Talk given by Peter Khan at the National Teaching Conference
Auckland, New Zealand, June 2000

Many have travelled far and wide today to hear from Dr Khan in his capacity as a member of the Universal House of Justice.

Dear friends, it’s a great pleasure for me to be here today to greet you. I left the holy land about two weeks ago, just over two weeks ago, and in my final meeting with the Universal House of Justice prior to my departure, the House of Justice asked specifically that when I come to New Zealand that I convey to the friends here the love and the greetings of the Universal House of Justice and I am pleased to do so now.

As you know, Janet and I are travelling on vacation, we get four weeks vacation a year, we go back to Australia to see relatives and we take the opportunity during this journey each year to try to visit the friends in other countries on route. On this occasion we have been to Indonesia for a few days and we will leave New Zealand on Monday and proceed to North America on our way back to the holy land. I found to my great pleasure that my visit to New Zealand proved to coincide with the planned National Teaching Conference, which has given me the opportunity to be here on this weekend and to meet with you.

What I want to do this morning are several things. I want to share with you some thoughts about what the Faith has accomplished over the last few years and where I see to be its most pressing needs both in the near and in the more distant future. I also want to allow time for questions. I think some arrangement has been made for pieces of paper and pencils or something so that questions can be written down and collected and we’ll see what to do with them. I think the time we have available is til 11.30 if I’m understanding correctly, nobody seems to be disagreeing with that so we’ll take that to be correct. And then depending upon the volume of questions, that may be that. On the other hand if people have more questions than there is time, then I think the program has some flexibility in it and we can maybe take care of some more of the questions after Janet has completed her presentation. I mention this because I think it is a very important part of our religion that one be able to ask questions on any subject which is of concern and interest to the friends. I find living in the holy land we do have access to much greater amount of information than can be conveyed in Ridvan messages or newsletters or the like and I find it very satisfying to be able to travel on these occasions and to meet with the friends and to attempt to answer any of the questions they might want to put to me.

Let me begin therefore by addressing the first of the subjects I want to cover which is the condition of the Faith around the world at the present time. We have completed the four year plan as you well realise and I think the general feeling in the holy land is that this four year plan was far more successful in its accomplishments than any other plan since the ten-year crusade. The ten-year crusade from 1953 to 1963 will stand unique in terms of the way in which the Faith burst out of its chrysalis spread all over the world in a very brief period, eh more than quadrupled its number of National Spiritual Assemblies in a ten-year period and proceeded then to the election of the Universal House of Justice in 1963 despite the grave setback of the passing of Shoghi Effendi in November of 1957. Nothing will approach or equal the ten-year crusade in significance and the magnitude of its accomplishment. But it seems that since that time of 1963 no Baha’i plan has been as significant or has had as great an accomplishment as the four year plan just concluded.

As I think about it, it seems to me there being five distinguishing characteristics of the accomplishments of the Faith in the past few years. I’d like to list them one by one and to describe them in some detail. The first of these has been that during these years now we have succeeded in spreading the Faith to all parts of the world both near and far. And it is a source of astonishment to people who visit the world centre, who are not Baha’is - statesmen, political leaders, leaders of thought of various kinds who come and who meet with the Baha’is at the world centre in a variety capacities - for them to find out how extensively we have managed to spread the faith to areas of the greatest remoteness - distant areas around the Artic Circle; remote areas in Siberia, in Central Asia; the areas of great turmoil in Central Africa, in the lakes region around Lake Victoria, as well as in West Africa where there is so much unsettlement at the present time. The fact that we have succeeded in establishing and maintaining a viable Baha’i community in a country such as Mozambique, which has been racked with civil disorder for decades. That we’ve managed to sustain a National Spiritual Assembly in the Sudan despite the tensions between the northern and the southern sections of that country. It is a remarkable achievement that the National Spiritual Assembly of Cuba has functioned ever since its formation in 1962 despite the difficulties of the regime in that country over many decades. And so it is.

New Zealand of course has played a very important role in this process of spread, not least of which is the remarkable accomplishment which the world centre was most happy with to find that two friends from New Zealand had been able to secure a position in Pitcairn Island recently. This was a most wonderful accomplishment. And I read avidly the e-mails that they write which ultimately find their way in the New Zealand Baha’i news from time to time of their experiences on Pitcairn Island. The very fact that an area like that, which had been so totally closed to any religion other than Seventh Day Adventists for many, many decades, now has a Baha’i presence even if it may only be a temporary presence - I think it’s a two-year contract or the like - is a remarkable achievement.

So, one of the distinguishing features of the accomplishment of the Faith in the last few years has been its spread to remote regions of the world including Pitcairn Island among others. We now as a result are in a condition where we cannot readily think of any area in the world where there are no Baha’is. Sometimes I used to say to the friends who’d come to the holy land - they’d say “where are the places where there are no Baha’is?” and I would trot out Pitcairn Island every so often, but now of course I can no longer use that. North Korea was a handy stand-by for a while, but with the famine conditions in North Korea at the moment, the North Korean government has opened the way to the World Food Program to participate in the relief of that famine, a number of Baha’is have been involved there, just as Baha’is from the World Food Program were some of the first to come into East Timor when there was a change of regime there in the last several months.

Together with that incredible spread has been a very distinct rise in receptivity to the Faith. This is no more evident than in the United States. As you are aware from the Ridvan message, the House of Justice referred to the fact that the United States Baha’i community has in recent months embarked upon a very complicated and very effective publicity campaign, the result of which is that friends can come and - people who are interested in the Faith can telephone their enquiry for information. This has resulted, in the space of a few months, in over sixty thousand enquiries for more information about the Faith. That is a remarkable achievement. But far more remarkable than that has been the calibre of those enquiries. I have heard cassette tape recordings made by the National Baha’i Centre of a selection of those enquiries and they are very, very moving. People are telephoning and saying “please send me information”, “please have somebody come and call on me”, “please tell me where I can bring my children to Baha’i children’s classes”. These are far more serious enquiries than one usually gets when one has a telephone number and a statement of enquiry for free information. You get all kinds of casual people - people who are bored, or people who want someone to talk to, or something like that. This is not like that at all. There is a discernible and growing serious interest in learning more about the spiritual virtues of the Faith and that is gathering momentum in the western world as well as in other areas. If it is not apparent yet in New Zealand, it surely will be because the western world is being caught up in this sense of uncertainty, this sense of fundamental change, this sense of questioning of established values, which is spreading throughout all parts of the world.

The second of the most outstanding accomplishments of the Faith in the last few years is the fact that the Baha’i world community has through its financial sacrifices brought us to the verge of completion of the Mount Carmel projects. We are now in its final stages. The present phase of the Mount Carmel projects calls for the construction of several buildings and of the terraces. Those buildings are now almost complete. The Archives extension is completed and occupied. The building for the Centre of the Study of the Texts is completed and occupied. The International Teaching Centre building and the common area associated with it are almost ready for occupancy. The project manager has handed them over to the World Centre Building Manager’s office beginning in May of this year. They still require some minor fittings and light fittings and taps and door handles and the like, which will be completed either in August or very soon thereafter. They’re making plans for the people who will be occupying that building to move in probably around September or October, by November the building will be complete. And as you are aware ceremonies will be held to mark the occupancy of that building with the Continental Counsellors invited to the holy land in January and for the first time ever the Auxiliary Board Members throughout the world, almost a thousand people, are invited to come to the holy land in the middle of January next year for that event.

The terraces are also in their final stages. Those of you who have not been to the holy land have no doubt seen innumerable pictures of videos and movies and slides and all kinds of things of the terraces. And no matter how many visual representations one sees, nothing does justice to the magnitude of the terrace project. No pictures can convey the massive dimension of one kilometre-long terraces from top to bottom of the mountain where the entire mountain has been sculptured and beautified in the environs of the Shrine of the Bab.

