Archive for the miscellaneous Category

Bahá’í Calendar Redux

Posted on Friday, July 18th, 2014 at 2:30 pm

The Bahá’í Calendar, arguably the least lunar calendar there is, has recently been given a lunar calculation of its own. Because the founders of the Bábí and Bahá’í religions were reported to have been born a day apart on the Islamic calendar (though two years apart), the Bahá’í leaders in Israel figured it would be nice to make this happen on their calendar. To do this, they marked the 8th new moon after No-Rúz in Tehran as the one most likely to be close to the time of year when the two prophets were born, and then had one prophet’s birth commemorated on the first day after that new moon and the other prophet’s birth commemorated on the day after that.

The commemorations will no longer occur on the actual dates of birth on the solar cycle (October 20 and November 12) or even the Islamic calendar, but rather, they will take place on different dates from year to year, as is done with Easter and Good Friday.

Calendars are an important tool for scheduling our activities. A farmer might use a solar calendar to plan a harvest. A Bedouin might use a lunar calendar to plan a journey across the desert. Many calendars are a hybrid between solar and lunar so that they can be used in accord with seasonal and lunar cycles. The Gregorian calendar, for instance, is precisely calculated to remain synchronized with the seasons. It is not so precise with respect to lunar cycles, each of its months being about a day too long to keep pace with the phases of the moon. Still, a Gregorian month can be used to loosely approximate a lunar month.

Calendars can also be used to lend meaning to a day or a time of year. Nations and religions use calendars to assert their values and allegiances. They do so by marking certain dates as sacred (in a religious or secular sense).

The Bábí religion of 19th Century Iran was the first that I know of to take the “moon” out of month, to redefine it such that it has absolutely no correspondence to lunar cycles. The Bábí month had 19 days it, presumably because 19 is the square root of 361 (which is nearly 365.24). If one makes a month 19 days long, one can have 19 months in a year. You’ll have to add 4 or 5 days on at the end to complete the year, but otherwise you have a calendar that is a kind of perfect square. It has little to say about natural cycles, because the cycles are not perfect squares, but if one likes mathematical perfection it has that going for it.

The Bábí calendar, like the ancient Iranian calendar, was a solar calendar with its new year, “No-Rúz” in Farsi, on the Vernal Equinox (about March 20). This changed a bit when the Bábí religion metamorphosed into the Bahá’í Faith. The founder of the latter religion, Bahá’u’lláh, used his knowledge of astrology to alter the Bábí calendar so that the Bahá’í new year would occur when the sun enters the constellation Aries, which might be regarded as a war god or a sheep.

Because the sun enters Aries on about April 18, the Bahá’í calendar should have its new year on that date, but this rule has been ignored. The Bahá’í calendar is said, rather, to begin on the Vernal Equinox, but this is not strictly the case. It is, rather, based upon the Gregorian calendar, its new year being marked on March 20th every year, regardless of whether the equinox falls on that date or not.

A calendar that begins when the sun enters a constellation is bound to drift against the seasons, so it is more astrological—or Zodiacal—than it is solar. However, so long as the Bahá’í calendar is based upon the Gregorian calendar, it will remain a solar calendar (by association).

My Life as a Fanatic

Posted on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012 at 9:50 am

When I was a young man, I turned toward the Qiblah and prayed to Allah. I fasted for a month every year, and I refused all alcoholic beverages. I exchanged Arabic greetings with my fellow believers. Of course I went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where I lived for a year and studied Arabic so that I could better understand the words of Allah. You might have found me carrying around a copy of the Holy Qur’án—just in case I might have some free reading time. And, yes: I was a virgin, though perhaps not entirely by choice.

If you had asked me back then whether I was a Muslim, I would have denied it, for I was a member of a Shi’ite splinter group that refuses to be identified as Muslims. It’s a long story—let’s just say that it’s hazardous to be called a heretic in Iran. But when I look back at my youth I say, “what a Muslim!”

