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>>   Essays and poetry by Ron Price
Abstract:
The building of the structure of this new world Faith was at the core of Bahai programs & policies,goals & game-plans, so to speak, from 1921 to 1996, a period of 75 years, as well as in the last decades of the 19th century,& the opening years of the 20th
Notes:
Part 1:

This book, of which this document at BLO is Part A, is 700 pages(font 16), 570 pages(font 14), and 250 thousand words. It 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 some 200 countries and territories, as well as an estimated 150 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 with a century of several critical precursors going back to the middle of the 18th century. This new Baha'i culture or paradigm, though, has just stuck its head above the ground, so to speak. This new culture of learning and growth will be developing in the decades ahead, arguably, 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, a community I have now been associated with for more than 60 years: 1953 to 2014.

Part 2:

Comparisons and contrasts are made to several previous paradigm shifts in the Baha'i community, as well as the Babi community, the major precursor community from which the Baha'i Faith emerged by degrees from the 1850s to the 1860s. Thoughts on future developments within this paradigm, and future paradigms, are suggested. In the first eight years, 2007 to 2014, of the presence on the internet of this commentary, this book, 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 and its 5 to 8 million adherents since 1996.

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 20 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.

This book has also been written for what has come to be recognized as a large and intrepid band of early Bahá’í men and women who blazed a trail for those of us who have followed, and the ever-growing, ever-evolving global Bahá’í community that they helped to “birth.”

I am also grateful to have been in the warm embrace of many Baha'i communities over my more than 60 years of association with this newest, this latest, of the Abrahamic religions. 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 learning and personal growth.

Part 3:

This book is the longest analysis and commentary on this new Baha'i paradigm that is currently available in the Bahai community, although several other books, which deal with this new Baha'i culture to some extent, have appeared since this book was first launched in cyberspace in 2007. 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 a 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 Baha'i Formative Age comes to an end in 2021, and as the years beyond in this third millennium continue to challenge all of humanity in ways we can, at this point, only dimly imagine.


Reflections on a Culture of Learning and Growth: Community and Individual Paradigm Shifts: Part A:
A Contemporary, Historical, Futuristic and Personal Context

by Ron Price

2008
PREAMBLE #1:

Section 1:

This book is 700 pages(font 16 and 570 pages font 14)in length and 250 thousand words. It is divided into two Parts: Part A which is this document at Bahá'í Library Online(BLO), and Part B which is also at BLO and can easily be accessed by interested readers. It was necessary to divide the book into two Parts after some 15 years in the development of the new Bahá'í paradigm as continuing elucidations and commentaries on its structure and function, an ongoing exegisis, became part of an extensive literature. This division into Parts A and B was also due to the limitations in the size that is allowed for each document at BLO. The book contains reflections and understandings regarding a new Bahá'í culture of learning and growth, what amounts to a paradigmatic shift, in the Baha’i community. It has been going through this shift 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 also be developing and refining, expanding and consolidating,in the decades ahead, arguably at least until 2044, the end of the second century of the Bahá'í Era(1844 to 2044), and perhaps beyond into what will be the third century, 2044 to 2144. Time will tell when the next paradigmatic shift will take place in the international Bahá'í community, the second most wide-spread religion on the planet according to several sources.

Comparisons and contrasts are made to several previous paradigm shifts in the Bahá'í community, as well as shifts in the nature and definition, the teachings and expression, which the Babi community went through in its short existence of some ten to twenty years. Thoughts on future developments within this paradigm and future paradigms are suggested as the Bahá'í community evolves in the decades and centuries ahead. The Bahá'í Faith is, in many ways, a religion with the very future in its bones and tissues, its veins and arteries, its cells and atoms.

In the years 2007 to 2014 during which this book, this commentary, has been available 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 new Bahá'í paradigm. There have been many changes in the international Bahai community in the last twenty years as this new Bahá'í culture has been developing. This community which exists in some 200 countries & territories, and in a guesstimated 150,000++ localities, across the planet is what you might call a very wide church. This is putting the subject somewhat colloquially, though, for the Bahá'í Faith hardly resembles a church at all; nor is it a sect or a cult, a branch of an old religion, a denomination or an ism. It does not exist among the dozens of wasms, the dozens of outworn shibboleths that fill the spaces of our planet with their useless weeds, long ago having outlived their use and purpose. Shibboleths are customs, principles, or beliefs that distinguish a particular class or group of people, especially long-standing ones regarded as outmoded and no longer useful to the human race. (Note: the last statistic available on Wikipedia for the Bahá'í Faith listed 127,000 localities in 2001. Readers with an interest in statistics will find Wikipedia a helpful source across a range of numerical figures for the international Bahá'í community.

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.

I have also written this book as a form of dedication to, by some accounts, an estimated 20,000 Bahá'ís and Babis who have given their lives for this Cause from the 1840s to the second decade of this third millennium. The religious and cultural meanings of martyrdom & witnessing, and their role in Babi history are found discussed in detail in a thesis submitted for Master of Arts for the Dept. of Religious Studies at the University of Toronto in 1997. 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.

This book has also been written for what has come to be recognized as a large and intrepid band of early Bahá’í men women who blazed a trail for those of us who have followed, and the ever-growing, ever-evolving global Bahá’í community that they helped to “birth.” I am grateful to have been in the warm embrace of many Bahá'í communities over my more than 60 years of association with this newest, this latest, of the Abrahamic religions. 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

Context: 1796 to 1996

Part 1:

From the last years of the 18th, to the last years of the 19th, century; from the early years of the twentieth century, to the first years of that fin de siecle decade, 1990 to 2000, a large group of men and women were themselves engaged in one of the greatest paradigm shifts in history. The first of these men and women were connected with the precursors of the Babi-religion(1796-1843); the next group with the Babi-religion itself(1844-1863), then another group with Bahá'u'lláh(1863-1892), and then yet other groups in a wide variety of ways with Abdul-Baha(1892-1921), then with Shoghi Effendi(1921-1957) and, finally, with the Universal House of Justice(1963-1996). One and all, and in a myriad of ways and means, circumstances and situations, they laid the foundation for what has become, in the last 20 years, a new culture of learning in the international Bahá'í community. Through this vast array of shared membership and affiliation, activity and enterprise, over two centuries they took part, knowingly and unknowingly, in a new, non-western, spiritual movement, engaged in a wide-ranging transnational reform enterprise. They were the earliest forerunners, and then eastern-born and western-born followers of the Bahá’í Faith, an “Oriental” religion originating in mid-nineteenth century Persia whose twin founders, the Báb and Bahá’u’lláh, claimed to have inaugurated a new universal era of peace, religious harmony and social progress.

A modern religious movement, Bahá’ís resisted the equation of modernism or feminism with secularism, and religion with secular and partisan politics. Instead they saw this new religion as a means for the liberation of men and women everywhere, and the foundation for a new Order. This group of eastern and western men and women not only exemplified a form of millennial religious enthusiasm in their adoption and promotion of the newest, the latest, of the Abrahamic religions, the Bahá’í Faith, and its mythology, but, more significantly, they worked to inaugurate a millenarian new World Order predicated on the spiritual and social equality of people everywhere, and the vast teachings of the Central Figures of their religion.

In their motivations and reform activities, these men & women both resembled and diverged from the great pantheon of reformers & missionary people, political evangelists and social activists. The millennial new World Order they envisioned promised world peace, social and economic justice, and a spiritualization of the planet, similar to Christian expectations of the “Kingdom of God on Earth.” However, Bahá’í conceptions of a “new heaven and earth” differed from those of other religious and millennial groups, other political and quasi-utopian factions and formations. The differences were found in the delineation of the doctrinal spiritual and social principles contained in the sacred writings of the Bahá’í Faith. Also, unlike other western groups, efforts to implement these principles were guided first by a centralized middle-eastern leadership represented by ‘Abdu’l Bahá Abbas from 1892-1921 and, then after His death, by His grandson, Shoghi Effendi Rabbani from 1921-1957. After 1957, the centralized leadership was not middle-eastern and, for more than 50 years, that leadership has been elected by the international Bahá'í community by a process of direct and indirect elections.

Bahá’ís believe that a universal paradigm shift, instigated by Divine Will and already in existence for arguably two centuries, would gradually institute a new gender-equitable global civilization. This civilization would gradually come into being through cooperative human efforts both within the Bahá'í community and without in which both men and women would play a major role. The story of the last twenty years of the extension of this two-century-long paradigmatic shift, an extension taken in a particular direction of learning and growth, culture and activity, is at the center of this book.

Part 2:

This book is the longest analysis and commentary on the last 20 years of this new Bahá'í paradigm, a continuation in many ways, a further development, in the overall paradigmatic shift that first took place within messianic Shi'ism, and then within Babism. The particular development of interest here, the especial part of that paradigm-shift, took place as a heterodox and seemingly negligible offshoot of the Shaykhi school of the Ithna-Ashariyyah-sect, of Shi'ah Islam was transformed into a world religion. That transformation took place largely within the conceptual universe of Shi'ism and, then from the 1860s, within the progressive expansion and establishment of the Bahá'í Faith. By 1996 I had been involved with the Bahai Faith in many different ways for more than four decades, and the Bahá'í Faith had developed a vast international administrative apparatus that extended into at least a 100,000 centers in the world.

By 1996, too, that two-century-long shift which was centered quintessentially in the persons of Bahá'u'lláh and the Bab had effloresced in fully legitimate and universally accepted elected institutions for more than 3 decades, or 75 years, depending on just how one defined and described that process of institutionalization of charisma to draw on that erudite Max Weber. Weber's terminology and is sociology of religion have provided, for me as well as many other Bahá'ís, a useful intellectual matrix for the articulation of this institutionalizing process.

Context 1996 to 2016

Part 1:

This Book

This book is the longest analysis of the new Bahá'í culture of learning and growth 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 those books have 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 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 has developed and will develop a highly diverse 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, or not-so-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, what particular activities 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. I will be nearly 80 in 2021 as this third millennium continues to challenge all of humanity in ways that can now only be dimly envisaged.

Part 2:

The Internet

Section 1:

In drawing on the works of other writers over the last eight years, 2007 to 2014, I should emphasize at the outset of this lengthy read that, by September 2014 when my most recent additions and deletions, my most recent updates and editings of this book had taken place, the internet had come to possess a myriad print and audio-visual resources in connection with this new paradigm. There was also a vast expanse, an immense extension, of primary and secondary resource material that had become available in the last two decades in cyberspace. More than a little emphasis is given in this book, and in this new paradigm, to the internet. Since the mid-1990s, when this paradigm began its life across the thousands of localities where the Baha’i community was and is found, this new culture had become a critical means for the growth of a distinctive Baha’i ethos of learning. At the same time, the internet had 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 some of the billions of others, on the planet who want to know more about this new world Faith, & about its unfolding paradigm.

The advanced computational and communications technologies of the world wide web now 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 individual & community manifestations of the Bahá'í culture of learning spread, as it is now, across 1000s of localities--arguably as many as 150 thousand or more---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 many new media tools in cyberspace provide contexts for local, regional, national, transnational, and global-scale interaction. The academic study and the 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 embedded in the larger societal and cultural, subjective and objective, economic and community structures of lived experience on our planet of 7.3 billion members, the global population as of September 2014. 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 both the individual and the social, of the possible and seemingly impossible. I have devoted some of the initial paragraphs of this book to the internet because of the very pervasiveness of cyberspace in today's world, and because of the profound changes it has brought about not only in the Bahá'í community, but in my own life as I head through the last decade(70 to 80) of late adulthood, as some developmental psychologists call the years from 60 to 80 in the lifespan.

Section 2:

The influence of science and technology on the experience and growth of the Bahá'í community since the middle of the 19th century, as well as the other kinds of communities on the planet, would make a book in itself. The vast expansion of print culture, of communication technology: the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, the television; of the means of transportation: shipping, the car, the train, the airplane and jet--have, one and all, overcome much of the tyranny of distance that was the reality of human experience until the 19th and 20th centuries. They have transformed human activity and resulted in changes that were and are more profound than any in humanity's preceding history, changes that are, for the most part, little understood by the present generation.

The communication and the communicating subject, the individual, in cyberspace is endowed with a great deal of autonomy in relation to, and over and above, many of the major and dozens of the minor institutions and organizations of communication that exist in the wide-wide-world. The paradigm shift that is the new culture of learning and growth in the Bahá'í community has taken place at the same time as the paradigm shift in communication. This latter shift has resulted from the internet since at least those mid-1990s. 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 and, therefore, the power relationships in the Bahá'í community as well as the larger society have altered. The authority structure in the Bahá'í community has not altered, but the power relationships certainly have. I do not want to overemphasize this subject, but I would like to comment on it briefly below.

In social science and politics, power and authority have come under analytical scrutiny in the last half century, to say nothing of any scholarhip in the previous century and centuries. My views of power and authority come closest to those of Richard Sennett(1943- ), the Centennial Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and University Professor of the Humanities at New York University. His books "The Fall of Public Man" and "Authority" published in 1977 and 1980 respectively provide, for me at least, a series of helpful perspectives on the concepts of authority and power. The term authority is often used for power perceived as legitimate within some social structure. Power can be seen as evil or unjust, but the exercise of power is accepted as endemic to humans as social beings. In the corporate environment, power is often expressed as upward or downward. With downward power, a company's superior influences subordinates. When a company exerts upward power, it is the subordinates who influence the decisions of the leader. These are all somewhat conventional views. Richard Sennett writes with a gentleness rare in academically-styled prophets, a tone indeed as well as a conviction like Toqueville’s own, he has embarked upon an extended account over several decades of the current state of affairs. These two books are the first of several on the subjects, and I leave it to readers to further their interests, if interests they have in the complexities of what power and authority actually mean. Alexis de Tocqueville(1805-1859) also wrote two books in his role as French political thinker and historian. He is best known for his works Democracy in America which appeared in two volumes: 1835 and 1840. I leave all this with readers.

Section 3:

It is not my intention to go into the many tributaries of social and political thought, and the many thinkers ancient and modern, whose ideas are relevant to the several contexts that this book explores within the paradigmatic reality of the new Bahá'í culture. A unity of concept and knowledge has been slowly emerging and a framework, a matrix that organizes thought and gives shape to activities and becomes more elaborate as experience accumulates, has been developing in recent decades. The notion of a framework is central to advancing the work of the Bahá'í community within this paradigm. Paul Lample expanded on this idea at a recent ABS conference in Canada, in August 2014, and I leave it to readers to Google his remarks, as they Google many a subject in their own efforts to define the ongoing &important relationships between the Bahá'í Faith and the wider society in which it exists and has its being.

The nature of the altered power relations implicit in the recent communication shift, due to the internet, has possibly four particular features or sources of influence and significance. All of them are complex and all of them will develop lives of their own in the decades ahead. The internet and cyberspace and their several accompanying technologies have several consequences in relation to the power relationships with which I am concerned here. 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. These ideas are, as I say above, somewhat complex and I hope in the pages which follow to be able to provide a context to assist readers in understanding the concrete manifestations of these abstract ideas. They are also complex and difficult for me to understand. We are all in a new world, a parallel universe, a universe and a world which has been transformed time and time again since the middle of the 19th century.

Section 4:

Letter writing as well as writing prose and poetry across several genres of literature, has taken-on a whole new context and meaning in cyberspace for me after some 50 years of writing letters and essays, prose and poetry, notebooks & books in real space: 1954 to 2004. Since emails and the internet emerged by sensible and insensible degrees in the last two decades, 1994 to 2014, literary communication has been revolutionized. In some ways, this new form of literary exchange is not unlike previous decades and centuries when writing was one of the major forms of communication in society. At least this has become true for some writers like myself who utilize cyberspace as their central medium of publicizing their literary wares: books and ebooks, essays and posts at internet sites, narrative and expository details and accounts.

I could spend all my time now writing emails and posting at internet sites. I could write: (i) short and pithy posts of a line or two; (ii) posts of medium length, say, a paragraph or two, and (iii) long pieces of a page or more. But, since I have other literary interests, since I have reinvented myself in recent years, in the years of this new paradigm---and am now a writer and author, poet and publisher, editor and researcher, online blogger and journalist, reader and scholar, I try to keep the sending of emails and internet posts, these new forms of communication, to a minimum. I spend as little time as possible writing: (a) emails and internet posts, and (b) letters and responses to others in cyberspace. If old friends wonder why I do not send them the short and snappy emails that I used to send to them at their email address, or at their Facebook page, or at some other internet site from, say, in those fin de siecle years of the 1990s and, even more recently in the first years of this 21st century, 2001 to 2009, this is the reason. In 2009 I went on an old-age pension and gradually began to write less and less to the 1000s of people who had come into my internet life. I slowly had to work-out an MO, as they say it in the who-dun-its, or I would spend all my time, 24/7 as they say these days, writing to others in cyberspace.

I elaborate in some detail in the paragraphs below on my new MO, an MO that will take me through my 70s in the years 2014 to 2024, and beyond 2024, if I last that long into my old-age. The explanation I provide here is, in part at least, part of the general articulation of my business plan, of the literary industry, of my cyberspace MO, that has come to occupy my leisure-time, my retirement years, as I head into the evening of my life and its inevitable nightfall, death, that messenger of joy as Bahá'u'lláh refers to this universal experience. This personal MO is also at the very centre of my own participation in the new Bahá'í paradigm. Each Bahá'í must work out their own personal MO, their modus operandi, for participation in the international Bahá'í community. This book tells much about my way of going about things. My way is not a model for others to emulate. This book has a highly personal context and, as I say many times throughout the book, each Bahá'í must work how how they will engage in Bahá'í community life in this new paradigm.

Section 5:

At various times toward the end of those fin de siecle years of the last century, say, 1995 to 1999, human character changed again. At least that is how some social theorists in the fields of sociology and history, psychology and anthropology, have expressed one of the results of all the new technology that has avalaunched into our lives in the last two decades. Human character, at least human interaction, began in those last years of the 20th century to undergo a metamorphosis that is still not complete. But it is profound! It is troubling and challenging for many. For millions, of course, it is irrelevant. This revolutionary change in communication patterns is scarcely understood in its historical context. But, it has become part of the very air we breath, seductively or not-so-seductively insinuating itself into our daily life, we who are connected to some or all of the new technologies. Peoples' responses to this technology are as various as they have been to all technological and human inventions since long before the agricultural, the neolithic, revolution 10,000 years ago which began to transform hunting and gathering communities all over the globe. This book is not an exploration of the internet, nor is it an exploration of the effects of science and technology since the emergence of homo sapiens sapiens. In these opening pages of discussion of this new Bahá'í paradigm, though, I have provided what I hope readers will find to be a useful, a relevant, context for the new Bahá'í culture of learning and growth.

When I think about those late 1990s, as I was retiring from the world of paid employment and student life which had occupied me for half a century, 1949 to 1999, it seems like a 100 years ago, another age, another epoch. Whenever that last moment was, before most of us were on the internet and entering the email world, before we had mobile phones and cell phones, smartphones and iphones, that moment and those years seem like the end of another era. A technological paradigm-change has certainly taken-place in the last 20 years, at this climacteric of history as these first years of the 21st century have opened to the world's 7+ billions. Back in those pre-epochal change years of the 20th century, letters came once a day, predictably, in the hands of the postal carrier. News came in three flavors – radio, television, print – and at appointed hours. Some of us even had a newspaper delivered every morning. For more on this theme, and a stimulating overview of the recent changes in communication patterns, go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n16/rebecca-solnit/diary

As Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as many other philosophers and thinkers of prominence have described modern life in different ways: "...all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied together into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality...Before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half the world. This is the way our universe is structured; this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize the basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality and give this reality political and social expression in our institutional life.“(Ron Price with thanks to Martin Luther King, Jr)..The new Bahá'í paradigm has this concept placed squarely at its centre.

Part 3:

Section 1:

This Book as a Work of Art

Perhaps as a result of the lingering Symbolist inheritance, an aesthetic notion of most potency in the last 40 years, years since I became an international pioneer from Canada to Australia, and since I began to publish my writing in the various forms of the mass media---and certainly in the context of this new Bahá'í paradigm---is the idea that a work of art is in some sense about itself. The starting point of the Symbolist movement is the inner vision of the artist. For more, and for a context for this movement, go to: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v06/n11/barbara-everett/somebody-reading

Even in the fine arts, apparently most in love with the visible world, the great painter will be said to paint himself in every portrait. The exquisite old lady reading in a pool of light holds the stillness of Rembrandt himself as he paints, and Velasquez looks back at us through the eyes of a court dwarf. I mention Rembrandt and Velasquez, two very famous artists, but I could just as easily have named any two of literally 100s, indeed, 100s of thousands of others. The artist, the poet, the creative personality, all recreate themselves as they go about their artistic work. So, too, does everyone else in the context of their daily life, although many would not express it that way.

This self-involvement may all the more readily be found in literature since most writers and, perhaps even more, poets tend to be experts on themselves. I write all this since my writing is overtly and explicitly, openly and directly, autobiographical. I am drawing here, in this brief analysis and description, on a book review in the London Review of Books, Vol. 6 No. 11, 21 June 1984 when I was just beginning to be published in the print media and also beginning to write my autobiography at the age of 40. The book review in question was by Barbara Everett. Everett is a British academic and literary critic. Her review is of a book by the famous poetry critic, arguably the most famous and erudite of poetry critics now alive, Helen Vendler. Everett is reviewing The Odes of Keats by Vendler(Harvard, 1984).

Section 2:

This Book as Centerpiece of My Literary Output

The programmer or 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 we are writing & doing, thinking & imagining. But my book, potentially anyway, may also cause a negative input into the general Bahá'í community. In the case of the new media, the internet, my book can also result in little or no influence or 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, or so I like to think, so I assume. But what I write must be sensitive to Bahá'í core values and ethics. Writers like myself need to possess both a disciplinary sense of being self-assured that what they are writing is good work within the intellectual culture that is the Bahá'í international community. Their work must be underpinned by a strong ethical philosophy that is consistent with (i) the broad framework of the Bahá'í teachings and (ii) their covenantal relationship with the Cause. At least those are some of the core parameters within which I work and have my literary being. Such, in broad terms, is how I see the wide context for this book on the new Bahá'í culture.

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, is, and will be all about. After eight years of having this book in cyberspace this book has become somewhat irrelevant to the mass of readers who prefer, and generally read, only short posts, and for whom a book of this size is just too much in our 21st century world of print and image glut. Millions prefer the short and the pithy, the terse and the taut, the concise and the cryptic, the compact and the clipped to pages and pages of prose. Such is the preference and the proclivity of the Facebook and Twitter generation. That is fine; to each their own as we head into the first decades of this 21st century.

As 2014 went into its final four months, and the 50th anniversary of the election of the Universal House of Justice in April 1963 became the 51st in April 2014, 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 its structure and its functioning, or both, 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?

With some 700 people now working at the Bahá'í World Centre(BWC) in Israel and with 1000s of letters going out each year from various Bahá'í institutions which operate at the BWC; with over 180 national Bahá'í communities, some 12,000 to 15,000 locally elected Bahá'í assemblies; and, as I have already indicated, an estimated 150 thousand localities where 5 to 8 million Bahais reside, the printed matter that now pours out into both the internet and real space is simply staggering. As Paul Lample pointed out at an ABS conference in August of 2014, there are now some 200 clusters in the world where 100 or more individuals are supporting the participation of 1000 or more individuals. The most advanced clusters have 500 people supporting the participation of more than 10,000 people. This book makes no attempt to survey, in even the sketchiest of ways, this Niagara Falls, this avalanche, of text that now flows out over the Bahá'í world as a result of the complex entity, the vast structure with its myriad functions, that is the new Bahá'í paradigm. My aim in this now lengthening book is to provide a bird's-eye view, as it is often said, of the big picture. This newest of the world's Abrahamic religions and its culture of learning and growth as it has developed in the last two decades will keep serious readers busy here for some time. You may be advised to skim or scan, if you would like to get just those nuts and bolts which concern you and your personal interests.

Section 3:

This Book As Useful Resource to the Bahá'í Community

This book had become for many, but certainly not for most, a useful resource for readers wanting a macroscopic view of the new Bahá'í paradigm. As 2014 advanced to the mid-point(on 21/10/'14) of the 4th year of the present Plan(2011 to 2016), and as the end of the second decade of this new paradigm approached(21/4/'16), I continued to edit a document that had grown to more than 700 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 the remaining months 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. There are now 1000s of books in cyberspace, books which best serve as door-stoppers, and are never read by the vast majority of human beings. This is, and will be, I am confident one of these large and bulky books. Cyberspace at least allows readers to take their contents in little chunks, chunks to suit their reading tastes and daily capacities.

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. It is 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. This is true for intense and active internet writers like myself, although I am more than a little aware that this is not true of all people. It is not true of millions for whom the parallel universe that is cyberspace virtually does not exist.

Half the world is still not even connected to the internet and its cyberspace. My remarks here are intended to be of some use to that part of the world for whom the internet is part of their daily bread and butter, so to speak. 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; such is the way I have come to see this text among my many other writings in cyberspace. To put all this in the context of the new Bahá'í culture: the paradigmatic shift in the Bahá'í community has also involved a paradigmatic shift in the way I have gone about writing and publishing, interacting and communicating in the wide-wide-world of the wide-wide-web.

Section 4:

This Book and the Internet

There are now many ways that writing in cyberspace can be described. I have just written a few things in the paragraphs 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 and their own level of interest in this subject. 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 2014. I write for a coterie, but so do all writers. Some coteries are big ones and some are little. After some 30,000 to 40,000 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, entities which have become somewhat complex in this digital age.

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 those with the interest who follow the ongoing changes in the text of this now lengthy book, to see some of the bumps and false starts that I have taken along the way, over the last eight years. I didn’t at first sense, as I wrote the first edition of this work in cyberspace back in 2007, that I was even embarking on a book-length project; I only knew that I had a small, persistent series of questions that I wanted to think about to some extent. 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 three 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, as I say above, 700 pages. The book has come together bit by bit over the last 96 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. It may also be far too rambling for many a modern reader. I'm sure it is far too long for most who come across it in cyberspace at whatever site catches their eye, their gaze, their surfing mentality and style, interest inventory and personal circumstances. I took full advantage of the web’s particular and very real 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 to be 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. I, too, often tire of analysis. One can not be on top of everyone's wordy wisdoms or one would exhaust oneself and drown in verbiage.

Section 5:

This Book Has Many Authors

There is a ‘continuously immediate present’in the writing of this book which allows this writing project of mine, and my conversation around this project, to develop in a more fruitful, more organic fashion. This will require a fairly radical shift in both my understanding and that of my readers in what it is I'm doing as I'm writing. If my text is going to continue to grow even as it is being published online, readers are going to need to be present in those texts in order to shepherd that growth — perhaps not forever, but certainly for longer than they have been with traditional print publishing. This thought will make many readers and writers nervous, in part because readers and writers already have difficulties with completing a project; if writers like myself have the opportunity to continue working on something forever, well, then what? On the other hand, would that necessarily be such a bad thing? I am freed to shift my attention away from publication as the moment of singularity in which a text transforms from nothing into something, and instead focus on the many important stages in my work’s coming-into-being. In fact, all of this helps me as a writer to think of my career as a writer in a more holistic sense, as an ongoing process of development. I am free to take some or many key moments of writing, what some now call 'the moment of complexity', and see them not as a series of discrete closed projects. I can return again and again to the scene of the text in order to make changes as a result of changes in my thinking about something I had once committed to print. Or I can take old material in new directions. In the past this might have seemed somehow vaguely scandalous. Such abilities it seems to me lead to work that is better thought-through, more ‘significant'. But in order to take advantage of these abilities, writers and readers will first have to learn to value process over product, and to manifest that value in the assessments of literary work. This, of course, this emphasis on process over content has been part of the teaching of writing in many western countries for several decades now anyway.

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 and in 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---and as I retired from FT, PT and most volunteer work that had kept me busy for half a century.

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 are highly dynamic. The work of some of our predecessors is, in some sense, contained within whatever increasingly fuzzy boundaries draw the outlines of my use of 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.

Section 6:

This New Bahá'í Culture Has Many Commentators

Since 1996, the year that this new Bahá'í culture of learning and growth had its inception, there has been a wealth of new literature, both primary and secondary. I make no attempt to survey this vast landscape. I will cut-and-paste below a review of two books which throw some light on aspects of Bahá'í culture which I have given little discussion of, important aspects, from my point of view. The two books also came out right at the start of this new Bahá'í paradigm, although the reviews did not appear until the third year of the new paradigm. The two books are: (1) Symbol and Secret and (2) Revisioning the Sacred. The reviews are both by Jonah Winters and they were published in Iranian Studies, Vol 32, No.1, pages 141-145 in 1999. I had just retired from a 50 year student and employment life in 1999 and was beginning the reinvention of myself as a writer and author, poet and publisher, editor and researcher, reader and scholar, online blogger and journalist.

Symbol and Secret: Qur'án Commentary in Bahá'u'lláh's Kitab-i Íqán appeared in Studies in the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, volume 7. The author was Christopher Buck and the publisher Kalimát Press, Los Angeles, 1995. The second book was Revisioning the Sacred: New Perspectives on a Bahá'í Theology. This article appeared in Studies in the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, volume 8. It was edited by Jack McLean and was published again by Kalimát Press, Los Angeles, 1997. Kalimát Press is, and was, a small, independent publishing house. It can fairly be described as the premier producer of academic material on the Bahá'í Faith. Most notable of its contributions in this area is the "Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History" series, volume one of which appeared in 1982.(1) The volumes of this series have consistently featured scholarship that is rigorous and often groundbreaking. These Volumes seven and eight are no exception.

Part 1:

Christopher Buck's Symbol and Secret: Qur'an Commentary in Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i Íqán (Studies in the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, volume 7) is an examination of the central theological work of the Bahá'í religion and its relation to pre-existing Islamic theologies and literary forms.(2) Written circa 1862, shortly before Bahá'u'lláh first announced to his followers that he was the "one who God shall make manifest" foretold by the Báb, the "Íqán" is ostensibly an extended defense of the mission of the Báb. For Bahá'ís, though, it came to be seen as a defense of and theological exposition on both Babism and the Bahá'í religion, and it bridges and coordinates the two religions. Further, it is regarded as Bahá'u'lláh's masterpiece of theological interpretation and exposition. To adduce proofs of the Báb's prophethood and refute objections to it, Bahá'u'lláh develops a coherent hermeneutic of creative scriptural interpretation, an explanation of which is unfortunately beyond the scope of this review.

The title of the book derives from its two main areas of focus. Buck first examines the "symbol" by relating Bahá'u'lláh's hermeneutical enterprise in the Íqán to the well-established traditions of tafsir, Qur'anic interpretation. He demonstrates that, since the Íqán can be seen as residing within—though transcending and reshaping—a tradition of Islamic works of exegesis, it is itself an example of Qur'anic exegesis. Much of the value of this examination lies in the fact that comparative studies between Islam and the Bahá'í religion have yet to be undertaken. Such studies are crucial, for it is only through investigations into Islam that certain metaphors and symbols, technical terms, and cultural assumptions in the earlier Bahá'í scriptures can be understood. Second, Buck examines the "secret" by exploring the theological underpinnings of the Íqán. What was Bahá'u'lláh's "messianic consciousness" at the time of its writing, asks Buck, and to what extent was he disclosing his own secret: that he himself was the promised "Manifestation"? Here Buck is on unexplored territory, for this topic has barely been addressed in published Bahá'í studies. Along the way the book touches on many other issues, such as the manuscript and publication history of the Íqán, ShÍ`Í notions of the Mahdi, and Bahá'u'lláh's agenda of social and religious reform.

Much of Buck's work in this book is to be commended. His examination is groundbreaking—he broaches topics vital and yet often ignored. The background work on the history of the Íqán which precedes his main topics is conducted with a depth and assiduousness that could be regarded as a model for future work by scholars of the Bahá'í religion. He examines the publication history of the Íqán, the dating and dissemination of other key Bahá'í texts, offers solutions to certain historical dilemmas, and responds to critical charges made by early opponents of the religion with a diligence and concentration which offers great promise for the rest of the book to follow.

The heart of Buck's project is a demonstration that Bahá'u'lláh's agenda in the Íqán is prosecuted through innovative tafsÍr. Buck examines many types of exegetical innovation pioneered by Bahá'u'lláh. These include the "interscriptural exegesis," i.e. explaining the symbolism in the scripture of one religion through recourse to the scripture of another religion, and the appeal to rationality, i.e. demonstrating the absurdity of literalism. Through these, Bahá'u'lláh prepares the reader of the Íqán to transcend traditional interpretation and become more receptive to a new revelation. Finally, Buck adapts the tafsÍr typology of Islamicist John Wansbrough to prepare a hermeneutical typology of the Íqán. This section is among the most focused published examinations of Bahá'í scripture and, even if a reader might disagree with some of Buck's analyses, the endeavour itself is to be applauded.

Symbol and Secret's conclusion extrapolates from the above discussions of Islamic context and content in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh into the realm of Bahá'í theology. Here Buck examines the implications of Bahá'u'lláh's exegetically-founded break from Islam for issues such as post- Qur'anic revelation, religious and social reform, and metaphorical approaches to scripture. This chapter contains some of the most enlightening and useful discussion in the book, and Buck quite successfully conveys the sense of urgency and potency infusing the Íqán and the state of the early Bahá'í community. Given the importance of the topics Buck addresses and the skill with which he examines them, it is regrettable that some readers might find Symbol and Secret impenetrable. The two main obstacles in approaching this work are the opacity of Buck's prose and the occasional disorderliness of the book's content.

Buck's writing can in places read as an unsuccessful juxtaposition of poetic and academic styles. His use of metaphors, while colorful, can be distracting. His fondness for polysyllabic alliteration, as in "vituperative vaticination" (84) or "extraordinary extemporaneity," (294) can bog down the reader or, worse, bemuse him. As well, he often opts for technicality over clarity. Why "variae lectiones," (139) when "variant readings" carries exactly the same semantic value? A more problematic aspect of Symbol and Secret is its somewhat chaotic form. It lacks coherence both in formatting and in content, giving the impression that it was composed in numerous parts which were combined into a somewhat haphazard whole for publication. Its inconsistent use of italics and diacritics might be no more than an occasional distraction, but does indicate a certain lack of editing—as do the few dozen typographical errors occurring throughout the book. The topics examined in the text can be jumbled, with unrelated sentences, paragraphs, and whole sections inserted in the middle of otherwise succinct presentations. Conversely, topics that should be presented coherently can be found scattered across the book. One further wonders what organization guided the layout of Symbol and Secret when the book ends, not with a tight summary of ground covered, but a discussion of Bahá'u'lláh's agenda of socio-religious reform which does not bear direct relevance to the preceding book and reads more as the introduction to a new, unrelated book.

These criticisms aside, Buck has undertaken a project that is to be commended on many fronts. This study is daring in that it is the first extended analysis of the Islamic context and content of Bahá'u'lláh's thought and writings. The rigour with which Buck has treated his topics is a model for anyone engaging in textual scholarship: his research is broad, his attention to detail thorough, and his coverage of the topics exhaustive. Finally, many of his conclusions, the light he throws on the Íqán and its content, and in places even his methods are frankly brilliant. Though Symbol and Secret can be a frustrating text which is difficult to penetrate, it is a good study which will well repay the diligent reader.

Part 2:

The seven essays of Revisioning the Sacred: New Perspectives on a Bahá'í Theology (Studies in the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions, volume 8), edited by Jack McLean, cover a variety of topics on Bahá'í theology. While the wide range of style and content of these essays could, in a more established discipline, indicate poor editing or an unfocused mandate, here they demonstrate the richness and potential of this nascent field.

Bahá'í theology is currently a tentative subject. It faces the expected obstacles confronting such a new and relatively unexplored field, such as a lack of scholastic tradition to build upon, little or no recognition and support from its faith community and institutions, and the difficulty of obtaining formal training. More than this, it also faces potential doctrinal obstacles. Bahá'ís consider their religion the most complete revelation from God to date. The figures in Bábí and Bahá'í history—the Báb, Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi—constitute an authoritative chain of revelation and interpretation. The sheer volume of the tens of thousands of letters and books they wrote can give the impression that every question one could have about God must be contained somewhere in them, hence what need for practicing theology? As well, Bahá'u'lláh sought to correct abuses of ecclesiastical authority by, among other things, limiting the exercise of interpretation. While individuals are enjoined to come to their own understandings of scripture and religion, authoritative interpretation is strictly limited that of the above four individuals. There is thus a common sentiment that the only appropriate theological endeavor is to read, catalogue, and study these writings, and any form of systematic theology can be regarded with suspicion.3

The development of Bahá'í theology is, however, a key component in the gradual maturation of the religion. As McLean rightly notes, the "Bahá'í Faith cannot come to be recognized as a distinct and independent world religion without a distinctive theology." (xi) Given the religion's emphasis on "independent investigation of truth," combined with the constraints on authoritative interpretation, it is likely that Bahá'í theology will develop along pluralist lines. In a note near the close of the book, McLean observes that "The universal scope of Bahá'í sacred scripture...would seem to defy any one theological system." Rather, "it is rather more likely that a number of differing theological and metaphysical thought systems will emerge in time and coexist within the Bahá'í writings." (208, note 12)

These seven essays indicate an auspicious future for the project. Written by a veritable "who's who" within Bahá'í studies, they address a wide variety of topics in an equally wide variety of styles and methodologies. The book opens with Dann J. May's "The Bahá'í Principle of Religious Unity: A Dynamic Perspective." May attempts to "unpack" what can sometimes sound like a Bahá'í platitude: that religious truth is, at core, unitary. In the Bahá'í view, religious identity and phenomena can be isolated into two aspects, the essential and the accidental. In "essence," religions are one in as much as God is one; they share what May (following Frithjof Schuon) terms a transcendent unity. The problem, of course, is that the "accidental" aspect of religious experience is highly diverse, which can lead to inter-religious misunderstanding and conflict. May adapts Bahá'í theology to a six-tiered typology of pluralism of Raimundo Panikkar to attempt to classify and better elucidate this principle of religious unity. This essay contains some very useful overviews of pluralist theologies, and May's adaptation of Panikkar's typology is instructive. Given the complexity and variety of contemporary discussion of pluralism, though, the essay can read merely as an introduction which leaves many questions and objections unaddressed.

Stephen Lambden's "The Background and Centrality of Apophatic Theology in Bábi and Bahá'í Scripture" would have more appropriately been titled "An Overview of Apophatic Theology in Western Religions." Lambden surveys negative theology in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Bábism, and then in the writings of Bahá'u'lláh, 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and Shoghi Effendi. Most of the article is simply a catalogue of sample instances of apophaticism in scripture, which does serve well to highlight the variety and commonality of apophatic approaches. Yet while the number of instances of the via negativa Lambden finds in writings of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh does indicate that it was a well-favored approach of each figure, and hence "central" in terms of frequency, Lambden offers very little theological analysis to illuminate this. This is unfortunate, because the via negativa could well prove to be a key in understanding and resolving the very problems of religious diversity May has just hinted at. If Bahá'ís are to teach that religious truth is unitary, and yet retain a respect for the diversity of religious expression, Bahá'í theology might well have to insist on a form of relativism in which all talk of God is ultimately founded on the via negativa. While this article would serve as a fine introduction to the topic for readers having no background in theology, it adds little to the field.

Juan Cole's "Bahá'u'lláh and Liberation Theology" is, in contrast, a very welcome piece which begins to fill a clear gap in Bahá'í scholarship. Whether in an attempt to find common ground and avoid offense, or simply because of non- religious concerns, the Bahá'í Faith is sometimes presented more as a social development organization than as a religious movement. In its quest for legitimacy and its sincere desire to improve the lot of the dispossessed, the sheer "religiousness" of the religion is often downplayed. On the other extreme, theological discussion, in any tradition, can lose sight of practical experience in its pursuit of theory. Liberation theology offers promise to bridge this gap, to apply theology to social welfare and vice versa. Cole pleas for such an approach: "...the world desperately needs a new vision of spiritual and social justice such as Bahá'u'lláh enunciates." (82) Cole approaches this by first introducing Bahá'u'lláh's own social welfare concerns and activities. He then discusses a number of Bahá'u'lláh's writings to bring out aspects which are often overlooked, namely the emphasis Bahá'u'lláh places on empowering the impoverished and the degree to which such concerns were truly revolutionary for Qajar Iran. This is a well-written and timely article.

Anjam Khursheed's survey of contemporary common philosophies of science, "The Spiritual Foundations of Science," demonstrates that most share a common empiricist philosophy. Such an approach, he argues, exaggerates positivism and masks the fact that, historically, science has been founded on spirituality more than materialism. Given the Bahá'í view that truth is unitary—that religious truth and scientific truth are complementary—Khursheed calls for a renewed emphasis on morality and on value- oriented scientific practice. This essay summarizes well common Bahá'í explanations of the religion's principle of "unity of science and religion" and provides a fine overview of competing paradigms of the twentieth century, but it presents little original analysis or theological justification. One weakness of this essay is that Khursheed bases part of his explanation of the unity paradigm on the fact that the Bahá'í writings often mention "science" and "arts" as complementary endeavors and refer to both simply as "knowledge." (107) One suspects that this stems partly from linguistic differences. Terms such as "science" and "knowledge" had quite different meanings and connotations in nineteenth- century Persian and Arabic than in in twentieth-century English, and without a philological discussion some of Khursheed's conclusions are suspect.

In "Interreligious Dialogue and the Bahá'í Faith," Seena Fazel addresses a concern that has been raised by numerous scholars outside the religion: Bahá'í dialogue often starts and ends with the claim that all religions offer truth from the same divine source, and hence are to be respected in their own right. This, Fazel points out, is "only... a beginning." (127) Dialogues which merely declare commonalities will founder on the real fact of difference. Dialogue is sometimes no more than a polite form of proselytism, an opportunity to present one's own tradition in a friendly setting with the covert hope of persuading the other. In the best dialogue, Fazel argues, each partner comes away transformed. After discussing types of, and challenges to, religious dialogue, Fazel proposes three approaches Bahá'ís could adopt in pursuing interreligious discussion. The three "bridges" he presents—the ethical, the intellectual, and the mystical/spiritual—are valuable and insightful. Fazel's topic is a vital one, and his proposals welcome. One wishes that this essay could be made required reading for all Bahá'ís who seek to teach their faith to others.

Most of the essays in this volume deal with abstracts, with theories of theology. Keven Brown's "Hermes Trismegistus and Apollonius of Tyana in the Writings of Bahá'u'lláh" is a reminder that much of theology must concern itself with specific, practical questions. Bahá'u'lláh mentions Hermes and Apollonius (in Arabic, BalÍnþs) only a handful of times, but these infrequent citations pose a few specific problems. One, what is the relevance of these citations to Bahá'í theology? Two, how should Bahá'ís treat texts which are regarded to be infallible and inerrant in the face of conflicting historical accounts? Much of the significance of these citations lies in the fact that the mere mention of Hermes can invoke a range of occult and alchemical associations, associations quite foreign to contemporary Occidental Bahá'ísm. After briefing the reader on the historical accounts and myths of Hermes and Apollonius, Brown presents the more significant citations of these two figures in early Bahá'í texts and examines their meaning and relevance. This is useful partly because it is one of the only published discussions of alchemy and the Bahá'í Faith. The second question arises because Bahá'u'lláh stated certain historical "facts" about Hermes and Apollonius with which modern historical scholarship would disagree. Shoghi Effendi and, later, the Universal House of Justice explained that Bahá'u'lláh wrote to convey truths which sometimes required that he cite contemporary historical views, even if incorrect, to make his points. Brown agrees that it is the points Bahá'u'lláh was making, not any inaccurate historical details, that are significant. While a convincing argument, it is insufficient in that Abdu'l-Bahá, whose interpretations are also seen as infallible, would on occasion firmly emphasize the inerrancy of Bahá'u'lláh's historical statements. (see 187, note 115) The first of Brown's two topics in this essay is treated very well; the second is far from settled.

McLean's essay "The Possibilities of Existential Theism for Bahá'í Theology" is, like most of his writing, a well-considered and academically informed meditation on living the Bahá'í life. He surveys the thought of a few key European "existential" philosophers, relating each to Bahá'í thought and theology. Through his discussion of existential concerns and approaches, McLean argues that the scholar working within a faith tradition must not completely objectify his field of study, must not divorce his studies from the existential commitment. This article, drawing on contemporary philosophy for a practical comparative approach, offers many original considerations and provides an engaging conclusion to the volume.

Like Symbol and Secret, this book suffers from the types of faults that can plague underfunded, independent publishing houses. The articles are inconsistently edited, both stylistically and grammatically. Further, while most are quite accurate, one is thoroughly riddled with errors of punctuation, diacritics, and spelling. The table of contents lists an incorrect title for another. These are no more than a minor distraction, though. Most of these essays are of a high quality and address original, vital topics. Their range of topics indicates the vastness and rich potential of emergent Bahá'í theologies, and Kalimát Press and McLean are to be commended for having produced a valuable addition to Bahá'í studies.

Notes:

1 Volumes one through four were subtitled "Studies in Bábí and Bahá'í History"; beginning with volume five the series was renamed "Studies in the Bábí and Bahá'í Religions."

2 A more in-depth review of this book can be found in Jonah Winters, "Review of Christopher Buck: Symbol and Secret: Qur'an Commentary in Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i Íqán" (Journal of Bahá'í Studies 8:3, 1998).

3 See J. A. McLean, "Prolegomena to a Bahá'í Theology" (Journal of Bahá'í Studies 5:1, 1992), esp. pp. 28-36, for further discussion of these issues.

In some ways a comprehension of the complex and sophisticated setting of the new Bahá'í paradigm cannot be divorced from the extensive new literature that has come out in the years 1995 to 2015. Those 20 years have been fertile ones for academics and scholars both inside and outside this latest of the Abrahamic relgions. This book is not able to provide an even cursory overview of all this new literature and commentary. For this reason I have chosen to provide the above brief comment on only two of the new books. I leave it to readers to do their own searching, studying and reading.

Reflections on a Culture of Learning and Growth: Community and Individual Paradigm Shifts:
A Contemporary, Historical, Futuristic and Personal Context by Ron Price
George Town Tasmania Australia

PREAMBLE #2:

Section 1:

This book of 700 pages and 250 thousand words(font 16) 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 paradigm 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 is, 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 from 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 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 actions & 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, and demons which provide the centre of ongoing struggle. These angels are the confirmations and the celestial powers that come our way in this paradigm and in previous paradigms; these demons are the many manifestations of what I will call for simple convenience "our lower self." The God within is a somewhat complex idea: "Look within thyself and thou wilt find Me standing within thee, Mighty, Powerful and Self-Subsistent," goes one of many quotations on the one hand, and "my back is bower by the burden of my sin" on the other. The self, the who that I am, will keep both me and others busy as long as we occupy space on this mortal coil.

Section 2:

Intercession is often 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 ourselves; 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 particular variety of 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 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, in some ways, 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."

Section 3:

The more than a century and a half of Bahá'í history, from its inception in mid-19th century until today, is one that 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, professor emeritus of English literature at the university of South Florida 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 literature now available in and on this new paradigm is burgeoning. Very few are able to keep pace with it all, and even fewer are able to read it all again and again so as to remember, by the process of repetition, remember its many details and programs, ideas and ideals.

The world we entered in this new paradigm in the mid-1990s, 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.

In 1996 the Bahá'í world began to focus on a prodigious effort to better understand and systematize its work of expansion and consolidation, of growth and community building. Much as been learned in the first 20 years of the application of this prodigious effort that has profoundly influenced the pattern of activity in which the community is engaged. The several Associations of Bahá'í Studies, since the first establishment of the North American chapter in 1975, have come to address a range of issues in the context of this new Bahá'í culture. It is not my intention to expatiate on the developments of the ABS into this second decade of the 21st century, suffice it to say a unity of thought around essential concepts is slowly emerging as is an evolving conceptual framework, a matrix that organizes thought and gives shape to activities and which become more elaobrate as experience accumulates. The Universal House of Justice as written on this subject in a letter to the NSA of the Bahá'ís of Canada more than a year ago now in July of 2013. I encourage readers to access that letter in cyberspace for its useful delineation of the present and future challenges of the ABS.

Section 4:

It has become part of conventional thinking that the early socialization of a child has an important role in determining the overall life-trajectory, the total life experience of a person over the lifespan. I have written a brief statement and analysis of my childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood to provide some explanatory framework for my life; I do not place that statement here. In some of my childhood years and adolescence, the ages 9 to 19, and the first decade of my young adulthood, 20 to 30, the years 1953 to 1975, the seeds of what I now regard as, and what I firmly believe to be, a divine knowledge were sown in the soil of my heart. It was a heart which had a degree of receptivity to things outside the small-town culture in which I was immersed.

By the age of 31 in 1975, with my years of youth behind me, my sense of conviction in what one could call the unseen creative force of the universe, in God, was firmly implanted in my being. His act of Self-Revelation through a chosen human instrument occurring periodically in history, and most recently in the Person of Bahá'u'lláh, was also part of this conviction. The hypothesis that man's social evolution is due to the periodic intervention in human affairs of the creative force of the universe, in the form of especially chosen souls, the Founders of the great world religions: this hypothesis is at the centre of the Bahá'í Faith; this Faith provides fresh empirical evidence for this assumption for those with the interest in the subject. This Faith also provided a core, a compass, a framework, for my moral and intellectual universe as it evolved through my teens and twenties. And it continues to do so four decades later as I head through my 70s in the years 2014 to 2014. This process has also happened to millions and it continues to happen in this new paradigm. Perhaps the most important aspect of this process is learning in action, the participation in an ongling process of action, reflection, study and consultation in order to address obstacles and sdhare successes, re-examine and revise strategies and methods and so systematize and improve efforts over time.

Section 4.1:

For many reasons, and over many decades now, I have kept that divine knowledge hidden, and still do, at least mostly, due to the disinterest of those around me in the content of that divine knowledge, that hypothesis, that assumption. Their unwillingness: friends and family, co-workers and the associations who were part of my world in the 1950s and 1960s, to investigate, to search-out the claims of this new world Faith became a pattern that has existed all my adult life. I go public, that is, I let others know about my convictions, from time to time when it seems appropriate to do so. I have kept my energetic evangelism, my enthusiasm, quiet and unobtrusive due to the cultural conservatism, the customs and mores, the social milieux in which I have lived from the 1950s to this second decade of the 21st century. For me, this cultural milieux in which I have lived and had my being has been Canada and Australia.

That knowledge, and those convictions I have espoused now for more than half a century, were also kept hidden from others because the emotional reorientation that others needed to assimilate the new truths of this Faith, if truths they be, almost always seemed too great. I, of course, regarded these views as truths but I have often had a tendency to go to extremes of either applying my framework of understanding too rigidly or ignoring it completely. I have also had the problem, one shared with most of my fellow believers of not learning to live within and work within the framework of the administrative order. As the Guardian wrote many decades ago(Lights of Guidance, p. 182) "the friends tend to crystallize the Administrative Order into too set a form, or they rebel against what they feel to be a System, and do not give it sufficient support." This was true far back in the 20th century and it is still true we the Bahá'í community goes about applying this new paradigm. Most of those who came across my path never joined me in my spiritual journey in this Cause which I have now been associated with for some 60 years. This is also true for virtually all the Bahá'ís in the world. This was also true, it is some comfort to know, of the very experience which Bahá'u'lláh had Himself in the decades from 1852 to 1892, the four decades of His Revelation.

The philosophical and religious inertia, if inertia it was, of others, the hardening of attitudes, other interests which captured people's time and their enthusiasms, their resistence to fundamental change in their religious and philosophical perspectives and orientations; the nature, extent, and the emotional strength of their existing assumptions, the very complexity of not only the issues involved, but of the great shifts and changes in the wider society itself with its myriad of religious and political groupings in recent decades, as well as many other difficulties which others had and have in even investigating this new Faith from a distance---this all resulted for most people who crossed my path in too much of a wall of words, concepts, and ideas. This is a common experience of those who have entered the Cause in my lifetime and, I hesitate to say, I think this will likely continue for some time to come, inspite of all the expressions of enthusiasm and zeal, publicity and media scrutiny.

Section 4.2:

In the last decade, though, with literally millions of my words spread across 1000s of internet sites, my public face as a Bahá'í is much more overt, as is the Cause itself. I still wear my enthusiasms and convictions far from the aggressive proselytizing of many political and religious groups. My evangelizing is a cautious and measured one. There is often, too, an aggressive advocacy which impels many in our largely secular society to be stridently propagandistic in relation to their many views and causes, interests and enthusiasms.

People's interest in sport and gardening, entertainment, job and family often has an enthusiasm, indeed, excitement which occupies people's lives in ways very similar to religion or a philosophy of life. As one famous theologian, Paul Tillich, once put it, everyone has what might be called 'a ground to their being', everyone possesses a certain set of values, beliefs and attitudes, which is the centre of his or her life. Call that centre their religion or their philosophy, if you like; and, if you don't like those terms or that use of words and views, call their centre: secular humanism, agnosticism, atheism, theism, or any one of a number of other words which attempt to capture the core of people's value and belief system. When one gives some serious thought to these sorts of questions, the subject becomes quite complex, and it can not be dealt with in a sentence or a paragraph--although it often is dealt with in a dismissive line or two due to people's incapacity or their disinclination to discuss such fundamental aspects of their lives.

