the virtue itself ("for the people of God separation from God is the greatest torment of all" (ibid)), this does not neglect the importance of the more material form, even when applied to spiritual matters:

"You ask him about the fear of God: perhaps the friends do not realize that the majority of human beings need the element of fear in order to discipline their conduct? Only a relatively very highly evolved soul would always be disciplined by love alone. Fear of punishment, fear of the anger of God if we do evil, are needed to keep people's feet on the right path. Of course we should love God--but we must fear Him in the sense of a child fearing the righteous anger and chastisement of a parent; not cringe before Him as before a tyrant, but know His mercy exceeds His Justice!"

(From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, July 26, 1946: Bahá'í Education, A Compilation, compiled by the Universal House of Justice)

After reading this, some of us--who might be apologetic for and hesitant to adopt the implied need for a more traditionally "religious" perspective--might try to explain away "fear of God" to mean respect or something like that. However, if the above passage was not itself quite clear, in reading the following passage, there is no such escape available to us:

"You have asked the exact meaning of the term 'Fear of God' mentioned in Bahá'í Sacred Writings: It often means awe, but has also other connotations such as reverence, terror and fear."

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, November 13, 1940)

Of course, such Writings do also state such things as the following:

"Of course we should love God--but we must fear Him in the sense of a child fearing the righteous anger and chastisement of a parent; not cringe before Him as before a tyrant, but know His mercy exceeds His Justice!"

(From a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual believer, July 26, 1946: Bahá'í Education, A Compilation, compiled by the Universal House of Justice)

Yet again, lest we lose sight of something important and powerful, we ought to duly weigh the fact that the numerous admonitions in the Writings do refer also to "terror and fear".

Again, Baha'u'llah does mention that we ought to train children in these concepts "in such a measure that it may not injure the children by resulting in ignorant fanaticism and bigotry". So, the danger for extremes is recognized and to be avoided (I heard of one preacher who scared a child into thinking the devil was going to grab his legs as he was sleeping), yet, in light of the fact that the above does mean that the fear of God ought to include "terror and fear" as well as connotations of reverence, etc., when looking at the full passage, we can also appreciate the importance of training even our own children in real terms of reward and punishment:

"Schools must first train the children in the principles of religion, so that the Promise and the Threat recorded in the Books of God may prevent them from the things forbidden and adorn them with the mantle of the commandments; but this in such a measure that it may not injure the children by resulting in ignorant fanaticism and bigotry."

(Baha'u'llah, Kalimat-i-Firdawsiyyih, ... tb.html#68 )

I draw attention to this other side of the coin, because, while it may be common in some circles (such as perhaps Christian fundamentalist circles) to overemphasize the other aspect, in most Baha'i circles I have seen, the tendency is to ignore the other side. In doing so, this also has the affect os separating us from appreciating the truth expressed in the more "religious" point of view.

In fact, 'Abdu'l-Baha even had praise for the beneficial effects such a sense of reward and punishment brought to Christians (cf. also perhaps to the sociologist Max Weber's points about the influence of the Protestant work ethic on the development of society):

Galen, the physician, in his book...says that the fundamental principles of religion have a great influence upon a perfect civilization because "the multitude cannot understand the connection of explanatory words; so it has need of symbolical words announcing the rewards and punishments of the other world; and that which proves the truth of this affirmation," he says, "is that today we see a people called Christians who believe in rewards and punishments; and this sect show forth beautiful actions like those which a true philosopher performs. So we all see clearly that they do not fear death, that they expect and desire nothing from the multitude but justice and equity, and they are considered as true philosophers."

('Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, Chapter 84)

Now, yes, the Bab did state such as this:

WORSHIP thou God in such wise that if thy worship lead thee to the fire, no alteration in thine adoration would be produced, and so likewise if thy recompense should be paradise. Thus and thus alone should be the worship which befitteth the one True God. Shouldst thou worship Him because of fear, this would be unseemly in the sanctified Court of His presence, and could not be regarded as an act by thee dedicated to the Oneness of His Being. Or if thy gaze should be on paradise, and thou shouldst worship Him while cherishing such a hope, thou wouldst make God's creation a partner with Him, notwithstanding the fact that paradise is desired by men.

