Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Number and Manifestation

The relation between the Manifestations' divine and human natures becomes most perplexing when Baha'u'llah discusses how they fit, or rather don't fit, into the cosmic hierarchy. By denying a clear position within the cosmic hierarchy, Baha'u'llah exposes a certain ineffability to the Manifestation with regard to number. In view is not just the transcendent Essence of God, but His Manifestation in this world, the point of mediation between the Creator and creation. Worth remembering are Baha'u'llah's words: O children of the divine and invisible Essence! Ye shall be hindered from loving Me and souls shall be perturbed as they make mention of Me. For minds cannot grasp Me nor hearts contain Me. (AHW 66)

First, the implications of God's transcendent unity must be made clear. To grasp or contain is to form a bounded unity. As a hand closes around something it restricts its movement within a limited space. It sets an interior apart from an exterior and secures their clear separation. This is the movement of minds and hearts that fails when performed on God. To think of God as an interior thing with a non-Divine exterior is to conceive of Him as one would a body, inasmuch as it is through this interior/exterior distinction that all "bodies" become present in perception. The failure of the grasp is due to the error of conceiving God and bodies horizontally, as comparable beings on a common plane. Under such an assumption God's unity would come about by drawing a distinction between God and not-God. It is a unity that at once requires a multiplicity, a duality with not-God. Consider then these words:

He is a true believer in Divine unity who, far from confusing duality with oneness, refuseth to allow any notion of multiplicity to becloud his conception of the singleness of God, who will regard the Divine Being as One Who, by His very nature, transcendeth the limitations of numbers. (Gleanings LXXXIV)

It should not be concluded though, that God's unity is only possible once any idea of not-God is abolished, thus making all things God. Such a conclusion would wrongly assume that God and any ideas composed about Him perfectly correspond to each other, that their inner orders are interchangable. The alternative, indeed the only one, is to think of God within a provisional but impossible framework for which no possible replacement is conceivable. This is that ideas about God take place within multiplicity but refer to that which is outside this world of distinction, the place of placelessness, the outside of outsideness. With this in mind the unity of God can be thought of as a total absence of distinction, distinguishing it from this world of distinguishability. It might be said that God is invisible not so much because we are blind to Him, but because nothing can be seen in pure light or pure darkness. The contrast between light and shadow is needed to make out, grasp, and contain distinguishable forms. Without contrast it is utterly concealed. Such is the unity of God, a purity which no mind can grasp nor heart contain.

One such provisional but impossible framework is to think of God as occupying a station, a proper place within a hierarchy of the cosmos, that situates Him in relation to other things, each with their own station. Humanity, animals, plants, and minerals can then be thought alongside God within a united and coherent order. Everything within the hierarchy is understandable inasmuch as they can be confined to a particular station. This confinement though is of course the same attempt at grasping and containing encountered in the Hidden Words.

Baha'u'llah features the hierarchical model in His writings. But in a way He undermines it by including within it its very impossibility. He does this by assigning two stations to each of the Manifestations of God, two stations which he at no point condenses into one. This means that the Manifestation of God is not a station. Instead it is the simultaneous occupation of two. The first is the station of essential unity and pertains to that of God made manifest in each of them. From this perspective the Manifestation is sovereign. The other is the station of distinction and pertains to the human aspect of each one. From this perspective they are each the servants of God. (KI 191) The double station of the Manifestation appears as an anomaly, a logical impossibility within the hierarchical model that troubles the entire theological edifice. One must be either here or there. Both cannot be the case simultaneously. But if that is their appearance, their manifestation, then the hierarchical model cannot give an account of the event for which it is deployed to make understandable. In its grasping and containing, the event in question slips through its fingers and is made manifest as a double station. So the double station must be understood as the failure of the grasp rather than its fruit. It is a statement of ineffability and not of systematic structure.