I was a bit of a fundamentalist. No, I wasn’t outraged by the sight of a woman’s face or anything like that, though I was a bit of a stickler about modesty. Idolatry was my hang-up. I was something of a fanatic about it. I stood firm against the worship of men, and my stomach turned whenever one of my fellow believers presumed to be able to measure the goodness of any person. The soul was a sacred trust to me, and I thought it blasphemy to claim to be able to probe it. Did these people think that they knew the mind of God? These idolators saw their religious heroes as partners of God, whether they admitted it or not. And as for their enemies, …

Yes, I was a bit of a fanatic. I was such a radical iconoclast that I couldn’t help but see idolatry more and more in my religious community, right up to the day that I determined that my religion itself was a kind of idolatry. What a crazy Muslim I was.

I suppose I still am.

A Protestant Revival in 19th Century Iran

Posted on Monday, January 23rd, 2012 at 1:15 pm

We are all familiar with the “Jesus is coming” meme, and many of us are aware that Jesus isn’t the only savior on the way. Some religions are given to hopes of saviors in the future. It’s no surprise that many people hope to be saved, like a slumbering beauty longs for her Prince Charming, though that salvation may mean the destruction of the world. This desire has been expressed among Christians and Muslims for as long as Christians and Muslims have walked the earth.

In the 13th Century, the Joachamites announced the Antichrist would appear in 1260, and Christ himself soon thereafter. Around 1750, one of the founders of the Shaker movement made the following announcement:

Repent. For the kingdom of God is at hand. The new heaven and new earth prophesied of old is about to come. The marriage of the Lamb, the first resurrection, the new Jerusalem descended from above, these are even now at the door. And when Christ appears again, and the true church rises in full and transcendent glory, then all anti-Christian denominations—the priests, the church, the pope—will be swept away.

History is littered with such millenarian outbursts. We need not enumerate them all here.

One such revival, commonly called the Second Great Awakening, featured characters like Joseph Smith and William Miller. Miller was a Baptist preacher who got out his notepad and his Bible and calculated the ETA of end of the world. Smith, the self-styled American Muhammad, brought his own Kingdom of Heaven down to Earth.

Pioneers in Persia

A surge of missionary activity seems to have accompanied this revival, and for Protestant Christians, the mission almost always involves the distribution of Bibles. This generally means printing Bibles in the local vernacular, so translation is a prerequisite.

Iran in 1808

The New Testament and Psalms were first translated into the Farsi (Persian) language in 1812. The task was completed in Shiraz, formerly the capital of Persia under Karim Khan and a city with an established Armenian Christian population, by an Anglican priest and a man from Shiraz. Not much later (1820), Shiraz was visited by the missionary Peter Gordon, who asserted that Shiraz was fertile ground for missionary work, and, of all cities in Persia, ought to be the focus of missionary attention. By 1825, the missionary Joseph Wolff established a Christian school for Armenian children in Shiraz.

These missionaries were not trying to convert Muslims, though they would have been happy to do so. Evangelizing to Muslims was a dangerous business, as it meant leading Muslims into apostasy, a capital offense. The missionaries were, rather,  after Jews and Christians of wayward denominations. But their activities, and presumably much of their message, may have been familiar to the Muslims of cities that were targets of missionary action. The revival itself, thanks in part to the missionaries, was spreading among the native Christians of the Middle East, and quite predictably, some Christians were heard to be expecting the imminent return of Christ.

Decline

Things had not gone well for Persia since the death of Karim Khan in 1779. The rise of the Qajars in 1794 was a particularly barbaric affair. In 1813 and 1828, Persia suffered military defeats and lost much territory to Russia, then a Christian empire. The Shah attacked the British Empire (Afghanistan) in 1837-38, but he was rebuffed by the British. Western influence began to increase steadily across Persia. This, no doubt, emboldened Christian missionaries, just as it surely wounded Persian honor.

