The first Bahá’í book that I truly enjoyed reading was Thief in the Night by William Sears, a Bahá’í “Hand of the Cause” whom I think my parents had known in their L.A. years (1957 to 1966). Continue reading
Remember the old Y2K scare? We generally look back at that anxious time as an anticlimax, understanding that nothing much happened at the turn of the millennium. I remember how the Bahá’ís expected world peace to flower by the end of the 20th Century. Since then, many Bahá’ís have sought out alternative interpretations of their failed peace prophecy.
I say “failed,” but I know something that most Bahá’ís don’t. Truth be told, at the close of the year 2001, on the very last day that fell within the Y2K window, a young prophet discovered his calling. Evidence of this portentous moment can be found with the help of the tool known to nostalgic Web surfers as the WayBack Machine:
This page doesn’t provide any actual information on the youthful prophet, but information would soon be forthcoming:
The hour is approaching when the most great convulsion will have appeared. I swear by Him Who is the Truth! It shall cause separation to afflict everyone, even those who circle around Me….
—Baha’ullah (Mar 29, 2002)
Back around the close of the 1970s, my friend next door showed me a newspaper article that seemed to be about my father. It was about a Bahá’í chiropractor—a Dr. Jensen—who was making prophecies about a coming calamity. My father, Dr. John Jensen, is a Bahá’í chiropractor with a Bahá’í fondness for doomsday visions. Fortunately—or unfortunately, as the case may be—the Dr. Jensen featured in the article was out in Montana, a long way from my home in central California. It was some other Bahá’í chiropractor named Jensen.
This was quite a coincidence, of course. It’s not like there are many Scandinavian Bahá’ís like there are hoards of Scandinavian Mormons.
Actually, my father’s dad was one of those Scandinavian Mormons, but that’s another story.
One thing the Bahá’ís and Mormons do share, though, is a peppering of heretics across the Rocky Mountain states. Must be something about mountains that brings out the heretic in people.
This Dr. Leland Jensen of Missoula, Montana was well known among researchers for his string of failed prophecies. He was also known for being convicted for sexually molesting of a minor. It was while doing time in the big house that Jensen received his calling, as so oft it happens. Upon release, Jensen founded his own Bahá’í sect, and commenced to doing what prophets do.
My father was and is quite different. He is a principled man who would never entertain prophetic delusions or manipulate people as the Montana Jensen did.
But my father did—and does—share Leland Jensen’s apocalyptic view of the immediate future. He is a Bahá’í, after all. It’s in the scripture. A lot of bad things are going to have to happen for the world to be cleansed before the last century ends.
As a child in a Bahá’í household, I learned about a horrible calamity that would soon cleanse the world of its blind materialism and render it receptive to the light of faith in Bahá’u’lláh. We weren’t sure what exactly would happen but we knew it would necessarily be bad—something along the lines of Zechariah 13:
In the whole land, declares the LORD,
two-thirds will be struck down and perish;
yet one-third will be left in it.
This third I will bring into the fire;
I will refine them like silver
and test them like gold.
Two-thirds of the people of the world would perish, and many of the survivors might wish they had perished as well. It was a retributive promise laid over the real danger of the Cold War. It was easy for a child to internalize.
Noted skeptic Michael Shermer has also heard of Leland Jensen. Shermer discussed Jensen at length in his book How We Believe: The Search for God in an Age of Science:
On a brisk April 29 morning in 1980, Dr. Leland Jensen, a chiropractor and leader of a small religious sect called the Baha’is Under the Provisions of the Covenant, led his devoted followers into fallout shelters in Missoula, Montana, to await the end of the world. Within the first hour, Jensen believed, a full third of the Earth’s population would be annihilated in a nuclear holocaust of fire and fallout. Over the course of the next twenty years most of the remaining population would be ravaged by conquest, war, famine, and pestilence. (page 192)
What I find interesting about this Leland Jensen episode, beside the curious parallels in my family, is the way that Jensen and his followers handled the failure of Jensen’s prophecies. It reminds me of the rationalizations offered by Bahá’ís in response to the failure of mainstream Bahá’í prophecies of peace and calamity in the 20th Century:
Psychologists who studied Leland Jensen and his Baha’i sect … discovered that when the end of the world came and went, they did not quietly disband and go home. Psychologist Leon Festinger applied his theory of cognitive dissonance to failed prophecy, and argued that the stronger one’s commitment to a failing cause, the greater the rationalizations to reduce the dissonance produced by the disappointment. Thus, paradoxically, after the 1980 debacle in the bomb shelters, not only did Jensen and his followers not abandon the cause, they ratcheted up the intensity of future predictions, making no less than 20 between 1979 and 1995! Jensen and his flock applied one or all of the following rationalizations:
- the prophecy was fulfilled—spiritually
- the prophecy was fulfilled physically, but not as expected
- miscalculation of the date
- the date was a loose prediction, not a specific prophecy
- God changed his mind in order to be merciful
- predictions were just a test of members’ faith.
How We Believe, page 202
There is a wealth of doomsday prophecies and predictions in the Bahá’í scripture and literature. The following passage, for instance, clearly foresees the advent of Rock & Roll:
“The world is in travail, and its agitation waxeth day by day. Its face is turned towards waywardness and unbelief. Such shall be its plight, that to disclose it now would not be meet and seemly. Its perversity will long continue. And when the appointed hour is come, there shall suddenly appear that which shall cause the limbs of mankind to quake. Then, and only then, will the Divine Standard be unfurled, and the Nightingale of Paradise warble its melody.”
—Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings … , pages 118-119
Of course, the simple fact of the matter is that the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith had already discovered Rock & Roll:
“the still small voice, which whispereth through and pierceth all things, and oftentimes it maketh my bones to quake while it maketh manifest”
—Doctrine & Covenants, 85
“The Seven Candles of Unity,” found in `Abdu’l-Bahá’s authoritative writings, was one of his approaches to foretelling the future progress of the world toward unity.
The most noteworthy—and controversial—of the seven is the fifth candle, of which `Abdu’l-Bahá’ says:
… is the unity of nations—a unity which in this century will be securely established, causing all the peoples of the world to regard themselves as citizens of one common fatherland.
Selections from the Writings of `Abdu’l-Bahá’, pg. 32
Because of prophecies such as this one which `Abdu’l-Bahá’ was fond of repeating, Bahá’ís expected world peace to be “securely established” in the 20th Century. This expectation was confirmed and encouraged by Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice. If any Bahá’ís believed otherwise, I didn’t hear of it.
“… to be followed by its establishment and recognition as a State religion, which in turn must give way to its assumption of the rights and prerogatives associated with the Bahá’í state, functioning in the plenitude of its powers, a stage which must ultimately culminate in the emergence of the worldwide Bahá’í Commonwealth, animated wholly by the spirit, and operating solely in direct conformity with the laws and principles of Bahá’u’lláh.”—Shoghi Effendi, The Advent of Divine Justice, page 15.
If you’ve read the writings of Shoghi Effendi, you might have gathered that the Baháí Faith will undergo a number of stages before the “World Order of Bahá’u’lláh” is realized. These are those stages as I see them:
More pertinent statements by Shoghi Effendi
This passage clarifies the comprehensive role of the Universal House of Justice in the “future super-state”:
“Not only will the present-day Spiritual Assemblies be styled differently in future, but they will be enabled also to add to their present functions those powers, duties, and prerogatives necessitated by the recognition of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh, not merely as one of the recognized religious systems of the world, but as the State Religion of an independent and Sovereign Power. And as the Bahá’í Faith permeates the masses of the peoples of East and West, and its truth is embraced by the majority of the peoples of a number of the Sovereign States of the world, will the Universal House of Justice attain the plenitude of its power, and exercise, as the supreme organ of the Bahá’í Commonwealth, all the rights, the duties, and responsibilities incumbent upon the world’s future super-state.”—Shoghi Effendi, World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, pages 6-7.
The following passage anticipates the transitional role of the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh as a state religion as something similar to the Church established by Constantine:
“This present Crusade, on the threshold of which we now stand, will, moreover, by virtue of the dynamic forces it will release and its wide repercussions over the entire surface of the globe, contribute effectually to the acceleration of yet another process of tremendous significance which will carry the steadily evolving Faith of Bahá’u’lláh through its present stages of obscurity, of repression, of emancipation and of recognition—stages one or another of which Bahá’í national communities in various parts of the world now find themselves in—to the stage of establishment, the stage at which the Faith of Bahá’u’lláh will be recognized by the civil authorities as the state religion, similar to that which Christianity entered in the years following the death of the Emperor Constantine, a stage which must later be followed by the emergence of the Bahá’í state itself, functioning, in all religious and civil matters, in strict accordance with the laws and ordinances of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, the Most Holy, the Mother-Book of the Bahá’í Revelation, a stage which, in the fullness of time, will culminate in the establishment of the World Bahá’í Commonwealth, functioning in the plenitude of its powers, and which will signalize the long-awaited advent of the Christ-promised Kingdom of God on earth—the Kingdom of Bahá’u’lláh …”—Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Bahá’í World, page 155.
The following passage enumerates the “successive stages” of the evolution of Bahá’í influence to succeed the initial stage of obscurity:
“Indeed, the sequel to this assault may be said to have opened a new chapter in the evolution of the Faith itself, an evolution which, carrying it through the successive stages of repression, of emancipation, of recognition as an independent Revelation, and as a state religion, must lead to the establishment of the Bahá’í state and culminate in the emergence of the Bahá’í World Commonwealth.”—Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, page 364.
The following passage makes it clear that the Bahá’í Commonwealth is not to be confused with the secular world government that Shoghi Effendi expected to precede the future Bahá’í super-state:
“As regards the International Executive referred to by the Guardian in his “Goal of a New World Order”, it should be noted that this statement refers by no means to the Bahá’í Commonwealth of the future, but simply to that world government which will herald the advent and lead to the final establishment of the World Order of Bahá’u’lláh. The formation of this International Executive, which corresponds to the executive head or board in present-day national governments, is but a step leading to the Bahá’í world government of the future, and hence should not be identified with either the institution of the Guardianship or that of the International House of Justice.”—Shoghi Effendi, Peace Compilation, entry 60.
Today’s slice is from Bahá’u’lláh’s Persian Hidden Words:
O YE PEOPLES OF THE WORLD! Know, verily, that an unforeseen calamity followeth you, and grievous retribution awaiteth you. Think not that which ye have committed hath been effaced in My sight. By My beauty! All your doings hath My pen graven with open characters upon tablets of chrysolite.
This passage guided much of my world view as a child. It played well with Cold War fatalism, and gave me a dim outlook on the future, though great things were promised for the people who would survive this “unforeseen calamity”.
Note that this is all about punishment for sin, and it is a worldwide punishment for the accumulated crimes of humanity. Though Bahá’ís claim to have an elevated, sublime notion of God, this God is none other than the jealous, vengeful Yahweh, who has no regard for the deeds of one man in his private moments of conscience, but only of humanity en masse. This is a God of hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, and Assyrian armies.