Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Paragraph 96

The same may be witnessed today. Consider how abundant are the denunciations written by the foolish divines of this age against this most wondrous Cause! How vain their imaginings that these calumnies are in conformity with the verses of God’s sacred Book, and in consonance with the utterances of men of discernment!

Here is the eleventh paragraph, of thirteen, concerning the words, "And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet."

Before we can talk about this paragraph, we have to ask ourselves what Baha'u'llah means when He says "the same". What is it He is referring to?

Quite simply, He seems to be referring to the condemnation referred to in the previous paragraph, namely that some people write stuff and say it is from God.

Here, He specifically uses the word "calumnies" and asks if they are in conformity with the Book of God and consonant with what discerning people say.

Ok, fine. But what does all that mean?

Looking at some of the key words and defining them will help us understand.

Calumnies are statements that are like backbiting, except for the fact that they are a lie. They are specifically designed to hurt and mislead. In the Kitab-i-Aqdas, Baha'u'llah's seminal Text, He talks about calumny in the following verse: Ye have been forbidden to commit murder or adultery, or to engage in backbiting or calumny...

We often read about how awful backbiting is, but rarely do we hear about calumny. We even seem to have a visceral reaction against backbiting in the Baha'i community, knowing how vilified it is, but often wonder about this companion word, "calumny". Well, here is an interesting thought that struck us as we began to look into this word. We believe that everything in the Writings, as we have said repeatedly, is there for a purpose. Nothing is accidental. And so, when we saw this verse, we began to wonder about it. After all, this is a strange group of four acts to condemn together in a single line. Was Baha'u'llah trying to give us a message?

We believe He was.

While we often think of murder as this horrible worst-of-all possible crimes, and in this culture seem to regard adultery as something common, and backbiting more like "yeah, whatever", we wondered at the idea that Baha'u'llah would begin with the worst, and move into a decrescendo. It didn't make sense to us. A crescendo seemed more likely. And so, looking at it in this way, we began to reconsider. Then we realized that murder, awful as it is, merely kills a single individual. Adultery, common as it is, results in the death of a family. Backbiting, we know, leads to distrust and results in the death of the bonds of trust within a community. And backbiting, heinous as it is, at least has the virtue of being true. Calumny is a lie. And so, looking at it in this way, we began to feel that Baha'u'llah is giving us a deeper message about these condemned acts.

So, here, when He refers to "calumnies", we really seem to feel the impact of that word.

"Consonant" basically means an agreement or compatibility between opinions or actions. If you are uttering or writing these appalling things about others, and purport to be spiritual, then your actions are not consonant with your words. "Let deeds, not words, be your adorning."

And then there is "discernment", the ability to judge well. When you look dispassionately at the actions of the Baha'is who are condemned by these calumnies, you can see the prejudice shining through these words.

Given this, we go back to the beginning of this short paragraph and notice the word "consider". Remember "consider"? Way back at the beginning of this book, He regularly asked us to "consider the past", to "reflect", to "ponder". That was our starting point, the first step of the path that has led us to this point in the book.

Now, however, He seems to be asking us to "consider the present".

And then, notice what it is that He is asking us to consider, the abundance of these denunciations.


Well, let's go back to paragraph 6 and see what He says there. "Should you acquaint yourself with the indignities heaped upon the Prophets of God, and apprehend the true causes of the objections voiced by their oppressors, you will surely appreciate the significance of their position. Moreover, the more closely you observe the denials of those who have opposed the Manifestations of the divine attributes, the firmer will be your faith in the Cause of God." And isn't that what this book is all about? Certitude?

Now, here, Baha'u'llah is referring to those people, presumably Muslim, who were writing all sorts of denunciations and uttering all sorts of slander against the Baha'i Faith, but He also seems to be giving us a warning, too. We don't just see this as referring to those condemning the "next faith" in line, but also to any person condemning any other faith. After all, in the forward to One Common Faith, the Universal House of Justice wrote, "Far from challenging the validity of any of the great revealed faiths, the principle (of the interfaith movement) has the capacity to ensure their continuing relevance."

Therefore, we can ask ourselves, when we speak about another religion, or a group of religionists, are our words "in conformity with the verses of God's sacred Book"? Are our judgements "in consonance with the utterances of men of judgement"?

Whatever measuring stick Baha'u'llah uses for judging others, He will surely also use to judge us.

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