By 1822, William Miller had completed his calculations and began to preach about the nearness of the Second Coming. He began with general pronouncements, but eventually coughed up the details:

My principles in brief, are, that Jesus Christ will come again to this earth, cleanse, purify, and take possession of the same, with all the saints, sometime between March 21, 1843, and March 21, 1844.

As is well known, Christ missed his date with destiny. Miller then selected an alternative Jewish calendar that would permit Jesus to arrive by April 18 without the risk of being deemed rude. The revised deadline also passed without incident.

I can almost hear the missionaries declaring “the end is nigh” and Persians thinking, “what have we got to lose?” in reply. They could have used a messiah at least as much as any missionary, but a Persian messiah would have to be a Muslim messiah, a mahdi.

The Shaykhis

Sometime after 1826, a Persian named Sayyid Kazim turned his Shayki following in a distinctly millenarian direction [1]. Kazim preached that the Muslim Mahdi, whom he identified as the Christian Messiah, was somewhere in the world, waiting to be discovered. Kazim stated quite clearly that he had not met this messiah. When Kazim died in 1843, he left his followers searching across the land for the Mahdi.

Sayyid Kazim had appointed a successor, Haji Karim Khan Kirmani, who would steer the Shaykhis away from Kazim’s millenarianism and back toward the movement’s less radical roots, but Persia was ripe for a savior, and the new Shayki leader couldn’t steer the ship of faith quickly enough to stop violence from breaking out across Persia.

Among Kazim’s disciples (and Karim Khan’s flock) was a young merchant from Shiraz whom Kazim had instructed at length and presumably sent back to Fars to seek the Messiah. Soon after Kazim died, and shortly after William Miller’s final calculations fell through, the young Shaykhi declared himself to be the Messiah. He was a little late to be Jesus (according to Miller’s reckoning), but better late than never. The young messiah inspired a jihad throughout Persia, and was duly executed in 1850. The rebellion raged on for years, but was put down. Ultimately, the movement renounced violence and was rebranded “the Baha’i Faith.” They continued to endure violent royal reprisals, and they are persecuted in Iran to this very day.

 

Notes

[1] It’s doubtful that the Shaykhis existed as a millenarian sect before Kazim took over, but even if it had, it wouldn’t have been so before about 1824.

Messiah as Man

Posted on Monday, January 2nd, 2012 at 11:03 pm

“the more fallible the mammal, the truer the example.”
—Christopher Hitchens

I wasn’t brought up Christian, but I was brought up to believe in a holy trinity of sorts. I was taught that a certain few men were perfect images of God; that these men, though not God in essence, were perfect reflections of God in the “material world,” and thus they were effectively God so far as mankind is concerned. As images of God in the material realm (i.e., idols), they could be regarded as God incarnate. Hence Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of my parents’ religion wrote, “I am God.”

The metaphor I was given was made of three parts: the sun, the light of the sun, and a mirror. The sun represented God, the sunlight the Holy Spirit, and lastly, the mirror took the place of the incarnation, or as Bahá’ís say, the “manifestation,” a term which spiritualists have long equated with “materialization.” It is effectively equivalent to incarnation.

This theological model implied infallibility on the part of the manifestation, as a “perfect reflection” of God. Though infallibility was implicit, it was made quite explicit by Bahá’u’lláh’s writings. This model of perfect deification of individuals was extended, as it turned out, to various successors of Bahá’u’lláh, though nuance was applied to the notion of infallibility applied to the successors.

The doctrine of infallible succession, entitled “the Covenant,” is considered by Bahá’ís to be an unprecedented, eternal mandate from God that keeps the Bahá’í authorities “free from error.” This covenant that God keeps with Bahá’ís can be stated thus: so long as a Bahá’í is faithful to the authoritative succession, God will provide that Bahá’í with unerring guidance by means of that authority.

