14 December 2018

19th Century Religious Movements

I have always been intrigued by the many, many nineteenth century prophetic movements all over the world. People from New York to Tehran to Nanjing were all getting prophet fever. Some were preparing people for the coming of a great day heralded by Christianity and Islam, others were claiming themselves to be the long-awaited restored religion.

Observing as a Baha'i, these new religious movements were part of a world upheaval in religious thought that was in the context of the revelation of Baha'u'llah and the concurrent collapse of established orthodoxy. 

It is amazing what they got right. William Miller's prediction of the return of Christ was within months of the Bab's declaration of His mission. Most of the movements held restorationist beliefs about the need for new guidance from God, and many tried to create a moral code suitable for the modern world, teaching of the equality of men and women or abstention from alcohol.

Here are short summaries of them, and some mysterious connections to the Baha'i Faith.

Joseph Smith

Joseph Smith spent his childhood in New York and Pennsylvania, where three large churches were vying for adherents. In his early twenties, he began receiving revelations and claims to have been guided to find a set of golden tablets left by a Jewish tribe that visited America. Joseph used his seer stones to translate the plates, which tell of a visit of Jesus Christ to the New World. His followers, Mormons, now number about 16 million.

Although there are many indications that Joseph Smith was at times a fraud, there are also many indications that he tapped into the divine currents flowing in the nineteenth century. He said that there were "some in the congregation that should live until the Savior should descend from heaven" and "there are those of the rising generation who shall not taste death til Christ comes." After all, he named his reformed church "... of Latter-day Saints" when there was a focus on being in the "latter days" before Christ appeared.

He also received a revelation that if he were to live to 85 years, Smith would see "the face of the Son of Man". He was killed by a mob in 1844, just weeks after the Bab's declaration, but if he had lived to be 85, he could have seen Baha'u'llah standing on Mt Carmel, pointing out the spot where the Bab's shrine would later be built. The following year the Baha'i Faith was presented at the World Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago not far from the Mormon colony of Nauvoo, an event that Smith certainly would have attended if he had been alive.

William Miller 
(1782 - 1849) 

In 1818, after two years of intense Bible study, William Miller discovered that prophecy would be fulfilled in the year leading up to 21 March 1844. He expected "all the affairs of our present state would be wound up" and that Christ would descend from the sky. The date was revised and set to 22 October 1844, and on that day thousands of people put on white robes and waited in fields. Of course, in May that year the Bab began teaching in Persia.

Millerites, as they came to be known, numbered more than 50,000. Miller recorded his personal disappointment in his memoirs: ''Were I to live my life over again, with the same evidence that I then had, to be honest with God and man, I should have to do as I have done. I confess my error, and acknowledge my disappointment”.

Although there are no "Millerites" today, there are about 20 million followers of the Seventh-day Adventist church that sprung directly from Miller's movement. Another 8.5 million are in the Jehovah's Witness church, whose founder was influenced by Miller.

Hong Xiuquan 
(1812 - 1864) 

After failing the Chinese civil service exam for the third time, Hong Xiuquan had a nervous breakdown. He dreamed of a fatherly man in a black dragon cloak giving him a sword and seal, and telling him to rid the world of demons. In the dream, he slayed the demons with the help of his heavenly brother. 

Back in the real world, Hong took the exam again in 1843 and failed a fourth time, again causing delerious visions of slaying demons. This time he also started reading Christian literature, and decided that the father in the vision was God, his brother was Jesus, and Hong (the brother of Jesus) was being commanded by God to rid China of idol worship.

Hong immediately destroyed all the idols and confucian literature in his home, and soon recruited his extended family to do the same. In 1844, as the Bab declared to Mulla Husayn, Hong's movement spread to his entire ethnic group (Hakka) and soon engulfed Guangzhou in a crisis as they began destroying idols all over the place and preaching the worship of the one true God. Hong prohibited opium, gambling, alcohol, slavery, and prostitution. Under his control, property was seized by the state and redistributed among the poor and farmers. In 1850-51, as Hujjat and Vahid were being sieged by government forces in Persia, Hong and tens of thousands of his followers were under attack by government forces in southern China, but they emerged on top. Within three years they sacked Nanjing and controlled a territory covering 30 million people, known as the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. By 1856, the Taiping armies numbered over 1 million, and the resulting civil war caused at least 20 million deaths.

In 1864, as the imperial army closed in on Nanjing, Hong retreated to the basement of his imperial palace and died from taking poison. His followers buried him in a yellow imperial shroud, but when the imperial army reached the palace, Hong was exumed, beheaded, and burned.

Ghulam Ahmad

Just as Christians are awaiting the second coming of the Messiah, Muslims are expecting both Jesus and the Mahdi to appear about the same time to restore the true religion of God. According to one account, a Baha'i teacher named Sulayman Khan visited Ghulam Ahmad in northern India and left him some literature (sometime between 1879-88). Later Ahmad announced himself to be the Mahdi of Islam and shared doctrines that are surprisingly similar to those espoused by Baha'u'llah, such as the return of the qualities of a prophet and not the physical body. He forbide holy war, talked of a new world order, and discouraged the materialism of western civilization.

Ahmad claimed to be a reformer within Islam, a sort of revivalist restoring the true faith, quite similar to the claims of Joseph Smith about a restored priesthood. And similar to Joseph Smith, the claims did not go over well with the mainstream. His followers faced persecution, hundreds killed, many fled, and to this day Pakistan forbids Ahmadis from calling themselves 'Muslim'. There are now more than 10 million Ahmadi Muslims in the world, mostly concentrated in Pakistan.

Joseph Wolff
(1795 - 1862) 

Wolff was born a Jew in Germany and later became a preacher in the Church of England. Wolff was a well respected missionary who traveled to Greece, Malta, the Crimea, Palestine, Turkey, Egypt, Central Asia, Abyssinia, Yemen, India, and other lands, including the United States of America, where he was ordained deacon, and preached to a joint meeting of Congress in 1836.

He taught that the Messiah was coming soon to set up His kingdom in the Holy Land. He showed Jews that the Messiah is to be identified with Jesus Christ. Using the same prophecies that Miller found, he proceeded to expound the 2300 days of Daniel 8:14, showing that they would end in 1847 with the coming of the Messiah in power and glory. Having established in his hearers’ minds that the Messiah would be returning to re-establish the Jewish kingdom within a few years, Wolff called for belief in Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

As the years passed and 1847 loomed close, people asked Wolff what he would say if 1847 passed without the return of the Messiah. He answered that he would admit that he had been wrong.

