Archive for June, 2006

World Cup a metaphor of our reality?


For us Aussies, the Socceroos’ elimination from the World Cup in the dying seconds of injury time on a dubious penalty call favouring Italy, is something we can’t get out of our heads. You could feel the shockwaves rocking a stunned nation when the referee pointed to the penalty spot just as we were waiting for him to blow the final whistle. A few days later, with what I think is a little more perspective, I tell myself that it’s only a bunch of guys we don’t know running around with a ball for over 90 minutes trying their darndest to kick it between two posts - even just the once.

As I write this, my friend calls me and expresses his ongoing depression elicited by that penalty call. We spend some minutes discussing the hapless demise of both countries related to us in the World Cup - Australia and Iran.

Why can’t we stop talking about sport? Why does it inspire us, unite us, give us hope and identity? For me, it also gives a sense of my own lack of fitness and sporting prowess. So it’s both empowering and humbling, qualities uncannily religious (hence the FIFA president’s call to prayer in this photo). Unfortunately, like they have with religion, fans now and then forget what they’re there for and turn into hooligans. That aside, true sport is empowering and humbling. For the faithful it’s a daily way of life, for the opportunistic it’s a Sunday religion, or in the case of the World Cup, a four yearly pilgrimage.

One thing’s for sure - a ball can bring people together. Here Kofi Anan, Secretary General of the UN, sees the World Cup as something to learn from:

How We Envy the World Cup By Kofi A. Annan
For any country, playing in the World Cup is a matter of profound national pride. For countries qualifying for the first time, such as my native Ghana, it is a badge of honour. For those who are doing so after years of adversity, such as Angola, it provides a sense of national renewal. And for those who are currently riven by conflict, like Côte d’Ivoire, but whose World Cup team is a unique and powerful symbol of national unity, it inspires nothing less than the hope of national rebirth.

Which brings me to what is perhaps most enviable of all for us in the United Nations: the World Cup is an event in which we actually see goals being reached. I’m not talking only about the goals a country scores; I also mean the most important goal of all — being there, part of the family of nations and peoples, celebrating our common humanity. I’ll try to remember that when Ghana plays Italy in Hanover on 12 June. Of course, I can’t promise I’ll succeed.

The relativity of truth


Einstein is credited at being pretty clever, I’m sure you’d agree. What he proposed, in a phenomenal insight and moment of clarity, was the theory of relativity. E=mc2. Gotta give big Al props for that one. Not only does so much of our understanding of the physical universe centre on this law, it’s a pretty catchy little thing too. So short, so concise, so simple. So much do we respect big Al’s finding that we equate fuzzy unkempt grey hair with genius. Why do you think I got this do?

Okay you’re going to quiz night and you can invite anyone from history for your team. I bet rivalling Albert in popularity would be Isaac Newton. Where would we be without calculus (not the type on your teeth) and the laws of motion. Again, after all those years of mathematical analysis all it took was an apple falling to the ground for the universe to unravel itself before his eyes (or so legend will have you believe). Again, very simple, very concise and catchy. Here’s a refresher:

Law 1: Something will stay still unless you shove it. Galileo said a similar thing.
Law 2: F=ma. Something will change its velocity when you shove it, and it will stay at that velocity unless something else gets in its way. This was a development of Aristotle’s F=mv.
Law 3: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

All true. Funny thing is, as physics looks out further to the endless caverns of space and deeper into the infinitely small sub-atomic, one thing becomes apparent: that not all observations can be explained by the same physical laws. In fact, the reason Einstein and Newton’s laws are so great is not that they are ultimately true in the absolute sense of the word, but that either one or the other can help explain most things we can observe most of the time. Sometimes they give different answers. But they are so useful and close so much of the time that we can use them as laws, rather than just hypotheses.

Some have tried to find alternative laws that hold universally true. In Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur and his human-form alien friend search the universe in search of its answer. And in the end, in a delightful anti-climax, they find that the answer to life, existence and the universe is, in fact, “3.” Who knows, it could be true.

Is the fact that Einstein and Newton’s theories are not absolute make them untrue? I suggest not. They are some of the greatest truths humanity has found access to. This is where absolute and relative truth come in.

Bahá’u'lláh, Prophet-Founder of the Baha’i Faith, explains the concept of relativity in the Book of Certitude, a commentary on religious truth and progression: “Consider the sun. Were it to say now, “I am the sun of yesterday,” it would speak the truth. And should it, bearing the sequence of time in mind, claim to be other than that sun, it still would speak the truth. In like manner, if it be said that all the days are but one and the same, it is correct and true. And if it be said, with respect to their particular names and designations, that they differ, that again is true. For though they are the same, yet one doth recognize in each a separate designation, a specific attribute, a particular character”.