With that in mind, the task of thinking the Manifestation of God must consider the matter that brought about the double station, the question of the Manifestation's number. By exceeding classification within a single station the Manifestation exceeds being grasped as one. Furthermore, the Manifestation exceeds being grasped as the sum of two terms, which itself is a sort of unity. Furthermore, the first term in the equation is God, Who transcendeth the limitations of numbers. One station pertains to the transcendent unity of God. While the other pertains to the plurality of humans who have been the thrones and messengers of that unity. Within each Manifestation there is a tension and overarching embrace between God's transcendent unity and the corporeal nature of each human, which within itself is marked by plurality. Bounded off from other creatures on one end, while open to God on the other, the double station requires the Manifestation to be thought as neither singular nor plural. The "number" of the Manifestation must be distinguished from "numbers." As the form of the grasp, the number one is out of the question. And with it goes any other number inasmuch as it is derived from the addition(s) of one onto itself.

the number of the Manifestation could possibly be left alone as a theological obscurity like the Trinity or the Immaculate Conception were it not for the implications it has on the relationship between the Manifestations of God and the rank and file of the communities they represent. This is because the relation between God and the Manifestation is analogous to the relation between the latter and His believers. Both use the imagery of light in a mirror. The two relations reflect in each other the theme of reflection. Consider this passage of Baha'u'llah.

Every one of them is a mirror of God, reflecting naught else but His Self, His Beauty, His Might and Glory, if ye will understand. All else besides them are to be regarded as mirrors capable of reflecting the glory of these Manifestations Who are themselves the Primary Mirrors of the Divine Being, if ye be not devoid of understanding. (Gleanings XXX)

Both relationships are understood in terms of the reflection of light from another. So it is understandable then that the same perplexities encountered between God and the Manifestation should be reflected in the analogous relationship. If it could be said that the former relationship primarily concerns the Revelation of the Word of God then the latter relationship primarily concerns the believer's action commissioned by that Word. The relation between the designations divine and human should next be considered as it pertains to this action.

Your Cat

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Transcendence and Manifestation

Any examination of salvific action, of any sort of interpenetration of divine and human action, must proceed from its theological basis in divine transcendence. This is the logical order expressed in the opening paragraphs of the second part of the Kitab-i-Iqan, the most well-known, concise, and perhaps most comprehensive explanation Baha'u'llah offers of these themes. It is these passages that provide an effective starting point for pursuing salvific action throughout Baha'ullah's writings, from Baghdad to Bahji.

Baha'u'llah argues that God in His essence is absolutely different from His creatures. Corporeal existence, ascent and descent, egress and regress are human forms that do not apply to Him. He standeth exalted beyond all separation and union, all proximity and remoteness. All creation and its accompanying order has come into being through His Primal Will. Because He is the one who decides upon the form and content of the law He is not bound by it. But knowledge is only possible where such law is binding. For this reason, God is invisible to His creatures as their creator even though He is the one that makes their vision possible. The unreciprocality of this arrangement is well stated in the Quranic verse Baha'u'llah quotes, no vision taketh in Him, but He taketh in all vision. He is the Subtle the All Perceiving. (6.103) The transcendence of God rules out any sort of direct one-to-one encounter between the Creator and creation at the Day of Judgment. (K104 p.90)

The manifestation of Divine Sovereignty must in some way be from creation-to-creation so as to remain visible and knowable, but at the same time remain in the necessary downward motion of Creator-to-creation. Baha'u'llah lays out His doctrine of the Manifestation of God in the tension between these two dynamics. There must then be a mediator who represents both the Creator and creation. Baha'u'llah writes,

The door of the Ancient of Days being thus closed in the face of all beings, the Source of infinite grace...hath caused those luminous Gems of Holiness to appear out of the realm of the spirit, in the noble form of the human temple, and be made manifest unto all men, that they may impart unto the world the mysteries of the unchangeable Being, and tell of the subtleties of His imperishable Essence. (KI106 p.91)

The divinely ordained Founders of Religion are made to stand at the threshold of the visible and the invisible so as to mediate between God and other humans. They are the mouthpiece of God in human history and the pivots on which turns His manifest sovereignty. Baha'u'llah uses the metaphor of a mirror reflecting the light of the sun to explain the mediating role played by such souls. The central concept undergirding this doctrine is Baha'u'llah's understanding of the names and attributes of God.

