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Wednesday, March 28, 2012 @ 03:03 AM
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GEORGE RONALD                       1989


Chapter 28: Preparing for a Just Society

In this chapter the present-day programme of action in the Bahá’í Faith is summarized to see if it is a practical approach to the building of a just society.

The Individual

Bahá’í guidelines for the individual in his relations with his fellow human beings are based in universal principles common to all the great religions. These may be divided into four groupings.

v  The first has to do with how we should view mankind. True religion urges us towards a deep sense that mankind is one family, that all are children of God, and that we are all, in essence, spiritual beings. Each one of us is at a different stage of spiritual growth. By looking for the good qualities in others we both encourage their development and at the same time contribute to our own spiritual growth.

v  The second concerns putting these positive attitudes into action by being kind to other humans, animals, and all living things; to be compassionate; to be forgiving; to be courteous – the lord of all virtues; and to be generous especially to the poor through a just distribution of resources and the abolition of extremes of wealth and poverty.

v  The third concerns the cultivation of those qualities which will attract others such as trustworthiness, honesty and truthfulness- the foundation of all virtues.

v  The fourth is to keep healthy so that we do not become a burden on the community and make a maximum contribution to its welfare. Many illnesses are psychosomatic and can be helped by prayer, meditation and the influence of a person of high spirituality.

These are broad principles essentially common to all the great religions. In the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith there are several refinements which receive special attention because of their particular relevance to conditions in modern society. Three of these relate to the first group – appropriate attitudes towards our fellow human beings.

The first of these is the need to make a conscious effort to abolish prejudice, which is a cause of disunity and conflict:

In every period, war has been waged in one country or another and that war was due to either religious prejudice, racial prejudice, political prejudice or patriotic prejudice. All prejudices are destructive to the human edifice. As long as these prejudices persist, the struggle for existence must remain dominant and bloodthirstiness and rapacity continue.

It might be argued that prejudice is a particular problem of our time because there is more widespread and frequent contact between peoples of different cultures than ever before. Improvements in communications, and large-scale movements of peoples as immigrants, refugees, business travellers and tourists have brought people face to face with each other for the first time.

One of the most effective ways of abolishing prejudice is to learn to appreciate the diversity of culture in the world and to see it as an enrichment of our total experience. This mental attitude towards others receives special attention in the Bahá’í Writings:

Consider the flowers of the garden, though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm and addeth to their beauty. How unpleasing to the eye if all the flowers and plants, the leaves and blossoms, the fruits, the branches and the trees of that garden were all of the same shape and colour. Diversity of hues, form and shape enricheth and adorneth the garden, and heighteneth the effect thereof. In like manner, when divers shades of thought, temperament and character, are brought together under the power and influence of one central agency, the beauty and glory of human perfection will be revealed and made manifest.

In speaking of the enrichment of society that comes from cultural diversity, the Bahá’í Writings make particular mention of those who have suffered extreme oppression, such as the African peoples and native Americans; they state that the sufferings of these peoples have made them more than usually sensitive, and that because of this they will make a special contribution to the spiritual illumination of a future world society.

Closely linked to these two themes is the Bahá’í principle of the equality of men and women. In the spiritual realm there is no difference between a woman and a man, and it is therefore not just for one to be treated as inferior to the other. Women play a vital role in society not only in their function as mothers of each generation, but also because if a just and peaceful society is to be achieved, there is a need for the traditional feminine qualities of love and service to balance the traditional masculine qualities of force and aggressiveness.

The happiness of mankind will be realized when women and men coordinate and advance equally, for each is the complement and helpmeet of the other.

Women are the equal of man in ability, but their subjugation in the past denied them education and training except in very narrow areas. Accordingly, the Bahá’í Writings say that women must be given equal education with men and the same curriculum. Indeed, they go further: if a choice has to be made, women should be given priority in education because they are the mothers of the next generation and ‘first teachers of children’. It is interesting that this principle is becoming increasing recognised in the world at large by those who are in the lead in the fight to eradicate disease, those who work with children, and those who are trying to improve food provision in the Third World. Women, say the Bahá’í Writings, should enjoy equal legal rights with men, equal social treatment and respect, equal job opportunities, and equal hearing and participation in councils of government.

There are two special refinements in Bahá’í teachings with regard to the second group of general principles, those pertaining to how we treat others. The first is the exhortation not to talk or listen to gossip or backbiting, because these have a deep, long-lasting detrimental effect on the soul:

For the tongue is a smouldering fire and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both the heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endure a century.

The second is once of the central concepts of the Bahá’í Faith. It is that the highest station a man can achieve is service to humanity:

This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer. A physician ministering to the sick, gently, tenderly, free from prejudice and believing in the solidarity of the human race, is giving praise.

Service to mankind is particularly meritorious when it involves real sacrifice, because this contributes to the spiritual growth of both giver and receiver. Sacrifice is the real test of sincerity. It is the ultimate test of whether or not one is willing to put conscious standards, hopes, and ideals before personal comfort.

Finally, there is one aspect of the Bahá’í teachings concerning the maintenance of physical health which is of special importance: the avoidance of all forms of drugs including alcohol:

The drinking of wine is forbidden; for it is the cause of chronic diseases, weakeneth the nerves and consumeth the mind. This wicked hashish extinguisheth the mind, freezeth the spirit, petrifieth the soul, wasteth the body and leaveth man frustrated and lost.

The negative effects of drugs and alcohol, their impact on the mind and spirit, have already been discussed in Chapter 19 in connection with the temperance movement. There are still many who argue that a little social drinking does no harm and may even be healthful. In the Bahá’í view the worldwide problem is too serious to make compromises of this sort which only serve to make drinking socially acceptable, for example to young people amongst whom will be the next generation of alcoholics, and to provide finance for the alcohol industry. Legalization of alcohol whilst making other drugs unlawful is also inconsistent; it gives the impression of special pleading and hypocrisy, and thereby encourages disrespect for the law and the taking of other drugs. In other words, ‘social drinking’ is both short-sighted and selfish. It purpose – as with drug-taking – is to create an artificial euphoria, an escape from the harshness of life. The Bahá’í view is that people would be a lot happier if they spent their time and resources helping to build a more loving and just society. Consequently, the only exception the Bahá’í Writings make for drugs (including alcohol) is in case of medical need. It should be added that the smoking of tobacco is strongly discouraged as unclean and damaging to bodily health, but it is not forbidden, presumably because it, unlike alcohol and drugs, does not affect the mind and spirit.

The Family

Sunday, March 18, 2012 @ 09:03 PM
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GEORGE RONALD                       1989


Chapter 27: The Big Picture (Cont)

The cycles of religions

Here, then, is something of the Bahá’í teachings on human nature. There remains one vital factor to complete the picture linking man to God. Bahá’ís believe that though man is free to choose between the pull of the two parts of his nature, there are limits beyond which he cannot develop his higher potential without external assistance, for it takes inspiration and imagination beyond anything he possesses to show him his own unsuspected potential. The normal sources of knowledge – empirical investigation, rational deduction and induction – are inadequate. The required inspiration and vision come at certain points in the cycles of history from great ‘educators’, or manifestations of God, who have perspective and extraordinary insight into the meaning of life. There is nothing unnatural about the coming of these Educators. They come forward as part of what might be called a spiritual law, in response to the needs of society at the times of great moral confusion and despair which coincide with the decline of established beliefs, or because new circumstances have arisen for which traditional answers are no longer suitable. The Educators are the founders of the great religions. Many lived before recorded history; others have come to societies that have lost much of their record of the past. Those about whom we know at least a little are Noah, Abraham, Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad.

The great Educators are distinctive in several respects. The first is the beauty and profundity of their teachings which if examined at their source, with scrupulous absence of prejudice, are clearly for the good of all mankind. Another is the example of their lives which fire love and respect in all men of sensibility. Like mirrors reflecting the light of the sun, the great Educators reflect the qualities of God in the manner of their lives. The depth of feeling they inspire is quite different from what may be felt about other men. The love that men may feel for a great artist or national hero is as nothing compared with what is felt for Jesus or Muhammad. Governments and established churches, seeing the influence of these Teachers as a threat to their own position, may try to repress them, but once they have made their claim to be the Educator for that age, thy will never retract even unto death. Their followers, too, will risk all to break with the shackles of the past and to put into practice the new teachings, stumbling often, but nevertheless gloriously pressing forward to the highest attainments of life. This is the ultimate answer to the question of how we distinguish true prophets from the false.

After religion’s springtime comes the summer, when there is a phoenix-like rise of a new and more advanced civilization out of a previously moribund society. Thus, whatever may have been the weaknesses of early Christian society, no objective assessment could fail to remark on its progressiveness with the circus culture of Rome at the time of Tiberius and Caligula. The same thrust forward in the quality of society is noticeable in the Persia of Cyrus after Zoroaster, India after Buddha, the Kingdom of David after Moses, and the great Islamic civilization which followed Muhammad. It should be added that Bahá’u’lláh said that the rise of Greek civilization was in response to the teachings of the prophets of Israel.

Then comes the autumn. Over a period of time men gradually lose touch with the real nature of the Educator. They start to elaborate on his teachings, adding to them their own interpretations which soon carry the force of law. Parables, used by educators to make a spiritual or moral point easier to understand and remember, are later read literally and the point is lost. Different views evolve and quarrels break out, superstition becomes widespread and the true religious spirit begins to die. Men become hollow; they continue for a time to pay lip service to religion but their actions have less and less connection with their words. The fabric of society itself begins to weaken and tear. New conditions and problems arise for which there seems to be no answer. Winter has come. Then men begin to feel instinctively that something must happen to help society find its direction. It is time for the cycle of life to begin again and for a new Educator to appear with new teachings.

In the Bahá’í view, the teachings of each Educator have two broad aspects. First there are universal themes about man’s relationship with God, his fellow human beings, and the universe at large: love, justice, detachment from personal desire, honesty, selflessness, faithfulness, humility, forgiveness, charity, obedience, mercy, trustworthiness, sincerity, truthfulness, moderation. These themes are common to the teachings of all the Educators, and so in that sense each Educator is a Renewer, the means for the spiritual candle of mankind to burn brightly again after it has all but stuttered out. The second aspect is a group of social teachings which are the practical application of those general themes, adapted to the conditions of the time and the level of maturity of society. These are transitional and will be added to or replaced by subsequent Educators as circumstances change.

Each divine revelation is divided into two parts. The first part is essential and belongs to the eternal world. It is the exposition of Divine truths and essential principles. It is the expression of the Love of God. This is one in all the religions, unchangeable and immutable. The second part is not eternal; it deals with practical life, transactions and business, and changes according to the evolution of man and the requirements of the time of each prophet.

Some particular quality or teaching may be especially identified with an Educator, because of the circumstances of the time in which He lived. Thus Moses is associated with law, a vital requirement of a people setting up a new society in a strange land; Jesus, with love because of the need to temper the practices of religious leaders obsessed with the letter of the law rather than its spirit; Muhammad, with one God and one nation because of the extreme superstition and violent division of the Arab peoples amongst whom he taught. The teachings of each Educator will be, of course, ahead of the thinking of contemporary society, but not so far ahead that all men cannot understand them. They will be so much in tune with the needs of the time that should there be excessive resistance by government or a prejudiced people, the agony which society is then undergoing will become much greater.

