Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Thoughts on Economy, part 2

In part 1 I looked at what I call the introduction to the 1 March 2017 letter from the Universal House of Justice, namely the first four paragraphs. Today I want to begin to look at the next four paragraphs which I consider to be the heart of the letter.

They begin this section by saying their "call to examine the implications of the Revelation of Baha'u'llah for economic life" is primarily directed to us, the individual Baha'is. And then they point out that this new model of community life given to us by Baha'u'llah will only emerge if we demonstrate in our "own lives the rectitude of conduct that is one of its most distinguishing features".

Ok. "Rectitude of conduct".

That is one of those phrases, dear Reader, that always raises a flag in my mind. Oh, not in a bad way, mind you, but rather in the sense of calling it to my attention.


I'm glad you asked.

"Rectitude of conduct", as I'm sure you know, is one of the three "spiritual prerequisites of success, which constitute the bedrock on which the security of all teaching plans.., and financial schemes, must ultimately rest", as described by Shoghi Effendi, in The Advent of Divine Justice. He goes on to say, in that very same paragraph, "Upon the extent to which these basic requirements are met.. must depend the measure of the manifold blessings which the All-Bountiful Possessor can vouchsafe" to us all.

There is much to be said about it, and as I'm sure you can guess, I'm going to say a bit about it here.

To start, I want to look at what Shoghi Effendi says about it, which I always figure is a good place to begin. And for those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time, I apologize if I'm repeating myself, but I figure this bears repeating.

"This rectitude of conduct," he begins, "with its implications of justice, equity, truthfulness, honesty, fair-mindedness, reliability, and trustworthiness, must distinguish every phase of the life of the Bahá’í community."

All right. Let's look at that list.

Before we do that, though, I want to talk about geometry. (How's that for a seeming tangent?)

Euclid, as you may recall from high school, is regarded as the founder of geometry, which isn't quite true. There were many other geometric systems before his, but what he did was come up with the most remarkable set of axioms. Axioms are the foundation, those things that we just take for granted, from which all the theorems are derived. The best systems have the least number of axioms, of which Euclid only has five, and those axioms should not overlap in their definitions. For centuries people tried to come up with a more concise version of his fifth postulate, but couldn't. Finally someone took the opposite of that postulate and tried to see if they could come up with another entirely consistent system, just to prove that this fifth postulate was independent of the other four. Well, it worked, and that is called non-Euclidean geometry.

Me? I tried to apply this same logic to this list that Shoghi Effendi offered us here. Was he concise? Was this list as definitive as possible? Did any of the terms overlap? Yes, yes and no.

For conciseness, and to prove that they don't overlap, I always point people to the two terms "truthfulness " and "honesty". Many of us think that these are the same thing, as I did back when I first read this passage. But really, they are not. And not only are they different, they are actually independent from each other, although we would hope that they would merge.

"Truthfulness" is saying that which conforms to reality, or that which is true. "Honesty" is stating what we believe. And as I said, we would hope that these would be the same thing.

But let's look at a real life example: Suppose someone asked you my age. If you thought I was 50, and said "Mead is 50", you would be honest, but not truthful. If you thought I was 50, but wanted to make me seem a bit younger, you could say, "Mead is 49". Then you would be truthful, but not honest. Of course, you could always ask me, and then tell them, "Mead is 49", and you would be both truthful and honest.

You can see here how these two terms are related, but do not overlap.

And you know what? This actually works with any two of these terms in this list from the Guardian.

Justice, equity, truthfulness, honesty, fair-mindedness, reliability, and trustworthiness: What a list. And doesn't it seem so relevant to this letter from the Universal House of Justice?

Moving on in this same paragraph from Shoghi Effendi, he goes on to quote Baha'u'llah at length. In the very first of these many quotes, we are told that we "must show forth such trustworthiness, such truthfulness and perseverance, such deeds and character that all mankind may profit by their example." All mankind may profit. Sound familiar?

In another quote He says that the true servant of God would "pass through cities of silver and gold, would not deign to look upon them" and that our "heart would remain pure and undefiled from whatever things can be seen in this world".

Later in the same paragraph, Baha'u'llah says that "One righteous act is endowed with a potency" that has the "power  to restore the force that hath spent itself and vanished..." When I think of the power of our economic systems, and how they seem to have spent themselves out, I am left in wonder.

In fact, as we read these passages, many of them will sound familiar. A large number of them are found in those opening sections of Ruhi Book 1, such as "The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds, through commendable and seemly conduct." And isn't this whole letter from the Universal House of Justice all about the betterment of the world? So if we look upon the simple purchase of a banana (remember, it's the Fast) as a moral act, choosing to buy that banana from a company that is engaged in fair trade, it is even more obvious how this can better the world.

These six paragraphs of the Guardian's that expound this essential principle are so laden with meanings and implications. They are so powerful that I really felt it important to draw our attention back to them, given the use of this phrase in the letter from the House of Justice. After all, they are all three, those spiritual prerequisites, deemed "preeminent and vital" by him, meaning that without them, our endeavours and plans die.

And this is just the very beginning of the heart of this message from the House of Justice on the importance of our moral conduct within the economy of the world, our various nations, and in our own neighbourhoods.

More thoughts on this letter over the next few days.

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