Bahai News -- The Times - Faith, peace and tolerance in Monterey
September 03, 2003
Faith, peace and tolerance in Monterey
By Chris Ayres and James Bone
Four years ago David Kelly made a personal odyssey to the Californian resort of Monterey. He was there, not to visit its military installations or its tourist
boutiques but to convert to the Baha'i faith
IT WOULD SEEM an unlikely place to find peace for the soul. Monterey, an affluent city on Californias central coast, about an hours flight north
from Los Angeles, is known more for its proximity to military installations and its role as retirement city of choice for generals and one-time spies than for
any sense of spirituality. But it was to this beautiful seaside resort, often shrouded in mist because of the hot air from the Californian deserts hitting the
cold Pacific, that David Kelly came four years ago to make a declaration of faith to the Bahai religion.
On September 25, 1999, he would have turned his back on the postcard landscape of sand dunes and gleaming ocean that marks Californias Pacific Coast
Highway, and taken the incongruously named Bonny Doon Road up through the towns of Loch Lomond and Bracken Brae, until he came to the first signpost to the
Bosch Bahai School, one of only four such establishments in the United States and an inspiration for the British scientist and biological weapons expert.
He was possibly accompanied by his friend and spiritual mentor Mai Pederson, the American woman thought to be responsible for introducing him to the
Monterey, with its proximity to the Defence Language Institute and other military installations, was a natural destination for Dr Kelly; the Monterey
Institute of International Studies, which has its own Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, the largest non-governmental organisation in the world devoted to
curbing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, would have been an essential place for him to visit. The centre is thought to have one of the largest
databases of information on Saddam Husseins regime in the world. The city itself, an old fishing town turned into a tourist mecca, with chi-chi boutiques
and restaurants that line the seafront a kind of Covent Garden-on-sea is similar to other California coastal towns such as Carmel and Santa
Barbara that look out over the rolling surf of the Pacific. But it is thought that Dr Kelly visited Monterey not for the expertise offered by the citys
scientists, but for the consolation of the soul that he would find in the Bahai school high above the city, overlooking the California coastline.
After reaching the series of wooden cabins that make up the schools campus passing, first, the four garden gnomes, dressed in 19th-century
peasant outfits, that wave cheerfully to those curious or devoted enough to go further he made his simple declaration of faith. According to Joanne
McClure, a youthful 66-year-old who pays $65 (£41) a night for room and board at the school, to an untrained eye this would have seemed an almost casual
affair, the kind of non-ritual ritual beloved of the Bahais, who pride themselves on having no formal initiation ceremony, sacrament or clergy.
First we would make sure initiates know who Bahaullah is the founder of the faith and that they really knew what they were
doing, says McClure. Then they would sign a card saying that there are certain laws they need to obey. These include abstaining from drink,
drugs and gambling; supporting the institution of marriage; believing that God created the universe; and encouraging the end of racial, class, and religious
prejudices. After Dr Kelly had signed the card, it would have been sent to the Bahai national headquarters in Wilmette, Illinois, where the new believer
would be put on the mailing list for the American magazine The Bahais. From then on, Dr Kelly would have been encouraged to attend feasts held
every 19 days, which involve prayer-chants, administrative discussions with local spiritual assemblies, and general socialising.
Dr Kelly would have been attracted to the peacefulness and tolerance of the Bahais, who believe that all religions are essentially valid. As McClure
says: I could never understand why God was going to send all these people to Hell just because they didnt believe in the same things. As a
scientist, perhaps seeking spiritual succour within an intellectual framework, he would also have been attracted to the faiths openness to modernity and
its lack of fundamentalist dogma.
Throughout 1999 Dr Kelly travelled to New York for six or seven two-week trips to work with fellow experts at UN headquarters, and he visited at least twice
more for the regular six-monthly meetings of the UN Special Commissions (UNSCOMs) college of commissioners. During this year, he often appeared at
Bahai meetings on the other side of the continent in Monterey, at the groups traditional 19th-day feasts. Pederson, who was studying at the Defence
Language Institute, a heavily guarded military facility that taught American soldiers how to speak Japanese during the Second World War, was also at the
feasts. The two had met and become friends when she served under the scientist on a UN mission to Iraq in 1998, the last inspection before the withdrawal of UN
John VonBerg, whose wife was the secretary of the local Bahais spiritual assembly at the time, says: He has been to my home several times.
We had special events on holy days, representing various things. His principles were so close to those of the Bahai faith.
The last time Dr Kelly visited, VonBerg remembers the Bahai group going to gaze out over the bay.
Noreen Steinmetz, a friend of Dr Kelly and Pederson, recalls: He would pass through here every once in a while and we would have the opportunity to
sit down with him and go on hikes and chat. I met him through Mai Pederson. She adds that Dr Kelly always arrived at meetings by himself, and other
Bahais assumed that he was working at the nearby Monterey Institute, where several of his UN colleagues worked. But scientist friends at the centre say
he never visited them there.
A glance around the Bosch Bahai Schools bookshop reveals some possible sources of tension for Dr Kelly. Several tomes focus on the divine
importance of the UN, which was eventually ignored by the United States and Britain after it refused to support a military campaign to remove the Iraqi regime.
With that in mind, it is hard to see how Dr Kelly could ever have supported an Iraq war without UN approval.
Even more ominous, however, is a tract entitled Political Non-Involvement and Obedience to Government, compiled by Peter J. Khan. The book spells out
the Bahais belief that they should not become involved in any form of politics, because politics can create divisions that could destroy the
As part of this argument, Bahais believe that they should support their government, whether just or unjust (there are, however, exceptions). On page
28, Khan poses a question that Dr Kelly himself could have asked: What should we do when controversies arise as a result of government policies?
The answer, provided by the Guardian of the Bahai faith, the late Shoghi Effendi Rabbani, is this: In such controversies they should assign no
blame, take no side, further no design, and identify themselves with no system prejudicial to the best interests of that worldwide fellowship which it is their
aim to guard and foster.
Khans book makes it clear that any Bahai who does not follow this advice is ultimately weakening the Bahai religion. Given this official
position from the Guardian, it is not hard to imagine Dr Kellys horror when he was named as the alleged source of a story blaming Britains decision
to go to war on a press secretary who sexed up intelligence reports.
But would the Guardian have condoned suicide? Lets just say, says Mrs VonBerg, that it would not follow the teachings of the
©Copyright 2003, The Times (UK)
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