Saturday, April 7, 2012

"The Gate of the Heart"

I'm finally sitting down and reading a book I've had on the shelf for awhile: The Gate of the Heart, Understanding the Writings of the Bab, by Nader Saiedi.

Before I tell you anything about it, even though I'm sure you've already read it, dear Reader, I want to say that it is brilliant. It completely changes the way I read the Writings of the Bab. Well, that's not quite true. It doesn't really change it. It enhances it.

One of the things that attracted me to the book in the first place was the back cover. In the reviews on the back someone said, "Written in a clear and engaging style..." And to that reviewer, I would like to say, in all sincerity, "Poppycock."

This is not to take away from the brilliance of the work, for I have never read a study of the Writings like this one, and am astonished at the ingeniousness (is that the correct term here?) of it. But "clear"? I don't think so. "Engaging"? Maybe. But let me tell you, it's a real slog to try and get through it. And I don't think this is a fault of the author, not at all. It is a very difficult thing that he is doing, and quite near impossible to do it in layman terms. Despite my lack of a doctoral degree, I am loving this book. There are many fascinating ideas in it, and many things I hope to share, in my own inadequate and personal sort of way.

When I was talking about this book with a friend of mine, they asked me what I meant by difficult language. My response? (I was proud of it.) I said that in the introduction, it would say something like, "When discussing hermeneutics, your pedagogical perspective will often unduly influence your theological conclusions."

Ok, not quite. But here is an example from the introduction: "While modernist Islam is more flexible in adopting some superficial elements of modern culture, it has never questioned the fundamental premises of the traditionalistic model." And that, dear Reader, was honestly and truly taken at random.

So what is it that the author is trying to say? Quite a lot, and I'm only going to choose one thing that struck me.

Early on, in the intro, he talks about the perception of religion that many people have. He says that fundamentalists, and here I read "fanatics", believe that religion is eternal and unchanging. They see religion as something that is eternal, and the particular Words they read as never being altered in any way whatsoever. This view will, naturally, lead to conflict between the various religions.

He then goes on to point out that sociologists of religion tend to see religion as something that is born out of culture and has no connection to the divine, or spiritual. This, too, he says, will lead to conflict as there is no point of connection between them, since the cultures are all separate from each other.

What the Bab does in His Writings is bring these two points together. He says that the religions arose from the interaction of the Word of God and the culture in which it was revealed. He says that yes, the Word is eternal and unchanging, but that this Word is not the same as the written texts of the various Faiths. This Word, which I presume is the same as found referenced in the beginning of the Gospel of John, is that which inspires the Messengers and is contained in Their vision, which is not necessarily the same as that which is understood by Their followers. In other words, the Word is eternal, but the words used to try and convey it are not. These words are filtered through the culture in which they are expressed.

There is a passage from Baha'u'llah, which I naturally cannot find right now (I can't quite come up with a keyword for a search) (but I'm sure some kind reader will send it to me in a comment, so check below for the reference), in which He says that the Faith is akin to the result of His being impregnated with the divine Spirit. He is like the mother that is giving birth to the religion.

The Bab's introduction of this unity of perspectives opened the gate (yes, I know) for Baha'u'llah to further expound the idea of true unity.

So, how does all this help me in my daily life? (I mean, I'm not likely to experience that impregnation, so I have to find relevance on another level, right?)


When I'm sharing the ideas of the Faith with others, this is another tool that I can use. God saw that this concept was so important that it was revealed in a religion on its own. It was a vital step leading up to the advent of Baha'u'llah. Without this concept, the path leading us from Jesus to Baha'u'llah would be interrupted. It had to go from Jesus to Muhammad, and then to the Bab, before culminating in the Revelation of the Blessed Beauty.

When I am teaching the Faith, it is quite probable that the person with whom I am talking will be stuck in this dichotomy of thinking of religion as either unchangeable or merely cultural. What the Bab did was show me how to take them to the next step in preparation for hearing about Baha'u'llah's teachings. Of course, not everyone will need this, for many accept the idea of the oneness of religion when they first hear about it. but for those who don't, for those who are really stuck in this battle between differing faiths, this is a very important tool to have in our teaching handbook.

Now I can't wait to get to the rest of the book, presuming I can figure out what it is he's trying to say. Then again, I guess it's what I should have expected. It is published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press, a good university press if there ever was one.


  1. I know that Adib Taherzadeh expounds upon the metaphor of cultural impregnation in Volume 1 of The Revelation of Baha'u'llah. He states on page 3 of that book that:

    "All created things, whether tangible or intangible, come into being as a result of the intercourse between two elements which assume the functions of male and female. This pattern is followed throughout the whole of creation and the birth of religion is no exception."

    Then later on page 4:

    "A similar principle governs the birth of a civilization whose founder, by imparting his ideas and principles to a society, plays the part of the male. The society, the recipient of his teachings, acts on the other hand as the female agent. The child of this mystical intercourse is a new civilization which reflects the characteristics of the founder as well as those of the society within whose womb it was conceived.

    Religions are born as a result of the spiritual intercourse between God, on the one hand, and the person of the Manifestation of God, on the other. In His inscrutable wisdom, God chooses one of His servants from among humanity and makes Him the recipient of His Revelation. He releases within the soul His chosen One the spiritual forces of His Revelation, while the person of the Manifestation, emptying Himself of self and human qualities and submitting Himself entirely to the will of His Creator, becomes a worthy recipient of these spiritual energies.

    Once this relationship is established, as a result of the interaction between God and His chosen Mouthpiece, the child of a new religion is conceived and the Manifestation of God, in the fulness of time, by declaring His mission gives birth to this child and presents it to humanity."

    I hope this helps!

  2. See? I knew someone would help out. (Thanks, Maeve. That's exactly what I was trying to pull up.)