Choe Je-u

Choe Je-u was a Confucian scholar in Korea who noticed that the "mandate of heaven" had passed from the Asian powers to the western powers. Concerned, Choe spent years wandering and studying with a distressed heart.

In 1860 Choe claims to have heard the voice of the supreme ruler of heaven saying, "Don't be afraid. Mankind calls me the Supreme Lord. I sent you to save mankind. I have a talisman which is called the Elixir of Immortality. Cure mankind's illness with this talisman." The voice told Choe that he, the Supreme Lord, would soon appear in the world and initiate the "Great Opening of the Later Heaven". Choe formed a new religion called Donghak around the belief that this Lord of Heaven would soon incarnate in this world to usher in a new era of righteousness. One of the distinguishing features of his religion was the unity of humanity, emphasizing that all people should be treated equally. 

Three years after Choe began preaching, Baha'u'llah announced his new Faith in Baghdad. Eight months later, Choe was arrested and beheaded by the emperor of Korea due to the popularity of his movement. The faith that Choe founded evolved into Cheondism in modern Korea, with a current following of about 3 million.

Joseph Bates

On the morning following the "Great Disappointment" of October 22, 1844, a Mr. Hiram Edson claimed to have seen a vision. He said that he saw Jesus standing at the altar of heaven and concluded that Miller had been right about the time, but wrong about the place. The idea became popular that the return was fulfilled in 1844 as predicted, but not as they were expecting. Rather than seek out the fulfillment in a new Messenger of God somewhere else on earth (hint: Persia), Joseph Bates decided that Jesus' return was not to earth, but a move into theheavenly sanctuary as is referenced in Heb. 8:1-2.

Mr. Joseph Bates (1792-1872), a retired sea captain and a convert to "Millerism" then began to promote the idea of Jesus moving into the heavenly sanctuary. He published a pamphlet which greatly influenced James (1821-1881) and Ellen White (1827-1915). It is these three who were the driving force behind the Seventh Day Adventist movement, now numbering about 20 million.

Charles Russell
(1852 - 1916)

At the age of 18, Russell listened to a Millerite preacher and renewed his faith. He was further influenced by a handful of Adventist preachers until he too began writing articles about faith, rapture, and the imminent coming of Christ.

One Adventist in particular, Nelson Barbour, worked with Russell to describe that 6,000 years from creation would end in 1873, Christians would be removed in a rapture in 1874, and the "harvest" would be from 1874 to 1914, after which the kingdom of God would be established on earth.

After the failure of 1874 to produce the expected rapture, Russell and Barbour split ways while trying to explain the embarrassing situation. Russell quickly established what came to be known as the Watch Tower Society, a name which you probably recognize because you have most likely found their pamphlets left on your door. Russell's publications quickly spread to reach millions of readers. He taught that in 1874 Christ returned invisibly to rule from heaven, and that 1914 would see an anarchical world war that would destroy nations. When World War I broke out that year, he said that it was the battle of Armageddon and that the generation who witnessed it would see the return of Christ.

Russell's Bible students, now known as Jehovah's Witnesses and numbering 8.5 million, entered a crisis as the expected return of Christ failed to materialize as they expected. After Russell's death in 1916 they continued setting dates for the event in 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, and 1975. Their last, best hope for their foundational doctrine was that maybe a baby born in 1914 would still be alive, but even that hope faded and the church had to come up with logic gymnastics to explain their continued existence.

Shaykh Ahmad

Ahmad was born in al-Ahsa, eastern Arabia near Bahrain. He observed that Muslims had perverted and degraded Islam, and he set out traveling and studying, thinking about how to bring about a revival. He concluded that no reform could regenerate Islam, and that nothing short of a new revelation would be needed through a new Manifestation of God. He settled in the theological centers of Najaf and Karbala in Iraq, and convinced a large following that the promised Mahdi and Christ would soon appear to redeem and save mankind. He spent the last twenty years of his life in Iran, where he gained the patronage of Qajar princes.

Shaykh Ahmad didn't exactly create his own sect, he always considered himself teaching within Shi'ah Islam, yet he introduced some ideas that changed Shi'ah thinking and created a distinct following. He taught that the soul is separate from the body, and that the ascent into heaven is of the soul, not the body. He also applied this principle to the return of bodies, meaning that the return of the Imam Mahdi would be a return of the qualities of prophethood, not of the individual who lived in the 10th century AD. He therefore taught insistently that his followers should scatter far and wide and seek the redeemer of the world in the form of a human being born with innate knowledge.

Shaykh Ahmad's successor, Kazim, gave details of what to look for: he was to be of pure lineage, of the seed of Fatima (Muhammad's daughter), he would be between 20 and 30 years old, of medium height, he would not smoke, and be free from bodily deficiencies. In May of 1844 a follower of Shaykh Ahmad by the name of Mulla Husayn encountered a young merchant in Shiraz who announced that he was the promised Mahdi. The Bab, as he came to be known, began revealing scripture and converted tens of thousands in Iran to his new faith, which formally split from Islam.

The Bab gained close to a million followers in just six years. The opposition from the Islamic clergy was heavy and swift. The Bab was executed in a public square, and an estimated 20,000 followers killed across the Persian Empire.

The Bab claimed to be the herald of a far greater Manifestation of God, who would reveal himself 19 years later (1863). According to Biblical and Islamic prophecy, there would be two messengers back to back in the end times. One of the Bab's followers, exiled in Iraq, announced himself as this second Messenger. He was known as Baha'u'llah, and his own writings spread among the Babis of the time, and the majority of them converted to become Baha'is. The followers of Baha'u'llah now number between 5 and 8 million, spread out into nearly every country and territory of the world. 

That's it. The Baha'i Faith is the fulfillment of all these messianic expectations. Some of them got it very close but were taking things too literally. Some of them conquered half of China. But all of them were part of the currents flowing at the time in the context of the true renewal of the one religion of God. If you haven't done so already, I highly recommend reading Baha'u'llah's Seven Valleys and the Book of Certitude.

