by Jack McLean
2005 (adapted from chapter 9 of A Celestial Burning: A Selective Study of the Writings of Shoghi Effendi)
“O ye loved ones of God! In this, the Bahá’í dispensation, God’s Cause is spirit unalloyed. His Cause belongeth not to the material world. It cometh neither for strife nor war, nor for acts of mischief or of shame; it is neither for quarrelling with other Faiths, nor for conflicts with the nations. Its only army is the love of God, its only joy the clear wine of His knowledge, its only battle the expounding of the Truth; its one crusade is against the insistent self, the evil promptings of the human heart. Its victory is to submit and yield, and to be selfless is its everlasting glory. In brief, it is spirit upon spirit.”
The Background in Bahá’í Scripture
Rhetoric based on military life and warfare is one of the characteristic modes of discourse found in the Bahá’í sacred writings. This scriptural background is being provided to contextualize the Guardian’s use of the military metaphor. Since Shoghi Effendi was thoroughly familiar with the Bahá’í sacred writings, as their translator, editor and authorized interpreter, not surprisingly, militaristic diction reappears as one of the defining features of his epistolary. It bears mention that military language is only one of several types of diction used in Bahá’í scripture and in the writings of Shoghi Effendi. The Bahá’í sacred writings express a variety of discourse styles. In Dimensions in Spirituality (1994), I have identified militaristic language as being just one of ten symbolic modes of writing found in Bahá’í scripture. The use of militaristic language requires some justification since, outside of properly military contexts, it is generally viewed as being alarmist and anachronistic in contemporary society, within religious circles generally, and even for some members of the Bahá’í community. In modern writers, the military metaphor is rare but it is not completely unknown. Marianne Williamson, for example, one of today’s popular writers of spirituality, in phraseology virtually identical to the Bahá’í writings, has written the following in her Illuminata (1994): “Prayer is our way of signing up with the army of light and receiving its reinforcements on a regular basis.” But it still survives in the rhetoric of political parties, particularly during “electoral campaigns,” with their “strategies,” “hard-fought battles,” “war rooms,’ “rallies” and “victories.”
The following list has been drawn at random from Bahá’í scripture to indicate the presence of military diction in the sacred writings: “army of light, sword, mission, crusade, legions, castles, warriors, recruits, knights, battalions, armies, strongholds, victory, triumph, watchword, hosts, vanguard, troops, standard bearers, enemies, rank upon rank, banners, stalwart warriors, legions, steeds, commander, hosts, battlefield, reinforcements, crusader, armour, shield, lance, post, fortifications.” Corresponding action words are also found: “conquer, attack, defeat, razed, vanquish, break through, rapidly marching, onward marching, win the victory.” In addition to individual substantives and verbs, other examples of metaphors and extended metaphors of this sort can be found throughout the Bahá’í writings.
Militaristic Language and the Temper of our Times
The world community, exposed continuously to the ominous sounds of “…wars and rumours of wars…” (Mat. 24:6), has grown understandably averse to militaristic language. The former Soviet Union’s reconciliation with the West in the 1980’s, the smashing of the Berlin Wall and the calming of the nuclear arms race gave momentary respite and hope following decades of Cold War but Islamic extremism has necessitated the adoption of increased security measures everywhere.
The passages in the Bahá’í writings and the epistolary of Shoghi Effendi that are based on the military metaphor would appear, ostensibly at least, to be at odds with the pacific aspirations of the world’s people. More pointedly, this rhetoric — “rhetoric” being used here in a non-pejorative sense — may strike some readers as being at odds with the aims and purposes of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh. For a religion that promotes universal peace and world unity as its fundamental teachings, whose sacred writings in numerous passages have repeatedly deplored and emphatically condemned the horrors of war, it seems inappropriate, on the face of it, to employ militaristic language in those same scriptures. According to the same line of reasoning, another metaphor comes to mind. Logic might dictate that Bahá’u’lláh’s reference in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas to His newly proclaimed laws as the unsealing of “…the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power…” is a strange association to make in a religion that has forbidden the consumption of alcohol.
Women especially may be offended by bellicose language. This is not only because language that sounds like a call to arms, however figurative its use, is repugnant to the peace-loving nature of women, but also because this rhetoric clashes with the more feminine diction employed in the Bahá’í writings that speaks of birth, nurturing, gentility, mothering and care and which feels more appropriate to the purposes of religion. Justifications about the rhetorical use of language seem inadequate. Whatever the analytical niceties, militaristic language sounds like a glorification of war. Others reject it because it reflects a mind-set associated with religious fundamentalism or is felt as a strident call to engage in a vigorous campaign of evangelization. Even for some readers capable of making creative interpretations of the metaphorical uses of language, the military metaphor remains problematic. Despite the anti-militaristic stance that is clearly stated in Bahá’í scripture, the military metaphor is being met with reactions that range from passive neutrality to discomfort, to open rejection. This impression is based mainly on anecdotal comments (see 5.4) and an admittedly subjective reading of current attitudes in the Bahá’í community. However, they indicate a certain unease with militaristic language.
Some Spiritual and Rhetorical Purposes of Militaristic Diction
Rational arguments may seem like a weak tool to adjust subjective reactions and personal taste. The respected literary critic, Harold Bloom, has correctly pointed out that personal taste — actually he refers to “literary taste” and “spiritual discernment” — are “…notoriously disputable.” There is a certain wisdom in the Latin expression De Gustibus non est disputandum, which has been taken over in a direct translation by the Germans, Über Gesmackssachen streiten wir nicht.” (“Let us not argue over questions of taste.”). Nonetheless, reasons are being offered here to suggest that the military metaphor deserves a second closer reading.
