Thursday, 4 March 2010

He is the Unconstrained

Yesterday, I was reminded about the issue of women on the House. I hadn't thought about it for years, so I pondered the issue briefly again to register what my heart would say. First, I noticed that the issue did not raise my hackles, as it used to. I found I couldn't bring myself to care, in that I have moved on and other things interest me more now. In part, this is because my Baha'i experience is located outside of the Baha'i community these days and is therefore not concerned with the community's administrative problems.

I also found myself saying: it's inevitable that women will be on the House one day. The reason for this is the following. I have just finished reading the book "Wolf Hall" by Hilary Mantel (which is brilliant, by the way; a must-read, in my view). It is set in the time of Henry VIII - the transition time between his first and second wives. I didn't realise how much change went on in England during that time. A key issue was church and state, played out as whether the king of England was subject to the Pope, for if he was, then the Pope's religious law trumped any civil law made by Parliament. It's a fascinating subject in itself, but my point here is that reading the book threw me back into the prevailing attitudes of the time. I saw how issues that are settled by society now, back then, were being debated with great passion. And people were dying for them; for example, whether the people could have access to the gospels in English. Back then, if you had an English translation of the gospel, you would be burned. (Interesting, eh, the parallels: today the Baha'i administration tries to control scripture, too).

This is a long-winded way of saying that, viewed in this light, it is inevitable that women will one day be on the House. The Baha'is debate the issue, bringing in all manner of detail about what Abdul'Baha said here and there and bringing up 'evidence' like women having periods, but all this is like "the droning of a gnat in an endless valley" (Summons, p10). What these attitudes reflect is not related to the issue of women on the House, but to the state of the souls of those that voice them. For example, we get a picture of the spiritual state of those who burned people for having English bibles.

The way I look at issues like women on the House these days is in terms of the names and attributes of God, for these are the building blocks of reality. They explain the reality of the principle that men and women are equal: they are equal because both have the capacity to reflect all the names and attributes of God. Given this, women are able to be manifestations and House members just as much as men can. This was always true, but God has chosen to reveal it in this revelation.

And one day, the potentiality of this equality in the realm of the names and attributes will be manifested on earth in the form of women on the House. This will come about when God wills it. Baha'u'llah says that people would not be able to see the sun if God did not will for them to be able to do so. God unlocks the hidden possibilities in human souls according to his inscrutable decree. I used to hear Baha'is say in a cavalier sort of way that the next manifestation will be a woman. But, oh boy, look at the furore the mere thought of a woman on the House is causing!

God is unconstrained - this is what's important for me, above all. I can accept that the religion of God is constrained at any one time by those who reflect its light at that moment - which is why there are no women on the House now. What I can't accept is that those constrained humans have the power to constrain the outcomes of the Faith for all time. They can't, and to believe they can is chaining up the hand of God.

Here's another unconstrained thought: that, when quizzed, Baha'is will one day say: "Ruhi, what's that?"

Commentary on Tablet of the Son

 Commentary on Tablet of the Son