Bahai News -- The Guardian - David Kelly and the Baha'i faith Shortcuts

Esther Addley, Mariann Simms, Thomas Laqueurand Jim White
Tuesday July 22, 2003

The Guardian

David Kelly and the Baha'i faith

We have learned a great deal about the late government scientist David Kelly since his suicide on Thursday. We know, for instance, that he was a devoted family man, who enjoyed playing cribbage in the local pub and who grew onions, carrots and potatoes in his Oxfordshire garden.

One of the most intriguing details, however, was the revelation that Kelly was a follower of the Baha'i faith, "among the religious writings of which", wrote one newspaper, "is the view that 'the wise man does not attach himself to this mortal life... even at some moments he eagerly wishes death that he may thereby be freed from these sorrows and afflictions.'" The implication seemed to be that the religious faith to which Kelly subscribed somehow condoned suicide, or at least rendered him too spiritually pure for this world.

To Kelly's friends and fellow Baha'is, such a conclusion is a misreading of their faith. "What this passage means is that, like most faiths, we do not believe that you should become so attached to this life that you feel that it is the only thing," says Barney Leith, secretary of the national assembly of Baha'is in the UK, who knew Kelly. "Clearly we do not, any more than any other faith does, condone or encourage suicide."

But if Kelly's faith was very much more subtle than his obituarists were able to capture, it is entirely apt, considering the tone of the coverage of his death, that Baha'iism has a reputation as one of the cuddliest of the major world religions. The faith, which calls itself the "youngest of the world's independent religions", developed out of an Islamic reformist movement of the mid-19th century. It is fiercely committed to the goals of world peace and of ending racial and ethnic strife - and believes that the followers of all the major religions are on valid journeys towards truth. It now has 5m adherents worldwide.

Despite its touchy-feely philosophy, however, Baha'is are not without bitter enemies. Up to half of the 6,000 Baha'is in Britain are Iranian exiles, forced to flee after the 1979 revolution ushered in a period of ferocious persecution. The 300,000 Baha'is remaining in Iran are not permitted to attend university and face serious difficulties in employment. All the same, says Leith, "we are genuine wellwishers of Iran, and the wider Middle East. We would love nothing better than to see Iran as a peaceful country supporting genuine freedom of religion across the world." He knows that David Kelly would have agreed.
Esther Addley

Lit crit

It was a dark and stormy night...
The Bulwer-Lytton fiction competition is an international literary parody contest which honours the memory - if not the reputation - of Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton. Entrants are challenged to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels. Although best known for The Last Days of Pompeii (1834) and the phrase, "the pen is mightier than the sword", Bulwer-Lytton opened his novel Paul Clifford (1830) with the immortal words: "It was a dark and stormy night." The contest began in 1982 and since then has attracted thousands of annual entries from all over the world. Here are some of this year's successes:

Winner: "They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavour entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland Cheddar and the white... Mozzarella, although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn't taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you believe it does by colouring it differently."
Mariann Simms

Runner-up: "The flock of geese flew overhead in a "V" formation - not in an old-fashioned-looking Times New Roman kind of a "V", branched out slightly at the two opposite arms at the top of the "V", nor in a more modern-looking, straight and crisp, linear Arial sort of "V" (although since they were flying, Arial might have been appropriate), but in a slightly asymmetric, tilting off-to-one-side sort of italicised Courier New-like "V" - and LaFonte knew that he was just the type of man to know the difference."
John Dotson

Grand Panjandrum's Special Prize : "Colin grabbed the switchgear and slammed the spritely Vauxhall Vixen into a lower gear as he screamed through the roundabout heading toward the familiar pink rowhouse in Puking-On-The-Wold, his mind filled with the image of his comely Olive, dressed in some lacy underthing, waiting on the couch with only a smile and a cucumber sandwich, hoping that his lunch hour would provide sufficient time for both a naughty little romp and a digestive biscuit."
Randy Groom

Sense and sexuality

A brief history of onanism
A report last week suggested that young men who masturbate frequently are less likely to develop prostate tumours. It was welcome good press for a practice that has long been considered taboo.