Fire and paradise both bow down and prostrate themselves before God. That which is worthy of His Essence is to worship Him for His sake, without fear of fire, or hope of paradise.

Although when true worship is offered, the worshipper is delivered from the fire, and entereth the paradise of God's good-pleasure, yet such should not be the motive of his act. However, God's favour and grace ever flow in accordance with the exigencies of His inscrutable wisdom.

Selections from the Writings of the Bab, VII, 19.

But as the Writings always contain a harmony, this must be understood in the context of an ideal. Otherwise, how could the threat of the fear of God play a role as Shoghi Effendi describes?

This ideal expressed by the Bab is a wonderful standard for all of us to strive for, as He indicates we ought. However, it is not intended, nor suitable as, an exclusive prescription for society, or even ourselves as individuals, given especially the attention paid by Baha'u'llah, 'Abdu'l-Baha and Shoghi Effendi of the more selfish kinds of rewards and punishments having in fact some role in society. Do you consider yourself to be one of the "relatively very highly evolved" souls who "would always be disciplined by love alone"? Do you find that you are never motivated by the threat of a deadline, the fear of disapproval, or by the potential for praise or for a pay raise? Let us remember that the true believer is as rare as the "philosopher's stone":

"A true believer is likened unto the philosopher's stone." Addressing subsequently his listener, he saith: "Hast thou ever seen the philosopher's stone?" Reflect, how this symbolic language, more eloquent than any speech, however direct, testifieth to the non-existence of a true believer.

(Baha'u'llah, citing the Imam Sadiq, ... an/79.html )

So while, Baha'u'llah marvelously explains the speech of the Qur'an concerning such symbols as the Maiden or the Fire in a figurative sense, and urges us to discover these inner meanings, does that mean that we ought to deprive society and ourselves of the deep psychological motivation for good that these tools can provide, as we may from time to time require?

"The other statement reported to have been made by Dr. Einstein to the effect that the ethical behavior of man 'requires no support from religion' is incompatible with the Bahá'í viewpoint which emphatically stresses the fact that no sound ethics can exist and become effective unless based on revealed religion. To dissociate ethics from religion is to render the former not only void of any firm foundation but without the necessary driving power."

(From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, December 6, 1939, in Lights of Guidance, no. 1703)

"Exponents of the world's various theological systems bear a heavy responsibility not only for the disrepute into which faith itself has fallen among many progressive thinkers, but for the inhibitions and distortions produced in humanity's continuing discourse on spiritual meaning. To conclude, however, that the answer lies in discouraging the investigation of spiritual reality and ignoring the deepest roots of human motivation is a self-evident delusion."

(Prosperity of Humankind, at ... nkind.html )

The concept of promoting specific morals or values may be controversial, especially in this age of humanistic relativism. Nevertheless, we firmly believe there exists a common set of values that have been obscured from recognition by those who exaggerate minor differences in religious or cultural practice for political purposes.... We also believe the campaign will be successful only to the extent that the force of religion is relied upon in the effort. The doctrine of the separation of church and state should not be used as a shield to block this salutary influence.

(Turning Point for All Nations, ... point.html )

Just as campaigns like "Just say no" are quite inadequate to serve as sufficient moral protection, and just as whole movements such as Marxism have shown inadequate to encourage good just by the act of encouraging, how can we expect any better success (besides on a limited scale and to a limited degree) by only telling people to do good because we should do good in the context of our barely emergent Faith?

We can already sadly see the ability for this power of motivation--quite tangibly though admittedly not exclusively within reward and punishment--to be exploited for evil, among suicide bombers, for example, but why do we, in down-playing the reality of reward and punishment (such as many of us do in down-playing the significance of Hell in the Baha'i Faith), obstruct these motivators of reward and punishment from being exploited for good?:

"It is true that there are foolish individuals who have never properly examined the fundamentals of the Divine religions, who have taken as their criterion the behavior of a few religious hypocrites and measured all religious persons by that yardstick, and have on this account concluded that religions are an obstacle to progress, a divisive factor and a cause of malevolence and enmity among peoples. They have not even observed this much, that the principles of the Divine religions can hardly be evaluated by the acts of those who only claim to follow them. For every excellent thing, peerless though it may be, can still be diverted to the wrong ends. A lighted lamp in the hands of an ignorant child or of the blind will not dispel the surrounding darkness nor light up the house--it will set both the bearer and the house on fire. Can we, in such an instance, blame the lamp?"