In the Bahá’í writings, militaristic language generally serves a six-fold purpose: (1) To remember and honour the hero-martyrs of the Heroic Age of the Bábí-Bahá’í Faith. (2) To promote the spirit of courage and sacrifice in Bahá’í service. (3) “s a technique of catharsis, bellicose diction is turned on its head and is used, paradoxically, to counter the warlike mentality — a case of fighting fire with fire. Just as the Hindu fakír feigned madness in order to cure a wild elephant, the Bahá’í writings employ militaristic diction, and identify with certain of its psychological features, in order to pacify the warlike spirit. (4) Militaristic language is employed symbolically to signify the presence of divine confirmations. This presence is based on a belief in the biblical “hosts of heaven” which is, at origin, a military figure. (The Bahá’í counterpart to the heavenly host is the celestial assembly of the “concourse on high”). (5) It may be inferred, despite the abuses and extremes that are associated with military life, that a nexus of “military virtues” exists that is worth preserving and emulating. (6) To call readers to action.
The psychological effect of catharsis (Gk. purification) provides homeopathic relief when the military turn of phrase is heard or read. In Aristotle’s Poetics, the notion of catharsis consisted of a voiding action that calmed and cleansed, especially the emotions of pity and fear, which were evoked by Greek drama. Interpreting the Poetics, S.H. Butcher wrote that catharsis could ‘exorcise’ certain emotions. In Lessing’s interpretation of Aristotle’s notion of catharsis, what occurred during the tragedy was “…a sublimation of the emotions or their conversion into virtuous dispositions.” This notion can also be applied to the militaristic turn of phrase. It is clearly at work in the quotation of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá quoted at the head of this chapter. The war-like spirit is invoked which, ideally, pacifies or transforms it into more positive and peaceful attitudes of mind that remain, nonetheless, action-oriented.
The spiritually militant tone in Bahá’í texts is meant, of course, to produce a psychological reaction, but one that aims to pass beyond mere catharsis to produce movement in both body and soul; that is, to result in the performance of actual deeds. But without some deeper understanding of the uses of rhetoric, and the metaphorical functions of language, and just as importantly, a revisitation of the positive value of certain “military virtues,” the reader may react negatively to this type of discourse as just an outdated concoction of evangelical rhetoric.
Reported Dissatisfaction With Militaristic Language
Because of the strong authority of scripture, written critiques expressing a malaise with such texts are rare. While anecdotal comments have been circulating for some years, the following letter of Ms. Corrie Mott to Bahá’í Canada (1994) is representative of those who take umbrage at militaristic language. It expresses embarrassment, humiliation and offence for prospective Bahá’ís, new believers and others. Ms. Mott alleges that such language, and especially the key phrase “entry by troops,” has struck a sensitive nerve with “so many prominent Bahá’ís,” “seekers,” and “new believers,” due to its constant repetition and militant tone: “So many prominent Bahá’ís and particularly new believers and seekers are offended by this military and evangelical language…” She writes:
As a Bahá’í, sharing the gift from Bahá’u’lláh with my closest friends, I feel embarrassed by the way we are going about teaching. These feelings surfaced in me at the imminent declaration of a seeker in my community. The thought of her receiving her first issue of Bahá’í Canada with the theme of teaching, with “Entry by Troops” the battle cry, was humiliating to me. I feel that within the Faith we need to reach a higher level of maturity. The process of opening our hearts and sharing the Message of Bahá’u’lláh through our personal and collective growth and celebration is the only way I want to be teaching. In fact, our methods of teaching have hindered me from whole-heartedly sharing the Faith with the overwhelming excitement I have inside. Focusing on goals and numbers repulses me. I believe God has the ultimate control over the destiny of our Faith, and we can only truly come from our hearts. What comes from the heart is what is attracting the souls in the first place. So many prominent Bahá’ís and particularly new believers and seekers are offended by this military and evangelical language.
A Potential Crisis of Feeling and Understanding
Corrie Mott’s reaction serves as an indicator that militaristic language may produce an acute crisis of feeling and, with it, understanding. Scripture, or in this case its reflection in the language of Bahá’í institutions, sometimes occasions a mental or moral test in which the believer’s understanding, subjective taste or moral criteria collide with the letter and/or spirit of scripture. This is not to deny to anyone the right to his own emotional reaction. But such crises are, as Bahá’u’lláh indicates in His preeminent doctrinal work, the Book of Certitude, tests of understanding, one of the several functions of the Word of God in every religious dispensation:
Know verily that the purpose underlying all these symbolic terms and abstruse allusions, which emanate from the Revealers of God’s holy Cause, hath been to test and prove the peoples of the world; that thereby the earth of the pure and illuminated hearts may be known from the perishable and barren soil. From time immemorial such hath been the way of God amidst His creatures, and to this testify the records of the sacred books.
Scriptural passages that disturb the reader call for a state of openness that invites deeper reflection during which the text is allowed to speak to the mind without prejudice. This conscious attempt to set aside one’s preconditioned personal response and to “see” or hear, i.e. understand these texts in a fresh way, allows the reader to gain new insights based on the more reflective, psychologising, empathetic mode of understanding. A believer cannot be faithful to the spirit of the Bahá’í writings if he accepts only those passages which give inspiration, understanding or spiritual comfort while he rejects those that disturb or produce cognitive dissonance.
Since scripture is revealed as a unified, integral whole, it must be taken as such. “Deepening” calls for fuller reflection on such texts, in order to better understand their nature and purposes. Dissonant-sounding texts require a particular and demanding sort of reader-response: that of seeing with the eyes of Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá or Shoghi Effendi. Bahá’u’lláh has written: “If it be your wish, O people, to know God and to discover the greatness of His might, look, then, upon Me with Mine own eyes, and not with the eyes of any one besides Me.” Such a bold effort requires the adoption of a psychological attitude and intellectual understanding that is sympathetic to the point of view of the Authors of the Bahá’í Revelation. A deeper appreciation of the dynamics of language, any virtues associated with the military life, and a conscientious attempt to apprehend the Authors’ intent helps to dispel the literalist interpretation and the undifferentiated, negative emotional response.
Militaristic Language as an Inheritance of Jihád and Martyrdom in the Dispensation of the Báb
Military language in the Dispensation of the Báb (1844-1853) was not a matter of mere rhetoric. It derived from His theological vision of the Godhead and was, in fact, part of a larger defensive strategy employed to ensure the very survival of the Bábí Faith. For the Báb, Almighty God is the supreme triumphant One: “Say, God hath undisputed triumph over every victorious one. There is no one in heaven or earth or in whatever lieth between them who can frustrate the transcendent supremacy of His triumph.”