Although masturbation may have existed since the beginning of time, moral and medical anxiety about it can be dated to London in 1714. Rarely can a cultural phenomena be mapped so precisely. In that year, a quack surgeon called John Martin - the first person to be prosecuted for pornography in the court of queen's bench for a book on the secret parts of women - published an anonymous tract called Onania

Martin claimed that he had discovered an epidemic vice among people of all ages and sexes whereby they could procure on their own, and in secret, the very same sensation that normally accompanied sexual congress. He named it after the biblical Onan.

Martin and his publishers hoped to make money selling potions to mitigate the many physical ailments that arose from "self abuse". Edition followed edition, each one fuller than the one before with testimonials about the fall into masturbation and recovery through the doctor's wares.

Within two decades there was an article in Chamber's Cyclopedia, the first of the great 18th-century compendia of knowledge, announcing that an "empiric" had identified a new vice. Ten years after that, parts of Onania appeared in the major German encyclopedia, and by 1763 it had made it into the inner sanctum of the High Enlightenment, Diderot's great Encyclopédie. The greatest doctors and moralists of the age took up the problem: Tissot, the century's most widely read doctor; Rousseau, its most influential educational theorist; and Kant, one of its greatest philosophers. Through them, Onania enjoyed what is perhaps the most rapid intellectual upward mobility in history.

Masturbation was not the vice of cultural conservatives; it was the creature of progressives. Martin had identified a problem in the sexual ethics of modernity that touched the lives of everyone equally. In a society which valued solitude and privacy he named a secret vice. In an economy that was beginning to be driven by consumer desire he identified a sexual act that always seemed to demand just one more time. And most importantly, in a world where the pleasures of the imagination were everywhere and much praised he warned of the dangers of a practice driven by fantasy. Masturbation was born in the imagination. The new vice, in other words, became the evil twin of Enlightenment virtue.
Thomas Laqueur

Fifteen minutes

Man with a message: 'Look at me'
For David Coulthard it was the most disturbing moment of his Formula One career. He came out of Silverstone's Chapel Corner during Sunday's British Grand Prix, his McClaren doing 175mph. And there, on the track in front of him, was a man dressed in a mustard-coloured Irish dancing kilt, holding up a yellow carrier bag. Coulthard momentarily exchanged glances with the intruder, before missing him by about 10 feet.

For Father Neil Horan, however, that moment dancing with death on the Silverstone tarmac would have been the culmination of one of the most determined careers of self-publicity outside the Big Brother house. At last he has the headlines he has long craved.

Horan has been in contact with me for the past decade, sending me lengthy letters pleading that I write about his dancing escapades: his appearance at Newmarket racecourse; his planned "peace" dance for Saddam Hussein; his jig outside the BBC predicting a new age in which people will be able to make friends with poisonous snakes.

I first came across him about a decade ago, when a well-known London PR man called and said I might be intrigued by this character. Since it's not every day that a journalist happens upon an Irish Catholic priest seeking to employ the expensive services of a personal PR man, he was right.

Horan, it transpired, had a story he was anxious should have wide dissemination: the end of the world. Sitting in his neat little bedsit in Nunhead, south-east London, he talked me through the coming Armageddon. My recollection of the detail is sketchy, but Horan had chapter and verse on mankind's imminent demise, his thesis accompanied by a file of correspondence. He had written to everyone - queens, presidents and prime ministers - and had logged their replies as if each non-committal response added credence to his predictions.

I didn't write about him, thinking he needed rather more help than 800 sarcastic words. But that didn't stop him writing to me. Recently he has taken to sending mock-ups of newspaper articles, complete with headlines such as "Horan to dance for peace" or "Horan reveals link between Irish and Jews". There is something extraordinarily solipsistic about all his correspondence: the word is always secondary to the fact that it is him doing the delivery. It made me realise that prophecy is the ultimate in self-aggrandisement: you and you alone are custodian of the higher truth. And now he has got his wish. His name, his face, his prophecy are all over the papers. Though, but for Coulthard's astonishing skill in avoiding him, his stunt would have delivered something else, too: personal armageddon.

©Copyright 2003, The Guardian (UK)

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