We should try to leave the habit of dismissing one thing as false to authorise another as real. Truth is one and our ways of understanding it, science and religion included, should open our minds to the infinite. The Baha’i Faith teaches us to see them both as progressive and relative, and a balance to each other. If we look at an object from one perspective, we fail to see its full form.

Truth is, absolutely indefinable and relatively conceivable.

Australian Parliament: Baha’i motion passes

Following the recent alarming arrest of dozens of Baha’i youth in Iran, the world Baha’i and wider community has been mobilised to raise awareness of the plight of that community. Here’s a piece I wrote for the Australian Baha’i youth website:

CANBERRA, MAY 29: The House of Representatives passed a motion expressing grave concern for the plight of the Bahá’ís of Iran. The motion, moved by the Hon Jennie George MP, member for Throsby, received wide bipartisan support.

The motion notes a statement of concern made by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion earlier this year, expressing grave concern that the Iranian authorities have issued secret instructions for all Bahá’ís in that country to be identified and monitored, and urges the Australian government to pursue these concerns with the Iranian authorities.

Six Members of Parliament spoke in support of the motion before time allotted to the debate was completed.

The Hon Mr Keenan MP stated:

“I investigated the claims that they made to me… In fact, on investigation, what I found exceeded the horror of the stories they had told me. The steps being taken currently by the Iranian government are truly frightening… Specifically, steps being taken to monitor and identify people of the Bahá’í Faith, combined with an increase in the ferocity of media propaganda vilifying them, are grave cause for concern.”

The Hon Mr Edwards MP, in summarising what Bahá’ís believe in, quoted from the Bahá’í Writings:

“Religion should unite all hearts and cause wars and disputes to vanish from the face of the earth, give birth to spirituality, and bring life and light to each heart.”

“…religious, racial, national and political prejudices, all are subverseive of the foundation of human society, all lead to bloodshed, all heap ruin upon mankind. So long as these remain, the dread of war will continue.”

steps being taken to monitor and identify people of the Baha’i Faith, combined with an increase in the ferocity of media propaganda vilifying them, are grave cause for concern.

“All men have been created to carry forward an ever-advancing civilisation… To act like the beasts of the field is unworthy of man. Those virtues that befit his dignity are forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all the peoples and kindreds of the earth.”

Referring to the recent arrests of Bahá’í youth in Shiraz, he stated “I would simply hope that the beliefs and principles of the Baha’i, which call for mercy, compassion and loving-kindness, might be visited upon those people who were recently arrested.”

Full transcripts of the debate on this motion in the House of Representatives can be read on the Hansard record, starting on page 25(43): Download Hansard report here (pdf).

Following this motion, ABC Radio National’s The Religion Report with Stephen Crittenden discussed the situation of the Bahá’ís in Iran and featured an interview with the Secretary of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Australia, Mr John Walker.

On air, Mr. Walker discussed the recent increase in persecution against the Bahá’ís in Iran.

Mr Walker stated that “…the Bahá’ís of Australia are very grateful to the government of Australia for the efforts that it has made. It co-sponsored the recent resolution in the General Assembly of the United Nations condemning the persecution of the Bahá’ís in Iran. So the government of Australia has really been in the forefront along with some other governments in bringing to international attention the plight of the Bahá’ís in Iran and the Bahá’í community in Australia is very, very grateful for that.”

A full transcript of the interview can be read at the Radio National website. The actual http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/relrpt/audio/relrpt_31052006_28M.asx” target=”_blank”>broadcast is also available for listening.

Related News:

According to the New York Times, the United States Congress is considering a resolution that would condemn the Iranian government for repressing Bahá’ís and also to make abuse of Bahá’ís a significant factor in United States foreign policy.

Click here to view the article.

Links for information on the persecution of the Bahá’ís of Iran:

Bahá’í World News article 20 March 2006, quoting the announcement at the United Nations and in its wake, a statement from the Principal Representative of the Bahá’í International Community to the United Nations

SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF CONCERNED ABOUT TREATMENT OF FOLLOWERS OF BAHÁ’Í FAITH IN IRAN, 20 March 2006 United Nations

Summary and Analysis of Recent Media Attacks against the Bahá’ís in Iran

Information about the Hojjatieh Society, a specifically anti-Bahá’í organized by a charismatic Shiite Muslim cleric.

The Bahá’í Question: Cultural cleansing in Iran (official Bahá’í website)

Closed Doors: Iran’s campaign to deny higher education to Bahá’ís (official Bahá’í website)


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