Jihád (lit. struggle or fight), which is known in most western languages as holy war, was one of the salient practices of Islam sanctioned by the Báb but later outlawed by Bahá’u’lláh. The Shiite clergy had condemned the Báb as an imposter and heretic, a crime punishable by death in Islam. With the blessing of the state and the eager support of a fanatical populace, the three estates determined to eradicate the vulnerable Bábí community. In an orgy of violence, the proscribed sect was set upon in “an avalanche of calamities.” According to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s reckoning, a number that Shoghi Effendi has repeated, more than 20,000 Bábís were martyred. Thus, Mullá Husayn’s command to the faithful, uttered in the thick of battle, “Mount your steeds, O heroes of God,” originally had a literal meaning and originated in a historical context in which the new believers fought heroically for their own lives in order to keep the Báb’s Faith alive, and to live to teach another day. Any military rhetoric in the Bahá’í writings recalls and arises from this sacred history.
It would appear, however, that in rejecting pacifism, and allowing for holy war under the defensive limitations that He had set, the Báb had other purposes in mind than the defence of the Faith and the survival of the community. The Bábí martyrs, and subsequent martyrs adhering to the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, offered themselves up as a proof that the Revelation of both Prophets was true. Bahá’u’lláh’s following commentaries clearly indicate this:
No land remained which did not drink the blood of these embodiments of detachment, and no sword that did not bruise their necks. Their deeds, alone, testify to the truth of their words. Doth not the testimony of these holy souls, who have so gloriously risen to offer up their lives for their Beloved that the whole world marvelled at the manner of their sacrifice, suffice the people of this day?
If these companions, with all their marvelous testimonies and wondrous works, be false, who then is worthy to claim for himself the truth? I swear by God! Their very deeds are a sufficient testimony, and an irrefutable proof unto all the peoples of the earth, were men to ponder in their hearts the mysteries of Divine Revelation.
These passages invoke a more detached reflection on the remarkable phenomenon of martyrdom which is so emotionally fraught, particularly for westerners, who generally consider it to be a rebarbative and incomprehensible phenomenon. Bahá’u’lláh is challenging His readers to transcend the horrors associated with the scenes of carnage in nineteenth century Persia and to reflect, rather, upon the detachment and steadfastness of these remarkable souls, who displayed such a rare combination of meekness, purity and gentility, along with a redoubtable courage and fierce heroism that stood in stark contrast to the barbaric treatment, cowardly behaviour and treacherous conduct meted out by their persecutors.
Holy war was subsequently abolished by Bahá’u’lláh in the Tablet of Bishárát following the revelation of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas in 1873. In the first Glad-Tidings (Bishárát) Bahá’u’lláh declares that “the law of holy war hath been blotted out from the Book.” However, when it is a question of denying one’s faith, in order to save one’s life, the law of God prescribes that “It is better for you to be killed than to kill.” It can be understood from this discussion that military language, while it is much older than the Bábí-Bahá’í dispensations, inherits directly from the heroic struggles and spirit of martyrdom, the remarkable courage and tenacity shown by those who willingly chose to make the sacrifice of their own lives. Militancy of faith, in this sense, has a legitimate meaning that is never outmoded.
Bahá’u’lláh as the Lord of Hosts
One of Bahá’u’lláh’s messianic titles is “Lord of Hosts” (Ar. Rabbu’l-Junúd) (Heb. Yahweh Seba’ot, lit. “Jehovah of armies”). This title is used frequently in the Hebrew Bible to designate God and His chosen people who have been consecrated to fight against the heathen. A cursory review of Bahá’u’lláh’s writings indicates that His preferred loan word from military parlance is the ancient word “hosts” (KJV) which appears frequently in His tablets. The word hosts is a frequent occurrence in the Hebrew Bible, designating both the battle-ready Israelite soldier and the guardian angel. In The Fourth Ishráq it is written: “In this Revelation the hosts that can render it [His Faith] victorious are the hosts of praiseworthy deeds and upright character. The leader and commander of these hosts hath ever been the fear of God, a fear that encompasseth all things and reigneth over all things.” Here military strength and power have been converted into the “hosts” of moral authority.
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s “Army of Light”: The Teacher as Valiant Warrior
‘Abdu’l-Bahá is the source of the familiar phrase “the army of light” which is also employed by both Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice: “In every case the army of light vanquished the powers of darkness on the battlefield of the world, and the radiance of the Divine Teaching illumined the earth.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá also used the ancient image of the believer as a conquering soldier when in The Tablets of the Divine Plan (1916-1917), He summoned the western Bahá’ís to accomplish a “world mission” in a global expansion of the Bahá’í Faith. In the third of four general tablets to the Bahá’ís of North America (April 19, 20, 22, 1916), while being exposed to the extreme duress of Jamál Páshá’s regime, He wrote:
These souls are the armies of God and the conquerors of the East and the West. Should one of them turn his face toward some direction and summon the people to the Kingdom of God, all the ideal forces and lordly confirmations will rush to his support and reinforcement. He will behold all the doors open and all the strong fortifications and impregnable castles razed to the ground. Singly and alone he will attack the armies of the world, defeat the right and left wings of the hosts of all the countries, break through the lines of the legions of all nations and carry his attack to the very center of the powers of the earth. This is the meaning of the Hosts of God.