This has been true of most, except for a small handful of people, mostly youth, from 1954 to 2014 in my lifespan. After living in some two dozen towns, travelling to more than 100, and dwelling in more than 3 dozen houses in the years 1943 to 2003, my life as a travelling teacher-lecturer-pioneer now takes place in cyberspace from the comfort of my study: 2004 to 2014. My life-style now, with less than 5 months to go to the age of 70, is a highly sedentary one similar, in many respects, to that of my maternal grandfather whose autobiography has inspired my own memoiristic literary efforts.

The challenging and revolutionary perspective at the centre of this new world Faith, what seems to me to be a fascinating picture of reality and a unique approach to history, man and society, have resulted in my being the only Bahá'í in virtually every work-place, and every educational institution, of which I have I been part. In the wider world though, which grew from about 2.2 billion when my parents met in the early 1940s to the current 7.2 billion, the Bahá'í community grew, during those same years, from approximately 100,000 members globally to some 5 to 8 million adherents. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica it is the second most widespread religion on the planet.

Section 5:

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 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. It was, and still is, in what you might call the chrysalis phase, even after more than a century of its evolution. The community-building that has been taking-place in the last two decades, 1996 to 2016, has been built on this structure, a structure which was in its earliest stages and phases of development in the last half of the 19th century. This same community-building of the last two decades has also been built 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 some 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, and especially in this new Bahá'í culture accompanied as it is by the internet and its Facebook and twitter focus, and a mass media so full of distractions that it is a miracle that more than a few ever rise above its myriad and enmeshing media-grip.

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 of their responsibilities to promote human welfate and progress."(Ridvan 2012)

Section 6:

The building of the structure of this new world Faith, the evolution of the pattern and framework, the shaping and consolidation, of its administrative institutions with their 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. The rudimentary institutions of this Faith had already been erected under the leadership of Abdul-Baha, and the very fabric of these institutions was to evolve from 1921 to 1996. In those years, the Spirit born in Shiraz in the 1840s, was incarnated in institutions designed to canalize the energies and stimulate the growth of this new Faith.(GPB, p.324) In the three decades before 1921, during 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--the laws and principles, the essential precursors of the architecture of this new System were disclosed and described. Those were the years of the lives of my grandparents and great-grandparents, lifespans and life-narratives which I make no attempt to integrate into this discussion of a Bahá'í paradigm which only emerged in the last two decades.

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 messages from the Supreme Body have virtually been showered upon the Bahá'í community in 2013 and the first three months of 2014. I have added passages into the text of this book from both the 2 March 2013 letter to the Iranian Bahá'ís, and the 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.

Section 6.1:

"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 did in the southern hemisphere's winter and summer, and in the northern hemisphere's summer and winter, respectively. By 2013 summaries of Ridvan messages were available for students, and those who wanted to seriously examine each Ridvan message. I am also confident that the document entitled "Insights from the Frontiers of Learning", prepared by the International Teaching Centre at the request of the Universal House of Justice for distribution at the Eleventh International Bahá’í Convention, was also studied in the months of 2013, and beyond into these first months of 2014. 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 more than 30 years years since the House of Justice began to prepare the Bahá'í community for "a phenomenon" that can be sustained once it has started, namely: entry-by-troops. 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. After half a century, indeed nearly six decades, entry-by-troops has been part of the preparatory package that is at the heart of Bahá'í community life. It has often seemed strange to many in the Bahá'í community given this emphasis on such a significant entry of new believers when, so often, decades seem to go by with what in 1979 the House of Justice referred to as a discouragingly meager response to the Bahá'í message among our contemporaries. Understanding of the context and content of this emphasis is crucial to both the novitiate and the veteran Bahá'í, if he or she is not to be discouraged by what is often a somewhat harsh community experience at the grassroots level with little growth year after year.

Two further lengthy letters, one to all delegates to Bahá'í National Conventions in May 2013, and two, to the participants at the 114 youth conferences throughout the world that took place in July 2013, also added to the commentary on the new Bahá'í culture, as each letter from the Supreme Body tends to do in various degrees as that culture advanced from year to year. I also add some of the contents from letters on: 17/7/'13, 27/8/'13, 5/12/'13, 29/1/'14, and 21/4/'14. But I do this only briefly. I will leave it to readers, to those who would like to further their understanding of this new Bahá'í paradigm, to read and study each letter as it unfolds some of the developing aspects of that new culture. All this is the job of each Bahá'í, and whatever I write can be no substitute for reading and rereading those messages and letters, those continuing forms of exegisis. In today's world, of course, with so much to read and so much to take in from the electronic media, the average individual is swamped and those messages from the Supreme Body often languish in an archive that is rarely revisited after the message has first been examined. Bahá'í life is a challenge on many fronts of which print is only one.

Section 6.2:

If we understand community as a place where we share a common identity, or as being-together in the same spatio-temporal presence, then the intimate relationship between the text and the solitary reader seems to work against communality itself. Literature in the form of Bahá'í writings or any other writings, invites us away from the common sphere, to a virtual space of intimacy where nothing else seems to exist but the reader and the text. At the same time, however, we may also argue that solitary reading creates some kind of what you might call a virtual community. The text is not for me alone ' there might be other rooms, in other times, in other places, where someone is having the same kind of experience with the same text as I am, as if nothing could disturb their ecstatic communication. And I feel certain complicity with that unknown other. Yes, we both are within this text, and the text is in both of us; we both belong to the community of its readers, even though we will probably never meet each other in real life. And here a community of solitary readers seems to differ from the community of lovers who share a text. In textual encounters, there is usually no jealousy, no need to appropriate the other. Texts are promiscuous, even though we perhaps do not like the idea that literally everyone reads them (we perhaps still want to think that communities have an outside). With the help of singular texts, we identify with communities that are perhaps not visible but that still have at least one distinctive feature: they are formed by readers of the same singular text.

In fact, every book creates several textual communities. I do not necessarily feel a sense of being-together with all the readers of a given book; I mostly only identify myself with those readers who share my values, who share the same 'interpretive community' as I do ' an interpretive community that is defined in many different ways. But is any interpretive community really one? The secret sense of complicity that we feel when we read in solitude, the sense that 'there are people out there that are reading the same lines and understanding the same thing as I do', is, in fact, mostly an illusion. In reality, we do not know what other readers get out of the text, how they interpret it, or what enjoyment they draw from it. This often becomes evident when textual communities become public, when we learn to know who our virtual reading companions were and how they actually received the book. It is always a shock when I learn that an old friend of mine, a friend whose values and thoughts I have always believed to be similar to my own, has read and understood some book, or some portion of a book, in a totally different light than I. Should I doubt my judgment of the book, or my judgment of my friend? Do we live in the same world? It seems that in order to think communities of solitary readers we need a new concept of community that is not based on the ideas of a shared time, space, or identity.

Section 6.3:

There are many good, and many not so good, reasons to read and to participate in study circles and devotional meetings, Feasts and deepenings---places for actual working communities of readers. They might include: gaining cultural capital, developing our emotional skills, learning more about other cultures, satisfying our curiosity, enjoying voyeurism, wanting to kill time, etc. But for the most part, these 'reasons' imply that there is some other, more fundamental desire for reading together, desire that cannot be pinpointed or defined exactly, except perhaps by the following loose and not really very clear definition. "We read because we are not self-sufficient creatures, because we acknowledge, perhaps unconsciously, the imperative of the Other, the necessity to stay open to the call of otherness.

When we read and listen to other read there is, ideally, an openness to the vocative that we hear in the voice of others, openness that precedes what is said and whatever reasoning is taking place. This openness constitutes subjectivity and also the possibility to form instrumentalist working communities around the text. It is what one student of the subject calls 'friendship prior to friendship', readiness of the reader to welcome the other that takes place before we actually read, before we even know what to expect. Without this openness, there cannot be any genuine reading at all. The voice, the call, the words, may become, however, forgotten as soon as they are read. The words may be replaced by the insistent daily life, its work, and all those good or not so good reasons that we use in order to justify our reading.

The dimension of otherness in reading, in literature, is multiple, and the emphasis differs from genre to genre, text to text, and reading to reading: sometimes the other in the text is experienced primarily as the author's voice, sometimes as a presence of a fictive person or entity, sometimes as History or Nature, sometimes as the sheer materiality of language. However, in every textual encounter, the other in the text is in some way transformed from a sheer object or machine to something that carries marks of subjectivity; the text becomes a prosopopoeia, a personification of the other. In a textual encounter, the reader feels that he or she is no longer only reading a text, but, in a curious and paradoxical way, the text is also reading him or her. In reading, we are both active and passive: we use texts for our own desires and purposes, but we also, in a way, encounter texts, almost as we encounter other human beings, taking the risk that the encounter may change us in a way that we cannot totally know or control beforehand. For quite a detailed discussion of the above process go to: Culture Machine, Vol 8 (2006):Textual Communities: Nancy, Blanchot, Derrida by Kuisma Korhonen.

Section 7:

The House of Justice noted, in forwarding the 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 endeavors of the friends who, in diverse circumstances, were tirelessly engaged in building vibrant communities. In some ways this document coming, as it does, at the completion of the first two years of this current FYP(2011-2016), and emphasizing the "close examination of the pattern of action characteristic of the clusters at the forefront of learning," is aimed at helping the international Bahá'í community move from 1200 clusters to 5000 by April 2016.

Individuals, communities, and institutions around the world are learning how to set in motion a process that attends to the spiritual and material needs of a population. They are also reflecting on how this burgeoning capacity can be further nurtured. The ITC emphasized this in its August 2014 edition. Prepared under the auspices of the International Teaching Centre for the institution of the Counsellors, extracts from many incoming reports are made available. All or portions of this publication may be reproduced or distributed within the Bahá’í community without permission from the Teaching Centre. I have not done so here, but I encourage readers of this book to access what are now nearly 3 dozen issues of "Reflections on Growth" to get updates on how the new Bahá'í paradigm is working itself out at the grassroots level. The latest edition of Reflections on Growth "shares experiences about how a cluster can begin its movement towards the first milestone, where core activities are sustained “by those progressing through the sequence of institute courses and committed to the vision of individual and collective transformation they foster.” (Message dated 28 December 2010 written by the Universal House of Justice to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors)

"Drawing on the assistance of friends acting as travelling teachers and homefront pioneers," the ITC points to "numerous examples of individuals who, having gained practical experience in contributing to the material and spiritual transformation of their own community, arise and serve in other clusters. “The successful prosecution of the Plan”, the Universal House of Justice stated in its message dated 23 May 2011 to the Bahá’ís of the world, “will require the services of … consecrated souls who, spurred on by their love for the Blessed Beauty, will forsake their homes to settle in villages, towns and cities in order to raise to 5,000 the number of clusters with programmes of growth.” The ITC also emphasizes developing the capacity to share experiences and resources between clusters. They give several examples of how "friends in clusters with existing programmes of growth are coming together to identify how they can help neighbouring communities to draw on the spiritual forces released by the teachings of Bahá’u’llah.

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 Counselors 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 which deal with 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 some of the central ITC messages of which this latest ITC message provides the most comprehensive statement of the current state of play in the achievement of the goals of this new Bahá'í paradigm as we near the completion of the third year of the current Five Year Plan.

Section 7.1:

Back on 12/12/'11, nearly 3 years ago now, 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, more than two years ago, among the many other Ridvan messages, I comment on briefly in this book from time to time---as I have already done to some extent in the first parts of this book. The next Ridvan message from the House of Justice is due in April 2015 and, at that point and as I say above, the current Five Year Plan will be 80% over. The letters from the UHJ to the Iranian Bahá'í community, while not about the new paradigm explicitly, have also contributed their part to the international Bahá'í culture, and that culture's most newsworthy, controversial and terrifying maelstrom of turmoil and trouble. The many letters to the Iranian Bahá'í community offer a whole segment of commentary on Bahá'í experience in recent decades, and in this new paradigm. Indeed, serious students of the Cause, especially many who have been Bahá'ís over many decades, are more than a little aware of the vast reach, the extensive commentary, that exists in the corpus, the oeuvre, the body of letters and messages from the chief institutions of the Cause, words which define and redefine the history and present state of the Bahá'í community.

While all these messages and all this community-building is taking-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 and often the result is problems and tests which are meant, among other purposes, to be educative and facilitating the transition from potentiality to actuality. In this new paradigm, as in life itself, there are winners and losers. You and I do not win all the battles. Many lose contact with the Cause and withdraw, become inactive, focus their energies on all sorts of activities that, in the end, do not draw them closer to the Cause of God, to its institutions or to their fellow-believers. As Shoghi Effendi once said and in many different ways: "the only real battles in life are within the individual."

INTRODUCTION #2:<

Part A:

The process I have described above and below 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. Whatever aphorisms, and moralistic preachments I include are but a small portion of the immense Revelation and what is now a staggering corpus of commentary, far more than each individual is capable of taking-in as a student of the Cause. We each garner our thimble-fulls or our gallon-measures from the Ocean of print.

“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 three years ago, 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 & 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 many of 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. Ours is an instant society in so many ways.

Part B:

Section 1:My Way of Putting Things

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 explore these thoughts, thoughts put on paper beginning in 2007 and continuing in the eight 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 far 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 eight 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 caged-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 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.

Section 1.2: Awakening an Attitude

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 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.

Section 1.3: A Sense of the Future

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 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 the grace of today’s educational system. Under the pressure of a liberal ethos, an ethic of individualism, and with no common agreement of the nature of the human being who is being educated, the educational system is often the victim of forces similar to those that govern the 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. Still, educational systems, like the many forces of socialization and culture can not be ignored in any analysis and description of the new Bahá'í paradigm.

Section 1.4: Bahá'í Culture

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.

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 dark-some well and a blind pit which our idle fancies dig over and over again burying us in the process and, if not burying us, at least leaving us the victim of our idle fancies. It is so often these fancies which the many pundits of error exploit. Ill-equipped to interpret the social commotion at play throughout the planet, and troubled by forecasts of doom, they and we do battle with the phantoms of a wrongly informed imagination. It is, in part at least, the function of this new Bahá'í culture to help the millions of individual Bahá'ís deal with imagination and memory, with history and society. This task is far from simple.

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 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 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 general 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-narratives.

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)Much is also acquired by learning. The House of Justice wrote at Ridvan 2014 as follows about what it referred to as: "the centrality of knowledge to social existence." The Supreme Body continued: "The perpetuation of ignorance is a most grievous form of oppression; it reinforces the many walls of prejudice that stand as barriers to the realization of the oneness of humankind, at once the goal and operating principle of Bahá’u’lláh's Revelation. Access to knowledge is the right of every human being, and participation in its generation, application and diffusion a responsibility that all must shoulder in the great enterprise of building a prosperous world civilization—each individual according to his or her talents and abilities. Justice demands universal participation."

They continued: "Thus, while social action may involve the provision of goods and services in some form, its primary concern must be to build capacity within a given population to participate in creating a better world. Social change is not a project that one group of people carries out for the benefit of another. The scope and complexity of social action must be commensurate with the human resources available in a village or neighbourhood to carry it forward. Efforts best begin, then, on a modest scale and grow organically as capacity within the population develops. Capacity rises to new levels, of course, as the protagonists of social change learn to apply with increasing effectiveness elements of Bahá’u’lláh's Revelation, together with the contents and methods of science, to their social reality. This reality they must strive to read in a manner consistent with His teachings—seeing in their fellow human beings gems of inestimable value and recognizing the effects of the dual process of integration and disintegration on both hearts and minds, as well as on social structures.

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 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 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 more than 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(1953-2014) 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 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, 2004 to 2014, 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

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. And I do make these comparisons and contrasts in Part B of this book. I could also anticipate future developments within this paradigm and future paradigms, but I leave most of those anticipations to others who have written and still write both in cyberspace and real space. 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 nearly two years ago,regarding the future of humankind this temptation is for the most part 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 at this juncture.

The scope of what was originally an essay in the middle of 2007, and is now a book of 650 or 580 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, or too poetic as I have often heard, or far too theistic, and on and on goes several litanies of why person X or person Y found the Bahá'í Faith "not for him or her." 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 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. So often, too, we cherry-pick aspects of the Cause and place them at the centre: some apocalypticism, some Hindu-Buddhist matrix of thought and practice; the cherry-pickers are many and, in my 60s years of association with this Cause, I have done my share of cherry-picking.

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." At the same time, there is an important, a significant, place for certitude, a theme Bahá'u'lláh has written about extensively in book after book.

UNITY IN DIVERSITY

Unity in diversity has always been the watchword in spite 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: 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 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 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 reckless destruction of the environment of the planet--such are only some of the more obvious in a catelogue 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 and anxiety, tests and difficulties, are 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 eight years, 2007 to 2014, of the presence of this book, this commentary on the new Bahai culture, on the internet, this work 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 perhaps as many or more than 40,000 hits at this site and the many 100s of other sites at which I have placed it in whole or in part. My current guestimation is some 40,000 hits as of 21/3/'14. 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 out of all 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 study and read about it. Of course, only about one-third to one-half 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 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 grown-out of experienced conviction over many decades. Still, I do not expect this book 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.

SENSE AND CONCEPT OF COMMUNITY: SOME HISTORICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVES

Part 1:

There are a myriad notions of community that lie behind my activity in cyberspace. I have come across these notions over the last half-cnetury in my studies in the social sciences. The Aristotelian idea of community understandably approved the classical duty incumbent on men no less to love others than themselves. Not all philosophers saw community as Aristotle(384-322 BC) did. Machiavelli(1469-1527), the Italian historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, humanist and writer based in Florence during the Renaissance, was very pessimistic about human nature and, consequently, about community. Others, philosophers and thinkers of many ilks, saw people as naturally induced to seek communion and fellowship with others. Some thinkers are optimistic souls, some pessimistic, some practical realists, some utopian. Each thinker and philosopher has their own take on things, their take on human nature and existential reality, their take on the nature of community and the individual. Of course, this is just saying the obvious.

Part 1.1:

Michel de Montaigne(1533-1592), one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, known for popularising the essay as a literary genre, and commonly thought of as the father of modern skepticism, echoed an Aristotelian perspective. "There is nothing for which nature seems to have given us such a bent as for society," he assured his readers. Aristotle wrote that good lawgivers have paid more attention to friendship than to justice. Friendship is the "peak" of a "perfect society." (Montaigne, Essays, pp. 92-3). In these secular terms, friendship was generally esteemed. Etienne de la Boetie(1530-1563), a French judge, writer, anarchist, and one of the founders of modern political philosophy in France, advised that "our nature is such that the common duties of friendship consume a good portion of our lives" (Charier, A History of Private Life, p. 21).

Part 1.2:

The idea of "duty" is important in many conceptions of friendship. For many, the idea of friendship was immediately idealised, in classical terms, as a matter of responsibility to fellow members of the community. In his Book of the Governor, Sir Thomas Elyot(1490-1546) defined the good magistrate as one who was a "plain and unfeigned friend." The secular aspect was, then, intimately related to classical models of public and civic association. James Harrington(1611-1677), an English political theorist best known for his controversial work, The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656), described friendship more in terms of agricultural settlement and rural life than in terms of ideals of Roman civic governance. His views were firmly based on received models of citizen "virtue." Indeed, as John Pocock(1924- ), a writer and historian of political thought, noted, the importance of Oceana lies precisely in its translation of classical ideas of association into a world determined by the jurisprudence of the common law.

Since many readers who come to this sub-section of my webpage come here as 'friends' from a multitude of internet sites at which I post, you might enjoy a book published in 2006 by one of the English speaking world's finest essayists, Joseph Epstein. The book is entitled: Friendship: An Expose. This is a rambling, shambling, highly personal survey of a universal relationship. It is a relationship whose fluidity and changing nature---through history and through the stages of a single life---make it rich pickings for an erudite essayist of Mr. Epstein’s caliber. A review of that book is found at this link at The New York Times:http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/26/books/26grim.html

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 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

Section 1:

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 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 of power 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 better prepared for understanding the nature of this new paradigm.

Before concluding these few words on the subject of power and authority, I want to quote quite extensively from a letter dated 2 March 2013 from the House of Justice to the Bahá'ís of Iran. "At the heart of the learning process," writes the Supreme Body "is inquiry into the nature of the relationships that bind the individual, the community, and the institutions of society—actors on the stage of history who have been locked in a struggle for power throughout time." The House of Justice makes a series of pertinent remarks about power and politics which I will simply add in the several paragraphs below.

"....(T)he assumption that relations....will inevitably conform to the dictates of competition, a notion that ignores the extraordinary potential of the human spirit, has been set aside in favour of the more likely premise that their harmonious interactions can foster a civilization befitting a mature humanity. Animating the Bahá’í effort to discover the nature of a new set of relationships among these three protagonists is a vision of a future society that derives inspiration from the analogy drawn by Bahá’u’lláh, in a Tablet penned nearly a century and a half ago, which compares the world to the human body. Cooperation is the principle that governs the functioning of that system. Just as the appearance of the rational soul in this realm of existence is made possible through the complex association of countless cells, whose organization in tissues and organs allows for the realization of distinctive capacities, so can civilization be seen as the outcome of a set of interactions among closely integrated, diverse components which have transcended the narrow purpose of tending to their own existence. And just as the viability of every cell and every organ is contingent upon the health of the body as a whole, so should the prosperity of every individual, every family, every people be sought in the well-being of the entire human race. In keeping with such a vision, institutions, appreciating the need for coordinated action channeled toward fruitful ends, aim not to control but to nurture and guide the individual, who, in turn, willingly receives guidance, not in blind obedience, but with faith founded on conscious knowledge. The community, meanwhile, takes on the challenge of sustaining an environment where the powers of individuals, who wish to exercise self-expression responsibly in accordance with the common weal and the plans of institutions, multiply in unified action."

Section 2:

"If the web of relationships alluded to above is to take shape and give rise to a pattern of life distinguished by adherence to the principle of the oneness of humankind, certain foundational concepts must be carefully examined. Most notable among them is the conception of power. Clearly the concept of power as a means of domination, with the accompanying notions of contest, contention, division and superiority, must be left behind. This is not to deny the operation of power; after all, even in cases where institutions of society have received their mandates through the consent of the people, power is involved in the exercise of authority. But political processes, like other processes of life, should not remain unaffected by the powers of the human spirit that the Bahá’í Faith——for that matter, every great religious tradition that has appeared throughout the ages—hopes to tap: the power of unity, of love, of humble service, of pure deeds. Associated with power in this sense are words such as “release”, “encourage”, “channel”, “guide” and “enable”. Power is not a finite entity which is to be “seized” and “jealously guarded”; it constitutes a limitless capacity to transform that resides in the human race as a body."

"The Bahá’í community readily acknowledges that it has a considerable distance to traverse before its growing experience yields the necessary insights into the workings of the desired set of interactions. It makes no claims to perfection. To uphold high ideals and to have become their embodiment are not one and the same. Myriad are the challenges that lie ahead, and much remains to be learned. The casual observer may well choose to label the community’s attempts to surmount these challenges “idealistic”. Yet it certainly would not be justified to portray Bahá’ís as uninterested in the affairs of their own countries, much less as unpatriotic. However idealistic the Bahá’í endeavour may appear to some, its deep-seated concern for the good of humankind cannot be ignored. And given that no current arrangement in the world seems capable of lifting humanity from the quagmire of conflict and contention and securing its felicity, why would any government object to the efforts of one group of people to deepen its understanding of the nature of those essential relationships inherent to the common future towards which the human race is being inexorably drawn? What harm is there in this?"

POLITICAL ACTIVITY

"This brings us, at last, to the specific question of political activity. The conviction of the Bahá’í community that humanity, having passed through earlier stages of social evolution, stands at the threshold of its collective maturity; its belief that the principle of the oneness of humankind, the hallmark of the age of maturity, implies a change in the very structure of society; its dedication to a learning process that, animated by this principle, explores the workings of a new set of relationships among the individual, the community and the institutions of society, the three protagonists in the advancement of civilization; its confidence that a revised conception of power, freed from the notion of dominance with the accompanying ideas of contest, contention, division and superiority, underlies the desired set of relationships; its commitment to a vision of a world that, benefitting from humanity’s rich cultural diversity, abides no lines of separation—these all constitute essential elements of the framework that shapes the Bahá’í approach to politics set out in brief below."

"Bahá’ís do not seek political power. They will not accept political posts in their respective governments, whatever the particular system in place, though they will take up positions which they deem to be purely administrative in nature. They will not affiliate themselves with political parties, become entangled in partisan issues, or participate in programmes tied to the divisive agendas of any group or faction. At the same time, Bahá’ís respect those who, out of a sincere desire to serve their countries, choose to pursue political aspirations or to engage in political activity. The approach adopted by the Bahá’í community of non—involvement in such activity is not intended as a statement expressing some fundamental objection to politics in its true sense; indeed, humanity organizes itself through its political affairs. Bahá’ís vote in civil elections, as long as they do not have to identify themselves with any party in order to do so. In this connection, they view government as a system for maintaining the welfare and orderly progress of a society, and they undertake, one and all, to observe the laws of the land in which they reside, without allowing their inner religious beliefs to be violated. Bahá’ís will not be party to any instigation to overthrow a government. Nor will they interfere in political relations between the governments of different nations. This does not mean that they are naive about political processes in the world today and make no distinction between just and tyrannical rule. The rulers of the earth have sacred obligations to fulfil towards their people, who should be seen as the most precious treasure of any nation. Wherever they reside, Bahá’ís endeavour to uphold the standard of justice, addressing inequities directed towards themselves or towards others, but only through lawfiil means available to them, eschewing all forms of violent protest. Moreover, in no way does the love they hold in their hearts for humanity run counter to the sense of duty they feel to expend their energies in service to their respective countries."(UHJ, 2 March 2013)

The approach, the strategy, the Bahá'í way of going about things, with the simple set of parameters outlined in the foregoing paragraphs enables the community, in a world where nations and tribes are pitted one against the other and people are divided and separated by social structures, to maintain its cohesion and integrity as a global entity and to ensure that the activities of the Bahá’ís in one country do not jeopardize the existence of those elsewhere. Guarded against competing interests of nations and political parties, the Bahá’í community is thus able to build its capacity to contribute to processes that promote peace and unity without become part of, and getting enmeshed in, the tortuous partisan politics which threaten to derail so much that is good in contemporary society by getting caught up in the polarizing and competitive game that is politics in our modern world.

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 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 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

Part 1:

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 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.

Part 2:

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 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 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.

Part 3:

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 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.

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 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. 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 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

Part 1:

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.‛

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.

Part 2:

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 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.

Part 3:

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.

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 more than two years ago 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 contribute to it sacrificially, as their means allowed."(Ridvan 2012)

The House of Justice noted that the process of entry by troops had 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 those new houses of worship marked 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 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.

As recently as 1 August 2014 the House of Justice wrote in relation to these new Houses of Worship that "these undertakings, inextricably linked to the development of community life now being fostered everywhere....are further steps in the sublime task entrusted to humanity by Bahá'u'lláh." In a lengthy letter about "the heartening advances" in relation to the construction of several of these temples, the Supreme Body emphasized what they referred to as "the dynamic interaction between worship and endaevours to uplift the social, spiritual and material conditions of society." I could quote at greated length insofar as this recent letter is concerned but, again, I leave it to readers to keep abreast with the ongoing elucidation of the many, the multitude, of the aspects and details in relation to this new Bahá'í culture of learning and community life.

THE INTERNET

Part 1:

We are all dwelling in cyberspace, coursing through the wires, becoming cyborg and becoming human, alone at the keyboard, together online. We are subjects of a realm which offers new ways of envisioning Self & Other. Cyberspace is a type of parallel universe where a global cyberculture is in the process of creation. Cyberculture is devoted to an examination of the new subjectivities & collectivities that are emerging. As a member of this new technological society I am interested in the cultural and political, philosophical and psychological, historical and economic issues engendered, on all levels of the social. Of course, it must be remembered that over half the world's peoples have no access to this new technology as I write these words in March 2014.

The spectacular introduction of what are called the new technologies into the production, diffusion, distribution and consumption of cultural commodities, of which literary works of all kinds are but one of these commodities, is in the process of transforming culture. This is true, as I say, of the culture within which I live and have my being, but it is not yet true for all the peoples of the world in our planetary culture. This process, this transformation, was beginning to occur just as I retired from a half century student-employment life, 1949 to 1999. The result is that, for me, reinvented as a writer and author, poet and publisher, editor and researcher, scholar and reader, online blogger and journalist, in the years 1999 to 2014, I was able to find literally millions of readers. The Latin expression "mirabile dictu" applies to my online experience; I learned the phrase in high school Latin more than 50 years ago, and I leave it to readers with the interest to Google it, as they say more and more these days.

Part 2:

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 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 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.

Part 3:

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:

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 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, 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 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

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 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

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

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

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.

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 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 30 to 40 thousand clicks over the last eight years, a needle in the haystack that is 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, 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 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 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

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.

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 story, 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 re-figuring 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 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 COUNSELORS: A SPECIAL FOCUS

As the House of Justice pointed out some 40 months ago now, in its 28 December 2010 message to the Conference of the Continental Board of Counselors 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 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 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 an 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 and 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 significnat 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.

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 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 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 skeptical 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.

THE POWER OF UNDERSTANDING AND THE CRITIC

Section 1:

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 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 message of the House of Justice, on 8 February 2013, had 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.)

Section 2:

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 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. His criticisms may very well provide 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 and cautioning 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 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 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 history of 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 eight years has been provocative constructive and sometimes useful but, at least thusfar, it has not been aggressive or defiant, contumacious or insolent. I am neither unconcerned about how this book is received, nor am I unresponsive to what reception it receives, as I observe and react to the specific reactions of others. 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.

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 eight 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.

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(1863-2014) 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 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 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 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 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 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 2014. Nor does this book attempt to review the special developments in the amazing last half-century, say, 1963 to 2014, 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.

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.

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 2014), 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 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

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 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 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 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

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 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, 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(1863-2014) 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 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 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."

"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."

"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.”"

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.

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.

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 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 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 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

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 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. 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 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 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.

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

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.

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 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 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 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

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.

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 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

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.

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."

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.

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 700 pages and 250,000 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.

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 2014. 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 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 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)


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 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:

(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 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.

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.

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

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 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 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 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, 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 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

Part 1:

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 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 a quarter-century then--1990 to 2014--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.

Part 2:

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.

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.

Part 3:

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 internet(2007-2014) 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 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, 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:

Section 1:

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 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."

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 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.

Section 2:

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.

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."

Section 3:

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.

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 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.

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 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.

Section 4:

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.

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.

MORE THOUGHTS ON STUDY CIRCLES

Part A:

Over the last 18 years, 1996 to 2014, Bahá'ís have had the opportunity to participate, tutor, and be involved to varying degrees in numerous Baha’i study circles in different parts of the world. Some are experienced as "very goood." Some "could use a little work." Some complete a particular Ruhi book, and some fizzle-out before completion. There are Ruhi books that are run at an extremely intensive and accelerated pace, and others that take over a year to complete. Some bring people into the Faith, and some aren’t very well-received by some or all of the participants. The fact is that no matter what you think about study circles or what your involvement has been with them over the years, study circles have and continue to revolutionize many Baha’i communities worldwide, helping to change the overall culture of the Baha’i community--and I think for the better.

Of course there’s always room for improvement, and the participants are all learning through action and reflection while continuously developing and working on improving their ‘posture of learning’. Bahá'í Blog, a popular Bahá'í website, in August 2013, outlined six of the ways that study circles have helped the Baha’i community. They were listed as follows:

1. Becoming less insular as a community and helping us reach out.

Baha’i study circles are not just for Baha’is. By now most Baha’is should know that, but reaching out to our friends and neighbours to join us in a Baha’i study circle is not easy for everyone, but the fact is that study circles have helped the Bahá'í community to start thinking outside the parameters of the Baha’i community. They’ve served as a catalyst for many Bahá'ís to reach out, invite, and talk about the Faith with others, reminding them of the fact that the Teachings of Baha’u'llah are for everyone, and not just Baha’is. They are for the community at large no matter what their beliefs.

2. Emphasis on reading and studying the Baha’i Writings.

Baha’is are encouraged to read and study the Writings. Many Bahá'ís did this already, but for those who needed a little guidance or a tip or two of what exactly to read, going through the Ruhi sequence of books definitely helped guide the Bahá'í community to the important concepts they should be studying. Once a person has completed books one through to seven of the Ruhi sequence of courses, they would have read and studied with their study circle a total of 545 quotations from the Baha’i Writings?

Although Bahá'ís are meant to study the Baha’i Writings, and even read the Writings every morning and evening, many never had the discipline to do this, and so study circles provided the Bahá'ís with a systematic opportunity to deepen in the Writings, and furthermore – as mentioned in the first point – the participants are not just reading the Baha’i Writings, they’re reflecting and discussing these quotations and the concepts they present with a group of people who quite often have varying beliefs and understanding.

3. Nurturing a sense of ownership.

Before Baha’i study circles hit the scene, one could argue that many Baha’i communities had developed what could perhaps be classified as a ‘culture of dependency’ on certain individuals in the community. These individuals were often seen as more knowledgable on issues relating to the Faith and its history, so community would turn to them for all of their Baha’i knowledge, and not turn to the Writings to learn about a topic themselves. For example, Bahá'ís would go to a deepening class based on a certain book or topic, and often the dynamic of the deepening would be a one-way interaction between the speaker and the participants. Sure, there were a few questions here and there, but by-in-large the person holding the deepening would be the person everyone looked to for the answers. Such deepening classes were valid and they had a role in community life, but many community members were indirectly, and unintentionally, dis-empowering themselves from delving into the Writings. They did not really internalise and ‘digest’ the Words of God for themselves. Study circles have countered that culture of dependency by removing the ‘middle-man.’ They encourage everyone to deepen in the Baha’i Writings for themselves, and even charge the Bahá'ís with the task of memorizing the quotes found in the Ruhi books. With approximately 70,000 friends capable of serving as tutors of study circles, Bahá'í culture has definitely changed as a result.

4. Encouraging the Writings to become a part of us through memorization.

In one of Baha’u'llah’s Tablets, He encourages the believers to memorize the Baha’i Writings: "From the texts of the wondrous, heavenly Scriptures they should memorize phrases and passages bearing on various instances, so that in the course of their speech they may recite divine verses whenever the occasion demandeth it, inasmuch as these holy verses are the most potent elixir, the greatest and mightiest talisman." The Ruhi sequence of courses encourage Bahá'ís to memorize the Baha’i Writings, and they’ve even done a lot of the work for us by hand-picking them for the participants. Between the pages of Ruhi books one through to seven, there are 137 Baha’i quotations Bahá'ís are asked to memorize? The results of this emphasis on memorization amongst those who have been involved in the sequence of courses are evident. A significant shift over the last several years has taken place in the way in which the Bahá'ís are using the Baha’i Writings in their everyday speech. This, inevitably, has a direct effect on the ability of Bahá'ís to engage in meaningful and distinctive conversations. Furthermore, by participating in study circles Bahá'ís have had to come up with creative ways to memorize these quotes, and this has not only been fun, but it’s helped ensure that Bahá'ís did some memorizing.

5. A unified vision and systematic action. In a letter to the to the participants of the 114 Youth Conferences currently taking place around the world, the Universal House of Justice wrote: "The possibilities presented by collective action are especially evident in the work of community building, a process that is gaining momentum in many a cluster and in neighbourhoods and villages throughout the world that have become centres of intense activity." Before the Institute Process was adopted by the entire Baha’i world, Bahá'ís were doing their own little thing in their own little corners. Now that there exists a structured and systematic ‘road map’, Bahá'ís are all able to focus their energies with unified vision and action, and this has proven to be practical and powerful. Being able to chat to someone in Nepal, South Africa or Canada and know what they’re talking about when they mention what Ruhi books they’ve completed or are participating in provides a common bond. This is especially true for those who move around from place to place. A person can turn up to a community anywhere in the world and just ‘plug’ themselves straight into the activities.

6. Community building and a focus on service.

Baha’is know that service to others is an integral part of their Faith. As Abdu’l-Baha explained: "…all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer." Service is also fundamental to the sequence of courses developed by the Ruhi Institute. As the Ruhi Institute explains: "…the Institute’s main sequence of courses is not arranged according to a series of subject matters, with the specific aim of increasing individual knowledge. The content and order are based, rather, on a series of acts of service, the practice of which creates capacity in the individual to meet the exigencies of dynamic, developing communities. And as also noted above, the enhancement of such capacity is viewed in terms of “walking a path of service”…The acts of service treated in the Institute’s main sequence of courses are intended, then, to establish a dynamic pattern of action that will lead to the sound development of local communities." The Universal House of Justice explains this in the 2010 Ridvan Message: "More important is that every soul feel welcome to join the community in contributing to the betterment of society, commencing a path of service to humanity…"

The recent video from the Baha’i World Centre called Frontiers of Learning provided the Bahá'ís with examples of what community building can look like so that they could reflect on their experiences and learn to put into practice community building initiatives from around the world. The world embracing vision of Baha’u’llah is now being executed in all corners of the world. Before leaving the subject of this new video, I would like to make a series of comments on this subject of the frontiers of learning.

Part B:

With the release during the Ridvan 2013 period of: (i) the Ridvan 2013 message, (ii) the film Frontiers of Learning, and (iii) the ITC document of some 12,000 words, the international Baha’i community, now found in over 100,000 localities, has a good deal of additional reading on its plate. The present 1200 clusters “working to move beyond the first several milestones in their development”(1) will become 5000 by April 2016, if the goals of the current Five Year Plan are to be achieved.

“The services of several thousand consecrated souls” will be required “to forsake their homes”in order to raise to 5000 the number of clusters with programmes of growth.(2) The ITC document, in its review of the Baha’i experience since the beginning of this Baha’i culture of learning in the mid-1990s, describes a number of approaches which may enable Baha’i communities to accelerate the process and the progress that has begun in the last two decades.

The ITC expressed the hope that their“close examination of the patterns of action characteristic of the clusters,”now at the forefront of learning, will assist others at the earliest stages of development.”(3) It is not my intention in this brief post to provide an overview of that ITC document. Each Baha’i, each locality, each assembly, indeed, each Baha’i institution and agency will do their own studying of this lengthy statement from the ITC in the weeks and months ahead.

My intention, rather, is to outline what is happening in the small Baha’i community I have been part of for the last dozen years. I do this because each locality has its own story, its own history, and its own program of action, as it attempts to become a part of the new Baha’i paradigmin the years since it was initiated in 1996. Neither am I going to give an overview of the 23 year history of our small Baha’i group, currently a group of 5 members, nor am I going to outline the broad spectrum of our activities as they are presently taking place.

Part A:

I am going to write briefly about the home visits(HVs) which are but one element of what the George Town Baha’i Group(GTBG) sees as a coherent pattern of action over many years. Ours has been a campaign in which HVs relate to other activities in this locality of George Town: devotional meetings, deepenings, firesides, study circles, advertising, a display, joining and taking part in local groups, and developing friendships. The GTGB sees no hard and fast rules regarding the methods of teaching in which it engages. Each Baha’I attempts to “read their own reality, see their own possibilities, make use of their own resources.”(3)

The term HV was first introduced in the previous Plan, 2006-2011. Visiting in peoples’ homes has been a long-established activity in the Cause, as long as I have been associated with this Faith since the 1950s. During that last Plan, 2006-2011, HVs took on new dimensions. It is my intention here to comment on one particular variety of HV. It is visits to “families, friends and acquaintances.”(4)

It is not my purpose here to focus on HVs to those who are already Baha’is, HVs which often become deepenings. It is these deepeningswhich the Statistics Officers(SO) report to the regional SOs. The HVs I am writing about here are those which are reported to the SO, but not to the regional SO.

Part B:

For statistical purposes the GTBG defined a HV on 15 November 2007, one month after the concept was first introduced in the second year of that FYP, and when it was first required in the statistical reports to the then Baha’i Council for Tasmania for the NSA of the Baha’is of Australia, Inc., as: “a visit to anyone’s home, Baha’i or non-Baha’i, with some degree of regularity with the intention of teaching and/or deepening.”

All of the homes and people visited thus far, at least those who are not Baha’is, in the six years that HVs have been taking place in the Baha’I locality of George Town, have not been serious seekers, at least initially. It has obviously been the hope that some of these people would become serious seekers. The GTBG would like to emphasize that as of 21/4/’13 the point at which, as I say, 40% of the current Five Year Plan has been completed, there is still no one in this category.

It could be argued, though, that there are as many as two to four in this category—depending on how one defines the term ‘serious seeker.’ Sixteen homes are visited regularly, that is in every Gregorian month, and reported to the SO. In an average of 8 of these homes “a deep conversation on spiritual matters” takes place.

“A deep conversation on spiritual matters” is required for a visit to a home to be considered a HV. But, a deepening is not listed for the SO because the Baha’i writings are not viewed by those present as they are in some of those HVs by Baha’is to other Baha’is.

Part C:

I would like to emphasize that for our Group “the new emphasis on the institute process” in the last dozen years or so does not result “in a limiting of other Baha’i activities and programs like: deepenings and scholarship, firesides and other individual initiatives. There is much to be done in service to the Cause and many avenues of activity; not everyone needs to be doing the same thing. Many of the activities in the Cause are tools not goals, instruments for the achievement of ends, not the aims and ends in themselves. Indeed, the entire administrative apparatus is a means, at this stage of the growth and development of the Cause, is but a medium, an instrument for the prosecution of the teaching work.(5)

Part D:

The following, as I say, is a comment on some of the HVs of members of the GTBG. Most of the members of the GTBG have been involved in various forms of direct teaching now for: (a) the period involving HVs as discussed above and (b) many years before. This direct teaching has been “carried out in an appropriate manner which respects the wishes of the recipient....and as a means of attracting interest in the Cause.(6) The manner in which this direct teaching has been carried out takes “cognizance of the cultural norms of this locality and the preferences of the people living here.” This direct teaching does not involve making “a series of points of information that are enumerated for the listener”,6but, depending on the circumstances, aims to touch the heart and/or mind of the listener in relation to some aspect of the teachings.

We have come to see direct teaching as related to the method and not the venue, although in the last 6 years the HV has become an important aspect of the teaching work in the GTBG.We do not see direct teaching as synonymous with street teaching or going from door to door to: (a) invite people to a local event or (b) some other purpose but, rather, we define it as “an open and bold assertion of the fundamental verities of the Cause”(7) in whatever style and context is relevant.

The unit/the locale of activity in which this direct teaching takes place, as far as the GTBG is concerned, is the locality, not necessarily the neighbourhood or even the cluster in which we as Baha’is live. After ten years of holding devotional meetings, the GTBG now has two monthly events, a history of advertising in the form of posters, and items in the print and electronic media, HVs and, of course, the regular Feasts, Holy Days, and CRMs.Everyone has done at least one Ruhi book and two of our members have done the entire series of Ruhi books.

All these items could be the base of a collective teaching effort, but we do not have the resources for IPG activity. Occasionally over the years of the IPG in Launceston, one or more of the members of the GTBG help out with that IPG, but this has been a rare occurrence for many reasons.The above article is the first of what may become a series of short articles on HVs, if the editors of the Northern Lights Newsletter find this initial piece of sufficient interest and value in the teaching work.

----------------------------FOOTNOTES------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1.Insights from the Frontiers of Learning, International Teaching Centre, April 2013.
2. Ibid
3. Message dated 28 December 2010 written by the Universal House of Justice to the Conference of the Continental Board of Counsellors
4. Ridvan 2008 message written by the Universal House of Justice to the Baha’is of the world.
5. Ali Nakhjavani, A Talk, 11/12/08.
6. Message dated 28 December 2008 to the National Spiritual Assembly of Australia
7. Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p.109.

THE HOUSE OF JUSTICE: RIDVAN 2010

I would like to conclude this section with three quotations from the House of Justice Ridvan 2010 message, nearly four years ago now, 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 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."

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 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)

"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)

"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 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.

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 ten years, from 2004 to 2014, 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 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 2014, the year after 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 2014, 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

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 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 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 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

Part 1:

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. This section of my book will contain a greater elaboration of my role. 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 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 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.

Part 2:

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 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 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.

Part 3:

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 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 2014, 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.

Part 4:

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 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 consultation. Bahais are encouraged to aim high. "However modest," the House of Justice wrote in 2013 in commenting on the exertions of individual Bahá'ís, "they need to coalesce into a collective effort." This book is a good example, at least I like to think so, of this collective coalescence. I leave it to readers to assess whether, in fact, this collective literary effort has been a useful one. One can but try.

A different type of challenge had arisen on the internet, when an individual or group, using the privilege of Bahá’í membership, adopts various means to impose personal views or an ideological agenda on the Bahá’í community. In one recent instance, for example, an individual has declared himself a Bahá’í theologian, writing from and for the Bahai community with the aim to criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the Bahá’í community, to enable Bahá’ís to understand their relatively new Faith and to see what it can offer the world. Assertions of this kind, the Universal House of Justice made clear in a recent letter, "go far beyond expressions of personal opinion which any Bahá’í is free to voice." Here was a claim, the House of Justice went on to say, that was well outside the framework of Bahá’í belief and practice. The book in which the views were expressed was not reviewed before publication and the author was removed from membership rolls by the House of Justice. This was toward the end of the first decade of this new paradigm.

It seemed to me that what the House of Justice was doing was nipping in the bud an individual's attempt, an individual's assertion of what amounted to a declaration of 'theologian status.' Perhaps the attempt was unintended, but the Bahai Faith has no caste with ecclesiastical prerogatives, prerogatives that seek to foist or impose in even an indirect way some self-assumed authority upon the thought and behavior of the mass of believers. Bahaullah has prescribed a system that combines democratic practices with the application of knowledge through consultative processes. It seems to me that to call oneself "a Bahai theologian" is like calling oneself "a Bahai poet." I am, indeed, a poet; but I am a poet who is a Bahai. The distinction is not arbitrary but goes to the heart of Bahai ideology, philosophy, politics, theory and practice. As the artist Mark Tobey once quoted Shoghi Effendi: 'there is no official Bahai art.' This is also true of music and theology. What is official comes from the writings and the Supreme body: all else is interpretation. When someone is removed from membership, it is always a test not only for the person involved but for those around him or her since such an act seems to be a contradiction to the entire ethos of what the Bahai Faith is about. It is one of the many aspects of Bahai life and belief which is far from easy, far from the notion of liberalism which characterizes so much of the Cause.

Every individual has the right to hold and express personal views. I do this, have done and will do in the years ahead as a writer and poet, an editor and publisher. This does not mean, however, that whatever I say is always consistent with the Bahá’í Teachings. Bahá’u’lláh has established the criteria for understanding and practicing His Faith, and no one who professes to be a Bahá’í can systematically propagate personal interpretations that violate these criteria. An individual who insists upon a personal view in an effort to change the essential character of the Faith places himself outside the circle of Bahá’í belief. This has been true in the last half century of my Bahai experience as I have gone about getting what I write in book form reviewed by various reviewing committees to which I have sent my books.

Part 5:

My treatment of whatever topics I have dealt with in my books must be factually accurate, philosophically sound and must meet the approval of whatever authorized reviewing body examines my work. What I write and the extent that I use the various themes I do cannot be done as a vehicle to justify and underpin some personal authority. For I have no authority. I am free to criticize, clarify, purify and strengthen the ideas of the Bahá’í community but not from a position of any presumed authority, not outside the system of Bahai review.

If the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States chooses not to market the books of Kalimát Press through Bahá’í agencies, bookshops or other venues in that country, they have that right. Individuals and institutions have not been prevented from purchasing Kalimát’s books or from keeping them in their libraries. Rather, the National Assembly has simply decided that Bahá’í agencies will not sell Kalimat Press's books. The general policy in this regard, well-known to Bahá’ís, to Bahai institutions and Bahai publishers of Bahá’í books, is that even after a text is reviewed, publishers have the right to decide what books they will carry and promote. A National Spiritual Assembly, through its Publishing Trust or any other agency, decides what books will be stocked, promoted and advertised for sale. I have written several books and none of them are for sale in Bahai bookshops. One has been reviewed; no Bahai publisher wants to sell them in a hard cover since I have been told the books are not likely to sell well. And so I have made them available as ebooks and have been given permission to do so.

I mention all of the above simply to comment on some of the developments within the Bahai community during this paradigm, developments of interest to me, if not to the readers of this book. They are developments of interest to me because they relate to the role I am playing as a Bahai--not within the major features of this new paradigm: the institute process, the Ruhi books, the study circles, inter alia--but within the larger context of expansion and consolidation, within my capacity to converse with others on spiritual matters and speak about this new Revelation. I see my work, especially on the internet, as part of the steady increase in the tempo of teaching across the globe, part of the discharge of my fundamental spiritual obligation, an indispensable feature of my Bahai life, and an exercise of individual initiative, a quality often given emphasis by the Central Figures of the Cause and its appointed interpreters.(Ridvan, 2010)

Much of the field of criticism that I come across on the internet is somewhat esoteric but, given the increasing interest in Iran, in Israel and in the Middle East in general, for many reasons, there has been an increasing interest in the Bahai Faith. Topics which formerly did not arouse any public interest in relation to the Cause are now doing so. The field of historical and textual studies of the Babi and Bahai Faiths is one in which controversies abound. Non-Bahai researchers often disagree with Bahai accounts and interpretations of the movement's history and doctrine. Sometimes non-Bahai critics are unduly dismissive of the work produced by scholars who happen to be Bahais. They often see Bahai scholars as essentially learned apologists due to their willingness to accept prior review of their work, who slavishly follow 'a party-line' while pretending to be independent scholars. The result is often long-winded internet exchanges of interest to a few, read by a small section of the Bahai community, contributing little to the community in general, but having the function of defining the limits, the structure of freedom for the Bahai community by means of its Administrative Order.

Within this framework of freedom, a pattern is set for institutional and individual behaviour which depends for its efficacy not so much on the force of Bahai law and Bahai institutional policy, which admittedly must be respected, as on the recognition of a mutuality of benefits and on the spirit of cooperation. This spirit is maintained by the willingness, the courage, the sense of responsibility and the initiative of individuals---all expressions of individual devotion and submission to the will of God as defined by the House of Justice. As the House of Justice emphasized(29/12/88)in one of its extensive and important letters on the questions of freedom and authority--among other issues--there exists a balance in the Cause in relation to freedom between the institutions and the individuals who sustain their existence. When this balance is not achieved, when the standard of public discussion is not high, when candour and civility are not combined in proper measure, when discussions are conducted which undermine the authority of the institutions, the order of the Cause itself is endangered. The Guardian emphasized this during a major paradigm shift entre deux guerres in the 1920s. The House of Justice has reiterated this theme, this same emphasis, and I'm sure it will be a thread of concern long into the future of this Faith as it goes from strength to strength in the decades ahead.

Part 6:

Another variety of criticism in the last 15 years are those critiques associated with: the many exit-narratives, contested and uncontested; the apostate stories and a varied mix of leave-takers. Many marginal and peripheral members of the Bahai community, people who for decades were just considered inactive with the associated and seemingly endless discussions of how to encourage their participation, have written often sad accounts of their experience in the Bahai community. There are new web sites for X-Bahais, unenrolled Bahais, disenrolled Bahais, orthodox Bahais, dissatisfied Bahais, Bahais on the attack, subversive Bahais, indeed, a range of the strangest bedfellows imaginable. There are personal situations described in great detail, in many degrees and varieties of dissidence and disunity; there are covenant-breakers and quasi-covenant-breakers and all of this is mixed in with devoted believers, enthusiasts, the dedicated and the sincere.

Most of the organized and collective activity in many of these categories takes place only on the internet and, since most of the Bahai community's five to seven million adherents are not on the internet, the international Bahai community is not affected by all this coming and going, all this verbiage, however justified or not justified, however eloquent and well-reasoned, however poorly argued and shrill, however intellectually impoverished or erudite. For many of the Bahais like myself who have been around for decades, in my case since the 1950s, much of this negative verbiage has arisen only during this new paradigm and only on the internet,although much of the dialogue, the points at issue, have been heard before but not in writing. Such stories were heard in the back-blocks, the stories of the disaffected. Disaffection in the community, as in most communities of any substance with peoples lives and commitments at stake, is part of the drama of community, of social, life. Work and participation in the Bahai community is not an easy process as any veteran of decades will easily attest and as new recruits will soon find out.

Some of the critics one encounters on the internet are people with an obsession. Although some of these critics have a wide ambit of interests by profession or by inclination or by both, they have come to focus a great part of their energies as writers and internet posters on the subject of the Bahai Faith. It often seems to this writer as if the final flowering of the writing of some of these critics has become a preoccupation with criticism of the Bahai Faith. Some of these critics do not regard their subject with any affection and readers are cautioned not be distracted even momentarily by the introduction of academic conventions in the writings of some of these critics. Others, of course, have a genuine love of the Cause. There has come to be a mixed bag of folks on the net and readers need to keep a watchful eye on what my wife calls "their credentials." What is their status in the Bahai community as defined by the House of Justice, if that institution has in fact made some statement about their position. If one is unsure one can always consult with someone on the appointed side of the Cause or one of the many elected institutions. The Bahai Faith has developed an extensive apparatus of protective institutions out of necessity over the more than 150 years of its history.