13 November 2018

Defection of the Faint in Heart

 I grew up a Baha'i. My older brother never had an interest in it and later told me that anyone who believes in God is an idiot. My sister enrolled as a Baha'i, had a Baha'i wedding, then mostly quit participating. Of all the Baha'is in my generation growing up, about half of them no longer identify as Baha'is. Now as an adult, about once a year I see someone leave the Faith, sometimes distant acquaintances, sometimes close friends.

So what does that mean about the truth of the Baha'i Faith? What does the current social climate say about the long-term prospects of the growth of Baha'u'llah's message? How should we view people leaving almost as fast as they're joining? Here are some thoughts.

18 December 2017

Lessons of the Civil War

I recently came across this quote by Ron Chernow in his book Grant:
For all the endless horrors of [the Civil War], Grant believed the country was stronger for having endured it: “We are better off now than we would have been without it and have made more rapid progress than we otherwise should have made.” The country had become more cosmopolitan, its citizens more worldly, its economy more productive, its military more potent. Most important, Union forces had struck a major blow for freedom and equality. Like Lincoln, Grant deemed the war “a punishment for national sins that had to come sooner or later in some shape, and probably in blood.” Four million slaves had been emancipated and would shortly receive the right to vote, send their children to public schools, and enjoy the benefits of citizenship—progress that would be savagely resisted. For Grant, the war had validated the basic soundness of American institutions. Before, he noted, “monarchical Europe generally believed that our republic was a rope of sand that would part the moment the slightest strain was brought upon it. Now it has shown itself capable of dealing with one of the greatest wars that was ever made, and our people have proven themselves to be the most formidable in war of any nationality.” He added the important caveat that the war had been “a fearful lesson, and should teach us the necessity of avoiding wars in the future.
Further, the purging conflict that Grant viewed as inevitable was festering under the surface for decades. Irreconciliable differences must have led eventually to a break in unity or open conflict. 

That "punishment for national sins" that was the American Civil War didn't fully resolve the problem, and another conflict has been festering again for decades. Irreconcilable differences regarding race, nationality, sex, and class have been steaming to the surface and showing themselves in a mighty culture war, fighting for dominance. It pits urban vs rural, religious vs secular, moral vs immoral, and liberal vs conservative. Both sides feel strongly that the other is one of the "domestic" enemies that they swoar an oath to defend the constitution against.

Of all those issues, race stands out. Just ask anyone visiting from another country for perspective. White America can't deal with race. They can hardly talk about it. America has been self-segregating since the 1990s, because most people want diversity, unless it's in their neighborhood. This segregation has left black Americans with the short stick, with chronic disempowerment, and it has coincided with an increase in open racism that threatens to ignite conflict. 

That these issues are breaking out in the open again is only for the good. 

To put it another way, the longer the country takes to heal its wounds, the worse the repayment will be of those national sins. And repayment is coming. Think of the embolded nationalists who are rolling through the country ripping fathers from their babies and deporting them. Think of the swelled ranks of emboldened whites who feel free to hurl racial insults and demoralize people of color. The American democracy elected an overtly racist Administration that is dismantling the judiciary, Department of State, and the FBI. The damage is done. If Trump gets impeached, the far right will see it as a partisan act, or worse as a move by corrupt Washington insiders in need of punishment. If he is not impeached, the damage will get worse, much worse.

Now we're at a civil war crossroads. This new ideology must crash and show its perversity, and the bigger it grows, the harder it will crash. The harder it crashes, the greater the recovery will be. That seems to be the only path towards a genuine rebirth of unity. If you need a blueprint for racial unity, see the Vision of Race Unity or my older post on the Eradication of Racism in America

10 December 2017

Humor of Baha'u'llah

When a Baha'i goes on pilgrimage, they sign up for a formal 9 days in the Holy Land, marked by a few guided tours, talks, a hike or two up the terraces, and long visits to the shrines of Baha'u'llah and the Bab. 

When I went in early 2001, Mrs. Grossman was my guide, and I heard many amazing stories while visiting the places in Akka and Haifa. Here are three stories that stood out to me because they serve as a reminder of the wit and humor of Baha'u'llah and His companions. These are from memory, and if you know of the references, please leave a comment.
Mishkin-Qalam was a great calligrapher of his day, and is the author of the Greatest Name calligraphy that Baha'is use as a symbol of the Faith. He was a close friend of Baha'u'llah and accompanied him on many of his journeys. One day Baha'u'llah needed to borrow a teapot, so he sent someone to request a teapot from Mishkin-Qalam. The messengers arrived and said, "Baha'u'llah would like to borrow your teapot." To which Mishkin-Qalam responded, "Tell him I said no." The messenger, a little stunned, returned to Baha'u'llah and said, "He said no." Baha'u'llah, now with a smile on His face, asked the messenger to return and ask Mishkin-Qalam, "Why?" The poor messenger now returned to Mishkin-Qalam and said, "He would like to ask you why you said no." To this, Mishkin-Qalam responded, "Tell him that many times in my life I have asked God for something and God denied my request. I would like to have one time in my life that I can say no to something God asks."
Near Akka there was a small alluvial island in a river that the Baha'is built up so that it wouldn't flood, and they made it into a garden. This became known as the Garden of Ridvan (not to be confused with the Garden of Ridvan in Baghdad, where Baha'u'llah declared his mission publicly). This was towards the end of Baha'u'llah's life, when he was free to live outside of the gates of Akka. Baha'u'llah would often visit the garden to relax and enjoy its natural beauty. The caretaker of the garden was a man named `Abu'l-Qasim, who spent many days tending the garden to perfection. One day, a swarm of locusts was approaching the area and would devastate the garden. `Abdu'l-Qasim was frantic and asked Baha'u'llah to do something about the impending destruction. Baha'u'llah responded, "`Abu'l-Qasim, the locusts need to eat too." He returned to his garden and sat in distress while the swarm got closer, within sight. Again, `Abu'l-Qasim pleaded for help and received the same response from Baha'u'llah. As the locusts began chewing on his plants, he again pleaded for help. Baha'u'llah went out into the garden, faced the swarm of approaching locusts, and said in a loud booming voice, "`Abu'l-Qasim is not pleased with you!" Then he shook his robe with a hard swoop, and then most of the locusts in the garden flew away, and the swarm bypassed the garden. 
`Abu'l-Qasim, tending the same garden, worked particularly hard cleaning up mulberries. There was a bush that grew up and over a bench where Baha'u'llah would often sit. To keep the area clean `Abu'l-Qasim would have to daily pick up the fallen berries and then wipe off juice from the bench. As this went on and on `Abu'l-Qasim once complained to Baha'u'llah about this problem and asked for a solution to the problem. To this, Baha'u'llah stood in front of the mulberry bush, and addressing the bush said, "`Abu'l-Qasim is not pleased with you!" Again, he shook his robe with a hard swoop at the bush. The bush never produced a berry again. 
These are stories recorded in Baha'u'llah: A Short Biography by Moojan Momen, pp. 121-122.
...when the Garden of Ridvan was being prepared, all the Baha'is lent a hand in raising the level of the island so that it would not flood and then worked on the soil to develop it into a garden. One day, Nabil Zarandi came to this garden while the other Baha'is were busy at work. One of them called out to Nabil to take a spade and give them a hand. Mulla Muhammad... whom Baha'u'llah had given the name Nabil (meaning 'noble' in Arabic), replied that "Baha'u'llah has prohibited me from working with a spade since he named me 'na bil' (which in Persian means 'no spade')."
On one occasion, Baha'u'llah attended a memorial meeting in `Akka for one of the Baha'is who had died. Aqa Muhammad `Ali noticed how graciously and beautifully Baha'u'llah spoke about the deceased. Longing for the same treatment, Aqa Muhammad `Ali is reported to have said to Baha'u'llah, "I shall be honoured if you would presume that I am dead also, and give me the privilege of inviting you to attend a memorial meeting for me!'
On one occasion when they were still in Baghdad, a rather rotund Iranian cleric came to visit Baha'u'llah and sat down pompously. "I am the seal of the mujtahids", he announced upon his arrival. Mujtahids are the most senior grade of Shi`i clerics and the word seal (khatam) is usually connected with Muhammad being the seal, meaning the last, of the prophets. The word can also mean, as intended here, the most excellent. Baha'u'llah however, taking the first meaning (which would make what he had said to mean 'I am the last of the mujtahids'), quipped: "Let's hope so." 