This is a prototypical example of the triumphant military rhetoric that was later used by Shoghi Effendi. In ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s rousing call to action, teaching the Bahá’í Faith is viewed as a battle or a contest to be waged by the believers who are charged with a divine mission. “s is typical of any militaristic discourse, the menacing presence of the enemy is central, the adversary that is hostile to the divine purpose. This enemy is “the armies of the world,” which may be understood as the masses of unbelieving peoples and/or the materialistic, secular forces that drive entire societies or the obsolete political systems that govern them. Above all, this text affirms one of the fundamental purposes of military rhetoric: to convey the unconditional promise that any believer who works for the execution of the Divine Plan will receive unfailing divine assistance. The editors of Star of the West, in an article entitled “Join the Army of Peace” (1922), quoted these words of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
O ye My soldiers of the Kingdom! Be ye valiant and fearless! Day by day add to your spiritual victories. Be ye not disturbed by the constant assaults of the enemies. Attack ye like unto roaring lions. Have no thought for yourselves, for the invisible armies of the Kingdom are fighting on your side. Enter ye the battlefield with the Confirmations of the Holy Spirit. Know ye of a certainty that the powers of the Kingdom of Abhá are with you. The hosts of the heaven of Truth are with you. The cool breezes of the Paradise of Abhá are wafting over your heated brows. Not for a moment are ye alone. Not for a second are ye left to yourselves. The beauty of Abhá is with you. The Glorious God is with you. The King of Kings is with you.
It is not the fearless teacher who is being addressed here but the one who is disheartened by the daunting proportions of the divine mission. The soldier depicted in this passage is not the conquering hero, for the battle has just begun and the victory has not yet been won. The passage is both exhortation and promise. It promises uninterrupted divine assistance. But its triumphant language is softened by the affirmation that “The cool breezes of the Paradise of Abhá are wafting over your heated brows.” The closing lines evince a solicitous concern for the loneliness of the solitary solider. A note of sympathy is struck when a vulnerability is acknowledged in the psyche of the soldier. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá recognizes that the divine combatant sometimes feels comfortless in his struggles and He offers this consolation — “Not for a moment are ye alone.”
The Knight of Faith: A Textual Parallel Between Shoghi Effendi and St. Paul
Bearing in mind the background given above, let us turn now to the writings of Shoghi Effendi. The penultimate Ridván Message to the Bahá’í world (1956) contains an extended metaphor that is key to understanding the Guardian’s view of spirituality as active service to the Bahá’í Faith. The metaphor of the “knight of faith” has a textual parallel in the writings of St. Paul and has been employed, mutatis mutandis, by the founding father of modern existentialism, Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855), to refer to the Prophet Abraham as he faced the great test of being required by God to sacrifice his son beloved Isaac (Gen. 22:1-19). In 1957, four years into the great World Crusade (1953-1963), Shoghi Effendi wrote in Messages to the Bahá’í World (1958) the following passage that combines all at once military and noble/heroic motifs:
“Putting on the armour of His love, firmly buckling on the shield of His mighty Covenant, mounted on the steed of steadfastness, holding aloft the lance of the Word of the Lord of Hosts, and with unquestioning reliance on His promises as the best provision for their journey, let them set their faces towards those fields that still remain unexplored and direct their steps toward those goals that are as yet unattained, assured that He who has led them to achieve such triumphs, and to store up such prizes in His Kingdom, will continue to assist them in enriching their spiritual birthright to such a degree that no finite mind can imagine or human heart perceive.”
This metaphor has the medieval knight setting out on a holy crusade. But the Guardian has transformed all the knight’s battle garb into the simple dress of the spiritual pilgrim. The knight’s armor becomes God’s love. His shield is the covenant of God’s Word and the pilgrim’s promise. His steed is steadfastness. His lance is the cutting edge of Truth. His hope for a safe journey and return is faith in the promises of God. But the knight of faith is more than just the pilgrim or the crusader in this rendering. He is also the adventurous voyageur or the daring pioneer, setting off for unexplored lands to lay the foundations of the new spiritual civilisation of tomorrow. The text creates a moving visual scene as the knight performs a number of discrete, sequential acts in preparation for his departure: putting on his armour, buckling on the shield, mounting his horse, raising the lance and setting out. The whole atmosphere creates an impression of dedication and purpose.
The textual parallel is St. Paul’s passage in Ephesians 6 about putting on “the whole armour of God” (v. 13). The Guardian was “… a great reader of the King James version of the Bible…” which he used as a model for the English translations of the Bahá’í sacred writings. Mr. Riaz Khadem, in Shoghi Effendi in Oxford (1999), cites the testimony of J.C. Hill, a fellow student of Shoghi Effendi who spent Michaelmas of 1921 with him at Balliol College, and “…who knew him well,” that “He read the whole of the Bible from cover to cover in about a week.” Another fellow student, Adrian Franklin, corrected an “anecdote” that circulated at Balliol about the Guardian when he first arrived in Oxford that “…he had never heard of the Jewish/Christian bible, but when told of it, read it Genesis to the end of the New Testament in about a week.” Mr. Franklin further related to Mr. Khadem: “I believed this at the time — I was only just 18 — but on reflection now I see the story must have been rubbish.” As a student in Haifa at the Collège des Frères, a place where he was not happy, Shoghi Effendi “…was exposed to the Bible at the Jesuit school…” and “…had taken four formal courses on the Bible during his freshman and sophomore years at the American University of Beirut.” But here is St. Paul’s text:
Therefore, take the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:13-17).
Elsewhere in Messages to the Bahá’í World (1958), our author echoes the language of the Three Central Figures when he writes this strong exhortation: “The Lord of Hosts, the King of Kings, has pledged unfailing support to every crusader battling for His Cause. Invisible battalions are mustered, rank upon rank, ready to pour forth reinforcements from on High.“ This one example, although brief, contains a series of military metaphors in a compact space. The sentence begins with the prototypical biblical phrase “The Lord of Hosts,” uses covenantal language in the word “pledged“, contains a historical allusion to soldiers of the cross, “every crusader,” and promises the assistance of the company of angels, the “invisible battalions.” Should he become weak or weary, the embattled solider will be vouchsafed “reinforcements” from on high, symbolising a renewal of strength.
“The Knight of Bahá’u’lláh“: The Covenantal Language of Spiritual Aristocracy
Shoghi Effendi’s allusion to the Knight of Faith examined in 5.9 requires further comment. The granting of spiritual titles to distinguished believers was common during the dispensations of the Báb (1844-1853), Bahá’u’lláh (1853-1892) and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1892-1921). Shoghi Effendi, with few exceptions, was not wont to grant titles. One title he did grant was “Knight of Bahá’u’lláh,” a reward for those who first opened up “virgin territories” during the Ten Year World Crusade/Plan (1953-1963).