Many critics possess a highly partisan opinion of the Bahai Faith which is often formed by some personal and negative experience with a Bahai, a group of Bahais or one of the institutions of the Cause. To what extent these views have come to represent the results of objective, concrete experience and reality and to what extent they are the spontaneous reaction to the barren and not-so-barren fields of interpersonal conflict is impossible for the impartial observer to know as they read the internet accounts, most of the time. Posts, articles, blogs, message boards, ebooks, indeed, an increasingly wide range of critical apologetics are sometimes heavily footnoted, drawing as I say on an apparently wide range of sources. While a degree of animus is unmistakable, the authors sometimes pay an occasional conventional tribute to the sacrifices which Bahais have made for their beliefs. After nearly sixty years of association with this new world religion, listening to the criticism of others is not a new experience for me. I would go so far as to say: I have heard most of the venom before which I have come across on the internet in the last 15 years. Australia is an anti-authoritarian culture and given to a good deal of criticism of others. In addition, Baha’u’llah’s emphasis on not gossiping and keeping one's criticism mild is due to the difficulty most people have in implementing His advice in this critical area of community life. This whole domain is given a high priority in Bahai morality because it is so very prevalent or because it is so very difficult to achieve or, I think much more importantly, because it is so very important to the development of trust and confidence as well as any sane and meaningful community life.

Part 7:

This religion is made up of people, fallible people, people who are far from perfect, and they often rub each other the wrong way. In the process people's feelings are often hurt to the point where they can take no more and you don't see them anymore. Large segments of many Bahai national communities have what the Bahai community has for years called, as I say, 'the inactive believer.' And more than this, large segments of many communities have members without addresses or means of being contacted. The Bahai Faith is not a tea-party, often inspite of appearances to the contrary. Bahai community life is often demanding as is any other organization with a significant role to play in society. To play a part in its culture has, from my point of view, never been easy. This will be true in this new paradigm and even more as this Faith expands and plays an even more important role in society in this new millennium.

Some critics on the internet and not on the internet do not seem to be able to leave Mason Remey alone and the Orthodox Bahais who have come after him. Remey's unsuccessful efforts to create a rift in the membership of the Faith is no doubt relevant to any comprehensive discussion of modern Bahai history from the later 1950s onward, but his efforts can usually be more than adequately dealt with in a paragraph, illustrated by an extract from one of Mr Remey's statements, if that seems necessary to the writer's argument. To present a figure like Remey as a major historical source on Bahai history is unacceptable in any serious argument, at least to me. Mr. Remey was an aged man at the time he produced his polemical writings against the Custodians in the late 1950s and 1960s. His condition made him seem, to many, a pathetic figure and his mental state could not have been unknown to anyone in even limited contact with him. His statements throw no light whatever on the extraordinary expansion of the Bahai Faith in the past seven decades, decades both before and after Remey's death in 1974.

Few people, either within the Bahai Faith or outside, took seriously Mr Remey's pretensions, and he died in his hundredth year, bereft of supporters or attention. But the Orthodox Bahais can be found on the internet as if they represented a split in the Cause. Not all the Babis became Bahais in the 1860s and 1870s but the notion that there was a split in the Cause is a piece of historical casuistry which I imagine will be with us for decades if not centuries to come. A tiny storm can be made in a tea-cup as we used to say. I've heard that story and seen that tea-cup around for my entire life as a Bahai.

According to the court documents themselves there are only about thirty followers of the so-called Orthodox Bahá'í Faith or Remeyites, as I prefer to call them. But the real problem with the discussion in the last decade, and particularly since the reopening of the court-case in the USA, is that it distorts the subject. The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the United States has been merely attempting to enforce an *existing* court order which came as a result of a lawsuit the Remeyites had themselves filed in 1964. In that lawsuit anf under Mason Remey's direction, they themselves attempted to claim a monopoly, not only over the term "Bahá'í" but to claim all Bahá'í properties as well. Had Mason Remey believed this was something that should be decided in hearts and minds, and not in the courts, this court order would never have been issued in the first place.

Remey, by the way, accepted that court order and ordered his organization to disband and stop using the term "Bahá'í." That is when Joel Marangella broke with Mason Remey and claimed the Guardianship for himself, forming the "Orthodox Bahá'í Faith." Their argument has been that since they are a separate organization they are not bound by the court order issued against Mason Remey's organization. The National Spiritual Assembly holds that this new organization was but a subterfuge around the court's original decision. This is what is being argued in the last year or so before the Court of Appeals. It is an issue of who owns the Bahá'í trademarks, not which faction is really 'orthodox.' The National Spiritual Assembly is not trying to infringe on anyone's religious liberty, merely to safeguard the names and symbols of their own organization.

Part 8:

The Bahai Faith does not have what in Islam has been called ‘takfir’. Sen McGlinn makes this point in his essay "Defending Shoghi Effendi." Bahais cannot call other people kafir, infidel or unbeliever with the resulting ruling that their marriage is annulled and they become in the process ‘unclean.’ In the Bahai Faith there are not a group of believers who have to go through acts of purification before saying their prayers if they have contact with such persons; for example, because his beliefs were thought to be unorthodox, Shaykh Ahmad was subject to a takfir issued by the religious leaders of Qazvin.The term takfir derives from the word kafir,impiety, and is described as when one who is, or claims to be, a Muslim is declared impure. Those to whom takfir is applied are considered excommunicated in the eyes of the Muslim community. The Bahai Faith has no takfir in at least two senses: there is no concept that anyone is ‘unclean,’ and being declared a covenant-breaker does not affect one’s legal status or rights. It’s simply a non-confrontational strategy for dealing with conflict. By separating, as Baha’u'llah separated from Azal in the Istanbul period, the true value of each group will become evident. In practice it has usually amounted to giving the person or persons enough rope to hang themselves, so to speak. If there is a real positive value in the position held by the person; they are simply removed from the community, that becomes evident over time.

Of course, the Supreme Body has the authority to judge a person's religious beliefs and declare someone a non-believer, unenrolled or disenrolled, or a covenant-breaker. The House of Justice has the authority to disenroll or unenroll a Bahai. Abdu’l-Baha said that it is not permissible to silence or humiliate others. The House does not silence anyone; the unenrolled Bahai is free to express his views but not as a declared Bahai. The Bahai approach really is a non-confrontational stance, intended to exclude all kinds of personal attacks, labelling, infringement of rights etc.. When the Supreme Body excludes a Bahai from membership that, of course, has a labelling effect. The person so excluded becomes an outsider, marginal. One can use one of several other terms. That doesn’t mean there is no apologetics; there are still arguments about the issues; it is difficult not to be involved in some labelling of the person, direct and/or indirect. If someone is an apostate, that’s not a label used to humiliate someone who thinks they are a believer. The term was used, for example, by Shoghi Effendi, in its correct sense for someone who has turned their back on one religion and joined another. As in much theological discussion, though, useless hair-splitting definitions abound, empty and profitless debates with a vain concatenation of imaginings that lead to no result except acrimony.(SDC, p.106)

Removal from Bahai membership seems to be a different thing than apostasy in recent useage both in and off the internet. There are varying significances to being accepted as part of the Muslim `ummah, to being declared an infidel or kafir, to being a church member or to being excluded from sacraments. It is partly a matter of personal identity and sometimes even salvation. Enrolment in the Bahai community is given a different weight than in the examples I have given above from Islam and Christianity--depending on what Bahai institution is doing the enrolling. There are still some countries and territories among the 246 in the wide-wide world where there is no enrolment. There have been many exemplary Bahais in the history of the Cause long before enrolment even existed. We can perfectly accurately say that Abu’l-Fadl was not enrolled, but he was certainly a Bahai, arguably the most erudite in Bahai history.

So far as I understand it--and this is something the House of Justice will in all likelihood clarify in this new paradigm--being on the membership rolls is meant to be like voluntary membership of an association, which is a free choice on both sides. There are procedures and reasons for taking away membership or not giving it in the first place and these are exercised by Bahai institutions. Sometimes no explanation is given. It’s like the coach deciding who doesn’t make the cut. It's also part of the Bahai religion, a part which is not popular among what might be called the more liberal of the Bahais. Although there are not official liberal and conservative Bahais, the issue often has more to do with Bahais simply accepting what the House does, what it writes and what it implements in the Bahai community as expression of official institutional policy. Again, for some Bahais this is not always easy and when it becomes too difficult for their reasoning minds to accept some feel they must tender their resignations. In a community of millions of souls this, it seems to me, is occasionally inevitable. Much in the Bahai Cause is simple, very very simple. But much is also complex: very, very complex.

Part 9:

The reason for the policy of shunning the violators has not been that they had a different religion, it has been because there is such a thing as a Covenant, and the Covenant is no trifle to be played with. The Covenant, combined with the policy that we do not use violence, or in any way discriminate against the legitimate rights of the covenant-breakers, but simply leave them to God, is the greatest protection for the children and great-great-grandchildren of Bahais from the curse of sectarian strife that has clouded the light of both Christianity and Islam. The blood on the robes of past religions comes not just from their lack of an explicit written covenant identifying the successor to the Founder and His authorities, but also from the lack of a clear principle that sectarian tendencies must be seriously combatted. Shunning those who form sects is a serious means of combatting schizmatic, sectarian, tendencies.

I have found Momen's article in the journal Religion(2007) entitled: Marginality and Apostasy in the Bahai Community has provided a helpful overview of much of the content in the above paragraphs and I encourage readers to examine this article and the internet discussion which it provoked to get a better handle on these many themes, some rather complex to understand. I have been involved directly with this issue of marginality and the kinds of concerns expressed by Kalimat Press since I was the editor of the arts section of Dialogue magazine back in the mid-1980s. So many of these problems are not new but a new generation of Bahais gets exposed to them on the internet or not exposed to them as the case may be. Bahais who don't spend much time engaged in these internet discussions and prefer to read and interact on other subjects with other groups of people, for the most part, never come across these issues and for the most part never take an interest in them. There is a complexity to all these terms and statuses in the community and, unless one is engaged in internet discussions on these subjects or takes some academic interest in the casuistry associated with these discussions, participants in this new Bahai culture can simply give it all a miss---and not miss anything. I have sometimes involved in these issues of membership because of my extensive internet teaching in literally hundreds of discussions over the years of this paradigm but, for the most part, I avoid the exit-narratives, the covenant-breaking sites, the endless bickering which can be found here and there in cyberspace.

Few if any of the Christian and Islamic writers who have chosen to attack the Bahai Faith over the past several decades have shown the patience to try to grasp the fundamental distinction between the Bahai Faith and previous religions. On the individual believer the divine command of this Cause lays the duty of acting with love, mercy, forbearance and forgiveness. Going one step beyond the so-called "Golden Rules" of earlier stages in mankind's moral evolution, Bahaullah calls upon the individual to "prefer others" to himself and teaches that such a standard is the only basis upon which the Bahai principle of "unity in diversity" can be realized, with all its implications for the protection of individual identity and the avoidance of dissention and the wide variety of interpersonal conflicts that can be avoided with the use of a battery of virtues and interpersonal skills. Preferring others to oneself, like the golden Rule itself, will keep each Bahai spiritually busy for generations, if not millennia, to come---or so it would seem to we who are part of the sceptical and cynical, critical and untrusting generations at the turn of the third millennium. In many ways it is easier to study and explore the principles than to practice them in daily life given their number and the very high standard that the Bahai community is asked to reach in their execution.

Part 10:

No one would claim that the high standards of Bahai morality are easily achieved, but they are essential parts of Bahai morality and community life if, indeed, that community is to be worthy of its name and if it is to attract others to it in the context of this new Bahai culture of learning and growth. For followers of previous religions, faith and virtue, belief and practice has been essentially an individual matter. The individual is saved alone, and society as such is irredeemable. At least this contemptus mundi as it is sometimes called is often, if not always, the case. Any social theology, if you can call it that, varies of course from denomination to denomination, sect to sect, cult to cult, branch to branch and religious division to division. The "coming of the Kingdom" is for the most part an event outside history, often so far outside indeed as to occur in another world entirely.

To be sure, these basic elements of Christian theology have been so muddied, as I say, by conflicting sectarian interpretations and by twentieth-century attempts to create a "social gospel" that the intellectual issues associated with this social gospel probably have little relevance for the average member of most Christian churches. Yet Pauline theology itself has not changed. However weakened or inarticulate, it continues to appear in habits of thought and in assumptions which reveal their presence when a mind conditioned by them tries to grapple with new elements in religious truth. And the Bahai Faith contains many new elements of religious truth. Although this religion has a preeminent simplicity, it also possesses a complexity which will keep the finest intellectuals, thinkers and social analysts busy for millennia to come.

In recent decades, with a vast increase in education and the simultaneous breakdown of ecclesiastical authority, the open vilification of religions continues in some circles and has given way to caution in others. Some of the anti-Bahai polemic on the internet is a representative example of the former and some of the latter. But the spirit and the essential methods of critique continue with the centuries. The aim so often is to attack and create contempt and aversion for beliefs which differ from one's own. The perennial explanation is that truth must be served, whatever the cost to human sensitivities. It would obviously be pointless and unseemly to dignify such arguments with any serious attention in the face of the methods by which earnest polemicists seek to serve their conception of truth. To many, of course, religion is simply irrelevant, but this has been the case in the West for decades and in some places for literally centuries as anyone with some familiarity with history over the last several centuries on this planet can easily testify.

Perhaps Bahais can regard the persistent efforts of some critics and their seeming obsession with the Bahai Faith with a certain degree of equanimity. Whatever interest these critics may arouse that interest must inevitably excite a wider discussion of their Founder's message, well, sometimes anyway! If at the same time such criticism stimulates Bahaullahs followers to a deeper study of the implications of that message, as it often does in the lives of some Bahais, these Bahais will surely have derived much benefit from such an experience.

Believers in all ages before the present have had similar experiences in dealing with critics. The gradual but unmistakable disappearance, too, of the ecclesiastical profession around the world seems likely to be part of this overall process. Of course, where that profession has not disappeared, it is often held up to a ridicule which is so pervasive as to make religious belief a laugh in the eyes of millions in our secular age. This is not always the case as fundamentalism continues to capture much ground.

CRITICISM FROM WITHIN THE CAUSE

Most of the critics of the Cause whom I have encountered on the net are not believers in traditional religions but this, I'm sure, will change in the years of this new paradigm. This is not to say that such believers are not present, but the main body of critics which Bahais have had to deal with thusfar in the first 17 years of this paradigm have been in the Cause in some way or another, at one time or another.

Some people, some Baha’is, view dissent positively. In the context of the unassailable authority of the Bahai institutions, dissent is seen by some as a positive activity or response. Assailing the House of Justice is for some---a virtue. If the authority in question is unassailable, that is, not liable to doubt, attack, or question, then dissent is merely noise with no positive result. If the purpose of dissent is to create an atmosphere of discord, then one could argue that such an initiative might be considered successful. Much discord has indeed generated. In our highly adversarial world, this is not surprising. That this is often the case in some ways is just part of the air that is the very texture of our critical and secular society.

Indeed dissent is a norm in some ways in our pluralistic society. To look at a dictionary or a thesaurus once again, though, dissention is defined as disagreement and it is often engaged in an especially partisan sense with contentious quarrelling as a noise-some accompaniment. Dissent, then, for good old Roget and his thesaurus, is a synonym for discord.

It is the partisan nature of dissent, the seeming need for dissenters to attract others to their cause or position, that is one of the major characteristics of the negative, soul-blighting essence, of dissent. Dissent often goes beyond free expression of opinion and becomes ego-centric and corrosive. Instead of saying "I offer these views for your consideration," the dissenter takes a much more strident and confrontational position. Dissent then becomes more fundamentalist in its confrontational, argumentative and oppositional nature; it often lacks any genuine etiquette of expression, any moderation and modesty. It proposes that only one side of the debate is possible, that only one view may be true. It is the five blind men examining the elephant picture with which we are all familiar. Were the one holding the trunk to say, "This animal appears like a snake; some aspect of the elephant is snakelike;" he would merely be expressing his opinion. But when he says "An elephant must be a snake; do not be fooled by others. Listen only to me, not the zoologists." In this context he is expressing dissent.

“Dissention is a moral and intellectual contradiction to those who would be unifiers of the children of men,” wrote the House of Justice back in 1988 before the inception of this new paradigm. What is desired in interchange is a tolerant assertion of preference and not an intolerant insistence of agreement of finality. And if, one must assert some categorical imperative, some arbitrary absolute, then calling down fire from heaven while one does the asserting is neither wise nor productive. To put this another way, the ends, the goals in a discussion should be seen as functional and relative and not be confused with objective complete reality. Reality here might be seen as a white light broken-down into the prism of human nature into a spectrum of values, derivative aspects of the same reality.

CONSULTATION

Consultation does not stress the emancipation, the freedom, from the authority and from the legitimacy of the organization. Rather, consultation is intimately bound up with and supportive of that authority and the institution that is the expression of that authority and within which that consultation takes place. At least this is the case with Bahai consultation in the myriad groups of Bahais on the planet. The very essence of groups of Bahais is some form of "social contract", some personal right that is offered to the group in exchange for some personal good. Bahais learn from the Writings what surrender is expected of them and some of that surrender is to the Administrative Order which they are asked to support. Just as you might surrender your right to drive in an intoxicated state in order that the forces of society will protect you from drunk drivers; so you relinquish certain rights, including the right of dissent, as part of your Bahai "social contract" which is actually with Baha’u’llah. This does not mean you cannot freely express your insights, ideas, or opinions; it is rather that such expression is done in the manner prescribed in the Writings: to uplift all, without dissent or discord. This is the theory but in practice it is often difficult to achieve the theoretical position or aim.

Principled dissent and dissension is not equivalent to unprincipled discord and disunity. The subject of disagreement in dialogue and consultation is a separate one that I cannot thoroughly deal with here. It is not my intention here to pummel readers with the Writings, chapter and verse, book by book, but if readers were to search on Ocean, an internet site with an extensive body of the Bahai Writings accessible with a few clicks of the fingers on your keyboard, or any one of several Bahai internet libraries for the word dissension or dissent, readers will readily see that what I am saying here is entirely consistent with these many references. This is not to say that the subject is complete at this point. The whole question of dissention is a complex one which I come at several time in this book from different perspectives. Although complex, the subject of harmonious dialogue is crucial to the process of the workings of Bahai administration. The Guardian wrote, as far back as 1923: "the Great Plan of the Future, as unfolded by the Master's Will and Testament, will be rudely disturbed and grievously delayed," indeed, "the whole structure is sure to crumble" if what he calls "this fundamental requisite" is not realized.(NSA, UHJ, 1972, pp.8-9.

Those with access to the internet, for the most part, don’t seem to take part in the heated discussions, in the endless casuistry and hair-splitting, in the extensive analysis as well as the fine-tuning and the defining of terms. But for a coterie the action is hot and fast, furious and fastidious. A great deal of heat has been generated both within the parameters, within the box, of the paradigm and outside the box of this new culture of learning and growth since 1996. This heat is still, and has been, part and parcel of the thematics, part of the picture and part of the whole of the Bahai world for more than a decade now but, from my perspective living as I do in the Antipodes, the temperature is cooling. The heat may not be entirely off, but the waters are hardly boiling anywhere except, at least as I see it, on several internet locations. There has always been an element, a portion, of the community, with some axe to grind. This was true on 23 May 1844 within the Shaykhi school of the Ithna-Ashariyyih sect of Shi'ah Islam and it will, in all likelihood, be true for the entire history and future of the Cause, although I'm sure there will be some who will not agree with my emphasis here.

Before saying a few words about combating criticism the Guardian emphasized the problems associated with the unfettered freedom of the individual and the need to temper that freedom. High aims and pure motives must be supported by measures which are practical and methods which are sound. NSAs are trusted guardians and supreme authorities in all matters under their jurisdiction. The guidelines for mature deliberation are many but the capacity to put them into practice is often lacking. This problem will beset the implementation and success of this paradigm as it has always done in previous paradigms throughout the 17 decades of Bahai history. The dissipation of precious energies often results from the incapacity of the believers, from conflicts between personalities and these aspects of community life, aspects which have been present as I say since the start of Bahai history, need to be remembered when the hoped-for plans do not materialize as quickly as the Bahai community, and the individuals which compose it, would like.

The process is often, indeed, it has always seemed to me, in some ways---slow. This slowness, though, is a matter of perspective. Since my mother joined the Bahai Faith in 1953 the total number of Bahais globally has increased 30 times. One could argue that this has been an exponential growth. Toynbee alluded to this growth and to the Bahai Faith in general in the early 1950s as "the religion of Western civilization" when there were only about 200 thousand Bahais in the world. As the great body of humankind has been invaded by violence and tempests of many and divergent kinds, as the remaining civilizations of the world were increasingly undermined by slow decay, this new and pure religion, humble in many ways insinuated itself into the remotest corners of the planet and the minds of men in the most unobtrusive ways; it has grown up in silence and obscurity, except in places of savage opposition and it aims to erect a triumphant banner on the ruins of planetized civilization by sensible and insensible degrees not unlike Christianity did some 2000 years ago.

COMBATING CRITICISM

The institutions of the Cause have tried to combat as effectively as they can the forces of separation and sectarian tendencies and to deal with equally divisive forces of extreme orthodoxy on the one hand and irresponsible freedom on the other and the tendency to divide the believers into categories such as deepened and uninformed. The institutions have continued to keep this Faith united as they have done thanks to the mystery and the wonder, the reality and practical efficacy, of the Covenant and they will continue to do so. The significance of this accomplishment nor of the Covenant is hardly appreciated. A new, an additional, Book 8 on The Covenant has been added to the sequence of Ruhi resources recently aimed at giving Bahais an appreciation of this element of the basic core of Bahai beliefs and teachings. Keeping this Cause unified after nearly two centuries could well be considered its chief accomplishment. It is an accomplishment of enormous, of crucial, proportions. It is also an accomplishment that, in some important ways, is more of a process than an event for, as I say, the problems associated with disunity and divisiveness may always be with us. They are part of the reality of unity in diversity, harmony and dissonance, conflict and peace, the many and inevitable polarities of life itself. They are part of the very air we all breath and will have to continue to be worked through in this and future paradigms by both the institutions of the Cause and the individuals who are the community's warp and weft.

The institutions of the Cause use logic, argument and various forms of intellectual and moral suasion to make whatever cases need to be made to combat the critics and the concerned, the worried and the worrisome. These institutions do not expect every member of the community to think, to feel and to act in some preconceived way. To expect everyone to do the same thing would not only be unrealistic it would be absurd. I have discussed criticism above in some detail and, although criticism is itself not an explicit part of this new paradigm, I have chosen as one of my many roles on the internet to deal with it in the best ways I know how. I see this as a useful contribution to the work of the Faith.

Some Bahai centres, localities, groups and assemblies have more and some have less of such critical individuals. Only a relative few, as I say, ever put their complaints and contentions on the internet for all to see and even fewer ever get into the many historical issues which the Bahai Faith has dealt with in the last century and a half. Of course, all of this is part of the drama of people in community, in the Bahai community and this new paradigm will see more of this play of light and shadow, of enthusiasm and criticism in the years ahead. For it is all part of the greatest of all dramas for Bahais, for it is their lives and it is their communities; it is their history and their future--to say nothing of their present experience--with all the passions and prejudices, practices and policies that inevitably characterize an international organization of millions of people across more than 200 countries and territories on the planet.

A Bahá'í of many years’ experience is also aware of the reality of what might be called temporary religious enthusiasms, enthusiasms which return by degrees to their natural level and resume those passions and prejudices that have characterized their lives and to which they had adapted their daily lives before hearing of this new Faith. Not everyone who comes in contact with the immense Force that is the Bahai Faith is transformed and those who are transformed often do so by an insensible process, a process that is a far cry from that characterized by the firey zeal and heat of charismatic groups. It is also useful to emphasize as this Faith expands in the decades ahead, to say nothing of its expansion in the first century and a half, that this Cause often attracts what are sometimes called the poor in spirit who have minds afflicted by calamity. Such people are often attracted by the visions and promises, by some mysterious spark of truth and light; whereas those who are satisfied with the world's possessions and the so-called worldly-wise dispute the truths of the Cause with their superior reason and knowledge. Such people often bring so much doubt to the investigative process that the teachers of the Faith have little chance of success in winning over their adherence.

This book or long essay is, I like to think, part of the more moderate phase of discussion that has emerged in the last year or so. I like to think of this book as one among the many moderate voices that exist beside some of the more shrill voices that still can be heard in the international Bahai community of some 120,000 localities, 6,000 clusters and approximately six million adherents. Now that this new paradigm has been in place for some fifteen years most of the major criticisms have been raised that are going to be raised, although one should never speak too soon. The guidance Bahais now receive in relation to this new paradigm is not simply a list of suggestions from which individuals and institutions choose according to their own preferences. The question is not, as one writer put it succinctly, does the guidance and this paradigm apply to me but rather how does the guidance apply to my life and activities?

Acceptance of the paradigm is largely in place with the flow of achievements, successes and new victories heard increasingly. There are still, as I say, those unloving critics and the critical lovers amidst what seem to this writer an incredibly diverse mix of Bahais with varying degrees of submissiveness and devotion, action and inaction, consistent patterns and inconsistent, among the millions of adherents and servants of the Cause around the world. Most of the forms, the types, the content, of the incoming and outgoing criticism of this new Bahai culture, at least that I have read and listened to, are on the internet which, it should be emphasized, really only began to become the popular and frequently used medium of communication that it has become since the start of this new Bahai paradigm in the mid-1990s.

BAHAI APOLOGETICS AND THE CRITICS

Bahai apologists like myself need to be aware how easy it is to appear to be smug and attitudinally deficient in the eyes of critics. In the last 15 years the critics whom I have listened to for several decades in my private life are now on the internet and they represent a new force to be dealt with, arguably the first significant force of opposition, of dissention in the Cause, since the ministry of the Custodians from 1957 to 1963 and the entre deux guerres years of the 1920s and 1930s. There always seem to have been small pockets of intense opposition, though, in some form or another since I first became associated with this Cause in the early 1950s. On the internet I am now coming across people, some of whom claim to be Bahais, who do not view the official Bahai Faith as it is currently constructed as an authentic world religion. This should not surprise students of the Cause who know their Bahai history. Intense disagreement was present in 1844 when the Shaykhi community divided into the followers of the Bab and the followers of others. The history of the 1840s and the divisions in the Shaykhi community are interesting and I encourage readers to examine Momen's Introduction to Shi'i Islam.

Some of these internet participants see the Bahai Faith as a religious surrogate or substitute metaphor for a splinter faction of Shi'a Islam. Their descriptions of the Bahai Faith leave me wondering, at times, if the religion I believe in and the one they describe are the same thing. Some critics of this Faith go so far as to call it a family business! They go on to say that the Bahai Faith might have emerged as the meta-religion for humanity in this the new, this third, millenium but that it has instead become an obscure and isolated sect that places the idiosyncratic interpretations of Shoghi Effendi above the inclusive, culminatory revelation of Bahaullah. For them much of the development in the Cause since 1921 is a sham, a loss, and a pity. I have not had to deal with this, with views like these, in my lifetime, in my half century of membership in the Bahai community. Critical positions like this, clearly a form of covenant-breaking, had always in my lifetime as a Bahai been dealt with by Bahais assigned by the institutions of the Cause to deal with them. In this new paradigm, though, I have had to become much more informed, as have my fellow Bahais, if I and they are to deal with historical views and criticisms aimed at the core of my belief system, if I am to participate in some of the more critical internet discussions. I keep my participation limited and avoid the covenant-breaking sites for the most part. Occasionally I am drawn in out of a desire to deal with the often outrageous statements made by some posters at some sites.

In the past, as I say, if such views did emerge-and they did occasionally-they were dealt with by scholars in the Faith and I did not need to know more than the little that I knew. That does not seem to be the case anymore, not in the years of this paradigm, at least not for me. In the end, of course, each Bahai will become as informed as he wishes, as he needs to be, as his circumstances permit. The menu for his or her activities in this new paradigm is more extensive than it has ever been. The opportunities for engagement exist at all levels.

At this new paradigm entered the 21st century there were some 700 Bahais at the World Centre in Haifa whose work for the Cause is not in the form of an engagement in many of the aspects of this paradigm. This is partly because Bahais in Israel are not allowed to teach their Faith. As I have indicated elsewhere in this book, 1000s, if not millions, of Bahais live in isolated localities or in very small groups, groups without children or junior youth, little communities where intensive programs of growth can not be contemplated, places with Bahais who are illiterate, indeed, the new paradigm, all the features of this paradigm are simply not possible to implement or are, at best, "a work in progress."

"Just as in the world of politics there is need for free thought," Abdul-Baha was quoted at the turn of the 20th century as saying in The Promulgation of Universal Peace(p. 197), "likewise in the world of religion there should be the right of unrestricted individual belief. Consider what a vast difference exists between modern democracy and the old forms of despotism. Under an autocratic government the opinions of men are not free, and development is stifled, whereas in a democracy, because thought and speech are not restricted, the greatest progress is witnessed. It is likewise true in the world of religion. When freedom of conscience, liberty of thought and right of speech prevail--that is to say, when every man according to his own idealization may give expression to his beliefs--development and growth are inevitable."

It is the view of some critics of the Bahai Faith that there are far too many calculated attempts to dismiss the criticism, and limit the free expression of thought of those Bahais who seek to analyse this new relgion in some critical way or another. Some of these critics go on to point out that it is no longer possible to stifle the views of such critics. Criticisms must be heard. It is not enough to say, as these critics do, that the Bahais stifle criticism because criticism is an expression of a sense of self-importance or some personal entitlement on the part of the critic. These critics of the Cause see these attempts to block the critic and these insinuations of the stifling of views as a sign, a symptom of a weak and effete religion, unsure of itself and thus defensive. At the root of much criticism in the minds of these opponents of the way the Cause is administered is the endorsement of change in the direction they see that this Cause must go. This is, in some ways, not surprising, given that this Cause has come out of an obscurity in which it had been enshrouded for the first century and a half of its existence.

The American transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson among others is quoted by some critics of the Faith to bolster their position, to bolster their concerns that the views of critics are not heard, not listened to. Emerson wrote that: "Change is the law of life and we consequently obey the law if we choose to live a life of change. Only conformists try to be fixed, and that in a democratic society, where change is allowed as a matter of principle, only conformists crave fixity." And so it is that the religion I have been associated with for more than half a century becomes seen, by some, as yet another religious group that is conformist, conservative, fixed in the past, rejecting of modernity and even intellectual tolerance, that regards criticism as tantamount to blasphemy, and that anathematizes the results of research in the social sciences as biased and materialist.

Such religious groups of which this Faith of mine is but one, and so these critics continue to argue, will inevitably become completely obscure and isolated, cut off from the mainstream of modern society, inhabiting a self-referential, hermetically-sealed, apocalyptic universe of their own. The adherents of such closed systems, of which the Bahai Faith has become one, so some of these same critics continue, have no recourse but to take a kind of perverse pride in their ignorance and intransigence and reject all counsel to the contrary. They are an insult to humanity, a sin against God, and a betrayal of Abdu'l-Bahá. On the internet one finds such views again and again in a great confrontation between unfettered liberal attitudes on the one hand and extreme orthodoxy on the other. If one does not read on the internet; if one only reads the messages of the institutions one does not come across such views. But over time, in the future years of this paradigm, Bahais will increasingly have to deal with all sorts of criticisms and the process has just begun in bits and pieces in these first two decades of this new paradigm.

Of course, the whole question of change and its causes could be made the subject of another book to add to the massive number of books already in existence on this complex subject in sociology, history and other social sciences and humanities. Wars and technological changes, economics and religion are often cited as the root causes of change in history. But this book, this analysis of the new Bahai paradigm, is not a piece of sociology or one of the other social sciences that seeks to offer an analysis of change.

From a purely personal point of view and from the point of view and purpose of this book I am more interested in the function of this paradigm in creating change in the Bahai community and in my own life as well as the changes that took place in society, in the Bahai community and in my life in the years 1996 to 2014 whether they had to do with this new cultural paradigm or not. Readers will find that I do this in all sorts of ways. Readers may come to say, after skimming and scanning this work, that I draw too wide an ambit, try to cover too wide a range of material and that I don't focus as sharply as I should on the specifics of this paradigm. And they will be partly right!

Perhaps I should apologize early in this book for what readers may come to see as irrelevant directions for the content. This book has given me, though, an excuse if you like for making all sorts of observations and for taking an intellectual and observational flight in many directions which readers who want to travel with me must inevitably go. Such readers do not have to agree with me; disagreement is healthy if it all takes place in the context of a search for a context in which relevant and fundamental questions may be discussed. For me, this book, is just that: it is a context or, more accurately, a search for a context, for dealing with the immense challenge that is involved with being a member of this great Cause. This book is also part of my attempt to contribute to the resolution of some of the tensions that have arisen in the last decade and a half both outside this paradigm and within the wider Bahai community. Some of my observations are connected directly with the details of the paradigm and some are not. I cast my net wide and many are the fish in the sea that get caught in the net. I hope some readers enjoy the fish dinner that can result for those who have travelled with me through these many paragraphs. But readers, in the end, will have to make their own dinners as I must make mine. In the end, too, no matter how much this Faith has a community focus, it also has an essentially private focus on the individual where all the real battles in our lives are won or lost.

I try to convey some of this private focus which I have experienced and which all Bahais experience in their lives---in the following prose-poem which I wrote at the end of the first decade of the implementation of this new paradigm:

LANDSCAPES AND ELSEWHERES

My poetry has come to be defined by some things, some topics, to such an extent that it is simply unimaginable in any setting outside these subjects, except on the rarest of occasions. The essence of my poetry is so very much associated with this typical, prototypical, subject matter. The particularities, the details, of my poetry's description and definition, result in the construction---in the process of writing my poetry---of a world, a home, a place, a mise en scene, where these topics invariably occupy locations in a physical and intellectual landscape and domain. These subjects appear again and again. For some readers this repetition will be tiresome, I’m sure.

I have made my home, my place of residence, in life in so many places, so many towns and houses where the sense of home did not exist before. It had to be created, recreated, again and again. I always had a mother and a father, or just a mother, or a wife or a wife and children to help in the process. I’m not so sure I’d do a very good job if I was on my own with none of these core elements of identity which most of us carry from cradle to grave. I might have found the task too lonely without these human accompaniments. Life has an immensely routine aspect and many tests and difficulties and most of us are not capable of doing these tasks alone. I will never find out for now in the evening of my life, even if my wife dies, I have three children and three step-grand-children to help provide that identity which keeps many, if not most Bahais, in the large cities of the planet congregating in communities of like-interest: Los Angeles, New York, Sydney, Perth, several cities in Iran where 300,000 Bahais are now found, and on and on goes the litany of urban agglomerations where Bahais can be found in large numbers.

None of us are islands; we all tend towards insularity in some respects. That has been especially true of me since I retired. We also contain multitudes within us. I became very conscious of this internal diversity as the decades advanced in the 50 years before I retired(1949-1999), years filled with high levels of social interaction and movement from place to place. Shakespeare says that we need to be able to people our solitude and know how to feel alone in a crowd. That is what I do now that I am in my sixties. These insularities and these social engagements are, it could be said, the countries of our soul, countries mostly unnamed and unknown. My poetry begins to name, to describe, these unknowns.

We all have, too, what Hugh Kenner calls ‘elsewhere communities’, places we travel to and things we do and think about to find out who we are. The traveller, the pioneer-travel-teacher, absorbs this ‘elsewhere community’ into himself to become what defines him throughout life.(1) -Ron Price with thanks to (1)Hugh Kenner, Massey Lecture in Canada, 1997.

I have my own Grand Tour now,(1) my elsewhere community, and my
journey through what I know to
to much that I have yet to know;
and when the war is over I will
go home to the Land of Lights..

(1) In the eighteenth century the Grand Tour was the trip from some place in European civilization through Europe to Italy and Rome. This is no longer the Grand Tour. We all make our own Grand Tour now and this is especially true, from my point of view, in this culture of learning and growth, this new Bahai paradigm.

April 22nd 2006

Every text of the Writings, every message from the House of Justice has both an internal and an external context on which the reliability of its interpretation is causally dependent. Aside from its explicit content the message has an origin, a purpose, an
evolutionary history, and an intended readership. The House of Justice, in each message, pursues a goal, represents interests, draws upon hteir own knowledge and perspective, advances a point of view, presents their own opinions, selects according to circumstances what to say and what not to say. A number of these factors can be easily recognised on the basis of text-internal clues, provided that the text is of sufficient size; one or more of them might even be explicitly addressed by the House itself. The briefer the text, the more meagre the internal textual context, and thus the greater the possibility of a misreading.

The external context, which in the case of a passage extracted from a letter means the entire sequence of correspondence of which it is a part, thus becomes all the more important. This context is missing entirely in the available compilations of letters from Shoghi Effendi--and yet the usefulness of such compilations lies precisely in their extensive breadth of theme, which in turn is only possible because the individual entries are kept extremely brief. In other words, compilations are problematic not by virtue of their quality, but by their very nature. In any case, the pursuit of literary criticism in a methodologically sound and systematic manner is not practicable on the basis of such compilations alone.

In no religious community before have primary documents been preserved with such authenticity and in such plenitude as they have
been in the Bábí-Bahá’í revelations; bible critics, for example, cannot even venture to dream of such felicitous circumstances. And yet it is precisely this quality which exposes literary criticism to fresh challenges which demand the development of new departures for analysis.

SOME COVENANT-BREAKERS

If one googled the words "Alternative Perspectives on the Bahá'í Religion" one could get access to a host of views of the Bahai Faith from: (i) x-Bahais, (ii) unenrolled Bahais, (iii) Christian critics, (iv) Muslim critics,(v)Bahai critics, (vi) pre-Guardianship Bahais, (vii) Universalist Bahais, (viii) covenant-breakers, (ix) a variety of Orthodox Bahais, indeed, the list seems to be endless. If I took the list at all seriously I would wonder what had happened to the religion I have belonged to for decades. On close examination, though, and placed in a general context, all of this verbiage is, as Abdul-Baha emphasized, just so much froth at the edge of the ocean, froth that collects on the shore's edge and is here today and gone tomorrow, froth that one does not take seriously but which occupies one attention for a short time or no time at all. The froth may actually be gone tomorrow but it is different froth as a result of different waves of people none of whom have or will have any success in breaking the Covenant into pieces. This ancient term is now endowed with new meaning and it stands at the very centre of what it means to be a Bahai and what our own personal understanding of our place in the unfolding plan of God(NSA of USA, 1988, p.5).

As the fourteenth year of this new paradigm was ending in the early months of 2010, to choose but one of the more curious examples from this confused medley of dreams that constitutes this new world of disgruntled and discontented people with various axes to grind--and who seem on the surface of things to be grinding away with some success--Bahais on the internet were able to read the somewhat surprising phenomenon of an attempt to revive the claims of Mirza Muhammad Ali, the arch-breaker of the Covenant after the passing of Bahaullah. These claims have been revived by a group known as the ‘Unitarian Bahai Association’ in order to lend legitimacy to their existence, as what they see as a newly-established sect. This ‘Unitarian Bahai Association’ avows loyalty to Baha’u’llah but rejects the authority that Baha’u’llah gave to Abdu’l-Baha and the Universal House of Justice. These claims have been made on a web site and in postings to discussion groups. These people’s own public statements have already told the part of the world that engages in internet discussions at several sites what they are about.

This group has even arrived recently--in 2010-and been publicising their efforts, their attempt at creating an impression of a divided Cause on facebook. This is a popular internet site, although efforts of this kind tend to get lost in a sea of names and posts. The effort is nothing if not ingenious. Bahais are given an opportunity to demonstrate why the rehabilitation of Muhammad Ali is not a realistic alternative to accepting the authority that Baha’u’llah gave to Abdu’l-Baha to lead the Bahai community. As this new paradigm progresses knowledgeable Bahais are beginning to arise to refute the wild and inaccurate, often unbelievable claims and opinions of some internet posters.

A man by the name of Neal Chase began to appear in cyberspace in 2001. Neal Chase claimed to be the next Guardian and announced that he had been adopted and appointed by Joseph Pepe who had since died in 1994. The Bahais Under the Provisions of the Covenant(BUPC) accepted Mason Remey's adopted son Joseph Pepe Remey as the third Guardian. Chase claims to be the great-grandson of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. He sees himself as the third President of the Universal House of Justice of Baha’u’llah. He also sees himself as the current Guardian of the Baha’i Faith seated upon the throne of King David which is to last for ever (Psalms 89; Will and Testament of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, page 15). In some ways Chase is merely an extension of the Bahá'ís Under the Provisions of the Covenant (BUPC),a small Bahá'í group of something less than 100 members founded originally by Leland Jensen in the early 1970s. The claims of the BUPC focus on a dispute in leadership following the death of Shoghi Effendi in 1957, and a subsequent dispute among the followers of Mason Remey. As a follower of Remey, Jensen believed that the majority of Bahá'ís were deceived, and attempted to create a new administration.

Jensen also made specific predictions for worldwide catastrophes, including a specific date in 1980 for the apocalypse, where followers were observed by researchers as a study in cognitive dissonance. They noted that from 1980 to 1996 membership fluctuated, but probably never exceeded 200 nationwide, declining significantly during the 1990s. In January 1997 the House of Justice sent a statement to all NSAs entitled "Mason Remey and Those Who Followed Him." The statement was most comprehensive and dealt with the issues surrounding claims involving "the third Guardian." As this new paradigm evolves issues involving the covenant will continue to raise their heads as they have done since the inception of the Cause in the 1860s and since the earliest years of the Babi Faith in the 1840s. The institutions of this Faith will continue to respond as they did in the first years of this new culture of learning---to maintain the unity of the Cause which has been its major achievement in the first two centuries of its existence.

These are samples of some of the developments within this new paradigm. Most Bahais find such discussions singularly unattractive and are, indeed, discouraged from participating in them at all. But again, as Abdul-Baha has stated, we should not be alarmed by this foam on the water’s edge in the ocean of the Cause. The defence of the Cause in the context of covenant breaking has always been left in the hands of certain appointed Bahais before this new paradigm. This is still largely the case. In this new paradigm, though, the writings of covenant-breakers can be easily read on the internet. Although they attract hardly any Bahais, seasoned or novitiate, veterans or newly enrolled, they are a presence that is part of the backdrop of this new Bahai culture in the last 15 years.

Many intellectual issues have come to the fore in the last fifteen years in addition to new variations in the long saga of covenant-breaking. One, for example, is infallibility. It is a complex term in Bahá'í scripture that has not been much discussed in Bahá'í secondary literature. The concept, which has analogies in Catholicism and Islam, is historically burdened, as Udo Schaefer notes and has become obsolete in secular thought. Schaefer's paper on the subject in the journal Bahai Studies Review(1999) analyses two categories of infallibility: essential infallibility which is inherent in the messengers of God, and conferred infallibility, which is a characteristic of the institutions of the Guardianship and the Universal House of Justice. His paper focuses on the Universal House of Justice. Does the House of Justice's infallibility operate to an unlimited extent? Are every one of its decisions infallible and, if not, what are the boundaries of that infallibility? The possible and immanent limits of this charisma of office and infallibility are analysed and a detailed argument provided that supports a defensible restrictive interpretation.

In the critical discourse on the nature of infallibility, the discussion of these immanent limits of conferred infallibility is of crucial significance, Schaefer states. The idea that the Universal House of Justice is invested with unlimited infallibility leads to untenable and unacceptable consequences for some Bahais. Unfortunately, experience has shown that in the Bahá'í community a critical discussion on this subject is not an easy thing since the convictions of many Bahais are simply too strong. Bahá'u'lláh's assurance that: "Whatever they decide is of God," as valid for absolutely every kind of decision, implies to many that the Bahá'í community is in possession of a kind of oracle that can be consulted and from whom the community gets infallible guidance in all matters. To the secular world in which Bahais must live and have their being, a world in which religion is seen by millions as irrelevant, this concept poses a serious intellectual dilemma. And there are other serious dilemmas which this book raises.

Indeed, there are many other issues which have come into the world of discussion in internet circles where some of the members of the Cause read a great deal. The only way to avoid being exposed to some of the more intense, divisive and intellectually challenging of the intellectual clashes on the internet is to stay off the sites where such dialogue is found. Just don't go there and, when you do, don't participate in the discussions where liberal and conservative temperaments engage in their punitive and not-so-punitive-rebuttals. The air is often filled from left and right on the emotional and psychological spectrum with strong language, grievances and emotionally loaded dialogue. Generally, for many if not most Bahais, it is better to stick one's head in the sand so to speak, stay on the fence and not confront issues about which participants really have to: (a) know a great deal and/or (b) be a good writer----in order to "play the game," as it were. Of course, one is not compelled to go to these internet sites, to read and to engage in this internet dialogue. In this new paradigm, though, there are a host of strange bedfellows, as they say, inhabiting the interstices of cyberspace.

As I say in this book, it is only a relatively small handful that do take part in this endless casuistry, endless lance and parry, and the "I am right and you are wrong" game which we sometimes call debate, dialogue, discussion or interchange. Perhaps the word game is too pejorative a term. It may be, as one prominent historian put it not so long ago that: "the day of the theologian has finally arrived." Not many have ever wanted to be theologians, not that many in the sum total of people in a community. Those who do want to be theologians should not call themselves Bahai theologians. I don’t call myself a Bahai poet but, rather, a poet who happens to be a Bahai. My words possess no authority and I do not try to steer readers into waters which by their nature are intended to question the House of Justice. If I have a question that I want some authoritative answer for, I write to that Supreme Body or one of the many institutions of this Cause.

There are many issues in public life in which it is better to stay on the fence, avoid the discussion and, as I say, put one's head somewhere else: in the sand or one of many other more comfortable and useful places. The world is overflowing with issues both inside and outside the Cause and what issues a person takes on is highly personal, idiosyncratic and reflects a person's own areas of knowledge and interest, what is happening locally in their Bahai community as well as in the wider world at the time.

THIS BOOK TRIES TO BRIDGE THE GAP

This book is an attempt to bridge the gap between the many polarized and contending views as well as between the erudite and the ordinary man, those who read extensively, the serious students of this Faith and the average non-erudite fellow who prefers gardening and watching TV, who may live in the world of text messages, short print passages and the local newspaper--whose reading level is not very high or, if it is high, he or she is not academically inclined and really has no expertise in some of the more critical subjects required for participation in many of the discussions. I am not the only person trying to bridge this gap. Many, if not most, simply are unable to engage in many of the complex literary exchanges and participate in the often highly complex game of discussing intricate historical, psychological and community problems. That, of course, is not a new thing. I stick my neck out as I have been doing for decades, but only occasionally and only when I think I can make a useful, a positive and constructive contribution. Many times this is not possible and silence is the best response. There are many issues about which I simply do not know enough and, given the plethora of issues in the world, I confine myself to a select few.

One of the reasons I do a great deal of writing both on the internet and in books is that I don't have to go to work in the morning or raise kids any more. I am on a pension; I don't like gardening; I have few manual skills; I watch little TV; I like to write and I don't have to go to many meetings any more. So it is that playing the game of words, for it is a game, so to speak, is a challenge, but, again, only to an extent. Sometimes the game feels like a war after one has gone back and forth in dialogue for hours on the internet. We all have our limits when it comes to writing and talking on serious issues. I often tire of the dialogue or even with friends after about two hours maximum. then I have a cup of coffee, a snack, go to bed and wait to live another day.

On the internet one can go forever, hopping from site to site, discussion to discussion, thread to thread, twisting and turning over a myriad issues. After playing on the internet at many a discussion site I tire and sometimes I go elsewhere and work on writing books or doing research for my writing. I leave the internet and its never-ending chats and discussions about 'what to do Alfie?' or 'what's it all about Alfie?'or the 'deep-and-meaningfuls,'DMs as some people call such discussions. The internet provides people like me with plenty of opportunity when I want to throw the literary ball around so to speak. I offer to readers one man's views, one man's experience, one man's integrative, hopefully unific, views--and I do so at some length in very personal ways in books like this. One is never completely successful in these casuistical discussions or when writing a book. There are always people with plenty of advice to give you. I have already been criticized in many ways for being far too personal, too focussed on my own experience, but that is one of my main aims. This book is not unlike my life, a work in progress. And, as in life so on the internet one can only win some of the time, only appeal to a coterie of readers.

I wrote the following piece for myself and others to help in dealing with criticism that often arises in internet threads. Much, indeed, the far greatest part, of my teaching and consolidation work in the Bahai community in the years of this new paradigm has been on the internet and it has had nothing to do with the wrangling between various sub-groups of believers. Anyone who plays an active part in internet discussions, an active part that includes writing and replying to the writings, the posts, of others, must learn to deal with incoming criticism without escalating the conflict. Those who do engage in extensive internet writing activity need to: like writing, be good at facilitating, possess a brilliant inventiveness and a strong dose of humility. I do what I can; it's a challenge; teaching the Cause has always been a challenge whether one writes in its defence or talks about it to others.

If aspiring internet participants, those who engage in a dialogue that is more than conventional one-liners, more than a kind of 'hey-there here I am' mentality with endless use of colloquialisms and even the occasional invective--if such participants do not possess goodly portions of the literary and personality skills I refer to, they will simply be unable to continue with the dialogue. They will find themselves getting upset and upsetting others. In the end they will withdraw to save their sanity, their emotions, their very skin. For the waters in cyberspace can be hot and heavy. In the last dozen years I have received my share of internet invective from those who "C" and "F" their way through discussions, from those who have a low tolerance for people's idiosyncrasies--and, when writing, idiosyncrasies are often more apparent. There are many on the net who simply take delight in 'taking-the-mickey,' as they say Downunder. I have written the post which follows on the subject of criticism as one of several examples of a response to help both me and others with the criticism that is a common variable, an extensive presence, in cyberspace. I have posted this piece at many an internet site when the dialogue between the participants got hot and heavy....sometimes my remarks were useful and sometimes they weren't.

THOUGHTS ON THE CRITICISM OF OTHERS

Preamble:

The first criticism of my writing, at least the criticism that I remember, was in 1950 when I was in grade one in the then small southern Ontario town of Burlington, a part of what is still called the Golden Horseshoe. It’s jammed right at the left-hand end of Lake Ontario. I’m sure I received criticism of my writing in the three years before that from my family members and playmates, perhaps as early as 1947 when I was three or four and colouring or printing my first words on paper, but I have no memories of that incoming criticism, no memories until, as I say, 1950. That was more than 60 years ago(1950 to 2010).

Early in this new, this third, millennium, in 2004 to be precise, I began to receive written criticism of my prose and poetry on the internet. I had received criticism, mostly verbal, of my published writing from 1974 to 2004 during which time I was able to get some 150 essays published in newspapers and magazines in Australia. Writing had become, by the 1970s, a more central focus to my life, much more central than it had ever been, although it had always been central in one way or another at least, as I say above, since 1950. When one is a student receiving criticism of what one writes is part of the core of the educational process. Sometimes that criticism is fair and helpful; sometimes it is unkind and destructive.

Being on the receiving end of criticism on the internet has been, in some ways, just a continuation of that half-century(1950-2000) of comments on what I wrote. The internet is full of lumpen-bully-boys who prowl the blogosphere. There are the hysterical secularists who proliferate among that immense commentariat. There are the dogmatic Islamists and Christian fundamentalists who try to impose their interpretation of the Quran or the Bible on the rest of the Muslim or Christian communities, respectively. My experience on the internet, as I say, was just a continuation of the decades of criticism I had already received. Writers, as F. Scott Fitzgerald says so succinctly over dinner in a film of his last years, Last Call, must get used to criticism. It’s part of the air they breath if they are going to be out in the public domain.

Literary tyrants, people who are going to tell you where, when, why and how you have gone wrong in no uncertain terms, without mincing their words or pulling any punches, without what you might call an etiquette of expression and tact, have always come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. One must learn to deal with them in one way or another as their criticisms come your way in the daily round. There are many MOs, modus operandi, to use a term from the who-dun-its, in dealing with the harsh and not so harsh words of others. Of course, it is not only writers who have to deal with critical tongues and words in many forms. A vast literature now abounds on how to deal with this reality of life.

The reactions to criticism of their work of two famous writers are discussed below in this 3300 word essay because their reactions throw light onto my own way of dealing with this inevitable reality of existence if one is, as I am, a writer, a poet, a man of words, a writer of belles-lettres, a belletrist. For many writers the term belles lettres is used in the sense to identify literary works that do not fall easily into the major categories such as fiction, poetry or drama. Much of my writing has become, in the last twenty-five years, 1985 to 2010, a hybrid that does not really fit comfortably into the major categories of writing.