18 August 2017

Vanquishing Racism

"Woe to the vanquished!" Shouted Brennus as he threw his sword on the scales. He had just finished sacking Rome and was weighing out the 1,000 pounds of gold that the defending Romans would pay to ransom the remainder of the city. After a complaint that the scales were rigged, he threw his sword on the weights because, well, he could.

That was 390 BCE. The Romans took that motto to heart. By 51 BCE Julius Caesar was using the same phrase as he conquered and crushed all of Gaul, where the descendants of Brennus lived. Out of an estimated three million Gauls, Romans killed one million of them, and took another million into slavery.

When I was in Spain I saw a Roman triumphal arch that was placed there to celebrate the Romans conquering the land. I was confused as to why people would allow the arch to remain, celebrating someone else's conquest, so I asked about it. My friend said, "We are the Romans." That's how total the vanquishing was. The indigenous never fought for their independence, because they stopped existing.

Compare the annihilation practiced by the Romans to that of the Greeks and Chinese. Ancient China had warring kingdoms, but they all considered themselves Chinese and had a common language and culture, then Qin Shi Huang conquered them all and united them under one empire. Similarly, the ancient Greek city-states were usually in conflict (unless Persia was invading) until Phillip of Macedonia conquered them all and united them into one powerful nation. These conquests weren't annihilation, they were unification.

The kingdom of China went on to be invaded numerous times, most notably by Mongols and Manchus. Each time, the invaders were absorbed into Chinese culture. In other words, within a few generations the invading culture no longer existed. The advanced civilization of the Chinese, with its technology, wealth, history, arts, and literature was so desirable that everyone who observed it tried to emulate it. In other examples, the Chinese empire spread simply by absorbing willing neighboring states who wanted to be part of the civilized world.

When Phillip's son Alexander took his greek army and conquered the Persian (Achaemenid) Empire it was like the barbarian Mongols invading China. Alexander was an outsider conquering the civilized world. Pretty soon he started dressing and acting like a Persian, and after his death the invading army was absorbed into Persian culture. These examples were conversions.


Nowadays, America has the desirable culture and language, and most of the world is absorbing it. The soft power of Hollywood and Silicon Valley make America the most attractive place to be. But internally, the United States is a mess when it comes to dealing with race and the legacy of slavery. We just had a rough weekend where an innocent girl was killed for peacefully protesting against open and ugly racism.

I feel like we're sitting at a proverbial crossroads. Leading up to the 21st century the side of racial unity and equality was winning by conversion. The bulk of America's social power was directed at promoting the virtues of diversity and affirmative action. It is now socially unacceptable to hold openly racist views.

Then a series of things happened that changed the dynamic.
  1. Barack Obama was elected
  2. Social media became a thing
  3. Same-sex marriage was normalized
  4. Donald Trump was elected
These things are all related. Negative racial stereotypes actually went down in America from the 1960s to the 2000s. By 2010 and later, old fashioned racism saw a rise.

Obama being elected brought race into politics in a new way. It polarized, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It took the people who were on a continuum of racial justice and pushed most people, already converted, to the side of unity; while others were pulled to the side of division. It also for the first time since the 1960s gave people a chance to vote on race relations. Consider that Obama's predecessor was a Republican, hotly reviled on the left, who was an outspoken supporter of racial justice. There was nowhere for racist votes to go until Barack Obama came along.

The Internet also polarized. Before the 1990s most people got their news from a few monolithic sources of popular culture. With the Internet, fringe groups could flourish and people gravitated to the news sources that fit their own biases. This was already happening to some extent, but the Internet allowed people to leave the mega-culture that was pushing for racial unity. Social media then allowed people with overtly racist attitudes to connect with each other easily. It only takes about 40 people sharing their views to give them the confidence to put on rallies and take action. Social media is what connected the disparate "patriot" groups who took over the wildlife refuge in Oregon last year. Social media, with its groomed list of friends, creates an echo chamber for outrage.

