General Question

fireside's avatar

Is there any release from the corruption of nature and the darkness of ignorance?

Asked by fireside (12302points) June 12th, 2009

Would anyone care to share their views on the following statement?

Abdu’l-Bahá says: —

In the world of nature the dominant note is the struggle
for existence—the result of which is the survival of the
fittest. The law of the survival of the fittest is the origin
of all difficulties. It is the cause of war and strife, hatred
and animosity, between human beings. In the world of
nature there is tyranny, egoism, aggression, overbearance,
usurpation of the rights of others and other blameworthy
attributes which are defects of the animal world. Therefore,
so long as the requirements of the natural world play
paramount part among the children of men, success and
prosperity are impossible. Nature is warlike, nature is
bloodthirsty, nature is tyrannical, for nature is unaware of
God the Almighty. That is why these cruel qualities are
natural to the animal world.

Therefore the Lord of mankind, having great love and
mercy, has caused the appearance of the prophets and the
revelation of the Holy Books, so that through divine education
humanity may be released from the corruption of
nature and the darkness of ignorance, be confirmed with
ideal virtues and spiritual attributes, and become the
dawning-place of merciful emotions. ...

A hundred thousand times, alas! that ignorant prejudice,
unnatural differences and antagonistic principles are
yet displayed by the nations of the world toward one another,
thus causing the retardation of general progress.

This retrogression comes from the fact that the principles
of divine civilization are completely abandoned, and the
teachings of the prophets are forgotten.

(Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 156)

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82 Answers

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fireside's avatar

Here you go

Thanks for your insight.

sap82's avatar

I am reminded about something I read a nights ago. What I read said that knowledge is a sorrowful thing (this is in a Christians existance mind you); however wisdom (there is a difference)is what will deliver us to God and is what seperates us from the animals of the world.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

This is just another speculative opinion into the why of existence. Our world, our universe, exists as it does, not as we would like it to be. Violence seems to be the nature of the universe. The origin, called the Big Bang, describes a mind-bendingly awesome explosion of the universe coming into existence from a tiny pinpoint. Everywhere in the universe, violence begets new existence. Suns are born in gaseous clouds, planets form from the accumulation and gravitational forces around them, swinging through space and sweeping up rocks, particles, gases, other smaller bodies violently to become larger and larger bodies. After millions of years, things calm down, and sometimes, life is born on those now stable bodies.

Suns are born, live long lives, and die with sometimes sudden explosions that we call quasars and such. Galaxies crash into one another, tearing stars and other heavenly bodies apart as they steal and tear each other to bits. Black holes are ultra-violent, swallowing up everything in their vicinity, even light cannot escape. Yet, scientists theorize that a black hole exists at the center of every galaxy. They are common, these violent ‘holes’ in which nothing can survive. From such violence great things are created, including that which we hold most dear, a thing called life.

Even living creatures are violent. Carnivores rend their prey with tooth and claw. The sex act seems an aggressive battle among living beings, all that stabbing, and thrusting, and cries that sound to be of pain. Even birthing looks violent and painful to the uninitiated. Our world, our galaxy, our universe is born of violence. Violence seems an inherent part of everything that exists. Being born, living and dying, are all often products of violence. Death is rarely easy, for living beings as well as suns and stars and other non-sentient things.

The universe exists as it is because it simply is. There are no gods, no morals, no high and mighty ideals, all is natural laws and indifference. The universe does not care, and as much as that upsets us, nothing we do can change that one fact.

That is where religion comes in, at least for some. Gods and compassion are human constructs, things that do NOT matter to the suns, and galaxies, and planets and stars, and everything thing else that makes up our infinitely wondrous home. The prophets are artificial, not the violence of our universe. The violence is inherent, whether we are comfortable with it or not.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@sap82 millions have asked that question since the first sentient beings could rub two thoughts together and try to explain the world around them. Gods and myths are simply attempts to do that. The why is not for me to answer, because the ‘WHY’ is the reason you exist. It is the question that drives all thinking beings.

fireside's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra – So should there be no attempt to find a higher purpose to our collective existence on this planet? Should we just accept that violence happens and not try to find a cooperative way forward?

What is your opinion on this line in particular?

“A hundred thousand times, alas! that ignorant prejudice,
unnatural differences and antagonistic principles are
yet displayed by the nations of the world toward one another,
thus causing the retardation of general progress.”

sap82's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra You are right. That was the point of this question. We have all heard the atheist ball park figure of the universe before. Do you understand what I am trying to say?

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@fireside, life is about choices, your results may vary I suggest no such thing, I am merely pointing out that violence is inherent in the system, to paraphrase Michael Palin in Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@sap82 yeah, I understand what you are trying to say, and I am giving you the only answer I know or that makes sense to me. You have to find your own meanings for the things you are trying to figure out.

sap82's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra Our world, our universe, exists as it does, not as we would like it to be.

What do you mean by this line?

DarkScribe's avatar

@sap82 Our world, our universe, exists as it does, not as we would like it to be.

That she has been awake for at least a part of the time? Has noticed a few things.

fireside's avatar

I suppose that someone should have told Martin Luther King Jr. to not bother making speeches because the world exists as it does, not as we would like it to be?

Doesn’t that seem a bit apathetic?
Do we have any responsibility to help make the world a better place by creating an uplifting vision, or should we just stare at the ground and kick dust?