And so it is that after more than sixty years of having to deal with the phenomenon of critical feedback of my written work I pause here to reflect on the incoming criticism of what I have written and what I now write drawing, as I say, on the experience of two other writers in the last century, writers of fame and much success.

LAURA RIDING

In 1936, right at the start of the Baha’i teaching Plan, a Plan in which I have been myself engaged in a host of ways during the last fifty years(1959-2010), the American poet Laura Riding(1901-1991) wrote to a correspondent: "I believe that misconceptions about oneself which one does not correct, but where it is possible to correct, act as a bad magic.” That bad magic has been at work on the reputation of Laura Riding for many years, for well over 70 years.

One of the criticisms levelled at her in her later life, and repeated recently by the renowned literary critic Dr. Helen Vendler, was that she "spent a great deal of time writing tenacious and extensive letters to anyone who, in her view, had misrepresented some aspect, no matter how minute, of her life or writing." Vendler found Riding, somewhat predictably, "more than a little monomaniacal,” in relation to criticism of her work. It is true that despite advanced age and failing health, Riding continued her vigorous and valiant, one might even say, fanatical attempt to halt the spread of misconceptions about herself and her writing to the very end of her life. But the "bad magic" was too powerful to be overcome. Incidentally, this view of criticism that Riding held, the view that it was “bad magic," was held by a woman who was also accused of being a witch and of exercising a literary witchcraft by some of her zealous critics.

Why was Riding so scrupulous in her attempts to correct misconceptions of her life and writing no matter how minute? It was, partly at least, because she recognized the importance of details to the understanding of human character. "The details of human nature are never a matter of infinitesimals," she wrote in an essay published in 1974. "Every last component of the human course of things is a true fraction of the personal world, reflecting a little its general character." She, like many other writers and non-writers it should be added, never welcome criticism. Some react to the slightest criticism like a cornered wildcat and others like a barking dog.

My approach to incoming criticism is more diverse than Riding’s, not as consistently intense and defensive, not as sensitive to infinitesimals, not like that wildcat or that barking dog. Sometimes I ignore the comment; sometimes I am tenacious and write an extensive response; sometimes I write something brief and to the point. Sometimes I deal with the comment with some attempt at humour, sarcasm and wit, if I can locate these clever sorts of written repartee in my intellectual and sensory emporium. I certainly agree with Riding that we should not be judged by some infinitesimals, but it is difficult when one writes extensively in the public domain not to be judged by all sorts of things of which infinitesimals are but one of the many.

THE INTERNET

After 11 years from 2004 to 2014 of keeping some of the written and critical feedback sent to me by readers on the internet, I must conclude that, thusfar, the negative feedback hardly amounts to much that is of any significance, at least to me. This is not to say that this criticism has not been useful. Most of the feedback has to do with my participation at various websites, participation that was negatively viewed. My posts were seen, when viewed in a negative light, as: too long, not appropriate, raising the hackles of some readers because they were seen as irrelevant, boring, inter alia. I thought this personal statement here, this brief overview, analysis and comment, would be a useful summary of both the incoming criticism I have received in the last six years and my views on that criticism.

Some people on the internet let you know, as I have already indicated above, in no uncertain terms what they think of your posts. Frankness, candour, invective, harsh criticism, indeed, criticism in virtually every conceivable form, can be found in the interstices of cyberspace, if one writes as much as I do at more than 6000 locations among the 260 million sites and 4.6 billion subjects, topics or items of information at last count, that are now in existence in that world of cyberspace. In the last six years I have been on the receiving end of everything imaginable that someone can say negatively about someone’s writing and someone. This negative feedback has been, as I say, useful and I have tried to respond in ways that improve readers’ opinions of my work and, sometimes, of me. Sometimes I am successful in these efforts of explanation, of self-justification, of defence, and sometimes I am not. Such are the perils of extensive writing and human interaction; indeed, such are the perils of living unless one is a hermit and does one’s own plumbing and electrical work, never goes shopping and relies only on the products of one’s garden for food.

ISAIAH BERLIN AND IVAN TURGENEV

To draw now on a second writer and how he dealt with criticism, I introduce Sir Isaiah Berlin(1909-1997). He was a leading political philosopher and historian of ideas. In a lecture he gave in 1970 on the Russian poet Ivan Turgenev, Berlin pointed out that this famous Russian writer altered, modified and tried to please everyone in some of his works. As a result, one of the characters in his books “suffered several transformations in successive drafts, up and down the moral scale as this or that friend or consultant reported their impressions.” Berlin went on to say in that same lecture that Turgenev was inflicted by intellectual wounds as a result of the criticism of his works by others, wounds that festered by varying degrees of intensity, depending of course on the nature of the criticism, for the rest of Turgenev’s life.

Turgenev was attacked by writers and critics of many persuasions on the Left and the Right of the political spectrum in those days when these terms left and right had more clear and understandable demarcations. This Russian writer possessed, Berlin noted, what some have called “a capacity for rendering the very multiplicity of inter-penetrating human perspectives that shade imperceptibly into each other, nuances of character and behaviour, motives and attitudes, undistorted by moral passion.” Turgenev, like Riding, could never bear the wounds he received from incoming criticism of his writing in silence. He shook and shivered under the ceaseless criticisms to which he exposed himself, so Berlin informs us.

THE PROCESS OF BAHÁ'Í REVIEW

After sixty-five years(1949-2014) of having my writing poured over by others; after fifty years(1964-2014) of having my writing reviewed before its publication by Baha’i reviewing committees at national and local levels of Baha’i administration and its institutions, and even by some individuals and groups at the Bahá'í World Centre in Haifa Israel; after trying to write in a way that would please various groups of people both within the Baha’i community and without by committees, colleagues, professors, tutors, students and teachers at a multitude of educational institutions---before my writing saw the light of day in some publication or school-handout, I came to enjoy writing on the internet.

The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Australia Inc, the nationally elected body by the Bahá'í community in Australia does not require writers like myself to have their writing reviewed before it goes onto the internet. The Review Office of the NSA of the Baha’is of the USA has given me permission to post my works on the internet, although they have advised that further review is necessary if I want to place my writing in book form, in a hard or soft cover, for general and public consumption. In some ways though, given the fact that writers who are Bahais can place their pieces of whatever length on the net, the process of review has become far less the issue that it once was. If a writer is keen is just goes to sites and cuts-and-pastes his works at these places. Readers download the writing and no review, no publisher, is involved at all. Such is the new world of cyberspace and, I might add by extension the new Bahai culture in the last 15 years. Of course, I am not talking about the explicit Bahai culture of study circles and Ruhi books, institute activities and devotional meetings, but the mise en scene, the milieux, the socio- technological world that has shifted immensely during the years of this new paradigm, the years since the mid-1990s and that is the backdrop to this new Bahai culture.

Baha’i novels, or to put these two words in a more accurate context--novels written by Bahá’ís--are not simply the result of an author's idiosyncratic intentions but are the product of the collective activity of Bahá'í gatekeepers who work within the constraints of the Baha’i publishing industry. This industry works under the guidance, the authority, the imprimatur, of elected national Bahá'í institutions. These gatekeepers must attend to the sensitivities of Baha’i institutional policies, policies that have been framed over the decades by an organizational framework and principles of operation that are part of the Bahá'í doctrines themselves.

Bahá'u'lláh Himself outlined the features of the Administrative Order of the Bahá'í Faith, and the authority structure of this Faith lies behind the gatekeepers in relation to any published fiction. The role of these gatekeepers is to keep a vigilant watch over the content of the printed matter on behalf of those Bahá'í administrative institutions that they serve and on behalf of the audience for which the books are intended. In resolving the tension between the Bahá'í Faith’s institutional policies and intentions as well their several literary-imperatives on the one hand and the literary proclivities and personal desires of writers who are also Baha’is on the other, the gatekeepers of Baha’i publishing maintain the general conventions that shape the popular Baha’i evangelical, intellectual and literary aesthetic.

Interpretive analyses of fiction written by Baha’is tend to examine the content of fiction and often neglect to account for the social and institutional factors that influence its production. Since fiction written by Baha’is is the product of the collective activity of the increasingly extensive and world embracing culture industry of the Bahá'í community, the content of fiction must be understood as more than simply the product of an author's idiosyncratic intention. There is a social-institutional context for Bahá'í publishing and the arrangements made by Bahá'í institutions in making symbolic elements of Bahá'í culture available to a wider public affect the nature and content of the elements of culture that are produced.

In some ways what I have just written is really only indicating the obvious. But this publishing pattern is slowly changing with the world of cyberspace in these first decades of the new paradigm of learning and growth in the Bahá'í international community since the mid-1990s. Taking into consideration the roles of gatekeepers, the influence of the audience, the conventions of the genre, and the nature of the popular intellectual Baha’i aesthetic provides a more comprehensive explanation of the content of Baha’i fiction. In resolving the tension between institutional intentions as well as industry imperatives and the preferences of writers, gatekeepers construct conventions that: (a) reflect institutional policies, (b) guide the production of fiction and (c) influence the formation of a popular evangelical and intellectual Baha’i aesthetic.

The task of regulating the content of Baha’i fiction, for want of a better term, rests upon the reviewing committees established by each National Spiritual Assembly(NSA) in the Bahá'í international community. If a reviewing committee does not accept a piece of writing, the author can appeal to the NSA and NSAs have been known to overturn a reviewing committee decision. The primary producers and distributors of the fiction: the authors, editors, and booksellers do not function as gatekeepers except in a broad and indirect sense. The role of gatekeeping has been in the hands of reviewing committees is solely that of the reviewing committees for decades, arguably over more than a century, working under the aegis of their respective NSAs and sometimes LSAs.

Since the religious aspects of a novel written by a Bahá'í mark it as unique in the world of fiction generally, the remarks I am making here concentrate on how gatekeepers conscientiously uphold the primarily pastoral function of such fiction and maintain the Bahá'í community's boundaries within an essentially secular and pluralistic form of popular culture. My remarks also focus on this world of gatekeeping which is undergoing a radical shift due to the internet. The mission of the Baha’i publishing industry, insofar as novels are concerned, correlates with its dual function: to entertain and to inspire—within a context of a full and frank, legitimate framework of authority, the very structure of freedom for our age, moderate freedom that guarantees the welfare of the world—until just the other day when the world-wide-web changed the whole ball-game on our big planet.

The predictability of popular fiction is a chief factor in the novel's ability to bring enjoyment to a reader..this includes familiar plot structures and, more often than not, happy endings with a construction of characters with whom readers can and do identify. All this enhances the entertainment value of fiction. Novels also function as a form of escapism for Bahá'í readers in much the same way that novels provide escapism for secular readers.

Baha’i readers may be escaping from the demands and stresses of everyday life and escaping to a safe and confirming imaginative world. In these & many other ways fiction for Baha’is is an enjoyable way of experiencing the world. Such entertaining fiction differs from secular fiction in two primary ways: it must be written from a Baha’i perspective. It must also adhere to a correspondingly confined popular Bahá'í aesthetic and inspiration which encompass areas of intention reinforcing the faith of the converted, witnessing to the unconverted, and providing sophisticated and literary explorations of our complex human condition.

Such fiction is intended to strengthen and validate the faith of readers through the reader's identification with the characters. Such fiction is written to challenge a reader's faith, but rarely do such novels challenge religious, social, cultural, or political boundaries set by the reviewing committees because doing so will simply result in the book not getting past the reviewing committee. But, as I say, this is all changing on the web. The uniqueness of fiction which passes inspection by reviewing committees is found in its perspective: it mediates knowledge about the world indirectly; its very purpose is not found in its capacity to increase any of the reader's conceptual framework—but so much more........

What readers learn from these novels is in the realm of the education of their sensibility, not in the increase of their conceptual equipment. Reading fiction involves aesthetic apprehension: the submersion of readers into a fictional reality and the openness of the reader to what is presented therein, a quiet contemplative act, a learning experience that proclaims its relevance to life in subtle but significant ways. Reading fiction, therefore, is an aesthetic experience that communicates knowledge about the world indirectly via aesthetic modes.....Apprehension can occur as the result of the author intentionally communicating Bahá'í messages, yet in other instances fiction communicates subsidiary and unintended messages that are often an implicit consequence of writing from a Baha’i worldview. Because of the many possible meanings associated with Baha’i myths and symbols, readers can interpret symbols in a variety of ways, and so writers intrinsically incorporate unintended and subsidiary messages along with their intended message.

The interpretation by the readers of unintended messages often surprise authors and editors--but not much yet-- because the writing of novels, of fiction, for Baha’is and others by Baha’is has only just begun---just the other day it seems in this new culture of learning and growth —this Bahá'í paradigm(1996-2010) The vast literature that has come into Bahá'í bookshops in the last three decades(1980 to 2010) is not of the genre of novels.(1) ------------------------FOOTNOTES----------------------------------------------- (1) For more ideas on this subject go to: (a) Jonathan Cordero, “The Production of Christian Fiction,” The Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, Volume 6, Spring 2004 and (b) Barney Leith, “Bahá'í Review: should the “red flag” law be repealed?” BAHÁ'Í STUDIES REVIEW, Volume 5.1, 1995.

Ron Price
6 April 2010

BACK TO THE INTERNET

Pleasing others, of course, is still important but, for me, there is a new found freedom of expression that the internet provides. Part of this freedom is due to the advantages and pleasures of age. Now in the early evening of my life, these middle years(65 to 75) of late adulthood as human development theorists refer to the period in the lifespan from 60 to 80, with jobs and the many employment positions far behind me, no one checks what I write before it goes into the light of cyberspace. My own editing pen is kept busy and I can edit as much or as little as I desire. I do get feedback and I read everything I can get my hands on, so to speak, this helps provide a synoptic view, a very from different angles, a wide-angled view, of the topic of the new Bahai culture. This helps provide a steroscopic vision of the subject, a vision not obtainable from a single pair of eyes and one mind. Eventually, though, I take a synthesized line of my own and must live with that line until yet another revision occurs. The internet provides writers like me the opportunity for endless revision.

Editing has never been one of my favorite activities and I tend to rush this part of the writing job, at least initially. I then revise, alter, subtract, add, delete and edit in a multitude of ways as a result of incoming comments, both encomium and opprobrium. Sometimes I make no changes at all to my initial internet post. In the case of a book, this book, the changes seem endless. The editing of this book went on day after day in 2007 and 2008 as it was taking form and, from 2009 to 2011, the editing has been periodic.

After my writing gets onto the world-wide-web it is ignored, criticized, diagnosed, interpreted, subjected to hair-splittings and logic choppings by readers, posters, moderators and administrators at internet sites. I am on the receiving end of invective and negative appraisals, accusation and berating, blame and blasphemy, castigation and censure, condemnation and contumely, denunciation and diatribe, epithet and obloquy, philippic and reproach, revilement and sarcasm, scurrility and tirade, tongue-lashing and vilification. I am given more advice than I receive at home from those I love and who love me and more than I ever got as a student and teacher. This happens not so much in relation to this book but in relation to many of my posts at various internet site on a host of topics.

I am viewed as tactless, insensitive, awfully boring and told where to get off, where to go, where to go for further writing courses to help me in my literary vocation and avocation and why I should discontinue the practice of writing entirely. I am also told what a wonderful inspiration my writing is. Compliments, flattery and praise abound. These words of encomium and opprobrium that I receive, as I say, are really not much different than; indeed, are much the same as, the words many other writers get when their words are found between hard and soft covers. Even the writings of Shakespeare, the Bible and other major works in the western tradition get great buckets of criticism poured on them from the generations which have come on the scene since the post-world-war-2 years, those now 65 and under, to choose a convenient timeframe for most of the incoming criticism I receive.

Most of those who have come to inhabit the parts of the WWW where I post say are the Y-generation. They were born between the mid-1970s to the first years of the 2000s. These generation Y people are today's teens, 20s and 30s, the millennial generation, the net generation. Some say that generation X are those born between 1974 and 1980. The fine-tuning of these labels gets a bit complex. The first generation on the internet, the years 1990 to 2010, have a wide range of personality constructs which would need a separate statement to discuss in sufficient detail.

DEALING WITH CRITICISM: AN ANSWERING THEOLOGY

Critical scholarly contributions or criticism raised in public or private discussions should not necessarily be equated with hostility. Questions are perfectly legitimate, indeed, necessary aspects of a person's search for an answer to an intellectual conundrum. Paul Tillich, that great Protestant theologian of the 20th century, once expressed the view that apologetics was an "answering theology."-Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, U. of Chicago, 1967, Vol.1, p6.

I have always been attracted to the founder of the Bahai Faith's exhortations in discussion to "speak with words as mild as milk," with "the utmost lenience and forbearance." This form of dialogue, its obvious etiquette of expression and the acute exercise of judgement involved, is difficult for most people when their position is under attack from people who are more articulate, better read and better at arguing both their own position and the position of those engaged in the written criticism than they are. I am also aware that, in cases of rude or hostile attack, rebuttal with a harsher tone, the punitive rebuttal, may well be justified, although I prefer humour, irony and even gentle sarcasm rather than hostile written attack in any form. Still, it does not help an apologist to belong to those "watchmen" whom the prophet Isaiah calls "dumb dogs that cannot bark."(Isaiah, 56:10)

In its essence criticism is often just another form of confrontation, an act of revealing one's true colours, of hoisting the flag, of demonstrating the essential characteristics of one's faith, of one's thought, of one's emotional and intellectual stance in life. “Dialogue does not mean self-denial,” wrote Hans Kung, arguably the greatest of Catholic apologists. The standard of public discussion of controversial topics should be sensitive to what is said and how; it should be sensitive to manner, mode, style, tone and volume. Tact is also essential. Not everything that we know should always be disclosed; not everything that can be disclosed it timely or suited to the ears of the hearer. To put this another way, we don't want all our dirty laundry out on our front lawn for all to see or our secrets blasted over the radio and TV. Perhaps a moderate confessionalism is best here, if confession is required at all—and in today’s print and electronic media it seems unavoidable. Much of internet dialogue, though, is far, far, below standards of even a reasonable literacy as posters “f,” “c” and “s” their way through discussions with the briefest of phraseology, a succinctness that approaches sheer nothingness and an inarticulateness that has more in common with grunts and sighs as well as whimpers and whims and betrays a basic knowledge based on visual media and little reading.

My findings, my views, rooted as they are in many places, in many philosophical positions or fields: subjectivity, relativism and pragmatism, can be verified only by individuals capable of assuming and willing to assume my point of view. The illiterate person, to choose an example of someone who is not capable of assuming my point of view unless, of course, someone reads to him or her, is not capable of assuming my point of view. There are many who are not willing. This is true in all scientific endeavour: in the physical and biological sciences, in the social sciences and in the various studies in the humanities of which religion is but one of these many fields. One can be convinced of the truth of something, have a sense of certitude and know little to nothing at all about the object. Faithful self-abandonment is sometimes more valuable than cerebral consent and sometimes it is not. Ideally, it seems to me, the full engagement of the rational faculty is essential down life's long path and one abandons reason at one's risk. But the full engagement of one's emotions is also essential to help provide motivation, a get-up-and-go and the necessary enthusiasm without which much of life's activity is a dry bone-yard. And emotions, however fully engaged, are often untrustworthy and cause immense inner turmoil.

This is true in many fields beside religion in the journey of life from cradle to grave. Society and the millions of individuals in it are caught in heated cross-fires between non-commitment and skepticism, cynicism and defensiveness on the one hand as well as varying degrees of the upholding of categorical imperatives, of the justifying of arbitrary absolutes, of the insistence on finality and complete agreement, of irrational commitment and aggressiveness on the other. This cross-fire results in many deaths, spiritual, intellectual and social. It also results in dialogue, in a type of apologetics in which there is a fundamental discrepancy between the respective fields of thought, Bahai thought and the thought of those in other interest groups. In some ways, the gulf is unbridgeable. This the case between much secular thought and much thought in the Christian or Islamic religion or, for that matter, between variants of Christianity or even within what are often the muddy and pluralistic waters of secular thought itself.

This is the general climate in which much apologetics takes place in our world with its interdependence of diverse points of view, with passionate expressions and proofs all lying along linking lines and lines that cannot be and never will be linked. The world has become very complex for the votaries of its multitudinous faith positions. In addition, we have so often been duped by charismatic personalities, so often gulled by forceful and baseless arguments, so frequently bombarded through politics and media by salesmanship and power mania that we confuse the effects of all these with the luminous truths and their hosts that are found in this Bahá'í culture and its history. We so often are not sure, we are not absolutely convinced about the promises due to our inability to distinguish between the claims we come across inside and outside the Cause and the contents, the real character, of those making the claims in question.

Critical scholarly contributions or criticism raised in public or private discussions, an obvious part of apologetics, should not necessarily be equated with hostility. Questions are perfectly legitimate, indeed, necessary aspects of a person's search for an answer to an intellectual conundrum. Paul Tillich, that great Protestant theologian of the 20th century, once expressed the view that apologetics was an "answering theology."(Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, U. of Chicago, 1967, Vol.1, p6.) I have always been attracted to the founder of the Bahai Faith's exhortations in discussion to "speak with words as mild as milk," with "the utmost lenience and forbearance." This form of dialogue, its obvious etiquette of expression and the acute exercise of judgement involved, is difficult for most people when their position is under attack from people who are more articulate, better read and better at arguing both their own position and the position of those engaged in the written criticism than they are. I am also aware that, in cases of rude or hostile attack, rebuttal with a harsher tone, the punitive rebuttal, may well be justified, although I prefer humour, irony and even gentle sarcasm rather than hostile written attack in any form. Still, it does not help an apologist to belong to those "watchmen" whom the prophet Isaiah calls "dumb dogs that cannot bark."(Isaiah, 56:10)

In its essence apologetics is a kind of confrontation, an act of revealing one's true colours, of hoisting the flag, of demonstrating the essential characteristics of one's faith, of one's thought, of one's emotional and intellectual stance in life. “Dialogue does not mean self-denial,” wrote the famous, and for some infamous, Hans Kung, arguably the greatest of contemporary Catholic apologists. The standard of public discussion on controversial topics should be sensitive to what is said and how; it should be sensitive to manner, mode, style, tone and volume. Tact is also essential. Not everything that we know should always be disclosed; not everything that can be disclosed it timely or suited to the ears of the hearer. To put this another way, we don't want all our dirty laundry out on our front lawn for all to see or our secrets blasted over the radio and TV. Perhaps a moderate tone and mode, a moderate manner and confessionalism is best here, if confession is required at all—and in today’s print and electronic media it seems unavoidable.

I make all these comments about criticism and apologetics at the outset of this book in some ways to get them out of the way. I have felt the need to deal with them even if many readers who come to this book do not feel the need. As I say above, one of the chief aims in my writing of this book is for the clarification of my own thoughts and the elaboration of my own role in this new paradigm so that I can answer the question: how do I fit into the new Bahai culture of learning and growth--not if I fit in.

BOOKS WRITTEN ABOUT THIS PARADIGM

Books discussing the nature of this paradigm have also begun to appear like Paul Lample's Creating A New Mind(Palabra, 1999) and Revelation and Social Reality(Palabra, 2009). Both these books contain excellent overviews of this new culture of learning and growth as well as reflections on the individual, the institutions and the community. In future editions of my own book, in the next two Five Year Plans, 2011-2016 and 2016-2021, I hope to provide a good bibliography on the subject of this new Bahai culture. A great number of internet sites now explore the developments in these last 15 years and readers of this book are encouraged to google to their hearts' and minds' content the many aspects of what is written about this new Bahai culture in that world of cyberspace. Indeed, what you could call a new transnational community feeling has been created on the internet among its participants in these last 15 years, years synchronizing with the emergence of this new Bahai culture. This world-wide-web is a seedbed for diverging and often controversial, stimulating and informative discussions.

I'd like to quote from the last paragraphs of Paul Lample's Creating a New Mind before leaving the many useful commentary from that Universal House of Justice member. "The collective experience of the Bahá’ís from the dawn of the Revelation to the present point on the path they are treading," writes Lample, "makes up the tradition, or culture, of the global community. Accumulated beliefs, methods, knowledge, systems, habits, stories, and patterns of behavior are containedin this tradition, which shapes the understanding and practice of the believers at any given moment in their journey. Because the Kingdom is not yet built, each generation must add to and continually modify some aspects of the tradition through systematic action and learning.

Not every problem can be solved, or even properly understood at a given juncture; it may have to wait for a later age, and only harm can come from trying to impose a premature resolution. In looking ahead, the community holds a vision of the future that directs its steps. This vision is clarified continually through ongoing study of the writings and the accumulation of experience. The path on which the Bahá’í community advances is wide—very wide. It is not necessary that everyone walk along the same line, believing and doing the same thing. There are, however, extreme perspectives on each side of the path that represent a danger to unity and progress. Such extremes views have afflicted religious dispensations of the past, driving their followers from the path of guidance into the wilderness of confusion ruled by human passions. “It is our primary task to keep the most vigilant eye on the manner and character of its growth,” Shoghi Effendi advises us about the Faith, “lest extreme orthodoxy on one hand, and irresponsible freedom on the other, cause it to deviate from that Straight Path which alone can lead it to success.”5 Extreme orthodoxy involves an exaggerated conviction of the validity of one’s grasp of truth, literalism in interpreting the meaning of the teachings and a rigidity of practice. “Irresponsible freedom” implies a relativistic perspective that causes disintegration of the community as individuals choose what they will or will not believe, or what they will or will not do. In between these extremes is a balanced perspective that recognizes the existence of truth and, at the same time, acknowledges human limitations to comprehend and act on it. The Bahá’í world, therefore, transcends the false dichotomy of fundamentalism and relativism, conservatism and liberalism. Truth exists, we can take hold of it and do not need to be subject to the imprecise understanding of every believer. Yet, in time, through learning grounded in action, the understanding of truth evolves and is deepened, allowing for a greater expression in action.

The discourse, the systematic action, and the learning needed to progress on the path depend upon proper relationships that are to characterize the believers—with God, with the institutions, with each other. Bahá’u’lláh has provided His Covenant in order to preserve these relationships, thereby safeguarding the ability of the community to continually progress. Thus, the Covenant is the “vehicle” for the “practical fulfilment” of the believers’ duties, the “potent instrument by which individual belief in Him is translated into constructive deeds,” the “divinely conceived arrangements necessary to preserve the organic unity of the Cause.”

It is in this light that we can appreciate the wondrous blessing bestowed on the Bahá’í world through the gift of the Universal House of Justice. For this body is specifically designed by Bahá’u’lláh with the powers to infallibly guide the believers in their journey into the Golden Age: to decide all matters which have not outwardly been revealed in the Book; to resolve problems which have caused difference; to prevent individuals from imposing their views; to ensure that no body or institution within the Cause abuses its privileges; to serve as the final arbiter on disagreements concerning the translation of the teachings into practice; to protect the unity of the believers; to establish plans for growth and development; to broaden the scope of the influence of the Faith on society. The guidance that constantly flows from the Universal House of Justice is indispensable; yet it does not eliminate the need for learning. It provides the framework within which the understanding and practice of the community advance. “‘God will verily inspire them with whatsoever He willeth,’ is Bahá’u’lláh’s incontrovertible assurance.” They are “the recipients of the divine guidance which is at once the life-blood and ultimate safeguard of this Revelation.”

The worldwide web also has sites where utterly inadequate perspectives and discourse on Baha’i doctrines and activities are found. Anyone who surfs about in cyberspace comes across an international dialogue among hundreds of thousands of the millions of Bahais and internet users around the world. There is a rich world available for potential internet users, a world in which everyone who wants to can take part in some way or another in writing. Users of the world-wide-web can just read what others write. Alternatively, of course, individuals are free not to go to any sites at all. It is not a requirement to click onto the internet and play around in cyberspace. There are dangers lurking in the interstices of cyberspace for the would-be student of the Cause. Be warned: all is not enrichment and relevant reading. There are many twists and turns and casuistical discussions if one wants to venture into the complex labyrinths of words on a myriad of subjects. There is enough to keep the minds of the best of the students of the Cause fully engaged in questions which believers have often never considered before and, if considered, are not thought through and, if thought through, require a good deal of back-and-forthing as subjects are often pursued by many to the very nth degree and often beyond the knowledge of the would-be reader or student of the Cause.

Readers with a tendency towards a fundamentalist pose, a pose with its roots in the oldest traditions of scholarship and priestcraft, may find themselves confronted with material that is highly objectionable to their sensibilities, highly contentious and outright violations of their spiritual and religious susceptibilities. I trust this is not the case with my book. I do not aim to be objectionable but, when writing as in talking, one does not win them all. My book is, it seems to me, a sanctimonious exploration of many a theme and also a self-questioning of my life and my community, my society and much else--especially my assumptions and those of others. I use the word sanctimonious in the sense of adulatory, flattering, and to some extent openly pious and even moralistic. Readers should not see what they read here as an expression, though, of some fixed or final point of view. I try to polish ideas not finish them. Along the way I thank Bahiyyih Nakhjavani for her stimulating approach to Bahai dialogue as outlined in her book: Asking Questions: A Challenge To Fundamentalism(George Ronald 1990). I, like this fine Bahai writer, seek creative solutions and I am often disturbed by fundamentalist attitudes and dogmatic assertions, what is often referred to as the "I am right you are wrong" attitude.

One of Nakhjavani's main points in her novel Saddlebags is that we are all locked irrevocably in the trappings of our lives, just as soundly and thoroughly as our brains are locked within the bone-prisons of our skulls, and she uses her considerable novelistic skills to prove this. It's not only difficult, she suggests, but totally impossible to perceive the dynamic of another person's life, or even the so-called "evidence" of the "objective" outside world. Nakhjavani has written three novels during this new Bahai paradigm and they have much to say to each of us as we travel though the paths of this new culture of learning that the Cause is now establishing in these first two decades of its implementation: 1996 to 2016.

The dogmatism that this novelist, this writer whom I first read back in the early 1980s, is an attitude I have to watch, not only in others but also in myself. Rigid attitudes, narrowness of vision and unrelieved intolerance toward the points of view of others I deal with in a host of ways in this book--but mostly through style and indirectness rather than confrontation. I also try to maintain an attitude that hopefully enables ordinary people not to become divorced from the creative Word, a divorce often based on a patriarchal mystique that has existed around learning and scholarship for centuries. It is easy to mistake religious habit, routine and community regularities and rhythms for spiritual actions and attitudes. In this paradigm Bahais need to try to recognize this difference, for it is more than some superficial reality. They (and I) need to apply their understandings of the gap, the division, in these two inner and outer attitudes and actions and learn from this understanding. It is a slow process but it is crucial if their Bahai communities are to become models of the kind of society that attracts others.

We need to stay away from what could be called “conservative-everything-by-the-book rigidity” and “loosey goosey liberalism” where ‘everything is OK.’ Overall, I call such behavior an engagement in “Baha’i ideological partisanship” and we need to be warned to stay away from it.

There are many questions in relation to this paradigm and many shadow areas and zones of contradiction and paradox where these questions arise. To be a student of the Cause is to be a person who has the courage to question the half-light in which we all dwell. Often we assume this Cause is offering answers when, in reality, what it is doing is helping us to pose the right questions. Questions often have little to do with doubt and answers are not always about certitude. This book is aimed at creating an openness of mind, a humility of response and a readiness of apprehension that finds resolution rather than--or in addition to--solutions.

This is a book which, like its author, aims to rest as easily with the enigmas of paradox and contradiction as with the pleasures of peace and consistency. Nakhjavani emphasizes succinctly that history is full of the wrong questions being asked and search in the wrong places for the wrong things. The complexity of our world requires much more than simplistic responses and an air of triumphalism. As the House of Justice put some of this problem in its Ridvan 2010 message: "While conveying enthusiasm about their beliefs, the friends should guard against projecting an air of triumphalism, hardly appropriate among themselves, much less in other circumstances. Hopefully this paradigm and this book will help in the process of getting some, if not large, sections of the Bahai community to ask the right questions and asking these questions soon enough to aid in humanity's survival and in limiting the suffering that has already drenched its billions in a veil of tears. Questions themselves are a form of answer and often no answer is complete unless it carries the seeds of another question. And suffering itself unless it is faced heroically and triumphed over often means very little. "Man cannot remake himself without suffering, for he is both the marble and the sculptor."--Dr. Alexis Carrel

There is a catechizing tradition of question and answer through which religious instruction is derived and it is useful to compare this tradition with what we find in Bahai history. There is no assumption, as catechism requires, of set answers, of questions tailored towards a specific doctrinal response from which the mind may not deviate. To many the Ruhi books appear to be part of this catechizing tradition. But it all depends on how the tutors and teachers utilize the materials. Filling in the spaces with written responses does not necessarily imply fixed answers. There are often, if not usually, many responses that can fill the lines of the spaces in the questions in the Ruhi sequence of books. There often appears to be a repetitive element in catechizing, with answers that are closed, that aims to teach and learn by rote and this, it seems to me, is antithetical to the spirit of independent investigation of the Cause. Many of what are so often called the Bahai principles can only be pinned down in practice by the spawning of a thousand questions which will send us scurrying into apparently unrelated areas of concern. Generally, we need to question ourselves and the writings and everything else we experience and read. We are not dealing in this new paradigm with a mere code of laws and words on paper to be regurgitated at exam-time. We are not dealing with the idle repetition of the endless facts of Bahai history and this Faith's mountain of teachings. Not every tutor on the planet, like not every teacher in every school, has a flexible orientation. Some tutors have fixed approaches but blaming the curriculum is usually not the answer.

The latest statistics of internet users posits two billion of the planet's seven billion people. Of the approximately six million Bahais I would guesstimate no more than a million are actively involved in internet reading, far fewer in actual dialogue and interchange at the many internet sites and, of these few, only a small handful are engaged in that endless analysis and casuistry, hair-splitting and criticism as well as experiencing the anxious concern and worry to which I have referred above. A book could be written about this new paradigm and not refer at all, as I have done above, to cyberspace and not deal with the criticisms that have surfaced in the first decade and a half of the paradigm's existence. But, again, as I say, this is a quite personal book, a quite personal perspective, reflecting as it does much of my own teaching efforts in the last fifteen years.

This book has behind it a certain driving power, a certain inspiration, a certain literary proclivity that has resulted in my dealing with the twists and turns of life and especially twists and turns on the internet. That driving power and inspiration has taken this book in directions which many readers would not have gone if they were to examine this new Bahai paradigm and their role in it. Readers will have to work out their own stories, their own roles in this paradigm. My receptivity and curiosity, my Bahai dreams and visions lie behind this book. Without the fire of this un-abating curiosity, without the kindling of the undying glow of seeking to understand--which has been with me for decades as a Bahai--this book would never have developed. Irresistibly beckoning me onward, urging me to press forward into new worlds was Time's winged chariot and its hurrying clatter. This book has been an intellectual lure and I sometimes feel as if I have not captured its quarry. But my energies have been running at full stretch at least from time to time between meals, TV programs, conversations and sleep among other quotidian activities. I have felt a sense of urgency pushing me onward and this book is the result of that running and that urgency.

THE INTERNET: GLOBALISM AND LOCALISM

The new culture of learning and growth in the Bahai community has, as part of its mise en scene: the chatter, the glitter and tinsel, the immense literary pool of words, the technological wonder, the brilliant new tool that is the internet. This is true in many parts of the Bahai world, in many of the 200++ territories in which this Cause is now found. This world wide web brings to those who are interested, to those who can read, to those who have access to this technology, the finest thoughts and ideas in the history of civilization and the worst, the garbage, the detritus of our post-industrial, post-modern age. That is the internet. As Shoghi Effendi wrote over half a century ago: "A mechanism of world inter-communication will be devised, embracing the whole planet, freed from national hindrances and restrictions, and functioning with marvellous swiftness and perfect regularity." And so it does; it brings into the visual fields, for those who so desire and who have the technology, the criticism and praise of this new paradigm from virtually anyone with the interest in putting their fingers on their computer keyboard and composing their thoughts for a sector of the world's peoples who have access to this marvellous mechanism. For at least two or three million Bahais, though, the internet is not partof their culture, their social and community experience.

A new Bahai culture had already emerged by the passing of the Founder of the Bahai Faith, Bahaullah, in 1892. More than a century after His passing, indeed, nearly 120 years, the Bahai community is concerned not with the birth of that culture but with its growth and development. There are now in existence several histories which deal with this incredible growth and development. that is not the purpose of this book except en passant and indirectly.

All of this cyber-world is as much a part of this new paradigm for a small but significant slice of the Bahai community as the bread and butter on their table--or so I would argue--although this cyber-world is obviously not an explicit part of the paradigmatic framework itself as defined by the House of Justice and the International Teaching Centre, institutions that set the initial structure and skeleton, the schema and fabric, as well as developing and refining its application in the last decade and a half. The food on our table and the air we breath, among perhaps millions of other aspects of our physical environment are, like cyberspace, to put the idea more accurately, part of the context in which this new paradigm operates. For this new paradigm is set in a social, a historical, a sociological, a psychological, an economic, a contemporary context that must be factored into any analysis and comment on this new Bahai culture. And the individual Bahais, you and I, are merely sojourners, pilgrims, travellers for a time in this culture. Many fellow travellers who have been with me at various stages of my life, travellers who once shared this hazardous journey have gone in different directions to me. We now have little in common but we hold each other in affection. Many a hound pursueth the gazelles of this world; many a talon claweth at the thrushes; pitiless ravens lie in wait. Not everyone escapes and enters the shelter of the flame of this Cause.

The virtual globalization of the planet, the crystallization of its unity, has been stimulated many-fold during this paradigm in ways that are often obscure and unbeknownst to the world's inhabitants who do battle with the phantoms of a wrongly informed imagination. Ill-equipped to interpret the social commotion at play, millions listen to the pundits of error and sink deeper into a slough of despond, troubled by forecasts of doom. The commotion, that slough of despond and the crystallization of the planet's unity, will continue apace in the decades ahead as these things took place and continued apace in the decades before this paradigm in previous Bahai paradigms which I discuss briefly in this book, in the pages ahead.

The Internet has become an important tool capable of spreading a complex message to a large audience. Religious movements like the Bahai Faith are a growing social force that employs modern communication criteria. There has been an extensive convergence between religious communication and the Internet. Although sociologists and anthropologists among others have studied religion, this topic is not particularly relevant to communication studies. Marketing, which involves communication issues, deals with religion in other contexts, like the influence religion exercises on consumer behaviour and decision-making processes. However the communication of religious ideas is not dealt with since it is not linked to consumption.

During the years of this new paradigm, in the economic, social and political worlds, vast changes have been taking place; indeed, many of them are themselves paradigmatic shifts in several of the global cultural domains. But this book does not focus on this immense and complex wider world and its systems. Science and electronic technology has made it possible to connect with individuals across the planet while simultaneously providing users with a world of information. People are now able to mask or reconfigure their own identities into online persona. The overall result of globalizing influences is to cultivate an overwhelming sense of human anxiety regarding “placelessness.” To put this a little differently, individuals are faced with identity issues. The inability to forge identity based on a sense of local or regional belonging is, for many a new problem and often not a recognized one. According to one writer: "This anxiety makes the human subject long for a diversity of places, that is, a difference-of-place that has been lost in a worldwide monoculture. This is not just a matter of nostalgia. An active desire for the particularity of place, for what is truly “local” or “regional,” is aroused by such increasingly common experiences. Place brings with it the very elements sheared off in the uniformity of site: identity, character, nuance, history. The issue is too complex to deal with here in all its ramifications.(John Casey, The Fate of Place: a Philosophical History. Berkeley: U of California P, 1997, p.xiii)

Arguably one of the consequences of this globalism is an emphasis on localism. In cluster after cluster among both the Bahai and non-Bahai populations around the world entertainment and varied cultural installations, agricultural and commercial shows as well as arts and sports festivals are springing-up with increasing abundance. They all tend to have certain common messages. Their intent is to promote ideas about cultural celebration and collective unity among the region's inhabitants. The events occur in sites that are specially constructed for the dissemination of these life-giving and unific messages and, as such, serve as a space for discourse among the different cultural groups and as a transmitter of officially sanctioned ideas by local authorities. They also serve as representations of a location as a differentiated place, establishing and upholding their uniqueness among places for the benefit of an audience that lives within and outside their borders. Events of celebration: olympics, international games of all kinds, electronic media and cinema awards of many kinds, the list of these celebratory activities goes on and on. Some of these events have become an increasing part of the outreach by Bahai communities around the world. To put all this in a different way, the whole world has become a vast tourist experience and fun house and every locality which can is cashing in on the abundance. Of course, at the other end of the spectrum of human experience is despair, destruction and tragedy which whip-up the emotions of human kind as millions concern themselves with the tempest of chaos and confusion that blows with increasing fury year after year. All of this provides the mise-en-scene of the new Bahai paradigm.

The world wide web could be seen as an extension of the abundance I refer to above and an opportunity for people to express their concerns for the plethroa of tragedies in the world. The new Bahai culture of learning is immersed in this vast sea of cultural possibilities, a sea in which the international Bahai community is swimming with a fertile and vibrant new life. This new life can be seen in clusters, LSAs, registered and unregistered groups, localities, regional councils, NSAs and a whole panoply and pageantry of Bahai agencies and administrative bodies around the world. This is not happening everywhere, of course. The picture is mixed and incredibly diverse in its manifestations. But, as the House point out as recently as its 2010 Ridvan message regarding the strengthening of the culture of learning: "learning is the mode of operation, a mode that fosters the informed participation of more and more people in a unified effort to apply Bahaullah's teachings to the construction of a divine civilization."

As the American philosopher John Dewey once wrote: "Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself." This new Bahai culture of learning and education, it could also be said, is life itself. It is, again as the House noted on 21 April 2010 part of "the evolution in collective consciousness." But as Dewey also emphasized in his lengthy discussion of education: "The routine of custom tends to deaden even scientific inquiry; it stands in the way of discovery and of the active scientific worker. For discovery and inquiry are synonymous as an occupation. Science is a pursuit, not a coming into possession of the immutable; new theories as points of view are more prized than discoveries that quantitatively increase the store on hand."(Reconstruction in Philosophy) I will let readers unpack this fascinating quotation and apply it to this new Bahai paradigm.

Just as Christianity spread using the Roman road system and the immense apparatus of Roman civilization which conquered the European world in the centuries just before and after the appearance of Christ, the Bahai community and its administrative order has spread in the present and previous paradigms due to the spread of print and electronic media: magazines and journals, newspapers and radio, recording equipment and musical technology, television and the internet, indeed, a cornucopia of advancements in science and technology. With the internet this Cause has gone to virtually every corner of the world, at least those corners which were hooked into this globalizing technology. And this has happened in the years of this new paradigm: 1996-2010. Of course, like most generalizations, there are exceptions and the picture, as I say, is not a simple one as I may be implying here by these broad brush stokes of analysis.

Like the Roman road system and Rome's civilization which were crucial to the spread of Christianity, modern technolgy and Western civilization have been crucial to the spread of the Bahai Faith. Rome's civilization was complex and historians like Edward Gibbon and Arnold Toynbee, among others, have attempted extensive analyses of the often subtle and intricate relationships between the new and growing religion of Christ and the crimes, the follies and the misfortunes of mankind in those early centuries of the eventual triumph of Christianity over Greco-Roman culture. Western civilization, which as Toynbee argues has become synonymous with global civilization, and its scientific and especially communications technology is the cultural milieux in which the Bahai Faith is emerging as the religion for mankind. This paradigm is but one of the important embryonic stages in that development.

Some 15 countries have no internet access or they restrict it. Very poor people, of which there are millions and billions have no access. Arguably some three-quarters of the world's population is still unconnected. Nevertheless, the Cause has spread immensely due to this new technology and there is a strong, a pervasive Bahai presence on the net and its two billion users. This new apparatus involves new techniques and new techniques involve a new spirit. The computer, the world-wide-web, has injected a new spirit into our age. For some it is a miracle and a wonder. For others it has little to no value at best and is a nuisance at worst. It is impossible to summarize all the experience and the lessons learned in the first 15 years of internet teaching or in the vast global institute process, the new culture of learning and growth. This book provides a broad survey and a personal context. I try to strike a balance between personal experience and opinion on the one hand and clinical, factual developments on the other. Some may find my perspectives too personal. If I have any justification for this personal approach it is that: this book is an attempt to answer the question "where do I fit into this new paradigm?" It is a question each of us must answer for ourselves.

The Internet has become a very powerful means of communication through which not only information, but emotions and empathy, are exchanged, and where socialization occurs. Following a purely information stage, when people surfed the ’net just to seek information, today people go online to seek other people, to socialize within virtual communities, thus adding a social dimension that may be considered even more relevant than the informational one. Once a cold medium, the Internet has become a hot medium, in the sense that emotions and feelings can be experienced and communicated online. Therefore, even religious communication, which is an intense emotional experience, is at home in this new medium. Religious movements were pioneers in adopting new media to spread their beliefs and thoughts. This has also been true of the Internet. Since religious communication deals with abstract concepts, involves profound sentiments and can have specific and difficult goals such as converting people, it differs radically from business communication. At the same time, it can be studied as a benchmark in order to obtain insights for other types of communication and to explore the potential of web-based communication. Religious communication via the web is quite lively and can elicit strong reactions. So strong that some religious websites has been forced to close their forums and chat rooms due to the excessive fighting that sometimes emerged among the participants. The religious communication via the web can be so intense that it often takes on forms of blessing, virtual prayers and pilgrimage.

This book and its analysis is designed for use not ostentation and I trust it contains multiple layers of insinuation, innuendo and hidden meaning. For history and sociology, psychology and philosophy, in the end, have no meaning, only that which we each give it in our inevitable subjectivity. Total objectivity is never achieved, an impossible position. I offer readers options and hold my own judgements, at least some of them, in suspense. We are all dramatis personae who are never able to fully fathom, control and command events in this or any paradigm. We are caught in an endless succession of engagements, engagements which are our lives. Diligence and accuracy are important merits and useful skills that I try to bring to this literary exercise. I am more than a little conscious of my incapacities in both these departments of intellectual virtue. Character in the end, is so-often associated with an unstable entity, a complex life-narrative. Character is only partly explainable in a person only partly understandable. This is true of my life which I know better than anything and it is true, a fortiori, of other individuals and this paradigm which I have come to participate in as well as to study and read about in these past 15 years.

Still, the implications of the Bahai Revelation increase when study and service are joined and carried out concurrently, when efforts are made to translate the Bahai teachings into reality. The new Bahai paradigm involves an ethos and a worldview which comes to be understood in greater measure as that same study and service continue with the years. The worldview of the members of a group is, “the picture they have of the way things in sheer actuality are, their most comprehensive ideas of order.” Their ethos reflects “the tone, character, and quality of their life, its moral and aesthetic style and mood." To put it crudely and perhaps too simply, the worldview of this paradigm provides the “is” component of the Bahai experience of this paradigm.

We all live and die, and along the way we are subject to certain intractable patterns within nature and our society. Yet certain “moods and motivations,” with their accompanying moral impulses that supply our ethos and our worldview, resist that ethos and worldview. The result is a continuous, a perpetual “is/ought” struggle and dialectic. A religious ritual, a routine and a set of practices resolves this tension by integrating one’s ethos and worldview into a harmonious whole, into consistent patterns of action, but only to an extent. This is beccause we are notperfect and we only ever partially understand that ethos and worldview. Religious activity, our activity in this paradigm, tunes human actions to an envisaged cosmic order and projects images of cosmic order onto the plane of experience, our experience. Our everyday experience, then, is drawn-up into a larger whole. While all of this is going on the sheer incomprehensibility of the metaphysical world is always with us. We keep trying to translate our beliefs and language into actions.

The new Bahai paradigm defies a simple definition that would aid the casual observer in his effort to grasp its broad landscape. Upon entering the paradigm believers find themselves pulled in a variety of directions—all under the aegis of institutional guidance, patterns of Bahai community activity and a host of individual interpretations. In the end each Bahai must resolve the pulls and pushes in the name of action and, hopefully, some consistent pattern of action and centres of consistent activity. Each Bahai finds for themselves a rhythm of activity which gradually emerges that is highly diverse so that it is not the rhythm of a single foot as one critic of authoritarian regimes put one of the problems of control and order in community life. That I have given great emphasis to the internet in the above paragraphs is part of my take, as they say these days, on this paradigm. Clearly, though, the world wide web is just part of the background to the paradigm, as is family life, television, radio and a host of other features of our culture. They are not the paradigm itself. My writing about it tells more about me as the author of this book than it tells about the paradigm.

THE BIG PICTURE OF ALL THE 16,000 CLUSTERS AND WESTERN CIVILIZATION

Of the 16,000 clusters across the Bahai world 10000 were still unopened in 2006, as I mentioned above, and of the other 6000 only two per cent of them are capable of sustaining any significant growth(See Paul Lample, Reason and Revelation, 2009) Lample wrote this in his book "Revelation and Social Reality"in Palabra Pub. 2009). Now six years later, in January 2012, there are many more than 1600 IPGs. Go to this link for a useful essay on IPGs by Dr. Farzam Arbab:http://bahai-library.com/talks/arbab.2001.html I do not try to keep track of the IPGs. This means that of the 6000 clusters which are opened to the Cause in 2006, 25% of them are capable of sustained growth. To put this another way: of the 16,000 clusters in the world--1600 have IPGs or 10% of all the clusters on the planet. Another reliable source has stated that: of the 250 total territories and countries in the world(yahoo), 150 of them have at least one IPG and 100 have no IPGs.

One of the major quantitative goals of the Five Year Plan(2011 to 2016) is to have some degree of growth in 5000 clusters by April 2016. To place these IPGs in a context of the vast global urbanization allow me to add the following. Cities have undergone "macro-cephalic" growth to the point where they burst at the seams—not so much with opportunity and differentiation, but desperation and sameness. UN HABITAT estimates that a billion people reside in slum conditions, a figure expected to double in the next three decades. In 1950, only London and New York were big enough cities to qualify as megalopolises. By 1970, there were 11 such places, with 33 projected for 2015. The fifteen biggest cities in 1950 accounted for 82.5 million people; in 1970 the aggregate was 140.2 million; and in 1990, 189.6 million. Four hundred cities today have more than a million occupants, and 37 have between 8 and 26 million (García Canclini 1999, 74; Scott 1998, 49; Dogan 2004, 347). Almost 50% of the world's population lived in cities in 2000, up from 30% in 1960. In fact more people are urban dwellers today than were alive in 1960; and for the first time in world history, more people now live in cities than rural areas. Most of the remainder are desperately poor peasants (Davis 2004, 5; Observatoire de la Finance and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research 2003, 19; Amin 2003).

Across Latin America, for instance, 70% of people moved from the country to the city in the four decades from the mid-20th century, with Mexico City growing from 1.6 million residents in 1940 to 19–29 million today, depending on which figures you consult (Martín-Barbero 2003, 40; García Canclini 2001, 13). The emergence of capitalism in China is another key instance. It had 293 cities in 1978. Today it has 650. These changes are reactions to economic, military, and social policies, such as neoliberal economics' insistence on agricultural trade over subsistence, military planning, and corporate domination over local concerns. In India, as many as 55 million people may have been displaced from agricultural life because of dams constructed in the name of development: the Green Revolution dispatched surplus workers away from rural disappointment and towards urban hope (Castles and Miller 2003, 3; Roy 2004; Davis 2004, 10, 7).

In the post-1989 epoch, crises of cognitive mapping—where am I and how do I get to where I want to be?—have been added to by crises of ideological mapping—who are we and what do we stand for? (UN HABITAT 2003; Martín-Barbero 2000, 336). No wonder Mexico City's people live with the heavily ironic motto "La Ciudad de Esperanza"—the city of hope. They go there for a better material existence. In doing so, they lose the familiarity and security of the everyday in a world that sometimes appears to be "rushing backwards to the age of Dickens" (Davis 2004, 11).

Not all is dark and dreary, though. The internet, to chose one example of immense technological and social communication, is giving access to this new Faith to people in many of those 16,000 clusters and territories with no IPGs, at least to those who are interested and possess this new technology--perhaps one quarter of humanity as I say above--with an easy access to information about this new Faith. This fact, this feature of the technological and communication backdrop to this new paradigm, cannot be appreciated too highly. Approximately thirty per cent of the globe now has this cyberspace access and the implications this has for the spread of the new Bahai culture is staggering. Even though some 8000 clusters have no Bahais and only a small percentage are capable of sustaining significant growth as I write this paragraph at the beginning of 2012, the internet is providing millions of people with easy access to information about the Cause, if they are interested.

There is a great deal more than urbanization that is the backdrop to this new Bahai culture. The Bahai culture which has been developing since the passing of Bahaullah, under the guidance of His legitimate successors in the last twelve decades,1892-2012, has been developing as Western civilization has been sweeping the face of the Earth with its industrialism and post-industrialism, with its global wars and globalization, with its science and technology, with its many transforming influences, too many to cite here and too complex to describe in even the most summary fashion in a book like this. But it is also a civilization that is moribund, broken down and in a decline which must end in a fall unless the downward movement can be arrested. As the English writer and populist historian, H. G. Wells argued more than a century ago, this Western civilization is rushing down a steep place to the sea. This is one of the essential contexts within which the Bahai culture has been operating for more than a century. This same civilization also has many integrating features; all is not lost and all is not bleak; again the picture is complex. this paradigm and this world wide web are part of this complex picture.