The doctrine was first established in Bahá’u’lláh’s last will and testament, entitled “the Book of the Covenant,” wherein he directed his followers to be faithful to his sons. This command was used by the prophet’s eldest son to claim himself to be an infallible exemplar for all Bahá’ís, just as Muhammad is regarded as a perfect example by most Muslims.

Like an abusive husband thrives on the inferiority of a submissive wife, religion often undermines humanity as a means to justifying its own existence. Christianity sees humans as hopeless sinners. Islám sees humans as powerless slaves. The Bahá’í Faith established its mandate upon an image of humans as blind sheep in need of continuous guidance. This the Bahá’í Faith did to an unprecedented degree, inasmuch as its “Covenant” is promised to continue to be manifested in this world in a much more thorough sense than in the case of the Catholic Papacy or the Shí’a Imamate.

I gave up on such divine authoritarianism long ago, chiefly because I found that it stifles independent thought and undermines human dignity; yet, as I look back at the history of the Bahá’í religion, I sometimes wonder whether it might have been originally conceived with more enlightened intentions. This is not to suggest that the Bahá’í religion can be redeemed in its current state of depravity, or even that Bahá’u’lláh was without fault.

Bahá’u’lláh had several of the markings of a reluctant messiah. He was 45 years old and living in exile when he finally declared himself the “promised one of all ages.” He’d recently disappeared for two years, apparently overwhelmed by the infighting amid his religious community. At the time, he claimed that he had been aware that he was a “manifestation” for over a decade. Perhaps he had been waiting for the right timing, perhaps to transform the passage of some number of years into a retroactive prophecy. It’s hard to even guess what might have been going on in his mind.

Bahá’u’lláh claimed to have become aware of his divine station while imprisoned in the “Black Pit” of Tehran at age 35, probably wondering whether he was about to be executed. He said he’d had a divine vision under the unbearable conditions of that former subterranean reservoir.  It should surprise no one that this man saw something remarkable while bent under the weight of heavy chains in a dark, damp, cave. What interests me is how long Bahá’u’lláh’s memory of that experience had to distill before he ever brought it to the attention of his religious community. Bahá’u’lláh’s Black Pit would make a fine analog to Muhammad’s Cave of Hira. The key difference for Bahá’u’lláh was that he was in mortal danger at the time and that he let the memory brew for a decade.

Did Bahá’u’lláh immediately come to believe that he was the world-Messiah? It doesn’t appear to be likely, but I don’t doubt that he convinced himself of it over time. He may have schemed consciously to some degree, but I think it likely that the subconscious mind ultimately took over. Yes, I believe he deluded himself, not that this would have been out of the ordinary. Men commonly delude themselves. It’s the nature of the beast. We may even look upon ourselves as naught but the delusions we craft for ourselves. We are quite adept at self-deception. We craft memories to develop narratives of our pasts. We rationalize. We forget when remembering is inconvenient. This is how the human mind operates.

I don’t think that Bahá’u’lláh’s delusion of grandeur was entirely malignant. There are signs that Bahá’u’lláh might have been something of a Bourgeois humanitarian, and his delusion might have saved a faltering messianic movement from itself and set it upon a progressive course. It’s not a great stretch to suggest that his writings emphasized human harmony, and why not advocate social change through religious revolution? There was perhaps no better forum for social change in the 19th Century Middle East than religion.

Even at his most tyrannical, Bahá’u’lláh often left us hints of a pragmatic purpose. When he spoke of the importance of fearing God, he directed his reasoning toward those whom he regarded as the shameless mass of men. When he wrote his very Muslim, retrograde “Book of Laws,” he said that he did so to satisfy certain elements among his following. He did say that men should be regarded as sheep, but I think he may have left room for exceptions, for the statement is not necessarily false if taken as a statement of sociological fact. Is it not true that most people prefer to live as sheep?