('Abdu'l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, ... on.html#72 )

In future posts, I aim to draw attention to the as-yet-unrealized role of reward and punishment in the business world,
in eliminating the extremes of wealth and poverty, in preventing government corruption, in curbing murder, sexual immorality,
etc., connections between which we can find specifically elaborated upon in the Baha'i Writings. I also believe and hope we can discuss our sometimes emasculation of certain other motivations such as praise, ambition, anger, recognition... which can all also be used for good. Feel free to chime in....

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Postby British_Bahai » Sat Oct 27, 2007 7:11 pm

Wow, you should write a book - I learnt a lot from just reading this.

Good stuff, keep it up.

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Postby brettz9 » Sun Oct 28, 2007 1:52 pm

Glad to hear it, British Baha'i.

I usually prefer to respond to immediate questions of others or prepare study guides to facilitate study of the Writings rather than just talk about my own opinions, so I'm not sure whether I'd be fully inclined to persist through to write a book, but this is one topic where I think the material easily could expand into a book. Anyhow, thanks for planting that seed. :)

warmest regards,

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Postby BruceDLimber » Mon Oct 29, 2007 7:16 am


You've already made a good start!

I would suggest two additions:

- Prefix the first quote (about the two pillars of justice) with the Hidden Word stating justice is the best-beloved thing in God's sight, and

- Add the passage about the worst torment being non knowing where to turn for spiritual guidance.

Best regards, :-)


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Postby brettz9 » Thu Nov 01, 2007 1:08 am

Hello Bruce and all,

Thanks, those are good suggestions... I think the first one will fit at the least...

best wishes,

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Re: The Carrot, the Stick, the Maiden, and the Fire...

Postby brettz9 » Fri Jan 15, 2010 2:49 pm

Hello all,

I happen to be planning a program touching on reward and punishment and thought it would be an opportune time to also share some quotations in this thread as I suggested earlier. I think the sad occasion of the earthquake in Haiti may also poignantly drive home the necessity of the theme I wanted to develop here, in furthering the discussion of the great role reward and punishment are to play, in their proper place, in the Faith of Baha'u'llah. If you are unclear on the necessity of these "two pillars" which uphold Justice (Tablets, p. 129), I recommend your taking a look at my first post in this thread, particularly its authoritative quotations.

In the Most Holy Book of the Baha'i Faith, there is this paragraph:

"Should anyone acquire one hundred mithqáls of gold, nineteen mithqáls thereof are God's and to be rendered unto Him, the Fashioner of earth and heaven. Take heed, O people, lest ye deprive yourselves of so great a bounty. This We have commanded you, though We are well able to dispense with you and with all who are in the heavens and on earth; in it there are benefits and wisdoms beyond the ken of anyone but God, the Omniscient, the All-Informed. Say: By this means He hath desired to purify what ye possess and to enable you to draw nigh unto such stations as none can comprehend save those whom God hath willed. He, in truth, is the Beneficent, the Gracious, the Bountiful. O people! Deal not faithlessly with the Right of God, nor, without His leave, make free with its disposal. Thus hath His commandment been established in the holy Tablets, and in this exalted Book. He who dealeth faithlessly with God shall in justice meet with faithlessness himself; he, however, who acteth in accordance with God's bidding shall receive a blessing from the heaven of the bounty of his Lord, the Gracious, the Bestower, the Generous, the Ancient of Days. He, verily, hath willed for you that which is yet beyond your knowledge, but which shall be known to you when, after this fleeting life, your souls soar heavenwards and the trappings of your earthly joys are folded up. Thus admonisheth you He in Whose possession is the Guarded Tablet."

(Bahá'u'lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, par. 97)

For further background on this passage, see Note 125.

Although other Baha'i Writings (as in prior Scriptures) associate a reward or punishment with certain actions (specific or general), this seems to be one of the more explicit connections and drawn to both in even the same context.

