Monday, November 4, 2013

Our Priorities

I was on my way to the university this morning, listening to the radio. Oh, before I forget, I serve as the Baha'i Advisor at the University of Victoria. Why? I don't know. I was asked. I used to be called the Baha'i Chaplain, and still am sometimes, but asked if there was less "Christian: title that could be used, and that's what they came up with. I just don't want you to think that I'm some sort of professor or anything. I'm not that bright, really. (That's my caveat for anything really bozoid I may say today.)

So. this morning I was on my way in, listening to the radio, when an interesting article came on. It was about a First Nations Reserve here in British Columbia, Canada, that is allowing its members to apply to own the land on which their houses are built. Now, this may seem like an obvious thing to do, allow people to actually own the land upon which their houses are built, but this is not the traditional way that things have been done amongst the First Nations people here. The land has always belonged to the community; or more accurately, they have always belonged to the land. The very idea of owning land was a bit ridiculous, given their perspective of their role in the world.

Anyways, what got me thinking was the idea that our laws, our priorities, our very culture will reflect our basic fundamental beliefs. If, for example, the land is our highest priority then the whole concept of owning it will seem totally ridiculous. And our laws will reflect that, as they have on the First Nations Reserves here in Canada.

However, if money is our highest priority, then our laws will reflect that, too. In the United States, for example, money is given so high a priority that they actually consider corporations legally as people. In fact, profit is considered so important that you will get a greater tax credit for giving money to Wall Street than if you give money to charity. Same in Canada.

Interesting. Sad, but interesting.

Baha'u'llah said that this society, and all the institutions within it were "lamentably defective". Of course, I'm paraphrasing, and it really is my own opinion, nothing official. What He actually said was, "the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective."

And He didn't say that it was just defective. He said that it was lamentably so. It is not just defective. It is deplorably defective. It doesn't just deserve to be condemned, but strongly condemned. Lamentable is a very powerful adjective here.

But let's look at that quote in context. He said, "The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective."

"Impending convulsions". "Impending chaos". Why? Because the prevailing order is worthy of strong condemnation.

What is it about this "prevailing order" that merits such language? You see, it's not just the corrupt individuals that may be working within the system that are condemned. It is the very system itself, as far as I can tell. And perhaps it has to with our basic assumptions, such as the importance of money, or the seeming lack of importance of the individual. Perhaps it has to do with our priorities, such as selling off the community's land to individuals so that they can use it as collateral to secure short-term loans from banks, for that was cited as the rationale for allowing individuals to buy the land on the reserve.

What happens, I wonder, if that individual, who now owns a chunk of land in the middle of a reserve, defaults on the loan? It is no longer part of the reserve land. The bank could do whatever they want with it, sell it to anyone willing to pay. I, for example, could buy it, or any unscrupulous landowner, to do with as they please. The point is that this one community is now falling prey to this belief that the making of money somehow supersedes the very concept of our relationship to the land that was held so sacred for so long. Of course, it is their right to do so, but I find it a bit disturbing.

In the full paragraph in which Baha'u'llah talks about this lamentably defective order, we read the following:
This humble servant is filled with wonder, inasmuch as all men are endowed with the capacity to see and hear, yet we find them deprived of the privilege of using these faculties. This servant hath been prompted to pen these lines by virtue of the tender love he cherisheth for thee. The winds of despair are, alas, blowing from every direction, and the strife that divideth and afflicteth the human race is daily increasing. The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing order appeareth to be lamentably defective. I beseech God, exalted be His glory, that He may graciously awaken the peoples of the earth, may grant that the end of their conduct may be profitable unto them, and aid them to accomplish that which beseemeth their station.

He prays that the end of our conduct may be profitable to us.

To me, this speaks right to the heart of the issue on this one reserve.

It also speaks to the heart of so many other issues.

I'm not saying that the people who passed this law on that one reserve were wrong, but just that I seriously wonder if they have really thought through the implications of all that they have done. Perhaps they have. Perhaps they have not. Time will tell.

In the end, though, it really drives home the point that our basic assumptions of the the world around us dictate our laws, our questions, our educational facilities, and so many other aspects of our lives. Just imagine, if you will, how different our lives would be if society, as a rule, placed the highest priority on the individual, as opposed to gold. Or the family? Or justice? Or unity?

The mind boggles.

At least mine does.

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