DarkScribe's avatar

@fireside I suppose that someone should have told Martin Luther King Jr. to not bother making speeches because the world exists as it does, not as we would like it to be?

I think that perhaps someone did tell him. He didn’t make speeches, he stole someone else’s speeches.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@sap82 and @fireside Did I say that you cannot question and/or try to change things? No, I said that the universe exists as it does whether we like it or not. If you assume that to mean that there is no point in trying to make things better, than there isn’t much more I can say to you, as you have already given up.

Why you seem inclined to assume that I am supporting the action of doing nothing, as in inaction, is not making sense to me. Seeing things as they are, and trying to change them for the better shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. You want to make things better for others, then do so. I do it as well, in my own way. I think you are missing the forest for the trees, IMHO. I simply stated that the universe exists as it does, not as we would like it to be. If that is promoting apathy and ignorance, then it’s obvious you haven’t seen the point of my comment.

sap82's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra Don’t include me in that statement. I made no such accusations.

fireside's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra – neither did I.

I was simply following up.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@sap82 you asked why. I don’t know why, I just know what makes sense to me from a long life of trying to figure things out on my own. What I have discovered may be right, and it may be wrong. I know it works for me, and I try not to judge other people’s belief systems, whether I agree with them or not. Sorry for including you in something you had no part of, my apologies.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@fireside Doesn’t that seem a bit apathetic?
Do we have any responsibility to help make the world a better place by creating an uplifting vision, or should we just stare at the ground and kick dust?

Are these not your words?

fireside's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra
They are questions, not accusations.
They were also more directed towards DarkScribe’s attitude, not yours.

Also, I’m not so concerned about the suns and moons as I am human behavior, just to follow up on your point about the universe not caring.

DarkScribe's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra Do we have any responsibility to help make the world a better place by creating an uplifting vision,

The Berlei Bra company makes some uplifting visions.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

well then, I’m glad we are civilized enough to get it all worked out. Now I need to go do some things that give my life meaning, like buy the parts to fix my truck. Fridays are always weird around here in Bugtussle, IL.

DarkScribe's avatar

@fireside They were also more directed towards DarkScribe’s attitude, not yours.

My attitude is to do with reality nothing more. I used to like fudge when i was a kid, but I don’t like fudging. Nothing that I say is not realistic.

fireside's avatar

@DarkScribe – Do you think human nature can change or that reality is something which is static? If you were alive 500 years ago would you have scoffed at the idea of people living to 90?

DarkScribe's avatar

@DarkScribe Do you think human nature can change or that reality is something which is static? If you were alive 500 years ago would you have scoffed at the idea of people living to 90?

No, I wouldn’t have scoffed – I have tried it, it hurts my throat.

Yes people change all the time, we are not static at any time, physiologically or psychologically. The problem is that the changes are not usually beneficial to society. Society is on a slippery slope.

fireside's avatar

@DarkScribe – So, do you think that the world as a better place when cannibalism, or slavery, or child labor, or now-curable diseases were considered societal norms?

I agree that many of the changes which elevate personal gain are detrimental, but not all change is bad. And I think there needs to be a focused effort to find those higher goals for society.

Mr_Callahan's avatar

More wine please!

Mr_Callahan's avatar

….......and some cheese.

SuperMouse's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra as well written as your initial post was, it still leaves me with the same thought I always have when discussions turns to matters such as these: nothing plus nothing = nothing. All the awesome things you describe happened, stars, planets and galaxies are created and destroyed, but something had to have set all of that in motion, to me that something is God.

The universe exists as it is and not as we want it to be, the universe does not care, but the Creator does. @fireside I agree that there needs to be a focused effort to find higher goals for society. Once we set our minds and hearts toward improving ourselves and the world and turning toward the Creator the change in the world will be palpable and for the better of all mankind.

@DarksScribe – a little sarcasm goes a long way, a lot gets old very quickly.

Harp's avatar

This writing proposes that ignorance is at the root of suffering, and I can get behind that. But I’m not sure that the writer and I would agree on the nature of ignorance. Here, if I’m understanding correctly, ignorance is conceived of as a void, an intrinsic lack, to be filled by God through the prophets and writings. That’s not how I see it.

I see ignorance not as a lack, but as an excess. By that I mean that the true nature of things is an “open secret”, constantly in evidence even to a newborn, but we think that we don’t see it because we mistake it for something else. In other words, the sense of lack that we interpret as ignorance is not due to missing information at all, but is instead due to that which we know but isn’t so. The release from ignorance comes not by acquiring something we didn’t have, but by letting go of misconceptions.

To use a crude analogy, it’s as if we spend our lives piecing together an immense jigsaw puzzle. The picture always feels incomplete, and those holes make the picture ugly and unsatisfying, so we’re constantly driven to find the pieces that will fill those voids and complete the picture. The proper pieces elude us, though. We’re convinced that they must be out there, so we try to imagine what they must look like based on the rest of the picture we already have, and keep looking for something that matches what we’ve imagined. Sometimes we even cheat by forcing something into the spaces that doesn’t really fit, just because we’re more comfortable having something there than nothing.

But what I’m suggesting is that the problem is not the voids, but our compulsion to fill them. What if the picture itself is illusory and will never be complete. What gets lost in this obsession with completing the picture is the table underlying the puzzle, and that we perceive through those voids. The table was there before we even laid down the first piece, but in our drive to build the picture we forget about it. Maybe those voids are the completion of the picture, necessary reminders of the picture’s illusory nature.

fireside's avatar

@Harp – I think that you are right in many ways. However, I don’t know that the assumption is that something is missing, so much as it is forgotten.