Throughout this same period, America experienced a new kind of cultural conversion. Around the time a majority of Americans became accepting of same-sex marriage, the US Supreme Court decided that it was a right nationwide. The language and tactics of the affirming side tried to mirror the civil rights movement, and indeed the issue continues to be presented by media as the next inevitable step to clear away oppression, and anyone opposing it would be treated the same as the social outcasts who clung to slavery. This added fuel to conservatives who then felt like they were fighting for their lives and decided to push hard on the rejecting side. This presentation by the media backfired, in my opinion, by causing a large number of marginal or un-opinionated Americans to feel abandoned by the megaculture and seek to undermine it, and in the process align themselves against racial unity along with the whole political agenda of the left, including healthcare and immigration.

This mix of political, racial, and sexual issues aligned with another trend. Political power has swung back and forth between the duopoly for the last hundred years. From the time of Taft until now there were only three times that a party held the White House for more than two terms. Likewise, in the last 20 mid-term elections, the US House of Representatives lost seats to the president's party 90% of the time. So the political winds were already blowing toward the Republicans when Trump took over the nomination, and he picked up votes as a rejection of popular culture, not all of which were about race, but the racist votes that had nowhere to go previously had a direct target. The rest of America felt sick, while Trump supporters cheered his subversion of the far left.

It is of critical importance that America address the issue of racism in America and eradicate it. That is why I'm writing, because the far left is screwing it up. They have given up on converting and they're now shouting, "Woe to the vanquished!" while they annihilate their political opponents.


As liberal views become more extreme and militant, they become less effective at converting people to their side. Look no further than the horror story of liberalism run amok at Evergreen State College for an example, or the many cases of government-funded campuses defunding or banning people who criticize liberal ideals. In the name of spreading tolerance, there are frequent calls to shun anyone they perceive as intolerant. While holding signs against hate, they are filled with hate for the haters. While rightfully angry at the displays of intolerance in Charlottesville, people throughout the country are now seeking out confederate monuments to vandalize or destroy, sometimes while mocking the police officers trying to stop the mob. White nationalist marchers have already been identified, lost their jobs, and are getting credible death threats. The lawlessness of it does matter.

In the days after the 2016 election, Robby Soave wrote,

"...political correctness actually is a problem on college campuses, where the far-left has gained institutional power and used it to punish people for saying or thinking the wrong thing. And ever since Donald Trump became a serious threat to win the GOP presidential primaries... a lot of people, both on campus and off it, were furious about political-correctness-run-amok—so furious that they would give power to any man who stood in opposition to it.
"I have watched this play out on campus after campus. I have watched dissident student groups invite Milo Yiannopoulos to speak—not because they particularly agree with his views, but because he denounces censorship and undermines political correctness. I have watched students cheer his theatrics, his insulting behavior, and his narcissism solely because the enforcers of campus goodthink are outraged by it. It's not about his ideas, or policies. It's not even about him. It's about vengeance for social oppression."
It reminds me of this conversation:
Batman: I'm going to kill you!
Joker: You idiot! You made me, remember? You dropped me into that vat of chemicals...
Batman: You killed my parents... I made you; you made me first.
Not easy to untangle. The left's intolerance is increasing the intolerance on the right. "But the other side is wronger!"

Ideas of racial superiority need to be vanquished and annihilated through just laws and conversion, not by shaming, shunning, and acting lawlessly toward those holding onto the legacy of slavery.

Daryl Davis

This is Daryl.
Daryl converts, he doesn't vanquish.
Be like Daryl.
A wonderful example of this is Daryl Davis, a black man who convinced hundreds of KKK members to disavow their beliefs. Daryl was the son of a Foreign Service Officer and went around the world attending integrated international schools. He was oblivious of the racism in his home country until he came home at the age of 10 and found it very odd that people would hate him because of the color of skin. As an adult, he made it his hobby to seek out and befriend racists. He now has a collection of KKK memorabilia that were abandoned by his friends. He says,
“Give them a platform. You challenge them. But you don’t challenge them rudely or violently. You do it politely and intelligently. And when you do things that way chances are they will reciprocate and give you a platform.”
When I look at how the left are responding to racists, I see them one-upping each other on how mean they can be to anyone with even unconscious prejudice. Just this week, I've heard that you should talk to your family about racism, and if they're not on board with racial justice, shun them. I've heard that white people should shut up and stop talking about racism and let black people lead. I've heard that white people should raise their voices and if you're not outraged on social media, you're passivity is criminal. I've heard that we can't talk about any other cause for social justice unless we're also talking about racial equality in the United States. I've heard that the white nationalist marchers should have been tear gassed. I've heard that society should be intolerant of intolerance, otherwise we end up with Hitler. I've heard that the pinnacle of not being racist are those counter-protesters who violently opposed the marchers. The left are trying to vanquish the opponents, not the ideas.

Remembering the past

There is a nuanced debate about how to handle the memory of slavery and the Civil War. That is a legitimate debate, and listening to people's complaints doesn't mean that we have to honor the defenders of slavery.

A special committee at Princeton University investigated how to handle the legacy of Woodrow Wilson, who was president of the school before becoming president of the country. Princeton has a Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs that includes some great big portraits of him and plaques describing how great he was. But he was also quite racist. He segregated the already desegregated military and mentioned how slavery wasn't so bad because blacks were treated well. Students began demanding that his picture and name be removed from the school. The committee decided to keep the name of the school and honor his contributions, but also acknowledge in plaques and memory that he was a racist shithead.

If the left approaches the issue of legacy with a torch to anything that stinks of slavery, then the whole country will go up in flames. Statues of Thomas Jefferson have become the focal point of eradicating racism in several universities. Indeed, there is a contingent among the social justice crowd that wants to strike at the very legitimacy of America, of which George Washington is the real symbol. Washington owned over 300 slaves at Mt Vernon until the end of his life, although he freed them in his will. I'm not opposed to pressing reset on America, but I'm also not opposed to having a polite, rational debate over how to properly remember both the good and the bad. And I haven't even touched the Native American question yet.