I often criticize Bahá’u’lláh for his undignified depiction of humanity, but perhaps pessimism about human vision is a forgivable failure. I consider this failure of faith in humanity to be the Achilles heel of Bahá’u’lláh‘s cause, but that crippling shortcoming does not necessarily render his efforts meaningless or in vain. Taken in the context of his time and place, we may yet be able to see Bahá’u’lláh as a progressive reformer—though no hero, saint, or messiah—in a religious milieu that was and remains in desperate need of reform.

Annual Update

Posted on Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011 at 11:35 pm

It’s been over thirteen months since I last posted to this blog. There’s a good reason for my absence: I haven’t had much to say about Bahá’í matters. Perhaps this is because not much is going on—I’m in no position to say. I will say that I only created this blog because I wanted to remove the entries on Bahá’í matters off of my principal blog (now named Kindling, but with the original motto).

I never had any intention of blogging on the Bahá’í Faith indefinitely. I just didn’t expect to have that much to say on the topic.

Recently, I did contribute an article on my conversion to Zoroastrianism to the Project Conversion site—back at Naw Ruz time (Naw Ruz was a Zoroastrian festival long before it became a Bahá’í holy day). This article wasn’t about the Bahá’í Faith, but it might be of interest to anyone who’s wondered what a “native-born Bahá’í” like me might do in terms of religion after having moved away from the Bahá’í Faith.

The Lost Prophet of the Millennium

Posted on Thursday, July 15th, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Remember the old Y2K scare? We generally look back at that anxious time as an anticlimax, understanding that nothing much happened at the turn of the millennium. I remember how the Bahá’ís expected world peace to flower by the end of the 20th Century. Since then, many Bahá’ís have sought out alternative interpretations of their failed peace prophecy.

Mustaghath

Mustaghath, shortly before his occultation

I say “failed,” but I know something that most Bahá’ís don’t. Truth be told, at the close of the year 2001, on the very last day that fell within the Y2K window, a young prophet discovered his calling. Evidence of this portentous moment can be found with the help of the tool known to nostalgic Web surfers as the WayBack Machine:

Dec 02, 2001

This page doesn’t provide any actual information on the youthful prophet, but information would soon be forthcoming:

The hour is approaching when the most great convulsion will have appeared. I swear by Him Who is the Truth! It shall cause separation to afflict everyone, even those who circle around Me….

—Baha’ullah (Mar 29, 2002)

The great unveiling was finally accomplished, as far as I can determine, in early April 2002, when the Prophet proclaimed to the Bahá’ís:

We observe that your Faith is shiny on the outside but rotten at the core: that when a person doth look, he beholdeth a beautiful thing; but when he doth taste of it, he spitteth out the foul flesh of a fruit gone bad …

Mustaghath’ul-Baha, The Book of Restoration

If there had previously been any doubts of God’s disapproval of the course of the Bahá’í Faith at the turn of the millennium, those doubts were vanquished. The LORD GOD was obviously unhappy. In that same sacred declaration, He continued:

O people of Baha! Institutions are not to be worshipped! Bow not the knee before the false god of bureaucracy!…

What Bahá’í of sound mind could possibly disagree? The world was on the threshold of rebirth. Reform was in the air.

This “new messenger of God” did not satisfy himself with a mere web site, but also founded an organization which he christened the Alliance for the Reform of the Baha’i Faith. Because he soon realized that this title was ungainly, he went on to rename the alliance “Baha’i Alliance for the Reform of the Faith,” commonly known as BARF.

The young messenger was met with strident opposition. Conservative Bahá’ís stood against him, arguing that their founder Bahá’u’lláh had forbidden any claims to prophecy ere the passing of a thousand years. But alas, the young messenger had all the answers:

Did ye think there would come unto you no messenger for a thousand years? Alas! ye have misinterpreted the scriptures and have forgotten many teachings.

The meaning of this passage was veiled in many hidden meanings, such as this: it was the dawn of a new millennium, and a millennium is the passing of a thousand years!