This retrogression comes from the fact that the principles
of divine civilization are completely abandoned

You can’t have a retrogression without some thing or some knowledge having already been there all along. The “corruption of nature and the darkness of ignorance” is that misguided focus.

atlantis's avatar

I would say that there is a divinely determined balance between the education of civilisations and the “crudeness” of nature.

Nature is equated with ignorance in this extract, but that is when one already has a malignant nature. Some people may only have a neutral or even positive nature.

Aside from the education in civility prescribed here, I would recommend regularity in whatever path to enlightment is taken. And if i may guess, the anti-thesis of regularity is what the author calls dark nature; the unpredictability of it. But education about both is required to navigate the sea of life which can show glorious sunrises one minute and destructive tsunamis the next.

What I’m trying to say is that nature just may be the source as well as the inspiration for our so-called “civility”.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@SuperMouse I understand your view that something set that into motion. That is your perogative. As for mine, I don’t care what that something was, nor do I plan to spend my life searching for that something.

Gods are pure speculation until there is incontrovertible proof. I am not out to prove or disprove the existence of gods, since it doesn’t matter to me if gods are real or not. I don’t see evidence for any sort of gods, and arguing about the existence of gods is NOT what my purpose on this planet is.

I think my purpose is to make people laugh, to make them think about odd things, to smell the flowers I grow, and to enjoy the food I cook. And last, but certainly not least, also to make my wife smile. What else do I need?

augustlan's avatar

I don’t really believe in God, but I can certainly stand behind the goals of a united people and bettering the world. Idealism is not a dated concept… without it nothing would have ever changed in the past, and won’t be in the future either. By the way, @fireside that was a great little video you linked way up there ^^.

Harp's avatar

@fireside Perhaps the language is getting in the way for me. The paradigm here seems to be of a duality between God and Nature, with Man entrapped in Nature by ignorance, but liberated through the “divine education” supplied by the prophets and the writings. Do you see liberation as possible outside of the prophets and the writings?

fireside's avatar

@Harp – Personally, yes – but the writings help the individual to realize that they are not alone in their observations which increase the humility of the process to enlightenment.

Though I did have an understanding of the Christian teachings, I found my own liberation through a long walk of many years in which I read everything from Homer to Pirsig to Castaneda to Buddha and many more. The understandings that I arrived at after my journey were reflected in the Baha’i writings which pointed to the writings of the prophets of the past.

I don’t think that everyone is capable of reaching the same understandings on their own and thus the need for an educator. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave describes a similar process of realization.

The language to me indicates more of a juxtaposition between Man’s animal nature and spiritual virtues. It’s not necessarily as much of a duality as it is a spectrum for consideration.

The Virtues of Humanity as described by Abdu’l-Baha are: faith, knowledge, certitude, justice, piety, righteousness, trustworthiness, love of God, benevolence, purity, detachment, humility, meekness, patience and constancy which are counter posed against the ones listed above and ascribed to the “animal” world: tyranny, egoism, aggression, overbearance, usurpation of the rights of others and other blameworthy attributes.

I don’t see this as a literal description of dogs as being tyrannical so much as I see it metaphorically.

crisw's avatar

“The law of the survival of the fittest is the origin
of all difficulties…Nature is warlike, nature is
bloodthirsty, nature is tyrannical, for nature is unaware of
God the Almighty. That is why these cruel qualities are
natural to the animal world.”

I don’t agree. Evolution is not immoral, it is amoral. It produces what works. Evolution did indeed produce predation and parasitism, but it also produced love, altruism, human speech, group cohesion, and all of the other positive attributes of human nature. To credit only bad things to “natural selection” and all good things to divine forces isn’t accurate.

fireside's avatar

@crisw – I agree with your sentiments.
See my post to Harp above which I posted seconds before you finished.

crisw's avatar

@fireside

It seems there is a bit of unneeded duality here, though. I think that love and compassion and altruism are all just as much part of our “animal natures” as greed or aggression. The list of “Virtues of Humanity” actually ascribes quite a few things to our “animal nature” that I think of as uniquely human, like egoism and tyranny. These require a degree of self-awareness that other animals lack.

In the end, everything we can do with our brains, for good or for evil, is ultimately a product of evolution. The reason that metaphors like you describe bother me is that I think that they are all too often used to degrade animals and deny their rights. As long as people (of whatever faith) view the animal world as “nature red in tooth and claw” and see only the human world as capable of emotions such as compassion and altruism, it is easy to maintain the artificial gulf between humanity and all other animals.

Harp's avatar

@fireside So, taking the example of a man thoroughly mired in his baser nature, is he on one end of the spectrum and God on the other?

DarkScribe's avatar

@fireside So, do you think that the world as a better place when cannibalism, or slavery, or child labor, or now-curable diseases were considered societal norms?

Cannibalism? You are reaching there. Cannibalism has never been a societal norm, with the exceptions of places like remote New Guinea jungle areas it hasn’t been common – and in those areas it still exists. Still, if it had been, MacDonalds would have cured that by now.

Slavery might be less common, but child labour still exists, that is why some products are boycotted.

Few diseases have been cured, managed yes, but not cured. We have a current Pandemic because there is no cure for Flu, (or for a common cold). Tamiflu doesn’t cure, it increases your chances of survival.