Again we are at the stage of finishing up and minor elements for completion. The major elements for the completion of the terraces are I think terrace 14, 13 and 14, above Hatzionut Avenue which were delayed because work could not be carried out on them until the Centre for the Study of the Texts building was complete, because that includes a tunnel which runs just where the terraces are - we have to complete the tunnel and cover it over before we can start messing around making terraces. And the other part that has yet to be complete is the plaza area at the bottom of the terraces, at terraces one and two and the entrance plaza. There’ve been some engineering problems with that which are in the process of being resolved, but that has introduced a relatively a minor delay and we anticipate that it will be complete certainly in time for the inauguration in May of next year, to which of course 19 people from each national community are invited to attend.

The House of Justice I think will at some point issue to the Baha’i world a financial statement indicating the financial aspects of this vast project. I am not at liberty to disclose the figures or the nature of it without the approval of the House of Justice, but what I can tell you is that this project has been carried out with a high degree of skill in project management as well as in the quality of construction, to the extent that a project which continued for some 13 years during a time of incredible inflation in Israel as well as all kinds of other things, including the Gulf War and scud missiles coming out of the sky onto us and a variety of other things - that this project has been completed under budget. And I think there’s probably no other project of comparable magnitude around the world which has occupied such a period of time and come in under budget. I don’t think the House of Justice would want to claim any of the credit for that accomplishment. It rests with the skill of the planning and execution of the Mount Carmel projects team in the quality of the work they carried out in the care and thought they gave to the planning and execution of the project.

As we contemplate the magnificence of the Mount Carmel projects, the terraces now reaching conclusion, we must beware that we do not allow ourselves to be mislead by the beauty - the beauty of the gardens, the beauty of the marble, and the terraces and the construction and the like. They are no more than material objects and in the true scale of values of a religion such as ours, they are of secondary importance. The most fundamental, the most important thing about the Mount Carmel projects is not the magnificence of buildings or the beauty of gardens, it is that the prophecies of Isaiah have been fulfilled. That in the book of Isaiah where it was written that in these latter days the House of the Lord would be built on the mountain of God, that this has now been accomplished.

This is an event of great spiritual significance. Generations in the future will be amazed at what the Baha’is accomplished at this time. It was accomplished despite the challenges - the financial setbacks associated with the restrictions on the Faith in Iran, during a period of great inflation when people were subject to economic uncertainty and instability - despite or in the face of all that, the friends in all parts of the world rallied to the support of this enormous project and we now are in the final stages of its completion. The spiritual consequences of this accomplishment far out way any material beauty or any material satisfaction or any wonder about it. What we have done is an event of deep spiritual significance, which will attract to the Cause great spiritual forces which will energise its activity throughout the world for decades and indeed for centuries to come. And I mention this point because I think it’s most important that we not be seduced by the beauty of the buildings, the magnificence of gardens, the splendour of the scene and the like - we not allow that to divert our attention from the main focus of this spiritual dimension of the accomplishment, of the establishment, of the world administrative centre of the Faith in the spot preordained by Baha’u’llah on Mount Carmel.

The third of the five major accomplishments to which I want to draw your attention is that during this four year plan, the Faith has demonstrated its ability to triumph over severe persecution in Iran. This persecution has not ceased. We know, as you know from newspapers, that the political and social situation in Iran is very volatile, is very unstable, that there are many competing forces, that no one can predict from a day-to-day basis what will happen. But what we do know is that over the past four years, we have demonstrated even to the satisfaction of our most inveterate enemies, we have shown them that we are undefeatable, that all their efforts to stamp out the Faith in Iran are doomed to failure. Now, I think over these four years our enemies in Iran have come to recognise it. They’ve come to realise that everything they tried to eradicate the Faith by a variety of means, not only fails but proves to be counter productive. The persecution has not ceased, but it is become clear to all and sundry that we have won. That we have succeeded in showing the invincibility of the Faith to the extent that our Iranian opponents despair of finding a way to weaken and destroy the strength of the Baha’i community in Iran or in surrounding areas. And we see in the news we get from Iran in a variety of other things that have occurred that I am not a liberty to discuss openly, a variety of things have occurred which have demonstrated to us that our opponents are now getting the message. They are now realising that anything they try will from their perverted scale of values only make it worse.

Their efforts to eradicate the Faith have succeeded in attracting attention to the Faith from governments and peoples who previously were unaware of it. All kinds of organisations have come into being. One recent one is called the Friends of the Baha’is in the House of Commons. That is a group that crosses party lines of members of the parliament, of the British House of Commons, who meet in the House of Commons from time to time. The constitution of that group is avowedly those members of parliament who regard themselves as friends of the Baha’is. How did such an organisation come into being? Simply as a result of the persecution of the friends in Iran, the response of the believers outside Iran bringing the nature of the Faith, its integrity, its calibre, to the attention of members of the British parliament and this organisation sprung into being without any Baha’i instigation. It wasn’t as if we slunk around the corners of the House of Commons trying to find a few kindred souls and saying “hey, why don’t you form an organisation called the Friends of the Baha’is in the House of Commons”. We didn’t do that. They spontaneously said: let us bring ourselves together, those of us who have a deep feeling for the Baha’i Faith and its role and its activities and the injustices it has suffered. Let us get together and constitute ourselves as some kind of formal group.

So in these and in many other ways one of the distinguishing features of the four year plan has been the demonstration to our inveterate enemies that the Faith is invincible, that the methods they can think of and have tried are literally counter productive, result in the greater attraction and interest in the Faith and the greater spread of the Faith. What that will lead to in terms of the diminution of the persecution in Iran, we cannot say. As I travel around the world friends say to me often with great distress, they say: when will it end? We don’t know. The Universal House of Justice is divinely guided, it is not omniscient. It is not a prophetic body, it cannot see the future. It is guided to respond to whatever the situation is. Often its response proves to be the most appropriate thing in anticipation of future events, but the House of Justice cannot say when the persecution will end. What we do know, and what all the friends in the world know, is that it will end and it will and is leading to far greater victories for the Cause than you or I can possibly imagine. And this is now being played out in the course of events in Iran and in other countries of the Muslim world.

The fourth of the five accomplishments to which I want to draw your attention is the fact that during the four year plan we have succeeded in accomplishing a major change of tone and emphasis in the Baha’i community. The emphasis on training institutes, on study circles, on believers knowing, acquiring a systematic knowledge of the Faith, acquiring a degree of training to serve its needs has introduced a new element to the Baha’i culture. In the four year plan, in the Ridvan message, the House of Justice announced that over one hundred thousand believers had gone through some form of institute training. This we regard as a most impressive accomplishment, but we also regard it as no more than a beginning. In a Baha’i community which is generally regarded as being some five to six million people - there’s all kinds of numbers, some of which are inflated I’m sure, but nevertheless there’s certainly a lot of Baha’is around the place - one hundred thousand represents no more than a very good start. And this will continue of course in this one year plan, which is rushing by before our eyes, and in the plans to come in the next 20 years or beyond thereafter, it represents a fundamental element of Baha’i activity and life in the foreseeable future. Far greater emphasis upon knowledge of the Faith, upon systematic deepening and understanding and training, all under a heading of human resource development.

The final of the five points which I use to summarise the progress of the Faith has been the increase in respect for the Faith in the wider society. There are innumerable examples of that in the last few years, not only in the greater stature accorded the Faith at the United Nations and in various international conferences, the fact that the Baha’is have played so important and leading a role in the Millennium Forum, which has been convened in New York in the last few days or weeks - in fact it must be the last two weeks because the reports have come to me since I left the holy land. This Millennium Forum - the Baha’is are playing are very significant role in it in conjunction with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan - is an example of how the non-governmental organisations of the world have confidence and respect in the Baha’i participation, the Baha’i role in organising that forum.

