The Voice of God

Though Dad’s mother had been excommunicated, he had been raised Catholic in some marginal sense. He was Catholic enough to be classified as such in his school records, and Catholic enough to be told by a priest that he was going to Hell. Once out on his own, he took a sharp turn away from religion to become something of a “freethinker,” but that turned out to be only a transition.

Dad first encountered the Bahá’í Faith during the time he lived in New Rochelle. He was not approached by a Bahá’í as one would expect, but by a curious non-Bahá’í friend, a fellow chiropractor named Gene Marcus. Gene was a faithful friend. Whenever Dad needed help as a blind man starting a new business, he could count on help from Gene, even if he didn’t particularly want help. One time, Gene bought Dad two suits out of the blue.

It happened one day that Gene got curious about a Persian religion called the Bahá’í Faith, so he invited Dad to join him in attending a public Bahá’í function, probably a “fireside.” Now it doesn’t appear that Gene ever became a Bahá’í (though his brother Leslie did), but Dad became interested, and attended several firesides. [1] A particularly effective speaker presented at one of these functions, and Dad asked for reading materials.

They first suggested that he read “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era,” an entry-level introduction to “the Faith,” which contained at least one passage that would likely appeal to a chiropractor:

He who is filled with love of Bahá, and forgets all things, the Holy Spirit will be heard from his lips and the spirit of life will fill his heart. … Words will issue from his lips in strands of pearls, and all sickness and disease will be healed by the laying on of the hands.

Baha’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 112

There are other references to natural healing throughout the Bahá’í scriptures. The scriptures, for instance, discourage the use of medicine “when health is good”:

Refrain from the use of drugs . . . Abstain from drugs when health is good, but administer them when necessary.

Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, 1980 ed., p. 106

The Bahá’í scriptures predict that in the future healing will be performed through nutrition:

The science of medicine is still in a condition of infancy; it has not reached maturity. But when it has reached this point, cures will be performed by things which are not repulsive to the smell and taste of man — that is to say, by aliments, fruits and vegetables which are agreeable to the taste and have an agreeable smell.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 256

The majority of the diseases which overtake man also overtake the animal, but the animal is not cured by drugs. In the mountains, as in the wilderness, the animal’s physician is the power of taste and smell. The sick animal smells the plants that grow in the wilderness; he eats those that are sweet and fragrant to his smell and taste, and is cured.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 257

This must have piqued Dad’s interest, but he wanted to go straight to the source—the scripture, so he asked that someone read “the Ketáb-e-íqán” to him. He was instantly convinced. “No man could write this,” he declared. He was sure the book was the “Word of God.”

Dad became a Bahá’í during the time the Bahá’í community was under the leadership of Shoghi Effendi, AKA “the Guardian,” the last of the Bahá’í patriarchal bloodline. Shoghi, unlike his predecessors, had a western education—an Oxford education, and it showed. He lacked personal charm, but he possessed a remarkable mastery of the English language, particularly for a non-native speaker. Dad could reel off Shakespeare from memory and had a pronounced affection for eloquent language. I’m inclined to believe that Shoghi’s lofty language and purposeful voice, which embodied both the works he authored and those he translated, was one of the greatest factors in my father’s conversion.

New York City had one of the older, established Bahá’í communities in the western world. Bahá’ís had lived there since 1897. One of the most influential leaders of the Bahá’í Faith, Abbas Effendi, AKA “the Master,” Shoghi’s grandfather and direct predecessor, had famously lectured throughout New York City for a couple months in 1912.

Dad lived and worked in New Rochelle at the time of his introduction to the Bahá’í Faith. New Rochelle, being in the New York City metro area, had a strong Bahá’í history and presence. Dad even had the honor of visiting Juliet Thompson—a rather well-known Báhá’í artist—at her home, which I believe was in New Rochelle (she was buried there). Dad’s experience as a Bahá’í in the New York of the mid-1950s must have been distinct from what he would experience once he left New York, and he would experience quite a variety of Bahá’í communities over his lifetime.

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[1] Fred Tarrant attended one or two firesides as well, surely at Dad’s invitation. Fred would later visit the Chicago temple at Dad’s invitation, but he was unmoved. Fred, like Dad, had been raised by a Catholic mother, but Fred has never been drawn to religion, though he respects Dad’s strong moral drive.