Ethics of Monotheism

The Great Being and His Son on the Ethics of Monotheism

By John Taylor; 2006 August 08


Let us continue with our Oneness of God essay series which began back in January. The next Baha'i principle that we are slated to cover is that of ethics and moral rectitude. Here is the "Great Being" statement from the Lawh-i-Maqsud:

"And likewise He saith: The heaven of true understanding shineth resplendent with the light of two luminaries: tolerance and righteousness." (Tablets, 169-170)

What is enlightenment? Here is the answer, straight from the source of our being. There is a crucial difference between sitting passively in a spotlight and going out to actively shine your own lamp into the darkness. The former is passively illuminated but may or may not be enlightened, good, or right. The latter is a true moral agent who understands that good is light, that right is light. Such a moral agent is enlightened by understanding what light is and by balancing a moral equation not unlike Einstein's E=MC2. Relativity cannot exist without absolutes; the great moral problem is how to distinguish what is absolute from what is relative, what is principle and what is dispensable. An enlightened moral agent discerns how light mediates the two absolutes mentioned above by the Great Being, the two luminaries of tolerance and righteousness.

This boils down to balance as a moral imperative. That is, one must be tolerant of the flaws of others without encouraging license by being lax, by compromising principle or suffering libertines lightly. The upright have integrity without negating goodwill by hypocrisy or carrying any truth away to fanatic extremes. Severity, discipline and high standards and expectations are appropriate, indeed necessary for the objective, disinterested self-judgment that plows up personal improvement. However in relation to others the correct attitude centers around harvesting goodwill, forgiveness and loving-kindness, again so as to uplift without encouraging laxity or injustice.

"For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." (Hos 6:6)

All this is necessary to "full spectrum" enlightenment because doing right is never confined to our own thought and action but takes in and gives out reverberations beyond what we see and know in this limited plane (in this sense we are talking weird properties of quantum mechanics as well as relativity theory). Morality is not just actions but "meta-actions," so to speak, it involves the precedents we set, what we model to others, especially our juniors. To do right is to teach right and to teach well. Effective teachers propound moral truth without alienating learners by opening themselves to the accusation of being do-gooders, Puritans, prudes or prigs.

Along with our "Great Being" statements from Maqsud's tablet, we have also been looking at selected "O Son of Being!" verses from the Hidden Words. The one chosen to illustrate the ethics of "One God-edness" (the Arabic language says it in one word, Tawhid) is the 38th Arabic Hidden Word,

"O Son of Being! Walk in My statutes for love of Me and deny thyself that which thou desirest if thou seekest My pleasure."

Here our Son of Being statement nicely supplements what the Great Being says by re-framing it all in terms of love. The son of being is in motion, and accepts change out of love. Love, especially love of God, has a way of compressing and simplifying ethical issues. Oceans of the kind of love generated by either human extreme, the altruist or lover of society on one side and the egotist or lover of self on the other, cannot match a drop of the mystic potion of the love of God, for God generated the being of each in sacrificing to the other.

Individual and society are pale reflections of true Being, which is only in Him. He is One, and cannot be split apart by the contradictory needs of personal rights and the need to submit to social needs. His Oneness holds both together, but only if and when the individual is willing to sacrifice out of love for Him personally, and only if society is willing for the same reasons to respect the rights of individuals and serve their interests. The love of God is the highest expression of both in motion.

Here we see two crucial factors that most moral theorists miss. First, society is constantly regenerating. We are not great beings, or even lesser beings, we are sons of being. One generation dies out, another is being born and a third is always taking over from the current one in power. This constant turnover changes the ground rules for ethics. Similarly, his sudden awareness that time and space are part of the same fabric changed Einstein's understanding of gravity, as well as light, matter and relativity. Hence we cannot tolerate moral gradations even when a particular situation seems to accept some wiggle room. Many compromises and shady deals that might otherwise pass muster are ruled out, because they serve as a poor example to the younger replacements coming up. It is easy and common for one ill act to set up a slow whirlpool that rapidly turns into a deadly maelstrom.

This lesson can be learned by studying the roots of Enron's decline into bankruptcy. America's seventh largest company got involved early on in little regulatory changes, was caught up in hubris and brute aggressiveness. This grew into a spirit of ethical compromise and created an entire culture of mundane dishonesty. Gamblers who cheated but made money were not fired but rewarded. Once this came to be understood as the norm, then a rogue CFO, a gambler pretending to be a conservative, figured out how to accelerate the process by wrapping the banks around his little finger. The banks, legally, were as culpable as Enron but they got away with a mere rap on the fingers while Enron was wiped out.

Though Enron's descent into the maelstrom was swift and spectacular, we all are operating under the same set of moral rules, and our deadline is just close but just as dim, unfocused and veiled as well. Senescence decrees that we all will die soon, and if not sooner then not much later either. As the Hidden Word declares, if we die without gaining God's good pleasure by denying ourselves what we desire that God does not, then we will have failed to attain to love or morality.

"For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." (Ps 30:5)

If you want to know how much time you have left in which to give it up for the Source of your being, go take a look at the Death Clock <www.deathclock.com>. You feed into it certain details about yourself, it chews up the demographics and statistics involved and spits out the most likely date on which you will die. It will even give you a running countdown if you please, the number of minutes or even seconds you have left. Put a death clock running display onto your dashboard and take a quick look down at it just before you take yourself into account for today. Then ask yourself, what in this time left to me can I deny myself to gain joy in the morning?


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