The participation of a Baha’i representative in the interfaith gathering held to mark the visit of the Pope to New Delhi several months ago had far reaching repercussions. In years gone by, the Roman Catholic Church has sponsored interfaith gatherings of various kinds, at Assisi and some were set in the Vatican. And for many years the Baha’is either were not admitted to those gatherings or were admitted as no more than observers. It marked a major step forward when the interfaith gathering held in New Delhi invited the Baha’is to send a representative to participate in that program and to speak on the platform in the presence of the Pope. What happened as you well realise is that the Baha’is selected one of their most outstanding and distinguished speakers, a counsellor who happens to be female, counsellor Zena Sorabjee. And Zena has reported to us how interesting it was for her to come up on the platform and join an entirely male gathering. And you would notice Zena in most any gathering she was in, but particularly in a generally elderly male gathering. And there, like a petunia in an onion patch or something, there was Zena. Not only that but when Zena came to speak, she spoke quite briefly, quoted from the words of Baha’u’llah and was able to make some comments about them. She was not looking at the Pope as she was speaking but certainly those in the audience who were watching very avidly could see the words of Baha’u’llah registering in the consciousness of the Pope. And Zena, at the conclusion of the gathering, found herself surrounded by an informal group of cardinals and bishops of the Roman Catholic Church in India who wanted copies of those wonderful words that she read, who wanted to hear them again, who wanted to know about them, who commented so favourably about what she had to say that they said to Zena: where did you study theology, from where did you graduate? Zena, if you get to know her, is a slightly mischievous soul so she managed to restrain her mischievous nature and simply nodded and avoided the question. Because the real issue was that Zena’s education in theology is the education in theology that you and I are all trying to get from reading the Baha’i writings and here were these people stunned by the wisdom, the profundity of her comments on religious issues derived from the statements of Baha’u’llah.

There have been a variety of other gatherings. There was a parliament, a world parliament of religions held in Cape Town. And sure enough the Baha’is were called upon to help in the organisation of it. And with their administrative training, they ended up playing a very major role in the running of the world parliament of religions. Some Baha’is came from other parts of the world. One of them was the secretary of the United States National Spiritual Assembly, Dr Robert Henderson. He turned up as a representative of the United States Baha’i community. He made some remarks about it, participated in some of the gathering, and then the entire gathering decided that somebody as presentable and who speaks as fluently as Henderson does should become the spokesperson. So at the end of the gathering, Robert Henderson was the spokesperson for the proceedings of that gathering. All of these and others are examples of the rise of the stature of the Faith in recent months and years. It is also reflected in the fact that the world centre has received visits from some very outstanding and very eminent members of society. In a few cases, they have asked to meet with the Universal House of Justice and the request has been granted. We’ve had very productive meetings with some of these statesmen and political leaders of various parts of the world. In keeping with our policy, we do not publicise those meetings, we don’t brag about it, we don’t send messages and say: hey, look at us we met with whoever it was. If that person chooses to publicise it himself or herself then fine, but we don’t want to take advantage of it in that way. And so we don’t go into that in great detail.

Part Two

So much for the accomplishment of the Faith. Let me now move on to indicate what I see to be some of our most pressing needs. And I do this because I think our needs all over the world are fairly similar. There are a few that I think are particular to New Zealand, as I observe the New Zealand community, and I will mention those as I go along. Then I’ll stop and hopefully we’ll have some questions.

As I think many of you know, we see our main purpose in the Formative Age of the Cause to build the World Order of Baha’u’llah. We are in that sense building a structure in which generations of humanity throughout the entire dispensation of Baha’u’llah will find justice and harmony and unity and which will be a matrix for the development of world civilisation. Our work during the decades and centuries of the World Order, of the Formative Age, is to build the World Order. Building of the World Order is a complex business. We’re told in our writings and the House of Justice has gone into detail in this in its message of January 4, 1994 - building the World Order is a complex operation. It doesn’t involve just doing one thing ‘til it’s finished. The World Order rests upon the foundation of the laws of the Kitab-i-Aqdas. It involves, upon that foundation, attention to three themes which interact one with each other and which must be pursued progressively. You’ll find therefore that all of the plans emanating from the world centre have those three components. That we give attention to these three dimensions of Baha’i activity and this will continue throughout the entire period of the Formative Age.

These three components are firstly, the development of the world centre of the Faith, governed by the Tablet of Carmel of Baha’u’llah; secondly, the development of the Administrative Order, governed by the Will and Testament of Abdu’l-Baha; and thirdly, the spread of the Faith all over the world, governed by the Tablets of the Divine Plan revealed by Abdu’l-Baha. So we find that the strategy, the international Baha’i strategy for building the World Order involves these three themes: development of the world centre, spread and improvement in the efficiency and functioning of the Administrative Order and, thirdly, the further spread of the Faith all over the world. The fact that we now have Baha’is in Tibet and in the various republics of Siberia and in other, in Spitzbergen and in all kinds of places, doesn’t mean that the Faith has accomplished the Tablets of the Divine Plan. It means we’ve accomplished the basic foundation. Vast amounts of work will occupy us for centuries to come to build on that foundation to spread the Faith to all dimensions of humanity throughout the earth.

At present, I see one supreme great need for the Baha’i world and particularly the western world, but not only the western world. And it is this: I think our most pressing need at the present time and in the years to come is a very simple one, and a very straightforward one, and a very difficult one. It is this: to develop a heightened spiritual consciousness. We are living in a society which is increasingly materialistic, which is increasingly measuring everything by material standards, which is pursuing materialistic objectives. This applies to all societies on this planet, whether they are rich or whether they are poor. They are still materialistic and becoming more and more so. And we Baha’is have to swim against the tide and this involves, centrally, greater attention to our developing this heightened sense of spiritual consciousness.

And what do I mean by that? I mean that we need to develop ourselves as individuals into people who have a deep and ever present awareness of the spiritual dimension of life, of the power of the holy spirit and its operation in our daily lives, of the spiritual purpose of our creation. That we are not here on this earth simply to become as rich as possible and to live a life of, as idle, and with, filled with material pursuits as much as possible. We are here to develop our spiritual consciousness to prepare ourselves for the life of eternity which we will come to inevitably when we proceed to die in this world. We have a responsibility and a duty to develop a heightened sense of spiritual consciousness.

And if we don’t do that, we will be swept away. And already we’re seeing signs of this. In your community you may be aware of the fact that people are drifting away from the Faith. Why? Because they have neglected that sense of heightened spiritual consciousness. They’re becoming bitter, they’re becoming disillusioned, they’re becoming frustrated, they’re giving up on the Baha’i community - not because there is anything wrong with the Baha’i community or the Baha’i Faith, because they have failed in their primary duty as Baha’is to develop this sense of heightened spiritual consciousness. We will be swept away with them also over the years to come unless we make this our highest priority.

How do we do this? Through greater attention to the spiritual disciplines. Through greater care and attention to such spiritual disciplines as the obligatory prayer; the observance of the law of fasting, sunrise to sunset 19 days a year; through scrupulous attention to reading the holy writings each day; to deepening our understanding of the Cause; through observance of the sacred law of Huquq’u’llah, which is intrinsically a spiritual rather than a material law; through following the prescriptions of the Kitab-i-Aqdas - we can, through these means, heighten our spiritual consciousness, become spiritual beings in our outlook on life, in our way of thinking, and if we do this, that will protect us against the waves of materialism that will increasingly beat upon us and which will otherwise sweep us away.