There are a lot of good hearted people out there across America who don't consciously harbor any idea of racial superiority. However, there's an awful lot of unconscious biases that perpetuate injustice, in varying levels across pretty much every American of any color. We all need to work on becoming more enlightened to a positive bias towards black skin, but especially the mass of conservative, rural, and white folks who don't even interact with black people on a daily basis. Those who need it the most are being driven away by the antics on the far left. They are being driven away by the powerful popular culture that lumps racial equity in with a bunch of political ideologies that they don't want. Their way of life is being mocked. They don't want to be told that if they're not out there protesting, then they're part of the problem. That doesn't work. It drives them away to the other side. They are not even watching your social media tirade, if you can believe that.

So get out there and evangelize. First listen, befriend, look for the good, and then convert through enlightened conversation.

I'll end with one personal example. The cleaning guy at my work comes around at the end of every day and usually talks to the people still there. He is not a sympathizer of the torch-wielding racists, but he is somewhere in between them and your aunt who has little figurines of black kids selling watermelons for 5 cents ("It's okay, cause I bought them from a black man in New Orleans."). The cleaning guy is my friend and we talk about aliens and artificial intelligence. He says a lot of crazy things that I mostly let go. One day he casually mentioned that Africans are inferior, "you know, genetically." My mind made three snaps and went, 'Oh no you didn't!' I politely corrected him and by the time I was done he agreed that black people are not inferior, but have been subjected to media bias. I converted him.

14 August 2017

Thoughts on the Far Right

I originally wrote this in September of 2009. At first I didn't share it here to avoid the association it might give the Baha'i Faith to a political ideology. After the white nationalists killing someone in Virginia this weekend, my thoughts went back to this, and now I feel compelled to share:


Today is my last day of 12 weeks working in Redmond, OR, and exactly 8 years after I woke up to the radio telling me that the tower had just fallen in New York. As I sit here waiting for ice to contract my thigh tissue and heal a pulled muscle, my thoughts keep going back to the rise of the right over the last few years.

Three years ago I went from attending the largest university in Oregon, surrounded by hundreds of well-educated people my age that shared common views of the world, to working at a company where the average employee is 56 and lives outside of a big city. The transition took me from discussions about development and sustainability to discussions about how the government wants to take away our guns and tax us more.

Going through the presidential campaign in the company was another eye opener. In Portland I would see Obama signs in every yard for blocks and blocks, and hear people make comments like, "How could anyone not vote for Obama." Then I would hear others at work wonder, "How could anyone vote for Obama?"

After the election, though, there was a change in tone. A coworker couldn't attend something and explained that it was to attend the Tea Party on tax day, and he very seriously told me that, "This could be one of the most important days of my life." I found that incredibly odd, and later driving together he explained in cryptic words about the 9/12 movement. A quick online search revealed the source as Glenn Beck, one of several radio hosts that also have FOX evening programs.

When I started working, I started listening to NPR. I noticed that every once in awhile they had a slightly left/liberal bias in how they report stories, but generally pretty good. Moving out to Redmond, I decided that I should start listening to the station that plays Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh on the radio, since this was what most people listen to east of the Cascades. I was quickly horrified. The level of outright lying and manipulation was staggering. I can hardly listen a minute without catching some kind of distorted contemptible half-truth. I heard Glenn Beck talk about his "movement" of protesters as if it was a growing militia that he was leading to save the country from internal enemies that have "abandoned the rule of law." I heard Rush Limbaugh say that Obama was, "actively working in opposition to the constitution." I heard Laura Ingraham say that ACORN is a "criminal organisation." I heard Sean Hannity tell everyone that the health care bill is "a total lie and deception on the American people", that it's a Nazi policy, and that it will have death panels killing people off to save the government money. They defended the right to torture. They encouraged listeners to rise up in creative ways in opposition to the government. They said that Obama has a "deep seeded hatred for white people."

But the king of them all is Rush Limbaugh. His show is the highest-rated talk radio show in the US, with over 15 million listeners a week, followed by Sean Hannity, followed by Glenn Beck. During the primaries last year, Rush announced "Operation Chaos", and encouraged his listeners to switch to the democratic party and vote for Hillary Clinton in an attempt to increase division in the party by keeping the primaries going all the way to convention. He later announced that he hopes Obama's presidency fails, and played a song on his show called "Barack the Magic Negro" to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon". His show is constantly attacking and distorting anything related to Obama or liberalism, and building them up as something to fear.

You know the old saying, "follow the money"? Another surprise for me was that the commercials for all these shows were gaining from fear. Their primary sponsor was selling gold, and the ads were spouted directly from the hosts themselves, while they talked about the national debt and inflation. Another common ad was for identity theft and credit protection. Another was selling home security systems. Every single ad that I heard was profiting from people being afraid of other people.

Is it such a surprise then that Congressmen meeting with constituents were shouted down and asked, "Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy, as Obama has?"

If you saw Hotel Rwanda, you heard the Interahamwe radio announcer constantly encouraging the killings. While they're not encouraging murders, and probably never will, the way Rush and Sean and Radio Rwanda communicate to listeners are almost identical: they abuse media power to incite hatred, their listeners are generally less educated, and their power comes from having an enemy.

To emphasize the point, the most recent phenomenon was a string of people bringing hand guns and semi-automatic rifles to protests where Obama was speaking. There is a quote from Thomas Jefferson that goes, "From time to time, the tree of liberty must be watered by the blood of tyrants and patriots." A man with a pistol strapped to his hip held a sign that read, "Now is the time to water the tree of liberty." These people were then hailed by the conservatives as patriots exercising their constitutional rights.

I had to search deep to decide whether there was any credence to the revolutionary ideology being encouraged. My conclusion was: absolutely not. Any perception of totalitarianism only came from half-truths or outright lies. Assuming that these radio hosts are mildly intelligent, I've come to the conclusion that they have essentially intentionally manufactured a crisis for three reasons: money, power, and ego.

In pilgrims' notes from visiting Shoghi Effendi, Ramona Brown noted,
"Americans are exposed to great dangers. Today the power of America is in the hands of the masses. There is a terrific power in the press and the people are swayed by it."

Glenn Beck's 9/12 project was supposed to culminate on September 12th, which is tomorrow. He and tens of thousands of listeners are going to converge on Washington DC, the day after the anniversary of the attacks, and protest against taxes, government, socialism, and the perception that Obama is a fascist who wants to take all their guns away and implement an Orwellian government. At least one of my coworkers will be there. They will continue the protest until Monday, because otherwise nobody will be at work to watch them protest.