As a pupil passes through a school, each teacher in turn builds on what the pupil was taught in his previous class. So too with great Educators; each expresses the greatest love and respect for his predecessors, speaks of them as his equals, and far from destroying their work, strengthens and adds to it. Each has also had the vision to see that there would be a need for further educators after himself. Each in his teachings refers to his own return, not as a bodily reincarnation (as some mistakenly believe) but in the spirit. Sometimes the reference is to periodic returns, sometimes to one specific return when mankind would make a particularly significant advance in civilization (for instance what is referred to in the Bible as ‘the time of the end’). Bahá’u’lláh himself said that as new problems arose in the distant future, new guidance would be needed and a new Educator would arise to provide it.

One of the most common criticisms of religion is its apparent division, as reflected in the existence of many different prophets and conflicting teachings, and with followers who claim that their particular version is the only truth. The Bahá’í theme of ‘progressive revelation’ points to a different conclusion. Religions are united by common universal themes, a progressive development of social teachings as civilization advances, and Founders who attitudes to each other are characterized by respect and love. Apparent differences come from not recognizing the temporary nature of the social teachings of a religion, and from man-made additions to and corruption of) the original pure teachings of the Founder. In the Bahá’í view ‘progressive revelation’ is the most significant force in history. Other approaches to history, such as that propounded by Karl Marx, may illumine certain aspects of man’s experience, but what is important in the long run is the spiritual evolution of man: and this goes hand in hand with the development of the just society.

The spiritual dimension to the progressive movement

Monday, March 12, 2012 @ 04:03 PM
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GEORGE RONALD                       1989


Chapter 27: The Big Picture

In discussing the Bahá’í Faith’s credentials as an effective world-embracing progressive movement there are two questions which require immediate attention.

The first relates to the fact that it is an independent religion with its own Prophet-Founder. It is not merely a sect of, say, Christianity or Islam. A large number of people, both religious and agnostic alike, are so used to the idea that all the familiar great religions are centuries old that they find it difficult to accept that one which is new can be a genuine revealed religion with the real power to change society. This is, of course, not very rational. Perhaps the most effective response is to review the evidence regarding the personality of the Founder, the quality of His teachings and their relevance to the needs of our time, and, above all, the impact there has been on His followers. These issues will be discussed briefly in the coming chapters.

The second question which arises when discussing a religion as a potential world progressive force is in a sense more fundamental: the widespread perception that all religion is contrary to science and therefore essentially a fraud. This is a view which has become common in parts of Europe and other Western countries in particular. This reaction is understandable. Most religions and their sects have beliefs and practices which indeed seem to be contrary to the evidence of science. Major forces in Christianity, in particular, have taken an aggressive stand against science, for instance in the persecution of Galileo when he produced scientific evidence that the earth revolved around the sun and not the reverse as the Church taught. More recently, attempts have been made to deny evolutionary theories and to maintain that the universe was literally made 6,000 years ago during a period of seven days. A long record of bloody quarrels about obscure theological issues, a belief in a static universe in which every man had his place which he should accept without question, and support for oppressive rulers, not to speak of corruption of religious institutions, have all combined to associate religion with superstition and reaction.

Science and religion

Bahá’u’lláh said that truth is one, and that therefore religion and science cannot be in conflict. If some aspect of a religious teaching is clearly in conflict with concrete evidence provided by science, then that teaching is superstition and it is science which is concrete. For this reason science does not oppose religion, but rather strengthens it by helping to clear away the superstition obscuring true religious teachings:

When religion, shorn of its superstitions, traditions and unintelligent dogmas, shows its conformity with science, then will there be a great unifying, cleansing force in the world which will sweep before it all wars, disagreements, discords and struggles – and then will mankind be united….

The Bahá’í view is that science and religion are complementary; civilization requires both in order to progress. Religion is concerned with morals and spiritual requirements, and when it is weak, science, which helps with the material needs of man, is likely to become narrow in its view, arrogant and dangerous. On the other hand, when science is underdeveloped, the essence of religion can be veiled by ritual and superstition. It should be remembered, however, that in the short run at least, science is not necessarily objective:

Science is no inexorable march to truth, mediated by the collection of objective information and the destruction of ancient superstition. Scientists, as ordinary human beings, unconsciously reflect in their theories the social and political constraints of their times. As privileged members of society, more often than not they end up defending existing social arrangements as biologically foreordained.

  • One distinctive aspect to the Bahá’í view of the evolution of man is the idea that he has always had the potential to be ultimately what he has become, just as the acorn, though humble in size and appearance, has the potential to become a mighty oak. From this perspective evolution not only results from ancestry and environment but involves also the fulfilment of inherent potential.

The Bahá’í Writings show that it is hardly surprising that man has difficulty understanding the idea of God, who is the Creator of  a universe so vast and complex that it is in itself beyond man’s comprehension. God is thus on a much higher plane of existence.

  • The Bahá’í Writings refer to God as that ‘Unknowable Essence’. Though the essence of God is unknowable, the Writings maintain that there is evidence in the universe of the existence of God and that man has the capacity to see such evidence.


The nature of man

The task of searching for God is part of the process of developing our spiritual or higher qualities, and this point leads logically to discussion of the Bahá’í concept of the nature of man. In modern times all progressive movements have been initially motivated by a belief in the natural goodness of man – Rousseau’s noble savage – which will be revealed once political, social and economic obstacles have been removed by reform or revolution. This optimistic view has been badly damaged in recent years because it does not seem to explain the experiences of our time, ranging from the holocaust of the Jews to the sometimes demoralizing effects of the welfare state on people. In reaction the prevailing view has swept around to the other extreme which sees man as essentially greedy, selfish, and aggressive. This is not far from the traditional Christian belief that man is innately sinful. It is certainly a view which undermines progressive movements, because it suggests that in the end nothing can be achieved. It is also unsatisfactory, because it too fails to explain human experience, such as the lives of the saints, the voluntary abolition of slavery, and the human rights movement.

The Bahá’í view lies in between these two extremes and embraces the concept that there are two sides to the nature of man. One side relates to his physical being – what he has in common with the animal and which motivates a drive to physical survival (the acquisition of the necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter) and the continuation of the species. The second side of his nature comes from those transcendental powers which distinguish him from the animal, and which find expression in love and concern for the well-being of others, and in a need for a meaning to life beyond mere physical existence. It is the Bahá’í view that the purpose of man is to develop this ‘spiritual’ side of his nature. When this happens man starts to fulfil his own destiny; he is noble, creative and happy, and the result is the advancement of civilization.

All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilization.

When man fails to follow his true destiny and allows his higher nature to atrophy, then his physical side will dominate; qualities which in moderation are necessary for his well-being become extreme and destructive. The qualities of physical preservation turn into selfishness greed, material lust, laziness, lying, decadence viciousness and violence, and society sinks into barbarism. Within limits – such as those imposed by time and place of birth, parents, mental and physical capability, health, accidents of nature – man has a free choice to follow the pull of either self. This means each person is responsible for his own actions. It is recognized that the lives of people vary greatly: some have much greater difficulties to contend with than others. What is important is not so much absolute standards, but how far the individual progresses toward the highest standards from the point of departure. Thus much is expected in absolute terms from those who are fortunate in their circumstances.

  • The view that the purpose of life is to develop the spiritual side of man’s nature and in so doing to create an ‘ever-advancing civilization’, is seen in the context of a larger concept: a belief in a spiritual life after the physical existence has ended.
  • Bahá’u’lláh said that man, in his physical existence, is given the opportunity to develop those spiritual qualities which he will require when he becomes a purely spiritual being.
  • In the same way a child in the womb develops limbs, eyes and ears for the time when he or she is born into the world.
  • The Bahá’í Writings say that the nature and joy of the future spiritual life is quite beyond anything man can experience as a physical being, and in consequence there is a limit to what he can learn from the Great Educators.


The nature of the soul after death can never be described, nor is it meet and permissible to reveal its whole character to the eyes of men. The purpose underlying their (the messengers of God) revelation hath been to educate all men, that they may, at the hour of death, ascend, in the utmost purity and sanctity and with absolute detachment, to the throne of the Most High. The world beyond is as different from this world as this world is different from that of the child while still in the womb of its mother.

  • All people survive after death, but at different levels of spirituality. The higher the level, the greater the understanding and joy in the creation of God.
  • All become aware of their level after death, so that those who have only achieved a low level, because of their failure to grow when in the physical existence, will have cause for regret.
  • This is the state that religions have called hell. Hell, too, is the state of mind of the man still living in the physical world who has allowed his spiritual qualities to wither away.
  • Man should not spend his life in contemplation of what is to come. His duty is to look to his life and actions during his physical existence.
  • If he does this, the future spiritual life (which in any case can be only the subject of conjecture) will look after itself when the time comes.
  • Man should seek God’s assistance in the development of his spiritual qualities through meditation, prayer and fasting.
  • Meditation frees man from his environment, liberates his mind from conscious direction, and allows it to contemplate the essence of reality.
  • One specific act of meditation which Bahá’ís are enjoined to practise is to bring themselves to account at the end of each day.
  • The very act of prayer, which is for the benefit of man, not God (who has no need of it) induces feelings of humility, detachment, and contemplation of the things which really matter in life, and in so doing gives new strength.
  • This is particularly true of those prayers revealed by the Founders of the great religions, which always deal with the loftiest sentiments of man rather than those that are material or selfish.
  • Because prayer is of such value in supporting the spiritual side of man’s nature, it is a moral obligation for a Bahá’í to pray at least once a day.
  • Bahá’ís also observe a fast once a year for a period of 19 days during the month of March, when they abstain from food and drink between sunrise and sunset.
  • The purpose of the fast, an act of self-discipline, is to strengthen the sense of detachment from the material side of life, and at the same time to increase one’s appreciation of those things which are daily taken for granted.
  • It is often argued that there cannot be a God because if He existed, He would not have subjected mankind to so much apparently unnecessary suffering. The Bahá’í Writings say that pain is an instrument of education, by which man can become detached and grow spiritually:


The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment. His attitude in this world will be that of divine happiness. Man is, so to speak, unripe: the heat of the fire of suffering will mature him. Look back to the times past and you will find that the greatest men have suffered most.

  • The pain inflicted on men by the injustice of society is perhaps the greatest challenge of all, and the whole thrust of the Bahá’í community is to meet this challenge.


The best beloved of all things in My sight is justice.

  • It is important to keep a sense of proportion with material things. They can be enjoyed when the opportunity is there; but it is unwise and unhealthy to become attached to them.
  • Most important of all is the appreciation that the most profound sources of happiness are not to be found  in material things but in matters of the spirit, the growth of the higher nature of man.