There are a number of issues and questions in the Faith which can only be answered through a spiritual perspective. The whole question of obedience to the laws of the Faith is far more than a rational or a logical issue, it is a spiritual issue. If somebody wishes to argue about the laws of the Faith, ‘why, why do I have to follow this, why not follow something else’, we get nowhere, if there is not a spiritual perspective. Because the spiritual perspective leads one to accept the station of the manifestation of God and to accept that He doeth whatsoever He willeth, to accept unquestioningly that since Baha’u’llah said so, it must be right even if I don’t see the reason for it. This spiritual perspective is central to our deeper understanding of the Faith, to our continued adherence to the teachings and to our continued involvement in the Baha’i community.

The whole issue of the covenant and the authority of the central body of the Cause, in this case the Universal House of Justice, is a spiritual issue, it is not a logical issue. There is no way in the world in which you can sit down logically and prove to somebody that this group of nine individuals who gather in the holy land several times every week and deliberate and make their decisions, that their decisions are divinely guided by the Bab and Baha’u’llah and are free from error. There is no way you can prove this to anybody without a spiritual perspective. It can only be shown through acceptance of the claim of Baha’u’llah and through the acceptance of whatever Baha’u’llah says must be right even though I don’t see the reason for it.

Many years ago, I was an auxiliary board member in North America, and at that time, it was before the days of institutes and all the rest of it, and I used to conduct new believers conferences for the friends in each of the states of the mid-West. And these new believers conferences were a very entertaining experience. We’d round up all the new believers of the last several months in each state. I’d gather with them at a little facility. We would allow other Baha’is to come and attend, but they had to sit at the back and basically keep quiet. And during the period of the weekend, I’d discuss with the new Baha’is basic features of the teachings. And the reason we wanted the other believers to keep quiet is that, as I won the confidence of the new believers, they would raise alarming points. They would say: tell me, is it Baha’u’llah the Manifestation and Abdu’l-Baha the son, or other way around? Well, if you have somebody at the back saying: tut, tut, tut, tut, how can you possibly not know a thing like that? - the weekend is ruined. So we had to say to the people, no matter what you hear, please be quiet at the end and try to restrain yourself.

We had wonderful experiences with the new Baha’is where they would say, bring out some of their concerns. I remember one young fellow told us he’d joined the Faith, and he immediately had to go on vacation with his family, who were non-Baha’is, to some place in the Caribbean, Barbados or some place. And while he was on the beach, he met somebody who seemed very receptive to spiritual ideas and he started talking to him about the Faith. And this person became more and more interested and asked him more and more questions. And he got way out of his depth because he could see that the person was heading towards the question of: what’s the name of the founder of your religion? And he was still troubled by all these Persian names and he couldn’t remember who it was. So he resorted to the most elaborate circumlocutions. He referred to the founder, the leader, the head, the prophet, I think even the manifestation on one occasion, in the hope that he could defer this terrible question as long as possible. Eventually, there was no escape, the person said: OK, OK, you’ve told me all this other stuff, what’s his name? And our friend took a deep breath, plunged in, made a stab at it, happened to get it right. It wouldn’t have mattered if he’d got it wrong because the person didn’t know otherwise. But, at the same time, this was the calibre of the new believers conferences.

And they followed a certain pattern. Saturday afternoon we got to know each other, talked about progressive revelation and the manifestation and so on and so forth. Saturday evening, we got into the covenant. And these were friends who had been brought into the Faith but hadn’t been taught as much as we want to teach people these days, so a lot of it was new. And somewhere around 8.30 or 9.00pm on a Saturday evening, I’d break to them the news that we have at the centre of our Faith a body called the Universal House of Justice, which they would accept fairly readily, it didn’t particularly worry them what it was or what it was called. But then I laid on them the fact that it was, that we regard it as infallible, divinely guided and freed from error. And whenever I said this and read the passages from the Guardian’s writings on this subject, one could see alarm and distress in their eyes. They’d rather not know about it, generally, and also, you could see they were saying to themselves: I have joined this very modern, this avant garde, this 21st century religion, and now having penetrated to the core of it, I find it’s saddled with a medieval concept of infallibility. Where did that come from and what’s it doing in the middle of my religion?

So they were prone to make all kinds of extreme statements, such as: I don’t believe this, this is wrong, it’s not right, and things like that. And what one had to do was to stay calm, and not get hot and bothered and upset, and just deal with it as it comes. And so I’d say: OK, OK, let’s not get too worried, let’s sit down and let’s read some writings and see what Baha’u’llah has said about it, and what Abdu’l-Baha has said about it, and what the Guardian has said about it, and we’d work on this. And the evening would finish typically at about 11pm and people would go to bed somewhat troubled, some of them were feeling OK, a lot of them weren’t feeling so great about it. You’d find by the next morning, they’d sorted it out in their minds. They would think: OK, I accept Baha’u’llah’s the Manifestation of God, he has clearly said this about this institution of the Faith, I accept Baha’u’llah, therefore I accept this and I’m with you, I’m part of it. And they would pass the test and go on to become very strong believers. But the point is that one cannot accept the institutions of the covenant and their authority without this sense of spiritual consciousness.

It gives us also insight to Baha’i strategy. For example, consider the Baha’i strategy to spend a vast sum of money on beautifying Mt Carmel at a time when the world is crying out for hospitals, for schools, for more effective means of agriculture, for scholarships for bright kids to get a good education. If you and I were running the world, the beautification of Mt Carmel, a construction of an elaborate series of terraces and a bunch of marble buildings would not be our highest strategy at a time of inadequate material resources. Yet this is the Baha’i strategy; it is best appreciated, can only be appreciated, from a spiritual perspective. If you look at it from a material perspective, it’s either megalomania or some distorted sense of priorities. From a spiritual perspective, it is none of those things, it is the fulfilment of the millennia-old prophecies of the establishment of the seat of God’s administrative order on God’s holy mountain and all the spiritual forces that are attracted by that accomplishment. So, my point is that the most pressing need before us all over the world is that of acquiring a heightened spiritual consciousness.

There are a few other needs I mention before I stop. These are needs that are particular to some societies in the world with which I include New Zealand. And I say these having a reasonable knowledge of this country. New Zealand is one of the countries I follow very closely in the holy land - we can’t all follow the entire 182 National Spiritual Assembly communities, but we follow some of them more than others and then everything comes to the House of Justice table, and so we’re aware of the basic features of what happens everywhere.

One of the very pressing needs in countries such as New Zealand is a big improvement in the moral character of the Baha’i community. We need in New Zealand as well as other countries - I’m not picking on this poor country more than anybody else – but in this country as well as others, we need a far greater commitment than we have at the present time, as far as I can see, to the moral life of the Baha’i community - to the extent to which believers follow our moral teachings, particularly our teachings on chastity and holiness; the extent to which their sexual conduct conforms to the laws of the Faith; their freedom from involvement in narcotics; from involvement in criminal activity; to the observance of the rectitude of conduct. We need in this country, as in others, a far greater commitment from the rank and file of the Baha’i community to the pursuit of the moral, ethical teachings of the Faith. If this does not occur, the community will disintegrate. Masses of people will become inactive, or leave the Faith, or become sour on it. The time is late. This should be given the highest priority in this community.

It applies specially to the youth, but only to the youth. I remember when I was a Baha’i youth, which was an alarming long time ago, how I would come to Baha’i meetings and have people, generally elderly people, speak at great length about chastity and holiness and focus it on the youth. I always felt like saying: OK, OK, we’re not the only ones you know, why are you picking on us? Well, I don’t want to pick on the youth on this occasion, but certainly it is a need that applies to all members of the community, including the youth.