The progress which the Bahai community calls growth is a cumulative one and its cumulative character is apparent in both its outward and its inward aspect. Indeed, the entire process is part of a growing civilization: the growth of a Bahai civilization and that civilization of which the Bahai Faith is but a part--and at this stage a very small part. The Cause has, in recent decades, become an expansive movement which is both easy and difficult to observe in quantitative and qualitative terms. The wider-world has become in the lifetime of the Central Figures of this Cause, and its trustees in the first century of its Formative Age, one single human society embracing all the habitable lands and navigable seas on the face of the planet. What some call this Western Civilization has washed round the coasts of all other civilizations; it has encircled their frontiers, knocked at their gates, broken through their defences and forced an entrance into their inmost citadels.

This very Homo Occidentalis mistrusts its own elan and this very uncertainty has ominous symptoms of social disintegration which are everywhere apparent. The very growth and expansion of this Western Civilization is beset by both external challenges and inward ones of self-articulation & self-determination. These challenges contain moral and spiritual questions of immense magnitude. The new Bahai culture of learning and growth, this new Bahai paradigm, is set within this wider global context. It is hardly surprising that this paradigm presents to the believers its own challenges of immense magnitude. The Cause has always presented its votaries with staggering challenges, immense personal tests as well as spiritual rewards, rewards not dissimilar to those provided by the great religions throughout history. The Bahai Cause is at the very core of the evolutionary thrust on the planet and working within its new paradigm provides those who can see the wisdom of its complex structure the very raison d'etre of their activities in daily life. At least that is one way of expressing the nature and reality of this paradigm.

Of course, what makes the Bahai Cause so victorious is not so much the lives and examples of its individual believers but, rather, the convincing evidence of the doctrines themselves and the ruling providence of its great Author. Still the lives of the Bahai martyrs in Iran cannot but excite the wonder and curiosity of the West and the East.

IRAN CONTINUES TO GET MEDIA ATTENTION

The arrest, trial and reported sentencing of the seven Baha’i leaders – as well as the ongoing persecution faced by Iran’s 300,000-strong Baha’i community – has prompted governments, nongovernmental organizations, and prominent individuals to issue statements in response. Some are reproduced here and the rest were available on the internet by 2012. While not a part of the new culture of learning, the Bahá'í experience in Iran acts like some kind of background music that gets the attention of the media, while the new Bahá'í paradigm grows from strength to strength around the world.

Germany: Human Rights Commissioner describes "alarming treatment" of Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities
European Parliament: Resolution passed on situation of minorities in Iran
United States: Assistant Secretary of State calls attention to jailed former Baha’i leaders
Iran's persecution of Bahá'ís "one of the great tragedies of modern times."
Canada concern at Iran’s continued persecution of Baha’is and other religious minorities
U.S. Department of State condemns Iran’s persecution of Baha’is
Worldwide campaign highlights 10,000 days in prison for Baha’i leaders
U.S. Senate calls for release of religious prisoners in Iran
USCIRF condemns Iran's abuses of religious freedom
Scientists call for release of Bahá'í educators
Canadian MP: “We cannot abandon the people of Iran.”
Amnesty International: Report documents expanding repression of dissent in Iran
USA: Representatives promote resolutions condemning Iran’s human rights record
Bulgaria: Conference includes pledge of support from Prime Minister’s office
Australia: MPs call upon Iran to respect human rights
Canada: Senators call for the immediate release of Iranian political prisoners

This is just the first few on a very long list. Readers wanting the complete list need to go to this link:http://news.bahai.org/human-rights/iran/iran-update/international-reaction

As recently as 8 August 2012 came this report of Bahá'í experience in one of Iran's cities. See this link:http://news.bahai.org/ ...It is impossible to ignore or to separate the persecution of the Iranian Bahá'ís from the new Bahá'í paradigm. I leave it to readers to google the ongoing media story, a story which is, in some ways, nearly 2 centuries old!

BAHA'I EPOCHS: AN EVOLUTIONARY PERSPECTIVE

What Karl Marx wrote about human anatomy, namely, that it contains a key to the anatomy of the ape, and that the intimations of higher development among the subordinate animal species, can be understood only after the higher development is already known. Our modern world thus supplies the key to the ancient. The true character of each epoch comes alive in the nature of its children? Why should not the historic childhood of humanity, its most beautiful unfolding, as a stage never to return, exercise an eternal charm? (Marx, Grundrisse, London, Pelican Books, 1973, p. 105, and 111) This, it seems to me, is just as true of the Bahá'í epochs. Bahá'í history exercises an eternal charm and meaning, metaphor and value to the meaning of this current paradigm.

WHERE DO I FIT IN?

This paradigm and this Western-global Civilization is, then, the context in which each individual Self or Personality rests. I have capitalized these two words, Self and Personality to give emphasis to the primary focus in this book. It is a focus which attempts to answer the question: "where do I fit into this new paradigm?" I also try to answer the related questions: "where has this paradigm been and where is it going?" I answer these questions for myself, give hints to readers and leave readers to work out their own responses, their own form of participation, as they are and have been doing in the last decade and a half and will do in the decades ahead. Each single human being in the Bahai community is part and parcel of an organic whole. Bahai primary and secondary literature is awash in organic analogies and like individual cells, the basic functional unit of life, the individuals all over the Bahai world respond to the inner structure of their needs, wants, meanings, purposes, personal circumstances and their environment with its many features: community, socio-historical context and its needs and circumstances.

The cell is the smallest unit of life that is classified as a living thing, and it is often called the basic building block of life. The individual in the Bahai commuity is the essential part of what Shoghi Effendi used to call the warp and weft of the Bahai community. Some organisms, such as most bacteria, are unicellular and consist of a single cell. Other organisms, such as humans, are multicellular. Humans have about 100 trillion or 10 to the 14th cells. A typical cell size is 10 µm; a typical cell mass is 1 nano-gram. The largest cells are about 135 µm in the anterior horn in the spinal cord while granule cells in the cerebellum, the smallest, can be some 4 µm and the longest cell can reach from the toe to the lower brain stem. One could describe the variation in human beings as I have described here the variation of cells, but I simply wanted to elaborate here on the nature of the cell. I leave it to readers to draw their own analogies between cells and individuals. Organic analogies are potentially alive with parallels to individual and community life.

The wider organic whole for the Bahai is the civilization he or she is helping to advance each in their own way. This civilization was born through the awakening of the mighty soul of Bahaullah which came to flower in Iranian soil. The relation of the individual Bahai to the whole is in the form of mechanisms called institutions both Bahai institutions and a multitude of other societal institutions. The activities of each Bahai exist in a field, a framework, a paradigm, a new paradigm now 15 years in the making. I encourage readers to become familiar with what the House of Justice, in its Ridvan message of 2010, referred to as "the crucial developments that have occurred over the past decade in that aspect of Bahai culture which pertains to deepening." The long-cherished goal of universal participation is much more within reach in the context of this new Bahai culture. The sacred duty of each believer in many ways is the same as it always has been: to diffuse among his friends and relations what he sees as the inestimable blessing which he has himself already received.

In the broadest of senses, at least philosophically and abstractly, we are each a part of, that is, we exist in everything that we perceive--at least so goes one strain of thought in the literature of the humanities; but, as Bahais, we are also part of a new race of men, a new spiritual species which have evolved from a former and temporary state of quiescence into a lifelong bout of dynamic activity, activity which seeks, among other things, to draw men toward a Cause. It is for this purpose, among others, that each Bahai was created and has come into the world. This was true for the Christian as it says in John xii, 32 and xvi, 28 and it has been, is and will be true for the Bahai. It is true in this paradigm and it was true in all previous Bahai paradigms.

We as Bahais are virtually commanded to put our essence into life and action in order to be, to become, what we potentially are. Our field of action lies within this new paradigm which lies in a community, a society which is the common ground between our individual fields of action and those fields of action of a host of others; and it is here that the necessity, the obligation, the duty of our lives, translates itself into many things among which is an external pressure, a pressure to both transform ourselves and others. The transformation takes place in a social context. This transformation is not inevitable nor is it, often, observable. The changes required of us are resisted by inertia, indifference and sometimes by active hostility. Often the necessary changes do not take place because of our lack of understanding or our unwillingness. The reasons for our lack of change, our transformation, are legion. So many dangerous temptations lurk in ambush to surprise the ungarded believer and assail him. He must engage in a persistent and strenuous warfare against his own instincts and natural inclinations; he must try to safeguard himself from the trivialities of the world without and the pitfalls of the self within.(Shoghi Effendi, Bahai Administration, p.140.)

The Bahai community, inspite of the weaknesses of its individual members, provides the very Salt of the Earth through its devotion and of living the life for remote and mighty ends. Each Bahai is overwhelmingly outnumbered by society's mass, by its great majority, although he or she may enjoy the companionship of a few kindred spirits. In this new paradigm there is an anticipated kindling of belief from soul to soul and this must be done by a combination of sheer mimesis, of drill or of inspiration, of strenuous intellectual communion and intimate personal intercourse or of all these factors. The process is at once mysterious and complex, direct and simple and, it would seem after the observation of over a century and a half of experience, it is a process that is characterized by an endless movement from the world of contemplation and solitude, of prayer and meditation, of reading and study---to the world of action by the individuals and the communities concerned. Conversation and interaction enriches the understanding but prayer and meditation, solitude and silence are the major school of learning and the cultural attainments of the mind.

Each individual must work out for themselves, both inside and outside the paradigm, their own combination of social interaction on the one hand and solitude and silence on the other. Each of the individual misfortunes and merits, the often transitory and sometimes decades-long experience, the events of the life-narratives as they come into play each day must be transmuted by the collirium which is knowledge and understanding, wisdom and intellect. These are the two most luminous lights in the world of creation, and they must be transmuted into acts of engagement as our daily life takes its course--sensibly and insensibly. The dross of egotism and animus needs to be refined away within the limits of our incapacity as we exercise this engagement in the multitude of ways that is our lives. The public misfortune, the global disasters of our age, our epochs, are so catastrophic in the wider world in which we are enmeshed that each person must find their personal form of identification with the pubic sphere, its disasters and its slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. May we all find a part to play and may we each appreciate the contribution of others.(UHJ, 6/12/08)

As we "grunt and sweat," as Shakespeare puts it so graphically in a famous soliloquy, under what is often, but thankfully not always, a weary life, we must act--or lose in our lives "the name of action." We each need to possess a sense of our own nothingness, or our own private spiritual malaise on the one hand and a sense of the transforming effects of the indwelling God on the other. There is also much else that we need: many other emotions and thoughts in-between and these thoughts and emotions need to possess an intensity that moves us beyond the passive state, a state inculcated by much that is the backdrop of our civilization, our contemporary society. The result of this concern for humanity is a great many different things to a great many different people: from a sting of the conscience, to a sense of guilt, to the exercise of gregarious inclinations, to the sheer joy in activity--to each person a constellation of different emotions, thoughts and activities. The result of that constellation is a degree of participation in this new paradigm which is different for each Bahai and ranges from total obsession on the part of some of the believers with the paradigm to total indifference and non-engagement. "Humanity is weary for want of a pattern of life," the House of Justice emphasizes, "to which to aspire."(Rivan 2012) That pattern is part of the goal of this new paradigm.

Readers need to exercise caution, it hardly goes without saying, when evaluating the experience and views of people like myself. These views do not necessarily represent truth or comprehensiveness. Empathy and the ability to use words are not the same as understanding and, even when they are, they are still only one person's views and they do not possess any authority, at least not in the Bahai Faith. Relying on what believers say about themselves and their religion is not enough; it is only a start to a long process. Readers need supplemental information from the ocean of words in order to enlarge their own understanding. Readers need a great deal to make things clearer than they were before reading someone's views and after reading those words. If readers are to correct erroneous information they need to be continuous, life-long, scholars of the Cause. Even then there are no guarantees. The process is not like "the five easy payments" and "guaranteed or your money back."

The famous existentialist John Paul Sartre stated: 'We only become what we are by the radical and deep-seated refusal to be what others have made of us.' Whether it is in discussions about the legitimacy of one's moral behaviour which others seek to impute as immoral; whether it is in the suppression of reasoned criticism and principled critiques of various kinds which others attempt to engage in to put down our views; whether it is in the oblique and unacknowledged imposition and enforcement of religious orthodoxy at the expense of inclusion, diversity and integrity; Bahai apologists and the Bahai community in general need to be aware that arrogance in the expression of one's views enters easily into the heart of discourse, of apologetics. What we each make of the views of others may not always be entirely correct. The use and command of language is the fruit of exercise and, in its written form, that exercise, is done well by only a few--and even when it is done well, especially when it is done well--it is intended to predispose readers in favour of a particular interpretation of history, of our times or, indeed, of whatever the writer is on about. The game is complex; the stakes are high and the exercise is not like the simplicities of poker or the subtitles of cricket or golf.

EDITING, MANNER, TONE, AND HUMOUR IN THIS WORK

At this stage in the evolution of this work I could benefit from the assistance of one, Rob Cowley, affectionately known in publishing circles back in the seventies and early eighties --as “the Boston slasher.” Guy Murchie, a noted Bahai writer, Chicago Tribune photographer, staff artist and reporter (1907-1997) regarded Cowley's work as “constructive and deeply sensitive editing.” If he could amputate several dozen pages of this book and take his editing pen across my pages with minimal agony to my emotional equipment I’m sure readers would be the beneficiaries. But alas, Bob is dead. He died right at the outset of this new paradigm. I did find two editors, a copy and proofreader, though, who did not slash and burn my pages and paragraphs but left my soul quite intact as they waded through my labyrinthine chapters and pages, smoothed them all out and excised undesirable elements. But both of these men tired of the process and for various reasons were no longer accessible by the time I had this book in reasonable shape but in need of an editor over a year ago in early 2009.

John Kenneth Galbraith had some helpful comments for writers like myself. Galbraith’s first editor Henry Luce, the founder of Time Magazine, was an ace at helping a writer avoid excess. Galbraith saw this capacity to be succinct as a basic part of good writing. Galbraith also emphasized the music of the words and the need to go through many drafts. I've always admired Galbraith, a man who has only recently passed away. I’ve followed his advice on the need to go through endless drafts. I’ve lost count, but I’m not sure if, in the process, I have avoided excess. I can hear readers say: “are you kidding?” In some ways I have found that the more drafts I do, the more I had to say. And excess, is one of the qualities of my life, if I may begin the confessional aspect of this work in a minor key.

And so I have Galbraith watching over my shoulder and his mentor, Henry Luce, as well. Galbraith spent his last years in a nursing home before he passed away in 2006 at the age of 98. Perhaps his spirit will live on in my writing as an expression of my appreciation for his work, if nothing else. Spontaneity did begin to come into my work at perhaps the first draft of the third edition. This work is now in its third year of writing and in the first eight months of this third year it has gone through at least six drafts. Galbraith says that artificiality enters the text because of this. I think he is right; part of this artificiality is the same as that which one senses in life itself. Galbraith also observed with considerable accuracy, in discussing the role of a columnist, that such a man or woman is obliged by the nature of their trade to find significance three times a week in events of absolutely no consequence. I trust that the nature of my work here will not result in my being obliged to find significance where there is none. I’m not optimistic. Perhaps I should simply say “no comment” and avoid the inevitable gassy emissions that are part of the world of writing. I do hope to do much more personal editing of this work for it is in need of people like that Boston Slasher.

The capacity to entertain and be clever may not occupy such an important place in the literary landscape in the centuries ahead. But this is hard to say. There is something wrong it seems to me if millions have what the famous American critic Gore Vidal says is part of the nightly experience of western man: the pumping of laughing gas into lounge rooms. While this pumping takes place millions, nay billions, now and over the recent four epochs about which this account is written, starve, are malnourished and are traumatized in a multitude of ways. The backdrop to this book is bewilderingly complex. Still, I like to think readers will find here a song of intellectual gladness and, if not a song, then at least a few brief melodies. I would also like it if this work possessed an unwearying tribute to the muse of comedy that instils the life and work of writers like, say, Clive James and many another writer with the flare for humour. Alas, that talent is not mine to place before readers, at least I am not conscious of its presence. Readers will be lucky to get a modicum of laughs, as I’ve said, in the 420 pages that are here. I avoid humour, although not consciously, except for the occasional piece of irony, play with words or gentle sarcasm that some call the lowest form of wit.

Not making use of the lighter side of life, not laughing at oneself and others in a country like Australia or America is perhaps an unwise policy. I do this a great deal in my daily life but readers won’t find much to laugh at here. They will find irony in mild amounts and even enough of that Benthamite psychology of the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain to satisfy the value-systems of readers, at least in Australia and America. I came to write this work as I say above, after living for more than three decades in Australia. Part of this book unavoidably analyses the things, the culture, around me, for this new paradigm is immersed in a global culture that can not be separated from the Bahai culture of learning and growth that this book seeks to explore.

In some ways I don’t mind the relative dearth of humour in this work. If that fine American essayist and critic Gore Vidal was right in a recent interview when he said with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek where he often places it to the pleasure and amusement, the annoyance and frustration of many a listener--and laughing gas is, indeed, pumped into most homes every night as society amuses itself to death, then, to avoid humour's paradox, its ambiguity and complexity at the heart of our world, my world, seems fitting in this serious text and analysis. I do not want to deny the pain, the tempest of trial and suffering, that is at the very heart of our existence in this age. To gainsay such pain is, for some, a central crime of the bourgeois part of our society. For me, the issues and offences, the challenges and struggles in relation to this polarity-paradox, this conundrum, are exceedingly complex and I only deal with them briefly and indirectly here in this somewhat personal statement, however long it may be.

If readers miss the lighter, the more humorous, touch in this long essay, they may also miss the succinctness that they find in their local paper, a doco on TV or the pervasive advertising medium that drenches us all in its brevity and sometimes clever play on words and images. One thing this book is not is succinct and I apologize to readers before they get going if, indeed, dear readers, you get going at all with this work. I like to think, though, that readers will find here two sorts of good narrative, the kind that moves by its macroscopic energy and the kind that moves by its microscopic clarity. I won’t promise this to readers at the outset in these prefatory words, but such is my hope—springing eternally as hope does and must, at least for me, as I write about the/my Bahai experience in the last 15 years in the font of life casting an eye as I go along to the earlier phaes of my life and those of the Bahai Faith and iuts history going back, arguably, more than two centuries.

My curiosity, as I mentioned above, has been stimulated for many a long year through being tormented by longings to understand, by being racked by unfulfilled ambition to understand on many fronts. Some divine wind of curiosity's unflagging inspiration has generated higher activities, has caused my mind to rise to higher flights in order to make something of my learning, to add something to my society, to increase the quantum of my own virtue. After fifty years of being first a student and then a teacher, I have been able during this paradigm to contribute something to the common knowledge of my community. That is a crucial element, motivation, behind my writing and the part I play in this paradigm.

I have long felt as if I was, as Plato put it, "like a light caught from a leaping flame." In my case it has been the flame of a new Revelation in which I was caught up in as a youth. My role in this paradigm is an expression of this light and this flame. It is also the result of a generalist's knowledge. I play my part not as someone who has a special knowledge of any one of the physical and biological sciences or the humanities and social sciences. I play the role of a generalist in which there are always many 'pastures new,' as Milton referred to the fields of learning. I have grown fonder of life in late middle age and the early years of my late adulthood after years of having to suffer ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ As far as laughs are concerned, I have made much ‘ha ha,’ as Voltaire called it, in the public domain in these last six decades, especially since coming to Australia in 1971, 40 years ago. A goodly portion of my life has been light and cheery and I’m confident, with that American literary critic Gore Vidal, that it will stay this way, barring calamity or trauma, until my last breath.

I hope some readers will enjoy this narrative and analysis in all its excess, its voluminosity and its serious note and tone. In one of John Steinbeck’s letters he wrote: “Anyone who says he doesn’t like a pat on the back is either untruthful or a fool.” Perhaps Steinbeck never met many of the Aussies I’ve known who don’t like pats on their backs or anywhere else, are suspicious of those who give them and are certainly not fools. But I am, alas, not a full-blood Aussie; I am at best a hybrid and I look forward to many pats on the back, if and when they come my way. Australians have taught me not to be too optimistic, too dependent, too attached to such pats; perhaps, though, it is simply life, my experience and my own particular brand of skepticism that has taught me this.

SOME OF MY FIRST WORDS IN THIS BOOK

I wrote a short essay on the subject of the new Bahai paradigm in the southern hemisphere's spring of 2007 and extended that essay for the Online Journal of Baha’i Studies in 2008. It was a journal which appeared, some said, to be ahead of its time. The journal was not sustainable for various reasons and was closed at its website in early 2009. I hope that in this autumn of 2011, at least the autumn in the southern hemisphere, what has become a book of 420 pages will serve readers as a useful extension of their own reflections and understandings regarding this culture of learning and of growth. "Our success," wrote the Universal House of Justice on 10 January 2009, "depends upon the extent to which a more profound understanding of the dynamics of the Plan can permeate the entire community."

May our understanding of this most recent paradigmatic shift in the execution of this Plan and in the life of the Baha’i community--a shift this community is currently going through and has been going through since the mid-1990s--increase in the Five Year Plan that is on the horizon(21/4/11-21/4/16). May that understanding go on to increase in depth in the years ahead as the first century of the Formative Age draws to a close in 2021 after the two Five Year Plans, 2011-2016 and 2016-2021, are completed in the next decade. May all the developments examined in this new paradigm, as the House of Justice concluded its 8,000 word Ridvan 2010 message, be "an expression of universal love achieved through the power of the Holy Spirit." "Undeterred by divisive social constructs," the House of Justice concluded that most detailed message, we were encouraged to "press on...."

The Five Year Plan of 2011 to 2016, unlike the current Plan of 2005 to 2011, will not likely focus to anything like the same extent on numerical goals and their IPGs. There will be, in all probability, a greater focus on the Baha’is moving deeper into the life of society, which means more emphasis on social discourse and social action. Another anticipated feature of the next Five Year Plan, as one noted Bahai writer put it, may be capacity-building in ‘weaker’ countries, so that they become stronger. In the same way that the 10-year Crusade brought many souls into the Faith in the 1960s after the long period of pioneering and the extension of the Cause to the four corners of the Earth and the consequent development with the Baha’i community in the years 1953-1963, the hard work that has been put into the past 15 years will yield limitless possibilities for the next 10 years: 2011 to 2021--the end of the first century of the Formative Age.

The impulse to ponder and to try to distil the events that took place in the Bahai community in those fin de siecle years, that are taking and will take place in the first two decades of this new millennium(2001-2010) and (2011-2020)--indeed as I write--has led to this book. The balance of my writing has been tipped towards analysis and away from narrative and, for some readers especially those who prefer narrative, this will result in a partial loss of equilibrium and meaning. The sheer variety and diversity of these last two decades make it difficult to arrange this book in some simple order of events.

You have, it goes without saying dear reader, the freedom to disagree with the tone, the texture, the content, the thrust, indeed, whatever points you desire to disagree with--as you travel on this brief journey of 190,000 words in this book and its 420 pages. For this book is simply a man speaking for himself. As the Roman poet Terence put it: quot homines, tot sententia. Each man must speak for himself. I do this with a little help, much help, from the words of others. Isaac Newton once wrote: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants"(Letter to Robert Hooke). I do not see any further than others, but this work has certainly benefited from standing on the shoulders of many other writers, pouring over their books, articles and internet posts and synthesizing understandings which would never have come my way without them, without their shoulders and their minds.

I have had the happiness that comes from having an aim in life, a raison d'etre, a vocation, a calling from God as it says in the Acts of the Apostles to "feel after Him and find Him."(The Bible, Acts, xvii,27). Bahaullah has written that: "Whomsoever Thou willest Thou caused to draw nigh unto the Most Great Ocean and on whomsoever Thou desirest Thou conferrest the honour of recognizing Thy Most Ancient Name."(Bahai Prayers, USA, 1985, p.120) I have certainly drawn nigh but the degree and the extent of the nearness that I have achieved will remain a mystery before I go into a hole for those who speak no more, as the Bab put it so graphically in one of the passages of His voluminous writings.

This book is part of a larger vision, an angle of vision--dim and partial--of God revealing Himself in action to souls that were sincerely seeking Him through His Manifestation in the person of Bahaullah. Bahaullah was and is a Person Whom Bahais regard as the most wondrous soul ever to exist on the Earth. But my vision, like everyone's, of Him and the Cause He established is but a piecemeal one in the ever-rolling stream of time at its varying pace and unpredictable path. This vision, this sense of human destiny, is expressed here in the context of a new paradigm in the Bahai community. This vision is part and parcel of the community within which I have lived my life and in which this book finds its place.

Some creative stirring, some spark, of curiosity regarding this new paradigm has resulted in what are now quite familiar and even impressive developments in both my own mind and the minds of millions in the Bahai community around the world in over 200 countries and territories. The developments in this paradigm in these last 15 years, 1996-2010, are described and analysed in these 420 pages. This curiosity is, at least for me and as I say above, but a small part of what has been an undying glow of curiosity in my life regarding this new Faith since at least the 1950s. My burning zeal to widen and deepen my knowledge of this Faith has not always been steady and has often been interrupted by the changes and chances, the tests and trials, of life and their sometimes quite demoralizing effects. Indeed, on one or two occasions the fire nearly went out.

The play of my instincts and natural inclinations, my inability to subordinate my personal likings to the imperative requirements of this Cause, the allurements and trivialities of the world and the pitfalls of the self within have all played their roles in limiting the extent and intensity of my flame, my candle-power, my ability to lead, to live the life, as Bahais often use that phrase.(See Shoghi Effendi, Bahai Administration, p.140) Perhaps through some grace of God, some unmerited favour, rather than through some native common sense or planning, I have been able to develop a generalist's rather than a specialists's knowledge and to obtain a wide life-experience rather than one confined to one or two towns, one or two jobs, one or two Bahai communities or one or two psychobiological states. Looking back over nearly 60 years of Bahai experience(1953-2010) I feel I have had to remake myself many times as the Bahai communities I have lived in have also had to remake themselves. If anything has been achieved in the realms of thought it has been by the grace of God and not thanks to any native common sense. And it will continue to be so during this paradigm.

MY YEARS OF RETIREMENT

During the first years(2006-2014) of my retirement from FT, PT and all casual-employment, a process took place by stages firstly in the years 1999 to 2005, and then gradually after 2005. It was a process by which I accustomed myself to making both reading and writing the dual occupations of my time and energy, with the reading essentially in the form of research for the writing. The softer occupation of reading for its own sake was not an indulgence I permitted myself. Travelling, which has always been a useful stimulus for my mind, like reading, I did only in my head and with the aid of the print and electronic media, after decades of moving and travelling from town to town, to over 100 towns and cities. I have been able, as 'Abdul-Baha writes in one of His thousands of letters, "to focus my thinking on a single point" in the hope that "it will become an effective force."(Selections, p.111) The restlessness which had characterized my life as far back as my memory takes me(the late 1940s) was transferred by degree, sensibly and insensibly, from my former roles of teacher and tutor, student and adult educator as well as many other roles involving paid employment, into a range of new roles. They were roles in which I reinvented myself: writer and author, poet and publisher, editor and researcher, online blogger and journalist, reader and scholar.

This restlessness has never really left me alone in peace, but was always asking for more. Now, my life within the new Bahá'í culture is "a rich and intricate pattern of life" with, as the House of Justice expressed my experience in its 2013 Ridvan letter, many insights being gained from my endeavours. It is a highly dynamic process which does not lend itself to ready simplification and it is a process which recognizes that not everyone can do the same thing or should be occupied with the same aspect of the Plan. At the same time each Bahá'í should make every effort to push the frontiers of their services, increase the degree and widen the scope of their activities. In so doing they will bring into play what I often find to be an odd and yet insistent need within the human psyche to do and see and have and understand more and more and more.

This restlessness is not necessarily associated with unease or frustration, but with a sense of urgency and eagerness often allied, in reference to the Writings, to the soul and its inner life. It's a spiritual restlessness that tosses us toward transcendence. Abdu'l-Bahá describes the Greatest Holy Leaf as "astir and restless every hour of her life." Tahirih was "restless and could not be still." Such restlessness not only transforms the individual but it can influence a whole civilization. the impulse to express this spiritual restlessness in action can be conducive to the establishment of a new world order.

I did have, though, many years of difficulty in town after town as far back as my youth and I began to realize, during these years of the new paradigm, and as I approached my retirement and my experience of it, that all the tribulations I had suffered over those decades had been for a purpose. They had a preparatory function as described in the newly published book "Memories of Nine years in Akka" on page 184. I am not going to go into detail here for the details are very personal and deeply meaningful and, if readers are curious as to my meaning here they can go to the wonderful new book by Dr. Youness Afroukhteh(2003). It is one of the many new books published during this new paradigm. Publishing is an element of the paradigm that should not go without notice in a review of its central features and the Bahai experience during its fate-laden 17 years thusfar at the turn of the millennium. Readers can also go to my own autobiography in 3 parts here at BLO if they want more details of my life-narrative.

I have been breaking new soil frequently since my teens, always moving on: new addresses, new towns, new states and provinces, new houses and new countries. In retrospect I can see how my life has been one continuous journey of pushing past frontiers, breaking new soil, establishing fresh outposts and, in the process, contributing to the greater diversification of the Faith. This is one of the vital characteristics of pioneering, an activity that now goes back in my life for more than half a century: 1962 to 2013. When the Bab called upon the people of the West to "issue forth from your cities," he was summoning them to rise above their limitations, reach outward and do more that they had already done for the Cause. this is true, a fortiori, in this new paradigm.

And so it is that my book has become part of a strenuous, but pleasurable, plenitude of activity in these years of my retirement from another strenuous but often pleasurable world that had kept my nose to the grindstone, in one way or another, for forty years(1959-1999). Of course, to imply that all of life up to my retirement at the age of 55 in 1999 had been a 'nose-to-the-grindstone' experience would be far from the truth. My nose was often lifted-up to the skies with pleasures and enjoyments that were far, far, from that grindstone. During my retirement, though, and as this paradigm progressed I accustomed myself to making writing and not reading the first charge on my time and energy. Much of my human action was in the form of writing. Indeed, it was Life in Action. As the poet Longfellow once wrote:

I shot an arrow in the air,
It fell to earth I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

Longfellow goes on to describe the role and function of the writer and poet and it is much like the description given in the book of Ecclesiastes(xi,1): "Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days." The effects of my writing, I could see very plainly in the last several years, were being produced at distances thousands of miles and years away from by birthplace and my place of current residence. I came gradually to the view that my work, my writing, was not going to die with me, as Leonardo da Vinci once wrote. Of course, absolute certainty I did not have and I had to live with the possibility that, as Robert Burns once wrote: "the best laid schemes" of mice and men might indeed, "gang a-gley."(To a Mouse, stanza 5)

To some people this activity of writing in which I have now been engaged in during this paradigm for more than a decade is not a sign, an expression, of a man of action. Writing is an enterprise, a form of work, that appears inert to the human eye because this occupation involves no movement or at least a very minimal one and one that takes place from a sitting position. In my case the sitting position is in my study just beside my wife's garden. The activity I am engaged in, though, is a creative one and, as I quote above from Ecclesiastes (xi,1), the act when completed and placed in cyberspace is like casting one's bread upon the waters and finding it after many days. On the waters of the internet, I have indeed found much of my writing after many days, months and, now, years. The activity of writing this book about/within this new paradigm, for that is where I locate this work in the narrative that is my life, has the power of producing effects at distances thousands of miles away from where I am writing.

I am rather of the view that these thoughts I am now putting on the page will not die with me although, to reiterate, one cannot be absolutely sure of just how one's words go on living after they are put on the page and then clicked into place onto sites on the world-wide-web. In life there is much about which one cannot be absolutely sure. I see this book and my writing as part of my human mission to work, not as some writers see themselves, for the coming of the Kingdom of God on Earth but as part of an exercise within the framework of that Kingdom having already arrived. This new Kingdom needs workers and I am one of them. This culture of learning and growth, this new paradigm, is a great event in the Bahai community in the last two decades and it is part and parcel of this Kingdom--from a Bahai perspective and certainly from the perspective of this Bahai who writes and sits and who thinks and moves about--moves about far less than he did for more than the first five decades of his life. As Edward Gibbon wrote in his memoirs "the first of earthly blessings is independence." I cannot claim to have this intellectual gem in totality but I have it more than ever before in my life.

This new paradigm is at the core of the real war which has motivated me to write this book. We each must select our wars and battles, our skirmishes and engagements, in life in order that we may fight the fight and walk the walk. My belief in the importance of this theme, this topic, this new culture of learning and growth, is attested by my writing this 420 page document. I have cut back other activity, other writing projects, from necessity or desire, due to sickness or to my being "a burnt-out case," as I sometimes see myself. I have been able to strengthen every fibre of my being for this literary exercise in which my wings were and are free to soar. I chose my writing projects; but sometimes they seem to choose me. In the last several years, the last decade of this new paradigm(2001-2011)I have never found my mind more vigorous or my composition more happy in spite of the rigours of the bipolar disorder with which I must deal.

Food, warmth, sleep, literary sources and my good wife--these are all at present I ask - the ultima Thule of my life of wandering desires, as I paraphrase Hazlitt's expression. A walk in nature is a vital necessity in my life. My morning and evening pills keep a steady hand on my emotions and my bipolar disorder. I watch the boats go by and the flowers in my wife's garden. My walk through life is now on a literary path with a thin curtain drawn around it to protect my solitude. On this path are ranged rich portraits of the history of a new Faith and its developing new paradigm. I aim on a daily basis to lift aside the veils, for life has many to keep us from the beauty of the unseen, to see the wonders of existence and play the music of the spheres. Memory recalls other times in my life, other places which occupied me in Bahai community life. I go on some 10 home visits every month and return home, take up my writing and draw my chair to the fire of creativity. I often fall short in my literary aims as a writer, a writer who has inherited a vast tradition with its high standards. I try to capture the vitality of my own experience of life and art and help make my readers richer for sharing in that experience.

The pains, the tests and difficulties of life and the desire to engage in what seemed to me to be a more profitable, a more successful, form of teaching drove me, by my mid-fifties and in the first Plan(1996-2000) at the start of this new paradigm, to seek consolation in intellectual activities. I have taken to writing as some men might take to drink, to drive away tensions and difficulties which could not be solved on the physical plane. This involved a rigid cutting-back of other activities. There was a great release of strength that came from a long obstructed stream that could at last break forth. Years of training shaped my approach and my daily activity. I had developed the habit of letting my mind play around a problem and trying to grasp it whole before plunging into an attempt to solve it in detail in a literary form. The acquisition of information is only a start. I needed to reconstruct and rediscover the nature of this paradigm to place it in a personal context in which I could play as extensive a part as was possible--given the limitations of my health. This was true as I went about constructing this book and as my health continued to be a problem throughout the first 15 years of this new Bahai culture.

I construct my reality and it, in turn, constructs me. This means, so goes one of the many theories in sociology first described in the 1960s as the social construction of reality, that I am shaped within the stories I, as a human being, tell. This is true of all of us to greater and lesser extents depending on several factors like our story-telling capacity and our imaginations, our memories and the details of our social experience. The processes of the evolution of this Cause have long caught my imagination and the cultural heritage that has been my Faith, the Bahai Faith, has made me sensitive to all sorts of heroism and hints, features and facts and from this heritage. Many of the intuitions, the hints and the facts and their implications are found in this work.

The world, modern history, in my lifetime and the lifetime of my parents has been so full of shocking public events and these events, I have little doubt, have tended to be fecund, to be productive, of the intellectual inspiration for this writing. These events, beginning arguably with the Great War to end all wars and continuing into this third millennium, have been so catastrophic that the historian and sociologist in me, as well as the psychologist and the spiritual journeyman that inhabits my being--have led me to ask questions and seek answers. The poignant woes in my personal life, in my society and in the experience of the Bahai community offer to my imagination very promising subjects; in some ways the tragic subjects are more promising that those which are the joys and victories--and there have been many. In some ways, too, it has been my good fortune to be born in a Time of Troubles for it has been these troubles that formed the basis, at least in part, for my desire to deal with what has been flung at me by this current of events. This book is a natural bi-product of my life experience, both directly and indirectly as an observer. This experience in all its forms has led to a fertility of creative expression of which this book is but a part: or so it seems to me. If there was a barrenness of intellectual and creative power in my life in the years before this paradigmatic change in the Bahai community, it was due to many reasons that would be a tangent to the thrust of this work.

The stream of my intellect I feel, looking back over several decades, had been forced by circumstances to be obstructed by either practical concerns or by the lack of an all-consuming literary task. It has only recently been able to break forth and it has been doing so for at least the last decade,2001 to 2011, if not longer on this and other literary tasks, goals and projects. It has taken me some years to apprehend more than a fragment of the mental wealth that has been poured into my lap by sensible and insensible degrees in the years of this paradigm. I still have only a very inadequate notion of the limits and the extent of this theme, this personal aspect of the paradigm--as well as other aspects of this Cause as it has been efflorescing in recent decades, in the years that have been my life, the several epochs of Abdu’l-Baha’s Divine Plan.

In the earlier decades of my life I have had a schooling, a training, a grounding, a priming, a coaching, an accustoming, of my mind and heart in the communication of ideas to other minds over these same long decades. I had to develop so many skills in precision, in the acquisition of information and transferring it to others. All these skills have been and are indispensable in the art of literary composition on which I am now focussed. This literary work, this constancy in intellectual labour, is as much a goal-oriented creative mission, an occupation-vocation-process as a consolation, as a pleasurable employment and transmission of energy. As that successful novelist Anthony Trollope emphasizes in his Autobiography, "these things conquer all difficulties."(chapters 7 and 20). Well, to some extent, Anthony.

In writing, as in daily life, one does not connect with everyone. Like the paradigm itself, I have my unloving critics and my critical lovers and a vast host of indifferents as well as those who will never know of my writing at all immersed as they--as we all--are in a knowledge explosion that they/we can scarcely keep their/our heads, their/our minds and hearts from being inundated by and disconnected with from time to time for fear of drowning. We are all living at what appears to be the greatest climacteric in the history of the evolution of human kind at least since the agricultural revolution some twelve thousand years ago.

My working tempo is set for me by a psychic chronometer with intellect and a spiritual creativity like the hands of the clock, my clock, my working psychology, so to speak. This work is no mere passive receptivity but one of active curiosity, the asking of questions, the search for meaning and the quest for an understanding of God's vision at work in history through the channel of this paradigm. Indeed, my receptivity manifests itself in a willingness to participate in the process of community building which is just beginning in this new paradigm. It is I who do the defining of the extent and form, the way and means of my participation. This book had been incubating and gestating for several years before I started writing it four years ago. I can hear at my back time's winged chariot hurrying near. I roll all my strength and sweetness into a ball and, though I cannot make the sun stand still, I like to think I can make him run as Andrew Marvell puts it in his poetic masterful words.(See his poem: 'To His Coy Mistress'). The shocking events of my time and age, going as far back as the early years in the lives of my parents during the Great War(1914-1918), if not those of my grandparents and great-grandparents during the lives of Bahaullah and the Bab Themselves, have been a fecund source--as I say elsewhere in this book--of inspiration. I feel it is my good fortune to have been entering retirement at this stage in this climacteric of history-just as the Bahai community was crossing the bridge to the third millennium on history's stage.

This book is a product of the good fortune that has been my life and its diverse experience. Further literary efforts within this new paradigm will continue so long as I am not afflicted by any barrenness of intellectual and creative power. This book is also but a fragment of a harvest that has resulted from years of plowing intellectual, inter-disciplinary and highly diverse fields of knowledge. This book is, in addition, but a fragment of my participation in the discourses of society in many of the social spaces I have inhabited since leaving my home in the Golden Horseshoe at the western end of Lake Ontario in the mid-1960s. Living in 25 towns and 37 houses, teaching groups as diverse as Inuit and Aboriginals, senior executives and pre-primary kids, children at all levels of education and adults at all levels of life, living across two continents, experiencing two marriages and at least two of my own personalities at each end of the planet, I was ready to travel in cyberspace by the time the third millennium turned its corner a decade ago after the first five years of this new paradigm. Life had given me, by the time I retired in 1999 and turned to writing full-time, a rich base for dialogue, for interchange, for analysis and for my work on the internet. In the last decade I have been involved in an exercise in teaching and consolidation as well as social action undreamt of in the first four decades of my life as a Bahai: 1959-1999. Finally, my belief in the importance of this paradigmatic shift is attested by my act of writing this book.

At the start of the particular project of writing three-and-a-half years ago(9/07-2/11), and even after much serious labour on it, I had a very inadequate notion of the possibilities or the limits, the extent or the outreach of this theme. The progressive expansion of this oeuvre to some 420 pages has been no flash of inspiration but, rather a gradual expression of feelings and thoughts in the form of poetry and prose within the factual base that is this paradigm. These feelings and thoughts find expression here in lyrical, epic, narrative and dramatic genres of writing which readers may find a little over the top, as they say these days, too emotive, too grandiose, even too evangelical, to use a term that is not enjoying much of a press these days.

Some readers will certainly find this book too long for their tastes coming to Bahai Library Online and hoping for a short exposition, an essay of digestible length that they can chew over during a few pages of reading. After spending more than half a century in classrooms as either a teacher or a student, from 1949 to 2005, I am only too well aware of the human incapacity to digest print when it comes in large doses. But write I must even if only for a coterie and even if it goes on at far too indigestible a length for most readers. Much of life for me has been, as it has been and is for millions, a fatuous cycle of impulse and activity on the one hand and idleness and sloth on the other. This no longer is the case. Materialism, Tocqueville, once emphasized, enervates and soul and unbends the springs of action(Tocqueville and the Problem of Democracy, Marvin Zetterman, Stanford UP, 1967, p.64); domesticity is reinforced and social ties are loosened, he continues in an analysis that explains much of the problem and dilemma behind participation in the new Bahai paradigm.

EVANGELISM AND PROPHECY

The evangelism in this book, if there is any, and in this new Bahai paradigm is very different from that found in the many forms in other religions, especially Protestant Christianity which western readers get exposed to in their daily lives in different ways. One of the best known—and most controversial—theological varieties of evangelism, for example, is the doctrine of the “rapture,” a belief underpinned by a reading of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18 in which the true church is expected to be “caught up in the air” to meet Jesus and the saints in heaven. According to some proponents of this view, Christ will effectively return twice: first, secretly, to rapture the church, removing true believers from earth while the rest of humanity suffers the tribulation; and again, publicly, at the end of the tribulation, after which he will set up his thousand-year millennial kingdom on earth. Between these events, a seven year period of suffering known as the “tribulation” will take place, in which God will unleash his wrath upon those who have failed to accept Jesus as their personal saviour.

The Bahai view of prophecy, of apocalypticism and dispensationalism is very different from the many Protestant views of which this particular variety of evangelism is among the more popular. The Bahai views of prophecy are worlds away from the many Protestant forms. The Bahai views in many other areas of modern Christian theology, as well as much modern secular thought, are also worlds away. Bahais aiming to put into place many of the goals of this paradigm need to keep in mind the immense gaps between the many cosmologies they will find in their dialogue with others and the several major articulations of the Bahai cosmology.

It has been this way, living with this immense gap in thought, in all my Bahai life, and in the lives of Bahais in the West for as long as this Faith has been ploughing in the fields of hopeful expansion. The intellectual paradigm which underpins the new Bahai culture of learning and growth and many of the paradigms underpinning much that is taking place in the wider society and its pluralistic culture, though, have been growing closer since the mid-1990s--or so it seems to me. The new Bahai culture and its community building, initiated only within the last two decades, is growing to meet a multitude of other cultures in the context of this new paradigm. Who knows what will transpire in the decades ahead as the world seeks answers to its enigmatic problems and puzzles and finds in the Bahai community a model for world fellowship.

JOY AND CELEBRATION

Lyricism, rejoicing, exultation and celebration at the achievements of the Bahai community all find expression in this book as well as the spirit of evangelism. I have nothing but praise for the amazing qualities of endurance and patience exercised by the Bahai community in the more than a century and a half of heroism in Bahai history. My work is, in some ways, both an elegy and an eulogy, a commemoration and a memorial, a monument and a remembrance, an acclamation and an accolade, an adulation and an applause,a commendation and a compliment, an encomium and an exaltation, a glorification and a laudation,a paean and a panegyric, a plaudit and a salutation to the achievements and victories, the sorrows and suffering found in this and other paradigms in the Bahai historical experience.

There is a joy at the dawn of this new Order which has begun to flow around the planet by sensible and insensible degrees in the years after the passing of Bahaullah in 1892. My feelings echo Wordsworth's famous lines: "Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,//But to be young was very heaven. And I might add "to be in the evening of my life with decades of work within these years of the dawn behind me--is also very heaven." I see this work as part of my soul's response to an epiphany that is something more than a merely temporal event. The dawn that has awakened this joy is an irruption into time out of eternity by a Manifestation of God in our time.

THE TRUE MEASURE OF A RELIGION

I am not blind, though, to the interpersonal problems, the failings, the ineptitude, the gross stupidity and the many, many inadequacies both in myself and in the behaviour of my fellow believers. If one was to judge this Faith by the believers, indeed, if one was to judge any religion or philosophy, by its adherents, one would find that group wanting. The greatness of this Faith does not lie in the comings and goings, the deeds and doings of those who claim to be its members. The greatness of this Faith lies in the most wondrous human being ever to exist on this planet, the Founder of the Bahai Faith, Bahaullah and the explicit provisions He made for His legitimate succession and, in the process, for establishing an Order, a System, which is seen by the Bahai community as part of the Revelation Itself--and is known as the Covenant. The result of His life and those provisions will be the gradual realization of His Wondrous Vision, a Vision which constitutes the brightest emanation of His Mind and the fairest fruit of the fairest civilization that the world has yet seen. The realization of that Wondrous Vision has made a remarkable start in these years of my life and some of that story is found here. Some of it is taking place in the context of this new paradigm.

One cannot look at the followers of the Truth of any of the great religions for the truth; the sign of the truth is to be found in the Great Beings Who were the Founders. This if true of Jesus and Christianity, of Muhammad and Islam and on and on through other major interventions of the Divine in human affairs at periodic times in history. I could write more here about this important concept and what you might call the cross-cultural messianism that the Bahai Faith espouses. I could write more about the theophanology, the much fuller theophany that is found in the Bahai religion.

The world hardly suffers from a shortage of ideas in the vast field of religious studies. In this paradigm or in previous paradigms the opposite is the case. Humanity runs the serious risk of suffocating in a surfeit of ideas which are either so vast, so self-evident and so urgent as to generate intense anxiety--or so esoteric and divisive as to preclude any unified approach to their exmaination and even discourage any general interest. This paradigm provides, at least for the Bahai community, a unified approach. The Bahai Cause has a vital contribution to make to the unity of the children of men, to the search for world unity. Its central theme was enunciated more than a century ago in a remarkable series of letters and books by this Faith's Founder addressed from His penal cell in the Turkish colony of Akka. That theme was the emergence of a global civilization and, after more than one hundred years, humankind has moved into its long struggle with the enormous new social and material forces, not in the context of a search for unity, but rather, in one of attachment to the sectarian, political, nationalistic and racial loyalties of the past. The result is the world we live in and it is this world which is the backdrop to this paradigm.

A ONE MILLION YEAR CYCLE AND ITS PERIODS

The cycle which began with Adam is divided into three periods ending nearly 500,000 years from now. The Bahai Era(B.E.), beginning in 1844, is the second period in that cycle: 1844 to 2844. This entire cycle is dominated, according to Abdul-Baha, by the specifically Bahai principle of the political and religious unification of the planet for human welfare. The theophany expressed in the Bahai teachings flows through this new paradigm. This is a much wider focus, a different topic, and it concerns itself with the next half a million years. Those years will see changes in the sphere of cultural evolution much different than those which have taken place in the cycle since the emergence of Homo heidelbergensis 500,000 years ago, a now extinct species of the genus homo and arguably a distant precursor to Homo sapiens sapiens.

I wrote the following two prose-poems about Homo heidelbergensis and I trust these pieces of writing which follow place for readers the million years I refer to here in a long-range, a colourful and intellectually stimulating perspective. This perspective may not be that useful to readers as they go about putting this new paradigm into practice in the years ahead; for we all must focus on the here and now, on what is in front of our nose so to speak. But, for me, this long range, what you might call this anthropological and futuristic perspective is part of the Bahai vision, at least my version of it--and vision creates reality as Horace Holley used to say.

FORTUITOUS

The political and religious unification of the planet for human welfare is the principle that is gradually coming to dominate this cycle, a cycle which began about 6000 B.P., several thousand years after the first signs of the emergence of agricultural civilization in a known as the neolithic revolution. The first full-blown manifestation of the entire Neolithic complex is seen in the Middle Eastern Sumerian cities(ca. 5,300 BC) whose emergence also inaugurates the end of the prehistoric Neolithic and the beginning of historical time. This cycle, according to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, will last for 500,000 years and we are, at the moment, at the start of the second period in this cycle(1844-2844).(1)

The first proto-states developed in Mesopatamia, Egypt and India at about 6000 B.P. The concepts and the principals involved in the development of the nation state can be analysed and discussed as they are in political anthropology, political sociology and history among other social science disciplines. For my purposes here, the union, the federation of seven Dutch provinces in 1581, independent of a monarch could be said to initiate the start of the modern phase of the nation state. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648, signed when parties who had been at war for 30 years came together, could also be seen as marking another critical stage in the development of modern nationhood. It was the first time that a European community of sovereign states was established. And it was only possible because all of its members recognized each other as having equal legal standing, and guaranteed each other their independence. They had to recognize their international legal treaties as binding, if they wanted to be an international community of law.

Previous cycles in physical and cultural evolution are not referred to as “cycles”, as far as I know, by ‘Abdu’l-Baha. But if one goes back to 500,000 B.P. we find, at least since 1907, Homo heidelbergensis, the possible direct ancestor of Homo neanderthalensis. He is seen as part of the proto-human species. He hunted, buried his dead and was developing a complex mind.(2) And so began the story of the million year period in which we are at the mid-point. -Ron Price with thanks to (1)Juan Cole, “The Concept of the Manifestation in the Baha’i Writings,” Baha’i Studies, Vol.9, pp.36-7; and (2) “Science and Nature: Prehistoric Life,” bbc.co.uk, 18 December 2007.

It really only began just the other day--
several thousand years after we began
to settle into agriculture and with the
development of those proto-states in
Mesopotamia, Egypt, India: 6000 B.P.

It really only began just the other day--
after that union of Dutch provinces in
1581 and that Treaty of Westphalia in
1648, landmarks on the way to that big
year 1844 at the start of the 2nd Period
of this Baha’i Era: 1844 to 2844, precursor
of the 3rd period: 2844 to 501,844 A.D.

It really only began just the other day--
the political and religious unification
of Homo.sapiens, sapiens, sub-species
of Homo.sapiens of the genus Homo of
the family Hominidae of that order of

Primates of the class Mammalia of the
phylum Chordata of the kingdom Animalia--
after the great treck out of Africa thousands
and thousands of years ago to cover the globe
in the greatest of journeys, stories, ever told,
but gradually being unfolded by modern science.

And so the units of social organization grew:
clans and chiefdoms, tribes, city states,nations
and now a federation across the face of this planet.
Little by little, day by day in larger and larger
interdependencies. A fortuitous series of synchronized
events bringing this national state, a cultural artefact
created through a spontaneous distillation of discrete
historical events, into existence just at the time
as a Light of Divine guidance appeared in the
Middle East: Shaykh Ahmad, Siyyid Kazim, the Bab,
Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Baha as well as a complete(1)
institutionalization of this immense charismatic Force.(2)

(1) 1743-1921
(2) 1921-1963

ONE MILLION YEARS:
POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS UNIFICATION:
THE DOMINANT PRINCIPLE OF THIS CYCLE

Last night I watched “As It Happened: 1929-The Wall Street Crash.”(1) I could not help but reflect on the letters of Shoghi Effendi published in The World Order of Bahá'u'lláh in 1938. These letters had a different aim and a far larger scope than his first letters to the North American Baha’is from 1922 to 1929. These letters, these communications, from 1929 to 1936 unfolded for the Baha’is a much clearer vision than they had previously possessed of the relation between the Bahá'í community and the entire process of social evolution under the dispensation of Bahá'u'lláh. This body of letters were first written just eight months before the Wall Street crash and Shoghi Effendi continued writing these letters into the years of the depression. They were finally published in a collected edition in 1938 as war approach and the depression was finally ending. The period was one of the nadir’s of civilization.

The distinction between the Bahá'í community and the sects and congregations of former religions were made apparent in these letters. These world order letters established in one volume, among other things, the Bahai; Administrative Order as the nucleus and pattern of the world civilization that was then emerging. In the introduction, Horace Holley, the then secretary of the American Bahai community wrote: "In light of the existing international chaos, these letters reveal the most significant Truth of this era, namely that the old conception of religion, which separated spirituality from the fundamental functions of civilization, compelling men to abide by conflicting principles of faith, of politics and of economics, has been forever destroyed."(2) -Ron Price with appreciation to (1)SBS TV, 3 July 2009, 8:30-9:30 p.m. and (2)Wikipedia, 4 July 2009.

