The Law of Love Enshrined: Selected Essays
Authors: John Hatcher and William Hatcher
Publisher: George Ronald, Oxford, 1996, 285 pages
Reviewer: Susan Stiles Maneck
The title of this collection of essays by John and William Hatcher suggests that this book is about love, especially as expressed by Bahá'u'lláh in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. In fact, if there is a common theme to these essays it is that they all seem to revolve around the epistemological question: how do we "know," spiritually speaking? Nearly all of these articles have been published elsewhere, and in the case of some of William Hatcher's essays they have appeared in slightly revised forms numerous times. The difference in approach taken by the two brothers offers an interesting contrast. While William Hatcher utilizes the rational tools of a logician to establish some of the central doctrines of faith, John Hatcher uses the more holistic approach of one trained in the humanities. Given these two very different approaches, I will first examine the essays by William Hatcher and then those by John Hatcher.
William Hatcher begins his first essay entitled, "Prologue on Proving God," by contrasting the "religious believers'" refusal to consider the relevance of logical and scientific methods to understanding God to "scientistic materialism's" rejection of all evidence for God's existence. Both sides, he suggests, assume that belief in God can only be based on faith alone which Hatcher defines as "emotional conviction" (footnote 2). Both the materialistic and the religious approach are contrasted with what Hatcher considers the "Bahá'í approach," which calls upon us to utilize rational proofs to establish the existence of God. In order to properly apply reason to the search for God, one must "purify one's heart" so that such proofs can "prevail over strongly-held emotions" (footnote 3). It is by this method, he argues, that we can best prepare for the direct perception and experience of God.
In the next two essays, entitled, "Causality, Composition, and the Origin of Existence" and "A Scientific Proof for the Existence of God," William Hatcher outlines specific proofs for the existence of God, providing a "hierarchy of proofs" based first on existence itself which necessitates Aristotle's famous "uncaused cause" and superimposing Avicenna's proofs for the universality and uniqueness of such a cause. After this, Hatcher makes the argument from design drawing specifically on 'Abdu'l-Bahá's discussion of evolution. Hatcher claims only to offer a logical definition of God in the sense of distinguishing God from all other entities rather than a comprehensive one which he admits is beyond human capacity to provide. Finally, Hatcher argues, since God is the creator of man, and humanity potentially possesses intelligence, will and feelings in unlimited degrees, God must Himself be all-knowing, all-loving and all-powerful.
This reviewer lacks the training in formal logic, and therefore cannot offer an in-depth critique of the validity of William Hatcher's arguments about proofs, but I would like to comment on the assumptions made in relation to the manner in which religious truth can be established. In regard to the first essay, this writer could not help but wonder what "religious believers" Hatcher had in mind when he described them as "refusing to admit the relevance of logical and scientific methods to an understanding of God"? In fact scientific creationists and other evangelical Christians, as well as many Muslims, commonly utilize "logical proofs" in much the same manner as Hatcher (excluding 'Abdu'l-Bahá's argument from evolution, of course). Those of more liberal religious persuasions are often the ones who make a distinction between the kinds of knowledge accessible through science and those which can be grasped by revelation alone. They often insist that one kind of knowledge describes the "what" of creation. The other describes the "why and wherefore."(10) Nor would these people describe their faith as a matter of "emotional conviction" but would more likely consider it as either the "courage to act" (as Hatcher himself does in a later essay [footnote 223]) or the "direct perception and experience of God" (footnote 6) which Hatcher sees as only following rational arguments.
I also found unpersuasive Hatcher's understanding of "purity of heart" as primarily detachment from subjective feelings. Certainly Bahá'u'lláh does speak of cleansing the heart of both "love and hatred" but, in the same passage, he also urges the seeker to purify the heart of all "acquired knowledge."(11) Would this not include the knowledge of formal logic as well? Might the purified heart discover, in Pascal's words, that "the heart has reasons which reason knows not of"? Or as an hadith cited by Bahá'u'lláh states, "Knowledge is a light which God casteth in the heart of whomsoever He willeth."(12) While the Bahá'í writings certainly do speak of "proofs and evidences" for establishing the validity of the Bahá'í revelation, one of the strongest arguments offered is the suffering endured by both founders and their followers. One can't help but wonder what a formal logician would make of such a "proof!"