The title reflects a vision of service and spirituality defined by nobility and heroism in the pioneering field. While the person of the knight is historically based, the title comes in the guise of romance, i.e. the heroic spiritual quest in the service of the Holy Faith but it is not meant, of course, to be realistic in every detail. For the less romantically inclined, the realities of life in the Middle Ages will bring us quickly down to earth. It has been suggested, for example, that the average well-educated citizen of today has far better manners than the knight of old who might have sold his own daughter for financial gain, a common practice of the day, or knocked his wife senseless for speaking disrespectfully to him. But needless to say, this is the not the sort of knight that Shoghi Effendi has in mind.
The title, moreover, indicates the creation of an order of spiritual aristocracy. In the Bahá’í Administrative Order, aristocracy, to which the Knight of Bahá’u’lláh belongs, corresponds to one of its defining elements. What else does it suggest? The knight’s code of honour which was observed particularly during “the golden age of knighthood” in the early thirteenth century included such qualities as defending the faith, showing valour, being loyal to the suzerain, keeping one’s word, being gracious to women and protecting children and the weak. Reduced to bare virtues, the knight’s code required fearlessness, courtesy, truthfulness, loyalty, defence of the faith and defence of the weak and the oppressed. By the same token, the Knight of Bahá’u’lláh was expected to be adventurous and courageous, to be willing to endure loneliness and to be steadfast in spreading the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh around the globe. These attributes should apply, ideally, to every Bahá’í.
A convenantal relationship is also implied by the title. It would be appropriate, consequently, to find parallels between the knight’s code of conduct in medieval society to the covenantal relationship of the Knight of Bahá’u’lláh. In medieval times, soldiers or knights were bound to their lords in suzerain-vassal relationships by a process called manumission (handing down) or dubbing ceremonies. Bahá’u’lláh has revealed that through belief in Him, (the declaration of faith), the vassal (believer) enters into covenant with Bahá’u’lláh (his Lord). This covenant cannot be valid unless obedience to His laws is observed. The first paragraph of the Aqdas prescribes:
The first duty prescribed by God for His servants is the recognition of Him Who is the Dayspring of His Revelation and the Fountain of His laws, Who representeth the Godhead in both the Kingdom of His Cause and the world of creation. Whoso achieveth this duty hath attained unto all good; and whoso is deprived thereof hath gone astray, though he be the author of every righteous deed. It behoveth everyone who reacheth this most sublime station, this summit of transcendent glory, to observe every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world. These twin duties are inseparable. Neither is acceptable without the other. Thus hath it been decreed by Him Who is the Source of Divine inspiration.
This prescription is a two-way pact. Bahá’u’lláh has granted salvation. He expects obedience. The theological counterpart to the suzerain-vassal relationship implies that the agreement between the Suzerain or Lord (Bahá’u’lláh), and His vassals (the individual believers or community), is based, not only on the concept of obedience and loyalty, but also on the bestowing of privilege, grace or bounty, granted to the vassal (believer) by the Suzerain (Bahá’u’lláh). In medieval tenure or land-holding, the vassal owed his earthly existence to his suzerain and was therefore beholden to him. The vassal was also obligated to the suzerain for the protection that the suzerain offered, and offered him assistance in return, usually in the form of military duty. These covenantal relationships can be applied, mutatis mutandis, to the Bahá’í Faith.
The Existential Meaning of Militaristic Language
If one looks beyond the literal and symbolic functions of military rhetoric, the philosophical question arises as to the meaning of such language as the expression of a mode of being. The respected Canadian literary critic, Northrop Frye, has identified in his seminal work The Great Code. The Bible and Literature (1981) “existential writing” as having descended from metonymy as the third great phase in literature. Frye described the existential mode of literature, both atheistic (naturalistic) and theistic (transcendental), as a “an interest in the transcendental in the seabed of human concern”.
Although Shoghi Effendi’s writings clearly do not fall within the genre of existentialist writing, still one can retain from Frye’s definition the word “concern” as an accurate descriptor of the spirit motivating the Guardian. “s a literature of profound spiritual concern, a literature that is committed or engagé, another existential characteristic, the Guardian’s writings aspire to transform, not just to describe, the world. He is concerned with being, but not as a philosophical speculator, a role to which he was personally disinclined, but rather as a concrete and practical theistic writer, one who anchors his perspective in the social, historical and spiritual conditions of modern day civilization in light of the remedies offered by the revelation of Bahá’u’lláh.
The military metaphor belongs to the nature and function of the religious symbol, one that phenomenologist of religion Mircea Eliade (1907-1986), in an article that outlines six functions of religious symbolism, calls “the existential value of religious symbolism…” which he described as “the fact that a symbol always aims at a reality or a situation in which human existence is engaged.“ (emphasis in original). Here Eliade has expressed what great thinkers such as Carl Jung or Paul Tillich have said in other words, something that the ordinary individual knows through everyday experience. Symbols are not just passive concepts that motivate psychologically. They participate in and actively transform spiritual life. Eliade wrote:
It is above all this existential dimension that marks off and distinguishes symbols from concepts. Symbols still keep their contact with the profound sources of life; they express, one might say, the “spiritual [realm] as lived” (le spirituel vécu). This is why symbols, have, as it were, a ‘numinous aura”; they reveal that the modalities of the spirit are at the same time manifestations of life, and, consequently, they directly engage human existence.