The cycles of religions

Sunday, March 11, 2012 @ 07:03 AM
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A PLUME BOOK    1997

Back cover

Bring Compassion, Generosity, and Kindness into Your Home with this Essential Guide

The most important job parents have is to pass basic virtues on to their children, and this invaluable book is designed to help make that job a little easier. Compiled by The Virtues Project, an international organization dedicated to inspiring spiritual growth in young and old alike, this multicultural, interfaith handbook shows parents and teachers how to turn words into actions and ideals into realities. Drawn from the world’s religions, the 52 virtues included here – one for each week of the year – nurture togetherness in family life. The simple strategies, which explain what a virtue is, how to practice it, and signs of success, will engage children of all ages in an exciting process of growth and discovery. This important book shows you how to:

v  Learn the language of integrity and self-esteem

v  Understand the five roles parents play

v  Discover ways to introduce sacred time into family life

v  Help children make moral choices


The Family Virtues Guide gives adults and children the tools for spiritual and moral growth. Join the thousands of families discovering simple practices for bringing out the best in each other by sharing The Family Virtues Guide.

Inside cover

The Family Virtues Guide is part of an initiative called The Virtues Project, whose vision is to empower adults and children in diverse cultures around the world to live by their highest values. It is not about the practices or beliefs of any one faith but is sourced in the virtues which are the common elements of spirituality found in all sacred traditions. The 52 virtues include: caring; compassion; consideration; excellence; generosity; helpfulness; humility; justice; kindness; love; modesty; respect; self-discipline; tact; tolerance; trust; unity.


Being a parent is the most complex and important activity on the planet. Parents are a child’s first and most important educators, yet they receive little or no training in what to do or how to do it. Unfortunately, children don’t come with instruction manuals.

There is a growing concern among conscientious parents that our children are caught up in materialism to the detriment of character, that they are picking up values which place personal gain before ethics, integrity, or love. Many of them have no sense of faith or spiritual values in their lives. What’s a parent to do?

  • There have been valuable efforts to fill the void of parental guidance in recent years. What has yet to be addressed in a broad way is how parents can meet the spiritual needs of children.
  • The Family Virtues Guide is part of an initiative called The Virtues Project, whose mission is to provide multicultural programs and materials which empower people to remember who they really are and to live by their highest values.
  • The principles and practices in The Family Virtues Guide are being applied in families, schools, prisons, corporations, social-service programs, child-care centers, indigenous communities, and diverse faith communities throughout the world.
  • The Family Virtues Guide is not about values. Values are culture specific. It is about virtues, which are universally valued by all faiths and cultures in the world.
  • Virtues are the silver thread running through all of humanity’s sacred literature as well as the oral traditions of the world’s indigenous peoples. Virtues are described as the qualities of the soul and the attributes of God.
  • Children are spiritual beings whose purpose in life is to have a purpose – to develop all the virtues they have within them in potential.
  • Just as children’s bodies need food, air, light, and warmth, their spirits need challenge, direction, and encouragement.
  • The Family Virtues Guide is a tool to help parents consciously and skillfully address their children’s spiritual needs.


A key principle of The Family Virtues Guide is that parents are the first educators, those best able to impart values and virtues to their children. The Family Virtues Guide is a response to parents who want to bring simple spirituality and character education into their children’s lives. The world needs people who are willing to take personal responsibility.

Let it be this generation.

Introduction: How to Use The Family Virtues Guide

The Family Virtues Guide is based on four key principles:

v  The parent is the primary educator of the child.

v  Children are born in potential: their natural qualities can develop into positive or negative traits depending on how they are educated in the early years.

v  Character develops as children learn to make responsible, moral choices.

v  Self-esteem is a natural outcome of living by spiritual principles.====

Naturally, you can’t help someone else grow without growing yourself. Using The Family Virtues Guide is an inner adventure for the whole family.

  • The guide is a how-to manual for applying virtues in everyday life, for supporting each other to set spiritual goals.
  • It is a guide to a simple language of spirituality – the virtues themselves. Some call it the language of the heart.
  • There are two sections in The Family Virtues Guide. The first contains three chapters about how to be a spiritual mentor to children, including suggestions in Chapter 3 for holding family meetings to focus on a virtue each week, if that is something which fits for your family.
  • It is not essential to have a formal gathering of the family to apply the principles and practices in the guide. It is only one way to focus on the virtues.
  • The second section of the book contains 52 virtues, one for each week of the year. It seemed somehow more manageable than including the more than 300 virtues we found in the world’s sacred texts.
  • Each virtue begins with a small inspirational quotation from the holy book of one of the world’s religions. Those included here are Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and the Bahá’í Faith.
  • Each virtue contains 4 pages: Page 1: What is it?; Page 2: Why practice it?; Page 3: How do you practice it? and exercises; Page 4: Signs of success and a daily affirmation.
  • Appendix A contains Group Exercises that you may find helpful in comparing notes with a friend or sharing with a small group to deepen your understanding of the practices in The Family Virtues Guide.
  • Appendix B is an outline of the practical do’s and don’ts of spiritual mentorship, from the first 3 chapters.
  • Appendix C has instructions on how to make a virtues tree felt board.
  • Appendix D contains information on The Virtues Project.
  • The Family Virtues Guide offers a simple moral structure which parents can model and within which children can build their character and self-esteem. It is no substitute for love, hugs, and family giggles, the joys of just being together.
  • However, it is a tool for parents to use in guiding and teaching their children so that the content of their character is a first priority.
  • We offer The Family Virtues Guide in a spirit of enthusiasm and confidence that you and your children will find it a valuable source of support in cultivating your virtues, the gifts within.


Chapter 1: Who Are Our Children, Really

The spiritual nature of children. The longing for mastery and meaning. What kids are. What kids are not. The opposititis Trap. The ‘Chip off the Old Block’ Syndrome. Isn’t love enough?

Chapter 2: What’s a parent to Do?

Parenting principles and practices in the Virtues Project.


Strategy 1: Recognize teachable moments.

From Shaming to naming. Use virtues, not labels. Change Enabling to empowering. Avoid the abuse of guilt. What if your child does something really terrible? Be a teacher, not a preacher. 

Strategy 2: Speak the language of virtues.

Tap the power of language to shape culture. Tap the power of language to transform. Use virtues to acknowledge. Use virtues to correct. Name the act, not the actor. Be specific and accurate.


Strategy 3: Set clear boundaries

An educative model of authority. Give children R&R: Routines and Rituals. Ten guidelines for establishing family ground rules. Give choices within boundaries. Set boundaries when virtues are violated. Set boundaries to prepare children for new situations. Four principles of discipline.


Strategy 4: Honor the spirit

Share your skills. Share your family stories. Create routines of reverence. Mark special times with special rituals. What about God?


Strategy 5: Offer the art of spiritual companioning

What about feelings? Help children to make moral choices. Open the door. Offer Receptive Silence. Ask cup-emptying questions. Focus on sensory cues. Ask virtues-reflection questions. Ask closure and integration questions. Other virtues acknowledgements.

Chapter 3: How to Apply The Family Virtues Guide in Your Family

Introducing the virtues project to your children

Suggestions for getting started: Set a time to meet. Open with something simple and reverent. Describe the Family Virtues Guide. Set clear boundaries for sharing a circle. Choose a virtue to practice this week. Practice moderation.

How to hold a family virtues meeting: Balance creativity and order. A sample agenda. Keep it positive. Keep it simple and sacred. Practice reverence with a sharing circle. Apply creativity and joyfulness. Review the new virtue of the week. Create peacefulness with a closing ritual. Act with tact.

Virtues: The Gifts Within

Assertiveness; caring; cleanliness; compassion; confidence; consideration; courage; courtesy; creativity; detachment; determination; enthusiasm; excellence; faithfulness; flexibility; forgiveness; friendliness; generosity; gentleness; helpfulness; honesty; honor; humility; idealism; joyfulness; justice; kindness; love; loyalty; mercy; moderation; modesty; obedience; patience; peacefulness; prayerfulness; purposefulness; reliability; respect; responsibility; reverence; self-discipline; service; steadfastness; tact; thankfulness; tolerance; trust; trustworthiness; truthfulness; unity.

Scriptural References


Appendix A: Discussion Exercises

Appendix B: The Do’s and Don’ts of Bringing Out the Best in Our Children and Ourselves

Appendix C: How To Make a Virtues Tree Felt Board

Appendix D: Programs and Materials of the Virtues Project; World Wide Web Site

About the Authors

Tuesday, March 6, 2012 @ 02:03 PM
posted by admin



GEORGE RONALD                       1989





Chapter 26: Where Do We Go From Here?

The human race is rightly proud of its achievements in the arts and sciences. How the human spirit is raised by the beauty of music, painting, architecture, sculpture, literature, the theatre – all the arts and crafts in their variety and cultural diversity! So too is the mind expanded by contemplation of advances in science and technology, especially in the last two centuries.

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty!

Shakespeare, Hamlet

There is less pride, however, in achievements in political, social, and economic relationships, in large part because of the shock and horror of events in the 20th century when apparently strong and civilized nations descended to the most barbaric behaviour. It has been a principal purpose of first two parts of this book to draw attention to some of man’s achievements in these fields and, while acknowledging the many failures, to show that here too there is much which merits our pride. The just society has by no means been achieved, but slowly over time, there has been considerable progress in the right direction.

Although there is widespread scepticism today about the value of religion, especially in Western society, there is undeniable historical evidence that much of what has been achieved in moving towards the just society should be attributed to the direct or indirect impact of the world’s great religions. They have immensely broadened man’s vision of the universe and provided a sense of meaning, purpose and direction to life, encompassing such themes as the brotherhood of man and noble ethical standards of behaviour and thought. Undoubtedly this positive influence has been obscured because religious institutions have frequently led communities in directions which were contrary to their own principles and teachings; as a result some of the most terrible events in human history have been attributable to religion. Nevertheless, the vision and principles which the great religions have brought are never entirely forgotten, and they have served as a standard by which people instinctively judge the behaviour of individuals and communities.

Though civilizations were frequently brutal and cruel, they produced the first examples of themes essential to the just society. The great empires of the past (most notably those of China and Rome) gave proof of the benefits that flow from the maintenance of peace over a long period of time and over large areas. Ancient Greece provides an example of what can be achieved in a relatively free society where public issues can be openly discussed and a significant part of the population has some role in affairs of state. The revolt of Spartacus and the slaves of Rome was a milestone in the evolution of the collective consciousness of civilization. It is true that slavery would continue to be a recurring feature of civilization for another 2000 years, but it would be associated with a sense of unease. There was an unspoken awareness, sometimes weak, often fearful, but always there, that society could not be truly stable, peaceful and fruitful whilst it was built on the denial of the most basic freedoms to a part of the population. Similarly, the revolt of the Jews against the heavy-handed rule of Rome, though unsuccessful, showed that in the long run peace involves giving all peoples a right to express themselves freely through their own culture, a right to self-determination.

Slowly, over the centuries, man’s consciousness of the idea of the just society and its basic requirements evolved. Then quite suddenly at the beginning of the 19th century the pace began to quicken, in step with technological innovations which made possible a great increase in the material wealth of mankind and the linking together of all communities into one world society. Progress towards a more just society was made on a series of interconnected fronts.