The situation will only worsen. The US political system is intentionally divisive. It relies fundamentally on competition and cannot heal its rifts within its constitution. The rise of an angry and emboldened right, convinced by daily rants on the evils of government, will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. They want something to fight against.

The issues with the conservative right are only symptoms of more fundamental problems in society. The system of government needs drastic reforms that can't be accomplished from within. America will need shock medicine to purge it of a distaste for cooperation. It is the excesses of liberty and civilization, and institutionalized partisanship that are causing animosity and aggressiveness.

I believe the world will be united and balanced someday. The absence of a world government is the root of many of society's problems today, and just as a storm will continue until the imbalance that created it is corrected, society will continue to suffer and churn until its institutions and morals are corrected and aligned with God's plan for humanity today.

We live in such an interesting world.

31 July 2017

Waiting for my real life to begin.

I've been told I'm not normal. I sleep too little or too much. My light is usually on when all other lights go out, and though I'm perceived as being a public personality, I'm in fact incredibly private in some ways. When people ask me what my dreams are or how I define success for myself I do not trust to hope and avoid fully answering. I think, "Who's business is that anyway?!"   ~_~   I'd be lying though if I said the fever dreams of success and the fear they awaken, doesn't frequently snatch sleep from me so late, that the light creeps over the rolling hills behind my house, and I abandon my bed to watch the sun rise.

I smell the cool morning air, listen to the birds chirp and remember my younger self. She would romanticize a moment such as this. The so called struggle of the artist. For she has seen it in the books and movies she pours over. This would be the moment in which a character would usually find themselves reflecting and coming to some great epiphany about their lives. Some supporting character might be there helping them solve some problem and inevitably the solution would come like a storm in spring. They would figure everything out and the book, series, or movie would leave them at the high point of their journey and understood positive upswing. I've come to understand more and more that those single scenes in stories really represent for most, years and years of internal struggle and difficulty. But real life stories aren't fast and sexy like book and film.

Its easy to think that that is how life works when you see only fragments of people's lives. The confident and sure veneers. The ones that say, "Look at me! I'm normal and put together, well liked and generally useful to the world." It's easy to be seduced by this simple idea that life goals are meant to be easily won and that mental challenges and basic struggles with motivation, time, and skill sets are personal failings that are entirely due to you just inherently sucking where everyone else succeeds. I think that's why this idea of "Normal" is so popular and so disempowering. Its just a mirage; a hierarchy that the herd subconsciously decides upon and then agrees to based off of what appears to be lowest risk, highest reward, or at least what is predictable.

We humans love our hierarchies...

And so the meandering thoughts tantrum until listening to the birds awaken and taking in the glowing greens of the leaves kissed by new light somehow silences them all and I find a still peace.

I listen to "Waiting for my real life to begin" by Colin Hay and cry tears of relief, hearing my life in his song and for those 5 minutes and 40 seconds, feeling a little less alone in my experience of the world.

I don't wish to be stuck here. But maybe I just have to be patient and persevere. I can't help but thinking I'm at the part of the movie right before the tensions are released, I just have to keep pushing forward. and stop waiting for my "real" life to begin, like everyone else seems to be. I'm living it. And it is as unique and beautiful and as common and basic as the bird songs, the leaves, and the morning light.

18 July 2017

The Decline of Christianity

There is a clear trend in America: religion is on the decline. Go visit just about any church in the United States, and you'll see a lot more retired people than you do college students. This trend shows no signs of reversing. The "unaffiliated" saw a 6.7 point increase from 2007-2014. If you narrow it down to those born in the 1980s, the increase was 9 points in just 7 years. The Catholic church is losing about half of all people who grew up in it.

As a Baha'i, this creates an interesting dynamic. The social forces pushing down Christianity are pushing down religion as a whole, and replacing it with materialism. Baha'is are affected by the same trend, struggling to train youth against powerful social forces that pull them away from religion. So what may at first look like an opportunity to teach, is actually a sad slide into irreligion. It also calls to mind some warnings in Baha'i scripture about what will happen when the light of religion is extinguished:
"The weakening of the pillars of religion hath strengthened the hands of the ignorant and made them bold and arrogant. Verily I say, whatsoever hath lowered the lofty station of religion hath increased the waywardness of the wicked, and the result cannot be but anarchy."
Baha'u'llah. Tablets of Baha'u'llah
“Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness, of justice, of tranquillity and peace cease to shine.”
Baha'u'llah. Tablets of Baha'ullah

13 July 2017

Churches and Chicken

My city is segregated by affluence and poverty. 

Drive west in Nashville and you'll find old money, the bourgeoisie, and white coeds sipping $5 tea. Drive north and you'll find Fisk University, mostly poor black and some white people, and the roads always need repair. Drive east and you'll find where black people used to live, but now it's full of white hipsters who like the area for its "history" (it feels like Portland, OR). 

And then there's the southern part of town, my part of town. Full of hookah bars, taco shops, and people of color from all around the world trying to make a living in a place where upward mobility for most is a pipe dream. You can have your car worked on by Essy, the most universally trusted local mechanic. Walk down the street and get baklava or a pupusa while you wait. 

07 July 2017


Friends do things together
In 2012 I left Oregon, where I went through middle school and high school, and I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. I moved to serve the Baha'i Faith in a metro area where the junior youth program was just beginning. I found a place in Nashville through a Baha'i friend who was already there, and since I'm a musician it kind of made sense.

I knew that moving to Nashville would be difficult because the cultures are so drastically different between the west coast and the southeast. But I had no idea what kind of culture shock I would experience. The two friends I already knew when I walked into town, I never ended up seeing more than twice a year in my five year stint living there. My closest family member was an 8 hour drive away. The Baha'i community felt foreign to me. They were so excited to have a youth (I was 18) with experience in the junior youth spiritual empowerment program, a relatively new Baha'i core activity. I was immediately thrust with no cultural context or real friendships into leadership rolls. As I got to know more and more people I realized that the isolation and difficulty making friends was not unique to myself. There were people in the general population who grew up together or lived together and didn't know basic facts about each others' lives, such as the existence of siblings, a death in the family, what people did for work, or basic likes. The first question asked by anyone, anywhere, was, "Where do you worship? Where do you go to church?"