Concomitant with that, is that I think in New Zealand as well as other countries, we need the local spiritual assemblies to administer Baha’i law with justice and fairness, but in a resolute way. We cannot allow local assemblies to close their eyes to delinquency on the part of members of the community in the observance of the Baha’i law. Communities and local assemblies, it seems, in some countries including New Zealand, have a tendencies to shut their eyes in the hope the thing will go away, or else to feel: well, who am I to judge, I have my own weaknesses. That is certainly true, in individual behaviour, who am I to judge? But as a member of a local assembly, one is part of a nascent house of justice called upon to administer justice and failure to administer justice will weaken the spiritual fibre of the community and lead to all kinds of terrible consequences.

Let me tell you a story of an issue that the House of Justice is having to face in another country, not New Zealand. The Baha’is in a local community, a small local community, most of them were either related to each other or good friends of each other and so the local assembly tended to have a very convivial atmosphere. One of the Baha’is in the community had a son who was about 20, 21 years old, and he was a declared Baha’i, member of the Baha’i community, and he got off the rails and started doing things against the Baha’i law in terms of his personal conduct. The local assembly members were all aware of it, but because of familial relationships and questions of friendship, they closed their eyes to it. And this young man got further and further away from the Baha’i teachings, further and further away from the Baha’i laws and the local assembly did nothing.

It reached a point about one month ago. And one month ago the headlines of the provincial state capital city were lurid with the fact that this young man had been executed with a bullet at the back of his neck because he had in his moral delinquency become involved in running a group of prostitutes. And with the prostitution ring that he was running, there was also involvement in narcotics, some very dangerous people became involved with him, he became off-side with them and they executed him.

This lead to a tremendous problem for the Faith, apart from the fact that a mother is grieving her son’s death. In that city is a Muslim community and they were waiting for something like this. They said: Ah, remember what we said about the Baha’is in Iran, that they’re immoral and this and that and the other. Here is now a Baha’i who is running a string of 60 prostitutes. And because of what he’s done, he got executed by a gangland killing. This was a feast for them. They decided to approach the media. All of the media were interested. They decided there would be massive coverage of the funeral - television, cameras were there, trucks and all kinds of things. The major newspapers were going to cover it. We were in deep trouble. The National Spiritual Assembly and the counsellors were consulting about it. We were on the verge of a setback in that country which would’ve literally taken decades to overcome. When the name of the Faith would be blackened in that country because of the fact that a Baha’i had been involved in so severe a criminal activity and one could prove and show readily that the Baha’i community and the local assembly had been aware of it and had done nothing.

Fortunately at the last minute, really we think through the intervention of Baha’u’llah, the crisis was averted. All the media had camped out at the cemetery to be there for the funeral and to interview relatives and other Baha’is - a number of whom were so totally lacking in wisdom that they were prepared to talk to the media - when some other crisis occurred in the city, which was far more newsworthy, and they all left the cemetery and rushed away for that and there was no coverage and we got through by the skin of our teeth. But it won’t, Baha’u’llah won’t intervene so kindly in the future. The Baha’is in that area have learnt their lesson. The National Spiritual Assembly is now pursuing that local assembly for its delinquency and its not clear what action ultimately will be taken.

I’m not saying there’s anything like that going on in New Zealand, maybe there is, maybe there isn’t, but what I am saying is that New Zealand now is at a point where the local assemblies and the believers must as a matter of great necessity give far greater attention to the enforcement of Baha’i moral laws in order to preserve the integrity of the community. If people say: I don’t like these laws, I don’t want to be a Baha’i, that is between them and God. We are not responsible for their faith or their spiritual future. What we are responsible for is to preserve the purity and the integrity of the Baha’i community.

The second thing I want to mention to you is the need for the education of children. This is mentioned in the one year plan message. It certainly applies in New Zealand as well as elsewhere. We must avoid having kids grow up, kids of Baha’i parents, grow up to be undisciplined, unaware of the Faith and, in some cases, hooligans. We want the kids of Baha’i parents to grow up with a sound knowledge of the Faith, to display behaviours which are consistent with the Baha’i teachings and which are a credit to the religion to which they adhere. If we wait ‘til these children become 14 or 15 and then say to them: hey, we have these teachings and there’s things to follow and a standard of things to do, it’s probably too late. There’s probably very little you can do. By that time, they’re drawn off into the materialistic pursuits of their peers. It’s a lot more attractive to them than sitting around reading a bunch of books and going to Baha’i meetings and the like, and it’s probably too late. We need to cut our losses because there are losses and there will be losses. We need to cut our losses and focus far more intensely than at present on the systematic Baha’i education of children and we need to realise that if we neglect that, those children will probably be lost.

We need a greater commitment on the part of the friends to deepening in the covenant. Deepening in the covenant is a very important issue in all parts of the world. It involves much more than being able to recite a catechism of who elects who and the national assemblies are elected this a way and that a way and all the rest of it. It involves a philosophic understanding of the role of authority in religion. And we need this in all countries of the world and we need this particularly in New Zealand. The House of Justice has been appalled in recent weeks to receive vitriolic, nasty, vicious letters from New Zealand Baha'is concerned about actions the House of Justice took with regard to a believer from the South Island. I'm sure you are aware of it. These letters are not many, there are a few of them, but they're probably the worst letters I have ever seen written to the House of Justice and they came from people who are part of the New Zealand Baha'i community. That, if nothing more, is an indication of the need for a far greater attention to this issue in this country as well as in other countries. New Zealand surely doesn't want to go down in Baha'i history as the community that has produced such nasty correspondence. Correspondence of such a kind that I am embarrassed to have my secretary see it because of the kind of language that it uses. Anyhow, be that as it may, it's their spiritual problem and they will deal with Baha'u'llah as they wish.

But the point is that here it is an indication that something is fundamentally wrong with the Baha'i community in this country in terms of its depth of understanding of the covenant and the authority of the institutions of the Faith. What you take as normal is not normal, but abnormal. What is normal is to have in a Baha'i community a number of Baha'is who are very knowledgable about the covenant who can share their insights with others so that the entire community has a good knowledge of the covenant and follows it. And if that is not done, then what I foresee in the future in New Zealand is more of the same – more vitriol, more foulness, more people rebelling against that crowd of kill-joys in Haifa who call themselves the Universal House of Justice and what do they know and this kind of stuff. That is what I see in the future in this country unless there is sharp, urgent and prolonged attention to a far greater deepening and understanding of the covenant.

Finally, let me mention, associated with this, a need for a vastly greater study of the writings of Shoghi Effendi. People read Gleanings, people read the Kitab-i-Aqdas, they read the Hidden Words, they read Some Answered Questions, they read Seven Valleys and so on and so forth. What is not being studied well enough, not nearly well enough, not a quarter well enough, are the writings of Shoghi Effendi. We need people in this country to master books such as The World Order of Baha’u’llah, the Advent of Divine Justice, God Passes By, Messages to the Baha’i World, Citadel of Faith, Baha’i Administration - all the books of Shoghi Effendi written in the 1930s and 1940s describing the events of the 21st century, which we are now about to enter on. We need Baha’is to master these books, to study them, to almost be able to quote them - although that in itself is fairly sterile if that’s all one does - but to have a deeper insight into the profound wisdom conveyed by Shoghi Effendi in his writings.

And if this is done, then this New Zealand Baha’i community will become spiritually strong, will become well protected against whatever challenges will come to it from within or from without in the years ahead. It’ll have a sense of spiritual integrity, a sense of holiness, a sense of commitment to the laws of the Faith, a respect for the authority of the Faith, and it will bring in vast numbers of people in this country. And New Zealand has the potential to become a very, very strong Baha’i community, which will be a powerhouse all over the Pacific and beyond. It’s up to you, but it requires this kind of attention to spiritual consciousness, to the provisions of the covenant, to a deeper understanding of the writings of the Guardian. This is the challenge I see before New Zealand at the present time, and if this challenge is not met, or if it is only met half-heartedly, then I’m afraid you will see difficulties multiplying and increasing and the spiritual tone of the community destroyed and eroded. It is up to the friends here in this room and in other parts of New Zealand to respond to this challenge.