Political and social equality was the first. In the perspective of history, perhaps the most impressive advance will prove to have been the voluntary and almost total abolition of slavery, after thousands of years when nearly every major society considered it essential to the well-being of civilization. The widespread emergence of the national state, in which people are able to live according to their own culture and free of alien rule, took mankind another step forward. Of great significance, too, has been the replacement of authoritarian forms of government in many parts of the world with those that are constitutional and democratic, where ordinary people are not treated as children but are given an opportunity to participate in the management of their own public affairs. The growth of constitutional government has had reverberations even in countries where authoritarian forms of government remain, in the sense that these are increasingly sensitive about appearing, in the view of world opinion, to be oppressive and acting against the interest of their people, especially with regard to such issues as human rights.

The second ‘front’ where the pace of advance towards the just society has quickened in the last two centuries concerns elimination of poverty and a move towards greater equality in the distribution of material resources and services. These achievements in the economic sphere have come about partly as a result of a vast increase in total wealth, benefiting much of the world population, and partly as a result of the conscious effort of various movements – trade unions, cooperatives, socialism and the welfare state – to ensure greater economic justice and equal opportunity.

The conduct of international relations is the third arena where there has been considerable progress. International organizations have been established with the goal of bringing about world peace through such procedures as agreements to observe law in relations between states, collective security, disarmament, mediation of disputes, and negotiation of armistices between warring powers. Nations have taken steps to coordinate their policies concerning a whole range of economic and social fields for the benefit of all, and in particular to give financial and technical assistance to those countries that are economically less well off. For the first time in history there has been formed an international civil service, whose loyalty and outlook is governed  to some degree at least by concern for the interest of all the nations of the world, not just that of their own countries. A multitude of non-governmental organizations, some with the highest professional and technical qualifications, have mobilized public support both to urge official bodies to maintain and increase levels of international cooperation, and to provide them with supplementary assistance. One of the greatest successes of the non-governmental organizations has been the development of a growing consciousness of and interest in the protection of basic human rights around the world.

Great as has been this progress toward the just society, there can be no question that far more has to be done, and done quickly, if there is not to be disaster on an unprecedented scale. In the political field the movement towards national self-determination, although nearly complete, has left a few areas where there is still enormous resentment against what is considered alien rule. In such situations, a sullen population will often give passive support to a passionate minority who engage in terrorism to publicize their feelings. Many nations which have achieved independence have allowed legitimate patriotism to become corrupted by greed and prejudice into a myopic chauvinism, leading to unnecessary conflict with internal minorities and external neighbours. Impressive as has been the advance of constitutional government, the majority of nations in the world still live under authoritarian forms of government, and many of those that are formally democratic are hampered by large-scale corruption and deep internal divisions. In some cases government has lost the power to maintain even minimal law and order, and the armed gangster rules the streets. Though democracy is undoubtedly an advance over autocracy, even the most advanced and well-established of democracies suffer from characteristics which detract from the well-being of their own people, not to speak of the well-being of the peoples of other nations. In particular there is a general tendency to a short-term perspective (i.e. a focus on the next election) and to promote sectional interest as a way of obtaining office. Though the foreign policy of the democracies is to some degree influenced by long-term ethical considerations, the major motivation is still short-term ruthless self-interest, and is often morally indistinguishable from the foreign policy of dictatorial governments.

These political failures are often linked to immense social and economic problems. Democracy does not easily survive today in conditions where there are large disparities in economic wealth within a nation. This is the case in many Third World nations, which despite all efforts are becoming poorer in relation to the rich countries. One aspect of the problem in these countries is a rapidly growing population amongst whom a virtually static level of resources has to be distributed. Another is the growing unwillingness of the rich countries to make the sacrifices necessary to help them, because of perceived failures of assistance given in the past, and, more important, increased concern for their own problems: high levels of unemployment, inflation, wastage of resources, pollution, and all the side effects of unadulterated materialism. The latter include widespread alcoholism and drug addiction, increased crime, and the breakdown of a sense of public duty and responsibility. Such symptoms of materialism are common to capitalist and socialist countries alike.

These political, social and economic problems come to a head on the international stage where the greatest failure of our time has been the continuation of armed conflict between nations despite the establishment of the United Nations. In the last year or two there has been a distinct cooling of international tensions, mainly as a consequence of improved relations between the two superpowers. Several wars have been stopped and there are better prospects for an end to the armaments race than at any time since 1945. Nevertheless, it should be cautioned that the foundations of the present détente are still far from firm. Until these foundations are permanently strengthened there will remain real risk of catastrophe on an unprecedented scale, either from conflict between the superpowers, accidental or otherwise, or as a result of the actions of the dozen or so other powers that have or may have access to weapons of mass destruction.

To conclude, humanity today faces challenges greater in magnitude and complexity than at any time since the beginning of civilization. Perhaps in the short run, with luck and good sense, we have a chance of muddling through and avoiding major disaster. In the long run, however, pragmatic muddling through in the traditional political fashion is not likely to be enough. The end result at best may be changes which are too modest and too late. There is a clear need to start thinking about a more thorough-going response to the great challenges – a response which will be needed over the long haul. The question is not just one of simple survival but of moving forward to a civilization which is prosperous and enlightened enough to provide every human being with the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. What is needed is a revival of that movement of progressive forces which has achieved so much in the past but which is now divided, directionless, and lacking in power because its supporters have dropped away out of weariness, disillusionment, and vulnerability to the seductive call of the materialistic philosophy which focuses on short-term selfish interest. Such a revival would involve:

  1. A unification of progressive forces, especially between those that put most emphasis on a free society with a democratic form of government and those which give the highest priority to the removal of the obstacles to human development that come from extremes of wealth and poverty;
  2. A comprehensive programme which will give direction to the progressive movement and will respond to the major issues which face mankind today; and
  3. A great awakening of popular enthusiasm and sustained commitment for such a programme, to provide the necessary power for its goals to be reached.


How can all this be achieved? The summary review of the most well-known progressive movements of the day in Part II of this book suggests that no one of them alone is able to fulfil all these requirements. There remain two alternatives. One is the development of some new movement, perhaps a syncretic philosophy, which will pull together all that is best from the movements of the past. Experience suggests that this will not work. It would no doubt involve, if taken seriously, some sort of international committee, which even with the best will in the world would take perhaps decades to come to a conclusion. And such a conclusion (if one were ever reached) would almost certainly represent a patched-together compromise representing the lowest common denominator by the time all the political bargaining had finished. This is not the type of programme likely to provide a real answer, or to arouse the long-term enthusiasm and commitment of a large part of the world’s population.

That leaves the second alternative, which is to review the possibilities of progressive movements which have not so far been discussed. In taking this course the one movement which must surely attract immediate attention is the Bahá’í Faith. At first sight this may seem a strange choice, in view of the small number of its followers (about 4.7 million worldwide), its comparative obscurity until recently, and the fact that religion still has negative connotations for many. The suggestion is not made lightly, however; it is based on several reasons which it is believed have weight. Quite apart from the general point noted earlier that religion in its pure form has been the key progressive force in history, there are several specific aspects of the Bahá’í Faith which are relevant in this context. These include the comprehensiveness of its progressive approach to all the main problems which face mankind today, the great diversity of its adherents who are drawn from very nearly every nation in the world, and the fact that it is the oldest and most well-established movement for world peace and unity. In an age of instant communication the present small number of Bahá’ís is not necessarily a handicap. A movement in tune with the times cannot but attract millions when the issues become clear. In the light of these thoughts this book would be incomplete without a brief review of the Bahá’í Faith and its credentials as a progressive movement.

The Bahá’í method is not shrill and demanding; rather, it is in the manner of a gift offered to a king. In looking at this religion the peoples of the world are invited to strive for intellectual integrity, to make an independent and objective investigation to see if it makes sense and if it is the answer to the problems of the world. Unfettered investigation means being detached from views propagated by normal authority: tradition, the family, institutions. It means working matters out for oneself with all the tools available: reason, observation, intuition, meditation and prayer.

It has to be recognized that this is indeed a difficult task and requires a great deal of concentration, especially to escape from the prison of time and place, for we are all deeply affected by the culture in which we have been raised. One example of such bias is the present-day common view of communism in the capitalist states, and vice-versa. Another is extreme scepticism about religion in a materialistic society.

The brief review of the Bahá’í Faith which follows has four parts. First, there is an examination of its broad vision of the universe to see whether this is likely to motivate change and improvement in society. Second, there is a summary of the Faith’s programme of action as applied under present conditions to see if it is a practical approach to the building of a just society. Next there is a brief sketch of the long-term goal of the Faith, which is a new world society. Finally there is a short overview of the history of the Bahá’í community, to see what effect the Faith has on ordinary men and women in practice and whether this offers hope for the future.

In making this review some use will be made of quotations from the Bahá’í Writings. Many of these are from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), the Founder-Prophet of the Bahá’í Faith. Others are from the writings of Bahá’u’lláh’s eldest son, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), whom He appointed to succeed Him as supreme guide of the Bahá’í community; and from Shoghi Effendi Rabbani (1896-1957), ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s grandson whom He in turn appointed as His successor to the leadership of the Faith, with the title of Guardian. Following the death of Shoghi Effendi the world Bahá’í community has been directed by the Universal House of Justice, a world assembly elected by the international community every five years by secret ballot.

Chapter 27: The Big Picture

Wednesday, February 15, 2012 @ 02:02 AM
posted by admin



GEORGE RONALD                       1989



Chapter 10: Islam and the Idea of Equality

Following the sequence of history, it is now time to turn to Islam, a religion which raised the standard of civilization over the vast regions of the globe stretching from West Africa to the Pacific Islands in the East, from China and Russia in the North to East Africa in the South. It brought a new statement of religion easy for all to understand and appreciate; it strengthened ethical standards; it created a much greater sense of equality of men; and, for the first time in the evolution of religion, gave guidelines on the administration of the state.

Islam (the word means submission to God’s will) arose in the 7th century AD in Arabia, a vast land, mostly desert, measuring some 600 by 1,000 miles, situated to the east and west of the great river basins of the Nile, Euphrates and the Indus. The people of this land, a mixture of nomads, cultivators and traders, were grouped into a complex system of tightly knit tribes where kinship was the determining factor in a man’s life. There were constant quarrels between the tribes; violence particularly in relation to blood feuds was endemic; and generally there was much brutality. Slavery was widespread and there was a low valuation of women – newly-born female babies were often buried alive to eliminate a perceived burden on the family. The chief city of the region, Mecca, was important both as a trading centre on the route between the Mediterranean and the orient and as a holy place, for it was here that Abraham had built the Ka’be (cube) as a place of worship of the one true God. Though the Arabs recognized Abraham’s God (Allah) as supreme, they had over the centuries added subsidiary cults of lesser deities and by the 7th century it was said that the city had shrines for some 360 gods. The shrines made of Mecca a centre for pilgrimage, a most profitable business for the inhabitants, and to encourage it agreement had been reached that there should be a four-month truce from inter-tribal quarrels each year.