The dominant principle of this cycle
is the political and religious unity of
the human species--since the great...
dispersal, radiation, homo erectus...
hominid....Out-of-Africa 2 million
years ago...establishment of sapien
human lineage, genus homo, stone
tools, a rudimentary technology...
Homo heidelbergensis, 500,000 ya
and Homo neanderthalenis-physical
anthropology’s branch and cultural
and social anthropology telling us
of clans, tribes, chiefdoms, then—
city-states, nations and now global
...yes...going global since perhaps
early explorers, say, a 1000 years of
travel on the waters of the earth now
.......
overnight it’s one world on our way
for another 500,000 years of political
and religious unification—that’s the
trip we are now on day by day in the
midst of a tempest, fiery and furious.

THIS EPIC LITERARY WORK

I hope it is obvious to readers by now that there is also an epic response in both this commentary on the new Bahai paradigm and in my total literary oeuvre. There is an expression here of a certain romance that is evoked by conquests and defeats, by treks and voyages, and by both the anarchy and the musical flow of the all-embracing ocean of history in our time, a history that this new Faith is caught up with in ways we can scarcely appreciate. The poignant woes and the advancements in modern history in our planetizing society offer to my imagination subjects as equally promising as the history of the successes and tragedies in the Bahai community in the last two centuries.

The successes, the advancements, the progress, in the pluralistic society I have had my being in all my life have been bright with promise; and they are bright with promise in this new Bahai paradigm and especially as the international Bahai community headed into the third millennium a decade ago with the completion of the Arc Project on Mt. Carmel and the developments at the Bahai World Centre in the decade since then. The successes in the Bahai community are beyond doubt and they presage the gradual realization of that Wondrous Vision which constitutes the brightest emanation of Baha’u’llah’s Mind and the fairest fruit of the fairest civilization the world has yet seen.(WOB, p.48)

For many years I have thought how closely the Bahá'í teaching activities resemble a romantic relationship, and how easily the hungering heart of a new believer can confuse the gift of the teachings with those he experiences for the giver. How often does a new Bahá'í become the object of such marked attention and disinterested love that he or she feels he is in love with the person who has been his teacher. This, of course, is not something that only occurs in the Bahá'í Faith. The language of the lower emotions and the flesh is the first we learn, it is all to easy to translate one's first spiritual awakening into those terms of the flesh.

TRUE HEROES

The true heroes of this and any cause are so often the conquered, not the conquering Achilles, but the conquered Hector; these heroes are not always the Bahai teachers who have been responsible for thousands entering the Cause, but they are also the Martha Roots, the George Townshends, the many who have suffered, Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi none of whom rise on page one of their biographies to positions of victory but who lead lives of trial and tribulation, great victory as well as crushing defeat. This study of the new paradigm does not expatiate on the lives of saints and the martyrs, the heroes and heroines over the many decades of Bahai history, however inspirational these lives have been. Other books do this job only too well and there are now, in the years of this new paradigm, many books found in Bahai bookshops made available by the publishing houses of the Bahai community which have dramatically increased in number around the world in the last quarter century. These books can and will enrich the knowledge base beyond the core of learning provided in the Ruhi Books.

In the treks and voyages of Abdul-Baha and Bahaullah, in those of Bahiyyih Khanum and Lua Getsinger, of Martha Root and of Keith Ransom-Keilor, in those of the many others of significance and insignificance in the epic story-narrative that is Bahai history, the wondrous history of the Bahai community has just begun; the path has just been landscaped; the garden has just been planted. The story has continued and will continue in the decades ahead in this new paradigm. The epic theme, the great and grand metanarrative that is the history of this Cause will continue within the years of this new paradigm on projects and plans, with perils and pitfalls that we can, as yet, scarcely imagine. This paradigm is part of the latest chapter in a long story, a story that this book takes back to the middle of the 18th century, although with only brief stopovers in the years from the 1740s to the 1840s and the 1840s to the 1940s.

I was not born until 1944 and I do not go into any detail on paradigms in Bahai history before my birth. This book, readers must remember, has a very personal retrospect and prospect. There is a poetry in this long narrative of more than two centuries and in this latest chapter of only 20 years. To a significant extent it is my poetry and a poetry which could never have been written without a community context. I convey some of this poetry in these pages with a feeling for the drama in the facts of the story and even a degree of awe at the epiphany of God's plan in the context of Abdul-Bahas Divine Plan that is playing itself out in our time--in its first epochs. I convey some of the historical panorama of this new paradigm which impinges on my eyes as a spectator and participant in its often seemingly mundane events. And I try to "run with patience the race that is set before me."(The Bible,Hebrews,xii,i)

When a man or woman find their true qiblah, their spirit rises to the full height of their powers and in each person the process seems to work itself out differently. There is a feeling that is transfigured into a sense of awe and, for some, the result is poetry. Readers will find some of that here.

In its totality, this book gives glimpses of a complex whole that is the Bahá’í community as seen in the light of this new paradigm at the centre of this community spanning as it does some 6,000 clusters and 120,000 localities around the globe. But only glimpses of this whole are found here because this essay or book is not a history of the Bahai Faith nor a review of its teachings, not a scholarly study of its community life nor the Faith's philosophy, not on overview of its sociology or psychology. This book has become a sort of pot-pourri of many aspects of the above, but with a focus on this new paradigm, a paradigm that is now part and parcel of the way this new world religion goes about much of its community life, its outward thrusts and its inward being. This book is not a review of contemporary Bahai history since 1996, since the start of this new paradigm, nor any one of a number of topics that are dealt with in a host of other books in what is now a burgeoning literature on this new world religion, a literature that few can keep up with as this new paradigm takes off into what seem like quickening years and quickening winds in a global tempest unprecedented in its magnitude in this new millennium.

This book is part of what seems to have become a permanent lure on my intellectual literary horizon, an ever-receding and never captured intellectual quarry, like that electric hare for the greyhound on the racing track. It is part of a process that keeps my brain running at full-tilt, at full-stretch, these days with an eagerness which flags every day after some eight hours of work as I try to catch what I can with this vaulting curiosity. I am able to satisfy, though, a craving which has been damned back for decades and has accumulated, in the process and over time, a powerful sense of urgency. I have also been inspired in my writing by the work of many others, too many to name here. This renewed, rather than unflagging, curiosity, like some divine wind which blows my ship, shows no sign of becoming becalmed. It generates higher faculties, higher flights, goals to make something of my life, to leave a mark, to provide some useful knowledge to add to humanity's common stock. Time will tell, of course, just how useful that knowledge becomes to the Bahai community in the future. From the feedback I have received thusfar, I have no doubt of its present utility at least to a coterie, a few readers out there in cyberspace.

SOLITUDE AND SOCIAL INTERACTION: AN INDIVIDUAL RECIPE AND MENU

As I mentioned above, each individual must work out for themselves their own combination of social interaction on the one hand and solitude on the other as they go about working out their role in this new paradigm. The permutations and combinations that are found in the myriad relationships that constitute the tone and texture, the fibre, of the Bahai community are staggering in their immensity when viewed across the globe amongst the several million Bahais. There are many shoulds and musts, many obligations and duties, many responsibilities and activities on the agenda of our lives as Bahais in this new paradigm----and no one can dismiss these realities, realities which sometimes may appear harsh and demanding. Each of us must work out what we can cope with, what is within our competence, our capacities, our circumstances.

Many of of the realities of the overall commitment of being a Bahai are not new with this paradigm. The commitment that is at the centre of our lives as Bahais determines so much that becomes the life we have led. We each must chose for ourselves what part we will play in what often may appear to be a litany of endless and weighty tasks. Each of our individual misfortunes and merits, our transitory and decade-long life experience, must be transmuted into acts of engagement if the dross of egotism and animus is to be refined away and replaced by virtues. It all takes place within the limits of our incapacity as we exercise this engagement in a multitude of ways during our years on Earth.

The public misfortune, the global disasters are so catastrophic in the wider world in which we are enmeshed that each person must find their personal form of identification with the pubic sphere and its disasters and its outrageous fortune. Our sense of private spiritual malaise on the one hand and the transforming effects of the indwelling God on the other needs to be so intense that one cannot be left in peace. The result of this concern is a sting to our conscience with an urge to action, a push to participation. The result and that sting requires of us participation in this new paradigm, each in our own way. the push we receive must come from within and not from the sense of duty imposed upon us by overzealous fellow believers. Indeed, the capacity to say "no" and to be our own person is crucial if we are not to be crushed in the drama that is this new paradigm in these hours before the dawn, as the House wrote in a recent message, in what well may be the darkest hours in history.

In my case, after 50 years of various forms of practical activity in the Bahai community(1959-2009), I am now pursuing the practical life by literary means and entering into the mansions of the finest thoughts and writings, the most relevant analyses of history and sociology, psychology and philosophy, among other social sciences and humanities and eating of the ambrosia that I like to think I was born to eat--although complete certitude that I am doing the right thing at the right time--in this as in any other activity in one's life is an elusive emotional experience. Still, this writing and this book invite a totality of response unchecked by any "maybe" and it stimulates a critical reaction unstigmatized by the blame of the blamer. Bahaullah is the archtypal Poet and he has called each of us with such a calling that we cannot but run towards the Ocean of His Cause:

with the whole enthusiasm of our hearts, with all the eagerness of our souls, the full fervour of our will and the concentrated efforts of our entire beings.(Gleanings, p.321).

In these hours of mental retreat in these recent years of my retirement from FT, PT and most casual-volunteer work, this exhausted practitioner, this burnt-out case, this sufferer from: bipolar disorder, an obsessive compulsive personality disorder and a good dollup of Tourette's Syndrome among a list of practical everyday activities and concerns which must be attended to like: Feasts, firesides, deepenings, devotional meetings, dusting, vacuuming, cooking, washing dishes and taking care of the garbage--this sufferer is freer from the burdens of the practical life than at any other time in his path, except perhaps his early-to-mid childhood back in the mid-to-late 1940s and early 1950s.

I have been able to transmute the energies which I formerly devoted to the world of being a student and a wage earner, being a parent and a highly active Bahai in the social dimension of community experience, being a much more socially involved person with an extensive agenda of practical concerns associated with people in community--to a series of intellectual works. Hopefully these thoughts will have some longevity but, even if they do not, they have a field of discourse in the contemporary world which I could hardly have dreamt of in those five decades of down-to-earth activity, say, 1953-2003.

The events which I have chosen to write about are not only those in the first 15 years of this new paradigm, but also my experience and the Bahai experience of community over the seven decades, 1937 to 2007, the first seven decades of the extension of this Cause to the four corners of the Earth, an event, a phenomenon unprecedented in the annals of humankind and scarcely appreciated by humankind at this juncture in history. There are many minds infatuated with other spectacles and other studies. This book is an expression of my infatuation with what I see as a field of immense personal profitability. I hope others can share in my sense of enthusiasm. I can but hope. I have been an eyewitness to the Westernization and globalization, the planetization of humankind to a degree unapproached in previous epochs of this Cause. This unific series of events, highly complex in their several manifestations, are events which have been synchronized and coextensive with the expansion of the Bahai Faith to the interstices of the globe in the first century of its Formative Age, 1921-2021--and they are especially synchronized with the first years of this new paradigm, 1996 to 2010---and, a fortiori, beyond into the second century of that Formative Age. And I will see these developments beyond 2021 in all their anarchy and chaos, all their wonder and awe, should I live beyond the age of 77!

The Bahai view of history is teleological. The natural world is, as Abdul-Baha stated "under the complete control of God"(Some Answered Questions, p.196). The entire creation was from the beginning subject to a plan which evolved according to law. The history of humankind is to evolve toward the endless perfections of the species. This is an a priori system. It is slow and is accomplished by degrees. It is organic and there is progress through providential intervention and providential control of the historical process. This Bahais sometimes call progressive revelation. This of course is only stating the obvious to the Bahai of many years standing however complex the process is in its actual working out. There is no contemptus mundi here--no historical pessimism. Each of our roles as Bahais is to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization and now, in these years, we do this in the context of this new culture of learning and growth. The core of the struggle for each of us is to improve ourselves. The readiness and the intelligence with which we each play our part affects our happiness and progress.

In these periods of enforced leisure, between short spurts of engagement in some of the everyday aspects of this new paradigm, I continue my literary work, my act of creation. While the world is going to wrack and ruin, as it often feels bewildered, agonized and helpless and as this Cause is expanding in ways hardly appreciated by the vast bulk of humankind--and, I might add, by many of the Bahais themselves--we each must put one foot in front of the other, so to speak. This literay work of mine is no pearl of great price but it is for me, at least, a small gem cast upon the waters. My writing in all its forms may, in the end, be what Roger White said of most poetry: it may only make a sound and have a significance like that of a feather dropped into the rushing waters of the river at the foot of the grand-canyon. But write I must driven by some inner force that I can only partly explain.

My life, by the age of 55, was rudely shattered yet again by the vicissitudes and rigours of bipolar disorder, by a physical enervation requiring injections of testosterone as well as utter fatigue with my work as a professional teacher and with the demands of my activity in both the Bahá'í community and the other communities which were part of my life. But this shattering took place as my generation was experiencing a crystallization of the forces of unity, titanic forces under the various names of planetization, globalization, techno-electronic unification which will be with us as a species for millennia to come. This eruption of unific forces, this volcano of global energies, had been breaking out, arguably, for more than a century, but it took off in my generation and especially during this paradigm. This work, this book, is in part my response to this eruption. It is a response, an engagement in a hearty endeavour that feels more effectual than the many years spent in company and conversation, in meetings and in coming-and-going from room-to-room, home-to- home, group-to-group and town-to-town during the decades from the 1950s to the 1990s. I still do some of this coming-and-going a dozen years into my retirement but far less than I did in the years 1959 to 1999.

I now feel as if I have time to mend my partial understandings, to correct some of the defects and infirmities of my constitution and nature by observation and reflection. I have become much more conscious of how weak and foolish so much of my former activity in life has been and how blind I have been as a surveyor of the inclinations and affections of both myself and other men. I am not beating-myself-up over these sins of omission and commission, but these understandings help to moderate any sense of pride and posturing that I might be inclined to let slip from the dogs of my inner life. I am sometimes horrified when I see various amounts of pride and vanity residing in my bosom; sadly my will, like an indifferent landlord, often lacks the necessary indignation that might inspire me to evict such unhealthy tenants. Still, I now enjoy a tranquillity and serenity of mind not equalled in any previous year of my life. It is this ease and quietness which allows me to pursue this literary work with a focus I have never been able to achieve except in employment, community work and family life. Much of this tranquillity is due to a package of medications which took me many years to fully accept and to entertain with a full compliance, but it is tranquillity nevertheless. Whether what I write will achieve a breadth and profundity of vision and form, whether it manifests any intellectual power, I must leave for others to judge whether they be my contemporaries or future readers whom I will never know. My soul's motion in relation to my Beloved is the unfolding of all the meaning of life, but that motion is a subtle and highly complex quotient. Indeed, the soul is, in the end, an unfathomable entity as we travel this earthly life.

SOME PERSONAL BACKGROUND

I came into the Bahai community in the 1950s at a time when this infant Faith community was still in its earliest days in the West. It had just finished the sixth decade of its history in the West: 1894-1954. There were, perhaps, three hundred Bahais at the most in Canada and less than one hundred in Australia at the time my mother saw a Bahá'í advertisement in the local paper. I have lived all my life on this mortal coil in these two countries, these two Bahai communities which were struggling then in the 1950s as they are struggling now to expand their membership beyond a meagre few. Now Canada is struggling with its 30,000 membership and Australia with its (circa) 20,000 strong community. I became a Bahai in the last half of the third major organized teaching Plan of 1953 to 1963 as a dark heart of an age of transition was about to open, as humanity sat on the edge of self-destruction in that post-world-war II society of the Cold War. They were the first years, the first decade, after the discovery of the A-bomb: 1945 to 1954. The signs of social breakdown were increasing with every passing day then as they are now and as they have been, arguably since the coming of Bahaullah and the Bab. The processes of breakdown, of progress and decline are complex ones, though, and too difficult to deal with her ein any detail.

After several decades of community experience and work as a teacher both in the Bahai community and professionally at all levels of formal education, the seeds of my thought began to germinate more extensively as the Arc Project advanced in those fin de siecle years. By the fifth decade of my Bahai experience(1993-2003) I began to put my burgeoning thoughts into some order and I will go on doing so, for it is an endless task, until the last syllable of my recorded time, or until some trauma, like senile dementia, takes over my faculties. It is not possible for me to be sucked back into the turmoil of practical affairs from which so many never extricate themselves due to my several infirmities, illnesses which simply do not allow me to engage in any activity for more than about two hours at any one stretch. Nothing can now draw me back into that maelstrom of a fully engaged community life since such engagement, such an intense level of social/people involvement, is simply beyond my physical and psychological, my emotional and social capacity. If readers want to read about my health problems in more detail they can go to Bahai Library Online, this very site and read a 90,000 word description.

But I have also found a fullness of life, of participation in this new paradigm, that is and was not possible to achieve in any other way; I had found a haven where my mind is/was as free as it could be from the various worries which had occupied me all of my Bahai life. Whatever stale and flat existence was mine form time to time, from my childhood to my late middle-age, say, the late 1940s to the late 1990s, I am now cheered by a new-found courage to seize opportunities to write about the Cause across the wide spectrum which is the internet. Of course, there have always been many opportunities, but I now have a heightened sensitivity due, in part if not mainly, to my new roles of writer and author, poet and publisher, editor and researcher, online blogger and journalist.

I make the occasional passing comment on contemporary history and politics, current events and the recent crises of the recent fin de siecle years and the first decade of the 21st century. I will insert here three prose-poems in the context of what is the most extensive comment in this book on contemporary times, the years of this new paradigm and some events leading up to it. I wrote these poems in 2001 on the day after the 9/11 event, in 2003 and in 2008 by which time the paradigm was largely in place with criticisms at least partially losing their heat on the internet. These small literary efforts were written 5, 7 and 12 years, respectively, into this new paradigm, just after I retired from FT and PT work and as many of the forms of casual-volunteer activity as I could to make, what seemed to me, a more significant contribution to this new paradigm than I had done in the last years of the 20th century, indeed, in the forty years of my previous Bahai life from 1959 to 1999. The three prose-poems are entitled "A New-Old War," "Those Minarets of the West," and "Forces of Darkness."

A NEW-OLD WAR

In my last weeks in the classroom as a full-time teacher from February to April 1999 and in the first weeks of an early retirement at the age of 55 from a profession that had occupied me since the 1960s; in what was spring in the Antipodes and living as I was in one of the most remote cities on the planet, Perth Western Australia--a series of meetings finalized the organization, the leadership and the financial backing for a coordinated suicide attack that had been initially proposed to Osma Bin Laden and al-Qaeda in 1996. That attack was centred on the crashing of two airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Five years and five months after that series of meetings, on 9 September 2001, two hijacked airliners crashed into the Twin Towers and the Towers collapsed. A War on Terrorism had begun, at least that was the argument in a series of TV programs, “The Secret History of 9/11,” SBS TV, 12:00-1:00 a.m. 11 September 2008.

Between that spring of 1999 and the autumn of 2001: President Clinton expressed the view that “the greatest regret of his presidency was his failure to take serious action against al-Qaedi and Osama Bin Laden.” George W. Bush’s presidency had begun; I had moved to Tasmania from Western Australia in what Downunder is called a sea-change; I had gone on my pilgrimage to the Baha’i World Centre in 2000 and begun to receive a Disability Support Pension in 2001. The story of my disability can be found on the internet at "RonPrice,BPD." In the spring of 2001 I also began a new life of publishing extensively on the internet of which my disability story was but one of the 1000s of pieces of writing. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs; and with thanks to (1)Internet Sites on “The Secret History of 9/11,” SBS TV, 12:00-1:00 a.m. 11 September 2008.

When the War on Terror began
I was ready for I, too, had been
part of a long and secret war for
some four decades with all the
ideal forces and confirmations
rushing to support, reinforcing
and opening doors, razing those
impregnable castles to the ground
so that I could attack the right and
left wings of the hosts wherever I
lived and had my being, so that I
could break through the lines of
the legions and carry my attack to
the very centre of earth’s powers.

I had tried to be firm in that Covenant;
I had tried to show fellowship and love;
I had travelled north to south, east to west,
across two continents: my spirit attracted,
my resolution firm, my magnanimity—at
least some of the time—exalted; my intention
pure—well, as far as I was able. I tried to
avoid controversy—as far as I was able.
My thought at peace—as far as I was able.
To each, it seems, we have our engagements
with only some doors opening and some
thoughts at peace and only partly pure.

FORCES OF DARKNESS(1)

This poem started, was inspired, by watching ‘a history of terrorism’ in the twentieth century on ABC TV in Australia.(2) The writers and producers of this program took July 22nd 1946 as the starting point for terrorism’s new affliction for human society. This hypothetical beginning to the history of terrorism coincided with the first months of the second Seven Year Plan(1946-1953) of Abdu’l-Baha's Divine Plan. July 22nd was also the eve of my second birthday. On that date in 1946 the King David Hotel in Jerusalem was bombed by members of a Jewish terrorist organization in Palestine killing 91 people. Shoghi Effendi made no mention of this event in the massive compendium of his published letters to the various countries of the world. In the previous year, though, Shoghi Effendi wrote two of the longest letters of his ministry, some 8000 and 12,000 words, letters which defined the nature, direction, the history and the future of the then embryonic Baha’i community of North America, a community that had just completed the first half century of its history: 1892-1942. -Ron Price with thanks to (1)Shoghi Effendi, “Letter to American Baha’is, July 20th, 1946,” Messages to America: 1932-1946, Wilmette, 1947, p.105; and (2)ABC TV, “The Big Picture: The Age of Terror,” August 13th, 2003: 8:30-9:30 pm.

I was just turning two, then,
back in '46 when terrorism had
just unleashed its first savage
blows and His Plan had just begun
its 2nd stage completely unbeknownst(1)
to anyone in my small world and in most
of the small worlds of everyone else,too.

His successor was turning, always turning
his mind to the needs of the Plan,a Cause,
a community,creating as he did a portrait
coloured and enriched by his subtle vision
of history, history as a performance that
was enacted before a divine audience by
ordinary mortals with a plot and script
composed by Providence and played out by
those same mortals on a stage that was their
lives. Always there was fidelity to that script
when attempting to set in motion those actors,
one of whom became me back in that 3rd stage.(2)

(1) 1946-1953
(2) 1953-1963

Ron Price
15 August 2003

THOSE MINARETTES OF THE WEST

Today we all witnessed on our television screens the collapse of the twin-towers of the World Trade Building. Thousands were killed and another eight-hundred in the Pentagon when a jet crashed into its centre. The heart of America's military and industrial complex shattered in the most savage act of terrorism in American history. This poem is an attempt to make some sense, to express some understanding of the tragedy that occurred.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs, 12 Sept 2001.

He called them minarets
with such gentle irony
that we nearly missed His point.

I'm sure He knew they would
come crashing down upon our heads
as our civilization was to come
undone in the years, the decades,
perhaps, centuries ahead....

For those time-honoured
and powerful strongholds
of orthodoxy, political
and religious, can not save us...

And this military and industrial
complex, blown apart in front of our
eyes one-hundred-and-twelve days
after the Opening of the Terraces.

Is there any connection, Horace?(1)
You always said: religion is cause
and history is effect in a tortured
interaction just about beyond reason.

It reminded me of the Kennedy
tragedy, World War II and I,
horrific events following
in rapid succession:
(i)the election of the House,
(ii)the beginning of the Plan, and
(iii)'Abdu'l-Bahás trip west,
....respectively...respectively...

(1) Horace Holley, secretary of the NSA of the United States for many years and Hand of the Cause.

Ron Price 12 September 2001

SOME CURRENT ISSUES IN THE WIDER SOCIETY

Before passing on from the crises of the last two decades, crises that took place in the historical backdrop to this new paradigm, I will draw on one quotation from Shoghi Effendi written during the depression of the 1930s. He refers to "the uncertainties, the perils and the financial stringency afflicting the nation" and the need for the continuous and abundant flow of funds; he emphasizes in that same letter to LSAs that they "desist from insisting too rigidly on the minor observances and beliefs which might prove a stumbling- block in the way of any sincere applicant." This letter could very well have been written with the same sentiments by the House of Justice in the recent years of the international financial crisis and in these years as the Cause became more open to people outside the Cause, more inclusive in its orientation and necessarily more flexible in setting out the qualifications for membership with an emphasis, not a new emphasis in many ways, on gradually winning over those who become Bahais to the unreserved acceptance of whatever has been ordained in its teachings.

There have been many issues which have come to a head in the wider world in these early years of this new paradigm, arguably the first years of community building in the international Bahai community. Many of these issues are highly complex. The global financial crisis, several crises associated with global terrorism, as well as climate change and global warming are but three apposite examples. I will comment briefly here on the latter. In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol set binding targets for greenhouse gas reductions by industrialised nations of 5% against 1990 levels, over the five-year period 2008-2012. Globally 1998 was the warmest year ever recorded, enhanced by a strong El-Niño. The IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established by the World Meteorological Organization and United Nations Environment Programme, stated in 2001 that most of the warming over the last 50 years was, with at least a 66% probability, to have been caused by man-made greenhouse gases. This was its strongest statement to date on man's contribution to climate change. In 2003 Europe experienced its worst heatwave in 500 years leading to an estimated 30,000 additional deaths.

A separate book could be written on this and other controversial issues of the last two decades, on the many technological and scientific developments, some of which amount to virtual paradigm changes in various fields of communication, astronomy and the several physical and biological sciences--to say nothing of the several humanities disciplines. In the quixotic and unpredictable tournament surrounding events in the sociopolitical world there are often seismic shifts in priorities as the world continues to confront the unprecededed and unpredictable tempest of our times. This book does not attempt any minute and detailed analysis of subjects which have been and now are at the forefront of general discussion in the print and electronic media and which act as a backdrop for this Bahai paradigm in the wider global world. The House of Justice and the ITC also tend to avoid discussing any specific controversial social issue in their major messages and letters to the Bahais of the world.

A project taking place at The European Organization for Nuclear Research successfully circulated two beams each with a power of 3.5 trillion electron volts. The engineers then lined-up two beams so that they smashed into each other. This was like "firing two needles across the Atlantic and getting them to hit each other" according to the main engineer Steve Myers, director for accelerators and technology at this Swiss laboratory. On the 30th of March 2010 two proton particle beams smashed into each other. They were travelling at 3.5 trillion electron volts(TeV) with a resultant force of 7 TeV. At the moment we only have a general knowledge of about 5 per cent of the universe and this new project may open up the other 95 per cent. This is just a taste of paradigmatic shifts from the world of physics.

This book does not discuss the complex issue of political non-involvement which is the substantive position of the Bahai community on partisan socio-political issues. The major Bahai institutions pick this issue up in separate letters when appropriate but leave this matter, for the most part, out of their major communications with the Bahai community. These institutions have made the Bahai position clear in message after message over the decades as the Guardian did before them and, again for the most part, they have no need to reiterate the Bahai position on politics yet again. Bahais are to rise above partisanship and particularism, the transient passions and petty calculations, and the inevitable entanglements and bickerings inseparable from the pursuits of the politician. This book will say no more about the relation of this new paradigm to these issues. The House of Justice will provide the necessary guidance over time to apply this principle to existing circumstances.(Bahai Canada, October 2009).

FREEDOM OF THOUGHT AND INDIVIDUAL INITIATIVE

This Faith attaches a great deal of importance to freedom and initiative and to the interpretation of its texts, its programs and its community life. If I can make but a small contribution, while exercising this freedom and initiative, in assisting the bringing about of a personal, an individual, paradigm shift in the lives of some of my fellow believers across the globe, as well as my own life, a paradigm shift as important as the one in the wider Bahai community, this book will have achieved one of its central purposes. To understand this new culture, this new paradigm, students and readers will find it helpful, it seems to me, to take into account Bahai history, its teaching and practices and their unique elaboration over some 133 years: 1844 to 1996--as well as the history of the critical century before 1844 during which the stage was set for this new religion to come to its birth through, in the context of, the lives of its three main precursors. Although the Bahai Faith takes very specific positions on many issues in contemporary society, I make no secret of changing my mind on many important issues as they evolve in the popular press and the print and electronic media. I've never thought it a virtue to adopt a fixed position and then defend that position like a purveyor of some brand name. The social world is immensely complex and Bahai apologetics and hermeneutics are not like selling cornflakes, saving whales, giving money to a save the children campaign or taking more vitamin C.

I have found, in writing down my thoughts on this subject of the new Bahai culture, that I have created for myself a taking-off point and hopefully a taking-off point for readers, one that draws on many serious and complex ideas. I have experienced, as I have tried to get beyond the new language of this paradigmatic shift both personally and analytically, an auspicious beginning to my own reflections on the new paradigm, on the new culture of learning and of growth in the operational life of the Baha’i community that has begun to emerge in the last two decades. The act of writing is an effort of understanding. It is also an effort in caring. Writers write about things in which they invest their energy and care, their thought and their feelings, although this is not always the case. The famous sociologist, at least famous in some academic worlds, Richard Sennett, wrote many years ago that the clearer and more vocatively writers can write, the more they feel in touch with their subject. But writing evocatively and involving readers is easier said than done.

I feel that this book is a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, only some of them original, blend and clash. There is an intersection in these pages of many lines of thought, a pattern of intellectual diffusion and a diversity of ideas, a conflict of opinions and, hopefully, some sparks of truth. As the German theologian and philosopher Friedrich Schleiermacher wrote nearly two centuries ago: "Since each person, as an individual, is the not-being of the other, it is never possible to eliminate the non-understanding of others completely."(The Academy Addresses of 1829: On the Concept of Hermeneutics) As Bahaullah put a similar idea: there are no two souls who are both outwardly and inwardly united. Differences of points of view, it is axiomatic, are with us to stay in this as in all paradigms.

This statement is a personal one and some readers may find it too personal, too self-obsessed as one reader has already put it in one of the many emails and posts I have already received on the internet. I am going to say a few words about obsession, mine and obsession in general because of its importance not only in my life and in my personal response to this new paradigm but around the world in the lives of many Bahais and in the wider culture in general. Readers of this book can easily send me feedback on this world wide web of communication if they would like to offer their comments as they have already done in the last three years. I have received many responses to what was initially an essay and is now this 200 page book. I have received both encomium and opprobrium and I'm sure these responses are but the beginning to what is the most extensive commentary on this new paradigm currently available--at least in the first 15 years of this new Bahai culture.

OBSESSIONS

Self-obsession, as I say and in those words of one of my critics, is a common problem today and I would not want to claim that I have been free of its taint during my seven decades of living. I am the first to admit to having obsessions, to being driven. Indeed, the dominating passion of teaching the Cause could be said to have been a a ruling passion, my mother and my first wife would have called it an obsession, in my life since at least 1964-5. Obsession is a word I have grown comfortable with after nearly fifty years of dealing with its results: its fascinations and glories, its tragedies and complexities, its brilliance and darknesses, its energizing and debilitating features. A commitment sensibly and insensibly came into my life in the late 1950s and early 1960s, in my teens and early twenties. In many basic ways it took over my life. Perhaps I could blame my bipolar tendencies for my obsessiveness.

It has always been and still is important, though, that this obsession with teaching and the Bahai Faith, did not appear to be an obvious one in the public domain. Teaching is one important component of my Bahai life and that Bahai life is, indeed, my life. I have always, at least since those early sixties, seen both the Bahai Faith and teaching as crucial to my role in life, indeed, to my very existence. It became over the decades a significant part of my very raison d'etre my modus vivendi to use a Latin expression. The context for the expression of this Cause in my day-to-day life is one I have always tried to make one that was characterized by social normality, at least as far as this was possible. I have tried to look and be as many-sided and normal, as well-balanced and well-oriented, as happy and as mentally and spiritually integrated, as I have been able. Wholeness or integration, though, as Charles Fair put it in his book "The New Nonsense"(1974, p.45) is not really a goal but more of a battle--at best a balancing act, a perpetually unstable reconciliation of forces which, unreconciled, simply fear us and/or our societies to pieces...We tend to see inner conflict as a clinical disorder when in fact it is almost a first law of inner psychic life." This has certainly been the case for me, although not 24/7 and not every decade from my childhood to late adulthood. My life is far too complex to reduce it, to explain it, in terms of my BPD.

This balancing-act, as Fair puts it, this reconciliation of forces, has not always been easy, though, especially with my strong religious commitment, with my bi-polar disorder as well living in a society obsessed with many different things. Everyone has their own life-trajectories, involving as they do a pantheon of obsessions: sport, gardening, media, job, family, sex, fun and cleaning among a long list of other obsessions and compulsions. Obsession by the 1990s, as one prominent writer put it, became both a dreaded disease and a noble and desirable cultural goal and endeavour. Indeed, it is seen as necessary for those who have a commitment and who act in the context of some personally motivating metanarrative which underpins their day-to-day lives. Such people need to be highly focussed and preoccupied with what the French call their idees fixe.

Obsession is paradoxical and can generate tragedy and despair. It has a dark, pathological, side which society is all-too-familiar with, a side which is: dangerous, fanatical, very intense, filled with quiet or not-so-quiet desperation, characterised by various forms of compulsion and is now a much more common medical problem requiring diagnosis and treatment. It is something that makes a person literally possessed, not by the devil as was said for centuries, but by some complex combination of internal and external forces. It is a common practice in psychiatry to separate obsessions (thoughts) from compulsions(practices). OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, is the name psychiatry gives to this disorder in some of its more extreme forms. There has developed an interesting literature on the subject. It is a literature which sees obsession as: (a) a disability or sin to be treated in religious terms, (b)a genetic disorder to be treated in medical terms, (c) a cultural problem to be analysed and accommodated or (d) an artistic entity to be valued. I leave this subject to readers to follow-up in their own way, if the subject interests them. I will give the final word here, not on obsession but on possession, to the French sociologist de Toqueville who wrote: "that which most vividly stirs the human heart is certainly not the quiet possession of something precious but rather the imperfectly satisfied desire to have it and the continual fear of losing it again." In this new culture of learning and growth there will be many more believers who will be characterized by that "quiet possession of something precious." This has certainly determined much of my activity as a Bahai both before this new culture of learning, during its existence thusfar and, I trust, as farasmy eye can see.(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1831)

MY RETIREMENT IN PERSPECTIVE

Now in retirement I am not holding on by the skin of my teeth in search of an income to pay the bills and feed my family. I am not a frustrated liberal trying to fulfil some vision that has been taking a beating in recent years. Nor am I a frustrated conservative complaining about the decline in traditional values. Nor am I a Bahai discouraged by the meagre response, at least as defined by a long-awaited increase in membership, especially in Western countries, to this new Revelation. I have my frustrations and my discouragements as well as my pains and aches and readers are welcome to read about some of them if they google RonPrice BPD or if they google one of a number of other sets of words beginning with my name in their search engines. I am not backward in coming forward about my complaints, about the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that I have suffered from nor which my society or my religion have suffered from. But, for the most part, I do this commiserating at other posts, on other threads, in other essays, articles and books now on the internet: not here.

The practical affairs of my life in the years 1959 to 1999--and which can be found described on the internet at many a site with a little googling--have been a magnificent apprenticeship for the creative intellectual work of the last decade, this partially involuntary withdrawal from much of practical life. The literary tasks which I have taken up and which, in some ways, were forced upon me by circumstances, I am convinced of their rightness--as much as I have been convinced of the rightness of anything in my life--I carry out with a good deal of executive capacity, that is: (a) to the best of my power the duty which presents itself to me on a daily basis and (b) using the skills I have acquired in life through self-education and self-discipline which require that I do something with both these skills, this discipline and this knowledge. All of this is, for me, a triumph of intellectual purposiveness over intellectual dissipation and a disciplined use of time.

My literary schemes have come to take ever more powerful hold upon my imagination during these new years of this culture of learning and growth. They are my consuming passion, my obsession, my commitment, now that I am not tightly chained to the world of job, endless conversations and socializing, meetings and community responsibilities. The intellectual and literary objectives I pursue, I do so at a steadfast pace, not unlike the tortoise's slow but sure gait, dealing as I must with the soporific effects of a bipolar disorder and the inevitable demands of simply living and keeping body and soul together in relationships with others especially my wife, my family and my community.

By forming internet relationships with Marxists, atheists, radical feminists, agnostics, Muslims, among so many others of different religious and philosophical persuasions I'm not just refuting arguments, I'm responding to people who, in the end, have come to occupy some degree of relationship that is hopefully positive. One could call them by many terms: friends, associations, mutual discussants. The internet provides a great opportunity to break out of our isolated bubbles and go out and put a personal face on those we disagree with. Some call this personalism. When we get to know those we disagree with, whether it’s about faith, politics or anything else, we are far more likely to attempt to understand them before we coldly demonize them from afar. The process tends to build communion. This can open minds and allow the Holy Spirit to work miracles. And that is no simple task.

So much of my internet work is about apologetics, but I have no time for polemicism. I like to see all the commentators as people around the after-dinner table having more tea or coffee or an extra helping of dessert. This is a New Apologetics and it must be the apologetics of love and cooperation, not enmity and confrontation. Hence it must also be a dialogical apologetics. Dialogue is what I do now for my spiritual bread and butter. I love to make connections with people who have different ideas to me - as long as they are really interested in searching for the truth and living by it that is. I would rather spend time in conversation with a Buddhist, or an Atheist, or a Muslim or a Feminist who actually seriously is seeking the essential things of life, than with someone who has no interest at all in reflecting upon their life and its meaning and what it means to live and to die well. In my internet work and in my leisure, I have become les interested in winning arguments and more interested in responding to human beings.

THE FIRST 20 YEARS OF THIS PARADIGM IN PERSPECTIVE

The historical record of the first 20 years of this new paradigm, the Bahai experience of this new paradigm and its factual base as it exists for me, as I write this book, is a congeries of contiguously related fragments. I put these fragments together to make a whole of both a particular and of a general kind. These fragments are put together in similar ways to those that novelists use to put together figments of their imaginations to display their creative and ordered worlds, their cosmos, their cosmology, where only disorder, chaos or, indeed, nothingness might appear if they had not put pen to paper. As I write I create some order, some of my cosmology and some hopefully useful words about this new paradigm for others to read. And I write to get my own house in order. The path on which the Bahai community advances is wide--very wide--as Lample emphasizes on the last page of his analysis of the first several years of the Bahai experience of this new paradigm. There is a place for me in this paradigm and a place for all Bahais. The community must avoid, though--and these are Lample's final words of advice as the Bahai community entered the final year of the first Four Year Plan(1996-2000)within this new paradigm--the extremes of fundamentalism and relativism, conservatism and liberalism, extreme orthodoxy and irresponsible freedom. Interpreting the meaning of the teachings in a literal way leading to rigid practice on the one hand; or having such a relativistic perspective that anything is seen as an appropriate course in a Bahai life; or, again, possessing an extreme orthodoxy, an exaggerated conviction in the validity of one's grasp of the truth--these are all dangers that we as Bahais must avoid if we are to walk the path of progress and unity. And let there be no mistake. This path is not an easy one, ridden as that path is with the many pressures that exist on the lives of those who try to walk the walk and talk the talk. The Bahai life is no tea party inspite of what are often appearances to the contrary.

The future for the Bahai, and certainly this Bahai, in these years of the new millennium and this new paradigm has never looked so bright. Of course, I can not speak for all the millions of Bahais. Each person has and will have their own story. Some of my story is found in this book. This piece of writing which began as a relatively short essay right after reading an essay on a similar theme by Moojan Momen(A Change of Culture, 2004) in the spring of 2007 has become, by degrees, over these last 70 months a book of more than 500 pages. This analysis, this description, this account, does not assume an adversarial attitude to the developments in the Cause since 1996 as has often been and still is the case especially on the internet, with analyses and comments about these new developments in the international Bahai community; it attempts to give birth of as fine an etiquette of expression and as acute an analysis as I can muster. I like to think that this book puts into practice both candour and critical thought on the one hand and praise and delight at the several processes within this new paradigm on the other. I invite readers to what I also like to think is a context on which relevant fundamental questions regarding this new paradigm may be discussed within the Baha’i community.

SOME THOUGHTS ON COMMUNICATION AND CONFLICT

There are a multitude of manifestations of a general cultural orientation toward clash, controversy and argument. To put this more simply: we all see and experience conflict and controversy differently. The way people talk with one another in social situations offers an insightful analysis of the trend toward argument and its consequences in any set of relationships. There is and has been an emphasis on clashing and individual rights rather than common ground and reasonable compromise within our larger culture, a culture that privileges and rewards on the basis of that emphasis. Programs do better in television ratings, for example, if there is some clash and loud arguement rather than quiet talking heads. The lack of mainstream popularity for less incendiary television talk hosts and discussions is testament to the role that combative communication and clash play in popular media. There is also a strong tendency in much public discourse to the use of humour and, while this is often entertaining, it often masks the essential complexity of many issues. While this new Bahai paradigm encourages candid and critical thought, encourages the use of humour in consultation as a marvellous device for releasing tension and also tries to stimulate the brilliant inventiveness that is so necessary in truly effective consultation, this book also aims to avoid dissention which is a moral and intellectual contradiction to those who would be peacemakers among the children of men(UHJ, 29/12/88).

I would argue, with the sociologist Jurgen Habermas in terms of communication in general, that Bahai consultation in this new paradigm, has two central features. The first is communication that is oriented toward reaching understanding such as common definitions that would inform consensual action. The second is communication that concerns consensual action. Consensual action assumes a common set of definitions of the situation and then moves toward what can collectively be done in response(Habermas 1979, p.209). Participants, in this context, must have equal opportunity to initiate and continue communicative acts. Participants must have equal opportunity to present arguments, explanations, interpretations and justifications; no significant opinions should go unexamined. Participants must have equal opportunity to honestly express personal intentions, feelings and attitudes. And finally, participants must have equal opportunity to present directive statements that serve to forbid, permit and command. If each participant in the dialogue lives out these assumptions then fair turn-taking may occur. The ability to question the “common sense” and assumed values of others must be freely allowed without defensiveness, and concessions and compromises can be offered without feeling “vulnerable” to the opposition. Such a consultative orientation or set of goals has been present in previous Bahai paradigms, but they are goals which require continued effort to achieve on the part of Bahais the world over as the Bahai community becomes a much larger one in these years and decades ahead. To achieve an etiquette of expression and civility on the one hand and a critical and candid expression of views on the other is not an easy achievement. The potentiality for this goal, this etiquette of expression, to use a term the House used in a letter to the Bahais of the USA over 20 years ago, needs to be actualized more and more if Bahai consultations are to be characterized by both frankness and civility.

These goals are ideals that are best understood as hypotheticals to be strived for rather than things easily achieved. Communicative competence operates within this framework of goals and is a more achievable set of characteristics for an individual communicator to acquire and enact. The competent communicator, again drawing on Habermas(1979), can engage in communicative action that pursues truth. One might imagine this as the next step in creating understanding and moving forward toward consensual solutions. Various constraints on democratic communication must be eliminated in order to produce rational outcomes; communication competence addresses internal abilities and choices by individual participants. The communicator must have command of the basic structures of language and purpose of communication. The competent communicator also must be a competent thinker and be able to put such thoughts into expression in rhetorically effective ways without invoking harmful rhetorical techniques that are associated with what he calls strategic communication—communication intended to persuade through manipulation. This seems like a rather minimal standard upon first glance. The analytical implications, though, suggest that a competent communicator should be able to analyze discourse at several levels. These levels include sensitivity to the general limitations of language and expression such as: (a) the struggle to communicate ideas that defy easy expression, as well as (b) specific situational constraints such as specific relations between communicators and thinking through the implications of the assertions being made (e.g., “what if this is really true?”).

Most of the above concepts can be understood as diagnostic in focus. They are useful for clarifying problems, but the solutions are complex because they require behavioural and interpersonal skills that are often, if not usually, lacking among the participants. The concepts above do point generally toward a direction of healthy discourse but they are filled with specific behaviours or ideas that need to be embraced and put into practice when talking with others in groups. When the social worlds of individuals collide, each person finds that the words of others often constitute a repudiation of that which he or she holds most dear. The results are familiar patterns of reciprocated diatribe in which each side rudely tells the other what is wrong with it. Useful discussion of the ostensible issues becomes a casualty of the bickering.

It is crucial in this new paradigm to avoid such casuistry, but it is not easy. Both sides in what could be called "verbal wars” see the other as aggressors. Such views are based on a large set of assumptions. “Liberals” are fighting the good fight against historically oppressive voices of tradition. “Conservatives” are fighting the good fight against historically rebellious voices of unbridled liberalism. Moral conflicts are made more complex because participants clash from unique social worlds with distinct values and rules. Because ways of dealing with conflicts are a part of one’s social world, when these conflicts do occur, they lack a common procedure for dealing with them. Actions taken by one side to be good, true, or prudent, are often perceived by the other as evil, false, or foolish—perhaps even sinister and duplicitous. The intensity of moral conflicts is fueled when such actions are treated as malicious or stupid by the other side.

Ethicist Martin Buber(1971) stressed the need to emphasize the strong ties between participants in a conflict. He focused on the quality of their relationship rather than the pattern of choices and outcomes. He suggested that participants examine the mutual effects on the relationship between the participants in the conflict when evaluating various communication options. Communication theorist Walter Fisher (1986) suggests that we can assess the quality of an argument by asking about the character of the audience that would believe and act on it. Buber parallels this by suggesting that we can assess the quality of our process of argumentation by examining the quality of relationships it fosters among the participants. I could go on and on with this sort of communication analysis and in this new paradigm there will be much discussion on the necessary communication skills to produce effective and efficient action. For now, though, I leave this complex subject with the most recent passage from the House on this subject: "Learning as a mode of operation requires that all assume a posture of humility" and they go on to emphasize among other things insofar as human relations are concerned that we should delight "not so much in our own accomplishments but in the progress and service of others." I leave this subject now to readers to take in directions they desire and directions they will require as this paradigm is put into increasing practice in the years ahead.

UPDATING THIS BOOK

It is my intention to update this literary sojourn in the months and years ahead as the current Five year Plan comes to its conclusion in 2016 and in the decade beyond as the first century of this Faith's Formative Age comes to its end in 2021. One of the advantages of this BLO site where this article is placed and to which I often refer my other internet posts and my cyberspace readers, is the freedom it gives to writers to update their articles and books, whatever they write on the site in what is in reality a continuous editing process. These updates in the months and years ahead will be part of an ongoing exercise as new insights from major and minor published and unpublished writers who are Bahais, and the writings of those from other interest groups who post on the internet, become available. Information and analyses, quotations and ideas, from the elected and appointed institutions of the Cause in the 20 years(1996-2016) and the 15 years beyond that(2016-2031)will also embellish future editions of what may very well become a very large book or series of volumes.

Much has already been written about this new paradigm and much will be written perhaps too much, in all likelihood, for the average person to synthesize. But burgeonings of print are a reality of contemporary society and everyone must work out their own response to this complexity, this swim in printed matter, a response that suits their talents, their interests and their circumstances. Each of us only works this problem out to an extent; each of us experiences a certain intellectual dyspepsia given the information overload we must contend with if we want to engage with the issues of our time. As the burgeoning of print hits us all there is a coextensive burgeoning of audio-visual, of electronic, media for our eyes and minds to deal with. Often the eye is quicker than the mind and the flashes that come at us daily on billions of screens make longer periods of concentration on print more difficult, at least for some, perhaps for billions, of viewers. But, again, this issue of learning via print and learning via electronic media and a range of issues relating to literacy and understanding are too complex to deal with in this broad survey of this new Bahai paradigm.

In some ways this book of 500+ pages is really a long essay. Essayer is the French verb meaning "to try" and an essai is an attempt. An essay is something I am writing to try to figure something out. Figure out something I don't yet know. I don't begin with a thesis; I don't have a fixed and final view; I don't have one now and I may never have one. This essay doesn't begin with a statement, a fixed position, but with a question, a series of questions and with many analytical and descriptive, informative and factual statements. Some of all this will be or will seem to be facts and some will just be the musings of a 69 year old Bahai who is on a pension, who goes for walks every day and who is taking a rest from extensive human interaction after fifty years of membership in a community and a religion he joined back in the 1950s. His membership and his activity kept him as busy as a beaver at times, wore him out at others and stimulated his sensory, intellectual and spiritual emporiums at still others.

CREATING OUR OWN WORLD: THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF REALITY

People create their social and cultural world through their everyday actions and interactions as several theories in the social sciences argue. Everyday practices of ordinary people are the effective tools that make supposedly passive users behave as active subjects. This new paradigm provides a very wide activity-menu for individuals in the Bahai community to chose their own particular system of production, activity and interaction. As social actors they each and all invent and create, moment by moment, the meaning and functions of things that circulate in their social space. They develop their own tactics and follow paths in often unforeseen and unpredictable ways. These approaches to social and community life and its varied phenomena share a theoretical assumption that it is the strength of human agency and subject intentionality that is the crucial factor in making the context and meaning of the dimensions of the world that people inhabit. The material features of our everyday life contexts are more than an inert background for culture construction. And let there be no mistake: this new paradigm is itself a background for culture construction and especially our own personal culture construction.

LET'S GET GOING WITH THIS PARADIGM, EH?

What, then, is this new culture of learning and growth, this new paradigm in the Bahai community? Read on, dear reader, you still have 100,000 words left to read. Be patient: little by little and minute by minute it shall be revealed but only in part, only from a wide-angled lens, from a personalized perspective. You have no need for more of the factual basis of this paradigm. The factual basis, the details of its organization and all its parts and processes can be found in many other places on the internet, in letters from the institutions of the Cause and in books and pamphlets. As I say, I'm not taking a position of evaluation and defending it; I'm not providing a potted summary of its content. I'm polishing ideas not finishing them. I notice things, a door that's ajar, a window that's open and I open it; perhaps I walk in to see what's inside; perhaps I just look out the window into my wife's garden and across the street here in Australia's oldest town. I do this in my study here on the north coast of Tasmania virtually everyday and I do this in part and at least here to create what I hope is a book that will be of some value to readers who chance by its contents here at BLO.

I must confess to an extensive rummaging and foraging about in the Bahai writings for quotations that please me and I carry them back, like a bird with its seeds, to this book, to what has become by a long series of posts and revisions here at BLO a 200 page book. I also forage about in the cultures of learning and growth outside the Bahai community. Learning and growth are abstract and concrete entities which many, indeed, myriad organizations and cultures are "into." Learning and growth are both massive, enormous, burgeoning, industries across the planet. My foraging exercises also take me into the context of my own life and the life of my society in a host of ways. I try to connect both my life and my society to this new paradigm. Foraging, of course, has been part of human society depending as it does on a combination of hunting, fishing and gathering wild foods for subsistence for hundreds of thousands of years. Until about 11,000–12,000 years ago all peoples on the planet were foragers and some still practice this ancient form of social organization. It is an ancient practice with many modern variants one of which takes places in our print-oriented culture by votaries of many causes, many movements, many volunteer organizations and literally billions of people in search of the modern equivalents of those products of hunting and fishing and searching for wild foods that occupied our ancestors for most of our existence as homo sapiens sapiens.

Perhaps I have bitten off too big a bite, too much content. Perhaps I won't get it all chewed, won't get it all masticated and digested. Sometimes a proper mastication of ones food takes longer than one is prepared to take and one suffers later from indigestion. Some food can not be masticated due to dental problems, the bad taste of the food, the toughness of the meat, indeed, a host of reasons. Much of life, of society and of this new paradigm is also beyond our capacity to understand it. We can only connect with a portion of the great burgeoning mass of information coming in at us now at the speed of light. This is true of the new Bahai culture of learning and millions of other topics, subjects, disciplines and fields in the knowledge explosion set in motion, arguably, by the latest Manifestation of God for this age.

Some readers I know, and as I have already indicated above, have found my literary exercise here at BLO too much for them to chew and they have told me. One person I know, in fact, has no teeth, and there is no way he can even put my writing on his plate. Frankness is one of the many characteristics of dialogue, of participation, on the internet and it often gets one into hot water, so to speak. To such readers who find this book, this post at BLO, simply too big a read, too long, prolix as some might call it, I simply advise that they implement an exercise in skimming or scanning, find the parts that are relevant to their particular perspectives or, if the worst comes to the worse, just click me off their radar screens. I do this clicking off exercise all the time; I did it for decades long before the internet came along.

I have already reached a broad audience and that is reward enough for me in the evening of my life, in these middle years(65-75)of late adulthood as the human development theorists in psychology call the years from 60 to 80 in the human lifespan. In writing as in talking one only wins some of the time. No book, whether it is scholarly or popular, escapes the slings and arrows and the criticisms of disappointed readers, readers who are all too keen to offer their advice, their wisdoms and their many ways to improve on what they have just read. It is an inherent property of any intellectual enterprize to generate discussion, debate and criticism. That is why it is often said that "silence is golden."