Thank you.


Part Three: Questions and Answers

Ha, we’ll start with a frivolous question: “Can you please confirm the rumour that the Universal House of Justice is considering shortening the 19 day fast to 19 hours.” You hope.

What we do in the holy land is we have a um, we all have a Microsoft computer system that’s been sold with a graphical interface and what one does casually in the afternoon, when it’s about 3 o’clock and everyone’s hungry and thirsty, is you can, if you want to be kind to somebody else on the system, send them a meal. If you’re adept at the computer, you can find some little beautiful meals, like a steak and eggs or something, which you then send to them by e-mail. You can tell always tell that happens when, somewhere in the building, you hear an agonised scream.

There are a group of questions that I’ve got here which concern the year 2000 and the question of the Lesser Peace and what happened and where is it and so on. Let me read the questions: firstly, “How close is humanity to achieving the Lesser Peace?”; second question, “For years we’ve waited with anticipation for peace by the year 2000. Can you elaborate please?” Another one about calamity, which is peripherally related.

Basically, the position of the Universal House of Justice is Shoghi Effendi has said that three processes will synchronise. One is the coming of the Lesser Peace; second is the establishment of the administrative centre on Mount Carmel; and thirdly is the development of the local and national spiritual assemblies into um, in their maturity and the maturation of the local assemblies. Well, the first of those is well under way - or the second of those - the construction of the seat of the Administrative Order on Mount Carmel. Therefore, if the Guardian is to be believed and he is, it follows that the other two are also well in hand - the coming of the Lesser Peace and the maturation of local and national assemblies.

The point is that all three are processes rather than events. And the Guardian said these three processes would synchronise. If they were events, he would have said, these three events would coincide. The word “coincide” refers to events which occur at the exact same moment. “Synchronise” refers to things that are travelling at the same speed – synchronisation process proceeding at the same time. So what we believe is that the coming of the Lesser Peace is not an event – although it will have events as part of it - but a process, and we believe that that process is alive and well and healthy and accelerating.

And if you look at the present day and see over the last three or four years the extent of the international involvement and international co-operation, it is far greater than it possibly be envisaged. If you look, for example, at how elections in so many countries - even Zimbabwe where the election seems to be a very dubious matter and the elections in Peru and the like - you find that governments are finding the necessity for satisfying international dispassionate observers to be a key to their legitimacy. This is an example of the international involvement in the internal affairs of nations. The same was the issue in Kosovo. Kosovo was part of the remainder republic of Yugoslavia, which was very much Serb dominated, yet the international community felt that the needs of human rights required that they intervene in Kosovo against the will of the established government. The same thing occurred in Rwanda, with the massacre of the Tutsis and later of the Hutus. There was a conscious involvement in the internal affairs of Rwanda in the name of human rights and we find this occurring in a whole lot of other countries. In some cases the international involvement seems to makes it worse, as it did in Somalia, but nevertheless, it was a step forward. The international co-operation of nations, their preservation of peace and the like, their powers of sanction as seem to be sort of gathering momentum with regard to the present situation in Fiji, all of these are part of the evolution of the Lesser Peace. It will have striking events as part of it, but it will be a process that will continue on into the future and it will accelerate. And certainly this end of the century, we can see the events of the last few years as marking a very significant stage in it.

So, how close is humanity to achieving the Lesser Peace? It is being born before us. Just as the local and national assemblies are maturing before us, and the establishment of the administrative system on Mount Carmel is being accomplished before our eyes. The present phase is coming to its conclusion in the next few months, but there’s a lot more to be done in the decades to come during the new, the 21st century.

Related to that is the question: “I’m still waiting for the unseen calamity by the end of the 20th century. Are we still getting it?” I’ve got news for you folks, you’ve got it. This stuff going on in New Zealand at the present time, if this is not a calamity, what is? Would you rather lose your spiritual life and your spiritual condition and go through all eternity spiritually crippled by this? Is that worse or better than the physical calamity of having your house blown up or having a war occur or something like that? Our values are spiritual. The things we value most are spiritual things. We are facing spiritual tests and a spiritual calamity is before us. And one of the things I wanted to do this morning is to alert you to my understanding that the Baha’is in New Zealand are facing the very real prospect of a spiritual calamity unless urgent and immediate measures are taken.

“Can we recite the Fire Tablet everyday? Is it to be recited sparingly or can it be used as frequently as the Tablet of Ahmad?” There is a great deal of latitude and personal judgement in the recitation of prayers. And these are issues which, in the absence of a specific statement from the Guardian, I’m not aware of any specific statement, they’re left to the individual. You’re free to use your own judgement to decide how frequently or how sparingly to use the Fire Tablet, whether to use it as frequently as the Tablet of Ahmad or not. Obviously, with the recitation of any prayer, one dimension of it is the way you recite it. We went through a stage about 20 or 30 years ago where people were saying 500 removers of difficulty all over the place. And that’s a very wonderful thing to do, but it degenerated to a ritual and you could just as easily set up a Tibetan prayer wheel and spin it around, for all the effectiveness it was having. So, the important thing was not the actual recitation, but the feeling, the spiritual feeling with which it was done.

It’s not only that, recitation also is important. When one is acquiring the skill of prayer, one finds oneself often saying a prayer with zero meaning to it, because you’re not used to it. We say to people: just hang in there, keep saying it, eventually it’ll start to mean something. So, one can’t give up in the name of getting nothing out of it because one has to train oneself. The same applies to the recitation of the Greatest Name 95 times a day. You start doing that and it’ll probably seem very mechanical and very odd and a very strange thing to do and you wonder what on earth effect it’s having. And we say to the friends: just stick to it, just keep doing it, even though it feels funny and you feel like you are getting nothing out of it, just keep saying it because you’re obeying the law of Baha’u’llah and in time to come, you’ll find yourself very attached to it and you’ll get a great deal of meaning from it.

“Do Baha’i parents (…I think it means) can Baha’i parents accept that teenage children are involved in boyfriends or girlfriend relationships.” This tends to be a very tricky issue and tends to excite a great deal of emotion. Basically, we have certain laws in our Faith and a lot of things that are left to the individual and which also can be a function of culture, except culture changes before your eyes. What we do say is that people should not have sexual relations with each other if they’re not married to each other. This doesn’t mean they shouldn’t get to know each other, boy and girl, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go out with each other, if that is the culture. In some places it is, in some places it isn’t. There are some cultures in the world, where if a boy and girl are seen together and they’re unmarried, then all kinds of incredible assumptions are made about what’s going on and what level of commitment there is to them and the Baha’is of course have to be aware of that and have to protect the good name of the Faith. In other cultures, it doesn’t mean too much and Baha’is are very free to do that. The point is that we have certain laws and within that a great deal of flexibility, which is partly a matter of culture. But certainly, there’s a lot of latitude. We do know that in our religion, we are told by Abdu’l-Baha that when people are thinking of marrying each other, they should become informed of each other’s character, and that in turn requires a certain degree of interaction between them. How that occurs or how that’s to happen is a matter of culture. But there is nothing in the Baha’i writings that says that people shouldn’t go out or date people of the opposite sex on a one-to-one basis or as a group or the like. There’s nothing in the teachings that says that is wrong, but it also has to be governed by the culture, by the assumptions that society makes and of course the attitude of the parents is a factor in this.