Most Baha'is my age didn't want much to do with me, and so I was there for almost two years with little to no meaningful connections. Until, a Baha'i lady was moved by my singing voice and came up to me after a devotional gathering and said, "You need to come to my house!" in a soulful plea. So I did. We hung out, and she became my first real connection and lasting bond in the Baha'i community. She's a mother of two sons, she's a black woman in an interracial relationship, and she's a writer, a thinker, and a rebel. Her best friend is a flaming red haired MENSA member Italian Jewish Baha'i. These two became my best friends for the last four years.

We liked to go out and "mess" with people who didn't understand why we would be friends. It's not common in most parts of the country to see strong multi-generational, multi-cultural, and multi-ethnic relationships, let alone to see three people outwardly so different laughing to the brink of peeing themselves in an Applebee's restaurant on a late Friday night, because that's the only place open and Mama be hungry.

We talked about knowing Who you answer to. Not putting other people or things in the God seat, if you will. I spent many a night those first few years on their couches processing through the latest struggle or disappointment in my ongoing attempts to make friends. We've decided that the most important family you have is family you choose, and we are that for each other. We bonded over BTS (Korean Pop). We talked about sex. I don't know many women in their fifties cool with talking about sex and marriage. They say that after a certain point they found the confidence and self-worth to keep their relationship with God clear and not give a damn about the opinions or idle chatter of others. We all need strong women, intelligent, powerful women in our lives. They are teaching me how to be one. 

26 June 2017

Battle of Armageddon

All the great religions of the world teach of a Promised One, coming during a time of great world cataclysms and ushering in a new era of righteousness. In the American psyche, this is most pronounced in Christian prophecies of the seven years of tribulation, the anti-Christ, and the battle of Armageddon.

Baha'u'llah's revelation fulfills the expectations of a second coming of Christ, but not as commonly interpreted. In a repeat of the first coming, Christian clergy are expecting their prophecies to be fulfilled literally. Jesus experienced a similar attitude. The Jewish priests thought the Messiah would come as a political ruler who would burn his enemies like chaff and rule as a king. Instead of seizing political power, Jesus said His kingdom is "not of this world" and "inside you" and "among you". He called the priests hypocrites and vipers, so they killed him. 

Just as the Jewish priests were blinded by their own scripture from recognizing the Manifestation of God, now Christians shut their ears when they hear the claim of Jesus returned because they are told by their priests that they should not investigate any claim of divinity. They are sitting around waiting for the end times, and to them it will be so obvious that they don't have to watch. I've lost track of how many Christians have told me that they have no need to investigate Baha'u'llah's claims because the return of Jesus will be "obvious", despite some strongly worded scripture saying the opposite. 

So with this background, occasionally Christians want to look deeper and ask some questions about prophecies.

09 June 2017

How Many Baha'is Are in the World?

I found some!
How many Baha'is are in the world? The correct answer is: nobody knows. But there is a deep primordial need for Baha'is and non-Baha'is alike to somehow gauge the relative success and strength of the world religions. This need is most easily met with the simplest of statistics, how many believers are there?

To Baha'is who expect their religion to gradually permeate the majority of the world's population over the next few centuries, they will be excited to see its growth. In fact, they will most likely overstate its actual growth because growth begets growth. When an idea spreads in a population, it can quickly move from 10 to 50% of the population, but the growth from 0 to 10% can be painfully slow and difficult.

There are also those who want to see the Baha'i Faith fail. They will be excited for low estimates of the Baha'i population worldwide, because lower numbers are discouraging. It takes extra moral strength to carry beliefs that are different from the majority of society.

From 1991 until present, the Baha'i World Centre has said that there are "more than five million Baha'is." Outside observers have actually given a higher number, listing the community as "more than seven million", ranging from 7.2 to 7.8 million.

Internally, the Baha'i number is most likely from worldwide membership rolls, and the external observer sources are a variety of censuses and surveys. I'd like to explore some ideas about both of these sources, and if this is boring I totally understand if you want to go do something else.

15 March 2017

Health Care Reform

I wrote this originally in September, 2009, as death panels were being debated.
This week I listened to three members of the Oregon Health Authority talk about past and present reforms to Oregon's health system, and I also listened to the chair of Family Medicine at OHSU. Over the past few years I've been increasingly engrossed in the issues of health care reform, and here, tonight, live on the Internet, I'm going to lay out how to fix health care in the United States. That's right, the whole thing.

03 March 2017

The Eradication of Racism in America

In response to "the critical nature" and "historic opportunity" presented by this "pivotal juncture in our nation's history", the National Spiritual Assembly wrote to the American Baha'i community on February 25, 2017 to reinforce the principle of the oneness of mankind, the chief and distinguishing feature of the Faith Baha'u'llah. In the letter, the National Assembly wrote that "in the decades ahead, Baha'is will contribute in an ever more effective way to the eventual eradication of racism in our country."

We live in an exciting time. At first glance things are going poorly. America is stratifying by race and class, a xenophobic militarism just swept into power, and the government is gearing up to dissolve consumer protections and unleash thousands of police to round up minorities. Mosques, synagogues, black churches, and their followers are being targeted, harassed, or killed. 

If this were not the case, those attitudes would still be laying dormant in 40% of America, just stewing. Does this wave of injustice represent the beginning of a long reign of terror, or the last throws of a white nationalism that must be eradicated to move the nation forward? Can you honestly believe that open and ugly racism is going to be the new norm? Absolutely not! And why? Because it is not the truth! 

26 February 2017

Black History and Affirmative Action

One of these things is not like the others.
"Unlike the nations and peoples of the earth, be they of the East or of the West, democratic or authoritarian, communist or capitalist, whether belonging to the Old World or the New, who either ignore, trample upon, or extirpate, the racial, religious, or political minorities within the sphere of their jurisdiction, every organized community enlisted under the banner of Bahá’u’lláh should feel it to be its first and inescapable obligation to nurture, encourage, and safeguard every minority belonging to any faith, race, class, or nation within it."
 -Shoghi Effendi. Advent of Divine Justice
It's black history month, so I'm going to talk about black history. The uncomfortable history. I want to talk about the America that just pulled a big wad of white supremacy out of its pocket and slammed it on the table for all to see.

When would you say the playing field was leveled for all races in America? When did we achieve the ideal of equality of opportunity?