SKIMMING AND SCANNING--AND SWIMMING

Having spent 50 years in classrooms, 18 as a student and 32 as a teacher, I know that a major problem, among the many, confronting readers is the length of the text. By the time readers get to this point, if indeed they get this far, they are often ready to give it all away. And so, as I say, do some skimming and scanning if you would like to get your teeth into the subject of this new paradigm as I deal with it in these pages. The skimming process contains the following key actions: reading the title and subtitle, headings, introductions, first sentences in paragraphs, key words and final paragraphs. The three general types of skimming are previewing, overviewing, and reviewing. The steps involved in the scanning process include: checking the organization of the book and forming specific questions; anticipating clue words and identifying likely answer locations; using a systematic pattern and confirming your answer. Some combination of these techniques will assist readers whose interest in the topic is minimal, whose time is limited and who find my writing style and/or approach is not their cup-of-tea, so to speak.

These skills of skimming(one of my students asked me if this meant skimping) and scanning are important ones for readers to put in place to help them deal with the great mass of literature now available on this new paradigm and, indeed, on many other topics in their life. The intellectual and the non-intellectual, print-oriented and non-print oriented readers who chance by this writing of mine on this new Bahai culture need many a skill. In this rapidly changing world upskilling, reskilling, retuning, refining one's abilities is a constant exercise. We all need to be multi-skilled these days and I wish you well, dear readers, in trying to get handles on the many implements in and for your learning and the cultural attainments of your mind, what may very well be the first attribute of perfection within this new paradigm. As I say, to those who have already begun to find their eyes glazing over and their minds wandering, let me advise that you just click me off your radar or send me an email, a response, a written message. I'm happy to send you smaller chunks of wisdom, wee-wisdoms from the vast compendium available. Such an act will help you engage with this book and what I like to think are some useful comments in the more than 100 pages ahead--for these are still introductory words!

FEEDBACK ALREADY RECEIVED

This article or book has received many thousands of clicks in the nearly three years(9/07-9/10) of its posting, but I'm sure many readers and clickers have come and gone from its contents as quickly as the twinkling of an eye or shortly after that twinkle, that first click. I began my writing before the international financial crisis. Much has happened since I started this exercise in analysis. This post at BLO and at the several internet sites where I have placed all or part of this book of 420 pages has attracted a good deal of attention for several reasons not the least of which is that it appears to be the most lengthy statement on this new paradigm that is currently available.

As much as I would like to think there is something original here, I must acknowledge a tension between the many forms of received knowledge in the form of quotations and the ideas of others and my efforts to make the knowledge and wisdom, the facts and fancies, of others part of my own intellectual fibre. Fibre in one's breakfast food, like fibre in print needs to be ingested, digested, assimilated, assiduously examined and interpreted. I must bring some form or system or, to be more honest, some non-system into existence as I write in order to transmute all this stuff into purest gold or, as is more often the case, base metal. Sometimes this transmutation takes place largely as a result of a sprinkling process and at other times this transmutation of the ideas and writing of others takes place in a deep and sensitive process of steeping--like making a strong tea or engaging in the often lengthy process of dying cloth. Then there is a subsequent regurgitation, hopefully in a form that pleases readers. One can hope.

CREATIVE SOLUTIONS AND DOGMA

I seek creative solutions and try to avoid dogmatic assertions about the Cause and this new paradigm. But dogma is difficult to avoid as many readers and writers and people in all walks of life find today even while they are assiduously trying to avoid being dogmatic. In a religion like the Bahai Faith it is really impossible not to be dogmatic or to put the case more accurately, not to engage in an exercise of dogmatics. The truths of Bahai dogma are perennial, or so I would argue, rather than being archaic. The study of Bahai dogmatics is still in the early days even after a century and a half or, perhaps more accurately, about three decades at the most, of its development. This field, this discipline of dogmatics, is still in its early days like so many aspects of the study of this new Cause. Perhaps, as I say above, readers can simply read and take from this book what they like and integrate or incorporate what they read, what catches their fancy and their tastes, into their own frameworks for action. Keep in mind, as you go about selecting what action you want to take in this new paradigm, the following two aphorisms. The first is from the former US President Harry S. Truman: “Actions are the seed of fate, deeds grow into destiny," The second clever turn of phrase I want to insert here, I hope in a timely fashion for readers, is found in the voluminous writings of psychologist William James. It is one of his many pithy sentences: "Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does."

In my own selective use of quotations from Bahai and non-Bahai texts I attempt to integrate as I go along. I incorporate them when I can and I incorporate what I can into my own life and whatever sense of destiny I can sense from within life's mysterious dispensations that come often unbeknowst from the hand of Providence. The process seems, as I look back over the decades, to be lifelong, at least since my first contact with this Cause back in 1953, a point coincidentally of paradigmatic change of some significance in the first two centuries of Bahai history. It was a point that in some ways had nothing to do with me and everything to do with significant developments in the then culture of learning and growth in the Bahai community when this Faith spread to some 100 countries of the world in the first year of the Ten Year Crusade.

THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN A CULTURE OF LEARNING AND GROWTH

For there has always been a culture of learning and growth in the Bahai community. Culture is not a set of ideas imposed but a set of ideas and symbols available for use. The symbols and ideas in this new paradigm have been shifted from their former shapes and designs. Individuals in the last dozen years or so select the meanings they need for particular purposes and occasions within this new paradigm, from what seems to me to be a more extensive menu, from the varied cultural menu that their given cluster, their given local Bahai community and the wider society provides. Once the human resources in a cluster are in sufficient abundance, the House emphasized as recently as April 2010, "and the pattern of growth firmly established, the community's engagement with society can, and indeed must, increase." In this view of culture, culture is seen as a resource for social action more than a structure to limit social action. This is but one of the dozens of definitions of culture and I found it in Michael Schudson's 2002 article: “How Culture Works: Perspectives from Media Studies on the Efficacy of Symbols,” pp. 141-148 in Cultural Sociology, edited by Lyn Spillman Oxford, UK, Blackwell Publishers. I could select half a dozen other definitions of culture and procede to draw on their relevance to this new paradigm but such an exercise would be repetitive and would lead to prolixity of theme and content.

PUTTING IDEAS IN WRITING

Expressing ideas helps to form them. Indeed, helps is far too weak a word. Most of what ends up in my essays and books I only thought of when I sat down to write them or I take stuff I have chewed over many times but want to spit it out, want to separate the wheat from the chaff to use one of many possible metaphors to describe, to hint at, the process involved. That's why I write them. In the things people write in school one is, in theory, explaining oneself to the reader, the teacher. In a real essay or book, certainly in this one that I am writing, I'm writing primarily for myself and only secondarily for readers. I'm thinking out loud, although not exactly. Just as inviting people over to your home forces you, or at least some people, to clean up your lounge-room, writing something that other people will read forces you to think well or as least to try and present a surface of solid thinking even if, underneath, the thinking is not as solid as you'd like to think or that others you want to persuade may be persuaded to think.

All analysis is to some extent autobiographical. The only civilized form of autobiography and the accompanying description of community life that such an autobiography like mine or indeed anyone else’s that I might want to read might contain, is not the one that deals with life’s events, but with life’s thoughts; not with life’s physical accidents, deeds or circumstances but with spiritual moods and the imaginative passions of the mind. I thank the American poet John Ashberry(Modern Critical Reviews, Harold Bloom, editor, Chelsea House Publishers, 1985, p.217) for what for me was the brilliant inventiveness of this idea and which, however brilliant, does not contain all the truth on the subject of thought and the action behind thought. But Ashberry's words go far to help us all understand some of the complexities that are part of our lot as we go about dealing with some of the enigmas, the contradictions, the paradoxes and the conflicts in our individual and community existence on the path that has attempted, is attempting and will attempt to implement this new paradigm.

Although I would like to please as many readers with this exposition as possible I write primarily, as I have said above, to please myself and to please those of the reading public who share some of my tastes and some of my limitations, some of my cosmology and some of my very raison d'etre. "How do I know what I think until I see what I've said," goes one of the popular sentences that tries to capture one of the major purposes of the process of writing and talking. Much of what I write has developed due to paths not anticipated at the start, but which opened up under the pressure of the spark of the differing opinions I had from others in my community. These paths also opened up due to my desire to circle around and meander, to muse with intent and to polish, to hone and think out loud.

I aim to be as coherent as I can possibly be regarding a precise statement of the contribution: (a)I have played, (b) I now play and (c) I can, hope or may play in the ongoing story of the growth and development of the Bahai Faith over four epochs. Often there is little I can do to determine what actions others take on within this new paradigm, but there is much that I can do. As Shoghi Effendi emphasized so succinctly many decades ago: all the problems in life, in the end, lie within the individual. I have quite enough, problems that is, to keep me busy until the end of my days. And you?

There is here no definitive procedure of analysis as I go about laying a line of words, no detailed and accurate picture nor searching criticism of this new paradigm of opportunity, of previous paradigm shifts in this Faith or shifts in my life and society. I have visited this subject day after day for a period of two and one half years now(9/07-3/10), trying to gain some mastery over a subject I had been chewing over and playing with in my mind for several years before the writing, from the late years of the twentieth century and into the early years of this new millennium after it burst upon us in 2001.

Some readers will find my perspectives far too personal, idiosyncratic, opinionated and, as I say above, self-obsessed, not dealing as objectively and analytically, not dealing in as distanced and impersonal a way, with the new paradigm as a book of this nature should do for its readership as these readers suggest. Much of this book is, as I say in the title, "a contemporary text and a personal context." I am working out as I go along what contribution I have made, am making and intend to make to this new paradigm. And I want readers to do the same as they travel with me in this literary journey through the labyrinth of this new paradigm. Use this book, if you come to see it as useful as you read on, come to see it as helpful: as a sort of sifter, shape-sifter, matrix, mirror, evaluation mechanism, tool, instrument, means of appraisal, appraisement or assessment, as a way to calculate or estimate, guesstimate, interpret, voice your opinion, rate, take stock of and work out your own role in this new paradigm.

Some readers I'm sure will find my analysis, my lengthy statement here at BLO but an extension of what they already see as an endless circular debate with its countless calls to action. Such readers will, in all likelihood, tire in the first several paragraphs. Many will not have even read this far and will have clicked me off earlier in this exposition. For many readers exhaustive and extensive analysis dulls their understanding of the subject until, finally, teaching is something addressed merely in terms of sales techniques, the implementation of some simple formula, some handle they use to make a beginning and continue their work. We each have our own way of dealing with the call to teach and I am not trying to twist anyone's arm, although I do some twisting of my own as I go along. Working out one's own path is no easy trick, no easy ride. Even as the House mentioned just this month in April 2010: "there are no shortcuts, no formulas."

There have been and there will be many other readers, though, for whom this book will be what I have intended that it should be: an extension of their own analysis and thoughts. I have received much feedback thanking me for this book, this contribution to the discussion of the new culture of growth in the Bahai community. There is very little in the way of any extended commentary on what might be called the literary-literature industry on this new paradigm. There are now many thousands of posts, of threads, of letters, of newsletters, of magazines, of internet sites, to say nothing of the mountains of verbal analysis at endless meetings all over the globe at all levels of Bahai administration and community activity. There are short digests and short summaries, brief critiques and commentaries as well as letters and reports filled to overflowing with what now amount to literally 1000s of pages of resources for the would-be student of this new Bahai culture. But there is nothing as extended and in one place at this 420 page book, at least as far as I know. I'm sure this will change in the years ahead for these are still early days.

Readers who would like to study some of the commentary that has been generated in the first two decades of the implementation of this new paradigm are advised to read:
(i) the Universal House of Justice Ridvan messages from 1996 to 2013. They can be found at Bahai Library Online;
(ii)several reports of the NSAs of the Bahais of the USA, Canada, and other national Bahai communities which are available on line with a little googling;
(iii) posts at the internet site Reaching and Teaching Efforts for a broad context for Bahai activity especially in the last 17 years: 1996 to 2013;
(iv)Learning and the Evolution of the Bahai Community, a talk by Paul Lample given in 2008;
(v) Revelation and Social Reality, Palabra Pub., 2009, Paul Pample; and
(vi)much else with some ingenuity and online googling by readers with a desire to keep up-to-date on the many resources that come out month after month, resources generated by the elected and appointed arms of the Bahai Faith, by individuals and institutions of the Cause around the world.

PUTTING OUR OWN WORLD TOGETHER

The world is very big, very complicated, and replete with so many marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is also, and in some ways, irretrievably broken. We could call this period of our lives, our early research, our stage of childhood. The Bahá'í community, by means of this new paradigm is slowly making a new world; it utilizes some of the content of this old broken world and it adds a new structure and community by means of this new culture of learning and growth. There follows, then, as childhood changes to adolescence in this new paradigm, a program of renewed inquiry, sometimes even involuntary, into the nature and effects of mortality, entropy, heartbreak, violence, failure, cowardice, duplicity, cruelty, and grief; the adolescent researcher learns the histories of these experiences and their bitter lessons. He or she often comes to know them by heart. Along the way, he or she discovers that the world has been broken for as long as anyone can remember. The individual struggles to reconcile this fact with the ache of cosmic nostalgia that arises, from time to time, in the researcher’s heart: an intimation of vanished glory, of lost wholeness, a memory of the world unbroken. We call the moment at which this ache first arises “adolescence.” The feeling haunts people all their lives, and in this new paradigm that aching heart has the opportunity to heal its wounded feelings.

Everyone, sooner or later, gets a thorough schooling in brokenness. The question becomes: What to do as one builds a life, in spite of the broken pieces. Some members of the Bahá'í community pass among the scattered and broken pieces of the great overturned jigsaw puzzle that is the world and simply try to reconstruct their private world. They don't do it in community; they withdraw. They start to pick up a piece here, a piece there, with a vague yet irresistible notion that perhaps something might be done about putting the thing back together again in their private worlds. Others go about the exercise in community, in the context of this new Bahá'í culture.

Two difficulties arise with the scheme that does not take place in community. First of all, the individual has only ever glimpsed, as if through half-closed lids, the picture on the lid of the jigsaw puzzle box that is their vision. Second, no matter how diligent he or she has been about picking up pieces along the way, they will never have anywhere near enough of them to finish the job. The most they can hope to accomplish with their little handful of salvaged bits—the bittersweet harvest of observation and experience—is to build a little world of their own. When these individuals die, they will have built their little worlds and fulfilled their little visions to some extent. The worlds they build out of their store of fragments and their partial visions can be only approximations, partial and inaccurate, of those private visions. Yet however successful or however much they fail, in their gaps and inaccuracies, they may yet be faithful maps, accurate scale models, of their beautiful vision in the midst of this broken world. One could call these scale models of individual efforts their “works of art.”

Those who work within the context of this new paradigm do their work in community, working with several million others, playing a part in a great undertaking, amidst what is clearly a terrifying maelstrom of turmoil and trouble enguling humanity. They are, in effect, adapting themselves to the present expression of the new social form through which the justice of God is becoming manifest throughout human affairs. They are working within the context of the stupendous vision that Bahá'u'lláh has gifted to the world, however distant the gulf that separates society as it is now arranged from the efflorescence of that vision, however many the obstacles preventing the realization of that vision, however distorted the human spirit and the sense of despair prevailing in the world. They work within the context of an extraordinary reservoir of spiritual potential available to the human souls who draw on it.

SOME HISTORICAL REFLECTIONS

If I was to compare where we are in this paradigm shift to where we were in the shift instituted by the Guardian in those entre deux guerres years of the 1920s and 1930s, 2011 as the 15th year after the inception of this paradigm shift would be the equivalent of the year 1936/7 which was the 15th year of the paradigm shift instituted by Shoghi Effendi. In 1936/7 the Bahai community of the USA began to put its first systematic teaching Plan on paper and put it into action. It was the year that the dome of the temple in Chicago was completed. It was the first year of the first major teaching Plan: 1937-1944. Little did the Bahai community in the USA know what was ahead of them in that paradigm. Little, it might be added, do we now know what is ahead of us in this one.

If I were to compare where we are in this paradigm with where we were in the Bahai paradigm of, say, 1863 to 1921, I might be inclined to say we are about in the same time-frame as that in which Abdul-Baha was returning home from His tour of the West. By 1914, that initial paradigmatic timeframe of 1844 to 1914, a seventy-year period, this new Faith and its precursor, the Babi Faith, had suffered an estimated 25,000 deaths, a blood-bath of slaughter, in Iran. Gibbon says that the Christians have "grotesquely exaggerated" the scale of the persecutions they suffered under the Roman empire. If anything, the Bahai community has underplayed the narrative of the horrors of the persecution the Iranian Bahai community has experienced. The Babi-Bahai story has been drowned somewhat in the sea of suffering in which humanity has been embroiled since the 19th century. I leave it to readers to play with the many possible Bahai paradigms and timeframes, epochs and stages, phases and periods of the more than two centuries since the birth of Bahaullah and the Bab.

TEACHING THE CAUSE

Individuals often tire of the subject of teaching and retreat into gardening, television, sport, family activity and a wide range of leisure-time pursuits. One can not blame them given the discouragingly meagre response in the last several decades in many countries to their teaching initiatives. And there is nothing wrong with these pervasive pastimes, endeavours and occupations which enrich one's daily life. Teaching the Cause has never been easy especially in the direct sense as the Bahais are often asked to do in this new paradigm. Even the indirect sense when carried out, carried on, in one's life over the decades of the lifespan requires persistence and dedication, vision and patience as well as more qualities than most of us possess. they are often qualities that are not easy to come by and to exemplify, day after day, year after year, from our youth into our old age, if we last that long! But the indirect approach often takes some of the heat out of what would have been the unsuccessful evangelism of direct teaching. I think this is especially true in the more secularized of societies to say nothing of the more fundamentalist.

Bahá’í community life can be, often is--and often is not--a distinctive pattern of action transforming spiritual, social and administrative affairs. Disassociated from its mission and its vision, though, it can and does deteriorate into frustrating meetings and consultations on trivial and hair-splitting concerns. This has been the experience of many in the last several decades. Indeed, I'm sure this has characterized participation in community life for many thousands of believers for decades before these recent epochs and far back into the 19th century. For thousands of those who came in touch with the transforming power of the Cause little transforming took place. The Bahai Faith is not like a rabbit's root or Niagara Falls. It's not some magic bullet or open-sesame. Not everyone gets transformed. When tests come hard and fast which they seem inevitably to do, the crucible of transformation yields an array of results from exit narratives to people whose lives are utterly transformed by this Cause.

As one noted writer once put it commenting on the forty years of Bahaullahs ministry, 1863-1892: the greatest tragedy of the life of this Great Soul was that most of those who did come in touch with Him, with this immense spiritual Force, did not join this new Cause. And those that did join this new Faith did not become saints overnight, endowed with wisdom and endless supplies of patience to deal with human eccentricities. Each generation has been tested and tried and the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon were not qualities everyone was given in ample amounts, nor are we as we travel along the way in these generations of the half-light.

In the culture of learning and growth that each generation of Bahais has found itself in--the distresses and disturbances, the heartaches and hindrances, the inconveniences and irritations--have kept everyone busy coping, each in their own way. As the Guardian wrote in God Passes By: "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."(p.111) This has been true for more than a century and a half. It is, therefore, not surprising that disappointment sometimes sets in the hearts of believers. That the apparently slowly crystallizing institutions and its policies are often barely understood should come as no surprise if, indeed, they are crystallizing slowly. Speed of development in this new culture is often as hard to assess as it has been in the past, in previous paradigms. Much in this Cause is in the hands of, and part of the processes involved in, those mysterious dispensations of Providence.

What I say above was true in the years of the ministry of all the Central Figures of this Faith as anyone who is more than a little familiar with Bahai history in those earlier stages of the Cause will easily confirm. In the century of the Formative Age since the passing of Abdu'l-Bahá this has also been true, a fortiori. Hopefully this analysis and comment, this historical overview, will contribute in some way or other, as I indicated above, to an inevitable and necessary dialogue on the issues regarding the many related processes involved in this latest and ongoing paradigmatic shift. It is my hope, too, that what readers find here will serve as a useful extension of their own reflections and understandings regarding the culture of learning and of growth and the paradigmatic shift the Baha’i community is currently going through and has been going through since at least the mid-1990s.

THE YEARS OF THIS PARADIGM

The impulse to ponder and try to distil: (a) the events in the Bahai community in those last fin de siecle years of the 20th century and these early years in this new millennium as well as (b) my own contribution---has led to this essayistic reflection. I invite readers to follow me into what I would like to think is a world of intellectual rigour, a world in which I preserve my distance from you and have it annihilated all at once, as one writer expressed what happens between writer and reader in the reading-writing process. I have been inviting people into my world of ideas, words and writing for decades with only a modicum of success and so I do not approach this exercise with high expectations. My assumptions and presumptions are imbued with a good dose of healthy realism and low to medium-range expectations. I approach this exercise, this relationship with you the reader, with a belief in the power of questions. The significance of questions and of what the creative writer Bahiyyih Nakhjavani calls shadow regions where questions can arise, where we see sharp contrasts between ideals and realities and where we grapple with contradictions and paradoxes--these questions and these shadows underpin much of this literary raison d'etre, my MO as the who-dun-it folk call their modus operandi, their modus vivendi.

Edward Gibbon, the great historian of the Roman empire, thought he was describing the greatest and most awful scene in the history of humankind. It is my view that our time can lay claim to being the great climacteric, the great turning point, the great paradigm shift of paradigm shifts, the greatest and most awful scene in the long climb of life on our planet. This book describes but one aspect of one chapter, one small scene, one mise-en-scene, one setting, in the great drama of our time. I have choreographed this work, brought in a team of talented people and I hope you enjoy the show, as it were. But I make no guarantees. This book is now in your hands and each reader must, will, give to my words his or her own particular meaning. Readers will give them their own 'take,' as we say these days.



SOME STATISTICS AND SOME CELEBRITIES

Though this new world religion has steadily grown over the last century, the Bahai community in western countries remains small: one twentieth of one percent of the total American population, one in one thousand in Canada, one in 1200 in Australia and I could go on and on for each western country in similarly small proportions. There are many examples of small movements' having a noticable impact on culture or religion. In the USA Unitarianism, Theosophy, and Vedantism are good examples. But for a small movement to produce a large impact on the scene in the USA, writes Robert Stockman("The American Bahai Community in the Nineties," by Robert H. Stockman, Bahai Research Office, Wilmette, Ill. Published in Dr. Timothy Miller, ed., America's Alternative Religions, SUNY Press, Albany, 1995) three conditions usually must be fulfilled. First, the movement must advocate ideas--usually a few simple ones--that resonate strongly with existing trends in the culture. Second, the movement must be able to advocate those ideas in a language that is appropriate and effective in the society outside it. Third, the movement must have articulate people or celebrities as spokespersons. These celebrities provide what is sometimes called 'charisma by association' and leading intellectual or literary figures provide an intellectual legitimacy or patina of influence in the culture.(John Travolta and Tom Cruise in Scientology are good examples) Usually the presence of the first two virtually assures the third. Of course, Stockman is addressing the experience, the retrospect and prospect of the American Bahai community and, by implication, many nations in the first, the developed, world. Other national communities in the third world and the non-English speaking world, have their own stories.

While reflecting on the relationship between celebrities and politics, sociologists David S. Meyer and Joshua Gamson concluded, "the resources that celebrities bring to bear in social movement struggles do not generally include citizen education or detailed political analysis" (Meyer and Gamson 1995, 202). In essence, few celebrities have the educational and political skills that would allow them to do sustained, in-depth and nuanced presentations. Thusfar in this new paradigm, celebrities have played no significant role as far as I know. Who knows what the future holds as the Faith expands and finds new fields of both enthusiastic support and intense opposition!

Historically, the Bahai community has rarely been able to fulfill these three requirements for influence, not in the USA and not in other countries. The basic Bahai teachings are usually expressed in a terminology that is difficult to translate into mainstream language, although this is slowly changing and some can translate the language and concepts of the Bahai idiom into a language of contemporary relevance much better than others. their books are available for all to read, for those who take any serious interest. But the Bahai literature is now immense and your average reader inside and outside this Cause simply can not keep up with the deluge. Further, the ideas, the Bahai messages, are usually part of a much larger complex of Bahai teachings and they are inextricably intertwined. One idea or theme cannot be easily separated from another. In some ways the Bahai Faith is a total package. For example, the application of the principle of interracial and interethnic unity to society is difficult because Bahai scripture prohibits Bahais from partisan political activity and breaking the law. Consequently few prominent blacks and few Civil Rights leaders have been attracted to the Bahai Faith in the more than 100 years of Bahai history in that country, in the USA(1894-2009).

The Bahai vision of a united, peaceful world, similarly, has been of limited appeal to those outside the Bahai community because the implementation of the Bahai vision cannot be established through partisan political efforts, through anti-government demonstrations and a whole plethora of activities through which many people seek to influence society, to measure their reformist zeal and their very claim to a righteous life, in the public eye. Furthermore, the Bahai conception of world unity and of interreligious relations are dominated by the belief that the new world order envisioned by the Bahai scriptures can occur only if the world accepts Bahaullah as its Lord. This is and has been far from a popular notion. It was not a popular notion in previous paradigms and it is not a popular one now. It may be some time, after many more years of Bahai experience in this new paradigm, before this staggering claim, this difficult truth, becomes a reality in the general public eye. In the meantime Bahais must avail themselves of as many means as they can of qualities that will attract the hearts of others and develop those attributes on which true happiness and greatness lie and which are elaborated on in the Bahai writings--repeatedly, time and time again. And which, I should also add, are part and parcel of the implementation of this new culture and its multi-paradigmatic emphases.

This picture of the future of the Bahai World Order and its relationship with not only the present but the future governments of the world has found its most comprehensive discussion thusfar at a thread entitled: Defending Shoghi Effendi Posted by Sen on November 22, 2009. McGlinn has devoted many years of study to this subject and the evidence of his scholarship is everywhere apparent on this thread on a quite complex subject.

History has shown that great increases in the numbers of American Bahais occur when social turmoil is high, Stockman points out. The Bahai Faith in the USA experienced large increases in the late 1960s, the 1930s, and the 1890s. If American society enters another period of turmoil, a substantial increase in Bahai numbers may occur. If, on the other hand, society remains more or less as it is now, Bahai growth is likely to remain in the range of three to five percent per year for the foreseeable future. Even at that rate the American Bahai community, Stockman estimates, is likely to reach a quarter million a half million members by 2025. With 15 years to go and with a present Bahai population of about 150 thousand it will take the most significant growth in the history of the Bahai Faith in America to occur to reach that number. This new paradigm of learning and growth in the next fifteen years will certainly be busy in achieving the numbers that Stockman has envisaged. Stockman's analysis is one I like but his analysis is but one of many and it is not the whole story. Growth is a far-too complex phenomenon to reduce it to the tri-factored hypothesis that this fine writer does in his published essay.

Here in Australia, where I have lived for four decades, the major growth factor has been the influx of Iranian refugees, their children and the birth in Australia of their children's children. There are now several generations of Iranians in Australia making up more than half of the nearly twenty thousand Bahais Downunder. I could site examples in several other countries and territories among the more than 200 in the world where Stockman's thesis is not even relevant. As I say the whole question of growth of the Bahai community across the planet is complex and multi-factorial. This new paradigm takes this multiplicity of factors into account. It does so in quite an overt and simple paradigmatic way, but also in quite a surprisingly deceptive way, a way that is difficult to penetrate, to appreciate, to see its true significance, its true outreach and impact.

It is difficult for the student of the process to get a handle on a community of six million members in a world of six billion amidst a tempest that is graphically tearing at the very fabric of society in unprecedented proportions. The tearing process is also a seductive one as western peoples in all classes continue to enjoy the fruits of a materialist way to life. This way of life insinuates itself into the psyches of human beings and they lose, in the process, any name of action, as Shakespeare put it in that famous soliloquy from Hamlet. As these same human beings watch the world's horrors continue on apparently unabated night after night and day after day and ill-equipped to interpret the social commmotion at play throughout the planet, they listen to the pundits of error and sink deeper into a slough of despond. The process has always reminded me of the Greeks in the 5th century BC during that golden age as the sophists poured their advice on a hapless Athenian democracy before that experiment was snuffed out as fast as it had arisen.

As the Guardian wrote so eloquently back in the midst of WW2 as the German war-machine was still gaining in strength and inflicting its terror on the European continent: humankind can neither perceive the origins nor discern the outcomes of this tempest, a tempest that is deranging the equilibrium of the world's inhabitants. Bewildered, agonized and helpless these inhabitants watch and wait. And so, in many ways, do we all whether we are active participants in this new culture of learning, this new paradigm, or whether we chose to be bystanders and observe it all from a distance, from the comfort of our homes as it is often said.

Of course, the growing size and influence of the worldwide Bahai community will spark and is already sparking a much more thorough investigation by outsiders of what this community is all about. One result of such an investigation has been the asking of tough questions about the many ways the Bahai religion's teachings deviate from cultural norms. This investigative process, as I say, has already begun to happen in these first years of this new paradigm. Some of the questions have been tough; some of the answers have been tough and differing opinions have resulted not only in the generation of sparks of truth but in the generation of ranglings and resentments, resignations and recriminations. The Bahai rules of discourse and their emphasis on an etiquette of expression, on solid thinking, on the attainment of correct perspectives, on the adoption of proper attitudes, on moderation in all things as part of the critical base of true liberty, on the ramifications in speech of the many dynamics of the term 'freedom of expression'--these are discussed in only a cursory fashion in this book. They are only one example of an aspect of the Bahai Faith that differs markedly from accepted practice in the United States in particular and in western countries generally.

RESTRICTIONS ON DISCOURSE?

If the Bahai religion is ever to have substantial influence in these western countries, the Bahai distinctives--both positive ones from a cultural point of view, such as racial integration--and negative ones, such as restrictions on discourse--will also have to be explored and sharply debated more than they already have. Already in the first 15 years of this new paradigm the debate has gone on certainly just about ad nauseam--at least for those with internet access, those with literary tastes and proclivities and those who like to ask provocative questions about the religion they have joined. I trust this book will contribute in its own way to this ongoing inevitable and necessary dialogue. As I say the interchange has already begun in earnest in the first two decades of the operation of this paradigm. Friederich Hayek(1899-1992), the Austrian-born economist and philosopher known for his defense of classical liberalism, wrote in his The Constitution of Liberty that: "Liberty not only means that the individual has both the opportunity and the burden of choice; it also means that he must bear the consequences of his actions...Liberty and responsibility are inseparable." The members of the Bahai community are also faced with this dichotomy of the opportunity and the burden of the freedom of choice on the one hand and the responsibilities on the other.

FINALLY: PARADIGM ANALYSIS AND INTELLECTUAL UNDERPINNINGS OF THE PARADIGM

Paradigm analysis, as Christopher Buck put it in his review of Udo Schaefer's book Beyond the Clash of Religions: The Emergence of a New Paradigm(Zero Palm Press, Prague, 1995)is an integrative approach to the study of a religion as a system. It has heuristic or explanatory power in disclosing the concatenating or the interconnected logics of belief: faith, doctrine, ethos; and of praxis: ritual, piety, and ethics. Precisely because it takes this approach, Udo Schaefer's Beyond the Clash of Religions: The Emergence of a New Paradigm is an important contribution to Bahá'í studies. It is more than coincidental, it seems to me, that this book appeared the year before the emergence of this new paradigm and Buck's review appeared in the same year that this paradigm was launched.

The consequence of the modern world's subjectivisation of truth, Schaefer argues, is that social standards are no longer viable or possible. Indeed, while Schaefer asserts that the stability of society is bound up with a generally accepted value system, he is quick to point out that universal standards of morals and human values are largely lacking in modern and postmodern society. In this spiritual vacuum, New Age movements fail to provide any consensus on whatever direction society ought to take. New Age spirituality is so polymoral that it is functionally amoral. In the final pages of this essay, Schaefer introduces the Bahá'í Faith as offering a new paradigm anchored in revelation, in which the will of God for the world today is apprehended and affirmed by faith, and a universal value system is offered.

In contrast to "the old ecclesiastical paradigm" of Christian salvation, "the new paradigm depicts a divine economy of salvation, according to Schaefer. The nature of this "economy" is paradigmatically different from traditional Christianity. The nature of this new paradigm is developed in the second essay, "On the Diversity and Unity of Religions." This essay begins with a "Prefatory Note on the Concept of Paradigm," in which the author assimilates Thomas Kuhn's definition of "paradigm" as "the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by a member [sic; read "the members"] of a given community." Schaefer then speaks of the "unity paradigm" central to Bahá'í belief and praxis. The rest of the essay unpacks this core concept. Udo Schaefer has effectively adapted Kuhn's concept of "paradigm" and "paradigm-shift" from the history of science to the history of religion. Udo Schaefer's work could be said to be one of the several intellectual underpinnings for this new paradigm in the Bahai community, a paradigm that began to form in Bahai groups all around the world in the decade after Schaefer's book was published. The new paradigm of culture and learning in the last two decades, it seems to me, could be said to find one of its broad, sociological, psychological and historical frameworks for action, an intellectual and analytical overview in Schaefer's timely book.

The writings of Bahais like Lample, Arbab and Martin, among others, have been useful in providing initial sketches of this new paradigm. The work of The International Teaching Centre, that institution which has been specifically invested with the twin functions of the protection and propagation of the Cause of God(sometimes I use the acronym ITC), cannot be ignored in providing preliminary and early consultation in relation to the paradigm that was put in place by the House of Justice in 1996. The International Teaching Centre has had a pivotal and primary role in this entire shift in the Bahai community. It is an institution established as far back as June 1973 and it brought to fruition the work of the Hands of the Cause of God residing in the Holy Land and provided for the extension into the future of functions with which that body had been endowed as far back as the late 19th century by Bahaullah Himself. It has brought a "degree of energy," as the House pointed out in its Ridvan 2010 message, "to this worldwide enterprize," to this new paradigm. The ITC is now turning its attention, the House wrote in that same message, to questions related to the efficacy of activities at the cluster level and to childrens classes among other foci of concern.

"Aware of the aspirations of the children of the world," wrote the House of Justice at Ridvan 2008, "and their need for spiritual education, clusters are extending their efforts widely to involve ever-growing contingents of participants in classes that become centres of attraction for the young and strengthen the roots of the Faith in society."

MY OWN CONTRIBUTION: A RETROSPECTIVE

As much as I would like to see the words of my own book here, this very long essay, contributing to the correction of some of the inappropriate attitudes, at least inappropriate as I see them, and as much as I would like to see a resulting enlargement of the perspectives of readers, what some might see as a somewhat pretentious goal, my aim rather and simply is to have this somewhat lengthy piece of writing contribute to that inevitable and necessary ongoing dialogue, as I have called it above, on any and perhaps many of the questions regarding this complex and ongoing process of paradigm change. If this book can assist in opening up, in helping readers pose questions rather than providing some set of answers; if this book can help lead to an openness of mind, a humility of response and readiness of apprehension; if it can help readers find resolutions rather than solutions; and if it can help them be comfortable with the many paradoxes not only within this Faith but within life itself, I will have achieved much pleasure as a member of this mysterious Cause.

Such, then, are some of my simple and not-so-simple goals in posting this essay, this article, this book, within this immense archival collection of print resources at Baha’i Library Online. As I go about this mediation and meditation on several themes, a process that involves differentiating my incoming sensory information, my intuitions, my reasonings and the long tradition of thought on the subjects in the Bahai community--I aim to integrate all of this into generalizable patterns of interpretation. This is no easy task and I'm sure I only achieve it in part. I am enabled, though, to some extent at least, to make more meaningful decisions myself and to act within the context of this new paradigm as I decide just what it means for me and my participation.

What action each of us takes and makes is, in the end, what is crucial and understanding lays the foundation for this action. As I write this book I am extending the foundation and defining that part of the foundation I have already laid for future activity in this Cause. Participation in this new paradigm is never finished; one's work may be relaxed and occasionally abandoned to give the spirit a rest. Michelangelo put this concept of one's work the same way in relation to his creative activity, his art. As much as this paradigm shift contains many changes in the ways I and my fellow Bahais go about things, it is not the basis of a revolution and, for those who see it as a revolutionary change, it is in the character of Bahai revolutions-a quiet one, at least in most places. Much of Bahai life will go on as it has done in its two century-long history for at its core the revolution we are all involved in is: spiritual, universal and entirely outside of man's control.

THE NATURE OF BAHAI COMMUNITY LIFE

The House pointed out back in 2002(22/8)in describing the nature of Bahai community life: "To mistakenly identify Bahai community life with the mode of religious activity that characterizes the general society--in which the believer is a member of a congregation, leadership comes from an individual or individuals presumed to be qualified for the purpose, and personal participation is fitted into a schedule dominated by concerns of a very different nature--can only have the effect of marginalizing the Faith and robbing the community of the spiritual vitality available to it." It should also be emphasized that we should not mistakenly identify Bahai community life with what we see at the local level in our own communities. These are still early days. Such local examples are only the here and now in a very specific location and there are a myriad locations on the planet where this community life exists. Maintaining and deepening Bahai culture, one of the functions of this new paradigm, is dependent on how the Bahais live their daily lives, on the strength of their beliefs and on the nature of their values as well as on possessing the appropriate attitudes. The post-modern citizen in the West is trapped in a culture which in many ways is a setting for a 24 hour frenzy of competing messages, instincts and desires, all playing with their self-esteem.

Living in a culture where even private space is invaded by the unforgiving demands of the public sphere and even the natural effects of ageing are seen as a sign of moral laxitude inevitably has an immense impact and often an unhealthy effect on perceptions of the self and the whole issue of health. The Bahai culture of learning and growth has to deal with this dominant culture and its frenzy which, as that emmminent professor emeritus of history at Harvard University, Dr. Firuz Kazemzadeh, said as far back as the 1960s, this dominant culture makes the Bahai 99% dominant culture in the expression of his daily life and 1% the new age Bahai. Even if that erudite professor of history is only partly right, his point is clear and especially relevant to this new paradigm and its goals and acheivements.

The Canadian sociologist, Will van den Hoonaard, in the very last paragraph of his study of the first fifty years of Bahai history in Canada(1898-1948) emphasizes that the Bahai community is quintessentially a global one and Bahais and others need to "delocalize" their understanding of new religious movements like the Bahai Faith. The bona fide context, the viability, the measuring tools for the study of this new Faith, is an international one and not what happens in one particular bailiwick, one cluster, one locality, down the road in woop-woop, where often there is no overt-evidence of this new Cause at all. The spread of this Cause is universal, gradual and, like Christianity over several centuries of its expansion in the first millennium, a spiritual revolution in the Hands of God with some help from the followers of His latest manifestation.

GIVING SHAPE MEANING AND INTEGRATION TO OUR TIME

The Bahai cosmology and its metaphorical-mythological base does what any myth and cosmology must do in our time, in the words of T.S. Eliot, "give shape and significance to the immense panorama of anarchy and futility which is contemporary history." Generally speaking, the shifting confusions and complexities of today's postmodern moment require historical, sociological and psychological contexts, explanatory frameworks to help people make sense of their society and their lives. William S. Hatcher, in his Essays on Science, Religion and Philosophy, entitled ‘Logic & Logos’, provides a concise description of the organismic theory of history where he associates childhood, adolescence, and adulthood in the life of an individual to primary integration, differentiation, and secondary integration, respectively, in humanity’s social life. He writes: "Primary integration...is characterized by a relative lack of a sharply differentiated human awareness. In this stage, people tended to perceive themselves as part of a whole, as one with nature and a preestablished natural order into which they fit. This is strongly analogous to the child’s perception of himself as undifferentiated from his family and immediate environment."

The second basic stage in the process of social evolution, that of differentiation, is analogous to adolescence in the life of the individual. For the individual, adolescence is characterized by mature physical development coupled with relatively immature emotional and spiritual development. Through competition and conflict, analysis and criticism, the adolescent forges self-awareness. The adolescent stage in the collective life of humanity is characterized by a relatively high degree of scientific and technological achievement, coupled with relatively immature forms of social organization and human interaction.

The third basic stage in collective human growth, that of secondary integration, corresponds to maturity or adulthood in the life of the individual. The individual seeks self-integration through a new synthesis, a synthesis based on the analytical and critical distinctions he has made and the differentiated capacities he has developed. Thus, to achieve its collective maturity, humankind must move forward towards an entirely new synthesis. This synthesis, this new culture of learning, this new paradigm is at the service of all of humankind. All the qualities of each Bahai acquire dignity if that Bahai knows that the collectivity he or she serves and in which they participate needs them. If proud of that collectivity, that new Order, his or her own pride rises in proportion. The Bahai collectivity or community has aspects that are like a spiritual army and the individual is nourished to the extent that they feel genuine pride in the new Order that Bahaullah has brought. This aspect of the new culture, though, is complex for the army of Bahais is not like your regular army with its guns and swords and uniforms. This army requires wisdom and understanding on the part of its members; indeed, it has some interesting parallels to the army envisaged by Carl von Clausewitz's in his study "On War" which he wrote in the early decades of the 19th century.

I'll place three prose-poems into this book at this point. They are somewhat tangential to the main theme but they reflect my experience both before and after the beginning of this paradigm and they place the orientation of my work, my participation, in this new paradigm into a helpful perspective. I hope the following three prose-poems are, indeed, helpful to readers.

THE KIND OF WAR

Carl von Clausewitz’s book or series of essays which became the book "On War" was written in the years 1817 to 1829. Clausewitz was trying to gain an understanding and clarification of the principles of conflict, of war. The nature of war has changed in ways Clausewitz did not anticipate, and they will continue to do so in the centuries ahead I have little doubt. Certainly for me and my daily life and my contemporaries in the half century, 1960-2010, warfare has a new mise en scene. All the wars I fought were in my personal life, in my private domain. Even here, though, inspite of all the changes, the principles of warfare outlined by Clausewitz are relevant. -Ron Price, Pioneering Over Four Epochs,9 February 2003.

It’s a different war these days
than the ones my father
and his father and fathers before
went to with guns and uniforms
and marching, marching. Marching.

A tightening in the gut, real fear,
morning after morning,
wanting to run away
from this stoney, narrow and tortuous path,
learning to love it, slowly, slowly, slowly--
well, most of it.

It’s the kind of war that wears you
down, year after year as you learn
to keep your forces concentrated-
that simple law of strategy-
and keep faithful to the principles
you--and he--have laid down.(1)

(1) These were the first two principles laid down by Clausewitz in his book.

SUBTLE ELUSIVE AND COMPLEX

Often men go to war and are there for several months, a year, several years. The souls who make up “the armies of God”, who “attack the armies of the world” and “the right and left wings of the hosts”1 often must fight in this spiritual contest for most of their lives. Having been in the field now as a pioneer for more than fifty years and been a student of my own life, taking account each day, I can see some of the reasons for my failure or, to put it more gently, some of the reasons why I have not been more successful. One: I lack the purity on which so much depends. ‘Abdu’l-Baha says “sanctified breath will even affect the rock; otherwise there will be no result whatsoever.”2 I am only too aware of the quantity and quality of my sins of omission and commission. My secret thoughts are far from pure. May future soldiers in the army take note and learn from the mistakes of soldiers of the first two generations(1963-1986) and (1986-2010) of this tenth and last stage of history. Two: I have failed to eliminate contention, disputation and traces of controversy from my life. ‘Abdu’l-Baha commands that I do this.3 -Ron Price with appreciation to ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, USA, 1977, 1 p. 48, 2 p.51 and 3 p.53.

These are but two reasons why
my success has been less than
the best. For when you are
talking a lifetime you must be
faithful to the principles of war(1)
even more than in those limited
contests of short duration, for the
affair is subtle, elusive and complex;
but we are still talking war, inspite
of all appearances to the contrary.

I seem to be fighting, now, on
last legs, confining my skirmishes
only to battles that I can clearly
contribute some results and see
ideal forces and lordly confirmations...
rush to my support and reinforcement.(2)
These fifty years have worn me down
and, like Zaynu’l-Muqarribin, I long
to rise out of this life, awaiting departure
from day to day.(3)....I pushed too long and
hard and intense, not being a man of much
moderation; I was also more than a little
aware that my weaknesses might sweep me
into that fathomless gulf so sadly!!(4)

1 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 1817-1829. The first systematic study of war and its principles.
2 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of the Divine Plan, p.47.
3 ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Memorials of the Faithful, p.153.
4 ibid., p.119.

ON WAR

"The idea of modern total war," writes sociologist Robert Nisbet, "was born in the famous decree of the National Convention, August 23, 1793." This decree resulted in the creation of a mass army, a citizen army, the first in human history in France. Carl von Clausewitz's book On War followed forty years after. Clausewitz wrote, according to Nisbet, "the single most influential book written in modern times on war" in the years 1817 to 1827. On War, a book on strategy and tactics, on the philosophy of war and the relation between society and the individual, was begun one hundred years before another book on war, a spiritual war, The Tablets of the Divine Plan. In 1793, too, Shaykh Ahmad left his home in Bahrain to begin the process of that spiritual, that total war, a war of quite a different character, characterized in those Tablets by what you might call 'a military metaphor.' -Ron Price with thanks to Robert Nisbet, The Social Philosophers: Community and Conflict in Western Thought, Heinemann, London, 1973, p.70.

Sharper than blades of steel
and hotter than summer heat,
placed somewhere inside,
pervasive,but as natural as
the weather, unassuming,
unobtrusive, you'd never
know or guess that it was
war. 'Twas more like a fun
park with distractions and
pleasures enough to keep us
all laughing to the grave and
all this amidst a tempest that
threatened to tear us apart in
a third world war that does
its insinuations while we go
shopping, watch movies and
get entertained more than any
generation the world has seen.

Bahais are dealing now, as they have been for over one hundred years, with the nucleus and pattern of the new global community the world will one day adopt in its entirety in a process that can hardly be envisaged at this very early stage of its embryogenesis, its first stages of institutional evolution. Some writers try to grasp this complex process but, as the Guardian emphasized, we stand too close to it and these are too early days to even sketch the process of that evolution in even the briefest of contexts. We have other things on our agenda and they can be found in this new paradigm. This new paradigm is just another stage, another step in the long road toward the establishment of a unified society with justice and peace. The dominant principle of this cycle is the political and religious unification of the planet and the process has been underway for at least six millennia: during three periods in one great cycle beginning metaphorically, symbolically, mythologically, with Adam in 4000 BC(circa) and ending some 500,000 years hence(Bahai Studies,V.9, p.37). The process is majestic, extremely complex, anarchistic in some of its essential aspects but one which will gradually unfold to the eyes of the generations in the decades ahead in this and future paradigms in the evolving World Order of Bahaullah.

To the mass of the Bahais is given many functions. The "power to accomplish the tasks of the community resides primarily in the entire body of the believers" and this is true more than ever before in this new paradigm. Without muscle,effort, energy and action in a myriad forms the organism that is the Bahai community is doomed to inaction and inactivity. To quote one reference which places this growth process in perspective: "The World Centre of the Faith itself is paralyzed if such a support on the part of the rank and file of the community is denied it"(Shoghi Effendi, Citadel of Faith 130-131). The organism that is this new world Faith can be likened to a tree with a massive root system, an immense trunk, branches, buds, stems, off-shoots, twigs and folliage. It is now spread over the surface of the Earth. It is growing larger and larger and, one day, will be found in every locality where human beings are gathered.

This culture of learning and growth, this new paradigm, has a theoretical base. Theory comes first in any analysis of the practice. I don’t assume that some natural instinct or some simplistic description is all that is required in responding to this paradigm. If you say you don’t have a theory, what you’re telling me is that you’re a natural or you’re “open minded” and that you just read or hear or see “what’s there.” You don’t have a filter of understanding; you don’t mediate what's there, you don't mediate the process and the content of the paradigm. I don’t think that is good enough. We are all wearing prescriptive lenses as we go through our lives. I have a theory that asks what’s my prescription? What is my prescription right now in my life? The isolated self in this new culture of learning and growth pays attention to the cultural surroundings, to as much of this new paradigm as possible, including all the variant stories that Bahai history and the history of our wider society reveals. If this does not take place, then this self-designed life is no more than a self-enclosed and oxygen-deprived entity. He or she is rather like a plant whose roots turn inward, toward eventual death, although it is surrounded by what would invigorate it if it would only act and do, think and be in a wider, a social, context. And for each of us their experience of their cultural surroundings is different as is their response and their activity within this new paradigm.

TRANSFORMATION

Central to this theme of spiritual development lies the process of transformation which results from, and is part of, the function of nourishment. Transformation constitutes undeniably the life force in all living organisms releasing new powers and revitalizing the old. By transforming food substances into minerals, vitamins, and proteins cells are able to multiply and able to sustain the organism’s growth. The body of believers similarly is bound by this vital law. In its 1989 Ridván Message, the Universal House of Justice affirms: "It is not enough to proclaim the Bahá’í message, essential as that is. It is not enough to expand the rolls of Bahá’í membership, vital as that is. Souls must be transformed, communities thereby consolidated, new models of life thus attained. Transformation is the essential purpose of the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh." The transforming, nourishing, agent in Bahá’í community is the Divine Word and the act in the play is the ongoing spiritual intercourse between the soul and its Creator, just as nature derives its sustenance and energy from the omnipresent rays of the sun.

Some people, of course, see this as purely utopian fantasy. But, to quote old Oscar Wilde: those who would build a new world, those who would work at social improvement, an improvement that is not ultimately utopian in its form and spirit, should work at some other task. Some writers might see the Bahai paradigm as one of utopian realism. This could be defined as a vision of alternative futures whose very propagation might help them be realised. “A community is.....a comprehensive unit of civilization," so wrote the House of Justice back in 1996 at the outset of this new paradigm, "composed of individuals, families and institutions that are originators and encouragers of systems, agencies and organizations working together with a common purpose for the welfare of people both within and beyond its own borders; it is a composition of diverse, interacting participants that are achieving unity in an unremitting quest for spiritual and social progress.” To this common purpose there is added in this new paradigm a shared vocabulary about growth and an extension of various disciplined foci in several indicators of Bahai community life and its vitality and strength. But the acquisition of spiritual qualities, motivations to "conform ourselves to that meekness which no provocation can ruffle, to that patience which no affliction can overwhelm, to that integirty which no self-interest can shake" is not done overnight and, even after a lifetime, the individual often falls lamentably short in this and in any of the Bahai paradigms past, present orfuture. This reality must be faced squarely, admitted and accepted. We can't be too hard on ourselves or on others if they or we do not reach the heights. Still we each must arise and struggle within the context of our own limitations and abilities. Transformation is not an overnight event from copper to gold. With fire We test the gold and with gold We test Our servants. I leave you, dear reader, with the copper, the gold and the fire--and the complexity of the concept of tranformation.

BAHAI ADMINISTRATION:ELASTICITY AND FIXITY

The elasticity and specificity which characterizes Bahá’í administration ensures that Bahá’í communities are able to ‘reproduce’ themselves in different localities without losing essential features of their identity. This elasticity and this specificity is at the core of this new paradigm. While such elasticity and specificity are necessary they are not sufficient to keep the body of this Cause intact. It is here that the laws of the Covenant come into play wherever and whenever the Cause expands as it is, as it will and as it inevitably must in the decades ahead. The adherence of Bahá’ís to a legal structure guaranteed by the authenticity of its constitution protecting the body of the Cause from internal divisions secures a process whereby Bahá’í communities are able to reproduce themselves in dramatically different cultural settings without destroying the power of unity. I have watched this process now since the 1950s and it is a deceptively simple concept with transformative implications. There is a strong collective Bahai identity at local, national and international levels. It is not a fiction and this identity does not suture over the individual identities in the community.

TRANSFORMATION, CHRISTIANITY AND THE BAHAI FAITH

This transformation, however fast it proceeds in some ways, it also proceeds in ways that are slow and often unobservable to the casual observer. I have often thought that the Bahai Faith is insinuating itself into modern society in ways not dissimilar to Christianity in its first centuries as it grew along the edges of Roman society and its mature, well-organized, rich and intellectually sophisticated empire. Christ's message prevailed because it won its way into the hearts of living men and women. It triumphed because its spiritual force could no longer be denied. Acting upon his faith, the early Christian does what the modern Bahai does; he or she goes about quietly and for the most part, obscurely, to bring about the promised day. Responding to opposition, Christianity defined itself slowly, sensibly and insensibly, as the decades and the centuries advanced. Christianity's success though, it seems to me, was due to its essential truth rather than its usefulness, although that is not a simple dichotomy and the subject is far too complex to deal with here in even a cursory manner.

After more than fifty years of observing this new world religion and being a teacher of ancient history myself, I have often been struck by the remarkable parallels between the growth of Christianity and the Bahai Faith. External opposition to and internal disagreements within the Bahai Cause have been, are and will be one of the main ways that this Cause comes to define itself over the decades and centuries. The process of dealing with opposition, with persecution, with conflict and arguments of many kinds takes place within the context of a special armory of spiritual incentives within and protracted struggles without. Over time, over the decades and centuries, the struggle changes its colouration, its intensity, its dynamics. Man suffering, striving and doing as he is and was and ever shall be is at the centre of the process and gradually the basic orientation of the Founder becomes the way of life for a whole society.