Muhammad was born in Mecca in AD 750. He was either posthumous or soon lost His father, ‘Abdu’lláh, and at the age of six He lost his mother, Amínih, as well. He was then raised by His grandfather, the foremost chieftain of the city and a member of the Hashemite branch of the ruling Qurayhi clan. Two years later this grandfather died and Muhammad was taken in by His uncle, Abú Tálib, also a powerful figure in the city. As a child Muhammad tended sheep, but as He grew up He graduated to trade and travelled with caravans from one centre of trade to another. He became known for the purity of His life and was called Amín, the Trusted One. At the age of 24 (AD 594) He married a widow, Khadíja, who was 16 years older than himself and a merchant for whom He had acted as agent. A daughter, Fátima, was the only child to survive from this marriage (which was apparently happy) and Muhammad did not take any other wife until after Khadíja’s death 25 years later.

After His marriage Muhammad’s life proceeded without incident for some 16 years. Then in 610 during one of His periodic visits to Mount Hira where he liked to meditate and pray, He had a vision of the Archangel Gabriel, who commanded Him to arise and reform the religion of His land. At first He had grave doubts about Himself but was encouraged by His first followers, His wife and His nephew, ‘Ali. In 613 He began to preach in the city against the idols and about the need for all to change their way of life in preparation for the day of God. Gradually people began to respond to His teachings, but this caused increasing alarm amongst the rich and powerful who saw Him as a possible threat to their lucrative pilgrimage business, if not worse. They tried to dissuade Him, first with mockery, then bribery, but when these approaches failed they threatened violence to the point where in 615 He sent away many of His followers to other lands for their own safety. For 7 years the pressures was on Muhammad gradually increased; major stages were His confinement to one sector of the city in 617 and the deaths in 619 (the Year of Mourning) of both His wife and His protecting uncle. Still He persisted, and His opponents finally resolved to kill Him (as a joint venture, so that there would be no subsequent blood feud). Just at that time Muhammad was invited by a delegation from Yathrib (later to be renamed Medina, the city of the Prophet), a small agricultural town some 200 miles north of Mecca, to come to be their ruler. They had heard of His teaching of unity amongst all peoples and they hoped He would be able to end the constant strife in their own city between its various component groups. Muhammad agreed and in October 622 left Mecca in secret so as to avoid assassination. It is said that ‘Ali slept in Muhammad’s place so as to make those watching think Muhammad was still there. The move to Medina marks the emergence of Muhammad as the formal head of a state and of a reformed religion, and this is the reason the Islamic calendar starts with this year of Emigration (Hijra) rather than with the year when Muhammad received His first revelation, or the year He first preached.

  • In Medina, Muhammad brought peace through conciliation and compromise. He made a particular effort to include Christians, a relatively small group, and the Jews, who were more numerous.
  • Each group was given freedom to practise its own religion and some of their customs were incorporated into Muhammad’s own teachings, such as the Jewish practice of turning to Jerusalem when praying.
  • Muhammad’s enemies in Mecca began a war of harassment to try and undermine His position.
  • During the final two years of His life, before His death in 632, most of the tribes of Arabia came over to His cause.

The two main sources of the teachings of Muhammad are the Qur’án (the Book to be read) and the example of His life, actions and sayings (the hadith). The Qur’án is a record of the revelations received by Muhammad over a period of more than 22 years, recorded at the time on whatever material was at hand (skins, stones, bones, etc.). Divided into 114 surihs, the Qur’án was completed by AD 650, less than 20 years after His passing, and its content was confirmed by those who had known Him. It was the most authentic record of the teachings of any Manifestation of God made up to that time. The hadith, which in all comprise some 600,000 different traditions, are much less consistent in authenticity.

Muhammad’s teachings revolve around the concepts of a single God of justice and mercy, each man’s responsibility for his own actions, and the equality of all before God. The teachings are both simple and practical and are presented sometimes with a sense of humour, as in the admonition: ‘Trust in God but tie your camel.’ Four of the five obligations of the Faith relate to reinforcing man’s understanding of his humble position before God: the reiteration of the profession of faith, the saying of prayers five times a day, observance of a fast from sunrise to sunset every day during the month of Ramadan, and pilgrimage once in a lifetime to the holy city of Mecca. In obedience to these teachings the proud Arab on his camel in the desert, lord of all he surveyed, would bow down and touch his forehead to the ground during the act of prayer.

The idea of the unity and equality of all had many facets of which one of the most important was the fifth obligation of the Faith to contribute alms for the benefit of the poor: ‘wealth should not be allowed to circulate among the rich only’

Another was the absence of prejudice on account of race: ‘And among his signs are the creation of the Heavens and of the Earth, and your variety of tongues and colour. Herein truly are signs for all men.’

  • Muhammad enjoined his followers not to be cruel to others, and to be kind and forgiving.
  • He set an example in His own life when he forgave the killer of one of his daughters.
  • Kindness should be extended to animals, while fellow human beings should be treated with the greatest courtesy and concern for their feelings.
  • A Muslim might defend himself against an attacker but should not himself be the aggressor, nor should he be involved in blood feuds: ‘Fight in the way of God against those who attack you but begin not hostilities, for God loveth not the transgressors’.

The principle of Holy War (jihad) was the right of the state to protect its citizens against corruption by pagan beliefs. More important, it was a reference to the need for individuals to struggle against their lower passions: ‘The most excellent Jihad is that for the conquest of self.’ This principle was not to be interpreted as a right to impose Islam on others, which would be contrary to the principle of toleration: ‘Let there be no compulsion in religion.’

  • Jews for centuries expressed a preference for living under Muslim rather than Christian rule.

Slavery was fundamental to contemporary society, and Muhammad did not require that it be abolished immediately, but it is clear that He intended that ultimately it should wither away. Manumission of slaves was strongly encouraged by: (1) His own example of freeing slaves; (2) His statement that emancipation was a cardinal virtue; and (3) the right given to slaves to purchase their own freedom. Furthermore, He taught that in the eyes of God a slave was equal to a free man. In accordance with this liberal view, slaves were not confined to menial jobs and indeed in the Muslim states slaves often rose to positions of great influence.

Similarly, Muhammad did not try to force equality of the sexes on a society which was clearly not ready for such a radical change in the practice of centuries. Nevertheless, many of His teachings tended towards raising the rights of women and respect accorded to them, so that during the early centuries of Islam there were better conditions for women than in any other culture or society of the time.

  • In addition to high standards of sexual morality Muhammad also enjoined cleanliness and forbade the drinking of alcohol, gambling, usury and other forms of vice.
  • Education was highly recommended: the great universities of the Muslim Empire would later become the pride of Islam.

There has been a great deal of prejudice and hostility towards Islam in the West, dating back to the wars of the Christian countries of Europe against the Islamic states during the Middle Ages. Much of this centred around an ad hominem attack on Muhammad Himself by Christendom, with a view to demonstrating that He was a ‘false prophet’. It was argued that Muhammad’s teachings were not original but that He stole them from the Bible and other sources; that He advocated the sword as a means of spreading His religion; and that in His teaching and in His practice (the fact that He had 13 wives) He advocated the subjugation of women and encouraged sexual immorality. A review of His life and teachings make it clear that these charges were false. Many of His teachings, including those on religious toleration and the administration of the state were new. Had his religion been merely a reform movement rather than an independent revelation there could not have been a book with the power of the Qur’án, or a civilization as dynamic as that which ultimately emerged. Islam’s success was due to the simplicity and power of its teachings in attracting adherents, not to the threat of the sword which in any case Muhammad had said should only be used in defence. As for the charge concerning women and personal lasciviousness, it is to be observed that Muhammad did not marry until He was 24 and then married a woman 16 years his senior, and that He remained faithful to her and took no other wife until after her death. Then, the women He took to wife were often widows of fallen comrades, who were taken in for their own protection, or they were political marriages to serve the interest of the state.

Just as Christianity was to be weakened soon after the death of Jesus by teachings added by His followers, notably the theory of incarnation, so too was Islam by the decisions taken by Muhammad’s followers immediately after His passing (8 June 632) with regard to who was to succeed Him as leader of the new Faith. It is a tribute to the inspirational power of both religions that they were to achieve so much to raise the level of civilization despite these early divisive occurrences. Though Muhammad had apparently not left a written statement of who was to succeed Him, these is said to be  record of at least two occasions when He made it clear that it should be ‘Ali.

  • At first all went well under the leadership of the two Caliphs Abu Bakr (632-634) and ‘Umar (634-644).
  • The new religion attracted many and so inspired its adherents that they were able to defeat in battle two of the most powerful states in the world: Persia, which was totally crushed, and the Byzantine Empire, which was reduced for the remaining 800 years of its existence to the status of a relatively minor power.
  • During this period the forces of Islam swept through Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Persia and Egypt.
  • True to the teachings of Muhammad, ‘Umar entered Jerusalem in 638 in all humility and guaranteed the right of Christians to continue to visit it on pilgrimage.
  • ‘Umar was assassinated by a slave with a personal grievance and the new Caliph fell into the practice of filling all the high positions in the state with members of his own family.
  • The resulting corruption brought forth an increasingly indignant reaction amongst the most sincere Muslims.
  • In 656 ‘Uthmán was killed and ‘Ali was elected Caliph, but by this time the damage had been done.
  • The Umayyad family resented ‘Ali’s dismissal of many of them from office, and called for revenge.
  • When ‘Ali tried to conciliate the Umayyads he provoked the opposition of another group, the Kharijites, who thought ‘Ali had betrayed Islam by having dealings with the Umayyads, and it was one of this party which assassinated him in 661.
  • Once the Umayyads were driven out, the new dynasty of the ‘Abbasids (another branch of the descendants of Muhammad) seized and held the Caliphate for some 350 years.
  • There was a price, though: the loss of Spain and the western half of North Africa, which remained loyal to the one member of the Umayyad dynasty who survived this coup.
  • The ‘Abbasids took Islam to new heights of glory, well known in the West from the stories in the Thousand-and-One Nights.

Meanwhile the direct line of ‘Ali continued through nine more Imams to make a total of twelve including ‘Ali himself and his two sons, Hasan and Husayn, until the last one died in the year AD 878/AH 260.During this period the Shi’i party, though maintaining the right of the Imams to spiritual leadership in Islam, was quietist in nature and did not attempt to overthrow the Caliphs. This policy did not bring the Imams much respite, for nearly all of them were murdered by one political group or another.

Though the ‘Abbasids were at first relatively successful in holding the Empire together, major cracks in the edifice had become evident by the end of the ninth century and over the next two centuries it gradually fell apart and finally succumbed to the invading Turks at the end of the twelfth. Great Muslim empires were to arise again, but the dream of a universal Islamic empire bringing peace and justice was never to be achieved. Yet the religion was to be immensely successful in raising the level of civilization and culture in the whole area occupied by the Empire, and it is significant that Islam has never retreated except from France and Spain and parts of the Balkans.

