Century of Light - review by John Taylor

This is an archived post from the old bulletin board. For new posts, see the forum.

Posted by Arjen on June 07, 2101 at 00:49:52:

In Reply to: Re: Century of Light - the book posted by Arjen on June 06, 2101 at 06:34:42:

> >From bounce-badi-31@news.linetap.com Thu May 24 17:29:46 2001
>X-ROUTED: Thu, 24 May 2001 11:29:52 -0500
>From: "John Taylor"
>To: "The Badi Month Essays"
>Subject: Century of Light
>Date: Thu, 24 May 2001 11:28:17 -0400
>Reply-To: "The Badi Month Essays"
>Mini-Review of Century of Light
>When I read a book or movie review I want first to know, does the reviewer
>recommend it? Yes or no? In a word, yes. Then I want to know why I should
>read the review any further. A good review will keep me entertained long
>enough to remember the book when I come across it. A better review will
>give me reasons for reading it when I otherwise would not. The best review
>will improve and enhance my appreciation enough to keep me reading the
>book when I otherwise would set it aside. But a review can be too good. It
>can be better than the book itself and make you say, "I read the review,
>why should I read the book? Now I can flaunt its ideas confidently enough
>to pretend that I read it, so why take the time to actually do so?"
>Looking over what I have written here, I am very confident that there is
>no danger that anyone will thus misuse this. It is just that Century of
>Light came out so fast I did not see any reviews. So I wrote this one for
>myself, to enhance my own appreciation. I have avoided covering the actual
>contents of the book in question, just what I happened to be maundering
>about at the time I was reading it, a personal response to a first
>reading. For this work, like the Peace Message in the Eighties, clearly
>merits repeated study and digestion. So I hope my questions and reactions
>will, dear reader, accomplish the best and not the worst of what I myself
>like to get out of a book review.
>A few months ago, after sifting electronically through the mass of letters
>from the House for the umpteenth time, I confess I started to wonder about
>the leadership of the Faith. The only way to find out what the House had
>to say on a given issue was to brace yourself for a tedious search safari
>through a jungle of letters. Everything the House has done from a literary
>point of view seemed to me to be reactive, in the form of letters written
>in answer to questions. It was not just "some answered questions" but a
>huge mass of answered questions. And unlike 'Abdu'l-Baha's Some Answered
>Questions, the original question is never included, so you end up having
>to guess at what exactly they are addressing.
>I would come away bleary eyed with the response and clarification. I
>thought, without well-known and broadly publicized position statements the
>same questions are being repeated over and over again. Homosexuality,
>abortion, men on the House, infallibility of the House, successorship to
>the Guardian, on and on. And what wasn't reaction was still epistolary,
>the annual Ridvan letters, the Peace Message letter addressed to the
>peoples of earth, and so forth. What research documents and policy
>statements do come out tend to come from the the Baha'i International
>Community at the United Nations, or from the House's own secretariat or
>research department. Little comes direct.
>So it was with some relief that I read in this year's Ridvan message that
>the House had "commissioned" an historical work about the past century.
>When I got my hands on the book my relief turned to delight. The great
>works of history in the literature of the Faith, the stories of the
>martyrs in Dawnbreakers, the magisterial God Passes By and the Guardian's
>contextualizing master work, "The Promised Day is Come," all inspired in
>me a great love for history, not to mention, I may add, a tendency to copy
>the Guardian by writing sentences that accomplish several things and just
>never seem to end. So what could be more exciting than this publication,
>"Century of Light?" To have one more historical work in the Faith, by none
>other than the House of Justice, is nothing but joy upon joy.
>Even if Century of Light did not come from this authoritative source, this
>book undoubtedly would still be the most important historical overview of
>the Faith since God Passes By in the Forties. It is a worthy successor to
>Promised Day is Come in that it sets out to give a perspective on the
>Faith, on the world at large, and on the relation between the two. In fact
>alternative titles might be "PDC, the Sequal," or "PDC, Sixty Years
>Later." This is a brilliant encapsulation of the wrenching, confusing age
>we call the Twentieth Century. In fact, far from being a passive or
>reactive bit of leadership from the House, this is a frontal assault on
>some deadly misconceptions about our era.