This was a profound insight, but because none could apprehend the meaning of His words, he was laughed to scorn.

Given more time, the young Prophet might have had a profound influence on the new millennium, but His ministry came to a premature and tragic end. No one knows for certain what happened to Him, and rumors still swirl around the memory of that blessed Youth. Some say that AO (Authoritative Odor) operatives spirited him away, and that he remains in occultation, deep beneath the great marble Arc in Haifa Israel. Other point their fingers at Eric Stetson (not to be confused with noted evangelical Christian Eric Stetson, or the noted Christian Universalist Eric Stetson) as a suspect in the abduction or murder of the Youth. Stetson appeared to be the Prophet’s web master, and had unsurpassed access to the prophet. Stetson, a strident Unitarian, has since made strong statements that some see as clues to his guilt:

Although various people may have spiritually inspired ideas, there is no human being, institution or organization that can claim to speak for God, because Baha’u’llah explicitly prohibited anyone from claiming a station of “command” for at least 1000 years after his own prophethood.

Eric Stetson (the Unitarian Bahá’í)

Though such statements may seem damning, the reader should note that any Unitarian Bahá’í could have made such a statement, and Stetson is but one of many Unitarian Bahá’ís.

In any case, the loss of Mustaghath was a lethal blow to the spirit of the Bahá’í community, which has remained mired in paralysis since the Prophet’s disappearance. From the four compass points, Bahá’í voices can be heard calling, “Mustaghath, Mustaghath! Where are you?”

Unitarian Baha’is?

Posted on Thursday, July 15th, 2010 at 10:43 am

Who are these “Unitarian Bahá’í” we’ve been hearing about?

If a theological unitarianism is meant, why use the term “Unitarian Bahá’í” at all? Have you ever met an avowed trinitarian Bahá’í?

bp is for Blessed Perfection

The mystical 18-pointed star ("bp" is for "Blessed Perfection")

If we are to take the term seriously, we ought to seek to understand its meaning in context. The term has come to be associated with the Behaists, an early 20th Century Bahá’í splinter group whose distinguishing doctrine was a rejection of the divinity, i.e. infallibility, of `Abdu’l-Bahá’, the leader of the Bahá’í religion at the time. The point, then, of using the term “unitarian” in this context, is to indicate a rejection of the divinity (infallibility) of any man. This makes sense, for the deification of any man is tantamount to polytheism.

The problem I’ve always had with the Behaists calling themselves Unitarians is that they never had a problem deifying Bahá’u’lláh himself.

Frankly, I happen to believe that most Bahá’ís are trinitarians, because their theology of Manifestation owes much to Christian theology. This is also true of those who call themselves “Unitarian Bahá’ís.”

The home page for the Unitarian Baha’i discussion group states:

The Unitarian Bahai faith is a movement of Bahaism that teaches that none of the successors of the prophet Baha’u’llah are infallible …

A true unitarian would not deify any man. A unitarian Bahá’í would be a Bahá’í who lives as a Bahá’í without any belief in the infallibility of Bahá’u’lláh.

I personally believe that a Bahá’í can be a unitarian. It’s not as if I don’t know of any true unitarians among the Bahá’ís, but I hesitate to single them out for fear of what might be done to them.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Posted on Tuesday, February 9th, 2010 at 4:58 am
The latest target of BIGS Legal

The latest target of BIGS Legal

I recently decided that I didn’t really want to say any more about the Rocky Mountain Bahá’ís, that is, the O’Bahá’ís (Orthodox Bahá’ís) of New Mexico and the BUPCees (Bahá’ís Under the Provisions of the Covenant) of Montana. It’s obvious that they’re irrelevant and seeing as I have taken the position that the Guardianship was a bad idea to begin with, I don’t really see the point of promoting their desperate causes.