Iranian clerics see the new Force, the new Revelation, as a form of heresy to be eradicated. Critics within the Cause, often with some axe-to-grind such as the view that impositions of orthodoxy or of dogma are being foisted on the community; such as the view that conservative institutions with authoritarian methods, dictatorial decision-making and ecclesiastical prerogatives---these critics are on the scene from decade to decade with their particular agenda which they bring before the wider community of believers. Their polarized, their divisive, often hair-splitting, often legitimate concerns occupy the places of dialogue for a time before the topics and themes change with the epochs, the stages, the phrases and the ages of the new Faith. For the most part, though, this paradigm is developing a culture in which the Bahais support one another and advance together in a movement which, over time, will be irrepressible. In saying this, though, the process and the game, so to speak, is not easy and tests and difficulties are built into every movement forward.

OPEN AND FIXED BOUNDARIES: EXCLUSIVITY AND INCLUSIVITY

The Bahai community has been moving toward a more open and inclusive community in the first two decades of the implementation of this paradigm. The history of the Cause over 17 decades has seen a range of policies and attitudes to exclusivity and inclusivity. There has been a history of alternating positions from fixed and definite boundaries on the one hand to loose and amorphous edges of belief, membership qualifications and definitions on the other. It is a story unto itself and I do not deal with this story here. But, however inclusive and flexible membership policies are and attitudes to those in other interest groups as well as the various categories of the alienated and marginal Bahais within this new paradigm, the spread of the internet during the first two decades of its existence led to unprecedented situations for the institutions of the Cause and some of the Bahais on the internet.

Almost overnight at the start of this new paradigm the institutions and individuals on the internet had to deal with a wide-range of dissidents, people whose exit-narratives were available for all to read, the stories of unenrolled Bahais and covenant-breakers. All they had to do was exercise their wrists with a few clicks on their mouse and be curious enough to want to read these stories and investigate these sites. Some believers, well-versed in the teachings, also arose in cyberpsace. They responded to the arguments of these covenant-breakers and various souls with axes to grind as they exited from the Cause or hung on its periphery complaining of this or that. One such believer was a Brent Poirier who directly took on the specious arguments of the covenant-breakers. It was a good thing there were the Brent Poiriers on the net. New believers or even old one who had never really got their study of the Covenant up to scratch, who came across covenant-breakers' sites and threads--knowingly or unknowingly, they would usually not have the intellectual weaponry to deal with the often clever turns of phrase and old arguments in new dress.

COVENANT-BREAKING: OLD AND NEW

As the fifteenth year of this new paradigm was about to open in April 2011 Bahais on the internet were able to read the curious phenomenon of an attempt to revive the claims of Mirza Muhammad Ali, the archbreaker of the Covenant after the passing of Bahaullah. These claims have been revived by a group known as the ‘Unitarian Bahai Association’ in order to lend legitimacy to their existence, as what they saw as a newly-established sect. This ‘Unitarian Bahai Association’ avowed loyalty to Baha’u’llah but rejected the authority that Baha’u’llah gave to Abdu’l-Baha and the Universal House of Justice. These claims were made on a web site and in postings to discussion groups. These people’s own public statements have already told the part of the world that engages in internet discussions at several sites what they are about. One of those who have been publicising this attempt on facebook was an Eric Stetson. Stetson gave Bahais, so he wrote on his site, an opportunity to demonstrate why the rehabilitation of Muhammad Ali was not a realistic alternative to accepting the authority that Baha’u’llah gave to Abdu’l-Baha to lead the Bahai community. This is a sample of some of the developments in the narrow-world of covenant breaking within this new paradigm.

The reason for the Bahá'í policy of shunning the violators of the Covenant was not that they had a different religion; it was because there is such a thing as a Covenant, and it is no trifle to be played with. The Covenant, combined with the policy that the Bahai community does not use violence nor in any way discriminates against the legitimate rights of the covenant-breakers, but simply leaves them to God, is the greatest protection for our children and great-great-grandchildren from the curse of sectarian strife that has clouded the undoubted light of both Christianity and Islam. The blood on the robes of past religions comes not just from their lack of an explicit written covenant identifying the successor to the Founder and his authorities, but also from the lack of a clear principle that sectarian tendencies must be combatted only by shunning those who form sects. Still, shunning is a difficult concept for western and liberally-minded people of secular humanistic proclivities to get a handle on. One often reads of criticisms of the shunning policy and the Bahai community will have to deal with arguments, with the lance-and-parry of words, dealing with its issues for some time to come in this new paradigm.

THE DISGRUNTLED, THE ALIENTATED AND THOSE WITH SAD STORIES TO TELL

As that fine essayist in Canada whom I used to know in my youth, Jack McLean, has observed, the Bahá’í community has not seen the end of the complaints of the constantly disgruntled, the doctrinally innovative and the permanently embittered. McLean goes on to say that he does not doubt for a moment that Bahá'ís get hurt and continue to feel hurt, that some have been betrayed by a fellow believer or that some decision by an administrative body has not gone their way. Most Bahá’ís, if they live long enough, will find some ax-to-grind or be the subject of an administrative decision that has not gone their way. This applies to those who are now or have been members of LSAs and many other branches of the quite complex organization, some might say labyrinth, that is now Bahai administration. These experiences contribute to the awakening of all of us to the stark realities of the human condition.

One of the keys to the sympathetic ear temporarily lent to the many disgruntled souls one comes across in the Bahá'í world of several millions has to do with the way that organized religion is generally perceived in contemporary society. In modernity, religion and spirituality have gone their separate ways. Individuals may willingly affirm their theism or spirituality, but many disavow being official members of an “organized religion.” The Bahai Faith is a religion whose organizational structure is part of the spiritual base; indeed, as Shoghi Effendi often emphasized, the organizational form is the crucial factor in what distinguishes this new Faith from all others.

The whole notion of being against organized religion per se is a strange one, when one thinks about it. People, generally, do not object to organized government, to an organized judiciary, to organized political parties, to organized education, to organized medicine, clubs, associations and societies. But except for official members, the religious “organization” in a secular age has become definitely suspect. Of course, even these other organized bodies and especially their authority structures, are the object of criticism. Our age is, as one priminent sociology put it, characterized by the twilight of authority. In Australia where I have lived for nearly forty years, any organized body, any authority figure sets themselves up for receiving criticism. It's part and parcel, the given, in the life of authority figures and organizations. If they don't earn respect, they don't get it and not everyone is good at getting everyone's respect all the time. There is probably no one who has ever lived who has received the respect of everyone in their community, except back in the band and chieftom societies, the first units of social organization on the planet whose groups were very small, usually less than one hundred as anthropologists inform us, and a sense of crisis was always present.

Uninformed observers, consequently, and there are plenty of these people around in community life since there is so much to be informed about these days, tend to be predisposed to accept the viewpoint of the critic or dissident without further reflection or investigation. If the person has dissented from a religious institution, ergo, the charges must be true and they must be a victim: at least, that is often the hasty conclusion of some doco on TV, some newspaper article or some internet post. This predisposition has clearly been at work in the last 15 years on the internet in a number of cases, some noteworthy and most insignificant. What these critics and dissidents fail to realize, and often do not accept, is that the Bahá’í Faith, while it allows for a fair and reasonable largesse of individual interpretation, has nonetheless its own doctrinal boundaries and ethical norms.

In the final analysis these doctrinal boundaries and ethical norms are simply not accepted by some individuals who, driven by frustration at the non-acceptance of the perceived moral rightness of their cause or by their ego-mania, by what you might call a hyper-individualism or by the insinuating principles of 2500 years of democracy's threads and five hundred years of Protestantism which often elavates individual conscience to an ultimate position of authority--engage in corrosive attacks which by definition are beyond the ethical norms and the principles of consultation which Bahá’u’lláh has mandated to replace acrimonious and divisive debate.

PLAUSIBILITY STRUCTURES OF ALIENATION

The activity of many of those who become in various ways alienated from the Bahai community build up what one writer has called "plausibility structures." Many of those who were anxious and frustrated in the Bahai community worked and reworked their experience in detailed and graphic accounts to tell people about their disappointments, the axes they wound-up grinding in often graphic detail and what became over time their many criticisms of the Cause. As I say, the major platforms for these exercises in the last 15 years during this new paradigm have been the internet and its plethora of sites. The Bahai Faith has a massive internet presence for those who want to investigate what it is all about. The world wide web is a place where anyone who wants to tell their story can do so and we all have stories to tell. Telling stories of ones life, writing engaging narratives, watching them on TV and listening to them on the radio in the print and electronic media is all the rage these days. If we dont watch out we will literally drown in stories. I do alot of telling stories in this book. I, too, have had deep anxieties and concerns, but my writing does not place me into the many negative categories that are popular in some internet circles and that are ennumerated above.

The history of the Faith over more than a century and a half is filled with people who have had axes to grind and who have had sad stories to tell. Covenants have often been broken, an inevitability in more than a century and a half of historical and community experience involving millions of souls. Not all of life, inside and outside this Cause, consists of joys and deep and meaningful experience. Bahai history has its tragic side, its hatreds, its jealousies, its story of sins of omission and commission. One can no more judge this Cause by the behaviour of its members, its narratives of encomium and opprobrium, than one can judge this Faith by the ineptitude of its embryonic institutions, the weakest links among its millions of adherents or some of the horror stories that have begun to emerge in the narratives told by those who want to expose the downside of this Faith's two century-old history. There are now many more sad tales available for all to read. The impression has often been created among those who were curious enough to read the many stories of bitter experiences spread across cyberspace, stories of various forms of disaffection, of a whole new generation of divisive forces within the Cause of a house divided, indeed, of a very unattrative religion. Perhaps the greatest achievement in the fifteen long decades of the history of the Bahai Faith is that its unity is still firmly intact. All of this internet casuistry and complaining, this criticism and contention is but the expression of yet another generation of forces which have not had the least affect in dividing a religion which in the centuries ahead will play a critical and mysterious role in the unification of our planet.

Often these narratives of division, though, are more than impressions. This Cause has always had to deal with divisive forces right from May of 1844 when there were many Shaykhis who did not follow the Bab but remained outside the new fold which emerged from within that Shaykhi school of the Ithna-Ashariyyih sect of Shi'ah Islam. In the 1850s and 1860s these divisive tendencies continued. This book is not intended as a history which provides an outline of these tendencies. The history, the narrative in relation to divisive forces has been no tea-party. The story is long and complex and, for a student of history like myself, it is a fascinating account. The student of this Cause should not expect this paradigm to be any different. In some ways the Cause itself comes to define itself by dealing with the differences that arise in each generation.

A recently published memoir by Dr. Youness Afroukhteh(George Ronald, 2003)of his nine years in Akka from 1900 to 1909 is one good example of what I am writing about here. This Bahai historian-memoirist outlined three types of covenant-breakers: (i) openly offensive people, (ii) those who were entirely severed from the Cause and played no part in its activities and (iii) trouble-makers, evil-doers, spies and informers. Each of the Central Figures of this Cause, Shoghi Effendi and the House of Justice have all had to deal with divisive forces and people in these categories. The remarkable thing is that this Faith has remained a religion that is still unified after nearly two centuries of its history. Those who have broken the Covenant and, in various ways, been harbingers of conflict and contention, or bred opposition and its dreadful schizmatic consequences have no place in this Cause. As I mention elsewhere in this book, the internet gives the impression of schism, but the impression is utterly unreal. As Toynbee points out in volume 1 of his A Study of History it took Western Christianity "more than three centuries to final achieve a schism.(p.66) And Christianity had none of the protections that this new Faith possesses. What exists now is simply a handful of disgruntled and disaffected people.

Bahaullah has protected this Faith against the baneful effects of the misuse of criticism; indeed, "dissidence is a moral and intellectual contradiction of the main objective animating the Bahai community."(UHJ, Letter to Bahais of USA, 29/12/88) We must be constantly on our guard, therefore, lest destructive and divisive forces enter our midst. The building of community, playing the role of custodians of unific forces will keep us all busy in the years ahead within this new paradigm as the Faith goes from strength to strength. After fifty years of participation in Bahai community life, I have found that the fine details of the story are only of interest to a relatively small circle of the Bahais and only a small handful of those outside this new Faith, those with some ax-to-grind. This reaction to a very complex history, of course, will change as this Cause comes under attack in the decades ahead within this new paradigm. Indeed, in the last 15 years there has begun to emerge a significant increase in the numbers of new recruits in several countries in the world and this story of an increase in numbers will be part and parcel of this new paradigm in the years, the decades, ahead in its implementation. The Bahai world waits with wonder as it has always waited with wonder at the increase in numbers, an increase which has made it the second most widespread religion on the planet with its second century far, far, from over.

The impression of divisiveness and critical opposition, as I say, has been correct, but it has only been part of a new generation, a vocal part, a literary part. Their opposition is, in the main, to this Faith's administration, and to individuals within the institutions of the learned or the rulers. Often the opposition is just a simple disobedience to direct instructions from the House of Justice. With increasing numbers of people entering the Cause in the years ahead within this new paradigm, I'm sure we have not heard the end of what you might call these 'opposition-narratives.' With millions of members and millions more to come there are and will be many a dead branch that will be cut off from the tree as there are many who will be on the tree but who derive little sustenance from it. And this has always been the case back to the 1860s and in the two decades of Babism before the clear emergence of the Bahai Faith from Babism by the late 1860s.

This has been the story, this tendency to diviseness, as I say, since 1844 as well as in the history of this Faith's precursors in the decades before 1844. But it has only been a tendency; it has not had the effect of cutting the tree, of dividing the boughs and branches, the stems and the offshoots. This Faith has remained united for well-nigh two centuries and this, it could be argued, has been its greatest achievement in spite of immense efforts to divide---and the story is far from over!

The basic problem of what you might call the negative side of behaviour is not the essential effect they have,although that is destructive, but fundamentally the fact that we repel from ourselves spiritual powers. Positive obedience and following divine law attract to us spiritual powers. The existence of spiritual powers is vital to the activities of our daily lives. But we are vulnerable to being influenced by the lack of belief unconsciously and to behave in ways in which the rest of the society is behaving. This is only to be expected. Everyone around us is going in that direction. We’re like the salmon seeking to swim upstream but we end up going downstream with everyone else because that’s what the society around is doing. This happens from time to time; it happens to us as individuals as we struggle to retain our vision of the teachings while surrounded by people whose values are of a different kind. It even happens to our Bahá’í institutions from time to time.

Often the capabilities of our community or of our own dear selves need to be re-evaluated. We need to possess a greater realization of the power of Bahá’u’lláh to reinforce our individual and community efforts. Our deeds are indeed impotent without divine assistance. Any evaluation of a situation is entirely misleading if it does not take this supreme power into consideration. Any evaluation is wrong if we don’t take into account the power of Bahá’u’lláh to reinforce our efforts. We are all capable of falling into the trap of going the way the world is going rather than the way the teachings tell us to go. What this means is that we are called upon to continually refresh and renew our understanding of this vital abstract concept. It’s difficult because of its abstraction. We can’t answer the most basic questions about what is spirit and issues like that, but we know it’s a vital concept. We need to refresh and renew our consciousness of this concept. How do we do that? By the use of prayer which requires a formal belief statement.

We are faced with the life-long task of maintaining a vision of the Bahá’í worldview in the face of a largely unbelieving society. It requires courage; it requires great determination to persevere in views that are contrary to the prevailing views. There are a few instances where our teachings call upon us to do things which from the perspective of the world appear to be somewhat irrational.

SOME THOUGHTS ON BAHAI HISTORY ADMINISTRATION AND ADMINISTRATORS

Bahai history is not a simple, happy and innocent bedtime story. It is a fascinating one and this new culture of learning and growth grows out of this history in all its complexity. Every movement, religion, cause and person has what you might call its dirty laundry, its sins of omission and commission, its members who bring bad-advertising with them whereever they go and, if one wants, one can live and move and have ones being immersed in this downside of Bahai history. There is plenty of stuff there if one wants to read it from those who were disaffected, alienated, mischief-makers, those who have denied its truths, repudiated its teachings and rose-up against its leaders or its institutions in some way or another. The media one day I'm sure will revel in the complex and often gruesome history of the Cause with its several generations of covenant-breakers. The media is often inclined to dwell on the cracks and fissures, the weak links and those disaffected individuals in what is now a more than 200 year history going back to the first days of the ministry of Shaykh Ahmad in the 1790s. The road for both the individuals and this Cause is often narrow, stony and tortuous and the life on the tree is often a hazardous one with many storms, strong winds, cold winters and hot dry summers. We are not called upon to be so successful and so happy that we never suffer. Our willingness to suffer is part of our demonstration of love for this Faith and what we believe it can and will do for humankind. We must also develop the spiritual muscle not to dwell on our suffering but to turn to the many sources of joy in this Faith. It is the life processes which this Faith has set in motion in which we must trust knowing that things take time and the process includes many setbacks.

The attitudes we hold to the positions, the people, who hold office in Bahai administration at all its levels is an important aspect of the unfolding of this new paradigm. The Guardian refers to their "all-important though inconspicuous manifestation" of sincere and earnest devotion. Such individuals are not the "central ornaments" of this Cause. They are not intrinsically superior to others in capacity or merit. I have always found such positions very demanding, when I have held them, and I hold these servants of the Cause in "great regard."(Shoghi Effendi, Bahai Administration, pp.78-80) not because they have earned my high regard but because I have been asked to give them this regard, this respect by the architect of its present administration, Shoghi Effendi. But I have not always held such individuals in high regard in my fifty years as a Bahai. The growth of appropriate attitudes to others, whether these others are within the administration or whether they are in the broader community and have idiosyncratic personalities who present difficulties to us personally is often a slow one. Even when one feels one has acquired the right attitudes one is often still tested and one finds one's right attitudes not-so-right. It is a lifelong test and challenge.

The qualifications of those in administrative positions set out by Shoghi Effendi are not ones which, in their entirety, that many possess. It is not easy for such individuals to win over the confidence and affection of everyone whom it is their priviledge to serve. Indeed, it seems to me, this is just about an impossible task. Individuals in positions in Bahai administration can but try and we as the served can do our best to hold them in "great regard." This, too, is often an impossible task if we are practical realists. In a letter written on behalf of the Guardian just before WW2 broke out in commenting on Bahai administrators, we find the following words: "such individuals can never hope to entirely fulfil those ideal conditions set forth in the Teachings" due to "their human limitations and imperfections."

MY OWN SAD TALES

I could tell a sad tale for I have many to tell; I could 'dump' on people in this book. Dumping was a term I used as a hippy in the 1960s. I have had my rancourous divorce from my wife and periods of alienation from the Bahai community. I got into hot water with my mother and father because of my beliefs. I could go on and on with my personal psycho-pathologies and my deep distresses. I do this in my autobiography in five volumes and 2600 pages if anyone wants to have a read at a host of internet sites where I go to be to help to those with: mental health problems, interests in creative writing and other subjects. The Review Office of the NSA of the Bahais of the USA has given me permission to post my material on the internet and so readers here may come across some of my autobiographical experience and writing at many a site if they want to do some googling.

I could very well have been one of those many marginal or inactive Bahais who have made a career out of their varying degrees of separation. But: "Here I stand," as Martin Luther once said in his now famous phrase in 1523 and I do not have the vituperation toward religious authorities in this Cause, the vituperation that Luther possessed toward his religious authority, the Papacy. The lists of those whose address is unknown and who are not contactable in the Bahai community in many countries is surprisingly high and those who have been Bahais for decades and who have lived in Bahai communities of substantial size have had many a discussion about these 'inactive believers.' The reasons, of course, are many and I could expatiate on this subject for some time. I tend to the view that this is not only an old problem but a problem that will be with us well into this new paradigm. Indeed, it has been a problem right back to the 1840s. Being an active member of the Bahai community, a member on the address list and accessible in some way or another to other Bahais, is not an easy ride, so to speak. It no longer surprises me, after an association with this Faith going back to the opening of the Chicago temple in 1953, that thousands of Bahais in many national communities have an "address unknown." I am rather of the view that, when this Bahai community has many million more members in the coming decades there will be many more of these Bahais in name only. I'm sure the inactive believer is one of the many variants of the "many are called but few are chosen" theme. But it is difficult to know who these few are...perhaps some of these inactive believers!! This Cause presents to its votaries many a complexity. One of the complexities is that the individual Bahai should not attempt to divide the community into: the deepened and the shallow, the saved and the damned, the sheep and the goats, or any one of those many dichotomies that religious communities have lived with for centuries.

I dont have any trouble, any intellectual difficulties, any hassles---a term we hippies also used to use half a century ago---with the institutionalized form of the charismatic Force at the centre of the Bahai Faith, those trustees of the global undertaking initiated by Bahaullah more than a century and a half ago. Neither do I possess what might be called an adversarial relationship with the institutions of the learned and the rulers in the Cause. I am familar with the tendency of the institutions to over-administer the handful of often inexperienced souls as if they had large populations of Bahais to regulate, as the Guardian put it in a letter written on his behalf several months before he died in 1957. I am familar,too, with individuals who want to control others and tell people what they think they ought to do. And I am only too familar with my own foibles and failings. All of this, all the negative attitudes people hold, will not go away simply because we have a new paradigm of culture and learning, of growth and community organization. As the Cause expands in the decades ahead it will have to deal with many more difficulties than it has in my lifetime.

This Cause will be protected, though, from the mischief of the aggressor and the hosts of tyranny that will arise against it in a spiritual battle at the very centre of the greatest drama in the spiritual history of the planet. The many people I have listened to, though, in my lifetime who have been critical of individuals, critical of groups of Bahais at the local, regional or national levels and/or critical of the culture in which they live will all be with us for some time at this nadir in civilization. These are the darkest hours before the dawn and one should not expect anything less. The Central Figures of this Cause all had to deal with such criticism and now the burden of that criticism falls upon the shoulders of the mass of the believers who take up the task and responsibilities of Bahai life. The process of community building, now in the last years of its second decade, will take all our energies in the decades ahead. Let there be no mistake. The cherished goal of universal participation, the Supreme Body emphasized in its Ridvan 2010 message will "move by several orders of magnitude," but, I am rather of the view that there will be many orders of magnitude to be yet achieved when I pass from this Earth in the next two or three decades.

BAHAI EXCOMMUNICATION AND DINROLMENT

The idea of Bahá'í excommunication or Bahá'í "takfir" (the Muslim declaration of unbelief) has acquired prominence in polemics directed against the Bahá'í community generally, and specifically against the Universal House of Justice, to a degree that has gained remarkable currency even in the informal discussions of individuals, members, ex-members and non-members of the Bahá'í community, critical of Bahá'í institutions, even in non-polemical contexts on the internet. It has been applied, in good faith and without polemical animus, to the loss of administrative rights and expulsion by a Local Spiritual Assembly of openly gay believers. There exists a wide range of written opinion within this Faith on virtually all the major issues in society. The sensitive critique of and comment on the Bahá'í position on homosexuality posted at the Bahai Epistolary site is a good example of some of the recent dialogue within this new paradigm and its engagement with social issues. For the most part, this book does not engage, as I have already indicated, in dialogue on these social issues.

"More elaborately, inflammatorily, or influentially," as one writer at the Bahai Epistolary site notes, "Bahai excommunication has been prominently emphasised in blogs, internet lists, and even serious academic journals by individuals with a clear and long-standing opposition to the administrative institutions of the Bahá'í community. Concretely, the accusation of Bahá'í excomunications and takfirs centre on the very exceptional disenrolment, over several years of a very small handful of individuals by the Universal House of Justice on the grounds that their public statements and actions are not judged by that Supreme Institution to be compatible with membership in the Bahá'í community.

This same writer emphasizes at this same site that the voices that are arguing for radical, nefarious and highly pessimistic readings of these recent events have been taking place especially since the inception of this new paradigm. These voices raised in association with excommunication and covenant-breaking are speaking perfectly legitimately from within their own innevitably painful experience of these processes. If one looks beyond the painful crux of these encounters, though, one might see very much a natural, long term process of community development inherent in the nature of religious community itself. This process is not always harmonious; in the past it has been infinitely more explosive than is the case today, inspite of the very explosive tones in which protagonists of these tensions may address it. In the future the explosive tones, I'm sure, will be even more explosive for the process of community development, of growth and learning, is complex and is part and parcel with the very development of the Bahai community's contribution to the global civilization evolving all around us with a speed which we can scarcely comprehend.

This same writer goes on to say that the intense feeling expressed in much of the internet discussion with all of the arguably severe decisions of Bahá'í instituions is a far cry from the thundering jeremiads of Eusebius, the Spanish Inquisition, the witch hunts of James the VI, the fatwas and takfirs of Khomeini or the secular purges of Stalin and Mao---or even the comparatively tender and not-so-tender probings of the McCarthy era. It is perfectly correct, and hardly surprising in a society which allows no stone to go unturned, usually by a media culture wanting to get to the bottom of everything possible in the name of truth, publicity or ratings, to identify an area of tension in outlook and in the communication culture between the Universal House of Justice and those intellectuals who have run into this kind of conflict with this institution at the apex of Bahai administration.

Like so many aspects of this new paradigm, though, the nature of the conflict, the disagreement, the tension is not primarily doctrinal as processual, not primarily a content problem as a context one with a linguistic and casuistically centred focus--or so it seems to me as an observer at the end of the world down in the Antipodes about as far away from the Bahai World Centre in Haifa Israel as one can get on the planet unless one lives in Antarctica where, as yet, there are no Bahai communities. Mine is just one perspective on this highly complex subject, a perspective which I don't expect others to necessarily share. The dilemmas of inclusion and exclusion, of individual interpretation and community cohesion, of institutional authority and individual freedom, will remain with us for many a long year as they have been with us for more than 160 years. Such issues are part of any community's history, religious or secular. Within the first two decades of this new paradigm, though, the scenario is not one of extremism and not one of human rights violations. Nor is it the end of academic freedom for all Bahai academics. It is really a transitory yet painful, altogether mild and somewhat benign culmination of a process of competing discourses and identities within a constituted,institutionalised community setting. Of course for a few individuals, the experience is neither mind nor benign.

That within such a setting the perspective of a community's elected institutions should come to prevail is only to be expected. This is an inevitable outcome and should not be accompanied, notwithstanding the suggestions that this should be the case, by calls for attacks and hostilities. A respect for the conscience of dissenting individuals and for their right and freedom to express their thoughts on the matter especially if such individuals are outside of the community is and always has been a preferred course of action. The institutions have been elected to guide and indeed shape community processes and this is what they do, inevitably in the context of some opposition and some institutional estrangement for a small handful of members of the community. That is quite a natural phenomenon and should not surprise those who are even a little familiar with Bahai history over the last two centuries. That dissension and conflict arise from time to time is also natural and has been so in human society since those theoretical and mythological first individuals, Adam and Eve, when they represented both individual and society, both man and his institutions.

THE PROCESS OF REVIEW

The Bahai process of literary review, to focus briefly on what has often been experienced by Bahais who are writers as an uncomfortable and divisive process, as something often seen as unnecessary and certainly unwanted, is radically different from the experience of writers in the Catholic church. The concept of excommunication of writers whose views are outside the orthodox line has as its aim the forcing of a change of belief or action in the excommunicant. Its aim is often expressed through penance, thus infringing on the freedom of the writer's conscience. The consideration by an elected, constituted body that a set of individual statements and behaviour are incompatible with its criteria for membership does not carry with it a demand for a change of opinion, much less a call for penance. It is even farther removed from the catholic concept of anathema, which, in addition to the excommunication, condemns the anathemised person to everlasting hell.

One Bahá'í scholar has persuasively argued for the role of review in the future: "at this still formative stage in the world-wide development of the Bahá'í Faith when we seem to be on the verge of "entry by troops" in many parts of the world, I think it would prove unwise to do away with review at this time. As "entry by troops" continues to happen, we can envision all kinds of people entering the Bahá'í Faith–unity notwithstanding–amidst a great welter of cultural backgrounds, dissimilar attitudes and various temperaments. In the intellectual realm, such a mix can lead to powerful ideological storms which may serve to undermine the very unity the Bahá'í Faith aims to create.

Barney Leith had a different take on the issue as far back as the year before the beginning of this new paradigm. Leith pointed out in his excellent article: "Bahá'í Review: should the “red flag” law be repealed?"(Bahai Studies Review, Vol.5 No.1, 1995)that between 1878 and 1896 British law limited the speed of mechanical vehicles to 4 mph and insisted that each vehicle be preceded by a man with a red flag. Leith believed as far back as the mid-1990s that the provisions for review were in a "red flag" law situation. Traditional "vehicles", such as books, were subject to review (the man with the red flag). But, newer faster vehicles were increasingly coming into use. On the information super-highway the man with the red flag was in danger of being run over. In the last 15 years, he has indeed been run over.

The Universal House of Justice, in defending the continuation of the practice of review, now and into the future, has made the same moral appeal as did Shoghi Effendi. It has done this in a number of documents, notably in Individual Rights and Freedoms in the World Order of Bahá'u'lláh (of 29 December 1988), and in a letter dated 5 October 1993, written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual which restates the case for review in a specifically academic context. Some NSAs do not insist that writing and writers on the internet obey the red flag law.

In many respects the Bahá'í community is being decentralised and deregulated as it grows in size and maturity. Its diversity and plurality are increasingly being acknowledged. Greater emphasis is being placed by the House of Justice on the need for individual initiative, and institutions are learning how to facilitate rather than control Bahá'í activities. These are processes that will continue and become more pressing as the community grows explosively in many places. Many National Assemblies have recognized that it is no longer possible to try to control the kinds of things Bahá'ís publish about their Faith on the internet. The process of review has undergone radical change during this new paradigm.

Sincere Bahá'ís will always have "the dignity and unity of the Cause" at heart, even if they differ on how these are to be achieved. Responsible Bahá'í publishers of traditional printed matter and in the newer media will exercise, as most do now, editorial control and responsibility over what they publish. Attacks on the Faith can continue to be answered by individuals suitably briefed by the institutions or, indeed, by the institutions themselves and their agencies. The life and richness of the Bahá'í community has been greatly enhanced as it has been freed from review as a form of control. Individual Bahais like myself are now encouraged in this new paradigm to explore ways of using consultation, formally and informally within authorial and editorial teams, as well as between individuals and institutions and their agencies. New and exciting presentations of the Faith have resulted and the best interests of the Cause have been served.

THE TERM SPLINTER GROUP: NOT APPROPRIATE

There are today what some refer to as a number of Bahai splinter groups of one or a few people, who do not accept the Universal House of Justice as Head of the Faith. Their number in total is only a few, but cyberspace gives voice to these few and the impression is created of a Bahai house divided when, in reality, these splinter groups are so small as to hardly be worth a mention. Indeed, the word splinter, split, or fracture is not really appropriate; the word fragment is a fitting one for the infinitessimal, miniscule sliver or shavings. Still---impressions are impressions--however false. Cyberspace allows readers on the internet to see the sometimes bitter feelings possessed by members of these dots or traces on the landscape between these snipets or molecules and the main body of the Cause. These morsels or driblets serve as a living demonstration that unity is not created by the anarchous and divisive methods of a few.

It would be better for these numerically insignificant crumbs or dollups if they each focussed their energies on achieving good in the world rather than taking up the cudgels of opposition with those they really cannot agree with. The Bahai Cause possesses an authority, a legitimate one, followed by 99.9% of the community and they decide when enough is enough, and some opposing person is declared a covenant-breaker or loses his or her voting rights. Such an Authority is derived from a written Covenant and Its authorised interpreters. This Covenant finds its origins in the pen of Baha’u'llah. Baha’u'llah has already spoken and passed on. So even if individual members of these groups do abandon disputation and get on with demonstrating the virtue of their principles, the fate of these groups as a whole is sealed by the quandary they have put themselves in. They are smidgen on the scrap heap of history. After 160+ years the Bahai Cause is not a house divided in spite of appearances on the world-wide-web, appearances to the uninformed, to the contrary.

In a passage of the Guardian cited by the House of Justice in its letter on theocracy from 1995 makes clear:"...the mere fact of disaffection, estrangement, or recantation of belief, can in no wise detract from, or otherwise impinge upon, the legitimate civil rights of individuals in a free society, be it to the most insignificant degree. Were the friends to follow other than this course, it would be tantamount to a reversion on their part, in this century of radiance and light, to the ways and standards of a former age: they would reignite in men's breasts the fire of bigotry and blind fanaticism, cut themselves off from the glorious bestowals of this promised Day of God, and impede the full flow of divine assistance in this wondrous age."

The recent policy of disenrolment of a relatively few individuals, perhaps less than half a dozen on the planet, can be and is often cast in the rather inflammatory discourse of excommunication or takfir. I think a much closer parallel to this Bahai policy of disenrolment would be the much more common policy found in all kinds of voluntary associations. Sometimes policies of exclusion in many organizations result in acrimonious situations; sometimes they entail moral judgements and even metaphysical consequences; sometimes they require recantation associated with religious practices. This subject has many permutations and combinations, but I shall leave this subject for now. I could write more on this subject but I encourage readers to google the Bahai site entitled Epistolary with its excellent discussion on many a controversial issue.

THE COVENANT

Any discussion of this new paradigm must place the concept of the Covenant at the very centre of the discussion. Enunciated as "the most great characteristic of the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh, a specific teaching not given by any of the Prophets of the past", the Covenant signifies obedience to the successive ministries of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi and the agency of the Universal House of Justice to preserve the integrity of the Faith, maintain its unity and stimulate its world-wide expansion. By the process of written appointment and the provision of a legitimate succession the Bahai Faith has been safeguarded and protected against differences and schisms, making it impossible for anyone to create a new sect or faction of belief."(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace 455-456)...The Universal House of Justice, the present trustees of the global undertaking which the events of Bahaullah's life set in motion has a much more complete and specific set of provisions in the matter of succession, in clear, explicit directions, in unequivocal and emphatic language. These facts, at the centre of all the Bahai paradigms of the past, remains at the centre of this one.

This new paradigm, this new organizational framework for action of the last two decades has been on the receiving end of the baneful forces of dissension, divisiveness, factionalism and inordinate criticism aimed at undermining the authority of the elected or appointed institutions of this Faith. Dissidence is a moral and intellectual contradiction of the main objective animating the Bahai community as the House pointed out back in 1988 when the word paradigm first came into their Ridvan messages. The notions of various categories of Bahais, informally institutionalized by using such terms as: conservative, liberal, progressive, reactionary and so forth, is but one of the results of much of the ill-directed criticism which dignifies conflict in many subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Obedience is a difficult art to learn in these times of individualism, a "I-Me-and-Mine" attitude and the seemingly ever-present concern with fulfilling one's potentiality.

"He who has learned how to obey, said the famous Greek poet and statesman Solon 600 years before Christ, "will know how to command." Solon embodied the cardinal Greek virtue of moderation. "Every individual man carries, within himself, at least in his adaptation and destination, a purely ideal man," wrote the German poet, philosopher and historian, Friedrich Schiller, "The great problem of his existence is to bring all the incessant changes of his outer life into conformity with the unchanging unity of this ideal(Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man). For the Bahai in this new paradigm as in previous paradigms such a purely ideal man has existed in the person of Abdul-Baha. The incessant changes of my outer life and this new outer paradigm I must now bring into conformity with this new paradigm--as all Bahais must in the decades ahead.

INDIVIDUAL CREATIVITY AND INITIATIVE

There is a strong place in this new paradigm, as there has been in all previous paradigms, for the place of individual initative, creativity and an unbounded confidence in the powers of human rationality and science. The intellectual foundations of the Enlightenment, an eighteenth-century philosophical movement characterized by rationalism, a trust in reason, empiricism, a trust in the senses, and scepticism, a trust in mistrust or doubt, that is, a refusing to believe in anything without good evidence are part of how an individual like myself puts this paradigm into practice in his life. The Enlightenment faith in progress, science and reason which the Bahai is able to put at the centre of his philosophy due to the general Bahai teachings forms only part of the philosophy of this paradigm, however, it seems to me. I often feel a little like the main characters in the original series of Star Trek and The Next Generation, such as Spock and Picard, who constantly reveal a belief in dispassionate logic and a trust in technological or scientific solutions to problems. But I also am strongly influenced, as many characters in that series were, by their awareness of philosophical or religious answers and an awareness of the place of intuition and spirituality exemplified by Counsellor Deanna Troi. I don't want to push this analogy too far but, it seems to me, that this new paradigm has very eclectic aspects, aspects that enable each individual to work out their role in their own ways.

When every human being is the judge of the norms of his life-style and of the social order, and when there is no recognition of an authority which cannot be questioned. When social utility and reason is substituted for tradition as the main criterion of social institutions and values, egotism grows as does the spread of pessimism and a concern only for getting the best for oneself. Udo schaefer discusses this aspect of modern society, an aspect which this new paradigm attempts to counter. But it is an uphill battle because for millions the sense of purpose once provided by religion has been replaced by a sociological interpretation of existence, a sort of political messianism, in which hope is now placed in everything but religion: science, technology, political parties, democracy, socialism, inter alia. We are seen as social beings not as beings created by God with no relationship, therefore, to any transcendent reality. To compound the problem for the Bahá'í trying to implement this new paradigm, he must deal with the many who espouse religious views which possess a mythologized and irrelevant eschatology. The mind of modern man cannot accept so much of the baggage of the old religions and the transcendent retreats from the social sphere into a private realm(The Imperishable Dominion, p.14)

One final note I want to strike here is the importance of confidence in the ultimate success of the venture on which we are embarked. We may, and inevitable will, fail many times along the way, But the overall success of the Plan at the centre of our efforts is assured.

STILL EARLY DAYS AND ENDLESS MEETINGS

As one Bahai writer put it recently: The majority of local Bahá'í communities, and many, if not all, national Bahá'í communities are really embryonic entities, with very crude systems, agencies and organisations in place, a limited number of individuals and families, as well as few subsidiary institutions to speak of beyond a Local Spiritual Assembly, the Nineteen Day Feast and, perhaps, a host of committees and elected and appointed members in a variety of roles. “The Order brought by Bahá’u’lláh is intended to guide the progress and resolve the problems of society,” the Universal House of Justice states, but "our numbers are as yet too small to effect an adequate demonstration of the potentialities inherent in the administrative system we are building; and the efficacy of this system will not be fully appreciated without a vast expansion of our membership.” Compared to the earliest years of Bahai administration, say, up to 1936 when the first formal, organized and systematic teaching Plan was initiated, the current administration of Bahai affairs is far from embryonic. But the contrast between the present development of this Bahai administration, this nucleus and pattern of a future world order, and its development in the fullness of time is so stark that it is necessary to apply the word 'embryonic' to the present form of its operation and activities in all countries, regions, cities and towns. However stark the contrast, the main foundations of this new world Order, this new structure for society, this new elan, are being laid within the framework of this paradigm and it will be laid on the ruins of this present lamentably defective political and religious orthodoxy that has its pervasive hold over the thoughts and consciences of men.

Often believers live under assumptions that endless meetings and activity will somehow, as one writer, put it, "save the day." These are, as I say above, still early days in the establishment of this new Order. In many places, if not most, the Faith was introduced virtually just the other day on the horizon of history. Bahai administration could be said to be still in its first century. Balance, harmony and a relaxed attitude to things, though, are not easy to achieve when one is engaged in what are often long hours of commitments both inside and outside Bahai community life, when one has a desire to achieve great things in ones personal life and in the life of the Bahai community and when one also has to deal with the mundane realities of everyday existence.

We, the generations of the half-light, are fortunate to be born into epochs in which the challenges have been tremendous, the experiences of our time momentous and the tasks set for us in this Cause are aimed at producing an effect on our fellow man, by the impact of will upon will.

One of the challenges that has faced me and the Bahais whereever I have lived in both Canada and Australia for half a century has been the lack of significant numerical growth in our communities. This has been true in many Western and Eastern lands. Concerns about the lack of enrolments expressed by many Bahais, as the House of Justice expressed some eight years ago to a believer in a state of some anxiety over this issue, is largely accurate and fully justified. To see important Bahai communities markedly lacking in the development of the human resources required to reach populations desperately searching for solutions to the crisis in which society is sinking is painful indeed to believers aware of the potency of Bahaullahs Message, the House went on to say.

This consideration was an important element in the drafting of the relevant sections of the document "Century of Light(2000)." Some of the passages of that document attempted to acquaint believers everywhere with the profound change in Bahai culture that the preceding decades of struggle, achievement and disappointment made possible and that was capitalized on through the agency of the Four Year Plan(1996-2000). The culture emerging in this new Bahai paradigm, the House went on to say, was one in which groups of Bahaullahs followers explored together the truths in His Teachings, freely opened their study circles, devotional gatherings and children's classes to their friends and neighbours, and invested their efforts confidently in plans of action designed at the level of the cluster, that makes growth a manageable goal. The enthusiasm with which Bahai communities in most parts of the world responded to this challenge, and the results their efforts brought have been a source of great joy to the House of Justice. This was already true in 2002 and is even more true in 2010.

The analysis found in that document Century of Light explained to some extent the seeming impasse reflected in unrealistic expectations on the part of many Bahais in those decades after 1963. Those difficult decades have now triggered a new culture of learning and change. Many believers by the 1990s were unable to see meaning or purpose in the seeming impasse of those difficult decades. These believers saw themselves as inhabitants of spiritually barren lands, as incapable of dealing with the mass indifference to their efforts, and members of altogether disfunctional local and national, and sometimes even international Bahá'í communities.

As the 1970s became the 1980s and decade followed decade discouragement set in to the spirits of many a believer. Desperate exhortations to teach the Faith and a sense of urgency was accompanied by an element of despondency or resentment. Many strong and faithful Bahá'ís chose to become inactive in the community on account of their perceptions of dysfunctionality. Steadfast perseverance in the teaching work was accompanied by an inner hoplessness and lack of expectation. There were frequent manifestations of disunity as Bahais sought answers to this question in the abilities and deeds of one another. By the 1990s these perspectives coalesced into systematic critiques of the community in internet fora and academic publications.

All the plans since the outset of this new paradigm in 1996 have been designed as progressive steps in achieving a change of Bahá'í culture. The Four Year Plan(1996-2000), the Twelve Month Plan(2000-2001) and then four Five Year Plans(2001-2006, 2006-2011, 2011-2016 and 2016-2021)are, in fact, seven of these progressive steps. The Continental Boards of Counsellors around the world have been intensely engaged in assisting National and Local Spiritual Assemblies, Regional Councils and other administrative bodies to understand the goals involved and to devise strategies for their achievement. Large-scale consultative sessions that have brought together the members of all of these key institutions have, in most cases, been particularly successful in achieving this objective. Where response has lagged, the House of Justice frequently has intervened to reinforce the efforts of the Counsellors by clarifying issues. Ultimately, the responsibility for ensuring that their own community arises to the challenge must rest with the elected representatives of the believers, at local and national levels.

Of course, one must add that, in the end, the individual believer must arise whatever the administrative apparatus exists behind the scenes. This new paradigm has been aimed at the individual and, after 15 years, great changes have taken place. This book discusses these changes, not so much in a systematic way, but from time to time as various themes arise.

The advancement of the Cause is an evolutionary process which takes place through trial and error, through reflection on experience and through wholehearted commitment to the teaching Plans and strategies devised by the House of Justice. Believers, like you and I, who appreciate the opportunities thus provided in this new paradigm, can be of great assistance by encouraging their respective countries and assemblies to similarly invest themselves in the process. And if they are unable to do those things they must each act in their own respective spheres of life.

A SEA-CHANGE: BUILDING INSTITUTIONS AND COMMUNITIES

The fourth(1986-2001) and particularly the fifth epochs(2001 to 2021) of the Cause are witnessing a sea-change in the areas of institution and community building as local communities generate a broad infrastructure of “systems, agencies and organisations” arising singly and collaboratively from the individuals and families who make up the membership. I refer of course to the development of study-circles, mostly focused around individuals; the development of infanta or pre-school programs(0-4), children's(5-11) and junior youth(12-14) classes, mostly revolving around families, Bahá'í and others; devotional meetings which, with socio-economic development activities, can be seen as the seeds of future local Mashriq’u’l-Adhkars; the ever-evolving training institutes in each country; and where these elements are in place, socio-economic development projects, increasingly a spontaneous, organic feature of Bahai community clusters in process of intensive growth," as outlined in the letter written by the Universal House of Justice to the Counsellors of January 9, 2001.

As one writer put it and very succinctly: if the second and third epochs of the Cause were about building institutions, then the fourth and fifth epochs have been and are about building communities. Clearly, again, the aim is not merely to generate an increased flow of individual enrolments or fill-up vacant LSA spaces, but also and above all, to instil into the emerging communities of the fifth epoch a sense of interdependence, whereby a given community will work organically and inherently for the welfare of its own locality and of localities “beyond its own borders”. To the well-known Bahá'í notion of the “locality” we now, therefore, add the compass of a “cluster” of localities to which one also belongs and with whom one systematically interacts and builds community. That this process will not take place at the same speed, with the same effectiveness and efficiency everywhere on earth, in all the 16,000 clusters should be as obvious as the sun in the sky. To expect otherwise is not only unrealistic it betrays a sad lack of understanding of the immense complexity of the process that is taking place across the planet, a complexity that requires, as the House emphasized in its Ridvan 2010 message, that NSA's "think and act strategically" and learn "to analysethe community-bulding processes at the grassroots with increasing acuity." By 2016 some 11,000 of the 16,000 clusters on the planet will still have little growth, in all likelihood, given both recent patterns of the last several decades and the goals that have already been set for 2016.

As the Bahá’í community has moved from one stage to the next, the range of activities that it has been able to undertake has increased. Its growth has been organic in nature and has implied gradual differentiation in functions. When the Bahá’í community was small in size, all of its interactions with society at large easily fitted together under the designation of direct and indirect teaching. But, over time, new dimensions of work appeared--involvement in civil society, highly organized diplomatic work, social action, and so on-- each with its own aims, methods and resources. In a certain sense, it is possible to refer to all of these activities as teaching, since their ultimate purpose is the diffusion of the divine fragrances, the offering of Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation to humankind, and service to society. In the new culture of learning and growth it is also possible to refer to all of the activities as service. As Albert Schweitzer once wrote: "the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve." this could very well be a motto for this new paradigm. In practice and certainly for statistical purposes, though, it is more fruitful to treat the various activities as distinct but complementary lines of action.

In all of this social and community activity the individual has what might be called a dual relation. He or she is both and at the same time standing within and outside the community. The unity comes in what at some levels might be seen as logically contradictory relations. Harmony and conflict, attraction and repulsion, ambivalence and enthusiasm, creativity and routine. The members of the community as producers both lose themselves in the products, the interaction and they are separate. The heterogeneity is too extensive to assimilate, to fully integrate. Heterogeneity is part of the reality, the drama, of community and it is engaged in to whatever extent the individual wishes, is capable of handling and is socially oriented. Sometimes the group is rejected and the individual withdraws; sometimes it is endured within the capacity of the endurer; sometimes the individual slips to the periphery; sometimes he is fully alive to the group and intensely involved. Everyone has their own style and level of engagement.

Of the approximately 200 sovereign-states in the world, over 160 are culturally heterogeneous, and they are comprised of 5000 ethnic groups. Between 10 and 20% of the world's population currently belongs to a racial/linguistic minority in their country of residence. Nine hundred million people affiliate with groups that suffer systematic discrimination. Perhaps three-quarters of the world system sees politically active minorities, and there are more than 200 movements for self-determination, spread across nearly 100 states. It is useful to describe this global context within which the new Bahai paradigm exists and has its being.

The structure of the new paradigm can act as a constraint on action, but it also enables action by providing common frames of meaning. The individual is surrounded by a community which paradoxically both constrains and influences his needs and deeds on the one hand and liberates him from the bonds of attachment and dependencies on the other. The individual is faced with these polarities. His social, geographical and physical life shapes his spiritual life and vice-versa. As David Reisman, the author of the Lonely Crowd, put it at the start of the Ten Year Crusade in the most popular social science book of the last half-century, heterogeneity is our problem. To put the problem a little differently: other people are our problem or hell is other people to put it as far as possible in the negative, as Albert Camus once put it. People are also, of course, our heaven and our culture of learning and growth. For most of us it is a question of balance, of getting our interaction capacities and potentials, our skills and abilities, expressed in the way that is both best for us and best for others. This balancing process is, it could be argued and it is by some theorists, the basis of our individuality, our individualism. For most of us this process keeps us busy working it out, adjusting it in our changing lives and their changing conditions.

The culture of learning and growth is like a bridge that anchors the individual in continuous relationships and overcomes his separateness. A good bridge within this culture, a good relationship sometimes takes years to establish and sometimes it seems instantaneous. Human beings are bridge-builders within their cultures of learning and growth. These bridges transcend their separateness; they unite what is separate. They are not built mainly for economic reasons within this culture of learning, although sometimes they are. Bridges are built for many reasons. The bridges are built within their minds and hearts. They help us to carry-out our responsibilities to each other in ways that we would not otherwise be able to achieve.So often one cannot move forward without first retracing our steps and laying a firm foundation for further progress. Healing often hurts and rebuilding bridges one has rashly burned are often impossible. "Stories about people are seldom good; a silent tongue is safest," said Abdul-Baha with his many words of wisdom to those whom my father used to call "the chin-wagers." These bridges are just some of the tissues of this new paradigm. The tissues are built, are made, from all sorts of things in our relationships besides bridges. But these tissues are not unlike the tissues of old paradigms; some of the patterns and processes of engagement are different; many of the deck-chairs have been moved around, and moved to such an extent that those looking for some of those old chairs find themselves perplexed. Still, it's the same boat, and the same ocean, and many of the problems being confronted by the passengers on the ship are the same-old, the familiar tests and difficulties that have existed all our lives. As one of those famous sayings in French goes: plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose; the more things change the more they stay the same.

The wholeness that each person experiences is a construction of the mind and comes from the will to relate. How often an individual crosses the bridge and in what way is dependent on each person. The picture is one of endless fragments. To create a sense of wholeness and synthesis is the task of the individual and to achieve this the Bahai institutions and the community are there to assist and, in the process, make a Bahai society. To reach our goals we all proceed along increasingly long and difficult paths, as Shoghi Effendi once wrote, paths that are tortuous and stony. The connection between ends and means is often elusive, veiled, obscured and sometimes lost entirely. In community life compassion and love not power hold the keys to dealing with, if not overcoming, egotism. But the process is far from simple. There is a strange mixture in this culture of learning and growth of selfless devotion and desire, of humility and elation, of sensual immediacy and spiritual abstraction, of piety and faith and it is this mixture of ingredients in the context of the Covenant than makes Bahai society possible.

There are also doors and locks in our culture of learning and growth. Doors open us to endless possibilities of relationship and locks which keep people out and prevent our inundation. Our new paradigm has faces and windows and each of us creates their own world of faces and windows. Sometimes there are bars on the windows; sometimes individuals want more faces and sometimes less. I have drawn on Georg Simmel(1858-1918) for the analysis of group interaction, the sociology, the metaphors and insights that he provides to help me in my understanding of some of the dimensions of this new paradigm. I have really only touched the surface, only begun to explore the implications of his writing, his ways of analysing people and groups, his sociological constructions.

DRAWING ON BAHA'I AND SECULAR WRITERS

I have also drawn on other writers, both Bahais and others. The philosopher Isaiah Berlin(1909-1997) for example says that injustice, poverty, slavery and ignorance may be cured by reform or revolution and there are millions in the world trying to fight these evils. "But men," he emphasizes, "do not live only by fighting evils. They also live by positive goals, individual and collectiveones, indeed a vast variety of them, seldom predictable and at times incompatible."(Four Essays on Liberty) This new paradigm provides a vast variety of goals for Bahais. Often the results are unpredictable and often, too, in the eyes of some of the Bahais they seem incompatible. I would argue, though, that this new paradigm provides an organic, an integrated, mix of goals that everyone can play a part somewhere, in some context, in achieving. That historian of ideas Isaiah Berlin also wrote that: "There exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory. The first kind of intellectual and artistic personality belongs to the hedgehogs, the second to the foxes.(The Hedgehog and the Fox)In this new culture of learning and growth the hedgehog and the fox can work together.

This new paradigm makes allowance for human idiosyncrasy and what the English essayist William Hazlitt was talking about when he wrote that: "Perhaps the weak side of his conclusions also is, that he has carried this single view of his subject too far, and not made sufficient allowance for the varieties of human nature, and the caprices and irregularities of the human will. 'He has not allowed for the wind'...it might be plausibly objected that he had struck the whole mass of fancy, prejudice, passion, sense, whim, with his petrific, leaden mace, that he had 'bound volatile Hermes,' and reduced the theory and practice of human life to a caput mortuum of reason, and dull, plodding, technical calculation." This new paradigm is no "petrific leaden mace," although some, it seems to me in the first 16 years of its implementation have made it into a "dull, plodding technical calculation" and have bound that volatile Hermes in a single construct. This tendency to over-simplification is very human, very natural and we should not be surprised when we see it expressed in community consultations.

For the rest of this book go to Part B, another document, at BLO.

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