The Military Virtues: The Moral Equivalent of Waging War is Making Peace
Following from the above discussion, it can be said that the engaged, disciplined or heroic outlook that is expressed by the military metaphor corresponds to one of the “modalities of the spirit” to which Eliade refers. This point has been made in moral-psychological terms by the eminent American psychologist and philosopher of religion William James (1842-1910). In his essay “The Moral Equivalent of War,” the author of the famous classic The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) put himself “…squarely into the anti-militarist party.” James wrote that he looked forward “…to a future when acts of war shall be formally outlawed as between civilized peoples.” However, in a subsequent section, “the value of the military virtues,” in the same paper, James makes the following points that are closely allied with the thrust of this chapter. He makes it clear that what he calls “the martial virtues” have much to do, not only with the benefits of a disciplined lifestyle, but with the governance of human society itself:
But I do not believe that peace either ought to be or will be permanent on this globe, unless the states pacifically organized preserve some of the old elements of army discipline. A permanently successful peace-economy cannot be a simple pleasure-economy. In the more or less socialistic future towards which mankind seems (check) drifting we must still subject ourselves collectively to those severities which answer to our real position upon this only partly hospitable globe. We must make new energies and hardihoods continue the manliness to which the military mind so faithfully clings. Martial virtues must be the enduring cement; intrepidity, contempt of softness, surrender of private interest, obedience to command, must still remain the rock upon which states are built…
James goes on to argue that “…on the ruins of the old morals of military honor, a stable system of morals of civic honor builds itself up.” Martial values must lead to constructive civic enterprises and to the formation of a hardy character that can be produced without the catastrophe of war. James decries the fear-mongering and enemy-making upon which the military mind-set must be based in order to produce the desired result. But “Fear,” he rightly maintains, “is not the only stimulus known for awakening the higher ranges of men’s spiritual energy.” Building on the thoughts of H.G. Wells, another writer whom Shoghi Effendi had read, James writes:
H.G. Wells adds that he thinks that the conceptions of order and discipline, the tradition of service and devotion, of physical fitness, unstinted exertion, and universal responsibility, which universal military duty is now teaching European nations, will remain a permanent acquisition, when the last ammunition has been used in the fireworks that celebrate the final peace.
War, for all its horror and tragedy, calls forth nonetheless heroic qualities. The renowned twentieth century historian, Arnold J. Toynbee (1889-1975), who predicted that the Bahá’í Faith might become a meaningful “…portent of the future… drew attention to the “heroic virtues” displayed in warfare in his ten volume A Study of History:
War calls forth heroic virtues akin to those which the followers of an unpopular religion are called on to display, and many preachers of such religions has drawn upon the vocabulary furnished by the arts and implements of warfare, none more conspicuously than St. Paul. In the Jewish tradition which the Christian Church had retained as a treasured part of its own heritage, war was consecrated both in a literal and in a metaphorical sense.
In passing, I retain Toynbee’s reference to St. Paul by way of comparison to Shoghi Effendi — and the comparison is being made only in the following respect — that both figures wrote epistles to religious communities in early stages of development, epistles that contained strong exhortations analogous to the life of the soldier. To win the victory, the soldier was expected to demonstrate discipline, courage, valour, loyalty, sense of duty, pride, obedience, strength, and resistance. Above all, victory depended upon soldierly unity or “esprit de corps” (lit. spirit of body) but which is perhaps best rendered by the “spirit of solidarity” or “sense of cohesion.” The key to victory was for troops to move and to fight as one man. This image of soldierly solidarity is reflected in this sentence of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá: “How good it is if the friends be as close as sheaves of light, if they stand together side by side in a firm unbroken line.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s military analogy of Bahá’í unity as soldiers fighting in a solid line hearkens back to the most ancient traditions of discipline in warfare. The well-known sociologist of religion Max Weber (1864-1920) writing in a section called “The Origins of Discipline in War” refers to “an oft-quoted passage” of Homer that tells us that for Greek soldiers discipline was broken when they began to fight out of line. Fighting out of line was consequently prohibited since it was the prelude to defeat.
Media reports of the first and second world wars, and military engagements generally, often report veterans as saying that battle situations created a depth of camaraderie that was unknown to them during civilian life. One of these is brotherly solidarity. C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves (1960), his remarkable précis on the anatomy of friendship, affection, eros and charity (divine love), makes a passing reference to the Roman historian, Tacitus, who recorded that the old centurions when their legions were being disbanded were “clinging to one another and begging for last kisses.” In context, Lewis is making the point that deep friendship expressed through gestures of affection is no sure indication of homosexuality.
But the passage is also noteworthy for our purposes since it indicates the depth of the bond of affection often created among soldiers. Thus, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s reference to soldiers fighting in line is not only suggestive of unity, discipline and single-mindedness, but also points to the bonds of affection that are created during battles or in their aftermath, here symbolising active service to the Faith. His phrase “How good it is…” includes the joy of camaraderie, the deep and enduring bonds of love and friendship that are created among believers engaged in purposeful activity. William James pointed out in the same essay referred to above that “…war has been the only force that can discipline a whole community….” Order and discipline may be required for war but they are no less required for the practice of spirituality and community life.
The sacrifice of life is the cost of winning the battle. Since ancient times, the duty of the solider was not just to slay but to be slain. His first duty was to sacrifice himself. Thus warfare converges with religion on one central theme: the sacrifice of self. Further, the soldier must be steadfast, that spiritual attribute so highly praised in Bahá’í scripture. If he is wounded, and if he is able, he must return to the field of battle once recovered. This return of the veteran to the field speaks of the heroism of the valorous heart, the heart that will put life and limb on the line again and again.
The Sense of Mission
Bahá’u’lláh’s mission is the divine right to possess hearts: “By the righteousness of God! It is not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms. Our mission is to seize and possess the hearts of men.” By extension, the Bahá’í Faith is a religion with a mission. But it must also be said that this word “mission” has been disassociated from its pejorative connotations of religious fundamentalism, aggressive proselytization and mindless obedience. The Bahá’í mission accomplishes objectives set by a process of consultation. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in The Tablets of the Divine Plan (1916-1917), as quoted by Shoghi Effendi in The Advent of Divine Justice (1938), wrote: “Be not concerned with the smallness of your numbers, neither be oppressed by the multitude of an unbelieving world…Exert yourselves; your mission is unspeakably glorious.”
This mission is systematic and proceeds according to a series of plans that have both qualitative and quantitative objectives or goals. In psychological terms, goal-setting can be a highly effective technique since it has the advantage of motivating participants and thereby their constructive energies. In order to expand and consolidate the New World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, and beginning in the immediate post First World War period, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi launched systematic plans or teaching campaigns which included “pioneering,” that is, venturing abroad into other regions or lands. The Guardian repeatedly urged the pioneer, once landed, not to “leave his post.” This military expression appeals most strongly to a sense of duty or loyalty becoming the soldier.
