The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything – And it’s not 42

In Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ the travellers encounter ‘Deep Thought’, the greatest and most powerful computer in all time. The computer, however, considers itself to be the second most powerful after the one that succeeds it. Nevertheless, encountering it is seen as an opportunity to answer the ultimate question, ‘Life, the Universe and Everything!’ The philosophers, fearing redundancy, are outraged and threaten a strike but Deep Thought reassures them it will take seven and half million years to come up with the answer so they have many years to enjoy their lifestyle and privileges.

Due to time travel Deep Thought is encountered seven and a half million years later and is excitedly asked for the answer, which turned out to be forty two – devastating news for the travellers. The computer explained that it is only possible to know what the answer is when we know what the question is. The original question was too vague. However, in compensation Deep Thought assures them that the next computer, to be created by Deep Thought itself, will have an answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’. It will be of such infinite and subtle complexity that organic life itself shall form part of its operational matrix. That computer will be called ‘Earth’.

Deep Thought was correct that the Earth, after many millions of years, would come up with the answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’ and the answer is ‘Radiant Acquiescence’.

Radiance

When my Sunday school teacher reassured me that Jesus wanted me for a sunbeam I had not realised at the time the profundity of what she was saying. A sunbeam is the most significant phenomenon there is. Pure energy without which I would not exist to be able to write this. There would be no earth and people on it. Therefore, what she was saying was that Jesus wanted me to be an energetic source of enlightenment, to give metaphorical warmth, to bestow life through encouragement of others and be of service to them. Sunbeams are brilliant in every sense of the word and if nothing else, Jesus wanted me to be brilliant, in fact – to radiate.

There is a Baha’i prayer that has the line, ‘make this youth radiant’. Radiance is not always associated with the period of youth. When Adrian Mole reached thirteen and three quarters he determined to paint his bedroom walls black in keeping with his pending teenage sombreness and cynical gloom. A time when the inadequacies of adults, particularly in failing to make the planet a happy paradise, are the focus of disgust and despair. Unfortunately for Adrian his current wallpaper was festooned with Noddy and his cohorts and no matter how many coats of black were applied, Noddy was still visible.

The reality is that most youth across the world do radiate and their radiance, because of the vibrancy of this energetic period of life, is infectious, especially among peers and the following generation of youth. The trick is not to just radiate when young, that’s easy. Success is to continue throughout life with all its ups and downs. When Baha’u’llah briefly summarised all religion in the Hidden Words His ‘first’ council was to have a ‘pure, kindly and radiant heart’.

There is a very mistaken but popular philosophy abounding concerning the importance of ‘taking in’, the opposite of ‘giving out’. For this reason, currently, one percent of the world’s population own fifty percent of its wealth and when that’s stretched to ten percent they own around eighty eight per cent. Ironically the fastest growing group in this category is in China. Thus, if communism, as in sharing wealth, is considered a philosophy then by the same token greed and unbridled acquisition must also be a philosophical decision. Similarly, such countries have established a lead in the world for teaching by rote learning and head international league tables for educational mechanical tasks such as computing numbers, punctuating grammar and remembering facts. Some politicians in countries low in such league tables are panicking and legislating rote learning for their own charges. However, several countries at the bottom of ‘rote’ learning league tables are much higher on international problem solving tests. The U.K., for example, is eighth in the world. Pupils regurgitating the facts are repeating what they have taken in. Pupils solving problems are giving out from their personal learning and insights and most probably working cooperatively in teams.

If Deep Thought struggled for an answer it might have said – I know what is absolutely not the answer – ‘take in’. Baha’u’llah has said that each person is a mine rich in gems of inestimable value and only education can cause it to reveal its treasures. Thus, the teacher radiates knowledge, skills, enthusiasm and attitudes to the children not for the children just to ‘take in’ but for them to be enabled to radiate themselves for the good of the world and themselves. Deep Thought might then interject that while not knowing the answer, ‘giving’ seems to be key.

Acquiescence

To explain the meaning of acquiescence it is possibly easier to start with what it is not. It is clearly not agreement or submission despite what dictionaries might say. Dictionaries sometimes focus on it being ‘tacit’ agreement meaning unexpressed. Acquiescence has a term and condition. It can only take place in full knowledge. Thus, before acquiescence can even be considered, knowledge must be pursued and, possibly more importantly, available. Acquiescence is not a state, it is an understanding. Agreement is a state and may subsume unhappiness and disquiet. Submission could now be a synonym for unhappiness and thus a state of accepting unhappily an imposed position. Submission may have had a part to play in the past as a glue for feudalistic societies, but it has no place in either democratic politics or an understanding of democratic religion. Baha’u’llah refers to submission in the Hidden Words when He says; ‘Wert thou to speed through the immensity of space and traverse the expanse of heaven, yet thou wouldst find no rest save in submission to Our command and humbleness before Our Face‘. This submission refers to man’s relationship to God and not man’s relationship to each other in the fabric of society. Now the call is not to believe and obey, it is to know and observe. Acquiescence, therefore, being based on knowledge and understanding, is a declaration, albeit sometimes silent, that an action or state is accepted as the most appropriate and beneficial to all in the current circumstance.