“The recent message from the House of Justice discussed the need to keep second generation Baha’is. What are the key features that will bring this about?” There are some things that I have noticed where I find kids of Baha’i parents not becoming Baha’is, so I’ll answer in a very negative way. One is where the parents neglected the systematic spiritual education of their kids. They thought that because the kids were around all the time, they would pick it all up. And you’ll find, we’ve been amazed in the holy land sometimes with visitors, Baha’is who come, the kids of Baha’i parents sometimes many generation Baha’is, and they know nothing about the Faith, or they only know superficial things. I remember a man who came for interviews, a mature fellow in his 40s, he came for interview for a position to serve at the world centre from a very distinguished Baha’i background. And we said: well, you’ve arrived and we are going to interview you but you want to relax and unpack your belongings and then visit the shrines. He said fine, we told him he might want to go to the Shrine of the Bab and also the Shrine of Abdu’l-Baha. He was amazed that there was a shrine of Abdu’l-Baha. He said: where is it?, we said: well, it’s actually in the same building at the moment. This was like telling him something he’d never heard before. And he was an example that remains in my memory because I didn’t know what to say to him. It remains in my memory as somebody who was from a very, family of prominence in the Baha’i community, a multi-generational Baha’i, but he just sort of had never systematically deepened his knowledge of the Faith and that is characteristic of some Baha’is.

You find sometimes kids of Baha’i parents don’t become Baha’is because the Baha’i Faith to them was whatever took their parents away from them and they grew up with a resentment of the Faith. So, what’s Baha’i?, well, that’s the reason why we never go on picnics, or we never can go for a decent vacation but we always go to summer school or something like that. There is a grow, there can be a growing sense of resentment on the part of the children that the Baha’i Faith is something that takes parents away from them and it means they can’t enjoy themselves and do normal things like other people. And this is again something which can be avoided by involvement of the children so they feel they’re participants rather than a nuisance around the place and also by having a moderate balance so the children don’t feel deprived compared to their non-Baha’i friends. But certainly, this isn’t a complete answer. It’s an issue that requires some good consultation in our local Baha’i communities to identify the factors which result in activity generation after generation. We do have families of Baha’is in New Zealand as well as other countries, where generation after generation is active in the Faith and I think we need to learn more from them. The other factor that I’ve noticed in kids not becoming Baha’is is where the parents are either backbiting against the institutions of the Faith and the kids pick it up and hear it, or where the parents become arrogant about their position in the faith and the kids grow up with that sense of arrogance and superiority and usually come to grief spiritually as a result of it.

“What is the current policy for Baha’is, Persian and others, to travel to Iran?” There is no restriction on your travelling to Iran if you wish to, but if you get stuck there, you’re on your own. We can do nothing for you. We can do nothing for you if you - people do occasionally go and they come back safely, others go and they get stuck and generally the ones that get stuck appeal to the institutions to help them and there’s nothing we can do. There’s also the factor that the reputation of the Baha’i community in terms of its relationship with governments - it’s ability to persuade the government to let Baha’i refugees in can in some countries be compromised by the fact that Baha’is are going back to Iran. I don’t know what the situation is in New Zealand, but I know that in Australia, it’s an awkward thing. They go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and say: please, we want more places for Baha’is to come from Iran as refugees, and the Minister for Immigration says to them: yes, fine, they make good refugees, they settle in, but by the way I notice a whole bunch of your people going back to Iran on visits and you’re coming and telling me that you have fear of persecution and therefore you want to come out of Iran. If that’s so, how come all these characters are going back? So it’s an awkward situation.

“Are there plans to develop a worldwide Baha’i children’s curriculum to be modified to take into account each country’s unique cultural characteristics?” No there are not. It’s premature, we regard it as premature, we’d rather let a hundred flowers bloom at this stage and have people develop various curricula appropriate to various needs in the world, and then foster co-operation and co-ordination so that we don’t keep reinventing the wheel, and out of that will, in an organic evolutionary way, come probably a universal curriculum. But we don’t want some universal thing that’s imposed from on top and modified for individual cultures. It’s rather an inductive approach – bottom up rather than top down.

“How does one bring up a child as a Baha’i whilst still honouring the principle of independent, the investigation of truth. Should we teach the Faith as fact or as opinion to children?” This reminds me of the argument that surfaces perennially in states like Tennessee and Arkansas in the United States, about teaching evolution and whether revolution should be taught as a theory or as a fact. And it usually prompts letters to the editors in Nashville or Little Rock newspapers, where people say that we should also teach the stork theory of babies in the same way. What one should do is bring up a child according to Baha’i values - ethical and moral and spiritual values - and to conform to Baha’i practices of prayer and the like, but in a non-indoctrinated manner, so the child grows up with a trained mind, so the child can make his or her own investigation of the Faith in a psychologically independent way and be confident that if the mind is trained and the child is brought up with an awareness of the Baha’i Faith in a Baha’i family milieux, then they will choose the Baha’i Faith. They’re not forced into it at gun point. Their powers of investigation are enhanced rather than crippled.

“Has the Universal House of Justice proclaimed to the Pope? What was the response?” The proclamation was sent to the Pope as head of the Vatican State, at the time the proclamation was made some years ago when the Promise of World Peace was distributed. No effort has been made to update the present Pope. He’s obviously aware of the Baha’i Faith from all kinds of things the Baha’is have been doing around the world, apart from our Zena and the things she did. But you can rest assured that the Vatican is well aware of the Faith. One of the more seniors in the Vatican has a function of liaising with the Baha’i community and the National Assembly of Italy manages that liaison relationship.

“Why is it not appropriate to exchange the word “he” or “she” when reading a healing prayer for a woman?” This is part of a much broader issue in terms of gender neutral language and you find that what we’re doing is, rather than adjusting to the existing system, we wanta move the goal posts. What we wanta do is to recover the original meaning of “he”, which is the meaning in the Oxford English Dictionary, where “he” is used as a generic term applying to male as well as female. This will take probably some generations to do, and in the interim it feels a little awkward to be using “he” when referring to a woman, but one can condition oneself psychologically to return to the original meaning of the word, where “he” is used as a generic rather than a male term.

I’ll take one more and then I’ll stop. Re personal conduct of youth: “It seems a lot of youth go night clubbing and it forms a main social activity. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?” This is again, there is nothing in the teachings about going or not going to nightclubs. One has to form one’s own opinion, considering the nature of it, the reputation of the Faith and the like. For example, in the holy land, when friends come to serve in the holy land, we say to them that while they’re serving in the holy land, we do not allow them to go to discos. This is not because there’s anything in the writings against going to discos, it is rather that the situation which exists in the city of Haifa and in the holy land generally is if a group of Baha’is go to a disco, they can be identified as Baha’is and all kinds of problems arise because of the complex nature of Israeli society. The tensions between Arabs and Jews are often focused in the dynamics of discos and whether a Jewish guy wants to dance with an Arab girl or vice versa and the like and try as they might, Baha’i young people who go as a group to a disco in that setting get themselves caught up in those Jewish/Arab tensions. So we said, we have enough hassles going on without this stuff, please don’t go to discos while you are in the holy land. We make it clear to the friends this is not a general prohibition on going to discos. If they go back to California, they can go to discos as much as they like. So it would be a matter of evaluating the nature of the nightclub and the nature of its activity and the reputation of the Faith for Baha’is to be known and identified as going to that particular nightclub. And I imagine that the situation is very broad; there are some nightclubs that have a reputation for very sleazy things and probably all kinds of drug deals and sexual activities that are inappropriate for Baha’is and one would keep away from them because of their reputation. There are probably other nightclubs that are quite reasonable and it would not be a problem with. But the point is that the Faith doesn’t make a set of minute rules, but rather it says: these are guidelines, you develop a heightened spiritual consciousness and you then decide what’s good or bad or right or wrong.

[end of videotaping of session for that day]

[Peter Khan answered more questions the following day. Among these were the following questions and their answers.]