Shoghi Effendi also used the term “watchword,“ a pass word for soldiers which functioned as a sign of mutual recognition. The watchword becomes a code word for unity for by it soldiers recognize themselves as being in solidarity. The Guardian freely used such words and expressions as ‘missionaries,‘ ‘converts,‘ ‘foreign mission fields,‘ in order to emphasize the goal-oriented nature of the Bahá’í teaching enterprise and to spur his readers into action. While these words and phrases are not the literal equivalents of their Christian counterparts, they still suggest a zeal or fervour in the execution of the task at hand.
Summary and Conclusion
Shoghi Effendi incorporated the military metaphor into his epistolary which he adopted from the Bahá’í sacred writings. The military metaphor was intended to strengthen faith and to move the believers to action and served a vision of heroism/nobility which he equated with exemplary service. With the Báb, militaristic language was an intrinsic part of His theological vision, notably of the Godhead, but it also served the functional purpose of ensuring the very survival of His Faith. In the Abrahamic faiths, militaristic language had its origins in the Hebrew Bible. Bahá’u’lláh identified Himself with the biblical “Lord of Hosts” but moralised the meaning of hosts to refer to moral integrity and authority on the part of believers. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in a spiritualised turn of phrase, that has become part of Bahá’í scripture and institutional rhetoric, coined the phrase “the army of light,” which demilitarizes the older rhetoric, and, in a new equation of power, substitutes military might with the luminosity of knowledge, spirit and action.
The existential meaning of the military metaphor has a practical counterpart in spiritual life. The believer willingly “fights” or struggles to change the inward condition of the spiritual self and the outward conditions of society. This willingness to fight or to struggle expresses spiritual commitment, a quality of striving, of accepting conflict and attempting to resolve it, of wrestling with a “spirituality of imperfection,” of battling with self, which according to the Bhadavad Gita and the Qur’án, is the only battle worth winning and, according to a hadith of Muhammad, makes the “greater Jihád.“ This last reflection brings out one of those apparent paradoxes that one sometimes encounters in spiritual life. Bahá’í scripture counsels a sense of contentment and thankfulness with one’s lot in life and calls upon the believer to be resigned to reversals and setbacks. Yet these same writings nowhere ask the believer to be apathetic or complacent in the face of the crisis-filled atmosphere, the inhumane conditions and human savagery that have devastated the peace and security of the individual and the world. These the believer must fight by all means sane and peaceful.
 ‘Abdu’l Bahá, Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l Bahá, p. 256.
 In Dimensions in Spirituality: Reflections on Spiritual Life and Transformation in Light of the Bahá’í Faith (Oxford: George Ronald, 1994), pp. 207-208 the following categories or symbolic modes of expression are identified: (1) Pastoral (2) Hierarchies of the Natural Kingdoms (3) Elemental (4) Celestial (5) Courtly (6) Transpersonal Language (7) Kinship and Association (8) Hearth and Home (9) Town or Country Life (10) Military.
 Illuminata: Thoughts, Prayers, Rites of Passage (New York: Random House, 1994), p. 188.
 For brevity’s sake these examples are listed without reference to source.
 Kitáb-i-Aqdas, & 5.
 Bloom makes this comment on his essay “St. Paul” in Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds (2002), p. 133.
 Aristotle’s reference to catharsis or purgation occurs in VI “The Definition of Tragedy”: “it relies in its various elements not on narrative but on acting; through pity and fear it achieves the purgation (catharsis)of such emotions” [1449b]. Aristotle: On Poetry and Style, trans. with an introduction by G.M. A. Grube (Indianapolis and New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1958), p.12
 Quoted by Clifford Leech in Tragedy: The Critical Idiom (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd, 1969), p. 47. From Butcher’s Aristotle’s Theory of Poetry and Fine Arts, pp. 248-9. No other publication data are given by Leech.
 “Catharsis” in Encyclopaedia Britannica (1959).
 Corrie Mott, letter to Bahá’í Canada, vol.7, no. 2, July/August, 1994. I have blocked the paragraph structure for readability’s sake.
 Kitáb-i-Iqán, p. 49.
 Gleanings, p. 272.
 Selections From the Writings of the Báb, compiled by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice and translated by Habib Taherzadeh with the assistance of a committee at the Bahá’í World Centre (Haifa: The Universal House of Justice, 1976), p. 164.
 God Passes By, p. 36.
 In The Promulgation of Universal Peace ‘Abdu’l Bahá said: “In order to ensure the progress of mankind and to establish these principles Bahá’u’lláh suffered every ordeal and difficulty. The Báb became a martyr, and over twenty thousand men and women sacrificed their lives for their faith.” p. 125.  In his “Retrospect and Prospect” in God Passes By (1944), Shoghi Effendi, referring to the remarkable transformation of the Bahá’ í Faith from an obscure Muhammadan sect into a world religion, wrote that it was “…consecrated by the sacrifice of no less than twenty thousand martyrs….” p. 402.
 Shoghi Effendi tells us that on this particular charge, Mullá Hussayn, led by Quddús and two hundred and two Bábís and shouting “Yá Sáhibu’z-Zamán,” penetrated as far as the private apartments of the Prince who escaped from a back window into the moat and ran away bare-footed. God Passes By, p. 40.
 Kitáb-i-Iqán, p. 224.
 Gleanings, p. 182.
 Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 21.
 In the Súriy-i-Haykal (Súrih of the Temple), in the tablet to Násiri’d-dín Sháh, Bahá’u’lláh wrote: “Sedition hath never been pleasing unto God, nor were the acts committed in the past by certain foolish ones acceptable in His sight. Know ye that to be killed in the path of His good pleasure is better for you than to kill.” This injunction is sometimes shortened to “It is better to be killed than to kill.” The Summons of the Lord of Hosts: Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh (Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 2002), p. 110.