For many centuries Islam was successful in raising the level of civilization in areas where its influence was significant. Nevertheless, right from the beginning the community was flawed because of a major failure to abide by all the teachings of Muhammad, most obviously in its early divisions and its violence in affairs of state (a depressing parallel to Christianity where the most basic teachings of Jesus concerning violence were disobeyed by its leaders after it became a state religion). The decline was later to extend to all areas of life, as the initial inspiration and clarity of Muhammad’s teachings was corrupted by a thousand and one interpretations and additions.

  • By the beginning of the 19th century Islam had become associated with extreme intolerance of other religions, and with anti-intellectualism and hostility to open discussion of ideas.
  • It was also noted for its suppression of women – the practices of seclusion, trial marriage (prostitution by another name), elimination of any political or social rights, low priority to women’s education, and a widespread belief that women do not even possess souls.
  • In countries where Shi’i Islam dominated, most notably Iran, the lie had become a routine aspect of conversation, which by the 19th century had reached the point of tearing apart the basic fundamentals of civilization: a minimum of trust between all citizens.

Torture and cruelty to man and beast in Muslim countries equalled the worst conditions in the world. Islam, once the light of the world, had become one of the most reactionary of forces, delaying rather than promoting the advancement of man. Nevertheless, like Christianity and the other great religions, Islam does give hope of a spiritual awakening – the coming of the Qa’im (the One who Arises), as expected by Shi’i Muslims, or the Mahdi (the Guided One, the Spirit of Jesus) as expected by Sunni Muslims.

Chapter 11: Three Revolutions

Friday, February 10, 2012 @ 02:02 AM
posted by admin



GEORGE RONALD                       1989



Chapter 9: Christianity: The Concept of Brotherhood

In tracing the historical development of the idea of the just society, it is now chronologically appropriate to consider the contribution of Christianity. Having roots in both Judaism and the Roman Empire, this religion has, during the course of nearly 2,000 years, spread to just about every corner of the world and it is credited with at least the nominal adherence of about one third of the world’s population. (See Table 1.) It is numerically the largest religious community in the history of the world. That being so, it is unlikely that the reader will be unfamiliar with the main facts concerning its history and teachings. Nevertheless, it is important to record here some of those facts because not to do so would be to leave a large gap in the history of the evolution of the concept of the just society. Clearly Christianity has had an enormous impact – particularly in the West – on the ethics of society over an extended period of time; it has been a major source, both direct and indirect, of many of the movements in modern times for political, social, and economic reform.

  • Jesus of Nazareth is believed to have been born about 4 BC in Bethlehem and to have been a descendant of King David.
  • He had an active ministry of about three years, following baptism by His cousin, John the Baptist, a prophet who criticized the existing state of morality and foretold the coming of One greater than himself.
  • In His talks, Jesus said that He had not come to abolish existing religion but to reform and complete it.
  • His theme was a renewal of the Covenant between God and man, which came to be symbolized in the Last Supper.
  • He called on men to love God, to develop their spiritual qualities and to be prepared to accept persecution rather than deny their Faith.
  • He pointed out that man could not develop his spiritual qualities if he was preoccupied with material things.
  • Outward form is not enough; there is a need for the heart to be pure and free of hatred and lust.
  • A spiritual person should not swear to prove himself, nor should he make a great show of his religion (an implied criticism of the religious hierarchy), nor should he thrust it on those who are not interested.
  • To love God is to love all men (including those previously considered to be enemies) because all are the children of God.
  • We should treat others as we would that they treat us, be slow to judge, be merciful and forgiving, return good for bad, and act as peacemakers.
  • The poor in particular should be our concern.
  • Marriage is a spiritual union and divorce should only be undertaken if a party is in adultery.
  • Jesus called Himself the Son of God – God’s representative on earth; He was seen as the prophesied ‘Anointed One’ (the ‘Messiah’ in Hebrew, ‘Christos’ in Greek) who would renew the spirit of man.
  • He was also known as the Son of David; but it was made very clear in the episode of His forty days in the wilderness that He was not a secular king come to lead the Jews to freedom from the Romans.
  • His kind and gentle personality and the power of His teaching attracted many to His cause, but as always with a Messenger of God there was strong opposition, especially on the part of the priesthood who also saw His claim to independent authority as a threat to their own, and who resented His charges of hypocrisy.
  • Jesus did not shrink from His destiny and went up to Jerusalem, where, following trials by the Jewish religious council and the Roman civil authority, He was crucified.
  • Before He died He promised His followers that He would return in the spirit – for He had yet much to tell them.
  • He warned them to be aware of false prophets who would appear as ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ and told them they would know the true Prophet by the ‘fruit’ of His presence and teachings.
  • The crucifixion at first devastated His followers but then inspired them to continue, and at the instigation of Paul of Tarsus the teachings of Jesus were taken beyond the Jewish community to the wider world outside.
  • At first Christianity was rivalled by other popular religions such as that of Isis and Mithraism.
  • Mithraism had an advanced ethical system but could not compete with Christianity because the latter was monotheistic, had a real Founder, and heroic martyrs in the face of persecution.
  • The nascent community was much strengthened because it involved women as well as men in its activities.
  • Growth was slow at first and it was not until the year 200 that it became an officially recognized religion for the first time – in the city of Edessa.
  • The first independent state to become officially Christian was the kingdom of Armenia in AD 287.
  • The Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Empire and it began to spread more quickly so that by AD 500 it is estimated that it had been embraced by over 20% of the world’s population.
  • By AD 1000 most of Europe, including England, Ireland, Germany, Poland, Scandinavia and Russia as well as the Mediterranean and Ethiopia had to a greater or lesser extent become Christian.
  • There were also outposts in Asia: in Iran, India and even China.
  • Christianity proved to be a source of spiritual strength in the face of the terrible experience of seeing Roman civilization collapse under attack from barbarian invaders.
  • In The City of God Augustine (354-430) wrote that what was important was the inner spiritual world, not the physical world, pointing out that when man failed to follow the teachings of God then ‘the Mandate of Heaven’ might be withdrawn.
  • The Church became the centre of learning in the West, particularly the monks – virtually the only members of society who were literate.
  • Though the Church was to be corrupted by materialism, there were always to be influential groups such as St. Francis (1181-1226) and the Franciscans who set an example of detachment and who devoted their lives to the service of he poor.
  • Almost from the beginning the message of Jesus was clouded by superstition and division, as has been the case with other religions.
  • A council in 172 ruled against the Gnostic view that the physical world is totally evil and therefore Jesus could not have been human.
  • A much more important council was held in Nicaea in 325 with the support of the Emperor Constantine, which ruled against the view of Arius (260-336) that Jesus was superior to man but inferior to God, and supported the view of Athanasius that He was begotten, not made, by God, and therefore He was the Creator.
  • A controversy which came to a head in the 8th and 9th centuries concerned the role of images (ikons) in worship, contributing to the split of the Church – between the West under the Roman Pope, and the Eastern ‘orthodox’ churches which had originally accepted the primacy of Rome but in the event would not accept its right to interfere in their affairs.
  • Christianity gave little guidance about public affairs except to say: ‘Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.’
  • Over the centuries the role of the church as moral standard-bearer in politics gradually deteriorated into crude power struggles with the secular authorities.
  • Thomas-à-Becket (1118-1170), Archbishop of Canterbury, resisted the English King Henry II (1133-1189) at the cost of his life when the latter tried to make the clergy subject to the law of the state.
  • Another aspect of this theme was who should appoint bishops: the Pope or the local monarch. For the Church the point was to maintain the spiritual quality of its leading officers; for the state it was a question of control over wealth and influence.
  • As the centuries went by the moral leadership of the church institutions declined, especially after the rise of Islam, symbolized in the Crusades campaign to recapture and hold Jerusalem for Christianity, an attempt which continued without success for some 200 years.
  • Though nominally a spiritual enterprise, the crusades rapidly deteriorated into a power struggle amongst the various European warlords.

The Crusades reflected the growing intolerance of the Church and its willingness to use its power to crush those whom it regarded as heretics. Soon after becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christian leaders began to persecute Jews in the Empire and so began that anti-semitic aspect of western civilization which has lasted nearly two millenniums and which was clearly one of the most important factors making possible the Holocaust of the Jews in Hitler’s Nazi empire. Nothing could have been further from the teachings of Jesus. However, up until the 11th century persecution of those with different religious views was relatively mild compared with later practices and most church leaders agreed with the statement of Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) that:

Faith must be the result of conviction and should not be imposed by force. Heretics are to be overcome by arguments, not by arms.

  • In the 12th century came the Inquisition and a standard death penalty for heresy. In the 13th century the Pope authorized the Inquisition to use torture.

It was the material corruption of the Church which caused most indignation, and led to the second major split of Christendom: the Reformation. On the one hand were the bishops of the Church with their ostentatious wealth, and on the other the priests of the people, poverty-stricken and ignorant. Attempts to remedy the situation by imposing celibacy on all the clergy had little effect. By the late Middle Ages by far the worst offenders were the Popes themselves: members of Italy’s patrician families, little concerned with spiritual matters and almost totally devoted to their role as powerful territorial princes. The papacy lost its moral authority; it fell under the domination of France during the period (1305-1375) when its seat was transferred to Avignon in the south of France, and for another 40 years (1378-1417) it was split by the Great Schism when rival popes held offices simultaneously.

  • John Huss (1370-1415), Dean of Prague University, objected to the sale of indulgences (the practice of selling the churches’ forgiveness of sins as revealed in confession), and who in consequence was burnt at the stake.

These rumblings were the preamble to the Reformation itself. It began when Martin Luther (1483-1546) nailed his 95 theses to the door of All Saints Church in Wittenburg on 31 October 1517. Luther had been particularly shocked by the brazenness of a ‘Jubilee’ campaign to raise money (for the building of the new and gigantic St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome) through the sale of indulgences, which he fiercely denounced , along with celibacy and the use of relics. He saw the Scriptures as the Word of God, and as the only religious authority, and believed therefore that they should be made available to all the people through translation from the Latin to the vernacular (he himself was responsible for the translation of the Bible into German – as significant a step in the development of the German language as the King James Bible was to be for the English). In religious matters, Luther taught the Church had no authority over the individual who must be answerable only to his own conscience. In political matters he was more conservative; for instance, he did not give support to the peasants of Germany when they rose up against their oppressors in 1524.

  • Luther’s rebellion (he was excommunicated in 1521) opened a veritable floodgate of criticism of the Church.
  • John Calvin (1509-1564), like Luther, stressed individual responsibility for one’s own spiritual development.
  • He believed that a priests’ main function was to preach: to draw the attention of the populace to what they should be doing and what they were doing wrong.
  • He also saw the state as having an active role in protecting the moral wellbeing of its citizens.
  • Calvinists have become known for their honesty and for an ethic of hard work, and as a group they have contributed much to the modern view that government should be elected by and accountable to the people.
  • The Reformation undoubtedly served to blow fresh air through the institutions of the declining Christian religion and arguably to give it a new lease of life.
  • Its emphasis on individual responsibility for spiritual development and the importance of the Scriptures was an attempt to return to the roots of Christianity.
  • As a result bishops were given greater power to supervise activities in their dioceses, there was a tightening up of discipline in the monasteries, and rules were established that an individual could only hold one bishopric at a time and furthermore must be resident in that bishopric.
  • It can hardly be said that the Reformation rekindled the original spirit of love which came from Jesus. It was followed by one hundred years of religious wars that were amongst the most bloody in European history and the relative unity of western Christianity was shattered into a thousand fragments.