And there is also this emphatic promise (of a potential for a perpetual reward):

"Huqúqu'lláh is indeed a great law. It is incumbent upon all to make this offering, because it is the source of grace, abundance, and of all good. It is a bounty which shall remain with every soul in every world of the worlds of God, the All-Possessing, the All-Bountiful."

(Bahá'u'lláh, from a previously untranslated Tablet, compilation on Huququ'llah, no. 7)

Again, as with the disclaimers about reward and punishment that I made earlier, although I'm drawing your attention for the purposes of addressing a theme which is, to my mind, still underemphasized at present in the Baha'i community, it should also not be overemphasized.

One disclaimer (in addition to those I made in my first post) is that even while we do believe there is a very real condition of regret or joy we will face in the next world, these are also used symbolically to references in this world, giving the terms a richer, deeper meaning:

"But the paradise and hell of existence are found in all the worlds of God, whether in this world or in the spiritual heavenly worlds. Gaining these rewards is the gaining of eternal life."

('Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 223)

Also, quite importantly, the passages above themselves indicate that God is "well able to dispense with...all who are in the heavens and on earth", implying it would seem to me to avoid any kind of forcefulness in the application of this law. Baha'i communities and representatives of the Huququ'llah are told, by our authoritative Writings only to educate the community in general about the law, and not to approach anyone individually for it:

"...demanding or soliciting the Huqúqu'lláh is prohibited, only appeals, reminders and exhortations of a general nature, under the auspices of the institutions of the Faith, are permissible"

(On behalf of the Universal House of Justice, A Wider Horizon, p. 173)

So there is not even the discomfort of someone passing the hat to you. It is completely voluntary, yet it is spiritually obligatory.

We might look at our consciously submitting to such a fear of punishment (or promise of reward), as any self-developed individual might: we use motivation not to extremes but to our advantage, whether it may be setting an alarm clock that will startle us sufficiently (in truly knowing ourselves, we realize we need some element of fear to get out of our slumber perhaps), or we may offer ourselves incentives if we meet certain goals.

There is nothing in following in a system of rewards and punishments (as we submit to all of the time in the material world, whether through fear of losing our jobs, being put in prison, or the promise of high pay, reciprocity in love, etc.) which implies we must be, or are, somehow petty in tapping into these motivations (at least to a degree of healthy moderation).

As both the failure of economic communism proved, and similarly, the demonstrable failures of an unregulated capitalist system which besides sometimes failing in adequate enforcement (itself a result of a lack of spiritual motivation), does not share this motivational factor of profits among all of its employees nor is it sufficient to even eliminate the persistent and even growing extremes of wealth and poverty. So if people are tempted to scoff at you for suggesting that our considering fear of spiritual rewards and punishments is petty (and even our Writings might be seen as agreeing), we might ask ourselves whether a lack of such motivation has been sufficient to fix the problem (and of course ask ourselves whether we have taken this law adequately to heart, since action is really what people need to see).

Of course, 'Abdu'l-Baha knew this even back then:

Likewise with regard to the party of `equality' which seeks the solution of the economic problems: until now all proposed solutions have proved impracticable except the economic proposals in the teachings of Bahá'u'lláh which are practicable and cause no distress to society.

So with the other parties...

(Selections from the Writings of 'Abdu'l-Baha, section 227)

Isn't it interesting that the solution of Huququ'llah, which though not meant to replace some good measure of progressive and forced taxation, as already practiced by many governments in the world and also endorsed by Baha'u'llah (see ... nd_poverty and ), is part of this spiritual solution to economic problems that we hear about frequently in Baha'i teaching materials, but perhaps were not able to ascertain what a "spiritual" solution refers to?

That the observance and enforcement of this law [of Huqúqu'lláh], so crucial to the material well-being of the emerging Bahá'í commonwealth, should thus have been left entirely to the faith and conscience of the individual, gives substance to and sheds light on what the beloved Master calls the spiritual solution to economic problems. Indeed, the implications of the law of Huqúqu'lláh for the realization of a number of the principles of the Faith, such as the elimination of extremes of wealth and poverty, and a more equitable distribution of resources, will increasingly become manifest as the friends assume in ever greater measure the responsibility for observing it.