>While very good on the early part of the century, the part to some extent
>also covered by Promised Day is Come, I think the main interest of this
>book is in how it deals with more recent events. Unlike most historical
>summaries this work qualifies as a "first person" account of the viewpoint
>of the leadership of the Faith in the century's latter years, the time
>since Ridvan One Hundred, 119 BE, 1963 CE, when the House was first
>elected. Here, for example, you can find the House's version of what the
>Ruhi institutes are and how they fit into the progress of the Faith.
>But wait. I am assuming that the authorship of this book is clearly the
>Universal House. Who actually did write it? Nobody is credited. If you
>want to quote the author in a footnote you are out of luck. You have to
>think up something on your own to fill the "Author" field, or leave it
>blank. Does this 145 page book really come direct from the house? What did
>the House mean by saying they had "commissioned" it? I must say that in my
>experience writing and editing newsletters, I have found that anonymity
>does not work. Authors should be credited and not allowed to pass the buck
>in the name of humility. Otherwise responsibility for a given fact or
>opinion is unclear; a thousand problems arise because it is impossible to
>know whom to blame or praise, whom to believe or whom to question.
>However, this objection would have bothered me more ten years ago than
>now. In that time the process of group writing, assisted by computers and
>networks, has been refined and perfected. Group writing is a major part of
>the information technology revolution. What used to be tedious filling in
>of forms is now a participatory consultative process that involves all
>levels of an organization equitably and painlessly. This magnifies the
>creative and critical process. Groups are original and flexible in ways
>that formerly only an individual genius could hope to be. Group writing is
>saving organizations and corporations billions of dollars and giving them
>efficiency unheard of in the history of human enterprise. Everyone who
>works or thinks is writing together on the Web: one huge knowledge base of
>humanity. This technology bids fair to make the notorious workings of
>officialdom, commonly known by the slur of "bureaucracy," effective and
>prompt for the first time ever.
>Indeed to me this makes the Faith so topical, interesting and needed.
>Baha'u'llah, through the principle of consultation, made organizational
>work a spiritual process in a similar way to Zen with tea preparation. It
>is a ceremony of enlightenment. Where technical means like group writing
>leave off is at the human heart, which is precisely where the Baha'i
>teachings begin. So the anonymity of "Century of Light" may perhaps be an
>early fulfillment of the prediction and mandate the Guardian made when he
>said that writing history is so important that in future historical works
>will no longer be written by individuals but by groups.
>That said, though, I can certainly see in this book the mark of the only
>UHJ member I know personally, Doug Martin. Century of Light is full of
>Doug Martin-like historical insights and generalizations. It conveys his
>sense of excitement and intimacy, though of course it lacks his
>characteristic gifted aside and telling anecdote.
>I will never forget when he spoke at the second ABS annual meeting
>twenty-five years ago. He was a bit of a "Young Turk" then and unlike
>other speakers he sat on the table, his legs casually splayed over the
>edge. He recounted the life of Sarah Farmer and the weird and wonderful
>visitors she invited to the institution that became known as Green Acre.
>Without consulting any notes he waded through a mass of detail about
>Farmer's life that would have stumped anyone there had they been asked to
>retell similar facts about their own life. He is one of those rare
>speakers and writers so brilliant that he fills me with awe and
>admiration. My stomach soars when I hear him and my head tells me to
>grovel on the floor before him and my conscience thinks that for anybody
>else such groveling would be demeaning but for this kind of insight
>groveling is the only appropriate tribute.
>What other Baha'i history would even mention such an oddball as Sarah
>Farmer? Yet there she is, listed alongside Martha Root and all the other,
>more familiar examples of early heroines of the Faith. Truly, the
>rebellious spirit of the Sixties won out when Doug entered the mainstream!
>And what a defender of the Faith he is! Man, you read Martin's paper, "The
>Missionary as Historian," and any sort of logic or sense the enemies of
>the Faith or the Covenant Breakers may have seemed to have is like some
>filthy insect stomped upon and squashed, the heel twisted, jumped up and
>down upon over and over until the bug is so exterminated it is not even a
>smear on the ground. At least that is how I would have to act to get
>Doug's points across. But he does it calmly, with aplomb and grace.