In the four centuries since the Reformation, Christianity has added much to its spiritual glory, though more through the activities of individuals and groups than through the established churches. Achievements have been particularly noteworthy in the social fields and in activities on behalf of the oppressed such as the anti-slavery movement and the protection of children, women and other manual workers from the worst excesses of the Industrial Revolution, as we shall see later. Leading parts in these activities were played by the Society of Friends (Quakers), the Unitarians, the Wesleyans and the Methodists. The churches, including the Catholic Church, also played a creditable part in moderating the worst aspects of European imperialism thrusting its way to all parts of the globe from the 16th to the 19th centuries, although again this was to be devalued to a degree by the cruel and intolerant approach to indigenous religions and cultures. In recent years Christians have played a prominent part in the human rights and peace movements, and at long last the Catholic Church has denounced anti-semiticism and stated publicly that the Jewish people have no responsibility for the Crucifixion of Jesus.

Yet it is undeniable that since the Reformation Christianity has continued to decline as a spiritual power. The Reformation wars exhausted Europe spiritually as well as physically, and resulted in a general distrust of religious enthusiasm. This over time turned into strong anti-religious feeling amongst many of the educated, who despised the Churches for their superstition and opposition to science (notably in the cases of Galileo and Darwin), for their lack of unity, and for their general materialism and identification with the interests of the wealthier classes. There have more recently been well-meaning ecumenical movements, but attempts at re-establishing unity have been painfully slow and only successful when there is a general fear that otherwise there will be a drastic decline in the total number of believers.

Chapter 10: Islam and the Idea of Equality

Tuesday, February 7, 2012 @ 04:02 AM
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GEORGE RONALD                       1989


Chapter 8: Pax Romana

The thousand-and-more-year history of Rome has had an impact on western civilization equal only to that of Greece and Christianity. In the evolution of the idea of the just society several aspects of this history are of significance: the experience of participatory government (especially during the early and middle years of the Republic), the great revolts against slavery, and the practical example of a near-universal state: the Pax Romana offering widespread citizenship, tolerance of different cultures and eventually a consolidated body of law. There is also a repetition of the lessons of what happens to society when it forgets morality and yields to greed and luxury, and when it fails to establish an orderly system of succession in government.

  • Tradition has it that the monarchy was overthrown in 509 BC and replaced by a republic headed by two magistrates (later to be called consuls).
  • Rome prospered under the consuls; over the centuries it gradually expanded and became an empire, a development which resulted in a growing gap between rich and poor and a consequent undermining of the basic institutions.
  • Peasants became even more impoverished by long military service and the devastation caused by the invasion of Hannibal (218-201 BC).
  • The nearest the reform movement came to success was in the years before 100 BC when the Graccus brothers became tribunes.
  • They proposed land reforms to reduce extremes of wealth and poverty, greater limits on the power of the Senate (which represented the interests of the powerful), and an extension of citizenship to all other Italians and Latin peoples of the Republic.
  • The brothers were driven from office. Roman society became even more corrupt, riddled with gangsterism and ruled by a series of harsh military dictators – Marius, Sulla, Pompey and Caesar.
  • Slavery grew to such an extent that by the end of the Republic it is estimated that half the population were slaves.
  • The practice of having slave gladiators fight each other to the death in the circus led to the third and most significant slave revolt (73-71 BC).
  • Its leader was Spartacus who was able to defeat two Roman armies sent against them.
  • As an example to all other slaves, the road from Rome to Appia was lined with 6000 crosses on which were nailed the survivors of the last battle.

The oppressors had won, but in the long run it was clear that as a result of this gallant rising the consciousness of mankind would never be the same again: sooner or later it would have to be recognized that no stable or just society could exist with such an institution. The cry of freedom has echoed down the centuries and in our own time the importance of that event was symbolized when the left wing of the German Social Democratic party at the end of World War I adopted the name ‘Spartacist’.

  • The Roman Empire paid lip service at first to many of the representative institutions of the Republic, but as time went on their power became less and less.
  • The Empire contributed to the story of the development of the just society through many of its most well-known features: An army of 28 legions (about 300,000 men); A competent bureaucracy; A navy; and a good system of roads were the basis of the Pax Romana.
  • It was an era of peace and law in the Mediterranean basin and its surrounding areas during a period of some 600 years, including 400 years under the Empire.
  • So long as the peoples of the Empire wee law-abiding and paid their taxes, the government was tolerant of differing cultures.
  • The rights pertaining to citizenship which implied a degree of equality were gradually extended until in AD 212 they were given to all free subjects of the Empire.
  • The rule of law was taken seriously despite the turmoil at times of succession to the rank of Emperor, strengthening the concept of law in Western civilization and a step forward in the direction of a just society.

There were, of course, deep flaws in the system. The initial tradition of public service, the strong social ethic, and the sense of equality had long since died; society became more and more hollow, and willing to let barbarians do all the more unpleasant work. Rome itself became like a cancer on the Empire sucking in vast supplies, imposing heavy taxes for its support and giving very little in return. Agriculture, the economic base of society, declined; so did the army because of increasing neglect of the employment conditions of soldiers. Though the Empire was to linger on in name into the Middle Ages, the real end was symbolized by the sacking of Rome by Alaric the Goth in AD 410 (the first time this had happened since the attacks of the Gauls in 387 BC) and again by the Vandals in AD 455 when destruction was undertaken for its own sake.

Chapter 9: Christianity: The Concept of Brotherhood

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 @ 03:01 AM
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GEORGE RONALD                       1989



Chapter 7: Greece and the Rational Philosophers

The spotlight now switches westward to Greece, like Israel a relatively small society when compared to the great empires of Egypt, Mesopotamia, Iran, India, and China. Like Israel too, its special contributions to the heritage of the just society were its ideas and experience: accountability to government and the theme of freedom and democracy. It is perhaps no coincidence that later in history these themes were to be further developed in other small-scale societies, such as Switzerland in the Middle Ages and the Netherlands in the 16th century, before beginning to flourish in the 18th and 19th centuries in the larger countries such as Great Britain, France and the United States.

The earliest known Greek civilization was the Minoan, centred in Crete (though with subsidiary colonies on the mainland) from about 1900 to about 1400 BC. These were not rich agricultural lands and the Minoans, like the Greek societies which succeeded them, acquired a certain toughness from the struggle to survive through the cultivation of marginal land (they were the first to develop the vine and the olive) and through sea trade. A second Greek civilization was that of the Mycenaeans during the 15th and 14th centuries BC. It arose from a mixing of the original inhabitants of the peninsular with invading barbarians from the north, spread all around the Aegean coast and islands, and established the city of Troy in modern-day Turkey. The third Greek civilization developed after another wave of invasions from the north by the Doric and Ionian peoples. This society gradually crystallized in the 7th century BC into a series of small city states of which the most important, in the perspective of history, were to be Sparta and Athens. Both of these states were to make significant contributions to the heritage of the just society.

Sparta had two outstanding virtues. Its people put great emphasis on physical and mental fitness and self-discipline, and thus became amongst the best soldiers in the world. Their discipline and skills made it possible for them to execute complex manoeuvres in the field, enabling them to defeat armies far larger than their own. (Though it was the Spartans who became a byword for this characteristic, physical fitness had been cultivated by all the Greek states as far back as 776 BC when the annual competition of the Olympic Games first began.) The second Spartan virtue was their simple, communal style of living and the absence in their city of many normal temptations. It is of interest that they had an iron coinage and that for a long period their wars were purely for self-defence and they did not attempt to set up colonies as did Athens and other states.

The attractive qualities of the Spartans were balanced by two major weaknesses. First, their society rested to a large extent on the exploitation of a lower class of near-slaves (helots) and their society tended to be tense and harshly militaristic as a consequence of the perpetual fear of a violent uprising. Second (and perhaps not unconnected with the first), Sparta was, by sharp contrast with Athens, a closed-minded society ruled by a council of old men which did not respond well to discussion of ideas nor, in the long run, to changing conditions.

In its earliest days Athens was ruled by a king but the monarchy was soon replaced, as in several other Greek states, by a council of hereditary aristocracy (the Eupatridae) which took over most of the ownership of the land. Popular discontent with this arrangement led to the dominance in the 6th century of a series of tyrants who in turn were eventually replaced by a new system of representative government designed by Cleisthenes. One of the leaders of the opposition to the tyrants, Cleisthenes is considered the founder of Athenian democracy (c. 500 BC). Under the new constitution a direct participation assembly (ecclesia) was established for the first time, based on ten districts which cut across the old diverse tribal lines, and on wide participation including resident aliens and emancipated slaves. The ten districts each had fifty representatives on a council of five hundred (bouje) which prepared the agenda of the assembly and supervised the magistrates. Being somewhat unwieldy in size, the council operated by delegating day-to-day affairs to an Executive Committee of fifty whose membership was rotated between the ten delegations. The assembly also elected a court of nine magistrates, each of whom was responsible for a specialized function of the state. To provide a means of removing future tyrants without violence, the device of ostracism was introduced.

  • The new system gave considerable power to the assembly and encouraged genuine debate on issues, which resulted in decisions being made on the merits of an argument rather than on the basis of the interests and individuals involved.
  • It was during the period of early Athenian democracy that Greek civilization reached its peak.
  • Cities united in defence against invasion by the Persians and successfully defeated them at the battles of Marathon (490 BC), Thermopylae (480 BC) and Salamis (480 BC).
  • Democratic Athens, like Sparta, suffered many weaknesses: it practised slavery like every other society of the time (though less harshly than in many later societies); women were treated as second-class citizens; though in theory the assembly was open to attendance by all free men, only about one-eighth attended.
  • Greed and the lack of perspective in the democracy led to corruption; the establishment of overseas colonies; and attempts to dominate the other Greek states.
  • The latter characteristic resulted in a disastrous campaign to capture the Sicilian city of Syracuse (415-413 BC). In the bitterness that followed Athens executed its most distinguished citizen, the religious and highly-principled Socrates, on charges of atheism and corruption of youth.
  • In the 4th century, the city democracies fell under the domination of the Macedonian monarchy, remembered principally for the extraordinary military victories of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC).
  • As a result of Alexander’s campaigns there was an intensification of the process of cross-fertilization of the great cultures of Greece and the Middle East.
  • For several hundred years the Greek language became a useful ‘lingua franca’ for most of the world west of India.
  • These developments have undoubtedly contributed to the richness of the world’s cultural heritage.