I agree that many of the changes which elevate personal gain are detrimental, but not all change is bad. And I think there needs to be a focused effort to find those higher goals for society.

I have not suggested that all change is bad, I have suggested that the general direction that those combined changes are leading society toward are not good. There is less cohesion, less empathy, less respect, and far more violence, crime, and potential for upheaval than ever. This is not a pleasant world, it is technically and scientifically advanced world, but not a better world. It is not a happy world.

Yes, in many respects, I think that earlier societies were better. We need some of the old mixed with some of the new.

YARNLADY's avatar

I see it as saying ignorance of our place in the cosmos is the root of all that is “wrong” with the world. People think that “humanity” or “religion” or some such thing can save us from the cold, cruel world.

Get a grip. This is The Universe, and you are a grain of sand.

So, do we do nothing? It doesn’t matter! Do, or don’t is entirely up to you and your own comfort zone. It’s not a great big WE that needs to be enlightened, it’s just I. Once that is under control, the comfort zone will take care of itself.

In another Fluther question someone asked what the world would be like if everyone was like you . I live my life the way I wish everyone did, so I said it would be a much better place. I’m only in charge of me, and that’s a fact.

fireside's avatar

@Harp – In regards to building a better society that is more cooperative and sustainable in the long term and more equitable for all, the baser self serving instincts are on a different end of the spectrum from the spiritual virtues.

@DarkScribe – Cannibalism was once more wide spread and accepted around the globe. Maybe not a norm, granted. Child labor does not exist to the extent it did 100 years ago and the boycotting is evidence that it is less acceptable. Polio is not a big problem anymore. The disease and filth that led to the plague is not as widespread. I didn’t say that everything had been resolved, just used those examples as evidence of change.

@YARNLADY – What makes you think it is talking about the cosmos? I don’t really get that at all from the reading, but you are not the only one that brought up the universe. I see it far more focused on the actions and intentions of humans in their interactions with each other. This doesn’t seems to be saying we are more important than the universe:

“A hundred thousand times, alas! that ignorant prejudice,
unnatural differences and antagonistic principles are
yet displayed by the nations of the world toward one another,
thus causing the retardation of general progress.

Also, if there is more than one “I” that would benefit from enlightenment, isn’t that “we”?

YARNLADY's avatar

@fireside In that portion of the quote, “unnatural differences” would be the relevant phrase. We really are all the same, in the grand scheme of things.

The point is when we accept responsibility for the “I” that we can control, the benefit cannot help but extend to all, but we can only change the one.

fireside's avatar

@YARNLADY – I would agree with that.

fireside's avatar

Though on thinking more about that phrase “unnatural differences”, it seems to me to be a man-made construct just like prejudice and antagonism. It is viewing the world as differences rather than similarities.

Since the basic precept of the Baha’i faith is the “oneness of humanit”, I think this phrase is saying that the differences are perceived or invented – not actual.

Critter38's avatar

Sorry I haven’t read all the comments, just have time to provide some thoughts on the main quote.

“Nature is warlike, nature is
bloodthirsty, nature is tyrannical, for nature is unaware of
God the Almighty. That is why these cruel qualities are
natural to the animal world.”

Nature is not bloodthirsty, nature is ambivalent. Natural processes thereby result in everything from daisies to cholera. The different is, we as a product of nature which happens to be sentient and relatively intelligent, can make choices as to what sort of world we wish to live in and thereby hopefully reduce unnecessary suffering. I also beg to differ with the suggestion that nature is all things negative (which it isn’t) because of it’s lack of awareness of god. First, this is unsubstantiated meaningless conjecture. Second, it implies that those of us who are also unaware of god (i.e. me) are warlike, bloodthirsty and tyrannical, and those who are aware of god are peaceful and democratic. Associations which I find difficult to reconcile with history.

“Therefore the Lord of mankind, having great love and
mercy, has caused the appearance of the prophets and the
revelation of the Holy Books, so that through divine education
humanity may be released from the corruption of
nature and the darkness of ignorance, be confirmed with
ideal virtues and spiritual attributes, and become the
dawning-place of merciful emotions. ...”

Development of the scientific process helped to ease the darkness of ignorance.

I fail to see any sign of divine guidance in any religious text, but I do see abundant evidence of ignorance, prejudice, and violence (yes there is good stuff too, but good stuff entirely consistent with the thinkings of an intelligent social primate). I think the greatest advancements in ethics and in the general wellbeing of societies have taken place in those countries which developed or embraced and advanced on what may be seen as enlightenment principles to head towards democracy, free speech, the right to a fair trial, freedom of religion, abolition of slavery, women’s rights, children’s rights, etc..etc. In addition we all owe an enormous debt to the advancements in our understanding of what causes disease based suffering through the refinement of the scientific method which continues to this day.

Basically the quote provided conveniently brushes over the role dogma has played as a means of retaining and cultivating the darkness of ignorance rather than fighting it.

“A hundred thousand times, alas! that ignorant prejudice,
unnatural differences and antagonistic principles are
yet displayed by the nations of the world toward one another,
thus causing the retardation of general progress.”

Yes. I still believe though there has been general progress. I far prefer to live in the society I live in today than to be thrown back in time to any period one chooses to pick. But of course it all depends on what factor you measure and where in the world we’re talking about. Cool talk on poverty here.

http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_reveals_new_insights_on_poverty.html

“This retrogression comes from the fact that the principles
of divine civilization are completely abandoned, and the
teachings of the prophets are forgotten.”