>Afterwards you can only feel sorry for the poor fool unfortunate enough to
>end up in the path of such a divine genius as this.
>I hear that the Mayor of Mississaugua, Canada's third or fourth largest
>city, has read this book and requested copies for her entire town council.
>This I found surprising since reading it I only thought of it as for
>believers. But I suppose that it can and will be applied directly to
>teaching the faith as well.
>Century of Light includes new facts that I do not recall coming across
>before. Not long ago our community had a discussion about what caused the
>death of the Guardian. The closest we came was Ruhiyyih Khanum's
>description of his passing in Priceless Pearl, which calls it heart
>failure. On page 81 of Century of Light I learn that his coronary
>infarction was a result of "complications following an attack of Asiatic
>influenza" which he caught in London. Didn't know that.
>At one point I admit I thought I had found an inaccuracy, but of course we
>are dealing with an infallible institution here (or at least someone or
>something commissioned by this institution) and further investigation
>proved myself wrong and them right. However, because it turned up some
>interesting points I will go into detail on my humiliating
>self-refutation. My supposed error came when Century of Light, talking
>(pages 71-2) about the birth of the UN, recounts how the Master predicted
>that the flag of international peace would be raised in California, and
>how this was fulfilled when in 1945 "...fifty nations adopted the charter
>of the United Nations Organization, the name proposed for it by Franklin
>D. Roosevelt."
>Having just read Churchill's history of the Second World War it seemed to
>me that Churchill was the one who proposed the name "United Nations."
>Wrong! He pushed the idea of the body itself (in fact he made a better
>proposal for its structure than what actually was adopted. Instead of
>nations and an arbitrary "Security Council," his idea was that continents
>and regions would be represented), but upon looking it up in Churchill's
>Second Volume, "The Grand Alliance," I found that the name was indeed
>first suggested by Roosevelt.
>The name United Nations was born quite a long time before the 1945 event
>in San Francisco, which of course was about year after the President's
>death. In fact the term "United Nations" started when Churchill visited
>with the President in Washington and Ottawa in late 1941 and early 1942.
>There, in another example of group writing, they wrote a joint declaration
>for the signatures of 22 nations fighting Hitler. Churchill recalls that
>during the consultations the Russian representative was terrified about
>how Stalin would react to its reference to "freedom of religion." He goes on:
>"The title of "United Nations" was substituted by the President for that
>of "Associated Powers." I thought this a great improvement. I showed my
>friend the lines from Byron's Childe Harold...
>'Here, where the sword United Nations drew,Our countrymen were warring on
>that day!'And this is much, and all which will not pass away.
>"... The Declaration could not by itself win battles, but it set forth who
>we were and what we were fighting for." (p.683)
>Soon afterwards, United Nations became a common synonym for "Allies,"
>meaning the nations united against Hitler and Tojo. Later the new
>international body officially adopted Roosevelt's term, "United Nations."
>But the reference to Byron interested me. Childe Harold is a poem about
>travelling across Europe (a childe is, according to the cheat sheets,
>either the eldest son, the heir apparent of a lord's family or a noble
>knight-in-training). Churchill doesn't reference the quote and I failed to
>find it in my own library. Fortunately my search skills are well honed,
>having dealt with the writings of the House for so long, and I managed to
>chase the couplet down on the Net. Canto III, though supposed to be the
>best part of the poem, is rarely anthologized. Only after going through
>three etext editions did I find the whole "Spenserian couplet," number 35,
>of the third Canto. Here is the whole thing, which seems to be talking
>about the victory of the allied monarchist forces over the Napoleon's
>French at Waterloo:
>The Psalmist number'd out the years of man:They are enough: and if thy
>tale be true,Thou, who didst grudge him even that fleeting span,More than
>enough, thou fatal Waterloo!Millions of tongues record thee, and anewTheir
>children's lips shall echo them, and say --'Here, where the sword united
>nations drew,Our countrymen were warring on that day!'And this is much,
>and all which will not pass away.