Though Athens’s experiences with democracy were a major contribution to the growth of the idea of the just society, undoubtedly more influential in the wider perspective was its intellectual life, unprecedented in its depth and scope. It vastly strengthened man’s appreciation of rational thought as a means for the advancement of civilization and protection against superstition and prejudice. It brought into sharp focus the complexity and beauty of the universe and the humanity of man. Of special significance were the great tragic poets, Aeschylus (525-452 BC), Sophocles (496-405 BC) and Euripides (480-406 BC), who, building on the literary traditions of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, illuminated the depth of human character and in particular showed how pride and self can bring even the greatest men to disaster. Aristophanes (450-358 BC) in his comedies added a new dimension with universal implications to the discussion of public affairs by inviting laughter at various aspects of the political and social life of the city. The fifth-century historians Herodotus and Thucydides in their respective annals of the Persian wars and the disastrous Peloponnesian civil war, set new standards for historical scholarship and intellectual objectivity for the world to follow, and a new dimension to the understanding of society. There were also great scientists, mathematicians, and engineers: Euclid, Archimedes, Eratosthenes (who worked out the size of the earth) and Hero (inventor of the first steam engine), whose use of observation and logic so enlarged man’s understanding of the natural world. One who stands out in the present context was Hippocrates (460-377 BC) who gathered together most of the medical knowledge of the time and contributed to man’s ethical life the famous oath which bears his name:

The regimen I adopt shall be for the benefit of my patients according to my ability and judgment, and not for their hurt or for any wrong. What so ever things I see or hear concerning the life of men, in my attendance on the sick or even apart therefrom, which ought not to be noised abroad, I will keep silence thereon, counting such things to be sacred secrets.

But towering above the rest were the philosophers: Socrates (470-399 BC), Plato (428-348 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC). In his youth Socrates had been a soldier, like others of his class. Unlike many of them, and despite his interest in public affairs, he did not become involved in politics, although many politicians sought his advice. He cared nothing for material possessions, spending most of his later years teaching in the streets and squares of Athens, wearing the same clothes year after year. He was both a mystic and a logician, a man of humour and modesty who tried to raise the ethical standards of Athens by rational argument and personal example. He believed that the care of the soul came before that of the physical body and argued the case for an absolute morality. He was a strong patriot, but believed that it was the state’s duty to put first the development in its citizens of their good qualities rather than their immediate material desires. He pointed out two major defects in Athenian democracy. First, it did not require that its leaders be educated in moral philosophy. Second, in consultation it tended to give equal weight to all opinions and there was no way of distinguishing those that were moral (and therefore in the real interest of the citizenry) from those what were not.

Plato, though not a pupil of Socrates, was a strong supporter of his general point of view. He too cared deeply about the affairs of state, but was disillusioned with politics itself and generally avoided it, except for giving advice to the rulers of Syracuse. Most of his life was spent working for the Academy he founded, the centre of Athens’s intellectual life in the 4th century BC. In discussing the various types of government, he rejected the military model because it is inclined to take action for its own sake, rather than thinking through the consequences; he rejected the aristocratic model because it merely looked after the interests of the rich and powerful; and he rejected the democratic model because of its irresponsibility and tendency to be intolerant (an example being the persecution of Socrates). He concluded that the best form of government was an aristocratic one based on merit. His ideal state, which he described in the Republic, would have rulers who had been given a thorough training in all branches of education. He believed that justice would prevail when every person in society carried out the function for which he was best suited. There should be a minimum of private property. He was so preoccupied with the need for order that, perhaps strangely for a thinker, he advocated communal censorship.

Aristotle was in his youth a pupil of Plato at the Academy, and in his middle age he was the tutor of Alexander before he became Emperor. In his Ethics he stressed the golden mean, moderation between asceticism and sensuality, and pointed to the value of good habit and meditation. In his Politics he touched on nearly all the lasting issues that pertain to social organisation. He argued forcibly that government is there only to serve the interests of the people; like all organisations and individuals it must be subject to the law, which is sovereign. Rulers are accountable to the people. He thought the city state the best form of government.

There were many other schools of philosophy at the time. There were, for example, Diogenes (412-323 BC) and the Cynics, whose reactions to the problems of the time were essentially negative: unbridled criticism and begging as a way to keep body and soul together. More interesting was the philosophy of Zeno (342-278 BC) and the Stoics who advocated acceptance of life with equanimity, and the practice of virtue for its own sake. One interesting aspect of the Stoic philosophy was that in recognizing the equality of all men it condemned the institution of slavery. Certain Stoic philosophical ideas were later to resurface in Christianity; the movement was also viewed with favour by many Romans, including the noblest Emperor of them all, Marcus Aurelius.

Chapter 8: Pax Romana

Thursday, January 26, 2012 @ 08:01 AM
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GEORGE RONALD                       1989



Chapter 6: Confucianism and the Middle Kingdom

So far the discussion has revolved around civilizations associated with three of the world’s great river systems: the Nile, the Tigris-Euphrates, and the Indus. This chapter is concerned with a fourth: the remarkable society which grew up in China around the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. The first significant attempt to bring together a number of small states into a large one was made around 1700 BC by the Shang dynasty which ruled some 40,000 square miles (a little smaller than England). This regime was based on slavery; torture and human sacrifice were rife. But it also presided over a society which created a 5,000-character pictograph script, a calendar, a decimal system; which made glass, silk cloth, jade ornaments and diamond drills; and which had a standard currency. In the eleventh century BC a new Chou dynasty came to prominence; it was to rule until the fifth century BC, and counted amongst its achievements the creation of large-scale canal systems and irrigation schemes. The power of the Chou, however, was weak almost from the beginning and deteriorated steadily until in the last four centuries its rule was virtually nominal; the general situation was one of division, violence and anarchy. It was during this period that thinkers debated on how peace and prosperity could be restored. One ‘legalist’ school argued that the ruler should be given unlimited authority to establish the law and to maintain it by force if necessary, and that profit to society should be a measure of success. Two other schools of thought, Taoism and Confucianism, disputed the ‘legalist’ view.

The Taoist philosophy was founded by Lao Tze, who is thought to have been born around 600 BC and to have been a librarian at the court of the Chou. The reasoning of Lao Tze, which is summarized in the eighty-one chapters of his 6,000-word book, the Way, was that a peaceful society could be established if men submitted to the rhythms of life and nature, and let events take their natural course. Men should act with absolute sincerity, be content and humble, not try to get ahead in the world, and avoid extravagance and boastfulness. They should be concerned to do good for all humanity. Government should be kept to a minimum and be based on a policy of laissez-faire. The Taoist philosophy was for centuries a major influence in Chinese culture and dominated government thinking until around the fourth century AD. It modified the development of Buddhism in the Far East; it was from this combination that there grew the contemplative school of Zen Buddhism.

In many ways the philosophy of Confucius was the direct opposite of the generally quietist approach of Taoism. Confucius (551-479 BC) was probably descended from impoverished nobility. In his youth he was poor and earned his living by keeping accounts. Self-taught, by the time he reached old age he was considered to be the most educated man in the country. Like others he was deeply concerned about the prevailing state of anarchy and violence. He believed that order could be achieved only by establishing a new standard of personal integrity, and then by persons of such integrity becoming the agents of government. He travelled throughout the land gathering around him a band of students as he went. His style was non-authoritarian and undogmatic, and his method of teaching was to ask questions.

His philosophy, known as ‘The Way of Jan’ (humility or love), sees mankind as one large family and is aimed at establishing harmony and peace at all levels of society: the individual, the family and the state, but using a more activist approach than that of Lao Tze. Each individual has the right, responsibility and duty to make his own decisions. In approaching these decisions he should have integrity and sincerity. His attitude to others should be one of love and understanding. ‘Virtue is to love men: wisdom is to understand them.’ It should reflect service and proper respect or propriety:

The truly virtuous man desiring to be established himself, seeks to establish others; desiring success for himself, he strives to help others succeed.

  • Confucius saw the family as the bridge between the individual and society; here the child could experience love and learn to love those around him.
  • He saw the state as a cooperative enterprise: the object of government was not the pleasure of the ruler but the well-being of the subjects.
  • The state should be well-ordered, and administered by disinterested, well-educated men capable of making good laws.
  • Ministers and other agents of government should be chosen on the basis of merit by competitive examination, without discrimination of race, class, religion or sex.
  • A major function of the state was to educate the people and to provide schools for every community.
  • Confucius was a deeply religious man. His teachings assume the existence of a Supreme Being and a spiritual afterlife, and he was concerned to keep religion free of superstition and excessive ritual.

The Confucian teachings were later summarized under eight steps by his pupil, Tzeng Tsu (505-436 BC), in a book called the Great Learning:

  1. investigation of things;
  2. extension of knowledge;
  3. sincerity of the will;
  4. rectifying the mind;
  5. cultivating the personal life;
  6. regulating the family;
  7. ordering the state;
  8. bringing peace to the world.

Though Confucius never achieved recognition by the state in his own lifetime, and in that sense died a disappointed man, his ideas did gradually gain acceptance. When China was eventually united under the Han dynasty Confucianism was declared the official state philosophy (136 BC); since then Confucianism has remained a dominant force in Chinese civilization. The Han dynasty itself established for some 400 years (202 BC – AD 221) an empire which rivalled Rome in size and prestige. Amongst its achievements were the establishment of a professional civil service whose staff had passed a standard examination, a nationwide education system, a standard script, the invention of paper, the unification of the laws, standard weights and measures, the first Chinese dictionary, annals recording the history of the country, the construction of roads of standard width and carts and chariots of standard size, and a great wall to protect the Empire from the barbarians of the north. The regime was tolerant of differing religions and did not resist the coming of Buddhism.

The Empire went from strength to strength under the Siang dynasty (AD 960-1279) who presided over the building of the largest and best-laid-out cities in the world at the time, complete with wide streets, public baths, public lighting and fire protection; the construction of the best ships, equipped with the magnetic compass, watertight compartments and balanced rudders; and an excellent medical system which included the development of a technique for inoculation against smallpox.

  • Though the Empire was to remain powerful for many centuries, the peaks of glory were past.
  • During the time of the Manchu dynasty (AD 1644-1912) the Empire fell into decline under pressure from a rapidly growing and restless population which the government was increasingly unable to feed, and from the now more advanced Europeans, competing for trade and colonies.
  • A growing series of popular rebellions, plots and coups ended with the collapse of the Empire in 1912, to be followed by thirty-six years of division and anarchy until the country was again united by Mao Tse Tung.

Just as much of the brilliance of the Chinese civilization can be credited to Confucianism, so too can its fall be related to the weaknesses of the system as practised in later centuries. Confucianism declined into a rigid and ritualistic hierarchical system, unable to adapt quickly to change. The education system became one of learning by rote and was, despite the original intent, limited to a small minority of the population. The educated elite, who were supposed to run the country for the benefit of all citizens, did less and less as the centuries went by for the vast majority of the population – the poor farmers and peasantry. Another deficiency, by no means the least important, was that the philosophy put emphasis almost solely on worldly matters, a characteristic which ultimately undermined its capacity to arouse enthusiasm and motivate action. This deficiency was never to be completely removed by the multiple variations of Taoism or by the coming of Buddhism.

Chapter 7: Greece and the Rational Philosophers