So society has massive complicated problems, but trust us, we have the answers if only everyone belonged to our faith and followed our rules as provided by our chosen prophets which we’ll kindly interpret for you. No thanks. Sounds like a well worn path to theocracy. I won’t bother making a list of the truly shithouse things that if said by anyone else would have ignored ages ago, but because they get burdened with similar “divine wisdom”, they become timeless truths making them unnecessarily impervious to reasoned argument.

If an idea is a good one, it will stand the test of time. But if we tie our ideas to arguments from authority (especially divine ones), then ideas get propagated regardless of merit. Take the unsubstantiated divine out of the equation and allow ideas to compete on their own merits, rather than pretending that some ideas are special because of who or what book they came from. Dogma is a recipe for ignorance, not enlightenment.

fireside's avatar

Here’s the preceding paragraph to this quote in the book that was written in 1912:

Conflict versus Concord

During the past century scientists have devoted and immense
amount of study to the struggle for existence in the plant and
animal world, and, amid the perplexities of social life, many
have turned for guidance to the principles which have been
found to hold good in the lower world of nature. In this way
they have come to regard rivalry and conflict as necessities of
life, and the ruthless killing out of the weaker members of
society as a legitimate or even necessary means of improving
the race. Bahá‘u’lláh tells us, on the other hand, that, if we
wish to ascend the scale of progress, instead of looking backward
to the animal world, we must direct our gaze forward
and upward, and must take not the beasts, but the Prophets
as our guides. The principles of unity, concord and compassion
taught by the Prophets are the very antithesis of those
dominating the animal struggle for self-preservation, and we
must choose between them, for they cannot be reconciled.

(Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 156)

Critter38's avatar

I think it is an understandable passage from 1912 when many were confusing social darwinism (which had nothing to do with Darwin, and the term hadn’t been coined yet) with their understanding of nature, and when many were looking for excuses (naturalistic fallacies) for cut-throat and terrible experiments in economics and social engineering.

Yes species struggle for existence. Yes many species must consume others to survive. So yes predation and competition are an integral part of life. But so is mutualism, co-evolution, co-adaptation, etc. Many species cannot survive except with the co-operation of other species. More than 2/3 of land plants rely on Fungi for important nutrients and I’m sure I don’t have to bring up pollination, or corals etc., or even our own organelles (our own mitochondria appear to be endosymbiotic prokaryotes). Furthermore, we know that especially among group living species, individuals practice altruism and show all the outward sides of empathy in our closest and sometimes distant relatives.

So 1) nature is only cut-throat if you disregard all those aspects which aren’t , 2) we shouldn’t commit a naturalistic fallacy, i.e. regardless of what nature is, we don’t have to create societies around a premise of “what is, is ought”, we can chose while at the same time having an understanding of our evolutionary origins.

I think the passage then makes an unsubstantiated leap based on these false premises and sets up a false dichotomy. In effect, “if we wish not to be like beasts, but live happily ever after, we must follow X”. As said before, this anchors ourselves in the morality of the past and unnecessarily elevates the views, opinions, and conjectures of a handful of men who were entirely capable of exhibiting and espousing views that I suggest are the antithesis of that which promotes a happy society.

So let’s not allow any “beast” or “prophet” be our sole guide, but instead employ reasoned critique of ideas which through their own merit, not their source, help dictate their adoption as a means of creating better societies.

augustlan's avatar

@Critter38 Very well said.

Critter38's avatar

thanks! :)

fireside's avatar

@Critter38 – I agree that there should be a reasoned critique of ideas through which advancement is made. In fact, “Independent Investigation of Truth” is one of the required methods of exploration suggested by Baha’u’llah.

Would you say that people have the ability to act in a more unifying and cooperative manner rather than a more competitive and selfish way?

If so, how would you encourage an individual to see this difference?
How about a larger global society that is entrenched in their own points of view?

fireside's avatar

Also, while you are typing, let me know your thoughts on the use of metaphor as a tool for communicating complex ideas. Here is another quote by Abdu’l-Bahá:

In creation there is no evil; all is good. Certain qualities
and natures innate in some men and apparently blameworthy
are not so in reality. For example, from the beginning
of his life you can see in a nursing child the
signs of desire, of anger, and of temper. Then, it may be
said, good and evil are innate in the reality of man, and
this is contrary to the pure goodness of nature and creation.
The answer to this is that desire, which is to ask for
something more, is a praiseworthy quality provided that it
is used suitably. So, if a man has the desire to acquire
science and knowledge, or to become compassionate,
generous and just, it is most praiseworthy. If he exercises
his anger and wrath against the bloodthirsty tyrants who
are like ferocious beasts, it is very praiseworthy; but if he
does not use these qualities in a right way, they are
blameworthy. ...
... It is the same with all the natural qualities of man,
which constitute the capital of life; if they be used and
displayed in an unlawful way, they become blameworthy.
Therefore it is clear that creation is purely good.
—Some Answered Questions, pp. 250, 251

(Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 196)

Critter38's avatar

“Would you say that people have the ability to act in a more unifying and cooperative manner rather than a more competitive and selfish way?”

Of course. But there is always a balance between looking after yourself and others. As Sam Harris once said (or something like this), he wasn’t sure if society would be happier if everyone cared for strangers as much as they cared for themselves or their own family. It’s not a given that a certain amount of selfishness is bad for individuals or society. It’s all a matter of circumstance and degree.

