The Nineteenth Reflection: Three False Gods Nader Saiedi
Shoghi Effendi writes:
God Himself has indeed been dethroned from the hearts of men, and an idolatrous world passionately and clamorously hails and worships the false gods which its own idle fancies have fatuously created, and its misguided hands so impiously exalted. The chief idols in the desecrated temple of mankind are none other than the triple gods of Nationalism, Racialism and Communism. (The Promised Day is Come) In this last reflection we conclude our nineteen reflections with a discussion of one of the statements of Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith. Shoghi Effendi is writing this statement in 1941, when humanity has just passed the world war I, and is beginning the second world war. The first world war transformed the world. The communist revolution benefited from the chaos of the world war, and Bolshevik revolution brought about the Soviet Union. While the war was supposedly a competition for world hegemony between England and the emerging power Germany, a new super power silently came to existence, namely the USA. The nationalistic and humiliating peace treaty, contributed to the rise of an extreme nationalistic tendency in Germany which created Nazi Germany. Modernity which was supposed to be the age of rationalism, enlightenment, inalienable rights of individuals, and peace brought about militarism, genocide, mass enslavement, and violation of all human rights. In this new atheistic temples, Shoghi Effendi writes, “ Their high priests are the politicians and the worldly-wise, the so-called sages of the age; their sacrifice, the flesh and blood of the slaughtered multitudes; their incantations outworn shibboleths and insidious and irreverent formulas; their incense, the smoke of anguish that ascends from the lacerated hearts of the bereaved, the maimed, and the homeless .” 1. Deification of State Shoghi Effendi’s book begins with a discussion of the decline of the power of the clerics, both Islamic and Christians. He discusses how the clerical culture has itself been opposed to the truth of all religions, and how clerical fanaticism has replaced the mystical and vibrant spirit of religions with a dead and intolerant construction which only bears the name of their corresponding religion. The main feature of the clerical worldview is its refusal to recognize the living and progressive nature of divine revelation. Consequently, they could not recognize the new message of God, brought by Baha’u’llah, which called for the oneness of human kind and universal peace. This dethronement of God from the heart of the people was then accentuated by the emergence of new idols and false Gods which has replaced the worship of God with the worship of three idols of nationalism, racialism and communism. The solution to the problems of the world is rejection of these triple idols, and embracing the culture of the oneness of humankind.
Shoghi Effendi notes that different countries represent different degrees of approximation to the worship of these three false gods. But in their extreme forms all these triple gods share some common characteristics. One of these commonalities is what Shoghi Effendi calls “the deification of state”. Such characterization indicates that various forms of irreligion are themselves substitute forms of religion. In 19 th century, Nietzsche noted that various forms of secular ideologies are in fact new forms of religion, namely new forms of absolutism. Through his nihilism, he tried to destroy these other forms of absolute, particularly that of “reason.” It is noteworthy that Shoghi Effendi describes Bolshevism and its systematic battle against religion and religious freedom as “religious irreligion”. This deification of state can also be witnessed in the most extreme forms of nationalism and racialism, namely the fascist philosophy of Nazi Germany. In the case of both Bolshevik communism and Nazi Germany, all three false gods turn into a logic of deification of state. Deification of state is usually characterized by totalitarianism, elimination of individual liberty, militarism, and imperialism. Like the God of imperialistic and intolerant holy war, constructed by the clerics, the new gods become the source of all values and truth. Consequently, state must be expanded and it should be in charge of the detailed aspects of individual lives. Such totalitarian view is based upon a philosophical aversion to individual human beings, defining them as children who are irrational and incapable of making decisions for themselves. Deified state is almost always a militarist state which wants to impose its will upon other states and peoples. Militant nationalist and racist ideologies contribute to this deification, when state coercion is seen as a necessary tool for realization of racist intolerance and what Shoghi Effendi calls “the excessive, the blind, the intolerant, and militant nationalism.” It is noteworthy that Shoghi Effendi defines communism as an extreme form of deification of state, as well as an example of “the dominance of one privileged class over all others”. Normally one assumes that communism is a rejection of state and an affirmation of social justice and equality. Yet, the fact is that the reality of communism has not been the elimination or withering away of state predicted by Marx. Instead, elimination of private property and the ideal of forced equality of economic and social outcomes, is only possible when all forms of individual freedom are negated in society. That is, in turn, possible only under a totalitarian state which controls all aspects of the life of the people so that equality of outcomes can be forced and maintained. But at the same time, such elimination of individual freedom, and the overwhelming control and dominance of the deified state, usually mean the division of society to ordinary individuals vs. the people who belong to state bureaucracy. Control of state (as opposed to private property), in other words, becomes the new basis of class privilege through corruption, coercion, and violent control. 2. False Gods as Materialism and Prejudice Shoghi Effendi sees all three false gods as “monstrous offspring” of a materialist philosophy, or what he calls “irreligion”. This is opposed to spiritualization of life that is the aim of the Baha’i Faith. Spiritualization of life means the emergence of a culture in which humans see themselves and all reality as spiritual beings, endowed with rights and nobility. Baha’u’llah declared that all human beings are reflections of divine attributes. Spirit is defined by both individual independence as well as unity with others. Consequently, humans must be emancipated from all
kinds of prejudice, and see all humans as one sacred family. The three false gods are defined precisely by a materialistic logic which sees the world as the realm of the beasts governed by the principle of struggle for existence. Wars, colonialism, oppression of others, and militarism become the necessary outcomes of such idols. Racism wants to exploit other humans for the interests of an imaginary superior race, whether is it against the blacks, Jews or other groups. Militant nationalism sees itself superior to other nations and finds enslavement and plundering of other nations a heroic virtue. The communist state sees itself as the embodiment of an exclusive truth, a truth that is exemplified in the communist party, which must obliterate resistance of the counterrevolutionaries, bourgeoisie, capitalist states, and enemies of the people. What is common to all these idols is that they reduce the identity of humans to particularistic biological or social characteristics. Such reduction creates a moral double standard and various forms of prejudice. The consequence of these prejudices are the dominance of war, militarism, exploitation, coercion and genocide in human societies. World war II was a frightening realization of the dominance of these three false gods. Opposed to these particularistic philosophies which separate people from each other, Shoghi Effendi presents the philosophy and the message of the true God, the God of all prophets of the past, the God of the new revelation of Baha’u’llah, in these words: Contrasting with, and irreconcilably opposed to, these war-engendering, world-convulsing doctrines are the healing, the saving, the pregnant truths proclaimed by Bahá’u’lláh, the Divine Organizer and Savior of the whole human race—truths which should be regarded as the animating force and the hallmark of His Revelation: “The world is but one country, and mankind its citizens.” “Let not a man glory in that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind.” And again: “Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch.” “Bend your minds and wills to the education of the peoples and kindreds of the earth, that haply … all mankind may become the upholders of one order, and the inhabitants of one city.… Ye dwell in one world, and have been created through the operation of one Will.” “Beware lest the desires of the flesh and of a corrupt inclination provoke divisions among you. Be ye as the fingers of one hand, the members of one body.” And yet again: “All the saplings of the world have appeared from one Tree, and all the drops from one Ocean, and all beings owe their existence to one Being.” And furthermore: “That one indeed is a man who today dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race.”