The fourth essay by William Hatcher is entitled "The Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Causality Principle in the World of Being." Herein he argues that Bahá'u'lláh regards the religious laws in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas designed to bring about world unity not as "social conventions nor as divinely imposed rules of behaviour" but as "exact expressions of fundamental objective relationships inherent in the very structure of reality" (footnote 113) and are therefore scientific in nature. In defence, Hatcher examines issues related to material and spiritual reality in light of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's talks given in the west. Material reality is said to be composite and therefore transitory and dynamic, but governed by natural laws which are an expression of the will of God. Humanity has been given the capacity to understand these laws in order to determine, control and predict events in the natural world. Spiritual reality consists of entities which exist as undivided wholes such as souls rather than composites. While the capacities of souls can be developed (which is the goal of our existence), they cannot be diminished or increased. Knowledge of the spiritual world is not as easily accessible as the material world since it is not directly observable through the use of our senses. This necessitates revelation, which for Hatcher provides a shortcut to understanding the laws and principles governing spiritual reality. Hatcher insists, however, that knowledge gained from this source is not intrinsically different from knowledge derived from scientific method, for both truths are objective and subject to verification by experimentation and application. It is doubtful this thesis could be maintained were Hatcher aware that different terminology is used in the writings to differentiate material knowledge (usually 'ilm or shinas) from spiritual knowledge (normally irfan). Unfortunately, Hatcher relies heavily on translations of oral talks for which the original Persian is unavailable and we cannot therefore be certain of the nuances that might have been present.
After providing this framework, William Hatcher acquaints us with the chief features of the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, arguing for their consummate rationality. Within this context, Hatcher discusses the features of the Bahá'í covenant and administrative order as well as laws concerning prayer, fasting, and marriage laws. Here, on occasion, some mistakes are made. For instance, Hatcher says "Bahá'u'lláh states that sons and daughters must be educated equally . . . but that whenever choices must be made in the education of children, preference should be given to daughters..." (footnote 144). This latter stipulation comes from 'Abdu'l-Bahá, and not from anything in Bahá'u'lláh's Kitáb-i-Aqdas.
In discussing the laws of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, emphasis is placed on those laws which can easily be seen as rational (although the issue of women's exclusion from the House of Justice, which is based on the diction used by Bahá'u'lláh within the text is addressed). One has to wonder if Hatcher truly believes that restrictions regarding say, the length of men's hair is based on "the very law of causality" (footnote 157) and if the fact Bahá'ís are told to fast nineteen days rather than thirty or ten can really be "inherent in the very structure of reality." The suggestive power of Bahá'u'lláh's phrase, "think not that We have revealed unto thee a mere code of laws. Nay, rather, We have unsealed the choice Wine with the fingers of might and power" somehow loses its intoxicating effect when seen in terms of Hatcher's conception of an "exact expression of fundamental objective relationships."
The biggest problem with this essay is that it never establishes its thesis that "the worldview of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas is fundamentally scientific" (footnote 114) except in the most general sense of arguing that Bahá'í laws are basically good ones. Indeed, the texts which are used to establish a "scientific worldview" are all drawn from general talks by 'Abdu'l-Bahá rather than anything Bahá'u'lláh had to say about the Most Holy Book itself. Far from viewing his laws as subject to experimentation (and by implication subject to being discarded if they prove not to work) as Hatcher suggests, Bahá'u'lláh insists, "Weigh not the Book of God with such standards and sciences as are current amongst you, for the Book itself is the unerring balance established among men."(13) Ultimately we are called upon to obey His laws "for love of My beauty"(14) rather than for their utility, be it material or spiritual.