Guardianship? For those not in the know, a Guardian is a sort of Bahá’í Imam or Ayatollah.

Anyhow, The BUPCees are just too kooky and fragmented, and the O’Bahá’ís—they’re just boring. What have they done for me lately?

But then I was reminded that these two pathetic minorities have recently been getting bullied in court by the dominant Bahá’í organization, henceforth referred to as the BIGS™ Corporation, or BIGS™ Inc.

Word on the street has it that the BIGS™ (Bahá’ís In Good Standing) have been diverting construction funds into litigation against those minuscule mountain communities, so I couldn’t help but take notice. And what are they suing the O’Bahá’ís and BUPCees for? Exclusive rights to Bahá’í terms such as “Bahá’í,” “UHJ,” and “The Greatest Name.”

“The Greatest Name”—now who wouldn’t want to corner that?

“The mainstream Baha’is have responded with a lawsuit that tries to bar the orthodox from calling themselves Baha’i and sharing the “The Greatest Name,” a sacred and trademarked symbol. Baha’is believe they are not only safeguarding their identity. They are defending the truth with a capital T.

“The Orthodox say that is not a matter for the courts to decide.”

—Chicago Tribune, May 18, 2009

At present, BIGS™ Inc is losing. They lost to the BUPCees in 2005 and then lost to the O’Bahá’ís in 2008. The latter case is being appealed. Stay tuned. The Chicago Tribune is on the case.

“… the Court finds that the alleged contemnors are not in contempt …”

Futurebus

How minority Bahá'í attorneys of the future will get to court.

I wonder how well paid the BIGS™ Inc legal team is. I wonder whether the BIGS™ Inc lawyers are themselves BIGS™ members. Then again, who cares?—I just hope they’re well paid. But I digress.

As for the mountaineers, can they even afford attorneys? I’m surprised that they can even afford airline tickets to Chicago. Then again, maybe they left the driving to Greyhound. Speaking of Greyhound, check this ride—but I digress further.

The Dread Jensens

Posted on Saturday, February 6th, 2010 at 3:12 am

Back around the close of the 1970s, my friend next door showed me a newspaper article that seemed to be about my father. It was about a Bahá’í chiropractor—a Dr. Jensen—who was making prophecies about a coming calamity. My father, Dr. John Jensen, is a Bahá’í chiropractor with a Bahá’í fondness for doomsday visions. Fortunately—or unfortunately, as the case may be—the Dr. Jensen featured in the article was out in Montana, a long way from my home in central California. It was some other Bahá’í chiropractor named Jensen.

The old Montana State Prison

The old Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, Montana

This was quite a coincidence, of course. It’s not like there are many Scandinavian Bahá’ís like there are hoards of Scandinavian Mormons.

Actually, my father’s dad was one of those Scandinavian Mormons, but that’s another story.

One thing the Bahá’ís and Mormons do share, though, is a peppering of heretics across the Rocky Mountain states. Must be something about mountains that brings out the heretic in people.

This Dr. Leland Jensen of Missoula, Montana was well known among researchers for his string of failed prophecies. He was also known for being convicted for sexually molesting of a minor. It was while doing time in the big house that Jensen received his calling, as so oft it happens. Upon release, Jensen founded his own Bahá’í sect, and commenced to doing what prophets do.

My father was and is quite different. He is a principled man who would never entertain prophetic delusions or manipulate people as the Montana Jensen did.

But my father did—and does—share Leland Jensen’s apocalyptic view of the immediate future. He is a Bahá’í, after all. It’s in the scripture. A lot of bad things are going to have to happen for the world to be cleansed before the last century ends.

As a child in a Bahá’í household, I learned about a horrible calamity that would soon cleanse the world of its blind materialism and render it receptive to the light of faith in Bahá’u’lláh. We weren’t sure what exactly would happen but we knew it would necessarily be bad—something along the lines of Zechariah 13:

In the whole land, declares the LORD,
two-thirds will be struck down and perish;
yet one-third will be left in it.
This third I will bring into the fire;
I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.