“If so, how would you encourage an individual to see this difference?”

I would sincerely hope that most people readily see the difference between acting selfishly and acting for the good of the group under most circumstances. The difficulties come when the collective cost from selfish action is distant, delayed or indirect. In these cases I can only assume that education is part of the answer. Because we as a species usually find difficulty in empathizing with the distant, then we need the informed to let us know the actual cost of seemingly innocuous activities (eg. conflict diamonds, exploitation of coffee workers, exploitation of fish resources, climate change). At which point we decide to help as individuals, or alternatively, through voting in governments with an empathetic agenda, which enable mass joining of finances for collective positive action.

“How about a larger global society that is entrenched in their own points of view?”

For societies and individuals these apparent alternatives (selfish/cooperative) are often not mutually exclusive options. I think societies work very well when they try to balance the needs of the group versus the needs of the individual. In such cases I may sacrifice something (eg. pay higher taxes) so that the public school system/universal health system/judiciary etc runs better, so that I live in a society which has more contented individuals, which benefits me if only indirectly. And I hasten to point out that for those of us who aren’t sociopaths/psycopaths (i.e. the vast majority of us I hope), we feel better knowing that others are looked after in terms of security, health and education. So I feel good living in a society where others feel good. For instance, I don’t want to live somewhere where justice or health is dependent on wealth (hey, Im a poet and I didn’t know it).

I would say that a lot of the world could benefit from considering those nations which seem to strike a healthy balance between individual rights and collective responsibilities. Why is it that some nations have happier kids, or universal health care, less suicide, less corruption, etc? Let’s examine them and see what they seem to be doing right and why this is and see whether some of their answers would work for our societies.

I’ll have to get back to you on the last post…gotta run. P.S. interesting topic!

fireside's avatar

“I would sincerely hope that most people readily see the difference between acting selfishly and acting for the good of the group under most circumstances.”

I would too, but I’m not sure that is the case yet. Though, I suppose it depends on how one defines “the group” when making this judgment. There are so many examples of people segmenting the population so they can view their actions as good for their group without any regard to the larger society. Until we can all recognize the world and all its people as “the group” this will continue.

I do agree that there needs to be a balance between how far you go to help someone else without securing your own footing. Jumping into a pit to throw someone a rope doesn’t help them and it takes away your ability to help others.

Critter38's avatar

Agreed. I think of this as the circle of empathy. I think there are many good people in the world, but the extent of their circle of empathy differs. I have close relatives who I would define as good people, but their circle of empathy does not actively extend beyond the family. So although they never purposefully do wrong by strangers and would help someone who showed up on their doorstep, at the same time they are unlikely to ever donate to a charity or go out of their way to inconvenience their own lives for the sake of another species. They are more “aware” today than they were 10 years ago, but I think their generation will pass (they’re in their mid 70s) often being far more insular than subsequent generations (yes, a broad generalization…). I think there are waves of selfishness through the decades, but I think that overall, those of us in the first world are on average more aware of how our own actions affect other individuals and species today, then we were three generations ago…perhaps. I sway between optimism and pessimism with regards to these issues, but overall I think our shear numbers are increasing the necessity for awareness of the impact of ones actions.

I guess I’d also add that a small circle of empathy is to a large extent unavoidable for those in the world that have only barely enough to survive. For those of us in the first world we could well benefit from more public discussion (in schools perhaps) of the distinction between wants and needs, self worth and how we value it, rights and responsibilities….I guess bio-ethics could be an added part of the public curriculum. Im just ranting here.

“Also, while you are typing, let me know your thoughts on the use of metaphor as a tool for communicating complex ideas.”

All depends. Metaphors and analogies are most beneficial if they can simplify and convey a complex truth without losing touch with reality. So they can be wonderful tools for clarifying. But they can also be used (unintentionally or otherwise) to mislead. If a complex idea is flawed, a metaphor can be employed which is correct, that is presented as a representation of the original idea. Its (the metaphors) cognitive appeal can then be used to get the original complex and flawed idea accepted.

So metaphors are a tool which can be used to clarify or confound.

Here is another quote by Abdu’l-Bahá:

“Therefore it is clear that creation is purely good. ”

I think Pangloss would say “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”. Have you ever read Candide by Voltaire…fun parody of Leibinzian optimism, which this quote seems to be paralleling.

Overall I agree with those aspects of the quote that are essentially saying that the range of human emotion can be channelled for good or for bad. The problem is the final interpretation…(the author seems very keen on employing the non sequitur). Our emotions can be used for good or bad, therefore our creation is purely good?!

No. We’re a relatively intelligent primate whose populations have evolved generally in groups of 100–150 individuals for which those of us who struck the right balance between selfishness and generosity were more likely to successfully reproduce, with the occasional alternative strategist (cheat, liar, thief, murderer) thrown in the mix via unfortunate nurture or nature.

Ever worked on an island or in a field station for long periods with a handful of people? Strikes me as somewhat analogous (here we go…) to the situation for small bands of hunter gatherers or agriculturalist communities. I have a hard time tolerating those who slurp their coffee at 5am in the morning, let alone those who stole equipment, never cooked, etc..etc.. (sounds like some share houses Ive lived in). I also found that past girlfriends who were pretending to be something they weren’t had a hard time keeping up a façade for more than 3 months. My point being that in small bands of people who live together permanently, the selfish (or worse) get known pretty readily (gossip is advantageous) and are likely to get ostracised.