(On behalf of the Universal House of Justice, A Wider Horizon, p. 173)

Notice the centrality of the principle of Huququ'llah I believe is transparently being referenced in the following paragraphs in describing what to do about the economic problem (note that it speaks of being "binding upon all" yet in this case "not forced nor obliged by the government" and given "voluntarily")

"Is it possible that, seeing one of his fellow-creatures starving, destitute of everything, a man can rest and live comfortably in his luxurious mansion? He who meets another in the greatest misery, can he enjoy his fortune? That is why, in the Religion of God, it is prescribed and established that wealthy men each year give over a certain part of their fortune for the maintenance of the poor and unfortunate. That is the foundation of the Religion of God and is binding upon all."

"And as man in this way is not forced nor obliged by the government, but is by the natural tendency of his good heart voluntarily and radiantly showing benevolence toward the poor, such a deed is much praised, approved and pleasing."

"Such is the meaning of the good works in the Divine Books and Tablets."

('Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, at ... l.html#277 )

Of course, the above passage too indicates that this should come out of a "natural tendency" of a "good heart". It is not just a mechanistic calculation in favor of getting a future reward. But for those of you who are fans of Star Wars (like me), you may remember when Luke tried to induce Han Solo to join him, and when he mentioned he was more rich than he could possibly imagine, he quipped that he could imagine quite a bit! Although of course fictional, this character makes us laugh I think, because, if we are honest with ourselves, we all find some extra motivation by the promise of reward. Of course, we don't like to admit it, perhaps, but it is true. Don't most people care about their salaries?

If we find ourselves spiritually compelled by a law of God to contribute 19% of our extra wealth (beyond necessities), we may end up solving the extremes of wealth and poverty faster than we think possible. But we have to be willing to confront ourselves with this duty first, and also, for most of us, contemplate the incentives associated with it in order to give us an extra kick toward following it as we might otherwise lapse into lazy inaction (and perpetuate extreme poverty and wealth--both of which are burdens and to be eliminated according to our Writings).

And the "two pillars, reward and punishment" have a role here with extremes of wealth and poverty, not only about the promise of due compensation in the next world (what 'Abdu'l-Baha in Some Answered Questions, terms the "spiritual punishments and rewards of the other world" (p. 282) or "of the other world" (p. 223), but also in those he says are of "this life".

One of these items was already mentioned, a progressive taxation:

The income tax, according to the Bahá'í teachings, mounts at quite a steep rate so that great sums of money would be very heavily taxed. But the individual is free to make his will as he pleases. What he has laboured for he has the right to dispose of. The greater the sum inherited, the higher the tax will be.

(On behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 11 February 1944, at ... cs.html#31 )

In other words, the fear of punishment (being imprisoned by the state for tax evasion) has a role here.

While it is clear this has a role, 'Abdu'l-Baha clearly did not favor an excessive focus on the threat of such punishments (see, e.g., pp. 271-272 of Some Answered Questions). Since we have already covered spiritual rewards and punishments as applied to economics, and now reiterated the material punishment, what about material rewards?

That too is a strong piece of the puzzle:

...laws and regulations should be established which would permit the workmen to receive from the factory owner their wages and a share in the fourth or the fifth part of the profits, according to the capacity of the factory; or in some other way the body of workmen and the manufacturers should share equitably the profits and advantages.

('Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 274)

"Profit sharing is recommended as a solution to one form of economic problems. There is nothing in the teachings against some kind of capitalism; its present form, though, would require adjustments to be made."

(Directives from the Guaridan, p. 20)

(See for more quotations on this topic.)

Note that although this uses positive incentives for the workers (though not complete redistribution of wealth), 'Abdu'l-Baha here is also apparently talking about binding legislation to do so (a potential threat of punishment of companies that do not offer this to their workers, but in the owner's interests as well: "the employee may strive with his soul in the work" (Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, p. 146)).

So, basically, I think we can see in the above, an interesting use of terms we might call the Carrot (material reward), the Stick (material punishment), the Maiden (spiritual reward), and the Fire (spiritual punishment).

best wishes,

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