Two-thirds of the people of the world would perish, and many of the survivors might wish they had perished as well. It was a retributive promise laid over the real danger of the Cold War. It was easy for a child to internalize.

Noted skeptic Michael Shermer has also heard of Leland Jensen. Shermer discussed Jensen at length in his book How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science:

On a brisk April 29 morning in 1980, Dr. Leland Jensen, a chiropractor and leader of a small religious sect called the Baha’is Under the Provisions of the Covenant, led his devoted followers into fallout shelters in Missoula, Montana, to await the end of the world. Within the first hour, Jensen believed, a full third of the Earth’s population would be annihilated in a nuclear holocaust of fire and fallout. Over the course of the next twenty years most of the remaining population would be ravaged by conquest, war, famine, and pestilence. (page 192)

What I find interesting about this Leland Jensen episode, beside the curious parallels in my family, is the way that Jensen and his followers handled the failure of Jensen’s prophecies. It reminds me of the rationalizations offered by Bahá’ís in response to the failure of mainstream Bahá’í prophecies of peace and calamity in the 20th Century:

Psychologists who studied Leland Jensen and his Baha’i sect … discovered that when the end of the world came and went, they did not quietly disband and go home. Psychologist Leon Festinger applied his theory of cognitive dissonance to failed prophecy, and argued that the stronger one’s commitment to a failing cause, the greater the rationalizations to reduce the dissonance produced by the disappointment. Thus, paradoxically, after the 1980 debacle in the bomb shelters, not only did Jensen and his followers not abandon the cause, they ratcheted up the intensity of future predictions, making no less than 20 between 1979 and 1995! Jensen and his flock applied one or all of the following rationalizations:

  1. the prophecy was fulfilled—spiritually
  2. the prophecy was fulfilled physically, but not as expected
  3. miscalculation of the date
  4. the date was a loose prediction, not a specific prophecy
  5. God changed his mind in order to be merciful
  6. predictions were just a test of members’ faith.

How We Believe, page 202

Looks Aren’t Everything

Posted on Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010 at 2:37 pm
Bahá'u'lláh in Edirne

Bahá'u'lláh in Edirne, Turkey

As a young Bahá’í on pilgrimage, I remember not being delighted by the photograph of Bahá’u’lláh that only pilgrims and janitors are permitted to see. Having grown up with charming images of `Abdu’l-Bahá, my expectations were high, and unfair to Bahá’u’lláh.

Portraits of `Abdu’l-Bahá are as common in Bahá’í households as crosses are in churches. “place the picture of `Abdu’l-Bahá in your home,” Bahá’ís are told (Lights of Guidance, page 520). They are instructed to post these portaits up high in prominent locations. This is done out of what they call “respect.” In spite of this idolatrous practice, Bahá’ís consider themselves special for not displaying portraits of Bahá’u’lláh.

I don’t intend to criticize Bahá’u’lláh for his lack of physical charm, but when I hear Bahá’ís wonder at the attractiveness of `Abdu’l-Bahá, I am moved to ask, “why do you place significance on such matters?”

Abbas Abbas Everywhere

Abbas Abbas Everywhere!

I can’t help but be skeptical regarding the motives behind the Bahá’í prohibition against portraits of Prophets. Given the Bahá’í affection for graven images, I’m inclined to wonder whether the prohibition would have ever been laid down had Bahá’u’lláh been better looking.

Bahá’ís are told not to keep photos of their Prophets because such photos could too easily become idols; believers would focus on the appearance of their prophet, and be distracted from his message. Yet, the anticipation of Bahá’ís to view the one Holy Image in the International Archives Building in Israel is only heightened by that prohibition of graven images, and Bahá’ís shudder at the prospect of seeing the image of Bahá where they ought not, as though the image itself has some kind of ominous power!

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