Acquiescence can only manifest itself as a result of knowledge, consultation and equality. To be acquiescent it is necessary to have a voice, to listen and to feel completely at one with everyone involved in the process and feel a place in the decision making process. I believe Deep Thought did not give much of the seven and half million years to the ultimate question. Quite soon after it was asked it realised that the question was too vague and asked itself another question – what is seven times six? Had it persevered it might have begun to consider notions of ‘giving’, ‘consulting’ and ‘equality’ as essential building blocks of the answer to life, the universe and everything.

It is not for me to judge whether I successfully achieved anything in my life. However, I am conscious of fulfilling two actions endorsed in Baha’u’llah’s Writings. I earned a livelihood by my calling and I spent on myself and my kindred. The most effective way for me to spend on my wider kindred, the family of man, was through taxation. Thus, I can put my hand on my heart and say I was happy to pay tax. I am aware that the governments I paid tax to were not perfect and some money went on arms and other expenditure not winning my approval but on a worldwide scale and through history they were generally acceptable and there was nothing else available to me. Thus, I acquiesced to paying tax and felt buoyed by the hospitals, schools, smooth roads and news of foreign aid donations I had contributed to. Most importantly, subsumed in my acquiescence, was that if the government began to squander much of my wealth on, in my mind, unworthy causes I could express my concern at the ballot box. If at the next election my choice did not prevail I would be acquiescent as long as the policies had been discussed freely and fairly and as a consequence the people had made their choice. The peace that abounds in truly democratic societies is a result of the acquiescence of the population, secure in the accessibility of fairness and justice.

Radiant Acquiescence

When acquiescence is radiant it takes on a new dimension. For the reasons cited above acquiescence is good for the world. In the same way that submission was glue for feudalistic societies and religious institutions acquiescence is glue for democratic societies and religious institutions. The alternative to submission is rebellion and ultimately violence. Acquiescence doesn’t have an alternative because it doesn’t need one as it is not absolute. Submission is absolute in that once established by force or surrender there is no room for manoeuvre. Acquiescence, on the other hand, due to being based on knowledge is fluid because knowledge is constantly changing and expanding. Thus, those experiencing acquiescence are always reviewing their situation in the light of new understanding. If everyone is doing this there cannot be opponents, just fellow travellers comparing notes and learning from each other.

I first came across the idea of radiant acquiescence in reading about and discussing the Baha’i ‘tithe’ known as the ‘Right of God’, an idea in religion that the faithful make a donation in thanks to God for all the bounties and blessings of life, that money being for the benefit of others. When Baha’u’llah established this His explanation of it in various ‘tablets’ is very revealing and exceedingly uplifting. In one message He makes the point that it should be observed with, ‘the utmost radiance, gladness and willing acquiescence.’

In a small collection of quotes about ‘Huquq’ullah – The Right of God – Baha’u’llah mentions joy and radiance eleven times. As well as acquiescence, Baha’u’llah also mentions gladness, good-pleasure and contentment, surely vital ingredients of acquiescence. Reference to humility and lowliness might be expected but Baha’u’llah’s forbidding of solicitation for payment rests on upholding the dignity of His cause. In one statement He says, ‘Ye may relinquish the whole world, but must not forgo even one jot of the dignity of the Cause of God.’ Dignity is emphasised five times in these short passages. He recommends that a reminder is only given once which will suffice. Basically Baha’u’llah is saying say something clearly once and if the listener chooses not to heed what you are saying, that is their problem, not yours. Interestingly, three times Baha’u’llah mentions acting spontaneously, but the spontaneity He encourages is anchored in assuredness, steadfastness and insight. It is made clear the donation is not acceptable unless it is given with joy, radiance and acquiescence. In essence God does not want it unless you fully understand why, and giving it brings you joy. Giving reluctantly would evidence that the ‘sweetness of the commandments enjoined by God’ had not been appreciated or felt and the ‘benefits’ arising from joy and eagerness not discovered.

Every adult has an acquired default mode. On waking each morning your general character, kind, vindictive, generous, selfish, energetic, apathetic is core to your day and any spontaneous act will radiate out from that. People cannot decide to pretend to be like someone else and be spontaneous in that mode. The very act of reflecting means an action might be quick but could not be considered spontaneous. A Hungarian journalist caused outrage by purposely tripping up a fleeing migrant child and an adult in a distressing panic. It appeared spontaneous. Maybe spontaneity is more a window on the soul than the eyes? Baha’u’llah lauds spontaneity in giving, which, although unplanned, can only stem from a giving person. Giving comes in a sandwich. On one side wanting to give, the middle the act of giving and on the other side feeling joy in giving. To be able to radiate that acquiescence, especially spontaneously, both by your social setting encouraging it and your persona desiring it – could that be the answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’?

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