My point…my point is that those who empathise, are generous, etc.. are the people who are likely to do well in small group situations both in terms of friendships, survival and reproduction. But, the ostracized can also do well (and adopt an alternative strategy) if they unite (roving bands of young males) and don’t play by the rules, steal and rape their way into the genome.

So in response to the quote. Humans have a range of emotions that on the whole seem to be adapted to success as a social intelligent primate. But they are certainly not “purely good”. This is retrofitting supernatural wishful thinking onto a complex evolutionary history which would be better expressed as:

“Therefore it is clear that evolution is simply adequate.”

fireside's avatar

We talked about this last night and discussed the same disconnect you bring up. The idea that all in creation is good seems to be to be best related to an infant.

Babies are born and they are purely good. They may have outward expressions which to the observer to be evil or bad, but this is simply a judgment of an outsider. It could be that the baby has allergies or is hungry. This leads to the parents wondering what it is the baby wants when they keep crying or acting out.

This is where the need for education comes in. As the child grows, the parent educates them on what is proper behavior and helps them to develop thought patterns which allow the child to analyze their actions. The child’s nature is thus that they can act in the easier way of personal gratitude or they can learn to act in ways that have the benefit of helping them to progress.

When teaching a child, the method of positive reinforcement is far more effective than that of negative reinforcement. It is a way of saying that it is okay to be where you are at but I know that you have so much more capacity. You walk with the child to show them why you would prefer they chose a different path expressing disappointment instead of standing over them and telling them how stupid and wrong they are for being they way they are and acting in such a manner.

Actions and intentions can be subverted and can display a lack of forethought or compassion, but that does not mean that the person’s capacity for good is lacking. Simply that they have not had the proper education and opportunities based on their past experience.

Critter38's avatar

I agree with much of what you say, but I still hesitate with regards to the suggestion that babies are purely good. As much as I think my 1 year old little girl is wonderful (not to mention my 3 year old), as far as being good or bad I would just say that she just “is”. I can make no comments on whether she is good or not unless she has the capacity to reason and understand the consequences of her actions and then decides to do good. For the same reason, no matter what she does, she is not “bad” at this age. These are issues of ethical choice to me which are beyond her capacity to comprehend or exhibit, and because of this I don’t see how we can define babies as purely good.

The only thing I am certain about is that right now she is definitely cute, she definitely likes to eat when she’s hungry, explore, sleep, giggle, and shit in quantities that are completely disproportionate to her size. I’ll have to wait and see regarding the rest, at which point I hope our parenting shows some sign of having a positive influence.

fireside's avatar

Form the quote above:

“For example, from the beginning of his life you can see in a nursing child the signs of desire, of anger, and of temper. Then, it may be said, good and evil are innate in the reality of man, and this is contrary to the pure goodness of nature and creation.

The answer to this is that desire, which is to ask for something more, is a praiseworthy quality provided that it is used suitably.”

From the quote further above:

“Bahá‘u’lláh tells us, on the other hand, that, if we wish to ascend the scale of progress, instead of looking backward to the animal world, we must direct our gaze forward and upward, and must take not the beasts, but the Prophets as our guides.”

I take this to mean that, by nature we are born to be good. As we progress in life, we have the choice of doing good or bad. It is simply driving evolution in one sense. Setting goals for us to reach towards rather than accepting the possible slip backwards.

Critter38's avatar

I don’t doubt that it’s a nice idea that we are all “born to be good.” I just disagree with the premise that the word good still means something if we assign such a label to a baby who can’t even make reasoned choices about ethical problems, and I see no reason in assuming that there is a guided reason for our existence (which is what “born to be good” implies).

I would just discard that aspect and say it this way, that most of us can grow up to be good people given the right circumstances.

fireside's avatar

Sure, it is just a means of setting expectations.
Just like saying, “I know you can have it in you” instead of “C’mon stupid, try harder”

Nothing wrong with positive encouragement, especially for people who are old enough to have created negative blocks in their mind about how dumb they are or how they are of little worth. It’s not like the audience for this type of dialogue is infantile, they may just need to rethink the mental models they have built up in their minds.

Critter38's avatar

Okay, but this is shifting the topic (in my mind at least) to how to motivate for higher self esteem in individuals, from what I saw as the previous issue of the accuracy of the underlying claims about babies and goodness. Basically from the accuracy of claims to the utility of claims.

fireside's avatar

Well, I guess this goes back to the use of metaphor and uplifting terminology when trying to address a global audience.

Not all people respond to cold hard logic in the same way, ask any therapist.
How does one create a unifying vision and transmit that message to all peoples?

Critter38's avatar

I don’t think you can. Humans are too diverse in experience, perceptions, and circumstance to create or readily disseminate a single vision that could unify all of us.

A more mundane example could be pick something that the vast majority of us think is a bad thing, continued child mortality due to avoidable conditions (malnutrition or poor water quality). Here’s something safe that the vase majority of humanity could unite behind in trying to alleviate. But we don’t solve this problem because even if the vision may be acceptable to most of us the means by which we go about solving it infringe on everything from egos, to political expediency, to priority rankings, to distribution, to corruption, to greed. etc. etc. not to mention that the circumstances which cause these outcomes change and vary between regions. Let alone the fact that a large number of people aren’t in a position to be united by this vision (they are too desperate to think past the next meal) or hardly in contact with the global community.