There are a number of questions, as you can imagine, from yesterday’s presentation, about moral issues. One of them dealt with the fact that when an assembly - what advice could I offer specifically to assemblies in dealing with moral issues? How to not turn a blind eye and how to not become involved in distasteful gossip. This is a very important question. It brings up the fact that assemblies have the inescapable duty to administer justice, and this is not easy and cannot be reduced to a simple formula. One cannot prescribe a recipe and say, first do this, then do that, then do the other and you will be administering justice. That’s why we need nine people on the assembly, you can’t do it with just two or three because it is a more complex sort of thing. In general, assemblies have to avoid gossip and backbiting the same as the rest of us, but at the same time, an assembly is here to administer justice and therefore one has to be specific. One has to name names, one has to present evidence. Assemblies can say, well, you have no evidence, we don’t want to proceed in this direction, but it’s not as simple as that, because sometimes one will have strong suspicions, sometimes one will have intuitions. Where does intuition end and prejudice begin? These are very complex features, part of the fact that administration of justice cannot be reduced to a recipe and that’s why there is increasingly a call upon the national assemblies, the counsellors and auxiliary board members to help the local assemblies to develop in their skill of administering justice. My observation is that our problems lie not in the incapacity of local assemblies to administer justice, but more in their reluctance to do so. And this reluctance at the present time is often due to factors which should not be part of it. Factors such as: let’s not stir the whole mess up because it’ll divide the community. If we start getting into that, someone’s going to get into what I’m doing and that’ll create a whole bigger mess than we’ve got now or the like, or this person is my cousin, my aunt, my uncle, my niece or my nephew, or they’re related to my best friend and if one doesn’t look after one’s friends, then where are we anyhow. So there are all these kinds of factors.

The other extreme of course exists. There are always extremes in the Faith to be avoided. The other extreme is the witch hunt. And there are some personalities that derive a great deal of satisfaction from witch hunting, psychological satisfaction. There are people who like to go around because it gives them a sense of superiority, who like to feel that they’re sort of holier than thou and they know what’s going on, and who will be very happily snooping in key holes unless we stop them. And this is not so, this is not what the Baha’i Faith’s about. It doesn’t have a CIA or a KGB or anything like that. It doesn’t go around snooping on people. It says if you are breaking the law of Baha’u’llah, it’s between you and God. God is big enough and strong enough to take care of himself. It is rather that if you bring the reputation of the Faith into disrepute, if you damage the unity of the community, then we have to do something. We can’t allow the Baha’i community to fall into disrepute or into division or disrepair as a result your actions. But if you quietly or privately or in a clandestine way violate Baha’i laws, that’s between you and God, we’re not going to look in the kitchen window or whatever and see what you’re doing.

We have a fairly complex question from an individual concerning a long-term Baha’i friend, who separated from his wife and is on the year of patience. However, during the period of this year of patience, he started up a new relationship with another woman. And his justification is that I’ve been waiting a very long time. And is he breaking Baha’i law and what should be done about it? And I think this is covered by things I’ve said earlier. Baha’i law is that if we’re on a year of patience, that is a period where one should be devoted to seeing if the relationship can be repaired. It can’t always be repaired, if it can’t be repaired, there’s nothing in Baha’i law that says you can’t get divorced. It is permissible in our teachings. But the year of patience is a time when you make a sincere effort to see if the relationship can be repaired, it is not a time for dating in the form of trying to form a new enduring relationship. That’s the Baha’i law. If a person is violating that and it becomes known to be a source of concern in the community, then one takes it to the local assembly. But if I were in that situation, and I was, God forbid, wanting to break the Baha’i law by indulging in dating and seeking to form a new relationship during a year of patience, I’d be smart enough to do it on the quiet, and you wouldn’t even know about it. In that case, it’s between me and God. I would still be violating the law of Baha’u’llah and Baha’u’llah can take care of me. You don’t need to peer into the kitchen window or whatever and see what’s happening. In other words, this is again this point, that we are here to protect the reputation of the Baha’i community, to protect the integrity of the Baha’i law, it does not involve witch hunts or snooping on people, but at the same time, it doesn’t involve shutting one’s eyes to violations of Baha’i law which affect the integrity and reputation of the community.

Next question concerns my reference to a situation that had occurred in the South Island of New Zealand, which seemed to elicit some rather um, some rather condemnatory responses to the House of Justice from some friends down there. And the question points out that most people don’t know what the devil I’m talking about or what on earth I mention and why don’t I tell them, and obviously I’m not going to do anything like, the laws of backbiting still apply to all of us. But there is nevertheless an important point to be made and that is: the reason I raised it is that it relates to our approach to the covenant. It relates to an extreme form of behaviour where a few individuals felt they had the right to judge the House of Justice’s actions on the basis of an incorrect piece of information that they received from heaven knows where. Now, this you might say, here we are sitting in this lovely room with the sun shining - which I think is pretty rare for this country as far as I can tell - here we are sitting in this lovely room in this nice setting and all and saying: how would anybody in their right mind do that? Well, people do it not because they’re malicious or bad or evil or anything like that, but simply because they’re mislead by emotion. And what we need to do is get a sufficiently clear understanding of the covenant that we can resist the temptations of emotion, so we feel very clearly about the authority of the central body of the Cause and our understanding is not diverted by the heat and the passion of emotion at the moment. And it is for this reason that I mention this example. It doesn’t particularly matter to the House if other people write all kinds of sort of unsavoury letters to them, it bounces off our back. Particularly in my case, I was trained in factory floors in Australia as an engineer so anything you say to me, I’ve probably already heard it many times before.

There are a number of dimensions to the covenant, but we do need to be very clear about the authority of the House of Justice and as many of us as possible need to try to deal with questions such as this: how do I know that the House of Justice has the authority stated in the Will and Testament when there’s no Guardian present? This is a question that’s come up, that’s been answered at great length in messages of the House of Justice. One needs to dig these out and study them and analyse them and present classes on them. We need to be very, very clear on the logical reasoned justification for asserting the authority of the House of Justice in the absence of a living Guardian. Nothing to worry about, it’s very straightforward, it’s very clear in the writings, but we need enough believers around the place who study those various messages of the House of Justice and are very clear about it. There are, I know, a number of believers in the community who have a crystal clear understanding of it, an admirable understanding of it, and they are a resource to you.

Another intriguing form of questioning that’s becoming more prevalent in the present day concerns the word “infallible”. And this is a very interesting way to try and erode the authority of the House of Justice, because “infallible” is a pretty bad word - you know, nobody likes to talk about things that are infallible or individuals who claim infallibility, it’s sort of an unsavoury concept. So in that sense, one of the forms of opposition at the moment that’s being spread in a clandestine way, is to say: well, the word is mistranslated, it really doesn’t mean “infallible”, it means “immaculate” in terms of integrity, or sinlessness, or freedom from moral stain or anything like that, and that somehow these folk in Haifa have taken it to be “infallible” and they go around sort of parading up and down the place saying that they’re free from error in their decisions. And the problem with that school of thought, whether you can speak Arabic or Persian or Turkish or any language at all, the problem is that Shoghi Effendi has, as authorised interpreter, used the word infallible over and over again, explaining that he means this, even though it doesn’t mean that, and so on and so forth. So one then has to tackle Shoghi Effendi, and that leads you then to have to tackle what Abdu’l-Baha said about Shoghi Effendi and his authority as interpreter in the Will and Testament, and then you have to deal with Abdu’l-Baha and so it goes on. So, these are issues that I think we need at least a few friends, if not as many as possible, in the community to be very clear on so they can be a help and a guide to the other believers when these sorts of issues become prevalent, because they become the basis for assertions attempting to erode the authority of the House of Justice.


  • Return to Documents

  • To Baha'i Studies

  • To Talisman