>So the first "united nations" were the kingly powers who came together to
>defeat the reactionary dictator Napoleon at Waterloo. Byron, though a lord
>himself, was a revolutionary and hated monarchy. This was in a time when
>poets were like rock stars. I mean, like rock stars when they were still
>rebels, before they became rich enough to become a corporate, aristocratic
>establishment. Myself, I always was suspicious of rebels, who in reacting
>seem as enslaved as the oppressor. In the 14th verse of an earlier Canto
>Byron seems to agree. Mentioning a league of nations, he complains about
>the flimsy unity of the alliances keeping Napoleon down.
>Fit retribution! Gaul may champ the bitAnd foam in fetters-but is Earth
>more free?Did nations combat to make One submit;Or league to teach all
>kings true sovereignty?What! shall reviving Thraldom again beThe
>patch'd-up idol of enlighten'd days?Shall we, who struck the Lion down,
>shall wePay the Wolf homage? proffering lowly gazeAnd servile knees to
>thrones? No; prove before ye praise!
>Nations leagued together but, in the phrasing of the Tablet of Ahmad, they
>"combined to assist one another" but did not really unite. This book,
>Century of Light, is the story, it seems to me, of how humanity continues
>to try to learn real unity, the lesson rebels like Byron suggest, to
>"teach all kings true sovereignty" and thus avoid "reviving Thraldoms" and
>"patched up idols." In this century we put down lions like the Kaiser,
>then Hitler, but left wolves like Stalin, the hit-man for Lenin, and,
>worse, their idolatrous ideologies ruled over us all unchecked.
>In fact the Century of Light puts forth this rather shocking thesis:
>communism was not defeated by capitalism, it actually won out. Its devil's
>spawn, materialism, put its feet on the heads of both East and West and is
>keeping all humanity down. Even the natural enemies of materialism, the
>world's religious bodies, instead of leading development efforts, bent
>down passively and blindly followed secular models for social change. The
>people, when they left religion and science to fight it out, failed to
>"prove before we praise."
>Century of Light tells the story of the struggle of the Baha'i Faith to
>give to the world a different model of world development and unification,
>the cure for triumphant materialism. It has been an arduous journey. Here
>is the story direct from the collective mouth of those who led it. They
>tell all about what the House has been doing for the almost forty years of
>their existence. Here are all the other balls they have been juggling
>while people "out of the loop" like me complained about their not
>producing enough original literary works.
>According to this book the believers underwent a tremendous struggle and
>long learning process in order to go beyond the Ten-Year Crusade's
>"spiritual conquest of the planet." How were we to harmonize and reconcile
>cultures who from the beginning were isolated, unchallenged rulers of
>their own roosts? How do you draw out unity from all this diversity? Here
>is the untold story of how this process advanced, how the Faith
>consolidated broad and far-flung conquests. The book recounts the long and
>painful process of refining method and the many surprising victories won
>along the way. No doubt the leadership of the Faith was very busy ordering
>the Order set in motion by Baha'u'llah.
>This struggle is going on within the Faith and without. We are all, like
>Baha'u'llah, exiles. We journey far from our true spiritual home,
>remembering our true love, our true unity. In this creative travelling you
>grow your true self. Out of all your loves, your pains and sacrifices come
>something new. Byron wrote this, describing how he saw his creative
>journey of exile through Europe in Childe Harold (III, 6),
>'Tis to create, and in creating liveA being more intense, that we
>endowWith form our fancy, gaining as we giveThe life we image, even as I
>do now.
>In life, in work, in love, in the newly opened Terraces in Haifa, in works
>of history and poetry, we glimpse ourselves in a more intense light. We
>are one, our earth is but one country. That is where the trail of
>imagination is leading us. Here is the intensifying vision born in
>Baha'u'llah's exile and laborious suffering. Century of Light is the story
>of how we are following the trail His exile blazed, of our collective
>journey into a clearer, steadier and more infallible light than ever
>beheld before.
>Dunnville, 24 May
>(c) 2001, John Taylor
>John Taylor
>Badi Calendar Months Website:

this topic is closed - post at bahai-library.com/forum