World peace is a wonderful unifying vision, until you put yourself in a position of someone who is, or perceives themselves to be, or gains by promoting the idea, that their people, culture, religion, nation, is currently being victimized or is lacking resources that are “rightfully” theirs. Suddenly what should be unifying becomes, well…we’re keen for world peace right after we get back what is ours or avenge this past injustice.

This doesn’t mean that the percentage of people living in peace can’t be increased, or the percentage of children who die from malnourishment can’t be reduced. But such steps will continue to be piecemeal and contingent on the culture and circumstances involved, rather than being solved by some social equivalent of a “grand theory of everything” that pulls us together under a common vision. I just don’t see it.

Please elaborate if you’re seeing this from a different angle.

fireside's avatar

Do you think that 50 or 100 years ago people would have believed that the continent of Europe would be united? Has there been much warring and resource plundering among members of the EU?

I think it is just a mater of time before people realize that there is more to gain by working together than independently.

A negative example could be slavery or child labor. These are actions that have lessened over time due to the growing mass of people who view these practices as wrong. The market for products is reduced once people find out that those products were produced in sweatshop environments.

I think the point is to recognize that diversity and find unity in the fact that all peoples and nations have a place in the larger global society.

Critter38's avatar

You’re pushing an open door with regards to things progressively getting better, I agree and say as much in too different posts in this thread, even though I acknowledge that there are often tragic regressions at different places and times.

But you specifically asked in your previous post about creating a “unifying vision” for “all people”. So my response is, I still don’t see how that can happen (i.e. this is far bigger than creating an economic trading block among relatively wealthy European nations) but am happy to hear you elaborate on what you think it might entail. Perhaps I don’t have a picture in my mind of what you specifically mean by a unifying vision. I can see common goals (alleviate poverty), but a vision implies more of a common perception or paradigm.

fireside's avatar

A New Vision for Humanity’s Future

One of the most distinctive aspects of the worldwide Bahá’í community is the hopeful and yet pragmatic way in which its members face the future. Far from fearing it, Bahá’ís the world over are dedicated to creating a new and peaceful world civilization based on principles of justice, prosperity, and continuing advancement. This vision reflects not only an appreciation for humanity’s historic longing for peace and collective well-being, but also our understanding that humanity as a whole has now reached a new level of maturity. That it is possible to create societies founded upon cooperation, trust, and genuine concern for others is at the heart of Bahá’í belief and action. Indeed, Bahá’ís believe that humanity is on the verge of an evolutionary leap that will carry humankind to a future where “world peace is not only possible but inevitable.”

More can be found here

Critter38's avatar

So do you believe that in order for a peaceful world civilization to occur requires that the world becomes a single state with Baha’i as its religion?

fireside's avatar

No, that is not the goal. The goal is to recognize that each nation has a role to play in a global society. The goal is to recognize that each religion is valid and from the same God.

Critter38's avatar

So the tenets or beliefs of the Bahai religion are not more or less correct than that found in Hinduism (i.e. they are both valid)? If not, what do you mean by “valid”?

fireside's avatar

The fundamental principle enunciated by Bahá‘u’lláh, the followers of His Faith firmly believe, is that religious truth is not absolute but relative, that Divine Revelation is a continuous and progressive process, that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin, that their basic principles are in complete harmony, that their aims and purposes are one and the same, that their teachings are but facets of one truth, that their functions are complementary, that they differ only in the nonessential aspects of their doctrines, and that their missions represent successive stages in the spiritual evolution of human society.

-Shoghi Effendi

—-
Basically, each religion brings us a combination of spiritual and cultural teachings to help society progress. The spiritual teachings are all basically the same. The cultural ones differ from age to age.

The Baha’i teachings about Equality of Man and Woman, Oneness of Religion, Oneness of Humanity, Consultation to arrive at decisions, Harmony of Science and Religion, Abandonment of Prejudice, Universal education, Independent Investigation of Truth, Global Commonwealth of Nations, etc. are the prescriptions for this age.

Critter38's avatar

How do you convince a devout Muslim that core aspects of their own religion are no different from a Hindus, without concurrently convincing them to give up central tenets of their own faith?

For instance, if the “cultural” aspects of religions aren’t really the important aspects, then presumably it is not important whether Jesus is or is not the son of God, whether there is or is not original sin, (let aloen whether this is one god or more) etc. As you can imagine, this stuff matters to most adherents, so to convince them that this doesn’t matter, but the spiritual aspect does, and that the spiritual aspect is shared across relgions, inherrently implies the adoption of a fundamentally different worldview than that advocated by most major religions. I fail to see how this differs from advocating universal adoption of a Bahai worldview.

fireside's avatar

Independent Investigation of Truth puts the process of understanding on the individual.
There is no proselytizing in the Baha’i faith so there is no need for focused attempts to convince others to convert. This is simply a new revelation for the people of this age.

It is up to every person to figure out what they believe. All a Baha’i can do is walk the path with them and attempt to answer questions along the way. I haven’t yet found a lack of answers within the teachings if someone has specific questions.

on Christ
on Adam and Eve

Critter38's avatar

Are there any teachings in the Bahai faith that you disagree with or do you see Baháulláh as infallible?

fireside's avatar

Well, I’ve only been a Baha’i for a year, so I can’t say I know all of the teachings.
But I have been able to understand the ones I have come across.

Critter38's avatar

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

fireside's avatar

Thanks for the discussion.

augustlan's avatar

Lovely job jellies!

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