Within the metaphor the essences of God and the human correspond respectively to sun and the mirror. The names and attributes of God correspond to the light that originates in the former and is reflected in the latter. All knowledge, dominion, and love come from God, the unknowable essence. But they can be made manifest in this world making them the content of manifestation and the bridge that crosses the otherwise unbridgeable void between the Creator and creation. This is the model Baha'u'llah adopts for explaining how a transcendent god manifests His will within His creation.

Baha'u'llah outlines three levels at which the names and attributes of God are made manifest. The first of which is all things. He writes, within every atom are enchrined the signs that bear eloquent testimony to the revelation of that most great Light. Methinks but for the potency of that revelation, no being could ever exist. (KI107 p.92) The second of which is humanity, who not only manifests the names and attributes to a supreme degree but is also capable of manifesting all of them. For in him are potentially revealed all the attributes and names of God...All these names and attributes are applicable to him. Baha'u'llah supports these assertions using a number of Quranic verses and Islamic traditions, including the saying He hath known God who hath known himself. After repeating the capacities of all things and humanity, He explains a third and final level, the Manifestations of the Sun of Truth. (KI109 p.94-95) Whereas all names and attributes are potentially revealed in man, they are actually revealed in the Manifestations. Furthermore, all else besides these Manifestations live by they operation of their Will, and move, and have their being through the outpourings of their grace, all of this in the noble form of the human temple. So pervasive a power and so universal an influence is all potentially revealed in the spiritual form given to all humanity by God.

Your Cat

an Interlude

The Bab witnessed entry of the masses into His movement even without the wide dissemination of His writings. Because of this, those entering the movement lacked a sense of the future. For they had little to no framework by which to determine its shape. The Babi possessed only a tradition based on promise, and even at that, a suspended tradition of an uncertain destiny. Centuries of waiting had prepared people for little more than more waiting. So the promise's very fulfillment brought about the tradition's transfiguration beyond recognition. The task of the Babi was to walk by the light of a darkened tradition towards a light still below the horizon.

Your Cat

Monday, April 14, 2008

a Theory on the Indiscernability between Divine and Human Action

One key aim of the Kitab-i-Iqan is to diminish to an extent the uniqueness of the end-times by positioning it as the coming of a divine Revelation resembling those of the past. Because the physical creation is not destroyed, any prophecies of divine justice in those days must then be projected across the surface of human history yet to come. The long-awaited millenium, the period of divine justice following the end-times would then arrive without the cosmic annhilation expected by most. But by projecting divine justice across an earthly future, Baha'u'llah's framework raises questions as to who is to be enacting this salvation. At no time did Baha'u'llah ever perform a sort of world-miracle by which all society is instantly transformed into a world of justice. This appears to leave humanity the task of accomplishing such justice. That Baha'u'llah's writings give such voluminous instruction on the establishment of a global civilization backs this up. But all along He continues to ascibe its arrival to divine action.

Curiosity demands that a way be found to understand the relationship between human and divine action in the plan for salvation. Mutual exclusion is unsatisfactory. It's not enough to say it's one or the other. What follows is a theory of salvific action, the will towards salvation, that charts out one way that spiritual and material prosperity is accomplished in this world.

Salvation in this world by the Baha'i understanding cannot be attributed exclusively to either divine or human action. Neither should it be regarded as the sum of these two components. Rather, one form of its manifestation is as the product of an ineffable power that both embraces and exceeds the designations "divine" and "human." It embraces inasmuch as neither God or humanity take on an entirely passive instrumental role, subsuming one into the other. Both retain their distinctive agency. And it exceeds inasmuch as neither designation can provide by itself an exhaustative account of the action in question. If this form of salvation is always both divine and human, but never one or the other, then one is led to speak of some sort of unified reality, however ineffable, distinct from the two-ness of the previous formulation, however real that two-ness might be. An insistance on the unconditional applicability of numbers to this ineffable power is an impediment to its understanding. This has enormous consequences for how to think the spiritual dimensions of social action in a Baha'i context.