William Hatcher's last essay is entitled "The Concept of Spirituality." Hatcher defines spirituality as the development of the capacities of the soul, which he defines as knowledge, love and will. The goal of developing our knowing capacity is to attain the truth-- the knowledge of God which enables self-knowledge. Hatcher sees the loving capacity as providing the energy needed to attach ourselves to God while the development of the capacity of willpower results in service. Hatcher holds that the development of spiritual capacities occurs as a result of the tension between the physical and spiritual needs of an individual. Physical needs must be disciplined in order to contribute to spiritual progress. Furthermore, since people have direct access only to material reality and only indirect access to spiritual reality, acceptance of the Manifestation of God is necessary to inform us of spiritual matters. I found this particular essay to be the most intriguing of those by William Hatcher. His discussion of this self-knowledge, in the context of recognizing our dependency on God, provides some profound insights into the most basic foundation of spirituality. Somewhat detracting from this otherwise excellent discussion is Hatcher's repeated habit of introducing a quotation with words like "Bahá'u'lláh affirms" or "Bahá'u'lláh associates" only to find that the quotation in question is actually from 'Abdu'l-Bahá or Shoghi Effendi.
Aside from the preface, four essays in this collection are by John Hatcher. The first is entitled "The Doctrine of the 'Most Great Infallibility' in Relation to the 'Station of Distinction'." In it, John Hatcher argues, on the basis of passages from the Kitáb-i-Íqán, the dual nature of the Manifestation of God. The first is the station in which the Manifestation represents divinity by expressing all of the names and attributes of God, and in which all Manifestations are essentially the same. The other is the station of distinction wherein their differences and limitations can be seen. Hatcher's thesis is that, since infallibility is an essential attribute of the Prophet's soul, the station of distinction does not refer to the human condition of the Manifestation but rather to the limitations of the particular historical circumstances of the time in which the Manifestation appears. As in Christian docetism(15) the "human persona" of the Manifestation only retains "the veil of a human persona" (98-99).
In discussing the "station of distinction" Hatcher argues that we should attempt to understand the historical circumstances surrounding the Manifestations only in order to examine how their message has been shaped to fit the condition of society at that time and to recognize the dynamic process of progressive revelation. What Hatcher appears to disallow is any suggestion that these conditions might have shaped the thinking of the Manifestations themselves. Using the quotation written by 'Abdu'l-Bahá in defence of features of Bahá'u'lláh's Book of the Covenant, "Either Bahá'u'lláh was wise, omniscient and aware of what would ensue, or was ignorant or in error" (96), Hatcher understands that no human agency could have been involved in the shaping of revelation whatsoever. Therefore any historian who might attempt to trace influences upon the Manifestation can only do so by ignoring the Prophet's explicit claims. Such an approach, he insists, is unscholarly.
In the course of his arguments regarding the proper "Bahá'í" approach to history, Hatcher provides a number of quotations from Shoghi Effendi regarding the necessity for Bahá'ís to acquire a thorough knowledge of Islam. Hatcher follows this discussion with the following statement: "At least one important implication in these exhortations of the Guardian is that the Bahá'í scholar is privy to the divine logic and unforseen forces shaping history and is further privileged to know how these forces work" (footnote 4). I found this statement surprising, for I did not see it in the passages he cited. At most, Shoghi Effendi appeared to be saying that a Bahá'í could study Islam free from the prejudices of what is today called "Orientalism," rather than because Bahá'ís have a clearer understanding of divine will.