 Shoghi Effendi has interpreted this title as belonging to Bahá’u’lláh: “To Israel He was neither more nor less than the incarnation of the “Everlasting Father,” the “Lord of Hosts” come down “with ten thousands of saints…”” God Passes By, p. 94
 Angels appear in the writings of both pre-exilic and post-exilic Judaism as divine messengers of Yahweh, but they spring into much greater numbers in post-exilic Judaism in the writings of Ezekiel and Zachariah, culminating in the hierarchy of angels depicted in the book of Daniel and the apocryphal Books of Enoch which form part of the Pseudepigrapha. In addition to the Books of Enoch, these books are the Books of Baruch, the Assumption of Moses and the Psalms of Solomon. Their designation Pseudepigrapha indicates that the books were written under pseudonyms in order to give them enhanced authority and credibility. It is likely that Jewish angelology was strongly influenced by contact with the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism during the Exile
 Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 126.
 Paris Talks: Addresses given by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Paris in 1911-1912 (27 Rutland Gate, London: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1969), pp. 102-103.
 The expression “world mission” is Shoghi Effendi’s in God Passes By, pp. 305, 406.
 Tablets of the Divine Plan, revealed by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to the North American Bahá’ís during 1916 and 1917 (Wilmette: Illinois, Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1959 and 1971), p. 17.
 Words attributed to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Star of the West, vol. 13, no. 5, August, 1922.
 Rúhíyyih Khánum states in The Priceless Pearl that this passage was contained in the “last Ridván Message to the Bahá’í World” (p. 200) but Shoghi Effendi penned his last Ridván Message (April, 1957) in the final year of his life (1957). See Messages to the Bahá’í World, pp. 102-120.
 The expression “the knight of faith” is used throughout Kierkegaard’s Problem II of “Fear and Trembling” in Fear and Trembling and the Sickness Unto Death. The “…distress and dread in the paradox of faith…” faced by Abraham is discussed on pp. 81-91. Translated with Introductions and Notes by Walter Lowrie (Princeton New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1941 and 1970).
 Messages to the Bahá’í World, p. 102.
 The Priceless Pearl, p. 37.
 Shoghi Effendi in Oxford, p. 129.
 Dr. Habíb Mo’ayyid, “…assigned by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to look after Shoghi Effendi..” stated in an interview with Khadem in 1970 that the Guardian was not happy in this school. p. 2.
 . Shoghi Effendi in Oxford, p. 129.
 Messages to the Bahá’í World, p. 44.
 “Knighthood and Chivalry” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1959).
 In his comparison of the Bahá’í Administrative Order with other forms of administration, Shoghi Effendi mentions four types of government, three of them secular (democracy, autocracy and aristocracy) and one divine (theocracy): “It incorporates within its structure certain elements which are to be found in each of the three recognized forms of secular government, is devoid of the defects which each of them inherently possesses, and blends the salutary truths which each undoubtedly contains without vitiating in any way the integrity of the Divine verities on which it is essentially founded.” God Passes By, p. 326.
 The Kitáb i Aqdas, p. 19.
 The other two are “revelation” which produced “kerygma” and “metaphor” which produced poetic or literary writing.
 The Great Code, p. 25.
 “Methodological Remarks on the Study of Religious Symbolism” in The History of Religions. Essays in Methodology, Mircea Eliade and Joseph M. Kitawaga, eds. (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1959).
 ibid, p. 102.
 From Memories and Studies (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1911), Chapter XI, pp. 286-295.
 Quoted in Ross Earle Hoople, Preface to Philosophy. A Book of Readings (New York: The MacMillan Co., 1947), p. 291.
 ibid, p. 292.
 ibid, p. 294.
 Toynbee wrote: “At the same time, when I find myself in Chicago and when, travelling northwards out of the city, I pass the Bahai temple there, I feel that in some sense this beautiful building may be a portent of the future.” Christianity Among the Religions of the World (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1957), p.104.
 From D.C. Somervell’s two volume abridgement. The quotation above is from volume two which abridges volumes 7-10 of Toynbee. (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1957), p. 66.
 Selections From the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 76.
 Max Weber, On Charisma and Institution Building, selected papers, edited and with an Introduction by S.N. Eisenstadt (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1968 and 1977), p. 31.
 Lewis paraphrasing Tacitus in The Four Loves (Glasgow: Collins Fount Paperbacks, 1960 and 1985), p. 60.
 “Kisses, tears and embraces are not in themselves evidence of homosexuality.” p. 59.
 “The Moral Equivalent of War” quoted in Preface to Philosophy,p. 293.
 Kitáb-i-Aqdas, ¶ 83, p. 49.
 The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 62.
 “No pioneer should leave his post unless there is some very urgent reason and then only after consultation with the appropriate committee or National Assembly. If it is found someone must leave their post because of very urgent matters, then the National Assembly should arrange to replace the pioneer before the pioneer leaves. The Guardian urges that you pay the very closest attention possible to this important matter, so that the development of the Faith in these virgin areas may move along in an orderly manner, and produce great results.” Shoghi Effendi through his secretary, The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, Messages to Canada, 1965, p. 43.
 See The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 42, 157, Messages to America, p. 28, The Advent of Divine Justice, p. 36.
 Quoted in The Priceless Pearl, p. 198.
 From the title of the book of the same name. The Spirituality of Imperfection: Modern Wisdom From Classic Stories” (1992), in realistic fashion, seeks to relate “…the continuing story of a spirituality that speaks to both the inevitability of pain and the possibility of healing within the pain….The spirituality of imperfection speaks to those who seek meaning in the absurd, peace within the chaos, light within the darkness, joy within the suffering… without denying the reality and even the necessity of absurdity, chaos, darkness and suffering.” Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham (New York and London: Bantam Books, 1992), pp. 2-3.
 Seyyed Hossein Nasr in his chapter on “The Spiritual Significance of Jihád” quotes this hadith of the Prophet following one of the battles: “You have returned from the lesser jihád to the greater jihád.” Nasr writes: “Inner jihád or warfare, seen spiritually and esoterically, can be considered therefore as at once the key to the understanding of the whole spiritual process and the path to the realization of the One that lies at the heart of the total Islamic message.” Traditional Islam in the Modern World (London and New York: Keegan Paul Inc., 1987), pp. 27 and 33.