The most fundamental question that needs to be raised in connection with John Hatcher's "docetic" understanding of Bahá'u'lláh is, does it adequately account for what we know about him historically speaking? Furthermore does it enable us to appreciate his life more fully? I would argue that there are problems on both counts. How, for instance, does one understand Bahá'u'lláh's statement that he has received conflicting reports about his sister and is unclear as to what she is saying or doing,(16) in light of Hatcher's categoric understanding of 'Abdu'l-Bahá's statement that, "Either Bahá'u'lláh was wise, omniscient and aware. . . or was ignorant and in error." Conceiving of the Manifestation as at once divine and fully human could well account for this discrepancy. But Hatcher's docetism does not. At one point in order to prove the nature of Bahá'u'lláh's infallibility Hatcher makes this statement: "Unlike human artists who must labour over their work, often taking a manuscript through many drafts and revisions, Bahá'u'lláh made no revisions and dictated without hesitation or pause" (footnote 77). While it is true that Bahá'u'lláh revealed verses with incredible rapidity and without hesitation or pause, it is simply not the case that he never revised them. Many of Bahá'u'lláh's manuscripts were subsequently revised by him, often years later.(17)
Finally, does denying Bahá'u'lláh's humanity help us gain a full appreciation for his life, sacrifices and accomplishments? If his humanity was only a "veil," in what sense can we fully appropriate such verses as this in the Tablet of Amad: "Forget not My bounties while I am absent. Remember My days during thy days, and My distress and banishment in this remote prison"? If Bahá'u'lláh did not have a fully human nature what could his suffering and distress possibly mean to us and how could recalling it help us to endure our own?
John Hatcher's next essay, "Unsealing the Choice Wine at the Family Reunion," provides a most suggestive discussion of the metaphorical use of the imagery of "wine" in the Bahá'í writings, especially in the Kitáb-i-Íqán and in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. He associates this "wine" with Qur'anic references to the reward of paradise given to the believers following the Resurrection, "Their thirst will be slaked with Pure Wine Sealed: The Seal thereof will be Musk." The Kitáb-i-Aqdas in enunciating the twin duties of "recognition of Him who is the Dayspring of His Revelation" and the observance of "every ordinance of Him Who is the Desire of the world" brings together all the dualities of human existence. For Hatcher these include, our knowing and loving capacities, our physical and spiritual realities, and the sacred and secular aspects of human society.
John Hatcher's third essay is entitled "Some Thoughts on Gender Distinction in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas: The Bahá'í Principle of Complementarity." Hatcher gives only passing mention to matters such as laws regarding dowry, inheritance and membership of the House of Justice and fails to discuss the details of any of these laws or other references to gender found in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. Instead almost full attention is given to statements of 'Abdu'l-Bahá and the Universal House of Justice which suggest that, while women are equal in status, they are not necessarily the same in function. John Hatcher's final essay, entitled "The Model of Penology Implied in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas" does a much better job of keeping to the actual contents of the Kitáb- i-Aqdas, citing specific laws and suggesting their ramifications, although he sees Bahá'u'lláh's purpose here not to establish rules, but rather to set forth models. While Hatcher makes a distinction between personal and social laws as found in the Aqdas, the former not being subject to legal or administrative sanctions, he insists there is not the distinction between secular and sacred law as understood in the west. Hence punishment is ordained for acts like "fornification," but the payment of the huqúqu'lláh, which Hatcher suggests may be the primary means of taxation in a future Bahá'í commonwealth, is left as a matter between the individual and God. There is little evidence, however, that huqúqu'lláh was designed to be the primary means of taxation. In an address given in Montreal, Canada, in 1912 entitled "Economic Happiness," 'Abdu'l-Bahá insisted that a graduated income tax should be imposed which could reach as high as fifty per cent.(18)
Generally speaking I would suggest that there are four major drawbacks common to nearly all of these essays, whether by William or John Hatcher. First, the essays had only the most precarious relationship with the actual contents of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, which was supposedly their inspiration. Second, both brothers tended to misrepresent quotations as though they came from Bahá'u'lláh when, as often as not, they were from another source. Third, there was a disturbing tendency for both authors to refer to the "Bahá'í approach" or the "Bahá'í teachings" in an essentialistic manner which they identified all too closely with their own opinions. Finally, given the variety of Persian and Arabic words which are often translated indiscriminately into English as "knowledge," the Hatchers' attempt to construct a Bahá'í epistemological framework on the basis of English translations of texts without reference to the original appears highly problematic. It seems premature to take a broad sweep of issues of this type without a solid philological study of the texts in question.